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updated 4/17/2012 6:02:19 PM ET 2012-04-17T22:02:19

Guests: Sue Herera, David Corn, Ethan Nadelmann, Kevin Sabet, Dee Dee Myers, Ruth Marcus, Ronald
Kessler, Dan Bongino, Joe Williams

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Secret Servicing.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews back in Washington from Cartagena.
Leading off tonight: sex, drugs and audiotape. Let`s start with the sex.
It began, we are told, with a dispute between a Secret Service agent and a
prostitute over payment.

Where it ends is anyone`s guess, but as of now, as many as 20 Secret
Service personnel are now suspected of bringing prostitutes back to the
rooms in Cartagena, Colombia. That means the prostitutes were allowed into
the security zone of the president of the United States, making this,
perhaps, the biggest security breach in the history of the Secret Service.

Next, the audiotape. Mitt Romney has spent a lot of time talking
about President Obama and very little on the record about what he plans to
do were he elected president. But we learned a lot last night, when an NBC
embed overheard and taped legally Romney speaking to supporters, money
people, at a fundraiser, what he will axe if elected and who he will not
tax.

And he also worried -- we also heard how worried is Romney about
losing the election, we found out, because of the lost Latino vote. He`s
estimating he`s only got about 20 percent of it right now.

And drugs. Should they be legalized? With some prodding by me this
weekend down in Cartagena, the president of Colombia suggested to President
Obama that we should take a look or perhaps take the profit out of the
drug-running to starve the narco-terrorists.

And back to that audiotape for a moment. We all remember how
offended, it seemed, Ann Romney was over Hilary Rosen`s stay-at-home mom
comments last week. Well, thanks to that tape we got last night, we now
know what Ann Romney really thought when she heard that remark. She
thought she`d just won the lottery.

"Let Me Finish" tonight with the great news from Latin America.
Things are looking up economically south of here.

We start with the Secret sex -- well, actually, the Secret Service sex
scandal -- a lot of S`s there. Ron Kessler is the investigative journalist
and the author of "In the President`s Secret Service." Dan Bongino was a
Secret Service agent himself assigned to protect President Obama. He`s
currently running for the United States Senate as a Republican from the
state of Maryland. That`s where I live.

By the way, let`s start right now -- the Secret Service continued to
investigate today one of the most alarming scandals in the agency`s history
involving, as I`ve said, prostitutes and a night of partying ahead of the
president`s trip to the summit of the Americas this weekend.

Well, NBC News is reporting that congressional investigators are
looking into the possibility that as many as 20 Secret Service agents were
involved, and that`s nine more than the agency itself has acknowledged so
far. And they include two supervisors, three members of the agency`s elite
counter-assault teams -- they`re the heavily armed men. And today the
Pentagon acknowledged that at least five members of the U.S. military might
also have been involved in the prostitution scandal.

Let me go right now to the man who broke this story, Ron Kessler.
Tell us what you know as of now about the depth and breadth of this
scandal.

RONALD KESSLER, AUTHOR, "IN THE PRESIDENT`S SECRET SERVICE": Well,
the important thing to keep in mind is that if one of these prostitutes had
decided to blackmail one of the agents, that could have led to terrorists
being let in to secure areas to possibly assassinate the president or
Russian (ph) foreign intelligence being allowed in to plant bugging
devices. That is why it is the biggest scandal in the history of the
Secret Service.

But it`s not the first security breach. We had the Salahis, who did
the intrusion at the White House, the party crashers.

MATTHEWS: Sure.

KESSLER: And in my book, "In the President`s Secret Service," I go
into dozens of examples of corner-cutting by the Secret Service management,
ranging from letting people into events without magnetometer screening --
it`s just like letting passengers into an airplane without magnetometer
screening -- to not keeping up to date with the latest firearms, to not
even insisting that agents comply with regular physical fitness tests and
firearms testing.

Then they`ll actually ask agents to fill out their own test scores on
some of these tests. So there`s this...

MATTHEWS: OK, well let`s go to what we`ve got hot right now. Let`s -
- here`s the president, Ron. Let`s take a look. Here was the president
giving his personal reaction to the unfolding scandal yesterday. Let`s
listen to the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What happened here in
Colombia is being investigated by the director of the Secret Service. I
expect that investigation to be thorough and I expect it to be rigorous.

If it turns out that some of the allegations that have been made in
the press are confirmed, then, of course, I`ll be angry. We`re
representing the people of the United States, and when we travel to another
country, I expect us to observe the highest standards because we`re not
just representing ourselves.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Don -- Dan Bongino. Thank you.
Congratulations for your service, and good luck in the race for senator.
Let me ask you, Dan, this whole question about the culture. Is there a
kind of a macho man culture in the Secret Service, where this is normal
behavior?

DAN BONGINO, FMR. SECRET SERVICE AGENT: No, Chris, this is not normal
behavior. There`s no question this is a high-stress, high-results job, but
it`s an agency of human beings that make human mistakes.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, is running from this. The Secret Service
has said all the right things to this point, saying they`re embarrassed,
they apologize. Again, me, I`m a Republican. This is not a partisan
issue. The president...

MATTHEWS: Oh, I agree with that.

BONGINO: ... is overseas...

MATTHEWS: I don`t think so.

BONGINO: No, he was representing the United States...

MATTHEWS: Well, what about the problem of -- let me cut you off. Let
me get to the problem here. It`s not a bad apple, it`s a bad dozen apples,
at least. We`re talking maybe 20. So who would organize something like
this, maybe 10, 15, 20 prostitutes all be assigned to different rooms, all
being allocated, distributed to these agents? Who put this thing together?

This wasn`t like one guy got drunk and found himself with somebody who
was behaving professionally that night and didn`t know about it. This
looks like an organized event, by the looks of it.

BONGINO: It looks to be that there was some tremendous -- and that
may be an understatement -- lapses in judgment here. And I have to say --
I have to caveat this by saying I`m personally involved with lot of the
agents in this case, so I`m being a little circumspect in that regard.

MATTHEWS: I understand.

BONGINO: I`ve heard what happened over there. I`ve heard the story.
And again, no one`s running from this. It was an awful lapse in judgment.
Their families are embarrassed. And this is not an apology for their
behavior. They`re embarrassed. The agency is embarrassed. The president
of the United States is embarrassed.

This is a -- it`s a disgrace. There`s no way around it, but...

MATTHEWS: So...

BONGINO: ... it`s being dealt with harshly right now.

MATTHEWS: You can say from your experience that "wheels up, rings
off" is not a phrase that`s been heard around the agency.

BONGINO: I haven`t heard that one, no. There are some stories
breaking now about "wheels up" parties. These are very informal events.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BONGINO: I`ve been to a few of them overseas. They`re -- as a matter
of fact, they`re very boring, actually. Most people tend to leave early.
I`m not saying that every "wheels up" party that ever happened in the
Secret Service, there`s never been an event. But in general -- I can just
speak in totality. Again, it`s a human agency -- it`s a very regimented...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BONGINO: ... dedicated group of guys. And you know, Chris, I spent
300 days on the road. I almost missed my daughter`s birth for this. And I
really...

MATTHEWS: OK, I appreciate your service.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I mean this. I mean this. I`m trying to get to the bottom
of the culture.

Let me to back to Ron, who`s written about this. Ron, without being
sensational here, I`ve heard the opposite, that -- I`ve heard that these
people are monkish, the term used, they go to bed early, they work out,
they stay physically fit and alert, and they don`t behave like this
regularly...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: ... in the way that it`s been described. Ron, your view.

KESSLER: Yes, as Dan was saying, these are very dedicated agents. I
know the FBI admires Secret Service agents more than any other law
enforcement. But the problem is the management under Mark Sullivan (ph),
the director, tolerates corner-cutting, tolerates uniformed officers
letting people into the White House...

MATTHEWS: When did this start?

KESSLER: It really began when Department of Homeland Security took
over. That`s when the corner-cutting began. And these particular agents,
I think, are just emulating the example of the management, which is cut
corners, wink and nod...

MATTHEWS: OK. Why was the Treasury Department a better -- why was
the Treasury Department a better structure for these agents? Why was it
better to have the Secret Service at Treasury?

KESSLER: When it became immersed in the Homeland Security Department,
all of a sudden, there were 22 other national security agencies competing
for budget, and that contributed to this.

But it`s always so hard to pinpoint, why would anybody allow this to
happen. It goes back to Mark Sullivan. He doesn`t know how to manage the
agency. He`s presided over all these debacles, and yet still, he has not
been removed.

It`s Barack Obama`s life is at risk, and agents I talk to say that,
you know, there very well could be an assassination, given all this corner-
cutting. The only way to fix it is to remove him and bring in a director
from the outside, as Bob Muller came into the FBI from the outside, who`s
not beholden to interests within the agency, who will restore the standards
that the Secret Service always has been proud of.

MATTHEWS: Let`s go right now to Congressman Darrell Issa. He`s, of
course, the hot hand on the Republican side, but he`s chairman of the
investigating committee over in the House. He`s had some strong words for
the Secret Service today. Let`s listen to Congressman Issa of California.
He`s red hot on this one. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: This story is larger than 11
individuals. It`s part of what has been told to us is a pattern of
behavior that`s built up, so-called "wheels up" parties and the like. We
clearly have lost confidence. We need to get that confidence back by
knowing that the system will be changed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, let me go back to Dan Bongino here. Bongino, you`re
running for the Senate in Maryland, and you`re also an agent who`s had
experience guarding, among others, President Obama.

Do you think there has been a problem of structure, putting this under
Homeland Security? Do you buy the argument of Ron Kessler that there`s
been a loss of espirit, a loss of discipline since the shift in department
to Homeland Security?

BONGINO: No, and I was there for the transition. It was rather
seamless. I`m sure at the management level, there were -- there may have
been some hiccups. There are always going to be when you move a massive
federal agency from one to the next. But I don`t think that filtered
down...

MATTHEWS: OK.

BONGINO: ... to a discipline level amongst the men. The guys --
again, the guys I knew -- I mean this, Chris -- they were as regimented a
group of human beings, and I am proud to say I was a part of them.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at the spread of this problem. Today the
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, talked about
the scandal, which has increased, by the way, to include five people from
the defense area. Let`s listen to what he said about letting the president
down, pretty strong words.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: I can speak for myself
and my fellow chiefs, who are embarrassed by what occurred. What we do
know is that we distracted several of our members, distracted the issue
from what was a very important regional engagement for our president. So
we let the boss down because nobody is talking about what went on in
Columbia, other than this incident. So to that extent, we let him down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That`s my reading of it. Ron Kessler, do you have anything
to report on the militaries involved in this scandal?

KESSLER: Yes, that`s not nearly as important because they don`t have
access the way the Secret Service does.

MATTHEWS: Right.

KESSLER: You know, an agent could tell a possible assassin where the
president is going to be at what time, or even bring him in.

And President Obama`s comment -- you know, if these allegations in the
press are proven to be true, I`ll be angry -- you know, we already know
that the Secret Service has confirmed that there was misconduct. That`s
why these agents were withdrawn. It wasn`t allegations in the press. And
you know, "I`ll be angry" is not the way to reform this agency. That is
something that requires some leadership.

MATTHEWS: Well, I can only imagine, knowing the president, that -- I
imagine there`s going to some steps taken here that might be including some
beheading of people you want beheaded.

Anyway, thank you very much, Ronald Kessler, for being on the air and
breaking this story. Agent Dan Bongino, good luck in your race, and thanks
for your service to our country.

BONGINO: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Coming up: Mitt Romney hasn`t said much about what he plans
to do if elected president, but guess what? It`s gotten out. He was heard
talking about his plans. And we`re going to hear them in just a minute,
for the first time ever, the unmitigated, unadorned reality of what he
talks about, what agencies he wants to cut, who he wants to axe and who he
wants to protect from taxes. How worried should we be?

By the way, he`s awful worried, we now know, about losing the Latino
vote. He thinks he`s going to get 1 in 5, and that spots (ph) doom for
him, he says. Great stuff coming up.

This is HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: With under seven months now to election day, believe it or
not, President Obama has a healthy lead in the race to 270 electoral votes,
according to a new projection by the Associated Press.

Here they are. Here are the states that are either solid or leaning
toward the president. All told, they`re good for 242 electoral votes, just
28 shy of what he needs, the 270 magic number.

And now in the red, the states that are either solid or leading toward
Mitt Romney, the very likely Republican nominee. They`re good for 191
electoral votes. At least nine toss-up states with 105 electoral votes.

And consider this. Based on the AP`s projection, President Obama
would just need to win Florida. That`s all he needs now is Florida, but he
ain`t got it yet.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Did NBC News catch on tape a glimpse on
tape of the real Mitt Romney last night for the first time? Well, Romney
isn`t the first politician and he won`t be the last to say things in a room
full of supporters that he wouldn`t say to the general public out there --
you know, the real people?

But what NBC News overheard last night at a Florida fund-raiser was a
politician, Romney, acknowledging rather nakedly the way he`s playing the
game.

Mitt Romney acknowledged, for example, that if he were elected, he
would likely say goodbye -- goodbye -- to the Department of Housing and
Urban Development his father once ran. He acknowledged that he`s far from
being offended by Hilary Rosen`s comments about women who work in the home.
His wife, Ann, was pretty much thrilled and saw it as a gift.

And he acknowledge that unless his party does something serious --
this is getting down to the serious business -- they`re going to lose the
Hispanic vote 4 to 1, and he`s got problems there.

David Corn`s the Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones," an MSNBC
contributor. His new book is "Showdown." What a book! And Joe Williams
is the White House correspondent for Politico.

Gentlemen, thank you for joining us. The fundraiser was closed to the
press, but not really. NBC News campaign embed Garrett Haake overheard
what was said from his position outside the home. He also recorded the
statements.

And here`s what Romney said about HUD. Quote, "I`m going to take a
lot of departments in Washington and agencies and combine them, some
eliminate. But I`m probably not going to lay out just exactly which ones
are going to go, things like Housing and Urban Development, which my dad
was head of, that might not be around later. But I`m not going to actually
go through these one by one." Well, not there, at least.

And here`s what he said about Department of Education. Quote, "The
Department of Education I will either consolidate with another agency or
perhaps make it a heck of a lot smaller. I`m not going to get rid of it
entirely."

Well, David Corn, you know, it`s interesting why he was out there
hawking what he`s going to get rid of. So he`s talking to a bunch of fat
cats...

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Right.

MATTHEWS: ... to tell them what a right-winger he is. You think I`m
a moderate? I`m getting rid of all these agencies.

CORN: Well...

MATTHEWS: Showing off.

CORN: ... Mitt Romney naked and unplugged is kind of a scary thing.
But you know, it just goes to show you that everyone knows that Mitt Romney
is not being level when he comes in the public, when he talks out (ph),
whether it`s immigration or anything else.

I mean, Fred Barnes had a piece in "The Wall Street Journal" a few
days ago saying he was talking to a private adviser to Romney saying, Don`t
worry. His real immigration stances are a lot different than what he says
in public.

So when he used to be a moderate back in Massachusetts, and now he`s
"severely conservative" during the primary, no one knows where he stands,
so it`s not a surprise. But hats off to your embed who caught him...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CORN: ... you know, caught him red-handed.

MATTHEWS: Joe, it`s (INAUDIBLE) Garrett Haake (INAUDIBLE) Garrett
Haake did the break on the story. Joe, it`s always fascinating to get a
peek inside, or as I always say, You pick up the rock, and all the bugs are
running around underneath the rock.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: It`s really a good image because I always tell people you
see the rock, if you ever get inside working politics or get close enough,
like this embed, Haake, did, you get to see the bug life. Here`s the real
guy talking pol, not just this you know, pleasant businessman, but a guy
who`s really talking turkey here.

JOE WILLIAMS, POLITICO.COM: Well, he`s saying things that the donors
are going to open their wallets for.

MATTHEWS: Exactly.

WILLIAMS: This is not really that much of a surprise for those of us
who have followed Mitt Romney or at least seen him up close and personal.

When I was in Massachusetts, sort of same deal. We knew that he was
coming from a more conservative background then, compared to Massachusetts,
and all of a sudden, he`s a moderate. He`s a liberal. He`s a guy who can
get with Planned Parenthood, who can talk about abortion or pro-choice.

But one of the things you have to remember is that some of these
statements have real impact. Talking about consolidating the Department of
Housing and Urban development, as well as the Department of Education --
those are agencies with very real impact, particularly on middle class and
poor families, going forward. They set policies for education, they help
people get homes. That`s the real agenda at work here.

CORN: You know...

MATTHEWS: Joe, just to be completely crass about it, the way he
sounded in this conversation, he`s not exactly hurting Republicans when he
screws up.

(LAUGHTER)

WILLIAMS: No.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But -- because it`s a lot of very moderate income people.

But when he starts talking education, doesn`t that sort of grab the
antennae of people that care about their kids going to college, care about
their kids getting ahead in a very competitive world? Joe?

WILLIAMS: Well, it does, particularly if those children are the ones
who are struggling or who come from families whose parents can`t open a
checkbook and write a full tuition check.

MATTHEWS: Right.

WILLIAMS: And speaking specifically about the DREAM Act...

MATTHEWS: Pell Grants, things like that.

WILLIAMS: Exactly. Exactly, Pell Grants, Head Start, those sort
sorts of things.

And speaking of a Republican version oft DREAM Act, great job trying
to get that one through Congress, number one, and number two, I think it`s
probably a little too late to try to get on the side of the Republican --
of the Latinos, depending on all the stuff that has been said during the
primaries.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Here`s the raw stuff. We have got to move quickly.

Here`s the raw stuff, which I know you, David Corn, love to write
about.

CORN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Here`s the way they really talk dirty. Here`s Mitt Romney
calling the episode with Hilary Rosen last week a gift because it allowed
his campaign to show contrast with the Democrats in the general election.

And his wife also spoke about Rosen. Here`s what Ann Romney was
overheard saying: "It was my early birthday present for someone to be
critical of me as a mother. And that was really a defining moment, and I
loved it."

Well, today, Ann Romney told ABC News that she said it was a birthday
gift -- here`s the spin -- because she loves the fact that it created a
dialogue about motherhood.

Now, that`s just whatever that is. I`m not going to call it B.S.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: It`s her talking.

But here she is admitting that she`s sharp enough politically to know
that the wheels were off...

WILLIAMS: Oh, yes.

MATTHEWS: ... the other side for a couple days because they got
caught making fun, it seemed, of women who work in the home.

CORN: I mean, they...

MATTHEWS: She knows what`s going on.

CORN: They saw an opening. They pounced on it because they know that
Mitt Romney is looking at a 20-point deficit between him and Obama when it
comes to women.

Now, in January, when he was campaigning up in New Hampshire, "The
Boston Globe" has written about this, he got out there and said, you know,
when I was governor of Massachusetts, even if you were a single mom with a
kid under the age of 2, you still have to work. Here they are being
hypocrites. They`re talking about choice now. Every woman has a choice.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I know we have got an argument here, but I`m telling you,
Hilary Rosen must wish she had never said it.

CORN: Oh, of course not, of course not.

MATTHEWS: It`s a door opener.

CORN: Yes, of course.

MATTHEWS: Because I have said things that I would -- Joe, get in
here.

WILLIAMS: Yes. Well...

MATTHEWS: It seems to me people say things all the time. If you
fully understood what I meant, it really was less offensive, but most
people don`t fully understand what you mean.

WILLIAMS: Right.

MATTHEWS: They get the point. They don`t like...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: And they go after you.

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAMS: And that`s all -- that`s all they`re going to see is the
headline, the top line of that statement. But you dig a little deeper, you
find out what she meant and you dig even further as a lot of people were
doing on Twitter over the weekend and in some political Web sites, and you
find that Romney has made contradictory statements to the statements that
he made that was outraged about the statement in the first place.

So it`s all very much a house of mirrors.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: And when a debate comes up and the president, President
Obama, who is very quick, as we know, quicker than any of us, probably, and
comes up using these things, he will find a way. If Romney tries this
number about making fun of women who work at home, the president will come
out quickly, right, and he will say let me remind you of something you said
earlier this year. Right?

WILLIAMS: Well, and that`s where the Democrats were talking most of
the primary season that a lot of the ads wrote themselves. This is one of
those examples. You don`t have to go too far back in Mitt Romney`s past to
find some contradictory statements.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s a general statement, isn`t it, Joe?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: All you have to do is just say what you said. You don`t
have to go too far back. If you don`t like what he said this week, check
last week and check next week.

Here`s Mitt Romney...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Here`s Mitt Romney acknowledging what most people already
know about his problem with the Hispanic vote.

And this is great. I love it when they talk turkey. This is talking
turkey -- quote -- here`s Romney -- "I think it will become a much bigger
issue. I mean, we have to get Hispanic voters to vote for our party." He
acknowledged the polls showing a huge gap among that group and says --
quote -- "That spells huge doom for us."

David, he even knew the number.

CORN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: He said we could be getting 20 percent of the Hispanic
vote.

They do have a profession. It`s called politics.

CORN: Oh, yes.

MATTHEWS: Whether you`re left, right and center, there`s Romney
admitting he`s screwed right now if this thing stays the way it is. So
what`s he going to do about it?

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: Well, you showed the map earlier.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CORN: And it shows you have to win -- Obama can win just without --
with Florida. But if you take Florida aside, he can still win if he gets
the Hispanic vote.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: They`re talking Rubio again as running mate.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: No, talking Rubio as their Hail Mary.

CORN: Listen, Rubio keeps saying, I`m not going to be veep. And you
saw what Gonzales said today, too, the former A.G. It shouldn`t be Rubio.
It`s not a clear shot.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I`m going to tell you something.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

WILLIAMS: You also have to keep in mind that something like this is
reminiscent for me, anyway, for 2008 when you had President Obama behind
closed doors talking about people clinging to their guns and religion.
Famous statement. Dinged him a lot.

It also harmed him in a couple of key states. Let`s remember,
Pennsylvania was a bit of a turbulent ride for him, West Virginia, et
cetera.

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAMS: Even though these statements were made behind closed doors
and even though they probably have a shorter shelf life, they`re going to
get dredged up and they could mean a difference in a tight election where
every vote is going to count in some swing states.

MATTHEWS: Now hear this, politicians. When you talk to anybody,
you`re talking to everybody.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, David Corn. We all should remember that
one.

(LAUGHTER)

CORN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Joe Williams.

Up next, ever wonder what it would be like if Mitt Romney, Santorum
and the rest of the Republican candidates in that old clown show got
together for some reminiscing? Stick around. "Saturday Night Live" has
nailed them next on the "Sideshow."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Now to the "Sideshow."

"SNL" paid tribute to all the players in the late, great 2012 GOP, are
I say it, clown show this weekend. What would it be like, they decided, if
Romney, Santorum and the rest of that whole gang got together and began to
reminisce at some bar? Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Hey, can I admit something to you guys?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Sure. You`re among friends.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Romneycare is just Obamacare. There you go.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Oh, I knew it. I can`t believe none of us could
beat you.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: And I can`t believe it took so long to win. Hey,
one more time.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR (singing): Another turning point, a fork stuck in
the road.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS (singing): (INAUDIBLE) direct you where to go.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS (singing): So make the best of this test and
don`t ask why.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR (singing): It`s not affected, but it`s...

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS (singing): It was always unpredictable, but in
the end was right. This campaign was the time of my life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What a reunion. Let`s say goodbye to them, finally,
anyway.

Speaking of letting loose, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in
Colombia this weekend with the president for the Summit of the Americas.
it wasn`t all business. Here`s a look. Clinton was having a little fun in
the nightlife area, enjoying the beer, and there she is putting it down,
and hitting the dance floor. There she is.

This wasn`t exactly a new thing for Clinton. During her African tour
back in 2009, she did dance with the locals there. There you got an active
picture in Kenya, there in South Africa as well, getting to know everybody.

Finally tonight, the liberal group MoveOn.org is out with a new
advertisement going after Mitt Romney for his opposition to the well-known
Buffett rule. We all pay the same tax rates. Well, you have heard the
term fat cat, right? Well, here he is in the flesh.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MOVEON.ORG AD)

NARRATOR: President Obama`s Buffett rule would require millionaires
and billionaires to pay the same tax rate as the rest of us. The Romney
rule lets fat cats rig the system, so they pay less and pass on the burden
to hardworking Americans like you and me.

So tell Mitt Romney, kittens are cute. One percent fat cats who won`t
pay their fair share? Not so much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, Romney already had a problem with dog lovers for
putting his Seamus up on the roof to that trip to Montreal. Well, MoveOn
says its ad will run during cat-focused programming on Animal Planet, for
example, "Big Cat Diary" and "My Cat From Hell." Get the picture?

Up next, let`s debate a hot issue that President Obama heard a lot
over the weekend about down there in Cartagena, whether or not to legalize
drugs in these country, an issue we fight about in high school debate
forever.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SUE HERERA, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Sue Herera with your CNBC "Market
Wrap."

The Dow rose 72 points today, the S&P off was just a fraction, the
Nasdaq though lost 23 points. A better-than-expected read on retails sales
helped boost the Dow. Sales rose 0.8 percent in March, and economists
expected a gain of only 0.3 percent. Investors also cheered Citigroup`s
earnings, which beat estimates. However, their revenue did fall short.

Meanwhile, Apple shares slid for a fifth straight day, dragging down
the Nasdaq. That stock is still up, though, about 45 percent this year.

And that`s it from CNBC. We are first in business worldwide -- and
now back to HARDBALL and Chris.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

We`re going to take a look at the worldwide war on drugs right now. I
spent the weekend in Colombia, Cartagena, at one point moderating a
discussion among world leaders, including President Obama, at the Summit of
the Americas.

I asked Colombian President Santos and President Obama about the
future of the so-called drug war in this country. Specifically, should
drugs be legalized here in this country in an attempt to put an end to the
narco-terrorism in the south?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You have a chance to sit next to President Obama now. Do
you want to ask him about ways you think the United States could help your
country in the drug war?

JUAN MANUEL SANTOS, COLOMBIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Chris,
don`t you have a simpler question?

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS: How can we improve north-south relations, generally
speaking?

(LAUGHTER)

SANTOS (through translator): We have the obligation to see we`re
doing the best that we can do or if there are other alternatives that can
be much more efficient. On one side, it can be to put all the consumers --
the consumers go to jail. The other extreme is legalization. On the
middle ground, we may have more practical policies.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it is entirely
legitimate to have a conversation about whether the laws in place are ones
that are doing more harm than good in certain places.

I personally -- and my administration`s position is that legalization
is not the answer, that, in fact, if you think about how it would end up
operating, the capacity of a large-scale drug trade to dominate certain
countries if they were allowed to operate legally without any constraint
could be just as corrupting, if not more corrupting, than the status quo.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Just as corrupting or worse than the status quo.

Kevin Sabet is a former senior adviser on drug policy for the Obama
White House. And Ethan Nadelmann is the executive director of the Drug
Policy Alliance,

Ethan, make the case -- or, Kevin, rather, make the case for
legalizing.

DR. KEVIN SABET, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DRUG POLICY ADVISER: Well, you
know, I think legalization would just make our problems worse.

We would have more addicts. We would be spending more on our health
care system. Already, illegal drugs cost us $200 billion in terms of lost
social costs. And our legal drugs, alcohol and tobacco, cost us $400
billion of social costs, and we only get about $35 billion in revenues.

So the numbers don`t add up for legalization. We also wouldn`t be
crippling the cartels if we legalized drugs. And that`s because these
cartels are dealing with drugs, human trafficking, piracy, on and on. It
would be a small dent in their overall balance sheets, and we would be
instead creating addicts here and abroad.

MATTHEWS: Why do I hear when I was down this weekend -- I`m no expert
-- I was down there this weekend listening to people like Santos, the very
impressive president of Colombia, and the others.

They seem to think that what`s going on here, the vast consumption of
illegal drugs up here, is killing those countries down there with weapons,
with murder, with horror and corruption.

SABET: Yes.

MATTHEWS: How do we respond to that by saying, oh, we will keep going
the way we`re going? We`re going to keep fighting this so-called war on
drugs?

(CROSSTALK)

SABET: Well, Chris, we shouldn`t keep going the way we`re going.
That`s also not the option.

I think actually President Santos said it right, that on one extreme,
you have the legalization, on the other, you have the old lock them up
policies, but there are also -- there are a lot of other policies in the
middle that we can work on in terms of treatment.

Our good friend Patrick Kennedy and Jim Ramstad fighting for addiction
parity, to make sure health insurance companies cover addiction like any
other health illness, looking at drug courts. Martin Sheen and Matthew
Perry big fans of drug courts, which essentially leverage the criminal
justice system and the health care system to go and make judges sort of
intervene on an addict`s life. That`s the way to do it.

MATTHEWS: OK.

Let me try -- let`s hear the other side.

Ethan, with the other side, it seems to me, Ethan Nadelmann, that we
have kids making careers now starting when they`re age 18 as drug salesmen
on the streets. That`s their great business plan, to go out there and sell
drugs in their neighborhoods. What would legalization do to that market,
the illegal market?

ETHAN NADELMANN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DRUG POLICY ALLIANCE: Well, it
would do the same thing that ending alcohol prohibition did to that market.

I mean, let`s face it. What you`re seeing, Chris, in Mexico, Central
America, other parts of Colombia and the region, it`s like Chicago during
the days of Al Capone and prohibition times 50. I mean, the crime, the
violence, the empowerment of organized crime, the black markets, these are
all the consequences of a failed prohibitionist policy.

The presidents down there are smart enough to know not to say
legalize everything (AUDIO BREAK) emerging critical mass that we need to
put all options on the table, including the decriminalization of drug
position, including legal regulation of drug markets and everything as
well.

It`s not new that President Obama said he`s against legalization,
every president has said that.

CHRSI MATTHEWS, HOST: Well, let me try the tricky question. You can
-- 10 people could have a glass of wine and maybe one in 10 or one in 100
would become quickly addicted to alcohol. But I`m told if you tried crack
cocaine -- let me go to Kevin on this -- if you try crack cocaine once,
you`re liable to be addicted.

SABET: Well, obviously, it depends on the person. We don`t want to
overstate the case. But there is a high addiction of crack or
methamphetamine. I mean, heroin, one in four users become addicted and the
rest, you know, still become a drain in our life, even if they aren`t
technically addicted.

So, the idea we`re going to wipe out these cartels just if we
legalize tomorrow, you know, alcohol prohibition was over a 13-year period
and they were wiped out, that underground market for that. Illegal drugs
over 100 years, they`re operating on a host of other problems like guns and
human trafficking and piracy. The idea that we`re going to wipe them out
is ludicrous.

We can have a smarter policy, and we should. We should focus on drug
courts, addiction as a health care problems, as a disease, as other people
have said. But this idea that legalization, that is an extreme example.

One point Ethan made about decriminalization, to make that
distinction, I mean, decriminalization may actually even have a more
perverse effect than legalization because if we decriminalize, meaning we
kept the market intact but didn`t have any sanctions for users, you could
have an increase in users, but you wouldn`t even touch the market. So,
we`re actually going to be giving more money to the cartels.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Your reaction to that, Ethan.

NADELMANN: You`re already stating things that aren`t factually --
yes, I mean, listen, what you`re hearing from Kevin Sabet is the same old-
same old drug war gobbledygook that we`ve heard for decades on this point.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Kevin, hold off. Kevin, hold off, Kevin.

NADELMANN: -- new ideas.

The evidence shows -- the evidence shows that decriminalizing drug
possession will reduce the arrest of millions of poor people and people of
color without increasing drug use. That`s the evidence.

We also know that in United States, 50 percent of Americans now say
it`s time to legalize marijuana like alcohol.

SABET: Ethan, you know that if we did that --

(CROSSTALK)

NADELMANN: OK, that would make a significant effort in order to
reducing the black market. So, what`s emerging right now -- Kevin, stop.
What`s emerging right now is building on what President Cardoso of Brazil,
Uribe of Colombia, deal with Mexico -- many of the distinguished leaders
not from the left but from the center right, are saying we need a new
bottom line.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Thank you. We`re going to be back again. I`m sure this
debate will continue on here as well.

Thank you, Ethan. Thank you, Kevin.

Let me tell you, those of you watching and find this debate
important, 50 percent of Americans now favor legalization of marijuana use,
50 percent. So this is right on the edge. Look at that convergence in
that chart. This is the hot debate of the future.

Up next, back to that Mitt Romney audiotape. It turns out that Mitt
Romney and his wife Ann were anything but outraged or hurt about Hilary
Rosen`s stay-at-home mom comment last week. We know just what the Romneys
thought of it because it was caught on tape. Let`s talk about it here on
tape as well.

This is HARDBALL, in just a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Three weeks after getting a heart transplant, Dick Cheney
is back on the attack against President Obama. Here he is over the weekend
at the state convention of the Wyoming Republicans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: I can`t think of a time
when I felt it was more important for us to defeat an incumbent president
than today with respect to Barack Obama. I think he has been an
unmitigated disaster for the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: There you go -- the same old Dick Cheney.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, we had another dust-up in the gender wars. It was
over Hilary Rosen`s remarks last week about Ann Romney never, quote,
"working outside the home." It certainly put the focus on the women`s
vote, the gender gap we know about which favors the president.

And as we told you earlier tonight, Ann Romney last night -- just
last night -- told campaign fat cats, quote, "It was my early birthday
present for someone to be critical of me as a mother, and that was really a
defining moment and I loved it." Well, there you have it.

But the gender gap isn`t (INAUDIBLE) the so-called mommy wars, it`s
all about real issues we think here rational voters, women and men both
vote rationally whether they work at home or they work in the office or
somewhere.

Dee Dee Myers served as White House press secretary for President
Bill Clinton, and Ruth Marcus is a great columnist and writer for the
"Washington Post." We read her somewhat religiously in this secular town
here.

Ruth, you made some points today which are fresh off the barrel about
issues that unite women who work outside the home, inside the home only.

RUTH MARCUS, THE WASHINGTON POST: Sure, exactly. The mommy wars,
just as you said, are a little bit of a diversion and also a little bit of
a myth, because working women also juggle a lot of the same things that
stay-at-home moms do, and people move back and forth. We`re not monolithic
and we`re not in one basket or the other for all time, as Dee Dee and I
both know.

But so -- but there are issues that do separate women from men,
issues like pay equity, issues like violence against women, issues like
funding for childcare and issues -- not as much contraception as the
Democrats might hope -- but women are more supportive of activists --

MATTHEWS: Both sides of the gender --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I keep saying to the people, do you think it`s only women
who care about contraception? Haven`t you been around?

MARCUS: Right. And men and women are split equally on abortion
rights, but, for example, there was Mitt Romney just the other day while
you were gun, at the NRA convention talking about gun rights.

Well, guess what? Do you know who are much more supportive about
restrictions on guns than men are? Women voters?

MATTHEWS: What is that?

MARCUS: Well, they -- I think they understand that guns can kill and
they`re not toys. For whatever reason, they`re much more supportive of gun
control and this just shows the tightrope that Mitt Romney has to walk
between appealing to this group because he cannot win with a gender gap
this size.

MATTHEWS: Let`s -- somebody is going to stand up for Ann Romney
here. She certainly knows politics. She got a gift this weekend, a
fortune cookie, which was it made it look like the Democrats were elitists.
They were looking down to women at home. It looked like that.

DEE DEE MYERS, FORMER CLINTON PRESS SECRETARY: I mean, nobody -- I
mean, I love Hillary Rosen, she`s a dear friend of mine. She misspoke.
She said she misspoke. No one agreed with her. So, what is this -- where
are the other people who endorsed -- you know, it`s a fake. And Ann
Romney`s comment I think --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: She made it about Obama`s best friend.

MYERS: She`s certainly been a good Democrat and supporter of the
president, but she wasn`t speaking for the White House. She never claimed
to be speaking for the White House.

And I think Ann Romney`s comments, I think, underscore the fact that
it was political. They are jumping on this. It was really -- they weren`t
offended --

MATTHEWS: She wasn`t hurt by it.

MYERS: No, she loved it. It was a great opportunity for them to
talk about something other than --

MATTHEWS: Can I say something that we all agree on? So, anybody
doesn`t get -- this is not an elitist show, by the way. I`m not an
elitist.

But let me tell you something on this stuff -- my mom had five boys.
She never worked outside the home, and worked her butt off. It`s
unimaginable what it was like to raise kids with no -- she didn`t know what
a maid look like. She never heard of --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: She didn`t know anybody with a maid. It was hard work,
educating the kids. And my wife, you know, I call her the queen, at
midnight when the kids were still at home, before they went on to greatness
(ph), at midnight when the call came, my paper is done, it`s time to start
the editing process, at midnight, that`s the wife that does this, the
mother.

MARCUS: We`ve been there.

(CROSSTALK)

MARCUS: Look, it is true it was a huge gift for Ann Romney and that
is why not only the Romney campaign jumped on it but the Obama campaign and
the Obama White House.

MYERS: Right.

MARCUS: The president and the first lady, they were driving the bus
back and forth over Hilary Rosen.

MATTHEWS: OK. Talk about what you`re talking about today, because I
don`t know what it`s about. You know, I have heard the term beater, men
who beat up their wives, horrible people, right?

And that, I don`t know if that`s still around, but it must still be
around because there`s a Violence Against Women Act.

MARCUS: Sure. And the White House just announced they were going to
have Vice President Biden, who was one of the lead Senate sponsors, the
lead Senate sponsor on the Violence Against Women Act. It`s up for
reauthorization.

Look, it`s just like pay equity. After Romney`s campaign was asked
whether he supported the Lilly Ledbetter Act, and they didn`t know the
answer, they came out with a statement saying we`re for pay equity.
Everybody is for pay equity and against violence against women, but in what
contour. There is a big dispute over whether this law should be expanded
to include illegal immigrants who are subject to domestic violence, and to
include gay couples.

MYERS: And when Mitt Romney was asked about the Violence Against
Women Act, he didn`t know what it was.

(CROSSTALK)

MARCUS: That was in 2008, be a little bi fair.

MYERS: Yes, so a little bit fair.

MATTHEWS: He now knows what it is.

MARCUS: But we`ll find out.

MYERS: Here is the issue about Ann Romney, though. It`s not that he
is talking to Ann Romney about women, or that she has an opinion, is that
he`s only talking to Ann Romney about women. Why is it that when half of
the electorate is women, when women have been struggling, Mitt Romney goes
to his wife almost exclusively. He always says I get all my --

MATTHEWS: Well, how what about saying he`s going to get rid of
Department of Education last night? We caught --

(CROSSTALK)

MYERS: Politically, that`s dynamite. It`s not the policy of it,
it`s the politics of it that he`s worried about. Not whether it`s right or
wrong.

MATTHEWS: But why would he say I want to consolidate or reduce the
impact of the Department of Education.

MYERS: He thought he was off the record talking to a room full of
conservative Republicans who would support that education.

MARCUS: And education as it happens, I`ve looked at the poll
numbers, that`s another huge area where there`s a big gender gap between
male and female voters.

MATTHEWS: I mean, I`m not being judgmental, but I can be. Ask any
guy who the kids teachers are, name them.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: The mother tends to be aware of every teacher, has an add
attitude about them, who the good ones are. Who are the teachers again?

MARCUS: Yes, I`m staying silent, I don`t want to get in --

(CROSSTALK)

MYERS: This controversy is not going to close the gender gap because
all of this today, after we`ve gone four or five days of Hilary Rosen, the
issues are still the same and Republicans are in no better shape than they
were.

MATTHEWS: First, you have a press secretary who was a woman, and is
still.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Dee Dee Myers, my pal.

Thank you very much. I love your column, Ruth Marcus.

When we return, "Let Me Finish" why what`s good for Latin America
looks to be good for the United States. I was very impressed this week in
what I saw and I was stunned in many ways. Things are looking up south of
the border.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

I just returned from Colombia, in the heart of Central America. I
have come back with enthusiasm for what`s happening in this hemisphere. We
in the United States so often narrow our focus to what affects us directly.
We think of Latin America entirely therefore in the context of immigration,
poor people coming north to find work.

But there`s a much bigger story happening south of here than the
poverty that remains at the bottom of the pyramid. I felt it in Cartagena
where the presidents of the Americas met this weekend. I felt the
confidence and upbeat zest in the air, not arrogant, not in the least, not
demanding, not really. But as I said, in the palpable confidence of those
around me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: President Rousseff, I know you`re a Democratic and a
populist hero in your country, but I do want to congratulate on just
passing the United Kingdom as the sixth largest economy in the world.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I can only imagine what it would like to if Argentina did
that. And I`m not talking about soccer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, President Obama showed respect for this. There`s
none of the old attitude in him. He seems to know how to show respect to
our fellow democracies, just as he knows how to treat the big non-democracy
down there, Cuba, to treat them just that way as a dictatorship, none as
all the power in the world, by the way, Cuba does, to join the other
countries in the hemisphere if it wants to, if it wants to become a
democracy.

Bu the big good news down there is that what unites the Americas is a
belief in free systems and true, electoral democracy and free markets, and
most important to progressives, a commitment to bring people up from the
bottom. Quote, "the base of the pyramid," that was the phrase that caught
me down there, the desire to bring up the poor from the bottom as they
expand their gross national products. I heard this face to face from the
leftist president of Brazil and also from the more centrist president of
Colombia, President Santos, who was deeply impressive. He was the host
this weekend in Cartagena.

Latin America is on the road to giving jobs and hope to the people
who need it most, and that can only be good news for this country.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.


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