Guests: David Gergen, Tom DeFrank
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Vice President Cheney‘s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, resigns after being indicted for obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements in the CIA leak investigation. President Bush‘s top adviser, Karl Rove, was not indicted today, but special counsel Fitzgerald made it clear he remains under investigation. And the trial of Scooter Libby lies ahead.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews.
Scooter Libby, assistant to the president, chief of staff to the vice president, and assistant to the vice president for national security affairs, resigned today after being indicted on five counts in the CIA leak case.
President Bush made this statement this afternoon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We‘re all saddened by today‘s news. We remain wholly focused on the many issues and opportunities facing this country. I got a job to do. So do the people who work in the White House.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: One of those people that has a job to do, the president‘s top adviser, Karl Rove, escaped indictment today, but remains under investigation.
HARDBALL‘s David Shuster is outside the federal courthouse tonight in Washington, D.C.—David.
DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, this was a 22-month investigation that began on the heels of White House denials and then took speed in the midst of rolling disclosures. Today, the prosecutor and his grand jury weighed in, charging Scooter Libby with perjury, lying to investigators, and obstruction of justice.
PATRICK FITZGERALD, U.S. ATTORNEY: We can send people out when $1 million...
SHUSTER (voice-over): It was the announcement from prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald the Bush administration had feared.
FITZGERALD: A few hours ago, a federal grand jury sitting in the District of Columbia returned a five-count indictment against I. Lewis Libby, also known as Scooter Libby, the vice president‘s chief of staff.
SHUSTER: The indictment charges that Libby lied repeatedly to federal investigators in the grand jury about his conversations with reporters and that Libby lied about how he actually learned that the wife of an administration critic worked at the CIA.
FITZGERALD: If it is proven that the chief of staff to the vice president went before a federal grand jury and lied under oath repeatedly and fabricated a story about how he learned this information, how he passed it on, and we prove obstruction of justice, perjury and—and false statements to the FBI, that‘s a very, very serious matter.
SHUSTER: The indictment says that Libby began collecting information on Joe Wilson in the spring of 2003, when news articles surfaced criticizing claims Iraq had sought uranium from Africa and referring to a CIA-sponsored trip there the year before. In May of 2003 -- quote—
“Libby asked an undersecretary of state for information concerning the unnamed ambassador‘s travel to Niger.”
In early June—quote—“The undersecretary provided Libby with interim oral reports and advised Libby that Wilson was the former ambassador.”
June 9, 2003 -- quote—“Classified documents from the CIA were faxed to the office of the vice president and to the personal attention of Libby and another person in the vice president‘s office.”
June 12 -- quote—“Libby was advised by the vice president that Wilson‘s wife worked at the CIA.”
FITZGERALD: In addition to hearing it from government officials, it‘s also alleged in the indictment that at least three times Mr. Libby discussed this information with other government officials.
SHUSTER: The indictment says, in July 2003, Libby spoke about Wilson with Press Secretary Ari Fleischer and an official not named, but believed to be Karl Rove.
Then, on board Air Force Two, the indictment says Libby spoke with other officials in the vice president‘s office about how to deal with media inquiries about the intelligence related to the Africa uranium claim. While the indictment does not charge Libby with actually disseminating classified information to smear a critic, the prosecutor said Libby‘s lies to investigators impeded efforts to determine if there was any orchestrated White House scheme or plan.
FITZGERALD: And all I‘m saying is the harm and the obstruction crime is, it shields us from knowing the full truth.
SHUSTER: Fitzgerald said his investigation will remain active, with a new grand jury available in case more evidence is collected about Karl Rove or in case Libby wants to cut a deal and offers testimony about others.
FITZGERALD: I will not end the investigation until I can look him in the eye and tell him that we have carried out our responsibility sufficiently.
SHUSTER: But the prosecutor also sounded pessimistic that any new information would come from Libby, who resigned from the administration moments after the charges against him were announced.
SHUSTER: In the next couple of weeks, Lewis Libby will come here to the federal courthouse for his arraignment. In the meantime, several questions that have been at the heart of the case still remain unanswered, such as, who was Bob Novak‘s original source? And was Scooter Libby trying to protect anybody in the White House? And, furthermore, what was the nerve in the vice president‘s office that Joe Wilson touched that prompted Scooter Libby, allegedly, according to prosecutors, to end up committing a crime? -- Chris.
MATTHEWS: David Shuster, stay with us.
Let‘s bring in now NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams and NBC News White House correspondent David Gregory.
You first, Pete.
Looking at the gravity of the crimes charged tonight—or today, rather—how did the White House do today?
PETE WILLIAMS, NBC JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is very serious crimes.
Of course, Karl Rove wasn‘t charged with anything. And while he technically is under investigation, it seems very hard now that the grand jury could come back and charge him with something. He did—Fitzgerald did say, technically, he‘s not done, but it did seem that he‘s all done but the mopping up.
I suppose, in theory, if there were a guilty plea, he could come back at Karl Rove. But I think Karl Rove, for all practical purposes, the odds of charges against him seem pretty remote now. But, as for Scooter Libby, these are serious charges. These are the ones that usually come up in Washington investigations, from Whitewater to Watergate, obstruction of justice, perjury, lying to federal agents.
They—they can bring serious jail time. But the question here is, it is one thing to indict. How strong will the case be at trial, when you‘re talking about old memories? And already his lawyer is saying, this is a case of different interpretations of what happened several years ago, and it is going to be hard to convince a jury of that.
MATTHEWS: Would that be the case if you think about which jury this is going to be? It‘s a District of Columbia jury, very much the jury pool that we see today in the—in the—in the grand jury. Isn‘t it easier to indict a Republican in Washington than to convict one?
WILLIAMS: Well, I think that‘s true.
And, you know, what we are going to—what—typically—typically, these things in Washington, cases like this, end in guilty pleas. But will his lawyer and will Mr. Libby, who himself is a lawyer, say, wait a minute? We are going to fight this one. We are going to go to trial and we are going to say that Mr. Libby honestly tried to recollect what was happening. This is a very busy guy in the White House. Look at how long a day he works. Look at all the issues he handles. How do you expect him to keep all of this straight?
Now, Fitzgerald will say, he was talking to people within days of when he told reporters that he had not heard from anybody but other reporters. Those are the two sides. But there are many prosecutors who are saying today, this is hardly a slam-dunk case.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about the counts, because you have got a count of—I believe you have got a couple perjury counts. You have got obstruction of justice. We got false information, false statements.
MATTHEWS: Could they all fall at once, if you could raise doubts, reasonable doubts, about his state of mind?
WILLIAMS: Well, they all depend on the same actions. They‘re all different versions of the same actions.
What the prosecutor says is that Mr. Libby lied four separate times when he recounted these events, all in slightly different ways, twice to two FBI agents—twice to FBI agents. Those are two, twice to the grand jury. That‘s four. And the fifth count is, you put that altogether and the prosecutor says that‘s obstruction of justice. But you‘re right. It all is—is dependent upon the same fact pattern.
MATTHEWS: Well, I guess he‘s out looking for a criminal lawyer right now. Is that the situation for Scooter Libby?
WILLIAMS: Without question.
MATTHEWS: Let me go right now to David Gregory at the White House for the political fill on this.
Chief of staff to the vice president, assistant to the vice president for national security, assistant to the president overall, how much of a vacuum is left now by the departure of Scooter Libby, his resignation today?
DAVID GREGORY, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think far—far less of a vacuum than would have been had Karl Rove been indicted. I think there‘s a real feeling of relief around here, even though Karl Rove is still under investigation, as Pete mentions, that he has dodged a bullet, at least for now. And, so, they can begin this process of—of moving on.
I think what is interesting here, Chris, is, there are still questions about the role of the vice president, what role, if any, he played in encouraging Scooter Libby in his alleged activities. Certainly, that is not an area that the special prosecutor is alleging or wanted to get into in public statements—and the underlying crime. Was there this concerted effort to go after Joe Wilson, to punish him, in effect, by outing his wife?
That sort of disappears into the ether as a criminal matter, because, again, that is not being charged. So, I think that does relieve some pressure. I was struck by the president‘s comments tonight, to sort of grimly mark the fact that this was a dedicated White House aide, somebody who was definitely a quite power player within the White House, when you talk about Scooter Libby, but, at the same time, the president made it very clear that he‘s going to try to excise this wound and now move on.
And you hear that up and down the corridors here.
MATTHEWS: The president once again left—left go by the opportunity to take a shot at the special prosecutor, Mr. Fitzgerald. He‘s talked about his prosecution effort being dignified, being serious, the whole enterprise being serious. That was a big decision, I thought. What did you make of that, that he didn‘t choose to—to bring into question the nature of this—or the legitimacy of this indictment, several indictments?
GREGORY: Well, look, I—I think that Republicans, in the person of Jim Comey over at the Justice Department, who chose Fitzgerald in—in the first place, made a very wise decision, to pick somebody who has—who was a strong prosecutor, an apolitical guy, who has got a very solid reputation.
And the president was left very little room. He‘s come out publicly well before today to say that he thinks Fitzgerald is doing this in a dignified fashion. He ordered everybody within the White House to cooperate. And if the indictment is to be believed, Scooter Libby did not cooperate. And we will see. He will contest that and there will be a trial perhaps. And he says that—that was not the case.
Nevertheless, I—I—I agree with you, Chris. I think it is significant. I think the president may have been sending a signal as well to surrogates in the Republican Party, that: We are not going to turn this into a kind of war against Fitzgerald.
GREGORY: And it is going to start at the top.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the relationship between the president and the vice president. It is probably the strongest ever, the closest to a partnership, really, the president and vice president.
How do they talk about this now when they get together? How do they talk about a man who was almost their partner, Scooter Libby...
MATTHEWS: ... involved in some way the national security issues,
involved with making the case for the war in Iraq and defending that case,
day after day after day, meeting after meeting? And there he is, exposed -
I will say that—that‘s the legal term—on an issue of whether he basically broke the law in trying to fight good fight.
Are they going to treat him as an outrider, a rogue? Or are they going to say he got hurt fighting for us?
GREGORY: Well, I think it is a good question.
I think on—on—at a practical level, the vice president really can‘t be discussing these matters, because, if there‘s a trial, he is likely to be a witness. And he will be asked about those conversations. I think, as a practical matter, also, in terms of running the country, I think they simply have to say that the—the underlying activity of—of trying to refute Joe Wilson was an appropriate political thing to do.
And I do think that allies of Scooter Libby and this vice president will not back down from attacking Joe Wilson, attacking his credibility and attacking his basis for attacking the White House‘s case for war, because I think they will maintain, up and down, look, none of that was a crime here. As a matter of fact, the only crime that was alleged in this matter had to do with obstructing the investigation, which is a serious deal, but doesn‘t get us any closer to the question of whether somebody deliberately tried to blow Valerie Plame‘s cover.
MATTHEWS: Let me go back up for a moment to Pete Williams.
It has been pointed out—I read a note today—that the vice president has been warned. The White House staff has been warned, don‘t talk to Scooter Libby now that he‘s resigned. What‘s the legal significance of that admonition?
WILLIAMS: Oh, a couple of ones immediately come to mind. The first is that there are several people who were interviewed by the grand jury, White House staffers, who could still be called as witnesses. And one of the questions lawyers will ask is, you know, have you talked to Scooter Libby lately? Have you talked to his lawyers? And they want to be able to say no to that.
And I think it is just for a general hands-off approach. They just want to say, you know, we got nothing to do with this. He is on his own. It is a legal matter now and we‘re out of it.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you very much, Pete Williams.
Thank you, David Shuster.
Thank you, David Gregory, at the White House.
Coming up, more on today‘s developments and the question of what‘s next for the Bush administration, legally and politically.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FITZGERALD: If you‘re going to have a grand jury investigation into the improper disclosure of national security information and you‘re going to have someone in the position Mr. Libby is lying to the FBI on two occasions and going before a grand jury on two occasions and telling false testimony and obstructing the investigation, that, to me, defines a serious breach of the public trust.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Coming up, Vice President Cheney‘s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, resigns after being indicted on five counts in the CIA leak probe. But is the investigation over?
HARDBALL returns after this.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Let‘s bring in two more journalists who have been covering this big story, Howard Fineman of “Newsweek”‘s magazine and Tom DeFrank and of “The New York Daily News.”
Howard, this is a big weekend story for your magazine. How do you put it all together?
HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you put it all together, number one, as a White House under siege.
I mean, you—you have Scooter Libby resigning under fire, having been indicted. You have Harriet Miers‘ nomination being withdrawn. You have the anniversary of the 2,000th death in Iraq. You have the president with poll numbers at the bottom of the heap. I mean, this is probably the toughest week this White House has had. It is of historic proportions. That‘s number one.
Number two, you look not just at Scooter Libby, but at Dick Cheney, because a lot of this story and a lot of this indictment, if you read the charges, have Dick Cheney in the background. And Dick Cheney is as close to the president as you come.
MATTHEWS: How—let me go to Tom DeFrank on that.
In terms of the interior of the White House right now, including the
vice president‘s office, how do these two fellows that have been such close
partners, the president and the vice president, not notice that the other -
the third partner, who is missing right now, Scooter Libby?
TOM DEFRANK, “NEW YORK DAILY NEWS”: I think this is one of these situations where they—they pretend that it is be happening. They don‘t talk about this.
I think the president and the vice president have had lots of conversations about this for a long time. And I don‘t mean in terms of prosecutorial problems or talking out of school. I just think that they have been talking about what they do about this for quite some time.
MATTHEWS: Now, the White House staff...
DEFRANK: But, I mean, Libby—Libby is gone. There‘s nothing they can do about it.
MATTHEWS: Well, there‘s one thing that is a legal question here, is, the White House staff has been admonished, I just noted before the break, not to have any contact with Scooter Libby from now on. Is the vice president supposed to honor that admonition as well?
DEFRANK: I think so. And I think the vice president‘s statement today made it pretty clear that he is not going to have much to say. And I think he would be advised by David Addington, his counsel, not to—not to talk to Scooter Libby, unless it was just happy birthday or something like that.
MATTHEWS: What do you think, Howard, points to the vice president? If you were the prosecutor, as you go into this criminal trial against Scooter Libby, what does he have to give you, in terms of the usual throwing-somebody-out-of-the-boat kind of thing?
FINEMAN: What does the vice president have to give the prosecutor?
MATTHEWS: What does Scooter have to give? Usually, these things...
FINEMAN: Well—oh, I see.
MATTHEWS: ... are squeezing upwards.
I—I—I don‘t know. At—at first, I thought that—that Patrick Fitzgerald was leaving the Karl Rove part of this thing open, as he did today, in part because he might want to try to squeeze Scooter Libby to get to Karl Rove. But there doesn‘t seem to be anything in this indictment that would lead directly to other criminal behavior—you know, alleged criminal behavior by Karl Rove.
So, I‘m not—I‘m not sure the squeeze theory necessarily works, unless you think that the person that Patrick Fitzgerald has in his sights is the vice president of the United States, if there‘s some notion, perhaps, that the vice president had conversations with Scooter Libby, to the effect that, gee, let‘s go out after the Wilson family, and let‘s—you know, let‘s use whatever means we can, and they disregarded laws about classified information in the process.
I stress that Patrick Fitzgerald doesn‘t allege that. He avoided discussing that kind of thing in the long press conference today. But the only place to squeeze up, it seems, would be towards Cheney, not toward Rove, on these facts.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me go to Tom, joining me, both of us—Howard and Tom, talk about—you know, we know from history the Henry II model, where he had—he said to his—his knights, said: Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest? Becket is killed. And then he has himself publicly whipped because he suggested it.
Is the vice president vulnerable legally if he said, will somebody deal with this damn Wilson guy, get him out of my hair, and then the vice president‘s chief of staff goes out there and does his best to bring the guy down? Is that what we are looking...
DEFRANK: I don‘t think that...
MATTHEWS: I think that sounds right. But how do you—is that relevant legally?
DEFRANK: Well, I—I would be very surprised if the vice president has any legal vulnerability at all, Chris.
And, besides, I don‘t think that‘s the way it happens in Washington. If this scenario were true, or if a portion of it was true, it would be more like the vice president—president saying—and this is just speculation.
DEFRANK: More like the vice president saying, what do we got on Joe Wilson? Joe Wilson is causing us a problem. What do we know about him? And that might be the end of it. And then, maybe a week later—then there are stories critical of Joe Wilson, and not—not a word has passed between Cheney and—and Libby.
The other thing everybody—that you need to know is that Cheney and Libby are joined at the hip. These guys are very close. They have spent hours a day together. They‘re very like-minded. Libby worked for him at the Pentagon. So, the notion that—that Libby was freelancing here, that‘s going to be a tough sell.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s get back to that.
FINEMAN: That‘s very interesting.
MATTHEWS: That‘s the tough question here, because if—if you‘re—you have got to presuppose one of two things. Either the vice president knew that Scooter was out there pushing the name of Mrs. Wilson out there to the press or he didn‘t know. What‘s the most plausible scenario to that?
FINEMAN: Well, let me just jump in for one second and say that the indictment says that, at one point, Cheney gives that information to Scooter Libby.
MATTHEWS: Right. And what is he supposed to do with it?
FINEMAN: Now, it turns out—it turns—it turns out, according to the indictment—and stress, it‘s just the indictment—that, by that point, Scooter Libby had already heard about Joe Wilson and his wife‘s standing from others.
But what was Cheney‘s point in saying that? You know, it‘s very—I agree with Tom. It would be extremely—Cheney is extremely careful, extremely experienced. He‘s not—it‘s not going to be like some scene from “The Godfather,” saying that, you know, the Wilsons should have an accident or something like that.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, we will come back and talk...
MATTHEWS: Because I think it is interesting, that conversation. The vice president tells his chief of staff, you know how that guy, that fellow Wilson has been blaming me for putting him on that trip? It turns out his wife put him on the trip. End of conversation?
Howard Fineman and Tom DeFrank are staying with us for more on the indictment and resignation of Dick Cheney‘s chief of staff, Scooter Libby.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” and Tom DeFrank of “The New York Daily News.”
Gentlemen, the heart of the charges against Scooter Libby today, the five counts, basically deal with the fact that he told the prosecutors and the investigators in this case that he heard about the identity of this undercover agent, Mrs. Wilson, from reporters. And, yet, we were told by the prosecutor today, he heard about it originally from his boss. Why would he risk incarceration, humiliation, perhaps at least in the short run, the end of all happiness on Earth, in order to deny having gotten this information from the boss.
FINEMAN: Well, in bureaucratic terms, in political terms around here, that question answers itself. He‘s trying to protect the boss.
And I think he thought by—by laying it off on the reporters, he was putting his version of a story in a safe lockbox, because no prosecutor would dare subpoena or jail the reporters. He was counting on the notion of the reporters being tough guys and the prosecutor not willing to go after them.
FINEMAN: That was his bet, and he lost that bet.
MATTHEWS: But, Tom, why would he be afraid of simply admitting the
truth here, apparently, according to the prosecutor, at least, that he did
get this information initially in June of—I think it was June 12 of 2003
from the boss? Why not just say that? That‘s not leaking it. That‘s receiving information from a proper source.
DEFRANK: Chris, how many times have you and Howard and I covered stories where exceptionally smart people have done exceptionally dumb things? The list goes on and on.
MATTHEWS: Well, it‘s—the reason I‘m asking it...
DEFRANK: I can‘t answer...
MATTHEWS: I‘m guess I‘m asking it rhetorically, because I think—I was hoping you guys would get to the fact of a super-sensitivity by Scooter, a super-protectiveness of his boss, that he didn‘t want to admit anything.
DEFRANK: Well, I think—well, I think that‘s probably true. And I think they were also just obsessed with Joe Wilson. And maybe that obsession with Joe Wilson was—which my paper reported on about a month ago—maybe that just got the better of all of them.
FINEMAN: Can I—can I suggest another reason, Chris?
FINEMAN: And it is in the—it is in the indictment. It‘s in paragraph 13 of the indictment, where it discusses how Scooter Libby is talking with an aide about whether they could put this information out. This was in June of 2003.
And Scooter Libby says, well, you have got to be careful about disclosing the information, because it might upset the CIA. And, as a matter of fact, he, Scooter, didn‘t want to talk to the aide about this on a nonsecure telephone line. That‘s in paragraph 313 of the indictment. That indicates to me that Scooter Libby knew darn well this was sensitive information. And, if there was a chain of custody of it, so to speak, of classified information that ended up in the press, that chain would be traced back to its source, which was, at least in one—in one case, Dick Cheney.
So, he knew it was classified information, perhaps. That is sort of what this indictment says. And he knew that there was perhaps a possibility of a crime here. And he wanted to insulate—insulate—insulate the boss.
MATTHEWS: What is the main channel of the story now, Howard and Tom? Is it the Libby trial or is it more questions about Karl Rove? Is it the Libby trial that is the main channel right now?
FINEMAN: Yes. I would say so.
DEFRANK: I think it‘s the—I think...
FINEMAN: Go ahead, Tom. I‘m sorry.
DEFRANK: Well, but I—but I also think, Howard, that—and, Chris
that it is also the White House trying to dig out.
They keep talking about moving on. They have got to dig out before they can move on. There‘s a lot of brave talk. The president is in a deep hole over a whole bunch of things we have talked about before. And he is nowhere near able to move on. I guess he will have a—we will have a new Supreme Court nominee soon. But he is still into heavy damage-control mode. They want to play offense, but they have still got a lot of defense to deal with first.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you, gentlemen—because it is going to be a difficult weekend for our president.
Thank you, Howard Fineman.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Tom DeFrank.
Up next, two former White House insiders who served in previous administrations, Pat Buchanan and David Gergen, will join to us talk about what this indictment means for the administration.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
For more on the Scooter Libby indictment today and its impact on
Bush‘s second term, we turn to two former White House insiders from
previous administrations. David Gergen was an adviser to four presidents -
and MSNBC‘s political analyst Pat Buchanan. Both join us right now.
David, I want to just let you talk right now—no question. What do you make of this?
DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: I think this is a very difficult situation.
I think the—that problems of the White House darkened today, that things deepened. To have Scooter Libby indicted, the first sitting White House official in over 100 years, a central player in the war on Iraq, to have questions, shadows remaining over Karl Rove.
And, most of all, Chris, I think that the—the way the administration is almost dismissing us and saying, as the president‘s statement essentially said today, let‘s move on. And I think Tom DeFrank was absolutely right a moment ago on your show, when he said, you can‘t move on when you‘re in such a deep hole. First, you have got to get out of the hole.
And, for them, I—they‘re—they‘re—I worry that, within this White House—because I do think it is important for the president to restore his moral authority, his governing authority...
GERGEN: ... for the country‘s sake.
And, in order to do that, I think—I think he has got to face up to realities. And I worry that there‘s a lot of denial in the White House.
MATTHEWS: Pat, are we stuck in a hole or we stuck in the sand? Are we in Iraq?
PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
MATTHEWS: Is that the real problem here, that like—when you went through—you were part of it, I guess, in a certain sense, a broad sense, the whole Watergate mess in the White House, because I always thought that the Vietnam War was behind all of that. It was the internal version of that, the internal front of that fight. Is this the—sort of the Oval Office front of the battle over Iraq?
BUCHANAN: I think you made a very cogent point about Watergate.
I think Watergate was about—was about Vietnam. I don‘t want to get back into it again. But I think they were bringing down a president that they could not bring down any other way. And he gave them the sword and they put it through him.
MATTHEWS: Yes. And your side was fighting its critics.
BUCHANAN: Oh, I mean, we—but we—that was a very vicious battle, Chris, but it lasted 18 months. I think Dave Gergen was with us all way through to the end of that.
That was a hellish, hellish situation, compared to this. This has been a bad week. But I will tell you this. This president and this White House got out of this week far better than I anticipated would be possible on Monday or Tuesday. There was no indictment of Karl Rove. There is no conspiracy there. There‘s nobody who is—besides Libby, there‘s this (INAUDIBLE) and these other people, no names like that came out.
Fitzgerald says, I am not interested in prosecuting this war, any aspect of it.
BUCHANAN: The indictment is very, very narrow. It is a heavy indictment on Libby, very heavy, as rough as they come. But it is very narrow and it is on one guy.
And I think the administration ought to count itself fortunate it got out of this week, if you will, with so few casualties.
MATTHEWS: David, as the president‘s head hits the pillow tonight, is he saying that to himself, not a bad day for...
GERGEN: I‘m not sure, because he knows a lot more about this than we do.
I think that, Pat, you may be absolutely right. And I—and I thought earlier today, wow. Karl Rove dodged a bullet. But, you know, the prosecutor is still firing at him. I was interested in the fact that “The Washington Post” is reporting for tomorrow morning—it is out on their Web site now—that as—Rove provided new information to Fitzgerald during 11th-hour negotiations that—quote—“gave Fitzgerald pause about charging him,” said a source close to Rove.
And now the prosecutor is trying to decide what to do. What that suggests is—is that the prosecutor was very close to indicting Karl Rove.
MATTHEWS: Who is official A?
GERGEN: And these 11th-hour negotiations came in.
MATTHEWS: David, who is official A?
BUCHANAN: You know...
GERGEN: The cloud is still there.
MATTHEWS: Who is official A in the indictment, the figure identified in the White House as official A?
GERGEN: I don‘t know. I don‘t know whether it is Karl Rove or not.
But all I do know is that Karl Rove has been spared for now. But I think it is too early to say he is in the clear. I think that there is still a shadow there. And I‘m sure he feels it.
BUCHANAN: There must be, David, but I think it is probably a shadow, if you will, of not telling the truth.
GERGEN: It may be.
BUCHANAN: The underlying charge of deliberately outing Valerie Plame, the prosecutor has come in after 22 months and said, in effect, it didn‘t happen.
MATTHEWS: He said that the defendant—now the defendant, Scooter Libby...
BUCHANAN: Threw dust in his eye.
MATTHEWS: Well, what kind of an...
MATTHEWS: What kind of an admission is that, that the guy outsmarted him?
BUCHANAN: Well, I mean, there‘s no doubt Libby lied—I mean, he is alleged to have lied again and again and again. But there is—and the prosecutor—but the prosecutor, after 22 months, Chris, I think it is—it is not a bad thing that he could not come up and prove the original charge that was made against the White House against anyone.
GERGEN: Yes, but I think he...
MATTHEWS: He didn‘t really want to bring it up. And it is not even written in the indictment. It is as if something else was going on. He only brought it up in his long press conference.
MATTHEWS: And he was—I think you‘re all—I think we will all agree here, he was somewhat defensive, saying, let me explain for an hour or two here why I couldn‘t hit on the main charge here.
BUCHANAN: Yes. I agree.
GERGEN: Well, listen, I—I don‘t think he knew whether he could prove intentionality.
GERGEN: ... he is saying, basically, this guy is lying to me.
So, I don‘t know. I‘m not quite sure whether he threw the hardball or somebody else threw it. But I could not quite see what was....
GERGEN: The umpire couldn‘t see...
GERGEN: ... see the pitch.
MATTHEWS: How could anybody tell—how could anybody tell—I mean, my old boss Tip O‘Neill once said that you can never tell what is in another man‘s heart.
How can you possibly know whether they went out to sort of—as he used it in baseball terms, to—to swipe back the batter from the plate, the old Sal Maglie pitch, you know, to get him off the—away from—out of the—the bucket, or he did it to hit the batter?
BUCHANAN: I will tell you why, Chris.
Look, when the prosecutor—what the prosecutor has got, is, he‘s got a lay-down hand on these contradictions, with Russert and with Miller. And he can say, you said this. And he said this. And he got about seven or eight of them. And it is a clear shot. You try to prove, you definitely wanted to out someone you knew to be a secret agent, and we don‘t know whether she even qualifies under it, you have got a messy, messy situation.
Why take something like that, when you can play an ace and—and you know you can win?
GERGEN: Let me change this a little bit, though.
MATTHEWS: OK. Go ahead, David. I‘m sorry.
MATTHEWS: Go ahead.
GERGEN: Well, I just wanted—I—Pat and I just disagree about that.
But I—I do want to come to something fundamental about how the president gets out of this, because Pat and I may disagree on this.
Pat, I think you feel that he sort of cleared the decks now on Harriet Miers. He has got—Scooter Libby has been a limited, isolated case. And what he needs to do now is go to the mat on the Supreme Court nominee, go to his right, pick a—a good conservative, have a great fight, has a—as you call it, a fence—a bench-clearing...
GERGEN: ... fight right in the middle of the field, brawl in the middle of the field.
MATTHEWS: I think that‘s his general prescription for life, actually.
GERGEN: And that‘s what is going to revive his presidency.
MATTHEWS: Pat, you always want a bench-clearing brawl, don‘t you?
BUCHANAN: I will tell you, here is what he ought to do.
He ought to go—definitely, he‘s got to get a conservative. If he -
if he picks somebody else, his people will leave him, if he picks a Gonzales.
You get a tough Supreme Court nominee that unites the whole Republican Party. Secondly, you go in there and you cut this budget seriously. Third, you start dealing with the hottest national issue, immigration.
Fourth, I think, David, we‘re going to have to start moving out of Iraq. I would tell the folks, we are going to take a look at our troop strength right after these elections in December.
GERGEN: Well, I—I—all I‘m—the only point I would make is this.
I understand the impulse to go to his right, to go to his base for the Supreme Court nomination. But he is going to bring a hell of a fight with the Democrats. And—and if he is trying to bring the country together, as Reagan did after Iran-Contra, the way he climbed out of his hole was, he went more to the center and worked with—with the Democratic Congress.
He went to the country and was very humble and accepted responsibility.
BUCHANAN: Well, Chris...
GERGEN: And he brought in a fresh team of people.
GERGEN: I see no evidence that this president is going to do any of that.
BUCHANAN: Well, I think he ought to bring in a fresh team of people.
And I do—look, he‘s got one—if he‘s going to change the Supreme Court, as he promised, he is either going to have to fight with Harry Reid or Schumer or he is going to have to fight with me and an awful lot of conservatives.
BUCHANAN: Now, he tried going with Harry Reid. That way didn‘t work.
Why don‘t we try the other way, David?
GERGEN: Yes, but...
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Pat. Let‘s...
GERGEN: But if he gets a filibuster, it‘s going to be—he is going to have a...
BUCHANAN: He will break it.
GERGEN: ... a hell of hard time governing after that.
MATTHEWS: Pat, do you think the president wants a filibuster through Thanksgiving and on into Christmas, with a third try for filling this Sandra Day O‘Connor seat and he can‘t do it? Is that good?
BUCHANAN: Well, no. Look, if he goes up there, go with a Luttig and go with Edith Jones. If he goes with two of them, I think he wins.
If he wins, it is a tremendous victory, Chris.
MATTHEWS: And if he loses?
BUCHANAN: It‘s an historic—then he loses. And then you go with...
BUCHANAN: Then you have to go with somebody else.
But at least fight. You can‘t win if you don‘t fight.
MATTHEWS: So, withdraw from the war in Iraq and take on a fight with Congress?
BUCHANAN: No. I don‘t say withdraw from the war.
You‘re going to have to start—you have got 160,000 guys over there. After this election, we have got to start moving them home. And the Iraqis got to start picking this up. They have to do it some time. Melvin Laird. You have got to go with Iraqization. You might as well start now, because we‘re losing the country on it.
MATTHEWS: Pat, can you imagine a country where you actually won the presidential election?
BUCHANAN: Can I imagine a country?
BUCHANAN: It would be morning in America again, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Gergen, what do you think of a Buchanan presidency, after listening to that plan?
GERGEN: Well, it is one hell of a plan. I‘m sure he will have a—a portion of the electorate will march behind him.
But I‘m telling you, it—it—it—I—in my judgment, it is not the way for the president to get out of the hole. I think he has got to find a candidate who—yes, I think it appeals to the right, but he has got to find somebody, in my judgment, that is a John Roberts Jr., if he wants to do that, who has got some appeal to moderates.
MATTHEWS: How about Patrick Fitzgerald? How about Fitzgerald? He looks like another Roberts to me.
BUCHANAN: I think he needs...
GERGEN: Well, I will tell you something.
BUCHANAN: He needs a Scalia.
GERGEN: Go ahead, Pat.
BUCHANAN: Scalia is the guy he needs.
GERGEN: Well, he—if...
BUCHANAN: He needs.
GERGEN: Let me just say about—about Fitzgerald today, if—if—if that is representative of how good he is, I will tell you, some future president is going to be looking at him as a potential attorney general.
MATTHEWS: ... there‘s an item for—there‘s an item for “The Hotline” tomorrow.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, Gergen—this guy is ready for A.G.
I mean, I think you‘re right. Thank you very much, David Gergen.
And, thank you, Pat Buchanan.
BUCHANAN: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: A wonderful discussion.
Coming up, more on the political fallout for the Bush administration following today‘s indictment.
This is HARDBALL, as you just heard, on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FITZGERALD: This is a very serious matter and compromising national security information is a very serious matter. But the need to get to the bottom of what happened and whether national security was compromised by inadvertence, by recklessness, by maliciousness is extremely important. We need to know the truth. And anyone who would go into a grand jury and lie, obstruct and impede the investigation has committed a serious crime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: We are back.
To get to the bottom of the political fallout from the Scooter Libby indictment today on five counts, we turn to the host of MSNBC‘s “THE SITUATION,” Tucker Carlson, and MSNBC chief Washington correspondent Norah O‘Donnell.
You had, what, dinner tonight with one of Scooter Libby‘s clients, and you learned some things about him.
TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “THE SITUATION WITH TUCKER CARLSON”: Well, it -
it reconfirmed what I have been hearing for, you know, the last couple of years. And that is that the—the person I ate with described a very long description of working through a contract, a nothing contract, but the point was with Scooter Libby.
He described him as maddeningly precise, the most rigorous, fact-based guy, with the best memory, almost uptight about facts, that he had ever dealt with. He meant this not as a compliment or a criticism, merely an observation. And it brought me back to my first reaction this afternoon, watching Pat Fitzgerald‘s press conference. And it was this.
What Scooter Libby is accused of doing is reckless, almost to the point of suicidal. He must have known. Look, Scooter Libby apparently told the special prosecutor and the FBI that he learned about Valerie Wilson on this date. He must have known that there were seven, at least, conversations containing her name that he participated in that took place before that date, and that provably took place before that date.
Why would a person like Scooter Libby, who is spending his life obsessing over details—and details of the law, for that matter—do something like that? Now, the conventional explanation is, oh, he was protecting Cheney. Really? It doesn‘t protect Cheney doing that at all. It hurts only him. And, arguably, I think it hurts the vice president as well.
I don‘t see an obvious explanation for that kind of behavior, assuming he did what the—the prosecutor says he did. It just doesn‘t make sense at all.
NORAH O‘DONNELL, NBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, Chris....
MATTHEWS: ... you want to—do you want to venture in there, in trying to figure out the—the motive? The only motive I can think of is that people operate under a different set of fears than we look at in hindsight.
During the time in which this behavior may have occurred, that he is indicted for having committed this kind of behavior, was done during a very heated time, during the summer of 2003, and when the—the very case for the war was under inspection under scrutiny, when the president, the vice president was being attacked by Joe Wilson for having gotten us into a war under false information and denying the—the evidence that Wilson brought back from Africa about there not being a deal on uranium, that it was a time they were playing all—what do you call it, full-court press.
MATTHEWS: I mean, trying to fight—Norah, your thoughts.
O‘DONNELL: Well, the—the most important thing to—that journalists can ask is the question why. Why would this happen to Scooter Libby? This is someone who went to an elite prep school, the same school that the president and his father went to, went to Yale. Well, he was schooled by Paul Wolfowitz. He‘s a Columbia Law graduate.
As Tucker said, he is meticulous. He is known as one of the smartest people who keeps his counsel very close and is very well regarded and certainly by the vice president of the United States. Why would he get himself in this trouble?
I was struck by what Tom Brokaw told you, Chris, when he called it the clumsiest case of lying I have ever witnessed.
There is a larger question to be asked: What happened to Scooter Libby? Why did he feel that he could go head to head with this prosecutor and develop this tale, which the prosecutor said today, frankly, was a pretty good tale, except it wasn‘t true? That is a big problem legally for Scooter Libby.
And Republicans are deeply concerned that this could go to trial. That‘s where it gets really messy. What many are hoping outside the White House is that this could be settled, in some way, with a quick plea bargain to save a future political and legal fallout.
MATTHEWS: Well, so often, in this city of Washington, it seems like the—the people that get in this kind of trouble have this notion that they‘re so much smarter than everyone else, that they can run circles around them and—and make commitments and assertions that can‘t be backed up by the lesser minds...
O‘DONNELL: Well, arguably...
MATTHEWS: ... by the lesser minds they have to deal with.
We will be right back with Norah O‘Donnell for more thoughts on this big story today, and Tucker Carlson.
And, a reminder, the political debate is ongoing on Hardblogger. And now you can download podcasts of HARDBALL. Just go to our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with MSNBC‘s Tucker Carlson, host of “THE SITUATION”—that‘s on 11:00 tonight, Eastern time—and MSNBC chief Washington correspondent Norah O‘Donnell.
Norah, let‘s go back, because I think this is the question a lot of people are going to be asking over the weekend as they look at this story. Why would somebody smart like Scooter Libby, with all his pedigree of education, be caught in such a ridiculous situation as he‘s in right now, facing five counts, all dealing with his honesty under oath and during these interviews? Could it be something simple, like the president of the United States said two years ago, none of my people were involved in this and he had to stick up for that initial line they took?
O‘DONNELL: Well, there‘s three explanations. One, it is not true and that Scooter Libby has been falsely accused and falsely indicted. That‘s what the trial will be about.
Two, if it is true, then it was a case of stupidity or arrogance on the case of Scooter Libby. And, three, it could have been a cover-up, that Scooter Libby was seeking to cover up something. And that‘s why he lied, in order to cover up and, for some reason, which is not yet known. Democrats today were trying to make the political charge, as Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, said today, that the whole CIA leak case is about how the White House—quote—“manufactured and manipulated intelligence.”
We also heard from Senator John Kerry, who said, the CIA leak case was evidence of White House corruption at the highest levels. What‘s noteworthy, however, is that the special prosecutor today, Patrick Fitzgerald, was very clear when asked if this was about the Iraq war. And he said, this indictment is not about the war and it‘s not about the propriety of the war. And anybody looking to find that by this indictment or the outcome of it will be—will be disappointed.
MATTHEWS: Well, one motive for a person, quite rationally, as Norah said, that third option, covering up, while there‘s nothing—nothing stupid about it—it‘s simply covering up a worse situation—is, of course, the initial charge by Joe Wilson that the vice president was informed about Wilson‘s trip to Africa, was informed about serious questions for reasonable skepticism about if there ever was a—a uranium deal or a nuclear threat from Iraq.
That—I suppose that would be possibly a motive. But if that were the motive, why would Scooter Libby hand over his own notes, apparently taken in his own shorthand, to investigators that showed that he had had this conversation about Valerie Wilson with the vice president?
In other words, once you have decided to lie, it makes sense that you take every logical step to cover up your lie. But Scooter Libby doesn‘t seem to have taken any steps, or at least not that obvious step, to cover up his lie. It just—it just doesn‘t make sense.
CARLSON: I‘m—I‘m not alleging it didn‘t happen. I‘m not, in any way, saying Scooter Libby didn‘t lie.
The evidence—kind of seems like he did.
CARLSON: But the motive just isn‘t there. And it is very odd.
And it makes you wonder, is there more going on here? And the second question, which we have been talking about all week—and it‘s the obvious one—two years of investigation. The—Mr. Fitzgerald today made it sound, we have basically wrapped it all up and this is what we came up with. Do you believe that? I don‘t. I just can‘t believe this is what they found after two years. I think there‘s got to be more.
O‘DONNELL: Tucker, you‘re—you‘re exactly right.
I thought the most important words that...
MATTHEWS: OK. We got to go.
O‘DONNELL: ... that Fitzgerald said today are, this is not over.
MATTHEWS: To be continued.
Norah O‘Donnell, I like the way your mind works.
Thank you, Norah O‘Donnell.
Join us Sunday night for a HARDBALL special report on the CIA leak investigation at 9:00 Eastern. That‘s Sunday night.
Right now, it is time for “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.
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