updated 6/25/2004 1:56:02 PM ET 2004-06-25T17:56:02

Guests: Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, Joseph Biden, Steve Elmendorf, Matthew Dowd

CAMPBELL BROWN, GUEST HOST:  Six days before the handover, the worst bombing attacks in Iraq since August 2003, with insurgents targeting police and government buildings.  Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt in Baghdad gives us an update.  And Senator Biden on why NATO should send troops to Iraq.  Plus, President Bush interviewed for more than an hour in the government investigation of the CIA leak.

I‘m Campbell Brown.  This is HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Campbell Brown, in for Chris Matthews.  More than 100 people, including 3 American soldiers, were killed in a wave of violence that targeted six main cities in Iraq today.  The bloodiest attacks occurred in Mosul, where four car bombs rocked the Iraqi police academy, two police stations and a hospital.  A group headed by al Qaeda-linked terrorist Abu Musab al Zarqawi claimed responsibility for the offensive.  MSNBC‘s Kevin Sites is in Baghdad now with more—Kevin.

KEVIN SITES, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Campbell, a very violent day, indeed, in Iraq, with just six days to go before the power transfer, at least 89 people dead and 318 wounded, including 3 U.S. soldiers killed and 12 U.S.  soldiers wounded, as insurgents launched strikes, coordinated attacks on police and government buildings across Iraq.  Now, the cities hit include Mosul in northern Iraq, Ramadi in the west, Baqubah north of Baghdad and Baghdad itself.

Now, Four police stations were attacked in Baghdad.  The coalition has made much about the fact that the Iraqi police basically defended themselves here with little help from the U.S. military.  In Mosul, we saw some car bombs decimate the police academy there.  Also, small arms and RPGs used in different attacks in Ramadi and in Baqubah.  In Baqubah itself, we saw some of the fiercest fighting there.  Insurgents actually seized the police station, but U.S. forces counterattacked, using tanks and even called in air strikes, dropping three 500-pound bombs.

Also, Fallujah has erupted in violence again, following those U.S. air strikes attempting to hit the safe house of Abu Musab Zarqawi.  Now, we haven‘t seen this kind of violence in Fallujah since April, reports of armed men running through the streets, explosions going off, also reports of U.S. Marines firing on the civilian convoy apparently carrying the mayor of Fallujah and the Fallujah police chief, trying to negotiate with Americans there.  They weren‘t harmed.  They weren‘t wounded in that attack, but they turned around and went back, not making it to American lines.

Now, there‘s a familiar name taking credit for all of today‘s attacks, the coalition‘s most wanted man in Iraq, Abu Musab Zarqawi.  He is claiming responsibility with a statement on a Web site saying he is responsible for all these attacks, for the 89 people dead and the 318 wounded with just six days to go to the power transfer—Campbell.

BROWN:  Thank you, Kevin.  That was Kevin Sites in Baghdad.

Joining us now from Baghdad, Brigadier General mark Kimmitt, who is the Army‘s deputy director of operations for the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Good to have you here, General Kimmitt.

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, DEPUTY DIR. FOR COALITION OPERATIONS:  Thank you.

BROWN:  I want to quote a comment you made that was in the wires earlier today, where you said that the coalition forces feel confident with the situation there.  Given what‘s happened today, why do you feel so confident?

KIMMITT:  Yes.  When I made that quote, it was about midday.  It was clear that we had a pretty tough morning.  The four cities had taken a number of attacks.  But by about noontime, it was clear that the coalition forces had regained control, with the Iraqi security forces, of the major Iraqi police stations that had been taken over.  And at that point, we really could tell that the action for the day was waning and that we weren‘t going to see much more significant activity on the part of the enemy today.

BROWN:  But what, we‘re six days away from the handover now.  Is there more to come?  Are you expecting this every day until then, and after?

KIMMITT:  Oh, I think we‘re prepared for more days like today.  And the next couple days could get even worse.

BROWN:  Do you feel like you have the support you need?  Do you have the troops you need?

KIMMITT:  Oh, I think we really do -- 150,000 troops.  That‘s certainly sufficient to get the job done.  When you add the 200,000 Iraqi security forces, that‘s certainly enough troops to do the job.  Every commander on the ground could use more intelligence.  We‘d sure like to have a crystal ball that tells us where the enemy‘s going to strike next.  But until we have that crystal ball, we‘ll just keep working the intelligence services hard to try to be predictive and proactive against these kind of attacks.

BROWN:  Isn‘t part of your challenge, though, that these kind of attacks discourage the average person, the average Iraqi who is not part of the insurgency, from working with the coalition?

KIMMITT:  You know, it does discourage some.  But what I would also say is that it‘s become more and more clear over the past couple of months that the Iraqis finally understand what the terrorists are doing.  These aren‘t people that are building schools.  These aren‘t people that are building medical clinics or offering any hope.  These people attack the Iraqi people, and they‘re trying to enslave the Iraqi people.

Once the Iraqi people recognized that, it became very apparent to them that the best way that they could stop these attacks is providing more and more information and intelligence to the coalition and the Iraqi security forces.  That intelligence we‘ve been translating into action.  And that action we‘ve been taking against the terrorists has resulted in some significant success over the past couple of days, such as the two attacks that we had in Fallujah against Zarqawi safe houses.

BROWN:  Is the interim government going to declare martial law, and will the U.S. military back them up?

KIMMITT:  They‘ve proposed calling for some measure of martial law.  We don‘t really understand what that means right now, how much martial law they will impose.  If this mean more checkpoints, a couple of more security barriers, perhaps adjusting some curfews, we could be helpful in that regard.  We certainly understand, like Prime Minister Allawi, that you‘ve got find the balance point between additional security measures and suspension of civil rights.

And they‘ve been very, very clear as recently as a couple hours ago, when the deputy prime minister, Salam Bara (ph), said, in fact, We understand that we will not be suspending any civil rights in the process.

BROWN:  As you know, Zarqawi is—Zarqawi has claimed responsibility for today‘s attacks.  What are you all trying to do to stop him?

KIMMITT:  Well, I think our actions of late against Zarqawi speak for themselves—two significant strikes on safe houses in Fallujah.  And that‘s just what we‘re talking about.  We constantly are developing intelligence, constantly conducting operations to find him, to put his cells out of business, to put his network out of business.  And we‘re going to put him out of business.

BROWN:  But do you think today‘s bombing are his reaction or response to the attack on those safe houses?

KIMMITT:  No, I don‘t think so.  It has been very clear to us that Zarqawi has had a master plan that he‘s published—as he sent back to al Qaeda, we picked it up from a known al Qaeda courier, that he published back in February, predicted this, more and more violence as we get closer and closer to transfer of sovereignty, try to intimidate the people of Iraq, make the people of Iraq want to jump off the process, want to forget about transfer of sovereignty, get this country to a Taliban-like existence, try to promote civil war.  It is clear on the part of the Iraqi people and the Iraqi leadership that they‘re not falling for it.  They‘re standing firm.  And we‘re going to transfer sovereignty on the 30th of June.

BROWN:  But here‘s, I guess, what I‘m struggling with.  As that date approaches, when you transfer sovereignty, there‘s also a message that‘s sent to the Iraqi people that, You know what?  We‘re trying, the Americans.  We are trying to get out of here.  And given that, it would seem to open up a window or opportunity over the next several months before we get to elections where terrorists will try to take on the interim government and take advantage of it.  Fair?

KIMMITT:  Well, first of all, it is clear that on the 30th of June, we‘re going to transfer sovereignty.  But as we hand sovereignty over to the people of Iraq, that doesn‘t express for a moment what our security relationship is going to be.  It may be that the Coalition Provisional Authority is leaving, but the coalition forces remain.  And we will stay here, in a partnership with the Iraqi security forces, fighting, and in some cases, dying to keep this country free.  So just because we have handed over political sovereignty, the military remains, the military remains focused on the mission.  And we will continue to keep this country safe.

BROWN:  Along with the kind of things that we saw happen today, the bombings, there have been many threats of assassination attempts not only against the new prime minister but other members of the government.  How are you dealing with that?

KIMMITT:  Well, first of all, you deal with it by recognizing, on the part of the Iraqis, that‘s this is a targeted assassination policy.  And you can‘t help but have tremendous respect for those leaders who, in spite of these terror threats and these assassination attempts, still come to work and still want to stand up for the people of Iraq.  You offer additional protection.  You develop the intelligence.  You go after those proactively before they have the chance to place the bomb, to shoot the weapons.  But I think it‘s a tremendous credit to the patriotism and the valor of the Iraqi leadership that despite all these threats, they continue to want to lead this country to a better future.

BROWN:  All right, we‘re coming back with more from General Mark Kimmitt in Baghdad.  And I‘ll ask him about Paul Wolfowitz‘s comments that the media isn‘t painting an accurate picture of Iraq.  And later, General Barry McCaffrey on whether the attacks in Iraq will intensify as the June 30th transfer of power gets closer.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with General Mark Kimmitt in Baghdad.

General Kimmitt, I want to talk a little more about the insurgency.  Do you know how many of them, or do you have any guess, are foreign fighters?

KIMMITT:  Well, the only gauge that we have on how many foreign fighters we traditionally see here is by a proportion of the detainees we have.  There was at one point where we had approximately 10,000 detainees, and about—of those, only about 150 of them held foreign passports.  The foreign fighters are coming into this country in small numbers, but they do have a significant effect.  Nonetheless, many of the foot soldiers, most of the foot soldiers, the overwhelming number of the foot soldiers that we see in this country fighting against coalition forces are Iraqi citizens themselves.

BROWN:  At one point, will the Iraqis get custody of Saddam Hussein?

KIMMITT:  We‘ve been very clear that the legal custody of Saddam Hussein can proceed to the people of Iraq when a valid indictment comes forward from the Iraqi special tribunal.  And we would expect that to happen some time in the near future.

BROWN:  I want to play for you, if I can, a part of an interview we did yesterday with deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz.  He had this to say about the media‘s coverage of the war in Iraq.  And I‘ll get your reaction on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL WOLFOWITZ, DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY:  The media picture seems to be unbalanced.  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 now 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN:  General Kimmitt, do you agree with that?

KIMMITT:  Well, absolutely.  And I‘ve said it many, many times.  The Baghdad press corps, for example, I find them to be very, very honorable.  They get their facts straight.  They check the facts.  But when it come to the balance of the stories, I would say that if there is a helicopter crash, it doesn‘t matter how many good news stories you have that day or proud accomplishments by hard-working soldiers over here, that helicopter crash, even if it doesn‘t have any casualties at all, is going to take every line of the print for the day.  And that goes on consistently.

BROWN:  Let me ask you, though, in term of the kind of stories you‘re talking about, what we don‘t, frankly, talk about that much, but the quality-of-life issues that you all work so hard on, trying to establish basic security, not necessarily from the insurgency but general crime in Baghdad, or the electricity issue, or—how—you know, the police, the number of police, for example.  Only about 5,000 of some 90,000 that you want have been fully trained.  Why is this taking so long?

KIMMITT:  Well, there are a lot of reasons why it‘s taking so long.  First of all, just getting this country back on its feet has taken a long time, getting the equipment that they need, getting the training that they need.  All of these things—there are multiple causes for each of these things taking longer than we originally projected.  But it‘s certainly not for a lack of hard work on the part of all the people over here, nor for a lack of willingness on the part of the Iraqis.  It‘s just taken time.

BROWN:  Has the Abu Ghraib prison scandal made your job harder?

KIMMITT:  I think it‘s made the job of every soldier over here harder. 

Every soldier walks out on the street, and they know that the people of Iraq have seen those photos.  They have a tendency to imagine that the Iraqi people are looking at them the way they looked at those photos.  But I think on the part of every soldier, they understand the right thing that needs to be done, which is just to continue to do their job honorably and proudly and continue to show those people, as they‘re walking down—up and down the streets, that the people that you saw in those photos, those actions you saw in those photos are not reflective of me, they‘re not reflective of the 135,000 of my fellow soldiers that are doing their job proudly and honorably every day.

BROWN:  But do you believe that this was just a few soldiers, or that we will find out it‘s going higher up the chain of command?

KIMMITT:  Well, I think we‘ve already seen that it went higher up the chain of command.  In the Taguba report, it was clear that there was some chain of command involvement or lack of involvement, lack of supervision.  I‘ve said many, many times that, yes, you had seven soldiers charged with criminal actions, and their cases will be disposed of through judicial system, but there‘s also a chain of command that wasn‘t doing their job, a chain of command that should have been checking, should have been double-checking, should have been rechecking.  And they failed the soldiers by not doing that, by not properly supervising them and not setting their soldiers up for failure, as we saw happen.

BROWN:  General Mark Kimmitt, we appreciate your time.  Thanks very much for joining us.

KIMMITT:  Thank you.

BROWN:  And up next, General Barry McCaffrey on what can be done to stop the attacks in Iraq.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  General Barry McCaffrey is retired from the U.S. Army and is an NBC News military analyst.  Thanks for joining us.

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, U.S. ARMY (RET.), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Good to be with you, Campbell.

BROWN:  Given what‘s happened today, does the U.S. military have anything to feel confident about?

MCCAFFREY:  Sure.  No question.  You know, notwithstanding the enormous, tricky, dangerous situation we‘re in for the coming year or more, you cannot defeat the U.S. Army and Marine Corps in the field.  So the down-side risk to the U.S. armed forces is minimal.  They cannot overrun a single battalion.  They can‘t win the war with military force against the U.S.  The down side to the whole proposition, though, is the U.S. armed forces can‘t win the war, either.  So this is a political and economic challenge that the U.S. armed forces can back up Negroponte‘s leadership, Secretary Powell, and that‘s all we can do.

BROWN:  Why is this happening?  Why now?  The 30th, obviously.  Do they see an opportunity, us pulling back a little bit?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, I think a lot of sort of skeptical observers inside Iraq, inside the Middle East, have concluded that had we‘re probably trying to get out, that politically and militarily, we‘re trying to disengage, and that a year from, now we‘ll be gone.

BROWN:  Do you think we are trying to do that...

MCCAFFREY:  Yes, I think so.

BROWN:  ... in time for the election?

MCCAFFREY:  Yes, I think so.  I think that was the impression we gave by the 30 June withdrawal date.  So there‘s a struggle for leadership in post-U.S. Iraq going on inside the Shia, inside the Sunni leadership, and certainly, to dominate the Iraqi society.  There‘s a lot at stake for these poor people.  If you lose politically in Iraq, you may lose your life.

BROWN:  CENTCOM has put about 25,000 more troops on standby, essentially...

MCCAFFREY:  Yes.

BROWN:  ... saying, We may need them, depending on if the security situation worsens.  That was yesterday, and look what‘s happened overnight.  The security situation has appeared to have gotten worse and could get even more worse in the days ahead.  Should there be more troops sent over now?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, one of the things we ought to do is take a lot of confidence in the leadership of this General John Abizaid, a terrific young officer, you know, former Ranger battalion commander, Homestead Scholar, Harvard master‘s degree, Stanford fellow, fluent in Arabic.  He knows what he‘s doing.  So I would say we ought to trust his judgment on whether more troops are needed.

BROWN:  But is—what‘s happening now, this is—it appears to be an effective technique to convince the average Iraqi, who may not be part of the insurgency, not to line up with the U.S. government or support what the coalition‘s doing.

MCCAFFREY:  Campbell, I agree.  I think they‘re achieving their purpose.  I think a lot of these Iraqi police and military are going to step aside and say, I wonder how this thing‘s going to come out?  Do we want to associate ourselves with the Americans at this juncture, or do we want to wait and see how it‘s all going to transpire.  So the next months, August, 120 degrees in the shade, struggle for succession, political ambiguity on the status of coalition forces—it‘s a rough period of time we got coming up in front of us.

BROWN:  If you were commanding there now, what would you do?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, I think I‘d ask General John Abizaid for advice because I think his judgment, his sensitivity to the issues in the region are extremely sound.  I think he ought to have a lot of confidence in the military components that are working for him.  The U.S. Marines up there in the Sunni Muslim corner and the 1st Infantry Division, you know, John Abizaid, John Batiste (ph), the commander—we got good people on the ground.  But again, Campbell, the problems are political and economic, and so Negroponte and Powell‘s leadership in the coming months will be what is vital to try to make this thing come out the right way.  It‘s off track right now.

BROWN:  And by that you mean, trying to deal with the unemployment rate, the power supply, the basic services...

MCCAFFREY:  The lack of security, the lack of buy-in on the part of the Iraqis to a legitimate representative government, even inside their own faction, the Shia, the Kurds, the Sunnis.  So we don‘t have a lot going for us as we go into this period of apparent full sovereignty.

BROWN:  But how do you do that if you can‘t establish basic security and there are bombs going off every day?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, there—look, there‘s some optimism among people who know what they‘re talking about.  General Abizaid told me personally he thinks there‘s a huge need on the part of the Iraqi people to have this not turn into Beirut.  You know, they‘ve been tortured for 35 years.  Do they really want to see a civil war that destroys the country?  And the answer is probably not.  So again, I think the jury‘s out.  I have great confidence in this new ambassador, Negroponte, and General Abizaid.  We better stay the course.  This is not the Bush administration‘s war, this is our war, as Americans.

BROWN:  General Barry McCaffrey, good to have you.  Thanks for joining us.

MCCAFFREY:  Good to be with you.

And up next, Senator Joe Biden, who recently returned from Iraq.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, Senator Joe Biden, just back from Iraq, on whether he thinks next week‘s transfer of power will be a success.  Plus, Al Gore criticizes the Bush administration‘s handling of the war. 

We‘ll talk about that with advisers from the two campaigns. 

But, first, the latest headlines.  

(NEWS BREAK)

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

I‘m joined now by Senator Joe Biden, a Democrat from Delaware and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator Biden, thanks for being here.  And welcome home. 

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE:  Good to be with you.

BROWN:  I know you‘re just back from Baghdad. 

BIDEN:  Yes, just back, Campbell.  Happy to see you instead of Chris. 

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN:  Well, let‘s talk about your trip, because, obviously, you go over as a top politician with plenty of security.  But we‘ve also today had the worst violence since last year.  In your sense, having been there, how bad is it? 

BIDEN:  It‘s bad, Campbell, but we should have anticipate—we did anticipate it would be this bad.  This is the last gasp of insurgents, as well as some Islamists to prevent a transfer of power, demoralize us, hopefully drive us out by killing anyone seeking to cooperate with us.  But it‘s bad.

BROWN:  But it‘s, you say, last gasp.  Is it really, given that you also said after your trip that the Bush administration plans to pull back U.S. forces after the handover?  Is that accurate?  And isn‘t that just going to give another window to the insurgency? 

BIDEN:  Well, when I said pull back, what they‘re going to do is, they‘re going to—I believe they‘re going to pull out of some of the major cities, move more into enclaves.  I think that is a mistake. 

I think that‘s going to create a vacuum.  What I meant by last gasp is, there is going to be an overwhelming effort, I believe, over the next couple weeks to try to demonstrate a breadth of capability that really they don‘t permanently have and to try to intimidate the new government and intimidate anyone from cooperating. 

Maybe a better phrase is a real serious blast of effort using all the resources available concentrated in the next few weeks.  And that‘s what I mean by last gasp. 

BROWN:  This pullback of forces, do you believe it is tied to the election?  Is President Bush trying to reduce the number of American casualties before the election? 

BIDEN:  Well, I hate, like the devil, second-guessing them.  I just think it is a mistake. 

We need—I just got back, as you pointed out, met with our military, all of our major military personnel over there.  I believe privately, almost everyone of them say they don‘t have the adequate mix of troops they need.  And no one suggests we are not going to need more troops.  And so the part that is a little misleading is that—you know, the idea we have all we need there. 

I just listened to General Kimmitt, a fine man.  You asked him why the police aren‘t trained up.  The reason they‘re not trained up is, the administration made a serious, fundamental mistake.  Everyone told them, including their own people, they needed 6,000 trained international police in there with the invading force, that we needed a training program because there was no Iraqi police force in the minds of what we mean by police. 

The training program has been loose.  I just came back from the major training facility in Jordan run by us and the international community in training police.  They said that eight weeks of training is not anywhere near sufficient.  We have not equipped these police stations.  You read recently in “The Washington Post” an article that I believe to be correct, although I didn‘t go to the police station. 

It cited one station, 140 cops, only half of whom had arms, only 10 AK-47s.  So we‘re way behind the curve.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  I understand that, but it‘s also hindsight is 20/20. 

BIDEN:  No, it‘s not hindsight.  I said this, Campbell, back before we went to war.  The reports said this.  Their own administration people said this.  They he said it in August, September, October, November, December.  This is not hindsight. 

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  Let‘s folks on where we are now, though.

BIDEN:  That‘s right. 

BROWN:  Because essentially, we‘re stuck with the situation as it is. 

BIDEN:  That‘s... 

BROWN:  And you and the administration aren‘t that far apart I believe on how you want to proceed.  You‘re calling now for NATO forces to go in.  France has said they don‘t want to send NATO forces in.  How does the administration convince the members of NATO to go along? 

BIDEN:  Well, it‘s getting harder, because when we asked them to try to convince them back in December, when Chirac personally told me he would support NATO going in, we refused to ask.  We said we didn‘t need them. 

BROWN:  Right.  But what do we do now? 

(CROSSTALK)

BIDEN:  What do we do now?

But my point is, Campbell, that there has got to be responsibility here.  And the idea that, what do we do now, like it‘s my responsibility or those of us who have been criticizing the administration‘s approach to figure out the answer.  The answer is now, we go and the president lay down the law and say, this is what we need.

You bled France, you bled Germany, for the Iraqi people for nine years, criticizing us.  OK, I may have made mistakes.  But get over it.  You‘ve got to get involved now.  I sat down with Mr. Allawi and he did exactly—well, he probably would have done it anyway, but he did exactly what I and my two colleague suggested to him.  He wrote a letter directly saying, I, Mr. Allawi, prime minister, an Iraqi, ask on behalf of the Iraqi government, you, NATO to help. 

I believe the president will be able to come back with some additional help from NATO at the NATO summit this weekend because we‘re finally putting on a full-court press.  And I believe Mr. Allawi, the prime minister, will give an excuse to the French and the Germans to say to their people, we‘re not helping the U.S.  We‘re helping the Iraqi people. 

That‘s why it was so important to have this transition take place on the 30th.  There‘s still hope, if in fact we do what we have to do, put in a real training program, get in real resources, and tell the American people the truth, what our military told us.  We are there—this is according to our military—in place in Baghdad last weekend.  We‘re going to require 140,000 troops to be there well through December of 2005.  And, Senator Biden, we‘re going to need a surge of troops beyond the 140,000 American troops, Senator Biden, before the election in January and December. 

We‘re not telling the American people that. 

BROWN:  We‘re going to take a break in a minute, but I have got time for one more question. 

BIDEN:  Sure.

BROWN:  I want to ask you, you talk about accountability.  Tell me the story of what you told President Bush about firing Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. 

BIDEN:  Well, the president kidded me about that this morning at the White House. 

The president asked me in another meeting several weeks ago why am I calling for Cheney‘s res—excuse me—Rumsfeld‘s resignation.  I said, Mr. President, let‘s get straight what happened.  I was asked, if I were president, what would I do with the secretary?  I said, if I were president, I would fire Rumsfeld.  But that‘s not my decision. 

And I went on to say facetiously, I said, as a matter of fact—and I said this to the president with Cheney there—I said, Mr. President, I also said, were it not for the fact it was a constitutional office, I would fire the vice president as well.  And I said, Mr. Vice President, you know what respect I have for you.  But the advice you‘ve given the president on the major decisions that had to be made since Saddam‘s statue fell off the pedestal have been mistaken. 

And, Mr. President, it is time to change course.  It is not about personalities.  It is about, they were given the wrong advice.  Remember, just a couple months ago, Rumsfeld...

BROWN:  So what was their reaction? 

BIDEN:  The reaction was, Vice President Cheney just kind of smiled and the president just went on. 

BROWN:  And then they escorted you out of the White House? 

BIDEN:  No, no, no.  But, look, these guys are big boys.  When we speak in the White House, it is candid.  And it is not personal. 

Remember, Campbell, remember, we had already drawn down just a couple months ago to 110,000 forces?  Who thought that could be possible?  But yet Rumsfeld drew it down, when everybody was telling him you can‘t draw it down.  He‘s gotten bad advice. 

BROWN:  All right, Senator, we got to take a break. 

BIDEN:  OK.

BROWN:  We‘ll be back with more with Senator Joe Biden in just a moment.  And then later, Matt Dowd of the Bush campaign and Steve Elmendorf of the Kerry campaign talk about the Iraq war and the battle for the White House.

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  Coming up, more with Senator Joe Biden.  And later, we‘ll talk about the battle for the White House with top advisers from the Bush and Kerry campaigns.

HARDBALL back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  We‘re back with Senator Joe Biden. 

Senator, what do you make of the fact that President Bush was questioned today as part of the investigation into who at the White House leaked the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame?  Do you think there‘s a possibility members of the White House staff will be indicted? 

BIDEN:  I don‘t know, Campbell.  I simply don‘t know. 

BROWN:  Have you been following the investigation?  It‘s obviously happening. 

BIDEN:  No. 

BROWN:  Behind closed doors at the Justice Department. 

BIDEN:  No, I haven‘t. 

I very much thought it was important the investigation takes place.  In my 32 years, I don‘t think anything quite as heinous has been done as outing an agent.  I hope they find who it is, whoever it is.  But once the investigation was fully under way, I‘ve just walked away, assuming it will be done fairly and thoroughly. 

BROWN:  I want to ask you about a reported scuffle that took place today when members of the Senate were having their class photo taken between Vice President Cheney and Senator Pat Leahy.  Did you happen to witness that?

BIDEN:  No, I didn‘t.  And I‘m sorry I missed that.  That‘s the first I heard of that.  I didn‘t know that.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  Well, apparently, Vice President Cheney was upset with Leahy‘s focus on the Halliburton issue.  But we‘ll have to follow up with Senator Leahy tomorrow.

Let me ask you about politics, John Kerry‘s vision for Iraq.  How different, is it different from what President Bush has been saying?  And has he been able to communicate that? 

BIDEN:  Well, he‘s been able to communicate it to President Bush, because President Bush is now starting to do what Senator Kerry has been calling for literally, not figuratively, for the past year. 

And so President Bush is coming, lately, but nonetheless coming to what John Kerry has been talking about, not only here, but on Korea.  John Kerry, Dick Lugar, Joe Biden were saying the offer that we made to Korea should have been made a year ago before they redid their plutonium stock.  So the president seems to be getting a handle on this and moving in the right direction. 

But Kerry‘s position is that this is an international responsibility.  It‘s time for Europe to step up and do this.  But, in the meantime, we should level with the American people, tell them the cost, tell them the duration and, as best we know—and we do know it generally—and tell them also that this is something that, where we have to have management here.  We have to have people who know what they‘re doing and not this sort of unilateral neoconservative—well, that‘s not fair, maybe—this unilateral notion that we don‘t need anybody and we were going to be greeted with open arms by the Iraqis, etcetera. 

It‘s going to be made harder.  When Kerry is president in January, he‘s going to have to level with the American people and say, look, I‘m going to have to ask more of you.  In my view, he‘s going to have to say that, because look what I‘m left with here. 

BROWN:  Lots of attention, lots of scuttlebutt right now about his choice for vice president.  Who do you like among the contenders? 

BIDEN:  I don‘t even know who the contenders are.  I know who is talked about.  I‘ve met with John on Iraq when he was here yesterday, I believe it was.  We never talked about vice president, about who he is thinking of. 

People—there‘s a lot of competent people.  I like a guy that is not being mentioned, to the best of my knowledge.  I like a Sam Nunn.  I think Dick Gephardt—I think the most important thing that must happen in my view—and, look, this is a guy who didn‘t make it through Iowa, but what do I know?  But the most important thing that I think Kerry has to do is, when he announces that person, the Campbell Browns of the media, the serious media have to say, huh, that person could take over.  That person could be president. 

The least thing he should do is have the response from the press being, ah, politically pretty sharp, smart idea, because that is not what the American people are looking for.  And I don‘t think that‘s what John Kerry will do.  But there‘s a number of people who would fit that bill. 

BROWN:  Well, I think you‘re being a little optimistic about the media.  But we‘ll see.  Thanks very much, Senator Biden, for your time. 

BIDEN:  Well, thank you.  Thank you. 

BROWN:  And coming up, what impact will continued violence in Iraq have on the presidential campaign?  We‘ll talk to top strategists from the Bush and Kerry campaigns next. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Steve Elmendorf is the political director for John Kerry‘s presidential campaign.  And Matthew Dowd is a senior strategist with the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign. 

Thanks to both of you for being here. 

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  Matt, I‘m going to start with you.  You get to go first, since you‘re in the studio.

MATTHEW DOWD, SENIOR STRATEGIST, BUSH-CHENEY CAMPAIGN:  Sure.

BROWN:  What will the political impact be of more violence in Iraq? 

DOWD:  It‘s hard to tell, because of what we‘re headed towards, the final handover of sovereignty on June 30.  So I think a lot is going to depend on what happens going forward. 

But I think people are feeling better about the situation in Iraq and the president‘s handling of it.  But we‘ll to have see what happens in the coming weeks and months. 

BROWN:  Steve.

STEVE ELMENDORF, POLITICAL DIRECTOR, KERRY CAMPAIGN:  Well, I think the American people continues to be troubled by the Bush policy and the way they‘ve handled it.  And I think the recent polling has shown that.  People are very concerned about the truthfulness of this White House and this administration on these issues. 

BROWN:  Matthew, does Bush‘s reelection hinge on the ability of the campaign to convince—or of him to convince Americans that this was the right thing to do and the right war to fight? 

DOWD:  Well, the interesting thing about it is that, as there‘s troubles in Iraq, John Kerry hasn‘t gotten any benefit from it.  So, the President Bush—when you ask the public who they trust more on handling Iraq, they trust the president more than they trust John Kerry in dealing with Iraq. 

But I think the two major issues in this campaign are the economy and the war on terror, which includes Iraq.  And I think the election will hinge on that for both John Kerry and for us. 

BROWN:  Steve, how would the Kerry administration‘s occupation of Iraq be any different?  Kerry is now calling for NATO troops, as the president, the Bush administration has been talking about.  Their positions really aren‘t that different. 

ELMENDORF:  Well, John Kerry has been calling for that for a long time.  And he‘s been calling for more international support.  And I think it is the way he would go about it.  I think clearly our allies are concerned about the way Bush is doing this and they haven‘t been responding to his request for help. 

BROWN:  Well, to clarify, this is new that he‘s talking specifically about urging the president to ask NATO forces to be sent in. 

ELMENDORF:  Yes.  But he has also been calling repeatedly for the president to seek more help from our allies, to work harder, like his father did during first Gulf War, to work harder to get more international support for our efforts, not this “my way or the highway” attitude he has. 

DOWD:  Just one thing on that. 

The president obviously has talked about a six-step plan that he‘s had to deal with Iraq and get out of Iraq and establish sovereignty, which we‘re in the process of doing.  The only thing I can see John Kerry has is a one-step plan, which is, elect me and it will all be fine.  If he says anything, he repeats what we say.  The process is moving forward.  I don‘t see anything that John Kerry says he would do differently, other than electing him. 

BROWN:  I‘m want to play a sound bite today from Vice President Gore. 

He had some tough words.  And I want to get both of your reactions to this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  They have such an overwhelming political interest in sustaining the belief in the minds of the American people that Hussein was in partnership with bin Laden that they dare not admit the truth, lest they look like complete fools for launching our country into a reckless, totally discretionary war against a nation that posed no immediate threat to us whatsoever. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN:  Steve, what did John Kerry think of former Vice President Gore‘s speech today? 

ELMENDORF:  Former Vice President Gore is an important voice in our party, as there are many other important voices in our party. 

And I think the main point he was making there was the link between the 9/11, al Qaeda and Iraq, which the administration, even the 9/11 Commission has said, they have not made that link.  The administration has repeatedly said it, but they have been unable to find any evidence.  Independent commissioners have been unable to find any evidence to support it. 

BROWN:  Matt?

DOWD:  I do agree with Steve that Al Gore is an important voice in John Kerry‘s Democratic Party, along with Michael Moore and George Soros and other sort of wild-eyed folks that have some outrageous ideas about stuff. 

What I find interesting about Al Gore is, this is the same Al Gore that criticized former President Bush for not doing enough in Iraq and for not dealing with Saddam Hussein.  And he criticized him vehemently about it.  And now, when something is done about Saddam Hussein and he‘s taken out of power and democracy is beginning to be established, he‘s somehow critical of us for the same thing he criticized the president for in the early ‘90s. 

BROWN:  Well, we‘ll expand upon those, as you call them, wild—wild-eyed?  Or what did you say, wild voices in the party? 

DOWD:  Wild voices.  It‘s John Kerry‘s coalition of the wild-eyed. 

BROWN:  Well, I‘ll tell you, the wild-eyed are getting a lot of attention these days. 

DOWD:  They are.  And I think the Kerry campaign is going to have to deal with people like Michael Moore that say some outrageous stuff and the people like Al Gore. 

BROWN:  Have you seen the 9/11 film, by the way?

DOWD:  No, I haven‘t seen the 9/11 -- out of respect for Ray Bradbury, I am not going to go to the movie because I have a real fondness for him. 

(CROSSTALK)

DOWD:  But if I do want to go to a movie that is a fictional movie that features a large character, I‘ll go take my kids to “Shrek.”

BROWN:  All right.  OK. 

Steve, your thoughts on Michael Moore and on the attention this is getting. 

ELMENDORF:  I haven‘t been to a movie in six months, Campbell, so I probably won‘t go to one for another six months. 

Look, we have a lot of supporters who are doing a lot of things in this country, because John Kerry‘s campaign is growing.  Lee Iacocca endorsed us today, someone who supported George Bush four years ago.  I heard an interview with Ron Reagan Jr. in the last 24 hours where he was critical of President Bush.  We‘re going to have a lot of people on all ends of the spectrum who are going to be supporting John Kerry for president. 

BROWN:  OK, before we get out of time, let‘s get in to the Nader factor.  Love to do that.  I want to show you a poll.  This is for the state of Pennsylvania, a key swing state, John Kerry, 44 percent, George W.  Bush, 43 percent, Ralph Nader, 77 percent. 

Steve, what is the Kerry campaign doing, if anything, to try to get Nader out of the race? 

ELMENDORF:  I don‘t think we‘re going to get Nader out of the race.  I think what we‘re going to do is send our message strongly to Nader voices about the choice that we have in this race between John Kerry and George Bush.  And I think, the closer we get to the election, the more support will fall away from Nader, as people realize it‘s going to be a close election and there are two real choices here.

BROWN:  Matt, if he meets the threshold, would you like to see Nader as part of the debates? 

DOWD:  Well, we‘ll see what that with Nader and whether or not, what ballots he is on. 

I do think it points out a softness of Senator Kerry‘s support, because every time Ralph Nader is included on the ballot, John Kerry‘s support drops.  And I think it‘s evidence of, there is a weakness of support and John Kerry has not closed the sale, even for Democrats.  He has the lowest level of support of any nominee of either party in the last 25 years in strength of support. 

BROWN:  OK, I have only got a minute left. 

Steve, who is your V.P. pick? 

(LAUGHTER)

ELMENDORF:  Well, I worked for Dick Gephardt for 12 years, so he‘s my personal favorite.  But everybody who John Kerry is talking to would make a fine vice president.  Any one of them would make a better vice president than Dick Cheney. 

BROWN:  What went on in those private meetings between Edwards and Kerry? 

ELMENDORF:  I don‘t know.  It‘s a private process.  And John Kerry is going to do it respectfully and thoroughly and come up with the best person. 

BROWN:  Matthew, who would you like to see him choose? 

DOWD:  Steve is closer to the process than I am, obviously, so I...

BROWN:  Who is your dream choice? 

DOWD:  Whoever he picks I think is going to be a reflection who he is, Senator Kerry is, as a candidate.  And we‘re happy to run our ticket vs.  his ticket. 

BROWN:  Thanks to both of you, Matthew Dowd with the Bush campaign and Steve Elmendorf with the Kerry campaign. 

DOWD:  Thanks, Campbell.

ELMENDORF:  Thanks, Campbell.

BROWN:  And join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Our guests include General Wesley Clark and former U.N. weapons inspector David Kay. 

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

END   

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