updated 6/22/2004 10:25:48 AM ET 2004-06-22T14:25:48

Guests: Tony Blankley, Dee Dee Myers, Dana Priest

CAMPBELL BROWN, GUEST HOST:  Tonight, in his first interview since the death of his father, Ron Reagan speaks out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RON REAGAN, PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN‘S SON:  He was not an empire builder.  He was not interested in that sort of stuff, and he never would have gone around talking about himself as, I‘m a war president.  That would have been anathema to him.  I mean, he really wanted to be a peace president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN:  And former president Bill Clinton grabs the national spotlight as his new book, “My Life,” hits the front pages and book stores.  Plus:

Some top U.S. military commanders may be facing questions on the Iraqi prison abuse scandal.

I‘m Campbell Brown, and this is HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Campbell Brown, in for Chris Matthews.  Chris sat down with Ron Reagan, the son of President Reagan, for an exclusive interview, Ron‘s first since his father‘s death.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, HARDBALL (voice-over):  President Ronald Reagan‘s farewell was solemn ritual befitting a former head of state.  But something unexpected happened during President Reagan‘s final American journey: thousands lined the street for a chance to see his hearse roll by, tens of thousands stood in line for hours to file past his coffin.

REAGAN:  I don‘t think anybody who was in the middle of it is ever going to forget it—not my family.

MATTHEWS:  Ron Reagan, the late president‘s son, says the public‘s outpouring of affection for his father touched the Reagan family deeply.

(on camera):  Were you surprised that, after all these years since he was president, that it was so dramatic and wonderful?

REAGAN:  Well, you think, you know, Gee, it‘s been 15 years since he‘s been in office.  He‘s—for 10 years, he‘s been really out of the public eye.  And you think, well, you know, there‘s affection, but people forget.

MATTHEWS (voice-over):  But people didn‘t forget.

REAGAN:  I was just astounded by what was happening.  It gathered this momentum of its own.  And the crowds and all—you know, when we‘d go under an overpass and the fire trucks would be there and all the, you know, people would be saluting.  It was just stirring.  It was very moving.

MATTHEWS:  Now 45, Ron Reagan is a political contributor for MSNBC.

As Ron and Nancy‘s youngest child, he says he has many fond childhood memories of spending time with his dad.

REAGAN:  I remember I used to love more than anything, we—you know, he‘d go swim laps in the pool, back and forth and back and forth.  I couldn‘t resist it for very long before I‘d climb on his back, and he‘d just keep swimming laps, and I‘d just be hanging on his back.  I can barely remember him raising his voice at any of his children, certainly not at Nancy.

MATTHEWS (on camera):  Really?

REAGAN:  Oh, yes.

MATTHEWS:  He never got angry?  He never got out of sorts?

REAGAN:  Oh, no.  No, no.  Never lost control.  Never, you know, sputtering, any—never.

MATTHEWS (voice-over):  Ron was at his father‘s bedside when he died and with his mother as they shuttled cross country last week on Air Force One.

(on camera):  There was a wonderful moment, I thought, when your mom was getting on the airplane to fly east.  She turned around and waved.

REAGAN:  Yes.  Well, she‘s got a—you know, a great sense of occasion and the moment.  And she was such a trooper the whole way.  I mean, you know, she‘s 83 years old now.  She‘s not as spry as she used to be.  And the rest of us were exhausted, and we‘re a little younger.  And she must have just been just wrecked.  But boy, she kept her chin up and just kept going.

MATTHEWS (voice-over):  However, he says, at times, he his mother found the silence and the somber tone of the Capitol difficult to bear.

(on camera):  What was your feeling going into a place where you knew Jack Kennedy had been laid out, where Lincoln had been laid out?

REAGAN:  Well, I recognized the history, and I was interested in it. 

I was mostly thinking of my father, who‘s there, you know, in that casket.

MATTHEWS (voice-over):  The grandeur of the state funeral at the National Cathedral was comforting, he says, and uplifting.  The music touched him.

REAGAN:  That was certainly one of those moments where you had to sort of bite your tongue a little bit to keep from, you know, welling up and spilling over.  The music that they played us out of the cathedral with—

I almost lost it.

MATTHEWS:  He went back with me to the cathedral this week, back to where his father‘s coffin was placed.

REAGAN:  It was quite a moment.

MATTHEWS (on camera):  Was it?  It was—it was...

REAGAN:  It‘s quite a place.

MATTHEWS:  It was like this.

REAGAN:  Right here, and...

MATTHEWS:  It seemed so evocative of almost a royal funeral.

REAGAN:  There was something of the Middle Ages about it, almost.  You know, the king has died, long live the king, or—yes.  There was something—I don‘t know.  I was touched by it.  And I‘m sure my mother was, too.

MATTHEWS (voice-over):  And he says he was moved by the eulogy given

by former president George Bush.

GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  As

his vice president for eight years, I learned more from Ronald Reagan than from anyone I encountered in all my years of public life.

REAGAN:  He was feeling genuine emotion, in that he—you know, it was there and it couldn‘t be contained.  And you know, we were all fighting to, you know, keep a stiff upper lip.  And you know, it—that just made it a little harder.  But it was sweet and it was nice and it was heartfelt.

MATTHEWS:  At the burial in California, it was Ron‘s turn to speak. 

And the son showed some of the rhetorical gifts of the father.

REAGAN:  He is home now.  He is free.

The idea that all people are created equal was more than mere words on a page, it was how he lived his life.

Dad was also a deeply, unabashedly religious man, but he never made the fatal mistake of so many politicians, wearing his faith on his sleeve to gain political advantage.  True, after he was shot and nearly killed early in his presidency, he came to believe that God had spared him in order that he might do good.  But he accepted that as a responsibility, not a mandate.  And there is a profound difference.

MATTHEWS (on camera):  That was in many ways, the most remarked upon moment in a very dramatic week.

REAGAN:  Well, what I find interesting about it is that everybody assumed I must be talking about George W. Bush, which I find fascinating and somewhat telling.  If the shoe fits...

MATTHEWS:  Were you?

REAGAN:  Well, I said “many politicians.”  If he‘s lumped in in that group, then fine.  Fine.  That‘s all right.  I think there‘s a lot of false piety floating around—floating around Washington and...

MATTHEWS:  Ron, do you feel deeply that the president has used religion to make his case for the war with Iraq?

REAGAN:  I think he‘s used religion to make his case for a lot of things.

MATTHEWS:  Including Iraq?

REAGAN:  Including Iraq.

MATTHEWS (voice-over):  This isn‘t the first time that Ron Reagan has criticized President Bush.  Ron says he‘s an independent.  His views have often been more liberal than those of his late father, and that‘s part of the developing struggle over President Reagan‘s legacy.

(on camera):  Many of the people in this administration who are most hawkish claim a Reagan mantle here in fighting this war.  Should they?

REAGAN:  No.  With all due respect, I don‘t think they knew my father as well as I did.  And another thing I would observe is that my father never felt the need to wrap himself in anybody else‘s mantle.  He never felt the need to pretend to be anybody else.  This is their administration.  This is their war.  If they can‘t stand on their own two feet, well, they‘re no Ronald Reagans, that‘s for sure.

MATTHEWS:  But the case that is made for preemptive, preventive war is you have to be aggressive, you can‘t simply contain the other side.  You can‘t contain communism.  You must beat it.  Ronald Reagan taught us that.  You can‘t contain Saddam Hussein.  Ronald Reagan would have knocked him out.

REAGAN:  Well, Ronald Reagan didn‘t knock him out.  Ronald Reagan did not send troops into Iraq.  He was interested in peace.  He hated war.

MATTHEWS (voice-over):  Ron says he really didn‘t mean to stir up a political controversy with his eulogy and he wanted to make it clear that he appreciated the president‘s generosity to him and his family last week.

REAGAN:  He was very nice about providing anything the family wanted -

·         you know, staying at Blair House, the use of Air Force One and everything.  And that made life a lot easier, and we‘re all grateful to him for doing that.

MATTHEWS:  At the burial, he says, he was most concerned about his mother.  In the moments before his father‘s body was to be lowered into the grave, Ron could see his mother was faltering.

REAGAN:  She approached the casket.  And we could see her, you know, after the whole week, just starting to dissolve.  And we just, as one, sort of rushed up there to be with her and to support her there.  And it‘s a—you know, it‘s a very difficult thing.  They‘d been together for a long time, and she was conscious that, you know, now she wasn‘t even—even going to have the casket anymore, that he was going into the ground now.  And that was—you know, this was goodbye.  Yes, so—it was a touching moment for all of us and very affecting.

MATTHEWS:  President Ronald Reagan was at peace.  But for his son, the memories of the father he loved his suffering from Alzheimer‘s are still fresh.

REAGAN:  People with Alzheimer‘s eventually lose the ability to understand language and to use language, but they can feel love.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN:  When we come back, part two of Chris Matthews‘s interview with Ron Reagan, including Ron on President Reagan‘s final years and his slow decline at the hands of Alzheimer‘s disease.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  I‘m Campbell Brown.  More now with Ron Reagan, the son of President Reagan.  In his exclusive interview with Chris Matthews, Ron shared his memories of his father‘s final years and his long decline as he suffered with Alzheimer‘s disease.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS (voice-over):  Ten years ago, President Ronald Reagan told the world he had Alzheimer‘s disease.  His devoted wife of 52 years, Nancy, rarely left his side.

REAGAN:  She was there every day, you know, with him, had every meal with him, even, you know, when he no longer could speak or really recognize people or even when he was just sleeping.

MATTHEWS:  These are some of the very last pictures taken of the ex-president.  This very public couple retreated into their own private world.  Nancy called it “the long goodbye.”

REAGAN:  It‘s a death sentence.  You know that.  There‘s no recovery. 

And it‘s just a slow fading away.

MATTHEWS:  Eventually, Ronald Reagan could not even speak.

REAGAN:  You know, that was sort of a tragic irony.  For a guy who used to love to tell stories and jokes and things to not be able to speak was—you know, was sad.

MATTHEWS (on camera):  Could you see him trying?

REAGAN:  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  He would.  Sometimes you could sort of tell

·         you could almost tell by the cadence what he was getting at and that he was telling a story.  And you know, you could almost imagine what the story was because we‘d heard most of them before.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How do you feel?

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I‘m feeling great.

MATTHEWS (voice-over):  Then as the disease continued to ravage his mind, the “great communicator” forgot his greatest accomplishment of all.

(on camera):  When did he forget being president?

REAGAN:  Well, it was probably five, six years in, maybe.  But I couldn‘t say for sure.  But the remarkable thing was that, really, to the very end, his personality remained intact.  His nurses used to say the same thing, that he‘s such a sweet man.

MATTHEWS (voice-over):  At the very end, Ron says his father‘s love for Nancy broke through cloud of the disease that had taken his mind and was taking his life.

(on camera):  What happened at the end?

REAGAN:  Well, he hadn‘t opened his eyes for about three days, I guess.  And but literally, with his last breath, he opened his eyes and looked at my mother.  Suddenly, there he was again.  His eyes were blue.

MATTHEWS:  You felt him.  He was there.

REAGAN:  Yes.  It was beautiful and very peaceful.  You know, my father always said that—or he wrote my mother once that she was the first thing he wanted to see in the morning and the last thing—sorry—the last thing he ever wanted to see.  And that‘s how it worked out.

MATTHEWS (voice-over):  Nancy Reagan lost her love, but the battle they fought against Alzheimer‘s gave her a new cause to champion.

NANCY REAGAN, FORMER FIRST LADY:  Ronnie‘s long journey has finally taken him to a distant place where I can no longer reach him.  And now science has presented us with a hope called stem cell research.

MATTHEWS:  Ron says that stem cell therapy has the potential to treat dozens of diseases, including Alzheimer‘s.

REAGAN:  Diabetes, Parkinson‘s, on and on.  This is—you know, this is an issue that‘s very dear to her heart.

MATTHEWS:  In 2001, President Bush heavily restricted stem cell research on moral grounds because the extraction of the cells destroys human embryos.

REAGAN:  You know, there‘s no down side to this.  There‘s no real moral problem here.  We‘re talking about cells in a petri dish, not creatures with brains and spinal cords and fingers and toes.

MATTHEWS (on camera):  Will she go head to head with the president?

REAGAN:  If that‘s what it took, yes.  Sure.  She‘s doing what she thinks is right, and she doesn‘t care who‘s standing in her way.

MATTHEWS:  Would she be willing to go to the Republican convention in New York this fall and speak for the president if he promises to open up stem cell research and change his policy?

REAGAN:  Oh, I couldn‘t speculate on that.  I just...

MATTHEWS:  You got to believe they‘re thinking that, What‘s going to take to get Nancy here?

REAGAN:  Well, that would help.

(LAUGHTER)

REAGAN:  If he said, OK, I‘m going to change my mind now.  I‘ve seen the light.  You know, Nancy has shown me light, and I‘m going to change my mind on stem cell research.  And would you please come to the convention and address it?  Under those circumstances, she might.

MATTHEWS:  What do you want the country and the world forevermore to think of Ronald Reagan?

REAGAN:  That he was a decent and kind man who did his best to live a good life, as he understood it.  History is—you know, history will take care of itself.  Those of us who knew him knew him as a good man.

MATTHEWS (voice-over):  Last Friday, Nancy accompanied her husband for the last time.  Ronald Reagan‘s final ride ended in a sunset service in Simi Valley.  Their love affair had lasted until his last breath.

(on camera):  Until death do us part.  She meant it.

REAGAN:  Yes.  Absolutely.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN:  And up next: Lawyers for accused prisoners in the Iraqi prison abuse scandal will be allowed to question two U.S. generals.  We‘ll get the latest from Baghdad.  And later: Bill Clinton is back in the news with a memoir about his life and times in the White House.  We‘ll talk about it with his former press secretary, Dee Dee Myers.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  I‘m Campbell Brown, in for Chris Matthews.  The first session of the pretrial court-martials for three of the U.S. soldiers accused of abusing Iraqi prisoners took place in Baghdad this morning.  NBC‘s Tom Aspell is in Baghdad with more on today‘s hearings and the rest of the latest news from there.

TOM ASPELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Campbell, the bodies of four American service personnel found in the town of Ramadi, west of Baghdad.  It‘s been hotbed of anti-American activism over the past year or so, those bodies found sprawled on the ground with some of their personal belongings scattered around them there.  But their body armor and their weapons appear to have been taken.  There is a military investigation to find out exactly how they were abducted and ambushed.  Here‘s what‘s the military spokesman, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, had to say about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, DEP. DIR, COALITION OPS:  There was a time when they should have reported, in did not report in.  We sent a quick reaction force to their location.  I can confirm that we do, in fact, have four servicemen who died as part of that combat action, and we‘re going through the next of kin notification procedure at this time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ASPELL:  The military also announcing today that a missile strike in the town of Fallujah against a reported safe house used by a terror network kidnapping and killing foreign hostages in Iraq may have killed several key leaders in the terror network.  The gunmen holding a South Korean hostage here, and also some others, it is believed, are followers of Abu Musab al Zarqawi.  He‘s a Jordanian-born militant with $10 million bounty on his head offered by the coalition for his capture or his killing, and the American military saying today that several key figures died in that missile strike Saturday morning.

Meanwhile, in Baghdad, in the coalition authority today, initial trial proceedings opening against three soldiers charged with abuses at Baghdad‘s notorious Abu Ghraib prison.  Defense counsel‘s asking for the right to question central commander General John Abizaid and also the American commander of the coalition forces on the ground in Iraq, General Rick Sanchez, and being granted permission to question those officers by the judge, the judge also making a ruling on the fate of Abu Ghraib prison itself.  You may recall President Bush expressing a desire to destroy it and build a new prison, but the judge at the pre-trial motions today ruling that it is a crime scene and may not be destroyed—Campbell.

BROWN:  Thanks, Tom.  That‘s NBC‘s Tom Aspell reporting from Baghdad.

I‘m joined now by Dana Priest of “The Washington Post” who is also an NBC News military and intelligence analyst.

Dana, you‘ve been way ahead in your reporting on the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal.  The big news today was the fact that the judge has ruled the lawyers can call two top generals, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez and General John Abizaid, the head of CENTCOM, to testify, to appear at the trials.  What are they likely to say?  Are we going to hear anything new or different from what they‘ve already told Congress?

DANA PRIEST, “THE WASHINGTON POST,” MSNBC MILITARY AND INTELLIGENCE

ANALYST:  Well, this is really our first opportunity to ask them anything in depth, or the defense opportunity.  They will be deposed.  That means they will be asking them questions, both General Abizaid, as you said, General Sanchez, also Barbara Fast, who‘s a major general in charge of military intelligence in Iraq.

Now, the seven MPs were charged—they claim, as part of their defense, that it was the military intelligence personnel who asked them to soften up prisoners.  And this will be the first chance to ask their commander, Barbara Fast, if, indeed, that was true.  And what this leads to is back up the chain.  Well, where did she get her orders?  Was that from General Sanchez?  And where did he get his orders?  Was that from General Abizaid, who is in charge of all of the Central Command region?  Those are the—those people we have not been able to question, nor has the Taguba report that you‘ve—that we‘ve all read about even addressed that level of command.

So it really is a first opportunity to probe them and see what their techniques were that were approved and how much pressure they were applying on this unit.  At this time, as we know, there was a counterinsurgency that was very active.  And everyone made a point of saying, here in Washington and elsewhere, that they needed better actionable intelligence to defeat that insurgency that was taking them by surprise.

BROWN:  Any chance we‘re going to see or hear from President Bush or Secretary Rumsfeld in relation to this?

PRIEST:  Well, it‘s too early to tell.  It‘d be highly unusual.  And today the judge said that they could—that—he denied a defense motion to actually petition them and get written statements from them.  He said that the defense had not made the case that what went on in Washington was relevant to what went on in the field, using his own words, so he denied that motion.  However, they could always revisit the issue if, during the depositions, information came out that would be relevant to that.

BROWN:  OK, we‘re going to take a quick break.  We‘ll be back with more from Dana Priest.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, “The Washington Post”‘s Dana Priest on the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, plus Dee Dee Myers and Tony Blankley on Bill Clinton‘s new book, much more from Chris Matthews‘ exclusive interview with Ron Reagan. 

But, first, the latest headlines right now. 

(NEWS BREAK)

BROWN:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  I‘m Campbell Brown, in for Chris Matthews. 

We‘re back with more now from “The Washington Post”‘s Dana Priest on the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal and today‘s pretrial hearings.

Dana, talk to me a little bit about the memos that originated from the Justice Department, the reporting you‘ve done on that, and what—how that is likely to play out or what impact it is going to have now that we‘re seeing these court-martials go forward.

PRIEST:  Well, the memos that came out recently, both in newspapers, we had one that was written in August of 2002 at the request of the CIA when they wanted to use tougher interrogation tactics against suspected al Qaeda terrorists. 

That memo really was revolutionary, according to lawyers who look at these things, both in its definition of torture, which it defined in a much more severe, harsh way than has generally been the case.  It said torture has to amount to severe pain that leads to bodily impairment or organ failure or even death.  And, secondly, it said that the commander in chief has such broad powers during war that, were any of his employees to be charged with torture by some international court, that it is conceivable, you could rule that unconstitutional, that the laws against torture would be unconstitutional because they tied the president‘s hand during wartime. 

Most human rights lawyers and other constitutional lawyers really said this was a very extreme version of the president‘s war powers.  Then we saw a second memo that came out in “The Wall Street Journal.”  And that one was dated March of 2003 from the Pentagon‘s general counsel, William Haynes.  That took much of the same argument.  It applied it to the Guantanamo Bay detainees. 

What we haven‘t seen is whether that same thinking, that very severe definition of torture and the president‘s definition of war powers is applied in any way to Iraq.  And that‘s something that Congress wants to know.  And it asked Attorney General Ashcroft to release those memos.  He said that he would not do it.  They said, we may hold you in contempt, at least the Democrats did. 

BROWN:  Well, what does it mean?  Do the memos not suggest that there was some planning, some thinking about it going on behind the scene?  Or is this the kind of thing that the Pentagon, the White House would normally go through typically to cover their bases just in case the situation there changed or given the dynamics of the war on terrorism that may not be limited to certain borders? 

PRIEST:  Well, one thing we know for sure, there‘s nothing typical about the war on terrorism.  It is a whole new ball game. 

And what they did was what you would expect them to do, go ask their lawyers.  What can we do?  How far can we push the limits?  And what attorneys who are outside the government and some former government attorneys are saying is that what they came up with was something that pushed the limits of our traditional understanding of the Geneva Conventions and the rules against torture. 

What we don‘t know is how that legal thinking was then applied to the actual guidelines in Iraq and what permission did it give to soldiers there to push the limits.  Officially, they have said that we put all Iraqi prisoners under the Geneva Conventions.  And, as we see from Abu Ghraib, there was a group that that did not apply to.  The basic question is, were they a rogue unit, like the administration claims, or were they taking orders, given permission, or themselves incorporated this harsher interpretation of the law into what they did and did their commanders give them the green light to do that? 

BROWN:  So there‘s no smoking gun as of yet, a piece of paper or something that makes it clear that this came from Sanchez or that it came from Abizaid or higher up. 

PRIEST:  No, there isn‘t. 

And one of the things that the law—that the legal suit can do is look into these areas where Congress—because they‘re controlled by Republicans and they have not chosen to look that high yet—they can really look in the court process, because there is the right to question anybody that‘s relevant to the case. 

So, if they unearth information that goes higher up, then the defense attorneys will certainly have the right to question higher officials and the guidelines and the process that they went through to come up with those interrogation guidelines.  So it is our own court system that may open up the books on this after all. 

BROWN:  Let me ask you about another ruling the judge made today at the pretrial hearing.  He ordered that Abu Ghraib prison not be destroyed, which President Bush had wanted to do.  Were you surprised by that decision?  And does that help or hurt the soldiers going through the court-martials? 

PRIEST:  You know, I think it is very interesting, because, again, it shows us that we are a country of rule of law.  And here is the court trumping the president.  And I believe that that will stand in court, because he‘s doing something very basic. 

He is saying, we have to preserve the crime scene.  How can we go ahead with our criminal trial if we don‘t have a crime scene?  And I would guess that the administration would go along with it.  It is also something that the Iraqi—the new Iraqi president would agree with for a different reason.  He said that demolishing that prison is a waste of money and resources.  They actually need a facility like that. 

BROWN:  It‘s interesting to see—real quick—we‘re almost out of time—but who is going to end up winning the hand on that one?  He‘s been disagreeing a lot, the new prime minister, with the administration lately.

PRIEST:  Well, I think, in this case, I think they will not demolish that prison any time soon, if at all. 

BROWN:  Dana Priest, thanks for being with us. 

And coming up, Bill Clinton tells nearly all in his new book.  We‘ll have Dee Dee Myers, his former press secretary. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  Coming up, Bill Clinton‘s memoirs are coming out tomorrow.  We‘ll hear what the former president is saying.   And we‘ll be joined by former Clinton Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  I‘m Campbell Brown, in for Chris Matthews. 

Tomorrow, former President Bill Clinton‘s long-awaited memoir, “My Life,” hits bookshelves.  And it‘s already creating a stir.  Clinton reportedly received a $10 million advance for the 957-page book, which is his life and legacy in his own words.  Critics are calling it revisionist history and “The New York Times” gave it a front-page review—quote—

“The book is sloppy, self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull, the sound of one man prattling away, not for the reader, but for himself and some distant recording angel of history.”

Last night on CBS‘ “60 Minutes,” Clinton offered this take on Ken Starr‘s investigation of him and ultimately his impeachment. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “60 MINUTES”)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  That whole battle was a badge of honor.  I don‘t see it as a great stain, because it was illegitimate.  On the day I die, I‘ll still be glad I fought him and I‘ll still be glad that I beat him.  And I‘ll still believe that it was a bogus, phony deal. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN:  Dee Dee Myers served as White House press secretary under Bill Clinton and is an MSNBC Democratic analyst.  And Tony Blankley was Speaker Newt Gingrich‘s press secretary during the Clinton administration.

Good to have you both here.

Listening to that sound bite, it sounded like the famous Clinton compartmentalizer, that, at the same time, he can admit the sin and still think the whole investigation is bogus.  Fair? 

DEE DEE MYERS, NBC ANALYST:  Yes, well, I think that‘s true.  I think that‘s exactly what he‘s done there.  He obviously has to admit to the sin.  There‘s too much evidence now. 

And I think he actually was quite candid and quite contrite about that.  But, at the same time, he does think the investigation was overblown and illegitimate.  And there‘s a lot of people, by the way, including myself, who can hold those two thoughts simultaneously as well.  I think Clinton was wrong.  He handled many aspects of his personal behavior and the admission of it in the most horrible way possible. 

And yet Starr overreached and I think history will absolutely make that case. 

BROWN:  Can you hold those two thoughts simultaneously? 

(CROSSTALK)

TONY BLANKLEY, EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, “THE WASHINGTON TIMES”:  You know, I haven‘t read the book yet, so I‘m basing it on what the media has said. 

It seems to me what is fascinating is, there‘s three big news items that‘s come out of this book so far.  One is the impeachment.  The other is his admissions regarding Ms. Lewinsky.  And the third was his statement that his biggest regret was he didn‘t catch Osama bin Laden. 

And I think he was right to target on those three major items, because particularly the last one is likely to define his presidency more than the first two, which I think become footnotes.  And the question is, did his failure to catch bin Laden result in a very bad history to follow?  So far, we don‘t know.  It started off badly.  But if terrorism is terrible for the next generation, then Clinton‘s place in history, he‘s going to pay a very high price.

BROWN:  You really think that Clinton, though, would be held to account for that, given that September 11 happened under President Bush‘s watch?  Fair or not that a lot of people are still going to say Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky, impeachment, President Bush, 9/11. 

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY:  My guess is that history judges how a president behaved historically. 

You go back to Harry Truman.  He left the office.  He was very unpopular.  But he did the Marshall Plan.  He created NATO.  He created containment.  Fifty years later, the public sees that what he did then shaped positively the next 50 years.  And now Harry Truman is considered a near great president. 

The question isn‘t going to be, for Clinton, whether he fooled around with somebody.  The question is going to be, what legacy did he leave America in history?  And I think that is going to be, fairly or unfairly for him, did he nip this terrible thing in the bud in the ‘90s, when it was emerging, or did he let it slip out of the genie—out of the bottle—and is it now a plague? 

And so his—I think his place in history will be determined by how bad terrorism turns out to be.  We don‘t know yet. 

BROWN:  Dee Dee, you said you thought he should have waited five or 10 years to write this.  Why? 

MYERS:  I do think that, because I think he needed more perspective and I think he needed more time on his presidency. 

I think the most interesting parts of the book will turn out to be the parts about his own life, his own upbringing, even the ‘60s, his coming of age and the country sort of embarking on a culture war that plagues us still.  He said his model book was Katherine Graham‘s fabulous “Personal History.”  And he wanted to emulate that.  She took seven years to write that.  And I think she had a lot more perspective, a lot more distance from some of the events.  And I think he would have benefited from the same thing. 

BROWN:  Let‘s listen to another sound bite.  This is from when he—the same interview with “60 Minutes” when he talks about his marriage to Hillary Clinton. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “60 MINUTES”)

CLINTON:  I had a sleepless night and woke her up and sat down on the side of the bed and just told her.  And it was awful, but I had to do it, because the grand jury testimony was coming up and I was going to tell the truth to the grand jury and I wanted her to know before it happened.  And I had to tell her. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN:  Tony, what did you think of that? 

BLANKLEY:  If people are interested in Clinton‘s private life, as people have been, that‘s going to be an interesting moment to read about and hear about. 

I don‘t think it has any historic significance one way or the other, but I think a lot of readers right now are going to say, gee, I want to know how they went through that, because a lot of people go through those kind of traumas in their own lives.  So it is good theater.  It‘s interesting.  But I agree with Dee Dee that, if he had waited some years before writing his memoir and mellowed a little bit, let all the players kind of disappear from the scene a bit more—not that he can‘t write another book in five or 10 years. 

(CROSSTALK)  

BLANKLEY:  But it is likely to be more in perspective.  This is still very much focused on his feeling, almost vibrating feeling about his presidency.  Five or 10 years from now, he will have a perspective on it he couldn‘t possibly have now. 

BROWN:  Now, Clinton says in the book that he got along with Newt Gingrich, I think?  Is this the same Clinton that you knew and loved way back?  Well, I‘m being facetious, of course.

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY:  Look, at one level, Newt and Clinton got along very well.  They‘re both very bright.  They both knew their policy.  When they were debating, arguing over the budget and health care issues, they both knew the demographic trends.  And they could enmesh themselves together in a level of substantive analysis that most other elected politicians couldn‘t. 

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY:  Whether he liked him or not, who knows?  Who cares?  If he does, I agree with him.  I like Newt.  He‘s a great fellow. 

MYERS:  They were sort of fascinated by each other.  I think they had

·         they both saw each other as great politicians.  And I think, in a way, Clinton can be magnanimous to Gingrich because he thinks he beat him. 

BLANKLEY:  Well, look, yes, and, in a certain sense, he did.  He stayed in office longer.

On the other hand, if we want to get into the debate, we got him to sign our welfare bill. 

MYERS:  Well...

BLANKLEY:  You can go through policy debates.  But it is also in his interests now, as you say, to be magnanimous.  There‘s nothing lost in saying, I really like Newt. 

BROWN:  Let‘s talk about the political ramifications of not just the book, but the media blitz, Clinton out there and in front.  Does it help or hurt Kerry, yes or no? 

MYERS:  I don‘t think it hurts him at all.  I think that this will be a reasonably short-term national story.  It will last for this week.  And then it will be a local story, as Clinton campaigns for his book in various markets. 

I think that talking about the difference between Democrats and Republicans and how things were better under Clinton is good for Kerry.  I think Kerry thinks it is good for Kerry. 

BROWN:  But it also energizes the right, you have to concede, and it takes attention away from... 

MYERS:  You know what?  I think it energizes the right in Washington, the very politicized right.  I think most of the country does not want to go back and refight the battles of the Clinton era.

They do not want to rehash the Starr investigation.  I think that‘s

not what I think Clinton is going to do when he gets out on the trail.  I

think he is going to try to talk in broader terms about, you know, moving -

·         he knows better than anyone I‘ve ever been around that elections are about tomorrow and you have to talk about voters‘ futures or you are not going to win.  And I think he‘s going to try to focus it on that. 

BROWN:  We have got about a minute left. 

Do you think, in a sense, that Kerry would, right now, prefer to have the focus and attention be on the war in Iraq and what is happening as we head toward the transition, as opposed to Bill Clinton?

BLANKLEY:  Well, it remains to be seen. 

We don‘t know how Iraq is going to play out as an issue.  Clinton has certain advantages.  He is going to generate base support on the Democratic side.  He may very well help in Arkansas, which was a five-point win for Bush last time.  So that could be in play.  On the other hand, I don‘t think it is just in Washington.  There is a large percentage of the country that doesn‘t like Bill Clinton.  And I think he energizes that base negatively for the Democrats.  And it is probably a tradeoff.  I think you need to use him in a shotgun—a rifle shot way of campaigning rather than wandering around the country. 

And he‘s such a big personality that certainly anyone near him looks smaller by virtue of it. 

BROWN:  OK, let‘s take a quick break.  Dee Dee Myers and Tony Blankley will be back with us after the break.

And coming up, more from Chris‘ exclusive interview with Ron Reagan.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN:  Well, I don‘t think there‘s another Ronald Reagan out there, and I don‘t know that there will be for—in our lifetimes. 

But, as you said, one name that came to mind, at least in some respects, is John McCain.  He is a guy who will tell you what he thinks and mean it.  And that was sort of a hallmark of my father.  He said what he meant.  He meant what he said.  He didn‘t much care whether somebody else disagreed or somebody on an op-ed page at some point was going to take issue with it.  If he thought he was right, he thought he was right.  And he was an honorable man and he was a brave man.  And I see that in John McCain. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN:  And we‘re back with Tony Blankley and Dee Dee Myers. 

Both parties seem to be right now obsessing about John McCain more than usual, even.  Listening to that, do you think that McCain is next in line for the Reagan legacy? 

MYERS:  Well, McCain, John McCain is never going to be president.  So I think that he will be operating in a different universe. 

I think Ron Reagan is right.  McCain is very popular—he‘s the most popular politician in America right now because he does say what he thinks and the public really reacts to that in this era where everything is filtered.  That said, he‘s never going to have the platform that President Reagan had or the support.  He doesn‘t play as well in his party as—there are elements of the Republican Party that doesn‘t like him because he‘s a little too candid. 

BROWN:  What about President Bush? 

BLANKLEY:  Look, I think this either grabbing or offering of the mantle of the ex-great man is just a silly exercise. 

It can‘t be passed on.  I can‘t think of an example of a great man in American history who had someone—who was Lincoln‘s next?  Who was FDR‘s next?  You can‘t think of one, because these men, by the nature of their greatness, are distinct from anyone who follows.  So there will be other great men or women in different ways.  But the idea that the torch is going to be passed to a trusted deputy, I just think it is a pointless exercise. 

I think most people doing it are trying to make some petty little political point right at the moment, rather than a genuine assessment. 

BROWN:  Let‘s listen to another sound bite.  This is Ron Reagan talking about President Bush visiting with the Reagan family.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN:  When he walked—my mother brought the president into the room to meet us.  And my wife told me afterwards, she said, I immediately felt sorry for him because he was obviously so nervous to be there.  He looked—really, he looked scared to death to meet us. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN:  Listening to that—I hear what you‘re saying.  But that doesn‘t—no one may take on the mantle, but that doesn‘t mean that a politician may not try to link themselves to a great leader like Reagan to influence and gain attention, given that it is an election year.

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY:  The operatives will try at some level to make some linkage and gain some favor from it.  But I don‘t think it is going to be effective.  I don‘t think anyone thinks that either McCain or Bush or Clinton is Reagan.  They‘re their own men, for better or worse. 

BROWN:  What did you think about him saying that Bush seemed nervous going in to meet the family? 

BLANKLEY:  I assume he was right.  That would be—when I go to

funerals for not great people, I‘m sort of a little nervous when you meet

the family.  What do you say?  And it‘s only bigger when you have got these

·         this great man involved.  So that seemed like a natural condition. 

BROWN:  Real quick, we have got one more I want to play, which is Reagan face on a $10 bill. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of the $10 bill?  What do you think about your dad bumping Hamilton? 

REAGAN:  No.  He wouldn‘t want it.  Actually, I spoke to my mother again about this on the way back to the house after the Friday, the final day.  And she said that, no, she didn‘t support that at all and that he wouldn‘t.  He would never have wanted to bump another president off a currency to put himself on.  That‘s very un-him, you know?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN:  Is Congress being ridiculous, talking about changing the currency? 

MYERS:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY:  Of course, Hamilton was not a president.  So Ron Jr. had it a little wrong there.

I don‘t think it‘s up to the family to decide how the nation wants to honor somebody.  That‘s ultimately going to be up to the nation.  Out of modesty, the family may say, no, don‘t do anything.  But the nation may feel the desire to do something.  I think they will.  They‘ve done a lot of things for men in the past.  Kennedy, Martin Luther King have had many things correctly named after them.  I think Reagan is do for some more.

And currency is one of the zones that would be appropriate.  Kennedy

was put on—they took Benjamin Franklin off the 50-cent piece and put

Kennedy on.  That seems to

(CROSSTALK) 

MYERS:  Eventually, I think there will be a conversation.  I think that Mrs. Reagan‘s objections are sort of dead in the water for the moment.  But I think it is something that will be revisited. 

There‘s a move afoot to honor Reagan in every single county in America.  And I think there are people who will spend a good deal of their lives trying to make that happen.  But I think the idea of putting him on the $10 bill now or the dime, the dime seems the most ridiculous since Franklin Roosevelt was put on the dime in sort of honor of his work in the March of Dimes to wipe out childhood polio.  So I think that‘s a really bad place to start. 

BROWN:  We‘re out of time here.

But, Dee Dee Myers and Tony Blankley, thanks to you both. 

Join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Our guests include Pat Robertson and John Podesta.

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

END   

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