Guests: George Allen, John Dickerson, Dan Klaidman, Dee Dee Myers, Ben Ginsberg, Nick Jones, John O‘Connor
DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, big doings at the White House. The president names a new press secretary, and his top aide, Karl Rove, testifies before the federal grand jury investigating the CIA leak case for the fifth time. Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening, everyone. I‘m David Gregory sitting in again tonight for Chris Matthews. Welcome to HARDBALL.
Major news coming out of Washington tonight. This morning, President Bush named conservative commentator Tony Snow as his new press secretary, replacing Scott McClellan. The big questions now, will Snow‘s journalism experience help the president‘s relationship with those of us in the press? Can Snow get the president‘s message back on track or are the president‘s problems too fundamental to be fixed just in the press room?
And just hours after Snow‘s announcement, the president‘s top White House aide, Karl Rove, was called before the federal grand jury investigating the CIA leak for the fifth time now. Last week, you‘ll recall, new chief of staff Josh Bolten took away Rove‘s policy portfolio so that he could focus on politics for the upcoming election, but the question now, could Rove‘s power in the West Wing be further reduced by the CIA leak case?
We‘ll have questions about the White House shakeup for Senator George Allen in just a moment, but first, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has the latest on Rove‘s testimony. David, what do we know about what this is about, this fifth appearance?
DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT: Well, David, we‘re told that this is about new evidence since the last time Karl Rove testified to the grand jury, and it‘s important to remember the key issue all along has been Karl Rove‘s conversation with “Time” magazine reporter Matt Cooper in which they discussed CIA operative Valerie Plame. And related to that was the issue of why did Karl Rove not disclose this meeting in his early grand jury testimony.
Well, last fall, Karl Rove‘s lawyer went to prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and said look, I can offer you new evidence that would show, that would prove, that Karl Rove changed his testimony the moment his memory was refreshed.
So what the prosecutors did last December, and perhaps in recent weeks, is they went back, they took a deposition from Karl Rove‘s lawyer, Bob Luskin, they talked to a colleague of Matt Cooper, who had a conversation with Rove‘s lawyer, and allegedly tipped off Rove‘s team about what Cooper was going to testify to, and then they sort of analyzed this.
The problem that we‘re seeing, according to legal experts and people familiar with this case, is that the timing doesn‘t necessarily work out. In other words, the time when Karl Rove‘s legal team was tipped off about what Matt Cooper might say about Rove was seven months before Rove actually went to the grand jury again and changed his testimony.
And so the theory out there has been that maybe Karl Rove was changing his testimony, not because his memory was refreshed, but rather because Matt Cooper had just been subpoenaed in the case.
GREGORY: Fundamentally whether he‘s telling his truth about his contacts with the press and how he learned about Valerie Wilson. The indications coming out of the Rove camp is that there is still no indication about whether he is in any legal jeopardy here or not. Is there any signal you‘re getting that he‘s in trouble or out of the woods? What is he closer to?
SHUSTER: Well, it‘s interesting to note that his lawyer is saying that Rove today was told he is not a target, a target being the technical definition that prosecutors are supposed to give somebody if that person is about to be indicted, so that‘s good news for Karl Rove that special prosecutor Fitzgerald has not decided whether to indict him or not.
However, the legal pleadings in the Libby, at least a couple of weeks ago, make clear that Rove is still a subject of the investigation, in other words, meaning that he‘s still under investigation and clearly there are unresolved questions that the grand jury is trying to answer.
GREGORY: David Shuster, thanks very much.
SHUSTER: You‘re welcome.
GREGORY: Senator George Allen is a Virginia Republican, of course.
He joins us now. Senator, good evening.
SEN. GEORGE ALLEN ®, VIRGINIA: Good evening. Good to be with you, David.
GREGORY: Thank you. Let me ask you about Karl Rove first. Are you comfortable at this point that he will not be a liability for this White House, particularly since his job one now this year will be helping Republicans like yourself get reelected?
ALLEN: Oh, Karl Rove has a proven track record of success for this president as well as for other candidates, and so I think he‘s going to be focused on politics and campaigns and he‘s been awfully good at it and he has a great track record of winning.
GREGORY: Senator, it‘s a diplomatic response, but there is a certain context here and that is that he‘s appearing before the grand jury for the fifth time. Is this not a distraction for Republicans and for the White House particularly?
ALLEN: Well, I have my own advisers. Dick Wadhams is my campaign manager he ran John Thune‘s campaign against Tom Daschle in 2004 and he ran Wayne Allard‘s campaign. Everyone has their own campaign people on their own particular race.
And so Karl Rove is somebody who I‘ve worked with in the past when I was chairman of the Republican Campaign Committee, and I really do admire his knowledge and I think the president also has a great deal of confidence invested in him.
GREGORY: You don‘t think he‘s compromised by this investigation at all?
ALLEN: Oh, as I was just listening to the report there—because I‘ve been busy doing other things, I don‘t get to watch grand jury investigations, and of course they‘re closed—and so that report said that Karl Rove was not the target, so he was in there for some testimony. Oh, I‘m sure it‘s something that is distracting in that he has to prepare for it, but it doesn‘t have any impact on my particular reelection campaign.
GREGORY: Senator, let me ask you about other changes at the White House. Tony Snow, you know him well, conservative commentator, works for Fox News, he‘s now the new press secretary. All of this on the heels of some other changes. Is this enough to get the White House back on track?
ALLEN: I do know Tony Snow and I think this is a great choice by President Bush. Tony Snow has great experience, he‘s knowledgeable, he‘s smart, I think—you know, you‘ll banter with him pretty good, David. You‘re a heck of combatant in that respect.
But the thing that‘s good about Tony Snow is being on talk radio, he has the pulse on what people in the real world think on issues such as immigration, on taxes, on spending, on the energy process, and a variety of issues and I think he bringing the pulse of people in the real world to the White House understanding how people react to it.
And whether they‘re on Rush Limbaugh‘s show or Hugh Hewitt‘s show or Laura Ingraham‘s show or, who knows who, Sean Hannity‘s, or any other radio show, the fact that he understands the language, the sentiments, the spirit of the American people who want to see action here in Washington, I think that‘s going to be an added benefit of having Tony Snow in the White House.
GREGORY: What more would you like to see done, Senator, as a Republican and an ally of the White House and this president to see this second term get turned around?
ALLEN: We need action. We need to put the pedal to the metal. Number one, we need to secure our borders and I would encourage the president to do everything he can, using the National Guard or whatever, to secure our borders. This has been neglected for far too long. And there‘s a consensus that we have a leaking border. And no matter what else there‘s no consensus on, everyone agrees we need to secure our borders with more personnel ...
GREGORY: Let me just break you for a second, then I want to ask you about some policy matters, but just specifically within the White House, do you think more needs to be done with personnel in order to get the White House back on track and get a new face?
ALLEN: Oh, you can talk about personnel all you want. And I think Tony Snow is a good choice, but the point is, it‘s action on things that really matter to real people in the real world and that is gas prices.
GREGORY: All right. You brought up immigration. You brought up immigration. The president has certainly been emphasizing a security first approach, yet he‘s still pushing for a guest worker program, he‘s still pushing for existing legislation that would treat immigrants differently based on how long they‘ve been in the country illegally. Is there room now, are you getting signals that there‘s new hope for legislation?
ALLEN: I hope the president will listen to Tony Snow who has listened to the people that I listen to, and they want the borders secured, but insofar as what do you do with those who have had illegal behavior, the last things you want to do is reward legal behavior with amnesty. And that convoluted, three tiered approach, in my view, rewards illegal behavior, and that is not the proper approach.
It didn‘t work 20 years ago, it‘s not working now, and it won‘t work in the future. So I would hope Tony could get him focused that people—it‘s not just me, but it‘s also people in Virginia and across this country see that we have a leaking border and before you repair the wood, you‘ve got to stop the leak and I hope he‘ll get that message through to the president.
GREGORY: Senator, let me turn to Iraq and new questions now about whether troop levels will be reduced by the end of the year. As somebody who is going to be campaigning, going before voters who are increasingly skeptical about the war, do you think troop numbers have to come down by this year?
ALLEN: I think troop numbers will come down and the reason that they‘ll come down is not because of any polls or carping or whining, it will be because right now the Iraqis, who have been elected, finally have come together, working together with a unity government, where people regardless of whether they‘re Kurds, Shiites or Sunnis, are going to be governing the countries.
Zarqawi is making these threats, but the people of Iraq do not want a Taliban government. They want to have a government where they and their children have a better future, they want a free and just society where men and women have freedom of expression, where there‘s freedom of religion without persecution, and the rule of law, so I think this is important progress.
And, of course, there has been progress on the training of Iraqis as police, as well as security forces, or military-type forces, and so I think as I‘ve heard from some of the folks who are experts with boots on the ground, we‘ll be able to reduce our troops because more Iraqis are standing up and they have a government finally working together.
GREGORY: Senator, with our remaining seconds—about 30 seconds left here—do you feel like a front-runner right now for the nomination in 2008? Because you‘re certainly an insider pick at the moment if you look at some of the recent polling.
ALLEN: That‘s very nice. I‘m focused on running for reelection and I hope the people of he Virginia continue to accord me their trust and confidence, because I want to keep fighting for these principles and ideals to make Virginia and America a better place to live, learn, work and to raise our families.
GREGORY: And if you get through this reelection, anything stopping you going for the nomination in ‘08?
ALLEN: I‘ll consider the future and make decisions about that when we get to the future.
GREGORY: We will leave it there. Senator George Allen, thank you very much as always.
ALLEN: Thank you, David.
GREGORY: And coming up, will Tony Snow‘s appointment as press secretary help get this Bush White House back on track? Plus the latest on the CIA leak investigation as Karl Rove testifies before the grand jury for the fifth time today. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
GREGORY: And welcome back to HARDBALL. Karl Rove is back in front of the grand jury in the CIA leak case. What does this mean for both Rove and President Bush? John Dickerson is chief political correspondent for “Slate” magazine. And Dan Klaidman is “Newsweek‘s” Washington editor. Dan, let me start with you. Fifth time for Karl Rove before the leak grand jury, what is going on?
DAN KLAIDMAN, WASHINGTON EDITOR, NEWSWEEK: Well look, you never exactly what‘s going on inside a grand jury unless you‘re there. It‘s sort of like an iceberg. You can see the tip, you know that‘s a problem, but you don‘t know what the size of the iceberg or the problem is.
But it‘s not good news. Nobody wants to go of before a grand jury this many times. It certainly suggests that the prosecutor still has questions about Karl Rove‘s truthfulness and as a political matter, it is not a good thing.
It is a huge distraction right at the time when I think the White House thought they were maybe getting back on track with some of these staff changes and other things that they‘ve been doing.
GREGORY: John, that we know about, and from the Rove camp, we learned that this is evidence that came up from his last grand jury appearance last year. Tick off quickly what the areas of inquiry are for special counsel Fitzgerald.
JOHN DICKERSON, SLATE MAGAZINE: There‘s one big question which is what made Karl Rove change his mind? Karl Rove said he didn‘t remember talking to Matt Cooper and then suddenly he went in in a second grand jury appearance and said “I did remember.”
Well what jogged his memory? Apparently his lawyer said a meeting the lawyer had with Viveca Novak, formerly of “Time” magazine—he went back to Karl Rove and said, “Hey, I had this talk with Viveca Novak and she says maybe you did talk to Matt Cooper.”
Well they went on a search and Rove said “Oh yes, I found an e-mail. I did talk to Matt Cooper.” Well that was much after Karl had been in many different instances asked, “Well, who did you talk to?” And he never came up with it. And what Fitzgerald wants to know is why in all those earlier instances when they pressed him and said “Did you talk to Cooper? Did you talk to him?” That he didn‘t come up with it?
GREGORY: In other words, did he come clean only because he felt the heat or because he really had his memory jogged?
DICKERSON: That‘s exactly right. And if his memory was so easily jogged by this meeting with Viveca Novak, why then wasn‘t it easily jogged in all of those previous incidents?
GREGORY: Is he coming clean? Dan, the legal question of tactics. If you‘re Robert Luskin, who represents Rove, why do you let him go back to the grand jury now for a fifth time unless you‘ve got some degree of confidence?
KLAIDMAN: Well no lawyer wants his client to go before the grand jury because the possibility of making mistakes and saying something that ultimately could get you in trouble with the prosecutor. That is to say perjury is the most likely thing.
Well he‘s already under scrutiny for having lied. And so it is possible that what is going on here with this new information that came out, John Dickerson was talking about Viveca Novak‘s story, that Luskin has decided, “Well, he needs to explain that.” He needs to go back in and say, “This is what happened, my memory is jogged. Here‘s how it happened, here‘s the chronology. Here‘s why my memory wasn‘t jogged before.”
And that way he would be able to perhaps ensure that he‘s not going to be indicted.
GREGORY: There‘s also a track record here and that is that Luskin has brought Rove successfully before the grand jury on four previous occasions, which is risky enough, and no indictment yet and there‘s certainly a lot of people, a lot of lawyers who watch this case who think it‘s never going to happen.
DICKERSON: Sure, well I guess the positive spin for Rove is that Fitzgerald has these questions and Rove can put them to bed in this appearance and that‘s it. It‘s over and he‘s done his time and we‘re on the downhill slope.
GREGORY: The Rove camp, his lawyer, Robert Luskin saying that he‘s not a target. We‘ve heard that before. Even the filings in the Libby case, Scooter Libby of course former chief-of-staff to the vice president who has been indicted for obstruction of justice and perjury in this case. In those filings, Rove is referred to not as a target but as a subject, which is one tier below. What does all of that mean?
KLAIDMAN: A prosecutor is almost never going to refer to a target as a target of the investigation. He or she will refer to the person as a subject, until he is ready to indict that person. And so the fact that he is not told Karl Rove that he is about to be indicted allows the lawyer, and any good defense lawyer—and Luskin is a very good one, to say my client is not a target of the investigation.
You‘re not a target of the investigation generally until you get a letter from the prosecutor that is, you know, days, if not hours, before you‘re actually indicted.
GREGORY: John, I spoke to a lawyer today who wondered whether there might be something else involved here which is not just about contacts with reporters, but how Rove found out about Valerie Wilson, Valerie Plame‘s status in the CIA in the first place? Because the defense here from Libby and from Karl is, “Well we just heard about it because other reporters were talking about it,” which is certainly a convenient defense.
Might there be questions about whether, no, there was conversations going on internally within the administration and that Karl knew about—knew exactly of her status from somebody else within the administration?
DICKERSON: That‘s perhaps the case and in that case, Fitzgerald would be going back to—going after Rove on that original question of whether he knew in his mind when he leaked this, so it wouldn‘t be about obstruction, but it would be about whether he was leaking classified information.
But those questions you raise may be more a part of the Libby case and not so much a part of what Fitzgerald may be going after Rove about. And we should remember as a political matter here, even if this is the end of the grand jury process for Karl Rove, it does not mean he‘s spared time in the witness box as a part of the Libby case.
Libby has said he‘s going to call Rove and that is a big political problem for the president and the White House in January ‘07 because Libby will say, “Now tell us exactly about your role in this.” And we‘ll hear for the first time Karl Rove talk about how he leaked the identity of Valerie Plame.
GREGORY: More about the political fallout in just a moment. We‘ll take a break here, we‘ll come back with “Newsweek‘s” Dan Klaidman and “Slate‘s” John Dickerson. You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.
GREGORY: We‘re back on HARDBALL with “Slate” magazine‘s John Dickerson and “Newsweek” Washington bureau chief Dan Klaidman. John, Karl Rove back to the grand jury for a fifth time on the same day President Bush names Tony Snow as the new press secretary. Not exactly the kind of choreography he is looking for.
JOHN DICKERSON, SLATE MAGAZINE: No. In fact, Tony Snow in his first task, which was to provide one good newsday for the White House, he‘s already failed.
GREGORY: This is the question I wanted to ask the president today though they didn‘t take any questions in announcing Tony Snow, even though they want to work with us a lot more. What is this change, putting Tony Snow in say about what the president thinks is necessary for this stage of his term?
DICKERSON: Well, I think it says the president recognizes they need a little bit more candor, a little bit better relations with the press. Tony Snow, even though people have talked about his conservative credentials, he will have better relationships. He knows how a newsroom works, how we do our jobs, but also remember what the president‘s political job is here, which is first to take care of his base in his party before he can repair relations with independents and moderates.
Tony Snow is a way to change the page, put a new face up there so Republicans watching a White House briefing won‘t think Scott McClellan is getting pasted again. They‘ll say new face, somebody is fighting back. It might get them up a little more. Republicans are incredibly depressed right now.
DAN KLAIDMAN, NEWSWEEK WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Tony Snow is a smart guy, he is a credible guy, credible to the media because of his experience as a journalist and he is an intellectually honest guy. The question is, one of the things he‘s written in some of his columns is that this president has to make sure that he has people around him who are willing to tell him when he‘s making a mistake, who are willing to give him the bad news.
GREGORY: Charges that the president is in a bubble.
KLAIDMAN: That he‘s in a bubble, that he‘s isolated and the question is going to be, when he starts this job, is he going to be able to do that or is the president going to empower him to do that or others around him, which would suggest that the president understands this, or is Tony Snow ultimately going to be marginalized because you simply can‘t change the man, the president‘s DNA, and you know, the jury is out.
GREGORY: Has the president changed his attitude on this and isn‘t that a pretty tall order?
DICKERSON: It‘s a very tall order and also a lot of times the president might want to be more candid and so forth, but again, his supporters think, well, now you‘re just giving in to the media. Part of what happens is you have to teach people who are used to seeing the president kind of behave a certain way, why he‘s behaving a new way or else he may lose some of his most ardent supporters who think he is just capitulating to us what they think is the liberal media.
GREGORY: What does this say about Josh Bolten‘s influence? Most Americans don‘t know who Josh Bolten is, but in the first week plus, he‘s certainly had an imprint?
KLAIDMAN: Absolutely. And you‘re seeing his imprint in many different ways. One thing that I was struck by yesterday was the president brought in members of the Senate to talk about immigration, they‘re back from recess, immigration reform is a big deal. It‘s stuck up there and I think there are people who are saying the president needs to show leadership, he needs to inject himself in this battle and he brought them up. I think Josh Bolten has something to do with that and obviously he‘s making a lot of personnel changes, which some people can call cosmetic but I think in a lot of ways they are substantive changes.
GREGORY: We‘ll have to leave it there. Thanks very much to John Dickerson and Dan Klaidman. Up next, the president, the polls and the press. Former Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers and Bush-Cheney insider Ben Ginsberg will be here to talk about Tony Snow.
Later, Watergate‘s Deep Throat. What motivated Mark Felt to become Washington‘s most famous anonymous source. We‘ll talk to his grandson and author of a new biography. You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.
GREGORY: Welcome back to HARDBALL. I‘m David Gregory in tonight for Chris. It‘s a busy day at the White House, not only because they‘re contending with Karl Rove testifying before the grand jury once again, but the White House also introduced the president‘s new spokesman, FOX News host Tony Snow will soon take over for Scott McClellan and HARDBALL Correspondent David Shuster has more on that decision, transition, and outlook for the Bush administration.
DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Replacing a stiff and embattled spokesman with a smooth-talking television host, President Bush today named conservative commentator Tony Snow as White House press secretary.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My job is to make decisions and his job is to help explain those decisions to the press corps and the American people.
SHUSTER: As an anchor at FOX News, Snow largely defended the Bush administration for the last five years. But in his newspaper column, he also took some shots. He wrote, “When it comes to federal spending, George W. Bush is the boy who can‘t say no.”
He called the president “something of an embarrassment, and the architect of a listless domestic policy.” And he once described candidate George W. Bush‘s speaking style as “barking out absurd and inappropriate words like a soul tortured with Tourette‘s.”
BUSH: He‘s not afraid to express his own opinions. To those of who have read his columns and listened to his radio show, he sometimes has disagreed with me. I asked him about those comments and he said, “You should have heard what I said about the other guy.”
SHUSTER: Snow thanked the president for the appointment and pledged to work with reporters, most of whom he already knows.
TONY SNOW, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: One of the reasons I took the job is not only because I believe in the president, because believe it or not, I want to work with you.
These are times that are going to be very challenging. We‘ve got a lot of big issues ahead and we‘ve got a lot of important things that all of us are going to be covering together. And I am very excited and I can‘t wait.
SHUSTER: Tony Snow is the first television host ever to be named White House press secretary. But ever since the Clinton administration set a precedent and allowed press briefings to be televised in their entirety, the daily vet has often seemed like a television show. Mike McCurry had to put on a calm face for President Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
MIKE MCCURRY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president‘s attorneys elect to conduct their discussions with Mr. Starr confidentially.
SHUSTER: Joe Lockhart followed during impeachment. Ari Fleischer was the face of the Bush White House press office following 9/11 and Scott McClellan took over just as it was becoming clear there were no WMD in Iraq and that the case for war had been misleading.
McClellan denied that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby were involved in the CIA leak case and when it was revealed that they were both involved...
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... There will be a time to talk about this, but now is not the time to talk about it.
TERRY MORAN, ABC NEWS: You think now that Rove has essentially been caught red-handed pedaling this information, all of a sudden you have respect for the sanctity of the criminal investigation?
SHUSTER: McClellan‘s credibility never recovered and McClellan was in the tough position of trying to speak for an administration that didn‘t give him much to disclose. Tony Snow, according to officials, insisted on being given more information and wider latitude to decide how to present it.
SHUSTER: In other words, expect the press briefings to be more entertaining and possibly more informative. The question is, will a change of face, even if it‘s an outspoken and familiar one, make any difference if the policies stay the same? I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
GREGORY: Thank you, David Shuster. For more on the new White House spokesman and the changes around the president, we turn to Dee Dee Myers, who served as press secretary of course for President Clinton and Ben Ginsberg, former counsel for the Bush-Cheney campaigns. Welcome both.
BEN GINSBERG, FORMER COUNSEL, BUSH-CHENEY CAMPAIGN: Thank you.
DEE DEE MYERS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Thanks, David.
GREGORY: Ben, let me ask you what you think this change, putting in Tony Snow, says about what President Bush thinks has to change for the rest of his second term?
GINSBERG: Well, I think the whole changes are about reenergizing the White House staff and the White House policy mechanism and moving through. Tony is a polished spokesman, polished performer on television, which is to an extent what the briefings have become. He brings a set point of view that will interject some new ideas into the White House as well.
GREGORY: Dee Dee, what‘s your take on Tony Snow?
MYERS: Well, I mean, I agree with what Ben said, he‘s certainly a polished performer. He certainly has experience in every medium: radio, television and print. He has relationships with a lot of journalists in the briefing room.
But speaking from my own experience, I think it‘s difficult to go from being a radio host or a television host where you can speak your mind and say what your opinions are to putting that T.V. back in the bottle a little bit and now having to speak for a president.
That‘s going to be a bit of a challenge for Tony. I think he‘s probably up to it, but there will be days with there will be two voices competing inside his head.
GREGORY: Right. And look, to both of you again, my question is the same. It really doesn‘t matter at some level how Tony Snow wants to handle himself at the podium here.
The president still sets the agenda and he has set that agenda in terms of how he‘s going to deal with those of us who cover the White House for the past six years. Is there a change here Ben in the president‘s mind about how he wants to deal with the latter part of his term?
GINSBERG: The White House spokesman is always about putting forward the president‘s message.
GREGORY: But it‘s not just that. The point is whether Tony Snow has more of a seat at the table. Is he a different kind of adviser than his predecessors were?
GINSBERG: That always remains to be seen because the relationships that you‘re going to form inside a White House, working with other staff is it something you have to prepare.
GREGORY: I‘m asking you, you know, what‘s the feeling like, what‘s going on in the president‘s mind about this?
GINSBERG: What‘s going on in the president‘s mind is that he thinks that Tony Snow is the right person to put forward his image, his agenda, his thoughts as he moves forward into the second term.
GREGORY: Dee Dee Myers, I don‘t feel like I‘m quite getting at this here, because the bottom line is that Tony Snow as an outsider comes in, that is remarkable in and of itself for this White House after six years.
MYERS: I think it‘s a clear sign of Josh Bolten‘s authority. I think is a Josh Bolten choice. He‘s not a friend—he‘s not a close associate of President Bush‘s, but President Bush has allowed Josh Bolten to go ahead and do this.
GREGORY: And what does Josh want do you think that hasn‘t been there?
MYERS: I think he wants to—I think a fresh start in building a new relationship with the press. But the only way things are going to change and as you know it‘s been reported that one of Bolten‘s priorities is trying to rebuild a better relationship with the press corps.
But as you know, David, you‘re in that room every day, the only thing that‘s going to rebuild that relationship is better access and better information. The press feels like Scott McClellan was a decent person, a nice man, but that he didn‘t have the kind of information, he wasn‘t able to guide reporters in the way that reporters want and need to be guided.
So is this new White House under Josh Bolten‘s direction going to put Tony Snow in the room? And I‘m sure this is one of the things that he was negotiating for, over the past week or so as we‘ve, you know, watched this thing unfold.
Is he going to be in the room, is he going to be able to shape decisions, are they going to listen to him, is there a commitment on behalf of the White House senior staff to make people more accessible to the reporters who cover the West Wing?
GREGORY: Ben, is this enough, particular for Republicans who were among those who were carping to the White House, saying Scott McClellan is not effective, he‘s not doing the president‘s job for him.
GINSBERG: Well I‘m not sure I buy into the premise, but putting that aside, is Tony enough? I suspect that Tony does bring a fresh face as Dee Dee says. He will be very good at articulating the message that the president and the White House want out. He will be able to contribute to the debate and so all of that is a step forward as the president wants to explain his policies going forward.
GREGORY: But is energy enough for Republicans, particularly Republicans who have got to face voters this fall, for the president, for the administration to be more effective? Is new energy, more assertiveness, isn‘t this all window dressing?
GINSBERG: Well the proof is in the pudding, as things work out. I mean, David, it‘s good to ask these questions, they‘re the right questions he to ask. Like anything else, it‘s how people interact, how they work, how they do their jobs as they move forward. It is a great step.
MYERS: But I think there‘s a bigger question here, David.
GREGORY: Dee Dee, let‘s talk about the briefing a little bit. I mean, I‘ve got a dog in the fight, which would be myself, in terms of how all of these are done. And I don‘t appreciate your comments about turning the cameras off either. No, I‘m kidding.
But seriously, how do you think that the president can approach these briefings through his spokesman in a way that may actually be beneficial to him, which is obviously what the president is after with these things, right?
MYERS: Right. I mean, the briefing can be an opportunity for the White House to promote its point of view about things. But there is a certain give and take. I think Tony again is a polished performer, can go out there and put the best food forward, explain the administration‘s policies.
But in many ways, Scott McClellan was able to do that too. You know better than any of us, David, that there‘s a hostile relationship that‘s evolved over the last five plus years.
The question is, I think, how much is it the messenger and how much is it the message? To a large degree it‘s the president‘s policies that are unpopular. The president himself has always maintained a reservoir of good will with the public. But his policies have lost popularity. People don‘t trust the president‘s competence much anymore, and they don‘t like the direction he‘s leading the country in. And they don‘t feel good about that. We haven‘t seen anything that signals there‘s going to be changes on a policy level. Maybe that‘s yet to come, but I don‘t think changing the messenger can solve that problem.
GINSBERG: You wouldn‘t see that in the White House briefing room anyways. That‘s not where the changes in policy are going to come. There‘s going to be an explanation that comes in the briefing room. But I say this as you two are in the room every day, I‘m not. To me they look like very defensive affairs.
There‘s a lot of questioning from the press, there‘s a lot of group groping amongst the reporters to get the press secretary to say something that works in sound bites that night and the explanations of the policy that Dee Dee is talking about really come in smaller settings by and large which are much more effective in explaining nuances than the daily briefings.
GREGORY: We‘re going to take a break here and come back. More with Dee Dee Myers and Ben Ginsberg on what‘s going on within the White House. And later, we‘ll get the real story of the man known as Deep Throat. His memoir is out and we‘ll talk to the co-author, plus Deep Throat‘s grandson. This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.
GREGORY: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re back with former Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers and former Bush-Cheney campaign counsel Ben Ginsberg. We heard it in David Shuster‘s piece, the president addressed the issue that liberal blogs and the rest have been promoting today, that Tony Snow has disagreed with this president and been pretty pointed in his columns. The president embraced that saying yes, that‘s what I‘m looking for. Do you believe that?
GINSBERG: Absolutely. The criticism before has been that the White House is too closed a circle. Now you bring somebody with some fresh views in, that‘s positive.
GREGORY: I will say this, Dee Dee. There is no way in 2000, 2001, even 2002 that George W. Bush would have brought in somebody who had that kind paper trail against him.
MYERS: That‘s a very good point. Tony Snow has said things like this president has become something of an embarrassment, but the proof will be in the pudding, I think. He brought him in, now will he really let him in? Will Tony Snow be able to play the role that Tony thinks and wants and needs to play in his view. I think that remains to be seen.
This is not a president who is particularly open to criticism or even outside ideas.
GREGORY: Let me put up one of the latest questions from our new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll and it has to do with the voters opinions when it comes to the midterm election. The question is what‘s more important in voting for your Congressman, position on national issues or performance in your district. This is march of 2006, 43 percent say position on national issues versus 38 percent, that‘s up dramatically from 1994, where that stood at 35 percent.
Ben, I use that to set up this question about Josh Bolten. Does the White House, does Josh Bolten and even Karl Rove, do they recognize that the Republican agenda is going to be about fixing whatever ails Bush policy for the balance of this year?
GINSBERG: I think the notion that national issues play an important role in Congressional elections has always, always been there and yes there‘s a recognition that what is on people‘s minds today are a lot of national issues.
What‘s also true is that you move closer towards an election, the candidates tend to shape the debate more and that generally tends to tighten this question more into the local concerns leading to the old notion of all politics is local.
GREGORY: But Dee Dee, this suggests something about what Bolten realizes have to be some changes in policy, we‘ve seen some incremental steps so far this week for instance on gas prices doing a little bit more of an environmental approach, pressuring the oil companies along that line. Is that going to be a big concern for this White House as it tries to help Republicans?
MYERS: I think all those issues that are causing some anxiety among voters are of grave concern to the White House. Obviously the war in Iraq, energy prices, the economy more broadly, although there are positive signs in the economy, but on balance, I think the Congressional numbers show that voters are very concerned that the country is on the wrong track and that they want their members of Congress to focus on big national questions that are again causing anxiety.
Now we‘ll see as we get closer to the election whether local concerns rise up a little bit and they probably will, but keep in mind in 1994, local issues were still much more dominant and yet there was a national trend and Democrats lost 54 seats in the House. Obviously there‘s a little nervousness in the corridors of the White House about these things.
GREGORY: More debate to come on all of this. Thanks to both of you, Ben Ginsberg, Dee Dee Myers, appreciate it. Coming next, he was Washington‘s biggest mystery for three decades. Now a new biography fills in the blanks of the man known as Deep Throat. We‘ll be back with his biography, plus Deep Throat‘s grandson. This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.
GREGORY: And finally tonight, Washington‘s greatest mystery was solved nearly a year ago when Deep Throat, Bob Woodward‘s famous anonymous source who helped unravel Watergate, disclosed his identity as Mark Felt, the number two man at the FBI during the Nixon presidency.
Now Felt, who is in ailing health, has told his version of events in a new book. It is called “A G-Man‘s Life.” John O‘Connor, co-author of the book, and played a role in getting Felt to come forward, and Nick Jones is Mark Felt‘s grandson. Welcome to you both.
NICK JONES, GRANDSON OF “DEEP THROAT”: Thank you.
JOHN O‘CONNOR, AUTHOR, “A G-MAN‘S LIFE”: Hi, David.
GREGORY: John, I want to start with you. There is been a lot discussed and a lot written about actually unearthing Mark Felt as Deep Throat. You became associated with this family but you also have your own kind of trail here that you followed to discover that he was, in fact, Deep Throat. What was the piece of information that you came across that cinched it for you, that convinced you got the right guy?
O‘CONNOR: Well, David, I thought pretty firmly that he was Deep Throat since the late ‘70s. Now in term of information that would cinch it in term of proving it externally, most of my initial analysis was simply motive, means, and opportunity, who had the information, who had the motive.
I understand Mark Felt‘s motive so clearly back then that I was—and I‘m an ex-prosecutor. I understand the FBI and I understand the U.s. Attorney‘s Office. Now, having said that, now that I was trying to prove it to publishers, the single key piece of evidence that puts this away like an overhead smash is the fact that Deep Throat told Woodward in February of ‘73 about Kissinger wiretaps of news men and Kissinger‘s underlings.
There were only about eight people, maybe nine people, that knew of those wiretaps at the time. Most of them, like President Nixon or Hoover, could not possibly have done it. There were only two Deep Throat candidates who could have done that. And that would be Mark Felt and Alexander Haig.
For various reasons, Alexander Haig was not even in the country on the key October 9th meeting. Woodward himself disqualified Alexander Haig. That should have been alone proof positive for the world.
GREGORY: Right. Nick Jones, let me ask you about your grandfather.
He writes about Watergate. He also writes about his life in this book.
Where does his role in Watergate rate in his life?
JONES: Well, I‘m actually glad you asked that. From my perspective and from my family‘s perspective, we see that as one of many very honorable that things he‘s done in his life, and just one piece of a life of a broader picture that is very heroic to us. So I think, I mean ...
GREGORY: You felt it was important, as other members of your family, that he actually go public with this before he died. Why?
JONES: Yes. We felt like we wanted him to tell his story. We wanted to be able to get the story out in as truthful, complete, and, you know, classy way as possible. But we wanted him to be able to tell it from his perspective as opposed to the story being told posthumously by another. We also wanted ...
GREGORY: Right, including Bob Woodward. Was he unhappy with the way that his role in Watergate was being reported by Bob Woodward?
JONES: I don‘t have any knowledge of that. I‘m not aware that he was. He could have been. He has always been a person that kind of kept stuff like that—if he was happy or unhappy with anything, he usually kept it to himself. He‘s always been a pretty stoic individual.
GREGORY: John O‘Connor, I want to go back to a point in Mark Felt‘s career during Watergate when there were suspicions that he was a leaker and some of the steps that he took to conceal that fact, even while he was still at the FBI.
O‘CONNOR: Right. The key story started in October of ‘72. And it‘s pretty clear from those stories that there was a lot of information coming from FBI files somehow. Mark Felt actually headed up the investigation within the FBI to see if there was a leaker there.
And I‘ve read all the memos, I‘ve seen what he‘s done in that regard. And he was like a master counterintelligence guy who knew how to search out a mole. And in his case, he was trying to keep people from finding out it was him.
So what he would do is he would direct his subordinates to certain types of evidence that could point somewhere else, a piece of evidence, for example, that might not be in an FBI file but might be over at the U.S. Attorney‘s Office, a piece of evidence that might be in a deposition before the—in the civil suit. So he was masterful at misdirection and just casting enough doubt so he stayed on his feet.
The second thing he did, David, he was a masterful actor, whereas his subordinates showed their disgust and outrage. They got shipped off literally to St. Louis and San Francisco and he was left with nobody there, because they were not good actors. He was the consummate actor.
GREGORY: Nick, you talked about his desire, your grandfather‘s desire, Mark Felt, to tell the complete story about his role. But is the image of him now, where he‘s obviously in failing health—we should all be so lucky to look and sound like he does and be in the kind of spirit and health he‘s in at 92 years old—but to project that image to the world now, do you think that‘s really better, especially since he doesn‘t remember a lot of the events at that time, rather than let history tell its own story?
JONES: I absolutely do. Let me just tell you, he is having the time of his life. He is really enjoying this time. And not only that, but he is in the twilight of his life. It is clear to everybody. And we‘re not making any bones about that. But he‘s also—a tremendous burden has been lifted from him. And we‘re just so happy that he can have this burden lifted before he makes his exit. And it‘s been great for him.
GREGORY: Was he ashamed at some point, Nick, do you think? Have you gleaned that from him since this has all come out, ashamed of his role as Deep Throat?
JONES: None whatsoever. I haven‘t gleaned anything about that.
GREGORY: John, what do you say about that? Was there a time when he was not comfortable with what he had done?
O‘CONNOR: He was not comfortable with it being revealed. He was very comfortable and proud of what did he in substance, but what I‘ve told people is, $10 million that he would have received for coming out earlier was not worth $1 of smudge because of some external opinion that someone might have about the FBI.
They might say, well, as Charles Colson is saying today, oh, rMD+IN_rMDNM_he did a dishonorable thing. Mark did not know whether that was going to be the one percent of the population with felon numbers on their chest or it was going to be 50 percent. So if it was going to be 50 percent or 40 percent or 30 percent, Mark wasn‘t going to do this. It was a question of keeping the honor and integrity of his agency.
GREGORY: Right. All right. Well, we‘re going to leave it there. The book is called “The G-Man‘s Life,” the story of Mark Felt, his role in Watergate and beyond.
That‘s very much John O‘Connor and Nick Jones for joining us.
O‘CONNOR: Thanks a lot, David.
JONES: Thanks for having us.
GREGORY: And tomorrow on HARDBALL, Senate majority leader and 2008 president hopeful Bill Frist will be on the program. Right now it‘s time for the “ABRAMS REPORT” with Dan Abrams.
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