Guests: Barry McCaffrey, Bernard Trainor, Jon Meacham, John McArdle, Jonathan Alter, Michael Smerconish
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Who is in charge here? Iraqi soldiers strip off their uniforms rather than take orders. Is this the army that‘s going to replace Americans and let us come home? Let‘s play HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. Welcome to HARDBALL.
Tonight, we continue our series of special reports about how we got into the Iraq war. Earlier this week, I talked about that with two retired CIA insiders who knew about how the intelligence—the good and the bad—led us into the Iraq war. Tonight we turn to the military side of the march to war.
General Bernard Trainor—Mick, we call him—General Barry McCaffrey—we call him General McCaffrey—will be here to talk about what the military did and did not do as the Bush administration crafted and sold its war plan.
But first, Zacarias Moussaoui—the only man charged in the 9/11 attacks—is now on his way to a maximum—a super security prison in Colorado to serve a life sentence without parole.
HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster reports.
DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A day after Zacarias Moussaoui heard from the jury—
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EDWARD ADAMS, COURT PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER: The jury has found the defendant should be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Today a judge made the verdict official, sentencing Moussaoui to six life terms without the chance of parole. In accordance with sentencing rules, Moussaoui was given a brief opportunity today to make a statement. He flashed the victory sign and declared, “God save Osama bin Laden, you will never get him.” Moussaoui added, “You have branded me as a terrorist or a criminal or whatever. Look at yourselves. I fight for my belief.”
Judge Leonie Brinkema then stated, “Mr. Moussaoui, when this proceeding is over, everyone else in this room will leave to see the sun, hear the birds and can associate with whoever they want. You will spend the rest of your life in a supermax prison. It‘s absolutely clear who won. You came here to be a martyr in a great big bang of glory. Instead you will die with a whimper.
Moussaoui then tried to interrupt the judge, but the judge raised her voice and said, “You will never get a chance to speak again, and that‘s an appropriate ending.
Moussaoui was then taken out of the courtroom and the hearing was over.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAUREEN SANTORA, LOST SON IN ATTACKS: And I hope he‘s forgotten. I hope we forget him, I hope we forget his name. I hope he‘s not mentioned again. I think that would kind of be a just end to this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: But the debate as to whether Moussaoui got the right sentence may continue. After six weeks of testimony, at least some of the jurors determined that since Moussaoui was in jail on 9/11, his role in the attacks had to have been limited and they decided not to give him the ultimate punishment. Moussaoui‘s lawyers agreed with that reasoning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GERALD ZERKING, MOUSSAOUI DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It‘s obvious that they thought that his knowledge of 9/11, his role in 9/11, was not very great.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: The verdict, though, was not what prosecutors had wanted or what former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani had been hoping for. Giuliani‘s first reaction came last night on MSNBC‘s HARDBALL.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, FMR. NEW YORK MAYOR: I‘m disappointed. I believed that the death penalty was appropriate in this case, should have been applied. But then at the same time—and maybe this is like the contradictory, complex feelings we all have about September 11 and everything that‘s come from it—at the same time, I have tremendous respect for our legal system.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Moussaoui claimed he was supposed to pilot a fifth plane on 9/11 and crash it into the White House. Moussaoui was in custody on immigration violations for weeks before 9/11. Prosecutors argued that he lied to the FBI when he didn‘t disclose the terror plot, and therefore contributed to the attacks.
Defense lawyers argued Moussaoui was a fringe character.
In any case, many questions about the 9/11 terrorist plot remain unanswered. And legal experts point out that with Moussaoui spending life in prison, there is at least the possibility that he might someday have a change of heart and provide new information.
That‘s not possible with Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who was executed without ever explaining his links to a White Supremacist group. And to this day, some investigators wonder that group helped McVeigh carry out the attack.
Will Zacarias Moussaoui ever provide new information about 9/11? And would anybody believe him?
(On camera): At the moment, it‘s not clear who, if anybody, will ever have contact with Moussaoui. At the supermax prison where Moussaoui is headed, links to the outside world are unheard of.
I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL, in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, David Shuster.
Now with the second part of our HARDBALL special report on how we got into the war in Iraq, we talk to the generals. Retired Marine Corps Lt.Gen. Bernard Trainor is the author of a big new book on the “New York Times” Best Seller list—in fact every best seller list. It‘s called “Cobra II.” People say it‘s astounding.
And retired General Barry McCaffrey commanded the 24th Infantry Division during Desert Storm. He‘s now an MSNBC military analyst.
Gentlemen, just as fighting men who fought the good fight and worked with men under you by the thousands, how will this—Mick, you first, General—just verdict go over out there in the field?
LT.GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR (RET.), NBC MILITARY ANALYST: I think those people that are hard over, that believe in the death penalty and believe in retribution, I think they‘ll figure, hey, this guy should have really swung. But I think a lot of the American people say—
MATTHEWS: I mean out there in the field, the fighters.
TRAINOR: Yeah, I know. That‘s what I‘m talking about. But I think they‘re a fair cut of the population, within an age group. So there will be those that feel the guy ought to swing, and others that feel, let him rot in prison. So, I think it would probably be split 50/50.
MATTHEWS: General, your sense of the fighting troops and how they‘re going to react when they read about this—they probably already heard about it.
GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY (RET.) NBC MILITARY ANALYST: I don‘t think they‘re going to talk about it more than an hour. I think Mick got it right. This will not be a huge deal.
I think the notion that he‘s going to be locked up for the rest of his life in a supermax sounds probably more punitive in many ways than 11 years of appeals and a possible death.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look at something right now. I think we have the picture ready, that might grab their attention. Let‘s take a look at American advisors, who are counting on Iraqi forces, we all know, to take over the fight for us over there. Here‘s what happened when a thousand new Iraqi soldiers assembled near Fallujah for a graduation ceremony this Sunday. When they found out they wouldn‘t be serving right there in Fallujah near their homes—look what they did—they started ripping off their uniforms, they say, We won‘t go.
Mick Trainor? Those are the people we‘re betting our future on.
TRAINOR: Chris, I have to laugh when I see this, because I‘m pretty sure soldiers and Marines looking at that said, Jesus, I wish I could have done that when the sergeant told me I was going to Miami Beach.
MATTHEWS: What do we make of their general officers, there, General, who were standing around befuddled—I don‘t know what the right word is. Gee whiz, this isn‘t working the way it‘s supposed to. These guys are supposed to be saluting and heading off to their next posting; instead they‘re saying, Hell no, we won‘t go, like they‘re somebody from the ‘60s here in the United States.
MCCAFFREY: This is not a good day to be an Iraqi general. That‘s for sure. The other thing is, apparently the fellow got up there and he said, Look, if you people don‘t want to follow your orders, the gate is as wide as a camel can exit, and so—
MATTHEWS: Two camels can go through—yes, the biblical thing.
MCCAFFREY: -- all the camels said, Get me out of here.
Look, Chris, this is a huge challenge. It‘s not hard to equip, recruit, train, deploy units. It‘s hard to get them to fight. They need loyalty to a political system, to a leadership. This is going to be tenuous stuff for a year. These are Sunnis, they‘re trying to get them to go back into the same block and confront—
MATTHEWS: But American Marines, General—I‘ve seen enough movies to know this—when they get out of Quantico or they get out of Parris Island, they are ready to go out and kill the enemy. They can‘t wait to be sent to the front. That‘s their attitude in America.
These guys can‘t wait to get home and see mommy.
TRAINOR: Well, I don‘t think—
MCCAFFREY: No, I don‘t think that was it.
MATTHEWS: What is it about? What‘s it about?
MCCAFFREY: Well, that wasn‘t it. I think the whole notion on this one, these are Sunni Muslims who have just joined the federal army and they‘re being asked to go in and police their own people.
MATTHEWS: I thought they said they wanted to work at home.
MCCAFFREY: I think what they came in, in this case, they probably thought they were going to be in Fallujah. They were boys from the block, they‘d be with their families, and instead they are being asked now to go down the road to Ramadi, which is a hostile city, although Sunni Muslim. They‘re going to be in a fight down there. So that idea didn‘t sit well.
MATTHEWS: Is that what was going on right here?
MCCAFFREY: Yeah, sure.
MATTHEWS: So they thought they could join the military without joining the fighting?
TRAINOR: It‘s deeper than that, though, Chris. You have these
confessional groups—you have the Sunnis, the Kurds and Shias. The units
that are probably the most effective are the ones that are uniconfessional
in other words, Kurdish units and Shia units. And the Sunnis have been reluctant to join. And when they have tried to amalgamate them, it hasn‘t really worked very well. Amongst other things, they got a lot of sleepers in there.
MCCAFFREY: This one was almost all Sunnis.
MATTHEWS: I hope we to continue to show that film, because I want to show it again as a backdrop for this question. When our civilians at the Defense Department put together the battle plan to go into Iraq, they were thinking—what—they were thinking that the people were going to greet us with open arms as liberators, they were going to help take over their own country quickly. There wasn‘t going to be an insurgency.
What was the reality that you were addressed with when you went in there?
MCCAFFREY: I think what all of us thought we were going to do is go in there and tell the Iraqi army, Stay intact, we‘re only in here to do the Ba‘athists, the Special Republican Guard. You‘re the army of the future of Iraq. That was operative up until the time Secretary Rumsfeld dismissed them through Bremer, his agent in Iraq.
So now we‘re trying to build a new force. That unit, though, we‘re looking at there on video are Sunni Muslims.
MCCAFFREY: They‘re being recruited in considerable numbers.
MATTHEWS: But you made the point well, General—General Trainor, we were told—our troops were told, we‘re going in there at the highest level to basically detail a car. Now we‘re told we have to build a car, right?
TRAINOR: That‘s exactly right. The military went in there under the assumption that the center of gravity, the military target, was going to be the Republican Guard. We‘d fire tanks and artillery, put airplanes on them, and that the political center of gravity was going to be Baghdad, and that the Shiites in the south were going to welcome us. And the Sunnis would probably accept us. And they even had a full annex in the operation plan for capitulation.
MATTHEWS: What bozo thought that? Who thought that and told that to the military, that that would be the case?
TRAINOR: This was largely the result of the intelligence community making ...
MATTHEWS: Was it from the intelligence community or was it from Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraq National Congress guy, talking to the civilians at the Defense Department and the vice president‘s office? Was it a political call, not an analytical assessment?
TRAINOR: No, I think it was an intelligence, analytical one. There‘s no question about Chalabi was able to influence the secretary of defense and those around him and kind of give them reassurance, but the intelligence community misread the situation. But, you know, it was a little bit—it was understandable.
We had great information on Afghanistan. Why? Because we had agents in Afghanistan ever since the Soviets went in there in 1980. We didn‘t have anything like that in Iraq, so as a result of that, we were listening to people like Chalabi and the people that Chalabi brought forth giving this information to the intelligence community.
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s go to the troop level question, generals. Lots of debate in this country about whether 150,000 or so troop level, that complement was sufficient. A lot of criticism saying it should have been twice that amount from the beginning.
Would twice the number of troops going into Iraq have changed the reality over there or simply dragged out the war a bit longer because it would have kept the insurgency at bay at bit, but eventually there would have been an insurgency and we would have been thrown out anyway.
MCCAFFREY: Well, I think the first question you ask is what was the objective of the intervention. And then you have to build a force that achieves your objective, and the initial force that went in, as Mick Trainor and Michael Gordon put in their book, was sadly misplaced. Of course, the force should have been bigger. It should‘ve been probably four of five divisions, but more importantly ...
MATTHEWS: How many troops is that, four of five?
MCCAFFREY: Well, who knows, 250,000?
MCCAFFREY: But they should have also been engineers, civil affairs, signal the people to consolidate a nation of 26 million people.
MATTHEWS: Would that have worked?
MCCAFFREY: Well, a lot better than what we did now.
MATTHEWS: No, we have hindsight now, General McCaffrey. Would it have worked to have an extra 100,000 troops on the ground?
MCCAFFREY: Well, I think it would not have ended up as a situation if we‘d also not dismissed the Iraqi army.
MATTHEWS: OK, we needed to have done two things: kept the army together except perhaps the political commissars—you got them out of there.
MATTHEWS: Kept the main troops lines together, kept them under control and under orders. Number two, brought in an extra 100,000 Americans—what would that have been?
MCCAFFREY: And then finally, personally, I think we should have gone in with a rented native organization and put an Iraqi face on the occupation from day one, propped him up with bayonets until they could create a political process.
MATTHEWS: Oh, you mean put in a government like a Chalabi government.
MCCAFFREY: Pick one at random. Who cares? That‘s, you know ...
MATTHEWS: That means you should have had a provisional government right away.
MATTHEWS: So a provisional government, an extra 100,000 Americans in there, and keeping together the Iraqi army. General Trainor, would that have brought peace and success in Iraq or simply a more drawn-out war?
TRAINOR: Chris, the only think I can tell you is what all the generals and field commanders told me and Gordon when we were doing the book, that there was a window of opportunity after Saddam fell and it lasted for mostly through the summer, when the Iraqis were in awe of us and the Fedayeen and everybody else were kind of down on their knees.
But that window closed very, very quickly because there was a power vacuum there. We didn‘t have enough—we had enough forces to take out the Iraqi military, but we didn‘t have enough forces to deal with the entire country.
And this is what happened. Between the secretary of defense because of his aversion to nation-building and his insistence on transforming the army into something that‘s light and mobile and lethal, that conspired to go against what the military were thinking, because they were looking at it not just in terms of taking out Baghdad, but they were also what happens then? We‘re going to have to administer the country.
MATTHEWS: I see. Let me tell you through this visually. Maybe a couple days from now we‘ll figure out how to do with this visually with TV cameras and tape. I remember quite distinctly I was thrilled to see those initial hours after our troops reached Baghdad, all the statues coming down, everybody cheering.
You‘re saying if that moment had been seized with a huge force and keeping their army intact, and moved in and taking control with perhaps a government, a provisional government, that there wouldn‘t have been any change, it would have gone smoothly from that to a new Democratic-elected government? You say that would have worked?
TRAINOR: No, no. That‘s too much of an extension. I‘m saying this. Everybody seemed to believe that there would be some sort of an insurgency, but it certainly wouldn‘t have been the terrible one that we‘ve faced with such a ...
MATTHEWS: How can you say that with the fact that the army did get disbanded, and with it went all the materiel and the ordinance? All this bomb equipment, all these IEDs that everybody is using, all the shooting at our Americans over there, all that weaponry, where is that—doesn‘t that come from the disbanded army, the Iraqi army?
MCCAFFREY: Well, Iraq was a giant weapons dump from one end of the country to another. Literally, you know, more ammunition probably times five than I have ever seen in my life just flying over abandoned ammunition stockpiles. That‘s what fueling the insurgency now.
But back to Mick‘s point, the point was, don‘t let the Iraqi army walk away with their guns or leadership or money.
MATTHEWS: Right, and that‘s what happened.
MCCAFFREY: And that‘s what we did.
MATTHEWS: That‘s what we have. We‘ll be right back with General Bernard Trainor and General Barry McCaffrey.
And later breaking news from Capitol Hill. NBC News has obtained a letter in which Capitol Police officers describe an early-morning incident today where Congressman Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island almost ran into a Capitol Police car. He was not arrested. Did he get special treatment? We‘ll have the latest when we come back.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We have got NBC reporter Mike Viqueira on the phone right now from Capitol Hill. Mike, what is the story with regard to Congressman Kennedy of Rhode Island?
MIKE VIQUEIRA, NBC NEWS: Well, Chris, here‘s what‘s been alleged by the United States Capitol Police Labor Committee. This is an organization the police officers rank and file. They have written to the chief of police, the acting chief of the police of the Capitol Police.
And they allege that last night Congressman Kennedy, Patrick Kennedy, of course—he‘s the Democrat of Rhode Island, and the son of Senator Ted Kennedy—was here on Capitol Hill just at the intersection and behind the Cannon Office Building, and certainly I‘m standing outside the congressman‘s office now in the Cannon Office building.
At 2:45, a vehicle approached an officer‘s car and the car had to swerve to avoid a collision, the officer‘s vehicle did. The officer pursued the vehicle. He noticed that the car was not driving with its lights on and that it hit the curb subsequent to almost hitting him.
Seconds later—I‘m reading from the letter here—the vehicle hit a barricade behind just behind Cannon and the driver exited and he was observed to be staggering.
Now, let me shorten the story here a little bit, because from there on out, here‘s where—some of the controversy ensued. It turns out that it was Patrick Kennedy, and he told the officers there that he was on his way to a vote. Mind you, this was quarter to three in the morning and the House had adjourned some three hours before that.
The officers called in their superiors and the superiors essentially told the officers they would handle it from here and the officer‘s understanding was that Congressman Kennedy was actually given a ride home before the officers were permitted to perform a field sobriety test. They had reason to believe that Congressman Kennedy was under the influence of alcohol.
Now the police this afternoon after this letter came to light, there is a big crowd outside Congressman Kennedy‘s office right now, the police are only saying that they are investigating the matter and the congressman‘s office in Rhode Island has put out a statement saying they will cooperate with any investigation into an accident that occurred in the small hours of the morning. Chris?
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Mike, for that report on the situation regarding Congressman Kennedy of Rhode Island.
We‘ll go right back right now with retired generals Barry McCaffrey and Bernard Trainor. Let me ask you about this big question—let‘s take a look right now at a piece of tape. This is General Tommy Franks on this program talking about Secretary Rumsfeld‘s dealings with top generals like yourselves.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOMMY FRANKS, GENERAL: I know very few military officers who ever have had given him a briefing or given him information and had him immediately say, “Oh gosh, that‘s a great idea. I really love that.” That‘s not the way Don Rumsfeld does business.
And so from that point of view, the point of view of a guy who is a pretty successful civilian CEO, a pretty successful secretary of defense, at a time when our country is at war, he steps up and he puts people through their paces.
It is not a thing that very many people who have spent the last 30 years of their life having people listen to them, I‘m talking about the generals, it‘s a pretty hard thing to sit there and find yourself in a pretty serious hardball dialogue with a senior civilian.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: General Trainor, what are the extent—what is the limits of a general officer, a high-ranking officer in talking to a civilian leader under a civilian-led government that we have? Can you tell a guy that‘s the dumbest idea I‘ve ever heard, invading Iraq, or can you simply say, “You‘re going to need more troops.” How far can you go in questioning authority?
TRAINOR: I think the whole thing is open for discussion if your civilian master wants it to be open for discussion. But if he shuts you off and I have to say that Secretary Rumsfeld, as General Franks pointed out, he came from the business world, he was a CEO and he had a management technique—and I stress management, not leadership—management technique where he wore down his opposition until the point that they came along and they agreed with what he had to say by default.
MATTHEWS: Is that what happened, General McCaffrey, as far as you know about the number of troops we had going in to Iraq? That he wore down the critics who said, “Hey look, we‘re going to need a lot more troops than that, Mr. Secretary.”
MCCAFFREY: Chris, General Shinseki has been shot at on multiple combat tours. He had his foot blown off. For god sakes, these people aren‘t afraid to deal with a personality challenge. I think Mick Trainor‘s got it right. The problem was, this guy couldn‘t listen to a professional viewpoint articulated by somebody who has it right.
MATTHEWS: This guy being Don Rumsfeld.
MCCAFFREY: Right, I mean it isn‘t a personality thing. For god sakes, we‘ve worked for tough folks and we‘ve encountered combat situations.
MATTHEWS: OK, you‘ve got a commander in chief who‘s well above the defense secretary in the chain of command. Do you believe the president never got what he needed to hear from the military people because Don Rumsfeld closed down the line?
MCCAFFREY: Well I think that raises another issue. I think at the end of the day, my read of it, and this is sort of third hand, is that the president has—a lot of affection for him in the military ranks, but I think he‘s a decentralizer.
I think he allowed the secretary of defense and our combat in commander General Franks to by and large run the war.
MATTHEWS: So Shinseki and others never got to the president with their concern. Did he even know they could support the president‘s mission as military men, they couldn‘t do it with that number of troops? General Trainor?
TRAINOR: That‘s true. The president, the secretary of defense and the vice president were joined at the hip. And the guy that was going to execute the policy that the three of them put together was Donald Rumsfeld and the president had confidence and trust in him and Rumsfeld ran the show.
He put everybody in the outer chambers, people like Condi Rice, who was the national security adviser and the Secretary of State Powell and even the neocons, people like Doug Feith and Wolfowitz. Those people were all in the outer chambers.
It was just the three of them that made the decisions and Rumsfeld was the guy that was giving the brief to carry out the mission and he was given a great deal of freedom by the president.
MATTHEWS: Were Cheney and Rumsfeld too connected together to offer the president independent advice? In other words, was he outnumbered at the poker game?
TRAINOR: No, they all thought exactly the same way.
MATTHEWS: So the president and the vice president and Rumsfeld were all the same?
TRAINOR: All on the same sheet of music.
MATTHEWS: What an interesting turn.
MCCAFFREY: Minus Secretary Powell.
TRAINOR: He was out of it.
MCCAFFREY: But I think he did express a viewpoint from the starting point.
MATTHEWS: And what was Condi Rice doing, taking neat notes? Was she challenging the president‘s position?
TRAINOR: She was pretty much cut out also by Rumsfeld. He wouldn‘t let people go over to brief Condi Rice or security people.
MATTHEWS: I can‘t wait to hear the lecture notes at West Point and the Navy Academy in the years ahead about this war and how it got underway. Anyway, thank you gentlemen, you‘re the best.
Thank you very much General Barry McCaffrey and General Bernard Trainor. By the way, his book is called “Cobra II.” Everybody‘s raving about it, it‘s on the best-seller list.
Coming up, are American leaders more religious than ever before? And later, the politics of the Moussaoui verdict. Will the other al Qaeda terrorist in custody ever face American justice? You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re joined right now by “Newsweek‘s” managing editor Jon Meacham. He‘s the author of a big new book, “American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation.” Already on “New York Times” best-seller list. Jon, thanks for joining us.
I want to give you a couple of minutes here, that‘s all we‘ve got. Tell me how religion‘s going to affect the candidacies of Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain. Just run through them.
JON MEACHAM, MANAGING EDITOR, NEWSWEEK: Sure. Hillary Clinton, you‘re going to start hearing a lot about the social gospel tradition and methodism of social activists.
You know, Methodist ministers were a key part of the Civil Rights Movement in the ‘60s. And she came of age at a time when concern for economic justice and civil rights was a big part of the mainline Protestant churches. And I think that she‘s going to start talking a lot about those experiences.
Mayor Giuliani was second. I think he is going to be the most interesting figure in that he has very left-of-center views on many values, issues, out views out of step with the Catholic Church. But he will make a Kennedy argument, I think, a John F. Kennedy argument that he follows the dictates of his consciences and his constituents and does the best he can. And his church does not speak for him and he does not speak for his church.
And that comes at a time when the Catholics are increasingly the swing voters, when you have evangelicals who are almost entirely Republican and the mainline churches—Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopalian—which are sometimes now called the sideline churches because of our diminishing numbers.
MATTHEWS: Right, but I agree with you completely about the Catholics being the swing voters. They don‘t have a mooring in either the Democrat of the Republican Party.
MEACHAM: Right. It‘s going to be a huge issue throughout.
Mitt Romney is going to have to talk about Mormonism, he‘s going to have to talk about the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He‘s going to have to explain it to people. A lot of people don‘t have much of an idea about that faith.
It‘s the only homegrown, native American faith, born in an age of great nationalism and great religious fervor in the age of Andrew Jackson. And he‘s just going to have to walk people through that to convince them that he‘s not somehow outside the religious mainstream. And ...
MATTHEWS: Well, John McCain is another. Mainstream religion—as you said, this mainstream of Protestants, Episcopalians and Presbyterians are actually a very small number of Americans compared to the large evangelical, largely Baptist people, the communions.
What about John McCain? He‘s not a particularly religious-seeming guy. He doesn‘t talk about it. How is he going to deal with people like, well, Jerry Falwell? He‘s going down to his university to speak.
MEACHAM: Right. I think he‘s going to talk about values. I think he‘s going to talk about American values, the American values of liberty and of family. You know, McCain went to an Episcopal high school in Alexandria, Virginia, just across the river from you. He was, obviously, at Annapolis.
It‘s a kind of—almost a Douglas MacArthur kind of faith, you know? He‘s God and country and it doesn‘t get much more complicated than that is my impression. But, you know, John McCain has written a book, a best-selling book called “Faith of my Fathers,” and he‘s written a number of books exploring these themes about how do people act in civil society for causes larger than themselves.
MATTHEWS: Right. Let‘s talk about Methodism. I know that it‘s a religion very much committed to good behavior. We used to go to Ocean City, New Jersey, which was founded as a Methodist community, and very committed to good behavior, to doing good works.
The president is married to a Methodist. Laura Bush is a Methodist. He goes to her church. Isn‘t it interesting that he may be followed in office by Hillary Clinton who is also a Methodist, who has the same kind of moralistic drives?
MEACHAM: It is, and it‘s—you know, the Methodists broke away in many ways, because the—from the Episcopalians because the they thought that our crowd was a little too frou-frou in some ways. We were more interested in liturgy.
MATTHEWS: Were you wine and cheese way back then?
MEACHAM: Well, it was more gin and peanuts, but yes.
MATTHEWS: So what does John Wesley bring to the table? What does John Wesley, the leader or the founder of the Methodist Church who is such an influence on Laura Bush, President Bush now, Hillary Clinton—what kind of politics does he sort of get along with?
MEACHAM: He brings a drive for the idea that individuals can change
history, that we are all particular creatures of God, that there is a
destiny and a plan for each one of us. The president today in some remarks
this is the National Day of Prayer—was talking about how there is a divine plan and then there are human plans.
But Wesleyanism is going to be about social change, whether it‘s protecting the past in terms of a conservative, or in trying to move us forward in terms of liberalism.
MATTHEWS: Jon, your book is “American Gospel.” It‘s already on the best-sellers. Good luck with this book. It‘s a big topic. I sense it‘s going to be a bigger topic as we get closer to the presidential election whether it‘s Hillary or it‘s Mitt Romney or whoever else. They all have religious identification. It‘s going to be an issue. Thank you very much, Jon Meacham.
Up next, al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui gets life in prison without parole. But what about the terrorist masterminds who actually planned 9/11, and we have in captivity? Will they ever go to trial?
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. In a moment, “Newsweek‘s” Jonathan Alter, author of a new book, a big one, “The Defining Moment:
FDR‘s 100 days in the Triumph of Hope,” all about the beginnings of the New Deal.
But we begin right now with breaking news from Capitol Hill about an incident early this morning involving U.S. Congressman Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island.
In a letter, the head of the Capitol Police union asked whether officers acted properly when the U.S. congressman almost hit a police car at 2:45 a.m. this morning. The Congressman‘s office has said that an incident occurred and that he is willing to cooperate.
“Roll Call” staff writer John McArdle joins us now by phone with more. John McArdle, please report on what you know about what happened with Congressman Kennedy this morning.
JOHN MCARDLE, “ROLL CALL”: Hi, Chris. It seems like the head of the Capitol Police Labor Union is, in fact, just asking the chairman or the chief of the Capitol Police that his officer be allowed to finish his investigation.
It seems that after the traffic stop occurred, two of the officers involved were told to leave the scene. Instead, two sergeants who also responded to the accident after conferring with the watch commander on duty, ordered the units to leave the scene and said that they were taking over.
The police labor union official who talked to me said that the officers were not allowed to conduct field sobriety tests, which they had considered doing.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about the constitutional protection of a member of Congress going to or from his office on Capitol Hill. My understand of the Constitution is that notwithstanding the condition, how much booze the buy drank, or whatever else, that a Congressman is protected from police interference of any kind under the Constitution, as long as he‘s going to or from his office.
MCARDLE: Yes, I believe that‘s the same reading I have, Chris. I think what the labor union official is just asking is that his investigation be allowed to be completed. He doesn‘t feel that his officer was given the opportunity to complete his investigation because a traffic accident was involved and his officers were responding to that accident.
MATTHEWS: I see. Thank you very much, John McArdle. I‘m sure we‘re going to learn more tonight and in the newspapers tomorrow.
We‘re joined right now by “Newsweek‘s” Jonathan Alter, author of the new book “The Defining Moment: FDR‘s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope.” Well I love this history. I mean, this is the great history of our—not of our lifetime, you‘re too young, not of mine either of course.
But the New Deal and why it worked. Why was FDR, a man who was crippled, who couldn‘t stand up without braces, able to convince a country down on its knees, 25 percent unemployment that things were going to work out?
JONATHAN ALTER, AUTHOR: Well it was a combination of breathtaking communications and action. On the communications side, you‘ve got to realize that first fireside chat when he is talking to the American public about banking and trying to get people who have been lining up, they‘ve lost everything, we think broke.
Broke then was you had $10 to your name and you had it under your mattress. He was trying to get them to put their money back into the banks. For the first time in the history of leaders talking to their people, he spoke conversationally.
You know how now on television, Chris, you‘re effective in this medium or on radio if you‘re conversational? Didn‘t used to be that way because before the microphone was invented, everybody talked like this. John Kerry and some others politicians still talk...
MATTHEWS: ... like Ace B. Coltenborn (ph).
ALTER: Right, or Foghorn Leghorn or something. So Roosevelt was the first one—like Bing Crosby did for singing, Roosevelt did for speaking.
MATTHEWS: So he was a political crooner.
ALTER: It was revolutionary. And there are hundreds of letters that all say the same thing, I felt like you were sitting in my living room with me. And they had a new relationship to their leader, a new form of communication.
MATTHEWS: But his image going into the White House, perhaps one of the two or three greatest presidents of our country along with Lincoln and Washington—his reputation going into the White House, like George W. Bush, like Ronald Reagan‘s to some extent, was of an intellectual lightweight, of a person who wasn‘t that deep in academic terms.
How did he manage to become this great president?
ALTER: Well the first thing that happened is remember when Reagan almost was assassinated in ‘81 and his legislative program went sailing through Congress?
MATTHEWS: I was up on the Hill, I saw it.
ALTER: Yes and it wouldn‘t have done so otherwise. Two weeks before he entered office, FDR was in Miami and an assassin got off five shots at him from 25 feet away and he escaped and a lot of people thought he was saved by God for a purpose. So he went into office with this sense—most historians have treated this as a foothill.
MATTHEWS: Did he look at it that way? I didn‘t know he was that religious.
ALTER: He looked at it partly that way, but he also realized that it was political gold for him. And he actually spun the story for reporters so that he was this big hero because he had saved Mayor Cermack, who later died of his wounds.
MATTHEWS: I think—mayor of Chicago—he took the bullet. But you know, Reagan, I think he really believed that God had saved him for a higher purpose.
ALTER: I‘m not sure that Roosevelt necessarily did. But that helped him and then when he gets in there, he understands that—he uses the word action five times in his inaugural address. The line “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” was nonsense. There was a lot more to fear than fear itself.
MATTHEWS: He knew the important thing was to do things.
ALTER: To do things and to create that kind of suspension of disbelief that great theater does. He was a master actor in the theater of the presidency.
MATTHEWS: Will we ever have a president, whether it‘s Bush or another brother of Bush‘s, or another wife of a current—a recent president, Hillary—will we ever have a president who can instill that kind of instant total confidence that FDR could do, where everybody believed that he could do it?
ALTER: We might not get that far. Of course FDR had a lot of enemies pretty quickly also. But we can find more leadership. The subtitle is the defining moment and the triumph of hope. FDR believed in hope. And I think he would say you‘ve got to say that leaders, sometimes it‘s buried within them. They didn‘t see it in FDR, and we might not see it in a lot of other people who could be president.
MATTHEWS: I wonder about Giuliani sometimes, with all his flaws, I just wonder.
ALTER: Or governors, you don‘t know whether they—Democratic governors, you don‘t know, maybe they‘ve got it in them. We don‘t know, they didn‘t know it about Roosevelt.
MATTHEWS: It‘s not the same as celebrity. Schwarzenegger is a celebrity, there are a lot of celebrities out there, but this ability to be the leader that people trust, it‘s so hard to find.
I want to say something about your book, everybody ought to read this book. This is history and it gets us to where we are with the American presidency. And we‘re going to see bad economic times again and we need this kind of information. Thank you Jonathan Alter. The book is called “FDR‘s First Hundred Days.”
Up next, get ready for some fireworks as HARDBALL analyst Bob Shrum and radio talk show host Michael Smerconish of Philadelphia face off over who‘s to blame for skyrocketing gas prices. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. With hundreds of thousands of people marching in the streets for immigrants rights and millions crying out about soaring gas prices, there is certainly no shortage of political activism in our country right now.
Here to talk about that and much more, a HARDBALL political analyst Bob Shrum and Philadelphia radio talk show host Michael Smerconish.
Michael, where do you stand on the jury decision on Moussaoui last night?
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: It‘s an absolutely outrage and it‘s the judge‘s fault. And Chris, there‘s a story here that nobody is talking about. There‘s an odd adage in the legal community that says in a murder case there are three issues for the jury. Did Smith kill Jones? Did Jones deserve it? And when do we eat?
And instead, this judge put in front of the jury this 42-page tome that was so distracting. Just listen to this, because nobody has said this. “Did Zacarias Moussaoui‘s father have a violent temper? Did Zacarias Moussaoui‘s father abandon he and his siblings? Was Zacarias Moussaoui the subject of racism as a youngster?” What the hell does that have to do with what transpired on September 11th? The jurors‘ attention was totally diverted, and the judge did not need to make it this complicated.
MATTHEWS: So he gave in to the defense requests for all those considerations?
SMERCONISH: The prosecution wants it simple; the defense wants it complicated. The defense got their wish. It‘s the judge‘s fault.
MATTHEWS: OK. By the way, your new book is “Muzzled,” everybody is reading it out in Philadelphia and the whole country.
Let‘s go to Bob Shrum. Your view on the jury decision on the sentencing to life without parole of Zacarias Moussaoui?
BOB SHRUM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first I‘d say, by the way, I assume Mike doesn‘t mean that he‘s been muzzled, listening to him just now, and obviously he doesn‘t want facts to get in the way. The prosecution praised this judge all through the process. Mayor Giuliani on your program last night, Chris, said we ought to have a lot of respect for what this jury did and we ought to have a lot of respect for the process that was gone through here.
Three of the jurors said that the government failed to convince them that he was closely tied to 9/11 or that he had more than minor knowledge of 9/11. And under the federal law, it requires unanimous consent to sentence him to death. They just didn‘t meet the standard.
MATTHEWS: Michael, do you believe that Zacarias Moussaoui was responsible in some significant way for 9/11?
SMERCONISH: Absolutely. And two weeks ago, the jury had to answer exactly that question. Here it is. April 3rd, and they checked the box, yes. So what they did yesterday was completely at odds in this 42-page verdict. And the problem is that the pundits and all these talking heads haven‘t taken the time to read the literature. I have.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me tell you what I have taken the time—to listen to the announcement out of the courthouse yesterday.
Bob Shrum, here‘s the problem. The jury said he was responsible for the damage done on 9/11, including the wounds and everything else, but not the deaths. How could his behavior or failure to speak out or lies lead to the deaths and carnage of 9/11 without leading to the killings of 9/11? I don‘t get that distinction.
SHRUM: You know, Chris, I don‘t often praise Mayor Giuliani, he‘s not one of my favorite people...
MATTHEWS: But how do you (inaudible)...
SHRUM: ... but I thought he said it very well on this show last night. He said he would have preferred a guilty verdict, but that no one who wasn‘t sitting in that jury box over all of those weeks had all the information to make that. And that the strength of our system is that we actually do this with a jury. We don‘t conduct a popular plebiscite on whether or not we impose the death penalty.
MATTHEWS: No, but you are not answering my question. How can those judgments be consistent is all I‘m asking?
SHRUM: Look, they obviously can be consistent. They can think that he had a minor role, that he knew something, but he didn‘t have a major role.
MATTHEWS: ... Bob Shrum and Michael Smerconish. We‘ll be right back.
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re back with HARDBALL political analyst Bob Shrum and Philadelphia radio talk show host Michael Smerconish, author of “Muzzled.”
Here‘s what the head of Exxon Mobil said this week on NBC‘s “Today Show.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REX TILLERSON, CEO, EXXON MOBIL: We work for the shareholder and the investors that own our stock. There are over 2 million individual Americans and a lot of pension plans, a lot of teacher retirement plans, and our job is to go out and make the most money for those people so that their pensions are secure, so that they see the benefits of our work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Michael Smerconish, that‘s the man guarding our energy supplies. He said the bottom line is the bottom line. It‘s about making money for his company. His job is not to develop alternative energy sources, it‘s not to do anything else but make as much money as possible.
SMERCONISH: And he‘s right. And this is a guy whose predecessor made $144,000 a day. I don‘t have a beef with him. I have a beef with our elected officials, for not bringing this situation under control.
I just spent $72 for three-quarters of a tank for my F-150 coming in here today, and the president is going to be held accountable for this, because this is one of those political issues that will kill him.
MATTHEWS: Michael, you know, the American people aren‘t blaming the political leaders as much as they‘re blaming the oil companies. You know that.
SMERCONISH: I know that according to the polls, but by next November they‘ll be blaming the elected officials.
MATTHEWS: Bob Shrum, who do you blame for high gas prices? These guys are getting a windfall because of the shortage of oil around the world, so they get a higher price at home here. They are not doing any more work, they‘re not selling any more gas; they are just making more profits.
SHRUM: First of all, Michael is right, the president is going to get blamed. Second, we heard a few minutes ago at the newsbreak that inventories are now at an eight-year high. It can‘t both be true that inventories are at an eight-year high and this is all a result of demand pressures around the world. The president is seen as from big oil, of big oil, for big oil. He doesn‘t have a serious energy plan.
MATTHEWS: OK, you‘re saying...
SHRUM: ... except to drill in Alaska, which will give us six weeks of oil.
MATTHEWS: OK, if there‘s more oil, there should be—somebody should jump the gun and try to sell more gas at a cheaper price. How come no company is walking out the door and saying, I can sell all the gas in this country by price cutting? Nobody is doing it, Bob.
SHRUM: Because you know how oligopolies work. When a few companies control an entire industry and they are all making out like bandits, they don‘t—none of them breaks with the others and puts the product out there at a cheaper price.
You know, the head of Exxon Mobil said last Sunday that their profits were only like a 1.5 percent above the average business profits in this country. That would be enough for a 20 percent windfall profits tax, worth billions of dollars.
MATTHEWS: Oh, by the way, Michael, I like the Philadelphia skyline better than the Boston skyline.
Anyway, thank you, Bob Shrum. Thank you, Michael Smerconish, author of “Muzzled.” He‘s not tonight.
Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for the HARDBALL “Hotshots.” Right now, it‘s time for “THE ABRAMS REPORT” with Dan.
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