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updated 10/21/2009 11:02:55 AM ET 2009-10-21T15:02:55

Guests: Julia Boorstin, Stewart Rhodes, Mark Potok, Andrew Ross Sorkin, Charles Blow, Chris Cillizza, Barbara Boxer, Jack Reed

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Civil war?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington.  Leading off tonight:

Armed and ready.  They‘re called the Oath Keepers.  They‘re current and former law enforcement officers who pledge to disobey orders they believe are illegal, saying they‘re preventing cities from becoming concentration camps.  Well, at the top of the show tonight, we‘re going to hear the founder of that group but also the head of the Southern Poverty Law Center, who opposes them.

Plus: Wall Street just can‘t help itself.  A year after the American taxpayer bailed out the major banks, many can‘t or won‘t get back into the lending business.  But they seem to have no problem handing out billions of bonuses to themselves.  So—what a stupid question—where‘s the gratitude?  Another stupid question—Where‘s the shame?

And Afghanistan‘s Hamid Karzai agreed to a run-off election with his main rival today.  But now Defense Secretary Gates is saying we have to decide, we Americans, on a war strategy even before a legitimate government is established in that country.  That seems to put the secretary of defense at odds with the White House.  How are we going to figure out what to do in Afghanistan if members of the administration are not on the same page?

And talk about being tone deaf, two South Carolina Republican Party chairmen defended Senator Jim DeMint‘s fiscal conservativism the other day by saying—using their words—that he was acting like a Jew watching our nation‘s pennies.  Their words.  That story and the inevitable and necessary apology in the “Politics Fix.”

And finally, Jay Leno shows that some people will never believe that Hillary Clinton has given up her presidential ambitions.  That‘s in the “Sideshow” tonight.

But we start with the Oath Keepers, who are they and what is—what they are and what they say they are all about.  Stewart Rhodes if the founder of the Oath Keepers, and Mark Potok is with the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Stewart, let me run through a couple of the things you say that your group will not obey orders to do.  Let‘s take a look at that.  We have the list here.  You will not impose martial law or state of emergency on any state.  You will not invade or subjugate any state, I guess of the union, that asserts its sovereignty.  You will blockade—you will not blockade American cities, turning them into giant concentration camps.  And you will assist or support the use of any foreign troops—you won‘t do that or obey orders to do that on U.S. soil.

Do you guys have the current firepower to stand up against the federal government if you people are ordered to do those things?

STEWART RHODES, FOUNDER, “OATH KEEPERS”:  Well, it‘s not the point.  It‘s not the point of firepower.  It‘s the obligation all of us have who have sworn an oath to support and defend the Constitution.  And so what we‘re calling on active duty military and police to do is to simply stand down and to refuse to comply with (INAUDIBLE) unlawful orders.

MATTHEWS:  All your people in your recruited groups are all people who are potentially armed, is that right?

RHODES:  Well, if they‘re active duty police and military, of course. 

I mean, if a cop carries a gun...

MATTHEWS:  Well, that seems to be the group you‘re going after.

RHODES:  Well, sure.

MATTHEWS:  It seems to be the group you‘re recruiting.

RHODES:  They‘re the ones that will receive unlawful orders.  It was at My Lai that the soldiers committed atrocities...

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s not—let‘s not confuse the issue with My Lai.  You have on your list, you will not assert—you will not obey any orders to invade or subjugate any state that asserts its sovereignty.  You know, I guess I‘m too normal because when I first read that, sir, I thought you were talking about we wouldn‘t invade Iraq, which is a sovereign country.  But you‘re not—you laugh.

RHODES:  No, we‘re talking...

MATTHEWS:  This is why people think you‘re crazy.

RHODES:  We‘re talking about domestic...

MATTHEWS:  You laugh.  A sovereign state of the United States—in other words, the Civil War would not have been fought if you guys had been around.

RHODES:  No, that‘s not the point.  Look at article...

MATTHEWS:  No, wait a minute, “It‘s not the point”—you say you will not invade any state or subjugate any state that asserts its sovereignty.

RHODES:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  The Confederacy asserted its sovereignty.  What would you have done if you had been in the Union army then?

RHODES:  If I‘d been in the Union army then?

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

RHODES:  Well, we‘re not talking about secession here.  We‘re talking about the balance of power between...

MATTHEWS:  No, no, no.  You say any state...

RHODES:  ... the states and the federal government.

MATTHEWS:  ... any state that asserts, either through nullification or secession...

RHODES:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  ... its sovereignty.  What would you do?

RHODES:  We‘re not talking about nullification...

MATTHEWS:  ... if this Texas governor, this guy Rick Perry...

RHODES:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... he talks about secession.  I mean, obviously, he‘s talking loony tune.  He doesn‘t, I don‘t think, mean it, but who knows.  If he did try to secede and you were in the federal government, what would you do?

RHODES:  Well, I think the state has an obligation—has a right to assert its sovereignty.  There‘s dual sovereignty in our system.  It‘s not one...

MATTHEWS:  Does it have a right to secede?

RHODES:  If the federal government violates the compact and destroys the Constitution, then there is no Constitution.

MATTHEWS:  Give me the circumstances that that would—in other words, I‘ve always wondered, when I listen to your group, about—I want to know about operations.  I don‘t care about your philosophy.  A lot of people are Libertarian.  Ron Paul, I like him in a lot of ways.  I agree with him on the Iraq war.  I got no problem with the Libertarian philosophy.

What I don‘t like about people who are armed, who are being recruited to stand up in some operation—I want to know when you would call your forces together...

RHODES:  No, see, it‘s not about...

MATTHEWS:  ... and challenge the authority of the U.S. government.

RHODES:  It‘s not about calling...

MATTHEWS:  When would you do that?

RHODES:  It‘s not calling forces together.  It‘s simply saying they‘re not going to comply with orders to violate the rights of the American people.  We‘re not talking about asking them to go fight.  We‘re saying simply, Don‘t fight.

MATTHEWS:  OK, well...

RHODES:  Don‘t fight the people.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s this concentration camp thing you‘re talking about? 

What is this thing about bringing foreign troops into the United States? 

What scenarios do you live in?

RHODES:  Well, look at the history of the last 20th century.  We had the internment of the Japanese-Americans right here on American soil.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

RHODES:  And so...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

RHODES:  ... we don‘t want to see that happen again, do you?

MATTHEWS:  Do you foresee concentration camps in this country?

RHODES:  It happened once before.  It happened to the Japanese-Americans.

MATTHEWS:  Do you foresee it?

RHODES:  Well, it‘s a possibility.  Our goal is—our goal is...

MATTHEWS:  Why are you organizing people about the plausibility of concentration camps in this country, of the landing of foreign troops?  What foreign troops would be landed in the United States?  What are you talking about?

RHODES:  This is a historic pattern.  This has happened in the past.

MATTHEWS:  When?

RHODES:  We want to make sure it doesn‘t happen here.

MATTHEWS:  When—what...

RHODES:  I just gave you...

MATTHEWS:  ... do you mean by “foreign troops” in the United States? 

Name them.  I guess I‘m confused here.

RHODES:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Name the foreign troops that are being brought into the United States now, you imagine.

RHODES:  Look at the Hessians just in the American revolution were brought here.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

RHODES:  You had foreign troops then that were used.  It‘s—it‘s—it happens throughout history.  Go look at history.

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re putting people together on a kind of a war footing, preparing them to be vigilant...

RHODES:  It‘s not a...

MATTHEWS:  ... to be ready...

RHODES:  It‘s not a war...

MATTHEWS:  ... to challenge the imposition of foreign troops in this country, the creation of concentration—you know what I think you‘re up to, is creating a mindset, getting—I heard some people the other day talking about “the battle,” We have to keep “the battle” going.  You want to have people in a militant environment where they think militantly with this sense of perhaps taking steps at some point against the government or taking—not taking orders or in some way rebelling so that you keep people in a mindset of right-wing thinking so you can achieve some immediate political goal.

And I‘m just wondering what you‘re—getting them to vote right-wing?  What are you trying to get people to do in the next year or two, or 10 years, before this Armageddon struggle occurs?

RHODES:  We want them to keep their oath, Chris.  Chris, the oath is to the Constitution.

MATTHEWS:  No, in the short term what are you—look, you don‘t expect the concentration camps to come in the short run, do you?

RHODES:  No, I don‘t.

MATTHEWS:  OK, do you expect...

RHODES:  It‘s a long-term concern.

MATTHEWS:  ... foreign troops—do you expect the Hessians to be back in the short run?

RHODES:  We are trying to prevent this country from suffering the abuse and the violation of rights that has happened in other countries in recent history.

MATTHEWS:  How so?

RHODES:  How so?  By keeping the oaths to the Constitution.  It‘s not to any one man, whether he gives you a thrill up your leg or not.  It‘s to the Constitution.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  So you believe that we have a possibility in this country of undermining the Constitution under Barack Obama.  That‘s what you see coming.

RHODES:  Or under a future President Giuliani or anybody else.  The abuse of the Constitution didn‘t begin with Obama, and it hasn‘t stopped, unfortunately, either.  Bush was violating the Constitution also.

MATTHEWS:  How many hours a day do you worry about the Constitution being undermined by Barack Obama—undermined?  In other words, your rights being taken away, concentration camps being formed, foreign troops being landed, the black helicopters stopping at a military base near you.  How many hours a day do you think about this probability, or even plausibility, sir?

RHODES:  Well, I‘m a Constitutional lawyer.  I‘ve been thinking about this for many years.

MATTHEWS:  No, but how many hours a day do you worry about this actually happening?  Seriously.  Do you go to bed at night—when you put your head on the pillow at night, are you afraid that at some point in your lifetime, the black helicopters from the U.N. will arrive in the United States and deny American sovereignty?  Do you think that‘s probable or possible?

RHODES:  I think it‘s possible.

MATTHEWS:  Or plausible?

RHODES:  I think we‘re concerned about—look at—look at—look at Germany, an advanced civilization, and they fell into a despotism in a dictatorship, a murderous dictatorship in the span of 10 years after an economic collapse.  It could happen here.  Think it can‘t happen here?  Ask the Japanese-Americans whether it can happen here.

MATTHEWS:  No (INAUDIBLE) I‘m talking about the meantime.  I think what you‘re trying to do is create a state of mind, sir.  That‘s why I‘m concerned.

RHODES:  Well, you can think whatever you—you can think what you want.  I know what my goals are.

MATTHEWS:  No, it‘s obvious what you want to do because you‘re getting people to sign up.  You‘re getting people who are armed.  It‘s—why do you only recruit among police and military and people like that?

RHODES:  Because they—because they will be given the orders to abuse your rights.  Who else is going to be doing it?  If someday, God forbid, there‘s some dictator comes to power in America, who‘s going to get the order?  Wouldn‘t you have liked the soldiers in World War II to have refused the orders to round up Japanese-Americans?

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I guess I‘ve always assumed...

RHODES:  No?

MATTHEWS:  ... that people knew that every since Nuremberg, obeying orders wasn‘t a legitimate defense.

RHODES:  That‘s exactly right.

MATTHEWS:  And therefore, I assumed that this wasn‘t necessary, to form a vigilante group like this one or to get people all roused up against their government.

RHODES:  Not—no...

MATTHEWS:  By the way, I don‘t understand your thinking about the government.  Every time we have a debate on this show, it‘s clear that we don‘t have a unified government in this country.  We have Democrats on the Hill of the left, of the center.  We‘ve got—or the moderate Democrats.  We‘ve got conservative Republicans, some moderate Republicans.  They fight all the time.  And yet you guys in this sort of strange view of the world say there‘s such a thing as “the government” that‘s all unified and working against you.  Where does that exist?  You worked in Washington.  Where is that thing called “the government” you allude to?

MATTHEWS:  So you say there are no...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m asking!  Where is it?

RHODES:  What do you mean, where is it?

MATTHEWS:  Where is this government that‘s all unified against you, that‘s frightening and is about to deny your rights?  Who is this government?

RHODES:  Well, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  Give me the name of it.

RHODES:  ... the Patriot Act was bipartisan.  They both voted for it, both sides.  And don‘t you think that was an abuse of power and abuse of rights?

MATTHEWS:  And yes, and it‘s being debated and argued among people within the political system we have in this country...

RHODES:  And that‘s (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  ... people fighting it and—right, and we don‘t have to have people, armed people out there standing ready to challenge authority.

Anyway, let‘s move on.  I want to bring Mark Potok in here and let him argue the case.  What is the danger of these guys sitting around and having meetings?  I mean, I‘m challenging him because I think it‘s a state of mind.  But if they‘re not operational, if they don‘t take arms against the country, what difference does it make if they have this mindset of fear, Mark?

MARK POTOK, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER:  Well, I‘d say a couple things.  First off, I‘d point out that Stewart Rhodes just talked about, Well, you know, maybe this could happen someday down the line and this is a sort of theoretical worry that he has, or so he says.  The reality is, is that when you look at the Oath Keepers‘ Web site, the core of it is this business about the orders they‘re not going to obey.  And it starts out with a preamble, a quote from George Washington, saying, you know, Now is the time or soon comes the time when it will be determined whether we‘re slaves or freed men.  Immediately after that, the Oath Keepers Web site says, presumably in Stewart Rhodes‘s words, that that time is near at hand again.

Look, I mean, the bottom line is, is that this is a group that is driven by conspiracy theories about the government, very much like the militia conspiracy theories...

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the harm?

POTOK:  ... of the ‘90s.  You know, they...

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the harm in his thinking?

POTOK:  ... believe, presumably, that FEMA is out there setting up concentration camps and that kind of thing.  I mean, this whole list of things that they‘re not going to do are the very fears that were enunciated by people in the militia movement, some of whom went on to do rather violent things, in one case to attempt to attack Ft. Hood in Texas because they thought foreign nationals were being trained there to suppress American patriots.  So it‘s very much the same idea.  Look, I mean, I have no...

MATTHEWS:  OK, let him respond to that.  Let him respond to that.

POTOK:  ... beef with someone affirming their...

MATTHEWS:  Do you have anybody in your group—have you had any indication, Stewart, that any people have heard your arguments and have become dangerous to our society?

RHODES:  Not at all.  They‘re police officers and soldiers.

MATTHEWS:  What about the birther crowd?  Are you connected to the...

POTOK:  Chris, if I might...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I want to know one other thing because this fellow that broke into the Holocaust Museum...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, the other day.  It wasn‘t long ago, it was this summer

·         broke into the Holocaust Museum and shot the armed guard, he believed he was honoring a cause, which was that Barack Obama shouldn‘t be president because he‘s not a legitimate citizen, a native-born citizen.  People do act.  McVeigh and those people do act in this way, sir.  Stewart, they do act on what they read and hear.  You don‘t fear that?

RHODES:  Not in our organization at all.  And I find it offensive that Potok likes to lump us into with white supremacists.  I‘m a quarter Mexican.  I come from a family of migrant farm workers from California.  And so to (INAUDIBLE) insinuate that I‘m in bed with white supremacists and neo-Nazis, which he has, lumping us all together...

POTOK:  Oh, that‘s ridiculous!

RHODES:  ... is offensive.  Well...

(CROSSTALK)

RHODES:  Yes, you have!

POTOK:  ... to white supremacists!

RHODES:  You said we‘re coalescing, we‘re all coalescing together.

POTOK:  And how is that, Mr. Rhodes?

RHODES:  Excuse me?  You lump us all...

POTOK:  How is that?

RHODES:  ... in the same bucket.

POTOK:  How is that that we‘ve suggested that you‘re white supremacists?  That‘s ridiculous.

RHODES:  You include—you include us...

POTOK:  That‘s ridiculous.  You know we haven‘t said that.

RHODES:  Yes, you have.  You put us in the same bucket.

POTOK:  Look, the bottom line about the Oath Keepers is that this is a group of men and women who are in—largely in law enforcement.  They are given weapons and they are given authority over the rest of us.  And that is well and fine.  I‘m all about reaffirming oaths to the Constitution.  It‘s a great document, as is the Bill of Rights.  However, when people with those powers are animated by dark and utterly false conspiracy theories—they actually mention in the section on the orders they won‘t obey that they fear that the government will be cracking down on militias and calling them right-wing terrorists, and so on.

RHODES:  Which you do all the time.

POTOK:  So that‘s the real agenda here.  They‘re driven by fears that are irrational and have no basis in reality.

RHODES:  And what are you driven by?

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me—let me—let me stop and let Mr. Stewart...

RHODES:  You‘re driven by donations.

MATTHEWS:  ... Stewart Rhodes respond.  Is your fear—one last word.  Is there an imminent fear that our federal government will abandon the Constitution, deny us our rights and even resort to things like concentration camps or disarming the American people in violation of the 2nd Amendment—disarming the people, moving around the country collecting guns—is that a real danger, sir, yes or no?

RHODES:  Yes, I think it is.

MATTHEWS:  A real danger?

RHODES:  Yes, I think it is.  Look at the pattern of abuse of executive power and the claimed authority to treat America like a battlefield.

MATTHEWS:  You keep changing the subject.  What you have in your document says, “will not obey order to disarm the American people.”

RHODES:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  Well, neither—well, those—do you think these things on your list of fears are imminent and real threats to the American people now—disarm the American people, detain the American people, martial law, concentration camps?  Are those real or just scare tactics, sir?

RHODES:  Those are real threats throughout society, you bet.  Those are real threats throughout history, and our goal...

MATTHEWS:  And you fear them?

RHODES:  ... is to make sure they don‘t happen.

RHODES:  Yes.  Wouldn‘t you fear them?

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Fair enough.  Thank you, Stewart Rhodes.  Thanks for coming on HARDBALL.  I‘m not agreeing with you...

RHODES:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  ... but I‘m agreeing with your right to say anything. 

Thank you, Mark Potok, as always, sir.

Coming up: Which political party will gain the most if Wall Street cleans up?  Well, “if”?   Excuse me.  If?  They‘re cleaning up.  We‘ll ask “New York Times” reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin about the whole question.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Are Wall Street executives tone deaf when it comes to pay?  Some of the same firms that were bailed out by taxpayer money have now set aside billions for bonuses.  President Obama and his staff have made their anger clear, but what can or will they do about it?

Right now, the “New York Times” reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin is joining us right now.  He covers Wall Street for “The New York Times.”  He‘s author of the big new book, just came out today, “Too Big to Fall.”  This book‘s too big to fail!

Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  “The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System and Themselves.”

Andrew, you know it all.

SORKIN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re one of the smartest people around, the best writers around.

SORKIN:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  You‘ve got about five minutes here to explain this.

SORKIN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  What is going on in New York?  Do they just not give a rat‘s ass about what the American people think?  I‘m looking at these numbers, $140 billion in bonuses set aside, compared to a year ago, when things were cool.

SORKIN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  I mean, everything was great last year.  Goldman‘s got, what, a $3.1 billion profit coming this third quarter...

SORKIN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  ... coming up in this third quarter.

SORKIN:  And with bonuses...

MATTHEWS:  They don‘t seem to have anything but...

SORKIN:  ... it‘ll be $22 billion.

MATTHEWS:  They‘re just doing super and they‘re grabbing it all.  So what‘s going on?

SORKIN:  Well, you‘re absolutely right, Chris. 

There—there is a tin ear element to this whole situation, which is, I‘m not sure they have owned up to the responsibility they have to the community and the country, as opposed to the shareholder.  And that‘s where the disconnect is. 

You know, and this is still a problem across the country, which is that companies don‘t recognize or don‘t realize what they‘re supposed to do with this money.  Now, the good news is that these banks are healthier.  The bad news is, they‘re not any healthier because they‘re lending money to -- to individuals who need mortgages or—or auto loans.  They‘re healthier because they‘re trading their book, which means they‘re trading the shareholder money and then they‘re profiting from it. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SORKIN:  And, so, the real question is when they‘re going to realize that they were saved by the taxpayer and what that really means. 

Now, there‘s one interesting piece to this, which is, when—when they make all this money, there is a question:  What do you do with it?  Where does—where should it go?  Should it go back to the taxpayer?  They‘re not the shareholder.  Should it go into the bank?  You would like it to go into the bank, but there‘s no regulatory requirement for them to do it.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SORKIN:  And shareholders would kill them.  So, it‘s actually a complicated issue.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to something so basic.

We all studied in school, those of us who took economics, the Marxist theory.  It‘s called the labor theory of value. 

SORKIN:  Mm-hmm. 

MATTHEWS:  You get paid for your labor, and there shouldn‘t be any extra money made.  Now, of course, we have all gone beyond that with neoclassical economics. 

SORKIN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And we say, no, there ought to be some money for entrepreneurial—entrepreneurialism.  If a guy or a woman starts a company, they risk money, they risk most of their lives...

SORKIN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... to get a company going, whether it‘s a laundry or it‘s a big bank, whatever it is.  They deserve to make a big profit and live better than anybody else. 

(CROSSTALK)  

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the way the system works. 

But these guys who make money off money...

SORKIN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... is that necessary? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, I have got a got like anybody you can think of, whether it‘s Iacocca, Spielberg, anybody who makes something, whether it‘s a movie or it‘s a car, you say, great, he ought to make money. 

But this money that is being made just off of money, is it necessary for our system to have people that make—and, by the way, are the entrepreneurs losing the money that they should be getting from this money? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m—that‘s my big question.

SORKIN:  I—I agree with you.  And I‘m not sure where they should be making this type of money.  When you look at—when you look at the hours worked and the money that comes out on the other side, it makes no sense.  The question is, why are they able to make all of this money? 

MATTHEWS:  Good question. 

SORKIN:  Well, who is...

(CROSSTALK)

SORKIN:  And the question oddly is that we, all of us, are prepared to pay them more than, frankly, they deserve. 

The margins, the premiums on everything they do are higher.  In most any other industry, the Wal-Mart effect would happen. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SORKIN:  But, an Wall Street, for some reason, we have decided these people are wizards, and we‘re willing to give over 20 percent of the profits.  And you‘re right.

It doesn‘t make sense.  But then the issue becomes, we are giving them the money. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SORKIN:  And, so, the question is, why?  And, if we are, what are they supposed to do with it? 

MATTHEWS:  Are we better off as a country for having hedge funds, for having derivatives, for people having the securitizing of mortgages to create wealth for deficit swaps?  I mean, all this incredible stuff, I can barely master even understanding its basis. 

SORKIN:  You know, the...

MATTHEWS:  Is that good for—does that keep our big capitalist system—system going, and we need it or it wouldn‘t make it? 

SORKIN:  I—I think it actually has become a pivotal part of this. 

I hate to say that, because it‘s not a satisfying answer. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, it‘s a good answer if it‘s true. 

SORKIN:  I think it is true.  I think that this does make the world go round. 

You‘ve been able—I mean, listen, over the—over many years, we have been able to really rise—raise what is the middle class.  A lot of these things have happened because of some of this financial engineering. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SORKIN:  It‘s just when the financial engineering goes overboard. 

And, unfortunately, that‘s what we saw last year. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me ask you about a couple of things that I find fascinating...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... and you know the answer to.  And we have talked off—off the TV screen a couple times. 

SORKIN:  Uh-huh.

MATTHEWS:  Last year at this time, as we went into the end of the Bush administration, there was a sense of real fear.  And I have heard some—from insiders in the industry how scary it truly was. 

SORKIN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Were we on the verge of a second ‘29, another big crash like a 1929? 

SORKIN:  I think we were.  And, frankly, you know, just having finished this book, I didn‘t appreciate, even as a reporter, at that moment that the world was really about to fall off of its axis. 

There was a week—and it‘s not actually the Lehman weekend that every—is so famous, when Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, but the week after, where I learned through writing the book and has now come out that Morgan Stanley was about to fall, that Goldman Sachs was about to fall. 

And, by the way, there was an argument that, if Goldman Sachs...

MATTHEWS:  So, who saved us?  Bush?  Did President Bush...

SORKIN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Did President Bush save us by putting the steps together with Paulson and the others by acting with expedition? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Did he save this country, Bush? 

SORKIN:  I think that history will actually look fondly on this part of the Bush administration. 

And, by the way, I‘m not sure I‘m going to give the credit to—to—to Bush, so much as the Treasury Department, and Hank Paulson—for saving us.  That‘s not to say they didn‘t also bring us to the brink.  So, there‘s two issues here, which is, we sort of—we sort of got to the brink. 

And then you‘ve got to give them an enormous amount of credit for getting us out of there.  But there‘s a lot of mistakes that went into—into putting us where we were. 

And, secondly, did—did the big move to print a lot of money by Bernanke at the Fed and the big move to—to go with over a $1 trillion deficit with stimulus, et cetera, et cetera, not to raise taxes, just to cut—decrease spending....

SORKIN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... was that decision critical, that Keynesian decision...

SORKIN:  Absolutely.  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  ... by Barack Obama?

But Barack Obama gets no credit for saving us from the—from the depression. 

SORKIN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  People just say, on the right and the left, bailouts, bailouts, bailouts.  So, he‘s taken the heat from his populist base, friends of mine.

SORKIN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  And—and right-wing people say, bailout, bailout, bailout.  So, it seems like he‘s paying the price for having saved us from something that...

SORKIN:  He is paying—he is paying the price, but there—there were also...

MATTHEWS:  ... otherwise would have killed us.

SORKIN:  There were, also, though, mis—you know, the—the bailout helped by the Bush administration and the Obama administration.  The issue was how it has been implemented and executed. 

And I think where the outrage comes throughout the country is...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SORKIN:  ... is over how it was implemented, the fact that all of this money went into these banks, and there were no requirements about whether you could give out these bonuses, what the incentive structure was going to be, how you were going to...

SORKIN:  ... recapitalize these firms. 

SORKIN:  We didn‘t do that stuff.

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s my incentive.  If they read your book, the people out there...

SORKIN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... who are trying to figure out how close we came to the abyss, and why this money might be necessary on Wall Street, what—how it oils the machinery of our government...

SORKIN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... not of our government—our economy—they can get it in this book, right?  They will learn of it?

SORKIN:  That‘s—that‘s my hope. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s in there?

SORKIN:  I think that, when you actually get inside the room and see the decision-making—and it‘s a nuanced situation.  It‘s not always black and white.  There‘s not always white hats and—and black hats.

MATTHEWS:  How many pages is your book? 

SORKIN:  It‘s a long book, but it reads fast.  It‘s about 600 pages, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You know, too big—once you pick it up—I‘m sorry.

·         once you put it down, you can‘t pick it up. 

Anyway...

SORKIN:  We can only hope.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.

“Too Big to Fail,” the name of the book, and it‘s probably true.  This book‘s got to make it, “How Wall Street and Washington”—move the prompter, please.  Move the prompter—“Washington Fought to Save the Financial System and Themselves.”

Thank you, Andrew Ross Sorkin...

SORKIN:  Thank you, Chris.  I really appreciate it.

MATTHEWS:  ... for this brilliant book.

SORKIN:  Good to see you.

MATTHEWS:  Up next;  Does anyone really believe that Hillary Clinton will not run for president again?  That‘s in the “Sideshow” tonight.  Jay Leno got this interesting piece of information out the other night from the audience. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL, and time for the “Sideshow.” 

Last night, Jay Leno put to it the audience.  And do they believe Hillary Clinton when she says she‘s planning to retire from presidential politics?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE JAY LENO SHOW”)

JAY LENO, HOST, “THE JAY LENO SHOW”:  Well, Hillary Clinton was asked by ABC News if she would ever run for president again, and she said no.

Do you believe her?  AUDIENCE:  No!

LENO:  See, I don‘t think people do.  And you know, she wasn‘t that—well, here, take a look.  Take a look. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, never is a long time.  So, I want to ask you again.  You‘re never going to run for president again? 

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE:  I have absolutely no interest in running for president again.  None.  None. I mean, I know that is hard for some people to believe.  But I just don‘t.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I thought Jay‘s initial reaction was interesting, also the reaction from the audience. 

As the great Gene McCarthy once said, it‘s easier to run for president than it is to stop. 

Now for today‘s dose of—well, more of today‘s—another dose, I should say, of right-wing mania.  Senator Jim DeMint, a Republican from South Carolina, caught some flak from a Democrat recently for not bringing back enough money to his state.  So, two Republican county chairs stepped up to defend him. 

Let‘s just say the message didn‘t come across as they intended it, I don‘t think.  Here‘s what these two fellows, Edwin Merwin and James Ulmer, wrote in the “Times & Democrat” newspaper this weekend—quote—“There is a saying that the Jews who are wealthy got that way, not by watching dollars, but instead by taking care of the pennies, and the dollars taking care of themselves.  By not using earmarks to fund projects for South Carolina, and instead using actual bills, DeMint is watching our nation‘s pennies and trying to preserve our country‘s wealth.”

Well, one of the county chairmen said he meant nothing derogatory by what he had written in the newspaper article.  And Senator DeMint called the reference, however, to Jewish people in that article thoughtless and hurtful. 

Well, not to be too tough on the South, check out this Internet banner out of Pennsylvania.  It starts out with seemingly norm—a seemingly normal ad for Republican state Supreme Court candidate Joan Orie Melvin—quote—“Hit them where it hurts, the voting booth.”  The banner then transitions into this: “Tired of Barack Obama, Ed Rendell, Arlen Specter, and big-government Democrats running our nation?”

Note the Soviet hammer and sickle right there in place of the O. in the president‘s name—a hammer and sickle.  The ad says it‘s paid for by the Republican Party of Pennsylvania. 

Someone should tell the Party of Pennsylvania, pass the word to them that red-baiting went out about a half-century ago. 

Now for the “Big Number.”

Last week, Republican Senator Olympia Snowe voted for the Finance Committee‘s version of health care.  Conservative blogger Erick Erickson of redstate.com then called for an all-out offensive, posting this quote:

“What melts snow?  Rock salt.”

He asked readers to send a five-pound bag of rock salt to Senator Snowe‘s offices in Maine, calling it “a visible demonstration of our contempt for her.”

Well, “The Wall Street Journal” profiles one store, Ron‘s Home & Hardware of Indiana, Maine, which was deluged by requests through Amazon.com for rock salt to be sent to Senator Snowe‘s office out in Maine. 

So, how much salt did peeved conservatives order from just one store?  Twelve hundred pounds.  That‘s 240 five-pound bags of rock salt, 1,200 pounds of rock salt from Ron‘s Hardware ordered for Snowe‘s office—tonight‘s oddly—I will say it—“Big Number.” 

Up next:  With a runoff election in Afghanistan scheduled for November, will President Obama make a strategy decision on American troop levels soon, or will he wait for the results in that election on November 7? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks falling today, as disappointing housing in inflation numbers overshadowed some solid earnings reports.  The Dow Jones industrials shed 50 points.  The S&P 500 lost almost seven, and the Nasdaq is down almost 13 points. 

Surprisingly weak numbers from the housing sectors putting a damper on the market today.  New housing starts rose 0.5 percent in September, far lower than the expected increase of 2.8 percent. 

The producer price index is a measure of wholesale inflation.  It fell 0.6 percent in September.  Economists were expecting a smaller decline of 0.3 percent. 

In earnings news, Coca-Cola reported revenue declines across all its businesses—its shares down a little bit more than 1 percent at the close.  DuPont shares slid more than 2 percent, after posting better-than-expected profits, but pulling back on its earnings forecast for the year. 

And Yahoo!‘s earnings blew past expectations, driven primarily by major job cuts this year. 

That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

The Afghan president has agreed to a runoff election, after charges his election win was rigged.  But how will this affect Barack Obama‘s way forward in Afghanistan? 

Senator Barbara Boxer of California is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.  Senator Jack Reed is on Armed Services. 

Thank you so much. 

Senator Boxer, are your—has your thinking about Afghanistan evolved over the months?  Or where are you at it right now, given the fact he‘s going to hold an election next month—early next month?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA:  First, I want to say that Senator John Kerry did an amazing job on this, standing with Karzai, talking to him, and I think making sure that the way forward is better than what has gone on in the past. 

This election really had a lot of problems.  I think that‘s a very positive thing.  And I just wanted to say that, Secretary Clinton, I saw her last night, and she was saying what a good role that John Kerry played.  So, that‘s number one.

But here‘s where I stand.  I think the president is handling this just right, because he has already doubled the troops in Afghanistan.  So, the question is, where do we go from here?  And, before we send more brave men and women out there—that‘s tough terrain—we need to be clear as to what the function is.  We have to make sure that we are not sending too many troops, rather than training more Afghan troops, because the—the people in Afghanistan dislike the Taliban immensely.  And that‘s in our favor. 

So, I think this president is listening to General McChrystal.  I think he‘s listening to people up and down the chain of command, including, of course, those in civilian life, Secretary Gates, and Vice President Biden, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton.  And I think that‘s appropriate.

MATTHEWS:  Senator Reed, is the United States military right now the main bulwark against the Taliban retaking that country? 

SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND:  Well, the United States is a significant part of the NATO force, but they‘re not alone.  The—the British forces have done extremely well and they have fought extremely hard, Canadian forces, Dutch forces. 

But as far as size goes, the United States is the largest contingent. 

But we can‘t forget it‘s a NATO fight. 

Our troops have done a remarkable job.  We have great leadership.  And we are, I think—I agree wholeheartedly with Senator Boxer.  The president is taking the time, being deliberate, looking at a very complex, comprehensive challenge. 

It‘s not just troops.  It‘s civilian advisers.  It‘s the capacity of local government.  It‘s international support.  It‘s the situation in Pakistan.  All these things have to be weighed very carefully, and he‘s doing that. 

MATTHEWS:  Senator Boxer, you start and then Senator Reed.  What scares me is when you read Dexter Filkin‘s piece in the “New York Times Magazine” this weekend about our policy over there, the interview with General McCrystal, it seems like his goal is to put our troops out there in the outlying areas of Afghanistan, sort of embed them in the communities, and play defense against the Taliban. 

That seems to be creating almost a Bojest (ph) situation, a French Foreign Legion situation, where we have guys, mainly guys in outposts, who are ready to be attacked at night or whenever by the enemy.  And we are, in fact, out on point, defending the nation of Afghanistan against its own insurgent force, the Taliban.  Is that something you‘re happy with? 

BOXER:  Well, let me respond.  And I know Jack served in the military, so he‘s going to be the one who‘s going to be more on point.  But let me say, you‘ve proven our main point here, which is you‘re right in explaining what the general has talked about, General McCrystal.  And it will put our troops in greater harm‘s way.  And that is why this president is taking his time. 

Look, for me, I voted—it‘s interesting—to go to war against al Qaeda.  That‘s what I did.  And I voted no to go to Iraq, which took our eye off the ball.  And we have to now make up for the lost time. 

But we need to be clear on what our mission is.  And I believe our main mission is to make sure that al Qaeda is disrupted, destroyed.  Right now, we think they‘re down to almost double digits in Afghanistan.  But we know and we want to say very clearly that Pakistan is finally doing its job that we hoped they would do before, taking the fight to al Qaeda in the hills there between the two countries. 

But as far as the Taliban in Afghanistan, we have to come up with right strategy.  And I keep thinking, in my mind—and I agree with Senator Levin who‘s spoken out on this—what we have going for us is the majority of the Afghan people despise the Taliban.  So we need to, it seems to me, before we subject our troops to more casualties, see whether or not the Afghans can take the fight to the Taliban, just as now we see in Pakistan they‘re taking the fight to al Qaeda. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that‘s credible, Senator Reed?  Do you think the Afghan forces can take on the Taliban as aggressively as the Pakistan military can take on its own Taliban? 

REED:  Not at this juncture.  The Afghani forces are being trained.  They have been trained.  But they‘re not of sufficient size or of sufficient organizational skill comparable to the Pakistanis. 

The Pakistanis have a large army.  They‘ve had it for 50 years.  They‘ve engaged in warfare, unfortunately, with regional entities like India.  They‘re a much more experienced force. 

The issue in Afghanistan on the ground is General McCrystal is trying to protect population centers, and also trying to use that security to provide for the building up of a basic delivery of services.  Essentially, it‘s a struggle to gain the support of these Afghanis.  That‘s limited by the number of forces on the ground. 

But the real limitation, ultimately, is not American forces.  I think as Senator Levin and Senator Boxer suggested, it‘s Afghani forces, and it‘s also Afghani capacity to govern.  Those are things we‘ve not concentrated on during the Bush administration.  We have to concentrate on now.  The hope is that we can make this transition from American forces to Afghani forces.  In fact, ultimately that‘s going to be the test.  Ultimately the Afghanis have to protect themselves. 

BOXER:  I totally agree with that.  There are 94,000 of them.  They have to be better trained.  And we‘re going to train another 94,000 of them. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Senator Boxer and Senator Reed. 

Up next, what were two Republican officials in South Carolina thinking, if they were thinking, when they complimented Senator Jim Demint, their Republican senator, by comparing him to—well, it was a Jewish kind of a reference.  We‘ll let their words speak for itself.  We‘re not used to hearing this kind of talk.  That‘s next in the politics fix.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.  Time for the politics fix with Chris Cillizza of the WashingtonPost.com, and Charles Blow, the visual op-ed columnist for the “New York Times.”  I‘m getting feedback.  Now I‘m not.  Two South Carolina Republican county chairs, Edwin Merwin and James Ulmer, defended Senator Jim Demint by writing this in a local newspaper, quote—this was over the weekend—“there‘s a saying that the Jews who are wealthy got that way not by watching dollars, but instead by taking care of the pennies, and the dollars taking care of themselves.  By not using earmarks to fund projects for South Carolina, and instead using actual bills, Demint is watching our nation‘s pennies and trying to preserve our country‘s wealth.” 

Well, Charles of the “New York Times,” first of all, get ready for the Phillies up there in Yankee country, because you might be in for a real World Series if this comes to play.  I know the Big Apple, Gotham and all those other titles of renown you guys enjoy.  Get used to them, because they may be gone soon. 

CHARLES BLOW, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”:  Come on, that‘s a low blow. 

CHRIS CILLIZZA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  He‘s opening with the threats. 

MATTHEWS:  Your thoughts?  I mean, Philadelphia‘s had a score to settle with your town for about 200 years, since you replaced us as the biggest city in the United States. 

BLOW:  It still hasn‘t happened.

MATTHEWS:  Well, why do you think Philly fans are so joyous?  Let me ask you—I was just with them last night.  Thank god for Jimmy Rollins.  Let me ask you this question: is this just old school?  Let‘s be frank.  I don‘t want to jump on these country boys.  They made a reference to an old sort of canard.  Jack Benny used to tell jokes like this.  It‘s not anybody defends it.  But apparently a really smart fellow—you know Matt Brooks.  He‘s head of the Jewish Republican Coalition nationally.  He jumped right on it.  So I think the Republicans are smart to jump on this from inside the party.  Your thoughts? 

BLOW:  I think that‘s right.  The problem is very much a national problem.  We keep having these unfortunate word choices by people on local levels who are part of the Republican party.  As another South Carolinian, Lindsey Graham, said last week, you want to make the Republican party more than a party of angry white men.  At this point, they have had these same sorts of slip ups with the president, alienating African-American voters, the same sorts of slip ups, unfortunate language, in criticizing the Supreme Court Justice, at that point nominee Sotomayor, alienating the Hispanics.  You can‘t also afford to alienate the Jewish vote.  At a certain point, you‘ve run out of people to offend.

MATTHEWS:  Especially the number on that vote.  I do watch all these votes, as you do, Chris.  The number among Jewish Democrats, Jewish supporters is down to zero.  I think Sarah Palin killed them, I understand, with that community. 

CHRIS CILLIZZA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  I‘ll say two quick things. 

One is this is your classic with friends like these, who needs enemies? 

These guys are trying to jump to Jim Demint‘s defense. 

MATTHEWS:  The newspaper editor ran the story. 

CILLIZZA:  Exactly.  It ran as an editorial, which says something.  Number two, this one you should distinguish a little bit.  Joe Wilson put it on himself.  He yelled “you lie” at a big national speech with the president.  Mark Sanford certainly put it on himself with his affair.  Jim Demint, these are people doing this—as to the best of my knowledge—without his knowledge.  He had to come in and condemn them later. 

In some ways, I would distinguish Joe Wilson and Mark Sanford from Jim Demint, because I think they‘re not all of the same thing. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, well, these guys take a little cuffing on this, right?  Charles?  A little cuffing in order?  Not go too far beyond that?  Let‘s come back here in a minute.  I want to talk about—we have a lot of numbers to look at tonight.  Fascinating new numbers.  The president, by the way, according to the latest “Washington Post”/ABC News poll, is back up there at 57 percent.  So all this tough summer—this guy has done well by the equinox.  Every time it‘s gotten cooler, this guy‘s gotten cooler. 

We‘ll be right back with Chris Cillizza and Charles Blow of the “New York Times.”  Back in a moment.  And, of course, Chris Cillizza of “The Washington Post.”  Back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the good stuff, with Chris Cillizza and Charles Blow.  Let‘s take a look, gentlemen, at these two—actually, three great poll numbers.  This is just out today.  The new “Washington Post”/ABC News poll, a very big poll, has just come out.  It‘s got the president‘s job approval at 57 percent. 

Look what it‘s got for party ID.  Twenty percent of the country says -

·         that‘s one in five—I am a Republican.  Only one in five willing to say I‘m a Republican.  Incredible.  Then this one, more to that point, who do you want to have—who do you like running Congress—running the country?  Obama has about 49, exactly, top.  Look at this one: do you want the Republicans in Congress running this show?  Nineteen percent, slightly less than one in five.  Democrats on the Hill that get dumped all over at 34 percent. 

Charles Blow, one in five people, this isn‘t New York anymore.  This is the country.  This sounds like the old New York City statistics, one in five Republicans.  What do you make of this? 

BLOW:  First, one moment—one bit of caution, which is that party ID is not likely voters.  That evens out a bit.  Also, if you divvy up the independents towards those that lean one direction or the other, it evens out a bit. 

That said, these are record lows for the Republicans.  It‘s really a problem for them.  You know, if ten people walking down the street, only two of those people are likely to be Republicans.  People are fleeing the Republican party partly because it‘s deficient in the ideas and the quality of ideas it has, and now, you know, it‘s kind of left with people trying to purify it down—the excess down to the bone.  That‘s a problem for them. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, when it‘s one in five, that‘s Utah and Wyoming and that‘s about it. 

CILLIZZA:  Well, I looked at these numbers.  Look, we‘ve heard already today a lot of flak, us, the “Washington Post,” about the numbers from Republicans.  If you look, to my mind—

MATTHEWS:  What is the knock on your poll?

CILLIZZA:  The knock is that they‘re too negative on Republicans.  The sample isn‘t right.  Former Speaker Newt Gingrich said that. 

MATTHEWS:  Defend your poll. 

CILLIZZA:  I‘ll defend it very easily.  Chris, look at it in the context of all the other data that‘s out there.  It‘s very constant.  It‘s not as though there‘s a poll that came out two days ago that had Republicans at 35.  The number that jumps out at me is that 19 percent number that you saw.  Charles is right about party ID being not a great predictor. 

MATTHEWS:  Is this because young people, younger than you, will say—if you ask them what they are, they might say Democrat because of Obama, because they voted for him heavily, minorities especially, but all young people.  Or they might say independent.  They‘re not comfortable saying Republican. 

CILLIZZA:  Absolutely.  There‘s no question about that.  The one number you didn‘t show up there, 42 percent in terms of party ID are independents, far more, almost double digits more than Republicans, and double Republicans.  So, yes, there‘s no question Obama has made it cool to say you‘re a Democrat.  How long does that last?  I think that‘s a real question. 

But when less than one in five people in the country trust Republicans to handle the big issues, have confidence to handle the big issues, that says to me that this 2010 election we‘re painting as a good election for Republicans, it may not be as good, if Republicans can‘t get the American people to believe in them. 

MATTHEWS:  Charles, funny question, the president doesn‘t have—part of the point by Mark Murray, one of our colleagues here today, an hour or so ago, that Barack doesn‘t have good summers.  He didn‘t have a good summer in ‘08.  He didn‘t have a good summer, by any means, in ‘09.  He seems to come back with the crispness of fall. 

BLOW:  That rising approval rating is problematic and hides a little bit.  People like Barack Obama as a person, not necessarily as a policy maker.  If you look at how he‘s doing on each of the individual topics the Post asks them about, the numbers are going down or staying very steady and low. 

MATTHEWS:  But he is a policy maker. 

BLOW:  It‘s a problem for Barack Obama.  In fact, when you look at the public option, people say they prefer it.  But Democrats have dropped 15 percent in the percent who say he‘s handling the job of health care well.  That‘s a problem for him. 

MATTHEWS:  Charles, I love your Dan Rather sweater, by the way.  Thank you very much.  It worked for him.  Got his ratings up in the old days.  Thank you Chris Cillizza.  Thank you Charles Blow of the “New York Times.”  Chris Cillizza of the “Washington Post.”  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.

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