From Liz Rich:
Here is a partial transcript of last night’s HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS. Steve McMahon is an example of why Democrats can’t get any footing in any debate. Democratic spokespeople are so inept that it boggles the mind. Matthews didn’t need a Republican spokesman because McMahon was so clueless. Repugs have talking points, Dems have foot in mouth disease.
MATTHEWS: We’re a back, on a national holiday, Martin Luther King Day. Steve McMahon came in for the holiday, he’s a Democratic strategist, and Ben Ginsberg is working all the time. He is an adviser to the Bush-Cheney campaign.
We have a got a couple poll numbers out there. One of them is 81 percent of the people in the new Pew poll that says that bribery in Congress is common behavior. Now, I just want to know if you guys agree with that. You do know, you’re in law practice here in Washington and a counselor to the Republicans and you know a lot of people. Do you believe four out of five members of Congress are crooks?
BEN GINSBERG, FMR. COUNSEL, BUSH-CHENEY ’04: No, absolutely not. No
MATTHEWS: Can you make the case to the American people why you know better?
GINSBERG: Sure, because I’ve seen them and know them. I know that most people in Congress, despite the cloud of the Abramoff scandal, and it is a cloud and you can’t denigrate the importance of it, but most members in Congress are honestly there to do the people’s business, it’s true of both sides of the aisle, and that’s why they’re there.
MATTHEWS: So they’re not taking money under the counter.
GINSBERG: No. In fact, if you saw the lifestyle that most of these guys and women lead, it’s just not true.
MATTHEWS: Describe that. Tom Foley, the former Speaker of the House, would always talk about the fact that in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” the senior senator from that western State was living in The Cosmos Club, this gigantic mansion on Massachusetts Avenue, when most congressmen are living in basement apartments, sharing rooms with two or three other people.
GINSBERG: Sharing it with each other. They commute back home to their families as often as they can, which is why votes get scheduled the way that they do. They don’t have a whole lot of disposable income. They’re usually raising the kids back home. It can be a tough slough for some of them, but they do believe in public service.
MATTHEWS: And they fight over every pay raise.
MATTHEWS: Because they want that money, that three percent.
GINSBERG: Well, some want the money, and some don’t.
MATTHEWS: But what do you-let me ask you this. Do you think four or five or crooks, or do you think it’s much lower?
STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think it’s much lower. I think there may be a few. WHAT??? And I think the press is building this up to be the biggest corruption scandal in the history of the world. And I think there are going to be some people who go down, but I think the number-you know, there are 535 members up there, and I think if there are three or four or five, that will be a lot and that would represent… WE HAVE TO STOP THESE IDIOTS FROM REPRESENTING THE DEMOCRATS.
MATTHEWS: … The press, as you pointed as saying that this guy, Abramoff was dumping, like, four million bucks into the Congress somewhere.
MCMAHON: Well yes, but you know what? Money gets dumped into campaign committees every single day in this town and it doesn’t mean anything illegal’s going on.
I mean, look, I think you could make the case that a guy like Abramoff, who stands to perhaps cut his prison sentence from 30 years to five years by telling stories, and some of those stories may be true and some of them may not be true. CAN’T YOU SEE GINZBERG LAUGHING UP HIS SLEEVE? STEVE IS MAKING THE REPUG POINTS. WHERE ARE THE DEMOCRATIC ONES??
You know, you’ve got to wonder. When someone’s looking at 30 years in jail, but if you just tell a few stories, you’re going to get off scot-free, whether all the stories are going to be accurate?
MATTHEWS: Do you think the innocent will suffer?
MCMAHON: I think there are going to be some innocent people who suffer. I think there are some people up there who are corrupt, and I think there are some people up there who have broken the law. I THINK SOMEONE SHOULD CUT OUT HIS TONGUE.
MATTHEWS: Do you know the corrupt people?
MCMAHON: Well, of course, we all know who some of them are. I don’t think it’s big news. NO CHANCE OF USING THIS AS A CAMPAIGN ISSUE TO TAKE BACK THE HOUSES OF CONGRESS WITH THIS GUY AROUND TO PLUG THE REPUG TALKING POINTS.
MATTHEWS: You can make some news here tonight.
MCMAHON: Anybody who’s been reading the papers probably knows who most of those people are. But it’s not a majority of the 535. And it’s not even a significant minority, it’s a few members of Congress.
MATTHEWS: Do you think it’s worse than it was 20 years ago?
GINSBERG: No. I think it’s by in large the same. I mean, I think that there are some things that are different. Was the House Bank (ph) and the way it operated 20 years ago, it was Lyndon Johnson and Bobby Baker and Billie Sol Estes’ 40 years ago. And today, things have shifted a little bit with the different rules that have come about. And there are some certain practices that probably can stand cleaning up, that may get cleaned up in the scandal, and that’s not all bad. Gift rule, lobbying ban, things like that.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I remember the old days, you hear about where the money just poured and they just put it in people’s pockets, their raincoats and there was no accounting for anything, it was all-here’s your scholarship money for your kid.
MCMAHON: None of that happens anymore, but you have these gift rules that make no sense. So for instance, a lobbyist can’t give you more than $50 in a meal or a sporting event ticket, but you can take a private-but he can give you a private jet to fly home for your indictment. Now does that make any sense?
MATTHEWS: For your indictment?
MCMAHON: Well, if you’re Tom DeLay, when he needed to get to Texas to get booked…
MATTHEWS: … All right, we’ll be right back with interesting rules and misrules with Steve McMahon and Ben Ginsberg. And a reminder, Hardblogger is the place to be online for the best political debate. And now you can download Podcasts of HARDBALL. Just go to our Web site, hardblogger.MSNBC.com.
MATTHEWS: We’re back with Democratic strategists Steve McMahon and former Bush/Cheney adviser Ben Ginsberg. Ben, is this Abramoff thing going to be a net loss for Republicans when it’s all over, by November?
GINSBERG: At the end of the day, I don’t think so. There may a couple more seats that will be in play that could have. But I suspect by November, one or two things will happen. It will either be an equal bipartisan scandal or it will sort of die out as a scandal, period.
MATTHEWS: Can your party used this to win the House?
MCMAHON: Yes. And by the way…
MATTHEWS: … If he pleads, you can win with this?
MCMAHON: Yes. The Republicans are trying to make this a bipartisan scandal. And frankly, I don’t think it’s so much about Abramoff in particular as it is just about the whole culture of corruption that has invaded the Republican Party from the White House, where we still have an ongoing leak investigation.
MATTHEWS: Is the president corrupt?
MCMAHON: No, I don’t think he’s corrupt.
MATTHEWS: Well then, you said there’s a culture of corruption-who’s corrupt?
MCMAHON: Well I think that there were some people there who perhaps violated the law.
MATTHEWS: Give me names.
br />MCMAHON: Well you know who the names are.
MATTHEWS: No, I don’t.
MCMAHON: The Valerie Plame story hasn’t concluded, Fitzgerald hasn’t concluded his work, Karl Rove is still perhaps a target. We don’t know.
MATTHEWS: That’s true.
MCMAHON: You’ve got the majority leader, you’ve got…
MATTHEWS: Scooter Libby, is he a crook? Is he a crook, is he corrupt?
MCMAHON: Scooter Libby’s under indictment. I’m not saying he is corrupt, but I’m saying there’s a culture. AS I SAID, CUT: HIS TONGUE OUT.
MATTHEWS: You said there’s a culture of corruption. What does that mean?
MCMAHON: What it means is the Republicans don’t think the rules apply to them. They don’t think the laws apply to them. And they routinely either ignore or perhaps in some cases violate the laws. And it’s coming home to roost on them. You’ve got Bill Frist is under investigation by the SEC, Tom DeLay is under indictment. The entire House and Senate leadership is…
MATTHEWS: … What about Harry Reid and Patrick Kennedy not giving back the money they got through the good offices of Abramoff?
MCMAHON: This is a Republican argument, they’re trying to make this…
MATTHEWS: … Well, it’s a good question.
GINSBERG: It’s a pretty good argument.
MATTHEWS: Why don’t they give back the money they got thanks to Jack Abramoff?
GINSBERG: This culture of corruption.
MCMAHON: Because the money that they got, as I understand it, wasn’t from Jack Abramoff. It was from people who-a lot of the Republican took money from and haven’t returned either. THE TALKING POINT IS THAT THE INDIAN TRIBES HAD ALWAYS GIVEN TO THE DEMS UNTIL ABRAMOFF TOOK THEM OVER. THEY STILL GIVE TO THE DEMS BECAUSE DEMOCRATS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN MORE RESPONSIVE TO THE TRIBES’ NEEDS THAN THE REPUBS HAVE BEEN.
I HAVE NEVER HEARD ONE DEMOCRAT MAKE THIS POINT. WHAT ARE THEY AFRAID OF?
MATTHEWS: And your thought-can you prove that Abramoff gave money to Harry Reid through the Indians?
GINSBERG: As much as he can prove it about any of the Republicans. That’s what the campaign finance reports shows. This culture of corruption nonsense being isolated on the Republicans is just silly. There are just as many Democrats who are doing the things that we think are OK under the gift rules that have not been called into question.
MATTHEWS: You tried to run the Democrat lobbyists off K Street. You tried to monopolize the damn thing.
GINSBERG: No, we didn’t try and monopolize the damn thing. What we…
MATTHEWS: So power doesn’t tend to corrupt, absolute power doesn’t corrupt absolutely?
GINSBERG: Power can be…
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you Ben Ginsberg, thank you Steve McMahon.