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MSNBC Hardball Transcript

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MATTHEWS: Democratic National Committee, today, ran a full page ad in "The New York Times" questioning who knew what about the false uranium charge in President Bush's State of the Union? The ad says Bush should be held accountable with an independent bipartisan investigation. But, here's former President Bill Clinton earlier this week, throwing cold water on his fellow Democrats' zeal to investigate.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This State of the Union deal, they decided to use the British intelligence. The president said it was British intelligence. And they said on balance, they shouldn't have done it. You know, everybody makes mistakes when they're president. I mean, you cannot make as many calls as you have to make without messing up once in a while. The thing we ought to be focused on now is what is the right thing to do now. That's what I think.


MATTHEWS: But now, get this, his wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton wants an investigation. She wants one, he doesn't. According to the "Washington Times," Mrs. Clinton said: "I think there should be an independent investigation. I've called for it. How credible are these claims? What else do we need to find out about other claims?"

So, which Democrat is right, Bill or Hill? Joining us now is Democratic presidential candidate, the Reverend Al Sharpton, who just got back from Africa just this moment. I know you are fatigued from your long trip, but I have got to ask you about the political craziness in New York state right now.

Bill Clinton got on "Larry King" the other night. I don't know if he was pandering to the audience because it was a Bob Dole show that night. But he said that the Democrats should stop asking questions about what the president said in the State of the Union, and Hillary Clinton, the Senator from New York state says, no, let's find out and let's find out what he was up to. What do you think, Reverend?

AL SHARPTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think it's deeper than whether Bill and Hillary are having a spat about this. We're talking about a president that used this as part of the justification to rally America and the world to war. Clearly, this must be investigated. It must be bipartisan. It must be unequivocal.

This is extremely serious. As you just said, I just came back from Africa. All of the people I spoke with in Africa are highly offended that the president of the United States in a State of the Union Address would mislead the world about an African nation with something as serious as selling uranium. I think that this must be investigated.

MATTHEWS: But that's not an issue, though, Reverend Sharpton. Everyone knows that there was uranium sales from Niger years ago, back in about ten years ago or so. It's not like he has never been it before, Saddam Hussein. It's whether he has done it recently with an attempt to reconstitute his nuclear program. Isn't that the issue?

SHARPTON: No. The issue is for President Bush to talk about it as he is making a broader and general argument with imminent danger. There was no one, including me, that watched that speech that thought he was referring to uranium sales of 10 years ago. He was setting the whole backdrop of why we were in imminent danger and of things that were happening within the time period that was the reason for military response. Let's not play games. No one was talking about ten years ago.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, was it worth it for the Democratic National Committee to spend $90,000 in "The New York Times" ad today, this full-page ad. Is that a good, smart campaign tactic?

SHARPTON: Well, I don't know if it's a campaign tactic. I think it's the right and moral thing to do. I hope they do it ten more days. Because I think anytime, first of all, Chris, you have a party that would take a president to impeachment versed on a personal matter, you clearly cannot talk about—we can't get in a bipartisan investigation of something as serious as this.

And we are talking about people that went to war and we're talking about accusing another nation of something. So, I mean, it's certainly the Democrats that wanted to pry in the personal lives of Bill Clinton. Clearly those Republicans cannot tell us that we shouldn't have at least an investigation, if not more serious matters when you are dealing with something that's far more involved with government and policy and our standing in the world than what they brought Bill Clinton up on impeachment proceeds about.

MATTHEWS: It sounds like you are suggesting that the president himself lied about nuclear—about the nuclear threat. Or are you saying some of his people, who are a bit more belligerent or hawkish than he is, Condoleezza Rice, the vice president's office. Are you saying that he did it or one of the people put the stuff in the speech that shouldn't have been in there?

SHARPTON: I'm saying a bipartisan investigation will tell us the answer to that. I don't think that the answer to that should be guessed at. Inherent in your question is the reason we need to investigate. Did Bush knowingly lie or was it anybody else?

MATTHEWS: You're just back from Liberia on the west coast of Africa. Do you believe that the president is moving with the right speed to put our troops there. Is he—what do you think we should be doing, putting the troops on the ground in a police role?

SHARPTON: I think - I think we need to send in troops for a humanitarian reasons, to help bring the food and the medical supplies in. Every one of the warring factions have asked for the United States to come in. There's no disagreement on that. I remember when Taylor's—the cabinet officials in Ghana. I met with LURD's people and the people from Mobel—MODEL. I think that every warring faction has made it clear that they would become the United States to come in. I'm not talking about a military intervention. I'm talking about ...


MATTHEWS: Well, why should we intervene? You make it sound like we don't have to bring any rifles with us. Why don't we just go in unarmed if everybody wants us. Why don't we send in Peace Corps volunteers. You make it sound like a cakewalk.

SHARPTON: Well, what I'm making it sound like is that it is the exact opposite of what happens in other parts of the country where people don't want us to come in and we go anyway. So what is so strange here is here you have everyone wanting you to go in. You have American interests involved. We have been involved there with Samuel K. Doe and others.


SHARPTON: And why the reluctance? Why ...


MATTHEWS: Well, why do you think? Answer the question.

SHARPTON: Because I think that—I think that Mr. Bush has a different policy when it comes to certain parts of the world, and certain people of the world, than he does with other people. Clearly, people are being killed there. Carnage is going on. Bodies stacked up in front of the American embassy and the American president is ambiguous and operating at turtle speed? This, I think, is an insult to the world community, and clearly I think he ought to be challenged on this, which is why I went and met myself.

MATTHEWS: Let me give you the 180-degree look at this. Suppose the president of the United States puts a couple of thousand G.I.'s into the streets of Monrovia, and a bunch of those kids with—without shirts, poor kids with automatic weapons, some of them may be hopped for all we know, start shooting at the G.I.'s and they shoot back and kill a bunch of these African kids. That picture is going to look like hell on television here in the United States. It's going to look like hell in the world. Americans mowing down African kids, poor kids. Isn't that what he's afraid of?

SHARPTON: Well, you're the ...

MATTHEWS: That's what I'm afraid of.

SHARPTON: You're an apologist, Chris. Well, what I'm afraid of is that you already have poor kids already being stacked up, their bodies on top of one another in front of the American embassy, and we refuse to come in and do anything. No one knows if your picture will come true. Let's deal with the picture that is true. We don't know that that could happen. We do know what is happening, and we know we're doing nothing about it. and I think that that's a moral outrage.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you very much for coming here first off your trip from Africa. Reverend Al Sharpton, running for president.

Content and programming copyright 2003 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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