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updated 4/16/2012 2:59:50 PM ET 2012-04-16T18:59:50

Guest Host: Michael Smerconish

Guests: Joy-Ann Reid, Brian Sullivan, Ed Rendell,
Michelle Bernard, Alan Gottlieb, Michelle Goldberg, Mark Geragos, Sam Stein, Van
Jones

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST: Gun rights and wrongs.

Let`s play some HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Michael Smerconish in New York, in for Chris
Matthews, who`s in Cartagena, Colombia, where he`ll moderate a panel with
President Obama come tomorrow.

Leading off tonight: lawyers, guns and money. The NRA is winning the
battle over guns in this country. When was the last time you even heard a
debate over gun control? The arguments today are over how far and how fast
to expand gun owner rights. And Mitt Romney toed the line today at the
NRA, calling gun control an assault on freedom.

Of course, expanded gun rights may have emboldened George Zimmerman to
leave his car and pursue Trayvon Martin. Now, with weeks of massive,
coast-to-coast publicity, ask yourself this. Is it possible for George
Zimmerman to even get a fair trial?

Plus, the Hilary Rosen gaffe reminded us that Democrats have a habit
of unintentionally insulting stay-at-home moms in election years. But it
also distracted us for a day from Mitt Romney`s very real gender problem,
and that`s not something that will go away simply by trying to make the
case that it`s President Obama who is waging a war on women.

The Obama campaign is taking every opportunity to paint Mitt Romney as
rich and out of touch, so today the president and vice president released
their tax returns, daring Romney to do the same.

And "Let Me Finish" tonight with a battle from the 2008 campaign
that`s still not finished, Barack Obama versus Bill Clinton.

We begin with guns. Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell is an
MSNBC political analyst, and Alan Gottlieb is with the Second Amendment
Foundation and is joining us from the NRA convention in St. Louis.

Gentlemen, speaking at that NRA convention late this afternoon, Mitt
Romney decried what he called the president`s assault on basic freedoms,
but largely avoided diving into the issues of gun control and the 2nd
Amendment. It wasn`t until 15 minutes into the speech before he mentioned
the right to bear arms. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), FMR. GOV., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This
administration`s attack on freedom extends even to rights explicitly
guaranteed by the Constitution! The right to bear arms is so plainly
stated, so unambiguous, that liberals have a hard time challenging it
directly. Instead, they`ve been employing every imaginable ruse and ploy
to restrict it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Now, Mitt Romney has supported some gun control measures
in the past. As governor, he signed a law that made permanent a ban on
assault-type rifles, although it was coupled with measures that some gun
rights groups supported. And while running for the U.S. Senate against
Edward Kennedy, Romney supported an assault weapons ban and the federal
Brady gun control law.

In 2007 on "MEET THE PRESS," Tim Russert asked Romney about his past
positions on guns and here`s what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: My position on guns is the same position I`ve had for a long,
long time. And that position is that I don`t line up 100 percent with the
NRA. I don`t see eye to eye with the NRA on every issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: And of course, it was in 2007 that there was this famous
description by Governor Romney and his hunting experience. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Well, I`m -- I`m not a -- I`m not a big game hunter. I`ve
made it very clear. I`ve always been a -- if you will, a rodent and rabbit
hunter, all right, small -- small varmints, if you will. And I began when
I was, oh, 15 or so, and hunted those kinds of varmints since then more
than two times. I also hunted quail in -- in Georgia. So I`ve -- it`s not
really big game hunting, if you will, however. It`s not deer and large
animals, but I`ve hunted a number of times of various types of small
rodents.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Mr. Gottlieb, with that primer, please answer the
question of whether Governor Romney can overcome some of the issues in his
past with your group.

ALAN GOTTLIEB, SECOND AMENDMENT FOUNDATION: Well, I think when we`re
listening to comments of NRA members who attend the NRA convention, I think
he can overcome it two ways. One, he`s not hostile to gun rights. And the
second thing is, is the average gun owner is a little upset with Barack
Obama, particularly his appointments to the federal courts, Supreme Court
on down.

And as you`re aware, there`s a significant number of 2nd Amendment
court cases the Second Amendment Foundation and other groups have filed
that are going through the court system, and the gun owners are very
concerned about who`s going to be -- who`s making those rulings on the
federal benches.

SMERCONISH: Mr. Gottlieb, isn`t the issue with President Obama in the
minds of 2nd Amendment advocates always what he`s going to do, what he
might do, as compared to what he has done? I mean, has he done something
thus far that you believe threatens 2nd Amendment rights?

GOTTLIEB: Well, the main thing, of course, is the anti-gun judges
he`s appointed to the federal courts. But if you look at his record both
as United States senator, and when he was in the state senate in Illinois,
he was extremely hostile to gun rights. He hasn`t exactly been a friend of
gun rights, with some executive orders banning certain imports of antique
firearms, almost, into the United States. So we`re -- and his calls -- you
know, his administration has been putting out test balloons to try and
reinstitute the so-called Clinton administration`s ban on semi-automatic
firearms.

As a result, we know where his heart is. We know where his head is.
We know he`s met with anti-gun groups. He`s not met with any pro-gun
rights leaders at all. He`s basically told the other side that when the
time`s right, he`ll push for his agenda. But right now, of course, the
current makeup of the House of Representatives makes it very difficult for
him to get anti-gun legislation passed.

SMERCONISH: Mayor Rendell, you follow my point. I remember there was
a run on ammunition in 2008. In fact, I think talk show hosts are the ones
who propelled that. It`s always that he`s going to come for your bullets,
he`s going to come for your guns. But the reality is that the Obama
administration hasn`t moved on the gun issues. Do you disagree?

ED RENDELL (D-PA), FMR. GOVERNOR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: No, I
don`t. But let me say one thing quickly first, Michael. Those of us who
believe in the 2nd Amendment but also believe in gun control know that the
2nd Amendment, like all amendments, has its limits.

The 1st Amendment very clearly spells out the right to free speech,
but you can`t go into a crowded movie theater and cry fire. You`re not
allowed to do that because there are limits.

And there are limits on what is reasonable gun ownership, and that`s
all we`re trying to do. And take the Gabby Giffords case. The president
dropped the ball there by not pushing hard enough to support legislation
which would have reinstituted part of the assault weapons ban that would
have banned these multiple-bullet magazines. The magazine that the killer
in Gabby Giffords` case used had 33 bullets in it.

Before the assault weapons ban was dropped by the Congress -- it
wasn`t reinstituted -- but we had a ban that said you could only have a
magazine with 11 bullets. Had that ban been in effect that day, people in
Arizona would be alive today who died that day.

SMERCONISH: Well, that`s my question. Why has the gun debate dropped
off the radar? I`ll give you some examples of folks who`ve addressed this.
In today`s DailyBeast, New York city mayor Michael Bloomberg writes, "To
hear most pundits and political strategists tell it, Americans are
hopelessly divided by guns. But we`re not. Polls show that NRA members
support common sense steps"...

RENDELL: Absolutely.

SMERCONISH: ... "to ensure that guns are kept out of the hands of
criminals."

And gun issues have not headlined President Obama`s agenda.

RENDELL: Michael...

SMERCONISH: In today`s -- one other thing, if I may, Mayor. (sic)

RENDELL: Sure.

SMERCONISH: In today`s "LA Times," law professor Adam Winkler says,
quote, "Few presidents have shown as little interest in gun control as
Barack Obama. It`s as if avoid gun control at all costs has become a plank
in the Democratic Party platform." Go ahead and react.

RENDELL: Well, first of all, Michael Bloomberg...

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Mr. Gottlieb, you`ll respond in one moment. Go ahead,
Mayor.

RENDELL: They`re not a loser. Guys like Mr. Gottlieb and the NRA are
very effective at spinning and lobbying. But take a law that I tried to
get instituted in Pennsylvania, one handgun a month, barring people from
buying more than one handgun a month. That would stop straw purchasers.
Forty percent of our crime guns in Pennsylvania come from straw purchasers.
But it would have allowed you to buy 12 handguns a year, 24 if you`re
married. That`s no limitation at all in a practical sense.

So 70 percent of Pennsylvanians, including 60 percent of Republicans,
favored that law. I couldn`t even get it out of committee because everyone
is afraid because the NRA has done such a good job of spooking our cowardly
legislators.

SMERCONISH: Mr. Gottlieb, the success I think that you`ve had is with
this mindset of, You can`t -- the slippery slope, you can`t give an inch
because if we give anything on any issues, then it will be the ammunition,
then it will be...

RENDELL: And it`s purely bull.

SMERCONISH: ... the weapons.

RENDELL: Purely bull.

SMERCONISH: And that`s worked.

GOTTLIEB: Well -- well, unfortunately, we`ve seen that happen in not
only in the United States but in other countries, as well. But what --
what -- what the former governor is talking about here, though, is prior
restraint, limiting how many guns you can buy, limiting what kind of
ammunition you can use, limiting the size of your magazine.

You know, we never put up with prior restraint with the 1st Amendment.
Granted, you can`t yell fire in a crowded theater, you also can`t use a gun
to go murder somebody illegally, but you don`t take the gun away ahead of
time. You don`t take free speech away ahead of time, either. And that`s
what the Democrats (INAUDIBLE)

RENDELL: Mr. Gottlieb, let me ask you a simple question. Let me ask
you a simple question. Why would any law-abiding citizen need a magazine
that has 33 bullets in it?

GOTTLIEB: Why?

RENDELL: Why?

GOTTLIEB: (INAUDIBLE) a gun range and shoot. Why? Because I happen
to like to go out to a gun range and shoot, and for target practice,
certain guns (ph) that they (ph) have are much more easy to use by using a
higher-capacity magazine.

RENDELL: You mean it`s too much...

(CROSSTALK)

RENDELL: It`s too much trouble at a gun range to ask him to insert
three 11-shot magazines. It`s too much of an inconvenience? That`s
baloney!

GOTTLIEB: Governor...

RENDELL: That`s just plain baloney.

GOTTLIEB: Governor, law-abiding citizens using magazines that fire
more than 10 rounds is not a problem. The problem is keeping the criminals
off the streets.

RENDELL: Right, and the assault weapons ban...

(CROSSTALK)

RENDELL: ... keeps those magazines out of the hands of crazy guys
like the guy who shot Gabby Giffords.

SMERCONISH: Wait. Mayor Rendell, I want to ask you this question, if
I might...

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Mr. Gottlieb, Mr. Gottlieb, hold your thought...

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Just hold your thought for a moment. As governor of
Pennsylvania, you vetoed "stand your ground," am I correct?

RENDELL: Correct.

SMERCONISH: And it was your successor, Tom Corbett, who came in and
signed it into law. I guess you`re looking like a soothsayer,
unfortunately, in the aftermath of Trayvon Martin.

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: My question for you, though, is this. Do you think that
the Trayvon Martin case is going to cause a reexamination, a serious
reexamination of "stand your ground" in those states across the country
that now have it on their books?

RENDELL: I hope so, and Mayor Bloomberg has called for that. And let
me say this. It`s interesting on the "stand your ground" legislation --
every police group on Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania district attorneys
association, made up of 50 Republican DAs and 17 Democratic DAs all urged
me to veto it.

So why don`t we listen to law enforcement, Mr. Gottlieb? They`re
telling us we`ve got to do something to stop gun violence. Why don`t we
listen to the police and DAs?

SMERCONISH: Mr. Gottlieb?

GOTTLIEB: It`s great -- it`s great to listen to the police, but we
also don`t want a police state. We enjoy freedom in America!

RENDELL: Oh!

GOTTLIEB: We`re not like a lot of other countries run by despots and
dictators! That`s why!

RENDELL: Like the British?

SMERCONISH: Mr. Gottlieb -- Mr. Gottlieb...

RENDELL: Like the British.

SMERCONISH: ... a very quick final question, if I might, for you. I
just want to return to this issue of what the president is about to do.
The president doesn`t know if he`s getting a second term. So if he were
the Manchurian candidate, prepared to do evil things, wouldn`t he do them
now while he`s in office and now await a potential second term?

GOTTLIEB: Good question. The real battle right now is in the courts.
If you take a look at the appointments that Barack Obama has appointed to
the federal courts, you can`t find one person who supports gun rights.
That`s the problem.

SMERCONISH: I appreciate both Ed Rendell and Alan Gottlieb being
here. Thank you, men.

RENDELL: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Coming up: The Romney campaign caught a break with Hilary
Rosen`s slight against stay-at-home moms. But even so, Mitt Romney has a
very real gender problem, and we`re going to get to that next.

This is HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: President Obama is heading to South America, but his
audience may well be Latino voters who are right here at home. The
president will attend the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia,
and he kicked off his trip with a stop in Tampa, highlighting the benefits
of Latin American trade.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, tomorrow President Obama will participate
in a forum with the presidents of Brazil and Colombia and it`ll be
moderated by our own Chris Matthews.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL. A CNN contributor with no role
in President Obama`s campaign somehow became a major talking point for the
Romney team and conservatives in general this week. Hilary Rosen kicked
up a storm on Wednesday night with her comments about Ann Romney. And by
the end of Thursday, everybody from the president to the vice president to
the first lady had responded. And they mostly distanced themselves from
Rosen`s comments.

Of course, Stephen Colbert had some fun with the faux outrage from the
right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN COLBERT, "THE COLBERT REPORT": Full disclosure. I have a
personal stake in this issue because I have a mom -- my mom, which makes me
half mom on my mom`s side.

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT: And these remarks infuriate me, folks. I got to tell you,
folks, this is good! This is good! This story is delicious! Jimmy, put
Rosen`s quote up on the crawl right now. Let`s put it up there all the
time. That`s nice! Now, play the quote on a loop. Just play it on a
loop.

HILARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: His wife has actually never
worked a day in her life. His wife has actually never worked a day in her
life. His wife has...

COLBERT: Now drop a fat bean (ph) on it!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Lost in the firestorm were the deeper issues that many
female voters care about. Mitt Romney still has a lot of ground to go to
go to make up after the bruised primary that only hurt his image among
women.

Well, Michelle Bernard is the president of the Bernard Center for
Women, Politics and Public Policy, and Michelle Goldberg is a contributing
writer for "Newsweek" and TheDailyBeast.

Ladies, thank you for being here. This issue is so hot that the
Romney team tried to keep the controversy surrounding Hilary Rosen`s
comments going for yet another day, when this afternoon Mitt Romney
introduced his wife -- where? At the NRA convention. And then both
Romneys talked about, not surprisingly, the subject of motherhood.

Listen to what was said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY: I happen to believe that all moms are working moms, and
if you have five sons, why, your work is never over.

ANN ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY`S WIFE: Let me give a shoutout to all moms
that are working, and by the way, to all dads that are working. We love
all of you. You know, I often think that you`re only, as a parent, as
happy as your saddest child. And you never, ever stop being a parent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Michelle Bernard, what`s the legitimate issue in all of
this? Clearly, Hilary Rosen should never have said that Ann Romney never
worked a day in her life. What`s the legitimate issue?

MICHELLE BERNARD, BERNARD CENTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean,
you know, the legitimate public policy issues are, should Mitt Romney be
elected president of the United States? What public policies is he going
to put forth that are going to help America`s women, whether they are women
that stay at home and work at home raising children, or whether they are
women who are out in the workforce. Those are the most important issues.

Social Security, health care, the supplemental nutrition assistance
program otherwise known as food stamps, the Women, Infants and Children
program -- I mean, quite frankly, my mantra, personal mantra has always
been that all issues are women`s issues.

But there are certain issues that are very, very important to women,
and they involve health care, which is another discussion where we seem to
be going backwards in time, rather than forward. And you know, all the
issues that I just set forth are going to be very important to women
voters, period.

SMERCONISH: Well, I think you raised interesting matters of
substance. In fact, Michelle Goldberg, on the heels of that, let me point
out that some of the economic positions Mitt Romney has embraced might hurt
him with women.

Bloomberg News points out that the Paul Ryan budget, for example, has
some major red flags for a lot of women. Here are some examples. The plan
would make cuts to the food stamp program, while two thirds of adult food
stamp recipients? Female. The plan would also cut funding for Pell
grants. About two thirds of students who get those? Female. It would cut
funds for Medicaid and about 70 percent of Medicaid beneficiaries are
women.

Michelle Goldberg, that seems to get lost in all of this. Instead,
people are getting hung up on, has she ever worked a day in her life? And
of course, she has.

MICHELLE GOLDBERG, "NEWSWEEK": Well, I think the idea that women --
that women voters are going to be more influenced by something dismissive
that a pundit on CNN said than by the very real threats to their livelihood
that a Romney presidency would present -- I mean, that is so much more
insulting to women voters than anything Hilary Rosen said.

There`s a reason that Mitt Romney has lost the women`s vote in every
general election that he`s ever run, sometimes very substantially. I mean,
he was creamed by Ted Kennedy in 1994. And it`s because when women get a
look at his economic policies, because social issues weren`t really an
issue in those earlier races, because he was still pro-choice, they recoil.

SMERCONISH: But in this case, Michelle Bernard, I think the social
issues are a factor. And my view is that this is a part and parcel of the
brand of the GOP at present.

BERNARD: Absolutely.

SMERCONISH: A couple things I -- a couple of things I wrote notes
about, the whole vaginal probe in Virginia issue, questions about
contraception largely based on commentary from Senator Santorum, but I
don`t think Governor Romney pulled in from it.

He said he wants to defund Planned Parenthood and wants to overturn
Roe vs. Wade. Those are all matters of substance that will affect women.

BERNARD: Absolutely.

And the reason why they`re so important, and probably even more
important today than they were during the 2008 election, is that they deal
with issues of personal liberty that nine out of 10 women absolutely had
every reason to believe were behind us, that were decided many, many years
ago.

And the Republican brand, not just Mitt Romney, but the Republican
brand in general seems to have this nostalgia for a bygone era that many
women never, ever want to go back to. And, for example, if you look, there
was a state senator in Wisconsin who earlier this week it`s been reported
that one could argue that money is more important to men than women, and,
therefore, there is no war on women.

We have had Harry Reid, I believe, who said that if you asked women
whether or not this was an issue, most women would say no, and then we had
three Republican members of Congress come out and say, if you don`t -- for
example, Lisa Murkowski from Alaska who came and out said if you don`t
think that there is a war on women, then you need to go home and talk to
your wife and your daughters.

This is a very serious problem in terms of Republican branding,
period.

SMERCONISH: Michelle Goldberg, I think a blown opportunity by
Governor Romney -- he is facing a 19-point deficit and that`s a very real
figure in terms of a one-on-one matchup with President Obama.

This is "The Washington Post" and ABC, 57-38, the latest poll. I
think back to what went on with the Limbaugh controversy and the horrific
things that he said about a co-ed from Georgetown.

Now, there was a perfect opportunity where Governor Romney could have
taken on Rush, but, of course, he cowered in the face of the right wing of
the party.

GOLDBERG: Right.

SMERCONISH: And so instead of engendering some support with females
by calling that for what it was, despicable, he hid under the desk.

GOLDBERG: Well, yes.

And let`s compare the way that Obama handled this recent non-scandal
with Hilary Rosen, when he and basically his whole team rushed to
disassociate themselves from her I think rather innocuous comments,
although they were ill-chosen.

And then look at how Mitt Romney handles Rush`s kind of vile three-day
assault on this woman. He said, those aren`t the words I would have used,
as if he would have something like trollop?

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Michelle, may I interrupt you and play it just to remind
everybody? And then you can analyze it.

GOLDBERG: Yes.

Roll the tape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Governor, anything on Rush?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It`s not the language I
would have used. I would love to stay on the issues that I think are
significant in the country today, and that`s why I`m here talking about
jobs in Ohio.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: There it is, Michelle Goldberg.

GOLDBERG: Well, yes. Right. That`s the kind of best he can do is
say that he wouldn`t have called her a slut. Presumably, he would have
called her something more decorous, but equally insulting.

The thing about Romney is that it`s not even just that he doesn`t get
it. It`s that I think he shows absolutely no interest in getting kind of
the issues that are fundamental to women`s lives. Let`s remember that the
thing that set off this whole uproar that Hilary Rosen was responding to
was that Romney said that wife -- quote, unquote -- "reports" to him on
what women think.

SMERCONISH: Right.

GOLDBERG: He can`t even bother to pretend to listen to women, who are
more than half the electorate.

SMERCONISH: Thank you for your analysis, Michelle Bernard and
Michelle Goldberg. And have a nice weekend.

BERNARD: You, too.

SMERCONISH: Up next: Wouldn`t you know it? Rick Santorum is already
talking about 2016. Stick around for the "Sideshow."

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Now for the "Sideshow."

First up, boy, that was fast. After Rick Santorum`s loss in the
Wisconsin primary, people started asking if he might be starting to set his
sights on the 2016 race instead. And this was his reaction earlier this
month.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Next time?

QUESTION: Yes.

SANTORUM: You haven`t talked to my wife, obviously.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Well, if the purpose is next time around, though...

SANTORUM: Yes. You didn`t hear what I said. You haven`t talked to
my wife about next time. The last thing we`re thinking about is next time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Well, Santorum struck a different tune when asked about
2016 during an interview on FOX last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: I feel like a young man. And I will hopefully feel like a
young man four years from now.

This last year put a couple years on me. There are a lot of issues
out there that I feel very deeply about that I think we introduced into the
debate. For us to do as well as we did, in spite of the overwhelming odds
that we faced on a variety of different fronts, I think shows that there`s
still a lot of people in this country who still believe in the things that
made this country great.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Look, as I said in my commentary right here last night,
if -- and that`s an if -- Romney loses to President Obama this November, it
could very well be Rick Santorum stepping up in four years and saying, I
told you so to the Republicans who shut him out this time.

And, also, a nugget on the veepstakes. Remember this cringe-worthy
debate moment during the Bush-Gore face-off in 2000?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 2000)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It`s not only what is your
philosophy and what is your position on issues, but can you get things
done?

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH: And I believe I can.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

SMERCONISH: Not a winning move for Gore, but get this. Bush was
ready for it, thanks in part to a guy who is probably on Mitt Romney`s V.P.
short list, Ohio Senator Rob Portman.

Now, according to a "TIME" piece, Portman portrayed Gore during some
mock debates with Bush -- quote -- "Ohio Representative Rob Portman noticed
that in a previous debate, Gore had left his stool and approached Bill
Bradley during a question and answer, seeming to try a little physical
intimidation to rattle him." That`s what Portman says.

Well, Portman did the same thing with Bush during a prep session, so
it was little surprise when Gore pulled the same move on Governor Bush
during their final debate.

And now for tonight`s "Big Number."

Charging $50 a pop for a photo with Newt Gingrich didn`t put much of a
dent in his campaign`s debt of over $4 million. Well, how is this for plan
B. Outside groups can now buy access to the campaign`s donor list at what
cost? Up to $26,000.

One former staffer says the campaign -- quote -- "overspent to keep up
appearances of being a top-tier candidate" -- not quite a winning strategy.
Up to $26,000 for access to Newt`s list of donors, that`s tonight`s "Big
Number."

Up next: the Trayvon Martin case. After weeks of publicity and
protests across the country, can George Zimmerman get a fair trial? We
will ask criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos when we return.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRIAN SULLIVAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Brian Sullivan with your CNBC
"Market Wrap."

And fairly strong earnings from two banking giants not enough to boost
stocks on this Friday. The Dow lost 137 points, S&P down 17, the Nasdaq
off 44. J.P. Morgan Chase said it lent more money in the first quarter,
helping profits beat estimates by 15 cents a share. Wells Fargo also
turned in a strongly quarterly performance.

And a new estimate from the Treasury shows that taxpayers will likely
make a profit of $10 billion to $100 billion on the 2008 bailout. A little
good news on this Friday the 13th.

That is it from CNBC -- now back to HARDBALL.

SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

George Zimmerman`s attorney will try next Friday, April 20, to get
Zimmerman out of jail while he awaits a trial for the shooting death of
Trayvon Martin. Meanwhile, the judge in the case brought up a potential
conflict of interest this afternoon when she announced that her husband`s
colleague, a CNN legal analyst, had denied Zimmerman`s request to represent
him last month.

Joy-Ann Reid is the managing editor for TheGrio.com, as well as an
MSNBC contributor. She`s in Sanford, Florida, with the latest.

Joy, what`s going on?

JOY-ANN REID, THEGRIO.COM: Well, at issue basically is the judge in
this case, Jessica Recksiedler. Her husband, Jason, is in a civil attorney
in the law firm of a guy named Mark NeJame.

And if that sounds familiar to you, Michael, it`s because he has the
nickname the Johnnie Cochran of Central Florida. He represented Tiger
Woods after that infamous car crash in his home where there was a golf club
apparently involved, and he also, in the past, represented the parents of
Casey Anthony in that huge trial here.

So this is a very prominent attorney who apparently was contacted very
early on by George Zimmerman, before he got his first set of attorneys to
represent him. He declined to do so, but that contact with George
Zimmerman and more importantly with his parents is what is now concerning
Mark O`Mara, who is essentially saying this.

He is saying this is a guy who has had contact with George Zimmerman`s
parents in the past. He is now an analyst on CNN. That combination
worries him because he`s worried that potentially that contact could happen
again. So that is the issue.

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: I find it unusual -- I find it unusual that a defense
lawyer would turn down such a high-profile case. Do we know anything about
his rationale?

REID: We don`t know why he turned that case down. I believe he had
other cases at the time, but he did give a reason obviously to George
Zimmerman why he didn`t take it.

And then in between him and Mark O`Mara, of course, we had Hal Uhrig,
another set of lawyers. But what we do still know now is that the judge
disclosed this herself. She went ahead and disclosed the potential for the
appearance of conflict. And now she`s leaving it up to Mark O`Mara, to the
attorney, what he wants to do. He could actually file a motion to have her
removed and have her replaced with another judge.

SMERCONISH: A week from today seems like it will be a significant
date in the chronology of this case, because that`s when O`Mara will try to
have George Zimmerman released from jail.

REID: Absolutely, Michael, and here`s the issue.

The previous attorneys for George Zimmerman had made a big issue of
the idea that he`s unsafe in this community, that people in this community,
particularly in the African-American community, are sort of out to get
George, that he wasn`t safe.

So it`s a question now why he would want to be released right back
into this community.

SMERCONISH: Where would he go?

REID: So I did ask -- yes, and I did ask leaders in the African-
American community, as well as the mayor of Sanford, you know, what do they
think about this?

And from the police department, which said that they would be prepared
if necessary, to the mayor who said that the city would be prepared, to
black leaders who said, frankly, look, there is a process in place.
African-Americans here are satisfied that a process has begun and would do
nothing.

So it`s pretty much been across the board that he wouldn`t be in any
danger, but it is an interesting contrast to what was said before.

SMERCONISH: Joy-Ann Reid, thank you so much for your report.

REID: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: With me now, criminal defense attorney, famed criminal
defense attorney Mark Geragos.

Hey, Mark, thank you so much for being here. You know how much I
respect your legal opinion.

MARK GERAGOS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: And I also respect the legal opinion -- thank you -- of
Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, who last night right here made some
news with his take on the affidavit of probable cause.

Will you please watch Professor Dershowitz and react to this?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, AUTHOR, "THE CASE FOR MORAL CLARITY: ISRAEL, HAMAS
AND GAZA": Most affidavits of probable cause are very thin. This is so
thin that it won`t make it past the judge on a second degree murder charge.

It`s not only thin. It`s irresponsible. I think that what you have
here is an elected public official who made a campaign speech last night
for reelection when she gave her presentation, and overcharged, way
overcharged. This case will not -- if the evidence is no stronger than
what appears in the probable cause affidavit, this case will result in an
acquittal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Mark Geragos, your thoughts?

GERAGOS: Well, I don`t disagree at all.

I was -- I stated publicly when I saw the affidavit that this was
about as bare-bones an affidavit as I have ever seen, and I would agree
with the professor. In fact, I suspect that there has to be more.
Otherwise, I don`t know -- and the parts I might disagree with, I don`t
know that it gets to a jury.

Remember, they have this kind of unusual two-step process, in that,
besides having a probable cause proceeding, they also have what`s called an
immunity proceeding and -- the stand your ground proceeding, where it`s a
determination by the judge as to whether or not to grant immunity.

If the judge finds that he was acting, and it`s just by a
preponderance, a little bit more than the other side in terms of the
evidence, they could grant immunity. This would never see a jury.

SMERCONISH: I guess many of us were looking at the affidavit of
probable cause for a sign of what the prosecution believes took place that
caused the attack or the altercation, whatever it was, to begin.

And here`s the critical paragraph. And I will put it up on the
screen. "Zimmerman confronted Martin and a struggle ensued. Witnesses
heard people arguing and what sounded like a struggle. During this time
period, witnesses heard numerous calls for help and some of these were
recorded in 911 calls to police. Trayvon Martin`s mother has reviewed the
911 calls and identified the voice crying for help as Trayvon Martin`s
voice."

Now, as you point out, Mark, they arguably have much more than this,
but they`re not telling us anything as to why they disbelieve Zimmerman.
Presumably, he`s offering an account that says, I was not the initiator.

GERAGOS: Right.

And, presumably, at least if you believe the police report, when they
got there, he was wet, he had grass on him, he was bleeding. They`re --
the -- the way that narrative you just read comes off, that`s still a self-
defense. That still falls within stand your ground.

So that alone, I don`t believe, ever gets you to a jury. That having
been said, that`s if you`re taking a dispassionate view. I mean, there is
a lot of us who believe that the standard for probable cause nowadays is,
is my client breathing, and that most judges will let you just go to trial
on anything.

SMERCONISH: All right. Let me --

GERAGOS: That having been said, again -- well.

SMERCONISH: Let me ask you something else, Mark Geragos, with your
experience. I found it unusual, but my expertise is on the civil side of
this, that Angela Corey, the special prosecutor, the state attorney, was in
that court yesterday and agreed with an effort by defense counsel for at
least the time being to seal all the records.

Read the tea leaves. What do you think of this?

GERAGOS: Well, I think one of the problems the prosecution may have
is for whatever reason they don`t want what they have, all of the evidence
that they have, released. I mean, one of the problems you have in a case
like this is that virtually everything ends up getting released, it gets
parsed out by the media and in the public sphere, and when that happens, a
lot of times that affects witnesses and everything else.

I wouldn`t read any nefarious connotations into that.

SMERCONISH: Well, it`s nothing that was nefarious. I wasn`t reading
anything nefarious into it, but maybe I was reading too much into it and
thinking that perhaps there`s a plea deal already being discussed.

GERAGOS: Well, you know, that is something that I wouldn`t be
surprised. A lot of people have talked about, look, it`s a second degree.
During the Conrad Murray case, I was always kind of perplexed as to why the
LADA didn`t file a second degree, because what that does is when you`re
facing life and you`ve got a second degree, somebody offers you a
manslaughter with a fixed number of years, you`ve got quite an incentive to
take that plea deal.

SMERCONISH: You pointed out previously that the real critical
juncture is going to be the "Stand Your Ground" evidentiary hearing. Would
you expect that Zimmerman would take the stand at that hearing? And if
he`s unsuccessful, what does that do to his testimony and his Fifth
Amendment rights for the final trial?

GERAGOS: Well, I`m not going to pretend to be an expert on what
Florida law allows. I would expect that he does take the stand, or at the
very least, that if they`re allowed to do it, they put the officer on who
took his statement that evening and get it in through hearsay if they can
do it procedurally. Either way, they need to get his statement in, because
you`re not going to be able to prove "Stand Your Ground" unless his
statement that he gave to the police the night of the incident is in
evidence or he gets on the stand and tells what his statement is or what
his state of mind was and then allows the prosecution to impeach him with
whatever his statement was.

But either way, I expect that you`re going to hear the words of
George Zimmerman at that "Stand Your Ground" hearing.

SMERCONISH: Mark Geragos, thank you so much for your analysis. Have
a good weekend.

GERAGOS: Thank you. Glad to see you.

SMERCONISH: All right. Up next, in the never-ending quest to paint
Mitt Romney as an out-of-touch rich guy, President Obama and Vice President
Biden released their tax returns. And, tonight, we have new information
about when Mitt Romney will do the same.

By the way, you know the rules. You can follow me on Twitter so long
as you can spell Smerconish.

This is HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Hey, we couldn`t let this go by without a mention. Take
a close look at the cover of this week`s "Economist" magazine. The British
news weekly takes an in-depth look at our presidential race, calling it
"The hardball campaign". Chris is going to be thrilled to know they`re
fans of the program.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: We`re back.

The White House today released President Obama and Vice President
Biden`s 2011 tax returns, hoping for another opportunity to paint multi-
millionaire Mitt Romney as out of touch with average Americans. President
Obama earned just under $789,000 last year and paid just over $162,000 in
taxes, which puts his effective tax rate at 20.5 percent.

We learned today Mitt Romney filed for an extension, but it`s early
estimate for 2011 showed him taking in more than $20 million and paying an
effective tax rate of 15.4 percent.

For the politics of this fight, let me bring in Sam Stein to "The
Huffington Post," and Van Jones, author of "Rebuild the Dream."

Van, last week, I was here for Chris. And interviewed Mike Allen.
He`s writing this book "Inside the Circus," a lot of details about the
presidential race thus far.

And in his book, he points out that it was all Mitt Romney who was
reluctant to release his tax returns in the first go-around. And the
question I guess I have is, for a campaign that is so controlled, how do
they screw up their approach? For example, today we learned he`s going to
file an extension. We know we`re going to see the returns. You know the
returns are going to show him to be a very wealthy guy.

Why do they create all this intrigue and drama and prolong it?

VAN JONES, AUTHOR, "REBUILD THE DREAM": I don`t know. I mean, I
don`t know whether this guy is wanting to be president or if he`s
auditioning for like a villain in a James Bond movie. He`s got this like
secret Swiss bank account. He`s got a corporation in Bermuda that nobody
knows about.

And everything he does rather than just getting it out there, flush
the toilet and get it done, he does everything he can to draw more
attention to his, you know, kind of -- I mean, I don`t know what he has to
hide. But, you know, his dad, in 1968, released, I think, 10 years` worth
of tax stuff with no problem. I don`t know what this guy`s problem is.

SMERCONISH: Yes. Sam, today is Friday. In fact, it`s Friday the
13th. You know the rules. You release bad rules on a Friday and it gets
drowned out.

SAM STEIN, THE HUFFINGTON POST: Yes, they released five minutes ago
that they would be doing an extension, and they said --

SMERCONISH: Exactly.

STEIN: -- somewhere between now and six months from now, they`ll put
up the data.

You know, but I think this is sort of a mistake, and I think -- I`d
like to echo what Van says, is that he actually draws more attention to the
issue than it would have otherwise. Obviously, we`re going to see before
the election, whether it`s by people screaming about it and demanding it or
whether it`s by him just releasing it.

And what he`s doing now is he`s drawing attention to his record on
transparency, which beyond just the tax issues, if you look at the
bundlers, he has a very bad record on transparency. And I think the more
this goes on, the more people, especially in the press, are going to be
uncomfortable by it.

SMERCONISH: Van, yesterday in New Hampshire, Vice President Biden
took the opportunity to label Mitt Romney as out of touch. Watch this and
react to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Governor Romney
calls the president out of touch -- out of touch. Hey, how many of y`all
have a Swiss bank account?

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: You know what I mean?

(APPLAUSE)

BIDEN: You don`t?

And how many have somewhere between $20 million and $100 million in
your IRA?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Van Jones, what are the politics of this? I mean, you
know, you can`t beat up on the American dream, I think the vice president
has to walk a fine line in his criticism.

JONES: I think that`s right. But I think the problem is when you`re
trying to get waivers to put an elevator in your house for your car, you
got a Swiss bank account -- I mean, everybody lo loves an economic winner,
people don`t like economic cheaters.

If there`s a sense that you`ve done well in America but you`re not
doing well by America. You make your money here but you hide it overseas
and you`re actually acting like you think you should be treated differently
and special, you don`t want to pay your taxes like everybody, now you`re
starting to look like an economic cheater than an economic winner. And it
makes easy for the vice president to do it, because -- I mean, please,
don`t throw glass hour -- don`t throw a stone if you live in a crystal
house like he does.

SMERCONISH: Sam, a Romney spokesman had this to say about a recent
criticism before the announcement of the extension filing, quote, "It`s not
surprise that the worst job creation record in modern history that
President Obama would try to distract Americans from the real issues with
the series of sideshows. Governor Romney has already released his 2010
return, an estimate of his 2011 income taxes. He`ll release his full 2011
return when it`s filed.

My question to you -- how is this playing with independents? The
back and forth and the quibbling over tax returns.

STEIN: Well, I think it`s lost on independents except when it can be
applied to a policy issue that they get. And so, for instance, what White
House is trying to do and what the campaign is trying to do is not just
talk about Romney`s wealth, and the fact that he`s not releasing his taxes.

But you talk about it in the context of the so-called Buffett Rule,
which says that millionaires should not pay a tax rate that`s lower than
their secretaries. If they can apply that policy prescription with Mitt
Romney as the personification of it, then it does resonate. If they just
stick to Mitt Romney is rich and he`s out of touch, well, that`s a little
bit difficult.

SMERCONISH: You know, it`s funny, both sides trying to gain an
advantage from this, Van. Earlier this afternoon, I took a look at Drudge
and I saw that the home page, in fact, maybe we`ll put it up on the screen,
there you go -- "Obama doesn`t qualify for Buffett Rule." The implication
being he earned 700 some grand and he himself, you know, wouldn`t apply,
but he`s seeking to impose it.

And if you go t the upper left to the screen, there are all these
terrible things about Obama and his return, et cetera, et cetera, et
cetera. Same question to you, what`s the net-net politically speaking?

JONES: Well, I agree with Sam. He`s got to be able to tie this to
something real. For instance, next week, there`s going to will be an
opportunity, a vote, on this Buffett Rule. One of the things that, I
think, some of the younger people are saying is that the student debt is
awful right now. That`s a real bread and butter issue. The student -- the
interest rate on student debt could go up from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.
With the Buffett Rule, you could use some of that money, fairer taxes from
rich people, to actually help young people go to college.

If you can connect this sort of arrogance on the part of Romney and
disrespected the country by hiding his money overseas to problems that
people have like going to college, he might be able to really draw the
right comparison.

SMERCONISH: All legal, by the way. I mean, the guy is a straight
arrow, which is one more reason why doesn`t he just get it over with.

JONES: Fair enough

SMERCONISH: And put it out there.

Anyway, thank you, gentlemen. We`re out of time. But, Sam Stein and
Van Jones, we appreciate you being here.

STEIN: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: When we return, allow me to finish with an unfinished
battle from the 2008 campaign. Barack Obama verses Bill Clinton.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: "Let Me Finish" tonight with a great example of
HARDBALL.

Bill Clinton might be retired, fit, and tan, but he still seems to
relish mixing it up in the arena and settling a few old scores. A case
point happened just last night.

Now, here`s today`s front page of my hometown newspaper, "The
Intelligencer" in suburban Philadelphia. It tells the story of Clinton
campaigning Thursday in a high school before a crowd of 750 that were
assembled for a state attorney general candidate Kathleen Kane.

Clinton told the group that Kane was, quote, the only candidate you
can vote and said that she was best suited to put away murderers, keep kids
out of jail, or help senior citizens who are victimized by financial scams.
What he didn`t mention was Kathleen Kane`s opponent, former Congressman
Patrick Murphy for whom Clinton himself had campaigned just six years ago.
The closest he came to mentioning Murphy was when he said, quote, "You
don`t have to say a bad thing about anybody else running, you just ask who
can do more to help more people in the job, the answer is easy, Kathleen
Kane."

Three days before, Clinton`s campaign event for Kane, David Axelrod
made his own campaign appearance, only his was in support of Patrick
Murphy. One clue as to why Axelrod got involved in this state attorney
general`s race, he said, "I don`t think Barack Obama has had a better
friend in politics than Patrick Murphy."

What`s going on here? Why is Clinton getting involved in a state
A.G. race and on the opposite side of the president`s top advisor? The
answer: history. See, in 2008, Patrick Murphy gave an early endorsement to
Barack Obama who was then locked in a battle with Clinton`s wife, the now
secretary of state. Meanwhile, Kathleen Kane was a Hillary Clinton
organizer.

And then in 2010, it was Murphy, an Iraq veteran, who introduced the
repeal of "don`t ask, don`t tell," implemented by -- that`s right -- Bill
Clinton back in 1993.

Kathleen Kane said it was easy to get Clinton to campaign for her.
She said she Googled his office, got the phone number and asked him.

A reporter named Phil John Picarro (ph) pointed out there`s no phone
number listed on the Clinton Foundation Web site. It makes you wonder if
the big dog even had to be asked. Oh, the event last night, it was held a
short distance from Murphy`s house.

Pollster and Professor Terri McDonough (ph) said it best. It goes to
show that not all politics is local. All politics are personal. And that
really is hardball.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
BE UPDATED.
END

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