Guests: Paul Rieckhoff, Robert Baer, Richard Land, Bernadine Healy, John Harris, Chris Cillizza
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: It‘s official. Saddam was not allied with al Qaeda. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. It had no nuclear program. But who is going to pay for the propaganda that got us into Iraq?
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. A declassified Pentagon report discounts Saddam Hussein‘s pre-war ties to al Qaeda, even as Vice President Cheney says al Qaeda was operating in Iraq before the U.S. launched its invasion. All this as NBC breaks the news that 12,000 National Guard troops are expected to be deployed to Iraq early next year.
So how did we get stuck in Iraq? We‘ll get into all of that in a minute with General Barry McCaffrey, National Guardsman Paul Rieckhoff and former CIA operative Robert Baer, who‘ll be here on the set.
Then the war debate. The Senate and the president are both back in town next week, and both sides are stepping up the fight over whether to set an exit date to bring home the troops. Can Congress force the president‘s hand?
Plus, we‘ll have Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Who will Christian conservatives back in ‘08?
But we begin with breaking news. The top aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is resigning. NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams joins us now. Pete, what‘s the story?
PETE WILLIAMS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is Monica Goodling, Chris. This is the one who was the counselor to the attorney general, who had been also the White House liaison, who was on indefinite leave. She is the one whose lawyers told Congress that she would invoke the 5th Amendment if she was called to testify about her role in the firing of the U.S. attorneys. Today she submitted a letter to the attorney general. It‘s very short, two sentences, we‘re told. It simply says she will resign effective, for some reason, tomorrow, but it doesn‘t say why she‘s leaving. So she is the second aide of Gonzales‘s to step down. His chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, stepped down a couple of weeks ago and then testified last week before Congress, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Does this—well, certainly, this makes her ineligible for executive privilege. Does this help her avoid testifying?
WILLIAMS: It doesn‘t really put her on any different footing in terms of testimony, and it makes it very clear that she won‘t be represented in any way by the government. But she has retained private counsel, who‘ve been quite muscular in their dealings with Congress, saying she‘s simply not going to show up.
The Congress has pushed back a little bit. The House committee pushed back and said, You know, the reason she has cited for not wanting to come up here aren‘t good enough. But her lawyer says nobody should have to pay any price for invoking their 5th Amendment rights. They say she‘s done nothing wrong. She has nothing to be afraid of except, her lawyers say, the political process there is so poisoned that they‘re afraid they‘ll twist any words and put her in potential legal jeopardy. They‘re just saying she won‘t show up.
This does undercut, I guess, slightly Congress‘s argument that it‘s pretty weird for a government official, a Justice Department official, part of the branch of the government that puts pressure on people to testify in trials, that she‘s not going to testify. Now she‘s not part of it anymore.
MATTHEWS: Boy, that‘s a nuance.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Pete Williams, for that great report for the weekend. Have a nice weekend.
WILLIAMS: OK. You bet.
MATTHEWS: Now to Iraq. I‘m joined by General Barry McCaffrey and Paul Rieckhoff, who served in Iraq with the Army National Guard and who‘s now executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
General McCaffrey, let me ask you about this—I know you‘re a warrior and a military man. But what do you make, as a man who served his country in Vietnam and has been involved in studying this war in Iraq, that it now turns out there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, the people who attacked us on 9/11?
GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, U.S. ARMY (RET.), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I think...
MATTHEWS: What does that say to the fighting person over there, that...
MCCAFFREY: ... broadly speaking, we made up our mind to go to war, and then they marshaled the evidence they thought was legitimate, and it turned out a bunch of it was wrong. And it‘s an embarrassing situation for the nation to be in.
MATTHEWS: But what does a fighting person over there believe now about why we got over there, or do they even think about it?
MCCAFFREY: No, I don‘t think they think about it. I think when you get up in the morning and you‘re in, you know, 325 Airborne in downtown Baghdad, you‘re trying to carry out your mission, stay alive, protect your buddies. This is a debate in Washington, and I don‘t think they‘re listening.
MATTHEWS: Paul Rieckhoff, what is your view of this, now that it‘s clear not only was there no nuclear program over there, no deal to buy uranium in Africa, but no connection to 9/11 or al Qaeda?
PAUL RIECKHOFF, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA: I think it‘s terrible. I think it‘s a national embarrassment. When I got on the plane to go to Iraq in 2003, my buddies, my platoon and I thought that we were going to punch back against al Qaeda. And the connection to 9/11, the connection to Saddam, was made continuously time and time again.
And I think there needs to be some accountability here. I don‘t know if they lied or what happened here, but somebody needs to be held accountable for failure. That happens in the military, it should happen on the civilian side, as well.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the vice president? Here he is, by the way. Let‘s listen to him now claiming that Saddam was working with al Qaeda on “Meet the Press” shortly before the war began. We‘ve got the tape. Let‘s watch history here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We know he‘s used chemical weapons. We know he‘s reconstituted these programs since the Gulf war. We know he‘s out trying once again to produce nuclear weapons. And we know that he has a long-standing relationship with various terrorist groups, including the al Qaeda organization.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: What do we make of this bonding, the way he talks, We now know, this sort of avuncular, We‘re all in this together, I‘m just a referee, this positioning of the vice president as if he‘s not a war advocate, as if he‘s just sort of an omniscient observer? What does—how do you react to that? It‘s clear how I react to it. How do you react to it, Paul?
RIECKHOFF: I think he‘s continuing to try to sell this. I mean, after a while, he starts to sound like a used car salesman justifying why he sold us a lemon. I mean, this is garbage. I mean, let‘s come clean. Let‘s hold people accountable. And let‘s admit that we‘ve made some mistakes so we can move on as a nation and try to unite and commit to the fight in Iraq and try to salvage something out of what‘s happening on the ground here. I think it continues to divide this country and doesn‘t bring us all together, like we need to be in a time of war.
MATTHEWS: Well, I guess it‘s his story, and he‘s sticking to it. Fair enough. He‘s vice president of the United States and will be until the end of this term.
Let me go to General McCaffrey about the 12,000 more troops going over there. NBC broke this story. It‘s a heck of a story because we thought that the 21,000 surge was going to be enough. Now we‘ve found 12,000 more troops going over there. Are they going to be real fighting people? Are they support or what? What‘s that about?
MCCAFFREY: Chris, I personally think it was obvious. A year ago, he had to call up as many as nine National Guard brigades. In the coming year, he couldn‘t sustain the effort. And it‘s not just that forward (ph) National Guard brigades. I think they‘ll probably call up nine brigades. And we go to have about the same number of service support troops—logistics, communication—to maintain that effort. So the war is not sustainable when you got half your Army brigades in combat on a given day.
MATTHEWS: So when you know that—when you‘re aware that we have to increase our front-line forces, you know that means we have to have a bigger establishment over there.
MCCAFFREY: Yes. Of course, you know? And I think, you know—one of the things Secretary Gates, hopefully, will clear up in the coming months is—Rumsfeld and his team got to the point where disingenuous is a generous word to characterize how they would talk about this war. I mean, it was just an out-of-body experience to listen to the denial of what obviously had to be done—underresourced, undermanned, equipment is shot, changing, dropping standards of reenlistment, keeping 70,000 troops beyond their enlistment, bringing 20,000 Air Force and Navy sailors in to do ground combat missions and calling up the Guard for repetitive combat tours.
The force is at the end of its tether.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe the president is being fair and honest and candid in using the word “surge”? “Surge” is a word that almost came out of the—almost came out of the—of the Baker-Hamilton commission. It was that, OK, in the short term, maybe the best way to begin a deployment out of that country, leaving that country, was to have a real shot in the arm to the security effort, which will bolster the Iraqi forces we‘ve trained, and then we can get out.
But if we keep bringing in more Guardspeople, are we, in fact, on an escalation mode? We‘re not on a surge mode, we‘re on an escalation.
MCCAFFREY: Well, I don‘t think we‘re being forthright. You know, Secretary Gates has been saying, I think quite correctly, that we‘re going to start out of there by August. The last brigade doesn‘t get there until May. That means a five-month surge. That certainly isn‘t what General Petraeus and General Odierno have been talking about. It would be silly to temporarily partially increase the combat strength in Iraq for five months. They got to stay for a year. This is not sustainable. We got to call out the Guard.
MATTHEWS: Would you call a year escalation, year-long escalation, a surge?
MCCAFFREY: Oh, yes, sure, because at the end of the year, we wouldn‘t know where we‘re going to be. I...
MATTHEWS: You‘re right, then. We won‘t be able to get an honest report card on this new strategy, the Fred Kagan strategy...
MATTHEWS: January, we should have...
MATTHEWS: Paul, do you agree with that? Are we going to have report card—I think we‘re going to get a political report card come the fall. I think the Republicans in Congress who are looking forward to reelection next year are going to act—they may turn on a dime this fall, but I think they‘re going to see what‘s going over—at this kill rate that‘s going on, we keep getting guys killed every single day. The violence level continues over there. They‘ve lost 300 police over there in the last month. It‘s not calming down.
RIECKHOFF: I don‘t think we‘re going to be that patient. I think the general‘s right. And to be honest with you, he‘s been right throughout this war in his projections about what‘s going to happen to the force and how it‘s starting to disintegrate, and you‘ve got to give him some credit. But I don‘t think the politicians are going to be nearly that patient. We‘ve seen the pendulum swing in the other direction. And the Democrats clearly want to get out, and they want to get out quickly. But you‘ve got to look at the National Guard personnel themselves. There‘s a Minnesota brigade that‘s been there for 20 months. They‘re going to be sending back these initial invasion brigades from the National Guard that have only been home, some of them, less than three years.
Secretary Gates has said his goal is to have them home five years. We‘re not even close to that. I was a part of one of those initial brigades that went in, and my guys were already very concerned that they‘re going to be going back without enough rest, without enough retraining, with faulty equipment, and that the families are really going to start to see this pressure in a big way.
MATTHEWS: Is the Guard now a regular Army fighting unit? In other words, when you join the Guard now, you‘re not in reserve, you‘re not in case of an emergency at home or abroad, you‘re joining a front-line military campaign. That‘s the new way the Guard is, right?
RIECKHOFF: It‘s become that way, and I think that‘s—that‘s why we‘re having a hard time recruiting people. It‘s why we‘ve had to lower the standards. You can be 42 years old and join the National Guard right now. And people understand that if they sign up to join the...
MATTHEWS: How about the felons that are being enlisted?
RIECKHOFF: That‘s another sign that we‘re lowering the bar and we‘re watering down...
MATTHEWS: You can‘t vote, but you can‘t fight.
RIECKHOFF: Yes. It‘s crazy.
MATTHEWS: Well, we used to say that about 18-year-olds, but now it‘s felons. What do you think, General? Would you like to look out into the ranks and see some guys that have done hard time?
MCCAFFREY: Well, look, that‘s a concern. You know, we‘ve had the best kids in America enlisting in the Army Marine Corps, Navy, sailors, Coast Guard. Of course, now we got 8, 10, 12 percent of the service that is not qualified. Eight thousand people came in who are of a lower mental category. We doubled the number of non-high school graduates. It‘s clearly an attempt to man the ranks with a lesser quality force. Huge problem for us.
MATTHEWS: Maybe they should draft Doug Feith. What do you think?
MATTHEWS: ... the intellectuals. Go over to the American Enterprise Institute and see who‘s fit for combat. Anyway—just kidding, guys. You can rest easy over there. Anyway, thank you, General Barry McCaffrey. Thank you, Paul Rieckhoff. Have a nice Easter both of you gentlemen.
Coming up: A Pentagon report discounts the Bush administration‘s claim that Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda had ties, had links before the war in Iraq. Former CIA officer Bob Baer will be here to talk about it. And later: Mitt Romney tries to clarify what he said about being a “life-long hunter.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I‘ve always been, if you will, a rodent and rabbit hunter, all right, small—small—varmints, if you will. And I began when I was, oh, 15 or so and have hunted those kinds of varmints since then more than two times.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: It gets more bizarre every day. Thank you. That was Mitt Romney, varmint hunter. Is he just making things worse? They used to say of politics—they should still say—“When you‘re in a hole, stop digging.”
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. A report by the Pentagon‘s inspector general discounts claims by top Bush administration officials before the war in Iraq that Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda worked together in Iraq. The report was released on a day when Vice President happy Cheney continued to defend the existence of an al Qaeda-Iraq connection on Rush Limbaugh‘s radio show. Let‘s listen to Rush and Dick.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
CHENEY: Remember Abu Musab al Zarqawi, Jordanian terrorist, al Qaeda
affiliate, ran a training camp in Afghanistan for al Qaeda, then migrated -
after we went into Afghanistan and shut him down there, he went to Baghdad, took up residence there before we ever launched into Iraq, organized the al Qaeda operations inside Iraq before we even arrived on the scene, and then, of course, led the charge for Iraq until we killed him last June.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Those are the talking points of Scooter Libby. Scooter Libby wrote those talking points before he left, and they were given to him by Doug Feith. And now the vice president reads them as if they‘re the truth today. Are they true, what he was saying?
ROBERT BAER, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: Oh, absolutely not. You know, I don‘t know what these guys are on. There were contacts between Saddam Hussein and Qaeda in ‘94 and ‘95. We knew about them. They didn‘t go anywhere...
MATTHEWS: But couldn‘t you say that about any Arab country?
BAER: Any Arab country. It means it‘s meaningless. We know they went nowhere. We had an inside track on this. You know, and the famous Atta-Ani (ph) meeting in Prague where...
MATTHEWS: Never happened.
BAER: Never happened. The FBI and the CIA said categorically it never happened. Yet they continued to run with this story, convince 70-some percent of Americans Saddam—it‘s a lie. This is—this is truly the big lie.
MATTHEWS: Well, you had the vice president saying it, and he does have a credibility in the way he talks. He has this sort of avuncular fashion. He seems like a middle-of-the-roader. He seems like a Leon Panetta or a Lee Hamilton, a non-partisan guy. He‘s extremely committed to this war policy. And yet he comes across with that “we” and “We now know” and—it works!
MATTHEWS: It‘s scary, but it works.
BAER: It‘s nonsense. They know where Zarqawi was. He was in Pakistan...
MATTHEWS: He wasn‘t al Qaeda.
BAER: He wasn‘t al Qaeda. And it‘s just—it‘s nonsense. It was a mistake. And the officers who supposedly handled the relations between Saddam and bin Laden have come out and now work for American authorities in Iraq...
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about how this happened. We went to war for a lot of reasons. I mean, I don‘t think we‘ll ever get to the bottom of it for 10 or 20 years, but the president wanted to go. The vice president wanted to go. The intellectuals wanted to go, the neocons, so-called. They all wanted to go for all different reasons. But they made the case we were going to go with the American middle, which (INAUDIBLE) for this war, by saying there was a nuclear threat. Then they suggested this kind of amorphous connection to 9/11 that somehow—remember the country music—remember how you felt—and all that? It was a—it was a continuous drumbeat of the way to get even for what happened to us in New York and in Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon was to go hit them hard in Iraq, that somehow—you know what I mean? They did it over and over for almost two years there. What do we do with that kind of propaganda efforts...
BAER: It was total propaganda. They went to the CIA. They went to the Pentagon, to Doug Feith, and said, Give us talking points so we can go to war. And that‘s when Tenet‘s “slam dunk” came in. He says, yes, we can sell this case to the American people. But the Middle East is complicated, and that‘s why they got away with it. It was...
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you for a metaphor. I‘ve been trying to struggle with this, and it‘s always tricky. Were the people cooking up, like Doug Feith, the people who cooked up the intel and Scooter Libby, when they hand it to their principals, like Cheney, who‘s a rational guy, Cheney, and the president‘s I think rational—were they like a bartender who kept serving a drunk beer, just keep giving them what they wanted? I mean, who wanted it? Who wanted the bad intel? Who said, Give me that...
BAER: Cheney did. He goes to the Situation Room and said, We know Saddam‘s a bad guy. Give me stuff. And they...
MATTHEWS: Give me a case.
BAER: They bring in what they could and they—this isn‘t good enough. I can‘t sell a war on this. I want everything. And then he cherry-picked this—this trash. This intelligence was trash on Saddam...
MATTHEWS: Well, who wrote the Colin Powell statement to the U.N.?
Who put that together?
BAER: The CIA did. But the CIA...
MATTHEWS: Why? If they didn‘t believe it, why‘d they do it?
BAER: Because they were ordered to. They dipped into the tangential intelligence which was unconfirmed, and they said, If you really want it, here it is. We don‘t trust it. These are my—I know these guys. They‘re all my colleagues.
MATTHEWS: You know, fighting an aggressive war is a war crime. Objectively. You can‘t just fight a war because you don‘t like another country. You have to have some reason for it...
MATTHEWS: ... some self-defense reason.
BAER: The crime hasn‘t even...
MATTHEWS: Did we fight a war just for aggressive reasons? Or was there a self-defense aspect...
BAER: We fought a war on a lie. And that‘s the important issue, on a lie.
BAER: The administration‘s, the White House‘s. It was not the CIA‘s.
It was not the Pentagon‘s. This stuff was ordered top-down.
MATTHEWS: What is George Tenet going to say in his book, when it comes out in a couple of weeks? Is he going to say, they made me do it?
BAER: Tenet is a political servant of Washington. He will come in and say, this is what they wanted. I served the president, this executive branch. I was an employee of...
MATTHEWS: Who is the CIA director responsive to, under the Constitution, under our form of government?
BAER: The president of the United States.
MATTHEWS: So, if the president says the moon is made of blue cheese, he‘s supposed to say that?
BAER: Got to. And then they put it in the national intelligence estimate October 2002, gave it to Congress. And then they went out to the press and sold this.
I mean, look, “The Washington Post” and “The New York Times” were—took point on this.
MATTHEWS: Why would some young person with a good education ever want to serve an agency like CIA, if they were told what you just said, that the purpose of our Central Intelligence and Defense Intelligence is to mouth the words the president wants spoken, and not to defense this country?
BAER: The attrition rate is horrendous at the CIA as of today. People are leaving in—they‘re calling me, looking for jobs. And, you know, if they‘re calling me, they‘re in trouble.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know, whatever you think about it, we need intelligence. We need it more than ever.
BAER: And, by the way, this director is much better than anyone in the past. He‘s really trying to control...
MATTHEWS: Will he stand up against the ideologues in this administration, the Scooter Libbys and the Doug Feiths?
BAER: No. The Pentagon is still preeminent.
MATTHEWS: So, they still call them up and tell them what they want?
BAER: They have all the money. They have the satellites. They have got the intercepts.
MATTHEWS: You know, I wish Capitol Hill—you know, it‘s spending a lot of time on the U.S. attorneys issue. I wish they would start calling people like Doug Feith and Scooter, who knows people up there, and say, how did we get in this war? Just for the history books, just to get it written down—nobody is going to jail. What happened?
BAER: Somebody has got to be held responsible. We‘re going to there 10 years from now. There‘s going to be tens of thousands killed.
MATTHEWS: That‘s the...
MATTHEWS: The worst thing you can say about this policy is, it‘s very hard to deal with it now. The worst thing you can say, we went into a boxed canyon, and now there is no good way out.
BAER: There is no way out.
MATTHEWS: And that‘s the problem. That wasn‘t good policy...
BAER: Trillions and trillions of dollars, and people.
MATTHEWS: ... to put us where we can‘t get out.
BAER: Can‘t get out.
MATTHEWS: You‘re supposed to take us where we‘re in a stronger position, with more options.
Anyway—that‘s a political statement, anyway.
Thank you, Bob Baer. Thank you.
When we return, we‘re going to look ahead to the big battles between Congress and the president next week. And they‘re coming over the war funding issue. Once Easter is over, the battle begins.
And later: Will conservative voters campaign to get Fred Thompson into this race? Look at him. Some people say he looks like a president. He certainly plays one in the movies.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Breaking news late today: Monica Goodling, the top aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, is resigning today. She‘s the one whose lawyers have said will take the Fifth if she‘s called to testify about the firing of those eight U.S. attorneys.
Let‘s bring in the HARDBALLERS.
Mark Green is with Air America Radio and The New Democracy Project. He‘s the author of the book “Losing Our Democracy.” And Terry Jeffrey is editor of “Human Events” magazine.
Mark, you first. I mean, this is like a virgin forest tonight from your side of the world politically.
What did you make of Vice President Dick Cheney going after—let‘s take a look at it, by the way. We have got Vice President Cheney here going after Nancy Pelosi‘s visit to Damascus.
We don‘t have that yet. We will have that.
Let me ask you about this latest resignation, then, at the attorney general‘s—in the Justice Department. Monica Goodling has walked. She‘s going to take the Fifth, but she‘s now going to take it as a private citizen.
MARK GREEN, PRESIDENT & FOUNDER, THE NEW DEMOCRACY PROJECT: The cover-up continues, and the ship of state is sinking, Chris.
Look, there‘s a constitutional basis, of course, to the Fifth Amendment. You don‘t want to encourage government to coerce citizens to self-incriminate. But the Congress, the public, the press can‘t imprison anybody, but we can draw the reasonable inference she took the Fifth because she can‘t tell the truth under oath. And now she‘s left, like Scooter Libby, left, before the indictment and conviction, because you can‘t fire the owner.
So, when a team losing 20 in a row, maybe you fire the manager; maybe you fire the G.M. You can‘t fire Bush and Cheney, under the Constitution, except for impeachment.
And so, this is a cover-up, because, until now—of course, new presidents, as you have discusses so often, can hire new U.S. attorneys to replace all those who have served under a different president. Not once in the last 30 years has a U.S. attorney been replaced other than for cause.
So, this is a scandal they‘re trying to cover up. That‘s the only logical conclusion.
MATTHEWS: You don‘t have to defend Monica Goodling. Do you want to just move on to the next topic?
MATTHEWS: I mean—all right, let‘s move on to the more exciting.
Here‘s Vice President Cheney, as I promised, speaking—and you can pick up on this—speaking about Nancy Pelosi‘s trip to Damascus.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, “THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW”)
RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I‘m obviously disappointed. I think it is, in fact, bad behavior on her part.
I wish she hadn‘t done it. But she is the speaker of the House. And, fortunately, I think the various parties involved recognize she doesn‘t speak for the United States in those circumstances. She doesn‘t represent the administration. The president is the one who conducts foreign policy, not the speaker of the House.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: There you go.
TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR, “HUMAN EVENTS”: Well, look, Chris, I don‘t have a problem with...
MATTHEWS: Bad behavior?
JEFFREY: Well, what—the way she behaved in Damascus was very bad.
I don‘t have a problem, per se, with members of Congress going to Damascus.
MATTHEWS: Well, Republicans went last week.
JEFFREY: Well, her problem was, she went over there—number one, she seemed to be conducting foreign policy separate from the policy of the United States, which is in fact headed by the commander in chief.
But, secondly, she really seemed to be sucking up to Bashar Assad. I would suggest that she read the Mehlis commission report, which was produced by the United Nations, which investigated the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, in which, Chris, there is repeated testimony from people saying that Assad called Hariri to Damascus, told him he was going to break Lebanon over his head if he didn‘t assent to keeping Emile Lahoud, the president of Lebanon, in power.
There‘s, I believe, no doubt that that regime was involved in the assassination of that Lebanese prime minister. And she went over and groveled at that guy‘s feet. That is her problem.
MATTHEWS: Mark Green.
GREEN: Groveling is a verb you made up.
Were Jim Hamilton—where Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton groveling when they said, look, we negotiate not with our friends, but we have to negotiate with our enemies, like Syria, for example?
And, so, we have two branches of government for that are technically co-equal. And, so, she‘s the head of one branch of government going to the Middle East. Also, there‘s another argument for her to go. We‘re in an extraordinary emergency, actually. We have never seen a president like Bush and Cheney.
The majority of America, of Iraq, of the Baker-Hamilton commission want us out. His response? More troops.
Since they have mismanaged and lied about this war, it is, frankly, not desirable; it is essential that the head...
GREEN: ... of the other branch of government go to figure out what is happening.
She said nothing inconsistent with American policy...
JEFFREY: Sure, she did.
GREEN: ... as the Republicans who went didn‘t.
JEFFREY: Let me say this. Look, I...
MATTHEWS: What did she say, by the way, in terms of a difference with the U.S. policy?
JEFFREY: Well, first of all—first of all, she suggested that Israel is ready to negotiate with this guy, which Prime Minister Olmert made sure—made clear they absolutely were not.
MATTHEWS: We don‘t know what Olmert said to her, though. Do you?
MATTHEWS: You and I don‘t know what Olmert said to her.
JEFFREY: All right. Well, someone...
MATTHEWS: I know what Olmert said.
JEFFREY: All right.
MATTHEWS: I know what she said. There‘s two different arguments.
JEFFREY: You think that she‘s telling the truth, and he‘s not?
MATTHEWS: I‘m saying somewhere in the middle. And you know that is how politics works.
MATTHEWS: He was schmoozing with her. He probably did say, go over there and, and if you can get something started, good luck to you.
I‘m sure that is what he said. What else is he going to say to her?
JEFFREY: Right, and they‘re going to give back—they‘re going to give back the Golan Heights to Bashar Assad. No.
MATTHEWS: Well, eventually, that is going to be the deal. What are you talking about? Do you think there is some other deal between Syria and Israel than that?
JEFFREY: That deal is not going to happen.
JEFFREY: It is not going to happen.
JEFFREY: Not to that regime that is power right now.
JEFFREY: It is not going to happen.
But, yes, she definitely has a different policy. Listen, I don‘t think it‘s wrong for the United States to try and deal with the Syrian regime and Bashar Assad, especially if they can try and get him out of his alliance with Iran.
He is key to Iran‘s involvement in Lebanon and the problems they caused in Lebanon last summer. If he can be separated out and brought back into the Arab bloc and essentially out of the Shiite revolutionary bloc...
JEFFREY: ... that would be a good thing for the United States.
But the appeasement policy that Nancy Pelosi gave voice to in Damascus this week...
MATTHEWS: All right.
JEFFREY: ... is not the right way to go.
MATTHEWS: Last word, Mark.
GREEN: Oh, well, last thing.
Chris, I admire, but I don‘t envy you. You have to ask a question about, gee, the vice president said this, as if that has any reality. This guy is technically the vice president, but he is the vice president of—of AEI, a few military bases, and “The Rush Limbaugh Show.”
Since nothing he has said before, during or after this war has been true, whatever he says about Nancy Pelosi is, frankly, untruthful and irrelevant. She‘s a constitutionally-mandated speaker of the House. She should go...
MATTHEWS: Well, he‘s also—whether you like it or not...
GREEN: I agree.
MATTHEWS: ... he‘s also our constitutionally elected vice president of the United States.
GREEN: But that he says it has no reality.
MATTHEWS: And that‘s a fact.
Well, the reality is, he is Vice President Cheney. And I do have to quote him. And I have to respect his office.
GREEN: I understand why.
MATTHEWS: And, if he says something, we have got to listen to it, because he has the ear of the president. And we know that.
Anyway, thank you, Mark Green.
Thank you, Terry Jeffrey.
Up next: What kind of hunter—I just love this story—is Mitt Romney? He tries again to clarify his comments about being a lifelong hunter. But is he shooting straight?
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Finally, the dessert. Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Time to talk about Mitt Romney‘s hunting habits. This is a riot. I don‘t know if it‘s important, but let‘s talk about it and then some other political stories.
But let‘s start with Chris Cillizza, of course, from TheWashingtonPost.com, and “The Politico”‘s John Harris.
Let‘s take a look now at how Mitt Romney, the governor—former governor of Massachusetts, characterized his hunting experiences earlier in the week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I support the Second Amendment. I purchased a gun when I was a young man. I have been a hunter pretty much all my life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, he‘s “been a hunter pretty much all my life”—pretty clear statement.
Last night, he said something a bit different.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: I‘m not a big game hunter. I have made it very clear I have always been, if you will, a rodent and rabbit hunter, all right, small—small varmints, if you will. And I began when I was, oh, 15 or so, and have hunted those kinds of varmints since then, more than two times. I also hunted quail in Georgia.
So, I have—it‘s not really big game hunting, if you will, however. That‘s not deer and large animals. But I have hunted a number of times of various types of small rodents.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You notice how he changes the subject from the type of game and the size of the game, from the question of, “I have been a hunter all my life,” to, “I have hunted more than twice.”
Now, I have played golf maybe 20 times in my life. I am not a golfer.
JOHN HARRIS, EDITOR IN CHIEF, POLITICO.COM: Lifelong golfer?
MATTHEWS: I am not—I (INAUDIBLE) hit in the 90s right now. I (INAUDIBLE) have a handicap. But I wouldn‘t call myself a golfer.
He calls himself a hunter all his life, and then he tries to switch it with this sort of pretty low-grade effort to spin it to not big game. It‘s little game. You know, the old Reagan trip and the—Reagan used to do this stuff with the—what do you call it, the woodshed stuff. He would always do spins.
It‘s such a cheap spin. Do you think the press will fall for it? The issue wasn‘t size of the game. It was his claim to be a lifetime hunter.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: And the issue isn‘t, I don‘t think, frankly...
MATTHEWS: Will it? Will it work? Will this spin work?
CILLIZZA: No, I don‘t think it—no, I don‘t think it will. And I will tell you why, because it plays into a storyline that exists with Mitt Romney.
MATTHEWS: Which is?
CILLIZZA: Which is, he says one thing which tends to be more conservative, but the reality tends to be more liberal.
MATTHEWS: Is he any more a conservative than he is a hunter?
HARRIS: Well, unless he goes out hunting this weekend, on Easter Sunday...
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s go—let‘s be bipartisan about this. Nothing was more of a yuck-yuck to most people, including me, than to see John Kerry running around in camo, what, a week before the election last time.
HARRIS: Oh, but this is—Chris, this is...
MATTHEWS: I mean, in camouflage.
HARRIS: ... this story is funny, but it can have real political consequences. Look at Al Gore, the way he was—had his ears pinned back over some exaggerations.
Hillary Clinton got hazed over saying she was a New York Yankees fan. It turned out, actually, that was right. She had been a lifelong Yankees fan. But people were all over for supposedly embroidering her past.
So, these kind of trivial things can actually really be influential in building a storyline about...
MATTHEWS: Let me be honest. Let me—in the old days, you know. You would go down to Nathan‘s Hot Dogs in Brooklyn, and eat a hot dog, but you didn‘t claim you were from Brooklyn.
And you would put an Indian headdress on, but you didn‘t claim to be an Indian. Now they‘re—now they‘re putting the headdress on and claiming to be an Indian. And they‘re claiming to be from Brooklyn.
MATTHEWS: They‘re actually making it up.
I mean, poor Joe Biden said he was a British prime minister—or a British Labor Party leader once, you know? Do they really—is it a problem mentally? Do they actually think they were hunters all their life?
CILLIZZA: I think what they are being advised is—and this isn‘t the advice they‘re saying, but they‘re basically being advised, try to appease and appeal to as many groups as possible.
CILLIZZA: And that means you‘re trying to be everything to everyone.
MATTHEWS: Is this delusional or illusional? Are they trying to create the illusion?
MATTHEWS: Or are they delusional themselves?
CILLIZZA: No. I think it‘s—I think they—they have been told...
MATTHEWS: OK. What does it mean? Let‘s parse this.
“I have been a hunter all my life.” And then he says the next day, “I have hunted more than two times.”
What does that mean?
CILLIZZA: It‘s means he‘s hunted somewhere between two times and all his life.
MATTHEWS: But don‘t they—and then the other thing about joining the NRA the very year you‘re running for president, what is that about?
CILLIZZA: Again, I think it plays into—it‘s what John said. When it plays into a narrative, it is potentially powerful. Mitt Romney‘s narrative is that he was pro-choice when he first ran. He‘s pro-life now.
MATTHEWS: OK. If I join the Masons tomorrow to run for president, would that be credible? I don‘t think so.
CILLIZZA: Right. And that‘s the issue that he has, is, can he sell it? I would say someone with less gifts couldn‘t.
HARRIS: Look, there‘s a long history of candidates trying to do this.
Remember John Kerry going to Philadelphia for the cheesesteak and ordering it with Swiss cheese, you know, trying to be in the neighborhood, or the...
MATTHEWS: Cheez Whiz.
HARRIS: -- Swiss Cheese, you know, trying to be in the neighborhood, or the story about Sergeant Shriver, went in to the bar.
HARRIS: You‘re better off being yourself.
MATTHEWS: You don‘t even see the cheese. It‘s cooked into the meet, right, by the way?
HARRIS: You‘re supposed to have it with cheese wiz. He had Swiss Cheese.
MATTHEWS: I know, because it‘s cooked into it. You can‘t see. By the way, it‘s not a cheese and steak sandwich. It‘s a cheese steak sandwich. There‘s a difference.
We‘ll be right back with Chris Cilizza and John Harris. Thank you guys, we won‘t be back. Enough of the steaks. Enough the hunting. What a great—I am convinced—this remind me of Elmer Fudd, out chasing after Bugs Bunny.
Up next, many Republicans say they‘re not happy with their presidential candidates. Wonder why. Does Fred Thompson have the right stuff to get in there on the right? Southern Baptist Convention leader Dr. Richard Land will join us next. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. When it comes to religion and politics, how divided really is America. And what do the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates need to know about winning the powerful, enormous evangelical conservative vote out there. Dr. Richard Land is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention. He is author of a new book, “The Divided States of America.”
One thing good about the evangelicals, that even, I think, liberals would agree on, is that you have democratized people. You have got a lot more people involved involved in politics than ever were before, people who sat on their hands in disgust, maybe, with American life. Didn‘t the numbers in the last election grow to almost to 120 some million voters?
DR. RICHARD LAND, SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION: It was a lot.
MATTHEWS: It really bounced up about 15 million.
LAND: Well, in the 2004 election, it was about 25 percent of all the people who actually voted identified themselves as white evangelicals.
MATTHEWS: A lot of them were incremental to the normal voting group?
LAND: Yes, yes. We had more votes in 2004 than voted in 2000.
MATTHEWS: Is that a guarantee—is there a ratchet effect?
Therefore, having gotten these people registered, gotten used to voting, will they necessarily vote next time if they find that both candidates of the two parties are secular?
MATHEWS: That they don‘t talk about it.
LAND: The only person who can deliver evangelical voters to a candidate is the candidate himself or herself. No one else can do it. I couldn‘t do it.
MATTHEWS: The Republican label is not enough?
LAND: No, and even if I came out and said, look, this person is the lesser of two evils; you need to vote for him. They would stone me with hymnals. Only the candidate himself or herself can get the people out. George W. Bush did it in 2004 in ways he didn‘t in 2000, because he suffered from name I.D. with his dad in 2000.
MATTHEWS: Because his father was not—do you think his religious difference with his father was important, the fact that he was Methodist, rather than Episcopalian? Do you think that mattered?
LAND: I don‘t think it‘s a denominational thing.
MATTHEWS: You don‘t think it is?
LAND: No, I think it‘s the fact that George W. Bush was raised in Texas. George H.W. Bush was raised in Connecticut.
MATTHEWS: And therefore?
LAND: George W. Bush is much more comfortable talking about his faith.
MATTHEWS: But when George Sr.—I remember when—hey look, I‘m a Roman Catholic, but I can observe. It seemed to me that when George Herbert Walker Bush said he was born again, it was done in a kind of perfunctory way.
LAND: Well yes, he‘s from Connecticut. I mean, I went to college in New England.
MATTHEWS: You‘ve got evangelicals in Connecticut.
LAND: We do, but it‘s a cultural thing. Southerners and South westerners are much more comfortable talking about their faith. I mean, my mother is from Boston.
MATTHEWS: Pat Robertson went to Yale Law. I‘ve never quite figured that out.
LAND: He‘s from Virginia. My mother is from Boston. My dad is from Texas. I‘m bi-cultural. I know both of these regions. And New Englanders are just more reticent and less comfortable talking about their faith. It doesn‘t mean they don‘t have it.
MATTHEWS: It‘s true. They‘re also more reticent about kissing in public and things like that. They‘re just more withdrawn.
LAND: Oh that‘s right. There‘s no question about it. My southern relatives were huggers and kissers and my northern relatives weren‘t.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the president. How is he doing?
LAND: Personally, you mean?
MATTHEWS: Have you ever—I don‘t like to use the word ministered, because I‘m not sure it‘s appropriate. But have you ever talked to him, counseled him, been with him? I looked at his latest numbers. They‘re tough.
LAND: The last time I was with him was January 28th. I was with him in the Oval Office. He seemed upbeat. He seemed resolved. He seemed pointing straight forward. He really is Trumanesque in that way.
MATTHEWS: I agree. Has he delivered for your causes?
LAND: I think so, yes.
MATTHEWS: How so? If you were to tell people in the pews right now, this president we went out and worked for and for has come to deliver for us. What would you say it was that he did? He got two Supreme Court nominees.
LAND: Roberts and Alito and those were huge. Those were huge. Those were huge. Those are absolutely huge.
MATTHEWS: OK, the name of your book is “The Divided States of America.” Will we ever be one nation, in terms of our views of church and state, or are we always going to have this blue state/red state divide?
LAND: I think that we‘re always going to have—
MATTHEWS: Connecticut versus the south.
LAND: We‘ve always had disagreements. But I think the disagreements are exacerbated and exaggerated by the media. And that‘s why I wrote the book. I don‘t think we‘re as divided as the media says we are.
MATTHEWS: What about President Fred Thompson?
LAND: I think he‘s a very—
MATTHEWS: Does it work for you?
LAND: I don‘t endorse candidates, but he would be a very impressive candidate. He‘s sort of a southern fried Reagan. I mean, the guy has—
MATTHEWS: You have just given the quote of the day, that he‘s probably going to run now.
LAND: He has charisma.
MATTHEWS: Oh, he‘s got it. He‘s got the accent too. He‘s got a better southern accent than you do. He‘s much more southern than you are.
LAND: He is. I had a Bostonian mother, remember.
MATTHEWS: Hey, thank you. It‘s nice to have a hybrid here. Dr. Richard Land, who‘s not a hybrid. “The Divided States of America” is the name of his book.
More HARDBALL after this.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Elizabeth Edwards got some good news this week regarding therapy for her cancer. With more on that positive development, we turn to Doctor Bernadine Healy, former director of the National Institutes of Health, and author of the new book “Living Time:
Faith and Facts to Transform Your Cancer Journey.” She is also on the cover of the “US News & World Report” this week.
Elizabeth Edwards, how‘s she doing? What does it looks like for her?
It looked pretty bad about three weeks ago.
DR. BERNADINE HEALY, AUTHOR, “LIVING TIME”: Well, I think that she has announced some positive results, in terms of the nature of her tumor, and the fact that it‘s the kind that would respond to hormonal therapy. And by the way, bottom line, here she is in her new phase of therapy, at least the beginning, and she is already on two drugs that were not available ten years ago.
So a lot of those numbers we hear from yesterday are yesterday‘s treatment, and she is going to be getting today and tomorrow‘s treatment.
MATTHEWS: Most people think of cancer, if you can deal with it, is either you use chemotherapy, which is rough, or you use radiation therapy. What is this thing you‘re talking about, hormonal?
HEALY: Well, hormonal therapy is a kind of chemotherapy. You take it either by vein or by mouth.
MATTHEWS: It‘s Estrogen?
HEALY: This is an anti-estrogen, and there is a new, more powerful one, called an Aromatase (ph) inhibitor, and it‘s only been available for a little over a year, and it has shown to be more powerful than the previous hormonal therapy. And she is also on a drug, which his a drug that we developed for woman with thinning bones, that toughens up the bones and makes them more resistant to metastacies (ph), to tumor growing in bone.
And there are other drugs that are right there on the horizon, and I think she is meeting with doctors, and they are going to develop a further battle plan. So I think this is today‘s—the face of cancer today, Chris. It‘s not all doom and groom. It‘s about what we can do to lick this thing. She has got the right attitude.
MATTHEWS: So it spread from a lung to bone?
HEALY: It went from her breast to her bone?
MATTHEWS: Breat to bone. And now it‘s in the bones. It‘s in her hip, her ribs. Her ribs. And you say the best treatment now seems to be this hormonal treatment?
HEALY: And that‘s what she is on. And also treatment of her bones to make them tougher. But there are other therapies, and she is meeting with doctors, who are right in the vanguard of this. The important thing for patients to take away here is that you have to get facts. It‘s good to have the right attitude. You must have it. But part of it is getting the facts, and we are at an exciting time in the science of cancer, the human genome, with the genes, the proteins these genes produce.
We really should be having a 21st century war on cancer, and it will be very different from last year‘s war on cancer. And, by the way, that is a political issue, not just a medical issue.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of these columnists out there for the major newspapers who have trashed her decision to fight the campaign with her husband, to keep going?
HEALY: I have no use for them. I mean, I think she is saying why fold my tent? I am going to carry on with my life. I‘m not going to just go home and move backwards. She is doing this for herself. She has faith in herself. She is doing this for her family. And, you know, in her way, she is doing this for her country.
So I think that I support her entirely. It‘s medically right. It is spiritually right. And I think, from her point of view, it is right for her, her family.
MATTHEWS: But if she were not in this situation, if she were simply an average person, where perhaps she and her husband were both working, but she would say, I think that I will start a major enterprise, or the husband would say that, would you recommend that? Forget the politics, would you think this is the time in her life for her and her husband to commence a major national enterprise like running for president?
HEALY: Well, this is a continuing enterprise for them. This is as if, you know, you had another job, a doctor continuing to be a doctor. It‘s not that you suddenly go to medical school.
MATTHEWS: So it‘s her profession?
HEALY: This is her profession. And she is out there. She has been planning this. He has been planning this. They‘ve been in the game before. So I just think it‘s a continuation of their life as they know it, and they are saying, we are not folding our tents. We are carrying on with what we have always been doing, living the life that we chose. And there is no reason in the world why she or he or anybody else should give it up because of somebody else‘s doom and gloom backseat driving.
MATTHEWS: That‘s a general view about life, not just—While we have you on here—we don‘t have many doctors on the show, medical doctors. You‘re here now. Walter Reed may be one of the biggest issues of the last several months, and how we treat people back from the war. What‘s the story here with V.A. hospitals and Walter Reed?
HEALY: I think one of the biggest issues goes beyond moldy walls and rodents, which you can take care of quickly. I think the bigger issue is do we have the administrative and bureaucratic systems that are receptive to these war heroes who come back wounded. And one of the big issues is the disability system.
“U.S. News & World Report” actually is going to be doing something of an expose next week on that very issue, where both the inspector general, but also many V.A. groups are saying they are being low balled on their disability scores, which means many of these people with wounded, disabled are not going to be getting the kind of compensation they need to reenter civilian life, young people, mainly men.
MATTHEWS: By why is the government squeezing? I mean, if they see a case where a person can‘t ever walk again, and they say, they might be able to get around on a wheelchair. What do they do? How do they squeeze them?
HEALY: Well, they can squeeze them because they have a very capricious and inconsistent way of sitting around a table, and saying how disabled they are. It‘s very hard to change a disability once you get it. And this follows them for the rest of their lives. So I think that we are going to have to put the spotlight on that, and move beyond just Walter Reed crumbling buildings, and look at systems that go beyond the military system, and go into the V.A.
MATTHEWS: I haven‘t taken lately, because the war has been such an issue here with us, with me personally obviously, and these people who suffer life-long wounds, not a bad couple months in the hospital, not even like Bob Dole or somebody who‘s came back, or John McCain, who can really get back in the mainstream life with their disabilities, but people who are shut ins.
Somebody said there three million people in all the wars, starting with the people surviving World War II, Korea, Vietnam and now this war. There‘s three million people with permanent wounds, permanent problems that prevent them from living an out in the world life?
HEALY: Well, you just have to look at somebody like Bob Dole. You can see a disability. Now, he has been able—
MATTHEWS: Yes, but he went back and went to law school, got into politics. He‘s led a pretty good life.
HEALY: Suppose your job was working in construction. Suppose you had a different kind of life and you could not do that. But I think the bigger issue is here, now we are doing so much a better job at getting people through a major head injury or through massive trauma to the abdomen or the leg --
MATTHEWS: How are we treating people stuck at a Naval hospital in South Philly, or somewhere else? How well are they getting treated right now? How would you judge their treatment?
HEALY: I think the acute treatment is probably as you get anywhere, and it may be even better than the civilian system. I think what Walter Reed showed is that they‘re not as good at dealing with the surge of the chronic problems that are a result of surviving these terrible injuries. And it appears that—
MATTHEWS: Right, chronic problems, meaning blindness?
HEALY: You bet.
MATTHEWS: The guys cut off at the waste. I met one the other day.
Everybody thinks it‘s just losing a leg or an arm, or two legs and an arm, people—the cases you see of people cut off at the waste, it‘s hard to believe they can survive and they do. But what a chronic challenge that is. I mean, it‘s almost overwhelming?
HEALY: That‘s right and for them too. It‘s living time, and we have to make sure that it will be a living time for them, and part of it is having the support of the system. They gave up so much for their country. We owe it to them.
MATTHEWS: When you give up half of your body.
HEALY: Absolutely Chris.
MATTHEWS: How are you doing?
HEALY: I‘m doing great. Thank you.
MATTHEWS: You look great. Bernadine Healy, “Living Time,” great name for a book. That‘s what you always say. You‘ve got to live it and you‘ve got to keep doing it. Anyway, thank you Bernadine Healy. You look great.
HEALY: Thanks, happy Easter.
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