updated 7/6/2004 10:33:48 AM ET 2004-07-06T14:33:48

Guest: Joe Wilson, Don Evans, Peter Camejo, Joe Trippi, John Dickerson, John Fund

CAMPBELL BROWN, GUEST HOST:  Tonight, Ambassador Joe Wilson.  The last U.S. diplomat to meet Saddam Hussein face to face shares his insights into the man on trial for his life in Iraq.  Plus, secretary of commerce Don Evans on today‘s job numbers.  And summertime speculation heats up on the veepstakes race, as rumors swell that candidate Kerry is ready to pop the question.

I‘m Campbell Brown, and this is HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Campbell Brown, in for Chris Matthews.

Saddam Hussein is now facing the death penalty for charges including the 1988 gassing of the Kurds, the 1991 suppression of the Shia uprisings and the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.  Joseph Wilson was the acting ambassador to Iraq and the first American diplomat to meet with Saddam just four days after he invaded Kuwait.  He is also the last American to meet with Saddam before the first Gulf war.

He is now more famously known for challenging President Bush‘s claim that Saddam tried to buy uranium from Africa.  Shortly thereafter, the identity of Wilson‘s wife, a clandestine CIA operative, was revealed, and a grand jury is now investigating who leaked her name to the press.  Wilson has written a book about his ordeal entitled, “The Politics of Truth:

Inside the Lies That Led to War and Betrayed My Wife‘s CIA Identity.”  He‘s also an adviser to the Kerry campaign.

And Joe, it‘s great you have to here.  Good to see you.

JOE WILSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ:  Campbell, nice to be with you.

BROWN:  Let‘s talk about—we‘re going to get into the other stuff in a minute, but let‘s talk about Saddam Hussein because you know him.  You‘ve met him on a number of occasions.  What was your gut reaction yesterday when you saw him in the courtroom?

WILSON:  Well, I thought it was a quintessential Saddam Hussein performance.  Everything was there except for the gun on his hip.  He tried to dominate the scene, very clearly.  He tried to make out—as I‘ve always said, that he sees himself as the state.  He and the state are one.  C‘est moi l‘etat.  And he definitely tried to portray that, the ultimate nationalist.  He attempted to put the judge in his place, basically undermining the judge‘s credibility as an Iraqi holding him in judgment.  For—and the other thing I think did he with the beard is a clear signal to the fundamentalists that Saddam is no longer a secular nationalist.

BROWN:  Right.

WILSON:  He is now an Islamic nationalist.

BROWN:  So you believe he‘s using this, or will use this trial as a platform to try to regain an audience.

WILSON:  Well, I think he definitely was trying to appeal to whatever he thinks is left of his constituency, the 99.9 percent who voted him into office.  But you know, getting back to that part of it, the one thing that‘s always been consistent about Saddam is the foundation on which he bases his arguments is always skewed.  And in this case, he came in and he introduced himself as the president of Iraq.  Obviously, still a little bit delusional about what his status is in the new Iraq.

BROWN:  So you don‘t—or do you think it was humiliating at all for him to be sitting there in one of his own palaces before an Iraqi judge?

WILSON:  Well, I did not see when he was brought in, but the reporting was that he was bowed and he looked like he was a broken man.  But clearly, the parts that I saw...

BROWN:  Once he got going.

WILSON:  Once he got going, he clearly was trying to master the scene.

BROWN:  You met with him four days after he invaded Kuwait.  Tell us about that meeting.  What did he say to you?  What did you say to him?

WILSON:  Well, in that meeting, he also tried to—he did master the scene, very clearly.  It was Saddam and nine of his people from the foreign ministry and myself and my political adviser, political counselor at the embassy.  During the course of that meeting, he laid out why he had invaded Kuwait, the history behind the relationship, what the Kuwaitis had done to him.  And then he offered what he I called the deal.  And the deal was, I‘ll sell you all the oil you want if you let me keep Kuwait.  And by the way, if you try and drive me out militarily, you will spill the blood of 10,000 of your soldiers in the Arabian desert.  And you have neither will nor the tenacity to accept those sorts of losses or to stay in the war for as long as it will take to drive me out.

BROWN:  And what was your reaction?

WILSON:  My reaction was—I didn‘t have any talking points when I went there, but I assumed that if my president had sent me talking points, they would have been, Get out of Kuwait now.

BROWN:  Right.

WILSON:  Quit besieging our embassy in Kuwait.  Quit looting our property, and allow all Americans to leave both Kuwait and Iraq immediately, because he had closed down the borders.

BROWN:  Some of my notes from yesterday—he was charged with—when he was charged with invading Kuwait, he said the Kuwaitis were, quote, “dogs” who tried to turn Iraqi women into $10 prostitutes.  I mean, in a way, when he‘s using this kind of language, is he serving, in a sense, as his own prosecutor?

WILSON:  The stories at that time were that, in the negotiating session, when the Kuwaiti negotiating team was sitting face to face with Izzad Ibrahim (ph), Taha Ramadan and “Chemical Ali,” that they basically said to the Iraqis, If you need more money, do what Iraqis have done historically, put your women back on the streets.  So that‘s the story that was around then.  I might say that I don‘t think the charge of invading Kuwait is one that is going to resonate amongst the Iraqi people.

BROWN:  Like the other charges.

WILSON:  Like the other charges.

BROWN:  The crimes against humanity.

WILSON:  It‘s a charge that would resonate if you were being tried in Kuwait.  But there‘s little love lost between Iraqis and...

BROWN:  And the Kuwaitis.

WILSON:  ... the Kuwaitis.  And when they invaded Kuwait, there was widespread jubilation and celebration in the streets of Iraq.  It was only when it became apparent that we were serious about driving them out of Kuwait that that jubilation turned to rather sullen sort of expectation that American bombs were going to rain down on their heads.

BROWN:  Some of the charges against him, though, stem from a time when the U.S. Was aligned with Saddam.  Are there secrets that he may be aware of, in terms of the U.S.-Iraqi relationship that may come back to haunt us?

WILSON:  None that I‘m aware of.  I think everything that—everything that I‘m aware of in the nature of our relationship during the time I was there is all out in the public domain.  There‘s been some talk about Don Rumsfeld‘s trip out there in 1984.  I‘ve not spoken to the secretary of defense.  I‘ve never met the secretary of defense.  But I‘ve spoken to people who were on that trip with him who say it was largely devoted—that meeting was largely devoted to trying to get some positive movement on the Arab-Israeli peace process.

BROWN:  There‘s a sense now that the vast majority of Iraqis know about his—the atrocities that were committed against the Kurds, against the Iraqi people.  When you were there, was it common knowledge, the kind of stuff that‘s going on that we certainly heard about in the lead-up to the war and after?

WILSON:  When I was there, the citizens of Iraq were fearful for saying anything that could ever be perceived or construed as anti-Saddam.  So we did not have a lot of heart-to-heart conversations that were open and aboveboard.  I remember just really very, very few, most which of took place walking in date groves, palm groves, away from the houses and away from any possible bugging devices.

BROWN:  Two questions about the others who have been taken into custody, who—you know—you know Tariq Aziz, “Chemical Ali.”  Do you foresee these guys cutting deals?

WILSON:  Well, I was struck by—I didn‘t see much of their being paraded, but the reporting today was that they all appeared to be broken and all appeared to be trying to cut deals.  And I was struck by the extent to which this really was an old and sclerotic regime.  And I think that‘s what you‘re basically going to see when these guys are paraded before a justice.  My own sense of this was always that all we really had to fear from the Iraqi regime was Saddam‘s sons, the transition, because those who...

BROWN:  Right.

WILSON:  ... were in power, Saddam and his cronies, were all getting very old, and they were really a spent political force.  Their hold on power was brittle.  And obviously, Saddam‘s alliances were becoming increasingly narrow-based, narrowly ethnically based and family based.  That‘s hard—even in a dictatorship, an autocratic dictatorship like that, it‘s difficult to sustain power in the absence of some allies throughout the country that can help you, at a minimum, keep the totalitarianism going.

BROWN:  Going back, though, to what you said a minute ago, the fear factor, how hard do you think it will be, even with all of these people in custody, to get Iraqis to come forward to testify and share evidence?

WILSON:  Well, I suspect that for those who feared and hated Saddam Hussein, which is the vast majority of the population, yesterday must have seemed a little like the return of Freddie to “Nightmare on Elm Street.”  He‘s back!

BROWN:  Yes.

WILSON:  And I suspect...

BROWN:  Back and coming off like a tough guy.  Not broken.

WILSON:  And coming off like somebody who is fully in command of everything.  I suspect—I remember when Laurent Kabila tried to overthrow Mobutu, and they met on this ship, and Kabila would not look Mobutu in the eye, even though Mobutu was a spent force, because he was still afraid...

BROWN:  Right.

WILSON:  ... of the power that resided in the man.  And I suspect there may still be a little bit of that among the Iraqi citizens.

BROWN:  We got to take a quick break.  We‘ll be back with more from Joe Wilson, Ambassador Joe Wilson, in just a moment, and the investigation into the leak of his CIA agent wife.  And later, new economic numbers out today, and it‘s a mixed bag for the Bush administration.  Commerce secretary Don Evans will join us from the White House.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  We‘re back with Ambassador Joe Wilson.  President Bush was interviewed for more than an hour in the Oval Office last week by the special prosecutor investigating who leaked the identity of Wilson‘s wife, a covert CIA officer, to the press.  President Bush retained a private lawyer for the interview, but was not placed under oath.

So Joe, what do you think?  Are White House officials going to be indicted?

WILSON:  I have no idea.  I can tell you that I have absolute confidence in the special counsel and in the FBI team that‘s doing this.  I was struck by the fact that the lawyer that the president hired was not his personal attorney.  He‘s a criminal defense attorney and...

BROWN:  What significance—why...

WILSON:  Well, I take White House at its word that there was no significance.  But I‘m just struck by that.

BROWN:  Tell me, as did you in the book that you wrote and previous interviews that you and I have done, who you believe was behind this.

WILSON:  Well, it‘s not who I believe, it‘s what people have told me who have followed this.  As I like to remind people, I‘m not O.J. Simpson.  I‘m not looking for the person who did in my wife.  But there are a lot of people who have come to me, and I thought it was important to put those stories together, so that people who do not obsess on this story might have an update.  The best that I‘ve heard from people, the one that I‘ve been—heard from the most sources, different sources, has been that there was a meeting in March that was chaired by Scooter Libby and involved...

BROWN:  Vice President...

WILSON:  ... Vice President Cheney‘s chief of staff...

BROWN:  ... Cheney‘s chief of staff.

WILSON:  ... at which it was decided to run, essentially, an intelligence operation against me.  This is not the FBI doing the investigation.  This was White House political hacks trying to find out everything they could about me.  And during course of that investigation, or the course of that work-up, they call it, they fell upon my wife‘s name and were then poised to use it as soon as my article came out.

BROWN:  Let me follow up with you, though, because there was a reporter for “The Washington Post” who did give a tape-recorded deposition about conversations that he had had with Scooter Libby on the dates that investigators were looking into, and basically, in the deposition, said that your name and that your wife‘s name never came up.

WILSON:  Well, I wouldn‘t expect Scooter Libby to do it himself.  He‘s a smart guy.  He‘s a lawyer, and he‘s been around for a long time.  I would expect that there was a conspiracy, and at some point, cut-outs were used to make these telephone calls.  but the fact that they‘ve actually gotten this deposition from one attorney would suggest to me that the White House ought to release and actively encourage, as I understand Mr. Libby did—encourage all reporters who had any conversations with White House officials and/or cut-outs, anybody who may be in those telephone logs from Air Force One and the White House, to go ahead and be interviewed and offer depositions to that effect.

BROWN:  This investigation has been going on now for nine months.  Do you believe the White House is stonewalling?

WILSON:  Oh, absolutely.  This is—there are not 1,000 people who would have access to the national security information, that would not be able to get into the conversations at which my wife‘s name would come up and her employment would come up.  There are very, very few.  And I think it‘s important to understand that irrespective of whether you can get an indictment or a prosecution of this, the minute the CIA referred this to the Justice Department for investigation, it was a clear indication that the national security of the country has been breached.  Now, the White House talks about this as a criminal investigation and absolutely ignores the fact that a national security asset has been betrayed.

BROWN:  But how would you have them deal with this?  Because I want to go back to the point you just made.  For this to be a crime, the person who leaked her name had to have intentionally done it, knowing that she was a covert operative and with that intent.

WILSON:  Well, that‘s only if it‘s the Intelligence Identity‘s Protection Act.  But there‘s also the protection of classified material.  There‘s also the Patriot Act that makes it a crime to betray the national security of the country.

BROWN:  We‘re going to have to wrap up in a second, but I want to ask you what impact this has had on your life and on Valerie‘s life and on her career?

WILSON:  Well, I think it‘s important to understand, the release of this book by Anonymous was done so long as his name could be kept out of the public sector and that his face would not be shown.  And the reason the CIA gave for the intelligence—the government gave for that was that they didn‘t want him to become an al Qaeda target.  Now, the exact same concern is shared here in the Wilson family.  So we are concerned about that.  We‘re concerned about the security implications.  It—clearly, in terms of employment, it means that my wife cannot do many of the things that she was able to do in the past.  She‘s now an overt employee.  Everybody knows who she is.

BROWN:  We‘ve only got 30 seconds.  Do you believe advising the Kerry campaign undermines your credibility on this issue?

WILSON:  Well, I believe that as an American citizen, I have every right in the world to exercise my right of citizenship, my responsibility of citizenship as I see fit.  There‘s nothing underhanded about supporting one candidate or another.  And the crime that was committed was not a crime against Joe Wilson or against Valerie Wilson, it was a crime against the country.  It was a crime against the national security of the country.  So it‘s important to keep that in perspective.

BROWN:  We‘ve got to go, but it was good to talk to you again. 

Ambassador Joe Wilson, thanks for joining us.

WILSON:  Nice to see you.

BROWN:  And coming up next, commerce secretary Don Evans on the new economic numbers out today.  And later, a look at the Nader factor in the battle for the White House with Democratic strategist Joe Trippi and Nader‘s running mate, Peter Camejo.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  We‘re back with more HARDBALL.  Joining me now, commerce secretary Don Evans to talk about the economy.  New numbers are out today.  Secretary Evans, thanks for being with us.

DON EVANS, COMMERCE SECRETARY:  Sure, Campbell.  Always good to be with you.

BROWN:  Let‘s talk about those new numbers, the unemployment rate at 5.6 percent.  That‘s unchanged for the third straight month.  Number of new jobs created, 112,000.  What‘s your take?

EVANS:  Campbell, the unemployment rate at 5.6 percent remains below the average unemployment rate of the 1970s and the 1980s and the 1990s.  Over the last year or so, the unemployment rate has been trending down.  I think it will continue that trend in the months ahead.  We‘ve created some 1.5 million jobs since August of 2003.  Over the last four months, we‘ve averaged about 256,000 jobs per month.  The economy is very, very strong, continues to get stronger.  We—we—you know, I certainly anticipate more job creation in the months ahead, particularly as I talk to small businesses across America.  They all tell me they‘re hiring.

BROWN:  Well, let‘s talk about the number that was—that came out this morning, 100 -- 1,000 -- 112,000 new jobs.  It is substantially lower than what economists or analysts had predicted, 250,000 jobs.

EVANS:  Campbell, there‘s really no reason at all to get focused on any one month number.  I mean, what you need to watch are the trends that are taking place in our economy.  And the trends in employment are all very, very strong in a positive direction, created some 1.5 million jobs since August of 2003.  Over the average of the last—the average of the last four months, as I said, you know, 256,000 jobs.  These numbers always get revised in the months ahead.  I assure you, the number that came out today will be revised next month.

BROWN:  But...

EVANS:  I don‘t know if it will be revised up or down.

BROWN:  Well, let me ask you...

EVANS:  But to get focused on any one number, you‘re just losing sight of how strong this overall economy is.

BROWN:  But In fairness, it‘s less than half from what analysts were saying.  And Democrats put out a statement today that I‘ll read you, saying, quote, “Americans ought to remember, if you‘ve dug yourself a hole, filling it halfway is nothing to brag about.”

EVANS:  Well, Campbell, it‘s just amazing to me that people—some people that want to aspire to be leaders just dig so hard to try and find negative information.  It‘s kind of—you know, Follow me because every place I look, I see bad news.  And let me tell you, this is the strongest economy that I‘ve seen in my lifetime.

BROWN:  Well, what...

EVANS:  I mean, when you really—you know, you want to focus on one month‘s number.  The way that statistically that works, Campbell, is that number can be plus or minus 100,000 workers.  They just don‘t know yet.  I mean, that‘s a—that‘s a preliminary number that just came out.  And to focus on any one number really loses sight of how strong this economy is...

BROWN:  Well...

EVANS:  ... and the job growth that we‘ve been experiencing over the -

·         since August of 2003.

BROWN:  I hear your optimism.  But apparently, most Americans don‘t. 

I just want to show you the poll number.  This is from our NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll out this week: 45 percent of those polled approve of the president‘s handling of the economy, while 49 percent disapprove.  Why isn‘t your message of optimism getting out?

EVANS:  Well, I think it will in the months ahead, as they continue to feel how strong this economy is, they continue to see more take-home pay, they continue to see take-home pay growing in this economy.  I mean, it just takes time.  I mean, this job creation that we‘ve been experiencing has been taking place over the last eight months or so, eight or nine months.  You know, I think over the next ensuing months, they‘ll feel it.  And they will feel that their job is more secure than it was four years ago.  They‘ll feel that their personal disposable income is higher than it was four years ago.

BROWN:  Well, our poll also found that when voters were asked about what their top concerns were, war, the war in Iraq, the war on terrorism, both trumped the economy.  Is that preventing from you getting your message out?

EVANS:  Well, I‘m not sure it is, Campbell.  It probably may have something to do with it.  I mean, when you see negative news on the TV at night, I‘m sure it has an influence on how people think.  But you know, as I look at the economy, I must tell that you we have every reason to be confident about our economy.

BROWN:  But is this presidential election going to be decided on the war, rather than the economy?

EVANS:  I don‘t believe so.  I think people will look at this (UNINTELLIGIBLE) country and they‘ll say in November that more—we‘re more secure than we were four years ago.  National security is stronger than it was four years ago.  And economic security is stronger than it was four years ago.

BROWN:  Let me ask you a question that‘s a little unusual, but I know you‘re a close friend of President Bush‘s.  And over the last many weeks, there has been a fair amount of bad news, from the movie “Fahrenheit 9/11,” president—or Vice President Cheney being booed at Yankee Stadium.  His disapproval ratings are higher.  How is he taking all this?  Have you talked to him about it?

EVANS:  The president is very comfortable.  He‘s very confident.  He knows that he‘ll continue to stay focused on leading this world to a place of peace, a place of freedom.  He‘s very steady.  You know, he is—he continues to lead this country in a very positive, strong direction and feels very comfortable.

BROWN:  Mr. Secretary, will you announce on HARDBALL today that you‘re going to run for governor of Texas in 2006?

EVANS:  I will announce that I‘m absolutely not going to run for governor in—my only political aspirations are to serve this president of the United States and the American people.

BROWN:  And if he is reelected, will you stay in the administration?

EVANS:  We‘ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

BROWN:  Secretary Don Evans, I want to thank you for your time.  It‘s good to see you.

EVANS:  Thank you.

BROWN:  And up next, the Nader factor.  Will Ralph Nader‘s presidential run hurt John Kerry‘s chances?  Nader‘s running mate will join us.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  This half hour on HARDBALL, the Nader factor.  Will Ralph Nader change the presidential race again this year?  We‘ll be joined by Nader‘s running mate, plus the latest from the campaign trail and the short list gets shorter as John Kerry closes in on a vice president candidate. 

But first, the latest headlines, right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BROWN:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Most polls show that third-party candidate Ralph Nader‘s bid for the White House hurts John Kerry‘s chances against President Bush, but Ralph Nader is vowing to stay in the race.

Next week, former Democratic presidential nominee Howard Dean plans to debate Ralph Nader on his candidacy, and I‘m joined now by Joe Trippi, Howard Dean‘s former campaign manager, and MSNBC political contributor, and Peter Camejo, who is Nader‘s running mate.

Good to have you both with us.

Mr. Camejo, let me start with you, if I can.  Why did you agree to be Nader‘s running mate?  I mean, obviously, you don‘t really have a shot here.  What is your thinking?

PETER CAMEJO, RALPH NADER‘S RUNNING MATE:  Well, 25 percent of the American people are not registered Democrat or Republican and it always amazes me that people are surprised that there are people running who are not Democrats or Republicans. And one of the greatest problems we face, of course, is we don‘t have free elections in the sense that people are not free to vote for who they want, and that‘s what this discussion, of course, will be about, and what it is, every time you talk to a third-party.

But the reason I‘m running is because I‘m against the war and I‘m against the Patriot Act.  I defend our Constitution‘s Bill of Rights.  I think we should obey international laws, and what we‘re doing in Iraq is endangering America, is increasing the danger of Americas suffering terrible possible consequences from terrorist attack.  Everything is being moved in the wrong direction and it‘s wrong for Iraq, it‘s disrespectful to the people of Iraq to occupy them. 

BROWN:  Right, so you‘re doing this to make a point, even though you know you‘re hurting John Kerry‘s chances.

CAMEJO:  No.  We‘re not hurting or helping. 

Look, John Kerry and George Bush disagree about how to carry out Bush‘s policies.  John Kerry says he‘s doing a poor job, and I think Kerry is right about that, but I don‘t agree with the policy.  I don‘t think we should send more troops, like Kerry wants.  I don‘t think we should have a draft.  The Democrats are already talking about reinstituting the draft.  I know that millions of people watching this program who are from the ‘60s remember how we fought to end this draft, and we don‘t want it back.

BROWN:  Right.

CAMEJO:  So, the Democrats—

BROWN:  Well, I don‘t think anybody is really talking seriously about it.  At least not yet.

But let me turn to you, Joe. What does Howard Dean get out of debating Ralph Nader?

JOE TRIPPI, FMR. HOWARD DEAN CAMPAIGN MGR.:  Well, I think Howard Dean really appealed to a lot of people that Peter is talking about, a lot of people who are outside the process, haven‘t been registered to vote, haven‘t been involved, pulled them in, and I think what he gets out of it is to continue to be the messenger for those people, stay in the Democrat Party and defeat Bush.

I think he‘s just doing what he can do to help Kerry right now, and that‘s taking Nader on and making it clear to people not to do this this time, we can‘t afford it.  We‘ve got to get rid of Bush now.

BROWN:  But the flipside of that is that by going on television and debating him or going on the radio and debating him, you‘re giving him free air time and name recognition, free publicity.

TRIPPI:  Right.  That is the downside to this, and I think that‘s what we‘ll—how the debate comes out will decide who won this thing.  I mean, Nader is going to have a big platform, a bigger platform than he would have had vis-a-vis this debate now, and because of it. 

So that‘s a risk that Dean is taking, by doing this, but I think he‘s the right messenger for the Democratic Party to get people to focus on what‘s really at stake here.  If you are against this war, if you‘re against George Bush‘s policies, the only thing we can do right now and the best thing to do is to get behind Kerry and defeat this guy.

BROWN:  Given his position on the war being, frankly, closer to

Nader‘s, is there a sense that maybe Dean is selling out, you know, as the

·         becoming another establishment candidate?

TRIPPI:  No.  If anything, that‘s the point.  Because his positions are close to Nader‘s, he‘s willing to go out—and Dean has always been very courageous.  I think to him going out there and saying, “No, we can‘t afford to split up, we‘ve got to stay together, we‘ve got to beat Bush.  Don‘t go with Nader, stay within the party.  That‘s what I‘m doing.” 

Dean could have gone off and done something independent.  No, he‘s not.  He‘s supporting Kerry, as are most of the Dean folks, I think.

BROWN:  Mr. Camejo, what do you think of this debate?

CAMEJO:  Well, you know, I think if you go into VoteNader.org, on his Web site, you‘ll see that the positions he presents there are supported by Democrats more than the positions of Kerry insofar as he is presenting positions, and I think Howard Dean said many good things in the campaign about the war, and I just wish we had a system where Howard Dean‘s point of view could be heard and he wouldn‘t be forced to support someone who he had to himself say some rather nasty things about in terms of the points of view he had—not personal, of course, but political.

I do think we need to open up the electoral system, and I think the key question here, which I would ask Joe, is don‘t you think we need to respect the people?  The people, 60 percent, want Nader in the debate, and I think it‘s wonderful that Howard Dean has agreed to debate Nader. 

This is what America should be about: hear all points of view, the voter decides, and the voter understands there is no runoff, so voters will make this decision.  You shouldn‘t be blaming or myself for the fact that millions and millions of people are now supporting out.

TRIPPI:  I don‘t disagree with you at all.  I think we should have the debate, but I also believe that the case needs to be made to people that voting for Nader helps Bush and if you‘re really about changing the Bush policies, it‘s better to stay united and help defeat Bush and stay with John Kerry. 

I think Dean has every right to make that case.  I think Nader has the case to make, the case he‘s going to make, that the two-parties aren‘t serving everybody and aren‘t taking the positions here‘s taking, but Ralph Nader, I respect him.  He‘s done a lot of things in this country.  A lot of good things.  I think this isn‘t one of them.  This is not one of the right things to be doing.  I think Dean is going to make that case.

BROWN:  Mr. Camejo, let me ask you.  The Reform Party, the same party as conservative Pat Buchanan, has put Nader on the ballot in six states.  Has Ralph Nader ever met a third-party he doesn‘t like?

CAMEJO:  Well, right now we‘re fighting for allowing a person to be on the ballot and to be heard, and I think it‘s wonderful the Reform Party does agree with us against the war and against the Patriot Act.  There are other issues that there may be differences—

BROWN:  Big differences.  I mean, come on.  This is not consistent ideology here.

CAMEJO:  Absolutely.  No, no, because—well, Nader‘s is clear.  Go to VoteNader.org and look at his platform and people can decide for themselves.

BROWN:  But you don‘t think aligning yourself with a party, a group of people who are that different in terms of the ideology, can backfire?

CAMEJO:  Well, we‘re not aligning ourselves with them.  Our platform is clear.  Look under VoteNader.org.  You‘ll see the platform.  These are people endorsing us.  We welcome the endorsement from everybody who believes in free elections in America. 

TRIPPI:  OK, but Peter, what do you say about the folks that have funded the Bush campaign suddenly showing up on the Ralph Nader contributors list?  Those people are not doing this because they believe in Ralph Nader.  They‘re giving you the money to wage a campaign because they believe you hurt Kerry‘s chances of defeating Bush.

And I think, you know, what‘s going to be really interesting from here on in is watching Nader‘s report and seeing how many of Bush‘s pioneers and rangers end up contributing, you know, maybe a few million bucks to Ralph Nader.

CAMEJO: Well, this is a very good point, Joe, because whenever a third party, like I‘m a Green, whenever I ran for governor, people are always accusing us of receiving money from the Republicans.  And, you know, we don‘t want that.  We don‘t want people to give us money except people who agree with us.

BROWN:  Well, you don‘t have to accept the money?

CAMEJO:  Well, you know, we don‘t know every single person and what they believe in, but we ask people who believe in our platform to give us money because we don‘t take money from corporations or from PAXs.

BROWN:  Will you pledge to give back the money that came from one of the president‘s big contributors that we were just talking about?

CAMEJO:  I don‘t know any of the specifics.  This is the first time I heard about it.  I heard it was in the “New York Times.”

BROWN:  It was in all the papers today.

CAMEJO:  Right, OK, but I don‘t know the details.  There were other charges made previously that turned out to all be wrong, so—charges have been made against me.  They‘ve always turned out to be wrong.

And, you know, listen, of course, of course it is possible that that would happen, that some Republicans would try to give us money, and we would refuse it.  We don‘t know it.  Or if it‘s just an individual who happens to be—I love some Republicans, you know. 

BROWN:  Right.

CAMEJO:  There‘s David Cay Johnston who wrote “Perfectly Legal.”  I think this is the most important book for this campaign.  He‘s a Republican.  I‘d welcome money from him.

BROWN:  All right.

CAMEJO:  I‘d like to give him money for the good job he‘s doing.

BROWN:  Peter Camejo, I want to thank you for being with us. We‘ve got to go.  Joe Trippi, as always, we‘ll of course all be watching the debate.  Good to have you both with us. 

CAMEJO:  Thank you.

TRIPPI:  Nice to be here.

BROWN:  And up next, the Kerry campaign report.  We‘ll get the latest on John Kerry‘s hunt for a running mate from MSNBC‘s Felix Schein, who is traveling with the candidate.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  Welcome back.

Tonight we debut a regular feature here on HARDBALL, the KERRY CAMPAIGN REPORT from NBC‘s Felix Schein.  Felix has been practically living with the campaign since March and will bring us weekly dispatches from the campaign trail.

Tonight Felix joins us on the Kerry bus touring Cloquet, Minnesota, outside of Duluth.

Felix, how is Kerry reacting to all of the buzz surrounding when he‘ll announce his running mate?

FELIX SCHEIN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, he‘s reacting as expected, Campbell, but doing everything he can to distract us from talking about it.  In fact, on the flight over here he did venture back into the press cabin to try to butter up members of the press and get them excited about this rural tour.  A press corps that, I might say, has expanded dramatically since this stuff started a few weeks ago.   

He‘s also, of course, trying to focus on his message, which today and throughout the course of this weekend is going to be the spirit of America, to quote the campaign, bringing rural jobs back to rural America.  He‘s going to end up at the Field of Dreams in Iowa.

So anything and everything but the VP, Campbell, at this point.

BROWN: So, Felix, why a bus tour?  And the Kerry gang must known that Vice President Cheney is doing the same thing.  Is this like the battle of the bus tour?  You‘ve got these two multimillionaires trying to show voters they‘re Mr. Everyman?

SCHEIN:  That‘s right.  You have John Kerry in his Armani blazer out here in rural Minnesota, and Dick Cheney traveling around Pennsylvania and Ohio and West Virginia. 

Part of the idea, of course, is distraction, trying to stay on message to talk about anything but this VP search, to try to reach out to voters that they believe are going to decide this election.

But much of it might be for naught.  Of course, Dick Cheney is in the shadow of John Kerry‘s decision right now, and John Kerry is fighting the perception that he‘s trying to delay or distract.  Most of us out here asking the obvious question, which is who is the running mate going to be.

This, of course, also comes on the heels of a very quiet two days for John Kerry, where speculation was that he was either meeting with potential candidates or at least making a decision.  I‘m told by campaign aides that he has in fact spent much of his time sort of within himself as the circle of folks who are informed about this decision is very, very small, that it is very personal at this point.  A number of folks have also told me that even friends are out of the loop at this point.

Interestingly, John Kerry is reading “Undaunted Courage.”  It‘s about the Lewis and Clark expedition, and the gentleman he hired in order to try to find him a VP is on a tour that happens to do with Lewis and Clark.  Maybe there is something to be read into that.  But like anything here, this is simply reading the tea leaves—Campbell.

BROWN:  That‘s what we‘re all doing right now.  Thank you, Felix Schein.  We‘ll see you back here next week.

SCHEIN:  Thank you.

BROWN:  John Dickerson is a White House correspondent for “Time” magazine and John Fund is a columnist for the “Wall Street Journal‘s” OpinionJournal.com. 

Hello to both of you.  Thanks for joining us.

Let me—I‘m going to start with the John who is with me in the studio, and the big piece of news, which we have just learned, Kerry‘s VP is—no, actually we have learned that Kerry will make the announcement on his Web site first to members of JohnKerry.com via e-mail and again on the campaign Web site.  What do you make of that?

JOHN DICKERSON, “TIME”:  It will crash his Web site is the first thing it will do.  But what I make of it is, he raised $3 million on his Web site Wednesday, the most he has ever raised, so he should go talk to those people because they‘re spending a lot of money, giving him money.  He wants to be faithful and in touch with them, so this is a little reward.  It shows him in touch with his people.

BROWN:  John Fund, we have been speculating about who this is going to be for weeks now, and nobody knows yet, obviously, but what do you think his resume, John Kerry‘s resume, is lacking?  What do you think he‘s looking for?

JOHN FUND, “WALL STREET JOURNAL””:  Comfort level.  Someone he can actually serve with as vice president.  And that‘s why he‘s torn, because the entire party establishment, the trial lawyers, everybody in the party except for perhaps the Clintons, who have a different view, want John Edwards.  He‘s the safe choice.  He‘s the exciting choice.

The problem is, John Kerry isn‘t sure whether John Edwards is exactly a good fit for him, both in terms of personality—they have not been close in the Senate.  So he may surprise us.

And remember, most times the vice presidential pick is a surprise that we haven‘t really expected.

BROWN:  Well, the “New York Times” did a piece today saying that it should be based on personal chemistry and in all likelihood would be.  But if you look at the numbers, Kerry is not really moving.  Bush has been going down.  Kerry hasn‘t been going up. 

Does he, John Dickerson—it‘s hard having two Johns—need to make a risky pick?  It needs to be somebody who is off the beaten path in order to get the attention and kind of give him the boost he needs?

DICKERSON:  What he needs is perhaps that, but what he needs is when the spotlight turns to him, after whomever he picks, he needs to perform.

What we‘ve seen in these polls is everybody—Bush‘s numbers have gone down in almost every category except one, which is he can deal with a crisis, and if John Kerry can come forward—he‘s got a good three weeks ahead of him because he‘s got his veep pick and his convention.  If he can show people that in fact he is ready to step into the White House, then that will help him.  That‘s one of the reasons he may go up in the next few weeks, which is what the Bush campaign expects.

BROWN:  But the Kerry campaign has also said they‘ve been doing that to some extent intentionally because the attention that President Bush has gotten with things going poorly in Iraq is exactly what they wanted.

DICKERSON:  Sure.  It‘s lucky for them.  Except what‘s happened in the interim is Kerry‘s negative numbers have gone up.  Bush has been able to define him in some ways.  People in polls still don‘t know who John Kerry is.

So while they‘ve been waiting, which may have been very smart, his image, Kerry‘s image, needs a little help.  This is an opportunity when he picks his veep to introduce himself again.

BROWN:  John Fund, why don‘t you think Kerry has taken off?   

FUND:  The problem is, he‘s been under relentless assault from the Bush campaign and he is a Massachusetts liberal, and when the Democrats nominated John Kerry, they knew they were getting somebody who had a little bit of an image problem, and he‘s also aloof.

Now he has many good qualities, but those haven‘t yet been communicated to the American people.

I agree with John that the convention and his VP pick are going to help him, but let‘s be honest.  John Kerry is a Massachusetts liberal and the Republicans are going to successfully paint him as that.

BROWN:  Let me throw out two names.  We all know basically who is on the list, but there are a couple of names that are being bandied about today, people who are no longer on the list, reportedly.  Sam Nunn, NBC NEWS, is reporting, Jack Kemp was on the show yesterday, and he was pushing Nunn as sort of a dark horse candidate. 

Also Wesley Clark, I believe CNN is reporting is no longer in the running. 

What do both of you—and I‘ll start with Dickerson—what do you make of that?

DICKERSON:  Well, who knows.  Really.  It depends whether it‘s the campaign telling you.  Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico—

BROWN:  Right.

DICKERSON:  -- also took himself off the list. 

What happens with Richardson and with all these guys is, they show, hey, I was in the running, which means John Kerry cares about a person like me.  With Richardson, it‘s a Hispanic.  With Nunn and with Clark, it‘s people who have military bona fides.

So it‘s a way to show that in all the people Kerry lined up, he was a very serious, thoughtful person as he went through this process.

BROWN:  John Fund?

FUND:  Well, everybody who hasn‘t been told to clear their schedules for Tuesday and Wednesday of next week decided to get out ahead of the curve and they—

BROWN:  They didn‘t want the embarrassment?

FUND:  Well, they just want to get themselves off the table so they‘re not mentioned anymore.  So we‘re probably down to three, four or five people who have been asked to clear their schedules, and they‘re all going to wait by the phone Tuesday or Wednesday.

BROWN:  Well, we‘ve got to take a quick break. We‘ll be back with more.  John Dickerson, from “Time” magazine, and John Fund, who is there in New York.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  We‘re back with “Time” magazine‘s John Dickerson and the “Wall Street Journal‘s” John Fund. 

John Dickerson, again, let me go back to an issue we‘ve been talking about for the last couple of days, Saddam Hussein‘s appearance in court.  What do you think that does for Bush politically?

DICKERSON:  What it does for him politically is it shows that a page has turned.  Every day that Iraqi government is doing something, now that they‘ve got sovereignty, every time that they‘re doing something, the Bush administration is not involved in this. 

The Bush folks kept the president off the air about this.  The notion that the 30th was the day for the handoff kind of passed by.  They want it to all look like it‘s an Iraqi show.  This in fact added legitimacy to the notion that it‘s an Iraqi show and it probably helps Bush suggest that a page has turned.

BROWN:  John Fund, in our poll, the “Wall Street Journal” and NBC NEWS poll that came out this week, Bush‘s numbers on handling the war in Iraq, war on terrorism, not good.  Does this help?

FUND:  It helps, yes, because it reminds people that there has been some success in the war.  Saddam has been deposed and he‘s going to be in the dock.

I do think, though, that Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania did President Bush no favors by saying he should speed up the trial and have it before the November election. 

BROWN:  It‘s too obvious.

FUND:  That would look too transparently political, and ultimately if this is going to be an Iraqi show, it has to be dictated by the Iraqis themselves.  So I don‘t think Arlen Specter is exactly getting points as a Bush campaign adviser.

BROWN:  Although, I will have to say, and maybe you‘ve heard the same, that was an idea that was being bandied about by many Bush supporters over the course of the last several days.

DICKERSON:  It was because they wanted to pull him in there and go through the litany of things Saddam had done, and they‘ve tried to do that on the stump.

But I think John is right, which is that they can‘t, after showing that the Iraqis are in control, then say, well, this is how you‘re going to do things, even though it‘s behind the scenes that may be what they‘re doing.  In a public way, they just can‘t do that.  It‘s completely off-message.

BROWN:  John, since we have a White House correspondent here, were you struck by the transfer of power, the fact that it happened two days earlier?  I thought, this is so Bush.

DICKERSON:  Well, what you know from having covered him is, he loves surprises, and he also, you know, they wanted, again, to get this in the hands of Iraqis, and there‘s a security question, because they figured there were going to be attacks leading up to the 30th.  Why not preempt them.

BROWN:  John Fund, I want to change the subject a little bit and turn to you.  “Fahrenheit 9/11” getting, you know, enormous attention, and people are going to see it.  This combined with “My Life,” Bill Clinton‘s book, what kind of impact is this having on the race overall? 

FUND:  Well, remember, the election is four months away, so I think a lot of this will dissipate. 

Michael Moore has sold 6 million movie tickets.  Bully for him.  But I have to tell you, a lot of the hoopla about this film may be moving in two different directions.

Richard Nixon had a lot of people very mad at him over Vietnam, but he had a lot of people in the silent majority mad at the protesters and mad at the people who were yelling at Richard Nixon because they thought they were being disrespectful to the president. 

I think Michael Moore cuts both ways.  He really satisfies the left wing base, but he also turns off an awful lot of people, and some of those may be swing voters. 

BROWN:  John Dickerson, how are both campaigns reacting to the movie.

DICKERSON:  Well, they‘re both being very, very careful.  The Kerry campaign has distanced themselves.  They say John Kerry has not seen it, doesn‘t have any plans to.  We‘ve got other things on our mind.  They‘re trying to let it exist.

BROWN:  There were a few Kerry people at the premier.

DICKERSON:  Of course there were.  But they don‘t want us to know that or us to print that.

Now, they benefited, again.  $3 million on Wednesday, where did it come from?  Some smart people say, it came from people angry coming out of “Fahrenheit 9/11.”  They went to their computers and donated to John Kerry. 

The Bush campaign had a long think about this, and they said we‘re going to sort of blow it off.  We‘re going to pretend like it doesn‘t really both us.  Behind the scenes, it bothers them. 

BROWN:  Do you think it will actually sway voters either way?  And I‘ll ask Jon this.

DICKERSON:  It‘s unclear.  Right now you‘ve got the hardcore left crowd that‘s mostly going to the movie.  The moviemakers say no, no, it‘s got broad appeal.  Let‘s see in a couple of weeks if it reaches beyond those core members who are not necessarily core Kerry voters.

BROWN:  John Fund, we‘ve only got a few seconds left, but July 4, big movie weekend, is this going to change anyone‘s mind?

FUND:  I think a lot of people are going to go to “Spider-Man” a lot more than “Fahrenheit 9/11,” let‘s be clear.  And it‘s a better film.

BROWN:  I‘m going to “Spider-Man.”

Thank you, John Fund and John Dickerson, both of you, for joining us on this Friday.  Have a great weekend.

Chris Matthews will be back here Monday night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now it‘s time for “THE COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann. 

END   

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