2007.08.28: August 28, 2007: Headlines: Figures: COS - Swaziland: Journalism: Television: Gay Issues: Congress: Hardball Transcript: Chris Matthews says "Larry Craig, cultural warrior of the right, stands naked tonight, exposed as both a sexual deviant and a world-class hypocrite"

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Chris Matthews says "Larry Craig, cultural warrior of the right, stands naked tonight, exposed as both a sexual deviant and a world-class hypocrite"

Chris Matthews says Larry Craig, cultural warrior of the right, stands naked tonight, exposed as both a sexual deviant and a world-class hypocrite

"The big story tonight, dirty politics. Idaho senator Larry Craig, cultural warrior of the right, stands naked tonight, exposed as both a sexual deviant and a world-class hypocrite. A crusader against gay marriage, gay civil unions, gays in the military, he faces his country, his party and his people having solicited sex in an airport men‘s room. " Television Journalist Chris Matthews served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Swaziland in the 1960's.

Chris Matthews says "Larry Craig, cultural warrior of the right, stands naked tonight, exposed as both a sexual deviant and a world-class hypocrite"

'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for August 28

Read the transcript to the Tuesday show

Updated: 1:08 p.m. ET Aug 29, 2007


Guests: Dan Popkey, Chris Cillizza, Tony Perkins, Mark Green, Lance Armstrong, Christopher Hitchens, Bill Donohue, Cynthia Tucker, David Brodie, Naomi Wolf


SEN. LARRY CRAIG ®, IDAHO: Let me be clear. I am not gay. I never have been gay.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Red-state Republican, red meat rhetoric, caught red-handed.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in Iowa. Welcome to HARDBALL.

The big story tonight, dirty politics. Idaho senator Larry Craig, cultural warrior of the right, stands naked tonight, exposed as both a sexual deviant and a world-class hypocrite. A crusader against gay marriage, gay civil unions, gays in the military, he faces his country, his party and his people having solicited sex in an airport men‘s room.

Tonight, his explanation.


CRAIG: For eight months leading up to June 11, my family and I have been relentlessly and viciously harassed by “The Idaho Statesman.” If you saw the article today, you know why. Let me be clear. I am not gay. I never have been gay. Still, without a shred of truth or evidence to the contrary, “The Statesman” has engaged in this witch hunt. In pleading guilty, I overreacted in Minneapolis because of the stress “The Idaho Statesman” investigation and the rumors it has fueled all around Idaho.


MATTHEWS: We‘re going to talk in just a moment with the “Idaho Statesman” reporter who broke this story.

And our second story tonight: Reality bites. Senator Craig is not just a representative of a conservative state, Idaho, he‘s a strong voice for conservative presidential candidate Mitt Romney.


MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think we‘ve all heard the story about Bill Clinton and the fact that he let us down in his personal conduct with a White House intern. And that strikes me as another one of these extraordinary acts of falling short of what America would expect of elected officials, particularly one who should be held to a higher standard.


MATTHEWS: In the HARDBALL debate tonight, another hot topic, Mother Teresa, a story of sainthood or scandal. A new book shows she went through holy hell during her lifetime not as a simple woman of faith, but as a supreme doubter, as well. The HARDBALL debate tonight, Christopher Hitchens versus Bill Donohue.

We begin tonight with HARDBALL‘s David Shuster on the grand canyon that separates Senator Craig‘s public record in the Senate and his private behavior now in the public eye.


DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Idaho‘s Larry Craig is an outspoken conservative Republican.

CRAIG: It is not the role of the United States Senate to draw that kind of line and...

SHUSTER: He has pledged his opposition to gay marriage and civil unions. He voted against allowing gays and lesbians in the military. He voted against abortion rights. And he voted to impeach President Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, entering into the Senate record that Clinton, quote, “brought this nation to this point because of his own self-gratification, setting what was good for himself above what was good for the nation. It is unconscionable what the president has put the country through.”

But now the spotlight is on Larry Craig. According to Minnesota court documents, Craig pleaded guilty three weeks ago to a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge for actions on June the 11th in the Minneapolis international airport inside a public men‘s room. Police say Craig entered a restroom known for sexual activity and repeatedly peeked through the crack of a stall where a man was waiting.

The man, an undercover police officer, says Craig then sat in the next stall. Quote, “At 12:16 hours, Craig tapped his right foot. I recognized this is a signal used by persons wishing to engage in lewd conduct. Craig tapped his toes several times and moved his foot closer to my foot. I moved my foot up and down slowly. Craig moved his right food so that it touched the side of my left foot, which was within my stall area.”

The officer said Craig then proceeded to swipe his hand under the stall divider several times. Quote, “I could see Craig had a gold ring on his ring finger, as his hand was on my side of the stall divider.”

When the officer identified himself, the arrest report says Craig was at first reluctant to leave the restroom but did so after the officer threatened to make a scene. A few minutes later, Craig gave the officer his Senate business card and allegedly said, quote, “What do you think about that?”

Craig also reportedly said to police he had a wide stance when going to the bathroom and had reached down in the stall to pick up a piece of paper. But the arresting officer wrote in his report, quote, “It should be noted that there was not a piece of paper on the bathroom floor, nor did Craig pick up a piece of paper.”

Three weeks ago, Craig pick $500 in fines, had a 10-day jail sentence stayed and was given a one-year probation.

JENNIFER DUFFY, “THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT”: I think it is going to be increasingly difficult for him to run for reelection, and I think the question needs to be posed about whether he can actually finish out this term.

SHUSTER: Craig‘s efforts to hold on have begun. Last night, he issued a statement saying, quote, “At the time of this incident, I complained to the police that they were misconstruing my actions. I was not involved in any inappropriate conduct.” Craig added, quote, “I should have had the advice of counsel in resolving this matter. In hindsight, I should not have pled guilty.”

Allegations of lewd behavior have dogged Craig before. In 1982, with the FBI investigating claims that several members of Congress, including Craig, had engaged in sex with male congressional pages, Craig spoke out and called the story false.

CRAIG: I have always been aggressive and up front with what I believe in. And when I have people telling me that a whole series of false accusations were made against my character, frankly, it makes me mad as hell.

SHUSTER: This year has been a rough one for conservative Republicans. GOP congressman Mark Foley left Congress after sending lewd e-mails and text messages to pages. Conservative pastor Ted Haggard left his church after a male prostitute came forward with evidence Haggard had been a client. And Louisiana senator David Vitter, who won election three years ago after campaigning on “family values,” was forced to acknowledge this summer having visited a D.C. escort service.

SEN. DAVID VITTER ®, LOUISIANA: I want to again offer my deep, sincere apologies to all of those I have let down and disappointed.

SHUSTER: Now the focus is on conservative firebrand Larry Craig.

(on camera): Craig is 62 years old. He is married and has children. Under Senate rules, Craig‘s arrest and his use of his congressional ID could be the subject of a Senate Ethics Committee investigation.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.


MATTHEWS: Thank you, David Shuster.

“Idaho Statesman” reporter Dan Popkey conducted five-month investigation into Senator Craig‘s life and asked him about sexual allegations in May of this year, just one month before the senator was arrested in Minneapolis. The story is in today‘s “Idaho Statesman.”

And also joining us now, Chris Cillizza is with “The Washington Post.”

Let‘s go to Dan Popkey. Dan, is there any way that the senator could have been telling the truth today?

DAN POPKEY, “IDAHO STATESMAN”: Yes. I—you know, we have one source, as we reported today, who says he had sex with the senator in the Union Station bathroom. We didn‘t publish that until this guilty plea about conduct in the Minneapolis airport bathroom. So you know, the officer could be wrong and the person that we‘re talking to could have been mistaken. He may have—we believe he got it right, based on, you know, his credibility and—and the circles he traveled in. But yes, the officer and the guy we talked to both might be wrong.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the police report. I read it. It is very detailed—it reminded me of Joe Friday in “Dragnet”—point by point, minute by minute, the manner in which, as David Shuster just pointed out, the senator is accused of having signaled with his foot, signaled by moving his foot over to the stall, signaled with his hand motions in a way that it doesn‘t take any decoder ring to know what‘s going on here.

Is there any way in the world that police officer is either not lying or—it seems to me he‘s either lying or he‘s not. If he‘s telling the truth as he knows it, this guy‘s guilty.

POPKEY: Well...

MATTHEWS: It‘s not a question of mistaken—misconstruing signals.

POPKEY: No. And you know, I think the critical thing is the senator‘s guilty plea. Had he wanted to contest the officer‘s account, surely he would have hired an attorney. And now he says he‘s going to do that. But I mean, yes, I mean, the reason we finally decided to publish something that we weren‘t ready to publish because we erred on the side of believing the senator, was his guilty plea.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s take a look at—here‘s what Senator Craig said after listening to a recording of a man who described a sexual encounter with the senator at Washington‘s Union Station. Quote—this is Senator Craig—“The gay movement, we know it for what it is. It‘s now aggressive and it‘s liberal, and it‘s naming people to try to put them in compromising, difficult situations.”

So the list of those he accuses now for accusing him includes you, your paper, the gay community, and the police that arrested him in Minneapolis. So there‘s a lot of culprits in the world that he sees.

What do you make of this testimony by this person who said he had this relationship with the senator?

POPKEY: You mean the one that I spoke with?


POPKEY: Because we promised him anonymity, there are things that I know about his credibility that I can‘t share with you, but...

MATTHEWS: But you said he‘s a prominent Republican that people would know in Washington.

POPKEY: Some people in Republican circles would know him. I wouldn‘t call him prominent Republican, but he traveled in Republican circles and he, we are convinced, would have likely recognized Larry Craig. He also said he went home after the encounter to verify his original identification, if you will, and calling up the senator‘s photo on the Web, he verified that it was him.

MATTHEWS: Is it your story, as you reported it, as a reporter, straight reporting here, that Senator Craig engages regularly in soliciting sex in public men‘s rooms?

POPKEY: No. I would say that we know about these two incidents. We also asked him about a number of other incidents in which he is alleged either to have solicited others for sex or had sex with people that are now dead. He denies every account, every occasion of gay sex. I never engaged in gay conduct, is what he told us in May.

Now, today, I heard him say, I am not gay. I‘m not sure he was quite as sweeping today as he was in May. The transcript of that interview and some audio will be on our Web site, if it‘s not already, today.

MATTHEWS: You stand by your story today, right?

POPKEY: Absolutely. I think we were measured, fair, cautious. We didn‘t go with this story, like you guys did, in October, and a lot of other media. So for him to, you know, accuse us of conducting a witch hunt, that hurts a little, I suppose, but I think we got it right.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Chris Cillizza of “The Washington Post.” Chris, you‘ve been posting on this today. What are the political significances of this event today, including the presser he just gave this afternoon?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM: Well, you know, I actually thought from a political standpoint, Chris, the most interesting thing that happened happened at the end, which he said, I‘m going to still stick to my timeline. I‘m going to make a decision about my future in office next month.

Well, everything that I heard leading up to this, and in the hours after this broke last night, “Roll Call” newspaper, my alma mater, wound up breaking this story—I heard that Larry Craig was planning to retire anyway. I would be stunned, stunned, if he did not retire. It may happen before that, that he‘s going to have to resign. I‘m just—I‘m not convinced he was ever going to run. I think it has now become impossible for him to run, despite the ruby-red Republicanism of Idaho. This is a potentially fatal disqualifier, no matter what your state looks like. And I think the real question before us now is, Does Larry Craig‘s career last until he gets to announce he‘s going to retire, or is he forced to resign before that?

MATTHEWS: Well, here‘s Larry Craig talking several years ago on “Meet the Press” about Bill Clinton‘s problems.


CRAIG: The Senate certainly can bring about a censure resolution, and it‘s a slap on the wrist. It‘s a, Bad boy, Bill Clinton, you‘re a naughty boy.

The American people already know that Bill Clinton is a bad boy, a naughty boy. I‘m going to speak out for the citizens of my state, who in the majority think that Bill Clinton is probably even a nasty bad naughty boy.


MATTHEWS: And so Chris, I guess you see there, without a lot of interpretation, him coming down hard on bill Clinton, saying he ought to be convicted and removed from the presidency for that relationship with Monica Lewinsky. And here we have him standing accused and having pled guilty to disorderly conduct after being arrested for lewd behavior in a men‘s room. And you have to wonder, a man who‘s opposed to gay marriage, gay civil unions, gays in the military is caught in the men‘s room in this fashion—

I just wonder how far hypocrisy can go in this business. I thought, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” was a high mark. I think he‘s just surpassed it.

CILLIZZA: Well, you know what I keep coming back to is a point Dan made. He pled guilty. Now, he said it was to a lesser charge. It was to disorderly conduct, but lewd behavior, but he pled guilty. This man is a United States Senator. I think he would grasp the enormity of this. And frankly, I put myself in that situation. If there is such a huge misunderstanding—that happens—I don‘t think you would plead guilty. I would think you‘d say, Whoa. We‘ve got a real problem here. I was bending down to pick up...


MATTHEWS: ... let‘s avoid—let‘s avoid the conversation getting confused for the viewers. If you read the police report, there‘s no question of misunderstanding. This man used leg signals, hand signals. He looked through the man to the crack in the door, the man in the men‘s room, making eye contact in a way that I have never seen anybody do. This kind of behavior was clearly deliberate, Dan. It isn‘t a question of misinterpretation by a police officer. Do you believe, reading the police report, Dan—and you broke this story—that there‘s any misunderstanding involved here?

POPKEY: Well, wait a—“Roll Call” broke the story about the police report. We didn‘t have that. It was...


POPKEY: ... only then that we decided to run the—the product of our long investigation. But you know, I have to say that I agree with Chris. I mean, why would a sitting U.S. senator not hire a lawyer if he disputed what had happened? Why would he not call the Republican governor of Minnesota and say, Hey, we got a problem? Why would he not seek counsel with his wife? It—I have to say that it seems very improbable, his explanation as to his not guilty plea—or rather, his guilty plea.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, Dan, you‘re a very careful reporter. Chris Cillizza, will this man have to leave the Senate?

CILLIZZA: I think he‘s leaving the Senate one way or another. I think this issue is, is it on his own terms in terms of a retirement or is it on someone else‘s terms, in terms of a resignation?

MATTHEWS: Well, apparently, Senator Mitch McConnell has referred this matter to the Senate Ethics Committee. It‘s already gone beyond the denial we saw on television just a few moments ago. So it looks like this is trouble in River City once again, an American politician caught living a different life than he advocated, and certainly, a man who‘s attacked a lifestyle now engaged in it. It doesn‘t shock us, but it does confirm our worst suspicions that there is a lot of dishonesty and corruption and hypocrisy in the business of American politics.

Anyway, Dan Popkey, thank you for joining us, from “The Idaho Statesman,” to defend charges made against your paper and you in the last couple of minutes. And Chris Cillizza, as always, from “The Washington Post.”

Coming up, Senator Larry Craig again, Congressman Mark Foley and Senator David Vitter publicly men of “family values,” conservatives. Privately, something very different. Will conservatives turn on the Republican Party in the coming presidential election?

You‘re watching it, HARDBALL, on MSNBC.

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