updated 7/1/2005 1:31:35 PM ET 2005-07-01T17:31:35

Guest: Amybeth Thompson, Michael Isikoff, John Palmer, Robin Wright, Paul Lewis, Steve Kirtley, Donald Sharer

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Five Americans held hostage in the 1979 takeover of the American Embassy in Iran say one of their captors is Iran‘s president-elect.  If true, what will this mean for future relations between the U.S.  and Iran? 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  In 1979, 52 Americans at the U.S.  Embassy in Iran were taken hostage by militants protesting America‘s refusal to hand over the former shah.  They were held for 444 days.  And today, several, five of them are coming forward, saying one of their captors is Iran‘s new president-elect. 

Iran denies it, but the White House is taking it seriously.  President Bush said today, these allegations raise—quote—“many questions.”  One of those hostages is Donald Sharer.  And we‘ll hear his story in just a moment. 

But first, Andrea Mitchell is NBC chief foreign affairs correspondent. 

Andrea, is this an important story? 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, it‘s important in that, whether or not he is this person, it is important because he was a radical student leader at the time. 

We have talked to several officials both in Iran and outside of Iran who were part of the movement at the time.  They say that he was part of the student movement, that he did support the embassy takeover.  They dispute that he was a ringleader.  And it is a matter of recollection as to whether or not he is the person in the photographs that have been identified. 

We have taken that picture, a number of pictures, in fact, to a former FBI photo expert, Chris.  And he says that there is a less than 50 percent chance that the person in the photograph is the person that is now the president of Iran.  That said, Bruce Laingen, one of the other former hostages who was held in solitary confinement, says while he did not see this person, he does not dispute the recollection of his fellow hostages.  He says that, as you will see when you talk to Mr. Sharer and others, that, when you are held in captivity, just as we know from John McCain‘s recollection, you never forget those images. 

So, they claim that they—that that this person is one of their tormentors.  And Bruce Laingen, among others, say that he supports that, that view.  The U.S. government wants answers.  You can believe that intelligence experts throughout our government are now trying to look into this.  They are comparing the video, comparing film and still pictures and also demanding explanations from Tehran. 

MATTHEWS:  The White House, the president himself could have shot down this story quickly, I assume.

MITCHELL:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you believe he left it out there, that there‘s a possible connect here, a positive I.D. by this former captive?

MITCHELL:  Well, there‘s also a political motivation. 

Whether or not this could ever be proved, the official line of the U.S. government is that the Iranian—the Iranian election was flawed, that numbers of candidates were not even permitted on the ballot, that this was not a free and fair election.  And they believe that this is a hard-liner and they want to undermine his credibility, his credibility throughout the rest of the world, because, as you know, the Europeans are now negotiating with Iran—he is the president-elect—over their nuclear ambitions. 

So, there‘s a lot at stake here.  And their view is, if they can portray him as the hard-liner that he apparently is, it will help to undermine the legitimacy of this new government. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘ll get into it during this program tonight. 

MITCHELL:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Andrea Mitchell.

Don Sharer was held hostage in Iran and he says the new president was one of his captors. 

Mr. Sharer, thank you very much for coming on HARDBALL tonight.  When did you first believe the picture you saw of the new president of Iraq (sic), Mr. Ahmadinejad, was the man who was your interrogator? 

DONALD SHARER, FORMER IRANIAN HOSTAGE:  It was Tuesday when I looked at the newspaper.  I believe it was Tuesday, “The Indianapolis Star.”  And I looked at it and said, I know this guy.  And I just thought about it a little more and a little more. 

And I came up with an incident that happened to Colonel Scott and myself where this fellow—we were given a little freedom to walk up the hall, a 20-foot hall, walk up the hall and see Tom Ahern.  And that happened for two days.  And on I think it was the third day, the guy comes in and just chews the guard out severely.  I mean, he really chews him out severely. 

And then he says in Farsi—and Colonel Scott knows Farsi backwards and forwards—and he said, the guy said these pigs and these dogs need to be locked up until they‘re executed.  That was one time.  We had several visitors, visitors, mullahs, ayatollahs, some foreign press come through. 

And they were always escorted by several of our captors.  And I believe, I‘m 99 percent sure that he was one of the guys that just kind of escorted them along and just kind of showed them he had a little authority.

Now, where he was in the hierarchy of the whole movement, I have no idea.  I was behind bars and kept—information was not forthcoming to us.  So, I just know, knew when I saw him, saw the picture—and it was a recent picture—that he rang—really rang a bell. 

MATTHEWS:  Would you be able to testify in court?  Is your certitude that this is the man who was your captor? 

SHARER:  I imagine.  To the best of my knowledge, this is that bubba, that guy. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the—the question is, though—let me ask you to take a look at the picture again.  This is the president-elect.  We‘re going to show you a picture of the president-elect of Iran.  There he is, the man on the right. 

The man on the left in the monitor you‘re looking at, Mr. Sharer, is someone who has been mentioned as someone who was close to you, who was one of the captors.  It‘s really not important.  But does the man on the left look like the man on the right you?  And is the man on the left the man you remember as well? 

SHARER:  Yes.  The man on the right is the one that I saw that reminded me of it, and just about the same beard. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SHARER:  Had a little half-inch, quarter-inch growth. 

MATTHEWS:  I know what you mean. 

(CROSSTALK)

SHARER:  And the man on the left, there‘s too much facial hair to really look at. 

MATTHEWS:  Have you been given a chance to look at any other pictures of anyone—of the captors?  We have a lot of photograph, of course, of the captors back from ‘79 and ‘80.  Have you looked at any other pictures for a possible match-up yet? 

SHARER:  No, I have not.  I‘ve been at this since about 4:00 this morning and have not had a chance to look at television to see what you folks are doing. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Everybody is rooting around.  I guess the question is whether we can find any way to ascertain whether this is the person. 

The president-elect is a man of small stature.  He‘s about 5‘2.  Do you recall the person who was—this person was a man of about that height? 

SHARER:  No, I don‘t.  It was 25 years ago.  If I remember right, he was shorter than I was.  I won‘t put a value to it.  But he was shorter than I was.  But I‘m pretty sure it‘s the same guy. 

MATTHEWS:  How tall are you, sir? 

SHARER:  I‘m 5‘9“. 

MATTHEWS:  So you thought he was obviously shorter than you at the time?

SHARER:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And was his age about right to conform to the age of the president-elect now, who is, I believe, middle-aged now?  Was he a young man at the time? 

SHARER:  He was a young man at the time. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

SHARER:  If I had to guess, I would say he was 23, 24. 

MATTHEWS:  What is your feeling that this might be the same man who was your captor, that he is now president-elect? 

SHARER:  My feeling is—and I‘ve said it most of the day—that it is something that Washington minds up there are going to have to really watch.  He was a hard-liner.  I mean, he was a hard-liner.  He was really don‘t—he was anti-American, anti-Western culture.  And he just wanted to keep—keep Iran the way it is. 

MATTHEWS:  You said he wanted to see you executed.  Is that right? 

SHARER:  Oh, yes, sir.  They threatened us with execution several times. 

MATTHEWS:  Did he ever lay a hand on you? 

SHARER:  No.  No. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s—stay with us, Mr. Sharer.

SHARER:  He did not.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you for coming on the show. 

Joining us right now is Paul Lewis and Steve Kirtley.  They‘re two former hostages in Iran.  Both of them were with you.  Both were Marines in charge of guarding the embassy. 

Steve, you‘ve been with me. 

You rose to the rank of major in as you‘re a lifer in the Marines.  What is your recollection of—what is your reaction to this—this positive I.D. here by your colleague here? 

STEVE KIRTLEY, FORMER IRANIAN HOSTAGE:  Chris, we were talking earlier. 

And Paul Lewis—we keep in contact, a lot of the former hostages—sent me the bio on this guy.  And, as I was going through it, as soon as I saw the picture that popped up on the bio, I immediately thought, good grief.  This guy looks familiar.  And I immediately started going down through the bio to see what his involvement was to see if... 

MATTHEWS:  This is the new president. 

KIRTLEY:  Right, the new president of Iran.

And I immediately started trying to find out if he was involved specifically...

MATTHEWS:  We‘re looking at him now.  Does he look familiar to you on that picture? 

KIRTLEY:  To...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the guy in the middle, with the beard. 

KIRTLEY:  He does. 

Now, having said that, can I put my finger on a specific place or a specific time?  I can‘t.  It was a long time ago.  And unlike the—Don and some of these other gentlemen, I didn‘t go through some of the interrogations and things that they went through.  So, I can‘t really put my finger on a place or a time. 

But I certainly believe that, based on the way Iran looks at the hard-liners, it wouldn‘t—you know, it wouldn‘t surprise me at all for one of our former captors to rise to the—to position of president of Iran. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at some pictures right now, our pictures that people that were—this one parent—person apparently has passed away.

The man on the left there has been identified as a possible suspect to be the—the man in his youth.  The problem is, you know, what do you think of that picture?  Do you recognize that face, the one to the left of the hostage there? 

(CROSSTALK)

KIRTLEY:  I would look at that and tell you that‘s—that‘s not the same guy. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s not the same guy as the president-elect. 

KIRTLEY:  In my opinion, no. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he‘s dead.  So, apparently, that wouldn‘t be appropriate as a candidate anyway. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... all these fellows—let me—let‘s bring in Paul Lewis. 

All these fellows, I don‘t want to make them sound like regular guys. 

They‘re bad guys.  They took us hostage.  But they‘re all wearing beards.  They‘re from a different ethnic group than a lot of the prisoners.  Can you guys actually distinguish among them all, to be honest?  You first, Paul Lewis.  Your turn.

PAUL LEWIS, FORMER IRANIAN HOSTAGE:  Now, look, you know, I—when the picture came, I was looking on a—on a—online at some things about the election.  And I mentioned to my wife, he looks strangely familiar. 

But, on the other hand, small build, big nose, dark hair, three-day scrubby beard, that was about half of them.  Though, when I read the bio, it made a lot more sense to me.  But the thing that struck me when I first saw the picture online was, he looked familiar, appeared to be someone I had seen before.  He was not someone I had a lot of contact with.  But there were groups of four and five supervisors or people that would deferred to by the interrogators and the guards that we saw.  And he looked strangely familiar as one of those people. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you the same question, Paul.  You served in the military.  And I‘m sure you‘re an honorable man.  The key question, if we‘re in a courtroom here right now, would you swear that you saw him as one of your captors? 

LEWIS:  I don‘t know if I could swear as I saw him as one of my captors.  On the other hand, like I say, I read his bio and the evidence indicates he was involved.  I‘ve read the statements from the people in Iran.  And they said he wasn‘t part of the seizure. 

I guess you would say, though, I am convinced that the guy was in the compound at least two to three times in my presence. 

MATTHEWS:  Were you ever captured—were you ever tortured physically, besides being kept there for a year and threatened with possible execution? 

KIRTLEY:  I can‘t say I was tortured.  I took a couple I guess you would say minor beatings and a couple mock executions in the first two weeks, before—I had been here a day before the embassy was captured.

And I was moved away for a couple weeks by myself while they figured out who I was.  And, in that period, as—when they were trying to get me to unlock safes and identify people in the embassy, I was probably threatened with being shot three or four times.  And in those days, I‘m not sure I could tell you the faces of any of those people, because it seemed like the gun was what I was forced to focus on most of the time. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think—let me go back to Steve here.

Do you think it‘s hard to identify anybody after 25 years? 

KIRTLEY:  I wouldn‘t think so, especially when—with the kind of contact, the day-to-day, everyday contact that we had with some of—of the people that held us. 

I certainly don‘t think so, I mean, especially if people are—are harassing you, berating you, interrogating you, beating you.  I wouldn‘t think so.  There are people there that I would remember to this day and could positively identify just because of the level of inaction that I had or the way that they treated me at certain times. 

Unfortunately, this guy—or—fortunately or unfortunately, this guy is not one of them. 

MATTHEWS:  Have we got Don Sharer?

Mr. Sharer, are you back with us? 

(CROSSTALK)  

MATTHEWS:  I have to ask you, when you look at those two pictures next to each other, is that—that other picture that‘s been floating around the news organizations all day today, is—that person look like the person that was your captor, the one on the left right now, the one in black and white?

SHARER:  The one on the left?  I don‘t think so.  I think the one on the right does. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So, the other guy...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Off the picture.  We‘ll take him out of consideration. 

We‘ll have more with the three of the hostages in Iran in just a moment. 

And, later on HARDBALL, “The Washington Post”‘s Robin Wright has been looking into these allegations.  She‘ll tell us what she‘s found. 

Plus, former NBC News anchor John Palmer, who covered the hostage crisis himself. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, if Iran‘s president-elect was involved in the

hostage crisis, what is the future of U.S.-Iran relations./

HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Our guests today, Don Sharer, one of five former U.S. hostages in Tehran who have identified the president-elect of that country as one of their captors.  We‘re also joined by two other former hostages, Paul Lewis and Steve Kirtley. 

And we‘re joined right now by “The Washington Post”‘s Robin Wright. 

Robin, you may not have heard, but a few moments ago, Mr. Sharer and the others have said that the suspect, that picture that‘s been floating around the news organization today, is not the man he believes was the captor who is now the president-elect.  But he sticks to his story, Mr.  Sharer, that the man who was his captor, one of them, is now the president-elect of Iran. 

ROBIN WRIGHT, DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, I‘ve interviewed all the ringleaders of the takeover of the U.S. Embassy and I‘ve been back for several of the anniversaries and the demonstrations surrounding them. 

The president-elect of Iran was not one of the ringleaders.  He was not one of the major figures.  He may have been one of the thousand of students who floated through.  He may have been one of the interrogators when the hostages were separated after the U.S. rescue attempt in April, 1980.  But he was certainly not one of the—the major figures. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the politics of this.  Why was the president ready today to say that this raises serious questions, before knowing there‘s any veracity or any way to prove what Mr. Sharer and the other four have said? 

WRIGHT:  Well, it clearly does raise questions.  If this man played any role, as interrogator, as a middle- or lower-level Iranian, one of the students floating through the embassy, playing, investigating or interrogating them, then, clearly, this raises a great deal of questions for the United States.  And it revives, in effect, the crisis that dates back more than a quarter-century. 

This is going to set the pattern, I suspect, for the next few months, as this new government in Iran takes office and as the United States tries to figure out what its policy during the second Bush administration will be.  It has been the most difficult aspect of foreign policy during the first Bush administration. 

MATTHEWS:  Why is it significant that a young person in their 20s who would not—who was involved in politics, to the point of being elected president of their country, would not have been involved with their politics back in the hostage taking, where that was the center of Iranian politics at the time?

WRIGHT:  Well, he may have been involved.  This is something that we‘re going to have to find out.  And I suspect the CIA and other branches of government are looking very closely at those pictures. 

I know that some of the former hostages were brought in today to talk to the State Department.  They‘re trying to—to—to figure out whether this is the same man.  So many of the young students back then had similar beards, looked very much alike in the way they dressed, the way they cut their hair.  And so, it can be a little bit confusing.  But the resemblance is striking. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about Mr. Sharer‘s experience.  And you can join in this conversation right with him now.  He said that, all day—and he‘s been up since 4:00 this morning.  He the “Today” program this morning.  He has yet to be contacted by any official of the U.S. government. 

If this is a matter of serious concern to the president of the United States, wouldn‘t—well, how can we explain he hasn‘t been contacted? 

WRIGHT:  I have no idea.  I do know that other hostages have talked to the State Department today. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about, is there any CIA record of—you‘ve had the experience of being a reporter on the scene all these years and keeping up, as you said, with these people through all these reunions.  Does the CIA not have tabs on all the people that were ringleaders and all the people who were even lieutenants in that operation against us? 

WRIGHT:  Well, remember, that was 26 years ago.  And you had different people at the State Department—or at the CIA.  You had a different mechanism for tracking terrorism.  This was our first encounter with Islamic terrorism. 

We were terribly limited in knowing how to deal with the phenomena of tracking who these people were.  We did not know even that—the student group that they came from.  I suspect there are lots of pictures that they‘re going that many of the news—American news organizations captured at the time.  But whether they have any from Evin prison, where some of these Americans were taken, is a separate issue.  That, I doubt. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, more with Robin Wright of “The Washington Post” and the three former hostages from Tehran in a moment. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back.

We‘re talking with three former hostages who were held in the U.S.

Embassy in Iran in the late 1970s.  Of course, that was 1979 and 1980 --

Donald Sharer, Paul Lewis and Steve Kirtley.  We‘re also with “The Washington Post”‘s Robin—Robin Wright. 

Let me go to Steve Kirtley.

You mentioned that, following your captivity and your release, you were debriefed and shown pictures, almost like mug shots, of all the people.  Tell me what that was like. 

KIRTLEY:  During our...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  At the CIA.

KIRTLEY:  When we went to Wiesbaden, Germany, where—I sat for about eight-and-a-half hours and did a continuous debrief.  And, at the end of this debriefing, there were a number of intelligence agency representatives in there that showed us pictures—or showed me pictures of—of dozens of different Iranians that were involved and had been taken—these pictures had been taken on the compound. 

And there were a number that I could identify and give them a first name or a first and last name for.  But the thing that—as we try and figure out if the new president of Iran was one of these gentlemen, there were quite a number of people that I came into contact with daily as a captive that I didn‘t see a picture of anywhere. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, they don‘t have a thorough accounting of how the captors were?

KIRTLEY:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Have you been—have you been questioned or talked to by anybody in the U.S. government in the last 24 hours? 

KIRTLEY:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me to go to—let me to go to Paul Lewis. 

Same question to you.  Do you remember a debriefing?  Did you—were you asked to look at mug shots or pictures of people who were your captors? 

LEWIS:  Well, during the break, I was telling people in the studio I had to get that in, because I saw an amazing number of pictures.  I was surprised by the number and the quality.  Many of them, I didn‘t recognize.  Many of them, I had nicknames for. 

(CROSSTALK)

LEWIS:  ... and Ali (ph) the pig and some other things I can‘t repeat.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

LEWIS:  But those, I picked out.  But many of them were just kind of nondescript young Persians. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you—do you go along with what John McCain, who was held captor in obviously a different situation in the Hanoi Hilton all those five-and-a-half years.  He says you never forget the names of your torturers.  Is that your belief? 

LEWIS:  I haven‘t.  And I told a reporter this morning, if I could find Hamid (ph) the liar and look at his eyes, I don‘t care how old he is, how bald he is.  I would know who he is. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me go to Donald Sharer.

Again, sir, you don‘t believe that the pictures that have been floating around, the one we showed you, the variety of those pictures of the same person, was in fact the person who is now the president-elect. 

SHARER:  The one I pointed out to you.

MATTHEWS:  No, the pictures we showed you.  We showed you several pictures of a person that the news services are looking at as a possible picture at the time you were captive of the president-elect today.  And you don‘t believe that‘s the picture of the president-elect? 

SHARER:  I don‘t think so. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this.  Again, have you been asked by anybody in the U.S. government to explain your I.D. of this, or to—have you been checked on your—vetted on your I.D. of this person, this president-elect as the man who was your captor, that claim you‘re making? 

SHARER:  Nobody has contacted me. 

But—well, let me say one thing about what the lady said. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

SHARER:  We‘ve said he is one of our captors.  We‘ve—he‘s one of our captors.  We never said that he was one of the higher-ups or that...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

SHARER:  But he had a little bit of authority of some kind. 

MATTHEWS:  Did he meet you—or did you meet him, I should say, during the time that you all were separated after the failure of Desert One? 

SHARER:  Oh, yes.  It was I believe about October or November 1980 in Evin prison.  They had taken 14 of us up there to I guess try us and...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SHARER:  ... possible execution. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me check that with Robin Wright. 

Robin, is—you said that, if there was any meeting between Mr.  Sharer and the president-elect, Mr. Ahmadinejad, it would have to have been at that period after the failure of our rescue mission? 

WRIGHT:  Well, that‘s what the claim was when the hostages were separated. 

And the remark I made earlier was in reference to Colonel Scott‘s comment that he was one of the top two or three people in the terrorist organization, or the hostage takers.  And I was just merely—merely reflecting on that comment. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Mr. Sharer, I have to ask you one last question.  Are you willing to go to Iran or go to Washington to look at pictures or look at the man himself to make a more positive I.D. of the current president-elect of Iran as your captor? 

SHARER:  I‘ll go to Iran in the back of a B-52. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  That‘s...

(CROSSTALK)

SHARER:  But I‘ll go—I‘ll be glad to go to Washington. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much for your service today.  Thank you very much, Don Sharer, for coming on our show.  Thank you. 

Thank you, Steve Kirtley. 

Thank you, Paul Lewis, and, Robin Wright, as always.

Up next, more on the allegations we‘ve heard here tonight with former NBC News anchor John Palmer, who covered that whole hostage crisis in ‘79 and ‘80. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

We‘re joined now by John Palmer, former NBC News anchor who covered the Iranian hostage crisis in ‘79 and ‘80, and “Newsweek”‘s investigative reporter Michael Isikoff. 

John, I have to ask you, what do you think of this story, that this former hostage says he has I.D.ed—in fact, he says, I‘m willing to go to Iran.  I‘m willing to go to Washington.  This is the guy that was one of my captors, the new president-elect.

JOHN PALMER, FORMER NBC NEWS ANCHOR:  I put an awful lot of weight in the—the four former hostages putting the I.D. on this fellow. 

After all, they had 444 days to look at him.  They weren‘t blindfolded for much of the time.  They knew the voices and the things they can remember about the mannerisms, the things they recalled.  I think there‘s a good case that this individual is indeed the one who was their guard. 

I think it is—it‘s going to have a great benefit for the Bush administration if they can make this tie, because it strengthens the president‘s hand in his dealings I think with Germany and France, saying, we have got to take a harder line on this whole nuclear business with Iran. 

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, “NEWSWEEK”:  It is not just the hostages. 

John Simpson, BBC correspondent, interviewed this guy during the time of the crisis, the hostage takeover.  And he actually wrote a piece for BBC‘s Web site just before the hostages even came out, saying this is the guy I interviewed back in 1979, same guy.  So there is—you know, there are multiple sources here for...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s a—that‘s a contemporary corroboration. 

ISIKOFF:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  But has anybody I.D.ed this guy, who is now Ahmadinejad?

ISIKOFF:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  The new president as one of the captors?  Has that been dead... 

ISIKOFF:  Yes.  No.  I mean, that‘s what the hostages are saying. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s 5 feet tall.

ISIKOFF:  And...

MATTHEWS:  But nobody in the government yet?

ISIKOFF:  No.  No.  In fact, his aides are denying it and saying, no, he was actually opposed to the hostage takeover.  But...

MATTHEWS:  How do you explain the fact, that, in 24 hours—well, almost 24 hours, all the—early this morning, 4:00 this morning, on “The Today Show,” this guy was getting ready to make his statement.  It‘s been around for a day now, that, according to the man who is making the accusations now, he hasn‘t been talked to by anybody in the government.

PALMER:  That was amazing hearing at least two of the hostages said, former hostages, that they had not been talked to by the State Department. 

MATTHEWS:  The main—the main charger, the main accuser of the current president-elect of Iran as being one of the captors, the president is out saying, well, there might be something serious here, and yet no agent has contacted this guy all day today. 

PALMER:  No. 

What I understand, the State Department was scrambling.  I‘m surprised these people were not brought in.  They have been bringing in people to ask them and to again look at pictures and talk about it, trying to pin something down for the president, because he‘s laying out there alone on this right now. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Robin Wright was on the program.  You didn‘t get to see her, Michael.

Robin Wright, your colleague at “The Post,” said a less than 50/50 chance.  But let me ask you, you‘ve all been—I‘ve been in situations where somebody said, I can positively identify that person from a picture.  And you push them to testify, basically, and say—say that under oath or even say it on TV, and they don‘t do it. 

PALMER:  I am—my—my thought goes back to the concentration camps. 

You know, there were these stories from years back.  They remember so and so was a guard at the Buchenwald camp or something like that.  It‘s amazing how those people remembered, because when you are hurt so badly, and your family is put in a—such a terrible situation and they‘re grieving for you and you may die at any time, I kind of buy that argument that you tend to really get to know somebody and you don‘t forget that. 

MATTHEWS:  Why would Iran, a revolutionary government, still deny the participation of their new president in the first act of revolution? 

PALMER:  That is a very good question, because you would think that‘s

·         that is like being in the Peace Corps. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

PALMER:  Or if you‘re running in this country. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s like being in the American revolution. 

PALMER:  Right.  You had proved your mettle when you were a young man against the evil empire. 

ISIKOFF:  That is to say that, actually, if you look for the guy‘s

bio, there‘s a lot of interesting and unanswered questions about just where

·         where he‘s been all these years.  There are reports that he was an Iranian intelligence agent inside Iraq after the Iran-Iraq war, suggestions that he‘s been connected with Iran intelligence for some time. 

And if that‘s the case, I mean, it just raises a whole host of questions about all the things that we‘ve tied Iranian intelligence to, including connections to major league terrorist organizations that are going to—going to be fodder here.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Let‘s be a little skeptical to the point.  We don‘t know if it is the man, 50/50.

PALMER:  No.

MATTHEWS:  We can put any percentage on it now, because the news is going to develop on this.  It is a developing story. 

The president‘s interest here.  Why did the president embrace this story and say, this is serious business today? 

PALMER:  Well, that—that follows his line all along to take a harder line on—on Iran, that they‘re going to develop—they‘re on the way to develop nuclear weapons.  The Germans and—and the French seem not to have believed that, or at least giving more of a benefit to the doubt to Iran.  I think this would strengthen the president‘s hand, saying, look what a guy this is. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It makes them more of a persona non grata government. 

PALMER:  Yes, I think so.

(CROSSTALK)

ISIKOFF:  I‘m not so sure that, actually, this works to the White House‘s benefit, because it narrows the options.  I mean, you know, you want to have as many options to cut a deal, to negotiate, to put pressure on. 

And if, politically, this guy is indeed identified—and we don‘t know that.  I mean, you‘re—you‘re—you‘re raising legitimate questions here.  But I‘m saying that, if the public perception is that this is the same guy, then I think that makes it actually more difficult for the president than—than easier. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I‘ve always wondered, John—and you covered it. 

You know, I was working for Jimmy Carter at the time as a speechwriter.  And those were horrendous times, humiliating to all of us working for Carter.  We all felt weak.  We felt terrible.  Why can‘t we do something about this hostage crisis? 

And when you look back on it—I was just talking to one of the hostages earlier tonight—it‘s really hard to figure out what our options were.  We were in downtown Iran with 50 American hostages.  What, do you go to total war with a country over this? 

PALMER:  Well, of course...

MATTHEWS:  You could do that...

PALMER:  ... Jimmy Carter tried to do something about it...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

PALMER:  ... with the aborted rescue of the hostages that failed and pretty much doomed his presidency, if it wasn‘t doomed at that point. 

MATTHEWS:  And then the question—by the way, we got a little nuance on this tonight from Robin Wright, which is that—she said that, after the time that the hostages were separated—remember, they were all together, before Desert One?

PALMER:  Right, after the aborted rescue attempt.

MATTHEWS:  She said, after they were separated into different groups and different little cells, that would be the time when the—when this fellow, Donald Sharer, who made the accusation, who was on the program tonight, among the five who have, he could have come in contact with somebody like the current president-elect. 

PALMER:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  It is—it is plausible. 

PALMER:  Certainly. 

MATTHEWS:  So, there we are. 

Anyway, we‘ll be right back. 

PALMER:  I would...

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.

PALMER:  I would think this, Chris, is—is not going to be a great mystery for a very long time. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

PALMER:  I think the federal government has the resources to check this out. 

MATTHEWS:  Hey, look, this fellow, who was on the program tonight, says, I‘m willing to go to Iran, he said, of course, in the right kind of protected aircraft. 

PALMER:  Military aircraft, right. 

MATTHEWS:  Military aircraft. If they want me to do an I.D., I‘ll do it.  I don‘t think he has to go that far.  But, clearly, they‘re going to have to show this guy a lot of pictures of the current president-elect.  And if he has to go, he has to go.  But he has to make this I.D. or not.

We‘ll be right back with John Palmer and Michael Isikoff in just a moment.

And, later, we‘ll talk to a woman I interviewed in Nashville on Tuesday.  Her husband is serving in Iraq.  And he watched his wife on HARDBALL Tuesday night on live television.  What an interesting interact that has been.  She‘ll come on to talk about it and show the e-mail that her husband sent to her after watching us talk to her.

We‘ll be back with HARDBALL in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, will “TIME” magazine give up the name of the administration figure who leaked the identity of a covert CIA operative?

HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with former NBC anchor John Palmer and “Newsweek”‘s Michael Isikoff.

We‘ve been talking about the accusation by five former American hostages in Iran from ‘79 and ‘80 that man now president-elect or Iran was one of their captors.  That‘s a developing story.  We‘ll hear more about that tomorrow here and talk a lot more about it. 

Let me go back to Mike. 

You know a lot about this story.

And, John, you‘ve been following this as well, this amazing story of two major American journalists who are about to go to jail.  And something has developed on that case for not turning over their sources to the government.  What is happening? 

ISIKOFF:  “TIME” magazine announced today that they‘re going to turn over Matt Cooper‘s notes to the—to Pat Fitzgerald.

MATTHEWS:  And those notes would presumably include the name of his source. 

ISIKOFF:  Yes.  That‘s what we presume, yes.  We haven‘t seen them yet.  But this is a major—a major setback, I think, for—for news organizations. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But, in terms of the investigation by the United States government, will they now know the name of the person who—who unmasked the identity, the undercover identity of Valerie Plame, the wife of Joe Wilson? 

ISIKOFF:  Well, it is hard to know, because, remember, I mean, this is

·         Matt Cooper write—doesn‘t write until after Robert Novak column has appeared.  Now, he may have had conversations...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... masked her identity, right.

ISIKOFF:  Right.  Right. 

One can presume that he already pretty much knows what took place between Robert Novak and his source and who his source is.  The question is, there‘s obviously other wrinkles to this thing that are part of what Fitzgerald is investigating.  Fitzgerald said something very interesting in court.  I was in the courtroom yesterday. 

MATTHEWS:  He is the investigator.  He is the special prosecutor. 

ISIKOFF:  He‘s the special prosecutor.  And a lot of people have said, well, he doesn‘t really have a crime here, that he is just dotting the I‘s, crossing The‘s, and he needs to wrap up his investigation.

MATTHEWS:  What about perjury?

ISIKOFF:  What he said yesterday, he made a point of saying, this is not about a whistle-blower.  This is about retaliation against a whistle-blower, which clearly frames it in a way that, to me, said he believes he‘s got a crime here.  He believe that there‘s something.  Now, whether...

MATTHEWS:  And he has a very bad motive, which is, John...

PALMER:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... somebody in the United States government, believing they‘re operating under the authority of the president, to punish someone who has gotten in the way of U.S. policy towards Iraq. 

PALMER:  Yes. 

I‘m—I‘m just shocked of this whole thing.  I was really surprised, after all these months of withholding it, to turn over Matt Cooper‘s documents, to turn over his—his file, his notes on this.  I think it was a strange move, I think a bad move.  I think—it is an old cliche, but I think it does have a chilling effect on investigative journalism. 

Think of the stories that would not have been uncovered if—if sources were not protected.  And I think it‘s a very bad precedent.  And to have it come from “TIME,” Time Incorporated, is a surprise. 

MATTHEWS:  What is the motive for breaking the—the trust of the source? 

ISIKOFF:  They had no choice, that the Supreme Court had denied cert and that there was actually no legal recourse left. 

MATTHEWS:  So, they are protecting Matt Cooper from going to prison? 

Or are they protecting themselves from more legal costs?

ISIKOFF:  Well, we don‘t know that.  I mean, I think they—I think they hope that it is going to protect Matt Cooper from going to prison, but we don‘t know that, because we don‘t know whether the notes will satisfy Fitzgerald or not. 

But I—I—I think that there were other ways that they could have

done this.  We don‘t know without knowing all the facts is, but if I were -

·         if—if this had to be disclosed, I would think that the news

organization would be the one—one—want to disclose it to the public before it discloses to the government.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about it from a nonjournalistic way of looking at it, just watching this, from people watching right now.

They say, wait a minute.  Somebody gave somebody some information to get somebody hurt, basically, to expose them, their identity, which was going to expose them to trouble if not—at the end of the their career as spies for the United States government, or spooks, whatever you want to call them, agents.  That person has been sitting on this information for months while these two people are heading to jail.  That‘s not a nice person. 

PALMER:  No, no.  That isn‘t.  But I still don‘t think you can pick and choose when you‘re going to uphold the principle of not divulging the source. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the issue of principle here.

Anyway, thank you, John Palmer. 

And thank you, Michael Isikoff.

When we come back, we‘ll check back in with one of the terrific people we met during our HARDBALL Church Tour down in Nashville the other night.  Her husband is serving in Iraq.  And he surprised her and us by watching her on the show.  He watched us live on HARDBALL.  He has a special message for us.

And we‘ll have that when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

The HARDBALL Church Tour was in Nashville at the Two Rivers Baptist Church this Tuesday.  And I met many fine people, including wives of men with the 278th Tennessee Army National Guard. 

Here‘s Amybeth Thompson talking about her husband, William. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMYBETH THOMPSON, WIFE OF U.S. SOLDIER:  The last day I saw him was November 12 of last year, when he deployed from Mississippi.  So, he is career military.  And, you know, we do have a pretty good window on when he is coming home.  But then there‘s no guarantee that he will not go back again. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What Amybeth didn‘t know, nor did we, was that William, her husband, was watching from his camp in Iraq. 

Amybeth Thompson, welcome back to the show. 

THOMPSON:  Thank you.  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, when did you find out that your husband saw this whole program over there in Iraq? 

THOMPSON:  I think it was about midnight Tuesday night.  I had tried to contact him via e-mail and let him know what had happened in my busy, exciting day. 

And he was—he heard enough of what I had to say before their computers went down.  And he told me later last night that, when the computers went down, he threw his mouse down and decided to go to another facility to see if he could reconnect, but that‘s when he found the TV monitor on WSM—on the correct channel. 

And he just waited it out and just, one, to see if it was the right channel.  He thought the station I.D. was correct.  And he just kind of hung out, hoping that it was the program that he wanted to see. 

MATTHEWS:  How did he think you did? 

THOMPSON:  He was pleased.  He was just more just happy to see me, really, than actually the format.  So—but he was just tickled. 

And he said that when they actually showed me that he got choked up, started to cry. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, really?

THOMPSON:  So—yes. 

MATTHEWS:  When was the last time you saw him before, before seeing him on HARDBALL? 

THOMPSON:  The last time he saw me? 

MATTHEWS:  Right, you were together.  When was the time you were together?

(CROSSTALK)

THOMPSON:  The last time we were together was November of 2004. 

(CROSSTALK)

THOMPSON:  I said goodbye to him the morning of November 12. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you get an e-mail from him after the show? 

THOMPSON:  Yes, I got the e-mail Wednesday, Wednesday morning.  He sent me an e-mail.  So, I have a copy here, if you would like me to read it. 

MATTHEWS:  I would love it. 

THOMPSON:  OK.

I‘m going to edit it a little bit, because there was some mushy stuff that you probably don‘t want to hear. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, you don‘t have to do that. 

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON:  No, I‘m going to leave out the mushy stuff. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  All right. 

THOMPSON:  It—OK.

It says: “Hi.  Guess who I just saw on TV?  But more than that, she was very well-spoken.  You did very well and I am quite proud of you.”  He says: “Of course, Captain Ashley (ph) and Major Kyle (ph) were making fun of me.  She‘s smart and pretty.  What is she doing with you?”

And the other comment was: “No, he‘s not a hero.  He‘s in supply.” 

That goes back to a comment we made Tuesday night. 

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: “I reminded them that they were medics and wore Hawaiian shirts to work every day.  Then I realized that‘s not really a putdown.”

“Anyway,” he says, “you were very even-tempered and the analogy was—quote—spot on.  I am very, very proud.  I went to the gym in hopes that it might be on again.  And I was right.  So, I watched you this time on the big 52-inch screen.  I‘m glad you got to participate.  We should have quite a video diary of this war, the send-off in Mississippi, the different videos I‘ve shot while here, you on HARDBALL, and the inevitable homecoming footage.  We never thought we would be a part of history like this, I guess.  I love you, Amybeth.  Thanks for telling me about it.  All the eloquent subject matter and form aside, it was just nice to see you move and hear your voice.  William.”

MATTHEWS:  That‘s great.  I‘m glad we could do that. 

THOMPSON:  Yes.  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, how long has your husband, William, been over in Iraq this time?  Since November, right? 

THOMPSON:  Yes.  They stepped on Iraqi soil late November. 

MATTHEWS:  What was the analogy your husband, William, was saying that he appreciated? 

THOMPSON:  The comment I made in my response to President Bush‘s speech.

The analogy was of teaching the Iraqi people how to drive a car.  We‘re in the process of teaching them how to drive.  That‘s the analogy that came to my mind.  And then it doesn‘t matter where they go to once we teach them how to drive.  But we‘re in that process now.  And we can‘t jump out of the car or just give them a guidebook and expect them to teach themselves how to drive at this point. 

So, that‘s the analogy that I had shared on the air and he and his friends watching thought was a very good analogy. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s great having you on, Amybeth.  And I wish we could do this with every wife and every spouse, I should say, of everybody serving over there.  And if we helped a little bit to make this a little nicer, I‘m glad we could do it.  And we didn‘t do it for that purpose.

THOMPSON:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  But I‘m so glad that we did. 

THOMPSON:  No.  The timing was perfect. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Amybeth, it‘s wonderful to meet you and nice to get to know your husband as well.  He‘s a lucky guy. 

OK, thank you very much for being on.

THOMPSON:  Thank you so much. 

MATTHEWS:  If your husband is watching tonight, William, on behalf of all Americans, I say this to everybody I meet, because I should, thank you for your service. 

Tomorrow on HARDBALL, historian David McCullough takes us through the tumultuous year 1776 -- that was the first American war—what a great book—in his latest effort about American history. 

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

END

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