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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Jan. 31

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: Gordon Smith, Jay Carney, Anne Kornblut, Michael Isikoff, Tony Blankley

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Troubled politics, Republican senators choose whether to jump off the Bush‘s warship or risk going down with it.

And a Democratic presidential candidate calls another Democratic presidential candidate “mainstream,” “articulate,” “bright,” “clean,” and “nice-looking,” and all hell breaks loose.  Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  And welcome to HARDBALL.  On the day Joe Biden made his presidential ambitions official, he also stirred up some heat with the words he used to compliment his 2008 rival, Barack Obama.  Biden called his Senate, quote: “The first mainstream African-American presidential candidate who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” He added: “I mean, that‘s a storybook, man.” 

Well, there are two other rings in today‘s political circus.  Republican senators, as many as 10 of them, are publicly trying to decide whether to back a resolution criticizing President Bush‘s plan to increase the number of troops in Iraq or should they separate themselves from the unpopular Bush move or stick with the president? 

And the perjury trial of Scooter Libby.  More testimony on how Libby tried to shut down criticism of his boss, Vice President Dick Cheney. 

But first, a string of suspicious packages disrupted the City of Boston today in what apparently was a marketing ploy.  NBC Justice Department Pete Williams joins us now. 

Pete, what were these packages that made everybody worried that they might be bombs?

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT:  This is just weird, Chris.  All day long, Boston police were finding what they thought were suspicious packages, shutting down streets, closing down a portion of the Charles River. 

They all looked like little circuit boards and had an image on them. 

And let me show you what the image was.  Now this was a picture earlier

today.  But if we can come back to the live picture.  This is what they all

featured.  I‘m told that that this is an animated character from a feature

a series on the Cartoon Network that is going to have a feature-length movie coming out in March.

And this is—Turner Broadcasting now has put out a statement, Chris, saying that these were promotional materials for the film, and they had been plastered all over Boston, New York, Los Angeles and many other cities for several days now. 

But the Boston authorities didn‘t know that.  They found these things.  They had to check them all out with the bomb squad.  But we now know there was never any danger to them, and, you know, at the risk of being flip, you might say the only bomb here is the potential movie. 

But in any case, there was no risk to these things, although it was certainly a strange day in Boston. 

MATTHEWS:  But they never notified the police that they were doing this P.R. campaign. 

WILLIAMS:  No, and you know, in retrospect, I don‘t know why they would, but for some reason, it hasn‘t happened in any other city where these things are put up.  Somehow someone saw—apparently these thing fell on the ground or maybe one of them had broken and they started to look sort of suspicious, and then when the Boston police started to look around, they found more of them. 

People started calling them in.  And it just took a while for the Boston police to figure out what they had here.  At the end of the day, there may not be any criminal charges filed.  I can‘t think of what they would be.  But that is going to be up to the Boston police. 

MATTHEWS:  Shades of the Salem witch trials.  Anyway, thank you very much, Pete Williams.  There is nothing to that story. 

Now to the fight on Capitol Hill over the president‘s plans to escalate the number of troops in Iraq.  Republican Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon is co-sponsor of Senator Warner‘s resolution that disagrees with the president‘s plan. 

What‘s going to happen, Senator?  Are we are going to have a vote—a positive majority vote for some resolution—bipartisan resolution that criticizes the troop hike? 

SEN. GORDON SMITH ®, OREGON:  My own sense is that you will have at least a majority for the Warner resolution.  I‘m for it.  I‘m a co-sponsor of it.  It‘s, I think, respectful.  It clearly opposes the surge but it does it in a way that also lays out the things we would like to see the president and the administration, our military doing in Iraq, in a way that doesn‘t needlessly put our troops in harm‘s way, and protects America‘s larger interests in the war on terror. 

MATTHEWS:  The enforcer came to Capitol Hill this week, Vice President Dick Cheney.  Was he frightening?  How would you describe his demeanor?  Was he scary, frightening, or just reasonable or just argumentative or what? 

SMITH:  Well, he didn‘t say anything.  It was his birthday.  He did not want to have happy birthday sung to him, so we sung it to him anyway.  But having said that, he heard a very sharp exchange between Republican senators, myself included.  Obviously what we say in there, we keep in there. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Well, it‘s like Las Vegas, eh? 


SMITH:  Yes.  Not quite, but you know, there were some very candid views expressed and mine was among them. 

MATTHEWS:  Did the president come to your senate caucus, the Republicans on Capitol Hill in the Senate, and ask for input before he decided to surge? 

SMITH:  No, not that I know of.  We were invited down in different groups.  I was in a group.

MATTHEWS:  But he never asked you to help make that decision? 

SMITH:  No, no, this was a decision that was made. 

MATTHEWS:  So afterwards he can‘t really say he is surprised that you had a problem with it. 

SMITH:  Well, he knew my problem before he ever came out with the surge, which, you know, ultimately this is, I guess, number six in terms of surges, and my concern, while I pray I‘m wrong, I‘m afraid I‘m right, that this is just more of the same, more of us policing a Shia-Sunni ancient feud.

MATTHEWS:  Do you have a sense when you talk to experts at the White House, the smart people, let‘s talk about Hadley, those kind of people, did they have a real plan or it just the last—is it like one of those balls you throw up in a basketball game when you have, you know, a second on the buzzer and you throw it from the other end of the court? 

Do they really believe that they could end this war in the matter of a year or two?  That is all they‘ve got left.

SMITH:  Well, General Petraeus didn‘t give the Senate those kinds of impressions.  So if he‘s not going to give us that impression, I don‘t know how the administration could convince us of that. 

MATTHEWS:  But what are they saying is their scenario?  I mean, here it is, February, 2007.  Will we be in the same conversation we‘re in right now two years from now? 

SMITH:  I don‘t believe so.  I believe the resolutions are important to put forward, even if they don‘t clear the filibuster hurdle, at least to have a vote on cloture of these various things to find out if there is a majority feeling in the U.S. Senate that something should be said. 

Look, they‘re going to hear it.  They need to hear it, because it‘s the feelings of the American people.  And at the end of the day, I think the American people are very clear that they don‘t like how this war has been managed and neither do I. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  The front pages of our major newspapers all across the country have a headline, end of next week, perhaps, “Senate Opposes Troop Surge.” What will be the impact, the consequence on the policy? 

SMITH:  You know, I keep hearing you have either got to vote to support it 100 percent or you have got to vote to cut off the funding.  I think there is an important middle step.

MATTHEWS:  Which is this.

SMITH:  Which is this.  This is about—this is about expressing, about laying a predicate for going into the authorization, the appropriation process.  And I think that it‘s important for us not to just to speak to the administration, and for the American people, but to speak to the Iraqis. 

They have got to show up for the fight.  By the way, they did this weekend.  I was proud of them. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the future over there?  You mentioned it was a civil war.  A lot of people believe it is a growing civil war.  Is this a country that‘s only there because it had the British forcing them to be a country back in the ‘20s, before that the Turks when they had the Ottoman Empire and then the really evil Saddam Hussein? 

In other words, if they don‘t have a real tyranny forcing them to work together and be a country, do you believe that Iraq is a country? 

SMITH:  I said to Condi Rice before we ever went in that this will all end up being some kid of a soft partition.  That is not our decision to make.  That is their decision to make.  But those are the decisions they have to make.  The sooner they do, the sooner we can get out. 

MATTHEWS:  What about if they keep voting in this plebiscites to stay united, but the people with the guns and the bombs don‘t want to be united? 

SMITH:  You see, our fight is against al Qaeda.  They are in Anbar province.  I have no problem taking on them. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.  But they came in because we were in. 

SMITH:  Yes.  And they will go to—they will wherever we are, that‘s the larger war on terror, that‘s the war from which we cannot retreat.  But my own view is that they—we‘re a crutch right now.  We need to take that crutch away, and then force them to make political decisions, which will produce the peace that will ultimately allow them to be a country of their own making, whether that‘s a soft partition, how they distribute oil revenues, all of these things, all of these things.  How they defend civil rights among minorities there.  These are the things that politicians have to do.  They have been elected to do it.  We have given them a chance to do it.  They need to do it.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about your home state.  Growing up in this country, I know that Oregon is against wars.  Very unpopular.  It was definitely an anti-war state during the Vietnam era.  Is Oregon now against this war? 

SMITH:  Oh, I think so.  I think America is.  But.

MATTHEWS:  But you have to go and run for re-election.  So I‘m asking you, are you taking a position which is consistent with the voters back home right now or aren‘t you tough enough? 

SMITH:  I don‘t know.  I‘m saying what I earnestly believe.  I believe that Oregon does not want to retreat from the larger war on terror for our own safety‘s sake, but I think that they sense that the way the war in Iraq has mutated is not our fight and not something we can fix, but to the degree that we have a role in Iraq, sure, it‘s protecting their borders.  It‘s providing them training, providing them equipment, providing backup, interdiction like we did this weekend, very successfully. 

Those are the kind of things I believe Oregon would still support, because it‘s about our security and ultimately finishing a job, but they have to finish the job.  We have got to push them to do that.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I just read the John McCain piece—Todd Purdum‘s piece in Vanity Fair.  He says, how can we be at the perimeter of Iraq while the people who are being—who are supporters of ours are getting beheaded in the streets of Baghdad?  How can we pull back and let that happen?  In other words, our people over there, we have backed up.  We retreat from are the cities, we retreat so far away we can‘t really stop an action like that, a beheading, a public execution.  How do you deal with that question? 

SMITH:  Well, that‘s happening anyway.  But frankly, they have an army.  We‘ve trained it.  We‘ve equipped.  They can defend it.  And we can provide oversight.  We can share intelligence.  We can even interdict with them as we did as backup this weekend. 

I‘m not for slaughter, but frankly, that slaughter is going on, and to have—to believe that our soldiers can go into the streets of Baghdad again and again, go out and retreat, kicking down doors of people whose language you don‘t speak, whose culture you don‘t understand, they need to do that.  We can‘t do that. 

MATTHEWS:  You talk like most Americans.  I have studied all the polls.  Most Americans agree with the sensibility—or the sense you have.  You support John McCain for the next president of the United States. 

SMITH:  I do.

MATTHEWS:  John McCain doesn‘t agree with you. 

SMITH:  I know.  We have an honest disagreement. 

MATTHEWS:  But it is the big disagreement over the central question of

our time.  How can you back a man to become president of the United States

and he may well beat a Hillary Clinton or a Barack Obama or a John Edwards.  Once he is president, won‘t he pursue the Bush policy you reject? 

SMITH:  John McCain is a man of character, a man of strength, a man of deep experience.  He has suffered for his country.  He is a genuine American hero.  Do I have differences with other politicians?  I‘m the only one I agree with 100 percent of the time. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you change John McCain‘s mind? 

SMITH:  You know, John McCain‘s mind will change.  Let me say, he was right three years ago to point out that this war was becoming what we weren‘t prepared to fight and we didn‘t have enough troops to fight it. 

My disagreement with him is just simply an honest one, that I believe we‘ve become a shield, a shield from Iraqis making decisions.  John believes that—I think, like the president, that until we provide the security, they won‘t make political decisions. 

MATTHEWS:  If I listen to you correctly, two years from now, the American people simply won‘t put up with this war anymore? 

SMITH:  I don‘t believe they will, not in its current form.  But I believe American people, and I certainly know Oregonians are patriots, they don‘t want to lose the war on terror.  That‘s our war.  And that‘s not a war we asked for, but it‘s a war we have to prosecute (ph). 

MATTHEWS:  So you were wrong to authorize this war? 

SMITH:  Based on the information I had, I voted as I did. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, they gave you the information they needed to get so you would vote for the war. 

SMITH:  And the information I had was wrong.  Had I had the right information, I would not have voted for it.

MATTHEWS:  Well, pay attention next time, because they‘ll do it again. 

Thank you very much, Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon.

Coming up, how many Republicans will rebuke the president? 

And later, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster with the latest on the intrigue from Scooter Libby‘s trial and the vice presidential operations in that V.P. office.  You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  How divided are Republican senators over President Bush‘s troop increase?  And how hard is the White House working to block those measures oppose it?  Anne Kornblut is the national political reporter for The Washington Post.  And Jay Carney is the Washington bureau chief for Time.  He has a cover story, by the way, running this weekend on Condi Rice. 

I want to ask you about—I will ask you about that right now.  Is Condi still the dutiful assistant to the president or has she gotten some distance from him in terms of his hard-nosed forward-leaning (ph) ideology? 

JAY CARNEY, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, TIME:  Well, what she has got is a little clearer shot to his conscience.  Because while she has always been very close to the president, her principal rival in Don Rumsfeld is no longer with the organization. 

And as secretary of state now her only sort of competition in giving foreign policy advice to the president remains Dick Cheney.  So it is—you know, to the extent that she is a little bit more of a realist, certainly more of a realist than the administration has been in the past, you know, she now is able to influence policy a little more directly. 

Whether she has got—whether.

MATTHEWS:  Still got Cheney in the way. 

CARNEY:  Yes.  Cheney is a big obstacle.  And the president has gone down—so far down this road now that it, you know, is going to be hard to steer him away from it. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ve got a new poll out in Newsweek—rather, your competition has got a new poll out that says that two-thirds of the American people believe that Bush is not fact-based.  That he doesn‘t look at facts.  He has this sort of personal worldview.  We know what it is, somewhat messianic, you might say.  And he doesn‘t look at facts anymore.  He is just out there like a hovercraft above the reality. 

And is that playing a role in these senators up there on the Hill thinking, I had better not stay with the hovercraft, I had better get my feet on the ground? 


absolutely.  And you hear it in the rhetoric from all of the Democrats who are running for president now.  They talk about being reality-based.  That is one of the catchphrases of it.  So yes, I mean, I think the best the White House can put forward.

MATTHEWS:  By the way, Gordon Smith, who was just here.

KORNBLUT:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  He is trying to get his feet on the ground, it looks to me. 

He is trying to keep in touch with his people back home for sure. 

KORNBLUT:  Well, and every Republican is trying to stake out a position right now that is not quite like the White House‘s but isn‘t like the Democrats.  I mean, there is the full spectrum opinion now on what we should do.  I mean, that is really what the debate is coming down to. 

MATTHEWS:  So will there be a resolution that is backed by a majority composed of both parties?  What is the hard question here?  Because you are going to start with 49 Democrats, probably, not counting Tim Johnson who is ailing, not counting Lieberman who is a hawk.  Won‘t you have 49 probably, and then you need to add two or three to get a majority? 

KORNBLUT:  You have done the math better than I have.  I mean.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that is.

KORNBLUT:  I mean, I guess it is.

MATTHEWS:  This isn‘t Einstein.  This is 51 Democrats, I assume they get 49 to 51, which means they need at least a handful of Republicans to make their case.  When you hear Gordon Smith here, you hear John Warner, you hear Voinovich, you hear a lot of these guys are out there.  Brownback, a conservative, is saying he has got a problem with this mentality. 

CARNEY:  If Republican senators vote where they have said they are—you know, the senators you have just named have all broken with the president.  If those senators who have broken with the president vote with John Warner, you have got a sizable majority and a large chunk of the Republican caucus. 

And then there is another sort of 10 or 15 Republicans who would probably like to do that but are still afraid because of their states or because they‘re not up for re-election and you know, not quite willing to break that formally with the president. 

But when you have got Republicans like Warner and Gordon Smith, I mean, these are not squishy Republicans—squishy moderates, you know, who have been a problem for Bush in the past.  You know, these are pretty rock solid Republican supporters of the president in the past.  And now they are abandoning him.  I think you are going to see a big.


MATTHEWS:  What is the impact?  Gordon Smith, the senator, was sitting in your chair there, and he said that he thought it would have an impact.  Front page of all the newspapers and magazines, “Senate Votes Against Troop Surge.” He said that is going to have an impact.  We are not going to be in this war two years from now. 

KORNBLUT:  Will it, thought?  I mean, the White House has shown incredible willingness to buck the public opinion, to buck the Congress.  I mean, one would think that it would have some kind of a public opinion impact, but I mean, another poll shows what percentage of the country wishes the Bush presidency were already over? 

I mean, there is a size—I mean, there are some.

MATTHEWS:  Well, there are 70 percent -- 71 percent in the latest Newsweek poll again that says that they think the president no longer can affect policy.  They must be talking about it at home, not—he can obviously affect—he is commander-in-chief of foreign policy. 

CARNEY:  If it continues to spiral downward, if the impact that vote has is to further undermine the president‘s standing with the public, to further divorce him from the public on Iraq, you know, at some point, enough of a group, a coalition of Republican lawmakers, especially powerful ones on the Hill, will go to the White House and say, you know, you‘re killing us, you‘re destroying the party, you have got to do something.  You have got to stop. 

KORNBLUT:  But you would have felt that.


MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me ask you another stupid question.  Most people watch this show have an interest in the Constitution.  They grew up with it.  They have beliefs.  Now maybe they are liberals who believe in a broadly interpreted Constitution that should allow for all kinds of things like civil rights and move forward, but a lot of people believe the Constitution meant something.  And when it gave Congress the power to make war, it meant it.  All right?

You‘re laughing.  Because this is—why do we laugh at the Constitution?  People who are gun owners believe the Second Amendment means something.  Liberals think the First Amendment means something, but nobody seems to mean that Article I of the Constitution, which gives Congress and only Congress the right to declare war, people chuckle at it. 

CARNEY:  Well.

MATTHEWS:  Is the president—why is the president.

CARNEY:  Here is the problem, because there are.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Go ahead.

CARNEY:  The Constitution also makes clear that the president is commander-in-chief, so there is an inherent conflict in those, you know, existing powers in the law of the land.  And that is that, you know, that conflict is what has created the problems we have had and which led to the War Powers Act which—you know, which led to the diminishment of presidential authority after Watergate...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We are talking about a policy issue, we are not talking about execution.  We are talking about a policy question.  Should the United States expand its role in Iraq is policy question.  The president is saying the Congress has no role in a major policy question.  Should we expand or withdraw?  He says, I decide, I‘m the decider.  Is that a military decision?

KORNBLUT:  I‘m the decision-maker.

CARNEY:  Now he‘s the decision-maker.

KORNBLUT:  Now he‘s the decision-maker.  Look, I mean, one of the.

MATTHEWS:  Is that a—is it a policy decision or is that a military decision? 

KORNBLUT:  Well, look, I mean, the sort of—the crasser answer to this is that you have 300 members of Congress running for president.  I think it would be shortsighted and I have heard some of them say that it would be shortsighted for them to now limit the powers of the presidency when one of them might be two years away from holding it. 

CARNEY:  I think that is a good point.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m afraid that the president assumes he has a right to start another war in Iran. 

CARNEY:  Well, that‘s a bigger question.  That‘s where war powers become.

MATTHEWS:  And I think that is you can‘t get these guys to say no, we‘re not going that way.  I think they believe they can get us in there, you know, get our feet wet, drop a bunch of bombs on them and then dare Congress to challenge it. 

CARNEY:  Well, I think Congress would challenge that.  Because expanding.

MATTHEWS:  Will Hillary?

CARNEY:  Expanding a war that.

MATTHEWS:  Jay Carney, I want your answers.  Do you believe Hillary Clinton would oppose a policy of going after Iran? 

CARNEY:  I do. 

KORNBLUT:  I don‘t know.  I haven‘t—I‘m not going to guess. 

CARNEY:  I do.  It would be so.

MATTHEWS:  It would be the first war she has opposed in her adulthood since Vietnam. 

CARNEY:  I think it would kill her with her party if she didn‘t. 

MATTHEWS:  She married the guy.

CARNEY:  Depending on the circumstances.

MATTHEWS:  . that supported Panama, supported Grenada, supported Lebanon.  Bill Clinton supports every war except the one he had a fight in, every one, since 1812. 

CARNEY:  It depends on the circumstances, Chris.  But it would be devastating if it looked a precipitate action by the president, a preemptive strike, another war like Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he is not going to announce it ahead of time.

CARNEY:  And then the Democrats.

MATTHEWS:  He is not going to tell us today we‘re attacking Iran tomorrow.

CARNEY:  No, I mean, absent that.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m afraid we get up in the morning and the salutes will be like this.  (MAKES SALUTE)  Hillary, right here, right here. 

Anne Kornblut, Jay Carney staying with us.  Jay doesn‘t agree with me.  Anne‘s not sure.  Coming up later, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster with the latest from the Scooter Libby trial.  Don‘t you love the that name, Scooter Libby. 

Plus, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talks with NBC‘s Chip Reid about her trip she just got from to Iraq.  Let‘s hear what the top Democrat in the Congress thinks about the war.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with Anne Kornblut of The Washington Post.  She used to work for that smaller newspaper.  And Time magazine‘s—The New York Times.  And Time magazine‘s Jay Carney. 

I want to ask you both about this.  Let‘s take a look at what Senator Joe Biden said on the stump in announcing it to the press this week.  He said some nice things about Barama (sic).  You could argue nice things, but then we‘ll talk about the context: “I mean, you have got the first mainstream African-American,” I guess presidential candidate, he didn‘t mean the first African-American, “who is articulate and bright and clean and nice-looking.” “I mean, that‘s a storybook, man.” He makes his little street comment, “man,” he throws in here. 

But here is what Obama said back late this afternoon: “I didn‘t take Senator Biden‘s comments personally, but obviously they are historically inaccurate.  After all, we have had presidential candidates like Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton.  They gave a voice to many important issues through their campaigns and no one would call them inarticulate.” 

So he is taking the point of inarticulate—articulate.  I think a lot.


MATTHEWS:  What do you—is this just a tempest in a teapot or what? 

CARNEY:  The problem with that comment is not—obviously Jesse Jackson is a remarkably articulate man. 

MATTHEWS:  I would put him at the top, right up there with—in fact, I would give him a notch over Mario Cuomo. 

CARNEY:  What Biden was saying, and this is Biden‘s fault for not being clear in what he was saying in this interview, is that there hasn‘t been a candidate, a viable African-American candidate with all those qualities in one. 

MATTHEWS:  And mainstream.

CARNEY:  Who is mainstream.

MATTHEWS:  Mainstream is the key to me. 

CARNEY:  Who didn‘t come from the civil rights movement, you know, who came up through elected office, who wasn‘t, you know, simply a boutique or fringe candidate like Carol Moseley Braun was, when, you know, nobody—she did not... 

MATTHEWS:  She ran after she lost her Senate seat.  Give me a break. 

CARNEY:  Exactly.  I mean, she was not a viable candidate. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think that word—I mean, let‘s—I‘m going try to be fair.

CARNEY:  Jesse Jackson ran.

MATTHEWS:  He hung it on it the mainstream part.  I know—I mean, Chris Rock, the comedian.  I want to ask you, what do you think?  Before I give you my view, which is Chris Rock—let me give you Chris Rock‘s view.  He has this wonderful riff he did in his act where he would say, every time an African-American guy comes out of college or makes it and has very good standard English and all and speaks well, isn‘t it great, he is so articulate. 

He says like, well, what do you he is?  He went to college, of course he is articulate.  So it is seen as kind of a patronizing term for a white guy to use about a black guy. 

But, hey, I measure people by their heart.  I don‘t think Biden was saying anything more than somebody of his generation would say.  But what do you think?

KORNBLUT:  No, I mean, he has a tendency—this is classic Joe Biden. 

He has a tendency for.

MATTHEWS:  What is classic about this? 

KORNBLUT:  He tends toward the hyperbolic often in his speech, and he talks and talks and talks.  And that is one of the things that I think voters in Delaware have loved about him for a long time.  He himself has said, I talk to much.  I need to rein it in.  And he just can‘t help himself. 

MATTHEWS:  This is essentially right.  I think—I keep thinking of -

what‘s his name?  Howard Cosell talking about Mohammed Ali.  You come from the ghetto, you know, you‘re a poor kid.  You know.  But you know, let‘s see what.

CARNEY:  He tends towards the impolitic.  He made that unfortunate statement last summer about Indians, you know, with having—people with an Indian accent working in 7-Elevens.  And you know, people tend to give him a break because he just—he talks and talks and talks. 

MATTHEWS:  He is trying to talk like people.  And the minute these guys—used to talking points, we mock them for the talking points, when they try to talk like people of their generation.

CARNEY:  We  all knew that this would happen to Joe Biden in his presidential campaign.  It is a little shocking that it happened on the first day.  And it may—I mean, people on the (INAUDIBLE) line are saying, it may end his campaign before it starts. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I ask everybody out there to do what I‘m trying to do, is look at this reasonably.  In my religion I call it a venial sin.  I‘m not sure it is even that.  I‘m waiting on this.  And by the way, he comes on this show a lot.  And we like him to do that.  And want him to keep coming back.  And he is articulate, isn‘t he?  And he is clean. 

KORNBLUT:  He is so clean. 

MATTHEWS:  He is clean and he is mainstream. 

KORNBLUT:  He is mainstream. 

MATTHEWS:  So we‘re saying all of those things about him that he said about the other guy.  You damn mainstream politician, Joe Biden.  I expected this from you. 

Anyway, thank you, Anne Kornblut of The Washington Post, and Jay Carney of Time. 

Up next, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster will have today‘s developments in Scooter Libby‘s trial.  And Newsweek‘s Michael Isikoff will be here to talk about where this trial—we are going to get an African-American voice on the show, damn soon, like tomorrow night, I insist on it, to talk about this.  Enough white guy talk.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

The Scooter Libby trial continues in Washington.  And, today, we heard more testimony on how Libby tried to shut down criticism of his boss, Dick Cheney. 

HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has all the latest details. 

David, give them to us.

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, two of the five charges against Scooter Libby stem from his testimony about a crucial conversation he had with then “TIME” magazine reporter Matt Cooper. 

So, there was Matt Cooper arriving at the courthouse today. 

To put this in context, the Cooper-Libby conversation came after Joe Wilson had publicly criticized the Bush administration, but the Cooper-Libby conversation came before Robert Novak‘s column publicly identifying Joe Wilson‘s wife was working at the CIA. 

Matt Cooper testified that, during that crucial week, he was talking to Karl Rove.  And he was talking to Karl Rove about Joe Wilson.  And Karl Rove said:  You should not believe Joe Wilson because of who sent him on this trip to Africa.

And Matt Cooper, he asked Rove, well, who was it?

And Karl Rove stated, according to Cooper:  His wife.  She worked at the agency, the CIA, on weapons of mass destruction. 

The next day, a Saturday, as Vice President Cheney and Scooter Libby are going to Norfolk, Virginia, and coming back on Air Force Two, Matt Cooper had already left messages with Libby asking for response, because Cooper was working on a story about the Wilsons.

According to the testimony, the vice president actually wrote out a statement for Scooter Libby to read to Matt Cooper.  So, during the conversation, Cooper testified that he did get a statement from Libby.

But, at the end of the conversation, Matt Cooper testified that he asked Scooter Libby:  I have heard that Valerie Wilson, Joe Wilson‘s wife, works at the CIA.

And, according to Cooper, Scooter Libby testified:  Yes, I have heard that, too. 

Libby did not clarify where he heard it or how he heard it.  And Cooper said he didn‘t ask because Libby was in a hurry to get the phone call over with. 

The problem for Scooter Libby is that, during his grand jury testimony, Scooter Libby said that he only knew about Valerie Wilson from reporters at the time of the conversation with Matt Cooper, and that Libby, at the time, still did not know it as fact. 

And that‘s problematic, because we have already had five government witnesses testify that they told Scooter Libby or they heard Scooter Libby talking about Valerie Wilson up to a month before this crucial weekend before the conversation with Matt Cooper. 

Now, on cross-examination with Matt Cooper, the defense was trying to make a big deal out of some of his notes, his misspellings, even the fact that, during the conversation with Scooter Libby, Matt Cooper acknowledged that he was sprawled out on his bed at home.

And there was some testimony to the idea that Matt Cooper couldn‘t remember parts of the conversations or part of what the notes stood for.

But Cooper was steadfast, Chris, in saying that he remembered very clearly that, at the end of the conversation, Scooter Libby said:  Yes, I have heard that, too—when Matt Cooper asked about Valerie Wilson. 

Matt Cooper said he took that as confirmation.  And, on redirect, the prosecutor said to Matt Cooper, if Scooter Libby had said to you in your conversation that you only—that Scooter Libby only knew this information about Valerie Wilson because Scooter Libby had said—had learned it from reporters, would you, Matt Cooper, have not gone with it?

And Cooper said:  Of course not. 

And, again, that‘s a preparation for the prosecutors, as early as tomorrow, starting to play snippets of what Scooter Libby said at the grand jury, when Scooter Libby said:  I only learned this information from reporters at the time of my conversation with Matt Cooper—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, David Shuster, at the trial of Scooter Libby. 

For more on the trial, we turn to “Newsweek”‘s Michael Isikoff, who is also the author of a book all about this trial, “Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.”

This is sort of the bible.  Is anything coming to you?  I mean, I read your book.  I mean, it‘s amazing, because of all the detail you spent on—with David Corn, you spent a year putting this together. 

Anything new in the trial that you have been watching that surprises you, in terms of the relentless testimony that Scooter Libby knew about the identity of this CIA agent, was talking about it with reporters, pushing it with reporters long—well before he talked to Tim Russert of NBC? 

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, “NEWSWEEK”:  Well, look, the most—the most

interesting new development in the trial actually came last week in the

opening statement, when Ted Wells suggested that the—that Karl—that -

that Scooter Libby had been sacrificed to protect Karl Rove, and that...

MATTHEWS:  Hah!~  What evidence did they have of that?

ISIKOFF:  Well, that‘s the...


MATTHEWS:  Some after-the-fact note they found.

ISIKOFF:  That—yes.  And Cheney writes a note saying, we‘re not going to protect one guy, meaning Rove, to protect another.

MATTHEWS:  How do we know when Cheney wrote that note? 

ISIKOFF:  Well, it is contemporaneous with the notes when—when Scooter Libby is complaining to Dick Cheney.

But the fact is that, you know, having thrown it out there, having thrown Rove out there...


ISIKOFF:  ... as the fall guy in—you know, Libby is the fall guy to protect Rove, I think the defense has to back that up.  You can‘t put an inflammatory charge out there. 


MATTHEWS:  Let me try this...


MATTHEWS:  ... again, as a non-lawyer. 


MATTHEWS:  They got a D.C. jury.  They made a point of impaneling a jury that is not that highly educated, not that there‘s anything wrong with that.  But they are not advanced-degree people.  They‘re not college people, the idea being they are suspicious of power, reasonably suspicious of big shots. 

ISIKOFF:  Of course.  Of course. 

MATTHEWS:  So—and they‘re all—probably all Democrats. 

So, what you say is, you know, the real bad guy here is Karl Rove. 

And he went out to hurt our defendant. 

ISIKOFF:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  And, by the way, the other bad guy is the CIA.  They‘re very evil. 


MATTHEWS:  So, you have got these two evil forces.  So, you build this guy up, Scooter Libby, as some little guy...

ISIKOFF:  Yes.  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... some little guy beset by the big bad boys. 

ISIKOFF:  I agree with you 100 percent...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the...


ISIKOFF:  ... although I‘m not sure I agree with your characterization...

MATTHEWS:  And throw in the fact...

ISIKOFF:  I‘m not sure I agree with your characterization of this jury, but I agree with your general point.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what is it? 



I mean, we don‘t know that much about it, but what we do know, I suspect that there are...


MATTHEWS:  They made a point of avoiding anybody with high degrees. 


ISIKOFF:  There may be some very well-educated people on that jury.  And they seem to be alert.  They seem to be taking notes.  They‘re asking good questions.  My sense is, this is a very sophisticated jury. 

But, that said, your basic point is right.  You know, you want to create sympathy for your guy, Libby...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

ISIKOFF:  ... by demonizing another guy...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

ISIKOFF:  ... who you can pretty well guess the jury doesn‘t like. 

And that‘s Karl Rove. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

ISIKOFF:  My point is, having suggested that, made a big deal about it in opening statements, they have got to back it up somehow.  They have got to put something in there.  Now, maybe it‘s...

MATTHEWS:  They can‘t go back to this defense that the guy forgot...

ISIKOFF:  Well, no, no.  I mean, that‘s...


MATTHEWS:  ... which seems to be the bonehead—well, I don‘t know what kind of defense it is.


MATTHEWS:  But it‘s not exactly thoughtful to take a guy who has had endless conversations about something, who seems to be pushing a case, and, then, all of a sudden, claims he forgot it all? 

ISIKOFF:  Oh, right. 

Look, on the actual evidence, specific, narrow charges that he testified, he didn‘t—he had forgotten all this, and then only remembered it when Tim Russert tells him about it, you know, they have got a pretty high burden.  And Russert, we learned today, is going to be the—the—the final witness. 


ISIKOFF:  Yes, the cleanup witness, the cleanup witness...


MATTHEWS:  It‘s interesting, Michael.  And you have done—you did the homework. 

ISIKOFF:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  I hope the prosecution, the defense and the jury all do their homework that you did for your book, because you went back and studied all the transcripts of this show...

ISIKOFF:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... in the days before the complaint came in about the show from Scooter Libby. 


MATTHEWS:  He didn‘t like what we were doing, which was continuing to ask the question:  What role did Scooter Libby play?  What role did the vice president and his office play in keeping the argument out there that there was, in fact, an atomic, a nuclear threat from Iran—from Iraq—because we have evidence there was a deal with Africa, keeping that in play, keeping that in play, even when this guy Joe Wilson comes back and says no deal?


ISIKOFF:  Right, fascinating part of the trial, and this—this does not relate to the narrow charges, but it does relate to the larger question. 

Yesterday, Judy Miller is on the stand, talking about her breakfast meeting with Libby at the Saint Regis Hotel on July 8, in which she is asking him about the NIE, the classified national intelligence estimate, that was used to justify the war...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

ISIKOFF:  ... presented to Congress.  She wants to know if the real classified version contained evidence that was not in the public version that had been released to the public that they had talked about. 

Was it—were there doubts?  Were there dissents?

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

ISIKOFF:  She testifies. 

Libby says:  No, au contraire.  Actually, the classified version is even stronger than the public version. 

And it...

MATTHEWS:  And he was not telling the truth?  

ISIKOFF:  ... was not the truth. 

That was the classic example of how Libby, how Cheney, the vice president‘s office, and the White House were spinning the press and the public. 

MATTHEWS:  I like the fact—here is the real spin. 


MATTHEWS:  They—they—they intimidate the CIA with six meetings over there.  The vice president, Libby go over there to push them in to—to browbeat them into saying there is a danger of war from Iraq, a danger of WMD.

And then they start pushing to the press:  Hey, they are the ones that said there was a danger of war.

ISIKOFF:  Right.  Of course.

MATTHEWS:  They are the ones who said there was a danger of WMD. 

ISIKOFF:  Well, yes, yes.

MATTHEWS:  The people they browbeat into doing it, and then they said, oh, they are the ones that made the case. 

They made the case under duress.  You don‘t believe that?

ISIKOFF:  Well, no, no, no. 


MATTHEWS:  I mean, there‘s plenty of evidence of that, also there is plenty of evidence also that the CIA got things really wrong.  They knew what the White House wanted.  They gave them what they wanted. 

MATTHEWS:  They gave them what they wanted. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, that was called the...

ISIKOFF:  Cherry-picking. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s called meeting the prescription.

Anyway, thank you, Michael Isikoff, co-author of the book “Hubris.” 

Up next:  Which—which 2008 hopeful is generating the most noise on the Internet?  We will get back to Barack Obama.  He is—his people, the people pushing him for president, are state-of-the-art. 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 


MATTHEWS:  Coming up:  What is the latest gadget being employed by the pro-Obama forces?

When HARDBALL returns.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

As candidates continue to tap the power of the—YouTube, blogs, and Web chats, some supporters are also using the Internet to wage grassroots campaigns of their own.

And one Web site where it‘s happening is the 

HARDBALL‘s Jeremy Bronson has the report. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  From Illinois, Barack Obama.


JEREMY BRONSON, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Presidential contender Barack Obama is getting a groundswell of grassroots support, and not even through any doing of his own. 

Just a few weeks ago, one individual supporter waged an online campaign to get one million voters to back Barack Obama.  And he did it using the online networking site the  The nuts and bolts of this effort are simple.  The supporter created a Facebook page called One Million Strong for Barack.  It had some photos and a few links to Obama information. 

The page went out to one network of friends, then another, and another.  More users signed up each time.  On the day the group was created, 100 members got on board, three days later, 1,000, a week later, 10,000.  And with over 170,000 members right now, the Obama group could very well reach its goal of one million supporters by February 10. 

And, while the Obama movement on Facebook has taken off in a dramatic way, other candidates could reap the same benefits, too. 

JOE TRIPPI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  I think Obama is very attractive to people online.  But I think every other candidate out there has the ability to create a moment or create a movement online, and spark themselves becoming formidable in the race. 

So, you know, no one was thinking about Howard Dean right now in—the last time around.  So , somebody we don‘t know could pop because of this kind of technology. 

BRONSON:  Indeed, in 2004, Howard Dean jumped to early front-runner status using the Internet to raise money and spread this simple message. 


HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  You have the power on Tuesday to take back the White House for ordinary Americans. 


BRONSON:  Right now, there are Facebook groups for Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, John Edwards, and a few for Mitt Romney, including one just for evangelicals. 

For the Obama campaign, a group of one million online supporters, all in one digital place, could mean grassroots help with getting out a message, raising money, and growing support. 

The Facebook campaign is another campaign of how much easier it is for like-minded voters to organize.  In this case, voters are coming together for a particular candidate.  But it could just as easily have been an idea or a campaign issue. 

(on camera):  Perhaps the most striking aspect of this Obama movement is that consultants and strategists had absolutely nothing to do with it at all, just a voter, a candidate, and a place to come together. 

Jeremy Bronson, MSNBC, Washington. 


MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Jeremy. 

Let‘s bring in our guests, MSNBC‘s Mike Barnicle and “The Washington Times”‘ Tony Blankley. 

Mike Barnicle, you first.  Joe Biden said today something that could

be taken, if not in context, out of context, as positive about his opponent

about his leading opponent, I should say.

“I mean”—he is talking about Barack Obama.  And he says—quote—

“I mean, you got the—you got the first sort of mainstream African-American presidential candidate who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.  I mean, that‘s a storybook, man.”

And, apparently, Barack Obama felt that that was somewhat offensive to

to his background. 

And what do you make of it? 

MIKE BARNICLE, NBC ANALYST:  Well, knowing Joe Biden a bit, Chris, you know, not much. 

I think he is pure of heart.  I think it‘s just Joe Biden being Joe Biden, talking a little bit too much, talking a little bit too glibly.  That‘s who Joe is.  I would hope that it wouldn‘t damage him in the long run, having nothing to do with his view on the issues.  It‘s just that he is a good human being.  And I don‘t think there is any dark motive, no pun intended there. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, and I‘m going to me ask you, Tony, after I read the response from Senator Obama. 

This took a couple hours, by the way, this response.  I think it was staffed up, just asking—just thinking.

“I didn‘t take Senator Biden‘s comments personally, but, obviously, they are historically inaccurate.  African-American presidential candidates like Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, Carol Moseley Braun, and Al Sharpton gave a voice to many important issues through their campaigns, and no one would call them inarticulate.”

I don‘t think Biden called him in—the others inarticulate.  I think he was saying, all these good qualities together haven‘t been there before. 

I don‘t think anybody would call Jesse Jackson mainstream either.

TONY BLANKLEY, EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, “THE WASHINGTON TIMES”:  Look, the question is, was this offensive to African-American voters?

MATTHEWS:  To any individual person on the planet.

BLANKLEY:  Well, to African—well, no.  The—the key is going to be African-American voters.  And three middle-aged Washington white guys...


BLANKLEY:  ... us, probably don‘t know what, if any, effect is going to be. 

As far as I‘m concerned, when politicians make stumbles with their words—we have both worked for politicians who have done that—everyone does—I tend to give them a pass.  But I am not a typical voter.  I‘m not a target vote for—for Biden.

So, I think we have got to wait and see.  I mean, I never thought Biden had a powerful chance to win.  And...

MATTHEWS:  Is this going to hurt him intellectually, make him look like he‘s not smart enough, that he made a comment like this that wasn‘t thoughtful?

BLANKLEY:  No, I don‘t think it makes him—weakens him intellectually, but it emphasizes the fact that...



BLANKLEY:  South Carolina primary, major African-American vote there. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I see what you mean.  So, it‘s going to hurt him ethnically.


BLANKLEY:  It is something that could be played and repeated, by the way. 


MATTHEWS:  All right. 

Will this hurt him with the cognoscenti, or with regular people, black people, white people, whatever?

BARNICLE:  You know, Chris, I—I would have no idea what a black person is going to take from what Joe Biden said, as Tony just indicated.

But it says more about us, the media, I think, than it does about what Joe Biden said.  We instantly want to kill this person...

MATTHEWS:  Not me.

BARNICLE:  ... Joe Biden or anyone—I know that—you know, kill this person.  And we‘re so...

MATTHEWS:  I thought that John Kerry, with all his weaknesses and stiffness as a public personality, was trying to tell a joke several months back about the president.


MATTHEWS:  It ended up being useful to his critics, who made it look like an attack on soldiers. 

I think this guy, Joe Biden, was trying to say something nice.  He is in his ‘60s.  Twenty years ago, this would have been a perfectly nice thing to say.  Now it is the subject of jokes.  Chris Rock would laugh at this right now. 

BLANKLEY:  Let me make a quick conservative point on this.


BLANKLEY:  If a conservative Republican had said this, I think the media would have jumped down his throat. 

The media is not jumping down Biden‘s throat.  I think he‘s getting, more or less, a pass from the mainstream media on this.  I think he should get a pass, but I think others should get a pass, too, when they stumble. 

BARNICLE:  Well, he just...

MATTHEWS:  You got a lot into that, didn‘t you, into that just then?


MATTHEWS:  We will be right back with Tony, who has figured out five things to say, all in his interests.

Anyway—Mike Barnicle.

We‘re back in a moment with HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is back from Iraq, and is leading the Democratic charge against the president‘s Iraq policy. 

Here is what she told NBC‘s Chip Reid today. 


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  Let us hope that not only al-Maliki, but his entire government, is committed to real political reconciliation in their country. 

If they are not, no matter—amount of military action is going to bring stability to the region.  I did not see evidence of any political reconciliation when I was there.  That was very unfortunate and discouraging.

But I—I hope, in our conversations with the president, that we can encourage our administration to encourage theirs to take the political initiative to amend their constitution to be much more inclusive, in the hopes of resolving some of the civil strife, and, therefore, the violence in the country. 


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with MSNBC‘s Mike Barnicle and “The Washington Times”‘ Tony Blankley.

Mike, what did you make of that? 


MATTHEWS:  That‘s a big fact-finding trip.  And she is back from it with those words.  Did they seem too measured for you, or too subtle?

BARNICLE:  Well, yes, they are very measured, Chris. 

But I think what it means is more bad news for the president, because Nancy Pelosi clearly understands our Constitution quite well, that the Congress has the—Congress‘ role is to declare war, that it‘s Congress‘ role that has been negated here, abrogated here, overseed by the president of the United States. 

And I think she is intent on getting the House—the House is her job

on getting the House in on this war in a much more forceful position. 

MATTHEWS:  Tony, what do you make of Arlen Specter and Pat Leahy, the two top people on the Judiciary Committee, asking the president‘s Justice Department to spell out what rights Congress does have with regard to war powers? 

BLANKLEY:  I think that is a zone where the White House is imminently going to be caving across the board in that—in a set of struggles there. 

I think they don‘t see many Republican friends on the key committees.  And they are terrified of a—terrified is too strong a word—they are deeply concerned about being out there, asserting a constitutional prerogative, with almost nobody in the Senate defending them. 

Regarding, by the way, the Pelosi statement, it strikes me, this is where Senator Biden‘s statements come in most importantly, because he is a serious policy guy when it comes to foreign policy.  And his slashing at Hillary and Obama‘s and—Iraq proposals strikes me as a serious challenge to what is obviously a largely politicized set of proposals coming out from the other presidential aspirants. 

MATTHEWS:  so, what is his position vis-a-vis Hillary?  Hillary‘s position is rather cautious.


BLANKLEY:  Well, he said—he pointed out very precisely.

He said, she is going to cut off money to the Iraqi government, which is the same government that we‘re—that all of the critics are saying we are going to have to rely on to accomplish it... 


BLANKLEY:  ... if they don‘t meet—so, he is very specific in that criticism of hers. 

And I think that is where—we happen to have an editorial tomorrow in “The Washington Times” on—on his criticisms.  But they—they are...

MATTHEWS:  Which you wrote.


MATTHEWS:  Which you wrote.

BLANKLEY:  Which who wrote?

MATTHEWS:  That you wrote.

BLANKLEY:  Well, our—our staff did. 




BLANKLEY:  But the point is—the point is that Biden is a serious guy. 



BLANKLEY:  And his criticisms of the other contenders is a serious business.

MATTHEWS:  I think it‘s getting—I think they‘re getting in very close right now to fight with each other. 

Thank you very much, Tony Blankley.

And, thank you, Mike Barnicle. 

Play HARDBALL with us Thursday.  Our guests include Pennsylvania Congressman Jack Murtha.

Right now, it‘s time for “TUCKER.”



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