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MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript - Privacy Rights and National Security

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MATTHEWS: Well, joining me now is U.S. Congressman Jim Himes, Democrat of Connecticut. He`s a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman Himes, it looks to me, if you listen to what the president said with Charlie Rose the other night, last night, and you look at the testimony today, the president could not have been more clear. He directly denied that the United States government has the legal capability or intends to do if it did have the legal capability to try to find out what we`re saying on the telephone or what we`re saying on our e-mail, that it has to be gone through with a -- if you do get a target opportunity, you are going to have to go through the courts and get a warrant. And that would be the FBI, not the NSA.

So, it sounds to me like there`s a lot of room between the scandal here, as it has been described, and the reality.

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: Yes, well, part of the problem, Chris, is there`s a ton of misinformation out there.People believe that their phone calls are being listened to, that their e- mails are being intercepted. And the president is right. By all accounts, from everybody that we have talked to, that is not true.

Now, that doesn`t mean we shouldn`t -- we shouldn`t still ask a lot of questions about, you know, a historically unprecedented collection effort. There`s no indication that capturing -- the Verizon disclosure -- that capturing people`s telephone metadata is illegal.

It -- in fact, it appears to be legal under the Patriot Act. But we haven`t had a chance as a country to really have a discussion about whether we`re comfortable with that. And we also haven`t done the work, which we need to do, of course, to find out when the -- General Alexander and others say that this has been important to helping us -- or contributed to helping us with 50 terror attacks, how important?

Those of us charged with oversight need to get into that and find out, what was it essential, was it tangential? You know, what are we giving up for what is a an historically unprecedented collected effort here?

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s talk about checks and balances. Did you, sir, know about all this before Snowden blew the whistle?

HIMES: Well, I didn`t but I`m not a good case study because I`ve only been on the Intelligence Committee --

MATTHEWS: You`re a member of Congress. Shouldn`t you know?

HIMES: Your average member of Congress who`s not on the Intelligence Committee, most of those people did not know about it. Now, the intelligence agency said that they informed the Intelligence Committees. And somewhere along the line here, you`re run-of-the-mill member of Congress, that got lost.

So, I wouldn`t tell you whoever`s fault it is. Most members of Congress were not aware of these programs until Snowden leaked them.

MATTHEWS: When you guys hang around and women hang around the cloak room and you take the elevator and the escalator together, all day long, mumbling with each other, talking about the latest scuttlebutt, is it considered proper or improper for people like Dianne Feinstein and the Intelligence Committee on the Senate side and the Democratic -- and members on the House side to share information they get on the Intelligence Committee? Or are they supposed to keep it to themselves?

HIMES: Well, you hope you`re not talking about it too much on elevators and escalators. That`s obviously a risky thing to do.

MATTHEWS: Well, should they share it.

HIMES: I would tell you that programs like this that you showed the polling that split the American people that really take us to the very edge of where we should be comfortable in terms of the government collecting our private information, we need to have a much more comprehensive set of disclosure for all members of Congress for more than a small group of people to know about it.

MATTHEWS: I agree with that. I think the country has to have checks and balances on everything like this including wars. By the way, when are you going to vote on getting involved in the war in Syria? When are we going to vote in the Congress on these kind of decisions?

HIMES: You know, Chris, speaking as one member here, there are a whole lot of areas where the executive to my way of thinking has probably just stepped a little far over the line in terms of committing troops in terms of getting information that I`m not sure we`re all comfortable were gotten. And frankly with -- you remember two weeks ago, DOJ going after "The Associated Press". You know, we`re really pushing the line of where we`ve been historically in protecting civil liberties and freedom of the press and Congress`, of course, constitutional duty to declare war.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Someone should remind the president and the rest of the people in this country that even when Japan attacked, the empire of Japan attacked Hawaii, even then when it was a clear-cut we had to play defense and go after them, they still went to Congress for approval of declaration of war. Now, we`re making these wars -- what they`re called wars of choice and we`re going in and helping the Libyans backing from behind, and then we`re going into Syria.

How about a little vote now and then? It`s called democracy. Thank you, Congressman Jim Hines of Connecticut.

HIMES: Yes, I hear you. Thanks, Chris.

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