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updated 2/4/2011 12:15:35 PM ET 2011-02-04T17:15:35

Guests: Richard Engel, Eugene Robinson, Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, Richard Wolffe, Mark Halperin, Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Eric Boehlert, Bradley Graham, Steve Kornacki

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Egypt on trial.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews down in Washington.  Leading off tonight: Crackdown.  These are the pictures the Egyptian government does not want the world to see.  The government has arrested, detained, and in many cases, physically attacked foreign journalists trying to cover what amounts to a revolution.  Media outlets have been shut down and cameras smashed.  It has become increasingly difficult for us to bring this story, but we will hear tonight from Richard Engel in Cairo in just a moment.

From crackdown to crack-up.  First we had the delusional Glenn Beck imagining the creation of a worldwide Islamic caliphate with the help of the two George Bushes.  Now we hear claims that the Obama administration is taking its orders from fundamentalist Muslims who have been infiltrating into the conservative organizations, as well.  What‘s next?  Will he chainsaw his rabbit—I‘m talking about Glenn Beck—tell us to shoot someone else in the head?  Wow.

Plus, here‘s what Donald Rumsfeld remembers in his new book, that President Bush came to him two weeks after 9/11 and talked about war with Iraq.  Now, here‘s what he forgets, Mr. Rumsfeld, that while the Pentagon was still smoldering that day, it was Rumsfeld himself who was targeted Saddam Hussein, despite the fact that Iraq did not attack us.  Well, tonight we play Rummy.

And while Republicans dither over whether to run, President Obama seems to be launching his reelection campaign.  Today, he hit two points Republicans love to question, his Christianity and his winning the future.  Guess who‘s suddenly looking stronger for 2012?

And “Let Me Finish” with Glenn Beck‘s cracker-barrel crack up.

Let me start with the situation in Egypt.  Joining me right now on the phone in Cairo is NBC News chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel.  Richard, what do we make of this call for trials of President Mubarak and even people like Vice President Suleiman?

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone):  The call for trials for the people he believes is instigating (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  No, actually, we got a report tonight that one of the strategists, described as such, with the Muslim Brotherhood, who‘s over in Italy is saying that that‘s one of the goals of the revolution, to put President Mubarak on trial and other Egyptian officials.  Is this over-written, this story?

ENGEL:  I think so.  I‘ve spoken to lots of protesters on the ground.  I‘ve spoken to the protest leaders.  Maybe they feel that way tonight because two of the main activists who were organizing the demonstrations in Tahrir were—had their offices raided, that it‘s just been part of a crackdown we‘ve been seeing not on the protests today but on the people organizing it and the people trying to cover it, journalists included.

One of the reasons I‘m not in front of the camera like I was with you the other day is journalists have been forced to play this cat-and-mouse game, hiding where they‘re broadcasting from for fear that their offices will not be raided by (INAUDIBLE) to Mubarak or one of his security services.

So going back to your original point, I haven‘t heard people talking about setting (ph) Mubarak on trial.  They want him to leave the country, to step down and hold the elections.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the attitude by the government over there toward us, towards the United States.  What is that now?  Has that changed?  Has he directed his vitriol against us now because of our public position urging him to move?

ENGEL:  He has not, as far as we can tell.  President Mubarak did give an interview with ABC News, with Christiane Amanpour, and according to a transcript of that, he was—he gave (ph) body language implying that he feels a little bit betrayed and snubbed by President Obama‘s lack of backing him in these (ph) calls. (ph)

But we‘ve not heard (ph) any public statements accusing the United States.  Instead, the vice president, Omar Suleiman, went on state television today and he offered a completely different scenery (ph) about what is going on in Tahrir Square.  Everyone in this country is focused on what happened yesterday.  There was a large peaceful gathering in Tahrir Square that was suddenly attacked by thousands of apparently organized thugs that everyone in this country, and certainly all the protesters, believe was organized by President Mubarak and his political party to break up this demonstration.

The vice president came out and said, We had nothing to do with this.  This was a conspiracy, that the protest movement and the violence is a plot that is cooked up by big business, foreign media and the Muslim Brotherhood.  He didn‘t explain how those three forces are working together, but he believes that a larger conspiracy is at work to try and tear down the fabric of Egyptian society.

MATTHEWS:  Richard, in your mind‘s eye—tomorrow is the deadline by the protesters for the Egyptian government to give up and move on—what do you see happening tomorrow?  Can you imagine it yet?

ENGEL:  You know, it‘s very difficult to speculate.  I can tell you what I‘m looking at now and what the protesters expect.  They are in Tahrir Square in very large numbers.  More tonight are spending the night in Tahrir because they expect tomorrow will be a showdown.

All day, I‘ve been watching them set up more barricades in the corners of Tahrir Square.  That was where they were primarily attacked yesterday.  So they are getting ready for battle.

Protesters were unprepared when the, to use their language, thugs, the goon squads came in and attacked them the other day.  Now they‘ve set up barricades, they‘ve set up this phalanx of metal shields, and they are ready for battle.  They‘ve set up an infirmary.  They have also—are using some revolutionary justice, having arrested and apparently interrogated more than a hundred people, and that interrogation center in the subway below Tahrir Square.  They have turned this square into a military camp and are expecting it to be attacked.

We don‘t know if that‘s going to happen.  The government might just try and wait it out.  They might send in tanks, might—more goon squads could arrive.  It is—we really don‘t know how this is going to play out in the morning.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s talk—are there any walls that we‘re up against here?  The wall tomorrow of a deadline, what does it mean?  What is their threat they‘re going to do besides more demonstrations?  And second wall, is there a food shortage, something that‘s going to stop the military from supporting Mubarak, something where they actually can‘t survive as an urban society?  Are those walls coming up on this situation or not?

ENGEL:  You could have a large demonstration and it could be very boisterous and there could be lots of cheering.  If it‘s peaceful and no one intervenes, not the police, not the army, not the goon squads, then perhaps, if the government decides to take that approach and just allow people to gather and shout and scream, then it could wait it out.  There are economic problems here.  There‘s been limits put on the amount of money you can take out of the banks.  Most of the ATMs in Cairo, particularly in downtown, are out of cash.

But the country is not completely paralyzed.  Egypt, like many developing countries, don‘t (INAUDIBLE) dependence on things like the Internet or computers and the flow of trucks moving in.  It is a country that can deal with shortage and hardship fairly well, just by the nature of it.  There are stores.  People still can get food.  We were able to go out and get food.  The problem is the danger, and society itself—no school, no banks, no stock market, no tourists.  Omar Suleiman, the vice president, in his speech said that a million tourists have left Egypt in the last nine days.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much, Richard Engel.  Take care of yourself. 

We can‘t wait.  Looks like tomorrow‘s going to be a big day in history.  Thank you very much for joining us, from NBC, our chief foreign affairs correspondent.

Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski served as national security adviser for President Carter.  Thank you, Dr. Brzezinski, for—

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, FORMER CARTER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER:  Good to be with you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I‘m looking this, and we‘re covering it as an event, but I also want to cover it from the politics of this.  Mubarak, I‘ve never—I‘ve understood it, we all Americans know, it‘s not like some game we‘re not into.  He‘s a strongman, he‘s not truly a democrat.  He wanted his son to replace him.  We‘ve known all this all these years.  He pulled our bacon out of the fire, or he saved our bacon, if you will, back when Anwar Sadat was gunned down.  He held the stability of Egypt together.  Is he our enemy or our ally?

BRZEZINSKI:  He has been our ally.  He certainly has.  That‘s undeniable, on a number of issues.  But he has outlived his day, so his regime had to come to an end.

The point that we have to bear in mind, I think, more clearly is that our wish has to have some relationship to reality.  That is to say, we can‘t expect that regime to be transformed overnight into a really full-blown democracy.  When we say to him, The transition must begin now, with the word—operative word being “must,” not even “should” begin now, but “must,” we‘re dictating.  And what are we dictating?

Then Mr. Gibbs says, Now means yesterday.  And that‘s not going to go over very well with a country with a rich history, genuine pride, a very important role in the Middle East.  I think we have to be a little more subtle and a little more patient.  I fully agree with the president and everybody else that we want a democracy in Egypt.  But how and on what level, with what extent, we have to ask ourselves whether we know the answers.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Dr. Brzezinski, according to an interview with ABC News, Mubarak said he told—this is secondhand about what he said he told President Obama.  Quote, You don‘t understand the Egyptian culture and what would happen if I stepped down.  Is he saying—I‘m trying to read through this carefully.  Is he saying, in a situation with a mass demonstration going on, you‘re not going to get a good reaction, a good result politically.  The people are going to be excited.  They may go to an extreme group like the Muslim Brotherhood.  If, on the other hand, you allow an election, a smooth, nice, boring, regular election, you got a better chance of a moderate force taking over.  Is that what he‘s saying?  Is that too sophisticated?

BRZEZINSKI:  To some extent.  To some extent.  But he‘s also saying something else—Don‘t humiliate me.  Don‘t put me down.  I have been your friend.  Think of the future.  And incidentally, think of the impact this has on our, quote, unquote, other “friends” in the Middle East.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BRZEZINSKI:  So we have to play it cool.  We have to be clear that we want a democratic change in Egypt, but we have to be willing to encourage the emergence of a genuine political process because suppose he resigned tomorrow.  Would Suleiman be better?  Or would some unknown jump in?  And what about the demonstrators?  Are they organized?  Do they have leaders?  Do they have a program?  They say they‘re for democracy, but what do they really mean by democracy?

MATTHEWS:  Your experience with our CIA and our other intelligence units—do you think that we know the answers to those questions?

BRZEZINSKI:  We know them partially, but I‘m not sure we know fully.  But we also have to look at historical examples.  I was involved in a time in which an important friend of ours, Iran, changed hands politically.  We happened to have had a rather weak shah who wasn‘t willing to emphasize civilly (ph), and we had an opposition to the shah.  That‘s very different from the opposition in Egypt because on the one hand, it was Khomeini and his religious fanatics who hated America.  But on the other hand, at the same time, it was the Tudeh (ph) Party, a communist party favoring the Soviet Union, also hating America.  So there was no alternative.

Here there is an alternative.  There are people like Baradei and there are political pressures and movements and a middle class.  We have to permit time for a political process which begins to institutionalize and transform—

MATTHEWS:  So don‘t push him too hard, you say.

BRZEZINSKI:  Don‘t push him.  Don‘t humiliate him.  And don‘t try to give orders from Washington.

MATTHEWS:  So we wouldn‘t be so bad if a week or two from now, he were still there.

BRZEZINSKI:  Of course not.  We‘ve managed with him—

MATTHEWS:  Because everything seems to be based on hour by hour now. 

That‘s why I‘m asking.

BRZEZINSKI:  Yes, but you know, don‘t judge the situation in Egypt by watching television.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BRZEZINSKI:  Just think about this.  What we‘re watching day after day, hour after hour is Tahrir Square, Liberation Square.  This is a city of 15 million people.  What‘s going on in the rest of the city?  Are there riots?  Are people getting killed?

MATTHEWS:  That‘s right.

BRZEZINSKI:  And so forth.  We‘re sort of consecrating—

MATTHEWS:  No, I was over there just last year with my wife.  And I sensed—Egypt‘s a big country.  Once you get out of downtown Cairo, there‘s a lot of agrarian, rural life that‘s much different than what we‘re seeing.

BRZEZINSKI:  It‘s a huge city.

MATTHEWS:  I know.  And the country‘s much different than the city.  Thank you, Zbigniew Brzezinski.  Thanks for—I like watching you in the morning on “MORNING JOE” with your beautiful daughter.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up: The right-wing crack up continues.  Yesterday, we told you about Glenn Beck spreading fear about a coming Muslim caliphate to extend across Europe.  Now some on the right are saying the Obama administration is taking its orders from Muslim fundamentalists.  Who is buying this malarkey?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  President Obama was up at State College, Pennsylvania, today, the home of Penn State and JoePa, Joe Paterno.  And it‘s no wonder.  In 2008, Obama carried every state in the Big 10 conference, but now states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin are huge battlegrounds for the next election, and the trend isn‘t going the president‘s way.

Take Centre County, where he was today.  He won the county in 2008 with 55 percent.  That‘s right in the middle of the state, by the way.  Last year, Republican Pat Toomey won the Senate seat with 51 percent of the county right there, 51 percent of Centre County, which is a generally liberal county.  It‘s a college campus town.  Scranton to Oshkosh is where the next election will be won or lost.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  As the crisis continues in Egypt and may continue on for quite a while, if you listen to Dr. Brzezinski, the right wing, led by Glenn Beck, continues to traffic in conspiracy theories.  Why not?  They have more to do with scaring this country than getting the truth out of what‘s happening over there.

So what are they up to this time?  Well, Eric Boehlert is a senior fellow with Media Matters, and Eugene Robinson‘s a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for “The Washington Post.”

Gentlemen, thank you both for being with us.  And I sometimes—I‘m not surprised by right or left-wing argument in this country.  Sometimes the rhetoric is rather wholesome.  Now, catch Glenn Beckon Tuesday night, this diatribe about the Caliphate.  He starts talking about ancient Babylon.  See if you can follow this.  I did.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GLENN BECK, HOST, FOX NEWS “GLENN BECK”:  Iraq is really important, especially to the Shi‘ites, especially to the 12ers who are in charge of this country right now because what is in Iraq?  There‘s one place that we told our bombers not to bomb.  Does anybody know what it was?  Two wars in Iraq, we said, No bombing there.  Ancient Babylon.  Ancient Babylon.  Why?  Because the Bible tells us that that is the seat right here of power of a global evil empire.  Well, that‘s also where the 12th imam from Iran is supposedly going to show up!  Everybody on this side wants ancient Babylon for their caliphate!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, before we go any further, I have rarely heard anything like this on television in my life, but the—well, let me just ask our guests.  Eric, the—what is he saying about the decision by our bombing fleet, our bombers, those who are directed and their civilians who control our military under both Bushes, President Bush, Herbert Walker, and then, of course, George W. Bush—that they somehow decided, as part of some global caliphate they‘re envisioning and hoping to move along—they told our bombing people when they put these sorties together, Don‘t hit ancient Babylon because that‘s going to be the center of evil—

ERIC BOEHLERT, MEDIAMATTERS.ORG:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  -- the power—it‘s going to be the seat right there of power of a global evil empire.  He (INAUDIBLE) are the Bushes involved—what in hell is this man talking about?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Your thoughts.  Wide-open question.

BOEHLERT:  Well, that seems to be one of the hurdles.  He‘s now rewriting history backwards, and now he‘s sort of dragging the Bushes into it, with previous wars in the territory.  Look, I mean, Glenn Beck has for years now at Fox, he‘s dug himself this sort of conspiratorial hole and he‘s just going to keep digging, I mean, regardless.  And so now—

MATTHEWS:  You‘re so smart.  (INAUDIBLE) because people who believe in these grand conspiracies—

BOEHLERT:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  -- they‘ll end up saying, It wasn‘t just the Dallas police and it wasn‘t just the CIA and it wasn‘t just the FBI, it wasn‘t just Nixon and Johnson, it was the Irish mafia around Kennedy.  Everybody was involved!  The Secret Service—because once you start going into this—

BOEHLERT:  Right.  Right.  Right. 

MATTHEWS: -- conspiratorial mind, you have to make—you have to come up with an explanation why somebody didn‘t catch somebody. 

BOEHLERT:  And, so, now every—

MATTHEWS:  And the reason they didn‘t catch him is because they‘re in on it.

BOEHLERT:  And so now, miraculously, every piece of breaking news fits perfectly into his grand plan. 

I mean, he wasn‘t talking about Egypt two months ago.  But if you listen to him now, of course, it makes perfect sense—

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

BOEHLERT: -- because he was warning about this—this leftist Islamist revolution.  It‘s not just going to happen in America now.  It‘s apparently going to spread worldwide.  So—

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Gene, I want to give you another piece of cake from this—strange cake, in fact.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Now, here‘s the story, just as a setup to this, so we all remember, so we don‘t forget piece by piece what Beck is building here. 

Beck has, for a while now, said the president is a socialist and a communist.  That‘s very important to understand who he‘s—because there‘s no more common term in the world right now.

ROBINSON:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  And socialists had a lot to do—they were part of the—the modern Israel—

ROBINSON:  Mm-hmm. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- Labor Party, of course, all the heroes were—were socialists. 

But he has this strange new theory now.  Socialists, who he identifies with the president, communists, who he identifies with our president, are the ones behind all this. 

Here he is.  They‘re behind the trouble in Egypt.  Here he is on the radio today talking about the caliphate and the socialists and communists, who are of course the Obama people, working together with extreme Islam.  Let‘s listen to this latest. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, “THE GLENN BECK PROGRAM”)

GLENN BECK, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST, “THE GLENN BECK PROGRAM”:  I want the left to know I plant my flag in this soil.  Groups from the hard-core socialist and communist left and extreme Islam will work together, because they are both a common enemy of Israel and the Jew. 

Islam wants a caliphate.  Communists wants a communist new world order.  They will work together and they will destabilize, because they both want chaos. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Gene Robinson.

ROBINSON:  It—this makes absolutely no sense on any level.  It makes no sense on any level. 

MATTHEWS:  Where this Community Party meeting these days? 

ROBINSON:  Well, don‘t you know how—

(LAUGHTER)

ROBINSON: -- the communists and the Islamists have always worked together?  Except the fact that they‘re always trying to kill each other.

MATTHEWS:  And the socialists, too. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You know who hates—you know who hates—who hates the socialists the most?  The communists. 

ROBINSON:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Doesn‘t this guy have any sense of history? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And socialists were a big part of building the modern Israel.  What is he talking about?

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  This is the stuff normally you would prescribe medication. 

(LAUGHTER)

ROBINSON:  He—he—no, I‘m serious.  And—and, normally, it does

nobody any good.  Glenn Beck says this.  He says that.  He says this crazy

-- 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but why is he saying it now? 

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  Well—

MATTHEWS:  Is this to get Obama‘s—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- way?

ROBINSON:  Well, here‘s what bothers me.  I think frankly it is a case that he‘s dug the conspiracy hole so deep that he just has to keep digging. 

But here‘s what upsets me about it is, watch those pictures from Cairo, and it—it makes you anxious.  It causes anxiety among a lot of people because—and why not?  These are anxious times. 

And so here‘s this guy who is just compounding people‘s anxiety with these loopy conspiratorial theories.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROBINSON:  And I just think it‘s—if you have that sort of platform, you have that sort of—sort of megaphone that he has, that you have—

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROBINSON: -- that I have with a column, there‘s a certain responsibility that comes with that.  And if you don‘t recognize that, you‘re just a jerk, you know?

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Eric—

ROBINSON:  And he‘s just a jerk.

MATTHEWS: -- you guys have been studying this guy for a long time. 

BOEHLERT:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Before we move on to Frank Gaffney, another guy who is getting into the full moon category, what—what is he trying to—is there a logic here?  Or is it just as Gene suggests?  He has just gotten deeper and deeper?

BOEHLERT:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘ve said this.  Is it just you get so far into these conspiracy theories in blaming everything center—anything left-of-center that‘s evil in the world, you blame everything on them and you tie it all together with Barack Obama is a socialist, he‘s a communist, that he‘s—he‘s in with the Muslim Brotherhood?  They are all working together against you.  That‘s paranoid talk. 

BOEHLERT:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  That is paranoid talk, definitionally.

(CROSSTALK)

BOEHLERT:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Your thoughts.

BOEHLERT:  And, so, as Gene was saying, the underlying fear is, what you see in Cairo is coming to the States, where that—

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BOEHLERT:  Beck has been talking about the coming insurrection.  And it‘s coming from the left.  And now we‘re being told that it‘s going to look like Cairo. 

And so this is part of—this is just part of the conspiracy.  And, frankly, I think it‘s basically a programming—it‘s a rating shtick for Beck.  I mean, Beck is at heart a radio guy.  He came up in radio.  They are haunted by the idea of falling ratings. 

January was his worst ratings month ever at FOX News.  He—he—he always needs a shtick.  And so Egypt is the new one.  The caliphate is the new one.  And if you look at the numbers, the people are saying—even some of his viewers are saying, OK, wait.  Can you explain this again?  Where are we going with all of this stuff? 

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BOEHLERT:  Where is this going?

MATTHEWS:  Well, it goes to the unitary theory, which really most crazy people go.  They want one simple theory of everything that scares them.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to Frank Gaffney.  I don‘t know what he‘s up to.

Frank Gaffney believes we‘re about to go into Sharia law in this country.  He‘s convinced we‘re all going to be getting our hands cut off, our heads cut off, whatever else.  Here he is speaking out this week on FOX, this week, of course, to warm—to warn us that the Muslim Brotherhood is taking over this administration.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FOX NEWS CHANNEL)

FRANK GAFFNEY, FOUNDER & PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR SECURITY POLICY:  What is going on here in part is that the Obama administration‘s policies are being viewed through and actually articulated and now implemented through influence operations that the Muslim Brotherhood itself is running in our own country. 

You cannot possibly get your strategy right, you cannot execute it effectively if you don‘t know that the enemy is actually giving you advice on how to proceed. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What‘s he talking about, Gene? 

ROBINSON:  I have no—again, I have no idea.  This, it—it just makes no sense.

MATTHEWS:  He says that Napolitano, the secretary of homeland defense, is getting advice from these people, from the Muslim Brotherhood?

ROBINSON:  Well, it would—it would be not just the secretary of homeland defense.  It would be also you, I guess, and—

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROBINSON: -- and—and the media in general getting advice from the Muslim Brotherhood?  I just—it—it—you know, Sharia—let me just state for the record Sharia law is not coming to the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, when I was a kid—

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  I would bet a lot of money on that.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m about your age, Gene and—and Eric.

When I was kid, we saw “The Invisible Man,” because after you have seen “The Invisible Man” at a drive-in theater with your dad, the first thing you would do when you would go home, when mom was away, you would reach under the bed and make sure he‘s not there, right?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, that‘s what this is about, isn‘t it?  The invisible man is coming to get you.  You‘ve got to check under the bed.  You‘ve got to make sure there‘s no possible space in your bedroom he could be. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t this what it‘s about, pure, utter fear-mongering?

BOEHLERT:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Eric, last thought.

BOEHLERT:  Yes. 

And Frank Gaffney is—it‘s not just in the Obama administration.  He‘s been claiming the conservative movement, CPAC, one of the controversies they‘re having this year is they have been infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood.  So—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Oh, those red—those red SOBs over there at CPAC. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BOEHLERT:  Apparently, the Muslim Brotherhood has the—the entire Beltway wired. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  We have got trouble in River City.

Thank you, Eric Boehlert.  Thanks very much.  You‘re doing great—great work over there.

Eugene Robinson, as always.

MATTHEWS:  Up next: a moment would-be Republican—any moment a would-be Republican presidential candidate, Jon Huntsman, may want to forget.  Oh, by the way, this is what he does want to forget, his endorsement of Sarah Palin.  Wait until you see this.  Boy, we forgot this little gem. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(LAUGHTER)

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

Wow.  First: an oldie, but goody.  Jon Huntsman, the Republican Convention 2008, the then Utah governor delivering a nominating speech that, should Huntsman enter the 2012 race, is sure to come back and bite this guy. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 2008)

GOV. JON HUNTSMAN JR. ®, UTAH:  Hockey moms of the world, unite. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

HUNTSMAN:  History—history will be made tonight, and her name is Sarah Palin. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

HUNTSMAN:  Sarah, Sarah, Sarah.

In a world of artificiality, we‘re looking for originality.  We‘re looking for authenticity.  We‘re looking for a rebel, a renegade.  We‘re looking for Sarah!

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, she‘s going to be looking for you, too, after that great piece of—piece of video.  Credit to Politico, by the way, for providing us with that video.

Next: Mitt Romney‘s flawed logic.  On radio today, Romney whacked at the recent staff switches at the White House, saying—quote—“You know, most people expect a management team to hang together for at least three or fours years.  In the case of President Bush, I think he had his chief of staff for all eight years of his term.  That suggests some people are either tired of what they are doing or don‘t agree on the new course.”

Actually, W., George W., actually had two chiefs of staffs during his eight years, Andy Card and Josh Bolten.  And Romney was corrected by the host of that radio show on that point. 

But the bigger question here, if the president wants to change course, what‘s wrong with switching up his team?  Isn‘t that what you would want a leader to do?  Anyway, this whole issue Romney is raising is a feeble effort, I think, to focus attention, pathetically, on his supposed business sense. 

And if this is the best he‘s got, forget about it. 

Up next: revisionist history.  In Donald Rumsfeld‘s new memoir, he suggests it was President Bush, not him, who brought up the idea of invading Iraq.  But wasn‘t it Rumsfeld who first suggested it just hours after 9/11 in that attack on the Pentagon?  Rummy‘s revisionist history class—coming up next.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MICHELLE CARUSO-CABRERA, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Michelle Caruso-Cabrera with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks clawed back from early losses to finish slightly higher.  The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 20 points, the S&P 500 adding three, the Nasdaq gaining four points.

No surprises from the Federal Reserve, but a truckload of economic earnings and retail reports doing a good job of stirring the markets today.  Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke staying the course on plans for another round of economic stimulus.  That‘s despite the encouraging reports from the Labor Department, like surprisingly low first-time jobless claims last week.  That‘s ahead of tomorrow‘s huge monthly report, which is always a big market mover. 

Another big bump in worker productivity, up 3.6 percent in 2010.  That‘s after a 3.5 percent jump in 2009.  We also learned that the service sector grew at its fastest pace in six years in January.  And factory orders and shipments edged up in December.  Economists had been expecting actually a decline. 

And finally some surprisingly strong retail results in January, despite all that snow. 

That‘s it from CNBC.  We‘re first in business worldwide—now back to

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL. 

Excerpts from Donald Rumsfeld‘s upcoming memoir, “Known and Unknown,” indicate he may be distancing himself from the Iraq war and laying blame on President Bush. 

“The New York Times” obtained the book and reports that Rumsfeld writes—quote—“Bush insisted on new military plans for Iraq just 15 days after the 9/11 attacks.”

But notes taken at a Pentagon meeting just hours after the attacks on Pentagon show Rumsfeld‘s sights were already set on Iraq.  The notes quote Rumsfeld as saying: “My interest is to hit Saddam Hussein at the same time, not to look only at UBL,” Osama bin Laden.  Of course, he was in—in Afghanistan at the time. 

With me, “The Washington Post”‘s Bradley Graham, who wrote a biography of Donald Rumsfeld, and he‘s seen an advance copy of the memoir, and Salon‘s Steve Kornacki.

Bradley, thank you.  You have the advantage here.  You have seen the whole book, 800 glorious pages of it.  What is the general purpose of this former secretary?  Is he embracing the war with Iraq?  Is he claiming to have had a peripheral role, or how would you describe it?

BRADLEY GRAHAM, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  He‘s embracing the war with Iraq.  He defends his management of it.  And he—he justifies it.  He says that just imagine what the Middle East would have been like, how much more perilous it would have been without Saddam Hussein. 

MATTHEWS:  Steve, what do you make of what you‘ve heard so far about the book in terms of—we know that—well, we have gotten reports at NBC that within four hours after the bombing of the Pentagon, he was talking it.  Now we‘re getting in this book the fact that the president was talking about it all early. 

All of this is much earlier than publicly disclosed, the fact that this administration was looking at going to Iraq on the pretext of what happened on 9/11.  Having not had that pretext, they now had it and wanted to use it. 

As Rahm Emanuel would say, don‘t let any crisis go, what, unexploited?

(LAUGHTER)

STEVE KORNACKI, SALON.COM:  Right. 

Well, I will reserve total judgment until I have seen the whole book and I have read it.  But from what I have heard so far, this—I‘m struck by the rich irony here.  This is sort of classic Donald Rumsfeld.  Anybody who knows sort of this guy‘s history knows that Donald Rumsfeld is the guy who wrote Rumsfeld‘s rules way back in the 1970s, this sort of Machiavellian guide to how to sort of scheme and survive in Washington and in American politics, and sort of all about sort of making sure you‘re not the one left holding the ball, making sure—holding the bag—making sure that others sort of get the blame. 

And I think there is an especially rich irony here when you consider that he was brought into the administration of the son of a man who was one of his chief enemies within the Republican Party in the 1970s, George Bush Sr.  If George W. Bush had learned anything from the example of his father and from the experiences of his father in politics, he would have known do not ever trust Donald Rumsfeld.  The guy is a shark. 

But from the first day, you know, George W. Bush took the advice of Dick Cheney and he brought him in, and he handed him the Pentagon.  And if you‘re—now you‘re looking at, you know, nine, 10 years later, Rumsfeld sort of trying to hang Bush out to dry a little bit, well, don‘t say Bush wasn‘t warned, because he could have learned a thing about his father‘s own experiences in politics.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he did—he did, in fact, thanks to Cheney and he—and the secretary of defense, they were able to double-team Colin Powell and basically neutralize him. 

Here‘s an interview I did with Secretary Rumsfeld back at the Pentagon April of 2004.  It‘s bizarre.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Did you advise the president to go war?

DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY:  Yes.  He did not ask me is the question.  And to my knowledge, there are a number of people he did not ask.

MATTHEWS:  Did that surprise as secretary of defense?

RUMSFELD:  Well, I thought it was interesting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Ha!  Bradley, what do you make that?  We have a chain of a command.  I‘ve always advertised the beauty of the American government is we have cabinet system, the president operates through the cabinet—you know, the football, of course, where we got to go to war, the president has to operate through the secretary of defense.  We have protocols.  We have statutes.  The way it‘s done.

Here the secretary of defense who had to launch the war was never asked by the president, do you think we should do it.  It just seems like the kind of conversation over the course of the year and a half to go in there that would have been such a moment when the president said, what do you think?  What do you think, Don?  Never.

GRAHAM:  Yes.  Well, you would think that.  And it does sound strange that Bush never did.  And Rumsfeld does talk about this in his book.  Yes, he was surprised that the president didn‘t ask him but then again the president, Rumsfeld said, probably didn‘t need to because he knew what Rumsfeld‘s answer would be.  You know, before—

MATTHEWS:  Aren‘t there those—don‘t we sort of checks when we go into a war like you sort of just do a countdown kind of thing where you go, just to get this straight, you‘re with us on it, you think this is a good policy.  Isn‘t this why we have a cabinet, somewhat formally ask: do you want—is this the right thing for our country?  Are there no other options here?  We have to go to war.  War is the last thing you do generally.

GRAHAM:  Yes, that‘s right.  And then, of course, Bush does call together all the chiefs before the invasion and has them express whether they have any reservations about the war plan and they don‘t.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think, you know, I think Colin Powell did, but I think he was cowered into this.

But here‘s the thought—let me go to Steve Kornacki on this.  This whole question, I do believe that there has been an unpopularity of the war in Iraq.  I believe it.  I believe most people believe whatever the evidence so far that concluded it wasn‘t worth it.

It didn‘t get us what we wanted.  It gave us a pro-Iranian government eventually going to be led by someone like Muqtada al-Sadr, who‘s just basically until recently has been living in Iran and we‘re going to going to end up having two Irans instead of one.  Israel is going to find itself with a Shia-led government, two Shia-led governments, both hostile to it, more so and more effectively so than it was when you had the loggerheads between Saddam Hussein and Ahmadinejad.  They could have this warfare worn out by the time they went after Israel.  Instead, they now have both countries coming at them potentially.

Steve, your thoughts about this.  I don‘t think anybody is going to be really proud of this war.  Your thoughts.

KORNACKI:  No, no.  But—I mean, it gets back to the question I raised about why George W. Bush ever brought Donald Rumsfeld into his administration in the first place.  The question goes beyond Rumsfeld.  Rumsfeld is sort of the most galling example to me because the history he had with Bush‘s father.

But if you look at the people who are around Bush and who were in his ear in days, weeks and months after 9/11, you talk about like a Wolfowitz or, you know, Rumsfeld, or Elliott Abrams, you know, he brought in guys who believed in the concept of getting rid of Saddam Hussein before there was a 9/11.  These were the guys who were looking for an excuse, who are looking for a reason to go into Iraq because it was part of a broader, grand design for sort of the U.S. remaking the Middle East.

You outlined very well the consequences of that, but the question to me has always been: why did George W. Bush, the son of a man—for all you want to say about George Bush Sr., he was sort of a realist when it came to the Middle East.

MATTHEWS:  I know.

KORNACKI:  Why would his son bring these people in and why would he lean on them and not his father and not his father‘s, you know, advisors in the days and weeks after 9/11?

MATTHEWS:  I got one answer.  Freud.

Your thoughts.

GRAHAM:  Yes.  Well, there‘s an interesting anecdote that Rumsfeld provides in his book.  When Bush was looking for a vice president, Rumsfeld‘s name came up.  And Cheney later tells Rumsfeld that Bush‘s dad did not, quote, “salute the idea,” end quote, of Rumsfeld becoming Bush‘s running mate.  So, Rumsfeld was nixed early in that regard.

And, you know, Rumsfeld was not Bush‘s first choice to be secretary of defense.  There‘s somebody else.  But then late, in the game, Bush turned to Rumsfeld.

MATTHEWS:  Who was Dick Cheney‘s first choice to be vice president under George W. Bush?  First choice?

Dick Cheney.  He was head of the selection committee.  He wired it.

You know, I‘m never going to believe that Cheney wasn‘t more powerful than Bush when it came to I.Q., OK?

Thank you very much, Bradley Graham of “The Washington Post.”  Steve Kornacki, thank you.  I know you‘re laughing because it‘s so damn true.

Up next: while Republicans stand around on the sidelines, President Obama is getting into the campaign mode.  He really is.

Wait until you catch this thing that‘s coming up.  We got some interesting look at the president today.  He may be getting good economic news tomorrow.  He may get a lower unemployment.

He clearly has good polling news.  Good stock market news.  I think the guy is beginning to push for re-election.

Two points critics (INAUDIBLE): he doesn‘t care about the future, he cares about the future.  And, secondly, he‘s talking about his religion.

This is HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, fresh off her foray to Ohio recently, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is now making plans to go to another early presidential nominating state, South Carolina.  That‘s another good one for the right wingers.  Bachmann‘s headed to the Palmetto State later this month to test her prospects for a run for the White House.  I think she‘s going.  She‘s going to headline a lunch with Republican women in Greenville and attend a dinner hosted by the County Republicans.

Bachmann said she was very encouraged by the support she received while she was in Iowa.  She‘s going to be comparing notes throughout the weeks ahead with Glenn Beck.

HARDBALL will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  And let me tell you, these past two years, they have deepened my faith.  The presidency has a funny way of making a person feel the need to pray.  Abe Lincoln said, as many of you know, “I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s pretty good.

Anyway, we‘re back.

That was President Obama today at the National Prayer Breakfast.  He‘s talking about his faith.  He‘s also not shying away from the philosophical fight about what government can do to help people as some Republicans think about running against him.

Is President Obama already running himself?  Is he often running?

We‘re joined right now by MSNBC‘s political analyst, Richard Wolffe, and “Time” magazine‘s Mark Halperin.

Gentlemen, it‘s great to have both of you.  Mark, of course, is an MSNBC political analyst.

I want to start with Richard and go to Mark.

You guys are the experts.  What‘s up here?

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, about this time of year, every year, he does a personal speech.  A lot of this stuff is personal.  He goes to churches, and maybe the Sunday before Martin Luther King Day.

Obviously, this is a prayer breakfast.  But he‘s showing he‘s fluent in the language of faith.  And he‘s showing that there is some kind of underlying value philosophy through his whole political career.  He talks about civil rights, the importance of religion there and how inspirational that was for him.

But this is about him doing what he finds a very reluctant thing, which is to go personal and public.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you think?  Do you think we should have a president explain his religion to people?

(CROSSTALK)

WOLFFE:  That‘s what people expect.  No, that‘s what people expect.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me go to Mark here.  Are you comfortable with it, where a president has to defensively or offensively talk about what he believes in terms of religion?

MARK HALPERIN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  If it‘s what he believes in and that‘s what the president does, anyone who‘s thinking of running for president against this guy should go watch that speech.  It was more than just about faith.  As Richard said, it was his philosophy.  It was a brilliant performance.

This guy has game.  If you want to add—make a long list what are all the reasons Barack Obama is favored for being re-elected?  Forget the Electoral College, forget the unemployment rate and earnings and all that.  That performance has a level of sophistication and skill that not one Republican on the field right now can duplicate.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s talk about the Gallup Poll right now.  The trend (INAUDIBLE) to how he‘s doing right now.  The president‘s approval rating since the midterm election, he‘s actually been doing a lot better since Christmas and he‘s hovering around 50 percent.  But the important thing and these things are done in sort of accumulated averaging, rolling average.  And the rolling average just keeps getting better, Mark.

It seems to me that a couple of things—I can think of three things:

the stock market.  When are the Republicans, who make the most money in the stock market, are going to say, you know what, Bush couldn‘t do this.  This guy started off down near the drain and now he‘s up near the faucet.  You know, we‘re pretty high up.

This all happened because he must be doing something right.  The unemployment rate is perhaps going to start inching downward.  The poll numbers are going up.

Is this creating a confidence in this man‘s heart?  Your thoughts, Mark Halperin?

HALPERIN:  I think the economy getting better and a very self-conscious appeal to repair relationships with business.  But I think it‘s also the tone.  And it‘s the tone you saw today and it‘s the tone you saw in the lame duck session and the State of the Union.  It‘s an optimistic tone and it‘s not a sarcastic tone.  It‘s Obama at his best.

And I‘ll say it again, he can be beaten, but no Republican today is performing at that level, inspiring the kind of confidence and presiding over economic recovery the way he is.

MATTHEWS:  But, quickly, here he is up at Penn State.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  You understand that it‘s not going to be a cake walk, this competition for the future, which means all of us are going to have to up our game.  We are going to have to win the future by being smarter and working harder and working together.  If we want those jobs and businesses to thrive in the United States of America, we‘re going to have to out-innovate and out-educate and out-innovate the rest of the world.  That‘s what we‘re going to have to do.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  “Winning the future” is right behind him there, Richard, can he get the guy, the guy, 56 years old, worried about his future, may have lost his job, maybe willing to listen to some cases about training in new jobs if they‘re there?  Can he win that argument?

WOLFFE:  Well, the interesting thing, when they‘ve focus-grouped and poll tested this stuff—they did it last year.  Remember, some of this stuff was in the State of the Union last year.  It didn‘t poll well with women.  With men it does.  This is competitive.  It‘s patriotic.  They like that.

You‘re asking about the personal situation, you can never within a microeconomic argument because people don‘t believe what politicians tell them about their own economic situation.  So, jobs have to come back in the real world for these people.  But as a broad political message, works much better for men than women.

MATTHEWS:  Your thoughts on that—last thought from you, Mark.  The whole question, can he win the—you know, we argue about this all the time on this show.  What I call from Scranton to Oshkosh, the wipeout this last November.  Can he bring those Democrats back to vote Democrat this time?

HALPERIN:  Arguing for big job programs is flawed.  It‘s not perfect.  It doesn‘t appeal to everyone.  But, right now, until Republicans pivot from health care and deficit reduction to their own ideas on jobs, I think he‘s going to win by default.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Mark Halperin and Richard Wolffe.

I‘m going to be right back with something interesting to say about Glenn Beck and whether he‘s still got everything organized up here.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with this country‘s own version of deranged politics.

We‘ve come to think of the rhetoric that comes out of the Mideast as incessantly and wildly over the top.  People shout “death to this” and “death to that.”  It‘s never “I happen to disagree with that gent,” or, “Maybe we‘re looking at this differently.”  It‘s always, “This guy is the devil and I‘ve got the truth of God on my side.”

Well, we shouldn‘t be so arrogant on this score.  There are people in the west, in our own side of the world, who talk with the same violence, the same hatred, the same religious absolutism as those people we see today in the streets of Cairo.

One of them, Glenn Beck, isn‘t alone in the degree and range of his wild and rabid, bang-bang of insinuation and deranged attack.

We showed you his charges earlier this week.  That Bushes, father and son, being in cahoots with the Muslim Brotherhood, guiding our bombers to avoid what is the world capital of what Beck proclaims to be the coming seat of power in the global caliphate stretching right across Europe.

Well, so, our two recent Republican presidents, Protestants the last time I looked, are really in league with the Muslim extremists.  They‘re looking for the—in fact, working for the reestablishment of a global caliphate.

Well, this is talk obviously from nut country.  The two Bushes avoid hitting a target in a war because they want to guard it for a future seat of power of a global evil empire.

Why would they do that?  Why would any American president do such a thing as participate in the structure of a global theocratic order?

Well, today, Beck shifted blame from right to left.  Beck now charges socialists and communists with joining the Bushes with pushing the cause we see in the streets of Cairo.  But wait a minute, doesn‘t Beck say Obama pushes the socialist and communist agenda?

I know this sounds loony and that‘s my point.  Listen to this guy once in a while.  His stuff is loony—loony tune.

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.

More politics ahead with Cenk Uyghur.

           

           

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