updated 7/18/2005 7:41:06 AM ET 2005-07-18T11:41:06

Guest: Dana Milbank, Byron York, Ralph Neas, Tony Perkins

DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC GUEST HOST:  Tonight, new reports that top White House advisor Karl Rove learned the identity of a CEO operative Valerie Plame from reporters.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Hi, everybody.  I‘m David Gregory again tonight in for Chris Matthews.  Democrats are still on the war path, calling for Karl Rove to be fired and Republicans are pushing back with attacks of their own on Joe Wilson‘s credibility.  We‘ll get to all of that.  The escalating partisan fight over Karl Rove in just a moment.  But first, a new development in the CIA leak investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GREGORY (on camera):  This morning The “New York Times” reported and later a source familiar with the case confirmed to NBC News that it was rove who spoke to columnist Robert Novak about Valerie Plame‘s work at the CIA.  The source claims, however, that it was Novak who told Rove Plame‘s name and that she worked at the CIA, not the other way around.  Rove reportedly applied, I heard that, too.  Rove on CNN in August last year.

KARL ROVE, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF:  I didn‘t know her name and didn‘t leak her name.

GREGORY:  Novak wrote he had two sources for the information about Plame.  While it‘s now clear that Rove, the president‘s senior advisor, was one source for both stories identifying Plame as a covert CIA officer, the other written by “Time‘s” Matt Cooper, his defenders argue Rove only learned about Plame from journalists and disclosed her covert status.  The former prosecutor Larry Barcella.

LARRY BARCELLA, FORMER PROSECUTOR:  So what he is saying is I didn‘t do the things that I would have to do to violate this law.

GREGORY:  NBC News has learned rove told the grand jury, he had no motive to attack Plame‘s husband, Joseph Wilson, or Plame.  Rove claimed at the time he was speaking to Novak and “Time‘s” Matt Cooper, he expected that CIA Director George Tenet would be the one to discredit the key claim by Wilson, that Vice President Cheney knew of the report that dismissed any link between Iraq and uranium from Africa.  In fact, the very day Rove spoke to Cooper, Tenet did issue a statement saying the report was not shared with the vice president, nor was it conclusive about whether Iraq wanted to buy uranium from Niger.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREGORY (on camera):  We‘re joined now by NBC News‘ chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell.  Andrea, so what is it all mean?  This new development that caps a week‘s full of developments about Karl Rove‘s development.  We now know he was the source for both stories that mentioned Valerie Plame and her work at the CIA.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, I think the way it is moving, the direction it‘s moving in, David, is clearly that Karl Rove most likely does not have any kind of legal exposure.  Because they are putting out the word that he was simply a confirming source and that he had originally heard this from journalists, not from officials with access to classified intelligence.  That said, it certainly does undercut the White House‘s statements now is other reporters back when this was all breaking that there was no involvement by Karl Rove in any of this because Scott McClellan used the term involvement.  And as you know better than anyone else, that was a very broad denial of any involvement by Karl Rove and he was a confirming source.

GREGORY:  One of the big points being made by Rove‘s defenders speaks to his motive.  In other words, why would he be peddling this information when at the time he‘s talking to Matt Cooper of time “Time” magazine and to Bob Novak, at that time, July 9 and then July 11, 2003, he knows according to what we‘ve been told that the director of the CIA, George Tenet, will be putting out a statement that essentially, discredits or at least challenges what Joe Wilson has been saying.

MITCHELL:  Well, that statement was a work in progress.  And I‘m told at the very last minute, on that Friday night, July 11, we did not know, in fact, that it would come out.  I don‘t think the people of the CIA knew exactly how they were going to end up writing it.  I think that that is a little bit disingenuous.  Because it wasn‘t that clear to anyone involved in this process exactly what the CIA would say.  The CIA was going to fall on its sword and say that the agency was responsible for not having made sure that the White House eliminated those words from the State of the Union speech.  But it isn‘t entirely clear what the CIA was going to say about the Joe Wilson trip.

GREGORY:  There‘s also an element here that‘s becoming very clear about what the White House political and frankly legal strategy is throughout this process.  Which is to lay everything off about blowing Valerie Plame‘s cover on journalists.

MITCHELL:  Yeah, it‘s really interesting to see this just as an inside the Beltway operation.  It may not be as interesting to some viewers.  It certainly does expose the way reporters and political figures work hand in glove.  When you see here Rove saying, yeah, I heard that, too, according to the White House claim, the Republican claims, to an inquiry from Bob Novak, it is very clear that everybody is feeding each other information.  And you begin to wonder how good the sourcing is.  If in fact Bob Novak had one other source, and we don‘t know yet, and if Karl Rove was the confirming source, then it is pretty clear that that was a pretty weak read which to hang a very important story.

GREGORY:  Let me bring Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in to this.  Senator, you are listening to all of this.  Let me ask you a broader question.  You know the president, you know Karl Rove.  You‘ve known him for years.  Is this a legal problem or is this a political problem in your judgment at this stage?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON, ® TX:  I have seen nothing in any of the reports that show a legal problem.  I think there has never been an allegation that Karl Rove was a source.  He was told by reporters what had been heard and according to the reports, he said something like, yes, I‘ve heard that, too.  But that didn‘t come from some classified source that only he had access to.  And in neither case, not to Cooper, nor to Novak, did he initiate the call.  Each of those reporters called Karl Rove on another subject and they brought up this issue.

GREGORY:  Senator, do you think Karl Rove, somebody you‘ve known for years used bad judgment in this case?

HUTCHISON:  You know, I have to tell you, I have known Karl Rove for years.  I have been his client and I think he has the utmost integrity.  I have seen situations where he could have fudged or hedged and he didn‘t.  Now, does he play hardball?  Yes.

GREGORY:  Was that what he was doing here?  Was he just playing tough politics?

HUTCHISON:  Remember, he didn‘t initiate a call.  He didn‘t call Bob Novak.  He did not call Matt Cooper and say I have something for you.  Both of those reporters called him on other subjects and they related information according to the reports that I‘ve seen.

GREGORY:  Have you talked to him at all?  Do you know how he‘s doing with all this?

HUTCHISON:  I have not talked to Karl at all on this subject.  Now I‘ve talked to Karl other subjects last week.  But this was never mentioned and not at all.

GREGORY:  You‘ve had five straight days nearly of disclosures about Karl Rove‘s emerging role in this.  Something the White House could have cleared up two years ago.  Is this a political problem and how big is it?

HUTCHISON:  I don‘t think it‘s a political problem.  I think it‘s unfortunate that the Democrats asked for a special prosecutor.  They were granted that request.  The special prosecutor is now in the process of doing an investigation and according to the reports, Karl Rove has been told, he‘s not a subject of an investigation.  So it seems to me that this is being hyped as a political issue when none exists.

GREGORY:  Let me bring Andrea back into this.  Andrea, there are still a lot of questions around this and one of them does surround Bob Novak and the other source.  Let‘s remember, there is still one source that‘s at the heart of all this.  We‘ve both been doing reporting on this and there are certainly people on this case who believe Novak must be cooperating.  He‘s not commenting one way or the other.  But that he must be cooperating because if he weren‘t, he would be in jail.

MITCHELL:  Exactly.  Novak would not have been under any legal restrictions, to take the Fifth Amendment, for instance, because he wasn‘t covered under this act, he was not an official disclosing someone‘s identity.  So it doesn‘t seem he had any legal exposure that would have required him or led him to take the Fifth Amendment.  That would only lead to one other conclusion.  That he is cooperating, he has talked to the grand jury and has told the special prosecutor who his source is.  That leads to the next question which is why it is so important for this prosecutor off the gone after Judith Miller, gone after Matt Cooper, up to the point of his being prepared to go to jail.  And why, what is it they‘re trying to find out?  Why they have in secret filings, to a succession of judges, been upheld.  Something really important is underway here.  Either obstruction of justice, perjury or some national security issue.

And we don‘t know what it is.  But there has got to be a serious legal issue of possible criminal involvement by somebody for them to be pursuing it.

GREGORY:  Senator, let me move it away from the law for just a minute.  You‘re a senator.  You‘re a public servant.  Those who work in the White House, Karl Rove and all the way up to the president, are public servant and senior officials who work for this president.  Was he or anybody involved in this kind of matter duty-bound to make sure that she was not a covert officer before speaking about her in any way, shape or form?

HUTCHISON:  Well, let me say that I think it is very important as a public servant and because Karl Rove is so high profile, that we not jump to conclusions here.  Remember, he has cooperated in every way.  He has signed waivers for everyone to whom he talked.  So that they could talk to the grand jury.  I think Andrea saying that they are pursuing something important is probably correct.  But I think Karl Rove has been totally forthcoming.

GREGORY:  But senator, that‘s not really the question.  But I‘m not asking you a legal question.  I‘m saying, if he talks about her, if any senior official talks about a CIA officer, should they first make sure they know that person‘s classification at the CIA before saying anything to anybody about them?

HUTCHINSON:  Well, if what Karl Rove - and apparently, according to the reports, he didn‘t know her name and her name was never mentioned.  And he was told something by a reporter.  And he said, I‘ve heard that, too.  And there was no name mentioned.  I don‘t see if he didn‘t know the name, if he had gone back to the record and asked for a name then it would have shown that he was actually doing something.  And he didn‘t appear to be doing something.

MITCHELL:  Let me make—two quick points.  I want to emphasize that I don‘t think that Karl Rove has any legal exposure here that I can imagine.  Secondly, I think that reporters also have an obligation here.  Some of the reporters covering the story were not familiar with the CIA and agency protocols but they really had an obligation.  I think the press as well as any officials involved should have been a lot more careful before using names.

GREGORY:  All right we‘re going to leave it there and say goodbye to Andrea Mitchell.  Thank you very much.  We‘ll be right back with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison for more.  Later, conservative groups are preparing for another Justice Sunday as the fight heats up owe who will replace Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O‘Connor.  You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLETTE CASSIDY, MSNBC ANCHOR:  MSNBC keeps you up to the minute every 15 minutes.  Good evening everyone, I am Colette Cassidy.  There have been new arrests in the London bombings.  Police in Cairo detained an Egyptian biochemist who studied in the United States and taught at a university in Leeds where at least three of the four suicide bombers lived.  Police reportedly found evidence of an explosive at the biochemist‘s home in Leeds.  The same explosive found on shoe bomber Richard Reid.

Meantime, four other suspects were detained in Pakistan where authorities are helping investigate links between the bombers and al Qaeda.  And NASA says it won‘t launch the Space Shuttle Discovery until late next week at the earliest.  The engineers are still trying to figure out why a fuel sensor malfunctioned, forcing cancellation of Wednesday‘s launch.  Those are the headlines.  Now back to HARDBALL.

GREGORY:  We‘re back with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas.  I want to talk about the Supreme Court fight with you, senator, and I can just tell you, I know you know the president a lot longer than I do.  But in the time that I have spent with him, I know one thing.  That is when his wife says something to him, he takes it very, very seriously.  And Mrs. Bush while traveling in Africa said she would like to see him replace Justice O‘Connor with a woman.  Do you think that‘s what he‘ll do have the do?  Do you think that‘s what he should do?

HUTCHISON:  I think that there is a real possibility.  I think women are at the very top of his list.  I also think he very much wants to appoint the first Hispanic to the Supreme Court.  And so I think that it will be a woman or a Hispanic.  Would be my guess.  Now I don‘t know that for sure.

GREGORY:  So is that Alberto Gonzales perhaps?  Who is your choice or your prediction as a woman?

HUTCHISON:  Well, I would say Alberto Gonzales.  I would say Miguel Estrada and Judge Garza and Judge Prado are the Hispanic names I know that are very qualified and would be in the top list.

GREGORY:  Go ahead.

HUTCHISON:  On the woman‘s side, I think Judge Priscilla Owen.  I think hard yet Harriet Myers herself, even though she is doing a lot of vetting herself .

GREGORY:  White House counsel.

HUTCHISON:  Is first rate.  Oh, yes.  And I also think Edith Jones, a circuit court judge, is in there.  I think there are some very strong women that would be in contention.

GREGORY:  Will the president announce this next week?

HUTCHISON:  I think that‘s a possibility.  I do.  The White House has been doing a lot of consultation.  I think they‘ve talked to probably 75 percent of the United States Senate.  And I think there is a lot of consultation.

GREGORY:  One final question.  I‘m sorry.  There‘s a satellite delay.  I don‘t mean to interrupt you.  Twenty seconds left.  Do you think this will be a choice that‘s about his personal feelings toward a candidate?  Or do you think it will be more of an ideological or philosophical choice?

HUTCHISON:  I think the president will want to have a legacy of putting very fine people on the Supreme Court.  Fine legal minds who are strict constructionists.  And I think that will be his guiding premise.  It won‘t be friendship.  It will be fine legal minds, qualifications.  Someone who will be known to be a real addition to the court.

GREGORY:  All right.  Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.  Thanks very much for joiningg us tonight from Dallas.

HUTCHISON:  Thank you.

GREGORY:  Up next, much more on the Supreme Court.  How does Chief Justice Rehnquist‘s announcement affect President Bush‘s decision on how to fill Justice O‘Connor‘s seat on the court?  We‘ll be joined by two of the special interest groups on either side of that battle, the Family Research Council‘s Tony Perkins and Ralph Neas of the People for the American Way.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  With the success of the first Justice Sunday event in April, the conservative group Family Research Council is planning Justice Sunday II in Nashville, next month.  The telecast is designed to rally churchgoers for the Supreme Court nomination hearing.  Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist took some heat for contributing a videotaped statement to the first event.  Even though Justice Sunday II takes place in his home state of Tennessee on August 14, he nor any other elected official is now scheduled to appear.  Tony Perkins is the president of the Family Research Council, the group sponsoring the rally.  And we are also joined by Ralph Neas, president of the People for the American Way.

Welcome to you both.

RALPH NEAS, PEOPLE FOR THE AMERICAN WAY:  Thank you.

TONY PERKINS, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL:  Good evening, David.

GREGORY:  Tony, let me start with you.  Why this second event?

PERKINS:  Well, we‘ve come to a moment in history that people have been waiting for.  An opportunity to see the court changed.  In the 1980s, we saw the Reagan revolution that broke the grip of liberalism on the country and the 1990s, it was the conservative resurgence that broke the grip on Congress.  And here we are with an opportunity to see the court right.  This is something people care very deeply about.

GREGORY:  The president was pretty outspoken when he came to the defense of his Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as a prospect.  As a potential candidate.  And he told groups on both sides, interest groups like yours, on the right and the left, to essentially stand down.  To tone down the rhetoric.  How is this event consistent with what the president has told you to do?

PERKINS:  Well, the American people, the majority of the American people elected this president in large part because they knew he would have the opportunity to nominate candidates for the United States Supreme Court.  If you look back owe the last 40 years, it is the court that has went consistently whittling away at the religious freedoms and has been imposing, legislating from the bench on social issues.

GREGORY:  Tony, that‘s an argument.  And I understand the argument.  But the president as a political matter has called on groups like yours and groups on the left to tone it down.  And I remember it well because I asked the question in the press conference about some of the comments that came out of Justice Sunday I and he separated himself from some of that rhetoric that you and others had espoused.  So is this consistent with what the president is asking you to do?

PERKINS:  We are intent upon being part of this process and we‘ll make sure that the American people, those that are concerned deeply about the future of the court, have a voice in it.  And there‘s not rhetoric, inflammatory rhetoric.  There are facts.  And this is an issue people care deeply about.  And yes, we‘ll be a part of the process.

GREGORY:  Ralph Neas, come in.

NEAS:  Number one, Justice Sunday several months ago was one of the most disturbing incidents in recent American history.  It was truly religious McCarthyism at its worth.  Unfounded allegations about people who were trying to defeat the nuclear option and save the filibuster were accused of discriminating people of faith.  It was reprehensible.  The charges of Tony Perkins and the Family Research Council are false and inflammatory.  And by the way, over the last 55 years, there have been 21 Supreme Court nominations.  Fifteen of the 21, 70 percent have been Republican.  Seven of the last nine have been Republican appointees.  And the two Democrats were approved after consulting with Senator Orrin Hatch.  We have had a conservative court that Tony Perkins and the Family Research Council are attacking.

They even want to impeach Anthony Kennedy and they call Sandra Day O‘Connor a betrayal to conservativism.  That proves how extreme Tony Perkins is.

PERKINS:  Ralph, you know very well that those candidates that are now sitting on the appellate court were being filibustered, as Charles Schumer said, because they were people with deeply held personal beliefs.  You know that to be true.

GREGORY:  You also know that the president disagreed with you on that point, don‘t you—as most Americans?

PERKINS:  No.  No.  No.  That‘s not correct.  He said that they were being filibustered because of their judicial philosophy, and that‘s true.  But philosophy comes from someplace.  In these particularly individuals, it emanated because of their personal religious convictions.

GREGORY:  Tony, let‘s go back to the record.  When I asked the president whether he agreed with those who said that to oppose his nominees was to oppose people of faith, he said he does not agree with that.  He does not ascribe those motives to people opposing his nominees.  He thinks it‘s a different judicial philosophy.  So the president did not agree.

PERKINS:  That‘s correct.  He said it was their judicial philosophy.  In this particular case, those that had the deeply held personal beliefs.  In fact, Orrin Hatch said he was disturbed by the line of questioning that took place in the committee around Mr. - uh - I forget which one of the justices it - or the nominees—It was before his court prior.  Who was questioned about his beliefs.  So clearly it was a matter.

NEAS:  Clearly it was, Tony.  95 percent.

PERKINS:  Go back and look at the congressional record.  It‘s right there in the record.  Orrin Hatch said he was disturbed.

NEAS:  I didn‘t interrupt you.  Please don‘t interrupt me.  95 percent .

PERKINS:  I‘m just correcting you.

NEAS:  95 percent of President Bush‘s nominees have been approved.  10 were filibustered because of how extreme they were with respect to judicial philosophy.  Not deeply held religious beliefs.

GREGORY:  All right.  We‘re going to come back.  More on this.  I also want to talk about Alberto Gonzales and the fight ahead for the Supreme Court.  More ahead when we return with Ralph Neas and Tony Perkins.  This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CASSIDY:  MSNBC keeps you up to the minute every 15 minutes.  Good evening, everyone, I‘m Colette Cassidy. 

Despite some hopeful moments, searchers are still no closer to fining missing Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway.  After receiving a tip, divers combed an area where a barrel was discovered but then determined it was only a buoy.  Meanwhile a judge has ruled there is enough evidence to keep one suspect, Joran Van Der Sloot, behind bars. 

In Washington, Chief Justice William Rehnquist returned to work today, squelching retirement rumors.  The 80-year-old has announced that he plans to stay on the bench as long as his health permits.  Earlier in the week, the chief justice was admitted to the hospital with a high fever. 

And it is time again for wizards and muggles. “Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince” goes on sale at midnight tonight.  Across the country, thousands of fans are taking their place in line right now.  Many book stores are stay open late to accommodate the enormous demand. 

Those are your headlines, now back to HARDBALL.

GREGORY:  Welcome back to HARDBALL, I‘m David Gregory, in tonight for Chris Matthews.  And we‘re back with the Family Research Council‘s Tony Perkins and Ralph Neas of People for the American Way. 

Tony, first to you.  The big announcement that came out late last night is that the chief, the chief justice, William Rehnquist, will not retire after all.  He put an end to the speculation.  What does that mean to you and how does it change the president‘s calculation do you think? 

PERKINS:  Well, I think it means we‘re focused on the replacement for Justice O‘Connor.  And that‘s the sole focus for now.  I think we‘ll be dealing with one nomination as opposed to two at the present time. 

GREGORY:  Right.  And that‘s kind of the obvious point, which I understand.  But in terms of—to the extent that the White House was focused really in their preparations on two slots that might be opened, how politically, tactically, strategically, philosophically does the president go after this now? 

PERKINS:  Well, I think the president—every expectation is that he will be consistent with what he said during the campaign, that he wanted to see justices along the lines of a Thomas or a Scalia, and in keeping with his nomination record that he‘s made on the appellate court level of justices that will not legislate from the bench but will simply interpret the law.  So I think that‘s what we expect. 

GREGORY:  Here‘s a specific question.  Have you, Tony Perkins, received assurances from the White House that the president will not nominate Alberto Gonzales? 

PERKINS:  No.  We have not received assurances from the president about any nominee.  But we feel that he will be consistent with what he has stated and that his nominee will not only be a strict constructionist but will be perceived as such. 

GREGORY:  You were quoted in The New York Times saying that the White House has given you assurances that Alberto Gonzales will not be the nominee. 

PERKINS:  I did not say that.  I was not reported in The Washington (ph) Times.  What I said is that the White House has made it clear that the president is consistent in his philosophy about judicial nominees.  He has not stated to us or to anybody that I know of, who or who will not be a nominee. 

GREGORY:  So as far as you‘re concerned, Alberto Gonzales may still in fact be a candidate and you have gotten no assurances from anyone in the White House to the contrary? 

PERKINS:  No.  We have not received assurances from the White House whether there would be the name of a nominee or the name of someone who will not be a nominee. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Ralph Neas, let me back up.  William Rehnquist is not going anywhere.  What‘s your reaction? 

NEAS:  The first thing, I‘m pleased to hear that he is able to continue, as much as I disagree with his judicial philosophy.  He is a person of extraordinary courage and he has an unbelievable love for the court. 

GREGORY:  Does that hurt your side though in the sense that if Rehnquist were to retire, the presumption was that the president would name a strong conservative to replace him and would have room for more of a moderate candidate to replace O‘Connor? 

NEAS:  I‘m not sure how it cuts.  It certainly limits his options.  I think he was considering a slate of candidates.  But what we have said is that we want a compromise candidate.  We like this consultation, we hope it is real and leads to a consensus; someone in the mold of Sandra Day O‘Connor, who obviously disagreed with us a lot, but was unpredictable and a solid mainstream conservative.

Someone in the mold of Scalia and Thomas, someone that Tony Perkins wants, and I think George W. Bush has promised Tony Perkins and the radical religious right someone in the mold of Thomas and Scalia, would overturn more than 100 Supreme Court precedents going back to the 1930s.  This is a fight over judicial philosophy.

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  . or so you argue.  We don‘t know that. 

NEAS:  No, no.  We have done a study of every dissent and concurring opinion of Scalia and Thomas going back to 1991 and 1986 respectively.  With one or two more like-minded justices, more than 100 Supreme Court precedents would be overturned, affecting privacy, affecting equal opportunity, the environment, and many other things. 

GREGORY:  Is Alberto Gonzales OK by you? 

NEAS:  Alberto Gonzales we oppose when he was up for attorney general on a number of grounds.  If he is nominated to the Supreme Court, we will take a very close look at him.  We have not taken a position at this time.  It will certainly be a burden on him to show that he deserves to be on the court in terms of lifelong tenure. 

GREGORY:  Right.  Well, Ralph, let‘s be honest, that‘s about the best you‘re going to get here when it comes to being closer to your point of view, isn‘t it? 

NEAS:  Well, I sure hope that the president listens to the senators, the Republicans and Democrats like President Clinton listened to Senator Hatch.  And I‘m not sure, there are many judicial appointments from Bush I, from Reagan, and George W. Bush, who are mainstream, Sandra Day O‘Connor conservatives.  There are many who he can choose.  But he has got a pact with Tony Perkins and the religious right.  And I think he will probably honor it.

GREGORY:  Well, but, you know, Tony, isn‘t there really some question about how strong that pact is right now, especially when you hear the president come out and say to both sides, tone the rhetoric down, don‘t box me in, not even my allies on the right, don‘t go after Alberto Gonzales?  Didn‘t you feel a little bit of a chill from the White House on that? 

PERKINS:  Look, the president is the one who was re-elected.  Just as Orrin Hatch said about Bill Clinton when he was elected president, with that election came the right to appoint judges.  This president has that right and he is going to make those nominations. 

And it may not be to the exact liking of anybody on the left or to the expectations of the right, but I am pretty certain that given this president‘s track record, what he has stated, that these will be judges that reflect the American public, not those like Ginsburg who Ralph talks about, who was an ACLU attorney who is not in the mainstream. 

And Justice O‘Connor, while she was good on many of the fiscal and business issues.

GREGORY:  You know, but, Tony, you talk about Justice Ginsburg, that is exactly the model of somebody that the White House is talking about, somebody who had good qualifications and who got a good hearing, and was ultimately confirmed without a real divisive fight. 

PERKINS:  No, because the Republicans recognized that the president had the right to make those nominations and they did not filibuster, as some of the Democrats are saying they‘re going to do, as Chuck Schumer has said.  They‘re about to declare war regardless of who the nomination is. 

GREGORY:  I want to—just a quick question for both of you.  Let me start with you, Tony.  Do you think in the end, despite lobbying by groups like yours and by you personally, for the president, is this an ideological choice or a personal choice that he is about to make? 

PERKINS:  I think this is a choice about legacy.  I think two things will determine this president‘s legacy.  I think it is establishing self-government and democracy in Iraq.  And I believe it is restoring democracy in this country by reigning in runaway courts. 

GREGORY:  Right.  Final point—I mean, what I‘m getting at here, is he going to make this based on personal comfort with somebody or for ideological reasons? 

NEAS:  We don‘t know for sure.  I hope he tries to bring the country together.  I hope it is a consensus nominee who will have the support of Democrats, Republicans, and independents.  If you ask me to guess, I think there‘s a fa‡ade going on of this consultation.  It‘s a show.  It‘s not reality.  I hope I‘m wrong.  I‘ll publicly apologize if I am.  But he‘s going to go for the right.  He has promised them the court. 

GREGORY:  Just for the record, there are some Democrats who disagree with you.  Who think, thus far, the consultation is real. 

NEAS:  And I hope that they are right.  My gut tells me they‘re not, but I hope they‘re right. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Thanks to both of you, Tony Perkins and Ralph Neas, for being here today. 

When we return, did Karl Rove learn the identity of Joe Wilson‘s wife from columnist Robert Novak?   And what, if anything, does President Bush know about Rove‘s conversation with reporters?  Much more on our top story ahead with The Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank and The National Review‘s Byron York. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CASSIDY:  MSNBC keeps you up to the minute every 15 minutes.  Good evening, everyone, I‘m Colette Cassidy. 

A series of suicide car bombings in other attacks in Baghdad have left more than 29 people dead.  Officials say there were at least seven suicide bombings today alone.  A federal appeals court ruled that a Guantanamo detainee who was once Osama bin Laden‘s driver can be tried by a military tribunal.  It apparently clears the way for the Pentagon to resume military trials for terror suspects after a lower court rule they were unlawful. 

And Hurricane Emily is expected to hit Jamaica tomorrow.  Emily lost strength today and is now a Category 2 hurricane with 105-mile-an-hour winds.  Forecasters say Emily could either hit the southern Texas or northern Mexico coasts sometime next week. 

Those are headlines.  Now back to HARDBALL.

GREGORY:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

While specific legal details of the investigation of who leaked the name of Valerie Plame are largely unknown, a pitched political battle on Capitol Hill was in full swing this week.  On Thursday, Joseph Wilson, the ex-ambassador of the heart of the story, took to Capitol Hill with Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer and leveled charges directly atop White House senior adviser Karl Rove. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH WILSON, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO GABON:  I made my bones confronting Saddam Hussein and securing the release of over 2,000 Americans in hiding Kuwait, 115 American hostages held by Saddam as human shields.  That‘s how I made my bones.  Karl Rove made his bones doing dirty political tricks. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Immediately after Schumer and Wilson‘s press conference, Republicans countered with one of their own. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KIT BOND ®, MISSOURI:  Joe Wilson‘s attacks were a political sham.  They were then and they still are today.  I‘ve debated him on NPR and it is my conclusion, after studying his work, that Joe Wilson has perpetrated one of the great hoaxes in all political time. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Here to sort out where this story stands after all the twists and turns this week, Dana Milbank, political reporter for The Washington Post; and Byron York, White House correspondent for National Review magazine. 

Dana, let me start with you.  The new development here after a pretty busy week for Karl Rove under the microscope is that, indeed, he is a source.  He talks to Bob Novak.  So he has now spoken to two reporters who have written stories that name Valerie Plame.  What does it mean? 

DANA MILBANK, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Well, as a legal matter, it doesn‘t necessarily mean anything.  And, in fact, some of what came out this week could be exculpatory.  As a political matter, that‘s an entirely different story.  Because we had Scott McClellan, the press secretary to the president of the United States, at the podium saying, anybody who was involved in this would no longer be working in this administration. 

Now quite obviously, Karl Rove is involved in this, so they‘re in a difficult situation here.  And either the president and his spokesman have to go back on that pronouncement, or they‘re going to have to act on it.  And nobody thinks that the president is going to get rid of Karl Rove. 

GREGORY:  It is interesting, Byron, that the president, going back to the fall of 2003, used very careful language, didn‘t he?  He always said anybody involved in leaking classified information would not be working at this White House.  So these are pretty carefully crafted statements even then. 

BYRON YORK, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL REVIEW:  Exactly, the president, when he made a statement on his own, did say that.  If anybody is involved in it, they‘ll be dealt with.  There was one time when a reporter kind of put the words in his mouth and Bush said, yes, I would fire. 

It seems to me though that the story did broaden today, because, yes, we know that Rove was involved, but we have since found out, according to The Washington Post and The New York Times, that both Rove and Lewis Libby, the top aide of Vice President Cheney, said that they originally learned about Valerie Plame‘s identity from reporters. 

GREGORY:  Right.  And that has great legal significance.  Because if all of this information that‘s coming in the door from people like us, we are not covered by the statute involved here because we don‘t have any access to classified information.  And therefore, there can‘t be a crime, right, Dana? 

MILBANK:  I trust you‘ve already hired a lawyer, David. 

(LAUGHTER)

MILBANK:  Just to be very safe on this account.  But sure, that—look, none of us knows where the legal matter is going to go here and only Peter Fitzgerald does.  And perhaps even he doesn‘t know entirely at this point.  But—so it is impossible to speculate.  What I love about it is that on each side: the Republicans are saying, let‘s not comment on the ongoing investigation, but he‘s innocent; and the Democrats are saying, we‘re not going to comment on this ongoing investigation, but Karl Rove sure looks guilty. 

YORK:  But you have the weird case in which you‘re kind of looking—trying to find the reporters who have leaked classified information to the White House.  It has turned upside down. 

GREGORY:  Right.  Everything is upside down.  Byron. I want to ask you about some of the reporting that I‘ve been doing today for “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS” which speaks to Karl Rove‘s motive.  And our information is that in fact one of the areas that he testified about in the grand jury was that at the time he is speaking to Novak and to Cooper, July 9th, apparently, and then July 11th, 2003, he has no real motive to discredit Wilson or Plame because he knows or at least expects that at that time the director of central intelligence, George Tenet, will issue a statement that essentially discredits Wilson‘s central claim that the vice president knew of his report debunking this link between Iraq and its attempts to get uranium from Niger.  Does that make sense?  And by the way, Tenet did issue such a statement saying the vice president never saw those conclusions and furthermore, that Wilson‘s report was not conclusive one way or the other. 

YORK:  I think it does.  A couple of things, one, I had a conversation with Robert Luskin, who is Rove‘s lawyer, a couple of days ago.  And he told me that.  And he said when Rove was talking to Matthew Cooper, he, Rove, knew that that very evening Tenet was going to make a statement.  And he felt that it would discredit some of what Wilson said, so Rove was simply saying to Cooper, you know, don‘t go out on a limb on this. 

But the other thing, there was an actual motive, because  I know when Wilson came out and very prominently began attacking the rationale for war, wrote an op-ed in The New York Times, a number of people, including me, wondered why the Bush administration had chosen this guy to take this trip to Niger.  And I think that is where the wife came in in everybody‘s mind. 

GREGORY:  This may be a little self-serving, too, Dana, right, by way of explanation.  Hey, I don‘t have a motive to go after anybody here.  I mean, we know from covering the beat that in fact numerous people up and down the White House did have it in for Joe Wilson, thought he was, you know, half-cocked, going after the White House and the president, was dead wrong. 

MILBANK:  Sure, and even if this—nothing comes of this legal issue, it does get at the question, is this the way the White House functions?  We‘ve seen other people who have gone afoul of this  White House, been treated in a similar way.  And they‘ve always said that is not the way we do business. 

So politically, this is damaging because you see a White House behaving behind the scenes in  somewhat an underhanded, personal way that may not appear terribly presidential. 

YORK:  On the other hand, it was actually correct that Wilson‘s wife had played a role in sending him there. 

GREGORY:  Right.  But let‘s just be fair here.  In the Clinton era, if

a press secretary got up, like Mike McCurry, and said, well, of course the

president maintains confidence in a senior adviser because anybody who

works here enjoys the president‘s confidence, he would have been hammered

by people on the other side of the aisle. 

YORK:  McClellan wasn‘t? 

(LAUGHTER)

GREGORY:  Well, he was, he was.  I‘m just saying. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  Well, that‘s another point.  Anyway, we‘ll be right back with Byron York and Dana Milbank to talk about where this investigation may be headed. 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  And we‘re back with The Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank and National Review‘s Byron York.  OK.  I want to get onto some other matters like the Supreme Court.  But first let me just ask, since reporters are the big topic here, what do you think is going on with Robert Novak?  Has he cooperated here?  And if he hasn‘t, wouldn‘t he be in jail at this point? 

YORK:  You have to think that since Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor, has pursued Matthew Cooper and Judith Miller so aggressively, Miller being in jail at this moment, that Novak had to make some sort of accommodation for him.  On the other hand, this is a good example of grand jury secrecy actually working, because I don‘t know what‘s going on in that case. 

GREGORY:  I know, it‘s just a shame.

(LAUGHTER)

GREGORY:  What about Judy Miller, Dana?  I mean, why do you think he‘s so concerned about her? 

MILBANK:  Well.

GREGORY:  Besides the fact that she didn‘t do what he wanted.

MILBANK:  . since we‘ve decided to go in the realm of speculation, it‘s possible, since we‘re now hearing that people in the White House got their information from journalists, she could, according to some theories out there, could be the person providing that information.  Or it could just be, he‘s very much interested in making a statement and he got cooperation from Matt Cooper, people at my newspaper and elsewhere, and he is just going to stand on principle. 

GREGORY:  OK.  Let‘s move onto the Supreme Court now.  So we finally know that Justice Rehnquist, the chief justice, is not going anywhere.  At least we got that out of the way.  How does that change the calculation that Bush is making right now?  Because they were preparing for two slots. 

YORK:  I think it changes it a lot, because if you have two slots, that would give the president a little more wiggle room.  He could nominate a really solid conservative that his base would be happy with, and maybe go with Alberto Gonzales.  With one, I think, you know a lot of the groups on the right have really, really been waving him off.  Gonzales.  And I think a lot of them now believe that that has been successful and that they‘ll get a candidate that they‘re happy with.  But two would have given the president a lot more freedom. 

GREGORY:  I don‘t believe—I mean, I asked Tony Perkins about this, that he got some sort of assurance from the White House that he‘s not going to name Gonzales.  I can‘t believe that‘s the case.

MILBANK:  That doesn‘t sound like the way this president operates, even if that is probably not the case.  And we can probably see that is unlikely just because it would be out of pattern to antagonize the right in just such a way. 

But I agree, this is definitely—actually, having just the one certainly complicates matters because it is not a matter of providing a combination ticket.  He is going to make one side happy and one side very unhappy. 

YORK:  You know, there have been some commentators on the right who have been telling Rehnquist, resign.  You‘re going to do this at some point relatively soon anyway.  Do this for the president.  And so far obviously he has resisted. 

GREGORY:  Right, right, and maybe took some time in doing it.  Do you think ultimately for the president this choice—is it about politics or ideology or even judicial philosophy?  It doesn‘t strike me that those are things that really motivate him.  That it must be much more personal than that, about his relationships, about people he trusts.  Obviously, that he would like a strong conservative, but it is much more personal, or do you think not? 

YORK:  Well, I—well, if it were Gonzales, it would be, because he has come out and said he is a friend, and Gonzales has been very loyal to him.  And that‘s hugely important to Bush.  But if it is not, no, I think it is going to be about judicial philosophy and politics to the degree that he does want this candidate to be confirmed. 

GREGORY:  But ultimately do you think he feels that this is—that the conservative right is going to hold him—hold his feet to the fire and that that may be motivating him?  Or are there different conversations in the White House?

MILBANK:  Well, they are going to hold his feet to the fire.  Now there‘s a lot of talk that—of getting a woman, of getting a minority, but when it comes to the actual philosophy... 

GREGORY:  Even from Mrs. Bush, by the way, not from.

MILBANK:  Indeed, from the first lady, which should not be... 

MILBANK:  No, it should not be—it should be taken into consideration.  But it‘s very clear if you see how this president has operated from the beginning, it‘s no mystery.  It‘s not as if he has hewed so closely to his base all five years now and is suddenly, on the most important decision, going to say, sorry, guys, I‘m going with the moderate.  It‘s not going to happen. 

GREGORY:  You believe that? 

YORK:  Yes.  As a matter of fact, I was talking to someone who works for People for the American Way, which is the group most prominently who is going to oppose probably anybody Bush nominates, they were delighted with all of this conservative attacking of Gonzales because they thought if Bush goes ahead with it, he‘ll have a very divided set of Republicans.  And I think the White House knows that, I think which argues against nominating Gonzales. 

GREGORY:  All right.  We‘ll leave it there.  Thanks to both of you, Dana Milbank and Byron York. 

Join us again Monday night at 7 p.m. Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now stay tuned for “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN.”

Good night, everyone.  

END

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