updated 4/7/2004 12:15:50 PM ET 2004-04-07T16:15:50

Guests: Karl Vick, Dana Priest, Bill Hillsman, Stephen Briganti, Larry Parkinson, Maurice Hinchey, Bryan Burrough

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tonight the Pentagon reports up to a dozen Marines were killed and 20 wounded, some of them seriously in fierce fighting near the governor‘s palace in Ramadi.

As coalition forces continue to fight on two other fronts battling Sunni insurgents in nearby Fallujah and a Shiite uprising in southern Iraq, is it time to send in reinforcements?

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews. 

U.S. troops are heavily engaged in the two-front assault in what had been—or has been the deadliest day for American forces since the fall of Baghdad. 

Twelve U.S. Marines were killed and 20 more wounded today when dozens of Iraqi insurgents attacked the government compound in the town of Ramadi near Fallujah, in the heart of the Sunni Triangle. 

Today‘s casualty toll comes as 1,200 Marines fought their way into Fallujah, killing and capturing Iraqi insurgents suspected of mutilating four American civilians last week. 

And in southern Iraq, U.S. forces launched a crackdown on a widespread Shiite uprising led by a radical cleric, who is heavily guarded and on the run from a mosque.  This week‘s the first major Shiite uprising against American forces. 

NBC‘s Tom Aspell is in Baghdad with the latest on today‘s deadly attacks—Tom.

TOM ASPELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, one of the deadliest days for U.S. troops since the end of the war. 

Tonight, U.S. military official say 12 Marines have been killed and another 20 wounded trying to defend an Iraqi government compound in Ramadi in the heart of the Sunni Triangle.

And just 25 miles away in Fallujah, 1,200 Marines and two battalions of Iraqi troops are taking on scores of insurgents. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ASPELL (voice-over):  After 24 hours of meticulous reconnaissance, Marines and Iraqi security forces have moved into Fallujah from three directions.  Embedded reporters say today‘s fighting has been intense. 

PAMELA CONSTABLE, EMBEDDED REPORTERS:  The Marines have various patrol, foot patrols, Humvee patrols going out across the city.  And all day and all night they have come under fire of both rifle fire, rocket fire, and mortar fire from snipers and from moving vans of gunmen. 

LOURDES NAVARRO, EMBEDDED REPORTERS:  There was a pretty heavy fire that took place about 15 to 20 minutes.  Mortars coming in.  RPG‘s coming in.  And they were returning fire from tanks, from their machine guns and also from helicopter gun ships that were circling the area. 

ASPELL:  Lightly armed insurgents had no way out of the city they pledged to defend with their lives. 

“We are going to destroy the Americans.  We will crush them,” say these fighters. 

The Marines say at least 20 insurgents have been killed and many others captured. 

LT. COL. GREGG OLSEN, UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS:  We want to make sure this fight stays on our terms and we don‘t become embroiled in something based on a terrorist timetable as opposed to our timetable. 

ASPELL:  Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in Norfolk today, the Marine were doing a superb job. 

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  They have been conducting raids in the city against high value targets.  They‘ve captured a number of people over the past 36 hours.  The city is isolated.  A number of people have resisted and been killed. 

ASPELL:  The sources tell NBC news in one incident, a Marine helicopter, after taking small arms fire from a truckload of insurgents, killed them all with a single missile. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ASPELL:  The Marines say Operation Vigilant Resolve will be precise and unrelenting, and it could last several more days—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Tom. 

The “Washington Post‘s” Karl Vick joins us now from a phone from Baghdad. 

Carl, let me ask you about this situation.  Is this an insurrection that we‘re seeing in Iraq?

KARL VICK, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, it‘s starting to show signs of that, Chris.  You know, up to now, this has been very much a hit and run sort of underground kind of guerrilla war.  It‘s been, you know, a war of IED‘s and, you know, maybe an occasional small arms attack from a distance. 

But people weren‘t standing and fighting, and they weren‘t mounting sort of coordinated offensive operations. 

But I was out in Baghdad today in a couple neighborhoods, one Sunni and one Shia.  And the people in both places were talking like they were going to work together and join in mounting what they call sort of new style resistance.  A new—a more coordinated, better planned sort of almost community based coordinated resistance that is something that the Americans haven‘t seen up to now. 

And if what these people were saying is indicative of what‘s going on outside of the two places I talked to people, it bodes pretty ill for the American occupation here. 

MATTHEWS:  Why would the two sides that are rivals for power in Iraq, once we leave fight with each other now?  I‘m sorry, why would they join up against us?  Don‘t the Shia stand to gain from a transition to their rule?

VICK:  It‘s a matter of deciding that, you know, a lot is made about the prospect of civil war here.  And in fact, there have been rising sectarian tensions between the Shia and the Sunni. 

But it‘s been—basically Sunni and Shia get along here.  They intermarry.  They think of themselves as brothers and brother Muslims and brother Iraqis.  Brother and sister Iraqis. 

And so that whole—that whole sectarian divide thing is even though they‘re sort of political rivals, has not been a big, a huge concern for them. 

What do you—what you‘re finding now is that Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric who the Americans are trying to arrest and isolate, seems to be rising and seems to be becoming a symbol of resistance.  And the Shia and the Sunni are agreeing to fight a common foe that is the American occupiers, who have been here for a year. 

And a lot of people are grateful they‘re here, but a lot of people are sort of tired of them and feel that they‘ve broken promises, that they don‘t have the services they were promised.  A lot of people don‘t believe the handover will happen on the 30th.  They think that this—the fighting we‘re seeing now is somehow provoked by the Americans and it‘s an excuse to stay longer, that they want the oil.  All the old things that you‘ve heard you‘re hearing again, and enough people seem to believe it.  It‘s not like everybody does. 

But it‘s—it‘s a new kind thing.  I was in Abamiyah (ph), which is a neighborhood that‘s basically a Saddam neighborhood.  It‘s Sunni, sort of closed-in suburb.  It‘s a big district in northern Baghdad. 

And they had a march there yesterday for Sadr.  I mean, a bunch of Sadr people came in.  They were marching for a Shia newspaper that the Americans have closed, provoking this whole round of problems with the Shia.  And in the middle of it, people saw their own, they call them mujahideen people, their own Sunni guys, deploying through the neighborhood to attack the American tanks that were surrounding the march. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Karl, thank you very much.  That‘s Karl Vick.  What a great report from Baghdad.

Dana Priest is a reporter for the “Washington Post.”  She‘s over at the “Post” right now.  She‘s an expert on military and intelligence issues. 

And General Wayne Downing, commanded the special operations task force during the first Gulf War.  He‘s now an MSNBC political analyst. 

Let me go to the general right off the bat.  We‘re looking at a three-front situation today in the worst battle—the worst, the deadliest battle since the taking of Baghdad. 

We‘ve got an attack in Ramadi, main force attack, not IEDs, not little improvised bombs.  Dozens of guys racing up against the Marines, taking them on hand to hand. 

Fallujah, we‘ve got our G.I.‘s crawling back into a city to try to begin some sort of punitive cleansing of that city. 

And we have al-Sadr out there on the run who‘s left his mosque. 

It looks to me like an insurrection from here.  What do you see?

GEN. WAYNE DOWNING, U.S. ARMY (RET.):  Well, Chris, for the first thing, things are never as good or as bad as the first report.  I really think we‘ve got to wait to see how this thing sorts out once the sun comes up. 

You know, one commander can make a tactical mistake, and you can lose 10 guys just like that.  I don‘t know if that happened. 

Certainly, there are things going on around the country.  Are they connected?  It‘s really too early to see. 

MATTHEWS:  Connect these dots if you will or don‘t connect them.  Al-Sadr for the first time a really direct assault on our forces by a Shia.  Not Sunni. 

No. 2, the situation in Fallujah.  Going back into the town and apparently kicking ass is not working the way we want.  We had to crawl back in.  It‘s very tricky getting into that city.  And those people aren‘t quitting. 

In Ramadi, we had guys not setting off bombs but running right at our troops.  Doesn‘t that suggest a qualitative difference in the fight?

DOWNING:  Once again, Chris, day one.  I mean, let‘s see how this thing sorts out.  Let‘s see what it‘s like tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. 

MATTHEWS:  How could it be?

DOWNING:  Well, it could well be just local resistance.  Everybody in Iraq is generally armed.  The Sunni Triangle, they‘re very heavily armed.  There‘s high unemployment.  Some of these people, really, really hate us. 

Some of these incidents that take place are no more, Chris, than a guy gets just so angry he gets two or three of his buddies, goes out and... 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s not what the president said last night after night and day in this country.  The president of the United States says our problem over there is a few people that don‘t like freedom.  They‘re called terrorists.  The country wants us there.  What‘s the truth?

DOWNING:  Well, that‘s partly true.  There are some foreign fighters.  And a lot of them were the ones who were doing this suicide bombings.  What we‘re seeing now, I don‘t think, is that.  It‘s former Ba‘ath Party people, former loyalists. 

MATTHEWS:  And Shias. 

DOWNING:  Well, and the Shias.  On the other hand, but again, Chris, I don‘t want to downplay this.  This is one small element of the Shia population. 

MATTHEWS:  Dana, let me ask you a question.  This is politics.  This is people fighting against an outsider, led sometimes by a cleric, this young hotshot al-Sadr, led in Ramada with the Fallujah fronts directly.  People sticking their faces and going right after our people.  The politics of this thing.

Were we prepared at the Pentagon level to face these people?

DANA PRIEST, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Absolutely not.  That‘s why Donald Rumsfeld today for the first time, opened the possibility that he might actually need more troops.  Or that his commanders were going to be free enough to tell him that they might need more troops there. 

I think one of the most important things that Karl Vick has just said is that the Sunni and the Shia who have lived together are actually demonstrating together now. 

The U.S. military‘ going to know whether they‘re coordinating as well.  Perhaps that is whole point, to open two points against U.S. military and make them more vulnerable.  And we will see.  I think the military and intelligence community will know quickly whether they are coordinating in the military sense. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk when we come back with Dana and General Downing about whether we need more troops.  It looks like a lot more people sticking their heads up and shooting at us.  We‘ll be watching.

Stay with us.  More with HARDBALL, coming back on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re coming back with the “Washington Post‘s” Dana Priest and General Wayne Downing.  On Thursday, join me and Lester Holt at 9 a.m.  for our coverage of Condoleezza Rice‘s testimony to the 9/11 commission.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Dana Priest of the “Washington Post” and General Wayne Downing.

Today, the United States suffered the worst casualties today since the taking of Baghdad on three fronts.  The attacks on our Marines, the loss of 20 Marines, the loss of many more wounded in Ramadi.  The continuing fight in Fallujah as part of our cleanup of that city where we saw the four Americans killed and burned this past weekend. 

And now we have the fighting and the pursuit of al-Sadr, the young radical cleric we‘re up against as an insurgency that develops within the Shia community, where we had only been fighting the Sunni before. 

General Wayne Downing, the secretary of defense talked today about possibly letting field commanders call for more troops.  Is that a development?

DOWNING:  Yes, I think it is.  I think it‘s very significant.  And of course, those commanders are going to have to weigh that and they‘re going to be very conscious, Chris, that this has a political dimension to it in an election year. 

MATTHEWS:  That suggests that we‘re not winning with the strategy we have if you ask for more troops. 

DOWNING:  Well, not necessarily.  They may be able to shift forces around.  One of the things the commanders are going to have in the back of their minds is if they tell the secretary of defense they need more troops, they‘re not going to show up tomorrow or the following week.  It‘s going to take several weeks to get them there. 

I mean, there are some ready Marines.  There are some ready Army guys that are ready to go.  But you know, any reinforcement beyond two or three battalions is probably going to take some training before you get them there. 

MATTHEWS:  Dana, it seems all along, as we‘ve discussed this on the show so many times during the months, almost years now, of course, why there‘s been this resistance from the secretary of defense to bring in more troops. 

It‘s always seemed to me a bit of an ideological defense.  He says we‘ve got a lean and mean Army, because we have a very surgical, brilliantly developed ideology of this war.  We‘re going into a country that‘s all ready to embrace us.  It‘s simply a matter of implementing that through a sufficient force level.  It‘s not a question of basically conquering a people. 

Is that still an alive, living mentality, that we can win this war without basically taking down the insurgents?

PRIEST:  Well, I definitely think that was there in the beginning.  And that ideology that we would be welcomed drove the troop levels to some degree.  But now, as you see, Rumsfeld has opened himself up to the possibility that he wasn‘t quite correct there. 

We have about 20,000 troops more in Iraq today than would be normal because of the troop rotations.  And still, they‘re not being able to deal effectively yet with these two fronts. 

So the fact that in the midst of this, he is still saying that, I think does speak to perhaps the fact that they know they have not gotten the security situation under control.  They come out and say every day that they will, but it has only gotten worse.  And the Shia uprising is definitely most threatening sign of that. 

MATTHEWS:  What will you be looking for, General, to decide whether we‘re continuing to fight isolated terrorists or an uprising?

DOWNING:  Let‘s see what happens over the next week, Chris.  Let‘s see if Ramadi and Fallujah stay hot.  Let‘s see if the Marines have broken that crust and get into the city.  They‘re going to be able to do cordon search operations, police the people up...

MATTHEWS:  And wait until we see whether the Sunni and the Shia gang up against us. 

DOWNING:  And see what happens in Sadr City.  And then let‘s watch the rest of the country...

MATTHEWS:  Got to go.  Out of time.  Thank you very much, Dana Priest from the “Washington Post” newsroom and General Wayne Downing.  Thank you, sir.

Up next, Ralph Nader‘s running for president again, but can a third party candidate ever be successful?

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Our next guest is a man who marches to his own drummer, Bill Hillsman.  He is the political ad man behind some of the highest profile third party candidates ever, Jesse Ventura and Ralph Nader. 

Here‘s an ad Bill produced for Ventura. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  From the Reform Party, it‘s the new Jesse Ventura action figure.  You can make Jesse battle special interest groups. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t want your stupid money. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And party politics. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We politicians have power the average man can‘t comprehend it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You can also make Jesse lower taxes, improve public education and fight for the things Minnesotans really care about. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Let‘s not waste taxpayer money. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Bill Hillsman joins us right now from New York.  His new book is called “Run the Other Way: Fixing the Two-Party System One Campaign at a Time.” 

Bill, are you proud of that ad?  Did that accomplish what you wanted to do?

BILL HILLSMAN, AUTHOR, “RUN THE OTHER WAY”:  It got Jesse Ventura elected.  It‘s the first professional wrestler, I think, that‘s been elected governor. 

MATTHEWS:  How about those campaign promises.  Did they all get done while he was in there that one term?

HILLSMAN:  Yes.  He was actually a pretty good governor. 

MATTHEWS:  Cut taxes, improved education, all those good things?

HILLSMAN:  Yes.  He was the first governor in a long time that put people into his cabinet based on merit instead of political favors. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s look at an ad you did for Ralph Nader that parodies MasterCard‘s “priceless” campaigns. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... fund-raiser: $1,000 a plate. 

Campaign ads billed with half truths: $10 million. 

Promises special interest groups over $10 billion. 

Finding out the truth?  Priceless. 

There are some things that money can‘t buy.  For everything else, there‘s your voter registration card. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Bill, are you proud of that ad that got Nader enough votes to turn the vote the other way in Florida, some would argue, and the other way in New Hampshire?

HILLSMAN:  Well, I think if you read my book you‘ll find out that that‘s not a very good analysis.  Yes, I am proud of that ad.  I thought it was...

MATTHEWS:  How is your analysis different from common sense?

HILLSMAN:  Common sense, I think, tends to give Al Gore too much credit for running a good campaign when in fact, he ran a really, really poor campaign. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I never said he ran a good campaign.  I still hold your candidate responsible for costing him Florida. 

HILLSMAN:  You‘ve got to read my book. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s in it that I don‘t know?

HILLSMAN:  What‘s in it is that we didn‘t spend any money in swing states like Florida.  What‘s in it is that we did very little campaigning in Florida.  And I think it just gives Al Gore...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me ask you, what was the margin of victory if you give him that, to the president in Florida?  About 500 votes?

HILLSMAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And how many votes did Ralph Nader get in Florida?

HILLSMAN:  How many votes did—Democrats vote for George Bush in Florida?

MATTHEWS:  How many votes did Ralph Nader get in Florida?  Ninety-thousand?

HILLSMAN:  Ninety-thousand, yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Wouldn‘t you say 90,000 could be argued to have played some role in a 500-vote margin?

HILLSMAN:  Again, I think there‘s more to it than what you‘re suggesting.  And I think you‘ve got to read my book to figure that out. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  I get the drift of your message here. 

Let‘s talk about Air America.  It seems like the liberals led by my friend Mark Walsh and Al Franken have grabbed the title of an old CIA front.  That was the airline company that was, I guess, a front, a cut out for the CIA back in Vietnam days. 

Let me ask you this.  Is that going to make it?

HILLSMAN:  I think it is.  I think it‘s going to need a little time to get its feet under itself and hit its stride.  But I think it‘s going to be a good commercial product. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think it takes a sort of a political fund-raising effort, more or less, an attempt to sort of almost earmark a commercial product creating—let‘s face, it Rush Limbaugh was not backed by the RNC.  He didn‘t get together with a bunch of Republicans, say, “Here, I think I can make it as a conservative broadcaster.” 

He was a good broadcaster who happens to be a conservative.  Same with the others like Sean and the rest. 

Why did the Democrats have to do this almost as a group to get this thing going?

HILLSMAN:  I think—I think you‘re not giving them enough credit either.  I think—I come from the communications field and the business field.  That‘s a classic case of an unserved marketing need out there. 

There‘s—The format works.  We know it works.  But there‘s nobody speaking for that other 50 percent of the population out there.  I think it‘s a smart business move. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think of all the people who drive as part of their work, mainly salesmen out on the road who tend to be Republicans, do you think there‘s enough Democrats who are traveling salesmen to make this thing have a big enough audience?

HILLSMAN:  That‘s not the way talk radio works.  Sometimes you listen to talk radio just to get aggravated.  There‘s probably people that listen to your show just to get aggravated. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, maybe you‘re helping. 

Let‘s go here—Let me ask you about third party candidates, Bill.  You‘ve worked with a couple of them: Jesse who‘s been a colleague here for a long time, and Ralph Nader, who I worked for years ago.

Let me ask you—I guess it‘s a tautology.  It‘s a catch 22.  They don‘t work because they don‘t work.  What is it—Why don‘t third parties, of course they wouldn‘t be third parties.  If they worked, they‘d be second parties.  And the party they bump out would be the third party. 

But why is it hard to get into the act?  I guess Ross Perot got about 19 percent.  That‘s about as good as you‘ve gotten since going back to the Bull Moose Party in ‘12 or whatever it was, in the last century. 

HILLSMAN:  Right.  But the two parties conspire against any third parties getting traction.  As soon as Perot got 19 percent of the vote in 1992 they slammed the door.  They make it tough on ballot access; they won‘t threat third party candidates into the debates anymore. 

MATTHEWS:  He was in. 

HILLSMAN:  Pardon me?

MATTHEWS:  He was in.

HILLSMAN:  Perot was but not since.  And then they slammed the door. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Nader is going to be a spoiler this year like he was last time?

HILLSMAN:  No.  I think he‘s going to be completely inconsequential. 

MATTHEWS:  Why?  What‘s changed in four years?

HILLSMAN:  There‘s—well, first of all, he‘s running as an independent.  And he seems to think that just by saying that he‘s an independent, all the independents are going to go vote for him.  Independents are going to decide the election, but I don‘t think they‘re all going to go vote for Ralph Nader. 

He‘s trying to establish a coalition of progressives, traditional liberals, independents and hard-core conservatives that are upset at the Bush administration. 

MATTHEWS:  Remember what your parents—Remember, Bill, what your parents said, when you were standing in the door and leaving it open?  In or out!

HILLSMAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  In or out!  That‘s what this campaign‘s about.  It‘s either Bush in or but Bush out.  And that means Gore—rather, that means Bush or it means Kerry. 

We‘ll be right back.  Thank you very much, Bill Hillsman, your new book.

Up next, at look at what—why it‘s taking so long to reopen the Statue of Liberty. 

And later, former White House inspector David Kay told CIA director George Tenet last July there were no WMDs in Iraq.  So why did it take so long for the rest of us to find out?  That‘s the question, coming up.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, Americans donated millions for to reopen the Statue of Liberty after 9/11, so why isn‘t it open yet?  We‘ll have a special report. 

But, first, the latest headlines right now.

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Tonight, a HARDBALL spotlight on the group that manages the Statue of Liberty.  The monument has been closed since September 11, but those in charge have been collecting big salaries from those who thought you were giving money to reopen the statue. 

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster reports. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC ELECTION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It‘s a national treasure and a symbol around the world of freedom. 

But the foundation that help manage the Statue of Liberty is now the subject of two federal investigations.  The Senate Finance Committee tells HARDBALL that lawmakers are seeking records and documents related to foundation‘s salaries, fund-raising and maintenance contracts.  The Statue of Liberty Foundation has a financial endowment estimated at more than $30 million. 

But when the statue was closed after 9/11, the foundation decided not to dip into that endowment to pay for new safety and security arrangements.  Instead, the foundation launched a fund-raising drive which included television commercials.  Today, nearly three years after 9/11, the foundation has collected more than $7 million.  But the statue remain closed.  Visitors continue to be turned away and much of the construction has not even begun. 

Some New Yorkers, including the mayor yesterday, blamed the problems

on the indecision of the National Park Service, which initially wasn‘t sure

whether public access inside the statue was such a good idea.  But

investigators in Congress and in the Department of the Interior are

concerned about the foundation itself.  Some staff salaries, they allege,

are in excess of $100,000.  And there are questions about why the

foundation set a goal of raising twice as much money as seemed to be

needed.  While the investigation deepens, the interior secretary promises

the statue will be open to visitors later this summer. 

rMD+BO_

rMD-BO_GALE NORTON, SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR:  They will see a reservation system so that we won‘t have people waiting in long lines and there will be lots of things that are not very visible.  There is going to be a new exit so that there‘s better exit from the building in case of fire problems.  There are going to be lots much unseen things that will make the premises a lot safer. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  Still, congressional investigators are absolutely convinced that the Statue of Liberty, the world‘s No. 1 symbol of freedom, could have and should have been reopened months ago.  And lawmakers are determined to find out who on the foundation may have benefited from the lengthy closure and from keeping the fund-raising campaign going. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Stephen Briganti is the president and CEO of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation.  Congressman Maurice Hinchey is a New York Democrat.  And Larry Parkinson is the deputy assistant secretary of the interior. 

Let me go right now to Mr. Briganti.

A simple question.  Who decides or has decided when the Statue of Liberty should open to the public? 

STEPHEN BRIGANTI, PRESIDENT & CEO, STATUE OF LIBERTY-ELLIS ISLAND

FOUNDATION:  Chris, the National Parks Service decides that.  And one piece

about your lead-in, the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation does not

manage the Statue of Liberty.  That‘s solely in the province of the National Parks Service. 

MATTHEWS:  All right, let‘s go right now to Mr. Parkinson. 

Why has it taken so long to open the Statue of Liberty since 9/11? 

LARRY PARKINSON, ASST. SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR:  After 9/11, immediately after 9/11, the Parks Service and the department undertook a series of health, safety and security reviews. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Were they related to 9/11? 

PARKINSON:  Some of them were related to 9/11.  One thing that 9/11 did was, it forced all of us to reassess what it means to invite visitors into a structure like that.  So we did a comprehensive series of assessments.

We did assessments.  The work began immediately after 9/11 to address a number of the issues that were identified, both pre-9/11 and post-9/11.  Among other things, the statue has a very narrow stairway inside the statue.  There weren‘t adequate fire exits.  There‘s no way it could meet code. 

MATTHEWS:  But that‘s unrelated to 9/11 and to security, isn‘t it?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And to terrorism.

PARKINSON:  The health and safety issues are related to 9/11 in this sense, that 9/11, the events of 9/11 forced us to rethink, how would we get people out of this structure if there was an incident?  So in that sense, it is related to 9/11. 

MATTHEWS:  Why have you kept people from going to the base?  I‘ve been there a number of times, at least twice in the last several years.  And you can always go to the base.  Why didn‘t you let people go to the base and look up at the statue? 

PARKINSON:  People will be able to go to the base.

MATTHEWS:  No, but why has it not been the case since 9/11 you‘ve been able to visit the Statue of Liberty? 

PARKINSON:  Well, since 9/11...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, people want to know why.  You come here from another country—New Yorkers want to go out and look at that once in a while.  How come they haven‘t been able to do it since 9/11? 

PARKINSON:  Two things.  And there‘s been a little misimpression that the island itself has been closed. 

In December 2001, a couple months after 9/11, we reopened the island itself, Liberty Island.  And four million visitors have visited the island up close and personal view, touched the statue.  They haven‘t been inside the base of the statue because it‘s been under construction with these health and safety and security...

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Briganti—let me go to Congressman Maurice Hinchey. 

What do you make of this?  It seems cloudy to me, that 9/11 was a base from which to begin to examine all these possible health problems or safety problems.  And then the question is, why is this company out there, Briganti, which in charge of raising money to pay for repairs, etcetera, why are they saying, if you give us money, we‘ll reopen Lady Liberty and now we‘re told that it has been opened all these months?  What is it?

REP. MAURICE HINCHEY (D), NEW YORK:  Well, it hasn‘t been open.  They were right to assess the safety functions and features there. 

But here we are, more than 2 ½ years after September 11 and the statue is still not open.  And the repairs and the safety concerns have not been adequately addressed.  Certainly, the Statue of Liberty Foundation has had more than enough money to do it.  As you mentioned just a few moments ago, Chris, they‘re sitting on more than $30 million.  And they had as much as $50 million last year.  And then the Parks Service, of course, all they have to do is ask the Congress for the money if they really want that statue open. 

The statue should be open.  It should have been open long ago. 

There‘s no reason for it to remain closed. 

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Briganti, whose decision is it whether to open up the statue, yours or the Parks Services? 

BRIGANTI:  The secretary of interior makes that decision. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you say if you raise a certain amount of money you can open it, if it isn‘t your call? 

(CROSSTALK)

BRIGANTI:  Well, we‘re in a partnership with the Department of Interior.  We‘re the organization that started back in the 1980s and raised all the money to restore the Statue of Liberty the first time and Ellis Island.

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

BRIGANTI:  And then build the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, which has had about 20 million visitors since it opened, and then the great manifest records center out there. 

Last summer, at the end of July, the National Parks Service asked us to become involve.  They asked us to go out and raise $7 million, which we are in the process of doing.  We have practically got it all raised.  We started right away.  And they also asked us to do the work on the inside of the statue.  But we cannot do it until a plan has been written off on by the Statue of Liberty—by the secretary of interior. 

And I‘m happy to tell you that that happened last week and construction began yesterday. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, do you believe that you‘ve been honest to the people who have kicked in, like the mayor of New York, Mike Bloomberg, giving $100,000?  Do you believe that you‘re giving those people what you promised, which is a reopened Statue of Liberty?

PARKINSON:  Well, we‘re giving them the reopened Statue of Liberty to the degree that the secretary will allow it to open now. 

Now, what is better, not to go in and see the wonderful museum and the torch that we took down in the 1980s and go up to the pedestal level and go outside—and we‘re building a special glass enclosure where they can peer up into the statue‘s dress.  Sure, we would all love to go back to the crown.  But that‘s a decision that rests with the government. 

MATTHEWS:  Where is your thinking on that? 

BRIGANTI:  Mine? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BRIGANTI:  Well, we would all like to go back to the way we were before 9/11.  But I‘m not going to second-guess the secretary.  She has lots of information that I‘m not privy to about terrorism.  She hasn‘t said for sure that this thing will never open to the crown.  But that‘s in her province and we hope that...

MATTHEWS:  Well, if it‘s not going to open, what does it mean to promise people that if they give money—and you‘ve said you‘ve been able to raise this millions of dollars—what does it mean to promise them you‘ll reopen Lady Liberty if you know you can‘t do it, because it‘s been decided not to do it? 

BRIGANTI:  It has been decided to reopen Lady Liberty, its pedestal, up to the fort level and also the exterior.  At this point, she‘s taking it one step at a time.  She hasn‘t said, as I understand it, she‘ll never open to the crown. 

The work that needs to be done, Chris, all needs to be done below the

level of the statue.  That‘s where the work is getting done.  There‘s not

much—and you can ask Larry about what would need to be done to

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Just to clarify this one more time, Mr. Briganti, what are you able to do now, or not able to do now that you weren‘t able to do before 9/11 as a tourist? 

BRIGANTI:  When the statue opens in about four months, you will be able to go up to the top of the pedestal.  You‘ll be able to look into the statue, see the great Eiffel work inside and the inside of the dress, go out on the promenade of the pedestal and be able to go into the Statue of Liberty Museum, which we built in the ‘80s.  We think it‘s great.

MATTHEWS:  And how is that different from what you were able to do before 9/11? 

BRIGANTI:  The only thing that at this moment I understand that you won‘t be able to do, the only thing you won‘t be able to do is climb to the crown. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that correct? 

PARKINSON:  That‘s correct. 

MATTHEWS:  So we‘ll come right back.  I want to talk about how the money is being used right now, because these issues are raised, Mr.  Briganti, about how whether there was bidding on these contracts, whether there was money that wasn‘t used as it might have been.  Let‘s talk about that with you and the others, with Congressman Maurice Hinchey and with Larry Parkinson. 

Back in a moment with these gentlemen to talk about the future of the Lady Liberty.

And later, a new “Vanity Fair” article details the path to war with Iraq, the weapons of mass destruction.  There‘s some real news in this article, some real shockers.  When we come back, we‘ll talk about the war with Iraq and how it was sold to us.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

ANNOUNCER:  Follow all the action in the battle for the White House.  Just sign up for the best political briefing around.  Log on to our newly redesigned Web site at HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Still ahead, weapons inspector David Kay told the Bush administration Iraq didn‘t have WMD last summer.  Why did it take so long for everyone else to find out?

HARDBALL back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Stephen Briganti, Congressman Maurice Hinchey, and Larry Parkinson.

Congressman, I want to ask you, as a political figure, as a representative of parts of New York, do you think it is fair to say that we‘ll reopen Lady Liberty if you kick into this fund and people are not told who kick into it, we‘ll never really be able to open up the way it was? 

HINCHEY:  No, I don‘t.  I think it is the responsibility of the federal government to reopen the statue. 

Those repairs should have been made long ago.  Everyone knew what the conditions were like inside the statue.  Everyone who has been there is familiar with the narrowness of the stairway.  All of those things should have been addressed long ago by the secretary of the interior and the Parks Service.  After 2001, the necessary repairs should have been undertaken.  And they should have undertaken immediately.  There‘s no excuse for not doing it.  The money was there obviously, as we know. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the money was there for the repairs, right, but how about the need to hire people on an hour-by-hour people like in airports?  That‘s the kind of money no foundation can handle. 

HINCHEY:  The federal government should maintain security.  Whatever security is necessary, that security level should have been maintained.  Mayor Bloomberg suggested that yesterday.  I think he was going a little bit too far in what he was saying.  But that‘s the responsibility of the federal government, to maintain that security. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask Larry Parkinson.

You‘re representing the Interior Department here.  Does the Interior Department have the resources, the cash, to hire security people like we have in airports to check people before they go up there, put them through screening? 

PARKINSON:  It does.  It does.

MATTHEWS:  Why don‘t we do it?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m talking about going up into the tower, the Statue of Liberty as it was able to be visited right before 9/11. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  If you say you‘re going to open it the way it was, why haven‘t we done it?  What is the hindrance? 

PARKINSON:  The hindrance is, as Steve Briganti, indicated, the secretary has not foreclosed the option of eventually going up further than the observation deck level. 

But we‘re taking this a step at a time.  It isn‘t responsible at this point in time, in a few months when we reopen the structure, to go further into that statue.  It is not a question of having people.  This is a very narrow double helix spiral staircase that was never designed for visitors. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  When you‘re in an airplane, you‘re only protected by the screeners who check people getting on the airplane.  That‘s a narrow place, too, an airplane.  And you‘re 39,000 feet.  So why do you have to have—you‘re laughing, but why do you have to have more procedures here than you have getting on an airplane, where people are totally vulnerable? 

PARKINSON:  Well, we do have similar procedures in airports.  And we are screening people both when they get on the ferries at Battery Park and Liberty State Park to get to the island. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

PARKINSON:  And then, when it reopens, there will be screening of visitors as they come into the structure.

MATTHEWS:  Who has made the decision not to open up Lady Liberty?  Who has made that decision? 

PARKINSON:  The secretary of the interior has made the decision that we‘re opening.... 

MATTHEWS:  She decided.  So she is the one we should have on the show to talk about it with her. 

Mr. Briganti, you didn‘t make the decision, did you, sir? 

BRIGANTI:  No.  No, we don‘t do that. 

MATTHEWS:  And if you had your druthers, sir, and you have some influence, since you‘re out there raising money for this cause, would you like to see it open up the way it was before 9/11? 

BRIGANTI:  I think everybody would, Chris. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Including you?

BRIGANTI:  Well, yes, of course.  But we have to live within where we are today. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, sometimes, I wonder whether we should all buckle so easily to people who are in charge of security.  Everybody, I guess the congressman himself would have to sign his name in saying I vouch for this security decision, because if somebody does blow the arm off the Lady Liberty or the Statue of Liberty, I‘ll take responsibility as an American for thinking that was a reasonable risk to take. 

Would you make that commitment, Congressman? 

HINCHEY:  I would make the commitment to screen people going in to make certain that they were not capable of carrying out any kind of destruction like that. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And assume the risk that‘s implicit—the risk that‘s implicit of it going wrong. 

HINCHEY:  Pardon me?  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And you would assume the risk that‘s implicit. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And there could always be somebody who has figured out, like John Malkovich, how you could make a plastic gun and sneak in by and blow an arm off or something.  It‘s always possible.

HINCHEY:  Well, we live in a risky world, as we know.  But the federal government tells all of us to go about our lives as we normally would, in spite of the increased levels of security or the changing colors. 

The situation like that should prevail here.  We should take the appropriate security measures.  But there‘s no reason why, more than 2 ½ years after September 11 of ‘01, that that statue should still be closed to the general public. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you, everyone.  This is a tricky problem, but it is complicated. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL. 

Thank you, Congressman Maurice Hinchey of New York, Larry Parkinson of the Parks Service and the Interior Department, and Stephen Briganti, who heads up the Statue of Liberty Foundation.

Coming up, new details on how Iraq intelligence was shaped prior to the war and how that squared with what our top inspector found once he got there.  A lot of arguments for the war, we‘re looking to see who‘s covering their rear ends.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on CNBC—actually, MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

In the May issue of “Vanity Fair,” a report looks up at the lead-up to the Iraq war.  They report that weapons inspector David Kay warned the CIA last July that there were no weapons of mass destruction.  Kay told the magazine that he was ready to resign early, but was told by CIA Director George Tenet that—quote—“If you resign now, we‘ll appear like we don‘t know what we‘re doing and the wheels are coming off.”

Joining me to talk about the path to war is its author, Bryan Burrough, special correspondent for “Vanity Fair.”

Just to go through your main point again, Bryan, why did David Kay keep this secret all these months that, there were no WMD, as claimed by those proposing the war? 

BRYAN BURROUGH, “VANITY FAIR”:  Well, as we all know now, Chris, it is very hard to confirm or prove a negative.  And I think that Mr. Kay put off any type of public announcement for some period of time, as well as his resignation for some period of time, because there was always the possibility that they might find something. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think here—why did he say to you as the reporter that he was able to make that dramatic, 100 percent, 1000 percent assumption about there being no WMD after only a month in country? 

BURROUGH:  Well, he actually didn‘t say it to me, Chris.  I was one of four writers on the project.  And he had his conversation with my colleague, David Wise (ph).  I could not why he felt what he did other than his study of the situation and his gut at that early point told him that they just were not going to find anything.  And after six or nine more months in country, that‘s in fact what ultimately happened.  And that is ultimately when he resigned. 

MATTHEWS:  If we went to war purportedly and largely on the issue of the threat to the United States from Iraq from its use of weapons of mass destruction or its distribution of those weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups around the world, which was the main case for the war, the self-defense of the United States, who convinced the president, dishonestly perhaps or erroneously definitely that they had the weapons of mass destruction that David Kay has now discovered that they don‘t? 

BURROUGH:  Well, it is a long story figuratively and literally. 

But at its base, we quote Richard Kerr, the former CIA official who was brought in to do the internal examination of CIA policies, to ask the questions, what went wrong?  And Kerr basically says that, we had very few human intelligence elements in Iraq and that through the mid-1990s, the CIA relied largely, almost exclusively for its intel on WMD from U.N. weapons inspectors. 

With the pulling out of U.N. weapons inspectors circa 1998, Kerr‘s report found the CIA basically was left without information and ended up extrapolating a lot of its assumptions, assumptions that we now believe to be untrue. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me quote something as you were—from the article. 

Former Deputy CIA Director Richard Kerr told “Vanity Fair” that agency analysts were subject to pressure by the White House, Cheney‘s office and other senior officials.  Kerr said that this was not because they were being asked to change their judgments, but they were being asked again and again to restate their judgments, do another paper on this, repetitive pressures, do it again.

This sounds very much like what the president did, according to Richard Clarke, to him in the situation room the day after 9/11, push him to say it is Iraq. 

BURROUGH:  It very much like that.  There is an interesting dynamic between the CIA and its client, in this case the White House. 

And that is a lot of intelligence as you know is fungible.  It may be WMD.  It may not.  And there‘s a constant give and take between CIA and the client about, well, how tough can we be?  And to make a very long story short, basically, a lot of the times when the CIA used the word may or might, by the time it got into the president or the vice president‘s speech, it ended being is or will or a mushroom cloud. 

MATTHEWS:  When I read these accounts and having read them and observed them for all these months since 9/11, it looks to me like the secretary of state, Colin Powell, a man of enormous worldwide respect, George Tenet, a man who is practically a family friends of the Bush family, father and son, were afraid of Richard Cheney. 

BURROUGH:  I wouldn‘t want to speculate,  Chris.  I just don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me go back—let‘s go back to what you reported, not what you are speculating.  You talk about Cheney going to the CIA 10 times pushing for information connecting it to Iraq.  You talked about Scooter Libby, the chief of staff to the vice president, telling Powell minutes before he went to the U.N. right before the war to push him to say there was a link to 9/11 and to al Qaeda, I should say. 

All this pressure.  The administration said aluminum tubes were for nuclear weapons, when the experts said they were not, when Energy and Defense both said they were not.  All this pressure from Scooter and Dick Cheney to force this information to truth, to somehow force it to be true.  Explain what you mean in your reporting, if that is not what you are saying. 

BURROUGH:  Well, that is exactly what we are saying. 

Powell obviously found himself in a terrible quandary leading up to his famous or infamous speech in January of 2003 at the U.N.  I thought one of the most insightful things that we had in the article was that the entirety of the vice president office‘s findings about WMD, about alleged terrorist connections...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BURROUGH:  ... was all put into a single report put together by Scooter Libby in the situation room and given to Powell and his staff for delivery to the U.N.  And as we report in “Vanity Fair,” one of the first things that Powell did was throw the report out. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Ninety percent of it. 

BURROUGH:  Well, in fact, we quote them in the article saying essentially that they did not trust the report. 

MATTHEWS:  Why would somebody at an appointive level—the vice president was picked by the president.  He picked Scooter Libby.  Why would somebody have that much power over Cabinet officials? 

BURROUGH:  Why would they have that much power?

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BURROUGH:  I think it was just—it was intellectual give and take. 

And this one, there was a little give and a little take. 

MATTHEWS:  I think all of the give was from Scooter and all the take was from the Cabinet. 

Anyway, thank you very much, Brian Burrough.  What a piece, “Vanity Fair,” May issue. 

Join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Our guests will include political consultant—what a guy this guy is—Mike Murphy, Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s best friend.

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

END   

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