updated 10/18/2005 12:22:13 PM ET 2005-10-18T16:22:13

Guests: Jim Gilmore, Richard Ben-Veniste, Joseph Biden, Mike Allen, Michael Isikoff, Debra Saunders, Amy Goodman

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  New reports that Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is focusing on Vice President Dick Cheney in the CIA leak investigation.  Did the vice president play a role in leaking the name of a covert CIA agent?  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

(MUSIC)

MATTHEWS:  Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Two summers ago, Vice President Dick Cheney was under attack.  A former diplomat had published an article in the “New York Times” that he, the number two man in the government, had let the president to take us to war on bad intel, that there was no deal to buy uranium from Africa and the vice president knew about it, yet let the president tell the country there was.  Did the vice president take steps to discredit the charge being made against him, or did he sit there and take it?  Did he tell his staff to get on the case of knocking down the diplomat‘s story and the diplomat with it, or did Cheney‘s staff do that on its own? 

Was Cheney the leader of an operation to destroy a war critic or was he a silent bystander to this war in which he was the primary target?  Are we to believe that this old war horse, who headed the Pentagon in the first war against Saddam Hussein, ramrodded the second as the administration‘s number one hawk, had no hand in discrediting someone who was probably charging him with taking us in into Iraq with a corrupt case for war.  This is the question sitting on the desk of the special prosecutor.  This is the high-megaton explosive device that could be ticking even now beneath the White House West Wing.

HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has the latest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice over):  “New York Times” reporter Judy Miller testified to the grand jury it was Scooter Libby, Vice President Cheney‘s chief of staff, who told her the wife of administration critic Joe Wilson worked at the CIA.  And in Sunday‘s “New York Times,” Miller added that she and Libby spoke about Wilson on three separate occasions, starting on June 23, 2003, two weeks before Wilson publicly undercut White House claims about Iraq‘s nuclear program, and then again on July 8, two days after, when Libby offered Miller what she described as a lengthy and sharp critique of Mr. Wilson. 

BOB BENNETT, ATTORNEY TO JUDITH MILLER:  If he said that he had not talked to Judy about these things or didn‘t talk about the wife, then he‘s got a problem. 

SHUSTER:  Another problem for Libby may be a letter he sent Miller while she was in jail this summer for refusing to testify. 

Libby, quote: “I believed a year ago, as now, that testimony by all will benefit all.  The public report of every other reporter‘s testimony makes clear that they did not discuss Ms. Plame‘s name or identify me.”

BENNETT:  Our reaction when we got that letter, both Judy‘s and mine, is that was a very stupid thing to put in the letter, because it just complicated the situation. 

SHUSTER:  Complicated, because to Miller and Bennett, the Libby letter sounded like guidance or coaching. 

As Miller wrote, “It might be perceived as an effort by Mr. Libby to suggest that I, too, would say that we had not discussed Ms. Plame‘s identity.”

Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald‘s focus on this suggests this grand jury may be considering possible obstruction of justice. 

(on camera):  Regarding the actual leaks two years ago aimed at destroying Wilson, Bloomberg News reports the prosecutor has questioned several current and former White House officials about Vice President Cheney.  Cheney communications adviser Catherine Martin, former spokeswoman Jennifer Millerwise and former White House aide Jim Wilkinson have all been asked, according to Bloomberg, about Cheney‘s knowledge of the anti-Wilson campaign and about the vice president‘s conversations with Chief of Staff Scooter Libby. 

One conversation, according to the “New York Times,” came on July 12, 2003, six days after Wilson publicly criticized the White House. 

SOL WISENBERG, FMR DEP. IND. COUNSEL:  You send somebody to do something that would be a crime if you did it, then you are just as guilty, even if that person doesn‘t even know what you are doing. 

SHUSTER:  Those criminal statutes are known as “aiding and abetting.”

Another statute that Fitzgerald could be reviewing is conspiracy.  Prosecutors tend to love conspiracy charges because the rules of evidence are easier, meaning you can get more in to help prove a crime. 

WISENBERG:  You could even get a statement in that one co-conspirator person said to another co-conspirator that a third co-conspirator—who isn‘t even in the room—told me x.  Normally, that completely would not get in.  But here—it would even be double hearsay—but here it gets in if you can convince the judge this is part of a conspiracy. 

SHUSTER:  Still, many conspiracies are not criminal, even conspiracies that involve slamming somebody.  Were officials in the White House simply playing rough as they defended themselves and attacked a critic, or did they go too far and then try to cover it up?  The grand jury is scheduled to meet next on Wednesday. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David.

Attorney Richard Ben-Veniste is a veteran of many Washington legal dramas, including as a prosecutor of the Watergate investigation, and later as a counsel to the Senate Whitewater Investigation Committee during the Clinton administration. Most recently, Ben-Veniste has served on the 9/11 commission. 

And James Gilmore, former governor of Virginia, attorney general and prosecuting attorney for the state of Virginia and also served as the Republican party‘s national chairman. 

Let me play something that we saw from your successor as chairman of the party, Mr. Gilmore.  In September of 2003, I asked—this is right after the story broke two years ago, I asked then-RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie about the seriousness of this leak story. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t you think it is more serious than Watergate, if you think about it? 

ED GILLESPIE, RNC CHAIRMAN:  If the allegation is true, to reveal the identity of an undercover CIA operative is abhorrent and it should be a crime, and it is a crime. 

MATTHEWS:  It would be worse than Watergate, wouldn‘t it? 

GILLESPIE:  I suppose, in terms of the real world implications of it -

it‘s not just politics. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Governor Gilmore, your successor says this—if it‘s proven, if we have indictments this week and convictions following thereto, this is worse than Watergate. 

JIM GILMORE, FMR RNC CHAIRMAN:  First of all, I think we are totally speculating.  We don‘t know what the prosecutor is doing, we don‘t know what he has to say, we don‘t know what the facts are.  And I think there is an awful lot of innuendo here and I think we ought to be waiting to see whether or not any real charges are brought. 

Listen, I have been in this kind of situation.  This prosecutor needs to understand that, no matter what he does from this point on, he is going to have to stand up in a courtroom before a jury someplace and make his case.  I think he is going to be very responsible, he‘s going to be very careful about what kind of action he brings.  He wants to be sure he has a sound case.  And right now we don‘t know any of the facts.

MATTHEWS:  Do you respect Fitzgerald? 

GILMORE:  Sure.  He looks to me like he is doing a very thorough job, but we don‘t know at this point whether or not he has any evidence to justify anything.  He may walk away. 

MATTHEWS:  All we know are the questions and the directions he keeps

taking, calling in the vice president‘s close aides one after another,

asking about conversations apparently between the vice president‘s chief of

staff.  That‘s what we know,

We also know as of today—it was announced late today, Monday—that he is going to make his announcement about this case here in Washington, not in Chicago.  That‘s about all we do know.

GILMORE:  He‘s made a very thorough investigation.  But it doesn‘t mean that it‘s going in any particular direction.  One thing we do know, in this country, you are not guilty of anything until you are charged and tried. 

MATTHEWS:  Also, there is another delineation here, Richard—that is hardball versus illegality.  If you were or I was accused of something, I would want to find out who accused me of it and I go out there and try to discredit the charge.  If that‘s all the vice president‘s people did is go out there and say, well this guy Wilson, who‘s making these charges about the vice president covering up basically a corrupt case for war, they have a perfect right to go out and nail the guy and shut him up.  But they have to be careful they don‘t break the law.

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, FMR FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Absolutely.  And I certainly agree with the Governor in everything that he said.  We are speculating here.  But we are receiving information from people who have been in the grand jury, who are free to talk about what questions were asked. 

On the basis of that, and on the basis of what we have heard about the original statements made by Messieurs Rove and Libby, that they did not disclose Valerie Plame‘s name, quite clearly, there has been information that‘s come forward that would call the accuracy of those statements into question. 

Whether that constitutes perjury or some obstruction of justice will be up to the grand jury, with the guidance of Independent Counsel Fitzgerald to determine. 

You are exactly right, though, in terms of hardball versus criminality.  It‘s one thing to take hard shots at an opponent.  It‘s another thing to violate the law.  If they disclosed the identity of a CIA agent knowingly—and there‘s information in classified memos that were circulated by top members of the administration after they began to investigate the background of Ambassador Wilson, months before he wrote his article in the “New York Times,” investigating him, finding out everything about his family.  Why was it that they continued to question and bring up information about his wife, the CIA agent? 

So, it‘s one thing to attack someone.  And of course, the underlying information was proved to be accurate, that Mr. Wilson was putting forward.  And the White House later had to retract the information in the president‘s State of the Union message about acquiring uranium. 

MATTHEWS:  Scooter Libby—he‘s the chief of staff to the vice president of the United States.  He has testified—we get this from—you‘re right—from the lawyers in the case, we get it from some of the people who‘ve testified—nobody‘s sitting in there with an earphone, trying to pick up what‘s going on in there.  But the fact is we have gotten some testimony from Scooter that sounds harmless.  He said when he first had to address this challenge from Joe Wilson, the former diplomat, saying these people are all wet, they knew there wasn‘t any uranium deal with Africa and they still went ahead with the president‘s speech and the vice president was the guy that asked us to go on this trio, and he‘s making all these charges—at that moment, Scooter Libby said that he went in to the vice president and said, what do I do with all this?  How do I respond to all these charges? 

The vice president—he‘s throwing the buck in his court and saying, he was the guy that told me how to handle this matter.  So, it seems to me reasonable is—“I don‘t want to make the case.  I don‘t know what happened”—the prosecutor says to all the staffers, was the vice president calling the shots?  Was the boss calling the shots, or was the adjutant?  Was the Mandarin calling the shots?  Isn‘t that a reasonable question for them to be asking the prosecutor‘s office, whether the boss is in charge or not? 

GILMORE:  I think, as a thorough prosecutor, you‘re going to look into those things, but I‘m not sure I agree with Richard‘s underlying premises here. 

You know, whatever is said is going to have to be made as a matter of fact.  The underlying allegation that people have been worrying about is whether they knew that this lady was some sort of covert operative and then was trying to expose that for the purpose of hurting Ambassador Wilson—you know, none of this may be the case at all. 

MATTHEWS:  Suppose it‘s the case, as laid out by Matt Cooper, the Time Magazine reporter who said that Karl Rove told him who she was, that it was the wife who sent him on the trip. 

Suppose it turns out that Judy Miller‘s telling the truth that Scooter Libby told her. 

I mean, you act like we just begun this case.  There‘s a hell of a lot of people publicly telling us now what they‘ve testified to. 

GILMORE:  Yes, but I‘m going to make this case stay to the facts that we know and the simple fact that you say this lady works over there and that she sent her husband over to Africa—that, in and of itself, as I think most everybody agrees, is not criminal. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  But it is factual? 

GILMORE:  Well, I‘m not sure if it‘s factual.  We‘ll find out.  We‘ll find out whether it‘s factual.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll hear it again in court. 

GILMORE:  But the point is that that is not criminal. 

And the assertion that—again, the implication here.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s the  delineation between “Hardball”—if somebody went after you, went after me, went after Richard, you‘d obviously defend yourself.  And if you are the vice president, you defend yourself with power because you‘ve got some.  You don‘t count on your staff, or do you?

I‘m asking these questions.  Oh, I‘m sure my staff will take care of this incoming; they can knock this guy down.  I‘m going to go talk to them about it.  Does that sound reasonable? 

GILMORE:  They may very well have simply said, listen:  this lady is over here.  She sent her husband to Africa.  You ought to be watchful of whatever the guy has to say. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s got an article on the front page—I mean, the lead op-ed page—of the New York Times, blasting the administration for surreptitious cases or phony, fault, corrupt case for war.  And the vice president says, you guys take care of this? 

GILMORE:  I don‘t know what the vice president did, but whatever they did, if they simply just said, look, you should be cautious of this.  Look behind you. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Here is what we have on the record.  Here‘s Libby talking to Judy Miller about the way in which he is going to release from her commitment not to talk:  “The public report of every other reporter‘s testimony makes clear that they did not discuss Ms. Plame‘s name or identity with me.” 

By laying out his sort of definition of what‘s appropriate testimony by her, Richard, isn‘t that coaching? 

BEN-VENISTE:  Well, it‘s certainly clumsy. 

MATTHEWS:  Clumsy coaching? 

BEN-VENISTE:  Well, there is no reason why, in a letter asking her to reconsider staying in jail and releasing her from a pledge of confidentiality that he should begin talking about what other people have said. 

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t that scripting her? 

BEN-VENISTE:  Well, one could come to that conclusion. 

MATTHEWS:  How about this one, about meeting her when the aspens are turning again out in Wyoming:  “They turn in clusters because their roots connect them.”

BEN-VENISTE:  That‘s real poetry; he‘s real poetic.  That‘s very poetic.

MATTHEWS:   Their roots connect them.  What kind of a sick—what kind of communication is this—their roots connect?  In other words, we‘re bound at the hip?  We‘re in this together?  What is “their roots connected?”  What are we supposed to make of that? 

GILMORE:  That ain‘t going to be no foundation for no indictment.  I can tell you that.

MATTHEWS:  But what do you make of that kind of language?  Do you talk like that? 

“They turn in clusters because their roots are connected.”  This is a signal to a woman in jail.  He‘s got plenty of things to say to her, but he says that? 

I don‘t want to make this argumentative because I find that so unusual English that I don‘t know what to make of it. 

BEN-VENISTE:  Where I disagree with Jim is that he‘s overlooking the importance of testifying truthfully in a grand jury.  You can assert a fifth amendment privilege and not testify. 

But if you go in and swear to tell the truth, then you better do it.  Otherwise, if a prosecutor finds that you have testified in a way that is factually incorrect and you had reason to know that it was factually incorrect, then you‘re guilty of perjury. 

MATTHEWS:  So, the cover-up, not the crime—an additional crime could bring these guys down.  It reminds me of Watergate, Mr. Watergate prosecutor. 

BEN-VENISTE:  I don‘t feel that it‘s as important as Watergate. 

MATTHEWS:  Nothing is as important as the biggest day in your life.  I know that.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  But this Luca Brasi talk here—it‘s like “sleep with the fishes.” 

The clusters—the roots connect them.  What kind of talk is that? 

BEN-VENISTE:  But I don‘t dismiss the question about this casual discussion of classified information.  I mean, this typifies the administration in releasing what it is they think will be helpful to them that‘s classified and then objecting... 

MATTHEWS:  Nothing‘s been proven; nothing‘s been indicted, but this could be one heck of a week here in Washington. 

And I‘d like to have you back to see your version of those events. 

Thank you very much, Governor Jim Gilmore, former RNC Chairman, former attorney general of Virginia.  He‘s had every big job.  Thank you for joining us. 

And Ben-Veniste, still dining out on Watergate.

(LAUGHTER)

Coming up, Senator Joe Biden on the leak investigation,  plus the new way the Bush administration is trying to sell Supreme Court nominee—not too successfully—Harriet Miers.

Senator Joe Biden will talk about her, too.  He‘s on the Judiciary Committee.  He‘s a ranking member.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

As we have reported, 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 is a ranking member on the

Foreign Relations committee.  He also sits on the Judiciary Committee.  Two

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 worst 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 in 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 got involved in his own defense through the use of his staff?

In other words, do you believe 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 at the same time back in the early 1970‘s and I learned a phrase later after that called plausible deniability.  I never knew what that meant before.  plausibly deniable that the chief didn‘t know the specifics, but I find it difficult to believe that Karl Rove does not have a long leash that the president allows him to go on and Scooter Libby doesn‘t have equally have a long leash to the vice president. 

These guys are—these meetings, Rove and Libby are known as we say, no pun intended no hardball players.  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 is, tougher than anybody, but maybe Johnson.  And 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 know growing up that Becket, a man was killed under the orders of Henry II who had put him in his office as chancellor—rather as Archbishop of Canterbury.  And the line from the king was...

BIDEN:  Is this a Catholic thing? 

MATTHEWS:  Yeah.  The line from king was, will no one rid us of this meddlesome priest?  Do you think it was that kind of command from the top, don‘t tell me how you do, just erase this guy.

BIDEN:  I‘m confident—I don‘t know, but I‘m confident the way, again, just the modus operandi of the principles is, you know, 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.  And I don‘t know that for a fact. 

MATTHEWS:  We don‘t either.  We know nothing there.  All we know the term of the grand jury runs out next week.  And he‘s got three more meetings with that grand jury.  And people tell me, like Michael Isikoff of “Newsweek” that that means he‘s going to have to notify the 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 is indicted in the White House or not indicted, but let‘s say if someone is indicted, do they have to resign or be forced to resign? 

BIDEN:  Well, I would think they would 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 is 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 I‘d know, but I don‘t know that. 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t think there is a rule.

BIDEN:  But I think practically, yes. 

MATTHEWS:  They are putting out the word that they are going to try something different.  They are going to offer themselves up for a leave of absence, something that would keep them on the White House payroll and formal officials in the United States government in the 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—not even—I can‘t imagine this president allowing that to happen.  If he does, it would be—rank among, I think, among the least smart things he has 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 that that‘s what is being considered by these people if they are indicted, to then 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” that spent all those months, actually in jail, keeping the secret of her relationship with him, her conversations with him, which were off the record or on background.  Here is a 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, which he finally agreed to a deal to come out of prison that say, OK, if you‘re going to come out, I‘m going to give you a license to talk, I‘m going to releave you of our confidential relationship, if you say what everybody else says, like a synchronized swimming, that I didn‘t give you the identity of this woman, I may have said, of course, it‘s his wife.  But I won‘t say her name or former last name after marrying—or before marrying.  I won‘t say that she‘s operating undercover.  Is that coaching?

BIDEN:  Well, let me put it 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 one.  He says that out in the Aspens where they‘re changing now and out in Wyoming or whatever, they turned in clusters, the Aspens, because their roots connect them.  I mean, I‘ll say this, sounds like Luca Brasi talk.  It sounds like sleep with the fishes.  You know, our roots are connected, senator.  People don‘t talk like that unless they want the other person to know we are in this together.  What could it possibly mean, senator?  This is the question.

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

MATTHEWS:  They speak in a different language. 

BIDEN:  I think you‘re right. 

MATTHEWS:  Maybe it‘s neocon for we are all in this together.  We‘ll see.  We will be right back with Senator Joe Biden.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Senator Biden. 

Senator Biden on the foreign relations committee.  You have spent a lot of time—you were just spent in Iraq.  This election as it‘s going so far, does this promise an early return of our troops at some Christmas coming up, this one, next one, the one after?  What does it tell you? 

BIDEN:  Well, I think it does.  Look, we blew it at the front end by not having enough troops in there once we went in prematurely.  And now the idea of more American troops or American troops staying after this parliamentary election is not a tenable position. 

So, I think what happens here, Chris, is they either begin to get it together and to see a political solution in their future—the Sunnis, or, in fact, this completely breaks down.  In either case it means, the U.S.  presence in that region, and the number are in there now, becomes more of a liability than an asset.  so, I think by a year from Christmas, I think and pray God, we‘ll be significantly down in numbers.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me ask you about Harriet Miers.  The right wing, the very conservative—some of them are dumping all over, the intellectuals, the best and brightest who love war with Iraq don‘t like her one bit for some reason.

But the conservatives on the cultural side, the Christian conservatives, if you will, are all seeming to get to the word that this women is one of us.  She‘s going to be a pro-life justice not just a pro-life believer.

But, like all of us, or most of us, you and I certainly don‘t like abortion, but to actually operate on the court as someone as someone who tries to outlaw it by getting rid of Roe v. Wade.

Do you think there are some signals being sent to the supporters on the right that she‘s going to be OK on that issue? 

BIDEN:  Well, there sure is.  I mean, now I hope they send them to the whole nation. 

I find this kind of strange Chris, no one thought it was appropriate for me to try to plum and others what Roberts‘ view were on these constitutional issues but now they seem to think it‘s totally appropriate to guarantee people by saying look, she is a born-again Christian, therefore she is going to be fine. 

I mean, all the code being sent, I guess, whether it is true or not, to the right is the president assuring them that this woman thinks exactly like he is.  The implication being that,like he does implication being, that he would be—she would be his version of him on the court. 

So that‘s clearly the message being sent.  I don‘t know if it‘s true. 

I know nothing about the woman other than what I have read. 

MATTHEWS:  I only have a couple of seconds.  Well, lets talk about another woman.  Is Hillary Clinton the prohibitive favorite for the Democratic nomination for 2008 for president?  Prohibitive favorite. 

BIDEN:  Absolutely, absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Has she got it knocked—locked? 

BIDEN:  No, a lot can happen in two and a half years, I would have to

even though I‘m going to seek the nomination.  In all probability, I‘d have to say, she is the Mount Everest that has to be climbed and I think it is totally beyond my control or anybody else‘s.  It is totally in her hands. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you Edmund Hillary, Senator?  Can you climb that mountain? 

BIDEN:  Well, time will tell.  If the odds are that she is the overwhelming, overwhelming favorite for the nomination. 

MATTHEWS:  But she doesn‘t have it locked? 

BIDEN:  I don‘t think so, I don‘t think anybody has it locked this early out. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, good luck Senator.  Thanks for coming on

HARDBALL. 

BIDEN:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s great to have you on.

Was Vice President Cheney involved in the leak of Valerie Wilson‘s identity?  Up next, three of the top reporters in the CIA leak case, “Newsweek‘s” Michael Isikoff, “Time Magazine‘s” Mike Allen, and our own Norah O‘Donnell. 

You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  How high up could the CIA leak investigation lead?  Reports today indicate that the Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has focused on the vice president‘s role. 

And with three reporters covering this story right now, MSNBC‘s Chief White House Correspondent, Norah O‘Donnell.  And in the studio with me “Newsweek‘s” Michael Isikoff and “Time Magazine‘s” Mike Allen.

So how far, we are reading all in the paper today that a lot of these people around the vice president have been asked about his role in this.  Where is that going, Michael? 

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NEWSWEEK:  Hard to say, like everything, like almost every other bit of information, we are reading tea leaves here. 

But, we do know that clearly, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the vice president‘s chief of staff, is squarely in the focus of Fitzgerald‘s investigation.  That is what the whole Judy Miller matter was all about. 

MATTHEWS:  She said she heard it from him. 

ISIKOFF:  Well, and also, but we know that it was—that Fitzgerald was so focused on getting Judy Miller‘s testimony, because he knew that she had talked to Scooter Libby during the relevant time period and had reason to believe that this issue came up. 

So, from the get-go, we know that the vice president‘s chief of staff has been a central figure in this investigation.  What is a new add-in Judy Miller‘s account yesterday in “The New York Times,” is that there were questions about the vice president himself. 

And of course, she says that she was asked by Fitzgerald, did the vice president know that Libby was talking?  And of course, she says no.  How could she?  I thought it was kind of a—

MATTHEWS:  I thought that was a naive question by Fitzgerald. 

ISIKOFF:  Yes, absolutely, how would Miller know?

MATTHEWS:  Because every experience tells me that no boss has ever—you don‘t go back necessarily and tell the boss what you‘re doing,in terms of these interviews, yes, I‘m having breakfast with Judy Miller.  Well, that‘s what else, what is tell?  Why are you telling me that?

Mike, what do you know about this? 

MIKE ALLEN, TIME MAGAZINE:  Well, Chris, Bloomberg today reported several other members of the vice president‘s staff who had been asked about this. 

Last week, the blog, RawStory, talked about the fact that Fitzgerald seemed to be specifically interested in what role the vice president had because of his part in shaping the Iraq message. 

A lawyer who is intimately involved in this told me that indeed witnesses have been asked what the vice president‘s involvement was.  This lawyer who is...

MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute, which witnesses told who?  Told Fitzgerald that he what, did what? 

ALLEN:  No, Fitzgerald asked the witnesses about the vice president‘s involvement.  Now, this lawyer who is familiar with a wide body of the testimony said that it did not appear to be leading anywhere, that it appeared to be Fitzgerald running down every alley. 

What he said to me is he‘d be a fool not to ask.  He doesn‘t want to be embarrassed six months from now. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the minimum.

(CROSSTALK)

ALLEN:  He is covering his bases. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Norah O‘Donnell.  You covered the White House for quite awhile, Norah.  The role of the vice president in this administration is probably the strongest role any vice president has ever played.  He‘s almost a co-executive. 

What‘s the working relationship between the president‘s vice president, the vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney, and his chief of staff?  Do they work together hand in glove?  Does Scooter have more slack than that?  Is he allowed to go off on his own and do things? 

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  Well, I think in many ways as Rove is to the president, Libby is to the vice president.  And since the vice president is enormously important in this administration then Libby, of course, is enormously important.

Probably the most important vice presidential chief of staff in history, one could argue, certainly in shaping the Iraq War, the communications message, the strategy, and clearly involved in this investigation.

I think the thing about the vice president and the questions that special prosecutor Fitzgerald has been asking, there is a difference between focusing on the vice president and asking questions about whether the vice president was involved or not.  So I think it‘s too soon to say that Fitzgerald is focusing on the vice president.  Fitzgerald may just be doing his job in asking as he talks to all these different people who work in the vice president‘s office, not only worked with the vice president but also Libby, saying, did the vice president know about that?  In other words, going through the check list. 

MATTHEWS:  There is a sense watching him, all three of you, and if anybody knows more about this, I‘d love to know right now, watching Fitzgerald.  He is one go-getting prosecutor.  But he seems to go to the number-two people.  He goes to the people in the Daly administration in Chicago, he goes to the number-two person at the Lord Black‘s big press empire.  It seems like his strategy is always to go to the number-two person and squeeze hard.  Michael. 

ISIKOFF:  Standard prosecutoral tactic.  Every major criminal case is always built from the bottom up.  You get the underlings, you get them to plead and cooperate, and that leads to the higher-ups. 

Now, whether that‘s going to happen in this case, we don‘t know, but one thing that is worth remembering here is, we still don‘t know the identity of the original leaker who triggered this investigation by telling Bob Novak. 

MATTHEWS:  All we know is that—and again, check me on this, from all the accounts, and you are the leader in most of this investigative reporting, you have got Matt Cooper of “Time” magazine fingering Karl Rove and fingering Libby, right?  You have got now Judy Miller on the front page of the newspaper yesterday fingering Scooter Libby.  So we do know that people in the White House have been accused under oath of leaking the identity of this person. 

ISIKOFF:  But my understanding...

MATTHEWS:  We do know.  So we have come a long way in two years.  It‘s taken a while, obviously.

ISIKOFF:  Well, no, we haven‘t gone—gone far enough, because my understanding is...

MATTHEWS:  To nail the original (ph) crime.

ISIKOFF:  Both Rove and Libby through their lawyers have denied being the principal source for Novak, the source who started the whole thing.  So one possible scenario here is that that person certainly is known to Fitzgerald, probably has been known for some time to Fitzgerald, and the scenario would be that he‘s got that person, and that person has either agreed to plead and cooperate, or has cooperated all along, and that‘s the thing to look for, because that person can describe conversations inside the White House, where this was talked about, where they talked about...

MATTHEWS:  And decide whether it came from the vice president or from his chief of staff?  The orders to do this?

ALLEN:  And Chris, don‘t forget, something we know because of a long-ago Bloomberg story is Novak is cooperating, and so could well have answered a question like this. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... he answered that question two months ago, Norah, and yet he continued the investigation.  I mean, he is looking for more than the identity of who leaked.  He wants to find out what laws were broken by the big shots.  It seems to me it‘s a wider web than just who leaked the name at this point.  

O‘DONNELL:  Well, if you talk to lawyers, and even Judy Miller‘s attorney, Mr. Bennett said yesterday that Mr. Fitzgerald is creating a much bigger case, he said, than many of us know about.  So that‘s the speculation of one of the lawyers involved in this, and that could be the case.  And that‘s what led all of us—and others that sort of watch that maybe that—and speculate that it could be conspiracy, it could be perjury, but something larger than just this central issue that we all started... 

MATTHEWS:  I want to get—excuse me, Norah, I‘m told to break.  You know how it is.  I want to come back and ask you all—I want to ask you all about this jailhouse chatter, this lingo, this code between Scooter Libby, the vice president‘s chief of staff and Judy Miller, and they had that relationship as source and reporter, (INAUDIBLE) gets murky the way he talks to her in this strange sort of novelistic language that may be unfortunate for both of them.  We will be right back with Norah O‘Donnell, Mike Isikoff and Mike Allen. 

And a reminder, the political debate is ongoing on Hardblogger, our political blog Web site.  Plus, you can download, here it comes, podcast, some HARDBALL.  It‘s all on our Web site—times keep changing on me—hardball.msnbc.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  My position hadn‘t changed since the last time I had been asked this question.  There is a serious investigation.  We are not going to prejudge the outcome of the investigation. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s President Bush earlier today refusing to comment on the CIA leak investigation.  We are back with MSNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent Norah O‘Donnell, “Newsweek‘s” Michael Isikoff and “Time” magazine‘s Mike Allen.

Let me just read you this quickly, and let you all respond.  This is the missive that came from Scooter Libby, the vice president‘s chief of staff, to Judy Miller, who was in jail all those times, and he sent this message to her in the course of negotiating her agreement to come out and his agreement to release her from the confidential relationship.  Quote:

“The public report of every other reporters‘ testimony makes clear that they did not discuss Ms. Plame‘s name or identity with me.”  In other words, this is what I think is appropriate for you to say when you get out, but that‘s for you guys to decide.  And secondly, he is doing this sort of romantic thing, “Out West, where you vacationed, the aspens will already be turning.  They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them.”  What on Earth—who wants to start on this one and try to interpret what the heck?  We need (INAUDIBLE) here. 

Norah O‘Donnell, well educated as you are, would you give me a—an English major‘s—not an English major‘s, but an English student‘s explanation, what does it mean to say, OK, philosophically, what does it mean to say their roots connect them to somebody who is in jail?  Are you saying—let me lay it out, my possibility, that we are connected at the hip on this baby, be careful to what you testify. 

O‘DONNELL:  Reporters sometimes talk to sources in code, that is true. 

I‘m sure Mike will tell you that, and Isikoff will tell you that as well.  This appears to be some sort of code.  Now, “they turn in clusters” would suggest, or one could read it, that if one leaf turns, then the other leaf will turn.  That could be one reading of what that would suggest.  If you took it to its end, that could mean that, if Miller turned on Libby, then perhaps Libby will turn on Miller.  We simply don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the way I would read it.  I can‘t think of any other reading, in fact. 

Is there any other one that, unless he just speaks in these remote phrases? 

ISIKOFF:  You know, the Pentagon won‘t let mail to the prisoners at Guantanamo through because they think that they might be sending code messages one way or the other.  But somehow, you know in this case...

MATTHEWS:  What about the one from “The Man Who Would Be King, “the teacher‘s going south for the winter.” 

ISIKOFF:  It‘s worth pointing out that Scooter Libby is a published novelist and, for all we know, a frustrated novelist and wants to write more and he‘s just using literary flair.  I don‘t know.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think “roots connected” means?

ISIKOFF:  He‘s just using literary flair.  I have no idea.

ALLEN:  Well, look, we have no idea what this means, but this clearly is an unusual relationship between this source and this reporter.  I didn‘t realize I should have been inviting Mr. Libby to breakfast.  I maybe would have gotten him to...

MATTHEWS:  Well, they use phrases like, “he sleeps with the fishes,” be careful. 

Anyway, thank you, Norah O‘Donnell, Michael Isikoff.  Please all come back as this week proceeds; Mike Allen.

What we know right now is the special prosecutor announced late Monday that when he makes his announcement to indict or not to indict, to report or not report, it will be here in Washington.  And we‘ll be covering. 

The media‘s coverage of the CIA leak case continues and Judith Miller‘s first-person account of what happened inside the grand jury. 

This is “Hardball” on MSNBC.

Welcome back to “Hardball.”

Judy Miller wrote a first-person account in the New York Times yesterday about her involvement with the CIA Valerie Plame leak. 

Here to tell us if it went far enough and explain the story is radio talk show host Amy Goodman from New York and San Francisco Chronicle columnist and my former colleague Debra Saunders.  She‘s out in San Francisco. 

Well, what did you all make of that long take-out? 

You first, Amy—this long take-out in the New York Times, the main bar piece by their staff and the sidebar piece by Judy Miller with her personal account of her testimony before the grand jury. 

Did you get a clear picture of the reason she went to jail after reading all that? 

GOODMAN:  Well, I mean, I have to say, it‘s completely outrageous what was explained in the pages but it is not enough, Judith Miller revealing here, although it had been reported at Editor and Publisher, that she had security clearance, that she could talk more to the military than she could to her own editors. 

We have to ask, is there a separation between the press and the state? 

And why it matters, of course, is we‘re talking about the paper of record.  This is the paper that, leading up to the invasion in 2003, beat the drums for war. 

Judith Miller continually front-paged pieces that she either authored alone or authored with people like Michael Gordon of The New York Times, repeatedly asserting weapons of mass destruction.  This is not trivial. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you saying, Amy, that she was given security clearance so that she could do the work of the White House? 

GOODMAN:  I mean, this is astounding. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that your argument? 

GOODMAN:  What she said herself is that she was given security clearance.  She said that she may have told Libby in one of her conversations with him that she couldn‘t even discuss this stuff with her editors. 

Who is she responsible to?  Ultimately, as journalists, we‘re responsible to the American people, not to the military of the United States.              

MATTHEWS:  Debra, what did you make of that long take-out piece, the long main bar, the side bar, huge amount of writing in the New York Times yesterday? 

SAUNDERS:  Well, by the way, as a journalist, I‘m responsible to my editors.  They tell me this all the time. 

You know, I found her piece was very late in coming and so was the New York Times and that was disappointing.  And there were things about it that just didn‘t work for me. 

I didn‘t understand why she decided that she would spend 85 days in jail and then, suddenly, Libby had convinced her that he wanted her to talk.  I mean, that just didn‘t work for me.

Oh, by the way, Chris, have you read his book, “The Apprentice?” 

MATTHEWS:  No. It‘s a novel? 

SAUNDERS:  Well, I‘ve read the novel.  You can‘t understand it.  So, you keep asking people about that note about the aspens.

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

SAUNDERS:  I read the whole novel; I don‘t get it.  I think it‘s also disappointing that, when she talked about it how she couldn‘t recall who told her about Valerie Flame. 

So, I think there are some problems with...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, that‘s—Judy Miller could not remember the main question here which is who‘s leaking the name and she couldn‘t remember it although she wrote it in her notebook inaccurately as Flame. 

But we all know what she was trying to say.  Obviously, she heard it,  which makes me think she heard it over the phone.  But that‘s a bit of speculation because if you‘re in the room with someone, there‘s a difference between the sound of Plame and Flame.  Over the phone, it can be muffle muffled. 

Let me go back to Amy about this question:  The conversation that was sent, the word that was sent from Scooter Libby, who‘s apparently the reason why she went to jail, Judy Miller—that was her source that‘s come out and he‘s released her in some form. 

The letter of releasing her had that weird language about the tangled roots and the joined at the roots and whatever and about how everybody else in the case had testified that he, Scooter Libby, did not give away the identity—the name or the undercover status of this person. 

Was that a knife buried in a cake going into prison like in the old prison movies, the big house movies?  It‘s basically saying, here‘s your cake; you can get out.  But in there‘s a knife.  You better do this right. 

GOODMAN:  Right.  You better say what the others said or didn‘t say.

But, I think, you know, most importantly, so people don‘t think this is some kind of insider baseball is ultimately what this has meant is that it really manufactured consent for people in this country, believing there were weapons of mass destruction, which was the pretext for going to war.  Right now, we‘re seeing over 1,900...

SAUNDERS:  This isn‘t about the war. 

MATTHEWS:  One of our guests earlier tonight said that the vice president‘s three former staffers or current staffers were being interviewed by the special prosecutor.  It turns out that just two of them were. 

Jim Wilkinson wasn‘t, but the two others, we believe, were interviewed about the role of the vice president.  So, we‘re sound on those two. 

Anyway, Amy, your final thought. 

GOODMAN:  Well, I think that the New York Times has certainly not gone far enough.  If you remember Jason Blair, they did a five full-page expose on him.  I‘m waiting for that same kind of expose—and not only Judith Miller, though she certainly is at the center of this. 

She didn‘t write these stories alone.  Editors approved them. 

Ultimately, they got on the front pages of the Times. 

Debra, are we all in agreement that this is a murky account by the Times yesterday?

SAUNDERS:  This isn‘t about Iraq.  This is—and we‘re not even sure that a crime was committed.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s right.  We don‘t know.  We‘re going to end the show with that thought.

Thank you very much, Debra Saunders, Amy Goodman. 

Join us again tomorrow night.

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