updated 9/9/2004 1:41:56 PM ET 2004-09-09T17:41:56

Guests: Bob Graham, Wayne LaPierre, William Bratton, Glenn Smith, Joe Barton, Lois Romano, Roger Simon, Tony Blankley

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  As President Bush visits Florida to tour the damage by Hurricane Frances, Republicans face a renewed assault on the president‘s National Guard service during the Vietnam era.  Plus, while the number and type of presidential debates is up in the air right now, a preview of coming attractions from Vice President Dick Cheney and Senator John Edwards.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It‘s absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on November 2, we make the right choice because if we make the wrong choice, the danger is that we‘ll get hit again, that we‘ll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE:  And the president of the United States should renounce this statement.  He should say that it was wrong, which it was.  And this is a test for the president.  And we will see whether this president meets that test over the coming days.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Talk about HARDBALL.  If you vote Democrat this election, we‘re going to get hit again by al Qaeda.

And with less than eight weeks until the election, is it too late for Senator John Kerry to clarify his position on Iraq?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  It‘s just 55 days to go before the presidential election now, and as President Bush toured parts of Florida hit by Hurricane Frances, Senator John Kerry delivered a speech in Cincinnati, Ohio, at the same place where President Bush made his case for going to war with Iraq nearly two years ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE:  He spoke to the nation and he promised, quote, “If we have to act, we will take every precaution that is possible.  We will plan carefully.  We will act with the full power of the United States military.  We will act with allies at our side.  And we will prevail.”  But then George W. Bush made the wrong choices.  He himself now admits he miscalculated in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Kerry‘s speech came on a day when U.S. air strikes pounded militant strongholds in Fallujah after a suicide bombing and fighting in Baghdad pushed the U.S. military death toll to 1,003.  A total of 17 U.S.  troops were killed in Iraq in the past four days alone.

Retired General Barry McCaffrey commanded the Army‘s 24th Infantry Division during Desert Storm.  He‘s now an MSNBC military analyst.  General, this is a tough question.  Make you can‘t answer it.  Was Dick Cheney off base, the vice president of the United States, by saying if you vote Democrat this November, we face a threat, a special threat, it seems, of being attacked by al Qaeda again?

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, U.S. ARMY (RET.), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Well, the history of it‘s quite clear.  It doesn‘t matter who‘s in office, who controls office, al Qaeda, 37 foreign terrorist organizations, have a problem with U.S. policies.  I think what‘s happening is clever politics.  Cheney, I don‘t need to tell you, is one of the smartest people I ever met.  He‘s trying to paint Senator Kerry into a corner to make him renounce preemptive action.  And if he does, I think it‘ll be a political disaster because I think that‘ll be a fundamental aspect of our counterterror strategy in the coming 10 years.

MATTHEWS:  In other words, it‘s a legitimate shot at Kerry to say, If you don‘t stop—if you use preemptive action, if you don‘t strike at countries like Iraq first, then you will be responsible because they will hit us again.

MCCAFFREY:  Well, and not only countries.  You know, Iraq, Afghanistan...

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘re talking about Iraq.

MCCAFFREY:  Yes.  Special operations, covert operations.  What the—this administration is arguing is that we must reach out and nail these people before they attack us.

MATTHEWS:  OK, “these people.”  Is Iraq one of “these people” that would likely attack the United States?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, of course, you know my own views.  I thought it was an appropriate time, the right war, the right place, badly executed.  So I think taking down the Saddam regime, preventing them from being what they actually were, a sanctuary for years to people working to create weapons of mass destruction and working—and working in support of international terrorists.  I thought it was the right thing to do.  We just—we‘re not doing it very well right now.  And I don‘t think we‘re going to have decent strategy until...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MCCAFFREY:  ... after the U.S. presidential elections.  Everybody‘s marking time right now.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s put it together, General.  If Vice President Cheney is correct in saying if we don‘t strike our enemies before they strike us, and of course, you have to—as commander-in-chief, have to pick the enemies right.  If we don‘t do that before they strike us, we will be struck again.  And therefore, we have to vote for President Bush and Dick Cheney because it seems to me that‘s the frontal question.  How can you defend the policy of not attacking the enemy if you believe you must strike them first?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, I think he‘s trying to force Senator Kerry into being explicit.  But if Kerry wants to be in opposition to what the administration is doing, he may end up with a position that won‘t get him elected.  So, I mean, that‘s the challenge, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MCCAFFREY:  I think, you know, Cheney was absolutely banging away at him, trying to force him out on dangerous ground.

MATTHEWS:  The administration has said—the president himself has said that he miscalculated.  He didn‘t expect the level of resistance we‘ve faced since the occupation of Iraq began.  A thousand soldiers kill so far.  Do you see any end to this in sight, the killing of American soldiers?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, you know, I almost hate to hang up on a thousand soldiers.  It‘s over 8,000 casualties, another probably 400 in Afghanistan.  There are going to be costs.  The question the American people are going to ask this president and the next one is, Do you have a strategy that will achieve a favorable outcome?  But I think, you know, it‘s going to require patience.  This is a five-year operation we took on.  If we weren‘t willing to do that, we shouldn‘t have set foot in Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  The secretary of defense has said you can‘t measure the number of people that we‘re turning into terrorists by going to war with Iraq.  Therefore, how can you calculate, General, that this will help protect us, to go to war in Iraq, if you don‘t know how many enemies it‘s creating?

MCCAFFREY:  Yes.  Well, I think right now—to be blunt, I think we‘re not achieving our purpose.  I think we‘ve ceded huge stretches of Iraq up in the Sunni heartland, the Shia areas, to an insurgency.  They are arming themselves.  They‘re sallying forth and attacking coalition elements and this Iraqi government.  I actually don‘t think we‘re achieving our purpose right now.  It‘s going in the wrong direction.

MATTHEWS:  Is there anyway our military, with its current number of people over there, its current complement, can take control of the whole country?

MCCAFFREY:  Probably not.  I think the long-term solution that this—

General George Casey, who‘s in country, is quite correct.  He got this extremely bright guy, Lieutenant General Dave Petraeus.  They got to build an Iraqi army, police force, customs border patrol.  That‘s a year to five years.  These people are not capable of fighting, and there‘s no political legitimacy in the Iraqi administration that will cause them to fight against the Sunni to further the—you know, the objectives of the coalition.  So right now, we‘re in an unstable condition.

MATTHEWS:  Bad news.  Thank you very much, General Barry McCaffrey.

Coming up, Senator Bob Graham, former chairman of the Intelligence Committee, is charging that the Bush administration was covering up possible Saudi Arabia links to 9/11.  He‘s coming here to make his case when HARDBALL returns on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  As Congress races to pass legislation that would reform the U.S. intelligence community, Democratic senator Bob Graham, who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee, has written a new book entitled, “Intelligence Matters: The CIA, the FBI, Saudi Arabia, and the Failure of America‘s War on Terror.”  In the book, he accuses the Bush administration of covering up evidence that might have connected the Saudi government to some of the 9/11 hijackers.

Well, Senator, I don‘t want you to give it all away, but I‘d like you to give us a nice tease.  Let‘s talk about the FBI and the role it played in possibly covering up what they knew about these hijackers before 9/11.

SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D), FLORIDA:  Well, let me give you one specific example, Chris.  One of the key figures in 9/11 was a retired university professor who had been employed by the FBI to—as an informant, particularly to watch after college-age Saudis who were in San Diego.  As irony would have it, this man also took in boarders.  And guess who one of his boarders was?  One of the...

MATTHEWS:  A couple of the hijackers.

GRAHAM:  Well, it actually—one had already left to go back to recruit the musclemen.  The other one stayed in Dan Diego and ended up being a boarder of an FBI informant.  I think that‘s a very suspicious...

MATTHEWS:  How deep can you get into...

GRAHAM:  ... set of circumstances.

MATTHEWS:  ... that?

GRAHAM:  Well, I‘m about to go on.  So we said, We want to interview this guy.  We think he‘s a key witness, may have some very valuable information.  The FBI wouldn‘t let our staff interview him.  They wouldn‘t let us interview him at a closed session of the committee.  The only subpoena that we issued during our investigation was on that person, and the FBI, who at that point had him in protective custody, being the only one who could deliver the subpoena, refused to do so.

MATTHEWS:  So what‘s your point?  What have you learned that...

GRAHAM:  Well, my point is this.  Two months after all of the chain of events I‘ve just described, we got a letter from the FBI explaining why they had been so reticent.  You know what they said?  Because the administration told us not to make this man available for either a staff interview and not to deliver any subpoena on him.

MATTHEWS:  Well, how far—with your authority, Senator, couldn‘t you have found out why the FBI was keeping this thing under wraps?

GRAHAM:  Because the administration told them to do it, that‘s why.

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s the administration?

GRAHAM:  The White House.  The Oval Office.

MATTHEWS:  Why?

GRAHAM:  I think because they didn‘t want this person‘s testimony because it would have been very embarrassing to have a paid informant have a terrorist live with him...

MATTHEWS:  Well, do you think the guy blew it?  He didn‘t know what was going on?  He was unaware that these guys were planning the attack?

GRAHAM:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Or do you think he was working with them or what?

GRAHAM:  The answer is, here‘s a person who is a retired university professor, so he‘s not an unintelligent person.  How could you live with somebody for four months and not pick up some information about, Why did you come from Saudi Arabia to Dan Diego?  What are you doing?  How do you spend your time?  And none of that information was made available.

MATTHEWS:  But husbands—I mean, wives live with husbands all the time who are cheating on them.

GRAHAM:  But they don‘t get paid...

MATTHEWS:  They don‘t find out what‘s going on.

GRAHAM:  Yes, but they don‘t get generally get paid by somebody precisely to find out.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but they‘re—well, they get (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in other ways.  I  want to ask you...

GRAHAM:  I‘m very suspicious of...

MATTHEWS:  ... what‘s your premise here?  What‘s the premise of this suspicion?

GRAHAM:  My...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that the United States government somehow was involved in the attack us on?

GRAHAM:  I think the United States government has made a decision, at

least this administration of George W. Bush has made a decision that it is

more important to protect Saudi Arabia and its involvement in 9/11 than it

is to let the American people know-

MATTHEWS:  OK, in plain terms.  Saudi Arabian government?

GRAHAM:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  How so?

GRAHAM:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  What evidence do you have that...

GRAHAM:  Can I just—can I give you another example?

MATTHEWS:  No, give me an example, any example...

GRAHAM:  OK, I‘m going to...

MATTHEWS:  ... any example, because you haven‘t yet, of the Saudi Arabian government having a hand in 9/11.

GRAHAM:  All right.  I‘ll give you one.  There‘s—there was a fellow in San Diego named al Bayouni.  He had spent most of his life working for the Saudi government.  Then he took a job with a subcontractor...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

GRAHAM:  ... of the Saudi Arabia civil aviation authority.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

GRAHAM:  He got paid about $40,000 a year.  You know what?  He never showed up for a job.  It was a ghost job.  He was a Saudi agent, so described by the FBI and the CIA...

MATTHEWS:  OK—

GRAHAM:  ... and his job was to look after Saudis, particularly students in the San Diego area.  But now, not for the United States...

MATTHEWS:  Potential troublemakers, or just friends of the government?

GRAHAM:  People who might be plotting some overthrow of the Saudi government.  This fellow goes up to Los Angeles, spends an hour with a consular office in—of the Saudi government.  The officer subsequently was deported for terrorist activities.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

GRAHAM:  He has what has been described as a chance meeting at one of the 134 Middle Eastern restaurants in Los Angeles, and just happens to be sitting across the table from the two terrorists.  He then invites the terrorists to come to San Diego.  Now, I want to be clear.  I‘m not saying that he knew they were terrorists, but I think he was under instructions to provide them with support and assistance, and he certainly did.

MATTHEWS:  As Saudis or as terrorists?

GRAHAM:  The Saudi government...

MATTHEWS:  Was looking out for everybody.

GRAHAM:  ... was looking out for these people...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

GRAHAM:  ... and I suspect that they were doing it...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  But you haven‘t been able to nail down a Saudi Arabian government role in 9/11, have you, Senator?

GRAHAM:  I think we have, yes.

MATTHEWS:  What have you nailed down?

GRAHAM:  We‘ve nailed down that a person who was an agent of the Saudi government provided a substantial amount of assistance to two of the terrorists.  He may not have known that they were terrorists, but he provided...

MATTHEWS:  But this...

(CROSSTALK)

GRAHAM:  ... direction.  And a CIA agent in August of 2002 submitted a report to the effect that there was incontrovertible evidence that a Saudi agent was assisting the terrorists.

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe, could you swear now that the Saudi Arabian government participated in 9/11, Senator?

GRAHAM:  I would be prepared to do that.

MATTHEWS:  The Saudi Arabian government—Prince Bandar, the whole crowd, the crown prince, everybody.

GRAHAM:  The Saudi civil aviation authority, which was no doubt the source of funds for this agent‘s...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

GRAHAM:  ... basic support, then those funds were doubled during the period...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Yes, I read that.

GRAHAM:  ... that the terrorists were...

MATTHEWS:  In your book, yes.

GRAHAM:  ... in San Diego.

GRAHAM:  Well, lots in your book.  Thank you very much, Senator Bob Graham.  Thank you very much.

Up next: The ban on assault weapons is set to expire, permanently expire this Monday.  Los Angeles police chief Bill Bratton and the NRA‘s Wayne LaPierre will be here to duke it out over whether the ban should be extended or not.  It looks like it‘s not going to be.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The 1994 assault weapons ban is scheduled to expire Monday.  That‘s this Monday.  Today police chiefs from across the country joined Jim and Sarah Brady on Capitol Hill to call on Congress to extend the ban.  Los Angeles police chief Bill Bratton was one of them.  He joins us, along with Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association.  He has an op-ed, by the way, a column in “USA Today” supporting the end of the ban.

Welcome.  Why do you, Wayne, think we should end this ban on assault weapons?

WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXEC. VICE PRESIDENT, NRA:  Because it‘s been built on a lie. the fact that they said these were machine gun, fully automatic guns, sprayed bullets, rapid fire, weapons of war, none of which is true.

MATTHEWS:  They‘re semiautomatics.

LAPIERRE:  They‘re no different than...

MATTHEWS:  They‘re semiautomatics, right?

LAPIERRE:  They are semiautomatics...

MATTHEWS:  And what‘s the difference?  Just for the people out there who aren‘t NRA members or gun people, what‘s the difference between a semiautomatic—it‘s boom, boom, boom...

LAPIERRE:  You have to pull the trigger each time.

MATTHEWS:  Each time.

LAPIERRE:  Fully automatic is just...

MATTHEWS:  And you can‘t fix it to do it automatically?

LAPIERRE:  It‘s against federal law to sell any gun in the U.S. that‘s readily or easily convertible to a fully automatic gun.

MATTHEWS:  So when I see guys out in the middle of northern California, out in the hills somewhere, shooting at old car wrecks with these assault weapons, that‘s legal?

LAPIERRE:  They‘re probably shooting semiautomatic firearms...

MATTHEWS:  Big—big rifles.

LAPIERRE:  ... that are no different than any other...

MATTHEWS:  Big—big automatic...

LAPIERRE:  ... hunting gun that‘s used in hunting.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  OK.  Chief, why does the prevalence or the availability of an assault weapon endanger police, endanger society?

WILLIAM BRATTON, LAPD CHIEF:  Because they do.  That‘s the reality, that every year in the United States, in excess of 10 police officers are killed with these types of weapons.  Many citizens, residents are killed with these types of weapons, wounded by them.  That‘s the reality, unfortunately.

MATTHEWS:  So you go up against them with a service revolver, right?

BRATTON:  Well, that...

MATTHEWS:  Is that the usual order of battle?

BRATTON:  That has been the issue in many cities.  Los Angeles probably had the most famous shoot-out in 1997, when two individuals, completely covered with Kevlar type of bulletproof vesting, armed with these types of weapons literally held several hundred Los Angeles police officers armed with 9-millimeters at bay for quite a period of time.

MATTHEWS:  And the 9-millimeter gun can do what against an assault weapon?

BRATTON:  Totally different caliber, penetration issues.  These weapons, the 19 that have been banned, many of them have a projectile that‘s capable of going through bulletproof vests.  In my city, Los Angeles, all of our police cars have ballistic armor on our dashboards and on our side doors because of the prevalence of shoot-outs that we get into.

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t your members, who are by and large, relatively conservative guys—I‘m not saying right-wingers—don‘t they sympathize with policemen who put their lives on the line every night in tough neighborhoods?

LAPIERRE:  Chris, NRA is one of the largest police organizations in the country.  We run the national police shooting championships every year.

MATTHEWS:  But when the guy gets out and he‘s facing the line of fire, are you with him or not with him?

LAPIERRE:  Those—what he‘s saying about these guns, with all due respect to the chief, is just not accurate.  They are not machine guns.  They don‘t—aren‘t any different from any other hunting gun.  They‘re not more powerful.  They don‘t spray bullets.  This is all fog!  And this is...

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the prey these guns are used for?

LAPIERRE:  They can be used for anything.  They can be used...

MATTHEWS:  Well, what are they usually used for?

LAPIERRE:  ... for self-defense.  If a criminal gets a hold of one, he can misuse it, like any other gun.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what does a—what does a sportsman use it for?

LAPIERRE:  They use them for competitive shooting.  They can be used for hunting.  They are not any more powerful, and they‘re not...

MATTHEWS:  What kind of game?

LAPIERRE:  Any type of game.

MATTHEWS:  What type of game requires an assault rifle?

LAPIERRE:  It‘s not an assault rifle!  You guys keep talking about this...

MATTHEWS:  OK, what‘s the word I should use?

LAPIERRE:  Semiautomatic firearm.  An assault rifle...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Why do you need a semiautomatic firearm, to fight what kind of an animal?

LAPIERRE:  There—yes, you can hunt anything.  People hunt everything from deer to any type of game.  You can go shooting with...

MATTHEWS:  What would be left of a squirrel or a bird after you‘ve shot it with one of these things?

LAPIERRE:  You keep thinking they‘re more powerful.  That‘s the lie that‘s been put out by the people that marketed this.  It‘s not true.  There‘s no difference in the firepower of these guns than any of the guns not banned.  That‘s the point NRA keeps...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m trying to figure out—is what you‘re against is any rifle that can shoot semiautomatically?

BRATTON:  No.  It‘s the combination of issues of these weapons, what they were designed for, plus the clip.  The clips that have also been...

MATTHEWS:  The banana.

BRATTON:  ... concerned with—the banana clip of 30, 50, 100 rounds.  A 30-clip single-fire weapon can discharge all 30 of those rounds in about five seconds.  On full automatic, if it were a machine gun or machine pistol, it‘d take about two seconds.  So 30 shots in five seconds, 30 shots in two seconds.  The capability for spraying—it‘s true, these are not machine guns.  These are not, in a sense, fully automatic weapons.  But their capabilities, because of the large clips they can be equipped with, are very problematic.

MATTHEWS:  What do they cost on the street?

LAPIERRE:  Whatever...

MATTHEWS:  A hundred bucks?

LAPIERRE:  ... a gun costs—a clip?

MATTHEWS:  No, one of these guns.

LAPIERRE:  Several hundred dollars to thousands of dollars.  It—but there‘s no difference in the guns...

MATTHEWS:  How many people are killed a year by them?

LAPIERRE:  How many people killed by firearms in the U.S.?

MATTHEWS:  By these rifles.  By these rifles.

LAPIERRE:  Every study has showed that there‘s—it‘s statistically insignificant...

MATTHEWS:  Well, not to the ones who get killed.

(CROSSTALK)

LAPIERRE:  No, no.  I‘m not talking about that.  I‘m talking about...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m wondering how many—how many—chief, do you know how many people...

LAPIERRE:  These guns are not used in crimes.

MATTHEWS:  ... were killed by criminal—by criminals who were using these guns?

BRATTON:  In term of an area of concern that I certainly have, police officers that—on average, about 10 police officers a year are killed by these weapons.

MATTHEWS:  Do you accept that?

LAPIERRE:  No.  I don‘t.  In fact, the chief...

MATTHEWS:  Wouldn‘t he know?

LAPIERRE:  The chief of the Maryland police testified the other day

before the legislature, said there were 55 police officers killed in the

U.S. last year, 35 by handguns, 10 by rifles, 1 by shotgun, the other eight

by cars, knives...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Should automatic weapons...

LAPIERRE:  ... and he said the FBI...

MATTHEWS:  ... be legal?

LAPIERRE:  ... doesn‘t keep that statistic.

MATTHEWS:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) was the federal government wrong in the ‘30s to outlaw automatic weapons?

LAPIERRE:  We support that ‘34 law.  They‘ve been heavily restricted...

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re OK on outlawing automatic weapons, and OK about outlawing weapons that can easily be converted to automatic.

LAPIERRE:  It‘s against federal law to sell any gun...

MATTHEWS:  No, no.  You‘re against that?

LAPIERRE:  We support that federal law.

MATTHEWS:  OK, so but you draw the line in saying you should be allowed to own semiautomatics.

LAPIERRE:  Yes.  Absolutely.  They‘re mainstream.  They‘ve been...

MATTHEWS:  Why are the police fighting this...

LAPIERRE:  ... around for 100 years...

MATTHEWS:  ... if these aren‘t dangerous to police?

LAPIERRE:  The rank and file aren‘t.  You‘ve got some big city chiefs that are.  But believe me, the rank and file officers...

MATTHEWS:  Why are the chiefs against these weapons?

LAPIERRE:  You have to ask the chief...

MATTHEWS:  No.  You must know.  You understand the business.  Why are they against them?

LAPIERRE:  The—because—I don‘t know.  I don‘t want to speak for them.  But I know where the rank and file is, Chris.  The rank and file...

MATTHEWS:  Chief, last word.

LAPIERRE:  ... think this thing is a cosmetic sham.

BRATTON:  Isn‘t it the irony that it‘s not the police chiefs that are up against these weapons in the streets, but it‘s our police officers who were here speaking on behalf of them.  I‘ve got about 9,000 rank-and-file police officers in Los Angeles, many of whom face these weapons routinely, unfortunately, in my city, and are ambushed by them.  I can‘t believe that statement.  The rank-and-file police officers are not supportive of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) these weapons.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much...

BRATTON:  They kill...

MATTHEWS:  ... Bill Bratton.  Thank you, Wayne LaPierre, once again.

Up next, a new special interest group called Texans for Truth—they keep coming up—anyway, launches the latest attack on President Bush‘s National Guard service.  Here we go again.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, the Bush campaign is facing a renewed assault on the president‘s military service record.  We‘re going to talk to one of the men making the accusation that George W. Bush didn‘t show up for National Guard service during Vietnam. 

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

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

A group calling itself Texans For Truth unveiled a new political ad today featuring a former lieutenant colonel in the Alabama Air National Guard who says neither he nor his friends saw George W. Bush when the future president was supposed to be with their unit back in 1972.  The TV ad will run in swing states hardest hit by the U.S. service personnel killed in Iraq. 

Let‘s take a look at the ad. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, TEXANS FOR TRUTH AD)

RET. LT. COL. BOB MINTZ, ALABAMA AIR NATIONAL GUARD:  I heard George Bush get up and say I served in the 187 Air National Guard in Montgomery, Alabama.  Really?  That was my unit.  And I don‘t remember seeing you there.  So I called, friends, you know.  Did you know that George served in our unit?  I never saw him there.  It would be impossible to be unseen in a unit of that size. 

ANNOUNCER:  Texans For Truth is responsible for the content of this advertisement. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Glenn Smith is the executive director of the group called Texans For Truth.  And Joe Barton, Representative Joe Barton, is a Republican congressman from Texas. 

You‘re smiling, Congressman.  Is that because you‘re on our show or because you don‘t like that ad? 

REP. JOE BARTON ®, TEXAS:  Well, I think people have a right to try to recollect what they were doing or not doing 30 years ago.  I‘d be hard-pressed to tell you where I was 30 years ago. 

But the fact that some lieutenant colonel doesn‘t remember seeing George Bush, to me, is irrelevant.  He was in the Texas Air National Guard.  His main unit was I think the 147th Texas Air National Guard.  He was detailed to the Alabama National Guard, I think, for three months and, later that year, got an honorable discharge.  So I think this is a case of either the Kerry campaign or some 527 getting a little bit desperate and throwing out some sort of aspersion. 

They don‘t really state factually.  They just say, we don‘t remember.  Well, I don‘t remember where I was 30 years ago either, so I don‘t think see that that‘s a very big deal. 

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Smith.

GLENN SMITH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, TEXANS FOR TRUTH:  I was at Miller High School in Houston, Texas, worried about whether I was going to get drafted.  And I was lucky enough to have a high number, so when I graduated from high school, they ended the draft and I didn‘t get called. 

We did this ad primarily for two reasons.  It‘s the martial presidency, wrapping himself in the military, sending our forces on expeditionary forces to other countries, willing to send other men into harm‘s way, when he himself pulled strings to get into the National Guard.  Furthermore, we can‘t find anyone in the 187th in Alabama that told us he was there on any kind of regular basis, where he was supposed to be finishing his duty. 

I was so outraged by the attacks on John Kerry that I thought it important that the American people know that a president who has become a martial president in many ways has his own mysterious and shadowy past in the American military. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you both.  Start with you, Glenn, when you put more work into this.  When now President Bush was—got that approved, that relocation to Alabama, that was to work in a political campaign.  That‘s all public record.  What evidence do you have that he wasn‘t there, that he never showed up in Alabama? 

SMITH:  To the military base for the one 187th?  I think did he show up to do a little bit of work in that campaign.  Some of those campaign workers have said just recently that he was there occasionally. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But didn‘t he go in for medical exams and things like that that we know there‘s a record of? 

SMITH:  There was a dental exam one day that he apparently went for. 

There‘s another day when people say he was there. 

But here‘s what I—I, first of all, want to be clear about this.  In my ad, I‘m trying to raise the question.  It‘s very hard to prove a negative.  I can‘t prove by fingerprints that he was there. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But wasn‘t this kind of a sloppy assignment?  In a sense, not knocking the president, but when you were in the National Guard, it‘s a weekend job, to a large extent, because he had already done his two years, right?  And so it isn‘t expected that you‘re on duty all week.  You have to drill on weekends.  So you‘re saying he skipped his weekends. 

SMITH:  Right. 

And we can‘t find anybody that saw him there.  And it is not just us. 

I think the Associated Press...

MATTHEWS:  Do we know at the time whether—let me get to the congressman in here. 

Are you saying it just doesn‘t matter, period?  Is that your position, Congressman?  It doesn‘t matter whether he shirked, if he did, three months of duty in Alabama? 

BARTON:  Well, what we do know is that he had over 3000 flight hours

in an F-102 fighter or the trainer for that fighter.  We do know that he

got an honorable discharge.  We know that he was on duty at Ellington Air -

·         I think Ellington Air Force base, outside of Houston, where there is a plaque in the ready room showing that George Bush was a member of that squadron back in those days. 

What‘s amazing is that there‘s so much documentation about what did he do.  And President Bush has never claimed that he was a combat hero or anything.  He‘s admitted that he was in the Texas Air National Guard, which was an honorable way to do his military service. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  In all seriousness, Congressman, in all seriousness, Congressman, how could he claim he was a combat veteran if he wasn‘t? 

BARTON:  Well, I‘m saying he—I‘m saying he never did. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘re making it sound like you‘re saluting him for being honest. 

BARTON:  Well, I am saluting him for being honest.  I want a president of the United States who is honest.  And George W. Bush is.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Was Kerry a combat veteran who showed courage under battle, under fire? 

BARTON:  Are you asking me that? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, Congressman.

BARTON:  I think he was, yes.

MATTHEWS:  So, OK.

SMITH:  With all due respect, he just ran through a list of things they can say that Bush was doing, but they can‘t show anywhere where he was in the 187th in Alabama. 

(CROSSTALK)

SMITH:  That was missing from the list that was just—that the congressman, with all due respect, that he just said. 

I would like to know, why can‘t the president just come tell us?  I do remember what I was doing 30 years ago. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you to both—let me ask you first, Glenn, the so what question.  So what? 

SMITH:  Well, I think it is very important for several reasons. 

One, it goes to the honesty and character of the president of the United States.  Two, he has created a sort of martial presidency in which he is trying to be a commander in chief or a military leader, almost more than he‘s trying to be president.. 

BARTON:  Well, he is commander in chief.  He‘s not trying to be.

(CROSSTALK)

BARTON:  He is commander in chief. 

SMITH:  Three, he or people that he knows of, he at least sat there while they attacked John Kerry for what are known to be his heroic acts in Vietnam. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, do you think both these sides are wasting our time, the groups going after the president and the groups going after the Democratic candidate on their war records? 

BARTON:  Well, this is an example of a 527 that really doesn‘t have a lot to add to the campaign. 

MATTHEWS:  How about the swifties?  Is that an example? 

BARTON:  I can‘t comment on that. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you, Glenn Smith.  Thank you, Congressman Joe Barton.

More HARDBALL after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, fallout from Vice President Cheney‘s charge that a vote for Kerry creates a danger we‘ll get hit again by terrorists—when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The dispute over President Bush‘s National Guard service has been reignited and we‘ll have more on that in a moment.  And the campaigns are also stepping up the attention on the war in Iraq and terrorism. 

HARDBALL election correspondent David Shuster has the latest. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC ELECTION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In the very hall in Cincinnati where President Bush two years ago made his most urgent care for war with Iraq...

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  If we know Saddam Hussein has dangerous weapons today, and we do, does it make any sense for the world to wait to confront him as he grows even stronger? 

SHUSTER:  Today, John Kerry accused the president of misleading the nation and going to war recklessly. 

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  George W. Bush‘s wrong choices have led America in the wrong direction in Iraq and they have left America without the resources that we need so desperately here at home. 

SHUSTER:  Kerry cited the $200 billion price tag, the budget impact on health care and education, and the loss of 1,000 American lives. 

KERRY:  That‘s the wrong direction.  And that‘s the wrong leadership for America. 

SHUSTER:  And in case anybody has missed the buzz word “wrong,” the campaign is now repeating that word in its television ads. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

NARRATOR:  George Bush, $200 billion for Iraq, in America, lost jobs and rising health care costs.  George Bush‘s wrong choices have weakened us here at home. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  And while Senator Kerry tries to pivot from defensiveness over his own inconsistencies to aggressiveness towards President Bush, the Bush-Cheney campaign has unveiled a new line of attack, never mind the ongoing ridicule of Kerry.

BUSH:  And he woke up yesterday morning with yet another new position. 

(LAUGHTER)

SHUSTER:  On Tuesday, Dick Cheney suggested a vote for the Democrats is a vote for another terrorist attack.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Because, if we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we‘ll get hit again. 

SHUSTER:  John Edwards said that was over the line. 

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  This is un-American.  But the truth is, it proves once again that they‘ll do anything and say anything to keep their jobs. 

SHUSTER:  But some Democrats think Kerry and Edwards are doing a lousy job challenging the Republicans.  So a group of National Guard veterans is taking matters into their own hands with this new attack ad. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, TEXANS FOR TRUTH AD)

MINTZ:  I heard George Bush get up and say I served in the 187 Air National Guard in Montgomery, Alabama.  Really?  That was my unit.  And I don‘t remember seeing you there.  So I called, friends, you know.  Did you know that George served in our unit?  I never saw him there. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  To underscore their point, the group running the ad in election battleground states communities that have suffered the greatest losses of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. 

(on camera):  Against all of this, a dispute is emerging over the presidential debates.  John Kerry wants three.  President Bush wants two, because the president doesn‘t want to be involved in one debate featuring undecided voters.  The president believes the format for that debate could be rigged.  The Kerry campaign using their word of the day says the president‘s attitude is wrong. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re joined right now by Roger Simon of “U.S. News and World Report” and Tony Blankley of “The Washington Times” and Lois Romano of “The Washington Post.” 

Let me go first to Lois, who is not here. 

Lois, are you disappointed in this campaign? 

LOIS ROMANO, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  In what way, Chris? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It doesn‘t seem to be a debate over the issues that will affect our lives. 

ROMANO:  I think that‘s true.  I think the Bush campaign has defined the parameters for the campaign.  And it is all about 9/11 and the war on terror.  And I don‘t think anything else can be heard right now. 

MATTHEWS:  Roger, is this a good...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And I want a value judgment.  Is this a good campaign for the American people?  Are we talking about foreign policy and where it should be going, more aggressive, as the president has taken us, less aggressive, perhaps more speculative, I mean, more reflective or whatever, more hesitant?  Is it answering those questions? 

ROGER SIMON, POLITICAL EDITOR, “U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT”:  It is one step above the ‘88 campaign, which was genuinely about nothing except Willie Horton, flag factories and the rest.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SIMON:  Once it got off the swift boat attacks, which were, again, genuinely about nothing relevant to anyone alive now, I think the campaign has been about something.  It has been about national security.  It has been about national defense. 

John Kerry is trying to make it about domestic affairs.  And there‘s a lot to listen to in all the rhetoric that‘s been passed back and forth. 

MATTHEWS:  Are we getting to the cement here, to the hard part of the world here?  In other words, is this election going to get somewhere where we‘re arguing, should we follow sort of the neoconservative, tough agenda, tough new doctrine of preemptive action or not?  Are we going with a high tax break structure or not? 

TONY BLANKLEY, EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, “THE WASHINGTON TIMES”:  Well, what I‘ve argued for a while is that this campaign is not engaging in the issue, which the great issue is, how do we fight war on terror?  This is the first election in what is going to be a lot of elections under that.  Bush has put forward a general theory about it, the preemptive strategy. 

He‘s been implementing it. 

Kerry has chosen not to take that straight on, but to say, I would fine-tune it here better or there a little differently.  But he hasn‘t been engaged it, even though his party is largely anti-war. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BLANKLEY:  And so we haven‘t yet had the big debate over, is Bush‘s strategy fundamentally right or wrong? 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BLANKLEY:  And so we have the arguments on the periphery that I don‘t think is a useful.  Now, you know, usually presidential campaigns are not about—debated about great issues. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BLANKLEY:  They are usually are decided on the edges.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Eisenhower said, I will go to Korea.  And Franklin Roosevelt promise us a New Deal.  These were significant changes.

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY:  Those were big change.  But most of the elections focus on slogans and marginal issues that are put into the center by force of clever campaigning. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to Lois.

What I mean is—I just read the 9/11 report before I went to bed last night.  And it is beautifully written, by the way.  It is really great prose.  And it said—I think this is a fair estimate of where we stand right now.  We need to way to fight terrorism.  First, kill the terrorists, obviously, before they kill us.  No. 2, reduce the growth of the people joining the terrorists.  And, three, protect ourselves at home, three-front war.  We‘ve got to fight it.  Do you hear these guys negotiating or arguing how to fight it? 

ROMANO:  No, Chris, I don‘t. 

I think there‘s just a lot of distractions going on.  I agree that the swift boat was a nothing burger that just took over the campaign and did Kerry a lot of damage.  Now we have two more things coming up.  One is today, which seemed like a frontal attack from the Kerry campaign.  George Bush‘s record is being attacked from all sides again in the National Guard. 

And it‘s to hard to imagine it wasn‘t a frontal attack because

(CROSSTALK)  

MATTHEWS:  Who give a rat‘s butt where George Bush was in Alabama in the late ‘60s or early ‘70s?  Isn‘t this once more a distraction from this election? 

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANO:  Exactly. 

But I think this is what‘s going on.  I think they wanted this to come out on the eve of Ben Barnes talking tonight about that he got George Bush into the National Guard, and also Kitty Kelley‘s book, which is all gossip.  But you have—they‘re trying to change the subject. 

Clearly, John Kerry has taken a hit coming out of the Republican Convention.  And the Democrats are doing everything to seize the dialogue back.  And I guess they figure if they throw another distraction, then maybe they can get control of the dialogue.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s the battle of the distractions.  It is like the golden oldies. 

ROMANO:  Right.  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re reaching back into the stacks of 45s, because that‘s what we were playing back when all this happened, 45 records. 

We‘re going back to that era and playing the records on what he did and what that guy did.  I don‘t care at this point.  I‘ve said, first of all, a lot of people did a lot of things in the Vietnam era that didn‘t involve getting shot at.  And Kerry did risk getting shot at.  Move on.  He did take the risk and he did do some heroic things.  Move on.  George Bush did not fight.  We know that he‘s already been elected president.  We‘ve got a four-year record on the guy.  We don‘t need an old record to look.  That‘s over with. 

BLANKLEY:  Look, I think it is interesting that they brought up this

once again, the Bush record.  Both campaigns

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that will hurt the Bush record? 

BLANKLEY:  Old campaign usually have some little thing, like a drunk driving thing they like to throw out the week before. 

MATTHEWS:  The guy in the baseball hat Thursday before the election discovers an old record. 

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY:  I find it interesting they have thrown it out in the beginning of September instead of the end of October, because they obviously need to get off the topic.

But to go back to your basic question, there‘s a fundamental question, whether we should have gone into Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s put that on the ballot. 

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY:  Because will that instigate more terrorists or not? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s my question, by the way. 

BLANKLEY:  It is a legitimate question.  No one knows the answer.

By Kerry not—by saying, I was for the war even after I knew

everything, I might have done it a little differently, he didn‘t engage

that central question, which is the strategy

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think we need another ballot question that decides who you want for president.  Were we right to go to Iraq?  Just so we know. 

Go ahead, Roger.

(CROSSTALK)

SIMON:  The more fundamental question is, what do we do now?  We‘re already in Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, we could be going to Iran.  Things could be happening later.

SIMON:  It is striking to me that in Kerry‘s speech today there were exactly two sentences that dealt with what he would do differently in the future. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SIMON:  He would get the allies to send more men and spend more money. 

MATTHEWS:  If he could.

SIMON:  He doesn‘t say how he would manage that. 

MATTHEWS:  If he could.

SIMON:  How will he get France to send people to Fallujah?

MATTHEWS:  How about Germany?  How about Russia?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  None of those countries were with us, especially now that they know how awful it is. 

SIMON:  And, two, he would train the military and police more swiftly in Iraq.  Well, I can‘t imagine that the Bush administration is dragging its feet on that for any strategic purpose. 

MATTHEWS:  In other words, he would have done a better job of pursuing Bush‘s policies. 

SIMON:  I don‘t think he would put it that way. 

BLANKLEY:  That‘s his argument.

MATTHEWS:  That is what it sounds like. 

Coming up, with less than eight weeks before the election—it is getting closer to seven weeks—is it too late for Senator Kerry to clarify his stance on Iraq?  Brilliant question.  Right down the mark there.  Is it getting too late to say where you stand?  The president said, you know where I stand.  A pretty good line. 

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  It‘s absolutely essential that eight weeks from today on November 2, we make the right choice, because, if we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we‘ll get hit again. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That was Vice President Dick Cheney yesterday—Cheney, that is.

We‘re back with Roger Simon, Tony Blankley, Lois Romano.

Lois, I mean, journalists weight for hours and maybe they wait for years to hear a golden line like that.  Here it is again.  If we make the wrong choice, the danger is that we‘ll get hit again.  Why would we be more likely to be hit again if the Democrats win the election?  Hit again, not better prepared or less prepared, but we will more likely be hit again.  Isn‘t that an amazing assertion?

ROMANO:  I‘m generally of the mind—it is an amazing assertion. 

I‘m generally of the mind that the Bush-Cheney operation never makes mistakes, but I wonder a little bit about the comment, because it was off the cuff.  It just came out of his mind and nobody is standing behind it.  On the other hand, Bush‘s number are extremely strong on terrorism.  And maybe he knew exactly what he was doing. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is this going in for the kill?  Was this going in for the kill?  I don‘t think it was an accident.  I think they‘re so strong, Lois, as you said, this week, that they‘re ready to just put the knife in the heart and say this is the end of these guys. 

ROMANO:  Exactly. 

BLANKLEY:  What this really is, is engaging the issue that we were talking about in the last segment, because if you believe what Bush and Kerry—and Cheney have been saying, that they believe in more aggressive, going after the enemy, as opposed to Kerry waiting and reacting and responding, then they believe that they‘re more likely to be successful. 

So basically Cheney is saying—it is kind of a blunt statement, but, yes, if you believe what they‘re saying, they believe their policy is more likely to protect us.  So then let‘s have a debate on whether it is. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a hell of an indictment.  It‘s a hell of an indictment. 

SIMON:  Implicit in every speech at the Republican Convention, except for the first lady‘s, was the same message.  Vote for George Bush or die.  Cheney has now made...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s in your column, by the way. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You are quoting a great line, Roger.  You are one of the best columnists in the country, by the way. 

SIMON:  You‘re very kind.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re fabulous.

Go ahead.

SIMON:  But here‘s a risk for a member of the ticket stating it explicitly.  What happens, God forbid, if we‘re hit before November 2?  What does Cheney say?  Does he go to the country and say vote for us and I guarantee you it won‘t happen a third time? 

BLANKLEY:  We should have had the election earlier. 

SIMON:  It is a very risky statement to make. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m not sure al Qaeda—maybe we have beat them.  But I don‘t know.  What do you think, Lois?  I just am amazed that you can make a statement like, because if they get away with that statement, they will win this election. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  There‘s no doubt in my mind, if the American people accept that formulation, it is over for Kerry, because if you believe we will be hit by the enemy if Kerry gets into office because he‘s so weak and unable to launch an aggressive campaign against terrorism, then you should vote for the Republicans.  It seems to me it is over.  That‘s it, isn‘t it?  How can you vote for the guy who is going to bring us another terror attack?

(CROSSTALK)

BARNICLE:  It‘s a leading issue. 

And the Associated Press had a poll out today saying that people are still very afraid based on September 11, and seeing an airplane, going on travel, travel, they think about it again.  So it was an interesting Associated Press poll showing how front of the mind the fear of terrorism is around America. 

SIMON:  So why hasn‘t John Kerry taken on that statement head on? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know why John Kerry is not personally aroused by it.  Maybe that‘s asking too much.

You know what I sense, Lois?  This is really psychological.  Do you sense Kerry is spontaneous enough to be alive enough to win this election or he‘s become almost an automaton?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m serious.  Do you think—I watch him out there.  He seems on automatic pilot to me.

ROMANO:  Well, I don‘t think that he is on automatic pilot.  I just don‘t think he is a very effusive campaigner. 

George Bush rolls up his sleeves.  He‘s very warm.  He‘s very likable.  Kerry is not a likable person.  And I think that‘s why they sent Edwards out yesterday.  Do I think Kerry was—that got a rise out of him, the Cheney remark?  Of course it did.  But I think they smartly put...

MATTHEWS:  The trouble with Edwards is, the worst he can do is sue the guys. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t it, Lois? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What would Edwards do if he was really mad at you?  He would sue you.

ROMANO:  He would sue you.  But he also—he presents himself—he‘s very articulate.  It was very sincere.  I thought it was a smart move to put Edwards out there to respond to it.  And he is responding to it again today. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it would have been a lot smarter to have Bob Graham on the ticket and put him out there.

Anyway, thank you, Roger Simon, Tony Blankley, Lois Romano.

Coming up this Friday on the eve of the third anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a special edition of HARDBALL with members of the September 11 Commission.  The commissioners know more about what happened and what didn‘t happen in the days leading up to the attacks.  And they‘re coming here for a HARDBALL exclusive.  That‘s Friday, September 10, at 7:00 Eastern.

And coming up tomorrow, Donald Trump will join me here on HARDBALL as the new series of “The Apprentice” debuts. 

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

END   

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