updated 4/14/2004 12:38:21 PM ET 2004-04-14T16:38:21

Guests: James Thompson, Richard Ben-Veniste, Kristen Breitweiser, Mindy Kleinberg, Lori Van Auken, Fareed Zakaria

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The U.S. intelligence community, past and present, testified before the 9/11 commission today.  Did Bill Clinton put a hit out on Usama bin Laden?  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews. and this is a special edition of HARDBALL.  In 90 minutes, President Bush will hold his first news conference of the year.  It comes on a day when Attorney General John Ashcroft, former attorney general Janet Reno and former FBI director Louis Freeh testified before the commission investigating the September 11 attacks.  And a funny thing happened during the course of today‘s hearing.  Sometimes information comes out that is unexpected.  And in this case, it‘s the question of what role President Bill Clinton played or did not in OKing or rejecting a plan to kill Usama bin Laden.  Did Bill Clinton put out a contract on the al Qaeda leader or did he refuse?

Commissioner Slade Gorton asked Clinton attorney general Janet Reno if she advised Clinton not to advise a memorandum of notification that would have allow unambiguously for the killing of bin Laden.  Let‘s take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SLADE GORTON, 9/11 COMMISSIONER:  ... that your office counseled the White House against any memorandum of notification which unambiguously allowed for the CIA simply to kill or to eliminate Usama bin Laden, and that that contributed to the fact that all of its plans inside of Afghanistan, you know, failed to come to fruition or were never ordered into execution.  Can you comment on that?  Did the CIA, you know, or did anyone in the White House ask your view as to whether that phrase could be unambiguous?  And did you answer that question in the negative?

JANET RENO, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I was not asked whether they could assassinate him.  I was asked whether they could capture or—and follow through.

GORTON:  OK.  You were only asked if they could capture him or perhaps kill him in—in an attempt to escape or to resist that.  You were never asked the question as to whether or not he could be killed unambiguously?

RENO:  I need, Mr. Chairman, some direction.  I don‘t know what the commission has done in terms of the declassification of these issues, and I want to be able to answer the question.

GORTON:  Madam Attorney General, I think if there‘s any doubt in your mind, we should probably talk with you about it privately, rather than publicly, particularly on this subject, which is a very sensitive one.

RENO:  I‘m happy to do anything that will forward the issue and—so if...

GORTON:  We will submit that question then...

RENO:  OK.

GORTON:  ... to you in a closed session.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re joined right now by two commissioners on the panel investigating the 9/11 attacks, Richard Ben-Veniste and James Thompson.

Commissioner Thompson, that exchange back and forth between Janet Reno and Slade Gorton, your fellow commissioner, what was it about?  What was she trying to say in that long silence?

JAMES THOMPSON, 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER:  I think she was trying not to say something because the matters she was referring to are presently classified.  So if we want that information from her, we‘ll have to have her back in private session.

MATTHEWS:  Richard Clarke has said in interviews with the press, the man who was in that counterterrorism role in the NSC under this president, said that what happened was that Bill Clinton basically left an unambiguous decision to his people, which was that it‘s impossible to catch the guy, therefore, do what you have to do.  Your comment on that, Commissioner Ben-Veniste.

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER:  Well, there‘s been a lot of testimony up to this point, Chris.  You remember Director Tenet said he had all the authority he needed.  You remember that it came out in prior hearings that the surrogates who the CIA was using in Afghanistan were told, You‘re going to get paid either way, kill him or capture him.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Well the question came up because Ashcroft—

Attorney General Ashcroft said that he asked Condoleezza Rice in spring of 2001 -- before 9/11, obviously—whether he could have permission to go ahead and get rid of bin Laden.  Mr. Commissioner, what does that mean?  If the previous president had given permission to erase the guy, why did the new attorney general have to get new permission?

THOMPSON:  Well, I think that was one of the mysteries of today because General Ashcroft was pretty clear about what he said he had been told about the instructions, that they were ambiguous, and that he would have preferred had they been very direct to go kill him.  But to get into what President Clinton said or did not say I think would take me into classified information, at this point.  So I can‘t answer that on behalf of the president.

MATTHEWS:  Is it likely, Mr. Commissioner Ben-Veniste—Commissioner Ben-Veniste, we will ever get an unclassification of this, so that we, as Americans, can know whether Bill Clinton did, in fact, take very aggressive action, surprising to many of his critics, against bin Laden?  Will we get that information?

BEN-VENISTE:  Well you know, there was more to the hearing.  General Ashcroft was questioned first by me about what the basis was of his statement that there was no unambiguous authority.  And I asked him whether he had reviewed the late...

MATTHEWS:  Memorandum of notification.

BEN-VENISTE:  ... the late 1998 memorandum of notification, and he said that he didn‘t know whether he had.  And I suggested to him that if he goes back and reviews that document, he may want to change his testimony.

MATTHEWS:  Would a reasonable person watching the hearings today without a decoder ring, trying to figure out what you guys were talking about, come to the conclusion of what you were trying to get at, knowing how tough you can be with these witnesses, that you were trying to get the attorney general to admit he didn‘t do his homework.  Had he done his homework, he would have known that Bill Clinton gave an OK to this assassination by our government, and the new guy, the new president, new attorney general didn‘t need that approval?

BEN-VENISTE:  Not at all, Chris.  That wasn‘t the point.  The point was there was a misimpression being conveyed.  And you will recall that there was a category of Clinton documents that had not been turned over to the commission.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BEN-VENISTE:  And we interviewed President Clinton last week, as you know, and Vice President Gore the day after.  Now, prior to that time, we had access to that information.  My suspicion is that the attorney general never saw the information that we have seen.

MATTHEWS:  Did former president Bill Clinton, when he testified before your commission last week—did he agree that he had given the OK?

BEN-VENISTE:  I‘m not going to get into what he said.  That interview was confidential, and we are bound not to disclose the details of it.

MATTHEWS:  Would a reasonable person draw from what they saw today the conclusion that Bill Clinton had been very aggressive in his pursuit of bin Laden?

BEN-VENISTE:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  That‘s what I wanted to hear from you.

Anyway, today former acting FBI director Thomas Pickard—he was on the stand today.  He said he didn‘t know about Moussaoui.  Now, Moussaoui was the interesting buy guy who was picked up in Minneapolis by the FBI for seeking training on how to command a flight, how to pilot a plane, a big commercial plane, but not how to take off or how to land.  That was a suspicious matter.  According to the acting attorney general, he also didn‘t know about the Phoenix memorandum, which was involving a local special agent out there who sent word that, in fact, there were people out there trying to get flight training, people from outside the country, from the Mideast, who were suspicious.  And also, the acting FBI director did not know that the president of the United States in August of 2001 had solicited a special briefing from the CIA, which was using information by the FBI.

Let‘s take a look at this exchange today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  During the summer of 2001, the Minneapolis office had Moussaoui detained.  And they were concerned that he might be part of a larger plot.  Were you aware of his detention and aware of his (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

THOMAS PICKARD, FORMER ACTING FBI DIRECTOR:  No, I was not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Were you aware of those concerns any time before September 11?

PICKARD:  No, I was not.

THOMPSON:  Do you know the circumstances of the conversations between the CIA operative who prepared this PDB and an operative of the FBI who supplied some of the information?

PICKARD:  No, I do not.

BEN-VENISTE:  You never vetted the PDB.  You never saw the PDB.  You never knew that it was going to be produced, correct?

PICKARD:  That‘s correct.

BEN-VENISTE:  And you learned on September 11 three things, if I understand your testimony.  No. 1, you learned about Moussaoui.

PICKARD:  Right.

BEN-VENISTE:  No. 2, you learned about the Phoenix memo.  No. 3, you learned about two of the hijackers who were in the United States who the FBI was looking for.  Had you learned that information soon after August the 6th, was there not a possibility that you could have utilized that information, connected the information, put it together with what you already knew and taken some action?

PICKARD:  I don‘t know.  Moussaoui was arrested on August 15.  The information about the other two hijackers came to the FBI‘s attention, I believe, August 23, and later on, on August 27.  To bring these three diverse pieces of information together, absent the afternoon of September 11, I don‘t know, with all the information the FBI collects, whether we would have had the ability to hone in specifically on those three items.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Commissioner Ben-Veniste, how could the director of the CIA know the morning of the attacks of 9/11 to be able to tell former senator David Boren of Oklahoma, then the president of—now the president still of the University of Oklahoma, I hope it isn‘t that guy they picked up for flight training, Moussaoui?  How did he know that, the CIA director, when the acting director of the FBI didn‘t know it?

BEN-VENISTE:  Well, obviously, they weren‘t talking.  Clearly...

MATTHEWS:  But it was FBI people who picked up this information.

BEN-VENISTE:  The FBI people tried to push it up through the FBI.  They hit the ceiling.  They went sideways and went to the CIA.  Now, the CIA could help them run down who Moussaoui was, and they checked him out.  They checked him out overseas.  And we have learned—and I don‘t think this is still classified—that an overseas agency gave them information that Moussaoui was known to them...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BEN-VENISTE:  ... had jihadist connections overseas.  We knew in America that he had a bank account...

MATTHEWS:  Was it MI-6, the British?

BEN-VENISTE:  Not saying.  We knew that he had a bank account...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BEN-VENISTE:  ... of $30,000-some-odd...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BEN-VENISTE:  ... deposited in cash, he couldn‘t explain.  We knew he couldn‘t explain why he was in the U.S.  Plenty of information.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s amazing to me, watching this, that the—Mr.—

Commissioner Thompson, aren‘t you amazed that Tenet knew something that the acting director of the FBI didn‘t know about his own agency?

THOMPSON:  I got to tell you, I thought Director Pickard‘s testimony was very, very scary, in the sense that not only weren‘t they talking to the CIA and the CIA not talking to the FBI, but the FBI wasn‘t talking to each other.

One correction.  Moussaoui did not say that he didn‘t care about learning to take off and land.  What he did say was he wanted to learn how to fly a 747, and they were amazed by that because he had absolutely no prior training or no prior interest in flights.  I think it‘s pretty clear that, whether it‘s the Phoenix memo or Moussaoui or anything else...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

THOMPSON:  ... going on with the FBI at the time, not enough information got up to even the second level of the FBI...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

THOMPSON:  ... let alone the top.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll come back and talk about that.  We‘re talking with the two commissioners of the 9/11 commission, Richard Ben-Veniste and James Thompson.  And later: What could the intelligence community do differently in the months before 9/11 that they didn‘t do?  I‘ll ask three women who lost their husbands in the September 11 attacks.

And a reminder, President Bush‘s news conference begins tonight at 8:30 Eastern time.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with 9/11 commissioners Richard Ben-Veniste and James Thompson.  On Monday, President Bush said he was comforted by the fact that 70 FBI field investigations were cited in the presidential daily briefing of August 6.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You‘re right, there was a—included—they included the fact that the FBI was conducting field investigations, which comforted me.  You see, it meant the FBI was doing its job.  The FBI was running down any lead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Before you establish blame, establish responsibility.  That‘s what the president just did there, if you were watching.  But here‘s what former FBI acting director James Pickard said about the FBI‘s actual knowledge of al Qaeda before 9/11.  Let‘s take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PICKARD:  I would not want anyone to think the statement that we‘ve got it covered or anything like that—we only know what we know, we don‘t know what al Qaeda is.  And the lack of penetration of al Qaeda, as I said in my opening statement—we did not have great sources in al Qaeda.  And that‘s evidenced by 9/11.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well that was Thomas Pickard, but here‘s what the president of the United States was talking about.  This is what president—I think if you were the president, you‘d be—would be comforted by this statement.  I think it‘s a reasonable response.  Maybe you don‘t agree, being the hard charger that you are, Commissioner.  But here‘s what the president read on August 8 -- August 6, rather.  “The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full-field investigations throughout the United States that it considers bin Laden-related.”

Commissioner Thompson, what did that tell you, when you read it?

THOMPSON:  I think it would reasonably tell the president that he should be comforted.  But if you anything about the FBI or federal law enforcement or what full-field investigations are...

MATTHEWS:  Well, as a former U.S. attorney...

THOMPSON:  ... the notion that they were...

MATTHEWS:  ... what do you know?  What do you know that he doesn‘t know?

THOMPSON:  Well, as it came out today, 70 full-field investigations wasn‘t what it sounded like.  They were talking, first of all about, financial investigations for a good part of it.  They were listing each single individual being investigated as a, quote, “full field investigation.”  I got to tell you something...

MATTHEWS:  So not 70 fields, 70 individuals, which could be in one field.  And it could be a bunch of people in one fund-raising operation, right?

THOMPSON:  Yes.  Well, I got to tell you something.  And I may get in trouble for saying this, but I‘m going to say it anyway because I‘ve had it.  That August 6 PDB...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

THOMPSON:  ... that they want to hang around the president‘s neck—it‘s a bunch of junk.  Look at it.  Ninety percent of it dealt with things that were three years old...

MATTHEWS:  But what about this...

THOMPSON:  ... and none of the predictions in there were proved out...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Right.  Right, but...

THOMPSON:  ... by September 11.  And if you knew—if you knew...

MATTHEWS:  Commissioner Thompson...

THOMPSON:  ... the circumstances...

MATTHEWS:  ... I want you to make that point more clearly.

THOMPSON:  ... on how it was prepared, you‘d be scared.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Commissioner, it does include the information that the CIA person who did this, the woman who wrote this, the analyst who wrote this—something she gleaned from somebody she called at the FBI...

THOMPSON:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... that said they had caught some Yemeni guys taking pictures near the World—down in the—down in the bottom part of New York, Manhattan, near that general area.

THOMPSON:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  They turned out to be tourists.

THOMPSON:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re saying the only fresh information in this was inaccurate.

THOMPSON:  Right.  That is correct.

BEN-VENISTE:  Can I borrow that for a minute?

THOMPSON:  And—and...

BEN-VENISTE:  Let me borrow your copy.

MATTHEWS:  This is the briefing the president received five weeks before 9/11.

THOMPSON:  We now have at the commission the circumstances under which this was prepared, which has been classified top secret, so we can‘t talk about it.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask...

(CROSSTALK)

THOMPSON:  I want to tell you something...

MATTHEWS:  Commissioner Thompson, if the president of the United States asks to be briefed on the danger to this country from terrorists five weeks of before the attack of 9/11 and it goes to the CIA, and some mid-level analyst calls some friend of hers over at the FBI, never tells the acting director of the FBI what‘s going on, isn‘t that a surprising process to you?

THOMPSON:  Well, it‘s very surprising, and General Ashcroft said the same thing, that if the president of the United States asks for a briefing on potential terrorist attacks...

MATTHEWS:  Shouldn‘t it go to the top?

THOMPSON:  ... in the U.S., it should have gone to the top and it should have gotten a lot better information than he got there.

BEN-VENISTE:  Let‘s listen to Condi Rice‘s version of what happened when she received it.  Nothing in here was reassuring.  A lot of scary information.  If I heard about 70 full-field investigations, I‘d be scared to death.  You know, this means that al Qaeda is here big-time in the United States.  And if you talk about what came to pass or didn‘t come to pass, “Bin Laden determined to strike in the United States,” bin Laden wants to strike in Washington, D.C....

MATTHEWS:  OK.

BEN-VENISTE:  ... bin Laden plans for three years—she was prescient.  Whether she was right for the wrong reason, people were looking in the wrong direction.  They were looking at the white van, and this is a woman who pulled the president‘s coat and said, Think about the attack coming in the United States.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Richard Ben-Veniste, commissioner on the 9/11 commission, and James Thompson, former U.S. attorney, former governor of Illinois for many, many years.

And for a full transcript of today‘s testimony, log on to hardball.msnbc.com.

Up next, three women who lost their husbands on 9/11 join us with their reaction to today‘s hearings.  And later, a preview of president—the president‘s first news conference of this year, set to begin in just over an hour.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Kristen Breitweiser, Mindy Kleinberg and Lori Van Auken all lost their husbands in the attacks of September 11 attacks.  They were inside the briefing room today for the hearings.  They saw it all.  They have reactions.

You start, Mindy.  What did you think today?

MINDY KLEINBERG, 9/11 WIDOW:  You know, I thought there was a lot of conflicting testimony.  I...

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s start with this one.  Here‘s Thomas Pickard, the former acting director of the FBI, saying that Attorney General John Ashcroft did not want to hear about al Qaeda warnings.  Let‘s listen to both of them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEN-VENISTE:  Mr. Watson had come to you and said that the CIA was very concerned that there would be an attack.  You said that you told the attorney general this fact repeatedly in these meetings.  Is that correct?

PICKARD:  I told him at least on two indications.

BEN-VENISTE:  And you told the staff, according to this statement, that Mr. Ashcroft told you that he did not want to hear about this anymore.  Is that correct?

PICKARD:  That is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  But Attorney General Ashcroft disputed that charge during his testimony.  Let‘s take a look at him, following up on Pickard.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I did never speak to him saying that I did not want to hear about terrorism.  I care greatly about the safety and security of the American people and was very interested in terrorism and specifically interrogated him about threats to the American people, and domestic threats in particular.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Who do you believe there, Mindy?

KLEINBERG:  You know what?  The truth out.  I think the commission is going to have a really hard job.  They‘re going to have to...

MATTHEWS:  Why would Pickard...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s just use common sense here, if anybody followed along, because you are very much involved in this.  Pickard said he didn‘t want any more briefings.  He didn‘t say the guy issued a statement to him, I don‘t want any more briefings.  The denial by Ashcroft was the typical Washington response, I did not tell him I did not want any more briefings.  Of course.  He just didn‘t schedule anymore.

KLEINBERG:  Right.  It‘s a matter of semantics...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

KLEINBERG:  ... which I‘m learning is prevalent in Washington.

MATTHEWS:  Anybody else have a response to that?  I mean, there‘s two guys, the acting attorney general and the acting—I‘m sorry—FBI director and the attorney general arguing over, one, whether they—the most basic question here, was the attorney general up to snuff, and did he want to be up to snuff about these terrorist threats?

LORI VAN AUKEN, 9/11 WIDOW:  You know, it‘s “He said, he said.”  There‘s really no way to know who was, you know, telling the truth about that.  I think another question I had watching that, watching the hearings, was regarding PDBs, when I learned that, you know, Ashcroft wasn‘t getting the PDB, as a member of the cabinet...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

VAN AUKEN:  ... I found that a little disturbing and...

MATTHEWS:  So he wasn‘t being warned what the president was being warned.

VAN AUKEN:  No, but he was getting an SEIB, which is...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  You know what he should have learned...

VAN AUKEN:  ... had the same title...

MATTHEWS:  ... if he got a PDB?  That his own FBI was doing full-field investigations on terrorism in New York, but he didn‘t know about it.

VAN AUKEN:  It would have been an interesting fact.

MATTHEWS:  He didn‘t know about what al Qaeda was up to.  Well, he might have learned it then.  He also would have known that the president of the United States was being briefed by his FBI, and he didn‘t know about it.  Didn‘t you find that astounding?  The attorney general didn‘t know the FBI had been asked to be briefed—to brief the president.

VAN AUKEN:  Astounding.  Colossal breakdown in communication.

MATTHEWS:  Kristen?

KRISTEN BREITWEISER, 9/11 BREAKDOWN:  Obviously, there is—there are

many things that need to be reconciled, and hopefully, the final report

will do that.  One of the things that I wanted to mention is that there was

a theme today, Well, there was nothing we could do.  There‘s nothing we

could do in hindsight.  It was the theme last week.  Interestingly enough,

it came out that Scarfa (ph) -- he‘s a mobster that was in jail in New York

·         he started up a relationship with one of the al Qaeda guys who was on trial in New York.  And what he learned was that they called off the Atlanta game attack, al Qaeda, because they were spooked because the security was too high.  So all these people saying, There was nothing we could do, there was nothing we could do—we have proof right there from this gentleman that if we had turned up security, if we put it on the front page...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BREITWEISER:  ... if we had it on “America‘s Most Wanted”—these guys were spooked.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We also know they were thinking about airplanes attacking the G-8 meetings in Italy.  More with Kristin Breitweiser, Mindy Kleinberg and Lorie van Auken when we return.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  This half hour on HARDBALL, I‘ll ask three women who lost their husbands on September 11, what the FBI should have done prior to the 9/11 attacks. 

Plus we‘ll preview President Bush‘s news conference one hour from now. 

But first the latest headlines right now. 

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with Kristen Breitweiser, Mindy Kleinberg and Lori Van Auken. 

You had a thought?

BREITWEISER:  Yes.  One of the upsetting things to us today was that we have the intelligence community there discussing what they knew, and apparently the commission didn‘t ask very pointed questions.  And one of those reasons could be that the commission has not been very expeditious in getting whistle blowers in, whistle blowers that have very relevant information with regard to what our intel community knew specifically in April 2001, May 2001.  It‘s all highly classified stuff. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think the members of the commission who are charged with finding out what happened are resisting the pleas of the whistle blowers to appear?

BREITWEISER:  I don‘t know.  All I know is that we have to basically walk them in there hand in hand to get them to interview them.  And I can tell you another thing is that...

MATTHEWS:  They come to you, right?

BREITWEISER:  Yes, and the director of the FBI personally contacted Ashcroft and asked to have state secrets privilege asserted with regard to one of the whistle blowers, which tells you how secret it is. 

MATTHEWS:  There was a lot of CYA today, cover your rear.  Lots of it in the hearing today.  Let me run through it with you, what you women think of these defenses. 

Here‘s Ashcroft, the attorney general of the United States.  He says he didn‘t have the money, didn‘t have the people.  The same thing the other guys said today.  He had asked for—Louis Freeh at one point said, “I asked for 2,000 agents; I got 76.” 

Civil liberties concerns, it‘s easy to say now we should have tough in questioning people, but back before 9/11, before the tragedy, all the focus was on being nice to people, making sure we didn‘t interfere with their civil liberties, especially all these religious Islamic groups that didn‘t want to be bothered with and all the push from the Clinton administration on was let‘s be careful not to offend anybody here. 

Lots of—not rearview window looking—we‘re looking back, but these guys who are defending themselves are trying to look forward and say, try to remember what it was like back then. 

What do you make of that Lori?

VAN AUKEN:  Well, certain of the things that we follow with Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar for example, people that were being surveilled in Malaysia in January of 2000, went to Bangkok were being surveilled there.  Had visas to go to the United States, which probably means they were going to the United States, got here and we lost them. 

And you know, they weren‘t watch listed.  You know, I don‘t think that‘s a matter of resources.  I just think somebody goofed. 

MATTHEWS:  Well these guys are talking about the fact that groups like the Holy Land Foundation, who were—they were broken into down here in Virginia, they claimed all of it was a civil liberties violation, religious incursion, all that stuff.

It turns out that they were involved in this bad stuff, but what about that?  Do you have any sympathy for the FBI and these people who said we couldn‘t bash down doors in those days.  We couldn‘t rubber hose people because they would claim civil liberties protection?

KLEINBERG:  You know what, this is how I feel about it.  I sympathize with them, but...

MATTHEWS:  With the FBI?

KLEINBERG:  Yes, but what I expect my leadership to do is make the tough decisions.  So what I would have liked to have seen happen is the FBI go to the NSC and say to them look, we know that this particular group of people is targeting us.  We have to be able to get around the civil liberties thing. 

That‘s what they‘re tasked to do.  That‘s what a national security adviser is tasked to do, DCI Is tasked to do.  They have to be able to be forward thinking hand make these kinds of aggressive decisions and do something. 

MATTHEWS:  But isn‘t there a problem here in the way our political system works?  You know, U.S. Congressman.  You‘ve dealt with congressmen, how they work. 

If some religious groups calls up and says, “We‘re being bothered by the FBI.”  The minute the congressman takes the side of the people, no matter what the facts are, and says, “Leave my people alone.”  

And this is the way it‘s all ethnic—it‘s group voting.  It‘s block voting.  You don‘t want to offend one group because if you offend that group, the whole group will get mad at you, right?

BREITWEISER:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  So isn‘t that the problem the agency faced here, and the FBI faced here, don‘t offend any Islamic group because then they‘ll appeal to all Islamic Americans and say they‘re coming at us. 

KLEINBERG:  Yes, but today, OK?  Do you think they would have the same argument today?

MATTHEWS:  Not today.

KLEINBERG:  Not today.  So then why couldn‘t they...

MATTHEWS:  But we‘re talking about before 9/11.

KLEINBERG:  I know, but why couldn‘t they have made that argument to the American people before 9/11?

MATTHEWS:  Because the American people would have said don‘t mess with these minority groups. 

KLEINBERG:  That‘s not true. 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t think so?

BREITWEISER:  In 2000 -- I have a newspaper article in 2000, two gentlemen were on a plane and one of them acted up.  Another man was taking pictures of him acting up, watching how the flight crew would handle it.  It‘s documented in the newspaper, OK? 

The two guys turned around and sued the airlines in 2000, OK, claiming that it was discrimination, this and that, and that‘s a prime example of them using loopholes or, you know, our political system to their advantage. 

MATTHEWS:  Using our freedoms.

BREITWEISER:   And we didn‘t learn about that.  And you know what?  They were documenting.  They were practicing to see what will happen and you know why?  By suing the airlines, they just made it abundantly clear that in the future they were doing to be able to do whatever they wanted to and they wouldn‘t get...

MATTHEWS:  They were chilling the airline?

BREITWEISER:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  So what do you do about it?

BREITWEISER:  What do you do about it?

MATTHEWS:  What do you people do when you raise hell about this?

BREITWEISER:  When you had the FBI investigating flight schools all the way back to 1996, you knew these guys were interested in flying.  You knew that there were plans to hijack planes, use them in a suicide method.

You know what?  You need to do a cost benefit analysis and really go fight it in court.  What‘s the downside?  Three thousand people may live?  Really.  You know what?

MATTHEWS:  I‘ve seen—remember they got the guy, running the flight school down in—you know about it, down in Florida, he says—they said, “Where are these people from?”

And one of these flight instructors: “I think they‘re from Germany.” 

I mean, that‘s an idiot response.  These people were from the Middle East. 

VAN AUKEN:  Some of them were from Germany, actually.  They were from the German cell.

MATTHEWS:  They stopped off in Germany—they had stopped in the way over to get us. 

Let me ask you this, Lori, what did you think of this whole question today over the weekend we found out what the president was briefed on on August 6.  What did you make about his preparation for this?

VAN AUKEN:  You know, I took the briefing and I just did like a little color coding of it, and I did, you know, the orange is domestic threat, and you know...

MATTHEWS:  It looks pretty orange. 

VAN AUKEN:  It‘s pretty orange. 

MATTHEWS:  In fact the title is pretty orange, isn‘t it? 

VAN AUKEN:  The title is orange. 

MATTHEWS:  “Bin Laden determined to strike in the U.S.”  That would indicate it‘s going to be a domestic threat. 

VAN AUKEN:  And also the yellow is all in the present tense.  So that means that this is not all historical. 

And the other thing that I was very curious to see was there were only five little black marks here, which really meant this could have been declassified way sooner. 

KLEINBERG:  And could have been given to the joint inquiry, which they didn‘t have access to. 

VAN AUKEN:  Absolutely. 

BREITWEISER:  I think the main thrust is that Condoleezza Rice kept saying that there was no domestic threat and yet the title of this, and I mean everyone went to high school and college, what do you title a paper?  You title a paper with the main theme behind the document.  It‘s to catch attention, and certainly...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think she was acting when she threw her eyes there rather debonairly and said, “Oh, I think it was called ‘bin Laden determined to attack the United States,‘ in the United States.”  Do you think she was acting?

VAN AUKEN:  You know...

MATTHEWS:  Because she knew the title of that baby from the beginning, probably. 

VAN AUKEN:  And I think that pretty much everybody sees this was a lot of domestic threat.

MATTHEWS:  I like the way you did that, by the way. 

VAN AUKEN:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  You should be in graphics here.  All the orange stuff is domestic, and they said it was about a foreign threat.  And the yellow stuff was what?

VAN AUKEN:  The yellow is...

MATTHEWS:  Current information.

VAN AUKEN:  ... the present tense. 

MATTHEWS:  So it‘s not historic.  I‘d put that color-coding up against her testimony. 

We‘re coming right back with Kristen Breitweiser, Mindy Kleinberg and Lori Van Auken. 

And don‘t forget, President Bush‘s news conference begins at 8:30 p.m. 

Eastern time, less than an hour from now. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with Kristen Breitweiser and Mindy Kleinberg and Lori Van Auken. 

One of the defenses thrown up by the attorney general today, and I think it may be a fair one, was that the FBI, the attorney general‘s office in general, the Justice Department is inhibited on what it can use as evidence against these terrorists.

Because it‘s not supposed to use any evidence against people in criminal prosecution that was gathered through intelligence gathering.  That you have to have a separation, a wall he called it, between criminal investigations and surveillance in the national interest, because obviously there‘s a lower bar for what you can get to use to protect the country rather than to incriminate someone as an individual. 

Is that a legitimate defense of failure to catch the 9/11 operation before it took effect?

BREITWEISER:  I don‘t think it‘s a legitimate offense.  I think that when you look particularly the Moussaoui case, they contacted the French government, which was not addressed in the staff statement or any of the testimony today.

The French government told them that he was a radical Islamist fundamentalist linked with these groups.  That‘s what you needed to do.  That‘s how you needed to make the hurdle. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s saying that there‘s a wall between digging up that foreign intel and being able to use it to make a case.  Apparently all they had him on was an immigration violation. 

BREITWEISER:  He‘s right.  That is inaccurate...

MATTHEWS:  They never brought a real serious felony charge against Moussaoui.

BREITWEISER:  I believe that that‘s inaccurate, and I would have liked them to have addressed what the French government told them with regard to Moussaoui in August of 2001.

And I believe, according to newspaper accounts, that he had links to terrorist organizations, which is the criteria that would have given them probable cause to get the FISA warrant. 

So with regard to Moussaoui, there are issues there.  This guy was at a flight school, the same flight school that Mirad (ph) from the embassy bombings in New York was at, the same flight school that Atta and Al-Shiri (ph) went to.  Oklahoma, Airman Flight School...

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you the principle here.  Do you think the United States government should limit its prosecution to the evidence that you can gather from criminal investigation and not use all the elements of information we‘re able to get from the CIA, from the FBI‘s counterterrorism operations, all that intelligence?  Do you think it‘s fair not to be able to use that to make a case?

KLEINBERG:  No I don‘t, but you know what?  I think when you listen to Janet Reno today, she would tell you they had that wall and they got around it, OK? 

Because for the millennium plot, they had meetings every day.  So you had the DCI and the FBI and the NSA and the attorney general talking to each other every day.  And you know what?  They got more FISA warrants passed through, because the attorney general was sitting there and understood what the issue was. 

So you know what?  Structurally we‘re a mess, but there was a way to get around that. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s talk about something everybody can understand—money.  There was a very powerful statement today by Cofer Black, who‘s head of the counterintelligence center that works for the CIA. 

And he said, “I knew this day was coming.  I knew some day I‘d be sitting here in the dock basically, explaining why we failed against a major terrorism operation.  Because when we needed help, when we needed money and bodies to do the job of saving this country from this, they wouldn‘t give it to me.” 

What did you make of that?  Lori?

VAN AUKEN:  It seems...

MATTHEWS:  Doesn‘t it take people to do a job?

VAN AUKEN:  It does.  It takes people.  And it takes people being trained properly to do a job.  There‘s absolutely no doubt about that.  It takes—you know, absolutely takes a structure...

MATTHEWS:  It takes travel budgets.  It takes money to maybe bribe people.  It takes money—street money to go around and pass it around neighborhoods to get info.  It costs money to get info.

VAN AUKEN:  We know there was money budgeted for the FBI, for example, but some of that money sort of got disappeared.  I don‘t know what happened to it. 

MATTHEWS:  What did you make of this fellow Cofer Black‘s rather plaintive defense of his—the reason he‘s sitting in that chair today?

VAN AUKEN:  Everybody has that defense.  And everybody could use more money, but I also don‘t think that they structured what they had.  You know, they had some money for computers and somehow the computers didn‘t get bought. 

Now they‘re—they have a better search engine, more like a Google search the FBI showed us. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you ladies a bit more right wing than you were before the tragedy, in other words, more willing to be with prosecution, less dainty about civil liberties?  Are you tougher now?

Because it sounds like that‘s the choice you have to make in this country, between tough prosecution, surveillance, anything goes to get people in jail, because otherwise how do you stop them at the moment they‘re going to commit the crime?  Because you have to get them before they do it.  You can‘t just punish them afterwards, especially with committing suicide.

KLEINBERG:  What about doing something in a defensive posture?  What I want to know is after this August 6 PDB, this is my bottom line question. 

OK, we had a summer of threat.  This PDB was not given in a vacuum. 

It was during warnings, OK?  So now we get this that it could be here.  What was done defensively at home?  What was done at the airports, what was done at the security desk?  What did we do?  What was done at the FBI?

I mean, you heard today from Pickard.  He called up his agents and told them to be responsive.  How is that a response to a summer of threats?

MATTHEWS:  Pickard never knew that the president sought the advice of the FBI.  What‘s up?  That‘s stunning to me.  The director of the FBI never knew that the president had gotten a report on August 6 at the ranch as to what they were doing in terms of fighting al Qaeda.  And nobody told the director of the FBI about that, about the Phoenix office, about Moussaoui any of it. 

KLEINBERG:  Do you have to break civil liberties to have people talking to each other?  I mean, I think if we had the right flow of communication, we wouldn‘t...

MATTHEWS:  Louis Freeh was the first guy in all these hearings to say how we could have stopped 9/11.  He said if you had infiltrators, if you had guys who were Arabic speaking, could pass, could be moles, could infiltrate those groups, overheard, we could have got a tip-off.  We didn‘t. 

Doesn‘t that come down to as simple as that, you‘ve got to infiltrate the communist party.  You‘ve got to infiltrate the mob.  The only way to nail the guys is to infiltrate.  And he said, “I didn‘t have the people to do it.”

VAN AUKEN:  Look, we know that in the PDB it said there were patterns indicating hijacking.  What were the patterns?  I mean, there‘s no information here but that.  Where is that coming from?  We know that, for example, we had a CAPPS program and nine of the 19 hijackers were actually stopped. 

MATTHEWS:  What does CAPPS stand for?

BREITWEISER:  Computer Assisted Passenger Profiling System. 

VAN AUKEN:  It‘s the C-A-P-P-S.

MATTHEWS:  I got it. 

VAN AUKEN:  In any case, there were nine hijackers stopped.  Five of the hijackers were all from flight 77, the Pentagon plane.  That—if they had stopped those guys and stopped them from getting on the plane, done, that plane wouldn‘t have crashed. 

MATTHEWS:  Some of them were on a later schedule than the other ones, right?

VAN AUKEN:  All five people would have been stopped.  You wouldn‘t have had...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what Barbara Olson said on the plane.  They knew all about what was going on       when they went down (ph).

BREITWEISER:  How about just turning up the chatter and informing the public?  We knew these guys would have spooked easily.  That‘s all they had to do.  They probably would have called it off.

MATTHEWS:  All they had to do.  Boy, that‘s the tough one.  That‘s the tough conclusion. 

BREITWEISER:  We want some answers, we need to get a hold of the White House. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think you‘re getting them.  We‘re learning a lot here.  Keep pushing.  We‘ll be back.

Anyway thanks for joining us.  Please come back again.  Kristen Breitweiser, Mindy Kleinberg and Lori Van Auken.

When we come back, reaction to today‘s testimony from former FBI Assistant director Louis Schiliro and former deputy assistant attorney Alice Fisher—that‘s an easy one. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Louis Schiliro served as Louis—under Louis Freeh, as the FBI chief of the New York bureau when he supervised several counter-terrorism investigations, including the 1993 the World Trade Center bombing and the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa. 

And Alice Fisher recently stopped down from her position as deputy assistant attorney general for counter terrorism at the U.S. Department of Justice.

Thank you very much for joining us. 

Louis, I want to ask you about this question, about who knows what and when?  We have learned a lot in the last couple of weeks, the American people watching these hearings. 

We have learned that the president was briefed five weeks before 9/11.  We know that the head of the CIA, George Tenet, knew on the morning of 9/11, hey, this must have something to do—I hope this doesn‘t have something to do with that guy taking flight training out in Minneapolis. 

We know that there was an FBI officer out in Phoenix who had raised questions about all these suspicious people wanting flight training.  And we know that there were two members of the killer team of 19 who carried out the 9/11 were already in the phone book out there and under surveillance in San Diego. 

What surprised me is the testimony today from the acting FBI Director, Thomas Pickard, who said he knew none of this until after 9/11. 

Louis, what do you make of that?

LOUIS SCHILIRO, FORMER ASST. FBI DIRECTOR:  That‘s a difficult question.  Certainly that information was given to FBI headquarters, and perhaps there was a failure to raise it to the appropriate level, but that is somewhat troubling. 

But I think as Director Freeh testified to, the FBI is an institution that is great at developing information.  I think what it lacked in 2001 was the technology to really bring that information together to allow it to collate it and correlate it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, how come the CIA director knew something that the FBI had dug up regarding a suspicious fellow wanting flight training.  This is Moussaoui out in Minneapolis.  And yet the FBI director didn‘t know it?

SCHILIRO:  Perhaps the reporting within the CIA brought it to the director‘s attention. 

MATTHEWS:  No, it didn‘t get to the top of his own agency, but it got all the way over to the CIA.  How did that happen?

SCHILIRO:  That I can‘t answer, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.  Neither can I. 

What do you think, Alice?  How do you explain how a bureaucracy fails to produce significant information for the head of that bureaucracy, but it does manage to get all the way across town to the CIA out at Langley, Virginia?

ALICE FISHER, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL:  Well, clearly, there was some information sharing going on between the FBI and the CIA. 

MATTHEWS:  And no information sharing with the FBI director.

FISHER:  And information that was not getting—right, that was not getting pushed up quickly enough. 

MATTHEWS:  How did the FBI director not know that his agency had been asked to brief the president five weeks before 9/11?  How could the FBI director not know that his agency had been called upon by the president of the United States to tell them what‘s going on in terms of activity by al Qaeda.  And he never knew it?

FISHER:  I don‘t know how that happened, how he never knew that the briefing was going to go on and what information was gathered for that briefing. 

MATHEWS:  So the CIA analyst—it‘s a woman.  No intention to make an issue of gender.  But it‘s a woman.  That‘s all I know.  It‘s a woman.

She calls up somebody she knows at the FBI and says do you know anything about this al Qaeda operation?  They said oh, yes, we have some guys from—Yemeni guys looking at some buildings and taking pictures of some buildings in downtown New York.  And we‘ve got 70 field investigations -- full field investigations going on.  And that‘s it.  That‘s the end of the phone call. 

That goes to the president down on the ranch in Crawford.  He gets briefed to that effect.  It never works its way up to the top of the FBI.  Even the information the president got never got to the FBI director. 

FISHER:  Well, clearly there wasn‘t...

MATTHEWS:  How can this be?

FISHER:  There wasn‘t enough information sharing going on and enough of an import in that phone call that the FBI agent responded to. 

But I can tell you that since 9/11, the director of the CIA, the director of the FBI, the attorney general, and the president all meet together every morning and discuss this information that‘s going on. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.  I said the barn door—The barn door is closed, but it was open. 

FISHER:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to Mr. Schiliro.  How do you explain the fact that the FBI director didn‘t know his own team was briefing the president?

SCHILIRO:  That I can‘t explain, Chris, but I would like to add this as a result of the hearings today, if you listened to Director Freeh. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

SCHILIRO:  Certainly, what we saw in ‘93, the attempts to bring down the trade center then.  We saw again in ‘95 Ramsey Youssef‘s attempts to place bombs aboard airliners over the Pacific Ocean.  In ‘98, the embassy bombings.  You know, the signs were there.

In terms of the millennium celebration with the Ressam case in Seattle.  They attacked the U.S. warship in 2000.  So for anybody to suggest that the warnings signs weren‘t there.  Bin Laden in his own words threatened to kill Americans wherever he could find them. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

SCHILIRO:  You know, these are things that we dealt with on a day-to-day basis.  The amount of information that was gathered as a result of these cases was oftentimes overwhelming.  And our ability to react to it.

You know, we prevented a great many of these things from happening.  The day of horror in New York City.  So to suggest that what happened in the Moussaoui case perhaps should have been elevated, you know, I can‘t argue with that. 

MATTHEWS:  You think, Mr. Schiliro—you know this as well, having been on the airplane, on the helicopter with Ramsey Youssef and being so close.  When the tire hits the road, when we have to have an investigator to risk his or her life and infiltrate and go undercover and hang around in neighborhoods, or hang around in mosques where we can overhear something like this that might be dangerous to the United States.  I don‘t mean to impugn mosques, but anywhere you come in company with people—Islamic terrorists. 

Don‘t you need people who can get by, who have fabulous Arabic, who have any amount of Arabic, who can pass physically as Arab people?  Doesn‘t that really limit the number of people you can draw on to do this job of spying on al Qaeda?

SCHILIRO:  Well, I think certainly the FBI needed to and did use every available resource in order to penetrate al Qaeda, and I think the cases that were generated in the southern district of New York demonstrate that fact. 

That is not to suggest, as Director Freeh says, that we needed to go further than that.  You know, the FBI and the CIA during those years fought a defensive war. 

What needed to happen is what happened after 9/11, was we needed to operate offensively.  And that was to deny them their command and control, deny them the use of their training camps, the same thing that the president is doing today. 

MATTHEWS:  Going to war with Afghanistan, basically. 

SCHILIRO:  By going to war with Afghanistan.

MATTHEWS:  Attack with military might.  And you believe that is the one way to stop these kinds of terrorist attacks in the United States?

SCHILIRO:  I believe that that was a step in the right direction, absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you think it was impressive?  It looks like—I mean, I‘m reading through the tea leaves here and trying to figure out all this decoding that‘s been going on—you need to do by hearing the hearings. 

Apparently, bill Clinton approved a contract going to bin Laden. 

SCHILIRO:  Well, I don‘t know about that.  That I wasn‘t privy to.  But I can say when we were in east Africa investigating the embassy bombings, they launched a certain number of Cruise missiles at him in attempts to destroy his training camps.  It was unfortunate that he wasn‘t there so... 

MATTHEWS:  We weren‘t careful that he wasn‘t, so we obviously weren‘t worried about killing the guy.  Anyway, thank you.

SCHILIRO:  It didn‘t appear to me they were.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s an honor to meet you, Lawrence Schiliro.  Thank you so much for joining us. 

Alice Fisher, thank you for coming in. 

Coming up in 30 minutes, President Bush‘s news conference tonight, the third he‘s had since becoming president. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s 8:00 here in Washington, D.C., on the East Coast. 

In a half-hour, President Bush will hold his first news conference since December of last year.  His news conference comes amid questions his administration didn‘t do enough to stop terrorism in the weeks and months before September 11.  The president is also expected to address the escalating violence against Americans in Iraq. 

Newsweek‘s Fareed Zakaria joins us now.  He‘s the author of “The Future of Freedom.” 

Fareed, it‘s great to have you on tonight. 

Let me ask you about the latest “Newsweek” poll.  Apparently, Senator Kerry now leads President Bush 50 to 43 and only 36 percent of the people are satisfied with—quote—“the ways things are going in this country.”

Do you think that had something to do with the calling of this press conference, Fareed? 

FAREED ZAKARIA, AUTHOR, “THE FUTURE OF FREEDOM”:  I think that‘s a safe bet, Chris. 

If you look at the past three or four months, the president has been neck to neck with any Democrat on almost all issues, health care, economy, jobs, all that kind of thing.  He has had a 25-point advantage on national security.  Iraq has called into question his judgment, his intelligence, his capacity to handle this stuff and the honesty with which the administration has dealt with the need for changes in midcourse and things like that.

The 9/11 Commission compounds that because, in some ways, it‘s the same kind of problems, inability perhaps to honestly admit where there might have been differences, where there might have been different policies taken.  So all that I think has contributed to a fairly dramatic drop in his poll numbers. 

MATTHEWS:  There was a premise to our attack on Iraq.  Howard Fineman, your colleague, has referred to it somewhat lightly as the happy Iraqi syndrome or the happy Iraqi scenario, that once we went in there and decapitated Saddam Hussein, once we got rid of his henchmen, the people once liberated by our troops would be very happy with us being there, would help us rebuild their country. 

Was that a reasonable premise about that part of the world? 

ZAKARIA:  It was frankly absurd, not just about that part of the world, but about anywhere. 

Remember, Chris, when the Soviet Union was in its most tyrannical phase, Soviet soldiers, Russian soldiers fought and died for Stalin in the tens of thousands, and indeed in the millions, some of them unwillingly, but many of them willingly.  The reality is, we are foreigners in that country, and that means you‘re always going to have a legitimacy problem.  You‘re always going to be dealing with Iraqi nationalism.  Plus, take the point you were making.  In that part of the world, America has, to put it mildly, an image problem. 

We‘re seen as propping up dictators.  We‘re seen as one-sided on the issue of Israel.  So we went in knowing we had a huge legitimacy problem. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, is that an image problem or is that a reality problem? 

ZAKARIA:  A reality problem that generates an image problem. 

MATTHEWS:  To the Arab side, it is.  It‘s a reality problem.  We may have our policies out of principle and have smart politics or whatever.  But to their attitude, we‘re always on the other side. 

And then it‘s—let me ask you about this question of patriotism.  You alluded to how the Russians fought even for an evil man like Joseph Stalin and lost millions of people fighting.  They called that the great patriotic war.  The president of the United States wears a flag here on his lapel all the time.  Hasn‘t anyone in his camp, the vice president, members of the Cabinet, top advisers, ever said that Iraqis have the same sentiment towards their country? 

ZAKARIA:  Well, it is the puzzling feature of this administration where they have this extraordinary and understandable and honorable patriotism, and it‘s something I as an American look at very fondly, but there seems to be a kind of inability to realize that maybe other countries feel about their country the way we feel about ours. 

And that means, when you deal with them, you‘ve got to take that sensitivity into account, whether you‘re dealing with the Turks, whether you‘re dealing with the Spanish, whether you‘re dealing, God forbid, with the French, and, of course, when you‘re dealing with the Iraqis. 

MATTHEWS:  Are we dealing in three different directions in terms of our Iraq policy?  And let me suggest a couple things.  We‘re saying we‘re pushing democracy.  We want those people to have majority rule of some kind, self-determination of some kind. 

At the same time, we‘re trying to, obviously, groom an ally, some country, Iraq, the new Iraq, which will be on our side in the world, which will be at least neutral in the Middle East struggle, that won‘t be a pain in the butt for us.  Is that—are those mutually exclusive?  And we want the oil.  Are those three goals mutually exclusive? 

ZAKARIA:  Well, in the happy, happy, the happy, Iraqi scenario, presumably, they are all going to come together.  But the reality...

MATTHEWS:  They choose to be on our side and choose to give us their oil at the cheapest possible price. 

ZAKARIA:  Right, because they are naturally—the theory which was sold to us by the Iraqi exiles, like Ahmad Chalabi, was that Iraqis are actually deeply pro-American, they are deeply democratic.  They are just waiting to have this one guy, Saddam Hussein, get out of the way.  And after that, you know, 100 flowers will bloom. 

The reality is, of course, is the dilemma is exactly the one you present.  We have the choice between a stable Iraq, which is—plays a responsible role in the region and which will have a reasonably pro-Western foreign policy, and a pure democracy, which would probably result in a Shia majority rule that was quite brutal and a Kurdish autonomous zone. 

People forget that a real democracy in Iraq, if you truly gave the Kurds the choice, they would come close to seceding, if not seceding. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, yes.  I appreciate that.

Let me ask you about hostage taking.  I can‘t think of anything more cruel besides murder, if even that, than taking somebody hostage and leaving their fate completely mysterious to their family and to themselves.  But this new tactic, is this going to grow?  We have got 40 people of different countries now being held by various Iraqi factions right now.  We don‘t know what their—do you have any hunch as to what their strategy will be?  Will they be lenient?  Will they bluff or will they start decapitating people? 

ZAKARIA:  My guess is, you‘re going to see a variety of strategies, because my sense is, these are freelancers.  This is not a coordinated movement.  And the only thing that stops hostage taking, sad to say, is not yielding to their demands, because...

MATTHEWS:  Well, should we meet their demands to get these people home? 

ZAKARIA:  It‘s impossible for me to answer that, because I‘m not—you know, I don‘t have to deal with the families and things like that. 

I will make the general point.  Hostage taking never works if you concede to the demands of the hostage takers.  It only feeds the appetite.  The Japanese have showed, for example, by holding firm, you probably are going to get the people out and not produce a kind of chain reaction.  If you give in to the hostage takers‘ demands, you only ensure they will take more. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I hate to be cruel, but let‘s talk war here.  What do the hostage takers have to lose with this tactic? 

ZAKARIA:  Unfortunately, not a lot. 

The reality here is—and the most important reality is, we don‘t know who is doing this, whether it‘s the insurgents in the area around Fallujah, whether it‘s the hostage takers.  Our intelligence in Iraq is extraordinarily bad, which is, why when we retaliate, we‘re often compounding the problem, because we‘re not hitting the guys who did the bad stuff.  We‘re just engaging in collective punishment, which only produces more support for the insurgency, more support for the hostage takers. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you call it an insurgency and not a resistance?  I‘m just curious, because insurgency suggests rebellious behavior toward an established government.  How can they be insurgents until there is a legitimate government over there to be insurgent against? 

ZAKARIA:  Well, it‘s fair, but I don‘t want to call it resistance because I think that glorifies it and suggests that somehow it is a nationwide phenomenon or it has deep support. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

ZAKARIA:  My sense is that right now there is no Shia support for what is going on in the Sunni Triangle, that there is some Sunni support much more significant than the administration ever admitted.  These guys are not dead-enders.  These are not just a few Baathists.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  All right, so we face a true communal hatred from the Sunnis who benefited from the late regime of Saddam Hussein.  We don‘t face anything like a community-wide hatred or hostility from the Shia, who are the majority and who could well take over the next government? 

ZAKARIA:  Except, Chris, that the way we have handled the Sunni insurgency is actually producing among the Shia an anti-American response. 

It‘s difficult to get a sense of this watching the American media. 

Fallujah has turned into a massive issue in Iraq and in the Arab world. 

MATTHEWS:  The way we‘re taking that street—that town back block by block. 

ZAKARIA:  Precisely.  Look, they killed four of our guys.  We have killed 600 of theirs.  How do you think that makes an Iraqi feel, regardless of how he feels about Saddam Hussein, the occupation, or anything like that? 

MATTHEWS:  So, are we radicalizing the people by doing that kind of strategy? 

ZAKARIA:  There is no question we‘re radicalizing it.  There is no question it‘s foolish, because it‘s untargeted.  We‘re not hitting the people who did the killings. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Fareed, stick with us.  Fareed Zakaria from “Newsweek,” stay with us.

NBC News White House correspondent Norah O‘Donnell joins us now, a very important night for the White House. 

Norah, the president is going to speak at his press conference in less than a half-hour.  What‘s the game plan?  Can you tell yet?

NORAH O‘DONNELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, tonight, the president‘s advisers say his goal is to steel the nerves of the American people. 

The president will begin tonight in a very unusual way.  In fact, he will deliver an opening statement that is now about 18 minutes long.  That‘s more like a presidential address than a presidential press conference.  It is clear this president has a lot on his mind, a lot he wants to express to the American people.  His advisers say he wants to reassure the American people, despite this surge of violence in Iraq, more than 70 dead, over 400 causalities in just the last month, that America should stay the course. 

He needs to explain the exit strategy, all of these different things and the rationale for why we went to war with Iraq, even though no weapons of mass destruction have been found, all of this, says, the president‘s advisers, because there is concern.  And Republicans have expressed concern to this White House that there is growing anxiety out there, that it‘s not clear how we move forward. 

And so the president will use this address tonight and a very lengthy opening statement to make that case—Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you tell whether this speech has grown over the last several days from the time—you noted earlier tonight that he decided to do this last Thursday.  Have a lot of people in the White House said, you forgot to mention this, you got to mention that, or did they start out, do you think, with the strategy of calling a press conference, but basically deciding on a speech ahead of time? 

O‘DONNELL:  It is noteworthy.

Earlier today, the president‘s spokesman said the president would speak for about 12 minutes.  That then grew to about 18 minutes.  It has been clear the president has been spending all day on this.  They know that the stakes could not be higher, the president‘s credibility at stake, not only because of the war in Iraq, but the war on terrorism.  This White House has said, clearly, Iraq is the central front in the war on terror. 

If Iraq is in chaos, does that mean the war against terrorism is in chaos?  That is a question that the president must answer tonight.  That is why he has decided on a very lengthy opening statement to make that case.  Now, of course, this news conference will be more about—more than just about Iraq.  There will be questions about the economy and the 9/11 hearings.

But clearly Iraq is the reason the president is holding this very rare press conference tonight—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  OK, Norah O‘Donnell, we will be checking back with you later tonight, a little later. 

And when we come back, “Newsweek” Fareed Zakaria is going to rejoin us, as we preview President Bush‘s big news conference, the third of his presidency, coming up at the bottom of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  President Bush‘s news conference is set to begin at the bottom of the hour, at 8:30 Eastern time. 

We‘re back with “Newsweek”‘s Fareed Zakaria. 

The most tired cliche of the opposition of President Bush‘s war policy in Iraq is, why don‘t we internationalize this?  Why don‘t we bring in other form nationals from NATO or the U.N. most normally to take our place or to help us?  And yet here we face 40 foreign nationals being taken captive.  Isn‘t the word being sent by the Iraqi nationalist resistors, insurgents, whatever we call them, we‘re willing to take on anybody? 

ZAKARIA:  Sure. 

The argument, again, about internationalization, first of all, it should be recognized, it‘s not a silver bullet.  It‘s not some kind of a panacea.  I think it‘s fair to say, however, Chris, that, if you had started out at the end of the war by saying this is going to be a great international project, like Bosnia, like Kosovo, like East Timor, like Cambodia, it will be under the U.N. authority, it will be entirely international in its scope, there will not be an American directing it, that you wouldn‘t stop the insurgency. 

But the insurgents probably wouldn‘t have got as much support, because they couldn‘t play on the themes of America as a colonial power, America, the pro-Israeli power.  In other words, the nakedness of the American occupation has clearly had some effect.  And I think it‘s very important to remember, the argument being made at the time was, look, you‘re going to have a legitimacy problem in problem.  Let‘s do things both in terms of getting international legitimacy and in terms of getting domestic legitimacy. 

I was on your program a year ago, Chris, and I said to you—when you asked me about the U.N., I said not involving the U.N. is going to be seen as an historic blunder 10 years from now.  I think it‘s only taken one year, but it clearly was a blunder. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, back in ‘91, after the first Gulf War, Dick Cheney, the secretary of defense at the time, said, don‘t go into Iraq, because, if you go in there, we‘ll try to create a government.  And no one will trust it and it will look like a puppet government.  Wasn‘t he prescient then? 

ZAKARIA:  Well, he was prescient in realizing that outsiders always have this problem, which is, you come in, you try and create a government, and it‘s either so weak that it collapses or it‘s strong and it‘s seen as a puppet regime. 

And that‘s our great test June 30.  We have to create something that‘s credible in Iraq, because if what we end up with is a puppet regime that doesn‘t have any real powers, then we‘re back in Vietnam in the 1960s. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s talk about your cover this week.  You definitely allude on the cover of “Newsweek” this week to the possibility we‘re getting into a Vietnam syndrome. 

One of the Vietnam—the aspects of the Vietnam syndrome was the charge by the communists and by the world that our government, the government we more or less put in place in Saigon was, as the commies used to call it, a running dog, a puppet government.  Is there any chance we‘re not going to get something like that come June 30, when we stand up a new involved, to use Rumsfeld‘s term? 

ZAKARIA:  Oh, there is a great danger we‘re going to get that.  And there‘s a danger for a couple of reasons.  First, we have all—we have gone into this entire enterprise with a lot of Iraqi exiles who frankly have no support within the community. 

Secondly, we still seem committed to some version of the Governing Council.  We dissed people like Sistani early on, who had real authority and street cred.  So we have all those problems.  And finally, at this point, we don‘t have the time to do something like a loya jirga or a true national assembly.  So, given how little time we have, it‘s going to be some kind of shoestring operation.

And you know what?  The Muqtada al-Sadrs, all the anti-Americans out there are going to make that charge.  The question is, is it going to stick?  To make sure it doesn‘t stick, we‘ve got to get on board the majority of the Shia religious community. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re watching Elisabeth Bumiller of “The New York Times” on there.  I can‘t help noticing that at this news conference.

Let me ask you this.  Once we get a government in place on June 30, how do we protect the people who are loyal to that government?  Right now, the American troop deployment over there is largely centered and basically jammed into a zone of the country, several zones of the country which are secure militarily.  They are not out there living with the people.  They‘re not living at the local motels or hotels.  They‘re not living with people in their homes.  They disappear every night at dark. 

Isn‘t that what happened in Vietnam?  The troops went in.  They fought the V.C.  They went home.  The V.C. came back and killed every ally we had. 

ZAKARIA:  And you know what?  The worst thing about this, Chris, is, this was completely predictable.  Every study of postwar operations based on Bosnia and Kosovo said, look, you don‘t want to create cantonments and armed camps.  You want these guys out on the streets.  You want them doing foot patrols.  You don‘t want them in Humvees and tanks. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

ZAKARIA:  It was just—there was a kind of feeling that everything that had been done by the Clinton administration, the U.N., the Europeans must by definition be wrong, so we didn‘t learn anything from anyone. 

MATTHEWS:  I think sometimes the people running of the government right now, a lot of them don‘t remember Vietnam well enough. 

Anyway, thanks to “Newsweek,” we‘re being reminded of the mistakes. 

Anyway, thank you, Fareed Zakaria of “Newsweek” magazine.”

When we return, we‘ll have President Bush‘s news conference tonight. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re just minutes away right now from President Bush‘s news conference, only the third prime-time press conference he has had in his presidency. 

Howard.

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Well, it‘s a very important moment for the president.  If going to Iraq was the biggest decision any president has made in decades, then his defense of it tonight yet again is probably the most important thing he has done on the public stage in quite some time. 

MATTHEWS:  Forty hostages, international people, all kinds of countries we have been trying to lure in to help us, now they are being hit.  They are being grabbed.  Is that going to be a hard sell for the critics of the president to say, let‘s internationalize this thing? 

FINEMAN:  Yes and no.  I think it might be that it‘s America‘s job, we have to finish it.  On the other hand, the hostages and the hostile reception to the United States now underscores the views of critics such as my colleague Fareed Zakaria, saying it should have been internationalized from the beginning. 

MATTHEWS:  Norah.  Norah O‘Donnell joins us from the White House.

The toughest question of the night, Norah, the president has taken advice from the people who basically encouraged him to go with Iraq by saying that—following Ahmad Chalabi, the exile‘s comment, don‘t worry, they will be happy to see us.  Once you get rid of Saddam Hussein, they are all going to be on our side. 

Has the president lost faith in the people who made those arguments to him before the war? 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, the vice president said that American troops would be greeted as liberators when they were entered into Iraq.  And some Iraqis did, in fact, welcome the American people. 

But now, of course, there has been a surge in bloodshed.  The president, as far as we can tell, still trusts his advisers that certainly counseled him into making the decision that Iraq was a just war to fight.  One of the interesting things I think tonight will be how the president addresses the potential exit strategy.  Where does America go from now?  What do we do now? 

Sources are telling NBC News that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is ready to put a pen to paper to sign orders that would increase the number of troops in Iraq by 20,000.  That‘s almost double the amount that General Abizaid is requesting.  So the troop strength will increase in Iraq just as we‘re about to hand over political power to the Iraqis.  That may be a difficult thing for many people to swallow. 

Is it time for the president to internationalize this, as you and Howard were just talking about?

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

O‘DONNELL:  That‘s certainly what John Kerry has been proposing as a solution.  So all of those questions for the president tonight, when clearly a great deal is at stake. 

And I think just one of the other things, too, is just the timing of this.  It is very unusual for the president to host such a prime-time press conference.  The last two times he did this was one month after September 11, 2001.  And the other time was a year ago when he was making the case for the war with Iraq in talking about weapons of mass destruction.  He will likely have to revisit the issue of weapons of mass destruction tonight and why they have not been found in Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  Howard, the big question, of course, is your “Newsweek” poll and the roll it played tonight.  I am always amazed by the numbers.  I can‘t—I don‘t sense that turn against the president here in Washington, something like a seven-point spread now for John Kerry, who has not been active on the stump. 

FINEMAN:  No, he hasn‘t been saying much of anything that anybody is been paying attention to.  It‘s all the travails of the president that are causing.... 

MATTHEWS:  Fifty-43. 

FINEMAN:  Fifty-43 in a two-way

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And Kerry has been sitting on his hands for a month. 

FINEMAN:  In a two-way race.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  Well, he doesn‘t have to say much.  The key question is, are we safer as a result of going to Iraq here at home and what‘s the cost?  Look for the word draft to come up here tonight, possibly. 

MATTHEWS:  Because of the strains on the military forces. 

FINEMAN:  The strains on the military forces.  They are increasing the troops.  If the president is asked, “Do you categorically rule out the possibility of a draft?” that will be an interesting moment politically here at home.

MATTHEWS:  Do you expect him not to? 

FINEMAN:  I think he would rule it out in an instant. 

MATTHEWS:  Norah, you covered the Pentagon for a long time.  Is there concerns about strains on the force levels that this war is requiring? 

O‘DONNELL:  Absolutely. 

We‘re talking about that increase in 20,000 troops in Iraq is going to be made up by troops that were supposed to be coming home having to stay for several more months.  There are families waiting for them to return home, and they are going to have to stay—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Norah O‘Donnell.

Stay with us.  We‘re going to come right back with the president of the United States in his third prime-time press conference.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m Chris Matthews.  And this is HARDBALL‘s special coverage of President Bush‘s White House news conference. 

It‘s 8:30 in Washington.  The president will begin with a long statement and follow with reporters‘ questions.  It‘s his 12th news conference overall and only the third time he has met with the press in prime time with such a big national audience watching it. 

“Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman is with me now. 

What will be the headline coming out of the night?  Is it going to deal with the war level, the situation?

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  The troops we may have to send?

FINEMAN:  It‘s definitely going to be the president‘s defense of the war in Iraq, how in his view it made us safer here in America, why it‘s worth the cost in terms of blood and treasure, especially with these hostages from around the world being held giving urgency to the situation.  That will be the highlight.

MATTHEWS:  Is the press as intimidated and as enamored of the president as they were, say, a year or two ago? 

FINEMAN:  No, because a year ago, he was war commander.  He was on

point, as he would

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So they will be a little brash today, a little tough.

FINEMAN:  They will be brash.  And there is a little resentment in the White House press corps that they have not been told the full story over the last year or two. 

We have gone from the embedding process, which was seen as a good relationship with the press, to a very antagonistic one.  Now, the president is going to speak for 20 minutes first.  Then you have maybe 40 minutes for questions in two or three-minute answers.  We‘re not talking about that many questions.  That forces the press to really focus into an antagonistic role. 

MATTHEWS:  Will anybody have the cajones to ask the president about his joke about WMD at the press dinner the other night that you and I were at? 

FINEMAN:  Yes.  I doubt it.  I doubt it, although WMD might come up.  I don‘t even think that is going to be a main issue anymore, because everybody knows we didn‘t find any. 

Now it‘s a question of, how much is it going to cost us in terms of lives?  Is it worth it, how we get out, how we internationalize it?  I think, by the way, the 9/11 Commission that we were all watching today I think politically has been somewhat neutralized.  I think it‘s turned into somewhat of a political show.  I don‘t think that will be the main focus of the questioning, although the president will be asked, how did you react, sir, specifically, to that 9/6 memo? 

MATTHEWS:  He will partisan in his tone tonight against Kerry, or will he try to be more presidential tonight?

FINEMAN:  Well, Kerry was very partisan today.

MATTHEWS:  He said?

FINEMAN:  Saying that the president had...

MATTHEWS:  Engaged in a breach of promise.

FINEMAN:  ... a breach of faith, a breach of faith. 

MATTHEWS:  A breach of faith.

FINEMAN:  A loaded phrase.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a character question.

FINEMAN:  He‘s trying to bait the president into responding tonight. 

I somehow think the president won‘t do it. 

MATTHEWS:  I think the president will rise above it.  This is too close to the nation‘s security. 

President Bush is coming into the East Room of the White House right now.  You seem him coming down the red carpet.  He‘s going to begin his press conference.  This is the third press conference, only the third time he has met with the press during prime time. 

END   

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