updated 8/13/2004 8:24:24 AM ET 2004-08-13T12:24:24

Guest: Sheri Annis, Bob Ingle, John Hurley, John O‘Neill

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  A stunning revelation tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JAMES MCGREEVEY (D), NEW JERSEY:  I engaged in adult consensual affair with another man, which violates my bonds of matrimony.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey resigns after disclosing he had a gay extramarital affair.  Plus, trying to get to the truth behind the hotly contested book, “Unfit for Command,” with its author, John O‘Neill, and John Hurley, the national director of Veterans for Kerry.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  A shocking disclosure on live television today.  New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey came out of the closet, and with his wife standing beside him, he announced his resignation after admitting to having had an extramarital affair with another man.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JAMES MCGREEVEY (D), NEW JERSEY:  So my truth is that I am a gay American.  And I am blessed to live in the greatest nation with the tradition of civil liberties, the greatest tradition of civil liberties in the world.  I am also here today because, shamefully, I engaged in adult consensual affair with another man, which violates my bonds of matrimony.  It was wrong.  It was foolish.  It was inexcusable.  And for this, I ask the forgiveness and the grace of my wife.

I realize the fact of this affair and my own sexuality, if kept secret, leaves me, and most importantly, the governor‘s office, vulnerable to rumors, false allegations and threats of disclosure.  So I am removing these threats by telling you directly about my sexuality.  Given the circumstances surrounding the affair and its likely impact upon my family and my ability to govern, I have decided the right course of action is to resign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Pat Buchanan is an MSNBC contributor.  Sheri Annis is a Republican strategist.  But as we begin tonight, we‘re going to go to Tim Minton of NBC station WNBC.  He join us now from outside the statehouse in Trenton, New Jersey—Tim.

TIM MINTON, WNBC, TRENTON, NJ:  Chris, a remarkable day here, as you can imagine.  The word began to dribble through the capital sometime this afternoon.  The governor apparently was working on his speech at a conference call, sources are telling us, with some people who assisted in drafting the speech.

Our best understanding from these sources is that the governor first got an inkling that there was big trouble over the weekend, when he was threatened with a lawsuit by a man named Golan Cipel.  This is somebody who had initially been appointed to be a homeland security adviser for New Jersey, and later served as a special counselor, and ultimately, an unpaid, then, liaison to the Jewish community.  He‘s an Israeli national.

And he apparently was suggesting that he was going to—and now we understand is going to—file a civil lawsuit against the governor that suggests there were sexual improprieties that may have had an impact on his job status.  In any event, our understanding from sources is that the governor got wind of this over the weekend and that for the last several days, starting Monday, he was making plans for the announcement which happened today.

That said, it was a very tightly held secret, perhaps contained within his family and only his very closest advisers.  And word really did not leak out until the middle of the afternoon as to what exactly this personnel announcement that had been scheduled was.

MATTHEWS:  Tim, the way the governor phrased it in his very dramatic statement late today was, threats of disclosure—not harassment suits filed against him, but threats of disclosure.  Is this an extortion case, possibly, or a harassment case?

MINTON:  What I am being told by sources is that there were intermediaries between this Golan Cipel and the governor who were, at one point during the week, suggesting that perhaps this might go away under certain circumstances.  The governor, evidently, would have none of it.  It‘s not even clear that that was this man‘s intentions, but there were intermediaries, as it was expressed to me, talking to intermediaries, and those discussions might have been interpreted by some in the administration as being suggestions that compromises could be made.

The bottom line is the governor, we are led to understand from these sources, was aware since the weekend that there was at least the potential for these lawsuits.

And again, it‘s important to point out, it wasn‘t that he has homosexual tendencies that was the issue in and of itself.  It wasn‘t the affair in and of itself.  It is the suggestion, which the governor anticipates will be filed in a lawsuit as soon as tomorrow, that this relationship, if you will, impacted on the job status of this man.  And there may be accusations that, indeed, this man, who is no longer an employee of the state government, was forced out as a result, in part, at least, of the relationship that he may have had with the governor.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you.  Stay with us, Tim Minton.

We‘re joined right now by WNBC reporter Brian Thompson.  Brian, I guess it‘s hard to figure out these cases until we get more information.  But why would someone bring a suit of sexual harassment against the governor two years after he left his employment?

BRIAN THOMPSON, WNBC NEW JERSEY REPORTER:  Sexual harassment and rape.  Because he‘s had a downward spiral in his career, Chris, ever since he was almost homeland security director, adviser, for the governor of New Jersey.  And it kept going down, down, and now he‘s basically down and out without a job, was the last we heard.  As a matter of fact, it was—you put in a pricetag on this, and maybe you can understand a little bit better because one of my sources tell me that he was trying to get $5 million out of the governor in order to drop the lawsuit.  We‘ve just picked up that (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that sounds like extortion.  You just dropped a word we hadn‘t heard yet this evening.  That‘s rape.  What do you know about that?

THOMPSON:  Specifically about the incident, we don‘t.  But we know that it‘s supposed to be a very inflammatory lawsuit, shall we say, at the least, not just an affair, but where somebody was abused by somebody else.  In this case, allegations, of course, and only allegations that—at this point, that this individual, Golan Cipel, would have been abused by the governor himself...

MATTHEWS:  The governor said in his statement, Brian, that it was—he acknowledged a consensual adult relationship, a sexual relationship of some kind, obviously, a physical one.  That‘s—is that an attempt to immediately set up his defense in this civil action?

THOMPSON:  Sounds like it to me.  I mean, I heard that, and I said, Well, that sure doesn‘t square with rape.  And you know, but you have to start your defense somewhere, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to—let me go back to Tim Minton here again.  Tim, this question of—I guess it‘s a question of politics at a certain level.  Why is he resigning?  Does he feel that—is there a sense that he could withstand perhaps another kind of—he‘s had so many scandals, this governor.  Why is he walking a year before the end of his term because of this one?

MINTON:  Well, I think you‘ve got to part of it.  This is not to be taken out of context, in that there have been a number of resignations.  There have been scandals.  There have been allegations that have not touched the governor directly but have come very close.  And the governor apparently made a determination, perhaps guided by the wishes of his family, that it did not make sense to try to continue with what clearly was going to be, at best, very messy, and at worst, was going to drag him into question, perhaps partisan questions, of whether he was able and had, indeed, been doing his job up until this point.

I mean, if there are allegations that, A, he appointed a man to a job and then to a second job, this Cipel, which perhaps the man was not qualified for—he couldn‘t even pass a background check for the homeland security job.  That‘s why he was out of there.  Then he went to a second job, where people weren‘t sure what he was doing, but he was making $110,000 a year.

If the allegations are that this man was put from job to job because he had a relationship with the governor, and ultimately, an allegation from the man that the man was forced out because of the same relationship, it‘s entirely possible the governor felt that he was not going to be able to continue because the scandal was simply going to wash over him.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the question, of course, is if they began this relationship in a heterosexual fashion—or a homosexual fashion from the beginning, from the time they met in Israel, through five jobs I counted he gave this guy, was the dispute between these two because they stopped having a sexual relationship or because they began it?  What is the nature of this harassment suit, Brian?

THOMPSON:  You know, that‘s something we just don‘t know right now.  The suit hasn‘t even been filed yet, Chris, so we haven‘t been able to see the details of it.  My understanding is it‘s supposed to be filed tomorrow morning in Trenton, the state capital of New Jersey, of course.  But those are the details.

I can tell you this, though.  It has been rumored almost from the beginning that the governor was in a homosexual relationship with this particular individual.  And nobody understood it.  I was told at one point that one of the newspaper chains, Gannett in New Jersey, assigned four reporters to try to uncover the story.  And obviously, they couldn‘t.

It is—you know, it‘s a tough story to go after.  Just because somebody is gay, you can‘t—the news media can‘t just go out there and say, Hey, you‘re gay.  There has to be some reason, some corrupt reason underneath the surface, for to us actually try to out somebody like that.  Other than that, you know, they‘re human beings.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Let me go to Bob Ingle right now.  Gentlemen, stay with you.  He‘s the Trenton bureau chief for the Gannett newspapers.  He joins us now on the phone from Los Angeles.

Bob, what do you make of—is there something here that we don‘t know that‘s of a factual nature regarding the dispute between these two men, this Israeli, Golan Cipel, who was employed five different time by the governor of New Jersey and now is on the verge of bringing a civil suit against him for rape, according to Brian, and for sexual harassment?

BOB INGLE, TRENTON BUREAU CHIEF, GANNETT NJ NEWSPAPERS:  As your reporter said, we had done a thorough investigation of Mr. Cipel to find out if he was qualified for this job.  And one of the things that we found out in talking to people is he seemed to be a little erratic from time to time, and unpredictable, and therefore, some people in government thought, dangerous.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I also am taken with the word “poet.”  I mean, a poet would be an odd person to name as your homeland security chief, given the fact he had no training in terror fighting or terrorism at all.  He simply was an Israeli who had caught this guy‘s eye.  He brought him over, gave him a job with the Democratic State Committee, then with a private sector firm and then head of homeland security for the state.  Then when that job fell through because of the stink attached to it, he gave him a job as his personal adviser, and then got him a job through his law partner at some firm.  I mean, this guy was taken with this person, to say the least.  And this...

INGLE:  Well, let me go back to the beginning there.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

INGLE:  Sandy McClure (ph), who is one of our investigative reporters, did the majority of the work on this story.  And as far as the poet thing goes, there was a rumor going around that the fellow had written a book of poetry.  We can‘t find it.  If it ever happened, we can‘t find the publisher.  We can‘t find the poetry.  So I‘m not sure where that came from and, if, in fact, that ever actually happened.

But in terms of security, he served in the Israeli navy.  As you know, everybody in Israel does some time...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

INGLE:  ... with the service.  And we had some people with military connections check it out, and we couldn‘t find that there was anything extraordinary about his career at all.  So our story was basically built around, What are his qualifications for this job?  And the bottom line is, we couldn‘t find any.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, well, apparently, he had the right whatever for this fellow.  I want to thank Brian Thompson for joining us.

We‘re coming back with Tim Minton, Bob Ingle, Pat Buchanan and Sheri Annis.  And later, the debate over John Kerry‘s record of service in Vietnam.  That‘s another hot story breaking this week.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCGREEVEY:  From my early days in school until the present day, I acknowledged some feelings, a certain sense that separated me from others.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with reporter Tim Minton of WNBC, New York.  He‘s in Trenton, New Jersey.  Plus, we‘re joined by MSNBC‘s Pat Buchanan, Republican strategist Sheri Annis and Bob Ingle in the Trenton bureau—he‘s Trenton bureau chief of the Gannett newspapers.

Let‘s go to you folks for a second here.  Let‘s talk about the political part of this.  We don‘t know all the facts yet.  We‘ll know them by morning, perhaps.  Pat Buchanan, this guy‘s defense, what did you make of it, the governor, the way he presented himself tonight?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  I think he presented himself as a victim, and I think it‘s a phony defense, in this sense.  This guy cheated relentlessly on his wife.  He‘s living a double life.  This man is lying about his life.  He‘s involved in a scandal.  He may be in a sexual harassment suit.  He‘s giving a job to somebody that doesn‘t deserve it.

Something more important here, Chris.  This governor stepped down as of November 15, turning the governorship over to the state senate president, who‘s a Democrat.  If he resigned now, there would be a wide-open race for the governorship on November, election day.  You‘d get somebody like...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... a special the same day as the general.

BUCHANAN:  ... Christie Todd Whitman or somebody clean house up there.  Suddenly, New Jersey‘s in play in the presidential election.  I think the fix is in on this fellow because, otherwise, which column‘s going to win?  Kerry‘s going to win New Jersey, and that‘s why they moved it out to November.

MATTHEWS:  OK, that was the sympathetic...

BUCHANAN:  That‘s the other...

MATTHEWS:  That was the sympathetic view towards Governor McGreevey. 

Now let‘s have the hard-nosed view.

SHERI ANNIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Here we go.

MATTHEWS:  Just kidding, Pat.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  That was a pretty tough bill of particulars there by Pat...

ANNIS:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  The guy knew what he was doing.  He‘s involved in another relationship, a dual existence.  He put, basically, a joke on the state payroll because it was a person of some sexual interest to the guy, obviously, or apparently.

BUCHANAN:  He‘s cheating on his wife!

MATTHEWS:  He‘s setting up this thing so there won‘t a real up-and-down vote on a real Republican or a Democratic successor.  He‘s put the fix in, as Pat says, for the system to work for the party.  What good‘s the guy got to offer right now?

ANNIS:  Well, here—what he‘s now trying to do is save face.  And there‘s obviously a lot of back story here that we‘re still discovering.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

ANNIS:  He cried victim to evoke public sympathy.  He called himself, if you‘ll notice, a gay American, hyphenated status...

MATTHEWS:  Well, he sought to mobilize the gay community with his words.  He talked about, first of all, being under threats of disclosure, which is a classic old problem.  The State Department for years would not employ as a foreign service officer someone gay because, under the argument, they would be blackmailed.

ANNIS:  Right.  Right.

MATTHEWS:  And that‘s an old—and I think that‘s been gone away with.  but you certainly had an appeal for saying, “I am a gay American.”  I was just looking at the MSNBC Web sites.  “I am a gay American,” is the lead, not I‘m a crook...

ANNIS:  Right!

MATTHEWS:  ... not, I misused my authority, not, I got to resign, but “I am a gay American” as the lead.

ANNIS:  “Gay American” evokes a minority status, and he‘s trying to play off of that.  He wants to deflect any attention from the fact that he may have hired someone extremely irresponsibly who was not qualified at all because of a personal relationship.  That doesn‘t look as good.  It doesn‘t evoke as much sympathy as someone who happens to have finally found his identity and suddenly decided he‘s gay.

MATTHEWS:  See, the point here is, politically, Pat...

BUCHANAN:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  ... and just to add to your bill of indictment here, politically—here we have New Jersey, right across the Hudson from the World Trade Center.  Who does this guy put in, in the year after 9/11 as his homeland security guy?  His boyfriend.

BUCHANAN:  His boyfriend...

MATTHEWS:  Or whatever the hell this thing was.

BUCHANAN:  A 33-year-old foreigner!  Look, the guy has engaged in squalid behavior.  There‘s a lot of gay men who are involved in marriage who keep their vows.  They have these tendencies.  They resist them.  Here‘s a guy that gave in to it, who‘s running around, trolling for this character from Israel, gives him all these jobs.  I think his conduct is indefensible, as we know it now.

ANNIS:  It looks like there‘s two parties here that might be a little

·         have some slime factor to them.  The gentleman who seem to be accusing him of...

MATTHEWS:  Well, he waited two years to jump him.

ANNIS:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Which is kind of interesting, when you have these sexual harassment—I know a lot of younger women are intimidated.  I understand that.  But here‘s a veteran of the Israeli military.

ANNIS:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t think he was intimidated by the governor who took him over here and gave him all these jobs.

ANNIS:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  He was probably impressed.

ANNIS:  The poet in him did not make him wait two years.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  The rape charge suggests shakedown, extortion.  I mean, the

·         I don‘t care...

MATTHEWS:  You made a point during the break.  If it‘s a rape charge, why isn‘t it a criminal penalty?

BUCHANAN:  Well, you go to a criminal court...

MATTHEWS:  Why isn‘t there a criminal charge?

BUCHANAN:  You go out and throw that out...

MATTHEWS:   You don‘t wait a couple years and go for the fortune cookie...

BUCHANAN:  You throw that out—you throw that out if you‘re going to blackmail somebody and shake them down.  And you don‘t go into civil court to charge rape...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Bob, are you familiar with this rape piece of this at all? 

Is it something that‘s come up with you in your reporting?

INGLE:  No, this is something totally new.  I tend to agree with Pat on this, by the way.  It sounds more like a shakedown than anything else to me.

MATTHEWS:  Well, $5 million is not even a reasonable settlement, it seems to me, in a case like this.  I don‘t know what kind of damage, emotional damage could have been done to this fellow.

BUCHANAN:  I don‘t want what the governor‘s salary is.

MATTHEWS:  He took five jobs from the guy.

(CROSSTALK)

INGLE:  I think we got to find out if he is allied with anybody in this suit, if he has any backer, if there‘s somebody paying for his lawyer or whatever because this actually may be a lot more dark than what we know so far today.

BUCHANAN:  Chris, here‘s the...

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me just tell you, we have to go a little bit with what the governor said.  I know you were tough on him a minute ago.  As he stood at that podium there, he said “threats of disclosure.”  And I think that‘s what he probably faced.

BUCHANAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Obviously, the suit two years late is a threat of—we‘re coming right back with Bob Ingle, Tim Minton, Pat Buchanan and Sheri Annis.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCGREEVEY:  Given the circumstances surrounding the affair and its likely impact upon my family and my ability to govern, I have decided the right course of action is to resign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with WNBC‘s Tim Minton, MSNBC‘s Pat Buchanan, Republican strategist Sheri Annis and Bob Ingle, the Trenton bureau chief for the Gannett newspapers.

Let me start with Tim.  What‘s the headline coming out of here, the possible scandal behind this story or the simple fact that this guy‘s going to resign over his sexual embarrassment?

MINTON:  I think the headline for now is the resignation, but there‘s an expectation at the statehouse that some papers are going to be filed in court, perhaps tomorrow morning, and I think that‘s going to deliver all new headlines.

The only thing I would add, Pat‘s right when he says that there was, in effect, the decision by the governor to ensure succession here without an election.  But the Republican leaders who have been parading in front of the cameras in the last few hours without exception have said, We accept it.  We‘re going to move on.  They are not taking an issue with that part of what happened today, remarkable as the events were.

MATTHEWS:  Bob, your take?

INGLE:  I agree with that.  I think it‘s going to be a story that‘s going to go on for a few days.  It‘s going to be like an onion.  We‘re going to peel more and more of this and find out the things that are involved that we don‘t even suspect today.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you, gentlemen.  Let me go to Sheri.  You‘ve dealt with these kind of public relations issues.  Is this an issue of gay rights and gay repressment and things like that, or is this a standard story of a guy misusing his office?

ANNIS:  McGreevey is trying to make it into an issue of gay rights.  It is not at all.  You can tell that he‘s trying to put the best foot forward here.  There‘s a lot behind this.  There‘s possible extortion.  There‘s abuse of office...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... does the taboo against gay relationships, period, in public life or anywhere, still carry a heavier price, in terms of possible extortion, Pat?

BUCHANAN:  Oh, yes.  I think it still does.  But what is the problem with the Republicans?  They ought to demand that this guy be out of there by September 1 and they have a special election on the same day as the president runs to clean house up there in Trenton.  It is the political thing to do.  It is the right thing to do.  If they let the Democrats get away with this, you can understand why the Republicans are losing New Jersey.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you can understand why they never win a Senate seat in New Jersey, for example.

BUCHANAN:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  Whatever, they just seem to give up on it.  It‘s a weak party.

ANNIS:  They have to be much more aggressive.

INGLE:  That‘s typical of them.  They never grab the chance when it‘s there.

ANNIS:  And it‘s there right now!

MATTHEWS:  Well, they couldn‘t beat Corzine...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.

THOMPSON:  They‘re leaving the door open, though.  They said in an announcement tonight that they are going to have a meeting to weigh their options.  So maybe they go a different direction.  But at the moment, what they‘re saying is, they‘re OK with the way it‘s going.

MATTHEWS:  Well, maybe they‘ll choose victory over defeat.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Tim Minton.  Thank you, Bob Ingle. 

Thank you, Pat Buchanan, Sheri Annis.

And next—this is a hot one—the debate over John Kerry‘s war record with two Vietnam vets who see it differently, John O‘Neill and John Hurley.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, and it‘s a hot night on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, Vietnam Veteran John O‘Neill, John Kerry‘s longtime nemesis, on his contested new book, “Unfit For Command.”  O‘Neill is here to debate John Hurley, the national director of the group Veterans for Kerry. 

But, first, the latest headlines. 

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

John O‘Neill is the co-author of “Unfit For Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry.”  Mr. O‘Neill succeeded John Kerry‘s command of the PCF-94 swift boat in Vietnam.  And John Hurley is the national director of Veterans for Kerry. 

Let me ask you gentlemen about these questions.  But let‘s start with the central notion that a lot of us have of John Kerry.  Whatever you think of his politics, he was a war hero.  Is that true? 

JOHN O‘NEILL, SWIFT BOAT VETERANS FOR TRUTH:  That‘s not true at all. 

MATTHEWS:  Why isn‘t it true? 

O‘NEILL:  More than 60 people from his unit are in this book right here.  He served with 23 officers in this unit.  There are 17 of them that have signed our letter condemning him.  They have some very good reasons why. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

O‘NEILL:  First of all, he was there a very short period of time. 

Second, as the book outlines, he fabricated at least two of his Purple Hearts, I think conclusively, based on the documentation. 

MATTHEWS:  All right.   

O‘NEILL:  He provided false reports and then he went home.  That‘s OK. 

But he was no war hero. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s start with this from the top. 

And I want to you join in this right on the top here.  You‘re both familiar with his military record.  He was in Vietnam how long, John? 

JOHN HURLEY, NATIONAL DIRECTOR, VIETNAM VETERANS FOR JOHN KERRY:  He conducted—he had two tours in Vietnam, one on the USS Gridley and one on the swift boat, two swift boats in the Delta?   

MATTHEWS:  Do you could concur on that? 

O‘NEILL:  Not at all.  The USS Gridley was not a tour in Vietnam.  It was a ship way off the coast of Vietnam. 

MATTHEWS:  But my brother was on one of those ships that was off the shore.  And that was considered combat. 

O‘NEILL:  He was there for five weeks on the Gridley off the coast. 

MATTHEWS:  But was that recorded as combat theater duty? 

O‘NEILL:  Absolutely. 

(CROSSTALK)

O‘NEILL:  But he was on the Gridley for five weeks off the coast. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Let‘s try to use Naval language and Naval rulings here and not personal reflections.

O‘NEILL:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Was he given credit, John Hurley, for serving in Vietnam when he was on that ship? 

HURLEY:  Yes.  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Was he given credit by the Navy for serving in Vietnam? 

O‘NEILL:  Yes.  But it would never have been considered a tour in Vietnam by the Navy or anybody else. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, why was he given credit for it?

O‘NEILL:  Well, he was given credit for exactly what he did, which was being on the Gridley off the coast.  It was not a one-year tour of Vietnam. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to the question of the Silver Star.  How did he win the Silver Star? 

HURLEY:  He won the Silver Star when PCF-94, which is his second command in Vietnam, came under ambush in February of 1969.  John Kerry ordered his helmsman, Del Sandusky, to turn the boat into the ambush.  They went in. 

As they beached the boat, V.C. with a grenade launcher, an RPG, stood up 10 feet away from them and started running away.  They had already opened fire.  Tommy Belodeau was on the bow gun that day.  He winged this guy in the leg.  But the guy did not break stride.  He kept right on running.  Took off.  Kerry took off after him, got off the boat with an M-16. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  By himself.

HURLEY:  No.  He was followed by Mike Medeiros and subsequently followed by Tommy Belodeau. 

MATTHEWS:  And he was leading the way?

HURLEY:  He was leading the way.  And he chased this guy down a path. 

Fred Short, who was on the twin 50s that day, will tell you that he observed the whole thing.  He followed him down a path that this V.C. was turning towards the boat with the armed B-40 rocket and John Kerry killed him. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Now, who put him up for the award, for the Silver? 

HURLEY:  I do not know. 

MATTHEWS:  But he received the Silver Star. 

HURLEY:  He did receive the Silver Star. 

MATTHEWS:  And who has to approve the Silver Star?

HURLEY:  In this case, it was Admiral Zumwalt.  Admiral Zumwalt said in 1996 that he felt John Kerry deserved a Navy Cross for his actions that day. 

MATTHEWS:  Which is a much higher award. 

HURLEY:  Which is a much higher award. 

But that it would have to have gone back to the Pentagon for approval.  He was looking for a morale booster in the Delta.  He could issue a Silver Star on his own authority and did so and issued it very quickly to John Kerry. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you deny that he won the Silver Star? 

O‘NEILL:  Well, he received the Silver Star. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you deny that he deserved it? 

O‘NEILL:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  Why? 

O‘NEILL:  Because...

MATTHEWS:  Why do you disagree with the Navy on this? 

O‘NEILL:  Well, because the Navy didn‘t have the facts. 

The citation, which you can read in the book “Unfit For Command,” says that he turned into superior forces and into intense fire.  He was on a gunboat with 20 or 30 troops.  It was a huge gunboat.  There was a single fleeing Viet Cong. 

Commander Elliott, who wrote the citation, indicated he didn‘t understand that.  All of us defend his right to shoot that guy in the back because the guy had fired at him.  None of us say that was a war crime.  What we do say, had the Navy known the actual facts, he wouldn‘t have received the Silver Star.  There was an Army...

MATTHEWS:  Well, who put him up for the award? 

O‘NEILL:  Commander Elliott, based on the notion that he had gone into a bunker full of a large number of Viet Cong by himself. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How did he get that notion? 

O‘NEILL:  Because John Kerry told him that, because that‘s what the report carefully read by John Kerry says for that day, on that day, March the—February the 28th

MATTHEWS:  You, in other words, argue that the Silver Star he received was wrongly awarded because of failure of the right information to reach Elliott and then that Zumwalt was simply given further bad information. 

O‘NEILL:  Yes, based on the report Kerry himself provided and the information he provided.  We don‘t deny that Kerry should have gotten, acted with ordinary courage.  We don‘t attack Kerry for shooting the kid in the back. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you assess the fact of a commander of a ship bringing a ship basically, beaching a swift boat, going into land, hostile territory, knowing that there‘s V.C. all around and chasing after a guy in very much hostile territory.  If you don‘t call that courage, what would you call that? 

O‘NEILL:  I think it involves an ordinary degree of courage, Chris.  I just don‘t think that that‘s the Silver Star.

MATTHEWS:  So, in other words, he showed courage in Vietnam. 

O‘NEILL:  I think that in chasing this kid and shooting him in the back, that that involved some degree of courage.  And I believe we all believe that that involved some degree of physical courage. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he risked his life, didn‘t he? 

O‘NEILL:  I don‘t believe that...

MATTHEWS:  You mean he didn‘t face enemy, potential enemy fire by going up on the beach in Vietnam in V.C. territory?

O‘NEILL:  You mean on that occasion? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

O‘NEILL:  I don‘t really think so, Chris.  We had people shoot at us. 

John Kerry got shot at.  I‘m not denying that John Kerry in being shot at showed courage.  I think he did, just like all the rest of us. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, compare that to Bush‘s record in Vietnam. 

O‘NEILL:  Well, I‘m not here to...

MATTHEWS:  No, I mean, if a man shows any courage in the battlefield, he‘s done more than most people do in this country.  He‘s gone out and fought for his country and risked his life for his country and shot one of the enemy for his country.  That puts him a step above most people, doesn‘t it?

O‘NEILL:  I think he is millions of steps behind, because he went over...

MATTHEWS:  Behind whom? 

O‘NEILL:  Behind everybody. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean Bush?  President Bush? 

O‘NEILL:  Yes.  I‘m not going to speak to President Bush. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, because you‘re out here as a proactive indicter of this guy‘s war record.  You‘ve chosen to take this role, to write this book, to get these allies to make these case.  You‘re a Republican from Texas.  You‘re making this case against the guy. 

And I‘m simply saying, you can‘t just go out here and take these shots without being responded to by me.  I‘m going to ask you, is he less a hero than Bush? 

O‘NEILL:  And I would like to answer, if you‘ll give me a chance. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.  Sure.  Plenty of time.  Take all the time you want. 

O‘NEILL:  First of all, I‘m not a Republican from Texas.  That‘s just not true.

Second, with respect to what he did, we don‘t challenge that he went ashore that day.  With respect to overall, he had very limited accomplishments in the short period he was in Vietnam and he came back here and delivered almost a death blow to the U.S. military by lying. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, that‘s another issue.  We‘ll get to that issue. 

(CROSSTALK)

O‘NEILL:  Just a second. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s why you‘re mad at him. 

O‘NEILL:  Absolutely not. 

First of all, I believe that his comments and the war crimes claims back here were absolutely wrong.  And I‘ll never forget those.  Neither will the guys.

MATTHEWS:  What war crimes?

O‘NEILL:  His claims that U.S. troops committed war crimes on a day-to-day basis, that we were like Genghis Khan. 

But a wholly separate issue is, did exaggerate his service in Vietnam? 

And my answer to that is, clearly he did. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But you have a record going back yourself.  But you go back to the Nixon era, when Nixon was looking for someone.  Colson and those guys were looking for somebody to debunk the Kerry record, because all the records show they were scared to death of this guy.  And you played that role.  You close to play that role. 

O‘NEILL:  Once...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m sorry.  I don‘t want to get

(CROSSTALK)

O‘NEILL:  That‘s just not true. 

MATTHEWS:  By the way, disabuse the public who are watching right now what I‘m wrong about.  Where do you live? 

O‘NEILL:  I live in Houston, Texas. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, you‘re a Texan. 

Have you voted Democrat recently for president? 

O‘NEILL:  Absolutely.  I haven‘t voted for a Republican since 1988.  As a matter of fact, I just backed the Democratic mayor of Houston, Bill White.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, so you‘ve voted—you‘re generally a Republican or a Democrat when it comes to voting for president? 

O‘NEILL:  It depends on the person, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you vote for Clinton? 

O‘NEILL:  No, actually. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you vote for Gore? 

O‘NEILL:  I voted for Perot twice. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Did you vote for Gore?

O‘NEILL:  I voted for Gore.  I voted for Gore.  I don‘t know really why I should go into my voting record. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, because it comes down to the question.  We‘re going over the issue here of you going after a guy‘s war record and admitting he was courageous in battle, but then arguing about the nature of the way he was awarded the Silver Star.  I‘m just wondering why you‘re doing this. 

O‘NEILL:  Well, the reason I‘m doing it is, he wildly exaggerated two things.  He wildly exaggerated his record, which...

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s start with that.  We‘re going down the record. 

O‘NEILL:  Can I finish answering the question?

MATTHEWS:  He won the Silver Star.  He was put up for it by General—by Admiral... 

O‘NEILL:  You‘re not going to let me answer.

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m letting you answer it.  But help me out here. 

O‘NEILL:  All right. 

MATTHEWS:  He got the Silver Star.  He got the Bronze Star.  He won three Purple Hearts.  You‘re saying this is all just unfair. 

O‘NEILL:  I‘m saying that, with respect to his Silver Star, he exaggerated the circumstances, that no competent military person that I know would give someone a Silver Star for shooting a kid in the back, although I don‘t find anything wrong with that. 

I‘m saying, with respect to his Purple Hearts, two of the three of them, all you need to do is look at the paper.  He provided falsified paper to get out of Vietnam in a short period. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s list—let‘s go down the list. 

Silver Star.  Respond to what he said about the Silver Star. 

HURLEY:  His book and his organization is built on lies and distortions. 

John McCain had it absolutely right when he said, Chris, when he said it is dishonorable and dishonest what Mr. O‘Neill‘s organization is doing.  They‘re taking and distorting the facts.  They‘re in writing from 1969.  If you look at those award recommendations, if you look at those fitness reports, if you go back and talk to the people who were actually there, there is no question and no dispute about John Kerry‘s heroism in Vietnam.  And this now is a Republican-backed, Republican-funded...

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s go through some of—let‘s go.  I wanted to go through this logically.  But now that you‘ve raised this, his shipmates, are they all with Kerry in terms of what happened?  Not the politics, who is voting for him.  I don‘t care, could care less.  Are they all with him on the facts? 

HURLEY:  Every man who was with him when he won the Silver Star, when he won the Bronze Star, when he won three Purple Hearts is with him. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that true? 

O‘NEILL:  Absolutely false. 

MATTHEWS:  Who among the people with him on that ship disagree with his record? 

O‘NEILL:  First of all...

MATTHEWS:  On the ship. 

O‘NEILL:  Well, his first Purple Heart was not on a ship.  It was on a Boston whaler. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

O‘NEILL:  With him on the Boston whaler was Lieutenant William Schachte, now Rear Admiral William Schachte.  He will tell you that he falsified that award, that the award was forged. 

MATTHEWS:  Answer?

HURLEY:  This is dishonest. 

There were three men on that boat that night, John Kerry, Bill Zaladonis, Pat Runyon, period, three men on that boat.  This is part of irresponsible journalism, irresponsible reporting.  There was no one else on that boat that night.  And those men will tell you exactly what happened that night. 

MATTHEWS:  What happened? 

HURLEY:  They went into an inlet where they had been advised that there were V.C. using a crossing to traffic in contraband.  They went in.  They towed a number of fishermen and sampans out to a swift boat.  The Boston whaler is a very small boat.  It‘s a 14-to-15-foot boat.  There were three of them in it.  They went in under power, at some point, cut the engine and paddled in. 

They encountered V.C.—they encountered Vietnamese fishermen, towed them back out to the swift boat for interrogation.  On one trip in, the final trip in, they spotted V.C. crossing this inlet where they were told there would be V.C.  Kerry popped the flare, exposing their position.  The V.C. began to run.  They opened fire on the V.C.  As they were exiting the inlet, Kerry felt—there was an explosion in the water and Kerry felt a stinging, burning sensation in his arm.  There was no fourth person.

MATTHEWS:  Who put him up for the Purple Heart? 

HURLEY:  It is a function of getting medical treatment for that injury.  He was treated the next day, the next morning at Cam Rahn Bay for that injury.  They removed shrapnel from his arm.  And by virtue of that medical treatment, he received the Purple Heart. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you know that? 

HURLEY:  Because that‘s the...

MATTHEWS:  How do you know he had shrapnel removed from his arm? 

O‘NEILL:  Because the medical report says removed shrapnel from his arm. 

MATTHEWS:  What about that, John?

HURLEY:  And the fourth person on this boat is a dishonest and ridiculous attempt. 

O‘NEILL:  We have just called the No. 2 guy in the Judge Advocate General‘s Corps a liar. 

Now, let‘s deal with how he got the Purple Heart.  His commanding officer was a man named Grant Hibbard.  He has provided an affidavit.  Kerry went in to Grant Hibbard and said, I‘m entitled to a Purple Heart.  Grant Hibbard, the division commander said, forget it.  You‘re not getting any Purple Heart.  There wasn‘t any hostile fire and you have got a scratch here.  I‘m not giving you any Purple Heart. 

The hostile fire report, Chris, exists for every other Purple Heart ever issued in Vietnam.  There also is a casualty report. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, look, we have got two other Purple Hearts to deal with.  We‘ll be right back.  We have got two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, and a Silver.

Let‘s all come back and talk about it. 

We‘re coming back with John O‘Neill and John Hurley.

Don‘t forget, you can keep up with the presidential race on HardBlogger, our election blog Web site.  Just go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, the debate continues over John Kerry‘s war record with two Vietnam veterans, longtime Kerry rival John O‘Neill and the national director of Veterans For Kerry, John Hurley.

HARDBALL back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with John O‘Neill, co-author of “Unfit For Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry, and John Hurley, national director of Veterans For Kerry. 

Let‘s go to that other medal, because I want to be somewhat analytical here, the Bronze. 

Why did he get Bronze? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  John Hurley first. 

O‘NEILL:  Chris, we didn‘t finish on that—I didn‘t give you the rest of the story on that first Purple Heart. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Finish up.

O‘NEILL:  It was denied by the division commander.  After everybody left Vietnam, somehow it mysteriously appears three months later without any of the supporting documents, with no hostile fire report, no casualty report. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s go to the Bronze. 

HURLEY:  If Mr. O‘Neill was interested in the truth, the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth, if he was interested in the truth, he would have tried to talk to any of John Kerry‘s crewmates for this book.  He did not talk to John Kerry‘s crewmates. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that true? 

O‘NEILL:  None of his crewmates could have told me anything about the first Purple Heart. 

HURLEY:  Did you interview

(CROSSTALK)

HURLEY:  ... for the book?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s an interesting thing.  There seems to be three broad directions of criticism and support for Kerry. 

One is, the Navy gave him the Silver.  The Navy gave him the Bronze.  The Navy gave him three Purple Hearts.  So the Navy, as is the Navy, there‘s the right way, the wrong way, and the Navy way.  The Navy way was to give him these awards, OK?  We all agree on that because that‘s a fact.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The second group of people that the president him, the second force, is his crewmen.  Now, there‘s this other force, people who are not his crewmen, who are not the Navy, who have contributed to your book.  What is this about?  Why are there three different points of view here, the official Navy way, his crew backing him up?  And you‘ve arranged it.  You‘ve pulled together these people from all over the place who don‘t like the guy. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Seriously, does anybody in your group like John Kerry and wish they didn‘t have to do this? 

O‘NEILL:  Oh, all of them.  Virtually everybody would be much happier...

MATTHEWS:  They like him?

O‘NEILL:  ... not to be involved in this at all, Chris. 

And I disagree completely with what you just said. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Explain it. 

O‘NEILL:  It‘s peculiar mathematics that takes eight people and makes them larger than 254 people. 

MATTHEWS:  Because they were his crewmen. 

O‘NEILL:  We don‘t count that way.

Yes, but these are little boats, Chris.  These guys—the officers are bunking with him most nights. 

MATTHEWS:  I see.

O‘NEILL:  These are little boats operating in groups of six. 

Chris, they‘re no further than I am from that monitor over there much of the time. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

O‘NEILL:  And you‘re talking about 17 of the 23 guys that were his direct peers.  You‘re talking about all the guys who were his commanding officers, or almost all of them. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

O‘NEILL:  You‘re talking about most of the guys, the sailors who were right there with him, 60 out of 100.  They‘re not in this deal because of anything other than trying to get to the truth.

MATTHEWS:  OK, explain this, because I know most officers are probably Republicans from the Vietnam era.  I don‘t deny that, not all of them, most of them.

The crewmen, I still don‘t understand why you can‘t explain to me why the crewmen who served with him are up on the stage with him at the Democratic Convention.  The Navy has not retracted these medals.  The crewmen are with him.  And you‘re saying, ignore the Navy.  Ignore the crew.  Go with my crowd. 

O‘NEILL:  Not at all.  I‘m saying, consider the Navy, consider the crew, and then consider the real facts, actually look at the documents. 

HURLEY:  Chris, this is wrong.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me get John Hurley. 

Run through everything.  What is this about, this attack? 

HURLEY:  This is about a Republican smear campaign sponsored by Republican fund raisers down in Texas, supported by Merrie Spaeth, the Republican communications—this has got nothing to do with John Kerry‘s service in Vietnam, which is documented in documents written in 1969, is supported by every member who served with him on those crews. 

Now, 35 years after the fact, crewmates—or people, swifties in Vietnam are coming forward, saying, ah, but I remember it differently now. 

Let me read to you.  This is from one of those commanders that Mr.

O‘Neill is talking about. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

HURLEY:  This is from George Elliott, one of John Kerry‘s commanders in Vietnam.  This is the recommendation for the award of the Bronze Star.  And he talks about a little bit in this.

Then he says: “Shortly after starting their exit from this river, a mine detonated under one of the boats, PCF-3, lifting it two feet above the water and wounded everyone on board.  Almost simultaneously, another mine detonated, close aboard PCF-94, knocking First Lieutenant Rassmann into the water and wounding Lieutenant J.G. Kerry in the right arm.”  It goes on that PCF-4 provided cover fire, that they received sniper fire from the riverbanks.  “Lieutenant J.G. Kerry, from his exposed position on the bow of the boat, managed to pull Lieutenant Rassmann aboard despite the painful wound in his right arm.

“Meanwhile, PCF-94 gunners provided accurate suppressing fire.”  It concludes by saying: “Lieutenant J.G. Kerry proved himself to be calm, professional and highly courageous in the face of enemy fire.”  That is signed by George Elliott, one of these same guys now who is saying, oh, but I remember it differently and I want to change my mind. 

What is specious about this book, what is dishonest about this book, what John McCain is getting at when he says it‘s dishonest and dishonorable, is that Mr. O‘Neill and his co-author, Mr. Corsi, did not talk to one member of John Kerry‘s crew on that boat.  If they were interested in the truth, they would have talked with Jim Rassmann.  They would have talked with Fred Short.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Did you? 

(CROSSTALK)

O‘NEILL:  Actually, we did.  We interviewed

(CROSSTALK)

O‘NEILL:  May I finish?

HURLEY:  Private investigator, right?

O‘NEILL:  We had a private investigator, specifically to check this out, interview three of the crewmen.  They confirmed to us that this Cambodia story was a lie.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We‘ll come back.

HURLEY:  And then they were instructed not to talk to us anymore. 

O‘NEILL:  That‘s a lie.  That‘s an outright lie.

O‘NEILL:  They were instructed specifically not to talk to us. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re coming back with John O‘Neill and John Hurley.

And sign up for HARDBALL‘s free daily e-mail briefing.  Just log on to our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

You‘re watching it, HARDBALL, on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with John O‘Neill, the co-author of “Unfit For Command,” and John Hurley, national director of Veterans For Kerry.

Gentlemen, first of all, according to this Associated Press story, Kerry got a Purple Heart for getting shrapnel in his left arm above the elbow.  If the shrapnel had hit him in the eye, the doctor said it could have blinded him.  No. 2, he was wounded with a piece of shrapnel on February 20, this time in the left thigh.  Doctors decided to leave the shrapnel in place—it is still in his leg—rather than make a wider opening to remove it. 

The third time, he got it from a dangerous situation in March of that year, life-threatening.  A mine exploded near Kerry‘s swift boat and enemy snipers were shooting around him.  He won the Silver Star for chasing—beaching his swift boat, chasing after some V.C. in V.C. territory and killing one of the V.C.  He won his Bronze for saving the life of Mr.  Rassmann, as he pulled him into the boat in enemy territory. 

I don‘t get the point.  If this is all roughly true, why are you—it

is all—what is in dispute here, besides

(CROSSTALK)  

HURLEY:  Every word of it is true.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  All of this is true.  And you‘re building a case against the guy on behalf of a guy running for president with absolutely no military experience in the field.  So what is the point? 

O‘NEILL:  First of all, when you start off with the assumption everything is true and refuse to allow it to be questioned...

MATTHEWS:  No, I listened to every point you made, but the main point...

O‘NEILL:  You haven‘t let me talk about most of them.  We talked about his first Purple...

MATTHEWS:  You talked about each one.

O‘NEILL:  His first Purple...

MATTHEWS:  One of the oldest tricks on this show is for somebody to come on the show after talking for 20 minutes and say they haven‘t had the chance to talk. 

O‘NEILL:  Well, the first...

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll be glad to clock you, John...

O‘NEILL:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  ... on how many minutes you spoke on the show.  So don‘t try that old trick.  It is a particularly conservative trick, OK?

So let‘s move on here. 

What is the main thrust of it?  You‘re saying that all of this is smoke, the guy is not a hero.

O‘NEILL:  You‘re right.  I‘m saying...

MATTHEWS:  All smoke?

O‘NEILL:  I‘m saying that the third Purple Heart was another self-inflicted wound.  I‘m saying he lied about the Bronze Star.  And I‘m saying that you, Chris, could read the documents yourself, if you would take the time. 

MATTHEWS:  And his crewmen back him up and the Navy backs him up. 

(CROSSTALK)

O‘NEILL:  Wrong. 

MATTHEWS:  And you‘re it‘s all...

O‘NEILL:  Wrong, Chris.  The Navy, his actual commanders, virtually all say that those awards were improperly issued. 

MATTHEWS:  Why am I reading these citations all day from the Navy? 

What are you talking about?  They don‘t exist? 

O‘NEILL:  Well, wait just a second.  What you‘ve done is...

MATTHEWS:  I read the citation for the Bronze.  I read it for the Silver.  I‘ve studied up on the Purples.  And you‘re saying all this is smoke, that he‘s not really a hero of any kind. 

(CROSSTALK)

O‘NEILL:  Can you tell me, Chris, where the numerically superior force was that was pouring intense fire from one Viet Cong kid with a gunboat?  And so it existed only in his report. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, your last thought.

(CROSSTALK)

HURLEY:  John Kerry served heroically.  He served courageously.  He made wonderful decision-making in Vietnam, saved his crew on a number of occasions.  They have his full and complete support.  He was recognized by his commanders in Vietnam, particularly Commander Elliott, who said, in a combat situation, John Kerry was unsurpassed. 

This now, 35 years later, is, as John McCain said, dishonest and dishonorable.  It is a Republican-inspired smear campaign. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘ve already heard enough that he‘s done more than I ever did for my country and a lot more than anybody else.

Thank you very much, John O‘Neill—and more than the president.

And, John Hurley, thank you for joining us.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Join us again tonight at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.

Now the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith. 

END

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