Guests: Peter Baker, John Solomon, Howard Wolfson, Eli Pariser, Karen Hanretty, Melanie Morgan
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: “The Washington Post” leads this morning‘s paper with new exposes on Hillary and Bill Clinton.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. “The Washington Post” headlines a story this morning on two new books detailing aspects of the Bill and Hillary Clinton political partnership. “The Post” story, placed at the top of the front page this morning, reports that the accounts in the new books, quote, “challenge the image that Hillary Clinton has presented on the campaign trail.” As reported in “The Post‘s” front page story, the two books show that Hillary Clinton, quote, “tolerated Bill Clinton‘s brazen infidelity,” and, quote, “she herself,” quote, “occasionally skirted along the edge of the truth along the way.”
“The Post” reported that the stature of the books‘ authors will make their accounts, quote, “harder to dismiss.” The book written by Carl Bernstein narrated the roles played by Clinton associates to obtain signed statements from various women regarding their relations with Clinton, also an episode in which it is alleged that Clinton aide Betsey Wright was urged to deny an account that was recorded in “First in His Class,” a highly respected book on Clinton.
In a moment, Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson. But we begin tonight with the two “Washington Post” reporters who wrote today‘s front page story, Peter Baker and John Solomon. Gentlemen, thank you for joining us. Let‘s start today from your text today from “The Washington Post” this morning. “Two—two new books on Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York offered fresh and often critical portraits of the Democratic presidential candidate that depict a tortured relationship with her husband and her past and challenge the image she has presented on the campaign trail.”
Mr. Baker, generally, what is it that challenges the image that she‘s put forth? What‘s in the new books that clashes with the image portrayed by Mrs. Clinton?
PETER BAKER, “WASHINGTON POST”: Well, the image Senator Clinton is portraying on the trail, of course, is one focused a lot on the last seven years, her stature and her experience as a United States senator, her issues, positions on the war, positions on health care, positions on pre-school education. She doesn‘t really want to go out there and talk about her marriage, her life with Bill Clinton and the way it played out in the White House, with all the investigations and the scandals.
So you know, it‘s a different narrative. The narrative she‘s presenting is different than the narrative that are in these two books. It‘s not that these two books are telling you something, in a broad sense, that you haven‘t heard before, but they offer sort of a fresh portrayal of a part of her life that she would just as soon not focus on.
MATTHEWS: Well, here‘s more from your “Post” story today. Quote,
“Unlike many harsh books about Clinton written by ideological enemies, the
two new volumes come from long-established writers backed by major
publishing houses and could be harder to dismiss.” Carl Bernstein won
national fame, of course, “with partner Bob Woodward at ‘The Post‘ for
breaking open the Watergate scandal, while Gerth and Van Natta have spent
years as investigative reporters for ‘The New York Times.‘”
Let me ask you, John Solomon, is that why “The Post” gave this such big play, that these two people are top-rated journalists, they‘re not just people that scare up these stories on their own in a freelance fashion?
JOHN SOLOMON, “WASHINGTON POST”: Well, you know, today‘s event was
essentially a political event. There are two books coming out in the midst
of a campaign that try to report truth in some way—Hillary‘s campaign,
her past, her future, what she‘s done as a senator. And so you know, on a
from—just from a political event standpoint, that‘s news. And there‘s a lot of facts in these books. There‘s not a lot of anonymous stuff. It‘s all on the record, lots of documents. And so I think it‘s a legitimate story.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s get to one of the points that, of course, is very relevant to public policy. This is a quote that begins, “Bob Boorstin”—who we all know—“who worked for Clinton when she was pushing her plan to restructure the nation‘s health care system in the early days of her husband‘s presidency, blamed her for its collapse.” This is in the book—“find her to be among the most—I find her to be among the most self-righteous people I‘ve ever known in my life.” This is what Boorstin says to Carl Bernstein. “And it‘s her great flaw, it‘s what killed health care,” among other factors.
Peter, that‘s a strong charge in that book, that Hillary‘s own personality and her sense of, if you will, moral superiority killed the most—probably the greatest program effort of the Clinton presidency.
BAKER: Well, that‘s right. And it‘s something that‘s a legitimate thing to look back on. You know, the Clinton camp, of course, would like to say that the marriage should be off limits, or certainly isn‘t very relevant to voters. Fair enough. That‘s an argument people will have. But her actions in the White House as the first lady, particularly in the health care debate, which was a big, big part of that eight-year tenure, are certainly open to scrutiny. And this is somebody who was intimately involved with that effort.
MATTHEWS: You know, I was surprised, John—I know Bob Boorstin. He‘s a serious intellectual, I must say. And for him to be so open with Carl Bernstein did surprise me. Did it surprise you, John?
SOLOMON: Yes. I mean, it was a couple people. Mark Fabiani, who was one of the communication directors during much of the scandal time in the Clinton White House, had similarly very pointed comments about Mrs. Clinton trying to control the legal process and being much more difficult to deal with than the president when questions came up about their conduct. So you know, these are insiders. They‘re people that were loyal and faithful to them during some of their most difficult times. And when they come out with something so candid and so pointed, you know, it‘s newsworthy.
MATTHEWS: Yes, Mark Fabiani, of course, was a very well known White House official during those difficult times with the Clintons. Of course, he was robbed at one point and taken to the ATM machine. I‘ll never forget that moment. Anyway, he was the White House special counsel. He played a key role in defending the Clintons, as we all know.
But, quote—here he is saying, quote, Mrs. Clinton was, “so tortured by the way she‘s been treated that she would do anything to get out of the situation”—this is about Whitewater, I guess—“and if that involved not being fully forthcoming, she herself would say,” quote, “I have a reason for not being forthcoming. Her logic, he said, was, quote, “If we do this, they‘re going to say (SIC) this to me. If we say this, they‘re going to be saying this. You know, expletive ‘em, let‘s just not do that.”
Does that surprise you, John, that Bob Boorstin (SIC), who‘s pretty well known around Washington, would be that open in nailing Mrs. Clinton for someone who doesn‘t tell the truth?
SOLOMON: Well, I think at the end of the day, what he‘s talking about is a well known and well documented unwillingness to want to talk to Ken Starr. You know, there was no doubt that there was a frosty relationship between the Clinton White House...
SOLOMON: ... and the Starr investigation, so it doesn‘t—it doesn‘t surprise me. And you know, it was a hostile environment at the time.
BAKER: That last quote, though, was Fabiani.
SOLOMON: Yes, that was from Fabiani, too, Chris. Right.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s clear that—let‘s take a look at—here‘s Carl Bernstein‘s account. “Both Clintons went to great lengths to keep the lid on his infidelities,” according to Bernstein‘s book. “At the behest of Betsey Wright and Hillary Clinton, two partners with Hillary Clinton at the Rose Law Firm, Webster Hubbell and Vince Foster were hired to represent women named in a lawsuit as having secret affairs with the governor. Hubbell and Foster questioned the women, then obtained signed statements that they never had sex with Bill Clinton. On one occasion, Bernstein reports, Hillary Clinton was present for the questioning.”
Now, that is strong stuff. It does get to their marriage, but it also gets to their political partnership, the fact that she would be participating in what is portrayed by Carl Bernstein as an effort to shut up witnesses against the president. Peter?
BAKER: Well, you know, and what it tells you is, it‘s hard to sort of separate the personal from the political when it comes to the Clintons‘ marriage. And that‘s why when people say, you know, their marriage is private and that‘s personal, that‘s certainly a sentiment I think a lot of people would share and agree with. But it has over the years, you know, spilled out into the legal environment and into the political environment, and that‘s why it‘s subject to scrutiny through books like this.
MATTHEWS: When you study this, Peter, and you know “The Washington Post” rules about sourcing and the rules about solid reporting, do you sense that Karl Rove—Karl Rove, why am I saying Karl Rove? -- Carl Bernstein...
MATTHEWS: He was always one of the famous reporters, of course, at “The Post” during Watergate. Do you he did a good job here? Do you think he did a fair job in being a journalist, not just an author?
BAKER: Well, I think that Carl Bernstein has written a very fully realized biography here. This is not a hit job. It‘s not an ideological screed. In fact, it‘s a very, you know, extensive rendered (ph) portrait, three dimensional, of a person who wants to be president of the United States. He includes and talks about subject areas that she would just as soon not be talked about, presumably, on the campaign trail, but it‘s not intended to—it‘s intended, I think, to be a very fair and balanced portrayal, and I think it‘s a very compelling read.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me take a look at another quote from your coverage today. “Bernstein also reports that Bill Clinton, with Dick Morris‘s help”—that‘s one of his advisers—“pressured Betsey Wright to issue a false statement denying comments she had made to David Maraniss, a ‘Post‘ reporter, for his book ‘First in His Class‘ in which she said Arkansas state troopers had procured women for the governor.”
Now, that is probably the strongest charge in here, that they bent back Betsey Wright here to take back something she gave to a very respected author and reporter, David Maraniss. What do you make of that, John?
SOLOMON: You know, those are the sort of questions, if you‘re running for president, you don‘t want to have to answer again. You know, you don‘t want this to turn on a question of credibility. And those are some of the tougher questions that are likely to confront Hillary on the campaign trail. I mean, people are going to ask, you know, questions—you know, If you‘re telling us this now, you know, how do we know it‘s true? Did you ask people in the ‘90s to fudge the truth? I think that‘s a problem.
MATTHEWS: Well, doesn‘t it—is there more in this book, Peter, would suggest strong-arm tactics to keep stories at bay, with Hillary participating in them, about her husband‘s behavior?
BAKER: Well, the book portrays, obviously, a political couple and a political team that, in fact, yes, played hardball, that in the current environment...
BAKER: ... is not surprising, I suppose, that you sort of have to.
You know, hardball...
MATTHEWS: No, but the fact that she...
BAKER: ... specialization in Washington these days...
MATTHEWS: But again, the clash between her feelings and her role as a political partner, having to participate in an effort to silence, apparently—the way it‘s portrayed and the way you guys reported it, silence possible witnesses against her husband.
BAKER: Well, to be involved in that very question, not only to have to confront your husband about allegations of infidelity, but then to have to deal with it in a public fashion, to worry about the impact on his political career and your own political future...
BAKER: That‘s what makes the Clinton marriage and the Clinton partnership, I think, such an extraordinary story in American politics...
MATTHEWS: Is Bernstein‘s book worth reading? Is it a good read? Is it important to read, do you think? Would you review it that way?
BAKER: Sure. I‘d take to the—I‘d take it to the beach this summer.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you. I‘m sure other people will, too. Thank you very much, Peter Baker and John Solomon, who wrote the front page piece in “The Washington Post,” right at the top, which is called, “Books Paint Critical Portraits of Clinton.” Anyway, we‘re going to have Howard Wolfson who‘s on. He‘s the communications director for Senator Clinton. He‘s going to come here in just a minute to talk about what we just talked about. And later, more on what‘s in these new books about Hillary Clinton.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. With us now, Howard Wolfson, communications director for Hillary Clinton‘s presidential campaign. Howard, thank you for coming in.
HOWARD WOLFSON, CLINTON COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Good to be here.
MATTHEWS: Here‘s what “The Washington Post” reported today about those two new books about Hillary Clinton. “Unlike many”—this is a quote. “Unlike many harsh books written about Clinton written by ideological enemies, the two new volumes come from long-established writers backed by major publishing houses and could be harder to dismiss.
Bernstein won national fame with partner Bob Woodward at ‘The Washington
Post‘ for breaking open the Watergate scandal, while Gerth and Van Natta
have spent years as investigative reporters for ‘The New York Times.‘”
Does it concern you, in representing Mrs. Clinton, Senator Clinton, that these major authors are weighing in now on the biographies of the Clintons?
WOLFSON: No, not at all. You know, books have been written about Senator Clinton before by lots of different authors. We knew that these books were coming, and so far, the news here is that there isn‘t much news. You know, combined, the three authors took about 10 years to come out with these books.
WOLFSON: And you know, anyone can read “The Washington Post” today and realize there‘s nothing new here.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s try a couple of these things...
MATTHEWS: ... see if they‘re new because they did surprise me. I am a student of the Clintons, and I was surprised. “The Washington Post” reports that according to the books, Hillary, quote, “tolerated Bill Clinton‘s brazen infidelity,” and “occasionally skirted along the edge of the truth along the way.” Does that say anything, or is that just old?
WOLFSON: It‘s clearly old.
MATTHEWS: OK. About Hillary‘s role in trying to restructure health
care. Quote, “Bob Boorstin,” who we all know, who worked for Senator
Clinton back when she was first lady, “she was pushing her plan to
restructure the nation‘s health care system in the early days of her
husband‘s presidency,” and he “blamed her for its collapse.” Quote, “‘I
find her to be among the most self-righteous people I‘ve ever known in my
life,‘ he told Bernstein.” That‘s Carl Bernstein, the author. “‘And it‘s
her great flaw, it‘s what killed health care.‘”
WOLFSON: It is.
MATTHEWS: Because everybody thought that—you know, a lot of people on the Hill, including Pat Moynihan, had a role in not liking that bill. Now he says it was her moral superiority that killed the bill.
WOLFSON: I think he says it among other things. But you know, look, Senator Clinton has said repeatedly that mistakes were made about health care, that she made mistakes with regards to health care. That‘s nothing new. I mean, she‘s gone out and said that repeatedly, that she wished she could have done things differently and wished she could have done things better.
MATTHEWS: I think that that‘s her on the line there. You might want to take that call.
WOLFSON: I don‘t think that‘s for me.
MATTHEWS: Here‘s more from “The Post.” Mark Fabiani, who was White
House special counsel, played a key role in defending the Clintons. We all
know him—said she was, quote, ‘so tortured by the way she‘s been treated
that she would do anything to get out of the situation, and if that
involved not being fully forthcoming, she herself would say,” quote, “‘I
have a reason for not being forthcoming.‘ Her logic, he said, was, ‘If we
do this, they‘re going to do this to me. If we say this, then they‘re
going to say this. You know, expletive ‘em. Let‘s just not do that.‘”
You know, that was obviously an indirect quote. But what do you make of that, that she had an attitude of, Why give any information, they‘ll use it against me?
WOLFSON: Look, I think that these issues were hashed and rehashed and hashed and rehashed again during the ‘90s. I think the American people have made up their minds about this stuff. This does not come up on the campaign trail. Senator Clinton was in Iowa today. Nobody was talking about this. They want to know how we‘re going to end the war in Iraq. They want to know how we‘re going to get health care in this country.
MATTHEWS: Well, they haven‘t gotten “The Washington Post” yet out there in Iowa.
WOLFSON: They have not. But you know, you—you‘re doing your best here.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s take a look at...
WOLFSON: They do watch cable television.
MATTHEWS: Here‘s more from “The Post,” “The Washington Post,” on Bernstein‘s account. “Both Clintons went to great lengths to keep the lid on his infidelities. At the behest of Wright”—that‘s Betsey Wright—
“and Hillary Clinton, two partners with Hillary Clinton‘s law firm, Rose Law Firm, Webster Hubbell and Vincent Foster, were hired to represent women named in a lawsuit as having secret affairs with the governor. Hubbell and Foster questioned the women, then obtained signed statements that they never had sex with Bill Clinton. On one occasion, Bernstein reports, Hillary Clinton was present for the questioning.”
Now, that‘s an odd scene, Hillary Clinton, the wife, sitting with some lawyers as they interrogate women who were accused of having relations with her husband. It‘s strange that they—first of all, why these women would agree to have those people as their lawyers. But they got affidavits out of them.
WOLFSON: I don‘t know anything about that. I haven‘t read it.
MATTHEWS: Does it mean anything to you that a woman signs an affidavit?
WOLFSON: I‘m not...
MATTHEWS: Would you—would you believe in these cases?
WOLFSON: I‘m not at all familiar with the incident.
MATTHEWS: Because Monica signed an affidavit, too, in the beginning.
WOLFSON: You know, I think there are a set of people in this country who want to talk about these issues, and there are most of the country who don‘t. And I‘m confident that the majority of the people have moved well past this.
MATTHEWS: OK, let me—well, OK, let me go to the next point. Do we have any more of these? Here‘s another quote from “The Post‘s” article...
WOLFSON: See? We‘re all done...
MATTHEWS: “Bernstein also reports that Bill Clinton, with Dick Morris‘s help, pressured Betsey Wright to issue a false statement denying comments she had made to David Maraniss, a ‘Post‘ reporter, for his book ‘First in His Class‘ in which she said Arkansas state troopers had procured women for the governor.”
Now, there you have a case of people going to Betsey Wright and saying, Take back what you told David Maraniss. David Maraniss is a very respected reporter. So what do you make of that?
WOLFSON: I make that there‘s an allegation in the book to that effect. And I will again say that I do not think that this is going to be an issue in this race, I mean, that people have put these issues behind them. They‘ve come to their conclusions about them. You know, there‘s a lot at stake in this election, Chris.
WOLFSON: You know, we‘ve got a war in Iraq. We‘ve got global warming.
MATTHEWS: You don‘t have to tell me about the war in Iraq.
WOLFSON: Yes. Exactly.
MATTHEWS: But let me ask...
WOLFSON: And so the question is, when voters decide to vote, what is going to be on their minds? Is it going to be what happened 20 years ago or 30 years ago or didn‘t happen in Arkansas, or is it going to be, Who is going to get us out of Iraq? Who is going to get us health care reform?
WOLFSON: Who‘s going to do something about global warming? And I am confident the answer to that question is Hillary Clinton, and that‘s the question that people are going to be asking...
MATTHEWS: Why do you think...
WOLFSON: ... when they go in the voting booth.
MATTHEWS: ... people—there‘s another book coming out from Sally Bedell Smith, who‘s a major author. That‘s coming out in a month. Or that‘s coming out, actually, in the fall. Why do you think these books are being written by such serious reporters as Carl Bernstein and Sally Bedell Smith? Why are they writing these major books, 610-page books? Why are they getting published by major publishing houses? Why is that going on?
WOLFSON: Presumably, the publishing houses think there‘s an audience for it. (INAUDIBLE)
MATTHEWS: There‘s 175,000, 200,000 copies being printed in the first printings in both cases. What do you make of that?
WOLFSON: I make that this week, we had a poll that came out that had Senator Clinton with her largest lead ever over Senator Barack Obama. She‘s over 40. She‘s got a 22-point lead. I think we‘re in good shape.
That‘s what I make of it.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the argument that Mrs. Clinton‘s main claim to fame is not her one term in the Senate, which was admirable, everyone agrees, but her eight years in the White House, her relationship with Bill Clinton, is it the heart of her claim to fame, notoriety? In fact, people know her because of being the first lady. And that her relationship with him, her political relationship with him, is central to her resume, and you can‘t walk away from it and say, This is private...
WOLFSON: She—she—she doesn‘t have a claim to fame. She has a lifetime and a record of standing up for children and families...
MATTHEWS: But the only reason we know who she is, is because she was...
WOLFSON: ... and now in the Senate, of doing..
MATTHEWS: But the only reason we know who Hillary Clinton is—let‘s be honest—is, her husband was president.
WOLFSON: Well, actually, Chris, people started—first started to know about Hillary Clinton when she gave the commencement speech, the first commencement speech ever, when she was in college in 1969...
MATTHEWS: Right. OK.
WOLFSON: ... made “LIFE” magazine.
MATTHEWS: I‘m talking about—you know how you said a few minutes ago that people aren‘t paying attention to these things? I‘m talking about most people know her...
MATTHEWS: ... as the wife of Bill Clinton.
WOLFSON: Many people do.
MATTHEWS: So, is it fair—is it fair for reporters, like Carl Bernstein, who is going to be the show this week, I hope, to talk about and write about that relationship? Is it fair game?
WOLFSON: Look, I think the American people are going to decide what is important and what isn‘t.
And we are confident that, as I have said, when they go into the voting booth, they are going to vote on the future and what people can do to solve the problems on this country, not on what did or did not happen in Arkansas.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s make some news, since this is old news, by your definition.
WOLFSON: All right. All right. Good.
MATTHEWS: John McCain today, a Republican...
MATTHEWS: ... candidate for president, said: “I was very disappointed to see Obama, Senator Obama, and Senator Clinton embrace the policy of”—here‘s the words—“surrender...”
MATTHEWS: Cold War term there.
MATTHEWS: “... by voting against funds to support our brave men and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Why is McCain going after a candidate for the Democratic nomination, either one of them? He hasn‘t won his nomination yet. Is this some strategy to appear more hawkish, tougher, more partisan? What are they up to? Why are they using Hillary as a—and Obama as targets?
WOLFSON: I would assume that‘s it. I mean, in the context of their primary, I guess they must think that this is a good thing for them to do.
Look, I do not...
MATTHEWS: What about the word “surrender”?
WOLFSON: It is an unfortunate choice of words. You know, Senator McCain will have to speak to why he said that.
Look, I think it is very clear to the American people that Senator McCain and Senator Clinton have different points of view on Iraq. Senator McCain went there, said that things were going well...
WOLFSON: ... support the president‘s escalation.
Senator Clinton believes things are not going well, wants to begin phased withdrawal, wants to end the war.
And, you know, we‘re going to have that debate between now and next November. I do not think that debate is going to favor whoever the Republican nominee for president is. But, if they want to have the debate, they‘re welcome to it.
MATTHEWS: What does a person, who is a regular person, who is not partisan, who is trying to figure out, not in the journalism world or the political world...
MATTHEWS: ... like you and I are—they are just reading the paper, and they see this at the front page of “The Washington Post” this morning right up here, this article right at the top.
And then they remember, just a couple of months ago, that Pat Healy had that article at the top—the top? Both newspapers chose to put it up here.
What are they to make of that news judgment and that story? How do they put it together, connect the dots?
WOLFSON: It‘s a good question.
You know, I think a lot of people would say, I‘m a lot more interested in what‘s going on in Iraq and how...
MATTHEWS: Well, everybody is.
WOLFSON: Yes—than—than in these issues.
MATTHEWS: You don‘t have to convince me about the war...
MATTHEWS: ... Howard.
MATTHEWS: I am—I am focused on that from the time I get up in the morning until I go to bed at night. It‘s the most important issue of this campaign.
WOLFSON: I agree.
MATTHEWS: I‘m asking you, what do they make—and what do you make, as a person who is a communications expert—about the fact that the mainstream media, not the vast right-wing conspiracy, not FOX, not something else, not a cable or whatever, but the mainstream media seems to keep going back to putting these stories at the very top of their newspapers?
MATTHEWS: Why are they doing it?
WOLFSON: ... you will have to speak to whether there‘s a disconnect between the mainstream media and voters. That‘s not my job to do that.
MATTHEWS: But you were hinting—that‘s a little smile there—that there is a discontent.
WOLFSON: Well, I—again, let me tell you, this campaign is premised on the belief that what voters care about are the big issues facing the country.
WOLFSON: And that—that is not...
MATTHEWS: Not who, just what?
WOLFSON: No. No. No. That‘s the—the...
MATTHEWS: They do care about who is going to be president?
WOLFSON: They do. Who has the strength...
MATTHEWS: They made a judgment about George W. Bush...
MATTHEWS: ... which may or may not be correct.
MATTHEWS: It wasn‘t about issues. It was who they put in the White House.
MATTHEWS: Shouldn‘t they ask who questions?
It was—it was, what do we care about and who is best to solve those problems? Who is best to overcome the challenges?
I believe that the—that the what is Iraq and health care and global warming and the economy.
MATTHEWS: But you—but you also must believe character...
WOLFSON: And—and the who—and the who is Hillary Clinton.
MATTHEWS: Right. And her character is that...
WOLFSON: ... because she has the strength...
MATTHEWS: ... she has the best character to be president?
WOLFSON: ... the strength and the experience...
WOLFSON: ... and the ability to solve those problems.
Is it a legitimate inquiry for—for journalists to inquire into the character of a candidate?
WOLFSON: Into the character of a candidate?
MATTHEWS: That‘s what this—let me read this to you.
“Two biographies detail marital strife and driving ambition.”
A lot of the edge of this reporting is negative.
MATTHEWS: It suggests that Hillary—well, I know it is.
It suggests that she will do what it takes to get there, that she will be ruthless. That is the edge in all these stories.
You don‘t think that should be reported?
WOLFSON: I think, if someone has an opinion, they‘re entitled to them. Whether or not that is going to be the majority...
WOLFSON: ... the majority opinion in this country is another issue.
And I do not think it will be.
MATTHEWS: Do you think there will be more of these top—top-of-the-fold-page, front-page stories?
WOLFSON: Your guess is as good as mine.
MATTHEWS: Yes, but it‘s no better than yours.
Anyway, thank you, Howard Wolfson.
MATTHEWS: We will have much more on the new Hillary Clinton books ahead.
And up next: Congress agreed to fund the troops without a timeline.
What is next? Big question.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
While Democrats now face an anti-war constituency for conceding to President Bush on troop withdrawal, Senator Clinton and Senator Obama are taking heat from their Republican presidential rivals John McCain and Mitt Romney for voting against the war funding bill.
And a new poll shows that the majority of Americans are unhappy with the situation in Iraq. According to the latest “New York Times”/CBS News poll—catch this number -- 76 percent—that‘s more than—well, it is much more—it‘s almost three—it‘s more than three-quarters—of Americans think the troop increase, the so-called surge, has made the situation in Iraq worse or is having no effect.
Sixty-three percent want a timetable for a troop withdrawal next year. And 61 percent think the U.S. was not right to go to war in the first place. Well, that‘s a strong view right there.
And let‘s start with “The Washington Post” story about the Hillary Clinton books.
Let me go to Melanie Morgan, radio talk show host.
Thank you for joining us, Melanie.
And Eli Pariser is executive director of MoveOn.org.
Melanie, did you hear the first part of this program tonight?
MELANIE MORGAN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I was listening with rapt attention. I thought it was fascinating.
MATTHEWS: What did you make of the defense? Well, maybe what did you make of the new stories about what looked like muscling of witnesses, and then strong-arming, I must say, of various people involved in these law—these law cases, and then Howard Wolfson‘s response?
MORGAN: Well, I have to say, first of all, that this—the books, as I have read the quotes and heard you describe, say nothing really that Republicans and conservatives didn‘t either already know, articulate, or were feeling very strongly about during the ‘90s.
But we do know specific new instances. They have filled out the narrative. And I have to tell you that there is going to be an ick factor coming up in the election surrounding this, because this is going to be making headlines all summer long. It‘s going to seep into the national consciousness.
And I thought that Mr. Wolfson did a very poor job of defending his candidate. All he could say, really, in response was, oh, it is old news.
Well, guess what? We heard that when it was new news. But there is new specific information in there that is going to be discussed around the watercooler. There is no way around it.
MATTHEWS: Eli, your response to what you have just heard?
ELI PARISER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MOVEON.ORG: Well, I have been focused today, Chris, mostly on the—on the vote on Iraq. And, you know, for us, that‘s the...
MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s go to Iraq, then. I—I—I will follow your brain on that one, because I think that is...
PARISER: All right.
MATTHEWS: ... the biggest story.
What do you make of the Democrats‘ decision that they can‘t win this time, that they had to let—release their votes to support the war funding, because it is Memorial Day weekend, and they can‘t be in position to cut off war funding for troops in the field? Was that a good decision or a bad decision?
PARISER: Well, look, no, it wasn‘t a good decision.
And, you know, basically, what this amounts to is Republicans and some Democrats obstructing the will of the great majority of the American people, who want an end to the war. We don‘t want to cut funding for the troops. We want to make sure that the troops are funded to exit and get out of the civil war that is not making us any safer.
MATTHEWS: But the president won‘t sign such a bill that‘s clean in that regard—I mean, that provides for a timetable.
PARISER: Well, look, the president—Chris, the president is weaker than he has ever been. He is in Nixon territory, the—the—the 20s, right? The Democrats should be—should be making President Bush come to them and to most of the American people, who oppose this war.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the charge in these new books that Hillary Clinton never bothered to read the national intelligence estimates that supposedly guided her and other Democrats in joining the Republicans to take to us war, that she hadn‘t read the document?
PARISER: I haven‘t read the new books, Chris. But...
PARISER: ... you know, I‘m—I‘m focused on what she is doing right now on Iraq, what the other candidates are doing on Iraq.
MATTHEWS: Are you happy with what she‘s doing?
MATTHEWS: Are you happy with what she‘s doing?
You know, look, I—I would like to see more leadership from Senator Clinton. I wish she hadn‘t waited until the last minute to vote no. But, ultimately, she voted to end the war. And that‘s—that‘s an important vote.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me go back to Melanie.
Melanie, thank you.
Let me ask you about this number we just showed, this new poll number that showed that more than three-quarters, 76 percent, of Americans, in this latest poll, think the surge has either done no good or caused more trouble for us.
MORGAN: Well, of course, that comes from “The New York Times.” And “The New York Times” is notoriously slanted and biased in its coverage, and tries to make news.
MATTHEWS: You think their polling is—do you think—do you think their polling is slanted?
MORGAN: Let me just go on and say that, still, on the third paragraph down of that poll, it says, the majority of Americans continue to support financing the war, as long as the Iraqi government meets specific goals, which goes to the point that I have been making over and over again.
Americans will stand for not defeat, but victory. They don‘t want surrender in Iraq. They want to come home with our troops victorious. And that‘s the important thing to remember.
And the polling also shows that the—that Congress is now down in the 29 percent territory.
MORGAN: Guess what? That figure is...
MORGAN: ... lower than President Bush‘s.
MATTHEWS: What about these...
MORGAN: So, what are we to infer from that?
MATTHEWS: Melanie, you point out in that quote...
PARISER: My question to Melanie—my question to Melanie here...
MATTHEWS: Go ahead, Melanie. You point out in that quote that the people would like to see the troops funded, as long as the politics in Iraq are moving ahead.
Do you believe it was right to put in the—put in those benchmarks as a requirement in this bill?
MORGAN: I think that it was probably the only acceptable compromise that was available.
I think it should be up to our commander in chief. It should be up to our generals in the field. I support our operations there. I support the surge. And I support victory in Iraq. And that‘s the most important thing.
And I think that American people do, too. A lot of us have had problems with the way the war is prosecuted, both on the right and the left. But you can‘t cut and run. You can‘t surrender, as Senator McCain says. It is important for to us support the troops.
And I would hope that even the kook crowd on the left, I would appeal to their basic human decency, that they would support the men and women who are—are living and dying in Iraq right now for a promise that we made to the Iraqi people.
MATTHEWS: OK, Eli, you want to respond to that?
PARISER: Well, there‘s two—two—two responses.
One is, you know, when Melanie talks about victory, what does it mean to win someone else‘s civil war? That‘s what we‘re doing right now. And, as far as I can tell, the—the—the main thing that we‘re doing right now is, we‘re acting as a recruitment poster for al Qaeda. That‘s what we‘re doing in Iraq right now.
And, you know, as to the listening to the generals, it seems to me that, every time the generals speak up about this war, they get fired, or they get—they get dissed. So, you know, we have had three generals in the last two weeks saying we need to change course.
MORGAN: Abraham Lincoln...
PARISER: Yes, President Bush should listen to...
MORGAN: Abraham Lincoln was...
PARISER: President Bush should—should listen to them...
MORGAN: Abraham Lincoln actually was able to...
PARISER: ... and—and change course. That‘s what most people are looking for right now.
MATTHEWS: OK. Well, thank you, Eli Pariser.
MORGAN: Well, Abraham Lincoln...
MATTHEWS: I‘m sorry. Eli has got to leave us now.
MATTHEWS: Melanie, you stay with us, continue that thought.
We will be right back with Melanie Morgan.
Eli is leaving, with us right now from MoveOn.org. He‘s going to move on.
And next up: the hottest topic in town here in Washington, those two new books about Hillary Clinton. They‘re going to be in the bookstores this week.
And, this Sunday, on NBC‘s “Meet the Press,” Tim interviews Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
TRISH REGAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I am Trish Regan with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks closed higher, ahead of the long holiday weekend. Taking a look at the numbers here, the Dow Jones industrial average, it gained 66 points, the S&P 500 up about eight, and the Nasdaq composite index ending the day up more than 19.
Stocks rose on the latest round of deal-making, which was led by Coca-Cola. The beverage giant agreed to buy Glaceau Vitaminwater, Energy Brands, for $4.1 billion. It is Coke‘s biggest acquisition ever.
Also, the parent company of the Nasdaq stock market will buy Swedish exchange OMX for more than $3 billion. This is a move that followed two failed attempts to acquire London‘s stock exchange.
Well, sales of existing home fell for the ninth straight month. The slide in April was a larger-than-expected 2.6 percent. Prices also fell. This news came on the heels of yesterday‘s report that new home sales surged 16 percent in April.
And, finally, gasoline futures rose today almost 4 cents, while oil was up $1.02.
That‘s it from CNBC, America‘s business channel—back to HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Let‘s introduce the panel. It‘s going to be big-time tonight—the president of Air America, Mark Green, “Washington Post” columnist Eugene Robinson, former Arnold Schwarzenegger—I was going to say strong woman - - spokeswoman Karen Hanretty.
MATTHEWS: And radio talk show host Melanie Morgan is staying with us.
Let‘s look at this right now, upcoming books to expose the Clintons.
As we reported at the start of the show, “The Washington Post”
detailed this morning two new books that portray a very different Hillary
Clinton than the one you see on the campaign trail. “The Post” says she
comes across as complicated and compromised, and that she tolerated Bill‘s
quote—“brazen infidelity and skirted along the edge of truth on her own path to power.”
Let‘s bring in Karen Hanretty on that question.
Do you think this is going to raise the hackles and raise the noise all summer long, with these big books coming out? By the way, there is another one coming out in the fall, Sally Bedell Smith‘s, another book on the Clintons, with more of this, I think.
KAREN HANRETTY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You know, I read “The Washington Post” article, which was fascinating, today. You know what I took away from it, they‘re right. No new information there. What that tell me is that Hillary Clinton is a politician just like every other candidate right now who wants to be president, I mean, all the way from mosquito abatement catcher.
Every politician dreams of higher office. They‘re all cynical. I think they‘re all ambitious. But isn‘t this what we‘ve always been told? If only we had a woman president, things would be different. The country wouldn‘t be as likely to go to war.
MATTHEWS: You still have to have a woman politician as president. Let‘s go now to Mark Green. Along those lines. This Post story was huge down here today. It‘s at the top of the fold, like that Pat Healey piece was in the “New York Times” a few months back. Newspaper editors of major papers are deciding to put the Clinton story at the top of the paper. What is this about?
GREEN: It is about she is the most famous person in the world in an open seat presidential campaign and it is irresistible. I read both articles, Pat Healy‘s a few months ago in the Times, and the “Washington Post” today. I obviously haven‘t read the books. I have trouble remembering other than somebody made an allegation. It was third hand.
And in the “Washington Post” piece, one allegation, it was then said, the person had already recanted. Look, what I know is that Jeff Girth (ph), one of the authors of the book, had written that inflammatory, sensational front page Times article on Whitewater some 15 years ago. It led to a 70 million dollar investigation, the special counsel, obviously into president Clinton and what did he or didn‘t do.
It led to nothing. It came up dry, according to Joe Connison‘s (ph) book, “The Hunting of the President” and newspaper articles. So now we‘re asking ourselves, what did Hillary Clinton arguably do 20 years ago, based on heresay, and is it relevant to her presidential campaign today? I disagree that it will be around the water cooler this summer.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask, Eugene Robinson. Let me ask you. It‘s your paper that ran this. I think it is relevant, whether we are strong arm tactics used to try to get people to sign affidavits. We‘re now looking at one from Monica Lewinsky. They‘re obviously not worth the paper they‘re written on, these affidavits.
These women were asked to sign affidavits. In one case, a woman was bent back from what she said to David Maris (ph), one of the most respected journalists around. Clearly there were efforts made to cover up an unpleasant story about Bill Clinton‘s behavior. Is that a news story today?
ROBINSON: Sure it‘s a news story. Why do you run the story at the top of the front page? If you have both these books before other people have them, that‘s a get. You‘re not going to hide that on page A-14.
MATTHEWS: But is it a major front page news story at the top of the fold because of the politics involved or because it is a good gushy story?
ROBINSON: It is a good story. It is a juicy story. Frankly, I read the story several time today. There is stuff in it that I didn‘t know. The overall picture that you get of Hillary Clinton is really interesting. It kind of fills out a picture that I think we already had. I think, is there anybody who didn‘t think Hillary Clinton was ambitious? Is there anybody who didn‘t think Hillary Clinton—
MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Melanie for an opportunity. Melanie, it seem to me what you get in this is some detail about her willingness to put up with pain, embarrassment, which is all something very sad all around, but also the willingness to see through these horrors, and then to see the opportunity behind them.
And to see that she could put down these stories. She could get affidavits. That she could make appropriate denials that helped her politically. And in the end, of course, she could exploit this to win a Senate seat.
MORGAN: We never doubted for a moment that Hillary Clinton was going to run for president of the United States. They bragged about it. She and bill Clinton bragged about it, two for one presidency. Some of the details of that agreement were written about in the “Washington Post” article today. It was sort of set out politically in a 20-page memo that she wrote to Bill.
These two are two of the most interesting people in American politics today. The way I see both of them is extreme narcissists. And when they look at each other, they are looking at themselves in the mirror. It is a complicated marriage and a complicated dance. People love the complexity of these two individuals.
And whether you love them or hate them, I pretty much fall into the really intensely dislike both of them category, you have to be amazed at the deal making, the psychological compromising that took place. And what kind of president will she make ultimately, when she has subjugated her entire ego all these years to this man?
MATTHEWS: And, of course, the big question for us is we‘re not involved in that marriage, nor should we have to worry about it. Except a certain thing is presented to us that has to do with people voting for them to bring them back to the White House. I think it is fair game to wonder if it is true or not. We‘ll be right back with our panel. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re talking about the “Washington Post” expose today on Hillary Clinton with Mark Green of Air America, Eugene Robinson from the “Washington Post,” which wrote the story. Karen Hanretty, the former Schwarzenegger spokeswoman, and radio talk show host Melanie Morgan.
Let me go back to Mark Green. Mark, you‘re a New Yorker. You‘re a politician up there, of great vintage. Hillary Clinton had to deal with these kinds of stories in spades back in 1998, right in the middle of all that Monica mess. She came out on top.
I mean, she won a Senate seat to a large extent because of all the focus on her as a gallant woman who stood out there in the face of embarrassment, if you will, and yet stuck her ground. Could this spin to her advantage all this talk about Bill and his wild ways, if you will?
GREEN: Don‘t know. Chris, you‘re right, in 2000, she won I think in large measure because she was so famous and overcame any premise against her because she went on a listening tour. She wasn‘t just another loud talking, bragging politician. She was modest. She got ideas. People liked her.
In 2006, what really matters is that she had a record and reputation in the Senate that overcame all these hearsay stories from 20 years ago. I was doing a book four years ago, interviewed several senators, Republican and Democrat alike. When I asked them, as a New Yorker, how‘s Hillary doing? To a person they said, she is so, unlike what the columnists said, modest, unassuming, smart, deferential, delightful. She works across the aisle.
So Chris, what I find really interesting is I don‘t know if what the hearsay about this book 20 years ago is true. I don‘t know. What is relevant is character. It‘s the character now. It‘s her character not as first lady, which got her famous. It is her character in the Senate which is a training ground for president. So I don‘t think this is going to be water cooler conversation. I don‘t know what the take-away story is. That‘s different than what we already knew.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Melanie. The argument there is that she is maybe not the same woman she was 20 years ago when she had to put up with what she had to put up with.
MORGAN: Come on. Nobody believes that. Nobody believes that. You are the sum of your experiences.
GREEN: I believe it.
MORGAN: Let me just say that what is really going to be important is whether or not Bill Clinton has been able to overcome his sexual compulsions, as it was written in the “Washington Post.” Are we going to be seeing more of Bill Clinton‘s dating? Are we going to be hearing more of this sort of thing? Do we really want him as first gentleman in the White House? That‘s what people are going to continue to speculate about.
GREEN: Chris, may I comment? Melanie, I don‘t understand why you are so about bitter and angry. You said you personally detest the Clintons. I don‘t know that you‘ve ever really met them or spoken with them.
MORGAN: That‘s not what I said.
GREEN: I‘m quoting you. Melanie, I‘m quoting you.
MORGAN: No, you‘re not. I said intensely dislike.
GREEN: Thank you for reaffirming my point. The issue has rarely been the fidelity of the spouse of a candidate. And I think the public is way more interested, if you‘re talking about lying and character, this week, the person who located Giuliani‘s bunker in the World Trade Center. Giuliani blamed her for that.
In fact, the advisor showed memos saying he advised her to go in Brooklyn where it wouldn‘t have been an attack. That‘s current character on a relevant issue. I don‘t think it is fair to talk about prior marriages of candidates. Pat Buchanan, Chris, on a show with you a month ago said the three leading Republican candidates, eight marriages. Hillary Clinton, one marriage.
Melanie, if you are looking at the marital issue, she wins.
MORGAN: You‘re right, character counts. And we know that under Bill and Hillary Clinton‘s watch in the White House, terrorism was allowed to go unchecked and unresponded to, which is why we had September 11th. That‘s what counts. And I‘m afraid that Hillary is a little bit too closely allied—I don‘t exactly know which side of the war in Iraq she exactly stands on anymore. She seem to have flipped and flopped. And that‘s also an issue of character.
GREEN: Bill Clinton didn‘t invade the wrong country and lead to more terrorism.
MORGAN: And neither did George W. Bush.
GREEN: Have you been reading the newspapers these last couple years?
MORGAN: Yes, I have been. And, you know what, I really sincerely hope that Air America, your new organization, has a lot more success than it did previously when you were—
MATTHEWS: OK, I know where that‘s going here. That‘s below the belt. Anyway, thank you. Stay with us, Melanie. Oh god. Anyway, it is HARDBALL. We‘ll be right back on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We are back with the panel. We have a new story to announce tonight. Special council Patrick Fitzgerald, in his sentencing memo, has recommended that former White House aide Scooter Libby spend two and a half to three years in prison for obstructing the CIA leak investigation. That case is coming up for sentencing. Melanie Morgan, what do you make of the recommendation of the prosecutor, two and a half to three?
MORGAN: Two and a half to three years, I think it‘s deeply unfair, grossly unfair. This was an entirely manufactured scandal in Washington, D.C. Like Fred Thompson, I think this man has been rail roaded.
MATTHEWS: So, you disagree with the jury?
MORGAN: Absolutely I disagree with the jury. Valerie Plame was never a covert agent.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Mark on this. Mark, do you think this sentencing is going to be received well by the country, two and a half to three for Scooter Libby.
GREEN: It may not be, because the country understands that the White House, through especially Dick Cheney, leaked selectively intelligence information to ruin the career and risk the life of a CIA operative. Melanie says it‘s not true, but the jury and the report says it was true. So they may regard him, even though he lied and obstructed justice, which is a crime, as a fall guy for Dick Cheney, who could have testified about it under oath, and didn‘t.
MATTHEWS: By the way, one of the questions that Patrick Fitzgerald put out today in announcing his sentencing request or recommendation is quote, question, did other government officials direct or approve these disclosures?
ROBINSON: Well it would be nice to know. It would be nice if he knew it and he brought that case. He did bring a case about perjury and obstruction of justice and Scooter Libby lied. That brings a jail term, and justices take that seriously.
MATTHEWS: Karen, this guy has been convicted by a jury. He is awaiting sentencing. He‘s also going to appeal. Will he get a pardon? And should he get a pardon?
HANRETTY: I don‘t think he will get a pardon. I don‘t think that the president has indicated—I think if you talk in Republican circles, no Republican I have talked to thinks that this president is going to give Libby a break. I think his best hope is for a clean record is if Fred Thompson wins the presidency.
MATTHEWS: I am amazed that Dick Cheney has had absolutely no contact with the guy since he has been sent off.
HANRETTY: I also think it‘s such an inside the beltway story. I don‘t think this story resonates with people out in the real world.
MATTHEWS: You are wrong. You‘re wrong. People think this war was a set up from day one and that Scooter Libby is part of the problem.
HANRETTY: No, I don‘t think they—
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you Melanie, because you do have a point of view on this. You think he‘s innocent. You think this was a trumped up case. Let me ask you, should he then benefit from a pardon from the president?
MORGAN: That‘s a tough one. I would have to agree with Karen on this. I don‘t know any Republicans that are saying Bush is going to actually go ahead and give him a pardon. It‘s ironic though, because George Bush has a reputation for being fiercely loyal to his people. You would think this would be the time to step in and do it.
MATTHEWS: Well, Joe Dejeneva (ph), a former prosecutor; he‘s a friend of mines, said to me a couple of weeks ago that he does not get a pardon. And he is sent away to a slammer somewhere in Levinworth or some hard time place, maximum security, that the hawks are going to go wild over this because they will feel that the president did betray his guy.
Anyway, thank you for coming on a Friday night Mark Green, as always Eugene Robinson of the Post, that had the big story today, Karen Hanretty, who surprises me with every comment, and Melanie Morgan, who doesn‘t.
Join me again Tuesday for more HARDBALL. Happy Memorial Day, specially to the troops. Right now it‘s time for “TUCKER.”
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