Hardball with Chris Matthews

January 29, 2004

BYLINE: Pat Buchanan; Chris Matthews

GUESTS: James Clyburn; Al Sharpton; Howard Dean; Jacques DeGraff; Steve Murphy

Who were the winners and losers in tonight's South Carolina Democratic presidential debate?


MATTHEWS: Let's go to Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor, who is at that debate site in Greenville, South Carolina.

Governor Dean, you made your point tonight.


MATTHEWS: I want to you expand on it. You said that Dick Cheney pushed the CIA to give us bad info on the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Do you want to expand on that, please?

DEAN: Well, that's not exactly what I said.

What I said was that Dick Cheney met with middle levels of the CIA and was reported by a retired CIA agent to have berated them because he didn't like the tone of their reports, encouraging them to change their intelligence reports. That is what I-that is what we have from a retired CIA agent.

MATTHEWS: Do you believe that person?

DEAN: Yes, I do.

I believe that-I believe that the vice-well, we-I think it has been published that the vice president met with middle-level operatives of the CIA to go over their reports. And from what we understand is, those-the vice president himself berated them because he didn't think-he like the contents of those reports. That is cooking the books of the intelligence.

And I think there's ample evidence to suggest that the president of the United States did not give us the facts when we went to war in Iraq.

MATTHEWS: Why is David Kay refusing to say that in public? Because he's been studying this. He went over there and found that the weapons report of our intelligence agencies as presented to us by the administration were not supported by the evidence in Iraq. Why doesn't he come out and say what you said? He has studied this issue.

DEAN: I don't know-we don't know for sure where the breakdown was.

I mean, I can't prove that Dick Cheney forced those guys to alter the reports. We do know he certainly put pressure on them. And we also don't know exactly what he put pressure on them to say. So I don't know Mr. Kay. I assume he is a very careful person. And I think he is being careful right now. I think-he suggested himself we ought to have an independent inquiry, like the Kean commission, into the circumstances which got us into Iraq. And I think that's exactly what we should do as well.

MATTHEWS: Well, we have public information, at least David Kay is asserting, that the misinformation, the bad intelligence, can be traced, he says, to middle-level people, as you say, at the CIA. He also-we also know, as you've attested tonight again, that Dick Cheney met on several times. He and his chief of staff, Scooter Libby, went over to CIA headquarters in Langley and argued, talked to them.

Are you sure tonight, since you made this point in the debate tonight, that he put the pressure on these agents to come up with-to come up with an argument for us going to Iraq?

DEAN: What we do know is that he put pressure on the agents. Now, we don't exactly know what he said. And I don't expect we're going to know that for a long, long time.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about this campaign. I've looked at the polling today. It shows that only a few-only a few voters see Iraq as their No. 1 priority.

DEAN: That's right. I agree with that.

MATTHEWS: In this campaign.

Why-why do you think that is the case? Why aren't the American people most focused on matters of peace and war, when we're losing casualties every day over there? What explains their disinterest?

DEAN: Well, first of all, people are always interested in jobs. And we've had a really bad series of economic reports over the last couple of months, 1,000 jobs created in December. Now the Fed is talking about raising interest rates, which we know is going to happen sooner or later if you run half-trillion deficits.

You know, these guys just can't handle money at all. I'm more interested in-I have said publicly many times that I think that we were misled in terms of going into Iraq. The key is not whether we're in Iraq or not. I mean, I supported the first Gulf War. And I supported the Afghanistan war. The key is where we told the truth.

And I think, when your government doesn't tell you the truth, that's a huge problem. I think our government has not been truthful with us. And I think that's an enormous problem for America.

MATTHEWS: Pat Buchanan has a question for you, Governor.

BUCHANAN: Governor, what I want to ask you...

DEAN: Hey, Pat.

BUCHANAN: Hi, Governor.

Do you believe that the intelligence agencies deceived the president or did the president deliberately deceive us?

DEAN: We don't know what the president did.

We do know that what the president said was not accurate and was not truthful. We don't know why. We do know that people in the vice president's office have said that some of the information that came to the president was not accurate. And we do know that the vice president himself met with CIA agents and pressured them regarding their testimony. But we don't know exactly why. And that's exactly why I think we need an independent commission to investigate this...

BUCHANAN: Right. Governor, Governor...

DEAN: ... and find out why 500 people have lost their lives in the last two years.

BUCHANAN: All right, Governor, you worked with George W. Bush in the Governors Association.

DEAN: Yes.

BUCHANAN: He was a governor from, I guess, 1994 to 2000, when you were there as well.

Do you believe he is a man of honor? Or do you think, in the last analysis, if he had to, to go to war, he would deliberately deceive the country?

DEAN: I don't know what the answer to that, Pat, is.

But I know that George W. Bush as president is a lot different than the George W. Bush I knew who was governor of Texas. I was astonished when he claimed that he was a compassionate conservative, which I believed, and then the compassion disappeared with his first budget, and the conservatism disappeared with these half-trillion budget deficits we're having.

The George Bush I knew in Texas is nothing like George Bush who is serving as president of the United States right now.

MATTHEWS: Do you believe, Governor, that this proposal for an inquiry into how we gathered inaccurate intelligence in Iraq-in fact, the main evidence to justify our war was that they were an imminent threat to this country, with the weaponry they had and the history that Saddam had in using it.

Do you think the scope of that inquiry should include those in the vice president's office, those in the National Security Council who were working with using that information to make the case? Or should it simply be an investigation as to whether the middle-level people in the intelligence agencies did bad work?

DEAN: The inquiry should include what the CIA told the president and when and why. It should include the role of the vice president and everybody in his office, in terms of what they did with those reports.

The big question is, we know that the president misled the American public. And I think Pat had exactly the right decision-the right question. Did he do it on purpose or did it-or did he do it because people in the vice president's agency-in the vice president's office or in the Central Intelligence Agency gave him bad information? And if they did give him bad information, was that-was that just simply incompetence, as David Kay has suggested, or was it deliberate? And why was that-why did that happen?

There are a lot of questions about why we're in Iraq. It is costing us lives. It is costing us money. And, most importantly, in some ways, it is costing us security, because we're not pursuing al Qaeda, the way we should be.

MATTHEWS: Do you think the president has systematically convinced the American people, through innuendo, that it was Iraq that somehow was involved in 9/11?

DEAN: Yes, I do.

I think it was-there was clearly an effort on the part of the vice president and the president to insinuate that Iraq had something to do with 9/11 and that Iraq had ties to al Qaeda. The president admitted a month or so ago, there was no clear evidence for that. The secretary of state made a much more clear statement last week that there was no evidence to that.

It's extraordinary to me the length that this administration went to to give us information or insinuate information that turned out not to be true. I just-I was astonished. The other thing that amazes me is their reliance on using the murderous and the genocide-the murderous tendencies and the genocide of Saddam Hussein.

Saddam Hussein-Saddam Hussein clearly was genocidal. He clearly is a mass murderer. Most of those murders went on 11 years ago, when George W. Bush-George Bush's father created the Shiite-or wink and nodded and encouraged the Shiites to rebel and then didn't do anything to support them. That's when hundreds of thousands of Shiites were murdered.

The time to take out Saddam to stop genocide was 11 years ago, under the first Bush administration. But that didn't happen. To then say he was committing genocide through that entire 11 years, he was doing some terrible, terrible things. Genocide was not one of them. The gassing of the Kurds occurred many years ago. It's very hard to use that as an excuse to go to war many years later. I'm delighted Saddam is gone. He's a terrible human being.

MATTHEWS: Especially when we were on the side...

DEAN: Pardon? What's that, Chris?

MATTHEWS: Especially when we were on the side of the Iraqis against the Iranians when they committed the genocide against the Kurds.

DEAN: Well, unfortunately, we have a long history of what Henry Kissinger used to call-or Metternich, actually, used to call realpolitik.

I think that we have made many mistakes over the years, siding with people who turned out to be pretty horrible people, on the grounds that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. And, unfortunately, the United States has been burned more than once in that regard. Certainly, we were burned in Central America, when we got rid of Allende, only to have Pinochet take over and have a lengthy dictatorship, where many people were murdered in Chile.

We did it in Afghanistan, when we actually helped some of the people who were working with Osama bin Laden because they were fighting the Russians at the time. We did it in Iraq. We've got-you know, if I become president of the United States, we are not going to do that anymore. The enemy of your enemy may very well be your enemy, too. And watch out.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much for being with us on HARDBALL, Governor Howard Dean.

DEAN: Thanks.

MATTHEWS: More from the candidates and more from our panel, when HARDBALL's special coverage of the South Carolina Democratic debate continues tonight.

Content and programming copyright 2004 MSNBC.


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