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MSNBC Hardball Transcript

Location: Unknown

January 6, 2004 Tuesday

HEADLINE: HARDBALL For January 6, 2004

BYLINE: Chris Matthews; David Shuster

GUESTS: John Kerry; Ed Gillespie; John Tournour; Sid Rosenberg; Bobby Thompson; Judy Bachrach; John Fund

How can John Kerry stop the Dean machine?

ANNOUNCER: Now, on HARDBALL with Chris Matthews, just 13 days to go before the Iowa caucuses, and while Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt are out in front, Kerry is hoping a surprise finish in Iowa will shake up the race. Chris asks Senator Kerry how he plans to do it.

Baseball great Pete Rose finally comes clean, admitting he bet on baseball. But should he be allowed to get back in the game? That's the "HARDBALL Debate."

Plus, is America a nation divided? The surprising results of a new poll show the battle for the White House will be a tight race. Republican Party chairman Ed Gillespie, "Vanity Fair's" Judy Bachrach and the "Wall Street Journal's" John Fund are here for the Political Buzz.

Now, here's Chris Matthews.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: I'm Chris Matthews. Let's play HARDBALL.

The big story tonight, with just 13 days to go to the Iowa caucuses, what does Senator John Kerry need to do to win in the Hawkeye State? He'll be here to explain how he plans to do it.

But first, former Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley threw his weight behind Howard Dean today. HARDBALL's David Shuster has the report.



DAVID SHUSTER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In his endorsement, Bill Bradley stated what has become an article of faith for Howard Dean's most energetic supporters.

BRADLEY: The Dean campaign is one of the best things that's happened to American democracy in decades.

SHUSTER: Bill Bradley was Al Gore's Democratic opponent four years ago and with both men from that campaign now supporting Dean, the former governor of Vermont is claiming even more momentum.

HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Iowa, you have an opportunity not just to change presidents, but to change America.

SHUSTER: For Dean's rivals, especially John Kerry, the endorsement is another one that at one time might have been hard to imagine.

Six months ago, polls had Kerry leading Dean in New Hampshire 25 percent to 19 percent. Now Kerry trails 37 to 14.

It was Kerry who was supposed to be the Democratic frontrunner. He is an expert on foreign policy. He has served in the U.S. Senate since 1985, and his national prominence goes back 31 years to when he returned with medals from Vietnam and offered dramatic testimony calling for an end to the war.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

SHUSTER: Lieutenant Kerry had commanded a swift boat on the Mecong Delta. He was one of the few figures who could bridge the gap between radical peaceniks and ordinary Americans who were quietly uncomfortable with the government's policies.

Kerry's unique status and credibility were also supposed to help him unite Democrats in this, the first presidential campaign after 9/11.

But for months, Kerry has had some difficulties connecting. He has gone through staff upheavals, and he has changed his slogan.

KERRY: Stand up if you're willing to show the courage to give America a real deal.

SHUSTER: However, in an effort to pull off a political surprise, Kerry has been pouring time and money into the Iowa caucuses. And the Kerry campaign says voters are now moving in his direction.

(on camera) The problem is that time is running out, and with 13 days until the Iowa caucuses, John Kerry faces the same daunting task that Bill Bradley did four years ago, and that is derailing a frontrunner as the clock is winding down.

I'm David Shuster for HARDBALL in Des Moines.


MATTHEWS: Senator John Kerry is a Democratic presidential candidate.

Senator Kerry, I want you to look at what General Clark said on our program last night about the U.S. occupation in Iraq. Let's take a look, Senator.


GEN. WESLEY CLARK (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It was a mistake. It was a strategic blunder to divert the U.S. military into Iraq. Saddam Hussein was a bad guy, but he wasn't an imminent threat, and he wasn't connected to 9-11. And yet we sent our army in there; we're now bogged down in there.


MATTHEWS: Senator Kerry, do you agree with those sentiments, that verdict on the war with Iraq? It was a mistake, it bogged us down in a country we shouldn't be in?

KERRY: I think the president made a huge mistake in the way that he went to war. Obviously, I've said that many times.

He broke his promises to Americans. He didn't build an international coalition. He didn't exhaust the remedies of the inspections. And he certainly didn't go to war as a last resort. And that is exactly why I'm holding him accountable.

And I think my campaign is growing. We feel energy out here in Iowa. I know we're doing well, and we are going to surprise a lot of people.

MATTHEWS: General Clark made a harsher indictment when I asked him last night on HARDBALL about the motives this administration had for going into Iraq. Here are the motives that General Clark cited for our war with Iraq.


MATTHEWS: Are you saying the president of the United States inflicted casualties on another country and accepted American casualties as a cheap political stunt?

CLARK: I'm saying that there were a whole bunch of motives that combined together.

MATTHEWS: What were they.

CLARK: I think this was passed through a political filter. There were some people who said that Saddam Hussein was still a problem. Although he wasn't an imminent threat, there were some people who hyped the intelligence. Maybe they did believe he was a threat.

There were some people who said no, what we need to do is just find a company-a country and beat up on them so that other people in the Arab world will know we're big and tough and strong.

There were some people who said well, this is a way to sort of help the Middle East problem and help Israel. We'll go take out Saddam Hussein, and that has political consequences in the United States.

Ultimately, all of this was passed through a political filter. Karl Rove, he passed judgment on it. He even sent out apparently a memo back in early 2002 saying George W. Bush is going to run on his war record.


MATTHEWS: Those are serious charges. He accused the administration of hyping the evidence. He said that they did it to help them politically at home by helping Israel or seeming to help Israel and its regional problems. He said that basically it was a political stunt to help the president.

Do you buy that very harsh indictment of the administration's policy in invading Iraq?

KERRY: Well, I'm going to let Wes Clark speak for Wes Clark.

What I believe is that the administration made an enormous mistake in judgment, no matter what it was. And a lot of it was driven by Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and people-Dick Cheney, who had a strong belief to believe she had to change the order of things in the Middle East.

The point is they misled America. They told the Congress and the American people it was about weapons of mass destruction and they'd go as a last resort.

And I believe I can hold this president accountable because there was a right way to hold Saddam Hussein accountable and a wrong way to do it. Every step of the way, this president chose the wrong way. And the American people understand that. We're paying an enormous price for it now.

One thing I want to make clear, Chris, is every American supports the troops who are over there. As a veteran of Vietnam, I remember what it was like when people confused the war and the warriors. I don't want that to happen. I want the young men and woman who are there now to know that Americans support them, even as we say that our president misled America and exercised bad judgment.

MATTHEWS: As you go among the people of the Democratic Party and your state, as you go across the country preparing for the caucuses in two weeks and the primaries in New Hampshire and beyond, do you sense that the Democratic people who vote in these occasions are anti-war rather than pro-war?

In other words, can you conceive of them nominating a Lieberman, an Edwards or a Gephardt, who are pro-war?

KERRY: Chris, what I think the American people-what people in Iowa want is leadership. They want strong leadership. They know that we can't win the presidency unless we have a nominee who is able to stand up to George Bush, stand up on the issue of security, and guarantee Americans that we Democrats know how to make our country safe.

I think it is critical that we have a nominee who can point out that George Bush has run a foreign policy that's been both arrogant and reckless and ideological, at the same time as we can point to the strength of our ability to be able to protect America and wage a legitimate war on terror.

I know how to do that. And I think we need a nominee who has that experience.

George Bush has said he's going to run on preemption, on the war on terror, on making America safer. Well, I think if we're going to answer that, we need a nominee who has the ability and the credibility to convince Americans that we can run a better war on terror and make America safer.

I can do that, and I think there are a number of other candidates in the field who don't have that experience and that ability.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you the frontal question and take some time with the answer, Senator Kerry. Remember that great question that Roger Mudd put to your colleague Edwards up in Massachusetts. Why do you want to be president?

KERRY: I want to be president, Chris, because this country is being led in the radically wrong direction. Because we have the ability in America to do so much better in so many areas. Because children are being left behind, because our education system needs lifting up. Because the workplace in America today is extraordinarily unfair to the average person in our country.

The power of large special interests, the crony capitalism and crony government of this administration, is stealing our own democracy in America.

I want to restore that democracy. I want to make the workplace fair. I want to lead America to a stronger, safer place in the world.

The presidency is the center of the action. It is the place where you set the agenda of the nation. In the budget, in the use of the bully pulpit, in the veto pen, in the presidential leadership and ability to set the conversation of the nation on a daily basis.

I want that conversation to be about America's future, about hope, and I want it to be inclusive. I want it to be about all Americans coming together and finding the common ground, not driving a wedge behind Americans and looking for the lowest common denominator of American politics.

We can do better, and I'm going to lead us to a place where we do better.

MATTHEWS: Do you believe that George W. Bush, a man who a lot of people like personally, do you think that he's too buddy-buddy with big corporate leaders?

KERRY: Yes. Yes, I do.

MATTHEWS: Do you think he's too buddy-buddy with Enron, with Halliburton, the former-the vice president's former company? Can you cite examples of where you see crony capitalism being practiced by this president?

KERRY: There's crony capitalism at every level of their government.

I mean, look what happened to the energy bill: $50 billion of oil and gas subsidies, to the exclusion of alternative renewable clean energy in America, to the ability to be able to move America to greater security through energy independence.

Look at the Medicare bill. You pick up the headlines of the "Wall Street Journal" and the "New York Times," other papers and it stayed drug companies win victory on the Hill. Who lost, if the drug companies won? The seniors lost.

They turned that $139 million of lobbying fees into $139 billion of windfall profits for the drug companies.

They prohibited drug companies-they prohibited Medicare from even negotiating a bulk price so you could lower the price to seniors. They prohibited the import of lower priced drugs from Canada.

Why did they do that, these people who believe in the free market? They did it to line the pockets of their friends, their campaign contributors.

This is the single most extraordinary moment that I've seen in all the time I've been in public life, where there is such a complete connection between legislation, the Congress, the White House, and large corporate interests.

And I'll tell you, Chris, there are a lot of CEO's a lot of businessmen and women in America who are living by the rules, who know that the rules work best and they make more money when it works for all of them. That's what we need to restore.

MATTHEWS: Do you think the president of the United States is corrupt?

KERRY: No. I'm not saying that. I think that there's a-you know, different people have different attitudes about how government works. They have different philosophies about what's important to them.

Their philosophy has always been one of protecting larger businesses and of taking care of their friends in this way. That's the way they're funded in their campaigns.

That's why the greatest problem in America remains the amount of money that is loose in American politics. And you can connect the dots. John McCain connected those dots brilliantly four years ago.

And the reason we don't have health care in America for all Americans, the reason that-even today, the Labor Department issued an instruction as to how companies can avoid paying overtime to workers. I mean, here they are destroying years of the 40-hour work week and trying to deprive the average American of overtime pay while they take care of people earning more than $200,000 a year.

It's the worst I've ever seen it, Chris, in all the time I've been in public life.

MATTHEWS: Let's come back and talk to Senator Kerry. Thank you sir. Come back. We're going to talk about your campaign in Iowa, your campaign in New Hampshire and then on to South Carolina.

Back with more with Senator Kerry after this break.

ANNOUNCER: Still to come on HARDBALL, Saddam Hussein's in U.S. custody. But Osama bin Laden is still on the loose. Chris asks John Kerry how the hunt for Osama will shape the battle for the White House.

The "HARDBALL Debate." Should Pete Rose be allowed back into baseball now that he's admitted to gambling on the game?

America divided. Get ready for another close presidential election. We'll have the results of the surprising new poll with Republican chairman Ed Gillespie, "Vanity Fair's" Judy Bachrach and "The Wall Street Journal's" John fund.

John Kerry, Pete Rose and the Political Buzz, all coming up on HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. I'm back with presidential candidate John Kerry.

Senator Kerry, I feel for you in this campaign, because it seems of all the candidates, you're trying to prepare yourself for the general election against President Bush.

And to do so, you can't go too far left; you've got to stay in the center of the Democratic Party, whereas the other candidates, it seems to me, have more freedom in that department, to move to the left, pull an upset against you and then think about it tomorrow.

Is that what's going on here?

KERRY: No, I don't think so, Chris, although there may be some of that going on. But I think that the war was a very polarizing issue.

I'm moving now. My campaign is on all cylinders. We're going full speed. I'm campaigning for every vote. I feel the energy out here in Iowa, and I think we're moving in New Hampshire. So I'm quite confident about the next couple of weeks, and I look forward to it.

MATTHEWS: Do you think you belong to that category of candidates who more or less are unhappy with this war, the way it's been fought, along with General Clark, along with Howard Dean and not necessarily in companionship politically on the issue of the war with people like Lieberman, Edwards and Gephardt?

Are you one of the anti-war candidates?

KERRY: I am-Yes, in the sense that I don't believe the president took us to war as he should have, yes, absolutely.

Do I think this president violated his promises to America? Yes, I do, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Let me...

KERRY: Was there a way to hold Saddam Hussein accountable? You bet there was, and we should have done it right.

MATTHEWS: One of your arguments made by your competitors is we could have gotten Saddam Hussein, and we didn't have to get Saddam Hussein right away. We did have to get Osama bin Laden. We still haven't gotten him because we were diverted by going after Saddam Hussein.

Do you believe in that prescription?

KERRY: Absolutely. No question about it. I agree that there was no rush there.

I also believe that this administration failed when it had an opportunity, and it failed because the civilian leadership made decisions that held our own troops back. And they were unwilling to commit to the kind of daring necessary to capture Osama bin Laden.

The military mission of Tora Bora, I was the first person in the country to point out publicly that that was a failed mission. And it was a failed mission because they went in; they had him cornered in the mountains. They knew it, and they didn't deploy the troops necessary to kill him.

In fact, what they wound up doing was breaking up the beehive. They didn't kill the killer bees; they didn't kill the queen bee. They dispersed them.

Now we're living, in fact, in a more dangerous world where this administration is not even building the levels of cooperation that they need to on a global basis.

The real war on terror, Chris, is not Iraq; it is not military. It is an intelligence gathering and law enforcement operation. And the real war on terror requires the president to deal with Pakistan more effectively so we can do what we need to do in the northwest corner of the country and on the border, which is where Osama bin Laden is.

And until you deal with the radical Islamic issue, the nuclear weapons that might fall in their hands, you are not making the United States of America as safe as we ought to be.

MATTHEWS: If you were president today, how would you pressure Musharraf, the president of Pakistan, to get tough on his own Islamist fundamentalist dangerous people and at the same time a second front in capturing Osama bin Laden, and at the same time survive?

KERRY: I think the most important thing, Chris, that we need to do is make certain that there's a fail safe mechanism for the protection of the nuclear weapons in Pakistan. That's the danger.

There have been two attempts on his life in recent days. And if those weapons were to fall into the hand of radical Islamic, then you have an entirely different situation particularly with Osama bin Laden in the country. That's the first order of business.

And the second order of business is to work through whatever is necessary to strengthen and empower the capacity for democracy for him to be able to hold on. That is important to us.

But you can't do it halfway and you can't do it the way they've done it without even completing the task of Afghanistan itself. We haven't moved rapidly enough to do the reconstruction there.

The opium-the opium sales and the amount of the crop coming out of Afghanistan has grown enormously under the Bush administration, and that's what's funding now some of the warlords and some of the radical Taliban efforts in the north part of the country.

MATTHEWS: You take an issue with comments by Howard Dean, about whether we should give a fair trial, whether he's innocent until proven guilty with regard to Osama bin Laden.

Watching those tapes and listening to those tapes as all of us on this program have done, and you have certainly done over the last year, do you believe Osama bin Laden has already convicted himself in the way that he's described the events leading up to 9/11?

KERRY: I do believe that, Chris. I think any reasonable American understands that. He's not only bragged about it; he's promised he's going to do it again.

But more than that-look, the question Howard Dean was asked was a very simple question. He was asked, "Do you believe Osama bin Laden should be tried in the United States, and do you believe he should be given the death penalty?"

The simple quick answer for presidential candidate is yes and yes. Instead, Howard Dean went into a twisted explanation about how he couldn't pronounce him guilty and so forth and so on.

Well, Howard Dean is not the judge; he's not the jury. He's running for president of the United States.

We sent our troops to Afghanistan to kill Osama bin Laden. And it is not difficult for somebody to say yes, he's guilty. Yes, we ought to try him, but I believe he's guilty. I mean, that's a simple matter of belief that is reasonable, it seems to me.

MATTHEWS: OK. It's great having you on, Senator John Kerry.

KERRY: Thank you.

Content and programming copyright 2004 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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