Guest: Tom DeFrank, Deborah Orin, Byron York, Margaret Carlson, Frank Rich, Bob Strum, Ed Rogers
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: What did the president know and when did he know it? What did he know about his top hardballer, Karl Rove‘s role in the CIA leak affair?
What did he know about an alleged White House “hit squad” nailing critics of his Iraq war policy and when did he know it? And when did he tell the special prosecutor?
And when will we, the people, know it all?
Let‘s all play HARDBALL tonight.
MATTHEWS: Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. The beat goes on. The wait for the special prosecutor in the CIA leak case to either indict or head back to Chicago with the secrets of his two-year investigation never told.
New York Daily News, now out in front on the story, reported this morning that President Bush rebuked ramrod Karl Rove over the leak story.
Was he mad when word surfaced that someone in the administration had outed the CIA agent or did he get mad on hearing that people in his inner White House circle were among those suspected?
Or did he possibly get mad on learning from Karl Rove that he did, in fact, talk to the press about the CIA agent?
And so tonight on HARDBALL, we try to figure it out again if people in the Bush administration crossed the line separating political HARDBALL, tough, clean, Machiavellian politics and criminality.
We‘re led tonight by the cutting edge of the news coverage, to that unsavory tandem of questions: What did the president know and when did he know it?
And this may be the heart of it. Did he know that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby were involved in striking back at Ambassador Joe Wilson and his wife for what they saw as the threat this couple posed to the president and vice president‘s WMD case of the invasion of Iraq?
Let‘s go now to the courthouse here in Washington and HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster. David?
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Chris, the grand jury in the leak investigation did meet today at the federal courthouse here in Washington. But they did not meet with the prosecutor in charge of the case. Instead, they waited.
And so, now, just like the rest of the nation‘s capital which waits for Patrick Fitzgerald to make some decisions, everybody is on edge.
Meantime, the Bush administration and its supporters have new reasons tonight to be worried.
For the president‘s top adviser, Karl Rove, and other officials at the White House, it was another kick in the gut. They woke up this morning to a New York Times front page story that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is not going to end the investigation with the report.
Legal analysts believe it means Fitzgerald will likely present his evidence through criminal indictments. Lawyers familiar with the investigation say Rove and Cheney Chief of Staff Scooter Libby are vulnerable because of rolling disclosures and inconsistencies in grand jury testimony.
STAN BRAND, FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: The premise is that people called to testify under oath will give the information they have correctly and accurately. Without that, there is no way to investigate anything.
SHUSTER: Another option for Fitzgerald may be the seldom used espionage act. The statute makes it a crime to simply transmit secret information to people not entitled to see it, like reporters.
SOL WISENBERG, FMR. DEP. IND. COUNSEL: That‘s not a statute that‘s typically used. And it‘s often violated. But it is used. It‘s not unheard of.
And generally it‘s not a defense to a prosecution to say, hey, people violate this all the time and nobody charges them. That‘s not defense.
SHUSTER: Under the statute, prosecutors would only have to show officials knew the information leak was secret with “secret” being defined as something whose disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause significant impairment of a program or policy directly related to the national security.
Joe Wilson‘s wife, Valerie Plame, was an undercover CIA operative who specialized in weapons of mass destruction and worked overseas.
Intelligence experts say that when her cover was blown as part of an effort to discredit her husband, there was significant impairment to the CIA and the U.S. policy of trying to track weapons of mass destruction.
Meanwhile, the New York Daily News reported today that President Bush angrily rebuked Karl Rove two years ago for having Rove‘s name mentioned as a suspect in the leaked case.
The paper quotes someone identified as a presidential counselor saying he, Bush, made his life miserable about this.
While the president would not respond, press secretary Scott McClellan, off camera, told reporters he viewed the story as inaccurate. But McClellan refused to elaborate.
Legal experts point out that, if President Bush knew two years ago that Rove was involved, that could put a new focus on what the president told investigators months later.
As it stands, Vice President Cheney‘s office appears to be the main focus for the grand jury. Several Cheney aides have given testimony to the investigation, including Scooter Libby, of course, and Libby‘s top deputy on national security issues, John Hannah.
John Hannah and other Cheney aides have refused to return our calls asking about their cooperation. This, as defense lawyers say, there are indications that prosecutors have a White House insider or a star White House witness in this investigation.
In any case, Chris, the grand jury is scheduled to meet again here on Friday. Chris?
MATTHEWS: Thank you.
We have Tom DeFrank here. He‘s Washington Bureau chief for the New York Daily News and Deborah Orin, a familiar person here. She is the Washington Bureau chief for the New York Post, the competition in the tab wars of New York.
You got a good story this morning. I want to ask you about it.
Why was the president angry with Karl Rove?
TOM DEFRANK, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: Well, I was told the president was angry with him not because he talked to reporters, because the president has known for a long time that Karl talks to a lot of reporters.
And for the most part, the president doesn‘t have any problem with Karl talking to reporters on background.
But I was told the president was unhappy because he thought this whole Plame business was handled a clumsy, ham-handed—and as someone said to me—bushly manner, no pun intended.
MATTHEWS: Right. But that opens up the big, wide question with only two different answers. One is: is he mad at him for getting caught or for leaking the name of Valerie Plame?
DEFRANK: I don‘t know. I don‘t know the answer to that, Chris. But I don‘t think he leaked the name of Valerie Plame. Remember, when Karl Rove spoke about this on the record a couple years ago, he said “I didn‘t know her name and I didn‘t leak her name.”
And I believe that is the case.
MATTHEWS: Those following the case, like me, are curious about, when your sources tell you the president was angry with Rove—was he angry at Rove, for example, in July of 2003 when this first—the whole fight over the Bob Novack column began or later when the prosecution began and the name Karl Rove started to get mentioned?
DEFRANK: Well, I believe it happened at both times. But I can‘t be precise on that, but I do know that, very early in the process, the president—the notion that president didn‘t want to know—the president called people in and from a very early stage, wanted to know what the hell is going on.
MATTHEWS: Well, this is the question: What did he know and when did he know it?
DEFRANK: Well, I don‘t know when he knew it precisely. But I suspect Mr. Fitzgerald knows because the president testified, not under oath, to the special prosecutor quite some time ago.
MATTHEWS: Well, this is the hard part to reconcile again. The president was publicly saying he wanted to find out—when he found out who was involved, he was going to take the appropriate action and he was going to take care of them.
And everyone took that to mean they were going to be out of there. At the same time, you‘re reporting that the president knew Rove was involved here. Did he know that he leaked or thought he had leaked?
We don‘t know if he leaked. We know he talked to Matt Cooper of Time Magazine.
DEFRANK: Well, we know that Karl Rove talked to some reporters. Whether that‘s a leak or whether it‘s a leak of classified information is not known.
My personal view is that I take Karl Rove at his word when he said “I didn‘t know her name and I didn‘t leak her name.”
MATTHEWS: But did he leak the fact that wife of Joe Wilson sent him on the trip?
DEFRANK: Well, there is testimony from some of the reporters that there was some indirect confirmation there on the part of some of the people they talked to, Karl Rove and Scooter Libby.
MATTHEWS: Have you been able to figure out—I want to get to— you‘re next in the docket here.
But I want to ask you, seriously, Tom, do you think that this has affected the—you know, I‘m looking, like everyone else, at the tea leafs here.
I see the president announce Miers for the Supreme Court and have Scott Mcclellan say, well, the president told Andy Card of his decision he made up at camp David who his nominee would be.
And then Andy Card was tasked with the job of telling the vice president who the choice was. It seemed to me an odd way of separating the vice president from the action.
Is that what‘s going on here now?
DEFRANK: Well, I think what‘s really going on here, Chris, is Carl is distracted as any of us, God help us, would be in a situation like that.
MATTHEWS: You‘re facing possible prison, yes.
DEFRANK: And I think it is not a coincidence that things have not gone well for this president and his White House staff in the last three months when Karl has been distracted, to put it mildly.
MATTHEWS: Deb Ryan, what do you make of this whole thing, right up until this conversation here, right now?
DEBORAH ORIN, NEW YORK POST: Well, I think the important thing to remember is how much we don‘t know.
The Washington Post had a really, I thought, interesting editorial— this is, after all, the paper that broke Watergate—saying, Whoa, hold on, everybody.
We do not know any laws were broken. We do know that some hard ball politics was played. But that‘s legal in this town. And the most important thing we don‘t know is the original source for the identity of Joe Wilson‘s wife.
I mean, we don‘t know who Bob Novak‘s first source was. We know Novak has said that it was no partisan gunslinger—that means it was not Rove and presumably not Libby, either, and presumably not the latest name on the rumor mill, John Hannah.
All of them are partisan. So, I think once you—and that‘s the central thing. That is where the original leak to the press came from. We‘re all jumping to an awful lot of conclusions.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s go with what we have.
ORIN: Yes, but...
MATTHEWS: We do know now that two years ago, there was no officially recognition or any public recognition by anybody watching this program or anybody on television or reading the papers of any real White House connection to this thing.
There were some moving stories in Newsweek about it, but basically, now we know two things: We know that Judy Miller, the top reporter over at the New York Times, has been covering the WMD story, has testified—we know this—has testified that Scooter Libby talked to her about this agent. We know that. We know that Matt Cooper of “Time” magazine was talked to by Karl Rove about this agent.
We never knew any of this until this investigation got going. In fact, if it hadn‘t been this investigation, we wouldn‘t know the White House was involvement in this matter, would we?
ORIN: Yes, but, I think, Chris ...
MATTHEWS: You say like we don‘t know. Obviously, we‘re all sitting waiting every night here to find out if there are going to be indictments. Then we will know there have been indictments, but not to warn the country that there something big here, that the little boat is going down toward Niagara Falls and they‘re either going to make it over the falls or not.
But there is a big danger here, and the danger is the special prosecutor, armed with unlimited scope, not just the charge you talk about, not just the question whether a person was outed from an undercover duty at the CIA, but whether there was perjury, whether there was obstruction of justice, whether there was violation of the Espionage Act or a grander conspiracy, framed in a way we haven‘t seen before against public officials. It may be unusual, but just as powerful if he brings up these indictments.
ORIN: yes. All of this is possible.
MATTHEWS: And imminent.
ORIN: Yes, but—and imminent so we can wait. As “The Washington Post” pointed out again this morning, let‘s just wait and find out what happens. I think one thing—I don‘t think reporters are coming out very well out of this whole thing. I don‘t think many of the reporters who were actually involved in talking with White House on this look particularly good right now for a variety of—well for ...
MATTHEWS: For other reasons that form a mystery. Nobody was questioned for trying to out bad behavior by the White House that I‘ve ever heard of. Our job is to find out who is doing something wrong, not just support administration policy.
ORIN: Chris, just quietly, when you talk to a senior administration official on deep background and two weeks later you say the administration said this, you violated the rules of your conversation. And everybody in Washington understands that.
MATTHEWS: What you are talking about?
ORIN: I‘m talking about Matt Cooper. I mean, that—you know, and I don‘t want to be the first person over the bridge saying it. A lot of people are discussing it in private. Nobody is saying it publicly. That is not proper behavior. And, there are, you know, I‘ve had people say to me ...
MATTHEWS: We‘re going to talk a lot about that in the next segment, the segment after that, but the question of whether—you know, there is a murkiness about Judy Miller spending 85 days in jail and then all of a sudden her source, we find out is Scooter Libby, sending her the strangest kind of communications about interconnected roots of aspens and other—everybody else that got released from the confidentiality said, this hint, hint, you should say this. There is a lot of that squirrely behavior going on here that might suggest criminality.
ORIN: But there is also Judy Miller claiming that the words Valerie Flame got into her notebook and she has no idea how they got there. As a reporter I find that difficult to believe.
MATTHEWS: Especially when you‘re told that everything but that conversation was redacted. Why did that show up, unless—Tom DeFrank, where you are heading tonight? What are you reporting tonight for the morning editions? I need to know.
DEFRANK: Well, you may need to know but you‘re going to have to look at the Web site tonight just like everybody else.
MATTHEWS: So if I do a Google search around 12:15, and when you‘re online, will I see the name John Hannah?
DEFRANK: I‘m not going to talk about what we‘re doing or what we‘re not doing. But John Hannah is a name that you‘re going to see in a lot of papers in the days ahead. He was mentioned in “The New York Times.”
MATTHEWS: Is he flipping? Is he a whistleblower in this administration? Have they got somebody to talk, a Valachi?
DEFRANK: Well, “The Daily News,” two of my colleagues, James Scort (ph) and Mekin Kimbasnet (ph) reported that in yesterday‘s paper that somebody was flipping, had been flipped. But we don‘t know precisely whether it was John Hannah. There is a lot of speculation about John Hannah though.
MATTHEWS: I think there is somebody in there that is testifying like John Dean or Valachi or somebody like that for the simple reason that Judge Hogan—I‘m not dramatizing, this is a fact. This Judge Hogan allowed a reporter to be in jail for 85 days. He threatened Matt Cooper with long-time jail time.
There must have been some big crime here at the heart of what you said, the intelligence identification act where there was somebody was outed or not, and maybe somebody at the very top was involved. Anyway, thank you. Thomas DeFrank of “The New York Daily News” and Deborah Orin of the “New York Post,” both great newspapers.
Coming up, the media‘s role in the CIA leak case. We promised it.
We‘re going to talk about it.
And later, how‘s the Bush administration handling the possibility that top officials could be indicted?
And tomorrow on HARDBALL, one of the reporters at the center of the investigation, the aforementioned “Time” magazine‘s Matt Cooper. That is tomorrow. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. “New York Times” reporter Judith Miller who spent nearly three months in jail for refusing to reveal a source‘s name testified before the U.S. Congress today in favor of a proposed law to protect reporters from revealing confidential sources except in certain cases of national security.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUDITH MILLER, “NEW YORK TIMES” REPORTER: An uncoerced, uncoercable press, though at times irritating, is vital to the perpetuation of the freedom and democracy we so often take for granted.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Tucker Carlson is host of MSNBC‘s “THE SITUATION,” and Margaret Carlson—absolutely no relation—is from “The Week” magazine. I want to talk with Margaret. Margaret, you spent a long time in print journalism, from magazines, for everybody, editorial positions. What do you think about the idea of the shield law as this case suggests that need for one or the problems with one?
MARGARET CARLSON, “THE WEEK” MAGAZINE: I don‘t think this is a good case to make—a good case to use for this shield law. But a shield law is a good idea. Then we wouldn‘t have these dramas. But the problem with this case is that the reporters weren‘t protecting a whistleblower or somebody who was likely to lose their job or somebody who needed our protection.
In fact, they were protecting, you know, people who were the most powerful people you can imagine in government. And, so, going to jail for these people and not accepting a waiver—which by the way, having a waiver to accept is a great thing if you‘re dealing with people like Scooter Libby and Karl Rove. You want to take that waiver. You want to question a waiver that comes from a government employee who might lose their job.
MATTHEWS: Interesting question. I think—let‘s go to you, Tucker, for the same reaction. What is your basic line on whether we need a shield law?
TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC ANCHOR: Well, I mean, Judy Miller may be an imperfect vessel for the message, but message is the right one. And that is leaks, by and large, almost always, are good for the public. And I don‘t think it‘s even a matter so much of doing justice, speaking truth to power, holding the powerful accountable, though those are worthy goals.
But the point is getting information to the public. So it almost doesn‘t matter who the source is. The only real question is, is the information valid? Is it true? Did it happen? And if it did, I think the public, 99 percent of the time, has a right to know about it.
I‘m kind of amazed by the number of reporters—not Margaret—but I mean, a lot of reporters, most of them on the left, who are, you know, taking the side against Judy Miller because they don‘t like her or they think she caused the war in Iraq, or for a bunch of whole different reasons. But, in effect, they‘re arguing against their own jobs, they‘re arguing against what they do every day and it‘s weird.
Tucker, why should there be any shielding or protection of government officials at a high level who put out something through the back door when they should be putting it out through the front door through the press office?
For example, quite legitimately, I think, the White House has let the
press know that the person who had a big hand in getting Joe Wilson the job
· I‘m not sure exactly how it worked, but she obviously had some influence in getting him that assignment to go to Africa—was his wife, who was—why didn‘t they just have Scott McClellan put out a statement, We understand that the reason he got—he got picked. Not the reason for the mission, but the reason he got suggested is because he has a lot of experience in Africa as an ambassador. He speaks French well. It‘s a French-speaking country. And his wife brought up his name.
Why didn‘t they put that out officially?
T. CARLSON: You know why.
MATTHEWS: Well, I want to know why.
T. CARLSON: Because politicians are sneaky and indirect and sometimes dishonest, and they don‘t want to say out loud some things they know to be true.
But that doesn‘t make the information—so they may be dishonorable by leaking it. And I think a lot of leakers are dishonorable and motivated by their own, you know, sometimes ugly motives. Usually they‘re—you know, it‘s—interagency battles are behind a lot of these leaks, you know. Someone at OMB is mad at somebody in Congress. Obviously, you know how it works.
But the point, again, is from the public‘s point of view, is the information true? And from my part as a newspaper reader, I was really interested to know, and I found it useful to know that Joe Wilson was sent to Africa probably in part because his wife worked at CIA. That told me something—I mean, it‘s an interesting question. Why Joe Wilson? Why send him? And now we know. And I don‘t know—that‘s worth knowing. And that‘s kind of gotten lost in all of the hysteria surrounding this case.
MATTHEWS: Margaret, isn‘t the first question that when you go to the Hill or anywhere—to Capitol Hill to try to get some information from somebody, I assume it‘s this way—in my day up on there 20 years ago now, I would say, Are we on background? I mean, first question, are we on background. Yes. OK, therefore, I can talk. And then a Hill aide, or somebody close to the leadership, or—but you never just start talking, do you?
Isn‘t this the way you have to do business in Washington? Or else everybody would be in the papers every day saying embarrassing things.
M. CARLSON: Well, it is definitely overused.
But the reason—the answer to the question, Tucker and Chris, is that it‘s because it was nasty. It wasn‘t that she worked at the CIA. I think it was accidental and inadvertent that they blew the cover of a CIA agent. Better if she worked at Commerce or State or Starbucks. It didn‘t matter.
What they were trying to do was to show that a critic was a girly man, a twit who couldn‘t get a job but for his wife. He had no standing.
M. CARLSON: He had no standing. He had no credibility. His wife had to get him the job. That was the point of that.
MATTHEWS: I see.
M. CARLSON: You don‘t want to put your name on it.
MATTHEWS: I see.
MATTHEWS: They also accused him of being on a junket, right?
M. CARLSON: Well, he was a former ambassador. He‘s not a lightweight. He had a lot of, you know, good—there were a lot of good reasons to send him.
They wanted to distance themselves—more than distance—from a report that showed that the reason for going to war was absolutely—there was no reason whatsoever to go to war.
I want you both to come back and talk about some interesting reporting in today‘s “New York Daily News” by Tom DeFrank—he was just here—that says that the president had Karl Rove, the man who‘s talked about so much in this lead case, on the skillet himself and it was the president doing the roasting.
We‘ll be right back with Tucker Carlson and Margaret Carlson.
And later, how damaging would indictments be to the Bush administration? Well, you can guess.
We‘ll be back with a former insider in the 41 -- Bush 41 White House.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Tucker Carlson, host of MSNBC‘s “The Situation”—it‘s on 11:00 Eastern Time tonight—and Margaret Carlson of “The Week” magazine.
You know, 20 years from now, 100 years from now, my two Carlson guests, they‘re not going to be arguing about Valerie Plame or Flame or Wilson or anyone else; they‘re going to be talking about this war in Iraq and how we got in it and how the press may have been used in getting us in the war.
Is a bigger question here not whether somebody outed somebody who was working for the CIA and broke a law accidentally perhaps or probably accidentally through political hardball, or is it that the “New York Times” was used, the media we‘re on right now was used to sell a war that was based upon corrupt arguments; a corrupt case that there was a deal with Africa to buy uranium, yellow cake which turned out not to be substantiated?
Was the “New York Times” used for that? Were they setting up the “New York Times” so on the Sunday programs these guys like the vice president could come on and say, that‘s right, we have a nuclear argument for the war because that article in the “Times” was right and you find out later that the article was put there by the vice president‘s office?
T. CARLSON: No.
MATTHEWS: But we do know that.
T. CARLSON: No, but come on...
MATTHEWS: We do know that.
T. CARLSON: Come on. By the time the war actually began, the yellow cake argument I think had been discredited by that point.
But in any case, it was never...
MATTHEWS: No, no. It was in the president‘s State of the Union address.
T. CARLSON: You‘re exactly right.
But at that point, I don‘t think that was a main rationale, at least publicly for the war.
MATTHEWS: ... a lot of the central people, not the ideologues.
Tucker, I have to take issue with you. A lot of the people who were smart people, who were in the middle politically...
T. CARLSON: Right.
MATTHEWS: ... they didn‘t want to go to war for all the demographic, or what do you call them, the geopolitical reasons in the Middle East and all that stuff.
T. CARLSON: No, no.
MATTHEWS: They went—even for the moral reasons.
T. CARLSON: It was the WMD.
MATTHEWS: They were worried about the United States getting hit by a nuclear weapon.
T. CARLSON: But not just nuclear, it was chem and bio, too. I felt like that was the main rationale.
The weapons that had been catalogued by the inspectors year ago, that we knew had been in Iraq, that was the big deal right there.
My point is, look, the “New York Times” is responsible for that? The “New York Times” is supposed to independently verify somehow that Saddam didn‘t have those weapons? Come on.
MATTHEWS: No, they‘re supposed to question an administration that has an ideological bend, that was trying to make a story sell in the mainstream press.
T. CARLSON: OK.
But why is it their job and not the job of the opposition party in the Congress?
You have the Democratic Party silent at the time—not to blame everything on the Democrats...
T. CARLSON: I‘m opposed to the war too.
But I‘m just saying to blame the “New York Times” and not the congressional leadership, the Democratic leadership in the Congress which, as you remember, was virtually silent—come on.
MATTHEWS: Margaret, to be skeptical about stories that are presented as objective when, in fact, they come from the hands of people like Ahmed Chalabi, who wanted his country back, and Scooter Libby, et cetera, who wanted to win an argument about WMD, and to have that as the basis for news coverage is dangerous I think.
Do you agree or not?
M. CARLSON: No one was more used than the “New York Times” and no paper is more important than the “New York Times.”
And a lot of those people on the Hill, Tucker, are getting their information from the “New York Times.”
And the sourcing on those stories, I think it‘s five of the six that the “New York Times” apologized for were stories written or co-written by Judy Miller, and it turns out that her source, as Chris just said, was characterized in different ways but almost always Ahmed Chalabi, an exile who wanted the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
T. CARLSON: Wait. I hate to be like the right-wing guy defending the “New York Times,” particularly since I‘m not for the war...
However, the idea that Congress, with its intelligence committees, is getting its information on WMD from the Times is kind of mind-boggling.
I just think there are means that Congress has to gather information independently of the press, evaluate that information and come to its own conclusions.
There were liberals—many—in Congress who were opposed to the war. And they didn‘t pipe up. I was there. I watched this whole thing unfold.
I think The Times ran some bad stories. But they‘re not responsible for the invasion of Iraq. Bush is responsible. And the Democrats who didn‘t oppose him are responsible.
M. CARLSON: But the national intelligence estimate that they were looking at was the same thing the New York Times was looking at. It was all being cherry-picked and fed by elements within the CIA and within the administration that were talking about mushroom clouds and yellow uranium and British reports and things that turned out not to be right.
MATTHEWS: You know, and by the way, people who know this administration well believe that, had the vice president‘s office not been out there as the ramrod for this war, there is a good question as to whether we would have gone or not.
Anyway, thank you Margaret Carlson and thank you, Tucker Carlson.
We‘ll see you.
“The Situation” is tonight at 11:00, as I said. It‘s a great show.
Watch tonight. Stay up. Have milk and cookies. Watch the whole thing.
Up next, the politics of the CIA leak investigation: two top political strategists, Republican Ed Rogers—he worked for Bush one and Democrat Bob Shrum. Well, he‘ll work for a Democratic president someday.
They‘ll debate this damaging case and how it affects the Bush White House. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
What happens to this administration if the near-to-worst-case scenario of Karl Rove, sometimes called “Bush‘s brain Dick Cheney‘s right-hand man, Scooter Libby leave the White House?
Is Chief of Staff Andy Card up to the task of filling the vacuum?
And what are the Democrats doing now to exploit the difficulties facing this administration? For instance, we go to political analyst Bob Shrum in New York and GOP strategist Ed Rogers.
Ed, I‘ve got to as you—you know a lot of the guys: Is there any chance they‘ll bring back a heavyweight from the past, somebody like Jim Baker, the former secretary of state...
MATTHEWS: Why is that laughable? I remember when Ronald Reagan, in his later years as president, got in big trouble over Iran-Contra and the problem was that Don Regan didn‘t know what he was doing there.
They brought in a heavyweight. They brought in Howard Baker, the longtime Senate leader and Ken Guberstein. And they cleaned things up. And Reagan was able to leave office fine.
ED ROGERS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think Jim Baker would be a great addition to any administration, anywhere, any time. Having said that, I don‘t think there is going to be the occasion.
We‘re just—we are just speculating in a mindless way about what might happen in the next couple of...
MATTHEWS: Do you want to place some money on this?
ROGERS: I‘ll place money that Karl Rove won‘t be indicted.
MATTHEWS: We‘ll talk afterwards.
ROGERS: OK, good.
MATTHEWS: rMD+IT_rMDNM_I don‘t know. But all the accounts are that he‘s been hauled before the grand jury a fourth time.
MATTHEWS: Constantly questioned on the truth or untruth of what he has to say about meetings with reporters and his whole stories about who leaked this thing.
ROGERS: And his critics and the administration‘s critics choose to say that means an indictment is pending.
On the other hand, it suggests that this prosecutor is being nothing but thorough and fair.
MATTHEWS: So you think that there is not going to be any report or indictments or nothing?
ROGERS: Yes, I did see that and the New York Times said, Gee, no report means likely indictment. The fact is the opposite is probably true. No report means no indictment.
And he‘s not compelled to write any kind of report. And, in the past, part of what was the problem with the special prosecutor law that went out of existence was the prosecutor was compelled to write a report, very often, that besmirched innocent people, people that they decided not to indict; they just gratuitously brought it up. And so, no report...
MATTHEWS: I think that‘s wrong. By the way, that‘s a question. I want to ask Bob that.
Let me ask you. You think there shouldn‘t be a report—there should just be indictments or nothing, silence?
ROGERS: Yes, sure.
MATTHEWS: Do you buy that, Bob, as a judgment here, that either he has the stuff to indict on crimes committed or he doesn‘t and he should go back to Chicago?
ROGERS: That‘s his job.
BOB SHRUM, POLITICAL STRATEGIST: I do look forward, if, there are indictments, to hearing Ed defend the fairness of the special prosecutor.
This is someone who, as far as I could see, actually has the chance, in an era of tremendous political bitterness, to conduct himself in a nonpolitical way and restore faith in the law enforcement system.
I think there ought to be a report. I think the country is entitled to know what went on here.
MATTHEWS: Even if there are no indictments?
SHRUM: Well, obviously, yes. Only if there are no indictments. I don‘t think he can put put out a report if there are indictments.
If there are indictments, he has to go to trial. There‘s a lot here that is not explained. Earlier, Tom DeFrank was talking about a story that Bush knew about this or knew that Rove was involved in this and was angry at Rove.
But Bush‘s brain has had a case of selective amnesia. As we know, for a long time, he maintained he hadn‘t talked to Matt Cooper about any of this.
So how did Bush know in the first place?
ROGERS: Is that a question to me?
SHRUM: It would be fine. I‘d love to hear your answer.
ROGERS: I‘m not sure that question accurately portrays what we know in the public media now. But the fact of the matter is: We just know fragments of what has gone on in a federal grand jury.
And I do agree with Bob Shrum about Fitzgerald‘s meticulous qualifications and the way he has gone about this. And if he says, no indictments, that should be the end of it.
MATTHEWS: But if he says there are indictments, no should be the end of it, too?
ROGERS: If he says there are indictments, we‘re going to have a trial.
ROGERS: Fitzgerald is the right guy for this job.
SHRUM: And I‘ll bet we‘ll have—Ed, you‘ve promised you‘re not going to come back on here; you‘re not going to go after those indictments; you‘re not going to go after Fitzgerald; you‘re not going to say this is a phony case?
ROGERS: Hey, I think Fitzgerald is the right guy for this job, absolutely.
SHRUM: And I bet we‘ll have—Ed, you promised you‘re not going to come back on here, you‘re not going to go after those indictments, you‘re not going to go after Fitzgerald, you‘re not going to say this is a phony case?
ROGERS: Hey, I think Fitzgerald is the right guy for this.
ROGERS: And if there is an indictment, it is going to be based on a lot of fact, it is going to be based on a lot of reason and, yes, it will be a serious matter.
MATTHEWS: ... both you guys—you first, Bob, because you haven‘t been in the White House. But let me ask you about history.
If a president has top people, his very top people accused of a crime, what does he do? Is it proper for him to go out and have a meeting with the guys—come on in, we have to talk about this; did you do anything that even remotely connects with what they‘re accusing you of; if so, I‘d like you to leave?
Or do you just let them—you string out there, twist slowly in the wind until the prosecutor nails them?
SHRUM: Well, I think the history indicates you‘re better off having the meeting and making a decision.
But I do agree with something you said earlier, Chris, which is that sometimes when this happens in the middle of an administration—and it wasn‘t just Reagan who got a new lease on life when he renewed his White House staff. Eisenhower, when Sherman Adams got in terrible trouble, had to leave. Eisenhower actually I think did better in the last couple of years than he did before that.
The problem right now—and I don‘t know whether it‘s the absence of Rove or not—is a White House that doesn‘t seem to know quite what it‘s doing.
I mean, we defend—the president defends the Miers nomination by saying she is deeply religious. So are you, rMDNM_Chris; I‘m not sure that means you should be on the Supreme Court.
And then we let our friends overfix the election in Iraq so that having gone there to establish democracy we end up with Soviet-style 99 percent vote results.
I mean, somebody has to start getting this thing right.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about the president.
It is a challenge. And you‘re hopeful that, and many people are hopeful that there won‘t be any action here, that he‘ll come back and maybe issue a mild report and that will be the end of it. But the president must be thinking now, he has to be ready for whatever result there is next week.
ROGERS: Yes, I think so.
And at this level, the White House is a pretty intimate place. They‘re all talking to each other. These are not remote aides that are a couple of levels and layers away.
I think within the White House they have a very clear understanding of what everyone has said and what some of the facts are, and to the degree to which they have been allowed to talk about grand jury testimony, I‘m sure they‘ve done it.
But the fact is at its core, they‘re probably like everybody else—they‘re waiting to see. The White House is braced for different scenarios, but nobody knows.
MATTHEWS: Can you imagine, gentlemen, just the physical locality of working on the West Wing right now?
ROGERS: Yes, it‘s a small place.
MATTHEWS: The president—next to him is Harriet Miers has an office. Next to that is Andy Card, the chief of staff. Next to that is the vice president with Scooter Libby at hand most of the time. They‘re all there together.
ROGERS: It comes up.
MATTHEWS: And Karl Rove—I forgot—was right in there next to Harriet. They‘re all within—it‘s like all living on the same corner of a cul-de-sac.
MATTHEWS: How do they deal with this every day?
ROGERS: A lot of dark humor. I can tell you how they deal with it every day, a lot of dark humor.
ROGERS: Well, I don‘t know what that is.
But nonetheless, sure, it comes up. It is an intimate place. It‘s a very small place. They all read the newspapers. They all react to it.
MATTHEWS: On that point—I only have a minute here, half a minute.
They pick up the “New York Daily News” today. All of a sudden (inaudible) to the front of this story, and Tom DeFrank is one heavyweight reporter. We‘ve had him on here.
MATTHEWS: He‘s dynamite. He says that Karl Rove got basically dressed down by the president over this a couple years ago when he realized that he was getting mentioned on all the reporting on this.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of that? Did the president know he was involved and not do anything about it?
ROGERS: Well, I‘m—what I make of that is it‘s not unusual for the president to get angry at his staff. Hey, I‘ve had two presidents be angry at me.
MATTHEWS: But over a criminal charge here.
ROGERS: Well, I don‘t know if there is a criminal charge at the time. But the notion that the president may occasionally get mad at one of his senior aides and express that, hey, it happens.
MATTHEWS: There was anger, I got to tell you.
Bob Shrum, (inaudible) the president of the United States, did you read that story this morning by DeFrank?
MATTHEWS: What do you make of it?
SHRUM: Well, listen, I think it‘s—I think, as I said earlier, that there is a tension here between the story that Rove told at one point which is he didn‘t remember all of this stuff and that Bush‘s brain, as I said, had selective amnesia, and this story.
But, you know—and I would suggest that if these folks are listening to their lawyers, they‘re not talking a lot about this. They might tell a joke now and then, but even that is something they‘ll be asked about in the grand jury.
SHRUM: And if there is someone in the White House who has been turned and who is giving evidence, they can‘t even go out and try to find out who that is because that will come up in the grand jury.
MATTHEWS: And it‘s very hard for the president to reconcile his see no evil attitude of two years ago with he was reaming this guy. I mean, if he didn‘t see an evil, why was he so mad at the guy?
Thank you, Ed Rogers. We‘ll have you back. We‘re not making a bet, but we‘ll talk—we‘ll have a gentlemen‘s discussion when you come back.
As always, Ed Rogers, thank you. Bob Shrum.
When we return, as Bush administration officials trying to discredit Joe Wilson, legitimately or not, were they playing hardball or did they break the law?
That‘s the question we‘re all waiting for the prosecutor to give his answer to.
And we‘ll be joined in a moment by “New York Times” columnist Frank Rich—the great Frank Rich—and the “National Review”‘s great Byron York when HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
I‘m joined right now by a couple of heavyweights: Byron York, the up and coming columnist. He is the White House correspondent for the “National Review,” one of my favorite all-time magazines. And by phone we‘ve got Frank Rich, the hot, the hottest columnist—be careful, Maureen is great—in the “New York Times.”
I read you every Sunday. You‘ve got a great takeout. It‘s a long column. And I want to ask you about the meaning of these indictments if they come and the meaning of the world if they don‘t come.
FRANK RICH, “NEW YORK TIMES” COLUMNIST: Well, if they do come, I think it will show that the administration was so desperate to hide the circumstances and the intelligence errors, if not misleading intelligence aspects, on the way to Iraq that they got involved in a third-rate—sort of third-rate slur of the CIA agent and her husband.
I think that, you know, in the Hitchcock movie, someone like Joe Wilson, Valerie Wilson, they‘re the McGuffins (ph). They‘re not even the plot. This is about a very nervous administration sort of hitting a flea with a sledgehammer because because they‘re anxious about the truth about how we went to war in Iraq.
MATTHEWS: What about the possibility—and it‘s a strong one—that the vice president and his people who are now under the spotlight didn‘t know that the reason Joe Wilson was sent to Niger to check out that nuclear question about a possible deal over the yellow cake was a result of the inquiry put in by the vice president. And they didn‘t like the idea of the vice president being accused of covering up a trip like that?
RICH: That, to me, sounds totally plausible and may well be accurate. I have no way of knowing. But it doesn‘t affect, unfortunately, the main case which seems to be about covering up and obstruction of justice and perjury as far as we can tell when people just couldn‘t get their stories straight after whatever happened happened.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Byron, do you think—I want to as the same question to Frank in a second—do you think it‘s in the public interest that this prosecutor, he basically has a job of enforcing the law and punishing those he sees of breaking the law, to not do that? And to issue some sort of manifesto, some sort of declaration of where people did things wrong but he can‘t prove they broke the law?
YORK: Well, he doesn‘t...
MATTHEWS: Does he have that option?
YORK: He doesn‘t have any responsibility to do it like the old independent counsels did it. On the other hand, just as a reporter, this has been an issue of such intense public interest involving people at the highest levels of the government. I would like to see some sort of report if he doesn‘t do any indictments. I would like to see some sort of report.
MATTHEWS: How do we know it‘s true? If it doesn‘t have to go to court and be proven...
YORK: We don‘t...
MATTHEWS: No, it is important. He can make all kinds of declarations in a statement. But how do we know each part of that statement is true? It will have a resounding impact of the whole lives of the people affected.
They never get to test it in court.
YORK: Can you say someone said this to the grand jury and said this to the grand jury. It would involve the judge, obviously, giving them permission to use secret 6-E protected grand jury information.
MATTHEWS: So you‘re for a report if there are no indictments?
YORK: I want to know what happened.
MATTHEWS: You are in that same position, frank that is a reporter that likes to read in rich detail about things. Do you want a report if there are no indictments?
RICH: Of course I want a report. But I think Byron makes a good point. It‘s not necessarily going to be possible, legally, for him to do it. I don‘t think it‘s just Fitzgerald can just whimsically decide I‘m going to do a report and do it with no constraints. So sure, I‘d like to see it. Maybe easier said than done.
MATTHEWS: I hear Congress can ask for it. They can resolve or pass a bill asking for it. But we‘ll have to find that out. I don‘t think there will be a report. I think there are going to be indictments.
We‘ll be right back with Byron York and Frank Rich.
And a reminder, the political debate is on going on Hardblogger, our political blog Web site. Follow all the punches and counter punches on the hottest political stories each day. And you can download podcasts of Hardball. Just go to our Web side, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Byron York of “The National Review” and Frank Rich of “The New York Times.”
You know, Frank and Byron, you know, I saw that movie about Edward R. Murrow. And as much as I do believe there were some communists in the government, James Latimore, whatever, Harry Dexter White and certainly Alger Hiss, they were certainly not in the numbers or the seriousness of a threat by Joe McCarthy. But one thing from the movie was hysteria is a bad time to make big judgments about people or about wars. And one thing we were forced to do in the year 2002 is have a Congress, Frank and Byron, make a decision about whether we should authorize force against Saddam Hussein in an environment, with so much affected by 9/11. And we made a quick decision. We went to war.
But part of that war, was that we were threatened with nuclear weapons. And the question now obtains (ph), it really is a high question, was “The New York Times” used to make that case improperly?
I don‘t know—I‘m going to let Byron first, because he‘s not at...
YORK: I don‘t blame the press as much in this, because you are—in an issue like weapons control, you are really only as good as your official sources. This is no....
MATTHEW: But why would you use Ahmed Chalabi, who wants to be his country back, or Scooter Libby who wants to win his argument.
YORK: Because they may not have known the people on the ground in Iraq who did do it. This is not when the sheriff tells you something and then you can go to the actual suspect and find something else.
MATTHEWS: It‘s not like Capitol Hill, you can‘t check the argument of the left against the right.
YORK: You can there. Everybody is fact checking each other. But you know, in this, clearly the press had it wrong. But all the official sources had it wrong, too, including those who were in the previous administration.
MATTHEWS: What I suspect here Frank, is an alli-oop play like in the NBA, where one player throws the ball near the net and the other puts it in. So someone from the vice president‘s office leaks to “the Times.” And the vice president‘s goes on Sunday television and puts the ball in.
RICH: Well, I think that—I can‘t answer that question, because I don‘t know all the sources for the pieces that we ran. And of course, we were not the only ones, as Byron was saying, who ran what now turns out to be completely wrong stuff about W.M.D.‘s. But there was quite of effort underway, and I think it gets to the heart of this case, because it wasn‘t just journalists and Congress that was led astray, but it was people like Collin Powell who was fed, we now know, a bunch of phony information which he questioned and still included too much of in his U.N. presentation.
MATTHEWS: And he‘s angry about it right now.
RICH: He certainly is from what I hear.
MATTHEWS: And there are a lot of congressmen on the Hill who don‘t want to say it, but they‘re angry too, because they were force fed a lot of information which was about national security.
A lot of people didn‘t want to get involved about politics in the Middle East. They did have any ideological attitude about it. But they did fear the use of a nuclear weapon against America in this airplane that they keep talking about—I mean, it‘s hard to describe it because it wasn‘t quite an airplane.
YORK: The thing is that there clearly was a fair amount of group-think going on. And I believe Kenneth Pollack did a real good—who had written a lot of—going up to the war, wrote a great peace in the “Atlantic” after it was clear we weren‘t going to find the weapons, about this sort of group-think.
I think where you go off track is when you talk about a deliberate campaign of lies that originates in Dick Cheney‘s office or the Oval Office.
MATTHEWS: No. Not lies. Worst case scenarios upon worst case scenarios upon worst case scenarios sold as a reasonable proposition.
YORK: After September 11, they came to believe that you had to view intelligence in an alarmed way...
MATTHEWS: I know the thinking. It doesn‘t mean it‘s based on fact.
Anyway, back more with Byron York in the next time he‘s on. And Frank Rich, thanks for coming.
Tomorrow on HARDBALL—anyway, thank you—Matt Cooper joins us tomorrow on HARDBALL. Right now it‘s time for “THE ABRAMS REPORT” with Dan.
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