updated 5/22/2015 10:55:29 AM ET 2015-05-22T14:55:29

Show: HARDBALL
Date: May 21, 2015
Guest: Michael Tomasky, Michael O`Hanlon, John Wildermuth, Michael
Schmidt, Michael Schmidt, Steve Battaglio, Betsy Woodruff, Danny Vargas

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: You broke it, you bought it.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

good evening. I`m Chris Matthews out in San Francisco, to give this
weekend`s commencement at St. Mary`s College.

Well, even from this beautiful city, it`s hard not to see the ugliness
in the partisan effort to put the hell of ISIS entirely on the shoulders of
President Obama. It`s as if the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which broke that
country apart, had nothing to do with today`s Iraqi turmoil, an invasion
Bush and Cheney sold with the now provenly bogus claim that Saddam Hussein
had nuclear weapons and a connection to 9/11.

Watching the Republicans contort themselves in this effort is to watch
them prance in front of funhouse mirrors. One group says that reality
doesn`t matter. It doesn`t matter that the claims of a nuclear Iraq or an
al Qaeda-connected Iraq were bogus. The U.S. invasion was a dandy idea,
they say, even if it`s left over 4,000 Americans and over 100,000 Iraqis
dead.

Another group says now that because the case made for the U.S.
invasion was bogus, you can`t blame the people who came up with those bogus
claims. I know. This is hard to follow.

A third group is similar to the first. It says that, OK, we should
have never invaded Iraq, but it`s still cool because we got rid of Saddam
Hussein.

Well, the fourth argument -- catch this -- sort of covers all the
bases. It doesn`t think through the horror of the war or the dishonesty
that led to it, it simply lumps it all together and blames it all on, guess
who, President Obama?

So let`s start with those who say we should have gone in, no matter
what. Bill Kristol writes in "USA Today" that, quote, "We were right to
invade Iraq in 2003 and to remove Saddam Hussein and to complete the job we
should have finished in 1991. The Obama administration threw it all away."

And then here`s Republican presidential hopeful Lindsey Graham.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was the Iraq war a mistake?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: No, I don`t think so.

The biggest mistake we made was leaving Iraq without a follow-on force
against sound military advice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Michael O`Hanlon`s a senior fellow with the Brookings
Institute, where he specializes in foreign policy, and Michael Tomasky is
special correspondent with the DailyBeast.

I want Michael Tomasky to respond to this. What do you make of the --
basically, the neocon argument, this is an ideological war, we admit it, we
never really did believe in the WMD, we`re glad we fought it, we`re glad
everybody got what they got because we got rid of Saddam Hussein?

MICHAEL TOMASKY, DAILYBEAST: Yes, well, look, Saddam Hussein was a
really bad guy, Chris. Nobody argues with that. But is the world better
off now? No. The world is not better off now.

You know, some portions of the Iraqi population are probably better
off. The Kurds are probably better off. You know, there`s no complete
black and complete white here. It`s a very complicated picture. So you
know, some people are better off because Saddam Hussein is gone. And
Saddam Hussein was a total monster, and none of us are going to sit here
and defend him.

But is the world overall better off because Iraq exploded like this
and because they went in there and thought that Iraqis were going to throw
rose petals at our feet and they didn`t plan for what kind of regime they
were going to build, they didn`t plan on replacing or maintaining the
security constitutions of that country when they tore that country apart?

No, the world`s not better off. We`ve got ISIS. We`ve got all these
problems. We`ve got a much-strengthened Iran because of this invasion.
Not better off.

MATTHEWS: Michael O`Hanlon, same question to you.

MICHAEL O`HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, Chris, I don`t think
we`re better off, either. The hope I had two or three years ago -- and
even then, as you know, the costs, as you have often underscored, had been
horrendous. But the hope I had was some day, the Middle East would have
improved enough and Iraq would be working well enough that at that time, we
could perhaps say that the benefits were worth the cost. That was the hope
I had a couple of years ago.

If that`s still a hope, it`s a very long-term hope, and it`s certainly
being dashed year by year right now. So at this juncture, we have to say
that the war was not worth the costs. And based on the premises that we
went into the war with, I cannot defend the decision, even though at the
time, I did not oppose it.

MATTHEWS: Yes, well, that`s where the American people are right now.
There are others who acknowledge mistakes, but blame it all on bogus intel,
like Jeb Bush. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEB BUSH (R), FMR. FLORIDA GOVERNOR: The facts that were there for
the president in a bipartisan way approved, by the way -- bipartisan in
every extent -- you have to admit that, right? -- was grounded on faulty
intelligence.

Hindsight, based on the faulty intelligence and the security issues
that -- I wouldn`t have gone in and mistakes were made, and my brother
concurs with that, as do a lot of other people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that poor guy is simply not keeping up. This was
more than faulty intelligence involved. We set that record straight on our
show on Tuesday night this week. We were told firsthand from the top guy
at the CIA that the Bush administration manipulated the intelligence to say
that Saddam had a nuclear weapon. They lied their way into war.

Let`s take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We believe he has,
in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.

MATTHEWS: Was that true or not?

MICHAEL MORELL, FORMER CIA DEPUTY DIRECTOR: So we were saying...

MATTHEWS: Is that true?

MORELL: We were saying...

MATTHEWS: Can you answer that question? Is that true?

MORELL: No, that`s not true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, "that`s not true."

Michael Tomasky first, because this was a quite a revelation to get
the top CIA briefer of the president, who briefed the president every day,
saying they never said there was a nuclear weapon, they didn`t believe
there was. They also -- in his book, he points out, Morell points out,
that there wasn`t any connection to 9/11 or to al Qaeda generally. Your
thoughts.

TOMASKY: Well, first of all, it raises questions about why he didn`t
say this at the time. But be that as it may...

MATTHEWS: I tried to pound that out of him, Michael. I couldn`t...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

TOMASKY: I know. I saw the segment. You did your best. But look,
this is a, lie and everybody outside of the 25 or 30 percent, you know, in
their Amen corner of America knows that it`s a lie.

It wasn`t faulty intelligence. It was cooked intelligence. It was
bogus intelligence. They were getting some good intelligence, actually,
that said, No, he doesn`t have a nuclear program. No, he doesn`t have a
big stockpile of WMDs, but they didn`t want that intelligence. So they
cooked up their own intelligence.

Everybody knows that. They`re not fooling anybody except theirselves,
if they`re even fooling themselves.

MATTHEWS: Well, the other argument against President Obama is that
the war in Iraq was worth it because Saddam`s gone. Here`s Marco Rubio on
that point.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": Was it a mistake to go to war
with Iraq?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Two -- it was...

WALLACE: I`m asking you...

RUBIO: Yes, I understand, but it`s not the same question.

WALLACE: But I`m asking -- that`s the question I`m asking you. Was
it a mistake to...

RUBIO: It was not a mistake for the president to decide to go into
Iraq because at the time, he was told...

WALLACE: I`m not asking you that. I`m asking you...

RUBIO: In hindsight.

WALLACE: Yes.

RUBIO: Well, the world is a better place because Saddam Hussein is
not there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: It`s hard for me to figure out some of these guys, Mike
O`Hanlon, because I don`t think they`ve really done much homework on this.
They`re out raising money. They`re out being candidates. They`re all
covering all their bases on Common Core and everything else, and
immigration, and they don`t really put much study into what happened or the
evidence that was there or the evidence that wasn`t there. They don`t seem
to keep up to date.

What do you make of Marco Rubio because he seems to be the hotshot on
the Republican side right now?

O`HANLON: I still want to hope that, you know, he`s learned some
lessons from watching this because it`s obviously been an ugly experience.
He`s in a tough political spot. You and I know that.

I think one more thing Senator Rubio might have said is that in
addition to the, you know, misuse of intelligence, there was some other big
problem happening at the time, which is that the Pentagon was deliberately
underplanning for the difficulty of the operation.

And this is where I think we can also be critical. And one could
actually focus in more on this. If you want to learn from history, you
could say anytime you go to war in this kind of situation, you better be
prepared for it to be a lot more ugly than you might first hope. And Mr.
Rumsfeld and others at the Pentagon did not have a plan that allowed for
that possibility.

That`s where I`ve been the most critical, and I think that Senator
Rubio, for example, could have chosen that tack.

MATTHEWS: Well, the situation in Iraq today is a function of what
happened back in 2003 and what happened subsequent to that. Let me stay
with you, Michael O`Hanlon, because it seems to me that from the beginning,
they sold the war as absolutely essential because the guy had a nuclear
weapon and he was connected to 9/11, and we had to deal with that, with al
Qaeda, all the good cases where we had to go in, and at the same time, like
a good salesperson, and the costs would be rather short.

It`d be a cakewalk to get in there. They`d greet us as liberators.
It would pay for itself in terms of cheap gasoline. All those arguments
were thrown into the kettle to say not only is it essential we go in, this
thing`s going to be a jackpot for us. It`s not going to be that tough.

Who made the case to the president this was going to be an easy war?

O`HANLON: Well, you know, there were some Iraqis who did. There was
a guy named Kanan Makiya, who wrote beautiful books, very moving books
about the tyranny of Saddam`s rule. And so he really wanted to see his
people liberated, and he used the line, as you know, that American troops
will have roses thrown at their feet as they enter Baghdad. And that was
widely circulated thereafter. So it began there.

But frankly, Bush administration strategists should have known that
you can`t plan a war on your best hopes for how it might go. You can
devise a strategy that increases the chances of an optimistic outcome, but
you better have the possible preparations just in case you`re wrong. And
that`s something that any Pentagon planner really should have been focused
on.

And some of that was kept from the Senate, by the way. That stuff was
not well discussed publicly, or even with the Congress at the time. So I
think it actually is one more reason why you have to be a little more
critical of the Bush administration, a little less critical even of those
who voted for the war in the Congress.

MATTHEWS: Well, here we are, and there`s always the default option
right now, blame everything on Obama that`s going on in Iraq now as a
result of all of these years of mistakes -- and lies, basically.

Let`s take a look now at the argument against him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Isis didn`t exist when my brother was president. Al Qaeda in
Iraq was wiped out when my brother was president.

GRAHAM: And when it comes to blaming people about Iraq, the person I
blame is Barack Obama, not George W. Bush.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Isis is the face of
evil. What undermines the global effort is for the president of the United
States to be an apologist for radical Islamic terrorists.

RUBIO: I believe this president has committed presidential
malpractice in his foreign policy. And I think that exhibit A is what he`s
done with the Middle East.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: OK, President Obama responded to those critics in an
interview with "The Atlantic." Quote, "I know that there are some in
Republican quarters who have suggested that I`ve overlearned the mistake of
Iraq, and that, in fact, just because the 2003 invasion did not go well
doesn`t argue that we shouldn`t go in -- back in. One of the central flaws
I think of the decision back in 2003 was the sense that if we simply went
in and deposed a dictator or simply went in and cleared out the bad guys,
that somehow, peace and prosperity would automatically emerge. And that
lesson, we should have learned a long time ago."

I`ll go back to you, Michael O`Hanlon, because that seems to be his
argument, which is the one you made a moment ago, which is this idea that
somehow, it would be like the overthrowing of those governments in Eastern
Europe after the cold war, that all of a sudden, there would be a blooming
of democracy and a better country overall.

O`HANLON: Well, of course, in Eastern Europe, the revolutions were
typically a lot more peaceful, a lot more political, and they were in
countries that had stronger institutions that were undergirding the
society.

I do share some of the criticism of President Obama`s decision in
2011, but I think it`s a much lower magnitude mistake than to go into Iraq
in 2003 with no significant preparation. And by 2011, there was reason to
hope that the Iraqis themselves would hold it together.

Now, Prime Minister Maliki and others made some big mistakes
thereafter, and I think President Obama was wrong to pull out U.S. troops.
But it wasn`t going to be easy to stay, and Obama did keep forces there for
twice as long as he had promised on the campaign trail, along the timeframe
that President Bush had himself sketched out. So I would give Mr. Obama
some criticism there, but not nearly as harsh as the Republican field wants
to (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS: So in other words, the criticism that you level at Obama is
that he followed out the Bush plan.

O`HANLON: Well, partly. I mean, he had -- he had his own choice, but
you know -- but yes, it was the logic that had been established before.
Mr. Obama deserves some of the criticism, but not nearly as much as he`s
getting now.

MATTHEWS: OK.

TOMASKY: Yes, but Chris...

MATTHEWS: Mike Tomasky, my problem with that argument is that you can
always say, If we`d only stayed a little longer. We always argue, you can
always argue if anything goes wrong (INAUDIBLE) if we`d only stayed there
with more troops, more combat troops in the field -- you can always argue,
but that`s the best argument for not going in because you can never leave.
Your thoughts.

TOMASKY: That`s right. You can always argue that. And you know, we
might still be occupying western Iraq today with a substantial number of
troops.

Look, who negotiated the reduction of our troops and the withdrawal?
Not Barack Obama, George W. Bush did in 2008. And then, you know, I agree
with Michael O`Hanlon that the Obama administration can be criticized for
some things, and he wanted to get the troops out by 2012, undoubtedly
partly for electoral purposes.

But look at that another way, Chris. He campaigned in 2008 on getting
those troops out. That was a campaign promise he made to the American
people. The other guy, John McCain, was promising something else. The
American people, fairly decisively, chose the guy who promised he would get
the troops out, and he got the troops out.

Isn`t that keeping a campaign promise? Isn`t that what we always
complain these guys never do?

MATTHEWS: Well, there`s a certain value in sticking to your word.
Anyway, thank you, Michael O`Hanlon. Thank you, Michael Tomasky. This is
something we`ll be debating for years.

Coming up -- do Hillary Clinton supporters really care about her e-
mails, her finances and what friends she keeps? Will any of them keep --
will any this stuff keep her out of the White House? I doubt it.

Plus, Jeb Bush was supposed to save the Republican Party from its far-
right fringe. Remember how he said he`d lose the primary to win the
general? So why is he now out there denying what nearly every scientist
says about climate change? Is this to keep the flat-earth types happy?

And who`s going to get shut out when the Republicans hold their first
presidential debate. This is going to be fun. Anyway, let`s find out
which candidates won`t make the cut.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" with the best thing Hillary Clinton will have
going for her next year.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Former Texas governor Rick Perry has been a voice of sanity
about that fear that the United States Army may be invading Texas. Well,
that`s the military training exercise that some on the far right fear
supposedly will be a takeover of the Lone Star State.

Well, Texas governor Greg Abbott even put the Texas State Guard on
guard to monitor that exercise, just in case. And Ted Cruz blamed the
panic on President Obama because of what Cruz called distrust in the
federal government.

Well, initially, Governor Perry tried to calm fears, saying we should
trust the military, but now he`s right there with Cruz, blaming President
Obama.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

RICK PERRY (R-TX), FMR. GOV., FMR. PRES. CANDIDATE: Let`s say that I
were to become the president of the United States. I think there will be a
clearly changed attitude towards that office, what comes out of that
office, the messaging that comes out of that office.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Governor Perry says if he were president, people
would trust government again. Well, Jade Helm is scheduled to begin --
that`s the military operation -- in July.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The press on Hillary Clinton
lately has been full of news of possible scandals involving e-mails, the
Clinton Foundation, and big speech money. But how badly has the front-
runner actually been hurt within her own party? Well, according to at
least one focus group carried out with Iowa Democrats by Bloomberg
Politics, the answer seems to be not much.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess it would be her honesty. Like, you were
talking about Benghazi, this whole e-mail thing that, she supposedly
deleted the e-mails. She`s just very closed, quiet, closeted (ph) person.
And I think that`s probably one of her down sides.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are some questions about her, but I think
most of the questions of honesty and stuff are overblown.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, it seems pretty silly to me that she
thought, you know, using a G-mail account was acceptable for diplomatic-
related stuff. But really, I don`t care. I mean, I`ve got e-mails that I
don`t want people reading, not because, you know, there`s bad stuff in
there, but that`s my personal stuff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I love that line, "Really, I don`t care."

Well, is Hillary weathering this storm? Well, at least with
Democrats, it looks like.

Michael Schmidt`s the reporter with "The New York Times" and John
Wildermuth is a long-time political writer for "The San Francisco
Chronicle."

John, you`re out here, over the mountains from back in New York -- and
we`ll get to Michael in a minute. What do you think the reaction is to all
this talk about Hillary`s friend, Sid Blumenthal, who I`ve known for a
hundred years, who`s been around her, sort of helping her out in every
different way, this e-mail thing that gets more murky all the time, or the
fact they`re making fat paydays and speeches? Does it bother the Clinton
people?

JOHN WILDERMUTH, "SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE": Well, I think that when
you`ve been in the public eye as long as Hillary Clinton has been, people
have already made their decision. I mean, there`s nothing that`s going to
come out that`s going to convince the people that don`t like her that she`s
a wonderful person and they should vote for her. And just on the other
hand, unless something in the mails that -- e-mails that come out show that
she`s a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, or something like that,
they`re not going to be changed, either.

So she is what she is, and she is where she is.

MATTHEWS: Well, "The New York Times" today got its hands on a batch
of Clinton`s State Department e-mails. Among them are memos about Libya
sent by that Hillary friend Sid Blumenthal, who had business dealings in
that country.

The day after the Benghazi attacks, Sid Blumenthal e-mailed Clinton,
essentially echoing other early reports. He wrote -- quote -- "A senior
security officer said the attacks on that day were inspired by what many
devout Libyans viewed as a sacrilegious Internet video on the Prophet
Mohammed originating in America."

But the very next day, Sid Blumenthal sent new information about the
source of the violence, citing senior officials who said it was a planned
attack by a terrorist group -- quote -- "These officials do believe that
the attackers have prepared to launch their assault. They took advantage
of the cover resided by the demonstrators -- demonstrations in Benghazi
protesting an Internet production seen as disrespectful to the Prophet
Mohammed."

Well, my question -- another question, how did Clinton react to this
new information which turned out to be accurate? Almost, she forwarded the
memo to her senior adviser, Jake Sullivan, with the instructions -- quote -
- "We should get this around ASAP."

So let me to go Michael.

It seems to me, reading this, that when she got the second bit of
advice from Sid Blumenthal on the second day, which ended up being much
closer to the truth, that there was in fact a terrorist attack that cost
the life of those four Americans, including Chris Stevens, that using the
process as a smokescreen, it wasn`t something that turned into a terrorist
attack, it was a separate terrorist attack that did the deadly deeds, that
that was accurate and she passed it around to her colleagues, including her
top people.

She wasn`t trying to hide that story. So that would seem to be
challenging those on the right who have been saying Hillary`s been putting
out a cooked story.

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": That`s true about Hillary, but
the difference is, is that it raises questions about the White House`s
account.

You had Jay Carney, right after that, come out and say, we have no
evidence at all to suggest that it was a planned attack. So, although it
doesn`t really change anything about her, it provides us with new
information about what was floating around inside the administration.

MATTHEWS: Well, this stuff is getting, what did they used to say,
smokestacked or whatever, that term, it would go down one stack and nobody
else would read it. And Sid Blumenthal, it turns out he was the
enlightened man here, the guy that knew what really happened, told his
friend, the secretary of state.

She put it around to her people, and somehow it didn`t get to Susan
Rice when she went on "Meet the Press" a couple of days later.

WILDERMUTH: Well, it would be nice if, when there is a crisis, that
we could say one thing, said, what has happened, and we would come right
out and say, this is what happened.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WILDERMUTH: But it`s constantly evolving on things like this.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think it was.

WILDERMUTH: And I think that`s what you`re seeing, is the story
changes sometimes, but it changes because more information comes out,
different people are heard from.

MATTHEWS: What do you think`s the bottom of this story here so far,
Michael, as you reported? What`s the oomph in this?

SCHMIDT: Well, I mean, it`s not clear.

I think one of the more remarkable things here is that at a very
important time in her -- in her time at the State Department, she was
receiving this sort of live information from a longtime confidant who
wasn`t supposed to be working for her.

In this really high-profile incident, she`s being fed private
intelligence cables by him. That`s just different than, I think, the way
that most intelligence is supposed to move. It`s supposed -- intelligence
is vetted. There`s a whole system that was created after 9/11 to make sure
that principals get stuff that all different parts of the government have
looked at. This was different.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but it turned out to be accurate.

SCHMIDT: Actually, it didn`t. Parts of it turned out to be accurate.
Ultimately, there was no protest.

And, ultimately, the narrative from the government is that it wasn`t
something that had been planned for a month. It was something that had
been planned for a few days. So this certainly shows the type of confusion
and the type of information that was flowing in.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Yes, I just don`t see the nefarious aspect of this
yet.

WILDERMUTH: Again, you`re seeing the sort of thing that comes out.

The more sources of intelligence, the better. I mean, yes, you have
the public sources of intelligence, you have people send you letters. You
go through all of this. And somebody somewhere has to troll through them
and decide, this is what`s actually happening.

MATTHEWS: Yes. I think that focus group is fascinating, because it
seems to me there is something -- Franklin Roosevelt, probably the best
president we have ever had, certainly in the 20th century, was very
secretive and manipulative.

And we still thought he was a good president. So, if Hillary Clinton
is secretive, we know that, is that going to help us get any further here?

Anyway, Michael Schmidt, thanks forever for coming on the show -- not
forever, but for a good time.

And, John Wildermuth, thank you for joining us.

Up next: David Letterman says farewell, and he`s joined in his big
finale by Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and both George Bushes. That`s
pretty presidential. And that`s ahead.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")

GERALD FORD, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My fellow Americans, our
long national nightmare is over.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our long
national nightmare is over.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our long
national nightmare is over.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our long
national nightmare is over.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our long national
nightmare is over. Letterman is retiring.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": You`re just
kidding, right?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

David Letterman signed off last night with a funny and classy goodbye
to 14 million people watching. Let`s watch a bit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")

LETTERMAN: It`s beginning to look like I`m not going to get "The
Tonight Show."

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Best line of the night. He offered some of his self-
deprecating Midwest humor as well -- humor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")

LETTERMAN: People come up to me all the time and they say, Dave, I
have been watching you since your morning show, and I always say, have you
thought about a complete psychological workup?

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And he acknowledged his own family.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")

LETTERMAN: I want to thank my own family, my wife, Regina, and my
son, Harry.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

LETTERMAN: Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Joining us right now is "Los Angeles Times" television
critic the great Steve Battaglio.

Steve, thank you so much for joining us.

What did you make of last night? I did not -- I had to go to bed
because I had to fly out here to this beautiful city.

By the way, the picture behind me is not a painting or a mural or some
green sheet. That`s this beautiful city in the bay, in San Francisco Bay,
just so that people know that.

Go ahead, Steve.

STEVE BATTAGLIO, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, first, I want to say,
I`m not the critic for "The Los Angeles Times." We have a Pulitzer Prize-
winning TV critic, Mary McNamara. I cover media and television.

I thought the show was terrific, because it was David Letterman as we
have loved him over the years. It didn`t get too schmaltzy, didn`t get too
sappy, didn`t get caught up in all of those sort of show business farewell,
sentimental cliches.

It was pure Letterman. It was the stuff that we really liked about
him, making fun of himself. And I also think that what you showed there,
that opening tape, which had four presidents in it, I think that tells you
how important this show was to the national conversation. You had to
connect with Dave if you wanted to connect with America.

MATTHEWS: Wow.

Well, here`s Letterman with some -- some of the presidential hopefuls
after they stumbled. Let`s watch some of the fun.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")

LETTERMAN: Rick Perry excuse number nine.

RICK PERRY (R), FORMER TEXAS GOVERNOR: I don`t know what you`re
talking about. I think things went well.

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN: What exactly happened?

(LAUGHTER)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Can I give you an answer?

LETTERMAN: Please.

MCCAIN: I screwed up.

(LAUGHTER)

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have no proof, but
I have a feeling Canada is planning something.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What did you make of the comment by Howard Stern the other
-- I thought it was brilliant, that David Letterman is not a comic, a
stand-up comic, he`s more of a broadcaster, a guy like -- well, like Stern,
I guess, if you want to stretch it, who basically keeps you interested in
the way his mind works?

You want to know what he`s going to do in the next segment after the
commercial, so you stick with him.

BATTAGLIO: He has -- he is a comic, and he is a comic personality.

But I think, over the years, what`s happened is that he`s become a
great conversationalist.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BATTAGLIO: What Dave says he likes to do best is to talk to
interesting people in front of an audience. And he really moved away from
the type of stunts that you saw him do, the found comedy outside of the
studio, that was really groundbreaking at the time.

But, you know, after a while, you know, when you get to be into your
60s, maybe it didn`t play as well anymore, and he really found a new place
for himself, as someone who can comment, maybe look with a raised eyebrow
about what`s going on in the world and say interesting, funny stuff.

And it was a very intimate relationship that he had. You know, being
on in late night, you are probably watching alone or maybe with your
spouse.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BATTAGLIO: It`s the end of the day. You`re winding down. You just
want good company.

And Dave always managed to be that. He got away from that edgy comedy
that he was doing that really made his name in the 1980s and `90s, and just
became, you know, more of a person that you just wanted to be with, I
think.

MATTHEWS: Yes. And I think a lot of it has to do with time of day,
as you suggested. Larry King was always great at midnight driving across
the country, which I did a couple times. Larry was the greatest company in
the world in the middle of the night with somebody like Don King for an
hour.

And David Letterman was -- is great late at night. King didn`t work
in the daytime. David Letterman didn`t work in the daytime. Ellen
DeGeneres works in the daytime. It`s so fascinating how people find their
sweet spots.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

BATTAGLIO: But Ellen does a very different type of show. Ellen does
a very different type of show. That`s really a variety, comedy show, and,
really, it`s very produced. It doesn`t depend that much on that -- on the
type of conversation that Letterman does, although, I mean, she does -- she
does engage with the audience.

And, again, I mean, it`s companionship television, I think what all
these talk shows are, and that`s why they work...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BATTAGLIO: ... if the person behind the microphone or in front of the
camera is good.

MATTHEWS: I agree.

Conan O`Brien, by the way, said he owes a great deal to Letterman.
And last night, he encouraged his own audience -- never saw this before --
on TBS to switch over to "The Late Show." Let`s watch something unusual.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "CONAN")

CONAN O`BRIEN, HOST, "CONAN": If there happen to be a few of you out
there, probably stoners...

(LAUGHTER)

O`BRIEN: ... I`m going to let you -- I know my crowd.

(LAUGHTER)

O`BRIEN: I`m going to let you know -- I`m going to let you know the
exact moment when Dave`s show is starting, and I would like you to switch
over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much.

Thanks, by the way, Steve Battaglio. Thank you, buddy, for joining us
tonight.

BATTAGLIO: OK.

MATTHEWS: Up next: Who`s in and who`s out when the Republicans hold
their first presidential debate? You need to be on the top 10 to make the
stage, and that means Trump could be in, and some elected officials, big-
time governors, are going to get yanked out. They won`t even make the
table.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger.
Here`s what`s happening.

A grand jury has indicted six police officers in Baltimore in the
death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a severed spine in police custody. The
officers will be arraigned on July 2.

The U.S. military says two children were killed in an airstrike
targeting the Khorasan terror group in Syria back in November. The U.S.
previously denied any civilians were killed.

And in California, investigators are now digging up a ruptured oil
pipeline to figure out why it broke, spilling more than 100,000 gallons of
oil into the ocean -- back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

There might be 18 Republicans running for president in 2016, but the
first GOP presidential on August 6 won`t feature 18 candidates on one
stage.

FOX News, which is hosting the first debate, decided to limit the
debate to the top 10 announced candidates based on an average of the most
recent five national polls before the debate.

As it stands today, according to polling that NBC News recognizes, the
top 10 Republicans would include Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Ted
Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Rick Perry,
and, bonus prize, Donald Trump.

Well, based on these national polls, the debate would exclude the
governor of the state in which the debate is being held. That`s Ohio`s
John Kasich. It would also include -- exclude the field`s only female
candidate, Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum, who won the Iowa caucuses in 2012,
Senator Lindsey Graham, and Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.

For more on the GOP`s debate jam, if you will, let`s bring in our
roundtable. Jonathan Capehart is an opinion writer for "The Washington
Post." Betsy Woodruff is a political reporter with The Daily Beast. And
Danny Vargas is a Republican strategist.

Everybody, jump in here, but start with -- with Jonathan.

This is going to be something of a jam. They`re all trying to get in.
I remember all the fights with Ralph Nader saying he couldn`t get in,
raising hell, even legal suits, I believe.

And is there going to be -- is this going to get to the point of legal
-- litigation to try to get in that door, which only holds 10 people now?

JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Right.

Well, it depends on who among them is litigious. But I do think that
the rules that are being put in place by FOX and by others to limit the
number of candidates on that stage are reasonable, in that when you`ve got
18, 19, we could probably have 20 people running, you have to figure out
how you can turn that debate -- and not turn that debate stage either into
the Al Smith dinner, which has two rows of guests, or have it end up being
--

MATTHEWS: Three rows, buddy. Jonathan, I`m up there, it`s three
rows.

CAPEHART: OK, it`s three rows. But you also don`t want it to turn
into like a friar`s club roast, where you`ve got the oddball candidate
who`s there -- you know, lobbing one-liners and zingers, just catching
attention, when what Republican primary voters will want to hear and what
the rest of the country who are tuning in would want to hear are
substantive debates on substantive issues, or as much as they can.

BETSY WOODRUFF, THE DAILY BEAST: I agree with Jonathan on this. I
think ultimately, the point of these debates is to add value for Republican
voters who are trying to figure out who they should be president. And if
you have everyone, you know, plus their dog on stage, if you have Berman
supreme thereupon, who knows, he might be able to poll 1 percent in some
sort of poll, it stops becoming a debate and becomes some goofy, protracted
press conference. It`s not going to be as interesting.

MATTHEWS: So what do you do?

WOODRUFF: I think what they`re doing makes sense. I get it. You
have to draw the line somewhere. You can`t have every single former
governor be in these debates. And you eventually have to say, look, not --

(CROSSTALK)

DANNY VARGAS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You have to draw the line
somewhere, but also have to make sure that you have a process by which some
of the potentially serious candidates who have something important to say
have a venue for which they can say it. And unfortunately, some of these
polls can swing violently, week to week, day to day in some cases.

MATTHEWS: So what`s your answer, Danny?

VARGAS: So, the answer is probably -- either you make something
that`s even more complex in terms of the process, or you have a couple of
debates, right? So maybe you have a --

MATTHEWS: It looks like that`s what they`re going to --

VARGAS: That`s what they`re going to do. Instead of having a number
of candidates you can count on one hand, you`ve got to count them by the
dozen now. So that`s going to be -- and you don`t want to free fall or
circus, but you do want to have a process by which they can interact with
each other, the American public can hear from the candidates themselves the
real substantive points they have. A process by which John Kasich and Rick
Santorum are eliminated from the process is not a good process.

CAPEHART: But when you showed the candidates that would not be
included, Carly Fiorina, who is an announced candidate, I think, maybe a
modification should be, if you are an announced candidate, but you drop off
by the wayside, any of those people out there like Donald Trump, who`s not
an announced candidate, that last person should drop off in favor of the
person who`s actually declared. Once you put your skin in the game and
you`re out there raising money --

VARGAS: That`s excellent --

CAPEHART: -- putting your body on the line there, you could be
included in the debate.

VARGAS: That`s an excellent point, because Donald Trump, at the end
of the day, we all know that he is the king of PR, but he is not anywhere
close to being a serious commentator on substantive issues.

WOODRUFF: I think what`s also interesting is what CNN is doing, where
they`re having a second segment for the people who are only polling at 1
percent. I think that`s a smart balance.

MATTHEWS: How would you like to be at the little kids` table?

CAPEHART: Right.

(LAUGHTER)

WOODRUFF: As a reporter, I`m delighted.

MATTHEWS: Betsy, what do you think of the little kids` table at
Thanksgiving? The little table in the corner of the room, you know, what
do you think about that table, for the nine that don`t make the top ten?

WOODRUFF: You know, little kids` table is better than being outside
with the dogs. And as a reporter, I am delighted that we`re going to have
maximum commentary and most people sharing their hot takes on public
policy.

MATTHEWS: OK. Speaking if somebody does want to hear --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Here`s somebody who doesn`t want to hear from me too much.
Today, national Republican Committee Chair Reince Priebus says he doesn`t
want a GOP traveling circus at the debates. Here`s his thought.

(BEGIN VIDEOI CLIP)

REINCE PRIEBUS, RNC CHAIRMAN: We`re not going to have a six-month
slice and dice festival with a meandering primary season up and down and
all over map that no one can figure out. So, it`s going to be a faster
process, but it`s going to give enough time for all the candidates to make
their case, we`re not going to have a 23-debate traveling circus in front
of Chris Matthews. We`re going to help pick the moderators and debate
partners this time around.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Hey, Jonathan, that`s certainly throwing the red meat at
those guys.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: They`re not going to have me as the moderator.

CAPEHART: Right.

MATTHEWS: I don`t know what to say. Go ahead.

CAPEHART: He doesn`t want a traveling circus, but, clearly, what --
from what we see with all the candidates announced and unannounced, that
traveling circus bus, the wheels are going to fly off no matter what they
do.

WOODRUFF: Presidential primaries are so fun.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Go ahead, Betsy, they want to pick the candidates, they
want to pick the moderator. As he just said there, Priebus did, are they
going to pick the questions, too? How controlling are they going to let
the candidates write the questions?

WOODRUFF: I don`t think so. Look, Chris Wallace gets Republican
candidates in trouble every single time they go on his show. He`s an
incredibly incisive interviewer. We`ve seen Marco Rubio get in trouble,
we`ve seen Scott Walker get in trouble.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WOODRUFF: I don`t think they`re going to have their paws too involved
in this. It`s going to be tough.

VARGAS: Chris, I think you absolutely ought to be one of the
moderators. It will keep it interesting and you`ll keep it fun, it will
keep the momentum going, because at the end of the day, that`s what people
want to see. They want to see activity, they want to see action, they want
to see people getting energized and motivated by the debates.

CAPEHART: And they`ll see a unicorn when that happens.

MATTHEWS: OK, what they`re afraid of -- I like that, Danny. What
they`re afraid is one of those put your hands up, how many believe the
earth is flat? Those will be the questions they really hate.

Anyway, the roundtable is staying with us.

And up next, so much for not pandering to the far right? Why is Jeb
Bush -- speaking of the flat earth society -- out there now questioning
man`s role in climate change, all of a sudden? What`s changed?

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: I love this. Listen to what the voters want to find out
about the presidential candidates.

According to Google, the top searches about Hillary Clinton during the
past week include things like, how old is she, and how tall is she.
Believe it or not, top questions. In fact, the age question was the number
one search on Google for a lot of candidates, including Bernie Sanders, Ben
Carson, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Carly Fiorina, and Mike
Huckabee.

Now look at this, when people search for Chris Christie, they wanted
to know how much he weighs.

And about Lindsey Graham, the top question they have is whether he`s
married. He`s not.

Seems like voters today want these basic primitive questions answered
about people they are looking at to be possibly president of the United
States.

We`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with the roundtable: Jonathan, Betsy and Danny.

Well, Jeb Bush famously said that to win the general election this
coming year, you have to lose the Republican primary. In other words, take
the minority side on some hot arguments of issues. But now, it appears he
is pandering or panicking to the crowd he said he`d challenge.

Yesterday, Jeb Bush told a group of New Hampshire voters that while
climate change is taking place, it`s not clear it is caused by human
activity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEB BUSH (R), FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: The climate is changing. I
don`t think the science is clear of what percentage is manmade and what
percentage is natural. I just don`t, it`s convoluted and for the people to
say the science is decided on this is just really arrogant to be honest
with you. It`s this intellectual arrogance that now you can`t have a
conversation about it even.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Of course, there`s an overwhelming consensus among the
scientific community that climate change is, in fact, manmade. Among peer
reviewed scientific literature since 1991, 97.1 percent have endorsed the
consensus position that humans are causing global warming. It`s something
of a pivot now for Bush back in 19 -- actually 2013, he lamented the
Republican Party was among other things being anti-science. Here he was.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Way too many people believe Republicans are anti-immigrant,
anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker, and the list goes on and
on and on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, it doesn`t appear given what he`s been doing the last
couple days that Bush is trying very hard to change that perception of his
party now. What did Jonathan, Danny and Betsy, all of you now, this
question, why is Bush buckling on what made him look, that he was aware for
modern science, he was for Common Core education, for an enlightened
immigration policy. And now, it seems he is getting a little panicked that
the right wing just isn`t buying him.

CAPEHART: I mean, it`s pandering, Chris. I mean for him to say for
the people to say that this is so is arrogant. The people are the
scientists. You put the statistic up there, 97.1 percent of scientists all
agree with the consensus that humans are causing climate change.

It`s mind-boggling for somebody who is so good on a whole lot of
issues from immigration to education to other things that he is going to
buckle to the far right of his party on climate change.

MATTHEWS: Betsy?

WOODRUFF: I think the important context here, too, though, is that
Bush also has said he favors negotiating with foreign governments to lower
carbon emissions. So, he`s kind of trying to be all things to all men. He
is using the talking points that it`s not settled science, but he`s also
quietly saying, but, we know, some of climate change is manmade. We know
people can probably do something to mitigate it. If I was president, I
might change public policy to try to solve the problem.

So, he`s kind of trying to get both ways. That can get him in
trouble.

VARGAS: You know what`s the shame, Chris, is the fact that --

MATTHEWS: Danny, I want you to answer this --

VARGAS: Yes?

MATTHEWS: Danny, once you get to the politics of this, it`s tricky.
It has a lot to do with it. New Hampshire has a critical state for Jeb
Bush if 2016. But as James Pindell of the "Boston Globe" points out today,
quote, "Influential Granite State Republicans who in the past
enthusiastically backed Bush family candidates, such as Jeb Bush`s father
in `88 and his brother in 2000, so far not offering that same support to
the newest Bush on the political scene."

So, you`ve got among those who have not come out for Jeb Bush or John
Sununu, who`s White House chief of staff for his father and other people
like Judd Gregg and others have not come -- is that why he`s getting wobbly
on something where -- on policy, he says we got to do something about
climate change, but he doesn`t want to voice the words. He wants to act
like he`s anti-elitist on this.

VARGAS: Look, that`s a big factor. I mean, at the end of the day, he
knows he has to come in first or second in New Hampshire. If he stands a
chance of being able win the primary. That`s a for, for him in New
Hampshire. It`s not there yet. It hasn`t yet materialized.

There is a portion of the base in New Hampshire and across the country
that`s not yet convinced that climate change is largely mostly manmade.
But my point is that there was a missed opportunity for Bush. He should
have been able to step in and say, look, whether you believe it`s most,
larger, somewhat caused by human activity, the fact of the matter remains
that there is too much pollution there.

Too many people getting sick around the world, not just in the United
States, but in China, India, Brazil, Mexico, and other places by a dirty
planet. We need to clean the planet and from an economic perspective, the
U.S. ought to be a leader in innovation around energy -- technology and
energy innovation. That`s a great thing for our economy, because then we
can export that technology.

MATTHEWS: Good idea. To paraphrase Daniel Patrick Moynihan, you are
entitled to your opinion, but not to your own planet.

Anyway, Jonathan Capehart, Betsy Woodruff and Danny Vargas, thank you
for joining, making up the round table today.

I`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this: the best thing Hillary
Clinton will have going for her next year is common sense. She was smart
to condemn the U.S. invasion of Iraq, smart to cut her losses by saying
she`d been wrong, pure and simple, in voting to authorize it.

Why? Simple. Did you ever see a lousy movie and then hear that
they`re making a sequel? Would anyone in their right mind pay money to see
the sequel if they`d been suckered into seeing the first movie and found it
both stupid and dreadful.

Nobody is going to buy the neocons in their power (ph) when they take
us down another rabbit hole. They suckered a lot of Democrats and frankly
all the Republicans in 2002 and 2003. Since then, the pols and the smart
columnists have been saying people got the message, don`t trust this crowd.
So let the Bill Kristols and the John Boltons and the Lindsey Grahams blow
their bugles and beat their drums. The American people are having been
burned once are not about to go touching that same stove again.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
BE UPDATED.
END

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