Guest: Orrin Hatch, Dick Durbin, Stuart Rothenberg, Charlie Cook, Bob Shrum, Ed Rogers, Peter Bergen
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR: Catch me if you can. Sam Alito slips past the Democrats, cheered on by the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee. In the few moments of excitement, rebel with a cause Ted Kennedy taunts teacher Arlen Specter in this session, that featured more high school than high drama. As the sleaze oozes higher in the House, the Senate plays hide and seek with makes Sammy run Alito. Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews. Sparks flew this afternoon on day three of the Alito nomination hearings. But it didn‘t come from senators grilling Judge Alito, it happened when Senator Ted Kennedy taunted Chairman Arlen Specter on a letter he sent, but Arlen hadn‘t seen. Should we blame the post office?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: If I‘m going to be denied that, I‘d want to give notice to the chair that you‘re going to hear havoc again and again and again. And we‘re going to have votes to this committee again and again and again until we have a resolution.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R, PA), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I‘m the chairman of this committee and I have heard your request and I will consider it. And I‘m not going to have you run this committee and decide when we‘re going to go into executive session.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: But big remain about President Bush‘s nominee. Should we believe what Judge Sam Alito has said in the past on abortion rights and presidential power and other issues? Or can we trust what he‘s testifying to now under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee itself? More on this with Senators Orrin Hatch and Dick Durbin in a moment.
Later tonight, fear and loathing on Capitol Hill as the race for majority leader in the House gets down and dirty with reports that both of the top contenders for DeLay‘s post have been tainted with Abramoff-related cash. And why did it take this humongous corruption scandal to get Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert to wrestle the issue of lobbying reform?
We saw the scandal growing here and so did most of you watching, so why didn‘t the speaker clean up his house before the scandal was splashed all across the front pages? Good question. And will Denny Hastert end up paying a big political price if there is a successful push for full leadership elections and change?
More on this developing story, but first, the Alito hearings. Senator Orrin Hatch and Senator Dick Durbin are both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Hatch, is there some personal peek between your friend Senator Kennedy and the chairman? It seems like they were so prickly up there, they wouldn‘t even look at each other.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UTAH), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Well, no, no. I think—sometimes these matters get a little tense. But we‘re all good friends and I just have to say that, you know, Ted was trying to score some points there and he was trying to, I think, set up a situation where he could complain and gripe and maybe even vote against Alito. I think, you know, they can‘t beat Alito on the fact, (inaudible), on integrity.
MATTHEWS: Well, they get him on the mail service now. You know, I wonder, because isn‘t there any old protocol on the Hill, and maybe this is one of those great old Senate protocols that‘s gone now, where you don‘t blast your opponent about a letter you sent him until you know he‘s gotten it.
HATCH: Well, you know, even that, I think is blown out of proportion. And the fact of the matter is, it was easily solved. All they did, all Chairman Specter did was make a call and they got the documents that had already been gone through by “New York Times” reporters. There was nothing there.
MATTHEWS: Well why did he tell—why did Ted Kennedy then take his shot at him by saying, “I haven‘t bumped into you lately because I haven‘t been to the gym?” What is that about? I mean, it‘s high school stuff.
HATCH: Well, I think you‘re right. And there‘s been some real high school stuff here in these hearings. Frankly, the guy that‘s been a superstar has been Sam Alito.
MATTHEWS: Yes, it‘s good.
HATCH: You look at him, he‘s a very brave guy.
MATTHEWS: He‘s good at what you want him to do, which is to get by the Democrats.
HATCH: Well, keep in mind, I didn‘t think anybody could close to Roberts. Roberts was so good. But I think Alito has done it and frankly, substantively, I think he may have gone beyond Roberts and he‘s been pretty forthcoming. He‘s certainly not going to talk straight up on Roe v. Wade, but he has said that he‘ll keep an open mind on it, he‘ll look on it the way he should and who knows what he‘s going to do? I certainly don‘t know what he‘s going to do and I don‘t think he does at this point. And I don‘t think now Chief Justice Roberts knew what he was going to do at the time.
MATTHEWS: Senator Durbin, I don‘t even know why Judge Alito‘s a judge now, because he seems to have erased his whole past. He said awhile back that he thought was Robert Bork was rejected for the Supreme Court, one of the most fiery confirmation hearings ever, was the greatest appointment, the greatest nomination of the century. And then asked about it yesterday by your committee, and he said, “Oh yes, I backed him because Reagan endorsed him.” They don‘t make sense, those two statements next to each other.
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Well, I can just tell you that we‘ve had some trouble reconciling some of the things that Sam Alito said 20 years ago. And of course people say, why would you go back that far? At that point in time, he‘d been out of law school 10 years, he‘d been an assistant U.S. attorney clerk for a federal judge, served in the military, worked in the solicitor general‘s office. And he fills out an application to get a job in Ed Meese‘s Department of Justice.
And in that application, he tries to come up with very strong conservative credentials to sell himself. It‘s understandable. We‘ve all applied for jobs. Some of the things he said went beyond frankly what‘s acceptable today by today‘s standards. And so we‘ve questioned him about those and most of them he‘s disavowed. Some of them he has not. And I think that‘s why this hearing continues.
MATTHEWS: Have you learned anything, Senator?
DURBIN: Well, I‘m concerned when it comes to the issue of Roe v. Wade. I agree with Orrin. I don‘t expect him to tell me how he‘s going to rule on a case, but I go back to what John Roberts was asked, and I think John Roberts is a man who‘s well respected in terms of his legal acumen. And he said that he believed that Roe v. Wade was settled law in this land. I asked Sam Alito the same question and he wouldn‘t give me the same answer. It leads some of us on our side of the table to wonder what‘s going to happen the first time there‘s a serious challenge to Roe v. Wade. And I think that‘s what‘s propelling a lot of the questions before this committee.
MATTHEWS: Senator Hatch, the president I think it‘s fair to say is pro-life, using the short hand and not on all its life, but that‘s where he stands. He believes in ultimately getting rid of abortion in this country. Isn‘t the kind of man or person he is selecting these days of like mind, isn‘t it fair to assume that he picked Alito because he is pro-life?
HATCH: Well I think he may think that knowing Sam Alito as a conservative, he‘s probably pro-life. But I know they don‘t ask the question and one reason they don‘t is because if they did, our friends on the other side would be saying, “Did you ever tell anybody what your position is on Roe v. Wade?” But isn‘t it terrible that that becomes the be-all and end-all issue for some people in this committee? I mean, it‘s pathetic when you stop and think about it. But that‘s become—that‘s what‘s driving a lot of the partisanship in the Senate that I decry.
You know, Dick Durbin and I, Ted Kennedy and I, and others, we‘ve always gotten along. We‘ve always been able to bring both sides together on some very important issues. But it‘s becoming increasingly more and more difficult, and I have to say that I really believe that Roe v. Wade is one of the reasons. And that‘s why unelected jurists should not be deciding these grand social issues. They ought to be left up to the elected representatives of the people.
The problem is, most Democrats don‘t want to do that because they can never get those type of pieces of legislation through the people‘s people. They want nonelected judges to do the work for them. And that‘s...
MATTHEWS: ... Well, that may not be true in states like—it‘s a more conservative state, obviously Utah. But, I mean, in New York state, they‘d pass a pro-choice law, would they in California?
HATCH: Sure they would. If you left it up to the people, yes, I think some states, probably 8 or 10 of them could and probably Illinois, where Dick comes from. Florida, California, New York, I mean they would probably pass pro-choice laws. But at least the people would have made the decision and not seven unelected justices of the Supreme Court. And we wouldn‘t—we‘d still have controversy, but at least it would be people controversy, not a controversy over who‘s going to sit on the United States Supreme Court.
And Alito really—he really meets the standard of somebody who basically says, “Look, judges should not be making law. They should be interpreting the law and leave the making of laws up to those who have to stand for re-election and have to face the music on it.”
MATTHEWS: Well let me ask Senator Durbin to respond to that. What‘s wrong with letting the people make the decision on whether people should have a right to an abortion, state-by-state?
DURBIN: You‘re old enough to remember the civil rights movement. If we had made that a state issue, let the states decide, do you think we would have one common standard in the United States when it comes to civil rights? When it comes to accommodations and the availability of restaurants and places to stop and travel? You know better.
Before we went through this national effort to establish this right for African-Americans, it was unfortunately a sad reality that in many parts of the United States, African-Americans were discriminated against.
MATTHEWS: But that was a law you passed in the Senate. Every Dirksen of your Senate—the Democrats, it was a bipartisan thing with a huge number of Republicans, maybe more than Democrats voting for the civil rights bill. You actually stuck your neck out and passed a civil rights law and the Supreme Court upheld it under interstate commerce. It‘s totally different to have Roe v. Wade decided by a court, isn‘t it?
DURBIN: Chris, let me just tell you something. That law in civil rights, as important as it was, there was a precursor to it. It was Brown v. Board of the Education. And you had the Supreme Court say that when it came to public education, it was going to be an end of segregation. The courts showed the first line of courage here. Congress followed within the next 10 or 15 years and did what it should do. But what I‘m saying to you is when it comes...
MATTHEWS: ... And that‘s why we‘ve stopped arguing about it. But we‘ve stopped arguing about civil rights and public accommodations and fair employment because you guys voted on it as a Democratic/Republican body and it‘s over with. As long as the courts decide this, Senator, I don‘t know. I don‘t want to make your case, but we‘ll never end this argument if it‘s somebody—some big daddy in Washington decides it for us who‘s a judge in a robe for lifetime appointment. As long as it looks like somebody‘s telling us what to do, you guys are going to never stop arguing about this thing, are you? Ever?
DURBIN: Well you may say that, but you can make the same argument against an act of Congress. What do those people know? They don‘t know my neighborhood, they don‘t know my city.
MATTHEWS: When is the last time we argued about civil rights in this country? About whether we have public segregation laws, and public drinking fountains and all that stuff? It‘s all decided by you guys. I don‘t want to take your argument. It‘s a senator‘s argument.
DURBIN: We argue about civil rights all the time. Race is still an issue in America.
HATCH: Let me just get into this. Brown vs. Board of Education was a decision that had to be made and really it just created an even greater furor. And it had to be solved with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a Congressionally passed act, and the most important civil rights bill in history, the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
But it was the people‘s representatives who made those decisions, and that is why the people had accepted them. In the case of Roe vs. Wade, it‘s seven unelected jurists who made this decision. People out there haven‘t accepted it.
You can find just about anything you want in the polls. It‘s bleeding the Congress dry with regard to partisanship and it is driving the whole partisanship thing. You look at these outside groups that are spilling out the venom against this really fine competent man, this great judge. Almost every one of them are devoted to one issue, and it‘s Roe vs. Wade.
Almost every Democrat on the panel has spent a significant amount of their questioning time on Roe vs. Wade. Now, look, I really believe -- 20 some years ago, I brought a Constitutional Amendment to the floor saying, let‘s leave it up to the elected representatives of the people in the respected legislatures, state and federal, with a more restrictive law applicable.
We got 50 votes at that time. Jesse Helms did not vote so it was 49, but he was with us on that issue. We couldn‘t get 67, but it was a very important debate. I really believe if you left it up to the people who have resolved this problem, in most ways, Dick would probably be happy with his state, I know I‘d be happy with mine.
MATTHEWS: I shouldn‘t have gotten into this argument. Thank you very much, Senator Dick Durbin.
HATCH: You started it.
MATTHEWS: No, you did. Senator Orrin Hatch. We‘re like Ted Kennedy and Specter, here. Anyway. thank you sirs. When we return, how will the Abramoff scandal and the Republican leadership fight affect the midterm elections.
Will the Republicans hold firm or can the Democrats gain some ground on this one?
Later, why is Osama Bin Laden being celebrated like Bob Marley in much of the Muslim world. Look at these tee shirts. I saw some of them myself. I‘ll ask one of the world‘s foremost Bin Laden experts what make this guy, this killer, popular.
We‘ll be right back. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, the Abramoff lobbying scandal is smelling up the Congress. So will Democrats make gains this November, or will the Republicans succeed in sharing the shame. HARDBALL returns after this.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The Abramoff scandal is quickly becoming a whoopie cushion in Congress, more trouble today for the former majority leader as the scandal begins to infect other top leader in addition to Tom DeLay. Davis Shuster has the story.
DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): As House majority leader, it was Tom DeLay who led the fight for the president‘s‘s legislative agenda. But now that DeLay is out of his leadership post following corruption charges, lawmakers say the president‘s power in congress and the GOP‘s status heading into the midterms are both in trouble.
Already the election for the next House Republican majority leader has created turmoil.
The two top contenders are Congressman Roy Blunt of Missouri, and John Boehner of Ohio. Blunt received at least $8,500 from Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff and repeatedly worked on the agenda of Abramoff‘s clients.
Furthermore, just hours after being named to a leadership post four years ago, Blunt inserted into the Homeland Security Bill a measure that would have benefited the Philip Morris tobacco company.
John Boehner is also closely tied to powerful influence peddlers, and while he didn‘t receive any money from Abramoff, Boehner did get $32,000 from Indian tribes linked to Abramoff. Ten years ago, Boehner gave tobacco industry checks to lawmakers on the House floor.
The clouds over both men have prompted other Republicans to consider entering the leadership race or suggest an election into every House Republican post. As GOP fears are growing about the impact of the Abramoff corruption scandal, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier are preparing to introduce lobbying reform legislation.
REP. DAVID DREIER, ® RULES CMTE. CHAIRMAN: The speaker asked me to listen to my colleagues, listen to the American people and come up with some recommendations for him as we get ready to begin the second session of the 109th Congress.
SHUSTER: But a year ago, when they were about to begin the first session, the Republicans were trying not to tighten the rules, but to loosen them.
Hastert and Dreier both supported an effort that would have allowed a member of Congress to stay in the leadership, even when indicted for corruption. The DeLay rule, as it was called, was eventually dropped. And when DeLay was indicted last fall in Texas, he had to step down.
Today, there was yet another setback for DeLay in his bid to improve his image with constituents and potential jurors in his upcoming corruption trial. DeLay‘s office asked Houston television stations not to run this Democratic ad trashing him over the Abramoff scandal.
ANNOUNCER: Forty-eight trips to golf resorts, 100 flights aboard company jets, 200 nights at world-class resorts and hotels.
SHUSTER: But the tone of DeLay‘s letter, including threats of a lawsuit, prompted Houston broadcast journalists to run the ad in news reports.
PHIL ARCHER, KPRC REPORTER: There sending out letters to Houston television stations demanding those spots be pulled to, quote, avoid any liability.
SHUSTER: Back in Washington, reports that Republican Senator Conrad Burns is under investigation in the Abramoff scandal have led Burns to blame it all on Democrats.
The Senator told his hometown newspaper, quote, “The Democrats said they were going to run a smear campaign and they‘re doing it.”
But disclosure reports show that Conrad Burns received nearly $150,000 from Abramoff, his associates or clients, and that is more money than any other lawmaker in Washington.
(on camera): The Abramoff investigation is being led by career prosecutors at The Justice Department working for Republican political appointees, and that has led Republicans on Capitol Hill to wonder about the scale of the Abramoff scandal and consider weather the House GOP leadership, to minimize what may be coming, should consider cleaning house now.
I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, David. Here to assess the damage is NBC Political Analyst Charlie Cook, who heads the Cook Political Report and pollster Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.
Stu, why don‘t you start and try to predict this coming November. Will the stink of Abramoff, as we assume it‘s going to lead to more indictment, or indictments I should say, is this going to hurt both parties or is this primarily a Republican problem.
STUART ROTHENBERG, ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: Right now it‘s primarily a Republican problem. They have much greater vulnerability, the high profile member of Congress who are mentioned as under the microscope at the moment are virtually all Republicans.
Tom DeLay, Bob Ney, Conrad Burns, John Doolittle. There are some Democrats involved, but at the moment the focus is on the Republicans.
MATTHEWS: Can you go down, as a member of Congress, because you took some money from a lobbyist, even if it‘s for campaign expenses?
ROTHENBERG: You can go down if the public desires change and if the Republicans are tagged with corruption. The Democrats have done a nice job talking for months about the Republican, quote on quote, “culture of corruption.” And if voters want shame, you can go down there if you just take a campaign contribution.
MATTHEWS: Charlie, don‘t you have to be a real ideologue, a real partisan to believe that one party‘s more crooked than the other?
CHARLIE COOK, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: Yes, but the thing is, I think the country‘s more ideological in that sense, more partisan in that sense, than it‘s ever been.
MATTHEWS: So Republicans think Democrats are crooks and the other way around?
COOK: Right. I mean, today, that‘s part of the problem we have today, is today nobody‘s wrong, they are evil. And that‘s the fundamental view of the partisan.
MATTHEWS: They all use it now.
COOK: No, among partisans of both side. But where I would take issue at Stu is...
MATTHEWS: ... By the way, some people are evil.
COOK: Well, I already called some Satan last week.
MATTHEWS: Well that was Abramoff. I think the courts will prove that, but go ahead.
COOK: But to me, right now this is a congressional scandal. I think it has the potential to change from congressional to Republican and there‘s a lot of potential for that. But to me, I don‘t think the data supports that its already become a Republican scandal in the minds of voters.
MATTHEWS: You know why I call him Satan? Because Satan isn‘t just evil, Satan if we believed in the religion, is a seducer. He gets people to do bad things. He tricks them into it, he says this is going to be great for you, this is a good thing to do, do it now, don‘t think about it. That‘s what he did with these young staffers.
He said, “Here, I‘ll get you the suit and I‘ll get you the nice tan and the week vacations and you‘ll be making six figures. It will be great for you and your family too.” And they take the sleazy route in life. That‘s why he‘s Satan.
COOK: But you know, Jack Abramoff has about as much rMD+IN_rMDNM_in common with the average Washington lobbyist as Jimmy Swaggart has with your local Presbyterian pastor.
MATTHEWS: What‘s he different about?
COOK: The thing is...
MATTHEWS: ... Tell me what‘s different.
COOK: Fundamentally, the average lobbyist in this country represents a small trade association, a company. They don‘t make an outlandish amount of money, they don‘t do illegal things. They just make their case like a lawyer would make their case. We‘re talking about a super lobbyist level and then the biggest scumbag that anybody‘s seen in a hundred years or 50 years.
MATTHEWS: So you say it‘s going to basically hurt Republicans in the short run. You say the same?
COOK: I say right now it‘s hurting the institution which hurts Republicans proportionately more, but is predictable that way.
ROTHENBERG: Voters are cynical about politicians and they‘re cynical about lobbyists. But you look at the figures involved now and you look at those numbers that show that only about a third of Americans think the country‘s heading in the right directions. You look at the numbers on Congress, where only about a quarter of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing. The Republicans control Congress, they have much greater vulnerability on this issue.
MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you about real life, because I‘ve been waiting for this big snowballing effect of cleaning up the House all my life, since the ‘70s. Everybody‘s sick of it, they‘re disgusted with it, and then it‘s like the Soviet Union when they go to vote. They all vote ethically, ideologically, they go for the familiar name, the name they like. If the guy‘s black and they‘re black, they vote for him. If the guy‘s Italian, they vote for him if they‘re Italian.
It‘s—every election‘s like that. And all these districts are form-fitted for the personality. They look like the districts and you never beat them. You‘re not going to beat—a Republican‘s not going to get elected in Philly, where I grew up, in the city. It‘s just not going to happen. Or in New York City, or in Los Angeles. And Democrats are not going to come into Utah and Wyoming.
So all these seats have been so freaking gerrymandered. So they‘ve insured their life, they get life insurance policy.
ROTHENBERG: There are only two or three dozen truly competitive races this cycle, probably. And what the Democrats (inaudible) big partisan way.
MATTHEWS: OK, we‘ll be right back with Charlie Cook and Stu Rothenberg. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. It‘s hard to get rid of sleaze.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s get back to today‘s hearings. This afternoon at the Alito hearings, the wife of Judge Alito got emotional as Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina defended Alito in the face of Democratic attacks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: ... African-American judges (inaudible). Glowing quotes about who you are, the way you‘ve lived your life. Law clerks, men and women, black and white, your colleagues who say that “Sam Alito, where I agree with him or not, is a really good man.” And you know why I believe you when you say that you disavowed those quotes? Because the way you have lived your life and the way you and your wife are raising your children.
Let me tell you this. Guilt by association is going to drive good men and women away from wanting to sit where you‘re sitting. And we‘re going to go through this ourselves as congressmen and senators. People are going to take the fact that we got a campaign donation from somebody...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well that‘s Lindsey Graham, South Carolina. Obviously Mrs. Alito who‘s been charming and cheerful through these hearings is seeming to understand the political game at work here with people taking shots at her husband, obviously was taken with I think that tribute and also with the challenge from the other side that kept focusing on this Princeton alumni group as if they‘ve got the mother load there.
COOK: You know, when you think about the toll on these nominees and whether they‘re President Bush‘s nominees or some of the Clinton nominees back in the early ‘90s, where it really has bordered on character assassination. And people—I mean, just some of the flimsiest stuff being thrown at these people, people of honor that have never had their integrity challenged. It really is quite something.
ROTHENBERG: I think Charlie‘s got it right. I mean, what we see is we see the opposition—in this case, it‘s the Democrats. But it‘s been reversed—looking for a reason, a way to defeat this guy.
MATTHEWS: If a guy has a racial problem, American has a racial problem, I mean, what‘s new in this country? And most people don‘t admit it. Why would it only show itself like once in 50 some years? Why would it only be one moment, one meeting, one club he had his name on? You‘d have an evidence of that, a pattern. It wouldn‘t just be one thing. I mean, everybody‘s probably said something wrong once or done something wrong once in this world. This has got a race problem area (ph).
But anyway, it seems to me that she‘s a wonderful woman and I think she stood up for her husband. Let me thank you guys. This has been a big day for us, to talk about some of this high school nonsense going out there.
I want to say something about a late colleague of ours. David Rosenbaum wrote for “The New York Times.” He‘s not one of the commentators you see on programs like this, he wasn‘t a columnist or anything. He was a straight news reporter, one of these brilliant people that manages to put together these long daily pieces that they get in the paper. And I‘ve ridden with him on buses and I‘m stunned by their ability to get these stories in the paper the next morning.
Hard-working journalists are the best kind. He was killed in some kind of robbery the other night in Washington. We‘re still hoping the police will catch somebody that‘s guilty of this crime, because it‘s just horrible. He‘s walking around to get some air at night and some kids came along, apparently, and killed him for his money or something, his credit card. Horrible story, horrible story. We pray for his family. There‘s going to be a memorial service at the Dirksen building at the Senate this week. A lot of people are going to be there.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
While the Senate‘s made-for-TV Alito-thon has been more high school than high drama, there‘s no shortage of drama on the other side of the Capitol this week. A bitter fight is under way to see which Republican can fumigate the stench from the Abramoff-DeLay fallout and keep the GOP hold on their majority in the 2006 elections.
Joining me right now is HARDBALL analyst Bob Shrum, and Ed Rogers, a GOP lobbyist and—well, he‘s a lobbyist...
ED ROGERS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes.
MATTHEWS: ... and former adviser to the first President Bush.
Let‘s start with Ed.
MATTHEWS: It‘s your party, you‘ll cry if you want to. OK? What do you think about this, as scandals go, this Abramoff—is it up there with the House bank scandal? Is it up there with other scandals that have come along in the last 20, 30 years?
ROGERS: Yes. Sincerely, the jury is still out on this.
I don‘t think so. I think at the end of the day, when you cut through the hyperbole, when you cut through sort of the topical appetite and the desire to move the story, this isn‘t going to touch that many members.
MATTHEWS: How many guys get bounced? How many in Congress will get bounced in both parties total?
ROGERS: You know, hey, I don‘t think there‘s going to be a change in control at the end of this.
MATTHEWS: No, but how many members of Congress are going to lose their seats?
ROGERS: Fewer than five.
MATTHEWS: Shrummy, is that your—is that your battle estimate, your battle prediction?
ROGERS: He hopes not.
BOB SHRUM, HARDBALL POLITICAL ANALYST: I probably don‘t want to get him in trouble, but I agree with Newt Gingrich and David Dreier that this is one of the mega-scandals that we‘ve seen in Washington. I mean, we now have...
MATTHEWS: Yes, but he knew national interest in this. He‘s trying to sleaze back into the operation here.
Well, David Dreier, I think, is actually trying to put forward some serious reform proposals.
SHRUM: If you wanted one, for example, you could actually say the lobbyist would have to list—I‘m sure Ed wouldn‘t mind this. The lobbyist would have to list who they contacted on a particular bill, and then which executives or PACs for the businesses they represented contributed to those members.
Then we‘d have transparency. We don‘t have that today.
I think you‘re going to see—I don‘t think we know how many people are going to get in trouble, but I think a lot are going to get in trouble. And you probably expect me to say this, but I do think the Democrats are going to take back the House because the polling numbers haven‘t been this way for an incumbent party in control of the House since 1994, and we know what happened then.
MATTHEWS: OK. So they pick out 15 seats. Pick out 15 seats is what you‘re saying, right?
ROGERS: Fewer than five will be touched by this scandal. Fewer than five.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about—I mean, I don‘t want to take Bob‘s side on this, but what would be wrong with having a public record of, I give 50 or five and five to a campaign, under the rules, and then having to mark down the fact that you visited the guy three times?
ROGERS: Hey, I think from campaign finance to lobbying reform, reporting, real-time reporting, is the answer. And then let voters decide whether or not something is corrupt—corruptible or not.
MATTHEWS: Hey, what about this weird thing in the law I dug up yesterday? They challenged—and David Dreier, who was a good guy, but it said it‘s a good point, he didn‘t know about it.
There‘s a ridiculous rule, I think, that says you can only have two meals a year from a lobbyist, a registered lobbyist, each no more than $50. Well, I guess your wife can get another meal worth $50, too. I guess counting (ph) your husband, or whatever, or your partner or whoever else comes along for the night. But it also said, excluded from the meal tag—the tab, is booze.
In other words, you can have a $50 steak, and then you don‘t count taxes, you don‘t count the bottle of expensive wine, or whatever, or booze. And that doesn‘t get—why do they write in a stupid provision like this that doesn‘t include booze?
ROGERS: I don‘t have any idea.
MATTHEWS: Why do they do this stuff? It just makes them...
ROGERS: I‘ve been a lobbyist in this town for 15 years. I can‘t remember the last time I bought a member of Congress a meal. It doesn‘t really happy that much.
ROGERS: It doesn‘t go on, yes.
MATTHEWS: You don‘t call them up during recesses and invite them and their wives out to dinner?
ROGERS: Never. Absolutely never. No, people aren‘t interested.
People want to go home during recess. They don‘t want to go to dinner.
MATTHEWS: Yes, go ahead, Bob.
SHRUM: I think with—I think with a lot of lobbyists, they do buy people meals. Abramoff was clearly the epitome of the K Street project, the attempt that Tom DeLay made not only to control the presidency in both houses of Congress, but the lobbying industry.
And there‘s no question he ran a restaurant, signatures that never made any money. What it was designed to do was give expensive meals to members of Congress.
Now, I‘m told the food wasn‘t very good. So I guess the fact that it was free probably doesn‘t matter much.
MATTHEWS: Well, being free is an incentive.
ROGERS: So do we need food reform here? Do we need eating reform in Washington?
SHRUM: Well, actually, you know what, Ed? You know what, Ed? I do think it would be a very good idea if lobbyists were not allowed to buy expensive meals for members of Congress.
ROGERS: I think it would be a good idea for it to be fully reported.
SHRUM: It‘s your constitutional right—it‘s your constitutional right to give a contribution to a member of Congress. I think that‘s a good idea. But I think we ought to fully and absolutely transparently tell people who you gave it to and then who you lobbied.
MATTHEWS: OK. Here, Bob. You invite the guy to your house for dinner. Are you saying you can‘t do that?
MATTHEWS: You‘re saying you shouldn‘t be able to do that?
SHRUM: No, I...
MATTHEWS: No, I‘m serious. You just had a law you want to—you think you can solve problems with new laws. I‘m saying you can‘t.
You think that you can outlaw, influence peddling by saying a guy can‘t buy somebody a meal? He‘ll take him to his club where there‘s no tab. He‘ll take him to his house where there‘s no tab.
SHRUM: Well, first of all—first of all...
MATTHEWS: He will find a way to serve his interests. Won‘t he? Just tell me if I‘m write.
SHRUM: Chris, you and I had to—Chris, you and I had to live under those rules. And he can‘t take you to the club where there‘s not tab, because the fact is he then has to report the worth of the meal. Then the rule still applies.
But that—look, I agree with Ed, and maybe we ought to move on to something else. The real answer here is transparency. We ought to know who‘s giving how much money to whom, who they then lobby and how they then voted.
MATTHEWS: You know who took me to lunch? The same people who took you to lunch, reporters. And they paid, buddy.
ROGERS: Yes, they can pay. That‘s fine.
MATTHEWS: OK? They always pay.
MATTHEWS: So that‘s legal. It‘s OK.
Do you really think reporters shouldn‘t be able to pay for lunch when they‘ve got a source on the hill, Bob?
SHRUM: No, of course not.
MATTHEWS: They shouldn‘t be allowed to pay for lunch?
SHRUM: Of course. I mean, in fact, they have to pay...
ROGERS: They have to pay or they‘ll be in real trouble here.
SHRUM: They‘ve got a serious—first of all—first of all, they should. But secondly, they‘ve got a serious ethical problem if they don‘t?
MATTHEWS: Do you know what this sounds like? We‘re sitting out here saying it‘s OK for reporters to buy a guy‘s inside information for a hamburger or, you know, macaroni and cheese, and yet it‘s wrong for the well-dressed lobbyist to grab you for dinner with your wife.
ROGERS: We have problems in Washington, but who‘s buying who dinner isn‘t the problem.
MATTHEWS: How about we elect people with a conscience to jobs whose primarily goal in life is to help the people...
ROGERS: That‘s right.
MATTHEWS: If they have a free meal here and there, who cares?
We‘ll be right back with Bob Shrum and Ed Rogers.
SHRUM: I agree with that, actually.
MATTHEWS: And a reminder: for the best political debate online, just go to HARDBALL, our political blog Web site. And now you can download pod casts of HARDBALL. Just to go to our Web site: HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back for our final shot with HARDBALL political analyst Bob Shrum and former Bush 41 adviser, Ed Rogers.
Ed, you‘re the Republican here.
MATTHEWS: Who‘s going to be the new leader of the House after all the smoke clears?
ROGERS: Probably Blunt. But I‘m not sure the race is settled. I‘m not sure it‘s a two-man race.
MATTHEWS: Why is Boehner challenging him if he‘s the incumbent?
Isn‘t that hard to beat an incumbent?
ROGERS: Hey, Boehner‘s popular, he‘s been in the leadership. He has a right to claim the mantel. But it looks like—if all things remain equal, Blunt‘s going to be the majority leader.
MATTHEWS: The two guys, Charlie Bass and Flake, both brought the guy down. They—we had them on Friday night. We‘re talking about these two guys...
MATTHEWS: ... passing around a, what do you call it, a subscription, a petition to get rid of DeLay, to get him...
ROGERS: To call for an election. To call for an election.
MATTHEWS: Right. They worked. They had that much clout.
Do these guys have enough clout to dictate the new leader, Charlie Bass and Flake?
ROGERS: No, not to dictate the new leader. But again, I‘m not sure it is a settled two-man race yet.
Look for a dark horse. Look for somebody that skips a generation in the leadership to get into this thing. It‘s not too late.
MATTHEWS: Would you like to see a fresh, new approach to the leadership? Clean house of all the Abramoff money people?
ROGERS: Yes, this whole thing, let‘s put this back in perspective. Ninety days from now, who the House majority leader is will be relatively anonymous. The agenda and the message are going to be driven out of this White House, not out of the Republican caucus in Congress.
MATTHEWS: Bob Shrum, are you happy with the House Democratic leadership as it stands right now? Do you believe that Pelosi and Steny Hoyer are doing the job of representing the best view of the Democratic Party right now?
ROGERS: I do.
SHRUM: Sure, but they‘re in fact...
MATTHEWS: You do?
SHRUM: ... actually not being—yes. But they‘re not being much noticed right now. And the reason they‘re not being much noticed is because the spotlight is on the Republicans.
MATTHEWS: But if they got 15 minutes—if they had 15 minutes—if they had 15 minutes on Leno or Letterman, some very popular show right now, would they be able to say what their party—your party stands for?
ROGERS: That‘s a good question.
MATTHEWS: Would they be able to tell us? Because I‘m waiting to hear it.
SHRUM: I can answer either one of you, but yes, of course they‘d be able to say what we stand for. We stand for tax fairness, we stand for health care as a fundamental right for all Americans. This administration has done nothing about it. We stand for reigning in the overarching foreign policy of this administration, and we stand for...
MATTHEWS: Oh, that last one, Shrummy, Hillary Clinton aimed for reigning in this power, this government.
Anyway, thank you. She‘s for the war.
SHRUM: Oh, I think she is. I thinks he is.
MATTHEWS: She‘s for the war.
Thank you, Bob Shrum and Ed Rogers.
MATTHEWS: The hunt for Osama bin Laden when HARDBALL returns.
ROGERS: Thanks, Bob.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. While al Qaeda‘s second-in-command released a videotaped statement last week, it has been more than a year that we‘ve heard from Osama bin Laden himself. And as the hunt for the terrorist mastermind continues, Peter Bergen, one of the few Western journalists who interviewed bin Laden and who is sitting second from the right in this photo, went looking for answers about the al Qaeda leader from those closest to him.
His new book is called “The Osama bin Laden I Know.” And Peter Bergen is joining us right now. Thank you, Peter, for joining us. A fascinating study of this fellow.
Let me ask you, why did he—this is so basic. But I know you know it pretty much by now as well as anyone. Why did he attack us on 9/11?
PETER BERGEN, AUTHOR: I think it really begins with the introduction of U.S. troops into Saudi Arabia in 1990 as a result of Saddam Hussein‘s invasion of Kuwait. I mean, bin Laden saw that U.S. military presence as a sort of defiling the holy land of Islam, and he is looking to reverse American foreign policy in the Middle East generally, and at that point particularly, the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia.
MATTHEWS: Why does the president never admit that grievance on his part? It wouldn‘t justify obviously killing 3,000 Americans, but it is nice to know. We know the Japanese attacked us at Pearl Harbor because we were cutting off their oil supply as part of the European ABCD sanctions, with other European countries. But what was the motivation here? Why do we have a hard time admitting there is a motivation to what he did?
BERGEN: I can‘t obviously speak for the president‘s motivations. But I mean, it‘s interesting what bin Laden doesn‘t talk about. He never talks about our freedoms, Hollywood, Madonna, you know, feminism, homosexuality, the drug and alcohol culture in the West. He never talks about our culture as a reason for attacking us. And in fact, in one of the most recent statements he made, he said, look, I didn‘t attack Sweden, meaning that it is not—I‘m not attacking liberal permissive societies. I‘m attacking the United States for its foreign policies, and obviously when I say that, I‘m not saying that he is in any way justified, but that that is his rationale.
MATTHEWS: You know, I just got back from East Africa with my family, and we spent some time on the island of Lamu, which is right in the Indian Ocean. It‘s 90 percent Muslim, and of course we heard the call to prayer throughout the day, including like 5:00 in the morning. And there was a madrassa school right next to us, where they teach the Koran all day.
But what surprised me, and I think I‘m pretty sophisticated politically, was to see all these kids, I mean a kid wearing a t-shirt with bin Laden‘s face on it. Seeing a kid with a baseball cap with bin Laden‘s picture on it. And walking just through the streets, as if it was a Robert Marley, Bob Marley t-shirt, or a Che Guevara t-shirt. And then there was a guy welcoming me into his local store, and there he has—must have known I was an American—he said, come on into my store. And there in the front of the store, on Lamu, on this island, was a picture of Osama bin Laden, like he‘s a hero of this guy. Why do those people like him?
BERGEN: Well, I think he has sort of become an iconic figure. You mentioned Che Guevara. I mean, I think he plays a sort of similar role. He is the sort of ideological godfather of this Islamic movement. He stuck it to the West. That makes him somewhat popular amongst certain Muslim nations. You know, bin Laden‘s popularity rating in Pakistan, 65 percent last year, 55 percent in Jordan, 45 percent in Morocco. He is—it‘s hard for most Americans to understand; he is a generally popular figure. Maybe partly because he has sort of an interesting back story in Hollywood terms. He is the son of a multibillionaire who personally fought the Soviets. He is regarded as somebody who stood up to the West. I think that‘s why he‘s popular.
MATTHEWS: I know that he was involved, because we‘ve proven it in court, that he was involved with the blowing up of the American embassies in Nairobi and also down in Tanzania, Dar as-Salaam. Don‘t they know that he killed a lot of Africans? Don‘t they know that he killed a lot of Americans who were just noncombatants, and isn‘t that against Islamic law and values?
BERGEN: Well, I mean, that‘s a very good point. I mean, where you were in Lamu is where some of the embassy bombing plotters in the ‘98 attack, you know, they used to come through that region. And of course most of the victims in the embassy bombings attacks were Africans. Only 12 Americans were killed.
BERGEN: There was 200...
MATTHEWS: People in the street, just standing around.
BERGEN: One of the—this is a big Achilles‘ heel, I think, of al Qaeda, is that they—they‘ve killed a lot of Muslim civilians. We saw in the recent attack in Jordan where they killed mostly people attending a wedding. They keep killing their fellow Muslim civilians. And I think at the end of the day, this is going to be their downfall, because this is really alienating their popular support.
MATTHEWS: I want to get to what he was like to meet. But one final political point. In other words, the way he looks at it, the way he sells it, at least, evil as he might be, he sees himself and portrays himself, more importantly, as someone who is playing defense on the Islamic world. He is not fighting for a restoration of the entire Islamic world, going back to Spain. He is angry because we invaded his country with our 10,000 troops. Is that his rationale? Or is he really going out there and saying, I want to go back to the days of El Cid and take over Spain and everything else again?
BERGEN: I think it‘s most importantly the first thing, a defensive war as he sees it, to reclaim Muslim lands. He feels like Muslims are being humiliated. But I mean, I think there is a second part, which is he wants to bring back the caliphate and have Taliban-style theocracies going from Indonesia to Morocco.
MATTHEWS: So he hates all Arab governments.
BERGEN: He‘d like them all gone.
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s talk about what he‘s like. You know, that Jack Kennedy once said, the reason people read biography is because they want to know what someone was like. And I think that‘s true of Hitler and Mao and Stalin and even the worst people of the last century.
But what is he like?
BERGEN: Well, as a kid, as a teenager, he was hyper religious even for somebody in Saudi Arabia. I mean, he was fasting twice a week, praying seven times a day, telling his half-brothers not to look at the maid, not to wear shorts, not to wear short sleeves. It‘s almost sort of a prudish, priggish guy.
What transformed him was the Soviet war in Afghanistan. First of all, he was just bringing money. He was by all accounts a rather shy, retiring multimillionaire at that point. But when he decided to set up his own military force to fight against the Soviets, much against the advice of his friends and family and mentors, that was the beginning. And he began to be treated like a leader. He began to see himself as a leader. And in 1988, he founded al Qaeda.
And one interesting thing in the book, Chris, is that the founding minutes of the al Qaeda‘s first meetings are in the book. We can actually date it to a weekend in August of late...
MATTHEWS: Did we as Americans have something to do with the creation? We did have something to do with the creation of the mujahideen. Was that the precursor of al Qaeda?
BERGEN: No, not really. The story about the CIA and bin Laden is not that they had any dealings with him during the ‘80s. They had no idea who he was until about ‘95. So there was really no dealings, direct dealings with the Arabs in Afghanistan and the agency.
MATTHEWS: In your extensive interviews with people who had met him and spent time with him, what was the most surprising thing about the man we‘re still looking for?
BERGEN: Well, one surprising thing is the extent to which even his fellow jihadists turned against him because of 9/11. I mean, one of his sons left him. He is 23, 24. The son called Omar basically left him in disgust. And there‘s been quite a lot of debate within the jihadists about what was 9/11 all about? It was against Islam. It may have been a tactical victory, but it was a strategic disaster. It brought the might of the United States into Afghanistan. It destroyed much of al Qaeda‘s bases there. It destroyed the Taliban. And that to me was sort of surprising, because you would have thought that the jihadists would applaud 9/11. But there was a lot of criticism internally against bin Laden for believing his own propaganda, for believing that the United States was a paper tiger, that they, you know, one hit against the United States, and it would be like Beirut in the ‘80s, when we withdrew, or Somalia in the ‘90s when we withdrew.
MATTHEWS: Yeah, we can‘t withdraw from New York.
BERGEN: We certainly can‘t.
MATTHEWS: Yeah. It reminds me of the Japanese, except for Yamamoto getting it all wrong about us in ‘41, thinking one punch would have us give up the Pacific.
BERGEN: Exactly right.
MATTHEWS: You‘re great, Peter. You know your stuff, and thank you for giving us the subjective view of things. I know the American view of this guy is obviously based upon history—he killed so many of us—but I know the world view out there is troublingly different than that. And I see it in the third world. I hope I don‘t see much more of it, but I‘m sure we will.
Thank you very much, Peter Bergen, author of a great new book, “The Osama bin Laden I Know.”
Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. Right now, it‘s time for “THE ABRAMS REPORT” with Dan.
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