updated 4/14/2004 12:48:37 PM ET 2004-04-14T16:48:37

Guest: Doris Kearns Goodwin, John Fund, Dana Priest

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Against the backdrop of unspeakable violence in Iraq, President Bush delivers his message to America in a rare prime-time news conference. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  My message today to those in Iraq is, we‘ll stay the course.  We‘ll complete the job.  My message to our troops is, we will stay the course and complete the job and you‘ll have what you need.  And my message to the loved ones who are worried about their sons, daughters, husbands and wives, is, your loved one is performing a noble service for the cause of freedom and peace. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews. 

President Bush addressed the press corps and the country tonight, amid unconfirmed reports that four of the seven contractors who were ambushed last week were found burned, their bodies mutilated.  The president vowed the troops would “finish the work of the fallen”—unquote—and that the June 30 deadline for turning over sovereignty in Iraq stands. 

He also supported the commander‘s call for more troops. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Well, first of all, that‘s up to General Abizaid, and he‘s clearly indicating that he may want more troops.  It‘s coming up through the chain of command.  And if that‘s what he wants, that‘s what he gets. 

Generally, we‘ve had about a 115,000 troops in Iraq.  There‘s 135,000 now as a result of the changeover from one division to the next. 

If he wants to keep troops there to help, I‘m more than willing to say yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re joined right now by “The Washington Post”‘s Dana Priest, “The Wall Street Journal”‘s John Fund, and John Dickerson of “TIME” magazine. 

Dana, I want to do the work of a budgeter for a big newsroom right now, from which you work.  What are the big news stories tonight, coming out of press conference? 

DANA PRIEST, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Stay the course.  To do otherwise is unthinkable, unleashes a menace that is like terrorism.  He links it again, the victory in Iraq to the war on terrorism.  And he says that people who question it, particularly who give the Vietnam analogy, are basically undermining the U.S. troops, and, therefore, disloyal. 

MATTHEWS:  John Dickerson? 

JOHN DICKERSON, “TIME”:  I think that‘s right. 

You notice when he talked about the terror that he was fighting, he went all the way back to the bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon.  His point tonight was to blow this up into a broad picture on terror.  The war on terror is not what you see in the evening news.  It‘s a long-term struggle.  He talked about a struggle of civilizations tonight.  This is a big thing.

And he tried to draw this out of the daily—he‘s been losing this on at daily nightly news shows.  And he‘s trying to take everybody back and put it in context.  And I think he did that pretty well tonight. 

MATTHEWS:  John Fund.

JOHN FUND, COLUMNIST, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”:  I‘ll agree with all of those.  I‘ll just add two more, that the president expressed some sympathy for the people who have lost their loved ones, and he also actually admitted that there were some people he could understand would have doubts about the policy. 

He also said that the world and the U.S. would not have accepted a preemptive war against the Taliban or al Qaeda before 9/11.  In fact, he said the world would have been astonished that we would have attempted such a thing. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you all about a couple of things he said, the language he chose.  John Dickerson, you were in the room.  I don‘t know about you, but it reminded me of the idiom of “Sixth Sense,” the movie, when he said, nobody—well, let‘s take a look at it in his own words.  He‘s what he said, very candid, very blunt. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  I don‘t plan on losing my job.  I plan on telling the American people that I‘ve got a plan to win the war on terror.  And I believe they‘ll stay with me.  They understand the stakes. 

Look, nobody likes to see dead people on their television screens.  I don‘t.  It‘s a tough time for the American people to see that.  It‘s gut-wrenching.  And one of my hardest parts of my job is to console the family members who have lost their lives.  It is—it‘s a chance to hug and weep and to console and to remind the loved ones that the sacrifice of their loved one is—was done in the name of security for American freedom and for the world. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t think I‘ve ever heard, John, a president speak like that.  Nobody likes to see dead people on their television screens. 

DICKERSON:  It was clumsy in parts. 

But here‘s what the White House hopes, is that people like the fact that this president is not slick and that this is—that he talks like a regular person.  And they‘ve had this challenge since he came into office, which is to show the Bush that people know and look and know they‘re getting a straight story from, which is the Bush who‘s not perfectly articulate and uses he can expressions like that, but not to show the Bush who says bring them on and says these other things. 

MATTHEWS:  So the fraternity sort of towel-snapping is gone.  We‘re down to a regular grownup guy now. 

DICKERSON:  That‘s right.  And what they were trying to show tonight and what he showed at the end was...

MATTHEWS:  No smirk tonight.

DICKERSON:  No, no smirk, but also passion of conviction.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

DICKERSON:  Not the swagger, not the arrogance, but the passion of conviction, which, when he talked about it he feels it in his soul, that‘s what they want to try and get across.

MATTHEWS:  Was that coached tonight, that new sort of mood of the president of somberness, of sobriety, of some kind of trace of humility? 

DICKERSON:  That‘s right.  It was—one of their objectives tonight was to show that he cared about the people who lost their lives, that he had empathy for them, and that this was one of the key messages from tonight, and, right, to get rid of the arrogance. 

PRIEST:  Remember, also, that the news conference came just hours after the 9/11 Commission heard a whole day of testimony with family members in the background. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure. 

PRIEST:  About the CIA and FBI‘s failures.  And they want to have questions answered.  And now we switch to the theater in Iraq where people are dying. 

And I think he felt incumbent to address normal people who have lost so many people.  And, of course, he faced the question, are you going to take responsibility and say you‘re sorry?  No, he didn‘t say he was sorry.  He said he needed to do more. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to John Fund about the hearings.  I want to go to you on the hearings and then we‘ll go sort of before the battle and after the battle before 9/11, after 9/11.  Let‘s take before 9/11.

The president made a point of saying that he triggered the briefing he received on August 6 down on the ranch.  Talk to me about that, John Fund.  Do you think the president is convincing in saying that he was on top of the situation by saying he was the one that called for that briefing? 

FUND:  I believe he did call for that briefing. 

But, Chris, no one is going to say that we were on top of the situation.  Look what happened.  I think what the president can effectively say is, I was on the job for only this period of time.  I did not believe that we could take direct military action against Afghanistan.  We didn‘t have the capability.  We didn‘t have the logistics.  And I didn‘t contemplate it.  And we had a longer-term strategic view and we ran out of time. 

I think both Louis Freeh and Ashcroft made very strong presentations on that point.  They were very compelling.  Janet Reno did her old story: 

I accept responsibility, but I don‘t accept blame.  I wasn‘t there.  I blame the FBI.  So she accepted responsibility...

MATTHEWS:  What did you make of Thomas Pickard, who was the acting FBI director during 9/11, especially to the point where he admitted he knew nothing about the Phoenix officer who—the Phoenix special agent who had reported the unusual request by these Mideast folks to get flight training, knew nothing about Moussaoui in Minneapolis with the same sort of weird situation, knew nothing about the two al Qaeda people involved in the September 11 horror who were already in the telephone book, knew nothing about the fact that his agency, the FBI, had briefed the president on August 6?  How could a guy not know anything of that? 

FUND:  You know, Chris, when the president had a blank-out tonight on what mistakes he has made in the administration he‘s conducted, I think he probably could have come up with this one. 

It has now been 2 ½ years since 9/11 and only now is the president coming around to rearranging the bureaucratic boxes of our intelligence services.  That is bizarre, because, frankly, we clearly had an intelligence failure in September of 2001.  We should have addressed it before now.  I‘m glad we are. 

MATTHEWS:  I guess I don‘t know how the FBI could have briefed the president on al Qaeda behavior in the United States and what it was doing without the director ever knowing that they were briefing the president. 

We‘ll be right back, John.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He was the acting director.  That was part of the problem. 

Well, he was not even acting, apparently.  Anyway, wasn‘t seeming, even.

Anyway, Dana Priest, John Fund and John Dickerson, in just a moment, are coming back. 

And also coming up, the Clinton administration‘s plan to assassinate Osama bin Laden, well, that was an interesting development today.  And should the FBI remain in charge of domestic intelligence?  A recap of today‘s 9/11 hearings in just a moment.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  My message today to those in Iraq is, we‘ll stay the course.  We‘ll complete the job.  My message to our troops is, we will stay the course and complete the job and you‘ll have what you need. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Dana Priest—I think we heard that before

·         John Fund and John Dickerson. 

The president today was given a number of chances, of course, to apologize and admit mistakes.  And I don‘t blame him.  Why give that away?  You‘ve already got enough problems without admitting all your problems.  But he was for some reason obdurate on the topic of weapons of mass destruction. 

Haven‘t we gone past that, Dana, of people accepting the fact we went to war thinking there were weapons of mass destruction?  Everybody thought so.  We don‘t have any evidence there are any?  Why did he keep insisting, we‘re looking, we may still find them? 

PRIEST:  Because in fact they are and they may.  He offered the example of Libya and the turkey farm.

MATTHEWS:  How about this Charlie Duelfer guy, his new buddy?  He kept talking about this guy like he was a “Harvey” character.  This guy, he kept bringing it up again.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Tell me about that guy.

Oh, John, get in here.  Go ahead.  Are there still weapons of mass destruction? 

FUND:  Chris...

MATTHEWS:  Is that still an act of ideological religion with the supporters of the war? 

FUND:  No.  For a few people, maybe.  But there‘s a real point here, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

FUND:  We now know that for six months Saddam Hussein‘s sons spent some time in Syria.  Then they crossed back into Iraq.  We didn‘t know that until a few months ago. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FUND:  If Syria can hide two human beings, they can also hide some boxes of weapons of mass destruction. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

FUND:  So it‘s conceivable and it‘s possible, and I don‘t think we should give up on that. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, why would you hold to the belief, without any evidence to that effect, that there was a significant weapons of mass destruction arsenal somewhere that people like David Kay couldn‘t find?  Why do you hold to that belief? 

FUND:  Because there are an awful lot of people who probably have given signs that they fear reprisals if they give up that information. 

MATTHEWS:  That was the president—that‘s what the president said today.  But what do you think? 

FUND:  I think there are some intelligence bits and pieces that lead us to think that there are weapons of mass destruction.  But the president is not going to talk about them, because previously they were discredited. 

PRIEST:  But, also, why should he say the opposite? 

MATTHEWS:  Why did he stick to the

(CROSSTALK)

PRIEST:  Why did he say we were wrong when people may never be able to prove that they were wrong? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  There‘s an old expression in politics.  When you‘re in a hole, stop digging.  Why did he keep making the case that he can‘t support between now and Election Day? 

PRIEST:  Because he doesn‘t have to prove the negative.  He can prove they had intent, that he used them, that they were working on it, and that they may be somewhere else, like a turkey farm in Libya.  He referred to the Libyan case.

MATTHEWS:  Do you know what an ideologue is?  Somebody who never, ever admits they‘re wrong.

FUND:  Now, Chris, we

(CROSSTALK)

FUND:  Chris, wait a second. 

DICKERSON:  Wait, John.

What he was saying was, he‘s consistent with his new position, which was, they were developing programs.  So, if they don‘t find them, his point was still, you know, the hamper was pulled back. 

MATTHEWS:  Capable of producing.

DICKERSON:  They were close.

MATTHEWS:  I think he‘s fallen back.  He‘s fallen even further back.  His last redoubt is not that they had them or they have them.  It‘s that they‘re capable of producing them.  Any country in the world is capable of doing just about anything if you got enough time to do it. 

DICKERSON:  Well, but his argument, of course, would be that the time span was pretty short. 

And what he‘s trying to prove now at least, and he keeps talking about taking us back, he‘s trying to say there was reasonable cause there.  He even had odd locution where he said, people who are not being honest are hiding things when he was talking about Saddam. 

DICKERSON:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

DICKERSON:  He‘s trying to basically say, understand what my mind-frame was.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But the president has conceded the point that there‘s no evidence of any connection between Iraq and what happened on 9/11. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So he‘s broken with the most fiery ideologue like Cheney and Laurie Mylroie and those type of people.  So he‘s been willing to break with them on that.  Why not on WMD? 

Go ahead, John.

FUND:  No, because, Chris, I think he went on offense tonight. 

One of the most interesting things here was his formulation that, if you compare Iraq to Vietnam, it‘s not only wrong, but it leaves some support to our enemies.  That was a direct shot against the bow of Ted Kennedy.

MATTHEWS:  Exactly. 

FUND:  And his best friend in the Senate, John Kerry. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, John McCain‘s best friend?  Right. 

FUND:  No, John Kerry‘s best friend in the Senate is Ted Kennedy. 

MATTHEWS:  I understand.  I understand that you‘re making a political point here, right?  You‘re also joining in the attack on Ted Kennedy on the president‘s side, right, John? 

FUND:  Yes, because the chief

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Just so—let me make clear what you‘re doing here. 

You‘re joining in the propaganda offensive against Ted Kennedy tonight. 

FUND:  No, there‘s no propaganda offensive.

MATTHEWS:  Of course.  You just did it.

FUND:  Ted Kennedy—Ted Kennedy would not have said that if he hadn‘t cleared it with John Kerry. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you honestly believe, even though you‘re smirking, John Fund, that Ted Kennedy and John Kennedy, and Ted—rather, John Kerry and Ted Kennedy are close friends?  Is that what you believe? 

FUND:  I know they are. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, they are? 

(CROSSTALK)

FUND:  His chief of staff is Kerry‘s campaign manager. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, John.

PRIEST:  Regardless of that, it is going to be difficult for the Democrats in the middle of a war to criticize the war for the reasons the president laid out, because it appears, whether you mean to or not, that you‘re undermining the troops and demoralizing the troops.

MATTHEWS:  I think the president sewed together effectively tonight his prosecution of this war, his belief in this war and his support for American support in this war and his support for reelection.  I think, John Dickerson, it‘s all together in one piece. 

DICKERSON:  Yes, I think that‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  You like my war, you like me, reelect me. 

DICKERSON:  That‘s right.  I think that‘s right.

And, again, it was to show that he was passionate about these things, that he wasn‘t on his heels.  As John said, this was offense.  This was coming out swinging. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, John Fund, John Dickerson, Dana Priest of “The Washington Post.” 

Up next, a look at the great moments in presidential press conferences.  There will be some history coming up here. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  One of the reasons this evening has been so significant tonight is the dramatic fact that it was in prime time.  Prime-time news conferences have been something of a rarity in this administration, and that may be smart politics for a president who, like some of his predecessors, may not be comfortable with the format. 

Here‘s HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC ELECTION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  This was the president‘s third prime-time news conference and the second straight to focus on Iraq. 

BUSH:  Now is the time and Iraq is the place in which the enemies of the civilized world are testing the will of the civilized world.  We must not waiver. 

SHUSTER:  A year ago, Mr. Bush used a prime-time session to justify the coming war.  But his allegations then seem to be undermining now his administration‘s credibility. 

BUSH:  Saddam Hussein and his weapons are a direct threat to this country, to our people, and to all free people. 

SHUSTER:  Through the years, presidential news conferences have generated some incredible moments.  Ronald Reagan was the first president to try to impose discipline.  His advisers had been shocked at the free-for-all during the Carter years, so President Reagan required reporters to raise their hand if they wanted to be called upon.  Most women reporters quickly realized that it helped to wear Nancy Reagan‘s favorite color. 

RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Now, I know that Nancy upstairs would die, if she‘s watching on television, if I didn‘t call on you in that pretty red dress. 

(LAUGHTER)

SHUSTER:  Televised presidential news conferences date back to the 1950s.  President Eisenhower treated them as a somber and formal event. 

DWIGHT EISENHOWER, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We are on an upturn in our economy.  And at this very time, we‘re talking about balanced budgets like it was something evil. 

SHUSTER:  John F. Kennedy loved televised press conferences and held them almost every two weeks.  Veteran reporters say Kennedy was brilliant and charming. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There‘s a widespread impression that you expect Senator Barry Goldwater to be the Republican nominee for president next year.  I think your speech in Salt Lake City had something to do with that.  Is that your expectation? 

JOHN F. KENNEDY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I think he can do it.  I think it‘s possible for him to do it. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Mr. President...

KENNEDY:  But he‘s got a long road to go, as recalling the situation in September 1959 -- October, 1959 -- I think Senator Goldwater has a trying seven or eight months which will test his endurance and his perseverance and his agility. 

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION:  Are you basing that on your own experience?

KENNEDY:  Yes, yes.

SHUSTER:  Richard Nixon had a more adversarial relationship with the press, and in his news conferences, he tangled repeatedly with a young Watergate reporter named Dan Rather. 

DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS:  Dan Rather with CBS News.  Mr. President...

RICHARD NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Are you running for something? 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

RATHER:  No, sir, Mr. President.  Are you?  Mr. President...

(LAUGHTER)

SHUSTER:  George H.W. Bush faced tough questions about the Iran Contra scandal.  But Bush 41 seemed to have an uncanny ability to deflect questions he didn‘t like. 

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  That‘s the last thing we ought to do is even to be kicking around to this end.  So please accept it when I said I don‘t want to talk about it anymore and I‘m not going to. 

SHUSTER:  One of the shortest presidential news conferences ever came six months into Bill Clinton‘s first term.  President Clinton announced the Supreme Court nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, took a question from a reporter who suggested the process had a zigzag quality and then blew a gasket. 

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I have long since given up the thought that I could disabuse some of you of turning substantive decision into anything but political process.  How you could ask a question like that after the statement she just made is beyond me. 

SHUSTER:  Storming off after only one question is something President Bush has never done.  But he has also had fewer news conferences than any of his modern-day predecessors.  Speaking clearly can be a challenge for this president. 

BUSH:  In my judgment, when the United States says there will be serious consequences, and if there isn‘t serious consequences, it creates adverse consequences. 

SHUSTER:  And President Bush seems most comfortable talking in more casual surroundings. 

BUSH:  I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers.  Thank you. 

Now watch this drive. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  Formal press conferences can be unwieldy.  So tonight, in an effort to take control, President Bush spoke off the top for 17 minutes before answering any questions.  Presidential scholars say it was the longest opening statement in prime-time news conference history. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  So how did President Bush do tonight in the East Room? 

Let‘s go to Doris Kearns Goodwin.  She‘s a presidential historian and our own Pat Buchanan, a three-time—catch it, three-time—presidential candidate himself and an adviser to President Nixon and was communications director for President Reagan. 

Doris, score the president tonight. 

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  Well, you know, it‘s interesting.  I think he‘d be better off if he did more of these press conferences, because I think he did show his conviction.  He seemed to be able to speak in his own language. 

And I suspect that the American public is going to feel pretty good about the convictions that he showed.  It‘s a matter of muscles, though.  The more he does, the better he‘d be.  For example, when he said something about America‘s been through tough things before, we had our own problems with freedom, there‘s a so much better answer than that.  FDR said in 1942, and then he showed the history.  We‘ve been through George Washington at Valley Forge.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

GOODWIN:  We‘ve been through the Rocky Mountains.  We‘ve been through the civil war. 

You just kept wishing that, if he had done it more often—Roosevelt did 50 of them a year during World War II.  That‘s incredible.  And each one got better because he was used to it.

MATTHEWS:  But you liked Roosevelt. 

GOODWIN:  Well, I guess I do.

MATTHEWS:  Doris, you liked Roosevelt.  That‘s why you‘re brining him up.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just kidding.  But you do, and you write so well about him. 

Pat Buchanan, you‘re an expert from all sides of this.  Is she right? 

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think the president did an excellent job in his opening statement. 

MATTHEWS:  Should she have more of these? 

BUCHANAN:  OH, I think he should.  I think he should. 

But there‘s no doubt about it.  My disagreement with the president, he

handled a number of—I agree with Doris.  What came through is

authenticity and conviction and belief.  The president is undisciplined as

a speaker at press conferences.  He tends to ramble.  He tends to

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Did he wander at the end there?

BUCHANAN:  He wanders a lot of his speeches—I mean, a lot of his answers, he goes back to formulations and he repeats things from speeches.

He‘s utterly unlike Nixon, for example.  Nixon would go in for two days in a room.  And I was the pivot man and I got all the information.  He would only call me and I would call all the others.  And he would go in there and study and study.  And you would get a call, tell Kissinger to get me an answer on this and get it in to me. 

And then he would go in and his answers were totally disciplined.  But the president is an undisciplined man in the way he responds at press conferences.  But what does come through is sincerity, conviction, belief, and authenticity. 

MATTHEWS:  I like him when he—you know when I like him best?  When he gives the answer nobody likes, like, what did you do wrong?  I‘m not prepared to say that right now.

BUCHANAN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  And my greatest philosopher is Jesus Christ.  I like when he says the stuff that the liberals don‘t like. 

BUCHANAN:  That was terrific, yes.

MATTHEWS:  And more with Doris Kearns Goodwin and Pat Buchanan when we come back, more about the president‘s press conference tonight, getting surprisingly good reviews from the left tonight.  Anyway, thank you. 

We‘ll have more with the blame game that is going to continue, by the way, in the 9/11 Commission.  We‘ll talk more about that when we get back later than later on HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, more on the president‘s press conference, plus, a look at today‘s hearings—boy, were they hot—on intelligence gathering before 9/11.

But first, the latest headlines right now. 

(NEWS BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  It seems like a long time to the loved ones whose troops have been overseas.  But when you think about where the country has come from, it‘s a relatively short period of time.  And we‘re making progress.  There‘s no question it‘s been a tough, tough series of weeks for the American people.  It‘s been really tough for the families.  And I understand that.  It‘s been tough on this administration. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Doris Kearns Goodwin and Pat Buchanan join us. 

You know, in terms of rhetoric, I remember Winston Churchill once said something about nothing is worse for a public figure than to predict good news is going to come, to give people hope and then have it dashed away.  Is the president still trying to recover from that “Mission Accomplished” banter on the battleship, on the aircraft carrier? 

BUCHANAN:  Yes.  They can never show that again.  And, look, it all looks like it‘s turning sour.  And this is—and you see it.  He‘s very heartfelt here. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BUCHANAN:  Here‘s a man who‘s really going through something and you can see—I think Doris is right.  I mean, you empathize with that man up there, because he looks like he‘s gone through something, whereas he‘s not a terribly articulate man.  What comes through is authentic feeling and belief and conviction. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.

MATTHEWS:  But he‘s got—it‘s not—it‘s our country‘s out there. 

His presidency, everything is on the line. 

MATTHEWS:  Everything‘s on the line.  But it‘s also on the line for the people in Iraq.  And I thought for the first time the president said something very interesting and I think honest tonight and true, Doris.  He said that nobody likes being occupied.  I wouldn‘t like to be occupied. 

That‘s the first time I‘ve heard President Bush understand, at least through a projection of feelings, of another country. 

GOODWIN:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  Not just this one.

GOODWIN:  No, in fact, I think that‘s the race against time that we‘re up against right now.  He‘s right in saying I think that it‘s a minority of the people.  And he listed three different groups that were against freedom and democracy in Iraq.  But the real problem...

MATTHEWS:  The entire Sunni community is not a little group. 

GOODWIN:  No, no, no, but I think it‘s not the entire Sunni community that‘s against it right now. 

But what is the problem is, unless civil order gets established, unless there‘s jobs, unless there‘s economic development, unless there‘s hope, then you‘ve got the majority that are so frustrated that they‘ll turn their anger against the occupying power, which is us.  And that‘s what‘s happening right now.  So he had to bring that up, because, otherwise...

MATTHEWS:  Why he didn‘t see that—Doris, you‘re a student of history.  You are an historian.  Why would any American president—and President Bush has read history.  He grew up as the son of a president, a grandson of a senator.  He knows history.  History will tell you that nationalism is not a monopoly of the United States, that no country likes to be occupied. 

It‘s just a matter of time before there‘s tissue rejection of any outside forces.  Why wasn‘t he informed by his advisers to look out for that? 

GOODWIN:  It‘s unbelievable that he wasn‘t.  I mean, to be able to say that we‘ll be greeted as liberators—it‘s true there was jubilation at the beginning.  But there was a narrow window of time when you could use that jubilation, which meant we needed a lot more troops there to start.  We needed to prevent that looting from taking place. 

History could have shown us that looting takes place.  It took place in Panama City.  These things could have been known.  Sadly, this is not the first president who hasn‘t looked at history when the reality is in front of him. 

BUCHANAN:  His problem is this. 

The American people signed on.  He persuaded them to go to war, to disarm this guy, to overthrow this guy, to get hid of this guy, to make Iraq harmless to the United States.  The American people have not signed on to build a pluralistic Iraq and a democratic Iraq.  If you asked them before the war, do you want to go to war for that, they would have said no. 

MATTHEWS:  Of course.

BUCHANAN:  Are you threatened?  Yes, we‘ll do it. 

But now that threat is gone, he‘s going to have to sell them on, this is vital to American security.  I don‘t think he has closed that sale. 

GOODWIN:  I agree with you, Pat.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at what the president said—let‘s just take a look at what the president had to say about those who oppose this war and compare it to Vietnam. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  I think the analogy is false.  I also happen to think that analogy is—sends the wrong message to our troops and sends the wrong message to the enemy.  Look, this is hard work.  It‘s hard to advance freedom in a country that has been strangled by tyranny.  And, yet, we must stay the course because the end result is in our nation‘s interest. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Doris, that‘s a direct shot at Ted Kennedy, isn‘t it? 

GOODWIN:  Oh, and it‘s also all too reminiscent of Lyndon Johnson, who then used to make the anti-war protesters into people who were against our troops and against our winning. 

The only way he‘s right about the fact that the analogy is false is he has to say that the war is winnable.  To the extent that Vietnam was not a winnable war and that we failed, it is true that, if you‘re going to tell the troops and the enemy, this is not winnable, then you‘re giving them a false message.  But there‘s so many other ways that there is truth to that analogy.  It is a quagmire.  What does a quagmire mean?  Ground that‘s shaky underneath.  You can‘t go forward and you can‘t go back. 

That‘s the reality of the situation we‘re facing.  There‘s also a...

MATTHEWS:  Why do you say the war—why do you say that this war is more winnable than Vietnam?  You have to remember, as we all do here at this table, that in the early days of Vietnam, starting in the ‘60s, up through ‘64, maybe even up to ‘65, there was a sense that our side could win.  We could put that government in power and keep it there. 

GOODWIN:  Oh, I‘m not saying that...

MATTHEWS:  But this war is just in that early stage now, an even earlier stage.  Why are you so optimistic at this point it can be won? 

GOODWIN:  Oh, I‘m not saying that, Chris.  I‘m not so optimistic.  I‘m saying that he as president has to tell his troops, he has to tell his troops, his country, he has to tell the enemy that it‘s winnable.  He can‘t say, oh, yes, it‘s like Vietnam.  It‘s not winnable.  That would be an impossible situation.  That‘s all I‘m saying.

MATTHEWS:  Has he set too high a bar, Pat?  He‘s seems to be talking still in idealistic terms, very much the neoconservative argument.  You can go into that country, topple its leadership...

BUCHANAN:  Chris...

MATTHEWS:  ... and build a modern Western-style democracy.  He‘s talking about that in the middle of Arabia. 

BUCHANAN:  Chris, his entire presidency, everything is on the line. 

This is not Vietnam in a sense. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what‘s winning mean?

BUCHANAN:  We‘re not going to lose 58,000 guys. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s winning look like?

BUCHANAN:  But his—winning for him is going in there and creating a

pro-Western, democratic, free, pluralistic Iraq.  He has committed totally

to it.  His presidency is there.  And the possibility clearly now exists

that the American people aren‘t willing to pay the price for it, and the

possibility of failure

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How about the possibility the Iraqi majority doesn‘t want it? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, that is the possibility of failure. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  If we give them an election and the Shiites and the Sunnis run and win...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  They run and win on the proposition we will throw the Americans out of our country, what do you do if they win? 

MATTHEWS:  Then we‘ll rule the Sunni and we‘ll rule the Kurds.

BUCHANAN:  What do you do if they win? 

GOODWIN:  I think the problem is...

(CROSSTALK) 

MATTHEWS:  Why wouldn‘t they win it, if they‘re the majority of 65 percent? 

BUCHANAN:  I tell you why in this sense Vietnam.  If this goes down the tubes, it is far worse than Vietnam in terms of the strategic disaster.  Tony Blair is on the line.  The president‘s on the line.  Your Middle East position is on the line.  The oil-rich Gulf is on the line.  The whole struggle against radical Islam is on the line.  If we lose this, it is an extraordinary victory for Osama bin Laden. 

GOODWIN:  Pat, I agree. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Doris, is there any way—you know, in boxing when you‘re tired and you‘re not winning the fight, you clinch.  You hold on to the other guy and you wait out the clock.  Is there any way America can get a neutral deal out of Iraq short of victory? 

GOODWIN:  Well, that‘s certainly what we tried to do out of Vietnam, and I think the question is whether or not there‘s enough people in Iraq that we can deal with that will allow us to leave with some stability to be there for a long enough time that it doesn‘t look like we cut and ran and a civil war broke out. 

I don‘t honestly know the answer.  I don‘t think they know the answer to that right now.  But I think the real question is, it is true that we‘re now in a situation—I believe what Pat said, that our word would be denied, that failure would be devastating.  It would look like the war on terror was hurt by this.  But it‘s important to remember possibly this war did not have to be fought.  I think that‘s what people, historians are going to look at later.  Was this the right theater of war in the war on terror? 

And that‘s the important debate that I think is going to have to go on.  Once we‘re there, it‘s a very different thing and you got to say, we‘ve got to do something now that we‘re there. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, it‘s Dean Rusk.  We are there and we are committed. 

But this was clearly not a war of necessity. 

GOODWIN:  That‘s what I‘m saying, too. 

BUCHANAN:  It‘s war of choice. 

And what you seem to be saying, Doris, is, we need a decent interval where we get a government in there and we can get out.  And then what happens, that has similarities, quite frankly to Vietnam. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m struck with what Dick Cheney said back in 1991. 

Dick Cheney, agree with his politics or not or his ideology, is one of the smartest people, one of the toughest fighters in this city.  He said that the danger of going in, in ‘91 -- and he said it at the time—was you go in there, you have set up a government, and most people will figure, no matter what government you set up, it‘s your government.  We set it up.

BUCHANAN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  And nobody trusts it.  And then you have to lock out for the people who played ball with you in that country in Iraq who supported the stars and stripes when we went in there, rooted for us, joined the government we set up.  And then what happens when we leave to those people? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, democratic imperialism is a contradiction in terms from the very beginning.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  You don‘t go in an empire and take it over and then say, you guys choose whether we want to stay or what you‘re going to be like. 

MATTHEWS:  Does the president know this? 

BUCHANAN:  No.

The neoconservatives have this agenda of democratic imperialism and it can‘t work.  If you‘re an empire, you go in and dictate and you win.  And it‘s the definition of a superpower, when you commit to a war, you win it.  Our reputation as a superpower is on the line now, Chris.  The stakes are more than Vietnam. 

GOODWIN:  Plus, I think...

MATTHEWS:  I think the Napoleon types put Maximilian on the throne of Mexico.

BUCHANAN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  That ended badly for him, didn‘t it?

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Well, Napoleon III pulled the plug on him in 1866. 

MATTHEWS:  And he ended up being executed. 

(CROSSTALK)

GOODWIN:  Plus, I think there‘s been a race for time.  And that‘s the problem, in the sense that the desire for freedom is an abstract desire and maybe it is in the hearts and souls of most people. 

But even more is security, is your families being able to have a job, is the sense of what daily life is like.  We have not secured that so far for the Iraqi people.  And without that, this other thing is not going to take place.  And that‘s what I worry about. 

BUCHANAN:  We can‘t secure it.  Lord Byron said, who would be free themselves must strike the blow.  And if the Iraqis are going to be free—the president did say that tonight—ultimately, they‘re going to have to fight for their own freedom or they‘re going to lose it. 

MATTHEWS:  The trouble is the irony here in the horrid irony is that, for so many of them, fighting for freedom means fighting us.  And that‘s the horror we‘re facing right now.  We‘ve got to turn that one around. 

Anyway, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Pat Buchanan, thanks both for joining us tonight.  And it is late. 

Up next, did the Clinton administration consider assassinating Osama bin Laden?  Did the president put a contract out on Osama bin Laden?  Contrary to what other people thought about his weakness, could he have been the tough guy who said, let‘s kill that guy?  Let‘s find out, lots of clues leading up to 9/11. 

Lots to talk about when we come back when HARDBALL returns in just a minute.

ANNOUNCER:  Follow all the action in the battle for the White House.  Sign up for our free daily e-mail.  Just log on to our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Above all, the defeat of violence and terror in Iraq is vital to the defeat of violence and terror elsewhere and vital, therefore, to the safety of the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Steve Emerson is an MSNBC terrorism analyst.

In his news conference this evening, President Bush said he didn‘t see any new information in that August 6, 2001, presidential briefing he got just five weeks before 9/11.  Let‘s take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  In the what‘s called the PDB, there was a warning about bin Laden‘s desires on America.  But, frankly, I didn‘t think that was anything new.  I mean, the major newspapers had talked about bin Laden‘s desires on hurting America.  What was interesting in there was that there was a report that the FBI was conducting field investigations.  And that was good news, that they were doing their job. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  But Lorie Van Auken, one of the 9/11 widows who fought for the creation of the 9/11 Commission, had a very different view on the president, very different take on that daily briefing. 

Let‘s take a look at what she said. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)  

MATTHEWS:  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? 

LORIE VAN AUKEN, 9/11 WIDOW:  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. 

MINDY KLEINBERG, 9/11 WIDOW:  And could have been given to the joint inquiry, which they didn‘t have access to. 

VAN AUKEN:  Absolutely. 

KRISTEN BREITWEISER, 9/11 WIDOW:  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. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that was interesting, Steve Emerson.  That woman, who‘s obviously learning this business pretty well in terms of making a case, went through the presidential decision briefing of August 6, 2001, five weeks before 9/11 and pointed out the president was getting a lot of fresh information and it was all domestic. 

STEVE EMERSON, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST:  Well, it certainly was fresh information if you took it in a vacuum. 

But I looked at it and I went over it over and over again.  First of all, it should have been declassified a long time ago.  The president took a big hit unnecessarily on not declassifying it. 

No. 2, I really was struck by the lack of specificity in that memo.  It turns out the only thing really specific was the 70 field investigations.  That means there‘s a large presence.  Now we know from Tom Pickard that there really weren‘t 70 field investigations.  I must tell you, I would have expected a much more detailed memo from the CIA detailing what they knew, considering the mass amount of information that was available to the CIA and the FBI, as evidenced by what the hearings showed today in terms of the amount of information stuck in the level of the bureaucracy.  It never gorged up to the very top. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, how much do you need, when it says that there‘s suspicious activity which is consistent with hijackings and other terrorism? 

EMERSON:  Look, there‘s no doubt that they said there was suspicious activity.  But, again, that‘s not...

MATTHEWS:  Here in the United States.

EMERSON:  Here in the United States. 

Look, I remember the summer of 2001.  And I remember being very actively concerned because we were tracking some of the public statements made by bin Laden‘s people.  And we were getting briefings by some people in the government.  The reality was that the people in the United States government who were tracking them did not think they were going to take suicide bombs, that is, carry out suicide bombings on planes, as they did on 9/11. 

They thought maybe there would be some hijackings.  And there should have been a much greater degree of urgency communicated through the system.  As we now know, Pickard said that he briefed all 56 JTTFs.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

EMERSON:  And none of the people in the JTTFs ever recall being infused with a sense of alarm.  Something was disconnecting the FBI leadership from the field offices. 

MATTHEWS:  Yet, all that said, on the morning of 9/11, when he was having breakfast at the Saint Regis, the CIA director said, I hope it isn‘t that guy that was getting the flight training.  So he managed to get that information from the FBI, even though the acting director, Thomas Pickard, had never gotten it.  So somehow the system squeaked up enough information to the DCI, the director of central intelligence, that he was, oh, my God, it was the guy we were worried about or that crowd.

EMERSON:  Because the CIA had its representatives on the JTTFs.  These are the joint terrorist task forces.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

EMERSON:  And, obviously, somebody was passing information.  You know the way it works in Washington.  It‘s picking up a phone call or picking up the phone and getting information from someone.  It‘s not necessarily through the regular channels.  Gossip wept up to the CIA director. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, good for him. 

(CROSSTALK)

EMERSON:  Good for him, absolutely.  And the fact is that he himself didn‘t associate Moussaoui with al Qaeda until later that day when he determined that it was part of a larger plot. 

But the reality was that Tom Pickard, who really comes across as a very humbled man, but also somebody who was in over his head, it appears, because he was being squeezed out of information.  He didn‘t know about the Moussaoui memo.  He didn‘t know about the Phoenix memo.  He didn‘t have any idea...

MATTHEWS:  Nothing about the two San Diego guys either that were in the phone book. 

(CROSSTALK)

EMERSON:  And if you look at the report, Chris, the comedy of errors -

·         it can‘t really be called a comedy, because it‘s such a tragedy. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a tragedy.

EMERSON:  But the fact is, they had so many ample opportunities.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

EMERSON:  And the infighting between the FBI and the CIA over who was going to track and who wasn‘t going to track was enormous. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  And he didn‘t know that the president of the United States had triggered a request for information five weeks before 9/11 to tell the president?  He asked for that help.  Give me some help.  Tell me what al Qaeda is up to. 

And the acting head of the FBI never knew this? 

EMERSON:  The acting head of...

MATTHEWS:  How could he never know that his agency was being tapped for information critical to the country‘s security?

EMERSON:  This is part of the whole incredible dysfunction at the FBI.

MATTHEWS:  Nobody would have believed this.

EMERSON:  No one would believe it to this day. 

MATTHEWS:  And you‘re the expert.

EMERSON:  And there‘s more information coming out tomorrow. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with terrorism analyst Steve Emerson.

Here‘s an exchange, by the way, between 9/11 Commissioner Slade Gorton, the former senator from Washington state, and former Attorney General Janet Reno, who served under President Clinton.  It was about the United States law that protected bin Laden from assassination by us. 

So let‘s take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SLADE GORTON, FORMER U.S. SENATOR:  You were never asked the question as to whether or not he could be killed unambiguously? 

JANET RENO, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL:  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. 

THOMAS KEAN, CHAIRMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION:  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. 

GORTON:  We‘ll submit that question to you in a closed session. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s one of those magic moments in these hearings where something happens that nobody really expected.  There was former Senator Slade Gorton of Washington state, a Republican, a moderate Republican in many ways, asking Janet Reno, a Democrat, whether she had anything on approving assassinations under the Clinton administration. 

And I have to tell you, watching that thing in context, my clear understanding, having talked with Richard Ben-Veniste tonight, is that they did approve it under Clinton, going after bin Laden. 

EMERSON:  It appears that there was a fining.  And she didn‘t want to publicly acknowledge that.  In fact, apparently, they tried to get her to acknowledge it by sort of coming back at it sort of from a back point of view, saying, did you do anything to have some type of action that would have eliminated bin Laden?  And she understood what was going on there.  She didn‘t want to declassify it on her own. 

MATTHEWS:  Boy, that is pregnant with possibilities, that little conversation.  More on that, I‘m sure, in the days ahead as we try to report more on what Bill Clinton did to try to get rid of bin Laden.  That‘s a big story.

Steve Emerson, it‘s great having you on. 

Tomorrow‘s HARDBALL special coverage of the 9/11 hearings begins at 9:00 a.m. in the morning, like today, Eastern time.  CIA Director George Tenet—that is going to be hot—is going to testify tomorrow, a big day tomorrow in the hearings.  And then, at 7:00 Eastern, I‘ll be back with our regular edition of HARDBALL. 

See you then. 

END   

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