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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Jan. 19

Read the transcript to the Friday show

Guests: Al Sharpton, John Fund, Ben Ginsburg, Steve McMahon, Eric Cantor, Jim Moran, Jonathan Alter, Chris Cillizza

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  It‘s starting.  Suddenly the competition for the American presidency has begun.  Right here on our national stage, the candidates are making their entrance.  Obama, Hillary, Edwards, McCain, Romney, Giuliani—who will be the first president elected in the 21st century?  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.

It‘s been a big week in Washington for Congress, for the White House, and for the 2008 contenders.  Just four days before the president‘s State of the Union Address, a bipartisan group of senators are challenging the president on his plans to escalate the war in Iraq.  Could more Republicans defect in the days ahead?  And what would that do to the president? 

Also today, in a joint news conference with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Leader Harry Reid warned the president against saber-rattling toward Iran and said the president does not have the Constitutional authority to attack that country without first seeking congressional approval.  We‘ll discuss all of it tonight including the 2008 race for the White House. 

We begin with the Reverend Al Sharpton, a former president candidate, and‘s John Fund.  Sir. 

Gentlemen, thank you for joining us on this Friday, an amazing week.  Let me ask you, first of all, what will be the significance if five to 10 Republican senators join the Democratic majority in passing a resolution opposing the troop surge in Iraq. 

Reverend Sharpton? 

REV. AL SHARPTON (D), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think that it would be a major, major, significant event.  And, one, I think it would start the surge probably in terms of this president being openly questioned by a number of senators in his own party, and I think it will begin the end of Mr. Bush‘s inflexibility. 

I think it will be a major blow to the president.  I think it is even within the realm of possibility and I think that it is something that a lot of Americans would welcome. 

MATTHEWS:  John Fund, what are the consequences of the Senate passing

say by majority vote, a narrow majority, perhaps, of senator who stand up and say—and the bill may come in the form of vote for cloture, to stop debate.  But it will be a vote, a test vote.  What will be the significance? 

JOHN FUND, OPINIONJOURNAL.COM:  Well, I think you can go back to the early 1970s and late 1960s and you had two presidents who were undermined by Congress because their credibility was shot.  People didn‘t believe Lyndon Johnson knew what he was doing, and Democratic senators started peeling away in the last year.  Johnson decided to retire. 

In the early 1970s, you had the Cooper-Church vote, you had the war powers vote, you had several Republican senators break away from the Nixon administration and basically say we no longer have confidence in this war.  Ultimately, as we know in Vietnam, it led to a peace agreement that wasn‘t really a peace agreement.  It was a cover for U.S. withdrawal. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Let me ask you about the second big question raised by Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader today, Reverend Sharpton.  Iran -- the president made noises during his speech awhile ago, last week about possibly us going after some interceptions of—being the intercepting force of any actions by Iran within the country of Iraq. 

Do you think that the Congress will stand by its challenge to the president that you cannot attack Iran without congressional authority? 

SHARPTON:  I think they will.  I think that this Congress, which the majority now is Democratic, is a majority because clearly the American public is now really outraged by the unilateral move into Iraq that ended up being based on flawed and false information. 

For this Congress then to be silent in the face of another unilateral move, a move not checked with them, I think it would almost offend and insult the voters that put them there.  They have no choice but to take that stand to the president, given the undercutting of the president‘s credibility from acting unilaterally in Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  John Fund, do you think the president would wait and hear from Congress in a formal way before he attacked Iran if he decided to do so? 

FUND:  Well, first of all, if there is a clear and present danger from Iran, any president would have the right to act.  However...

MATTHEWS:  What about the clear and present danger?  Help me with that, because we had that claim before in Iraq. 

FUND:  Well, I understand that.  I‘m talking about a nuclear weapon that Iran suddenly has and starts to threaten people with it.  That would be one of the reasons why we would consider it.

MATTHEWS:  That would be grounds for the United States to attack Iran, you know?

FUND:  I‘m simply saying the president would have the Constitutional authority to do that.  You don‘t have to go seek...

MATTHEWS:  In other words, if he threatened one of his neighbors, we would have the right to attack him? 

FUND:  A clear and present danger to U.S. interests in the region.

MATTHEWS:  What does that mean?  Help me out here, U.S. interests in the region.

FUND:  rMD+IN_rMDNM_We have troops all around Iran.  We have troops in Iraq, we have troops in Kuwait, we have some troops still left in Saudi Arabia. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, and because we have those troops there, that is grounds for us attacking a country if they have a weapon we don‘t want them to have.  I‘m just asking what the Constitutional principle here is. 

FUND:  The Constitutional principle is Congress has the authority to declare war, but if time is of the essence, presidents sometimes have to move more quickly than that.  Having said that, one of the things that the critics of the Iraq war have right is, Iran is a real danger.

Iran currently right now is killing U.S. troops by sending in agents and other people who are building all of these IEDs that blow up people—

Well, my nephew Michael who was with the 7th Marine, he was injured by an IED just a few months ago in Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe the president is moving towards a war with Iran before he leaves office?  John Fund? 

FUND:  No, I think the president knows he has limited options with Iran.  I think he realized that we can‘t take out their nuclear capability without real risks and we probably wouldn‘t get all of it.  But I think the president is trying to step up the pressure on Iran. 

He‘s also being briefed that Iranian agents are killing American soldiers.  They‘re building these devices.  They‘re actively financing the Iraqi insurgency. 

MATTHEWS:  Do we know whether—do we have hard evidence, real evidence this time, that Iran is building a nuclear weapon?

FUND:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Do we know that? 

FUND:  Yes. 


FUND:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  I didn‘t know we had that.  I‘ve been told we don‘t know that for sure. 

SHARPTON:  The problem is credibility.

MATTHEWS:  We can surmise that because of their behavior...

SHARPTON:  That‘s the problem.

MATTHEWS:  ... but we don‘t have evidence that they‘re building a nuclear weapon, do we?  We don‘t know where it is, but we know they‘re building it?  If we don‘t know where it is, how do we know they‘re doing it?

FUND:  Defectors and we have briefed the French and the British.

MATTHEWS:  We had that last time.  I think we had Iraq‘s bombmaker on this show about 50 times who kept claiming they had built a nuclear weapon.  I don‘t know, I think he‘s living in...


FUND:  Chris, let me just be clear about one thing.  When the national security of the country is at stake, just because there was a problem of credibility with previous defectors doesn‘t mean you completely dismiss now and future defectors. 

MATTHEWS:  No, it‘s a question of whether you trust...


FUND:  Because then you‘re making another mistake in completely the opposite direction.

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead, Reverend Sharpton.

SHARPTON:  No, but I think that you do that.  I don‘t think that you completely dismiss something, but I think it is naive for people to think that the public that was told we were in imminent danger in Iraq and there was evidence of weapons of mass destruction and there‘s great testimony by Colin Powell by the U.N., that they‘re going to leave that same administration without question. 

FUND:  Reverend Sharpton...

SHARPTON:  And the administration can‘t blame anyone but themselves. 

FUND:  Reverend Sharpton, let‘s be clear.  The administration said there were weapons of mass destruction.  They never claimed that the United States was in imminent danger.  That claim they did not make.

MATTHEWS:  They did make the claim they had a nuclear weapon.  They were...


FUND:  No, they did not claim they had a nuclear weapon.  Chris, give me the statement.  They did not claim that.  No.

MATTHEWS:  They had—what was—OK, let me make the statement.  They explained, the administration, that they had a delivery system that of an airplane that would deliver it to North America.  That was a big part of the case they made. 

FUND:  One, if they developed a nuclear weapon, they said they had a delivery system.  They did not claim Iraq had a nuclear weapon.  

MATTHEWS:  They said don‘t wait for the smoking gun because there will be a mushroom cloud.  They used all the language of fear and imminent danger.

SHARPTON:  That was a quote.

FUND:  Chris, understand just...

SHARPTON:  And they even tried to connect al Qaeda with Iraq.  I mean, they used everything they could use and none of it panned out.

FUND:  Chris, do you believe North Korea has a nuclear weapon? 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know.  

FUND:  You don‘t?  We know they do.  They‘ve announced it.  They‘ve announced it.

MATTHEWS:  OK, well, what‘s the point?  What‘s the point here?

FUND:  The point is...

MATTHEWS:  We‘re not going to war with North Korea, I‘ve noticed. 

FUND:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, why are we going to war or even thinking about it with Iran then? 

FUND:  We‘re not thinking about going to war.


FUND:  We‘re trying to put diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran so they don‘t even think about it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that would be good.

SHARPTON:  I think the problem, John, is that, again, this president‘s credibility.

MATTHEWS:  But I‘m afraid that that‘s a stretch, that if it doesn‘t reach, we will go to war.  That‘s what I‘m afraid of.

SHARPTON:  That‘s good.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m afraid that we threaten them...

SHARPTON:  And the threat, yes.  The threat, the actual threat...


MATTHEWS:  John Fund, do you agree that Congress would—well, obviously, we have a difference of view here, but Reverend, you believe that Congress has to approve any military action against yet another country in the Middle East, and John Fund says the president of the United States reserves the right, as commander-in-chief, to attack anybody he sees as a threat to our interests in any region in the world? 

FUND:  Chris, do you remember the war power...

SHARPTON:  But the problem with that, John—the problem with that, John, is that he may have the Constitutional right, but most Americans seem to believe now he abused that right.  And I think that he‘s got to consider that—I hope he considers that in moving forward. 

FUND:  Reverend, there‘s a credibility problem here, I‘ll agree with you.

But, Chris, just remember, even the War Powers Resolution, which Congress passed to limit the power of the presidency in Vietnam, even that said the president can act, but Congress has the power to vote on it within 30 days.  There was a 30-day window that even the War Powers Resolution applied.

MATTHEWS:  You have just given me a reason to explain my worst fear.  My worst fear is the president knows that he can go attack Iran and say he‘s hitting their nuclear facilities or whatever he‘s saying, defending American soldiers in the field, whatever cover he uses, and the Democratic establishment will salute that action.  They will not challenge him. 

FUND:  You are right.  Congress...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s my fear, they won‘t challenge him.

FUND:  Congress, if it‘s gutless, will not act.  The point is, there are two parties here that are responsible for your fear.  One is the president and one is the Congress which has basically surrendered its war making power.

MATTHEWS:  Reverend Sharpton, final word here?

SHARPTON:  I think that unfortunately he‘s right.  I think that it is the Congress that did not act or did not—in the judgment of many of us look beyond the surface in the information given on Iraq that may end up being the major part of the debate in 2008. 

MATTHEWS:  And maybe in the business of nation building which seems to be our new enterprise we might reconsider, reconsidering on own Constitutional responsibilities and meeting those before we deal them to people in another part of the world. 

Anyway, thank you Reverend Al Sharpton.  Thank you John Fund. 

Coming up what will President Bush say in his state of the union.  How much will he talk about Iraq and Iran? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  In four days President Bush will deliver his state of the union address just two weeks after he called for more than 20,000 additional troops to go to Iraq.  The fight over the war is dominating Congress these days and the 2008 race for the White House.

Here to talk about it, a Republican strategist Ben Ginsburg, who is a recent recruit to the Romney campaign—working for Mitt Romney and Democratic strategist Steve McMahon, who is not committed—yet?

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Not committed, I‘m an armchair quarterback.

MATTHEWS:  Has anybody called you?

MCMAHON:  I‘ve gotten a call, but I‘m not committed.  I not dating, I‘m not committed.

MATTHEWS:  I have to ask you, I‘m going to get to politics here, but first a constitutional question.  Does the president of the United States have the right to attack Iran?  Because he‘s made some threatening comments about Iran lately.  Can he do it without congressional approval, an attack on Iran? 

BEN GINSBURG, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Well, that‘s a huge hypothetical.  Let‘s stipulate that from the beginning.  As commander-in-chief, he probably has power that would allow him to do some things in Iran, but a full-scale war ...

MATTHEWS:  An attack on their nuclear facilities—without approval?

GINSBURG:  Without approval, would probably be constitutional. 


GINSBURG:  Why?  Because he‘s commander-in-chief and has wartime powers and we‘re at war.

MATTHEWS:  And what‘s the power—what what‘s the war if we‘re not fighting Iran?  What gives him the war-time powers?

GINSBURG:  Global war on terror is the way he‘s described it.

MATTHEWS:  Your smiling.  Does he have any limits on his power?


MATTHEWS:  What are those limits?

GINSBURG:  Those limits are the limits set by the Constitution and if it‘s a war between countries, he‘s going to have to get congressional approval for it.  But there are incursions for which presidents do not have to.

Ronald Reagan in Grenada, President Clinton sending missiles into the Mideast to go after terrorists so there are incursions where presidents of both parties in the past ...

MATTHEWS:  But an attack on Iraq.  An act of war against Iran rather, would be OK by your standards without a congressional act?

GINSBURG:  Well, I would say it would not be an act of war, it would be a defensive mechanism on behalf of the country.  It‘s supporting the general area in which he‘s gone already. 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know what to make of this.  I thought you guys were for limited power and limited government.  It sounds like you‘re for unlimited power of the executive—unlimited power. 

GINSBURG:  No, I did not say that. 


GINSBURG:  You‘re putting words in my mouth. 

MATTHEWS:  What are the limits?

GINSBURG:  The limits are ...

MATTHEWS:  What if he wants to attack France tomorrow or wants to attack Germany tomorrow—what‘s to stop him? 

GINSBURG:  What‘s to stop him is the Constitution.  But Chris, tell me the distinct—first of all you gave me a hypothetical. 


GINSBURG:  There are incidents, right, he keeps talking about Iran and you have presidents from both parties who, when the danger has been great enough, have seen the need to go in and come up with attacks in certain limited areas on foreign countries. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of the U.S. Congress?  The Democrats won

an election last year.  I doubt this was the mandate given to the Democrats

when they won control of both houses.  Will they stop or let the president

Harry Reid said today that the president of the United States cannot attack Iran unless he‘s got the approval of Congress.

MCMAHON:  And that‘s what any good Congressman or Senator would say.  The fact is, I mean Ben‘s right, presidents in the past have done strategic strikes against other countries without having the approval of Congress. 

The question is whether this president would be stupid enough to do that because I think it would make his problems only worse.  He‘s got a 35 percent approval rating right now.  The American people sent a pretty clear message on November 7th that they want troops to come home.  They certainly don‘t want more troops for an additional war.

MATTHEWS:  This government of ours was built not on the wisdom of those who got elected to office, but on limits of power.  And I‘m hearing from you guys there‘s no limit on this president‘s power. 

MCMAHON:  I don‘t think he could wage a war indefinitely.  I don‘t think he could move troops.  I think there would be limits on what he could do.  This president though Chris, as you‘ve seen, doesn‘t exactly recognize the Constitution and certainly doesn‘t acknowledge any of the limits that the Constitution places on presidential power. 

MATTHEWS:  Would you advise him he could go and act against Iran without approval of Congress?

GINSBURG:  Well, what are you saying about ...


MATTHEWS:  Suppose he gets word from his one of his sources, Chalabi, one of the neocons who argues that they are going to build a nuclear weapon if we don‘t attack them right now.  They are going to have it done in two years if you don‘t hit them right now.  This is your last chance to stop them, what would he do? 

GINSBURG:  If it‘s the last chance to stop them ...

MATTHEWS:  Two years to go, they‘ll have the missile in two years?

GINSBURG:  Look, if there‘s a clear and imminent threat ...

MATTHEWS:  Is that a threat?

GINSBURG:  ... against the safety of this country, then you do it.  Well, that‘s the judgment that the president makes.  But if you‘re asking the question about his powers, then presidents of both powers ...

MATTHEWS:  The trouble is we‘re right back in the territory that got us into Iraq.  That the president can make a claim that‘s scary enough, we go to war. 

MCMAHON:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  As long as the words are there. 

MCMAHON:  What we‘re also back to is it depends on what the definition of imminent is, and the president in this case gets to define what imminent is and mis-define what imminent is. 

MATTHEWS:  We heard mushroom cloud from Condi Rice week after week.  If you wait for a smoking gun, they‘ll be a mushroom cloud.  They talked about the nuclear weapons, the vice president was on “Meet the Press” month after month saying they‘ve got a weapons system underway.  They‘ve got a delivery system to take to here.  They‘re going to attack us in North America with a nuclear weapon, and we went to war.  That‘s when the middle turned. 

MCMAHON:  That‘s why it‘s so difficult for this president because this administration on these matters now has absolutely no credibility.  Week after week after week they told the American public things that turned out not to be true. 

You can argue about whether or not they were deliberately misrepresenting things, but they certainly turned out not to be true.  And now an imminent threat from this administration wouldn‘t be the incredible by most of the American people and I think Congress would act in whatever way they could to stop it.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you about your party, the Democratic Party.  Were the president to act precipitously like that, preemptively, without getting approval—just do it.  We wake up the next morning.  Would Hillary Clinton being standing there saluting, saying we had to do it?  I want to know a little more about it, but I think I agree with the president. 


MATTHEWS:  Will she do that for political reasons?

MCMAHON:  I don‘t believe she would.  I certainly hope not. 

MATTHEWS:  You think she would?  Would she oppose the president? 

GINSBURG:  I suspect that she would, but I hope that we recognize that there‘s but one commander-in-chief and that at some point you need to, you need to be patriotic.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m hearing words tonight that scare me more than ever, the commander-in-chief.  Do we have a (INAUDIBLE)?  Do we have a dictatorship?  Is this Mussolini?  I mean do we have a president who can decide when to take us to war because he‘s got some ideologues around him who say let‘s go again, we can do it one more time?  We can get this done one more time.  I‘m serious, he keeps saying this stuff. 

GINSBURG:  You‘re creating questions on hypotheticals. 

MATTHEWS:  I hope so. 


MATTHEWS:  But Harry Reid, the senator majority leader today said he wants to make sure the president knows he can‘t attack without congressional approval.  So, it‘s not me worrying about it.  I‘m following the news today, the major hitters in American politics are worried about this guy‘s trigger finger.  Harry Reid wasn‘t wasting time today.  Tell him, why did he do it?  Why did Harry Reid warn him? 

MCMAHON:  I think you‘re exactly right, he‘s worried about his trigger finger.  And this president has indicated by his actions that he doesn‘t much care about the constitution or about congress. 

GINSBERG:  Leaders from the opposite party have often said similar things in that situation, be it Democrats or Republicans.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be back with more scary news.  Ben Ginsberg, now with the Mitt Romney campaign.  Maybe he‘s going have the torch passed to him.  Steve McMahon, stay with us.  I wish I could laugh better, it‘s not funny. 

And later, will Congress try to block President Bush from attacking Iran without its approval?  We‘ll talk about it with Congressman Jim Moran and U.S. congressman Eric Caner, both of Virginia.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Republican strategist Ben Ginsburg and Democratic strategist Steve McMahon.

I‘m fascinated by the Republican side of things.  You just signed on with Mitt Romney who has had certainly the best year of any candidate. 

GINSBERG:  My views here are purely my own.  And not representative of any campaign. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, except on the campaign.

Let‘s talk about the interesting fight—we talk a lot on this show about Obama, we did it with the Reverend Sharpton and John Fund and Hillary, that big fight with Edwards I think coming in third.  What about your race?  You seem to have a three-way race right now, if you look at this week.  Certainly Giuliani keeps winning every poll.  John McCain comes in second in almost every poll.  Romney is somewhere in that mix.  How do you see the three-way going over the next year? 

GINSBERG:  Well, over the next year, it‘s going to be focused on a number of different invisible primaries.  You‘re going to have the money primary which will... 

MATTHEWS:  You guys just raised $6.5 million in one day, right? 

GINSBERG:  Yes.  We did. 

Not that that was the motivation, of course

And there will be a series of straw polls and debates that will separate it out. 

As things go on, this will come out being a Republican race about sort of the past and the present and the future.  And I think the candidate who best portrays the future and the hope of the future is the candidate that will end up winning articulating the policies...

MATTHEWS:  Does he enough part in what we call—is he enough of a mencsh to win this?  I know he‘s perfect in every way, that may scare a lot of guys.  He looks perfect.  Does he have enough, sort of, menschdom, regular person stuff to make it? 

GINSBERG:  Oh, yeah.

MATTHEWS:  I mean do you enjoy his company? 

GINSBERG:  Yes, absolutely and I have.  And especially when you see him in the setting of his family.  That‘s a question that I think people will not be asking after they get to know him. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of him as an opponent?  We‘re looking at him right now.  He has the perfect chin, the perfect hair, he looks right.  He looks like a mounty.  He looks like from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  Can that capture the heart of the American people, Steve McMahon?

MCMAHON:  That‘s a question that remains to be seen.  He certainly does look presidential.  I guess my question would be are the Republicans around the country clamoring for a Massachusetts liberal, because that‘s... 

MATTHEWS:  You think he is?

MCMAHON:  Well, I mean, I don‘t think he‘s as conservative as...

MATTHEWS:  Well, right now he‘s against gay marriage.  He‘s against abortion rights.  I mean...

MCMAHON:  He‘s had a different on some of those things recently.

MATTHEWS:  But they don‘t get the pick of the prom, these guys.  I mean, you‘re choosing among him—that‘s what I want to get back to.  If it‘s among him, Giuliani and McCain, Republicans are looking for a new prom queen and it‘s not McCain and it‘s not Giuliani, right? 

MCMAHON:  Republicans are not the party of imperatives.  They‘re the party where the front-runner in the presidential nomination always or almost always wins, John McCain is the front-runner.  He‘s put together...

MATTHEWS:  No, Giuliani is the front-runner.  You don‘t think he‘s going to win.


MATTHEWS:  There‘s no Bob Dole, there‘s no Dick Nixon and there‘s no George Bush.

MCMAHON:  If you look at the early states that matter, you look at New Hampshire, John McCain is in the lead.  You look at some of the places—you look at South Carolina, John McCain is the lead.  Nationally Rudy Giuliani does fine. 

MATTHEWS:  If Mitt Romney loses that first one in New Hampshire, he‘s got big problems, because he‘s next door. 

GINSBERG:  John McCain won by 19 points last time.


MATTHEWS:  A very angry Irish and Italian guys that used to live in Massachusetts. 

MCMAHON:  If you‘re from right next door and you don‘t win New Hampshire, you‘re...

MATTHEWS:  Come no, you guys have to win that.

Tell me about the Mitt Romney plus.  Mitt Romney, what has he got over McCain and over Giuliani that makes you want to work with him?  Because you‘re going for a winner, I know this?  You‘re betting on the nose here.

GINSBERG:  I‘m betting on a winner for the country. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, why is he going to be president? 

GINSBERG:  What impresses me the most is his very background.  He‘s not just a legislator, what he‘s done in the private sector in terms of turning around the Olympics, turning around companies in his bank consulting and bank capital role. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, tell me...


MATTHEWS:  Like Bill Clinton right there.  That Dick Demone doesn‘t work anymore.  Thank you. 

MCMAHON:  Give him hair advice, too. 

MATTHEWS:  We have had some serious discussions tonight, which scares the bejesus out of me.  We‘ve also had some fun.  I like to do both, even when I‘m scared.

Thank you, Ben.  Steve, thank you very much.

Up next, can Congress stop President Bush from attacking Iran without its approval.  We‘ve got this on our mind tonight.  Democratic congressman Jim Moran and Republican Congressman Eric Cantor, both of Virginia will be here. 

And on this Sunday‘s NCB‘s “Meet the Press,” Ted Kennedy and John McCain, an all Irish bout there.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  A bipartisan group of Congressmen is pushing legislation to prohibit a U.S. attack on Iran without congressional approval.  U.S. Congressman Jim Moran, a Democrat of Virginia, is one of the 11 co-sponsors of the bill.  And also with us is another U.S. congressman, also of Virginia.  Chief Deputy Whip, Republican Whip, Republican Eric Canter.

Thank you Mr. Cantor, and thank you Mr. Moran. 

Why do you need—let‘s ask about—let‘s play this tough.  I‘ll be devil‘s advocate.  We‘re at war with Iraq, our troops are in the field, if they are endangered by Iran, why can‘t we hit them? 

REP. JIM MORAN, (D) VIRGINIA:  Because we should not proceed with a war on Iran.  Iran is a real country, it‘s 70 million people, Chris.  It has an army.  We don‘t have an army that could extend itself beyond Iraq today.  But the reason we‘re very much concerned, as you are—I‘ve watched your shows about this.  You‘re absolutely right to be concerned. 

Why would we be sending patriot missiles to Iraq?  They‘re only good if you have scud range missiles in the country.  Iraq doesn‘t have any of those, Iran does.  Why would we be appointing a Naval aviator as the commander-in-chief.  Iraq is not naval, nor aviation, but Iran is that kind of a war that would have to be fought. 

In other words, a deputy undersecretary for defense for President Bush

and I want to quote him, because he said this on television.  He says, we need to take significant action against Iran.  They‘re killing Americans, we have to return the favor.  Iran is the central enemy on the war on terror.

MATTHEWS:  Who is saying this?

MORAN:  This is Jed Babbin, who was the deputy...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, back...


MORAN:  Yeah.  Well, he‘s speaking for the Bush administration when he‘s speaking on television.  There‘s any number of reasons to believe this administration is serious.  And I they think the reason might be, they think they can win the war in Iraq by widening the war to Iran and the rest of the region.  And there are there are other people, of course...

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Congressman Cantor.  What‘s your reaction to the possibility, or the plausible scenario that this administration seeks to gin up a war with Iran? 

REP. ERIC CANTOR, ® VIRGINIA:  First of all, Chris, I would have to say, I think that the resolution that was entered into this week having to do with stopping the president from going into Iran is somewhat of a scare tactic, trying to alarm the American people. 

I think, instead, where we need to be focused is on our troops in Iraq.  And we need to be very careful of what we‘re saying and things that we‘re doing that may jeopardize their situation. 

Obviously the situation is very unstable right now.  And I think everyone can agree that Iran is a huge destabilizer in the region. 

So as far as this resolution is concerned, I think it tries to infringe on the president‘s constitutional ability to be commander-in-chief.  And right now that commander-in-chief in President Bush has the obligation to make sure that he does everything he can to secure America and our troops. 

We have got troops in the battlefield in Iraq, and we have to have an eye on Iran as we continue to make sure that we secure Iraq and make sure that Iraq does not become a central point for al Qaeda or for Iran to destabilize not only the Middle East, but the entire region and even beyond. 

MORAN:  I wish Eric was a little more concerned about the executive branch impinging upon the congressional responsibilities of the responsibilities of the legislative branch.  We are trying to assert ourselves, Eric, because this executive branch has taken unilateral action. 

In fact, they‘re not authorized to do what they‘re doing in Iraq today.  They were authorized to take out Saddam Hussein.  They were authorized to destroy weapons of mass destruction.  They were not authorized to be a long-term occupiers.  And that‘s what we are.

CANTOR:  Listen, we passed a bi-partisan resolution authorizing this operation Iraqi Freedom as well as Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

MORAN:  But the president has defined it, Eric.  The president defined it.  We should have been able to define.

CANTOR:  The authorization of troops in the region to make sure that Iraq did not become a basis for terrorist operations and to ensure stability in the regions.

So he is operating—and much of the discussion this week, frankly, has been about that.  And I think even your speaker has said that the president has got the authority to send these troops—to send these troops into battlefield—additional troops and reinforcements.

So we are talking about how we are going to effectively allow our troops succeed in making sure that Iraq does not become a basis for terrorists and to keep al Qaeda and the influence of the terrorist organizations and it‘s state sponsor in Tehran out of the country. 

MORAN:  Eric, the subject is Iran.  And we want to make clear to the president he is not authorized to go into Iran and all of this bellicose rhetoric...

CANTOR:  The president‘s got constitutional authority, Jim, you know that.  He is the commander-in-chief of our armed forces. 

MORAN:  And we have constitutional responsibility to decide when to declare war, against who and for what reason. 

CANTOR:  Every president since the enactment of the war powers act has taken the same position, whether it‘s a Republican president or a Democrat president, that the war powers act as it stands is a controversial provision and the presidential office, whether Republican or Democrat taking the position that infringes on that office‘s constitutional authority to protect this nation. 

And again, let‘s go back to the purpose of introducing the resolution, no one‘s talking about invading Iran.  Nobody‘s talking about going to war with Iran.  I think we ought to, in good faith, be focused on the destabilizing factor of Iran.  There‘s no question, Iran is in there supporting Hezbollah, supporting Hamas, supporting Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Lebanon, Syria and Israel as well as funding much of the Shia situation, insurgency in Iraq.

MORAN:  I knew if I let you talk, you would prove my case.  That‘s what the administration is saying, they‘re emphasizing Iran‘s role.  And I think they‘re exaggerating Iran‘s role for the purpose of perhaps provoking or in some way dragging Iran into this. 

CANTOR:  Listen, Jim, if you don‘t think Iran—Iran has been on our State Department‘s list of terrorist states longer than any other.  It is the prime funder and sponsor of terrorist organizations in the world. 

MATTHEWS:  I want to ask you—that‘s the question I just want to put to the Congressman Moran.  You don‘t believe we should attack Iran? 

MORAN:  No, I do not. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe there could come a time when we should attack Iran, Congressman Cantor? 

CANTOR:  Well Chris, I can tell you that Iran has been the primary destabilizing force in the region, there‘s no question. 

MATTHEWS:  Are they our enemy? 

CANTOR:  They are absolutely a sworn enemy of the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  Should we attack them if they develop a nuclear program which in several years could lead to a weapon, should we attack them?  If down the road, it looks like they might get a weapon, should we attack them?  This is the same question.  This is not speculative, this is where we were with Iraq back the 2002.  Should we attack them if we believe they‘re underway—several years ahead program to develop a nuclear weapon?  Yes or no.

CANTOR:  Listen, we have learned a lot in terms of our experience and the way we need to deal with a threat.  I think obviously we‘re trying to work a diplomatic solution right now to cut off Iran and the things that we ought to be doing is to make sure that we get Iran where it counts and that‘s through the banking system internationally. 

MATTHEWS:  If that doesn‘t work, should we attack Iran?  Because that‘s the concern raised by Senator Reid today.  I believe it‘s been raised by the president‘s remarks that are talking about Patriot missiles, moving our carrier fleet into that direction, setting ourselves up for a larger war.  Do you think we should be preparing for war or not? 

CANTOR:  Chris, I think it‘s irresponsible to take any option off the table right now. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, that‘s well said.  Thank you very much.  That‘s a clear statement.  Thank you very much Congressman Moran.  Thank you Congressman Eric Cantor. 

Up next, President Bush‘s spokesman Tony Snow says the state of the union will be heavy on domestic issues.  Will he say enough about Iraq?  “Newsweek‘s” Jonathan Alter and the‘s Chris Cillizza coming here.  This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC. 


MATTHEWS:  The court was not in session today for the CIA leak trial of Scooter Libby, Vice President Cheney‘s former confidant and former chief of staff.  Next week, when jury selection resumes, the judge will put more potential jurors in standby because so many people have been dismissed mostly because of strong feelings against the Bush Administration. 

The Iraq war and the actions of Vice President Cheney are looming large in this case and there were sharp reminders of that in the court action this week. 

HARDBALL correspondent David Schuster has a great report. 

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In Scooter Libby‘s perjury and obstruction of justice trial there is now every indication from attorneys in the case that Vice President‘s Cheney‘s expected testimony will be more controversial than previously known. 

Twice this week, Libby‘s lawyer asked potential jurists how they would view the vice president if his testimony was contradicted by another witness. 

Then on Thursday, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald asked one possible juror, who expressed admiration for the office of the vice president, if the jury pool member would have any problems if Fitzgerald questioned Mr.  Cheney on the witness stand aggressively. 

Were the lawyers on both sides simply raising hypotheticals or do prosecutors have a witness and evidence that will contradict part of the vice president‘s testimony? 

Lawyers in the case are under a court order not to talk about it.  The key testimony from the vice president will focus on his conversations with Libby shortly before the outing of CIA operative Valerie Wilson.  It was Wilson‘s husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson, who wrote this op-ed criticizing the Bush Administration‘s nuclear case for war in Iraq.  And one piece of evidence at trial will be a copy the vice president wrote notes on and discussed with Scooter Libby. 

In pre-trial documents, Fitzgerald wrote the Wilson “article and the fact that it contained certain criticisms of the administration, including criticisms regarding issues dealt with by the Office of the Vice President, serve both to explain the context of, and provide a motive for, many of the defendants statements and actions at issue in this case.”

Libby‘s statements under oath that he learned about the Wilsons from reporters not officials including his boss Vice President Cheney prompted the Libby criminal charges.

PATRICK FITZGERALD, U.S. SPECIAL PROSECUTOR:  And what we have when someone is charged with obstruction of justice, is the umpire gets sand thrown in his eyes.  He‘s trying to figure out what happened and somebody blocked their view.

SHUSTER:  As a defense witness, the vice president is expected to testify that he and Libby were far busier with matters including terrorism and homeland security than with undercutting an administration critic.  Therefore the defense will argue, if Libby made mistakes under oath about the Wilsons several months later, they were honest mistakes not deliberate lies. 

But that argument will open the door for prosecutors to try and prove that Vice President Cheney and his chief of staff were obsessed with the Wilsons.  And before Cheney takes the witness stand, one prosecution witness, a CIA briefer, is expected to testify that he briefed the vice president office about Joe Wilson‘s findings in Africa and his wife‘s status at the CIA a month before Libby‘s conversations with reporters.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It would be inappropriate for me at this point shortly before the trial begins to enter into a public dialogue with you abut my views. 

SHUSTER:  With Vice President Cheney‘s credibility and the credibility of Scooter Libby central to the outcome of this case, defense lawyers this week managed to remove several prospective jurors who expressed criticism of the Bush Administration and the Iraq war. 

One woman was removed 30 seconds into her questioning when she revealed that she knew about the leak case and had very strong feelings.  The judge asked quote, “What are those feelings about the defendant Mr.

Libby.”  The woman replied, “Guilty.”

By one man who described Vice President Cheney as careless, convinced the judge and lawyers he can deliberate this case fairly and based only on what‘s presented in court.

The final jury is expected to be seated early next week.  Then there will be opening arguments and the start of the prosecution case.  Vice President Cheney‘s testimony is expected to come during the defense phase in a few weeks. 

His testimony will be followed by the prosecution‘s cross-examination of Mr. Cheney.  An interrogation that is fast becoming one of the most anticipated in years. 

I‘m David Schuster for HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  The case is getting hotter.  David Shuster‘s report was great.  Let‘s bring in our Hardballers, “Newsweek” senior editor and NBC News analyst Jonathan Alter and Chris Cillizza, reporter and author of The Fix, what‘s that about, for the 

Let me go to John Alter—let do a little bit on the Libby trial.  Then we‘ll get to the state of the union.  On the Libby trial, the way Schuster has been reporting this, John, is that it looks like they‘re sizing up the jurors to see if they‘re willing to take on the credibility of the vice president. 

JONATHAN ALTER, “NEWSWEEK” SENIOR EDITOR:  Yes, well I was struck by the fact that if you say anything critical about Cheney, you‘re dismissed from the jury pool, but one guy said something very supportive about Cheney and he‘s still in the pool.  He could get dismissed further along I guess. 

So apparently they‘re having a really hard time finding people who don‘t dislike Dick Cheney and in that sense when they talk about Cheney‘s credibility being on the line in this case, his credibility is already shot Chris with the American people. 

MATTHEWS:  The numbers in our polls show that.  The polling by the way, you don‘t have to have a jury pool to figure out the problem.  The polling shows that about one in five people, or maybe one in four and a half, still support the guy. 

ALTER:  Right, so basically what this trial is going to be about is not Scooter Libby.  I don‘t think the public cares too much about him.  It‘s going to be about how did Cheney‘s office operate?  How obsessed was Cheney with his enemies?  How Nixonian, if you will, was Dick Cheney?  I hope they can turn over a rock on some of those questions. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, we have had an experience, Chris, with another president, President Bill Clinton being impeached because of perjury.  Dick Cheney may want to defend his guy, but he has to walk a thin line here, a very careful line.  He can‘t get caught up in a legal problem himself. 

CILLIZZA:  Right.  The problem that he faces is that, you know, he doesn‘t only get to answer questions from the side favorably disposed to him.  He‘s got to answer the questions from both the prosecution and the defense.  And that‘s a dangerous place to be.  There‘s no question.  And, you know, I think the vice president is well aware of that.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s not like him picking which reporters—it‘s not like him getting to pick which reporters he lets interview him. 

CILLIZZA:  Correct.  I mean, look, this is an open court trial where people can ask questions of him that he would probably rather not be asked. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Jon, is your sense looking at this case that we‘re going to get some real meat out of this case, in terms of national policy, a look at whether the intel regarding nuclear weaponry, for example, that led us to war, was warped, cheated on, whatever?  Do you think we‘ll get anything really solid there in this case? 

ALTER:  You know, I don‘t know, because so much of that kind of thing is ruled out of evidence in these cases, because it doesn‘t relate to the particular charges.  But I think what we might well get is kind of a cultural look at the office of the vice president. 

You know, Walter Mondale did something very unusual today.  I can‘t remember the last time that a former vice president has attacked in as stark terms a sitting vice president.  He was just really hammering Cheney for throwing his weight around in the federal government, for being way, way, way out of control and out of bounds.  And so the question I think we‘re going to see is, was Cheney out of bounds in the federal bureaucracy. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask == we‘ll be right back with more with Jonathan Alter and Chris Cillizza.  Let‘s talk when we get back with these two great reporters about the State of the Union next week, because it‘s always been the big time of the year when we know what‘s going on.  It‘s supposed to tell us, the State of the Union.  You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with‘s Chris Cillizza and “Newsweek‘s” Jonathan Alter. 

Chris, your listening post, what does it tell you about the State of the Union?  What is he going to talk about? 

CILLIZZA:  Well, I mean, look, we have gotten the indications that he‘s going to talk about domestic policy.  I mean, wouldn‘t you?  I mean, it‘s pretty clear at the moment that the president‘s foreign policy, which is dominated at the moment by the war in Iraq, is not something that‘s popular either with Congress, his sort of direct audience, or with the American public more generally.  And so I think focusing on domestic policy is sort of the smart political thing to do. 

That said, we‘re not really sure what that domestic policy focus is going to entail.  Is it going to be let‘s balance the budget, or let‘s stop spending so drastically, let‘s find a way forward on immigration?  I do think that the president is going to try, in some ways, to call Democrats‘ bluff that they want to be more bipartisan and that may take the form of a comprehensive immigration bill.

Remember the bill was blocked—the bill the president wanted was blocked by House Republicans who thought it wasn‘t stringent enough.  They were against guest worker provisions, they wanted to send all illegal immigrants back before bringing them back into the United States.  House and Senate Democrats may be more likely to go along with the president there.  So I think he‘s going to say, well, you want to be bipartisan, here‘s a chance. 

MATTHEWS:  Jon, one of the reasons he may want to talk domestic is I just checked his approval numbers.  He‘s down in the low 30s on foreign, but on domestic, he‘s up to 45.  This economy, this stock market is helping him. 

ALTER:  Yes, and I think you‘re going to see him brag about the fact that the economy is relatively strong.  I think he‘s going to offer the olive branch over and over again to the Democrats and say let‘s work together in a bipartisan way. 

Bipartisanship is hip now, Chris.  He‘s going to say, look, let‘s do something on No Child Left Behind, let‘s do something on extending health care to children, and let‘s do something on energy.  But it‘s the last of those that I think is going to be where the rub is. 

You know, last year on the State of the Union, he talked about our addiction to oil, but he didn‘t offer any plans to get off that addiction.  This year the bar is higher.  He‘s got to tell us what he‘s going to do to end that addiction in terms of fuel economy standards, a cap and trade system, a BTU tax.  Whatever the proposal is, there‘s got to be something there to concretely move us toward energy independence and more aggressive toward addressing global warming.

MATTHEWS:  He can‘t just say more refinery capacity? 

ALTER:  That‘s not going to wash this time.  He‘s got to do a little better than that.   

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you Jon and Chris, do you think that he is going to do something on global warming that recognizes that threat to our civilization, actually say it, this global warming is real?   

CILLIZZA:  Good question.  I think he may.  I don‘t think he‘s going to say it in those terms, but I think he may couch it into some kind of comprehensive energy package.  But I also think—don‘t forget. 

Let me put in a quick plug for the global warming God out there, Al Gore, who a lot of people are still talking about running for president.  Al Gore could have a very good Tuesday.  The State of the Union, if global warming makes it in there, and don‘t forget, Oscar nominations come out on Tuesday.  “An Inconvenient Truth,” his documentary about global warming is talked about as getting an Academy Award nomination. 

So, look, I still think you got to keep Al Gore in the mix when it comes to 2008 until he gives us a Shermanesque no. 

MATTHEWS:  Arnold Schwarzenegger has gotten points for becoming hipper on healthcare and the environment, including global warming. 

Jonathan, do you think this president might tip his cap to the hipper side of American politics and say, yes, there is global warming because of that Oscar, because of other things going on?

ALTER:  If he‘s smart he will.  The California plan on global warming is really tough.  It‘s got teeth in it and California traditionally leads the nation.  It would be wonderful if the president would join with Schwarzenegger, but I think he‘s also going to play to this notion after the election that the problem with conservatives is they weren‘t conservative enough. 

So you‘re going to see a lot of talk about limiting spending and, you know, not putting the handcuffs on business.  And he‘s going to go back to the basics in conservative domestic politics. 

MATTHEWS:  Jon, it‘s great having you on.  Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek” and Chris Cillizza of  Play HARDBALL with us again Monday as we preview the president‘s State of the Union.  We‘ll know more by then.

And watch MSNBC all day Tuesday for complete coverage live from Capitol Hill leading up to the president‘s speech at 9:00 Eastern.  See you then.



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