Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 05/19/15

Guests: Michael Morell, Susan Page, Lizz Winstead, Michael Schmidt, AprilRyan

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Fog of war. Let`s play HARDBALL. Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. I have to start tonight by clearing the air about the fight we had last night right at the top of the show. This is what I want to make clear. Put aside every other aspect of the war we fought with Iraq in 2003, focus on one incontestable reality -- people at the top of the Bush administration said that Saddam Hussein had a nuclear weapon. They said he not only possessed a nuclear weapon but had the ability to deliver it over vast stretches of territory. We know, everyone listening to me now, why they made that claim, why they said Saddam had a nuclear weapon, why they had the ability to threaten even the United States with it. That reason was to get this country into war, to get the skeptics, the people on the fence, the people who didn`t trust the Bush people, the neocons and the rest of them, to act. They knew that a nuclear weapon in the hands of Saddam was something no one could have the nerve to defend, and so they made the claim. They did what it took to make their case for the United States to invade another country on the other side of the world, a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 and had not attacked us, period. Why people bought this, why they were willing to buy this claim is a charge against our democracy, I believe. We ought to have leaders, we ought to have opposition leaders with the guts to stand up against this rush to war on unsubstantiated claims, especially when they were so clearly the last word in a deliberate hard sell for a war on which they had long before set their hearts. I`m joined now by former deputy director of the CIA, Mike Morell. He`s author of a great new book with lots to talk about, "The Great War Of our Time." As well as Susan Page, a regular here on the program, the Washington bureau chief of "USA Today.` Well, let me get this straight. First of all, today in Iowa, Hillary Clinton was asked about the 2003 invasion of Iraq which ousted Saddam Hussein, and here`s her response.   (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) QUESTION: Given the situation in Iraq, do you think that we`re better off without Saddam Hussein in power? HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), FMR. SEC. OF STATE, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, I know that there have been a lot of questions about Iraq posed to candidates over the last weeks. I`ve made it very clear that I made a mistake, plain and simple. And I -- I have written about it in my book. I`ve talked about it in the past. And you know, what we now see is a very different and very dangerous situation. The United States is doing what it can, but ultimately, this has to be a struggle that the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people are determined to win for themselves. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Her answer there varied only slightly from what she did write in the book, "Hard Choices." Quote -- in the book -- "Many senators came to wish they voted against the resolution." That was the war resolution. "I was one of them. I wasn`t alone in getting it wrong, but I still got it wrong plain and simple." Well, let`s go to Mike on this. I think one question last -- why did Hillary Clinton and the other Democrats vote for the Iraq war? MICHAEL MORELL, FMR. DEPUTY CIA DIR.: So what I tried to do in the book -- MATTHEWS: Is that a question you`re going to answer or not answer? MORELL: No, I`m not going to answer. MATTHEWS: Oh, yes, you`re going to pick the question like Hillary does?   (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: I`m glad you`re straight about that. MORELL: OK. Because in the book, what I try to do is not say whether it was the right thing or the wrong thing to do -- MATTHEWS: No, I`m not asking (INAUDIBLE) right thing -- why did they go along with the case that was made? MORELL: Because the context of the times -- the context of the times, which I talk about in the book, was -- was the United States of America had just been attacked, 3,000 -- MATTHEWS: Not by Iraq! MORELL: Wait, wait, wait, wait! Three thousand people had just been killed, OK? MATTHEWS: But not because of Iraq! MORELL: Chris -- Chris, you going to let me answer? MATTHEWS: No, but it -- I have to challenge -- MORELL: Hang on. Hang on.   MATTHEWS: -- you on each point because you`re building a case that`s irrelevant. Go ahead. MORELL: Hang on. The intelligence community -- MATTHEWS: Yes? MORELL: -- was telling the president of the United States -- MATTHEWS: Right. MORELL: -- that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction -- MATTHEWS: Now, let`s talk English. Did they tell him -- and you were there -- that Saddam had a nuclear weapon, which is what Cheney and the rest were saying? MORELL: No, here`s what we said -- MATTHEWS: Did -- did -- no. Cheney said nuclear weapon. MORELL: Chris, here`s what we said. Here`s what we said. We said he has chemical weapons. We said he has a biological weapon production capability. MATTHEWS: Sure.   MORELL: And we said he is reconstituting his nuclear weapons program. MATTHEWS: No, that`s not what Dick Cheney said. MORELL: I`m telling you what we said -- MATTHEWS: Well, you`re briefing these guys to no effect, then! You`re telling them one thing, and they tell the country what sells their war. MORELL: Chris, I am telling you what we told -- MATTHEWS: Was Cheney telling the truth? MORELL: -- the American people. MATTHEWS: Was Cheney telling the truth? MORELL: I -- you`ve got to tell me exactly what they said, and I can tell you whether -- MATTHEWS: Just before the invasion in March of 2003, former vice president Dick Cheney said that Saddam Hussein had reconstituted his nuclear weapons. Here he is. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)   DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We know he`s been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons, and we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: "He has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons." Was that true or not? MORELL: So we were saying -- MATTHEWS: Was that true? MORELL: We were saying -- MATTHEWS: Can you answer that question? Was that true? MORELL: No, that`s not true. MATTHEWS: Well, why did you let him get away with it? MORELL: Look, my job -- my job, Chris, is to -- MATTHEWS: You`re the briefer of the president on intelligence. You`re the top person to go in and tell him what`s going on. You see Cheney make this charge he`s got a nuclear bomb, and then they make subsequent charges he knows how to deliver it, he had the capability, and nobody raced (ph) in and said, No, that`s not what they told him!   MORELL: Chris, Chris, Chris, Chris, wasn`t my job, right? My job -- MATTHEWS: To tell the truth. MORELL: My job -- no, as the briefer -- as the briefer -- MATTHEWS: OK. Go ahead. MORELL: As the briefer, my job is to carry CIA`s best information and best analysis to the president of the United States and make sure he understands it, right? My job is to not watch what they`re saying on TV and say -- MATTHEWS: Do you think it`s a joke? MORELL: What? MATTHEWS: Do you think it`s a joke that Cheney said -- (INAUDIBLE) MORELL: That`s not my job. That`s not my job. MATTHEWS: Did you know he did that? MORELL: No! I wasn`t paying attention. I was studying what was on my desk every morning!   MATTHEWS: So you`re briefing the president on the reasons for war, they`re selling the war using your stuff, saying that you made that case when you didn`t. So they`re using your credibility to make the case for war dishonestly, as you just admitted. MORELL: Look, I`m just telling you -- MATTHEWS: Well, you just admitted it! MORELL: I`m just telling you what we said, Chris -- MATTHEWS: They gave a false presentation of what you said to them. MORELL: On some aspects. On some aspects. MATTHEWS: That he has a nuclear weapon! MORELL: I`m telling you what we said. MATTHEWS: That`s a big deal! MORELL: Chris, I`m telling you what we said. MATTHEWS: Do you agree, it`s a big deal they claimed he had a weapon when you knew that he didn`t?   (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Susan, your thoughts about this? SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY": Well, here`s the other thing in Mike Morell`s book that I think is relevant to this, and that was a case where the vice president and his top aides Scooter Libby, clearly was trying to distort the intelligence to make the case for war, and that was on the question of whether Iraq had a role with al Qaeda before 9/11 -- MATTHEWS: The Prague meeting, so-called. PAGE: That`s right. And it was clear that the CIA concluded there was no connection, zero connection -- MATTHEWS: Why did Cheney say there was a connection -- PAGE: -- and the vice president -- (CROSSTALK) PAGE: -- continued to make the case that there was. MORELL: You`re asking the wrong guy why he said it. MATTHEWS: I`m asking the right guy! Because we weren`t there, and you were.   MORELL: I don`t know why he said it. You need to ask him. MATTHEWS: Well, you don`t think -- MORELL: Chris -- MATTHEWS: Is this too hard to deduce, he did it to get us into a war? MORELL: Chris -- Chris, the only thing can I tell you is what we were telling the administration. MATTHEWS: OK. In your book -- (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Let`s go back to your book because I want to quote4 you. "There were senior administration officials, most significantly the vice president, who continued to imply that there was a current connection between Iraq and al Qaeda. This was inconsistent with the analysis, but the implications continued, all to the detriment of the American people`s understanding of the truth." You`re doing a good job here. And of Dick Cheney`s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, you wrote that, quote, "Libby`s attempt to intimidate a top CIA official was the most blatant attempt to politicize intelligence that I saw in 33 years in the business, and it would not be the last attempt by Libby to do so." So these are bad guys. They`re basically taking the hard work you take (ph) and do as patriots to try to give us the best information on the threat we face, and then they -- they say it comes from you, and then they add to it their spin, Oh, it`s in cahoots with al Qaeda. And oh, by the way, they got the weapon. And they claim it comes from intelligence sources, and it doesn`t. That`s dishonest. It didn`t come from you.   MORELL: So what they were saying about the link between Iraq and al Qaeda publicly was not what the intelligence community -- MATTHEWS: Why were they doing it? MORELL: I don`t know! You need to ask them. MATTHEWS: But what do you think was the reason? Do I have to tell you the reason? MORELL: I think they were -- MATTHEWS: To get us into the fricking war! MORELL: I think they were trying to make a stronger case for the war. MATTHEWS: Why? Why -- so it wasn`t -- this is what I go back to, and I always argue with the neocons and all these people. And I tend to get along with them generally, but they`re wrong. I don`t think the reason for the war was the intel. If it was, they would be satisfied with what you were giving them. They had to add to it because they had some other motive for the war. That`s all I`m saying. If it wasn`t the existing intelligence, then what was the reason for fighting? If they didn`t think he had a nuclear weapon, why did they say it? There`s got to be a motive in here beyond the evidence you gave them. MORELL: So -- so what I say in the book, my impression of the president of the United States, OK -- what I say in the book is that what he feared -- what he feared was -- we were telling him they had weapons of mass destruction, right? And we were telling him that they were providing support to international terrorist groups, not al Qaeda but Palestinian terrorist groups who were attacking Israel, OK? That`s what we were telling him, that he had relations with those kind of terrorists. MATTHEWS: And what was that concern to us? What was that concern to us?   MORELL: No, no, no. Hang on a second. And I think -- I think -- I don`t know, but I think the president feared, number one, Saddam using those weapons of mass destruction against us, or two, Saddam giving those to terrorists and possibly those terrorists using them against us. So -- and -- and the 9/11 context it`s important here, right? (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: But that argument is a dishonest argument because he`s not assuming the American people will take the facts. He has to build from the facts and add to them. In other words, he didn`t trust the case you guys made to him as justification for the war. He had to come up with his own case, which -- a connection to al Qaeda, an actual nuclear weapon. And by the way, nuclear weapon -- maybe you`ve been too much in that world of the CIA to know this. To the American people, there`s only weapon they know you can`t come back from. You drop the bomb, you`ve dropped the bomb. A guy uses nuclear or chemical -- (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: If he deals with biological, especially chemical, you can deal with that guy in a regional situation. You drop a nuclear -- especially with this vehicle they come up with that supposedly could deliver it here - - you knew what they were up to. MORELL: Look -- MATTHEWS: They were trying to get us into a war under false pretenses. Yes or no? Were they try trying to get us into a war under false pretenses? MORELL: I don`t know. I don`t know. I don`t know. I told you what I wrote in the book -- MATTHEWS: What would be another conclusion than that? (CROSSTALK)   MORELL: What I just told you about -- MATTHEWS: No, no. You can`t just stand back and say, I didn`t know. Give me any other interpretation of what they did besides they wanted to get us into a war. MORELL: I just did. MATTHEWS: What would that be? MORELL: I just did. MATTHEWS: They wanted to get us into the war. MORELL: That the president was looking at the facts, right? MATTHEWS: To get us into a war with Iraq! MORELL: Can I say something? MATTHEWS: Sure. MORELL: OK. What I said in the book is my interpretation of the president, which he was concerned about Iraq using these weapons of mass destruction --   MATTHEWS: I know. MORELL: -- or giving them to a terrorist group. MATTHEWS: Why didn`t he say that? MORELL: I thought that`s what he essentially said. MATTHEWS: No, he didn`t. MORELL: I thought that was what he essentially said. MATTHEWS: The administration put out two very clear messages. It was somehow going to be getting even with 9/11 because they were somehow connected to 9/11, and they had a nuclear weapon. Those were the big cases. Susan, your thoughts. PAGE: Well, so I think it`s true that there was this collection of reasons that both the president and vice president had for wanting to invade Iraq. And I don`t think there was confidence that that case alone was going to get the American people and the Congress -- (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Well, here`s Bush making your point, I think, but I think he went beyond what you just said. Here`s Bush, the president at the time, W, suggesting Iraq would threaten this country with nuclear weapons. He said Iraq might have the capacity to deliver those weapons with drones.   Here he is explaining the horror (ph) case. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Iraqi dictator must not be permitted to threaten America and the world with horrible poisons and diseases and gases and atomic weapons. We`re concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs for missions targeting the United States. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Was that true that they had -- you`ve already said they didn`t have a nuclear weapon. Did they have a means for delivering a nuclear weapon? MORELL: So -- MATTHEWS: Did your intelligence say that? MORELL: So we were concerned about UAVs. It turned out to be wrong. MATTHEWS: What`s a UAV? I`m sorry. MORELL: An unmanned aerial vehicle. We were concerned that a -- we had some information that indicated that he might be trying to acquire these to use them in the United States. That intelligence, at the end of the day, turned out to be wrong, but the president was exactly right to say what he just said because that`s what we were telling him. MATTHEWS: Yes.   MORELL: Look, I`m not here -- I`m not here to defend the decision one way the other, right? In fact, I`ve criticized -- MATTHEWS: I`m just surprised it doesn`t bother you -- MORELL: I`ve criticized everybody. I`ve criticized -- MATTHEWS: -- doesn`t bother you as an American that your hard work and patriotism was abused. MORELL: Look, intelligence gets politicized all the time in this town, all the time in this town, on both sides, on both sides. And what our job is, at the end of the day, is not to let that affect what we do, what we tell the president, that we call balls and strikes, we call it straight. That`s the job of an intelligence officer. That`s what my guys did. When we were pushed on Iraq and al Qaeda, we pushed back. You know, we were not pushed by the administration on our judgments on weapons of mass destruction. That is a myth, all right? What we said is what we believe - - MATTHEWS: No, they didn`t have to push. MORELL: In fact -- in fact -- in fact -- MATTHEWS: They went beyond you. MORELL: -- we were telling President Clinton exactly the same thing we were telling -- MATTHEWS: OK, let me tell you --   MORELL: -- President Bush. MATTHEWS: Let me explain to you my position as an American and why this infuriates me. I knew people in this business, who are very objective people, who finally went for the war -- and we were arguing about it here - - because of the belief that Saddam Hussein possessed nuclear weapons, and you couldn`t argue with that once you believed that. So this final piece of the sales pitch is what did it. And to know and now hearing it from you that that wasn`t based on fact or on evidence or any intel, that that was just made up backs the case for why I`m so angry about that war. Anyway, thank you. Stick with us. Susan Page explains me. I`m easy to explain. I think we got talked into a war by people who weren`t being honest. Mike Morell`s going to stay with us, as I said. Up next, the U.S. operation that killed Osama bin Laden -- Mike Morell wrote a great piece about that in "The Wall Street Journal" last week. We`re going to talk about that. Is he right or is Sy Hersh right? I think he`s right. We`ll be right back with more. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: President Obama is making history again, but this time it`s on Twitter. The president launched his Twitter account, @potus, yesterday afternoon as he shattered the world`s record for fastest time to one million followers. Politico reports he reached the one million mark in less than five hours, and the Guinness Book of World records confirmed it. The previous record belonged to actor Robert Downey, Jr., who reached one million followers 23 hours after launching his Twitter account last spring. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)   BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda and a terrorist who`s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was President Obama, of course, the night of May 1st, 2011. What the president and White House told us about the killing of Osama bin Laden is a lie. Well, that`s the allegation journalist -- investigative journalist Seymour Hersh makes in a lengthy report published in "The London Review of Books." In his story, Hersh describes a massive and unprecedented conspiracy by the U.S. government. He says that we didn`t find bin Laden, the Pakistanis told us where he was hiding. They even helped us plan and carry out that secret raid. And then the White House lied about the raid`s purpose and fabricated its details. Even the burial at sea was a lie, Hersh claims. I`m rejoined now by former CIA director Mike Morell. He recounts the hunt for bin Laden as part of his new book, "The Great War of Our Time." Mike, first of all, Hersh has charged that the Pakistanis told us where he was. MORELL: Rubbish. Rubbish. Rubbish. MATTHEWS: Who`s feeding Sy this stuff? MORELL: So I think -- here`s what I think. I don`t know. Here`s what I think. Who benefits from a story about the Pakistanis telling us where he is, about the Pakistanis knowing in advance what we were going to do, and so it wasn`t a surprise, it wasn`t a failure of their military -- MATTHEWS: Well, they look more competent his way. MORELL: They look a lot more competent.   MATTHEWS: Anyway, Hersh also says the Pakistanis helped us plan and carry out the raid. Quote, "They made sure that the two helicopters delivering the SEALs to Abbottabad could cross the Pakistani airspace without triggering any alarms. An ISI liaison officer flying with the SEALs guided them into the darkened house and up the staircase to bin Laden`s quarters. Even the electricity supply had been cut off on the orders of the ISI hours before the raid began." Boy, that`s pretty authoritative. MORELL: It`s all wrong. MATTHEWS: Where`s he getting this stuff? MORELL: It`s all wrong. Look, I was there. I was in the room -- MATTHEWS: What did cut off the lights? Who cut off the lights? MORELL: It was a random thing. You know, lights go on and off in Pakistan all the time -- MATTHEWS: I believe that in third world countries. MORELL: It just happened, all right? MATTHEWS: Let me ask you this. First let me cut ahead to the one about burial at sea, which is the one that really amazes me. Why would we not do what we said we did, was to show respect for body of bin Laden, just to keep the Islamic world pacified, if nothing else? MORELL: You know, I guess the argument would be we that we were angry and we wanted revenge, right? But his story would require the SEALs to cut up the body on the return to Afghanistan and throw it out of the helicopter.   When the helicopters landed in Jalalabad, the body came off. It was laid down. Bill McRaven actually had one of his guys lay down next to it to see how tall it was. The president ordered a proper Muslim burial at sea. I saw it on video. Sy Hersh doesn`t know what he`s talking about. MATTHEWS: OK, Hersh -- one last charge (INAUDIBLE) He charges that the president lied about the purpose and details of the raid. Quote, "The White House`s initial account claimed that bin Laden had been brandishing a weapon. The story was aimed at deflecting those who questioned the legality of the U.S. administration`s targeted assassination program." Anyway, "The later White House claim that only one or two bullets were fired into his head was" -- expletive there -- "There were no garbage bags full of computers and storage devices." So, he went right through the whole list there. MORELL: Yes, he did. MATTHEWS: Why do you think he is saying things like, we shot him up, rather than a couple bullets? What point does that make? MORELL: I don`t know. I don`t know why he`s saying this. He has -- he says he has a source, a former senior intelligence official. MATTHEWS: Not good enough for "The New Yorker" magazine. MORELL: Right. Not good enough for "The New Yorker." MATTHEWS: Not good enough for "The Post."   (CROSSTALK) MORELL: He says he has a source who was in the room. He was not in the room that I was in. MATTHEWS: So, just to finish it up, it`s as it happened as we thought it happened. You guys managed to find out because of a courier what was going on. You snuck in basically and risked the lives of -- everything, the helicopter going down, everything was the way it was told in the beginning? MORELL: To believe Sy Hersh is to believe that hundreds of people are involved in a conspiracy. It`s ridiculous. MATTHEWS: That`s what I kept thinking. All the people in the room, including Billy Daley and Hillary Clinton and the vice president, have all been keeping this thing secret. MORELL: Everybody. MATTHEWS: Anyway, let`s go back to something you might agree on or not. Here`s the other big story of the day. I don`t know why it does -- we keep going back to Benghazi. The State Department said that they will need until next January to release Hillary Clinton`s e-mails, some thousands of them, as secretary of state. A federal judge has ordered them be released on a rolling basis, means as soon as possible. Well, today, Hillary Clinton spoke to reporters about that news that the judge is pushing for the release. Let`s watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So, I have said publicly -- I`m repeating it here in front of all of you today -- I want them out as soon as they can get out.   QUESTION: Will you demand it? Will you demand it? CLINTON: Well, they are not mine. They belong to the State Department. So the State Department has to go through its process, but, as much as they can expedite that process, that`s what I`m asking them to do. Please move as quickly as they possibly can to get them out. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Did Hillary Clinton -- this is a wide-open accusation. I`m going to get to it. Did she do everything she could to save the life of her friend Chris Stevens? (CROSSTALK) MORELL: I believe so. I believe so. I wasn`t there. But I believe so. MATTHEWS: Well, what`s their -- their charge seems to be somewhere between -- they sell this story like they are really trying to push the argument she went out to dinner, she did something else, so she was derelict on her duties, that somehow she didn`t really try hard. From what you know, did she try to get military assistance to save his life when it was still possible? MORELL: Everything that could have been done to save those four individuals that night, I believe, was done, absolutely. MATTHEWS: And what`s the case against that based upon? Just politics?   MORELL: I think so. I think so. I mean, I`m stuck in the middle of this, too, as you know, absolutely. MATTHEWS: Was there any chance of getting those planes from Italy? MORELL: No. MATTHEWS: At any time while he was still presumably alive? MORELL: I don`t believe so. And multiple committees of Congress have concluded that, right, that nobody stopped help from coming to those Americans that night, nobody. MATTHEWS: Yes. You know, I wish -- I don`t know. If I -- I`m not her, the secretary. I would get on there and I would go ticktock. Here`s where I was. Here`s what I did. But based on what you`re saying, that won`t work anyway. Nothing`s going to work. (CROSSTALK) MORELL: I have got two chapters in my book on Benghazi, two chapters, right? But I have to tell you, I do think the executive branch should have handled this better by providing Congress with all the information right off the bat.   MATTHEWS: Yes. MORELL: Don`t dribble it out. Get it all out there. MATTHEWS: Yes. "The Great War of Our Time: The CIA`s Fight Against Terrorism--From al Qa`ida to ISIS" by Michael Morell. Thank you. MORELL: Great to be with you. MATTHEWS: I think this is important to read. Thanks. MORELL: Thank you. MATTHEWS: We had a fight. We always fight. (LAUGHTER) MATTHEWS: Thank you.   Up next -- because I care -- David Letterman`s last show is coming up tomorrow night. And while we will remember those top 10 lists, Dave didn`t shy away from politics. We`re going to get into that. I was on that show a couple times, in fact, one time right after 9/11. This is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN") DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": Ladies and gentlemen, here`s the bashful, the taciturn Chris Matthews. Chris, come on out, buddy. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) LETTERMAN: How are you? Welcome back. Congress, 9 percent approval rating. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) MATTHEWS: It`s very simple. Ask yourself -- ask yourself and the audience, what have they done lately?   (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Well, that was tough. Welcome back to HARDBALL. And he`s been making us laugh for more than 30 years now. David Letterman hosts his last late-night show tomorrow night. In the world of late-night comics, Letterman made us feel any hometown boy from Indianapolis could poke fun at celebrities and politicians and do it right to their faces. Lizz Winstead is the co-creator of "The Daily Show." Let`s talk about something really serious which we were just talking about in my tough interviews just before this, 9/11, and Letterman`s reaction to it. He really -- he really rose to that occasion, I thought, afterwards. LIZZ WINSTEAD, CO-CREATOR, "THE DAILY SHOW": I do, too. And I felt like what he did was, if you will recall, everybody panicked about what kind of joy we were allowed to have after 9/11, and I think Dave really took the time and he was really -- he was amazing with Regis, and he was so heartfelt about saying, I`m not sure that what I have been doing all these years has been -- is living up to this moment, but I hope it is, and I really -- and I really want people to be able to come back to me. And he wanted to sort of be this voice. And really, after that time, his - - his monologues got a little more political. He started poking more fun, and he really did take a look, I think, at the world as a whole, the way a lot of people did and a lot of comedians did after 9/11. MATTHEWS: Well, here he is, David Letterman, right after 9/11, a week later.   (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN") LETTERMAN: Watching all of this, I wasn`t sure that I should be doing a television show, because, for 20 years, we have been in the city making fun of everything, making fun of the city, making fun of my hair, making fun of Paul -- well. (LAUGHTER) (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: You know, it seems like it was -- it reminds me of Johnny Carson, who I watched, another guy for 30 years, and Carson never talked politics. Nobody could read his politics, like we can`t read Letterman`s - - I don`t know what Letterman`s politics are. And yet, after Robert Kennedy, who was his neighbor at U.N. Plaza there right in New York City on the East Side, when Bobby was shot down, he came on and just blew us away by saying, we have got to do something about handgun control, not gun control, handgun control, and asked us all to write our congressman. And I did, and I remember that was so unique. And I guess Letterman, this was so close to home, being in Midtown at The Ed Sullivan Theater right up the street basically from 9/11. Why do you think it grabbed him as powerfully as it did, that moment? WINSTEAD: I think, for Letterman and for so many comics, I think we all did a self-assessment about, what have I been saying? What have I been joking about? Have you been -- have I been frivolous? Have I been wasting my time asking people to watch me and not saying anything? And I think Letterman just took stock, like so many people did, about, what was the purpose of the monologue? What was the purpose of the jokes? And I think it`s -- comedy is so powerful, that it`s almost -- it takes me aback to think that Letterman didn`t really even understand the joy that humor really brings. And that`s great old movie "Sullivan`s Travels." MATTHEWS: Oh, yes. WINSTEAD: I don`t know if you have seen that movie, Chris, but it`s a great one, where a guy is a journalist, 1939, and he wants to go and follow -- follow the path of hoboes and see what they are going through.   And really when he got into the lives of the people who were riding the rails and that were hoboes at the time, they just wanted to laugh. Their lives were hard and they wanted to laugh. MATTHEWS: That was Preston Sturges, right? Preston Sturges. Anyway, during the White House Correspondent Dinner in 2007, Letterman let George W. Bush skewer himself. Let`s watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LETTERMAN: Here we go. Number 10. Oh. Number seven. (LAUGHTER) LETTERMAN: Number four. (LAUGHTER) LETTERMAN: Number three.   (LAUGHTER) LETTERMAN: And the number one favorite George W. Bush moment. (LAUGHTER) (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Did he just spit there? (LAUGHTER) WINSTEAD: I think so. MATTHEWS: Presidents aren`t supposed to spit, at least not obviously. I thought the Hoosier part, that was interesting, the country boy, in a sense, the big -- you know, he comes out with the big feet and he has always interesting color of socks on. There`s something hick about him that I think he was selling, and very effectively so. He wasn`t a big city guy. And there`s something from the country about him. WINSTEAD: Well, you know, the Midwestern guys, you had Carson from Norfolk, Nebraska. You have Letterman from Indiana. MATTHEWS: Yes.   WINSTEAD: And I think what was so cool about Dave was that he was the first guy to really open up that door of saying, I`m a regular guy who is going to take the shine off of all of this Hollywood bull hockey and really call people out. And he did it in kind of an "Aw, shucks" way with a little bit of snark that let celebrities laugh at themselves a little bit. And as that developed, you really saw so much self-deprecation from people that, you know, oftentimes, we would revere them. And now Letterman took the shine off of it. And I love that about him. And it`s always fun when somebody who you admire and respect is the voice -- is your voice, as a viewer. MATTHEWS: How about -- Lizz, how about him telling Jane Pauley this Sunday on CBS morning -- Sunday morning that we will never see him again, like he`s not going to write op-ed pieces, he`s not going to show up as a cameo in TV shows, he`s not going to be doing guest hosting and stuff, that he`s just -- he`s made enough money, I guess, and he`s just going home? That`s unique in showbiz. WINSTEAD: You know, Johnny did that, too. MATTHEWS: Yes, he did. He went home. WINSTEAD: And I think that that is a life fulfilled and that is somebody who said, in my mind anyway, I did something that`s really great, and whatever my next chapter is, it`s -- it`s going to be to embrace some privacy. When you haven`t had it for 30 years, I`m sure he`s yearning to just grill in his yard, spend time with his kid. MATTHEWS: I think you`re right. I can see it. WINSTEAD: The heart attack, I think, is another wakeup call in the series of things. I think he was like, I really want to go out with some love in my heart. MATTHEWS: OK. Lizz, I can see him in that varsity jacket and his sneakers and go out and just show up at corner store once in a while, and that`s his public and that`s enough.   WINSTEAD: Yes. That`s right. MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Lizz Winstead, for that -- WINSTEAD: Thanks. MATTHEWS: -- charming insight. I`m not always sarcastic, by the way. I meant that. (LAUGHTER) MATTHEWS: Up next, there`s another big story out there today about Hillary Clinton. "The New York Times" reports the Republicans investigating Benghazi want to know why old Clinton friend Sid Blumenthal was sending Hillary Clinton memos from the country while she was secretary of state. I`m not sure what this story is about. But we`re going to find out. Let`s find out what it is all about when we get there. Is there a there there? This is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) RICHARD LUI, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Hi. I`m Richard Lui. Here`s what`s happening.   A cruise ship has run aground while departing Bermuda. Norwegian Cruise Line says Norwegian Dawn temporarily lost power, which affected ship`s propulsion. All passengers and crew are safe. Air bag-maker Takata is recalling 34 million U.S. vehicles due to defective inflator mechanisms. The faulty air bags can potentially explode and have been linked to six deaths and more than 100 injuries. And the U.S. Coast Guard says an oil spill along the California coast stretches over four miles. The spill in Santa Barbara County was caused by a ruptured pipeline -- back to HARDBALL. MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. He`s often simply described as a Clinton friend or confidant, according to "The New York Times." In the last Clinton White House, Sidney Blumenthal carved out a role for himself that include in-house intellectual and press corps whisperer. When Hillary Clinton became secretary of state, Blumenthal continued the play a role of sorts, albeit it from the outside. "The Times" reports that he sent Clinton a series of at least 25 memos about Libya, a country where he had dealings. Anyway, according to "The Times," Mrs. Clinton took Mr. Blumenthal`s advice seriously, forwarding his memos to senior diplomatic officials in Libya and Washington and at times asking them to respond. "Mrs. Clinton continued to pass around his memos, Blumenthal`s memos, even after other senior diplomats concluded that Mr. Blumenthal`s assessment were often unreliable. Much of the Libya intelligence that Mr. Blumenthal passed on to Mrs. Clinton appears to have come from a group of business associates he was advising as they sought to win contracts from the Libyan transitional government." That`s all in the piece in "The New York Times." Clinton was asked to explain her relationship with Blumenthal just today. Here`s the secretary. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) QUESTION: Should Americans expect that, if elected president, you would have that same type of relationship with these old friends that you have had for so long?   CLINTON: I have many, many old friends, and I always think that it`s important, when you get into politics, to have friends you had before you were in politics and to understand what`s on their minds. And he`s been a friend of mine for a long time. He sent me unsolicited e-mails, which I passed on in some instances. And I see that that`s just part of the give and take. When you`re in -- when you`re in the public eye, when you`re in an official position, I think you do have to work to make sure you`re not caught in the bubble and you only hear from a certain small group of people. And I`m going to keep talking to my old friends, whoever they are. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Well, let`s bring in the roundtable, Michael Schmidt, who broke that story for "The New York Times" today. April Ryan is the White House correspondent for the American Urban Radio Networks. And Michael Steele is the former chair of the Republican National Committee and an MSNBC political analyst as well. Michael, tell me about, is there something more to this than you reported that you`re trying to get across here? What is the dark aspect of Hillary Clinton`s relationship with Sid Blumenthal? There seems to be a dark aspect to it. What`s wrong with it? MICHAEL SCHMIDT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": We left everything we had out there. And it was basically four things, as we were saying, the foundation, the intel reports, the business on the ground, and, you know, her on -- this ongoing sort of adviser -- (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: What does he do for her? SCHMIDT: Well, that`s what we really don`t know. She seemed to be very receptive to it. The Clinton people will play it down and say, oh, it was unsolicited. It wasn`t -- you know, she didn`t real want it.   But these things came in consistently over a two-year period of time. They were addressed directly to her, and they were very detailed and very long, and this is not just like -- oh, hey, I heard this at a cocktail party. Let me tell you this. This is like, I`ve got sources on the ground and this is the intel. MATTHEWS: OK. What is he? Is he a source for her or an operative because he`s been described in different press accounts as an operative? Does he do stuff for Hillary Clinton or just feed her information? SCHMIDT: I don`t know. There was a lot of information coming in, and it was systematic. It read like CIA cables. It was on the ground, sourcing, that type of stuff. MATTHEWS: What do you make of this, April, because I see names popping up like Cody Shearer and David Brock, people all close to the Clintons, operative in the sense that they certainly go out to her defense when there`s a crisis or there`s a scandal looming. They are her friends and they are pretty tough about it. APRIL RYAN, NATIONAL URBAN RADIO: These are friends who have been friends for a while, and it`s loyalty with them. But at the same time -- MATTHEWS: What`s friend mean in Washington? RYAN: Loyal, the fact that she won`t throw them under the bus, that she will take -- (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: What do they do for her? RYAN: Exactly this -- giving her an ear on the ground that she may not hear, that`s what we`re hearing. Not all of the e-mails from Blumenthal that were forwarded. That`s what I`m hearing, the kind of downplaying it. I`m hearing some of the e-mails weren`t -- you know, did not rise to the occasion to be forwarded but they are saying, you know, like any friend, again to downplay, like any friend he wanted to make sure she was aware being the secretary of state.   So, the loyalty is, hey, I`m going to help you out if I can, even though if I`m in another sector. A lot of people do it in Washington. BLITZER: So, "The New York Times" runs an "A" section story about a friend of someone who is a friend of somebody. RYAN: No, it`s deeper than that. It`s much deeper. MATTHEWS: What is deeper? RYAN: He felt he had information that could help her as secretary of state. MATTHEWS: How do you know this? RYAN: I`ve got sources. MATTHEWS: Did you talk to him? We invited him on the show? I`ve known the guy forever. RYAN: No, he was never a whisperer to me, OK? But I`ve talked to some people who are in the camp and who know that he was a friend to her. MATTHEWS: What`s that mean? You keep saying Washington.   RYAN: Friend, loyal. MATTHEWS: I hate that term in Washington. He`s a friend. Whose friend? RYAN: They support one another. They understand one another. They understand -- MATTHEWS: What friends do? OK. People watching now think there`s more to this than you`re saying. They do. SCHMIDT: This is a little different because he was being paid by the foundation. RYAN: But he was sending the e-mails as a friend. MATTHEWS: Let me tell you why this is hot within the Democratic Party and the liberal side of things, Mike, who you`re not too close to. All right? MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIR: Please enlighten me. MATTHEWS: He was the only person that the White House rejected when Hillary had her shopping list at who to hire at the State. STEELE: That`s right.   MATTHEWS: She had the complete authority to filled state with the Hillary army people and this is one guy, they sent the word from the White House, you`re not picking up him. This is how tough this is. It`s more than friendship going on here. STEELE: Yes, there is. MATTHEWS: He`s in the army. STEELE: He`s in the army. RYAN: The Clinton arm? MATTHEWS: Yes, I`m not knocking it. There`s an army there. STEELE: I think he`s a ground troop for her number respects. And, look, you`re absolutely right. It is something that goes on in Washington a lot of times. We -- even in state government as elected official, you would have friends who would send you e-mails and write papers on this, that or the other thing. But the problem -- I don`t know if it`s a problem -- but interest is the level, the degree. MATTHEWS: What`s a whisperer? STEELE: The frequency. MATTHEWS: What`s a whisperer? STEELE: A whisperer?   MATTHEWS: Yes. You got it in your piece, like horse whisperer. Now, in this case, it`s press corps whisperer. What does he whisper? Does he get people to write columns he wants written? Does he push stories with other journalists? SCHMIDT: He`s never returned any of my calls. MATTHEWS: He doesn`t whisper to you but you call him a whisperer? SCHMIDT: He`s someone that goes out there and advocates off the record on background for his people. MATTHEWS: And what does he get out of it? SCHMIDT: He believes he can help craft the message and shape what people are writing. (CROSSTALK) RYAN: The whisperers are the ones who tell you pieces of the story that you would not normally find out. MATTHEWS: What`s the motive for doing that? RYAN: Because they want to advance the piece that they want in the administration? I mean, you`ve got a lot of factions will be the administration. MATTHEWS: But he`s not in the administration.   RYAN: But I`m saying when you talk about a whisperer. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: So, we had people -- so you say it`s common in Washington, April, to have people moving around who are real working for one political leader but are basically not on the payroll, not necessarily, but they are out there pushing the argument at dinner, over drinks, pushing the story all the time. RYAN: Yes. MATTHEWS: Pretending to be independent but basically being -- SCHMIDT: I think this is a little different than that. MATTHEWS: Tell me, I`m working here. SCHMIDT: This is a little different. MATTHEWS: I`m trying to learn what we`re talking about. You put it in the paper. I didn`t. SCHMIDT: Not like he`s working on Capitol Hill and also advocating -- I mean, this is -- RYAN: He`s working the State Department, that`s what he`s doing.   SCHMIDT: He wasn`t working at State Department. MATTHEWS: They wouldn`t let him. SCHMIDT: He was work at the foundation. He had these other things going on. He had a direct pipeline to her. MATTHEWS: All right. What`s so bad about it? SCHMIDT: I just -- I just report the facts. MATTHEWS: Why did you report them? What did you sell to your readers? Why does this have to be in "The New York Times"? SCHMIDT: It`s very interesting. MATTHEWS: People are looking at us like we`re a bunch crazy people. We`re talking about some guy they never heard of, probably never will, but he works somehow for the Clintons but not officially. He does something for the Clinton, we don`t know what it is, except whisper. And I`d like to know more. (CROSSTALK) RYAN: That takes the veil off of Washington and shows a lot of inner workings that people don`t know. (CROSSTALK)   SCHMIDT: This is unusual. This is someone who had a direct line into Hillary Clinton and the average person outside the state department doesn`t have that. People in -- MATTHEWS: Who is a bigger deal with Hillary Clinton, David Brock who runs Media Matters, will go after anybody that goes after her, Cody Shearer, is a private eye, or whatever -- are they all important to Hillary? SCHMIDT: I think so. Certainly -- MATTHEWS: Well, we got to know this. You`re reporting good stuff. Thank you. The roundtable is staying with us. And up next, Chris Christie tries to pull a fast one. So what if two- thirds of the voters in New Jersey don`t think he`d be a great president, he says they just want him to stick around at governor. Not so fast, Governor. We`ve got the numbers to show they don`t want you at home either. This is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: President Obama is coming to the aid of an unlikely ally, the honeybee. Today, the Obama administration announced steps to protect honeybees and other pollinators, saying that honeybee pollination adds more than $15 billion to America`s agricultural crops each year. Honeybee colonies have been on the decline in recent years and the White House says last year alone, beekeepers reported losing about 40 percent of their colonies. We`ll be right back.   (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: We`re back. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie sat down with FOX News` Megyn Kelly yesterday up in New Hampshire where he`s exploring -- there`s a great word -- a bid for the party`s nomination. I think he`s going to the caves looking for the hope. Anyway, here is a new Quinnipiac poll out that shows 65 percent of people in New Jersey don`t think Christie would make a very good president. That`s two-thirds. Kelly asked the governor how he could run for the White House when his own state doesn`t appear to have confidence in him, and Christie turned it on the spin. Let`s take a look. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS HOST: The polls in New Jersey right now say, by a 65 percent to 29 percent margin, the New Jersey voters say you would not make a good president. Now, they know you the best. Why shouldn`t we trust them? GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: They want me to stay. A lot of those people of that 65 percent want me to stay. And I`ve heard that from lots of people in town hall meetings, "Don`t leave to run for president because we want you to stay." KELLY: But they say you would not make a good president. CHRISTIE: No, I think people hear the question they want to hear. (END VIDEO CLIP)   MATTHEWS: Ha, ha. I think he just did. Anyway, 56 percent of New Jersey voters disapprove of Christie`s job approval as governor and almost 60 percent have an unfavorable view of him personally, according to the Quinnipiac polling. His favorable rating stands at just 35 percent. That`s a 34-point drop from where he was shortly before his re-election in 2013. We`re back with the roundtable -- Michael Schmidt, April Ryan, and Michael Steele. Michael Steele, this guy won`t quit. STEELE: He won`t quit and it`s that tenacity that he`s going to need a lot of to get through this thing. I mean, you`ve got the numbers coming out of the state, you`ve got the fiscal health of the state that he`s going to have to address and then all the other investigations. I think I have to give him credit, though, because he`s dogged in his determination to create a new narrative or to at least get some spin on the narrative that`s out there as you just mentioned. MATTHEWS: If you were clean of the bridgegate problem, if he were totally clean, where would he be right now? STEELE: Oh, probably, he would definitely in the top three, I think, among -- MATTHEWS: So, there`s room for an East Coast Republican? STEELE: There`s a lot of room for k Chris Christie in this campaign. MATTHEWS: What do you think, April? Do you think there is a room for an old-time Rockefeller, not a Rockefeller, but a Tom Ridge, eastern Republican who is not a right-wing person? Is there room for that?   RYAN: Before bridgegate I thought there was. I think Chris Christie is the gift that keeps on giving. I also think that his perception, he wants his perception to be reality but the reality is that, you know, can we remember Al Gore who didn`t win his own state in the election -- MATTHEWS: Who is paying for his travel? RYAN: I don`t know. MATTHEWS: Who is paying for his hotel rooms? RYAN: I don`t know. MATTHEWS: Somebody is. RYAN: Yes. Guess what? But the state -- who is voting for him? People may pay but who is going to vote? That`s the issue. Remember Al Gore, he did not win his own state. If the election were to happen today -- hmm. MATTHEWS: He only had to win New Hampshire he would win the presidency. It was that close. How do you live by that, get up every morning, I could have been president for eight years but I couldn`t carry the people who know me most. RYAN: That`s tough. But he got a Nobel Prize, didn`t he, for climate change? MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about Chris Christie and his delusion. What is it?   SCHMIDT: You`ve got to run for president when you have a chance to run for president and he had it. And this whole notion of -- I`ll be governor for a little more and get more experience. MATTHEWS: Why did he do a sit-down with Megyn Kelly? I mean, she does a great job -- she is on at 9:00, which is the best time to be on television, gets the biggest audience possible at 9:00. She does this thing where she plays her position but every once in a while goes for the basket with the tough question. Like Tim used to, the tough question. They know -- doesn`t he know that he`s not going to look good? SCHMIDT: I don`t know why he wouldn`t go on "Hannity." MATTHEWS: Karl Rove and a whole -- that`s easy. SCHMIDT: Yes, I guess, yes -- STEELE: But even going after the tough question -- MATTHEWS: Maybe Hannity is so easy, it doesn`t work. It has no power to it. STEELE: But you noted how he pivoted, he was able to move the question into what he wanted to address. MATTHEWS: Speaking of positioning, how do you put 18 guys on the stage? This is going to be the first debate in August. Thank God. It`s coming on strong. It`s going to be a party convention. I did the math. It`s an hour and a half debate. Five minutes each if the moderator doesn`t talk. Five minutes each for an hour and a half. How do you make your case? STEELE: Well, I think one way, you cannot go into this. Let`s assume you have 15 people on the stage.   MATTHEWS: Well, it looks like 18 including Donald Trump. STEELE: OK, go with 18. You have 18 on the stage. MATTHEWS: I`ll raise you -- STEELE: You`re going to give them 30 to 45 seconds for an opening and a closing. That takes care of that half hour of the hour and a half. And then for that hour, you`re not going to do a conventional I`m going to ask you a question and then you get to rebut. You`re going to basically go through and ask each of the candidates a question or two about specific issues or points. MATTHEWS: But no hand raising. I used to love hand raising. STEELE: Well, Chris, you`re going to have to do it, because you can`t keep anyone off that stage. RYAN: There are going to be two or three tiers of candidates and it`s going to be a fight to see who`s going to be -- MATTHEWS: You know what? What happens if you say,is the earth round or flat? At which point Reince Priebus breaks the whole thing. It`s outside the ground rules. (LAUGHTER) MATTHEWS: It`s done, it`s over. Stop the taping. Anyway, Michael Schmidt, you`ve raised a lot of hackles here. April Ryan, as always, surprisingly objective into this intricacies of the Republican conservative movement here. And Michael Steele, as always.   When we return, let me finish with character, you know, having the courage of your convictions. You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with character -- you know, having the courage of your convictions to go with your gut when the wind is blowing against you. Oh, how I wish I could see character in politicians today. What I see, what I hear through all the noise is an auctioning off of souls. I`m watching politicians saying what they`re supposed to say in order to win the backing of some wealthy bullying benefactor. Someone who wants politicians to do what they want them to do, everything they them to do, a person we would have called back in the `60s -- a pig. That`s what I see today. The people we used to call pigs want is what they wanted in the Vietnam era. They want wars. You can bet on that one. And they want, of course, low taxes and regulators off their backs. They want old rich people not to worry about estate taxes. I`d like to see some character out there, wouldn`t you? Wouldn`t it be great for some of the Republican candidates to stand up to the money guys and say, if you want a presidential nominee who will do what the Bushes did, go from war to war, look elsewhere. If you want someone to make the rich richer, find yourself another patsy. Now, that would be a case of character. And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END   Copyright 2015 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>