Guests: Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Rep. Chris Cannon, David Iglesias, Karen Hanretty, Bud Cummins, Joe Trippi, Erin Burnett, Bruce Fein, Anne Kornblut
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Let us never negotiate out of fear, Jack Kennedy said on becoming president, but let us never fear to negotiate. So who‘s got it right, Hillary or Obama?
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. FBI director Robert Mueller said—or did something Thursday that you rarely see in Washington. He stood up to his boss and told the truth. In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Mueller directly contradicted sworn testimony by attorney general Alberto Gonzales. The FBI director told the panel that contrary to testimony from Gonzales, the NSA‘s warrantless spy program was indeed the topic of conversation in that late night visit to former attorney general Ashcroft‘s hospital bedside. And significantly, FBI director Mueller confirmed testimony from former deputy attorney general James Comey that he, Ashcroft and Comey were prepared to quite, to resign unless the Bush administration made changes to make the surveillance program legal.
Last night on HARDBALL, White House press secretary Tony Snow defended Alberto Gonzales.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You got a lot of members of Congress who have already made up their minds, regardless of the facts, and they‘ve decided that they‘re going to go after Alberto Gonzales, and they‘re going to smear him up as good as they can.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Congressional Democrats are calling for a perjury investigation, and in a moment, two House members will debate the fate of attorney general Alberto Gonzales.
Plus: Last night, the Obama-Hillary debate escalated to full-fledged HARDBALL. Two top advisers to the campaign, Clinton‘s communications director Howard Wolfson and Obama‘s senior media strategist David Axelrod both took some shots. Let‘s take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA SURROGATE: I believe the American people are very, very serious about changing this disastrous...
HOWARD WOLFSON, CLINTON SURROGATE: Indeed they are.
AXELROD: ... foreign policy.
WOLFSON: Indeed they are.
AXELROD: And they are not interested in sort of low-rent political tactics to try and change the subject.
WOLFSON: Like comparing Senator Clinton to George Bush? I agree. They‘re not interested in those kind of tactics.
AXELROD: What Senator Obama said...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Tonight, John Edwards‘s top adviser, Joe Trippi, gets into the fray. But we begin with HARDBALL‘s David Shuster with his report on the clash between the White House and Congress over Alberto Gonzales.
DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A day after the attorney general‘s sworn testimony was contradicted by the director of the FBI, today the White House was in full damage control mode.
SNOW: ... but you simply cannot give a full and complete answer because to do so would compromise American security.
SHUSTER: But across the country, the controversy is growing. Editorial writers and columnists are being especially harsh with Gonzales. Eugene Robinson, quote, “I hope they nail him.” And on Capitol Hill...
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I have never seen an attorney general so contemptuous of Congress and his role as the chief law enforcement officer of the United States.
SHUSTER: At issue is the attorney general‘s sworn testimony about the president‘s warrantless wiretap efforts and about the firing of these federal prosecutors. On the U.S. attorney scandal, Gonzales has repeatedly contradicted the testimony of his former aides, and with documents showing the firings were pushed by the White House political office, run by Karl Rove, the Senate has now issued Rove a subpoena.
On the terrorist surveillance program, or TSP...
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER ®, PENNSYLVANIA: I do not find your testimony credible, candidly.
SHUSTER: ... Gonzales testified last year under oath there was no serious dissent within the administration over the program‘s legality. But this spring, former deputy attorney general James Comey contradicted Gonzales. Comey testified under oath that he and then attorney general John Ashcroft both felt the program was illegal and should not be reauthorized. And Comey described a dramatic but failed effort by then White House counsel Gonzales to change Ashcroft‘s mind while Ashcroft was in the hospital in intensive care.
JAMES COMEY, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: I thought I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man.
SHUSTER: This week, Gonzales was asked was why he tried to pressure Ashcroft in the first place.
SPECTER: ... about how can you get approval from Ashcroft for anything when he‘s under sedation and incapacitated? For anything.
ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: May I continue the story, Mr.—Congressman—Senator...
SPECTER: No. I want you to answer my question.
GONZALES: There are no rules governing whether or not General Ashcroft can decide, I‘m feeling well enough to make this decision.
SPECTER: But Attorney General Gonzales, he had already given up his authority as attorney general.
GONZALES: And he can always...
SPECTER: Ashcroft was no longer attorney general.
GONZALES: And he could always reclaim that. There are no rules about...
SPECTER: While he‘s in the hospital under sedation?
SHUSTER: Later in the hearing, Gonzales shocked the committee by declaring the disagreement was not about the terrorist surveillance program at all.
GONZALES: The disagreement which Mr. Comey testified about was about other intelligence activities.
SHUSTER: Gonzales referred to a White House meeting with members of Congress earlier that same day. Gonzales said the lawmakers were briefed about several spying programs, and Gonzales testified there was no disagreement with them or with Comey about renewing the TSP.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Tell me how you clarify it.
GONZALES: Mr. Comey‘s testimony about the hospital visit was about other intelligence activities, disagreements over other intelligence activities. That‘s how we clarify it.
SCHUMER: That is not what Mr. Comey says. That is not what the people in the room say.
GONZALES: That‘s how we clarify it.
SHUSTER: The problem for the attorney general, however, is not just James Comey and lawmakers who were in the White House meeting with him that preceded the Ashcroft hospital visit. An administration memo about White House meeting from national intelligence director John Negroponte confirms the discussion was about the terrorist surveillance program. The NSA director at the time, General Michael Hayden, testified last year the White House meeting was about the TSP, as well. And yesterday, Gonzales was also contradicted by the director of the FBI
REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I guess we use TSP, we use warrantless wiretapping, so would I be comfortable in saying that those were the items that were part of the discussion?
ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: I—it was—the discussion was on a national—an NSA program that has been much discussed, yes.
SHUSTER: A decision by solicitor general Paul Clement on whether to summon a special prosecutor and consider perjury charges against Gonzales is expected within 30 days. But while Clement is independent of Gonzales, the solicitor general still reports to the White House.
SCOTT FREDERICKSEN, FORMER INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: If the president of the United States decides there‘s not going to be a special counsel investigating my good friend, the attorney general, there won‘t be. And there‘s no review for that. There is no independent counsel statute any more, like there was before.
SHUSTER (on camera): Democrats said today if White House really believes Gonzales did not lie, the president should support a special counsel to clear Gonzales‘s name. Asked about doing exactly that, spokesman Tony Snow would not answer.
I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, David Shuster.
For more on Attorney General Gonzales‘s potential perjury problem, we turn Representative Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas and Representative Chris Cannon of Utah, both of the House Judiciary Committee.
Thank you very much, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. Let me ask you, Congresswoman, are you of the belief that FBI director Mueller contradicted the sworn testimony of Attorney General Gonzales?
LEE: Chris, my first belief is that the Constitution should be protected and the laws of this land should be upheld. I do believe that Director Mueller, although reluctantly, in answering my question reaffirmed that very unfortunate night when the counsel to the president and the chief of staff to the president went to the bed of a sick man, who might have been sedated, to get a contrary view about the warrantless wiretaps that was raging and had such controversy. And I think the key words of Director Mueller were, “an NSA program that has been talked about much.” What else could it be other than the TSP?
And so frankly, if his testimony under oath—meaning General Gonzales—in the Senate is contrary to the remarks of Director Mueller, who I would imagine by his very reluctance, his body language, he did not want to seemingly counter the general—he had to because the truth was, that was what was being discussed. Why would the—whey would there be such a rush of sirens and the FBI and others going into the rooms? And why would a staff person call the FBI director and say, Help me get into the room, but make sure I‘m not kicked out of the room?
This is not partisan, this whole line of questioning, and that of the Senate and John Conyers, the chairman of this committee and our ranking—our chair, Linda Sanchez. It‘s all about making sure that the rule of law is upheld not only by the American people but the White House. And I would say this. It would behoove the president, it would be very important for president to uphold the rule of law...
LEE: ... and allow a special prosecutor to be appointed. This is not about friendship. It‘s not about partisanship. It is about upholding the rule of law.
MATTHEWS: By legal terminology, do you believe it‘s beyond a reasonable doubt that there was a contradiction by the FBI director yesterday of the sworn testimony of the attorney general? Beyond a reasonable doubt, or would you put it somewhere in preponderance of truth? Where would you put it, in terms of your own certitude here?
LEE: Chris, I would be at a preponderance, but I‘m moving very quickly to beyond a reasonable doubt. But that‘s why I think a special prosecutor should be appointed. We shouldn‘t speculate. I‘m a trained lawyer, and I know that we should not speculate. And it would be unfair to General Gonzales to do so. But I do believe, under oath, all witnesses that would have...
LEE: ... something to add to this investigation, including Director Mueller, under oath should be able to address the question of whether or not that fateful night was a discussion on the TSP. Director—General Gonzales under oath this week said that it was not. And I hope to God it is the truth. But if it is not, then I believe that perjury has occurred.
MATTHEWS: Congressman Cannon, there‘s one way to clear this up for the laymen like myself, the non-lawyers. And that is to have the former attorney general, John Ashcroft, appear before your committee and testify what, in fact, was talked about at his hospital bedside. Is that a fair way to solve this?
REP. CHRIS CANNON (R-UT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Well...
MATTHEWS: Without having to go to an independent counsel, just clarify what was talked about.
CANNON: It would be, except that I don‘t think you‘re going to get anything different from what Mueller said or Comey said...
MATTHEWS: Why won‘t Ashcroft be straight with you?
CANNON: ... because they haven‘t talked about what the particulars are of that discussion, and they‘re probably not going to do that.
MATTHEWS: Why not?
CANNON: And I think the reason is...
MATTHEWS: Why won‘t they give the truth?
CANNON: Well, they‘ll give the truth, but they don‘t want to give away what might be...
MATTHEWS: Well, they can mention...
CANNON: ... relevant national security...
MATTHEWS: ... the topic area, so we can find out whether somebody‘s lying or not...
CANNON: ... NSA stuff. The NSA...
MATTHEWS: No, no, no. She—Congressman...
CANNON: No, the issue here is that...
MATTHEWS: I watched this tape three or four times yesterday, and we watched it again now. clearly, Director Mueller was assenting to what Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee was asking. He was assenting to it.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s watch it again.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s watch it again and let the people at home decide. Is this many waving her yes or waving her no?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEE: Did you have an understanding that the discussion was on TSP?
MUELLER: I had an understanding the discussion was on a—an NSA program, yes.
LEE: I guess we use TSP, we use warrantless wiretapping, so would I be comfortable in saying that those were the items that were part of the discussion?
MUELLER: I—it was—the discussion was on a national—an NSA program that has been much discussed, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, this isn‘t “bigger than a breadbox” stuff. This isn‘t 20 questions. He‘s saying yes.
CANNON: No, no. He‘s making a very narrow distinction, which is important when it comes to whether or not...
MATTHEWS: Is he saying that she‘s right, that there‘s a contradiction?
CANNON: ... Gonzales is (INAUDIBLE)
MATTHEWS: Is there a contradiction, as you see it, Congressman...
MATTHEWS: ... between the testimony—just a minute—the congressman—the testimony between the FBI director and the attorney general? Is there a contradiction?
CANNON: I don‘t know.
MATTHEWS: The sworn testimony.
MATTHEWS: You don‘t know?
CANNON: Because the FBI director was being careful to talk about an NSA program instead of what we call TSP, the terrorist surveillance program.
MATTHEWS: Would you like to have former attorney general Ashcroft come in and clear this up? Yes or no.
CANNON: Well, look, I don‘t—he won‘t clear it up.
MATTHEWS: Why won‘t he?
CANNON: He‘s going to say the same thing (INAUDIBLE)
MATTHEWS: OK, let me go to Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. Do you believe it would be appropriate to get this thing—how about recalling Mr. Mueller, the FBI director, for further clarification?
LEE: I‘d be delighted to do that. I‘d also be delighted—I assume the FBI director would accede to it—is to be—to have him under oath and to ask the question again.
But we also discovered, Chris, in that meeting that there were notes on that particular meeting and set of events because I will tell you, either by body language or words—and want to represent that I don‘t recollect whether it was by words—it was suggested or the inference was for Director Mueller that he was as shocked about that meeting as any of us were in the late of night, and he thought it was a somewhat unique meeting. And in questioning, he indicated he wrote notes about it. There are existing notes.
I would welcome, and so would our committee, a voluntary expression and clearing up of any of these misconceptions. But what I would say is that if we cannot get that, the rule of law is so important in this instance, the chief legal officer of the United States of America, then I would ask the president, out of his allegiance to this nation, to appoint a special prosecutor. Otherwise, we will open the committee, I know, for all of the truth to come out, in fact , having the attorney general come back under oath and clear up what has been said in that hearing room.
MATTHEWS: Do you think—let me ask Congressman Cannon. Do you think the—that Alberto Gonzales is sharp enough to do this job? Every time I see him in testimony before your committee, the other committee and (INAUDIBLE) he seems vague, cloudy in his thinking, unsure of his testimony. He has a bad memory or something. Why is he so unsteady in answering your questions? You got—you got some real sharp people up there. I‘m not saying they‘re the nicest guys in the world, but you got Schumer, you got Specter. They‘re sharp questioners, sharp thinkers. They‘re tough lawyers. And he always seems to be in something of a cloud in answering their questions.
MATTHEWS: It‘s a mismatch.
CANNON: Yes, well, look...
MATTHEWS: It is, isn‘t it? You‘re about...
CANNON: ... it‘s a personality mismatch.
MATTHEWS: ... to say it‘s a mismatch.
CANNON: I‘m about to say that it‘s—that Alberto Gonzales is an interesting guy. He‘s a thoughtful guy. He‘s a smart guy. But he‘s not an assertive, hard-edged guy.
CANNON: He‘s a guy who tries to solve problems.
MATTHEWS: Well, why can‘t he answer questions clearly?
CANNON: I don‘t know.
MATTHEWS: Well, you‘re on the committee that reviews his performance...
MATTHEWS: ... but accountability is a question in this administration.
LEE: Chris, that...
CANNON: Absolutely. That is absolutely the case.
CANNON: There‘s no question but that accountability is important. You know, I—Sheila and I agree on almost everything she has said here...
MATTHEWS: It sounds like you do...
MATTHEWS: Do you think he‘s a good attorney general?
CANNON: Yes, he‘s...
MATTHEWS: A good attorney general. Yes or no.
CANNON: He‘s a good guy. I like him a lot.
MATTHEWS: Is he a good attorney general? Is he a good attorney general? This isn‘t Miss Congeniality here. Is he a good attorney general? Would you swear to that?
CANNON: Would I swear to that...
MATTHEWS: He‘s a good attorney general? Would you say he‘s a good attorney general?
CANNON: I think he‘s done a very good job, but he does not have the edge it takes to take on Specter and Schumer.
MATTHEWS: OK. Fair enough.
CANNON: Or the...
MATTHEWS: Congressman Jackson Lee, go ahead.
LEE: Chris, let me just say, this is not a “get you” or a “got you.” General Gonzales is a Harvard lawyer and obviously, has had years of former practice. If we were giving a grade to the Department of Justice, I would tell you the failures in prosecutions of Civil Right cases, hate crimes and otherwise.
But I do believe that there is something to having confidence in the chief legal officer of the United States of America, and it has nothing to do with how distinguished General Gonzales...
LEE: ... is and his history. It‘s a wonderful history. But I was very troubled by the testimony in that room this past week. And frankly, I am not an expert in body language. There was a great deal of reluctance by Director Mueller because he knew, I believe, that as he gave his answer, he knew the ramifications of it.
LEE: You could see it. You could feel it. And what I‘m saying is...
CANNON: That‘s right.
MATTHEWS: ... let‘s clear it all up whether or not we know that the gentleman—General Gonzales has a different demeanor...
LEE: ... or he has a different style. Let‘s clear it up. The rule of law has to be the most prominent and most important concern for us as members of Congress and the president of the United States of America.
LEE: Appoint a special prosecutor.
CANNON: The way to do it is to get those notes...
LEE: And get it done.
CANNON: ... in an appropriate place in a discussion with he members of Congress. Probably not our committee, since that‘s not our jurisdiction. Let‘s take a look at it and see what...
MATTHEWS: ... thank you very much...
LEE: Well, let‘s have a special prosecutor.
MATTHEWS: We have to go. I‘m getting (INAUDIBLE) By the way, Congressman, just remember, Congresswoman, President Bush went to Yale. He went to Harvard Business School. I‘m not always sure that these shingles and credentials tell you a whole lot. Anyway, thank you...
LEE: Well, I wanted to give him his...
MATTHEWS: ... Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee...
LEE: I want to give him his due.
MATTHEWS: I know. Well, you certainly did. Congressman Chris Cannon.
Coming up: As Democrats—I know a lot of people went to these fancy schools who aren‘t the brightest people in the world. Anyway—and you do, too.
Anyway, coming up: As Democrats call for an investigation into whether Attorney General Gonzales lied to Congress, where does the Bush Justice Department go from here? And how bad will it get? We‘ll be joined by two of the U.S. attorneys who were fired by Gonzales. They‘re going to have some thoughts to share with you, you can bet.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Former U.S. Attorneys Bud Cummins and David Iglesias were both fired by Gonzales. They‘re here to tell us what they make of the Gonzales situation.
Let me start with Bud Cummins.
Mr. Cummins, what do you make of this contradiction between the FBI director and the attorney general on what happened at that hospital?
BUD CUMMINS, FIRED U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, of course, I wasn‘t involved in those negotiations, but what—what I think is the most important about this is, you have got an attorney general that is trying to defend a crucial program. We are at war. We need to spy on people that are trying to kill us. And we have got a person in place in the attorney general‘s office who is unable to even defend the most straightforward proposition, much less something complicated and controversial .
MATTHEWS: So, you think he is not up to the job?
CUMMINS: I think that his credibility is gone. It‘s partly—it‘s clearly partly his fault. I could probably list a dozen things he has done that make him deserving of losing his credibility.
Part of it is politics. The Democrats are now on him like piranha. But the bottom line is, he has no credibility left, and he is like—he is like a boxer that can‘t keep his hands up anymore, but he won‘t fall down. Somebody needs to throw in the towel.
MATTHEWS: Well, David Iglesias, let me go to you, sir.
What do you make of Arlen Specter going out and saying, I don‘t trust him? And Dianne Feinstein, who is a pretty Democrat, she‘s also going at him. And these are the grownups going at him, not the partisans.
DAVID IGLESIAS, FIRED U.S. ATTORNEY: Yes, it‘s just incredibly sad.
This is just another sad chapter in this sordid tale. And I have never seen anything like this. I have never seen an embattled attorney general since John Mitchell back in the early 1970s.
Well, he seems to have a hard time responding to these inquires. Do you think it‘s, as Congressman Cannon said, just a battle between a guy with a—sort of a nice guy—he doesn‘t haven‘t a lot of edge to his personality—up against these tigers in the Senate?
IGLESIAS: You know...
MATTHEWS: How would you rate this matchup between him and people like Pat Leahy and Chuck Schumer and Arlen Specter? These guys are tough. But does the attorney general have to be as tough as they are, or we can expect a different standard here?
IGLESIAS: No. Well, like—like Bud Cummins said, we are in a time of war. We need an attorney general as tough as nails. And we need an attorney general that can answer yes and no and someone who responds to questions, legitimate questions, posed by members from both sides of the aisle.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the fact that the Democrats are now pushing for the solicitor general to seek an independent counsel? Is that a no-go? Is that hopeless, given the president‘s need to OK that kind of arrangement?
IGLESIAS: I think it sends an important message that they want to get to the bottom of this through an independent prosecutor, not somebody who is partisan. But, given how this administration has fought everything, I don‘t harbor a lot of hope that one will actually be appointed.
MATTHEWS: Why not, no accountability here?
IGLESIAS: Yes, basically.
Same question to you, Mr. Cummins. It seems to me that when something goes wrong, or looks like it‘s wrong, you want to clear it up with a counsel of some kind. But the administration, the president himself has to personally approve any action by the solicitor general in naming an independent counsel, because we don‘t have an independent statute—an independent counsel statute here. Do you expect the president to go along and name a counsel?
CUMMINS: I really don‘t, and because I have this sense that the White House doesn‘t believe this is fair. They—they think they were entitled to do what they have done in these instances, and they shouldn‘t have to respond to the Congress in this way.
I‘m kind of divided on it, because I think that it‘s important for the president to hold on to his privileges, and I don‘t think he should waive them lightly.
CUMMINS: But they‘re—even if he holds on to them, there‘s nothing that stops them from walking out of the front door of the White House today, right now, and going to a microphone in a forum of their own choosing, and just telling the truth, and explain what happened, apologize for the mistakes that were made, and put a lot of this stuff to bed. That could have happened four months ago. It could happen today.
MATTHEWS: Well, are you being—are you being thoroughly candid here, because it seems to me that would require, knowing what we know, and certainly what we suspect, the president would have to admit that it was politics involved in your firing?
CUMMINS: Well, I think everybody that has followed this now knows that David Iglesias was fired not because he wasn‘t doing a good job, because we all know that David was doing a great job. He was fired because the New Mexico Republicans had a perception that was uninformed, because they had no idea what was going on behind the curtain in the investigations that were taking place in New Mexico, but they had a perception that he wasn‘t moving fast enough on some corrupt Democrats.
And that‘s why he got fired. You know that and I know that. So, why don‘t they just say it, and say, you know, that was a mistake; we should not have allowed that to happen?
MATTHEWS: Do you concur with that, Mr. Iglesias?
And I‘m really glad that, early on, they said that Bud Cummins was—that he was performing fine, but they wanted to put somebody else in there.
But, yes, no one in my case is shooting straight with the American people. They just need to say, you know what? We had political reasons for letting him go, and, you know, he‘s a political appointee, and we pushed him out.
But they had to come up with all these bogus reasons and these shifting, you know, changing stories.
Do you think Mr. Gonzales is telling the truth?
IGLESIAS: Boy, you know what? If I were a professional polygrapher, I would have a field day.
You know, I have significant doubt, Chris. I really don‘t think so.
Mr. Cummins, do you agree with that assessment?
CUMMINS: Well, about everything or anything?
MATTHEWS: Do you share the doubts of Mr. Iglesias regarding—Iglesias—regarding the testimony of the attorney general with regard to what happened in that hospital room?
CUMMINS: Oh, I—you know, I think he has been very guarded in his statements. It‘s—it would be difficult to say he has been completely candid.
MATTHEWS: You think he‘s obfuscating?
CUMMINS: I think that he is not being completely candid.
MATTHEWS: You guys are very careful men. But I see your situation.
Thank you very much, former U.S. Attorneys Bud Cummins and David Iglesias.
Up next, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have traded shots all week over a serious matter, and now John Edwards is now butting in. Edwards campaign senior adviser Joe Trippi is going to join us in just a second.
And don‘t forget the HARDBALL ad challenge. That‘s advertising challenge. Make your own campaign advertisement and send it in. And we will play it on the air, or at least some of them. Just upload them at our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you‘re looking for what‘s wrong in Washington, why the system is broken, why the system doesn‘t work, one perfect example is what‘s been happening just over the course of the last four days.
We have had two good people, Democratic candidates for president, who have spent their time attacking each other, instead of the attacking problems that this country has faced.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, who is sort of one of the big three in this race, taking a shot at Senators Clinton and Obama for their debate the last several days over how to deal with dangerous leaders around the world.
And, while those two are debating, a new poll shows that Edwards is increasing his Iowa lead among Democratic contenders. Check these numbers out. He is at 27 percent. Hillary is at 22. Obama is at 16.
Joe Trippi is a senior adviser for the Edwards campaign.
Let‘s go to the—we were just out in Iowa, as you know, two days ago.
Is Edwards going to win in Iowa?
JOE TRIPPI, SENIOR EDWARDS CAMPAIGN ADVISER: I think it‘s going to be a tough race out there, but we‘re ahead right now. And we feel really good about where we‘re at. We have got a great team and a strong message.
MATTHEWS: He has to win, doesn‘t he?
TRIPPI: I mean, look, we have got to do really well there. We can‘t come in third. No one wants to come in third there. I think we‘re going to come in first. We‘re working hard to do that. That‘s exactly what we intend to do.
MATTHEWS: Do you expect that Iowa will be the slingshot for big victories in Florida, New York, New Jersey, the other big states coming up early?
TRIPPI: Look, you have got to come out of those early states. The way this calendar works now, you have got to come out of the early states flying. And that is what we intend to do.
We‘re working towards a win in Iowa. People are responding to that message you just saw of a guy standing up for working people and not talking about—I mean, look, the real thing that happened in the last four days, not just the—what those guys—what the two candidates have done, but the press covering their spat, instead of covering...
MATTHEWS: What do you mean by spat?
TRIPPI: This is a spat.
Everybody—look, there‘s no one who doesn‘t believe that any president of the United States is going to go through the normal diplomatic channels and make sure it‘s right for—right for the president to go meet with a leader.
So, you know, this really is...
MATTHEWS: So, why did Hillary distinguish herself from Obama?
TRIPPI: Well, I think...
MATTHEWS: She made the move. Why did she do it?
TRIPPI: I don‘t—I mean, that‘s—that‘s something for them to go figure out.
MATTHEWS: You have got to help me here. No, you brought it...
MATTHEWS: No, you brought it into this...
TRIPPI: No, no, I‘m not...
MATTHEWS: Let me raise a point.
TRIPPI: Oh, I mean, it‘s a spat for...
MATTHEWS: It‘s not a spat.
TRIPPI: Let me get to the point.
No. But I disagree with you.
MATTHEWS: ... serious issue.
MATTHEWS: How do we deal with the world‘s dangerous leaders?
TRIPPI: But we can get to the point I want to make, which is that we raised—we raised something that does matter to working people out there, getting the minimum wage up to $9.50...
MATTHEWS: There‘s a lot of...
MATTHEWS: What‘s wrong with this one?
TRIPPI: ... $9.50, and ask them, challenge both of them...
TRIPPI: ... to come out for it. The press haven‘t covered that at all.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me talk to you as a citizen.
MATTHEWS: I am worried about the next presidency, because I think we saw a very difficult situation get worse in terms of the war on terrorism under this administration.
We find the American Army in Iraq. It‘s a very difficult situation. And the worst thing about is, there‘s no easy way out. That‘s not a situation you want to take the American government, our Army or our people. And, yet, we‘re stuck there. So, I am very sensitive to what the next president will decide with the regard to that part of the world, especially that part of the world.
MATTHEWS: And when I get a signal from one of the candidates that he primarily wants to talk with these leaders first, and I get a signal from the other one that says, I am not going to talk to them, because they may propaganda against me, so I‘m going to aver meeting with them, I go, wait a minute. One is more hawkish than the other, I think. I think they are sending us messages, and they are important messages.
You say they‘re not?
TRIPPI: I think—I think that, if you debate that policy, that‘s worth doing, but not calling each other naive and irresponsible. That‘s where I would draw the line.
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s what Hillary Clinton said of Obama.
TRIPPI: Well, Obama said the same Hillary the next day.
MATTHEWS: What did he say about her?
TRIPPI: The same thing, naive and irresponsible with her vote on the war. I mean, they went into this—I mean, I think—look, let‘s not do the personal attacks.
MATTHEWS: They‘re not personal. These are policy questions.
TRIPPI: The policy questions you raised is a good one...
TRIPPI: ... but not the personal attacks.
MATTHEWS: Do you think it is a personal attack to question...
TRIPPI: I think the press has been covering the attacks, and not the policy.
MATTHEWS: Is it a personal attack to question the judgment of a politician who voted to give the president authorization to go to war in Iraq and then said, I didn‘t think he was going to use it? Isn‘t that fair to question that?
I think your candidate is questioning that.
TRIPPI: No, you can question...
MATTHEWS: Because he has apologized for his vote to authorize, and he‘s questioned Hillary‘s refusal to apologize.
TRIPPI: Right. We have—we have...
MATTHEWS: You know, it‘s OK if—it‘s OK if John Edwards does it. It‘s not OK if Obama does it.
TRIPPI: No, it—we—we haven‘t—we‘re not saying irresponsible and naive. That‘s not what we said. And I don‘t—I don‘t believe that.
And I—what I am trying to say here is, there are real issues that do matter that—that go beyond this spat. And that‘s all it is. It really is political—political maneuvering, particularly like when Howard Wolfson from the Clinton campaign and David Axelrod, two people I respect, from the Obama campaign, go at it, basically just tooth and nail on television. And this is like, we...
MATTHEWS: Who won that fight?
TRIPPI: I—I think Axe did, but who knows?
MATTHEWS: Do you think it was fair game? Was it hardball or dirtball for Howard Wolfson to sit here last night and accuse Obama, Senator Obama, of wanting to deal with a Holocaust denier, to bring that up, the history of this guy in that particular situation? Do you think that was fair politics, to tie him in with a guy who doesn‘t even believe in the Holocaust of the 1940s?
TRIPPI: That‘s what I think. I think we are getting to dirt—dirtball here.
MATTHEWS: I think that is dirtball.
TRIPPI: And dirtball is not what the people of Iowa, not what the people of America want.
MATTHEWS: So, it wasn‘t fair?
TRIPPI: No. And that‘s what I‘m—look, we have been raising serious issues. We raised that in the debate to raise the minimum wage to $9.50.
The press has not covered it.
MATTHEWS: This is your way to get into the press, isn‘t it, to take on these other two guys?
TRIPPI: No, no, to take on the press for not covering things that really matter to working people.
MATTHEWS: Do you think it will work? Do you think it will be a three-way fight by Monday morning?
TRIPPI: I don‘t know—that‘s not what we‘re trying to do. We‘re trying to go out there and make the fight—and take the fight to issues that—we don‘t want to get into what is wrong with each other. We want to get about what we need to do, what‘s wrong in the country, what we can make right...
MATTHEWS: Anyway, they love John Edwards out there. You‘re doing well in Iowa. I just got back. I‘m an expert.
TRIPPI: We are doing well there.
MATTHEWS: Edwards is going to do well in Iowa. The question is, can he turn that into a victory in the big states? And that‘s up to you, Joe. Get to work.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Joe Trippi.
Up next, the HARDBALL debate: Obama vs. Hillary. So, who won this thing?
You‘re watching HARDBALL. We‘re going to have some real contestants, I think HARDBALLERS, coming here in a minute.
REBECCA JARVIS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I am Rebecca Jarvis with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Despite today‘s positive economic news, the Dow ends with its worst week in five years. The Dow finished down more than 200 points, the S&P 500 nearly 24 points to the downside, and Dow—or Nasdaq down 37.
But the economy appears to be doing OK, because today‘s Commerce Department report showed a strong U.S. economy last quarter, up slightly more than analysts predicted, at 3.4 percent. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson also adding, the subprime mortgage problem is—quote—“containable.”
Meantime, yesterday‘s stock market sell-off overshadowed a big surprise from Detroit. Ford Motor swung to a quarterly profit for the first time in two years. Analysts predicted deep losses for the automaker.
And, today, a federal judge sentenced the former CEO of Qwest Communications to six years in prison. Joseph Nacchio was also ordered to forfeit $52 million in insider trading gains—now back to HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton kicked it up a notch—kicked it up a notch on the campaign trail this week. So, who came out ahead?
I am joined by HARDBALL political analyst Bob Shrum, whose book is called “No Excuses.” And Karen Hanretty is a former spokesperson for Arnold Schwarzenegger. And she also writes for the “Hill” newspaper.
So, you first, Karen.
Why did Hillary Clinton engage with a guy who is way back, 15 points from her? Why would he give her the title shot?
KAREN HANRETTY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Because this is what the Clintons do. What is it James Carville says? When a man is down, that‘s when you keep kicking him. I‘m kind of paraphrasing. But that‘s—you know, that‘s not such a bad rule in politics, necessarily.
It‘s a rough-and-tumble game. Such is the name of your show. And—and I think, if they really want to put the final blows in Barack Obama, this is a great way...
MATTHEWS: And how do they do it? What do they put—how do they sting him? How do they—how do they mess him up?
HANRETTY: They‘re messing him up by making him—look, the word a naive—the last thing you want is a president who is viewed as naive. He is turning 46 on August 4th. That‘s very young. If I were the Clintons, I would play up his youth, built around his birthday. This is a guy who‘s just not ready for—
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Bob Shrum. Bob, let me just ask you about the tactic from the Clinton campaign, and analyze this as an insider. Why would she tag a guy who is so far behind her, and give him all this attention?
SHRUM: Well, because I think she hasn‘t closed down the process. And they were hoping they would. The whole dispute reveals a lot about the challenges and the messages on both sides. Obama could not back down, because he would look like he was admitting he was unprepared or unready. And so he went to his basic message, which is fundamental change. Do you really want 28 years of Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton?
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has the problem that she is, as I have said before, the establishment candidate in the year of change. And she has two arguments. One, change is nostalgia. To borrow Bob Dole‘s phrase, let‘s build a bridge to the 20th century, or the 1990s. Number two, Obama is unready and maybe unelectable.
Now that can work. John Kerry, when he asked the question in the “Des Moines Register” debate of Howard Dean, why in the world did you say you wouldn‘t assume Osama bin Laden was guilty, did enormous damage. But the damage was really done by the words themselves uttered by Dean. Here, I think, you probably find a lot of primary voters agree with Obama that we ought to go out and talk with our enemies, and not just our friends.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s talk about how it breaks out. Hillary Clinton‘s spokesperson, Howard Wolfson, who‘s pretty tough—he‘s a pit bull. He was on the program the other day and he really stuck it to Obama, saying that he wants to go talk without preconditions to, quote, a holocaust denier. Clearly, the ethnic and religious aspect of that is clear, and the historic impact. You don‘t want to deal with a guy like that. It made it seem like—well, let ask you, Bob; was that fair to do that to—or does that just go with the territory of politics?
SHRUM: Well, look, it‘s a political game here and Joe Trippi is obviously hoping that he can get the intensity going even harder on both sides, so that Edwards can come up the middle. He knows that can work because he was involved in a negative ad war of Dean versus Gephardt.
MATTHEWS: OK, but why did Wolfson get so tough yesterday?
SHRUM: Because I think they haven‘t sowed it up. They are engaged in this and they want to try and win it. I don‘t agree with Karen, by the way, that he is so far down—that Obama is so far down that he can be put out of it this week by this kind of episode. I don‘t think that‘s true at all.
MATTHEWS: Karen, let me start with you on the question of timing. I always thought that Obama was a little cherry of going after Hillary. It seems like he was hesitant to take her on. He lost that early gusto he had in the campaign when we went out and covered his launch early in the year. But I also think that he may want to save something, in terms of the big issue he has against Hillary, which is that she voted to authorize the war, the most important issue of the campaign and she voted to authorize it. The Democratic party doesn‘t like that. Why didn‘t he save that big gun until December, when he could turn things around in Iowa?
HANRETTY: I disagree. I think I think he was probably right to do that all along. Look at what he has been able to do by playing that card so early. He has a phenomenal amount of money and a phenomenal amount of grass roots support. I would be really surprised if he can actually turn that into votes. I‘ll tell you one thing—
MATTHEWS: Turn what into votes?
HANRETTY: Turn—you know, he has I forget how many number—hundreds of thousands of donors to his campaign, his 25 to 50 dollar donors. I don‘t know that that‘s actually going to translate into votes in these early primaries. I‘ll tell you another thing; I think Barack Obama lost the state of Florida when he went out there and said, yes, I will talk to anyone at anytime, which would include Fidel Castro. I‘ll tell you what, if you‘re in Florida, politics is all about Castro. I don‘t think that the voters down there are anxious to have someone who says yes, I‘m very eager to hear what Castro has to say.
MATTHEWS: OK, on the politics, Bob, do you think it‘s hurt him that he is willing to talk to these bad guys?
SHRUM: It hasn‘t hurt him in the primaries. I‘m not sure it‘s hurt him in the primaries. Karen is absolutely right that when you hear the word Castro, the first thing you ought to think is Florida, and that‘s a general election problem. But look, Hillary Clinton certainly doesn‘t disagree with the proposition that we ought to talk to Iran. George Bush doesn‘t disagree with the proposition that we ought to talk to Iran. The administration is doing that right now.
It was this whole point about talking without preconditions and could they make propaganda out of it. I think it‘s a little tough to make that a really powerful wedge issue in primaries.
MATTHEWS: I think she, once again, positioned herself on the center right to some extent of the Democratic primary base. She‘s always careful to have that fulcrum where she can get hawkish if she wants to. Whereas Obama is clearly on the anti-war side. Thank you, Bob Shrum, an expert, and Karen Hanretty, a younger expert.
Up next, it‘s Friday and our HARDBALL round table is ready to tackle the week‘s biggest stories; Gonzales, Obama versus Clinton and who is leading in Iowa? Just six months to go now. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Let‘s dig into the big news of the week, the political news, with our panel tonight. Erin Burnett anchors CNBC‘s “Squawk on the Street” and “Street Signs,” Anne Kornblut is a political reporter for the “Washington Post,” and Bruce Fein is a former Justice Department official under President Reagan. You‘re the odd person out. These are real journalists.
First up, warrantless credibility. FBI Director Robert Mueller told Congress yesterday that a now infamous warrantless surveillance program was the subject of a big fight within the Bush administration back in 2004. Early this week, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said it wasn‘t. Mueller also confirmed that he, John Ashcroft and Ashcroft‘s deputy were all going to quit if the Bush administration didn‘t make changes to make that program of surveillance legal.
White House spokesman Tony Snow says the president still stands by his attorney general.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: After six months of hearings, after 8,500 pages of documents, after making available everybody at senior levels of the Department of Justice, after our offering to have Harriet Miers and Karl Rove and everybody else they wanted to talk to in a session where they would be compelled legally to tell the truth, after all of this, after dry hole after dry hole, now members are reduced to saying, well, just because we couldn‘t prove what we suspect, we think he is not telling the truth. We think there ought to be a special counsel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: OK, can Gonzales survive and why hasn‘t the president moved on to another candidate for the office of attorney general. Let me go to Anne Kornblut. Do you have any sense of what the tie is here? Is he afraid of confirmation hearings for a new attorney general? What does the president fear here?
ANNE KORNBLUT, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Well, there‘s two things here. For one, we know how loyal this president is. How long was it that we anticipated that he would get rid Don Rumsfeld before it actually happened? Right? The other is yes, he is afraid of a confirmation fight. Why go down that road when you could have him there? Gonzales is taking all the heat right now. And the White House, frankly, is hoping the Democrats will over reach. We saw yesterday Chuck Schumer holding numerous press conferences and there hope is—
MATTHEWS: The guy looks like a tackling dummy now. That‘s how these bright guys on the committee are using him for sport.
KORNBLUT: It‘s really something.
BRUCE FEIN, FMR REAGAN DOJ OFFICIAL: The real reason why the president wants to keep Gonzales is that a successor would uncover crimes. Remember Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor. He ended up indicting and convicting Scooter Libby. Alberto Gonzales himself has been implicated in many of the alleged allegations that suggest criminality, violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
You don‘t want a new attorney general who is going to uncover all of these hidden problems. Remember the plumbers in Nixon, the things that happened after John Mitchell was removed.
MATTHEWS: What crime do you know for sure that Alberto Gonzales committed?
FEIN: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act makes an intentional violation—that is trying to gather foreign intelligence without a warrant—a crime.
MATTHEWS: And you know he is guilty of that.
FEIN: We don‘t know he‘s guilty of that.
MATTHEWS: You said a new attorney general would discover crimes.
FEIN: -- could discover crimes by unearthing information that is suspect at best.
MATTHEWS: That‘s different than knowing something.
FEIN: Of course, we can‘t tell where there is secrecy.
MATTHEWS: That‘s why—let me go to Erin. Thank you for joining us, Erin. Erin, as an observer of this, doesn‘t it seem that one of the reasons the president doesn‘t want to dump his friend Alberto Gonzales is the Democrats haven‘t quite nailed him, except they may have nailed him on this problem perjury, as we saw yesterday?
ERIN BURNETT, CNBC‘S “STREET GAINS”: I think it‘s a good point. I also think it comes down to, Chris, this bigger issue of, all right, so if he were to back down here, right—then he‘s got to try to get someone new through—how is that going to happen? I think the bigger issue when you sit on the financial markets, and you look; this is a president who has been unable to get his agenda through on immigration, on Social Security.
I mean, even today he‘s unable to convince people of just how strong the U.S. economy is. You can say everything bad about it you want. There are good things to be said too. He is unable to communicate that. He is unable to get things done. You might as well sit there and fight back, because trying to go ahead and move someone else in—what is going to be the luck on that?
MATTHEWS: Are you saying there‘s a connection between the lack of accountability in Washington and the dropping on the market in New York?
BURNETT: I don‘t know about that, although I have to tell you, Chris, they did come out for the first time ever, right here on NBC today—the president‘s economic team—and tried to make their case as to why things were not as bad as they may appear.
MATTHEWS: Last question to you, Anne,, do you believe that this new decision by the FBI director, Robert Mueller, who‘s not really familiar face in this town—he‘s a very quiet beaurocrat—to come out and basically assent to the determination by U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee the other day that it is, in fact, the program we are talking about; that there is, in fact, a contradiction in the sworn testimony of the attorney general, and what he remembers? Could that be something new here? Is that just one more drum roll that‘s not going to lead to anything?
KORNBLUT: It certainly sounded new to me yesterday.
MATTHEWS: It seems different.
KORNBLUT: It seems completely different. It‘s also coming from someone who, as you say, has a great deal of integrity.
MATTHEWS: I mean, one guy is not telling the truth here.
KORNBLUT: Well, and the Democrats aren‘t going to let that go. I can guarantee you that.
MATTHEWS: Both aren‘t.
KORNBLUT: Well, --
MATTHEWS: What happens when Ashcroft comes back and testifies, Bruce? What happens when they get Ashcroft back; they get the FBI director back to clarify his testimony? It seems like all the roads lead to trouble for Gonzales.
FEIN: Yes, but I want to underscore that the perjury issue, in light of the American people, is going to be less important than the one that at least I averted to, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, because that involves spying on every single American.
MATTHEWS: Most Americans understand perjury. It‘s like lying to your mom. We get it. We get it. The other stuff, the FISA, don‘t try ---
MATTHEWS: They put Alger Hiss away on perjury.
FEIN: But they put away Eagle Crog (ph) and some others for breaking and entering home and illegally violating the fourth amendment as well.
MATTHEWS: I‘ll go with whatever gets the bad guys. We‘ll be back with our panel. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Erin Burnett, Anne Kornblut and Bruce Fein. Up next, campaign economics. This week the stock market dropped after reaching the 14,000 mark. A new government report had bad news about the housing market. Oil prices are up. The atmosphere is grim on Wall Street. But there is some good news. Let‘s talk about it with Erin. You‘re the expert. You‘re here for this reason. Should we with stock portfolios be trepidatious or calm?
BURNETT: You kind of got me caught by surprise. I would have to say you should be trepidatious. But that does not mean that you should not be calm. The bottom line is don‘t panic. Chris, I have to say one thing here, it‘s that we‘re only about four percent away from an all-time high. We just hit an all-time high less than two weeks ago for U.S. stocks. So that‘s really important.
MATTHEWS: Which way is the market going?
BURNETT: If I knew that, I might be retired already.
MATTHEWS: Don‘t you do this for a living? Don‘t you analyze what‘s going on there? I can tell you who‘s going to win the nomination for the Democratic side right now.
BURNETT: I like to put my finger in the wind and guess where it‘s going every day. Chris, here is what I think though: we‘re going to be in for rough riding. We could have quite a few more days to the down side. There‘s no question that might happen. But the bigger picture is what you mentioned as you were introducing me, and that is that there‘s still good news in the economy.
In the U.S. economy, we found out today it grew at the fastest pace we have seen since the beginning of last year. And globally the economy is growing at its fastest rate in at least 35 years. So the big picture backdrop is still very, very good.
MATTHEWS: Why don‘t people, at some point in their lives, leave the casino, sell all their stock, put it in the bank and relax. Why does everybody assume the market‘s going to keep going up forever?
BURNETT: Because it has. Historically—I mean, it‘s been amazing, Chris. It‘s gone up. On average, everyone gives you that number, ten percent a year.
MATTHEWS: Sooner or later, shouldn‘t you quit?
BURNETT: Well, you know, once you get in and you make your 10 percent, I guess you get a little bit greedy. But 10 percent a year is pretty darn good. And over time that‘s what‘s stocks have returned.
MATTHEWS: OK, thanks for cheering us up there.
BURNETT: I‘m trying. It‘s hard after a day like today.
MATTHEWS: I know it is. Thanks for everything. Join us again Monday for more HARDBALL. Right now it‘s time for “TUCKER.”
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