Guest: Mark Williams, Coleen Rowley, John Fund, Fredric Dicker
NORAH O‘DONNELL, GUEST HOST: Who‘s behind secret audiotapes of New York Governor George Pataki?
And, as President Bush promises to stay the course in Iraq, a top Republican senator says the war looks more and more like Vietnam.
I‘m Norah O‘Donnell. Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Norah O‘Donnell, in tonight for Chris Matthews.
Coleen Rowley, the woman known for blowing the whistle on the FBI after 9/11, now lends her support to Cindy Sheehan‘s anti-war protest in Texas. Meanwhile, a caravan of Bush supporters is on the way to Crawford to show a united front. And Republican Senator Chuck Hagel breaks ranks with the president on the war in Iraq. We will have more on those stories in a moment.
But, first, New York political and media figures are buzzing over secretly recorded phone conversations of Governor George Pataki, his wife, Libby, one of his top aides and then-Senator Al D‘Amato. The tapes, made without Governor Pataki‘s knowledge, were given recently to “The New York Post” and published today.
The tapes were believed to be recorded in 1996 and 1997, but it‘s still unknown who made tapes or under what circumstances they were made. Both federal and New York state laws generally prohibit the recording of phone calls without the consent of at least one of the parties in the conversation.
And, as HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster reports, when it comes to political scandals or the possibility of one, there‘s nothing more jaw-dropping than the revelation of secret tapes.
DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The tapes leaked to “The New York Post” unveil personal frustrations and some hard-nosed politics in conversations between Governor George Pataki, his wife, their top political operative and former Senator Al D‘Amato. It is not clear what made the tapes or what their motivation was, but there are complaints by Mrs. Pataki about her schedule and lack of media coverage.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
LIBBY PATAKI, WIFE OF GOVERNOR GEORGE PATAKI: I spent seven hours running from here to there. And there was not one sentence. There were pictures of Donna Giuliani all over the papers. It‘s not like—you know I‘m not photogenic.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
SHUSTER: There are also obscenity-laced tirades from Al D‘Amato about a political appointee. The tapes do not reveal any scandals, but in New York, taping a conversation between two people who are unaware of the recording is illegal. And the action horrified Governor Pataki today. His spokesman said—quote—“It is shocking and disgraceful that someone would record and disseminate private conversations.”
Secret tapes and political firestorms have long been intertwined.
WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.
SHUSTER: Seven years ago, Linda Tripp recorded her conversations with Lewinsky.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
MONICA LEWINSKY: I can‘t take it anymore.
LINDA TRIPP: I know. I know.
LEWINSKY: I just can‘t. I just can‘t.
TRIPP: Oh, my God.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Fifteen years ago, the FBI secretly videotaped Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry during a sting operation. Barry was caught smoking crack.
SHUSTER: And then, after the FBI rushed in:
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
MARION BARRY, MAYOR OF WASHINGTON, D.C.: That God (EXPLETIVE DELETED)
(EXPLETIVE DELETED) tricked me into getting me up here. Son of a bitch.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Twenty-five years ago, in what was known as ABSCAM. FBI employees posing as Middle Eastern businessmen offered members of Congress bribes from a nonexistent sheik. As a result of those tapes, one senator and five members of the House were convicted.
The most famous tapes to bring down a politician were first revealed in 1973.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Butterfield, are you aware of the installation of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the president?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was aware of listening devices, yes, sir.
SHUSTER: Six days after the Watergate break-in, President Nixon was regarded discussing with H.R. Haldeman, his chief of staff, how to stop the FBI investigation.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
H.R. HALDEMAN, NIXON CHIEF OF STAFF: The way to handle this now is for us to have Walters call Pat Gray and just say, stay the hell out of this.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
SHUSTER: The Watergate tapes, which led to Nixon‘s resignation, also had a crucial 18-minute section missing, and that prompted this memorable photo when Nixon‘s secretary, Rose Mary Woods, tried to demonstrate how the tapes could have been innocently erased.
(on camera): In the case of New York Governor Pataki, again, it is not clear who made the tapes or what their motivation was, but the existence of secret recordings has created a frenzy of speculation and intrigue.
The question is, will there be an investigation and who might get hurt? I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
O‘DONNELL: All right. Thank you, David.
Fred Dicker broke the story of these audiotapes in today‘s “New York Post,” and Congressman Peter King is a Republican from New York.
Let‘s first play this portion from the audiotape that features Governor Pataki‘s wife, Libby, talking to the governor‘s aide, Tom Doherty.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
TOM DOHERTY, AIDE TO GOVERNOR GEORGE PATAKI: I see you all over. I don‘t see your picture in the paper. I don‘t see you on TV. I don‘t hear you on the radio. So, what the hell are you doing out there?
PATAKI: Exactly. They have me running around for so much damn stuff.
DOHERTY: Bull (EXPLETIVE DELETED) stuff.
PATAKI: Exactly. Take your mothers to day work. I spent seven hours running from here to there. And there was not one sentence. There were pictures of Donna Giuliani all over the papers. It‘s not like—you know I‘m not photogenic.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Fred, let me begin with you. You broke this story.
How did you get your hands on these tapes?
FREDRIC DICKER, “THE NEW YORK POST”: Well, Norah, it‘s an interesting tale.
A few weeks ago, I got a phone call. Didn‘t know who it was, but someone said they had something they wanted to send me. Could I give them an address? And I did. And, a couple of days later, a manila envelope arrived and I opened it up and there was an audio cassette inside. I didn‘t think much of it. Took a few minutes to put it into a machine and start listening to it. And within about a minute, my jaw dropped, because it starts out with a phone call. You hear the phone ringing.
And then you hear a state trooper answer, saying, governor‘s residence. And within a few seconds more, Governor Pataki is on the line speaking to this fellow Tom Doherty. And it goes on from there with a very intriguing and at times quite startling series of conversations about patronage, politics and, as—you know what else.
O‘DONNELL: What do you think, then, that is the most damaging information in these tapes for Governor Pataki?
DICKER: Well, you know what it is, Norah, from an Albany State government perspective, it is a reminder or a reinforcement over what has been a widespread perception of state workers even at the highest levels being browbeaten by political operatives, patronage appointees who are not necessarily qualified for the job being forced on highly qualified commissioners.
And there is a sense around of Mrs. Pataki being kind of an arrogant person. We had a story earlier this year about how the state Republican Party secretly hired a maid to work in her private mansion. So, to hear Mrs. Pataki this way confirmed for a lot of people a sense that she really isn‘t what her public image would have us believe she is.
O‘DONNELL: Side deals, political patronage, all these secret conversations. Let‘s hear one more portion from the audiotape that features Governor Pataki‘s—talking to an aide that may involve questions about such patronage.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DOHERTY: Just between you and I, if the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) commissioners of this state were any slower with this (EXPLETIVE DELETED), I mean, it got to a point where I called DeBuono on something on behalf of Mondello, and I said to her, you know, you‘ve got a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) Democrat as your number two person and you‘re telling me that I can‘t get my (EXPLETIVE DELETED) people hired? And then Brad calls me up and says, you really can‘t call these people like that.
I said, Brad, does Barbara DeBuono work for us or do we work for her? I said, Joe Mondello can‘t get a God (EXPLETIVE DELETED) job, and it still hasn‘t been done yet. It‘s utter bull (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
SEN. AL D‘AMATO ®, NEW YORK: It‘s ridiculous. So, what did he say?
DOHERTY: Oh, you know.
D‘AMATO: Well, you have to call them. You know how to handle it. And say, Commissioner, we need this thing.
DOHERTY: Yes, you do that.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Fred, that was a little bit hard to understand, but I think people watching get the sense from certainly reading part of that conversation. It is certainly unseemly, the sort of political patronage going on. But is there anything illegal about that or is that just how New York politics is done?
DICKER: Well, it isn‘t always how it‘s done. It‘s the way it‘s been done under the Pataki administration. And it‘s been very heavy-handed here. No evidence that is it illegal.
But it‘s interesting, because Al D‘Amato in that tape, Norah, is referencing Joe Mondello, who is Congressman Pete King‘s political boss, the last I knew.
O‘DONNELL: Well, let me show you what Governor Pataki has responded.
His communications director released a statement today that reads:
“Taping anyone‘s private conversations without proper consent is illegal. Printing those conversations when they serve no public interest is unethical and potentially illegal. The notion that a media outlet would reprint private conversations that they know to have been illegally recorded is outrageous. It‘s sad and unfortunate that today the bar for journalistic integrity has been lowered. We have requested that the U.S. attorney for the Southern District investigate how these private conversations were recorded.”
Let me ask you, Congressman Pete King. I mean, this is...
DICKER: By the way, there were misstatements in that statement, Norah, just so you know.
O‘DONNELL: Go ahead, then.
DICKER: In fact, there‘s a lie in it.
For instance, Catalfamo in the statement says that we knew that these recordings were illegally recorded. Well, it‘s first that we knew that he knew that they were, because, as far as I know, nobody knows how they were recorded. They may have been legally recorded, for all we know.
Secondly, we gave a—as a courtesy and as professional judgment on our part, we gave the governor and his people an opportunity Friday, several days ago, to review some of these tapes, to give us their opinion. Never once did they ask us not to publish those. Only after we came out with today‘s edition did they issue this statement.
O‘DONNELL: Let me bring in Republican Congressman Pete King.
You have seen some of these tapes. You read the newspaper today. What do you think the political motivation is behind whoever sent this envelope to “The New York Post”? Is it somebody who wants to torpedo Governor Pataki‘s of running for president in ‘08?
REP. PETER KING ®, NEW YORK: It‘s obviously somebody who has something against George Pataki. It‘s somebody out to hurt Governor Pataki.
And, you know, Fred Dicker is an old friend of mine, but he is adding two and two and getting five here. There‘s nothing on those tapes at all that wouldn‘t be found in every political conversation going back to the Constitutional Convention. I mean, are we really shocked that there‘s patronage in government? And patronage is a person trying to get someone appointed to a job. There‘s nothing wrong with that at all.
There‘s not one hint of illegality. There‘s no ABSCAM. There‘s no Watergate. There‘s no Monica Lewinsky. We‘re talking about Al D‘Amato recommending someone for a job. And, to me, that is absolutely legitimate. Nobody is talking about shaking anyone down. You know, Fred said the person is not qualified. How does Fred know the person is unqualified? I don‘t know Joe Mondello recommending people who are unqualified. He has recommended me for a job and I‘m one of the most qualified people for the job.
KING: Fred, you agree with that, don‘t you?
O‘DONNELL: Congressman, if there‘s nothing there, there in these tapes, however, does it raise concerns, however, that these tapes could perhaps have a snowball effect, that there are others out there, though, who may start talking about what some of these tapes seem to suggest, the type of behavior that was going on?
KING: First of all, there‘s nothing wrong with the behavior. You talking about Al D‘Amato talking to somebody in the Pataki administration about someone who he thinks is qualified for the job. That went on in the Roosevelt administration, the Kennedy administration.
DICKER: You get a sense of the pervasive mediocrity up here. This state government is populated with people that have shocked, you know...
DICKER: ... you can imagine.
Fred, I have had my own problems with Governor Pataki.
KING: But the fact is, there‘s nothing on those tapes—there‘s nothing in those tapes at all this you wouldn‘t find in the Cuomo administration, the Kerry administration.
DICKER: You‘re wrong.
DICKER: There is a tone and nastiness that is sui generis.
KING: Come on.
KING: No. No. Fred.
KING: Fred, you‘re reading your prejudice into that.
Fred, OK, but you‘re not getting enough from that tape. That‘s your own opinion. I‘m saying, there‘s nothing on these tapes at all that couldn‘t be found in any political conversation anywhere.
KING: There‘s an inference here...
DICKER: There‘s a viciousness in the tape, a salaciousness, a bullying which is very...
KING: Oh, Fred. Come on, Fred.
DICKER: Look, I know you‘re from Nassau County, Pete. Maybe you take it for granted. I don‘t. That‘s the way you do business in Nassau County, perhaps.
KING: Fred, let me tell you, there‘s nothing in those tapes that I haven‘t seen heard in the city room of every newspaper in New York. I mean, those guys are Boy Scouts compared...
DICKER: Well, then you have one on me.
O‘DONNELL: All right. All right, guys.
Well, thank you very much. And I‘m sure other politicians across the country are watching this because certainly because they are secret tapes and it raises a question about a security breach and who‘s listening when you‘re having conversations with your wife and top aides.
DICKER: And there may be more.
O‘DONNELL: So, thank you, Fred Dicker and Congressman Pete King.
KING: ... there may not be.
O‘DONNELL: Thank you.
O‘DONNELL: And coming up...
KING: Thank you, Norah.
O‘DONNELL: ... the Democrats split over their position on the war in Iraq. A leading Republican senator and prospective presidential candidate says the situation there is looking more like the Vietnam conflict.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
O‘DONNELL: Coming up, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel says the war in Iraq has destabilized the Middle East and is looking more like the war he fought in Vietnam.
HARDBALL returns after this.
O‘DONNELL: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Today, President Bush spoke to the national convention of Veterans of Foreign Wars and vowed to stay the course in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The lesson of September 11, 2001, is that we must confront threats before they fully materialize. Vast oceans and friendly neighbors are not enough to protect us. A policy of retreat and isolation will not bring us safety. The only way to defend our citizens where we live is to go after the terrorists where they live.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: With Republican Senator Chuck Hagel calling the Iraq war a quagmire, reminiscent of the Vietnam War, and Democratic Senator Russell Feingold calling for immediate troop withdrawal, is the president changing any minds about the war in Iraq?
Howard Fineman is “Newsweek”‘s chief political correspondent and an NBC News political analyst. And John Fund is a columnist for OpinionJournal.com.
Gentlemen, thank you very much for joining me.
Howard, let me begin with you.
Today, President Bush embarked on a week-long tour talking about the Iraq war. And today, for the first time, he acknowledged the price of war and said for the first time just how many American troops have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why is he doing this now?
HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think he‘s simultaneously trying to lower expectations and raise the stakes.
By lowering the expectations, I mean remind everybody what a long, hard slog this really is, and raise the stakes by saying, look, this isn‘t Vietnam. This is like fighting fascism or communism. These are big stakes here. So, that‘s what he‘s trying to do, and secure the Republican base. That‘s why he‘s going to Utah, Idaho and San Diego.
O‘DONNELL: John, but the president saying today that a policy of isolationism and retreat won‘t work, is that an acknowledgment or a message to the Feingolds of the world, to the Cindy Sheehans of the world?
JOHN FUND, COLUMNIST, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”: Oh, certainly.
And I think that, clearly, the pressure on the president has built up. His poll numbers are down and the Republican base is a little nervous. But the alternative hasn‘t been examined properly. Russ Feingold said setting a date for withdrawal is basically giving the enemy information that they need to try to step up their attacks and to try to coordinate their efforts better.
And, as for Ms. Sheehan, you know, I grieve for her too about the loss of her son, but let‘s be clear. There‘s a whole lot going on there. And I don‘t think she‘s become the most effective spokesman for her point of view.
O‘DONNELL: It‘s interesting, John, because it‘s not just Democrats, as you know. It‘s also now Republican Senator Chuck Hagel. And here‘s what he said just this weekend, in comparing the situation in Iraq to the one he fought in Vietnam.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THIS WEEK”)
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL ®, NEBRASKA: Now we are locked into a bog-down problem, not unsimilar, dissimilar to where we were in Vietnam. The longer we stay, the more problems we‘re going to have, the more occupying force dynamics flow into this, the more influence of the outside people, as well as the inside people, are going to hurt—hurt this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Howard, why are Republicans like Hagel breaking ranks with the president?
FINEMAN: Well, I think Chuck Hagel has been on record for quite some time doubting the strategy. And I think on the question of battlefield conditions, he may well be right.
It is similar in certain respects. You don‘t know always where the enemy is. We don‘t know where our allies are. American public opinion is crumbling under the president‘s feet. But, in terms of the nature of the enemy, I think, at least as for now, most of the American people don‘t agree with him. They see an enemy out there in terrorism that attacked us here. Ho Chi Minh is no Osama bin Laden. There‘s a big difference historically, I think.
O‘DONNELL: And, John, Hagel says but he does not espouse the Feingold policy, which is essentially a withdrawal by 2006 of all U.S. troops, right?
FUND: No, of course not, because he‘s smart enough not—to realize that that‘s just giving in to the enemy.
Look, I think Chuck Hagel is going to have an awful lot of disputes with Vietnamese and war historians. And, in addition, he‘s going to have a lot of disputes with I think people in the military. My nephew is about to ship off to the Sunni Triangle in Iraq with the Marines, and he‘s not particularly happy at this comparison because, A, it is wrong, and, B, I don‘t think it necessarily helps to build morale for the troops.
FUND: And I think that Senator Hagel is going to retreat from this.
We won‘t be hearing that again soon.
O‘DONNELL: All right.
Well, we will be back with more from John Fund and Howard Fineman.
And, later in the hour, a caravan of the president‘s supporters are on their way to Crawford to show their solidarity with the president. The leader of that cause will be here a little later in the show.
I‘m Norah O‘Donnell and you‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
O‘DONNELL: We‘re back with “Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman and John Fund of the OpinionJournal.com.
Howard, let me ask you. Today, the Iraqi leader submitted a draft constitution to the National Assembly. Big deal? Does this mean success or will there be further delay?
FINEMAN: Well, I know the administration put all kinds of nice press releases out, but this is not the final word, because the Sunnis, one of the three major groups there, are not on board for this.
And their leaders are saying that in their own press releases tonight. So, it‘s halfway there, but not all the way there. Without the Sunnis, it is not going to work. Even with the Sunnis, it‘s not clear that the people will follow the document as written.
O‘DONNELL: John, does that mean a further delay for our troops coming home?
FUND: No. I think we are going to resolve the constitution in the next few days or weeks.
But I have to tell you, it is going to be trashed by a lot of people who say it‘s not a Western-style document. And my answer is, there are a lot of examples in the Middle East where a document is not in accord with all American values, Kuwait and Qatar, that are making tremendous strides in human rights and where women can still be integrated into the economy and the society. It‘s not going to be perfect, but is it better than Saddam Hussein and will it be an example for the interest of region? Yes.
O‘DONNELL: Howard, but doesn‘t it enshrine in some ways Islamic law, does not give equal rights to women?
O‘DONNELL: And how do you tell American people that we have sent 1,850 people over there to die and women in Iraq will not have equal rights?
FINEMAN: Well, women are one issue.
And religious conservatives here in the United States, I‘m told, have told Condi Rice, leaders have told Condi Rice, you can‘t allow that constitution to enshrine Islamic law or limit religious freedom. It might not be a Western-style document, but if it enshrines Sharia, namely, Islamic law, George Bush‘s own base here of religious conservatives are going to be very upset. And they have already told Condi Rice that.
O‘DONNELL: That is very, very interesting.
All right, well, thank you, Howard Fineman and John Fund.
Coming up, former FBI whistle-blower Coleen Rowley, she said the bureau ignored her warnings about a suspected terrorist before 9/11 and now she‘s standing up for anti-war mom Cindy Sheehan. Coleen Rowley will join us, along with a radio talk show host who is headed to Texas to rally against Cindy Sheehan.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
O‘DONNELL: Welcome back to HARDBALL. I‘m Norah O‘Donnell, in for Chris Matthews.
Cindy Sheehan‘s son was killed while serving in Iraq. And she began an anti-war rally weeks ago in Crawford, Texas, that continues despite her departure due to her mother‘s stroke. Coleen Rowley, the 9/11 FBI whistle-blower, went to Crawford to show her support for Sheehan. Now critics of Sheehan and the anti-war movement are mobilizing, too. Mark Williams is a radio talk show host and one of the organizers of an anti-Sheehan rally called “You Don‘t Speak For Me, Cindy,” a caravan of war supporters leaving California today and arriving in Crawford Saturday.
Both are with me now.
And I start Coleen Rowley, who just returned from Crawford, Texas, yesterday, and is a Democratic candidate for Congress in Minnesota.
Thank you to both of you for joining me.
Coleen, let me ask you, why do you support Cindy Sheehan‘s anti-war position?
COLEEN ROWLEY (D), MINNESOTA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Well, I happened to be a person who spoke out publicly against the war a couple of weeks before it was started and warned that it would prove counterproductive to our efforts to combat terrorism.
And if you have gone through this chain of mistakes that started with the pre-9/11 lapses and you have seen all of these errors that have occurred since, very serious to our country‘s security. I don‘t think you can do anything, except continue to speak out.
O‘DONNELL: You‘re a Democrat running for Congress. It was reported that Republican leaders in your state were just thrilled that you had decided to align yourself with anti-war extremists. Do you think that this could affect your race for Congress?
ROWLEY: Well, I will quickly correct the record, that they are not anti-war extremists. The majority of the people I saw down in Crawford were actually veterans groups.
There were military families and...
O‘DONNELL: But, Coleen, they do oppose the war in Iraq, do they not?
ROWLEY: Yes, they do. But that does not make I guess the term extremists. They‘re really I think reflective of mainstream America in many ways.
O‘DONNELL: All right.
Let me—let me show you what President Bush said today. He for the very first time named how many have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, actually had the numbers. Here‘s President Bush.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: We‘ve lost 1,864 members of our armed forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom and 223 in Operation Enduring Freedom. Each of these men and women left grieving families and loved ones back home.
Each of these heroes left a legacy that will allow generations of their fellow Americans to enjoy the blessings of liberty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: The president also said today, Coleen, that the war in Iraq must be won and that a policy of retreat and isolation will not bring us safety from terrorism. Do you disagree with that?
ROWLEY: Well, I disagree with even the point about winning the war, because I don‘t think we have had an honest debate what winning will even look like.
President Bush seems to use a very vague and ambiguous reference to these types of things, really to stifle people from asking the hard questions. How are we getting there? And what actually will—quote, unquote—“winning” look like?
O‘DONNELL: Let me bring in Mark Williams, who is a radio talk show host and is launching his caravan tour from California, heading to Crawford today.
Why have you launched this tour?
MARK WILLIAMS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, the pontifications of a self-serving Democrat political candidate notwithstanding, this tour is neither anti-Cindy Sheehan, nor is it pro-war.
I have not spoken with a single individual in the last three years who is pro-war, nor anybody who is anti-Cindy Sheehan. What we are against is the damage she is causing. I just got back from Iraq, talking with the troops, talking with the Iraqis. And I see the damage that‘s done by pathetic creatures like the woman I‘m talking to and Cindy Sheehan.
O‘DONNELL: What specifically do you mean, Mark?
WILLIAMS: I‘m about to get to that.
When they get up there and they present this country as divided, as still arguing issues that were decided, debated and voted on three years ago, that both demoralizes our troops and invigorates the insurgency. And it‘s no mistake that the lion‘s share of the violence is in and around Baghdad. That‘s where there are more Western news cameras per capita than probably any other city on the planet Earth. Where they see this kind of division, they use it as a fund-raiser and a recruiting tool.
ROWLEY: Mark, if you don‘t mind, you‘re making the case that Cindy Sheehan is hurting the morale of our troops?
WILLIAMS: She is aiding and abetting the enemies of this country and the people who killed her son.
WILLIAMS: Right now, Casey Sheehan is spinning in his grave.
O‘DONNELL: Coleen, can I get your response to that?
ROWLEY: Well, I actually was called a traitor even for speaking out before the war was begun and cautioning officials that it would prove counterproductive.
If we fall into this other speaker‘s mode, we simply will not have a country that is acting judiciously, because we will all simply have to be quiet. We won‘t have our freedom of speech either and we will—none of us will be able to challenge incorrect and actually very dangerous policies.
WILLIAMS: Once again, this was debated, voted on, decided three years ago. We have men and women right now dying on our behalf and on behalf of the Iraqis.
It‘s our obligation as a society to stand up and support those men and women and make sure that the 1,800-plus who are now dead didn‘t die in vain. And I‘m not quite sure what your alternative is, but perhaps we should open the doors to Saddam Hussein‘s prison cell, reinsert him as the leader of that country, allow him to start feeding people into wood chippers again feet first, give him back the chemical weapons and nerve gas weapons that the United States and that the United Nations was in there destroying, rescind the war authorization of 1991, and just go along our merry way, with our apologies to all of his future victims.
WILLIAMS: What about the 300,000 in mass graves that he engaged in acts of genocide?
WILLIAMS: If this was anything but an American action, the American left would be all over the White House to get involved in this country.
O‘DONNELL: Coleen, can I ask you what is—please. You may respond, but, also, what is the alternative? The president saying again that we—that a policy of retreat and isolationism will not bring us safety. What is the policy of the Democratic Party? You‘re a Democrat. What is it? Cindy Sheehan seems to be advocating cut and run. Is that what you embrace?
ROWLEY: Well, I‘m just going to back up.
The last speaker, of course, kind of exhibits this mentality that has not allowed us to have a fair debate. When he said that we debated this and voted on it, he is ignoring what most Americans know now—now know, that the weapons of mass destruction arguments that were used were very misleading, false and deceptive.
WILLIAMS: Tell the 300,000 people of Saddam‘s chemical weapons.
O‘DONNELL: Mark, she‘s allowed you to finish.
WILLIAMS: Why did John Kerry vote to authorize this war? Why did, through his entire presidency, Bill Clinton advocate taking down Saddam Hussein?
O‘DONNELL: Mark, we play polite on this show.
Coleen, you may finish.
O‘DONNELL: Yes, I‘m going to go to your question, then, because, again, I think most Americans know that this was not presented in a very honest manner.
And I think there are answers now. I think we actually do have a potential to stabilize Iraq. That‘s what winning should look like. It should be stabilizing that country and stopping the violence in Iraq and Afghanistan.
WILLIAMS: And how do we do that? By cutting and running and leaving them to their fate? Well, that‘s exactly what we‘re doing.
I just came back from there. I saw the soldiers going out. I went out with them. I saw them giving food and candy and toys to the kids. I saw the Iraqis crowd around their Humvees and thank them for being there. I had Iraqis walk up to me and thank me for being there and telling me to tell America not to leave them to their fate. Stabilize it? That‘s exactly what we‘re doing.
O‘DONNELL: Yes. I think the other speaker is pointing to some of the problem with the deaths that have already occurred. And I will agree to a limited extent that the nature of a quagmire is simply that it is very difficult at this point to resolve and still, you know, justify those earlier deaths.
But I think, if we have a good, new hard look—and, frankly, I‘m not sure that the Bush administration is capable of doing this...
O‘DONNELL: But, Coleen, what are you specifically suggesting is done? What is the position of the Democratic Party about how to do a better job than what the president is doing in Iraq?
ROWLEY: Well, this is the tough part, because the president—there‘s—again, I keep quoting Albert Einstein. You can‘t solve a problem with the same level of mentality that created it.
And the Bush administration is continuing to—you know, stay the course is their motto. And I don‘t think, frankly, that‘s going to work.
WILLIAMS: Well, you know, staying the course, staying the course has brought us free elections. It‘s got a constitutional convention under way, more free elections coming up, an Iraqi stock market that didn‘t exist before, no more innocents being slaughtered by weapons of mass destruction, no more people, no more soccer teams being executed because they lose a game. Stay the course?
WILLIAMS: That‘s exactly what we‘re doing. And that‘s why we‘re doing it. What would you have us do, lady? What would—would you have us leave the place and let the Iraqis—leave it to them?
O‘DONNELL: Mark, let me allow Coleen to respond.
ROWLEY: I don‘t think that most Americans do think that staying the course at this juncture has any potential for success.
WILLIAMS: Oh, God forbid they should have a country with a constitution and a representative democracy. We can‘t possibly have that.
ROWLEY: I agree, again, with the speaker that, to stabilize the country, the constitution, of course, is in the right direction.
Certainly, the factions, the Kurds, the Shiites and the Sunnis, have got to come to a resolution on some very hard issues. The U.S. government has got to end the perception of an occupation. And perhaps setting a timeline and a strategy now for giving Iraq back to the Iraqis and again with hopefully a legal structure that will ensure their country...
O‘DONNELL: Finally, Mark, finally, Mark, let me ask you, Mark, let me ask you, Mark, finally...
O‘DONNELL: Thank you.
What do you plan to do when you get to Crawford?
WILLIAMS: We are holding a press event and just a support-our-troops rally that Saturday afternoon. And that is what we are doing.
Deborah Johns (ph), whose son has served two tours as a Marine and is now in forward recon training down in San Diego, is actually leading this group. She‘s—she heads a group called Northern California Marine Moms, which I work with very closely, which is a support group for people who have people in the military.
O‘DONNELL: All right.
WILLIAMS: She and some other people have also formed a group called caseyskids.org to reach out to Iraqis, to link up California and other U.S. schools with Iraqi schools to provide them with what they need.
O‘DONNELL: All right.
WILLIAMS: We‘ve working toward this, not just mouthing off. We‘re actually working towards supporting our troops and help the Iraqis build a country.
What is this Democrat congressional representative candidate doing, besides flapping her jowls on MSNBC?
O‘DONNELL: All right. Well, we have more anti-war people headed to Crawford. We have more that support the war headed to Crawford.
WILLIAMS: No, we‘re not supporting the war. We‘re supporting our troops.
WILLIAMS: Big difference.
O‘DONNELL: All right.
Well, thank you, Coleen Rowley and Mark Williams.
WILLIAMS: Thank you.
O‘DONNELL: And, up next, President Bush makes another appeal to the nation on Iraq. Can he convince Americans to stay the course, hold his base together, and keep Democratic opposition at bay?
Bob Shrum and Pat Buchanan will be back with us.
This is HARDBALL on MSNBC.
O‘DONNELL: Coming up, as President Bush vows to stay the course in Iraq, a leading Republican senator says the war in Iraq resembles Vietnam.
HARDBALL returns after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Iraq is a central front in the war on terror. It is a vital part of our mission. Terrorists like bin Laden and his allies, Zarqawi, are trying to turn Iraq into what Afghanistan was under the Taliban, a place where women are beaten, religious and ethnic minorities are executed, and terrorists have sanctuary to plot attacks against free people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: That was President Bush earlier today, selling the Iraq war to a VFW convention. He is using the bully pulpit all week to get Americans back on his side.
My next guests know all about how to use the bully pulpit to change public opinion. They‘re Bob Shrum, longtime Democratic media adviser, and Patrick Buchanan, adviser to three presidents, Nixon, Ford and Reagan.
Patrick J. Buchanan, welcome as well.
You just heard the president say that they‘re trying to turn Iraq into Afghanistan, the president once again sort of wrapping himself in the 9/11 imagery. We are getting close to the fourth anniversary of 9/11. Is this what the president is doing in order to bolster public opinion again?
PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the president realizes public opinion is eroding.
And what he‘s trying to do, Norah, is make sure that people look upon the war in Iraq as a central front in the war on terror. The battle against al Qaeda and bin Laden and Zarqawi in Iraq are one and the same war. And I think that‘s what the president is doing, and he‘s going to red states or red cities and he‘s trying to bolster support. I think he knows what‘s happening, that support for the war is eroding.
O‘DONNELL: Bob, what do you make of the president today? For the very first time, he specifically said that there have been 1,864 U.S. troops killed in Iraq. He mentioned the 223 soldiers killed in Afghanistan, making clear he understands the cost and price of war, saying that each of these has left behind grieving families and loved ones back home. Why do you think the president decided to couch it that way in his speech?
BOB SHRUM, HARDBALL POLITICAL ANALYST: Because I think he felt that he had to acknowledge this, he had to go out and say it. The whole country knows it.
He not only has never gone to one of these funerals. He‘s never talked of the casualty toll. But, you know, him going to red states to talk about this is a little like Lyndon Johnson wandering around from military base to military base in the late 1960s, because it was the only place where he could get some support for the Vietnam War.
Why would we believe George Bush at this point, after he misled us about weapons of mass destruction and after he misled us about how we‘d be welcomed? He is using September 11 as a crutch. The fact of the matter, as John Kerry said to him in the debate, is, we weren‘t attacked by Saddam Hussein. We were attacked by Osama bin Laden, and until we went into Iraq, it wasn‘t a terrorist training ground.
O‘DONNELL: Pat, let me ask you about...
BUCHANAN: Sure. Sure.
O‘DONNELL: Now there are some Republicans who are breaking ranks with the president, Senator Chuck Hagel, who said it seems like it‘s Vietnam.
O‘DONNELL: That, the longer we stay, the more problems we are going to have in Iraq. You advised President Nixon. Is it getting like Vietnam?
BUCHANAN: Well, I don‘t know that, militarily, it‘s on the level of Vietnam. We lost 58,000 people there.
And Nixon—when I went in with Nixon in ‘69, you had 500,000 people surrounding the White House. But he held on for four more years. But, politically, in the United States, you do see similarities. There‘s an anti-war movement that is really coalescing. It‘s bedeviling the president, but it is going to give Mr. Shrum‘s party a terrible time, because an anti-war movement is fundamentally lodged inside the Democratic Party.
It is rooted very much in the hard left and the left. And I think it is pushing Mr. Feingold and is pushing the Democrats to break with the president. And I‘d remind Bob Shrum, his own candidate, Mr. Kerry, Mr. Edwards, Mr. Daschle, Hillary Clinton, voted for this war.
O‘DONNELL: Bob, isn‘t this true?
Well, actually, what they did, they voted to give the president the power to go to war under certain circumstances. Look, if they think that was the wrong vote, they ought to say it. I think it was the wrong vote. I wouldn‘t have voted that way knowing what I know today.
SHRUM: And they also ought to be willing to stand up there and say, we need to change course in Iraq. The voters here, Democratic...
O‘DONNELL: Bob, we‘ll talk more about the Democrats on just the other side.
We will be right back with Pat Buchanan and Bob Shrum in just a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS”)
SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN: I felt it was time to at least put on the table an idea, get the discussion going, break the taboo and say, look, let‘s see if we can remove the troops after we succeed with a series of steps by the end of December 2006. Let‘s see if we can have a target date that will work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: That was Democratic Senator Russ Feingold, who recently became the first senator to call for a specific timetable to withdraw troops from Iraq.
We‘re back with the HARDBALL political analyst Bob Shrum and MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan.
Bob, let me ask you, because you predicted on Hardblogger that in fact there would be a Democrat who would come forward and do this. What other Democrats will follow Senator Feingold‘s lead?
SHRUM: Oh, I think you will see more and more of them, if things continue to go the way they are.
The voters, as I said just before the break, and Democratic voters and I think voters in the country are ahead of the conventional wisdom and the beltway wisdom on this. Look, we had this fight in 1968 inside the Democratic Party. And, quite frankly, it was a fight we had to have. And I believe, if Robert Kennedy hadn‘t been assassinated, we would have been spared the nightmare of the Nixon presidency and some of the eloquence of Pat Buchanan.
O‘DONNELL: So, Bob, are you saying that the Senator Feingold wing of the party is the way to go, rather than the Senator Clinton wing of the party?
SHRUM: I think, if people believe that we went to war for the wrong reasons, that they were misled, as Colin Powell said, that, in the long term, the better course for this country is to set a definite deadline to put the Iraqis on notice they have to get their act together, instead of playing these constitutional and sectarian games, yes, then they ought to get up and say it.
But let me tell you something. When you look at the numbers inside the Democratic Party, we‘re going to have that debate and it‘s going to be decided in the primaries.
BUCHANAN: It‘s exactly, exactly, exactly what‘s going to happen, what the other speaker said here, Norah.
BUCHANAN: We would have beaten Bobby Kennedy hands down. We would have taken Texas. But we don‘t need to get into that. But there is going to be a...
SHRUM: I know why you don‘t want to get into that, Pat.
BUCHANAN: ... battle royal inside the Democratic Party.
O‘DONNELL: There is a battle royal in the Democratic Party.
BUCHANAN: It hasn‘t started yet. Feingold is the first one out there.
But that battle royal, when Feingold goes out and others follow him and this movement coalesces behind him, you have got Hillary Clinton and Biden and Edwards and Kerry are all latched to George Bush. They supported the war. They support the troops. They don‘t want to get out. They don‘t want to set a deadline. And so they‘re going to be pulled to an anti-war position or they‘re going to have real trouble.
Now, Feingold, I don‘t think, has the charisma of a McCarthy, Gene McCarthy—he was a great candidate—or even of Senator McGovern, but I think others are going to see that there, the way Hagel sees this inside the Republican Party.
O‘DONNELL: But don‘t—and I will just open this up for either one of you, but doesn‘t the president benefit in some way because the opposition, which is now the Democratic Party, doesn‘t have a specific plan to end the bloodshed and win the peace? What is that plan?
BUCHANAN: But here is the thing. The president—as soon as the Democrats put out a fixed plan, I can tell you this. Then you have got a fixed target for the White House and the conservative talk machine.
BUCHANAN: And they will tear that to pieces.
BUCHANAN: Democrats are better off, frankly, remaining mobile.
Frankly, Hillary Clinton‘s position, which is the Nixon position—in other words, we support the troops, we support the war, we need new leadership to end it—that‘s the right position politically.
SHRUM: Pat, I‘m not at all sure that Hillary Clinton will thank you for saying that she has the Nixon position.
SHRUM: We have a lot of—we have a lot of...
SHRUM: We have a lot of Americans now who are expressing deep dissatisfaction. It‘s inevitable that that‘s going to be felt in the political system. And it‘s not just Democrats who are saying it.
Chuck Hagel‘s line is, we‘re not winning in Iraq. And if we stay on the same course, we‘re not going to win. The answer to failure is not to just keep doing the same thing over and over and over again. I mean, Russ Feingold quoted a general yesterday who had told him off the record, because he‘d get fired, like some other generals have by Bush, that American troops are now the problem, not the solution, in Iraq, because they‘re bringing more troops into the insurgency; they‘re alienating the population.
We need to do something that sets a timeline for when we‘re going to get out of there with the strategy to leave the place as stable as we possibly can.
O‘DONNELL: The president says he is not going to follow a calender.
What he‘s going to follow is the commanders on the ground.
And the Army chief of staff has said that there is a contingency plan he said that just this weekend—to keep 100,000, at least 100,000 troops, in Iraq for the next four years, if it‘s necessary.
Are the American people going to stick by a plan to have that many troops in Iraq for that long?
BUCHANAN: I don‘t think they will, Norah.
I think what‘s going to happen, as Casey, General Casey, said, we are going to have significant withdrawals by spring. They‘re going to move about 70,000, I think, into base camps and use them as large-force units to go in and, say, take Fallujah and then pull back and help—hope that the retrained Iraqis are going to be able to do the job.
SHRUM: Now, there‘s a great—there‘s a great policy. We have 130,000 troops there. We can‘t protect the road from the Baghdad Airport to Baghdad. Our troops are getting killed all the time.
People are getting blown up all the time. And the answer is not that we will set a date to withdraw all the troops and try in the meantime to create some kind of stable relationship.
O‘DONNELL: All right, Bob. Thank you.
SHRUM: We‘re going to leave our troops more vulnerable.
O‘DONNELL: All right.
Thank you to Bob Shrum and Pat Buchanan.
And a reminder: The debate doesn‘t end on HARDBALL. It continues on Hardblogger, our political Web site, where the fight continues with Pat and Bob on their dueling blogs. Cool. Just go to our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
And Chris Matthews will be back tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.
Right now, it‘s time for “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN” and more on why, for the first time, President Bush mentioned the number of American troops killed in Iraq—Keith.
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