updated 4/6/2004 11:45:33 AM ET 2004-04-06T15:45:33

Guests: John McCain, Roger Cressey

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tonight, President Bush vows to stick to June 30 for Iraqi sovereignty, despite a deadly revolt led by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.  Could this lead to a civil war?

And John Kerry‘s search for the perfect running mate.  Is he right across the aisle?

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews. 

U.S. troops in Iraq have surrounded that turbulent city of Fallujah, preparing for a major operation in response to last week‘s brutal killing of four American contract workers. 

And on Sunday insurgent Shiites killed eight American troops and dozens of Iraqis in some of the worst fighting since Saddam Hussein was toppled. 

Senator John McCain is here with his response to the ongoing violence in Iraq.  But first, we get the latest from Baghdad and NBC‘s Tom Aspell—

Tom. 

TOM ASPELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, well, the Marines mustered 1,300 men.  They surrounded the town of Fallujah.  That‘s about 35 miles west of Baghdad, where four American security contractors were killed last week. 

The coalition and the military vowed to bring those insurgents to justice, clean out the insurgents from Fallujah once and for all.  Remember, it‘s been a hotbed of anti-American activity since the war began, almost—more than a year ago, rather. 

But the coalition is fighting on another front, as well.  Shiite militiamen have been rioting in cities all over Iraq.  In Basra, they chased the governor out of his residence and took over his office in Najaf on Sunday. 

They besieged a Spanish base, and Spanish soldiers had to fire back at gunmen hidden in thee crowd.  More than 30 people were killed; scores were wounded.  There was one casualty on the coalition side.  A soldier from El Salvador was killed. 

The fighting spread quickly Sunday evening up into Baghdad, in the Shia slums of al-Sadr City, where militia men went on the streets, took over police stations and cordoned off the area.  American troops were rushed in there, but engaged in gun battles with the militiamen.  And eight American soldiers were killed. 

The fighting continued throughout some of the morning here in Baghdad itself in several areas coming under attack from American helicopters, which fired on Shia militia positions. 

The road to Baghdad airport was closed briefly this morning, and the

highway leading from Baghdad to the Jordanian capital still remains blocked

·         Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Senator John McCain is an Arizona Republican and a member of the Armed Services Committee. 

Senator, what do you make of those pictures?  It looks like trouble in the streets Shia areas and of course already in the Sunni areas. 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (D), ARIZONA:  Well, I think it‘s obviously a very tough situation.  And first of all, our sorrow and sympathy for the loss of those brave American soldiers. 

It‘s a tough situation.  And we have to address it, and we have to go into Fallujah hard.  I‘m not sure whether 1,300 Marines is enough, although I hate to get into specific tactics, but we‘ve got to go in there in Fallujah.  And we‘ve got to take them out and we‘ve got to do it right away.  And then we have to work on the civic side. 

As far as the Shias are concerned, al-Sadr...

MATTHEWS:  Tough pronunciation. 

MCCAIN:  Aspell called it al-Sadr—is a—represents a distinct minority of the Shias.  There‘s clearly a competition between him and Ayatollah al-Sistani.  He is much younger; he‘s much junior.  And I think that we have to do what we can to work with the Ayatollah al-Sistani and make sure that al-Sadr and his group are isolated. 

But it‘s tough.  And I also believe, as I‘ve said since last August when I was over there, that we need more troops on the ground.  And I understand that that option is being considered in the Pentagon. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about the use of troops.  If we take troops into Fallujah, the city that horrified us all with those pictures of burning the guys, their bodies, and then hanging them, you know, from the bridge and the whole thing—we would have actually—most of the networks were protecting the country from the worst of those pictures. 

What do you do on a raid like that?  Is that a punitive raid or is that really a chase, a hot pursuit?

MCCAIN:  You go in and you go house to house. 

MATTHEWS:  What are you looking for?

MCCAIN:  You‘re looking for people who you know, pictures, you‘re looking for weapons and you‘re taking control of the city again.  You are taking absolute military control.

And if somebody‘s suspicious, you go after him and you put him in prison.  You crack down as harshly as possible.  If they get away with this, if they get away with this, it will encourage the others dramatically, and we can‘t let them. 

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t it basically a test of who‘s going to be defiant?  You go through the town and you sweep through, and anybody that stands up to you, you blow them away, obviously.  That‘s what the game is.

But suppose they‘re smart enough not to make themselves so evident that day?  I mean, they hide.  Commandos tend to be smarter than the average person.  The leaders, they tend to hide. 

MCCAIN:  I think they hide.  We need better intelligence.  I think we all know that.  We need better linguists, but the overwhelming majority of Iraqis are glad that we overthrew Saddam Hussein.  The majority of them, I think you‘re going to get some cooperation. 

Clearly the Sunnis were the best off in Iraqi society, and that‘s the tough nut to crack.  But you‘ve got to go in militarily and...

MATTHEWS:  But they‘re also fearful, aren‘t they on that, Senator, the majority of the Shia, who were the losers during Saddam‘s era, coming on and winning all of the elections and taking over.  Right?

MCCAIN:  I think that that‘s a legitimate concern, but we do have already a constitution which protects the right of minority.  But the Shias, as you just mentioned, also have a certain paranoia, which is justified because 300,000 of them were killed by Saddam Hussein after we encouraged them to rise up. 

MATTHEWS:  Back in ‘91. 

MCCAIN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about this—about the power of the military, as opposed to the political situation. 

If you have a hostile community like the Sunnis, who were benefiting, as you pointed out, under Saddam Hussein, we can put troops in there.  They can have a sweeping operation, be punitive.  We can nail a bunch of bad guys, probably some innocent people.  It‘s going to be very brutal. 

MCCAIN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  But after night falls again and we withdraw our troops, if we don‘t have enough troops to be a constabulary force, aren‘t we just as bad off in a couple weeks?

MCCAIN:  Unless we continue our effort, which has obviously in some parts been unsuccessful so far, to train an Iraqi military, an Iraqi police force, get better intelligence and do a better job than we have been doing in the past. 

I‘m not saying there‘s one reason for a lot of this problems we‘re having now, but I was told by a number of people back in August when I was there that we needed more people of certain capability on the ground. 

And, look, mistakes are made in conflicts.  We cannot afford to lose this.  We cannot leave.  We must win. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  But you went through Vietnam...

MCCAIN:  But mistakes are made.  And let me also mention Korea.  After the most brilliant operation in military history, the...

MATTHEWS:  Inchon landing.

MCCAIN:  ... Inchon landing, General MacArthur, when we got to the Yawou (ph) told President Truman, said, “The Chinese aren‘t coming in.  Don‘t worry.” 

There‘s always mistakes that are made.  And rather than me go back and criticize an administration‘s past mistakes, I think we ought to look forward and figure out what we need to do now. 

MATTHEWS:  A strategic question which people like me continue to ask is you can have a well-trained police force...

MCCAIN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  ... but when something like last week‘s pictures in Fallujah began to be made, guys attacked in their cars by a very cleverly developed—it was almost a mob-style, like they do in the Mafia.  They stopped traffic; then they go shoot you in the cars, like a classic assassination scenario.

But how do you explain the fact that the entire population, it seems, of the streets that day, young men, old men, young kids, clean-shaven young guys.  They all looked like they were prep-school types, a lot of them.  Where did they come from?  Thousands of them?  You think that is just a few people, or is that the mood of the city, they don‘t like us?

MCCAIN:  I think as far as Sunnis are concerned, obviously there‘s a lot of them.  As far as Shias is concerned, and those that are supporters of Sadr...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MCCAIN:  ... I think they‘re in a distinct small minority.  So that means we‘re going to have a tough time in the Sunni Triangle for a long time. 

And let‘s not do anything but tell the American people that this is a tough struggle, but we‘ve got to win it.  What happens if we leave?  It breaks up into at least three different entities.  We now have the great victory for the bad guys.  The word spreads throughout the Middle East.

But if we win, if we win, then the Saudis‘ days are numbered, the other despots‘ days are numbered because we will have said you can have democracy and freedom from these kinds of despotic regimes. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, could you also argue that the only way these people would sort out their difference, the Shia, the Sunni and the Kurds is if we get out of the way and let them do it. 

MCCAIN:  No, I think Chris...

MATTHEWS:  What would happen if we just let them?

MCCAIN:  I think you‘d have a bloodletting. 

MATTHEWS:  Who would win?

MCCAIN:  The only...

MATTHEWS:  Wouldn‘t the Sunni—wouldn‘t the Shia win?  Wouldn‘t they crack down on these people like the Sunnis and end this problem?

MCCAIN:  I think there‘d be—I think there‘d be a terrible bloodletting, not only there but also amongst the Kurds.  I mean, the way that Saddam Hussein kept them under control, obviously, was through killing people that stuck their head up. 

We can have a democracy.  These people are human beings.  They have the same hopes and dreams and aspirations that we do.  To somehow accept a belief that these people don‘t want—don‘t have the same yearnings that we do is elitist in my view. 

MATTHEWS:  But majority rule doesn‘t necessarily mean benign rule.  If you had the Sunnis ruling that country...

MCCAIN:  ... the United States of America.  We learned much to our distress and dismay that you can‘t keep down a minority and be a truly democratic society. 

MATTHEWS:  But people vote in many ways ethnically and tribally.  We don‘t have any blacks in the U.S. Senate in the United States, because we have a majority white country.  Isn‘t that the reason? 

MCCAIN:  Yes, but we do have...

MATTHEWS:  We‘re homogeneous.  We‘re indiscriminate.  We‘re not indiscriminate. 

MCCAIN:  We have African Americans in our House of Representatives, and I can assure you in the southwest you‘re going to have Hispanic Americans in the Senate, because they‘re going to be the majority.

MATTHEWS:  But the ethnic majority rules in this country, because in every statewide election the white guys win, or the white women win.  It just works that way.  So won‘t that work the same way in Iraq?  Where the Shias will win all the elections and take control of the area?

MCCAIN:  I would leave tomorrow if I thought that that was the kind of democracy that has to evolve.  They have a Constitution now that guarantees the right of a minority.  Now we have to stay to make sure that that age-old blood feud does not disrupt into...

MATTHEWS:  But as long as these—the Shia are the majority, the clear majority, 66 percent, then everything that matters in terms of power and clout in that country is going to be Shia rule, isn‘t it?

MCCAIN:  But they have to enforce their constitution, which guarantees the rights of minority, and we have to be there to make sure they do. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of Ted Kennedy‘s comment today that Iraq has become George Bush‘s—George W. Bush‘s Vietnam?

MCCAIN:  I wish he hadn‘t said that, because I don‘t believe: one, there‘s any comparison; but, two, in all due respect to the fact that we‘re in presidential campaign, why don‘t we at this moment of crisis try to figure out a way to solve this issue?

I don‘t believe—I know that John Kerry says we can‘t leave Iraq.  And George Bush says we can‘t leave Iraq.  And if that‘s true, and John Kerry is their nominee, then why don‘t we try to sit down and figure out the best way we can work this out in the bipartisan basis?

Ted Kennedy was wrong in comparison to Vietnam because it was 58,000 Americans.  Their names are down on the wall in the park. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at what the senator said today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  He‘s the problem, not the solution.  Iraq is George Bush‘s Vietnam, and this country needs a new president. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Was that just revving up the troops?

MCCAIN:  I think...

MATTHEWS:  Revving up?

MCCAIN:  I think it might be.  But we are in a—at least a minor international crisis right now with 100,000-some Americans in harm‘s way.  I think most Americans would like to see us say, “OK, what‘s the answer to this minicrisis we‘re in,” rather than using it for a political campaign purpose. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re coming right back with Senator John McCain.  I‘ll ask him if he thinks his Republican Party has truly gone astray. 

And later, how to pick a running mate.  Maybe this guy.  We‘ll be back.  We‘ll look at the short list, and they include Senator John McCain.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, why does Senator John McCain say his party, the Republican Party, has gone astray?  I‘ll ask him when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Senator John McCain.  Senator McCain here‘s what you said about the Republican Party in the “Boston Herald.”

“I believe my party has gone astray.  I think the Democratic Party is a fine party, and I have no problems with it, in their views and their philosophy.”

Did the “Herald” get you right?

MCCAIN:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  You didn‘t say that?

MCCAIN:  I said that, but let me put it in the proper context.  I was speaking to some constituents of Congressman Marty Meehan.  The question: why don‘t you run as Senator Kerry‘s running mate?

I am a Teddy Roosevelt Republican and—Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt Republican.  I will not leave my party.

Now I think that the Democratic Party is a fine party.  I still think we need a two-party system in this country.  I don‘t want to be a Democrat.  I‘m proud of my party and its heritage. 

That article in the “Boston Herald” was the most taken out of context, several quotes, some of which you‘ll probably give me...

MATTHEWS:  No.  I think we‘ve had enough here. 

MCCAIN:  It was incredible.  I mean, I said I don‘t want to leave my party.  I love my party.  I think it‘s gone astray. 

Sure I think it‘s gone astray: on climate change, pork barrel spending.  Take a look at this highway bill that they just run through the House.  They‘re trying to attack the energy bill, the pork barrel energy bill, on this problems of taxation of corporation overseas. 

I mean, the deficit is now $7 trillion.  I think that that is a party gone astray.  I‘m not often in agreement totally with Bob Novak.  In fact, I‘m not one—he‘s not one—I‘m not one of his greatest heroes, but he wrote a column this morning, the Republican Party came to power in 1994 on fiscal...

MATTHEWS:  Novak is really—He‘s the hardest-working reporter in town. 

MCCAIN:  We do away with pork barrel spending.  I‘m sorry, I get so...

MATTHEWS:  Let me propose to you a middle case.

MCCAIN:  Can I mention one issue.  One fact. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, go.

MCCAIN:  Ronald Reagan complained in 1987 that there was 157 pork barrel projects in the highway bill.  You know how many there is in this one?  Over 3,000. 

MATTHEWS:  Those appropriators can‘t stop.  Let me ask you—let me offer you a middle case here, Senator. 

MCCAIN:  Sure. 

MATTHEWS:  Suppose John Kerry came to you and sat down with you in a month or so and said, “You know, I‘ve looked over the list.  I can‘t put Richardson on the ticket.  He‘s a fellow Roman Catholic and that won‘t sell in the Bible belt, same with Bill—the same with the senator from Louisiana.  And a lot of these other guys are too old or I don‘t really like them.  I like you.  Now, we agree—we can agree on security.  We can agree on armed force levels.  We were vets together, Vietnam vets together.  On the matters that really matter to the country right now, in the year 2004 through 2008, we agree on a lot of important things: the importance of security in this country, maybe multilateral action together.  Your positions on abortion rights I don‘t think are relevant, because nobody‘s going to change—nobody‘s going to amend the Constitution.  The statutes are limited by what the Supreme Court has ruled.  The Supreme Court‘s not going to change overnight.  By the way, I get to pick the nominees, not you.” 

Why wouldn‘t you want to...

MCCAIN:  It‘s a long list, by the way. 

MATTHEWS:  There‘s a lot of things you guys agree on that matter.  There‘s things you don‘t disagree—that you disagree on that aren‘t really going to be relevant in debate in the next four to eight years. 

Why wouldn‘t you want to be part of—You said Teddy Roosevelt.  He ran third party in 1912.  He made a lot of noise and certainly he‘s proud of—he would have been proud if he‘s still around.  Teddy—Lincoln, there‘s a man of independence.  I mean, he formed a political party.  There weren‘t any Republicans before he put that party together. 

Why would you not want to make a statement by saying this is a time where good men come to the aid of their country, and we are going to challenge some of the corruption of the status quo by forming a new coalition?

MCCAIN:  No. 1, I want President Bush re-elected.  I believe that he‘s led this country with moral leadership and clarity since September 11. 

No. 2 is I want to remain in the Republican Party, and where it‘s broken I want to try and fix it. 

No. 3 is there are a number of issues, not just those that—free trade, a number of other issues that I am in disagreement with the Democratic Party, which I respect.  We need a two-party system in this country. 

And I don‘t want to be vice president of the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a big job, though.  That‘s another point.  Cheney has taken a job which grew under Nixon, grew under Mondale, grew under Gore.  It‘s come from being a nominal political position to being a highly significant almost COO of the country, someone who really co-runs the country. 

Isn‘t it more attractive than it was, say, under Roosevelt or those guys, even under Eisenhower?

MATTHEWS:  In the year 2000, when I met with President Bush, he asked me if I was interested.  He didn‘t ask me if I wanted; he asked me if I was interested.  I said, “No, I‘m not interested.” 

I think I can have a far greater influence on the future of this country, which is why I‘m here, as an independent Republican who believes in the principles and the philosophy of the Republican Party. 

And I want to just say one thing from the practical side, if I might, and I probably shouldn‘t say this.  If I saw some guy who switched parties in order to become vice president with somebody, I‘d view him as an opportunist.  And I would lose the one cache I think I have in Washington, is that I stand up for what I believe in. 

MATTHEWS:  So you don‘t want to be John Connolly?  You don‘t want to be John Lindhs.  You don‘t want to be Zell Miller?  You don‘t want to be a switcher? 

MCCAIN:  Of course not.  And no.  And yes, I‘m loyal to the Republican Party. 

The president I agree on more issues than we disagree on.  And the reason—And we disagree on some issues.  That‘s why we campaigned against each other in a primary.  My relationship with him is cordial. 

MATTHEWS:  Also, being an independent Republican is sort of like a girl in a bikini.  It‘s kind of inviting.  I mean, you have a more interesting role here. 

MCCAIN:  It‘s a tradition in Arizona of Barry Goldwater and others...

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you my favorite question about people, which is not about politics, because I don‘t want to cause more trouble here. 

MCCAIN:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  I always ask people, who do you want to sit next to on a 13-hour flight to Australia?  Male or female, whatever?  Who do you just want to sit next to?  Who are you most comfortable with, Bush or Kerry?

MCCAIN:  You know, both—I‘m equivocating here, but I think because Bush is president of the United States I‘d rather sit next to Bush. 

MATTHEWS:  He has more interesting things to say this week. 

MCCAIN:  It‘s the fact that he and I could discuss issues...

MATTHEWS:  And get things done.

MCCAIN:  ... at length and get things done. 

But John Kerry is a friend of mine.  Guilty.  I know how—I know that you can‘t say that in Washington, that you have a friend in the other party, but he is my friend. 

MATTHEWS:  Why has President Bush failed to share with you, which is clearly your sort of comity—C-O-M-I-T-Y—your ability to work with and actually like the other side of the aisle.  Why hasn‘t he moved—he said he‘d bring—and I‘m not knocking him because the Democrats have been pretty beastly partisan. 

But why hasn‘t he been able to move this country, under the unifying conditions of national tragedy, to a unity of purpose?  Why is there more partisanship than ever?

MCCAIN:  I don‘t know the answer to that except to say two things:

one, Florida, I think, still...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MCCAIN:  ... sticks in the craw of a lot of Democrats. 

And, second of all, both parties, rather than moving to the center, it seems to me, have moved to their base, instead of modernizing their base. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that a problem?

MCCAIN:  I don‘t know what the...

MATTHEWS:  Is that the money raisers?  The rabble-rousers?

MCCAIN:  I don‘t know what that is but I‘ve never seen that before.  Usually you win your party‘s nomination, and you get that independent voter.  Maybe they think there‘s not that great middle out there anymore.

MATTHEWS:  Maybe, unlike—You tried to stop this.  Maybe once you win your nomination, in effect—the president has it, Kerry has it now—they keep fund-raising.  And because they keep fund-raising, they‘ve got to steer to the left and the right. 

More with Senator John McCain, more wisdom coming back. 

And later, Condoleezza Rice will testify in front of the 9/11 commission on Thursday, three days hence.  White House whistle-blower Richard Clarke‘s former deputy, Roger Cressey is going to be here to talk about what we learned from Clarke and what we‘ve got to learn from Condi. 

Plus, who might John Kerry choose for his running mate?  We‘ve been into that and we‘ll continue with those possibilities. 

More coming back with Senator John McCain.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.           

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Senator John McCain, who having explored and developed all of the reasons why he cannot accept the Democratic nomination for vice president, has still not completely closed the door. 

MCCAIN:  I will not. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me ask you...

MCCAIN:  I will not, under any circumstances. 

MATTHEWS:  A little comic relief from—using your career as a basis for comic relief. 

Let me ask you about—you have been a voice crying in the wilderness for more troops.  What would you do if you were commander in chief in deploying them in Iraq?

MCCAIN:  I would get the right kind of troops.  You need Special Forces, linguists, civil affairs, those kinds of people that are involved in—dare I use the word—pacification operations, where they know what‘s going on.

And clearly more intelligence.  One of the things that‘s most disturbing about the Shia uprising in all different cities is that I don‘t think we had the intelligence beforehand. 

And you need them in there, and—look, to say that the commanders on the ground haven‘t asked for them to me is really not too worthwhile, because I‘ve never heard of a good commander on the ground who did say I need more help.  I can do the job—that‘s what we train them for. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Westmoreland, certainly.  Westmoreland went up to 500,000 in Vietnam.  But you say there‘s a service that says don‘t ask for help? 

MCCAIN:  Sure.  They can do the job themselves. 

And by the way, these young men and women are superb.  They‘re just superb.  They‘re the best I‘ve ever seen in the military.  It‘s not any problem with the quality of men and women, whether we‘re talking about Guard or reservists.  Guard and reservists are the same professional level as the regular ones.  But we‘ve never had this high percentage.

MATTHEWS:  Tricky question.  Are you disturbed by the fact that David Kay didn‘t tell the Congress until very recently about the absence of WMD, when he knew about it last summer?

MCCAIN:  I think that David Kay is a very good man.  I think that he felt he hadn‘t done enough of investigating.  His successor still says that there‘s more investigating to go on. 

But I was very interested in Colin Powell‘s remarks. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Senator John McCain.

MCCAIN:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next, Richard Clarke‘s former deputy, Roger Cressey, on Condoleezza Rice‘s testimony.  Little fighting on that front coming up. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, our preview of National Security Adviser‘s Condoleezza Rice‘s testimony Thursday before the 9/11 Commission. 

Plus, who will John Kerry choose as his running mate?  We‘ll get the inside scoop on the Kerry veepstakes.

But, first, the latest headlines right now.

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is set to testify Thursday before the commission investigating the September 11 attacks.  And according to “Newsweek”‘s Michael Isikoff, this photo may have played a role in convincing the White House to allow Rice to testify. 

It‘s a picture from 14945 of Admiral William Leahy, chief of staff to Presidents Roosevelt and Truman, testifying before the commission investigating the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Isikoff reports that 9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow faxed the photo to the White House last week.  Scribbled on the fax was the message, this will be all Washington in 24 hours. 

The president was that the White House couldn‘t argue that Rice would be breaking precedent if she testified.

NBC News analyst Roger Cressey was former White House terrorism adviser, Richard Clarke‘s deputy, and he is currently Clarke‘s business partner. 

Thank you, Roger. 

ROGER CRESSEY, MSNBC COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST:  Hey, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  This whole thing about executive privilege, do you think the White House made the right decision? 

CRESSEY:  Oh, yes.  You had to have Condi out in front.  Had she not testified, there would have been this overwhelming skepticism about whether or not the White House was telling the truth. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it your sense it was the president‘s personal decision, the White House counsel‘s decision, or Condi‘s decision to hold up on this decision?

CRESSEY:  No, I think it was the White House counsel and the president.  I think Condi really wanted to testify from the get-go, but this whole of executive privilege really was the key question for them. 

MATTHEWS:  What about the intimate conversations between her about policy questions, where the president really had to rethink out loud, where he had to question his own judgment, all those intimate conversations which often go on between a policymaker and assistant?  Is he afraid that those will be forced out into the public, those revelations? 

CRESSEY:  I think he‘s more concerned about does this set a precedent that future White House advisers may be careful and not say what‘s really on their minds to the president for fear of that ultimately becoming part of the public record.  I think that is not really a problem.  I think this will not cause that type of situation and she really should testify. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about Colin Powell.  Those of who watched the campaign—and yourself, obviously—before the campaign during 2000 thought that Colin Powell would be a restraining influence on a more ideological set of Cabinet members like Rumsfeld and Cheney. 

The fact that he testified before the U.N. right before the war with Iraq, what did that tell you, that he was told to do that, that was an order he was taking, or that he truly believed in the evidence he has been presented to give to the U.N.? 

CRESSEY:  No, he‘s the nation‘s chief diplomat.  So it was appropriate for him to be in front of the U.N. Security Council. 

But I think we also all believe that he was the most credible voice of the administration. 

MATTHEWS:  Was he misused by the administration? 

CRESSEY:  No, I don‘t think so. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, there‘s the point here.  He says he thinks he was now.  He believes that he was given false information especially with regard to the mobile biological equipment we‘ve been showing so many times, those big trucks that he was told were in fact dramatic evidence of biological capability by Saddam.  He now is very angry, it seems, at the fact that he was used. 

CRESSEY:  I think one of the questions that the Iraq intelligence commission is going to look at is, were the intelligence reports skewed in any way and did in fact—was Powell set up, in effect?  And I think we‘re going to find that out over the next few months. 

MATTHEWS:  Did the power of the vice president combined with the power of Rumsfeld and the president, did that, do you believe, intimidate the intelligence gatherers into producing evidence that the administration hard line wanted? 

CRESSEY:  No. 

The intelligence community presented a series of facts, a series of reports.  And it‘s like a glass of water.  The intelligence community would say if the water is at the 50 percent water line and it it‘s up to the policymakers to decide, is it half full or is it half empty.  And in the case of Iraq‘s WMD, they believed it was half full and then some. 

MATTHEWS:  Did Colin Powell believe that? 

CRESSEY:  I think based on the information he did. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re saying it was up to interpretation. 

CRESSEY:  Sure. 

MATTHEWS:  Whose interpretation, Colin Powell‘s?  Were the vice president and Rumsfeld combined as the majority in the Cabinet forcing Colin Powell to accept the majority rule? 

CRESSEY:  I think it was a collective interpretation of all of them.  Powell would not have used the information he was presented if he didn‘t believe it. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that the commission believes that 9/11 could have been prevented?  They‘re saying it now, aren‘t they?  They were suggesting it over the weekend. 

CRESSEY:  Right.  Chairman Kean said that.  It is the beauty of 20/20 hindsight.  You can go back through the timeline, starting when bin Laden became a true force in terrorism, and think of decision points along the way where, had we done something differently, 9/11 might not have happened.  It‘s a possibility. 

But, frankly, what I know, what I‘ve seen, I don‘t think it could have

been completely prevented.  We may have been able to stop a couple of the

plots if some of the FBI information made it to the White House and made it

to the policy community.  But that‘s about the extent of it

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you.  Let me ask you a question.

Richard Clarke, your partner and boss, former boss, made it clear that he believed, prior to 9/11, in fact, going back to ‘96, that he was thinking and game-planning the possibility of planes being used as missiles, especially against the Olympics in Atlanta. 

CRESSEY:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  And then 9/11 came and we saw before our eyes the horror of that event actually occurring, people using suicide planes, suicide-piloted planes, to attack civilian targets. 

CRESSEY:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  And then Condi Rice said in 2002 several months after 9/11, that she couldn‘t imagine that happening.  Well, wait a minute.  Didn‘t Clarke sometime between 9/11 and 2002 tell Condi that they had in fact game-planned for this very eventuality? 

CRESSEY:  Well, Clarke‘s—Dick Clarke‘s game plan was based on the Atlanta Olympics and it was something that we had always taken a look at for possible threats. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CRESSEY:  But I think what Condi Rice was talking about in ‘02 was, the intelligence that she had pointed towards an overseas attack.  The question, of course, is, should we have anticipated...

MATTHEWS:  No.  No.  She said no one could have imagined.  She would have been told by sometime in 2002 that your people, Richard Clarke, did imagine. 

CRESSEY:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  So, she‘s not telling the truth.  She said no one could have imagined.  And you‘re telling me there‘s either two possibilities here.  Either Clarke told her and she refused to admit it or forgot or he never told her.  Can you imagine Richard Clarke not telling Condi Rice after 9/11 this is one of the things we were worried about? 

CRESSEY:  No, we liked at several scenarios.  One was overseas.  One was domestic. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Let‘s get to the point here, Roger.  You guys looked at the possibility of planes being used as missiles before 9/11? 

CRESSEY:  Sure.  Sure.  Of course.

MATTHEWS:  In 2002, Condi is still saying no one could have imagined.  She damn well was told that some people had imagined it and were in fact game-planning it.  Why did she not tell the truth in 2002 is all I want to know?  Why didn‘t she say, yes, we did consider that in the Olympics in 2000 and in 1996, yes, we had considered it as a possibility, it was within our field of our imagination?

Or—she didn‘t say that.  She said, no one could have imagined. 

Well, is Richard Clarke one of those no ones? 

CRESSEY:  I don‘t know why she said what she said.  All I can assume...

MATTHEWS:  But it‘s not consistent with the facts. 

CRESSEY:  Yes.   

MATTHEWS:  The facts as presented by Richard Clarke which you believe are that we did campaign—or game plan.

CRESSEY:  We liked at this possibility. 

MATTHEWS:  So why did she say no one could have imagined all those months later after 9/11?  It could only mean they‘re not talking, that Richard Clarke isn‘t talking to her or she‘s not listening or she‘s not telling the truth on purpose.  Which is it? 

CRESSEY:  I think they all—I think people in the administration believed the attack was going to happen overseas.  And that colored their approach to dealing with the threat.  Why Condi said what she said, I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  Because she never ruled out at home.  She said no one could imagine planes being used as missiles months after she should have been briefed by Roger—by you—by Richard Clarke that that‘s a fact that we planned for.  Anyway, I see that as a big distinction between their testimonies here and I would love to see it being cleared up. 

Anyway, thank you, Roger Cressey. 

Up next, how to pick a running mate.  As John Kerry gets closer to making his decision, we‘ll go inside that process of veepstakes and see who Kerry has got on his list.  Maybe it‘s still McCain.  We‘ll see.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, the hundred fort a vice president.  Who is on John Kerry‘s short list?  We‘ll go inside the Kerry veepstakes when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, are calling for Senator John Kerry to move quickly in picking a running mate.  And speculation is high on whom that choice might be. 

HARDBALL election correspondent David Shuster joins us now with more -

·         David. 

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC ELECTION CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, the Kerry campaign confirms they have started the process of sorting through several possible vice presidential nominees and the campaign is hoping to have a final decision by the end of May. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER (voice-over):  Kerry advisers say the campaign has already whittled down the list and will soon pare back the number to less than 10.  Those surviving the cut will be the focus of the Kerry‘s vice presidential vetting team.  But what will they be looking for? 

Richard Moe helped run Bill Clinton‘s vice presidential selection team 12 years ago. 

RICHARD MOE, NATIONAL TRUST FOR HISTORIC PRESERVATION:  The whole purpose of the vetting process is to turn somebody inside out, so that the presidential nominee has no surprises.  The last thing anybody wants in one of these situations is something that hasn‘t been disclosed that can be embarrassing in a campaign or later in an administration. 

SHUSTER:  The makeup of the vetting team includes accountants, lawyers, and doctors.  Candidates on the short list will be asked to provide a massive number of documents, including tax returns, financial statements, medical records, public speeches, even graduate papers and college transcripts. 

MOE:  It‘s making everything about your past known to this person that may become president and that wants to know everything about you. 

SHUSTER:  Once the documents have been analyzed, the next phase includes personal interviews. 

MOE:  Every potential president wants to know if he can get along with this vice president and what will he or she bring to the office to complement his skills and his abilities.  So, you want to be sure the chemistry works.  If the chemistry doesn‘t work, nothing else is going to work. 

SHUSTER:  Throughout the process, names will be floated and there will be intense lobbying from advisers and friends. 

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE:  And maybe it is time to have a guy like John McCain, a Republican, on a ticket.

MOE:  It‘s a part of the process, not always, but sometimes, just other gauge public reaction or party reaction. 

SHUSTER:  Once the vetting process is finished and the interviews have been completed, it will then be up to John Kerry.  In the past, presidential nominees have made their final decision based on electoral strength, governing skills and personal chemistry. 

MOE:  It‘s an instinctive thing in the end.  And some presidents think, he can really help me and I really want to spend time with him or maybe not him.  And it may turn out differently.  You never know. 

SHUSTER:  In 1988, for example, George H.W. Bush thought Dan Quayle, Indiana‘s junior senator, would energize the ticket.  He did.  But Quayle‘s antics shocked Republicans across the spectrum. 

DAN QUAYLE, VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  You tell George Bush one thing:  Go get ‘em!

SHUSTER:  And Democrats considered Quayle such a drag on the Republican campaign, they aired attack ads including this one. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

NARRATOR:  The most powerful man in the world is also mortal.  We know this all too well in America.  One in five American vice presidents has had to rise to the duties of commander in chief.  One in five has had to take on the responsibilities of the most powerful office in the world.  For this job, after five months of reflection, George Bush made his first personal choice: J. Danforth Quayle.  Hopefully, we will never know how great a lapse in judgment that really was.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Through the years, there have been plenty of other memorable moments.  In 1972, George McGovern‘s vice presidential candidate, Thomas Eagleton, revealed he had been hospitalized for depression and treated with shock therapy.  At first, McGovern said he supported Eagleton—quote—

“1000 percent.”  Then McGovern dropped him from the ticket. 

At the 1980 Republican Convention, Ronald Reagan considered offering Gerald Ford an equal share if they won the election.  Then Reagan backed off and went with George Bush.  In 1984, Walter Mondale made Geraldine Ferraro the first woman on a major party ticket in U.S. history.  In 1992, Bill Clinton created the first modern-day vice presidential beauty pageant by forcing many of his possible running mates to visit him in Little Rock. 

So what does it all mean for John Kerry?  Kerry advisers say there is no clear front-runner and that when you look at his presidential primary rivals and other names that have been floated, there are potential problems.  North Carolina Senator John Edwards was a hit on the campaign trail, but Edwards only been in office for five years and lacks experience in foreign policy. 

Former NATO commander Wesley Clark isn‘t trusted after allegedly passing along nasty rumors about Kerry to reporters.  Howard Dean and Kerry did not get along. 

HOWARD DEAN (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  One of President Kerry—President Kerry—please, spare us. 

SHUSTER:  Florida‘s Bob Graham looks good, but Graham has filled thousands of notebooks with constituent requests and unusual notations, like when he woke up, changed his clothes or used the bathroom.  Al Gore‘s team considered it weird and one more reason to pick Joe Lieberman. 

Former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson is often mentioned as a Kerry running mate, but Richardson is currently the governor of New Mexico and has promised not to leave early. 

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO:  I made a pledge to my voters when I ran for governor that I would say stay for a full term. 

SHUSTER:  Congressman Dick Gephardt is a presidential campaign veteran. 

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  This president is a miserable failure. 

SHUSTER:  And Kerry advisers believe Gephardt could help in Missouri and Ohio.  But Gephardt is not exactly a political rock star.  Then again, neither is Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, or Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, all of whom seem to have landed on the list of possibilities. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  The one thing the Kerry campaign is promising is a process that is discreet and more dignified than four years ago when John Kerry made Al Gore‘s short list and found out from the media he‘d not been selected.  As it stands, the Kerry campaign is aiming for an early announcement that will generate some excitement this spring and give Kerry another voice on the campaign trail. 

As MSNBC.com‘s Tom Curry writes, a vice presidential candidate was once a ticket to obscurity, not anymore—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Thanks, David.

Howard Fineman is with “Newsweek,” of course.  He‘s an NBC News political analyst.  And Dee Dee Myers is a Democratic analyst and a former press secretary for President William Jefferson Clinton. 

You know, one of the best picks was Gore. 

DEE DEE MYERS, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: 

Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  It worked because it showed...

MYERS:  It showed—first of all, it was outside the box.  People were not expecting him to pick another Southerner from his generation with his brand of sort of centrist, DLC politics, but it underscored the theme that Clinton most wanted to put out, which was change, a new direction for the country, and it worked. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  And it also put out a message of family values and decency.

MYERS:  Right.  Right. 

FINEMAN:  When they showed that picture of all of them together down at Little Rock. 

MYERS:  Those good-looking Gore kids. 

FINEMAN:  Yes, well, it was shoring up one of Bill Clinton‘s weaknesses.

MATTHEWS:  I remember riding along on the bus interviewing him down near Waco and this young guy is working as a hotel clerk.  I run in to do my quick interview.  What do you think of these guys?  Who do you think is going to win the election?  “I kind of think those two boys.”

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I know they were going to win.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  If Texas guys were saying that.

FINEMAN:  That‘s a theory of picking a running mate that‘s not

geographic at all.  It‘s stylistic and

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, who would Bill Clinton say he should pick this time?  Who should Kerry pick?  If Clinton put his genius behind this candidate, who would he say, put in there with you?

MYERS:  Well, I think you got to meet the two-threshold test.  Can he be the president and what‘s the chemistry?  And so not knowing the chemistry, I think Clinton might say Edwards, because Edwards brings...

MATTHEWS:  But Kerry doesn‘t like Edwards. 

MYERS:  Well, I don‘t know if we know that.  People said Clinton didn‘t like Gore.  They got in the room together.  And I talked to Clinton about that at some length over the years.  And it sort of goes with the idea of, what do you want to do?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Would you call them chums today? 

CRESSEY:  No.  But were Clinton and Gore chums in June of 1992?  They were not.  They were decidedly not. 

FINEMAN:  I covered them both very intensively during the campaign.  They don‘t hate each other.  The wives sort of like each other.  And it‘s amazing how the shared...

MATTHEWS:  Kerry...

FINEMAN:  And Edwards, their wives.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  And it‘s amazing how the shared ambition for the White House can kind of obliterate resentments there. 

MYERS:  Exactly.  A lot of sins can be forgiven.

MATTHEWS:  You mean politics makes strange bedfellows? 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  That‘s another way of putting it, yes.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about geography.  How important is it—let‘s be honest here—that they have a different religious background?  For example, I‘m—maybe I‘m old school and I went through the Kennedy campaign, but one Catholic is tough enough.  Two Catholics is an unsellable package.  You can‘t have Kerry and Vilsack, Kerry and Richardson, Kerry and Landrieu.  Is that something that I‘m reasonable in assuming? 

FINEMAN:  No, I don‘t agree with you. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t think so?

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  I don‘t agree with you anymore.  I think having a sense of religiosity is important and a big plus. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Kerry doesn‘t have it. 

FINEMAN:  Well, that‘s not true, necessarily.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He doesn‘t exude it.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  He doesn‘t—no, I agree with you there.  He doesn‘t exude it in the way many others do, the way George Bush uses it in... 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s not churchy. 

FINEMAN:  No, he‘s not churchy.   So you have a churchy and a nonchurchy.  I don‘t think it matters so much anymore, Chris.  I think that was true a generation ago.  It was true when you and I were growing up in Pennsylvania.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We can disagree 1,000 times, but I‘ll disagree on this.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me say this.  How about Bill Nelson, an evangelical Christian from Florida?

MYERS:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  A real Southern man, in many ways.  He has a wonderful sort

of Southern manner and accent, brings in Florida, helps you in the middle -

·         the part of the South the Democrats can win in, Missouri, where the president is throwing out the baseball today in Saint Louis for the Cardinals.  And, by the way, if you don‘t think these guys are playing politics, Cheney is up in Ohio, up in Cincinnati, throwing out the ball for the Reds there. 

FINEMAN:  Oh, yes, sure.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  They know what they‘re doing, these two.  These two guys are tough.

FINEMAN:  Electoral College baseball going on. 

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Battleground baseball. 

MYERS:  Battleground baseball.

MATTHEWS:  We‘re coming back with Howard Fineman and Dee Dee Myers. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with more with Howard Fineman and Dee Dee Myers.

I cannot resist this, because Senator John McCain was on the program today.  And he did list all the reasons why he could not switch parties.  He believes he has to switch parties, apparently, to run on the ticket.  He may say in effect he will be changing parties because he‘ll be changing presidential loyalties.  Is that true, Howard, or could he run as a Republican on the Democratic ticket? 

FINEMAN:  Well, I think he can run with any designation he wants to have, I think.  If he‘s nominated by the party, still legally, he‘s on the ticket.  What I find interesting about Senator McCain, I asked his people just last week, has he stated a flat, Shermanesque “I‘ll never do it”?  They said, yes, he has.  But he still loves talking about it. 

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:  And it is still a lot of fun for Democrats to think about. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, on this show earlier, he did say, I closed the door. 

MYERS:  He tries to close the door, but he‘s not given the opportunity. 

(CROSSTALK)

MYERS:  Every time he talks about it

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  To say that he doesn‘t enjoy this conversation is to be ridiculous. 

MYERS:  Right. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about serious business now, and that‘s the question of the war. 

Critics of the war, supporters of the war agree, it looks terrible.  We have what we thought was a majority Shia.  Those are the more—we see them as more fundamentalist Muslim.  The majority are going to take over the country at some point after we leave.  Now they‘re revolting against this thing, at least part of them are.  The Sunnis, who are still holding on to their dream of getting Saddam back or whatever, they‘re fighting us.  The only people not fighting us are the Kurds, who would just as soon be in some other country.  So what‘s the good news?  Where do we get through this thing?

MYERS:  There isn‘t much good news in this.  And one of the things the administration is now going to have to face is, they‘ve been saying what you‘re seeing, the malicious, the insurgency, is a very small subset of the Iraqi people.  And now we‘re seeing that it is more broadly spread. 

(CROSSTALK)

MYERS:  And could be turned on and off by radical Muslim clerics.

MATTHEWS:  What I see are those cities, like any city that‘s empty downtown on a Sunday, these cities roving people.  Does this look like an advance man‘s mob put up together by somebody or is it really spontaneous? 

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  I think that the situation in Iraq is much more potentially threatening to the president politically than the 9/11 Commission, because his argument is, we‘re safer as a country here in America as a result of having taken the offensive in that part of the world. 

But often, pictures trump verbal explanations.  And all the pictures out of Iraq, virtually all of the pictures are of chaos.  And what chaos communicates to the American people is danger.  And that‘s his problem.  That‘s why his numbers for handling terrorism have slowly been shrinking, not because of the 9/11 Commission. 

(CROSSTALK)

MYERS:  Well, you‘re right.  And the 9/11 Commission is going to deal

·         the most explosive finding seems to be that this, 9/11, could have been prevented.  And as damning as that is on some level, it is shared by the Clinton and Bush administrations and it is about the past. 

Iraq and what‘s happening there is the present and the future.  And elections always turn on, where are going to be in a year or two years and three years from now? 

FINEMAN:  People are still willing to give him a break on this, the independent swing voters.  But the margin is diminishing by the day and by the week.  And he needs progress there. 

And now he is faced with a Hobson‘s choice.  He‘s got to turn the thing over on June 30.  But more chaos is almost certain to follow, because, if you talk to all the military people, including John McCain, we don‘t have enough troops there to keep order after June 30. 

MATTHEWS:  But if we try to arrest this al-Sadr guy and put him in jail, he‘s hiding in a mosque, what is that going to do to stir the thing up? 

FINEMAN:  Well, what we‘re doing now is, we‘re arresting both Sunnis and Shia.  We have basically now got both sides of the brewing civil war against us in increasing turn. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re in the beehive. 

Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman. 

Thank you, Dee Dee Myers.

Join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  We‘ll investigate why the Statue of Liberty has taken so long to be reopened after September 11.  Interesting scandal there. 

Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.

END   

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