updated 8/4/2004 9:38:45 AM ET 2004-08-04T13:38:45

Guest: Howard Dean, Judith Miller, Tony Blankley, Bill Maher

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Code orange: The intelligence that led to the latest terror alert is at least three years old.  Is the information dated, or is al Qaeda still plotting?  And how does all this play politically?  We‘ll go inside the latest terror warning with “The Washington Post‘s” Dana Priest, “The New York Times‘s” Judy Miller and Tony Blankley of “The Washington Times” and former presidential candidate Howard Dean, who has said that President Bush is playing politics with terrorism.  Plus, the darker side of politics with comedian Bill Maher.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews.  Most of al Qaeda‘s surveillance of the financial buildings placed on high alert happened before the 9/11 attacks.  So does that mean the intelligence was outdated, or could al Qaeda still be in the planning stages?

Earlier this week, former presidential candidate Howard Dean said the decision to raise the terror threat level was politically motivated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD DEAN (D), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I am concerned that every time something happens that‘s not good for President Bush, he plays this trump card, which is terrorism.  His whole campaign is based on the notion that, I can keep you safe, therefore in times of difficulty for America, stick with me.

And then out comes Tom Ridge.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, we have Governor Dean joining us right now.

Governor Dean, how do you see the administration playing this?  Do you believe they jacked it up to create some heat, to cause a rally-around-the-flag mentality in the country?

DEAN:  Well, here‘s what happened, in the middle of June, in the middle of July, two operatives from al Qaeda were captured.  With the second capture, which happened almost three weeks ago, some information was released which then became public because of Tom Ridge and the president.

The buildings were then sealed, and so forth and so on, and highly guarded.  The truth is that these buildings—this information was three years old.  These buildings were identified three years ago, not anything new.

Now, I don‘t think for a second that there‘s no terrorist threat in the United States.  There is a terrorist threat.  It‘s a serious one.  And I think this warning was a good warning in that it‘s specific.  In the past, it‘s just been, Watch out, watch out, watch out, which I find totally unhelpful.

Here‘s what deeply concerns me.  If this information was three years old and if this al Qaeda operative, the most recent capture was on July 13, that means that this administration knew about this at least three weeks ago, that the information was three years old, that they could have chosen any date they wanted to to reveal this to the public.

Isn‘t it unusual they might choose two days after the Democratic

national convention, when John Kerry was in the middle of his bounce?  They

·         this information is important information.  It is three years old, and the administration‘s known about it for three weeks.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you this.  According to your statement the other day, over the weekend, you said, “I‘m concerned that every time something happens that‘s not good for President Bush”—I assume you‘re referring to the Democratic convention—“he plays this trump card, which is terrorism.”  Are you saying he timed it after the Democrats to kill the bounce?

DEAN:  There‘s no way that we can know that, but the president has made it clear that he‘s going to run as a wartime president.  And unfortunately, since that is his one really strong point with the American people—we know from the polls that every time terrorism is mentioned and put in the front issue, President Bush‘s numbers go up a little bit.

I find that since this information is three years old, since the administration‘s known about it for three weeks, that it‘s a very peculiar coincidence, suddenly, after three years of information and three weeks of knowledge, that the barriers go up around Citicorp and the Federal Reserve, and so forth.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s put you in a winning position.  Suppose, Governor, you were president now and you had this information and you knew the climate right now, politically as well as—just in terms of a sense of national security, and you found these tapes that show that they were casing these financial centers.

And you also saw that in the tape was an updated bit of information, as recently of January of this year.  So you know it was an ongoing effort to case these particular financial centers.  If you hadn‘t told the public, wouldn‘t you feel like you‘d let them down if something did happen in those places?

DEAN:  I think I would have been inclined to tell the public as soon as I got that information, which was in mid-July.  Probably, I would not have waited until this particular moment.

MATTHEWS:  So you think it‘s timing?

DEAN:  The timing bothers me deeply.  This wouldn‘t be such a problem if the president was credible.  But the president turned out to have said a great many things about us going into Iraq which turned out not to be true.  Senior law enforcement officials in Washington, D.C., are quoted in “The Washington Post” this morning as saying they haven‘t received any new information of any kind, that none of this information was new, and it was all known of them ahead of time.  This is deeply troubling, Chris, deeply troubling.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the Sandy Berger case is another example of where something was pushed into the public light to hurt the Democrats?

DEAN:  Well, again, Sandy Berger had been under investigation for two

months because he allegedly took some documents home that were not supposed

to be taken home.  The timing of that revelation is very odd and very

peculiar.  Again, the administration has really made its own bed for this

kind of stuff.  Most of the stuff they said about us getting into Iraq

turned out not to be true.  The president has said that he is going to be -

·         his major reelection issue is going to be being a wartime anti-terrorist president.  He has basically made this—created this situation which allows us to question his credibility because he‘s raised questions about his own credibility.

MATTHEWS:  But what you‘re saying here, Governor, is that there‘s a political brain somewhere in the administration which directs people like Tom Ridge and people like Ashcroft to exploit whatever info they‘ve got to try to make it easier on the president for reelection, that someone is directing this timing.

DEAN:  Well, we know that‘s true, too, actually.  Karl Rove wrote in a memo in 2002 that candidates for reelection, the Republican candidates for reelection, should run on the issue of terrorism.  Presumably, he also thinks that the president ought to run on the issue of terrorism.  Look, I don‘t—I don‘t want to...

MATTHEWS:  You believe that Karl Rove is directing these cabinet secretaries in the case of the alert we‘re going through right now in terms of the financial centers, and in terms of the Sandy Berger case hopping onto the front pages.  Are you saying that there‘s a political mind behind that that is stirring these things up in a time the Democrats are trying to get some lift?

DEAN:  We don‘t know that, Chris, but what we do know is there‘s a very disturbing pattern of...

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Well, you sound like you do know.

DEAN:  ... of letting information—let—well, I have no...

MATTHEWS:  You do sound, Governor, like you do know.  You‘re not—you‘re acting like you‘re just speculating here out loud, when, in fact, you‘re—it‘s almost like push-polling.  You‘re saying, Could it be, rather than just, I‘m thinking about these things.

DEAN:  What I‘m...

MATTHEWS:  You‘re suggesting it‘s not only plausible, you‘re suggesting it‘s probable that this is going on.

DEAN:  Chris, what I‘m saying is let‘s look at the pattern of evidence.  The president gets us into the Iraq war.  Most of the reasons he gave for getting us in turned out not to be true in the long run.  So he said a lot of things that turned out not to be true, some of which he had some reason, probably, to suspect weren‘t true.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

DEAN:  Secondly, Karl Rove writes a memo saying, This is how Republicans ought to win elections.  That‘s two years old.  Thirdly, the senior law enforcement officials in Washington are saying there‘s nothing new about this information.

Fourthly, we know they‘ve had this information since July 13, when they captured...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

DEAN:  ... this gentleman in Pakistan.  This is a very disturbing pattern, which gives these strong hints...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

DEAN:  ... that the timing of the release of this information is more based on politics than it is based on stopping terrorism.   I think that would be a grave problem for any president of the United States.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but all you have to go on is the old “Who benefits” rule.  Like some people would say  Lyndon Johnson had something to do with killing Kennedy because he got to be president then.  That‘s Oliver Stone thinking.  Whenever there‘s a beneficiary, that person must have been the motivator.

DEAN:  No, Chris, that‘s not true.  There was no evidence whatsoever that Lyndon Johnson had anything to do with that.

MATTHEWS:  But is there any evidence that the administration is timing these releases of information to benefit themselves politically?  Is there any evidence of that?

DEAN:  The evidence is in past problems that this administration has with credibility, and I just went through them.  It‘s a sequence of specific events.  In the crazy stuff, the conspiracy theories about Lyndon Johnson, there is no evidence whatsoever, no pattern whatsoever, to suggest anything of the kind.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

DEAN:  In this case, there‘s a very specific pattern, actions on the part of senior people and the Bush officials, Karl Rove‘s memo, the president‘s declaration that he‘s going to run as a wartime president...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

DEAN:  ... the fact that this information is three years old, that they‘ve had this guy in captivity for three weeks, the information comes out two days after the convention in a political way...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think...

(CROSSTALK)

DEAN:  ... and the fact that the president was not truthful to the American people about how we got into Iraq.  These are all very disturbing pieces of circumstantial evidence that are beginning to show a pattern that the president is using the release of information in order to bolster his political status.  That is a grave mistake.

MATTHEWS:  Well, looking ahead, a lot of people, and I‘m one of them, of course, who believes that this election right between now and November 2, is going to be driven a lot by events, not so much by the quality of rhetoric or argument on either side, that things are going to happen, and the way these things fall will decide how we vote.  Do you think that that‘s being manipulated, those events?

DEAN:  I think—any administration, and I certainly had this advantage when I was governor, has the opportunity to release and make news in a way that the challenger does not.  Do I think this president is making news, and John Ashcroft, who did—remember, John Ashcroft called a terrorist alert last May and then was rebuked by Washington officialdom, which turned out he didn‘t have the power to do such a thing.

This is a disturbing pattern in this administration that we see again and again and again.  And yes, any administration has the opportunity to manufacture news.  And the question is not, Is there a terrorist threat or not—there clearly is—not whether al Qaeda presents a danger to these five buildings—yes, it clearly does.  What is the timing of the release of this news?  Why are we getting news that‘s three years old and that we had access to three weeks ago?  Why are we finding that out on the Sunday after the Democratic national convention?

MATTHEWS:  OK, more back with Governor Dean.  We‘ll be back in a moment with more HARDBALL.  And, later, inside the timing of the latest terror warning.  More of that.  The information may be older, but how real is the threat?  “The Washington Post‘s” Dana Priest, “The New York Times‘s” Judy Miller, and Tony Blankley of “The Washington Times”—they‘ll all be joining us to look at this same question that Governor Dean‘s been looking at.

Plus, President Bush and Senator John Kerry hit the campaign trail. 

Bill Maher will also be with us tonight.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Governor Dean.

Governor Dean, over the weekend, you said, as we were talking about, the White House may be guilty of timing these emergency alerts with regard to possible terrorism attacks for political gain.  Governor, you were responded to by the candidate, John Kerry, with, quote, “I don‘t care what he says”—he‘s talking about you—“I haven‘t suggested that, and I won‘t suggest that.”

“I don‘t care what he says”?  That‘s not a very respectful commentary from a candidate.

DEAN:  Oh, John Kerry and I are good friends.  He‘s the Democratic presidential candidate.  I‘m going to support him vigorously.  Obviously...

MATTHEWS:  Has he called you—did you clear your thoughts with him before you made them, your comments?

DEAN:  No.  No, no.  I don‘t do that.

MATTHEWS:  Have you heard back from people in the campaign?

DEAN:  No, I have not.  I have had discussions with people in the campaign, but I certainly haven‘t been reigned in in any way.

MATTHEWS:  But have they called you and said, Be careful?

DEAN:  No.

MATTHEWS:  They haven‘t?

DEAN:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Have they cheered you on?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m trying to nuance—I‘m trying to fine tune the information here because...

DEAN:  No, we‘re not...

MATTHEWS: ... everybody assumes they called you up and said, Next time you‘re going to the accuse the administration of trickery, let us know ahead of time, at least, so we can talk.

DEAN:  I‘m not—listen, Chris, you are doing a little putting words in my mouth.  I have not accused the administration of trickery.  What I‘ve accused them of, and I believe it‘s true, that they‘re using the timing of terror announcements in order to announce their political gains.

I‘ve also said that terrorism is a very serious problem, and I think these buildings are, you know, at some risk, clearly, over the period of years, and we need to defend them.

I‘ve commended the administration for being very specific its warning.  This is the first warning in almost three years since September 11 that hasn‘t been this, sort of, Oh, I hear more chatter, therefore we‘re going up to orange.  That is very unhelpful.

I think this warning was very helpful.  The only problem is that they had this information for quite some time before they gave it to us.  And that combined with the pattern of exaggerating and not being truthful about other military matters is deeply disturbing.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Jack Kennedy once said, “I don‘t recognize my words when they come out of Richard Nixon‘s mouth,” so let me be clear about what you did say:  “I am concerned that every time something happens that‘s not good for President Bush, he plays this trump card, which is terrorism.”  And you‘re saying that‘s not accusing the president of trickery?

DEAN:  I don‘t think there‘s anything tricky about it.  I think that‘s politics.  Unless you think all politics is tricky, which I suppose there‘s a reasonable case to be made for.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s go to something much more sound here, which I really like to discuss because it comes down to what I think is the crux of this election decision by most people watching right now who haven‘t yet made up their minds completely.

The candidate of the Democratic Party, John Kerry, said over the weekend that the policies of this administration, by which he primarily meant the timing of the decision to go to war with Iraq and the way we did it, are encouraging the recruitment of terrorists, a very hard argument which many people believe is true, especially people like President Mubarak of Egypt, who has said that going to Iraq was like creating a thousand bin Ladens, in terms of young people and recruitment in the Arab world.

The president came back on that and didn‘t say he disagreed with that, he said it was ridiculous to think something like that was the case, that we were encouraging anti-Americanism by Arabs by attacking an Arab country.  Your thoughts?

DEAN:  Well, I think that that‘s the biggest problem with President Bush‘s foreign policy.  He has no conception of what the consequences of his actions are.  We got into Iraq, which I disagreed with, but we got in with the support of many Americans of good will, only to find out that the president had no idea what to do once we got there.

We‘ve lost over 900 American soldiers, brave American men and women, because this president had no idea what he was doing when he sent combat troops into Iraq, no idea what the exit plan was.  He wouldn‘t listen to General Shinseki.  He wouldn‘t listen to General Powell—Secretary of State Powell.

I‘d like a president who either has combat experience or is willing to surround himself with people who have served in the military and will actually—and he will actually take their advice.

MATTHEWS:  You know, an old boss of mine, Ed Muskie of Maine, the great governor, great senator, great secretary of state, once said, The only—he said this after he‘d just won his last reelection as senator from Maine.  He had—I think he had a few tuners (ph) before he said it, but I‘ll tell you, it was the most amazing statement.  He said, “The only reason to be in politics is to be out there all alone and then be proven right.”

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Howard Dean is going to be proven right that this was a bad war?

DEAN:  I think I have been proven right.  But you know, Barry Goldwater once said, “I‘d rather be right than president.”  I think Barry Goldwater didn‘t know what he was talking about.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘ll see.  Thank you very much, Howard Dean.

DEAN:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Up next: inside the timing of the latest terror alert with “The Washington Post‘s” Dana Priest, “The New York Times‘s” Judy Miller and “The Washington Times‘s” Tony Blankley,.  And later, Bill Maher will join us.  That‘ll be interesting.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Dana Priest is the national intelligence reporter for “The Washington Post.” she‘s also a military and intelligence analyst for MSNBC.  Judith Miller is the national security reporter for “The New York Times,” and Tony Blankley is the editorial page editor of “The Washington Times.”

I want you all to try to get to the heart of the matter.  And everyone‘s trying to figure it out.  When the administration discovered this evidence in Pakistan, that there was casing going on, criminal-type casing of these financial centers in New York and Washington, and they decide to declare a national alert over the last couple of days, was that a legitimate use of the bully pulpit, of the presidency to warn us?

Tony Blankley, your thoughts.

TONY BLANKLEY, “WASHINGTON TIMES”:  Yes, look, it seems to me that the combination—we got the information three or four weeks ago.  As soon as they got it, I assume they translated it.  That information included an update from January, I guess, of this year.  So obviously...

MATTHEWS:  There was an updated piece of information in the intelligence, yes.

BLANKLEY:  Yes.  So obviously, it was currently useful information.  They had to act on it.  They couldn‘t have done the kind of intrusive blocking of streets without explaining it, so they explained it.  Now, I was listening to Mr. Dean‘s statement.  He said the timing was useful.  Would the timing have been less useful for Bush if he had done it the week before the convention?

To me, this is information that always had to come out as soon as they were ready to act on it.  And to have a sort of paranoiac view that it was timed—any time would have been bad for Democrats, on Dean‘s theory.

MATTHEWS:  Dana, you‘ve heard now both arguments.  Governor Dean made one argument, Tony made another one.  Both points of view are clear.  One was it was a legitimate use of the president‘s power and bully pulpit.  He had to tell us because he was going to act on this information.  He needed to tell us as part of his action plan.  And the other argument is that this was timed for political purposes.

What is the facts?  Are the facts—did they, in fact, determine the decision by the president to act?

DANA PRIEST, “WASHINGTON POST,” MSNBC MILITARY AND INTELLIGENCE

ANALYST:  We have no evidence that they decided to announce this for political reasons.  What we‘ve been trying to do—and I‘d like to make some corrections to what has been said about the intelligence.  Governor Dean said they had it for a long time.  No, actually, they really got ahold of those computer disks last week, when they rounded up the Pakistani cells.  So when they saw what it was, they became startled.

I‘d also like to take some exception with what Tony Blankley has said because I am not aware, and we pushed very hard on this, that there are a lot of updates to this information, that it really predates 9/11.  We asked a lot of questions about that because we knew people would want to know that, and we came up with one example.  That doesn‘t mean that it was not a legitimate thing to do, nonetheless.

MATTHEWS:  What about the January...

PRIEST:  But it does mean...

MATTHEWS:  ... update, the January...

PRIEST:  ... that leaves people confused.

MATTHEWS:  What about the January, 2004, update in the computer disk itself, the casing information.

PRIEST:  Well, right.  What we found is one person who was willing to tell us that that involved one building, but they didn‘t know whether or not that actually involved surveillance from someone here sending information back, or it could have been that they opened the laptop, they got some open source information available to you and I, and they updated what they already had.

MATTHEWS:  Why would it be occurring...

PRIEST:  So if they know something more than that, they haven‘t told us.

MATTHEWS:  The point is, Dana, based upon your reporting, it seems to me if they were updating the casing information, it was in a live plot.

PRIEST:  But they haven‘t said that they were updating the casing information.  In fact, Secretary Ridge said today there‘s—they have no evidence that the surveillance was ongoing.  This is the kind of detail, unfortunately, that they will not help us clarify.

MATTHEWS:  I see.

PRIEST:  And the reason we—and the reason we did want to clarify it is because they left the impression on Sunday that the casing information, that the information on these five buildings was alive, it was an active plot.  And that‘s not exactly the case.  But the case remain that there is a very serious threat out there coming from multiple sources, not necessarily targeting these...

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me go—let me go...

PRIEST:  ... buildings but targeting other buildings.

MATTHEWS:  Let me to go Judy Miller.  Judy, this sense that there‘s discretion on the part of the administration, any administration, as to when to warn us, is, I think, obvious.  The question is, Was there any tilt here, any tilt toward releasing information that was basically out of date?

JUDITH MILLER, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”:  I have to agree with Dana, Chris, in that the reporting that I‘ve done just a little on this today suggests that, in fact, there was action commensurate with the threat that the administration received.  There was some evidence, I‘m told, of some updates, more than one, one that Dana mentioned in 2004.  I‘m told there was another the previous year.

But I don‘t think this really gets to the point.  I think what—the reason you have to go public with this kind of information, and the administration decided to do so, is partly political.  And that is, if you don‘t go public and something happens, then you can imagine what the media and everyone, and the administration‘s opponents would say, about the administration, quote, “sitting on information” and not warning the American people that something was up.  And the minute you do go public, you‘re accused of timing it for political purposes.

So I think the administration, in this instance, has a hard time winning simply because it has had credibility problems about previous announcements and because this is an election season.

MATTHEWS:  Tony?

BLANKLEY:  But even based on what you‘re saying, I don‘t think it‘s simply a CYA operation, given the information that‘s reported by you folks, clearly, protecting those buildings is the only rational thing to do and...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The question is, Do you continue to protect those buildings forever?

BLANKLEY:  Look, we know, for instance—I mean, it‘s been reported -

·         bin Laden‘s statement in April that after August 15, if we didn‘t get out of Iraq, there will be consequences.  We know that from—that this is a period of time of heightened danger for the country.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BLANKLEY:  Now you have all this specific information about these particular buildings.  It‘s not just CYA, it‘s actually protecting buildings that need protecting.

MATTHEWS:  We‘re going to keep this going when we come back.  This is the hottest conversation in the country right now, whether this alert is legitimate or political.

And later, comedian Bill Maher.  He‘s going to be joining us on HARDBALL.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, inside the politics of the new terror warning with “The Washington Post”‘s Dana Priest, “The New York Times”‘ Judy Miller, and Tony Blankley of “The Washington Times.”  Plus, comedian Bill Maher, as the battle for the White House crisscrosses with the war on terror. 

But, first, the latest headlines.

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

We‘re joined again by Dana Priest of “The Washington Post,” Judith Miller of “The New York Times” and Tony Blankley of “The Washington Times.” 

Let me go back to Dana Priest. 

When I picked up “The Washington Post” this morning and looked at your lead article on the front page, it did impress me with the reporting, which was that this is old intelligence.  But let me put it to you this way.  Suppose you were the owner of a bank and you came across some information that three years ago somebody was plotting to blow your bank, to rob you.  And then you saw in that material evidence that they had updated that plan as recently as earlier this year.  Wouldn‘t you take precautions that your bank wasn‘t robbed? 

PRIEST:  Well, absolutely.  I‘m not at all criticizing.  I don‘t think the reporting has, their decision to raise the alert level. 

It‘s just, they could have gotten themselves out of this mess that it

has become by disclosing the fact that this information was created by al

Qaeda before 9/11 and pointing out that al Qaeda spent years casing the

places that they eventually target and blow up.  That is their M.O.  And so

it is perfectly legitimate that some of the information would be old but

still of concern.  They didn‘t do that.  They muddied the water by leaving

the impression that this was very active casing

(CROSSTALK)

PRIEST:  And it‘s not.

MATTHEWS:  If you look at NBC‘s reporting here, 9/11 was plotted as early as, considered as early as ‘96.  That‘s five years before. 

PRIEST:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  The USS Cole was plotted two years before.  The attacks on the Jordanian sites was two years, which is a little smaller case. 

But then again, the East African embassies in Tanzania and in Nairobi, they were plotted four years earlier.  So there is a pattern of long-term planning leading to massive attacks. 

Let me go to Tony. 

BLANKLEY:  I would disagree with Ms. Priest on the muddying of the waters.  I don‘t think it‘s the administration that muddied the waters.  I think it is this morning‘s “Washington Post” and “New York Times” stories above the fold, certainly “The Post” story filled with a skeptical tone about what they‘re now saying is simply a poor P.R. job, since no one on this panel seems to be contesting the legitimacy of doing what the government in fact did. 

(CROSSTALK)

PRIEST:  The skeptical tone, by the way, was taken by at least six senior law enforcement and intelligence officials, who take this threat very seriously. 

BLANKLEY:  Yes.  Nonetheless

(CROSSTALK)  

MATTHEWS:  But let‘s emphasize that.  Let‘s put that in italics.

In her reporting this morning, along with Walter Pincus, six senior intelligence officials were cited as being skeptical as to the need for this alert. 

(CROSSTALK)

PRIEST:  No, Chris, I have to correct you. 

(CROSSTALK)

PRIEST:  They‘re skeptical about the information on the six buildings and the fact that they didn‘t disclose that that was old information that they recently obtained. 

None of them said they shouldn‘t have raised the alert.  One person said he doesn‘t quite understand why they did.  But it‘s paired together with this election threat information that is very credible and that many people have great concerns about. 

BLANKLEY:  So if everybody agrees they did the right thing and the only complaint is that they should have been smarter with their P.R., then why is that a front-page, above-the-fold story? 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We‘re going to have to move on with that.

Let me go back to Judith Miller right now.

Judith, on another point, which I think is the crux of the campaign, whether going to Iraq was smart U.S. policy or not, and you‘ve covered the Middle East for so long—and I remember President Mubarak once saying not too long ago that going to war with Iraq created 1,000 new bin Ladens in terms of young Arab people, people from Cairo and elsewhere, who are much more inclined to join the enemy than they would have been before the war with Iraq. 

Do you buy the president‘s argument that that claim by John Kerry this week, that going—that our U.S. policy toward that part of the world has in fact encouraged the recruitment of terrorists?  For the president to call that proposition ridiculous it seems to me is ridiculous.  But you know the story.  Fill me in.  Did the war with Iraq encourage recruitment of terrorists against us by al Qaeda and other organizations? 

MILLER:  Well, I think it certainly identified the passion of those who dislike America.  And it certainly made some people who may have been neutral about America dislike America.  I mean, I think all of the polls are showing that. 

MATTHEWS:  So what does president mean when he says that assessment by you and by others like you who know the story, including the Democratic candidate, whoever—he is briefed by someone, how could anybody say that that‘s ridiculous? 

MILLER:  Well, the president...

MATTHEWS:  It makes perfect sense. 

MILLER:  Chris, the president is entitled to his view.  And we‘ll hear it a lot, just as we heard yesterday for the first time from him when he was asked if he knew then what he knew now about Iraq and the lack of weapons of mass destruction, would he have gone into Iraq?  He said, yes, he would have, even if he had known that there weren‘t weapons of mass destruction there, because, as he said, the world is a much better place without Saddam Hussein there. 

So that‘s really going to be one of the election issues.  Another election issue will be, is—has the campaign in Iraq taken away from the war on terror?  I just want to get back for one minute to this very important issue of how serious this threat is.  I don‘t know anyone that I‘ve talked, Republican or Democrat, who doesn‘t think that this information that has been received is astonishingly significant, astonishingly worrisome, very specific. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it means imminent? 

MILLER:  Look, with al Qaeda, you have to define imminent.  Our definition of imminent may be before the election.  Their definition is imminent is when they can do it, when they feel the moment is right.  And they are very patient, very determined, very disciplined. 

And this computer information, unlike the debriefings that we‘ve gotten, is very specific.  It is also something that one can track back in term of changes made to the files.  And that‘s why people are so convinced, Republicans and Democrats, that this is significant. 

Finally, Chris, I want to say, you haven‘t heard John Kerry and John Edwards criticize the president on this. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, they‘re being very careful, because they can also be hurt. 

MILLER:  They have to be.

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER:  Because I also think they know how serious this information is. 

MATTHEWS:  But following up with Dana Priest‘s reporting, she has all these top spooks who say that they think it is very important that this is old information. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And they think it takes some of the threat aspect away, a lot of it, in fact.

MILLER:  No, no, not for me, not for someone who has watched al Qaeda for as long as I have.  You pointed out earlier that they take a long time to act and they do a lot of reconnaissance, a lot of surveillance. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  The problem is, we went to war because a lot of bad intel based on fear. 

MILLER:  Yes.  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  It could have turned out to be true, but we went to war based on what turned out to be bad intelligence.

MILLER:  Based on bad intelligence.  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  And that‘s why people are a little skeptical about information that gets us into a war fever again. 

MILLER:  Absolutely.  And that‘s why I understand both of the concerns that we‘ve heard from Mr. Dean, from Dana, from my own paper, and also from Tony Blankley that people will not take the threat seriously on one hand.

One final thought, if you want to be credible, it doesn‘t help in a recitation of the threat that America faces to go over everything that you claim to have done to fight terrorism in the past four years. 

MATTHEWS:  But even in “The New York Times” city room, I‘m sure there are difference of opinion and different levels of fear with regard to terrorism, right?

MILLER:  Absolutely.  Someone like me is simply much more alarmed about it because I‘ve covered it for so long and I‘ve seen it firsthand.  And I don‘t want to see another 9/11.  Nobody does. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it looks like you have lost control of your front page, Judy, right? 

MILLER:  I‘m sorry.  I couldn‘t hear the end of that, Chris.   

MATTHEWS:  Have you lost control of your front page, because they seem to be going a little different direction than you...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... tonight on the show, because you are very—I don‘t mean hawkish in a kind of a dumb way.  I mean hawkish in knowing what you‘re talking about.  And your front page seems to be a click less believing than—more believing—only a click than “The Washington Post” today. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway.

MILLER:  No.  I think our papers, both our papers raised legitimate questions about when the officials learned what they learned and when they acted on it.  The issue is now what is going to be made of this information now? 

MATTHEWS:  I think we‘ve figured it out.  It‘s least worried, “Washington Post,” most worried, “Washington Times,” somewhere in the middle, “New York Times.” 

Anyway, thank you, Judith Miller, Tony Blankley and Dana Priest.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  When we return, Bill Maher will join with us his take on the terror alert, the Democratic Convention and the battle for the White House, of course.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, comedian Bill Maher on President Bush, Senator John Kerry and the battle for the White House—when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL, 91 days left until the presidential election. 

We‘re joined right now by Bill Maher, the host of HBO‘s “Real Time With Bill Maher,” which is on Friday nights 11:00. 

Let me ask you, Bill, before we get to the serious stuff, what did you think of the Democratic Convention? 

BILL MAHER, HOST, “REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER”:  I thought it was a convention, you know?  I mean, it‘s like...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Do you mean like with funny hats and noise-makers or what? 

MAHER:  Yes, I could actually use a little more than that.  I wrote an editorial that “The L.A. Times” put out Friday saying, you know, everybody should watch these conventions.  It is one of the last times that you have in the campaign to see people talking when it is not reduced to sound bites and attack ads. 

I think it is disgusting that this country cannot take three or four nights out of their year to watch the people who are presenting their plan for America‘s future, as opposed to what?  It‘s the summer.  There‘s not even anything on.  There‘s reruns of “Reba.”  That‘s what they‘re choosing?

MATTHEWS:  Well, because we don‘t have roadblocks anymore.  If one network or all three networks tried to do that, broadcast nets, people would find something else, like HBO, to watch, wouldn‘t they?

MAHER:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  You can‘t force-feed, can you? 

MAHER:  You can‘t.  But you certainly could encourage it more.  And the networks could not walk away from it.  Their attitude seems to be, like, oh, this is something we have to do to take us away from what‘s really important.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MAHER:  Which is the Laci Peterson trial. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, come on.  Nobody is doing the Laci Peterson trial in prime time.  You‘re making it like the Jerry Lewis telethon, where you have to put up with it for 24 hours. 

(LAUGHTER)

MAHER:  Chris, the sight—did you see John Kerry rushing through his speech? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, yes, because he was told to.

MAHER:  In a cold sweat? 

MATTHEWS:  He was told to, yes.

MAHER:  OK, because this is the man who is proposing to be the leader of the free world and he has to rush through his speech like he is accepting an award at the Golden Globes and any minute the band is going to play because he‘s going over. 

MATTHEWS:  No, that‘s not it. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He was warned right before he went not to wait for the applause lines because that‘s what Jack Kemp did a couple conventions ago and it blew his night. 

MAHER:  No, he just didn‘t want to go over the precious time, because if he went over, then, oh, my God, they would miss the first three minutes of “elimiDATE” at 11:00 when that came on. 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t think so.  I think he was told not to wait for the applause line right before he went on, because I know Ron Reagan told me that‘s exactly what they did to him.  Right before he went on, they showed him a tape, a video, of what not to do. 

And it included two things.  Don‘t wait for applause or you will look like an idiot.  And No. 2, what is it?  Don‘t try to outyell the audience because you have a direct mike and you‘ll look like Al D‘Amato. 

MAHER:  There‘s a big difference between not waiting for applause and rushing. 

And I think what happened there was that, they told them, look, you have a window of one hour, buddy, one hour.  And you get your plan to save the entire world into that one hour, because we‘ve got something on at 11:00 that we‘re not going to bump for you. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, as they say in the Democratic platform on the issue of whether we should have gone to war with Iraq, let‘s agree to disagree. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Because that‘s what that damned document actually says.  Do you realize that they said that in their platform? 

MAHER:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  People of goodwill can disagree.

MAHER:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the role of a political party if it isn‘t to take a position on war and peace? 

MAHER:  Well, I mean, party platforms, didn‘t Bob Dole say when he accepted the nomination, I think, in 1916, that...

(LAUGHTER)

MAHER:  He didn‘t even read it?  Wasn‘t he the one who said I didn‘t even read the platform? 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know.  Isn‘t he the guy that ran against Wilson for the second term? 

Let me ask you about the whole question of this election.  Do you have a nose for it?  Do you have a smell that says which guy is going to win?  I have to claim, I don‘t. 

MAHER:  Yes, I do. 

MATTHEWS:  What does it tell you? 

MAHER:  And I‘m not saying this because obviously it‘s the guy I am pulling for.  But I really do believe it is the challenger in this case. 

I really think John Kerry will win because this race reminds me of 1980, Carter vs. Reagan.  Carter had a terrible hand to play.  He was steering an economy that was the worst we had seen since the Depression.  The hostages were in Iran.  And yet the race was absolutely tied until about a week before.  And then the independents all broke for him.  The independents...

MATTHEWS:  What broke it?  Was it the failure of the mullahs to release the hostages or was it the debate? 

MAHER:  I think it was the debates.  I think it was just, people are reluctant—those independents, they‘re like—you know what they are like, Chris?  They are like people that do their Christmas shopping December 24.  They‘re the people who are at the post office with their tax returns on April 15. 

They just cannot seem to make up their mind.  They don‘t really want to leave the president because for some reason they don‘t want to change horses in midstream or whatever.  So they need reassurance.  And I think Kerry went a long way to do that, doing during the convention, when he made a decent speech.  And I think he mentioned once or twice that he had been to Vietnam.  I may have missed that. 

MATTHEWS:  In other words, in other words, you were offering a counterpremise here from the normal P.R. premise of the way the media has been playing this.  The media has been playing this, is there a bounce, how much of a bounce, how come it‘s not a big bounce, sort of like a baseball season where you win games day by day. 

And you‘re saying, no, it is the playoffs. 

MAHER:  Yes, I think that‘s true. 

I think 45 percent of this country would vote for George Bush if there were pictures of him in the Abu Ghraib prison with somebody on a leash. 

(LAUGHTER)

MAHER:  They‘re religious in nature, just the way they have faith in Jesus and faith and that nothing can shake that.  Nothing can shake them away from George Bush.  So that‘s why Kerry didn‘t get a bounce.  There‘s not a lot of play in the electorate this time. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MAHER:  But I think those independents, just like in 1980, at the last minute, they will all break and I think they will break pretty decisively for the challenger. 

MATTHEWS:  Suppose we get—oh, I hate to do this, but I am going to do it because everybody is doing it.  If we face a terrorist strike before the election, say the week before, won‘t that—it will cause us all to root for the unity of the country and to support the incumbent president, won‘t it?

MAHER:  Well, I mean, first of all...

MATTHEWS:  In other words, it is going to be the ironic thing that if the bad guys—and they are bad if they attack us, obviously.

MAHER:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Think that we‘re like Spain, and that will take them over the edge.  We‘ll bounce this current government because we‘re hit.  Americans are the opposite.  We‘ll say, screw you.  We‘re keeping this guy, right?

MAHER:  I don‘t know about that. 

First of all, their credibility about terrorist alerts is so poor now.  I mean, Tom Ridge has done something I thought was impossible, which is make the thought of my own violent death now seem dull. 

(LAUGHTER)

MAHER:  This latest information they have, come on.  It‘s old enough to sue Michael Jackson. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but it also has been updated in January of this year.  So whoever was casing those banks and financial centers was updating their plan. 

Doesn‘t that make you worry if you were working in one of those buildings like the IMF or the World Bank or whatever, CitiCorp?  Wouldn‘t you think about going up the elevator every morning like, oh, this has been targeted, targeted? 

MAHER:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Wouldn‘t you be worried about, as you got your coffee and muffin in the doorway, wouldn‘t you be thinking, I might not come down that elevator? 

MAHER:  Actually, Chris, I would be more worried about the coffee and the muffin. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m serious.  We talked about this once.  I think people in this country are worried about the wrong things, not that terrorism isn‘t a worry.  But there are a lot of things that are probably harming you a lot more in your everyday life and that‘s what you‘re going to die from.  You‘re probably going to die more from the coffee and the muffin. 

MATTHEWS:  The bear claw is going to get you, huh? 

(LAUGHTER)

MAHER:  The bear claw and the buffalo wings. 

MATTHEWS:  I worry about those fritters.

We‘ll be back with Bill Maher, who may be lurching into the truth.  I‘ll ask him what he thinks of Teresa Heinz Kerry‘s latest remarks about the possibility of a second Bush term.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with more from HBO‘s Bill Maher. 

Here is a clip, by the way, from the season premiere last Friday of “Real Time,” where you, Bill, and Michael Moore himself beg Ralph Nader not to run for president. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER”)

MAHER:  I‘m just going to say because of all your great service—and because we do really love you, but we disagree with you on this—Michael Moore and I are going to get down on our knees and beg you not to run. 

Please.  Please.  Please. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MICHAEL MOORE, FILMMAKER/AUTHOR:  Ralph, please, Ralph. 

MAHER:  Don‘t run for president.  Because you‘re a great American, don‘t run. 

(CROSSTALK)

MOORE:  Don‘t do this to the country.  Don‘t do this.

MAHER:  Please.  Please. 

MOORE:  Don‘t do this, Ralph.  Come home, Ralph. 

MAHER:  Come on.  We‘re on our knees. 

MOORE:  Come home, Ralph.  We‘re on our knees.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, you were on your knees.  Did it work? 

MAHER:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  We would have known by now. 

What do you think is keeping him—because I used to work for him years ago.  And I think he‘s a great guy in many ways.  And I think his comments like Gore stole my votes last time recently are absurd.  What‘s pushing him into this role of basically being a spoiler? 

MAHER:  I don‘t know. 

I mean, he—what I said to him, Ralph, is—I said Ralph, I learned a long time ago, there is a difference between right and being correct.  You are right.  The Democratic Party is corrupt.  The Democratic Party doesn‘t deserve our votes.  The two parties are too much alike.  They are not addressing the issues that should be addressed.  You are right. 

But it‘s also not correct to do what you‘re doing, because this is an election where we can‘t afford to thumb our nose at the lesser of two evils.  But I don‘t think it‘s ego.  I think he really thinks that he‘s doing the right thing, but he just doesn‘t see it the way we do. 

But I thought it was interesting.  I asked him, if it was Bush against someone—if it was Kerry against someone who you thought was even worse than Bush, how about David Duke?  And I thought he would say, no, it doesn‘t matter.  And he would said no, in that case, I would vote for Kerry.  So it‘s just a case of apparently Bush not being bad enough. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look at another

(CROSSTALK)

MAHER:  So, if Bush could get a little worse, we could get Ralph on our side. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I don‘t know.

Let‘s take a look at what Teresa Heinz Kerry said last night at a rally after a Bush supporter with a bullhorn shouted “Four more years.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TERESA HEINZ KERRY, WIFE OF SENATOR JOHN KERRY:  They want four more years of hell. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

CROWD:  Three more months, three more months!

HEINZ KERRY:  Three more months, three more months, three more months!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, maybe she should be talking to Ralph Nader.  She certainly jacked it up. 

What do you think of her? 

MAHER:  She sounds like Patton. 

(LAUGHTER)

MAHER:  You want hell?  Spill their blood. 

You know what?  I love her.  Of course, I love anybody who is politically incorrect, somebody who speaks their mind.  It‘s so nice to see anybody, especially during a campaign, who doesn‘t just walk and talk like a soulless automaton.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MAHER:  And also, she is the wife.  Excuse me.  Can‘t we have a little less standards about what you can say and what you can‘t say for the spouses? 

MATTHEWS:  I love it.

MAHER:  My God, I get it that the campaign—that the candidate can‘t be real.  Howard Dean, too angry, scaring the soccer moms.  OK, we got rid of him.  But we can‘t we have one person—and it‘s just a spouse—who actually speaks her mind?

MATTHEWS:  I know.

MAHER:  Do we have to all have this fake outrage every time she opens her mouth? 

MATTHEWS:  You know, right, because everybody is trying to turn her into Martha Mitchell.

MAHER:  Right. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Like she is zany, when, in fact, the truth sounds zany to us because we‘re so used to the other.

MAHER:  That‘s a very good point. 

MATTHEWS:  How come it doesn‘t even sound right?  Of course she thinks they‘re going through hell.  Of course what she said about shove it is what she felt.  And we say—we want Stepford politicians, it seems. 

MAHER:  Right.  Exactly. 

And also, the Republicans have a way of trying to put two issues together, one on their side, one on the Democrats‘ side, and say, it‘s a wash. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.

MAHER:  Like, OK, Bush dodged the war in Vietnam and John Kerry threw his medals away.  It‘s a wash. 

(LAUGHTER)

MAHER:  Dick Cheney said to a senator in the Senate go F yourself and she said shove it.  That‘s a wash. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I want you to be a pundit.  When will it break, this campaign, toward Kerry? 

MAHER:  I‘m telling you, after the last debate.  The last week of the election, it‘s going to go very south for the president. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s have you back then, on election eve.

MAHER:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  To hear if you‘re right. 

Thank you very much, Bill Maher.

MAHER:  All right.  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Good luck with the show, “Real Time,” on Saturday—Friday nights at 11:00.

Anyway, we‘ll be back at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL tomorrow night.

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

END   

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