updated 8/25/2004 11:41:58 AM ET 2004-08-25T15:41:58

Guests: William Lawson, Terry Musser, Bobby Muller, John Paul Jones, Ed Rollins, Tony Coelho, Lois Romano

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tonight: Vice President Dick Cheney breaks with President Bush and speaks out in support of gay relationships, saying freedom means freedom for everyone.  Plus, John Kerry picks Senator Hillary Clinton to head up his truth squad at the Republican convention next week in New York.  And Democratic candidate John Kerry accuses Republicans of resorting to the tactics of fear and smear.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews.  Tonight: Vice President Dick Cheney, in a break with President Bush, is speaking out in support of gay relationships.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  My general view is that freedom means freedom for everyone.  People ought to be able to free—ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to.  I made clear four years ago when I ran and this question came up in the debate I had with Joe Lieberman that my view was that‘s appropriately a matter for the states to decide, that that‘s how it ought to best be handled.  The president makes basic policy for the administration, and he‘s made it clear that he does, in fact, support a constitutional amendment on this issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  The vice president, whose daughter, Mary, is a lesbian, made the comments today at an Iowa campaign stop.

NBC‘s David Gregory‘s at the White House.  David, this is unusual in American political history, not just to say at the highest political levels that your daughter or son is gay, but to make it a break with your boss, with the president.

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, and I think what the vice president was saying is that this is one issue where he saluted smartly, as he likes to say, disagrees with the president, but you know, obviously agrees, as the vice president, to support that administration view, even though the president has acknowledged that he knows, in coming out for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, that he disappointed some friends, including the vice president.

This is also a vice president who had not acknowledged this about his daughter, Mary, being a lesbian publicly before.  His aides said, Look, this is something that usually comes up in a question.  It‘s kind of the predicate to a question, so he wouldn‘t have to go out of his way to acknowledge it, but that he‘s really not saying anything that‘s that new here.

And even as to the timing, Chris, you know, just before the Republican convention, when they‘re going out of their way to put on a much more moderate face, his aides dismissed the notion that this was a planted question or in any way choreographed.

MATTHEWS:  Does this compassion, as genuine as it apparently is—and I certainly think we ought to give him credit for being a good father, regardless of any partisan commentary—does he mean anything by this?  In other words, is he going to lobby for a ban on gay marriage or not?

GREGORY:  I think the answer is pretty safely no.  I mean, what he‘s saying is, I‘ve got a public record here, when it comes to this question.  I was asked about it, I gave my view.  At the time, that was the prevailing view of the administration.  It wasn‘t until, as the president says, there was action taken in the Massachusetts high courts to free up gay marriage in Massachusetts that the president felt in this election year that it was time for a constitutional amendment, which has not gone anywhere in the Congress, as you well know.

I don‘t think the vice president is going to go anywhere beyond where he is right now, to acknowledge that there is a break here with the president, but he‘s his No. 2 man.  Bush is the president.  Bush is the man, as he likes to say, and he‘s going to support him.  I mean, it‘s a recognition of something that‘s touched his own life.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  So he‘s...

GREGORY:  So he‘s (UNINTELLIGIBLE) about it.

MATTHEWS:  So he‘s put himself in the same position as Rudy Giuliani, Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Pataki, the governor of New York, in saying, The party may be pro-life, I‘m pro-choice.  The party make be for a ban on gay marriage, I‘m not.  He‘s just declared his difference there.

GREGORY:  Well, I take issue with that a little bit.  I think, certainly, personally, he‘s making that claim, and he‘s even saying so politically, but I think it‘s different in saying that and then saying what you suggested a moment ago, that he‘s going to go out and somehow lobby against what is the administration‘s position.

MATTHEWS:  No, I...

GREGORY:  He‘s got a life experience here.

MATTHEWS:  My question is, Will he be part of the team in pushing for a ban or not?

GREGORY:  I think he is part of the team that is pushing for a ban.  I don‘t think he‘s going to be doing so individually.  He‘s made it clear here publicly that he has a disagreement with the president on this, but the president makes the policy.  The president sets the tone, and he‘s not going to get in the way of that.  I also don‘t think Dick Cheney, as you saw today, is going out of his way to lend a great deal of support for that effort to create that ban.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I guess he‘s like a lot of people in the politics.  Now he‘s a cafeteria partisan.  He‘s for some things, not others.  Anyway, thank you very much, David Gregory.

GREGORY:  All right.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s certainly refreshing.  We‘ll have more on Dick Cheney‘s comments on gay marriage later on in the show.

Now to the latest on the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.  The highest-ranking Army reservist charged with abusing Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib reached a plea bargain today, on the same day that a Rumsfeld-created commission directly blamed the soldiers and commanders at Abu Ghraib itself for the prison abuses.

Former defense secretary James Schlesinger, who chaired the panel, singled out the accused military police themselves for their—what he considered sadist behavior and said the abuse was not carried out with the purpose of achieving intelligence from the prisoners.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES SCHLESINGER, CHAIR, INDEP. COMMISSION ON PRISON ABUSE:  The discussion whether or not this was just a few individuals in Abu Ghraib—this was not just a few individuals.  They were unique, in the sense that there was sadism on the night shift at Abu Ghraib, sadism that was certainly not authorized.  It was a kind of “Animal House” on the night shift.  That is reflected in the fact there were no such activities during the day shift, when there were different non-coms in charge.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So is the squeeze on to limit the charges to the enlisted ranks?  William Lawson is uncle of Staff Sergeant Ivan Chip Frederick, who pled guilty today to abuse charges.  His lawyer said, quote, “We are making prudent choices” with the hope of mitigating his client‘s sentence, “The Washington Post” reported today.  Is Sergeant Frederick getting a lighter sentence, in other words, in exchange for not pointing the finger at higher-ups?

Mr. Lawson, is that your sense, that this has been compressed down to the lower ranks, this prosecution, to protect the Army higher-ups and the civilians at the Pentagon?

WILLIAM LAWSON, UNCLE OF ACCUSED MP CHIP FREDERICK:  Yes, that‘s been the family, that‘s been our position all along, that they did this to the seven to keep their secrets.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Jim Schlesinger, who‘s had a long-time government

experience, is pretty well respected, seemed to be—well, he said today -

·         we just heard it in our own ears—that he said the kind of behavior that went on and the pictures we‘ve all seen, and been very turned off by, to say—to put it lightly—he said that none of that happened during the daytime.  So how can you contend that the military was pushing this as a policy, if it wasn‘t done during the daylight but only at night, when nobody was watching?

LAWSON:  Well, General Karpinski has said she wasn‘t allowed in section 1-A or 1-B of the prison.  Mr. Schlesinger has a right to his own opinion, but this is still completely a whitewash, and they‘re not going to tell the truth.  In fact, this was going on on the day shift, it just wasn‘t going on with the MPs.

MATTHEWS:  Let me quote you something.  We have the advantages of videotape here, Mr. Lawson.  Here‘s something you told me four months ago about your nephew‘s involvement or non-involvement in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.  Let‘s take a look what you said four months ago, Mr. Lawson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - MAY 10, 2004)

LAWSON:  In actuality, Chris, there is absolutely no proof that they‘ve committed any of these crimes.  Now, the thing that the U.S.  government wants to cover up, and they‘re willing to sacrifice these soldiers in any manner necessary, is that the United States government has committed war crimes against the Geneva Convention.  The MI people were in charge of this prison.  My nephew took it up the chain of command, and the chain of command said, MI is in charge, and you will do what they say.  And the least painful message to the Iraqi people was taking these photographs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  If your nephew was doing what—Chip Frederick was doing what he was told to do or what he thought he was expected to do, even that, why did he plead guilty today?

LAWSON:  He‘s pleading guilty to what the government instructed him to do.  He was following orders.  He did that, and they‘re going to punish him for doing what he did.

MATTHEWS:  You mean—well, what is his crime, then, if he was obeying orders?

LAWSON:  Well, the 72 points that General Fay talks about is part of what he was doing—you know, the slapping of prisoners, the—I‘m not saying that he was doing it, but some of them were—slapping of prisoners, stepping on hands, those types of things, taking the pictures.  That was authorized by the United States government, and it‘s been proven by memos and different people that have come out in the last six months.

MATTHEWS:  Well, why plead guilty?

LAWSON:  Well, you plead guilty to...

MATTHEWS:  His lawyer says it was a prudent defense, which suggests to me—and I can understand politics.  If he says it was a prudent defense, it means they were—he had a 5 or 10-year sentence hanging over him because you plead guilty to take a year or whatever because you expect worse if you don‘t play ball.  Is that the situation your nephew was put in?

LAWSON:  I don‘t believe that‘s true.  I don‘t know that—my nephew hasn‘t told me that.  The lawyers haven‘t told me that.  But I believe...

MATTHEWS:  Well, why‘d he plead guilty to something he didn‘t do wrong?  I don‘t get it.

LAWSON:  OK.  The family is saying he didn‘t do anything wrong.  He—we originally told you that we believed that he would admit up to anything he did and take his licks.  He did these things, but they were instructed to do them by direct orders by the United States government.

MATTHEWS:  Quote—your quote, without playing the tape again to you, Mr. Lawson, “In actuality, Chris”—you said this four months ago—

“There‘s absolutely no proof that he‘s committed any of these crimes.” 

Well, if he didn‘t commit any of these crimes, why‘d he plead guilty?

LAWSON:  Because I don‘t believe they are crimes, Chris.  You know, the U.S. government says they‘re crimes.  Mr. Schlesinger says they‘re crimes.  But unfortunately, I don‘t believe that.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Did you talk to Chip at all today, since his plea bargain or deal or whatever it was, that he pled guilty?

LAWSON:  No, I haven‘t.  I talked to him last night.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you a question I‘ve had on my mind.  I don‘t think these people, these enlisted people, thought up all this stuff.  I think it was probably some perversion or abuse of something they were told to do, something they were sort of freelancing doing.  Did he ever tell you that he was instructed that one of the ways to get information, intelligence out of these Arab prisoners in Abu Ghraib was to humiliate them sexually, and all these things we‘re looking at may have been variations on that?

LAWSON:  No, he didn‘t.  But just remember, the U.S. government‘s the only one you have that is saying that these things took place.  You have to believe them or you have to investigate it yourself.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, William Lawson, uncle of the man who pled guilty today.

LAWSON:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Up next, a Vietnam veteran and co-chair of Wisconsin Veterans for Bush talks about why he thinks President Bush should demand the ads attacking John Kerry‘s war record stop.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Yesterday, after a weekend full of competing ads and accusations by the Kerry campaign that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were an arm of the Bush campaign, the president again call for an end to the so-called 527 ads.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I said this kind of unregulated soft money is wrong for the process.  And I asked Senator Kerry to join me in getting rid of all that kind of soft money, not only on TV but used for other purposes, as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, state senator Terry Musser‘s a Vietnam veteran.  He‘s co-chairman of Wisconsin Veterans for President Bush.  Mr. Musser, thanks for joining us.  What did you think of the president‘s comment yesterday, calling for an end to all these independent campaigns?

STATE REP. TERRY MUSSER (R-WI), WISCONSIN VETERANS FOR BUSH:  Good evening, Chris.  I hope that the nation listens to the president.  I just think that these—the issues out there are from here forward—there are plenty of issues out there, and that I don‘t think we should be having special interests drag up the war again.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the president himself was clear enough in saying he—well, let me ask you more generally.  Do you think he at all addressed the particular question you‘ve raised, which is whether any group should be out there trashing John Kerry‘s war record?

MUSSER:  Yes.  Legally, I think he‘s went as far as he could.  I know the other side is urging the president to demand that they be taken off the air.  But the problem is with the special interest money like that, if the president would ask them to take them off, if they would, that‘s collusion.  That‘s illegal.

MATTHEWS:  Do you really believe that?

MUSSER:  So that‘s kind of...

MATTHEWS:  Do you really believe that?

MUSSER:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... I‘m laughing because back in 1988, when there was independent expenditures for the Willie Horton ad that made him look like the shroud of Turin, this horrible picture of this guy who‘s going to come and rape your kids and rape your wife and kill you and everything—this picture was done by an independent campaign, and they never got a call from anybody in the President Bush campaign saying, Stop it.  And they said, Oh, we can‘t do that.  We can‘t tell them to stop it.

Well, what‘s—it‘s freedom of speech.  Can‘t you simply issue a statement in saying, We think these ads are terrible, we wish people would stop running them?  Is that collusion?  You can make a public statement.  That‘s not collusion.

MUSSER:  I think the president did yesterday exactly what you‘re...

MATTHEWS:  But he didn‘t come out against those ads.

MUSSER:  ... talking about.

MATTHEWS:  He didn‘t come out against the ads trashing Kerry‘s war record.  He didn‘t say anything like that.

MUSSER:  I mean, I don‘t know what else he could do, besides tell them

·         urge them to take them off the air.

MATTHEWS:  Could he say, you know, I didn‘t serve in Vietnam.  I got no bragging rights in this particular department.  Why don‘t we move on to other issues, where I can have some bragging rights, like how I fought the war on terrorism the last couple years?  Why doesn‘t he say, I have stronger ground on which to fight, Mr. Musser?  I mean, you served in Vietnam.  Do you think it‘s a good issue for the president to keep picking away at?

MUSSER:  I really don‘t think he‘s picking away.  He‘s out front trying—urging both sides, Kerry and the president, to urge that...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

MUSSER:  ... these ads be taken off the air.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about your community of guys who served in Vietnam.  It‘s an interesting community.  I mean, there‘s some guys who are all the way out on the fringe, who are still mad about MIAs and they still believe we have people over there and they think people like Kerry and even John McCain sold them out.  Then you have the Republicans, just regular Republicans, who don‘t particularly like the cut of John Kerry‘s jib.  They think he‘s a little too elitist, a little too arrogant.  They just don‘t like the looks of the guy.  And then you‘ve got who feel—I got a call from my brother the other day, who served in the Vietnam, and he had three of the—three Vietnam medals.  He said, This guy wasn‘t even there six months to get the Republic of Vietnam medals.  What‘s he out there bragging about his war record for?

What is it that‘s stirring up all this debate among your community of Vietnam vets?

MUSSER:  I think one of the—one of the issues I have, there‘s—in my opinion, there‘s a whole litany of reasons not to vote for Kerry.

MATTHEWS:  Yes?

MUSSER:  But in my opinion, his service in Vietnam is not one of those.  But what—but that statement gets to exactly what you‘re talking about.  And I think that the president has been urging, you know, both sides to cool it.  Let‘s look at the issues facing this nation.  And in my opinion, rehashing, refighting, redividing this country over the Vietnam war is not the way to move forward.

MATTHEWS:  Why did 250 guys who were in the same theater as him, in the swift boat command, in that same flotilla of those small boats, have a big problem with Kerry, and yet his own crew, except for one man, think he was a hero?  I mean, how can there be so different views—so many different views on one guy‘s service?

MUSSER:  Actually, I think it‘s quite easy.  I left Vietnam 39 years ago.  I mean, I can remember a couple of specific instances, but it‘s like, all of a sudden, if somebody would demand that I tell them where I was on October 5 of 1965, I wouldn‘t have a clue.  And I just think that—and that‘s one of the—you know, as time goes by, people‘s memories change.  We‘re also getting older.  It‘s hard to remember.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I agree with you, Mr. Musser.  It‘s an honor to have you on.  Thank you very much for coming on HARDBALL tonight.

MUSSER:  My pleasure, Chris.  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Up next: John Kerry‘s protests after his service in Vietnam have drawn anger from some of his fellow vets.  We‘re going to talk to two Vietnam veterans about it in just a moment.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  In his speech in New York City today, in Cooper Union, John Kerry accused the Bush campaign of what he called smear tactics to avoid what he called the real debate about today‘s issues.  He also said he has always fought for war veterans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE:  I have always stood up for our veterans who stood on the front lines for us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Two Vietnam veterans are here to talk about John Kerry‘s days as a Vietnam war protester.  Bobby Muller is with the Vietnam Veterans of America.  He‘s co-founder of the land mine campaign that won the Nobel Peace Prize.  And John Paul Jones—what a name that is—is a member of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

Mr. Jones, do you accept John Kerry‘s statement today that he‘s always fought for veterans?

JOHN PAUL JONES, ANTI-KERRY SWIFT BOAT VETERAN:  No, I do not.

MATTHEWS:  Why not?

JONES:  Because he wasn‘t for us when he came back.

MATTHEWS:  What did he say you didn‘t like?

JONES:  He just turned his back.  I can‘t go back and describe specific comments.

MATTHEWS:  What were your feelings at the time, when you heard him testify before the Senate?

JONES:  I was angry.  I was having enough trouble readjusting to coming back to the United States and getting back into a normal lifestyle.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Mr. Muller, what are your feelings about John Kerry as an anti-war man after the war—after he came back in ‘71?

BOBBY MULLER, VIETNAM VETERANS OF AMERICA FOUNDATION:  Well, I was an anti-war man, along with John Kerry.  I was a Marine infantry officer, served at the same time that John Kerry did, got shot up, and as a result, I‘m in a wheelchair from combat injuries, and shared the same experience that Kerry had in Vietnam.  We understood that that was a lost war.  We came back, we tried to speak truth to America.  It could have been arguable back in ‘70, “71, but now that history has had a chance to roll out, and we‘ve had a fuller disclosure of what was going on even within the administrations, and that...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Here‘s the line that drives a lot of people crazy.  He said in his testimony, John Kerry did, in April of ‘71, “The country doesn‘t know it yet, but it has created a monster, a monster in the form of millions of men who have been taught to deal and to trade in violence.”

He‘s talking about the Vietnam vets.  Monsters.

MULLER:  Yes.  Look...

MATTHEWS:  Is that the right word?

MULLER:  Vietnam veterans are not monsters, and Kerry doesn‘t consider veterans...

MATTHEWS:  Why‘d he call them that when he came home?

MULLER:  I don‘t know what the hell you‘re talking about.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m reading his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April of ‘71, the testimony that everybody‘s going nuts over because of what he said about his...

MULLER:  Well, that‘s the first time that I‘ve heard the reference to monsters as being the basis of the debate.  What people have been pissed off about is that John said this is a lost war.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MULLER:  And what he said has proven out to be absolutely right.  He was prescient.  He understood what was going on and spoke to it.  He spoke on behalf...

MATTHEWS:  I know.

MULLER:  ... of thousands of us that were...

MATTHEWS:  Well, was he...

MULLER:  ... out there on the street...

MATTHEWS:  ... too extreme in saying, chopped off heads, chopped off ears, describing Vietnam veterans, as a group, as war criminals?  Was that an appropriate to say when he came back?  Because that‘s what‘s causing, I think, a lot of this venom.

MULLER:  Look, you know, let‘s stay grounded in some facts here, all right?  The Vietnam war was essentially—as a war, it was an atrocity.  You had over three million Vietnamese that died.  The overwhelming majority that died were civilians, and they died because of what Kerry‘s talking about.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to—let me go right now to John Paul Jones.  Is that true, that three million Vietnamese died in that war, and they were mostly civilians?

JONES:  I can‘t speak to that number.  You know, I volunteered for swifts.  I served a full tour over there.  In my full tour, I personally never witnessed any atrocities or abuse.

MATTHEWS:  But you know the fact—you know the fact, sir, that three million people died on the other side.  How did they die, in combat or in bombing raids?

JONES:  I can‘t speak to that.  I mean...

MATTHEWS:  Why not?

JONES:  ... people die in war.

MATTHEWS:  Well, why can‘t you speak to the fact that—what Mr.  Muller‘s pointing out, that the United States used its overwhelming firepower to kill lots of people who were not combatants?  Is that true or not?  Just—I‘m opening the question to you.

JONES:  It has to be true.  I mean, civilians die in war.  There‘s no doubt about that.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, this...

JONES:  It‘s an unfortunate aspect of war.

MATTHEWS:  OK, well, thank you very much.  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)  We‘re going to continue this discussion.  Thank you very much, bobby Muller.  Thank you, John Paul Jones.

And still ahead: Politics is heating up.  Tony Coelho, Ed Rollins and Lois Romano will be here to talk about the Hillary Clinton factor.  She‘s going to be the head of the—this‘ll make a lot of people laugh—head of the truth squad next week in New York.  And Dick Cheney‘s comments about his daughter being gay and where he stands on the so-called ban on gay marriage that the president‘s pushing.  And he‘s apparently not pushing too hard.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, Dick Cheney doesn‘t personally back a federal ban on gay marriage, although he says he‘ll support the president‘s position.  Will this division in the ranks hurt the administration‘s chances of changing the Constitution?  More on that in a moment.

But, first, let‘s check in with the MSNBC News Desk. 

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Today, Vice President Dick Cheney was asked at a town hall meeting in Davenport, Iowa, about his feelings about a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  My general view is that freedom means freedom for everyone.  People ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to.  I made clear four years ago when I ran and this question came up in the debate I had with Joe Lieberman that my view was that that is appropriately a matter for the states to decide.  But that‘s how it ought to best be handled. 

The president makes basic policy for the administration.  And he‘s made it clear that he does in fact support a constitutional amendment on this issue. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Vice President Cheney‘s daughter Mary is a lesbian.  Ed Rollins—by the way, he said that today publicly for the first time. 

Ed Rollins is a Republican political strategist.  And former Congressman Tony Coelho, who is sitting here with me, is a Democratic political strategist now.  Lois Romano of “The Washington Post” is going to be joining us in a moment.

Tony, this is interesting, because there is the most hard-nosed guy in this administration on every kind of issue saying, my daughter is a certain orientation.  I‘m going to back her up.  I‘m not going with the president on this. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  At least not personally.

TONY COELHO, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  You know, Chris, what Dick Cheney is doing is showing the real side of this issue. 

There are millions of American families out there who have friends or family members who are gay.  And what he has shown is the real personal and emotional side, as opposed to the political side.  And President Bush is trying to appeal to a certain group of people within the party. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

COELHO::  Dick Cheney is being real here. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

COELHO::  And it‘s interesting to watch.  Don‘t forget that his wife was out there some time ago.  So Dick is finally following his wife in regard to this. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

COELHO::  So it is a split.  It‘s not a bitter split between Cheney and Bush.  But I think what is really interesting here is Cheney, who is considered Mr. hard-nose, Cheney...

MATTHEWS:  Well, he is. 

COELHO::  And I know him well, as you know. 

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  He‘s as tough as they get. 

COELHO::  But Cheney is here playing the soft role. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s talk to Ed Rollins and see what his sentiments are on this subject.  Then we‘ll get to his political assessment. 

Ed, are you sentimentally taken with the vice president‘s courage in defending his family?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  I‘ve always admired the vice president‘s courage. 

And I can tell you over the years that when Tony was the whip in the House of the Democrats and Dick Cheney was the whip for the Republicans and I was the White House political director, there were many times he objected to something that President Reagan was doing.  He always was very quiet about it and he would in the end vote against us on matters of principle.  He is a man of principle.

And I think in this particular case, he has explored the issue.  And he obviously differs with the president.  He has a daughter that—clearly has a different thought process, and a wife.  And I think he is consistent in his viewpoints.  I also think that there‘s an awful lot of Republicans and conservatives who do believe in states‘ rights.  And I think to a certain extent this isn‘t an easy litmus test that can be voted on one way or another. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And, look, I think a lot of people would agree on this issue if they thought that the states could hold the ground.  Can the states resist court pressure from other states?  In other words, if Massachusetts goes one way, can Oklahoma protect itself? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  If it can, then a lot of people would be for states‘ rights.  But if the federal government somehow gets in here and says, well, the United States Constitution says you‘ve got to accept a marriage license from some other state, then states‘ rights won‘t work, will they?

ROLLINS:  Well, obviously, the Constitution is set up to give the states as much right as possible. 

Obviously, the Supreme Court will ultimately be the arbitrator of this, because there will be some states that will allow marriages between gays.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

ROLLINS:  And sooner or later, someone will move from Vermont and want to go to California and want to have the same privileges.  So the courts will decide it. 

But until such a time, I do think it‘s very important that there is a consistency in the states‘ rights positions.

MATTHEWS:  And it will come down to a question.

Let‘s go to Lois Romano.

This is going to, by the way, come down to an issue of personal rights.  Do you have a right to marry someone of your own gender or do you not?  And that‘s going to be the constitutional test at the end.  And I‘m not sure where the Constitution is going to—it depends on who is on the court is probably a fair enough question. 

COELHO:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And if it is a Republican court, probably no.  And if it‘s a Democratic court, probably who knows. 

Lois Romano, this question of the vice president signaling that he has got a warm heart for his own family situation, does that signal that the Republican Party is going to be kinder, gentler going into New York next week? 

LOIS ROMANO, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  No, I don‘t think so, Chris.  But I do think it sends a signal that there is some openness in the administration. 

This issue is not a comfortable issue for anyone.  I believe there has been some surveys done that show people don‘t want to even be talking about it.  They don‘t want the amendment up even if they‘re anti-gay.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

ROMANO:  It‘s not something that they want on the table. 

And I think the fact that the vice president did this—and I do

believe it was probably very likely a personal decision, but it can‘t hurt

them politically to show that they do have some feelings, as my friend Tony

just said, that they are going from the heart, you know

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And also, Dick has got a lot of wiggle room, doesn‘t he, in moving to the left on any issue. 

ROMANO:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, he‘s such a man of a right that if he shows any heart that moves him towards the center, he looks—he is not going to get in trouble with anybody. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANO:  Yes, he‘s got a lot of room on the left. 

The question about next week is a very interesting one, because Bush has historically really tried to satisfy his base.  You know, and his father had an enormously conservative convention, and, you know, where Pat Buchanan spoke.  Marilyn Quayle talked about women shouldn‘t be working and raising kids. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

ROMANO:  So it is going to be very interesting to see how he reaches out next week. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, in ‘92, Pat Buchanan, my colleague, Pat Buchanan‘s commentary about cross-dressing had a certain lilt to it at the Houston convention, which I think caught the ear of a few gay people and people that like to be nice to gay people.  They wondered what exactly Pat meant by cross-dressing. 

Anyway, we‘ll be back with Lois Romano, Ed Rollins, and Tony Coelho.

In just a moment, we‘ll take a look at the political ads being put out by—I hate the phrase 527 -- it sounds like a Brooks Brothers line -- 527 groups attacking President Bush. 

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, Tony Coelho, Ed Rollins and Lois Romano on Dick Cheney‘s comments about that federal ban on gay marriage when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back. 

In recent weeks, we‘ve been talking a lot on this program about special interest commercials on television.  You seen most of them, like the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth and the Democratic group or Democratic-leaning group called MoveOn.org.  That is on the left.  The other is on the right.  But this independent groups have become a dominating force in campaign attacks. 

Here is HARDBALL election correspondent David Shuster. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC ELECTION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Despite all of the attention to these ads attacking John Kerry‘s service in Vietnam.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SWIFT BOAT VETERANS FOR TRUTH AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I served with John Kerry. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I served with John Kerry. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Independent Republican groups have actually been far outspent by independent Democratic groups.  Disclosure reports show the leading Republican‘s 527s, including the Club for Growth, the College Republican National Committee and Americans For a Better Country, have together spent about $12 million. 

The top Democratic 527s, including The Media Fund, Americans Coming Together and MoveOn.org, have together spent about $69 million.  And it‘s not just the financial difference.  It‘s also a big difference in style.  Today, MoveOn.org released 10 new ads. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MOVEON.ORG AD)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I don‘t want to sound I have made no mistakes.  I‘m confident I have.  You know, I just—I‘m sure something will pop in my head here.  It is—it‘s...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  The ads were created by some of Hollywood‘s best, including director Rob Reiner and writer Aaron Sorkin, with narration form actors like Matt Damon. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MOVEON.ORG AD) 

MATT DAMON, ACTOR:  Since George W. Bush has been in power, he has lost over one million jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  It‘s all part of a 10-week effort to energize Democrats and register new voters. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Whoa, whoa, whoa, what‘s the problem? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There‘s no problem.  We‘re here to vote. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  And even Republicans acknowledge the Democrats have done a better job raising money and organizing the 527s for the election.  It‘s one of the reasons President Bush this week, when asked about the specific attacks on John Kerry, offered this.

BUSH:  I don‘t think we ought to have 527s.  I can‘t be more plain about it.  I wish—I hope my opponent joins me in saying—condemning these activities of the 527s.   

SHUSTER:  Kerry, though, has not.  President Bush has an edge with direct campaign contributions.  The Bush-Cheney ticket spent $46 million last month and will burn through money at about the same record clip until the Republican Convention. 

(on camera):  After the convention, the president will join John Kerry in being limited to spending only federal funds.  But there are few limits when it comes to the 527s.  And that‘s when the Democrats hope to press their advantage.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.

We‘re back with Lois Romano of “The Washington Post,” Republican strategist Ed Rollins and former U.S. Congressman Tony Coelho of California, who is now a Democratic strategist.

Let me go to Lois Romano again.

Every time the American people hear something as vague and boring as 527, they probably turn the channel.  But the issue here is something that gets pretty hard—to the heart.  It‘s called accountability.  If one political wing of the country, the left or right, can run ads without any accountability, they can send letters basically with no signature on them, you can trash an opponent any way you want, like we‘re doing now with—the people are doing now with Kerry‘s war record, without the president taking any of the counter—any of the body burns or anything, it just happens on his behalf.

What happened to all the campaign reform that was supposed to have accountability attached to it? 

ROMANO:  Well, that‘s a very good question, Chris. 

The second that bill—the ink wasn‘t even dry and all these groups sprouted up all over the country.  I mean, they‘re like spammers, too.  We in the media get about 20 e-mails a day from them.  And I think that‘s what you‘re seeing with George Bush.  This isn‘t—well, it is a little about Kerry‘s record, but I think that he is really angry about these.

He‘s taken a real pummeling.  They‘ve gone not only to his leadership, but to his intellect, which is—I think he finds a little bit insulting.  And so part of what he is saying is, yes, you pull them off the air, we want them off the air, and I‘ll do it.  But where I think it is a little tricky for him is that someone‘s military record is a little bit sacred.  And I think that there are veterans out there who really believe that this group has crossed the line a little bit in taking on Kerry‘s commendations, because as an older gentleman said to me last night, I feel diminished.  I have a Flying Cross.  I have this.  I have that.  And now the whole system is suspect. 

And I think the Kerry campaign would just like Bush to basically condemn the content and then they can move forward. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Lois, I think they‘re losing on it.  I think these ads work.  I think...

ROMANO:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Tony, they work.  They‘re hurting Kerry.  Kerry would like to yell, uncle.  He would like to say, let‘s stop this.  But he‘s not willing to throw it in and say to the president, you‘ve got to kill all these outside ads. 

COELHO:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Is he willing to give up MoveOn.org and all these Hollywood ads trashing Bush? 

COELHO:  Well, I think negative ads always work.  Contrary to what people say, I have felt that for years.  And they do have an impact. 

People get upset about them, but they work.  And that‘s the reason that they keep coming back.  And,Chris, they were around before the campaign reform.  They‘ll continue for the next 20, 30 years. 

MATTHEWS:  People tend to believe them, don‘t they?

COELHO:  And they tend to believe them. 

Now, I think what is happening here on the Kerry stuff is that, if I had been the Kerry people, I would have said, look, the U.S. military is the one who gave me these awards.  Attack them.  Don‘t attack me.  They gave them to me.  And I think that...

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, they‘re already getting more clever than that, Tony, because the critics of the senator from Massachusetts say, yes, but he wrote up his after-action report, so he got his medals based upon his own report of his own heroism. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  This is getting pretty sophisticated.

COELHO:  But the problem is that that‘s a bunch of lies.  You know that as well as I do. 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know that.  This is murky.

COELHO:  But the point is this.  How do you prove this type of negative? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Ed right now.

Ed Rollins, this question.  Take some time here.  There‘s a couple of issues here.  I am fascinated by the war record issue.  I thought Kerry probably made a mistake putting his chin out on this thing in Boston,, saying, I‘m Audie Murphy, when he is probably not Audie Murphy.  There‘s probably 100,000 guys that did what John Kerry did. 

And then he came back and trashed the war effort in very strong language before the Senate Arms Services—or the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  He‘s not exactly a supporter of the war or a supporter even of the troops in the war.  And now he‘s coming out and saying, I am Audie Murphy.  And these other guys are saying, wait a minute.  I remember John Kerry when you were John Kerry. 

ROLLINS:  Well, the truth of the matter is this.  There‘s three phases of Kerry‘s life that get to be examined when you‘re looking at a commander in chief. 

First of all, he was a young man who went off to war and he deserved whatever medals he got.  And he was brave and he was courageous.  And I give him total credit for that.  He made a deliberate choice when he came back.  And he got to come back early because of his injuries.  And he basically then decided he wanted to be a war protester.  And he joined with the Jane Fondas and Tom Haydens of the world, while there were still were an awful lot of his fellow soldiers and sailors still in Vietnam fighting. 

And I think, to a certain extent, a lot of people resented that.  And I think that to a certain extent is what has been exploited.  The third part of his career that really is the important part is, what has he done in his 20 years in the United States Senate?  Has he supported the military?  Has he taken actions that basically will make him a good commander in chief?  And the answer to that is pretty much a no. 

And I think those are the issues that ought to be explored and discussed.  I give him total credit for what he did in Vietnam.  I think he‘s going to pay a price for what he did post-Vietnam.  And I think, even more importantly, he‘ll pay a bigger price for his last 20-year history. 

(CROSSTALK)

COELHO:  I respect my friend Ed Rollins a lot. 

But if you take the series that he just went through, I would submit to you that if you have to look at Kerry‘s military record, you also have to look at George Bush‘s military record, which is really an issue that should be discussed even more. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But why aren‘t the Vietnam vets angry about a guy that was in the Guard, rather than a guy who went to Vietnam and came back and dumped on the war? 

COELHO:  Because...

MATTHEWS:  Why are they angry at the one guy? 

COELHO:  Because if you take it, what it is, is 20 people about maybe now with the funds coming in, it is a group of folks who are making this a huge issue. 

Now what you‘re seeing, I‘m getting mail from people who were in Vietnam who are now saying, how do I get involved?  I want to speak up.  I have not been able to speak up.  You‘re starting to see people come in.  But Bush‘s record in the war, the fact that he didn‘t want to go to war, that he didn‘t serve in the Guard, he didn‘t serve in Alabama and so forth, that should be an issue, then. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, why isn‘t it? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why don‘t the Vietnam vets care about that? 

(CROSSTALK)

COELHO:  Ed Rollins can‘t get away with saying...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m asking Ed a question. 

Why aren‘t the Vietnam vets up in arms against a guy who dodged?  Or not dodged, but didn‘t serve?

ROLLINS:  Listen, I‘m not defending...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s an objective question.  I don‘t know the answer to it.  Why do they not care? 

(CROSSTALK)

ROLLINS:  Well, first of all, there were a lot of people who did serve and served courageously.  There were a lot of people like Tony and I who didn‘t serve.  We both had some kind of a disability. 

You didn‘t serve, Tony.  I didn‘t serve.

COELHO:  That‘s right. 

ROLLINS:  That does not mean that we don‘t have a right to be good Americans and that does not mean we don‘t have a right to basically support those who do go. 

I think the critical thing here is, to those who did go, we should be grateful.  For those who are there in Iraq today, we still should be grateful.  That is what has made this nation a great place.  But if we were only going to elect war heroes, Bob Dole would have been president.  Audie Murphy would have been president, a whole lot of other folks, Colin Powell, who served three tours of duty.  We don‘t. 

We choose leaders for a whole lot of things.  I think all of this is legitimate to discuss.  But, at the end of the day, it is about your record.  It‘s about the future and where do we go from here. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, if Colin Powell would run, the rest would be easy. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, more on the battle of the White House when we return. 

And don‘t forget, you can keep with our presidential race on HardBlogger—I love this stuff—our election blog Web site.  Just go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

We‘re back with our panel. 

According to a report in “The New York Post,” the Kerry campaign has tapped Hillary Rodham Clinton to lead the Democrats‘ truth squad next week in New York to counter the message coming out of the Republican National Convention. 

Ed Rollins, you‘re living in New York.  What do you make of Hillary as the big challenge to the Bush campaign up in New York next week? 

ROLLINS:  She will get attention.  She is articulate and she can reinforce the Democrats.  That is what you want in an opposition leader who is there.  She is certainly not going to step on Schwarzenegger or anybody else‘s parade or George Bush‘s.  But...

MATTHEWS:  Will she help the Bush campaign by being such a notorious liberal in New York? 

ROLLINS:  I don‘t think so.  I have never thought these opposition groups that go to these conventions really get much play.  But she will get more play than anybody just simply because she is from New York and she is an articulate senator.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Lois Romano.

Do you think she will emblematize New York to the point that Republicans will love her being there, because she will say, it‘s me and the WTO demonstrators out there and we‘re the good guys and there is Hillary out on the streets against us, too. 

ROMANO:  I‘m not sure, Chris.  You know, they have reviled the

Clintons forever, and for years.  Sometimes, they win.  Sometimes, they

lose.  But these people are still emerging as two of the most powerful

politicians in the country.  As Ed said

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is Hillary rooting for John Kerry?  Is Hillary rooting for John Kerry?

ROMANO:  She has to.

MATTHEWS:  But is she? 

ROMANO:  She‘s too smart not to.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is she deep down rooting for John Kerry to win this election?

ROMANO:  I‘m not inside her head, but she...

MATTHEWS:  She doesn‘t seem like she is, Lois. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANO:  Privately, I don‘t know.

MATTHEWS:  Lois, it‘s not just privately.  She looks like she can‘t wait for this to get over so she can run for the reelection to the Senate and then run for president. 

ROMANO:  But, Chris, she can‘t show that hand.  Hillary is too smart.  She‘s too shrewd a politician.  She has to get out there 100 percent for this ticket.

MATTHEWS:  If she likes John Kerry, she should tell her face, because she hasn‘t...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Ed is laughing.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Because she hasn‘t shown any enthusiasm for this ticket. 

Ed, do you think Hillary Clinton looks like a Kerry booster right now?

ROLLINS:  I think there‘s a lot of people that are anti-Bush that are supporting John Kerry.  And I think that is probably what Kerry has going for him.  Equally as important, there‘s an awful lot of Republicans that are very happy to have John Kerry as the opponent. 

MATTHEWS:  Why? 

ROLLINS:  Because I think that he basically is the epitome of the Northeast liberal, Massachusetts senator that is out of touch, as was Dukakis and others. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you want to add any more adjectives to that?  How about frostbite liberal? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  That is what the late Lee Atwater used to call them, frostbite liberals. 

Go ahead.

COELHO:  Chris, one of the things you miss is that the goals of both of these parties is to get your base more involved, more interested, more committed, more willing to come out and vote, get high participation of your base. 

Hillary Clinton will get high participation of our base.  Whether or

not she turns on the Republicans, I just don‘t really

(CROSSTALK) 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think she will turn on the Democrats?

COELHO:  She will turn on our base.

MATTHEWS:  What state will she deliver?

COELHO:  She will turn on our base.

MATTHEWS:  Pennsylvania?  Help with Pennsylvania? 

COELHO:  She will help us in our base everywhere in the country, Chris.  This is what it‘s all about.  In order to win, we not only have to win in some of the states you are more concerned about, but we have got to increase the base in where these people are. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t people think that Hillary Clinton has her fingers crossed behind her back, that she really isn‘t rooting for this guy, because she wants to be president?  And if he wins and John Edwards wins, she will never be president. 

(CROSSTALK)

COELHO:  But, Chris, that would be said about John McCain.  He wants to be president also.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But he has got the plan, doesn‘t he?  He‘ll be in, in ‘08.

COELHO:  He has the plan.  He could be president no matter what happens.

MATTHEWS:  Hey, Ed Rollins, who wins the John McCain vs. Hillary Clinton race in 2008? 

ROLLINS:  I think McCain would win that going away. 

MATTHEWS:  Tony Coelho.

COELHO:  I would have to go with McCain right now. 

MATTHEWS:  Lois Romano, independent assessment by “The Washington Post.”  Who looks like the winner in that race? 

ROMANO:  I think—I think McCain is looking pretty good these days. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about—you live down in Oklahoma now.  Let me ask you about the feelings down there.  Are the red states as solid for Bush as they were four years ago?

ROMANO:  Well, Oklahoma is.  That‘s for sure.  I think Arkansas still could be up for grabs.  Kansas I think will probably go for Bush. 

MATTHEWS:  But Arkansas could move. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANO:  I think Arkansas could move.  It has a lot of very popular beloved politicians, like the Pryors, who are out in full force for Kerry. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think you are right.  I hear that, too, Lois.  I hear the same thing.  I hear Arkansas may jump back on to the Democratic side.  Anyway...

ROMANO:  And John Edwards, you know, they are sending Edwards in, who is actually very compatible with Arkansans. 

MATTHEWS:  They like that drawl. 

ROMANO:  And I think that is a good move.

MATTHEWS:  Hey, Lois, it‘s great to see you.  It‘s great to see you, from “The Washington Post.” 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Ed Rollins, it‘s always good to see you.

Tony Coelho, thank you.

Join us again, by the way, tomorrow night, everybody, at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  And starting Friday, we‘ll be in New York for the Republican National Convention.  I can‘t wait.  Among our guests, Senator John McCain.

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

END   

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