Guests: Ron Suskind, David Ignatius, Evan Thomas, Paul Rieckhoff, Nathaniel Fick, Al Sharpton, Melanie Morgan
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR: Sideshow: Bush and Cheney trying to shift the focus away from an unpopular war in Iraq. Was it the terrorists themselves or reporters at a newspaper who first found out about their bank records being monitored? Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. Welcome to HARDBALL. President Bush and Vice President Cheney double teamed “The New York Times,” today, blasting the newspaper for reviewing the administration‘s secret program to track bank records of suspected terrorists.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The disclosure of this program is disgraceful. We‘re at war with a bunch of people who want to hurt the United States of America. And for people to leak that program and for a newspaper to publish it does great harm to the United States of America.
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What is doubly disturbing for me is that not only have they gone forward with these stories, but they‘ve been rewarded for it. For example, in the case of the terrorist surveillance program, by being awarded the Pulitzer Prize for outstanding journalism. I think that is a disgrace.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: New White House press secretary Tony Snow put it like this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: “The New York Times” and other news organizations ought to think long and hard about whether a public‘s right to know in some cases might override somebody‘s right to live.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: More on this fight in a minute. Later, the war in Iraq remains one of the biggest concerns facing Americans today. A debate at home has broken out on whether insurgents should be granted amnesty in Iraq. We‘ll ask two veterans of the Iraq war what they think.
And we begin with the White House versus “The New York Times.” Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Ron Suskind is the author of the new book “The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America‘s Pursuit of Its Enemy Since 9/11.” David Ignatius is a “Washington Post” columnist and Evan Thomas is the assistant managing manager editor of “Newsweek.” Let me go first to Evan. Evan, Ben Bradlee, the great editor of the “Washington Post” said to edit is to choose. Was this the right choice by “The New York Times” to run this story?
EVAN THOMAS, ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR, NEWSWEEK: “The New York Times” is pretty careful about these things. You know, we don‘t know whether there has been some harm to our national security. But the record from the past is there rarely is in these cases and both the “Times” and the “Post” have been really pretty careful in this area historically. So I‘m inclined to believe that they‘ve been careful this time too.
MATTHEWS: What were their standards do you believe?
THOMAS: I think the standard always is whether they really think that there‘s going to be harm, whether the government is able to demonstrate to them, if they print this, it really is going to cost lives, it‘s going to put our national security at risk. And I believe that the government didn‘t do that, otherwise the “Times” wouldn‘t have printed it.
MATTHEWS: David Ignatius, your assessment?
DAVID IGNATIUS, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well I think that like Evan, that we‘re going to have to watch and see as we learn more about the program, more about the legal issues. If the last big flap over the press publishing national security information, namely the “Times” revelation of the NSA‘s warrantless wiretapping program is any guide, the consequence of that reporting, informing the public about something the public didn‘t know was that the public decided we want this program, basically.
I mean, you saw from the congressional disinterest in passing major new legislation that the opinion thinks it‘s OK. As a result, I think there‘s a firmer legal and political basis for this program that the public wants than there was before, so it‘s a net plus in terms of the government and the war on terror.
MATTHEWS: Well let‘s talk about this with Ron Suskind. I read your book all weekend, a hell of a book. And one of the things in it is this very question: how the United States agencies or intelligence agencies use financial, electronic transfers around the world, people moving money in the Arab world, especially, al Qaeda people. How we check up on what they‘re up to. This is a book—when did you go to publishing on this? When was your pub date?
RON SUSKIND, AUTHOR: June 20th, about a week ago.
MATTHEWS: When did you write this page 279?
SUSKIND: I‘m not sure which date I wrote when.
MATTHEWS: Well let me just tell you what you said. “Eventually not surprisingly,” and we‘re talking about electronic transfer surveillance, “our opponents figured it out. It was a matter really of deduction. Enough people got caught and a view of which activities had in common provides clues as to how they may have been identified and apprehended. We were surprised it took so long,” said one intelligence official.
So in other words, the bad guys figured out how we were catching them.
SUSKIND: Right, it‘s a process of deduction. After a while, you catch enough of them, they‘re not idiots. They say, “Well, we can‘t do the things we were doing.” They‘re not leaving electronic trails like they were.
MATTHEWS: So what‘s Cheney beefing about here?
SUSKIND: The fact is—look, I‘m sure...
MATTHEWS: Or President Bush. That the bad guys found out about it before the “Times” did.
SUSKIND: I‘m sure the program is of some value, but I think the White House ought to be straight with people, that this has been a thing of diminishing return for several years now, this kind of electronic surveillance.
MATTHEWS: Well in your book, Ron, and I know you write books over the space a couple of years, you don‘t knock them out like even an enterprise piece by “The New York Times,” that you knew well before this little spat that the president and the vice president are getting into today. That you knew that the bad guys, al Qaeda and there are other people like them around the world trying to hurt us, had resorted to carriers, to physical people, human beings, carrying stuff around.
They used to use the Western Union, which I find fascinating, like reporters used to just file dispatches, they used Western Union and then they used electronic transfers. And then they got smart because they knew we were watching them.
SUSKIND: And the common knowledge in the tops of the intelligence community. Over time, they got smart. They adapted. Frankly, the whole point of the book is to show how our enemy has adapted and what we now have to do. That‘s one of the ways they frankly adapted. The administration can be very straight with people about this fact, it‘s something that a the a lot of people know.
MATTHEWS: Do you think, Ron Suskind, that when the president got up today and got excited about this enough to go on television and blast “The New York Times,” that he knew that the al Qaeda forces are against us in the world, already knew about this thing months ago, they didn‘t need to pick up “The New York Times” this weekend.
SUSKIND: I‘m not sure what the president knew or didn‘t. But the fact is this is common knowledge, what‘s in this book at the top as I see it, the intelligence community, I‘m sure he must have known that.
MATTHEWS: Evan, what do you make of—Evan Thomas of “Newsweek,” what do you make of Congressman Peter King of the New York suburbs out there in Long Island, talking about prosecuting “The New York Times” for publishing a fact which Ron Suskind said was well known to the enemy months if not years ago?
THOMAS: I don‘t know what his motivations are, but you‘d have to think pretty hard about prosecuting a news organization, “The New York Times” or anybody else for this kind of thing.
They‘d have to prove that the “Times” and news organizations actually truly got people in danger. I think the government is a long way from that. And again, you know, this is not the first time “The New York Times” or the “Washington Post” or any top publication has been down this road, publishing this stuff.
They always talk to the government first. They don‘t just do it, they talk to the government first. There apparently were long conversations between the government and Bill Keller over at the “Times.” And after that, the “Times” decided to publish this. It‘s not something the “Times” does lightly. I don‘t have all the facts, but I do know the history here. The “Times” just does not do this unless they think that people are not going to get hurt.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to David Ignatius. David, this is a question of
as I said, Ben Bradlee used to say the job of an editor is to choose.
You were over there at the “International Herald Tribune” all those years. Let me ask you, can you ever sit on a story permanently? I understand that the “Times” held up the story of the Bay of Pigs Attack, which Kennedy later said, “I wish you hadn‘t held, it would have helped us if the story leaked,” because it was such a terrible enterprise for everybody involved and it cost the lives of many Cuban nationals who were on our side and all that.
But can a paper sit on a story permanently? I guess that‘s what the president wanted here.
IGNATIUS: You know, there are examples of newspapers not running stories that they have because they are convinced that lives will be lost, that these are real secrets, and that human beings will suffer in obvious ways.
And more to the point that there‘s no corresponding public benefit from disclosure of the information. I think that‘s really at the center of this debate. “The New York Times” obviously felt that an informed public needed to think about the privacy and other issues related to this program looking at financial records.
At the end of the day, the public may decide it‘s fine, and you know, again, what we‘re looking at here is an administration that after September 11, 2001, embarked on a whole series of very secret things, barely briefed to Congress. Now they‘re coming out, there‘s a public debate and my sense is, in this long war against terrorism, we‘ll have stronger weapons for the debate. So in that sense, I don‘t think “The New York Times” is undermining these tools. Quite the opposite you could argue.
MATTHEWS: Evan, you‘ve written some great books over the years about spooks, international—our good guys, our intelligence people, our spies on our side and the culture of those guys and women live in, which is you‘ve really got to get the other side and catch them at their game before they hurt us. Is this going to hurt them?
THOMAS: You know, I‘m not in a position to know. I doubt it. I just don‘t think that this disclosure—I think as Ron Suskind was saying earlier, I think al Qaeda has known for a long time, has assumed that we—the United States government does it kind of thing.
After all, we‘ve trumpeted the fact that we do track the terrorist money, that that‘s one of our tools, so I‘d be very surprised if the bad guys didn‘t know—didn‘t already know that they were doing it. They didn‘t need “The New York Times” to tell them that.
MATTHEWS: That was your point, Ron, in your book. Which as I‘d like to point—it takes awhile to get a book published. And in my book I‘m reading this weekend, about what you‘ve written months ago, shows up in your book and they‘re arguing about it as if it‘s almost like—I didn‘t know there was gambling going on here, Rick. I mean, it is not news.
SUSKIND: Well, the fact is we need real debates.
MATTHEWS: The bad guys know what we know.
SUSKIND: This thing with the “Times” with the government is a false debate. We need a real debate. The fact is, our enemy has adapted. We need to come up with new tools to get them. That‘s the real debate. It‘s not about who said what in this case. Of course al Qaeda knows we‘re tracking their finances, they‘re very, very good of late in the last few years about not leaving electronic trails. That‘s for a reason. We need to come up with new tools. Human intelligence is what works here, not so much this.
MATTHEWS: So what‘s going on according to your book, Ron Suskind—your book‘s called, “The One Percent Solution.” I want to come back and talk about that. Because I find it fascinating, why we went to war with Iraq, based on a one percent chance. Let me ask you about this, the book you say, since everybody knows what the president and vice-president were angry that we know about here in the United States. All the bad guys knew this, they had been carrying money around in satchels, right, or mailing or how did they get their money around?
SUSKIND: There‘s no doubt al Qaeda has been slowed down. Their operations are moving more slowly. You have to carry, you have to send messages hand-to-hand, there‘s no doubt about that, but that doesn‘t mean they‘re not ardent and they‘re not operationally successful or potentially potent. It‘s changed, this is a victory, they don‘t leave electronic trails, it slows down operations.
MATTHEWS: What you say in your book, I thought it was well done, and I‘ll just congratulate you, every war one side gets an upper hand on the other side for a while and then the other side figures out the other side‘s game. In this case you say in your book, rather succinctly, that they figured out our game. We were checking on their electronic financial transfers and they started to carrying it by hand.
SUSKIND: Absolutely and we‘re trying to come up with new games. This is the battle. It‘s call and response. It‘s adaptation, each one is adaption.
MATTHEWS: I don‘t know why the other news organizations aren‘t caught up on this. If they would just read your book, just to sell a little bit here, they would know about this a lot longer than today when Cheney and Bush started yelling. We‘ll be right back with Ron Suskind, David Ignatius and Evan Thomas. And later, we‘ll ask Iraq war veterans Nathaniel Fick and Paul Rieckhoff about the state of Iraq today, when U.S. troops should start coming home. They have interesting views on that, they say within a year or two. Iraq is moving on a path to peace. Is it? You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re back with Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Ron Suskind, author of “The One Percent Doctrine,” “Newsweek‘s” Evan Thomas and “The Washington Post” columnist David Ignatius. I want to start with you Ron because it is the cover of your book. What is the one percent doctrine?
SUSKIND: Cheney is the designer of the global strategy of the U.S., two months after 9-11, he‘s confronted with the intelligence about Pakistani nuclear scientists sitting with bin Laden and Zawahiri. It‘s a bracing bit of intelligence. Cheney says it right there, if there‘s a one percent chance that W.M.D.‘s have been given to terrorists, we need to treat it as a certainty, not in our analysis.
MATTHEWS: Did he broaden it or did he say nuclear?
SUSKIND: The fact is it gets broadened in to W.M.D., says nuclear at the time and broadened into W.M.D.
MATTHEWS: Who broadened it?
SUSKIND: Cheney. Cheney is guiding this ship.
MATTHEWS: Was there a one percent chance that Iraq posed a nuclear threat to the United States? I want a serious answer to this. Did Cheney believe there was any nuclear threat from Iraq or was it just a sales piece to get us into that war?
SUSKIND: The fact is Chris, there‘s a one percent chance you‘re carrying a W.M.D.
MATTHEWS: No, I don‘t buy that. I don‘t buy this theory that reasonable doubt includes any doubt. Is it a reasonable assumption that there‘s a one percent chance, yes or no?
SUSKIND: There was no evidence that was discernible as evidence with a capital E, that‘s clear, but the Cheney doctrine frees them from the dictates of evidence.
MATTHEWS: No it doesn‘t. It doesn‘t dictate them from a memory and a brain. Did George Tenet believe we faced a nuclear threat from Iraq and justified the war? Your book says he didn‘t, he did it to play ball with Bush for forgiving him for 9-11. That‘s what your book says.
SUSKIND: George Bush in this book is shown clearly and accurately the dilemma that guy was in. He comes from the kingdom of evidence, the intelligence community to a White House that is divorced from evidence. That was where Tenet found himself at the key time.
MATTHEWS: I read your book and I want to shorthand this. I couldn‘t find one major figure, Tenet, Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, the vice-president, Rumsfeld, the secretary of state, or Condi Rice, who was then in N.S.A., not one of them believed that Iraq offered a nuclear threat, a mushroom cloud as Condi called it. They were all playing a sales game to get us into the war, the way your book is written, it says that.
SUSKIND: I think that‘s an accurate rendition.
MATTHEWS: So in other words, we were put in the war on a lie?
SUSKIND: They made the case.
MATTHEWS: Was it a lie?
SUSKIND: They made the case and they said it‘s not about evidence, the U.S. can act for good reason or bad reason or no reason, that‘s the new age.
MATTHEWS: The average American supported that war not for Middle East policy or because they‘re ideologues or neo-cons or anything else, or crazies. They supported the war because that country was told to us to be a nuclear threat to us, that a mushroom cloud would be the smoking gun. You‘re saying that was a lie? I‘m reading the book and I‘m getting that, so if you want to say that now, fine. I find it in here.
SUSKIND: The threshold for U.S. action is suspicion. They had suspicions.
MATTHEWS: They didn‘t have suspicions. You‘re saying, I didn‘t find in here a one percent chance that Saddam Hussein.
SUSKIND: You found a zero percent chance.
MATTHEWS: I found none, because that‘s the way you wrote the book.
It was all a cover up.
SUSKIND: Dick Cheney is guiding the ship of state, call up Dick Cheney and ask him that question. The fact is that the threshold is suspicion and not evidence and that essentially is Cheney‘s response.
MATTHEWS: Let me get reaction to this. David, you‘re somewhat of the middle of the roader on this, as I‘ve discovered in reading your columns over the years. You support it as a necessity. Is that a fair assessment by Ron Suskind, that nobody really believed the nuclear threat they used to get us in.
DAVID IGNATIUS, “THE WASHINGTON POST” COLUMNIST: I think that the nuclear threat was a way of packaging the administration‘s argument, this famous phrase that we don‘t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud when we look back was outrageous. There was no evidence that Iraq was close to having a bomb. I think you‘re right to say that certainly ...
MATTHEWS: No, Ron is right. I‘m just reading.
IGNATIUS: Well, you as reader and as promoter, you‘re right to put it that way. You know, I think the administration had other reasons it was worried about Iraq. You know, they weren‘t making up the fear about chemical weapons that ended up being wrong, they weren‘t making up the fear about biological weapons, ended up being wrong. But on the nuclear, there was no serious evidence that they were close to having an nuclear weapon.
MATTHEWS: Evan Thomas, your assessment of the charge made in this book that basically there was a dishonest case made for war. The name of the book, “The One Percent Doctrine.” I couldn‘t find the one percent in this book of justification for a threat, a nuclear threat from Iraq.
EVAN THOMAS, “NEWSWEEK”: I haven‘t read the book. I know that Ron Suskind is a good reporter, but I don‘t think they‘re quite that cynical. I think there‘s a feverish atmosphere back then. People were really worried, they may have been unreasonably worried, but I think they were genuinely worried and I don‘t think they were simply manipulating us with lies.
MATTHEWS: Respond to that, because Ron, in your book, you keep talking about how the people at the top of this administration kept, George Tenet was on a limited leash, occasionally would pull out some of these claims at a presidential speech like in Cincinnati and then somebody else would put back in the claims. These claims kept being pushed back in on the American people through the president‘s mouth that weren‘t justified by the evidence.
SUSKIND: If you divorce yourself from the evidentiary rules, you‘ve got all sorts of creative license. A and B, the fact is that I write about the fever that Evan is talking about. There was a fever. The fact is let‘s be clear as to what was the intent here. There was a lot of fever.
MATTHEWS: Was the fever to go to war of was the fever the fear of real nuclear threat?
SUSKIND: The fever was to go to war. The fever was to make an example of Saddam Hussein so others would not exercise similar temerity. That was the demonstration model.
MATTHEWS: If he tried that argument. Let me say this. If the president of the United States tried that argument on the American people, he would have been laughed out of town. They went to war as an example?
SUSKIND: Make an example of Hussein so others will not challenge the United States.
MATTHEWS: We went to war on self defense and you make a brilliant case in here that we were justified going to war based on the evidence given to us, which you say was bogus, right?
SUSKIND: It‘s in the book.
MATTHEWS: Thank you. Ron Suskind, thank you. The name of the book, “The One Percent Doctrine” and it‘s a reporter‘s book, not an ideologue‘s book. David Ignatius, great guy, thanks for joining us. Evan Thomas, an expert on intelligence. Still ahead, why are Democrats and Republicans screaming bloody murder over Iraq‘s plan to move towards reconciliation? Isn‘t that the reason we‘re in there, to bring those sides together and get out of there? You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Officials in California are investigating a possible terror threat on a cargo ship in Port Hueneme, in Ventura County, California. NBC counterterrorism analyst Roger Cressey joins us now by telephone. Roger, what do you make of this weird line on this—the hold of this ship coming into our harbor? “This nitro for you, Mr. George W. Bush and your Jewish cronies.” What‘s that about, do you think?
ROGER CRESSEY, NBC NEWS ANALYST (on phone): Yes, I think it‘s pretty bizarre, Chris. As a general rule, al Qaeda doesn‘t telegraph its punch like that, so something tells me someone at the port of embarkation was trying to be a little bit of a wise guy and as a result, this ship is being taken apart piece by piece while they investigate exactly what they have on board.
MATTHEWS: How do you when you look at a terrorist threat like this, which is a terrorist threat, where somebody, you know, prank calls, we‘ve looked at those in police stories. People call up and say I‘m going to do this, I‘m going to kidnap up your kid, blah blah blah. In this case they say there‘s nitro aboard. Certainly that‘s what the message says, nitroglycerin. Is that a reasonable suspicion that there could be nitroglycerin—or how would you use nitroglycerin in an explosive attack like this?
CRESSEY: Well law enforcement always has to operate on the assumption that it‘s a legitimate, because you have to run it to ground, you have to check out what‘s on board, what‘s in these containers, because as you know, stranger things have happened.
So it‘s not feasible that someone could pull together a crude explosive device. But the idea that somehow they‘re going to put nitroglycerin, which is a very unstable liquid to begin with in the hole of a ship like this, is a bit of a stretch.
MATTHEWS: Well my knowledge of nitroglycerin is from people who do it for heart treatments, but people who take it for heart treatments. But people who—it‘s so volatile, so unstable as a chemical, a compound, that you almost, if you drop it on the ground, it blows up.
CRESSEY: Yes, absolutely. So the idea that you‘re going to put it in some type of explosive device that‘s going to survive on the high seas and then everything associated with moving cargo in and out is pretty far fetched. But again, it‘s the responsibility of law enforcement to run every one of these to ground no matter how bizarro they might sound on the face of it.
MATTHEWS: I‘m talking with Roger Cressey, the terrorism expert, about a report we just got at NBC, that there‘s a—there was a threat, real or not, a threat about a possible terrorist attack at this port out in—Port Hueneme out in Ventura County, California.
And of course the question is how good are our port checking right now? How good is it Roger, generally speaking, right now, checking on cargo, the cartons coming into the country, the big containers, what‘s being checked?
CRESSEY: Well it‘s actually not that good because what they‘re doing is they‘re trying to identify the most at-risk containers coming in, so that means five percent of the overall cargo that comes in, five-to-seven percent, and what they want to do is check 100 percent of that five-to-seven percent.
So do the math and there‘s a lot that is not being checked and I think one of the big issues, Chris, is how do you put together a defensive system for port security and container security where you‘re checking the cargo when it gets on the boat, verify what it is and lock it down and then making sure it‘s not tampered with en route. And then being able to verify once it arrives at the port of debarkation that nothing has happened to it. And we still, almost five years after 9/11, have not come up with a comprehensive solution for that.
MATTHEWS: Great. Well as a banana boat, I think it would be probably be low on the priority of checking, in terms of a terrorist attack, a banana boat out of Guatemala. Thank you very much, Roger Cressey.
When we return, reaction to that reconciliation plan that would give amnesty to Iraqi insurgents from two veterans. The Iraqi war, Americans speak. By the way, watch HARDBALL tomorrow live from New York. Our guests will include New York City police commissioner Ray Kelly and I‘m going to be on “Stephen Colbert” tomorrow night. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL, a debate has broken out over Iraq‘s plan for reconciliation between the various warring factions in that country and whether Iraq should offer amnesty to insurgents, who have opposed the American occupation and a new government, but did not commit terrorist attacks on American soldiers or Iraqis and are also willing to renounce violence for the future.
Iraq war veteran Paul Rieckhoff is the executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. He‘s also the author of “Chasing Ghosts.” Fellow veteran, Nathaniel Fick, is a marine captain who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, he‘s the author of “One Bullet Away.”
Paul let me ask you the question, how do we get an eventually peace in that country? How do we he work it out between the Sunnis, who are losing out here because they‘re the minority, and the Shias, who are going to run the new government?
PAUL RIECKHOFF, IRAQ WAR VETERAN: I think reconciliation is inevitably going to be a part of that Chris, but I think by pardoning members of the insurgency, people who may have in some way been involved in attacks on Americans, I think it‘s sending a dangerous message. I think it‘s saying that attacks on Americans or being a part of attacks on America is OK and as long as we‘ve got over 100,000 troops in theater over there, I think it sends a dangerous message to our troops. Are we serious about fighting this war or not? And if we‘re not, I think we‘re communicate that by pardoning people who legitimately have been a part of the insurgency.
NATHANIEL FICK, IRAQ WAR VETERAN: I think if we‘re serious about what we say of the Iraqis standing up as we sit down and a political process taking over of armed conflict, we have to accept reconciliation. It‘s part of every conflict, the Civil War, the Second World War, South Africa, the Balkans, reconciliation is going to happen.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you Paul, how do you see it working its way out, assuming we get out of that country in two or three years, the remaining bulk of our forces, is that a reasonable proposition? And two, how do we do that unless we reconcile the two potentially civil warring sides?
RIECKHOFF: I think it‘s a reasonable proposition, but not right now, not when we‘re still debating troop levels that are well over 100,000 and our troops are already fighting an increasingly tough insurgency. I think it really does send a bad message to the Iraqi population and sends a bad message to the world. That right now we‘re going to deal with the insurgents or people who are cooperating with the insurgency.
MATTHEWS: How do you get the Sunnis, who are going to lose out under this new government because the majority is Shia, once we leave, how do you get the people who are losers under the new order to give up, unless you say OK, deal is off, all is forgiven, go back to where you live, live your own lives, make the best of it. How do you do that if you say you‘re going to keep a bulk of them in jail for a definite period.
RIECKHOFF: Well, I think it‘s tough, but that‘s the enormity of the problem we‘re dealt with here. I think if the Iraqis are going to stand up then they have to do that on the security side as well as the political side. If they want to do this, it can‘t be while we still have 100,000 troops on the ground. It‘s way too soon, it puts our people in jeopardy. And I think anybody in the Senate is really going to face a tough issue come reelection in November.
MATTHEWS: What‘s the vote they‘re going to have? Are you saying this is coming before the Senate?
RIECKHOFF: Well, there was a vote last week where 19 senators voted in favor of amnesty and I think that‘s not going to body well with the troops, it‘s not going to bode well with veterans of this conflict and in their districts going home, they‘re going to have a lot of explaining to do.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you Nathaniel, how do they deal with this politically then? Because it seems like a sequencing thing, if I‘m hearing Paul correctly, it‘s yes sure when they get complete control of their government, we‘re out of there, they can settle their fish the way the want to, but as long as we‘re there, we can‘t be talking about amnesty for guys that shot and killed our people.
FICK: Clearly it‘s a sequencing thing. Forgiving past attacks is one thing, sanctioning or legitimatizing current and future attacks is another. By saying that amnesty will take place once the bulk of American troops are out, by specifying a distinction between low-level operators and high-level planners, clearly you put Eichmann on trial at Nuremberg, not every Nazi infantryman.
MATTHEWS: Every Vermacht infantryman. A lot of them were not Nazis.
Some of them were maybe.
FICK: By drawing a distinction between foreigners and Iraqis, there should be no amnesty for foreign fighters in Iraqis, only for Iraqi insurgents. Finally, you‘ve got to create some social mechanism going forward, to bring these guys you‘re pardoning back into the fold, otherwise you haven‘t really solved the problem.
MATTHEWS: But we can agree here, or you two fighting men can agree, I hope, that, maybe we shouldn‘t agree, but I think I hear you agreeing that ultimately it‘s up to the Iraqis to settle their civil war, to end the fight between the majority Shia and the minority Sunni, just the way we ended world war II, where we killed as many Nazis or a number of them but we basically said to the fighting people, who weren‘t obviously political, the war is over. Is that right, Paul?
RIECKHOFF: I think it is right. We‘ve got to determine what our metrics are for success and what a time line is. I think that‘s part of the reason why so many people in this country and people on the ground in Iraq want to see some sort of a time line.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the time. It seems to me, let me throw this proposition out. We have two responsibilities left in that country, one of them, we have a new government over there, they filled out the cabinet, it‘s to try to end the civil war, potential civil war. They‘re trying to end the fighting between the two large groups over there, the Shia and the smaller group, the Sunni, who are obviously losing out here. That‘s the one goal.
The other goal is to try to kill, or destroy or chase out of the country the terrorists that have come in from the al Qaeda forces and related forces that came in from the outside since we got in there. Is that a reasonable goal from now on, those two goals, unite the country, stay close enough to the action, whether it‘s outside of the country or inside of the country, to kill off the true terrorists that have come in there since we‘ve come in.
RIECKHOFF: Sure, those are reasonable goals, but how do you measure them. That‘s the biggest problem that we‘ve had in this national discussion and I think where the president has really failed. He hasn‘t managed expectations, we don‘t know if that means a number of troops trained, does that mean a number of attacks on Americans. What does that mean? How do we know we‘re moving toward that goal. That‘s something that we need to know as voting Americans, that something our troops on the ground need to know. We need to know when the goal line is coming. Are we going to be there five months, five years, 50 years. We need a ballpark.
MATTHEWS: Yes, let me ask you the same questions Nathaniel. Does it seem reasonable, our enemies are still the terrorists who moved into that country, the people that president always says rightly or wrongly, better to fight them there than here. He‘s obviously not talking about Iraqi Sunnis who are just in some sense defending a government they don‘t like, us or the new government. But our real goal is to get those people out who went in there to fight us there because they‘d like to fight us anywhere.
FICK: I guess I would define our goals downward a little bit and look at strategic American national interests, one is prevent non-state actors from operating in Iraq. People who want to reach out and touch us, and second, to prevent the spread of regional instability, the political process in Iraq, what happens next, whether it stays together as one country or breaks up, that‘s largely for the Iraqis to decide. I think we need to focus more on American national interests.
MATTHEWS: How do we get out of there? How do we say we‘ve done the job?
FICK: It‘s an interesting question about time lines. I think that a phased withdrawal is something we have to talk about.
MATTHEWS: But that‘s irrelevant. You have a phased withdrawal, you say here‘s the clock, I‘m going to start it ticking, like how long are we going to use the tennis court. Is it that simple, saying we‘re going to be out of here in two years.
FICK: No, we can‘t set a time line. I say that as a military guy. Setting a time line is bad for a couple reasons. If the time line is to short, your enemy is going to wait you out. If it‘s too long they‘re going to drive you out. I see no value in giving away that part of our plan.
MATTHEWS: Should we have a secret time line?
FICK: Clearly there‘s going to be a military, the military is going to have a time line.
MATTHEWS: What do you make George Casey, the word that came out in the paper the last couple of days, since I‘ve been gone, that there is some sort of plan to bring out a couple brigades?
FICK: It‘s common sense. I‘m not surprised by it.
MATTHEWS: So within a year or two, you say we have a significantly lower number of troops.
MATTHEWS: Do you agree with that?
RIECKHOFF: I do. I think it‘s inevitable. It doesn‘t matter if you‘re George Bush or Congressman Murtha, we‘re coming home. What we‘re arguing about now is a matter of time and the pace in which we do it. It‘s interesting to see, if the Democrats had proposed the same plan that General Casey did, there would have been Republicans on the hill saying this is cut and run. We need to move past this rhetoric.
MATTHEWS: Do you have a sense, both of you, last question, do you have a sense that after all the political smoke is blown away, that we‘re really going to be coming out of there by the end of next year or the early part of 2008, that we‘re certainly not going to be in there beyond Bush‘s term?
RIECKHOFF: I think so, and it‘s because we‘ve overextended our military to a dramatic extent and it‘s to the point where we may be actually endangering our ability to guard the homeland. We‘ve taken troops out of places like Korea and Afghanistan and instead diverted them to Iraq and we can‘t even respond to homeland defense issues like hurricane Katrina. We‘re just overextended here and at some point he‘s going to have to pick over there or over here. He‘s always said we have to fight them over there so we don‘t have to fight them over here. What if we have to do both? That‘s the problem he‘s going to start to deal with very soon.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you Nathaniel. Do you think we‘re going to have to have the troops out before the president leaves? He says the next president will have to decide. I wonder about that. What do you think?
FICK: I disagree. My sense is...
MATTHEWS: ... He‘s going to have to deal with his own situation?
FICK: Without a doubt.
MATTHEWS: So you gentlemen both agree that by the year 2008, we will be out of Iraq?
RIECKHOFF: I think we‘re going to start to see significant movement downward, absolutely. And I think it‘s because the generals in the Pentagon are going to force him to draw back our presence over there. I just think given the size of the active duty, we‘re very much over committed. And you can‘t continue to run the active duty in the Reserves this hard without a break.
FICK: I agree with Paul. The active duty force and the reserve force can‘t keep up this pace, but I think our own national interest will keep some presence on the ground there. Certainly not this large, but some presence.
MATTHEWS: Something to fight the terrorists with, to stay out of politics.
FICK: Oh, that‘s right. And to maintain regional stability.
MATTHEWS: We‘re not in the political business anymore. Thank you, a lot of clarity there. Thank you Paul Rieckhoff and thank you Nathaniel Fick and thank you for your service, both of you gentlemen to our country.
Up next, the reverend Al Sharpton and radio host Melanie Morgan will be here to talk about the debate over Iraq. Does the winner of the midterm election depend on how things are going in Iraq come November? It sure does. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. George Bush and Dick Cheney today slammed the media for reporting the administration‘s secret program to track bank records around the world. In defending their decision to run the story, the editor of “The New York Times” cited the Bay of Pigs back in 1961 and the Iraq war itself as two examples where the press in retrospect failed to dig deep enough.
Here to pick apart the politics of this story is former presidential candidate Al Sharpton and radio talk show host, Melanie Morgan. Melanie, what‘s the issue here as you see it?
MELANIE MORGAN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I see it as treason, plain and simple, and my advice to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales at this point in time is chop chop, hurry up, let‘s get these prosecutors fired up and get the subpoenas served, get the indictments going and get the guy behind jail.
MATTHEWS: What would be the crime, what‘s the crime?
MORGAN: Treason. You do not reveal secrets in a time of war. And for what purpose? Bill Keller made some sort of incomprehensible defense on his Web site of “The New York Times” decision to unveil secrets, statewide secrets with this financial data plan.
I do not understand what he‘s talking about. It‘s something about oh, well, the public has a right to know if there‘s a change of policy. What in the world does that mean? What I do know is that you cannot risk American lives who are fighting overseas at war in order to, what, get a Pulitzer Prize?
MATTHEWS: All right, Reverend Al Sharpton, your view of this? What is the issue as you see it?
REVEREND AL SHARPTON, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well I think that the Bush administration has to come to terms with the fact that the United States Constitution is not suspended when you have a war.
And people of American citizenry have the right to their civil liberties protected and the press has the right to freedom of press to report its findings.
I think that it is absolutely ludicrous to act as though, to present a policy that infringes upon the privacy of American citizens is violating something other than the privacy of American citizens.
MORGAN: That‘s preposterous.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Melanie, we just had on Ron Suskind, whose book is called “The One Percent Doctrine.” I was reading it over the weekend. And he reports in his book, and whatever—I don‘t know what his politics are, but he‘s a damn good reporter, he‘s a “Wall Street Journal” guy. He said that the enemy out there was aware that we were surveilling them in terms of their financial transfers a long time ago because they noticed how we were picking up people. We were getting them on the base of their financial transfers. In other words, he said the story is already out, the “Times” reported something we didn‘t know but the enemy did.
MORGAN: Well that doesn‘t matter to me. And I am aware of the fact...
MATTHEWS: Why not? Why doesn‘t it matter?
MORGAN: ... Because there is a certain responsibility that comes with being a journalist. I‘ve been a journalist for over 30 years and it is incomprehensible to me that this would have taken place during World War II. If “The New York Times” had done what it is doing today, publishing state secrets, it‘s classified information, there is a law against it, it‘s not depriving anybody, we have not gone outside the boundary of the rights and responsibilities that the administration has, it‘s against the law. If this had happened during World War II, we would have all been sunk. This is just shameful behavior.
MATTHEWS: Reverend Sharpton, what is the violation of U.S. civil liberties here? I don‘t see it.
SHARPTON: I think that for people to have—first we hear the wiretapping, now we‘re hearing banks. I mean, we are in a state of where this administration seems that any and everything they want to do, they can do. And if someone reports it, that they‘re the ones that have stepped outside of boundaries here.
As you stated, the adversaries, the enemies of this country are clearly not dependent on “The New York Times” to tell them what we‘re doing.
MORGAN: Yes, but they‘re sure helping.
SHARPTON: And I think the American people have the right to know, particularly given all of the follies we‘ve seen in this war, where we have seen continual infringement upon our rights. We‘ve gone from wiretapping, now we‘re going into bank records. I mean, this administration thinks there is nothing sacred about an American citizen‘s privacy.
MORGAN: Let me ask the Reverend Sharpton this question. What right would be violated if somebody looked from overseas at bank records, of a suspicious transactions here in America, that might be going to an identified al Qaeda terrorist cell? Now how would your rights be violated, Reverend?
SHARPTON: If in fact that that is all they‘re doing. Where my rights would be violated and anyone listening to me rights would be violated is if you have an administration, Justice Department or other areas of law enforcement, that can deem anyone as suspicious and the line has not been drawn. We have seen this administration abuse..
MORGAN: ... The line has been drawn. The line has been drawn very clearly. The administration has very specific guidelines, they‘ve stated those guidelines and they remain top secret until “The New York Times” in its arrogance decided it knows better what is best for Americans and our safety than the United States government.
SHARPTON: We are talking about the same administration that leaked the name of a CIA operative because they had the audacity to have their husband oppose the war? Are we talking about that administration?
MORGAN: Oh, that is such a completely bogus argument.
SHARPTON: Oh, that did not happen? Let‘s talk reality. There is a reason why members in the media and the public do not trust this administration, exposing CIA operatives is one of them.
MORGAN: Yes, because of people on the left like yourself—the people on the left like yourself have been creating lies and spreading them repeatedly, that‘s why...
MATTHEWS: ... OK, let‘s try to get back to—lady and gentleman, I have to get back to a question.
SHARPTON: Let me respond. We‘re not talking about left or right here. We don‘t expose CIA operatives, you do.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Melanie—thanks for coming on, by the way, but let me ask you Melanie, do you really mean treason? You mean put them in jail for life? I don‘t know what treason carries as a sanction, but I assume the penalty are incredibly severe, 20 years perhaps. You are saying to put Bill Keller, the editor of “The New York Times” and his associates in prison for 20 years?
MELANIE MORGAN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Absolutely. I absolutely am advocating that. What has happened is shameful. If he was ultimately the one responsible for making the decision to publish.
MATTHEWS: What about the N.S.A., would you do the same in the N.S.A.
MORGAN: Yes, absolutely I would.
MATTHEWS: You would put him in jail for 20 years for that?
MORGAN: Yes I would, yes, because when you break the law, you break the law and the press, the media in this country has got to learn one thing, that they have to operate under the same laws, and the same rules and regulations that all the rest of America faces.
MATTHEWS: We now know on the record, that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby both talked to two reporters and gave away the identity, the undercover identity of a CIA undercover agent. Should they face any criminal time for that?
MORGAN: Chris, I know that you have been fixated on Karl Rove.
MATTHEWS: We‘re talking about 20 year sentences. I‘m just asking should they suffer any penalty their behavior?
MORGAN: I am trying to tell you that they broke no laws when there was absolutely no evidence whatsoever by saying that name out loud, that she was even covert.
SHARPTON: They talked to two reporters. That‘s not treason?
MORGAN: That‘s their job.
SHARPTON: Oh, so they can talk to reporters and confirm or give or in
some way discuss names -
MORGAN: You know ...
SHARPTON: I didn‘t interrupt you. They can discuss with the press what they want that is classified but it‘s treason if Bill Keller or somebody does? This is obviously a different standard.
MORGAN: No it is not. There is a 1917 law that is on the books that deals with media responsibility, in terms of leaking classified secrets.
SHARPTON: What about government responsibility? What about a president in the White House leaking or confirming the name of a CIA operative? There‘s no laws on the books to protect that?
MORGAN: It was a covert CIA operative and there was no evidence that Valerie Plame was ever a covert operative.
MATTHEWS: OK. We‘ll be right back with Melanie Morgan and the Reverend Al Sharpton. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back. Treasury Secretary John Snow has sent a scathing letter to “New York Times” editor Bill Keller just now, saying the Times decision to report on the terrorist-finance tracking program was “irresponsible and harmful to the security of Americans and freedom loving people worldwide.” We are back with former presidential candidate Al Sharpton, and radio talk show host Melanie Morgan. I should say there‘s an interesting portion of this letter that went to Bill Keller at the Times from the secretary of the treasury, “you have defended your decision to compromise this program by asserting that terror financiers now know our methods for tracking their funds and have already moved to other methods to send money.
The fact that your editors believe themselves to be qualified to assess how terrorists are moving money betrays a breathtaking arrogance and a deep misunderstanding of this program and how it works. While terrorists are relying more heavily than before on cumbersome efforts to move money, such as cash carriers, we continue to see them using the formal financial system, which has made this particular program incredibly valuable.” Your response to that Reverend Sharpton.
SHARPTON: Again, I think this administration speaks out of both sides of its mouth. I think the American people has a right to information. I the press has a right to report it, and I certainly don‘t think an administration that has had serious accusations of releasing names of CIA operative and the only defense she can with is there‘s no evidence she was covert. I mean, come on, then why was there an investigation? If she was not an operative, then that‘s even more of a reason why the vice president and Karl Rove should not have been putting her in that light as they had conversation with the media. They want to manipulate the press and I think the American public should not stand for that.
MORGAN: You know, the shocking shallowness of the reverend‘s argument, astounds me. If all he can bring up is Valerie Plame and Plamegate, it shows how bereft you people are of any kind of patriotism or any kind of ...
MATTHEWS: Who are you people?
MORGAN: The people on the left. That‘s who I‘m talking about. The people who think that it‘s more important for a Pulitzer prize to be awarded to “The New York Times” for a so-called get story than it is to protect American lives and prevent another 3,000 deaths, like we saw after September 11th. It is stunning to me that we are having this argument.
SHARPTON: Melanie, you do not believe that by protecting operatives of the CIA ...
MORGAN: I‘m not going to discuss Valerie Plame or any of that.
SHARPTON: Of course you‘re not because you can‘t defend it.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to a couple points her. Melanie, you made a very serious charge that Bill Keller and the others at “The New York Times” should be charged with treason. You accused him of being guilty of that charge. What about Ron Suskind, he‘s got a new book out. I just had him on tonight, “The One Percent Doctrine.” Wherein he does report, and I think a lot of reporters have reported this before, at least some of it, that we have been out there freezing money around the world, electronic transfers, freezing the accounts of some of the bad guys.
We have been tracking the bad guys through the international financial transfer system. What portion of this new story do you think is treasonous? I think you and I knew, as any reporter would know, that our government was using every electronic ability it had, including checking on all kinds of electronic transfers of data and certainly of money. We all knew this, what is new here that is treasonous?
MORGAN: Well, let me, first of all, agree with the point. I knew, anybody who has any common sense would have figured out that the government is using this tracking system, but what is different is that it is protected and classified as a secret, and who are we as members of the media to determine what is important or not important under a classification. We are not qualified as media members, and we don‘t have all of the information and that‘s why they make things top secret, and that‘s why they have laws against leakers, and that‘s why people who break the laws and continue to do so with impunity should be charged and tried.
MATTHEWS: OK, Thank you very much Melanie Morgan. Reverend Sharpton, I‘ve got no time left, but I appreciate you both being on. Play HARDBALL with us again Tuesday night, that‘s tomorrow. I‘ll be live in New York. Our guests will include City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and I‘ll be on Steve Colbert later that night, tomorrow night. Right now it‘s time for “THE ABRAMS REPORT.”
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