MSNBC Hardball with Chris Matthews - Transcript
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MATTHEWS: Thank you David Shuster. Republican Congressman Peter King of New York is chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. He's been one of the loudest critics of this deal. And when Congress reconvenes next week, he'll be introducing emergency legislation to suspend the ports deal and require a 45-day investigation into Dubai Ports World.
Also with us is U.S. former presidential adviser David Gergen, who is currently teaching at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Congressman and David, let me ask you this question. Were you both surprised? You first, Congressman, to know that the secretary of defense had no idea that this deal had gone down even though his department is supposed to sign off for it.
REP. PETER KING ®, NEW YORK: No, I wasn't, Chris. This is handled by, for the most part, middle levels, under secretaries, assistant secretaries. And they should have spotted to the significance of this. When I started talking to them last week when I started on my own investigation, I realized that this was really under the radar screen and the people looking at it were looking upon it as a financial transaction, as a foreign investment and there was no investigation.
Despite what any cabinet officials are saying, there was no real investigation at all as to terrorism or security. That was not done. This was looked upon as a financial deal.
MATTHEWS: David Gergen, you're the political assessor here. Is this another case of a surprise and a president who was surprised himself by what's going on?
DAVID GERGEN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Absolutely. And what's a hugely surprising, Chris, is this is the second straight week after the Cheney flak last week consumed an entire week of political wrangling and now they have a second week lost in this presidency of such a pivotal time?
I don't know why the president himself didn't say, "I didn't know about this. I'm going to put it on hold. I want to look at this further. I want to consult with Congress, then we'll make a decision." So he left some control in the White House and lowered the temperature and told everybody he had a closer look.
MATTHEWS: But the problem, it seems to me, Congressman King, is that the president came into this game lateit's not a game, obviously. He came into this story late. Here it is, with a deal already cut with our ally, Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. And now he's got a croak the deal, he's got to kill a deal already made which humiliates the other side. He wasn't warned in time to kill the deal before it was made, right?
KING: Yes, that was a mistake made at the middle level. But I agree with David. Once the president did find out and this became known last Tuesday and Wednesday, I think what he should have done is said, "Listen, I understand there's a real concern and I'm going to invoke the 45-day rule. We'll have a full investigation and I'm going to make senior members of Congress aware of what's going on, the speaker, the majority leader, the minority leader and get them all in the room because this does have real consequences."
And if he had done that, it would have diffused it. Even, for instance, when I did the news conference with Chuck Schumer. He's obviously a partisan Democrat. But I'll tell you, throughout the news conference, he kept saying, "I accept the fact the president may not have known about this. But now it is time for him to put it on hold and conduct the investigation."
If they had done that, this would have been diffused and we could have had a real investigation, because I do have very, real concerns about this company and about Dubai and about United Arab Emirates. But again, perhaps with a full investigation, that could have been done. The reason I spoke out so loudly over the weekend was, when I heard cabinet officials saying, there was a full investigation carried on, it was not. I emphasized again, there was not.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security's assertion, that he had security guarantees in this deal?
KING: No. First of all, they can't have it both ways. They can't say there's no concerns but then say they insisted on guarantees. These guarantees, and I've been told what they arethey only mean something if you can trust the good faith of the company carrying it out.
And that's the initial question. The threshold question was, can we trust them? And that was never examined, that was never investigated. And that's where this went wrong. It was a bureaucratic mistake. It was a middle level management mistake made by people or operating under a pre-9/11 law.
They should have flagged it. They didn't. But once the White House found out about it, which would have been last Monday or Tuesday, they still had ample time to head this off by saying, "We're going to put it on hold and we're going to fully investigate it because we realize after 9/11, that the rules have changed."
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, are there any Arab states who own companies that you would trust to do this deal?
KING: Well certainly not the United Arab Emirates at this stage, or Dubai. But again, maybe Jordan. Obviously he's a good partner. That's one I can think of off hand. But again, Chris, it's not a question of Arab. It'sI mean, UAE is different because they were one of only three governments to recognize the Taliban. They were very reluctant to get involved in tracking down bin Laden's bank accounts.
So there's a history there which we're very concerned about. Maybe they've overcome it. And I know they've done some cooperating. But again, there's no investigation to prove that and I don't know who's the middle levels of this company. I don't know what the hiring practices are. I don't know, for instance, what they do when they manage the port in Dubai itself. All of this has to be looked into.
Listen, I come from a district which lost so many people on 9/11. I don't want any future 9/11 Commission asking me what I did when I found out about this company and just sat back and did nothing.
MATTHEWS: You have a staff on Capitol Hill. You've been in politics a while, Congressman. Do you think the president was properly staffed? We just heardwe heard him last night, actually, Governor Ridge, the former Homeland Security Secretary, said he doesn't think the president got a proper heads-up on this about the heat level here that was going to go up. Do you agree with him?
KING: I agree with that completely. I do. I agree with Tom Ridge completely. I have a great regard for the president. He has not been well-served here, because I have never seen such a spontaneous, grassroots response arising as on this, and also, he has been ill-advised when he has been told that there was a full investigation carried out when there wasn't.
So at every level, I think he's gotten very, very bad advice. I still hope he can maybe call on the Dubai company itself to voluntary step aside for 45 days to have an investigation carried out.
They can say we understand there's a controversy, we understand that, you know, the American people are concerned. To show our good faith, we're going to step aside for 45 days and urge an investigation to carried out, in conjunction with Congress.
MATTHEWS: One of the advantages of Vice President Cheney, when he was selected for V.P., according to everything we've learned, is the president felt he had a strong relationship with Capitol Hill. He would know about these hot buttons. Has the vice president fallen down on the job here
GERGEN: Well, it is hard to know. I don't see that.
MATTHEWS: I mean, isn't this in his portfolio that he's responsible for Congressional relations?
GERGEN: No, I know butit is. But you've got a full scale legislative team there. You know, Chris, it was, you know, six or eight people who have professionally signed full-time to work with the Congress and here all these things. They should have given the signal much earlier. I wouldn't blame that on the vice president.
What I do think, it is not surprising that the president didn't know about the transaction. It was made at the middle levels, as the Congressman says. What is surprising is when he was told about it, what they did about it. And once they learned about it, they knew the heat was there. Why did he make itcome out so strongly and said I threatened to veto it.
Why did he box himself in? He's left himself no options here. And by taking strong stand in favor of this, without consulting Congress and understanding the political realities, he's boxed himself in. It is a lose-lose for him now.
MATTHEWS: You know, remember, David ...
GERGEN: He goes forward with the deal and Republicans get hit or hurt, or he cancels the deal and he gets hurt with the Arabs.
MATTHEWS: You know, this isn't the same, of course, in terms of the sensitivities, but remember when Ronald Reagan committed to Helmut Kohl that he would visit those cemeteries and then he got locked into the deal and he had to honor the deal?
And, of course, it involved the embarrassment of having to go visit the cemetery with S.S. people. And is this one of these things where you make a deal with a foreign leader or government and you really have to stick to it, even if it is a bad deal.
GERGEN: No, because the deal in the Bitburg situation, that deal was made by his own White House team. Those were made by the people closest to him. In this situation, as the Congressman King has out ...
MATTHEWS: I see.
GERGEN: ... it was made by others. And I think at that point ...
MATTHEWS: So he could have gotten out of this.
GERGEN: ... he could've gotten out of this.
KING: Yes, I think he could have gotten out of it by saying listen, I appreciate this, but I'm president of the United States. I want to review this on my own. I want to be reassured, because this is a very sensitive issue, et cetera.
MATTHEWS: Do you have another shot at the bite of the apple here, Congressman King? Do you think the president, after he thinks about this a bid and realizes the unanimity of opposition from your party as well as the other party, that he might say I don't want to go all the way with this. I don't want to threaten to veto anymore.
KING: Chris, I certainly hope so. And I hope he can find a way out of it. Again, one way could be to persuade Dubai itself to ask to have the contract put on hold until the investigation is completed.
But where the president really was given bad adviceyou know, this wasn't just a few bomb throwers. You're talking about Bill Frist and Denny Hastert. I mean, these are the heart and soul of the Republican Party. This is mainstream Republicanism.
And for people like that to speak out as strongly as they did, and then for the president to come out and say he's going to veto whatever they do, that is just creating a needless war and, again, in time of foreign conflict, for us to get involved in this, to me, is very dangerous.
But I have no choice. I mean, if it comes to a vote, I'm going to vote for it and I'll vote to override the veto, because, again, this is reallyand it's the president more than anyone who has said the rules changed on 9/11.
MATTHEWS: Would you exclude Senator Schumer from that list of bomb throwers?
KING: Actually, I'll tell you I would. And I mean it seriously. I mean, Chris, that's why this issue is different. The Democrats are not being that partisan. I mean, some will, I'm sure they'll jump in. But Chuck Schumer was very careful in his press release and in his news conference to point out that he was not blaming the president for this and that he really thought that the president had a chance to correct him.
MATTHEWS: Hey, great. Thank you very much for coming on, Congressman Peter King of New York and David Gergen of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
KING: Thank you, Chris.
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