MSNBC Hardball with Chris Matthews - Transcript
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MATTHEWS: Joining me now is Senator Joe Biden, Democrat of Delaware. Senator, I want to ask you a couple of questions about this vice presidential affair this week, which continues, and then I want to talk to you about this National Security Agency issue, which is apparently developing as a news story.
First of all, if you were president, would you expect to hear from your vice president if he shot somebody on Saturday, before Monday?
SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: I think so. Yes, I think so, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the whole question, the accountability and the relationship between the president and the vice president. Do you find it extraordinary, the relationship these two have developed?
BIDEN: You know, its hard to figure. I dont have it fully figured. Ive spent time in the Oval Office with both of them there. I have spent time with the president, without the vice president there, and Ive watched what is alleged to be the vice presidents influence. And it really is the most unusual relationship in the seven presidents with whom Ive served.
MATTHEWS: The vice president was head of the selection committee for his own selection. Do you think that began the process of the relationship, the way in which he was influential in steering the decisions towards him?
BIDEN: I dont know. Look, hes ahes a very powerful personality, hes very self-assured, hes very smart, and I think maybe in the beginning of the administration, with a fellow who comes along like all former governorsI dont mean this as directed at Bushwho havent dealt with foreign policy, I would think that he started off with a considerable amount of influence, by the nature of what was happening in the presidents first term and disparity in their experience.
MATTHEWS: Do you understand why the presidents poll numbers, his approval numbers have been plummeting again? They were very low in November, he conducted a very extensive public relations campaign through Christmas and then into the new year, very, you know, well put together State of the Union address. And all that advantage has now been lost. Do you think its going to get worse because of what happened this past week with the vice president?
BIDEN: Well, I dont know so much the vice president will make much difference, Chris, except to sort of reinforces the notion of secrecy and a cloistered kind of operation.
But I think that old Saxon expression, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The president made very good statements and a very significant public relations offensive in January.
But then they saw the budget. They looked and you see the war going on now. You dont see anything happening. You have al-Jaafari rMD+BO_rMDNM_being supported by al-Sadr, a radical cleric.
You have the budget being a bit of a sham. Theyre finding out now that theres very little being done for homeland defense. So I think as the story comes out, as to the difference between the presidents assertions of what hes doing and the reality, I think things are going to continue to be difficult for the president.
MATTHEWS: The cartoon notion of the war in Iraq, in terms of its politics so far have been the mainstream supports the war, patriotically, the president leads the fight. Hes the commander-in-chief and his policies are accepted by the majority of the people.
And people over to the left, thats the term used, like Michael Moore are Cindy Sheehan, are the odd ducks. But in reality, when you look at the latest Gallup poll, Senator, it just came out, 55 percent of the country think the war in Iraq is a mistake. Theyre the majority.
How is it that the media portrays and the country has this notion that if youre against the war youre some sort of odd duck, when in fact the absolutely majority of the people dont like this war, they dont think we should have gotten into it, and the president still enjoys the notion that he leads the American mainstream, when in fact he doesnt?
BIDEN: Well I think its because of the bully pulpit the administration has. I mean, they promote that every, single day. But people turn on their televisions, Chris. They turn on their televisions and they see whats happening in Iraq.
The American people are not stupid. And the one thing they understand, they understand how incredibly mismanaged and bungled this war has been by the civilians in this administration. AndI mean, you cant paper over that, any more than you can paper over Katrina.
MATTHEWS: OK, lets talk aboutI want to get to the NSA story. First of all, what do you think should be done here? People have heard this story that the president has gotten around the law and simply said "Im going to intercept messages, data transfers involving Americans. Im going to do it because Im commander-in-chief." What do you think needs to be done there?
BIDEN: Chris, Im going tono, Im going to be presumptuous here. Thinkgo back to you old neighborhood or go back to my neighborhood in Claymont. Youve got to just say it straight.
Hey look folks, we want everybody to be spied on whos a terrorist. We want to know what theyre saying, who theyre talking to. But guess what folks, we dont have any idea who these guys are spying on. All were doing is taking their word. So why dont we go to the secret committee of senators that are sworn under oath in both political parties.
They cant reveal what theyre told, and tell them what exactly is being done. And if you need more authority to spy on the bad guys, well give it to you. And if youre doing more than spying on the bad guys, were going to stop you. But right now, after 52 months of this program were being asked to say trust me.
BIDEN: Trust me.
MATTHEWS: But doesnt the law require the president...
BIDEN: ... With all due respect, I dont.
MATTHEWS: But doesnt the law already, Senator, require that the administration notify all members of the intelligence committees?
BIDEN: The answer is in my view, yes it does. But what Im trying to do to put pressure quite frankly on the intelligence committee and have this oversight responsibility responsibly exercised, its kind of cut through the legalities of it. Just go to the common sense of it. Can anyone imagine that the founders sat around one day and said once were at war, the Congress and the courts dont matter anymore, and the president can do whatever he wants, for as long as he wants, without telling anybody what hes doing.
MATTHEWS: Does the guy at the Claymont fire house care about this? Are you hearing from regular people, Senator, they care about being spied on?
BIDEN: No. What they do care about is they want to know whether or notthey dont trust the judgment of this outfit. They dont trust their judgment. So they want to know somethings actually being done. So the kind of questions I get asked, ChrisI wasnt literally at the fire hall. But at the fire hall is the following. "Hey, Joe, how many terrorists have they listened in on? Who many have they gotten? Who have they arrested? What impact has it had? Whats going on? Is it working?" And the truth of the matter is we have no idea.
BIDEN: We have no idea.
MATTHEWS: Well be right back with Senator Joe Biden of Delaware.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Were back with Senator Joe Biden. You know, Brit Hume last night with the vice president got into some interesting territory beyond the shooting incident. He asked him if the vice president, you sir, have the right to declassify information, materials from the federal government, and he said yes, Ive beenan executive order gives me the right to declassify. Is that your understanding, Senator, that the vice president of the United States has that authority?
BIDEN: Yes. Five days after we invaded Iraq, the executive order was changed to include the vice president being able to declassify. My lawyers on the Judiciary Committee tell me that that is probablythat is constitutionally and appropriately written and that he does have the right to declassify.
MATTHEWS: But under the Constitution, the vice president of the United States, as I often like to remind people, has only two duties and authorities. One is to preside over your body, the Senate, as a legislative officer, and the other is to replace the president in grave circumstances. Since when does the vice president have executive authority of any kind? I mean, is this a new Constitutional development here?
BIDEN: Well, it is in one sense that up to now, theres been an executive order going back to the Clinton administration saying departments heads have the right to declassify information that was otherwise classified. So that would include the national security adviser, the head of the CIA, et cetera.
It was amended and based on what my lawyers tell me, it probably is appropriate that he could declassify. The real question is, what did he declassify? Did he selectively declassify things in order to create an impression about the war, about the rationale that, in fact, was inaccurate?
So what I want to know from the vice president, is not did you have the authority, Mr. Vice President, did you, in fact, authorize Libby to declassify and did you specifically tell him what he could declassify, or did you try to say to him use your judgment, which would notwhich would notbe lawful?
MATTHEWS: Thats what I was going to ask. In other words, you believeand you are saying sothat theres a distinction between saying I have the authority from the president under an executive order to declassify formally a set of documents. I dont have the authority simply to pass out documents, and by the fact of passing them out, declassify them.
BIDEN: Thats correct. Thats my understanding of the law. And it seems only rational that would be the case. You cannot, it seems to me, based onand were literally briefing this right now.
You cannot give the vice president the authority to declassify specific information and then turn around and say he can just give carte blanche to an assistant of his to declassify whatever he wants. But the thing that bothers me the most aboutIm sorry.
MATTHEWS: If this goes to court, Senator, and this becomes an issue, we have got Scooter Libby whos going to court facing 30 years imprisonment because of felony charges, if he gets convicted. His defense will be, according to whats leaked out of this case, my superiors authorized me to pass out classified materials.
Well, by my count, hes got one definite superior, the vice president of the United States. And youre saying if the vice president says to Scooter, Scooter, put out whatever would make the case that I was right about nuclear weapons and the al Qaeda and whatever elsewhatever helps our case and blows away Joe Wilson, youre saying thats not legal?
BIDEN: I dont think thats legal. If he said you can declassify this piece of information here that says the following, Scooter Libby, I believe, under the law would be able to declassify that, because he had gotten permission to do so.
And its not onlyby the way, we asked Secretary Rice, who was before my committee, our committee, the Foreign Relations Committee, the day before yesterday or yesterday, and said are youwere you in the chain of command, Scooter Libbys superior? Could you have authorized Scooter Libby to declassify, and did you do that? She said I refuseI will not answer that, because its a case in controversy now and I will not get involved in it.
But thislook. You know, Ive had this discussion on your program before. I believe, still believe, that from the get-go this administration has cherry-picked intelligence information to justify and build a rationale to go to war when they did, when the facts didnt warrant it at that moment, to create a threat, an imminency, that did not exist.
And now it seems to me that Scooter Libbys admitting that, you know, the vice president said declassify selective information. I would like to know what did he say could be declassified.
MATTHEWS: The vice president said there was a nuclear threat from Iraq, that threatened us. He said there was a connection with 9/11. He said that we would be greeted as liberators. When are you in the Senate going to hold this man to account for what he says?
BIDEN: Well, Ive held him to account every day, including in the Oval Office, with the president of the United States, with him sitting there, when the president asked me why I was, quote, "trying to call for Rumsfelds resignation." This was a year and a half ago.
And I said, Mr. President, I think he does not serve us well, and in all due respect, vice president, were you not a constitutional officer, I would call for your resignation. The president asked me, in effect, why and I said name me one piece of significant advice youve gotten about Iraq that has turned out to be correct. Theyve been flat wrong on every major piece of advice theyve given the president.
MATTHEWS: And youve been right most of the time. Senator, its great to have you on, and by the way, for people that want to get a really profile about Senator BidenI mean, seriously, its a great article so far, everything Ive read. Its in "Gentlemens Quarterly," an unusual venue for the senator from Delaware, but I think its a nice way to see a nice, colorful piece about a great guy. Thank you, Senator. Thanks for coming on.
BIDEN: Thank you very much.
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