updated 3/30/2005 11:20:58 AM ET 2005-03-30T16:20:58

Guest: John Ruggie, Dan Bartlett, Bernadine Healy,rMD-BO_ Arthur Caplan

DAVID GREGORY, GUEST HOST:  Tonight, the growing ethical debate surrounding the final stage of Terri Schiavo‘s life.  Is removing a feeding tube ever the right thing to do and how do we determine whether life is worth living? 

I‘m David Gregory, in for Chris Matthews.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.  

               

Good evening, everybody.  I am David Gregory, in for Chris this week.  The vigil outside Terri Schiavo‘s hospice in Florida turns more somber with each passing day, her parents still pleading for any outside intervention, Michael Schiavo, meantime, largely out of sight for security reasons. 

NBC‘s Mark Potter is on the scene in Pinellas Park, Florida, joins us now with the very latest—Mark.

MARK POTTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Hi, David.

There was a flurry of activity this afternoon at 4:00, police say.  A caller telephoned the sheriff‘s department to say that there was—a bomb would go off near the hospice when Terri Schiavo dies.  Police came quietly to this area.  They brought a bomb dog in.  They searched the area and say they found nothing and have now declared the area clear. 

There was another flurry of activity when the Reverend Jesse Jackson came to town.  He was invited here by Terri Schiavo‘s parents to pray and also to urge Schiavo‘s husband, Michael, or Governor Jeb Bush to reinsert the feeding tube. 

But Michael Schiavo refused to even allow Jackson to visit with his wife in the hospice.  And Jackson said that Governor Bush did not return his calls.  So, instead, he turned to the cameras and made a public plea. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. JESSE JACKSON, FOUNDER, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION:  We ask for mercy today beyond the law.  The law must be tempered with mercy.  Law and mercy leads to justice.  And so we ask today for some hard hearts to be softened up and we reach out today across—across the aisles. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

POTTER:  Terri Schiavo has gone nearly two weeks without food and water.  And today, her father, Bob Schindler, said that, while he believes that she can still be saved, he concedes that she is deteriorating. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB SCHINDLER, FATHER OF TERRI SCHIAVO:  I saw Terri earlier this morning.  And she‘s failing.  She still looks pretty darn good under the circumstances, but you can see the impact of 12 days without food or water that‘s having on her. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

POTTER:  The Reverend Jackson says that he believes that this event is

·         quote—“one of the profound ethical issues of our time.”  He also said that he is sensitive to Michael Schiavo‘s pain and suffering in this matter. 

9

Today, George Felos, Michael Schiavo‘s attorney, walked out of his office, but he has made no public comment.  And, David, as you said, indeed, it is true.  The mood outside the hospice among the protesters is very somber today—David.

GREGORY:  Mark, you talk about this bomb threat.  Security around there is a big deal.  And the fact that we haven‘t seen Michael Schiavo for a couple of days, his lawyers talked about why that‘s the case, right? 

POTTER:  Well, exactly.  He‘s being very careful in terms of security.  The attorney is—is not telling us exactly what Michael is doing.  He has indicated that Michael Schiavo has been here many times to visit with his wife, but, beyond that, no details and, again, primarily for security reasons. 

GREGORY:  Have things calmed down, though, over the weekend?  There were some flashes of anger, potential violence.  And Terri Schiavo‘s brother came out and said, look, we need to calm this down.  Is there a different feeling around there? 

POTTER:  Yes, absolutely.  The weekend was rather rough.  But now things have settled down.  These people are very—are calm.  There was one incident.  A guy tried to run into the building today past the police.  They shot him with a Taser gun, knocked him down, arrested him.  And that ended that.  But most everybody is very quiet.  They‘re just waiting for word—David.

GREGORY:  Mark Potter in Pinellas Park, Florida, tonight—Mark, thanks very much. 

Earlier today, at HARDBALL headquarters here in Washington, I had a chance to explore this ethical debate with a couple of the country‘s leading experts on the topic. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GREGORY:  There are many facets to what is being called the culture of life, religion and personal beliefs, quality of life issues, and now even politics, all a part of how we choose to live or die. 

To discuss the ethics and the science of this case, we turn now to rMD-BO_Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Bernadine Healy, a columnist for “U.S. News & World Report” and former director of the National Institutes of Health. 

Thank you both for being with us. 

Dr. Healy, let me start with you. 

This is final stage of Terri Schiavo‘s life.  And I think the question on so many people‘s mind is, how do you know you are doing the right thing when it comes to this final step of removing a feeding tube? 

DR. BERNADINE HEALY, FORMER NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH DIRECTOR: 

Well, first, David, I would say you‘d better know that you‘re right.  And I can tell you, in my career as a cardiologist, I have turned off respirators on patients who are brain dead, flat EEGs, no cerebral function.  That is very painful, very difficult to do.  And you better be sure.  You take steps to make yourself sure.

In this case, where you have a patient who is breathing, who is living, who is having their food and water withdrawn, you better make sure there is no functional mind, that there‘s no mind in there functioning.  And if you‘re not sure, if there is an element of doubt, you‘d better make sure that you‘ve done the functional studies to be sure that you are right.  In the case of Terri Schiavo, the tragedy that is not being talked about anywhere, too late for her now.  Maybe we will learn for the future.  What is not being talked about anywhere is the fact that there is residual uncertainty as to whether or not she had a functioning mind at some level.  Maybe it was an 18-month-old child, but she had a functioning mind which enabled her to love, to care, to feel pain, to feel joy, to hear music. 

And several doctors who evaluated her, neurologists, believed that she did have a functional mind and she was evaluated at a time before we fully understood that function.  And I think 2002 is too long ago to have evaluated her. 

GREGORY:  Dr. Caplan, your thoughts.  How do you know you‘re doing the right thing? 

DR. ARTHUR CAPLAN, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR BIOETHICS:  Well, for me, it is a little bit different from where Dr. Healy is at, in the sense that I think you have to do what the person wants. 

It isn‘t just a question of what the tests show.  It is whether somebody would want to be in the state that they‘re in.  So, we‘ve been through the trials.  We‘ve heard all the evidence.  We‘ve heard all the arguing back and forth for after year after year.  The courts keep coming down and saying, the husband and those witnesses who confirmed what he had to say, he believed she would not want to be in this state.  He believed that she would not want to be in a condition from which she can‘t recover. 

Now, there‘s no doubt in my mind that she is not going to recover from the severe brain injury she had.  And I have her CAT scan and I had two of our neurologists come over and look at it at lunchtime today.  They said that‘s one of the worst brain-damaged people they‘ve ever seen, recovery not possible.  So, the argument is, whether you‘re a Jehovah‘s Witness who says no to blood, whether you‘re a person who just says, I don‘t like doctors and I don‘t want to visit them, or I prefer to pray, as in the case of a Christian scientist, we do in medicine respect people‘s wishes and you don‘t lose that right if you become unconscious. 

GREGORY:  Dr. Caplan, is it ever immoral to remove a feeding tube?  Is there a distinction between a feeding tube and a ventilator? 

CAPLAN:  That‘s an interesting question. 

I‘m at the university where one of the key scientists who worked on the feeding tube for about 30 years of his career, Jonathan Rhodes (ph), tried to figure out what to put in those tubes.  He would be astounded if people told him that‘s not a medical technology.  That‘s not a treatment.  It took him a lot time to figure out how to make it work. 

If you look at the FDA, they regulate feeding tubes as medical technology.  If you look at the Supreme Court decision way back to 1990, they didn‘t have any doubt that this is a medical treatment.  Now, we can argue back and forward about under what circumstances, how much certainty you want to have when you remove something.  But I think the issue about, is a feeding tube, through which you put chemical solutions, equivalent to an antibiotic or insulin or an aspirin, I say it is.  And I say this is a treatment that we can discontinue. 

GREGORY:  Do you disagree? 

HEALY:  I certainly believe that feeding a patient artificially is a treatment.  And that treatment would be withdrawn if you felt you had someone who was cerebrally dead.  I think you would not withdraw a feeding tube, you would not withdraw water, you would be withdraw the ability for someone to stay alive if you were not completely sure that you were dealing with what particular state of mind. 

Now, by the way, David, I would agree that it is possible that if she were evaluated and if in fact she was minimally conscious, which several of the neurologists felt she was, which meant she could have feelings, she was aware, but that her husband, who is her legal guardian, said, well, she doesn‘t want to live with the mental age of a 12-month-old, that you might turn it off.  But they were operating under a questionable diagnosis of being a vegetable, rather than a handicapped person. 

GREGORY:  Well, says you.  But, I mean...

HEALY:  No, no, no. 

GREGORY:  Well, wait a minute.  The fact is that the courts say it is not questionable. 

HEALY:  But I would wager that the court made a medical decision without having proper medical input. 

For guidelines for assessing consciousness, a minimally conscious state, did not occur until 2002.  I have them here.  She was assessed in 2002 by 2000 guidelines, not by the modern guideline.  The only way you can assess consciousness, David, is see if you can see if the mind is functioning.  You can look at it anatomically.  You can‘t tell if that brain is functioning. 

And there are technologies she didn‘t have.  There are modern technologies.  She did not have the adequate neurologic evaluation that is required today.  So, she has had her tube removed without today‘s medicine backing up the decision.  Now, it may have all turned out the same.  But she should not have been denied that right.  Let‘s focus on the patient. 

GREGORY:  Dr. Caplan, is it worth with this much—I mean, here is Michael Schiavo, who says, look, I‘ll have an autopsy done to show you exactly the state of her mine.  Should then they go on and say, all right, if that‘s the case, why not do a final run of exams?  It is striking to I think people who are watching this to see that it‘s fairly primitive science to gauge the level of her awareness when you look at some of this videotape.  Should any more have been done? 

CAPLAN:  You know, it wouldn‘t bother me at all if people had done more testing.  I think that would have been fine.  In fact, I have made some comments to that effect. 

However, I‘ll come back to this.  I think what the husband‘s bottom line is going to be is not whether she is PVS or minimally conscious.  His view would be, look, she told me she wouldn‘t want to be kept alive in a terribly impaired state.  Few of us would.  If you look at all the commentary on this, some people say you should me stop feeding someone no matter how badly brain-injured they become, no matter what their wishes are.  And others in my side of this debate would say, look, people have a right to stop all medical treatments.

And if they feel they‘re in a condition from which they can‘t recover, and they are severely, severely brain damaged, then I think we sometimes stop feeding and stop hydration.  We do that, by the way, on people with cancer and ALS and other diseases. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

HEALY:  But let me give—let me give an example.  Let me give an example.

GREGORY:  Hold your thought for just one minute.  We‘re going to take a break.  We‘re going to let you finish that and also bring up the issue of what constitutes a life worth living, which is what I think a lot of people are thinking about and will think about even after this tragic story of Terri Schiavo plays itself is out in its final stage. 

We‘re going to come right back on HARDBALL with our guests.  Don‘t go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Coming up, more on the ethics of the Terri Schiavo case with rMD-BO_Arthur Caplan and Bernadine Healy.  And, later, counsel to the president Dan Bartlett—when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

GREGORY:  We‘re back on HARDBALL with Drs. Arthur Caplan and Bernadine Healy. 

Dr. Healy, what is life?   What makes life worth living?  And isn‘t that the central part of this?

HEALY:  Well, first, I think, when we talk about human life, we talk about consciousness and the ability to relate in some ways to the outside world and internally to think.  When we talk about nonlife and this horrible word which is being used, which is vegetable, vegetative.  You know, she‘s a vegetable.  She‘s not a patient.  I think we have to be very careful, because that—if someone is thinking, if someone can feel pain, if someone can relate in any way to the outside world, even in a handicapped way—and, remember, people are mentally disabled.  That does not mean they‘re vegetables. 

And I think that, in terms of the quality of mercy in this case, I do not believe that it has occurred at the level of giving her a fair medical examination.  I‘m speaking about her as a patient.  I‘m not speaking about her as a law case.  I‘m not speaking about her at the Supreme Court.  I‘m talking about the fact that no one should die without a state-of-the-art medical evaluation.  She did not have a doctor evaluating her since 2002.  The most recent neurologist to see her said she thought she was not a vegetable. 

GREGORY:  Dr. Caplan, do you think there‘s room for new law here?  Can they do any good?  Can we somehow prevent a situation like this from happening again? 

CAPLAN:  Well, fortunately, there aren‘t many cases where the family is so much divided and where the facts are so much in contention, as we‘ve seen in Terri Schiavo.  There are probably a million deaths in hospitals and nursing homes and hospices every year in the U.S.  We don‘t hear about them.  They get worked out between the doctors and the families. 

So, my inclination is to say, I‘m not sure the system is completely broken. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

CAPLAN:  On the other hand, most of us don‘t fill out living wills.  We should.  It is important to let people know what we wish and who we want to make decisions for us. 

And with respect to, if you will, the clarity of the law around who should make decisions for the disabled, the unconscious, those who can‘t communicate, that may be a place where we could use some clarification.  I would prefer to see it at the state level, but maybe at the federal level. 

GREGORY:  Dr. Healy, I want—we have just got a few seconds left.  What lessons—and Dr. Caplan talked about it—what lessons should we all take away from this? 

HEALY:  Well, I think we should understand this was much more complicated.  But I do not believe this patient got an adequate medical evaluation.  It was an outdated one. 

And, also, that when people are handicapped—I mean, look at Christopher Reeve.  When he was flying in the sky as Superman, if you would have said to him, would you ever want to be quadriplegic on a respirator, he would have said, no.  Even if I‘m conscious, please, spare me that. 

He did some of the most magnificent work as a handicapped person in a

hideous medical state.  Many people would said, should he have wanted to

live?  Well, let‘s think about that.  And there‘s data—my final comment

·         there is data that shows quadriplegic patients have a much better quality of life than...

GREGORY:  But, of course, it is an individual‘s decision.

HEALY:  It is an individual decision.  I‘m with you there. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  We rely on the spouse.  That‘s where we are in this country.

HEALY:  That‘s correct.  And I agree with that.

GREGORY:  The debate continues.  Thanks to both of you, rMD-BO_Arthur Caplan and Dr. Bernadine Healy.

HEALY:  Thank you. 

CAPLAN:  Thank you. 

GREGORY:  Terrific discussion.

We‘ll be back with more on HARDBALL in just a minute.  You‘re watching

MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  I‘m David Gregory. 

Polls show most Americans disapproved of the intervention by President Bush and Congress into the Schiavo case.  Joining me now to talk about it is Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president. 

Dan, good to see you. 

DAN BARTLETT, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT BUSH:  Thanks, David.

GREGORY:  Dan, does the president still think he did the right thing, getting involved in this case, given what you‘ve seen of how the public feel about this? 

BARTLETT:  I do, David.  This was a very complex case and one that the president looked at very carefully. 

It is extraordinary.  And he felt like, in a complicated situation like this, with a very complex, ethical questions of somebody‘s life in the hands, that we ought to, as policy-makers, err on the side of life.  And while it was an extraordinary measure, he felt, because of the circumstances of the case, that it was important to go forward with signing the legislation passed by Congress. 

GREGORY:  You look at his standing.  Some polls taken over the weekend show his approval rating slipping into the 40s, a couple—according to a couple of surveys.  And you look at the reaction.  This is in many ways different than taking an unpopular stand.  To many people in America, this was getting involved in something where the federal government didn‘t have any place.  Do you think that‘s hurt his standing? 

BARTLETT:  Well, David, I‘m not going to accept the premise that the polls that were shown over the last couple days are directly related to the Schiavo case. 

But, look, this is a very emotional issue.  And people have very strong feelings.  And those have been obviously demonstrated over the course of the last week or so on programs and in the national media.  But President Bush has been very principled about his position when it comes to America building a culture of life.  And on these issues and other ones, he feels like it is important that policy-makers err on the side of life, particularly when there‘s so much dispute over the different facts before the various courts and the Congress. 

And that‘s why he felt, as we looked at the information from an administrative standpoint, that the congressional action that was started on Congress and signed by President Bush was the appropriate action. 

GREGORY:  But, Dan, you talk about disputes.  I mean, the disputes were between—the primary dispute was within a family.  And that‘s why we have a court system.  And the court spoke with a single voice here, from state courts to the federal judiciary. 

So, where was the dispute that required the president and Congress to get involved? 

BARTLETT:  Well, there are other branches of government.  It‘s not just the judiciary.  And Congress and policy-makers on that branch of government felt it was important that their voice be heard and that the voice of Terri Schiavo‘s parents be heard as well again, and to have a de novo review of the case.  And...

GREGORY:  But was she denied due process?  Did anybody serious make the argument that the Schindler family, that Terri Schiavo was denied—denied due process in the courts? 

BARTLETT:  Well, what was determined by the United States Congress and by the president‘s signature is that there should be a fresh review.  The feeling was by the family and others that there were new pieces of information and evidence that maybe pre—dated after the fact of some of those court cases that were previously held years ago. 

So, the decision was made to go forward to give a—hopefully a new fresh look at this.  And we‘re obviously disappointed that the courts felt otherwise. 

GREGORY:  Did the courts make the wrong decision? 

BARTLETT:  Well, we were obviously disappointed with the court decisions.  We felt by the fact that the president signed the legislation that there should be a fresh look at the evidence. 

GREGORY:  But, I mean, you can be disappointed all you want.  A lot of people are disappointed when they go into the courts.  Did they—does the president think that the courts made an incorrect decision on—as a matter of law or as a matter of medicine? 

BARTLETT:  Well, again, David, I think, when you‘re disappointed with a ruling, you felt like the ruling should be the opposite of what it was.  I think that‘s the very essence of being disappointed. 

GREGORY:  The president talks about the culture of life.  And, in this case, he talked about the importance of erring on the side of life and standing for that.  As a result of that, does the president have a different view about the death penalty, which he supports? 

BARTLETT:  Well, I think the president has made very clear his position on the death penalty.  I think these are two different fundamental cases. 

The president, as he demonstrated his State of the Union address, thinks it is very important that, when somebody is being tried in a death penalty case, that they get the best representation as possible and that we have the best evidence as possible.  And that‘s why he‘s looking for DNA testing to be a more critical aspect of determining guilt or innocence in death penalty cases. 

But he has fundamentally believed and feels that it is a strong public policy decision, as well as a moral decision, to support the death penalty.  He feels like it deters crime.  That‘s why he supported it as governor of Texas and that is why he supports it as president. 

GREGORY:  Can you be morally consistent as a politician or as a human being if you are erring on the side of life for somebody like Terri Schiavo or anybody at the end of life and for the death penalty? 

BARTLETT:  Well, Terri Schiavo did nothing wrong.  Terri Schiavo was a victim of a heart attack or—I mean, I don‘t know all the medical terms of her condition. 

In the case of death penalty cases, someone has taken an action that is against the law and has taken the life of somebody else.  I think those are fundamentally different issues when it comes to, yes, it fits under the broad category of life, but how you got to that point are critically different.  And that‘s why he takes different, draws different conclusions in those cases. 

GREGORY:  Dan, one more question before the break. 

Has Terri Schiavo become the face, the symbol of the right-to-life movement in this country, politically, morally? 

BARTLETT:  Well, David, I don‘t know.  That might be for other people

·         people to determine. 

One thing I think that has been lost on this is that the action taken by the United States Congress was a bipartisan action.  The United States Senate unanimously—and think about that when you think of all the Democrats that serve in the United States Senate—that this was a unanimous consent in the House.  Half the Democrats who were there voted in favor of this.  So, this was a bipartisan effort in the United States Congress and the legislation that President Bush signed. 

So, I don‘t think this is one of these things which is split Republican vs. Democrat.  It is a very complex case.  We fully recognize that this is a very emotional case for people.  But President Bush was operating based on his principles and conviction that have long been recognized by people throughout his public career. 

GREGORY:  All right, Dan, we‘re going to turn to some other topics when we come back.

We‘ll be right back when HARDBALL returns with Dan Bartlett from the White House.  Don‘t go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Coming up, more with counselor to the president Dan Bartlett, and later, the fallout from the latest report on the U.N. oil-for-food scandal with MSNBC‘s Pat Buchanan and a former adviser to Secretary-General Kofi Annan—when we come back. 

(NEWS BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  I‘m David Gregory, in tonight for Chris Matthews.

And I‘m joined from the White House by Dan Bartlett, the president‘s counselor. 

Dan, we woke up this morning and we got an interesting piece of news. 

And that is the that the first lady got on an airplane to Afghanistan.

BARTLETT:  Yes. 

GREGORY:  Which is a trip we know she‘s been wanting to make for some time.  What is she going to do there?  What does she want to accomplish? 

BARTLETT:  Well, this is an opportunity for Mrs. Bush to travel to Afghanistan, not only to thank the Afghan government for their hard work on behalf of their country, but to give praise to the Afghan people who so bravely stepped forward and voted to change the course of history in their country and bring democratic reforms. 

As you recall, David, back during the run-up to the war in Afghanistan, Mrs. Bush made a particular effort to talk about the plight of the Afghan woman and the fact that they have been brutally oppressed under the Taliban regime.  And now that—those very same Afghan women are now beginning to flourish under this new system and new government in Afghanistan.  And this gives her a critical opportunity to go not only give thanks on behalf of the American people and to heap praise on the Afghan people, but to continue a dialogue with the Afghan government and the Afghan people about how we can help them with the difficult steps going forward as well. 

GREGORY:  Dan, what does she think she can bring—and you get to enjoy what I do, which is the sirens outside the White House there when you‘re trying to talk.

(LAUGHTER)

GREGORY:  What does she feel that she can bring in terms of sending a message or giving advice to women who are really—I mean, this is a profound story—who have gone from being raped and killed and oppressed to now having a place in the government, a place back in their schools and in their homes and generally in society and business? 

BARTLETT:  Well, I think serving as first lady to—in the United States of America, the most prestigious and influential country in the world, gives her a unique platform to discuss issues such as this. 

And the fact that Mrs. Bush, who picks her issues very carefully that she‘s going to focus on, the fact that she chose this issue, the Afghan woman and the plight of the Afghan women, so early on during—in the post-9/11 era demonstrated the ability she has as a figure to shine a light on—on a particular issue.  And I think this gives her an opportunity to continue to put a focus on the progress they‘re now making. 

It‘s an incredible story, one that she is honored to be able to tell the rest of the world. 

GREGORY:  Let me ask you about the Volcker report, the U.N. oil-for-food scandal that has been unfolding now for the last several months.  Another preliminary report out today.  And Secretary-General Annan has made the point, looking at the report, that he‘s essentially been cleared of wrongdoing.  What is the White House response to this? 

BARTLETT:  Well, our position remains the same, in that we support Kofi Annan in the position he holds at the United Nations.  This is an important investigation that is under way.  This is an interim report.  We will wait to have final judgments until we get a final report.  But it is critical that we get to the bottom of it.  But we have expressed our opinion on Kofi Annan. 

GREGORY:  Why...

BARTLETT:  And that hasn‘t changed in today‘s—in today‘s information.

GREGORY:  Why doesn‘t the president think he should resign?  Why doesn‘t the president think he should?

BARTLETT:  Well, we believe that he is the appropriate person in place.  He is doing a good job.  I think he recognizes that reforms are needed.  He has worked to implement some of those reforms. 

But as we get the full body of a report from the oil-for-food program investigation, I‘m sure there will be additional actions that will be taken and it will give us an opportunity to comment then. 

grew Is this not a crushing blow to the United Nations, to its standing in the world, to its credibility? 

BARTLETT:  Well, it is a—obviously a—this investigation is important, because we‘re talking about literally billions of dollars being spent in a way that obviously was not transparent or and maybe in some cases lawful.  So, it is critical for the standing of the United Nations and for their credibility to make sure that we get to the bottom of this and that we demonstrate that there will be accountability join that also that there will be reforms put in place so it can‘t happen again. 

GREGORY:  You talk about believing in Kofi Annan as secretary-general of the U.N., and yet the president has nominated John Bolton, who is certainly a hard-liner when it come to the U.N. and has been sharply critical of its role, to represent the administration there in the U.N.  Doesn‘t that send a strong signal that this president still doesn‘t trust that international body? 

BARTLETT:  No.  I think what it says, David, is that John Bolton, like President Bush, wants the U.N. to be relevant. 

What the frustration has been, has been, sometimes, it has become in some cases a debating society, in which there haven‘t been any real results on some of the critical issues of the day.  President Bush has spoken passionately about the fact that he wants the United Nations to be a relevant agency in the world, to help not only confront threats to free peoples not only here in the United States, but around the world, but also help those—the afflicted. 

And that‘s something that John Bolton feels passionate about himself and he want to make sure that it is a relevant institution.  So, I think he can actually be, contrary to some of the critics‘ claims, a powerful voice on behalf of the U.N., if the U.N. is headed in the right direction to make sure that we have an institution that is based on results. 

GREGORY:  Dan, let me turn to another topic, and that is that we‘re getting initial reports about what the president‘s commission on intelligence is concluding specifically about the run-up to the war in Iraq and weapons of mass destruction, a pretty searing critique reportedly of the intelligence community. 

Has the president reached the conclusion that the intelligence community failed this administration, previous administrations, when it came to weapons of mass destruction and the intelligence about Iraq? 

BARTLETT:  Well, David, I‘m not going to be able to shed any light on the report until it is in its final form and delivered publicly, which will be later this week.  And President Bush looks forward.  As you noted, he‘s the one who called for this commission.  He‘s the one who wanted the commission to look. 

And they‘ve taken a considerable amount of time, over a year, to not only look in the situation in Iraq, but also the broader issue of intelligence, to make sure on other difficult targets that we are concerned in the world, to make sure that we have the best capabilities, systems in place, to make sure that we‘re cutting through the bureaucracy, to make sure that the thousands upon thousands of intelligence officials who are working tirelessly to try to protect our country have the tools and systems in place to give effective products to policy-makers. 

So, this is a critical issue to President Bush and one that he feels passionate about and looks forward to hearing the findings later this week. 

GREGORY:  Dan, troops in Iraq.  Secretary Rice, it‘s been reported at least by Bob Novak in his column, has been discussing the idea that appears to be getting some currency within the administration. that there ought to be a total troop pullout of Iraq this year, no matter what the stage of the government there, reflecting greater confidence in Iraqi forces to defend themselves.  True? 

BARTLETT:  I don‘t believe that‘s an accurate report of Secretary Rice‘s view.  She share President Bush‘s view.  And that is, as Iraqi security forces build its capabilities to protect its own country, there would obviously be a drawdown of coalition forces and including U.S.  forces. 

We‘ve already seen different levels of military presence at different times in the country‘s progress, when, for example, we ramped up during the election process.  Now we‘re ramping back down to about 130,000 troops on the ground.  And we hope to continue to decline in the number of troops present based on the fact that there is a more capable Iraqi security force.  So, this is a capabilities-based timetable, not an arbitrary one that is set by months or days or weeks or even a year, for that matter, because that would send the wrong signal to the enemy. 

GREGORY:  But is Novak right?  Would the president, does he at least have the goal of having troops, even most troops, out of Iraq by the end of this year? 

BARTLETT:  You know very clearly that President Bush, his goal is to have our troops come home as quickly as they can, but not before the mission is accomplished. 

There have not been put—we have not put artificial timetables in place.  This is a conditions-based timetable.  When the conditions are right, meaning security forces that are run by Iraqis are capable of defeating the enemy, we will then be able to draw back our own troops.  And that has been the strategy since day one, and that hasn‘t changed. 

GREGORY:  We‘ll leave it there. 

Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president—Dan, thanks a lot. 

BARTLETT:  Thanks, David.

GREGORY:  Up next, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is cleared of any wrongdoing in the oil-for-food scandal.  I‘ll talk to a former assistant secretary-general of the U.N. and MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan when we come back. 

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

You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Coming up, we‘re going to get reaction to the latest report on the U.N. oil-for-food scandal from Pat Buchanan and a former adviser to Kofi Anna—when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

GREGORY:  A report released today on the U.N.‘s oil-for-food program found no wrongdoing on the part of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, but did raise questions about that organization‘s governing practices.  At a press conference earlier today, the secretary-general addressed the report. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KOFI ANNAN, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL:  After so many distressing and untrue allegations have been made against me, this exoneration by the independent inquiry of yesterday comes as a great relief. 

QUESTION:  Do you think it is time, for the good of the organization, to step down? 

ANNAN:  Hell no. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Pat Buchanan is a political commentator for MSNBC and John Ruggie is a former assistant secretary-general and former adviser to Kofi Annan. 

Welcome to both of you. 

Pat, hell no; I‘m not going to resign. 

Your reaction? 

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  It didn‘t sound very dramatic. 

But my guess is, nobody is going to really push him to resign.  But he leads a very crippled organization.  He is a crippled leader.  David, the real problem with the U.N. is, it has always not had the support of American conservatives.  But it has now antagonized and alienated both neoconservatives and the administration.  And it has got hanging over it this aura of corruption. 

You know, when a lot of younger American were growing up, they were taught this is the last, best hope of mankind.  Even the liberal newspapers are not saying that anymore. 

GREGORY:  Why does this story, this particular scandal, matter? 

BUCHANAN:  I think it is piled on top of other things.  It tends to affect Kofi Annan personally.  And the very fact that the president had a very severe run-in with the United Nations, he talked about it being irrelevant, most Americans think it was not there helping us on the war in Iraq when the president went in. 

And I think most Americans are really tuning it out, pretty much.  I think the U.N. is in very, very serious trouble as an institution. 

GREGORY:  John Ruggie, what—I‘ll ask you the same question.  What is—remind people here what the story is and what is its consequence, do you think, in this story—in this conflict? 

JOHN RUGGIE, FORMER ADVISER TO KOFI ANNAN:  Well, the whole oil-for-food scandal that has been investigated by Volcker over the course of the last year concerned potential or actual mismanagement and some corrupt practices in a program that delivered humanitarian assistance to the people of Iraq while the United States and other members of the Security Council imposed sanctions on Saddam to make sure he did not reconstitute weapons of mass destruction, which he didn‘t. 

Now, the program was in Iraq.  They were dealing with Saddam Hussein. 

So, this was never going to be an easy program to manage over...

GREGORY:  And yet—I‘m sorry.  Go ahead.  You go ahead and finish. 

RUGGIE:  I was going to say, in the course of the last year, accusations have been made against Kofi Annan personally, quite apart from problems of management and oversight.  And Volcker today, very clearly, as you stated at the outset, cleared the secretary-general not only of illegal, but also of any ethical or other misconduct.  And so, for Kofi Annan, it was good news. 

BUCHANAN:  But the man running the program has been virtually accused of looting it.  People have gotten away with thousands, millions of dollars.  It has been rife with collusion and corruption.  And, right, Kofi Annan has not personally been hit by it, except that his so son was in the middle of this.  So he‘s sitting on top of...

(CROSSTALK)

RUGGIE:  His son was not in the middle of it.  His son was peripherally involved by being a consultant to a company that had one contract.  And it‘s that that Volcker focused on today.

BUCHANAN:  You‘ve got $350,000.  And he got into this when he is 21 years old. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  And he misled his father.  I mean, the report says that he not only misled investigators; he also misled his father in this whole problem. 

RUGGIE:  That‘s—that‘s exactly what Paul Volcker said. 

But I have a son who is roughly the same age.  Am I held responsible my entire life for what my son does? 

BUCHANAN:  But if you‘re running an organization and you have this massive corruption...

RUGGIE:  There‘s not massive.  There‘s...

BUCHANAN:  ... by the people directly under you at the same time your son benefited from it, there‘s a real question whether you ought to stand up and say, I was not involved, but this is a sad case.  I was deceived by my own son.  I was deceived by the people I put in charge.  They have stolen from this program.  And, in honor, I‘m going to stand down. 

I think that would have been the honorable thing to do.  And, sir, would you not agree that Kofi Annan, even though he is free of personal corruption, is severely damaged because he has come off as an inept and incompetent executive? 

RUGGIE:  He is not an inept and incompetent executive.  We just heard Dan Bartlett say that the administration thinks he is doing a good job.  I agree with the administration on this one. 

Look, the fact is that, despite all of the hoopla—and serious mismanagement problems existed.  There‘s no question about that.  It was a difficult program.  But, despite all the attacks, so far, one single—not 10, not 100, but one single U.N. official has been accused of bribery, one.  It happens to be the guy who ran the program, unfortunately. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  All right, we‘re going to take a break.  We‘re going to come back with our guests, Pat Buchanan and John Ruggie, and talk more about the U.N.‘s credibility in the world, the war on Iraq, and more when we come back.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Back live on HARDBALL from the White House tonight.

We‘re going to take you live now to Pinellas Park, Florida, outside Terri Schiavo‘s hospice.  We are waiting to hear from her family, the Schindler family expected to speak to reporters in the next few minutes.  You‘re looking at a live picture, still some protesters there and the bank of microphones as we wait for the family. 

NBC‘s Mark Potter also on the scene there. 

Mark, what can you tell us about what you‘re expecting to hear? 

POTTER:  Well, David, the announcement was made just a short time ago.  And what we think this is going to be is another condition report from the parents. 

We do not think it will be the most dramatic announcement.  I‘m looking off to the side for a second, David, because I believe I‘m seeing the parents walking out of the building.  And they‘ll be heading to the microphone.  Their spiritual adviser, Brother Paul O‘Donnell, came to us about a half-hour or so ago to say that the parents and the brother and sister wanted to talk. 

He said that the father, Bob Schindler, Suzanne Vitadamo, Terri Schiavo‘s sister, and Bobby Schindler, her brother, went into the hospice late this afternoon.  They visited with Terri Schiavo, their sister and daughter.  And we believe that they‘re going to be coming out shortly to report on their condition. 

Mary Schindler, the mother, will also be involved in this press conference.  And we have been told that she has actually not been in to see her daughter for a couple of days.  Brother O‘Donnell says that it is just too difficult for her right now to see her daughter in this condition, now in her 12th day without food and water. 

Earlier this morning, Bob Schindler, the father, talked.  He had visited her then.  He said that he still believes that a miracle, as he puts it, could happen and her feeding tube could be reattached, she could be saved.  But he said she‘s deteriorating. 

The family is coming in, in front of the microphones now.  David, let‘s listen to what they have to say. 

BOB SCHINDLER, FATHER OF TERRI SCHIAVO:  Once again, I thank you for all being here. 

And Mary would like to say something, my wife, Mary, on behalf of the whole—our family. 

MARY SCHINDLER, MOTHER OF TERRI SCHIAVO:  Michael and Jodi, you have your own children.  Please, please, give my child back to me. 

GREGORY:  Mother in a very brief statement, not taking any questions, as you see the Schindler family move away, a fairly dramatic plea tonight, not for outside intervention, but, in this case, speaking directly to Michael Schiavo, Terri Schiavo‘s husband, asking once again, in effect, for guardianship of Terri Schiavo, which has been a huge debate, Michael Schiavo refusing to do that, refusing to allow the Schindler family to take guardianship of Terri, which they have said they have wanted to do, to care for her in a vegetative state. 

He insists that—and Mark Potter joins me again now. 

Mark, Michael Schiavo, of course, has made it very clear that he is acting on what he believes his wife would have wanted, which would—not to be living in a situation like this.  And he will not allow the Schiavo family guardianship of this point.  But pretty dramatic and a little bit unlike what we‘ve been hearing from them in the past few days. 

POTTER:  Well, this is the first time that I have heard the family address Michael Schiavo and his fiancee, Jodi, talking about the fact that they have two children together and Michael is still married to and has custody of Terri Schiavo, his wife. 

And Mrs. Schindler, Mary Schindler, is asking him to give her back.  But they have always said that.  Please, give us back our daughter.  We will care for her.  But, in recent times, in the last couple of weeks, they have never done anything as dramatic as this.  The short announcements or pleas from Mrs. Schindler are something we‘ve seen before.  She usually comes out with a sentence or two and then walks away.  That‘s not uncommon. 

But you‘re right.  You‘re absolutely right.  This is the first time we‘ve seen something so dramatic, where she looks at the camera and directly, directly asks her son-in-law to give her daughter back.  And there is no indication that he is going to do that at all.  It seems that this is going to play out until the end. 

GREGORY:  Right.  All right., Mark Potter in Pinellas Park, Florida, with us live tonight, thank you very much.

I think it just underscores how much rancor there still is in this tragic case between Terri Schiavo‘s parents and her husband, Michael Schiavo, that they cannot even agree at this stage of her life to allow guardianship to be taken over by the Schindler family. 

We‘re going to have continuing coverage as news warrants of the Schiavo case.  That is HARDBALL for tonight. 

Keith Olbermann is up next with “COUNTDOWN.”

Good night.

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