updated 10/23/2005 4:31:44 PM ET 2005-10-23T20:31:44

Guests: Jim VandeHei, Peter Wallsten, John Harwood, Charlie Black, David Gergen, Melanie Morgan, Amy Goodman

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tonight, major stories in the CIA leak investigation.

Have Karl Rove and Scooter Libby now been warned they face serious legal jeopardy?  Is Prosecutor Fitzgerald probing other leaks besides the CIA identity of Wilson‘s wife?

Finally, fear and loathing in the White House, as Bush staffers brace themselves and ponder a future without Karl Rove and Scooter Libby.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.

A fever-pitch week now of developments in the CIA leak investigation ends with heightened anticipation as special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald may well seek indictments next week.

Four big stories today tell us about the seriousness and breadth of the investigation.

Revelations about the behind the scenes behavior of Bush ramrods Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, as well as preparations inside the White House now for possible indictments.

From the “New York Times,” quote, “Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby have been advised that they may now be in serious legal jeopardy lawyers involved in the case said, but only this week has Mr. Fitzgerald begun to narrow the possible charges,” closed quote. 

Across the country, the “Los Angeles Times” reports that Scooter Libby, Cheney‘s top man, was, quote, “consumed,” closed quote, by parts of former Joseph Wilson‘s book—by Ambassador Joseph Wilson‘s book and ordered his aides to catalogue all of Wilson‘s writings and TV appearances for his personal scrutiny.  Quote, “The compendium used boldface type to call attention to certain comments by Wilson, such as one in the ‘Daily Iowan,‘ the University of Iowa student newspaper, in which Wilson was quoted as calling Cheney, quote, ‘a lying son of a bitch,‘” closed quote.

The “Wall Street Journal” reports that Fitzgerald may be digging deep.  Quote, “Lawyers and others close to the case say he may be piecing together a case that White House officials conspired to leak various types of classified material in conversations with reporters, including Ms. Plame‘s identity but also other secrets related to national security,” closed quote.

And finally, in the “Washington Post,” evidence the White House is bracing itself for a major blow.  Quote, “Senior GOP officials are developing a public relations strategy now to defend those accused of crimes and, more importantly, shield Bush from further damage, according to Republicans familiar with the plans,” closed quote.

Jim VandeHei is the lead reporter in the CIA leak investigation for the “Washington Post.” Peter Wallsten reported on the probe in today‘s “L.A. Times.” And John Harwood is the political editor for the “Wall Street Journal.”  

I‘ve got to go right now to Jim VandeHei. 

Are they truly preparing for the worst in the White House West Wing right now? 

JIM VANDEHEI, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Absolutely. 

But I think they have to prepare for the worst.  They have to have a plan for President Bush both politically and practically.  One to deal with whatever public relations fallout there would be, but another one to have a smooth transition, because Karl Rove is so central to everything that this White House does. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m stunned by the knowledge or the notion that your report

we‘ll see how hard it is—that the White House is thinking of defending people who were indicted. 

Doesn‘t that expose the president to becoming part of the problem in the public light? 

VANDEHEI:  I think it depends what those charges are and what the defense is.

I think mostly they want to be able to have some kind of P.R. strategy in place to defend the president himself, probably separate him from the charges and try to get him to move on to different issue as quickly as possible, and then if there are already holes in whatever they see in the indictment, then be able to defend, say, Karl Rove or Scooter Libby or anyone else who might be involved in this. 

MATTHEWS:  But doesn‘t that make them look defiant of the special prosecutor? 

VANDEHEI:  I think it depends how it‘s handled.  I mean, there‘s two sides to the P.R.  One, if you basically take—it would be almost impossible for them to just take on the special prosecutor, because the president himself has said this has been a very dignified process, and they have been very laudatory of how he‘s handled this. 

So it would be hard for them to go at him and say, “Oh, this has been a politically-motivated campaign.” 

So I think if they are talking about defending the president, I think that‘s probably doable. 

If you are talking about defending anyone that‘s indicted, that‘s very difficult, particularly in this political climate. 

MATTHEWS:  Before we go into your reports John and Peter, have you heard anything about White House preparations to actually defend against the charges, if there are indictments? 

JOHN HARWOOD, “WALL STREET JOURNAL” POLITICAL EDITOR:  No. 

But I suspect there will be a two-track strategy.  There will be a formal White House offense and there will be the sort of outside commentary on the right, which I think will hinder—will go directly to the issue of whether criminalizing policy difference is what this is all about. 

MATTHEWS:  So they‘ll have their out writers go out and say, “Hey, this is nothing.  This is chicken.  This isn‘t serious business.” 

HARWOOD:  I think that‘s right. 

And remember, this is a president whose father pardoned some of the Iran-Contra defendants.  And I think the White House is not averse to challenging the—some of these prosecutions. 

MATTHEWS:  Usually you let the indictments and the criminal action continue, and then (inaudible) when nobody is thinking about it anymore, usually four or five years later, then you pardon. 

Let me ask you, Peter.

PETER WALLSTEN, “LOS ANGELES TIMES”:  Well, don‘t forget also that they would be engaging in this campaign without Karl Rove, who is the center of everything and usually is the one engineering these kind of campaigns, and also without their counsel, without Harriet Miers, who is involved in her own...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So they don‘t have much of a palace guard left, do they? 

WALLSTEN:  Right.  That‘s what it seems like.  And there are people who are worried about. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to you John, and this whole idea that—in your paper today, which was a big report, that this may be a conspiracy charge. 

How does your paper lay that out? 

HARWOOD:  Well, it‘s not easy to prove a violation of the leaking of a CIA agent.  The law is written to make it very difficult to prove.  You have to know that the person was covert and deliberately released that. 

There are a couple of ways the—Fitzgerald could go alternatively.  One is a grand conspiracy charge, which would be a very large roll of the dice for him, because big conspiracies aren‘t easy to prove. 

But there is a small ball way to do it, sort of the prosecutorial equivalent of a jay walking charge, by saying you were discussing classified information.  That happens a lot in Washington.  But just because it happens a lot, doesn‘t mean you can‘t prove it against somebody if you do have some evidence of it. 

MATTHEWS:  But there‘s not much octane to that kind of a charge, because we‘ve seen recently with the case involving Lawrence—what‘s the fellow‘s name? 

HARWOOD:  Franklin. 

MATTHEWS:  Lawrence Franklin over at the Defense Department, that‘s a plea bargain sort of charge.  That‘s what you plea to when you want to just move it aside and take a slight slap on the wrist, isn‘t it? 

HARWOOD:  Well, I think the octane comes from two different things.

One is we‘re talking about an issue related to the presence or lack of presence of WMD in Iraq.  That‘s the larger backdrop to the story.

And the second thing is we‘re talking about an administration that said from the beginning that nobody in the White House was involved in the discussion of Plame‘s identity.  That‘s been pretty well shown not to be the case. 

MATTHEWS:  So any indictment you believe would carry weight? 

HARWOOD:  I think any indictment would carry weight in that larger context. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to you, Peter, and the whole question of the obsession that you reported. 

Scooter Libby is a guy that only people in Washington have heard of until a couple of weeks ago.  He‘s the incredibly powerful chief of staff and national security adviser and WMD adviser to the most powerful vice president in history. 

WALLSTEN:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  Agreed?  Right, we can all stipulate that.

So why was he obsessed with Joe Wilson? 

WALLSTEN:  Well, he‘s very protective of Cheney and the Cheney family, and he was consumed with the fact that Joe Wilson, they believed, was tying his mission to a request that Cheney had made, which upset them very much. 

And they also felt that Joe Wilson was a partisan, and they felt that, that wasn‘t being...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, both of those facts are true, by the way. 

WALLSTEN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  He is a Democrat and he did keep saying over and over again, I went to Africa at the behest, in fact, you know, at the orders basically of the vice president, when, in fact, the vice president—people thought there was no connection at all at the time this was going, between the vice president, inquiry about a possible deal in Niger and the Wilson trip to Niger. 

WALLSTEN:  That‘s right.

But what our report showed I think that is significant is that Scooter Libby was not only consumed with this—with Joe Wilson in 2003, which is what we all knew, but that his obsession, some described it to us as being, was in effect through 2004, through the time that we even knew that Fitzgerald was investigating the leak.

And that‘s something that I don‘t think we knew before, nor did we before have clear evidence of what was going on in the White House. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You make it sound like that guy—the guy Russell Crowe plays in “A Beautiful Mind,” the guy out in his garage with all these clippings, these incredible walls of clippings, right, and he‘s got them all on Joe Wilson. 

WALLSTEN:  Well, and we‘re told that he‘s this way about lots of issues, and that‘s why—that‘s one of the reasons why the vice president has grown to depend on him so much, is that he is that smart and zealous...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... you don‘t play hardball to the point that you break the law and get caught doing it.

And here‘s the question, have you in your reporting been able to decouple the vice president from his chief of staff?  All this obsession by a chief of staff would be not unnoticed by the boss. 

WALLSTEN:  That‘s true. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What‘s that big looseleaf book you got there, Scooter? 

What do you got in there?

(LAUGHTER)

WALLSTEN:  He is known as Cheney‘s Cheney.  They‘re together all the time.  Scooter Libby is at the vice president‘s residence every morning and sometimes rides with him in the motorcade. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Jim, I want you to try to put together the two reports we just had briefings on.  One is the idea of a conspiracy charge coming down the road perhaps next week, and maybe in the form of a charge and indictment regarding the Espionage Act, or something else, or some new notion of conspiracy we haven‘t heard about yet in the law.

But then put that together with an obsession by the vice president‘s office with nailing Joe Wilson.  How do you have a conspiracy charge that doesn‘t include the guy whose office it is that the conspiracy is hatched in? 

VANDEHEI:  Right. 

I mean, that obsession would have to have happened, at least in the legal context, before the name became public.  I mean, that‘s where it really is important. 

And Peter‘s report was fantastic because it showed in detail we had never seen before that—about how committed he was to try and to discredit Wilson‘s allegation. 

Now the question is, How committed was he in that month or two before?  And we know that the vice president‘s office has been so central to this case because Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney and everyone else was trying to, A, defend the war and then justify the intelligence that they used. 

What we still don‘t know is, A, where did Scooter Libby find out about Valerie Plame; where did he find about her covert status?  And then, who are these guys talking to?

To get that conspiracy you have to have White House officials, before the name becomes public, talking about it, sharing information, talking about outing that, and that‘s important.  We don‘t know that that‘s been proved yet.

MATTHEWS:  Which paper was it, the “New York Times” or your paper, where I read a direct quote from Scooter Libby?  And this is in the context of a conspiracy and in the context of an obsession by Scooter Libby.  Putting it to the vice president here where he says, quote, “I went into the vice president‘s office on July 18th to ask him for his counsel and how to deal with the press questions raised from Joe Wilson.”

How can you not read that as we had a war counsel on how to deal with this enemy? 

VANDEHEI:  They certainly, probably, talk about all these issues.  The question is, sort of, what level of detail did Cheney have on that conversation.  Was there actually discussion about, you know, one way of dealing with this would be to talk about the connection between him and his CIA wife. 

(CROSSTALK)    

MATTHEWS:  Let me just try to nulls that argument.  We‘re to believe that he went into the boss and said what do you want me to do with this Joe Wilson, who is out there hosing us every day, using various people in “The Washington Post” or whatever he‘s doing and you think the vice president said, oh, don‘t do anything? 

VANDEHEI:  We don‘t know.  I mean, that‘s what Fitzgerald has to find out.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, well, OK.

VANDEHEI:  Until we know that answer...

(CROSSTALK)    

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with Jim VandeHei, Peter Wallsten, and John Harwood, as we try to put these late-breaking reports together.

And later, inside the White House, how the possibility of indictments is wearing down this Bush administration, or is it?  Is the president coming back? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up who does Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald have in his sights in the CIA leak investigation?  HARDBALL returns after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

As the CIA leak investigation winds down, we think, we have a few new wrinkles on HARDBALL.  New information has come to light that suggests the probe may have expanded to the Bush administration‘s use of pre-war intelligence.  HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has more—David. 

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, we have received some indications tonight that Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is conducting a much broader, more wide-ranging investigation than previously thought, one that touches on how the administration argued for an invasion of Iraq. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER (voice-over):  Some sources confirm that Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald requested and received an Italian Government report on forged documents, the Bush administration relied on to help make the case for war with Iraq. 

The telexes, letters, and contracts reported to show Iraq sought uranium from Niger.  They surfaced in October 2002, seven months after the CIA, as a result of Joe Wilson‘s trip to Niger, had dismissed the claims,  but just as the administration was ratcheting up fears Iraq was a nuclear threat and was seeking uranium. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud. 

SHUSTER:  The Italian Government report concludes, any expert on Niger would have quickly realized the October 2002, which were brought to Washington, were fake. 

And according to Italian sources, the sealed portions of the report conclude, the fraudulent papers were created by associates of Ahmed Chalabi.  Chalabi ran the exiled Iraqi National Congress, a favorite of Bush administration hawks, including Vice President Cheney and his chief of staff, Scooter Libby. 

And it was Chalabi‘s Iraqi scientists who fed bogus information to the administration, which was passed on, in part, to Congress. 

Legal experts say Fitzgerald‘s interest in the forged documents suggest he could be considering wide-ranging charges related to White House actions before the war. 

SOL WISENBERG, FMR, DEP. INDEPENDENT COUNSEL:  When you go to Congress and you say this is why you should declare war or authorize the president to engage in military behavior, military conduct, and you were to lie about that, that‘s very serious. 

SHUSTER:  Whether the charges being considered are conspiracy, obstruction of justice, perjury, or violations of the espionage act, the president‘s top adviser, Karl Rove and the vice president‘s chief of staff, Scooter Libby have now been advised by lawyers in the investigation that they face serious legal jeopardy. 

And legal sources tell MSNBC that prosecutors have evidence showing the White House interest in Joe Wilson as early as March 2003, four months before reporters revealed his wife worked at the CIA. 

Wilson appeared on CNN just before the war with Iraq began and was asked about the International Atomic Energy Agency.  The IAEA had concluded the Niger documents used by the Bush administration were fraudulent.  Wilson said it was stupid for the U.S. government not to have concluded that as well. 

Wilson‘s television appearance and comments infuriated the vice president‘s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, according to a source who spoke with prosecutors.  And it suggests prosecutors may be looking at a timeline for White House actions against Wilson that extend from before the war began through July, when Wilson first publicly revealed what the U.S.  government did not find in Africa the year before. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  A longer timeline means a greater chance that prosecutors are looking not just at the smearing of Wilson and his wife, but other issues possibly related to classified information as well, issues that may get to the heart of how the Bush administration went to war. 

And Chris, if you want to try and read the tea leaves, the prosecutor in this case, Patrick Fitzgerald, has just established a new web site. 

This is a web site dedicated specifically to this case, his spokesman, Randall Sanborn, says that we shouldn‘t read too much into this.  This is a long overdue effort to get something on the Internet. 

But it‘s worth pointing out, Chris, that Fitzgerald likes to announce his indictments.  At least, until now, he has liked to do it on his U.S.  Attorney‘s web site associated with the U.S. Attorney‘s office in Chicago, and perhaps there is some significance to the fact that he would decide now to establish a web site specifically for this case—Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.

We‘re back right now with Jim VandeHei, “The Washington Post,” Peter Wallsten of “The L.A. Times,” and John Harwood of “The Wall Street Journal.” 

John, you first, what would be the significance of evidence as David reported if that gets to the special prosecutor, that the surveillance, you must have to call it, of Scooter Libby of Joe Wilson began a couple of weeks before we went to war and extended all the way through July.  Does that make it more of a deliberate effort to hurt this guy? 

HARWOOD:  Well, if people in the administration knew that Joe Wilson was going around town, crashing the evidence for going to war in Iraq and undertook to undercut him, that would make it easier for Fitzgerald to bring charges. 

I tell you what would we shocking though, Chris, if, as David suggested in that report, if they are actually considering charges related to the falsification of evidence provided to Congress as a basis for the war, that would be an earthquake in Washington.

It‘s politically damaging already and the administration had felt the effects of it, but if that‘s made as a legal charge, that is something to see.

MATTHEWS:  And also, it makes it a worldwide story.

HARWOOD:  Oh, there‘s no doubt about it.

MATTHEWS:  Because anything that impeaches the evidence that we used to go to war, when we used a WMD piece of it, especially to try to sell Europe, and that‘s impeached by this question, whether it was illegally defended that argument. 

HARWOOD:  We have huge diplomatic (inaudible). 

WALLSTEN:  Well, and the story jumps from a story about White House aides to a story about decision-making by the president and the administration and going to war and what has really been the basis for this presidency since 9/11.  It would raise the kinds of questions like Howard Dean might have run a presidential campaign on and not be taken seriously.

MATTHEWS:  You have Al Jazeera waiting out there an certainly Agence France press and even reporters waiting to nail this president.  Let me go right now to Jim.  This potential of a long-running, several months long vendetta, you might call, against Joe Wilson.  Is that more legal matter, more weaponry for the prosecutor? 

VANDEHEI:  I think so.  We‘ve been able to confirm through our reporting that at least two months before his name became public the vice president‘s office had been making inquiries with the CIA about Wilson‘s trip.  And then a month before both the National Security Council and the vice president‘s office were making inquiries about Wilson himself.

If I can go back to the point you guys were just talking about, you know, we shouldn‘t hyperventilate too much about that report, about asking for those forged documents, because this guy is a very thorough investigator who may be trying to get all of these different pieces of information to have a full portrait so that he can base his indictments or whatever findings he has based on that.

It would be shocking, and I think we would all be totally surprised if he was going to go above and beyond what his license was here and that was to look at whether anyone knowingly leaked the identify of Plame, to go back and look at pre-war intelligence and did Bush mislead the American people into war.  I mean, that would be breathtaking. 

MATTHEWS:  Jim, he has had two years to be breathtaking, though, right? 

VANDEHEI:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a long time just to do the narrow scope of investigation he was given the commission to do.  He‘s obviously looking at prosecution...

VANDEHEI:  A lot of that was waiting time.  A lot of it was trying to wait out Judith Miller. 

So there again, I don‘t know if we can read that much into the waiting... 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you to do some reading now that we‘re right here.  What do you make of the fact that he said he‘s going to make his announcement here in Washington, he set up a Web site?  Is the curtain raising for a dramatic press conference next Wednesday after meeting with the grand jury here? 

VANDEHEI:  I don‘t know why you would set up an Internet site unless you have information to put on there.  If he‘s just going to fold up tent and say there are no indictments, you probably don‘t need a Web site to say that.  And also, there‘s a lot of lawyers in the case who say why make the announcement in Washington with the grand jury there if you‘re not going to have something to say or some indictments to lay down?  But then again, like everything, and not be an innocuous explanation for both of us.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s finish on one big question. and if you don‘t it just say so.  Do we know that he‘s foreclosed the idea or he foreclosed from a report rather than a set of indictments?  You first, Jim. 

VANDEHEI:  I don‘t know that definitively. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you?

WALLSTEN:  I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  I read the reports.  Now everybody sort it threw it out, and now we don‘t know.  It could be anything.  Could be a report, could be nothing, it could be a set of indictments, it could be highly dramatic, it could be a resounding tinkle. 

Anyway, thank you, Jim VandeHei, Peter Wallsten and John Harwood.  We‘ll be back with much more on the CIA leak case later in this show.  When we return, a few minutes on the eye of the hurricane.  We have Florida Senator Bill Nelson up there in the plane, the hurricane hunter, right in the eye of the hurricane.  And then we‘ll be back to this hot story on HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘ll have more on this CIA leak investigation coming up in just a few minutes.  But first we have Florida‘s Democratic Senator Bill Nelson talking to us live on the phone aboard a hurricane hunter airplane that‘s flying through Hurricane Wilma which is hammering Mexico‘s Yucatan peninsula at this very moment. 

Senator Nelson, what can you learn up there in that vehicle up there in the middle of the hurricane? 

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA:  Well, I just lost him in the middle of the interview. 

MATTHEWS:  Senator, Senator Nelson, can you hear me?  Senator Nelson? 

NELSON:  Chris, I hear you now. 

MATTHEWS:  Great.  What are you learning up there, in the experience of being in the eye of the hurricane at X-many thousand feet in the air? 

NELSON:  We are at 4,2,000 feet.  We are dropping these instrumented packages called Sun with a shoot. They send back signals real-time with data on the winds, the atmosphere, the speed, that is collected in the on-board computers on this Gulf Stream Four, and then that is beamed back real-time to the National Hurricane Center, and they then feed that information into those models, and so the models that have been so uncannily accurate, all of that is as a result of the data that‘s being collected from these kinds of flights. 

MATTHEWS:  Is Hurricane Wilma anything like their sister hurricanes, Katrina and Rita? 

NELSON:  Oh, it was even more intense, Chris.  It got up to 175 miles per hour.  Right now, it‘s battering Cozumel at 140 miles per hour.  It has slowed down and expected to linger 24 hours over land so that‘s going to slow it down as well.  And it is going to slow down the wind speed as well. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘ve got to go right now in a second.  But how is your state prepared for this, the state of Florida? 

NELSON:  The state of Florida is prepared.  Unfortunately, we have been through a lot of hurricanes but that means that we‘re prepared. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  How does this compare to being up in space? 

NELSON:  Well, I‘m only at 42,000 feet on this airplane.  Then I was 203 miles up. 

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Good luck getting back from the hurricane.  Senator Bill Nelson from Florida, trying to get an advanced word on the hurricane headed towards his state. 

Up next, inside the Bush White House.  What is the president‘s team doing in advance of possible indictments in the CIA leak case?  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Members of President Bush‘s inner circle have been with him since he was governor of Texas.  What toll has the CIA leak investigation taken on this close-knit group?  Joining us now is MSNBC‘s chief Washington Correspondent, Norah O‘Donnell. 

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Chris.  Well worry that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald may be looking at whether top White House aides are involved in a cover up, senior Republicans are developing a public relations strategy to defend those accused of crimes.  One other issue that they are talking about is a potential White House staff shakeup to replace Rove and/or Libby and other staff that may be simply burned out. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  Today, the president toured the Ronald Reagan library in California.  There were storm clouds in Washington as everyone awaits word from special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald.  Privately, Republicans acknowledge they are contemplating the unimaginable, a Bush presidency without Karl Rove. 

LANNY DAVIS, FMR. WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL:  I cannot overstate the palpable fear and anxiety that must be going on today by people working in the White House. 

O‘DONNELL:  Even the president seemed to acknowledge the investigation is a distraction. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There is some background noise here. 

O‘DONNELL:  Already, senior White House officials are exploring staff changes to address broader structural problems, like the sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina, and the bungled nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. 

LEON PANETTA, FMR. CLINTON CHIEF OF STAFF:  This is really a point in time where the chief of staff, someone in the White House is going to have to exert some tremendous discipline because thing can fall apart real fast. 

O‘DONNELL:  But some Republicans worry that fatigue may also be one reason the White House has stumbled recently. 

BUSH:  I‘m mindful that working in the White House is really—is exhausting work. 

O‘DONNELL:  Andy Card has served longer than any chief of staff in half a century, five years of a punishing 24-7 schedule. 

ANDY CARD, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF:  I get up at 4:20.  My wife wakes up with me and we have breakfast together and I‘m usually in the White House at my desk at 5:30 a.m. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What time go you go home?  ,

CARD:  I usually get home about 8:30, 9:00. 

O‘DONNELL:  Others, including Rove, Libby, White House Counselor Dan Barlett, Counsel Harriet Miers, and Press Secretary Scott McClellan have worked full-time since the beginning of the Bush White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  Now, given there may be potential burnout and certainly that this investigation weighs heavily on the White House, no one is talking about publicly any White House shakeup.  But there has been a discussion outside of the White House from other Republican strategists that talked to people inside the White House about some names that would pop up about people that could head to the White House for full-time jobs, if needed, including former Republican National Committee Chair Ed Gillespie, who has been working on the nominations of not only Roberts but also Miers. 

He would have a top job, some say, inrMD+IN_rMDNM_ the White House.  Also, the president‘s counselor, Dan Bartlett, could be promoted and his portfolio expanded.  And there‘s also talks that the current Republican National Committee Chair, Ken Mehlman, could also return to the White House in some form of a political role.  He, of course, is very close to Karl Rove—Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Norah O‘Donnell.  Charlie Black is a Republican strategist an David Gergen has served as an adviser to four presidents.  Let me go to Charlie, who is sitting with me right now.  What strikes me in these reports, including Norah‘s, is that there is already talk of defending people after they are indicted.  Why would a president or his party want to get involved in playing defense once somebody has been indicted? 

CHARLIE BLACK, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  I don‘t know that they are.  I mean, it‘s like all this gossip and the parlor game that you and the other distinguished journalists are playing about speculating what is the special prosecutor going to do?  We don‘t have a clue what the special prosecutor is going to do and, as Norah said, there‘s talk about staff shakeups or PR plans outside the White House.  It‘s gossip and a parlor game that a lot of people are playing but the people in the White House aren‘t doing it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s not exactly gossip about who is sleeping with who.  We‘re talking about the future of the presidency, and we‘re talking about the fact that there‘s a special prosecutor commissioned now who‘s been taking testimony for two years.  And he put a reporter in jail for 85 days.  This isn‘t gossip.  These are realities we‘re dealing with.  I‘ve never seen anything like this, Charlie, what‘s going on right now, in terms of an investigation of the White House itself. 

BLACK:  Well, you must have slept through the Clinton years then, Chris, but listen ...

MATTHEWS:  What do you mean?

BLACK:  That‘s gossip.

MATTHEWS:  OK, David.  Now that you‘re laughing let him respond.  You

there‘s a simple difference here.  The prosecution here is of all the people, the top people around the president.  They are the ones being called back again and again to this grand jury.  They are the ones that all lawyers for whom are leaking all this stuff.  It‘s not gossip.  Most of the stuff in the newspapers ...

BLACK:  I didn‘t say that was gossip.

MATTHEWS:  ... is coming directly from the lawyers for these people who are being investigated. 

BLACK:  But the question about PR plans, plans to defend people if they are indicted, staff shakeups is all gossip coming from outside the White House.  That‘s what I said.

MATTHEWS:  Who are these people that are talking to the press then, these senior counselors, these advisers close to the president?  You know they‘re attributed.

BLACK:  Well, I don‘t know, but when the White House has big PR plans, I‘m usually in on them, and I haven‘t heard a word. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s news.  That‘s news.  Thank you.  We need that stuff. 

BLACK:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, let‘s go to David Gergen.  David, the question here about the president—on a two front here, he has to prepare for the need for possible substitutes.  How does he do that without it leaking out that he is doing something like that which would undermine, perhaps, the morale of those who might get nailed next week? 

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ADVISER:  Well, I think that Charlie Black is absolutely right.  We don‘t know for sure what‘s going to happen, and I think the president would be well-advised not to have those kind of discussions about replacements until after we see what the prosecutor does. 

It is worth noting, however, that the “New York Times” reported, according to sources close to them, that both Scooter Libby and Karl Rove have now been told that they are in serious legal jeopardy, which seems to be code word for that they may now have gotten a letter saying they are a target of the investigation.  Now, that‘s a real step up, of course, and it is more serious. 

Now, we‘ll have to wait and see, though, and I don‘t think the president nor anybody in the White House should be speculating until the indictments are done. 

Once—if there are indictments, and I underscore if, then he‘s going to need to do a shake up and he‘ll need to do that very, very rapidly. 

My own take on it is—and I would be interested in Charlie‘s—I don‘t think that it‘s right to blame Andy Card for some of this or some of other people around him, but I do think that these are burnout jobs. 

Jim Baker, who in my judgment—was Reagan‘s first chief of staff, used to say that—and was the best chief of staff in my judgment in about 30 or 40 years—used to say it was about a two-year job, it‘s about a two-year—because it is such a burnout job. 

And Andy‘s been there a long time.

It does seem to me, regardless of how the indictments go, they ought to be thinking about whether they need some fresh blood in there. 

MATTHEWS:  Does Andy want to be secretary of the Treasury?

I think Andy wants to do whatever the president wants him to do.

BLACK:  Andy has always been a hard worker, a workhorse in every job he has ever had. 

I don‘t think it‘s very wise speculation to say if something goes wrong, it‘s because Andy or the other staff are tired.  I really don‘t believe that. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You know, Charlie, you keep saying speculation, but we have the lawyer for Karl Rove, Luskin, Bob Luskin out there telling the press, he‘s telling the press—the lawyer for Karl Rove—that Karl Rove found out about Mrs. Wilson, Valerie Plame, from Scooter Libby.

So it‘s getting hot enough for these people to be pointing the finger at the other guy.  That‘s what‘s going on right now.  So it‘s not all speculation.

(CROSSTALK)

BLACK:  Finding out about her is not a crime. 

What we know on the public record, the conversations that Karl and Scooter had with reporters, trying to prevent them from writing stories that were erroneous is not a crime.  Actually, it‘s a public service to the reporters they were talking to. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BLACK:  We don‘t know if anybody committed a crime.  Maybe we‘ll know this time next week. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it‘s just political hardball to put out the word that a guy may have gotten a trip to Niger as a kind of a boondoggle rather than a serious investigation to find out whether there was a nuclear threat from Saddam Hussein? 

BLACK:  No. 

But the issue there—there were two issues there. 

Wilson was telling people the vice president sent him to Niger.  That was a lie.  He‘s a documented liar, a documented...

(CROSSTALK)

BLACK:  ... that his report demonstrated that the Iraq-Niger connection was false.  His report did not establish that. 

The White House was obligated to correct those two issues.  That‘s all they were trying to.

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s the problem, just so we‘re on this point. 

Joseph Wilson put out the word—Joseph Wilson, Ambassador Joseph Wilson—that he was sent on the trip by Cheney.  He wasn‘t, because Cheney never knew there was any connection between Cheney‘s inquiry and the decision by the CIA to send Wilson on the trip. 

But it turns out that Wilson was sent on that trip because of the vice president‘s inquiry about the possibility of Saddam Hussein buying nuclear materials from Niger. 

That‘s the great irony of this.  They were both in the dark on what the other was up to. 

We‘ll be right back with Charlie Black and David Gergen.

And a reminder, the political debate is ongoing on Hardblogger, our political blog Web site.  And now you can download podcasts of HARDBALL—a new phrase for us all.  Just go to our Web site, hardball.msnbc.com. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Republican strategist Charlie Black and former presidential adviser David Gergen. 

David, you don‘t have the advantage of sitting here like Charlie does,

but somebody just walked in here, one of the producers of this program came

in here with, hot off the press, Senate talking points from the Republicans

I guess the RNC—about—it‘s called Joe Wilson‘s 10-day speaking tour.  And it‘s basically a poop sheet—I mean, with more than one meaning of that word—describing what Wilson is all about. 

Now, here is a quote just right off the—this is what the Republicans (inaudible) say about this fellow, the former ambassador who‘s so much a heart of this story.  Quote, “Some in the audience urged him”—that was Wilson—“to run for political office, but Wilson said he had been a true child of the ‘60s and had,” quote, “too many wives and taken too many drugs, and yes, I did inhale.”

(LAUGHTER)

I mean, this is the kind of stuff on here.

What do you make of the White House in the midst of an investigation of whether they have used too much hardball tactics going after a guy to continue to use these tactics to smear the guy? 

GERGEN:  Pathetic. 

(LAUGHTER)

BLACK:  It‘s the RNC, it‘s not the White House.

GERGEN:  Yes, exactly.  And I think that‘s a point well taken.

But I do think a story the White House ought to take note off is the UPI story out today saying that Joe Wilson and his wife are thinking about filing a civil suit against anybody indicted.  That‘s just going to complicate this and make this more drawn out, as everybody knows. 

And...

MATTHEWS:  Can you sue the government for an official business matter? 

I‘m not sure you can. 

GERGEN:  Well, I don‘t know what his legal standing would be for that, but if he could get himself into a courtroom and subpoena people and get depositions and that sort of thing, you know, which is apparently what the indictments will not—if there are indictments, if I underscore, are indictments next week, we understand there will be no report that will go with it.

This would start, begin to flesh out the story and just draw out the story.  We all know how the Paula Jones thing went on and on and on.  And so these—this has a legal—these are legal tentacles that stretch out. 

And I think from Charlie‘s point of view, I think, there‘s some real -

you can connect up the dots the damage here.  There‘s a very definite connection between the distraction coming from this leak investigation and the clumsiness of handling the Miers‘ nomination. 

MATTHEWS:  Are either of you two fellows, veterans as you are, available for service to come in here as a fireman and put out this fire for the White House, Charlie, are you... 

BLACK:  No, no, no, nobody is going to ask me to do that, but I‘ll keep coming on HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, thank you very.  Dave you served four presidents, here is another book, served five presidents.  Are you ready to come in from the bullpen and put out the other side on this one? 

GERGEN:  No, thank you.  And Charlie Black, will guarantee you, that call will never come, thankfully, and I will not be—that is not going to happen. 

But let me just tell you, I do think that—I have a very high regard for Ed Gillespie, whose name is floating now, and I think he would be a very good person inside the White House, as would Ken Mehlman. 

But in this situation, in addition to Gillespie or Mehlman, I think Chris, they ought to be about a former senator, someone with a real stature... 

MATTHEWS:  Fred Thompson. 

GERGEN:  ...someone from the conservative—Fred Thompson comes to mind because he comes out of the conservative community.  They need somebody who is strong with the base. 

(CROSSTALK)    

MATTHEWS:  How about Fred Thompson to bring law and order back to the White House.  Thank you, Charlie Black.  Thank you, David Gergen. 

When we return, radio talk show hosts, Melanie Morgan and Amy Goodman, on this leak matter that‘s getting hotter and it will end next week.

And tonight on “Rita Cosby, Live and Direct” Congressman Tom DeLay is going to be there, who made his first court appearance today, as he faces charges of conspiracy and money laundering.  That‘s Tom DeLay on Rita Cosby at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. 

This is HARDBALL on only MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK

MATTHEWS:  The president says that the, quote, “background noise”, close quote, of the CIA leak investigation and Tom DeLay‘s indictment in Texas are not getting in the way of his second-term planning. 

We‘re joined right now by radio talk shows hosts, Melanie Morgan and Amy Goodman, she‘s the radio host of Democracy Now.

Let‘s go to Melanie, first of all.  Melanie, you were over in Iraq recently and I know you care a great deal, perhaps more than many other Americans, about the situation there. 

Is this prosecution of the White House over the leak scandal, is it going to kill the case or weaken the case for war because of all the questions it raises about the WMD arguments made before the war? 

MELANIE MORGAN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  No.  I don‘t think so, Chris.  I think this is just an inside the Washington belt way kind of game that people like you are heating up and others at “The Washington Post” and “The New York Times.”

I can tell you right now, that people outside of Washington don‘t give a rat‘s rear about what‘s going on until and unless there are indictments. 

MATTHEWS:  If there are indictments, is it the responsibility of the press to talk about what might be the basis for those indictments? 

MORGAN:  Well, yes, of course it is.  But right now, it‘s just speculation and I‘d like to say one other thing.  I want to know why the president‘s turned its attention on Valerie Wilson and her husband, Joseph Wilson and speculated endlessly about whether or not they might face indictment because Joe Wilson did lie. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, well, let me ask you this.  Why do you think Scooter -

rather the lawyer for Karl Rove, who‘s been talked about for months now with regard to this investigation, why he‘s come out all of a sudden, and told the press that the person who told his guy, Karl Rove, about the identity of Valerie Plame was the other guy who‘s most in the press about this, Scooter Libby.

Why are they turning on each other? 

MORGAN:  I don‘t think they are.  I think it‘s all just chatter, chatter, chatter.  And nobody is really paying...

MATTHEWS:  By his lawyer, is chatter?

MORGAN:  No, you know, it‘s covering your rear end kind of chatter.  That‘s what‘s going on, nobody knows.  The fact of the matter is nobody knows what‘s going on inside that grand jury room and they really won‘t know until we hear something definitive from Patrick Fitzgerald. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me go to Amy. Do you agree that this just chatter and noise? 

AMY GOODMAN, PACIFICA RADIO:  I think what‘s important here is what‘s going to be happening at about the same time as the decision is handed down around indictments. 

There‘s going to be a major protest all over the country called by United for Peace and Justice.  At the time that the number reaches 2,000 of soldiers, U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq, and it directly links to what we‘re talking about today.

What happened with the Bush administration...

MORGAN:  It sounds like you are almost celebrating that.

GOODMAN:  What happened with the Bush administration is that they went after people who dared to speak out and challenged the evidence that there were weapons of mass destruction. 

That was Joe Wilson‘s crime.  He was brought in by the administration to investigate whether Saddam Hussein was getting nuclear weapons.  He came back and he said, no, that was not told to the American people and at a certain point, he said, we‘ve got to expose this lie. 

Then the administration went after him and they exposed him and they exposed his wife, Valerie Plame, who ironically, was an undercover CIA agent, who in fact was investigating weapons of mass destruction.  And “The New York Times”...

MORGAN:  Allegedly was an undercover agent.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Melanie.  Please. Melanie. 

MORGAN:  She allegedly was an undercover agent.  That‘s a part of the whole story that nobody‘s really talking about because that‘s where a crime would have taken place if there was one and whether or not somebody knowingly, knowingly released that information.  This whole thing is just ridiculous and I really have to say...

GOODMAN:  There‘s nothing ridiculous about this. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Melanie, I‘ve never heard this before.  Are you questioning whether Valerie Plame was an undercover agent? 

MORGAN:  There are a lot of people who are saying that she was already exposed.  She had outed herself as an agent...

MATTHEWS:  No, I think her status was undercover.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, please come back.  The fact is she‘s an undercover agent.  Thank you, Amy and thank you, Melanie. 

Right now it‘s time, let‘s move it up for the “Abram‘s Report” with Dan Abrams.

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