It didn't take long for Chris Matthews to launch into his rant against Dick Cheney after news of the Lewis Libby verdict broke. Just 11 minutes into MSNBC's live coverage of the Libby decision the Cheney-obsessed Matthews to jumped into his anti-Iraq war routine as he repeated Patrick Fitzgerald's charge there the is now "a cloud" around the Vice President. Matthews also asserted Cheney was "now in the cross-hairs of national debate," and charged "This isn't like a hunting accident where he can walk away for two days and let someone else answer the questions. He's gonna have to answer the questions. Let's see if he puts out a statement. If it's anything more than remorse, well let's hope that it's something more than remorse because there's a lot of questions here."
The following is the Hardball's host immediate reaction to the verdict:
Chris Jansing: "And so it looks like jail time and a fine and also an appeal for Scooter Libby. But for more on those political implications let's go to Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC's Hardball and your reaction to this, Chris."
Chris Matthews: "Well of course this is all about the war in Iraq. Of course it's a perjury case but to limit itself to the legal aspects is to limit the Alger Hiss case of 1950, that great Cold War spy case, to simple, the simple matter of perjury. This is not about perjury it's about the larger question of how we got in this war with Iraq and the case that was made by the Vice President and his chief of staff that we faced a nuclear threat from Saddam Hussein, a threat which was challenged very effectively by Joseph Wilson after coming back from Africa. He said, ‘My trip proved there was not a threat of any kind of a uranium deal with the government of Niger.' That caused what Fitzgerald, the prosecutor, called ‘a hullabaloo,' in the Office of the Vice President.
It has left, as the prosecutor said in his summation in his trial, ‘a cloud over the Vice President himself.' It's gonna be very hard for this Vice President to separate himself from this verdict."
Jansing: "How does the President react to this? Does he say something about this and what does he say about his support for Dick Cheney at this point."
Matthews: "It gets back to the questions of these levels of coverup. The case, the faulty case for WMD, why we went to war. The attempt to destroy and discredit Joe Wilson by saying his trip to Africa was a junket put together by his wife, when in fact, under sworn testimony two officials from the CIA in this trial swearing by oath, a State Department official under oath, all three testified it was the Vice President's query that led to this trip to Niger. And for the Vice President and his chief of staff to spend weeks trying to separate themselves from this trip is the question, it is the cloud. It is the hullabaloo that Fitzgerald put at the heart of this case. He only prosecuted the chief of staff. He's up to a bigger question and we're gonna see in the weeks ahead whether Scooter Libby negotiates with the prosecutor as to the role the Vice President may have played in what went on here."
Then after a report from Kelly O'Donnell and David Shuster on Libby, Jansing returned to Matthews, who refocused the discussion back to Cheney:
Matthews: "Well I imagine the Vice President is having a very hard time. I think the Vice President who obviously cares about Scooter Libby, they're very close friends, a very close confident relationship, confidant relationship. They work together. But on the brutal level of criminality and guilt beyond that of the legal system the question of political guilt here. Clearly throughout this trial the name that was mentioned most often by the prosecutor over and over again besides that of Scooter Libby himself was his boss. He talked about the, the prosecutor talked about how it was the Vice President who instructed Scooter Libby how to deal with the press. Who told him, when he was confronted with the fact that he was the source of information about Mrs. Plame or Mrs. Wilson not Tim Russert, he said, ‘Me?' And then he said, ‘Don't get into the details when you're talking to the press. So all kinds of instructions starting with the trip to Africa that the Vice President was on we're getting testimony showing the role the Vice President played with regard to Scooter Libby's handling of this matter from Day One. And of course most people watching the trial know that Scooter Libby did not lie under oath because he was trying to make some money or for some venal reason. He was lying under oath, according to the prosecution case, to protect his job. But he went beyond that. He kept defending the role of the Vice President. He kept saying, ‘I didn't learn this from the Vice President about Valerie Wilson. I learned it from Tim Russert. I never learned it from the Vice President.' He didn't have to go that far. It's clear in watching this case he was a loyal servant not just of his country but of his boss and now the Vice President has to deal with this matter. He has to recognize as he goes to bed at night and certainly as he thinks about this today that he's very much involved in this case. He was not indicted, he was not charged but he was the man who worked everyday with Scooter Libby and Scooter Libby under oath, well let me put it this way Scooter Libby refused to go under oath. He refused to defend himself in this case. The Vice President of the United States did not come forward to defend Scooter Libby. They had their opportunity to save Scooter Libby's career and his freedom and neither chose that opportunity. The jury couldn't use that against them but they still found him wanting in terms of telling the truth. But the person who has the cloud over their head, according to the prosecutor, is, is Vice President Cheney. The man who caused this hullabaloo, who was racing around trying to discredit Joe Wilson, trying to say his wife sent him on a junket, doing anything he could to separate himself from this trip is the person that's now in the cross-hairs of national debate here right now. We're gonna have to watch and see what Vice President Cheney says. This isn't like a hunting accident where he can walk away for two days and let someone else answer the questions. He's gonna have to answer the questions. Let's see if he puts out a statement. If it's anything more than remorse, well let's hope that it's something more than remorse because there's a lot of questions here. I still want to know the question we put up in the days after Joe Wilson wrote his article, the question we kept asking: If it was the Vice President whose query triggered this trip to Africa to check out a deal, a possible deal by Saddam Hussein to buy nuclear materials in Africa why didn't the Vice President didn't get a report. That is the question at the heart of this case. And when you talk to George Tenet, as I did, the former CIA Director he said, ‘Ask Cheney.' Well we still gotta ask Cheney to find out what his role was here. Back to you Chris."