updated 10/25/2005 9:20:24 AM ET 2005-10-25T13:20:24

Guests: Tony Blankley, Tom DeFrank, Michael Isikoff, Jeffrey Goldberg, Dick Sauber

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  In Washington, where no one‘s ever late for a hanging, the sky is grim and cloudy.  The mood, a tangy marange of maudlin and giddy.  The president today called the CIA leak probe a very serious investigation, is reported to be cranky and bitter, pointing blame at his top aides and the vice president who he has reported to have said got too deep into the intel use to sell the Iraq war.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews coming to you tonight from new York.

President Bush is fighting a war on two fronts this week.  The war in Iraq delivered deadly news today as three suicide bombers in a coordinated attack on the hotel that houses journalists killed at least 15 people.  And president Bush‘s political war at home rages on as the CIA advances towards possible indictments of top White House officials.

The roots of these two wars are entangled as the CIA leak investigation was triggered by reports that a White House Iraq group that pushed the WMD case for war, secretly strategized to smear former ambassador Joe Wilson.  And in doing so, outed his wife Valerie Plame, a covert spy for the CIA.  Today, both wars appeared to be going badly. 

HARDBALL‘S David Shuster has the latest. 

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, we have heard this a number of different ways today, but the most distinct version came this morning from the “New York Times” which reported that the president‘s top visor, Karl Rove and the vice president‘s chief of staff, Scooter Libby have now been advised they are in legal jeopardy.  This comes as at a crucial phase in this case at a time when there is every indication that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is ready to go back to his grand jury to seek criminal charges. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER (voice-over):  It‘s the development the Bush administration has long feared, after two years, lawyers say Patrick Fitzgerald is prepared to conclude his investigation and has indicated White House officials may soon be indicted.  Legal sources say the prosecutors has been communicating with lawyers representing Karl Rove, Scooter Libby and others. 

What have the attorneys been talking about?  Rove lawyer told the Reuters news agency, quote, “I‘m just not going to comment on any possible interactions with Fitzgerald.” 

From the beginning, Fitzgerald has been trying to determine if anybody in the White House broke the law when officials told reporters, including the “New York Times” Judy Miller and “Time” magazine‘s Matt Cooper that the wife of administration critic Joe Wilson worked at the CIA. 

Fitzgerald has also been examining, however, efforts to possibly thwart the grand jury investigation.  And on his Web site unveiled last week, Fitzgerald‘s office now prominently features a February, 2004, Justice Department letter giving the prosecutor the authority to pursue, quote, “federal crimes committed in the course of and with the intent to interfere with your investigation such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence and intimidation of witnesses.” 

SOL WISENBERG, FRM. DEP. INDEPENDENT COUNSEL:  Sometimes people cover up because it‘s a natural political instinct, otherwise because they have got reason to.  And I can‘t think of any good reason for outing an undercover agent of your own country. 

In a preview of how Republicans might counter indictments, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison said on “Meet the Press” that charges relating to the investigation, not the original subject, should be pushed aside. 

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHINSON, ® TEXAS:  I certainly hope that if there is going to be an indictment, but says something happened, but if there is an indictment that says that something happened, that it is an indictment on a crime, and not some perjury technicality where they couldn‘t indict on the crime, and so they go to something just to show that their two years of investigation was not a waste of time and taxpayer dollars. 

SHUSTER:  But during the impeachment trial of President Clinton, it was Senator Hutchison who said, quote, “the reason that I voted to remove him from office is because I think the overriding issue here is that truth will remain the standard for perjury and obstruction of justice in our criminal justice system, and it must not be gray.  It must not be muddy.” 

And nevermind other Republican comments six years ago about the significance of perjury and obstruction of justice.  Some members of the GOP say the president himself has made it tough for any criticism of Fitzgerald because of these remarks two weeks ago. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The special prosecutor is conducting a very serious investigation.  He is doing it in a very dignified way, by the way.  And we‘ll see what he says. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  Tonight the office of Patrick Fitzgerald isn‘t saying very much except no comment.  The grand jury in this case is scheduled to meet Wednesday and Friday of this week before they expire.  We have been advised by a courthouse source, Chris, that they did meet last Friday in which two prosecutors working Fitzgerald were seen going into the courthouse carrying large boxes of legal documents. 

Was this the beginning of the summary of the evidence that Fitzgerald has collected?  Lawyers in the case say we should find out—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.

Tom DeFrank is the Washington bureau chief of the “New York Daily News.”  And Andrea Mitchell is NBC‘s chief foreign affairs correspondent.

Tom, you‘ve been hot on this story.  What‘s the latest?

TOM DEFRANK, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS:  Well basically, we don‘t know a lot.  Anybody who tells you that he or she knows what‘s going on within the grand jury and within the investigation, I think, really doesn‘t know what‘s happening. 

I have been reporting mainly on the mood inside the White House.  The president‘s mood.  And basically, it‘s not good, as well you might expect. 

This is not a great week for the presidency for this president.  And is probably likely to get worse before it gets better. 

MATTHEWS:  What about the politically joined twins, the president and vice president.  Is that coming apart a bit? 

DEFRANK:  Well, the story, I think you‘re referring to is the one in the “Daily News” this morning, which says that the president is frustrated.  And he—at times he lashes out and blames other people for some of the problems that we have all been writing about over the last several months:  sometimes Andy Card, the chief of staff gets some blame, sometimes Karl Rove gets some blame, sometimes the press gets a lot of blame and even occasionally the vice president. 

And I think what you are referring to is a paragraph that said that the president has told some friends or associates that he thinks that maybe the vice president got a little too deeply involved in some of these intelligence issues in the run-up to the Iraq war. 

MATTHEWS:  Does—well, maybe I know that the “New York Daily News” is known for the economy of words, but can you help us there.  Is he concerned that the vice president pushed the intelligence? 

DEFRANK:  Chris, I had to be very careful on that, because I did not want to make it easy for the Bush gang to identify sources.  So I am going to just have to leave it with what you see in the paper. 

MATTHEWS:  But we‘ll leave it at what you say, which is your report says that the president is concerned that the vice president was too involved in the intelligence case made for the war in Iraq.  Is that accurate? 

DEFRANK:  That is very accurate.  I certainly stand behind that, and so does the paper. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s serious business. 

Let‘s go to Andrea Mitchell.  You‘re a foreign affairs expert at NBC.  What do you make from that, that the vice president is under a little heat from the boss on the question of what role he played in terms of building the case for war? 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  This is the first indication of any daylight between the two, because they have been so close.  This vice president has been a co-player with the president as you can tell.  The relationship has been closer than any in history. 

So, this is the first indication—and Tom DeFrank is such an experienced, veteran reporter, who knows Dick Cheney in fact going all the way back to the Ford years when Tom was the White House correspondent.  So, I would trust completely Tom‘s reporting on that. 

Surely, this president is having not only second thoughts not about the war, going to war, because he was the decision maker in all of that.  But certainly a lot of the information leading up to the decision to go to war.  And has to be questioning some of that. 

Look, if this in fact is true.  And if Scooter Libby, who is the chief of staff and national security adviser to the vice president and someone who helped make that decision to go to war or reach that decision, and certainly tasked the CIA, if he and potentially other people in the national security team as well as Karl Rove are potential targets of this investigation as we now believe they are, then you have a serious—dreadfully serious problem for the administration not only politically, but also in terms of the foreign policy team.  And that‘s something that we have to look at more closely. 

MATTHEWS:  If there—let me give two steps.  First question, what do you make about this other possible indication of the break between the president and the vice president,The Fact is we‘re getting word out of the grand jury—and we have to be careful what we are getting from these lawyers, they have their interests involved—but the notion that the president‘s top political kid, Karl Rove, has said that he got his information about Valerie Plame, the undercover CIA agent, from Scooter Libby, the chief of staff for the vice president?  Why are we learning that? 

MITCHELL:  Well, partly it‘s because lawyers are now in advance of this trying to spin and inoculate and try to portray their clients as less culpable than others.  So, I think what you are seeing now is a lot of finger-pointing, the blame game that has been external is now moving inside the White House.  And that‘s not surprising. 

MATTHEWS:  The world—I mean by the world, the western world, and probably the third world to a large extent, in fact both of them have questioned the United States‘s case for war.  The case we made to Europe, and you covered diplomacy, was that there was weapons of mass destruction.  Tony Blair has already taken a hit on that from his home crowd.  They don‘t think he had the case.  Is this case going to open up that question in the world once again, rip the scab off the question, whether the United States had a legitimate cause for war? 

MITCHELL:  I think in fact that‘s one of the most damaging outcomes of this of all of this is that if this does proceed with indictments—and it‘s a big, it is going to be not only retrying the case for war, but retrying it in—on the world stage.  And you‘re going to see this taken up by al-Jazeera or other media in other countries.  And it‘s going to be viewed as an indictment of the U.S. argument for war.

So, you know, one of the things that we have to look at is the fact that it wasn‘t just weapons of mass destruction, because a lot of people—not only the Brits, the Russians, the French, other intelligence services were saying that there were weapons of mass destruction...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MITCHELL:  ...and clearly, chemical weapons had existed, biological weapons were hidden by Saddam Hussein and only discovered in the mid 90‘s, so that case was being argued widely around the world. 

But the case that was being made by the vice president and others in this administration was that there was an imminent need to go to war, that you could not let the U.N. inspectors continue their work.  And that‘s is where they‘re most vulnerable on the world stage. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Tom DeFrank.  Along the lines of your reporting, I don‘t know where you are headed in tomorrow morning‘s paper, but let me ask you, what about these bone head remarks by these Republican senators that go completely 180 from where they were in terms of Bill Clinton. 

Bill Clinton was almost kicked out of the White House because he lied under oath in a deposition.  Now, we are hearing prominent Republicans, the once I respect the most, in fact, are now coming out with statements, oh, perjury‘s just a technicality.  Are they really going to fight on that line? 

DEFRANK:  Well, I thought Senator Hutchison really hurt herself yesterday.  I think that‘s really kind of, kind of dopey because Patrick Fitzgerald has got a real reputation as a boy scout.  And I suspect whatever he does and if he brings indictments, he‘s not going to bring half-baked indictments. 

And again, I don‘t know what he is going to do, but the notion that obstruction of justice and perjury is maybe just a technicality that‘s surely is not the way that was supposed to come out of Senator Hutchison‘s mouth yesterday.

But it is true, that very frustrated aides to the president are trying to come up with some formulation that will somehow subtly and not so subtly undermine whatever it is Mr. Fitzgerald does, but it‘s not clear yet whether that will work. 

And I think, if they are going to take that tack, they‘re probably—that‘s not a very wise way to go. 

MATTHEWS:  Because it‘s a (INAUDIBLE) there.  Basically, Andrea, they are undermining the whole case they made against Bill Clinton.  It wasn‘t his sexual behavior or misbehavior, whatever you want to call it, which is still kind of murky, it‘s that he lied under oath in a deposition and perhaps in a grand jury.  And they made that the biggest thing in the world that he did that and he had to leave the presidency. 

Now people as esteemed, and I mean that as Kay Bailey Hutchison, are coming out and saying oh, that‘s just a technicality, lying under oath. 

MITCHELL:  Well, I think you have to understand that Kay Bailey Hutchison was also investigated and then exonerated by Ronnie Earle, the same prosecutor who is going after Tom DeLay.  So, she has her own personal experience, and that may be partly what motivated her. 

But, you are hearing this from Republican defenders of the White House.  They‘re trying to inoculate, as they say and trying to say well this is not as big of a deal.

You‘re right, it doesn‘t wash.  And, you know, it‘s not just perjury or conspiracy or obstruction, there are other really important criminal charges.  We‘re even told that there could be a conspiracy charge, conspiracy to violate Joe Wilson‘s civil rights.  That‘s a serious charge.  It‘s a federal charge and it‘s a felony.  It‘s not a misdemeanor. 

MATTHEWS:  I think belittling perjury is one canary in the mind that‘s not coming back outside.  Anyway, thank you Tom DeFrank.  Thank you, Andrea Mitchell.

Coming up how is the White House preparing for possible indictments this week?  “Newsweek‘s” Michael Isikoff, one of greatest investigative reporters ever, and NBC‘s David Gregory will be with us.

And later Dick Sauber, the attorney for one of the primary reporters in the case.  We‘ll ask him what‘s going on inside that jury room, the grand jury.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, inside White House as the Bush administration braces for the possibility of indictments.  NBC‘s David Gregory and “Newsweek‘s” Michael Isikoff have the latest when HARDBALL returns. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We continue with more on the CIA leak investigation and its effects on the Bush White House with NBC chief White House correspondent, David Gregory, and “Newsweek‘s” Michael Isikoff, who I said is one bear of an investigative reporter. 

Let me go to the White House story right now, it‘s an easier story to cover since it doesn‘t involve mystery.  David, what is the mood at the White House?  Is it the tangy meringue of maudlin, of maudlin and giddy?  Of course, giddy is on the outside, I think maudlin is on the inside, right? 

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  I also think there is certainly an air of mystery to it all because as you saw Karl Rove sitting behind the president today in a rather tense cabinet meeting.  You know, there is a facade, it‘s patina of business as usual. 

All of these phrases are recycled for every administration in trouble, that they‘re just focused on the people‘s business.  Look, people are extremely nervous.  People on the outside and inside say this is the toughest time in the White House for the White House since the early days after 9/11. 

So, this is an extremely tense time because people feel completely out of control.  And they know that if it‘s as bad as some people think it is, that it‘s going to completely reshape this second term and might indeed, you know, lead to a complete reshuffling of what happens inside the West Wing. 

So, it‘s a pretty grave time right now on the heels of everything else, which is making it difficult enough after Katrina and the Miers‘ nomination. 

MATTHEWS:  Is the chair that Karl Rove sits in that back row behind the cabinet, does that have one of those Austin Power‘s devices on it where  it goes down into the ground when the news comes in?  Is he dispensable? 

GREGORY:  Look, I think that we know how important Karl Rove has been to this president.  I think that if it‘s—if that circumstance arises, they‘ll learn how to deal with it.  But, you know, the totality of everything that‘s happened has shown just how difficult this second term has been, and Karl Rove is just at the center of that. 

So, I don‘t think that you can overstate his importance, and I think that‘s one of the things that makes everything so tense right now. 

MATTHEWS:  What did you make of “The Daily News Report,” Tom DeFrank reporting, he was just on, that the president has gotten very hot tempered.  I mean, who wouldn‘t be?  I‘m not knocking him.  But he has even turned his torrent in the direction of the V.P. 

GREGORY:  Right.  Well, it‘s interesting, I don‘t know.  The people I‘m talking to here say look, the president has been very good through all of this and doesn‘t seem to be acting any different than normal, which is to say that the occasional outburst of temper is something that they see all the time, and there‘s nothing that‘s particularly unusual. 

So, I think that‘s their best effort to downplay what‘s going on, and I think the president‘s probably pretty careful to not portray exactly what he is feeling that concerns these very top aides. 

MATTHEWS:  Mike Isikoff, how does this all fit together?  How does the untangling of this web or entanglement, I can‘t think of a better word, regarding the possible law-breaking here with regard to the outing of Valerie Plame and any crime incidental to that, how does that fit into the workings, the general workings of the vice president‘s office with regard to the Iraq war? 

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NEWSWEEK:  Well, that‘s the backdrop for all of this, the selling of the war, the need to bolster the case for the invasion of Iraq.  Remember, the nuclear argument which was championed by the vice president and the vice president‘s office was the clincher argument for the case for war.  Chemical and biological weapons had been a staple of administration rhetoric during the Clinton administration, that Saddam had them, that‘s why we had inspectors.

But the idea that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program and—which led to the metaphor—we can‘t wait for the smoking gun in the form of a mushroom cloud—that was the “piece de resistance” as it were for the argument for an invasion.  That‘s why we can‘t wait.  That‘s why we can‘t wait for inspections.  We have to do it now. 

The vice president pushed that hard.  He did it in a Nashville speech in August of 2002, and then—and the nuclear reconstituting argument rested ultimately on two claims, two new pieces of evidence. 

One was the aluminum tubes which were, you know, first broken in the exclusive co-written by Judy Miller and Michael Gordon on the front page of the “New York Times” on September 8, 2002, that Iraq was—this worldwide search for aluminum tubes for making centrifuges for a nuclear bomb that turned out to be false, a false claim.  And that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Africa. 

That was the second leg of this very shaky stool that was behind the nuclear argument. 

So here comes Joe Wilson in 2003 after the invasion, after we‘re in there, we‘re not finding weapons of mass destruction, and starts to raise questions about the uranium claim saying, “I told them this was false.”  And the vice president‘s office pushed back very hard. 

And that‘s how we are where—it appears that‘s why we are where we are today. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to David.  David, you know, when you are kids, you are playing cowboys and Indians, you‘re shooting each other.  You have to say, “You got me, I‘m it.”  You know what I mean?  And if you didn‘t do that, the game didn‘t work. 

Will the president say, if his people are indicted, “You got me.  I wish this hadn‘t happened.  It‘s a tragedy.  But I accept it.”  Or will he be defiant and try to trash the prosecutor? 

GREGORY:  I don‘t know.  I think the president‘s put himself in a pretty difficult position in that regard in that he has praised Patrick Fitzgerald to the nth degree by saying he is conducting his investigation in a dignified way, this is not an outside counsel.  I mean, it is an outside counsel but it‘s certainly not somebody along the lines of Ken Starr who proved radioactive and so political. 

And so the president is out there on that.  I don‘t think it‘s as simplistic to say, look, you know, you got me on this.  I think that there‘s going to be—what‘s interesting about what Michael‘s story in “Newsweek” this week is that the White House really got into campaign mode on this.  There was somebody who stepped forward and attacked the case for war. 

And so you had different currents within the White House fighting back in a way that they felt was perfectly acceptable, using hardball tactics for sure. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

GREGORY:  But to go against somebody who was going at the core of their case for war and calling them, in effect, liars. 

So that‘s the question of legality which I‘m not commenting on, because I don‘t know, but certainly, there was an aggressive attempt to beat this guy back. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  More from you tonight—tomorrow night, I hope.

David Gregory at the White House, Michael Isikoff at “Newsweek.”

Up next, criticism of the Bush administration from an unlikely source, former national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft who served President Bush‘s father so closely.

And later, inside the grand jury with the attorney for “TIME” magazine‘s Matt Cooper.  He‘s coming here.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  One thing we‘ve learned about the Bush family, they put a premium on loyalty and discretion which makes this week‘s article in the “New Yorker Magazine” even more surprising.  In it, Brent Scowcroft who was President Bush Sr.‘s 41 -- rather, his national security adviser and close confidant criticizes the present White House‘s rationale for war in Iraq. 

Jeffrey Goldberg wrote the article. 

Jeffrey, I don‘t know how you pulled these teeth.  I mean, you are something else.  How you got Brent Scowcroft, probably the most loyal person in the world to the Bush family, to openly come out and say what he really thinks. 

JEFFREY GOLDBERG, “THE NEW YORKER”:  Well, you know, he‘s frustrated.  He has been frustrated for a long time.  And he is very interesting.  He is not the sort of person who seeks out attention, but when you do get him, and you do ask him a question, he answers it—he answers the way he is feeling. 

MATTHEWS:  I must say in conversations with him, he‘s always—no matter what his feelings are about whether we should have gone to war in Iraq, he does support the need to stay there now, right? 

GOLDBERG:  He does.  He does.  But he‘s afraid it‘s not going in any good direction. 

MATTHEWS:  The quote that jumped out at me.  Everything in the “New Yorker” is beautifully written, but there you go, this was said to be part of the war on terror, but this is General Scowcroft talking to you.

GOLDBERG:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  “But Iraq feeds terrorism.”  In other words, he is saying not only is the war a mistake, it‘s counterproductive.  It‘s feeding and creating more terrorism. 

GOLDBERG:  Yes.  He wasn‘t gone out that far before.  And I was a little taken aback by that.  And...

MATTHEWS:  Why did you bury it on the third page? 

GOLDBERG:  Well, we‘re the “New Yorker.”  We take our time.  We want to easy you into it.

MATTHEWS:  You buried the lead, my friend. 

GOLDBERG:  We want to ease you into the story. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll talk about that lead that should have been the lead, which is that Bush 41‘s national security adviser saying that this war has been against our interests.

GOLDBERG:  Well, I mean, this is—it‘s not only his feeling, and that‘s sort of interesting.  If you—read on into the story, about the 6,000th or 7,000th word, you get to some other good stuff, you find that there are other people involved in the administration of 41 who also feel this was counterproductive.

And I talk in the story about the first Gulf War.  If you remember, right after the first Gulf War, they came in for a lot of criticism, Bush 4,  for not going, quote, “all the way to Baghdad.”

And now a lot of those people who are—who have been criticized in the past years for not going all the way to Baghdad are feeling somewhat vindicated.  And it‘s not only Scowcroft who feels that way.  Scowcroft‘s position is simple.  You know, once you drive into Baghdad, you have taken ownership of this country, and you have made angry an awful lot of people you didn‘t necessarily need to make angry.  That‘s his argument. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think—well, you‘re a great reporter.  And you have risked your butt a lot going over there and covering these things.  I have read your stuff before.  That didn‘t take much more than a high school education, though, to know that when you go into Third World countries, you are treated as an outsider and you‘re going to be resisted. 

GOLDBERG:  Well, you know, I would challenge you on that a little bit. 

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead. 

GOLDBERG:  You know, it‘s all in the way you do it.  And I think this is the frustration.  One of the most interesting things that someone said to me in this story was said by George H.W. Bush himself.  We had a little e-mail exchange.  And he‘s very careful about these things.

MATTHEWS:  Sure.  He doesn‘t want to hurt his son‘s situation.

GOLDBERG:  Well, no.  He is loyal to his son.  And his son is loyal to the father.  But they have profoundly different understandings of what needs to be done internationally.  And so, the thing that struck me—I asked him, you know, what attribute of Brent Scowcroft you found most useful to—when you were president.  And he said, I have no other way to read this but the way you probably read this—he said the good thing about Brent is that when he talked about issues, he not only gave me the positive scenario, the positive outcome, but he also told me what could go wrong if we did something.  And I think this is the feeling of all of the people associated with 41, that his son—the son, has not been served well by his advisers. 

MATTHEWS:  Remember the great adviser to presidents Clark Clifford said, wherever you go, that‘s where you are going to be. 

GOLDBERG:  And there we are. 

MATTHEWS:  Yeah.  And there we are—we really are.  Thank you very much, Jeffrey Goldberg.  Great reporting in “The New Yorker” magazine.

Up next, with the prosecutor is expected to make an announcement on indictments one way or the other this week, we‘ll get the latest on the legal maneuverings and talk to Dick Sauber, the attorney for one of the reporters at the center of this investigation: “Time” magazine‘s Matt Cooper.  You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

While there is no official word that target letters have been sent isn‘t to Karl Rove or Scooter Libby or anyone else, the “New York Times” has been reporting for a couple of days that both men have been, quote, “advised that they are in serious legal jeopardy.” 

To assess what legal jeopardy means, we turn to Attorney Dick Sauber. 

He represents “Time” magazine‘s Matt Cooper who has testified in the case. 

Mr. Sauber, thank you for joining us. 

I guess we—I‘d like to talk about procedure.  Knowing what you know about these kinds of grand jury situations, what is coming?  What‘s the possible sequence of how this thing will work out? 

DICK SAUBER, MATT COOPER‘S ATTORNEY:  Well, I think usually what happens in a case like this is that the prosecutor will identify who might be indicted.  He will give those people some notice that they may be submitted for indictment, and give them an opportunity to come in and make whatever statement they want to him or to the grand jury, and try to talk their way out of it. 

MATTHEWS:  Now, is that kind of a squeeze situation where you hope they will plead or they will do—what do you want them to do? 

SAUBER:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  If you are hitting them with an indictment? 

SAUBER:  It‘s not a squeeze situation.  It‘s—it arises from some fundamental notion of fairness.  It is in the Justice Department regulations.  I think Pat Fitzgerald is the kind of very careful and fair prosecutor who would go out of his way to give people notice, and make sure that they understand that they‘re in jeopardy.  And they do have a chance at the end of a long and complicated investigation to come in and say I didn‘t do it and talk directly to the grand jury and try to convince them that they shouldn‘t be charged with a serious crime. 

MATTHEWS:  I heard today that there‘s one further opportunity to allow the defendant to act of an indictment, a target of an indictment.  That is even after a grand jury has voted to indict, that the prosecutor can seal those indictments and then talk to the defendants or the targets? 

SAUBER:  Yes.  I think that‘s highly, highly unusual.  I think given the number of opportunities to appear in the grand jury, that is not going to happen in this case. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about your client, Matt Cooper.  He was, of course, threatened with prison.  Judy Miller another reporter involved in this case was put in prison for 85 days.  Do you believe that is a prima fascia case that there was a serious bit of business at the heart of this case?  In other words, a crime that looks like it was committed and therefore that justified that kind of extreme action? 

SAUBER:  Well, the one thing that I have said from the beginning is that every judge who has looked at the evidence that Pat Fitzgerald submitted under seal, including the judges who thought there should be some kind of a reporter‘s privilege here, every one of those judges has been impressed by the evidence that Pat Fitzgerald submitted. 

I think there‘s no question that the evidence that he has amassed is serious and significant, and there seems not to be any disagreement at all among all of the judges from across the spectrum that that‘s the case. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think in all of press—I‘m sure you read everything as an attorney for your client, you read the major newspapers, the credible press, do you think we‘re only looking at the tip of the iceberg of what he‘s about?  We have had a small glimmer of what he is up to?  Or do you think we have had a good look at it? 

SAUBER:  No.  I don‘t think we have seen the substantial part of this case.  And I think that when and if there are indictments, or if there‘s some public explanation of what happened here, I think there will be a lot more to the story of how these events took place. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that the prosecutor feels a re—I should -

that‘s—feels—do you think he believes he has a responsibility after all of these months and years now, since 2003, to give the American public who have been following the case—and the American people generally—a real sense of what he has discovered, even if he doesn‘t prosecute? 

SAUBER:  You know, I don‘t know the answer to that.  I mean, Pat

Fitzgerald is a U.S. attorney.  It‘s not the normal sort of activity for

the U.S. attorney to give a public explanation in most cases.  But he has -

I think he does have a sense of the national importance of this case. 

And it may very well be that at the end of the day, he thinks—I have spent a lot of time.  I have disrupted things a great deal.  This is an important and serious case involving national security, I should make a public report of some kind.

And he would have to get the approval of the judges down at the district court to do that, because it would mean using secret grand jury information to make such a report.

MATTHEWS:  If you were, if you were a lawyer, attorney, for one of the people that‘s facing indictment and you are not, how long would you be looking at in terms of a trial date?  How far out? 

SAUBER:  Well, the federal law requires there to be a trial about 70 days after the charges are returned.  That is not usually the case in white collar cases like this, both sides agree that a certain amount of delay is appropriate, and...

MATTHEWS:  So, how far would the continuances go?  How far would you get into this, next summer? 

SAUBER:  I think if it—no.  I think if there are indictments in the next several days, we‘re probably looking at a late winter, early spring trial. 

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Next March, April.  Boy, right in the middle of primary season, politically, too. 

SAUBER:  If we were in the eastern district of Virginia, we would have the trial before New Year‘s, but this will be in D.C.

MATTHEWS:  A lot of action there.  Thank you very much.  It‘s great to have Dick Sauber, who has been the great attorney for Matt Cooper of “Time Magazine.” 

Coming up, MSNBC‘s Tucker Carlson, my colleague, and Ron Reagan, my daytime colleague on the leak case.  They‘re coming here to HARDBALL.

And the real possibility that top officials in the Bush administration could be indicted by this week.  Everybody in this town, well I‘m in New York today, but in this town mentally, they‘re all talking about this week.  This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Tucker Carlson is host of MSNBC‘s “The Situation” at 11:00 p.m. Eastern week nights and Ron Reagan is co-host of “Connected Coast to Coast” weekdays at noon Eastern on MSNBC and Tony Blankley is not on any time during day, but is he editorial page editor of “The Washington Times” and author of the hot new book, “The West‘s Last Chance:  Will we Win the Clash of Civilizations?”  Well, that‘s a dark view. 

Let‘s me go to first right across the bat Tucker, you first, then Ron, then Tony.  Each in your own turn, seriatim, give me the best case scenario for what could happen in the leak case from the White House perspective? 

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “THE SITUATION”:  Well, the best case scenario, obviously, is that not only does Fitzgerald not indict, but he doesn‘t issue a report.  There‘s some question as to whether he‘s allowed to issue a report if he doesn‘t indict and the whole thing goes away, he packs up and moves back to Chicago and we hear very little about it.

I don‘t think the story, itself, at this point has penetrated beyond the coasts.  I don‘t think most people are paying close attention.  If he does indict and indicts for something big, a grand conspiracy that points to Iraq and why we went there and the deception that took us there, then it‘s, of course, terribly bad.

I think the indication at this point though, is that its, you know, we have been hearing the last two weeks, he is going to indict on perjury or, you know, Karl Rove forgot that he talked to Matt Cooper.  I don‘t think he can indict on something that picayune.  I think that would be a disaster.  I think, there‘s got to be something we don‘t know about. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, wasn‘t perjury the charge used to remove President Clinton from office? 

CARLSON:  Well, he wasn‘t sadly removed from office, as you remember. 

MATTHEWS:  But he was impeached.  He was impeached on that issue.

CARLSON:  Of course, that is absolutely right.  And you can say, well,  Republicans are being hypocritical, and you maybe you are right, you probably are right, but I don‘t think that diminishes or changes the point, and that is that the Republicans, the White House can say, well, gee, these guys got indicted for things they did after the investigation started. 

So, they better be big things.  It better not be, I forgot I talked to Matt Cooper. 

MATTHEWS:  In other words they can‘t just be crimes committed because there‘s an investigation going on. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. Let me go to Ron.  Your thoughts on high and low on this thing.  If you are a White House person, give me the lowest nadir of your prospects and your highest hopes.

RON REAGAN, HOST, “CONNECTED COAST TO COAST”:  Well, I suppose they‘re the same thing if you say the nadir for the White House and my highest hopes.  I agree with Tucker that the best case, of course, would be no indictments, no reports, no nothing.  I find that highly, highly unlikely. 

And I disagree with him, because I think what this really is all about, and you have pointed this out before too, when you peel back all  the onion layers here this is about Iraq, this is how we got into Iraq and it has penetrated beyond the coast. 

At least it‘s penetrated to my coast.  I‘m out here in a little town called Seattle.  And I can tell you that many people are talking about this out here.  And they‘re not talking about perjury and obstruction, they‘re talking about Iraq. 

They‘re talking about dishonesty.  They‘re talking about incompetence.  They‘re talking about the sorts of things that Lawrence Wilkinson, Wilkersons, excuse me, was talking about and what Brent Scowcroft is talking about in the “New Yorker” article that came out today and that‘s dishonesty and incompetence in this administration.  And it is hurting this administration. 

There is no good scenario for them now.  The dam has broken, and as David Gergen said, this is an administration in free fall. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you telling me that Seattle is a liberal town? 

REAGAN:  Well, something like that, yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you. 

REAGAN:  That‘s good news.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Tony Blankley.  Again the same wide assessment, left and right, rather, up and down.  Is there a good way out for the administration at this point, and is there a worst way out that still looms there?

TONY BLANKLEY, THE WASHINGTON TIMES:  Well, there are bad and there are worse.  First of all, I think that perjury proven beyond a reasonable doubt is a serious felony.  I thought that seven years ago about Clinton.  And I will think it this week, if that charge comes down and if the evidence supports it against Republican officials. 

But I think that the real question in the White House and the president, personally, has to decide, presumably in the next several days, is how they‘re going to respond to whatever does come out, presuming it‘s not going to be a total clearance. 

And in that regard, I think the president would be ill advised to try to minimize anything.  I think he needs to make a clean break and set his administration looking forward, and not get defensive. 

Whatever is going to happen is going to happen.  The evidence is either going to be there or not.  And if he continues to try to defend what is something which will be, you know, indefensible, if in fact there are indictments, is going to be a mistake, and it will drag him down. 

What he needs to do is put together some new staff, admit whatever mistakes have to be admitted and start moving forward.  He‘s got three years left in his administration and it‘s important for him and for the country that he be functional.       

MATTHEWS:  You know, Tony, there is in the past, it‘s not always there, but sometimes it glimmers with this man, our president, that kind of sunny nobility.  How does he bring it back because it hasn‘t been apparent for a while now.

BLANKLEY:  Well, he‘s had a very, very hard last there months and he‘s had a pretty difficult administration because of all the—well the way it is.  But, I think that if he is straightforward with himself, first, and then with the public, he can get back to an agenda and start moving forward.  But if he gets locked in to defending the indefensible, then it‘s just going to get—go from bad to very worse. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you.  We‘ll be back with Tucker Carlson, Ron Reagan and Tony Blankley, a great trio.  And a reminder, the political debate is ongoing on Hardblogger, our political blog Web site.  And now, you can download podcasts of Hardball.  Those are little broadcasts.  Just go to our Web site at hardball.MSNBC.com. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with MSNBC hosts Tucker Carlson and Ron Reagan, and “Washington Times” editor Tony Blankley. 

Tony, you first.  Let‘s run through this.  Your paper reported on Saturday, I believe it was, the emerging possibility—and let‘s call it that—of a withdrawal of the nomination of Harriet Miers. 

BLANKLEY:  Yes, well, I think we scooped on that.  One White House staffer talked to an outside friendly ally, who talked to our reporter, and reporters, and that seems to me to be, other than it was either sloppily or unluckily executed, good staff work to try to anticipate what the boss might do if he changes his mind, and be ready to go. 

I happen to think that the president would be best served if the nomination was withdrawn and they could start over again with a stronger nomination.  I don‘t know whether he‘s going to do that, but if you‘re a smart staffer, you can‘t be sitting around right now and not be thinking about that possibility. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Tucker Carlson on that front.  Where do you stand?  Have you taken a position on this nomination at all on the air?

CARLSON:  You mean whether it‘s wise or not? 

MATTHEWS:  Yeah.

CARLSON:  I think it‘s very unwise, completely unwise, and I, obviously, the wise course at this point is to withdraw the nomination.  You‘ve got to think at some point, Arlen Specter or somebody in the Senate who has good sense is going to go over to the White House and say, you know, it‘s time to pull the plug.  I mean, she failed a question on constitutional law on the questionnaire. 

And also, you‘ve got to ask yourself this.  If you‘re a Republican on the committee or just in the full Senate, what is your motive for voting for her?  What exactly do you get out of it?  You show loyalty to the White House, but you‘ve been doing that anyway, and what have you gotten back?  Not a lot.  Whereas you could make a case, depending on who you are, that voting against her helps you. 

So I just think there are far more Republican votes in play than maybe people realize, and I just think the chances she actually makes it to the Supreme Court are very small. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the president will withdraw her nomination? 

CARLSON:  If I had to bet on it, and maybe I will, come to think of it, yeah, I would absolutely bet that she‘s not going to make it, that she will be withdrawn. 

MATTHEWS:  Ron Reagan, your thoughts on this topic. 

REAGAN:  Well, I think a judgment is going to have to be made as to how she will perform before the Senate committee.  If that is going to be an embarrassment to the White House, it‘s an embarrassment that they can‘t afford. 

Look, as Tucker pointed out, she is entirely unqualified.  I mean, when you have a nominee to the Supreme Court failing questions about constitutional law, there‘s something very, very wrong there.  I don‘t think he‘ll withdraw it.  I think he will ask her to step down voluntarily, quote/unquote, to save further embarrassment and distraction.  That‘s how it‘ll be done in my judgment anyway. 

MATTHEWS:  There was an old Joan Rivers joke about a guy going out with a beautiful woman, and would say, isn‘t she brilliant?  She just said the peas are green.  What a greatly, you know, what a brilliant woman.  Well, you know, she‘s an average-looking person, I‘m not talking about that, but is there so—what you set the bar so low, Tony, now that no matter how well she performs, people will say, hey, she said the peas are green?

BLANKLEY:  No, I think it‘s the other way around.  I think that everybody‘s going to be looking for any slight, ambiguous mistake.  Even a John Roberts wouldn‘t be able to pass this time around, and it seems unlikely that she‘s going to be able to pass it.  People are going to leap on every clause that she utters.  It‘s an almost impossible task. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me go over to Tucker Carlson, and just to close up on this leak story that may be—may explode tomorrow, the next day, or sometime this week, if it does at all.  Do you think the president would be well-advised to go this route of Kay Bailey Hutchison, to try to minimize the importance of some of these middle-level charges? 

CARLSON:  He should have done this a long time ago.  I think this White House made a tactical error.  Maybe not a moral error, maybe the White House did the right thing, but I think politically they did very much the wrong thing by saying nice things about Patrick Fitzgerald some months ago.  He‘s a man of integrity, he‘s a good guy, you know, we have completely confidence he‘s going to do the right thing, et cetera, et cetera, making it now almost impossible for the White House, even on background, to attack the guy.  And who knows, we‘ll find out in a couple of days, but it‘s possible that attacks on him are unwarranted.  Maybe he‘s doing the wrong thing.  But they can hardly say that at this point. 

So I don‘t know what they do, other than accept the resignations of those who are implicated in whatever he submits this week, and sort of apologize and move on.  But I think they should—at least have kept the option open to attack him, and I just don‘t see that they have that.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Ron, when they announced his appointment as special prosecutor, the person (ph) at the Justice Department, boy, did they lay on the wonderful and (INAUDIBLE) guy.  They say he‘s the greatest of prosecutors, the cleanest, most independent, most nonpartisan guy ever.  That was before he even got—I mean, before the president had a chance to weigh in. 

REAGAN:  I‘m sure he‘s a stand-up guy.  And Tony‘s absolutely right.  There‘s nothing to be done about the Kay Bailey Hutchison, you know, talking point about minimize this perjury, it‘s not such a big idea—big deal.  Listen, maybe I‘m old-fashioned, but I think transparency and honesty and integrity in government is an important thing, and lying to a grand jury is a big deal.  And if people lie to the grand jury, they perjure themselves, they got to go. 

MATTHEWS:  Were you consistent on that with Reagan—not with Reagan, of course, you are Reagan.  With Bill Clinton?

REAGAN:  Yes, I was.

MATTHEWS:  So you thought he should have left office or been kicked out of the White House because of...

REAGAN:  No, I‘m not saying that he should have been impeached, but I did think that his perjury was a big deal and it was important.  He broke the law there.  And listen, you cannot say that this perjury is not a big deal.  If you do say it‘s not a big deal, you have to go back then and say that the Clinton impeachment was a farce, and I don‘t think these people are quite ready to do that. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, is this the West Wing‘s last chance, to play up the title of your book, Tony?. 

BLANKLEY:  No.  Look, they got three years.  I had the honor of being in Ron‘s father‘s administration.  President Reagan was down to 35, 37 percent approval during Iran-Contra two years in.  He ended up coming out with a 65 percent approval and a very successful second term.  So we‘ve got three long years, and they can be three good years if the president makes the right decisions in the next couple of months.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he did pull it back, you‘re right.  When he came out, he left with flying colors, and you‘re right, he did it.  Anyway, thank you, Ron Reagan.  Thank you, Tucker Carlson.  Thank you, Tony Blankley.

Right now, it‘s time for “THE ABRAMS REPORT” with Dan.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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