The first words out of Chris Matthews' mouth, at the top of Wednesday's Hardball on MSNBC, raised the specter of Watergate: "What did the President know and when did he know it?” Matthews proceeded to trumpet “the New York Daily News now out in front on this story, reported this morning that President Bush rebuked ramrod Karl Rove over the leak story.” Repeating his tease, Matthews previewed his first segment: “So tonight on Hardball, we try to figure it out again if people in the Bush administration crossed the line separating political hardball -- tough, clean, Machiavellian politics -- and criminality. We're led tonight by the news coverage to that unsavory tandem of questions: What did the President know and when did he know it?”
On Tuesday night, Matthews opened with a dire scenario for a Vice President with a bad temper: “Did the fierce battle of leaks between elements of the Central Intelligence Agency who opposed going to war in Iraq and the hawks in the Vice President's office escalate to actual law breaking? Did the Vice President in an effort to defend himself from an onslaught of charges by Joseph Wilson urge his staff to silence the former ambassador? Did Cheney, through anger or loss of temper, create a climate for political hardball and worse? Did he stoke his staff in the late spring and early summer of 2003 to such a level of ferocity that some of its members crossed the line into illegality? And will Patrick Fitzgerald determine that in doing so, he crossed that dire line himself?"
The MRC's Geoffrey Dickens caught how later, on the October 18 program, Matthews wondered how prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald could bring indictments which excluded Cheney:
"In all decency, can he launch or indict on a grand conspiracy like they all got together in the vice president`s office with Scooter, the chief of staff of the Vice President, Karl Rove and a lot of other guys and they all sat together and they said, ‘let`s nail this guy. We don`t like him, Joe Wilson. Let`s out his wife, prove that he was just on a junket, blah, blah, blah,'turns out to be criminal, without including the Vice President? If it`s a grand conspiracy hatched in the Vice President`s office, how does he even logically exclude the top guy?"
“Bush whacked Rove on CIA leak,” the October 19 New York Daily News headline read over an article which began: “An angry President Bush rebuked chief political guru Karl Rove two years ago for his role in the Valerie Plame affair, sources told the Daily News.” The story did not report that Rove gave Plame's name to anyone, just that Rove “conceded he had talked to the press about the Plame leak.”
Matthews teased the October 19 Hardball (live at 5pm EDT and on tape at 7pm EDT):
“What did the President know and when did he know it? What did he know about his top hardballer Karl Rove's role in the CIA leak affair? What did he know about an alleged White House hit squad nailing critics of his Iraq war policy and when did he know it? And when did he tell the special prosecutor? And when will we, the people, know it all. Let's all play Hardball tonight."
After the musical opening, Matthews set up a lead explanatory story from David Shuster:
“Good evening, I'm Chris Matthews. The beat goes on. The wait for the special prosecutor in the CIA leak case, to either indict or head back to Chicago with the secrets of his two-year investigation never told. The New York Daily News now out in front on this story, reported this morning that President Bush rebuked ramrod Karl Rove over the leak story. Was he mad when word surfaced that someone in the administration had outed the CIA agent or did he get mad on hearing that people in his inner White House circle were among those suspected? Or did he possibly get mad on learning from Karl Rove that he did, in fact, talk to the press about the CIA agent? And so tonight on Hardball, we try to figure it out again if people in the Bush administration crossed the line separating political hardball -- tough, clean, Machiavellian politics -- and criminality. We're led tonight by the news coverage to that unsavory tandem of questions: What did the President know and when did he know it? And this may be the heart of it: Did he know that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby were involved in striking back at Ambassador Joe Wilson and his wife for what they saw as the threat this couple posed to the President and Vice President's WMD case of the invasion in Iraq?”