updated 11/8/2005 12:10:35 PM ET 2005-11-08T17:10:35

Guest: Carl Levin, E.J. Dionne, Tony Blankley, Tom Daschle, John Fund, Chuck Todd

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Who got America, attacked by Islamic religious zealots, to go to war with Iraq, a secular state who had no detectable role in the attack on us?  And how did they manipulate the media to do it?  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to the first in our series of special reports this week on the CIA leak investigation. 

Tonight, how the White House led America to war.  Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said that Scooter Libby‘s indictment is not about the war.  But the fact remains, circumstances which led to his indictment were indeed very much about the case being made for the war at that time and how the administration sold it. 

Three years ago, the White House persuaded the media, Republicans and Democrats in Congress, and a majority of the American people to accept their case for military action in Iraq.  Largely based on a very powerful image, a nuclear mushroom cloud.  The president, the vice president and others repeatedly warned of the looming threat of a nuclear weapon in Saddam Hussein‘s arsenal that could be used against the territory of the United States. 

Recent polls show that a majority of you, the American people, now believe the Bush administration misled the country into war.  And for the first time in his presidency, a majority of the American people question President Bush‘s honesty and integrity. 

So tonight, we look in depth at how the case for war for sold to send the American military into Iraq.  Here is my interview with Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, a member of the Intelligence Committee. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Senator Levin, is it your view after all these months that this administration, particularly the group called the Iraq group within the White House, misused intelligence to get us into the war with Iraq? 

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN:  It was my view long before these

recent months, but this recent material that we were able to get

declassified is just further evidence of that fact

MATTHEWS:  Can you give some examples, would you point to the aluminum tubes issue or the Niger trip or the chemical biological argument?  We‘ll run through the examples you have of where it was misused, the intelligence. 

LEVIN:  All right.  The security adviser to the president, Condi Rice said, we know the aluminum tubes can only be used to enrich uranium.  That was not true.  There was a debate on that issue inside the intelligence community.  They could be used for other purposes.  As it turned out, were not used for enriching uranium. 

We have President Bush say, and this is what the document that I just released this weekend addresses.  President Bush said that Saddam has provided biological and chemical training to al Qaeda. 

As a matter of fact, his own Defense Intelligence Agency, according to this recent document, which we just got declassified, said that the individual that they were relying on, is it‘s more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers. 

So a year before the president makes the statement that Saddam Hussein is training al Qaeda in the use of biological and chemical weapons, his own Defense Intelligence Agency said that the source for that is most likely lying to us. 

Then we have other statements, of course.  We had Secretary Powell who says that they have, that the Iraqis have seven mobile biological factories.  That was highly disputed inside the intelligence community.  Of course, you have the vice president making statement after statement after statement about all of those items.  He was saying that it was pretty well confirmed, his words, that there was a meeting in Prague between the Iraqi secret police and the lead hijacker, Mr. Atta, Mohammed Atta. 

As a matter of fact, it was not pretty well confirmed.  It was very dubious at all times, it was very dubious.  But even in March of 2003 when we were going to war, the CIA had concluded that that meeting probably did not happen.  Yet you have the vice president of the United States, for even a year after that, still saying, we have evidence that there was a meeting.  Well yes, there was evidence, but the intelligence community did not believe that that evidence was accurate. 

MATTHEWS:  Senator Levin, from what I can figure, our audience on HARDBALL is a pretty mixed bag of conservatives, liberals and middle-of-the-roaders.  That shifts of course.  But, there are a lot of people out there who have different views than you, or me, or anybody else on this war. 

I just wondered, analytically, how would you best describe the manner in which the vice president and his people and others in the administration looked at this intel?  That you‘ve just described.  What was it, selective use?  Was it a skewed use of it?  Was it a worst-case scenario?  Was it deliberate lying?

LEVIN:  I think they ignored the intelligence that did not support their decision to go to war, basically.  They were looking for those snippets of intelligence that would support their decision to go to war.  That is basically what their signal was. 

I believe the intelligence community.  The intelligence community then provided some distorted intelligence on a lot of things.  But, that‘s not what the issue is that I raise this weekend. 

This is where the intelligence community was right and they ignored the intelligence community.  Not where the intelligence community was wrong, which was plenty of times. 

There are instance after instance after instance where the intelligence community was right or divided, where the administration, for reasons to, obvious to create an impression that they wanted the American people to believe, where they did not use what the intelligence community had found or decided. 

MATTHEWS:  What came first do you believe, Senator?  Their desire to go to war or the way they looked at the evidence? 

LEVIN:  I think basically they decided immediately after 9/11 to go after Saddam.  They began to—look there was plenty of evidence that Saddam had nuclear weapons, by the way.  That is not in dispute.  There is plenty of evidence of that.

Where they fell short, the administration fell short, was getting intelligence from the intelligence community about a link, alleged link between the people who attacked us, al Qaeda, and Saddam Hussein.  That‘s one of the important declassified sentences from the Defense Intelligence Agency over this weekend, which I released. 

Listen to this sentence and how different it is from what the administration was saying.  Here is what the Defense Intelligence community in this declassified document says.  Saddam‘s regime is intensely secular and is wary of Islamic revolutionary movements.  Moreover, Baghdad is unlikely to provide assistance to a group it cannot control.

That‘s what the Defense Intelligence Agency said before the war.  Yet you have the president before the war saying there is—this is President Bush, quote, you can‘t distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk on the war on terror. His own intelligence community was distinguishing between the two. 

MATTHEWS:  He still persists in that terminology.  He talk about a war on terrorism centered in Baghdad.  Why you do think he keeps saying it like that? 

LEVIN:  Because it is now.  It wasn‘t then, but it is now.  Clearly, it is the center place, the central place in terms of the war. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean we drew those foreign fighters into that country? 

LEVIN:  It‘s now, according even to the intelligence community now, the central place in the war on terrorism, but it was not the central place before the war.  Afghanistan was the central place in the war on terrorism.  It was not at all centralized in Baghdad. 

Now this is what we have to contend with.  We have to contend with it now that we‘re there.  I am not saying we don‘t have to contend with it.  But for the president to say that is where terrorism is, we have to defeat it.  Yes, we have to figure out a way to defeat it, by getting the Iraqis to come together and unified to defeat it, which is what they have not done yet. 

Politically, we‘ve got to try to get them to do that.  But, it was not that way prior to the war because of the reason that the Defense Intelligence Agency gave, which was Saddam was not allied with these Islamic revolutionary movements. 

MATTHEWS:  If you were to write a chapter in history and start it with a paragraph, how would you describe the way in which the United States, attacked by religious, fundamentalist zealots from the Islamic tradition, but zealots, terrorists.  How that attack led us to attack a country that had no detectable connection to that attack and in fact was run by a secular leadership ? 

LEVIN:  In a very mistaken, very arrogant way.  In a way which was not based on international support, and which has cost us heavily in terms of winning the war on terrorism. 

We need the very support of people who we have now antagonized by our rhetoric and by Western occupation of a Muslim country.  We‘ve got a lot of additional problems that we did not have before the war. 

None of that is to say that Saddam Hussein was anything other than a horrific dictator, but he was not the center in terms of a terrorist war on the United States. 

Now Iraq is the place where there is training of terrorists, which attracts terrorists.  I am afraid some day may be exporting terrorism.  When the president says we‘ve got to win this war in Iraq, he‘s right.  The course that he‘s on is not the way to do it because the course that he‘s on has led to a much more divided and incendiary Iraq, rather than an Iraq which is unified against the terrorist which would destroy any chance of Iraq becoming a nation and try to kill us in the process.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, much more on this HARDBALL special report, including more on how a small group inside the White House, they‘re called the Iraq group, made the public case for the Iraq war. 

Plus, with Karl Rove still under investigation in the leak probe, will he stay on the job at the White House?  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  A recent USA Today/Gallup Poll says that 53 percent of Americans believe the Bush administration deliberately led the public about Iraq‘s weapons of mass destruction.  Is now a good time for the senate to investigate and clear the air on this matter?

EJ Dionne is—I thought I said it with a nice French accent there—a syndicated columnist.  And Tony Blankley is the editorial page editor of “The Washington Times.”  Also, author of a great new book, “The West‘s Last Chance: Will We Win the Clash of Civilizations.”  He‘s a great writer.  Great book.  Thank you, Tony.  And thank you, E.J. 

Well, we do know some things.  Times are a change, maybe because the war isn‘t going well.  Looks like it‘s going to last awhile.  We are losing men and women, mostly men, day after day.  Is that why people are requestioning the arguments made for the war in the W.M.D. area?  Is that what‘s driving this change of view? 

E.J. DIONNE, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST:  Well, if everything were going swimmingly if there were peace in Iraq, if we were withdrawing troops in a victory, of course people would say this all went well even if the reasons they gave. 

MATTHEWS:  All‘s well that ends well.

DIONNE:  But that is not happening.  And I think people are revisiting this partly because of the Scooter Libby case.  And if there is a Karl Rove case.  Because that case is basically about who was willing to say what and what truths or untruths were willing to be said. 

But I also think what happened last week with the Democrats in Congress saying, perhaps belatedly, wait a minute what happened to this investigation on how the administration used this intelligence?  You had Senator Levin on here who has more standing than most Democrats.  Because he voted against the war in the first place because he didn‘t trust what the administration was saying. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he was pretty unpolitical tonight, which is unusual. 

He didn‘t use a lot of propaganda.  He spoke analytically.

DIONNE:  And he‘s never been a propagandist.  He simply said very early on this case doesn‘t add up. 

I am still struck by that line from Condi Rice when she said, we don‘t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.  The administration was trying to scare us into a war they probably wanted to fight anyway.  And after a couple of years when the thing didn‘t go well, they are paying a price for it. 

MATTHEWS:  Why you do think, Tony, people are saying to pollsters now, they believe there was a deliberate manipulation of the data to make the case for W.M.D. for war? 

TONY BLANKLEY, WASHINGTON TIMES:  Well, they heard that on television three years—or two years, however long its been.  The Democrats have been saying it repeatedly.  And because weapons of mass destruction were not found, those are sufficient plausibility in that attack on Bush.  That the remorseless repetition of it and Bush‘s, I think, pathetic lack of defense of his record, which is a strong one. 

MATTHEWS:  Why does he not talk much about Iraq for a year now?  I just saw Fred Barnes‘ piece in “The Weekly Standard,” this morning I read it when I got up?  Why do you think the president pulled back from a strong defense on the war policy? 

BLANKLEY:  It is inexplicable.  I have been writing for years that the Bush administration should explaining and defending their war on an Iraq policy.  And they‘ve basically have maintained radio silence, other than to repeat a few cliches. 

MATTHEWS:  Why does the president believe intoning the phrase, 9-11, that he can win a case for the argument of the war in Iraq?  Why does he keep thinking, just say it.

BLANKLEY:  You would have to ask his spokesman why they think that?  Obviously, it hasn‘t been working for a long period of time.  And it shouldn‘t.  That argument alone, just repeating that shouldn‘t..

MATTHEWS:  We were attacked by Arabs, we have to beat up an Arab country?  The connection between the people who attacked us and religious fundamentalists and suicidal zealots, and a secular country which is a bunch of bad guys in the region.  And then to jump from that saying if you want to get even, you remember how you felt?  Go punch these guys. 

BLANKLEY:  The causes of which the reason whys nations get into wars are multiple.  There is usually a slogan or two, remember the Maine, or whatever it is. 

MATTHEWS:  Remember 9-11.

BLANKLEY:  Remember 9-11, Pearl Harbor, whatever it is.  There is a slogan that everybody remembers.  But the fact is, great nations get into war force a lot of reasons.  And if the war isn‘t going well, then the opposition who is able to throw up a lot of dust can win a lot of points. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s see if it is dust, Tony, or is it finally an examination?  The Democrats say—I am not going to make their case.  E.J.  you said the Democrats want an investigation of the W.M.D. case for war, right?  Are they competent to conduct one?  Are they gutsy enough to do it? 

DIONNE:  Well, they are gutsy enough to call for this investigation, which they might have called for a long time ago.  Because Senator Roberts promised this would come out a long time ago. 

I salute Tony for some of the things he said.  But we are not having this discussion just because the administration hasn‘t made its case, although I agree him that it hasn‘t.  We had some new, a steady stream of information.  The aluminum tubes that you talked about in the earlier segment turned out no not to be designed to make these nuclear weapons. 

The connection with Saddam and 9-11 was never there.  And there were grave doubts inside the government about that 9-11. 

WMDs, as Tony mentioned, whether Niger had—uranium had come out of Niger.  So you‘ve had a steady long list of information come out. 

MATTHEWS:  The American people believe Dick Cheney lied?  Do they believe it was a question of looking at evidence a different way than the traditional intelligence communities? 

Like, remember we watched the Miami votes in Florida during the 2000 election?  One woman would be looking at the same chad.  Then this guy would be looking at the same exact chads and they had totally different votes on them.  Is that what happened with the intel?  The hawks saw this and said, God, they are coming to get us?  And the more dovish CIA types said I don‘t think anything is going on here?  Is that what happened, same data, Tony?

BLANKLEY:  Let me tell you.  Look, people on all sides have been cherry picking out of a body of ambiguous data.  Let me read two sentences from the national...

MATTHEWS:  Cherry picking out of a massive ambiguous data was pretty damn good.  We‘ll be right back with Tony Blankley and E.J. Dionne.

And later on on HARDBALL tonight, former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle is going to be here to talk about what happened last week.  Apparently, he was the man behind the curtain.

Plus, our analysts will critique the big presidential debate last night on NBC‘s, “The West Wing,” which was just for kidding.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIMMY SMITS, ACTOR:  Republicans have tried to turn liberal into a bad word.  Well, liberals ended slavery in this country.

ALAN ALDA, ACTOR:  A Republican president ended slavery.

SMITS:  Yes.  A liberal Republican, Senator.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

MATTHEWS:  We are back with syndicated columnist E.J. Dionne and Tony Blankley of “The Washington Times.”

You know, based upon information now in.  A couple of people had key roles outside the administration in selling the administration, rather selling the media particularly “The New York Times,” on the role that we had to play in Iraq because of WMD  threat. 

One was Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress.  The other was Scooter Libby, the vice president‘s chief of staff. 

They apparently played key roles in briefing “The New York Times,” getting stories that showed up on Sundays, the very days the big shots in the administration would come in and say, hey, did you see that story in “The Times” today?

You know, they all—we‘re going to talk about that later in this how.

Ahmed Chalabi is coming back, Tony Blankley.  What do you think of him?  He‘s the guy who may well end up the head of Iraq.  He gave us a lot of bad Intel to get his country back.  Is he persona non grata now with his country? 

BLANKLEY:  Oh, obviously, he was supported by the pentagon, opposed by the CIA and state department.  Everyone thought he had nothing going.  He‘s ending...

MATTHEWS:  He‘s wanted in Jordan. 

BLANKLEY:  Well, on an arguably phony suit. 

But, the point is he‘s a very controversial guy.  He‘s obviously...

MATTHEWS:  Would you give him editorial board at your newspaper? 

BLANKLEY:  Editorial board?  Of course, I have all sorts of interesting people in it. 

But, let me go back just very briefly.

MATTHEWS:  Would you bring Scooter Libby in? 

BLANKLEY:  In a heartbeat.  I would bring you in a heartbeat. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, that‘s sarcasm.

Go ahead.

BLANKLEY:  No, no.

Let me make just one point.  I was talking about cherry picking ambiguous data.  But, the last National Intelligence estimate in 2002 before war, and that‘s the consensus judgment of the intelligence community, it‘s an institutional device, and let me read two sentences from it. 

Because it reads...               

MATTHEWS:  This is the National Intelligence estimates.  But, wasn‘t this under pressure from a hawkish vice president‘s office that pushed a lot of this stuff? 

BLANKLEY:  The National Intelligence estimate is the final expression of the intelligence community. 

MATTHEWS:  After they had six meetings with the vice president.  After Scooter Libby had been talking with them relentlessly and pushing. 

BLANKLEY:  It has historically been the institutional expression of the intelligence community, and what they said was, in two sentences, Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear program.  Iraq has chemical and biological weapons.  Iraq was developing an unmanned aerial vehicle, a UAV, probably intended to deliver biological warfare agents. 

And all key aspects, research and development of production of Iraq‘s offensive biological weapons program active, and that most elements are larger and more advanced then they were before the Gulf War.

Now, that is the consensus advice that was given to President Bush by the National—in the National Intelligence Estimate. 

MATTHEWS:  Was it accurate? 

BLANKLEY:  No.  It was inaccurate. 

My point being...

MATTHEWS:  Well, was it inaccurate because George Tenet was responsive to the president, who was loyal to him? 

BLANKLEY:  If you want to indict...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just asking.

BLANKLEY:  If you want to indict the Tenet and all the National Intelligence people from the different agencies, who participated, then you can. 

The point is the president relied on that.  And that is basically what he said.  Now, you can pick little pieces of evidence that were debated between the different agencies all the time, which just goes on all the time in this town.  You know, one... 

MATTHEWS:  But, why did Tenet say after the president said in the State of the Union 2002-2003, that there was a uranium program out of Africa, and afterwards Tenet said, I didn‘t read that speech ahead of time, it shouldn‘t have been in time. 

Well, why are you making a case on what he believes if he said afterwards, I don‘t there was a case? 

BLANKLEY:  Because the National Intelligence Estimate, while it‘s overseen by the director of central intelligence, is the consensus document in the community. 

MATTHEWS:  I know, you are being formal here. 

BLANKLEY:  No.  This is important.  Because all of us around this town can call our favorite intelligence expert and have him cite some piece of information in an ambiguity... 

MATTHEWS:  You believe that Colin Powell when he went to the U.N. was saying what he though or what his administration told him to say when he want to the U.N.

BLANKLEY:  I assume both.

MATTHEWS:  You believe this wasn‘t pushed, this evidence. 

BLANKLEY:  I don‘t think Colin Powell lied.  I know him and I don‘t think he lied.

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t think he made a case for other people, not himself, that he really believed in this war? 

BLANKLEY:  I can‘t believe he went there and lied. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s not a question of lying.  It‘s making somebody else‘s case. 

BLANKLEY:  I believe he went there and made the case that he understood the intelligence community made to him.

And, the fact is that if that statement that I just read is the argument that the Bush people made, you can argue that it‘s wrong, but to say that he misled the public based on twisting intelligence himself or the White House, I don‘t think it is supported by the facts. 

DIONNE:  We need to know what Chris said, Tony, and you know this, is whether this intelligence estimate, which is boiling down lots of information, left out an awful lot of information they had that raised questions about each one of those assertions. 

And I think what we need to know is not just whether the CIA was wrong, but whether...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ...made that point.  There should be both views.  The view  of this group, the community and a question of the worst-case scenario if they were wrong. 

Thank you, Tony Blankley.  We are going to continue this debate.  It‘s being well debated.  Anyway, E.J. Dionne, thank you.

Up next, selling the war in Iraq.  We‘ll take an in depth look at the administration campaign to market the war. 

Plus, the former Senate Democratic leader, Tom Daschle, joins us. 

He‘s a friend of the man, who orchestrated the stunt last week in the U.S.

Senate. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL ON MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to this HARDBALL special report.  For the last several weeks, the question on HARDBALL has been the guilt or innocence in the CIA leak case. 

Tonight we pull back for a wider view, as I said, I think a better view of how operatives in the Bush White House marketed the notion that Iraq posed a direct nuclear threat to this country.  It involved a masterful manipulation of the medium we‘re on right now, what you‘re watching right now, television.  We‘re going to tell you tonight how they did it.

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It was September of 2002, just three days before the emotional one-year anniversary of 9/11 and the giant wound of the al Qaeda attack on New York was still open.

The Bush administration had assembled a media strategy team known as the White House Iraq Group.  It consisted of top officials, including those in the vice president‘s office whose goals starting after Labor Day was to sell a war on Iraq, which had no detectable role on 9/11. 

On September 7, 2002, White House chief of staff Andy Card referred to the effort in an interview with The New York Times and said, quote, from a marketing point of view, you don‘t introduce new products in August.

The next day, the White House marketers delivered their product, a New York Times front page story.  U.S. says Hussein intensifies quest for A-Bomb parts. Judy Miller attributing the story to Bush administration officials reported, quote, Iraq has stepped up it‘s quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb.  In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes meant for Iraq‘s nuclear program.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There is a story in The New York Times this morning...

SHUSTER:  ... Vice president Cheney in a scheduled appearance on Meet the Press that same day pointed to the story and added...

CHENEY:  ... That he is in fact actively and aggressively seeking to acquire nuclear weapons. 

SHUSTER:  Cheney was not the only scheduled guest that day pushing The New York Times story and hammering the nuclear argument.  In a unique media blitz, the White House dispatched five A-list administration officials to the television airwaves, one to each of the Sunday talk shows. 

Colin Powell on FOX News Sunday, said about Saddam, quote, we saw in reporting just this morning, he is still trying to acquire, for example, some of the specialized aluminum tubing one needs to develop centrifuges.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, FORMER CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF:  Our intelligence is always imperfect and we usually find out that what we don‘t know is the most troublesome.  In this case, so we don‘t know.  Our estimate is at this point he does not have nuclear weapon, but he wants one. 

SHUSTER:  On CNN, when Condoleezza Rice was asked if it‘s possible the tube were not for nuclear weapons, she replied...

CONDOLEEZZA RICA, SECRETARY OF STATE:  ... We don‘t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.

SHUSTER:  The nuclear claims led the papers and the nightly newscasts for two days in a row.  Then on 9/11...

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  ... We will not relent until justice is done and our nation is secure.  What our enemies have begun, we will finish. 

SHUSTER:  The next day at the United Nations...

BUSH:  ... Iraq has made several attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes used to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon.  Should Iraq acquire fissile material, it would be able to build a nuclear weapon within a year. 

SHUSTER:  The following week, Congress began debating a war resolution.  While the Clinton administration and intelligence agencies around the world had suspected Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the Bush administration was the first to argue Saddam posed a direct threat to the continental United States. 

BUSH:  There‘s a lot of Democrats in Washington, D.C. who understand that Saddam Hussein is a true threat. 

SHUSTER:  In early October, the president spoke again about Iraq‘s efforts to buy aluminum tubes and added, echoing Condoleezza Rice...

BUSH:  ... we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud. 

SHUSTER:  Four days later, the Senate and the House voted to allow President Bush to launch a war on Iraq if Saddam doesn‘t disarm.  The resolution stated that Iraq posed, a continuing threat to the United States by, among other things, actively seeking a nuclear weapons capability. Many Democrats who voted for the resolution emphasized that very point. 

Unbeknownst to the public at the time, however, was that two agencies in the administration, the State Department‘s Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the Department of Energy, concluded the aluminum tubes were the wrong specification for nuclear materials. 

Agency officials, under orders not to talk publicly, thought the tubes were intended to be Iraqi artillery rockets, not nukes.  In early January 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported, quote, while it would be possible to modify such tubes for the manufacture of centrifuges, they are not directly suitable for it.

The Bush administration dismissed the IAEA report and in the president‘s State of the Union, the ultimate platform for the administration to sell the idea that Saddam was a nuclear threat....

BUSH:  The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.  Our intelligence sources tell us he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapon production. 

SHUSTER:  The first sentence was retracted six months later, following criticism from Ambassador Joe Wilson.  And that led, in turn, to White House actions against Wilson and his CIA wife, that evolved into a criminal investigation into White House leaks. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER (on camera):  But the investigation was not in time to stop White House operatives from executing what had already been a masterful and successful marketing of what State Department official Richard Haass called at the time, a war of choice.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.

I‘m so proud of David‘s work there. 

Senator Daschle, thank you for joining us.  He put together a lot of things we‘ve been trying to report on this program.  He put it all together. 

What stunned me was the knowledge we have now that Judy Miller wrote a story for the front page of The New York Times that she was briefed to write from Scooter Libby, who is now under charges.  And then they had all worked it out so that people like Colin Powell could come on the air that morning and say, we saw in the reporting just this morning, a complete use of the press as a pinball machine so all the lights would go on. 

Would you have been re-elected if this story ran before your re-election? 

SEN. TOM DASCHLE, FORMER SENATE DEMOCRATIC LEADER:  Chris, I don‘t know if I‘d have been reelected.  But, I tell you what, the American people would be a whole lot better off.  This is outrageous.  The whole notion that this was marketing is probably true. 

I would go as far to say it was manipulation.  This is manipulation at its very worst.  Information that we should have had when we made critical decisions was withheld.  Information that the American people should have had before we committed National Guard troops and our military forces in Iraq was distorted.  All of this manipulated to a political goal that I think is just as wrong as anything I‘ve seen in my lifetime. 

MATTHEWS:  But it was so successfully done that it wasn‘t until last week that, or week before last, that John Kerry, the Democratic nominee for president, said that he was wrong to have voted for that authorization.  It was that powerful.

Hillary Clinton sticks to her vote.  Chuck Schumer stick to his vote.  The people who—Hillary will say things like, well if we had known that, there wouldn‘t have been a vote.  But that‘s still couching it.

Wasn‘t he successful in convincing you, Senators, that if you weren‘t patriotic and didn‘t vote for the authorization for war, without any evidence, really, you were going to get beaten in the polls. 

DASCHLE:  You‘ve got to give the benefit of the doubt to the commander in chief, to the president, to the person who supposedly has all the information, who is telling you as you just heard in this report, unequivocally, they will have nuclear weapons if we don‘t act. 

MATTHEWS:  Why did you fellows and women on Capitol Hill believe—I know a lot of people in the media I respect a lot, who believed it too, OK.  I accept the fact a lot of people believed this nuclear story.  I never personally thought it was any reason we went to war.  I believe we went to war for ideological reasons, the belief we could take countries, in the Arab world especially, and turn them around politically with a little bit of messaging, or whatever, gun play. 

But why did you believe that they could build a bomb and send it over here on what vehicle?  That balsam wood thing they were showing us?  That weird kind of—what was that plane?  What was that thing we were looking at?  Did you believe all that at the time?  That he could create a nuclear weapon, mount it on this airplane that looked like it was made of balsam wood and send it all the way around the world to hit us somewhere in Florida or somewhere?  Did you believe that? 

DASCHLE:  I don‘t think it was necessarily we were going to be the target.  It could have been a regional target.

MATTHEWS:  He said the United States, though. 

DASCHLE:  But it could have been Air Force bases.  It could have been military insulations in the region.  I mean, you could have other devices.  We were also being briefed at the time that it wouldn‘t take more than a pick-up.  Some sort of a small wind do deliver. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s dirty bombs, too. 

DASCHLE:  Exactly.  And if you had the technology.  I mean, the fear was you‘ll always consider the worst-case scenario.  And in the worst-case scenario, that was a deliverable option...

MATTHEWS:  By the worst-case scenario, we‘d be at war with 30 countries right now.

DASCHLE:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  I can think of a lot—India‘s got it, Pakistan‘s got it. 

North Korea.  A lot of countries have bad weaponry. 

Let me ask you about what you Did last week.  Did you try—because I know you were the adviser to the Senate Democratic leadership, did you try going to that stunt—I‘ll call it a stunt—conventions now are stunts, political conventions—to get the media focused on the fact you people, your side of the aisle wanted to have finally a debate and a discussion what caused this war in terms of the case for nuclear weapons? 

DASCHLE:  Chris, there were two objectives.  First of all, to get the facts.  We‘d been trying to get the facts for two years.  And your reporter did as good a job as I‘ve seen on the media in trying to ascertain that. 

MATTHEWS:  But you don‘t have the subpoena power.  You‘ve lost the elections.

DASCHLE:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  So how could the Democrats—one thing when you lose, when you lose.  You don‘t get the subpoena power. 

DASCHLE:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  So, how are you guy ever going to get the truth? 

DASCHLE:  And the second thing we wanted to do was draw attention to this issue.  And force Republicans to do something they said they would do for two years.  Every time I would asked Bill Frist, he would say we are going to do this.  We‘re going to find a way to call the session and have this debate.  They never did.

Finally, I think Harry Reid and the Democrats lost patience.  And good for them, the time had come for them to take this action, and it got the results that we wanted. 

MATTHEWS:  What would be the results? 

DASCHLE:  The results would be two things, I think.  First, it‘ll be an understanding of what went wrong and why. 

And secondly...

MATTHEWS:  What went wrong, meaning, what went wrong with the intel? 

DASCHLE:  What went wrong with the intel.  Was it manipulated?

(CROSSTALK)

DASCHLE:  The question is, it was bad intel, but why was it bad?  Was it manipulated or was it just total incompetence?  I think that it was manipulated even the reports.

MATTHEWS:  Who manipulated Tony Blair?  Why do the British, I was told this weekend by a BBC reporter, that the British still believe in their intelligence that the president relied upon in his state of the union that, there was in fact an effort by Saddam Hussein to buy uranium yellowcake from Niger? 

DASCHLE:  We don‘t have that information.  But this is another thing that ought to be part of that investigation.  Why was that information not better understood?  And what was the reason the British...

MATTHEWS:  You share the public view that Dick Cheney knew what his guy was up to, Scooter Libby? 

DASCHLE:  Chris, we don‘t know.  I suspect that he knew a lot more than he is admitting to right now.  So, I would like to find out. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that Karl Rove should continue on as the president‘s top kick? 

DASCHLE:  I don‘t.  I think he ought to resign.  I think anybody who has been called upon to be in a position of responsibility as he is owes it to the American people to be more forthcoming than he‘s been.  And I don‘t think he deserves to be there. 

MATTHEWS:  You do think Karl Rove has been good for American politics? 

DASCHLE:  No.  Simple answer is no. 

MATTHEWS:  Why? 

DASCHLE:  I think they have a different approach to politics. 

MATTHEWS:  If you had a guy like him, wouldn‘t you want a guy that can win elections? 

DASCHLE:  Well, you want to win elections, but you don‘t want to win them that way.  I mean, you read the books and you see the tactics—and frankly, they are successful.  But ultimately, there‘s got to be a way of preserving our institutions and our democracy and the kind of politics that I was raised on.  And I am not seeing that from the White House today. 

MATTHEWS:  What did you think when Bill Frist showed up in South Dakota campaigning against you? 

DASCHLE:  I thought it was wrong.  I just don‘t think—there ought to be a time when you govern and time you do politics.  I mean, once that election is over with, it ought to be coming together and working on the hill in a bipartisan way as much as you can.  There are going to be differences, deep philosophical differences.  But there ought to be a time when you work together.  And this is counter to all of it.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the Democrats are being forced to play a little more man-dog politics like the operation last week of shutting the Senate? 

DASCHLE:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  You are getting as tough as they are. 

DASCHLE:  You have to.  If you are not going to change, you have only one option.  And that is to play in the same tough ballpark as they do. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you going to find more Karl Rove? 

DASCHLE:  Well, we‘ve already found many of them.  Yeah.  There are some there.  And we are going to be recruiting more, absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  Senate Democrats looking for another Rove. 

Anyway.  Thank you very much, Senator Tom Daschle. 

Up next, the next legal steps in the CIA case.  Scooter Libby awaiting trial some time next year.  Will Karl Rove keep his job in the White House because he is still under investigation.  This is HARDBALL, a special report, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We are back. 

For more on how the White House marketed the Iraq war which we‘ve been talking about tonight, we turn to editor-in-chief of “The Hotline” Chuck Todd and John Fund of OpinionJournal.com who is in San Diego tonight.

Fundy, I‘ve got to ask you, we had a wonderful package I thought, analytically, putting together the superb manor of the White House media relations before the congress voted back in 2003 for the -- 2002 for the election. 

That was, of course, in September 8th we gave an example of a weekend in which “The Times” had a front-page story, which had been basically fed to them by Scooter and perhaps Ahmed Chalabi, in which they made the case for these aluminum tubes being evidence of a nuclear program being resumed in Iraq. 

Then five top people with the vice president on down, with people like Colin Powell and Condi Rice and Rumsfeld and such and General Myers, hit all five TV—talk shows that Sunday. 

And it was almost hilarious the way you watch it because they would say, we saw in the reporting this morning.  They clearly were all briefed.  They knew that the piece was going to run.  What you do think about that elaborate media manipulation? 

JOHN FUND, WALL STREET JOURNAL:  David Shuster‘s piece was excellent, but let‘s put it in context. 

Bill Clinton had already said all the same things about Saddam Hussein being a threat, had these weapons of mass destruction.  Jay Rockefeller, the Democratic chairman of the Intelligence Committee, had said the same things. 

And here‘s the thing...

MATTHEWS:  Nuclear weapons. 

FUND:  Chris, let me finish. 

MATTHEWS:  Nuclear. 

FUND:  Chris. 

You can go and look at Clinton.  And he also had items in there about nuclear capability. 

Listen, Chris, obviously every administration engages in media manipulation.  I remember Bill Clinton talking about death camps in Kosovo to justify that war that never were found. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

FUND:  The Bush administration can be faulted, but let‘s be clear. 

The Bush administration did this two months before the mid-term elections.  You had a Democratic opposition party that did not ask the right questions unlike the right questions they asked in the 1991 war. 

Remember, Congress almost disapproved invading Iraq after the invasion of Kuwait.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

FUND:  In this case the opposition party fell down.  It didn‘t do its job.  The media didn‘t do its job.  Where were the editors critiquing and asking the reporters, who were doing these stories if they had multiple sources or just one source in the administration?

So, there is a lot of fault going around here.  Let‘s not just put it in the Bush administration. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You know what you‘ve said it very well, I agree. 

And the fact that they were able to play us as a pinball machine meant that we are a pinball machine.  And that is not a nice thing to be, Chuck. 

CHUCK TODD, EDITOR, “THE HOTLINE”:  Well, that is the problem that the Democrats are in.  Because now they are doing this whole, we were duped strategy.  And that is a sign of weakness.  That means you are such a weak opposition party... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ...like Romney saying he was brainwashed in the Vietnam War? 

(CROSSTALK)    

TODD:  It‘s exactly like the George Romney situation.  And this is the line that Democrats are walking right now.  Things are looking good right now because Iraq is so unpopular, but at some point they are going to have to eat this thing.  

MATTHEWS:  But, don‘t the American people, not to be cynical, want some kind of a permission slip to say, you know, I did support the war on patriotic belief.  I did think there needed to be some payback for 9-11.  The president said the appropriate target of that payback was Iraq.  I went along with the president.  We only have one at a time.

Now they are wondering whether that war was a good idea or not because it seems to be endless.  Is it fair to say the American people are looking for a way to say, it wasn‘t our fault?

TODD:  I think they are. 

The problem is that do the Democrats have the credibility to lead them down that road or is it going to take—I have had this theory it‘s actually going to take a Republican, to say...

MATTHEWS:  Chuck Hagel.

TODD:  That‘s exactly who I was thinking of.  Is that Chuck Hagel say, you know what, I was duped...

(CROSSTALK) 

MATTHEWS:  Well, if Rudy Giuliani ever does that he‘ll be fascinated.

We‘ll be right back with Chuck Todd and John Fund.

I agree with everything I heard so far tonight. 

When we return, we‘ll analyze the presidential debate last night on NBC‘s The West Wing.   We‘ll have some fun.

And a reminder our debate is ongoing on HARDBALL.  Our political blog web site and you can download pod casts of HARDBALL just go to our web site hardball.msnbc.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Last night NBC presented a rare television special.  A political debate between the characters portrayed by Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits on The West Wing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)         

ALDA:  American pharmaceutical companies save us money and they save lives and the Democrats cannot stop attacking them. 

SMITS:  Well, why should the pharmaceutical industry get protection that no other American industry gets?  We can buy anything else from Canada.  Why not prescription drugs? 

ALDA:  Because the Canadian price controls may—they are unfair to American countries. 

SMITS:  They are unfair? 

ALDA:  Yes, they are.

SMITS:  Is it fair AIDS victims have been dying in Africa for years because the drug companies are protecting their profit margins? 

ALDA:  Drugmakers have lowered their prices in Africa dramatically. 

SMITS:  Yes, only after we have them pushed to do it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, they took a poll afterwards, but all it convinced me was, John Fund, that about three out of four people that watch this show are liberal Democrats.  What do you think of the performance last night?  You reported on it today.

FUND:  Look, West Wing is an idealized vision of the Oval Office, this is an idealized vision of a debate with no rules and the candidates interrupting each other.  We don‘t see that often.

I thought it was a great debate.  I thought both candidates acquitted themselves well. rMD+IT_ rMDNM_I thought the character that Alan Alda played was very Reagan-esque.  When he says—when he is asked how many jobs are you going to create as president, he says none.  Entrepreneurs create jobs.  I thought it was great theater. 

MATTHEWS:  But he was a tough conservative.  He didn‘t play the compassionate conservative card.  Do you think his, sort of biting manner— he was so calm in sense, I wondered if he wasn‘t pandering enough. 

FUND:  I think both candidates represented their party‘s ideology very well and very clear.  They didn‘t have to sugarcoat it because it‘s television.  It‘s drama.  So, you got the pure unadulterated message.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I want to ask you, Chuck.  The best part of this I thought, I didn‘t see the whole thing, but the part I really liked last night was when they were arguing over rules.  Because I cannot stand this, three seconds for this, 10 seconds for that, rebuttal up to the discretion of the anchor, or whatever the moderator.

Why don‘t they go at each other hammer and tongue at these debates? 

FUND:  I have no idea.  I mean, you keep wondering at some point are these candidates finally going to say we‘re going to show authenticity.  I mean, any time... 

MATTHEWS:  How about spontaneity. 

FUND:  And right.

But this word, this authenticity, this magic word, always shows up in polls about who is more authentic.  Well, then how about authentic debates?  These debates you think presidential debates are scripted.  You should see these ones...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  All the best lines like there you go again, and all that stuff, and I won‘t use your youth or inexperience, all that stuff is scripted ahead by people like Mike Deaver and Gergen.  There‘s no spontaneity in these things, are there, the ones we watch every four years? 

FUND:  There‘s some exceptions.  Look at Saturday‘s debate between Jon Corzine and Doug Forrester in New Jersey.  That was spontaneous, and, guess what?  Jon Corzine actually committed a gaffe.  He made a mistake...

MATTHEWS:  Well, yes.

FUND:  ...when he said...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I felt like Groucho Marx saying you watch it.

Anyway, thank you Chuck Todd and John Fund. 

Tomorrow on HARDBALL our series of special reports on the CIA leak investigation continue.

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.

END   

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