updated 2/18/2005 9:08:58 AM ET 2005-02-18T14:08:58

Guest: Ed Royce, Zanny Minton Beddoes, Dana Milbank, Don Cheadle, Dana Rohrabacher, Sheila Jackson Lee

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  President Bush names former U.N. Ambassador John Negroponte to be America‘s first intelligence director.  But have the Bush policies made America safer?  Or did the war in Iraq create more terrorists? 

And a mysterious death of a young Marine in boot camp. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL.  

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews. 

Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte dealt with the insurgency in Iraq and now he‘ll deal with the president every day as his new national intelligence director.  President Bush cited Ambassador Negroponte‘s service in Iraq as one of his qualifications for the new position. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  John understands America‘s global intelligence needs because he spent the better part of his life in our foreign service and is now serving in distinction in the sensitive post of our nation‘s first ambassador to a free Iraq. 

And his service in Iraq during these past few historic months has given him something that will prove an incalculable advantage for an intelligence chief, an unvarnished and up-close look at a deadly enemy. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  The move comes on the heels of testimony by CIA Director Porter Goss, who said the war in Iraq is being used to recruit new terrorists.  Have the Bush policies taken together made us safer? 

Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher of California is a member of the International Relations Committee.  And Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas is a member of the Homeland Security Committee. 

Let me start with Congresswoman Jackson Lee. 

If you look at everything that‘s been done bureaucratically in creating this new intelligence post, and our war in Iraq, put it all together, do we have less of a terrorist threat now than we had when we started? 

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS:  Well, I think the Congress did the right thing by passing the intelligence bill as pushed and fostered by the 9/11 families. 

But as it relates to our policies, absolutely not.  And Ambassador Negroponte is a decent fellow.  He has done a good job as ambassador in Iraq.  But he was part of the flawed policies that led us to the decision to go to Iraq in the first place.  And absolutely, at this point in time, we know that this country does not have an integrated terrorist watch list.  It does not have an effective way of sharing intelligence amongst the 15 intelligence agencies. 

And, certainly, it doesn‘t have an effective terrorist risk assessment program in place.  And so we‘re far behind in terms of committing ourselves or making ourselves valuable as having done the right thing for the American people. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Congressman Rohrabacher. 

If you look at what Porter Goss said today, the new CIA director appointed by the president, he said that the war in Iraq has created a whole new generation of terrorists.  Even if you put together a new national intelligence apparatus at home, aren‘t you facing a greater enemy today than you were, say, two or three years ago? 

REP. DANA ROHRABACHER ®, CALIFORNIA:  Well, I guess that‘s like saying we better not fight the German army as it invades another country because it might make more Nazis if we stand up to them. 

No, the regime of Saddam Hussein was a monstrous regime.  It not only threatened its neighbors, but it butchered its own people.  And now we have a chance to prove to the Arab world that democracy is an alternative.  And it won‘t be an alternative unless we have the courage—and our president has that courage and that tenacity—to stand up in times of crisis and not postpone the elections, not cut and run, but prove to the Arab world that we have got courage and believe in democracy. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But, terrorists—Congressman, terrorists are not Germans.  They‘re not an ethnic group.  They‘re people of a certain far-out political point of view.  They want to kill us and they want to kill Israel or whatever. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I just want to go back to my original question. 

ROHRABACHER:  Nazis were far-out political people, too. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But they tended to be Germans, didn‘t they?  They were Germans. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do we have more terrorists facing us now than we did before this war in Iraq? 

JACKSON LEE:  I think we do, Chris.  I absolutely think we do.  And I don‘t want to go over the decisions made about the war in Iraq, going into it or not going into it.

Right now, we have a crisis and a concern about the intelligence system in America.  Right now, we have an appointee not yet confirmed by the United States Senate.  I hope they‘ll ask the ambassador a lot of hard questions, certainly, his potential or possible involvement in Iran-Contra. 

But, more importantly, I think it should be asked how he intends to coordinate the 15 intelligence agencies.  How does he intend to work with an already cut budget in this very tight budget era of the 2006?  How does he intend to use mostly a diplomacy experience with intelligence agencies?  He doesn‘t have that much intelligence background, though he was the deputy national security director.

(CROSSTALK)

JACKSON LEE:  But he doesn‘t have that much background.  The key is...

(CROSSTALK)

ROHRABACHER:  To answer your question, Chris...

(CROSSTALK)

JACKSON LEE:  How do we begin to work ahead of time or get ahead of the question of the crisis of getting our intelligence agencies to work together?  That will be his challenge.

(CROSSTALK)

ROHRABACHER:  To answer your question directly, Chris, the bottom line is, when you stand up to evil, yes, you might find yourself in a position where you‘re fighting more evil people who have been activated by the fact that you‘ve stood against evil. 

Negroponte went down to Latin America at a time when communism was threatening to take over Latin America.  And I might add, the Democrats were nitpicking us and backbiting us on that one, too.  But we saved that country—or that area of the world from communism.  And communism collapsed because we made stands like that. 

Now, if we stand against this evil of jihadism and we mobilize the moderate Muslims in the world by making this stand, we‘re going to win this battle, too.  But the Democrats have got to learn that when American soldiers are being killed, it is not the time to keep nitpicking and trying to get president to back down every time we make a stand.

(CROSSTALK)

JACKSON LEE:  I‘m glad my good friend is always using examples of how they have ridden in on the white horses and saved the day.  They haven‘t saved the day. 

And Nicaragua and Central America is still in as many turmoil as it was before. 

ROHRABACHER:  That‘s baloney.

JACKSON LEE:  But, as I said, I think that we need to go forward. 

Clearly, terrorists are being made every day in Iraq.  But the election has taken place.  Intelligence will be extremely important, both in terms of our international safety, but also our homeland security.  And we have not done job we have needed to do.  We don‘t have the borders secure.  We don‘t have enough knowledge about who is coming across the borders. 

So, the director of national intelligence will have his hands full if confirmed by the United States Senate. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Congresswoman Jackson Lee, could you name a better person to be head of the new intelligence apparatus than Negroponte, Ambassador Negroponte?  Do you have a better candidate? 

JACKSON LEE:  I guess, if I was president, I would have spent a lot of time considering that.  I indicated to you that he has experience in the diplomatic arena.  He has some background in intelligence. 

The key, is I think, any of our public servants could have, with the same kind of experience, could have done the job. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But I have to ask you now.  No, Congresswoman, you can‘t criticize an appointment unless you‘ve got a better one.  Now, you‘ve been in Congress for a while now.  You must know some top intelligence people.  Can‘t you give me the name of one top intelligence person you think would have done a better job than the president‘s man named today?

JACKSON LEE:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  Name one.

JACKSON LEE:  I think Jane Harman—I think Jane Harman, who has been the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee for a number of years...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

JACKSON LEE:  ... would have been equally, equally able to do the job because she understands the issues. 

The issues are coordination, collaboration, getting agencies to speak to each other, sharing it with federal and local officials, which we have not done.  This whole right-to-know question has to be assessed.  But more importantly, being able to fight with the president—and I mean that—on the necessary needs, the funding needs for an intelligence system that really works. 

And right now, we‘re in a budget process that cuts the budget for intelligence needs.  And, therefore, I hope the ambassador, if approved, can really argue on behalf of the intelligence community...

(CROSSTALK)

JACKSON LEE:  ... for America. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Congressman—I‘m sorry.  Go ahead, Congressman. 

ROHRABACHER:  Negroponte is a terrific choice. 

As I say, he‘s already had experience in a crisis mode.  And for anybody to claim that the democracies that are now thriving in Latin America are no different than what was going on back during the 1980s, when the communists poured billions of dollars into insurgencies down there, just doesn‘t understand the history. 

Negroponte helped save Latin America.  He is going to help in this situation.  There‘s no one the president could have picked better.  And now we have also got a great CIA director, Porter Goss, who is at work as well.  And I think that we are a lot safer now than we were when this president took power. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

ROHRABACHER:  And on 9/11.

(CROSSTALK)

JACKSON LEE:  Well, naturally, he would think that all Republicans are the best for the job. 

But let me say, we want Americans that will work together with Americans, Democratic or Republican, to do what is right.  My question to the administration and to the ambassador, who, as I indicated, is a fine diplomat, is whether or not they‘ll be able to tell the president the truth, provide the funding that is necessary for the intelligence agencies.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

JACKSON LEE:  And collaborate, so that we can secure the homeland. 

MATTHEWS:  Dana Rohrabacher, I want to ask you how about it is going to work out. 

You know, all through our modern history, all through our lives, when the president wanted to know what was going on, he called in the CIA director.  What‘s going on in Jamaica?  What‘s going on in Indonesia?  I hear something is on there.  Who is he going to call in now?  Is he going to call Negroponte or call in Porter Goss? 

ROHRABACHER:  Well, that‘s the trouble.  And I think that this reform of the intelligence, supposed reform, which—of our intelligence system has only added another area of—layer of bureaucracy, is going to complicate things.  And I was not in favor of that. 

And I think that what we needed was not George Tenet and some of the incompetent people that were running the CIA...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROHRABACHER:  ... during the 1990s.  We needed to get some tough guys like Negroponte involved in the system. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you a question.  Dana, Congressman, you were very close to a president, Ronald Reagan.  Based upon your experience at the White House, as a member of the United States Congress, who would you call on if you wanted to know what was going on in Madrid, in London, wherever? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Would you call this new super numerary, this guy Negroponte.  Or would you call the CIA chief? 

ROHRABACHER:  I would call Porter Goss, the CIA chief.  And I‘m sorry that we were—you know, we were put in this position in Congress where you‘ve got to do something. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  I...

(CROSSTALK)

ROHRABACHER:  Well, in this case, we added a new layer of bureaucracy. 

It is going to complicate the situation. 

JACKSON LEE:  I don‘t think so. 

ROHRABACHER:  Porter Goss is doing a great job—by the way, Porter Goss is doing a great job at the CIA.

JACKSON LEE:  I don‘t think it‘s a layer of bureaucracy.  I think it‘s coordinating.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Congresswoman, who would you call on?  I have to ask you this quickly to give you equal time.  Who would you call on if you were the president and needed info?  Would you go to the CIA director or the new national intelligence director? 

JACKSON LEE:  Chris, I would call both of them.  That‘s what this is all about, coordinating, so we can know one hand knows what the other hand is doing. 

And we will fail.  We will fail the American people if we don‘t coordinate our intelligence processes and to make the world safer, but also the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  OK.  OK.

Thank you very much, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher of California and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, a fake news reporter, a real fake news reporter, who kissed up to the president and smeared the president‘s opponents was allowed inside the White House press briefings.  But was the Bush administration behind letting him in the door?  Was he a ringer?  Is he a ringer? 

And, later, the mysterious death of a Marine recruit at Parris Island.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, how did a fake news reporter from a right-wing Web site get inside the White House press briefings and presidential news conferences? 

HARDBALL returns with the story of the mysterious Jeff Gannon after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

People are wondering how a fake news reporter, a fraud, a ringer who worked at a right-wing Web site was able to enter the White House briefing room and ask questions of the president of the United States his press secretary. 

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster has this report. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMES GUCKERT, REPORTER:  I‘m going to follow up on Connie‘s (ph) question with specifics. 

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  He called himself Jeff Gannon and said he worked for a news organization.  But for two years, he acted like a ringer, teeing up White House talking points. 

GUCKERT:  We know that the president is a man of faith.  A liberal radio talk show host referred to her as Aunt Jemima. 

MCCLELLAN:  Jeff.

GUCKERT:  I would like to comment on the angry mob that surrounded Karl Rove‘s house on Sunday. 

SHUSTER:  Last month, President Bush called on him during a press conference. 

GUCKERT:  Hillary Clinton was talking about the economy being on the verge of collapse.  Well, how are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality? 

SHUSTER:  But here‘s a reality check.  Jeff Gannon is really Jeff Guckert.  The White House says he didn‘t have a permanent press credential, so every day he wanted in, somebody working for President Bush had to call the Secret Service and give the agents Guckert‘s Social Security number and full name, not the phony alias Guckert used to play journalist. 

MCCLELLAN:  Go, Jeff. 

SHUSTER:  A more in-depth background check might have revealed this.  Jeff Guckert is linked to several pornographic Internet sites, including HotMilitaryStud.com and WorkingBoys.net.  He is alleged to have advertised himself as a $200-an-hour gay escort.  And “The Wilmington News Journal” reports that, in the early ‘90s, Guckert was late in paying more than $20,000 in personal income tax. 

The larger issue, though, is Guckert‘s White House access for nearly two years. 

MCCLELLAN:  Go ahead, Jeff. 

SHUSTER:  Guckert had been repeatedly rejected for a credential on Capitol Hill.  Reporters there found that Talon News is actually a collection of political Web sites operated by a wealthy Texas Republican. 

But White House access is controlled not by reporters, but by the presidential press secretary and his staff.  Scott McClellan says he only learned Guckert‘s real name in the last few weeks, but McClellan told one interviewer—quote—“People use aliases all the time in life, from journalists to actors.”

Still, last year, Guckert wrote a story where he described asking former U.S. Ambassador Joe Wilson about a specific internal government memo.  The memo was classified.  It was out of reach to most of the White House press corps. 

Guckert is now the fourth so-called journalist shown to have been on the administration‘s payroll or serving as a free propagandist.  Last month, when Armstrong Williams admitted getting paid to promote administration programs, President Bush said it was wrong. 

BUSH:  Our agenda ought to be able to stand on its own two feet.  And I‘m confident you‘ll be, over the course of the next four years, willing to give our different policies an objective look, won‘t you?  Yes.  I can see that.  Yes, sir? 

GUCKERT:  Thank you.  Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the U.S. economy. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  Yes, that was Jeff Guckert who President Bush called on right after the president talked about objectivity.  Never mind the irony, though.  Everybody in Washington knows that reporters who ask tough questions of this administration are often punished.

And those who tee up the White House talking points are rewarded.  The question is, with Jeff Guckert, did the reward go too far? 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.

Dana Milbank of “The Washington Post” is a former White House who sat in many a White House press briefing with Guckert.  And MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan worked in the White House under Presidents Nixon and Reagan and had extensive dealings with the press corps back then. 

Let me go to Dana Milbank.

You are Dana Milbank, I presume?

Dana, is that you?

DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: 

Yes, I...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t have any aliases or AKAs or other names you go

by? 

MILBANK:  I do some work on—some journalistic work for HotMilitaryStuds.com. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Have you ever heard of a reporter who works for a news organization of any kind who operates under an alias? 

MILBANK:  Look.  People have nicknames.  But I don‘t know of any whose name I don‘t actually know in the first place. 

It was a little strange, what Scott McClellan said there, because, of course, everybody in the press office, who is clearing him in, should know his name.  And generally, pen names are—you generally know who the person‘s real name is as well. 

MATTHEWS:  But why would the White House let him in under one name in terms of security, clearing him in through his Social Security number and his true identity and true name and, at the same time, call him by another name in briefings? 

MILBANK:  Well, who knows?  It suggests that it was playing along with a ruse there. 

Now, in fact, it is of marginal value to the White House to do this.  There are plenty of genuine conservative journalists who work for real media outlets there in the White House.  But it does, as David noted, following the Armstrong Williams case...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Sure.  Well, teeing up all those softball questions for McClellan.  And I don‘t know.  We couldn‘t get anybody from HotMilitaryStud.com, so we got Pat Buchanan here. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I am going to ask you, what is this connection?

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Look, I had to moonlight as well in the early years, Chris. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I was a Capitol Cop, but I wasn‘t Dirk Diggler.  This guy is—what is the story here?  You‘re here—you‘ll defend anything, right? 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Well, I was prepared to defend, but, as a matter of fact, I think the White House handled itself fairly well. 

I had assumed he had a White House pass.  When you get a White House pass...

MATTHEWS:  Under a different name.

BUCHANAN:  Well, no, here‘s the thing.

With a White House pass, here‘s what you get it for.  They give White House passes on a priority list.  The ones that go to the briefing every single day, got to have them, because you don‘t want to be calling in every day.  And eventually they will run down and they get them.  Then “The New York Times” and other bureaus, they get a set number.  I remember NPR had four or five.  And they called for one for Daniel Schorr when he went there.  We said no.  We‘re not going to give you another.  You can...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Did you have any ringers in the Nixon White House or Reagan White House, anybody you planted in the White House press room? 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  There were people, reporters and columnists and others, who were deeply devoted to Nixon, who—and they‘re people who we would go to and say, look, the president has got something to say on this issue. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure, because they represented a news organization. 

BUCHANAN:  They were legitimate columnists and commentators. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Well, how does that compare to this? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, we have got a new world of journalism, Chris.  You have got Web sites, like—I mean, you‘ve got Andrew Sullivan, who does a Web site, Salon.com and all these new things. 

MATTHEWS:  But why is this guy operating under an alias? 

BUCHANAN:  I don‘t know. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Then why would you defend it? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, but the point is...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Pat, a byline is a byline.  You put your name on the article, your street cred on that article and your good name.  If it is somebody else‘s name on the article, what does it possibly mean? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, I think—look, as long as the Secret Service knows who this guy is, it doesn‘t bother me that he‘s using a different name that he writes under. 

MATTHEWS:  Does it bother you that the White House is playing ball with what looks like a ringer, a guy asking phony questions that are softballs and teeing up stupid questions for the White House press secretary?

BUCHANAN:  So what?  They got—McClellan is answering the questions and the president is answering the questions.  You get the same—you‘re going to get an answer from the president of the United States.  And legitimate reporters...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What would you do if this were the other side doing this? 

BUCHANAN:  My guess is that...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Would you say—if you could break this story in a column of yours and you dug this thing up, that they had a ringer in there in, say, the Clinton White House, wouldn‘t you think that a good story? 

BUCHANAN:  Sure.  But Democrats put guys in Republican campaigns to ask questions.  They all come up to you.  They stick a microphone to your face.  And this guy is not a journalist.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I do—I think that‘s fair. 

BUCHANAN:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  Well, during campaigns, you should be allowed to put one of your people to ask the toughest questions at the other press conference, because that‘s how you get the answers. 

BUCHANAN:  But this...

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, more with Pat Buchanan and Dana Milbank.  We‘ll find out if it‘s true here.

And still ahead, actor Don Cheadle, he‘s coming here on the crisis in Sudan and his Oscar-nominated role in “Hotel Rwanda.” 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with “The Washington Post”‘s Dana Milbank and with Pat Buchanan. 

We‘re talking about this sort of mysterious phantom of a reporter who shows up in White House press rooms.  David Shuster just a piece on him where you see this guy asking questions of Scott McClellan day after day after day under an alias.  You see the president of the United States picking him out in the crowd and particularly starting with him in that one scene, as if he were a ringer put in there to ask the right questions and get the right stuff on television. 

Let me just end—I want to go to Dana quickly and let him go.  And then I want to ask Pat about the history of dirty tricks.  He knows something about these things. 

Let me ask you, Dana, is this bothering people in the press?  Do they want this guy out of the room? 

MILBANK:  Well, I know it bothered people a year and a half ago when we first started noticing this. 

But it is not his ideology.  It wasn‘t the conservatism that bothered

it.  It was, who is this guy and who does he represent?  The fact of the

matter, he‘s an extraordinary case.  But there‘s a dozen other characters -

·         I call them foils—in the White House pressing room that are sort of questionable...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is  Lester Kinsolving still in there? 

MILBANK:  Yes.  Lester gets a question almost every day.  And they‘re as off the wall as anything Gannon came up with. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

Let me ask you, Pat—go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  ... bring up Lester.  Lester was there with Nixon.  He was tremendously tough on Nixon during Watergate and tough on all of those guys, asking some of the hardest questions.  He used to be a columnist.  Now he has got a radio show.  But, look, if you come in there and you want to question the press secretary every day, and Dana...

MATTHEWS:  But isn‘t true there‘s are a lot of characters in there? 

It‘s a real menagerie of people. 

BUCHANAN:  Sure.  Sure.  I mean, May Craig was there.  And Kennedy used to call on her.  And Sarah McClendon would have a question.  I used to sit with Reagan.  And we would have a—play where they all were in the East Room.  We would say, look out for him, sir.  He‘s over there.  Look out for him.  And you might ask him a question. 

MATTHEWS:  So you think it‘s healthy to have more than one joker in the deck? 

BUCHANAN:  I say it is harmless. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.Do you think it is harmless, Dana? 

MILBANK:  No. 

You know, what the problem is, it is when Mike McCurry let the TV cameras in there.  It turned the White House briefing into a three-ring circus.  They‘re useless for information.  And, in fact, you can often find serious news organizations skipping the things and letting the characters have their day. 

MATTHEWS:  Whoa.  I like that. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well...

BUCHANAN:  You‘ve got the press secretary.  He is up there saying things.

MATTHEWS:  Somebody is right here.  Somebody is wrong. 

You‘re wrong this time, Pat.

BUCHANAN:  Someone has got to cover it.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, Pat Buchanan defending the undefensible.  And Dana Milbank speaking for straight journalism against, what it‘s called, MilitaryHotBodies.com?

Pat, are you—never mind.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  General Bernard Trainor will be here to talk about the rigors of boot camp after a Marine recruit was found dead at Parris Island.  Serious stuff. 

And, later, actor Don Cheadle is nominated for an Academy Award for his brilliant performance in “Hotel Rwanda.”  He is also going to be here after visiting Sudan—the Sudan—and seeing the refugee crisis firsthand.  And we‘ll be here—and he‘ll be here to tell us about it, what he saw over there in Africa.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Anyone who has been through it will tell that you boot camp is tough, very tough.  But when does training cross the line from hard-core to life-threatening?  The issue has come to the fore with the death of a Marine recruit. 

Our NBC station in Columbia, South Carolina, WIS-TV, first reported this story.

And we get our report tonight from NBC‘s Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski—Mik.

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, this is a tragic story about a young Marine recruit whose family says that, when he joined the Marines, he really had no idea what he was getting into. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKLASZEWSKI (voice-over):  The Marine recruit seen in the distance walking into the picture is 19-year-old Jason Tharp the day before he died. 

An autopsy indicates Tharp drowned last week during water survival training at the Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina.  But video shot the day before by NBC affiliate WIS-TV in Columbia, South Carolina, shows Tharp visibly shaken, almost terrified, taking a four-arm shot from a drill instructor. 

In the Marines only five weeks, Tharp had written seven letters home telling his family he wanted out.  His father, John Tharp, claims Jason had been singled out by drill instructors because he couldn‘t keep up with the rigorous training. 

JOHN THARP, FATHER OF JASON THARP:  I don‘t know how they could treat my son the way we saw in that video.  He never hurt nobody.  He would do anything anybody asked him. 

MIKLASZEWSKI:  During last week‘s training, Tharp, seen here with his back to the camera, had refused to get into the water. 

STAFF SGT. ANTHONY DAVIS, U.S. MARINE CORPS:  He is just afraid because he is not able to do the swim crawl correctly right now.  And he just wants to leave and go home. 

MIKLASZEWSKI:  After 20 minutes of trying to coax Tharp into the pool, the drill instructor turned physical, an apparent violation of Marine Corps regulations. 

EUGENE FIDELL, MILITARY LAW EXPERT:  That right there where this Marine grabs the recruit...

MIKLASZEWSKI (on camera):  Why is that a problem? 

FIDELL:  This is not how you treat recruits.  This is a wrongful touching. Basically, it‘s an assault. 

MIKLASZEWSKI (voice-over):  Marine Corps officials say Tharp voluntarily entered the pool the next day, where he drowned during a 25-meter swim. 

(on camera):  Marine Corps officials say, while there‘s no early evidence of any misconduct by instructors at the time Jason drowned, their actions caught on camera the day before raises serious questions about exactly what did happen in that pool. 

(voice-over):  Jason‘s father is considering a wrongful death lawsuit against Marines. 

THARP:  It would just be justice for Jason if we got a bill passed where this won‘t happen to another family. 

MIKLASZEWSKI:  The Navy and Marines are investigating Jason‘s death and the conduct of the drill instructors, who were supposed to protect him. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MIKLASZEWSKI:  Marine Corps officials are telling us that the investigation into the apparent drowning of Jason Tharp will probably take about 30 days.  And they also expect that some disciplinary action will probably result from the drill instructor‘s conduct—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  NBC News military analyst General Bernard Trainor is retired from the United States Marines.  We went through boot camp at Parris Island, then worked there as second in command of recruiting.

Were there any recruits—let me ask you about your situation.  I grew up knowing about the six guys, recruits who were marched into the Atlantic Ocean and drowned.  How much of a part of the history of Parris Island was that incident? 

RET. GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR, NBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Chris, it hangs over all Marines, whether they‘re at Parris Island or not. 

Everybody remembers what happened in 1956 at Ribbon Creek, when a drill instructor abused his platoon, marched them into the swamps and we had those tragic deaths.  And there was reforms after that, which hopefully are still in place. 

MATTHEWS:  Mik, we were talking before we went on the air tonight about maybe one of those reforms that requires that the D.I.s, the drill instructors, generally, normally, stand back, because they are the tough guys, and let the expert swim instructors take over, so you don‘t have a kid pushed too far.  What happened in this situation?  Do we know?

MIKLASZEWSKI:  Well, apparently, what happened, according to Marine Corps officials, is, once Jason Tharp refused to go into the pool, refused to conduct the training, the swim instructors called in the drill instructor. 

And, as we saw in that piece, the drill instructor at first attempts to calmly coax Tharp to resume the training.  But then, after about 20 minutes, he became physical.  And, in apparent violation of Marine Corps regulations, which do not permit drill instructors, unless they‘re helping them somehow position themselves with a weapon or rendering aid, those drill instructors are not supposed to lay a hand on any of those recruits. 

MATTHEWS:  General Trainor, there‘s a big difference between taking a shot at a kid and slugging him, even as rough as that scene was, and deliberately letting a kid drown in a pool.  How could that—let me just ask you this.  How far is an instructor supposed to push a swimming student before it is clear the kid can‘t stay above water? 

TRAINOR:  Well, Chris, we have to make a distinction between the drill instructor and the swimming instructor. 

The drill instructor was wrong if he punched or struck this recruit.  That‘s absolutely against the regulation.  But when you go in the swimming pool or you go on the rifle range, the drill instructor takes a secondary role.  He sits back.  And it is in the hands, the authority is in the hands on the rifle range of the rifle range coaches and, in the swimming pool, of the swimming instructors, who are all certified. 

So, you have to make the distinction.  The drill—the swimming instructors would never try to force a youngster into the water.  And when they‘re in the water, there are always expert swimmers around and they‘re watched very, very carefully.  So, we really don‘t know what happened here.  Apparently, the initial report was that it was drowning. 

I find that extraordinary, because there are so many people watching these people.  Now, it could be that, initially, there was some sort of a cardiac arrest, some congenital thing that you sometimes find with basketball players who drop dead on the boards.  We don‘t know.  But the investigation will be able to bring that out. 

But you have to distinguish between the drill instructor‘s actions, which were wrong, if, as the film depicts, he struck the recruit, and the swimming instructors.  That‘s an entirely different situation. 

MIKLASZEWSKI:  And...

MATTHEWS:  Mik, the Marines—do the Marines admit that they would ever let a kid stay fall under—stay underwater for any period of time? 

MIKLASZEWSKI:  Well, Mick Trainor is exactly... 

MATTHEWS:  As part of the training?

MIKLASZEWSKI:  Mick Trainor is exactly right.  And we were careful to point out, too, that Marine Corps officials say the initial investigation indicates there was no misconduct by any of the Marines in or around the pool at the time that Jason Tharp died. 

The coroner‘s report initially indicated that he did in fact die of drowning, which, of course, as Mick indicated, raises some serious questions about exactly how that could have happened.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MIKLASZEWSKI:  Because there are trainers in the pool surrounding the pool, particularly—they keep a particularly close eye on those Marines who may have some difficulty in carrying out the training. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.  But, Mik, doesn‘t it take about—Mik, doesn‘t it take about three minutes or four minutes to drown?  And wouldn‘t they have to let him almost just be alone? 

MIKLASZEWSKI:  You know, I‘m—Chris, I‘m not a medical expert. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MIKLASZEWSKI:  That‘s what the coroner‘s initial report indicates. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  It‘s a tough question.  We can‘t jump to any conclusions. 

MIKLASZEWSKI:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s just horrible.  Here‘s a kid trying to serve his country and he drowns in a training program, where there are other people.  We‘ll have to find out more about this. 

Mick Trainor, General, thank you very much for joining me tonight. 

Thank you very much for that report, Jim Miklaszewski.

MIKLASZEWSKI:  OK, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next, President Bush says he won‘t rule out raising taxes on higher-income Americans to pay for his plan to revamp Social Security.  We‘ll debate whether that is smart politics, raising taxes, when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

President Bush said on Tuesday, he wouldn‘t rule out collecting Social Security payroll taxes on people earning more than $90,000 as part of his reform package.  Is it necessary or smart politically to make that kind of comment? 

John Fund is with “The Wall Street Journal”‘s OpinionJournal.com.  And Zanny Minton Beddoes is a Washington correspondent for “The Economist.” 

You‘re from Britain, but you cover this issue.  I want to hear your thoughts.  Britain has had some experience with socialism and these kinds of programs.  Isn‘t this raising taxes, to say that people who make more money than $90,000 a year will now have to pay Social Security on every dollar they make? 

ZANNY MINTON BEDDOES, “THE ECONOMIST”:  Sure.  It‘s raising taxes on those people that make more than $90,000 and are only paying up to $90,000.

But I think this is very smart.  It is very smart politically. 

MATTHEWS:  Because there‘s very few people that make over $90,000?

BEDDOES:  No, no, it‘s very smart politically because this is first time that this president, who up until now, has been a tax cuts at all times and nothing—and no tax rising under any circumstances...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BEDDOES:  ... is saying, I am willing to countenance this to get my broader goal of Social Security reform. 

He is showing that he is prepared to compromise, which he has never been able—done before.  And I think that‘s really important to get a few Democrats on board.  He has got to show that Social Security reform is about reform and it‘s not about a giveaway to the rich. 

MATTHEWS:  This real—the choice here, John—you know this.  The choice here isn‘t between going to private or personal accounts now.  It is a choice of whether you lower the amount of money going into the benefits over time by basing it, for example, on prices, rather than wages, which would reduce them over time, or going to a program which finances a higher level of benefit by taxing more wealthy people. 

JOHN FUND, COLUMNIST, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”:  Well, raising...

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t that the choice he‘s made?

FUND:  Yes. 

Raising taxes above the $90,000 cap would certainly hurt people in the short run in that group.  They can afford it.  And the president has a very interesting political dynamic here.  Rich people no longer vote exclusively Republican, Chris.  They only vote Republican by about 55-45.  There are an awful lot of people in the tony blue states that vote liberal.  He is not going to hurt—he is not going to sacrifice that.  And he gets the advantage...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But doesn‘t this sound like—doesn‘t this sound like a Democratic, liberal solution?  Back when we had the compromise of ‘83, where Tip O‘Neill was involved, my old boss...

FUND:  Everybody took a hit.

MATTHEWS:  They raised taxes.  But they raised taxes.  That‘s always considered the Democrat solution, raise taxes, don‘t cut benefits.

BEDDOES:  But he is not saying he is only going to raise taxes.  The solution is, he‘s basically moved away from saying it is going to only be benefit cuts.  He is saying, I‘m actually to have everything on the table.

(CROSSTALK)  

MATTHEWS:  This is great news for seniors, by the way, because everybody who is over 65 now or will be 65 pretty soon, they‘re going to get better benefits.  But the people under, who are going to still keep working, are going to pay Social Security taxes on every dollar they make. 

FUND:  There‘s a political risk here, Chris.  He will only keep the most conservative Republicans, which he needs to keep on board, if the private accounts are big.  In other words, no cap on the...

(CROSSTALK)

BEDDOES:  I disagree. 

(CROSSTALK)

FUND:  And also if the transition is much faster.  Right now, Bush‘s plan doesn‘t start beginning until 2009.  No.  They would want the plan starting much faster.  This compromise only works if both sides give in. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, in other words, you can put in 2 percent of all your income, a big chunk of income?

(CROSSTALK)

FUND:  And ramping up.  And ramping up. 

BEDDOES:  No, but he is going to keep those Republicans, because those Republicans, for them, this is the FDR legacy.  They‘re going to work to get...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you know what I think?  I still—is it still an uphill battle to get this thing through? 

BEDDOES:  Of course it‘s an uphill battle.

(CROSSTALK)

FUND:  He lost 25 Republicans on Medicare because he went to the left. 

He can‘t go to the left. 

MATTHEWS:  Stalwart John Fund, stalwart of the right, is it still an upward, uphill battle for him to get... 

(CROSSTALK)

FUND:  Always an upward battle on Social Security. 

BEDDOES:  But it is looking better now than it did. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Let me ask you about this.  What does his next step have to be after compromising already on whether to raise people who make more money? 

FUND:  He has got to go to the public, which finds this completely complicated issue—he has got to go sell it retail in district after district of individual congressmen, like did he up in New Hampshire, and basically say, are you with me or the...

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll back with John Fund and Zanny Minton Beddoes. 

Oh, by the way, we‘re gone.  But we‘ve got optimism here, right?  Good day for the president? 

BEDDOES:  I think it‘s a good day.  Good day for Social Security, too.

FUND:  The germ of a compromise. 

MATTHEWS:  Because compromise is good?

FUND:  It helps. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Cant we all just be friends? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, John Fund, Zanny Minton Beddoes, thanks for joining us. 

When we come back, we‘ll be joined by the Oscar nominated actor—and what an actor—Don Cheadle, the star of “Hotel Rwanda,” who just returned from the Sudan, where he witnessed firsthand the refugee crisis over there. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Not only has actor Don Cheadle been nominated for best actor this year for his role in the compelling film “Hotel Rwanda,” the movie has also changed his life on a deeply personal level. 

After portraying the heroic hotel manager who saved the lives of 1,000 Rwandans, Don Cheadle was invited by a congressional delegation to visit refugees from the Sudan.  The U.N. estimates, by the way, that more than 70,000 people have been murdered and 200,000 displaced as a result of the civil war in that region.  And Don Cheadle now says the refugees are suffering a tsunami of violence. 

For an update on what‘s happening since his visit, Don Cheadle joins us this evening from California.  He‘s joined here with me by U.S.  Congressman Ed Royce, who led that delegation to the region and is ready to participate in this. 

I want to start with Don Cheadle.

You are a master actor.  I spent two years in the Peace Corps.  You were an African in that movie.  I don‘t know how you did it, but you became that guy.  Tell me how you were inspired for that role. 

DON CHEADLE, ACTOR:  Well, it was information that I really didn‘t know a lot about. 

I had seen some cursory articles in the newspaper, but I think it was a “Newsweek” or “TIME” cover that showed the mass exodus, the largest exodus in recorded history, that really sort of sparked my interest.  And it wasn‘t until a few years later that I read the script.  And as soon as I read it, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. 

MATTHEWS:  And why did you decide to go visit the Sudan and Chad, Sudan, and look at the refugees? 

CHEADLE:  Well, this was something that came about from Ed, who saw the film and was moved and obviously has been concerned with African affairs for many years. 

And he was putting together a delegation.  And it just so happened that it coincided with the time that I was able to go.  And I just asked if I could come along.  And they agreed. 

MATTHEWS:  When did you get done, Congressman, in going over and showing that hell over there, the people all starving and bundled together in those refugees camps? 

REP. ED ROYCE ®, CALIFORNIA:  We actually got into Darfur, Sudan.  And we saw the town of Tinei (ph), once inhabited by 30,000 people, 200 people left. 

We saw the fact that it had been bombed from the air.  We met with refugees who told us of the attacks by the janjaweed, met with the rebel leaders, asked them to go back to the peace conference, and also met with African governments to try to get support for what the African Union is doing. 

They have about 1,400 troops on the ground.  We would like to see that presence expanded. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Mr. Cheadle.  It is always a tough question, whether you‘re a hawk or a dove or whatever in this country, when the United States should intervene somewhere.  Is Africa a place that you think that we should have intervened in the case of Rwanda and now in the case of Sudan? 

CHEADLE:  Absolutely.  We can‘t go back and undo what was not done in Rwanda. 

But there‘s still time left to intercede now and save millions of lives before we actually see this genocide that we‘re seeing turn into starvation on a mass scale that will mean potentially more millions of lives that will be lost to this horrible debacle. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the world is ready for the picture of U.S.  service people gunning down Africans, even if it is in the best of causes, preventing genocide? 

CHEADLE:  I don‘t think that that is necessary to come to that. 

I think that, if the members of the United Nations get together and remove the impediments that they‘re struggling with right now, as far as where to try to criminals and how exactly to get involved, they can support the A.U. troops there and give them—strengthen their mandate, allow them to respond.  Right now, they‘re only allowed the protect themselves and observe, which is doing nothing for the Darfurians right now. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What stops the A.U., the African Union, from getting organized as a peacekeeping or peace-making army? 

CHEADLE:  They don‘t have the mandate.  They have to be given the mandate from the United Nations that allows them to actually use their force to protect, not themselves, but the civilians who are coming under attack.  Right now, they‘re only allowed to respond if they personally are attacked. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, what is the United States doing?  It seems to me the ultimate solution is a local continental solution, let the African people, operating through their governments, to create a national—an international or inter—or a continental force to go around.  And when there‘s one of these genocidal situations, come in from the outside and try to stop it. 

ROYCE:  We are providing the logistics and the heavy lift to bring the African forces, A.U. forces into Darfur. 

But as Don explained, at the Security Council, that effort is being—to broaden that mandate and actually allow those forces to defend, that‘s being checkmated by China and by Russia. 

MATTHEWS:  Why? 

ROYCE:  Principally by China.

China is the main beneficiary of oil, but they also sell the weapons to the government of Sudan.  And what we have here is a conflict between Arab Sudan and black Africans in Darfur. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

ROYCE:  And so we need an international effort where people will bring pressure on China to cooperate with the other Security Council members, so that we can get this authority for the African Union to expand this mandate.  They‘re willing.  The Rwandans...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So the Chinese don‘t give a damn about this thing, about people getting killed? 

ROYCE:  They haven‘t felt enough pressure yet.  And that‘s part of the effort, I think, that Don Cheadle and Paul Rusesabagina and others are bringing to this in raising the awareness. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask Mr. Cheadle.

What can you do?  What can Hollywood do?  What can anybody who cares about it in America do to get the obstacles out of the way, so that the African people can bring peace and end this genocide in Darfur? 

CHEADLE:  Well, I‘m doing what I can just trying to be present.  I mean, I am very glad that you have the congressman and myself on this show today to talk about it. 

I think, if we continue to stay present—look, the focus may go away pretty quickly, as far as I‘m concerned, in a couple of weeks, once the Oscars are over.  But, from this moment until now, as many outlets as I can appear on and as many places as I can get the message out...

(CROSSTALK)  

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So, this is a write-your-congressman thing, Don?  Is this a write-your-congressman opportunity? 

CHEADLE:  It is not only a write-your-congressman opportunity, although that is necessary as well.  It is to get involved in however you can get involved.  There are a lot of NGOs that are there that need the support.  And you can support them as well. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

It‘s an honor to have you on.  Good luck in the Oscars, sir.  What a great performance.  As I said, you seemed like an African to me.  You‘re unbelievable.  Thank you, Don Cheadle.

And U.S. Congressman Ed Royce, thank you, sir. 

I‘ll be right back tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.

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

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