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updated 5/17/2012 11:09:12 AM ET 2012-05-17T15:09:12

Guests: Hampton Pearson, Hampton Dellinger, David Corn, Steve Kornacki, Melinda Henneberger, Brian Baker, Daniela Gibbs Leger, Steve Israel, Chip Saltsman

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Eve of destruction.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
Sabotage. They did it last summer, blowing up the debt talks, exploding
the country`s credit rating. Here they come again for an election year
replay. Why not? If you want to kill the recovery, you get to kill
Obama`s reelection chances. Go Boehner. Go Tea Party. It`s yet another
example of how the Republicans have become a protest party with no interest
in actually governing our country.

Also, look who`s hiding from the press these days, Mitt Romney. His
staff stopped reporters from asking him any questions today. What`s Romney
afraid of? Why won`t he answer questions about the jobs killed by Bain
Capital?

Plus, the defense rests in the John Edwards case and never calls
Edwards or his girlfriend, Rielle Hunter, to the stand. A lot of people
think the prosecution never made its case on the law.

And how about that 11th-hour outside money changing a Senate election
out in Nebraska and pushing a candidate backed by Sarah Palin way over the
top at the last minute? Is that more of that "Dirty, Angry Money" we`ve
been talking about?

Finally, "Let Me Finish" with some strange thoughts, rather (ph),
about a strange election getting under way. This is going to be a strange
one. We know Obama, but who`s this other guy?

We begin with a sequel to last year`s infamous debt showdown. U.S.
Congressman Steve Israel of New York chairs the Democratic Congressional
Campaign Committee and MSNBC political analyst David Corn is author of
"Showdown," the inside look at what happened last time, when Obama fought
back against Boehner, Cantor and the Tea Party.

Mr. Israel, I want you to look at this. Here`s Speaker Boehner. He`s
so beholden to the Tea Parties that he`s starting to sound like one of
them. Listen to this speech yesterday demanding cuts, Tea Party-style.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Yes, allowing America
to default on its debt would be irresponsible. But it would be more
irresponsible to raise the debt ceiling without taking dramatic steps to
reduce spending and reform the budget process.

When the time comes, I will again insist my simple principle of cuts
and reforms greater than the debt limit increase. This is the only avenue
I see right now to force the elected leadership of this country to solve
our structural fiscal imbalance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: It sounds sophisticated, but listen to this. This morning,
Boehner said he wasn`t calling for default, but went on to question the
president`s motives. Let`s listen to Boehner here again this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOEHNER: I am not threatening default. Where`s the president`s plan
to tackle our looming debt crisis? Where`s the budget -- where`s the
president`s plan to stop the largest tax increase in American history from
occurring on January the 1st? It`s not a personal issue! The president
and I, as you well know, we get along fine. But he has issues with what I
believe in, and frankly, I`ve had some issues about what he believes in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, "I`m not threatening default." Mr. Israel, thank you
for coming on. You run the campaign committee for the Democrats. I just
wanted to have some insight here. It looks to me like Boehner`s
threatening just that. He`s not going to let the debt ceiling be
increased. He`s not going to let the government continue to function.
He`s going to create a crisis right before this election, which will make
the Tea Parties dance with delight, but the American people once again may
see their credit rating drop, the S&P will go down, the president will
suffer. But more importantly, this country will suffer.

REP. STEVE ISRAEL (D-NY), DCCC CHAIRMAN: Well, Chris, this is like a
bad summer rerun. They did this last summer. Their playbook was partisan
obstruction versus progress, millionaires over Medicare, protecting
millionaires, but saying we have plenty of money to give millionaires tax
cuts but not enough money to give seniors their Medicare, and continuing to
obstruct any progress in our economy.

These Tea Party Republicans care about one thing, Tea Party
Republicans in Congress. And they will once again bring this economy to
the brink of default in order to try and experience some partisan gain.
They`ve got to stop the partisanship and stop the obstructionism and learn
how to compromise.

We supported cuts, $2 trillion in cuts. They walked away from that...

MATTHEWS: OK...

ISRAEL: ... because we also said that oil companies should do a
little more, as well.

MATTHEWS: You know, I`ve got here, David Corn with me. You`re an
expert. You wrote about this last summer. Here they just are a couple
days ago. The Republicans passed what they call their -- their "fix-it
thing," protect the Defense Department against any cuts. (INAUDIBLE) that
was the deal last year after, you know, this whole mismash occurred -- and
just cut Medicaid and food stamps. Guess who they`re cutting?

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we know...

MATTHEWS: Medicaid for poor people and food stamps for poor people.
And meanwhile, they`re pushing for big tax cuts for the rich. They are a
cartoon of a right-winger party!

CORN: Yes. And perhaps even more important, they`re not sticking
with the deal they accepted a year ago.

MATTHEWS: Right. Which was even-handed cuts.

CORN: I mean -- I mean, John Boehner, you know, tried to cut a deal
with the president -- I write about this in "Showdown" -- that would have
shared sacrifice, some revenues, entitlement reductions, and he couldn`t do
it because of the Tea Party wing of his party. So they ended up cutting a
smaller deal that they all agreed to. They would have automatic cuts,
hitting social programs...

MATTHEWS: OK...

CORN: ... and the Defense Department. And now they can`t stand by
those cuts. And they say the president doesn`t have a plan, and they`re
threatening yet another default. It just shows you that John Boehner can`t
do anything on his own and he can`t govern, as you said earlier.

MATTHEWS: You know what I`m thinking, Mr. Israel? I`m thinking that
if Romney gets to be president, what he`s really offering himself up on the
way to the presidency -- I`ll be another Boehner. In other words, I`m not
as much -- I`m not as crazy as the rest of these cuckoo clocks out there,
these 200 Republican Tea Partiers, but I`ll do what they tell me to do.
You know, I`m not as loony tune as they are, but I`ll act like him.

Look at Boehner. He`s not loony tune. He`s a regular person. He`s
not right-winger, but there he is, doing exactly what the right wing wants
him to do, bring hell to bear here, have another debt crisis, bring the
government to a halt, like Newt Gingrich. He might as well be one of the
Tea Parties.

And my question to you is, is the Republican Party run by its bottom,
by its least informed people telling the top people, who do know what`s
gone wrong, to do what they do? I`m afraid -- I`m afraid we`re looking at
Boehner, too, here, that Mitt`s going to be another Boehner, another guy
who`s sort of a middle-of-the-road Republican listening to the call of the
right.

ISRAEL: Well, Chris, I think the problem is that the inmates are
running the asylum. John Boehner doesn`t have control of his caucus.

You know what America needs? America needs a Republican Party. You
know this better than anybody. Ronald Reagan and Tip O`Neill, at the end
of the day, could negotiate a compromise. These people believe that
compromise is evil. They will not compromise. They want it all their way.
It`s partisan obstruction.

I mean, look, we don`t even have a transportation bill because these
people believe that roadways can only veer to the far, far right. And
they`re going to be held accountable.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ISRAEL: Let me just say one other thing. I think -- I think,
politically, they`re -- they don`t take advice from me, but any time we can
contrast Democratic priorities -- to protect the middle class and Medicare
-- with Republican priorities, to protect tax cuts for millionaires, we win
that argument.

MATTHEWS: I know it. Why would any voter go in and say, OK, let`s
screw the poor people one more time? Let`s get rid of any food stamps left
out there. Let`s get rid of the Medicaid. You can`t go to the hospital,
you can`t go to the ER, nothing, we`re not giving you anything. That seems
to be the Republican argument.

Meanwhile, they keep coming out with, We want more breaks for the
rich. Lookit, it didn`t seem like any progress, by the way, was made at
the White House today, when the president did meet with these leaders like
Boehner and other members of the congressional leadership.

Here was Jay Carney`s read-out of the event today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president also made
clear that he refuses to allow a replay of last summer`s self-inflicted
political crisis that eroded confidence and hurt the American economy.

The president reiterated that any serious bipartisan approach to
tackle our deficit must be a balanced approach, and he made clear his
willingness to work with Republicans and Democrats to stake out an
agreement along those lines.

But it was just as clear that he would not accept an approach that
asks middle class families and senior citizens to make sacrifices without
asking for anything more from millionaires and billionaires.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, an aide to Speaker Boehner said -- provided this
account, a different one, of course. "The Speaker asked the president if
he is proposing that Congress pass an increase in the debt ceiling, of
course, that does not include any spending cuts to help reduce the deficit.
The president said yes. The speaker told the president, As long as I`m
around here, I`m not going to allow a debt ceiling increase without doing
something serious about the debt." OK, blah blah blah.

But here`s the point I have, but I want to ask you a political
question, Mr. Israel. Your job is to get Democrats elected. You`ve been
saying you think you can win a majority this November.

Here`s my concern, as an American watching this thing. If the
Republicans are right and they can screw up the economy -- every time they
talk debt ceiling crisis, every time they say the government will go to a
shutdown, every time they say, We`re going to renege on paying our debts,
the S&P, the Standard and Poor`s may go down.

A friend of mine just e-mailed me saying every time the S&P goes down
-- in other words, the market goes down -- Obama goes down. Could it be
that they have got a very serious plan here to basically sabotage the
president, which is create this Goetterdaemmerung screw-up with the debt,
once again, we get a lower bond rating, once again, the economy starts to
creep along instead of roaring along, the president goes down in the
numbers on job performance, and they pick up the pieces.

What`s wrong with that as strategy for them...

ISRAEL: No, I...

MATTHEWS: ... just in terms of real politics?

ISRAEL: I think you`re right. I think you`re right. In fact, Mitch
McConnell admitted it. The Senate Republican leader said that the
Republicans have one mission, deny Barack Obama a second term. They`re all
about one thing, and this is why I think we`re going to take the House back
because...

MATTHEWS: Will it work?

ISRAEL: ... people are fed up.

MATTHEWS: Well, you said...

(CROSSTALK)

ISRAEL: I don`t think it works. I think people are smart. They
realize who`s driving the bus, it`s House Republicans, and that they`re
only driving to the far, far right and they keep stomping their foot on the
brakes on the economy, on jobs, on everything else.

They will be held accountable to a strategy that puts partisan
obstructionism ahead of...

MATTHEWS: OK...

ISRAEL: ... economic progress and opportunity...

MATTHEWS: Explain to me...

ISRAEL: ... for the middle class.

MATTHEWS: OK, David, you`re a journalist. I know you`re an advocate,
but you`re also a journalist. Why do Tea Party crackpots keep winning
elections out in the country?

CORN: I think they`re -- I think they`re taking advantage, exploiting
the anger out there, that some Democrats and that the president hasn`t
always tapped as effectively as they can. If things are going bad, people
vote against the incumbent, you know, regardless of who the challengers
are.

MATTHEWS: Who do they blame?

CORN: Well, they blame the people in power. And this is where the
Democrats have -- have some danger and...

MATTHEWS: Because they believe in government.

CORN: Well...

MATTHEWS: They`re willing to say, We`re the government.

CORN: They believe in government...

MATTHEWS: The Tea Partiers say, We`re the protest party.

CORN: Exactly. But listen, Mitt Romney is out there not saying much
about anything. He`s just blasting away at the president. Now,
Congressman Israel and everybody else can say, Look at what the House
Republicans and what John Boehner is doing, and it may bring down the
economy and cause all sorts of pain. But Mitt Romney`s strategy obviously
is going to be to stand apart from that and let it fall on...

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s talk about...

CORN: ... Barack Obama and...

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: And then so how do you sort of tie this together if you`re the
Democrats?

MATTHEWS: Mr. Israel, let`s talk about the timing here. Here we are
in May, going into June. We`re halfway through this month. We have a
summer ahead of us, a big, hot summer. At what point does this debt crisis
hit? He`s saying now they`ve got to deal with the Bush tax cuts extension,
got to deal with the sequestration problem of cuts in domestic and military
spending cuts. And they got to deal with the end of the -- the fact that
we have to raise the debt ceiling.

Is all this going to crash before the election? Are they going to
stop the government before November?

ISRAEL: Well, they tried to do it last year. Again, this is a bad
summer rerun. We`ve seen the playbook. We know how it plays out.

I believe that their strategy is to do everything they can to make the
president look bad in order to experience some partisan gain.

The whole -- the tragedy here is it doesn`t have to go down like this.
We can compromise. Democrats want to end spending for programs that don`t
work and make spending more efficient for initiatives that protect
opportunity for the middle class. We wish we had a Republican to negotiate
with.

MATTHEWS: OK. I know.

ISRAEL: We can solve this.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: By the way, what you said about Tip and Reagan is right.
They did negotiate. They did fight, but they negotiated. Let me ask you -
- am I too strong in saying this is a sabotage campaign?

ISRAEL: Are you asking me, Chris?

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ISRAEL: No, I think -- Mitch McConnell admitted it. It`s not you
who`s saying it, it`s Mitch McConnell`s own words -- Our mission -- he
never said, Our mission is to create jobs for the American people, but to
take one job away from the president of United States.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You`re a great guest. Good luck with the DCCC.

ISRAEL: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Thank you very much. And thank you, David Corn. Your
book`s called "Showdown," and we`re now watching a rerun. It`ll be all
ready for paperback.

CORN: I know...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... these characters are doing it for you again. Coming up
-- a great book promotion, by the way. They keep doing the terrible.

Why is Romney ducking the press? He`s on the plane being cute about
it, but he`s saying he doesn`t have to answer your questions. He`s
laughing about it in that sort of phony laugh of his. Is he afraid of
questions this time? What`s he going to do when he`s president? No more
press conferences, no more answering? By the way, Bain Capital. That`s
where you worked. That`s how you got rich. Explain the money. Show us
how you made the money.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`ve got some new polling from two battleground states in
the presidential election. Let`s check the "Scoreboard."

In Wisconsin, it`s a tight race, according to the new PPP poll, Obama
47, Romney 46. Let`s go to North Carolina, where another PPP poll finds a
similar score. The President leads by a point, 48-47. Couldn`t be tighter
than this.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Reporters, stay away. Well, that was
the message today from Mitt Romney`s staff, which prevented reporters
covering his campaign down in Florida from getting anywhere near the guy.

Anyway, here are a few of the tweets, by the way, from reporters, top
reporters from top news outlets. The Associated Press`s Casey Hunt (ph)
wrote today in her tweet, "Campaign staff and volunteers trying to
physically prevent reporters from approaching the rope line to ask
questions of Romney."

"The Wall Street Journal`s" Sarah Murray (ph), who wrote, quote,
"Press lead on the Romney bus announces there will be no questions for the
candidate today."

Well, isn`t that our decision, a reporter asked." A Romney campaign
spokesperson said it was an error, but all this suggests a campaign
determined to keep the candidate on message, meaning no message and not
talking about the topic that seems inescapable to everybody else, Bain
Capital.

Steve Kornacki`s a senior writer at Salon and MSNBC contributor. Chip
Saltsman`s a Republican strategist who was campaign manager -- that was
impressive -- for Mike Huckabee in 2008.

I want to go to Kornacki, who`s a good reporter. Let me ask you about
something really important here. Is it possible that the best evidence
that this relentless now almost state-by-state four-corner offense against
Romney on what he did at Bain and how many jobs he cost people in real-life
situations is hurting him so much, he dare not speak?

STEVE KORNACKI, SALON.COM, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: You know, the problem
that I have with the idea that they think they can sort of run the clock
out on this is this was the major line of attack that Democrats used when
he ran for office in Massachusetts in 1994. They used it...

MATTHEWS: And it worked.

KORNACKI: ... again in 2002. Yes. So it`s always been obvious that
it`s coming, and the idea -- if the campaign has this thought that, you
know, We can just sort of keep him away from the press -- this is not a
one-day story, and I think they know that. This is something that
Democrats are going to be pounding away at, you know, from here through
November. So...

MATTHEWS: How can you not?

KORNACKI: Right. I mean...

MATTHEWS: Because all he does is brag about how he`s a job creator.
So he certainly wasn`t a job creator when he was 47th among the states as
Massachusetts governor. So he keeps talking about how he creates jobs at a
place he doesn`t want to talk about.

KORNACKI: Well, and it`s absolutely essentially for the Democrats`
message that they undermine Romney`s credibility on the economy because
when you look at the polls right now...

MATTHEWS: I know.

KORNACKI: ... you had those right there, where it`s basically even.
Well, where Romney has the advantage, like, the only place he has the
advantage, is who`s better on helping the economy. People instinctively
seem to connect business success with economic competence, and the Obama
campaign really has to break that link.

MATTHEWS: They do. What do you think of this, Chip, as a campaign
strategy, going directly at his strength, like Karl Rove and the Bushies
went after John Kerry`s war record?

CHIP SALTSMAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No question. I think, look,
there`s no question. Everybody knows that Barack Obama and the campaign`s
going to make -- try to make Bain a four-letter word.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SALTSMAN: So if I`m the Romney campaign...

MATTHEWS: Well, actually, it is a four-letter word.

SALTSMAN: It is a four-letter word, but one of the -- one of the --
another four-letter...

MATTHEWS: It also sounds like pain.

(LAUGHTER)

SALTSMAN: I think if I was running the Romney campaign, I would hit
it head on...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SALTSMAN: ... and I would go on in and then tell everything about
every success story that I could find out of Bain. And every time they
bring up something bad about Bain, I would try to bring up something good.
Every time they talk about -- I know they had a factory worker say he lost
his job because of Bain Capital. I would turn it around and bring up
people that have jobs because of investments they made in companies and
corporations and manufacturing and things like Staples and just push back
hard on it until...

MATTHEWS: If they made those companies rich, how come Bain got all
the money? I mean, it`s a simple question. Bain ends up -- he ends up a
quarter-billionaire. You got ask yourself, Did they take the money out of
these companies and then drop them, basically, cost-cut them to death, take
the profits and the sale and flip them? But nobody ended up as a better
company?

SALTSMAN: No, I think...

MATTHEWS: It could be possible that they didn`t create jobs.

SALTSMAN: I think they did create jobs. And when you`re an
investment firm, investment banks, they`re the start-up capital. They`re
the guys that are the first in. And if they lose everything, they lose
everything. So you lose a lot more than you gain...

MATTHEWS: Except that Bain always wins.

SALTSMAN: They don`t always win. They`ve had some (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS: Well, pretty much.

Speaking at Youngstown, Ohio, today, Vice President Biden was
introduced, by the way, by a factory worker who lost his job in a Bain
takeover. This is exploiting the thing pretty well. Here`s the vice
president. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His corporate buy-out firm, Bain Capital, bought
my plant. They brought in security guards. They fired us all. They
walked us out of the building. We saw families devastated, communities
devastated by this act. A few were hired back.

When they hired us back, they cut our wages, they cut our benefits,
they took our retirement package. In eight short years, Mitt Romney and
his buddies took $100 million out of the company, the company called Ampad,
and let it go bankrupt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, that`s a hell of a testimony, Steve Kornacki.

KORNACKI: Yes. No, and like I said, the Ampad story, I grew up in
Massachusetts. I remember the Ted Kennedy campaign using that in 1994
against Mitt Romney. And it seemed to be very effective when they did
that.

And when I think about why does it seem to work against Romney in some
years, like in `94, and not in other years like 2002, I do think there is
something sort of particular about the climate of 2012 that might be
conclusive to this line of attack for the Obama campaign.

And that is simply we are living sort of in the wake of the financial
meltdown of 2008.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

KORNACKI: And the stories now are all about how there is such
widespread, persuasive struggling in this country and yet there is that
sort super-affluent elite that has actually got richer during all this.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Yes, but, Steve, we all know story. They make movies about
this.

KORNACKI: Right.

MATTHEWS: The very well-turned-out, Ivy League sharpies show up.
They never had their fingernails dirty. They go in there, they take these
jobs away from factory workers who have worked their life 20 or 30 years
busting their hump. They`re middle-aged. They fire them all.

But somehow, they, produce a better bottom line for the company. Then
they flip it. This is a story everybody knows. Everybody has had some
family member who has been through it. They used to be called efficiency
experts. Now they are called private equity.

(CROSSTALK)

SALTSMAN: ... worried when the consultants came to town.

MATTHEWS: The consultants ain`t coming to help you at the job. Oh, I
can help you do your job better. No.

Why are you still here is the first question of most people. Just the
class issue, more people are going to identify with that factory worker, I
will bet, in this election, especially in Pennsylvania, Ohio, everywhere
else in this country -- what am I saying, everywhere in this country, than
with Romney, with his perfectly turned-out grooming. And here is a guy who
wasn`t ready for television. He looks real.

SALTSMAN: Well, he is real. And I think that`s important why the
Romney campaign, if they can push back with people that had jobs because of
what Mitt Romney did at Bain Capital or as governor of Massachusetts...

MATTHEWS: You think they got any?

SALTSMAN: I think they have got plenty of folks.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Yes, the guys that look like Romney.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: The guys that work at Bain.

(CROSSTALK)

SALTSMAN: There`s a lot of people that work at Staples that have
jobs.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Maybe you`re right.

Bain seems to follow Romney wherever he goes. An article in today`s
"Tampa Bay Times" welcomed the Romney campaign to Florida with this --
quote -- "Dade Behring, saddled with debt, wound up shuttering two medical
technology facilities in Miami. Some 850 jobs were lost, while Bain walked
away $242 million, an 800 percent return on its investment."

That`s what I`m talking about. Bain wins, the factories lose.

Let me go back to Steve.

Are you an expert on this kind of thing about how equity comes in and
shakes up these companies, cuts their costs, and then flips them? Is it
usually to the advantage of the workers, the people who actually work
there, or never to the advantage of middle management, who always get
sliced, might be to the advantage of stockholders of those companies?
Maybe that`s different.

KORNACKI: My understanding is it can to the advantage of the workers.
It can be to the advantage of middle management, but it`s always to the
advantage of a company like Bain. And that`s the problem.

So I`m sure there are examples, there are anecdotes that Romney can
churn up and that he can put out there and say, hey, look, here are workers
who have jobs because of what Bain did. But the flip side of it is,
because the nature of his business is making money for investors, the
nature of his business isn`t creating jobs , as he likes to say on the
stump. Because it`s making money for investors, there are going to be a
lot of stories out there like the ones we are hearing now.

MATTHEWS: OK.

Let`s try to reenact now ahead of time the first debate.

SALTSMAN: Right.

MATTHEWS: Right? Romney comes out. He`s got a sledgehammer punch.
You had your chance. You`re a good man, you tried everything, monetary,
fiscal, you had Bernanke`s help. This is the economy you`re left with.

SALTSMAN: Right.

MATTHEWS: Give me a chance.

Obama comes back and says, yes, let`s talk about what you did when you
had your chance. Right? And he goes through a number of these hellish
horror stories about Bain. Is that going to be the debate?

SALTSMAN: I think that will be part of the debate and then I think
Mitt Romney can come back with the success stories he had.

The bottom line is these guys made tough investments when they decided
to invest in every one of those companies.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SALTSMAN: They didn`t win every single time. And so you have to have
big wins to do a lot of losses. They saved a lot of jobs. They put a lot
of money into work and that`s what they need to push back on.

MATTHEWS: You know, I think, Kornacki, it`s going to be -- Steve,
it`s probably going to be Obama`s advantage to name some names of people
that were screwed by Bain and expect that Mitt won`t know their names.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: He will say, you don`t even know the names of the guys you
screwed.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Does this name mean anything to you? Does this name mean
anything to you? I have a sense they are going to do that.

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: I have got have a feeling by the time these ads get through
six months from now, Romney will know all those names.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Well, maybe that will have an effect.

Anyway, thank you, Steve Kornacki.

Thank you, Chip Saltsman.

I think we are previewing the big debates this fall.

Up next: Mitt Romney put to music? Well, believe it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): I love people. I love lakes. I was
born and raised here. I love this state. I love cars. I love American
cars. I love you. I love lakes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: We are going to show you some more of this weirdo stuff in
a minute. It`s ahead in the "Sideshow."

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Last night, we heard acting coach James Lipton tell Mitt Romney he has
got a phony laugh. Well, now Romney`s campaign says we shouldn`t plan on
seeing their candidate slow-jamming the news any time soon, as President
Obama did last month with Jimmy Fallon.

But we are still getting a version of Mitt Romney put to music. Here
it is, Mitt Romney Auto-Tuned.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): I love people. I love lakes. I was
born and raised here. I love this state. I love cars. I love American
cars. I love you. I love lakes.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I like silly stuff. I like
mandates. I like grits. I like "Twilight."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): I love this country.

ROMNEY: I live for laughter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Yes, Chris Rock.

ROMNEY: Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Tina Fey.

ROMNEY: Keystone Cops, I like it all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Do you like iPhones?

ROMNEY: I have an iPhone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Do you like vampires?

ROMNEY: I don`t like vampires personally, I don`t know any. I want
make people know precisely why it is that I`m running for president. And
the answer is very simple.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): I love people. I love lakes. I was
born and raised here. I love this state. I love cars. I love American
cars. I love you.

ROMNEY: I like being able to fire people. I love businesses. I like
family stuff. I like mandates. I like grits. I like "Twilight."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): I love this country.

ROMNEY: I like music of any kind, including this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: God, it tells you something, doesn`t it? That was brought
to you by The Gregory Brothers, the band behind the Auto-Tune the News.
Work for you? I think so for me.

Anyway, next up, how is this for behind the times? This is one of our
best items ever. Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Joe Pitts replied to
an e-mail from one of his constituents who wanted to express concern about
the Middle East peace process. It doesn`t take much to spot the issue with
the congressman`s response right now.

Catch this. This is his response formally in a letter. "With the
global war against terrorism, it is now incumbent on Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to clamp down on
Palestinian extremists that have perpetuated violence and to restart a
peace process that has collapsed."

That was the formal answer in a letter by the congressman. Sharon and
Arafat? Ariel Sharon hasn`t served as Israel`s prime minister since
suffering a stroke in 2006, six years ago. Yasser Arafat, he died eight
years ago.

Well, a spokesman for Congressman Pitts, who, by the way, had served
in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, explained that the response was an
outdated form letter and -- quote -- "particularly embarrassing." You
think so? Congressman, update your letters.

Finally, President Obama apparently didn`t want to show up empty-
handed to his meeting with congressional leaders today. Not such a bad
idea with so many hot-button issues on the table from the debt limit to tax
policies. Luckily, his schedule also included a visit to a local deli just
before the meeting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My message to Congress
-- and I`m going to have a chance to see the congressional leadership when
I get back to the White House -- I`m going to offer them some hoagies while
they`re there -- is let`s go ahead and act to help build and sustain
momentum for our economy. There will be more than enough time for us to
campaign and politick, but let`s make sure that we don`t lose steam.

This is a serious sized hoagie, by the way. That`s why you will
notice this is no joke.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, a hoagie, of course, is very Philly, but a grinder is
probably a better word for this meeting with Republicans. That is what
they called hoagies up in Massachusetts.

Anyway, up next, the defense rests in the John Edward trial. This is
a hot, sexy trial. And the jury will get the case by Friday. We are going
to get the latest from North Carolina. Sex, politics, money, the whole
thing in this case.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Hampton Pearson with your
CNBC "Market Wrap."

There were some bright spots today, but not enough to overshadow
worries about Greece, the Dow shedding 33 points, the S&P losing six, the
Nasdaq down 20. Housing a starts rose stronger than expected, 2.6 can`t in
April. Meanwhile, industrial output rose 1.1 percent last month, the
biggest gain since December 2010. And oil prices slipped to their lowest
level since November, below $93 a barrel.

That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide -- now back to
HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: What a trial.

The defense in the John Edwards trial rested today after presenting
just two days of testimony and evidence. It was a fraction of the
prosecution`s efforts over the last three weeks, which presented a sordid
detail of Edwards` affair with Rielle Hunter and his alleged lies to cover
it all up.

But did the prosecution proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Edwards
actually violated the law?

Melinda Henneberger, political reporter for "The Washington Post," has
been covering the case. Hampton Dellinger is an NBC News legal analyst and
former North Carolina deputy attorney general.

Let me start with Melinda on this case.

I`m skeptical that the law was broken here. But let`s move on from
that.

How does the jury look right now? I heard there`s a couple jurors,
according to you, who have put stinky eyes. They don`t like the looks of
John Edwards. And they`re letting him know it in the case.

MELINDA HENNEBERGER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think I said the stink
eye.

MATTHEWS: Stink eyes.

HENNEBERGER: Yes. Yes.

You can`t know what a juror is thinking until you hear the verdict.
But I don`t think either they proved the case. I think that they really
had to show that he knew what the law was and meant to break it. And they
didn`t get there, in my opinion, but I would say there are a couple of
women jurors who have really been putting the eye on...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: And you believe he is guilty of knowingly violating the law
here?

HENNEBERGER: Well, he consulted -- the lawyers he consulted on the
law were his old partner, who does med-mal cases like he used to do, which
has nothing to do with campaign finance, and Fred Baron and Lisa Blue, late
Fred Baron and his wife, Lisa Blue, who did asbestos cases in Texas.

So none of those people were campaign finance lawyers who knew about
that. And I think that he knew -- campaign finance law actually is not
that complicated. And I think he knew that he was breaking it.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let me interrupt you.

Let me go to Hampton, because my big skepticism is about this.
Everybody who watches this show and follows politics knows you can only
make $2,300 contributions in primaries and another $2,300 contribution in
the general. Most people know that in politics.

Somebody like Bunny Mellon giving lots of money, huge amounts of money
no a guy for other reasons is not diluted into thinking it is a campaign
contribution. Nobody thinks it is a campaign contribution. There are
precedents out there when you do favor for politicians. It is not treated
under the law as a campaign contribution. The guy should not go to prison
for 30 years over this case.

Your view of how the trial is going, Hampton?

HAMPTON DELLINGER, NBC NEWS LEGAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, I
taught election law and I don`t think it is simple and I don`t think this
jury should think that election law is simple.

And there`s no question, there`s never been a case like this before.
This was no quid pro quo. Edwards didn`t offer anything in return back to
Bunny Mellon or Fred Baron. And so he is relying on the fact that the
government has to prove he knew he was violating the law, that he willfully
violated the law, and the government never got in direct evidence of that.

MATTHEWS: So what is your sense of the case and how it is going now
as we had -- as the defense rests today? It goes to the jury Friday. The
judge has just instructed the jury, saying that you don`t have to believe
that all -- the only reason the money was given was for political purposes,
just the main purpose of it was for political purposes. That`s all you
have to believe to convict the guy.

DELLINGER: That`s right.

Edwards hasn`t gotten anywhere near what he wanted from this judge in
terms of jury instructions. And that will be an issue on appeal. He
didn`t get in all that he wanted, not just from his former law partners,
but he had former chairman of the Federal Election Commission prepared to
testify that even if you assumed all the allegations were true, it is not a
civil violation, this money to a mistress, for Edwards not to report it,
much less a criminal one.

But he may have gotten in enough, Chris. The FEC chair was allowed to
say that the issue had never come up in his 30 years of practicing election
law. They destroyed Andrew Young`s credibility, showing that most of the
money stayed with the Youngs, it didn`t go to Rielle Hunter.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

DELLINGER: So Edwards ended with a whimper. It was a safe strategy.
The question is, was it too safe?

MATTHEWS: Reasonable doubt, you think or not. Reasonable doubt in
the eyes of the juries or are they going to be two hold outs that don`t
like him, because what do did you say, stink eyes against him?

MELINDA HENNEBERGER, THE WASHINGTON POST: I just thought --

MATTHEWS: They just don`t like the guy. Is it possible the dislike
the North Carolinians feel toward this guy, Edwards now, because of his
disloyalty to his wife, Elizabeth, carrying on with that affair the way he
did it, trying to cover it up, whatever way he did it -- they just don`t
like him enough to convict him because they don`t like him?

DELLINGER: It`s a possibility. But they went through 200 jurors to
come up with 12 who could be fair and impartial. And the judge is going to
be very stern tomorrow, telling these jurors they have to put aside their
personal opinion of Edwards.

Remember, he only needs one hold out in his favor. If there are two
against him, that`s a mistrial, the government won`t bring this case again,
I can`t imagine.

MATTHEWS: Wow.

DELLINGER: So, if he can find one juror to embrace his theory, then
he should walk.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s an interesting thought. Hung jury works for
John Edwards.

HENNEBERGER: Oh, sure.

MATTHEWS: Fascinating.

HENNEBERGER: Yes. I mean, I agree that --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I`m sorry. Go ahead, Hampton. Along that thought, all he
has do is not get convicted this time, and he wins.

DELLINGER: Sure. The government has every right to try this case
again but it`s hard to imagine that they would put in the resources a
second time if they can`t get a unanimous jury this time.

MATTHEWS: I just want to know why President Obama kept the
Republican prosecutor in office after he came into office himself. Why did
he keep a hold over there pushing the case like this? I hate to be
partisan but it seems odd -- let me go to Melinda here.

It`s a strange case when a Democrat comes into office, keeps the
Republican at hold over, who`s going after a fellow Democrat and in what
looks like a real crusade.

HENNEBERGER: I don`t I don`t know about motivation, I really don`t.

MATTHEWS: You`ve been great covering the trial.

HENNEBERGER: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Melinda Henneberger. And thank you, Hampton
Dellinger. It`s great to have you on. We`ll see what happens Friday.

Up next, how super PAC money flooded into Nebraska and carried a
Sarah Palin-backed candidate to an amazing upset victory over the two
frontrunners. She came from nowhere over the weekend, thanks to a couple
of hundred thousand bucks and super PAC money. We don`t like that kind of
money. We`re going to talk to the guy who`s behind organizing this.

You`re watching HARDBALL -- the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: More polling numbers now for the presidential race.

From two states that are home to potential Romney running mates.
First to New Jersey where a new Quinnipiac poll shows a big lead for the
president. It`s Obama, 49, Romney, 39. Ten-point spread. Now add
Governor Chris Christie to the ticket and the president still leads by
eight. It is Obama/Biden, 50. Romney/Christie, 42.

Now to New Hampshire, where a new PPP poll shows President Obama with
a 12-point lead. This is good for him. This state could have gone the
other way with, 53-41. If Romney adds Senator Kelly Ayotte to the ticket,
the president`s lead is still double digits.. Obama/Biden 52.
Romney/Ayotte, 42.

Just like Haley Barbour said last night, don`t count on the V.P.
running mate to change nothing.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The results last night in the Republican Senate Primary out in
Nebraska came as a shock to many.

Deb Fischer, a rancher and state senator, who is badly outspent by
the other two people in the race pulled off a big upset victory. This is
the second time by the way in as many weeks that a Republican primary
dumped an establishment-backed candidate for an insurgent like her.

Last week, Richard Lugar, of course, lost his primary in Indiana to a
fellow named Murdoch. Well, Nebraska saw a flood of money from outside
groups like the Club for Growth and Jim DeMint`s conservative fund.

However those groups didn`t back Fischer, the winner. Instead,
Fischer benefitted from some last minute endorsements, including Sarah
Palin and more importantly perhaps, an infusion of money from a super PAC
financed by a wealthy businessman Joe Rickens, who owns the Cubs out in
Chicago. That super PAC put out two ads over the weekend supporting
Fischer.

So, what does this race tell us about how politics is done in our
post-Citizens United world? Is it a good thing that one man can come in
with such an oversized influence on campaigns, thanks to his money?

Brian Baker is the president of that super PAC called the Ending
Spending Action Fund.

And Daniela Gibbs Leger is a Democratic strategist and vice president
for the Center of American Progress.

Now, look, we have been very tough on this show. We, me, everybody
here, doesn`t like the idea in the democracy that somebody with big Daddy
Warbucks money can come in at the last minute, dump a tremendous amount of
money, especially in a case calling themselves nonprofits and turn the
direction of a democracy because they`ve got the loot to do it. They don`t
have one vote, they`ve got 200,000. And they throw those bucks and change
everything.

Now, defend that thing. You`ve got Deb Fischer elected. You run
that PAC, defend that kind of democracy?

BRIAN BAKER, ENDING SPENDING ACTION FUND: Well, you know, Chris, not
everybody has a cable talk show.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but I`m not running for office.

BAKER: Not everybody has the power of a newspaper or a Hollywood
actor who raises $14 million in two hours at their home.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but neither are the other candidates in this race.

BAKER: Super PACs increase the flow of information to voters and
voters get it right.

The other thing is, Chris, every dollar donated to super PAC is
disclosed, fully transparent.

MATTHEWS: Except for the nonprofits.

BAKER: No, that`s not true.

MATTHEWS: Crossroads GPS, Karl Rove operation doesn`t release names.

BAKER: I don`t speak on behalf of Crossroads but can I tell you that
super PAC increase the flow of information on every dollar disclosed. You
know the name of the person who put their money in the --

MATTHEWS: Why (INAUDIBLE) if you get hit with a bunch of TV ads the
last minute before an election, people have no time to distill what the
truth is, they just a big slam in the face, your thoughts?

DANIELLA GIBBS LEGER, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: I agree with you
completely. And, you know, I know that super PACs disclose their donors.
But the problem is unlimited, unfettered money just flowing in at last
minute. You know, I think Citizens United --

MATTHEWS: There`s no $2,300 limit.

LEGER: Right. There`s no limit. So, you know, ne person, one
corporation, you know, one billionaire can totally influence the outcome of
an election and you`re going to see this happening across the state.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let`s look at the ads. Here are the two ads your group
began airing days before the election. This first one brings up the
endorsements Fischer received, including Srom Sarah Palin. Let`s watch it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: Could there be a surprise in Tuesday`s vote for Senate?
Republican politician everyone assumed would win is sinking. And a
conservative outsider, a Nebraska rancher, is rising fast. Deb Fischer,
one of us, many agree, former Governor Kay Orr, Congressman Jeff
Fortenberry, Sarah Palin

This Tuesday, surprise the world. Vote for Feb Fischer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: It`s good ad.

The second ad goes after her opponent, the establishment-backed Jon
Bruning. Let`s watch this one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: The world expects Jon Bruning as our Republican candidate
for the Senate. As attorney general, he`s made millions, bought a $600,000
vacation home, with the owner of a company he officially oversees.

As the state`s top lawyer, he somehow obtained significant ownership
in state-regulated companies.

For character, anyone but Bruning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well?

BAKER: Well, Chris, the point I was trying to make is if money
mattered, one of these other candidates would have one. Of all the money
spent in the race, out of every $10 was spent for Deb Fischer. So, it was
the message, it was her message of fiscal responsibility. All our super
PAC did --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Those ads weren`t about fiscal responsibility. They were
trashing the opponents.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- fiscal responsibility, you trashed the attorney
general. He made him a crook. You said he`s been making money off his
job.

LEGER: Right. And it wasn`t just the money that your group had and
obviously the other two candidates spent millions of dollars beating each
other up. And that really was what allowed her to rise --

MATTHEWS: That`s one think I like about politics. I like it when
two guys trash each other and somebody else wins.

LEGER: Right.

MATTHEWS: But in your case, throwing this huge money at the end.
Now, don`t you think there should be campaign limits on how a person can
contribute to a campaign? If I give -- I can`t do it because of my job,
but a individual out there watching can give 2,300 bucks if they`re well
off, but that`s it.

Your guy can drop $200,000 in a weekend. Is that fair?

BAKER: I think it would be much better -- I think a number of
candidates have this -- if we didn`t have limited at all and the money went
right to campaigns and it was fully disclosed.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: So why don`t we just call them auctions instead of
elections?

(CROSSTALK)

BAKER: Why are you afraid of voters getting information?

LEGER: Come on. I know you have to say that because of your job,
but give me a break. I mean, what you`re advocating is for the wealthiest
people to have outsized influence in our process. It`s absolutely true.
Sheldon Adelson already said he`s going to spend millions and millions of
dollars.

BAKER: But I don`t think your group discloses your donors.

LEGER: We don`t political advocacy ads. And if we did, we would
absolutely disclose our donors. We would, because we believe it`s
important. But we don`t do that kind of --

BAKER: You have the same position for the super PACs that support
Democratic candidates?

LEGER: Absolutely.

BAKER: What would say about Priorities USA, Obama`s super PAC?

LEGER: We do not have a different opinion because one group is
Republican or one group is a Democrat.

BAKER: Sure.

LEGER: We believe that donors need to be discussed, or needs to be
in limit on how much people can get.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about democracy here. There`s a time when
a school teacher can get elected to Congress like they used to do. I know
a lot of guys, Jim Howard, people like that. Tom Foley was local
politician, local lawyer get elected to Congress.

It used to be if you just you ran, you ran a pretty good campaign,
you came across pretty well, you can actually win a race without having a
zillion dollars. Now, you say this information flow, according to you, is
run by money.

BAKER: No, that`s not what I said.

MATTHEWS: You just said it.

BAKER: Deb Fischer is an example of what you`re talking about.
She`s a rancher, a mother, right? She`s a small business owner, she
decided to run for office.

MATTHEWS: She was anointed by your rich buddy.

BAKER: No, she was not anointed by anybody. The people of Nebraska
decided.

MATTHEWS: Mr. Ricketts has got a couple hundred million dollars and
he says, I`ll give you some.

BAKER: No, that`s not at all true. The people of Nebraska decided.
It`s time for a change. The other guys had run for office 16 times.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you a question, if Deb Fischer gets elected to
the United States Senate, do you think Mr. Ricketts will be able to get a
meeting with her once in awhile?

BAKER: I don`t know.

(LAUGHTER)

BAKER: Chris, I can tell you, all Mr. Ricketts wants and all that we
should want is a budget. He just wants the leaders to lead. This is all
about fiscal responsibility. Go to our Web site, endingspending.com.

(CROSSTALK)

BAKER: Endinspending.com is all about fiscal responsibility.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Thank you, sir. Thank you, madam. I like you a lot. I
disagree with you. I get along with you. Anyway, thank you, Brian Baker.
Thank you.

When we return, let me finish with the choice in this presidential
election between what we know and what we don`t know.

You`re watching HARDBALL -- a place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this:

I think we have a strange election campaign getting under way. We
have candidate we know, Barack Obama. I think the overwhelming judgment of
people is that this fellow is who he seems to be -- a bit cool, very smart,
a good sense of humor on a persona side. A fairly pragmatic progressive on
the governing side. A tough no-nonsense defender of the country on the
national defense side.

What`s he up against? Good question.

Romney was a moderate up in Massachusetts. He pushed a health care
plan and pioneered what Obama did. He was pro-choice, said he was more for
gay rights than Ted Kennedy.

Then he went nationally, went right, to pass muster with the party
outside New England.

By the end of this primary season, he`d become nasty on immigration,
talking about self deportation as a method of enforcement, talking about
God knows what when it comes to Iran, pushing tax cuts for the wealthy,
less regulation, basically a return to W. That era of Republican rule that
nobody including Mitt dare repeat talk about repeating openly.

On the personal side, good question. Romney says strange things
about liking to fire people and about the marvelous nature of the Ryan
budget plan. He has an odd manner that makes you wonder what drew him into
politics in the first place, certainly not the need to share himself with
millions of people, or explain himself for that matter.

Right now, he is hiding from the press, he doesn`t want to talk about
how he made his money, nothing about that company that made him rich, he
has a plan to win this election, be the alternative.

If the economy starts to sink, he`ll be the option, or just be there.
He is brand x, the product we`ll be expected to choose for no better reason
other than we have not tried it yet.

Well, this is how Mitt won the primaries, he spent tens of millions
destroying his rivals with negative TV ads, hoping that people would vote
for him out of desperation. They certainly weren`t going to vote for
Santorum or Gingrich when Mitt and his money and friends were through kill
hole and one nasty ad after the other.

So, this is what we`re getting this November, a candidate we know.
And one waiting in the shadows hoping things get so hopeless that we elect
that guy with the nice wife and kids that won`t answer questions. Right
now, he won`t tell us how he got rich for the simple reason he doesn`t want
us to know the answer. He just wants himself to be the alternative, the
guy we end up with when nothing else is around, you know, sort of like
going to Denny`s.


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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