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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for April 27

Read the transcript to the Friday show

Guests: Dana Priest, Roger Simon, Tyler Drumheller, Mandy Grunwald, Margaret Carlson, John Fund

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Carolina in the morning.  So how do things look now, the day after the first big Democratic debate?  Do we know who the Democratic candidate‘s going to be?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Last night, America got to see the 2008 Democratic presidential contenders on the same stage for the first time.  NBC News anchor Brian Williams moderated the debate from South Carolina State University, and the two frontrunners for the most part played it safe.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  If this president does not get us out of Iraq, when I‘m president, I will.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I am proud that I opposed this war from the start.


MATTHEWS:  All the candidates were united in their opposition to the president and the Iraq war but were reluctant to attack each other.  And for those of you who missed the debate you can watch it this weekend on MSNBC, Saturday at 3:00 PM Eastern and Sunday at noon.

NBC‘s Brian Williams moderated the debate.  He joins us now from New York.  Brian, your take, your hype, your belief on who won last night?

BRIAN WILLIAMS, ANCHOR, “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS”:  You‘ll never get me to say anything close.  As you know, I tried to politely say no to appearing on your broadcast last night.  I got out of that hall.  I did not subject myself to any button-holing, lobbying, any of the advance hype yesterday afternoon.  I had to keep my head in the game, went into that hall after doing the top half of “Nightly News,” and exited that hall last night without talking to anybody.

So as I look at it, my job was to kind of just be the conduit, the viewers‘ representative, ask the questions and then get out of the way and listen to the answers.  I find it fascinating today to hear the analysis.  Everybody has a different opinion.

It‘s so early, Chris, the question I like is, Was the Democratic nominee part of that group on stage last night?  And does this have any value beyond just seeing how quick people are on their feet?  The rules were tough.  I thought all the candidates did well, and we should say that up front.  But the rules were—made it kind of moderator-centric, and that‘s something that didn‘t throw me, but just one-minute responses and 30 on redirect was tough.

MATTHEWS:  It does require a very narrow turning radius, doesn‘t it.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.  And look, a lot of people have expressed this to me today.  Of course, I saw when questions weren‘t being asked (SIC).  Of course, I saw the holes big enough drive a car into.  But because we had these, you know, in effect, jets stacked up over La Guardia, a bunch of questions to go, the clock is ticking and I didn‘t have that much response time to hand out in my back pocket, we kept going.  And you hope that the informed viewer of last night knew when what we were looking at was somebody ducking a question, when somebody did not have a health care plan answering a question about a health care plan.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me—let me examine you for a second, Brian, my senior colleague in many ways...

WILLIAMS:  Do we have to?  Must we?

MATTHEWS:  We have to.  We have to.  Why did you ask which of the candidates, for a show of hands, ever had a gun in the house?

WILLIAMS:  That question was submitted by our political unit.  I think it‘s one of the most repeated questions today on videotape this day after.  It‘s anecdotally one of the questions people have come up to me today and said they were happy I asked.  They found the result kind of visually and mathematically fascinating, and we asked it because we thought it would be interesting to ask it.

MATTHEWS:  The fact that the three frontrunners have never had a gun in their house, does that show that the Democratic Party is a bit remote from the experience of most of middle America, that does, in fact—you have a shotgun out in Kansas in your house out in the middle of nowhere, for self-protection.

WILLIAMS:  Chris...


MATTHEWS:  ... hunting or for whatever, but there‘s no—did that expose—somebody said to me last night that exposed the remoteness of the Democratic candidates from the American experience.  Is that a fair shot?

WILLIAMS:  All I will allow is it perhaps underscored the reason to ask that question and why it was a smart idea.

MATTHEWS:  Because the question answered itself, in its genius, upon itself.  Let me ask you, did you look in the eyes as you were asking the questions?  You must have felt a certain feel as you directed a question because the way you did it, you called upon one of the candidates and then you directed the question toward them.  Did you ever see fear in the eyes from the incoming that you were addressing there?

WILLIAMS:  The attempt to get Brian to handicap last evening continues, if you‘re just joining us.


MATTHEWS:  No!  I just want to know whether you felt the power of the guy with the gun, if you will, as you directed it toward these perhaps nervous candidates.

WILLIAMS:  There‘s an expression...


WILLIAMS:  There‘s an in South Carolina, What happens on the debate stage...


WILLIAMS:  ... stays on the debate stage.  No, what I did see—and I was forced to look down a lot, when politeness would indicate making eye contact, because there were quotes I needed to get exactly right.


WILLIAMS:  But how harrowing it is for these candidates, especially on a lightning round.  And we were switching—just to keep everybody off balance, we went from hedge funds to Wal-Mart to guns in the home to foreign policy.  And how harrowing it must be to stand there behind that lectern, not knowing who‘s going to be turned to next.

MATTHEWS:  Well, as an observer and a colleague, I loved the hedge fund question because I think you were forcing the candidates to admit they have a conflict between their contributor base and perhaps what used to be or has always been the Democratic constituency of the lesser well-off against the better well-off.  And I think they were all pretty careful in not offending their contributor base.  I think you did expose that.

WILLIAMS:  Well, again, I wish I could speak to the motivation behind any of these questions.  We compiled them as a team.  I felt very well cared for, our political unit and the unit we put together for the broadcast.  We had a long conference room table yesterday.  We had one final session, and we had kind of the closely guarded final list of questions that was about five pages long.

MATTHEWS:  Well done, sir.  And I must say, I sat this afternoon in my office underlining every word you spoke last night...

WILLIAMS:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  ... for guidance and for wisdom and for cadence...

WILLIAMS:  You have my number.

MATTHEWS:  ... and appreciation of the moment.

WILLIAMS:  If you want to talk once more before you go to the lions, you have my number.

MATTHEWS:  I have ten lions, you only had eight, Brian!

WILLIAMS:  And how much do you have per answer?  What are your time constraints?

MATTHEWS:  Same, a minute and a 30.

WILLIAMS:  Oh, boy.

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) response.  And I think that‘s going to be—we‘re going to have a couple of people that aren‘t going to be happy.  We‘ll try to make everybody happy.  I think you mixed it up very well, and I think—it just seems to me you‘re looking at all those faces, all hungry.  Every time one person‘s talking, in your case, seven weren‘t, waiting their turn.  In my case, every time I‘m talking to one person, nine will be waiting.  I‘ll sense that—that nervous energy, and I must say, lust for the spotlight.  And I‘m going to have to deal with it.  But thank you for your...

WILLIAMS:  You‘ll be great.

MATTHEWS:  You are, in many ways, the guy—the guide through a difficult river.  Thank you very much.

WILLIAMS:  Thank you.  Call me, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Brian Williams.  I will.  Thank you.

Joining us now is Hillary Clinton‘s campaign adviser, Mandy Grunwald.  And you advised the candidate because you‘re a communications expert.  And because Hillary Clinton did so well last night, congratulations.


MATTHEWS:  What—there‘s a couple of things that separated her, and I will do the cosmetics because everybody gives me trouble for the cosmetics because it is a visual medium.  This is not a radio debate.  She not only looked elegant, she looked relaxed.  Unlike Richard Nixon of 1960, she did not sweat.  She did not look like she was surprised by any question.  She looked like she had been taken care—cosseted, if you will, on the way down in a private plane, I would be.  Whereas the other candidates, poor guys like bill Richardson, flies in, he‘s in the back of my little plane, coming down here.  He looked like he had arrived—we saw him having a meeting in the hotel lobby the night before.  Hillary was so prepared, so well groomed, so ready—I mean well groomed intellectually.  How many days did you put into this?

GRUNWALD:  You know, I think the most interesting...


MATTHEWS:  ... how many days?

GRUNWALD:  Just hang with me.

MATTHEWS:  All right.

GRUNWALD:  The most interesting thing is that the most revealing questions are questions you cannot prepare for.  But I thought the most interesting question of the night was the question about how you would deal with a terrorist attack if America was—if two cities in America were attacked, what would you do?  There‘s no way we prepared for anything like that.  It‘s a hypothetical question.  She was—she gave a fabulous answer.  I thought she gave the best answer of the night on that...

MATTHEWS:  The key word was?  The key word was?

GRUNWALD:  Retaliate.


GRUNWALD:  The key word...


MATTHEWS:  The other guys didn‘t have that word...

GRUNWALD:  ... she was the commander-in-chief...


MATTHEWS:  The other guy didn‘t have that word in his instinct, did he.

GRUNWALD:  Look, You cannot prepare for that in debate prep.  You prepare for that in your life.  And she came prepared because her life is prepared her for this job.  And I thought it was the most revealing moment of the night, and it had nothing do with anything we smart advisers told her to do.  It‘s just who she is...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it was revealing of the other guys‘ performance, too?

GRUNWALD:  You know...


MATTHEWS:  You do this!  You lead the—the audience watching right now, Mandy—you‘re such a smart person.  You want the audience to think and focus on both candidates‘ reaction to that very good question by Brian and the people that helped to put this together about whether—what you would do when hit—when America is hit, and that‘s what you want to know, how these people will respond.

And your candidate, Mrs. Clinton, Senator Clinton, was able to not only put together the word “prudent,” discovering and determining the adversary involved, using the word “retaliate” to show strength.  So in one answer, she used prudence, she used a visceral American reaction of self-defense and retaliation, put it all together.  She also did the same kind of thing with Wal-Mart, perhaps a less important question.

GRUNWALD:  She lived in the White House for eight years and saw that job as up close as you can see it.


GRUNWALD:  And she‘s a senator from New York and has been dealing with the aftermath of 9/11 for the last seven (SIC) years.  She was prepared for that answer.  She used those words because she understands what it takes to protect this country.  And a big part of what people are going to vote for is who‘s going to keep this country safe in a very dangerous time.  And I thought it was an extraordinary question and an extraordinary moment that revealed why she should be president.

MATTHEWS:  And you didn‘t think of it beforehand?


MATTHEWS:  You didn‘t practice that one.

GRUNWALD:  Absolutely not.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you...


GRUNWALD:  ... tell you we were smart enough to, but we weren‘t.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, did you do like Jack Kennedy did back in ‘60 in his debate with Richard Nixon—and I‘ve written about it.  Did you sit in a room with flash cards and test her to get her ready for this?

GRUNWALD:  I‘m not going to go through all the details of the process...


GRUNWALD:  Because I don‘t talk about that kind of stuff.  But yes, you know, she was prepared.  Sure.  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Did you drill?

GRUNWALD:  Chris...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, just generally.  Did you drill?

GRUNWALD:  Did we give her a sense of the kinds of questions that we thought Brian would ask and get her prepared for what we thought was to come?  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Who played Brian?



MATTHEWS:  Do you think...

GRUNWALD:  Nice try, though.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the turning radius.

GRUNWALD:  Brian does Brian better than Brian.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about—let‘s talk about the turning radius.  I think it came out of the Obama camp, the belief on their part and his part, the candidate, that they do better in a—perhaps a longer response time format, where they get a couple of minutes, not just one.  Skilled politicians can give you—I mean, Arlen Specter—I‘ve watched him for years—can give you 30 seconds, 10 seconds, 60 seconds.  Hillary Clinton can, too, right?  She can reduce her response to the time available.

GRUNWALD:  We never think that 60 seconds or 30 seconds is her strongest format.  We always think that the more time she has to demonstrate her depth of knowledge, the better she does.  So I‘m, you know, delighted that in a restricted format like this, she did so well.

MATTHEWS:  What did you make of the courtesy call by the opponent on your candidate before the event?

GRUNWALD:  You know, I thought it was very gracious.

MATTHEWS:  Did they chat?

GRUNWALD:  Briefly.  He came to wish—wished her good luck, and she wished him good luck, and that was about it right before the debate started.

MATTHEWS:  Did she think he was sort of working her psychologically to soften her up a little bit?

GRUNWALD:  I think she just thought it was gracious.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, are you willing to comment on any of the other candidates?


MATTHEWS:  Why—why is that...

GRUNWALD:  Chris, you can invite their representatives...

MATTHEWS:  No, because I think...

GRUNWALD:  ... here to talk for them.

MATTHEWS:  ... you‘re such an expert.


MATTHEWS:  We benefit from your knowledge of how well the others did because...

GRUNWALD:  But you know what...

MATTHEWS:  ... it is a competitive environment.

GRUNWALD:  I think she‘d be the best president.  That‘s why I‘m working for her, and I don‘t need to comment on the other guys.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s your position on Iraq, compared to the other Democratic candidates?

GRUNWALD:  I thought she made it very clear last night.

MATTHEWS:  Where does she stand?

GRUNWALD:  She believes...

MATTHEWS:  She said something very strong.  Let me just repeat what she said, and then you can follow up.  She said, When I get to be president, I‘m bringing our troops home.  Is that it?

GRUNWALD:  Well, I think you have to separate what‘s happening right now because I think she also made a very strong statement about what the Senate is trying to do to get the president to change course.  You know, we have to step back here.  We‘ve had a rubberstamp Congress for the last six or seven years.  The Democrats are now in charge.  And with their leadership, they have just passed this bill to get the president to change course.  It‘s a huge change of direction.

And I think what she believes, and she‘s been working very hard to get it passed and to reach out to Republicans to try to get them on board—I think she believes the president should sign it.  And if he doesn‘t sign it, he should come to the table and deal with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and get something done.  Now, she‘s also said, as she said last night, if he‘s not going to sign it and if he‘s not going to change course and if he‘s not going to end the war, she‘s going to do it when she‘s president.

MATTHEWS:  Will she bring American troops home from Iraq, as she said last night?

GRUNWALD:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Will she bring them all home from Iraq?

GRUNWALD:  She has said before that she thinks you need a residual force but not a permanent force.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the difference between that, between a residual and permanent?

GRUNWALD:  She thinks that there are tasks that are defined tasks, like dealing with al Qaeda over there, that need to be dealt with.  You know, that was—that exact kind of language was in the bill that‘s just passed by the House and the Senate.  Everybody is for that.

MATTHEWS:  Everybody‘s for keeping troops in Iraq?

GRUNWALD:  Well, I think—to be fair, I think a couple of the other candidates have said they don‘t even believe in that.  But certainly, all the senators and House members who just voted this week for this believe that there should be at least a small force there.  But we‘re not talking about any kind of permanent bases or anything like that.

MATTHEWS:  So it‘s short-term.

GRUNWALD:  I don‘t think the question is short or long-term.  The question is, Are there defined tasks?

MATTHEWS:  Well, why do you hold back from a permanent base, if it‘s going to be a residual force in Iraq?

GRUNWALD:  Because this is their country and there is no...

MATTHEWS:  So we will eventually leave.

GRUNWALD:  Of course.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  That‘s what I want to know.  Thank you.  Because there‘s a big concern in the Middle East that we are attempting to build and use every opportunity we can to build permanent military bases over there.

GRUNWALD:  That is not in any way what Hillary Clinton has in mind.

MATTHEWS:  Well, first time I‘ve hard it.  Thank you, Mandy Grunwald, an expert on communications and ideas.

Anyway, coming up, much more on the debate with the HARDBALLers.  They‘re joining us.  And you can watch the Democrats debate again this weekend.  It‘s good to watch it a second time, 3:00 PM Eastern on Saturday and on Sunday at noon, two more opportunities to watch the whole debate again.

And now the Democrats have held their first debate, it‘s time for the Republicans to come on.  Next Thursday, I‘m going to moderate the first in the country Republican candidates‘ debate, live from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, and you can see it right here at 8:00 PM Eastern on MSNBC this Thursday night.  Our partner,

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.



MIKE GRAVEL (D-AK), FORMER SENATOR, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  ... got all excited.  My God, how did I ever get here?  Then about six months later, you say, How the hell did the rest of them get here?


GRAVEL:  And I got to tell you, after standing up with them, some of these people frighten me!  They frighten me!


MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Welcome back.  That was Mike Gravel, the former senator from Alaska.  Now for some analysis of last night‘s debate, let‘s bring in Bloomberg columnist Margaret Carlson and John Fund of “The Wall Street Journal.”

First of all, Margaret, what did you make of Mike Gravel?  The last time I saw that guy was in 1972 at the Democratic convention, putting his name in nomination for VP or whatever, giving himself a nominating speech.  And I said, Where have you been for 35 years?  And he said, Hiding under a rock.



MARGARET CARLSON, BLOOMBERG COLUMNIST:  Well, you know, every debate needs its lively character, just the way Desi needed Lucy.


CARLSON:  You know, it helps liven up the program.  But we no longer need Dennis Kucinich now because Mike Gravel is filling that role, and that‘s—that‘s what he did.

MATTHEWS:  Has his radical, out-of-the-box challenge to the established Democrats thrown Obama into the same box as Hillary?  Has that had that effect?

CARLSON:  I don‘t think so because he said a couple of times—he‘s very good and reminding viewers and voters that he didn‘t vote for the war, he knew it was a mistake from the beginning.


CARLSON:  And Hillary still has to defend she voted for the war.

MATTHEWS:  John Fund,, your thoughts on the performance of everybody last night.

FUND:  Well, I think Mike Gravel is just unadulterated pure breath of fresh air.  I mean, you always do need a radical in the race.  Next week at the Republican debate you‘re moderating, it‘s probably going to be Ron Paul, who‘s a constitutionalist.  He votes no against everything.  Purity I think can clarify the positions of the other candidates.

I think the presidential wing of the Democratic Party had a good night last night.  They were all unified on the war.  They all spoke more or less with one voice.  They attacked Bush, not themselves.  I think they had a much better week than the congressional wing, which I think had some real problems, Senator Harry Reid saying the war was lost...


FUND:  ... Nancy Pelosi, her negatives in the latest “Wall Street Journal”/NBC poll, Chris—her negatives are now ahead of her positives.  So that shows the residue of her trip to Syria and other problems.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I saw a job approval on her this week that said 53 percent.  So...

FUND:  Well, I‘m talking about the “Journal” poll and the NBC poll. 


Well, I guess I should be loyal to that one as well.  You have caught me there.

Joe—I mean—let‘s go to Joe Biden.  Let‘s take a look at Joe Biden‘s short answer to a long question. 


BRIAN WILLIAMS, MODERATOR:  An editorial in “The Los Angeles Times” said, “In addition to his uncontrolled verbosity, Biden is a gaffe machine.” 

Can you reassure voters in this country that you would have the discipline you would need on the world stage, Senator?



WILLIAMS:  Thank you, Senator Biden.



MATTHEWS:  That was a great—that was a great double-take there from our colleague Brian, because he really gave—he gave Joe Biden a lot credit for that one-word answer.  He really...


MATTHEWS:  It was a Johnny Carson moment, really.

CARLSON:  It—well, both of them did well in that.

In a debate with that many people, a one-liner stands out.  And the best one-liner is a one-word one-liner.


CARLSON:  And that was a good moment.

And Senator Biden had a good night in general. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I thought so.


CARLSON:  .. political solution for Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  What did you think about Biden last night, John? 

FUND:  Well, I think Biden recovered from some of his earlier flip-flops and problems when he announced his campaign.

But let‘s face it.  He hasn‘t raised that much money.  He doesn‘t have nearly the kind of financial resources that Chris Dodd, who is chairman of the Banking Committee, does. 

I think he is in this race, frankly, to audition for secretary of state in the next Democratic administration...


MATTHEWS:  God, a meeting of the minds.  I think you might be right, John.  I think you might be right, because you thought that when he gave that courteous kudo to Mrs. Clinton, didn‘t you, Senator Clinton?

FUND:  Clearly, a job application is in the mail. 



MATTHEWS:  Here is Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico, the former U.N. ambassador, the former energy secretary, former U.S.  congressman.

He was asked about the resignation of Attorney General Gonzales. 


WILLIAMS:  Governor Richardson, you were one of the last people on this stage to call for the resignation of the attorney general, Attorney General Gonzales.  When asked by a journalist why you were taking long to make up your mind about this, you replied—quote—“It‘s because he‘s Hispanic.  I‘m honest.”

Is that the right way to make personnel decisions?


Did it affect that he was Hispanic in what I said?  Yeah, it did, and I said so. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you think of that, Margaret?  I thought that was an honest answer.  I know we‘re so rarely aware of an honest answer.  He felt some compassion for a guy...


MATTHEWS:  ... with the same background, and he didn‘t want to rush him to judgment. 

CARLSON:  Yes, it was an absolute moment of candor.  And he owned up to his feelings.  And it was—it was great. 

What he was doing at the beginning of that, I don‘t know, because he seemed like he was frowning and unhappy, and he couldn‘t see.

MATTHEWS:  Well, was—he couldn‘t hear or see or something.  I...


CARLSON:  Something was going on there.

MATTHEWS:  Or else he was angry.

CARLSON:  But, you know, was a—for the second-tier candidates—well, first of all, it is great for them to get any attention at all, because Obama and Hillary have taken up all the oxygen.

But they all acquitted themselves well.  Senator Dodd, Senator Biden, Senator Richardson, they all did well—not Senator—Governor Richardson.  Excuse me.

MATTHEWS:  So, the top six did well?  The top six did well?


MATTHEWS:  Did Kucinich do well?  Come on.  Come on. 


MATTHEWS:  Come on.  Did Gravel do well?


CARLSON:  I think the vegans appreciated Dennis Kucinich being on stage. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, John, are you as wholeheartedly enthusiastic about the performance generally of the Dems last night? 

FUND:  It was a good field.  I think there‘s enough variety there so that people can pick and choose.

I think that the second-tier contenders, they are going to get now more—some—some more visibility.  And I think that is good. 

The big, I think, loser perhaps last night was—although he did well, Barack Obama didn‘t shine.  He didn‘t really show...


FUND:  ... that he had done anything more—he always seemed to retreat to his talking points too quickly.

So, I think he needs to go back and do some more homework, because Hillary Clinton‘s answers were clearly very crisp, well thought out.  And she had obviously had a lot of practice. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you agree that—one of—the word coming out from, I guess, the Clinton camp and others is that Obama had a chance to really show his instinctive defense of the United States on that question what would you do if both—if two American cities were hit at the same time, and he came back with what looked like a mayor‘s response, as someone said, saying that, you know, I am going to make sure we have good civil defense, we have good first-responders, with no real quick reaction as to what to do with the enemy. 

FUND:  No passion.  And it sounded like a laundry list. 

And I have to tell you, though, this is a wakeup call for him, because this is early enough.  There are going to be something like 20 of these debates.  So, this is a wakeup call for him to realize he has got to put some passion and some real thought into his answers. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  It was too late for Mike Dukakis when he was asked about his wife being raped and murdered, and had a—sort of a clinical answer. 

We will be right back with Margaret Carlson and John Fund.

And, this weekend, on NBC‘s “MEET THE PRESS,” Senator Joe Biden, with more than one word to speak, apparently.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 



JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I was wrong to vote for this war.  Unfortunately, I will have to live with that forever.  And the lesson I learned from it is to put more faith in my own judgment.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back.

We are dissecting—and fairly brutally, perhaps—the first presidential debate on the Democratic side for 2008 with the help of Bloomberg columnist Margaret Carlson, and John Fund of “The Wall Street Journal.”

John, let‘s go through some—a couple of these tonight.  And feel free to be a rotgut Republican, if you want to on these things.

How did you think Edwards did last night? 

FUND:  Subdued. 

MATTHEWS:  To his—to his—to his lacking, detriment? 

FUND:  Well, when you have—when you have eight candidates, and you are basically fading into the background, you...


FUND:  You don‘t stand out. 

Edwards is doing very well in the poll.  He‘s at 20 percent in our NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll.  But there seemed to be just something missing last night.  Maybe just he had an off evening. 

MATTHEWS:  What did you make, Margaret, of his slowness in responding to, who is your moral leader? 

CARLSON:  I thought, at the time, he must be—he wanted to say Jesus, but he remembered George Bush saying it.  And he was thinking...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, that is a bad sign of—you have got to do what you believe. 


CARLSON:  No.  But the—the delay was terrible. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.

CARLSON:  But I think that might have been what was going through his head.

MATTHEWS:  Was he filtering?  “What will they saying in the more secular parts of the Democratic Party, and what will they say about me?” 

CARLSON:  Well, that.  And somebody else said it. 

And I—I don‘t think it was his best night.  Of the...


CARLSON:  ... of the candidates who came up a bit and went down...


How about when he was asked about the expensive haircut, and he talked

about how, when he was a young kid, his dad had to take him out of a

restaurant—which I completely empathize with.  I mean, we went through -

we weren‘t poor, but we would shop for motels.  And, if they were over 10 bucks, we were not staying at them.

If we heard—if saw TV outside of a motel growing up, we were not staying there...



MATTHEWS:  ... because it was too expensive.

CARLSON:  Yes.  No, I thought that actually was a good...


MATTHEWS:  Do you think that worked?  Do you think he turned that...

CARLSON:  I thought that was a poignant story. 

I think the $400 haircut never goes away. 


John Fund, $400 haircut, did he turn on that one well enough? 

FUND:  Well, it is not just that.  It is the whole thing, the 29,000 square-foot house, which is big enough to put both Americas that he always talks about in. 


FUND:  The problem with John Edwards is, people always get a sense he is such a good talker, but he seems to be the most calculating of all of the candidates up on that stage, weighing every answer.

And I have to tell you...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a brutal assessment. 


FUND:  Well, I have to—look, I‘m talking about more than the others. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I mean.



MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I mean.

CARLSON:  That‘s going somewhere. 

MATTHEWS:  You are saying he is the most calculating politician in sight...

CARLSON:  In a world...

MATTHEWS:  ... last night.


FUND:  And I don‘t think that wears well over time, because people see it. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s—I have to tell you, we had Elizabeth on last night.  And I will stick to the fact that, every time I meet her, I‘m convinced again of the man‘s worth.  So...


No, I mean, that she‘s married to him, he‘s married to her, that is a great plus for him.  But, you know, when he didn‘t raise his hand about the gun, you are thinking, OK, he‘s the Southern candidate, and he doesn‘t...

MATTHEWS:  Why didn‘t he have a shotgun in the basement somewhere or...

CARLSON:  He doesn‘t have a gun.  You know, he...


CARLSON:  He should have a gun, I guess, if you are going to play that

if you are going to play that role. 


MATTHEWS:  I will go back.  I think Brian was being very humble.  I think he was after something deeply important about America, and that we do have a cowboy gun culture and gun ownership culture.  And the fact that the top three people had never had a gun in their house is a statement. 

Now, Hillary Clinton, of course, has Secret Service protection, so that is an advantage. 

We will be right—anyway, thank you, Margaret. 

CARLSON:  You‘re welcome, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Have a nice weekend. 

John Fund, have a nice weekend, wherever you are.

Up next:  Former CIA Director George Tenet says, in his new book, which has leaked out, that there‘s never—there was never—this is a tough one—there was never any serious debate inside the White House about whether to go to Iraq war or not. 

We‘re going to have the CIA official Tyler Drumheller, who is an excellent guy, to come on and tell us, how can you decide to go to war without having had a discussion about why you are doing it? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 


MARGARET BRENNAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I am Margaret Brennan with your “Market Wrap.”

The Dow finishes the week on another record high.  The Dow Jones industrial average gained by some 15 points, to close at 13120 for the first time ever.  The Nasdaq closed up by two-and-three-quarter points, but it was a six-year high—S&P 500 only one in the negative there.

Stocks were higher despite weak growth.  The first-quarter gross domestic product rose a miserly 1.3 percent.  That‘s the weakest performance in four years—the housing slump to blame there.

And oil prices are higher after news of a foiled attack aimed at Saudi oil fields.  New York crude gained $1.40 in the trading session, to close at $66.46 a barrel. 

And the FDA has rejected Merck‘s plan to market the arthritis drug Arcoxia as a replacement for Vioxx. 

And bad news for anyone planning a trip to Europe, as the euro reaches an all-time high against the dollar—that trip just got a whole lot more expensive.

That‘s it from CNBC, America‘s business channel—now back to


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Former CIA Director George Tenet breaks his silence in a new book, and says the Bush administration made him a scapegoat for what went wrong with the war in Iraq.  Tenet tries to set the record straight on the infamous “slam dunk” phrase that he used in the Oval Office meeting about the case for war.  And he takes repeated swipes at Vice President Cheney, who he—whom he blames for twisting those words. 

Take a look at what the vice president said about the—about Tenet on “MEET THE PRESS” last year. 


TIM RUSSERT, HOST:  Based on what you know now, that Saddam did not have the weapons of mass destruction that were described, would you still have gone into Iraq? 

RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Yes, Tim, because what the reports also showed, while he did not have stockpiles—and, clearly, the intelligence that said he did was wrong.

That was the intelligence all of us saw.  That was the intelligence all of us believed.  It was—when—when George Tenet sat in the Oval Office and the president of the United States asked him directly, he said, “George, how good is the case against Saddam on weapons of mass destruction?” the director of the CIA said: “It‘s a slam dunk, Mr.  President.  It‘s a slam dunk.”


MATTHEWS:  But, in an interview on “60 Minutes,” Tenet said: “I will never believe that what happened that day informed the president‘s view or belief of the legitimacy or the timing of this war.  Never!

“And the hardest part of all this has been just listening to this for almost three years, listening to the vice president go on ‘Meet the Press‘ on the fifth anniversary of 9/11 and say, well, George Tenet said ‘slam dunk,‘ as if he needed me to say ‘slam dunk‘ to go to war with Iraq.  Well, let‘s not be so disingenuous.  Let‘s everybody just get up and tell the truth.  Tell the American people what really happened.”

That‘s the quote of George Tenet in his new book. 

Tyler Drumheller worked with George Tenet, for him, as the CIA‘s chief of clandestine operations in Europe.  And Dana Priest—or Dana Priest, rather—covers the CIA as the national security correspondent for “The Washington Post.”

Tyler, what is—first of all, I‘m not—I‘m going to got off the “slam dunk” thing, before that‘s a question of nomenclature. 



MATTHEWS:  According to Tenet, that was—he said, you could sell it. 

That would be a slam dunk...


MATTHEWS:  ... not that the facts were there.  I want to get off that, because that is an argument about—we could go on forever. 

He says that he was manipulated.  He says that the president never had a meeting in the White House.  This is in the leak in the new book.  There was never a meeting in the White House where they sat around and said, now, how—is this threat from Saddam Hussein really imminent?  Do we have anything to fear from this guy, no matter what weapons he might have or not?  Do we have to fear Iraq in America?  Is this a reasonable fear?

And he said they never had such a meeting.  There was never a discussion. 

Well, then, why did we go to war, that they just wanted to go without thinking about it? 

DRUMHELLER:  Well, that‘s what I have said from the beginning on this.

I believe that, from the start of the administration, they came in with the idea to do this.  They were looking for the intelligence to fit into it.  What George has said in his book bears that out. 

The part George has to come to grips with is that, in the intelligence that they did use to justify it, they knew, going into it, that that—that the intelligence that they picked to do this was also flawed and probably false. 

MATTHEWS:  Did George let himself be used by the war hawks? 

DRUMHELLER:  I think so, yes. 

MATTHEWS:  In other words, after being used, he didn‘t like being accused of being used? 


MATTHEWS:  Dana, you covered this from both sides.  You know about it because you get people with information coming to you about the fight between the CIA, in the belly of the beast, if you will, and the neocons who worked for the vice president, who worked for the Defense Department.  That battle is ongoing as I understand.  Can you get objective truth from either side? 

DANA PRIEST, THE WASHINGTON POST:  No, I think you have to collect it and put it together and decide it yourself.  But I have to say, if the lead here from this book is they didn‘t debate going to war, we are not talking about a new foreign policy or a trade issue.  We are talking about going to war.  This is not a bombshell but it is a cluster bomb. 

It really spreads destruction throughout the entire—their entire tenure and it gives you an insight into how intellectual they treated arguments like this, how pragmatic and realistic they discussed—they took these issues.  It is the same thing that they did with going to war and the cost of going to war which they did not rigorously debate or plan for. 

This also—you know, it rings true, those of us who covered this for so many years, we many times said, where were the turning points here in their decision-making?  Where was the meeting in which they hotly debated this issue?  And we never were able to find one. 

So in that regard, I think it adds a lot to the history and the understanding of the way this administration thinks and the way that it has proceeded on not just WMD, but its analysis of what it would take to invade and then occupy and ultimately be successful or not in Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  In other words, there never was a moment.


MATTHEWS:  . in which they sat down and said, well, the whole Arab world will turn against us.


MATTHEWS:  The Islamic world be resent us.  Europe—forget Europe, they are not going to be with us on this.  We will be there forever because of the Sunni-Shia dispute that has been going on for 1,300 years.  As the president himself says, nobody likes to be occupied or invaded. 

Knowing all of that, they said that the danger from Saddam Hussein was worth the fight, worth the occupation? 

PRIEST:  Well, first of all, the National Intelligence Estimate that Cheney disparaged in the “MEET THE PRESS” interview also did say that it is unlikely that Saddam Hussein would attack on his own, that only if provoked and invaded would he respond.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  OK.  So we are left here.  Let‘s go further with the story here, on Saddam‘s alleged WMD program, Tenet wrote in this new book:

“In retrospect, we got it wrong partly because the truth was so implausible.” Tyler?

DRUMHELLER:  Well, that is—they got it wrong.

MATTHEWS:  It was implausible they didn‘t have weapons?

DRUMHELLER:  No, they got it wrong because they couldn‘t go back to the president and tell him what they—what he believed was wrong.  I think they felt—this is not a group—there‘s no debate and the debate didn‘t even extend to that.  They knew that the reporting was flawed and I believe they even went back—I believe they discussed it but it wasn‘t debated at all. 

MATTHEWS:  You tackle this one, Dana.  Tenet wrote that when it came to the insurgency, quote, “rather than acknowledge responsibility, the administration‘s message was, don‘t blame us, George Tenet and the CIA got us into this mess.”

This dumping on George Tenet, who was many—in many ways a family retainer of the Bushes, seems to be pretty ruthless and it has been done here apparently by the vice president and his people. 

PRIEST:  Well, and you know, he is the scapegoat, you know, he is a respected member of the family and so it appears painful for them to cast him off when of course it is not at all.  It is a great excuse. 

And they really—you know, even though George Tenet and in this book but elsewhere, this connection between al Qaeda and Iraq was never made and repeatedly people came out to correct that record.  The vice president still uses it in his speaking engagements. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you believe—Dana, why do you believe that Dick Cheney wanted to go to war and attack and occupy Iraq?  What was his motive, do you know? 

PRIEST:  Well, I do think that he believed that Saddam was not a good actor and that is not true, not only a bad actor, but an irrational actor, which is why it was implausible.  But that he was at one point teamed up with al Qaeda and that combination would be deadly.  So it was really a preemption of something perhaps maybe way down the line.  But the intelligence was not supporting anything near that. 

MATTHEWS:  Tyler, what do you think?  I mean, we can go after Mugabe.  There are a lot of people in the world that aren‘t the nicest people in the world, and we could kill them and overthrow their governments, but why do you do it in this case? 

DRUMHELLER:  I think this was an academic theory.  They thought if they could—Iraq was an easy country to conquer, it had no air force, didn‘t have any air defense.  And if they could establish a liberal democracy in the Middle East, they could spread it around. 

They came in with that in their mind.  And they were not going to be deterred from that.  And I think that George—I‘m sure he was—it bothered him and I wish he had spoken up more at the time when... 

MATTHEWS:  I wish he had.  I wish a lot of people had.  I still don‘t get it, whether it was Wolfowitz talking to the president or it was the vice president talking to the president or some weird perfect storm that got us into a war that was very hard for us to get out. 

Anyway, thank you, Tyler Drumheller, it is great (INAUDIBLE).  Dana Priest, congratulations again, you are going to—you are breaking big stories.  You are the one that broke that Walter Reed story, what a story that was.

Up next, we will dig into more memorable debate moments from last night with‘s Roger Simon, one of the great political reporters out there, and MSNBC‘s Craig Crawford.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Coming up, the Democratic presidential candidates were united in knocking President Bush.  Will Republicans be united in supporting him?  When HARDBALL returns.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  A programming note, NBC‘s Tom Brokaw will interview former CIA Director George Tenet Monday on “THE TODAY SHOW.” It is Tenet‘s first live interview since the release of his new book, first live interview.

Who made the most news in Thursday‘s Democratic debate?  Who succeeded in not making any news?  Roger Simon is chief political columnist for where you can send your questions right now for the MSNBC/ Reagan Library GOP—a lot of words there, GOP presidential candidates debate that is coming up this Thursday.  And Craig Crawford is a columnist for the Congressional Quarterly and an MSNBC political analyst. 

Craig and Roger, first of all, right across the boardwalk, looking at the whole think last, what mattered last night?  I mean, a month from now or six months from now what will matter? 

CRAIG CRAWFORD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I will say up front this is a micro point that a lot of viewers probably didn‘t get into but I got into it, is I thought Hillary‘s response on the twin attacks on the U.S., her instinctive response that.

MATTHEWS:  Retaliation.

CRAWFORD:  . that she would retaliate, prudent retaliation, which I think is an interesting doctrine.

MATTHEWS:  If we can discover who was the perp. 

CRAWFORD:  Yes.  But prudent retaliation is an interesting doctrine.

MATTHEWS:  As opposed to just going to Iraq and blowing up a country. 

CRAWFORD:  As opposed to preemptive strike.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CRAWFORD:  I thought she .

MATTHEWS:  She put it all together.

CRAWFORD:  I though she enunciated a Hillary Clinton doctrine.

MATTHEWS:  And the other fellow, Barack, didn‘t do that because he talked about homeland defense and first responders. 

CRAWFORD:  Yes.  And he initially didn‘t show the instincts for—the political instincts for how to answer that question. 

ROGER SIMON, POLITICO.COM:  I thought what mattered beyond individual performances, and much more important for the Democratic Party at this point, was to demonstrate to the American people that you could look at this group and say, we could find a president here who will protect the country, get us back on the right track and that we can be proud of. 

And that‘s what the Democrats have to sell now before we pick an individual Democrat.  And we will see next week at your debate whether the Republicans present the same image as a group. 

MATTHEWS:  You know what I was impressed by, and I don‘t think everybody has thought about this yet, even though a lot of these people are people we know pretty well, including Hillary Clinton, it had something of the turning over of the pillow, something new.  There was a fresh piece to it.

If John Kerry had been on that platform again, I don‘t think it would have been the same feel.  It would have been a feel of, oh, we have been here before.  The establishment is here.  I think even if Al Gore had been there, it would have been the same thing. 

They were relatively new faces to this business.  Even Biden, even though he has been around, 20 years ago he ran, I just thought it had a fresh look at the new—and also the calibrations, I thought, was great.  That you could go all the way to the left if you wanted to with Gravel, almost that far with Kucinich, a bit in further with Obama, and then you could work your way through Biden, and you could move yourself to the more moderate people like Biden and Hillary. 

SIMON:  I think they were all smart, they were all quick, they got it.  I mean, you can go to the individual performances and make legitimate criticisms and say this wasn‘t what it should have been, this should have been better, but as group they showed I thought that they were tough and smart. 

CRAWFORD:  I thought it was so cool that the way they drew the straws that Hillary and Obama were right there in the center. 

MATTHEWS:  Wasn‘t that wild? 

CRAWFORD:  That was amazing. 

MATTHEWS:  That was wild.  What did you make of.


CRAWFORD:  People probably don‘t believe that is—that was the.


MATTHEWS:  Lets give Obama some credit, when he was asked about mistakes he has made, he said holding back and not challenging the intervention with the Schiavo case.  That was an interesting novelty, I thought, Craig.  He jumped on that.

CRAWFORD:  I don‘t know if that was something he thought about before or if he was just thinking on his feet with that answer, I would love to know. 

MATTHEWS:  But I thought it was a great message to the average suburbanite, regular American saying, stay out of our family affairs. 

CRAWFORD:  You know, somebody who just fumbled a question—when Edwards paused.


MATTHEWS:  We talked about that.  Why didn‘t he just say Jesus?  I believe in—I‘m a Christian. 

CRAWFORD:  You would think somebody running for the president for the second time would just have an immediate answer for that.

MATTHEWS:  But you know why he didn‘t, don‘t you? 


MATTHEWS:  You know why he didn‘t? 


MATTHEWS:  He was afraid of the seculars out there saying he is another one of these Jesus freaks or something which is, if you are a believer is the right answer. 

CRAWFORD:  I think it is something he just hasn‘t thought about.

SIMON:  I think you could see the wheels turning and the calculation being made while he was pausing and choosing exactly what words that he went for, my lord instead of Jesus Christ. 


MATTHEWS:  . this little lord here.  It wasn‘t like the man I believe is God or divine.  It is like, the person I pray to is like, I have got this little “my lord” here.  He was embarrassed by his religion. 


CRAWFORD:  Some people told me they liked how he showed that he was thinking about it and you know taking it seriously.  But I am a little more charitable, I think it is a question he just really had not pondered.  I think he is that sort of person. 



SIMON:  . questions like that. 

MATTHEWS:  They are supposed to be.  If Hillary can figure out how to defend the country lickety-split, he has got to figure out what he believes in.  We will be right back with Craig Crawford and Roger Simon.  We are being tough.  And I‘ll see if I can handle this thing, Thursday night.


MATTHEWS:  . tough arena.  You are watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.



SEN. JOE BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Taking myself out, I am looking at a bunch of winners right here, number one.  And whoever wishes for Hillary is making a big mistake on the Republican side. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with‘s Roger Simon.  They are going to be part of our work this Thursday night out at the Reagan Library.  MSNBC‘s Craig Crawford.  And don‘t forget, the Republicans first in the country debate, as I just said, in Thursday—this Thursday night.  I will moderate among 10 candidates.  Look out Brian, I have got 10, you had eight.  At the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.  Everybody is going to get their say Thursday at 8:00 Eastern here.

Was that Joe Biden‘s application for secretary of state?  Somebody said that tonight that that is what really watched—we watched.

CRAWFORD:  He has been very generous toward her all along.  And of course, all of them, I thought it was so interesting that.


MATTHEWS:  He would be fascinating secretary of state.

CRAWFORD:  I thought it was so fascinating that Kucinich jumped all over Obama for being a warmonger when she had the tougher statement.  He didn‘t lay a hand on her, even Kucinich is afraid of her. 

MATTHEWS:  You think that is it?  Or he just wants to tackle the most anti-war guy in the front? 

CRAWFORD:  I think maybe, you know, he was looking to do that and probably that is one of the politically significant things at that moment is he peeled some anti-war voters away from Obama in there. 

MATTHEWS:  I like the fact Kucinich speaks his mind, but does anybody really think he is going to let the filing deadline go past in Ohio without running for the House again? 


MATTHEWS:  You know, Gephardt used to do that, he would run for president until the filing deadline.  And then he would race back to Missouri and run for the House again, right? 

SIMON:  Yes, exactly.

MATTHEWS:  So what does this lead to?  Let‘s look ahead to this weekend, do a little hype for next weekend, this next Thursday which now I‘m going to start getting nervous about.  It is six days from now.  I have got to get the questions ready.  Do you think that the Republicans will be more likely to tangle than the Democrats were, Roger? 

SIMON:  I think they will because they are more unsettled.  I don‘t expect them to really slug each other, because primary debate audiences especially.

MATTHEWS:  How about—do you think.

SIMON:  They don‘t like it.

CRAWFORD:  Well, there are some real disagreements on policy there.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  What about—let‘s try.

SIMON:  There are some disagreements.

MATTHEWS:  There are disagreements on.


MATTHEWS:  . on immigration.

CRAWFORD:  The Democrats are relentlessly agreeing.

MATTHEWS:  They are very much at odds on immigration.

SIMON:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  They are very—they are probably together on the war. 

SIMON:  They are.

MATTHEWS:  But do you think John McCain is going to let Rudy Giuliani sit on that lead another week after he gets at him in the same room? 

SIMON:  He had better not.  He can‘t afford to.  And the whole race gets more unsettled when and if Fred Thompson gets in.  So they really can‘t afford to sit on anything.  They have got to go at it.  They can‘t, you know, openly attack because primary voters don‘t like it.  They are attacking fellow Republicans.  But they can get close.

MATTHEWS:  Well, will the values candidates like Brownback and the other more conservative people say, here is our chance to rip the bark off Rudy‘s social policies? 

SIMON:  Those are the hand grenade candidates, the candidates... 


SIMON:  . who don‘t have a chance.

MATTHEWS:  You mean the ones I call on first?


SIMON:  They may not have a chance, but they can throw hand grenades.

CRAWFORD:  The problem you have got with modern debates is that campaigns have figured out voters hate the arguing even though the media loves it.  So they have just quit doing it.  And they will accept the fact that we call their debates boring.

MATTHEWS:  Let me tell you what works, attack from a defensive position.  Wait for the other guy to take a shot at you and then come back at him.  People root for you.  Anyway, thank you, Craig.  Thank you, Roger. 

Join us again Monday for more HARDBALL.  And next Thursday, don‘t forget, the Republican presidential candidates.  It is their turn next week.  I‘ll moderate it, live from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library out in California.  Right now it‘s time for “TUCKER.” 



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