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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Feb. 22

Read the transcript to the Thursday show

Guests: Anne Kornblut, Susan Molinari, Michael Feldman, Kevin Kiley

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Below the belt?  Is it wrong for a Democrat like Barack Obama to say Bill Clinton‘s personal behavior could be a great Republican issue in 2008? 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

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

Day two of the fierce fight between the two Democratic front-runners for president, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama—the feud began yesterday with a Maureen Dowd interview of Hollywood mogul David Geffen, who trashed the Clintons.  The onetime Clinton supporter called them liars, said Hillary was a polarizing figure, and dared to suggest that Bill Clinton has not changed his ways. 

Clinton campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson slammed Obama for what Geffen said. 

Senator Obama had this response: “It‘s not clear to me why I should be apologizing for someone else‘s remarks.”

Last night on HARDBALL, Clinton the spokesman Howard Wolfson went on the attack. 


HOWARD WOLFSON, HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN SPOKESPERSON:  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. 


MATTHEWS:  This is the first sign of just how vicious the fight for the Democratic nomination is going to get, also a clear signal on how Bill Clinton might play in all that fighting. 

Tonight, we will dig deeper into the 2000 race for the White House. 

Plus:  Washington waits for the verdict in the Scooter Libby trial.  If Libby gets convicted, will his former boss and confidant, Dick Cheney, have a cloud over him?  HARDBALL‘s David Shuster is at the courthouse.

We begin tonight with “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS” anchor Brian Williams. 


MATTHEWS:  Brian, I was amazed at the morning newspapers, especially the tabs up in New York, where you are.  And I am looking at them.  Here is “The New York Post,” often bombastic, but look at it this week: “The Big Chill,” with a picture of Hillary Clinton on the left, called “The Wronged Woman,” David Geffen, the record mogul, called “The Double-Crosser.”  And there is Barack Obama, the new kid on the block.

This fight is hot, and it‘s early.  What do you make of it? 

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC ANCHOR:  It‘s hot and it‘s early, Chris, but I harbor this theory that about a dozen Democrats, all of them already in politics, really care about this fight. 

My theory goes further.  As you know, I don‘t do opinions, but I read a whole lot of people‘s opinions every day on both sides.  One of them I consumed today is that Hillary Clinton was so hurt at not being the cool kid at Malibu High School, in effect, that they could not believe—put another way, a funny thing happened on their way to the presumptive Democratic nomination.

Here comes Barack Obama, who, for set of reasons and a set of new beliefs about Hillary Rodham Clinton and her electability, comes in and sweeps in.  And these stars, who they could always count on, fell head over hills in love with him.  And this is what we are watching happen. 

You combine that with the pros working for this Clinton campaign, and this is what we are looking at on page one of the tabloids. 

MATTHEWS:  Were you surprised at the swift reaction from Howard Wolfson for Hillary Clinton, to come out on this show last night and basically accuse the other candidate, Barack Obama, himself, of putting Geffen up to this attack on Hillary and her husband? 

WILLIAMS:  It was out of “The Godfather”: “Michael, do you renounce Satan?” 

I am not surprised, Chris, only because the Clinton team, say what you will—and people will anyway—politically about them in the White House, in the prime of their years, what did we know about them?  They were pros politically.  They were good leakers.  They were good attackers, and they were good defenders. 

Hillary Rodham Clinton has some pros working for her.  We have had some experience with them, all of us in this business have.  And, so, I was not surprised.  They are going to try to give rapid reaction an entirely new name. 

MATTHEWS:  The question is, can they set the rules?  They have set a couple of rules in the last go-round here.  One rule is, you can‘t attack Hillary in any fashion, or that‘s dirty politics. 

Do you think they did that against—Howard Wolfson, also speaking for Hillary, her communications director, a couple of weeks ago, did it to John Edwards for a rather general comment that he made about the Congress not fighting the war, or opposing the war, and now doing it again the other day.  Can Hillary say, no attacks on me, period, and get away with it? 

WILLIAMS:  Well, again, to cite other people, and looking at this situation as a whole, it—it may not be up to them.  People have a funny way of deciding for themselves when and how to attack. 

The Maureen Dowd column in “The New York Times” yesterday, David Geffen‘s quotes about the former president, about Senator Clinton gave voice to what you have heard in the salons on both coasts... 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

WILLIAMS:  ... the Washington-New York axis and the Malibu-into-maybe-downtown-L.A. axis.  So, that‘s what we are seeing unfold.

MATTHEWS:  Patrick Healy, a couple of weeks ago—in fact, about several months ago now—wrote that big front-page piece about Bill Clinton‘s social life, if you will.  That touched a nerve, obviously, with the Clinton campaign.

Then, yesterday, as you point out, David Geffen, apparently speaking as a major supporter of Barack Obama, said, well, Bill Clinton has not changed in six years, and what the Republican will do is wait for Hillary to get the nomination, then jump that family with everything that they have got.

That‘s pretty tough politics. 

WILLIAMS:  It is, but look at all these strange bedfellows.

John McCain hires one of the guys who—who beat him so savagely in South Carolina last time.  This goes on.  It has become a very rough, tough business. 

What some of the pieces we‘re seeing that are being written about Barack Obama are saying, they are trying to reach a very lofty theme, that this guy is—is incongruent.  You can‘t include him with the rest of the argument, because what he has got, we have not seen.


WILLIAMS:  What he has got died in Dallas, Texas, on a November day in 1963.  He‘s different.  He has a capacity to energize.


WILLIAMS:  So, separate him out.

A lot of people believe that theory. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s chilling, because it reminds me of that great movie we both love, “Butch Cassidy,” where Butch Cassidy is about to rob a train and he sees these guys in black coming and says, who are those guys?


WILLIAMS:  Yes, exactly.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s like, Hillary is looking down the train tracks and sees something she had never seen before.

WILLIAMS:  Exactly.  A funny—as I said, a funny happened on her way to the nomination.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the Republican side, always a more organized political party, always a more wait-your-turn kind of political party.  We know the cultures are different. 

John McCain getting attacked personally, just yesterday, by the vice president, who is always keeping his cards close to his chest, coming out and saying:  Oh, there is John McCain making nasty remarks about me, then coming up to me, like a puppy dog, and apologizing.  I guess he will apologize for what he said about Rumsfeld—very personal attack. 

WILLIAMS:  And the Democrats are so excited. 

While some Democrats are bemoaning, can you believe we have got 10 months to go until election year begins, for goodness sake—and Democrats are tearing themselves apart when you talk to them—you talk to Republicans, and they now sound like Democrats.  They can‘t believe this kind of thing is going on. 

Chris, the most interesting dynamic—and I know you share this theory—is the notion of watching this president, who is so intensely aware that this is legacy, this is ball game right now.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

WILLIAMS:  He knows that the historians are going to be writing about it. 

He has all but said publicly:  Just wait.  Do a measured view of my administration.  Don‘t do any instabooks.


WILLIAMS:  And now he has the ability, with a V.P. vacancy, to tilt, to change the dynamic of this election.  Is he really going to watch this organically unfold as someone—I don‘t know, as an observer?


WILLIAMS:  Well, that brings me back to the book that you have had a hand in.  You wrote the introduction in it.  And you have part of the content here.  You wrote it as a very young boy, “Dear Mr. President.”  It‘s a collection of books—of letters to the president that has come out in paperback just now.

And it‘s interesting, because, back when you were a tot, a little guy, a tadpole of a man, maybe...


MATTHEWS:  ... you wrote a letter to the president, and you asked him about the war in Vietnam. 

And I was thinking, as you just mentioned the legacy of this president, Lyndon Johnson, I think, was somewhat in despair about the war.  What is this—going to happen to this president?  Johnson never really did endorse Hubert Humphrey in ‘68.  He sort of let that election go the way it went, didn‘t he? 

WILLIAMS:  Yes, but at least it was—it was something he gave his overall blessing, but, as you know, not a full-throated endorsement. 

And, yes, as you know, one of my hobbies is collecting and listening to the tapes, as they‘re issued, of the Johnson presidency, now that we can listen in on all his phone calls.

And he was absolutely morose, knowing full well what this had done to his legacy.  He was worried that he had staked his name on civil rights, of course, staked his name on poverty, and that was all going to go away, in his view. 

Remember, he only lived four years after leaving the White House.  He started smoking on Air Force One...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

WILLIAMS:  ... the day he retired, on his way to the ranch, started drinking again. 

He said to Mrs. Johnson:  I have given the last several years to my country.  These next few years belong to me.

He did with them what he chose to. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, he gave the look of a man who had given up on worry.  He had stopped—as you said, he started smoking again, even though he had had all those heart attacks.  He drank.  He had always drank, I think, a bit, to put it lightly.


MATTHEWS:  And then, of course, he let his hair grow long, which was not the kind of statement you think he wanted to make back in those days.

Let me ask you about the role of—here‘s a tricky question for you, Brian.  Walter Cronkite, in ‘68...

WILLIAMS:  Yes, that was fascinating.

MATTHEWS:  ... offered a commentary, which he never did before, or maybe never did again, about that—not so much about the politics, as the situation in Vietnam, and said that we were not winning the war. 

And that was a major statement by a man who never had taken an opinion. 

As a journalist, as a broadcast journalist, very much working now in the setting of Cronkite, what did you think of that? 

WILLIAMS:  I think, Chris, the following:  You get one of those in life, OK?

That was—that was Walter Cronkite‘s choice, a crowning moment.  He was cashing in a check that the American people had made out to him.  And on that check was the sum total of everything he meant to all of us who tuned in every night.  He was a nightly visitor in my living room. 

Dinner couldn‘t be served until he said, “That‘s the way it is.”  And, so, in return for that, he said:  You have given me credibility, the mother‘s milk of our business.  You have obviously placed your trust in me.  You want to know what I think about this?  I have just been there.  I have taken a look at this war.  Here is what I think about this. 

You get one of those chits.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

WILLIAMS:  And this goes to the kind of cheapening of our discourse and communications. 

People do Cronkite-esque statements on topics every day now.  On cable, you can see one an hour.


WILLIAMS:  Somebody stakes their reputation on something.  They will stake it on something else the next day.

But, because our media times have changed, you won‘t see that anymore.  I guess the living equivalent would be if—if our mutual friend Tom Brokaw would—would decide, after a life well lived, a brilliant career that now has contributed to the lexicon the expression “the greatest generation”—the guy is held in great esteem by the American people.


WILLIAMS:  If we were to come out on a topic and issue a strong opinion. 

MATTHEWS:  Sometimes, I think opinion is the wrong word.  I think Cronkite was giving us his report.

But you‘re right.  It was such a bottom-line report...


MATTHEWS:  ... that it was political.


MATTHEWS:  It was saying what we must do now, given these facts.  It was, in a way, prescriptive.

Thank you very much for giving your thoughts tonight, Brian Williams.

WILLIAMS:  Chris, thank you. 


MATTHEWS:  Up next:  What are we learning from the Clinton-Obama sniping?  CNBC‘s John Harwood and “The Washington Post”‘s Anne Kornblut will be here.

And later: HARDBALL‘s David Shuster with the latest on Scooter Libby‘s trial.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 


MATTHEWS:  Still ahead: HARDBALL‘s David Shuster with the latest from Scooter Libby‘s trial.  What will the jury decide?

When HARDBALL returns.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The fight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama began with Maureen Dowd‘s David Geffen interview yesterday, and is still going strong.  What have we learned about how these two campaigns are going to come at each other?  What did we learn about the role that Bill Clinton is going to play in 2008?

Here to talk about it are “The Washington Post”‘s Anne Kornblut and CNBC‘s John Harwood.

Let‘s take a look before we get started here. 

Here‘s Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson on HARDBALL last night, saying what is in and what is out, in terms of what is fair discussion in this presidential campaign.


MATTHEWS:  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:  We‘re back.

Let me go to John Harwood. 

It seems like they are trying to be the referee, as well as one of the competitors, in the race. 

JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  Well, look, Chris, it‘s a nice try.  But, if they think that they can keep the issue of Bill Clinton‘s character and record, and whether Hillary Clinton is candid—these are all the points that David Geffen was making—I think that‘s a very tough thing to accomplish.

Democrats all the across the country are wondering the very things that Geffen was raising, that is, does all this baggage make her electable, not to mention the—the fact that, you know, people some think she is too calculating? 

That‘s the issue.  It‘s not whether she has got the best health care plan. 


Let me go to Anne.

Same question.  It looks like Howard Wolfson has got a tough job here of trying to say what is in and what is out of the foul line here.

ANNE KORNBLUT, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Oh, well, absolutely. 

I mean, of course they are going to try and cry foul about anything that is even remotely negative.  But Hillary Clinton is the one who started bringing up her husband in the race in the first place.  Impeachment was, while based on a private matter, a very public event that we all lived through.  So, I think they are going to have a hard time arguing, as they go forward, that they can use Bill Clinton when it suits them, but they don‘t have to answer when the very public things that happened are raised. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me read you from the—one of your competitors, both of you, “The L.A. Times,” today: “In her run for the White House, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton eventually was going to face the legacy of the more unsavory episodes of her husband‘s two terms as president.  But, in a surprise Wednesday, the first person to draw wide attention to some of the old controversies was not a Republican candidate or a—or the—quote—

‘vast right-wing conspiracy‘ that the Clintons have assailed, but a leading liberal at the heart of Hollywood.  Geffen suggested Bill Clinton‘s personal habits would damage his wife‘s campaign.”

Here, you have David Geffen, you know, a guy whose personal life is—obviously, he is a gay American.  He‘s a Hollywood liberal.  He is coming out and saying, “I think this is going to be a political problem,” John, “I, not one of your enemies, but I think it‘s a problem.”

Isn‘t that devastating to the Clintons? 

HARWOOD:  Well, that‘s exactly why this is a dangerous storyline, and one that the Clinton campaign is trying to stamp out. 

If they can show that—or if they can see, rather, that important Democrats are concluding that this baggage is too heavy to carry, that‘s a big problem for them.  Now, so far, it‘s not a problem.  She is ahead in the polls.  She‘s the front-runner.  She‘s very smart.  She‘s very competent.  And she has a smart and aggressive campaign.  Certainly, we have seen that in the last 24 hours. 

But this is a—a real issue that is out there in the race.  And, when you talk to Democrats, publicly and privately, everybody wonders about this stuff. 

MATTHEWS:  Anne, when you were at “The Times,” was there a big reaction from the Clintons when that Patrick Healy piece ran on the top of the front page, raising all kinds of issues about Bill Clinton‘s social life?

KORNBLUT:  His social life.


MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m trying to be nice.



KORNBLUT:  Yes, sure. 

I mean, the question of the Clinton marriage is a—is a touchy one on numerous levels.  It‘s very personally touchy for the candidate.  It‘s politically touchy for the people around them.  And especially in the context of a Democratic primary, they know that this goes—this is not about, you know, is Bill Clinton a good guy, or, you know, is he remaining faithful to his wife?

This is about, can Hillary Clinton get elected in a general election?  And I think what Geffen wasn‘t doing was, you know, passing judgment on Bill Clinton, but saying: “Hey, this is a political factor.”

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

KORNBLUT:  “And that is why I‘m scared of him.”


KORNBLUT:  And that was true when that marriage story came out. 

Look, they know that they can‘t ignore it.  But it‘s not something they want to talk about.

MATTHEWS:  Last time around, Anne—last time around, when President Clinton ran for president, he hired a staff person, Betsy Wright, to look out for what were called bimbo eruptions.  They had a staff person tasked with the job of trying to figure out where their problems are going to come from. 

Has anyone in the campaign, you or John—does Ann Lewis or Howard Wolfson—Howard Wolfson—does anybody have the status to walk up to Hillary and say, you have got to get Bill together on this; he could distract from this campaign; let‘s make sure a winning campaign doesn‘t become a losing campaign because of personal behavior?

HARWOOD:  Boy, I think all that is very difficult stuff to raise with a former president of the United States.  So, I really don‘t know the answer to that. 

And let me emphasize, Chris, I think, on balance, Bill Clinton is a big asset for this campaign. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

HARWOOD:  The Clinton brand is very powerful.

MATTHEWS:  So far.  So far.

HARWOOD:  And it looks all the better, given how the Bush administration is doing in terms of public opinion right now. 

But, if you take the positive, the downside is also there.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  The fact that she...

HARWOOD:  And they have got to deal with it.


Anne, she is spending a lot of time—there was a time, two or three weeks ago, when Hillary first went out with her campaign, where she talked about basically being a woman and told the jokes about Bill and all that, and—and really seemed to be running as a feminist, a leader of a new sort of first—one of these firsts, like Obama.

And now, lately, the last couple weeks, it‘s all about Bill, Bill, Bill.  Does that—does the baggage come with the Bill? 

KORNBLUT:  Look, it‘s a double-edged sword for her.  I would point out that, when she made the “evil man” remark, the campaign insists that she was not talking about her husband, but that she was talking about...

MATTHEWS:  Well, then why was it a joke?  If it wasn‘t about him, why would everybody laugh? 


KORNBLUT:  Well, that—they say she was talking about the Ken Starrs of the world, which, of course, raise a different kind of a Hillary Clinton.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s not a joke.  But that wasn‘t funny.  That wasn‘t—

I mean, that is not contextual. 

And that is flackery, for saying that was about Ken Starr.  You know that.


KORNBLUT:  I would say—actually, I would disagree with you, and say that I think that would have been the more damaging storyline for her, because that‘s the partisan, ideologue Hillary talking.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

KORNBLUT:  Any case—in any case, I would say that, yes, she has got to walk this fine line between being the feminist, between being the aggrieved—let‘s not forget, her numbers were never better than during impeachment, when she was seen as the...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, yes, the victim.

KORNBLUT:  ... beleaguered wife.  So..

MATTHEWS:  She got elected to the Senate with that.

Let me ask you, Anne—let‘s go to the Obama campaign now.  What is their strategy?  Are they trying to engage?  In other words, the other day, yesterday—it seems like a long time ago—Obama was given a chance to pull back and apologize, the usual sort of soft words he was trying—people were trying to get out of him. 

And he said:  No.  I am not going to defend or apologize or explain David Geffen, one of my top contributors.  Live with it. 

That‘s pretty strong. 

KORNBLUT:  Absolutely.  I mean, they made a decision.  They made a calculation that it would be worse for him to disavow David Geffen, who obviously went out on quite a limb for him yesterday, and, overnight, changed the storyline of what this week is going to be, anyway, for the campaign...


KORNBLUT:  ... that he would be better off living with it, saying, “Look, it wasn‘t me; it was a supporter; I can‘t control what they say,” than it would have been for him to distance himself.

Let‘s not forget, this is the same strategy that Bush took in 2004. 

Bush never renounced the Swift Boaters either. 


KORNBLUT:  And it certainly worked to his benefit. 


Thank you very much, Anne Kornblut.  Thank you very much.  Great having you on the show, as always, and John Harwood.

Coming up: HARDBALL‘s David Shuster with the latest on the jury‘s deliberations and Scooter Libby‘s trial, which continued today.

And later: more on the 2008 presidential race and the military‘s effort to improve the situation at Walter Reed.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Washington and the country is anxiously awaiting a verdict in the Scooter Libby trial. 

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster is at the courthouse right now. 

David, this is the first full day of deliberations.

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, Chris, that‘s right. 

They went seven hours today and, of course, did not return a verdict.  They will come back tomorrow; 11-and-a-half hours, they have been deliberating Scooter Libby‘s fate so far. 

There have been two notes that the jury has sent to the judge.  There was one asking for masking tape, post-it notes, and a flip chart.  And there was another note asking for photos of the witnesses.  The idea, of course, is that, perhaps, they are trying to go back and place what the witnesses said about the timeline, and map it out. 

There is a schoolteacher, a retired math teacher, that is on this jury.  There is also an MIT economist.  So, it sounds like they are essentially sort of going in a linear fashion.  But who really knows.?

But this has given us an opportunity, Chris, to go back and check a couple of things that have come up in this trial, chief among them the testimony about who really sent Joe Wilson.  And we have gone back through all the witnesses and the evidence, and we have found that it was never in dispute.  There was never an argument that—even by Joe Wilson himself, that Vice President Cheney said:  You, Joe Wilson, go to Niger.

But there was plenty of testimony, Chris, we counted from three different witnesses, one from the State Department, two from the CIA, who all testified that, because of an inquiry by Vice President Cheney in 2002 about a piece of raw intelligence that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa, because of that inquiry, that got the CIA thinking about it.

And because of questions also coming to them from the State Department and the Department of Defense, the CIA then decided the go ahead and send Joe Wilson to investigate.  And Wilson, of course, came back and said there was no basis to the allegation that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger.

The other part about this, Chris, that we have been able to do today is, we went back and looked at the number of times that Vice President Cheney was mentioned in the closing days of this trial.  And we found the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, in his closing argument, the last 20 minutes, mentioned Vice President Cheney repeatedly.

He talked about the cloud that had been cast over the vice president.  And Fitzgerald made reference to the vice president cutting out Joe Wilson‘s column, writing on that column, having meetings with Scooter Libby, dispatching Libby to meet with a reporter, where it‘s alleged that Libby leaked information about Joe Wilson.

And the prosecutor said:  The cloud remains over the vice president, because Libby obstructed justice and lied about what happened that week, the week before Valerie Wilson was outed. 

So, clearly, implications have been made about the vice president.  That was one of the last things the jury heard before they got the instructions and then went into deliberate. 

And, again, that has added to the intrigue and added to sort of the mystery, the idea that the vice president was rather ruthless in how he handled classified information, essentially releasing it to punish an opponent.  And that also gives an insight, Chris, into perhaps how the vice president handled intelligence before the war, when they were trying to sell the war to the American people—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Well, David, Fitzgerald, in closing up, said, what was all the hullabaloo about?  The question of who sent Wilson was hugely important.  And they wanted everybody to know it wasn‘t the vice president.

Why did the vice president and Scooter try so hard to separate the vice president from the reason for that trip to Africa? 

SHUSTER:  And that is the big mystery, Chris. 

I mean, clearly, as the evidence has come out, they were obsessed by this.  They were obsessed over your reporting.  They were obsessed over what Joe Wilson was saying,.  They were obsessed about somehow trying to undercut him.

And, as Fitzgerald argued, they used Valerie Wilson as an argument.  Why did they go into overdrive?  Why were they so obsessed?  That is one of the things that the prosecutors, perhaps, don‘t even know, in part because Scooter Libby, when he testified to the grand jury, kept saying he could not recall crucial conversations with Vice President Cheney during this crucial time period.

And those unanswered questions are one of the reasons why prosecutors are so eager to convict Libby...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SHUSTER:  ... and see if that somehow refreshes his memory about what really happened during those crucial weeks—Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, journalistically, I still want to know the answer to that.  What was the vice president‘s role in that trip?  And if he had a role, why didn‘t he get a report?  And if he got a report, why didn‘t he warn the president there was no African deal to buy uranium?

Anyway, thank you very much, David Shuster. 

SHUSTER:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Up next, so much fighting, Clinton versus Obama, Edwards versus Clinton, Cheney versus McCain, Cheney versus Pelosi.  Who is coming out on top in all of these fights?  You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Susan Molinari is a former U.S.  congressman from New York—congresswoman, a lobbyist now and a campaign adviser for Rudy Giuliani.  And Mike Feldman is a former senior adviser to Vice President Al Gore.  He is a communications consultant and co-founder of 

Let me go—I have got talk to you.


MATTHEWS:  What is going now on in the Republican Party where you have the vice president, who has always been keeping his cards, you know, like W.C. Fields, real close, blasting away at McCain? 

MOLINARI:  Well, you know.

MATTHEWS:  What is that about?  And I mean, personally saying, he apologized to me after he attacked me the other day with nasty remarks, I guess he will apologize now to Rumsfeld.  Like treating him like a little dog. 

MOLINARI:  Look.  I think what we have in Rumsfeld, McCain, Cheney, are three very strong-willed men. 

MATTHEWS:  But why is it out in the open now? 

MOLINARI:  Well, because, you know, we are now in a political season, and you know, the war is obviously a very important, very emotional issue, so I mean, I think this is understandable.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Very well said.  Except that Cheney went to Australia to get out of town during the Scooter trial.  He is in Australia.  You can‘t go any further away—and then I think he is Japan now.  And still he takes time to take a shot at McCain from all the way around the world, this guy who served his country from that part of the world, blasting him personally like some little weenie. 

MOLINARI:  Well, I don‘t know that they—I don‘t that that is

blasting him personally.  He said, he apologized to me and I‘m sure he will

I mean, it was.

MATTHEWS:  He made a fool out of the guy. 

MOLINARI:  It was a shot.  But it is a shot by strong men who have strong opinions. 

MATTHEWS:  It takes 230 words to get it (ph) out (ph) of the air (ph). 

I got it. 

MICHAEL FELDMAN, FORMER GORE SENIOR ADVISER:  I wonder who he is talking to, Chris.  I mean, nobody.

MATTHEWS:  Cheney does not care what you think, what I think, or anybody else.  He cares what his enemies think, and he wants them to hurt.  He likes to take the shot and have it felt. 

FELDMAN:  You know, he reminded me—those comments came from Japan the other day, and he reminded me of the Japanese soldiers after the World War II that were still on the little islands.

MATTHEWS:  All the little atolls.

FELDMAN:  . still fighting the war, still saying the same things. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what is his war? 

FELDMAN:  I mean, I assume that he talking to wavering Republican members.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, you mean where he says, the war is still going pretty well. 

FELDMAN:  Right, and he is saying that.

MATTHEWS:  That Tony Blair pulling out 2,000 troops is a sign of victory.

FELDMAN:  Correct.  And he saying that anybody who is not with us is against us and they are unpatriotic.  That is last year‘s... 


MATTHEWS:  But why did he go after McCain, one of the real war—of all of the people running for president on the Republican side this year—or the Democratic side, he is the one with the real war record. 

FELDMAN:  Well, he went after McCain because McCain is going after the administration on their conduct of the war.  That is where he draws his contrast.

MATTHEWS:  He was calling it a train wreck, apparently, the other day. 

FELDMAN:  Yes.  That is where he draws his contrast with the administration.  Look, he has got a tough line to hoe here.  He is trying to stay close enough to the administration, hawkish enough on the war so he can get the nomination, a very conservative party, very hard for him to do that.  But draw contrast so he has some appeal in a general election.  It is a really tough line to walk. 

And I think he is losing his brand as he does this.  It is really.


MATTHEWS:  Latest poll out of Iowa.  You know, Rudy has been getting up there in about 40s.  He keeps rising.  The more he hesitates and—what do you call it, gets tongue tied about whether he is running or not, the higher his numbers go. 

MOLINARI:  The more people say he will never get conservative votes in Iowa, the more he gets conservative votes in Iowa. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he is now up at 29 percent.  He is about 7 points ahead of McCain in Iowa.  What he is doing out there?  He is pro-choice.  The Republicans tend to be pro-life.  What is the story? 

MOLINARI:  The story is that the more people get to know about Rudy Giuliani and what he has done in New York City, and that he is a tax cutter and he has appointed reasonable strict constructionist judges, and that people look at the situation in the world in which we live right now and they think, who do I want to lead this country over the next few years, and they come to the decision in Iowa, as they have throughout this United States consistently in polling that they want it to be Rudy Giuliani. 

MATTHEWS:  Who is the toughest Republican candidate to beat for the Democrats next time? 

FELDMAN:  I have said it before and I will say it here.  I think it is Rudy Giuliani.  But really.


MATTHEWS:  The toughest guy to beat, because he could win in our state. 

FELDMAN:  He could.

MATTHEWS:  He could possibly win New York—Pennsylvania.  He could win New Jersey.  He could win all of those states. 

FELDMAN:  Possibly.  But the fight for him is getting the nomination. 

And case in point.

MATTHEWS:  Well, is he winning it? 


FELDMAN:  Well, it‘s so early, Chris.  I mean.



FELDMAN:  . in the early polls.

MATTHEWS:  Suppose they move New York up to February 5th.  And they get California.

MOLINARI:  New York, New Jersey, California.

MATTHEWS:  . February 5th.

MOLINARI:  . Michigan, Florida.

MATTHEWS:  And all of those big liberal Republican states Rudy gets the vote.  And the backwater part of the Republican Party doesn‘t get in until it is too late.  I am seeing, by the way, the same thing happening with Hillary. 

FELDMAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  The problem with Hillary is she may win the nomination, as David Geffen so beautifully put it the other day, and then the attacks come from your party.  Is that what is going to happen? 

MOLINARI:  Well, you know, look, there.

MATTHEWS:  He is saying she wins in February, and then the assaults come on Mr. Bill, and what he is up to, and all of that, whatever that is, that that becomes subject A. 

MOLINARI:  You know, and I almost—you know, with regard to Senator Clinton and Mayor Giuliani, I don‘t know what else—I mean, people in the know.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think they might agree that their personal lives in both cases are somewhat confusing and we had better leave them both out? 

MOLINARI:  And I think people.

MATTHEWS:  Is that where.

MOLINARI:  . know what is about their personal lives.  You know, there is this whisper campaign that there is something that we don‘t know about the Clintons.

MATTHEWS:  No, there is not.

MOLINARI:  . that we don‘t know about.

MATTHEWS:  . a whisper campaign, no.

MOLINARI:  . Mayor Giuliani. 

MATTHEWS:  . no, no, no, no.  There is a buzz.


MATTHEWS:  And I don‘t know whether it is true or not, but there is the buzz, and it is in The New York Times.  Let‘s not get complicated here.  Patrick Healy‘s front page piece a while back laid the whole thing out.  I don‘t know any more than that. 

MOLINARI:  Look, all I am saying is I don‘t think there is—you know, of two candidates upon which we know just about everything, all of those things that are considered vulnerabilities, there are out there, there are no surprises left.  So I can‘t imagine that there is going to be any change or any shift with Senator Clinton.  If she is doing well, she is doing well. 

FELDMAN:  I think both candidates, actually, are going to will be evaluated on how they react to those attacks more than the attacks themselves. 

MOLINARI:  I think that is right.  I think that is right.

FELDMAN:  I think you saw that play out yesterday.  Look, you can say a lot of things about Senator Clinton.  There is no doubt that the Clinton campaign delivered a message yesterday. 

MATTHEWS:  Which is? 

FELDMAN:  They are not going to let attacks—personal attacks go unanswered. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, do you think they can stop them by saying they are out of bounds? 

FELDMAN:  No.  I think—look.

MATTHEWS:  By saying—as Howard said the other day on here—Howard Wolfson, that is below the belt.  Well, you don‘t get to referee the boxing match you are in. 

FELDMAN:  Howard Wolfson is a very smart guy, I‘m not going to disagree with him.  And you and I both know.


MATTHEWS:  But can he referee his own fight?

FELDMAN:  No.  But you want Howard in the trenches with you as you go through a very tough campaign.  And one of the measures of the campaign is.  Can you take a punch, can you throw a punch? 

MOLINARI:  Right.  That is exactly right.

FELDMAN:  Can you get out of the way when the punch.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  You know who could solve this whole problem on the Clinton side?  Bill Clinton.  If there is no problem, there is no problem.  And all of the talk in the world is not going to hurt her campaign.  If there is a problem, there is going to be talk.  Thank you very muck, Mike Feldman.  Thank you, Susan Molinari.  I just set the rules. 


MATTHEWS:  Up next we are going to talk about the Army surgeon general about efforts to clean up Walter Reed Hospital after The Washington Post blew the whistle on things out there.  You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Now for a follow-up on that story, the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which houses wounded American soldiers back from the front.  The Army is fixing the troubles out there where they were exposed in that story—amazing story by Dana Priest of The Washington Post.  Lieutenant General Kevin Kiley, the Army‘s surgeon general and commander of the United States Army Medical Command is responsible for all of the Army medical facilities. 

General Kiley, you have got a tough job.  But go ahead, is the situation going to get better?  Is it getting better at Walter Reed?

LT. GEN. KEVIN KILEY, U.S. ARMY SURGEON GENERAL:  Yes, sir, it is getting better.  I was over there today, Building 18, and the repairs are almost complete there.  We have talked to soldier.  We have given the press a look at this building.  It is clean and safe.  Some of the pictures you saw have been taken care of.  We are in the process of analyzing other bureaucratic challenges that are all part of the quality of life issues for soldiers.  The health care continues to be absolutely first class. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we are looking at some pictures of your people out there cleaning up the situation.  I‘m going to ask—I trust a lot in your service and the fact that you have achieved this amazing position in the U.S. military, so I am going to let you talk uninterrupted.  Do we give the service people coming back from Iraq the kind of treatment, the kind of care that we should be? 

KILEY:  Well, you know, you have been to Walter Reed yourself, we know and appreciate your visit.  I think we do.  I have never seen the Army Medical Department, supported by the Department of Defense and the Congress, frankly, provide the resources that we have had.  I have never been wanting for supplies, personnel, whatever it takes to take care of injured soldiers, not just at Walter Reed but across the MEDCOM. 

Clearly, some of these soldiers would have died in prior conflicts.  They come back seriously injured.  Their wounds and injuries, both emotional, mental, physical are complex and take long periods of time to convalesce.  And I think that has been part of the perception, which I think is incorrect that we let them languish.  We do not let them languish. 

And then once we have gotten the maximum capability of recovery, we begin a process of evaluating them for further service, retirement, or a return to active duty. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of these accounts by The Washington Post that service people at Building 18 have felt that they are—the bureaucratic mess was so much overwhelming them that they could not get the right forms, they had to go around most of the day on wheelchairs, moving around great distances on the campus there to try to get things done, they needed to get done, and some of them just gave up on treatment? 

KILEY:  Well, I want to distinguish.  We don‘t have soldiers on wheelchairs over at Building 18, which is across Georgia Avenue.  I talked to a couple of soldiers today.  They share some of this frustration with standing in line, waiting to get to a form, getting forms filled out. 

Clearly we don‘t condone any of that.  This is a big complex high-flow

organization here at Walter Reed.  We have looked at some of those issues

and are continuing to look at them.  We are going to apply some aggressive

re-analysis of how we do business.  Our MEDFAC operation, Medical Family

Assistance Center, is going to be increased and bulked up.  In fact, we had already done that. 

The other big thing I think that will help soldiers, we have brought the ratio of case workers down from one to 120 soldiers to about one in 50 to one in 30.  And we are re-analyzing that.  I think we—probably drop it to one in 20.  We have got platoon sergeants now that are not patients, they are full-time sergeants. 

We have got the change of command completely engaged in this.  There are some things that are not just specific to Walter Reed that we are going to work through on the medical board process, the PEB process. 

So we have got a lot more work to do to further improve this thing.  We have put in extra physical evaluation board counselors, the Physical Disability Agency has stood up more, PEB boards.  But there are a large number of soldiers, and we want to take care of them.  We want to keep them as long as they need to be here.  We don‘t want to keep them too long. 

And so the quality of life issues that were referenced in there, I take no argument with moldy doors (ph), that is not to our standards.  The vice chief of staff talked about that yesterday. 

MATTHEWS:  Was it a fair piece, General—The Washington Post piece by Dana Priest that broke this out into public discussion? 

KILEY:  Well, you know, I was the commander at Walter Reed when they came to me and embedded them at Walter Reed.  We have nothing to hide.  I think clearly the articulation, the pointing out of the some issues with the building, some of the frustration soldiers have which we know is fair. 

I am concerned that in reading the article, and not having any counterbalancing assessment, either by the Army or the command, I do take some exception to the concept that we have just let them languish, that we don‘t care about them.  I don‘t think that‘s a fair assessment of the wonderful staff at Walter Reed, to include the commanders. 

But clearly we need to do more and we are doing that. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  General, thank you.  General Kevin Kiley, who is in charge of the whole medical facility.  Thank you very much, sir, for coming on our program tonight. 

KILEY:  Thank you, sir.

MATTHEWS:  Up next, NBC‘s Jane Arraf talks with the commander of the coalition forces over in Iraq.  You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  As more American troops surge into Baghdad, NBC‘s Jane Arraf talked to the tactical commander of coalition forces in Iraq.  And she joins us now from Baghdad with more. 

JANE ARRAF, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, as more U.S. soldiers hit the streets in Baghdad, U.S. forces are facing new kinds of attacks such as the suicide car bomb that hit a combat post north of the capital this week. 

We spoke to the commander of ground forces in Iraq about threats from al Qaeda and elsewhere. 


ARRAF:  Does this signify a new tactic by al Qaeda in any way? 


IRAQ:  Well, I think, first of all, we knew there would be a reaction from al Qaeda or any of the extremists reacting to the fact that we have now moved a significant amount of soldiers into combat outposts and joint security stations.  So this is a reaction to that.  We very much expected it. 

I think they are concerned about the success we will have in protecting the population.  So they want to try to keep us from doing that type of idea.  So it is not that it was unexpected, we knew that sometime they would start to come after our combat outposts.  So we are continuing to work very hard at this to make sure our soldiers are protected out there and we are ready for attacks like this. 

ARRAF:  It would seem as you move more into combat outposts though, particularly in Baghdad and out of those big bases, there seems to be almost no way to fight this.  Are we going to be seeing more of this? 

ODIERNO:  Well, see, our argument is, is there are two sets of arguments.  One is, I believe you are more secure when you are out there.  You understand the neighborhood.  You understand the people.  You understand what is going on around you.  So much easier to detect threats, where—compared to if you are driving out there from your big FOB and you are not as aware of the neighborhood as you are when you are out there all the time. 

So I would argue in a lot of ways it provides you more security by being out there.  What we have to do is understand what our vulnerabilities are.  You are a bit more vulnerable to a large VBIED-type of attack.  So we have to make sure we continue to learn from this and protect ourselves against that. 

ARRAF:  You were here in 2003, 2004 as head of the 4th Infantry Division in Tikrit when they caught Saddam.  What is the biggest difference in your mind from that period and now? 

ODIERNO:  Yes.  It is more—much more complex now.  Back then the insurgency was in the beginning (INAUDIBLE).  It took us a while to define in fact there was an insurgency. 

It was a Sunni insurgency for the most part back then.  Now it is much more complex.  You have a Sunni insurgency and al Qaeda.  You have sectarian violence which has really changed, Sunni on Shia violence.  And actually you have some Shia-on-Shia violence as they maneuver for power. 

So it is much more complex then it was back then, much more difficult.  However, that said, I believe we can deal with those threats.  You just have to understand what they are and deal with them. 

ARRAF:  Are you concerned that the key militias here that might have been a problem, Sadr‘s militia and others, are lying low now only to come back later? 

ODIERNO:  Well, I believe that is certainly a possibility.  And that is why this is not a short-term effort.  We have to do this—it is not weeks, it is months.  We have to do this for months.  And we have to show that the populous within Baghdad feels they will be protected for months with both coalition and Iraqi security forces. 

I will say that although it doesn‘t matter if they lay low.  There are some reconcilables and there are some irreconcilables.  What we have to do is try to reconcile those who want to be.  And that is through political means.  And we have to go after those who are irreconcilable and we will use military means to do that. 

ARRAF:  Do you have the sense—do you have the fear that the time here is running out for the U.S. troops? 

ODIERNO:  Well, I mean, clearly there is a—time is finite.  We don‘t have an open-ended timeline.  So it is important that we do the best we can with the time we have left.  I don‘t know what that timeline is.  But we are very focused on that.  We are very focused on us being successful.  And that is why I think it is important we do have this surge of forces. 

It provides us the opportunity to provide the security in Baghdad to the people along with the increased number of Iraqi security forces.  But I believe what we need to do is we need to show progress.  The American people want to see progress.  It is important to them.  And it is important that we show that. 

So I think we can do that and we also allow the government of Iraq to mature.  They still are only 10 months old as a government and we have got to remember that.  And I see them maturing everything single day. 

ARRAF:  You are someone who understands intimately the price that families pay for having people deployed here.  Your son, a lieutenant at the time, lost his arm in an attack.  Does it bother you that so many Americans know more people know about the fight over Anna Nicole‘s body than they do about the fight in Baghdad? 

ODIERNO:  I think what bothers me the most is that they don‘t understand how many heroes there are over here.  You know, the true heroes are these young men and women who are fighting for their country.  I think that is what bothers me. 

I just wish they would get a bit more—people would have a bit more understanding of what their sacrifices are and what heroes they are and what some of the things that they have done to sacrifice for their country.  That is what I wish.

Now that said, I will say the American people have supported our soldiers and our Marines.  I‘m very proud of that.  They might not have agreed why we are here, but they certainly have supported us when we have gone home in very clear ways, everybody across the board, and so that—

I‘m very thankful for that that they continue to do that. 

And it means a lot to our soldiers and Marines and sailors and airman that that in fact is done.  So I do appreciate that very much. 


ARRAF:  General Odierno and other officials are making the point that it will take months to see if this security plan works.  Now that is partly because militia members who would have been a threat seem to have gone underground, but nobody believes that they have gone away for good—


MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  NBC‘s Jane Arraf in Baghdad.  And it was great to hear what the general had to say.  He was so right about the troops. 

Catch me tonight on NBC‘s hit show “30 Rock.” Here‘s a preview. 


MATTHEWS:  So you heard what Jenna Maroney had to say, she supports the troops. 

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “TUCKER”:  Well, here is a question, Chris, why do we care what she thinks about anything?  This woman strikes me as another empty-headed self-involved member of the Hollywood ignorati. 

JANE KRAKOWSKI, ACTOR, “JENNA MARONEY”:  You know, for someone who super, super hot, you are really cranky.  I have just as much right to my opinion as you or Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m not sure you do, you have been on the show for 20 minutes now, you sang six bars of something called “Muffin Top”.

KRAKOWSKI:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  . and then told a disgusting story about Fleet Week. 

CARLSON:  I guess this is the state of political discourse in this country nowadays.  And that is fine.  Let‘s just embrace it.  Let‘s have our policies determined by former Cable Ace Award nominees. 

KRAKOWSKI:  First, I was great in that “Arli$$.” Second of all, if the president is so serious about the war on terror, why doesn‘t he hunt down and capture Barack Obama before he strikes again?  It is time for a change, America.  That is why I‘m voting for Osama in 2008. 

Oh, no comeback?  Yo, burnt! 


MATTHEWS:  That is “30 Rock” tonight on NBC.  “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts now. 



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