Chris Matthews Grills Ari Fleischer Like an Enemy of the State

I'm not sure I've ever witnessed a more disgraceful performance by a so-called journalist than what transpired on Wednesday's "Hardball." 

In fact, from the moment MSNBC's Chris Matthews introduced his guest, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, the "Hardball" host went on the attack as if he was interviewing an enemy of the state.

Potentially most disgraceful - even beyond how rudely he treated a former member of the White House and a fellow American - was how Matthews made no pretense concerning his apparent affiliation and undying support for Barack Obama and the Party in power.

Viewers were given a clue early on when Matthews asked, "Doesn`t the economy that you left the country when your party left the country in our hands...?"

Yes, he really said "our hands." He also said, "Let me ask you about the financial crisis which we inherited." But that's just the beginning (video embedded below the fold along with full transcript, h/t NBer bigtimer):

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: But first we begin with the campaign by former aides to President Bush to defend his legacy. Ari Fleischer was the White House -- Ari, what a smiling face to have back on our show! Thank you, sir.

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER BUSH WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: What brings you back? Is this the return from Elba? Is this the 100 days of Napoleon`s return from Crawford? What is going on with this network of former Bushies -- current Bushies, I should say -- singing the old song?

FLEISCHER: Well, Chris, I`m here because you invited me to be here.

MATTHEWS: Oh, yes. OK. I appreciate that. But isn`t there a lot of you out there -- I called them the "band of Bushies" -- who are out there trying to remind us of how good he really was?

FLEISCHER: Well, there, of course, is a number of people who believe in George Bush, believe in his policies and believe he helped contribute to a stronger, better America, where we haven`t been hit since September 11. But what happens after you leave office, Chris -- and you know this very well -- is there are a lot of cable shows and a lot of people are still interested in your opinions. And I`m always pleased if I can go on and talk -- mostly, it`s talking contemporaneously about what`s happening with President Obama and just my take on events. And along the way, there are inevitable comparisons or insights you can deliver about what I saw when I was there working for President Bush. I`m proud to say what I think.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s talk about the change in parties which occurred last year in November. You`re as aware of politics as anybody around. You speak about it. You think about it. You write about it. It seems to me there were two reasons why Barack Obama was elected president. First of all, he won the primaries because he was totally against the war in Iraq. He won the general because the economy sucked.

Now, to put it bluntly, what`s wrong about that? Doesn`t the war still stand as a mistake, as an unpopular war? Doesn`t the economy that you left the country when your party left the country in our hands terrible and worthy of a change of parties? What`s really changed since November?

Imagine that. Matthews wasn't even pretending to be impartial. The economy was left in "our hands." Nice job, Chris. But there was much more: 

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: I don`t think a lot has changed in terms of what you just described. And I would agree with your overall political assessment. It was in part because of Iraq and in large part because of the economy that Barack Obama won.

Having said that, I also think Barack Obama should say thank you every day that he inherited a world without Saddam Hussein in it. Imagine how much worse the Middle East would be if Saddam and his sons were still in charge of that country and how much worse human rights would be in that region of the world.

So it`s not as simple as just saying that one factor contributed to an election. That`s absolutely true in the politics of it. But now that he`s governing it`s a lot more complicated, isn`t it. Take today...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... the war in Iraq?

FLEISCHER: Hold on a second, Chris. Take today.

MATTHEWS: ... Ahmadinejad, who doesn`t have a buffer in the region...

FLEISCHER: Chris, today he issued his first signing statement...

MATTHEWS: Right.

FLEISCHER: ... where he put the exact same things that George Bush did in signing statements...

MATTHEWS: OK.

FLEISCHER: ... that you and others criticized George Bush for. My point is that governing is a lot more complicated than mere politics. And I can point that out when I have the ability to compare what happened under George Bush`s watch to Barack Obama`s watch. It`s a lot of nuance and a lot of context.

MATTHEWS: Well, we had the national debt grow from $5.7 when you guys came in to $10.9 when you left. And many Republicans who now speak very loudly on this subject say the reason is that that man we`re looking at right now, your boss for those years, President George W. Bush, never vetoed a single spending bill. He opened the door, the flood gates, to huge spending.

Interesting. So, Matthews was opposed to "huge spending" then, but doesn't mind it now?

FLEISCHER: Well, actually, the spending on domestic...

MATTHEWS: Isn`t this true?

FLEISCHER: Chris, the spending on domestic discretionary and non- homeland security went up by 1.3 percent a year. What happened was entitlement spending, because of prescription drugs for seniors, and then defense military homeland security went way up, then you had the recession of 2001, which we inherited. That`s all that contributed to it.

Critics will point to the tax cuts. I remind people that the tax cuts led to a record-breaking 55 months of economic growth and job creation. We`ve never in this country had 55 straight months of job creation. We had that under President Bush before the bank failures of September.

MATTHEWS: Are you proud of the economic record of George W. Bush?

FLEISCHER: You know, I think he came in with a recession, he left with a recession...

MATTHEWS: No, really. Are you proud of it? Is it something to brag about?

FLEISCHER: Chris, it`s not a simple one-word answer. I`m not proud of the way...

MATTHEWS: Yes, well, the way we judge success is what you left behind. The way we judge success in life is if you have a campfire as a Boy Scout and you say -- you`re told, Leave it better than when you found it. Did you leave the economy better than you found it?

Interesting question, Chris. Would you care to ask it of Bill Clinton? After all, he inherited an economy that was growing, and left with a stock market plummeting, and a recession beginning. But I digress:

FLEISCHER: Look, I think when people look back on the Bush years...

MATTHEWS: Isn`t that a fair standard?

FLEISCHER: ... the one thing people are going to remember the most is that he kept us safe. We have not been attacked against since September 11. The second is, as I said, Barack Obama should be thankful that he`s inherited a world without Saddam Hussein in it. The third part...

MATTHEWS: Yes, but we were attacked on your watch. If you start getting into who was attacked when, we suffered the worst domestic calamity in history on your watch. If you get into this whose watch was good, you guys blew it.

Astounding dishonesty here, for even Matthews is aware that Osama bin Laden declared war on the United States during Bill Clinton's watch, and was preparing 9/11 for years. I guess Matthews forgot all the attacks on American interests during the '90s.

FLEISCHER: Chris, I...

MATTHEWS: I don`t know if you can do it that way.

FLEISCHER: Chris, how dare you?

MATTHEWS: But how can you say...

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: Chris, if we get attacked again -- if we get attacked again, are you going to say we got attacked on Barack Obama`s watch? We got attacked by terrorists.

MATTHEWS: No, no. I`m using the word the way...

FLEISCHER: That`s who`s to blame for it, Chris.

MATTHEWS: ... you`re using it. You`re saying...

FLEISCHER: And I think what you just did is shameful.

MATTHEWS: No, no. I think...

FLEISCHER: I just said that we can all be proud...

MATTHEWS: It`s not shameful to say...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You were bragging about the fact that we weren`t hit after 9/11.

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: ... proud that we haven`t been attacked since September 11.

MATTHEWS: You`re bragging about the fact we weren`t hit...

FLEISCHER: That`s exactly right.

MATTHEWS: How can you brag about...

Why is it wrong to brag about the fact that we haven't been attacked since 9/11? Isn't the primary function of a president to defend the nation? We're now approaching eight years since that awful day. Shouldn't we be proud of that?

FLEISCHER: That`s what people are going to remember about President Bush`s administration.

MATTHEWS: Well, they don`t remember that because his popularity went down to about one of the lowest in American history. He`s down near the bottom of American presidents because people believe that he didn`t do a good job as president. Let`s go back to your standard. I`m not saying...

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: ... people who look at substance. You`re in the former category.

MATTHEWS: Ari -- Ari, you can`t set up a standard and then not live by it. If the standard is, We didn`t get hit...

FLEISCHER: Who is talking?

MATTHEWS: What?

FLEISCHER: Who`s talking?

MATTHEWS: If you set up a standard...

FLEISCHER: Set up a standard and not live by it, Chris Matthews?

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FLEISCHER: You know, Chris, I don`t recall you saying that James Carville, Paul Begala, those people, shouldn`t be on the air defending their boss, but here you are questioning why people like me would be out there saying things about my boss.

MATTHEWS: Well, because...

FLEISCHER: It`s not a slam-dunk, Chris. There are two sides to every issue.

MATTHEWS: OK. Good. Fair enough. Fair enough.

FLEISCHER: And I get to present that side.

MATTHEWS: OK, give me the argument that you can make again on a couple of fronts. The Iraq war -- back when we got into the war, you admitted that the evidence presented by the president wasn`t fair, that the argument that we were facing a nuclear threat, about the yellowcake from Africa and the purchase of it supposedly from -- by Saddam Hussein, you said wasn`t true. Your words were, That information turned out to be incorrect. You questioned the president`s case for the war, I didn`t.

Are you happy to defend the way Katrina was handled after you left the administration? Are you generally happy with the economic record of the Bush administration? These are broad questions. I think I`m being fair.

FLEISCHER: And my point...

MATTHEWS: And by the way, nobody was tougher...

FLEISCHER: My point to you...

MATTHEWS: Nobody on television was tougher...

FLEISCHER: ... back, Chris, is that we have not been...

MATTHEWS: ... on President -- nobody was tougher on President Clinton than I was, and you know it. So don`t accuse me...

Nobody was tougher on Clinton than Chris Matthews? He actually said that with a straight face.

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: No, I think a lot of people were tougher than you. You were tough on President Clinton, on his ethics and his morality.

MATTHEWS: Don`t say I haven`t been tough.

FLEISCHER: Chris, you were tough on...

MATTHEWS: Don`t say I haven`t been tough.

FLEISCHER: You were tough on his ethics and morality. How couldn`t you be?

MATTHEWS: Well...

FLEISCHER: But as for President Bush, yes, I am proud of the fact we have not been attacked since September 11, and a lot of people deserve credit for it...

MATTHEWS: OK.

FLEISCHER: ... President Bush included. And despite the fact that we were wrong about whether Saddam had WMD because Saddam lied about it and everybody, included Bill Clinton, believed he had WMD, I believe we are all better off and Barack Obama is better off because Saddam Hussein is no longer in this world or in this Middle East creating more trouble.

MATTHEWS: OK. Suppose...

FLEISCHER: And he should be thankful for that.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you this question as a partisan question. Suppose you knew that a Democratic president had...

FLEISCHER: What else do you ask?

MATTHEWS: ... had gotten a presidential memo, a daily presidential briefing that said, al Qaeda to attack within the United States, and three or four weeks later, they did and killed 3,000 of us. Would you hold that against the incumbent Democratic president, if you knew he was warned directly of an attack coming and then it came with nothing stopping it? Would you say that he was shameful, might be a word you`d use?

FLEISCHER: Chris, first of all, wasn`t warned directly. It was one of those vague warnings about al Qaeda wants to attack in the United States.

MATTHEWS: Inside the United States.

FLEISCHER: Well, is that a surprise to...

MATTHEWS: It was delivered to the president in person...

FLEISCHER: Sure.

MATTHEWS: ... in a daily intelligence briefing. And what did he do with that intelligence?

FLEISCHER: Chris, and this is the real world. This is what`s mind- numbingly frustrating about...

MATTHEWS: See, I`m just asking you how you...

FLEISCHER: Chris...

MATTHEWS: ... would use it politically.

FLEISCHER: Chris, do you ever not interrupt your guests, or is that all you`d like to do?

(Readers are advised that there was laughter in the studio when Fleischer said this.)

Now, here`s the answer to your question, if you would let me answer it. One of the frustrating parts that the presidency - - and Barack Obama is going to find this -- is that intelligence reports are mind-numbingly frustrating. You get a report saying al Qaeda is determined to attack in the United States. Well, that`s not a surprise. Of course they are. It doesn`t say where. It doesn`t say when. It doesn`t say how.

So if you get a report like that, what do you do? Do you shut down shipping to the United States? Do you shut down air traffic in the United States? How long do you do these things? Do you shut down immigration to the United States? If you don`t know the hows, the whens and the wheres, you`re very limited in what practical steps you can take.

So if Barack Obama were to receive something like that, I would not do what you did. I would not be critical of the incumbent president. I would say this is part of the reality of how hard it is to govern in a world of terrorism and that I wish President Obama tremendous success in stopping terrorists who come here. I wouldn`t put the blame on his shoulders. I put the blame on the shoulders of the terrorists who tried to attack us.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you to review, as you were playing defense here, and properly so. The president`s economic record left this country with a financial crisis like we don`t even know the bottom of yet. Is that the responsibility of the administration that left office January 20th or not?

FLEISCHER: Chris, there`s no question the administration -- the Bush administration left behind a bad recession for President Obama, just as we inherited a mild recession from President Clinton. As a result of the Bush tax cuts, the 2001 recession was very short, very shallow, and it was followed then by, as I said, record-breaking job creation.

MATTHEWS: Right.

FLEISCHER: What I`m worried about now is I think President Obama has taken a very tough, bad situation that he did inherit, but I think all his spending is making it worse. That`s what troubles me. You listen to Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, today say that we need a second stimulus. Well, that`s acknowledgement that the first one is a failure. This is what troubles me.

MATTHEWS: OK.

FLEISCHER: We`re pouring good money after bad, and I don`t think Barack Obama has got it under control. We`re still waiting to hear the specifics of his banking policies from his Treasury secretary on what`s going to fix the banks. The Treasury secretary made an announcement three weeks ago with no substance and no details, and we`re still waiting.

MATTHEWS: OK.. Let me ask you about the financial crisis which we inherited. Let me ask you another question. Do you believe that the administration made an honest case in taking us to war with Iraq? An honest case.

WE INHERITED? Who's "we," Chris? Astounding.

FLEISCHER: Yes. Yes.

MATTHEWS: Even though you corrected the record afterwards and said that they made a dishonest argument that we faced a nuclear threat.

FLEISCHER: Chris, how disingenuous are you? You can just roll back the tape...

MATTHEWS: I`m just quoting you!

FLEISCHER: ... in this interview. Chris, I said we were wrong. I didn`t say we were dishonest. Dishonest is your word, Chris Matthews. We were wrong.

MATTHEWS: Well, how did it happen...

FLEISCHER: But Bill Clinton was wrong...

MATTHEWS: ... if it wasn`t done on purpose?

FLEISCHER: It was an intelligence mistake. We were all wrong.

MATTHEWS: OK.

FLEISCHER: The United States was wrong. The United Nations was wrong. Egypt was wrong. Israel was wrong. Bill Clinton was wrong. George Bush was wrong.

MATTHEWS: OK.

FLEISCHER: And don`t forget the CIA director under George Bush was the same CIA director, a Democrat, under Bill Clinton. Now, Chris, you`re in a responsible position...

MATTHEWS: The problem is you told us...

FLEISCHER: ... doing what you do. When you confuse...

MATTHEWS: ... this was a mistake. You told us this stuff...

FLEISCHER: ... getting something wrong with being dishonest, shame on you.

MATTHEWS: ... was all wrong. But Ari, you probably got in a lot of trouble for telling the truth back then by saying it was an inaccurate claim, an incorrect claim. You did so courageously...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... and you did so after we got into the war. Unfortunately...

FLEISCHER: George Bush said the same thing. He said the intelligence was wrong.

MATTHEWS: OK. Most Americans...

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: And then he had a commission study why the intelligence was wrong so future presidents could benefit from changing the intelligence structure.

MATTHEWS: Let me go back to where we started...

FLEISCHER: That`s what you`re supposed to do when you make a mistake.

MATTHEWS: ... before we started quibbling here. One of the main reasons why this president...

FLEISCHER: It`s not a quibble. It`s fundamental.

MATTHEWS: One of the main reasons...

FLEISCHER: What`s troublesome is why you would twist my words. When I said we were wrong, you said I acknowledged we were dishonest. Chris, that reveals a lot about you and how you...

MATTHEWS: Let`s go over it again.

FLEISCHER: ... cover (ph) the guests that come on your show...

MATTHEWS: You believe -- do you believe...

FLEISCHER: ... when you twist people`s words like that. You shouldn`t do that.

MATTHEWS: Just a minute. Thanks for the -- for the correction. Let me ask you this. Do you believe that you know for sure that those words were not confected to win the case for the war, that we went into that war with people who really wanted to push the evidence harder than they should have, that they were reckless in making claims that couldn`t be proven afterwards, as you admitted?

FLEISCHER: Well, given the fact...

MATTHEWS: Were they reckless claims?

FLEISCHER: Given the fact that Bill Clinton also said that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, biological and or chemical...

MATTHEWS: No, nuclear weapons.

FLEISCHER: No.

MATTHEWS: Nuclear.

FLEISCHER: Nobody ever said he had...

MATTHEWS: You guys claimed nuclear.

FLEISCHER: ... nuclear except -- no, Chris, we didn`t. Dick Cheney made a mistake on one Sunday show and said nuclear and then he took it back. That`s the only time anybody ever said that.

MATTHEWS: Over and over again...

FLEISCHER: We were fearful -- we were fearful...

MATTHEWS: ... Condi Rice and the rest of you...

FLEISCHER: We were fearful he would try to develop them.

MATTHEWS: ... said if we didn`t go to war with Iraq -- over and over again, we heard if we didn`t go to war with Iraq, if we waited to hear evidence further, we would be -- we would suffer a mushroom cloud -- Condi Rice. The vice president went on "Meet the Press" and other programs again and again and again, threatening this country...

FLEISCHER: Once.

MATTHEWS: ... if we didn`t go to war with Iraq, we`d suffer a nuclear threat from them. There was evidence presented by your administration there was some sort of delivery vehicle that could deliver a nuclear weapon to this continent. That`s what you guys claimed. That`s how you got the middle-of-the-road people to back the war. And now you backpedal. Afterwards, you admit it was incorrect. Well, other people have different observations about how hard you pushed. But you pushed to get us in the war, and now you`re backing out of it. Now you`re coming back and saying, well, you were right even though you took it back.

FLEISCHER: Chris, we always said that we didn`t want to let a smoking gun turn into a mushroom cloud.

MATTHEWS: What did that mean?

FLEISCHER: We never knew whether he had -- we always said he does not have nuclear. I repeatedly said that. But he was determined to try to acquire it, just as he was determined to acquire biological and chemical.

MATTHEWS: Right.

FLEISCHER: And it`s wrong for you to say that what we said was wrong, when we acknowledged the intelligence was wrong, but then the inspectors who went over there after the war did report that Saddam had an active intelligence program to acquire biological and chemical weapons. He never stopped working on them.

MATTHEWS: Yes. The problem is, you...

FLEISCHER: We were wrong that he had them. We weren`t wrong that he was trying to obtain them. And that`s why I believe, Chris, to this very day that we should all be grateful that we`ve inherited...

MATTHEWS: Well...

FLEISCHER: ... that Barack Obama has inherited a world without Saddam in it.

MATTHEWS: OK, well, that`s...

FLEISCHER: The sanctions were full of loopholes. He ultimately would have had them. We were wrong when we said he had them, but it was only a matter of time, Chris.

MATTHEWS: And now we face Ahmadinejad in Iran with no buffer in the region, no threat to his power, no counter-power to him. He`s all alone over there as a main threat to our country and to other countries in the region because we removed the only check on his power, which was Saddam Hussein. That`s just as legitimate a strategic argument as the one you just made.

But what you cannot continue to argue is there was any justification for saying there was a mushroom cloud facing us if we didn`t go to war quickly. It was an argument for a quick rush to war, to jam us into the war as quickly as possible with the threat of a nuclear attack on this country. It was made very effectively. I was there at the time, Ari. I was challenging it at the time. And only afterwards did you say it wasn`t a correct fact.

FLEISCHER: Chris, I repeatedly said from the podium -- and you can find the tape and roll it for your audience -- that Saddam does not have nuclear. We said he would try to obtain nuclear, and that`s what we believed.

MATTHEWS: Right.

FLEISCHER: We do know that he was trying to obtain biological and chemical. As for your argument about Ahmadinejad, you know, there are some people who believe in the legitimacy of dictator versus dictator and that`s how you have a balance of power around the world.

MATTHEWS: Right.

FLEISCHER: I can`t dispute that that is one strain of foreign policy. But when I look at it on balance, I`d much rather not have Saddam in the world. I`d much rather have Libya without its nuclear weapons, much rather have Syria without its nuclear weapons it was developing.

MATTHEWS: That would be an argument...

FLEISCHER: Three nations, two of which were trying to develop...

MATTHEWS: That would be...

FLEISCHER: ... nuclear no longer have done so under George Bush`s watch. I believe that`s made for a much more safe and secure Middle East.

MATTHEWS: Well, the truly frightening...

FLEISCHER: Iran is the last remaining big problem.

MATTHEWS: ... argument you have just made -- the truly frightening argument you just made is anybody in the world we don`t like is worthy of a war to take them out of power. And I don`t believe that`s a justifiable argument morally, politically, geopolitically or other. If we don`t like...

FLEISCHER: Was there a war against Libya?

MATTHEWS: ... a world leader, and there are a lot of them we don`t like...

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: Chris, yes or no. Was there a war against Libya? The answer is no and Libya no longer has nuclear weapons. They turned them in. They dismantled their program. Was there a war against Syria? The answer is no.

MATTHEWS: But your argument is that because...

FLEISCHER: Israel went in and surgically removed...

MATTHEWS: ... we didn`t like Saddam Hussein, we should have gone to war with him. That`s your argument, not mine.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Ari, agree to disagree.

FLEISCHER: ... and I believe this still today. And of course, you and I disagree with it. But after September 11, having been hit once, how could we take a chance that Saddam might not strike again? And that`s the threat that has been removed, and I think we`re all safer with that threat being removed.

MATTHEWS: OK. And I am glad-

FLEISCHER: And I`m proud to take that argument.

MATTHEWS: ... that we no longer have an administration that uses that kind of argument. Thank you very much, Ari Fleischer. And the American people are happier, too. They are, I can assure you. We don`t like that thinking anymore in this country.

Coming up...

FLEISCHER: Well, Chris, we all know where you stand.

MATTHEWS: And you, as well, sir. Thank you for coming on.

FLEISCHER: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: I mean it.

Astounding. Now Chris Matthews thinks he's speaking for the entire nation.

Is that journalism?

Of course, that's a rhetorical question, for nothing about this interview from the moment it began could be so labeled.

I'm frankly stunned by Matthews' performance -- how about you?

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.