updated 6/21/2005 10:24:39 AM ET 2005-06-21T14:24:39

Guest: David Kay, James Woolsey, Michael Smith, Mike Allen, Terence Samuel, Barbara Boxer, George Allen

DAVID GREGORY, GUEST HOST:  Tonight, the Democrats have done it again.  They have blocked a vote on John Bolton, the president's embattled nominee to be U.S. ambassador.  Might the president consider a recess appointment now? 

And separating fact from fiction on the Downing Street memo.  We are going to talk to the reporter who broke the story. 

Hi, everybody.  I'm David Gregory, in for Chris Matthews tonight and reporting from the White House.  We will get more on our special report on the Downing Street memo a little bit later on.

But, first, the Bolton nomination and another act of defiance by the Democrats, where they are watching it very carefully here at the White House.  The vote total tonight, 54-38, a cloture vote, which is essentially on whether a nomination vote can go forward to confirm or deny John Bolton as U.N. ambassador.  The Republicans couldn't get enough votes.  They couldn't get to the 60, which is what was necessary to cut off all the debate about Bolton and all the changes against him and clear him for an up-or-down vote, which is what the president has been calling for. 

So, again, this was an example of the Democrats doing as they said they would do, which was defy the president, despite the efforts by the Republican leadership to get this confirmation through. 

I am joined now by Senator Barbara Boxer of California and George Allen, the senator from Virginia, both from Capitol Hill. 

Good evening, both of you.

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN ®, VIRGINIA:  Good evening.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA:  Good evening.

GREGORY:  Senator Allen, let me start with you. 

What went wrong? 

G. ALLEN:  Well, what happened is, the Democrats are continuing to obstruct. 

Clearly, John Bolton has a majority support in the Senate.  And I think it's irresponsible when the United Nations is in the midst of the dire need of reform that the American taxpayers, who are putting $2 billion a year into the United Nations, we don't have our ambassador there.  So, the Democrats' obstruction, which I consider to be irresponsible, continues, as they ask for more and more information, as they continue a fishing expedition.

Meanwhile, we don't have that representation in the U.N. 

GREGORY:  Senator Allen, let me ask you more of a logistical question.  The Republicans got fewer votes on this one than they had before for John Bolton; 54-38 was the vote count.  Were all the Republicans this is town? 

G. ALLEN:  No, they weren't.  There were three members missing. 

GREGORY:  Well, then why call a vote if you don't have your Republicans lined up? 

G. ALLEN:  I don't know.  I don't have an answer for that. 

GREGORY:  But, I mean, don't you think that's an important question for the Republican leadership?  Otherwise, why have this vote? 

G. ALLEN:  Having played quarterback, I always like to have everyone in formation when you are ready to run a play. 

GREGORY:  Right.  So, we will take that as, it wasn't a great call. 

Senator Boxer, let me turn to you now.

Was this the right vote and why? 

BOXER:  Well, I never played quarterback, but let me tell you, this was the right vote. 

And what George Allen didn't tell you is, we did pick up a Republican, George Voinovich, for a very simple reason.  We need more information on this nominee.  And three Republicans, three very prominent Republicans, Bill Frist, John McCain and Mitch McConnell, have been quoted in the past as saying, when you need information, it's totally legitimate to hold up a confirmation, because we really are fighting for the American taxpayers. 

They need to know about this person.  Who was he trying to spy on when he asked for these intercepts?  What kind of speech did he write about Syria?  Was he trying to hype the Syrian threat?

(CROSSTALK)

BOXER:  These are important points.

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  I want to break these down a little bit, Senator, so the audience actually understands.  You are talking about NSA intercepts that you believe will actually show, what, that John Bolton was trying to get even with his critics in the administration on intelligence matters? 

BOXER:  We don't know what they are going to show.  That's the whole point.

He says that he never wanted to hurt anybody who didn't agree with him, but we have proof already that he tried to get independent intelligence analysts fired because they wouldn't give the information he wanted.  So, we want to see, you know, what was he doing with these intercepts?  It's a very important point.

And, secondly, did he hype the Syria threat?  He told the committee that, in fact, he did not.  He never drafted a speech attacking Syria.  We can't get the drafts.  There is another information we want, but those are the two that Senators Biden and Chris Dodd have asked for. 

GREGORY:  Senator Allen...

BOXER:  And the American people deserve to know.

GREGORY:  If I can interject here, Senator Allen, the White House has been clear on a couple of points. 

First, in terms of seeing some of those NSA intercepts, those have been provided to the committee chairs on the Intelligence Committee.

G. ALLEN:  Correct.

GREGORY:  They were of kind of two minds on that, Republican and Democrat.  The White House also says what Senator Boxer and other Democrats are asking for is really just a smokescreen.  They just want to block the nomination and they are not really willing to play fair. 

G. ALLEN:  Yes, well, if you look at the reality of this whole five months since this nomination has gone forward, the Democrats, first, were all worried about a speech that John and testimony from John Bolton on Cuba's biological weapons capability.

And, in fact, his testimony was the same as was given by Mr. Ford.  They were worried about his speech about North Korea, calling them a tyrannical dictatorship and a hellish nightmare to live there.  They now worry about a speech actually, a crafting one, a draft of which was never delivered.  They first started wanting on names.  They wanted about seven names.  Those names were cross-checked by Pat Roberts and Jay Rockefeller, the chair and ranking member of the Intelligence Committee. 

And so that was clear.  And then they said, now, now we need 36 names.  And, in fact, if 36 names are cross-checked, they would probably say, we need another 72 names.  The reality...

(CROSSTALK)

BOXER:  This is incorrect.  This is totally incorrect. 

G. ALLEN:  The reality is, is that, no matter what is done, for some of these senators, they are clearly opposed to John Bolton.

GREGORY:  Right. 

G. ALLEN:  And don't want to allow us to have a vote on it. 

GREGORY:  Senator Boxer, you're shaking your head.  Go ahead.

BOXER:  No, because it's totally incorrect. 

Not one person at the White House has said that what Senator Biden and Senator Dodd are asking for on behalf of Foreign Relations Committee, which I serve, not one has said that that information is inappropriate for us to have.  It really gets to the arrogance of power of this administration and the Republicans who run the Senate, the House and the White House. 

The fact of the matter is, this is a divisive nomination.  There's no question.  It's unprecedented; 120 former diplomats, Republicans and Democrats, have said, this is a very divisive, controversial nomination.  We are asking for information because we are doing our job.  And if we roll over because the White House says they are annoyed at us, we are not doing our job.  And the American people want us to stand tall, even though I'm only 5 feet, for what our job is, which is a check and balance on this administration. 

GREGORY:  Senator Allen, does the president now need to think differently tactically?  Does he need to consider a recess appointment?  Would you support that?

G. ALLEN:  I think the president needs to keep fighting for John Bolton and realize the Democrats want to continue on a fishing expedition.  And we can understand why the administration—I can—understands why they shouldn't.

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  If the president needs to keep fighting, I have heard him on numerous occasions say that Bolton should get an up-or-down vote, that he is a tough guy, and that is the kind of guy he wants at the United Nations.

Why isn't he doing more?  You understand the power of the White House, the power of image.  He could be doing a lot more to stand beside John Bolton.  Does he consider him a distraction at this point? 

G. ALLEN:  I don't think he considers him a distraction at all. 

And I think the president recognizes that the American people want a watchdog, not a lapdog, in the United Nations.  The president wants accountability in the United Nations and wants the United Nations to actually be helpful for the advancement in human rights and the march of freedom. 

(CROSSTALK)

G. ALLEN:  I think the president needs to keep arguing.  I think the American people would actually think it's irresponsible that senators are precluding a president who was duly elected to put in the men and women that he wants, not for a lifetime appointment, but for his term, to get through the ideas, the principles and the promises he made to the American people. 

This isn't a lifetime appointment, Barbara.  This is for his term.

BOXER:  Well...

G. ALLEN:  And why shouldn't the president be accorded that responsibility?

GREGORY:  And, Senator Boxer, let—let me ask you this question.

BOXER:  Yes. 

GREGORY:  Whatever your views on the war and administration officials

·         and we know how you have pressed them in very public forums—why isn't this man the right guy for the United Nations, when there is bipartisan agreement that the United Nations needs reform, needs somebody who can go in there and talk tough? 

BOXER:  Well, listen, if this is the only person in America who could go in there and tough talk, then we are in a lot of trouble. 

There wonderful, wonderful Republicans, conservative Republicans out there.  I can tell you, we had a wonderful man, John Danforth, a wonderful Republican, who got every vote.  Don't stick with someone who has so much baggage, who really didn't tell the truth to the committee, who has 120 diplomats in both parties saying he is wrong. 

But this vote today was really about more than that.  And I think it goes to reading the Constitution, the advice and consent clause.  Yes, it is true.  The president has every right to put someone forward who holds his views, but, that said, we still need to have someone who is competent.

GREGORY:  All right. 

BOXER:  Who hasn't used his position to be a bully and try to fire people who didn't agree with him.  There are so many other great Republican Republicans out there.  Let's have the president send us one of those. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Let's...

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  Let's move away from the merits of the argument for just a moment and talk about some predictions. 

I'll start with you, Senator Boxer.  Is there any way a deal is going to be struck here or you do think the nomination fails? 

BOXER:  It's up to George Bush. 

GREGORY:  Senator Allen, do you think there is a deal to be had here or do you think a recess appointment is the only way? 

G. ALLEN:  I think the ones you have to look at are Senator Feinstein, Lieberman and others.  I think, some of the Democrats, it doesn't matter what the president does.  They are not going to support him. 

John Bolton ultimately should be our ambassador to the United Nations.  I would like to see senators not obstruct, but actually advise or consent or withhold their consent. 

(CROSSTALK)

BOXER:  That's what we are doing. 

G. ALLEN:  No, you are not.  You are filibustering. 

BOXER:  No.

G. ALLEN:  And senators ought to get off their cushy seats, show some backbone and vote yes or no, Barbara.

(CROSSTALK)

BOXER:  George, it was your leader who said that it is totally appropriate to have a cloture vote...

G. ALLEN:  That was on a...

(CROSSTALK)

BOXER:  ... when you are not getting information. 

(CROSSTALK)

BOXER:  And Mitch McConnell said that.  And Sam Brownback...

G. ALLEN:  That doesn't bind me.

BOXER:  Yes.  But you are making—you're making it sound as if we are not doing our job.  And we are doing our job. 

G. ALLEN:  No.  You are obstructing. 

BOXER:  You just don't like the way we're doing it, George.

GREGORY:  It's pretty clear—it's pretty clear that the debate is going to continue. 

My thanks to Senator Barbara Boxer and Senator George Allen for joining me tonight. 

BOXER:  Thanks.

G. ALLEN:  Good to be with you. 

BOXER:  Thanks.

GREGORY:  Thank you. 

Coming up, we're going to talk more about the Bolton nomination with

reporters Mike Allen and Terence Samuel

And, later on, our special report on the Downing Street memo.  What's in it?  What does it mean about the Iraq war? 

You're watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Coming up, Democrats once again block a vote on John Bolton to become the next ambassador to the United Nations.  Will the president find a way to get him up there anyway? 

When we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  I'm David Gregory, in tonight for Chris Matthews and region from the White House, where they are again disappointment—disappointed about John Bolton, a vote today in the Senate late in the day blocking his nomination from going forward for an up-or-down vote. 

And so, we have got the White House licking its wounds again on that and some questions about why Republicans called the vote in the first place when not even all the Republicans were in town.  Was it just to make Democrats look like obstructionists?

I'm joined now Terence Samuel.  He's with “U.S. News & World Report.”  And Mike Allen, who covers the Hill, of course, for “The Washington Post” and used to be a colleague of mine here at the White House.

Mike, let me start with you. 

MIKE ALLEN, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Hey, David.

GREGORY:  This—this—how are you? 

This point I brought up with Senator Allen about why they called this vote in the first place, what was behind it and do you think they a achieved what they wanted to on the Republican side? 

M. ALLEN:  Well, there's about three answers.  And you're right with one of them.  They do want to make Democrats look obstructionist. 

As you know, Republicans are trying to do this across the board.  Tomorrow, the RNC is putting out a video with a bunch of Democratic statements clipped together with music from “Wild Thing” behind it to try and make Democrats look out of step. 

Also, Leader Frist of Tennessee thought that, if they had a deadline, it would be some way to make Democrats negotiate.  He thought that there wouldn't be any movement at all without some firm thing.  And, finally, and the most important reason is, this gives the White House justification to do a recess appointment, which all indications in your building and in ours are that they intend to do that and intend to do it quickly.  But they can say, the Senate had their chance.  They didn't act.  The president is going to go ahead and do it.

GREGORY:  Which, Terence Samuel, may explain why, even if all the Republicans weren't in town, it was OK to go through with the vote that they didn't think they were going to win anyhow.  It shines some light on the fact that—what the issues are really that are blocking the nomination. 

But the indications I'm getting here from the White House are that they at least don't want to talk publicly about a recess vote, though they would certainly like to put it behind them.  Give me your thoughts. 

TERENCE SAMUEL, CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, “U.S. NEWS AND

WORLD REPORT”:  Well, they may be disappointed at the White House, but they certainly could not be surprised. 

This clearly was a strategy, I think, last week, in setting the vote, as Mike said, to get this issue flushed out, find out exactly where people are.  But it was also an attempt.  You know, you have to have a backdrop for a press conference.  And the press conferences for the rest of this week, into next week, until the president decides however he is going to handle this is going to be that the Democrats are obstructionists.

And we had two cloture votes to prove it.  So, this was clearly—this was clearly a strategy to make the Democrats look like they were not doing the people's business. 

GREGORY:  Mike Allen, let's talk about some of the substance here. 

There is this ongoing fight about the NSA intercepts.  Again, the point there, the question that is raised is, did John Bolton try to retaliate against his enemies in the administration who may be doubting him in terms of his views about the intelligence about the Iraq war, about Syria, about other matters, and specifically a speech that he was preparing on Syria?  Was he overly hawkish, overly alarmist about their WMD capabilities?

Just take us through in kind of simple fashion how close they got to a deal on this? 

M. ALLEN:  Yes, well, David, you're right.  This was testimony that he was preparing for the House. 

And we have seen on your air some of the examples of how Mr. Bolton treated subordinates in the past about everyday matters.  And people wonder, did he also do this on intelligence?  Did he punish people who didn't agree with him?  Now, there in your building, they say, look, you have been saying, we should discuss intelligence.  That's what he did.

But Democrats had asked for a lot of information about information he had asked for, including a bunch of names.  And the question is—the way it's sometimes posed up here is, did they make an unreasonable request and did the White House respond unreasonably?

One of the points that Senator Biden and Senator Dodd make is, the White House didn't even offer or cite executive privilege or some other specific reason.  They just said no, basically, we are the mommy.  And that's what originally set Democrats off, that there was not respect for the prerogatives of the Senate. 

Now, the administration says they have kept trying to help come their way.  The White House says that today, the chief of staff, Andrew Card, talked to Senator Biden today, offered him some more and, according to Republicans, he said that, if he couldn't get everything, he wasn't going to take anything. 

So, they went ahead and had this vote because they concluded that there was not going to be any compromising that was possible.  Now, this doesn't look so... 

GREGORY:  All right.  Let me—let me just—we are going take a break here, Mike.  We're going to continue with this, Mike Allen and Terence Samuel. 

We will talk more about the Bolton nomination, the prospect of a recess nomination by the president.  We will also talk about Iraq.  The president's strategy now to talk more about it to try to reassure the American public—when we come back on HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We're back on HARDBALL.  David Gregory reporting tonight from the White House.

And I'm joined by Mike Allen of “The Washington Post” and Terence Samuel of “U.S. News & World Report.” 

Mike Allen, let me ask you, beyond the individual merits of the Bolton case, is this risky for Democrats to be fighting this particular issue so hard or, on the flip side, is it exactly the message that they want to send to the White House, which is, we felt like we got rolled on issues like the war and other matters; we are going to begin to deal you a series of defeats until you are weakened? 

M. ALLEN:  Yes.  Well, David, this vote exposed how much real animosity there is among Democrats toward the administration.  This vote surprised Democrats. 

Just a couple weeks ago, when I talk talked to Senator Biden's staff, other members of the Democratic staff, they did not expect to get any more documents from the White House and they expected Bolton to be easily confirmed.  Both leadership staffs will tell you that.  But, as Senator Biden and Senator Dodd went into the caucus and made the case to them, making this case about respect for Congress, they were surprised. 

They got a lot more votes than expected they were going to.  And so, this immediately sends the message that Congress is still here.  The president in the end, if he goes this recess appointment route, he is going to have his man there.  And, as, David, you know better than I do, the Bush people don't care much what you and I say about it.  They care about the result and Bolton is going to be in that office. 

And so, in the end, the president got what he wanted. 

SAMUEL:  You know, it would be interesting if this was really about the merits, but it really is—this town and the Congress has certainly turned into a completely partisan war zone, and that the Democrats are going to fight to the end. 

The White House is not going to retreat, because there is absolutely no page in the playbook that says retreat.  And so, in two weeks, John Bolton is going to probably with the nominee—the ambassador to the United Nations. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

Terence, I've got 30 seconds left.  Iraq, the president beginning to engage even more, said today—excuse me—said today, meeting with European officials, that he thinks every day about Iraq and American losses there.  Why is he doing this? 

SAMUEL:  A response to bad news.  You look at the poll numbers and the American public, they don't like what's happening in Iraq. 

And something else is happening on Capitol Hill, that the coalition that has supported the president seems to be coming apart at least at the seams.  Senator Hagel told “U.S. News & World Report” this week that, we were losing the war and that the White House needed to stop telling stories that essentially made it seem better than it was.  It was getting worse, not better. 

GREGORY:  Terence...

SAMUEL:  That's not good for the White House. 

GREGORY:  Terence Samuel with “U.S. News & World Report” and Mike Allen with “The Washington Post,” thanks to both of you. 

SAMUEL:  Thank you. 

M. ALLEN:  And you have Republicans saying the same thing. 

Have a good night, David.

GREGORY:  All right.  Thanks, Mike.

When we come back, a HARDBALL special report, the Downing Street memo and the question, did the United States and Britain manipulate intelligence to effect regime change in Iraq?  We're going to talk to the British reporter who broke that story. 

You're watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome to this HARDBALL special report, the Downing Street memo.  I'm David Gregory, in for Chris Matthews tonight.

For two years, opponents of the Iraq war have been arguing the Bush administration manipulated intelligence to bolster its case for the invasion.  Last month, a confidential British memo was leaked that cited weak intelligence and suggested officials there devised a plan to justify the war.  To, some the Downing Street memo is a smoking gun.  To others, it's old news. 

But what exactly is in the memo and what does it mean? 

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster begins our coverage with this report. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It's a memo based on a briefing given to British Prime Minister Tony Blair eight months before the invasion of Iraq.  At the time, U.S. force says had already taken control in Afghanistan.  CIA Director George Tenet and his British counterpart, Richard Dearlove, had just met in Washington.  And President Bush was ratcheting up the rhetoric about Saddam Hussein. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  America will not leave the safety of our people and the future of peace in the hands of a few evil and destructive men. 

SHUSTER:  The memo, labeled secret and strictly personal, U.K. eyes only, summarizes a meeting between Dearlove, as known as C, and Blair—quote—“C. reported on his recent talks in Washington.  There was a perceptible shift in attitude.  Military action was now seen as inevitable.  Bush wanted to remove Saddam through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD.  But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.  The NSC had no patience with the U.N. route and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record.  There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.”

Another part of the memo refer refers to the prospective offer by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw—quote—It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet not decided.  But the case was thin.  Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.  We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the U.N. weapons inspectors.  This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.

Last month, five days before Tony Blair's election, the Downing Street memo was obtained by British reporter Michael Smith and the headlines were sensational.  Critics of the war said the documents proved that Blair and President Bush were bent on an invasion of Iraq months before they appeared to be seeking solutions at the United Nations. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you. 

SHUSTER:  Blair survived his reelection, but since then the memo has been picking up steam among anti-war activists in the United States.  They are convinced the line intelligence facts are being fixed is a smoking gun that explains prewar claims like this. 

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE:  Now, our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent. 

SHUSTER:  The problem with the memo, however, is that it doesn't offer any specifics or cite an admission from any U.S. decision-maker.  Furthermore, the basic argument that the Bush administration was hell-bent on war with Iraq is one that has been made before. 

Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill wrote in his book, “The Price of Loyalty,” that getting rid of Saddam was at the top of President Bush's agenda in his very first Cabinet meeting.  In the wake of 9/11, counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke wrote that President Bush pressured him to come up with evidence linking 9/11 to Iraq. 

And Bob Woodward in his book “Plan of Attack” reported, the administration was focused on invading Iraq long before President Bush went to the United Nations. 

(on camera):  At the White House recently, President Bush and Prime Minister Blair denied that any facts about Iraq were fixed and the leaders pointed out that the allegation about a rush to war is undercut by the fact the U.S. went to the United Nations. 

Still, the question is, does this mean Blair's own intelligence chief got it wrong during that meeting on Downing Street or that the Bush administration was determined to go to war and simply used the U.N. as cover? 

I'm David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREGORY:  Michael Smith broke the story of the highly confidential Downing Street memo for “The Sunday Times of London” just days before British Prime Minister Tony Blair was reelected.  And he joins us now from London. 

Michael Smith, welcome and thanks for being here. 

MICHAEL SMITH, “SUNDAY TIMES OF LONDON”:  That's all right. 

GREGORY:  Let me begin with new information that's come out about the Downing Street memo and your notes, your own reporting on this.  It's come out that you destroyed some of your initial notes that supported the memo.  Is that the case and why have you done that? 

SMITH:  We—I haven't destroyed any notes. 

What happened was that, when I first received the first six batch—sorry—when I first received the batch of six documents back in September of last year, when I was working on “The Daily Telegraph,” I was under very strict orders from the lawyers as to how I should handle that.  I had to photocopy the documents, send the originals back to whoever had sent them to me.  That meant that the photocopy paper that the actual documents were now on was our property at “The Daily Telegraph” and therefore couldn't be taken away from us on that basis. 

And then the lawyers, not me, the lawyers, insisted that a secretary typed up on a typewriter the actual text of the documents.  And then, on the evening, as we went to press on the story, we actually shredded the photocopies of the documents.  And the reason for that is that the source who had given them to us could have been identified by the particular copy of that document that they had by an elimination process.  And we were anxious to protect the source. 

GREGORY:  But the bottom line is, the British government has never said the memo is not real or the content is wrong? 

SMITH:  No, they haven't, no.  And all the embarrassment it's given them, they would rush immediately to say, this is rubbish, this is not a true document. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

SMITH:  And, indeed, everyone saw Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush at the White House press briefing, where Mr. Blair responded to that. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

SMITH:  And, you know, Mr. Blair didn't say it's false.  He said that he didn't agree with something that was said in here by the head of MI6.  But he didn't say the document didn't exist.  He said it was an old document and things had moved on after that document. 

GREGORY:  Michael, let me get to the heart of it, because this is a great opportunity to actually speak to you.  And you know about the debate about the memo's significance, other memos, in terms of what we are actually learning.  What the Downing Street memo prove? 

SMITH:  The Downing Street memo shows that the British government—that the key players within the British War Cabinet—and you have to think of those people that were attending that meeting as the equivalent of the National Security Council. 

So, you have got—you have got people—you have got the equivalent, Blair obviously being equivalent of President Bush.  You also have the British equivalent of Colin Powell, Condi Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Myers.  All those people are there.  And they're all making decisions and they're all saying, well, this is what's going on.  And they are all expressing concern over the situation in America, A, that is pretty much certain we are going go to war. 

They seem determined to go to war.  The head of MI6, who has just returned from Washington, where he's, of course, had talks with George Tenet, the CIA director, says that the intelligence and facts are being fixed around the policy. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  And if I could just interrupt there, because that's the key point. 

SMITH:  Yes.  

GREGORY:  Is it your central contention that what we learn from this memo is that the decision was made to go to war and then they would figure out how to sell it to allies and to the American people, to the British people, after that? 

SMITH:  Yes, and not just how to sell it to the British and American people, but also, of course, how to make it legal, because, for the British, it was very important that it became legal.

And you see a bit of discussion there about how we make it legal.  And Jack Straw talks about getting a U.N. ultimatum, not as both Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair have repeatedly said, and indeed said back in their meeting the other day in the press briefing in Washington, in order to try avert war, but actually to try to get an excuse for war. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

SMITH:  A legal justification for going to war. 

GREGORY:  But if the memo appears to expose a rush to war, both Prime Minister Blair and President Bush, when they met here in Washington recently, have said, look, after this memo comes out, we initiate this diplomatic process in the United Nations.  So, it's quite the contrary. 

We may have had views about how things were going.  We may have had views about the fact that Saddam Hussein was flouting the will of the world for 12 years and all those Security Council resolutions, but we decided still to go back to the United Nations after this memo.  Is that a rush to war? 

SMITH:  Yes, it is, because—well, it's not a rush in the sense that they are taking their time to get there, but they're taking more time than the American government wants to take. 

They are taking more time than Dick Cheney wants to take.  They are taking more time than Mr. Bush wants to take.  But they are taking that time, as I said.  And it's not just the Downing Street memo.  You have to read the briefing paper that is also up on “The Sunday Times” Web site, the briefing paper, “Iraq: Conditions For Military Action,” which is produced two days before that meeting by the Cabinet office, by the British Cabinet office, in order to brief those ministers, in order to brief the people at that meeting. 

That is talking entirely about trying to get a U.N. ultimatum in order to justify, in order give the military justification.  Now, what that—that paper is very—is actually more crucial, if I can say so, than the Downing Street memo, because what it actually says it this.

First of all, it says very clearly and in these terms, not—is not me making this up.  It's what it actually says is the document, is that the prime minister agreed, when he went to the Crawford summit in April 2002, he agreed to back military action to achieve regime change.  Now, that, actually, at that stage, was something illegal for the British prime minister to agree.

But, by extension, of course, if Mr. Blair agreed it, he's agreeing it with Mr. Bush.  It then says in that document it is necessary to create the conditions to make military action legal, because regime change per se is illegal under international law. 

GREGORY:  All right, Michael Smith, we have to leave it there.  Thank you very much for coming on the program. 

When our HARDBALL special report returns, former weapons inspector David Kay and former CIA Director James Woolsey will join us. 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Coming up, former CIA Director James Woolsey, plus former Iraq weapons inspector David Kay.

HARDBALL's special report, the Downing Street memo, returns right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to this HARDBALL special report, the Downing Street memo. 

David Kay led the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq for the CIA.  And James Woolsey served as director of the CIA from 1993 to 1995.  He is now vice president of Booz Allen & Hamilton consulting firm. 

Welcome to both of you.

JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR:  Thank you. 

GREGORY:  David, let me start with you. 

The Downing Street memo.  You were involved in all of this in terms of the hunt for weapons of mass destruction, ultimately the case that was made in terms of intelligence and Saddam Hussein.  Does the memo ring true to you? 

DAVID KAY, FORMER CHIEF U.S. WEAPONS INSPECTOR:  Well, it rings true in the sense that, by June of 2002, everyone who had any ear in Washington realized military options was coming to the fore. 

The one thing that is not clear as to what the memo means, and that is the Senate, but the intelligence and the facts were being fit to the policy. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  Were being fixed to the policy.

KAY:  Fixed to the policy, that's right, fixed. 

Now, in the normal American sense of the word, to me, that's books are cooked.  Certainly, if you are using, as the director of CIA did, basketball analogies, slam dunk, fixing the game is cooking the books. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

KAY:  Now, it is possible.  There is another English meaning for that, so it's unclear as to what it does mean. 

GREGORY:  You thought there were weapons of mass destruction when you began the Iraq Survey Group? 

KAY:  I thought the weapons—there were weapons.  The intelligence product indicated that there were weapons. 

GREGORY:  James Woolsey, is not the issue here, when we talk about fixing the intelligence to meet the policy, that the case, as the memo asserts, was thin on Saddam Hussein and whether he possessed chemical, biological, even nuclear weapons? 

WOOLSEY:  I think that's not what fixing means in these circumstances.  I think people are not listening to British usage.  I don't think they're talking about cooking the books. 

I do think that there seemed a lot of indications at the time that there were chemical and bacteriological, at least, agent in Iraq.  And, indeed, one of the fascinating things in David's report was that captured Iraqi generals after the war were each saying, you know, my unit didn't have chemical weapons, but the unit to my right and unit to my left I know did. 

We call that red-on-red cover and description.  Saddam apparently was deceiving some of his own generals.  So, you know, I think people ought to back off a bit on this notion that we knew exactly what the situation was and the books were being cooked.  I don't think there is really any basis for that kind of allegation. 

GREGORY:  But, David, is there a basis for some skepticism about how strong the case was at that point in time and, as the case is made in the memo, look, we know a lot more about Libya or North Korea's WMD program than we do Saddam Hussein's. 

And yet, we were proceeding on a track at that point, in July 2002, where we were building up forces there.  Prime Minister Blair and President Bush were meeting in Crawford to discuss the inevitable war that could result, having dealt with Saddam for a number of years.

KAY:  Well, David, what comes through in the memo is, the British were extremely skeptical and worried about the decision to go to war.  And they viewed the case as thin, although you have to say, the one thing that comes through in that is—and Jack Straw made the point very well—after 9/11, what has changed is not the scope of Iraq's threat, but the willingness and skepticism of the international regime, particularly the American and the British one, to tolerate someone like Saddam Hussein with the possibility of having weapons of mass destruction. 

So, it was the change of 9/11. 

GREGORY:  So, there's a lower threshold.  There's a lower burden of proof that was operating at that time after 9/11. 

WOOLSEY:  I don't think it was a lower burden. 

I think the one thing that is really badly wrong in the British memo is the idea that it would be difficult to go to war based on U.N. security resolution 1205 of three years previously.  Saddam had—at that point, had violated that either 15 or 16 times.  And Security Council resolutions are not like tomatoes.  If you leave them out, they don't go rotten. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

WOOLSEY:  I mean, there was no obligation, I think, than for us to do anything other really than enforce the Security Council resolution that he had violated time and time and time again.  So, I disagree with the British attorney general's statement, as quoted in that report, that there—would have been difficult to go to war on the basis of the previous resolution.  I don't just think that is true at all. 

GREGORY:  Prime Minister Blair and President Bush made the point that, for those who thought that they had made a decision to go to war at that point in time, they still did pursue a diplomatic track later on.

But as it relates to the intelligence at the time, David Kay, why didn't George Tenet stand up and say, you know what, Mr. President; there are some reservations out here; your own State Department has reservations about how quickly Saddam could get a nuclear weapon; maybe we ought to slow down a little bit here?

KAY:  Well, I think you need to ask George Tenet that.

The one thing that comes through in the two commissions, both the Robb-Silberman, one of the—most recently, and the 9/11 Commission, is that the quality of the intelligence analysis, when you look back on it, was pretty bad, was all wrong, as the Robb-Silberman commission refers to it. 

And, certainly, one would have thought the managers of the intelligence community would have realized that and would have spoken up, instead of saying, it's a slam dunk, Mr. President, when the president himself expressed skepticism about the evidence. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

We are going to come back and pick up on this point and the larger point about the memo, which is, was a decision made to take out Saddam long before the case was made to bring him out?

We are going to continue with David Kay and James Woolsey right after this. 

And don't forget to check out Hardblogger, our political blog Web site.  Just go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We are back on HARDBALL talking about the Downing Street memo and the war in Iraq.  I am joined by David Kay and James Woolsey to talk about this. 

David, you made the point as we've been talking about this that what you do learn in the Downing Street memo is that the Brits were saying, the British government was saying, hey, wait a minute.  We are concerned about aspects of this policy.  The case may be a little bit thin and we are certainly concerned about the consequences of going to war. 

KAY:  That's right. 

If you look at the memos in toto, most of their skepticism was actually with regard to what happens after the victory.  They had a great deal of prescience compared to most American policy-makers now of realizing that winning a war, winning a victory against the Iraqi military was not the real question.  It was how you restructured a regime once you had replaced a regime and got something going in Iraq. 

GREGORY:  James Woolsey, isn't this significant as a point of reflection here on how the war was organized and the postwar period was planned? 

WOOLSEY:  Well, I think David's right.  The Brits do express concern about the fact that, in Washington, there doesn't seem to be a lot of thinking going on about postwar.  And that has turned out to be the big problem.

But the main thrust of this memo is the rationale for the war. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

WOOLSEY:  And what it's about, really, it's at the time when the Brits were insisting that we go back and try to get the inspectors in.  And for Saddam to refuse the inspectors or hinder them in some way would be the new casus belli.  The Americans were persuaded of that by the British.  They needed the British badly.  That is what this is all about.

But, in legal terms, I don't think that the Americans were wrong. 

GREGORY:  Isn't the bigger point here about this memo the—what comes across is that the Bush administration made a decision to take Saddam out as early as 2002, maybe when they first got into office and, as time wore on, particularly after 9/11, they said, now let's talk about how we can make a case to do this, and the rationale being—and held by Vice President Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and others, to say, we need to change the dynamic in the region, and this is a war we can win; this is a guy we can take out?  Yes?

KAY:  I don't think that's what it says. 

Really, the memo is quite frank in saying, if 9/11 hadn't occurred, Iraq would not have been a central issue.  And I think what the memo is really saying is, 9/11 changed the dynamics, our ability and willingness to take risk in the world.  And Saddam was right up front. 

WOOLSEY:  And look at the timing. 

At the time the memo was written, the Americans were planning to go to war in the middle of the winter.  Certainly, they are going to be making a decision effectively based on the past violations of the Security Council resolution by the summer.  What the Brits persuaded them do was to slip it and delay and go back to the U.N. one more time.  So, it delayed until the spring. 

But, if you are planning on going to war in the middle of the winter, you are certainly going to have to be making a decision around summertime.  You can't go to war in a matter of a few weeks. 

GREGORY:  David Kay, do you think there more revelations to come? 

KAY:  Well, there may be, although I think, in fact, this is really a tempest in a teapot, by and large.

What's important in Iraq is what's happening on the ground today, is the failure to establish security, the failure to establish an orderly government that's inclusive, growing corruption in the region, and an injection of terrorism into the heart of the region, which may exist with a weak government if we in fact withdraw by next year. 

GREGORY:  And now you have got the vice president saying that the insurgency may be in its last throes.  Is that an example of the problem that British officials were raising in the Downing Street memo, which is that Washington is not thinking enough about the postwar period? 

WOOLSEY:  He may be right, but it's probably a bit better to understate what your situation is, how good it is, and then continually achieve a bit better. 

I think that the situation in the Mideast would have been considerably worse if we had left Saddam in power.  Thousands, tens of thousands of people would have been murdered.  The rape rooms would have continued.  Saddam's influence over the rest of the region would have continued.  And when people compare the situation we have now to something else, they don't get it—to compare it to an ideal situation in which Saddam became a philosopher king.

GREGORY:  Right. 

KAY:  That never would have occurred. 

GREGORY:  Thirty seconds left. 

David Kay, does this experience and does this memo make it harder, with even that lower threshold, to do something similar in the future for a future American president? 

KAY:  I hope not. 

I think—in fact, every fact has got to—every situation has got to be judged on American security and what is best in terms of our national security.  What may make it much worse is the difficulty of achieving stability and security in Iraq. 

GREGORY:  David Kay, James Woolsey, thanks very much. 

Join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. 

Right now, it's time for “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN.”

Good night.

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