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Bush aide Bartlett defends administration

Disputes 'Washington Post' report, says 'we shouldn't torture, and we don't'
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The fight over prewar intelligence continues in Washington.  On Wednesday, a new chapter not regarding Iraq but rather how the Bush Administration is trying to squeeze al-Qaida in the war on terror. 

The 'Washington Post' reported that the CIA has been interrogating suspected terrorists in secret prisons around the world. 

To discuss this report, the tactics being used to hunt down terrorists, along with the resignation of Lewis Libby and nomination of Samuel Alito, MSNBC's Chris Matthews welcomed Dan Bartlett, a counselor to President Bush to Wednesday's 'Hardball."

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, was this story good for America, getting it out there that we have these camps and places in democracies such as those in Eastern Europe? 

DAN BARTLETT:  Well, Chris, as you know, it's going to be difficult for me to go on live TV and talk about classified information.

But what I can say, in a post-9/11 world, the American people expect their government within the confines of the law and the Constitution and the treaties that we follow to do everything we can to protect our country. 

As you know, there are people as we speak that are planning, plotting and attempting to attack America, to kill American lives.  And what we have is a very determined war right now against a very determined enemy, and it's critical that we do everything we can within the confines of the law to make sure we are getting information to prevent these attacks. 

That's exactly what our government is doing.  We are doing it with the legal advice of the Justice Department.  We are doing everything we can to protect the American people, and we are doing it under the values and the laws and principles that guide us. 

Now, if there are bad acts, if there are Abu Ghraib or other acts where people went outside the regulations and the law, they are going to be punished to the full extent.

But we are at war, Chris, and it's very important that we do everything we can within our abilities and our powers to protect the American people. 

MATTHEWS:  That's a sound argument.  We have a tape we're going to show later of an interview I just did with former President Carter where he challenged the advantages of using any kind of torture on prisoners.  Now, his argument is moral, of course, but he also says you can't trust any information you get from someone under torture. 

Is that a valid argument or is that just idealistic talking? 

BARTLETT:  No, absolutely, and that's why we don't torture.  We do not torture in the United States of America.  Our government is very clear about that.  The laws that we follow are very clear about that.

And if there is ever evidence to suggest that we do, they will be aggressively investigated, Chris.

So there is not a disagreement in this regard, but what we do is follow the law and we make sure that we are consistent with our legal obligations, both of the Constitution as well as our treaty obligations.

But Jimmy Carter makes a very good point -- we shouldn't torture, and we don't.
MATTHEWS:  If we are doing everything above board; in other words, if we're practicing our philosophy overseas even in the treatment of suspected terrorists, or real terrorists, we know are terrorists, why can't we do it above board?  Why do we have to have these camps located in secret places around the world?  Why not bring them right home here?  Is it to avoid having to obey the law? 

BARTLETT:  Again, I am not here to acknowledge or to discuss anything about a classified program, if it exists, where it exists. 

I can't speak to the contents of the 'Washington Post' story. But I will say, Chris, whatever conduct is taking place with U.S.  government officials, it is being done within the guidelines of the law, and it's very important that we understand that. 

(It's) also important to understand is that when we do conduct the war on terror, this is an unconventional war.  We have people who are hiding in civilian clothes, you know, hiding within our own communities and our own cities and our own country that are plotting and planning to attack the American people. Just take, for example, what's going on in Iraq right now. 

We see a very sophisticated enemy that adapts to our tactics when it comes to IED attacks, for example.  It's very important that when we go about our intelligence gathering, we go about doing things to protect our country, that we also not send signals to the enemy about what we're doing.  I think that makes logical sense to most Americans. 

MATTHEWS:  Yesterday on this program, HARDBALL, Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, the former majority leader, questioned whether Karl Rove, the president's top political adviser, should be in a policy role. 

Let's listen for a second, Dan. 

--Begin video clip--SENATOR TRENT LOTT (R), MISSISSIPPI:  Look, he has been very successful, very effective in the political arena.  The question is, should he be the deputy chief of staff for policy under the current circumstances? I don't know all that's going on so I can't make that final conclusion. But, you know, how many times has the top political person become also the top policy adviser?  Maybe you can make that transition, but it's a real challenge.  --End video clip--

MATTHEWS:  Well, there's Senator Lott questioning whether Karl should have a policy role.  Do you think that's appropriate criticism or not? 

BARTLETT:  Well, Chris, one thing we are not lacking in this town is advice.  We get plenty of it, from Capitol Hill, from others.

But it's going to be the president and the chief of staff who determines the best way to manage the White House. 

Karl is incredibly gifted.  He's very smart when it comes to the public policy issues of the day.  He is serving this president and this country well.

And again, that's what happens in this town.  There's going to be plenty of opinions, plenty of advice.  It's one thing we are not lacking here at the White House.

So it's just part of the commentary that's going to happen right now, and we just kind of chalk that up to typical Washington gossip. 

MATTHEWS:  So you think he should continue to have a security clearance even though he was apparently Official A in the indictment; in other words, he's identified as somebody who's talked to the press about the identity of Valerie Wilson? 

BARTLETT:  Chris, you're making judgments. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I am. I am admittedly...

BARTLETT:  You're making an assumption.

MATTHEWS:  ... that Official A is Karl Rove.  If you don't agree with that, fine, but I think he is. 

BARTLETT:  Well, I'm glad.  And you're just like Senator Lott has an opinion, you are allowed to have your opinion, and that's fine. 

But I think it's important that we make very clear that Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald still has an active investigation under way.

And it wouldn't be appropriate for me standing here on the North Lawn or for anybody else to speculate within the White House or the government about the nature of the conversations or the developments of the investigation, who the focus of the investigation is on.  We clearly don't know all of the details that the special prosecutor knows, and it would be presumptuous for me to stand out here and pass judgment on facts that I don't have. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I'll come back and ask you afterwards.  I agree it's kind of murky and spooky to have a guy referred to as Official A at the White House.  I don't know why the special prosecutor talks like that either, Dan. 

Let me ask you about Judge Alito. 

The Democrats have been circulating a little fact sheet -- it might be a hit sheet, you might call it -- on Alito's nomination. (The) first thing they mention in this little document is that he lost a big mob case in New Jersey back in '88.  It suggested that-- in fact, it said he embarrassed the U.S. government, it suggested it was an easy case, he blew it.  It ignored the fact of his record of putting away the Genevese family in New Jersey, made him look soft on the mob. 

What do you make of this?

BARTLETT:  Well, I think it's completely outrageous.

And I heard these talking points didn't even have their name accompanied to it, the D.N.C., and that's just the type of politics we are trying to get rid of in this town.  It's the reason why a good person like Harriet Miers wasn't able to go through this process in a fair way. 

We need to stop the kind of personal destruction during this modern-day confirmation process and focus on the facts.

The fact is that Sam Alito is one of the most qualified justices we have seen appointed to the court in 70 years.  He has a very credentialed and stellar record of fighting crime as a U.S. attorney, and as well as serving 15 years on the bench in the 3rd Circuit.

So it's this type of politics that kind of stains the process.  We need to have a very important debate about the qualifications of Sam Alito.  That's what the confirmation process is for. But it's this type of demagoguery and attacks that doesn't do anybody any service. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about Ken Duberstein, former chief of staff to President Reagan in his last year.  He says you need new blood. 

Do you feel around you iron deficiency, anemia?  Do you need some kind of new drug of people there?  Do you need better folks, sharper folks? 

Is there a second-term letdown that has affected the president's performance? 

BARTLETT:  Well, Chris, I think one thing we all recognize when we step through these gates every day is that we serve at the pleasure of the president.

And if he ever determined that he wants to have fresh blood, that he wants to change, he'll do that.  If he wants to pursue new policy proposals, he will do that.  And he is always constantly challenging us to come up with new ideas, to continue to push the envelope. 

And if it feels like we are not satisfying his needs or the needs of the American people, we'll be out this door and we will be honored to have served as long as we have.

But at the same time, I mean, sometimes in Washington gets this kind of precipitous action to say, oh, you know, have a black Friday and fire everybody.  And that's not the type of way that you manage a White House either.

So I think the president, as he always has done, is he's going to manage his White House in a way that he thinks best serves the American people.  He will surround himself with the people he thinks can help achieve that goal, and we'll be happy to serve as long as he wishes us to. 

MATTHEWS:  God, you're the first person to mention a black Friday where he fires everybody-it must be jittery down there. 
Hey, thank you very much, Dan Bartlett for coming back on Hardball.  We welcome you back regularly, sir. 

BARTLETT:  No jitters here, Chris. 

Watch each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC.