updated 6/28/2004 10:49:28 AM ET 2004-06-28T14:49:28

Guests: Dan Senor, Gen. Wesley Clark, Guy Womack, Chuck Todd

CAMPBELL BROWN, GUEST HOST:  Just days before the handover, another violent day in Iraq as the U.S. launches air strikes in Fallujah, killing up to

25 people.  Dan Senor, senior adviser to the presidential envoy, gives us an update.  Plus: Did Saddam Hussein have weapons of mass destruction or not? 

David Kay, former chief weapons inspector, gives us his answer.  And gentlemen, watch your language!  The coarsening of the political culture in Washington.

I’m Campbell Brown.  This is HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I’m Campbell Brown, in for Chris Matthews.  Iraq is bracing itself for more insurgent attacks leading up to the June 30 installation of the new Iraqi government.  And today U.S. war planes targeted a suspected hideout of terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi, in what amounts to the third air strike in Fallujah this past week.

Dan Senor is an adviser to the U.S. presidential envoy in Iraq.  Dan, give us an update on what’s going on in Fallujah today.  Are you trying to get rid of Zarqawi before the June 30 deadline?

DAN SENOR, ADVISER TO U.S. PRES. ENVOY IN IRAQ:  Well, I think we’re trying to kill or capture Zarqawi.  It would be nice before the June 30 deadline.  We’d be content after the June 30 deadline.  The sooner the better. 

He has outlined a battle plan for Iraq, the document we obtained that was headed for senior al Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan that laid out, effectively, what he’s doing right now, which is trying to wreak havoc in this country in the lead-up to June 30.  We expect, if he survives, to try to continue to test the new government immediately following June 30, and we’re putting serious resources behind killing or capturing him.  We’ve made progress in his overall network.  We’ve—as you know, and as you’ve reported, hit a couple of his safe houses, but obviously, we’re still in hot pursuit of him.

BROWN:  We bombed Fallujah three time in the past week, actually.  Was it a mistake to hand Fallujah over to the Iraqi security forces?  Are they able to handle the job?

SENOR:  Well, we never handed security over to the Iraqi security forces.  We empowered a group of Iraqi military leaders and their subordinates to play a role.  The results have been mixed...

BROWN:  To play significant role, though.

SENOR:  Campbell—correct.  And the results have been mixed.  On the one hand, for a while there, they brought stability.  They brought calm.  They averted major casualties.  Their involvement allowed to us pursue a political track that could have produced something, and the alternative may have been, as I said, mass casualties, and that could have incited a Sunni uprising nationwide, certainly not what we needed at the time.  But on the other hand, heavy weapons haven’t been turned in.  Those who mutilated our contractors haven’t been turned in.  There are still foreign fighters operating in the area.  Zarqawi’s operating in the area.  So there are still real problems there, and we’re working to address them.

BROWN:  Well, the new Iraqi government is actually claiming that most of the violence now is being directed by foreign fighters.  Do you believe that?  And do you have any evidence to back it up?

SENOR:  Well, I think that the violence is coming from three sources. 

One, foreign fighters.  Two, remnants of Saddam Hussein’s regime.  And the third group is some sort of collaborative effort of the first two.  There is no doubt that foreign fighters are playing an enormous role in trying to destabilize country.  We have just gotten our hands on too much information that points to international terrorists coming to this country, al Qaeda affiliates, Ansar al Islam.  Zarqawi we’ve talked about.  There’s no doubt if we make serious head way, and if the Iraqi security forces, which is a real focus of Prime Minister Allawi’s, makes serious headway with the foreign fighters, it will do much to stabilize the situation here.

BROWN:  But right now, I mean, look at what happened yesterday, the most violence since last year.  These are coordinated attacks.  Is the insurgency getting stronger?

SENOR:  What it is, is a last-ditch effort before handover.  And it will continue after handover, as well.  We’ve been saying for some time, Campbell, as you know, that we would see a lot of violence in the run-up to June 30.  I mean, the people who are waging this war are absolutely terrified. 

If you listen to the things they say, they’re absolutely terrified of a self- governing Iraqi democracy.  And we’re getting closer and closer.  In fact, we’re ahead of schedule, which really throws them off course.  They knew that June 30 was going to be the handover day, but they didn’t realize a week before June 30, 60 percent of the Iraqi government would already be in the hands of the interim government.  They didn’t realize that Prime Minister Allawi would be as popular as he is with the Iraqi people.  He’s popular, by the way, because every day, he’s going on Arabic television and talking about security, the issue that’s foremost on the Iraqi people’s minds.  And so they’re doing everything they can to stop this from happening.

What we need to do and what the Iraqi leaders need to do is stay the course and ensure that the handover happens and ensure that Prime Minister Allawi has the resources he needs to implement the security agenda that he’s talking about.

BROWN:  Well, talk to me about the quality of life for the average Iraqi because I know that’s one of the things that you’ve been working on. 

What is it like right now?

SENOR:  Well, tremendous progress in certain areas—economy, essential services.  I mean, Campbell, you were here.  You drive the streets of Baghdad, busy traffic, bustling markets and bazaars.  The streets are lined with satellite dishes and white goods and shoes and all sorts of televisions and electronics.  There’s a lot of commerce and all the activity associated with it, in no part because we’re deploying billions of dollars here as a part of our—the supplemental funding, and also because there’s a lot of disposable income, disposable funding, disposable cash in this economy that we hadn’t anticipated.  So things are coming along.  The economy is liberated. 

It’s the most liberal economy in this part of the world—you know, nominal taxes, free trade, zero limits on foreign investment.  That’s all positive.

The fact is, though, unless the security situation is stabilized, it’s going to be difficult to make the leapfrog jumps in progress that we need to make here.  And that’s why continuing to bolster the Iraqi security forces, continuing to do what we’re talking about, which is maintaining a serious commitment here after June 30 on the security front is important.  Iraq’s making political progress.  Iraq is making economic progress.  Life for the average Iraqi is improving, and it sure is a hell of a lot better than it was

15 months ago.  Every Iraqi will tell you that.  But the security situation has got to be fixed.

BROWN:  Well, Dan Senor, we will be watching, of course.  And have a safe trip home.  I’m sure you’re looking forward to it.  Thanks for being with us.

SENOR:  Thanks, Campbell.  Good to be with you.

BROWN:  Retired general Wesley Clark is a former NATO supreme allied commander.  He is now supporting Senator John Kerry, after dropping his own bid for the White House.  General Clark, good to see you.  Thanks for joining us.


COMMANDER:  Good to be with you, Campbell.

BROWN:  Let me ask you generally what your take is on the situation in Iraq.  You heard Dan Senor there.  The administration is placing a lot of the blame on Zarqawi.  Do you think the violence would diminish if Zarqawi were captured or killed?

CLARK:  Well, I think it would be helpful if we could capture or kill Zarqawi, but I don’t think that’s going to stop the violence.  This—he has a robust chain of command underneath him.  He’s not a one-man show.  This is a big organization.  It’s getting a lot of outside support, and it’s increasing its organizational capacities, as we saw by the coordinated attacks yesterday. 

So killing the top leader?  Sure, we should try to do that, but we shouldn’t think that that’s going to end the violence.

BROWN:  Let me pose to you the same question I put to Senor a moment ago, which is the situation in Fallujah, handing over control of that area to Iraqi security forces.  There have, obviously, been three strikes by U.S.

forces just in the last couple of days.  What do you make of that?  Was that a mistake, handing it over to...

CLARK:  Big mistake.

BROWN:  Why?

CLARK:  Because what we had is, we had the enemy located in an area. 

What we didn’t have was enough U.S. forces to go in and we didn’t have the will power to go in and really clean that area out.  Of course, we would have taken casualties, and the Iraqis would have taken casualties, and it would have been difficult.  But one thing we should have learned in this part of the world is that if you’re using military force, and we’re in Iraq and we’re using military force, then when you use it, you should be tactically decisive.  We were not tactically decisive in Fallujah.  That was played all over the Arab world as a U.S. surrender.  It increased the strength of the insurgency.  It gave the insurgency a sort of home base, a free port inside Iraq, and they moved in there.  We’re going to have to go into Fallujah.  I wouldn’t think we’ll be able to do it by dropping a few bombs from 5,000 feet.  That will not solve the problem in Fallujah.  We’ll eventually have to go back in there.

BROWN:  And do you think it’s worth the risk, the number of U.S.  casualties, for this administration, to send U.S. troops back in?

CLARK:  I think that we’ve got to prevent the emergence of regional militia who will undercut legitimacy of the interim government.  That’s what’s taking form, taking shape in Fallujah.  So based on what I’ve seen—and I’m not on the inside of the intelligence network, obviously, and I’m not in Iraq, but what I’ve seen, yes, we should go in there.

BROWN:  We’re going to take a quick break.  We’ll have more with General Wesley Clark on whether he thinks Iraq and al Qaeda had long- established ties.  And later: new reports that a top military intelligence commander may have witnessed the death of a prisoner at Abu Ghraib.  We’ll talk to the lawyer of one of the accused soldiers.

You’re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


BROWN:  I’m back with General Wesley Clark.  And General Clark, if I can, I want to ask you one more question on Iraq, and then we’ll move to politics.  But “The New York times” is reporting today that there’s a new document that seems to indicate that Iraq approached bin Laden about working together in 1994, an intelligence document which they say came from the Iraqi National Congress, which has largely been discredited because of the tie through Ahmad Chalabi.  Why do you think the Bush administration keeps insisting there are ties between Iraq and al Qaeda?

CLARK:  Well, I believe the Bush administration has sought those ties all along because they’ve been looking for the pretext to go after Iraq.  On the day of 9/11, there were those in the Bush administration who were then seeking to use 9/11 as an excuse, and they were determined to find the linkage.  They never found the linkage to 9/11.  They’re seeking a broader linkage.  And thus far, the evidence hasn’t held up.  I haven’t seen all the background on this particular document.  I’ve read the report of the document. 

And frankly, you know, even if it’s true and totally as it sounds, it doesn’t really establish anything because there’s never any evidence that it was acted upon.

BROWN:  Do you believe this election hinges on what’s happening in Iraq now?

CLARK:  No, I believe it—this election’s really going to be about whether the American people trust George Bush as a competent leader to get us through one of the most difficult times we’ve ever had in this country.  And all the evidence is that the American people are beginning to see the truth, that Iraq was a strategic blunder, that the administration hasn’t told the truth about why we went into Iraq, that it doesn’t have the right strategy when we’re there, the execution’s been faulty in terms of the occupation, and there have been an associated series of—well, it’s hard to look at it any other way than just outrage in the United States.  Leaking to Ahmad Chalabi the fact that we’d broken the Iranian codes.  Someone did that.  Giving out the name of a CIA agent—that’s a federal crime—apparently, by all evidence that we’ve received, must have originated somewhere in the top levels of the White House. 

The president’s hired a lawyer and has testified himself on this.  This is a terrible thing to have happening to our country during a time of enormous stress and challenge.

BROWN:  Has Senator John Kerry talked to you about possibly being his choice for vice president?

CLARK:  Well, Senator Kerry has a confidential process, and I just don’t want to go into any of that, Campbell, thank you.

BROWN:  Would you take job if it were offered to you?

CLARK:  Well, as I said—you know, I’ve said very consistently I’m not interested in this job.  And I do think that we should do everything, and I’m going to do everything I can to help John Kerry get elected.  I think he’s the right man to lead the country at this point.  And I think the American people are increasingly seeing the fallacies and the failures of the Bush administration.

BROWN:  I’m going to ask you a bit of a frivolous question.  We’re going into it in the next segment, but—you may have heard about Vice President Dick Cheney’s comments when he got into a bit of a tiff with Senator Pat Leahy up on Capitol Hill.  I can’t say the word on television.  But is this a sign to you of how partisan things have gotten, as we head into an election year?

CLARK:  Well, the United States is essentially under one-party government.  I think the Congress under the Republican leadership is fundamentally failing to do its full duty in accordance with the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers in investigating executive branch abuses.  But that little comment made by the vice president says to me more about the stress level and pressure in the White House.

Let’s face it, the Bush administration’s had a terrible year in 2004. 

They had counted on a big success in Iraq, a victory parade down Constitution Avenue.  It looked simple.  Saddam Hussein’s legions weren’t any good.  And they listened to Ahmad Chalabi.  There were a lot of us who said this is a strategic mistake.  If you want to fight the war on terror effectively, do not invade Iraq.  That was the message. A lot of us tried to convey it privately. 

We talked about the blunder of going into Iraq.  I think the American people are seeing it.  I think the evidence is unmistakable now, and I think the White House is under pressure.

BROWN:  Well, let’s go back to the pressure.  One of the things that many have described as sort of the elephant in the room for White House officials now is the investigation into who leaked the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame and the fact that the president was questioned this week.  Do you think that there will be indictments?

CLARK:  I don’t know because I don’t know how effective and how independent and how forceful this investigator is.  We don’t have an independent counsel.  But I do know this.  George Bush promised to restore honor and integrity to the White House, and the fact that he’s hired a lawyer, the fact that he’s being questioned in a leak, that we know that this is a White House that’s extremely vindictive against its so-called political enemies—none of that brings honor to the White House.

BROWN:  General Wesley Clark, thanks so much for joining us.  It’s always good to talk to you.

CLARK:  Thank you.

BROWN:  Up next, lawyers for the accused soldiers in the Iraqi prison abuse scandal will get to question top military officials in Iraq.  Will the win the right to get Rumsfeld on the stand?

You’re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


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

During testimony this week in the ongoing prison abuse investigation, a military police captain said the top military intelligence commander was present the night one detainee died and efforts were made to conceal the details.  What does this mean for the “just following orders” defense being used by soldiers accuse of abusing prisoners?

I’m joined by Guy Womack, who’s the civilian lawyer for Specialist Charles Graner.  Mr. Womack, thanks.  Welcome, and thank you for joining us.


BROWN:  This was the testimony of Captain Donald Reese (ph), who is the commander of the MPs there.  What do you make of this?

WOMACK:  Well, it’s pretty important.  Just this past Tuesday, I was in Baghdad.  I had a chance to go to Abu Ghraib prison, about 20 miles north of Baghdad.  And I saw the shower where the death occurred.  The MPs there were all familiar with the story.  I did not know that Captain Reese was a witness to it.  Specialist Graner was not there that evening, when the death occurred, but he was certainly there later and knew the story about it.  And I think it’s very interesting.

BROWN:  Does this help your client?

WOMACK:  Yes, of course.  We’ve said all along that Abu Ghraib was being used as a point for interrogations, that military intelligence and civilian and other government agencies were running the prison, and that these were not MPs acting on their own.  They were being employed to help soften up prisoners.

And what you had in the death of that prisoner was CIA agents and other government or civilian agents who were interrogating that man in a shower on the second deck at Tier One alpha at Abu Ghraib.  And during the course of the interrogation, they had him standing under water pipes.  At some point, apparently, they handcuffed him to the window, the only window in the shower. 

And he was handcuffed there when he died.

BROWN:  Well, that doesn’t excuse your client’s behavior, though, who was—he punched one of the detainees.  He was described by one of his fellow soldiers as being one who seemed to be enjoying the brutality.  I mean, I get what you’re saying, that, yes, it went up the chain of command.  But your defense can’t be entirely, “They told me to do it,” right?

WOMACK:  It is.  Well, actually, there are two defenses.  One defense is that the actions taken by Specialist Graner were not criminal, to begin with.  But the second thing is that...

BROWN:  Beating up a detainee isn’t criminal?

WOMACK:  What’s that?

BROWN:  Beating a detainee isn’t criminal?

WOMACK:  Well, he didn’t beat a detainee.  Sivits made the comment that he hit a detainee and knocked him out.  That never happened.  That’s just a lie.  If he slapped a prisoner, if he used force to push a prisoner, it was not excessive force, by any means.  He did not...

BROWN:  Can you prove...

WOMACK:  ... use excessive force.

BROWN:  Can you prove that he was given orders?

WOMACK:  Oh, yes.  Certainly.

BROWN:  How?

WOMACK:  Captain Reese testified about that yesterday at the Article 32 for Specialist Sabrina Harmon.  Now, he testified that all of his MPs—he was an MP commander.  All of his MPs were ordered by military intelligence to do things to help set up the interrogations.  Most of the interrogations...

BROWN:  Who did your client...

WOMACK:  ... were done in a separate (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

BROWN:  Your client, specifically, though—let’s talk about your client, Charles Graner.  Who does he tell you he was given orders by?  And what orders was—were—was he given?

WOMACK:  Well, on some occasions, he was ordered directly to undress prisoners, to have them lie down in sexually embarrassing positions.

BROWN:  Ordered by whom?

WOMACK:  By military and civilian and other government agents, military intelligence agents.

BROWN:  And he’s giving you names.

WOMACK:  Well, he doesn’t know the names.  They didn’t wear nametags. 

They didn’t use names.  One was called “Big Steve.”  We now understand that was Steve Stefanovich (ph), who is a civilian contractor and, certainly, one of the higher-ups at Abu Ghraib.  There were other military intelligence officers and senior enlisted who were giving orders.  Specialist Graner received orders from them.

BROWN:  Well...

WOMACK:  And there are photographs showing that.

BROWN:  I know you believe this goes, obviously, way up the chain of command, but you’ve also asked to question General Sanchez, General Abizaid, possibly Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, even the president.  But the top generals, what do you think they actually knew?  How responsible are they?

WOMACK:  Well, I don’t think that they’re criminally responsible.  I think Lieutenant General Sanchez will admit that he was aware of very aggressive tactics being used at Abu Ghraib, that he heard briefings from Major General Miller encouraging the military intelligence community to use MPs to soften up prisoners.  I expect General Miller himself to tell about those briefings and that advice that he gave.  I expect Brigadier General Karpinski to say that within days of when General Miller made that advice, that they implemented that advice.  I expect Colonel Pappas to say that he was involved in it and that he ordered certain things to be done.

BROWN:  We got to go, but Guy Womack, thanks for joining us.  We appreciate it.

Up next: David Kay will be with us to respond to deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz’s statements on the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

You’re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


BROWN:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, ®MD-BO¯Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz apologizes for accusing journalists of publishing rumors.  And Vice President Cheney uses the F-word in confronting a senator over the

Halliburton investigation.  

But, first, these latest headlines right now.


BROWN:  David Kay led the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq last year for the CIA.  He is now an NBC News analyst. 

David, good to have you here. 

DAVID KAY, NBC ANALYST:  Happy to be with you, Campbell. 

BROWN:  Earlier this week, I sat down with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz for an interview.  And he had something to say about you.  I want to play the tape and get your reaction. 


PAUL WOLFOWITZ, DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY:  It wasn’t for us to prove that he had massive stockpiles or he had weapons ready to go.  He had to finally come clean with an inspection region that he had 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:  What’s your response to that? 

KAY:  Well, my first response is, Secretary Wolfowitz is absolutely correct.  Saddam was not in compliance with Resolution 1441.  But it’s extraordinarily disingenuous to argue that, in fact, we went to war just because he was obstructing inspectors and you didn’t have to be concerned as to whether there were stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. 

We went to war because the American people were convinced by the political leadership that there were stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that they posed a threat to U.S. national security.  We didn’t find those weapons of mass destruction. 

BROWN:  No evidence of it at all.  Let’s just get it out there once and for all. 

KAY:  There’s no evidence of actual stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, no evidence that they ever existed.  Therefore, they didn’t move. 

There are a lot of evidence of program activities, no doubt about that.  But that’s not the same. 

BROWN:  Well, let me play something else that Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz said yesterday.  He also claimed that Saddam may have hidden the weapon.  Listen to this part of the tape. 


WOLFOWITZ:  Everyone believed that his programs were more active than they appear to be, but recognize, he had a lot of time to move stuff, a lot of time to hide stuff.  There was some systematic 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, has used weapons, knows how the build weapon, never gave up on the idea that he would cheat and defy U.N. weapons inspections and it’s very clear where he was going. 


BROWN:  Is this a possibility? 

KAY:  Well, it’s certainly a clever argument.  That is, you go from something you can’t prove, that he may have hidden them, may have moved them, but you have no idea where and no evidence of that, to the argument that, well, he did have them, without saying he did have them in the 1980s—that’s what we know—and not deal with the fact, where’s the evidence that he had anything produced in the 1990s? 

While you can’t prove something is not hidden in a country as big as Iraq, certainly in the security situation that prevails, there is absolutely no evidence of people, facilities, material, equipment that would have been involved in the production of large numbers of weapons of mass destruction. 

BROWN:  Your former boss, George Tenet, director of the CIA, resigned several weeks ago.  Was he the fall guy for this administration? 

KAY:  I don’t know what the term fall guy is.

George certainly presided over a CIA that went through some extraordinarily tough times and he was facing a summer that we now know is even tougher than we thought when he resigned.  We now have this book out by one of his employees that no only says the war on terrorism is wrongly headed and that Iraq is getting away, but puts the blame directly on the director of the CIA for misinforming the president. 

So I think there are ample reasons that he may have decided he would rather do something else this summer.

BROWN:  I want to read you a quote that Vice President Al—former Vice President Al Gore had to say: “President Bush is now intentionally misleading the American people by continuing—continuing aggressively and brazenly asserting a linkage between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.  If he’s not lying, if they genuinely believe that, that makes them unfit in the battle with al Qaeda.”

Have the American people been misled?          

KAY:  Well, it depends on what statement you’re listening to. 

I think the president, by and large, has been very cautious.  I would not say the same for Secretary Wolfowitz, nor for the vice president in asserting that there’s evidence that Saddam had contacts with terrorists over a 25-year period.  He had numerous contacts.  Baghdad was a retirement home for a group of terrorists.  But there’s no absolutely evidence that I’ve seen that this was a war that was coordinated, that is Iraq, 9/11, cooperated in a coordinated war against the United States. 

Here again, the administration—I noticed in the interview, Secretary Wolfowitz did that, too.  You skate from lack of evidence of coordination and cooperation to assert al Qaeda is operating today in Baghdad and in Iraq in general.  Absolutely.  I think that is true.  There are foreign fighters coming in.  And some of them clearly are trained by al Qaeda. 

But that is as a result of the war, which has become the poster boy for recruiting for new terrorists.  The jihad is getting new recruits every day

because of the war in Iraq.       

BROWN:  There was a chemical warhead that was found in Iraq a few weeks ago.  What is the status of that investigation?  And how does this change with

the handover? 

KAY:  Well, the investigation is still going on in detail, but it is clearly a warhead that was produced in the 1980s.  There’s no doubt that there are many of these hidden around, hidden maybe purposefully or just simply abandoned in the course of two wars, the war against Iran and then the 1991 Gulf War. 

When the handover takes place, there are two things that must happen. 

One, you need to continue uncovering what really happened to Saddam’s WMD program in its full extent, not just the weapons, but the scientists, the material, the course of that.  But you also need to ensure that Iraq does not again pick up the cudgel of weapons of mass destruction and try to recreate them. 

Remember, their neighbor Iran is clearly going ahead with a weapons of

mass destruction program now.  So they will be under tremendous pressure.     

BROWN:  But how do you do that with the handover coming up, where clearly things are being handed over?  The Iraqis are now in control.  Can the U.S. government in any way, be it the military or whoever else, oversee that


KAY:  Not over a long period of time. 

What we must arrange is some turnover to the international community. 

We need to get inspectors back in again for a long-term basis.  This is not something that one nation can impose on Iraq over a long period of time.  We actually have experience with that, and it didn’t work very well, the First World War, in which the allies tried to control German rearmament and prevent it.  It became very much a French vs. German and British vs. German affair.

And the Germans, with popular support, ignored it.  The same thing

could happen in Iraq if we don’t internationalize that responsibility.        

BROWN:  David Kay, it’s always good to talk to you.  Thanks for joining us.

KAY:  Good to talk to you, Campbell.

BROWN:  And, up next, Vice President Cheney may have used the F-word in confronting a senator earlier this week.  But it’s not the first time a politician has lost his cool.  We’ll look at dirty words in politics when we come back.

ANNOUNCER:  Follow all the action in the battle for the White House. 

Sign up for our free daily e-mail.  Just log on to our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.


BROWN:  Coming up, a live report inside the Kerry campaign from MSNBC’s Felix Schein—when HARDBALL returns.


BROWN:  Even when members of the U.S. Senate disagree, they usually refer to each other with words like my esteemed colleague.  This week, however, amid some of the most partisan warfare in years, Vice President Dick Cheney, the president of the Senate, dispensed with the niceties and instead used an expletive, something almost unheard of in the ornate Senate chamber.

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster reports.


DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I, Richard Bruce Cheney, do solemnly swear.

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC ELECTION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  And swear he did, according to witnesses this week in the U.S. Senate.

On Tuesday, during the annual Senate class photo-op, Vice President Cheney allegedly complained to Democrat Patrick Leahy about the senator’s criticism of no-bid Iraq contracts for Halliburton, Cheney’s former company. 

Senator Leahy responded by complaining about alleged administration smears of Democrats.  Cheney then used the F-word, telling Leahy, go—yourself.

Today, “The Washington Post,” the self-described family newspaper, printed the entire expletive.  Editors said they broke with long-standing policies because the vice president made the remark on the Senate floor. 

Democrats couldn’t be happier.  When John Kerry used a similar word months ago to describe the administration’s Iraq policy, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said, “I’m very disappointed that he would use that kind of language.”

JOE TRIPPI, FORMER HOWARD DEAN CAMPAIGN MANAGER:  If I had a dollar for every candidate who has ever used that word, I wouldn’t have to raise money. 

We would have all the money in the world to run the campaign.

SHUSTER:  Four years ago on the campaign trail, President Bush was caught saying this.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  There’s Adam Clymer, major league asshole.


SHUSTER:  President Clinton was notorious for his outbursts, including this one caught on tape.


SHUSTER:  Cheney’s outburst comes at a pressure filled time and amidst bitter feelings on both sides of the political aisle.  Federal prosecutors are wrapping up a criminal investigation into allegations the vice president’s office leaked the identity of a CIA operative whose husband had criticized the administration.

Democrats are using the no-bid contracts to Halliburton in campaign ads.


NARRATOR:  The Pentagon caught Halliburton overcharging $61 million for gasoline.


SHUSTER:  Cheney has been caught contradicting himself about his 9/11 claims. 

QUESTION:  You have said in the past that it was—quote—“pretty well confirmed.”

CHENEY:  No, I never said that. 

It’s been pretty well confirmed that he did go to Prague. 

SHUSTER:  And late-night comedians are having a field day. 


JON STEWART, HOST:  Mr. Vice President, I have to inform you, your pants are on fire. 



SHUSTER:  Whether or not the vice president this week was simply blowing off steam, his timing was impeccable because his outburst happened the very day the U.S. Senate passed the Defense of Decency Act, legislation aimed at curbing bad language. 

I’m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.


BROWN:  Thank you, David. 

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

Chuck Todd is the editor in chief of “The Hotline,” a daily must-read news publication inside the beltway.

Welcome to you both. 

Chuck, let me start with you.  “Hotline” covers the coverage.  Are we making too much of this? 


No, I don’t think so.  I’m surprised actually that this hasn’t gotten more into the mainstream.  Now, Leno did have a joke about it last night.  All the L.A.-based late-nighters were able to get into their monologues last night because it was before taping.  I have a feeling this weekend and tonight, we’re

going to see a lot more of this.   Are we making too much of it?  Yes, I think

we are, but it’s fun. 

BROWN:  Well, OK. 


TODD:  I’m sorry.  It’s fun.


TODD:  He used the F-word.  It’s fun.   



BROWN:  Your sources are better than anyone’s.  What really happened? 

What was behind all this? 

FINEMAN:  Well, Dick Cheney is not a well-loved figure on the Hill and the feeling is mutual.  And he’s gone through a lot of bad stuff in recent weeks. 

BROWN:  And it’s a bad week, this one especially. 

FINEMAN:  This one especially. 

And not least of which, the other week, all the fawning over John McCain, campaigning with George Bush.  Now, there’s been a low-grade...

BROWN:  What do you mean, like signaling he’s out and McCain is going to replace him on the ticket? 

FINEMAN:  Well, of course, he isn’t out, but no man as lordly as Dick Cheney wants to hear that low, distant rumble of dissatisfaction that he hears all the time and people whispering behind his back, you know, it’s too bad we can’t have somebody else on the ticket, whether it’s McCain or Tom Ridge or some.... 

BROWN:  They’re not whispering behind his back.  We’re talking about it on television.

FINEMAN:  Right.  And that’s not going to happen, of course.  But I think that’s got to have gotten to him, plus the Halliburton stuff, plus the leak investigation, plus all the jokes that he’s been under, plus the Iraq contradictions that he’s aware of, even if he doesn’t admit.

So he’s a pretty thin-skinned guy.  Also, he’s out of practice in dealing on the Hill.  For the last three years, he’s been surrounded by people who are saying, yes, sir, terrific idea, Mr. Vice President. 

TODD:  I don’t know the thin-skinned.  Look, he’s a human—he showed -

·        both of them showed they were human beings.  Finally, he showed, hey, you

know what?  I’m ticked off.   Stop beating us up because we oppose a judge and

calling us anti-Catholic.  And Cheney is like, stop picking on me and questioning my integrity. 


FINEMAN:  If he’s vice president, he should keep


TODD:  I totally understand, but every once in a while, they’re human beings and it showed a little bit. 


BROWN:  But, come on.  It’s legendary that they talk this way, even the president behind closed doors.  And Cheney just got caught.  Fair?

TODD:  I think that’s—yes, he got caught.  And it’s fair enough.  C- SPAN’s cameras, the question, is if they were rolling, does the government have to fine themselves? 



TODD:  I think Howard Stern is going to want to know about that.

FINEMAN:  Tune into “Saturday Night Live” tomorrow night. 

BROWN:  It will be a good one. 

BROWN:  I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about talk about Wolfowitz .  Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz apologized this week for the comments he made about the press coverage and the members of the press corps in Baghdad being afraid to leave their hotels and reporting rumors.

What did you make of that? 

TODD:  Well, it was I think a little unprecedented that he did this and I think he’s opening up a can of worms.  He’s apologizing for this.

Wolfowitz is not the most adept politician.  He’s a policy guy.  And he’s tried—basically, he’s not a good politician.  And it showed.  And this was a case, you do an apology, you be careful, because now they’re going to ask for more. 


FINEMAN:  I was struck by how full the apology was.  He was practically groveling and it’s rare he should reexamine the policy behind...

BROWN:  Of this administration.


FINEMAN:  With the same enthusiasm that he did this.  It was a genuine apology.

BROWN:  Yes. 

All right, we’ve got to take a quick break.

Coming up, an inside look at the Kerry campaign and the latest buzz on the veepstakes. 

You’re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 


BROWN:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

I’m Campbell Brown, in for Chris Matthews.

And we’re back with Chuck Todd and Howard Fineman. 

Howard, what do you think?  Is it really down to John Edwards and Dick Gephardt now? 

FINEMAN:  It’s down to somebody.  I wish I knew who.  That’s what I’ve been spending all week trying to figure out. 


BROWN:  Did you get anywhere?

FINEMAN:  Well, I do know that, yesterday, John Kerry had a conference call with his major donors.  And he said, look, if you’ve got anything to say about any of these guys...

BROWN:  Get it out.

FINEMAN:  Positive or negative, tell me now.  E-mail it to me.  Call me privately.  Let me know. 

Now, will those people really affect things?  No.  But it’s called stroking people.  And that means that Kerry is getting down to the time where he’s really going to decide.  And I think it’s down to two or three people.  I think that Edwards and Gephardt are two of them.  Who the third person is for sure, I really don’t know.  But I do think that they’re going to decide sooner rather than later, meaning right after July 4 this thing is going to go up big time. 

BROWN:  So get a bump for a while in the weeks leading up to the convention, another big bump at the convention with the convention coverage. 

TODD:  He almost would own almost a whole block of time. 

Now, what’s interesting is that Kerry, I think you keep hearing the kiss of death may have been—for John Edwards may have been this Ralph Nader endorsement.  The last thing—I’ve already heard bunches of Democrats saying, oh, great, if he picks Edwards, the RNC is going to say, oh, Ralph Nader is advising John Kerry on who he should pick for vice president.  So a lot of folks


BROWN:  Yes, but do you think they can sell that, really? 


BROWN:  No.  And it an be argued the other way, too, in that Nader’s hanging around there with 5 or 6 percent in the poll.  Having somebody who does well potentially with Nader voters isn’t necessarily bad.

The connection is trial lawyers.  The connection there is trial lawyers. 

TODD:  Absolutely.


FINEMAN:  John Edwards is a trial lawyer. 


FINEMAN:  Ralph Nader is the biggest supporter.  Mr. Populist is the biggest supporter of trial lawyers.

And he will argue, if Edwards is picked, that being a trial lawyer is a pro-populist kind of thing to be.  The Republicans will attack and attack and attack Edwards as being just another rapacious lawyer. 

TODD:  Now, look, I’ll admit my sources work for his sources. 


TODD:  So they’re not quite as good as his, but I’m really hearing a lot of negative buzz lately on Edwards, that Kerry doesn’t like to be pressured into a situation like this and that everybody keeps saying Kerry’s going to make this a personal decision.  And while that may suggest Dick Gephardt, don’t count out guys like Joe Biden, his other friend in the Senate.

BROWN:  Why haven’t we been hearing Biden’s name much? 

FINEMAN:  Because I don’t think Biden has really been seriously vetted from top to bottom.  I talked to one of his


TODD:  Kerry and Biden talk all the time. 


I talked to one of his best friends, one of Joe Biden’s best friends just a few hours ago, who said Joe hasn’t really been put through the ringer. 

And the guy who puts him the ringer is Jim Johnson, former head of Fannie Mae. 

BROWN:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  And there’s no ringer like the one that Jim Johnson has constructed.

BROWN:  He’s done this before, lots of experience with the vetting process.

FINEMAN:  And he’s incredibly meticulous. 

I agree that Kerry feels comfortable with Dick Gephardt.  They are two experienced politicians.  They formed a bond on the campaign trail.  They were the ones always winking and joking with each other during that whole charade of the last fall.  Kerry trusts him, feels comfortable with him.  So does Jim Johnson, which gives Gephardt a really strong shot at this.

BROWN:  And he’s a safe bet.  If you’re worried about somebody making a gaffe or being a little new to the game in terms of the national coverage.


TODD:  There’s no poll bump.  Look, if this is a polling decision, it’s Edwards.  Edwards is the one.  They’ve been doing some private polling. 


TODD:  Jim Johnson hasn’t polled...

FINEMAN:  There’s not much of a poll bump.  The public is so divided. 

This thing is so divided, 49-49-2, that nobody’s going to get a big bump out of anything.  The Bush campaign dumped $85 million worth of ads on Kerry, didn’t destroy them.  Bush has had three horrible months of coverage, didn’t destroy him. 

This country is locked—I talked to Matt Dowd, the pollster you had on last night for Bush-Cheney.  He said 18 percent of the public is persuadable.  That’s the lowest number by far ever. 


BROWN:  OK, we’ve only got about a minute and a half.

So, I’m going to go to the issue of topic that guys are most interested in that we haven’t talked about at all, Illinois Senator Jack Ryan dropping out of the race.  Why? 


BROWN:  Tell us the story. 

TODD:  Well, it’s a very long story.  But the very short...

FINEMAN:  Cut to the chase.

TODD:  The very short version is, “The Chicago Tribune” and another media company sued to get his custody records released and his divorce during his divorce with Jeri Ryan, who is an actress.

BROWN:  Yes. 

TODD:  “Boston Public,” “Star Trek,” whatever version of it.

BROWN:  OK, the money line.

TODD:  And, apparently, she accused him of looking—wanting to go to -

·        he wanted to go to sex clubs and having sex in public places and made these offerings.  Anyway, that got out in the public and Republicans ran screaming for the hills. 

FINEMAN:  Well, he briefly tried to argue—his people briefly tried to argue that he hasn’t violated any of the Ten Commandments because he was with his wife. 


FINEMAN:  But that didn’t cut it. 


FINEMAN:  Sex in public, I’m sorry, this country’s changed.  It hasn’t changed that much.  He’s out of the race within a day.

TODD:  Sex in public in the Republican Party. 


BROWN:  Oh, Democrats  


TODD:  ... in the Democratic Party, or at least in Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party. 

FINEMAN:  I don’t think so.

BROWN:  Well, do you guys happen to think it’s the big news of the week?  No.

Thank you both.  Howard Fineman, thanks for being here.  It’s always good to see you.  It’s been fun, Chuck Todd.

Join us again Monday night at 7:00 Eastern with more HARDBALL.  We’ll begin our weeklong look at the transfer of power in Iraq. 

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


Discussion comments