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Daschle explains why his party is getting tough

Former Democratic Senate leader talks about the latest in Washington
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Former U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, who lost his bid for reelection last fall, joined MSNBC’s Chris Matthews on Monday evening to discuss the information that led to the U.S. involvement in Iraq, the Valarie Plame Leak Case, the resignation of Scooter Libby and the state of affairs in Washington.

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: What (has) stunned me is the knowledge we have now that Judy Miller wrote a story for the front page of The New York Times that she was briefed to write from Scooter Libby, who is now under charges.  And then they had all worked it out so that people like Colin Powell could come on the air that morning and say, we saw in the reporting just this morning, a complete use of the press as a pinball machine so all the lights would go on. 

Would you have been re-elected if this story ran before your re-election? 

SEN. TOM DASCHLE, FORMER SENATE DEMOCRATIC LEADER:  Chris, I don‘t know if I‘d have been reelected.  But, I tell you what, the American people would be a whole lot better off.  This is outrageous.  The whole notion that this was marketing is probably true. 

I would go as far to say it was manipulation.  This is manipulation at its very worst.  Information that we should have had when we made critical decisions was withheld.  Information that the American people should have had before we committed National Guard troops and our military forces in Iraq was distorted.  All of this manipulated to a political goal that I think is just as wrong as anything I‘ve seen in my lifetime. 

MATTHEWS:  But it was so successfully done that it wasn‘t until last week that, or week before last, that John Kerry, the Democratic nominee for president, said that he was wrong to have voted for that authorization.  It was that powerful.

Hillary Clinton sticks to her vote.  Chuck Schumer stick to his vote.  The people who—Hillary will say things like, well if we had known that, there wouldn‘t have been a vote.  But that‘s still couching it.

Wasn‘t he successful in convincing you, Senators, that if you weren‘t patriotic and didn‘t vote for the authorization for war, without any evidence, really, you were going to get beaten in the polls. 

DASCHLE:  You‘ve got to give the benefit of the doubt to the commander in chief, to the president, to the person who supposedly has all the information, who is telling you as you just heard in this report, unequivocally, they will have nuclear weapons if we don‘t act. 

MATTHEWS:  Why did you fellows and women on Capitol Hill believe -- I know a lot of people in the media I respect a lot, who believed it too, OK.  I accept the fact a lot of people believed this nuclear story.  I never personally thought it was any reason we went to war.  I believe we went to war for ideological reasons, the belief we could take countries, in the Arab world especially, and turn them around politically with a little bit of messaging, or whatever, gun play. 

But why did you believe that they could build a bomb and send it over here on what vehicle?  That balsam wood thing they were showing us?  What was that plane?  What was that thing we were looking at?  Did you believe all that at the time?  That he could create a nuclear weapon, mount it on this airplane that looked like it was made of balsam wood and send it all the way around the world to hit us somewhere in Florida or somewhere?  Did you believe that? 

DASCHLE:  I don‘t think it was necessarily we were going to be the target.  It could have been a regional target.

MATTHEWS:  He said the United States, though. 

DASCHLE:  But it could have been Air Force bases.  It could have been military installations in the region.  I mean, you could have other devices.  We were also being briefed at the time that it wouldn‘t take more than a pick-up.  Some sort of a small wind do deliver. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s dirty bombs, too. 

DASCHLE:  Exactly.  And if you had the technology.  I mean, the fear was you‘ll always consider the worst-case scenario.  And in the worst-case scenario, that was a deliverable option.

MATTHEWS:  By the worst-case scenario, we‘d be at war with 30 countries right now.

DASCHLE:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  I can think of a lot (of countries). India‘s got it, Pakistan‘s got it.  North Korea.  A lot of countries have bad weaponry.

Let me ask you about what you did last week.  Did you try—because I know you were the adviser to the Senate Democratic leadership, did you try going to that stunt … to get the media focused on the fact you people, your side of the aisle wanted to have finally a debate and a discussion what caused this war in terms of the case for nuclear weapons? 

DASCHLE:  Chris, there were two objectives.  First of all, to get the facts.  We‘d been trying to get the facts for two years.  And your reporter did as good a job as I‘ve seen on the media in trying to ascertain that. 

MATTHEWS:  But you don‘t have the subpoena power.  You‘ve lost the elections.

DASCHLE:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  So, how are you guy ever going to get the truth? 

DASCHLE:  And the second thing we wanted to do was draw attention to this issue.  And force Republicans to do something they said they would do for two years.  Every time I would asked Bill Frist, he would say we are going to do this.  We‘re going to find a way to call the session and have this debate.  They never did.

Finally, I think Harry Reid and the Democrats lost patience.  And good for them, the time had come for them to take this action, and it got the results that we wanted. 

MATTHEWS:  What would be the results? 

DASCHLE:  The results would be two things, I think.  First, it‘ll be an understanding of what went wrong and why. 

MATTHEWS:  What went wrong, meaning, what went wrong with the intel? 

DASCHLE:  What went wrong with the intel.  Was it manipulated?  The question is, it was bad intel, but why was it bad?  Was it manipulated or was it just total incompetence?  I think that it was manipulated even the reports.

MATTHEWS:  Who manipulated Tony Blair?  … I was told this weekend by a BBC reporter, that the British still believe in their intelligence that the president relied upon in his state of the union that, there was in fact an effort by Saddam Hussein to buy uranium yellowcake from Niger? 

DASCHLE:  We don‘t have that information.  But this is another thing that ought to be part of that investigation.  Why was that information not better understood? 

MATTHEWS:  You share the public view that Dick Cheney knew what his guy was up to, Scooter Libby? 

DASCHLE:  Chris, we don‘t know.  I suspect that he knew a lot more than he is admitting to right now.  So, I would like to find out. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that Karl Rove should continue on as the president‘s top kick? 

DASCHLE:  I don‘t.  I think he ought to resign.  I think anybody who has been called upon to be in a position of responsibility as he is owes it to the American people to be more forthcoming than he‘s been.  And I don‘t think he deserves to be there. 

MATTHEWS:  You do think Karl Rove has been good for American politics? 

DASCHLE:  No.  Simple answer is no. 


DASCHLE:  I think they have a different approach to politics. 

MATTHEWS:  If you had a guy like him, wouldn‘t you want a guy that can win elections? 

DASCHLE:  Well, you want to win elections, but you don‘t want to win them that way.  I mean, you read the books and you see the tactics -- and frankly, they are successful.  But ultimately, there‘s got to be a way of preserving our institutions and our democracy and the kind of politics that I was raised on.  And I am not seeing that from the White House today. 

MATTHEWS:  What did you think when Bill Frist showed up in South Dakota campaigning against you? 

DASCHLE:  I thought it was wrong.  I just don‘t think there ought to be a time when you govern and time you do politics.  I mean, once that election is over with, it ought to be coming together and working on the hill in a bipartisan way as much as you can.  There are going to be differences, deep philosophical differences.  But there ought to be a time when you work together.  And this is counter to all of it.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the Democrats are being forced to play a little more man-dog politics like the operation last week of shutting the Senate? 

DASCHLE:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  You are getting as tough as they are. 

DASCHLE:  You have to.  If you are not going to change, you have only one option.  And that is to play in the same tough ballpark as they do. 

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