updated 1/18/2005 3:00:23 PM ET 2005-01-18T20:00:23

Guest: Timothy Roemer, Seymour Hersh

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The Vatican reports the Iraqi archbishop of Mosul was kidnapped today, as insurgents step up attacks in attempts to derail the upcoming elections in Iraq.  We‘ll talk to the HARDBALL war council. 

Is the U.S. planning on attacking suspected weapons of mass destruction sites in Iran?  Are we widening this war?  Legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh responds the Pentagon decision over his latest report in “The New Yorker.”

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews. 

The capital gears up for Thursday‘s inaugural and tomorrow‘s Condoleezza Rice confirmation hearings.  Tonight, the HARDBALL war council is back, General Wayne Downing, General Monty Meigs and Colonel Ken Allard on the war in Iraq.  And I‘ll talk to Seymour Hersh, who writes in “The New Yorker” magazine that the Bush administration will be on a war footing in term two, not just in Iraq, but Iran as well.  The Pentagon says Hersh‘s article is riddled with error, but doesn‘t deny the main charge, that the U.S. is targeting sites, attack sites, in Iran. 

Up first, NBC White House correspondent David Gregory, who late today interviewed President George Bush—David.

DAVID GREGORY, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, I began by asking the president about Iraq and the upcoming vote there.

And two key facts.  One is that the election commission, the body that‘s charged with getting the country ready to vote, is only operating in less than half of the country, and two, that the Sunni Arab committee, the critical part of that Sunni Triangle, is only expected to vote in very, very small numbers.  I asked the president, if that is in fact the case, would it mark a victory for insurgents? 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  No, David, I think having the vote is a victory for those of us who love freedom, including the people in Iraq. 

And I say that remembering what it was like about 18 months ago or so, when people, if I had said, there is going to be elections in Iraq, people would look at me like, who is this guy?  Does he know what he‘s talking about?  So the vote is important.  We hope everybody votes.  You said half the country.  Really, 14 out of the 18 provinces look as secure as can possibly be, I guess. 

And four of them—I say secure as possibly can be, relatively, much more secure than the other four, where the Sunnis live.  And there‘s no question the killers are trying to intimidate voters.  And you‘re right.  They‘re staying away because of fear, not because they don‘t want to vote, because of fear.  And what matters obviously is to provide as much security as possible to get the people to vote.  But the fact that there‘s a vote is fantastic.

GREGORY:  Even if there‘s very low turnout? 

BUSH:  Well, we‘ll see.  But, obviously, it is the notion that people are given a chance to vote.  This is just step one of a series of important steps toward the emergence of a democratic Iraq.  And I believe it is going to happen.  And when the it happens, America will be more secure for the long run. 

GREGORY:  It is clear, sir, there‘s no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. 

BUSH:  Right. 

GREGORY:  Do you think that the word of the United States is still good enough around the world for you or a future president to ever again launch a preventative or preemptive strike? 

BUSH:  Well, you might remember that the intelligence that we used was close to the intelligence that the U.N. had about Saddam Hussein and that many countries had about Saddam Hussein. 

In other words, I can remember the dialogue there.  There was very little doubt in people‘s minds as to whether or not he had weapons of mass destruction.  The fundamental question was how best to deal with the issue.  Now, we have discovered—we didn‘t discover the weapons.  And you‘re right.  And we have got a commission looking in as to why the intelligence failed. 

But we did find out that he had the intent and the capability of making weapons, which, in my judgment, still made him a dangerous man.  And the world understood how dangerous Saddam Hussein was. 

GREGORY:  Could you ever do it again, though? 

BUSH:  Well, I hope we don‘t have to.  But if we had to, to protect America, you know, if all else failed and we needed to use force to protect the citizens of the United States, I would do so.  But my hope is, we never have to do that again. 

GREGORY:  Let me ask you about domestic policy. 

I would like to ask about a campaign promise you made, which was to fight for a ban, a constitutional ban on gay marriage.  Yet, you‘ve told “The Washington Post” that that‘s something that you no longer plan to push for.  Why shouldn‘t that be seen as not a campaign promise, but a campaign stunt?

BUSH:  Actually, I said I‘m very much for the ban on the gay marriage to the Constitution, because I think it is the only way to make sure that the judges don‘t make this very important decision. 

And I pushed it in front of the Congress and an overwhelming number of senators made it clear that they‘re waiting for something to change on the ground, in other words, whether or not the Defense of Marriage Act would continue to protect marriage as we know it.  And they‘re basically saying, if it withstands the constitutional challenge, fine.  If it is overturned, then that‘s the time that they‘re more interested in dealing with a constitutional amendment. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUSH:  I‘m very much in favor of the amendment.

GREGORY:  Will you push for it, regardless of what happens? 

BUSH:  Yes.  But there‘s a certain reality to dealing with the Congress. 

Yes, I‘ll push for it.  Yes, I‘m still for it.  But I was just telling

·         I just want people to understand that there‘s a mentality on the hill that says, the way things are, fine now.  In other words, states are protected from the decisions of one state to the next because of the Defense of Marriage Act. 

GREGORY:  Let me ask you about Social Security.  You said this past week, speaking to younger workers, that they have to imagine a system that is flat-bust, your words.  Democrats call that a scare tactic. 

BUSH:  Yes. 

(LAUGHTER)

GREGORY:  And I would like to ask you this.  Why is there nothing short of the creation of private savings accounts that could shore up the program, that you could keep it solvent? 

BUSH:  Well, look, you‘ve asked two questions there, actually made one allegation and one question. 

Let me answer the flat-bust.  I was looking—as I recall, I went to a school and I was saying, if you‘re a senior in high school, by the time you retire, the system will be bust, is what I said.  And that‘s because, in 2042, the system will be bankrupt.  It starts to go into the red in 2018, in other words, more money going out than is coming into the Social Security trust. 

And by 2042, the system is broke.  And that‘s what I said.  And my point was, I look at an 18-year-old kid and I say, if the system is going to be broke, why don‘t we fix it now?  Because I know, the longer we wait, the harder it is to fix it.  And I‘m interested in working with Congress on all different ideas. 

I just happen to believe personal savings accounts will be an important part of encouraging ownership, a good way for younger workers to be able to get a better rate of return on their money than that which is in the Social Security trust, and the ability of giving younger workers or workers the ability to pass on asset from one generation to the next. 

GREGORY:  You‘re not afraid this is like Clinton trying to take on health care? 

BUSH:  Well, you know, I‘m obviously not afraid to take on big issues.  And I think that‘s what the people want from their president.  I said in the campaign, the job of the president is to confront problems, not pass them on to future generations. 

And I believe we have a problem.  And I will continue to make it clear to the American we have a problem.  And I hope we can get the Democrats and Republicans working together on this vital issue.  I think the people expect us to.  Now, senior Americans have nothing to worry about when it comes to Social Security. 

And the dynamic that has changed in the course of just two elections is that most young workers feel like there‘s not going to be a system for them.  And, to me, we need to listen to those voices. 

GREGORY:  One last question, back on foreign policy.

BUSH:  Sure.

GREGORY:  About Iran.  Are there ongoing operations on the ground in Iran, and will you rule out the potential for military action against Iran if it continues to stonewall the international community about the existence of its nuclear weapons program? 

BUSH:  I think you‘re referring to an article which I have not read.  Somebody—some writer was speculating or was talking about these so-called troops in Iran. 

I would suggest you go to what the Defense Department said is just—when they said it simply was not true.  Now, our policy in Iran is to solve this diplomatically.  I hope we can solve it diplomatically.  But I will never take any option off the table. 

GREGORY:  Mr. President, what is going to go through your mind Thursday morning? 

BUSH:  You know, it‘s an interesting question, David, because, four years ago, I can remember telling somebody I was concerned about getting so emotional with my mother and dad and Laura and the girls sitting behind me, that I wouldn‘t make it through the speech.  I think I‘ll have a different perspective this time. 

I think I‘ll—I feel like I‘ll be participant and observer.  I look forward to soaking in much more of the atmosphere and the environment.  It will be a proud moment.  It‘s a good speech.  I‘m looking forward to giving it.  It speaks to the values and hopes of our country.  And I guess the best way to summarize it is, freedom is powerful. 

GREGORY:  We‘ll be there.  Mr. President, thank you. 

BUSH:  Thanks, Dave. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  David, I have to ask you about what room were you in there at the White House? 

GREGORY:  The Map Room over there underneath the residence. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Let me ask you about WMD.  You were at the press dinner I was at last year when the president told jokes about looking for WMD.  It still seems like, from my perspective, he doesn‘t quite get it, that a lot of Americans are very angry, if not worse, that we went to war over an argument that we didn‘t prove. 

GREGORY:  Well, what he has said time and time again is that there was this capability.  And so, even if there weren‘t the weapons, there was still a capability. 

And then you saw him at the top of the question I asked him say, well, if you‘ll recall, there was international intelligence.  He keeps falling back on the idea that this was a shared premise.  It wasn‘t just the United States acting.  But I do think it is very important that when the president said the only smoking gun you‘ll see—or this was Condoleezza Rice and others who said a smoking gun could be a mushroom cloud—that the rationale was not bringing democracy to Iraq.  It was weapons of mass destruction. 

But his point of view, as you heard him—or read about him telling “The Washington Post,” was that the American people had a chance to render a judgment about this.  They had a chance to fire him over this.  And they elected not to do it. 

MATTHEWS:  I sensed an open mind.  He said, well, I‘m going to put this on the table because I believe it in principle.  It is my philosophy, private ownership, private enterprise, private accounts. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  And yet he seemed to be for the first time saying, well, we‘ll kick the argument around and kick the can down the road.  We won‘t kick the can down the road.  We‘ll kick the argument around. 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  As if he‘s open to other ideas. 

GREGORY:  Well, my sense is that he may be open still to the size of private accounts, not the question of private accounts. 

I think what he may be open to is other ways to get at the problem.  They have been very clear here, the private accounts alone is not going to take care of the solvency problem that they‘ve laid out.  So, whether it is benefit cuts, whether it‘s changing the formula for calculating benefits, which is the same thing as a benefits cut for future generations, I think he is open there.  He doesn‘t want to commit to anything just that.  

MATTHEWS:  Did he—in your reportage, will you be able to say after that interview whether he denied we‘re planning, at least sighting targets of possible nuclear installations in Iran? 

GREGORY:  No.  I think he is denying a bill of particulars that may be reported about, but he is certainly not taking any offensive posture toward Iran off the table.  I think that much is clear. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thanks.  It‘s great having you, David Gregory.

GREGORY:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh reports that the Bush administration could be planning to attack sites in Iran, a report the Pentagon says is riddled with errors.  Seymour Hersh joins us next.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, is the Bush administration planning to attack Iran?  Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh of “The New Yorker” magazine joins us when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Seymour Hersh reports in this week‘s “New Yorker” magazine that President Bush has authorized secret commando groups and other special forces unit to conduct covert operations against terrorist targets in 10 countries.  Specifically, the Pentagon has been conducting secret reconnaisance missions in Iran aimed at identifying nuclear, chemical and missile sites to be destroyed by airstrikes and commando raids. 

Sy Hersh, let me ask you this.  The president of the United States, you know for a fact he‘s approved these operations? 

SEYMOUR HERSH, AUTHOR, “CHAIN OF COMMAND”:  Do I have a videotape?  No.  But have I been told by people whose information has been totally reliable in the past?  Yes, including very high-level people who serve in the government.

MATTHEWS:  Right before your appearance on tonight‘s program, he was interviewed by David Gregory of NBC.  And he offered kind of an interesting denial.  He said he agreed with the Defense Department in their statement, or he backed up their statement, that your report was—quote—“not true.”  He then went on to suggest that we were, however, potentially engaged in any kind of effort to protect the United States, which was sort of a big envelope that could include just about anything. 

What‘s your assessment, that he‘s denying it or not? 

HERSH:  Oh, I don‘t—you know, to get into George Bush‘s mind, people keep on saying, particularly people on the left want to say he‘s a liar.  I keep on saying, I think he believes what he says.  And I think, let‘s listen to what he says. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s careful. 

HERSH:  He‘s not only careful.  He‘s also very clear.  He has got a mandate.  Remember “The Washington Post” interview, an amazing interview.  He got has a mandate.  He got has a mandate to carry out the policy that he did in the first term in the second term, which means what?  He‘s going to install democracy not only in Iraq, but he wants to do it elsewhere in the world.  This is his ambition.  This is his plan.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

The United States attacked Iraq in the first instance.  There were many reasons given.  But the primary reason given to the world was, they possess weapons of mass destruction.  And among those weapons that we accused them of having were nuclear, the mushroom cloud.  Condi Rice said we will be—our smoking gun if we wait too long will be a mushroom cloud over the United States. 

Do you think this is a credible case to the world that, if we go to Iran, we can claim that they have these weapons? 

HERSH:  I think reconnaisance is—one of the factors for reconnaisance to avoid the question that you‘re sort of begging here, which is, we what you want to make sure, if we say there‘s nuclear facilities, that there are.  So they‘ve been going since last summer. 

I think, actually, oh, about July, is when I think it began, sending in teams.  It‘s interesting where they‘re coming from.  One of the basic areas they‘re going to is eastern Iran adjacent to Afghanistan.  So, we‘re using Afghanistan as a jumping-off point to go into Iran.  We‘ve actually put up a couple bases there that have the Iranians very jittery. 

I think the information I have is that we‘ve been working with the Pakistanis.  Musharraf has given us some access to some of the Iranian technicians.  Some of his people worked with Iran back a decade ago.  And I think we‘re getting intelligence from them about potential sites in eastern Iran, which is as far away as you can get. 

MATTHEWS:  I hate to be very traditional about this or conventional, but what world right do we claim here?  What right do we claim to go attack a country on the other side of the world for possessing a weapons system we don‘t like them having? 

HERSH:  Well, I mean...

MATTHEWS:  Israel has got weapons like this.  Pakistan has them.  India has them.  France has them.  How do we decide which countries we say can‘t have nuclear weapons, when we have them?

HERSH:  I think that‘s a question you ought to take up with the president of the United States.  It is clear he has decided who does what and who can do what.  And he‘s going to—he‘s also decided that he‘s going to root out international terrorism wherever he finds it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s not terrorism, to have a nuclear weapon. 

(CROSSTALK)

HERSH:  Well, one of the things, one of the things they have going, and particularly in the civilian—the civilians who work in the Pentagon, they equate Iran with extreme terrorism, Hezbollah and...

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Fair enough.  Will the world buy this? 

HERSH:  I think their theory is, the theory is—and, actually, this is going beyond what I wrote. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

HERSH:  The theory is to come up with something hard from inside Iran.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

HERSH:  That can demonstrat beyond the question that they‘re cheating. 

Iran is—everybody—and, by the way, Europe believes Iran is looking for a weapon, too.  There‘s no question of that.  It is just a question of far they‘ve gone.

MATTHEWS:  But South Africa had nuclear weapons.  We never hit South Africa.  I just wonder about this incredible power we have now, moral power. 

HERSH:  George Bush wasn‘t president then, so we might have.  Who kows.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the threat.  What is the threat of Iran having nuclear weapons?  Obviously, Israel is their target in that region.  What threat do they pose to Europe?  I saw in your article there was talk about the weapons range of these missiles, including Europe. 

HERSH:  Well, the Israelis tell us that the—the Israelis think the only reason the Europeans are negotiating any way, in any point—one of their foreign ministers quoted—he spoke to David Remnick of—the editor of my magazine, who was in Israel the other week. 

And he said, the only reason the Europeans are interested in this is because the missiles, the Iranian missiles can hit Europe now.  Now they care.  The American position is interesting.  There are negotiations going on right now between the Europeans and the Iranians, with the Europeans saying, we‘ll give you all the goodies you want that were sanctioned, you‘re sanctioned from having now.

MATTHEWS:  So all carrots.

HERSH:  All carrots.  Get rid of the bomb.  We stay out of it.

And what I wrote in this article, what my friends tell me is, we think

·         the conservatives in the Pentagon and in the White House, they think these talks are going to go nowhere. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

HERSH:  And when they go nowhere, there‘s your window of opportunity. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me—bottom line, before we come back, Israel knocked out the nuclear facility when they had one back there in 1980.  Why don‘t we just give the quiet go-ahead, if we think it‘s a danger, to the country in the region most exposed, which is the state of Israel, and say go ahead and knock these babies out?

HERSH:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Why don‘t we do that?  Why do we do it?

HERSH:  Because we don‘t want Israel to do it. 

MATTHEWS:  Why not? 

HERSH:  I think we think that would be extremely precipitous to long-range interests of everybody, particularly Israel‘s, in the Middle East. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

HERSH:  So, the pressure point for us, Israel‘s pressure point for us

·         and I‘m taking this as far as I can go—because Israel...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, the reason I ask this—let‘s come back to this.  I want to talk about consequences. 

We‘ve learned in Iraq that these wars are not just wars that come in and then they go away.  We‘ve learned that wars continue.  We have a continuing war in Iraq.  What makes anybody think, we attack Iran, they say, oh, what a bad day we had and just take it?  They will grab our diplomats, like they did with Carter.  They will start beheading our people.  How do we know what they‘ll do next? 

HERSH:  Well, in order to get to a meeting and express that opinion, you would have to drink the Kool-Aid.  In order to go to a meeting, you have to drink the Kool-Aid.  And the Kool-Aid says you can‘t talk that way. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... step one.

We‘re good at step one.  I‘m worried about step two. 

We‘ll be back with Seymour Hersh to talk about that, what happens if we do attack the nuclear facilities in Iran?  What do they do in retaliation? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with investigative journalist Seymour Hersh. 

By the way, in a statement released today, the Pentagon said—quote

·         “Mr. Hersh‘s article is so riddled with errors of fundamental fact that the credibility of his entire piece is destroyed.”

You know, I read the entire press release.  It never quite cashiers your piece and says the main point isn‘t true, that we‘re involved in intel to sight targets for attack of possible nuclear installations in Iraq (sic).  I thought that was interesting.

HERSH:  You know, press statements are press statements. 

As—I‘ve done it.  I was a press secretary.  I never take them to my

·         I don‘t put them under my pillow. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about—you‘re a known liberal and a critic of the war.  Does that in any way underestimate or undermine your arguments here? 

HERSH:  I couldn‘t have been more critical of some of the things the Democrats did.  I‘m a journalist.  I just tell it—I don‘t want to get on a platform. 

But, listen, if you weren‘t critical of the Iraqi war, there‘s something wrong with you.  This is the easiest war to be critical I‘ve ever known.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Can I ask you if a lot of your sources were CIA? 

HERSH:  No.  You can ask me anything.  A lot of guys have left the

CIA.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  The charge is made that the CIA doesn‘t like the fact the Defense Department is getting all this new intel responsibility.  It should be in the CIA, and that‘s why these people are carping.

HERSH:  Chris, I‘ve been talking to guys who worked in and out of the CIA for 30 or 40 years.  So, the idea that there‘s some new influx, no.  In that sense, no, there‘s not all of a sudden a bunch of guys calling me up and saying, psst, I‘ve got all sorts of...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How solid are your sources on the key question of whether the president signed these findings?  Did he in fact authorize the United States to begin targeting sites in Iran? 

HERSH:  You know, this president is really hard to get to. 

My own hunch is, he‘s really more deeply involved than anybody knows in a lot of the day-to-day stuff.  We don‘t see it.  There‘s no question of presidential authority for what happened.  You have to have it.  There‘s always a question of how much did he actually look at the documents.  You know, there‘s always a sense of him being slightly detached. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

HERSH:  My guess is, my guess is on, when it come to this war and intelligence information, he‘s really up to snuff on it. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Seymour Hersh, “New Yorker,” big piece this week. 

When we return, the HARDBALL war council.  They‘re going to talk about this article.  General Wayne Downing, General Montgomery Meigs and Colonel Ken Allard react to Seymour Hersh‘s report in “The New Yorker” about these Iranian sites.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Two weeks before the Iraqi elections, insurgents kidnapped a Catholic archbishop in Mosul.  They decapitated two Shiites in public and killed more than 20 people in a series of attacks and suicide bombings throughout Iraq.  More on the violence in Iraq in a moment. 

But first, I want to ask my HARDBALL war council about Sy Hersh‘s report on U.S. covert missions in Iran.  Retired General Wayne Downing commanded the Special Operations Task Force during the first Gulf War.  Retired General Montgomery Meigs served as commander of the Iron Brigade during the first Gulf War.  He was also commander of the NATO peacekeeping force in Bosnia during the Kosovo campaign.  And retired Colonel Ken Allard is an MSNBC political analyst. 

General Downing, you first. 

What do you make of the report in “The New Yorker” by Seymour Hersh that the United States is actively involved in targeting sites for air attack, possible nuclear installations in the country of Iran? 

RET. GEN. WAYNE DOWNING, NBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Well, Chris, I would be surprised if we weren‘t doing something like that.  I think that‘s exactly what we ought to be doing.  We ought to be developing those targets as well as we can.  I‘m very surprised, however, to find something like this in “The New Yorker” magazine. 

That‘s very interesting, how that might have happened.  And was that some disgruntled person in government that was upset with the military doing these operations?  Or perhaps is this some kind of—perhaps a controlled leak to not only deter the Iranians, but perhaps also the Israelis from a preemptive strike.  So it‘s very interesting.

General Meigs, your surmise based upon this report?  And the thrust of it has not been denied by the president in his interview with David Gregory or by the Defense Department.  They‘ve argued over some of the points in the report, have not denied that the United States is pursuing a reconnaissance campaign to sight targets of possible nuclear installations in Iran. 

General Meigs.

RET. GEN. MONTGOMERY MEIGS, NBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Look, I agree with General Downing.  It would be very surprising to me if we were not pushing every bit of intelligence we could to try to figure out where the Iranian sites are and what they were up to.  So, no surprise there.

And I agree.  It‘s very starting that this kind of thing would come out of “The New Yorker” magazine.  You would want to keep it off the table. 

MATTHEWS:  But not so fast here.  Why are we targeting sites for air attack?  We wouldn‘t do that to Pakistan or India.  They have nuclear weapons, or France.  Why would we target Iran to hit in this case that they have nuclear weapons?  Why would we do that? 

MEIGS:  You always would do contingency plans.  And I‘m not sure if you are developing the intelligence you are necessarily targeting.  That‘s one of the uncertainties I want to go into the article to try to figure out. 

MATTHEWS:  But why is the United States the business of threatening Iraq—or Iran, rather—in the sense, we have already got one war front over there.  We have two counting Afghanistan, three counting our negotiations with regard to the Middle East.  Why are we opening up or even thinking of opening up a new front in that part of the world? 

MEIGS:  Great question.  Great question. 

You—clearly, you have to have the Iranians on board if you‘re going to control things in Afghanistan or Iraq.  But maybe we‘re trying to deter them.  Maybe we‘re trying to send them a message. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me to go Colonel Allard, the same question.

So, do you think it‘s what we‘re up to? 

COL. KEN ALLARD, NBC MILITARY ANALYST:  The Iranians are the apex of the evil triangle.  And, basically, what‘s happening right now are a couple of things, not the least of which is the fact that the CIA, as you know, has come under some scrutiny. 

You have people leaping out of that building with Porter Goss almost every other day.  And so what‘s happening right now is the fact that they are simply singing.  Very much, I think, that is what we‘re likely to find are the root of these kind of leaks.  And it is simply a power play between them and the Pentagon.  They resent the fact that not only in Iran right at the center of things, but they also resent the fact that they are not.  And they‘re protesting that in the only way they know how. 

MATTHEWS:  So the article is a leaked article, basically, angry CIA folk, agency officials who are angry at what they see as the hijacking of the intelligence capacity of this government and mission of this government by the Defense Department?

ALLARD:  Absolutely.  I mean, the article itself is very narrowly sourced.  And more than that, it seems to be very, very much a creature of maybe a couple of people that come out of the intelligence community.  And I would be very surprised if you don‘t hear the sound of various axes being ground with that piece.

MATTHEWS:  General Meigs, the axes being ground, I would like to suggest to you, are ideological.  It is the cautious approach of the CIA compared to the more hawkish approach of the Defense Department, civilians especially.  Is that what the fight is about here, why the leaking may be going on?

MEIGS:  Well, it‘s hard to say.  I can‘t verify the leaking. 

I can tell you, though, there‘s been a lot of hurt feeling between not just the CIA and the group that was formed, rMDNM_NOSD (ph), before the war started to try to improve the intelligence.  And, remember, a lot of their early intelligence about Iraq was wrong. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

Well, how much—you hear these—I read everything in the papers, like you gentlemen do.  And there‘s the Special Plans Office in the Defense Department.  That‘s been denied as an intelligence operation.  There was a British press report that we had a special unit of intelligence working directly under the civilian leadership at the top of the Defense Department.  It was working with the Israelis.  They had a special intelligence operation gathering. 

You read these reports.  Does anybody have any sense of what, how interesting is it over there? 

General Downing, how many intelligence units are there in the Defense Department? 

DOWNING:  Well, Chris, that‘s the topic of the hour. 

You just listed a lot of them.  Certainly, there‘s talk about now a new four-star head of U.S. intelligence as kind of a counterweight to this national intelligence directorate.  I don‘t know how this leak occurred.  But, certainly, it may not be ideological.  It may just be an old-fashioned turf battle between the CIA, defending what they normally have done, and this very aggressive Pentagon, who is moving out very, very quickly, to establish some new ways of doing things which they think fit the 21st century. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think about the...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m sorry.  I want to ask you the ideological of the reporter.  Sy Hersh is a liberal.  I‘ve had him on tonight. 

I want to ask you this.  Do you think this is a preemptive effort by a liberal journalist to try to encourage—I‘m sorry, to discourage the United States from using its weaponry to attack Iran? 

DOWNING:  Well, Chris, you just threw in the fifth reason.  Sy Hersh is a very resourceful journalist.  He comes up with just some fantastic things.  I‘ve been amazed over the last 20 years with some of the stuff he‘s able to dig up.  So, that could be true, too.  But it could just be this old-fashioned turf battle. 

It may well have been self-leaked by the administration as a warning to the Iranians and also, Chris, to perhaps tell the Israelis to keep their hands off and not do a preemptive strike on those facilities, which, by the way, will be very, very difficult because they‘re so well spread out and protected. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the question is whether Israel is going to take such a move.  It‘s done it before, back in ‘80.  But that was when there was one site.  Now there is a multiplicity of sites, Colonel Allard. 

DOWNING:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Does Israel have the capacity to hit that many sites at once with its air force? 

ALLARD:  I think they probably do. 

And the thing that‘s awfully interesting about this piece is the fact that what it unmistakably does is to signal whoever is reading it that that option very much remains on the table.  In some odd ways, it may also be intended very much to underline the diplomatic standpoint, because there‘s no point at all in negotiating the diplomacy aspect of this unless the military option is immediately at hand.  And it is. 

MATTHEWS:  What is the—just do you any of you gentlemen, do any of you have a clear sense of what would be the use of a nuclear option by Tehran?  What would they use it for, General Downing?  What purpose would - - the thing with nuclear weapons is, you use them and once you use them, you‘re the most hated country on the planet, potentially?  Do people intend to use it or have it as a fallback or whatever? 

DOWNING:  Well, Chris, just to have the weapon makes you a player. 

ALLARD:  Yes. 

DOWNING:  It would make Iran perceived in an entirely different way, whether or not they ever used those weapons.  They‘ve seen Pakistan get the weapon.  The Indians have the weapon.  They want the weapon, because the Israelis have it.  The Israelis, of course, are scared to death of this.

MATTHEWS:  But Israel has it as a kind of failsafe.  They have it sort of their fallback.  If you ever attack really us, we have it to come back at you.  Isn‘t that the Israeli mission for their nuclear weapons?  If you actually do have an all-out attack on us, we can hit you back?

DOWNING:  Sure.  Yes.  And—yes, and, of course, the Iranians can say the same thing. 

But the other thing is, Chris, you‘ve seen a lot of steam now over 25 years go out of the Iranian revolution, I mean, predictably.  The mullahs are casting about for news ways to assert themselves. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

DOWNING:  What better way than to announce they have those nuclear weapons?  And it makes everybody come to the table.  And mainly, Chris, it makes us come to the table.  The many Americans are there at the table now.  We want to negotiate with them.  If there is an issue we‘re working with the Europeans on, it is this one. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, if it is a bargaining chip, I wonder what they want. 

Anyway, thank you very much, General Wayne Downing, General Montgomery Meigs and Colonel Ken Allard.

Up next, former 9/11 Commissioner Tim Roemer on why he wants the job of Democratic Party chairman. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, former 9/11 Commissioner Tim Roemer on the Condoleezza Rice hearings and the future of Democratic Party.  Plus, “Saturday Night Live” plays HARDBALL.

We‘ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Next month, the Democratic Party picks a new party chairman.  Former U.S. Congressman and 9/11 Commissioner Tim Roemer wants the job. 

OK.  Why you? 

TIMOTHY ROEMER, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR NATIONAL POLICY:  Why me? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROEMER:  Well, some days I wonder, Chris. 

This is going to be one of the toughest jobs in the history of the Democratic Party.  I want it for a couple reasons.  One, I want to win.  I‘m tired of this party losing. 

MATTHEWS:  Win the presidency next time.

ROEMER:  No, not just the presidency.  I want to win Senate seats.  I want to win House seats.  I want to win mayoral seats and governor seats. 

Listen, if we don‘t win locally, we don‘t win nationally.  Churchill once said, you don‘t win wars by evacuation. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

ROEMER:  And we have evacuated the South, evacuated large parts of the Midwest.  We don‘t know how to talk to rural voters.  We‘re not talking to people going to church. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, this Dunkirk began under Clinton in ‘94, when all of a sudden, Clinton was so popular, but he just basically cashiered the entire Democratic Party in both houses and you haven‘t won them back since.  Was it Clinton‘s fault? 

ROEMER:  No, it‘s not Clinton fault.

MATTHEWS:  Why not?  Why don‘t you pin the tail on the donkey here?  Wasn‘t it Bill and Hillary and their health care plan and then the screwing around later with Monica that caused your respect any respect in this country? 

ROEMER:  No, Chris.  You‘re wrong on that point.  I think President Clinton...

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m just going by the history. 

ROEMER:  President Clinton did a lot right. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, how come we went in with both houses of Congress and left with neither?

ROEMER:  Well, he did a lot right.

MATTHEWS:  Well, how come he lost both houses of Congress?

(CROSSTALK)

ROEMER:  Well, he lost both houses—it wasn‘t just him.  This is candidate recruitment.  This is our message as a party.  This is party-building, to make sure that our parties and states in the South and the Midwest are strong, can recruit and train good candidates, that we have a viable message on national security, on job security, and on Social Security. 

If you‘re not able to convey what our party is for, Chris, and all we turn into is the anti-Bush party, you‘re not going to win elections. 

MATTHEWS:  How can you win on values when you have got a record of a president who had a relationship with an intern and that‘s the last time you were in the White House, when you messed it up?  How can you walk past that without—when is the Democratic Party going to say, we were embarrassed as a party by the Clintons‘ behavior in the White House, especially Bill?  When are you going to say that? 

ROEMER:  Well, certainly, there were some of us in Congress that were not pleased with what happened to the president and what he did. 

And many of us, Chris, talk about our values. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROEMER:  I have a great aunt who is a Catholic nun and who said to me when I was growing up, she used to say to me, you‘re either going to grow up to be a priest—and that wasn‘t for me—or you‘re going to go into politics and help people, help the poor. 

For my generation, getting involved in public service in the Democratic Party, that is concerned about people, was the answer, to talk with our values of faith, to talk about the value of a job, to go out in the suburbs where I grew up in Indiana, Chris, and talk about things such as why we need to help each other in this country, that it‘s not just about the individual.  It‘s about opportunity for all of us.

MATTHEWS:  Two questions about the last election.  How come the president—presidential candidate of your party did not come out, call the war in Iraq a blunder and run against it?  How come he was metsa-metsing (ph) the whole thing?  He never really said where he stood. 

ROEMER:  I think that the Republican Party portrayed him with that one clip.  As Karl Rove said, it was the gift that kept on giving.  And they said he was a flip-flopper. 

MATTHEWS:  The windsurfing ad.

ROEMER:  Senator Kerry needed to fight back.  He needed to be tough. 

MATTHEWS:  Would he have been better off if he had said the war was wrong, it was a blunder? 

ROEMER:  I think if he felt that way.  One of the things people have to do, Chris, is talk from the heart and have spine to fight for... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you know what I noticed was missing?  The old Hubert Humphrey kind of Democrat or Tip O‘Neill Democrat. 

I never heard Kerry once talk like he identified with the working guy and working woman in Ohio, for example, talked about minimum wage, talked about job security, talked about the things that people really have to worry about every day of their lives.  It was too elite.  What do you think? 

ROEMER:  Chris, I come from...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t want to attack anybody.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t want to criticize anybody, do you?

ROEMER:  I come from the heartland. 

MATTHEWS:  I know you do.

ROEMER:  And I believe in job security.  I have people that killed themselves when they lost a job.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

ROEMER:  Committed suicide. 

And when you just talk about jobs as statistics, you‘re in real trouble.  When you can talk to people about—I fought against NAFTA and Fast Track because they exported good quality jobs and families overseas. 

MATTHEWS:  Good luck.  Keep selling.

ROEMER:  Thank you.  I will.

MATTHEWS:  Tim Roemer.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You did a great job on the 9/11 Commission.  We appreciate you coming on this show so often.  So that much of it, we like. 

When we come back, HARDBALL, “Saturday Night Live”-style.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back. 

This weekend, our friends at “Saturday Night Live” played HARDBALL. 

Take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”)   

DARRELL HAMMOND, ACTOR:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  I‘m Chris Matthews. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

HAMMOND:  Well, folks, it might be too early to tell but 2005 is looking like it is going to be a good one.  Abroad, you have got Iraq sadly becoming more dangerous than the backstage place at the Vibe Awards.  Here at home, I‘m turning on the football game to cheer myself up, I‘m treated to a grown man rubbing his rear end all over the goal posts.  Can it get any worse?

Here to discuss the lowlights of the year so far, he recently announced his candidacy for chairmanship of the Democratic Party, former governor of Vermont, Howard Dean. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Glad to be here, Chris. 

HAMMOND:  Yes, that makes one of us. 

(LAUGHTER)

HAMMOND:  Governor Dean, what makes you think you can effectively lead the Democratic Party?  Some say it is that deranged look in your eye?  Others say it your tendency to start screaming at inappropriate moments. 

Your thoughts? 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Chris, the Democratic Party needs to stop nominating candidates that alienate voters.  I believe that, as party chairman, I can alienate both Republicans and Democrats alike.  And, god willing, I‘ll do it in the most publicly humiliating way possible!  Woo-ha!

(LAUGHTER)

HAMMOND:  Good God.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Democrats need a charismatic leader, now more than ever, someone you can trust, someone you would let hold your baby.  I want your babies in my hand, America.  Give me your babies.  I want them.

(LAUGHTER)

HAMMOND:  Man, you weren‘t kidding about that public humiliation stuff. 

Speaking of public humiliation, our next guest was recently revealed to have accepted $240,000 from Rod Paige and the Bush White House to promote its programs on his radio show.  Please welcome disgraced former journalist—and when I say journalist, please know that I‘m using hand quotation to indicate sarcasm—Armstrong Williams. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Thanks for having me, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  You realize you‘re not being paid to be here, Mr. Williams?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Say what now? 

(LAUGHTER)

HAMMOND:  Mr. Williams, how can you possibly consider yourself an unbiased voice when you‘re clearly on the governor‘s payroll? 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Chris, I would hardly call myself biased.  I accepted money to support something I would have supported anyway.  Does that make me biased?  Does that make me a sellout?  That‘s like saying that new Snickers Pop‘Ables aren‘t chewy, chocolaty and delicious. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  They are delicious, Chris. 

HAMMOND:  Geez, Louise, Williams, is there anyone you won‘t shill for? 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  I have standards, Chris, just like new Always panty-liners. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Yes, they got the highest leak protection standards on the market.  Always, the best way for a woman to get through even the heaviest times of her month. 

(LAUGHTER)

HAMMOND:  Good lord, Williams.  I don‘t know who is a more annoying salesman, you or that talking lizard that tries to sell me car insurance. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Are you talking about Geico insurance, Chris? 

Because, you know, one call can save you up to 15 percent or less... 

(LAUGHTER)

HAMMOND:  All right.  All right.  All right.  All right.  All right. 

We get it. 

Moving on, the biggest story of the year is the devastating tsunami that ravaged much of the South Pacific.  Here to discuss how to prevent further disasters is former senator, current Fox News contributor and medically diagnosed nut job, Zell Miller. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  It is simply wonderful to be here, Chris. 

(LAUGHTER)

HAMMOND:  Now we‘re talking program. 

Senator Miller, knowing what we know now, how can we possibly avoid such destruction from future tsunami? 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Tsunamis.  I‘m sick of hearing about tsunamis.  Where I‘m from, we call them waves.  And there‘s one thing we did when a tsunami came a-walking up on to our property.  We boxed its ears and told it to get.  And if that didn‘t work, well, then we get would out our daddy‘s old 12-gauge and put a few buckshots its hide.

(LAUGHTER) 

HAMMOND:  All right, now, let me get this straight.  If a tsunami comes, you‘re going to punch it and then shoot it. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Don‘t interrupt me, Matthews.  You and your America-hating tsunami friends with your underwater tectonic disturbances and your remarkable wavelength-to-amplitude ratios.  I ain‘t scared of you!

(LAUGHTER)

HAMMOND:  I wish I could say the same. 

That‘s about all the time we have. 

Final thoughts, Governor No-neck? 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  America, you‘ve seen the new face of the Democratic Party.  And it looks like this. 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

HAMMOND:  Armstrong Williams, what else you selling? 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Chris, the American people know where I stand. 

So, I will leave you with just one word: Aflac.

(LAUGHTER)

HAMMOND:  Roscoe P. Coltrane, go.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Run and hide, tsunamis.  Go back to your stinking tsunami holes, where you came from.  I‘m coming to get you!

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

HAMMOND:  Good gravy. 

When we come back, Armstrong Williams sings the praises of the new Domino‘s double melt, while Zell Miller fistfights a tornado.

(LAUGHTER)

HAMMOND:  Until then, my friends, you‘ve been watching HARDBALL.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

MATTHEWS:  I‘ve never seen Zell Miller so calm. 

Join me tomorrow morning for coverage of the Condoleezza Rice confirmation hearings beginning at 9:00 a.m. Eastern.  And also tomorrow, MSNBC‘s special inauguration coverage begins.  HARDBALL is live from the viewing stand at Lafayette Park, just outside the White House.  We‘re taking you behind the scenes and right to the door of the White House for this inaugural celebration.

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

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

END   

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