updated 4/8/2004 11:25:43 AM ET 2004-04-08T15:25:43

Guests: Robin Wright, Dick Couch, Karen Hughes, Richard Clarke

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tonight, some of the heaviest fighting in Iraq since the fall of Baghdad almost a year ago.  Fierce battles have left 35 coalition soldiers and 200 Iraqis dead. 

And today U.S. forces attacked insurgents inside a mosque compound in Fallujah as Muslim rivals continued to unite in protest. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews. 

The United States has found itself engaged in a hot two-front war in Iraq.  In the Sunni town of Fallujah, Marines fired a rocket and dropped a 500-pound bomb on a mosque that militants were holed up in. 

Meanwhile, the young cleric al-Sadr used secular language aimed at unifying all Iraqis and warned that Iraq would become, quote, “another Vietnam for Americans.” 

And there are now sign in the north that Sunni insurgents and the Shiite militia are allied in their fight against U.S. forces. 

We‘ll have the latest from Iraq in just a moment.  We want to remind you that our coverage of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice‘s testimony before the 9/11 commission begins at 9 a.m. Eastern tomorrow morning, followed by a special added edition of HARDBALL at noon tomorrow. 

But first, let‘s to go NBC‘s Richard Engel for the latest on the escalated violence in Iraq—Richard. 

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, at one stage in Fallujah, the military fired on a mosque, killing anywhere between 15 and 40 people. 

Evidently, the bomb landed in the mosque‘s courtyard, and most of the people were killed by shrapnel.  And they were actually standing outside the mosque on the street and in nearby buildings.  The military says it was taking fire from the mosque. 

Also, today the military has said that at least three Marines have been killed in the ongoing fight against Fallujah.  This following 12 Marines who were killed yesterday in Ramadi when their—when their headquarters was ambushed by dozens of apparently well-trained attackers. 

Adding to the chaos is the ongoing uprising led by the Shiite radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.  Today the fighting by his supporters, the so-called Mehdi army, was most intense in the southern Iraqi city of Kut.  At one stage, his supporters managed to force out Ukrainian coalition soldiers from the city itself. 

The U.S. military today said that it will take action to destroy the Mehdi army. 

In one potentially worrying development, although there are no indications at this stage that the Shiites and Sunnis are coordinating their attacks, they are certainly encouraging each other.  And there have been statements from both Shiites and from the—from Sunnis saying that they should do more to work together—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  That‘s NBC‘s Richard Engel, who‘s in Baghdad. 

Robin Wright is the national reporter for the “Washington Post” and frequently writes about terrorism in the Middle East. 

Robin, thanks for joining us tonight.  You‘ve been all over this part of the world.  What would it mean for the United States to have attacked a mosque today?

ROBIN WRIGHT, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, this will clearly have serious fallout among all Muslim in Iraq.  There is a great sensitivity about religious holy places, particularly coming a year after the United States has been there. 

The United States will—or at least Iraqis will believe the United States will clearly know where the mosques are in Iraq and that they could have avoided this if they‘d wanted to. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what about the military question?  We understand from wire sources today that there was a conflict in terms of the rules of engagement.  That the Air Force commander would not approve that attack, but the ground forces were asking for it. 

WRIGHT:  Well, the key issue is really who was hiding inside that mosque or more importantly, in the walls surrounding the mosque. 

The mosque itself was not hit.  The walls, the wall outside it was.  And if militants were hiding there, which is not an uncommon tactic, then, you know, that will be seen by some U.S. forces as making it a legitimate target. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the two-front war.  Let‘s start in the north.  Let‘s start with the Sunnis and the Sunni Triangle. 

This movement in Fallujah, which includes this attack on this mosque here today, some people think it‘s beginning to look very much like the Israeli army, the idea of going through West Bank. 

Here we are attacking mosque men in this case.  The Israelis are very careful not to do that.  And here we are going house to house.  We‘re looking for people.  We‘re shooting them up.  Innocent people, of course they‘re going to get killed. 

Is this just making us more enemies in the Baghdad region?

WRIGHT:  Well, that‘s the real danger, that this kind of house to house penetration will make the United States more hated in the region.  I think there‘s always been a deep fear or anger about the idea of a long-term occupation by the United States and its allies. 

But the mere—The fact that the United States is now engaged in kind of house to house activity will certainly make those who have been sitting on the fence think again about where their priorities are right now. 

And that‘s likely to strengthen the hand of the Sunni insurgents in the north, as well as the Shiite radicals in the south. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about al-Sadr.  Do you know this guy, the 30-year-old cleric who‘s leading the war against us in the south among the Shia?

WRIGHT:  I don‘t know him personally, but I know a lot about him. 

And this is a man who really is—has limited support, or did have limited support until last week inside Iraq, compared with someone like the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who had become the most popular religious, and even arguably political figure in Iraq over the past year. 

Sadr really is playing for his political survival, because he inherited a title from his family.  His father was a noted cleric, as was his grandfather.  And he is the youngest surviving son of a man who was assassinated in 1999 by Saddam Hussein‘s loyalists. 

And he had developed a comparatively small militia around him, estimated at anywhere between 2,000 to 10,000 people.  And he didn‘t have the kind of political clout to be a major player after the U.S. occupation ends is June 30.  He was basically using thuggery to survive. 

And the United States has known over the past few weeks that it was likely to lead to some kind of confrontation.  I think where the United States was caught short was that they didn‘t expect to it happen so quickly and so brutally and with such a reaction. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me read you something he said today, which struck me as politically very brilliant.  Because it‘s totally secular; it‘s totally nationalistic.  It‘s not appealing to Shia against Sunni.  It‘s appearing to all factions in that country to come up against America. 

It also calls for Americans to basically call off the occupation.  “I call upon the American people,” this guy Sadr wrote today, “to stand beside their brethren, the Iraqi people, who are suffering an injustice by your rulers and the occupying army, to help them in the transfer of power to honest Iraqis.  Otherwise Iraq will be another Vietnam for America and the occupiers.” 

Pretty sophisticated stuff here.  Propaganda but good stuff.  What do you make of it?

WRIGHT:  You‘re right, Chris.  This was a brilliant tactical move.  He is trying to appeal to the nationalist instinct of Iraqis.  And of the 22 Arab nations, Iraqis are the most nationalist historically. 

This was the kind of thing that is likely to resonate among Shia, Sunni and Kurds.  And so even though he had, you know, a very small amount of support before this week, this is the kind of thing that could certainly increase his popularity and make him a player much longer than he would have been otherwise. 

MATTHEWS:  I just wonder about our situation over there.  I want to you fill me in on this, respond to what I say.  Here we are, putting down the Sunni uprising so that the Sistani-led government at some point can take over.  Because it will be a Shia-led government.  Sixty-five percent of the people are Shia.  In a democracy, they will dominate.

At the same time we‘re playing policeman, Officer Krupke on the corner of Fallujah and Ramadi and all over the Baghdad area and the Sunni Triangle and being hated more every day. 

We find ourself being challenged by a young challenger to Sistani in the Shia community, who may well be testing the water for Sistani with Sistani seeing if he‘s popular, he‘ll go along with him. 

How do we win this game?  We get to be cop for the Shia, and then the Shia turn out to be the radicals. 

WRIGHT:  Well, two critical steps will be necessary for the United States to pull out of this crisis. 

One will be a swift tactical victory in the north against the Sunni insurgents.  And quickly, to contain Sadr‘s forces and to get him.  And of course, this is going to be very difficult because he‘s been hiding also in mosques.  And the United States to move in militarily against the mosques will really inflame tensions. 

And the second, frankly, is to move politically, to get a government in place that is deemed to be credible and representative of all Iraqis.  If the United States is unable to do both of those, then we‘re in real trouble when—for what we will leave behind on June 30. 

MATTHEWS:  Who there be boss of the civilian government once we turn it over at the end of June?  Who going to be the new government?  Who‘s leading it?

WRIGHT:  Well, Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. special representative, is currently in Iraq trying to figure out exactly the answer to that question. 

What kind of formula will work after two earlier U.S. proposals failed abysmally in winning Iraqi support for a new government?  How do you pick it?  Who should be on it?

If I were a betting woman I suspect that the formula that will be left behind is an enlarged governing council.  In other words, taking the 25 hand picked representatives now, part of—now the partner to the United States coalition, expanding to it 50, 75, perhaps as large as 100, although I doubt that large and to turn over to them. 

It will be a very imperfect solution, because of course the governing council is not seen as legitimate and does not have widespread support inside Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘re turning it over to a committee.  That really impresses me. 

Anyway, thank you very much.  Robin Wright of the “Washington Post,” chief international correspondent.

Coming up, much more from Iraq.  We‘ll examine the use of private security forces working on our side in Iraq. 

And later, Bush adviser Karen Hughes on the escalated violence in Iraq and the upcoming election against Senator John Kerry. 

And don‘t forget, our coverage of Condoleezza Rice‘s testimony before the 9/11 commission begins tomorrow morning at 9 a.m.  We‘ll be here at 9 a.m.  We‘ll have a special edition, an added edition of HARDBALL tomorrow at noon, as well as the edition tomorrow night.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, we‘ll examine the use of private security forces on our side inside Iraq.  And tomorrow, join me and Lester Holt at 9 a.m.  in the morning for our coverage of Condoleezza Rice‘s testimony at the 9/11 commission.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Following last week‘s vicious killings and mutilations of four Blackwater security guards in Fallujah, eight Americans from the same private security firm engaged in an intense firefight with Iraqis in Najaf on Sunday and were forced to send in their own helicopters to rescue a wounded Marine. 

What‘s the role of these privatized soldiers in Iraq?  And does the fact that they‘re engaging in battle indicate a troop shortage in Iraq?

Dick Couch is a retired Navy SEAL captain and author of “The Finishing School,” which chronicles Navy SEAL advanced training. 

Mr. Couch, thank you very much for this. 

Why do we have nonmilitary people fighting this war in Iraq?

CAPT. DICK COUCH, U.S. NAVY SEALS (RET.):  I‘m not so sure we can say that they‘re fighting this war in Iraq.  They‘re there in a security capacity, those four unfortunates who—Blackwater personnel who were killed in Fallujah. 

They were protecting ESS, a food service company.  These are—

They‘re in a security, either executive security protection or they‘re protecting it while infrastructure—while we‘re trying to help the Iraqis. 

But they have the ability, when attacked, to turn and fight, as they did at—in an-Najaf, I think I said that right.  So whereas their role is not military, it‘s security, they can and will fight.  And they can be very effective war fighters, as we saw here the other day. 

MATTHEWS:  What kind of—what‘s the market for these guys right now? 

These highly trained veterans?  What are they getting, $1,000 a day? 

Something like that?

COUCH:  I have heard reports between $100 and $200,000 that they‘re being paid.  But these are people with immense amount of experience. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

COUCH:  Some of them, 15 to 25 years.  They‘re very capable.  They can make good decisions in the field tactically, as well as provide good security for what they‘re being paid to do. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m not knocking their salary.  I‘m suggesting it‘s a dangerous terrain to be fighting in.  You ought to be paid a lot for it.  And the market here seems to be pretty high. 

Let me ask you about the situation on the ground.  From what I understand from General Downing, you basically have a couple places you can be in Iraq. 

You can be in the zone in downtown Baghdad about a three-mile square area which is highly secure.  Once you go out of that secure area, however, it‘s every man for himself. 

And when these four guys went Fallujah the other day, they were basically out there to defend themselves.  Nobody—There‘s no 911 number to call.  There‘s no local police.  And there‘s no Marines that are going to—there‘s no cavalry that‘s going to come to your aid.  You‘re basically on your own. 

Is that the situation these security guys faced?

COUCH:  I think in certain cases, it is.  I understand from—that they were carrying out their job and they had to take a detour that took them into a bad area.  And they paid a horrible price for having made that detour. 

By and large, they‘re to provide security, think ahead when other people, you know, who are doing infrastructure work or they‘re shepherding VIP‘s in the area to make sure that they‘re—where they have to be is safe, the work that‘s going on is secure. 

And they look ahead to do this.  They provide security while that work is going on or while those VIP‘s are in place and then get them back to another safe area. 

So, but yes, there are certain situations when they have to turn war fighters, as they did in an-Najaf, and when they have to fight, as we‘ve seen, they can be very effective when they do that. 

MATTHEWS:  Whose discipline are they under?  Are they like the wild geese?  Are they like a group that‘s going in on their own?  You know, I used to love those movies with Richard Harris about guys fighting in Africa.  But do they have a commander—a command system?

COUCH:  Well, it‘s not a command system.  And I did like that movie, “The Wild Geese,” very much myself. 

I think what it is, is they—there‘s a number of private security firms operating in Iraq.  Blackwater is just one of them.  They have their rules of engagement.  In certain areas, there‘s things they can do and things they can‘t do.

And also, one of these reasons these people are so valuable is they understand rules of engagement and what you can do and not do. 

So no—they‘re under the authority of the CPA, and they act under very strict guidelines of what they can and can‘t do.  However, if it‘s a firefight and kill or be killed, that‘s what they have to do. 

MATTHEWS:  Dick Couch, thanks for joining us.  The name of your book, and it‘s ironically titled, I can tell you, “Finishing School.”  Not at all like your usual finishing school. 

Up next, Bush adviser Karen Hughes will be here, and we‘ll ask her what the Bush administration needs to do to stop the violence in Iraq, the big question.

And don‘t forget our coverage of Condoleezza Rice‘s testimony before the 9/11 commission begins tomorrow at 9 a.m. in the morning, Eastern Time.  We‘ll have a special edition of HARDBALL, an added edition, at noon tomorrow, along with our regular hour at 7 p.m. tomorrow night Eastern.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)  

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Facing a tough re-election, one of President Bush‘s most trusted advisers, Karen Hughes, returns to the campaign trail this summer.  She‘s been with President Bush since he first ran for governor of Texas and served as counselor to the president for his first 18 months in the White House before returning to Austin with her family. 

She joins us now to talk about her new book, “Ten Minutes from Normal.” 

Karen, it‘s great to see your happy face.  You look very happy now compared to—I don‘t think you liked this city too much. 

You know, LBJ, who was a Democrat—who was a Democrat, but of course, was also a Texan once said when he left the White House after being president, he said, “I‘m going home to where people know when you‘re sick and care when you die.” 

Tell me about that.  Do you have that feeling yourself?

KAREN HUGHES, BUSH CAMPAIGN ADVISER:  Well, it‘s wonderful to be home. 

You know, people always ask me, what was it about Washington?  It wasn‘t so much anything against Washington as it was for Texas. 

That‘s our home.  Our family is there, our daughter, our granddaughter, our friends, our church community.  And we really love it there.  It‘s got a big sky in Texas, a great sense of possibility. 

And Texas, you know, when people stop me at the grocery store because they recognize me, they talk to my husband, too.  They‘re not just looking to talk to the one with the title.  They care about you as a person. 

And I—It‘s been great for our family to be back there.  I taught my son to drive.  I know you‘ve had teenagers, so you know what that‘s like.  I would have never been able to do that had I been at the White House, because you don‘t want to teach a teenager to drive in the dark. 

It‘s hard enough in the light.  I was never home in the light in Washington. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘re right.  You rightly said that Washington, as somebody once said, is not a city of people.  It‘s a city of slots.  And when you ask somebody, “What do you do” and they don‘t give you an exciting answer, you do turn to the next person. 

Let me ask you about what‘s happened since you‘ve been gone.  A lot has happened. 

When you look at the news today, and you‘re following it all day, like anybody who has worked in news, it seems to me that a lot is going on over in Iraq right now.  We‘ve got the Shia.  We‘ve got a young guy over there causing trouble.  He‘s like the new—the Geronimo in town, taking on the authority figure, Sistani. 

We‘ve got people in the north who have always caused trouble because they‘re loyal to Saddam. 

Did you foresee, did the president foresee that we‘d be facing something like a two-front war with the Sunnis attacking us, as we expected?  But also the Shia causing trouble? 

HUGHES:  Well, I think, Chris, what we‘re seeing is one very radical cleric who was wanted for a very brutal murder, trying to incite riots among his supporters. 

And the Iraqi Governing Council, made up of Iraqis themselves, has said very strongly that no one should be trying to incite this kind violence, that everyone should be working together for a democratic Iraq. 

And I think that‘s—the important thing is that I think there are some, a few people, this radical cleric, and some of his followers, who are trying to incite violence. 

But you know, Chris, one of the things about Iraq is it has been a

violent place for a long, long time.  I mean, obviously, the people who

live there now saw 35 years of brutal dictatorship, torture, tyranny, we‘re

·         you spoke with a gun as opposed to a ballot. 

And so we knew the transition would be hard.  I remember a conversation I had with Condi Rice where she said, “Karen, this is going to be really hard.  And a lot of people in our own country and in the world won‘t support us.” 

I remember looking at her, and I said, “But Condi, is it right?”

And she said, “Absolutely.  We have to do it.” 

MATTHEWS:  So people like you are war hawks, who were supportive of the war like Ken Adelman, who said it was going to be a cakewalk, did you notice they were saying that at the time?  And advocating the war?

HUGHES:  Well, I just remember, Chris, the president saying that it would be difficult.  And I think he knew from the very beginning that it would be a difficult process. 

You remember, you know, there was supposed to be a huge fight over Baghdad.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

HUGHES:  And it was going to be really hard.  And the elite Republican Guard.  And instead, I think a lot of people were surprised when some of those elite Republican Guard actually ran and dispersed back into the country. 

And I think we‘re still fighting some elements of those, some remnants of that around the country. 

But it‘s absolutely right.  And comments like the ones that Senator Kerry made today, which I think, in fact, were very irresponsible, are just a reminder of why we can‘t afford to have a president who doesn‘t understand the stakes in Iraq.  The stakes there are just tremendous. 

We went in there because of our own security.  Because in the aftermath of September 11, we couldn‘t afford to let a brutal madman, who hated the United States of America, who subsidized terror by paying the families of suicide bombers...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

HUGHES:  ... to continue to operate unfettered in that—in that very volatile region of the world. 

And so I think during difficult weeks like this one, where we all mourn the loss of life and we all recognize how hard it is.  But I think we all also need to remind ourselves of the reasons why we‘re there and the importance of prevailing in Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about that sign.  I watched you on “Meet the Press” this week, and you talked about putting up that “Mission Accomplished” sign on that ship that the president visited after the initial combat operations were over. 

Do you think that was advised—well advised to declare victory before all this tremendous chaos and killing that‘s been going on all these months?

HUGHES:  Well, Chris, I think the president, I worked on the speech.  I wasn‘t involved specifically in the sign, although I hired the young man who worked with the sailors a long time ago, back during our campaign.  And he‘s a wonderful, wonderful person. 

I think you have to separate what the sailors on that carrier felt and that that was that they had gone to a very dangerous mission, had conducted it very well and had completed their part of.  After all, they were returning home.  And they had accomplished what they were sent to do in a very swift and very powerful and very important way. 

Now, on the other hand, you have to look at what the president said.  And what he said at the time was, this would continue to be difficult.  We would continue to have battles.  This was going to be a long process.  And that‘s what we‘re seeing this week, unfortunately. 

And I think it‘s important that our military react with strength. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

HUGHES:  I think it was very important that the Iraqi Governing Council itself spoke out against anyone who would instigate and incite this kind of violence.  And that shows that we‘re beginning to develop a responsible leadership in Iraq.  I think that‘s really important. 

MATTHEWS:  But that would work coming from anybody but you, Karen. 

And you are an expert at perceptions in the media and public relations. 

And as you know, the president, one of his heroes is Winston Churchill, who said the worst thing you can do in public life, in politics is to suggest good news is coming and then have it swept away. 

Were you right in putting up the “Mission Accomplished” sign?

HUGHES:  I think those sailors on that carrier had accomplished their mission.  And I think the president in his statement on that carrier talked about the difficulty that was still ahead. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We‘re coming right back and talking with Karen Hughes, one of the smartest people ever to work in the White House. 

And later, highlights of my interview with White House whistle blower Richard Clarke, one day before Condi Rice testifies in front of the 9/11 commission.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice gets ready to testify before the 9/11 Commission.  We‘ll get a preview.  Plus, we‘ll have highlights from my interview with Richard Clarke, plus more from President Bush‘s adviser Karen Hughes. 

But, first, the latest headlines right now. 

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with more with Karen Hughes, adviser to President Bush.  Her book is called “10 Minutes From Normal.”

Let me ask you about the president.  I‘ve worked with politicians before I got into journalism, about 20 years ago now, it seems.  And I noticed, there are certain politicians, no matter what they say publicly, are more comfortable working with men if they‘re men and some are more comfortable with working with peers, people their age, and some are much more comfortable with working with younger people, younger men, in most cases. 

You have a president—we all have a president—you have a boss or have had one who seems very comfortable working with strong women, yourself and Condi.  What is it?  Is it just generation?  Is he caught up with the times?  Or how would you describe this?  And he is a Republican.  You think the Democrats would be at least one step ahead in this regard.  And they‘re not. 

HUGHES:  Well, Chris, I would think he would get a little more credit for it, too.  After all, it is not a Republican from Texas that you expect to be the president who has had more women in positions of seniority in the White House than any president in the history of our country.  I think he is very comfortable. 

He has a strong mother, very strong-willed, very outspoken, a great sense of humor. 

MATTHEWS:  Tough cookie.

(CROSSTALK)

HUGHES:  He has a strong wife who is quiet in her own way, but very comfortable and very strong person in her own quiet way, very warm and very outspoken with him.  So I think he is very comfortable. 

I‘ve always felt—when I was one of the three people who helped run his presidential campaign, he paid us all the same.  He treated us all the same.  He listened to us all.  Two of us were men—one of us—I was a woman.  And he treated us equally.  And I think it is a great credit to him. 

MATTHEWS:  If Mrs. Bush Sr., Barbara Bush, had called him up before the war and said: “This is the worst idea I‘ve ever heard of.  Your father was smart enough not to go into Baghdad.  It is just a can of worms.  It‘s going to haunt you forever,” would he have listened to her? 

HUGHES:  Well, he always has to listen to his mother. 

But I think the president, he gets pulled in a lot of directions.  And one of the things the president has to do is make decisions based on principle.  And I—Chris, I watched over the course of a long year, as this was debated from every angle, as he asked the military tough questions, as he asked everyone on the war council, asked tough questions.  He heard a lot of vigorous debate. 

You know, some of the pundits would have you look back and act as if the decision to go to war is made lightly or overnight.  You wake up one morning and say, well, let‘s go invade Iraq today.  And that‘s just ridiculous.  I mean, nothing could be further from the truth. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, when he did he make that decision, Karen?  You were there.

HUGHES:  It‘s a very profound decision.  It is a very agonizing decision. 

MATTHEWS:  When did he make it?

HUGHES:  He made it in the spring of 2003 as he was preparing to go to work—as he was preparing to go to war.  He had to be prepared I think, Chris, to know that he would have to back his actions, his words with actions as he went before the United Nations.  And I was there.  I was sitting on the floor of the U.N. General Assembly. 

What I think will go down in the history books—and I know you are an historian—it will go down on the history books, as I think, a wonderful use of the power of the presidency and the moral authority of our country, to say to the world, OK, 12 years of resolutions, of words without action, is not enough. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

HUGHES:  That we have—the world, the civilized world has to mean what we say, especially when we‘re dealing with madmen and tyrants and agents of terror. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

HUGHES:  We have got to mean what we say. 

And so he had to be prepared at the time he did that to back up those words with action.  I think all of us were hoping that the world would join us in presenting a united stand.  I write in my book that, ironically, I really think the reluctance of some countries like France and Germany to join with us actually made war more likely, not less, because I think it emboldened Saddam Hussein and let him think that the world was divided. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think there was a difference in thinking between the men around the president, former President Bush, 41, as you call him, General Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser, and James Baker, the secretary of state?

You keep reading everywhere—it‘s out in this new book by Peter Schweizer about the former president—and his people not really supporting this approach, this proactive, forward-leaning preemptive strike, as we‘ve done it Iraq.  Can you admit that or is that something you‘re not comfortable admitting, that there is a dichotomy between 41 and 43 and their people on this war? 

HUGHES:  Well, Chris, I‘m not certain about the sources or the reliability of the sources for that book that you mentioned.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, you keep hearing it.  I keep hearing it. 

HUGHES:  Well, but I—well, I will say there is a big difference between the view of 41 and the view of 43, because the world is very different and the people in those administrations.

The world changed forever on September 11.  I remember Condoleezza Rice telling me, Karen, September 11 was an earthquake across the international security environment.  You know, we used to rely on, during Cold War time, on the doctrine of mutually assured destruction, that no one would launch missiles because we would respond so aggressively that we would devastate their country and kill a lot of their people.  The terrorists don‘t care. 

They don‘t have a country.  They don‘t have people they care about. 

They don‘t care about their own lives. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

HUGHES:  It is really—is it is the fundamental difference, I think, between the terror network and us.  We value every life.  Our country has always stood for the dignity of every life.  They value no lives, not even the innocent, not even their own. 

And I think the world is dramatically different, yes, than it was during the former President Bush‘s administration.  And I know that he recognizes that.  And we have to change our policy to adapt to those changed circumstances. 

MATTHEWS:  Can I ask you a professional question about working at the White House? 

HUGHES:  Of course. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, it‘s a professional question.  Everyone recognized that you were very good at your position.  You knew the president well, like Jody Powell once knew Jimmy Carter.  You didn‘t have to speak from a distance of two or three people you had to check with.  You knew him personally.  You knew his feelings.  You knew his strengths and what he was concerned about.  You knew his priorities.  You knew him. 

Since you left, I think most people would say that there‘s been a drop-off in that professionalism at the White House.  Do you agree? 

HUGHES:  I don‘t agree. 

MATTHEWS:  Among the press people, the people who deal with the press, the people that put out the spin.  There‘s been a lot more hardball.

HUGHES:  Well, you know, Chris, I don‘t think I...

MATTHEWS:  A lot more tough talk since you left. 

HUGHES:  It‘s kind of funny.  I don‘t think I was nearly as popular when I was there as I am now that I‘m gone. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, you are now.  You‘re extremely popular now. 

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

HUGHES:  Well, I‘m pretty sanguine about that Washington blame game.  You know, when I‘m gone, it‘s sort of like, oh, if only Karen was there, things would be different.  When I was there, it was all Karen‘s fault. 

So there are a lot of people around the president who know him well.  Karl Rove has been with him for years.  Andy Card, our chief of staff, knows him well.  Condi Rice spends an enormous amount of time with him.  Dan Bartlett, who is the current communications director at the White House, who was my deputy, actually went to work for George W. Bush before I did. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

HUGHES:  As a very young man back in Texas. 

And so I think that it‘s always easy—I‘m very familiar and sanguine

about the Washington blame game.  And like I say, it‘s very

(CROSSTALK)

HUGHES:  ... nice things about me, but...

MATTHEWS:  No, I just want to get to—there‘s been so many events that have occurred since you left.  And I think some of them suggest a lack of sensibility, not just sensitivity, the president joking about not being able to find weapons of mass destruction.  Of course it was a fun evening at the press dinner the other night, but this is the kind of thing that causes trouble. 

It is the difference between tactics, what works in the room, what works that day, and the kind of mood you want to set over time.  I think you‘re better at it than the other people are, about recognizing the long-term resonances of things you do and why you have to have a long-term view and not just be putting out fires and starting them.

HUGHES:  Well, thank you for that compliment.  I hope you will remember that when I‘m back there this fall. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well, when we‘re fighting in the campaign, I‘ll have a different view. 

Let me ask you about the president and the reelection.  He seems to like campaigning.  I have never seen the guy come alive like he has come alive the last three or four weeks.  He seems like to fighting it out with Kerry, who he names by name.  How do you explain his aggressiveness, compared to being president?  He seems to delight in this stuff, this fighting. 

(CROSSTALK)

HUGHES:  Well, there are a couple—there are a couple of things, Chris.  He enjoys people.  He really does like people.  He‘s energized by people.

MATTHEWS:  But he loves punching the other guy, too.

HUGHES:  He‘s a people person, as you know.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But he loves punching the other guy. 

HUGHES:  Well, there are big stakes in this election. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

HUGHES:  And, frankly, he sat there for two months, during January and February.  And you watched it, too.  My specialty is message.  And the predominant message that came through in the Democratic primary was that all 10 Democratic candidates seemed to be engaged in a competition to decide who didn‘t like George Bush the most. 

And that was the primary message that came out of their whole primary process.  It wasn‘t what they wanted to do for the country.  It wasn‘t any optimistic vision for health care or jobs or education reform.  It was why they didn‘t like George Bush.  So he was ready to fight back.  The stakes in this election are huge. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I still remember the way you guys finished off John McCain.  So you guys know to play hardball as well. 

But, thank you, Karen Hughes.

For an excerpt, by the way, of “10 Minutes to Normal,” go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com, or, better yet, go buy the book. 

When we return, highlights from my interview with White House whistle-blower Richard Clarke.  He has a lot to say about Condi Rice, who is testifying tomorrow. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t forget, our coverage of Condoleezza Rice‘s testimony starts tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. Eastern here on MSNBC.

We‘re coming back right now with highlights from my interview last week with Richard Clarke.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Tomorrow, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will testify before the 9/11 Commission.  She‘s expected to continue her vigorous rebuttal of Richard Clarke, who has accused the Bush administration of ignoring the al Qaeda threat. 

In an interview last week, I asked Richard Clarke about Rice‘s statement that no one could have predicted planes would be used as missiles. 

Let‘s look at what she said and how Clarke responded. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER:  I don‘t think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon, that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile.  All of this reporting about hijacking was about traditional hijacking. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What did you think when you heard her say that? 

RICHARD CLARKE, FORMER COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER:  Well, based on the information the CIA had provided the president in those morning briefings, I think that‘s a logical conclusion.  The CIA...

MATTHEWS:  But you didn‘t conclude that.  You had prepared as far back as the Atlanta Olympics for the use of airplanes as missiles. 

CLARKE:  Well, what she‘s saying is all of the information...

MATTHEWS:  She said nobody. 

CLARKE:  Yes.  She‘s also saying all the information she had seen was about traditional hijackings.  And there was a report—I don‘t think this has come out before—there was a report that the blind sheikh Abdul Rahman, who was in prison here in the United States...

MATTHEWS:  Because of ‘93. 

CLARKE:  Because of plots to blow things up in New York City. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CLARKE:  That his son had gone out and joined bin Laden, and that his son was talking about the possibility of hijacking U.S. planes and trading the passengers to get his father‘s freedom. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s right.  Different cause, different mission. 

CLARKE:  And when Dr. Rice says, you know, we had heard about traditional hijackings, maybe that‘s what al Qaeda was going to do, she may be referring to those kinds of reports that she had seen. 

MATTHEWS:  And now she‘s correcting her testimony apparently.  You‘ve heard that. 

CLARKE:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, she is. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  I also asked Richard Clarke if he personally knew about Zacarias Moussaoui‘s attempts to get flight training and that two of the hijackers were on the CIA‘s watch list and were living in this country. 

Here‘s what he said. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CLARKE:  the following information.  We in the White House didn‘t know about the FBI reports on the flight training. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

CLARKE:  We in the White House didn‘t know about the CIA or FBI knowing that two of the hijackers were in the country. 

And despite the fact that we held daily meetings with the FBI and CIA throughout that summer and said to them, Look, something is about to happen.  Lower the threshold for what you tell us.  Tell us anything you know. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CLARKE:  And let‘s all do that around the able, every agency, every department.  And we‘ll do fusion, intelligence fusion.  We‘ll bring all of this information together, as we did during the millennium period, December 1999.  And we‘ll see what we can find out.  Tell us everything, anything. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about something very critical.  You said in your book that As I briefed Condoleezza Rice on al Qaeda, this is in January of 2001, a month—almost a year before 9/11, her facial expression gave me the impression that she had never heard the term before. 

Subsequent to that—your book coming out, NBC‘s Lisa Myers has gone back and found a radio interview where Rice gave the year before, and here‘s what she said on the radio.  This is the year before that conversation. 

Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER:  We don‘t want to wake up one day and find out that Osama bin Laden has been successful on our own territory. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a contradiction.  You said she wasn‘t familiar with al Qaeda, and here she is the year before talking about bin Laden‘s operation, maybe hitting us here in America. 

CLARKE:  Chris, did you hear what she said?  She talked about bin Laden. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CLARKE:  And when I said in the passage you were referring to in the book, it‘s when I said al Qaeda she looked confused.  When I said bin Laden she recognized who I was talking about. 

MATTHEWS:  So you—but you made a narrower point.  You‘re making a narrower point now than it seemed to imply in the book.  In the book you‘re implying she wasn‘t familiar with the whole operation.  She wasn‘t familiar with the term al Qaeda, which means the base in Arabic. 

CLARKE:  People can—people can look at what I said in the book. 

What I said in the book was, she understood that there was a guy bin Laden. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CLARKE:  I don‘t think she or any of the Bush people coming in, until we briefed them, realized that there was this larger thing than just one...

MATTHEWS:  She thought it was just a gang, not a network. 

CLARKE:  Exactly.  Exactly right. 

MATTHEWS:  And you think you made that clearly in the book?  You didn‘t imply that she was out to lunch with regard to the whole al Qaeda operations? 

CLARKE:  No.  Anybody in the United States who was interested in national security had heard of bin Laden.  What I was saying was she didn‘t recognize, A, that there was this network called al Qaeda and B, that it was enormous. 

MATTHEWS:  You know how I read it when I read it the first time, and I bet I‘m like a lot of readers.  And I think in fairness you‘ve got to recognize this.  We read it like she was out to lunch.  She doesn‘t even know about al Qaeda, and she‘s the national security adviser. 

You‘re saying now that you simply meant to say he was unaware that this group was much broader in its tentacles that she appreciated? 

CLARKE:  And that all—and that the vice president, the secretary of state, all of them when they got briefed for the first time, as I described in that section of the book, when we briefed them, my team briefed them for the first time about the extent of this network, 50, 60 countries, cells, affiliate groups, millions of dollars moving around, they were shocked. 

MATTHEWS:  Was Condi Rice on top of the terrorist threat? 

CLARKE:  Was she on top of the terrorist threat? 

MATTHEWS:  Big question. 

CLARKE:  We told her everything we knew.  Every time we had any information we shared it with her.  I urged her at the beginning of the administration, within the first two days, I urged her to hold a meeting. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s all input.  What about output?  Was she aware?  Was she cognizant of this threat that you were? 

CLARKE:  She was fully cognizant of it, because not only was I telling her about it, but she was also sitting in with the president every morning, listening to those briefings. 

MATTHEWS:  But she didn‘t make the president cognizant?  And didn‘t lend to him a sense of urgency? 

CLARKE:  The president himself said he didn‘t have a sense of urgency, and how that‘s possible after George Tenet briefs you every day.  Now George Tenet selects carefully what intelligence he shows...

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re now saying it‘s not Condi, it‘s not Tenet.  It‘s the bottleneck here in terms of being prepared mentally for what he faced 9/11 was the president himself.  His brain was unable to absorb—well, what are you saying? 

CLARKE:  I‘m not going to use terms like the president‘s brain. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, his consciousness?  His awareness? 

CLARKE:  I don‘t want to make it loaded.  Let‘s just talk about the facts.  The facts are the president was repeatedly briefed. 

MATTHEWS:  To what effect?

CLARKE:  By his directors...

MATTHEWS:  To what effect was he briefed? 

CLARKE:  As far as I know the only thing that he ever did was to ask in may for a strategy, which he never got. 

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re arguing basically all the briefings, all the preps were largely inconsequential, because all that led to was a curiosity at one point one day. 

CLARKE:  There may be more evidence, but I‘m unaware of it. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  More from Richard Clarke. 

And don‘t forget, our coverage of Condoleezza Rice‘s testimony before the 9/11 Commission begin at 9:00 a.m. Eastern tomorrow morning, followed by a special edition of HARDBALL at noon tomorrow.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Tomorrow, I said, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will testify before the 9/11 Commission.  Her testimony will likely counter Richard Clarke‘s testimony before the panel last week. 

I asked Clarke if CIA Director George Tenet ever briefed President Bush on Zacarias Moussaoui before 9/11.  Here‘s what he said. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CLARKE:  I didn‘t know about Zacarias Moussaoui. 

MATTHEWS:  You didn‘t know of Moussaoui? 

CLARKE:  But my initial reaction...

MATTHEWS:  He would have been a good giveaway, wouldn‘t he?  That something was up? 

CLARKE:  He would have been a very big...

MATTHEWS:  Why the hell would a guy who didn‘t know how to fly any plane want to fly the biggest planes in the world, only after take off?  He didn‘t want to know about take off.  He didn‘t want to know about landing.  He just wanted to be able to take over—he wanted to learn how to hijack a commercial airliner. 

CLARKE:  Look, it was always a theoretical possibility.  We had Tom Clancy write a novel about someone hijacking an airplane and flying it into the dome of the rotunda of the United States capitol. 

MATTHEWS:  You think the president should have whispered that fact in the president‘s ear before 9/11?  There‘s some guy—we just got a guy out there from one of these countries we‘re worried about who‘s trying to learn how to hijack a plane.  Do you think we should have been focused on that, Mr. President? 

CLARKE:  It would have been nice if they had told me, whose job it was

to do something about it.  If I had known about it, I would like to think -

·         and I know it‘s 20/20 retrospect.  But I would like to think that I would have done something about it. 

MATTHEWS:  But see, it‘s not 20/20 for George Tenet.  That morning his synapses clicked.  He said, Oh, my God, could it be? 

CLARKE:  Well, he apparently he knew something that I didn‘t know, and it hadn‘t been distributed widely, hadn‘t been discussed in the terrorism committee. 

MATTHEWS:  So we go back to the same question every regular American out there watching, not the political types, the regular people want to know—could an intelligent leader doing his or her job have connected the dots? 

Moussaoui is out there trying to learn how to fly advanced commercial airplanes once they‘re in the air but not before they‘re taking off.  Other guys taking pilot flights out in Phoenix.  There‘s others, we found out, in Florida. 

We‘ve got two al Qaeda guys floating around the country, and we have somebody with your expertise preparing for the possible use of an airplane as a missile for the Atlanta Olympics.  And nobody—or did anybody drop the ball here?  That‘s my big question to you.  Who dropped the ball? 

CLARKE:  People did drop the ball.  People in FBI and CIA dropped the ball, or we would have known those facts. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  And here‘s what Clarke said when I asked him if his book pointed the finger at Condoleezza Rice as part of the reason why President Bush wasn‘t prepared for that al Qaeda threat.  Let‘s take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CLARKE:  The president has to have the ultimate responsibility. 

The president was the guy who was getting those intelligence briefings every morning from George Tenet.  And week after week, month after month hearing about al Qaeda and once in May said, I want to have a strategy. 

Later, he tells, in December of 2001, he tells Bob Woodward, you know, I knew there was a strategy in development somewhere, but I didn‘t know where. 

So in May he asked for the strategy to deal with al Qaeda.  After this Chinese water torture every day of intelligence reports about al Qaeda, he finally works and he asks for a strategy.  And yet in September he hasn‘t asked for it again; he doesn‘t know where it is; by his own admission he doesn‘t know at what stage it is in development. 

You know, I think the president has to have the responsibility. 

MATTHEWS:  Is this going to end up being one of those—you say the glass was half empty, then she says the glass was half full.  And this becomes a moot point and two weeks after front page pictures of her in the major news magazines, her this very attractive woman, very likable woman, almost, if she weren‘t so smart, Miss Congeniality. 

She—you can‘t win that argument, can you if it becomes half full- half empty?  Because she can always say, Hey, look, if I was at meetings that Richard wasn‘t at.  So many times I was with the president he was not there.  I can tell you what he can‘t tell you; I can win the argument. 

CLARKE:  I don‘t think it‘s about winning the argument. 

MATTHEWS:  It isn‘t? 

CLARKE:  We have a presidential commission that is doing fact-finding, and it‘s going to issue a report in July.  And hopefully it will look at the facts, rather than winning an argument, and it will state conclusions.  So let‘s wait and see what that says. 

MATTHEWS:  Why would, if she‘s going to tell the truth and you have confidence that he will cite actual events and actual conversations and you‘ve done the same in your book.  And you would take to oath to your book, wouldn‘t you? 

CLARKE:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  You swear to the truth of your book right now? 

CLARKE:  Yes.  Absolutely, and I‘ve sworn under all the 21 hours or whatever it is...

MATTHEWS:  Well, how can two truths be complementary if one truth says the president didn‘t prepare the country, and the other truth, the other testimony, said he did.  How can they both be true? 

CLARKE:  Because it‘s a matter of opinion.  It‘s a matter of opinion, rather than fact. 

If I say the president—the president‘s principles committee, the secretary of state, the director of central intelligence, the other directors, they met about 100 times before 9/11.  Ninety-nine of them were not about terrorism.  I would therefore say this record of one out of 100 meetings at Condi Rice‘s level indicates it‘s not a priority. 

She may say, well, it was a priority because we thought it was. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Tomorrow morning, our coverage of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice testifying before the 9/11 Commission begins at 9:00 a.m.  Eastern.  And we‘ll have a special added edition of HARDBALL at noon Eastern and our show again tomorrow night, all to get reactions to Rice‘s testimony from four women who lost their husbands in the attacks.  And we‘ll be back at 7:00, as I said, for more HARDBALL at the regular time. 

And now here comes the COUNTDOWN with Keith. 

END   

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