Guests: Joe Biden, John Thune, Dana Priest, Rick Francona, Howard Fineman
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Tonight, setting the date. When will U.S. forces leave Iraq? Democrats ask for a plan. Republicans say no. But even they now say they want big changes there in 2006. Is Congress pushing away from an unpopular war and a less trusted commander in chief? Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. For three years the Bush administration has asked Congress and the American people again and again for their patience on Iraq. Today, in the United States Senate, that patience wore thin.
The Republican-controlled Senate voted 79-19 that the year 2006 -- that‘s next year—should be a period of, quote, “significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty with Iraqi security forces taking the lead for the security of a free and sovereign Iraq, thereby creating the conditions for the phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq.”
Well, the difference between those words and a rejected Democratic call for Bush to set a definite timetable for withdrawal was the difference between lightning bolt and a lightning bug. It was a beginning. We‘ll talk about that with Senators Joe Biden and John Thune in a moment.
But, first, for the latest on what happened today in the U.S. Senate, here is HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster.
DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the wake of polls showing the president‘s handling of Iraq now has the approval of only a third of the American public, today the U.S. Senate passed an amendment demanding the Bush administration begin to lay out a strategy for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
SEN. RICHARD BURR ®, NORTH CAROLINA: On this vote, the yeas are 79, the nays are 19. The amendment is agreed to.
SHUSTER: The amendment, from Republicans Bill Frist and John Warner, asked the Bush administration to provide Iraq status reports every three months. The measure also includes a sense of the Senate that 2006 be a year of political and military transition in Iraq.
SEN. JOHN WARNER ®, VIRGINIA: It clearly sends a message to the Iraqi people that we have stood with you, we have done our part. Now it‘s time for you to put your government together, stand strong so that eventually you can exercise total sovereignty and select your own form of democracy.
SHUSTER: The plan stopped short of a Democratic proposal introduced by Senators Biden and Levin that called on the administration establish dates for a phased withdrawal. But while the Republicans took out the words referring to withdrawal timetables, they adopted the rest of the Democratic proposal almost word for word.
SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: I support the Warner Amendment as the second best approach but it continues to keep the purpose, to clarify and recommend changes to the policy of the United States on Iraq.
SHUSTER: The Senate also passed an amendment that would allow detainees to appeal their status to a federal appeals court. And the overall bill includes language opposed by the White House that prohibits degrading treatment of detainees and standardizes interrogation procedures.
(on camera): The entire measure must still go before a conference committee and while the bill may help Congress save face, it‘s unclear how it will affect the 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and whether they come home any earlier. I‘m David Schuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
MATTHEWS: I‘m with Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Biden, why did you push a resolution today in the Senate that would ask for a kind of timetable for our removal of troops ultimately from Iraq?
SEN. JOE BIDEN (D-DE), RANKING MBR. FOREIGN RELATIONS CMTE.: Well, what it really did was set a timetable for the president to tell us whether or not the goals he set out are being accomplished. Look, this is—I don‘t think anybody should miss the story here. Seventy-nine Democrats and Republicans voted to tell the president we want him to lay out a clear strategy and a timetable for achieving it.
And, you know, we don‘t get to make foreign policy, Chris, in the United States Senate. We have to react to it. And what you saw is only Bush could unite these Democrats and Republicans here on a uniform view which Mr. President, get a plan and give us a timetable so we can understand how we measure whether or not you‘re meeting your plan.
MATTHEWS: Well, give me a real world impact of this. If it gets signed by the president, what will it accomplish?
BIDEN: What it will accomplish is the president will have to come up here every quarter, not him personally. He‘ll have to send up the secretary of state, secretary of defense, et cetera, say we told you that we have to train a total of 27 Iraqi battalions, that they will operate on their own, and a total of 41 that would operate with U.S. help.
That will allow us to draw down over the next several months 2,000, 5,000, 9,000 American troops. We—you asked us what the strategy was for getting a consensus constitution and getting the Sunnis to buy in. Well, we‘ve taken up the suggestion of Kissinger or Biden or Schultz and we have brought in the neighboring nations just like we did in Afghanistan.
They put pressure on the Sunnis and the Shias in order to be able ti reach an agreement and we‘re going to get a political solution here. I mean, those kinds of things, they‘re concrete because he‘s not—he doesn‘t appear to be doing any of these things right now.
MATTHEWS: Most Americans, according to the latest CNN/Gallup poll, don‘t like the way the president is handling the Iraq war. How will this make them like him, like the way he‘s handling it? What will it really change in terms of his conduct of the war?
BIDEN: Well, it would—if he does what 79 people asked him to do, it will make it clear for the first time to the American people specifically what he‘s doing, how he is trying to get the rest of the world, the donor nations to help rebuild, how he‘s moving away from Halliburton and moving into small board projects to clean up the sewage, how he‘s going about getting a consensus by bringing in other countries and getting them to buy into the deal.
And it will give them some sense that there‘s a plan and a possibility that all these young men and women who are dying or being injured are doing it for a good reason, not for something that is without a plan.
MATTHEWS: In your floor statement today, Senator, you talked about your goal of making sure that Iraq doesn‘t become a nest of terrorism, it doesn‘t become what it wasn‘t before the war as you put it.
BIDEN: That‘s right.
MATTHEWS: Isn‘t it already that, as we saw that woman who went into the hotel in Amman, Jordan to blow up the place and she comes from Fallujah and she‘s angry about the way our troops retook her town. Isn‘t it already becoming a launching pad for terrorism, that country?
BIDEN: I think the key is your word becoming, Chris. You may remember when I got back from Iraq around Memorial Day, you had me on your program. And you were the only person in the press, I think, that did not completely dismiss my assertion that I was told by the agency on the ground and by flagged officers on the ground that they were beginning to export, export—the jihadists were beginning to export terror to the rest of the region and to Europe.
Everybody thought I was nuts. Well, they‘re now seeing that it‘s exporting. They‘re exporting it. If, in fact, this thing moves in a way that there‘s no political consensus, no consensus constitution, no change in the way in which we‘re proceeding to train up the Iraqis and bring down Americans, then you‘re going to see essentially having moved Afghanistan about 1,200 miles to the west and dropping in the middle of Anbar Province. This—you ain‘t seen nothing yet, as the saying goes.
MATTHEWS: The president said that it‘s better to fight them over there than fight them here at home but that presumes a certain definite number of terrorists in the world, like they were an ethnic group, just a certain number, 10,000, 50,000. But there‘s just the number of people, you have to fight them somewhere, but aren‘t they being created every day?
BIDEN: They are.
MATTHEWS: In Iraq?
BIDEN: They are. That‘s the point of why we need the president to shift his focus. Start to listen to folks within his administration like the ambassador there, like more and more some folks at the State Department, like Powell was arguing and others, and saying, Mr. President, all of the king‘s horses and all of the king‘s men are not going to save Iraq if it devolves into a full-blown civil war resulting in a regional war.
You need a political solution, Mr. President. Why don‘t you do what you did in Afghanistan? In Afghanistan, you brought in the regional powers, including Pakistan and Iran. You brought in Russia. You set up a conference. You got the parties to agree.
We end up with a guy named Karzai who was a consensus person, not because everybody loved him but because they all thought in varying interests, that their interests would best be preserved by having Karzai. It‘s in the interest of the Sunnis, and the interest of the Shia. The majority of them know it, if there‘s a consensus constitution.
But we are unwilling to reach out and ask the rest of the region and also the major powers to invest in using their influence with the Kurds, the Shia, to give some for the Sunnis and using influence that the 60 million Arab Sunnis have on the Sunnis to make concessions as well. We‘re doing this alone. This is—continues to be—we continue to act like Iraq is some prize we won and we want to keep.
MATTHEWS: You‘ve seen the polls over the years. They seem to go in one direction and continue to go in that direction once it‘s set. The numbers of Americans who support this war and the president‘s war handling is gradually declining every couple of months. You can project that forward. How long do you think the American people will, even at minimum, support a continuation of the combat in Iraq?
BIDEN: Probably the next year and it will continue to decline but it will depend significantly upon whether or not they think there‘s a plan. You and I also had this discussion, if you don‘t mind my saying it. It‘s not so much the tragedy of the loss of life which is horrible and every American mourns and the terrible wounds and the 17,000 are wounded that is causing the American people to leave this.
What‘s caused them to leave it is it seems to have no end in sight.
There seems to be no plan, and as long as the president continues to say
stay the course and not one day longer, the American people, like the rest
like 79 members of the Senate up here scratch their head and say, Mr.
President, what are you going to do?
What are you going to do differently? Give us any reason to believe things will change.
MATTHEWS: Do you have a sense—I mean, it‘s a sad, tragic fact, but the state of Delaware is the receiving point for the people to come home who have been killed in action in Iraq or anywhere overseas. They come through Delaware.
And the president and his people and the Defense Department made sure we don‘t have a lot of photography of that. And I guess I can understand that, in terms of sensitivities to the family who have lost someone, who gave their life to the country.
I can understand that to some extent. But it also has a public relations aspect, doesn‘t it?
BIDEN: Sure it does.
MATTHEWS: That they don‘t want the American people to see vividly every night on television, for example, or in the newspapers, the real cost of the war.
BIDEN: Chris, I had families ask me to be there in Dover with them. They called me because, I guess because, not through a war, but I‘ve lost a wife, I‘ve lost a child like thousands of people across the country have.
And they‘ve asked me, two families asked me, would I come and greet the body, meet the coffin, show respect with them. Do you know what? the Defense Department initially said no.
I‘m on the Dover Air Force base all the time. I went to the commander of the base and said the family has called. They‘ve called you. They want me to be there. I‘ll be there with the chaplain. There‘s no press, no anybody. And they said, well, we can‘t do that, Senator.
Then they had to call through to the Pentagon for me, a 33-year United States rMD+BO_rMDNM_senator, my own base in my own state, with my own constituency. Mother and father and son asking me to greet the body of their slain son. And they tried to stop me from doing that.
MATTHEWS: OK, we‘ll be back, more with the ranking Democrat on the Senate on Foreign Relations. Senator Joe Biden of Delaware.
We‘ll be right back with more of this conversation.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Senator Joseph Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator, let me ask you your personal view about this issue of torture of prisoners and why do you think we have to have these sort of hidden prison areas over in Eastern Europe. Out of sight, out of mind, what is that about?
BIDEN: We don‘t. We shouldn‘t. It‘s counter productive. John McCain is correct. Lindsey Graham is correct. I think I‘m correct.
I mean, look. This traces all the way back to the way in which Abu Ghraib started to turn things badly for us. Real badly.
What are we doing? What in God‘s name can we profit from having these detention centers—and I‘m saying this. I have not gotten the briefing, so I can say this. If, in fact, they‘re really using old Soviet gulags in some of these countries, what is going on here?
MATTHEWS: Well, it doesn‘t look good. Let me ask you. If we pick up a guy in combat who‘s fighting us in a uniform, fighting basically the same kind of war we‘re fighting with him, and we pick him up as a POW, that‘s Geneva Convention.
Suppose we pick up a kingpin of al Qaeda and we know that this guy‘s involved in the backroom of planning, blowing up our people. And we know he knows stuff. How should we treat him?
BIDEN: We should treat him in essentially the same way, only with much more consistent interrogation if we know who he is.
But we should not deny we have him. We should not hide him away. We should not engage in torture. We should be as straight forward and as tough as is allowed under the law. And we should allow that person to be able to make a claim which is not legitimate, that they‘re not entitled to be held.
They are entitled to be held. But what we do now is we make it all seem so secretive and we engage in such chicanery that the worst is thought of by the American people as well as the rest of the world.
MATTHEWS: So you would treat a terrorist prisoner or suspect the same way you would a uniformed soldier? The reason I ask that is, would you like keep the lights on all night for three or four weeks, deprive him of sleep?
They‘ve done things, like in the paper today, I read where a guy had a groin injury and they denied him medication so it hurt for awhile, then said you‘ll get your medicine when you start talking. And that apparently worked. Is that the kind of thing we should avoid doing, you say?
BIDEN: I think we should abide by international standards that relate to what constitutes torture. I am not an expert in this area, but what I am certain of is, that you look and listen to guys like McCain, who were tortured.
You look and listen to the experts in the military who have studied this and they tell you that you do not gain anything this way. You don‘t get the information you want and all you do is further inflame the very stereotypical, negative images of American that are producing a lot of these whackos.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the—by the way, I agree with a lot of that, who doesn‘t? Let me ask you this question about Judge Alito.
What do you make of that quote in the paper today? I think it was a little bit chopped up, but they said he doesn‘t believe in the constitutional right to abortion.
If you read the full statement, he said he was proud to have served in an administration that argued that point. Is there a distinction there between saying you worked for an institution, the government or whatever, a Republican administration that believed that and believing it yourself?
BIDEN: I think so and there‘s a distinction between believing it yourself and ruling that the constitution does not allow it. You know, there are a number of people on the court, past and present and hopefully in the future, who may have personal views that they acknowledge are inconsistent with the Constitution or the reverse.
And so that to me is not the determination on what he‘s going to do on this issue. What I want to know from him is how, in fact, does he go about determining whether or not there‘s a fundamental right in the Constitution?
What methods of interpretation does he use? Tell me, Judge, how you arrive at whether or not there is a right to privacy, a right to die, things well beyond abortion.
MATTHEWS: But you were tough when Judge Roberts, would you actually vote for Alito having voted against Roberts?
BIDEN: Well, it depends on what he says. If he doesn‘t answer the questions like Roberts doesn‘t, no, I won‘t vote for Judge Alito. If he answers the questions and basically says to me, look, Senator, I am conservative. The people you‘ve spoken to and the other witness here will tell you I don‘t come with the brief, I do it case by case. Let me tell you how I go about these decisions, et cetera. I could see how I could vote for him. But, I, right now, based on what I know. Obviously, he has the burden to prove, as all these judges do, that he in fact warrants being on the court.
Because, you know, look Chris, this is the one Democratic moment, my constituents and the rest of America, has to know what this guy thinks in a lifetime of independence. They have an obligation to give us a much clearer insight into how they approach these major issues than anybody‘s done, than Roberts did in the past.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much for joining us today, it‘s the ranking Democrat on foreign relations, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, ranking there as well. Senator Joe Biden of Delaware.
BIDEN: Thank you very much.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, will the plan to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqis next year help or hurt American troops fighting there now. Senator John Thune of South Dakota thinks it might. He‘s coming here to tell us why.
And a reminder, this Friday on HARDBALL, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd is going to be our guest. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota is on the Senate Armed Services Committee. He‘s one of only 19 senators today who voted against the Republican-backed Iraq resolution.
He‘s here to tell us why. Senator, you were in the minority, just 19 senators voted against that resolution calling for a dramatic transition next year to sovereignty in Iraq. Why did you do it?
SEN. JOHN THUNE ®, SOUTH DAKOTA: There are a number of senators, like myself, who are on the Armed Services Committee, Chris, who made that vote today. Senator McCain, Senator Graham, a whole bunch of us who saw this, as I think, the wrong message to send at this time.
Obviously this was an attempt—the original amendment by the Democrats to force the president‘s hand in and tie his hands. And I think that a lot of us saw this as something that weakens and softens our support and the approach that we‘re taking to winning the war on terror.
And sends the wrong message not only to our troops, but to the Iraqi people, and also to the terrorists.
MATTHEWS: Do you think the Republican majority was simply passing something that looked like the Democratic alternative to get by, get through the day?
THUNE: Well, I think there was a lot of give and take and there was an effort to accommodate and try to strike a consensus or a compromise.
But the truth is, this was a sense of Congress and a sense of Congress simply means it‘s a statement of, you know, the Senate‘s priorities.
It really doesn‘t have any—it doesn‘t have any binding effect. There were some reporting requirements in there, that were legislative. I don‘t think that this was—I don‘t think you‘d view this as something that was really substantial in terms of the statement that it‘s making about the war on terror.
MATTHEWS: I opened the show by saying the difference between the Democratic proposal today, which called for the president to set a deadline for removing our troops ultimately, and the Republican alternative which basically talked in general language about a transition to sovereignty next year, which is already in planning, is the difference between a lightning bolt and a lightning bug.
You didn‘t even like the lightning bug part.
THUNE: I didn‘t, and a number of us saw it that way. We didn‘t see this as something that was meaningful or significant and was simply in an effort to try and take this issue off the table so we could pass the Defense Authorization Bill and at the end of the day, we want to continue to make sure that our troops and our commanders have their support, that this doesn‘t send them the wrong message.
That it doesn‘t send the wrong message to the Iraqi people and that it doesn‘t signal to the terrorists that we are somehow softening or weakening in our position and that we‘re not going to finish the job we started out to do.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about the terrorism threat from Iraq and the from the neighboring areas there. You must have read, it was an incredible story, this woman who went into the hotel where they‘re having a wedding or something and she‘s all dressed up with dynamite. She‘s going to blow herself up. Her husband did so. Her operation didn‘t work. She did it, she said, because she saw all the injured or killed people in Fallujah when we were retaking that town in Iraq.
If we‘re over there to force the war over there rather than here, is it possible that Iraq is itself causing more terrorists?
THUNE: Well, I think what you‘re seeing is—and this is where I believe that Jordan now, more than ever, is buying into the war on terror and probably was attacked because they‘ve been doing some of the training in their country.
And I think this week, Saudi Arabia contributing a billion dollars toward the cause, people are realizing that we‘re making progress there. Yes, there is an insurgent element that continues to be an issue that we have to contend with and deal with.
But more and more, the Iraqis are stepping up and providing the security. And that ultimately is what‘s going to allow us to get our soldiers home from that region is one.
To stand up for democracy and to raise an army and I think we‘re making progress on both of those fronts, and so I‘m hopeful that we‘ll see continued support from the region for us accomplishing that objective.
MATTHEWS: Are you worried that we might be creating more terrorists?
THUNE: You know, I don‘t think that‘s the case. I think in the long run what we‘re doing is creating sympathy. There was nothing but sympathy coming from the people of Jordan for our cause, when they experienced first hand what happened to their people last week.
And I think that clearly when you‘re in war, there are going to be people who don‘t perceive what we‘re doing to be the correct thing in Iraq. But I think the huge majority, as we‘re seeing from these elections, and the way that people are turning out to vote, support what is happening there.
They want to see democracy work. They want to see freedom work. They want to enjoy the rights and privileges that a democracy can bring to them and to their region.
MATTHEWS: We‘ve got a new poll out from CNN, it‘s a Gallop poll that says 65 percent of the American people don‘t like the president‘s handling of Iraq. South Dakota has always been a hard state for me to figure because you‘ve had McGovern there, you‘ve had conservatives like yourself. How is the war playing at home?
THUNE: Well, I think like everywhere else, there is a fatigue that comes. We‘ve been there for a long time. There is constant reporting of some of the bad news, but I think that people in my state tend to be—they cut, I think, the benefit, or give the president the benefit of the doubt here. They want to see us succeed.
And when you talk to the troops that have been deployed to the region, they really believe in what we‘re doing and I think the majority of South Dakotans want to see us succeed and realize in order for us to complete the mission, that we have to stay the course. We have to finish the job.
And I think that‘s the view of the ground in South Dakota. I see the public opinion polls and I think it‘s reflective of the fact that there is some fatigue out there, but at the end of the day, people realize there‘s not a good alternative. Right now, what we have to do is, we‘ve got to complete the task at hand.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about you Senator Thune, you‘re new to this Senate. I‘ve noticed that a retiring member of the Senate this past Sunday, John Edwards, who ran as the Democratic V.P. candidate said he was wrong to have voted to authorize the war. You weren‘t there when the vote was cast. Would you have voted to authorize the war in 2002?
THUNE: I actually—I was in the House at the time. I did vote for it and I saw what Senator Edwards said. I think that at the time, there were 29 out of the 50 Democrats in the Senate and 81 of the Democrats in the House voted to authorize it. And what you‘re seeing now, I think, is a lot of really reckless statements being made about pre-war intelligence.
In my view, it‘s irresponsible for elected officials absent evidence to go out and make some of the allegations and the attacks and the charges that many of the Democrats are making today.
Senator Edwards maybe came to that conclusion for all of the right reasons but I don‘t think anything has changed. The only thing that‘s changed is people looking at public opinion polls and I don‘t think we ought to conduct and prosecute wars by public opinion polls. This is foremost about principle and the principle here is to win the war of terror.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, Senator John Thune of South Dakota.
Up next, what constitutes torture and how far does America go in that department? And what are we doing in the so-called black sites over in Eastern Europe? And why do we have to hide the operation?
Plus the latest on the CIA leak investigation and why the person known as Official A, who we now think is Karl Rove, is so important to Patrick Fitzgerald‘s ongoing prosecution. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up this half hour on HARDBALL, the latest on the CIA leak investigation. Who is this mysterious figure known as Official A, and why is he so important in Patrick Fitzgerald‘s prosecution?
But first, how does the United States interrogate its detainees? Senator John McCain says he wants to ban cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees. Vice President Cheney lobbies for language that will not limit the president‘s power in prisoner treatment, so who‘s right?
Is there a right and wrong way to treat an alleged terrorist. Rick Francona is a retired Air Force Lieutenant colonel and MSNBC analyst, and Dana Priest covers the intelligence community for the “Washington Post.” She‘s the one, by the way, the reporter who broke the story on the CIA so-called black sites. Welcome to both of you.
DANA PRIEST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Let me start with Colonel Francona here. It seems to me there‘s four levels of hell if you get captured by the United States. There‘s how you‘re treated by the military, how you might be treated by the CIA, how you might be treated if you end up in one of these black sites in Eastern Europe and what happens to you if you have to go one of these rendition sites like Egypt. Am I right, Colonel Francona? There are four levels of hell here for treatment.
LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): You‘re exactly right, Chris, and that‘s in about the right order. Of course, the military operates under a strict series of standards that were set up by the Department of Defense. Basically they‘re adhering to the Army Field Manual on interrogation. And that‘s pretty cut and dry.
Then you get into this kind of murky world of what happens if you fall into the hands of the Central Intelligence Agency? If you‘re held in one of the Central Intelligence Agency‘s facilities, there‘s a lot of oversight and restriction on that. But as we‘ve seen reported, and I think Dana had some information on this, was when you get into the black sites that are in other countries, then you get outside of U.S. supervision, outside of real oversight.
You—still the CIA is in charge but they‘re offshore and they‘re, you know, out of sight, out of mind and then the worst is, of course, what we call these extraordinary rendition, is when you are handed over to our foreign service and you‘re at the mercy of that service.
MATTHEWS: OK, Dana, your review of the four levels of hell yourself.
What do you know about them?
PRIEST: Well, the one that I‘m most familiar with although it‘s very vague, is the CIA site, the black sites. You know, they are not operating without guidelines. In fact, their guidelines are approved by the Justice Department and the White House and the CIA General Counsel‘s Office. But we don‘t know much about them, contrary to the military interrogation techniques that we have got lists and lists of and we see what‘s being debated in Congress.
The CIA has refused to turn over anything about those. We know, however, there have been some techniques used. Water boarding is the most familiar where a detainee is made to believe they‘re going to drown.
MATTHEWS: Are they? Are they going to drown? I mean, I‘m wondering if that isn‘t just the real thing.
PRIEST: No. It‘s—I mean, the whole point of having somebody in that site is not to kill them. It‘s to interrogate them so that you can get information out of them.
MATTHEWS: Well, how often do they get out of hand and—how often do they actually drown somebody? Like every tenth time? Enough times to make you think they might be doing it?
PRIEST: No. I think we would hear. We know about seven or eight investigations involving CIA people in the—linked to deaths of detainees. We have not heard of any in the black sites yet and I we would.
MATTHEWS: How would we hear? If somebody is over in Poland or somewhere, somewhere else in Eastern Europe at some old gulag site, would we actually get a report of someone who died over there?
PRIEST: Well, we, the people, would not. The public. I mean, the only way that we‘ve known anything about the sites is through press reporting. Because the members of Congress who know about this, there are perhaps four, they‘re sworn to secrecy. They violate a law if they tell you about it, and that‘s catch-22 for them.
MATTHEWS: Well, here is what Senator Hagel said. I don‘t know if this is catch-22 or not. He said—here‘s what he had to say. We‘re going to watch the reports of these secret CIA jails, the story you broke.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL ®, NEBRASKA: The recent media reports of a worldwide American system of secret black hole jails run by the Central Intelligence Agency and developed explicitly to circumvent our obligations under the Geneva Convention soils further everything America represents. It further erodes the world‘s confidence in America‘s word and our purpose.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: OK. Colonel Francona, what do you make of that? You‘re a military man. What is your personal sense of what‘s right and wrong in the area of treating prisoners?
FRANCONA: I don‘t have the problem with the CIA running a series of overseas detention facilities and interrogation sites. I‘m more concerned about what goes on in them and how it‘s overseen from headquarters. If there are guidelines that are adhered to and those guidelines are within the framework of the law, I don‘t have a problem with that.
MATTHEWS: Why would you take somebody over to Poland if you weren‘t going to treat them differently than you would in Georgia?
FRANCONA: Because you can get—you could do things in Poland that you can‘t do in Georgia because you are out of sight.
MATTHEWS: That‘s my point. Dana, is that your assessment? There‘s a reason why these are black sites? Because they want to do things in the dark?
PRIEST: Well, yes. And the only reason they took them overseas is because they didn‘t want U.S. courts and U.S. law to apply.
The only reason that they‘re secret where they are is because they would be breaking the laws of democracies, where these black sites are located. Because they have laws like we do, that gives detainees certain rights.
MATTHEWS: I don‘t want to be a complete goo goo here, a good government type, Colonel Francona, but what about the United Nations declaration of human rights, which outlaws this kind of torture of any kind, really?
FRANCONA: Well, here we‘re going to get into semantics. What constitutes torture? What constitutes, you know, aggressive interrogation?
MATTHEWS: How about it hurts real bad? Let‘s keep it simple. It hurts real bad, that‘s torture.
FRANCONA: That‘s torture.
MATTHEWS: It hurts real bad.
FRANCONA: Threatening with a loaded weapon, threatening to kill their family, I don‘t regard that as beyond de pale. When you start breaking things, forcing joints, that‘s beyond the pale, that we shouldn‘t be doing.
PRIEST: The bottom line is, we don‘t know. Senator Hagel is on the intelligence committee. He doesn‘t know about these black sites and that‘s because they won‘t brief members who are even supposed to be doing oversight to give them any comfort about what might be going on there.
MATTHEWS: Well, we‘re going to more from Senator Hagel because he knows how to talk about these things. I expect that your piece, Dana, is going to raise a lot of dust here.
Anyway, thank you, Colonel Francona, thank you, Dana Priest of “The Washington Post.”
When we return, the latest on the CIA leak investigation, it keeps going.
Did Scooter Libby cover up details with his conversation with the vice president?
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back to HARDBALL. We‘re joined now by NBC News chief White House correspondent, David Gregory, who‘s with the president in Kyoto, Japan.
And MSNBC‘s political analyst and chief political reporter for “Newsweek,” Howard Fineman as well. He‘s on Capitol Hill and has been covering these dueling resolutions.
Let me go to David for a reaction to what the Senate did today. The Senate Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly told the president that next year is the year we ought to get our act together and start moving out of Iraq. That‘s the Republicans. Has the president reacted to that at all?
DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He hasn‘t reacted officially, but everyone knows in the White House, traveling with him and back at the White House, not on this trip, that this is the kind of added pressure that they‘ve been expecting for some time from within their own party and certainly from Democrats.
The president has been pursuing this rather curious strategy of attacking Democrats on the issue of WMD‘s and the intelligence, which seems to be curious, because it‘s a reminder of the broken promise he made. That is, that we were going to invade and find WMD‘s.
So, they‘re in such a weakened position, they‘re trying to lash out to, you know, deflect some of that criticism. I think the real problem here is that this puts more pressure in an area where the White House really doesn‘t think it has a lot of control.
And that is the pace with which Iraqi security forces are able to secure their own country.
MATTHEWS: Howard, all those Republicans lined up to support at least a face saver here, at least something like the Democrats, in saying let‘s get out of there, eventually at least.
HOWARD FINEMAN, CHIEF POLITICAL REPORTER, NEWSWEEK: I thought it was significant. Yes, the Republican leadership gutted the original Democratic resolution.
I heard you say earlier it wasn‘t a lightning bolt, but a lightning bug. But it was a lightning bug that illuminated growing Republican nervousness.
I was talking to Senator Lindsey Graham, who‘s a hawk on the war, and he was fretting to me out loud. He‘s saying these are my members, these are the Republican members getting nervous as they look at the public opinion polls; 44 by my county, 44 Republicans out of the 55 voted for this watered-down resolution, that nevertheless sends a message to the president, we‘re nervous. And I thought it was significant.
MATTHEWS: Let me get back to David. Your assessment is the president probably wasted some time last week going back over the WMD argument, which didn‘t turn out right from his point of view.
What does he do though, to deal with the erosion that‘s so evident now? We have a new poll out, that came out this morning, CNN poll that shows 65 percent of the American people, that‘s almost two-thirds, don‘t like the way the president is dealing in Iraq.
GREGORY: Right. I mean, it‘s an incredible statistic and it shows you how difficult it is for this White House and for Republicans. I think Republicans are taking this step because they‘re the ones who have to face voters about a deeply unpopular war.
The president can campaign for history here and stick to his larger global vision. But the reality is, the president attacking Democrats now is stepping on his larger message.
As he‘s made in the past couple of speeches that al-Zarqawi was indeed behind the bombing in Jordan is another indication of what the United States is up against. That‘s the larger message about the war in Iraq from the president‘s point of view.
That this is really about fighting jihadism. Yet, he is deliberately stepping on that message to go back to his greatest weakness, which is how the basis under which we went to war.
To say, well the Democrats got it wrong, too. I just don‘t see how that‘s helpful at this point given, as you say, you have nearly 2/3 of the country saying, we don‘t like what you‘re doing in Iraq, get us out. The president saying I don‘t want to talk about that, let‘s talk about how we got back in.
MATTHEWS: Howard, I‘m up here in a purple state, our home state of Pennsylvania, yours and mine. And it‘s not a right-wing or a left-wing state. It‘s very middle-of-the-road. And I was looking at the internal numbers here and the polls up here in Pennsylvania.
The president is unpopular about 55-to-30, his disapproval. It‘s pretty bad up here. I wonder if that‘s getting any impact down there, the fact that a state like Pennsylvania, which is no Jane Fonda state by any means, having problems wit the president.
FINEMAN: I think it is having an impact, Chris. I‘m looking down the list of the hardcore Republicans who stuck with the president, so to speak, on this vote and voted against even the watered down resolution. And Rick Santorum, the Republican conservative from Pennsylvania, is not on the list. In other words, he voted for the lightning bug resolution, if you will, because he wants some political cover here.
And that‘s as strong of an indication as I‘ve seen, not to mention the fact that Rick Santorum had a chance to campaign with the president in Pennsylvania the other week and didn‘t take that opportunity.
MATTHEWS: He wasn‘t there in Wilkes-Barre.
FINEMAN: He wasn‘t there in Wilkes-Barre. So this is what you‘re seeing all around the country, and to add onto what David was saying, David is absolutely right. I think—my sense from talking to some Republican strategists about this, is the president has to try to seize the initiation by looking at the big picture.
And he may only be able to do that by acknowledging mistakes, by acknowledging the fact that the intelligence was weak at least, because he‘s not going—if he keeps dwelling on that earlier argument, he‘s never going to get past it.
MATTHEWS: Maybe he should send Dick Cheney to that funeral ...
FINEMAN: But this is not the ...
MATTHEWS: ... because that‘s not the job he wants to .
FINEMAN: Yes, but George Bush is not the kind of guy, and neither is Dick Cheney, to ever go backwards or apologize on anything.
GREGORY: Chris, can I add a point here?
GREGORY: The reason I think it‘s so significant that Republicans are the ones who are beginning to criticize, especially Republicans like Senator Hagel who want to run for president, is because they and their Democratic counterparts are going to be in a position by ‘08 of rendering judgment about this war and what it means to the overall war on terror.
The next president is going to A, have to figure out how the United States gets out of Iraq and claims any sort of victory; and more importantly, deals with what the next step is in this wider war on terror. There that person is really going to be in the tough spot of carrying that war forward, really the war of the 21st century in its next step after Afghanistan and after what many critics believe was a diversion in Iraq.
MATTHEWS: OK, we‘re going to get back with David Gregory. He‘s over in Kyoto. By the way, it‘s the morning over there. It‘s tomorrow morning over there already, David just told me. And Howard Fineman of “Newsweek,” we‘ll be right back.
And by the way, a political reminder. The debate continues on our hardblog or our political blog Web site. Now you can download podcasts of HARDBALL. Just go to our Web site, hardball.MSNBC.com.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with NBC‘s David Gregory, traveling with the
president in Kyoto, Japan right now—it‘s tomorrow morning there already
and “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman.
Howard, you first here. Official A—who is Official A, and why is he so important in this continuing investigation of the White House leak?
FINEMAN: Well, everybody‘s pretty certain that Official A is Karl Rove, the senior counselor and deputy chief of staff to the president and the guy whose been at George Bush‘s side since 1973. And the key here is that Karl Rove remains under investigation by the special counsel but he hasn‘t been indicted. He‘s in a this sort of limbo.
And my sense is, from talking to people that know this investigation well, that he‘s going to stay there. As long as the Libby investigation remains open and remains in process, they are not going to close the door on Karl Rove, on the chance number one, that Libby either on purpose or accidentally revealed some things about Karl Rove‘s conduct, or on the possibility that Libby says some things that in turn allow the prosecutor to go after Karl Rove who in turn could be squeezed to go after other people.
This guy, Patrick Fitzgerald, is slow, he‘s methodical. He‘s not going to shut the door, I believe, on Karl Rove just yet.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s go to David Gregory, who covers the traveling White
House. David, inside the White House, as you‘ve covered it as best you can
I know they like to keep a lot of doors closed and windows closed there
is there a sense the Libby might be a problem because they have got him?
The prosecution has him with a 30-year prison sentence facing him, that he might rat out the vice president or somebody else there at the White House?
GREGORY: Well, there‘s certainly a view that there‘s a problem because the investigation continues, and as long as Karl Rove is under this cloud of investigation, the president can‘t do anything to address what‘s gone on so far, how he feels about it, account for the actions of his senior officials whether they committed a crime or not in the case of both Rove and Libby being involved in some manner.
And beyond that, I think you‘re right. There are always going to be questions in, essentially, an obstruction of justice case where you‘ve got one official who‘s been indicted whether—if in the course of the negotiations, should that happen down the line before a trial, he wants to cooperate and implicate other people.
So it‘s terrible for the White House from that point of view because of the nature of this case, which is the prosecutor saying they kicked sand in my eyes. I can‘t fully see what‘s gone on but now I have got somebody under my thumb who may tell me a little bit about that.
There‘s also a view that Scooter Libby is certainly a loyal guy, and is ready to clear his good name. But it‘s hard to believe with the sort of counsel that he‘s hired—and other people in Washington who are in legal circles believe this—without thinking he‘s going to pursue some kind of a plea at some point.
MATTHEWS: What‘s keeping the trap from shutting on Rove? Putting it negatively, we do know that he talked to two reporters about the identity of the agent, the underground agent, the undercover agent. We know he talked to Judy Miller. And we know he talked to—I mean, rather he talked to Bob Novak, the guy who started it all, who reported the story, and to Cooper.
FINEMAN: Well, Chris ...
MATTHEWS: Isn‘t that enough?
FINEMAN: Well, Chris, why from the Patrick Fitzgerald‘s point of view, the special counsel, why would you want to shut the door on Karl Rove? If you are angry at the administration for what you charge in your indictment as obstruction of justice by Scooter Libby, then you, Patrick Fitzgerald, might do a little obstructing on your own of this administration by not letting Karl Rove off the hook, both because there may be some evidence turned up or you‘re playing hardball too.
You‘re saying look, we‘re going to keep this guy, Karl Rove, your main guy under a cloud of suspicion until this case is settled.
MATTHEWS: Yes, well ...
FINEMAN: But, look, let‘s all ...
MATTHEWS: We‘re going to have to go. I‘m sorry, but thank you very much. David Gregory, good luck in Kyoto and welcome back, when you come back. Howard Fineman, chief political correspondent for “Newsweek” and our top guy in politics. Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.
And a reminder, on Friday, “New York Times” columnist Maureen Dowd, with everything she has to offer, coming here on HARDBALL.
Right now, it‘s time from the “ABRAMS REPORT” with Dan.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.