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updated 9/2/2009 9:52:22 AM ET 2009-09-02T13:52:22

Guests: Michelle Bernard, Tony Blankley, Ronald Reagan, Viet Dinh, Bruce Fein, Jonathan Martin, Wayne Slater

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Quitting Kabul.

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Leading off tonight:  You don‘t have to stay forever.  Just be close at hand.  That‘s what some people are saying about Afghanistan.  We don‘t have to occupy the country to keep al Qaeda from coming back.  Just be offshore and ready to strike with everything we have got. 

Here‘s the hard truth about keeping our troops in country.  It‘s easy to win support for a new war.  It‘s a lot harder to maintain that support once reality sets in.  Think about how popular the wars in Iraq and Vietnam were at the start. 

But, once the casualties pile up, once the costs grew, once the protests mounted, the public‘s enthusiasm withered.  The same is true now for the war in Afghanistan, which had support left, right, and center as we pursued the killers of 9/11 into that country.  Now, left and right, including conservative columnist George F. Will, want us to get out. 

Can President Obama continue this war, much less escalate its involvement, if the public isn‘t with him? 

Also, what about Bob—Bob McDonnell, that is, the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia?  We now know that, at age 34, in his graduate thesis, he called feminism an enemy of the traditional family, and went after—well, these are his words—cohabitors, homosexuals, and fornicators.  Those are his words.

This sounds like a fire-and-brimstone sermon out of the 19th century. 

Well, McDonnell is now leading the race, but for how long? 

And we all know that former Vice President Dick Cheney called the attorney general‘s decision to investigate possible CIA abuses an outrageous political act.  But former Bush Attorney General Alberto Gonzales now says the probe by Eric Holder is legitimate.  So, what does it say about Bush‘s top law enforcement official when he comes out against Cheney? 

And is Governor Rick Perry‘s sagebrush talk of—quote—“succeeding from the union” helping or hurting the Texas governor‘s chances of reelection?  That‘s in the “Politics Fix.”

And the ultimate comeback kid.  Check out the headline, the front-page headline, from this morning‘s “New York Post,” suggesting that Eliot Spitzer, really, the man who was brought down by a prostitute scandal, may be actually thinking of running for office again.  That‘s the latest from the New York tabs.  We‘re going to have it with you and for you in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.” 

But we begin tonight with the waning political support for the war in Afghanistan. 

Tony Blankley, our friend here always, is the former press secretary for Newt Gingrich and a syndicated columnist.  And Ron Reagan, a friend also, is with Air America Radio.  He‘s looking rather sad right now. 

Well, according to the latest “Washington Post”—maybe he‘s seen the poll—the latest “Washington Post” poll—we have got the numbers here.  Here they are.  Fifty-one percent, a majority now, think the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting.  And 47 percent—well, actually 45 percent want the troop level in Afghanistan to decrease.  Only 24 percent want a troop buildup. 

Tony Blankley, this is not going to go the other way.  You can see a poll like this and know which direction it‘s heading in.  The number of people who want us to get out of Afghanistan is now a majority.  The number of people who want us to increase the number of troops there is less than a quarter. 

TONY BLANKLEY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  This is not going well. 

BLANKLEY:  Yes, I mean I have done my columns in the last two weeks raising very serious doubts about whether we should stay there. 

My—I think we do have substantial national security interests there.  However, the question is, can we solve the problem plausibly, and is the support there?  And my concern is, if you look at the places where you would get support, the presidency, Congress, Republican Party, Democratic Party, media, the American public, with the possible exception of the president, none of them have the stomach for a three- or four-year hard—hard fight in—in—in Afghanistan. 

And, so, unless the president can at least snatch George Bush‘s determination on Iraq and carry his party and maybe some Republicans with him...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

BLANKLEY:  ... the base—the political base won‘t be there.  We will just send guys in there to get killed and then we will take a powder.  That‘s unacceptable.

MATTHEWS:  Big question—big question.  And that is what I didn‘t like about the last half of the Vietnam War.  Once it was clear we were going to lose it, after ‘68, after Tet, it was just a holding action, we lost half our troops over there. 

Look at this.  Here‘s President Obama.  He‘s going to get his report at Camp David tomorrow on this.

Ron Reagan, thanks for joining us. 

But, first of all, Ron, I want you to listen to an old friend of everybody, George F. Will—quote—this is from the conservative—

“America should do only what can be done from offshore now in Afghanistan, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes, and small, potent special forces units”—I love that word—“concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.  Genius is not hard to recognize that, in Afghanistan, when means now, before American valor is squandered.”

That‘s from George Will. 

Your thoughts, Ron Reagan? 

RON REAGAN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Well, you know, a few weeks ago, the White House was said to be looking for—quote, unquote—metrics that they could use to describe what victory in Afghanistan would look like. 

I would contend that, if you can‘t actually describe a victory, you have no business asking young people to go over and sacrifice their lives for this uncertain thing that you can‘t describe, you know.  And people—the people realize why we went into Afghanistan in the first place.  Osama bin Laden was there. 

Well, he is not there now.  And, so, they‘re wondering, quite naturally, why—what are we still doing there?  What is this victory that we‘re trying to achieve?  And, you know, the war on there...

MATTHEWS:  A potent question.  A potent question.  And I want to take it to your partner in debate here, Tony.

REAGAN:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  I want to now go—we know the politics basically suck right now.  Nobody wants to stay in Afghanistan.  The numbers, already, a majority want us out.  Nobody wants us to increase.  Most people want us to get out and reduce our—our troop complement.  So, it‘s on—we‘re on the way out politically. 

Now here—let‘s go over to the geopolitics.  What‘s our current mission?  Not catching bin Laden back—which we never did, back in ‘01. 

Here we are in ‘09, eight years later.  What is our current mission in Iraq

in Afghanistan? 

BLANKLEY:  Well, I think what it is—what I—what it is for me, if we say—and I‘m not sure we should—is, one, to avoid the destabilization of Pakistan and turning jihadi. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BLANKLEY:  And, two, if we get driven out of Afghanistan, the mujahedeen will say, first, we got the Russians out.  Then we got the Americans out. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, they would be right. 

BLANKLEY:  And—well, yes, but the point is that would be a big selling point for them.  So, we would lose a big propaganda battle in the radical Islamist world. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we were with the mujahedeen at the beginning...

BLANKLEY:  I know.  But aren‘t now.

MATTHEWS:  ... against the Russians. 

BLANKLEY:  I know.  All I‘m saying is, I think those are the two elements. 

Now, the question obviously is, notwithstanding, I think those are big deals, but if we can‘t deal with it, either because we don‘t have the troops or we don‘t have the will, then we shouldn‘t start. 

MATTHEWS:  Ron, there‘s no history of a central government ruling Afghanistan.  There‘s no history of any foreign power—well, you know the history, Ron.  You have read the—you know the history.  We all do.  The Brits got thrown out.  The Soviets got thrown out.  I think, way back when, the French got thrown out. 

Nobody has ever been able to stay in there.  There‘s tissue rejection.  They‘re good at one thing in Afghanistan, not unifying, except to throw out the invader. 

REAGAN:  Yes, that‘s absolutely right.  And they—and they don‘t like us.  As Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pointed out when he was talking about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan recently, he said that we‘re also not winning hearts and minds over there. 

We—we haven‘t established, after eight years there, that we have any credibility with the people of Afghanistan. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

REAGAN:  And because the Taliban is intermixed, as he says, with the people—they‘re not living up in caves somewhere.  They‘re actually in the cities and towns amongst the people there. 

And—and, because of that, you know, we can‘t fight—we can‘t win a ground war against the Taliban.  We have to do this in a much more sophisticated way. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

If our goal is to outwait al Qaeda and stay there long enough to prevent Taliban and al Qaeda from joining up again in a way that‘s dangerous to us, as they were in 2001, can we stay there long enough to be there forever?  Because it sounds to me like they‘re always going to be there. 

BLANKLEY:  No, I...

MATTHEWS:  This is the Vietnam question. 

BLANKLEY:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  If the Vietnamese are never going to leave, and we have to leave, they‘re there when we‘re gone.  That‘s just arithmetic—that‘s a metric for you right there. 

BLANKLEY:  The question is, who is they? 

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY:  And, I mean, there is an argument—and it may work—we don‘t know—which is, we strengthen the Afghani army, police force, tribal leaders, takes us three or four years keeping in the field, fighting the Taliban, until we can pass it over, as we sort of have done in—in Iraq.  We will see if that works or not.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Has that ever worked before? 

BLANKLEY:  Well, sort of halfway...

MATTHEWS:  Has there ever been an Afghanistan government...

BLANKLEY:  No.

MATTHEWS:  ... capable of dominating...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... the land space?

BLANKLEY:  No, no, I agree...

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY:  But, on the other hand, it worked in the Philippines and other places in the past. 

But my point is, I don‘t think that George Will‘s argument, we can sit offshore—I think that‘s kind of a rationalization.  Either we‘re going to make it work on the ground, or we should get out.  But the idea we can sort of sit off on the horizon, watch the Taliban...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you this, though.

Let me go to Ron on this. 

It seems to me we are quite capable—although I don‘t always like the way we do it, but maybe it is the right way—drones, sophisticated weaponry allows us to target like a GPS.  I want to go visit grandma.  Well, it‘s just as easy to go visit your worst enemy and kill them using GPS technology. 

We can drone—we can drone in missiles in the windows of people. 

With that kind of technology, do we have to stay? 

REAGAN:  Well...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re not—we‘re not in—we‘re not in Pakistan, and we‘re doing it there. 

REAGAN:  Yes, but, you know, the—we—we lose the hearts-and-minds battle again there.  We have seen what happens with these drones. 

It‘s great for us, because we don‘t have to put as many people at risk, but it‘s not so good for the people on the ground there, the Afghanis or the Pakistanis.  Yes, we can send a missile in through the window, but we don‘t know who is inside of that window. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

REAGAN:  There may be a bad guy.  There may also be a family or a wedding party or something like that. 

We start killing civilians, and they‘re not going to want us around any longer. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, now the conundrum, to which I do not have the solution, Tony Blankley and then Ron Reagan.  And I want an answer to this.

We were hit badly in 2001 by an enemy based in Afghanistan, ultimately based there.  They trained their people there.  They took these thugs from Saudi Arabia, a lot of them, and trained them there.  They had their smart people already in Hamburg, OK?  How do we stop them from using that part of the world again, if we don‘t stay there? 

BLANKLEY:  Well, that‘s the problem, because there is a risk.  I said there is a reason we should stay there.  The trouble is, can we stay there effectively?  And do we have the will? 

But I agree with you.  If we leave, we increase the risk, I think, of strengthening the jihadis around the world and of being hit again.  So, the...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And we can‘t stay forever.

BLANKLEY:  But the trouble is that I don‘t see the will yet.  The president would have to be at least as stubborn as Bush to fight this war with the kind of public support he currently has. 

You MATTHEWS:  So, Don‘t buy the old song lyric you don‘t have to stay forever; just be close at hand?

BLANKLEY:  No, I don‘t believe that‘s a strategy.  And I—it‘s a rationalization.  You have got to have boots on the ground.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Ron, do you accept the old song lyric? 

REAGAN:  Well, listen, even if we committed for three and four years there with the—with a real push and a lot more troops, it wouldn‘t be enough.  We‘re looking at least 10 years to do anything positive, again, even if we had the—the troops there.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

REAGAN:  But the—the rationale that we—we have got to leave there, or we can‘t leave there because then the Taliban and al Qaeda will reestablish a base, well, they can do that in Somalia.  They can do that in Yemen.  They can do that in Indonesia.

MATTHEWS:  I agree.

REAGAN:  Are we going to invade and occupy all of these countries? 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, what is the Ron Reagan policy for Afghanistan? 

REAGAN:  I think you have to cut your losses.  I think you have to get out of there.  If you want to leave some—some, you know, ships offshore or something and—and do a little bit of the special-ops stuff along the border, I—I guess wouldn‘t complain about that, because it would still be nice to get Osama bin Laden, finally, after all these years.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

REAGAN:  But we can‘t have troops on the ground there.  That—it‘s -

it‘s crazy.  We have got a corrupt government there.  We have got an army, an Afghan army, that won‘t fight, as our—as our own generals and their own generals actually have said. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN:  It‘s—it‘s...

MATTHEWS:  Well, Ron, you‘re following the reporting that I‘m getting. 

That‘s the same reporting I‘m getting. 

Your thoughts? 

REAGAN:  Yes.  

BLANKLEY:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the final policy of Tony Blankley?

BLANKLEY:  If—if we had the strong support of the president and Congress, it might be worth making it.  But I better be convinced, because I don‘t want to see a decent interval, where we lose a bunch of guys, and then we take a powder.  Either has got to be a commitment or not.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  Well said. 

I believe that what Barack Obama, who I support generally, did in this campaign, what I think he did was back into this policy.  I think he wanted to say he was from—for some aggressive action against the enemy, because he wasn‘t for the Iraq war. 

And, unfortunately, it reminds me of what Jack Kennedy did when he said, I‘m not going to do what Ike said to do back in ‘59 and ‘60, which is fight for the cork in the bottle, Laos, but I will fight for South Vietnam. 

And he never really had his heart in fighting for South Vietnam.  My hunch

I hope I‘m right or wrong—I‘m not sure—I like to be right, but I don‘t like to be right when it hurts our country. 

Anyway, thank you, Tony Blankley.

And, thank you, Ron Reagan. 

MATTHEWS:  Coming up...

REAGAN:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Now for a lighter note in American politics. 

Bob McDonnell, the Republican candidate in the red-hot race of governor of Virginia, is on the defensive because he put on paper his thoughts, his philosophy.  And they are to the right of most Virginians, I think, certainly most Northern Virginians.  A 34-year-old graduate student attacked homosexuals, fornicators, whatever, and he also put himself into some big trouble by going after women who work.  That could be his problem. 

We‘re going to shake that race up when we come back here.  And we‘re going to do it right here on HARDBALL, shake up that race in Virginia. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up:  George W. Bush‘s attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, bucks Dick Cheney and agrees with Eric Holder‘s decision to investigate CIA interrogators. 

HARDBALL comes back after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, a little lighter subject now.

Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The Virginia governor‘s race, which is on, by the way, this year, like New Jersey‘s—they vote the odd year right after a presidential race—has been rocked by the ideas espoused in a 20-year-old thesis the candidate, the Republican candidate, Robert McDonnell, wrote back at age 34, when he was writing a paper for Regent University in—that‘s Virginia Beach, I guess, that is—writing for a law degree. 

Anyway, he—that was Pat Robertson‘s school.  So, that‘s a question in itself, why he went to Pat Robertson‘s school.

Joining us right now—joining us right now—well, there‘s the guy

joining us right now is Michelle Bernard to talk about it.  We hope to be joined by Mo Elleithee, who is a spokesman for the—for the Democratic campaign in that state of Creigh Davis (sic). 

You know, this is a weird thing, because we go back to what people write before they become candidates, and you have to ask yourself, as a citizen, what do they really believe, what they write when nobody‘s watching, except their teachers, or what they‘re saying when they‘re trying to get elected?

Your thoughts on that.  Here‘s a guy that said as follows.  In his thesis, he wrote, of federal money for child care programs—quote—

“Further expenditures would be used to subsidize a dynamic new trend of working women and feminists that is ultimately detrimental to the family by entrenching status quo, the entrenchings of status quo, of non-parental primary nurtured children.”

In other words he‘s saying that, if you give tax cuts or tax breaks for people for child care, you‘re encouraging the wrong pattern in American life, women in the workplace. 

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a bad thing. 

BERNARD:  Yes.  Yes, from his perspective—or at least from his perspective when he was 34 years old. 

Here‘s the dynamic you have to look at.  Sometimes, you might say, well, you can‘t say that somebody believes the things that they wrote or that they have not evolved if they wrote a thesis, say, at age 21 or 22.  He was a 34-year-old -- 34-year-old man when he wrote this. 

MATTHEWS:  This wasn‘t the indiscretion of youth. 

BERNARD:  Exactly.  It absolutely wasn‘t the indiscretion of youth. 

Second question, then, is, did he write this because he thought this would be appealing to the teachers at Pat Robertson‘s school, a very far-right conservative school, or did he write this because he actually believes it?  Women are one of the most important voting blocs in the country.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of the character of a person who writes something that the teacher might like in a major essay, a major thesis?  This isn‘t something you knock off in a pop quiz.

BERNARD:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  This is something you devote yourself to for at least a year. 

BERNARD:  Well...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Anybody in grad school knows what I‘m talking about.

It‘s a major commitment of—of who you are.  You write something you believe is useful to the academic discipline, something you believe, or else why write it?  You‘re saying his defense would be he was sucking up to a professor.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That would be his defense? 

BERNARD:  That—it could be his defense.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

BERNARD:  It doesn‘t mean it is a defense that would win. 

Look, look at the women as the jury on this.  They‘re going to look at his tone, the tenor, and the character.  Character is the big issue here.  Who is this man?  Has he evolved?  There are many people that were troglodytes on a whole array of issues.  Has he evolved, and how does he prove to the American public, particularly women, that he does not—that he no longer believes the things that he said in his essay? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, this is one of the arguments that knocked Rick Santorum out of the U.S. Senate...

BERNARD:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  ... very recently.  He was caught writing a book where he basically knocked down the idea of women in the workplace.  Here‘s his book.  It was called, “It Takes a Family.” 

Rick Santorum wrote—quote—“For some parents, the purported need to provide things for their children simply provides a convenient rationalization for pursuing a gratifying career outside the home.”

In other words, women are on some kind of ego trip... 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... if they want to go to an office now and then to get a little break from home, or to pursue their brain power, and to use the gifts God gave them outside the home, or inside the home.  He says that, if you make the choice to use those gifts outside the home, there‘s something wrong with you...

BERNARD:  Look, he‘s got a major problem here.

MATTHEWS:  ... morally.

BERNARD:  And he‘s got to prove that he has evolved. 

If you are a rabid feminist, right-wing, crazy, rabid, frosting-at-the feminist—mouth feminist, you‘re going to be absolutely disgusted, and never believe that he has evolved.

MATTHEWS:  You mean a right-wing feminist?  Are you mixing your metaphors there?

(LAUGHTER)

BERNARD:  Mixing my metaphors. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Yes, right.

BERNARD:  Left-wing feminist. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

BERNARD:  But, if you are a right-wing feminist, meaning you are a stay-at-home mom, maybe somebody who—who, like Sarah Palin, for example, homeschooling your children, he‘s also got a problem, because those women consider the work that they do very—very important.  And they also say, do not discriminate against our sisters who have decided to work outside of the home. 

If you‘re a moderate and you feel that the choice is yours, do you want to work outside of the home or not, should you be able to use birth control in your marriage, which he also was against in his thesis, you‘re going to think this man is a troglodyte, and—and maybe feel it is very difficult to believe that he has changed his views.

Or even if—assume—let‘s assume he hasn‘t changed his views.  Can he really act as a governor of a state and completely separate his views about women in the workplace—think about all those women in Northern Virginia—and...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BERNARD:  ... actually act as governor in a way that meets their needs and their philosophy about how they want to live their lives?

MATTHEWS:  Well, you—you don‘t come on this show with a—a nameplate saying that you‘re a moderate Republican, but that‘s what you are, basically. 

BERNARD:  I‘m an independent. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  But you are a moderate politically?  You‘re somewhere in the middle?

BERNARD:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So when you take—when you just gave us that discourse on left, right and center, you‘re pretty confident of those assessments.  Well, let me ask you this.  Are there any substantial number of women in a state like Virginia, which has a southern part of it which is pretty traditional—I‘ve been out there—well, not enough, as I should have been, but I‘ve been out there to know enough it‘s pretty far from the big city of Washington.

BERNARD:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think there‘s any element of people out there who honestly think it‘s wrong for women to have to work or work outside the home?

BERNARD:  I think that there probably is a segment.

MATTHEWS:  Some women like that.

BERNARD:  There probably are some women who feel that women should not have to work outside of the home.

(CROSSTALK)

BERNARD:  ... and that‘s a different issue.

MATTHEWS:  ... my generation, people would say, Oh, the poor dear, she has to work.

BERNARD:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  That is a phrase that was used.  And by the way, most people have to work.  That doesn‘t mean anything.  But it was a term used in sort of sympathy back in the ‘50s, whereas today, people are kind of proud of their wives or their mothers for trying to do it all.  I mean, maybe they can‘t do it all, but trying, at least.

BERNARD:  Look, times have changed.  There are definitely going to be people are out there who feel that either, one, it‘s a shame that some women have to work outside of the home or that some women choose to work outside of the home.  But the bottom line is this is not the 1940s or 1950s America.  We are in a horrible, horrible economic climate right now, and whether you want to work outside of the home or not as a woman, 9 out of 10 people that you meet have to find a way to make ends meet.  And they‘re going to be questioning how this man views these American women‘s lives.  Women are going to be saying, Is my life as valuable as a man to you if you‘re governor of the state of Virginia?

MATTHEWS:  By the way—excuse me—oftentimes in this program, you can tell which way the wind‘s blowing politically by who we get on because I‘m telling you, every morning, we try to get people from both sides of an issue, as you know, and our bookers here are fabulous.  They work so hard to do this.  And today, they went out there and—went out there and went through everywhere, trying to find someone to come on and defend Bob McDonnell‘s views on this subject, and they couldn‘t find anybody.

By the way, he‘s not doing so badly, though.  Pollster.com, which, of course, averages all the polls out there, has Republican McDonnell, who‘s the Republican nominee, leading the Democratic nominee, Creigh Deeds, by 12 points.  So this fellow—look at the numbers.  He‘s still up there.  And he‘s doing quite well.  And he could probably—I would call him the frontrunner right now.  So the question is—I‘m asking you—since most voters are women, is this going to bring him down?

BERNARD:  It could.  I mean, I hate to say it, but time will tell.  He‘s ahead of the polls right now because he has been so absolutely strong on job creation.  But again, women are the jury.  Where do women fit in his formula for job creation?  They‘re going to be asking that question.

MATTHEWS:  Virginia‘s a very protean state.  It‘s growing and it‘s thinking.  It‘s always thinking.  It‘s like North Carolina.  You cannot predict it anymore.  It‘s the Old Dominion, but it‘s thinking modern a lot of...

BERNARD:  And Virginia went for Barack Obama.

MATTHEWS:  I have no way of predicting that election right now, and that‘s why I love it.

BERNARD:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Michelle Bernard, thank you for doing—giving us both sides.

Up next: Former New York governor Eliot Spitzer‘s thinking about running for office again.  I love the fact he‘s thinking about it because I think he‘s got a lot to think about.  And I want to talk about that when we come back in the “Sideshow.”  There he is with his very supportive, attractive wife.  I mean, attractive in the sense—look at how she stands up for this guy in a strong way, not being miserable about it.  She‘s saying, He‘s still my husband, I think he still loves me.  By the way, that‘s different than some of these other cases.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  Time for the “Sideshow.”  First up:

Hiding under the covers.  Governor Eliot Spitzer left the New York governorship in March of 2008 after getting caught patronizing—I think that‘s the word—a prostitute here in Washington.  What a difference a year-and-a-half has made.  Feast your eyes on today‘s show stopper of a front page on “The New York Post.”  The story—which you can‘t exactly bet on—is that Spitzer wants back in, back in the game, that he‘s thinking about running for either the U.S. Senate or state controller next year, the job held for years by the great Arthur Leavitt.  OK, I‘m a political junkie.  I know stuff like that.   Anyway, the former governor‘s denying the report that he‘s coming back into politics, which, as you know, in this world, doesn‘t mean squat.

Here‘s what I think.  First, I like the way he left after getting

caught—quick, with his beautiful wife standing by him.  I like the way

he handled it.  Dare I say it?  They showed class.  And I do think he loves

his wife.  He‘s not just standing by her in the usual—that is, miserable

way most politicians do after they‘re caught with the person they really want to be with.

Anyway, that said, I think he needs some more time, not a million years, but a few more years, then come back in a job that really is a job, like state controller.  Public service is, after all, something this guy is good at.  OK, I like Eliot Spitzer, OK?  I want him back in politics eventually.

Speaking of redemption, guess who‘s coming out of jail tomorrow? 

Wednesday this week, James Traficant is going to be beamed up, Scottie.  The former Ohio congressman, known on the Hill for his year of “Star Trek” references, has spent the last seven years in federal prison on charges of corruption and tax evasion.  Sounds like he‘s coming back to open arms, though, at least in his home town of Youngstown.  A thousand citizens in that town in Ohio have bought $20-apiece tickets to Traficant‘s welcome home bash.  The suggested dress code—it‘s all in homage to him—skinny ties, denim suits and bellbottom pants.  Well, I think he served his time.  He‘s paid his debt to society.  I‘m with the welcome homers.  I‘d love him to come on HARDBALL, by the way, and tell us how bad it was inside federal prison for those seven years.  It would be a good lesson, especially to some of his former colleagues.

Next up, “Vanity Fair‘s” out with its list of top 100 influential persons.  Among the politicos on the list, two old-timers, Bill Clinton and Al Gore at numbers 19 and 22.  At number 15, what “Vanity Fair” calls “the White House confidants,” aides David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel, Valerie Jarrett and Pete Rouse.  The top pol on the list, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg at number 14.  “Vanity Fair” credits him for his handling locally of the financial crisis besetting the country.

Time now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”  It‘s clear the White House is struggling in the message war over health care, and it shows in the numbers.  In a new CBS News poll, how many Americans say they‘re confused by current health care proposals?  Sixty-seven percent, two thirds of the country, say they‘re confused.

And as my pal Peggy Noonan wrote in “The Wall Street Journal” last month, when people are confused, they don‘t assume that the government‘s, quote, “doing “hat‘s best.”  They assume the government‘s trying to get one past them.  With that in mind, a solid majority, 67 percent, say they‘re still in the dark about health care.  That‘s tonight‘s “Big Number.”

Up next: Former vice president Dick Cheney has been relentlessly attacking the Obama administration for its decision to investigate CIA interrogators.  But now former Bush attorney general Alberto Gonzales says Obama‘s AG, Eric Holder, has made the right call.  We‘ll try to figure out that and what‘s up with Cheney, how he‘s out of sorts even with the former AG.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(CNBC MARKET WRAP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Former vice president Dick Cheney went after the Obama administration for opening an investigation into possible CIA abuse.  But now former Bush attorney general Alberto Gonzales defended attorney general Eric Holder‘s decision to look into the allegations.

Viet Dinh served as an assistant attorney general under President George W. Bush, and Bruce Fein served as an associate deputy attorney general under President Reagan.  Bruce and Viet, thank you both for joining us.

Let‘s look now at what Alberto Gonzales said on the question of Eric Holder going into the past and looking at possible abuses by CIA operatives.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALBERTO GONZALES, FORMER BUSH ATTORNEY GENERAL:  We obviously worked very, very hard in the Bush administration to establish ground rules, to establish parameters about how to deal with terrorists.  And because we are a nation of laws, and if people go beyond that, I think it is legitimate to question, to examine that conduct to ensure that people are held accountable for the actions that they take.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Viet?

VIET DINH, FMR. BUSH ASST. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  Well, now, Attorney General Gonzales is entitled to his opinion, but it was very obvious that he was not a very hands-on attorney general because even under his watch, the Department of Justice career officials conducted what they called the detainee abuse task force, and career officials have concluded several times that these conduct do not give rise to criminal prosecution, except in one instance in which they went forward and obtained an eight-year prison sentence for a CIA contractor.

So this is not new news.  This is very old news, based on old conduct, based on old information.  And I‘m frankly at a loss to explain what has changed over the course of the last several months that prompts Attorney General Holder to...

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re saying there‘s no new facts?

DINH:  There are no new facts.  Certainly not...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s not what I understand.  But let me go to Bruce.  What do you think about this?  He argues, Mr. Dinh, that there‘s no new facts in the case, we‘re going over old cases with old facts, and we‘re looking into prosecution when it wasn‘t done before.

BRUCE FEIN, FMR. REAGAN ASSOC. DEP. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  Well, there may be no new facts, but that‘s what you could say about a lot of things in the South during the Civil Rights movement and we‘ve come back and looked at the new facts and new (INAUDIBLE) I‘m not trying to suggest they‘re identical, but this is not unheard of.

You have a new assessment of what the situation was.  The climate is different.  And if they‘re showing of violations of law, there‘s always the pardon power, if there‘s extenuating circumstances.

My objection really is that it‘s much too narrow.  It‘s a little bit like looking at the burglars of the Daniel Ellsberg‘s psychiatrist and not those who authorized it, and we did both, or the case of Felt and Miller, who got pardons for doing break-in against the Weathermen Underground, where there‘s national security here.

I think it‘s unfair to saddle only the foot soldiers, so to speak...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

FEIN:  ... for this investigative liability and not going to the higher-ups, including Mr. Cheney himself.  If there are extenuating circumstances, that‘s what the pardon‘s for.  The pardon is aboveboard.  The president has to take accountability to it.  And plus, it doesn‘t undermine the rule of law because the recipient has to accept that the law was violated.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s go to the rich territory here.  The vice president—the former vice president—let‘s listen to this now—the former vice president making his claim—and it‘s pretty strong—to Chris Wallace on Fox, that even if they violated the existing ground rules laid down by your administration, which were pretty broad—even if they violated those, these guys should be let off.  Let‘s take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The enhanced interrogation techniques were absolutely essential in saving thousands of American lives and preventing further attacks against the United States and giving us the intelligence we needed to go find al Qaeda, to find their camps, to find out how they were being financed.  For eight years, we had no further mass casualty attacks against the United States.  It was good policy.  It was properly carried out.  It worked very, very well.

CHRIS WALLACE, “FOX NEWS SUNDAY”:  So even these cases where they went beyond the specific legal authorization, you‘re OK with it?

CHENEY:  I am.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the killer.  Are you with him on that?  Cheney says even though the administration of George W. Bush laid down fairly liberal broad-ranging guidelines for what an interrogator could do to a suspect, to a possible alleged terrorist—that even if they violated those rules, he says, Don‘t look at them.  Don‘t investigate, don‘t even think of indicting.  Are you with him on that?

DINH:  There has been investigations.  The inspector general...

MATTHEWS:  No, but are you with him on that principle?  Are you with the vice president when he makes a principled argument from his principle, his point of view, that you don‘t even look at cases where guys have—there‘s evidence that guys violated the ground rules laid down by George W.  Bush and his people?

DINH:  Well, of course, you look at it.  But they—people have already looked at it and determined that there‘s not enough evidence of criminal intent or likelihood of conviction in order to go forward with these cases.  And that‘s...

MATTHEWS:  But that‘s not what the vice president is saying.  He‘s saying even if you do, there‘s no problem.  Well, let me ask Bruce to make this case.  Listen to the vice president‘s words and tell me what you think of them.

FEIN:  No, I think—yes.  The fact is, we have a double jeopardy clause that prevents prosecutions or trials twice for the same crime.  There‘s never jeopardy attached in this particular situation, so there‘s nothing anomalous constitutionally about this.

And what I find most dangerous about Mr. Cheney‘s statement is that he really suggests that the rule of law means nothing as long as you‘re trying to go after terrorists.  We have a way to do these things.  If the law didn‘t tolerate what was done in this case, you go to Congress and have them amend the law, a ticking time bomb exception or something like that.  The executive branch doesn‘t unilaterally declare, The law no longer serves any purpose because we‘re going after terrorists.  That‘s what despotic governments do.  We are the United States of America.  Rule of law is our ultimate safety in gardening (ph) of our liberties.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, what would be a violation by an interrogator?  As you say, what would conceptually be a violation? 

DINH:  It‘s very simple, an intentional violation of torture.  That is an intentional desire to commit bodily harm or grievous harm to the person. 

MATTHEWS:  But the vice president says, even in such cases, when you went beyond the authorization, he still wouldn‘t want—are you with him on that? 

DINH:  The real question in a criminal prosecution is whether or not there‘s sufficient evidence of criminal intent and whether you can get a conviction.  Career prosecutors have looked at this.  And what Eric Holder is doing is basically declaring war, not on the CIA—that‘s—that‘s just a normal investigation, but really on the career prosecutors who have already done this job, with no new evidence, only, as Bruce puts it, a new assessment. 

MATTHEWS:  What constitutes criminal intent, the belief that you‘re operating within the guidelines or what? 

DINH:  Knowledge of the guidelines and intentional violation thereof. 

And also—

MATTHEWS:  You disagree with the vice president. 

DINH:  Of course. 

MATTHEWS:  You disagree with the vice president. 

DINH:  If there is criminal intent, then you go—

MATTHEWS:  No, if there‘s knowledge of violating the guidelines as laid down by your authorities, your people above you, that‘s wrong? 

DINH:  Knowledge of the guidelines and you‘re intentionally violating. 

MATTHEWS:  But he says that‘s not true. 

DINH:  Well, you know, the key here is whether or not you have the criminal intent, and there‘s sufficient evidence of that intent.  Where there is—

MATTHEWS:  Look at this.  I wish we could play this again.  So even—this is Chris Wallace.  So even these cases where they went beyond the specific legal authorization, you‘re OK with that.  Cheney, I am. 

DINH:  Going beyond does not state as to what is in the mind of the person when they went beyond.  Is it a mistake?  Is it an unintentional violation?  Those are the issues that career prosecutors—

MATTHEWS:  So if somebody brings a drill up to somebody‘s head when they‘ve got a hood over their head, and says I‘m going to cut your head off with this, that‘s accidental? 

DINH:  No, there‘s clear intentional violation there, because—

MATTHEWS:  OK, great.  And say I‘m going to rape your mother with you watching, that would be a clear, intentional violation? 

DINH:  Of course. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, good.  You‘re not with the vice president.  I‘m serious.  I don‘t think you‘re with the old guy anymore, with Dick Cheney anymore, on this baby.  I don‘t think anybody—people are with him. 

Go ahead.  Spend some time.  Explain your view on this.  I agree with you, by the way, the fish rots from the top.  I believe that when you give orders from the top, and Vice President Cheney makes things about the dark corners we have to go to, it would lead any public servant to the notion, hey, this is going to be rough and we‘re going to be rough in the way we read the rules. 

I agree with you on that.  But do you see any chance of us prosecuting the former vice president? 

FEIN:  Well, I think it depends.  You started out—you remember the Watergate burglary, little third rate burglary.  It went up ultimately all the way to the United States of America and the Oval Office.  With regard to the burglary of Dan Ellsberg‘s psychiatrist‘s office, it went up to his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, I think John Ehrlichman.

So you don‘t know where this is going to lead, ultimately.  We do have the president and the former—

MATTHEWS:  There we have a case—by the way, just to get the history down there; Nixon told him to do it.  But go ahead.  Ehrlichman asked the president to be clean about that.  He never was.  But go ahead. 

FEIN:  Yes.  And what we have in this particular instance is the former president, vice president, both have authorized water boarding.  Water boarding is intentional.  It‘s an effort to create a fear of imminent death, that‘s ordinarily causing prolonged mental or physical suffering.  And that‘s the definition of torture in our torture statute.

MATTHEWS:  Would you like to see the vice president prosecuted for that?  Bruce, you‘re a lawyer.  You‘re an advocate.  Are you advocating here on this show the prosecution of the former vice president? 

FEIN:  I think there should be an investigation, and perhaps a pardon would be appropriate in the circumstances.  But certainly a full fledged investigation.  If there are no mitigating circumstances, a prosecution is appropriate.  If there are, then that‘s the pardon and that‘s the situation where the president would have to take full accountability, like President Ford did with Mr. Nixon. 

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Dinh, any chance of a successful effort to bring the vice president before the dock of history here? 

DINH:  No.  It‘ll be seen exactly what it is, an attempt to relitigate the history through the guise of political exercise of prosecutorial power.  I think the American people will see right through that, as they will see through this effort.  I don‘t think any prosecution will come from this.  Frank Durham is way too good a prosecutor, way too career-minded of a person to actually take the bait here, and reverse the decision of his brethren that has been reached before. 

MATTHEWS:  You know what bugs me?  That those soldiers over in Abu Ghraib—this is a parallel case that I think Bruce was referring to.  You take the non-commissioned officers and you whack them.  You put them in prison for a year or two.  When all the time it‘s pretty clear that the method of preparing prisoners for interrogation at Abu Ghraib was policy. 

It was to humiliate the prisoners.  All this language came down the line.  Humiliate them, bring in the—into bear their Islamic beliefs.  Use that against them.  Put them in a position where they‘re willing to just go down and do what they‘re told and say what we want them to say.  It seemed to me that came from much higher up than Lynndie England.  And isn‘t that your point, Bruce, here? 

FEIN:  Yes, of course.  And moreover, Chris, the rule of law is most vindicated when the highest authority has to comply.  That‘s where the real deterrent effect has real teeth, and prevents it from occurring again.  And to treat this just like a rogue effort—the fact is, you think these CIA officers and intelligence aides would have undertaken these interrogations if they didn‘t think they had approval from those who are above, whether or not they specifically fell within the Justice Department guidelines?

They knew the aura in which they were operating.  They didn‘t decide on their own to do this.  I‘m not saying that we know all the facts.

MATTHEWS:  It was more than aura.

FEIN:  Certainly, the investigation should not stop. 

MATTHEWS:  Scooter Libby and Vice President Dick Cheney were whacking the CIA every day of the week to be tougher.  They were pushing them harder, and questioning were they ever tough enough?  That was the message we got over those eight years.  Anyway, thank you, Viet Dinh, for coming on.  I‘m very impressed you disagree with the vice president about getting away with murder.  Just about anything.  Bruce Fein, thank you, sir, as always. 

Up next, is Texas Governor Rick Perry‘s talk of seceding from the union helping or hurting his chancing of getting renominated by his party down there?  Or is he, even he, too far out?  That‘s ahead in the politics fix.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.  Time for the politics fix.  Joining me, Wayne Slater of the “Dallas Morning News,” and Jonathan Martin of “Politico.”  Thank you for joining us. 

Texas Governor Rick Perry on Texas and Washington.  Let‘s watch him talk secession. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY ®, TEXAS:  Texas is a unique place.  When we came in the Union in 1845, one of the issues was that we would be able to leave if we decided to do that. 

My hope is that America and Washington, in particular, pays attention.  We got a great Union.  There‘s absolutely no reason to dissolve it.  But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at the man the other day, what we saw at a rally in Texas, to show that this has fire power, what the governor of Texas was talking about.  People are out there at the Capitol steps pushing for secession.  Let‘s watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This is not comprised of people willing to allow Barack Obama and his government to tax us into bankruptcy, while Michelle Obama and her 26 aides live it up on our dime. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Let‘s go to Wayne Slater right now, who is joining us.  Also Jonathan Martin of “Politico.” 

First of all, Wayne, you‘re doing there.  Is this secessionist movement nonsense or what? 

WAYNE SLATER, “DALLAS MORNING NEWS”:  Well, they certainly don‘t think it‘s nonsense.  The people who are involved are dead serious about it.  They would like to establish their own country.  But there aren‘t a whole lot of these people. 

The thing that they share with a larger conservative Republican constituency in a place like Texas is an anti-Washington sentiment.  So you have Rick Perry talking about Washington, state‘s rights, state sovereignty, secession.  It‘s something he wants to use to fire up the base, to beat Kay Bailey Hutchison next March. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Jonathan Martin on this.  It seems to me, when I heard people going after the First Lady and the number of staff people they have, it sounds racist to me.  It sounds like people are mad we have a black first lady. 

JONATHAN MARTIN, “POLITICO”:  There‘s no question that is part of it, Chris, with a certain element in the conservative base in Texas.  Just the fact that we have a black president and obviously a black first lady angers a lot of people in this country.  That is sort of compounded with the other, more legitimate, policy-based disagreements that folks have with Washington right now. 

Wayne, who knows Texas policies better than anybody, is absolutely right.  The fact is, Perry is sort of dancing a bit here.  He‘s trying to sort of toss a bone out to some of his conservative supporters by saying, well, we don‘t know what possibly could happen here if Washington doesn‘t start paying attention. 

Of course he‘s not going to try to push his state to leave the Union.  The fact is, by even raising the possibility, he‘s telling some of the more extreme folks in his base, Chris, what they want to hear. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, Wayne, it‘s just my judgment—I‘m not a Texan.  But I have to tell you, I think that state would be proud to have Kay Bailey Hutchison as its governor.  I wonder why they‘re proud to have this fancy guy with a blazer on, running around saying idiotic things like this guy says, to be their governor.  He seems to be strange. 

SLATER:  Remember, this is a conservative constituency.  This is not the Republican party of New England.  More importantly, what Perry has to do is win over Republicans in a primary, very conservative constituency.  Once you get to a general election, it might be a different vote.  But in the Republican primary, Rick Perry is bidding for the hard right of his party, the 800,000 or so Republicans who are likely to show up next November. 

Kay Bailey Hutchison and the appeal to moderates is really going to have to fight an uphill batter. 

MARTIN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We‘ll be right back with Wayne Slater and Jonathan Martin.  Back with the fix in a moment.  You‘re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Wayne Slater and Jonathan Martin for more of the politics fix.  Wayne, sometimes things really crazy happen in American politics, like these people the other day on the steps of your Capitol in Austin, talking about war with the United States.  I was just watching the first couple scenes of “Gone With The Wind” the other night in my hotel room.  I‘m thinking, there they are again, crazy guys talking loosely about war and secession. 

SLATER:  I mean, look, there‘s a certain appeal here in Texas, individual spirit.  I think it resonates here in Texas.  On the other hand, you know and I know that this element of Republican party, radical libertarians, birthers, Birchers, have always been around.  What‘s happened here is that the governor of Texas, a legitimate political figure, has added some level of legitimacy, and has raised the level of discussion about secession, which will never happen. 

MATTHEWS:  Jonathan, talk about this nationwide.  We‘re watching pictures now on the set of these crazies.  That‘s fair enough to call them that.  Maybe they‘re having fun.  Maybe they‘re just hopped up for fun.  But they‘re talking about war with the United States.  I mean—

MARTIN:  This is a challenge. 

MATTHEWS:  I think people have a right to bear arms.  I think that‘s established on the Constitution.  But wouldn‘t the American thing be to do to stop talking about guns and warfare, when we‘re talking about American politics, and just argue these issues out? 

MARTIN:  Chris, this is the challenge of the establishment wing of the GOP.  How do they channel the fervor—and there is real fervor—from conservatives in this country to their side politically?  But doing so, try to mitigate some of the folks you call crazy.  That‘s going to be the task they have for the next year. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Wayne Slater, Jonathan Martin, gentlemen, thank you for joining us tonight.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge is going to be here to explain his book.  I mean explain it. 

Right now it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz. 

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