Guest: Pat Roberts, Jay Rockefeller, Robin Wright, Dana Priest, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Deborah Orin, James Taranto
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: America‘s war of choice with Iraq was based on false intelligence, according to a scathing bipartisan report released today. We‘ll talk to the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. And a tragic milestone met today in that war. The multi-national death toll in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq surpassed 1,000 this week. Tonight: How will the gross intelligence failures affect our national security, our nation‘s honor and credibility and the November elections?
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews.
A blistering report by the Senate Intelligence Committee determined that the key assertions for going to war with Iraq were outright wrong. The report faulted the CIA for making false or overstated assessments on Iraq‘s WMD arsenal and said intelligence analysts failed to challenge the assumption that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The report also refuted the assertion, which continues to be made by Vice President Dick Cheney, that Iraq had long-established ties with al Qaeda.
Republican Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas is the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Democratic senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia is the vice chairman of the committee.
Let me ask you Mr. Chairman, would you have voted to authorize war with Iraq, had you this report in hand?
SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R-KS), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I think, under the current circumstances, that‘s very difficult, to go back over two years. Basically, I think the case would have been made differently had the president and those in the administration who made a very declarative and assertive case, known that the intelligence was flawed. They would have probably pointed out that he was a threat to regional stability. He did have missiles that exceeded a 150-kilometer restriction by the U.N., and the human rights violations. But clearly, a lot of members would have to think very hard about the assertation (ph) that he had the weapons of mass destruction and within one year could reconstitute a nuclear weapon—
I‘m sorry—within 10 years, he could have done that.
MATTHEWS: Do you think the people of Kansas, your constituency, Senator, would have supported a war for regional purposes, not for American purposes?
ROBERTS: Well, they did in Kosovo and they did in Bosnia. And there
· you know, President Clinton said we should have in regards to Rwanda.
You can go back to Cambodia. I don‘t know if that‘s the case. I think it would have been handled differently. It would have been presented differently. And probably the military action or the military plan would have been different, as well.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask Senator Rockefeller the same set of questions. Do you believe you would have voted for the war? Do you believe—to authorize the war. Do you believe a majority of the senators would have, given the information you‘ve worked out today in a bipartisan fashion?
SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D-WV), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE VICE CHAIRMAN: I
said a number of months ago, Chris, that based upon what I know today, I definitely would not have voted for the resolution. And I don‘t think it would have passed the Senate because if you put forward that weapons of mass destruction are—and links between al Qaeda and terrorism, or did, you know, Saddam have anything to do with the 9/11 catastrophe—yes, the human rights are very, very important and regional stability is very, very important. But the case was made to the president in the State of the Union—to the American people, even more to the Congress, that we are about to get attacked and they have the weapons to do so. And they did not. You know, it wasn‘t a question of connecting the dots. There weren‘t any dots.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about a more visceral—a gut question. As you both know because you represent states of regular people, West Virginia and Kansas, that a lot of people that supported the war with Iraq did so in a kind of payback attitude. They hit us on 9/11, we‘ll hit them back so they don‘t hit us again. Does it affect the vote—your own political assessment about whether we—people would have supported this war or not if they had known there was no connection between al Qaeda—no connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11? Mr. Chairman?
ROBERTS: Well, I don‘t—I don‘t—I think at one time, there was an assertion that there was a possible connection in regards to al Qaeda and the attacks on 9/11 and the terrorist activities within Iraq. Certainly, there were contacts. Certainly, Mr. Zarqawi was in Baghdad. Certainly, there might have been training. But in terms of operational planning, we don‘t find that. That‘s the one section that had a more reasonable tone to it because of the repeated questioning and the caveats that were brought forth. But yes, I think—I think there was a feeling in Kansas that after 9/11, we had to lean forward, we had to protect our national security. And there was speculation that Saddam Hussein was connected to 9/11. I don‘t think there‘s any question about that.
MATTHEWS: Senator Rockefeller, why do 40 percent of the American people still believe that Saddam Hussein had a hand in attacking us on 9/11?
ROCKEFELLER: Because I think the case was made so powerfully by the
political community, not the intelligence community, which discounted that
· you know, this Mohammed Atta thing, which is what you‘re referring to, that he met with an Iraqi agent in Prague. And that has been disproven. The vice president may say it‘s still a matter of conjecture, but it isn‘t.
ROCKEFELLER: I think they did feel a sense of payback. And I‘m thinking every time I go home, and I know every time Chairman Roberts goes home, we meet with the families or the soldiers who‘ve returned, Guard, reserve, regular, and are incredibly proud of what they‘ve done. But I have to ask myself after each of those meetings, Did we do right by them?
MATTHEWS: Right. I‘m thinking of all the country music we all hear in every jukebox in America and every radio station. It‘s all about, remember how you felt, all about that gut kind of payback feeling. I hear it. I think it‘s still out there. That‘s just my assessment.
Let‘s talk about the vice president...
ROBERTS: Wait a minute. Let‘s don‘t—let‘s don‘t knock, you know, country music, Chris. That‘s getting a little bit too...
MATTHEWS: Well, I think sometimes...
MATTHEWS: ... country music lyrics aren‘t as true as the music.
Anyway, here‘s the vice president, Cheney, and what he said about Saddam Hussein and that connection just a few weeks ago. Let‘s take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - JULY 1, 2004)
RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Saddam‘s regime also had long-established ties with al Qaeda. These ties included senior level contacts going back a decade. In the early 1990s, Saddam had sent a brigadier general in the Iraqi intelligence service to Sudan to train al Qaeda in bomb making and document forgery. After the 1993 World Trade Center attack, Iraq gave sanctuary to one of the bombers, Abdul Rahman Yassin. Later, senior al Qaeda associate Abu Musab al Zarqawi took sanctuary in Baghdad after coalition forces drove him out of Afghanistan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Senator Rockefeller, that statement by the vice president was made within this month, just a week ago. Isn‘t that one of the reasons people still continue to believe that Saddam had something to do with 9/11? He keeps saying it, in so many words.
ROCKEFELLER: And you know, just to pick on Zarqawi having stopped by Baghdad—well, yes, he stopped by Baghdad because he had his leg badly wounded in Afghanistan, and they repaired it there. Then he went on up to the Kurdish territory, where Saddam had no control whatsoever. I mean, to try and establish a link between al Qaeda or Zarqawi and, you know, Saddam Hussein, it just doesn‘t make any sense. The intelligence community rejected it. The vice president may hold onto that theory. I think he‘s wrong.
MATTHEWS: Let me to go Mr. Chairman, Senator Roberts. Let me ask you the tough question here. The CIA community and the whole intelligence community takes a big, perhaps deserved, whack from your bipartisan report today. Did you come across any indication or hard evidence that some of the intel that went through the CIA system was basically put there by people in this government supporting the war? In other words, they were led to intelligence which was faulty. It‘s the old thing we used to say on Capitol Hill: Garbage in, garbage out. Were there people planting garbage for the CIA to pick up?
ROBERTS: No. I think this was an assumption train that started way early. I think there was a layering effect. I think it was basically group think. I might think that if it wasn‘t for the fact that this was a global intelligence failure with all of the intelligence agencies all throughout the world, not only the Brits but the Israelis and the Russians...
ROBERTS: ... even the French. I can see why that happened because after 1998, the inspectors left. The assumption was that Saddam Hussein had the capability to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction. On that assumption, it became an assumption train. David Kay said, when he came back to the Congress, and the headline said, We got it wrong, he also pointed out that Iraq had become sort of a wild, wild East, or a Grand Central Station in regards to WMD. And in some cases, it was even more dangerous, if, in fact, that Saddam had control.
There‘s one other thing...
ROBERTS: You know, one of the things I want to mention in this—in this business on the vote. I stood on a hill at Hillah in Iraq with 18,000 dead being basically unearthed one by one and a gravesite the size of a football field. Five hundred thousand people died in regards—at the hands of Saddam Hussein.
ROBERTS: So I think that has to be factored in, at least to some degree.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Senator Rockefeller, about the fact we were paying the head of the Iraqi National Congress, a major source for a lot of this intel that turned out to be garbage, $4 million a year to give us the garbage. Isn‘t that the problem? You pay a guy to find a reason for war, he meets your demand, you got a reason for it, and then you attack him for giving you garbage.
ROCKEFELLER: Well, and particularly if it‘s the garbage that you want to hear...
ROCKEFELLER: ... because it‘s the garbage that you‘re predisposed to believe. And you‘re getting it from a guy who wants to run the government that you—when you overrun Iraq, which we have not, and established stability...
ROCKEFELLER: ... he‘ll be the head of the government.
MATTHEWS: The same question to you, Senator. I only have a minute—a couple seconds.
MATTHEWS: Is there any indication in your research and digging into this, did anyone at the Defense Department or anywhere else in this government fed some of this bad intel back through our intelligence networks?
ROBERTS: One of the allegations is that there was a planning cell within DoD under the direction of Assistant Secretary Feith that somehow had a connection with the Iraqi National Congress. Remember, the Congress passed that bill setting up the INC and the support to him. But if you read our report—and I urge you to read the report. It‘s a long report. It‘s a very difficult one to read. But the input from the INC, and more especially from Chalabi, is not significant. And that‘s not only in regard to links to terrorism, but more especially with WMD.
MATTHEWS: But any hand by any U.S. policy maker in developing bad intel? Was there any, Mr. Chairman?
ROBERTS: In my view, no.
MATTHEWS: Senator Rockefeller?
ROCKEFELLER: In my...
MATTHEWS: Andy bad—any role by U.S. policy makers at the Defense Department or anywhere else in helping to develop bad intel that led us to war?
ROCKEFELLER: I believe—and we‘ll discover more of this in the second phase, which I wish had started a year ago...
MATTHEWS: Well, I hope it stops by election day. It might be useful to the voters. OK, thank you very much, Senator Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Jay Rockefeller, ranking Democrat on that committee.
Up next: political fallout from the Senate Intelligence Committee‘s report with “The Washington Post‘s” Dana Priest. And later, John Kerry‘s star-studded gala in New York City last night has ignited a little bit of a political debate about bad language and bad values.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
How damaging is the Senate Intelligence Committee‘s report to our country‘s credibility? Dana Priest is the national security correspondent for “The Washington Post,” and Robin Wright is the diplomatic reporter for “The Washington Post.”
Let me go to the first question, right to the point. The United States in the world today has a lot of enemies we didn‘t have, say, a couple years ago, at least people that don‘t like us as much. I was just over in Africa and I was over in Europe. But we can live with that. The question is, is it justified? Is our intelligence breakdown that led us into war enough of a reason for other countries to suspect our intelligence?
ROBIN WRIGHT, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: I think that some of the senators‘ comments are very true, that this report is—and the mistakes we made in basing on it faulty intelligence in the run-up to invading Iraq will stick with us for a generation. It will be very difficult for the United States to take military action against another country, short of major acts of aggression by other countries, for years to come.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to—let me go to Dana. You know, if the real reason for going to war with Iraq was WMD, wouldn‘t we have made a special effort to get that right? I‘m suggesting, of course, there were other reasons to go to war with Iraq, and that‘s why they didn‘t care if the facts were that correct.
DANA PRIEST, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Well, not only didn‘t they try, but they had—as you say, they had 10 years in which they put Iraq right at the top of the enemies list. And then, as the report said, since 1998, they had not one single human intelligence source of their own in Iraq, and they relied on defectors, who, as we know, are partial. And they didn‘t vet them very well. They didn‘t vet and test their assumptions against each other, which is such a basic part of...
PRIEST: ... the CIA‘s analytical tradecraft.
MATTHEWS: Especially if we‘re paying them—the hawks got a bill passed through Congress that gives them $4 million a year—this is the Iraqi National Congress—to justify a war with Iraq.
PRIEST: Well, one of the things that—you just brought up, What‘S our credibility? One of the reasons I think the Democrats signed on unanimously to this report is that they see the fundamental problems here, and they will not go away. And we cannot help to thwart another 9/11 if the problems persist. And so even though Democrats did not get what they want, they didn‘t get a look at the administration‘s use of intelligence, they all signed on nonetheless.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about diplomacy in the world. I mean hard diplomacy in the world, whether we‘re going to have friends if we have another 9/11. Is anybody going to help us find the bad guys? And the question is, if there were no WMD—and apparently, this report is very clear on that subject—I haven‘t read every word of it, I just read the wire reports today. But apparently, it says there were no WMD. There was no nuclear program in the works. Therefore, what was our—What was our legal international justification for going to war, if it wasn‘t for WMD?
WRIGHT: Well, Saddam Hussein was in violation of a series of U.N. resolutions, ironically, all on weapons of mass destruction.
MATTHEWS: But if he wasn‘t in violation, were we in violation of world law by going to war with him?
WRIGHT: Well, he was in violation of failing to turn over the evidence of what happened to a lot of the equipment that was acquired to make those weapons of mass destruction. The chemical...
MATTHEWS: And that‘s a justification for war?
WRIGHT: No, I‘m telling you that‘s...
WRIGHT: That‘s what the argument will be.
MATTHEWS: I‘m getting—what I‘m getting to the heart of here is the central question. If we were wrong, as a country and a people, on the WMD reason to go to war, were we not breaking the law ourselves? Were we not doing something bad, literally bad in the world, to go to war with a country without a justification?
PRIEST: No. Bush‘s preemption doctrine is not based on waiting to finding the clear-cut evidence, and that‘s...
MATTHEWS: Yes, but there‘s no such thing as a doctrine. That‘s something that his speech writers wrote and he signed on and delivered. But I‘m talking about the world. In the world we have to live with—the Brits, the French, the Germans, the Chinese, the Japanese—in that world, is there any justification for going to war, except that this guy had WMD?
PRIEST: Well, yes. I think the administration‘s case will still be, even without the WMD, which they can now blame almost entirely on the CIA and the intelligence community, is the terrorism link, which the report said was not as strong as the administration claimed it to be. However, there were some contacts. And the administration, I believe, will argue that they didn‘t need a clearer set of contacts, that some contacts in the context...
PRIEST: ... of 9/11 were enough.
MATTHEWS: OK, I‘m running out of reasons. We now know there was no connection, according to this report, between 9/11 and Iraq, right? No connection, right? Dana?
MATTHEWS: Right. We now know...
PRIEST: We‘ve known that all along.
MATTHEWS: ... there‘s no WMD. There‘s no nuclear program in the works, right?
MATTHEWS: Right, Dana?
PRIEST: Now we know that.
MATTHEWS: OK. We‘re running out of reasons now. We‘re getting down to the humanitarian, which to me—I can go into Zimbabwe tomorrow and kill everybody in the government and probably be morally justified, I suppose, by some sort of straining use of this preemptive doctrine. Anybody in the world who‘s bad, we go in and kill. Is that the philosophy now? Because if it—if you don‘t need...
WRIGHT: I think that‘s their third choice for...
MATTHEWS: ... WMD, you don‘t need justification in terms of payback.
All you need is, they‘re not humanitarian.
PRIEST: Well, you heard Senator Roberts turn to that, and I do think that that has increasingly crept into their rhetoric, that it was a humanitarian effort against the bad guy, the ultimate bad guy, and...
MATTHEWS: OK, I‘ve got to ask you—Dana, one thing in your—maybe I‘m ahead of your reporting here, but is there any evidence—I asked it of the senators, -- that anyone in the United States government, the Defense Department, civilian or anything else who had anything to do with help cooking up the bad intel? Not just the CIA getting bad garbage from overseas from the INC or the Iraqi exiles, did anybody in our government play a role in setting up the Iraqi people as sources for bad information?
PRIEST: No evidence yet, but they‘re not done on that question.
WRIGHT: And there is some evidence, tragically, that there was one small intelligence agency based in the State Department which was very skeptical. A lot of the claims on weapons of mass destruction. And that evidence was thrown aside, basically.
MATTHEWS: By who?
WRIGHT: Totally ignored. Oh, all the way up the chain of command.
MATTHEWS: John Bolton?
MATTHEWS: Who at the State Department killed it?
WRIGHT: By those at the State Department, as well as up the intelligence chain.
MATTHEWS: You think Powell may have had a hand in smothering information that would have been exculpatory and would have argued against going to war?
WRIGHT: I think there are those at the State Department...
WRIGHT: ... who didn‘t make a strong enough case—case.
MATTHEWS: Dana Priest of “The Washington Post,” once again, thank you very much for coming on the program.
PRIEST: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Robin Wright‘s going to come back with us. And later, “The New York Post‘s” Deborah Orin‘s going to join us, as well as “The Nation‘s” Katrina Vanden Heuvel, with their reactions to last night‘s Kerry-Edwards celebrity fund-raiser up in the Big Apple and the debate over values it has once again triggered.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Robin Wright, diplomatic correspondent with “The Washington Post.” And I‘ve been covering your stuff for years. You do know the world really well.
You know, a lot of the country, this country that‘s very patriotic, was talking about “freedom fries” and we were making fun of French fries and all kinds of things, were very much anti-the French because they didn‘t go along with us. But if you listened to the debate we fought, we didn‘t say we‘re going to go get Saddam because he‘s a bad guy. We said to the French and the Germans and the Russians, who didn‘t go along with us, We‘re going to get this guy because he has weapons he can use against the world. They were right—maybe for the wrong reasons. Maybe they‘re bad people, and we‘re good people. But the facts that we‘re putting out on table today in a bipartisan fashion from the Senate Intelligence Committee is they were right and we‘re wrong.
WRIGHT: The issue at the United Nations, when we were willing to walk away, was whether to allow the weapons inspectors to continue their hunt and find out whether Saddam Hussein had any residual chemical, biological or nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles. The rest of the world—important members of the Security Council, important allies—wanted to give the weapons inspectors that one last chance.
WRIGHT: And as a result, I think, was a backlash against the United States because the coalition we assembled is...
WRIGHT: ... in some ways—it‘s not laughable, but it‘s just very small.
MATTHEWS: Remember Richard Nixon once said, I gave them the sword and they thrust it in with relish. We have given Villepin, the former foreign minister of France, we have given Jacques Chirac, the president of France, we‘ve given Schroeder, who doesn‘t like us much, certainly doesn‘t act like it—we‘ve given them sword now. They can say in their local political realities over there, you can tell the press, We were right, they were wrong.
WRIGHT: And this is going to make it very difficult for any major foreign policy initiative that Bush undertakes—the Bush administration undertakes for the foreseeable future.
MATTHEWS: Why doesn‘t Colin Powell wrest some authority from his office? Why did he become secretary of state if he wasn‘t going to fight for this kind of fact? Why did he buckle?
WRIGHT: I think you probably have to ask Colin Powell. But if I, having covered him for a long time, were to project, I suspect this is a guy who‘s a team player. He grew up in the military. He‘s very loyal to many of those in who are this administration because they gave him an opportunity during the Reagan administration. Cheney was...
MATTHEWS: But the secretary of state is such a pronouncedly important position in our government. He‘s the man that receives the president‘s resignation, if he quits. He‘s big. He‘s big in our Constitution.
WRIGHT: But remember, he‘s also a lifelong soldier. And would he...
WRIGHT: Does he want to walk away from the troops who are fighting a good battle on behalf of the United States? I think that would have been a very tough thing for him to have done.
MATTHEWS: But they weren‘t fighting until he said OK. If he hadn‘t said uncle, we probably wouldn‘t have—well, we would have gone to war anyway, probably.
WRIGHT: We would have gone to war.
MATTHEWS: But how‘s he doing in the world today, as the guy who went along with the war that has now been proven to be unjustified, under the terms that we went to the rest of the world with? There‘s lots of reasons to go after Saddam Hussein. He‘s a danger to Israel, danger to the Saudis, danger to all those countries over there. But we never made that case. We made the case he was a danger to the world because of his weapons of mass destruction. And that case is now broken by our own bipartisan committee, led by Republicans tonight.
WRIGHT: I think he‘s still, as an individual, very popular, almost in every corner of the world. But the fact is, he also was the face of the administration at the United Nations and making the case on weapons of mass destruction. And while it was a very dramatic presentation, there wasn‘t a lot of substance, particularly when you look back and recognize that on the mobile weapons, mobile labs for...
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well...
WRIGHT: ... making chemical and biological weapon...
MATTHEWS: In every dictionary, in every—what I should say—every encyclopedia in the world now to be written, it‘ll say the United States went to war for bogus reasons. It‘ll say that.
Anyway, thank you, Robin Wright.
Up next: the battle for the White House, as the war over values heats up again because of what some Hollywood people said last night in New York. Here we go again. I thought the Democrats were going to talk about the economy. They‘re trash talking again. More about that when we get right back.
MATTHEWS: This half-hour on HARDBALL, the Kerry-Edwards team rolled out some celebrity big guns last night. But the Bush-Cheney camp says it got the big ammo out of it. The debate over values and which ticket matches mainstream America.
But, first, the latest headlines right now.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
In the face of a record Democratic fund-raising gala last night, the Bush campaign may have had reason to feel nervous about the Democratic showing. But that anxiety quickly turn to giddiness when the Republicans learned they had received the gift as well.
HARDBALL election correspondent David Shuster reports.
DAVID SHUSTER, NBC ELECTION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On a day when the Bush campaign focused on values...
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is an honor to be here in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. Thanks for coming out to say hello.
SHUSTER: ... the Republicans seemed to value the most the ammunition handed to them by the Democrats.
DAVE MATTHEWS, MUSICIAN: It is an extreme honor for me to introduce the next president and vice president of the United States.
SHUSTER: At a star-studded fund-raising concert Thursday night in New York, comedian Whoopi Goldberg made a lewd joke about the president‘s last name. Other entertainers referred to White House officials as liars, thugs, and killers. And Senator Kerry, who played guitar on stage, thanked:
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Every performer tonight in their own way, either verbally or through their music, through their lyrics, have conveyed to you the heart and soul of our country.
SHUSTER: The Bush campaign condemned the remarks and called on Kerry to release the video of the entertainment so Americans could judge for themselves. The Democrats said Republicans were trying to create a smokescreen and Kerry tried to put the focus back on the president.
KERRY: Values are not just something you throw out in politics and you say, oh, I got better values than this person. Value are something you live.
SHUSTER: But, by late Friday morning, the Kerry campaign felt compelled to issue this statement—quote—“We do not approve of some of the remarks made last night. They are at odds with the views of Senators Kerry and Edwards.”
Meanwhile, congressional Republicans jumped into the fray with a separate effort to paint the Democrats as outside the mainstream. GOP lawmakers took up a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage.
All of this nearly overshadowed some of the other campaign developments. The president hit the trail today with daughter, Jenna, a daughter many Americans know because of episodes a few years ago involving underage drinking. Comedians, however, are taking aim at the Kerry-Edwards touchy-feely moments.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): You are so beautiful to me.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: And they had every hug we‘ve had in the last few days and every pat and every arm in arm. And I just want you to know, I thought we made a great couple, ladies and gentlemen.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
SHUSTER: And that kind of light response is evidently absent this week at the Kerry-Gephardt “New York Post.” At the end of a Hillary Clinton news conference in Washington, a photographer grabbed a “Post” reporter for allegedly blocking the photographer‘s shot. The reporter made it clear, this is a sensitive time.
(on camera): By the way, those two were separated and were not hurt. But it does underscore that this has been a rough-and-tumble political week. And the answers about the candidates and what the voters value is still four months away.
I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Katrina Vanden Heuvel is the editor of “The Nation” magazine. And Deborah Orin is the Washington bureau chief of “The New York Post.” Deborah has been covering the Kerry-Edwards campaign this week and attended last night‘s fund-raising gala in New York.
Deborah, what do you think of that event last night.
DEBORAH ORIN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “THE NEW YORK POST”: I think the Kerry campaign probably wishes it had never happened.
MATTHEWS: They would rather not have the $7 million?
ORIN: Well, you know, they‘re rolling in money. And I don‘t think they needed this event to bring in $7 million. And I don‘t think they need a headache with stories about the—their candidate applauding jokes that paint President Bush as a killer and Whoopi Goldberg turning the president‘s name into a crude sexual double entendre.
Let me go to Katrina Vanden Heuvel.
Why is it that the Hollywood folks, who are very bright people, don‘t get it, that this campaign is about middle America, not the left and the right coast?
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, EDITOR, “THE NATION”: Come on, lighten up.
Whoopi Goldberg isn‘t going to be secretary of state, last I heard.
This is about the frame of news coverage, Chris. Why aren‘t we talking about...
MATTHEWS: We‘ll get to it.
VANDEN HEUVEL: ... the fact the death toll has surpassed 1,000 in Iraq?
MATTHEWS: I just want to ask why the cultural issue is raised, which is the weakest issue for Democrats. Why do they raise the cultural issue on their own time? That‘s all I‘m asking.
VANDEN HEUVEL: Well, it was a fund-raiser, Chris. If you go to a Bush-Cheney fund-raiser, it has its own culture. And people in Hollywood are a part of this country. They have a right to say what they‘re saying.
And I would bet a lot of what was said last night is more in synch with what people are saying around kitchen tables in this country than what is being said, for example, by—what about the story of Dick Cheney on the floor of the Senate? That got a little less attention. So I think with we should lighten up.
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s go back and get very serious and dark here for “TIME” magazine. The latest numbers just came out. The trial lawyer apparently helps John Edwards. Being a trial lawyer works in the polls. A majority of people like that idea. A majority of the people don‘t like the Halliburton connection of the vice president.
And overall, by a plurality, at least, not a majority, people prefer to see, if it does come to that, Edwards as president, rather than Cheney.
What do you make of that, Deborah? After all these years of experience, Cheney loses to new kid on the block on the issue of who should be president if it comes to that.
ORIN: I don‘t make much of it because I think all the polling data shows—first of all, I‘m not sure that will hold up very long. And second of all, all the polling data shows that the vote is going to be primarily on president.
I do want to go back to something Katrina said before about lighten up. You know, if that were true, then the Kerry campaign would be willing to release this videotape. They wouldn‘t be trying to hide it. They know perfectly well that, if this videotape gets out, that it is going to be a real problem for them. Ironically, Whoopi Goldberg‘s jokes are so vulgar that probably most TV stations couldn‘t even air them because they would run into the Howard Stern rule.
VANDEN HEUVEL: Deborah, if you want to do sex, lies and videotape, I think far more serious for the future of this country, let‘s release Dick Cheney‘s transcripts of the energy commission he chaired.
Let‘s—if you want to have dueling videos, it seems to me, in terms of values and morality, what Dick Cheney did in that energy commission is far more relevant than what Whoopi Goldberg, Paul Newman, John Mellencamp did at a fund-raiser.
ORIN: The reality is, the Supreme Court has bounced that issue out at the moment. So you‘re sort of beating a dead horse there.
ORIN: I think the point that Chris raised—yes, but I think the point that Chris raised is correct.
This campaign is going to be won or lost in areas that do not sympathize with Whoopi Goldberg‘s view of the world. They may laugh at her as a comedian, but they don‘t...
VANDEN HEUVEL: She‘s a comedian.
ORIN: But they don‘t—you don‘t talk about the president of the
United States that way, even if you hate it. I mean, a lot of people who -
· I can remember going out in 1996 on the campaign trail with Bill Clinton.
People who hated Bill Clinton brought their little kids to see Bill Clinton because they wanted them to see Clinton as the president. The presidency is a revered institution. You don‘t talk about it that way.
I mean, maybe in Hollywood you do, but you‘re not going to win middle America using Hollywood trash talk.
VANDEN HEUVEL: Deborah, you‘re mixing apples and oranges. There‘s artistic license. Comedians have in this country have always used politicians for their material.
But it seems to me that this presidency, this administration has done more to denigrate the role and institution of the presidency than anything Whoopi Goldberg says on that stage. So, to me, that is far more relevant.
MATTHEWS: But, why if—we‘re talking politics here on HARDBALL, Katrina. If it is not important, then why did the Kerry-Edwards campaign issue a statement today, a public statement disassociating the candidates with the behavior of the Hollywood folk last night in New York? Why would they go to the trouble if it didn‘t matter? You say it doesn‘t matter. They think it matters.
VANDEN HEUVEL: I don‘t think it matters. And you know what? Too often in this country, liberals, progressives, don‘t take their own side in an argument.
They should stand up and say, listen, these were comedians. These
were people like Paul Newman, one of the most decent Americans in this
country, who are talking about, why should—Paul Newman said, why should
I get these tax cuts? I‘m a wealthy man. It should go to people
MATTHEWS: But he wasn‘t—no one accused Paul Newman of trash talk or blue material, did they?
VANDEN HEUVEL: All right, but he was part of the evening.
All I‘m saying is, they should be—they should say, this was a fund-raiser. Let‘s move on. Let‘s go to the issues in this country that matter.
VANDEN HEUVEL: Not what Whoopi Goldberg said on a stage in New York City. I‘m sorry.
MATTHEWS: I‘m with Deborah. And I think this campaign—I think this campaign should be about economics and fairness and all those good issues. It should be about the war and whether we should have fought it.
VANDEN HEUVEL: Yes. Absolutely.
MATTHEWS: It should not be about trash talk. So the Hollywood folk ought to stop doing it.
Anyway, let‘s talk—we‘re going to come back and talk about something dead serious. And that is this political report that came out today, this report from the Senate, a bipartisan, unanimous decision by the Senate Intelligence Committee about Iraq‘s weapons of mass destruction, which don‘t exist.
Then, later, how does George W. Bush‘s leadership rank among U.S. presidents? Very interesting. How Bill Clinton does or doesn‘t do on this list is damn interesting, and how Ronald Reagan does on this list—fascinating list of the great American presidents. We‘re going to ask the editor of a new book on the best and the worst in the White House.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
ANNOUNCER: Follow all the action in the battle for the White House. Sign up for our free daily e-mail. Just log on to our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
MATTHEWS: Ahead on HARDBALL, a new book rates the leadership of America‘s 43 presidents. Where does President Bush rank? What about President Reagan and President Clinton? Let‘s catch the listings.
HARDBALL back in a minute.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with “The Nation” magazine‘s Katrina Vanden Vanden Heuvel and “The New York Post”‘s Deborah Orin.
Let me ask you first of all, Katrina, what do you make of this report? And I guess it has come out today and it‘s going to be headlines tomorrow that there were no WMD in evidence. The CIA never found any. The committee—the report of the CIA that went to the president and the vice president and Defense Department wasn‘t backed up by facts. They weren‘t working on a nuclear program. They didn‘t have a biological and chemical program. It was all bogus.
VANDEN HEUVEL: I think this report, Chris—two things. One, I think it is a blatant attempt to absolve the White House of responsibility for manipulating and misusing intelligence in the run-up to war.
I also want to ask a question. Our Washington editor, David Corn, asked at the briefing today, why is it that the portion of this report that is going to deal with the White House‘s role in intelligence use and manipulation is coming out after the November elections?
MATTHEWS: Well, why do you think?
VANDEN HEUVEL: Because I think what this report does today raises a lot of unanswered questions, doesn‘t resolve them. It doesn‘t address the politicization of intelligence, why Dick Cheney was going to the CIA to pressure analysts there, what some key analysts in the State Department called faith-based intelligence, the pressure, the climate this administration created because they were using evidence really to support their determination to go to war.
What about the Office of Special Operations, Chris, run by the neocons like Doug Feith? Those institutions were set up to bypass the CIA because they wanted to bring together intelligence that would support. There were too many instances in which this administration failed to ask the tough questions, to challenge the evidence, because there was a determination, as we learn with so many books coming out, so many reporters now coming forward with reporting that one wishes had been done before the run-up to war, raising tough questions.
ORIN: You know...
MATTHEWS: Go ahead, Deborah.
ORIN: Well, to me, what this report backs up above all is something in the report by Bob Woodward, who described the president as saying to George Tenet, the CIA director, wait a minute, it doesn‘t look to me like you have that much evidence of weapons of mass destruction, despite everything I‘m hearing. And Tenet then says to him, it‘s a slam dunk. And I don‘t think anybody is going to portray Bob Woodward as some kind of sycophant for the Bush White House.
I think one of the things that bothers me about this whole flap is, we‘re rushing to a lot of conclusions. I don‘t know that we really know there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We have to remember, people died in Halabja, thousands of them, because Saddam Hussein had and used weapons of mass destruction. And I would like to—everybody, we have attention-deficit disorder in this country.
If we can‘t find something instantly, it isn‘t there. I would like to remind everybody—there‘s a line that I found on my favorite blog, InstaPundit, a long time ago, about, remember the anthrax attacks in America, which happened right after September 11?
ORIN: And he had this sort of wry comment. Hey, we‘ve controlled the country, meaning the United States, for the entire time, and we still haven‘t found the source of that anthrax.
VANDEN HEUVEL: But, Deborah, it was about the imminent danger posed by Iraq.
ORIN: No, Katrina, it was not.
VANDEN HEUVEL: There were many people—my own magazine, Jonathan Schell, who wrote some of the most compelling articles against the war, he didn‘t know if there were weapons of mass destruction. But this administration said several things, that we were in imminent danger.
VANDEN HEUVEL: They talked about nuclear weapons.
ORIN: Katrina, that is dead, dead wrong.
MATTHEWS: OK, Deborah, first.
ORIN: ... defender of this administration, but it‘s wrong. This administration explicitly said, we are not in imminent danger. We cannot afford to wait until we are in imminent danger.
And why people like your magazine keep repeating this, which is fraudulent—it‘s just not true. There‘s a legitimate debate over whether there was justification for war. But to repeat a falsehood, the president never said we were in imminent danger. He said exactly the opposite.
VANDEN HEUVEL: Dick Cheney...
ORIN: He said, we cannot afford to wait until we‘re in imminent danger.
MATTHEWS: But am I wrong, ladies? Let me ask you both, to check a fact here. The report today said that Saddam Hussein is not, was not before the war, working on a nuclear program. If he wasn‘t working on a nuclear program, Deborah, how can you argue that the danger was rising if we didn‘t act?
ORIN: You know, I repeat what I said before, Chris. We do not have the full story. We just don‘t.
VANDEN HEUVEL: Part of the reason is because this administration
ORIN: This is ridiculous. We have Charles Duelfer, the weapons inspector, former U.N. inspector, who is there now, saying over the past few weeks that we found 20 instances of sarin nerve gas. We have radioactive material being taken out.
We do know—and this is the reality—that, if we had not gone to war, that the weapons inspectors from the U.N. would have found nothing, that the sanctions would have been lifted, and that Saddam Hussein would have had the money again to do exactly what he was doing before. He did have nuclear weapons. That he was trying to get nuclear weapons at one point is indisputable. He had chemical and biological weapons. He would have done it again.
VANDEN HEUVEL: Deborah, he had—he used the chemical and biological weapons at a moment when this country was in alliance with Iraq. Donald Rumsfeld was sent over there to support Hussein.
But to argue that this administration, Dick Cheney and Condi Rice
precisely on different talk shows did not make the case that we faced
imminent danger from a regime that was in the process of reconstituting
nuclear programs, is just wrong. And part of the intelligence report that
we need to understand is how defectors from Iraq like Ahmad Chalabi and
others misled the CIA, misled others. And their evidence was taken hook,
line and sinker. It was a faith-based policy that has led to
MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask the bottom line.
Deborah, do you think we should have gone to war with Iraq if they never had and never intended to have a weapon of mass destruction?
ORIN: I think one of the fundamental...
MATTHEWS: No, should we have gone to war with them if they never had and didn‘t intend to have a weapon of mass destruction? Is that really the issue here? I just want to know.
ORIN: I think that is the issue here. And...
MATTHEWS: Should—in other words, that‘s why we went to war, because we thought they had weapons of mass destruction or were getting them. Is that why we went to war?
ORIN: I think the administration made a big mistake in making that the prime case. I think they would have done better to make it on humanitarian grounds.
MATTHEWS: In other words, you believe we should have gone to war with Iraq over humanitarian issues?
ORIN: I think a lot of people do, yes.
ORIN: I think, when you look at the Iraqis today vs. what life was
like under Saddam Hussein
MATTHEWS: Well, we keep moving the ball here, Deborah. We keep moving the ball.
MATTHEWS: We‘ll be right back. We‘ll be back.
And thank, Deborah Orin. Thank you, Katrina Vanden Heuvel.
Coming up, how does President Bush‘s leadership stack up against past presidents? We‘ll ask James Taranto of “The Wall Street Journal.”
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
James Taranto of “The Wall Street Journal” and OpinionJournal.com has co-edited a new book on U.S. presidents titled “Presidential Leadership:
Rating the Best and the Worst in the White House.”
James, congratulations on this book. I love this stuff. Let‘s look at your list here. I‘m impressed by the fact that it‘s what I thought it would be. Let‘s take a look at where some of the more well-known presidents rank on your list.
The top three great presidents are—and no dispute here, I think, even from the most conservative or most liberal person—George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt. Now, you have got another list here between four and 11 which is interesting. You had Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Andrew Jackson, Harry Truman—everybody agrees with that, I think—Ronald Reagan, Dwight Eisenhower, James Polk, Woodrow Wilson.
Did you have this list put together to put Reagan up at the near great before his death?
JAMES TARANTO, EDITOR, “PRESIDENTIAL LEADERSHIP”: Well, sort of.
We did the survey in 2000 of 78 scholars. And we balanced the survey between liberals and conservatives. Most of these surveys that have been done by guys like Arthur Schlesinger have only liberals.
MATTHEWS: I agree with that.
TARANTO: So Reagan in Schlesinger‘s 1996 survey finished 25, which put him in the low-average category. Four of the people Schlesinger‘s survey said Reagan was a failure, which is hard to believe anyone could think that. Maybe you don‘t think as highly as some of us do.
MATTHEWS: No, I think—in fact, I‘m not an expert in this, like you. I haven‘t done this work, this research. But let me ask you a question.
As time goes on, isn‘t there a coalescing of opinion across party lines about who was great and who was not?
TARANTO: Yes, absolutely.
And you look at the two, No. 2 and No. 3 on the list, Abraham Lincoln and FDR. They were tremendously controversial when they were presidents. Lincoln faced a country that was literally divided. FDR was—he was very popular in terms of his vote margins, but Republicans hated him as much as Democrats hate George W. Bush today.
MATTHEWS: Are you saying that Abraham Lincoln would not have done well among the red states?
TARANTO: That‘s right, among some of them.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, I think all of them, except the—well, anyway, not all of them.
Let me ask you about your methodology. You say you balanced it between conservatives and liberals. How did you do that? Was there anybody in the middle you thought was a push?
TARANTO: Well, I‘m not sure about that. The Federalist Society actually conducted the survey.
But what they did was, they got six scholars, two each in history, law, and political science, one liberal and one conservative in each discipline, to suggest people who should be included. So that‘s how they put together the list. We sent out the survey to I believe it was 132 scholars and 78 responded.
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s go through the current ones. You‘ve got Clinton in the bottom half. He‘s going to hate this list.
TARANTO: Clinton is No. 24. He rates as average.
MATTHEWS: What was his main reason for mediocrity, according to you guys?
TARANTO: Well, I think, if you look at the coverage that his book has received over the past few weeks, what is everyone talking about? They‘re talking about this weird psychodrama with Monica Lewinsky and Ken Starr persecuting him and all that. They‘re not talking about his accomplishments.
And I think that underscores that, while he had some accomplishments, they were pretty small, as these things go.
MATTHEWS: Well, he balanced the budget and he passed NAFTA. Do they count as biggies or not?
TARANTO: I would say they count. I don‘t know if I would call them biggies. You have to add welfare reform to that.
MATTHEWS: Yes, but he‘s probably ashamed of that one.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about our current president. I see you have got his father, Herbert Walker Bush, he‘s pretty good here. He‘s top half. He‘s right below John Quincy Adams and William Taft, not that bad, not that great, but not that bad, certainly. What do you make of the current president. Where is he going to end up on your list?
TARANTO: I think that depends. History is unwritten at this point. If we did the survey today, he would probably be somewhere in the middle and there would be more divergence than with anyone else, even Bill Clinton, who is the most controversial president.
MATTHEWS: Is Ike on the rise? I think he is. I sense that Ike—there he up is at No. 9. You have got him in the top 10, Reagan in the top 10. It‘s impressive that Ike is finally getting recognized.
TARANTO: Yes, Ike and Truman I think are both more highly regarded than they were in their time.
MATTHEWS: Well, we had a hell of a run there, FDR, Truman, Ike. What a group.
Anyway, thank you, James Taranto.
Join us again Monday night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.
Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.
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