Guests: Ted Johnson, Stan Brand, Ed Rogers, Howard Wolfson, Terry Jeffrey, Margaret Carlson
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Tonight: Cheney‘s chief of staff faces the jury. Cheney himself calls the British troop pullout from Iraq an affirmation of success. He attacks John McCain by name for his nasty shots at him and Rumsfeld.
And Hillary Clinton accuses Democratic star Barack Obama of smearing her.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. Welcome back to HARDBALL.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Bush‘s closest ally, announced today his plans to start cutting troops from Iraq. This comes at the same time that President Bush is sending more even U.S. troops into the country. Vice President Cheney calls the British troop withdrawal an affirmation that things are going pretty well.
More on the vice president‘s comment on the war in a moment with our
And, speaking of wars, the Clinton and Obama campaign spent the day blasting each other over former Clinton supporter David Geffen, one of the biggest fund-raisers in the Democratic Party. We will talk to Clinton‘s communications director, Howard Wolfson.
Plus, the jury‘s out in the Scooter Libby case. HARDBALL‘s David Shuster will have the latest from the courthouse.
But, first, Tony Blair cuts back, as Bush escalates. And Cheney thinks it‘s going pretty well.
Ed Rogers is a Republican lobbyist, and Bob Shrum is a HARDBALL political analyst.
Bob Shrum, what do you make of Cheney‘s comments that it‘s pretty good news that the Brits are pulling out troops from Iraq?
BOB SHRUM, HARDBALL POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, Dick Cheney reminds me of the character in the 1920s named Emile Coue, who had a saying: “Every day, in every way, things are getting better and better.”
And he kept saying it until the stock market crashed. Dick Cheney finds every piece from Iraq to be good news. Look, what Tony Blair said today was, we have to make it clear that we‘re going to withdraw from Iraq. We have to set a deadline.
I think that‘s what George Bush has to do. I don‘t think they can continue to go down a road of sending in more and more troops, which, as General Casey said, until he was muzzled, is actually creating a situation that feeds the insurgency.
MATTHEWS: Ed Rogers, for the defense, is Cheney right? Are things getting better in Iraq?
ED ROGERS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Well, things in the south aren‘t as bad as they are elsewhere.
These troops are coming out—to acknowledge the obvious, we wish we had more international support, not less. But these troops are not going to be replaced with American troops, by the way. But Britain has done their part. Tony Blair has done his part. No hard feelings.
And, yes, Cheney does try to acknowledge some of the positive things that happen, unlike Bob and his crowd. The Democrats...
MATTHEWS: But is that flackery—is that just flackery?
ROGERS: ... are only hoping for the worst.
MATTHEWS: Is it just flackery to say things are going well, when your number-one ally starts to pull out of a battle?
ROGERS: Well, maybe it‘s some spin.
MATTHEWS: That‘s it?
ROGERS: Yes. Maybe it‘s some spin.
MATTHEWS: Do you feel the vice president has this job, to keep putting the rosy scenario out there, to keep saying things are going swell, when they‘re not? Is that useful to our country?
ROGERS: It‘s not useful to deny the obvious. It‘s not useful politically to say something that is inconsistent with what people feel and see for themselves.
ROGERS: So, when you get out there and you say something that is a complete non sequitur, it‘s not helpful politically.
But, having said that, he has a responsibility to keep morale up. And, yes, he should—he should say—acknowledge when things are going well. The situation in the south is better than it is elsewhere.
MATTHEWS: It would be more helpful to this administration‘s argument, however, wouldn‘t it be, Ed Rogers, if the British were to send in more troops? Had they sent an additional 1,500, that would be cause for some celebration.
ROGERS: More international support would be a good thing.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about this match is going on between the vice president of the United States and the man many people thought would be the front-runner for the Republican nominee.
You can start with this, Bob Shrum, because I know you will find wonder in this. Quote—this is from the vice president of the United States with an ABC interview just the other day—“I just fundamentally disagree with John McCain. John said some nasty things about me the other day, and, then, next time he saw me, ran over to me and apologized. Maybe he will apologize to Rumsfeld.”
He‘s mocking John McCain, the war hero, mocking him, by saying, he...
MATTHEWS: He made a public statement against me, and then came running over, friskily, to give his apology, mocking the guy, and then saying, maybe—he derided him further—he will apologize to Rumsfeld, Cheney‘s—Cheney‘s ally.
SHRUM: Dick Cheney, with his five or six deferments, probably shouldn‘t be going after John McCain, and leaving the sense that, somehow or other, he‘s afraid to stand up for what he has said.
Cheney has been wrong every single step of the way during this war. I think even the president now understands that. I think that‘s why Rumsfeld is gone. I think what we are going to see in Iraq over the next few months is an attempt to make the surge, or the escalation, work.
Then they‘re going to come back and say to us: We need a few more months. We need a few more troops.
You know, George Bush is running this war like that judge in the Anna Nicole Smith case. He just makes it up as he goes along.
ROGERS: I was waiting for that to come up.
MATTHEWS: You know, I haven‘t heard that name on this show again, and I would like to never hear it again.
But go ahead.
MATTHEWS: Go ahead, Ed.
ROGERS: It‘s not completely bad politics for the administration to say to John McCain: We are not together on the war.
So, I‘m not suggesting Cheney did this to help John McCain, but...
MATTHEWS: But why so nasty in public? Republicans are renowned for discipline, for not being like Democrats. They are an organized political party, a wait-your-turn party.
To have the vice president, known for his secretive behavior, to publicly trash one of the most respected Republicans out there, isn‘t this odd?
ROGERS: I‘m not going to—I haven‘t read the full context of it. Cheney and McCain have known each other for a long, long time. They‘re with each other 90 percent of the time. I‘m not going to suggest this is a big or a meaningful rift.
SHRUM: Chris, I love Ed‘s contention here that maybe Cheney has been sent out to attack McCain to help him by separating him some on the war.
ROGERS: I said I wouldn‘t suggest that, but it‘s not all...
SHRUM: Now we have heard that Cheney is the spinmeister—Cheney is the spinmeister trying to keep morale up by saying things are good, when they‘re bad, and he‘s out there trying to help John McCain by attacking him, when he doesn‘t really mean it.
SHRUM: You know, this a house of mirrors. That‘s how we got into this war in the first place.
MATTHEWS: Do you think that the White House is separating from Cheney
from McCain? Do you think that they‘re now sort of moving over toward Romney? Is that what is going on here?
ROGERS: No. I certainly don‘t think that.
MATTHEWS: You hear about Mary Matalin and other people going over to work for—you hear these buzzes about Doro Bush, the president‘s sister, going to work for—for Romney.
Is that a leading indicator of where this crowd is headed? They don‘t like McCain; they‘re going to go with Romney?
ROGERS: I think all of the candidates, all of the top three, anyway, are going to have their core Bush supporters.
People from the Bush team are beginning to choose sides. They‘re beginning to divide up. That‘s a natural part of the process. I don‘t think any one side has cornered the market or gotten all of the name brands that there are out of the Bush administration.
I think it‘s pretty evenly split. I‘m surprised it‘s so evenly split.
You certainly don‘t have a signal from Karl Rove yet on his ‘08 intentions.
MATTHEWS: And, Shrummy, this morning, in “The New York Times,” Maureen Dowd‘s amazing column was basically an interview with David Geffen, the hot-shot record promoter, mogul, Hollywood mogul, who ran a big fund-raiser for Barack Obama last night, in which he basically takes down the Clintons rather stiffly.
MATTHEWS: He says something that I thought was interesting. And I want your assessment of this.
He said that the Republican strategy will be to let Hillary Clinton win the nomination, say how great she is, and then, the minute they get her in their crosshairs, start digging dirt up on her and her marriage, of course. And that‘s when they are going to try to take down the Democratic Party. In an election year they should lose, that‘s how they intend to win.
Is that smart assessment, or is that just dirt-balling the other candidate? How would you describe it?
SHRUM: No, I don‘t—look, David Geffen wasn‘t trying to dirt-ball anybody. He‘s someone who cares deeply about the issues.
The heart of his critique was that Hillary Clinton has been too calculated and too stubborn on the war, refusing to say that she‘s made a mistake, and that, six years into a presidency in which we have had a president who will never admit a mistake—in fact, that was one of Bush‘s worst moments during the presidential debates—Democrats may look elsewhere. That was the heart of his critique.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of that, Ed Rogers? This is a big fight on the Democrats‘ side. You must enjoy it as much as Bob probably enjoys the fight between McCain and Cheney.
ROGERS: Well, yes, I will hold their coats. Let them go at it.
I‘m surprised, though. I think both sides have shown a lack of discipline. I think Hillary has probably won in the exchange. She has high negatives anyway, and this makes Obama looks typical. So...
MATTHEWS: But why would she go after somebody as brand-new as Obama?
Why would she sort of say...
MATTHEWS: ... build up a fight that some—you know, a wealthy contributor said something in the paper—it was picked up in a column, rather—and then make to make into a—look at this: “Clinton camp to Obama: Cut ties and return cash, after top booster‘s vicious attacks.”
And then Hillary Clinton went on this debate today out in Nevada, and she accused him of the politics of personal destruction.
MATTHEWS: Is this the politics of personal destruction?
ROGERS: I think they want to suck him in to politics as usual, and make him look typical.
ROGERS: And they did a pretty good job of it by getting him to engage in this exchange.
MATTHEWS: So, they‘re trying to kill his purity.
ROGERS: He should have ignored it. He should have ignored it.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know, it‘s the same thing they did, Bob, to Edwards, when Edwards said something pretty innocuous. They said, Edwards is engaged in this kind of negative campaigning.
Is this the strategy of the Clintons: You cannot dare criticize us between now and next February?
SHRUM: Well, I think, to some extent, it is.
And, of course, there‘s no divine right to the nomination. People are going to go out and fight for this. But this happened to Bob Dole in 1996. He was constantly accused by the Clinton campaign of being negative, while it was relentlessly running barrages of negative ads.
SHRUM: That works better in a general election than in primaries, because what people can do here, if Obama gets drawn into this in a bad way with Hillary Clinton, they may end up—voters may end up deciding they‘re going to leave both candidates and go to John Edwards. Maybe he‘s planned this.
MATTHEWS: Yes. That‘s what happens.
MATTHEWS: What is that called, Bob? There‘s a technique for that.
It‘s called the third-candidate phenomenon.
MATTHEWS: But do you know that Hillary and Barack Obama in today‘s poll are only eight points apart among men? It‘s the women that are helping Hillary in this fight.
SHRUM: Well, you know, and Chris, the buy word in the Clinton enterprise may be attack.
But attack, attack, attack doesn‘t always work, as the people in charge of the Light Brigade found out. I think this could hurt Hillary Clinton. It could move the war into a more central position in the primaries. And it may be that, if the war is the question, Hillary Clinton is not the answer.
MATTHEWS: I think it may be strategic, Bob, that they don‘t want any attacks on them personally, because they fear, well, there may be pay dirt at some point, if they keep attacking them personally. You know, you put the focus somebody long enough, and things get interesting.
Anyway, thank you, Ed Rogers.
Thank you, Bob Shrum.
Coming up: The Libby jury is out. They are deciding this guess‘s fate. What will they decide? We will get the latest from the courthouse and talk about the case with former U.S. counsel, House counsel, Stan Brand.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up: The jury is out. What is it going to be for Scooter, guilty or not?
HARDBALL returns after this.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Today was the first day of jury deliberations in the trial of Vice President Cheney‘s former chief of staff, Scooter Libby. How did each side‘s case stack up, and what will the jury be weighing?
HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster joins us now from the courthouse
DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Chris, the jury has now gone home, after deliberating for about five hours on this, the first day of jury deliberations.
Earlier today, the jury finally heard from the judge, getting his instructions. They heard all about the difference between circumstantial evidence and direct evidence, but heard that you can treat both of them the same.
They heard definitions of reasonable doubt. And then the judge took them through the actual five counts that the jury will be considering. And, when you look at these counts, Chris, all but one have multiple elements.
For example, the first count, the obstruction of justice, there are two statements that will be made about Tim Russert and one about Matt Cooper that are part of this, in a second count, the false statement to the FBI, two statements about Tim Russert, the third count, false statements to the FBI, one count about Matt Cooper, the fourth count, three statements about Tim Russert to the grand jury, and the fifth count, four statements about Matt Cooper.
In order for the jury to convict on any one of these counts, they only need to agree unanimously that one of the statements amounts, for example, to obstruction of justice, or that one of the statements amounts to a false statement.
In other words, even if the jury is not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that, when Scooter Libby said he learned something from Tim Russert that this was a lie, and that this should be convictable, they can still convict on that particular count if they believe that, when Scooter Libby issued another statement saying, “I was only learning about this for the first time from Tim Russert,” if they believe that is a clear lie, based on all the government officials who have testified, they can still return a guilty verdict on that count.
So, in other words, the jury has several different bites at the apple, if you will, as far as trying to return a guilty verdict. But, at the same point, they have to return a not-guilty verdict if they don‘t find any statement in a particular count that is beyond a reasonable doubt.
Chris, there was a lot of talk at the end of this trial about how much Vice President Cheney would come up. And, clearly, Patrick Fitzgerald put Vice President Cheney in the heart of this case at the very end.
During closing statements late yesterday, Patrick Fitzgerald said that: Mr. Libby told you he discussed this, Valerie Wilson, with the vice president. Don‘t you think the FBI deserves straight answers about those conversations?
And that was a reference to the multiple times when Scooter Libby said he couldn‘t really recall exactly what the vice president said to him, what he said to the vice president. And the clear implication from prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was, he wanted the jury to think about Scooter Libby‘s motive, the motive that Scooter Libby might have had to lie to the FBI, to lie to the grand jury, to try to gum up the CIA leak investigation.
Again, the jury will return for more deliberations tomorrow morning at 9:00. But they are off and running, Chris. And, hopefully, we will find out some more tomorrow—Chris.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, David Shuster, at the courthouse.
Stan Brand is a former counsel for the House of Representatives. He tried a case with Libby‘s attorney, Ted Wells.
So, you know this guy?
STAN BRAND, FORMER COUNSEL TO HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: Pretty well.
MATTHEWS: What was the crybaby stuff about it before the jury? Why would a guy cry before a jury if he had a hard case?
BRAND: Ted‘s an emotional guy. His pitches to the jury are very...
MATTHEWS: Does he cry when he has a good case?
BRAND: He‘s even cried during acquittals. I have seen him...
BRAND: I have seen that happen. He is very much in to his case and committed to his case, and I think lets that carry him—that emotion carry into the jury.
MATTHEWS: He was throwing everything against the wall the other day to get that jury to think about every possible theory of this case, that NBC is out to get him, that I‘m bad-mouthing the vice president by asking tough questions, that, God, Karl Rove is after him, that Andy Card is after him, that Scooter forgot everything, that everybody on the witness stand doesn‘t have a good memory.
I mean, he was trying—what is the defense?
BRAND: Well, I think...
MATTHEWS: What is his main defense?
BRAND: We have said from day one here this is a tough case. You have not one, not two, but—not three, but seven instances, with seven different people corroborating each other about false statements. So, it was an uphill climb for the defense, I think, from the beginning. What, really, I think...
MATTHEWS: Well, why didn‘t they put on a defense? They got all—they have unlimited money. The Republican defense fund is enormous, you know, people like Ted Olson, heavyweights...
MATTHEWS: ... kicking in huge amounts of money and prestige. They had all the due diligence they wanted. What, did they put on a two-day defense?
BRAND: Two reasons you don‘t put on a defense: You believe so strongly that you have sowed reasonable doubt, and you don‘t want to shake that up by exposing the defendant, or you think that the risk of a searing cross-examination of your client is going to devastate your defense in front of the jury. It‘s one of those two.
MATTHEWS: How do you head-fake it, so the jury doesn‘t know it‘s the second, that you‘re covering up?
BRAND: Well, you know, you get a jury instruction that says the defendant doesn‘t have to take the stand. The burden is on the government. The burden never leaves the government. And you keep emphasizing that, and you keep trying to shred the case through the government‘s witnesses.
MATTHEWS: Did they go after women jurors? Did they want a lot of women on the jury? Is there history of voir dire where women are more sympathetic to this emotional—this was a very emotional defense: Give this guy a break. I have been defending him like he‘s a little cubby bear. Now I‘m giving him to you, the jury, to take care of him.
I mean, who is this guy, Bambi? I mean, what are they trying—it seems like it was a totally emotional appeal.
BRAND: Well, I think they were trying to get jurors who would have a
quote—“open mind” and not bring the prejudices that everybody else who has been reading the newspapers over the last six years...
MATTHEWS: Why women? Why eight women out of 12?
BRAND: Well, I think women—the profile for women is a little different than it is for men.
I‘m—I‘m not sure that was a calculus they made, or it just turned out that the people they really felt comfortable with turned out to be women. Of course, half the people in the jury pool are women. So, it‘s not as if...
MATTHEWS: Oh, I understand that it should be six and six.
And it‘s not as if that‘s unusual. In the District of Columbia, you get a lot of women in the jury pool.
What is reasonable doubt?
BRAND: Any doubt that‘s supported by some rational analysis of the evidence that—before you. It doesn‘t have to be...
MATTHEWS: So, a reasonable person can assume that seven or eight people are wrong and Scooter Libby is right?
BRAND: Or reasonable doubt could be some element of doubt that is sowed by the evidence, either the cross...
MATTHEWS: Did you hear it? Did you hear it in this case?
BRAND: Well, not directly, I didn‘t.
I mean, what they did is, they did a collateral attack on the media witnesses.
BRAND: They tried to show that, because Tim Russert forgot about some story in Buffalo one day...
BRAND: ... he must have not gotten this right. And that‘s their theory.
MATTHEWS: And—and they—so, they go to the jury and say, he who is without guilt throw the first stone.
BRAND: And they‘re able to get away with that in this case, because there‘s no substantive offense. This is a pure false-statement, perjury case.
What judgment does a jury make about the fact that here, this heavyweight prosecutor—and they must know he‘s a heavyweight, watching him—has brought this case? Do they make any assumptions that the guy must have done something wrong to have this big federal case?
BRAND: You and I have talked about this before. That‘s why I love D.C. juries. They tend not to credit the government more than they credit anyone else.
So, when he comes in with the mantle of the United States, and the judge explains to them that he‘s not entitled to any more weight than the defense, I think they tend to take that at face value.
MATTHEWS: Do D.C. juries go with analysis or emotion, generally?
BRAND: I would say analysis, from what I have seen.
BRAND: And some...
MATTHEWS: So, they really take notes and follow it?
BRAND: They are going to be thorough. They are going to go through this. I doubt we will hear anything before Friday.
MATTHEWS: How about the woman who wouldn‘t put on the T-shirt last week?
MATTHEWS: Do you have a sense there might be somebody who is just sort of a maverick personality, that just says, I‘m looking at it my way;
I‘m sorry; I don‘t care what you people say?
What was that thing about—Wells admonished the jury. He said, now, don‘t get into a mood of, let‘s do him, as if it‘s a bunch of guys beating him up somebody. Like, don‘t join them in this.
In other words, he seemed to be saying, if you‘re the holdout, stay holdout.
BRAND: I‘m almost pitching it to the holdout, you know?
BRAND: And what you hope that is, sometimes, you have—that you have connected to one juror, and that they‘re going to carry the water...
MATTHEWS: It sounded like he was going after one or two people, saying: I know you‘re sort of mavericks. I know you‘re independent people. If the whole jury says this guy is—we have got to nail him, don‘t give up, even when the judge says, reach a verdict.
MATTHEWS: Is there an inclination on the part of the jurors, when you have five counts like this, where they—as David Shuster pointed out, where they can just pick one or two and make that the compromise?
BRAND: There is. There‘s always the danger that they will say, look, we‘re going to let him off on these, but we are going to give this one to the government, you know, because we can‘t agree on all of them.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Like, they might go with the Russert ones, but not with the Matt Cooper ones.
MATTHEWS: There‘s just more detail there.
MATTHEWS: Sort of my hunch, but what do I know? I thought O.J. was going to get nailed when that jury came in fast. So, I...
BRAND: It‘s impossible to tell.
MATTHEWS: My dad was a court stenographer for 30 years. He said, if you‘re guilty, get a jury. If you‘re innocent, get a judge, because juries are absolutely unpredictable.
MATTHEWS: After 30 years of watching these guys every day of his life.
So, it taught me a lesson. Don‘t bet.
BRAND: No. Don‘t bet on this.
MATTHEWS: Stan Brand, it‘s great to have you.
Up next, “Variety”‘s Ted Johnson will be here with all the news from last night‘s big fund-raiser out in Hollywood for Barack Obama.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Barack Obama took his presidential campaign to California last night. Thousand of supporters at a South Los Angeles rally were there, then collecting $1.3 million at a megastar fund-raising event in Beverly Hills and a private reception at media mogul David Geffen‘s house.
Ted Johnson is the managing editor of “Variety.” And he has the details of the senator‘s big night in Hollywood.
Ted, it‘s great having you on.
Does this mean that Hollywood, the left coast, is for Barack, not Hillary?
TED JOHNSON, “VARIETY”: Certainly not at all.
Hillary is going to be here tomorrow, and she actually has four different events in Hollywood lined up. And I talked to some of her donors today. They say that people are clamoring to get in for that.
MATTHEWS: So, what‘s the—how would you divide—if you had to think about the personalities of those pushing Barack, like David Geffen, and the people that are staying true to the Clinton family, what separates the two? Is it ideology? Are the people with Barack a little more turned off by this war, the people with the Clintons a little more mainstream, a little more hawkish, perhaps?
JOHNSON: Yes, certainly.
And that‘s—I detect a little bit of the people who are for Barack tend to be on the left side in Hollywood. And I find a lot of the most passionate Barack Obama supporters always mention the war. They mention the fact that he‘s been against the war from the start.
Hillary‘s people are the traditional Democrats who have been behind her for quite a long time.
MATTHEWS: Where‘s Rob—Rob Reiner on this? Has he decided?
JOHNSON: I think Rob Reiner is going to be for Hillary.
JOHNSON: I don‘t think he‘s officially decided, but I do believe that he is going to back Hillary.
MATTHEWS: Is David Geffen smart politically? He strikes me as someone who is very smart.
I mean, here‘s a quote. It‘s an indirect quote from today‘s Maureen
Dowd piece in “The New York Times,” which caused all this stir over in the
the Clinton world—quote—it‘s just about Bill and Hillary, obviously, and their relationship.
Geffen says, adding that, “If Republicans are digging up dirt, they will wait until Hillary is the nominee to use it.”
That‘s what I have always thought, that, if they‘re going to really turn the guns on the Clintons and the cameras and everything else, and try to, you know, smoke them out, in terms of any problems there, that they will wait until Hillary gets the nomination, then blast her when it‘s too late for the Democrats to change horses.
I can‘t believe that he isn‘t smart enough to know the waves that his interview with Maureen Dowd would cause, especially coming so quickly after this—this very successful fund-raiser for Barack Obama.
I‘m not quite sure what he‘s up to with it, because both sides were just completely scrambling this morning, trying to issue statements, and having this war of words, including Geffen himself. He had to issue another statement, standing by his interview, and also really saying that this was between him and the Clintons.
There‘s just this long, lingering resentment that—that has been going on for six years now.
MATTHEWS: How do the Hollywood liberals, traditional liberals, who are opposed to the war, not on the left, but traditional liberals, support Hillary, who has yet to take a firm stand against the position she took in 2002 supporting the authorization of the war?
JOHNSON: They really are wary of her.
They often think that her vote on the war and her failure to apologize for that vote, or retract that vote, is really indicative of a bigger problem she has, in that she‘s calculating and she can‘t be authentic.
And that‘s really what they love about Barack Obama. They say that he really speaks to them. He‘s a real down-to-earth guy, which is completely ironic, given that this is probably the most stage-managed base of donors in the Democratic Party.
MATTHEWS: You mean they‘re used to taking direction.
MATTHEWS: And they don‘t like to see a candidate who is taking direction.
JOHNSON: Exactly. Exactly. Yes.
MATTHEWS: That‘s great.
MATTHEWS: Well, it‘s all part of the glitter.
MATTHEWS: And, on the Democratic side, it really matters who gets Hollywood. We have watched many candidates, starting back with Harry Truman and Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. This has gone on for a long time.
JOHNSON: Long, long time.
MATTHEWS: Orson Welles behind Roosevelt. It‘s a long story of Hollywood and the Democratic Party.
Anyway, thank you very much, Ted Johnson, with “Variety.”
Up next: Clinton campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson. He‘s the head of communications. He‘s right in the middle of this brawl.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Hillary Clinton seems to have a strategy: nobody gets to criticize her. This morning at 9:38 a.m., her communications director put out a statement accusing Senator Obama of being responsible for, quote, “vicious attacks.” The alleged attacks were quotes in a Maureen Dowd column by Hollywood entertainment mogul David Geffen, a former Clinton supporter who was backing Obama this time.
So where‘s the vicious? Here‘s what Geffen said in the article. Quote, “I think Republicans think Hillary‘s the easiest to defeat. I don‘t think anybody believes that in the last six years, all of a sudden Bill Clinton has become a different person. It‘s not a very big thing to say, ‘I made a mistake‘ on the war, and typical of Hillary Clinton that she can‘t. I don‘t think that another incredibly polarizing figure, no matter how smart she is and no matter how ambitious she is—and God knows, is there anybody more ambitious than Hillary Clinton? -- can bring the country together. Everybody in politics lies, but the Clintons do it with such ease, it‘s troubling.”
Howard Wolfson is communications director for the Clinton campaign.
You find that all vicious, I guess.
HOWARD WOLFSON, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, CLINTON CAMPAIGN: I find it unacceptable political discourse, yes.
MATTHEWS: So what do you want the other side to do, speaking for your candidate?
WOLFSON: Well, our expectation was that Senator Obama, who was running a campaign premised on changing our politics, who has decried the politics of slash and burn, would denounce the comments, say that these comments don‘t represent his thinking or his campaign. We were, frankly, surprised that he didn‘t do that. It makes you wonder whether or not he agrees with them.
It‘s a little ironic that the candidate on one day would say, “I want to change America. I want to change politics. I want to lift us up. I want to stop the politics of slash and burn,” while at the same time his leading supporter in California is attacking the president and Senator Clinton in very personal terms.
MATTHEWS: Senator Clinton was on, discussing this today out in Nevada, and she said it was the politics of personal destruction. Is that your view as her communications director?
WOLFSON: I think that we can have differences of opinion over policy. I hope the Democrats will stay united and mostly focus on winning in November of ‘08, but obviously, there will be some differences on policy.
But when you start getting into personal charges against people and you make personal insults against the candidate and the candidate‘s spouse, I think that‘s going too far. I think the American people will think that‘s going too far.
And I‘m surprised, as I said, that a candidate whose campaign is premised on changing politics, who‘s campaign is premised on hope and changing—supposedly premised on hope and changing and getting rid of the politics of slash and burn wouldn‘t just disavow these comments. It makes you wonder whether or not he agrees with them and whether or not the campaign put Mr. Geffen up to this.
MATTHEWS: Which campaign put him up to it?
WOLFSON: Mr. Obama.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about his charge, in this piece. In an indirect quote, he says in the Maureen Dowd column, if Republicans are digging up dirt, they‘ll wait until Hillary‘s the nominee and then use it. What do you think? That‘s just political analysis by him. It‘s hardball.
But he‘s saying that if you put your big money on Hillary, she gets the nomination early next year. Then the Republicans go digging and it‘s all blown away again, like it was with the last—with Dukakis and Kerry and with the swift boats and, of course, with Al Gore before that. I mean, he‘s just saying she‘s vulnerable to attack. Is it wrong?
WOLFSON: First of all, I think any Democrat who gets the nominee is going to have Republicans coming after him or her. We‘ve seen that in ‘04. We saw it in 2000. That‘s not going to be anything new. People know that the Clintons know how to fight back. That‘s the difference there.
But I would say to those comments, are those the comments that Senator Obama agrees with? Is that the kind of campaign that he wants to run? Does he want to say on the one hand that he is changing politics, that he‘s lifting people up, that he‘s giving hope, and on the other hand have his campaign finance chair or the chair of this big event make these outrageous comments?
MATTHEWS: Why do you call him his finance chair? He said that‘s not his title. Why do you say that about Geffen?
WOLFSON: If somebody hosts a million dollar plus event, I‘ll let you decide what you want to call them.
MATTHEWS: Well, OK. Let me ask you about—you did the same thing to John Edwards a while back, when he came out and talked about silence not being a way to fight this war in Iraq. And you came out against him and said that he was also running a dirty campaign.
Is this going to be your strategy, that any attack on Hillary, indirectly of her and other senators, or done by one of her supporters, is going to met with this charge of dirty campaigning? Is that your strategy?
WOLFSON: Look, I think you can debate on the issues.
MATTHEWS: No, no. You‘re saying any charge against Hillary...
WOLFSON: No, I didn‘t say that. Don‘t take it from me. Were you watching the forum out in Nevada today? You had Governor Richardson, who himself came out and said that Senator Obama ought to disavow these remarks. That‘s not me. That‘s Governor Richardson who was running against Senator Clinton.
MATTHEWS: Is it a foul in this new campaign we‘re entering right now? Let‘s get the rules straight. Does your side, the Clinton side, believe it‘s a foul for any shot against Bill Clinton, the fact that he was impeached or anything to do with his personal behavior? You believe that‘s a foul?
WOLFSON: I think if you‘re going to get into people‘s personal behavior, yes, I think that‘s under the belt. I do.
MATTHEWS: So if you bring up the impeachment, that‘s under the belt?
WOLFSON: I think the Democratic electorate is going to make a judgment about this. And the Democratic electorate is going to see someone who‘s running on a campaign of hope, who is saying that he‘s going to change politics, who is decrying the politics of slash and burn, who is allowing his surrogates to attack the senator and the senator‘s husband in these very personal terms. I think people will make a judgment about that. You bet.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe John Edwards is running a negative campaign against your candidate?
WOLFSON: I think John Edwards has said negative things. I don‘t think he goes out every day and is negative, but I think he has said negative things. Yes.
MATTHEWS: Well, you say he opened his campaign with political attacks on Democrats who are fighting Bush‘s Iraq policy. Do you consider it an attack to say that people in Congress should have spoken up against the war before they did?
WOLFSON: I consider the—when you say that an individual has betrayed her constituency, I think that‘s a tough attack, yes.
MATTHEWS: So the rules are now laid down. Let me ask you about—
Senator Clinton was on this panel today out in Nevada, and she was asked by George Stephanopoulos if she wanted the Obama campaign to denounce and disown the announcements made by David Geffen in today‘s “New York Times”, and she said, “I‘ll leave it up to them.”
You‘re not leaving it up to them.
WOLFSON: Well, Senator Clinton is focused on her positive agenda.
She is not running a negative campaign. She‘s running a positive campaign.
MATTHEWS: Well, what‘s—well, you speak for her. But Howard, you speak for her.
WOLFSON: And I do.
MATTHEWS: When you say something. You say I take your words, whenever you use them—and I love having you on this show—you‘re basically saying what Hillary‘s thinking. That‘s your job.
WOLFSON: I‘m saying what the campaign is thinking. Exactly.
MATTHEWS: What‘s the campaign?
WOLFSON: Senator Clinton‘s campaign.
MATTHEWS: Is that different than her?
WOLFSON: Sometimes I‘m going to speak, and sometimes she‘s going to speak.
MATTHEWS: But when you say that they have to denounce and give back, here‘s your statement: “Clinton camp to Obama, cut ties and return cash after Top booster‘s vicious attacks.” This headline was written by your folks. You‘re communications director. Does it mean that Hillary Clinton wants Obama to give the money back? Or what does it mean if it doesn‘t mean that? I‘m trying to figure out what it means.
WOLFSON: Yes, if the campaign—the campaign speaks for Senator Clinton—absolutely.
MATTHEWS: But she said today she doesn‘t care. She‘s looking at Obama to do what he wants to do.
WOLFSON: Because she‘s in front of a group of people who have come to hear her and the other Democrats. By the way, Senator Obama was not there. He couldn‘t bring himself to come. To hear her and the other Democrats talk about working families issues in Nevada. It was an absolute forum. There were there to talk about working families issues. She didn‘t think it was appropriate to get into this tit for tat with Senator Obama. And really...
MATTHEWS: When you—I‘m just trying to get this straight. When we read these press releases coming out from you, and you‘re the communications director. And you‘re first rate about this. But when you say vicious attacks, are you speaking for Hillary Clinton? When you accuse Obama basically smearing your candidate, that‘s what you‘re doing here. Are you speaking for Hillary Clinton? That‘s all I‘m asking.
WOLFSON: And the answer is when we put out a statement that has Senator Clinton‘s words in quotes, those are her words. When we put out a statement that has my words in quotes, those are my words. When you speak, you speak on your behalf. When somebody at NBC speaks, they speak on their behalf.
MATTHEWS: So when it says “Clinton camp to Obama, cut ties and return cash after top booster‘s vicious attacks,” she can step away from that, as she did today in Nevada, and say, “Well, it‘s up to them what they want to do. I‘m not asking them to denounce it”?
WOLFSON: Well, she has an opportunity to speak before people who have come to hear her speak about working families and she‘s not going to waste her time on that.
MATTHEWS: OK, Howard, thank you. Please stay with us. We‘ll be right back with Howard Wolfson, communications director for the Clinton campaign.
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back. We‘re with Howard Wolfson, communications director for the Clinton campaign.
Howard, you made a very strong point when I brought the charge by David Geffen about Hillary being vulnerable after she went to nomination, should she be so fortunate on the personal side of things, the old Clinton problem with Bill Clinton and impeachment.
Is it your position as spokesman for the campaign that any discussion by any Democratic candidates of Bill Clinton‘s conduct is a personal matter and should not come up in the campaign? Is that your position?
WOLFSON: I think, generally speaking, Democratic voters are not expecting candidates to talk about the personal lives of the candidates.
MATTHEWS: But it did cause an impeachment of the president. Are you saying it‘s a personal matter, still?
WOLFSON: I‘m saying that the Democratic electorate is going to judge each candidate. You have a candidate in Senator Obama who is running a campaign premised on elevating our politics and ending slash and burn politics. He decries this sort of thing.
WOLFSON: So presumably, he would have renounced it. Can I ask you a question? Do you understand why they won‘t renounce these comments? Do they want to be associated with them?
MATTHEWS: I think it‘s interesting that Geffen is so strong on the record, and he‘s a very smart fellow. He‘s very politically astute. And there he is putting it—putting the screws into your candidate by bringing up the issue of Bill Clinton‘s personal conduct in “The New York Times”.
I‘m just going to ask you this: you can call on fellow Democrats to observe a kind of 11th commandment about the personal issues, and I understand that. But do you expect the Republicans and people on the political right to give the Clintons a break on this issue, to observe some sort of personal zone of privacy? They never did yet.
WOLFSON: Look, I think you probably saw the “New York Times” article this week in which Richard Mellon Scaife, who is one of the biggest Clinton proponents in the ‘90s...
WOLFSON: ... basically said, you know, Senator Clinton has done a good job. And...
MATTHEWS: Sure. That‘s on the issues. There‘s no doubt about that. But then Patrick Healy a couple of months back puts a front page, top of the fold story on about Bill Clinton and his personal life.
I‘m just asking you, do you believe you can keep that out of action, out of play, questions about the former president‘s personal life? If that‘s an issue with you, that you think any candidate that raises that is playing dirty pool, fine, we‘ll move on.
WOLFSON: I think if the ‘90s has proved anything, it‘s that the American people reject the political of personal destruction, and they don‘t want it from their candidates or their politicians.
MATTHEWS: And anything to do with the former president‘s personal life is off base, as far as you‘re concerned? Out of bounds?
WOLFSON: We‘re—I think all the candidates should not be getting into the personal lives of other candidates, of course not.
MATTHEWS: But do you think the Republicans will honor that?
WOLFSON: I think the Republicans will pay a price if they try to do that to our candidate or any other candidate.
MATTHEWS: Last time I remember they got an impeachment out of it. I know it didn‘t help them electorally. But they certainly put a bad stain on the president‘s record.
Let me ask you about this campaign. Is this too darned long? I mean, here we are in February. You‘re smiling because you‘re a pro. We have a year of this, coming ahead of this, and you would like to have it played by the rules of the Marcus and Queensbury rules of etiquette.
But it is going to get trashy, because somebody out there is going to be a Geffen today. There will be somebody else on your side that says something you‘ll have to correct. Then they‘ll have to correct something. Edwards has to get in the action. He‘ll start to get tougher.
Richardson is going to have to get tougher. It‘s going to get that way.
WOLFSON: You make a good point. One of our supporters did make comments that we disagreed with. We immediately disavowed them. And he apologized.
MATTHEWS: You mean the guy that said a black candidate can‘t win the presidency, and it will bring the whole party down?
WOLFSON: It was wrong.
MATTHEWS: It was an African-American, by the way, who said that.
WOLFSON: It was—it was wrong. We disavowed them. He apologized. That‘s the difference here. In our situation, we disavowed them and he apologized. In this situation, Senator Obama seems to be standing by these comments.
MATTHEWS: But Hillary Clinton stands by her vote of 2002 authorizing a war, that overwhelmingly the Democratic voters don‘t like. They believe it‘s a bad decision to go to war, and they do, many of them, hold her accountable for having authorized it.
WOLFSON: Well, they...
MATTHEWS: She hasn‘t apologized for that.
WOLFSON: No. She‘s not going to apologize for it, as you know.
WOLFSON: No. She‘s not.
WOLFSON: She is not going to apologize for the vote.
MATTHEWS: That‘s an amazing commitment. You know, it‘s amazing in politics when somebody says I will never change my mind.
WOLFSON: No, no, no, no, Chris. Let‘s be clear about this. She has said very clearly that if we know—if we knew then what we know now, she would have voted differently. There‘s no question about that. So—but on the question of apology, she takes responsibility.
MATTHEWS: Yes. That‘s clear as hell. Hey, Howard, thank you.
WOLFSON: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: So do you.
Up next, we‘ll have more on the fight for money and support in 2008.
Plus Mitt Romney buys a lot of TV time. Is it worth the money this early?
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
A Clinton/Obama Hollywood brawl. Senator McCain talks global warming. Let‘s get some analysis from Terry Jeffrey of HumanEvents.com and Margaret Carlson of Bloomberg. Human Events, this issue, Hillary versus Obama. How do you score this match?
TERRY JEFFREY, HUMANEVENTS.COM: I think we‘ve learned a lot of interesting things today. First of all, I think Hillary Clinton is afraid that Barack Obama can beat her for the Democratic nomination. There‘s no doubt about it.
MATTHEWS: She‘s catching up among men.
JEFFREY: Yes. She fears she can lose—she fears she can lose to Barack Obama.
The second thing is any time anyone goes after the Clintons and the record in the White House, there‘s going to be a brutal counterattack from the campaign. Hillary actually promises when she‘s out in Iowa. You saw it action today.
The third thing...
MATTHEWS: You said if you talk to her about her husband and his behavior, it is the politics of personal destruction just to bring it up.
JEFFREY: That‘s not true. I mean, what he‘s talking about is this man‘s record as president of the United States. But the third thing we learned is that David Geffen really has a line on the Clintons. This is a guy who knows them personally well, and I think he nailed them perfectly in his interview with Maureen Dowd.
MATTHEWS: How so?
JEFFREY: Well, he says they lie with such ease. I think that‘s something that people understand about having watched the Clintons in public life for years now. He said Bill Clinton was reckless. Clearly, Bill Clinton is reckless when he was president of the United States.
He also brought up things that were a matter of public policy, Chris. He pointed to the Mark Rich pardon, one of the very last things Bill Clinton did in the White House. These things will come up in the presidential campaign cycle. We didn‘t know they were going to come up in the early phase of the Democratic primary.
MATTHEWS: Margaret, is this campaign going to be about where you stand on global warming or where you stand on minimum wage? Is it going to be about where you stand on the Clintons?
MARGARET CARLSON, BLOOMBERG: It‘s too long to be about warming global only. It‘s going to be a lot about the Clintons.
And Mrs. Clinton—Senator Clinton is running on Bill Clinton‘s fundraising ability, his consulting ability, his ability to put pins on the map and his record in the White House. So she can‘t run away...
MATTHEWS: Does she get the him in him out of the picture?
CARLSON: She can‘t. And the reason David Geffen resonated is like Dick Morris. He knew the Clintons. He was on the inside with the Clintons. He hung out with them. He liked them.
And for Hillary—for Wolfson to come back so hard on this strikes me as...
MATTHEWS: He has to. He can‘t say, “I‘ve got a promise here from Bill Clinton he‘s not going to cause any distraction this campaign.” He can‘t speak for the Clintons that intimately. Nobody can. Hillary can‘t.
CARLSON: This column would have been half a news cycle if Wolfson hadn‘t made it a huge deal, where they seem to be fighting over Hollywood.
JEFFREY: I agree with Margaret. You say that in the Clinton campaign by the way they racked this—elevated this thing up. And you‘re going to extend this debate. And I just don‘t see how it works unless they actually believe, Chris, that they can intimidate people into not talking about Bill Clinton‘s record.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me just suggest that as a topic. Because I saw -
I went back and I had somebody dig this up. Luckily, we found this thing. That when Edwards made a general comment about silence being betrayal, all the Democrats voting for the war in Iraq, and not really coming out against it, and then not really correcting their vote, like Hillary. That was considered an attack.
In other words, he‘s not allowed to say anything against Hillary, even inferentially. And that is the new standard here. Everything is a foul if it deals with the Clintons‘ behavior.
CARLSON: yes, it‘s a terrible stretch. He‘s trying it out. Maybe it will work. I don‘t think so. But he even said in your interview, Chris, that he was accusing of Obama of being complicit with Geffen in this interview and saying these things. Like Geffen stood for Obama. So he could attack Obama without anybody...
MATTHEWS: And he suggested Obama may have put him up to it. But also, Hillary Clinton very directly, in a clip we saw this afternoon, watching a live debate out in Nevada, Hillary Clinton said it‘s the politics of personal destruction being practiced by the Obama campaign.
JEFFREY: Yes, I mean, on the show earlier, Chris, I think we saw an example of what Geffen‘s talking about. Hillary‘s own spokesman tried to distance Hillary from what the campaign was doing. That‘s a classic example of her disingenuousness. But...
MATTHEWS: You mean, he‘s saying I can speak for the campaign, but it doesn‘t speak for her. It reminds me of—remember Pat Moynihan, the former senator from New York, used to work in the White House, said—when somebody said the White House is calling. He said, the White House doesn‘t have the voice. It‘s either the president or somebody that works there.”
When you say the campaign, who is it?
JEFFREY: It‘s Orwellian. You know what?
MATTHEWS: What‘s Orwellian?
JEFFREY: This is a huge mistake for the Clinton campaign, though. I think up to now they‘ve done an excellent job at trying to recreate Hillary, give her a much softer image. Their web site is brilliant. They have these web conversations where she comes off better than in any other forum.
All of a sudden it‘s Hillary the attack dog. It‘s all the focus back on what she and Bill did in the White House. Not good for them.
MATTHEWS: Well, there‘s only one point to make, and that is I do respect zones of privacy. Lots of things aren‘t really relevant to the public. Family matters, family arguments. Everything doesn‘t have to be on national television because you run for office. If you have a gay kid or something, you don‘t want to keep it secret. You can keep it secret. You can‘t anymore, though.
I‘m about to say something I don‘t believe. I don‘t think you can keep anything secret anymore. I think that what happens is when you‘re running for president, everything seems to be in play now, as we saw with the Clintons.
CARLSON: Well, even if you didn‘t believe that, certainly, impeachment was on national television.
MATTHEWS: When he looks back in his diary. I mean, when he goes down in history, Bill Clinton will have one reference to the fact in the first or second paragraph he‘s only the second president to be impeached.
CARLSON: Slamming Obama this hard over this strikes me, as you said, Jeffrey, the wrong tact for Hillary. We know she‘s tough. We need to see if she‘s human.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Terry Jeffrey and Margaret Carlson.
Tomorrow on HARDBALL “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams.
“COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN” starts right now.
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