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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Dec. 21

Read the transcript to the Thursday show

Guests: Michael Isikoff, Scott Fredericksen, David Gergen, Lynn Sweet, Tony Blankley, Michael Feldman, Ben Ginsberg

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Here comes the judge.  A federal judge attacks a HARDBALL guest for saying bad things about Vice President Cheney‘s number one guy, Scooter Libby.  So let‘s keep up the heat.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.  

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews.  HARDBALL hits the news.  Today, a federal judge threatened an attorney for something a lawyer said last night on this show. 

Melanie Sloan, an attorney for former Ambassador Joe Wilson was on the show last night to talk about why her client is trying to avoid testifying for the defense in the perjury and obstruction trial of the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.  Here is part of my exchange with Sloan last night. 


MATTHEWS:  The D.C. jury sitting in this case of Scooter Libby, if they were to learn that Joe Wilson had somehow put out the word that his wife was an undercover agent before Scooter Libby said anything to anyone, wouldn‘t that mitigate against his guilt? 


WASHINGTON:  No, because the issue is not anymore what Mr. Libby may have said regarding Mrs. Wilson.  It is that he lied in court, that he lied to the grand jury, that he lied to the FBI, and that‘s what Mr. Libby is being charged with.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think a jury would still find him guilty if it was clear that he was not the first to leak? 

SLOAN:  I think a jury could easily still find him guilty without being the first to leak, because that‘s not what he‘s being charged with.  He is not charged with leaking, he is charged with making false statements. 


MATTHEWS:  But today, the federal judge who will oversee the trial of Scooter Libby admonished that attorney, Melanie Sloan, for those remarks. 

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster joins us now with more. 

David, what did the judge have a problem with on HARDBALL?  

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, the judge had an shoe with Melanie Sloan saying that a jury could easily find Scooter Libby.  And it‘s not because that may or may not be true, but because Sloan has some issues related to the case. 

And, secondly, Judge Walton is about to enter this phase where he‘s going to be trying to find an impartial jury pool and he doesn‘t want any inside who may be perceived to have any inside information or special knowledge to taint the jury pool one way or the other. 

So, today, the judge issued an order reminding all the lawyers in the case not to try this case in public.  He also added a very special footnote for Melanie Sloan, referring to her comments here on HARDBALL last night. 

The judge said, quote, “Such comments by a member of the bar and especially someone who was a former prosecutor is not only shocking but borders on unethical conduct.  Counsel should have known that the comments that she made were improper, but if she did not, she does now.  Counsel is therefore on notice that any similar comments will not be tolerated.” 

A sort of veiled threat that if Melanie Sloan keeps this up, the judge could haul her into court and explain why she should not be charged with contempt. 

As for Joe Wilson, it is still widely expected that the judge will rule in Wilson‘s favor and not force him to testify, in part because the defense has already signaled that they only sent a subpoena to Wilson protectively and they are now not planning on calling Wilson as a witness. 

Furthermore, in order for them to get Wilson‘s testimony, they would have to show that he has direct information about what Scooter Libby is charged with, and it does not appear that Wilson has any of that information. 

In any case, Scooter Libby stands accused of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements.  He is essentially accused of lying to investigators about his conversations with reporters, and also lying about how he learned information about Joe Wilson‘s wife, former CIA operative Valerie Wilson. 

The thread that runs through this entire case, as we have stated before, is that this is a case about how the Bush administration, and especially the vice president‘s office, sold this war to the American people and then defended the war in the face of criticism from the likes of Joe Wilson.  Vice President Cheney has already said that he will be a witness in this case and will testify. 

MATTHEWS:  That is nice of him. 

SHUSTER:  But this case does have the potential, as we said, Chris, of exposing a lot of political liability for the Bush administration as this rock is overturned and the vice president, for example, is forced to answer a lot of questions publicly that he has so far refused—Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  I can‘t wait to see the bug life under that rock.  Anyway, thank you very much, David Shuster. 

SHUSTER:  Thanks, Chris.

Michael Isikoff is an investigative reporter, the best one in Washington.  He works for “Newsweek.”  He‘s also author of the blockbuster “Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.”  By the way, if you want to know anything about this issue, the big leak story, the role of WMD or the non-role of WMD in the selling of this war and all about the stuff that went on, the hanky-panky read this book. 

Scott Fredericksen is a former associate independent counsel. 

My belief, as a citizen, is the big crime here is they sold us on a war with phony arguments about WMD and phony deals with the Niger government to buy uranium.  But let‘s get to this trial.  What is Scooter Libby under trial for right now? 

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NEWSWEEK.COM:  Perjury and obstruction of justice relating to what he told the grand jury and the FBI about how he learned about the identity of Valerie Wilson and who he told it to. 

MATTHEWS:  He learned it from the vice president, didn‘t he? 

ISIKOFF:  Yes, he learned—according to his own testimony, he learned from the vice president and... 

MATTHEWS:  So how can he claim he heard it from a reporter if he heard it from the vice president?  Which is which? 

ISIKOFF:  He says he forgot that the vice president told him this and then only relearned it when Tim Russert told him in a conversation about a month later.  The problem, of course, is that Tim Russert has said, under oath, that he never had such a conversation. 

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t this an open and shut case?  I mean, this guy—there is so much evidence if you read the prosecution when they laid it out.  So many times he expressed not only knowledge of the fact that he learned that Valerie Wilson was an undercover agent, he knew all about it in all these conversations. 

Then he claims after all the conversations that occurred where he showed his knowledge of this, including admitted he got it from the vice president, he says, oh, I learned it from somebody else.

ISIKOFF:  I don‘t think there is any such thing as an open and shut case.  As the O.J. Simpson prosecutors about that.


MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Scott, what could be a defense here? 

SCOTT FREDERICKSEN, FMR. ASSOC. IND. COUNSEL:  Well, you‘ve got lost of defenses.

MATTHEWS:  I mean, logically? 

FREDERICKSEN:  I mean, you‘ve got the vice president coming into testify for him.  You‘ve got a darn good defense.  You‘ve got the defense that...

MATTHEWS:  But he told him about the identity of Valerie Wilson.  He‘s part of the deal here. 

FREDERICKSEN:  So, when did he tell him though?  Did he tell him after he had his conversation with Russert? 

ISIKOFF:  No, a month before.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he certainly told him before he showed evidence of this. 

FREDERICKSEN:  Well, I know, but that is an issue in the trial and that‘s one of the things that Vice President Cheney‘s going to talk about. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Cheney is going lie in court to protect this guy? 

FREDERICKSEN:  I would never suspect that our vice president would lie. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Cheney has already been to the president of the United States begging for a pardon here? 

ISIKOFF:  Actually, interesting news on that front today.  The Justice Department released the list of the White House Christmas pardons, some 21 people, I think it was.  This was a list that Scooter Libby‘s defenders would have very much wanted him to be on, and they would have used—in fact, I think they did use the disclosures in “Hubris” about Richard Armitage‘s role as the original leaker to try to make the case. 

But the political context of the Iraq policy in disarray and Democrats taking control of Congress made it impossible.  Scooter Libby is not on the list of Christmas pardons.

MATTHEWS:  But Scooter Libby is something of an expert on parsons since he‘s the guy that got Mark Rich‘s pardon. 

ISIKOFF:  Yes, he was.  He was the lawyer for Mark Rich who got pardoned. 

FREDERICKSEN:  But, look, what we are looking here is a vice president

a sitting vice president being cross examined.  And that is precedent setting, and that is going to be huge. 

MATTHEWS:  But everybody knows, who follows the war in Iraq, that the vice president was the guy out there pitching this whole argument about a nuclear program, pitching the connection to Iraq—to Niger, pitching it over and over again even after the facts came out, pitching the connection with 9/11 when there wasn‘t one.  He was the biggest hawk of all the hawks and everything he said turned out not to be true. 

Why would any jury in D.C.—and it‘s a Democratic town here, we all know and any pool that you draw jurors from here, they‘re going to be Democrats.  They are not going to trust these guys to start with.  Why would they believe Dick Cheney?

FREDERICKSEN:  Well, the war isn‘t the issue here.

MATTHEWS:  It isn‘t among this jury?

FREDERICKSEN:  No, it‘s not going to be the issue here.


FREDERICKSEN:  The issue is did Scooter Libby knowingly lie when he was interviewed by the FBI agents and went into the grand jury, or did he make a mistake?  You know, we all make mistakes and they‘re going to tell us that, the vice president is going to come in and say, you know, this man was the most loyal...

MATTHEWS:  They were obsesses with the issue of this leak.  They were obsessed with destroying Joe Wilson‘s wife.  Over and over—and everybody in journalism knows this.  They were all over the place, Scooter and the vice president, the same nervous system, night after night, saying how are we going stop these people. 

FREDERICKSEN:  The closing argument for Fitzgerald, that‘s right.

ISIKOFF:  The really interesting thing we need to watch here is the cross-examination of the...


FREDERICKSEN:  That‘s two heavyweights.

ISIKOFF:  Two heavyweights.  The essence of the Libby defense is Scooter Libby had so many other things on his mind, he was busy with so many pressing national security matters that this Wilson matter was a relatively low level, insignificant thing.  And Cheney will back him up on that. 

FREDERICKSEN:  That‘s right.

ISIKOFF:  He will say I was consulting with Scooter Libby about crisis all over the world during this period, and this was just one.  Then Cheney under goes cross-examination by Fitzgerald.  Fitzgerald brings out those hand-written notes from the vice president, scribbling on Joe Wilson‘s op-ed about raising the issue... 


MATTHEWS:  Don‘t you think they are going bring White House staffers in to show that they were obsessed with this? 

ISIKOFF:  Of course.  And they have got people who have already testified under oath.  Look, when the indictment came out, it looked like a reasonably strong case based on the contradictions in the record and in the testimony.  But, you know, Libby has got some pretty good lawyers too. 


MATTHEWS:  Said well.  So let me ask you this.  Do you think the sneaky or tweaky defense I was too busy to think about this when everybody knows that the vice president had a personal interest in knocking down Joe Wilson‘s argument, because Joe Wilson‘s argument was the president took us to war with a bogus nuclear threat. 

FREDERICKSEN:  Sure, but, you know, the standard isn‘t what you just cite here.  The standard is, did you knowingly lie.  Did you knowingly obstruct?

MATTHEWS:  But don‘t we have seven cases in evidence now of when he demonstrated a knowledge of the fact that he got the information about Joe Wilson‘s wife long before he had this conversation he claims he learned it in.

FREDERICKSEN:  No one is saying this isn‘t a tough case for them.  It absolutely is a tough case. But he has got the best counsel—a perjury and obstruction charge is a difficult to get a jury to buy, because we all make mistakes here.

But I was going to say, you know, what‘s going to be interesting here is the vice president won‘t be able to answer open ended questions like he does in interviews or otherwise. 

MATTHEWS:  He won‘t have the president with him either doing dueling banjos. 

FREDERICKSEN:  Last time he had to testify on the issue of 9/11, he made sure the president was with him so they could get their stories coordinated and he refused to go under oath. 

And when you cross examine someone on the stand, there is no lifeline there.  And that‘s what a prosecutor lives for.

MATTHEWS:  Did he pull one of these numbers where he‘s going to do it in a separate discussion, like in camera, in chambers or anything. 

FREDERICKSEN:  That is not going happen, in my opinion.  First of all, Libby needs him to be there in person.  If Libby, I think, is going to successful here, it going—it‘s all on the shoulders of the vice president. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it illegal, like in a poker game, for two guys to be playing the same game?  Can he sit down and can a lawyer for the vice president and Cheney and his chief of staff sit down and game out how they are going testify?  Is that legal? 

FREDERICKSEN:  No.  That‘s not going to happen.

MATTHEWS:  What do you mean, it‘s not going happen?

FREDERICKSEN:  It‘s not going happen, because it would make him a bad witness, because any good prosecutor worth his salt is going ask and find out who you talked to in preparation for your testimony.


MATTHEWS:  You don‘t believe that he‘s going to ex parte conversations with Scooter in the last months?


ISIKOFF:  But he can talk to defense lawyers.  The defense lawyers are going to be contacting the vice president.  They‘re going to be consulting him on what he is going say.  And they are going to go over—of course they are going coach him.  Every witness gets coached in a way before a trial.  You go over you testimony. 

MATTHEWS:  Is there any way that this guy can be guilty and the vice president is not guilty? 

FREDERICKSEN:  Well, the vice president is not charged. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but all these months he has known the facts. 

FREDERICKSEN:  Well, yes. 

MATTHEWS:  He knows he told Scooter.  He knows when he told Scooter. 

The vice president is a careful man. 

ISIKOFF:  And Scooter Libby testified that the vice president told him.  That‘s the really tricky thing for both Cheney and Scooter Libby. 

MATTHEWS:  Scott and then Mike, what are the chances this trial will be illuminating.  It will be a trial where you are going to learn a lot about how we got into the war, how the vice president‘s office put the thumb on the scale, if they did, the role they may have played in building up the evidence for war.  You know, there was going be a nuclear—some sort of Balsa Wood airplane, a glider was going to cross the Atlantic with a nuclear on it and attack us.  I mean, it got really ludicrous after a while. 

Are we going to get information about that? 

FREDERICKSEN:  You know what, there is a lot of political capital being risked by the vice president here.  And he‘s going to roll out, I think some pretty big guns here.  He‘s going to be Mr. Sincerity, he‘s going to be very impressive.  And we are liable to find out some interesting things.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it‘s going to be illuminating, Mike? 

ISIKOFF:  I think it‘ll be illuminating.  I don‘t think it‘ll be quite as illuminating on the WMD case for war, because...

MATTHEWS:  But if people by Hubris, which is out there on the shelves right now, all the people that have become junkies somewhat on this CIA leak case like I have become, and I want to learn more about it, because it tells you so much about how we got into the war in Iraq, they should buy your book, right? 

ISIKOFF:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  ...and you treated me fine in that book.

Michael Isikoff and Scott Fredericksen, coming up just 10 days left in 2006.  And the race for 2008 is off and running.

By the way, the election is this coming here, by the way.  It‘s not going to be in 2008.  All the fighting and the campaigning are going to be happening in the 12 months.

Pat Buchanan, David Gergen, the heavyweights are coming here size up the field.

And tomorrow on HARDBALL, catch the college tour with Robert De Niro, the CIA man himself playing Wild Bill Donovan.  And Matt Damon by the way is very political in this show from George Mason University.  Let‘s watch. 


MATT DAMON, ACTOR:  I believe if you waterboard anybody, they will tell you anything.  And that torture is completely impractical on top of being dishonorable, it is completely impractical, because you can—I mean, if you torture a normal person, you torture anybody they are going tell you whatever you want them to tell you. 

So if you‘re getting information that you are going to then use and you get it by torturing them, you know,....

MATTHEWS:  Why is man at his worst throughout history used it then?  If it doesn‘t work?  Why has it always part—during the middle ages, back to ancient times, people were so cruel to each other to get what they wanted out of them.  Why did they do it, if it doesn‘t work.

DAMON:  I don‘t know.  I don‘t do it.



MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  As President Bush reconsiders and considers his next step in Iraq, the 2008 presidential race is already off and running with several candidates planning announcements over the next couple of weeks.

We are joined right now by MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan and former presidential adviser David Gergen who is a professor up at Harvard University‘s Kennedy School of Government.

Gentlemen, the heavyweights.  The president‘s predicament right now, David, it looks to me like he‘s signing on for a larger military to try to quiet the army down so they don‘t let him put in more troops in Baghdad. 

DAVID GERGEN, FRM. PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER:  That is exactly the way I read it.  You know—they—he resisted—Don Rumsfeld resisted having a larger army the whole time that Rumsfeld was at defense.  But now when the president wants to put more troops in Iraq and he‘s facing disagreement from his own joint chiefs, I think enlarging the size of the army and marine corps is exactly the price they expect from him. 

And by the way, Democrats have been calling for this for a long time. 

MATTHEWS:  But isn‘t that a dirty deal to corrupt policy?  The president has always said he is taking his lead from the commanders on the ground.  Now he doesn‘t like the commanders on the ground who say, like Abizaid, no more troops would help.  He‘s now saying, OK, if you don‘t believe in more troops, I‘ll buy you with a bigger army. 

GERGEN:  Well, look...

MATTHEWS:  I know you don‘t


MATTHEWS:  ...hard judge here, but...


MATTHEWS:  ...playing a game here?

GERGEN:  No.  No.  No.  I think you got to distinguish between the two, Chris.  We do need a larger army.  This army is stretched too thin.  Regardless of whether you put more troops in Iraq, we need a larger army and we need a larger Marine Corps.  We just—this is at near a breaking point.  Everybody has been—Colin Powell has been saying for a year that by the fall of this year, if we were in there with 140,000 we‘re going to be near a breaking point.

Whether we then surge in Iraq, that‘s a bad deal.  I mean, that ought to be considered on its own merits.  And what the president has said all along, as you just suggested is, he‘s emphasized all along, I will go with the commanders on the ground not the politicians in Washington. 

Here‘s the leading politician in Washington saying, OK, I don‘t like what the commanders are saying, I‘m going to override him.  That is what is going to be, I think, cause a real controversy if that‘s what he really intends to do. 

MATTHEWS:  It looks like extortion.  He saying, I know you need a bigger army, you should get a bigger army, but you aren‘t going to get one if you keep yapping about the fact you don‘t want more troops in Baghdad. 

GERGEN:  Well, that is an interesting point.  I think that‘s an interesting point.  And I—yeah, because he has got to have peace with it.  He has got to have peace with his own government.  I mean, he‘s not only got chaos on the ground in Iraq, he‘s got chaos inside his own government in Washington. 

MATTHEWS:  Pat, what do you think? 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC ANALYST:  Well, my thinking is this—I think the Joint Chiefs of Staff and General Pace and General Schoomaker seem to be more certain about saving the army than they do about saving Iraq. 

From the way I read it, they say no surge is going to help.  We can‘t do a big surge.  A small surge won‘t help.  It‘ll cause increased casualties.  Everybody agrees that the course we‘re one. we‘re losing the war or we are not winning it.  The Baker Commission says we need to take the 15 combat brigades out.  McCain says that‘s a defeat.  The president‘s got no good options here, Chris, none at all.  And the Army, I think believes—I believe defeat is an option for the U.S. military right now.  I think they‘re more interested in saving the Army, which is breaking, than they are in saving Iraq, which many of them believe is lost.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me try a mental case with you, which is that if there‘s no advantage in staying, why not leave? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, I think, that‘s exactly the right decision you‘ve got to take.  If you cannot save Iraq and if you cannot save, if you will, a pro-Western government committed to the American policy in the war on terror, a friend and ally in that conflict, I think you‘ve got to figure a way to get out of there with the least possible damage to the United States. 

Now, if you read that Marine Colonel, I believe it was, who wrote in the “New York Times,” he said say, you better realize that Marines pulled out of Anbar and when back in and out twice.  They murdered virtually every friend we had in the civil corps, in the police, in the troops and their families.  So we better be prepared to look defeat right in the face because that is what we are looking at right now because nobody is giving Bush an option to succeed. 

MATTHEWS:  The option that was put in the paper today by a neoconservative, I think ti was in the “Washington Post” today, that the president tell the government in Iraq, “OK, we‘re choosing sides.  We‘re choose the Shia.  They‘re the majority.  They‘re three to one outnumbering the Sunnis.  Just get rid of the Sunnis.  We‘re with you.  We‘ll go into Baghdad, in fact, do the dirty work for you and kill the Sunnis.”

That seems to me a murderous mission for the United States Military.  We‘ll take a lot of casualties because the people we‘re fighting know we‘re out to kill them and they‘ll fight with everything they‘ve got. 

David, I think that‘s a terrible objective. 

GERGEN:  It‘s a terrible option.  And not only because of the reasons you say, but we are going hand Iraq over the Shias, who are going to be allied with Iran.  You increase your problem with Iran.  And our big friends in the region for a long time have been Sunni nations like Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Jordan.  I mean...

MATTHEWS:  How about that Maliki, our buddy over there, says that Hezbollah is not a terrorist organization?

Yes, that‘s new.

GERGEN:  But I think, to go back to Pat‘s point, the—fundamentally the problem is that the president‘s in a box now.  There are no good options.  And the question—you know, maybe—and I think the value of the Baker-Hamilton Commission was to at least embed enough people to give it the best shot you‘ve got.

BUCHANAN:  I think what the president‘s going to do is this: I think they‘re going to have a significant surge, not forty or fifty thousand.  I think they‘re going to move them into Baghdad.  They‘re going to get Maliki to break with al Sadr and the Sadr Brigades...

MATTHEWS:  So we go against the Shia.

BUCHANAN:  And so we will --- they will try to have the Americans kick the daylights out of Sadr in the battle of Baghdad, go out there and do their best to mop up the Sunni insurgents and the jihaddist and then turn it over to whatever government is left in Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  I think that‘s a hell of a mission, Pat, we‘re fighting the 20 percent holdouts, who are apparently united against the government now, and we‘re fighting Muqtada al-Sadr, who‘s an ally of the government we‘re supporting.

BUCHANAN:  And if you start hitting—go after al Sadr, you‘ve got to realize that you might have a general uprising among the Shia in the south because he‘s more popular than Sistani now.


GERGEN:  Yes.  There will be more—how many does—why that‘s a bad option, too.  Because if you‘re going to go in, 20,000 is not going to be enough...

BUCHANAN:  Not 20,000 enough.

GERGEN:  See, you‘ve got to not only secure Baghdad, you‘ve got to secure the other cities.  What we have learned is when you go into one city, they go elsewhere.  And they wait for you to leave. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s come right back with Pat Buchanan and David Gergen. 

They‘re staying with.

And later, more on the fight over Iraq with the Hardballers.  The politicians are coming.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back.

We‘re back with MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan and former presidential adviser David Gergen.

David, tricky question here: Barack Obama...

GERGEN:  All of your questions are tricky. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you with the people that believe he should wait and run

sort of the Jack Germond (ph) argument—go back, run for governor, wait eight years.

Are you with those who say, “This is the time for you, young man?”

GERGEN:  Listen, I wish he had been governor.  I wish he had a lot more experience.  But the time has come.  He‘s got to go now.  He can‘t go back and do it again.  You know, the balloons—you can‘t pump up this kind of balloon again. 

MATTHEWS:  I like the way George F. Will put.  He said when the girl‘s up on her toes, kiss her.

GERGEN:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  I thought that was one of the most romantic things George F. Will has ever said. 

What do you think, Pat?

BUCHANAN:  The last one is, well, it‘s along David‘s lines, it‘s you cannot get a souffle to rise a second.  That‘s what we said about Dewey.  And I think it‘s very, very true.  And I think, look...

MATTHEWS:  Dewey lost twice, right?

BUCHANAN:  He lost twice, almost three times.

But listen, the guy‘s—look, I don‘t think...

MATTHEWS:  Can I give the Everett Dirksen speech?

You took us down the road to—what‘d he say?

BUCHANAN:  Twice you have taken us down.  You shall not take us again. 

It‘s a great speech.  Great speech.

But I think Obama ought to go.  But I do believe this: I don‘t think he‘s ready.  And I‘m sure—I mean, just watching him—I‘m not sure he‘s gone.

MATTHEWS:  Let me suggest something.  He‘s—according to his sister, who seems to have a large mouth, she says he‘s going to announce this week to the family, which means she‘s going to leak it. 

Let me suggest something to you.  When Jack Kennedy came along in the late fifties and decided to go rather than wait, skinny, lanky new guy, new ethic group, Catholic and all that, there was—and Lindbergh, another example, before Lindbergh got into his political problems—people seemed to like young guys, skinny guys, a little bit wet behind the ears, a little more eager than older folks.  By the time this guy‘s got a big neck and he‘s gained about 30 pounds and he‘s ten years older, will he look like that?  Or he will he have lost that magic?

BUCHANAN:  But Barack Obama did not fly the Atlantic a single engine plane. 

MATTHEWS:  No, but he looks like the guy in many ways.

BUCHANAN:  He‘s not Jack Kennedy either with that machine and the charisma, the Catholic thing...

MATTHEWS:  I think this guys‘s... 

BUCHANAN:  ... he an for V.P.

MATTHEWS:  Didn‘t you watch the Bears the other night? 

BUCHANAN:  He‘s got charisma, but that‘s a wasting asset. 


MATTHEWS:  That‘s right.  You‘re my point, it‘s a wasting asset, so use it up now. 

GERGEN:  Exactly right.  He reminds me a lot more of Bobby Kennedy than he does of Jack Kennedy. 

MATTHEWS:  My wife says that a lot. 

What is it about Bobby Kennedy that brings to mind this guy? 

GERGEN:  I think he‘s got something of a haunting quality and he‘s touching the spirit in ways that Jack Kennedy did.  I mean, he‘s a—I think what‘s working for him, it‘s not the substance.  He‘s very, very light on substance.  We got a whole lot of students...

MATTHEWS:  Compared to Bush?

GERGEN:  Well.  That‘s not an advertisement...


MATTHEWS:  ... spirit if the season...

GERGEN:  Yes, yes, yes.  But I mean, compared to Hillary Clinton, he doesn‘t have anywhere near the kind of substantive background that she has.  But he offers something that somehow works on people‘s spirits.  And, you know, we saw that here in Massachusetts with Deval Patrick, who was extraordinarily well...

MATTHEWS:  Gergen—Prof. Gergen, would you vote for him?

GERGEN:  For Obama? 


GERGEN:  I am coming around to Obama.  I thought for a long time he is not ready.  He ought to wait.  I was really hoping this wouldn‘t happen.

No. No.  Well, listen.  Let me just tell you this. 

BUCHANAN:  You are moving even further than you were in the Nixon White House, David.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s that?

GERGEN:  No.  That‘s true.

I think—I think the country desperately needs somebody fresh who can lift our spirits and try to change the conversation.

BUCHANAN:  I‘m sorry.  I think the country needs some tough customer who knows what‘s going on in this world.

MATTHEWS:  Rudy Giuliani, what do you think?

BUCHANAN:  Well, Giuliani can‘t get it.  And I don‘t know if he knows

he‘s a hawk like the other guys.

GERGEN:  Are you going to support McCain, Pat?  Are you going to support McCain?

BUCHANAN:  Well, let‘s see who the options are here, David.

MATTHEWS:  I think you and Bill Kristol should be co-chairs of the McCain campaign.

Anyway, thank you—it‘s great—Happy Holidays to all of you.  Pat Buchanan, David Gergen, Merry Christmas.

Up next, we‘ll get on to the latest on 2008 with the Chicago Sun Times‘ Lynn Sweet, and the Washington Times Tony Blankley.

And Sunday, a special addition on “Meet the Press: Faith in America” with Pastor Rick Warren, he‘s controversial—and Newsweek‘s Jon Meacham.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.



MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  In just two weeks, President Bush will face a democratic congress for the first time ever for him.  How will he deal with Speaker Pelosi?  How will she deal with her own caucus?

Lynn Sweet, the Washington bureau chief of the Chicago Sun Times and Tony Blankley is editorial page editor for the Washington Times.

Lynn, it seems to me that the Democrats have to produce some good things.  They cannot just go mad dog against the White House.  What do you think they‘re going to try to get done in the first couple of weeks—get done.

LYNN SWEET, CHICAGO SUN TIMES:  Well, they have their hundred day plan, they will do the low hanging easy fruit first—minimum wage, they‘ll do a vote to put—stem cell research to put the White House on notice, they‘re going to try to get an ethics package within their own group right now.  They don‘t have agreement on what they want to do on that. 

MATTHEWS:  Didn‘t Jack Murtha call it crap or something?  What was his great word on that? 

SWEET:  I don‘t know if that‘s the word he used.  But the point is, even within their own rank and file they don‘t have their act together yet on what they want to do on a few points.  But that is the type of thing they are going to do—stem cell, minimum wage, college loans. 

MATTHEWS:  Do they want action or do they want an issue.  In other words, on minimum wage, will they accept Republicans tying it up some kind of a tax cut for small business? 

SWEET:  This is something they didn‘t take into account, because they don‘t know, yet, if they want to make a deal on it.  This wait likes like the White House can say, hey, I am a reasonable guy.  I‘m for raising the minimum wage if you do the—if you do...

MATTHEWS:  Suppose the Democrats have a closed rule—you know all the deals we both worked up there in similar jobs.  Suppose the Democrats just say, we are the boss, they‘ve got the majority in the House.  The Ways and Means Committee reports on a big raise in the minimum wage.  No strings attacked.  They get it.  A clean bill.  They have a closed rule.  No amendments on the floor.  They jam it through the House.  They get the majority, the 218, they send it to the Senate.  The Democrats, they grab it up, send it to the White House.  Can the president veto a minimum wage hike in these economic times?

TONY BLANKLEY, WASHINGTON TIMES:  No.  I don‘t think he would, frankly.  Now, the Democrats can‘t do a closed rule because one of their promises was they resented the oppression of the Republican majority, they are going to have open rules. 

SWEET:  No.  They never made that pledge...

MATTHEWS:  You mean, they‘re going to allow amendments?

SWEET:  They have not said that. 

BLANKLEY: I heard Pelosi say that. 

And that is the same thing the Republicans did in ‘95.  We resented the Democrats being tough on the rules.  And for awhile we honored it, and then we went back to the old way.  So I don‘t think they can come out of the gait and shut the door.

MATTHEWS:  So they could allow a Republican proposal. 

BLANKLEY:  At least the Republicans have a vote to recommit (ph).  There‘s no way they are not going to have that.  So the Republicans will have a chance to put their alternative. 

MATTHEWS:  To offer an alternative.

BLANKLEY:  And it will be a minimum wage plus some tax breaks for small business or whatever.

MATTHEWS:  And it might pass? 

BLANKLEY:  No.  My guess is the Democrats...

MATTHEWS:  Do they want to pass something the president will sign?  Or do they want to pass something the president won‘t sign they can use against him.

BLANKLEY:  They want to pass something he won‘t sign?  Of course they...

MATTHEWS:  Do you agree with that?

SWEET:  No.  Not necessarily.  Because that would put—Tony I know that sounds like—I‘m going to be contrarian and that‘s what they are doing.  There is no better way for Speaker Pelosi designate to start out than to say, I can work with the White House. 

MATTHEWS:  You know why?  Because the Democrats don‘t want to look like just the trouble party.


BLANKLEY:  If they pass what looks like a reasonable bill, whatever it really is, and the president vetoes it, the president looks unreasonable. 

SWEET:  But I don‘t see how the Democrats go in on their first bill with minimum wage deal with tax cuts. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you a question.  Big labor—there is still a labor union group out there -- 15 million people, whatever.  Don‘t they want a minimum wage increase and not an issue?  They want it passed and signed. 

BLANKLEY:  Well, yeah, because that puts out competition for them.  That‘s why they unions are for it, because cheaper labor is competition for union labor, so of course they‘re for it.

MATTHEWS:  Ha!  Also, can I give the positive labor image.  If you raise the lower wages, the minimum wage levels, then all the levels get pressed up. 

BLANKLEY:  I don‘t think that‘s the real reason, but go ahead.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me ask you about the use of the subpoena.  How strong and sharp will Pelosi permit people like Conyers and Waxman, the tough committee chairs, to go after their favorite targets—the energy industry and whether any games were played about price adjusting, or fixing, anything to do with cost plus, or whatever the deal is on contracting with Halliburton?  How political will they get with the subpoena power? 

SWEET:  I think in this case it is not political, it‘s doing what they say they are going to do and that is expect a bunch of oversight hearings on Iraq.  One of the big things the Democrats have said is...

MATTHEWS:  How we get out of the war, they will do that.

SWEET:  Oversight doesn‘t—that will be harder—we are talking even about contracting, the Republicans, the Democrats say basically abdicated any oversight in the last session of congress.  Look for a variety of just issues, anything having do to with government regulation, spending the government money, things that were non-transparent, and some investigations that we haven‘t even thought of yet.

MATTHEWS:  What about Henry Waxman, who‘s got the Reform Committee?  Henry is one tough guy.  Do you think he‘s willing to go out there and take on the vice president, say how did you put the thumb on the scale to get us in this war?

BLANKLEY:  Look, they can hardly wait.  And I don‘t blame them.  They‘re going try to show incompetence and corruption and malfeasance and misfeasance in office.  They‘re going to put subpoenas on White House personnel and so the White House will assert executive privilege and go to court and make the Republicans look like they‘re hiding something.



MATTHEWS:  Is Nancy Pelosi going to swear in Bill Jefferson after they found the $90,000 in his refrigerator?  Is she going to go ahead and do that, swear him in?  Is that going the hurt? 

SWEET:  I would bet that...

MATTHEWS:  He got reelected.

SWEET:  I would bet that right now, they just let that play itself out since it isn‘t really about what the House does.  It shows, moreover, more than swearing him on, will this new House—Democratic-run House Ethics Committee actually do something?

This is the test of whether or not something‘s referred there, not whether or not he‘s sworn in.

MATTHEWS:  They‘re going to keep him, apparently, off the Ways and Means Committee.

SWEET:  Which is the situation...

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that Bill Jefferson case?  I mean, it is kind of an embarrassment for the Democrats who ran against corruption to have a guy so manifestly in trouble with the law. 

BLANKLEY:  Yes, I don‘t think that—I mean, it doesn‘t hurt the Democrats, obviously, in Louisiana.  He got reelected...

MATTHEWS:  In that district.

BLANKLEY:  Yes.  And I don‘t—look, this whole corruption issue takes years to build a head of steam.  I don‘t think the Democrats have to worry about getting tainted with corruption over the first—over the next two years.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it is interesting that it took Republicans 50 years to really smell and it only took the Republicans 12?

We‘ll be right back with Lynn Sweet...


MATTHEWS:  ... and Tony Blankley.

I just got totally in the spirit of fun and gift-giving.

Anyway, later, Hardballers Michael Feldman and Ben Ginsberg are going to be here to dig into the fight over Iraq.

Will President Bush decide to surge more troops in Iraq or not to surge?

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

We‘re back with Lynn Sweet of the “Chicago Sun-Times” and Tony Blankley of the “Washington Times.”

You know, sort of the punditry class of Washington is suggesting that maybe it‘s Obama versus Hillary and that‘s the end of the game.  I don‘t believe that.

But, do you?

Chris Dodd, who‘s running for president—he‘s going to announce soon

from Connecticut, has named Jim Jordan to his campaign.  He‘s the top guy that was dumped by John Kerry.

Do you think there are chances out there, I mean, real tickets to this game for people like he and Biden and the others? 

BLANKLEY:  Well, I don‘t whether—I mean, there‘s an argument for the Evan Bayh approach, to sit down and say, “I can‘t be elected president right now” and give up.

And Chris Dodd might want to consider that.

But I don‘t consider Obama in any way a lock at all.  I think he could easily have been a late 2006 balloon that will deflate. 

MATTHEWS:  What about—so you don‘t think it comes down to Obama or Hillary?

BLANKLEY:  Well, I think Hillary‘s in an extraordinarily powerful position.  I would be surprised if she‘s not the nominee. 

MATTHEWS:  What does she have as a candidate? 

BLANKLEY:  What does she have?

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I‘m curious because I don‘t think she‘s a great speaker.  I think a lot of people don‘t like her.  So what is it you think she has?

BLANKLEY:  It starts off with star quality that you can‘t substitute for.  She has a capacity to raise money that‘s unmatched.  She‘s got the best political team behind her.  She‘s basically invulnerable.  No one has ever asked her a tough question in public.

MATTHEWS:  Are you trying to game us here to get her to be the nominee?


MATTHEWS:  Are you trying to build her up so she gets right on the chopping block here?

BLANKLEY:  I think she is a very formidable candidate. 

MATTHEWS:  270 electoral votes come election day, she can do it?

BLANKLEY:  Well, yes, she could.  I don‘t know that she will.  It depends on what happens over the next two years.

But, yes, I think she‘s a very formidable candidate, and for the nomination, I think it‘s as close to a lock as we‘ve had at this point.

MATTHEWS:  Do you buy that?  Close to a lock?

SWEET:  Not even.  I respectfully decline for my colleague from the “Washington Times.”

First of all, as much as the focus has been recently on Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, you cannot take out the very formidable Senator John Edwards.  He‘s leading in a “Des Moines Register” poll...

MATTHEWS:  I agree with that.

SWEET:  ... Iowa.  This is all he‘s been doing.  His big question is, can he raise money?  And can he raise money in light of Obama and Clinton going to the same people he‘s been going to? 

He‘s a friend of labor.  Labor‘s not going to make an early lock on anything... 

MATTHEWS:  Bob Novak pointed that out today in his column.  Very powerful...


SWEET:  Let me just a make a big point.

Anyone who thinks this is a two person race at this point does not understand what‘s really going on.

MATTHEWS:  Let me get you out into the field.  If you‘re a Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa, about to be a former governor—if you‘re Joe Biden, if you‘re John Kerry, if you‘re Chris Dodd, is there room for somebody out there now? 

SWEET:  I don‘t think it‘s room for everybody.  I think there‘s room for maybe one or two more, somebody that already has a substantial organization, someone, frankly, like John Edwards.  I think it‘ll very difficult for Joe Biden, Chris Dodd and the others.  Even Governor Vilsack of Iowa in his home state has an uphill battle.

MATTHEWS:  I heard he‘s not moving any noise out there.


BLANKLEY:  If you‘re a contender, one of the lesser contenders, you want to stay there in case the front people apart.  And the other person we haven‘t mentioned is Al Gore, who‘s probably going to get an Academy Award for his documentary.

And if he then came out of an Academy Award and announced, “Now I‘m going to run,” then I would have to say...

MATTHEWS:  Is he in fighting weight?

BLANKLEY:  You mean his tummy size?


BLANKLEY:  I don‘t know.  He can get down.  Like me, he knows how to get up and down.

MATTHEWS:  Fifty pounds?


SWEET:  If we‘re kind of spinning scenarios here, that‘s the big question mark.  If Gore got in, that would change everything...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, the strongest ticket would be Al Gore and Obama.  I think that would be an awesome ticket.

SWEET:  I get tons of e-mail with people wanting that because that is what seems to make sense and that would make up for the big rap Obama, his inexperience.

MATTHEWS:  Al Gore‘s got to run and get a sense of humor.

SWEET:  And what about the Academy Award?

MATTHEWS:  I think a sense of humor‘s more important.

Anyway, I think it‘s all interesting and I think it‘s too early to say.

Anyway, thank you, Tony Blankley.

Thank you, Lynn Sweet.

Up next, the Hardballers.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  President Bush is still chewing on what to do about Iraq.  Well, what is he going to tell us, when is he going to tell us, and will a Democratic-controlled Congress, salivating with subpoena power, motivate him to move faster?  Ben Ginsberg was counsel to the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2004.  Mike Feldman is a Democratic strategic and co-founder of, MSNBC‘s online community.  We got a lot of parties.

Let me ask you, Mike, what about the president of the United States.  If he ever does come out with a plan for Iraq, will the Democrats join him as happy partners?  Will they join him or just dump on him?

MICHAEL FELDMAN, HOTSOUP.COM:  No, I think they may join him.  That‘s if he listens to the generals on the ground.  I mean, his big challenge...

MATTHEWS:  But the generals say no more troops.

FELDMAN:  Well, the generals have not said anything yet publicly. 

What we read is that they say no more troops. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Abizaid said no more troops.

FELDMAN:  Yes, but if the president had listened to General Shinseki and Don Rumsfeld listened to General Shinseki to begin with, we would not have been in this mess.  I think...

MATTHEWS:  So the Democrats will become part of the war problem? 

FELDMAN:  No, I think...

MATTHEWS:  Democrats will accept the onus of continuing this war.

FELDMAN:  I think the Democrats will accept a plus-up in troops if there is a mission.  What are they going there for?  How long will they be there?  And is it part of a plan to get all of our troops out?

MATTHEWS:  There they do, there they go again making the same mistake they made in 2002.  Go ahead.

BEN GINSBERG, FORMER BUSH-CHENEY COUNSEL:  It would be very refreshing for the Democrats to join with the president... 

MATTHEWS:  They did.  They went into war with them.

GINSBERG:  And for the president...

MATTHEWS:  They did.

GINSBERG:  And for the president to join with the Democrats would all be a very refreshing change in our culture. 

MATTHEWS:  I believe two wrongs do not make a right.  Both parties were wrong (inaudible).

Let me ask you about the politics.  We‘re having some fun here now in the holiday season.  When you as a Democrat—and you are a Democrat, right? 

FELDMAN:  I am a Democrat. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re loyal to the Democratic Party, and most likely you will vote Democrat in 2008. 

FELDMAN:  I will say here I will.

MATTHEWS:  Who will be the toughest Republican do you—honestly, pretend you‘re under truth serum, I am water-boarding you right now—who would be the toughest Republican for your party to beat? 

FELDMAN:  I think Rudy Giuliani, but I don‘t think he can get the nomination.  I think a Giuliani or a McCain that does not have to contort himself to appeal to the right wing of the Republican...

MATTHEWS:  Rudy Giuliani would be first.  In fact, I believe you have spoken the truth.  As you know it.

FELDMAN:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Who, now, in the spirit of complete truth here, who would be the toughest Democrat?  And I‘m going to look you in the eyes like Bush looked Putin in the eyes now, looking into your soul...

GINSBERG:  Are you in my soul?

MATTHEWS:  I‘m into your soul here.  Are you really—I want to see if Ben Ginsberg can give me a non-partisan answer here at the holiday season. 

GINSBERG:  The toughest Democrat for Republicans would be John Edwards. 

MATTHEWS:  Truth.  Why so?  Because he is a white guy, to be blunt about it.  He‘s a male. 

GINSBERG:  Because he taps into a certain vein that I think none of the other candidates can tap into.  He spent a year doing a lot of work in getting the Democratic base in shape.  There is still a question about whether he could raise enough money against the Hillary machine.  But I suspect that his message is one that Democrats will have—the Republicans will have the most trouble with. 

MATTHEWS:  I will lay down a take on him—I did it for our blog, but I can tell you what it is now, everybody watching.  I basically said, his goal is to win in Iowa, double up by winning in Nevada, with labor support out there.  All the unions are behind him, especially restaurant workers, croupiers, everybody else, the service employees, poor people who care about those issues.

He wins, and then he goes into New Hampshire, does OK against Hillary. 

Then he goes down to South Carolina and beats her badly.

Can he, after winning a first round knockout, can he go the distance with her?  Because she‘ll stay in.  Can he beat her in the long run, and once he beats her...

GINSBERG:  That is why I say the question comes down to will he have the money and will he be able to...

MATTHEWS:  So even an early round knockout, he will still need the money for later. 

GINSBERG:  Yes, absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Do you buy that?

FELDMAN:  If he gets the knockout, he will have the money.  Things will flow to him.  Democrats want a winner.

MATTHEWS:  Can you still live off the land like that?  Can you still raise money after you‘ve won a couple of events?

GINSBERG:  I think that this process is going to be so telescoped.  There are going to be so many primaries on February 5th that you are not going to have the time to be able to amass the great amount of money.

MATTHEWS:  There are a lot of Southern primaries that day.  Alabama. 

But there is a lot of Southern action...

GINSBERG:  Well, but there will also be California, Florida, Michigan and New Jersey.

MATTHEWS:  They may all move up to catch up.

GINSBERG:  Yes, sure.  And that means you are not going to have the time necessarily to raise the money. 

MATTHEWS:  But what it is, he can win a lot of Southern primaries on February 5th and prove that Hillary couldn‘t win the country, maybe.

GINSBERG:  Perhaps. 

MATTHEWS:  Maybe.  But Hillary has the strength of being a Mondale.  She can sit there, lose a couple, come in second here and there, and still go the distance, you believe. 


MATTHEWS:  Really?

GINSBERG:  Well, I think that what Obama is showing is that Hillary is not the inevitable candidate she‘s trying to make herself out to be. 



MATTHEWS:  ... people not liking Hillary.

GINSBERG:  Right.  So that means that Hillary‘s house of cards might fall.

MATTHEWS:  You go up against Rudy Giuliani.  What‘s his general election strength?

FELDMAN:  His general election strength is his appeal as America‘s mayor, as the guy who led us—one of the true leaders in the Republican Party after 9/11.  I think...


MATTHEWS:  Right answer is the suburbs of the big cities. 

FELDMAN:  Sure, the suburbs, appealing to moderates.

MATTHEWS:  People who love cities, left the cities behind two or three generations ago, but love the fact that this guy saved a city. 

FELDMAN:  Sure.  Absolutely.  But look, he has another appeal.  He can appeal to moderates, he can appeal to independents.  I think the country is hungry right now for some candidate who can bring us together, and I think he represents some of that. 

So I think if he were to be able to win the Republican primary—and there‘s no sign that he could—he could be a very damaging candidate in the general election. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, we‘ve now spoken the truth, which I thought was really good.  And you really—I got to salute you, because I think you might be right.  You are saying John Edwards.  And we just had him on.  He was really good.  In fact, he knew all the government leaders I tested him on.  I did a pop quiz on him.  And you say Giuliani.  The parties are not likely to nominate these guys, are they?  Or are they?

GINSBERG:  Well, I think the Democrats are probably more likely to nominate Edwards than the Republicans are Giuliani.  I mean, Edwards has already—has already been the vice presidential candidate.  He is appealing to the main base of the Democratic Party, which is organized labor. 

MATTHEWS:  He sure is.  He sure is.

FELDMAN:  I would agree with that.  Look, there is going be a battle in both parties.  You‘ve got two candidates in the Democratic Party right now that are sucking up all the oxygen—Obama and Clinton.  In the Republican Party, you have got Senator McCain, also Mayor Giuliani, who are taking up a lot of space.  But there is going to be a second tier, and there‘s going to be a battle for that second tier.  I think people will emerge in both parties.  So keep an eye out on Mitt Romney in the Republican Party.  Keep an eye on John Edwards, as you are, in the Democratic Party.  Someone who could offer electability to both parties and maybe a challenge to the front runners. 

MATTHEWS:  Does it matter if this war continues—if we go into Baghdad as a country again and double up—double down is the term—with more troops, facing more fire every day, perhaps trying to take down a Sunni insurgency, trying to take on Muqtada al-Sadr‘s militia, trying to take on a two-front war, where every night for the next six months or a year we will see Americans taking—kicking down doors and getting shot at and killed, and us killing a lot of Arabs.  Is that going to make it impossible for the Republicans to win next time?

FELDMAN:  No.  Not necessarily.  But I think thoughtful Republicans who are running for president and thoughtful Democrats have to take a look at the situation on the ground right now.  I think you said the other night, when you are in a hole, stop digging.  This president...

MATTHEWS:  That is the usual political rule. 

FELDMAN:  Yes.  This president is reaching for a bigger shovel.  And that‘s a real problem for him, and it‘s a problem for Republicans who have to run.  So it‘s not just where they stood on the war, how we got into it, it‘s what do we do now?  And frankly, how do we wrap this thing up?

MATTHEWS:  It‘s great having you guys on.  I‘m going to leave you alone because you have nothing to say on that.  Anyway, you‘re a smart guy, Ben Ginsberg.  Good luck in the role I hear you‘re going to play in the campaign soon.  Good luck, Mike Feldman.  And maybe you‘ll get a horse too.

Play HARDBALL with us again Friday, for a special showing of the HARDBALL college tour with Robert De Niro.  Wait until we get him close up.  And Matt Damon.  He was amazing to work with.

Right now, it‘s time for “TUCKER.”



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