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updated 12/1/2009 12:48:42 PM ET 2009-12-01T17:48:42

Guests: Julia Boorstin, Roxanne Roberts, Ron Kessler, Joseph Petro, Joan Walsh, Eugene

Robinson, Peter King, Gerald Posner, Ken Sunshine

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Who let this happen?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

Who‘s guarding the president?  Think it doesn‘t matter?  Think it‘s funny?  How did a couple of performance artists get inside the White House last week to attend President Obama‘s state dinner?  How is it that the Secret Service, the last line of defense for the president, didn‘t snag these pathetic publicity seekers?

And don‘t say it doesn‘t matter because they were checked for weapons at the door.  Those knives they put on the table at the White House aren‘t made of plastic.  They‘re the real thing.  Just think of what people did not too long ago with box cutters.

To get a firsthand inside look at this, we‘re going to have someone who was there the whole night, saw the whole thing, what happened, saw what happened and what was supposed to happen and didn‘t happen.  That‘s a reporter‘s view we‘re going to have here as we start the show.

Let‘s move on.  Clearly, the Secret Service is taking a hit here.  But is this a White House issue, too?  Where were the White House staff the other night?  And why weren‘t they stationed at every checkpoint, like they used to be?

Plus, the other big “what happened” story involves a different kind of crash, namely Tiger Woods‘s car.  OK, it‘s not exactly politics, but what happened there?  Doesn‘t he owe the public some explanation, not to mention the police?  Like any politician in trouble, Tiger Woods needs to define the situation before it begins to define him.

All those stories tonight are obscuring what is perhaps the biggest week of President Obama‘s presidency, his Afghanistan speech tomorrow night, which we‘ll be covering live, the health care debate, which goes on this week starting today, the jobs summit, which comes Thursday.  It‘s all in the “Politics Fix” tonight.

And finally, I was a guest, sort of, on “Family Guy” last night. 

Check it out in the “Sideshow.”

Let‘s start, however, with the big story, that duo that got into the White House and how they did it.  Ron Keller is author of “In the President‘s Secret Service,” all about the Secret Service, and Roxanne Roberts is a reporter with “The Washington Post” who was at the dinner Tuesday night.

Roxanne, tell me what happened the other night at the White House. 

You were there.

ROXANNE ROBERTS, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Yes.  I was in the press pool, and the press are sequestered behind ropes, and guests are announced by Maureen (ph), and they come sailing through.  Sometimes they talk to us, sometimes they don‘t, and then they go into the dinner.

This couple walks through, and my head sort of shot up because I heard the name, and I looked at them and I thought to myself, Could it be?  They looked exactly like this reality show couple, kind of sketchy, from Virginia, and it didn‘t make any sense to me.  I looked down at my guest list, because we get official guest lists, and their names weren‘t on it.

They walked through, and I immediately grabbed a White House staffer and said, Could you please verify the names of the people that just came through?  And why aren‘t they on the list?

MATTHEWS:  What time was this?

ROBERTS:  I time-checked our photo that our photographer took at 7:35.

MATTHEWS:  So at 7:35, you were “The Washington Post,” and you‘re a well-known reporter and a respected reporter, you told a White House staffer that these people were not on list.  And what did they say?

ROBERTS:  They didn‘t know why.  She said they didn‘t know why.

MATTHEWS:  But they did know they weren‘t on the list.

ROBERTS:  I said to them, They‘re not on the list.  And I said, Why?  And she said, I don‘t know.  And so then, probably about 15 minutes later, I said to a member of the first lady‘s staff as they were escorting the press back to the press room, I said, This couple that came through—I gave the names again.  And they‘d only been announced as Mr. and Mrs.  Salahi, so I gave what I thought were their full names.  I wanted to make sure—it‘s possible I had...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

ROBERTS:  ... misidentified them, but I didn‘t think so.  And I said, Can you tell me why they‘re not on the list?  And she said, I don‘t know, but I‘ll try to find out.  And I didn‘t hear anything for the rest of the evening.

And the reason I think that‘s important is that even after they got inside the White House, the staff had two opportunities to go upstairs to the reception, discreetly pull this couple aside and verify that they were supposed to be there.  I don‘t know what time they went through the receiving line, but if they had any ill intention toward the president...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  This has caused a real rumble.  I want to get to you, Ron Kessler, an expert to the Secret Service.  Let‘s look at what happened in the White House press room today.  White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was hit with a lot questions about these party crashers.  We shouldn‘t even call them that.  These people broke the law.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION:  Are you saying that the social office does not have any...

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  No, no.  I—I...

QUESTION:  ... responsibility for this at all?

GIBBS:  (INAUDIBLE) investigation that‘s ongoing into the actions of what happened, and I‘m going to wait for that to be completed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  OK, Ron Kessler, we have two investigations ongoing right now, or beginning right now.  The Secret Service is going to investigate itself.  We‘ll see what comes of that.  However, the House Committee on Homeland Security, Mr. Bennie Thompson, is investigating this.  We‘re going to have a hearing later this week.

What is the White House Secret Service‘s responsibility?  And who else has a role here in protecting the president on these events?

RON KESSLER, AUTHOR, “IN THE PRESIDENT‘S SECRET SERVICE”:  It‘s simply the role of the Secret Service to protect the White House.  The social secretary‘s office can sort of facilitate things by having a checklist outside, which they‘ve done in the past.  But in the end, they still have to be checked off by the Secret Service and go through a background check.  And neither of that happened.

And the Secret Service statement made it very clear that they were solely at fault, that the uniformed officer at the post did—did not verify that the person was—that the couple was on the list.  And then, of course, there was no background check.  So they could have been serial murderers.  They could have been terrorists or...

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t care—this is an astounding admission.  You know, these people, they‘re obviously well turned out.  They‘re wearing the appropriate costumes.  She looks the part.  They clearly know the manner of how to behave at these sort of things.  But the idea that somebody wouldn‘t say, Who are you, I mean, wouldn‘t check their name against a list—I mean, anybody could have come in by that theory.

KESSLER:  Yes.  I mean, today, it was a pretty blonde, tomorrow it could be an assassin.

MATTHEWS:  By the way, this is not—this is...

KESSLER:  This is very serious.

MATTHEWS:  All they have to do is sit at a table, grab a knife and go knife the president.  This isn‘t complicated.

KESSLER:  They could have also brought in chemical weapons, biological weapons, which would not...

MATTHEWS:  Did you see the pictures?  Look how close she was.  What‘s to stop her from doing—if she was a trained assassin?  What‘s to stop this character with the—the other guy with her, that they want to do what they want?  Then you see them hanging around with the vice president, hanging around with Rahm Emanuel, all like they‘re best buddies.  And they‘re, like, there!

KESSLER:  Could have stabbed...

MATTHEWS:  And the whole idea of that is once you get in, you‘re presumed to be safe.

KESSLER:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  But there should have been no such presumption with these two.

KESSLER:  Well, you know, to me, it‘s very consistent with all the corner-cutting that‘s been going on at the Secret Service.  You know, they‘re very good at smoke and mirrors and making everyone think that they have everything under control.  But since Homeland Security took over the Secret Service in 2003...

MATTHEWS:  From Treasury...

KESSLER:  ... from Treasury, they‘ve been cutting corners.  And it includes not—and I can see why this officer at the post...

MATTHEWS:  Are you worried about the fact that we have a president...

KESSLER:  Oh...

MATTHEWS:  ... who has had a lot of threats against him, is not being adequately protected, Ron?

KESSLER:  Threats are up 400 percent since Obama became president.  Secret Service agents I talk to say it‘s a miracle that there has not been assassination already because of all of this corner-cutting.  They let people in without magnetometers.  They shut it down early.  There‘s a fear of offending political staffs or White House staffs, for example, Mary Cheney, Dick Cheney‘s daughter, your favorite person...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Who‘s that?

KESSLER:  Dick Cheney—Mary Cheney...

MATTHEWS:  His name is Cheeney (ph), by the way.

KESSLER:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  if you‘re going refer to him, Ron, refer to him accurately.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, it‘s Cheeney.  Go ahead.

KESSLER:  Mary Cheney, when she was under protection, insisted that her Secret Service agents take her friends to restaurants...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

KESSLER:  ... and of course, they‘re not taxi drivers.  They refused.  And because they refused, she got her detail leader removed.  So in other words, the management of Secret Service removed someone from doing his job.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

KESSLER:  That is the type of thing that is going on that I think this uniformed officer was aware of, as well as the corner-cutting, the understaffing and...

MATTHEWS:  OK, here we get this question.  What is the White House reaction today?  Because you were a reporter.  You told them, according to your reporting just now—and I read this before in the day—that you knew as of early—about mid—right in the early part of the evening...

KESSLER:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  You did your job.  Well, you did more than your job.  You checked the story.  You had a story.  There were people at the White House that shouldn‘t have been there.  You were—you performed a great service, potentially.  If somebody had done something at that point, this would have been important.  They would have grabbed these people, taken them out of the room, and there would have been no issue here.

KESSLER:  Well, it didn‘t occur to me that they had crashed the event.  It just seemed like an anomaly.  They didn‘t seem like the people I expected to be at the Obamas‘ first...

MATTHEWS:  Well, they wouldn‘t, would they.

KESSLER:  No.  They didn‘t, but...

MATTHEWS:  They wouldn‘t.  Assassins don‘t wear masks.

KESSLER:  But the fact is, is that this is a relatively inexperienced White House staff when it comes to these kinds of things.  And what—when a reporter says to two people, You know, they‘re not on the list, it should have raised a couple red flags.  Someone should have said, There‘s someone here who‘s saying there‘s a couple people here that as far as we know aren‘t supposed to be here.  And they didn‘t, as far as I could tell, do anything about that.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you, Ron, the Secret Service is going to -

according to Robert Gibbs today in the bit we just saw there—is going to have an investigation of themselves.  Don‘t heads roll?  Don‘t heads get chopped off?

KESSLER:  Well, yes, I mean...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, somebody says, I let them in even though they weren‘t on the list.

KESSLER:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t that an admission of—you only have—if you‘re a Secret Service agent and you‘ve shown up for that work that night, you put on your uniform, you‘ve taken a shower, you‘ve cleaned your fingernails.  You‘ve done everything to get ready for work.  But you have one job and that‘s to keep people out of the White House who shouldn‘t be there.  That‘s your only job.

KESSLER:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Your job isn‘t to say—be an usher and move people faster through the line.  You‘ve got one job, keep out the bad guys.

KESSLER:  Right.  Well...

MATTHEWS:  He didn‘t do it.

KESSLER:  There‘s no question that this officer will be fired, if he‘s...

MATTHEWS:  There‘s no question (INAUDIBLE)

KESSLER:  He‘s probably been suspended already.  But it‘s really the Secret Service director, Mark Sullivan, who should be fired not just because of this incident.  I‘m not one of those who just reflexively says the head of an agency should be fired because some problem occurred.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

KESSLER:  But because of all this corner-cutting and the fact that the whole management culture is such that...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

KESSLER:  ... that it (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re going to get into this next (INAUDIBLE) We‘ve got a little clip from “In the Line of Fire” here, the Clint Eastwood movie, because this reminds me of that movie (INAUDIBLE) This is not about movies, this is about reality here.  I want to me ask you—the president of the United States, we got one of the smartest presidents we have ever had, who is incredibly self-controlled.  He is very organized in everything he does in life.

ROBERTS:  Very disciplined.

MATTHEWS:  He must have said to Rahm Emanuel, his chief of staff, So what happened the other night?

ROBERTS:  Oh...

MATTHEWS:  And Rahm Emanuel‘s answer is, Well, Mr. President, that‘s generally handled by the East Wing, by Desiree Rogers...

ROBERTS:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... the first lady‘s office.  He says, I know all that, but what do you think happened?  This is the kind of conversation that must have occurred, right?  Somebody at the top, the buck stops here, has to say, What went wrong?  And then somebody goes to the person below them, if it‘s like any other outfit I‘ve ever been in, and you keep bucking it down, bucking it down, and then you buck it back up to the person who didn‘t have the right system.

ROBERTS:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Who was in charge of security the night of the first state dinner?  Was it Desiree Rogers, the first lady, the chief of staff?  Who below the president was responsible for security that night?

ROBERTS:  Well, the Secret Service is in charge of security, but...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but there‘s always...

ROBERTS:  But the social office...

MATTHEWS:  ... a second layer.

ROBERTS:  ... is in charge of the list.  They spend months figuring out who‘s going to come to this dinner.  People fight over who gets a space.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  OK.  We‘re going to get to that, to the political piece of this.  Thank you for the expertise on it.  The name of your book, the latest book, is “In the President‘s Secret Service.”  Thanks for your expertise.  I got it for the enjoyment.  This is the one funny part of this.

Here‘s a statement.  Let‘s look at the statement we had from the publicist—they have a publicist, this performance artist duo.  This is what they put out.  These aren‘t our mistakes.  You‘ll see that this is the way they wrote it.  This is how the publicist for this duo that broke into the White House issued this statement today.

“The Salahis are not shopping any interviews or demanding money from any media networks to tell their story.  We repute”—that was the word—

“these false accusations and demand that this adverse, inaccurate”—two different words—“information cease immediately.  At this time, the Salahis are not making any formal comments and are not making any arrangements to speak with press/media.  The Salahis are not appearing on Larry King tonight, as they are not talking to any media forms”—I just love this! -- “any media forms at this time.”

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  So now you have the official word from the publicist for this duo that broke into the White House the other night.  I don‘t know—

I said they broke the law.  I assume it must be illegal, but we‘ll find out.  Apparently not, because they‘re gone (ph).  Despite the best efforts of Roxanne Roberts to nail this duo early that evening, the White House did absolutely nothing.  By the way, what were the staff members‘ names that you talked to?

ROBERTS:  I talked to two members of the first lady‘s staff.

MATTHEWS:  And who were they?

ROBERTS:  Courtney O‘Donnell and Katie McCormick.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you.  We do it here.  This is HARDBALL.  Thank you, Ron Kessler.  Thank you, Roxanne Roberts.

Coming up: What‘s wrong with the Obama administration that something like this could happen in the first place?  We‘re going to get to the White House staff aspect.  The Secret Service has had their moment.  We‘re going to move on here.  What went wrong in the security breach that allowed two people to walk into the White House without any reason to be there?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘ve been talking about the security breach at that state dinner the other night at the White House and those two people that broke in without being invited.  What we were really talking about is the possible threat it posed, obviously, to our president.

Now to more of the security breach at the White House, we turn to U.S.  Congressman Peter King of New York—he‘s the ranking Republican member on the House Homeland Security Committee—and Joseph Petro, who‘s also aboard right now.  He‘s a former Secret Service agent who served as part of former president Ronald Reagan‘s personal detail.  He‘s also author of “Standing Next to History.”

Thank you very much, Bill (SIC), for joining us.  Congressman, I guess a lot of us grew up with the idea of the Secret Service from what happened to Jack Kennedy back in ‘63, and it‘s never left our hearts or our heads, you and I included, because we know how bad it can get if something goes wrong.  And of course, in a cinematic way, I keep thinking of John Malkovich in “In the Line of Fire,” that great Clint Eastwood movie, where the guy went to a state dinner dressed in black tie, did everything right, even paid his admission, brought his ticket, and he had a gun.  He put it together when he got past the Secret Service.  He made out of plastic.

You know, there are knives on the table.  There‘s weapons potential for—we saw what could happen with box cutters on 9/11, as you did as a New Yorker.  What are your feelings about this case?  I don‘t think it‘s funny.

REP. PETER KING ®, NEW YORK:  No, it‘s not funny at all, and those two should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.  And Chris, let me say up front, I have the utmost respect for the Secret Service.  I think they do a terrific job.  But obviously, something went wrong here and this was a terrible breach of security.

yes, I mean, I‘m sure you‘ve been to many White House events.  I was counting up before, I‘ve been probably to more than 40 during my 17 years in Congress.  And something about this doesn‘t add up.  I have never been to an event where there was not somebody from either the social secretary‘s office or the legislative affairs office there, you know, standing with the Secret Service agent, uniformed or plainclothes.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

KING:  And so this has to be fully investigated not so much even to find out who did the wrong thing, but why it happened and to make sure it doesn‘t happen again.  I mean, the White House is making a point of saying they didn‘t have anyone there.  Well, why not?  I mean, I‘ve never heard of them not being there...

MATTHEWS:  Right (INAUDIBLE)

KING:  ... because—and to me, you know, the—the civilian there, the person who‘s from the White House, it‘s sort of like—in one case, like a last sign of defense because they can spot a phony.  And secondly, they‘re also there to facilitate, in case someone like the Speaker of the House or someone who was supposed to be on the list isn‘t.  So there—and I‘ve had friends of mine who were cleared to get in and they weren‘t on the list, and they had to stand aside for half hour until all the paperwork was found inside that showed that they had to get in.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Let‘s get back to Bill (SIC), an expert on this.  It seems like every time I‘ve been there—I used to get invited for Christmas or St. Patrick‘s Day, like Peter.  You know, we go in for the same events, except for his big congressional events.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And we go in and they always have somebody there that says, Oh, Chris, good to see you, or whatever.  They‘re nice about it, and if you have your wife with you or your spouse.  Bill, it‘s always a double check.  It‘s not just the Secret Service.  Joseph, I‘m sorry.  Joseph Petro.

JOSEPH PETRO, FORMER SECRET SERVICE AGENT:  Oh, I‘m sorry.  I didn‘t know you were—you were—let me first thank you, Chris, for having me on.  You know, I‘m not here to pile on the Secret Service, as you can imagine, but I‘m also not here to minimize what did happen.  It was a mistake, but I think it should be put in some sort of perspective.

You know, these two individuals social engineered their way into the White House as a publicity stunt.  We all know that.  The question is whether the president was in any real danger as a result of this, and I would argue that he was not.  And here‘s why.

MATTHEWS:  Why?

PETRO:  Here‘s why.

MATTHEWS:  How do you know that?

PETRO:  Here‘s why.  Over the last year, the president has attended thousands and thousands of events, probably, and met thousands and thousands of people.  All of those people, some of them were on lists and some of them weren‘t.  So they were—some were public events, some were dinners.  They were all kinds of events.  What was common about all of them is everyone went through metal detectors and other screening, just as these two people had done the other night.

The president, it was—is—was at no more risk with these two as he is—as he is when he comes to the Waldorf and has dinner with 600 --

600 people...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

PETRO:  ... at a fund-raiser, where there are also knives. 

MATTHEWS:  Here is my question, though. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m not here to defend the Secret Service like you are.

(CROSSTALK)

PETRO:  Nobody knows who they are, because all they have to do is pay money to get in.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re here defending—OK.  Look, here‘s the question. 

PETRO:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  The guys who blew—took those airplanes under their control and killed 3,000 people didn‘t have—they went through metal detectors, too.

PETRO:  That‘s correct.

MATTHEWS:  So, I‘m not thrilled by that explanation. 

PETRO:  No.

MATTHEWS:  And, number two, I did—I see these pictures, which maybe you‘re not privy to, Joseph, of them standing right next to the president. 

Congressman, these people got within grabbing distance of the president.  They were standing with Joe Biden, like they‘re the oldest friend in the world.  They could have done anything they wanted.  They could have grabbed him in a choke hold.  They could have knifed him. 

There were—there were knives available there for dinner.  They could—there were weapons available to anyone with ingenuity, it seems to me. 

Your thoughts. 

REP. PETER KING (R-NY), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: 

Yes.    

Yes, Chris, I think it was a real threat.  And, again, if these had been trained terrorists or if they had been psychopaths, you know, if they were experts in martial arts, they could have, within four or five seconds, caused extraordinary damage. 

And you‘re right.  There are knives and forks on all the tables.  There‘s blunt instruments.  They could have brought anthrax or some biological or chemical weapon. 

So—and, also, I think that, at a—at events such as this, you have more access to the president, more access to the vice president than you would, let‘s, at an event at the Waldorf Astoria, because you‘re considered to be part of the inner circle.  You‘re there.  You‘re mingling with the chief justices and the ambassadors and prime ministers. 

You are right there.  You can do a lot more than you could at the ordinary political events. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

PETRO:  Chris...

MATTHEWS:  You just heard we had Roxanne Roberts on this just a couple of minutes ago, saying that, at 7:30 roughly, she informed two White House staff people—actually, before 8:00, she had talked to two White House staff people, informing both of them that these two people were not on the guest list, that they had crashed, basically. 

And she did that—and she gave the names of those people.  Are you going to investigate the White House staff, Congressman? 

KING:  Yes, because I think we have to. 

And, again, I don‘t want to make this any kind of a circus.  I don‘t want to make it a partisan event, but I think we have to, because I think, for the future, it‘s absolutely essential that the White House have staff there. 

Now, Desiree Rogers, right out of the box, said, we had no one there, as if that was a defense.  To me, why not?  Why didn‘t you have someone there?  Why is this different from any event that I‘m aware of in the last 15 to 20 years not to have someone there? 

So, I think there should have been.  And, also, again, just something doesn‘t add up, Chris.  You know how tough it is to get in.  I remember a few years ago, a congressman, they wouldn‘t let his daughter in because she wasn‘t on the list, his teenage daughter.  That‘s how strict they were. 

So, if you‘re going to be able to walk through like that, how they knew where to go, how to handle themselves, I think we have to look into the whole history as to why it happened the way it did. 

MATTHEWS:  Joseph, what is your experience in terms of these White House social events...

PETRO:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  ... and how the security is handled?   

PETRO:  Yes, let me say this, because I think—no one has really mentioned this. 

You know, as long as I have been involved with the Secret Service, the Secret Service has never assumed—never assumed that the perimeters are always going to be 100 percent.  There is always the chance that someone can get through, whether at the White House or whether you‘re somewhere else. 

And that‘s why there are agents in proximity to the president, wherever he is, even in the White House.  And there were agents close by the president, I‘m sure.  I wasn‘t there.  I didn‘t see this.  But I‘m assuming the agents were close.

And they—they—well, I know, from my experiences, you watch everybody that approaches the president, no matter who they are, all the time.  So, you know, that is the last line of defense. 

And—and I‘m sure that was in place the other night.  If someone picked up a knife, it would have been noticed, and—and an agent would have reacted, I would hope.  But this is—this is—you know, there is no perfect security anywhere, even at the White House. 

And—and I think the Secret Service has recognized that for a long time.  And that‘s why there are agents around him, wherever he is. 

MATTHEWS:  What is it like today, Mr. Petro, in terms of this president?  Is there a sense that there is a heightened or a lessened security effort on behalf of this president, given that what we‘re told is like a 400 percent increase in the number of threats against him? 

PETRO:  Well, first of all, I think that‘s an exaggeration. 

I—I—my information is the threats are about—about average for a president at this stage in his—in his term.  It may have spiked early on, but I think it‘s leveled out.  So, Mr. Kessler was wrong about that. 

Yes, this president has some unique, you know, threat risk.  That‘s

obvious.  But the Secret Service is well aware of that.  And I—and what

I have been told from—from friends who are still there, they take this -

this risk very serious, and—and they‘re—this is the—the primary responsibility of the Secret Service. 

They know how to do their job.  And I think they‘re doing it quite well. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think this is a case of where a police officer, in this case, the Secret Service agent, was—was pushed around by a big shot, where they just sort of feel that sense of, these are famous, important people, I better say yes, I better let them in?

Do you think there was that kind of intimidation, Congressman? 

PETRO:  Oh.

KING:  Chris—Chris, I would hope not. 

But, again, I have never seen anybody able to intimidate a Secret Service agent.  Now, I have been at the White House, where you get stopped, and you get stopped cold, until they get the information that they‘re entitled to. 

And let me just make it clear, I think they do a great job.  That‘s why I‘m wondering what happened here, if somehow the White House was involved, because Secret Service does a great job.  And, as far as President Obama, I think his—his threat level is much higher, because I remember, when he was Senator Obama, he received Secret Service protection earlier than any other candidate in our history because there was such a high level of threat. 

And the Secret Service would meet with our committee on a regular basis and tell us what they were doing and how they were stepping up security, because there were so many threats against him. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, OK.  Thank you.  Good luck.

What are your big—what‘s your biggest question going to be in the hearings this week, Congressman, your biggest question? 

KING:  Well, -- well, if the White House is there, it‘s when they decided not to have someone there with the Secret Service, why they decided, and, you know, do they regret not having someone there?  And, also, the Secret Service, give a total chronology as to how this happened, where they went, how did they know how to go there, and who they spoke to. 

MATTHEWS:  I want to know why those two staffers ignored the warning they got from Roxanne Roberts of “The Washington Post” early that evening...

KING:  Oh, absolutely, yes.

MATTHEWS:  ... and why didn‘t do anything about it, when they heard that there were people that shouldn‘t have been there...

KING:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... because they weren‘t on the list. 

Congressman Peter King, as always.

Congress—Mr. Joseph Petro, of the—formerly of the Secret Service, thank you, sir, for your joining us, and thank you for your service. 

PETRO:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  Now we know what Republicans think of Dick Cheney.  Wait until you hear this. By the way, the name is Cheney.  You won‘t believe this.  They did a poll this week, “The Washington Post,” of almost 1,000 Republicans around the country.  And they asked them, well, who they think is the core values man or person of the Republican Party.  We‘re going to tell you how many votes Cheney got.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up:  Is this good? 

I liked just getting into “Doonesbury” the other day.  Garry Trudeau is certainly a hip guy.  But, then, last night, it really got interesting.  “Family Guy” did me.  Here‘s how it went, them using my voice with a comic figure with one heck of a forehead. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “FAMILY GUY”)

MATTHEWS:  The economy is in the news today, and Congress is considering a minimum wage increase.  Live by satellite to talk about it, Senator Harry Reid in Washington. 

How about it, Senator Reid?  Is this the right move during the worst recession since the 1930s? 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Look, if we‘re going to get this economy back on track, we have to get more money in the pockets of hardworking Americans...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But Republicans are saying this increase is going to in fact put more people out of work and make it harder for American employers to compete in the global marketplace. 

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  ... lining the pockets of the ultra-rich, who are the people who caused this collapse.

MATTHEWS:  Wouldn‘t it?  Senator, would it—Senator...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Chris, if I could finish.  Chris, if...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Senator, let me finish.  My forehead, my rules. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)   

MATTHEWS:  Am I that bad? 

Anyway, I guess having your head made fun of comes with the territory. 

Anyway, next:  Chelsea Clinton is engaged.  It‘s official.  She and boyfriend Marc Mezvinsky, son of my friend former U.S. Congresswoman Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky of Pennsylvania, sent out an e-mail to friends and family this holiday weekend with the engagement news. 

Congratulations, of course, to the father and mother of the bride. 

Now for the “Big Number.”  I love this one.

In their poll, “The Washington Post” rounded 804 Republicans and asked them which person they think—quote—“best reflects the party‘s principles.”

You might have wondered how many said former Vice President Dick Cheney.  You might have wondered that.  Actually, one person did, not that 1 percent that named George W. Bush, no, one person out of 804.  And that is after all that noise-making against President Obama, all those speeches to the American Enterprise Institute, all that covering for him by his former chief of staff, Scooter Libby, the whole Cheney parade of the last year. 

It‘s all gone on since the inauguration.  And what did it yield?  Even that verdict on Dick Cheney, look at it.  One person picks him out of as the voice of the Republican Party—tonight‘s extremely telling not so “Big Number.”  Hmm. 

Up next:  Does Tiger Woods owe it to the public and police, some clean information about that car crash?  Does he risk losing millions of endorsements if he is not a bit more forthright about that strange circumstance? 

Anyway, I was away this weekend.  Let‘s catch up on what happened to Tiger Woods when we come back.

You‘re watching HARDBALL—we‘re getting slowly back into health care this week—only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

A dramatic turnaround for stocks this afternoon on word Dubai World is working on a debt restructuring plan.  The Dow Jones industrials ending up 35 points, the S&P 500 adding a little bit over four points, the Nasdaq gaining 6 ½ points. 

The Dubai government‘s investment arm saying today it will try to restructure about $26 billion of debt, this after triggering a global sell-off on Friday by announcing it may have to delay payments on some of its $60 billion in liabilities. 

The U.S. banks were strong right out of the gate this morning. 

Europeans banks are much more heavily exposed to Dubai‘s debt—J.P.  Morgan Chase, Bank of America, and American Express all climbing more than 2 percent today.

And as is fitting for Cyber Monday, shares in Amazon gaining more than 3 percent, to hit an all-new all-time high of almost $136 a share. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

We will get to the Afghanistan speech the in the next segment and also this big ongoing fight over health care.  But it seems like everybody spent part of their Thanksgiving weekend talking about Tiger Woods.  But what about Tiger himself?  Well, he‘s not talking, either to the police or anyone else, about that accident last Friday. 

He put a statement, however, on Sunday, which read in part—quote—

“This situation is my fault.  I‘m human.  I‘m not perfect.  This is a private matter, and I want to keep it that way”—end quote. 

Is Tiger‘s strategy the right one? 

Ken Sunshine is a public relations consultant.  And Gerald Posner is a friend of ours.  He‘s investigative reporter for The Daily Beast.

Gerald, fill us in.  You have been covering this story, and I want to follow it.  I was out of the country this weekend in London.  But let me ask you this.  This story, just describe it, what—Tiger Woods and the golf club and the car accident and Friday morning at 2:00-something in the morning. 

GERALD POSNER, THEDAILYBEAST.COM:  You know, you know when you first hear about it, Chris, it looks like a big so what, like nothing, just a fender-bender.

You hear about Tiger Woods.  It‘s almost 2:30 in the morning in his SUV, in his Escalade, driving just outside his compound on his home on this private area in Florida.  And he runs into a hydrant, and then runs into a tree.  And you figure, OK, he was distracted, he lost control of the car.  The police say it‘s a minor accident, no alcohol involved evidently.  He goes to the hospital, he is released, and that seems to be the end of it. 

Then we learned a little bit more.  Guess what?  The back window of the car is smashed out with a golf club, apparently wielded by his wife, she says, evidently, to one of the policemen, because she was trying to free him and extricate him from the car because he was semi-conscious and she was afraid he couldn‘t get out.

Now there is a question whether she was chasing him because she had seen a story in “The National Enquirer” that he might have been having an affair with this Amazonian blonde and had been swinging the club at him because she was angry.

He has lacerations on his face.  The problem here is that we are talking about this threes days later on with the Chris Matthews show.  And the big problem for him isn‘t that it‘s a car accident anymore, but that the police are using the two words that everybody hates in the celebrity world and celebrity endorsements: police investigation. 

They‘re talking about a possible warrant for his medical records at the hospital to see in fact what prescriptions he was under, because, in Florida law, you can have a DUI for prescriptions that you were on and over-the-counter medication, as well as alcohol. 

They are also talking about a possible search warrant for the security surveillance tapes on his own property that would have shown the accident and whether his wife and him were in an altercation.  That‘s bad news for a man who, in 13 years, has almost an impeccable public record, perfection on the golf course and in public life as well. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

You know, what makes this is an interesting case, Ken, is that it‘s not—you‘re not talking Frank Sinatra here.  You‘re not talking about a guy who sort of loved the fact that he was controversial his whole life about his life, that he wasn‘t just a good singer, but a hell of a story. 

This guy was known primarily as a perfect guy, a perfect golf player and a perfect person.  This story doesn‘t look perfect, though. 

KEN SUNSHINE, KEN SUNSHINE CONSULTANTS:  You know, perfect is never perfect. 

He‘s a human being.  And we finally realize that he really is a human being.  They have put this blanket around him forever, and it sort of worked on one level, but there wasn‘t that human quality to his persona, and somebody was going to wait for something to happen.  And it may have just happened. 

But they just—they botched this.  They botched it from the beginning.  They didn‘t get ahead of it all.  They refused to meet with the cops for three days.  I mean, from a P.R. point of view—look, I don‘t pretend to know all of the facts.  And maybe is there a reason for this.  They couldn‘t have done a worse job of P.R. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to Gerald.  You‘re covering this for “The Daily Beast.”  Let me ask you this, the swinging of the golf club—when I saw this story, I was over in London with my daughter, going to school over there.  I was going through the press over there.  They‘re a little less careful, perhaps, than the American press.  They just said she was swinging the golf club at the car to get even with him. 

POSNER:  Well, you know, the interesting thing here us, Chris—somebody mentioned this earlier—what would happen if this was, in fact, Tiger chasing his wife who was driving the car and swinging the golf club?  If it was the husband swinging the golf club potentially at the wife fleeing the scene for her own safety, it might be considered battery.  Somehow, we view it as less offensive if it happens to be the wife. 

But I do think what‘s interesting here is exactly what Ken said a moment ago.  They handled this badly.  If you talk to the Florida highway patrol, off the record, they will tell you they are steaming over the fact that for three days they consider themselves humiliated.  They have been called to the house for an interview.  And obviously there is some in fighting going on inside, because they call them over, and then somebody changes their mind over seeing them.  At the gate to the house, they‘re turned away, in front of all of the press. 

And so they don‘t—right now, the lawyers are running this.  They‘re the ones advising Tiger.  Somebody like Ken has to get involved.  He needs an individual who understands public relations, how to deal with the press.  The press isn‘t going away on their own on this. 

MATTHEWS:  Ken, I was thinking this was Marilyn Monroe chasing Joe DiMaggio with a baseball bat, it couldn‘t be any richer.  He is a guy who has made his celebrity as the greatest golfer, certainly, since Jack Nicklaus, probably better than him, by most standards.  In both tournaments, he‘s a superstar like we have never seen in that sport.  He‘s got this obviously gorgeous wife from Sweden, who chooses a golf club as her weapon of choice. 

I mean, the ironies here are really astounding.  And you can‘t help but sort of enjoy it, because it‘s crazy, that she would choose a golf club.  And I don‘t want to get any further in this, but how do you not say what happened here?  And not believe the story that‘s out there? 

SUNSHINE:  It doesn‘t get any juicier from this from a tabloid perspective.  And, you know, look, I‘m often called in to try to deal with situations like this.  And I‘m known as somebody that tries to protect my clients and not give the media what it sometimes doesn‘t deserve.  But you can‘t play this game of overprotection and stonewalling, and you don‘t tell the cops—I come from New York.  I can‘t imagine telling the NYPD, three times they come to my door, no, I can‘t see you.  It is preposterous. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Ken, here‘s my theory of all political problems.  I cover politics, not this stuff, but there is similarity.  If it‘s any better than it looks, they‘ll tell you.  If it‘s worse than it looks, they‘re not going to tell you.  Your thoughts on that, first Ken—Gerald, while Ken thinks about that question.  If it‘s better than it looks, they tell you right away.  If it‘s worse than it looks, they let you think it‘s better than you‘ll find out. 

POSNER:  You are absolutely right, Chris.  And you know what‘s interesting here is the real problem is that Tiger Woods, who has had this sort of gilded career, and is just ideal, has never really had to confront a problem like this.  The biggest thing he has ever dealt with is that he has had a bad temper and nobody cared about that on the golf course. 

So here is this case he doesn‘t know how to handle it.  He tries to think if he is quiet and locks himself up in if his house in Florida, everybody will forget about it.  As you know, it continues to grow.  The tabloids have fodder with this.  They just love this.  It‘s grist for the mill.  They‘ll continue to sell. 

And in the end, the only thing, as Ken says, that‘s going to stop this is Tiger getting in front of a microphone, saying, this is what happened; now it‘s private; I‘m going to take care of my marriage.  And as long as the police say there is no criminal probe, then I think he‘ll be—he‘ll emerge unscathed eventually, and he‘ll have his corporate sponsors to the tune of 100 million dollars a year. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  There‘s no crime in going into a fire hydrant or into a tree, you‘re telling me.  Here is the question, Ken, and here‘s the great challenge to you: I remember at his first Master‘s tournament that he won, obviously, because I‘m talking about it, and he hit the ball into the wrong—into the wrong fairground—what do you call it, fairway.  And then he hit it back, over the trees on to the green, on to the right green.  I always thought that was a great example of how you recover.  Can he recover? 

SUNSHINE:  Yes, he can recover.  But he‘s got to get ahead of this story.  He‘s got to at least come clean on some aspect of what happened.  He‘s got to get the cops to stop showing up at his door and not meeting with them.  More than anything, he needs to say the truth.  Something has to come out of this.  They didn‘t have to come this clean, frankly, 72 hours ago.  But here we are.  And then he‘s got to win some golf tournaments, and we‘ll all praise him. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We‘re going to our own fairway.  We‘re going back to the president‘s big speech tomorrow night on Afghanistan.  Obviously big-time serious business. 

Thank you, Ken Sunshine.  Thank you, my friend, Gerald Posner. 

Up next, a huge week for President Obama.  He announces his strategy on Afghanistan tomorrow night here on MSNBC, and elsewhere.  He holds a job summit on Thursday.  And the Senate takes up the debate on health care reform today.  It‘s all next in the fix.  Lots of politics this week.  We‘re getting into it next on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the politics fix, with MSNBC political analyst and “Washington Post” columnist Eugene Robinson, and Joan Walsh of “Salon.” 

Joan, I have a sense that all hell is going to break loose tomorrow night at—oh, about 8:00, when the president does come on the air and starts talking about increasing the number of troops going to Afghanistan.  And even though he said the same thing, basically, in the campaign, it‘s going to sound like something to the right of where he ran. 

JOAN WALSH, “SALON”:  It is going to sound somewhat like something to the right of where he ran, Chris.  I think the real difference is, when he was making his case for Afghanistan being the right war, in 2007 and 2008, first of all, he was making a case that Iraq was the wrong war, and we could get behind that.  He was not being super specific about the right course in Afghanistan was.  And the other thing that‘s really changed, as you and I have talked about before, is the facts on the ground, that we now know that the Karzai government is corrupt and is not legitimate.  We had an election that ended inconclusively.

And there is no clear strategy for victory.  The idea of 30,000 or 40,000 more troops I think is painful to everyone.  And so he‘s going to disappoint liberals, the anti-war left. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you going to bang him?  Are you going hit him hard on this thing?  Are you going to hit him hard on this?  Are you going to go after him on this?  

WALSH:  Shockingly, I‘m going to listen.  Maybe there‘s something I haven‘t thought about.  But as of now, knowing what I know now, I very much oppose this escalation.  I think he has got to make some point that convinces you and me and everybody else in the country that this makes us safer, and that he has heard something that you and I and Gene haven‘t heard before. 

There‘s so much we‘ve heard that has led us to a profound demoralization about the chances for victory.  I‘m going to listen, Chris.  That‘s my job and you know that I do that.  But I don‘t have a good feeling about that.  That‘s all I‘ll say right now.

MATTHEWS:  Gene, you‘re going to listen, but you‘ve already said he shouldn‘t do it. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  I‘m all in on this.  No, look, I think what the country will be listening for is what are the goals and what‘s the exit strategy?  And whether he can be clear on those two points I think will determine how people react to the escalation. 

MATTHEWS:  Suppose you‘re right—the first thing you say to them, hi, how are you doing?  We‘re going to be out of here by 9:15 tonight?  We‘re leaving at 9:15, OK? 

ROBINSON:  There‘s kind of a problem there. 

MATTHEWS:  Not a good message to say to Karzai, who‘s welcoming us; by the way, we‘re getting out of her as soon as we can.  Then the Taliban will be ready. 

ROBINSON:  The president has said that part of the reason this entire—this process took so long was he wanted to hear the exit strategy.  He wanted to figure it out.  I think we‘re going to hear something that is, if not specifically time limited, at least time shortened. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re going to show tomorrow night—I came across an old clip thanks to Bill Moyers, Joan and Gene, that has LBJ doing the same exact thing in ‘64.  He basically says I know the government sucks basically, in that case, in Saigon.  You can‘t trust them.  They‘re all crooks basically.  I know the morale is lousy over there.  Everything is going to hell in a hand basket.  but our only option is to put a lot more troops into Vietnam.  He didn‘t have his heart in it, but he sort of got forced into that.  Is that what this guy is facing, our president?  He‘s forced to do something he doesn‘t feel is going to work out so well? 

WALSH:  I‘m afraid so.  I‘m afraid so, based on what we know so far.  I don‘t see how 30,000 or 40,000 additional troops can really make the—can really build this nation into a nation.  When they talk about we‘re going to be there to train the Afghan soldiers, they‘re deserting the Army, Chris.  We know this.  When they talk about w‘er going to fight the Taliban, what we really have is a Pashtun insurgency, and we don‘t have a strategy. 

With the surge, we had the Sunni awakening.  We don‘t have a Pashtun awakening.  The awakening is they‘re awakening to fight us.  I don‘t see anything that makes me optimistic that he‘s going to convince us that this is a good way to spend money and American lives.  But we‘ll see. 

MATTHEWS:  He said he‘d send in—running as a candidate, he said that‘s the good war.  I want to send in two or three more combat brigades.  So he is relatively consistent here.  He‘s somewhat hawkish on Afghanistan. 

ROBINSON:  Here‘s what I—I hope he‘s not feeling bound by what he said during the campaign or bound by what he said in March.  Circumstances change.  He‘s president now and these are real people. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you going to back him?  Same question to you.  You going after him in your column if he‘s wrong?  If you think he‘s going for 30-some thousand—

ROBINSON:  I have already said he shouldn‘t do it.  When he does it, I‘ll probably say he shouldn‘t have done it.  I will listen to what he has to say. 

MATTHEWS:  Can he prosecute a war with Republican support, without Democrat support? 

ROBINSON:  Not without any, but he‘ll have some.  He‘s the president of the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  I think a lot of people are going to listen, and give him a chance to make his case.  Then we‘ll see.  We‘re all going to be watching tomorrow night.  We‘ll be back with Gene Robinson and Joan Walsh. 

By the way, the health care debate begins today in earnest.  We‘ve got it down to four Democratic senators who are apparently going to make all the difference here.  We‘ll talk about it when we come back.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Gene Robinson and Joan Walsh.  It seems, Gene, like this has come down to four senators, this fight.  Ed Schultz fights the fight royally every night here.  I salute him—

ROBINSON:  Health care fight. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s a true believer.  I‘m trying to become a person who cares about better health care for everybody, and also recognize the political realities of this country.  The Democratic party is not the British labor party.  It‘s not a left-wing party.  It has some liberals in it, some social Democrats, but it also has these moderates, Ben Nelson on Nebraska, who says I only want an opt-in on the public plan.  Mary Landrieu of Louisiana says I only want a trigger system. 

Then you have Joe Lieberman who says, I don‘t want any public option.  Then you have Lincoln, Blanche Lincoln, of Arkansas, who says I don‘t want anything either.  So it looks to me like there‘s not going to be much of a public option.  I know Ed doesn‘t want to hear this.  Where is it going to be here? 

ROBINSON:  I think you could argue there is already not much of a public option.  And I think it will be further shaved away.  In the end, I think there will be something with or without a trigger or opt in or opt out.  There will be something that can be called public option, but that really isn‘t a robust public option. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.  If it‘s even a public option—it doesn‘t look like there‘s going to be one.  Joan, I don‘t see how it gets through the House/Senate conference the way it‘s coming through on the Senate side, with so little wind at its back, and maybe even not a mention of it. 

WALSH:  It‘s tough to see right now.  You have to remember, though, that on the other side, on the left, there are people who are threatening that they won‘t vote for it if it doesn‘t contain some form of public option.  I don‘t think it‘s dead, yet, Chris.  It is—as Gene points out, it‘s already been diluted to the point where it may well be a symbolic victory, if a victory at all. 

I think that makes people take a second look at whether, you know, is this something to kill the entire bill over?  I don‘t know that—you know, I would have a hard time doing that as much as I support the public option.  The real issue is, is there a way besides the public option to make sure that these new exchanges have some kind of bargaining power with insurance companies?  Because I‘ve said all along, and I‘ve said it to you, we can‘t have a system where Democrats are saddled with being the ones who subsidized the insurance companies, who continue to gouge people and raise rates consistently when taxpayers are on the hook for it.  We can‘t have that anymore. 

MATTHEWS:  Also, the only cost control we know about right now is a public option competitive with the private plans.  Without that, what will stop the costs from going up?  A big question for the president and the Congress.  Thank you, Gene Robinson.  Thank you, Joan Walsh.  It‘s great to be back.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL, and the coverage of President Obama‘s big speech on Afghanistan tomorrow night, which will be on MSNBC.  Right now it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.

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