updated 6/4/2004 10:39:37 AM ET 2004-06-04T14:39:37

Guests: Bob Graham, Lindsey Graham, James Woolsey, Lally Weymouth

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Today the president of the United States broke the best kept secret in Washington. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Today, George Tenet, director of the CIA, submitted a letter of resignation.

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

MATTHEWS:  President Bush said that the CIA director quit for personal reasons, but was Tenet a casualty of the war between the CIA and the White House?  And did Tenet fall on his sword for intelligence failures of this administration?  We‘ll ask former CIA director James Woolsey.  And get reaction from Capitol Hill. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews. 

Washington was not totally surprised today by the resignation of CIA Director George Tenet.  The long eyes (ph) from the war hawks have been for Tenet for days since the raid on Ahmed Chalabi headquarters. 

According to “The New York Times” about two weeks ago, Chalabi‘s U.S.  allies, including Richard Perle and James Woolsey, defended Chalabi to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice during a meeting in the White House. 

Richard Perle told “The New York Times,” quote, “The CIA has disliked Chalabi passionately for a long time and has mounted a campaign against him with some considerable success.  I‘ve seen no evidence of improper behavior on his part.  No evidence whatsoever.” 

In a moment we‘ll be joined by Senator Bob Graham, former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and Senator Lindsey Graham, who‘s a member of the Armed Services Committee. 

But first, HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster takes a look at the events that led up to Tenet‘s resignation. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  While the announcement from President Bush was sudden... 

BUSH:  George Tenet, director of the CIA, submitted a letter of resignation. 

SHUSTER:  ... the controversy surrounding George Tenet has been building for years. 

Before the war with Iraq, it was Tenet who told President Bush the evidence of weapons of mass destruction was, quote, “a slam dunk.”  Then, Tenet failed to stop this claim, discredited by his own agency, from going to the president‘s State of the Union speech. 

BUSH:  The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. 

SHUSTER:  And a week later at the United Nations, Tenet provided the intelligence for this presentation by Colin Powell. 

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE:  Our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between 105, and 500 tons of chemical agent. 

SHUSTER:  Tenet also faced controversy over 9/11. 

A month before the attacks, he had been given information about the arrest of a suspicious flight school student named Zacarias Moussaoui.  This followed a ratcheting up of the threat level and fears that al Qaeda might use planes as weapons. 

But that month Tenet never talked to the president. 

TIMOTHY ROEMER, 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER:  You don‘t see the president of the United States once in the month of August?

GEORGE TENET, CIA DIRECTOR:  He‘s in—he‘s in Texas.  And I‘m either here or on leave for some of that time, so I‘m not here. 

ROEMER:  So who‘s briefing him on PDBs?

TENET:  The briefer himself. 

SHUSTER:  This winter Tenet also shocked members of Congress by testifying that the intelligence flaws exposed by 9/11 would take five years to correct. 

Top congressional Republicans started joining the chorus of Democrats calling for Tenet‘s head to roll, calls growing louder with the 9/11 commission now expected in weeks. 

But today at the CIA, Tenet said the decision to leave was his own. 

TENET:  It was a personal decision and had only one basis in fact, the well being of my wonderful family. 

SHUSTER:  Still, Tenet‘s departure comes at an intriguing time.  The president has retained a lawyer to help deal with the federal grand jury investigation into administration leaks of the identity of a CIA operative. 

And a new dispute over longtime Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi has once again exposed an administration civil war.  Neo-cons and hawks loved Chalabi before the Iraq invasion.  Moderates like Powell and Tenet were skeptical of his claims. 

Two weeks ago, the CIA began investigating reported links between Chalabi and Iran, links that the discredited Chalabi has denied. 

AHMED CHALABI, IRAQI NATIONAL CONGRESS:  There are charges put out by George Tenet and his CIA to discredit us. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  But the back and forth over Chalabi and Tenet‘s sometimes free-wheeling administration alliances likely sealed his fate.  Because while the CIA director may have resigned on his own, in the end, nobody in the administration asked Tenet to reconsider. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re joined right now by Senator Bob Graham of Florida who served as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who‘s a member right now of the Armed Services Committee. 

Senator Bob Graham, it‘s been well known for a long time that the hawks supporting this war and the Defense Department and the vice president‘s office don‘t like George Tenet. 

They think he‘s not served up enough evidence.  They‘ve gone for their own sources of evidence, particularly Ahmed Chalabi, to make the case for war. 

Do you think they‘re happy to see him out? 

SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D), FLORIDA:  I don‘t know whether they are or not, Chris, but they made a fundamental mistake, if that‘s the means by which they‘re evaluating George Tenet. 

The whole purpose of having an intelligence agency is to speak truth to power, to tell people what they might not want to hear, but what they should hear, so that they can take that into consideration and reach an ultimate judgment. 

If the only thing the head of the CIA does is tell his bosses exactly what they want to hear, which reinforces their previous opinions, we ought to save a lot of billions of dollars and effort. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, Senator Lindsey Graham, two issues have developed in just the last couple of days. 

One is the complaint by people like Richard Perle and former CIA Director James Woolsey that the United States has basically cracked down Ahmed Chalabi, who was the main source of intel before the war. 

There‘s also been the issue about the president hiring a lawyer in the case of the leak. 

Do you think these are related to the resignation of George Tenet?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE:  I don‘t know. 

I really don‘t know.  I know there‘s a chance to start over.  And we need to start over, and this back biting needs to stop. 

I appreciate Tenet‘s service to our country.  But if he told the president it was a slam-dunk that we would find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, he was wrong. 

I had a briefing with the CIA before the war about tubes that were supposedly used in nuclear reactors.  That turned out not to be so. 

So now that we got a chance to start over, I hope we‘ll start over and end all this backbiting because it‘s going to hurt us. 

MATTHEWS:  There was another issue that the president said in the State of the Union address a couple years ago that there was a deal with Saddam Hussein to buy uranium from Niger, from in Africa.  And the George Tenet, I think, afterwards said he hadn‘t even read the language. 

B. GRAHAM:  Well, I think that may explain why the announcement was made today. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Senator.

B. GRAHAM:  If you recall, Chris, it was on the day that the president left for Africa that he made this statement that he had spoken falsely about Niger, providing yellow cake to Iraq. 

I think the reason that the announcement was made today has more to do with the fact that the president again is leaving the country and doesn‘t want to be within arm‘s length of the controversy over why and what circumstances George Tenet is leaving. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that, Senator Lindsey Graham?

L. GRAHAM:  Well, there‘s obviously politics in every resignation. 

And the politics of this resignation is probably, it will take a couple days to figure out.  It‘s certainly not personal reasons. 

There‘s something going on in the CIA.  Maybe it‘s a breakdown between the CIA and the White House.  Maybe the Chalabi story is going to be such that the CIA stood by him. 

I really don‘t know.  But I know that we need a CIA director that people have confidence in.  And we‘ve got a chance to start over, and I hope we‘ll start over with a great American we all can agree upon. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the Senate will confirm a new CIA director before the election?  Senator Lindsey Graham. 

L. GRAHAM:  I hope so.  I hope we can pick somebody that we‘ll have confidence in, in a bipartisan manner that can give us better intelligence and run this organization with the professionalism that their country deserves.  We‘ll see. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the meeting, Senator Bob Graham, a meeting between Lindsey—I‘m sorry, between Richard Perle, the former chairman of the advisors of the Defense Department, James Woolsey...

L. GRAHAM:  I wasn‘t there. 

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m going to ask you.  What do you make of that fact, that Condi Rice sat there and entertained a meeting of people complaining about our bad treatment of Ahmed Chalabi, a man who clearly, everyone now agrees was giving us bad intel and may have led us into the war for his own purposes? 

B. GRAHAM:  Well, I hope that Dr. Rice speaking for her boss, President Bush, laid the law down to those people, that they had brought somebody in, paid an enormous amount of money every month, who in turn had given them false information, information which contributed to the reason we went to war: the nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.  And now, allegedly, is giving away some of our most secret code information to Iran. 

If that‘s not the basis for cutting a relationship, I don‘t know what it takes. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think, Senator Lindsey Graham, that we should cut our relationship with Ahmed Chalabi?

L. GRAHAM:  I want to hear why we think he gave information to Iran. 

There‘s a lot of intrigue going on in Iraq and in Washington about how to start over and what happens June 30.  I‘m not willing to indict him and convict him until we‘ve heard all the evidence. 

But the accusation is terrible.  The accusation is that we paid him $340,000 a month.  And he sold our secrets to the Iranians or gave them away.  I want to know if that‘s true or not. 

I want to know if somebody leaked the name of a CIA operative intentionally in the White House. 

That‘s not inconsistent with being a great nation.  That‘s what great nations do.  They make up for their mistakes if one—if mistakes did occur.  I want to get to the bottom of all this. 

But more than anything else, I want the transition to go forward June 30, give Iraqi people a chance to form a democracy out of the ashes of the dictatorship.  We need to clean up our act to get there. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Senator Lindsey Graham, let me ask you, as I‘m calling you by your first names, as well, because you‘re both Senator Graham, obviously.  It sounds almost ridiculous.  But I have to keep... 

L. GRAHAM:  I‘m honored—I‘m honored to be in his company. 

MATTHEWS:  Senator Lindsey Graham, let me ask you this.  What is the problem here?  You talked about getting a new leadership and a good CIA director. 

But is there a natural tension, a natural conflict between a CIA director supposed to give you the facts, cold and simple, and people who want to make a case for a war?

For example, you know there are a lot of people who ideologically wanted this war with Iraq.  And they wanted intel to back up the case for war.  WMD, it was going to be an easy transition, et cetera, et cetera. 

Isn‘t that conflict natural and won‘t it continue?

L. GRAHAM:  I think—I think there‘s always a political agenda and a sort of a bureaucratic agenda. 

But here‘s my question.  What was told to Colin Powell by the CIA? 

Was that a result of somebody making them say things they didn‘t believe? 

Or did they just get it wrong?

And I defer to Bob on this.  I believe that what the CIA told me in my meeting where nobody else was around but myself, convinced me that weapons of mass destruction existed.  And it appears that they were wrong or at least in part or whole.  And that‘s not coming from the vice president‘s office. 

I just think we had a major foul-up. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s your bottom line on that, before we go to break, Senator Bob Graham?  Was the vice president pushing the CIA to produce certain results?  Were the war hawks saying, “We want to go to war?  Give us a case?”

Or was it a situation where the honest efforts of the bureaucrats, the spooks in the CIA, they discovered evidence that justified a war?  Which was it?

B. GRAHAM:  The answer was, it was both.  There was some very incredibly poor intelligence gathering and analysis, particularly relying on old information as if the way things were in 1998 was the same as they were in 2002. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

B. GRAHAM:  But I also believe that there was some cherry picking of the information in order to build the case that would warrant a war against Iraq on the grounds that were most likely to command public support in America, which was the existence of weapons of mass destruction that were available for imminent use. 

MATTHEWS:  Who did that cherry picking?  The vice president‘s office?  The vice president himself?  His chief of staff?  Who did that cherry picking that selected out those elements of the intel that could be used to justify a war? 

B. GRAHAM:  I don‘t know the answer to that question.  But I‘ll tell you who should find out.  And that‘s the president of the United States of America. 

Everybody that you have mentioned, Chris, is employed at the request of the president of the United States and with the exception of the vice president, serves at his pleasure. 

If the president wants to know who misled him, he is the one who has the responsibility and the capability to find out. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Maybe you should stop giving an executive responsibility to a vice president. 

Anyway, we‘re coming back with more from Senator Bob Graham and Senator Lindsey Graham on George Tenet‘s big time resignation today.  What a surprise to a lot of people.  But also lots of intrigue, maybe, here.

And don‘t forget starting tomorrow night, MSNBC marks the 60th anniversary of D-Day.  And on Sunday at 6 p.m. join me for a special D-Day report with General Norman “Storming” Schwarzkopf and Senator John McCain, both with me this Sunday night on a special edition of HARDBALL.

You‘re watching it, on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TENET:  This is the most difficult decision I‘ve ever had to make.  And while Washington and the media will put many different faces on the decision, it was a personal decision and had only one basis, in fact, the well being of my wonderful family.  Nothing more and nothing less. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Senator Bob Graham of Florida and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Senator Bob Graham, you said before that you thought this was timed to coincide with the president leaving the country. 

We‘ve had a couple of other symbolic announcements in the last couple of days.  We‘re going to blow up Abu Ghraib prison over in Baghdad.  Ricardo Sanchez, the chief of our fighting forces over there, is going to be rotated. 

Do you think this is one of the symbolic efforts to sort of clean the slate for the president?

B. GRAHAM:  I don‘t know what motivated the president, if it was in fact his decision and not, as George Tenet said, his decision for Tenet to leave. 

But I think clearly, we‘ve got some very fundamental problems in our intelligence agencies.  We have a lack of willingness of the president of the United States to hold anybody accountable for anything, particularly within the intelligence community. 

I hope the president comes back from Europe refreshed and with a new commitment to be a leader in accountability and reform.  That‘s what the intelligence community needs. 

MATTHEWS:  Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the biggest questions in Washington now, ever since 9/11, was how does this guy George Tenet survive through all these disasters? 

What do you say to your constituents down in South Carolina when they say, “What‘s the story on this guy Tenet?  He can never—It seems like he‘s a headless nail.  You can‘t pull him out”? 

L. GRAHAM:  I think he had a good relationship with the president.  The president trusted his advice.  He served in two administrations, Clinton and Bush.  But I‘ll be the first to admit, there are some things that have gone wrong like Bob has described, that are pretty hard to swallow. 

If he did tell the president, “This is a slam-dunk.  We‘ll find weapons of mass destruction,” and it turned out not to be the case, I don‘t know how you reconcile that. 

But he served this nation.  He‘s gone and we need to start over quickly. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it—Do you feel better off as a Republican and a supporter of this president in your home state, that he will have a new CIA director?

L. GRAHAM:  I feel better off with the country that we have a fresh start to address some of the failings of the past. 

It wasn‘t a mistake to get rid of this dictator Saddam Hussein.  It‘s not a mistake to empower women.  It‘s not a mistake to try to create a democracy in the Mideast.  It‘s hard. 

But we have stumbled.  And one of the areas we‘ve stumbled in is intelligence gathering and reporting.  This is an opportunity, and I hope the president will seize it—And I believe he will—to start over so that we can finish out strong in terms of the transition by having a better CIA.

MATTHEWS:  Senator Bob Graham, do we still face another thundercloud in a couple of weeks from the Senate Intelligence Committee reports on 9/11?

B. GRAHAM:  I don‘t know what‘s going to be in that report, Chris.  But I understand that it will be a very thorough review of the role of the intelligence community leading up to the war in Iraq and the weapons of mass destruction. 

Then we‘ve got down the road in July the release of the 9/11 commission report, which will focus on the issues before September 11, 2001. 

So there are a couple of big stories that are just over the horizon, relative to the functioning, and level of acceptability, performance of our intelligence community. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Maybe George Tenet did not want to put up with those two reports. 

Anyway, thank you very much, senators Bob Graham of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

B. GRAHAM:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Still ahead, former CIA Director James Woolsey is coming here to talk about the resignation of his successor. 

And later, “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman on the political fallout. 

That‘s going to be big. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, once again, on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

James Woolsey was the CIA director from 1993 to 1995 under President Clinton.  He‘s now vice president of Booz Allen, the consulting firm. 

Let me ask you this.  Is this a loss for the country, losing Tenet, or not?

JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR:  It depends on who follows him.  John McLaughlin is a very able deputy, and he‘ll do a fine job.  George, I think, was a great DCI. 

MATTHEWS:  Rate him, ABC, how good a director was he?

WOOLSEY:  I‘d say A.  Maybe a minus in there on one or two... 

MATTHEWS:  How do you—How do you square that very high rating of the just about to be former CIA director with the slam-dunk comment that we have definitely have enough evidence on weapons of mass destruction to go into war with Iraq?

WOOLSEY:  Well, the answer to that is a little complex.  But he may have been right when he said it.  Because his material, if you look at the stocks of agent as distinct from loaded up weapons, which may well not have existed, it‘s really quite small, could have fit in a truck or two or three for the... 

MATTHEWS:  You could have abducted the stuff from the time he said it‘s a slam-dunk to when we went in?

WOOLSEY:  Sure.  I think things could have been moved out to Syria. 

There are several indications that that occurred. 

What he said might have been right or a lot closer to right at the time than it looks now from what‘s been found out. 

MATTHEWS:  What about his failure to read those critical 16 words in the president‘s State of the Union address a couple of years ago, regarding the uranium coming from Africa?  And admitting afterwards, “I never read them”?

WOOLSEY:  Well, I think...

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t that his job to clear the president‘s speeches for intel?

WOOLSEY:  Chris, I think that issue is very strange.  Because there‘s nothing inconsistent between Ambassador Wilson having found in February that Saddam had not succeeded in obtaining yellow cake from Niger, and in October, the British report saying that Saddam was trying to obtain it. 

I don‘t know why they didn‘t just...

MATTHEWS:   If there isn‘t a problem with consistency, why did Ari Fleischer, the president‘s spokesman at the time, his press secretary, say the president shouldn‘t have said that?

WOOLSEY:  I have never understood that.  I don‘t know why the administration got itself so wrapped around the axle on that issue. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about—You are very much in support of the war in Iraq? 

WOOLSEY:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  You remain so?

WOOLSEY:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you in support of Ahmed Chalabi as a man of trustworthy reliance with regard to intel, with regard to general information and helpfulness with regard to our effort to try to stabilize that country?

WOOLSEY:  My involvement with Chalabi was over a three-year period when, pro bono, I represented as a lawyer five of his people and three others that were imprisoned by the immigration service.  And he was extremely helpful and my experience with him there was extremely positive. 

I think I have thought that he is committed to democracy in Iraq.  I was very surprised by the allegations that he leaked any material about...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the CIA is responsible, and George Tenet in particular, for smearing of Ahmed Chalabi?

WOOLSEY:  I don‘t know what the situation with that is, Chris.  I don‘t know whether it‘s true that he did it.  I wonder how in the world he got hold of the information if he did do it.  And I can‘t understand how the Iranians would talk about it.

MATTHEWS:  How he would have told—how he would have been told that the United States had tapped into the Iranian intelligence?

WOOLSEY:  This is important.  I can‘t understand how, if the Iranians had been told that by him or anybody else, they would talk about it over the link that was allegedly broken.  I‘m mystified, I confess, by this whole thing. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you a Chalabi man right now?  Do you trust him?

WOOLSEY:  I think that Ahmed Chalabi has done a lot to try to help bring democracy to Iraq.  I don‘t understand the current situation.  I need more information. 

MATTHEWS:  But the CIA is notoriously antagonistic toward Chalabi. 

They don‘t like him.

WOOLSEY:  Well, historically, they have been since the mid-‘90s, at least a number of people have. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back.  We‘ll talk more with Jim Woolsey, the former CIA director.  He‘s now with Booz Allen.

Back with Jim Woolsey in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

MATTHEWS:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, former CIA Director James Woolsey on George Tenet‘s resignation today, plus the political fallout and the intrigue with “Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman and Lally Weymouth.

But, first, the latest headlines right now. 

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

We‘re back with former CIA James Woolsey talking about now former CIA Director George Tenet. 

Let me ask you.  There‘s a big story that you met with Condi Rice to talk about the Chalabi situation, to talk about the CIA‘s role in that.  Is that correct?

WOOLSEY:  There are a group people who met with her and Steve Hadley on a number of issues.  But if the government wants to talk about it, they can.  I don‘t talk about advice I give the government.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Let me ask you about the 9/11 role that George Tenet played.  Was he good at protecting us against what was coming? 

WOOLSEY:  I think the 9/11 failure was not principally a CIA failure. 

They made a big  mistake in not tracking al-Midhar and al-Hamzi, these two

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Two al Qaeda guys who got in the country.

WOOLSEY:  Two al Qaeda guys were in 2000, in January 2000 in Malaysia and they forgot to...

MATTHEWS:  They were at the big summit meeting over there. 

WOOLSEY:  Right.  And the CIA did not give their names to the FBI or the State Department, so they could have been kept out of the country. 

But most of what went wrong with respect to 9/11 in terms of coordination within the U.S. government, much of it was FBI, because a lot of it was going on in this country, Or say the German police.  CIA doesn‘t really run spy operations and Germany.  The terrorists knew what they were doing.  They were operating in two places, Germany and the United States, where the CIA doesn‘t operate. 

And after all, look at—the FAA had flimsy cockpit doors.  The Air Force didn‘t have interceptors anywhere near Washington or New York. 

MATTHEWS:  Nobody was watching flight training either.

(CROSSTALK)

WOOLSEY:  The country was asleep.  It wasn‘t really—I don‘t put this at George Tenet‘s feet. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re one of the few people in the country who is alive today who knows what it is like to be a CIA director and to recognize the role of the CIA director.  You‘re the president‘s chief spoof, his chief spy.  When he gets up in the morning, and you get up in the morning, whatever time you get up, 5:00, you have got to tell him everything you know by 7:30, right?

(CROSSTALK)

WOOLSEY:  Well, that‘s the way it works with some directors.  I did not have that kind of access. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the president—your president wasn‘t so curious perhaps to hear from you.

But you also have the job of being his—of helping to carry out policy.  In this case, we had a war. 

WOOLSEY:  In a very limited sense. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you this, because the war in Iraq required evidence to present to the world.  So, therefore, the CIA director had a job not just to tell the president everything he could tell him, but help him make a legitimate case for his policies.  How does a guy square those two roles? 

WOOLSEY:  He has a requirement to report intelligence to the president.  He‘s not a brief writer.  That really ought to be left to the policy people.  The only policy...

MATTHEWS:  But didn‘t he write Colin Powell‘s brief for war at the U.N.?  Didn‘t he have that job?

WOOLSEY:  I don‘t think that they wrote it.  I think they probably provided the material for it.  And they may have cooperated with State Department people in drafting the speech.

MATTHEWS:  But that was the purpose of it.  The president wanted to make the case for war.  He sent Colin Powell to do it.  Colin Powell needed the ammo.  They gave him the ammo. 

WOOLSEY:  The CIA‘s job is to call it like they see it.  And if there‘s material in there that doesn‘t help, they still call it like they see it.  If policy-makers want to neglect some part of it or emphasize other parts, that‘s up to them. 

But the only part of policy, I think, the CIA director of central intelligence is really involved in helping make and helping manage is covert action.  His role with that is a little bit like the chairman of the joint chiefs role with respect to military force.  But, of course, both are advisers to the National Security Council.  They‘re not members. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

WOOLSEY:  And there‘s a reason.  Neither one is fully really a policy person. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about George Tenet and his role as the president‘s chief advisers on facts.  Do you think he gave president the facts he‘s needed to make policy? 

WOOLSEY:  I think he‘s done the very best he can with the whole intelligence community‘s help to provide the president with the best the intelligence community can come up with.  And sometimes, that‘s not good enough. 

MATTHEWS:  But why have there been so many people, particularly in the Defense Department, the civilians over there, who have made such an effort to try to get additional intel, additional analysis of intel to the vice president and the president if they‘re confident of the CIA director? 

WOOLSEY:  That‘s fair game.  Look, I see no reason why the...

MATTHEWS:  But it‘s B-track stuff, backup. 

WOOLSEY:  I see no reason why there shouldn‘t an policy shop looking at intelligence in the Pentagon, just the way there is in the State Department.  The Bureau of Intelligence and Research in the State Department has been there for decades.  And they do very much...

MATTHEWS:  In addition to the DIA? 

WOOLSEY:  Sure, in State.  They‘ve been in State. 

But DIA doesn‘t really do what the Bureau of Intelligence and Research does at State.  DIA has collection responsibilities, very special specialized responsibilities in the Defense Department.  I see no reason why Don Rumsfeld or any other secretary of defense shouldn‘t have a policy analysis operation relying on intelligence and looking at intelligence, very much like the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the State Department. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think, when the DIA, the DCI, who has just retired, George Tenet, went to Georgetown University several months ago and he was asked by a student who had an interesting sort of Middle Eastern accent—and asked him the question.  He said, why do we need a special intel operation over at the Defense Department?  And he called it the Office of Special Plans, but I‘m not sure he‘s right about that. 

And the answer from the DCI, from George Tenet, wasn‘t that there‘s no such organization.  He said I‘m the only person that gives the president his intelligence.  He didn‘t deny that there was another wing of intelligence flowing into the executive office of the president through the vice president‘s office or anywhere else.  He said, I‘m the guy that briefs the president. 

WOOLSEY:  His job is to pull it all together and call it straight, call it like he sees it. 

MATTHEWS:  But he wasn‘t getting it all, was he? 

WOOLSEY:  I see no evidence that he was not getting the material that the Defense Department was relying on.  Much of what they were relying on came from the CIA.

MATTHEWS:  But their analysis wasn‘t going back through him, was it? 

WOOLSEY:  I think a lot was briefed to him.  I don‘t know absolutely if it all was, but not absolutely everything that the Bureau of Intelligence and Research in the State Department does is briefed to the DCI.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

The hottest issue today I think in the country is not whether there‘s WMD in that country or they were, because we‘re past that.  We‘re in the war.  We‘re in that country.  The connection between al Qaeda and Iraq before the war, that‘s still a measure of dispute there.  That‘s the dispute, isn‘t it, whether there was a connection between international terrorism in Iraq or not before we went to war with Iraq?

WOOLSEY:  I think there‘s a reasonable argument as to whether or not there was control.  I doubt that there really was control by Iraq over al Qaeda or sponsorship. 

But connections, there were plenty.  Tenet said twice on the record that there was training by the Iraqis of al Qaeda in conventional explosives. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  In the north.

WOOLSEY:  Not just in the north. 

In conventional explosives, gases and poisons. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

WOOLSEY:  And he said there were, there was help with false documentation of sort of rest and recreation. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

WOOLSEY:  Going back a decade in these connections. 

So connections are different than control.  And a lot of people who deny that there was control by Iraq, I think, are probably right.  But connections, talking, sharing information here and there, some training, that went on for a decade. 

(CROSSTALK)

WOOLSEY:  And there shouldn‘t be a dispute about that. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, former Director of Central Intelligence James Woolsey, now with Booz Allen.

Up next, the political fallout from George Tenet‘s resignation today with “Newsweek”‘s Lally Weymouth and Howard Fineman. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, the politics of George Tenet‘s resignation as CIA director with “Newsweek”‘s Lally Weymouth and Howard Fineman—when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Lally Weymouth is the senior editor and special diplomatic correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine. 

Lally...

LALLY WEYMOUTH, SENIOR EDITOR & DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK”: 

Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  You know everybody in the world.  You talked to world leaders I wish I could get interviews with you.  You get them all the time, like the king of Jordan, etcetera, etcetera.  So, based upon that knowledge base, did Tenet quit for any political reason? 

WEYMOUTH:  Well, I‘m told that he quit for personal reasons.  But you and I, we were both discussing before show the fact that he was facing a long, hot summer ahead with the Senate and House intelligence reports coming out and the 9/11 report, too, coming out, and undoubtedly going to point the finger at the agency. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he was more vulnerable to charges that he failed to prepare for 9/11 and prevent it or more vulnerable to charges that he took us into a war based on bad intel? 

WEYMOUTH:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Or both?

WEYMOUTH:  I don‘t know. 

But I understand that what he‘s telling friends is that he did not want the agency to become politicized and he didn‘t want to become a part of the upcoming presidential campaign and that he thought the slam dunk line would inevitably drag him and the agency into the campaign if he stayed.  And therefore, he thought, both for that reason and other personal reasons, that he should go. 

MATTHEWS:  The CIA director, as you know, being in Washington all these years, has a particular role.  You are the president‘s chief spook, his chief spy. 

WEYMOUTH:  Yes.  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  And you‘re supposed to tell him, you get up in the morning and tell him everything you know, right?  But you also have to be to some extent a man who is an agent, a man who helps him get what he wants done.  Is that a conflict, to be able to both tell the president everything he ought to know and also make the case the president wants made.  Is that the problem this guy fell into, to make the case for war and at the same time be the president‘s chief spook? 

WEYMOUTH:  Well, I‘m not sure that he made the case for war, because don‘t forget that he...

MATTHEWS:  Slam dunk. 

WEYMOUTH:  He said that, according to the president, remember, in Bob Woodward‘s book. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

WEYMOUTH:  But he said that it was a slam dunk case, which was obviously wrong, that we would find weapons of mass destruction.  But don‘t forget he also said publicly that Iraq was not an imminent threat. 

MATTHEWS:  He said that afterwards. 

WEYMOUTH:  No, he said that before. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he also said it afterwards when he gave that speech at Georgetown.

WEYMOUTH:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think he make that speech?  Was he beginning to separate himself from the president at that point? 

WEYMOUTH:  Well, I‘ve been told that he believed that Iraq was not an imminent threat and that he was one of the more reasonable voices, so to speak, in the administration.  And so I think there was at lot of infighting, as you know, inside the administration.

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

But in any political situation, whether it‘s a democratic republic like ourselves or a Soviet system, there‘s such a thing as democratic centralism.  After all the arguments, you have got to buckle.  Isn‘t that what he did and Colin Powell did?  They were good soldiers? 

WEYMOUTH:  Well, yes, I think that‘s fair, don‘t you, if you‘re head of the CIA or...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s your job or else you resign. 

WEYMOUTH:  Right.  Exactly.  But I‘m not saying that he ardently stood up.  But as far as I understand, every intelligence agency in the world said there were weapons of mass destruction, not just the CIA.

MATTHEWS:  They did.  That‘s one of the ironies of this time. 

(CROSSTALK)

WEYMOUTH:  Everybody. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that if you look at what the president is doing—and I know that he may not have told him to quit.  He may have wanted to quit and the president finally said, OK, you can quit now. 

But in giving him permission to leave, as he clearly did, and also getting rid of that prison over there, that Abu Ghraib prison we‘re going to blow up, apparently, demolish as a symbol, like the bastille, and also, rotating Ricardo Sanchez, the head of our ground forces over there, do you think the president is moving politically to try to clear the decks for his reelection, a close reelection? 

WEYMOUTH:  Well, I think it is clearly helpful to the president to be rid of Tenet and to be of this whole what, as I pointed out to you earlier, would have been a big issue in the campaign. 

MATTHEWS:  It would have been the bathtub ring of this whole mess. 

WEYMOUTH:  Right. 

And it would have been George Tenet.  And George Tenet felt that he say—he couldn‘t enter politically into the campaign, because otherwise the agency would not be neutral, not be focused on intelligence, but would be a part of the campaign.  I think that‘s quite a legitimate concern. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a two-or-three-minute break here from politics and talk about George Tenet.  You know him. 

WEYMOUTH:  A little bit. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s a father.  He‘s a husband. 

WEYMOUTH:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  When he says he‘s retiring and resigning for personal reason, were they manifest?  Were they obvious? 

WEYMOUTH:  Well, I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that a secure statement?

WEYMOUTH:  But I hear from friends of mine who are friends of his that they were sincere, that he wanted to leave last December, as you know, and the president persuaded him to stay, and that now he had family reasons and children. 

MATTHEWS:  His son is a senior, he pointed out today, in high school. 

WEYMOUTH:  Right.  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  A tricky time for nay parent, I must say. 

WEYMOUTH:  Yes.  And wants to see schools, like any kid. 

And I think—this is Washington.  There‘s intrigue, as you know.  So, of course, everybody is going to speculate on what were the real reasons.  But maybe the real reasons were that he wanted to get out. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about this administration and the direction it‘s taking.  You do—and I‘m not just saying this—you get fantastic interviews.  When you go around and you catch the buzz, socially or professionally, and you‘re trying to figure out where it‘s going, has this president turned a corner from the people he was loyal to and counted on over the last year or two, the vice president, Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith, the secretary of defense?

Has he become a bit disillusioned with the facts they presented to him about weapons of mass destruction, about the reception we would receive in Iraq, all the things we argued about on this show?  Has he turned a little bit and says, I‘m going to take this worth a grain of salt, what you guys say to me right now; I took you at your word for too long?

WEYMOUTH:  Well, I would hope that that was the case, but I don‘t see any evidence, because witness what happened today. 

George Tenet, who was one of the more reasonable voices, as far as I know, went and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and company are still there.  So I see no evidence for what you just said, although I think it would be a good idea. 

MATTHEWS:  What about the prime focus of this administration, sometimes, I think—and I always get in trouble for saying this—but the vice president?  He seems like he‘s the guy who is the master bureaucrat, the matter foreign policy, security person, immensely respected by all we‘ve mentioned, right and left and center.  They all fear Cheney. 

Cheney has been so silent about the attack on the headquarters of Ahmad Chalabi, the man he‘s very close to.  Does that silence betoken strength? 

WEYMOUTH:  I don‘t know.  I think it is a good point. 

And I think one of the things that‘s strange about this administration is, you have a national security administrator—adviser who is supposed to arbitrate between Powell and Rumsfeld.  And, meanwhile, you have Cheney over—being more even powerful than Rice. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

WEYMOUTH:  And so it is a very weird construct, as far as I‘m concerned. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... leadership, do you think, on foreign policy issues, national security questions?

WEYMOUTH:  He certainly seems to have taken a key leadership role. 

MATTHEWS:  And do you think he spoke up in the inner circles, in fact with the president in his ear the last day or so?  

WEYMOUTH:  Undoubtedly. 

MATTHEWS:  He must have been told by the president that Mr. Tenet wants to leave. 

WEYMOUTH:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m going to accept his—should I accept this resignation, Dick? 

(CROSSTALK)

WEYMOUTH:  Well, yes, I don‘t think he had any choice really, but yes.

MATTHEWS:  But, see, the reason I bring this up is, there‘s such a conflict.  The message in Washington, the term and the buzz is that Ahmad Chalabi got his country back through the vice president‘s office.  He went to see the vice president, used his good offices to make the case for the intel that they had all this WMD, passed this on to all these characters, these shadowy characters, who convinced us that they had all these mobile biological weapons, and also you had the stuff coming in from Africa, the old controversy about that. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  All the time, he is backing up Ahmad Chalabi.  Meanwhile, the CIA is going to war with Chalabi. 

WEYMOUTH:  Yes.  That‘s right. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What he‘s doing to defend his friend over there in Baghdad?  Nothing, except, all of a sudden, suppose you‘re Ahmad Chalabi today and you just got the cables this morning.  My God, the man who has been after me has now fallen on his sword. 

(CROSSTALK)

WEYMOUTH:  It looks good, doesn‘t it, from Chalabi‘s point of view?

MATTHEWS:  Either would say somebody made the hit or it is just serendipity.  Which way do you read it? 

WEYMOUTH:  I don‘t know.  I mean, I wondered about that, too.  And I even asked people about it.  And everybody is saying, no, no.  But I agree with you.  You can‘t help but wonder what really went on in the corridors, if the story is true. 

MATTHEWS:  The winners, Feith, Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, Scooter and all those guys, don‘t you think they‘re sending back a whiff of white smoke, saying, we won? 

(CROSSTALK)

WEYMOUTH:  Well, it certainly looks that way.  You have to—you have to—even if it‘s not true, it certainly comes out that way, I would say.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Lally Weymouth with “Newsweek.”

WEYMOUTH:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, more on the intrigue surrounding George Tenet‘s resignation with “Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman, more postmortems, more interesting conversation. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

“Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman is an NBC News political analyst. 

OK, analyze. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Howard, this is one of the big ones we‘ve ever had here on this program.  The resignation of the CIA director, what does it say to you?  What are the pieces of this?

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Well, first question is, why now?  And I think it‘s a whole series of things. 

Tenet has been a dead man walking politically around here for months and months.  He‘s been taking fire from all directions.  I think it finally got to him.  I think the No. 1 reason was probably the Senate Intelligence Committee is going to be out with a report next week.  And it is going to be scathing in its portrait of the CIA and the intelligence that they did or did not provide before the Iraq war.  So that‘s No. 1. 

No. 2...

MATTHEWS:  Boy, are they good to hit on the particular issue of the slam dunk comment...

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... that he told the president, there‘s no question they‘ve got weapons of mass destruction.  We‘ve got to go. 

FINEMAN:  Yes, I think that summarizes it.  If we put it on the cover of “Newsweek,” a tongue-in-cheek headline could be George Tenet with a picture, “Slam Dunk.” 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s going through the net. 

FINEMAN:  He‘s going through the net. 

MATTHEWS:  And the president is hanging by the rim. 

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:  So that‘s No. 1. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  No. 2, you have got the leak investigation swirling around. 

Who leaked the name of Valerie Plame, the identity of the covert operative? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And the president hiring a lawyer.

FINEMAN:  The president of the United States hires a lawyer one day.  Tenet is out the next day.  There are a lot of people around town who wonder if there‘s a connection of some kind there. 

MATTHEWS:  The reason they do that is because there‘s a longstanding feud between the intelligence community, not Tenet so much, as the people who have been spooks for years, the institution of the CIA and the people who have been pushing the war.  They just don‘t get along with each other. 

FINEMAN:  Right. 

And Tenet is sort of getting out of the line of fire there in that continuing war over who leaked what to whom. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  I think that‘s another factor. 

MATTHEWS:  But is he out of the line of fire?  Can he be called?  Can anybody—does that get you out of the line of fire? 

FINEMAN:  Yes, he could, but he will no longer be defending the institution of the CIA also. 

MATTHEWS:  I see.

FINEMAN:  And I think there was a personal element to it.  I think that‘s true.  I think what always happens around Washington is that we dismiss this totally.

But as people weigh the balance of their lives, this guy is at the vector of all blame from all directions. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  Chalabi, Pat Roberts, the Republican head of the Intelligence Committee, Colin Powell.  He got on the wrong side of Colin Powell by feeding him the intel. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, when he sent him to the U.N.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  With untruths.

FINEMAN:  Yes, all about—remember the trucks and all that, mixing the stuff in the vats. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  None of it ever materialized. 

And you can mess around with George W. Bush‘s image in this town and maybe get away with it.  You can‘t get away with doing that to Colin Powell. 

MATTHEWS:  Did he get lost between cracks?  Remember that great scene in “A Man for All Seasons,” where Cardinal Wolsey, he‘s played by Orson Welles, this big fat guy, and he tried to play ball with Henry VIII on the marriage issue and he didn‘t believe in it, but he played ball with him.  And he said, if I was as loyal to my God as I was to my king, I would not now be naked to my enemies. 

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Was he naked to his enemies by playing the president‘s side even if he didn‘t believe in it?

FINEMAN:  Yes.  Yes, too much so.  And he cast everybody else in doubt.  He sullied the reputations of everybody else in the process.  And Colin Powell is a real stickler on that point.  And Powell has been on the warpath of the CIA and Tenet for the last couple of months.

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that the president really did say that, pee all over this guy Chalabi and he didn‘t care?  In other words, did the president himself dump the chief source of intel that may have gotten us into this war, the chief source of intel for the people pushing the war, because that‘s a big issue with the CIA.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  It is a big issue with the CIA. 

MATTHEWS:  Because they dumped him. 

FINEMAN:  They dumped him and the president pretended as he if he didn‘t even know who the guy was when, at the State of the Union, Chalabi was sitting next to Laura Bush in the gallery, at the State of the Union. 

MATTHEWS:  And then he tells King Abdullah, according to a British newspaper...

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  To pee on the guy. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, what is that about?  I don‘t usually this kind of language, but according to this British—“The Telegraph” or something, “The Guardian,” he did in fact say to King Abdullah of Jordan, I‘m finished with this guy.  Get rid of him.  We‘re talking about Ahmad Chalabi. 

FINEMAN:  I understand.  I understand.  He might have.  How that figures in what happens with Tenet, I don‘t really know. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about two issues that preceded this decision by the president to accept the nom—not the nomination, the resignation. 

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  First of all, the president didn‘t to have accept his resignation.  He could have said, I need you, George, couldn‘t he?  Or is that too pushy? 

FINEMAN:  I think it would have been pushing it too far. 

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  I think Tenet has been absorbing abuse for the last year.  He‘s been the stand-up guy.  He‘s been the guy absorbing a lot of punishment here, not distinguishing himself in the process. 

I think they both realized that Tenet‘s usefulness had been exhausted, had been exhausted. 

MATTHEWS:  The hawks around—the hawks around this administration—and we‘re going to have Woolsey on as well.  He‘s been on already, but in time.  We‘re doing the interview later.  Let‘s be honest about it.

Woolsey and people like that, Richard Perle, are very angry at the president and then the CIA especially for dumping their man in Baghdad, Ahmad Chalabi, the man who basically talked us into this thing.  Do you think that‘s connected to thing?  He obviously wants to get—Perle and those guys want to get George Tenet.  Did they get him? 

FINEMAN:  Yes.  I think that‘s part of it.  That‘s—yes.  There are six or seven factors here.  I think that was one.  And guys like Richard Perle are ninjas in warfare here.  Just because they‘re on the defensive because of Chalabi...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How would he have squeezed George Tenet out of his job in a matter of a few days? 

FINEMAN:  I don‘t know that he did it, that he was the No. 1 reason.  I‘m just saying, when you have all those other things on your back, you don‘t need Richard Perle to scheme against you as well.

MATTHEWS:  Can I ask but the grand poobah of silence, the vice president of the United States? 

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Where is this man, who was Chalabi‘s best friend, who was one of the biggest advocates for the war, where was he on this Tenet decision? 

FINEMAN:  That‘s a very good question. 

MATTHEWS:  Silence. 

FINEMAN:  Silence.

MATTHEWS:  Does it mean consent? 

FINEMAN:  It means consent.  I think they—I think the White House, if they could have done so, would have preferred to have had Tenet hang on a little longer, draw the fire.

MATTHEWS:  Take more heat. 

FINEMAN:  Take more heat.  But the heat shield was burned up here. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, God, I love it.

FINEMAN:  The heat shield was burned up. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s Washington at its worst and at its best. 

FINEMAN:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  Of course, I think it is at its best. 

Anyway, Howard Fineman.

By the way, join us tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL, as we begin our coverage of the 60th anniversary of D-Day, some good news, some good memories.   I‘ll be joined by David Eisenhower, grandson of the supreme allied commander and former President Dwight D. Eisenhower.  They named Camp David for this kid.

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

END   

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