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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Thursday, July 15th, 2010

Read the transcript to the Thursday show

Guest Host: Michael Smerconish
Guests: Jonathan Martin, Bob Cavnar, Michael McAuliff, Jeffrey Miron, Christian Weller, Rep. Ed Markey
MICHAEL SMERCONISH:  The gulf oil leak on day 87, success.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening.  I‘m Michael Smerconish in New York, in tonight for Chris Matthews.  Leading off: The oil leak has stopped.  We learned late this afternoon that the new containment cap on the BP well has completely stopped, at least for now, any oil from leaking into the gulf.  The valves have been closed, and for the first time in 87 days, no oil is escaping.  It‘s potentially a huge development, and we‘ll get the latest in just a moment.  We‘ll also look into the BP and Lockerbie connection.  Did BP strike a deal to get the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing released in exchange for exploration rights off the coast of Libya?  At least four United States senators think so.
Plus, do unemployment benefits make people lazy?  That‘s the case being made by a lot of Republicans, who say the jobless prefer cashing government checks to going out and looking for work.  We‘ll hear from people on both sides of that issue.
And then there‘s this from Karl Rove in today‘s “Wall Street Journal.”  He says the biggest mistake that he made in the White House was not defending President Bush against charges that he lied to get the U.S. into the war.  In fact, he insists it‘s the Democrats who‘ve been doing most of the lying.
And one tea party activist said on TV yesterday there‘s a place in America for racists, and it‘s the NAACP.  That didn‘t do much to quiet the suspicions that the tea party, if not bigoted itself, is too accommodating of racists members.
Finally, I‘ll tell you why I think the claim that the New Black Panthers intimidated people into voting for Barack Obama makes almost no sense.
Let‘s begin, however, with the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  Bob Cavnar was an oil industry executive.  Bob, how did they get it to stop?
BOB CAVNAR, FORMER OIL INDUSTRY EXECUTIVE:  Good afternoon, Michael.  They closed the last valve, the choke valve, in just about an hour ago.  I was actually watching the feed when the announcement was made.  And the feed is obviously a little delayed.  It was still flowing at that point, but it did stop.  And I just saw a good shot of the entire stack from the top of the old blowout preventer to the top of the new capping stack, and it is indeed shut in.
SMERCONISH:  And we just showed the feed right now, and people can see it at home.  It looks a heck of a lot different than it has looked for the last 87 days.  Is whatever the measure that finally caused the oil to stop something that could have been taken advantage of sooner?
CAVNAR:  Oh, clearly, they could have been put this stack on weeks ago, had it been prepared or had they been ready to do that.  This is something that‘s made of components that are basically off the shelf, not real custom things.  They‘re deepwater—they‘re not like you buy them at the hardware store, but they‘re—but they‘re common to the deepwater, and this could have been done much earlier, I believe, than it was.
SMERCONISH:  In lay terms, something that a guy like me can follow along, how did they get it to stop?  Walk me through it.
CAVNAR:  The way they do this, Michael—you have to be real careful with these big wells because if you just slam a valve shut, it‘s like a car slamming into a wall.  You have to gradually slow the flow down until you pinch it off because if you go real quickly, you stand a bigger chance of actually rupturing something.  Obviously, the wellbore is severely damaged from the blowout and the top kill, and this blowout preventer has been through a lot of wear and tear.  So they gradually close it in.  And I just noticed they were putting caps over the valves for an extended shut-in period.
SMERCONISH:  What‘s the long-term prognosis of the oil stopping its flow?
CAVNAR:  What‘s going to be important here is what the build-up curve look like.  They‘re going to be looking for a continuous build to a relatively high pressure.  If it stops at a low pressure, that means they‘ve got a leak.  If it builds to high pressure and then drops, it breaks, then that means they‘ve damaged something.  So that‘s what...
SMERCONISH:  Is the drilling...
CAVNAR:  ... they‘re going to be looking for.
SMERCONISH:  Is the drilling, Bob, of a relief well—because that‘s
always been plan B, although it looked like it was about to become plan A -
is the drilling of a relief well still necessary?

CAVNAR:  Absolutely.  The only way to actually kill this well, Michael, is at the source.  So once they get finished with this procedure, which we‘ve all been confused exactly what they‘re doing here, they‘re going to have to resume drilling that well and actually kill it at the bottom.
SMERCONISH:  Was this unexpected.  I mean, it comes at least to me as a bit of a surprise that I‘m able to break this news, which is great for all of us, that the oil has stopped.  Is it something that you anticipated when you woke up this morning, that this would be the day?
CAVNAR:  Well, we knew they were going to try to shut it in.  This whole procedure is a surprise, what they announced last Sunday at their technical briefing.  So we‘ve all been scrambling, trying to figure out exactly what they‘re doing here.
But I expected them to try to shut the well in today.  I‘m a little surprised it happened so quickly.  But it looks like so far, everything is holding.
SMERCONISH:  What does it mean, Bob Cavnar, moving forward in terms of BP‘s efforts to, at some stage, resume getting oil from this particular well?
CAVNAR:  What they‘re—well, they‘re going to have to first kill this well and permanently seal it.  It‘s...
SMERCONISH:  What does—what does that mean?
CAVNAR:  Well, they‘ll—they‘re drill that relief well into the primary well, pump heavy mud to make sure it‘s stopped and then cement that.  And then they‘ll probably have to drill another well at a different location into this same reservoir.  Obviously, they know the dangers now so they can manage it much better the next time they drill after the moratorium is lifted.
SMERCONISH:  So what you‘re saying is that the—again, in terms that I can follow—the manner in which they stopped the oil from flowing today does not preclude in any way their ability to have at that oil at some future date.
CAVNAR:  From a different well.  They‘ll never be able to produce this well.
SMERCONISH:  How far away are we talking?
CAVNAR:  Oh, it won‘t have to be far.  In fact, they could probably use that second relief well as a kicking-off place to get to this new reservoir.  But I don‘t expect them to do that very quickly.  I think they‘re going to be very, very careful with this reservoir from here on.
SMERCONISH:  What have we learned in terms of the total volume of oil that is still buried in this particular location?
CAVNAR:  There‘s likely millions of barrels.  In these kinds of formations in the deep water, it takes a number of wells to actually drain the reservoirs, so they couldn‘t drain it from this one well anyway.  There would have to be a number of wells drilled around and then produced to a common point to drain the reservoir.
SMERCONISH:  So bottom line, the takeaway is the oil has stopped, at least for now, we hope permanently.  And you make it sound—and I‘m not being dismissive—that it was the closing of a valve that brought it all about and perhaps something that could have been done sooner.
CAVNAR:  It‘s the closing of five valves.  But the important thing here, Michael, was that stack that they put on top that allowed them to close in.  Now, I have to tell you I‘m still concerned about weakness in that old stack, and I‘m concerned about weakness in the tubulars in the casing inside the well itself.  So they‘re not nearly out of the woods yet.
SMERCONISH:  Understood.  Hey, thank you, Bob Cavnar.  Appreciate your time.
CAVNAR:  Great talking to you.
SMERCONISH:  All right.  And now to the other story involving BP.  Did the company make a deal to get the convicted terrorist in the Lockerbie bombing released in exchange for lucrative oil rights in Libya?
Michael McAuliff is a Washington correspondent for “The New York Daily News.”  Michael, thank you for being here.
SMERCONISH:  Coincidentally—coincidentally, on the very day this fellow was released, I was interviewing President Obama and was in the position of being able to be the first to ask him how he felt about that, how our government felt about it.  Give a listen.
SMERCONISH:  Today the Scots released the Lockerbie bomber due to—I mean, actually, maybe it is health-care related.  He‘s got terminal cancer.  Your take on this?  A lot of folks very offended over a perceived lack of justice.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We have been in contact with the Scottish government, indicating that we objected to this and we thought it was a mistake.  We‘re now in contact with the Libyan government and want to make sure that if, in fact, this transfer has taken place, that he‘s not welcomed back in some way but instead should be under house arrest.  We‘ve also, obviously, been in contact with the families of the Pan Am victims and indicated to them that we don‘t think this was appropriate.
SMERCONISH:  So Michael McAuliff, what‘s the back story first from the Brit perspective?  What do we now know in terms of BP‘s role in all of this?
MCAULIFF:  Well, interesting, he used the word “mistake” there, and the British authorities are using that very same word today.  They say it was a mistake.  However, they have a very legal argument for why this is all proper, and even though it was a mistake, everyone did everything completely properly and there‘s nothing that can be done about it now.
But the back story is that in 2007, the Libyans and BP were negotiating a lease off the coast of Libya, and it‘s a $900 million deal.  And they signed a deal.  It did not go through, however, until after Mr.  Megrahi was released in 2009 and it raises all kinds of questions just on the timing, but there are also revelations that BP did, in fact, lobby for a prisoner transfer agreement with the British authorities.
And it gets very complicated, but a doctor that the Libyans hired is one of the first people to say that Mr. Megrahi only had three months to live.  Now, the British government says this guy did not have any role in the decision to free the man on compassionate medical grounds.  But nevertheless, he‘s been out there and saying the guy could live—it‘s unlikely, but he could live 10 more years.
SMERCONISH:  Having read today a number of British newspapers on this, it seems like the BP story, if you buy it, is one of, Well, we lobbied for there to be such an exchange, but not necessarily for this guy.  Is that a fair characterization, as far as you‘re concerned?
MCAULIFF:  Yes, that is a fair characterization, although I have heard although I heard Jack Straw, the justice secretary at the time, did raise with Scottish authorities specifically Mr. Megrahi.  Now, did BP ask Mr.  Straw to do that?  I don‘t know.  But the man‘s name was bandied about behind the scenes quite a bit, and he was the most high-profile person on the list of potential people on that prisoner exchange.
SMERCONISH:  Well, it seems like the guy, who we all thought—dare I say, some hoped—was going to check out is the—you know, the bionic man.  What do we—what do we know about him now in terms of his prognosis?
MCAULIFF:  Well, we know it‘s that 11 months later, which is considerably more than 3, and he‘s still alive.  Now, I‘ve heard some conflicting reports out of Libya, where they say he‘s still sick.  But you also hear that he‘s living in luxury.  And of course, when the president was talking about the welcome home that he got, it was a hero‘s welcome.  So I don‘t think he‘s doing too badly, certainly a lot better than a Scottish prison.
SMERCONISH:  Michael, any reason to believe that the Obama administration would have been in the loop relative to the BP role in negotiations, whatever it was, back at the time of al Megrahi‘s release?
MCAULIFF:  I have seen no evidence to suggest that whatsoever.  The only thing that you might even want to consider is that it was in the United States and the English interest to bring Libya into the fold.  But I have heard no suggestion that the State Department was in any sort of negotiations involved with that.
SMERCONISH:  Question—quick question, if I may, relative to options.  What are the options, other than hand-writing, about this guy who‘s a mass killer is living a life of luxury in Libya?
MCAULIFF:  Well, the options are what our four senators for the New York/New Jersey area are doing, which is raising a great big stink.  And as the British ambassador to the U.S. said today, there‘s a system of justice in Scotland that they respect, and there‘s nothing they can do about what they call a license for compassionate release.
SMERCONISH:  Thank you, Michael McAuliff.  Appreciate your time.
MCAULIFF:  Thank you.  Thanks for having me.
SMERCONISH:  Coming up, are unemployment benefits a disincentive to finding a job?  That‘s the argument that some Republicans are making these days as they vote against extending those benefits.  But is it true?  That debate is straight ahead.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
SMERCONISH:  We‘ve got a new crop of poll numbers on that all-important generic ballot question.  That‘s the one that asks whether you‘ll vote for a Republican or a Democrat in this year‘s congressional mid-term election.  A new “Time” poll has the Democrats up by just 1.  That‘s the same margin for the Democrats as the newest Gallup poll.  But the ABC News/”Washington Post” poll has the Republicans up 4, and the new Bloomberg poll has the Republicans up 8.  Samples vary for each poll, but these are numbers that will make the Republicans very confident heading into November.
We‘ll be right back.
OBAMA:  What I‘d say to the person who‘s out of a job right now is we are going to be doing everything we can to create the environment where the private sector can come in and start creating jobs.  But I‘m not any more satisfied than they are, and until they can find a job, I expect to be held accountable.
SMERCONISH:  Hey, welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was President Obama talking to Chuck Todd today about the jobs crisis in this country.  Do unemployment benefits discourage people from looking for work?  Many Republicans are making that argument as Senate Democrats push to extend jobless benefits for more than three million Americans who will stop receiving government checks this month.
Jeffrey Miron is a senior lecturer and director of undergraduate studies at Harvard University, also a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, and Christian Weller is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a public policy professor at the University of Massachusetts.
Gentlemen, I want you to hear what I consider in my day job to be radio gold.  You‘re about to hear the words of the Republican candidate for governor in my home state of Pennsylvania.  His name is Tom Corbett.  He is currently the state‘s attorney general.  Listen to this.
TOM CORBETT (R-PA), ATTORNEY GENERAL, CANDIDATE FOR GOVERNOR:  The jobs are there!  But if we keep extending unemployment, people are just going to sit there and—I mean, I‘ve literally had construction companies tell me, I can‘t get labor—I can‘t get people to come back to work until (INAUDIBLE) we‘ll come back when unemployment runs out.
SMERCONISH:  Jeffrey, all I need do, as I did this morning, is play that tape, sit back.  Every telephone line illuminates.  People are passionate.  They‘re evenly divided.  And they all have anecdotal information as to whether he‘s correct or he‘s incorrect.  So who‘s got it right?
JEFFREY MIRON, CATO INSTITUTE:  Well, I don‘t want to sound like I‘m trying to split the baby, but they‘re both correct.  There certainly are lots of firms that are hiring.  There are lots of possibilities for many people to get jobs.  But in order to do so, many of the people who are unemployed will have to accept a lower wage or a different type of occupation or moving to a different part of the country, doing something that‘s not nearly as pleasant and not as remunerative as what they were doing before.
So yes, they‘re both right.  You can get jobs, but it‘s harder.  It‘s not pleasant.  Most people don‘t want to do that, and if they get unemployment insurance, that‘s going to reduce their incentive to do those things that would help them to get a new job faster.
SMERCONISH:  Christian, he‘s not alone in saying that.  Senator Jon Kyl is another who has made a similar pitch.  I want you to hear what Senator Kyl said a couple of months ago.
SEN. JOHN KYL ®, ARIZONA:  If anything, continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work.
SMERCONISH:  So I guess my question, Christian, for you is, at what point do unemployment benefits, if at all—at what point to they become a deterrence to going out and getting a job?  At no point, at 12 months, at 24 months?  Where would you draw the line?
CHRISTIAN WELLER, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS:  Clearly, at some point, they will make a difference, but not in this environment.  We have about—more than 14 million people looking for jobs, and there is about five job seekers for every job opening.  So there‘s millions of people who are looking, a lot of people who don‘t even get unemployment benefits, but a lot of people who are getting—who are looking for jobs and just simply can‘t find them.
So I think unemployment—extending unemployment benefits makes sense.  It‘s a win-win-win proposition.  It helps the most vulnerable people in this economy, those who are suffering the most through this economic hurricane.  It will put more money into the private sector, boost economic demand (INAUDIBLE) which businesses are most worried about at this point, and ultimately, protect the private sector momentum that we have.
So clearly, this is the right policy going forward, given how high unemployment is and how many people are looking for jobs and given how many more million people have given up looking because they can‘t find jobs at this point.
SMERCONISH:  Jeffrey, how about the argument that many have advanced which says that consumer spending is where we need a boost, and by paying unemployment benefits, we‘ll be putting people‘s—we‘ll be money in people‘s pockets who can go out and increase their spending power?  Do you find that persuasive?
MIRON:  I think it‘s a problematic argument.  It is a very standard argument.  It‘s part of the classic Keynesian model.  And if you only look at that half of it, it sounds right.  Certainly, if the unemployed has more cash, they‘ll go out and they‘ll buy more things than they otherwise would.  That sounds good.
But you have to ask where that cash came from.  The cash came from other parts of the economy, from other taxpayers, so those other taxpayers have less money to spend, OK?  And so you have to then convince yourself that, somehow, if you get the timing just right, you can con people into spending more now. 
They‘re not focusing on the fact that they‘re going to have to pay for it with higher taxes later.  That‘s a not-very-convincing argument.  And it‘s not one that seems to be very well supported by the data.  So, I don‘t think it‘s a very good argument for unemployment insurance. 
SMERCONISH:  Go ahead.  I‘m sorry, Christian.  Respond quickly. 
WELLER:  Yes. 
I mean, the main issue here is that unemployment benefit dollars actually create a lot of economic value.  They‘re probably the most efficient ways of the government spending money.  Every dollar that you spend from the unemployment insurance creates $1.6 in economic value.  That‘s better than anything else we know. 
SMERCONISH:  Jeffrey, I want to introduce another related subject.  And it‘s the deficit.  You know this argument.  In fact, “New York Times” column itself Paul Krugman wrote, “But won‘t extending unemployment benefits worsen the budget deficit?” 
And he said: “Yes, slightly.  But as I and others have been arguing at length, penny-pinching in the midst of a severely depressed economy is no way to deal with our long-run budget problems, and penny-pinching at the expense of the unemployed is cruel, as well as misguided.”
Respond to what Professor Krugman had to say.
MIRON:  Well, I basically think what he‘s saying is on target, if perhaps leading to a slightly wrong impression. 
The amount of unemployment insurance benefits we‘re talking about is teeny compared to our debt, to the debt that‘s due—going to be due to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security.  The long-term problems that Krugman is referring to are huge and because they‘re growing at astronomical rates.  And unemployment insurance is a very, very teeny part of that.
The only way in which I think he‘s a little bit misfocused is we never seem to get around to doing the cutting that will help to reduce the deficit.  And so if he were really pushing now for saying let‘s start cutting Medicare and Medicaid, even though we don‘t make big cuts yet, then I would be totally in agreement with him.  But I don‘t hear him saying any of that part. 
SMERCONISH:  Christian Weller, at what point does paying unemployment benefits, if at all, impede self-reliance?
WELLER:  Well, I think clearly once you get to very low unemployment rates, it will impede some economic activity.  It will be a disincentive. 
But, generally, we have cut unemployment—the extensions—we have stopped the extensions in the past of unemployment benefits at much lower unemployment rates.  In the 1980s, we stopped it at an unemployment rate of 7.2 percent.  We‘re at 9.5 percent at this point, so we‘re nowhere near where we were in the past. 
And I think talking about the current extensions of unemployment benefits as a disincentive to look for a job is somewhat cynical, given how many millions of people are looking for a job, how few job openings there are, how long people have already struggled, and how slow we are in terms of creating new jobs and getting the unemployment rate down. 
SMERCONISH:  Jeffrey, on the subject of the poor, Rand Paul, who is a candidate for the United States Senate in the great state of Kentucky, said something that has caused a controversy. 
MIRON:  Right. 
SMERCONISH:  Let‘s all listen together. 
RAND PAUL ®, KENTUCKY SENATORIAL CANDIDATE:  The poor in our country are enormously better off than the rest of the world.  It doesn‘t mean we can‘t do better.  But we have to acknowledge and be proud of our system of capitalism, be proud of our American way. 
SMERCONISH:  Did Rand Paul get it right, Jeffrey Miron? 
MIRON:  Well, he got it absolutely right. 
If you look at data that every economist would agree to, there are people in the world living on a dollar a day or two dollars a day.  The standard of living of people who are regarded as very poor in the U.S. is certainly enormously above the standard of living in many, many parts of the world. 
That doesn‘t mean we shouldn‘t also have compassion for the people who are poor here, but he‘s certainly right to suggest some moderation in our perspective to realize that being poor in the U.S. is not the same as being poor in India. 
SMERCONISH:  Yes, I‘m not so sure that‘s what he said.  If he said that to be poor in the United States is better than to be poor elsewhere, I don‘t think there would be a controversy.  Perhaps I didn‘t hear him clearly. 
I think he was saying that to be poor in the United States is frankly to be better anywhere else you might be in the world, which we would also disagree with.
MIRON:  Oh, absolutely.  That was certainly way too strong, if that‘s what he meant. 
MIRON:  I didn‘t quite hear it that way.  But you may be right. 
SMERCONISH:  All right, men, thank you so much for being here.
MIRON:  Thank you. 
SMERCONISH:  Jeffrey Miron and Christian Weller, we appreciate your time. 
WELLER:  Thank you very much, Michael. 
SMERCONISH:  Up next:  What‘s a Republican gubernatorial candidate doing waiting tables in Minnesota?  We will explain next in the “Sideshow.”
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  
SMERCONISH:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Now to the “Sideshow.” 
First: major damage control out in Minnesota.  You see that guy waiting tables?  He‘s Tom Emmer, the presumptive Republican nominee for Minnesota governor.  Why is he there?  Well, he suggested last week that Minnesota should join most other states in allowing businesses to pay workers who receive tips, like waiters and waitresses, less than the minimum wage. 
The misstep, he justified it, claiming that some of these workers end up making over $100,000.  In an effort to dial back on those comments, Emmer spent a day as a waiter at a local restaurant and posted the video to his campaign site. 
Emmer also held a forum last night with restaurant servers, but he was forced to end the meeting early, after an attendee dumped a bag of 2,000 pennies in front of him, saying—quote—“That‘s my tip for you.”
Now, that‘s what I call putting in your 2 cents. 
Moving over to Nevada: a political indictment from beyond the grave.  Charlotte McCourt, age 84, passed away recently.  She was a one-time avid Harry Reid supporter.  Now, note that I said a one-time avid supporter.
Her family this week printed the following obituary in “The Las Vegas Review-Journal”—quote—“We believe that mom would say she was mortified to have taken a large role in the election of Harry Reid to the U.S. Congress.  Let the record show Charlotte was displeased with his work.  Please, in lieu of flowers, vote for another, more worthy candidate.”
Tough stuff. 
Time now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”
A quirky loophole in the Bush tax cuts means that there‘s no estate tax in the year 2010.  Just this year, it‘s at zero percent.  Now, what does that mean in real terms?  Well, consider this.  Because billionaire Yankees owner George Steinbrenner died in 2010, how much will his heirs save in taxes?  Up to $500 million—yes, million.  That‘s a huge loss in tax receipts for the federal government and a big savings for the Steinbrenner family -- $500 million, tonight‘s incredible “Big Number.” 
Up next:  Karl Rove says that his biggest regret from his years in the Bush White House, his failure to refute the charges that President Bush lied to take us to war in Iraq.  He says his failure to do so hurt the country.  But what about going to the war on false pretenses?  We will get into that next. 
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  
JANE WELLS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Hey.  I‘m Jane Wells with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks clawing back from early declines, the Dow falling seven points, the S&P up a point, and the Nasdaq only down a fraction. 
BP and Goldman Sachs leading the late-afternoon rally, BP shares surging more than 7 percent after announcing it had completely shut down its leaking well.  And Goldman Sachs finally settling with the SEC over charges it misled investors on risky mortgage-backed securities.  Goldman will pay $550 million, the largest SEC fine ever for a Wall Street firm.  But it‘s only a little more than 1 percent of Goldman‘s revenues last year.  So, shares finished more than 4 percent higher and are still climbing after hours. 
Google shares up slightly, but they are falling after hours as earnings and revenue fell short of expectations.  On the flip side, chipmaker AMD shares finished flat, even though its quarterly results easily topped analyst predictions.
And Apple shares skidding a bit ahead of tomorrow‘s news conference about the iPhone 4.  We still don‘t know exactly what the company plans to say, but rival Nokia, Motorola, and Research In Motion shares all finishing higher. 
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to
SMERCONISH:  We‘re back. 
Just about 100 days until the midterm election, former Bush White House adviser Karl Rove turning heads with a blast from the past. 
Here‘s Rove in today‘s “Wall Street Journal.” 
The headline reads, “My Biggest Mistake in the White House.”  Karl Rove writes: “Saying the commander in chief lied—intentionally lied America into war is about the most serious accusation that can be leveled at a president.  At the time, we in the Bush White House discussed responding, but decided not to re-litigate the past.  That was wrong, and my mistake.”
Michael Isikoff is NBC News national investigative journalist, Jonathan Martin, Politico‘s senior political writer.
Michael your book “Hubris” page 80 talks about how, on September 11, there‘s Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary Rumsfeld, as the Pentagon is literally smoldering already planning an invasion of Iraq, which would seem to support the view that facts weren‘t going to get in the way. 
Look, what Karl Rove wrote today is nothing new from him.  He made the
same argument in his book.  He made the same argument in speeches and
interviews during his time at the White House.  The fact is, it‘s—it‘s -
it‘s pat and it doesn‘t really—it doesn‘t really square with the reality. 

The charge—the serious charge was not that President Bush lied or that the White House lied.  It was that they embellished, manipulated, exaggerated shards of intelligence, and made the body of evidence much more serious than it was. 
And all this is pretty much confirmed by a series of reports, the Senate Intelligence Committee report, the 9/11 Commission, all of which showed that some of the more exaggerated and sensational allegations, that Saddam had an ongoing nuclear program that could lead to the specter of the mushroom cloud, that he had ties to al Qaeda, that he was training operatives, al Qaeda operatives, in chemical and biological weapons, all of that was said by the president and other senior officials in the run-up to the vote on the war, and all of which was not just wrong, but contradicted by serious intelligence—or certainly not supported by the intelligence that was available at the time. 
So, that‘s the serious—that‘s the serious charge against the Bush administration in the run-up to the war in Iraq.  And—and—and—and, you know, Rove‘s argument doesn‘t contradict it at all. 
SMERCONISH:  Jonathan Martin, in line with what Michael Isikoff just said, I have, for what it‘s worth, believed in the fact that they massaged data.  I believe in spin.  I never parroted the L-word, lie. 
And, in my case, one of the things that always held me back was Colin Powell.  You really couldn‘t convince me that Colin Powell, speaking in front of the United Nations Security Council, that—that he would knowingly mislead those that he was seeking to convince. 
How do you see this issue?
I mean, I don‘t think that there was any willful attempt by the likes of a Colin Powell or even a Karl Rove to sort of lie about the intelligence, but obviously there was a body of work that folks like Michael and other reporters have developed over the years, sort of, you know, making the case as to why this war was launched under pretenses that perhaps were not fully developed, thought through, analyzed, et cetera, et cetera. 
But I‘m kind of struck by why this is such a big story.  This is in the book.  He has sort of taken this now to his column in the paper.  I‘m just not sure why, in the summer of 2010, this is relevant.
SMERCONISH:  OK.  Let me ask you the question.  Is this about legacy, or is this about midterm elections? 
MARTIN:  I‘m not sure how this would have much of an impact on the midterm elections.  We‘re focused now on the economy, on the oil spill, on really Afghanistan now, so I‘m not sure how this would be relevant into 2010, two years into President Obama‘s term almost. 
SMERCONISH:  Hey, it could just be that it‘s the summer and he needed a column.  Who knows. 
SMERCONISH:  Michael, Michael Isikoff, I want to show you the Drudge Report headline for much of today, before the oil was plugged: “Gift to Dems.  Bush to Release Book for Election.  Leaks Begin in October.”
And here‘s the cover for the book, “Decision Points.” 
How much of a gift is it, would you think, for the Democrats that President Bush‘s memoir, his decision-making memoir, is going to come out, it would seem, right after the election, but the leaks, you know, will start before people go to vote?
ISIKOFF:  Well, not as big of a gift as it would have been if the election were being held a year and a year—or a year-and-a-half ago.
MARTIN:  Right. 
ISIKOFF:  I mean, the point is that I think the legacy of the Bush administration is mainly for the historians right now.  I don‘t think voters are going to be having that front and center as they decide who to vote for this fall. 
And, to a great extent, I think that the Obama folks, for the first year, used to love to blame, you know, all their problems on President Bush.  And even into this year, they did. 
I think we‘re hearing less of that, for the obvious reasons that, you know, President Obama has been in office for a year-and-a-half, and that only goes so far.  And, at some point, people perceive, you know, you‘re the guy in charge.  You‘ve been in charge for a year and a half.  And you got to take ownership of all these—all these central issues starting with the economy but also Afghanistan and Iraq as well.
SMERCONISH:  Jonathan Martin, quick comment from you as to how that will play into the midterm election.
MARTIN:  Sure, FDR ran against Hoover for years.  There were Hoover bills for years, into depression.  Times have changed.  The news cycle is so fast now.  People‘s attention spans are so short.  I think it‘s different in the sense that folks are focused much more on the here and now, and as much of this will seem as ancient history comparably.
So, look, I think it‘s going to be jobs and the economy, and much more about what‘s happening right now with the Democrats that are in office.  And anyway, for the Republicans that are in office that will be about, you know, George W. Bush and Karl Rove and sort of mid-2000s, if you will.
Hey, thank you, Michael Isikoff, and, Jonathan Martin, for your time.
MARTIN:  Thank you.
SMERCONISH:  Up next: Much more on this milestone day in the Gulf oil spill.  The oil has stopped flowing for now.  We hope it will hold.  How does this development change the politics of this story?
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
SMERCONISH:  Senator Arlen Specter didn‘t support Elena Kagan for solicitor general back when he was a Republican.  But he plans to back her for the United States Supreme Court.
In an op-ed in “USA Today,” Specter says Kagan did, quote, “just enough to win his vote.”  And he writes, “Her non-answers were all the more frustrating, given her past writings that the hearings were vacuous and lacked substance.  She accused Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer of stonewalling, and then she did the same thing, leaving senators to search for clues on her judicial philosophy.”
The big question is if she‘ll get more votes than President Obama‘s first nominee, Sonia Sotomayor‘s 68 senators who voted for her confirmation, and that included nine Republicans.
HARDBALL will be back in one moment.
SMERCONISH:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The oil spill in the Gulf has been capped, but will it hold?
Congressman Ed Markey is the chairman of the House Energy Independence Committee and a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Congressman, thank you for being here.  Please tell us what you know.
REP. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  Well, I only know what you know.  And that is that we all hope that this is going to be a success.  But this is a little bit like a bone marrow transplant operation right now.  We‘re in the early stages.  We don‘t know if it‘s going to completely take.
There‘s a well, a pipe, which is thousands of feet long that now has intense pressure being applied to it.  We know it‘s fragile.  We know it‘s been traumatized.  And we won‘t know, for some time, whether or not, in fact, it can contain all of the oil under these much higher pressures that are now being applied to it.  We all hope it is.
But, at this point, we‘re all praying that this is the end of the—of the nightmare.
SMERCONISH:  Given your understanding of the methodology that, as you say, we all hope was successful—is it something, Congressman, that could have been done prior to the 87th day?
MARKEY:  Well, obviously, if BP had a real plan in place to deal with the spill back 87 days ago, yes, there could have been.  But, obviously, they had no plan to deal the spill at this depth, anymore than any other oil company did.  So, unfortunately, BP has been forced to make it up all along.
We reached a stage here where in coordination with the federal government and top scientists in America, we‘ve reached a stage where, hopefully, this cap will work and the pipe will be able to withstand these pressures.  But, again, we‘re not going to know the answer for some time.  But, at the end of the day, BP, unfortunately, has taken all this time because BP did not stand for “be prepared.”
SMERCONISH:  I know that you were a catalyst of bringing into all of our living rooms that film footage, making sure that we had access to that camera.  What do you think the political ramifications of that were?  In other words, did having that imagery available to so many Americans on a daily basis, 24/7, have some blowback effect on the administration?
MARKEY:  Well, I think, first—the first impact was it forced BP to either stop lying or being grossly incompetent that the spill was not 1,000 barrels per day or 5,000 barrels per day.  It made it very obvious from that point on that trusting BP to make decisions alone was really not well-placed.  And so, I think the spill cam had the impact of bringing in top scientists, taking away discretion from BP, having the Obama administration and its top scientists and others in the private sector come in to help construct this plan, which hopefully will work.
And I think, if we are successful, we all have our fingers crossed that we will be successful, that the Obama administration will have been viewed as playing a constructive role in ensuring that BP finally shut off this well.
SMERCONISH:  And what‘s the prognosis, assuming that we have shut it down for offshore drilling, particularly in the Gulf?
MARKEY:  Well, I think that we first have to ensure that if we are going to drill in ultra-deep waters, that it is ultra-safe, and that any response to an accident is ultra-fast.  So, the first thing that will have to happen is that we pass legislation.  And that‘s the goal that we have in the Congress right now.  And in the next several weeks, I think that you will see that moving through the House and the Senate.
But until we put in those safety measures, I think that people are going to be very apprehensive.  I think one other thing, by the way, that is going to happen is that this will now give us an opportunity to measure the full amount of oil that was going out into the Gulf of Mexico.  If it is 60,000 barrels per day, times $43 per barrel per day, which is defined in the event of gross negligence, that could wind up being $6 billion to $8 billion fine on BP, and we‘ll finally be able to be—to be able to determine what the ultimate total damage was to the Gulf of Mexico.
SMERCONISH:  Thank you very much, Congressman Ed Markey.  We know you‘re in demand.
MARKEY:  Glad to be here.  Thank you.
SMERCONISH:  Eugene Robinson is, of course, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for “The Washington Post” and an MSNBC political analyst.
Eugene, speak to me about the politics of oil, specifically if, in fact, it has come to a close on day 87.  What‘s the fallout?
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, it‘s obviously a good thing for the Obama administration politically to get that thing shut off.  I mean, that has to be—they have to be looking at in the White House as a beautiful picture, maybe the most beautiful picture they‘ve seen in awhile of the underwater cam with no plume of oil coming out.  They‘ve waited a long time to see that and to see it.
You know, just step outside of the political calculation for one second, it‘s a wonderful day for the—for the environment and for the Gulf of Mexico, and for all of those people who have been out of work and maybe—maybe we can begin to get this episode—it‘s not over yet but maybe we can—maybe it‘s the end of—it‘s the end of the beginning at least.
SMERCONISH:  Yes.  The color combo that I‘m looking at on the monitor is a lot more pleasant to view than what we‘ve seen for the past—for the last two months or so.
What toll, Eugene, do you think that it took on the president assuming now that it comes to a close?  What damage has he sustained?  If you care to put it in a Katrina-like comparison, feel free to do so.
ROBINSON:  Right.  You know, I‘m not huge on the Katrina comparison but—but, certainly, it the White House could have been quicker and more proactive in getting on top of this—of this incident, on appearing, on showing that it was on top of this incident.  And I think—I hope that something the White House has learned.
You know, it‘s like if you have surgery and post-operative, the nurses say, be sure to take your pain medication.  You want to get on top of the pain rather than have the pain build and then it‘s hard to knock down again.  That‘s kind of what happened in terms of the political pain from the oil spill.
And if the administration I think had gotten out on day one or two or three or five or even 10, with a bigger show, I think it would have—the political damage and it still hasn‘t been calculated, but whatever damage there was, I think would have been less.
SMERCONISH:  You would think that in those 50 to 60 races that are truly competitive in the midterm elections, each of the candidates, that this is going to be one of those staples that you are asked in terms of are you supportive of offshore drilling.  What thoughts might you have, Gene, about the prognosis on that issue moving forward?
ROBINSON:  It‘s a complicated issue, but basically, I think the first principle is that “drill, baby, drill” can‘t be a Republican slogan.  People are going to be suspicious of offshore drilling after what they‘ve seen.
By the same token, you and I both know that offshore oil drilling is -
is really important to the economy, essentially of the Gulf Coast and it is part of President Obama‘s overall vision of the energy future of the United States.  So, I also think the position to take is not going to be “let‘s ban all offshore drilling.”  I think the safe position is going to be “Let‘s—yes, let‘s have a moratorium of some duration on deep water drilling.”

SMERCONISH:  Well, you would think—you would think that at a minimum, people would come to the conclusion that if depth was the problem in terms of fixing it, then you shouldn‘t be drilling at that depth.
ROBINSON:  Exactly.  I think the depth is going to be one variable
that that‘s going to depend, you know, that‘s going to determine what
positions people take.  Now, does this give real impetus to the president‘s
initiative to try to get an energy bill through and do people pay attention
pay more attention when politicians talk about the need to—

SMERCONISH:  Thank you.  Gene, I‘ve got to wrap.  I appreciate your time.  Thank you, sir.
When we return—
ROBINSON:  Great to be here, Smerc.
SMERCONISH:  All right.  I‘m going to have some thoughts about the case of the two New Black Panthers in my home town of Philadelphia.
SMERCONISH:  Finally, a controversy born in my hometown, Chris‘ hometown, of Philadelphia on Election Day 2008 that is back in the news this month.  It‘s the case of those two New Black Panthers allegedly intimidating voters, hurling racial epithets as one brandished a night stick outside a north Philadelphia polling place.
I‘m thinking their actions were more about television than turnout.  Now, don‘t get me wrong.  The Panthers‘ behavior cannot be tolerated, needs to be prosecuted.  The Justice Department should never have dropped that case—especially after the defendants ignored the charges all together.
But fact is: their choice of polling location, a public housing complex in a largely African-American section of the city tells me they wanted to cause a scene for the cameras more than anything else.
And here‘s how I get there: In November of 2008, there were 1,535 registered voters in the district in which this particular polling place is located, only 84 of them were Republicans.  In other words, this wasn‘t exactly an area where an African-American running for president would need much assistance, especially considering the near unanimity with which black voters nationwide cast their ballots for Barack Obama.
There‘s more: in 2000, the district registered just eight votes for George W. Bush compared to 382 for Al Gore.  In 2004, John Kerry bested Bush 501 to 24.
Hey, maybe it was that explosive GOP growth from eight votes to 24 votes that caused these knuckleheads to arrive in time for 2008 when Barack Obama ended up winning the district, 596 to 13.
Frankly, if they were set on voter intimidation, the Panthers should have sought out voters who actually needed intimidating—maybe some battleground in the Bellwether suburbs.  As it stands, the numbers made their self-described security efforts useless—so utterly senseless that it might actually be their best defense against allegations of voter intimidation.
That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.
Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.

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