updated 7/22/2005 9:30:41 AM ET 2005-07-22T13:30:41

Guest: Jim VandeHei, Tony Blankley, John McCain

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tonight, Senator John McCain, the leader of the gang of 14, talks about President Bush's Supreme Court nominee, Judge John Roberts.

And four small explosions hit London today, just two weeks after terrorist bombs rocked the city. 

Let's play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I'm Chris Matthews. 

Senator John McCain will be with us in just a moment. 

But, first, exactly two weeks after the deadly attacks on London's transit system, an attempted attack has rattled nerves on three London underground trains and a city bus.  This time, police say only one person was injured.  And British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the attempts were meant to scare people. 

Let's get the latest from London now from NBC's Ned Colt—Ned.

NED COLT, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Chris. 

Two significant developments tonight.  First off, high-level U.S.  intelligent sources are telling NBC News that the backpacks, as well as the explosives used in today's four bombings, do appear to be similar, if not the same, as those same explosives, as well as backpacks, used in the attacks of two weeks ago, a very significant development, if indeed that is borne out in the coming days of investigation here. 

Now, one other development as well in the last few hours.  We are being told that there have been two arrests here, one of an individual outside Downing Street.  That is the office of the prime minister, Tony Blair, that taking place this afternoon, and also an arrest, and this involving a man outside of the Warren Street tube.  That is where one of the explosions took place. 

And there had been initial reports of a man trying to flee that scene,  so two arrests tonight, but police are saying that those should not be played up yet.  They are not being directly tied to the events of today. 

Now, those events, again, very similar to what we saw two weeks ago, but much less deadly, more than 50 people killed in that string of four attacks two weeks ago, but very many similarities today, not the ones that I just mentioned, but also the fact that it took place in three subway stops here in London, as well as on the upper deck of a double-decker bus. 

Again, though, one—one injury reported at this point.  And that may be one of the individuals who was involved in this.  We don't know that for sure.  But that's what some of the reports are indicating at this point.  Those three—those three explosions on the tube apparently—I should say two explosions on the tube, we are hearing that at least one device did not go off. 

That may be here at the Shepherd's Bush tube station, where we are now, where we are being kept well away from the scene, about 300 yards behind us here.  It has been cordoned off.  You may see a bus behind me.  They are moving out residents as they attempt to bring out a suspicious package here.  That package may well be another backpack that failed to detonate.  We don't know that for certain now, but that seems to be quite likely. 

MATTHEWS:  Ned, what about the behavior of the—of the—of the suspects? 

COLT:  Well, Chris, right now, we don't know much about that.  What we are hearing is, you get a lot from the different witnesses who saw them, but, apparently, for instance, on the—on the explosion that took place in Hackney, which is in East London, on this double-decker bus, there was no one to be seen. 

The bus driver heard a pop up on the upper deck, went up, found all the windows blown out, no one up there, apparently, from what we can tell, no injuries there.  In the three other locations, we are hearing of one situation where an individual may have thrown in something akin to a backpack, which may not have detonated.  We don't know that for—for certain.  And then the other, where someone was wearing a backpack and that may have exploded, but, again, a minor explosion—back to you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much for a great report, Ned Colt in London.

NBC News chief foreign correspondent Andrea Mitchell is traveling with is traveling with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice right now.  And she was ejected from a press photo-op with Secretary Rice and the president of Sudan after she asked the Sudanese president a tough question. 

Andrea joins us now by phone from Israel.

Andrea, gives us the firsthand account of what was done to you. 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, it was—you know, the funny thing was, it was not only I.  It was also the State Department officials. 

When Condi Rice got to the president's villa for this photo-op, her translator was not permitted to go in.  The top officials going with her, the head of the AID, some of them did not even get in.  So, for the first six minutes of her meeting with the president, six or seven minutes, she had no Arabic translator.  They sat there looking at each other.

(LAUGHTER)

MITCHELL:  Nobody could talk.

I mean, the whole thing was a mess.  Jim Wilkinson, one of her top advisers, was slammed against a wall.  And then they started on the press.  They tried to stop us from going in repeatedly.  Then they said no questions could be asked.  State Department officials said you can't set those rules.  That is not freedom of the press.  That was the Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman. 

And his counterpart, his Sudanese counterpart said, well, there is no free press, which, basically, you know, set the stage for what then happened.  I walked in and they—one guy—one security guy punched me as I was walking into the photo-op, trying to push my way in.  They were trying to block our access.  We get inside and I ask a question, which, according to American rules, is what we do. 

I mean, this was the first chance we had had to question the president of Sudan, who many people believe is responsible for much of the misery and violence that has been perpetrated there.  And, at that point, by asking him about the broken promises to control the violence, they kicked me out.  They pulled me out.  Two guys got me from behind and grabbed me and took me out, Chris.  It was quite a scene. 

MATTHEWS:  Were you afraid? 

MITCHELL:  I was angry and a little bit humiliated.  You don't like to become, you know, part of the story.  I mean, Secretary Rice is raising really important questions with this, you know, president of Sudan. 

They have a new coalition government.  They brought the rebels into the government.  This was the first chance to do something about the fact that two million people have been slaughtered.  Hundreds of thousands have been displaced.  We then, of course, went to the main reason for the trip, besides the diplomacy, which was to see the refugee camp in Darfur and to listen to the tales of these women who have been raped, soldiers in uniform perpetrating many of the acts of violence both inside and outside the camp. 

And some of the people I talked to had been there for 18 months and longer.  And they are afraid to go back to their villages.  And, in most cases, the villages are gone.  Two thousand villages have been destroyed.  And it is a catastrophe.  And Americans have poured $2 billion of aid alone.  That is just the aid over the last couple of years, the third largest aid recipient, after Iraq and Afghanistan.

And very few people outside of government and the extraordinary relief workers—and I know you had a background in the Peace Corps, Chris.  You know what these people do in the field.  There are 1,000 relief workers form 40 different agencies in this one area trying to help these people. 

MATTHEWS:  I was impressed that they were so insolent as to treat you the way they did, to shove you around as they did and to haul you out of a room.  But I was more impressed that they went after Wilkinson, who works for the State Department, who is right under the secretary of state.  Did that amaze you, that they were willing to push him around the way they did?

MITCHELL:  Yes. 

And they—they didn't even let some of the other officials in.  But to—to push Wilkinson around and to be as rude as they were and as physical as they were was crazy.  These people want diplomatic relations to be restored.  They lost diplomatic relations back in 1997, after harboring Osama bin Laden.  They have been on the terror list for years.

And they want help from us.  And, at the same time, they are asking us to restore relations and lift sanctions, so that they can start buying American spare parts that they need.  They slammed Jim Wilkinson against the wall.  Go figure.  It's—his words were, this is not exactly diplomacy 101. 

MATTHEWS:  A tough question.  Was the president of Sudan, who was your host at that press photo-op, did he seem to be going along with the rough treatment given to you and to the secretary and secretary of state's assistant? 

MITCHELL:  In fact, I was told by some people who were watching the whole thing play out that he—that these guys were taking his orders, that he had signaled them to get rid of me. 

MATTHEWS:  Wonderful. 

Thank you very much, Andrea Mitchell, who is Israel right now, reporting on the incidents the other day in Khartoum.

Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona joins us now.  

Senator, you just watched that report from Andrea Mitchell.  What do you think of the Sudanese president?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  They're a bunch of thugs. 

You know, they're not only a bunch of thugs.  Usually, thugs have the ability to put out a little bit of a P.R. performance.  And these guys can't even do that.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But they were kissing her.  And they had their best clothes on, and then they pushed her guy around and pushed Andrea around.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN:  It's fairly obvious that they have a pretty primitive notion about the role of the press in Sudan. 

But, you know, one thing that—that Andrea pointed out, I bet you a lot of Americans don't know that we have contributed $2 billion, and a lot of it went to that government.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... enough.

MCCAIN:  You know where it ends up. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MCCAIN:  In Swiss bank accounts and other places. 

But this is—this is serious.  And it reduces one's level of confidence about Darfur to zero.  I mean, these are really bad guys.  It's been going on for a long time.  And what I worry about—and this is really serious—is that we said never again after the Holocaust.  We said never again after Cambodia.  We said never again after Srebrenica.  We're always saying never—we said never again after Rwanda. 

Are we going to say never again after Sudan?  I'm afraid we are, unless the American people get engaged in this issue and demand that the Africans send forces.  And we'll do the logistics.  We'll do the supply.  We'll pay the tab internationally.  But we've got to get an international peacekeeping force in there, preferably African troops, and get this thing, this genocide that is going on, to a halt.

Many people, including you and me, have seen the satellite pictures of the villages in Darfur.  They're all burned out.  You can see where once there were huts and homes and everything.  They're completely burned out.  There is a calculated, planned, orchestrated genocide going on in Darfur, and we ought—and it's in Africa—and we ought to stop it, and we ought to do something about it.  And this latest manifestation I hope will focus some attention on the kind of thugs that are running things.

MATTHEWS:  Couldn't do better, could they?

Anyway, thank you.

Let's talk about the United States Supreme Court nominee, John Roberts.  This is the first time I think you've had a chance to go at length on this topic.  Was it a smart appointment so far?

MCCAIN:  Brilliant.

MATTHEWS:  Brilliant?

MCCAIN:  I think it's a brilliant call.  This judge is highly regarded by everybody that's known him.  I don't know how he stayed conservative after spending all those years at Harvard.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MCCAIN:  But he's clearly...

MATTHEWS:  A smart guy. 

How do you keep—how do you find a brilliant appointment in a country where 40 percent of the country or 45 percent call themselves pro-choice on abortion rights, believes the Constitution protects that right, and 40 percent or so, maybe less than that, on the other side say, no, we don't think the Constitution ever says that?  How do you find a judge to meet both constituencies?

MCCAIN:  I think it's based on a respect for his record, his demeanor, his—the way he is going to present himself to hearings, the way that he did when he was up for confirmation before, where he was confirmed to the appellate court by a voice vote, a voice vote.  Now, three Democrats voted against him out of the Judiciary Committee, but I—did you—I'm sure you, like most Americans, saw his remarks after the president introduced him the other night. 

It's beautifully done, his reverence for the court, reverence for the Constitution.  And, again, the president said when he campaigned for reelection that he would appoint judges who strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States.  There is no doubt that this nominee will do that.

So, if you have got a complaint—I'm talking about the left and the far left—then win the next presidential election, and then your guy can appoint Ruth Bader Ginsburg—or your woman—your man or woman—excuse me—can appoint Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Breyer and others that are to the left.  That's—that's the way the system works.

MATTHEWS:  But that's tough talk when you are trying to get the Democrats to allow a vote, right?  I mean, you can't be that brutal, can you, just say Democrats, roll over, it's our choice?

MCCAIN:  No.  But I...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  All it takes is 41 Democrats in the Senate out of 45 to kill this nomination by filibuster, right?

MCCAIN:  Well, would you have expected Republicans to have filibustered Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was former, I believe—helped with the ACLU, I believe, counselor or something like that?  Elections have consequences.

And I voted for both Justice Breyer and Justice Ginsburg, because I believed that President Clinton won the election.  Therefore, there was no overriding reason—even though I was aware of a left—at least left-of-center philosophy—that there was no overriding reason to vote against the nominee.

MATTHEWS:  That's not the way senators like Chuck Schumer on the other side look at it.  They believe they have a right to vet these guys or women and decide whether they should be on the court or not, because whether they like them or not or like what they have to say.

MCCAIN:  Well, I think there's a varying spectrum in the United States Senate, as we all know.  And there is no doubt that Senator Kennedy, Senator Schumer and a couple others are on the end of that spectrum.  And that's there right to be...

(CROSSTALK)

MCCAIN:  politically.

MATTHEWS:  Where are you on that spectrum, Senator?  Are you in the middle?  Are you on the right or where are you?

MCCAIN:  Clearly, on this issue, I am to the right, because I believe that we should have judges that strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States.

And then, as importantly, the president of the United States campaigned saying that.  I mean, the American voter was very well aware of what kind of judge the president of the United States was going to appoint and they decided to reelect him.

Maybe that wasn't the reason, but they knew that came with the deal.

MATTHEWS:  We'll be right back with Senator John McCain to talk about what this nominee has to say under testimony.  How much does he have to give to get this job?

And still ahead, the latest on the White House-CIA leak investigation.  What does a top secret State Department memo tell us about who in the White House knew Valerie Wilson's identity and when and what did they do with that info?

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, Senator John McCain's reaction to the White House-CIA leak investigation.

HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We're back now with Senator John McCain. 

Senator McCain, there's two ways to look at this new nominee for the Supreme Court.  He has amazing credentials.  Everyone recognizes that, even the liberal Democrats. 

One is, he argued the case for the administration on an abortion issue, where he basically said he didn't believe that the Roe v. Wade decision held up under constitutional scrutiny.  At the same time, he believes in precedent.  He believes that, once a law is passed and once a ruling is made by the Supreme Court, and over 20 or 30 years, like this one, it should be left to stand.

What—what—what—what's paramount there?  Does he believe in precedent, or does he believe in going back and being a strict constructionist?

MCCAIN:  I think that it's pretty clear that the court's not going to revisit Roe v. Wade, per se.  But there will be other issues, such as parental notification, such as when the viability of a fetus is—you know, we've learned that, because of medical technology, a fetus is viable at an earlier and earlier stage, which, by the way, has contributed significantly to the pro-life position. 

So, I think there's other aspects of the abortion issue, which I think will continue to surface in the United States Supreme Court.

Let me just mention what the left is going to do, real quick.  First, they're going to challenge the documents.  In other words, they're going to want all the documents that...

MATTHEWS:  His memos.

MCCAIN:  ... he did, his memos when he was working for the president of the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MCCAIN:  That is clearly an attorney-client privilege.  But it worked with Estrada for the Democrats, and it worked with Bolton, right?  So they will try that.

Second thing, of course, will be the abortion issue, as just—we just discussed.  They'll try and attack him from that position.  And third of all will be the issue of answering questions sufficiently before the Judiciary Committee.

Well, on the third issue, if you look at the confirmation hearings of Justice Breyer and Ginsburg, they literally answered no really controversial question on the basis—I think legitimate—that they're not going to comment on cases that will be coming before the Supreme Court.

But those will be the three lines of attack that you'll see from the left at Judge Roberts.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask a John McCain question. 

Justice—Justice O'Connor, Sandra Day O'Connor, was on the 5-4 positive end, the majority end of a decision which said you can't outlaw abortion, even through the means of what's called partial-birth abortion, if the woman's health is in danger.  Are you with that side?  Which side are you on?  Do you think a woman's health should be paramount in determining whether she has a right to an abortion?

MCCAIN:  I think it depends on the stage of the pregnancy, and I know we're splitting hairs here.  But there's a point—there's a point where the woman's health is, obviously, in the later stages of pregnancy, is—gains in greater and greater importance.

But I believe that if Roe v. Wade itself were repealed, we would go back to the states.  And the states would make decisions according to the standards that they want to prevail within their states.  So, if Roe v.  Wade were repealed, that wouldn't have the Draconian effects that some view it.  And I'm, being a states rights guy, that would be fine with me.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It would be OK with you if some states said that a woman couldn't have an abortion, even if her health was in danger?

MCCAIN:  I think...

MATTHEWS:  Because that's what Nebraska did in that case.

MCCAIN:  My position—my position is life of the mother, obviously.

MATTHEWS:  Life, but how about health?

MCCAIN:  Again, it depends on—you'd have to get down into health.  I think it has to be right now on the basis of life of the mother.  That's my position.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But even when a woman is told by her doctor...

(CROSSTALK)

MCCAIN:  Rape, incest, or the life of the mother.

MATTHEWS:  ... that, if you deliver this baby, it's going to do damage to you internally.  It could be real damage.

MCCAIN:  The life of the mother is the position that I hold.  Now, I think you could have discussions about when that life is in danger, then when it isn't, long-term effects, short term.

What we worry about is that every doctor is saying—I'm talking about the pro-life position, which I hold—is every doctor is saying, “Go ahead and have an abortion because...”

MATTHEWS:  You don't feel good.

MCCAIN:  Yes.  You don't feel good.

MATTHEWS:  You don't feel good about having this baby.

(CROSSTALK)

MCCAIN:  That's why...

MATTHEWS:  But that's the hardest thing, isn't it, for men or anybody to decide from outside, whether the doctor really has legitimate concerns about his patient's health or he's some sort of Park Avenue doctor who will do anything because somebody asked him to do it and if he likes his patient.

MCCAIN:  Which is why we come down to the position life of the mother. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MCCAIN:  Then you—then you don't get into this equivocation. 

Look, this is—can I just add, finally, this is a tough issue. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MCCAIN:  As males, all of us, at least most males that I know, are not totally comfortable with it, because we're never going to have to make those kinds of decisions.  But I believe...

MATTHEWS:  Well, it was during the war, the Vietnam War, which you served so nobly in.  There were people who got out of the draft because they had doctors who were like Park Avenue doctors—and I hate to mention geography, but doctors that will take care of their rich patients, who said the kid can't serve because he's got a headache or the kid, you know, or might have high blood pressure today or the kid may be this...

MCCAIN:  Bad knee, yes.

MATTHEWS:  ... traumatized by the experience.  And regular doctors say, “Tough, kid.  You're going.”  So...

MCCAIN:  Yes. 

But I don't think there's any doubt that—and you look at, for example, Senator Clinton's recent comments, that technology, knowledge, better health situation has swung to the side of the pro-life people. 

MATTHEWS:  I know that.

(CROSSTALK)

MCCAIN:  I'm—I mean, and I'm pleased about that.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We'll be right back with Senator John McCain to talk about this leaked memorandum and what's happening in this prosecution, perhaps, of the White House staff.

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We're back with Senator John McCain.

This prosecutor in the leak case, the CIA leak case, has just gone after the city organization, the machine, you might call it, in Chicago.  He is tough.  He's throwing the book at the people out there in the Daly administration out there, his number two and number three guy.  What do you think he's going to do with this case involving the White House and the leak case?

MCCAIN:  Could I just mention I remember when Senator Peter Fitzgerald was responsible for his appointment, and it was opposed by literally the entire political establishment in Illinois.  And...

MATTHEWS:  They had reason. 

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN:  Yes.  That's right. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he is—he is one tough prosecutor.

MCCAIN:  He seems to be a very tough guy.  I've never met him or anything.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, now he's got his sites on the White House staff and the vice president's staff.

MCCAIN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And he's got a new memo that was apparently sent to the president and to the secretary of state on the trip to Africa, in—two years ago in July of 2003, which laid out the role of Valerie Wilson, the wife of Joe Wilson, the ambassador, went down to Niger, or Niger. 

And here we are again with evidence of maybe a major crime, of misusing top-secret information.

MCCAIN:  Well, first of all, it's interesting.  The most fascinating aspect of this is Judith Miller of “The New York Times,” who never wrote a word...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MCCAIN:  ... is in prison.  Nobody understands that.  No one has explained that to me quite—to anybody's satisfaction.

MATTHEWS:  And she was reporting stories helpful to those pushing the war, ironically.

MCCAIN:  Exactly.  So, this is full of riddles that we won't know until we—until Fitzgerald comes out with his report. 

Now, I understand that the grand jury expires in October, so it's very likely that he'll come to some conclusions by then.  But I...

We all know why Karl Rove spoke to the reporters, because at least we know this, that he believed that Wilson was putting out false information concerning whether Dick Cheney sent him to Africa, which he didn't, whether there was actually some contacts between Saddam Hussein's regime and Niger on yellow cake, which the British still maintain that there was, and several other aspects that were, just simply—according to a study by our Intelligence Committee, were false, statements that Ambassador Wilson made.

And so, it's understandable why Rove would say to a reporter, “Hey, look, the vice president did not send Wilson to Niger.  It was done at the recommendation of his wife,” etcetera, etcetera.

Now, whether, during that period of time, Karl Rove or anybody else in the White House leaked her name, I don't know the answer to that.  I really don't.  Now, they...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  If it—so, if he did, do you think that's serious enough to fire him?  The president, in the first instance, said they had to be taken care of, in the second instance, said, if they've been proven guilty of a crime.  He's lowered the bar for acceptable behavior.

MCCAIN:  Well, look, I can't be responsible for the comments of the president, but I do believe that every American has the right of presumption of innocence until proven guilty. 

Now, Karl Rove has stated that he did not do anything wrong and break any law.  I take him at his word.

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that the White House—do you think that Karl Rove is guilty of any tough behavior, or hardball behavior against you in the race in South Carolina in 2000?

MCCAIN:  Politics is not beanbags.  I think that I—that they played rough with me.  I think there were times—dare I say it—that my campaign played rough, too.  I mean, politics is a tough game.  You know that better than any—than the two of us.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think—let me get back—I want to talk to you when we get back, because is this a tough—interesting question here about what actually happened on that trip to Niger and whether the president here is keeping to the standards he announced a couple years ago.

Up next, more with Senator John McCain about this big White House sting, about the leak. 

You're watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We're back with Senator John McCain of Arizona. 

Senator, during the president's State of the Union address of 2003, he said in 16 famous or infamous words that they had British reports, British intelligence reports, that Saddam Hussein was buying yellow cake, buying uranium.

Subsequent to that, the director of the CIA, George Tenet, apologized and said that should not have been in there.  The number two person at the National Security Council, Stephen Hadley, said it shouldn't have been in there.  He took a hit for that.  Both of them were—one was given the Medal of Honor, George Tenet, appropriately or not.  And Stephen Hadley was promoted.  The president and vice president were both reelected.  The only person who seems to have gotten targeted for blame was the guy, Joe Wilson, who said that shouldn't have been in there, the man who was on the right side of the argument.

MCCAIN:  Well, first of all, I think it's very important to note that the British to this day—we got that information from British intelligence.

And, to this day, the British have not retracted their views that there were attempts made, at least, at contacts concerning possible purchase of yellow cake from Niger.

Now, maybe they never came to fruition, etcetera.  But the British have never renounced that they—that they reached that conclusion, so it's not quite black and white.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But why did the—why did the president retract it?  Why did they all say he made a mistake?

MCCAIN:  I think that both of them retracted it because they did not have hard evidence that it was the case, OK?  They didn't have the evidence.  They got it from the British.

And so, you don't want to make a speech, especially to the American people, saying something that is—that is not incontrovertibly true.  There is still a question about whether there were contacts from Saddam Hussein with Niger.  And there is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein, throughout his career, sought to acquire and even use weapons of mass destruction.

MATTHEWS:  But do you think it's been proper for the vice president, all those months leading up to war, on “Meet the Press” especially and other programs, making the case that we faced a nuclear threat from Saddam Hussein?

MCCAIN:  I am convinced that the president of the—that the vice president of the United States had information that led him to that conclusion, as did the British, French, German, Israeli and every other intelligence agency in the world believed that Saddam Hussein had those weapons of mass destruction.

Was it wrong?  Yes, it was wrong.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But we do know on the record that the vice president raised that question with the CIA.  Subsequent to him raising the question about this Niger possibility of the uranium, because of the story that ran in the Italian press or whatever, he said, check this out.  They checked it out.

Why do you think they never came back and told him they found out there was nothing there after the Plame—after the Wilson trip?

MCCAIN:  Perhaps—I don't know the—these inner workings.  We're getting into minutia that I don't know anything about.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But if you raised a question with the CIA...

MCCAIN:  Yes.  Right.  OK.

MATTHEWS:  ... they would come back to you with a response.

MCCAIN:  My response is, the British stood by their conclusion that there had been contacts between Saddam Hussein's people and Niger concerning yellow cake.  I am sure that's one of the reasons why—that—that this—the credibility of this charge lasted as long as it did.  But I also understand why it was said, look, that we shouldn't have had that in there because we didn't have incontrovertible proof.

MATTHEWS:  You are known to have a higher ethical standard than most politicians.

MCCAIN:  I hope.

MATTHEWS:  That's a fact. 

MCCAIN:  But...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I want to know what your ethical standard would be here if it is shown that somebody in the White House, the vice president's staff or somebody on the president's staff, whoever they are, intentionally leaked an undercover agent's identity as a way of either just pushing them back or punishing them, whatever the motive.  Do you think the standard should be, did they break a criminal act or not?

MCCAIN:  I don't know, because it depends on—look, I can't be the president of the United States.  I trust this president.  I believe that he will do the right thing. 

And, right now, the status of this situation is, is that Karl Rove still publicly denies that he did leak this name, OK.  And I believe he has the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.  And, again, as we said earlier in our conversation, he was trying to refute allegations that Ambassador Wilson made that turned out not to be true.  And he knew they were not true.  Well, I'm talking about Karl Rove knew they were not true.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let's talking about...

MCCAIN:  Because the vice president did not send Ambassador Wilson to Niger.

MATTHEWS:  No, but he raised the question to the CIA.

MCCAIN:  And Mr.—Ambassador Wilson said that the vice president did.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MCCAIN:  Yes.  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  But he did raise the question, and the CIA sent somebody down to check on it.

MCCAIN:  He did say that.

MATTHEWS:  Nobody ever said he authorized the trip.  They said that—

I thought Wilson's argument was that the vice president raised the question about this purchase of uranium ore from the government of Niger.

MCCAIN:  My understanding...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And the CIA then subsequently sent Wilson down there to check it out.

MCCAIN:  My understanding is that Wilson intimated that it was the vice president that sent him there.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that's a hard case to make.

Let me ask you, did you like your role in that movie?  Let's take a look at your role in this movie, which I am determined to see, the “Wedding Crashers.”

We're showing this picture now.  It looks pretty clean so far. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Looks pretty clean so far.  There's...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “WEDDING CRASHERS”)

MCCAIN:  Congratulations, Kathleen.

JANE SEYMOUR, ACTRESS:  Thank you. 

MCCAIN:  And, Bill, congratulations.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Thank you, Senator.

JAMES CARVILLE, POLITICAL CONSULTANT:  They just grow up so damn fast, don't they?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  That's the truth, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  There's James Carville.  There's Senator John McCain.

Well, do you feel like...

MCCAIN:  Seven seconds.  I think I ought to get a nomination for Academy Award for the best cameo appearance.  That's clearly—how do you do and congratulations.

MATTHEWS:  Do you recommend this film that you participated in, the “Wedding Crashers”?

MCCAIN:  When the film was being made, it was not rated.  I was told that it was probably going to be PG-13.  But it was not.  Some have said—and I don't want to sound defensive here—that I criticized R-rated movies.  I've not criticized R-rated movies.  What I criticized was a period of time when Hollywood was marketing R-rated movies to children.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MCCAIN:  And we had hearings on it.  And they stopped that practice, as far as I know.  I'm for the ratings system, so that parents can know.

MATTHEWS:  So, what age would—what age would this appropriate for, this movie?  Me, I think.

MCCAIN:  I haven't seen—I haven't seen...

MATTHEWS:  Should I be allowed to see it?

MCCAIN:  I haven't seen the movie, but from what I've been told, that it is—it deserves the R rating that it has.

MATTHEWS:  Yeah, it's a little gross.

MCCAIN:  That's what I—again, I haven't seen the movie, but I...

MATTHEWS:  Well, anyway.  You know what?  I think it's great you did it. 

MCCAIN:  I do like...

MATTHEWS:  I'm with you on this one.

MCCAIN:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  I'm not sure I'm with you on the Wilson case, but I'm with you on this one...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... because I think movies are fun.

Anyway, thank you.  And, by the way, grownups should go see grownup movies.  That's my view. 

Anyway, thank you, John McCain, senator from Arizona.

When we return, Tony Blankley from “The Washington Times” and Jim VandeHei from “The Washington Post” will join us to talk about the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court and that CIA-White House leak investigation we've been talking about. 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, the latest on the CIA leak investigation—when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

We have new information tonight in the CIA leaks investigation.  MSNBC has confirmed that the grand jury has been examining a classified State Department memo that could be crucial to the case.  And this memo, requested by then Secretary of State Colin Powell in response to a column critical of the administration, was shared with Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary at the time, and has prompted testimony from multiple State Department officials. 

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster reports. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  A witness who testified at the grand jury and lawyers for other witnesses say the memo was written in July of 2003, identified Valerie Wilson, also known as Valerie Plame, as a CIA officer, and cited her in a paragraph marked S for sensitive. 

According to lawyers, former Secretary of State Colin Powell and undersecretaries, including John Bolton, gave testimony about this memo.  And a lawyer for one State Department official says his client testified that, as President Bush was flying to Africa on Air Force One two years ago, Press Secretary Ari Fleischer could be seen reading the document on board. 

The timing is significant, because the president's trip on July 7 was one day after Ambassador Joe Wilson's column was published criticizing the administration.  In other words, on July 6, Wilson's column comes out.  On July 7, the State Department memo about Wilson's wife is seen on Air Force One.  And, on July 8, Karl Rove had a conversation with columnist Robert Novak, but says it was Novak who told him about Valerie Plame, not the other way around. 

Rove also says he never saw the State Department memo until prosecutors showed it to him.  Six days later, on July 14, 2003, Novak published the now infamous column that publicly identified Valerie Plame, Wilson's wife, as a CIA operative. 

Grand jury witnesses say a call record kept by Ari Fleischer shows Novak placed a call to him during this period.  And lawyers for several witnesses say their clients were questioned by investigators about Fleischer's conversations.  Fleischer, however, did not have the power to be a decision-maker in the administration.  And White House observers point out, he wouldn't have likely taken it upon himself to disseminate the State Department memo.  In any case, Fleischer and his lawyer have declined to comment. 

As far as Karl Rove is concerned, a recent line of questioning about him suggests the grand jury may be pursuing issues related to possible inconsistencies.  For weeks, Karl Rove's lawyer has been saying the now deputy White House chief of staff testified his 2003 conversation with “TIME” magazine reporter Matt Cooper was about welfare reform and, only at the end of that discussion, did Rove talk about anything else. 

Matt Cooper recalls leaving Karl Rove a message about welfare reform.  But Cooper testified that, when he and Karl Rove spoke, Joe Wilson was the only topic of conversation.  Cooper says this contradiction with Rove, combined with his testimony that Rove told him about the Wilson's CIA wife, prompted a flurry of grand jury questions.  And Cooper told NBC's Tim Russert the grand jurors themselves played an active role. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS”)

MATT COOPER, “TIME”:  A lot of questions that I answered were posed by them, as opposed to the prosecutor.  I thought they were very involved. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Legal experts say that, if the grand jurors are convinced they were misled by Karl Rove, the president's adviser could face charges of perjury or obstruction of justice.  Karl Rove's lawyer says the contradiction with Cooper is innocent and can be chalked up to conflicting memories of a 2003 conversation. 

(on camera):  By all accounts, much about this investigation was known only to the prosecutors and grand jurors.  And they are sworn to secrecy. 

Witnesses and their lawyers, however, are under no legal obligation to stay silent.  And their accounts reveal that this investigation, at least in part, has focused on a classified State Department memo.  The question is, was this how the White House learned about Valerie Wilson?  And, if so, did anybody in the White House take information about Wilson that was marked secret and pass it along? 

I'm David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.

For more on that State Department memo which mentioned the name of Valerie Wilson, we turn to “Washington Post” reporter Jim VandeHei, who co-authored a big page-one story on it today, and Tony Blankley, editorial page editor of “The Washington Times.”

Jim, what is the prosecutor going for here?  Can you tell? 

JIM VANDEHEI, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Right, Chris. 

They really want to know as much as they can about this memo.  And the reason, it is the only paper trail that we are aware of that actually talks about Valerie Wilson, or Valerie Plame, as people might know her, and talks about this information being sensitive, being secret, something that should not be shared.  So, what they are trying to figure out is, who saw that memo?

There were a lot of people on Air Force One when that—when Colin Powell had that memo, people like Ari Fleischer, who was then the spokesman, Dan Bartlett, who is a senior counselor, and several other aides.  And prosecutors are trying to determine, was that memo circulated and who saw it?  And those people that saw it, did they leak it? 

MATTHEWS:  Who would be exposed to criminal punishment, criminal—criminal prosecution, the person who read that memo and told other people about it or anyone in that food chain, that chain of custody that got it the press? 

VANDEHEI:  Right.  That is a very complicated question, because the law—the core law here about knowingly leaking the identity of a CIA agent is so difficult to prove. 

So, they—you would have to figure out who knew that information.  Did they know that they were trying—that the government was trying to keep her identity secret?  And did they then knowingly leak that to the media?  It's very difficult.  So, you have to prove all three of those things.  So, you could be part of that food chain and not be guilty of anything. 

MATTHEWS:  But could it be an easier prosecution to simply say, top-secret information was given away?

VANDEHEI:  It could be, but that is not the core law that he is looking at.

Now, obviously, once this process gets rolling, you can look at a whole bunch of defense laws, whether it is obstruction of justice, perjury or different variations of leaking of classified information.  And the prosecutor, this Fitzgerald guy, has been very tough and has been very secretive. 

So, we don't know which direction he's going in.  All we can do is discern from our conversations with lawyers, witnesses and other people involved in the case what he's been asking and what directions he might be trying to go. 

MATTHEWS:  Tony, question of motive here.  If the White House was simply trying to correct a story that seemed to incriminate or make the vice president to blame for covering up something, and they are saying, no, he didn't authorize this trip, and—and—and Wilson is wrong to say so and we're going to prove it because Wilson was sent on that trip not by the V.P. or anybody higher up, but by his own wife, if the motive is simply to clear the air, that's the job of a political operative.

TONY BLANKLEY, EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, “THE WASHINGTON TIMES”:  Yes, surely.

I mean, we don't know what the motive is.  That's the theory put out by the White House.  It is very plausible.  That is typically what one does in this business.  I was press secretary.  You are in that kind of business to clarify motives of everybody.  But we just simply don't know yet. 

I mean, to me, there are—there are three zones of danger for—for the White House.  The first is if anybody on the staff committed any of the crimes.  That's clean.  Then the person has got to be fired and face the law.  The second, more ambiguous one might be if they didn't commit any crime, but nonetheless revealed, knowingly—and the knowingly is going to be the key word—the secret agent. 

I think, if you can prove it is knowing, even if it isn't criminal, that person has got to go.  And then the third problem is a credibility problem, keep making sure the president's earlier statements about what he would do are consistent with what eventually he does.

MATTHEWS:  Well done.  You are clearly an editorial page editor. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well organized.

And we'll be back with those thoughts.  In fact, we'll follow that theory, those three options, with Jim VandeHei and Tony Blankley. 

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We're back with “The Washington Times”' Tony Blankley and “The Washington Post”'s Jim VandeHei. 

Jim, let me ask you about the White House's—lawyers like to use the word exposure.  Where is the White House exposed here legally? 

VANDEHEI:  Well, it really depends which direction Fitzgerald decides to go in. 

It seems at the core is, were Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, who is a top aide to Vice President Cheney, were they involved in this leak?  If they knowingly leaked a person, are they in violation of the federal statute?  But if you think back of sort of scandals of Washington's past, almost always it comes down to obstruction of justice or things that happen during the course of the investigation, not the root crime that's being investigated. 

So, that's where we're trying to read the tea leaves now and talk to investigators and talk to people involved, to figure out—you know, there's a lot of questions being asked about Karl Rove.  He's been before the grand jury or the FBI at least five different times.  So, clearly, they're trying to figure out not only his role, but is there a consistency in his story?

MATTHEWS:  What do we make of the lawyers' claim—I take them at their word—that their clients, neither Libby, the president—the vice president's chief of staff, or Rove, the president's top political man, are targets?  What does that mean, when they keep saying they're not targets and we're informed of that by the prosecutor?

VANDEHEI:  Right. 

Remember, target is a very specific legal term.  And if you're the target, you really are the focus of the investigation.  But those same lawyers will say, well, they're subjects of the investigation, meaning they're being called in, meaning they're questioned.  At any point, they could become targets. 

I think what you need to look for is, who is talking to the prosecutors the most and, like, look back at Cooper's testimony that we read about over the weekend.  You know, he was asked a lot about Karl Rove, a lot about his conversations.  So, clearly, there's still a strong interest by the prosecutor in what Rove knew and when did he know it. 

MATTHEWS:  What interest could the president have, Tony—this is a political call—in changing the standard he set himself for keeping these people on?

BLANKLEY:  Well, look, you've got to be careful what, in fact, standard he set. 

But assuming that everybody comes to a conclusion that he set a high standard and has lowered it, then he—he runs the risk of dinging his credibility, which is one of his...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why would he change his standard? 

BLANKLEY:  Well, he...

MATTHEWS:  Well, let's be honest.  Why would he change his standard? 

BLANKLEY:  Two—two reasons.  One, he may have misspoken initially, upon seriously thinking about it, deciding that's too high a standard, or, two, he wants to keep Karl.  I mean, either of those...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me give you another option, because you said the highest crime—if a guy commits a crime and he's indicted and he's seriously headed to the calaboose or whatever, he's gone.  OK.  If the guy is clearly—was up to malicious intent, to try out an agent of the United States government, even if it didn't meet the standards, we have got to get rid of a guy like that.  Everybody agrees on that.

The president of the United States changed his standard.  Is he concerned that the chief of staff to the vice president may be one of the people charged here and he doesn't have the authority to fire Scooter Libby? 

BLANKLEY:  I don't know.  I can't...

MATTHEWS:  In other words, is he afraid of the vice president saying, wait a minute, leave my guy alone? 

BLANKLEY:  I don't—I don't know what the president is thinking or not.  But the president can fire anybody in the building.  I mean, that's not...

MATTHEWS:  Except the V.P. 

BLANKLEY:  Exactly.  The vice president is elected.  Other than the elected vice president, everybody else in the building obviously can be fired by—by the president. 

So, I don't think that's an issue, if he decides that's what—the right thing to do.  And, ultimately, this is a question of presidential credibility.  It's not a question of a staffer, this or that.  I've been a staffer.  You've been a staffer. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BLANKLEY:  We're all expendable. 

MATTHEWS:  We are very expendable.

BLANKLEY:  We're all expendable. 

The question is the president.  And—and, ultimately, his credibility is protected by him.  Every president protects or doesn't protect his own credibility. 

MATTHEWS:  You are a conservative newspaper editorial editor in chief. 

BLANKLEY:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  You decide what your position of your newspaper is, “The Washington Times.”  You're very influential in this town, increasingly so.

BLANKLEY:  Oh, thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Would you come out—would you come out for the firing of Karl Rove if he was found guilty of outing this woman? 

BLANKLEY:  We did an editorial this week in which said if he revealed the source of a confidential person, he should be fired.  That was our lead in the editorial.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Whether the guy is criminally guilty or not?

BLANKLEY:  Now, we went through a long analysis of—of the Wilson matter.  And I think there's a lot of ambiguity about motives.  And we don't know the facts. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BLANKLEY:  That's why we have to wait for the grand jury to complete it.  But I don't...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But you set a higher standard than the president. 

BLANKLEY:  I mean, I—I—I did a column the first week this story broke, saying, if someone did this, they should be outed, serious.  We don't know yet whether anyone did anything.  But if they did, they got to go.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Let me ask you, Jim VandeHei, is this going to be a bigger story a month from now? 

VANDEHEI:  I think whenever we hear from—whenever we hear from Fitzgerald and what—if he—if he brings down indictments or says the case is over, that's when it's going to become a huge story.  And we think that will happen by October.  I think, between now and then, there's clearly a lot of media focus on this.  There's been a lot of stories in our newspaper and on your network...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

VANDEHEI:  ... and a lot of other places on this. 

MATTHEWS:  Great to have you on the show, Jim VandeHei.

VANDEHEI:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  Who is breaking news all the time. 

Jim—Tom—Tony Blankley, the man who will decide who is good and who is bad.

(LAUGHTER)

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

HARDBALL.

“COUNTDOWN” is next with Keith.  And he will talk to eyewitnesses in London about today's attempted attacks.

END

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