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updated 1/14/2014 10:56:27 AM ET 2014-01-14T15:56:27

HARDBALL
January 13, 2014

Guests: Linda Stender, David O. Russell


CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: This will not end well.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

"Let Me Start" tonight with the hard, unexplored core of this Chris
Christie story. It`s a question, really, a question from the heart.

In all this bridge mess, who was looking out for the people of New Jersey?
Who was demanding to know why those thousands of commuters found themselves
marooned in their cars on the home side of the George Washington Bridge,
the drivers used to taking a half hour to get into the city who found
themselves heading into work four hours late, the school bus driver, the
wife who wanted to be there with her husband while he underwent stem cell
transplant but couldn`t because of Christie`s crew and what they were up
to?

How about the guy who`d been out of work for a year -- but again because of
these Jersey devils, the real ones in this case -- got the new job, trying
to explain to his new boss why he was so darned late, or the police looking
for the lost 4-year-old?

The newspapers are full of these stories today, and they are, as I said,
the core of this story. Who was looking out for the people of New Jersey?
We know who Christie`s tough guys were looking out for. They were looking
to hurt the guy who wouldn`t play ball with them. That would be the mayor
of Fort Lee. But again the question, who was looking out for all those and
-- all those who had things wrong done to them, things that were killing
the people in those traffic situations? It sure wasn`t Governor Christie.

If we believe "The Wall Street Journal`s" reporting, he was on the phone
trying to get New York governor Cuomo to get people to stop asking
questions. How about that? To stop asking questions.

Steve Kornacki has been on this story from the start. He`s been a tiger.
He`s the host of "UP" on weekend mornings here on MSNBC. I`ve been
listening to him all weekend. And the New Jersey assemblywoman Linda
Stender is the vice chair of the transportation which is investigating the
bridge closure.

I want to start with Steve, who`s been hot as hell on this trail. It seems
to me that the reporting and the evidence and the facts are going to decide
this, not the match between whose PR is best or who holds the most
celebrated press conferences or any of the other nonsense that -- you`ve
got committees investigating this at the federal and national and local
level. You`ve got newspaper reporting out there, and possibly reported --
investigations by the southern district of New York and the state of New
Jersey`s federal U.S. attorney.

What`s going to break this story, do you think, in the end?

STEVE KORNACKI, HOST, MSNBC "UP": Well, right now, subpoenas. I mean, the
most important thing that happened over the weekend is that the incoming
speaker of the state assembly, the new state assembly that`s going to be
seated this coming Tuesday, agreed that he`s going to extend the subpoena
power of the state assembly looking into this.

Not only that, now there is a special committee. They announced today that
there is a special committee that`s going to be chaired by John Wisniewski.
You`ve seen him around the last couple of weeks. He has been leading the
transportation committee`s investigation into this. He is now going to
have a special committee. It`s going to have its own counsel. It`s going
have subpoena power. And they are going to be looking into this, you can
expect, I think, you know, starting imminently.

You talk about subpoenas of, I would expect, Bridge Kelly. That`s the
deputy chief of staff who was thrown overboard by Christie last week. I`d
expect subpoenas there. I`d expect subpoenas of Bill Stepien. That`s the
former campaign manager.

There are others. There are others, we have learned from the e-mails and
from the texts that have come out, who are closely connected to Chris
Christie, who I believe and I strongly suspect will be subpoenaed, too.
You`re talking about a woman named Regina Egea. She is right now somebody
who Chris Christie would like to be his chief of staff. On the 13th of
September last year, when the New York side on the Port Authority issued a
memo, a scathing memo that said, Hey, possibly federal and state laws are
being broken here, that memo was forwarded to her on last September 13th.
And at that time, she was running governor Chris Christie`s authorities
unit. That means she was in his office.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

KORNACKI: She was forwarded that e-mail. She had it last September 13th.
That raises a ton of questions about what did she do when she got that e-
mail. And did she talk to Chris Christie about it? And what did he do if
he found out?

So I think right now, we have -- all we have right now are some texts and
some e-mails that involve Wildstein and Baroni, with hints of people in the
Christie administration. When you start getting subpoenas involving
records from people inside the Christie administration, I think there`s a
potential for this thing to get a lot wider, a lot fast.

MATTHEWS: Let`s bring in right now one of the people, you`re talking
about, the vice chair of the transportation committee in Trenton,
Assemblywoman Linda Stender. Thank you, Assemblywoman, for joining us.

LINDA STENDER (D), VICE CHAIR, NJ ASSEMBLY TRANSPORTATION COMMITTEE: Thank
you.

MATTHEWS: There`s so many questions, and I watch how your governor, the
Republican governor, has sort of created a certain climate now. He puts
out the word that Bridget Kelly`s a liar, says it over and over again so
you guys aren`t supposed to believe her. So he`s obviously afraid of what
she`s going to say, right?

And somebody in his office went around saying that (ph) everybody starting
in September, Don`t tell the governor to his face what`s going on here.
Who is the ringleader that cauterized him, that shielded him, if that`s
what happened, from any involvement in any conversation with anybody about
the closing down of the major traffic artery into New York City?

STENDER: There are so many people that we know that are close to the
governor, that are involved, that have already been named, that that`s why
it`s so important that we continue this investigation beginning on Thursday
with a new special committee.

MATTHEWS: Well, do you think --

(CROSSTALK)

STENDER: -- because we simply don`t know.

MATTHEWS: Are you going to immunize some people? Are you going to give
immunity to people? To can you legally let a woman like, for example -- if
I were Bridget Kelly, I`d be thinking, These people out there have had
problems with traffic, there`s hospital situations, kid situations, they`re
going to be suing me, me, Bridget Kelly, unless I get this straight that I
was under orders or under clear guidance from my superiors.

Are you going to bring her in and immunize her?

STENDER: We`re going bring her in and we`re going to question her. We`re
going bring in her documents and examine them. I don`t see us doing
immunity for anybody right now. But that`s why we`re going to bring on
special counsel to help guide us through the process and to make sure that
we leave no stone unturned and --

MATTHEWS: What about Wildstein, though?

STENDER: -- every piece of paper examined.

MATTHEWS: Isn`t he a leading indicator of the problem you face?
Wildstein`s a smart guy. He`s got the big job over at the Port Authority.
He was asked to talk, and his lawyer said he`ll talk when he gets immunity.

STENDER: Well, he -- he made the plea for immunity, but the documents show
that there is a trail. What we are going to continue to do is to follow
that trail and to see who else was involved because, clearly, we know that
we have come into the inner circle of the governor, but we have a long road
to go to flesh out all of what happened around this terrible circumstance
and the pain and suffering that were inflicted on the people in Fort Lee.

MATTHEWS: Well, a quick look at the headlines this morning shows that the
Christie story certainly has legs, as we say in journalism, front page
legs. "The New York times" today -- "A bridge to scandal: behind the Fort
Lee ruse." "The Wall Street journal" front page -- "Christie aides pressed
hard for endorsements." And then you have the jump page, "Playing hardball
for endorsements." And a "USA Today" headline, "New Jersey lawmaker:
Christie impeachment a possibility."

Also today, NBC`s Michael Isikoff reports that newly obtained documents
from the mayor`s office of nearby Jersey City show key meetings with him
were canceled, four of them or five of them, right after word that the
mayor wasn`t endorsing Christie.

Along those lines, "The Wall Street Journal`s" article on hardball -- here
it is -- hardball politics says, quote, "Interviews with mayors and other
New Jersey Democratic officials show that Mr. Christie`s allies, in
conversations that swung from friendly to persistent, fostered a perception
of better access to the governor`s office and state commissions for those
who cooperated, while a few who stayed neutral or endorsed Mr. Christie`s
opponent said they felt locked out. Others suffered no harm."

Let me go to something hot here, Steve Kornacki, again. Steve, I`m reading
in "The Wall Street Journal" and I`m reading it replayed again in "The New
York Times" there was a phone call, which to me is overwhelmingly
important, if it`s true. Governor Christie calls -- according to the
report, called up Governor Cuomo of New York. He has a good working
relationship with him. And basically, he says, call off the dogs. Stop
all the investigating. Play it down, whatever.

Now, there`s a real dispute over whether that happened or not, but I think
the two papers are basically reporting this together now that it did
happen. And of course, Christie now denies it, which he would, because if
it ever gets out that he told Cuomo to shut this thing down, he`d look like
he wanted it shut down.

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: -- but that would be -- that would be completely consistent
with the behavior that Chris Christie exhibited in November, you know, in
December, right up until last Wednesday. Again, we`ve talked so much
about, you know, whether Chris Christie was in on it from the beginning or
whether he just had -- you know, he put two and two together in his head
and he had an inkling of it and he kind of figured it out and he just
didn`t want to know.

Whichever one of those versions that you accept, he -- I am pretty sure he
was thinking ahead to January 14th and, Can I just get to January 14th,
when that assembly power expires, and I can move ahead from --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

KORNACKI: -- you know, I can move ahead past the story because --

MATTHEWS: But you know --

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: -- there were pretty clear signals that were being sent to him
by the incoming Democratic speaker of the state assembly right up until
last Wednesday that, You know what? It`s a whole new ball game starting on
January 14th, and I am not going to extend the subpoena power.

MATTHEWS: OK, speaking of the law --

KORNACKI: You know, making a call to Andrew Cuomo to try to keep this
thing quiet would be consistent with that, if that comes out.

But there -- there have been -- you know, some of the things that Chris
Christie has said here -- there are a couple things that really jump out at
me, are just deeply, deeply disingenuous. One is when he talks about --
you know, he makes a point of saying, you know, I would not have been able
to pick the mayor of Fort Lee out of a lineup. I didn`t know who this guy
was, blah, blah blah. We`ve heard that so many times now, right? He`s
just a mayor of a town of 35,000 people.

Well, one of the things that we showed on our show this weekend is he`s not
just the mayor of a town of 35,000 people. Mark Sokolich is the mayor of a
town of 35,000 people that is currently in the midst of a $1 billion
redevelopment project at the foot of the George Washington Bridge on some
of the most coveted, valuable real estate in all of New Jersey.

That is -- there are not many $1 billion redevelopment projects in all of
New Jersey. This is an administration that has been extremely hands-on
when it comes to redevelopment. The governor of New Jersey, this governor
in particular, is going to know the name of the mayor who is sitting on a
$1 billion redevelopment project. That`s just deeply disingenuous.

And Chris Christie continues to talk -- he talked about it in his December
2nd press conference. He had his guy, Bill Baroni from the Port Authority,
say this in his appearance at the state assembly committee.

And they keep talking about these lanes being closed as if all they were
doing was closing special access lanes that only the town of Fort Lee got.
Oh, it`s the special treatment for Fort Lee. Nobody else has it. And
that`s unfair. And Chris Christie reiterated that as recently as December
2nd.

That is deeply, deeply disingenuous. If you know anything about the
traffic patterns of north Jersey, you know that those lanes are used by
people from all over north Jersey. This is not just -- they happen to be
in Fort Lee because the bridge is in Fort Lee.

MATTHEWS: OK --

KORNACKI: So that --

MATTHEWS: OK --

KORNACKI: -- is the kind of explanation, the kind of intentionally
disingenuous explanation that you put out there if you`re a politician --
that you put out there if you are doing something for a different reason
that you don`t want people to know about.

MATTHEWS: Let me go back to the assemblywoman --

KORNACKI: It`s clearly disingenuous.

MATTHEWS: -- on this, about how you`re going to look at -- it looks to
me like he`s put up a shield. He obviously spent 24 hours in mock court,
or 48 hours in mock court getting ready for that press conference, where he
put laid out his shield. He said he quizzed his staff in December about if
any of them were willing to walk forward, walk the plank and say they were
guilty. He never asked them if they knew anything -- a general question
would have gotten a lot more answers -- or had a little box said, If you
know anything that happened here, put it in this box. You don`t have to
give yourself away.

He made it very difficult for his staff to say, I did it. Then he said
everything that happened between the time of the bridge closings and that
day -- he believed in the bridge survey, the so-called traffic study. And
then he says, basically, I only had two reports, my counsel, who may
protect him under lawyer-client, and then the other thing was my chief of
staff, O`Dowd.

It seems to me, Assemblywoman, that he has set up a construction here very
cleverly to prove that he had nothing to do with anything, and that if he
did send signals through his behavior or leadership, that`s not really
criminal. He wrote it like he was defending himself against a U.S.
attorney, which he was. Your thoughts.

STENDER: Well, clearly, nobody believes that he knew nothing about this,
based on what we`ve seen so far. What we know is that the evidence that we
have, that the documents that we have received, even as limited as they are
with all the redactions, that there is a pathway that we now have to
follow.

It defies logic, all of the explanations, including the fact that he did
not even bother to question directly Bridget Anne Kelly as she was being
fired out the door.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

STENDER: We are going to continue this process because where it goes -- I
don`t know the ending to this, but every question begets another 10 or 12.
And we`re going to continue on that pathway, which means that we`re going
to have to not only subpoena the people that have been named, but this will
probably lead to further people being brought in to be questioned.

MATTHEWS: You might bring in Governor Cuomo, who had a conversation with
the governor of your state who -- in which the governor of your state said,
Shut this thing down. That would be very probative, I think, as we say.

Anyway, thank you, Steve Kornacki, again, the tiger on this case for MSNBC.
And Assemblywoman Linda Stender, thank you for joining us.

Coming up: There was a time less than a week ago when many analysts thought
the following: Chris Christie and the Republican nomination, perfect
together. Not so much anymore. We`ve got two heavyweights, and they are
big shots in this business of mine, Howard Fineman and John Heilemann,
coming on, both these guys coming on to survey the damage of the GOP`s
prospects for winning after hurricane "bridge-gate."

Plus, it`s become a verbal tic. You say "Chris Christie," Republicans say
"Benghazi, Benghazi, IRS, IRS," whatever, Fast and Furious. They say
"Obama." Anyway, never mind that none of these rote responses make any
sense. The Republican fog machine keeps fogging up the screen.

Anyway, also, the best political movie of the year just won three Golden
Globe Awards last night. I stayed up for it. And the man behind them,
"American Hustle" director David O. Russell (ph), joins us, all about
Abscam, which I grew up with in south -- well, south Jersey and Philly
where I came up from.

Anyway, "Let Me finish" tonight with the flop sweat we`re now seeing on the
Republicans -- flop sweat.

This is HARDBALL, place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: When it rains, it pours. The office of the inspector general at
the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD, has opened an
audit into how the state of New Jersey spent relief funds after Hurricane
Sandy. At issue, a series of commercials aimed to jump-start tourism on
the Jersey shore which prominently featured guess who? Governor Christie,
during an election year.

The ad makers charged the state about $2 million more than the next lowest
bidder, whose ad campaign wouldn`t have featured the governor. A Christie
spokesman told reporters today that the campaign featuring the governor
was, quote, "approved by the Obama administration."

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The political ramifications of
"bridge-gate," if you will, could stretch far outside New Jersey, of
course. Governor Christie was seen by many, including me, as a potential
front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential run. He was the only
Republican last month to actually beat Hillary Rodham Clinton in a
hypothetical matchup. He was ahead by 2 points, according to a CNN poll.

All that could change now, of course. For the past few days, his likely
opponents in the race have demurred when asked about the scandal. That`s
smart. Here was Florida senator Marco Rubio just yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Well, we don`t know all the facts. I think
this is a story that`s still developing, and we should reserve judgment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s smart. And Senator Rand Paul cracked a joke when
asked about it last week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I don`t know who e-mailed who and who works
for whom and -- I have been in traffic before that. I know how angry I am
when I`m in traffic, and I`m always wondering, Who did this to me?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You like the way they both put the knife in? One guy said, This
story is still developing. It`s getting ripe. And the other says, I get
mad when I`m in traffic.

Anyway, despite the political damage done to Christie so far, today in "The
Washington Post" Chris Cillizza still ranked him as number one in the
Republican field for the most likely to win this thing, with the best shot
of capturing the 2016 nomination, according to Cillizza. And he`s smart.

This is a quote here. "A sign of both the considerable strengths he
retains in the race and the lack of an obvious challenger to his dominance,
assuming that no other revelations emerge linking him to the closure of
several lanes of traffic" -- this is one of those caveats. And of course,
this pill (ph) takes you -- makes your arms (ph) fall off and everything
else on television -- "with the possible of possible former Florida
governor Jeb Bush," who he does see as a big one who comes in, whose best
positioned to build the coalition of major donors, party activists and GOP
elites necessary to win the nomination, also to take the people that now
Christie has.

Howard Fineman`s editorial director of the HuffingtonPost and John
Heilemann`s co-author of "Double Down.` Both are prized MSNBC political
analysts.

I want to start with Howard and go to Heilemann. By the way, you guys take
them all the time here. I want to listen for once. I`m really curious
about what you both say. And that is this. How does it change the field?

I thought Christie is the only guy that could go in the race head to head
with Hillary Clinton, in other words, from the beginning to the end.
Anybody could beat anybody in the business we cover, politics. But he
would come in equal, even-steven with her. They don`t have anybody like
that right now.

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No, they don`t.

And it does a few things.

First of all, it emboldens the conservatives. And they are going to attack
him. Once they get done saying let`s wait for all the facts to come in and
complaining about the traffic, they will go after him with everything they
have got.

And the conservative Web media is much more active and much more involved
now than it was even a couple of years ago. That`s grown up as a force on
the right on the Web. And that`s important. And they will go after
Christie from the very beginning. So it`s no cakewalk for him anywhere.

Secondly, I think a lot of traditional Republicans, symbolized by Henry
Kissinger, who just a month ago was giving a big foreign policy briefing to
Chris Christie. I can assure you that we`re not talking about bridge
traffic. They were talking about high-minded matters of foreign policy.

That`s all off the table for right now. And Democrats in New Jersey who
were sort of intimidated into silence about Christie are now going to be
attacking him from behind and below in New Jersey. All those things, I
think, are going to slow him down considerably.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

John Heilemann, your view about what this does to change the field? You`re
probably already working on your next book.

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN: He`s delighted, Chris.

MATTHEWS: So, I`m sure you`re on top of this baby.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I think that both
Howard and Chris Cillizza are both right.

I think there is no question that this is his big debut on the national
stage. You think about what happened to him when he won that big victory
in November, his big reelection victory. It elevated him and put him in
the position that you said, Chris, made him in some sense the putative kind
of front-runner in waiting. And now he is getting the national scrutiny
that he has never had before.

And this is the first instance of that. And it`s not looking particularly
good. But I also think that what Chris said is also right. There are not
a lot of other formidable challengers around who have a chance to both
unite the donor wing of the Republican Party, the establishment Republican
Party, with the grassroots part of the party.

If you set Jeb Bush aside, it`s hard to see who comes in and takes that
mantle away from Chris Christie. He`s got a lot to work to do, and he`s
got to hope that there are not a lot more stories like this coming over the
course of the next 12 months. But he is still, given the paucity of
challengers who are plausible, who could do that job of uniting those wings
of the party, he still is in a not totally horrible position as of today.

MATTHEWS: OK, John, you first.

If somebody comes forward who is credible and says I had a conversation
with the governor, I know damn well he knew about the bridge closing, he
knew why it was done, his henchmen, is he dead politically then for
president?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: If he`s clearly had a hand in this.

HEILEMANN: I think if it`s proven that Christie has lied, as egregious --
if he went out and said those things he said at the press conference, and
it`s proven that those are false, that he has lied, I think he can`t win
the Republican nomination.

MATTHEWS: Howard, is it that serious?

HEILEMANN: I think at that point, the establishment wing of the party will
abandon him. They haven`t yet. But I think they would pretty quickly if
that became absolutely concrete fact that he had lied in that press
conference.

MATTHEWS: Bridget Kelly says, I walk with him everywhere I go. I`m never
more than 10 feet from the guy. He knew all about it and I knew about it.
He knew about it.

FINEMAN: Well, then I think it`s over.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: I totally agree with John Heilemann, unfortunately, for their
next book.

But -- because it will only be an opening chapter instead of a long-running
Chris Christie story. But, yes, I think so. And that`s the problem he`s
got. There are four people who have left his inner circle under less-than-
ideal circumstances, the two guys from the Port Authority and Bridget Kelly
and Stepien.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: They all have reason to talk.

FINEMAN: And they all have reason to talk if they`re squeezed by the U.S.
attorney.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: That`s got to be something that Christie is worried about.

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s go to this.

Former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean, a guy who has always been clean as a
whistle in politics, was a mentor to Christie in the early days, recently
told "The Washington Post" -- quote -- "On the one hand, I think he`s got a
lot to offer. I think he is the most able politician since Bill Clinton.
On the other hand, you look at those other qualities and ask, do you really
want that in your president?"

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: That`s pretty strong stuff.

Meanwhile, yesterday, in fact, conservative columnist George F. Will
compared the latest scandal to Watergate. Let`s listen to George.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WILL, CONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST: This is not a phony scandal, because,
as the principal Watergate scholar here knows, John Dean sent a memo to Mr.
Higby, who was the assistant of chief of staff, Haldeman, saying, we should
use the machinery, the federal machinery of government to screw our
enemies. That`s what this was -- was about up there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And the question, Howard, who is going to be the John Dean here,
the one who was part of this perhaps, part of -- that`s the most likely
person to squeal. The person who has been involved in the skullduggery
says, we were involved in something bad we shouldn`t have had.

FINEMAN: Well, there are a couple of other people, too, including his
hand-picked guy who is running the Port Authority on the New Jersey side,
Samson. I mean, there are a lot of people around.

Now, if there is no smoking e-mail, if there is no conversation that other
people are testifying to under oath, if you can`t show that the governor
knew anything, as he said, about the planning or the execution of this,
then, you know, this will peter out.

But we just don`t know yet. But if there is -- if there is sworn testimony
that he was lying, then there is no way --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, let me -- the guy -- I love the guy who said the other
day, this will not end well. He said it, by the way, back in September,
the guy on the bridge. He`s actually the guy in charge of bridges and all
this kind of thing.

Thank you, Howard Fineman. And thank you, John Heilemann.

Up next: Governor Chris Christie is fast becoming a punchline for the
late-night comics, not a good place to be if you want to run for the top
job in the country.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON")

JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON": Christie was furious
when they blocked the bridge, because he thought they said they were
blocking the fridge. He was like, what?

(LAUGHTER)

FALLON: Not on my watch, man!

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO")

JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Christie also said, "I
had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or its
execution," and went on to say he knew nothing about the Watergate break-
in, and he did not have sex with that woman. So there you go.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": Let`s take a look
now. Let`s go to CNN for the Christie --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Christie administration is under fire for lane
closures on the George Washington Bridge. When asked to comment about
whether his office was responsible for the traffic jam, Christie said,
"Mmm, jam."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Time for the "Sideshow."

As you can see -- as you can see, Chris Christie`s bridge scandal has been
a boon for comedians out there. While the governor has never shied from
publicity on the late-night circuit, this is one spotlight he would
probably like to avoid.

Next up, if you caught the Golden Globes the other night, like I did, you
might have also seen this inspiring new ad, I think so, from Microsoft. It
definitely caught my eye. It`s a tribute to the heroic women of 2013 and
it features a diverse group of individuals whose achievements in the face
of adversity should push us all, men and women, to reach for new heights.
It`s a remarkably well-produced, inspiring video. Here is a clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where there is discord, may we bring harmony.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I absolutely will do this again and be running a
marathon next year.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Be bold. Be courageous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Antoinette Tuff worked to convince the gunman to point
down his weapon.

ANTOINETTE TUFF, TALKED DOWN GUNMAN: It`s going to be all right,
sweetheart. I just want to know that I love you, though, OK? We all go
through something in life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That woman was having -- that woman was having a double
mastectomy. What spirit that came in across in that ad.

Anyway, up next, the Republican fog machine. If you say Bridgegate, they
say Benghazi.

Joy Reid and Jonathan Capehart join us next.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger. Here`s
what`s happening.

Vice President Joe Biden and other dignitaries spoke at a memorial service
in Israel for former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who died on Saturday at
the age of 85.

Target`s CEO has issued an apology for the company`s massive data breach
and promised significant changes to come.

And officials in West Virginia have started lifting a tap water ban in some
areas following a chemical spill. Last week, about 300,000 people were
told not to drink the water affected by that spill -- now back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Desperate times call for desperate measure. As we just discussed, the
growing scandal facing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has upended the
Republican field for president in 2016. Chris Christie was the only
Republican who was running even with Hillary Clinton, the presumptive
Democratic nominee.

And, as I mentioned, according to a new CNN/ORC poll from just last month,
Clinton destroys the entire field otherwise, whether it`s Marco Rubio, Ted
Cruz, Rand Paul, or Paul Ryan. She beats them all. The only outlier,
Chris Christie, who actually leads Clinton by two points in that recent
poll.

When you consider those numbers, it`s hardly a surprise why many
Republicans are so desperately rushing to the governor`s defense, a tall
order when you consider the growing pile of troubles he faces. Christie`s
defenders in the Republican Party are drawing up a playbook, however, to
fire back with everything they have in their arsenal, including
smokescreens, diversions and outright misrepresentations.

The only problem? You can`t beat facts with B.S. And I mean it.

Jonathan Capehart is with The Washington Post, and Joy Reid is with
TheGrio.com. Both are MSNBC contributors.

Joy, I want you to look at this tape. This is from yesterday, RNC Reince
Priebus trying to create what I think is a smokescreen for Christie by
vomiting up -- there is a mixed metaphor -- the kitchen sink -- another
mixed metaphor -- of right-wing conspiracy theories against President Obama
and Hillary Clinton. This is Priebus in his standard operating procedure
on yesterday`s "Meet the Press."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MEET THE PRESS WITH DAVID GREGORY")

DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": Americans are forgiving
people, but they`re forgiving when you take ownership, you admit mistakes,
you take corrective action.

And that`s what Chris Christie showed. He stood there for 111 minutes in
an open dialogue with the press. Now, only if Barack Obama and Hillary
Clinton would give us 111 seconds of that would we find out some things we
want to find out about Obamacare, Benghazi, the IRS.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, go ahead, because, Joy, I don`t know what he is talking
about. President Obama, whatever you think of him politically -- you may
be on the right or the middle or the left -- but he does hold press
conferences. He holds long ones. So, I don`t know what he is talking
about. That`s a fact.

JOY REID, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes.

And you know what? Reince Priebus isn`t exactly the most effective
political operative in the world. His rebranding of the Republican Party
isn`t going so well. But I think what he is trying to do there is sort of
a version of what Chris Christie did in that endless press conference.
It`s sort of obfuscation.

It`s throwing up everything but the kitchen sink, as you said, and trying
to distract. And I think part of the audience for that really is the
media, and trying to sort of refocus the attention of people in the
political press, a lot of whom have been, let`s just face it, pretty
favorable toward Chris Christie in the past, and say, look at all these
other things. In fairness, you need to also talk about these other things
and compare them to what Chris Christie is alleged to have happened, at
least around him, among his senior staff in New Jersey.

The problem is all of the things that Reince Priebus and the Republicans
want the media and the public to compare the Bridgegate scandal to are in
the past. They have already been defused and proved to not be scandals.
So it`s a problem.

MATTHEWS: I wonder.

Let`s go out to IRS, Jonathan. As Axelrod, David Axelrod, said this
afternoon, he said, you know what? President Obama never even knew who
Lois Lerner was or is or will ever know who she is. The idea that
handpicked people of Chris Christie were doing all this, and they`re the
ones who all had to quit their jobs or been fired, were all people he put
in those jobs. Obama, the president, put these people in the IRS, it`s
ridiculous. They`re bureaucrats.

Your thoughts.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Right. Exactly.

And in that same interview, David Axelrod said he didn`t even know who she
was. And that`s the big difference here. With Bridgegate, you had people
who worked directly with Governor Christie. With IRS, you don`t have
anyone who is directly working with the president of the United States.
And you certainly don`t have the president of the United States directing
the IRS to go after Tea Party people.

Reince Priebus and other Republicans are throwing up IRS, Benghazi, and you
want to throw in there the foul-up of the health care.gov rollout as ways
of --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Oh, Fast and Furious. Let`s get the whole list here. Fast and
Furious is one of the biggest.

(CROSSTALK)

CAPEHART: Oh, Furious, right.

Well, all of these things, they`re throwing up, trying to, as Joy said, you
know, get the media to change -- you know, focus their attention on other
things.

But it also is something that the base of the party that absolutely hates
the president is also putting out there. I have had on my Twitter feed, e-
mail inbox, Facebook people saying, well, why didn`t the president say
anything about -- do the same thing as Christie did on IRS, on Benghazi, on
healthcare.gov?

And the answer is, well, actually, the president has. And so for the folks
who hate the president, for the folks who want Chris Christie to win, this
is something, yet another thing that they can say is unfair about the
liberal media and its attention.


MATTHEWS: I got you.

Anyway, well, the other diversionary tactic in the GOP playbook right now
is this one: nothing-to-see-here defense. Here is more Reince Priebus with
his own -- with David Gregory. Here is he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MEET THE PRESS WITH DAVID GREGORY")

DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": There has been no direct link
made to Governor Christie. Do you think there will be one?

REINCE PRIEBUS, RNC CHAIRMAN: No, I don`t think there will be one, because
I think we have a really smart person in Chris Christie who is a former
U.S. attorney, who understands what`s out there. And thousands and
thousands of documents have been revealed, and not one single link to Chris
Christie has been found.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that logic sounds familiar. It`s because reports indicate
that Christie himself tried to make a similar diversionary defense back in
December. According to a "Wall Street Journal" article from early
December, quote, "Chris Christie complained to New York Governor Andrew
Cuomo that his appointee was pressing too hard for answers." Chris
Christie has denied that report, calling it categorically wrong, although
we haven`t heard from Andrew Cuomo who was on that phone call.

Joy, this seems -- to me, I just jump at that one. I go, wait a minute. A
dispute over fact between two heavyweight governors. When you have one
person who remembers the phone call and one who says he doesn`t, who do you
believe?

That there was no such thing, it never happened, or it did happen, and
someone obviously didn`t want it to have happened, but it did.

JOY REID, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, and in a lot of way, again, I think
Priebus in trying to diminish, he started with obfuscation and then goes to
diminution.

But he actually begs a lot of questions, just in his little statement right
there.

Yes, there are thousands of pages of documents. Not all have gone through
yet. Saying categorically nothing will be found to link Chris Christie to
any of this is really inviting people to dig and dig and dig, because as
this bridge-gate scandal has gone on, the level of -- the high level has
gotten higher and higher and higher. It`s gotten closer and closer --
crept closer and closer into his inner circle.

This deputy, his sort of assistant there in his office, she worked for
someone. People want to know, well, who is that? The person who is going
to replace her, even higher up, the person who is going to become chief of
staff. It`s starting to draw in higher and higher level Christie aides.

And the idea that Christie knew absolutely nothing, he was a complete
tabula rasa until two days ago, or three days ago, doesn`t really make
sense. When this thing was happening in real-time, you mean the state
governor didn`t want to know why the lanes were closed, when his top aides
resigned at the Port Authority, he didn`t ask them why are you resigning?
He didn`t have them talked to or spoken to or let them gorge what they knew
before they walked out the door? It just doesn`t make logical sense that
he knew absolutely nothing.

MATTHEWS: Agreed.

And look at the pictures of him walking around, strolling around with
Bridget Kelly ten feet from everywhere. They worked hand in glove. The
idea that he would call her a liar again and again means one thing, he is
scared to death of her testimony under oath. That`s what he`s afraid of
and that`s what he`s trying to screw in with in the jury pool. Watch this
guy. He wants to destroy all his enemies.

Jonathan Capehart, thank you. And, thank you, Joy Reid. You`re expert.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, THE WASHINGTON POST: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Coming up next, the best political movie of the year. I mean,
political is big winner last night at the Golden Globe, "American Hustle."
Director David O. Russell joins us now to talk about Abscam, which is at
the heart of the story.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Terry McAuliffe was sworn in as governor of Virginia on
Saturday. There at the statehouse, his old friends Bill and Hillary
Clinton. It`s the second inaugural for the Clintons in 10 days. They were
in New York last week when Bill de Blasio took office as mayor.

As former Virginia Governor Doug Wilder told "The New York Times" when
asked what the Clintons` presence means, quote, "Obviously, it means to a
lot of people that Hillary is running."

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the Golden Globe goes to "American Hustle."

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: We are back.

"American Hustle" won big last night. The Golden Globes, taking home three
statuettes, including best film in the musical or comedy category. And the
man who was thanked most by everyone, in fact, is the film`s director,
David O. Russell.

In the film, an ambitious FBI agent enlists a pair of small-time hustlers
to bust corrupt politicians, or at least people he thinks will be corrupt.
It`s the slightly fictionalized take on the real life Abscam scandal of the
late 1970s, which took down heavyweight politicians in an expansive
corruption probe that ended careers, a lot of them. A popular New Jersey
governor, Harrison Pete Williams (ph), dubbed by some New Jersey senator
for life, was convicted of bribery, conspiracy. He had been in office 23
years. I liked that guy.

Six members of the U.S. House of Representatives were also convicted, six
members including 13-term Congressman Frank Thompson, who "The New York
Times" described as one of the most influential Democrats in the Congress.
Others included a committee chairman and a three-term congressman from
Florida.

Nearly a dozen other politicians were nabbed, convicted, including the
mayor of Camden and city counselors from my hometown, some who were crooks.

Anyway, in the movie, Bradley Cooper plays the FBI agent, Christian Bale
and Amy Adams are the con artists.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You`re going to do this because you got no choice. You
work for me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You keep changing the rules. Now, you`re getting a
little power drunk, Richard. You want to tell him? You want to wake him
up?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I said we shouldn`t do any of it, Irving. You
know I said that. Now, I support Richie. He`s got vision. Do it heavy or
don`t do it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is the one ruining America, not me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) am I ruining America?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because people just got over Watergate and Vietnam, all
right? And you can (EXPLETIVE DELETED) politicians again? Because you
want to be a big shot, get a promotion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. I`m thinking big. This is going to be fantastic.
We`re doing video surveillance. I`m doing this from the feet up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You will never do it properly because you have too much
government attitude to be small and sleep. I`m like the Vietcong, man, all
right? I`m in and I`m out. I was there the whole time. You don`t know
it, all right? That`s an art, to become somebody who people can pin their
beliefs and their dreams on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: David O. Russell joins us right now. This film is so rich,
David, so rich in personality and phoniness and ambition.

My question to you -- against all the odds you made a movie that could well
win the Oscar, that actually makes a politician look good. You actually
pick out this guy, Carmine Polito. My wife and I watched it again the
other night and were overwhelmed by the pathos of this guy, Italian
American guy from Camden, a poor city of blacks and Hispanics, and he is
trying to do something for the people out there and he gets screwed in the
movie completely because he likes some guy and he believed them. Why did
you do it this way, David?

DAVID O. RUSSELL, FILM DIRECTOR: The pictures I make, I probably in the
tradition of Frank Capra. You know, they`re gritty, whether it`s "The
Fighters", "The Silver Linings". But they always have some romance and
hope and enchantment. So, I was drawn to the character based on Angelo
Errichetti, of all the politicians because he was guy who was beloved by
his community. And the FBI guys who busted him who a couple months ago
tell me they really liked him, they thought he was a really good guy.

So, that allowed me an avenue to not -- I think I would have a hard time,
you know, doing it otherwise, if I couldn`t find somebody people with some
real hearts in the story.

MATTHEWS: Well, the funny part was David -- there are so many funny parts.
By the way, people really laughing out loud in the theater. I saw it the
other night in D.C. again. The screening among the sophisticates, they
didn`t know how to laugh as loud as they do later on when the regular
people see it.

When you show that lineup of politicians one after the other from Jersey,
including the senator reaching for the bag, the guy, the con man moved the
bag of money over toward the politician and they just reached their hands
out and instinctively grabbed for it.

Tell us about putting that together because they all get nailed.

RUSSELL: Yes, I mean, they were all different. You, Chris, are the master
detail person about all this. You`re the historian, because you were
there. You lived through a lot of it.

MATTHEWS: I did.

RUSSELL: I just know that some of them were rather, you know, they took
envelopes, and stuffed them inside their coats and it was unseemly. On the
other side -- I do think that`s a relatively more innocent time than
compared to today, hundreds of millions of dollars in our election. I
don`t know where it goes, what happens to it, or what decisions get made.

So, this was a relatively small amount of money, not that every politician
should be very careful and not clip anything for themselves. But --

MATTHEWS: Let`s show --

RUSSELL: -- the economy.

MATTHEWS: Let`s show -- I love it, it was simple micro. Anyway, let`s
take a look at that, the great Amy Adams and great Jennifer Lawrence, two
of the women you now how to direct. Performance of -- both won, both got
credit for what they did. Let`s watch them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMY ADAMS, ACTRESS: David, you write such amazing roles for women. Thank
you so much for letting the world know that a princess can punch and wear a
low-cut gown.

JENNIFER LAWRENCE, ACTRESS: Years ago, I watched a movie called "I Heart
Huckabees" and so in awe and floored by this completely unchartered humor,
and so I Google who made it and I saw it was the same director from "Three
Kings" and "Flirting with Disaster" and "Spanking the Money", and I just
thought, this is the most brilliant man in every single way. And to think
by some weird twist of fate that that`s the same man who made my career who
it is, is so weird and wonderful. Thank you. So, thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, what you do is put together these ensembles of the
moving cast people from "The Fighter" and, of course, "Silver Linings
Playbook" and now this. And you -- these people work together. There`s
something new in movies. I don`t know -- I guess the Marx Vrothers. I try
to go back to when a lot of people were working together that seems to
click.

RUSSELL: It`s magical. All the actors were inspired to be together on the
set. You know, Jennifer Lawrence with Christian Bale, and Bradley Cooper,
and Amy Adams, Renner, Louis C.K., Robert de Niro came back.

It`s a wonderful thing to be on the set, Chris. It`s my privilege to write
for these actors and give them roles that are worthy of them that they can
shine and show every emotion in. I`m very proud of the women and I want my
guys to get their recognition, too.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at this other scene and from "American Hustle"
with Christian Bale. Let`s watch. This is great stuff. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know where I was recently? I was in -- all right?
I saw your nail polish.

He put a canvas bag over my head. Are you happy now? Because he is trying
to kill me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are you talking about?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: All she did was say there was an IRS guy in the group and all of
a sudden the mob guys who are more likable in this movie, more likable,
Jack Houston and certainly Robert de Niro, you like them more than you do
the government officials.

Your thoughts on that, David?

RUSSELL: I mean, this thing, it did slide sideways. It`s an opera.
That`s what grabs me by it, Chris. Such operatic characters. I look for a
doozy of a predicament in a great cinema and this is a doozy of a
predicament, with spectacular characters.

So, you do have a mob guy that de Niro is playing and they were related to
a truth (INAUDIBLE) crime family. But this ambitious FBI guy that Bradley
Cooper plays brilliantly and in a very original way kept blowing sideways
into deeper waters, and the con men he put in his service were saying, what
are you doing?

But De Niro is so charming, and that guy is actually a true character. If
I told you that`s true, you wouldn`t think so. That guy did speak Arabic
and freaked them out, caught them off guard. And he was a guy who worked
for Lansky`s (ph) organization, and De Niro loved memorizing the Arabic and
wanted to shock people with the gangster they`ve never seen before. I
think he did it.

MATTHEWS: Wow. I think this movie has a little touch of Citizen Kane. I
think it`s going to be remembered for decades and one of the great films
ever made. You watch. Maybe you won`t win everything this time, you might
do that, too. But long down the road, this is the movie they`re going to
look to and say this is about our times, not just the `70s, right now.

Thank you, David O. Russell. It`s great to have you on.

RUSSELL: Thank you, Chris. Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Break a leg.

We`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with the flop sweat we`re now seeing on
the Republicans. I believe maybe you do, too, that this country`s better
off with having two candidates for president each four years. We can
imagine even voting for. And that means we get the truth if you`re the
choosing type between the Republican and a Democrat to lead this country.

Chris Christie was the best bet out there for this happening. A
Christie/Hillary Clinton campaign would have been close from the beginning.
Perhaps close all the way through to Election Day. It certainly promised
some great debates. Well, maybe we`ll still get a race as hot as this.
Maybe.

But if the evidence continues to accumulate on Governor Christie`s strong-
arm methods, I don`t think we`re going to get the hot close election.
People don`t want their president to behave like Pluto.

So, let`s wait. Power hates a vacuum. Jeb Bush or Scott Walker, both of
these Republicans is going to jump in there.

If Christie gets knocked to the sidelines, you can bet on it. Why?
Because all the years you and I have watched the Republican Party, it`s
only rarely -- Barry Goldwater back in `64 -- steered all the way to the
right. And the reason for that happening is back then was the New York
Governor Nelson Rockefeller divorced his wife right on the eve of the
campaign.

So, count on the Republicans to find a centrist option by 2016. If it`s
not Christie, it`s going to be somebody. Unfortunately for those who cover
politics, I doubt that whoever fills the moderate gap out there, will be as
frisky or as fascinating to watch as Chris "none of your business"
Christie.

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

A special edition of "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" and Maria Shriver starts
right now.


END

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