Video: Biden plays Hardball

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updated 10/17/2005 8:46:46 PM ET 2005-10-18T00:46:46

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is looking into whether Vice President Dick Cheney was himself involved in outing the identity of a covert CIA official. 

Democratic Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware spoke to MSNBC-TV's Chris Matthews about the ongoing investigation and the White House's possible involvement in the case.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HARDBALL HOST: Senator, back two years ago, around this time of year, when the leak case first broke, Ed Gillespie, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, said that, if proven, these charges would be worse than Watergate.  Do you agree, the outing of a federal agent working undercover?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Well, I think it's pretty serious stuff.  And it only relates to Watergate in terms of how high up it goes, not in terms of the nature of the offense.  But it's significant.

MATTHEWS: Can you imagine, in your long experience as a legislator and conducting a major legislative office your own, as senator from Delaware and all the committees in which you've chaired, can you imagine a principal, a vice president, not knowing that he's been under target
by someone like Joe Wilson, accused in the press by Joe Wilson, of knowingly giving the president bad intel and covering up intel that might have stopped us from going to war, and not gotten involved in his own defense through the use of his staff?

In other words, it was the staff of the vice president, headed by Scooter Libby, did this all by themselves, without ever telling the vice president, "Hey, look, boss, we're out there working to kill this guy who's been attacking you."  Do you believe that's credible?

BIDEN: Chris, you and I got to Washington about the same time back in the early-'70s.  I learned a phrase later after that caused "plausible deniability."  I never knew what that meant before.

I guess it is plausibly deniable that the chief didn't know the specifics.  But I find it very difficult for anybody to believe that Karl Rove does not have a long leash that the president allows him to go on and that Scooter Libby doesn't have equally long leash of the vice president.

These guys are Rove and Libby are known, as we say, no pun intended, real hardball players.

MATTHEWS: Right.

BIDEN: You look what they did to McCain in South Carolina.  You look what they've done.  I mean, these guys go after people who take them on, and they go after them in ways that are — the record is pretty self-evident, that it is tougher than anybody but maybe Johnson.  I wasn't there when Johnson was president.

So is it possible the president and vice president, assuming Libby and Rove did this, either one of them, is it possible they didn't know the specifics?  Yes.  Is it possible that they didn't know that this is the kind of thing that Libby and Rove might do?  No.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you this:  We all knew growing up that Becket was killed under the orders of Henry II, who had put him in his office as as archbishop of Canterbury.  And the line from the king was, "Well, no one rid us of this meddlesome priest?"  You think it was that kind of command from the top, "Don't tell me how you do it.  Just erase this guy"?

BIDEN: I don't know.  But I'm confident the way again, just the modus operandi of the principals is someone goes after them, and they go back in return.  But, again, I really don't know the facts.  This is all premised on the assumption that Libby and/or Rove actually outed the CIA operative, that is Joe Wilson's wife.

MATTHEWS: Well, this could be...

BIDEN: And I don't know that's a fact.

MATTHEWS: We don't either.  We know nothing.  All we know is that the term of the grand jury runs out next week, and he's got three more meetings with that grand jury.  People tell me, like Michael Isikoff of Newsweek, that that means he's going to have to notify that targets by the end of this week, in all likelihood.

So let's just ask this question, because it's in the air right now.  If anyone's indicted in the White House, or not indicted, but let's say someone is indicted, do they have to resign or be forced to resign?

BIDEN: Well, I would think they'd resign instantaneously.  I can't imagine them — whether or not they have to.  And quite frankly, I don't know.  I'm not sure there's a law that says they must resign.  I'm embarrassed to say I don't know that for a fact.  You'd think, having
been around after Watergate...

MATTHEWS: I don't think there's a rule. But, Senator...

BIDEN: But, practically, yes.

MATTHEWS: They're putting out the word that they're going to try something different.  They're going to offer themselves up for a leave of absence, something that would keep them on the White House payroll and formal officials of the United States government in the executive office of the president but not be performing their duties.

Would that be satisfactory to the government and our Constitution to have indicted people still on the White House staff?

BIDEN: It might be in the Constitution, but not to the people of the United States of America.  I can't fathom even this — not even.  I can't fathom this president allowing that to happen.

If he does, it would rank among, I think, among the least smart things he's ever done.

MATTHEWS: Speaking of least smart things — and, by the way, we're only talking about this because this is in the press this week these people, if they are indicted, that they simply take a leave of absence at their own initiative.

Scooter Libby, the chief of the staff of the vice president, sent a letter to Judy Miller, the New York Times reporter that spent all those months, actually, in jail keeping the secret of her relationship with him, or her conversations with him, which were off-the-record or on
background.

Here's the letter he sent to her while she was in jail.  Quote, "The public report of every other reporter's testimony makes clear that they did not discuss Ms. Plame's name or identity with me."

Do you think that was coaching of the reporter, when she finally agreed to a deal to come out of prison, that he says, "OK, if you're going to come out, I'm going to give you a license to talk.  I'm going to relieve you of our confidential relationship, if you say what everybody else says, like a synchronized swimmer, that I didn't give the identity of this woman."

"I may have said, of course, it's his wife, but I won't say her name, or formal last name after marriage, before marriage.  I won't tell you she's operating undercover."  Was that coaching?

BIDEN: Only for this way.  The idea that Judith Miller, one of the leading investigative reporters in the country, in jail is not reading the paper and Scooter Libby has to write her a letter telling her what other people are saying, I think, is kind of...

MATTHEWS: Is it code?  Is it code for, "Shut up"?  Is it code for, "Be quiet"?

Let me ask you another question.  He says, out in the aspens, where they're changing now, and out in Wyoming, or whatever, they turn in clusters, the aspens, because their roots connect them.  I mean, I'll say it.  This sounds like Luca Brasi talk.  It sounds like "sleep with
the fishes," you know, "our roots are connected," Senator.

What kind of people don't talk like that unless they want the other person to know, "We're in this together."  What could this possibly mean, senator?  This is the question.

BIDEN: I have no idea.  It could mean any and all of the above.  I mean, yes, this is this is an unusual crowd. 

Watch 'Hardball' each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC. 

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