Guests: Howard Fineman, Mark Halperin, Chuck Todd, John Heilemann, Jane Wells, Pete Williams, Savannah Guthrie, Ken Gross, Melinda Henneberger
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Johnny goes marching home again.
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews down in Washington. Let me start
with this John Edwards trial, this waste of time, money and public
attention. John Edwards has just been found not guilty on one charge, the
jury deadlocked on all the rest.
A question in this case from day one. It`s what we see in developing
countries, where one party wins an election and uses its new power to wreak
vengeance on those out of power. I don`t like the fact that a Republican
prosecutor, a holdover from the Bush administration, brought this case
against Edwards and then went off to run for Congress and has, in fact,
just won his primary.
Are we really happy to see a case, as we have here, brought for taking
campaign gifts which may not even have been seen as campaign gifts, when
the Supreme Court has just declared corporations and individuals now have a
unlimited right to give money to campaigns?
Well, with now are NBC`s chief justice correspondent, Pete Williams,
NBC`s chief legal correspondent, Savannah Guthrie, and Hampton Dellinger,
an attorney who`s been covering this case for all of us down in Greensboro,
Gentlemen and lady, you don`t have to agree with my point of view. I
want to know the facts, however. This strange case, Pete -- you start.
I`ve heard your commentary and analysis today. What does it tell you that
the jury could find a unanimous decision on a matter in which it was pretty
clear the money wasn`t coming in for campaign purposes because the campaign
had basically ended for most of that year, in 2008, and on the rest
couldn`t find agreement?
PETE WILLIAMS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, that may be the basis. We`ll
perhaps hear from some of the jurors on why they decided that he was not
guilty on that count. There were many potential lynches (ph) along the way
that the jury had to get over to find him guilty, if they were going to do
They had to find that the money was intended to influence the
campaign. That was the judge`s instruction to the jury, Chris. She said,
You have to find at least a purpose, if not the purpose, of the reason the
donors wrote these checks to John Edwards was to influence the campaign.
That was the government`s theory here, that he was using this money to
influence the campaign. The government said that`s why it brought -- came
under federal campaign finance laws. And remember, the reason that the
government said these were illegal contributions is because they exceeded
the federal limit. It was almost a million dollars, all told, which was
well over the amount of money that someone could give to a federal
So who knows along the way whether the jury decided the chain simply
broke down and they couldn`t find him guilty. So as a factual matter,
what`s happened here is the jury found him not guilty on one count,
involving the wealthy heiress, Bunny Mellon, her contributions -- or her
checks to John Edwards, I guess we should say, be clear, in 2008. They
count not reach agreement on the other five counts, so the judge declared a
mistrial on them.
And then the question is, will the federal government bring these
charges again? I`m quite certain that the Justice Department hasn`t
decided what to do there. There are arguments for or against it. You`ve
made some of the ones against it. So those are things the government is
going to have to consider.
I would be surprised, at the end of the day, Chris, if the Justice
Department does decide to refile, given the complexities in this case and
the things you`ve mentioned, the fact that the whole world of campaign
finance has changed, and that, you know, in a larger sense, in terms of
justice, you know, John Edwards has suffered a lot during this trial.
What`s to be served by doing it all over again? But the Justice Department
hasn`t made that decision yet.
MATTHEWS: You know, Savannah, I was thinking about this case and
points that Pete has made earlier this afternoon. You`ve been talking
about the irony of here we are, prosecuting somebody for taking campaign
money that he didn`t even -- maybe didn`t even think it was campaign money
-- that`s apparently what the jury couldn`t decide on -- and was given to
him as a personal gift to take care of his personal problems, including,
perhaps, his affair with Rielle Hunter.
And then the court`s coming along here and saying, Well, that`s all a
crime. You ought go to jail for 30 years for that.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court ruling it`s OK in the Citizens United
case to give unlimited amounts of money from the Koch brothers to any
campaign purpose you want, basically. It`s like they changed the drinking
law from 21 to 18, but they`re still prosecuting somebody for carrying a
six-pack around with them when they`re 20.
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, it just adds to the
confusion that`s kind of the subtext of this case. Now, of course, the
jurors didn`t hear about the Citizens United case. They didn`t hear about
where this campaign finance law stands today.
Nevertheless, there was already sufficient doubt about whether or not
these contributions given in 2000 (SIC) and 2008 were really even campaign
GUTHRIE: So I think there`s a -- that confusion is probably what led
to the result, where the jurors were unable to decide. But I will make one
point, Chris. They didn`t acquit on those other charges, OK? They know
how to acquit. They couldn`t agree. That means someone in that jury room,
perhaps more than one, thought there was grounds for conviction on those
MATTHEWS: OK, we`re going to be hearing -- I think we`re going to
hear pretty soon from John Edwards, shortly from him.
Let me go quickly to Hampton Dellinger. What always stunned me was
that the Obama administration kept that U.S. attorney on in office after
taking office in 2009, letting him proceed with this case, let a Republican
go after a Democrat with a new Democratic administration.
What was that decision based on, just not wanting to look bad or
looking like you might -- were obstructing a strong, a good prosecution,
which turned out not to be one?
HAMPTON DELLINGER, ATTORNEY: Well, I`ll -- sure, Chris. And I`ll
defer Pete Williams` reporting on that. Obviously, this case crossed
You know, I think the tough call now is for the Obama administration
for everything that Pete said, plus these two facts. One, this case was
really well tried by the federal prosecutors, Robert Higdon (ph) from D.C.,
David Harbaugh (ph), as well.
Secondly, every major evidentiary ruling in this case went in the
DELLINGER: And so, you know, the key issue here was always John
Edwards being the first person to be prosecuted for this, so he couldn`t
have had criminal intent. The federal Election Commission was not on board
with this prosecution. They didn`t even find a civil violation. And so
the federal government couldn`t have had a better opportunity for a
conviction. They didn`t get it.
MATTHEWS: And they had a judge raising the bar so high by saying -- I
mean, lowering, sort of like limbo or something, saying, All you have to do
is show that one purpose of giving this money would be to help his
DELLINGER: That`s right. And the statute says anything of value
given for "the" purpose of influencing an election will be considered a
contribution. She didn`t require that finding of this jury. She said it
could be for one of many purposes.
And so, you know, there was every opportunity for a conviction here.
John Edwards, the politician, ended his career in defeat. John Edwards,
the defendant, got a huge victory today.
MATTHEWS: You know what`s interesting, Pete -- I don`t know whether I
can push this argument too hard, but here was a case that we thought would
be enshrouded with talk about the man`s affair, about what a cad he was, if
you will, to use an old term, in terms of cheating on his wife and covering
And yet here we have an acquittal on one count and a hung jury on the
others, which indicates to me it was probably a majority of the jurors were
probably against conviction on those. But without going that far, it`s
interesting that here we have a guy walking, basically, and not being
affected by all the -- you know, the coloring of this by his marital
WILLIAMS: Well, I think that`s a good point, Chris, that the jury
obviously was able to make a distinction between what the legal issue here
was, which is did John Edwards illegally accept a campaign contribution?
And they were able to separate that out from the tawdry aspect and the very
-- the very disreputable aspect of his life.
They were, in essence, not finding him guilty of being a bum, as you
WILLIAMS: ... and the jury was able to make that distinction. I
think -- just getting back to the -- to what Hampton was just saying here,
is, you know, I guess politics was an issue you raised about whether a
Republican prosecuting a Democrat -- and I guess you could say that the
opposite question`s going to come in...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And so after he makes his statement, we`ve asked
you to respect his ability to get to the car and to be able to leave at
that point. Thank you.
MATTHEWS: OK. Well, there you heard it...
WILLIAMS: That sounded like someone saying, yes, he`s not going to
MATTHEWS: Yes, we let the sound up on that. That was a young
spokesperson coming out from the courthouse, saying that Mr. Edwards is
going to come out and make a statement but not take any questions and
answers. It sounded like it`s going to be a pretty terse statement he`s
going to make, and a happy one, I assume, although he may be cautioned.
Do you think here, cautioned not to do any kind of hot-dogging in the
end zone, if you will, Pete?
WILLIAMS: Well, that`s -- that`s right because there is always the
prospect that the government will retry the case. But what I was about to
say is, I guess one of the many, many factors the Justice Department is
going to have to consider is the potential politics issue here because now
we have a Democratic administration. We have a former Democratic candidate
for president. Does that push it the other way?
Well, here he comes now.
MATTHEWS: Oh, here they come. Here comes John Edwards to make a
short statement. Let`s watch him now. Well, apparently not...
MATTHEWS: ... like him, and there he is. There we have John Edwards
coming out rather calmly. He`s going to approach that lectern there and
speak at that mike we`re watching. Let`s -- let`s quietly watch -- listen
to what he has to say.
JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), FORMER SENATOR, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I
wanted to say first thank you for the jurors and their incredibly hard work
and their diligence. They took their job very, very seriously, as we saw
both during the trial, the attention they paid to the evidence during the
trial, the presentations of the lawyers, and the fact that they`ve now
spent almost nine -- almost nine full days deliberating, trying to reach a
fair and just result under the evidence and the law.
And all I can say is thank goodness we live in a country that has the
kind of system that we have. And I think those jurors were an exemplar for
what juries are supposed to do in this country. They were very, very
The second thing I want to say just a word about is responsibility.
And this is about me. I want to make sure that everyone hears from me and
from my voice that while I do not believe I did anything illegal or ever
thought I was doing anything illegal, I did an awful, awful lot that was
And there is no one else responsible for my sins. None of the people
who came to court and testified are responsible. Nobody working for the
government is responsible. I am responsible.
And if I want to find the person who should be held accountable for my
sins, honestly, I don`t have to go any further than the mirror. It`s me.
It is me and me alone.
Next thing, I want to say a word about is -- are the people that I
love because it`s been an incredible experience for me to watch my parents.
My dad just turned 80, my mom, who`s 78, tromp up here from Robbins (ph),
North Carolina, every day to be with me and to support me. And I love them
so much, and they did such a wonderful job raising me and my brother,
Blake, and my sister, Kathy (ph), who I also love dearly.
I also want to say a word about my own children. Kate, who most all
of you have seen, has been here every single day. She has been here, no
matter what, no matter how awful and painful a lot of the evidence was for
her, evidence about her dad, evidence about her mom, who she loves so, so
dearly, but she never once flinched.
She said, Dad, I love you, I`ll be there for you no matter what. And
I`m so proud to have had her with me through all of this process.
And then finally, Emma, who turned 14 recently, Emma Claire (ph) and
Jack, who just turned 12, who I take care of every day and I`ve not been
able to see them quite as much, but I see them in the morning. I get their
breakfast ready, get them off to school, and then we get home at night and
we all eat supper together. And I love them both so dearly and they`re
such an important part of every day of my life.
And then finally, my precious Quinn, who I love more than any of you
could ever imagine, and I am so close to and so, so grateful for, so
grateful for Quinn. I`m grateful for all of my children, including my son
Wade, who we lost years ago.
But you know, this is the last thing I`m going to say. I don`t think
God`s through with me. I really believe he thinks there`s still some good
things I can do. And whatever happens with this legal stuff going forward,
what I`m hopeful about is all those kids that I`ve seen, you know, in the
poorest parts of this country and in some of the poorest places in the
world, that I can help them in whatever way I`m still capable of helping
And I want to dedicate my life to being the best dad I can be and to
helping those kids, who I think deserve help and who I hope I can help.
Thank you all very much.
MATTHEWS: Well, I ask if Pete Williams wants to respond to that. I
found that very effective -- a very effective confession, Pete, on a
personal front, and a resilience -- you`d have to call it that, a
resilience from what he`s been through.
WILLIAMS: Yes, and I think, you know, he made a similar statement at
the start of the trial, that he didn`t believe he ever did anything illegal
but that he did a lot of things that were wrong and he takes
responsibility. So obviously, contrition there, if he knows the federal
prosecutors are listening, that you know, he obviously is trying to make
amends and said he did some very bad things, but being very careful to say
that he never thought that he was violating campaign finance laws, which is
what this trial was all about.
MATTHEWS: Why do you expect he gave that strong encomium to the
WILLIAMS: You know, I`ve never heard somebody who was acquitted in a
criminal trial not say, Thank God I live in a country that has a jury
WILLIAMS: So it`s a common sense of relief that everybody has. And
of course, he`s probably given that speech many times as a trial lawyer, as
well. I don`t mean to say it`s not sincere, but it`s not one that`s
unfamiliar to him.
MATTHEWS: Hampton, it sounded to me like he was not giving up his
political career, as well. We`ll get to more of this on the program
tonight, as we continue with HARDBALL, looking at the political dimensions
of this trial, which are to me pretty steep at this point, on a lot of
fronts good and bad. Your thoughts.
DELLINGER: And Chris, I watched firsthand, as many of us did in North
Carolina, the rise, the incredible rise of his political career, really
coming out of nowhere to take that U.S. Senate seat in 1998, to unseat a
I don`t think he`s thinking about political office right now. He`s
got to be very concerned about the government`s ability to bring a trial
again on the counts where there was a hung jury.
Lanny Breuer, the head of the Justice Department`s criminal division,
sat in on a day of court, so this case has had the attention of the Justice
Department at the highest levels.
And I do think it`s important to note that the Justice Department --
the prosecutors had a great chance for a conviction here, in the sense that
all of the political tawdriness, everything he did wrong, came out in
court, in front of this jury. So little of the evidence about the Federal
Election Commission taking a pass on this case as a civil violation went in
front of this jury.
So this was the chance, I think, for the federal government to get a
conviction. John Edwards hopes he never sees the inside of a courtroom as
a defendant again.
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s go back to Pete on that, our regular expert who
I trust so much. It`s so -- if you look at the things that they were
asking -- the prosecution was asking this jury of regular people to do,
regular people, not lawyers -- they were asking them, basically, to make
law. This kind of a case hadn`t been tried before.
They were asking them to basically supersede -- apparently, were
rulings by the FEC. They were asking to set the bar, accept the fact that
the bar was set very low in terms of some political influence, some
campaign influence being attempted by this contribution.
Does that mean that this is as good a case as they can make and
they`re probably not going not going to try it again?
WILLIAMS: Well, I -- of course, the hard thing that the jury had to
decide was what was in John Edwards`s head. What was his intent? Did he
understand that taking this money was, as the government said, illegal?
Edwards has always insisted that he didn`t.
And -- but I take Hampton`s point here, that, in other words, one of
the things the Justice Department has to consider when they decide to go
for a retrial or not is, Did we give it our best shot? Is there something
we failed to do?
And I think everybody who`s watched this trial said no. They put on
their best case.
WILLIAMS: And so you have to ask yourself, you know, having taken
this good a shot, what`s the reason to do it again?
The only thing I was starting to say before Edwards came out is, I
suppose one of the things the government has to consider is the flip side
to the political question that you raised initially, and that is, this is
now a Democratic administration. Will it be criticized if it doesn`t seek
a retrial against a man who was a Democratic candidate for president?
But having said that, many of the critics of the original prosecution
were Republicans and conservatives who thought that this was a
misapplication of federal campaign finance law. So it`s not a simple
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Hampton on another question. I might be back
to Pete with the same question. As we get the information from the jurors,
as they begin to speak and we begin to determine -- someone`s going to have
a tally probably by midnight in the papers tomorrow, if not sooner, about
which way they were headed. If they came 12 to zip for acquittal on the
big count, on count 3, which had to do with getting money from Bunny
Mellon, Rachel Mellon, for 2008 -- OK, they agreed on that.
Suppose it comes out it`s about 10 to 2, there are about 2 holdouts
who were for prosecution, for conviction? Would that lead the U.S.
attorney`s team not to go ahead with a second trial?
DELLINGER: Certainly, Chris, that can make a difference. And
obviously, it was unanimous on the decision to acquit. You know, we can`t
know what the Justice Department`s got to do.
But I think we have to assume good faith here. You know, this case
did cross administrations. There have been a lot of critics about this
case. And I think one important thing we can`t forget is this was the
first case. The problem for the federal government was John Edwards,
particularly after Senator Ensign, after Congressman Moran`s issues, the
way the Federal Election Commission had not seen a problem with some of
those cases, it was very tough to make John Edwards the first case.
So it doesn`t mean that, you know, all the shackles are off in terms
of politicians` misconduct. But the always problem -- the problem always
was making John Edwards the first case. And now the jury`s spoken that
they didn`t see criminal intent on the part of John Edwards.
MATTHEWS: Quickly, to Pete. Do you think if we find out that the
jury was leaning heavily towards acquittal on all counts, it`d make that
much less likely we`ll have a second trial?
WILLIAMS: Possibly. I will say this, that the natural inclination of
the prosecutors in this case is going to be to want to try again. It`s --
it`s going to be main Justice`s decision, Attorney General Holder, his
MATTHEWS: I see.
WILLIAMS: ... whether they think that the government should do this
again. And that`s a difficult question, and I`m quite confident they have
no idea what they`re going to do.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you, Pete Williams, a great answer, a factual
answer, We don`t know yet because they haven`t decided it yet. Thank you,
Pete Williams, and thank you, Hampton Dellinger.
Much more on the Edwards trial ahead, as we presume, with this amazing
case tonight, amazing political story. Just remember,this guy was on the
Democratic ticket in 2004. He came very lose in 2008, coming in second in
Iowa, right ahead Obama and ahead of Hillary.
This guy was a major figure just a couple of years ago, and look how
close he came to going to the pen today. He`s beat it this time. We will
see what is coming next.
This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with coverage of the John Edwards trial.
What a day it`s been. The jury found him not guilty on one big count,
and deadlocked on all the others. He`s basically still innocent right now
under the law.
Let`s go to the politics of this story with two of our big
heavyweight. I meant that in terms of their political acumen.
MATTHEWS: Chuck Todd, NBC News political director and chief White
House correspondent, and also John Heilemann, MSNBC contributor and
national affairs editor for "New York" magazine. He wrote the cover story
this week on the Obama campaign strategy.
That`s what we were going to talk about. We have to talk about this.
Chuck, bring us back to how big this guy was. For those of us
covering him in 2004...
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes.
MATTHEWS: ... in those small rooms in Iowa, around the country, New
Hampshire, he was a force to be reckoned with. He was hot. It was the
tale of two cities. It was an emotional, populism like you never heard
And then here was in the dock, basically, facing 30 years -- 30 years,
he was facing today, and he`s still free.
TODD: Let`s not forget, if Bob Shrum had gotten his way in 2000, it
wouldn`t have been Gore-Lieberman. It would have been Gore-Edwards. He
was such a fast-rising star in `98. There was -- he was one of the short-
listers in 2000.
MATTHEWS: And they could have won with that ticket. That ticket
might have won.
TODD: It might have. Who knows in a revisionist history?
Remember, he really made his stamp, put his stamp on his early career
among Democrats for what he did on Bill Clinton`s behalf in the Senate
trial during impeachment. And that`s sort of where he became a D.C. rising
star, already winning that Senate seat.
So, yes, this was a guy that was on the fast track. And the minute,
essentially, that Gore didn`t win and he didn`t get picked, I think it was
two months into President Bush`s first term that John Edwards made his
first visit to Iowa. This guy absolutely was on the fast track, and really
just maybe a week away from the momentum, late momentum he got in 2004, he
could have won the Iowa caucuses and made it a whole different ball game
for John Kerry.
TODD: He was very close.
MATTHEWS: Go ahead, John Heilemann, because I was really impressed by
-- he was one of these guys who is really good in a room of 200 people. He
was really, really good in those packed rooms.
And my question is about that speech he just gave us about 10, 20
minutes ago when he talked about, the lord is not finished with me yet,
that argument, that resilience, I`m staying in public life. It may not be
electoral life, but it sounded like it. It really sounded like electoral
life to me.
JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I don`t know, man.
If John Edwards thinks he`s going to have an electoral future, he`s
more deluded than he has demonstrated himself to be in the past. But,
look, Chris, you say he was great in a small room in Iowa. And he was.
But that came from his roots, of course, which is that he was great in a
He was a tremendous attorney, a great plaintiff`s attorney. He made
himself a rich man by tugging on the heartstrings of jurors in North
Carolina. He used those skills to great effect politically, as Chuck said,
in the Senate, and then in his race of 2004. That vaulted himself in that
second-place finish in Iowa in 2004, was the thing that made him
attractive, and the connection to Bob Shrum that Chuck also mentioned that
got him on to the ticket in 2004.
But as we wrote in "Game Change," Mark Halperin and I, it was that
moment that things really started to change for John Edwards in a bad way.
Being on the ticket in 2004, he went from being a guy who everyone who knew
him said was one of the nicest, most genuine, most humble people in
politics to being an egomaniac.
That`s when the hubris started to creep in. And that`s when he
started to believe he could get away with anything.
HEILEMANN: And that`s when he went down the path of ruin in 2007-
MATTHEWS: Yes. And of course it didn`t build -- help his substance.
I remember covering him out in Sioux City somewhere where you would sitting
in this bus. There wasn`t a piece of paper in the bus.
TODD: He wasn`t a reader.
MATTHEWS: He didn`t read anything.
TODD: He wasn`t a reader.
TODD: In fact, you talk to people, it was surprising. He was very
much sort of a skimmer. He would get top-line information.
The more you got to know John Edwards as a political candidate, the
less impressed you got for those of us that covered him.
TODD: And you would sit there and you could tell. The coverage of
Edwards was never -- it sort of -- it was great at first and then as
reporters watched him, because, Chris, you were just pointing out, you
could tell, hmm, there is not a lot there. This guy really is maybe only
an inch deep when it comes on specific policy issues.
It wasn`t clear what motivated him and what exactly his passion was,
other than to get elected. Look, I have always thought this entire Edwards
saga, there is a tragic element to this that I think none of us can fully
understand unless you have lost a child.
And I have always thought that the reason I still -- will still have
sympathy a little bit for John Edwards is that no one knows what it`s like
to lose a child, and when they lost a child, John and Elizabeth Edwards
changed. Their lives changed, everything changed. And I think whatever
happened between the two of them, nothing was ever the same.
So I have always thought you have got to realize...
MATTHEWS: That is a reality. Just pause on that.
MATTHEWS: Pause on that one, Chuck.
MATTHEWS: That happens to people who lose children. It does
something tragic to the relationship that`s so -- it`s common and it`s
TODD: Look at everything that happened in their lives and then they
decided to have two more children, he decided to have a political career.
Everything changed in their lives.
And so I have always -- as much as -- and I think a little bit of what
Edwards did today frankly was a little bit creepy, going as public as he
did. I thought it was -- I was uncomfortable watching him. I thought, you
know what, we don`t want to hear from you, John Edwards. Just say thank
you to the jury, thank your daughter Cate who has been unbelievable back
there, and go home. We don`t want to hear a speech.
HEILEMANN: And you don`t especially -- Chuck, I think the thing that
was a little creepy was hearing him talk about Quinn.
HEILEMANN: And obviously there is nobody who begrudges a father the
love for a daughter, but to be talking about the child that was the result
of the affair that got him into this place, I thought that was the weirdest
moment to me.
HEILEMANN: Again, I don`t begrudge him loving his daughter, even out
of -- whoever the mother of that daughter is, but it was weird to see him
standing on the steps of that courthouse, where he would never have found
himself had he not indulged in that affair that produced that child.
There was something strange about the way he emphasized -- the way he
emphasized his love for Quinn and then kind of had to back up and say,
well, I love all my children, after having sung kind of a song of praise
MATTHEWS: Let`s listen to that for the people that are just tuning in
ow, because I did agree it was one of those moments.
Bobby Kennedy used to say hang a lantern on your problem, in other
words, his full-court confession there which part of that treatise he just
gave us, which was obviously prepared ahead of time. He did what you`re
supposed to be do on politics. When you`re caught, admit it, because they
already know you`re guilty. You might as well admit it and get the benefit
of having admitted it.
Here he is going through that procedure. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN EDWARDS (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: My precious Quinn, who I love
more than any of you could ever imagine and I am so close to, and so, so
grateful for, so grateful for Quinn. I`m grateful for all of my children.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that`s quite a scene.
Your thoughts. No more political career, Chuck, for him, even if he
beats this again in another trial.
TODD: No, and I actually think the real impact of this is just a
reminder of just how hard campaign -- criminalizing campaign finance and
MATTHEWS: I`m with you. I`m with you.
TODD: Look, that`s the real world lesson here. No, John Edwards
doesn`t have a political career, and I don`t know why he still wants -- the
fact that he`s desperate to get in the public life, still, which to me is
what he was saying and it`s from what I understand from talking to others
that he really wants, he wants in publicly, is weird. He ought to go.
MATTHEWS: It reminds me of one of those trials you read about in
South Asia, Pakistan, India, around the world, Latin America, these kinds
of trials they hold. When you lose, the guys who win put you up for trial.
It`s just really tawdry, the whole thing. I`m sorry. That`s my
editorial opinion. I never liked the smell of this case.
Anyway, thank you, Chuck Todd. Thank you, John Heilemann.
Much more on the Edwards verdict, the mistrial, and the whole
political shebang coming up as we continue this program.
And why did the voters, here the jurors, just push back when there`s a
sex scandal involved? They don`t want to hear about it. They don`t want
to think about it. They judge the facts. Again in this case, we saw, like
we saw all during the Clinton era, the voters don`t want to deal with these
matters. They leave it to the private lives of the politicians. They vote
on the facts and on the real politics.
And this is HARDBALL. We saw another example of that from that jury
today. The place for politics.
MATTHEWS: We`re right here at the climax of the John Edwards trial
right as we cover it. Edwards was found not guilty on one count late this
afternoon, and the jury deadlocked on all the other five other counts. The
judge in the case, by the way, declared a mistrial on all those charges.
Anyway, we will be right back with much from Greensboro, North
Carolina, with what this means politically for the Democratic Party
especially and for North Carolina.
This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
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And the hits just keep coming. The payroll firm ADP said the private
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But some good news -- most retailers reported solid same-store sales
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That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide -- now back to
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EDWARDS: All I can say is thank goodness we live in a country that
has the kind of system that we have. And I think those jurors were an
exemplar for what juries are supposed to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, they found him innocent, and on the rest of the
counts, they found -- they couldn`t reach an agreement. So of course he
liked that jury.
That`s John Edwards.
More now on the dramatic day in North Carolina we have just seen.
John Edwards was found, as I said, not guilty on the one count. And
the jury deadlocked on the five others.
What exactly happened there? What does it mean for John Edwards? I`m
fascinated by this case because I thought it should never have been
Howard Fineman is an MSNBC contributor and editorial director for the
"Washington Post", and Ken Gross is an election law attorney and former
general counsel for the Federal Election Commission.
Let me start with, Ken. The FEC basically said in the Ensign case,
this was not a campaign contribution , this kind of thing.
KEN GROSS, ELECTION LAW ATTORNEY: Right.
MATTHEWS: Why are we trying a case that would require making new law
as part of the process of a verdict?
GROSS: You got me. I just don`t understand why this case was
brought in the first place. It needs to meet a clear standard. There was
no clear standard here.
MATTHEWS: And now we have, Howard, the irony that was pointed by
Pete Williams about an hour ago, we have unlimited campaign contributions
permitted to super PAC door.
HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
MATTHEWS: It`s like I was saying it was like when they changed the
drinking age in Jersey from 21 to 18, and they got you for drinking at 20,
you know? It was already out of date, the whole thing is out of date.
FINEMAN: I think it`s impossible to know, at least, until we talk to
the jurors. But I think the fact that there is such a huge flood of money,
secret and open, now going into politics partly as a result of Citizens
United and super PACs, as Pete said, they made the money here look like
pikers change, and it made the whole thing more puzzling, perhaps, to the
jurors. There was a lack of legal theory, but the lack of any perspective
on the part of the prosecutors.
Why are you doing this when there`s so much more big and important
going, if you`re worried about money and politics? So, that may have
helped John Edwards.
MATTHEWS: I just thought, about how many murders are going on,
either being tried in this country, just backlogs of criminal cases. Can`t
this to some use, all this prosecutorial -- anyway, here`s something we
have to cover, our specialty, politics, you and I. Here`s John Edwards
saying today about his future, and he says he has one.
And it sounds like he thinks he has a political future after all
this. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN EDWARDS (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don`t think God
is through with me. I really believe he thinks there`s still some good
things I can do. And whatever happens with this legal stuff going forward,
what I`m hopeful about is all those kids that I`ve seen, you know, in the
poorest parts of this country and in some of the poorest places in the
world that I can help them, in whatever way I`m still capable of helping
them. And I want to dedicate my life to being the best dad I can be and to
helping those kids who I think deserve help.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Howard, you know, I`m not a cruel person, but I am
an observant person, and I think he used this opportunity that he knew he
would get on cable television and on network television to make a pitch.
So he smartly said, OK, the jurors are geniuses because they just let me
off, and of course I committed all these sins in moral terms, because
everybody knows I did, so that`s no problem. It`s like Bobby Kennedy
(INAUDIBLE), your probably know about it.
And here was my chance to make a pitch for a political future. I`m
the guy to talk about the two Americas, the rich and the poor Americas.
That`s a bigger issue now than it was when he talked about it. Here he is
joining the fight again -- politically fighting again.
FINEMAN: Well, I knew him when he first came into town. I was
probably one of the first people to break bread with him, practically,
because I knew his consultants, and I said, this guy is a charming guy.
But he`s so veered off into the land of creepy self-delusion.
I`m watching -- I`m watching a car crash of craziness here. And I
know there`s second lives in American politics. But the notion that he
took this occasion to weave the story of his children, of all his children,
including the one that he had with the mistress, that he was having
relations with while his wife was dying of cancer, that he`s going to weave
the story of those children into the story of the poor people of America
and the world.
And thus I am going to be the pied piper leading the Americas and the
children together in a new public role for myself, that was so beyond any
level of self-awareness as to be almost pathological. Did I make myself
MATTHEWS: Indeed you did.
FINEMAN: It`s just sometimes the shamelessness of public figures,
especially politicians, is astounding to me. You have to have a certain
level of shamelessness to be in public life let alone to run for office.
But to do that, in this occasion, was just mind-boggling, completely mind-
MATTHEWS: You`ve never been better at explaining the reality of
political thinking, which is it`s all in, it`s all ego.
FINEMAN: How do I use this opportunity to reestablish my career?
MATTHEWS: I`m talking about a trial which could have put him away
for 30 years.
MATTHEWS: He`s just beat the rap. He`s declared himself basically
innocent and ready for political leadership again. And he`s also saying,
and I had this child through this woman and that`s something I want to talk
FINEMAN: Let me weave that story into the other story --
MATTHEWS: We`re running along, watching the parade of these big egos
coming down main street. We`re amazed by them.
FINEMAN: Absolutely unbelievable.
GROSS: This is a long road to redemption for him. I have no doubt
about that. However, it did start out on the right track. He made a
statement that was close to an allocution, and he does have to worry what
the Department of Justice is going to do next. It seems crazy to me that
they would waste more resources because I think the case has been a
monumental waste from the get-go. But he still has to face that.
MATTHEWS: I think I know why it was good in the courtroom of regular
people though, because when you see, and I see a huge ego unleashed, he
could probably direct that to a kind of I`m on your side thing which he
FINEMAN: Well, he was a fantastic courtroom lawyer. I don`t know
what court he thought he was speaking there -- to there. I think he thinks
the court of voters out there in some future place and time that he`s going
to use his pay.
MATTHEWS: I know who he`s talking to. Do you know he`s talking to?
FINEMAN: All right. Maybe.
MATTHEWS: Contributors have given him a lot of money in the past and
will give him again because they believe in exactly what he just said
there, I`m going to help the poor. And that is the thing he has to go to,
there`s a reason to exist politically. He had to go to tonight and he did
FINEMAN: Well --
MATTHEWS: By the way, out there, it only takes one out of 10. But
they`ve got a lot of money, and he`s back in business.
OK. Thank you, Howard Fineman. Perhaps I thought of something you
didn`t think of.
FINEMAN: You just did.
MATTHEWS: Ken Gross, thank you.
He`s not talking to you or me, a lot of people willing to believe.
We`re going to have more on the Edwards trial. This thing keeps giving --
his acquittal on one count, the mistrial on all the rest. It could be a
political gain for all the prosecution against this guy.
As I said on the top of the show, Johnny`s come marching home again.
And this is HARDBALL, a place for politics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EDWARDS: The second thing I want to say a word about is
responsibility. And this is about me. I want to make sure that everyone
hears from me and from my voice that while I do not believe I did anything
illegal, or ever thought I was doing anything illegal, I did an awful,
awful lot that was wrong. And there is no one else responsible for my
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. It has been asked many times
since this trial begun, what`s sex got to do with it? The jury today
answered not much.
Mark Halperin is MSNBC senior political analyst, and creator and
author of Time.com`s "The Page."
"The Washington Post`s" Melinda Henneberger writes the "She the
People" blog and was in the courtroom covering the Edwards trial. She`s a
big "Washington Post" columnist right now.
Let me ask you both, I have been trying to think about the angels of
this trial as it seems to be concluding, at least in first round, with the
acquittal on one count and the hung jury and the rest, Mark. Did the jury
did something again that probably should make us feel good -- they were
able to separate out the questions of the law, but they did have a hard
time deciding the decision, but basically it looks like they weren`t being
driven by the sexual aspects of this whole matter.
MARK HALPERIN, MSNBC SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Chris, the jurors
probably don`t follow the nature of prosecutorial discretion the way you
and I do, but I don`t think there`s any doubt when we hear from them,
they`re going to say what you and I believe, which is this case should
never would have been brought. Whatever you think of John Edwards in terms
of how he conducted himself, it was ridiculous case under both the law and
under common sense for them to prosecute them for it. And I think the
jurors felt that way.
And I think if the prosecutors did not decide to retry or not before
they have the jurors, my guess is they`ll treat that jury as a focus group.
And when they hear what they say about separating out the personal from the
legal, I bet they don`t try to bring the case again.
MATTHEWS: But, Melinda, your thoughts, I haven`t heard from you
lately, with talk in the past, what`s your sense of what juries action
today in the acquittal in the one matter, where it looked like they said it
could not have been a campaign contribution because it was basically given
after the campaign was over. And then the rest of them may have been hold
outs but they couldn`t reach a conviction on any of the other matters.
MELINDA HENNEBERGER, WASHINGTON POST : Well, I think to me, if they
had all believed that this was a ridiculous case that you should never been
brought, they would not have spent nine days or nine long days in that room
thinking about it and obviously taking it very seriously.
So I don`t know that it was -- certainly his gamble paid off, to put
on a pretty bare bones defense, but I don`t know that it was a ridiculous
case. It was the case they had and they seem to have done their best to
try and treat it seriously, and I think there was very much a way it to
believe that he was guilty in the case without it being about, you know,
punishing him for being a cad, as you said before. But --
MATTHEWS: Let me challenge you on this.
MATTHEWS: It seemed to me the judge in this case, and the
prosecutors were trying to do a couple things. They wanted the jury to
basically make law. There had not been a case like this before. They
wanted to judge the guy guilty even though the FEC had a case involving --
Ensign out in Nevada where they basically decided it was within the
campaign laws, you could do what they were doing. And also, they raised
the bar, lowered it pretty low by saying all you have to prove is that part
of the contribution was political.
And even with that, the jury couldn`t reach the agreement to convict.
HALPERIN: And they built the case around the liar.
HENNEBERGER: Maybe they did -- maybe the case should never have been
brought, but that`s the case they had and they took it seriously, and they
obviously since, they deadlocked on five of the charges, found that it
wasn`t clear one way or the other.
But if I could go back a .to what you were saying earlier, I had such
a different take listening to John Edwards when he was coming out of the
I don`t think he was all making the case for I want to get back in
the political game. He wants redemption which anyone in his case would
want. I actually listened to him even though I do think he was guilty
under the judge`s instructions, I obviously had a sympathetic response
where of course he wanted to say something to and about his children,
especially about Quinn who he denied. I mean, this is a child he denied,
his own flesh and blood.
So, to me it was natural thing in the world to want to say to the
world, I actually really love this child and I`m going to try to use the
rest of my time on this planet to do something worthwhile. And I did not
HENNEBERGER: -- you know, an announcement for political life.
MATTHEWS: OK, we`ll see. Thank you. I disagree. But thank you,
Melinda Henneberger, much talk from these guys and I think this guy is a
shrewd trial lawyer.
Mark, do you agree?
HALPERIN: I think he`s a shrewd trial lawyer, but I think that was
humanity, not trying to lay the groundwork for anything. I think probably,
if he cares about what the people in Washington and New York think about
him, he would have been better off not making a statement at all, or not
making a statement like that --
HENNEBERGER: I agree.
HALPERIN: -- but I don`t think it will be particularly well-
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you so much.
When we return, let me finish with the birth of my granddaughter
Julia. It all happened in the last few days.
You`re watching HARDBALL -- there she is, Julia Ravenel (ph) Matthews
-- the place for politics, but not in the ext minute or so.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with someone who is just started in
this life, Julia Ravenel Matthews came into this world, this Tuesday, in
the hour just before dawn. She is healthy and beautiful and has the glow
about her. I have no way of knowing what lies ahead for Julia, only that
she will spend her life in this 21st century, perhaps right through until
the end of it. She`ll have us parents, Sarah and Michael, a loving aunt in
Caroline, and dotng uncle in Thomas. She will have in Suzie Ravenel (ph)
and Kathleen and I devoted and dazzled parents of her parents.
We`re very fortunate, and thank you so many of you for recognizing
that and sharing in our celebration. Thank you.
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.
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