updated 6/23/2004 10:38:40 AM ET 2004-06-23T14:38:40

Guests: Dan Bartlett, Rev. Pat Robertson, John Podesta

CAMPBELL BROWN, GUEST HOST:  Tonight, another brutal beheading by terrorists, as Iraqi militants murder a South Korean hostage.  We‘ll get information from White House communications director Dan Bartlett.  Plus, an update on the June 30 handover in Iraq.  Also, the role of religion and politics with former presidential candidate Pat Robertson.

I‘m Campbell Brown.  This is HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Campbell Brown, in for Chris Matthews.  Militants in Iraq have beheaded South Korean hostage Kim Sun-il.  According to Al Jazeera television, Kim was murdered by an al Qaeda-linked group called Monotheism and Jihad.  The murderers were demanding that South Korea remove its 600 troops from Iraq and cancel plans to send more.  But this afternoon, the South Korean governments say it will go ahead with plans to deploy 3,000 more troops to Iraq.

Dan Bartlett is the White House communications director.  Dan, thanks for being with us.

DAN BARTLETT, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR:  Thank you, Campbell.

BROWN:  As we heard earlier today, the president condemned the beheading of the South Korean who was taken hostage and called it barbaric.  You‘ve probably spent as much time with him as anybody in the White House. 

Were you with him when he found out?  And how did he react to the news?

BARTLETT:  Well, I wasn‘t with him this particular case, but I was last week when we got the terrible news of Mr. Johnson.  So it is something that‘s very difficult for the commander-in-chief to hear.  It‘s difficult for all of Americans to hear.  The type of, horrific barbaric, as the president described it, actions of al Qaeda and their affiliates in Iraq and Saddam loyalists demonstrate the worst aspects of the enemy we face.  They can‘t defeat us militarily.  They can‘t make us run.  So they‘re trying to shake the will of a civilized world.

And what President Bush has made clear and what the civilized world will make clear is that we‘re going to stand with the Iraqi people because he understands, and I believe the world understands, that the stakes are high in Iraq and that we are not going to allow the enemies of freedom and liberty to defeat us there, where it‘s so important that we accomplish the goal which is coming up on June 30, and that is the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people.

BROWN:  Let me—let me throw some poll numbers at you because I know how much you guys love poll numbers.  But this is the ABC/”Washington Post” poll, and it says for the first time, more than half of Americans believe the Iraq war was not worth fighting, 52 percent.  How did you lose the support of most of the country, and how do you get it back?

BARTLETT:  Well, Campbell, there‘s going to be a lot of polls during this time period.  It‘s a very turbulent time period, particularly in Iraq, and I think those snapshots are going to bounce around from time.  I do believe, over the course of the conduct and the campaign in Iraq, that it‘s been pretty sturdy.  I think the American people understand that Saddam Hussein posed a threat, that he was a dangerous person that should be removed from power, that having democracy take hold in a part of the Middle East really is important, strategic, long-term aspect of American security and worldwide security.

But I believe, as you see, like I said, the turbulence of violence with not only the Iraqi people but military forces there on the ground, including U.S. forces, that it‘s going to be anxious times for the American people because this is very difficult work, and this is a hard thing we‘re trying to accomplish in Iraq.  But it‘s a necessary thing.  The president still feels very confident in the cause, of the justness of it, and the fact that we‘re going to prevail.

BROWN:  I want to throw another poll number at you that you‘re probably not going to love.  It also posed—the same poll poses a question about who is more honest and trustworthy?  Fifty-two percent say Kerry, thirty-nine percent say Bush.  Does this administration have a credibility problem right now because of Iraq?

BARTLETT:  Well, Campbell, I think, like I said, you‘re going to see polls that bounce all around.  There‘s a Harris poll, very respected, pollster, who came out and said President Bush is 10 points ahead, is back up to 50 percent approval rating with the American people on his job...

BROWN:  But not on the trust—this is...

BARTLETT:  ... performance.  So I think...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  ... on the trust issue.

BARTLETT:  Well, I think very much that the American people understand this president is strong, he tells the people what he believes.  He follows his convictions.  Like I said, this is very difficult times we‘re facing right now.  The enemy is very determined to try to shake our will.  These are anxious times.  The Iraqi people understand the stakes.  We understand the stakes.

But I believe when these polls come out at certain times when there‘s news headlines about the difficulties we‘re facing, you‘re going to get these different types of spikes in opinion on various issues.

BROWN:  But don‘t you think that the American people...

BARTLETT:  But over—but over the current course, I think it‘s very important, as we go into this election, this is not in a vacuum.  We have a choice, and the choice is between the president‘s principled leadership in fighting the war on terror and what he believes is the wrong course, and that is Senator Kerry, who has chosen to fight this or what would like to prosecute this for more as a law enforcement action, not a military action.  We have a fundamental disagreement about how to prosecute the war on terror.

BROWN:  OK...

BARTLETT:  And that‘s OK.  We‘re going to have that debate.  But we believe that the American people is going want to stick with President Bush‘s clear-eyed vision on how to prosecute this war.

BROWN:  OK, we got to take a quick break.  We‘re going to come back with more from Dan Bartlett in just a moment.  And later, Pat Robertson on the role of religion in this year‘s presidential race.  Plus, what did Bill Clinton leave out of his new book?  Former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta will be here.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  I‘m Campbell Brown, in for Chris Matthews, and we‘re back with White House communication communications director Dan Bartlett.

Dan, I want to go back to the credibility question, whether or not the Bush administration has a credibility problem, because as articulate as you are, you didn‘t answer the question at all.  I‘m going to play two sound bites from Vice President Dick Cheney...

BARTLETT:  OK.

BROWN:  ... when he was asked about whether the 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta met with an Iraqi official in Prague.  I‘ll get your reaction on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - CNBC “CAPITAL REPORT,” JUNE 17, 2004)

               

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You have said in the past that it was, quote, “pretty well confirmed”...

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  No, I never said that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  OK.  I think that is...

CHENEY:  I never said that.  Absolutely not.  What I said was the Czech intelligent service reported after 9/11 that Atta had been in Prague on April 9 of 2001, where he allegedly met with an Iraqi intelligence official.  We have never been able to confirm that, nor have we been able to knock it down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN:  And then, back in December, 2001, Cheney had a more definitive sense of the meeting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - NBC “MEET THE PRESS,” DECEMBER 9, 2001)

CHENEY:  It‘s been pretty well confirmed that he did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraq intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the attack.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN:  OK, Dan.  I stole the juxtaposition from the Jon Stewart and “The Daily Show,” but I‘m going to spare you the commentary or facial expressions.  How do you explain that?

BARTLETT:  What Vice President Cheney‘s been talking about in this particular case, there has been sketchy reporting.  The Czech Republic came forward with reporting they thought to be credible.  Our intelligence services have been looking at this, trying to confirm it.  There‘s a question mark over this particular case.

But I think, Campbell, what‘s important is that there are people who were trying to draw conclusions from the 9/11 staff report that, quite frankly, weren‘t there.  What they stated was that there‘s no collaboration on attacks on America, and in particularly, on 9/11.  What we have said all along is that we agree with them but that there was a relationship going back over many years and contacts between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.  And Vice President Cheney‘s been very clear about that.

BROWN:  OK...

BARTLETT:  In this particular case...

BROWN:  Dan, you just heard him...

BARTLETT:  ... there was contradicting reporting.

BROWN:  ... contradicting himself.  I mean, I understand that it‘s a confusing situation, but at some point, on some issues, when the evidence is there, isn‘t it incumbent upon the administration to say, You know what, we were wrong, but we figured it out now?

BARTLETT:  Well, the vice president has, obviously, access to information and briefings that you and I don‘t, and I think he makes those judgments based on informed opinions.  It‘s not just things that he‘s saying off the cuff.  He has said all along that this was something that couldn‘t be confirmed, that we are looking at it.  I—he probably doesn‘t remember the very specific way he formulated that, but what he said just the other day was clear, and that the intelligence services are looking at this.  Many people in the Czech government were still confirming this or believed that it happened.

But make no mistake, President Bush has made this clear.  He has said it.  We do not believe, or we have no evidence to believe that there was any connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11.  And there are people and there are critics who are trying to claim and put words into our mouth that we didn‘t say.  What President Bush has said is that the relationship, the contacts—this was not just us.  This was many other people who‘ve looked at this, as well, that said that they went back over many years.  George Tenet testified before the United States Congress to this very point.  So I think there was much ado about nothing in that report because what the staff found in the 9/11 report was exactly what the administration has been stating.

BROWN:  All right.  A key difference is perhaps on semantics.  But let me shift gears to the prison abuse issue.  Today the administration released a number of documents and memos that try to illuminate the internal discussions and debate you all were having relating to the treatment of prisoners within the guidelines of the Geneva conventions.  Explain why you did that.

BARTLETT:  Well, there‘s two different things here.  First and foremost, what I think most of the American people understand is that we‘re fighting an unconventional war.  There was a stark reminder today and the other day with these brutal beheadings of innocent civilians.  These—this is an enemy that doesn‘t follow the rules of law.  This is the enemy who doesn‘t sign treaties.  They‘re not a state.  They don‘t wear uniforms.  They sift in and out of civilian populations, and they attack innocent civilians.

This required us, as a country, to fight this war on different terms.  We‘re doing that in Afghanistan and in other parts of the world.  It also required us to look at our legal obligation and the legal construct in which we conduct ourselves.  While we are fighting this war unconventionally, we are still adhering to the laws and obligations and values that we cherish as a country.

And what we did today is to demonstrate clearly that the abuses in Abu Ghraib do not reflect the values, the laws or the specific direction given by this administration, whether it‘s the conduct in Iraq, or separately and distinctly, the conduct in how we‘re treating detainees in Guantanamo Bay.  There are two very different issues.  They were deliberated thoroughly.  We‘ve provided these documents to the American people and to the media so they could see the deliberations that took place.  And we‘re very comfortable and confident in the decisions that were made, and you can tell by the documents we released today that they‘re made based on sound legal judgment.

BROWN:  How do you explain, then, the memo that—the August 2002 memo that the Justice Department prepared for White House counsel Alberto Gonzales that seems to try to find legal ways to justify interrogation methods that are outside of the Geneva conventions or international law?

BARTLETT:  Well, that‘s not exactly—what they did is give a full legal landscape to what is permissible and what they thought a commander-in-chief could do during times of war.  All techniques and methods of interrogation that were approved abide by U.S. law and by our treaty obligations.  There was never doubt about that by the Justice Department or by the government in the Department of Defense or any other government agency.

Now, what they did say, they provided additional legal advice about commander-in-chief laws, but President Bush had already made his decision about the policy, and that was that we‘re going to treat our detainees humanely.  And in Iraq specifically, there was never any question that the Geneva convention would apply.  And what happened in Abu Ghraib was a complete contradiction to the directive that was given by the United States government, and that‘s why you‘re seeing people held accountable.

BROWN:  Why wouldn‘t Ashcroft explain to Congress?  He went and testified to Congress.  He was asked to release the memo to a Senate committee.  Why wouldn‘t he share the information?  It was leaked in the press, obviously.  The information‘s out there now.

BARTLETT:  Well, it is unfortunate that it was leaked in the process of these deliberations.  What the attorney general understands and what the administration understands, that it‘s a very extraordinary moment for us to release such extensive amount of internal deliberations.  And he would, as any administration would do, is protect the executive privilege to have those deliberations.

BROWN:  But, but, but, but, but...

BARTLETT:  But having said that—but having said that...

BROWN:  ... he was very clear about not declaring executive privilege.

BARTLETT:  No, I don‘t think executive privilege, but what is clear is that the executive branch has the opportunity, separate from government separation of the powers in the Congress, go have internal policy debate questions, and in particular, advice from legal counsel about—that helps form policy discussions.  But what the administration‘s decision...

BROWN:  But this wasn‘t a classified—this was not a classified document, and...

BARTLETT:  It‘s not a matter of—Campbell, it‘s not a matter of classification as far as sensitivity.  It‘s a classification based upon can a president and policy makers get candid advice from their legal staff and from other staff without it being second guessed in the media and elsewhere?  But in this particular case—and that is a long-held precedent.  This is an unprecedented act that‘s taking place here today.  But President Bush felt, the administration felt that since we have this stain on the honor of our country because of the abuses in Abu Ghraib, the doubt that might be spreading throughout the world about the values we cherish as a country, that there was no way, shape or form that this administration or that this country condones that kind of conduct, nor would they sanction it.  And that‘s exactly why we made this information available.  Attorney General Ashcroft supported that decision.  They‘re doing their own briefings this afternoon, as well, to demonstrate the legal rationale behind it.  And we‘re proud by the decision making that took place.  But it was an extraordinary decision, and it was one that took time to deliberate over because what we are providing today is specific techniques and interrogation methods that are using the enemy.  And we know the enemy‘s watching, and that was a very important decision we had to make, but we believe it was the right decision to demonstrate to the world that we take seriously our obligations and our laws.

BROWN:  Let me ask you about an issue that was in the Taguba report.  It talks about so-called “ghost detainees” or unidentified prisoners that were brought to Abu Ghraib by the CIA that were hidden from the Red Cross.  In the report—a quote from it—“This maneuver was deceptive, contrary to Army doctrine and in violation of international law.”  Secretary Rumsfeld has admitted that at the request of George Tenet from the CIA, he agreed to hide a “ghost detainee” in Iraq, which would appear to invite international law.  Has the president spoken with Rumsfeld about this?  Is he concerned at all?

BARTLETT:  Well, Secretary Rumsfeld and the president both have demonstrated there‘s going to be an investigation about this.  This person that in this particular case was not at Abu Ghraib and was not a part of the abuses that are now being investigated.  Having said that, if there is any obligation that we had adhering to Geneva, if this particular person was an Iraqi citizen and was supposed to be registered with the Red Cross, that was something that‘s going to be corrected.  And we‘re going to investigate why that didn‘t happen.

BROWN:  Well—well...

BARTLETT:  Again, I think that‘s a clear distinction to be made here, is that there‘s a difference between what was permitted and what was supposed to happen and obligations under the Geneva convention.  Now, there are some circumstances where foreign fighters are going to be picked up on the battlefield, whether it be in Iraq or elsewhere, where legal determinations are going to have to be made.  But this particular case you‘re referring to with the secretary of defense...

BROWN:  Well, I...

BARTLETT:  ... where he gave permission, was a Iraqi citizen, and it was a mistake that he was not signed up earlier in the process, and we‘re finding out why, and we‘re going to hold people responsible...

BROWN:  Well, Rumsfeld...

BARTLETT:  ... if something was done appropriately.

BROWN:  Rumsfeld, I think, said why.  It‘s that the CIA requested that he not be identified and was therefore hidden by the Red Cross—hidden from the Red Cross.  So Rumsfeld did it because he was asked by Tenet.  I mean, there—I don‘t understand what‘s to be investigated, if the secretary of defense is telling you this.

BARTLETT:  Well, the secretary of defense is based—it was a classification, I believe, issue as to whether they should have been or not and why the CIA asked that.  And that‘s exactly why there‘s a—I believe, an internal inspector general study going on at the CIA, as well as the investigation going on in the Department of Defense, to find out all the facts of this particular case because if the person was supposed to be registered with the International Red Cross, then they should have been.  And again, we‘re going to hold people accountable.

There‘s a clear difference here, Campbell.  I think people are trying to say policy directives that are made, methods and interrogations that were approved somehow led to the abuses in Abu Ghraib.  And that is just simply not the case.  It runs contrary to what was approved and what was ordered, and that‘s why you‘re seeing people who potentially are going to go to jail over it.

BROWN:  Dan Bartlett, thanks so much for being with us.  It‘s nice to talk to you.  WE appreciate your time.

BARTLETT:  Always fun on HARDBALL.

BROWN:  And up next, Pat Robertson on mixing religion and politics.  And later, Bill Clinton‘s memoir hits the bookshelves today, and his former chief of staff, John Podesta, joins us for his take on it.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Pat Robertson is the founder and chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network and is a strong supporter of President Bush.  Earlier this year, he said God told him the war in Iraq was, quote, “going to be messy and actually a disaster.”

Pat, first of all, Pat.  I want to ask you...

REV. PAT ROBERTSON, CHRISTIAN BROADCASTING NETWORK:  Thank you, Campbell.

BROWN:  I want to ask you how you feel about the war in Iraq.  And if God is calling this war a disaster, does that mean that he is actually opposed to it?

ROBERTSON:  Well, I don‘t think God‘s opposed to the war, necessarily, but it was a danger sign.  I felt very uneasy about it from the very get-go.  Whenever I heard about it, I knew it was going to be trouble.  I warned the president.   I only met with him once.  I said, You better prepare the American people for some serious casualties.  And he said, Oh, no, our troops are, you know, so well protected, we don‘t have to worry about that.  But it has been messy.  And I think we‘re going to come out of it, though.  I think we‘ll have a free Iraq.  But it certainly has been a mess so far.

BROWN:  Well, what would you have suggested the president do?  Did you support him as he made that decision to go to war?

ROBERTSON:  Well, Campbell, once those forces were arrayed in the Gulf, you had this huge armada out there, and all the military preparation, at that point, he couldn‘t back down.  You have to go.  There‘s a no-go situation, and there was a point of no return.  So at that point, of course, I supported him, as I think all patriotic Americans do.  Our forces are going to war, and we support them.  But if I had been doing it, I think I would have much preferred the assassination route.  I think we could have gotten Saddam Hussein a lot easier than this.  And there‘s just something about this war that has been really troubling, and I‘d been warned by one of my friends who‘s an ex-Iraq about what would happen, and you‘d have—the Shi‘ites and the Sunnis and the Kurds and the Christians and others would be squabbling, and that‘s sort of what‘s happening over there.

BROWN:  You know, the president‘s been very careful to say along in the broader context on the war on terrorism, but also with regard to Iraq, that this is not a war against Islam.  Do you believe it is?  Do you believe this is a holy war?

ROBERTSON:  Well, I don‘t dislike the concept of holy war.  I think you can use the term “just war,” and I think it was just to eliminate from the scene a vicious tyrant.  I just think there are better ways of getting rid of a tyrant than what we did.  I think the embargo was meaningless, and I think the United Nation was a toothless tiger in this whole matter.  They let Saddam Hussein get away with murder and...

BROWN:  But...

ROBERTSON:  Yes?  Go ahead.

BROWN:  Well, let me ask you about the Muslim religion in general...

ROBERTSON:  Yes.  OK.

BROWN:  ... because you have said in the past that—you‘ve described it as a fountainhead of terrorism.  Do you still feel that way?

ROBERTSON:  Oh, there‘s no question about it.  If you read the Quran, it—there are at least 107 or 108 war passages in the Quran where the faithful are told to slay the unbelievers, the infidels.  And the history of Islam from its founding was one of vicious aggression and subjugation of people.  You know, after all, they went as far as Bordeaux in France.  There was quite an invasion.  And then they came around from Turkey almost up to the edge of Vienna.  So this is an aggressive religion that seeks—frankly, they seek world domination.  That‘s one of their points.

In the Arabic, it is either “dar al Islam (ph),” which is the world of Islam, or it‘s the “dar al hab (ph),” which is the world at war.  I mean, there‘s no two—you know, coming together with those two.  It‘s either under Islam or you‘re at war with them.

BROWN:  Well...

ROBERTSON:  And so they consider we‘re at war with them.

BROWN:  We got to take a quick break.

ROBERTSON:  All right.

BROWN:  I want to follow up on that when we come back.

ROBERTSON:  All right.

BROWN:  More with Pat Robertson.  And later on, Bill Clinton former chief of staff, John Podesta.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, religion and the battle for the White House.  What role will faith play in the race between President Bush and John Kerry?  Pat Robertson is here.  Plus, former Chief of Staff John Podesta on Bill Clinton‘s book. 

But, first, the latest headlines right now. 

(NEWS BREAK)

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

And we‘re back with Pat Robertson.  He‘s the author of the book, “Bring It On.”  I‘m going to have to ask you later how John Kerry feels about—or how you feel about him co-opting your book title for his campaign them.

But let‘s go back to what we were talking about a minute ago, the—your comments that the Muslim—Islam, the Muslim faith, is a fountainhead for terrorism.  President Bush disagrees with you on this and has said that the religion has been co-opted or hijacked by radicals.  And Bush has also said that Muslims and Christians, he believes, worship the same God. 

ROBERTSON:  Look, I love the president and I support the president, but we didn‘t elect him as chief theologian.  And I think, in some discussions of Islam, he‘s in error.

However, there are many of peace-loving people who subscribe to Islam.  I have worked extensively in the Middle East and have many friends among the Palestinians and others.  They‘re delightful people.  And, sure, the terrorists represent a small fraction, but they are gaining, well, ascendancy in that region and it‘s stirring up tremendous strife. 

So we‘re probably looking at a couple hundred million people who share their point of view.  But, at its core, Islam is a religion of war.  But that doesn‘t mean that probably 60, 70 percent of those who subscribe to it feel that way, but that‘s what the Prophet Muhammad had to say in the Koran. 

BROWN:  Let‘s talk about President Bush in the context of the election.  Do you believe he is doing enough to cater to the religious—to the religious right? 

ROBERTSON:  Oh, I think the—I‘ve come to dislike that term, religious right.

But the conservative Christians, whoever they are, I think they love him.  They‘re 100 percent in his camp.  And more and more things are happening that are bringing them over to him.  That is one of the most reliable voting blocs in the Republican Party.  You‘re talking about 80 percent or 85 percent who vote for Republicans and vote for Bush.

BROWN:  Are you satisfied with his decision to limit research on stem cells to those that have already been harvested? 

ROBERTSON:  Well, I think it‘s a good point of view.

But the thing about the stem cell, nobody has ever really discovered whether you take an embryonic stem cell and, for example, insert it into somebody‘s brain and it cures Alzheimer‘s.  There‘s been absolutely no medical verification of that.  So it‘s speculation.

BROWN:  Well, I don‘t think that‘s what anybody is arguing. 

ROBERTSON:  OK.

BROWN:  But the research that is done with it, as you‘ve heard many scientists and many prominent Republicans—Nancy Reagan is certainly being a strong advocate for more research that possibly could lead to many cures for a variety of diseases. 

ROBERTSON:  Listen, stem cells out of a placenta work very nicely. 

Stem cells taken from fat from adults work very nicely. 

You don‘t necessarily have to kill an embryo.  And I think that‘s what the president is saying on it.  And I believe he‘s been very staunch in that particular thing.  But I‘m not a biochemist or bioethicist.  So I don‘t have any defined opinion, except I think to sacrifice a life in order to help somebody else is not necessarily good science.

But I do think that we can use these stem cells for many, many things in the future that will be very helpful to all of us.

BROWN:  Well, has President Bush been vocal enough on his support for a constitutional ban on gay marriage to make you happy? 

ROBERTSON:  I think he has, but there are a number of wavering Republicans. 

We just put the blast on Orrin Hatch the other day on our TV program and got him from on the fence to supporting such an amendment.  But I think the people want an amendment.  And I think it‘s going to be a major issue in this coming-up campaign.  So if the Republicans have any sense, they‘ll put the Democrats on the offensive and they‘ll move that thing through the Congress, and it will become a significant issue in the campaign, if they do so. 

BROWN:  Well, is John Kerry trying to have it both ways with his anti

·         or pro-choice position, as well as being against gay marriage? 

ROBERTSON:  You know, Campbell, this is just reinforcing the image that the Bush people are trying to put on him of being somebody who vacillates.  And he really does.  He‘s kind of like Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” you know, on the one hand, on the other hand.

He wants it this way and he wants it the other way.  You know, his own church, you know, many of the Catholic bishops are giving him a hard time on his stand on abortion.  And I don‘t know how he‘s coming out on this one, but I don‘t think he‘s winning on it.  He‘s just not giving a clear signal one way or the other.

BROWN:  I want to throw up a “TIME” magazine poll actually that shows

·         a recent poll—that among very religious Americans, a vast majority support President Bush, 59 percent, vs. 35 for Kerry.  Among Americans who are not religious, 69 percent support Kerry vs. 22 for Bush.  Why do you think that more religious Americans automatically seem to support Republicans? 

ROBERTSON:  Well, there are a whole host of issues having to do with family values, morality and so forth.  Abortion is one of the key ones, but the whole thoughts of prayer in the schools, Bible reading in the schools, the education of the young, the type of sex education that‘s going on, the acceptance of homosexual marriage, etcetera.

And you can go over a whole host of these things and on every one of them, the Democratic Party, at least the left of the Democratic Party, seems to be coming down in favor of issues that the majority of religious people, conservative Catholics and evangelicals, are opposed to.  So, obviously, Bush is sounding the right note for all of them.  And he‘ll get their support this fall I think overwhelmingly. 

BROWN:  Well, you recently predicted that George Bush, in your words, is going to win in a walk.

ROBERTSON:  Yes. 

BROWN:  You said—quote—“I really believe I‘m hearing from the lord, it‘s going to be like a blowout election in 2004.”

Do you believe that God supports President Bush? 

ROBERTSON:  No.  I just think I‘m hearing what‘s happening. 

But start out with economics.  We‘ve dumped $550 billion into the economy and there was no way, with that kind of fiscal stimulus, with interest rates, the fed funds rate at 1 percent or maybe going to 1.25, that we wouldn‘t have a very robust economy.

And that‘s exactly what‘s happening.  It‘s turning around right on schedule, just like I thought it was.  Already, one million jobs have been created.  And coming into the fall, the economy is going to be booming.  The question in Iraq is pretty much going to be settled.  We‘ll have a turnover on June the 30th to the Iraqis and then more and more, we‘ll be stepping into the background and that issue will fade.

And, frankly, the Democrats are not going to have anything to run on.  They‘re run saying this is the worst economy since Hoover.  They‘ve been wrong.  So was this God?  I felt that the lord was saying this to me, but maybe I was speaking out of my own mind.  What I really said was, it‘s going to be a very prosperous year for everybody and on the strength of that, I think Bush is going to win handily. 

BROWN:  All right, we‘ve got to take another break.  We‘re coming back with more from Pat Robertson.

ROBERTSON:  Right. 

BROWN:  And up next, we‘ll ask him about Bill Clinton‘s new book out in stores today. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  Coming up, Pat Robertson responds to Ron Reagan‘s comments about religion and politics.  Plus, John Podesta on Bill Clinton‘s new book.

HARDBALL back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  We‘re back with Pat Robertson.

And, Pat, let‘s take a quick listen to what Ron Reagan said when he eulogized his father.  I want to get your reaction on the other side. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RON REAGAN, SON OF PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN:  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. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN:  Pat what about do you make of those remarks? 

ROBERTSON:  I really can‘t fathom. 

I thought that ceremony was of the most magnificent.  I went to the National Cathedral for the main ceremony.  Then I listened to the other on television.  And it was just wonderful.  And then this remark was so out of keeping.  Reagan was a deeply religious man.  I had the privilege of interviewing up at the White House for my program just before that Iran Contra thing.

And we talked about Ollie North in Iran.  And we talked about taxes. 

And we talked about all these things.  And I got through.  I thanked him.  And he said, there‘s one more, one thing else.  And then we wanted to talk about God.  He wanted to talk about prayer.  This man was deeply religious.  And...

BROWN:  But he wasn‘t necessarily as public about it as some have been.  You didn‘t see him going to church every Sunday or talking about it as openly as President Bush does.  Fair?

ROBERTSON:  Well, he did and he didn‘t.  If you read his speeches, he spoke to a variety of groups.  And he always talked about God.  He always talked about prayer.  It wasn‘t just to the National Association of Evangelicals. 

The evil empire speech was to the NEA down in Orlando.  It was written by one of the Dolan brothers.  But, in any event, it was a great speech.  But there was something about him.  He didn‘t go to church because he didn‘t want to make a big uproar.  He realized, with the Secret Service and all that, he would disrupt the services.

But when he got out to private life, immediately, he started going back to church.  And he was a—there‘s one story I think is so wonderful about him.  He and Nancy were in bed in the private quarters of the White House about 10:00 one night.  And they were talking about the Book of Revelation.  And they knew Billy Graham was in town.  He said, let‘s call Billy, see if he can come settle it.

So they brought him over to the White House.  They‘re there in their pajamas.  And here comes Billy.  They said, well, what does this mean in Revelation?  So, to say he wasn‘t religious and to hear those statements by his son, I just—it just doesn‘t comport with the Reagan I knew.  Of course, he had a wide social circle of Hollywood performers and people in the entertainment business and all the rest of it in Hollywood.

BROWN:  Right. 

ROBERTSON:  But he was a deeply religious man. 

BROWN:  Let‘s shift gears.

ROBERTSON:  Fine.

BROWN:  As you know, former President Clinton‘s book is out.  It‘s getting an enormous amount of attention.  What‘s your take on the book and what Clinton has said so far about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky?  Do you think he‘s been contrite enough?

ROBERTSON:  Well, first of all, let me say, he is one of the most engaging human beings.  He‘s a delightful person.  He‘s very warm. 

And, you know, people are just drawn to him.  He‘s a magnetic person and one of the most brilliant speakers we have had in this country in decades.  I don‘t think he‘s up to Reagan‘s standards, but he‘s almost there. 

But he‘s living two lives.  He admits to Monica as long as you‘ve got the dress with the semen on it.  Until you‘ve got the evidence, he denies it.  He denied Gennifer Flowers on “60 Minutes.”  And yet he‘d had a longtime relation with her.  There are a whole host of women.

I know people who had been with him.  And one guy I know out in Hollywood—I think you‘ll find this interesting—he said, Mr.  President, you know, you‘ve just got to stop putting the make on all these women.  And Reagan—I mean, Clinton looked at him and he said, well, that‘s easy enough for you to say.  He‘s got this problem and he needs deep-seated spiritual and psychological help.  And has he come clean on it?  Absolutely not.

BROWN:  Well, let me—in the context of that, if he needs spiritual help, there are some people who would argue that Clinton understands religion and spirituality and probably communicating that more so than John Kerry.  Clinton won the evangelical vote in both ‘92 and ‘96.  Do you think he gets that much more than Kerry does?

ROBERTSON:  Of course he does.  He‘s a Southern Baptist.  He‘s Bubba from Arkansas, you know? 

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERTSON:  I mean, the Southerners really radiate to him because he‘s got the lines down pat.  And I think he deeply believes it. 

The thing about Clinton is, he‘s got this—he‘s talking about dual tracks.  He can tell you today that white is white and you‘ll believe it.  And tomorrow, he‘ll tell you that the white is black and he‘ll believe it and you could give him a lie-detector test and the needle wouldn‘t register one blip, because he would believe absolutely what he was telling you, because whatever going on in his life makes him sort of pathological that way. 

And in this book and others, he‘s sucking us into his pathologies.  And that‘s kind of the thing that I dislike.  But he‘s an enormously attractive human being.  And I want to say that, very nice guy.

BROWN:  Well, Pat Robertson, thanks so much for being with us.  Always interesting to hear your views.  It‘s good to have you.

ROBERTSON:  Thanks, Campbell.

BROWN:  And when we come back, I‘ll ask former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta about his Bill Clinton‘s new book. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Former President Clinton‘s memoir hits the bookstores today. 

I‘m joined by Clinton‘s former chief of staff, John Podesta.

John, good to have you here.

JOHN PODESTA, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF:  Nice to be here.

BROWN:  We were just talking with Pat Robertson about the role of religion in politics and how Clinton was so strongly able to make that connection with evangelicals.  A new “TIME” magazine poll found that only 7 percent of likely voters consider Senator Kerry a man of strong religious faith.

Can he turn that around make some kind of connection in the same way that Bill Clinton was able to do with religious voters? 

PODESTA:  Well, John Kerry comes from a different tradition.  He is a New England Catholic who I think doesn‘t have the—bring to bear the same kind of style that Bill Clinton brought to bear. 

But John Kerry is a man of strong moral conviction, strong religious conviction.  And I think he will let the public know that and show that.  And I think his whole life has been one of constantly asking the question what‘s right, what‘s wrong, what does my faith bring me to do in the public world?  And I think people will get a good sense of him by the time this campaign is over. 

BROWN:  Why hasn‘t he been able to do that yet, though?  He seems to be connecting on a secular level when he talks about policy and where he stands on various issues.  And he has strong Catholic roots, but he hasn‘t showed that or communicated it. 

PODESTA:  Right. 

Well, I‘m a—as a Northern Catholic, I guess, as you would say, it‘s not a style I think of Catholics to go out and talk about their religion that much in the public sphere.  But I think that, if you look back at the tradition, there are different voices than just Pat Robertson in the religious community.  Most of the country is religious, John Kerry, myself included. 

And I think that we look back to Martin Luther King, to Dorothy Day, to Rabbi Heschel, to people who have brought a progressive voice to tolerance, of social justice, etcetera.  And I think, if John Kerry gets out there and says that my values are rooted in that tradition and that is where I want to take this country, it‘s the American dream, it‘s the dream of the founding fathers to have a tolerant society, one that respects all religions and that builds up all people in this country, I think he will do very well. 

BROWN:  Let‘s talk about Clinton‘s book, because we can‘t get enough. 

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN:  In the book, Clinton does blame Gore for not running on Clinton‘s record, for making that an issue.  Is John Kerry going to be smarter about that and take that into account? 

PODESTA:  Well, I think we‘ve got a lot of evidence now.  And I think that John Kerry has shown and indicated that he wants to use that evidence to convince the people that, if you have economic policies that are focused on making sure that we have fiscal discipline in this country, that we are making the right investments in people, that we can really focus on the middle class and their needs, that you can do a lot better. 

And Bill Clinton proved that that set of economic policies caused people‘s real wages to grow and people to do a lot better and have more money in their pocket, to get to college, to take people and put them on health insurance, four million fewer people uninsured when Clinton left, four million more now that George Bush is in office. 

BROWN:  You know what struck me, though, about the book, the parts I have read—I have to confess, I haven‘t read the whole thing either—is that he doesn‘t talk that much about his record in the book.  He is sitting here saying that Gore didn‘t run on it, but he spends the majority of it talking about growing up and his relationship with Hillary and the aftermath of the impeachment.  Did that surprise you? 

(CROSSTALK)

PODESTA:  I think if you read through I think particularly the beginning of the book, it really roots him and connects him to the stories of his life, the people he cared about.  And I think, if you think about Bill Clinton‘s place and role in the Oval Office and in politics, he was a guy who really cared about people. 

And that is dramatic, if you read the early parts of the book of his many encounters with all these interesting people in Arkansas.  And it is what motivated him into politics and it‘s who, when he closed the door in the Oval Office, he was fighting for.  And I think you do read through that when you go through his presidency.  Those are the—he was thinking about them when he was trying to do his work. 

BROWN:  Given how much we are talking about it, do you think John Kerry would right now rather the subject not be on Bill Clinton and frankly the situation in Iraq, as we are eight days now from the handover and it‘s still a mess? 

PODESTA:  Right. 

Well, you know, I think that Senator Kerry has been out there.  He gave a series of strong speeches on national security and then on the economy, on science and stem cells.  And I think that he is being heard.  But, you know, until he gets to the convention, where I think people are going to really tune in, that‘s going to be his moment, when he selects his vice president. 

And I think we could make too much of the book.  After all, it‘s a book.  It‘s not what people are going to be voting on in November.  They are going to vote for the future.  And I think John Kerry is laying out some information to the American public right now that is going to be very useful to him as he goes forward. 

BROWN:  You mentioned the vice president, lots of attention on that right now.  And actually McCain today was introducing John Edwards at an event and said—I think we actually have the tape.  Let‘s roll it and I‘ll let you—get your reaction. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  We hope to reopen those negotiations so that we can act as quickly as possible. 

Senator Kennedy.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  Go ahead.  You‘re the co-sponsor.  Go ahead. 

MCCAIN:  Vice President Edwards. 

(LAUGHTER)

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D), NORTH CAROLINA:  I didn‘t think it would start that quick. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN:  Was that a little dig at the Bush administration there? 

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  Now that John McCain is now best friends once again with President Bush? 

PODESTA:  Now that he‘s best friends with George Bush after his trip to the Southwest.

I don‘t know.  I think he‘s probably—it‘s a friendly colleague dig from the Senate.  But John Edwards would be a strong candidate. 

BROWN:  Is he the front-runner right now, do you think? 

PODESTA:  I guess I think you would have to say he was the front-runner because of the way he performed in the primaries. 

He really connected with voters.  I think he really had a story about his beginning and how he connected to voters.  But there are a lot of other strong candidates, Dick Gephardt, Bill Richardson and others, who I think would be very strong vice presidential candidates. 

BROWN:  Nader, he announced his vice presidential choice.  Is he still a factor? 

PODESTA:  Oh, yes, I think he is a factor.  I think that—a negative factor, if I can be so bold. 

I think that he—even if he gets 1 percent nationally, he can—this is going to be a very closely fought election, a hard-fought election.  I think that the president knows how to use every instrument of the presidency.  And he‘s got a lot of political skill.  He is going to fight for this thing hard.  And so even 1 percent nationally could translate into it swinging one state or another.  And that would, I think, be tragic.  It happened in 2000.  And, from my perspective, it would be tragic if it happened in 2004. 

BROWN:  We are about—we‘re almost out of time.  But do you think he will stick with it throughout the entire race? 

PODESTA:  Nader?  Yes.  I don‘t think anybody can talk to him.  So I think, yes, I guess he is on his course and that is where he is going to stay. 

BROWN:  John Podesta, thanks.  It‘s great to see you, as always.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  And join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Our guests include Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz .

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

END   

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