updated 7/25/2005 11:23:17 AM ET 2005-07-25T15:23:17

Guest: Chuck Todd, Stephen Hayes, John Podesta, Ed Rollins, Rush Holt,

George Allen

CAMPBELL BROWN, GUEST HOST:  Tonight, a HARDBALL special investigation, new reports on inconsistencies from top White House aides in the CIA leak case.

And Supreme Court nominee Judge John Roberts continues his courtesy tour on Capitol Hill.  But will the fight come from the right in his confirmation hearings? 

I'm Campbell Brown.  Let's play HARDBALL. 

Good evening, everybody.  I'm Campbell Brown, in for Chris Matthews.  We're going to get the latest on the CIA leak investigation, as well as Senate reaction to Supreme Court nominee John Roberts in a moment. 

But, first, London police shot and killed a man on a subway today who they say was directly linked to the investigation of the bomb attacks.  And British officials released photo of four men suspected of coordinating Thursday's second wave of attacks. 

NBC's Keith Miller has the very latest from London—Keith.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH MILLER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Campbell, we're outside the subway station where the shooting occurred today.  Scotland Yard is saying that, during this terrorist investigation, they have been stretched to the limit like never before.  However, today, the investigation moved both swiftly and dramatically. 

(voice-over):  These are the most wanted men in Britain.  And, tonight, a nationwide manhunt is under way to find them.  And the police are following clues they found in the backpacks the men left behind at yesterday's attack sites. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Since yesterday, we've been very busy analyzing CCTV tapes, taking numerous statements, and conducting house-to-house inquiries. 

MILLER:  Overnight, police launched surveillance operations at three houses in South London.  This morning, undercover police trailed the man from a residence, hoping he would lead them to the bombers.  The police became alarmed when he ducked into a subway station.  And when they challenged him, they say he refused to stop. 

The man, wearing a heavy overcoat, ran, leaped into a subway train, tripped and was shot point-blank. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Caught sight of his face for a split-second.  He looked horrified—absolutely horrified.  And then—and then he was on the floor and dead.

MILLER:  At another one of the houses under surveillance, a man was arrested.  The pictures of the four suspected would-be bombers from closed-circuit cameras show all of them making a getaway from the three subway stations and the upper deck of a bus after their homemade bombs failed to detonate. 

Police urged extreme caution and warned the public not to approach the suspects. 

SIR IAN BLAIR, LONDON METROPOLITAN POLICE COMMISSIONER:  But officers are facing previously unknown threats and great danger. 

MILLER:  The number of armed police on the streets of London unprecedented.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  At least 15 to 20 people armed with machine guns shouting. 

MILLER:  The four suspected bombers are believed to still be at large in the capital.  And normal British police procedure to shoot only to stop has been suspended. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They're very serious right now.  They have orders to shoot to kill if they suspect someone of being a bomber. 

MILLER:  The British public today tried to put on a brave face. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You can't give into bombers.  It's ridiculous.

MILLER:  But there was no mistaking the large increase in the number of people getting around London today by bike. 

(on camera):  And, tonight, photos of the four suspects have been distributed nationwide and to seaports and airports, with orders not to let them slip out of the country—Campbell.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN:  NBC's Keith Miller from London tonight, thanks very much. 

And joining us now, Republican Senator George Allen of Virginia, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.  He's joining us from Washington, D.C.

Senator Allen, good to see you.  Thanks very much for joining us. 

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN ®, VIRGINIA:  Always great to be with you, Campbell.

BROWN:  Let me start by talking about London.  And I think, for all of us, what happened in London is causing us to take pause and look at and talk about and think about how much progress the Bush administration is making in the war on terrorism.  What are you telling your constituents right now about how safe they should or can feel about our transit system? 

ALLEN:  Well, the fact of the matter is, we haven't been hit since 9/11 here on our home ground.  And we've taken the war to the enemy.  We've obviously had the military action in Afghanistan, which was the nest for the training of so many of al Qaeda. 

To some extent, obviously, Iraq is part of it.  When you look at what these terrorist groups are saying and trying to intimidate, whether it is Spain or Britain or anyone else, is to get their troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan.  The thing that we need to do is learn from this.  We have made improvements.  We have much better homeland security, much better sharing of information, with all sorts of difference in intelligence and law enforcement agencies. 

But in so far as transit is concerned, we're on heightened alert.  I think what we need to do is learn from the British.  The British have very good surveillance and cameras in their subway areas.  I think we need to do that here in this country, not just for the transit, but also, for example, for Amtrak. 

I would like to see us use some technologies that are being deployed on a pilot basis at airports that help—it's called video analysis, but it is computer analysis, where the—what the videos—or the TV monitors are seeing are being analyzed by computers.  So, if there's someone not moving around for 45 minutes, you get an idea of, hey, wait a second, that person has been there for 40 minutes.  Why hasn't he moved?

And I think that those sorts of adaptations, which we'll need, of course, those video analysis monitors and computer-aided assistance, also sensors for biological, chemical weapons and others, need to, I think, be deployed.  But I don't think what we need to do is make people run through cattle chutes, like they do at airports, for transit.  It will just ruin all the—the efficiency and desirability of transit and trains. 

BROWN:  Senator Allen, let me turn to the other big news of the week, which is...

ALLEN:  Well, one other thing, one other thing...

BROWN:  Yes. 

ALLEN:  ... that I think we have to recognize here. 

Some of these terrorist attacks are not necessarily coming from outside of Britain or outside of the United States.  They may be indigenous.  And so our Muslim friends, who also love free and just societies, need to also be encouraged to get involved.  I thought it was very important that Mr. Musharraf, president of Pakistan, said they need a jihad against these extremists, these religious extremists. 

And I think that's very important, that our Muslim friends -- 99.9 percent of them like living in free and just societies.  That's why they're here.  They need to be helpful and encouraged to—for informing us of any untoward activities from indigenous, as opposed to external people. 

BROWN:  Right. 

I want to get to you shift gears for a second to the other big news of the week, as we mentioned earlier, the president's nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge John Roberts.  Are you a fan? 

ALLEN:  I am a fan.  I was a fan of him several years ago when he was nominated to the D.C. Circuit Court of appeals. 

And I've spoken with him this week.  I like his philosophy.  I'm one who thinks judges ought to apply the law, not invent it, that they ought to uphold to Constitution, not amend it by judicial decree.  And we've seen judges in this country striking down the Pledge of Allegiance in schools because of the words “under God.”

We've seen them requiring same-sex marriages, contrary to the will of the people.  We've seen them in Connecticut allowing local government there to act like a bunch of commissars in taking someone's home because they want to get more revenue off of that property, as if we're vassals or serfs. 

BROWN:  Right. 

ALLEN:  And so, I—I think he has that right philosophy.  He is one who understands the role of a judge is not to be a super-legislator or to be a super-executive.

BROWN:  Your colleague, conservative Republican from Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, has voiced some concerns about where he is on Roe v. Wade, Brownback being a strong anti-abortion advocate.  Do you share those concerns? 

ALLEN:  No, I do not.  I think that he's a fair-minded jurist, from everything I can determine. 

He is one who recognizes that precedent is important, but it is not to stultify us.  So, to the extent that precedent is important, it is also is reversed and it has been reversed over the years, Plessy vs. Ferguson.

BROWN:  So, do you want a justice—do you want a justice on the court who would overturn Roe v. Wade? 

ALLEN:  I would like to see the courts allow the people in the states to actually have laws that they think are appropriate on issues concerning abortion. 

For example, parents ought to be involved, notified or consent if they're unwed minor daughter, a 16-year-old, is going through the trauma of abortion.  Courts have struck that down and I think they're wrong.  The courts have also struck down the will of the people, whether it's through the Congress or states, to prohibit late-term partial-birth abortions.  And I think that I would like to see judges that will allow the will of the people to be effectuated. 

And a lot of that is stopped by Roe vs. Wade interpretations.  I don't know how Justice Roberts would act on those.  But I think that, from what I can discern, he has a philosophy that will trust the people, the legislatures, who are representative of the people, much more than judges, who are appointed for life, denying people the ability to control their own destiny, as well as have laws reflect their values. 

BROWN:  Before we want to run out of time, I do want to ask you about the investigation into the leak of a CIA officer's identity.  Where do you think this investigation is headed right now? 

ALLEN:  I don't know, Campbell.  I really don't know.

We're all going to wait for the end of that investigation.  I know there are a lot of people, you know, calling for Karl Rove's head.  I know Karl Rove.  He is a brilliant, smart, good fellow.  I like him a lot and admire him.  And once the investigation is concluded, let's see who is prosecuted and make that determination. 

There are a lot of Democrats who have been calling for his head for anything.  Gosh, if he sneezed in the hallway without a handkerchief, they would be saying he ought to be fired for that.       

BROWN:  All right.  We'll end on those words. 

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN:  Thanks very much, Senator George Allen, tonight.  We appreciate it. 

ALLEN:  You're welcome, Campbell.  Great to be with you. 

BROWN:  And, when we come back, Democratic reaction from New Jersey Congressman Rush Holt. 

And, on Sunday, on “Meet the Press,” join Tim Russert for an exclusive interview with former Senator Fred Thompson, who will guide Judge John Roberts through the Senate confirmation process, plus, Senator Dick Durbin, who voted against confirmation for Roberts to the federal appeals court. 

You're watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  Coming up, what are the national security implications of the CIA leak case?  We're going to talk to a key House Democrat about that.

HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  Welcome back to our HARDBALL special investigation on the CIA leak case.  I'm Campbell Brown, in for Chris Matthews. 

As special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald vigorously pursues who leaked Valerie Plame's identity, Democratic Congressman Rush Holt of New Jersey is calling for a congressional inquiry into the matter.  And, today, he participated in a hearing on the national security consequences of outing the identity of a covert intelligence officer. 

Congressman Holt, welcome. 

REP. RUSH HOLT (D), NEW JERSEY:  Good to be with you, Campbell. 

Thanks. 

BROWN:  The special prosecutor is right in the middle of his investigation.  Why involve Congress right now? 

HOLT:  Because Congress has an oversight role.  We have to make sure that this sort of thing doesn't happen. 

As the witnesses at today's hearing, all of whom are former CIA employees, pointed out, the cover is, for some of these people overseas, all they've got.  And it is something that is vigorously protected from the very day that people enter the service.  So, we have an oversight responsibility to see that it never happens again. 

BROWN:  But shouldn't you...

(CROSSTALK)

HOLT:  There has been damage done.  We don't even know.  We won't know.  We may never know what damage is done.  That's the nature of the business. 

BROWN:  But wouldn't it be more productive to let the special prosecutor finish his investigation, find out if there are any indictments that he plans to hand down, and then do your own hearings? 

HOLT:  Even if there were no laws broken, even if no one is indicted or convicted, there is still damage done by divulging the identity of an undercover agent. 

As I say, it is something that is scrupulously protected.  One of the witnesses today happened to be in the same training class at the CIA a couple of decades ago with Valerie Plame, whose identity was leaked.  He said, until very recently, he didn't even know her last name.  Even though everyone in that class had top-secret clearance, even though they were in the business together, they were all training to become spy handlers or clandestine agents, they did not even divulge their names to each other, their last names to each other. 

BROWN:  Well...

HOLT:  Their—their cover is so important to them.  In fact, it is all they've got. 

BROWN:  There's a lot about this case...

HOLT:  Their wits and their cover. 

BROWN:  There's a lot about this case that we don't know at this point.  But, based on—on what we do know and the reporting that's been out there, who do you think is behind it? 

HOLT:  You know, it's—as far as I'm concerned, right now, as a member of the House Intelligence Committee, that's beside the point.  I have not...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  But you are asking, though, that Karl Rove lose his security clearance.

HOLT:  No, no, no.  I'm asking—no—I—well, I—I think anyone who has leaked intelligence or who has blown somebody's cover or who is under investigation for blowing somebody's cover should be—should be challenged. 

But the point here is, what oversight role does Congress have?  And that's what we were talking about today.  What happens to all of the people around the world that Valerie Plame might have had lunch with in a foreign country?  They are now under suspicion. 

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  I understand all that.  But, at the same time, you've also called for Karl Rove, given what we know so far, what has been reported so far, to lose his security clearance, have you not?

HOLT:  I think that would be appropriate. 

BROWN:  Why exactly, though, given that we don't know for a fact that he has committed a crime. 

HOLT:  Because—because this is—this is such a serious matter. 

That is what usually happens. 

If a junior CIA employee or a State Department employee blew the cover of an undercover operative, they would be disciplined.  They would probably be sent back.  They probably would lose their clearances, at least pending investigation.  You know, what's—what's good for a junior employee is probably good for a senior employee. 

BROWN:  Well, let me ask you, though, are Democrats really focused on the merits of this case?  Or is it political payback to Rove...

HOLT:  I...BROWN:  ... who has done a lot of damage to Democrats?

HOLT:  You know, I want to say, at this hearing today, I did not use the name of anybody in the administration.  I was talking about the damage that is done because someone in the administration yet to be named did divulge the identity of an agent. 

It's bad enough when cover is blown through some sort of error.  It's worse when the counterintelligence forces of another country blow the identity of one of our agents.  It is almost unthinkable that someone from our own government would do it intentionally and, to make matters worse, evidently, gratuitously. 

BROWN:  All right.  Well, we'll wait to find out exactly what happened. 

Congressman Rush Holt, we appreciate your thoughts on this. 

HOLT:  Thanks, Campbell.

BROWN:  Thanks for joining us. 

And, when we come back, an in-depth look at the prosecutor in the CIA leak investigation, Patrick Fitzgerald. 

And, later, inside the White House when scandals break.  We'll talk to two who have been there, former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta and  former Reagan aide Ed Rollins.

You're watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  Welcome back to this HARDBALL special investigation.

The grand jury in the CIA leaks investigation has been collecting evidence for more than a year-and-a-half.  And the decisions that the panel and the prosecutor may soon make could have huge political and legal implications for the White House. 

So, what exactly do we know about the prosecutor in charge? 

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster reports. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  At 44 years old, Patrick Fitzgerald is now the most closely watched federal prosecutor.  After going after mafia figures, terrorists and even Osama bin Laden, Fitzgerald is now taking on two powerful Washington institutions, the press, which has a “New York Times” reporter in jail because she refuses to talk to Fitzgerald, and the White House, which has a dozen officials under a grand jury microscope. 

Two months ago, Fitzgerald announced indictments in an Illinois political corruption scandal. 

PATRICK FITZGERALD, U.S. ATTORNEY:  State taxpayers pay their taxes.  Those taxes should be used for proper state funds, not effectively stolen for partisan political purposes. 

SHUSTER:  That investigation involving supporters of Chicago Mayor Richard Daly has infuriated the local Democratic machine.  But those who have followed Fitzgerald for years say he has been consistently aggressive with everybody he has investigated, Democrats and Republicans. 

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, “NEWSWEEK”:  My sense is, he is a prosecutor with absolutely no pretense and not a single political bone in his body. 

SHUSTER:  Fitzgerald grew up in Indiana and went to Harvard.  Tony Bouza was a college friend and classmate. 

TONY BOUZA, HARVARD CLASSMATE OF FITZGERALD:  Everyone calls him Fitz. 

QUESTION:  And what was that experience like with him? 

BOUZA: It was very nice.  He was a typical student, except that he was a lot brighter than a lot of—almost everybody else.  But unlike a lot of other people, he didn't spend a lot of effort trying to show that he was brighter. 

SHUSTER:  As a federal prosecutor, Fitzgerald's first headline-making case came in 1993, when he helped put mafia capo John Gambino behind bars on murder and drug trafficking charges.

A year later, Fitzgerald worked on the successful prosecution of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who was part of a terror conspiracy that included the attempted bombing of the World Trade Center.  In 1996, Fitzgerald supervised the terror case against Ramzi Yousef.  He had conspired to bomb jetliners in the Philippines and the United States.

And in 1998, when al Qaeda terrorists bombed U.S. embassies and Kenya and Tanzania, it was Fitzgerald who led the Justice Department investigation and then issued the first criminal indictment of Osama bin Laden.  Four al Qaeda members were eventually apprehended, put on trial and convicted.  And, in 2001, President Bush nominated Fitzgerald to be the U.S. attorney in Chicago. 

FITZGERALD:  I'm very excited.  I'm very happy.  I'm excited, and if the president nominates me and the Senate confirms, I would be delighted to come and work very hard at being the U.S. attorney for the Northern District. 

SHUSTER:  Fitzgerald's voter registration records in Illinois show he is unaffiliated.  He has said repeatedly his investigations are guided only by the facts.  And it is clear that he does not tolerate media hype.  A few years ago, Fitzgerald indicted an Illinois doctor who treated children on charges of downloading child porn.  The local media was in a frenzy. 

ISIKOFF:  Pat Fitzgerald went out and downplayed the case, actually made it clear that, while they were charging the doctor with downloading the porn on to his computer, they were absolutely not charging him with doing anything to molest children or actually acting on any of this. 

SHUSTER:  That reputation as a straight-shooter who does not exaggerate charges or evidence is what makes the CIA leaks case so intriguing.  As part of Fitzgerald's argument to the courts asking that reporters be forced to testify, Fitzgerald submitted an argument under seal.  And that secret brief convinced one judge to change his mind because of—quote—“the gravity of the suspected crime.”

(on camera):  At its core, this investigation is about whether anybody leaked classified information and did so illegally.  Patrick Fitzgerald is expected to announce his conclusions by the time his grand jury expires in three months. 

I'm David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN:  And, when we return, as the Bush White House faces repeated questions about the leak of a covert CIA officer's identity, we'll talk to two former White House insiders who know what it is like when scandals break, former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta and former Reagan aide Ed Rollins.

And, on Tuesday, a HARDBALL special report, “Boots on the Ground:

Untold Stories From the Front Line.”  We'll talk to the U.S. Army top field commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan.  That's Tuesday right here on HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BROWN:  welcome back to HARDBALL.  I'm Campbell Brown, sitting in for Chris Matthews. 

The White House is standing by its man Karl Rove, who has been at the center of the investigation into who leaked the name of the CIA operative.  How does the White House weather a scandal?  Well, we have got two veterans to give us a take—or take us inside, rather.  John Podesta was chief of staff during President Clinton's second term, during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.  And Ed Rollins was deputy chief of staff in the Reagan administration during the Iran-Contra scandal. 

Welcome to both of you. 

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Thank you. 

JOHN PODESTA, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF:  Nice to be with you. 

BROWN:  John, let me start with you. 

I noticed something today.  John Harwood wrote in “The Wall Street Journal” today that the sense on Capitol Hill is, Judge Roberts's confirmation is unstoppable.  And he quotes a Democrat as saying that our strategy is now is essentially, let Roberts go.  Get back on Rove, Social Security and Iraq.  Is that the Democratic strategy? 

PODESTA:  Well, I don't know if it is the Democratic strategy, but it seems to be happening on the front pages of the newspaper.  “The New York Times” this morning reported yet a fifth version of Mr. Rove's story about this matter.  And I think as long as there's a drip, drip, drip of new facts, you're going to see the press turn its attention back and probably the political world turn its attention back to Mr. Rove and his troubles. 

Ed, let's talk about some of the new reports that were out today about these discrepancies in stories.  Two top White House officials, Rove and Scooter Libby, saying that they learned Valerie Plame's name from reporters, the reporters saying that's not true.  What does this tell you about where this investigation seems to be headed?  I know I'm asking to you read the tea leaves a little. 

ROLLINS:  Well, obviously, I don't know more than what I've read in the paper and I don't think anybody else does either. 

But, at the end of the day, you know, obviously, Karl Rove is a very critical player in this administration.  And when he is under attack, the whole administration is distracted.  I'm sure he can't remember exactly what he said.  And I'm sure that John will tell you that, in the course of a day, you're in many meetings and many times you talk to lots of different people.  And you can't remember exactly what occurred. 

But my sense is, when you go before a grand jury, you go back and you try and remember as correctly as possible.  At the end of the day, either the special prosecutor is going to come forward and say, there was something there.  There was a misleading or a criminal activity, or there was not.  And until that occurs, the rest of it is all just basically background noise. 

BROWN:  But, John, does the focus stay—focus, rather, on the discrepancies, on who said what when suggest that perjury and obstruction of justice or where we're headed, that, as it has often been, it is the cover-up and not the crime? 

PODESTA:  Yes, I think that's always a problem in cases like this.

You know, Mr. Rove has been into the grand jury three different times.  I know it is no fun to testify under oath about some things that have—that happened a couple of years ago.  But the one thing I think that's unassailable in this case is that, contemporaneously, really, with the original disclosure of Ms. Plame's name, Karl Rove sent Scott McClellan out to say that he had nothing to do with it. 

We've now learned—and I think no one really contests this.  We now learn that he lied about that.  And I think he sits in a very sensitive national security position as deputy chief of staff.  He's in charge of coordinating the Homeland Security Council and the National Security Council in that role.  And, you know, I think he must be not just distracted, but I think that his—the ability for him to carry out those duties, given the fact that his credibility is really in shreds at this point, I think has got to be taking a toll on him. 

BROWN:  Ed, let me ask you about that.  If it turns out no crime has been committed here, the impact, the effect that it has on the White House.  You are both survivors, scandal survivors, if it's fair to put it that way, or at least been through the firestorm.  What is the mood like in the White House right now?  Is it just total crisis mode? 

ROLLINS:  Well, it has to be.  Obviously, Karl is a very important player.  And a lot more people day by day respond to him than they do the president.  He's the guy who basically lays out much of the agenda and the strategy.  Many people think he is directly responsible for the election and reelection of this president. 

And they see him as a very critical player.  So, the fact that he's under attack and, every day, you get up and you read what's in the papers and you're not sure what's happening, you become distracted.  And at this point in time, this administration needs to be very focused, both on the war, which is very critical, certainly on John Roberts' nomination, which I think will go through fairly easily, because he is such a superb candidate. 

But, at the end of the day, until this is cleaned up, it is not life as usual. 

BROWN:  But let me ask you both this question.  Is it—is there a coordinated strategy here?  Are they sitting down and meeting and talking about this every day?  Because when do you pick up the paper every morning and you read these various stories, the White House has been very clear about, we're not going to comment on this.  It is an ongoing investigation. 

And yet, clearly, people involved are commenting, or their lawyers are commenting, anonymously, in the papers each day.  Are they planning this or is it just every man for himself at this point? 

PODESTA:  Well, I think if you look at what's come out really since the original Matt Cooper disclosure that Rove was his source for the name of Mrs. Wilson being involved in this story and the fact that she was at the CIA, I think that what you sense is that the RNC and Ken Mehlman have gone into full protection mode, putting out talking points every day, mostly going back and attacking Joe Wilson, which I think is what got them into trouble in the first place and won't get them out of trouble now. 

And you see the lawyers, particularly through the vehicle of the “New York Times,” kind of changing the story, adding facts, putting information out.  And those are sources that could only be coming from at least Mr.  Rove's lawyer, but senior White House officials' lawyers.  Look, that's I suppose natural that you're going to try to put your gloss on it.

But I think it is actually just adding to the impression that people are not being forthcoming in this important, sensitive national security matter. 

BROWN:  Ed, is it helping or hurting? 

ROLLINS:  Well, certainly, it is always hurtful. 

And one of the dilemmas, which John can attest to, having been through these crises, is—is, particularly when there's a grand jury involved, and particularly when there's lawyer involved, you know, it is not like Karl Rove can step forward and say, well, this is what I said to the grand jury or this is what I know.  He basically has to stay within the accordance and the agreements that he's made to his attorney and obviously to the grand jury. 

At the end of the day, this is his story.  This is what he believes happened and he has got to stick with it.  It is not like a campaign, where you can sit there and basically try and go out and make attacks and try and move the story away from what is going on.  This is his story.  And, obviously, until the U.S. attorney, who is now the special prosecutor, Fitzgerald, comes forward and says there is nothing there or there's something there, every day, it's day-by-day living. 

And it is death by 1,000 drips or cuts. 

BROWN:  Well...

(CROSSTALK)

PODESTA:  But, you know, Campbell, even as they try to kind of spin their way out of this, they add new facts to the situation. 

This morning again in the “New York Times,” we learned that Karl Rove in the summer of 2003 was editing George Tenet's statement about the faulty intelligence and the faulty statement that the president made in his State of the Union address to kind of rush us into the war in Iraq.  Now, Ed served as the political director of the White House.  I'm fairly confident that he never edited any statements by Bill Casey at the CIA.

ROLLINS:  None whatsoever. 

BROWN:  Well, why—how unusual would that have been, Ed?  Karl is an

·         sort of an anomaly, is that to fair, for most White Houses?

(CROSSTALK)

ROLLINS:  Yes, he is, by far. 

I mean, I had the same jobs that Karl has.  And the reality is, I had nowhere near the power that he had.  And Karl has a very special relationship with this president.  And there's nobody in there, chief of staff, anybody else, who has any kind of role like he has.  So, he's had his fingers in a whole variety of things. 

And, at the end of the day, you know, he is now paying a price for that, for two reasons, not that I know of anything that he did wrong, but the fact that everybody assumes that everything that this president has done correctly, Karl Rove has been a part of it.  Everything the president has now done incorrectly or that Karl Rove has done incorrectly, he is now the focus of attention to go try and get him. 

They can't get the president.  Democrats can't get this president. 

And they've tried in two elections.  But they think they can get Karl Rove.

And if they can knock him out, so much the better from their perspective.  It forces Republicans to circle around the wagons and try and do everything they can to defend him. 

BROWN:  Where you do you, finally, do you, both of you, think this is headed?  Would Fitzgerald be as intent on pursuing this investigation as he is, putting a “New York Times” reporter in jail for not revealing her sores, bringing in every high-level official to testify, would he be going this far if he weren't planning to hand down indictments? 

ROLLINS:  I think, as John will attest to, the special prosecutors take on a different role and there's no control. 

I would argue your point of view that, if there's not some smoke there or fire, it wouldn't have dragged on so long.  But I've watched many of these things drag on way beyond where they should.  And, at the end, there's no there, there. 

I think at this point in time, the quicker this gets wrapped up and either he makes his case against Karl Rove or whoever or basically says, there's nothing there, this government is going to be continually distracted at a very critical time until that occurs. 

BROWN:  All right, John, you get the last word.

PODESTA:  Well, you know, I think that Patrick Fitzgerald will have the final word on whether a crime has been committed and whether indictments are forthcoming.

But we do know that this White House has not been forthcoming.  And that in and itself is a huge problem, given the—given the stakes and the fact that this was about the intelligence that was used to, again, to get us into this war. 

BROWN:  All right. 

Our thanks to John Podesta and Ed Rollins. 

Appreciate it. 

ROLLINS:  Nice to be with you.

PODESTA:  Thank you. 

BROWN:  And, when we return, the media's coverage of the White House, CIA leak case and the nomination of Judge Roberts to the Supreme Court and the latest polls with “The Hotline”'s Chuck Todd and “The Weekly Standard”'s Stephen Hayes.

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  Coming up, where is the White House-CIA leak case headed?  And we'll be back with our roundtable of Washington reporters when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

It's been a busy news week in Washington, between President Bush's announcement of a Supreme Court nominee and more details emerging in the CIA leak story. 

And, well, here to sort out the politics of these stories and where they may be headed, Chuck Todd, editor in chief of “The Hotline,” the daily political newsletter, and Stephen Hayes, a senior writer with “The Weekly Standard” magazine.

Welcome to both of you. 

CHUCK TODD, EDITOR IN CHIEF, “THE HOTLINE”:  Good to be here.

STEPHEN HAYES, “THE WEEKLY STANDARD”:  Thanks, Campbell.

BROWN:  OK.  So, you guys, the story on the leak story is full of leaks.  So much for White House officials not commenting, huh?  Or at least not out in the open, on the record, full of anonymous leaks, we should say.

Let me get you both to sort of give us your take on the two big stories in “Bloomberg News” and “The New York Times” today about where this is all headed. 

Chuck, you start.

TODD:  Well, I think it is pretty clear that, at this point, the investigation, if you believe all these leaks, that the investigate is no longer about whether a covert agent's name was leaked, but now seems to be headed into, did somebody purger themselves in front of the grand jury?  Did somebody obstruct justice during the investigation?

It seems like the investigation itself now is becoming where the investigation is about.  The way everything is leaking now, now you have questions about whether the fact that Tim Russert's testimony was given than Scooter Libby's testimony, maybe that Bob Novak's testimony is different from Karl Rove's testimony.  Right there, you suddenly start thinking the P. word, meaning perjury or the obstruction of justice thing.

So, it is amazing how many people are talking this—you know, as we came to learn doing the whole Clinton scandal, all prosecutors leak like a sieve.  And somebody is always trying to send a message to somebody.  But the White House has been leaking a lot here, too.  And that seems to have been kind of surprising.  That's a little unlike this White House. 

BROWN:  Stephen, is that your take, perjury now seeming to be the focus? 

HAYES:  Yes.  I think that's probably right. 

I mean, certainly, it looks as if—if what we know now is the

totality of the information, especially with respect to Karl Rove, it seems

unlikely that he violated the Identities Protection Act.  And I think it's

·         given that the focus of Patrick Fitzgerald, the focus on the Cooper, Matt Cooper-Karl Rove exchanges, the phone calls, if we're to believe all these leaks, it does seem as though they might be looking at an obstruction of justice or a perjury charge. 

BROWN:  But, Stephen, you have actually said that you don't think it was a big deal, even if they had used—even if Rove had used her name and not heard it from a reporter, Valerie Plame, had been the one to reveal it.  Is—am I accurate? 

HAYES:  Well, I think I would make a distinction. 

If he revealed her name and the fact that she was, at one point undercover, therefore potentially exposing her and all of her contacts overseas, things about it, then it is very serious.  And I think somebody should end up in jail. 

But, on the substance of it, if he was merely providing context to reporters writing a story about this Joe Wilson trip—and we now know that Valerie Plame was the one who recommended her husband go.  And Joe Wilson's reporting on this, especially in “The New York Times” op-ed, that caused this uproar in the first place, has been, I think, time and time again, shown to be false, it is entirely appropriate for them to provide that context to reporters who might be writing flawed stories based on someone who is a repeated liar. 

BROWN:  Let me challenge you.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  Go ahead.  Go ahead.

TODD:  I was just going to say, that “New York Times” story today, though, shows that there clearly was some sort of strategy going on in the White House about trying to figure out how to provide full context to this story. 

Well, full context to this story was figuring out how to get Joe Wilson's relationship to Valerie Plame out in the public.  So, clearly, it doesn't look like anything happened by accident.  And when you start putting the “New York Times” story together with the “Bloomberg” story, I think that that's what you start to see after today. 

BROWN:  And, Stephen, let me follow up with you on that, because even if there are credibility questions about Joe Wilson, is it not fair to say that what he wrote about was in fact the case?  I mean, the White House did come forward and apologize for putting those 16 words in the State of the Union speech. 

HAYES:  Separate issues, I think. 

What Joe Wilson came back—remember, he came back and didn't provide a written report to anybody.  He gave oral reports to people in the CIA.  And if you read the Senate Intelligence Committee report, its conclusions are that the CIA on balance thought that what Wilson came back and said supported the idea that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger. 

Now, there's another question of these forged documents that may or may not have gotten in the hands of the White House early.  The CIA didn't discredit them probably quickly enough.  But Joe Wilson at the time said that he knew that these documents were forgeries.  That was impossible, because he hadn't yet seen the documents when he was telling people that—later—that he thought they were forgeries. 

And when he was asked to explain that, he said that he used—quote -

·         “a little literary flair.”  That's a euphemism for not telling the truth, I think. 

BROWN:  Right. 

Chuck, I want you to expand a little bit, if you can, on what I thought was pretty unusual about the “New York Times” story today, was Karl Rove's role in foreign policy and national security issues, to the point that he would be editing a memo from George Tenet.  Am I wrong in that?  I mean, this is prior to him becoming the deputy chief of staff.  He's still in a political role here. 

TODD:  Absolutely. 

And what is stunning—my colleagues over at “National Journal” had done a big profile of Karl Rove about a year before about his plate—and he said, like, his plate was very full, not just with the politics, but a lot of domestic politics, and how much Karl Rove cared out about figuring out the Oregon forest fire issue problem, this or that.  And he said the one thing that wasn't on his plate was national security stuff, was intelligence information. 

So, all of a sudden, look, it was clearly they were looking—this became a political problem that week.  And it was—so, the political guy was brought in.  And that's—you know, that's what this “New York Times” story really sort of shone a light on today.  Follow it up with the testimony issues and the problems that maybe Bob Novak and Karl Rove didn't say the same thing to the grand jury and, suddenly, suddenly, you got—you kind of see exactly where this investigation is going.

And you see why Karl Rove has a lawyer and you see why Scooter Libby has a private lawyer. 

BROWN:  OK, we have got to take a quick break.  We're going to be back with Chuck Todd and Stephen Hayes.  And we'll talk about the president's nominee for the Supreme Court in just a moment.

Also, this Sunday on “Meet the Press,” Tim Russert will talk with former Senator Fred Thompson, the White House point man for the Roberts nomination, and Democratic Senator Dick Durbin.

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN:  And we're back with Stephen Hayes of “The Weekly Standard” and Chuck Todd of the political newsletter “The Hotline.”

Welcome back to both of you. 

Let's talk about Judge Roberts. 

Is he all but confirmed already? 

Stephen, you go first. 

HAYES:  I don't think I would go that far, but I think it is pretty close.  I mean, we haven't seen much in the way of serious opposition right now. 

Most of the Democratic senators who have been quoted in the papers have said nice things about him, at least to start.  They're sort of withholding judgment, saying he is a smart guy, a substantive guy.  So, they sort of haven't yet settled on whatever the shorthand issue will be that they try to use to thwart the nomination. 

BROWN:  Chuck, what are the pitfalls? 

TODD:  I'll tell you, I actually what is interesting, there seems to be a Democratic strategy to almost goad the right, the more conservative members of the Judiciary Committee, guys like Sam Brownback, to have the right be the ones that try to fill in the blanks here.

Earlier, you had Ted Kennedy using stuff like, this guy is a stealth candidate.  He's a blank slate.  Well, the last time we heard words like that were about a guy named David Souter, who, of course, the right is very fearful of ever seeing another David Souter.  And it interesting, I think. 

Sam Brownback, he is a very conservative Republican, thinking about running for president, member of this Judiciary Committee, he has been one of the few people actually giving—one of the few Republican senators who have been throwing caution—throwing out some caution, saying, we don't know what his views are on abortion.  I think the fact that Judge Roberts said abortion is the—Roe is the established law of the land could be a very interesting line of questioning from the Republicans, not from the Democrats.  And that could end up being the one potential pitfall for Judge Roberts. 

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  But Brownback is the only one who has done that that I've heard so far.

TODD:  But he's on the Judiciary.  That's the thing, though.  But he has got the power to become a bigger voice because he's on the Judiciary Committee.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  And use it as a platform...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  Exactly. 

BROWN:  If he does have presidential aspirations. 

Stephen, go ahead.

HAYES:  I actually think that, though, if you take the long view and look at the potential likelihood of confirmation, if he's taking shots from people on the right—he took a shot, some shots in a column from Ann Coulter—he's had questions raised about him from Sam Brownback—that all but assures his confirmation. 

I mean, certainly, in terms of the White House trying to portray him as someone who is moderate and reasonable and substantive and smart, questions from conservatives can only help.  And, on the other hand, I think you do have a good number of conservatives who are familiar with this reasoning, are familiar with his background, are familiar with his thoughts, who have stood behind him and said, look, this is a smart guy.  This is a good guy.  He is going to be—he's going to follow in the footstep of his former boss, William Rehnquist.

BROWN:  And, at the end of the day, does he even have to answer those questions?  I mean, how forthcoming, with how much clarity do you think he'll address the Roe v. Wade question? 

TODD:  That will be—look, the long—like, the bigger view is, President Bush made a brilliant pick.  When you have James Dobson on the right and Laurence Tribe on the left agreeing that this guy is a serious guy and belongs on the court, it is obviously a uniting type pick. 

But I think he's going to have to answer some questions.  And I just think it's going to be the right—it's going to—he'll have more pressure to fully answer a question from a Sam Brownback than he will from a Chuck Schumer.  And I think that that is the difference.  If Brownback becomes the tougher questioner, he might have to say more than we're used to with most nominees. 

BROWN:  The pure politics of this, was it a brilliant choice, in that you haven't gotten this sort of firestorm created around him in the way that many people anticipated there would be, whoever the nominee was?  Or does it mean it is a done deal?  As many Democrats are saying, let's get back to the Rove question. 

(LAUGHTER)

TODD:  Well, right.  Go ahead, Steve.

HAYES:  I mean, I would say that it was a very, very smart choice from the beginning from the White House.  They obviously knew somebody who was young, who is likely to be there a while, if he is confirmed, who doesn't have a long paper trail, not a lot of things that he can be attacked about. 

And I think we're seeing that already, in that the Democrats have signaled their willingness to essentially have a document debate.  I mean, they're now talking about forcing the White House to release all sorts of documents that would shed light on the things that Judge Roberts argued in the past. 

The White House, as we know, is likely not to—to give up a lot of documents.  And so, you may see a fight really over the process of the nomination, rather than the substance, rather than the nominee himself.  That in and of itself is a win for the White House. 

BROWN:  All right, Chuck, you got about 15 seconds. 

TODD:  Well, look, I think, if they can—the only way the Democrats can make political hay is they somehow split the right.  That doesn't look like it's going to happen.

They get Rove story back on at least equal level of the—at least as far as “The Washington Post” and “The New York Times” are concerned.  So, they might feel pretty good.  The White House has got to feel good, because, if the Democrats make too much hay out of Roberts, they're going to look petty.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  All right, guys, thank you very much, Chuck Todd and Stephen Hayes.

TODD:  Thanks.

HAYES:  Thanks.

BROWN:  And join us again Monday night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  We're going to be joined by Sam Brownback and Dianne Feinstein of the Judiciary Committee.

And, Tuesday, a HARDBALL special report, “Boots on the Ground: Untold Stories From the Front Line.”  You're not going to want to miss that.

And, right now, it's time for “COUNTDOWN.”  Keith will talk with the man at the center of the CIA leak case, Ambassador Joe Wilson.

END

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