Guests: John Batiste, Ed Rogers, Al Sharpton, Mark Bowden
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR: A general says Rumsfeld has got to go.
Will dumping Rummy save a war? Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews.
This is a new week for President Bush. He‘s trying to rally Republicans, so they can keep Congress in 2006. But will Democrats enjoy the same kind of upheaval that destroyed them in 1994?
Plus, it sounds more like “The Sopranos” than the U.S. Congress. FBI investigators say they have videotape of Democratic Congressman William Jefferson of New Orleans accepting $100,000 bribe from an FBI informant. The FBI says they found the cash stashed in the congressman‘s freezer hidden in aluminum foil in food containers.
Plus, more news on the ongoing CIA leak case. Scooter Libby has filed legal pleadings in court, saying that he never saw a key document with the vice president‘s handwriting on it. What does that mean for Scooter Libby and for Dick Cheney?
But first, Major General John Batiste was a senior military assistant to Paul Wolfowitz in the Pentagon. He then commanded the first infantry division in Iraq. He was one of six retired generals who have made headlines by calling for Donald Rumsfeld‘s resignation.
MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Well, I want to ask you to repeat or to say here on HARDBALL what you think about the future of Rumsfeld. Should he have a future as secretary of defense?
BATISTE: No, I don‘t think so. I think he should step aside.
BATISTE: This goes back a long time. It‘s been a long journey for me, and it started early in the Pentagon years in March 2001. I saw his dismissive contemptuous and arrogant attitude. I then witnessed firsthand on the ground in Iraq the results of his bad judgment.
We went to war with the wrong plan. We set the conditions for Abu Ghraib, an incredible national embarrassment, and we stood down, disbanded the Iraqi military at a point in time when we needed them the most.
MATTHEWS: How much ideology played in this. First of all, that thing, why was Abu Ghraib part of that from the beginning? How did we have a preconceived mistake there that led to Abu Ghraib?
BATISTE: We watered down and changed the rules for handling prisoners in interrogations. We created ambiguity.
MATTHEWS: Who did that?
BATISTE: I think the secretary of defense is responsible. I grew up in a culture...
MATTHEWS: It wasn‘t Cambone or Campone or whatever his name was?
BATISTE: I grew up in a culture where one man is responsible. He is responsible for what happens or what fails to happen in an organization.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the other thing. Why did we disband? Was it for ideological reasons we got rid of the Iraqi army that we could have used as our army at least a transitional army over there?
BATISTE: I have never heard the reason, and that‘s one reason why we need accountability, to get to the bottom of this. But I do know that the central command strategy, their operation plan for dealing with Iraq depended upon the institutions in that country, which included the Iraqi military.
MATTHEWS: Did we know that Iraqis would resist our occupation with the insurgency? Did we know that ahead of time, general?
BATISTE: That was an absolute certainty. You go back and you read history, you see...
MATTHEWS: No, did they say they know it or you say they should have known it.
BATISTE: They should have known it.
MATTHEWS: Did they know it? Did you hear conversations about an imminent, an undeniable resistance to our coming in there?
BATISTE: That was part of the problem. We never addressed the hard part of this mission. That is building the peace. It should have been talked about. I think it was just whisked away.
MATTHEWS: It‘s like the British coming in to New York at the beginning of the Revolution and saying they weren‘t going to face any resistance.
BATISTE: You go back...
MATTHEWS: Are you telling me that? That they didn‘t think that a country would resist an occupation?
BATISTE: A country like Iraq with the incredible complexity, Arab, Kurds, Sunni, Shia, all of the tribal implications, the experience the British had in the last century in the ‘10s and the ‘20s, you know with certainty there‘s going to be an insurgency.
MATTHEWS: Every third world country, Africa, Asia, Latin America, has thrown off its colonial masters, because they don‘t want outsiders telling them what to do. And we didn‘t think we would face that reality in Iraq. Why did they think there wasn‘t going to be a resistance?
BATISTE: I don‘t think they did their homework. I don‘t think they went and studied the past. I think we got into something with our eyes closed with blinders on. We were worried about taking down the regime, which is difficult work, but believe me, that pales in comparison to the hard work to build the peace to set Iraq up for self-reliance.
MATTHEWS: Well, I‘ve had a lot of questions about the war, but here‘s my big one for the future because that is all that matters right now probably. What makes anybody think that if we stay there 10 years and we do a good job, we train whoever can be trained, we work with the people as they are, we try to bring the factions together.
After all that‘s over, we leave, whenever that is, 2010, 2020, whenever we leave, what stops that country from reverting to its old non-Democratic system of a military coup or a political coup or a Baathist coup. And they take over the country again, why do we have any assurance they won‘t go back to being Iraqis again when we leave?
BATISTE: I don‘t think we do.
MATTHEWS: Well, why are we there?
BATISTE: I think it‘s great that we have a unity government now.
MATTHEWS: As long as we are there with 150,000 troops watching them with guns.
BATISTE: Today there were 18 Iraqis killed, five police, one a police colonel in Samarra.
MATTHEWS: What happens when we leave?
BATISTE: That‘s a good question.
MATTHEWS: Well, what do you think the answer is?
BATISTE: We need to do our best to stand them up to self reliance.
MATTHEWS: I know you‘re dodging here, general. You‘re so courageous about Rumsfeld. What happens in that country the day after the last American walks out the door?
BATISTE: I‘m worried about the complexity of that country. I‘m worried about what the Kurds have in mind up in Kurdistan. I‘m worried about...
MATTHEWS: Because what do you think they have in mind?
BATISTE: I‘m worried about the tension between the Sunni and the Shia, the militia, the criminals, the tribal implication, which is quite frankly amazing in that country.
MATTHEWS: So if you had to bet on a horse, would you bet on the country coming apart, staying Democratic, or becoming an undemocratic tyranny, which of the three would you bet on?
BATISTE: I think it will be some form of representative government that takes into account the tribal implications, the reality in Iraq.
MATTHEWS: Oh, you are optimistic. Well, tell me why you‘re optimistic.
BATISTE: I‘m optimistic. Of course I‘m optimistic.
MATTHEWS: Why? But why are you optimistic?
BATISTE: But we have so far to go—because those people deserve a chance.
MATTHEWS: But that is a normative statement. Do you predict that they will work this out over there and have a Democratic government when we‘re done?
BATISTE: In the long run, sadly, no.
BATISTE: Because of the complexity.
MATTHEWS: So why are we there?
BATISTE: We are there to give the people of Iraq a chance. We took down a regime, and now we have a moral obligation to build the peace. The hard work to set them up for self-reliance, so they have a shot of some form of representative government.
MATTHEWS: How long would you give them? How long would you keep troops in there to give them that shot?
BATISTE: I think the question is how long is it going to take us to stand up the Iraqi security forces so they can do it by themselves.
MATTHEWS: OK. How many years?
BATISTE: I think it‘s two to five years to get the Iraqi army on their feet, and I think it is 10 years to take the Iraqi police to—from where they are now and get them where they need to be. I got that from an assessment.
MATTHEWS: 2016, U.S. forces in Iraq, until 2016.
BATISTE: That‘s worst case.
MATTHEWS: What‘s best case?
BATISTE: Two years.
MATTHEWS: And we‘re out.
BATISTE: It‘s somewhere in between.
MATTHEWS: And we leave.
MATTHEWS: So somewhere in between 2008 and 2016, let me do the math here. I‘m trying to find the mean here -- 16, 20, four—somewhere around 12 is the best bet you mean in other words? 2012 is a good bet.
BATISTE: It will take us at least two more years to get them stood up.
MATTHEWS: Do you think the American people—knowing politics as you do—do you think the American people are going to keep American forces that are losing 50 people a month all the way through to 2012 on average?
BATISTE: I think American people deserve accountability. I think our congressional oversight committees have a responsibility to start asking some hard questions.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s start with the facts. We have about 140,000 troops there, right?
MATTHEWS: You say we should have about had 380,000.
BATISTE: The Centcom plan, the central command plan, went back year after year after year and carefully developed this plan. This is not the plan that took us into the Gulf War in 1991. Totally different plan. A strategy that was well thought out, that took us through the phase of taking down the regime, all the way through the phase of building the peace.
MATTHEWS: It would have worked.
BATISTE: It would have worked. At least 380,000 coalition troops backed up by the preponderance of the Iraqi security forces that were stood down.
MATTHEWS: Who was in the room when Secretary Rumsfeld—who I get along with on this program whenever we get him on, we kid around. To me, I have never worked for him obviously, he‘s a charmer. But I hear a lot of things from you about he‘s not a charmer, right?
BATISTE: It has nothing to do with charm. It has everything to do with being contemptuous, dismissive and arrogant...
MATTHEWS: That‘s not charming.
BATISTE: ...and sidelining honest dissent, and I take you back to the General Shinseki who for a year was sidelined and then unceremoniously retired.
MATTHEWS: And he said it would take 200,000 troops, and he got sacked for that basically.
BATISTE: He did.
MATTHEWS: You say 380,000 troops. Why would a plan, which you say was on the books ready to fire since the first Iraq war based upon planning for a second Iraq war—who in the room with Rumsfeld said, let‘s dump the old plan, let‘s go with a lean and mean plan, who was with him on that, Wolfy?
BATISTE: His inner circle.
MATTHEWS: Well Wolfy? Fife?
BATISTE: His inner circle.
MATTHEWS: Who was in that inner circle?
BATISTE: His inner circle, I don‘t think any of them read the plan.
MATTHEWS: You mean the good plan?
BATISTE: The right plan.
MATTHEWS: So why did they go along with his theory that the country would be easily occupied without major resistance? Who taught them that?
BATISTE: Remember I said arrogance, dismissiveness contemptuous.
Arrogance, he knows all of the answers.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me try something by you. I know you‘re a good soldier. It must be hard for you to do this, but I‘m not a good soldier, I‘m just a citizen, a civilian. Here‘s the question. I get the feeling that our military bought an argument. They bought it from Chalabi, Iraqi national congress.
The neo-conservatives went along with him. They said this guy is our guy. He is promising if he gets in power, it is going to be a neutral government, no trouble for us, no trouble for Israel, no trouble in the region. This is going to be great. The people are going to be cheering us when we get in there. It is going to be dynamite. They wanted to believe it.
He sold it to them. So he could go the oil, whatever the hell he is after over there, and we bought it lock, stock and barrel. And that is why Rummy said we could have a light force going in there. Does that make sense?
BATISTE: That‘s part of it.
MATTHEWS: What‘s the other part of it?
BATISTE: I wasn‘t in the room. I don‘t know. But I do know what that strategy, the wonderful plan laid out in such detail with such analytical precision and it addressed what we were doing to build the peace.
MATTHEWS: Was that based on the idea that we would face reasonably mild resistance getting in there, but the big challenge to the military component going in there would be occupation? Is that what that plan was? You didn‘t say we needed 380,000 troops to knock down the government, you said we needed 300,000 men to build it up.
BATISTE: It all happened simultaneously. It‘s all a synchronized ballet. It should have happened at once.
MATTHEWS: How come you‘re the openly one who points this out. You‘ve spoken well of Barry McCaffrey and others, but how come you‘re the first guy to come on this show and lay out what was plan a?
BATISTE: I‘m speaking for myself. I got out of the Army despite a promising career so that you and I could have this discussion. It needs to be said.
MATTHEWS: In other words, there was a plan a of 380,000 coalition forces, including Americans, plus the Iraqi army, which you of would stood up and kept on mission, you would have had the roster and called them to ranks and paid them the salary and kept them working for us, right?
MATTHEWS: And that would have been a strong enough force to avoid the horrors of this insurgency which has cost 2500 American lives and 7000 wounded, right?
BATISTE: I believe so. I also believe that we he shouldn‘t accept the death or wounding of any soldier if it‘s because we haven‘t done the proper planning and preparation to go into battle.
MATTHEWS: What would Rummy say if he were sitting here right now?
BATISTE: He would probably deny it and dismiss me.
MATTHEWS: He can‘t. You‘re here. We‘ll be right back with General Batiste in a moment. And later he, the FBI raids an office of a Democratic congressman from New Orleans. What were they looking for? They apparently found some frozen assets in his refrigerator. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re back with retired army general John Batiste who commanded the First Infantry Division in Iraq and is calling for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld‘s resignation. What is the sticking power of Donald Rumsfeld with the president?
BATISTE: You know, I absolutely understand the authorities that the commander-in-chief has and he‘s picked his team. That‘s his right to do that. The issue, Chris, is accountability. We have yet to be holding anyone accountable for this travesty.
MATTHEWS: When the president goes to bed at night and he‘s with Laura or his closest brothers and friends and sister perhaps, don‘t they have conversations, say, you know, this crowd that sold you on the war, showed you how to fight the war, told you how it was going to be done, told us it is going to be a pretty good operation, pretty clean. We‘ll be in there for a year or two, fix up things and get the Hell out. Because that‘s American history, we don‘t like long wars, doesn‘t he feel they let him down.
Why doesn‘t the president say Rummy, you‘re a charming fun guy to hang around with, you seem really smart, but you‘ve been wrong every time. Why doesn‘t he say something to himself or to his wife about that?
BATISTE: I can‘t speak for the president, but I know whenever I sent troops into battle I asked two questions: Who‘s in charge and have I given that soldier everything he needs to accomplish that mission and I would not rest until the answer was good in my judgment.
MATTHEWS: The commander-in-chief, President Bush, has been let down by these people.
BATISTE: I believe he has. I think he‘s been poorly served by the people that are around him. Abraham Lincoln built a cabinet of dissenting opinions. He did that on purpose, so that he got the whole range of the issue before he made a decision.
MATTHEWS: But this president has sacked the secretary of treasury, he‘s apparently looking for another one now. He does know how to fire people. He got rid of his press secretary, Scott McClellan, he does now how to fire people. Why is he afraid to fire Secretary Rumsfeld?
BATISTE: I don‘t know. But I think our Congress and their oversight committees has some tough questions they need to ask. What happened in 2003 and 2004? we can‘t be satisfied as a nation. We have a long road in front of us with the war on terrorism, some tough decisions to be made and taken in the years ahead, and we deserve a secretary of defense whose instinct, judgment and motivation we, America, trust.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe in hindsight that going into Iraq was an essential part of what you call the war on terror?
BATISTE: I always supported it.
MATTHEWS: Did you believe it was a smart move, good for us, we had to do it?
BATISTE: I thought we were diluting the main effort. The main effort at the time was Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.
MATTHEWS: Had you been secretary of defense, you would advise sticking on the course of catching bin Laden?
BATISTE: I would have said we need to stick with one main effort.
Let‘s be doctrinal about this and comply with the principles of war.
MATTHEWS: What diverted us to Iraq?
BATISTE: Good question. I don‘t know.
MATTHEWS: How come nobody seems to know how this mistake was committed? How come everybody and maybe it will look like a crime at some point, we were chasing bin Laden, nobody has caught him, the president said 9/11, we‘re going to catch the guys that knocked down these buildings. We have lost that pursuit. The top people in al Qaeda are out there somewhere in Pakistan and yet we‘re stuck in Iraq on a course that has nothing to do with the people that attacked us on 9/11, right?
BATISTE: Chris, that‘s the $24,000 question and I turn to the congressional oversight committees, the other branch of government who is charged with getting to these answers.
MATTHEWS: Who would be a good secretary of defense?
BATISTE: That‘s up to the president of the United States.
MATTHEWS: You don‘t have anybody in mind? A former general?
BATISTE: That‘s up to the secretary of the United States.
MATTHEWS: Conceptually, would it be better to be a corporate leader or someone who is a military figure? What‘s better for running Defense, to be a civilian leader.
BATISTE: It‘s a civilian or ex-military who has been out for five years, but somebody that understands teamwork and understands that he must -- he or she—must listen to subordinates.
MATTHEWS: Why has Congress failed in its oversight?
BATISTE: I don‘t think they‘ve asked the tough questions.
MATTHEWS: Why not?
BATISTE: What‘s happened with Abu Ghraib and what‘s happened in Haditha, this alleged atrocity, all of that is symptomatic of a serious problem we have. It has to do with communication. It has to do with setting up this country for success. It has to do with going to the war with the right plan and listening to your war fighter, military advisers.
MATTHEWS: After an IED attack, if a contingent of American forces went into a house and killed everybody, how can you connect that with the highest command level?
BATISTE: You connect it because of the incredible strain bad decisions and bad judgment is putting on our incredible military. We have Army and Marines, Air Force, Navy, their families that are performing unbelievably in Iraq.
They‘re doing it despite this lousy decision-making process, that bad decisions that were made in 2003 and early 2004. God bless every one of them. That‘s why I left the military, despite a promising career, so that you and I, Chris, could sit here and have this discussion.
I felt that strongly about it. I anguished over it, but it‘s the right thing to do. It‘s my duty. It‘s all about integrity and it‘s all about doing what‘s right for our country.
MATTHEWS: Well, it‘s a lot harder for you than it is for somebody like me. Thank you for coming on this show. General John Batiste. Up next, a New Orleans area congressman is under investigation for bribery. That‘s a tough charge to make, but maybe they have the evidence. You might say he converted his money, ill gotten, to his frozen assets. More on that when we come back. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Democratic Congressman William Jefferson of New Orleans is under investigation for corruption and possible bribery charges. In brand-new court documents, the FBI says it has videotape of Jefferson accepting $100,000 bribe, which was later stashed in his freezer. Here to take us through this frigid case, is NBC‘s Mike Viqueira. I was saying frozen assets. This is almost funny, except it is criminal if it‘s true. He had a press conference, Congressman Jefferson, a little bit earlier this afternoon. What do you make of it? What‘s his defense look like?
MIKE VIQUEIRA, NBC NEWS CONGRESSIONAL PRODUCER: Well he says there are, quote on quote, two sides to every story. He refuses to get into some of the details, even when pressed by reporters, “Congressman, why in the world did you have allegedly $90,000 in your freezer in your New Orleans home?” He says he can‘t get into the details and he, like some other people behind the scenes today, have expressed outrage that the FBI would come up to Congress and conduct this search over the weekend in the way that they did.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s listen to Congressman Jefferson himself outside his office late this afternoon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. WILLIAM JEFFERSON (D), LOUISIANA: With respect to the search in my office the other day, I think it represents the—an outrageous intrusion in the separation of powers between the executive branch and the congressional branch and no one has seen this in all the time of the life of the Congress. As far as I know, there is no real authority for it. Beyond that, there were no exigent circumstances that I was aware. Under ordinary circumstances would require it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Where did the FBI say they found the money, up on Capitol Hill or down in New Orleans?
VIQUEIRA: No, that was down in New Orleans. You know, it stems from
they had an audiotape—or a videotape as you mentioned, of congressmen allegedly receiving a briefcase with $100,000 cash in it. They had copied all the bills and they say, reportedly—they allege within this affidavit that $90,000 of that money as compared to the copies of the bills that were allegedly handed over, came from the same source and was found in the freezer.
MATTHEWS: What was their justification for setting him up for a bribe by basically having an agent offer him the deal?
VIQUEIRA: Well, it stems from this deal that he was trying to work in West Africa and Nigeria and Ghana, involving a telecommunications company. A gentleman in Kentucky wanted to do some business over there, he went to Jefferson. Another woman who lives out in Virginia wanted a piece of this, she went to Jefferson and the allegation is that he said he would help in return for kickbacks and in return for bribes, and in return for giving his kids a stake in whatever profits were made.
MATTHEWS: So that‘s the justification for the agents offering him the deal.
VIQUEIRA: Well and this one woman from Virginia came forward. She thought that she was being double dealed.
MATTHEWS: Don‘t you have to quit Congress, resign if you get indicted? What‘s the deal? What‘s the usual rub?
VIQUEIRA: No, you don‘t have to. There have been members of Congress who have been elected to Congress after being indicted.
MATTHEWS: So he could last forever.
VIQUEIRA: Yes, although I can tell you that behind the scenes, I think we can expect to see some pressure both here in Washington, among Democratic circles and in New Orleans.
MATTHEWS: But he can‘t be beaten for reelection in that district, right?
VIQUEIRA: I don‘t think he‘s even drawn a primary. Of course we just had the primary.
MATTHEWS: But in general he‘s safe?
VIQUEIRA: I would think so, yes.
MATTHEWS: You might have him around to kick him around for a few more years.
VIQUEIRA: Possible, we‘ll see how it works out.
MATTHEWS: It looks like a tough case for him to defend but anything is possible. Thanks Mike Viqueira, a colorful case. Up next, what did Vice President Cheney know about Valerie Wilson‘s identity and when did he know it? New documents in the CIA leak probe raise new questions about what he knew. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
In the CIA leak case against Vice President Cheney‘s chief of Staff Scooter Libby, there are new documents tonight that are raising questions about the possible role of Cheney himself and the actions that lead to the ousting of a CIA operative.
Libby has filed legal pleadings in court saying that he never saw a key document with the vice president‘s handwriting on it. If Libby didn‘t see the document, who did?
HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster reports.
DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Former federal prosecutors say it‘s a position that increases the odds Vice President Cheney will be called as a prosecution witness in the perjury case against his former Chief of Staff Scooter Libby.
In the latest pretrial documents, Libby argues he does not remember seeing Cheney‘s handwritten notes about the CIA‘s Valerie Wilson on a column by her husband administration critic, Joe Wilson, quote, “On Libby‘s first day of grand jury testimony, when asked if he recalled discussing this particular document with the vice president, Mr. Libby testified, ‘I don‘t recall that...I subsequently learned that the vice president had such an article from the FBI agents who talked to me‘”.
Libby also denied disclosing Valerie Plame‘s identity to reporters.
And for that testimony he is facing charges of perjury.
In his latest filing, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald suggests that the Cheney notes are important because they show Libby‘s boss was personally focused on Valerie Wilson‘s role at the CIA. Fitzgerald writes about, quote, “the level of attention being paid by the defendant and others to responding to Mr. Wilson.”
But Libby‘s legal team says these arguments are tantamount to an acknowledgement that the state of mind of witnesses other than Mr. Libby will be important to trial, and Libby argues he is, quote, “entitled to any documents that mention Ms. Wilson that are contained in the files of other government officials.”
Still, Libby‘s inability to remember the Cheney notes raises questions. If the chief of his office did not see the vice president‘s notes, who were they intended for? Conversations between Cheney and other White House officials have remained under seal.
Meanwhile, legal experts say the latest Libby filing could be telling for what the defense does not argue. Libby does not challenge the prosecution‘s statement that on the day columnist Robert Novak first disclosed Valerie Wilson‘s identity a, quote, “CIA official discussed in the defendant‘s presence the dangers posed by disclosure of the CIA affiliation of one of its employees as has occurred in the Novak column. This evidence directly contradicts the defense position.”
A former federal prosecutor says the government‘s point about Libby is simple.
SCOTT FREDERICKSEN, FMR. INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: He knew he may have violated the law and that gave him motive, according to the government, to lie to the grand jury and before that to lie to the FBI.
SHUSTER: Prosecution documents indicate that Valerie Wilson‘s classified status will be a key issue in the government‘s case. Prosecutors will attempt to show Libby knew about Wilson‘s status before talking with reporters.
The defense will try and shore up Libby‘s claim of having learned about Wilson from reporters, by seeking testimony, according to defense documents from CIA spokesperson Bill Harlow.
Both sides in the Libby case have several weeks before they will file the next set of pleadings, and that could help free up prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and his staff to focus on one key unresolved issue in the overall investigation, the status of presidential adviser Karl Rove.
It‘s now been 26 days since Rove testified to the grand jury for the fifth time. Defense lawyers say prosecutors remain focused on Rove‘s claim of a bad memory, regarding a conversation with “Time Magazine” reporter Matt Cooper. Rove‘s legal team and former prosecutors tracking the investigation expect special Patrick Fitzgerald to announce a decision at any time.
FREDERICKSEN: Right now is when we would expect the meetings to be wrapped up with his own staff, for him to make the preliminary decision, for him to reach out to Rove‘s counsel to have the final conversation or to notify him he‘s not going to go forward or to notify him we‘re going to indict.
SHUSTER (on-camera): The CIA leak grand jury is scheduled to meet again on Wednesday.
As for Scooter Libby, whose lawyers are looking ahead to his criminal trial, there is one broad issue, they say, that will not be part of the case. Libby‘s legal team says that in front of a jury drawn from residents of liberal Washington, D.C., defending the Bush administration‘s case for a war with Iraq would be foolish and self-destructive, even if the trial ends up featuring testimony from Vice President Cheney.
I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, David Shuster.
Here to dig into the leak case, the Democratic chancellor for a clean November sweep and the big victory for New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, is Republican strategist Ed Rogers and former Democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton. Thank you reverend for joining us.
I want you to start on this. Is this leak case important to the public in terms of politics and policy?
REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: I think so. I think that it is important, particularly when you have an administration that has sold the country on their ability to secure them. This administration has said over and over again that you can trust us with national security, you can trust us with terrorists abroad and to have this kind of leak case, when that has been the main stay of this administration, I think is potentially devastating for the party in the midterm elections and in ‘08.
MATTHEWS: Ed Rogers, politics and policies, is it important in this case of—if someone outed a CIA agent, to settle a score or to shut someone up or punish them, is that a big story about the way this administration does business with regard to the war?
ED ROGERS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, in that context, it could be, but the notion that a voter is sitting right here now in May calibrating, well, gee, the vice president scribbled on a news article, what‘s going on here, therefore I‘m more or less likely to go vote for or against a candidate in November, just doesn‘t exist. This is a—so far, so far...
MATTHEWS: Why? Because of the preconceived ideas about the war?
ROGERS: Well because right now not much is driving votes in May on any issue, but certainly on this issue, doesn‘t connect with a voter and make him make a decision in May about November based on whether or not the vice president—or whether or not Scooter Libby knew or didn‘t know about the vice president‘s handwritten notes, so it‘s really—it‘s not irrelevant, but it‘s not connected.
MATTHEWS: You could say that the guy is a brick layer and he‘s building a cathedral or you could say he‘s just a brick layer, but here the cathedral they are trying to build, the prosecution is, that this war was fought not by accident, not because they got bad information by accident, but because they were covering up the case they made for war, knowing that it had to be covered up, because it wasn‘t solid.
ROGERS: Well, I mean, what‘s politically significant here is the future of Karl Rove, and he‘s at a huge disadvantage.
MATTHEWS So if he goes down, it‘s going to hurt the president?
ROGERS: No one in the administration getting indicted is good for the president. In Karl Rove‘s case, he‘s at a huge disadvantage because the prosecutor has said he‘s either silent or he indicts. And so far, he is silent, and that‘s an untenable situation for Karl. It‘s unfair.
SHARPTON: What I think also though you have got to wonder, Chris, how the Democrats connect the dots in the campaign. If there are commercials and campaigns, the talk about how these people fought a war, leaked information, identified people that were CIA agents and really played politics with this war, that could be damaging if that happens October-November.
A lot of—I agree with him depends on what happens to Rove and where the case is. But I wouldn‘t dismiss whether or not it could be used to connect the dots in the fall, depending on what happens between now and then with this case.
MATTHEWS: What‘s your best case when you go out in a stomp, Reverend? I know you‘re helping candidates. What‘s the best case the Democrats have to change control of Congress to them?
SHARPTON: I think that we can have several things that are working. People are very, very dissatisfied with the war. They felt that they were misled. They‘re very, very dissatisfied with this president‘s handling of immigration or not handling it. And they‘re very, very dissatisfied with gas prices.
I mean, the pocketbook more than anything is really—I was in Florida and California over the weekend. And I think that if we tried, we could not create a better climate than President Bush has given us.
MATTHEWS: What is the biggest weakness of the incumbent party?
ROGERS: Well, for one thing, what the reverend says is all accurate, but we are not voting for president in 2006. We are not even really voting for Congress in the abstract. You are going to vote for one of two people in House and Senate races. And that race hasn‘t even begun to be defined.
MATTHEWS: Who do you vote for if you‘re ticked off at Bush, Republican or Democrat?
ROGERS: The party out of power always want to nationalize the election. It‘s the Holy Grail, but it‘s a mirage. Everybody looks but nobody ever finds it, so that‘s what they‘re hoping for, and again, these races are going to be decided more on personalities, local personalities, state and local elections. Now that‘s self-serving for the Republicans to say that right now, but it has the added benefit of being the truth.
MATTHEWS: Isn‘t it true reverend that he‘s right, if you look at cases like in Pennsylvania in the primaries, they punish guys who raise their own salaries, they focus on particular things, they didn‘t think of it as a big philosophical debate between left and right?
SHARPTON” I think that‘s the hope the Republicans and if it was the reverse, it would probably be the hope of the Democrats, but if you go back to 1994 and Newt Gingrich, they demonized Bill Clinton, they connected everybody to him and it helped, and I think that if you can paint a picture that these are the bad guys, these are the guys who gave us a president, who lied about Iraq, these Republicans never checked the president.
ROGERS: Nobody thinks the Democrats are the good guys. Nobody has gone the next step.
SHARPTON: I don‘t think that when you go to the polls and you can categorically say this party has brought us this, and this man or woman is part of this party, I think you score votes.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you the same question, and respond in order, Ed first. Chances in 10 that Hillary will run for president? how Many chances in 10 do you give her?
ROGERS: Nine. If she‘s alive, she‘s running.
MATTHEWS: What chance in 10 would you give her to actually run for president?
SHARPTON: To run? 11.
MATTHEWS: We‘ll be right back with Ed Rogers and the Reverend Al Sharpton. Later, what are the roots of America‘s fight against radical Islam and what is the lasting effect of the Iranian hostage crisis more than 25 years ago. Author Mark Bowden has the answer. We‘ll be talking about. This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re back with Republican strategist Ed Rogers and the Reverend Al Sharpton. We were down there, I was helping to moderate along with Norm Robinson, the debate between the two candidates for mayor of New Orleans and it looks like an upset. I think it‘s an upset that Ray Nagin won, he got 20 percent of the White vote. It was not entirely a racial election. What do you make of it, Reverend Sharpton?
SHARPTON: I think that a lot of people underestimated how many people in and from New Orleans did not want to change mayors in the middle of a rebuilding effort. And they didn‘t trust the demonizing that a lot of people had done of Ray Nagin.
I think he was very smart to come out publicly and say I may have said some things wrong. He showed some contrition, some humility, and I think that it didn‘t hurt him that a lot of mobilization went into that area, not only among African-American voters, but by voters to make them understand the voting rights and disenfranchisement by Jesse Jackson and all of us. I think all of that were things the press ignored and it spelled victory for Nagin.
MATTHEWS: It‘s also interesting most of his vote was African-American and people did vote for him because he was endangered. It is interesting along the margins. Not to get too ethnic about this, but he did get 20 percent of the White vote as opposed to six percent in the primary. He picked up Rob Couhig, the Republican candidate endorsed him, it seemed to have helped.
ROGERS: Well, I agree with everything that Reverend Sharpton just said, and I don‘t want to make too much out of this and suggest it‘s a big omen. But here is the guy that was good to Bush, this is the guy that has said over and over, that Bush is part of the solution, not part the problem, and hey, he won.
MATTHEWS: You‘re saying what‘s good for Ray Nagin is good for George Bush?
ROGERS: Well he, to some degree, yes.
ROGERS: On the margins. I said, I don‘t want to make too big a deal out of this.
MATTHEWS: This calls for response. Reverend Sharpton, this man in front of me says that because Ray Nagin won, Bush is going to win.
ROGERS: He‘s been complimentary of the president‘s efforts after Katrina and he won.
SHARPTON: Chris, sometimes I think that I make big stretches. That‘s got to be the stretch of the week.
MATTHEWS: He also said he disapproved of the president‘s job performance. We asked him that in the primary debate.
ROGERS: The guy on ballots has been good to Bush and he won reelection. Give Bush a modicum, a little bit of credit.
MATTHEWS: What about this guy with $100,000 in his refrigerator.
Bill Jefferson of New Orleans.
ROGERS: Caught with cold hard cash.
MATTHEWS: Frozen assets, literally. What do you think?
ROGERS: He‘s innocent until proven guilty. He‘s engaged in some bad behavior that‘s invited some questions and I don‘t want—
MATTHEWS: Was this entrapment, Reverend Sharpton?
ROGERS: I want to say this. Being guilty in Washington is a disadvantage. It‘s not controlling, it‘s a disadvantage. He looks like he‘s been caught red handed.
MATTHEWS: Reverend Sharpton, if a guy has $100,000 in his refrigerator, frozen in Dixie cups, isn‘t that an indication he‘s trying to hide something?
SHARPTON: First of all, if those are the facts, we don‘t know, he‘s innocent until proven guilty, but what‘s interesting to me about this, Chris, this was all found months ago, almost a year ago, and yet they still had to make an unprecedented raid at his congressional office. So if it was that cut and dry, why haven‘t they closed this case, indicted him or not, a year ago when they found the cash. They didn‘t find the cash last week, so obviously they‘re still looking for something and they‘re not still satisfied that they have a case to make the unprecedented move they made before.
MATTHEWS: I‘ve said this before, Reverend Al, you would make one Hell of a lawyer. I never thought of that. Why did they have to go to his other office if they had him nailed.
ROGERS: It looks really bad and the fact of the matter is his office may have been the scene of the crime.
MATTHEWS: They had these $100 bills photographed. They knew which ones to look for.
SHARPTON: That was a year ago.
ROGERS: Let‘s face it. They want to be very sure footed before they indict a sitting congressman.
SHARPTON: A year?
ROGERS: Maybe a year, maybe two.
ROGERS: It‘s a criminal enterprise that has gone on for so long it is taking a while.
MATTHEWS: At least some crimes are simple, unlike the leak case, we got some good old-fashioned Duke Cunningham stuff going on here.
Thank you Al Sharpton and Ed Rogers. Up next, author Mark Bowden on America‘s perpetual problem with Iran. This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Iran says that it‘s enriching uranium for peace time energy production. The U.S. and European Union believe they are developing nuclear weapons.
How this all plays out is yet to be seen, of course, but according to Mark Bowden, author of the new book “Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America‘s War with Militant Islam,” important lessons can be learned from the 1979 hostage crisis, where 52 Americans were held for 444 days by Iranian students.
One of those students, by the way, is now head of Iran, Ahmadinejad, the current president. So that‘s the future. Let‘s talk about it. Let‘s talk about nukes, Mark, right now. Do you think that Iran wants nukes to attack Israel?
MARK BOWDEN, AUTHOR, “GUESTS OF THE AYATOLLAH”: No, I don‘t think so. I think there are radical elements in that government who could conceivably do something like that.
MATTHEWS: Why does Ahmadinejad want the nukes?
BOWDEN: Because I think he is rallying public support behind a regime that‘s lost a lot of popularity. And it plays well in Iran because it appeals to national pride and because it‘s a country surrounded by enemies with nuclear weapons. So it‘s a popular issue there.
MATTHEWS: Do the people of Iran know that Israel has nuclear weapons?
BOWDEN: Of course they do.
MATTHEWS: So is this a competitive thing of we want to have what they have or do they want to use them? That‘s the question.
BOWDEN: Well, I think, no. I would have to say that probably most Iranians want it because they feel it makes them more safe in the region.
MATTHEWS: Israel would not attack Iran, would it? Why would a little country like Israel attack a big country like Iran?
BOWDEN: I don‘t think that they think that will happen. But I do think that they feel vulnerable, they feel that if they—much as Saddam Hussein advertised that he had weapons that he didn‘t in fact have, he felt it made Iraq safer. He probably never believed—Saddam didn‘t, that the United States would attack.
MATTHEWS: If you were sitting in Tel Aviv right now, would you want us to go in there just to protect them?
BOWDEN: Yes. Yes.
BOWDEN: Because if you‘re an Israeli, you can‘t afford to wait and see if Ahmadinejad means what he said.
MATTHEWS: One shot is enough.
BOWDEN: They have got two big cities in Israel. And they are not going to hit Jerusalem.
MATTHEWS: They are going to hit Tel Aviv. I was over there a couple of weeks ago. I felt that feeling too.
Let me ask you about the students. We used to mock them when I was working at the Carter White House. They weren‘t students. These guys looked like older than 21 or 22. Were those people that took our 52 diplomats hostage and held them for a year, were they actually people going to school or were they just a bunch of activists?
BOWDEN: They were both. They were students who had gotten caught up in a real revolution, and they had been involved in for more than a year. Some of them had become serious full-time activists. Some of them went on to become the leaders of their intelligence ministry. But they were, in fact, students.
MATTHEWS: What did they think of President Carter, the hostages themselves, the Americans?
BOWDEN: The hostages?
MATTHEWS: Yes, what did they think of Carter‘s handling? They all got back alive. They were humiliated, but they came back alive. What did they make of that?
BOWDEN: Some of them think he should have done more. Some of them think he should have acted even if it meant their deaths or injuries. Most of them are grateful, I think, that Carter handled it in a restrained fashion and credit him with getting them home alive. And even those who are critical of him say that they think they owe their lives to him.
MATTHEWS: What about Desert One that tragic attempt to send helicopters into that country? We ended up losing a lot of brave guys that terrible night. Do they think that would have worked if those helicopters had gotten through to Tehran?
BOWDEN: Well, it wasn‘t a suicide mission. The guys who went on it certainly thought there was a chance that they could succeed. I think all of them would have agreed that it was a small chance. And that‘s the kind of guys they are.
MATTHEWS: How do you get 50 hostages out of a hostile capital city without anybody noticing it?
BOWDEN: Well, I do think that they felt that people would notice, but they were going to do it at 1 or 2 in the morning. The whole idea was to do it very fast. They were to have helicopters in place, so that they could quickly lift people out of the center of Tehran. So the idea was to, I think, hit fast, get them out fast and don‘t give the country a chance to really respond.
MATTHEWS: I always thought it would have been worse if they had been caught in the city, a bunch of American heroic guys trying to get them out of the country. They were all pinned down.
BOWDEN: Right. They were going to take them to a soccer stadium and strong point that soccer stadium. And you can just imagine the scene on your television the next morning with, you know, 100 Americans holed up in the soccer stadium surrounded by literally millions of furious armed Iranians.
MATTHEWS: That‘s what I was afraid of. I thought it would have been even worse than a tragedy of those guys, you know, crashing into the helicopter, worse than that would have been what happened downtown if they had gotten there.
Let me ask you about today. Everybody wants to know about today. Does Iran want Iraq to be run by the Shias, the majority, their people or does it want it to just go to hell, just blow up and be totally ungovernable? What would they prefer?
BOWDEN: I think they would prefer that it be run by the Shias. That it be sort of a client state of Iran.
MATTHEWS: Just like Lebanon was for so many years of Syria.
BOWDEN: Yes. And by the same token, I think the thing that they fear the most is that some sort of stable Democratic government would be formed in Iraq.
MATTHEWS: Well, can‘t it be both, Shia driven but Democratic? They are the majority.
BOWDEN: No, if you say what does Iran want, Iran would like to see a theocracy run along the lines of the government in their country.
MATTHEWS: Well, that would mean a slaughter and the end of the Sunnis. They would end up having to slaughter them.
BOWDEN: And I think they have been arming and supporting the Al-Sadr militias.
MATTHEWS: Do you think if once we pull out of there—I talked about it before with General Batiste—if we pull out of there in five years or 10 years, whenever we leave there and they are in charge, do you think there is a good chance that the majority Shia will just mow down the minority like they do in Darfur or any other country, Rwanda?
BOWDEN: I think it would be a blood bath. I think you‘re talking about a long-term civil war. I don‘t think the Sunnis are a small enough minority that they could be dispensed with that quickly. But I do think it would descend into chaos. And it would be terrible for the United States and the world.
MATTHEWS: OK. If you were president—your book, by the way, is called “Guests of the Ayatollah,” how this thing led to that, how the hostage crisis led to today. I‘ll let people read that. But do you think there is any chance the president would be better off responding to that prayerful kind of call from Tehran the other day? Should he respond to that letter from Ahmadinejad?
BOWDEN: I think he should write a letter to the Iranian people and to the world, which is what I think what Ahmadinejad‘s letter was that he sent to Bush. I don‘t think it was an honest letter from a leader of one state to another. I think it was an appeal for public support in the world and the region. And I think we should respond in kind.
MATTHEWS: Well, Mark Bowden who wrote the great book about black hawk down has written another big book, “Guests of the Ayatollah.” Mark Bowden, read it.
Play HARDBALL with us again Tuesday night at 5 and 7 Eastern. Our guests include Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
Right now it is time for “THE ABRAMS REPORT.”
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2006 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2006 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.