updated 6/24/2004 11:06:14 AM ET 2004-06-24T15:06:14

Guests: Paul Wolfowitz, Jay Rockefeller, Saxby Chambliss, Christopher Hitchens, Harry Thomason

CAMPBELL BROWN, GUEST HOST:  Tonight, one week before the June 30 handover in Iraq, one of the architects of the war, deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz, on America‘s long-term military commitment to the country, on possible plans to send in more troops, on the prison abuse scandal and the relationship between al Qaeda and Iraq.

I‘m Campbell Brown.  This is HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Campbell Brown, in for Chris Matthews.  NBC News has learned that CENTCOM has asked the Army to prepare for the possibility of sending an additional 25,000 troops to Iraq, if the security situation there does not improve.

Paul Wolfowitz is the deputy secretary of defense, the No. 2 man at the Pentagon.  Secretary Wolfowitz, it‘s very nice to have you here.  Thank you for joining us.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ, DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY:  Good to be here.

BROWN:  Talk to me about where things stand at this moment.  The security situation on the ground, everything we‘re doing—where are we?

WOLFOWITZ:  Well, we‘re at a very critical stage of the five-step plan the president laid out a few weeks ago, where Iraq is going of to have a sovereign government and now a free sovereign government for the first time in 50 years.  And it‘s a big event.  The—I was out there just recently, spent eight hours, I think, with this new team, the new prime minister, the new president, the new national security team.  They‘re impressive people.  They‘re heroic people because their lives are on the line.  In fact, this killer, Zarqawi, who‘s been beheading hostages, has also sent a public message to Iyad Allawi that, You‘re No. 1 on our hit list.

BROWN:  Well, today...

WOLFOWITZ:  So we know they‘re...

BROWN:  ... the militants were threatening to kill him, and as they have assassinated others, other members of the new government.  How do you stop that?

WOLFOWITZ:  Well, ultimately, right now, it‘s mainly with American forces.  Ultimately, it‘s going to be mainly with Iraqi forces.  And the main subject of our discussions with Allawi was how we could accelerate and improve the plan to build the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police and a new institution which he‘s decided to create out of something that we started to call the Iraqi National Guard.

BROWN:  Can you confirm what we‘re reporting tonight, that CENTCOM has asked that 25,000 additional Army troops be essentially put on standby as a contingency plan?  Is that the case?  And do we need to send more troops over?

WOLFOWITZ:  Well, I can‘t confirm in detail, but CENTCOM definitely has plans to deal with whatever may confront us.  And we all understand that, particularly in the—basically, the next six months—I guess it‘s step four of the president‘s plan is elections at the end of this year, which is part of the U.N. resolution that was just passed, 1546.  We know the enemy, which is a mixture of al Qaeda-type terrorists like Zarqawi and the killers of Saddam‘s regime, who‘ve basically made an alliance with each other, are going to target this next six-month period to create as much chaos, as much mayhem as they can.  So if more forces are needed, more forces will be on standby to reinforce.  But the longer-term goal is to get Iraqis in the front lines.  There are thousands and thousands of Iraqis ready to fight and die for that country.

BROWN:  OK, I want to talk to you about—I want to get into Zarqawi in a minute, but I want to talk to you about the security situation on the ground.  And I want to...

WOLFOWITZ:  Can I come back for one minute to those Iraqis, though, because...

BROWN:  Yes.

WOLFOWITZ:  ... it struck me as we were coming home—we met a young Marine whose life was saved by five Iraqi civil defense corps members who rushed to rescue him when he was wounded.  We met the head of the new Iraqi intelligence service, who lost three sons who were executed by Saddam.  We met the prime minister, who was nearly axed to death in London by Saddam‘s killers.  We met the president, whose predecessor was blown up in a car bomb two months ago.  We met the deputy prime minister, who was nearly assassinated by killers up in northern Iraq.  I don‘t know whether they were al Qaeda or Saddam.

And the most moving thing of all, this really beautiful young Kurdish woman who was our interpreter up in Mosul and the general who was with me, who had known her before—turns out, her sister was assassinated because she was working for us.  And we asked her, Why do you still work—why do you continue?  And she said, Because my father said you mustn‘t retreat in the face of evil.

It is impressive, Campbell, how many Iraqis are standing up in the face of evil.  And that‘s why we‘re going to win.

BROWN:  Let me play a little bit of tape from your testimony yesterday on Capitol Hill.  And I‘m going to warn you now, it‘s self-serving.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - JUNE 22, 2004)

WOLFOWITZ:  Part of our problem is a lot of the press are afraid to travel very much, so they sit in Baghdad and they publish rumors.  And rumors are plentiful.  Our own media have some responsibility to try to present a balanced picture, instead of always gravitating for the sensational.  And the violent is admittedly sensational.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN:  I hear the point that you‘re making, but I was there for about 10 days over the last few weeks.  And in the 10 days that I was there, there was a car bomb that exploded about 200 yards from the entrance to my hotel, a car bomb exploded at the entrance to the Green Zone, where I walked every day to go to the briefings, and three of my colleagues were kidnapped in Fallujah.  How can—isn‘t it easy to sort of put the blame on the media?  I mean, those are the circumstances we‘re operating under.

WOLFOWITZ:  It‘s not blaming the media.  But here‘s an example.  We‘re down in Basra, and the British—I think he‘s a brigadier who‘s got immediate charge of that area, said, Look we‘re suffering serious problems right now because there was a pipeline break and the media is putting out that there isn‘t going to be any oil exports for the next three months, and this is causing civil unrest.  The pipeline was projected to be repaired in 10 days.  It was actually repaired in five days.  I don‘t think there was any media coverage of the fact that the pipeline repair took place so quickly.  So it‘s—the violence is terrible.  The violence should be covered.  I‘m not quarreling with that.  It is the biggest problem in the country.  I‘m not quarreling with that...

BROWN:  But you can‘t believe that the biggest problem, either, is the media and how they‘re covering the story, especially when...

WOLFOWITZ:  I didn‘t say the biggest problem‘s the media.  I said the media picture seems to be unbalanced.  And I‘m not the only one who‘s saying it.  I met sergeants up in northern Iraq who are dealing with one of the hard-core areas of Iraq, and they say, It‘s not what we see in the international media.  The story isn‘t being described accurately.  And I don‘t know if I‘m allowed to use the word balanced on this network, but I think balance is an important part of presenting the picture properly.  I‘m not media bashing.  It‘s a very, very difficult story to cover.  It‘s a dangerous place to be in.  There is a lot of bad news that should be reported.  But I think there‘s a lot of progress that‘s been made.

I think the stories of the heroism of these people—and frankly—I mean, I‘ll give you an example.  A couple of senators the other day, three of them, actually—Senator Lieberman, Senator Santorum, Senator Sessions -- had a press conference to show the real torture tapes from Abu Ghraib, the kind of horrible things that were done under Saddam, and there‘s been zero coverage of that in the media.  Now, tell me that‘s not relevant to the current situation?

BROWN:  Let me take it away from the insurgency or the violence, which we are covering, certainly, enormously.

WOLFOWITZ:  By the way, it‘s not insurgency.  An insurgency implies something that rose up afterwards.  This is the same enemy that butchered Iraqis for 35 years, that fought us up until the fall of Baghdad and continues to fight afterwards.  It was led by Saddam Hussein up until his capture in December.  It‘s been led, in part, by his No. 2 or 3, Izzat Ibrahim al Douri, since then.  It‘s been led by Zarqawi, who was a terrorist working for bin Laden in Afghanistan, who fled to Iraq in 2002.  It‘s not an insurgency, in the sense of an uprising.  It is a continuation of the war by people who never quit.

BROWN:  But there are people there, the average Iraqis, many of whom I spoke with, who are not happy about the direction things are going and are...

WOLFOWITZ:  Would you be happy if car bombs are going off every day? 

Of course, they‘re not.

BROWN:  Well, you know what their concerns are?  And I‘ll go through...

WOLFOWITZ:  Yes.

BROWN:  I went through some of the Department of Defense documents.  It‘s quality-of-life issues that seem to be the primary concern.  And I‘ll give you one example.  According to a State Department study, the No. 1 fear in Baghdad is crime.  And the murder rate there, 70 murders per 100,000 people each year.  That‘s higher than the District of Colombia, which is 43.  The Iraqi police force, according to DoD documents, your goal is to have about 90,000 police trained.  And I know that‘s ongoing right now, but so far, only 5,800, a little more than 5,800 have received the training to do their jobs.  So how...

WOLFOWITZ:  Campbell, this so-called insurgency—people aren‘t killing Americans and blowing people up because there‘s crime in Baghdad.  It‘s the other way around.  There is crime in Baghdad because people are butchering police because they don‘t want to see a free Iraq emerge.  So we are trying to do reconstruction in the middle of a war.  The only program, the only agenda the enemy has is to block that progress.  And I‘ll tell you, that—it‘s both our greatest weakness, is these are very effective killers and they‘ve been terrorizing people for a long time, so people are afraid.  On the other hand, they have nothing positive to offer, whereas we‘ve rebuilt schools, we‘ve rebuilt hospitals, we are rebuilding the police.  And I‘m absolutely certain now that the equipment is starting to flow in—we have a really first class American general running the whole equipping and training program for Iraqi security forces—there are going to be much, much better police in Baghdad in six months.  But it doesn‘t happen overnight.

BROWN:  You‘re right.  It doesn‘t...

WOLFOWITZ:  Remember when the Marshall plan was initiated?  That was 1948.  It was to...

BROWN:  I wasn‘t born yet.

WOLFOWITZ:  Well, OK, but you‘ve read the history books.  It was three years after the end of World War II when we had concluded things were so bad in Germany that we have to do a major bailout.  That‘s how difficult it was after World War II.  And the Nazis basically did stop fighting on VE Day.  The killers that worked for Saddam did not stop fighting.

BROWN:  We‘ve got about a minute before we have to take a break.  I

also want to ask you—here‘s another thing I found rummaging through your

Pentagon papers.  Money appropriated by Congress, the full amount—and I

think we have a graphic here that‘ll demonstrate it—of that, only about

·         of the $18 billion, according to what the DoD documents say, only $333 million has been spent?  You‘ve got something like $4 billion obligated.  But why—why aren‘t we spending the money?

WOLFOWITZ:  Because we have a system of checks and balances that requires that this stuff go through pretty elaborate competitive bidding processes.  And it—and it‘s now—you‘re going to suddenly see...

BROWN:  There‘s got to be a way to cut through the red tape, though, given that—given the needs.

WOLFOWITZ:  You deal with our red tape.  We‘re cutting through it, and a lot of—it‘s flowing by the billions now.  If you notice the difference between spent and obligated, that obligated money is going to be spent in the next few months.  And if we‘re not careful, people will start saying that we‘re spending imprudently.  This is a three-year—this was supposed to be for three years.  They‘ll complain that, Gee, it was for three years, and it‘s all gone after 12 months.

But something else that‘s missing in this picture.  That‘s not the only money around.  There‘s been $20 billion of Iraqi money -- $20 billion -- that‘s almost never mentioned.  Ten billion of it was leftover oil-for-food money.  Ten billion is brand-new oil revenues.  There‘s another $8 billion that‘s projected, if the killers don‘t destroy the pipelines, by the end of this year.  That will be $28 billion of Iraqi money.  It‘s paid for repairing, I think it‘s 200,000 schools and 2,200 hospitals.  It‘s paid for 350,000 teachers, 100,000 doctors.  Health care expenditures in Iraq are up 30 times over what they were under Saddam.  And that‘s not with U.S.  taxpayer money, that‘s with Iraqi money.  So there is a lot happening.

I want that supplemental money to move faster, but people look at it as though it‘s the only thing.  It isn‘t the only thing.

BROWN:  We got to take a quick break.  We‘ll be back in just a moment.  Coming up, I‘ll ask Paul Wolfowitz about the relationship between al Qaeda and Iraq and why the Bush administration and the 9/11 commission don‘t seem to agree on what that relationship is.  And later: Who‘s to blame for the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib?  More with Paul Wolfowitz in a moment.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  I‘m back with deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz.  Let‘s switch to post-9/11, the day after 9/11, according to Bob Woodward‘s book—and you‘ve talked about being an early proponent of the war in Iraq.  Do you still feel that way, that that should have been the focus immediately after 9/11?

WOLFOWITZ:  I wasn‘t sure it should be the focus immediately, but I was sure it should be part of the campaign.  And you know, the president laid that out, I think, correctly within a few weeks, that our enemy wasn‘t just Usama bin Laden or even just al Qaeda, it was the whole network of global terrorism and the states that support it, and that we had to put an end to thought networks and had to put an end to state support for terrorism.  And clearly in the latter category, Iraq was pretty much No. 1 on the list, for a number of reasons.

BROWN:  The reasons for war did become confusing to a lot of people, especially what we know now.  And you had a quote that was in a profile that “Vanity Fair” magazine did for you, where you said, “For bureaucratic reasons, we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on.”  Explain that.

WOLFOWITZ:  Well, think about it this way.  The president went to the United Nations early on—by the way, we‘ve been trying to work the U.N.  with considerable success most often, from the beginning—went to the United Nations in September of 2002.  He laid out a whole agenda of concerns and issues we had with Iraq pretty much under three categories: weapons of mass destruction, support for terrorism, and terrorizing, oppressing his own people.  The U.N. kind of said, Wait, wait.  That‘s too much to deal with.  Let‘s get him to clean up his act on weapons of mass destruction, and we can implicitly—the idea was we‘ll work these other issues by means less than the use of major force.  You‘d have to say that was the implicit bargain.

But part of it was to say, OK, this guy‘s had how many, 16, 17 resolutions?  This is his last and final chance to come clean.  He has to fully disclose everything he‘s got, and he‘s got to fully cooperate with the inspectors.  And people seem to have forgotten that that was the bar he had to clear.  It wasn‘t for us to prove that he had massive stockpiles or that he had weapons ready to go.  He had to finally come clean with an inspection regime that he‘d been defying for 12 years.  And even David Kay, who gets advertised for the fact that our intelligence was off—David Kay says very clearly Saddam was in violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441.  He was lying about what he had.  He was deceiving inspectors.  He was obstructing the implementation of his last and final chance to come clean.

BROWN:  All that‘s true, but we didn‘t find any weapons of mass destruction.

WOLFOWITZ:  Campbell, there is no doubt that this man had the capacity to build those things and to recreate those programs the minute he was out from under sanctions.

BROWN:  But that‘s not what the administration told us.  We were...

WOLFOWITZ:  Excuse me.  That‘s not—that‘s not what the Clinton administration told us.  It‘s not what the Bush administration told us.  It‘s not what the American intelligence community told us.  It‘s not what any international intelligence community told us.  Everyone believed that his programs were more active than they appeared to be.  But recognize he had a lot of time to move stuff, a lot of time to hide stuff.  There was some systemic looting that went on at the time of the fall of Baghdad, and there are a lot of people who know stuff who still aren‘t talking to us.  So we still don‘t know the whole picture.  But Campbell, we do know this man had weapons, had used weapons, knows how to build weapons, never gave up on the idea that he would cheat and defy U.N. inspections, and it‘s very clear where he was going.  But that wasn‘t the only concern we had.

BROWN:  Well, let‘s go into the other concern, the connection between al Qaeda and Saddam, whether or not they were collaborating.  The 9/11...

WOLFOWITZ:  The connection between Saddam and terrorism.  It‘s more than just al Qaeda, although it includes al Qaeda.

BROWN:  But al Qaeda was mentioned numerous times by the administration...

WOLFOWITZ:  That‘s right.

BROWN:  ... as being in collaboration with Saddam Hussein.  We‘ve heard from the 9/11 commission.  They say it‘s not the case.  Do you still...

WOLFOWITZ:  Wrong.  Wrong.  Excuse me.  Excuse me.

BROWN:  “Collaboration” was their word.

WOLFOWITZ:  Excuse me.  What—I hear a lot of stuff about how the 9/11 commission disagrees with the administration.  Seems to me the 9/11 commission disagrees with “The New York Times” presentation of the 9/11 commission.  They disagree with Richard Clarke, who says there‘s not a shred of evidence between—connecting Iraq and al Qaeda.

BROWN:  Do you still today think there is a strong connection between Saddam and al Qaeda?

WOLFOWITZ:  There are many connections, and I don‘t know how strong...

BROWN:  Before the war, not—not what‘s happening now.

WOLFOWITZ:  Absolutely.  Let‘s take—this is not me.  This is an indictment in southern district court of New York under the Clinton administration in 1998 that asserted, based on a man that Richard Clarke says was the key witness to understanding al Qaeda—says that in 1992, ‘93, Saddam and al Qaeda made an agreement not to attack one another and to provide mutual support.  I mean, when people say...

BROWN:  Is that what Vice President Cheney means when he says long-established ties between...

WOLFOWITZ:  Well, it‘s one of the things he means.  I was told in Iraq by very senior Iraqis that people there are convinced that the operation was run for a long time out of Sudan, through the Iraqi embassy in Sudan, which was the largest Iraqi intelligence station abroad.

BROWN:  But what‘s the most compelling evidence of a connection?

WOLFOWITZ:  There are many things.  There are meetings between senior Iraqi intelligence officials and bin Laden.  This was not meetings between...

BROWN:  Do you still think that...

WOLFOWITZ:  ... Iraqi officials and some humanitarian organization to try to figure out how to fund hospitals.  There‘s one and only one purpose you meet with al Qaeda, and that‘s to arrange for terrorism.  There is the fact that Saddam, up until his fall, was harboring the only fugitive from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.  And for some reason, for 10 years, particularly in the last administration, there was no effort to get this guy rendered.  I don‘t know why not.  But those are pretty important connections.

BROWN:  Real quick.  We‘re almost out of time.  But do you believe that Mohammed Atta—the meeting between hijacker Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi official took place in Prague, as has been mentioned?

WOLFOWITZ:  Have I stopped—no.  I have—I don‘t—I have never believed it.  I believe it‘s an open issue.  I don‘t think it‘s ever been decided one way or the other.  But look...

BROWN:  Even though the CIA and FBI say he was in Florida at the time.

WOLFOWITZ:  No, they don‘t.  They say his cell—no, they don‘t.  They say his cell phone was in use in that particular window.  Everyone seems to agree that he made an unusual trip to Prague on his way to the United States in June of 2000.  Look, the—we could argue that one to the end of kingdom come, but the issue isn‘t whether Saddam was intimately involved in planning 9/11.  It seems to me that‘s a little bit like saying if you breed Rottweilers but you don‘t specifically tell them to attack your neighbor, you‘re not responsible when they attack your neighbor.  You do not consort with Usama bin Laden and al Qaeda for any purpose other than improving their capacity to attack the United States.

BROWN:  We got to take a quick break.  When we come back, more with deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz on the role of Ahmad Chalabi.  Why did the Pentagon‘s biggest ally fall out of favor?

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  I‘m back with deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz.  I want to talk about Ahmad Chalabi.  You said yesterday in your testimony on the Hill that there‘s quite a bit of street legend out there that somehow he is the favorite of the Pentagon.  Do you feel like he has betrayed you, though?  You also say that he said some things lately that—or his recent behavior has been puzzling to you.  What did you mean by that?

WOLFOWITZ:  Well, there‘s an issue which I can‘t really talk about, though it‘s fairly well known, about possible compromises of intelligence.  And that‘s clearly something we take very seriously and need to get to the bottom of.  But look, we‘ve been trying to say all along, and somehow people don‘t want to listen, we don‘t have favorites.  We want to see a government that‘s supported by the Iraqi people and, eventually, an elected government.  And now there is a government that is the government of Iraq, seems to enjoy some broad support, has some very impressive figures in it, including some that I‘ve worked with over a long period of time, including the deputy prime minister, whom I‘ve known for more than 10 years, the prime minister, whom I‘ve had great respect for.

BROWN:  We‘re almost out of time, so can I clarify the thing that you can‘t talk about because I can?  Chalabi is being investigated for allegedly passing classified information to the Iranians.  And he went on “Meet the Press” and said, George Tenet, the director of the CIA, is setting me up.  It‘s all his fault.  Who do you believe about this, Chalabi or Tenet?

WOLFOWITZ:  Well, you know, there‘s so much bad blood between the two.  I think it would be good if somebody with real objectivity could investigate it.

BROWN:  A mediator?

(LAUGHTER)

WOLFOWITZ:  I don‘t know how...

BROWN:  Can I quote you on that?

WOLFOWITZ:  No.

BROWN:  We have to go.  It was a delight to see you, and thank you very much.

WOLFOWITZ:  Thank you.

BROWN:  Deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz.

Up next, Senator Saxby Chambliss and Senator Jay Rockefeller will be here, one week off the transfer of power in Iraq.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, Senator Jay Rockefeller and Senator Saxby Chambliss on the future of Iraq one week before the transfer of power; plus, director Harry Thomason and “Vanity Fair”‘s Christopher Hitchens on the new political movies and the impact they‘ll have on this year‘s election.  

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 joined right now by Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.  He‘s a Democrat and is the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.  Also with us, Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Republican from Georgia and a member of the Armed Services Committee. 

Good evening to you both. 

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA:  Good evening, Campbell. 

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS ®, GEORGIA:  Good evening, Campbell. 

BROWN:  Let me ask both of you this question. 

We just spoke with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.  It appears that the Pentagon has put about 25,000 additional Army troops essentially on stand by at CENTCOM‘s request in the event that the security situation in Iraq worsens.  Is that a good idea?  Do we need to be sending more troops? 

ROCKEFELLER:  From my point of view, that‘s a sound idea, particularly in view of the fact that so many of our Guard and Reserve have been stretched so much farther than they were told they were going to be able to serve.  So I think it‘s wise, because we‘re going into a very dangerous period, which is going to stay dangerous, because, from my point of view, the administration has made a series of miscalculations and we‘re coming up against a very, very tough couple of years. 

BROWN:  And, Senator Chambliss?

CHAMBLISS:  Campbell, you know, the president several weeks ago laid out his five-point program relative to Iraq.  And the centerpiece of that was the transfer of power on June the 30th.

But another part of it was continuing to provide security for the people of Iraq.  And it‘s incumbent upon us to do that.  The closer we move to the transfer of power on June 30, the closer we move to the elections by the Iraqi people of their own governing authority, the more likely we are to have uprisings and activity on the part of the bad guys.

So it may be necessary to put more troops in.  I would hope we don‘t, but if we do, I think it‘s smart to be ready to do that. 

BROWN:  Senator Chambliss, let me ask you to follow up on two other things.  As Secretary Wolfowitz said, that he believes the issue of weapons of mass destruction, whether or not Saddam had a stockpile of them, is still unresolved, that they could have been moved around or left the country, and also he is still insisting that there are long-term ties between Saddam and al Qaeda.  Do you agree? 

CHAMBLISS:  I agree on both of those.

With respect to al Qaeda, we pretty well know we‘ve got Zarqawi over there beheading people on a regular basis now.  He is al Qaeda.  He is a terrorist.  He‘s been located in Iraq for a long period of time.  What his ties were with Saddam, I don‘t know that we‘ll ever know exactly what exactly the answer to that is, but certainly they are there. 

BROWN:  Senator Rockefeller, let me get your thoughts on that because certainly foreign operators, foreign terrorists have moved into Iraq since the war, but he‘s talking about before the war. 

ROCKEFELLER:  I could not disagree—I very much respect Saxby Chambliss, but I could not disagree more with what he is saying and also what the president and particularly Vice President Cheney is—insists on keep saying.  And that is that there was—there‘s a big tie between al Qaeda before the war and Iraq. 

That is not true.  He still brings up the name of Mohamed Atta.  And he was one—as you know, one of the pilots.  There is no evidence whatsoever that he was meeting with Iraqi agents in Iraq—in Prague.  It‘s just a—it‘s sort of the—what I would call neoconservative mind-fix that they can‘t get rid of.  It‘s a little bit like weapons of mass destruction don‘t make any difference.  That‘s the reason we went to war. 

We were told they were there.  We believed they were there.  Our intelligence said they were there.  They weren‘t there.  They aren‘t there and they‘re not going to be there. 

BROWN:  Let me ask you both a question about more generally where things stand.  We are seven days away now from the handover.  And Secretary Wolfowitz was obviously trying very hard to put a positive spin on the situation there now, to be optimistic about it.

But there are death threats against the new prime minister, as well as other members of the government.  How optimistic are you both?

Senator Chambliss, let‘s begin with you.

CHAMBLISS:  Yes, I‘m very optimistic, Campbell.

The fact that you have got these death threats being issued to the new leaders that are emerging in Iraq shows very clearly that we‘re winning this war.  They don‘t want us to win.  They don‘t want new leadership to take over.  They want to dominate.  And I think the fact that there‘s been somewhat of an increase from a leadership perspective in the violence that‘s taking place over there is a strong indication that they know we are winning this.

And, you know, Jay says we didn‘t find weapons of mass destruction.  Well, the fact of the matter is, we have.  To the extent we thought they were there, no, we haven‘t.  But, you know, again, you look at the connections with al Qaeda.  They certainly were there.  They are there.  Again, was that why we went to war?  No.

BROWN:  The 9/11 Commission though—well, I have to differ with you there.  The Bush administration made it very clear that those were the two primary reasons, weapons of mass destruction and a link between terrorism and Saddam Hussein. 

CHAMBLISS:  Well, everybody in the world in the intelligence community had been reporting that weapons of mass destruction were there.  Our intelligence community reported to our president they were there. 

We removed the ability of a tyrant and a man who was capable and who wanted to use those weapons of mass destruction that we thought were there to kill and harm Americans.  That was the reason, Campbell.  And we did the right thing by doing that. 

ROCKEFELLER:  And, Campbell, I would say to that, that yes, indeed, we removed Saddam Hussein and put him in prison, and, yes, we‘re looking for Osama bin Laden.  We haven‘t found him. 

I fail to understand how much better Iraq is off and how much better our people are both here in this country and our soldiers and reservists and Guards people over in Iraq because we have Saddam Hussein.  Yes, we took him.  But to me, the situation is deteriorating and the administration is saying it‘s going to be much worse for the next six months.  And they are quite right about that.

But I think it‘s because they‘ve made a series of bad decisions, even though they‘ve tried to adjust as they went along.  They didn‘t know the territory.  They just simply didn‘t know the territory. 

BROWN:  We are almost all of time.  And since I have you both, I want to ask you a political question, if you don‘t mind.

Senator Chambliss, John Kerry came to Washington yesterday to cast a Senate vote that never happened.  He‘s missed over 80 percent of the votes because of his very intense campaign schedule.  And today, Governor Romney said he should resign because of that.  Do you agree? 

CHAMBLISS:  Well, that‘s a personal decision Senator Kerry will have to make.  He‘s been elected by the people of Massachusetts to serve them here in Washington.  He‘s not here.  Whether it‘s the right thing for him to do for him to resign is simply up to him and something that he has to answer to them about. 

BROWN:  Senator Rockefeller, are you concerned at all about the number of votes he‘s missing? 

ROCKEFELLER:  No, I‘m not, because Saxby Chambliss, who I greatly like and respect, knows as well as I do that very few people have run from the United States Senate, because only two or three presidents have ever been elected from the United States Senate.

But if you do run for president from the United States Senate, you‘re going to miss a whole lot of votes, because, if you don‘t, you‘re not complaining and you‘re not explaining your views to the American people.  So, yesterday, John Kerry came here to make a vote on a veterans bill that he cared very much about and the Republicans refused to let him vote on it.  And I thought he handled himself with great dignity and missed a lot of fund-raising events because of it.  So be it. 

BROWN:  Well, we want to thank you both for being with us, Senator Jay Rockefeller and Senator Saxby Chambliss. 

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  Thanks for being with us.

ROCKEFELLER:  Thank you. 

BROWN:  And up next, Michael Moore‘s new film, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” debuts here in Washington. 

This is HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  Coming up, Michael Moore‘s controversial new film, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” opens here in Washington.  We‘ll take you to the premiere when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

This is premiere night here in Washington for Michael Moore‘s latest film, “Fahrenheit 9/11.” 

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster is on the red carpet and brings us the latest from there—David. 

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC ELECTION CORRESPONDENT:  Campbell, we‘re here at the Uptown Theater in the Cleveland Park neighborhood of Washington, D.C., for what Michael Moore has described as the official U.S. premiere of “Fahrenheit 9/11.” 

This is his vicious attack on both the Bush administration and the war in Iraq.  Michael Moore‘s guest list tonight includes a hodgepodge of the Washington Democratic establishment, including Senators Tom Daschle, Barbara Boxer, Richard Durbin, Congressman John Conyers, Charlie Rangel, Democratic National Committee man Terry McAuliffe.  Even the mayor of Washington, Anthony Williams, has been invited by Michael Moore to watch this screening tonight. 

“Fahrenheit 9/11” makes several controversial claims, first of all, that the Bush administration jeopardized national security in order to satisfy what Moore describes as the Bush administration cronies in Saudi Arabia.  The film also alleges that the White House helped expedite Osama bin Laden‘s family out of the United States shortly after 9/11 and that the administration manipulated terror alerts in order to build support for the war in Iraq.

There are several problems with these claims.  Most recently, for example, the 9/11 Commission found that there was nothing wrong with the White House moving Osama bin Laden‘s family out of the United States, because they were interviewed and found not to have any credible information about the terrorist attacks. 

Furthermore, even some Democrats feel that some of the charges may be a bit over the top, including the allegation by Michael Moore in this film that Iraq never threatened any Americans.  A lot of people still remember the 1991 invasion of Kuwait, where some Americans were taken hostage.  Furthermore, Saddam Hussein himself boasted about paying for suicide bombers in Jerusalem.

But this was not a night when the Democrats are complaining.  They believe that this film will help John Kerry, even though John Kerry is not mentioned in this film.  Furthermore, even if there‘s some concern about the way this film is cut together, some of the pictures that are used, a lot of people find, at least on the Democratic side, that it‘s a miracle this film is even being shown because Disney after all tried to block its release. 

Miramax was then forced to try to find another distributor.  They did.  And so this is a night for celebration, both for Michael Moore and his Democratic supporters.  The party tonight for Michael Moore, Campbell, begins here in Washington. 

BROWN:  Thanks, David. 

Christopher Hitchens is a contributing editor to “Vanity Fair” magazine and a critic of Michael Moore‘s film.  Harry Thomason is a longtime friend of President Clinton‘s and the director of “The Hunting of the President: The 10-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill Clinton.”

And we‘re going to talk in a minute about Moore‘s film. 

But, Harry, since you‘re here, let me first of all welcome—thanks for joining us.

HARRY THOMASON, CO-DIRECTOR, “THE HUNTING OF THE PRESIDENT”:  Well, thank you, Campbell.

BROWN:  But tell me—your film looks at the investigation of former President Clinton, focusing mostly on Whitewater.  Give us a sense for what it‘s about. 

THOMASON:  Yes. 

Our film is more of a historical document, and it‘s just about how certain forces came together and then—and one wrong article about Whitewater started a whole bunch of things that ended up eight years later in the impeachment of a president.  And we just follow what happened and how they did it. 

BROWN:  But you call it a historical document.  And having seen it, it is fairly one-sided. 

THOMASON:  Well, you know it‘s fairly one-sided because we asked 137 people that had an ax to grind with Clinton on the right to talk to us and only Jerry Falwell would talk to us. 

Now, I must say, we didn‘t ask Christopher Hitchens.  I‘m sure Christopher would have talked. 

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  But do you feel like, being a close friend of Clinton‘s, that you have full credibility, that people are going to take a film seriously? 

THOMASON:  No, I feel like being a close friend of Clinton‘s, I have almost no credibility, but we tried to do some things to...

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN:  That was an honest answer. 

THOMASON:  I mean, to counter that is that I told Clinton when I started this film, I‘m never going to talk to you about this film.  You‘ll have to see it at the premiere.  If I ignore your transgressions, we have absolutely no validity.  And then we tried to do a narrative where we didn‘t introduce any bias into the project.  But even that won‘t help. I‘ll still have no credibility.  And I‘m aware of that.  But, still, it‘s a good film. 

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, “VANITY FAIR”:  And credibility is overrated, let us both agree. 

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN:  OK.

(CROSSTALK)

THOMASON:  Especially in this town.

HITCHENS:  It‘s often granted to you by people whose opinion you don‘t care about. 

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  Let‘s get your opinion, though.  Is the Moore film, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” is that a historical document? 

HITCHENS:  You know, scientists have a phrase for theories that are totally useless.  It‘s often, a bad theory or a bad explanation can be useful in finding the right one.  Of something that is no good at all, they say, it‘s not even wrong. 

“Fahrenheit 9/11” isn‘t even propaganda.  It‘s based on the fantasy that everything about this country‘s confrontation with Islamic jihad can be deduced from Bush family business relationships.  It‘s useless.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  Give us an example from the film.  Give us an example from the film. 

HITCHENS:  Well, the theory of the film is that, if you understand that some bin Laden people knew some Bush partners, you understand why Bush let bin Laden and the Taliban escape from Afghanistan. 

I mean, this is—it‘s as puerile as that.  It makes the further claim—by the way, I‘ve known Moore to be more puerile.  I debated him at the Telluride Film Festival when—on the day he released the “Bowling For Columbine” turkey.  And he said there, he thought Osama bin Laden was innocent.  That was one year after 9/11. 

In this film, he says Saddam Hussein was never any problem, never threatened anybody, never hurt a fly flat out on the film which people are saying is documentary.  That‘s not documentary.  It‘s not even propaganda.  Mr. Thomason and I, as you pointed out, disagree.  I know the authors on whom this book is based, Mr. Lyons and Mr. Conason.  I how to disagree with them.  I know why we differ.  It‘s not the same with Moore. 

BROWN:  Well, how would you compare the two?  One of them is propaganda? 

(CROSSTALK)

HITCHENS:  One of them is, as he said, a tendentious account of the Clinton years that lacks credibility, but is an attempt to grapple with all anti-Clinton witnesses except myself, which I would happily have done had I been asked. 

Michael Moore‘s is a rant through a megaphone that says that the United States is the rogue state and Afghanistan and Iraq are the peaceful ones that we attacked.  That‘s what we are talking about. 

BROWN:  Well, let me ask both of you a philosophical question.  Does Moore have the right to make this film and market it as a documentary? 

HITCHENS:  Well, could I just say—I‘m sorry.  I know it‘s Mr.

Thomason‘s turn.

But, in my article on Slate about this, I say very specifically that the right-wing hack groups that are saying try and get your local cinema not to show this should shut right up.  That‘s nonsense.  It‘s stupid. 

BROWN:  Well, and it brings enormous attention to it. 

(CROSSTALK)

HITCHENS:  And his right—I don‘t have the right to comment on whether it‘s his right.  He‘s a citizen. 

THOMASON:  And here‘s why he has the right, because the right wing uses talk radio in the same way that Michael uses this film, which I haven‘t seen.  And so Christopher is right.  The right wing should shut up, because they take one part of the media and use it exactly how Michael Moore is using the film. 

(CROSSTALK)

HITCHENS:  I‘m not sure that‘s precisely equivalent, because, you see, the Democratic intelligentsia does not say about Rush Limbaugh, hey—or Limbaugh, however you pronounce it—I‘ve never heard the guy, actually—but don‘t say, hey, what wonderful, witty, auteuristic, aesthetic stuff this is. 

The Democratic intelligentsia at the moment, quite a number of them are promoting a film that says that the president of the United States is the villain and the rogue and the terrorist and bin Laden and Saddam Hussein are not really.  Now, if Mr. Gore‘s people and Mr. Kerry‘s people want to say this, they better get ready to take responsibility for it.  At the moment, when you ask them this, they say, oh, well, it‘s only Mike‘s op-ed.  No, no.  Mike says it‘s not an op-ed.  He said on Stephanopoulos it is the truth. 

BROWN:  Well, you know, it‘s interesting that he doesn‘t mention...

HITCHENS:  In other words, they shouldn‘t be silly or irresponsible about it. 

BROWN:  Did you think it was interesting that he doesn‘t mention Kerry in the film?  You can make all these criticisms and not offer a solution or say, OK—clearly, it‘s a political statement being made in an election year and yet there‘s no, rah, rah, vote for John Kerry in this movie. 

HITCHENS:  Well, anyway, Michael Moore is a well known, until recently, Ralph Nader and, more recently, Wesley Clark supporter.  He‘s not obliged to do that.  He‘s only supposed to say that the problem in the world is Bush.  I think he leaves people who are as dumb as that to follow the same logic.  You don‘t have to say Kerry.

BROWN:  Do you think—I guess what I was trying to get at before is that it‘s still—of course, he has the right to make it, but is it a political statement in an election year that‘s being made via movies—and some might argue that your film is the same—that are masquerading as documentaries and leading the public to think, hey, this is an account of what actually happened? 

THOMASON:  Again, I have not seen Michael Moore‘s film.  I know all documentary filmmakers owe him a debt, because he popularized the form.

But I think he has the right to do whatever he wants, and—just as the right wing has the right to write books that incite the public on the other side, and so I don‘t—I think both sides have the right to do what they‘d like to do. 

BROWN:  We have got to take a quick break.  We‘ll have more in a minute with Harry Thomason and Christopher Hitchens on Michael Moore‘s controversial new film.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  We‘re back for more with Harry Thomason and Christopher Hitchens.

And, Christopher, I want to ask you, when I saw the film, the crowd was enormously enthusiastic, presumably, when you saw it as well.  What has he tapped into?

HITCHENS:  Yes, there was a lot of easy applause with the one—the audience I was in.  It was largely made up of Al Franken clones, I must say. 

But, look, there was huge enthusiasm for the last film I came to argue about on this show with your friend Chris Matthews—mine, too—“The Passion,” which is a film made by the extreme right in a demagogic manner, in my view.

And I have a question to ask Mr. Moore which I have also asked Mr.  Gibson.  Who‘s distributing your film in the Middle East?  And have you thought at all about what its impact is going to be?  Gibson I know knew that there would be a tremendous anti-Semitic uptick in the Middle East.  That‘s what he was pitching for.  And, as he knows, it‘s the only film to show a prophetic figure that has ever been allowed to be shown in the Muslim world.  He‘s cashing in on that.  Good luck to him.  Let him bank the money he gets from pumping that out.

Does Mr. Moore have any plans for the money he‘s going to make and the distribution he‘s going to use for this movie when it‘s played in the Arab world as a proof that America is a conspiratorial country that wants to murder Muslim women and children?  I wish him joy of it, is what I‘m trying to tell you.

BROWN:  Well, it‘s a good question to ask him. 

Let me ask you...

(CROSSTALK)

HITCHENS:  And I hope I‘m not the only one who asks, if I may say so. 

BROWN:  Let me ask you both this.  And this could apply to either of those films.  Do they reach—and Michael Moore actually brought this point up at the film that I saw, the opening I saw, was that, does this film reach beyond the choir, preaching to the choir, as you said, the Al Franken crowd, or does it find a mainstream American audience in the way “The Passion” did, or was “The Passion” not a mainstream American...

THOMASON:  I would be surprised if Michael‘s film or the little film we did reached beyond the choir, really. 

Now, you hope about 6 percent that I see Chris and his cohorts all talking about that you need to get to, that maybe a couple of percent will watch.  But I really doubt it.  And, remember, all the people that see both of these films in their entire runs in the U.S. will be less than listen to one hour of talk radio. 

HITCHENS:  In large parts of Europe and I predict, and I am already sure, in large part of the Middle East, it already is mainstream.  It‘s considered very chic at the middle-class level and very obvious at the proletarian level that America is the problem country. 

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  But here?

HITCHENS:  That‘s the crowd he‘s bidding for.  He wants to be a crowd-pleaser.  He‘ll get the MoveOn.org crowd here and probably some more.

BROWN:  Even with all of the attention and the publicity that this film is getting? 

HITCHENS:  Well, especially since it keeps being retailed by prejudiced media as a must-see.  People go to the must-see, don‘t they?  Well, I don‘t.  You don‘t.  He doesn‘t.  But you know what I mean. 

BROWN:  What do you think?  Is your film—you‘re playing to more of a niche audience.  But with the combination of the former president‘s book coming out this week and the attention he‘s getting, is it helping you? 

THOMASON:  Well, I believe a rising tide lifts all boats.  And so I think we may have some effect out of that.  But I wish we had been out seven or eight months ago, when we weren‘t facing Michael Moore. 

HITCHENS:  Sounds more like trickle down than rising tide to me.

BROWN:  Real quick—we‘re almost out of time—but how—how—given how the Bush administration is reacting to the 9/11 film, which is, you know, banning their staffs from going to see it or anybody...

HITCHENS:  What? 

BROWN:  I know.  Is it the right approach? 

HITCHENS:  I didn‘t know that. 

But, if so, then it would be something to add to my long list of misgivings about the Bush administration. 

THOMASON:  And that will jump their grosses up. 

HITCHENS:  You can‘t fight—I say in my piece, you can‘t fight one kind of stupidity and cowardice with another.  It‘s silly to try. 

BROWN:  All right, we‘ve got to go.  I want to thank you both for joining us, Harry Thomason and Christopher Hitchens.

THOMASON:  Thank you. 

BROWN:  And before we sign off, we do want to congratulate our friends at our Web site, MSNBC.com.  They have been named best journalism site by the National Press Club.  Way to go, guys. 

Joining us—or join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more

HARDBALL. 

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

END   

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