updated 11/8/2005 11:05:06 PM ET 2005-11-09T04:05:06

Guests: John Harris, Tom DeFrank, Michael Isikoff, Ed Meese, Ron Christie

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  HARDBALL special report. 

Most Americans think Dick Cheney was in the loop on the CIA leak. 

Does that make him out of favor with the president? 

And what does today‘s election results mean for President Bush‘s second term? 

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews. 

Tonight, HARDBALL is coming to you from CIA leak prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald‘s jurisdiction in Chicago. 

Tonight, in the second in our series of taking you inside the CIA leak investigation, we turn attention to Vice President Cheney.  Were the leakers protecting the president or Cheney? 

The White House press briefing got contentious today over Cheney‘s efforts to lobby against anti-torture legislation, while the president ordered staffers to attend ethics training. 

And gut check—it‘s Election Day in two big states, Virginia and New Jersey, also in California. 

We‘re going to get to Vice President Cheney in just a moment and examine whether he still has the trust of President Bush.  And believe me, that is the hot topic tonight in Washington. 

But, first, today‘s election. 

Voters have gone to the polls today in several states, including Virginia, New Jersey and California. 

John Harris of the “Washington Post” is tracking the results and he joins us now. 

John, what does the headline look like it‘s shaping up to be tonight and tomorrow morning? 

JOHN HARRIS, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, look, we‘re obsessed with a couple of races in particular. 

Virginia, very tight governor‘s race there.  Republican-leaning state, but the Democrats have been running slightly ahead in the polls.  That‘s Kaine the Democrat, Kilgore the Republican.  That‘s probably the one that‘s going to be a white-knuckle race today. 

We may get surprised in New Jersey in that race there.  We think Corzine is ahead, but that race gotten very tough and nasty and personal these past few days.  And it appears to be tightening.  That could be a big upset if he doesn‘t win—the Democrat doesn‘t win up there, Corzine, Forrester, the Republican.

Those are the two big...

MATTHEWS:  Corzine is known to spend a lot of money on Election Day, right?

HARRIS:  Yes.  Well, you got...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, lots of money.  Unbelievable amounts of cash. 

HARRIS:  Now, are you talking about walking-around money, Chris, that‘s hardball.

But, yes, he does have an unlimited pockets. 

MATTHEWS:  So you can‘t look at exit polling and expect you‘re learning anything, because the amount of money that can be spent during the afternoon and evening to get people to the polls who haven‘t voted yet can be decisive. 

HARRIS:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the Virginia race, because that‘s where the president campaigned the other day. 

Is his involvement at the last minute going to really risk his standing in this off-year election? 

HARRIS:  Well, look, it was amazing that he hadn‘t been in that state before. 

Ordinarily, Republican candidates would, you know, die to have a Republican president come in and campaign for them.  The Republican down there, Kilgore was very ambivalent about that. 

Bush‘s poll numbers even in Virginia are not great.  It wasn‘t clear it was a net plus. 

At the end last night, you know, election eve, Bush did come in, in Richmond, and they are hoping that he can help with turnout, but, you know, Bush is not on the ballot there—I wouldn‘t overstate that, but it is interesting that he‘s not a real asset. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, John Harris.  We‘ll be talking to you in a moment.

HARRIS:  Sure thing.

MATTHEWS:  More about these elections today in Virginia, New Jersey, and the big one in California with Arnold Schwarzenegger later in today‘s program. 

Well, now the CIA leak investigation, which is increasingly turning up the political heat on Vice President Cheney. 

What‘s the impact on Cheney?  If he was in the loop, as the public suspects in the polling, in the leak of the CIA agent‘s identity, does he still have the trust of President Bush? 

And could this investigation take away some of the immense power the vice president and his staff has at times ruthlessly wielded within this administration? 

Does Bush have the power to limit Cheney‘s clout right now? 

HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has this report. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  As lawyers for the vice president‘s former chief of staff prepare Scooter Libby‘s defense, today the “New York Daily News” reported the CIA leak scandal has harmed the relationship between Vice President Cheney and President Bush. 

“The relationship is not what it was,” the paper quoted a presidential counselor.  “There has been some distance for some time.” 

Last week, “Newsweek” magazine reported the influence of the vice president has been eroding for a year and has now hit rock bottom. 

White House officials deny the reports and argue nothing has changed. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  They don‘t come any better, and I‘m proud to have Dick Cheney by my side. 

SHUSTER:  But just a month ago, the distance between the president and vice president was evident when Harriet Miers was nominated to the Supreme Court and Scott McClellan gave this sequence of events. 

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  The president had called Andy Card just before 7:00 last night to let him know that he had made a final decision.  Andy Card informed the vice president. 

SHUSTER:  The recent indictment of Scooter Libby says that Vice President Cheney talked to his chief of staff at least twice about classified information at the heart of the case, including one day when Libby then passed the information along to reporters.

But the bigger issue for President Bush may be the vice president‘s prewar claims about Iraq. 

RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Well, I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will in fact be greeted as liberators. 

SHUSTER:  The vice president‘s iron determination to invade Iraq puzzled some former colleagues, who now in the wake of the occupation are publicly questioning Cheney‘s judgment. 

Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser during the first Bush administration while Cheney was secretary of defense, said, quote, “I consider Cheney a good friend.  I‘ve known him for 30 years.  But Dick Cheney, I don‘t know anymore.” 

Cheney, however, is not giving an inch.  He replaced Scooter Libby with adviser John Hannah and counsel David Addington.  Hannah was Scooter Libby‘s top deputy.  Addington is a tough neocon hawk who wrote controversial administration memos arguing for limited rights for terrorism suspects. 

Last week, the vice president himself went to Capitol Hill, asked aides to leave the room and passionately told senators that an amendment prohibiting inhuman treatment of detainees would tie the president‘s hands and cost thousands of lives. 

Cheney‘s hard-line approach comes as editorial pages are hitting him even harder. 

“Mr. Cheney‘s back is against the wall,” said the “New York Times,” “and he‘s declared war on the Geneva Conventions.” 

But the vice president is as unbowed as ever even though in the past that‘s harmed his credibility, like when he alleged Iraq was linked to a 9/11 terrorist. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GLORIA BORGER, TV SHOW HOST:  You have said in the past that it was, quote, “pretty well confirmed.” 

CHENEY:  No, I never said that. 

BORGER:  OK.

CHENEY:  I never said that. 

BORGER:  I think that is...

CHENEY:  Absolutely not. 

What I said was the Czech intelligence service reported after 9/11 that Atta had been in Prague on April 9th of 2001, where he allegedly met with an Iraqi intelligence official.  We have never been able to confirm that, nor have we been able to knock it down. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  It‘s been pretty well confirmed that he did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER (on camera):  Regardless of whether Dick Cheney is as close an adviser to President Bush as he was a few years ago, the vice president‘s approval rating now stands at just 19 percent.  Results of the administration‘s foreign policies have prompted some changes, and as one Bush associate told the “New York Daily News” today, the independence of the vice president‘s office has ended. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster. 

Tom DeFrank with the “New York Daily News,” he‘s the Washington bureau chief.  And Mike Isikoff is the investigative reporter for “Newsweek.”

Tom, let me start with you.

It seems to me the vice president was very strong in making predictions before the war we were going to be greeted as liberators, there was WMD there, especially nuclear.  He said nuclear program under way, connection with 9/11 through the Prague meeting.  All that certitude beforehand; now some, as we just saw on that tape with Gloria Borger, a lot of pulling back. 

Has this hurt his relationship with the president? 

TOM DEFRANK, “NEW YORK DAILY NEWS”:  I don‘t think there‘s any doubt about that, Chris. 

And I think that the distance in the relationship that this story talks about today actually has been obvious—or not so obvious, but it‘s been there for a couple of years. 

It started with Iraq.  There‘s a feeling on the part of the president that the vice president and, maybe to a lesser degree, the secretary of defense‘s predictions about how Iraq was going to play out were overly optimistic, to put it mildly.  And I think that‘s where the distance began. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, did it get to the point, as your reporting told you, as it told you that the president was able—was so worried about what Cheney knew about this trip to Africa to check out the uranium deal that came back at least mixed, that he went to the vice president and said, “Did you know that there was a mixed report on whether there was a deal with Niger?” 

DEFRANK:  I don‘t know the answer to that. 

Maybe Mike knows, but I don‘t know the answer to that question. 

MATTHEWS:  Mike, can you confirm or do you have any reporting to show that the president was so nervous about what Cheney had known about the fact that there may have been a problem with the WMD, the nuclear case before the war, that after the war he asked him, “Did you know about that trip to Africa by Joe Wilson?” 

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, “NEWSWEEK”:  I have no information as to whether Bush ever asked Cheney about it.

Although I have to say I just was struck watching that Gloria Borger interview juxtaposed with the “Meet the Press” comment.  Cheney didn‘t pull -- he may have pulled back in the 2004 interview with Gloria, but he also denied what he clearly had said. 

I mean, it just—it does raise questions about the tether to reality here, which I think is at the heart of much of the controversy about his prewar statements and the role he played in the run-up to war. 

MATTHEWS:  But was there a different score book?  Was there a different score sheet for the president before the war, anything that sold the war was good and after the war, truth mattered? 

ISIKOFF:  Well, you‘re seeing that. 

I mean, look, that‘s what this whole phase two investigation that the Senate Intelligence Committee is now conducting is all about.  Taking the public statements one by one—and this is the way the Republicans want to define it, Senator Roberts wants to define it.

Let‘s take the public statements and let‘s compare them to the underlying intelligence.  I think incidentally on that score, one of the more significant stories was the one over the weekend about these declassified comments from the Defense Intelligence Agency in which they had raised questions in February of 2002 about the interrogation of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, who was the al Qaeda commander who was claiming that Iraq had provided chemical and biological warfare training for al Qaeda members. 

This is a claim. It comes from Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, the al Qaeda guy in custody of the CIA, that made it‘s way into Secretary Powell‘s speech before the United Nations. 

Remember, Atta in Prague didn‘t.  Uranium in Niger didn‘t, but Ibn Sheikh al-Libi‘s claim did.  There‘s a whole section of Powell‘s speech that specifically cites an al Qaeda commander who is telling us this.  And now we‘ve learned not only—I had first reported last year that Ibn Sheikh al-Libi had recanted those claims after the war. 

But now we learn that the Defense Intelligence Agency was raising big red flags about the credibility of this a year before Powell made those comments.  In some ways it mirrors the Niger uranium controversy and it certainly raises a whole host of questions. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m waiting to, say we get back to Tom and Mike and ask them about what the president must have thought when he got a brief of the indictment of Scooter Libby, where he clearly draws the vice president in as the source of information on Mrs. Wilson that went to his chief of staff.

And also, that he was giving guidance to his chief of staff the very day his chief of staff went on several hours later to brief two top reporters.

Apparently it looks me to me like, it‘s reasonable to assume, with the guidance of his boss.  More with Michael Isikoff and Tom DeFrank when we return. 

Coming up, what today‘s gubernatorial races say about President Bush‘s second term. 

Plus, President Bush‘s relationship with Vice President Cheney in the shadow, as I said, of the CIA investigation.  Does the president need to pull back some of Cheney‘s power?  Can he? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, a special report on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back with Tom DeFrank of the New York Daily News and Mike Isikoff of Newsweek.

Gentlemen, let‘s imagine being President Bush for today, just today, and how he‘s thinking about this.  The vice president is mentioned in this indictment against his chief of staff.  The vice president is accused of giving his chief of staff the name of Mrs. Wilson, the fact that she works at the CIA is the first bit of information, or among the first bits of information he got along these lines. 

He‘s also cited as having given his chief of staff instructions on how to deal with the press.  The same day he talked to two top reporters and gave it away. 

How can the president not suspect that his boss—I shouldn‘t say, what a Freudian slip—that his partner, Dick Cheney, didn‘t have a hand in leaking this—you‘re laughing, Mike.  You know why I‘m laughing because he is such a strong V.P.  Didn‘t believe that his strong V.P. was the boss of Scooter Libby?

DEFRANK:  Well, the fact is, you‘re right.  But my point is, my feeling, Chris, is the president has been skeptical about all of this for a lot longer than today or yesterday or on October 28, when Mr. Libby was indicted. 

I think the president had been concerned about the vice president‘s operation for a lot longer than any of us, any of us knew.  It‘s just being more manifest now, and I think the indictment of Libby will hasten or accelerate the distance between the president and the vice president.  Inevitably, it has to. 

MATTHEWS:  Because either he knows and admits to himself that he knows that he knows what role the vice president may have played in this, or he doesn‘t know.  It‘s more likely, based upon what he just said, Tom, that he does imagine that the vice president played a significant role in this process of leaking the name, if not doing it himself.  And therefore, he doesn‘t want to be involved with that, or he doesn‘t want to admit that he doesn‘t care about that?  What is it?

DEFRANK:  Well, I don‘t know which one it is.  But, I just think, as I said, I think that the president has been concerned about this for quite some time.

The indictment, I think, causes the president to say what was going on over there, but I think the fact is, the president has been asking himself what was going on over there for quite a long time.

I‘ll tell you one other thing very quickly, Chris.  And that is the appointment of David Addington to succeed Scooter Libby is looked at with concern.  At very senior levels of the White House, because it suggests that maybe somebody didn‘t get the memo in the office of vice president and it‘s business as usual. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s almost a screw you to the prosecutor.  Let me go to Mike Isikoff, here.

Interesting that Chuck Schumer and some other senators on the Democratic side of the aisle today, wanted the president to—they wanted him to admit to the White House that they were talking about giving a pardon to Scooter Libby.

If they don‘t give him a pardon, then Scooter Libby has to negotiate.  And the only thing he has to negotiate is his knowledge of what role the vice president played in all of this, right?  Or else he goes to the slammer. 

ISIKOFF:  Right.  And I can‘t believe that, first of all, the president is going to tie his hands and make any commitment, one way or another about a pardon beforehand.  But, look, there‘s no question that‘s the end game for Libby.  He is...

MATTHEWS: ... exoneration of some kind.

ISIKOFF:  I don‘t know about exoneration, but a pardon.  He will fight the charges.  He‘s hired a battery of top-flight litigators, and he‘s clearly going to take his chances with a jury, and then appeal if he gets convicted. 

And then hope that he doesn‘t have to go to jail if he does gets convicted, and it gets upheld before he has a chance to make his appeal, in the last minute and last days of the Bush presidency for a pardon.  There‘s a rich history of this.  It‘s what happened in the Iran-Contra, it‘s what Clinton did in his last day in office. 

MATTHEWS:  I want to interject an opinion here.  I don‘t think he wants to be Ollie North.  I think he wants complete exoneration.  I think he wants to be a wise man in the tradition of Paul Nitze or George Kennan and you can‘t do that if you‘re a felon, even if you are pardoned.  I think he has to get exoneration.  The only way he gets that is with a deal that probably offers the prosecutor something he really, really, really wants.

Anyway, thank you Tom DeFrank and Mike Isikoff.

Coming up, it‘s Election Day 2005 with a close governor‘s race, perhaps—we don‘t know yet—in Virginia and New Jersey.  What will the results tell us about how the president is doing?  He has a lot riding on this Virginia race because he went out there and campaigned the other day for a guy that should have won, but may not.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. It‘s election day today in some states, and all eyes are on two close races for governor in Virginia and New Jersey.  They could serve as bellwether for what could happen in next year‘s midterm elections. 

John Harris is with the—is the national politics editor for the “Washington Post.”  John, you know, maybe I‘ll end up arguing with you.  It wouldn‘t bother me too much.  It might bother you.

The president was sort of told not to come into Virginia, or rather, the candidate for governor didn‘t rather—didn‘t sidle up to him when he made that trip to the base in Norfolk.  And then at the last minute, the president got called in there on election eve.  Was that to get the turnout up, under the theory that even though the president is not popular generally, he‘s good with the base? 

HARRIS:  Right.  He went to Richmond, which is the most Republican area, or among the most Republican areas of Virginia, and the feeling was, look, this is a close race.  It‘s worth a try.  Having the president in there might help stir up the Republican troops and get turnout higher. 

MATTHEWS:  Was this a case of nothing else to lose, because if he loses, he loses?  If the Republican candidate, Jerry Kilgore, standing there with the president, goes down to the defeat tonight, the Republicans will take the hit anyway, so you might as well have a—fight the college try down there. 

HARRIS:  Absolutely, and think of if he hadn‘t gone it, it would basically make the message that Bush is so unpopular in a Republican winning state like Virginia that he couldn‘t even come in and offer to help a gubernatorial candidate.  I didn‘t think really he had that much to lose, and clearly they decided it was worth the last-minute gamble. 

MATTHEWS:  Is New Jersey still a strange state? 

HARRIS:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  I mean, I‘ve spend most of my summers there, growing up.  They don‘t have a TV station as such.  They don‘t have, like, a New Jersey station like you have in Philadelphia and you have New York, so it‘s sort of split in half between New York television and Philadelphia television.  Does that make it still more important than ever to have an organization on the ground to get out the vote, and spending a lot of money—I mean, basically handing money to people to show up and vote? 

HARRIS:  A ripe tradition in New Jersey.  You know, that‘s certainly true.  You know, those media markets do matter.  The thing is they are both huge markets that are really extensive, and you have to pay for a lot of viewers that aren‘t going to see it in the surrounding states.  New Jersey seems to get stranger and stranger each election cycle if you ask me. 

MATTHEWS:  Why is it so dirty?  I mean, not just the old mob stuff that was up there for years but, you know—in the clubs and everything—the nightclubs which we—I just read about in the Jerry Lewis book, so I‘m up to date on all the clubs that had all that connection. 

HARRIS:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  But the fact that the race here—you have got the guy‘s ex-wife doing an ad against him, saying he let our family down, he‘s going to let you down.  I guess in all the years of watching all the mess in politics, through all the kind of disgraceful stuff, I‘ve never seen an ex-wife go on to be used as a political hitman. 

HARRIS:  Yes, she didn‘t really give the endorsement to her ex there, did she? 

MATTHEWS:  No.  I wouldn‘t say he would be able to get married again after she‘s finished with him. 

HARRIS:  You know, I don‘t know.  I think there just is a tradition of that kind of very raw-knuckle politics in New Jersey.  I think also it‘s the kind of state where it‘s hard to breakthrough with a message, because you have these outside media markets, so I think that always raises the incentive to turn up the heat.  That‘s the only way you can attract attention. 

MATTHEWS:  If Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, loses on all the initiatives that he put on the ballot—he called for this election.  He loses on consent for a young person having an abortion, if he loses on teacher tenure, on all those issues, of pocketbook protection of union members, making them have to decide whether they want to give to the PAC or not—if he loses on everything, is he really humiliated? 

HARRIS:  I would think so, because he put his own credibility on the line for these referendums.  They are on there because he‘s pushed them.  And, you know, he‘s up for election next year.  This is not going to be a good sign.  Clearly the bloom is off that rose. 

And you know what?  In all likelihood, if the current polls are—you know, if the election breaks the way the polls say it‘s going to, he is going to lose.  So we‘re really going to be spending a lot of time tomorrow ruminating about the implications for Schwarzenegger. 

MATTHEWS:  So we‘re back to the old California politics of paying the interest groups or pressure groups, paying for TV ads, and keeping everything the way it is. 

HARRIS:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  Boy, isn‘t that wonderful?  Anyway, I do think he made a mistake going out against people like nurses.  Nobody thinks nurses are overpaid.  Nobody thinks teachers are overpaid.  Nobody thinks firefighters are overpaid.  I think he picked a target of enormous popularity and sympathy.  Anyway, thank you very much, John Harris.

HARRIS:  Sure thing, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next, with Karl Rove still under investigation in the leak probe, should President Bush cut his political losses and let him go?  MSNBC host Tucker Carlson and Ron Reagan is going to join me.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. For an analysis of today‘s top stories, including elections across the country, the CIA leak investigation and the outlook of President Bush‘s second term.

We turn now to Ron Reagan, host of MSNBC‘s “CONNECTED COAST TO COAST” and Tucker Carlson, host of MSNBC‘s “THE SITUATION.”

Ron, good to talk to you.  We haven‘t talked in a while.  It‘s good to talk to you on the air.

And Tucker, I saw you—weren‘t we at “Saturday Night Live” together a couple of weeks ago?

TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC HOST:  I was there.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you this.  The pardon.  You know, I talked about it on the show.  You folks have talked about the last couple of weeks because it‘s such an enticing proposition.  The president of the United States can pardon anybody he wants to, any time he wants, for just about any reason.

Why would he not pardon Scooter Libby, which would take the heat off the vice president?  Ron. 

RON REAGAN, MSNBC HOST:  Oh, I don‘t think—it would be a terrible idea to pardon Scooter Libby.  You can‘t say on the one hand that we have to let justice take its course and on the other hand, say, I‘m going to insert myself and short change justice. 

No, that would be a terrible message to send to the country, that listen, if somebody does something bad, potentially, does something bad in my administration, I‘m just going to pardon them right off the bat. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s try that with Tucker, who may be a bit more cynical.  Do you think it might be better to pardon this fellow than to have him singing in the back room with Fitzgerald about roles other people in the White House probably played with regard to—I don‘t think this was a lone gunman situation, I don‘t think anybody does.

CARLSON:  No, it wasn‘t.  Well, the story doesn‘t make sense.  There‘s obviously a lot more we don‘t know.  There‘s no way Scooter Libby would have lied like that so stupidly without some motive we‘re unaware of.

So yes, there‘s more to the story.  I think it‘s too late for them to pardon.  It will be too late for them to pardon him.  Bush is not going to pardon anybody until the end of his term.  That‘s three years from now, so in Scooter Libby‘s case, if he‘s convicted, he‘ll likely be in jail for a couple of years before he gets pardoned. 

That‘s a lot for a man with two small children to look at and face.  At this point, the White House seems to be cutting him loose.  They‘ve internally, at the White House, staffers have been told not to call the guy at home. 

He‘s languishing at home, trying to raise money for his defense.  And he‘s basically all by himself.  There‘s no indication at all the White House is really standing behind him at all. 

So maybe he deserves the pardon.  I don‘t know if he‘ll get one. 

MATTHEWS:  Imagine if it was one of us.  I mean, we all have our career dreams and it‘s clear Scooter Libby has the dream of being one of the great wise man in foreign policy. 

He didn‘t give up that lucrative law practice to come to D.C. and serve for a government salary unless he wants someday to be seen like Paul Nitze, George Kennan, one of the great wise men, the sort of dollar-a-year guys that really shape foreign policy on the big picture.  How can he do that if he‘s a felon? 

CARLSON:  I don‘t think he can do that at all, I mean, at this point.  I think best case scenario for Scooter Libby, and I say this with some sadness, because I think Scooter Libby is actually, probably one of the better guys at the White House, a White House whose policies I don‘t support often.

But I think Scooter Libby personally is a pretty good guy.  But, I think that‘s over.  There was a lot of talk last year and the year before about him going over and taking a significant job over at the Defense Department, maybe taking Wolfowitz‘s place.  That‘s not going to happen.

No matter what happens, his reputation is tainted, and there‘s this question of money.  The guy‘s going to owe a ton of money.  Now, the former solicitor general, Ted Olson, is starting fund to raise money for his defense.

But no, I think the future looks very bleak for him.  Really, if I were the White House, I‘d be very, very concerned.  This guy‘s looking at hard time.  The prosecutor, we know, from published reports, wants him to do hard time, not just six months at club fed, but real prison time.

REAGAN:  Tucker is making a very good point.  The question for the White House becomes, what might Scooter Libby say to the prosecutor to perhaps get lesser jail time there?  This guy knows everything.  He was on the inside.  As you pointed out, is a guy with a wife, a couple of kids.  He don‘t want to go to jail for a long time.  So what might he say to lessen that burden? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, one thing he might say is fill in the dots here. The prosecutor was so definitive in bringing in the vice president.  We don‘t have to do it here, just read the document. 

He said in June of 2003, he told his chief of staff, this is the Vice President Cheney, who Valerie Wilson was, where she worked.  A month later, after I guess a lot of pressure there about the trip and how it exposed, perhaps, the vice president‘s position.  The vice president is met by Scooter Libby who says, boss, Mr. vice president, Dick, whatever he calls him.  What should I do with all these press questions or how should we put out or not put out the identity of Valerie Wilson? 

That very day, he talks to two top reporters.  Now, we could believe, I suppose, he went in and asked the vice president for guidance and then completely went 180 on the guys and said, I don‘t care what you tell me to do, Dick, I‘m going to spew these names out there and tell everybody about Valerie Wilson. 

More logically, he went to get guidance from the boss in a war council situation, says, boss, how are we going to deal with the pressure?  And they reached a joint agreement and he acted on it. 

I mean, this is reasonable, isn‘t it, Tucker?

REAGAN:   Common sense, yes. 

CARLSON:  It is, but what‘s not reasonable is why he apparently lied about it to Pat Fitzgerald in this very ham-handed way. 

What Scooter Libby is accused of doing may be a cover up for the vice president, but it‘s a cover up that doesn‘t help the vice president at all.  How does what Scooter Libby is accused of doing help Cheney, in any way? 

It doesn‘t at all.

REAGAN:  That‘s the question, why did he lie? 

MATTHEWS:  Cheney could have said something very simple. It doesn‘t sound illegal to me, necessarily.  Keep me out of it, Scooter. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Just keep me out of this damn thing. 

REAGAN:  Shouldn‘t Scooter Libby be smart enough to do it in a more clever way?  I mean, it was an awfully dumb lie.

MATTHEWS:  I think somebody like Karl Rove, as he‘s demonstrating, as he‘s skipping rope out there with the special prosecutor rather effectively. 

He‘s still out there.  Maybe he is the kind of guy who knows how to do this sort of thing. 

Let me ask you about the V.P. and the president.  The vice president of the United States has a tremendous role now.  He‘s got his own enormous staff and national security matters and WMD.  He basically is the president‘s guy, almost like a chief operating officer or more. 

Can he continue to play that role with a president who has now reasons to suspect that not everything the vice president has been doing has been told to the president?  Ron first. 

REAGAN:  We really get into Shakespearian country here with this whole idea between a rift between Dick Cheney and George W. Bush.  Think about their relationship. 

George W. Bush, the young son of, relatively young son, of a former president who comes into office with very little foreign policy experience in particular.  And according to some, very little curiosity about it. 

So Dick Cheney, as you said, has enormous power there.  But if there is a rift, if there is a split between Cheney and Bush, who is going to be running the country?  Is it going to be the guy with the title or is it going to be the guy with the knowledge and the power?  Are there going to be rival camps there, in a sense?

MATTHEWS:  Tucker, do you buy this Falstaff and young Hal notion here, that Dick Cheney—called pork chop by Don Imus every morning—is this guy, is he the mentor, the older fellow that‘s shared the chimes at midnight with young Prince Howell and now they‘re breaking up?

CARLSON:  Oh yes.  Obviously, I mean, of course.  The first part of that is clearly true.  As you know, since you worked in government, so much of this stuff takes place on the staff level.  Things get done because the staffs do them in government. 

MATTHEWS:  You never get an order in politics.  You never get an order.  It‘s assumed if you have the job, you know what speech to write, you don‘t get tutorials on what to do everything day.  You are supposed to know how to protect the boss. 

CARLSON:  But the dynamic between the president and the vice president‘s office in any administration is always fraught with drama and tension.  Always, always, always, including in this case. 

And I think the staff changes that Vice President Cheney has made recently, or had to make, with Scooter Libby going off to fight this indictment, replacing Libby with David Addington, lessens his authority and power in the West Wing. 

Scooter Libby also had a role in the White House.  He wasn‘t just the chief of staff to the vice president.  He also was an adviser to the president.  I don‘t think Addington is going to fill that role.  And I also think that a lot of people, I know, there are a lot of people in the White House, who are not impressed, who are actually actively hostile toward the vice president‘s staff and do everything they possibly can to short-circuit ideas that come out of that office.  And I think they‘re going to have more power now after this indictment. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s try to use all this brain power here, candle power right now, the three of us.  I want you two guys to lead on this.  I‘ve been thinking about it, I know you have. 

Let‘s not—let‘s assume rationality, let‘s not assume people are stupid.  I think that‘s always a better premise.

Scooter Libby is a pretty smart guy.  He may not be a political operative, but he‘s pretty smart.

If he denied the vice president‘s role, and the vice president did

play a role, why would he have done that?  Could it be that there‘s

something else beyond all this, something deeper, which is the way in which

the war was sold, the information on that, that was brought into question

by Joe Wilson? 

Not that Wilson always shot straight—I don‘t think so.  I think he‘s missed a couple of times, to say the least.

But he was opening up this whole question of the argument for the war.  We watched earlier on the show the evidence that the vice president was not right, in fact was not honest about the fact that he claimed before the war that we were going to be met as liberators when they came in.  We saw Gloria Borger getting him denying he ever said that, but in fact we showed the tape later that he did say that. 

You know, he said there was a nuclear program under way; there wasn‘t.

We know that he said with absolute certitude that there was, in fact, a connection to Prague to the meetings with Mohammed Atta, who blew up the World Trade Center; there‘s no evidence of that, certainly nothing hard.

And could it all be that just busy bee of arguments he made before the war he just didn‘t want re-examined by Joe Wilson or anyone else, Tucker? 

CARLSON:  I think that‘s possibly true. 

I think what under girds all of this, though, is something more prosaic, less exciting, but probably deeper, and that is just a profound hatred on the part of the vice president‘s office and conservatives in general for the CIA and for career bureaucrats in the executive branch who are seen as getting in the way of these grand plans to transform the Middle East and the world. 

They hate the CIA.  They saw Joe Wilson as a tool of the CIA, probably correctly, by the way.  I mean, there may be some truth in their world view.

But in any case, they were enraged by the idea of these bureaucrats who stay from administration to administration and foul things up, dumb up the plans every single administration, and they just wanted to get back instinctively and they wanted to cover that up. 

I think it‘s as simple as that.  That‘s my guess, anyway. 

REAGAN:  I‘m not sure that it‘s quite as simple as that.

I think Tucker is right as far as it goes.

But I think you‘re also right, Chris, that this does get back to how we got into the war.  This is about phony intel, and it really rips the curtain aside on this administration. 

But beyond just that, just how we got into the war, I think it‘s also about how our government, this administration in any case, works, and that‘s where Tucker‘s point is on the money to some extent. 

You know, Lawrence Wilkerson, Powell‘s chief of staff, has been talking about this cabal between Cheney‘s office and Rumsfeld over at the Pentagon.  You have governments within the government. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m shocked, aren‘t you? 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  They work like conjoined twins.

And all I can say is to remind everybody watching, if we knew all this before the war, this war would not have been sold to the American people, if there was no connection to 9/11, no nuclear program, no happy Iraqis... 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  But there was never any evidence of that in the first place. 

Hold on.  They never presented evidence linking Iraq to 9/11 or exposing... 

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN:  No, they used it in the same sentence. 

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN:  Saddam, 9/11 in the same paragraph and the same sentence all the time. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  OK. 

But if I can just say, smart people saw through that at the time.  I have a good memory, I was there. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  Trust me.  Nobody really bought that.

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN:  No, you didn‘t buy it, Tucker, I know. 

MATTHEWS:  But the polls show that people thought there was a connection. 

And let me remind you of the country-western music at the time, remember how you felt. 

And by the way, an enormous percentage of people thought there were Iraqis on the plane on 9/11, they were actual Iraqi nationals who did the bombing and the killing and the suicide that killed 3,000 of our people.  People thought that because the president never disabused them of that and certainly the vice president didn‘t. 

REAGAN:  Seventy percent of Republican voters in the last election thought we had found WMD in Iraq -- 70 percent. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.

Well, let‘s move on. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  I keep hearing these polls, I‘ve never met a single person that believes either one of those things.  So I don‘t know who these people are.

MATTHEWS:  Well, they‘re regular folk. 

Anyway, thank you, Tucker Carlson.  Thank you, Ron Reagan.

Coming up, former attorney general Ed Meese on the CIA leak case and what the Constitution says about the role of the vice president. 

Plus, a former Cheney and Bush aide talks about their unique relationship.

And tomorrow, Senator John McCain plays HARDBALL, taking on torture and America‘s war in Iraq. 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, Vice President Cheney is pushing senators to vote against legislation that would prohibit torture. 

This time, will the senators push back? 

When HARDBALL returns. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Ed Meese was attorney general in the Reagan administration, currently is the Ronald Reagan distinguished fellow in public policy at the Heritage Foundation, and editor of the new book, “The Heritage Guide to the Constitution.”

And Ron Christie is a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. 

Mr. Meese, thank you very much, Attorney General. 

Let me ask you about one big question. 

The United States is governed by our Constitution and all the treaties we‘ve signed, those are the law of the land. 

Why would we be bucking up against the Geneva Conventions right now on treatment of prisoners? 

ED MEESE, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL:  Well, I think because we have a very unusual situation, because it‘s a different kind of war than what was normally contemplated by the Geneva Convention. 

We don‘t have military personnel in uniform.  They‘re not in organized formations.  They‘re not subject to military discipline.  So the fighters for the most part that we‘re dealing with are illegal combatants and they‘re not really covered by the Geneva Convention. 

MATTHEWS:  What about the people that fight us in Iraq, the local Iraqi Sunnis who just don‘t want us there and are fighting the occupying government as they see it, the occupying foreigners, us?

MEESE:  They‘re very definitely not covered by the Geneva Convention.  There is no semblance of soldiers, of military organizations there, and so this is a very different situation.

They are basically criminals waging war against the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  When we fought against the British in the American Revolution, were we covered by the Geneva Convention if there had been one at the time? 

MEESE:  Well, that‘s a good question whether we would have been or not. 

Probably we were, because our military forces then were in uniform, they were in formation and particularly they were subject to military discipline.

MATTHEWS:  So it‘s the manner of fielding an army, not just whether you have a legitimate government or not?

MEESE:  That‘s absolutely right.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go quickly to Ron Christie.  I want to ask him about the vice president‘s role.  It‘s unusual for a political figure, even someone who‘s not up for reelection, to take such an unpleasant task in hand as that of defending the need to have the potential to torture prisoners.  Why do you think he‘s against this legislation being advanced by—John McCain, Senator John McCain of Arizona who‘s going to come on the show tomorrow?  Why he is out front and opposing this? 

RON CHRISTIE, FMR. CHENEY AND BUSH AIDE:  Well, Chris, first of all, I think the president has made it very clear in his statements that the United States does not condone torture, nor does the United States view torture as an acceptable means of dealing with people. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, why not outlaw it? 

CHRISTIE:  Well let me just—let me get—let me answer your question first.  The vice president, in my opinion, is opposed to the McCain amendment because he wishes to preserve as much of the authority to the executive branch as possible.  You have seen other administrations in recent years cede away, chip away from some of the authority of the executive branch. 

I think the vice president is trying to preserve as much authority for the president to conduct the war on terror as possible.  But let‘s be very clear, and the president said it.  We do not condone torture here in the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, we‘ll be right back with Ed Meese and Ron Christie to ask our them how to deal with Internet sexual predators.  This, of course, is something the founding fathers couldn‘t have imagined, this electronic trolling for young kids for sexual exploitation.  We‘ll be right back with this story.  It‘s been making a lot of noise. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  NBC News magazine “Dateline” recently ran a disturbing report, I‘ll say, about online sexual predators who were soliciting underage kids on Internet chat rooms.  Here‘s a portion of that report. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This lovely home in Virginia, just outside of Washington D.C., has become the secret meeting place for potential Internet sex predators.  It‘s rigged with nine hidden cameras, three with views outside, one pointed at the garage, and five inside the house. 

Several volunteers from Perverted Justice, the group dedicated to catching Internet predators, are in chat rooms posing as 12, 13 and 14-year-olds ready to make a date for sex with men they meet online.  39-year-old Frag (ph), his screen name, who has been a Perverted Justice volunteer for more than two years, is posing as a 13-year-old girl in a Yahoo! chat room set up for Virginia residents.  It‘s a chat room not intended for romantic or sexual conversations. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There‘s a girl named Kim. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  As “Dateline” cameras rolled, the undercover operatives enter chat rooms.  They‘re quickly inundated with adults wanting to talk.  Here is a 46-year-old who calls him selves the sphinx59.  He thinks he‘s talking to a 12-year-old girl named Sarah. 

It takes him only four minutes of chatting online to ask her, are you a virgin?  She says she is.  And then he asks if she‘s ever performed oral sex.  In this chat, as in many other men‘s chats, things get much more graphic and disgusting. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with former Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese and former aide to Vice President Cheney, Ron Christie.  Mr. Attorney General, you didn‘t think you‘d have to talk about this stuff to sell a book, did you?  Anyway, the book—just to give you a little push for you book again, “The Heritage Guide to the Constitution,” it sounds like a great way to learn constitutional history from an expert. 

Let me ask you, what is the law right now about the use of the Internet control for sexual victims.  Is it any different than going on the street corner and saying, hey little girl, want a candy bar, that old kind of notion we had growing up? 

MEESE:  No, it really isn‘t.  And trying to entice children into committing sex crimes or just trying to make contact with them for that purpose is a criminal offense.  And the police and other agencies, law enforcement agencies, enforce these laws and are doing as much as they can to try to stop it. 

This is a place, by the way, where I think parents also have to really understand what their kids are doing with their Internet and why it‘s important that libraries have some controls over this also. 

MATTHEWS:  I always told my kids as they were growing up—they‘re older now—don‘t get in the car because any guy that wants you in the car wants to take you away to some place where he wants to do something to you. 

So fight like mad in the first Instance.  What do you do with Internet troller?  Do you just turn it—I guess, are the kids looking for the problems, some of them just sort of fun teasing somebody or what?  How does it get started? 

MEESE:  I think some of the kids may be curious at first.  They may hear things from other people at school.  They may get involved, and they think it‘s just harmless TV stuff—I mean Internet stuff.  And then often they get trapped into these situations or someone makes attractive offers to them that sound good without revealing what their real purpose is. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s not like going down to a hotel for a real estate program, is it? 

MEESE:  No, it‘s not. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Ron Christie.  That‘s what they usually say.  Come on downtown, you get free drinks and buffet if you get a real estate discussion.  But what do you think of this, Ron?  You‘re a younger fellow.  This is the world you‘re going to be living in, this futuristic crime zone here. 

CHRISTIE:  Well, first of all, it‘s disgusting.  What struck me about that “Dateline” piece is that it‘s—as you suggested, it‘s not like saying to a young child, here I have a piece of candy.  It is adult predators who are trolling for these children. 

And as the attorney general just pointed out, unfortunately, a lot of our states and a lot of our municipalities need to get a lot more strict in enforcement.  Jessica Lunsford, a poor 9-year-old girl who was abducted and sexually abused in Florida, her father was successful in pushing for a law called Jessica‘s Law, looking at mandatory minimums for some of these sexual predators. 

If you‘re under 12, you have got to lock them away for a minimum of life.  Well it‘s 25 years, but I think a lot of our states and a lot of our legislators at the federal level need to take stronger look and be a lot more serious about putting these terrible, sick people away. 

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Attorney General, do you think we‘ll get litigation here on some of these people?  Their pictures are all over the television now, people who were stung here.  Is this—there is any chance—this is not entrapment, is it? 

MEESE:  No, it‘s not entrapment because the idea of committing the crime was in the mind of the criminal.  But I wouldn‘t be surprised that some of these groups like the ACLU and people like that would claim there‘s invasion of privacy. 

MATTHEWS:  All right.  We‘ll get back.  Thank you, sir.  The name of your book is “The Heritage Guide to the Constitution. 

Thank you, Ron Christie.  Thank you Attorney General Ed Meese.

Make sure you tune in for HARDBALL tomorrow night, 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more on the CIA leak investigation.  And one of our best guests ever, John McCain is coming on.  “ABRAMS REPORT” coming up next with Dan.

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