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updated 1/31/2014 11:34:41 AM ET 2014-01-31T16:34:41

HARDBALL
January 30, 2014

Guests: Matt Katz, Darryl Isherwood, Clarence Page

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Rudy iffy on Christie.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

"Let Me Start" tonight with this. Rudolph Giuliani, "America`s
mayor," the steadfast guardian of public grid (ph) during 9/11, the number
one defender of Governor Chris Christie, now says it`s 50-50 that the New
Jersey governor spoke with deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly before she
gave the shutdown order on the George Washington Bridge.

What a difference 20 days makes. On January 10th, less than three
weeks ago, Giuliani said he had absolutely -- "absolutely," that was his
word -- no doubt that Christie was innocent of any involvement in the
deliberate mayhem driven by his office against commuters heading into New
York over that four-day period. Quote, "He`s one of the most honest,
straight guys you could meet," Giuliani said then.

Today, Giuliani told radio host Geraldo Rivera something far less
certain. Asked by Rivera whether the wording of Kelly`s e-mail, "Time for
some traffic problems" didn`t infer there was a conversation beforehand.
Giuliani said that while it didn`t necessarily infer -- that e-mail -- that
Christie was involved in the decision to stop traffic, he said it was a 50-
50 that he did. He said it was impossible to know whether he did or did
not.

Well, on that point, there are a number of prosecutors and state
legislators out there who are out there looking for evidence that such a
conversation between Christie and his people actually did occur prior to
the bridge closure. What`s new now is the political evidence, that even a
prime defender of the New Jersey New Jersey governor is now giving way
publicly -- publicly -- to doubts about who said what.

Joining us right now is Howard Fineman and David Corn.

Howard, this is an interesting development because Rudy is a clear-
throated person. And when he says to Geraldo Rivera, the ultimate urban
reporter...

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:
Right.

MATTHEWS: ... and not a man of the left or right -- I think he`s
always been sort of a great muckraker. That`s what he does. He said to
him, Well, I`m 50-50 on whether he did it or not.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I think that`s a hell of a drop-down (ph) from 20 days ago.

FINEMAN: I was stunned when I saw that. And I suddenly thought that
we were in a Batman movie and the mayor of Gotham. Rudy is sending up a
bat signal saying, Ix-nay on New Jersey, and let`s look around for somebody
else.

To me, its the latest symbol of the absolute confusion in the
Republican Party, whereas Chris Christie was one the organizing principle,
when his chief, defender Rudy Giuliani, seems to be bailing on him, that
means that all bets are off.

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s take a look. You could find -- you cannot find
someone more resolute, as we said, in their support of Chris Christie than
New York`s Rudy Giuliani. After Christie`s melodramatic two-hour news
press conference with reporters back January 9th, where he denied any
involvement or knowledge of the bridge scandal, Giuliani expressed absolute
certainty that Christie was clean as a whistle. Here`s Giuliani on CNN on
January 10th.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "AC360": You have no doubt that he had no
involvement.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), FMR. NYC MAYOR: I`m absolutely positive. I think
Chris Christie`s one of the most honest, straight guys you`re going to
meet. I think -- also, I think, had he known about it, he would have never
acted this way. Had he known that he had some involvement in this, he
never would have treated it lightly. Politically stupid things, political
pranks that turn bad, all that other stuff -- every administration. Don`t
tell me this doesn`t happen in the Obama administration and the Clinton
administration and the Bush administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that was (INAUDIBLE) a sideswipe.

But a few days later, on January 12th, Giuliani doubled down on his
defense of Christie on ABC`s "This Week." Here`s Rudy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIULIANI: The reality is he says he didn`t realize. He says he
didn`t know. I think it`s pretty darn credible. He wouldn`t make this
blanket denial unless he -- it`s not true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And now, on January 30th, to put in Jersey terms, you can
forget about all that certitude. Rudy has doubts, public doubts. In 20
days, his belief in Christie`s innocence has gone from absolute certainty
to a mere coin flip that he`s guilty. This is Giuliani earlier today
talking with Geraldo Rivera on Geraldo`s radio show.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GERALDO RIVERA, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: What about that e-mail from
Bridget Anne Kelly? I mean, isn`t that -- you know, "Time for some traffic
problems in Fort Lee" -- I mean, Mayor Giuliani, isn`t that -- you know,
doesn`t that infer that there are -- you know, there was this conversation
before about stuff like that?

GIULIANI: With the governor? No, it doesn`t. I mean, no it -- it`s
50-50. I mean, it leaves you -- it leaves you with no -- no possible way
of knowing, did she discuss it with him or didn`t she discuss it with him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the possible way of knowing before was he trusted
Christie.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: That was his positive way of knowing it. Now he`s saying
he`s like any juror out there. Don`t know the guy. And by the way, 50-50,
he may have given it a word!

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, you
ask what`s happened...

MATTHEWS: Why did he do it?

CORN: Well, you...

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk politics.

CORN: Yes, why did he do this? I think between those earlier
statements and now, one thing that`s happened is that there`s been an
appointment of a U.S. attorney. What is Rudy Giuliani before he was mayor?
A U.S. attorney. He knows that once a U.S. attorney starts poking around a
governmental organization that`s highly politicized, as we`ve learned from
"The New York Times," that Christie`s office was, and that`s also doling
out hundreds of millions of dollars in a highly politicized environment,
that with the drip, drip, drip, something is probably likely going to be
found, whether it`s the bridge or something else.

So that`s why he`s backing off. You`re right. He doesn`t want to be
on that limb.

MATTHEWS: OK, you`re Rudy Giuliani. (INAUDIBLE) with Judy (ph). And
you`re reading the papers every morning, and "The New York Times" is
killing this story. The Hoboken -- I`m sorry, "The Bergen Record" is
killing it. All the papers up there are going to town, the Newark paper
going to town on it. You go -- they`re putting more coverage into this
than they`re putting into -- "The Times" into Afghanistan or the Middle
East or anything else. They`re going to get something. And they must
believe there`s something to get.

FINEMAN: David`s right about the U.S. attorney history. But also,
Rudy has a big history with media in New York. You think Washington is a
ferocious city in terms of media?

MATTHEWS: No, it`s nothing.

FINEMAN: It`s nothing compared to New York. And Rudy has experience
in this. He once stood up for the integrity of Bernard Kerik, his police
commissioner, and...

MATTHEWS: How`d that go?

FINEMAN: That went south. That went south.

MATTHEWS: He went -- he went to jail.

FINEMAN: He went away.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: So -- and I -- and I think what Rudy stands for to me
politically is what there is of the establishment of the Republican Party
that`s based in New York, the big money people who want an adult...

MATTHEWS: OK...

FINEMAN: ... person as the leader...

MATTHEWS: Here...

FINEMAN: ... and they`re backing away from Chris Christie very
quickly.

MATTHEWS: I`m dying to figure out what the contest is in which all it
takes is one person to score a point, and everything -- like scratching in
pool, an 8-ball. You scratch, you lose the game, no matter how many you
got...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: His problem is it just takes one credible witness beyond
probably the mayor of Hoboken -- looks pretty credible to me, the mayor,
Mayor Dawn Zimmer. Somebody else comes forward, Same thing happened to me.

Well, anyway, why is Rudy no longer certain of Christie`s innocence?
Well, if Rudy is reading the same reports we are, here`s what he`s looking
at, the zeal of a press corps out there who`s turned into it war-time
coverage. Nearly every journalist on the East Coast up there is trying to
dig up something, anything they can about Christie and his past dealings.
And they`re doing quite a job of it. "The New York Times" is running front
page stories daily, delving into the big guy`s operations and pointing out
potential holes in his defense.

And you`ve got an increasing number of investigative bodies combing
Christie`s -- look at this, they`re going after all the staffers for
evidence, as Howard said. That includes more than two dozen subpoenas from
the federal government and state legislators so far, not to mention members
of Congress out there like Senator, you know, Jay Rockefeller have gotten
federal auditors out there involved in this.

And then there`s the sheer volume of allegations that are being made.
In addition to the bridge scandal and the Hoboken mayor`s arguments and
claims, you`ve got Christie`s associates showing up in stories about
conflicts of interest, about suspicious contracts and other potential
violations both ethical and even illegal.

As I said, this is war-time coverage. David?

CORN: You know, you made a couple...

MATTHEWS: And by the way, Christie reads the papers, too.

CORN: Well, of course. A couple of weeks ago, you started comparing
this to Watergate. Remember, Watergate began as an investigation into a
break-in. But what you found out was the Nixon administration and the
reelection committee...

MATTHEWS: The MO.

CORN: ... you know, was involved in not just that, illegal campaign
finances, enemies` lists, operations to break into the Brookings
Institution. The break-in was just really the tip of the iceberg, to put
out a cliche. So here you have...

MATTHEWS: Which led to us getting the tapes.

CORN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And once you read the tapes, like I did and sat alone over
at the annex over here, the archives, and listened to Nixon order the
break-in of Brookings, order the break-in of the Republican headquarters to
make it look like the Democrats -- you say, OK, maybe he didn`t order the
break-in of the Watergate, but he did...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: Chris, besides the newspapers, besides the U.S. attorneys,
don`t forget that Rudy, in addition to being a former U.S. Attorney, is
very tied into the legal community in New York, the white criminal defense
bar and so forth.

MATTHEWS: And what`s that tell him?

FINEMAN: Well, what it`s telling him is that the buzz -- I`m guessing
here that the buzz is probably not very good.

MATTHEWS: So the best lawyers in town are getting hired...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: And the best lawyers in town are getting hired.

CORN: Listen...

FINEMAN: The Michael Chertoffs of the world and also (ph) are getting
drawn into the defense team here. And I think, you know, Rudy`s getting a
sense under the surface...

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

FINEMAN: ... of how big a deal...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: ... of how big a deal this is.

CORN: Don`t forget, this is also about a lot of money. You know, the
project in Hoboken, $1.1 billion of development from the Rockefeller Group,
you know, one of Christie`s best pals trying to get that project put
through. I mean, it`s like a really bad episode of "Treme" but 10 times
over when it comes to the...

MATTHEWS: OK, what I want to...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... what`s coming up in the next segment here, which was
going to be our first segment until Rudy did his thing today. And what`s
fascinating about this is, finally now, through the e-mails, you can now --
as they do in movies, you storyboard how dramatic this was.

We`re going to talk in the next couple minutes about how the mayor of
Hoboken goes to a meeting over environmental damage caused by flooding in
Hoboken, right on the waterfront there. And what she realizes -- in the
room, suddenly, all these lobbyists and lawyers are sitting in the room
with the -- all pushing for the -- the governor`s favorite real estate
deal.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: So then a couple days later, in fact, the next day, she
gets a call from somebody near the lieutenant governor saying, She wants to
meet you. Kim wants to meet you. Guadagno wants to meet you. And then
with that parking lot meeting on Monday, which means we`re seeing this
series of muscle, like in "On the Waterfront," like in the movie.

FINEMAN: Yes, but the key thing is not -- the key thing is not in
those scenes, it`s the scenes that we don`t yet know about involving David
Samson...

CORN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: ... who is the head of the Port Authority appointed by the
governor, who`s also a lawyer in New Jersey, superbly connected with every
business interest...

MATTHEWS: OK...

FINEMAN: ... who is representing the Rockefeller Group in this thing
and is very close to Chris Christie. He has not been subpoenaed yet, I
don`t believe, but they`re going to work their way in and up, just as it
happened in Watergate.

CORN: The bridge might be the least of it, when they`re done.

MATTHEWS: Remember Johnny Friendly, Lee J. Cobb, "On the Waterfront"?
We`re thinking about that one.

CORN: Which is in Hoboken, right.

MATTHEWS: I`m rooting for Terry Malloy (ph).

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you. Could have been a contributor (sic).
Thank you, Howard Fineman. It`s not funny. It`s awful. But it`s a hell
of a yarn. Anyway, David Corn, thank you for joining us. Thank you, Rudy,
for the news tonight.

Coming up: We`re now getting a dramatic picture, as I said, of the
bullying operation that appears to have actually been the MO of Christie`s
political team, his "crew," they`re called, the lobbyists, the pressure
people, and the alleged warning in a ShopRite parking lot, You better get
aboard the team here.

Plus, even before today`s news from Rudy, Christie`s poll numbers were
sinking, of course. The man who was seen as the GOP`s best chance to beat
Hillary Rodham Clinton keeps falling further and further behind her.

And don`t look now, but the Tea Party is losing its grip, its death
grip, I think. They wanted to destroy the food stamp program and lost.
They wanted to keep the sequester cuts going and lost. They lost in an
effort to shut down the government. No wonder establishment Republicans
like John Boehner want little to do with them right now. By the way, who
got the biggest applause the other night? Not the Tea Party, Boehner.

Finally, from one troubled New York politician to another, Michael
Grimm gets advice from Anthony Weiner? Thanks for nothing.

Anyway, this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Two lions of the United States Senate, both Republicans,
are crossing party lines and endorsing Democrats. In Virginia, former
Republican Senator John Warner is throwing his support behind sitting
Democratic senator Mark Warner. The two Warners aren`t related. And
Republican Richard Lugar, the long-time senator from Indiana -- he`s
backing Democrat Michele Nunn in her Senate bid down in Georgia. Lugar`s
PAC has made a hefty contribution to Nunn`s campaign. Lugar and Sam Nunn,
Michele`s father, were long-time Senate colleagues.

We`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back. The front page of today`s "New York Times"
paints a portrait in colorful detail, as I said, of how Christie`s team
pressures and intimidates their opposition. In the case of Hoboken mayor
Dawn Zimmer, it meant repeatedly muscling her to get into line.

It started last May, when Zimmer is lured to meetings about flood
prevention, only to find she`ll really be meeting with a bunch of Christie
lobbyists and allies who are all wanting a piece of a big development deal
that Zimmer isn`t ready to support.

It`s a deal being pushed by the Rockefeller Group, which is
represented by a cadre of Christie supporters, including David Samson, who
led Christie`s transition team and chaired the bridge commission.

Here`s scene one, per "The Times." "She" -- Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer
-- "was due to meet the next day with officials of the New Jersey
Department of Environmental Protection, when she hoped to talk about
protecting Hoboken from the next catastrophic deluge to come. Instead,
here`s what she walks into. The developer, the Rockefeller Group, which
had long been trying to gain approval from local officials, sent two
executives, two lobbyists and an engineer to the meeting. The big
surprise, their development project is topic number one. The first topic
of discussion on the agenda was review of concepts for flood control
measures at Rockefeller property. But Zimmer stonewalls them. Mayor
Zimmer through a spokesman said on Wednesday that she went to the meeting
but refused to discuss the project."

But these weren`t disconnected lobbyists by any means. HARDBALL has
learned that Lori Grifa was involved in that meeting. Grifa is the chief
lobbyist of David Samson`s law firm. She served in Christie`s cabinet, of
course, for two years.

This is all just the opening volley from Christie`s operation. We`ll
get to more in a minute.

Matt Katz is a reporter for WNYC and Darryl Isherwood is senior
political reporter for NJ.com.

Let me start with Matt on this. And the question is, what we`re
getting now is almost like an old Polaroid film developing in front of us.
We`re getting a picture of what happens when you`re the mayor up against
the Christie crew, when you realize that you`re not just up against a
different idea of how to spend money, but people with very strong interests
that don`t want to be stopped. Your thoughts.

MATT KATZ, WNYC: That`s right. And the mayor was something of a
political neophyte before she came into office, and it`s almost as if she
didn`t really understand what was happening. And now she says what`s
happening was, is that she was being pressured from all directions for this
development.

She didn`t realize that the chairman of the bridge agency, David
Samson, was involved and had a relationship with the developer, and that
the developer was tied through the lobbyist to Christie.

These things, it appears, came into view to her as it progressed. And
that`s also why she says she didn`t let us know about this months ago, when
it happened, and it`s only sort of revealed itself after -- in the wake of
the "bridge-gate" scandal.

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s scene two in this melodrama. The day after
Zimmer refuses to talk about the Rockefeller project to the Christie people
in that meeting, Zimmer says she gets a call tell her that Lieutenant
Governor Kim Guadagno would be visiting Hoboken in just a few days. And
that meeting in a ShopRite parking lot is when Zimmer says Guadagno, the
lieutenant governor, lays down the gauntlet.

Here`s Zimmer`s recollection of what happened during that visit from
the lieutenant governor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAWN ZIMMER (D), HOBOKEN, NJ, MAYOR: The fact is that the lieutenant
governor came to Hoboken. She pulled me aside in the parking lot, and she
said, I know it`s not right. I know these things should not be connected,
but they are. And if you tell anyone, I`ll deny it.

And so these -- I mean, the bottom line is it`s not fair for the
governor to hold Sandy funds hostage for the city of Hoboken because he
wants me to give back to one private developer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, most people who are trying to figure out motive
in politics, Mr. Isherwood -- and sometimes it`s money. It`s not always
that. Usually, it`s feeding a political army, from what I`ve seen. You`ve
got people that used to work for you and they were on the public salary.
And they may go off and they say they`re going to the private sector.

They`re not going to the private sector. They`re going to that train
of people that follows public office around and makes money off people in
office, like their former boss. So you`ve got people like Samson, you got
Grifa here, the lobbyist, all working for same firm, just happen to have
clients who want to get something from the state, want to use some muscle.

Why is the governor involved? Somebody -- why is the lieutenant
governor involved? Why are people pushing this trail (ph) along? My sense
is, having worked in politics, they got to keep the army fed, and the only
way you got friends out there is to keep them fed.

You got former employees? They`re former employees, and so you keep
feeding them. You keep getting them contracts. Keep helping their clients
out. It`s called the iron triangle. People work in government, leave
government, they help clients who want help with government. It`s always
works that way. Is this what we`re watching here, Mr. Isherwood?

DARRYL ISHERWOOD, SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER, NJ.COM: Yes, I think to
some extent.

And there`s a couple of things about the whole timeline that struck
me. Number one, the timing of that Guadagno meeting, as you pointed out.
She has this meeting on whatever the date is, May 8, where she refuses to
talk about the project. And "The New York Times" describes it as there is
a bunch of representatives of the developer there.

And the next day, she gets a call from Guadagno`s office saying, hey,
the lieutenant governor would like to come out. And what is odd about
that, if you -- during that initial interview, the mayor of Hoboken said
she thought it was little weird that suddenly Kim Guadagno wants to come to
Hoboken for some ShopRite event. So, I find that timeline a little bit
weird or a little bit at least remarkable.

And then the second one was that there was a meeting scheduled and she
finds out that Lori Grifa and David Samson are going nobody this meeting.
The lawyer and the lobbyist for this development company are going to be in
this meeting with state officials, when -- there is a quote in the story
from Samson`s law firm where they -- they don`t deny that that happened.
They just say we deny Dawn Zimmer`s account of this whole thing.

MATTHEWS: I see.

ISHERWOOD: They don`t really say, no, no, that didn`t happen, we
weren`t going to be in that meeting.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: No, because you can be caught for perjury denying an event.
But you can always come up with a different memory or interpretation of
what was happening under the law.

Anyway, that brings us to three. You know how two points define a
line? Here is the third point in the line of this saga. A few months
afterward, those meetings in the spring, Mayor Zimmer says Christie`s head
of Hurricane Sandy aid, Marc Ferzan, gets involved.

She says Ferzan use the meeting in December of last year to link the
prospects of getting Sandy money to her appetite for development. Here is
Zimmer`s account to CNN`s Anderson Cooper just last week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAWN ZIMMER (D), MAYOR OF HOBOKEN, NEW JERSEY: That`s what I`m
asking, is, Governor, please support this. But when I get an answer back
from Marc Ferzan saying, well, you know...

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: And Marc Ferzan is?

ZIMMER: Marc Ferzan is really head of the Sandy recovery process for
the governor. So when I get an answer back saying, well, you need to tell
us the level of development you`re willing to do.

COOPER: So, that -- you`re staying head of the Sandy redevelopment
process was also talking to you about development?

ZIMMER: He said that like a month ago.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, let me go to Matt Katz.

You guys are on this story like wolfhounds, trying to figure out where
it all leads. And what picture do you get when you see this timeline of
these three episodes in which pressure is applied continually to the mayor
of Hoboken, get aboard this Rockefeller Institute project along the
waterfront?

The governor`s former transition boss, the governor`s appointee to the
New York Port Authority, the top job, the governor`s former employee Grifa,
who is now a lobbyist for this company, all these people are part of what
"The Times" I think is calling the Christie crew are all on the case. And
then the governor`s lieutenant governor jumps in. And, of course, his
Sandy czar, his federal money czar jumps in.

These aren`t former employees. These are current crew members. This
is a Christie operation here. This isn`t something made up of his alumni.
This is a team effort. Your thoughts.

KATZ: Right. And the last piece of that triangle you talked about is
David Samson`s law firm donating a substantial amount of money to the
Republican Governors Association, which in turn helped Christie get elected
twice.

MATTHEWS: Twenty thousand.

KATZ: And then -- right -- and then made him the chairman.

And this story about Sandy is really -- if these allegations are true,
if Zimmer`s account is accurate -- now, the Christie administration says
Hoboken got as much money per population per need as any other town and
there is no evidence of any penalty here. But if there was a threat of
penalty over Sandy aid, or if there was any -- even an insinuation that
that might have happened, it`s almost worse than the Bridgegate scandal in
some respects, certainly politically, because Sandy is such a strength of
this governor`s.

This is on the back of which he -- what he ran for reelection...

MATTHEWS: Exactly.

KATZ: ... was that people loved the fact that he swept New Jersey
under his arms and led us through the storm.

And it deflates all of that if he was or if his people were in any way
politicizing it. But, as of now, we have her allegations, and we now see
some documents where people may have been conflating redevelopment and
Sandy, but we don`t actually know that the governor himself was dangling
this Sandy aid in exchange for getting his buddies` redevelopment project.

MATTHEWS: Well, we`re seeing the crew at work anyway.

Thank you, Matt Katz, and thank you, Darryl Isherwood, for coming on
the program.

Up next, you know things are tough for Republican Congressman Michael
Grimm, the guy who threatened to throw a reporter off a balcony after
breaking him in half. Now he is getting advice from the expert on trouble,
Anthony Weiner. Wouldn`t you like his advice? Maybe you would.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": We put
together kind of a retrospective. This is a State of the Union, a look
back, a walk down memory lane. State of the Union, a look back.

PAUL SHAFFER, BAND LEADER: OK.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is you, our
citizens, who make the state of our union strong.

GERALD FORD, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That the state of
the union is not good.

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The state of our
union is funky.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I didn`t write that.

Anyway, it looks like David Letterman is feeling nostalgia for the
`70s. Time for the "Sideshow."

As you can see, late-night comedians have finally had a chance to
react to President Obama`s State of the Union speech. Here were some of
their observations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE")

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": OK, now, if Obama is our
first African-American president, why is John Boehner the darkest guy up
there?

(LAUGHTER)

KIMMEL: I mean, it`s how does this happen?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

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

JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON": I just noticed
that Biden and Boehner kind of look like those comedy and tragedy masks.
Can we see those?

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "CONAN")

CONAN O`BRIEN, HOST, "CONAN": President Obama renewed his call for a
path to citizenship for illegal aliens.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

O`BRIEN: Yes. That was popular. Even more popular, though, was his
roadblock to citizenship for Justin Bieber. He announced that.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Conan O`Brien may actually be on to something there.
Yesterday, a petition to deport teen pop star Justin Bieber to Canada
gained the requisite number of signatures to warrant a response from the
White House.

Back in 2011, the administration promised that it would respond to any
petition that is able to muster at least 100,000 signatures, no matter how
ridiculous or trivial the cause may be. In this case, the deport Justin
Bieber movement asked that the young singer be -- quote -- "removed from
our society."

Well, the effort began shortly after his arrest in Florida. Past
petitions that have earned a response from the executive branch include one
to create the Star Wars-inspired Death Star by 2016, and another to shut
down White House petitions, since they never get a sincere response. Few
read them, and they`re ultimately worthless. Hmm.

Finally, we all saw how Michael Grimm lost his self-control and
physically threatened a reporter on camera late Tuesday night. Well, he
apologized yesterday. He also appeared to play down his behavior, chalking
it up to being a passionate person.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHAEL GRIMM (R), NEW YORK: Unfortunately, when you are that
type of person that has a lot of passion, your emotions can get the better
of you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: But if Grimm`s belligerence was an impulsive reaction of
the heart, maybe he should heed the guidance of another willing influence,
Anthony Weiner.

That`s right. Former Congressman and failed mayoral candidate Anthony
Weiner had some free advice for the hotheaded Staten Island representative
today. Weiner, who has a complicated relationship with the press himself,
had this to say.

"First, if you don`t want to talk about a scandal in which you`re
embroiled, whatever that scandal may be, maybe it`s best that you don`t do
interviews for a while. Better yet, if you don`t want to talk about your
fund-raising scandal, maybe, just maybe, don`t have one to begin with."

Well, luckily for Grimm, Weiner didn`t tweet his advice. He wrote it
in a "New York Daily News" op-ed.

Up next: Hillary Clinton wins round one against Chris Christie, and
the governor`s knockdown has the Republican Party in real disarray for
2016. Look at her laughing. He ain`t laughing.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Hey there. I`m Veronica De
La Cruz. And here`s what`s happening.

Federal prosecutor says they will seek the death penalty for Boston
Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Three people died in the
blast, and more than 260 were injured. He has pleaded not guilty.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal is apologizing for failures that led to
epic gridlock on Atlanta`s highways during Tuesday`s storm.

And an appeals court in Italy is upholding the 2009 murder conviction
of Amanda Knox. She and her ex-boyfriend were foundation guilty of killing
Knox`s roommate in 2007 -- now back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Trenton, we have a problem. For a long time, Chris Christie has been
seen as the Republican most able to take on the juggernaut that is Hillary
Clinton. He had the cross-party appeal, it was said, and freshness, a
freshness factor to be a real contender.

But the bridge scandal broke. There was even polls showing him,
actually leading the former secretary of state back then nationally. All
that has changed now. The latest "Washington Post"/ABC poll just out today
shows how badly the New Jersey governor has been damaged. In a head-to-
head matchup today, Clinton beats Christie by 12 points, 53-41. She beats
him among independents. She has a 25-point lead among woman, no surprise
there necessarily.

Her favorability is nearly double his. In other words, the guy who
has been seen as the best chance of taking on Hillary Clinton is falling
further and further behind her. If this is where the battle stands right
now, Hillary wins big time. I say she won the first round, clearly.

Sam Stein is political editor of The Huffington Post and an MSNBC
contributor. And Joan Walsh is editor at large for Salon and an MSNBC
analyst as well.

Well, let me have you, Sam -- I think really think you give me the
solid view down the middle. So here it is. Christie was out there. He
wasn`t way ahead, but he was the only one that looked like they might
really tussle her in the middle, grab some suburban votes, maybe some women
votes around the New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit area, you know?

SAM STEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes.

MATTHEWS: The suburbs, they like suburban guys like him. Now he is
in trouble.

STEIN: Oh, yes, clearly. These numbers are indicative of a freefall,
basically.

And I don`t think that we can take these things and say, oh, well, now
Hillary Clinton will coast to the White House. I think these are snapshots
in time. Things progress. Everyone -- Christie himself is indicative of
how these things change so rapidly that we can`t anticipate what the next
shoe to drop is.

However...

MATTHEWS: If something big happens.

STEIN: However, I will say this.

The Republican Party needs to figure out its own identity before it
puts forward a candidate. And right now what you`re seeing, the fact that
there is no clear front-runner, is indicative of the fact that the
Republican Party doesn`t have a clear identity. Once they figure that out,
once they choose what identity they want to have, someone will emerge, and
they will have decent numbers against Hillary Clinton. It`s just a matter
of time.

MATTHEWS: Well, we do think that the party has moved to the right?

STEIN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And we do think that it would have been an upset perhaps
for Chris Christie to knock off all the right-wingers?

STEIN: I think it`s not -- I think it`s unfair -- I think it was bad
conventional wisdom to assume that he had the nomination in hand.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I don`t think anybody thought that.

STEIN: The conventional wisdom was that he was well-placed.

MATTHEWS: I think he was the front-runner because he was the hot
hand.

Let`s take a look at this poll more deeply. We will learn more here.
Here`s what the "Washington Post" poll tells us. The Democrats are nearly
united, almost universally, for Hillary Clinton, while the Republicans are
deeply divided. It`s kind of a flatline among Republicans. Look at these
numbers for Secretary Clinton, 61 points ahead of Joe Biden. That`s the
difference, her closest rival, if you can call them that.

"The Post" points out, by the way, that she is the biggest front-
runner for a Democratic presidential nomination in the history of any
polling.

Anyway, on the Republican side, no clear breakouts at all. Look how
flat this is. Paul Ryan, name I.D., he was the Democrat -- Republican
candidate for vice president last time. Everybody knows who he is, slight
lead of 20 points. Jeb Bush, everybody knows who he is, 18 points.
Christie dropped to third. He is still in there, followed by Ted Cruz,
probably the furthest right guy, Rand Paul, second furthest right, Marco
Rubio, third furthest right, all in a row of low teens, low teens, one in
eight.

"The Washington Post" points out that there are factional divisions
here as well, which are clear here. Ted Cruz leads with Tea Party voters.
Jeb Bush`s base is self-identified Republicans, you know, regular
Republicans. Paul Ryan leads with white evangelical Protestants, even
though he is Catholic, as well as young voters. Marco Rubio leads with
Republicans with college degrees. Rand Paul no doubt sweeps it with the
libertarians.

Joan, it does seem to be what Sam says. When you take a guy on who
would have been the Wendell Willkie, the candidate who could have come in
and splashed his way to victory, because of all the big state metropolitan
support from the media and people like us even, all the people paying
attention to him in the Big East...

JOAN WALSH, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... there is nobody like that left. So what you have is a
scramble.

WALSH: No, and what you have is a really perfect picture of the
divisions in the Republican Party.

It`s a party that is really fractured, Chris. And so when you see
those numbers line up, those are the way -- that`s the way the pollsters
would describe these different constituency -- constituencies. And there
is no one who can pull them together.

Now, you guys are both right. Christie had a tough road to the
nomination because it is such a conservative party. I thought it was so
interesting in "The Times" today they did that story about his political
team was looking at two races, 2013 reelection and 2016.

If you looked at what they were doing around 2016, they were looking
totally past the primaries. It was all about little crossover Democratic
areas that they could win, that they could run up his score. They weren`t
looking to run up his score among Republicans, but among Democrats. They
weren`t thinking about Iowa and South Carolina. They were talking about
mini-Ohios and mini-Floridas.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WALSH: But he was going have a very, very tough path through that
primary.

He might have done it if the Tea Party folks split amongst themselves,
and he was the inevitable one. But now, his claim has been Democrats and
independents love him, and he is losing them. He`s got no claim on this
nomination --

MATTHEWS: And, by the way, Joan, mini Ohio and mini Florida are
general election references.

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: They`re primary --

WALSH: That`s what I`m saying.

MATTHEWS: You know what I think is interesting. Let me ask you a
tactical question.

If you`re Reince Priebus as the RNC chair, fair enough have. You
noticed that Christie is like the cartoon character that doesn`t -- he is
off the cliff, but he hasn`t looked down yet. He is still out there
campaigning.

WALSH: His legs are still moving.

MATTHEWS: Yes, Frito Bandito, one of these characters. I`ve got to
tell you something. Is that good for the Republican Party, to have him
running around, dragging his butt around the country saying I`m going to be
your nominee for president in the midst of all this stinkeroo from a state
they already have suspicions about politically? So, he is coming out of
New Jersey, and he is saying, you know what? I`m going to be the
Republican Party candidate. Look, I`m out here running the governors.

Wouldn`t they rather he took a time-out, like a high school kid, time
out and stay home in Trenton until you have cleaned up your name.

SAM STEIN, THE HUFFINGTON POST: I think the Republican governors
around the country would like him probably to take a little time off. As
you saw when he went down to Florida to raise money for Rick Scott, they
could not be seen in public together for obvious reasons.

MATTHEWS: That`s a sign.

STEIN: Involved in scandal. And Rick Scott is not exactly --

MATTHEWS: How about Lindsey graham? Wouldn`t even see him?

STEIN: Exactly. If I look at it from Chris Christie`s perspective,
what other option do I have? I have to pretend like nothing is the matter.

MATTHEWS: Why? Explain that to the people.

STEIN: Let`s say for instance say he would have resigned as chairman
of the RGA, there would be another round of vicious media cycles about how
he is back, how he`s hurt --

MATTHEWS: He`d be diving himself.

STEIN: Exactly, more or less. So, he has to keep going as if nothing
has happened.

MATTHEWS: That`s not to say that he likes it. Anyway, "The Post`s"
Chris Cillizza who knows this stuff explained today why this is not a
repeat of 2008 when Clinton was a favorite. He`s saying, don`t assume
because she lost the lead once, she`ll lose it again. Back then, there was
competition, of course, like Barack Obama, John Edwards and Al Gore. They
had their own basis of support.

Well, according to Cillizza, quote, "While Obama could look at early
2008 polling and see a path to victory if he could consolidate all of the
anti-Hillary votes behind him, that looks like the path of 20ish percent in
a primary fight against Hillary Clinton now. Put simply, the opposition to
the idea of her as the party`s nominee was clear and vocal in the run-up to
2008 is simply nonexistent or, at best, too small to cause her in agita,"
as he puts. Where he get that from?

"And for any politician looking to take a flyer on challenging Clinton
in the 2016 Democratic primary, these numbers will have a chilling effect."

Let me get to the bottom of this argument. It seems to me according
to Cillizza, there`s not enough anti-Hillary feeling --

WALSH: Right.

CLINTON: -- free-floating negativity. If you add it all up, left,
right, center. You take Elizabeth Warren on the left, you take somebody on
the right, if there is anybody in the right to Hillary on something things,
and you say, so what, you can`t package that for a victory against her
because there is not enough of it.

WALSH: Right, because, you know, she had a formidable field in 2008,
apart from Obama. Our votes, I`m a Democrat, Democratic votes were split
in a lot of directions. She never had the dominant presence in the polling
in 2007 and 2008 that she has now. It doesn`t mean she is inevitable since
all three of us lived through her collapse in 2007. We know, you know,
that she could be defeated.

But there is also, there`s no -- there`s no Barack Obama. I mean, we
knew, those of us who were at the convention in 2004 knew we were looking
at a future president. I can`t look at anybody necessarily in the
Democratic Party today and say I know that person is our future president.

Elizabeth Warren is wonderful. I love her. If she ran, it would be
very interesting. She is not an Obama transformative kind of figure, and
she is also saying she doesn`t want to run.

So, I`m not saying she is going to face a challenge. She is. But
it`s just very hard to see how even a charismatic person puts together the
numbers.

STEIN: I`ll add this. Remember that in 2006-2007, the major issue of
the day really was the Iraq war. And on that issue, Hillary Clinton was on
the wrong side. And there is not that sort of weight around her this time.

MATTHEWS: By the way, do you think she should come out and say it was
bad war? It wasn`t about WMD. It wasn`t about anything. It was a bad
national decision. Will she say that?

STEIN: It`s a really good question. She had trouble answering that.

Nowadays, the issue is inequality and it`s not clear where she is
weighed down by that.

MATTHEWS: I don`t think she is weighed down by that. I wish she
would clarify it was bad decision by this country. I think it was the
worst, a lot worse than Benghazi. It was horrible. This was 4,000, 5,000
people.

Thank you.

And a lot on the other side, which I like to think about occasionally
-- other people get killed in wars, not just our people.

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Sam Stein. Thank you, Joan Walsh.

WALSH: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Weak tea. Don`t look now, but the Tea Party has lost some
of its tang. Three big fights in a row, and some of them already over, and
their death grip -- that`s what I call on the Republican Party -- is
weakening. That`s coming up. This is good news for progressives, coming
up. The Tea Party ain`t what it was even a few weeks ago.

And this is HARDBALL, the place to talk about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Another notable retirement in the House of Representatives.
California Democrat Henry Waxman, a great man, says he won`t run for
reelection this year. Waxman has been a member of the House for 40 years.
He won his first election back in `74 as a member of Nancy Pelosi`s inner
circle.

He is the seventh House Democrat to retire this year. But his Los
Angeles seat is safe for the party, the Democrats.

One possible successor, Sandra Fluke, and she is the woman`s right
advocate. And she told an L.A. radio station today she is strongly
considering running for Henry Waxman`s seat.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The Tea Party has been on a losing streak of late. And it looks like
their death grip on Republican lawmakers is actually weakening.

The first big blow was in October of last year when Speaker Boehner
put up a clean bill to fund the government and avert default. No strings
attached. No more Tea Party shenanigans. Guess what? It passed.

This month, an appropriations bill passed that raised higher than
normal previous levels, anathema to the Tea Party. And it passed.

And this week, the farm bill passed, with far fewer cuts in food
stamps than the Tea Party had called for, another defeat for the hard
right. And they are likely more in the pipeline.

As this "Politico" headline puts it, bluntly, GOP ready to surrender
on debt ceiling. Plus, a new draft to outline for GOP immigration reform
includes a path to legal status for illegal immigrants. It appears Speaker
Boehner has wrangled the Tea Party into submission. Boehner told Jay Leno
just the other night how he warned his Tea Party caucus about the perils of
shutting down the government last time around but followed them anyway.

Let`s watch. This is pretty candid stuff from Boehner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I told my colleagues
in July, I didn`t think shutting down the government over Obamacare would
work because the president said I`m not going to negotiate. And so, I told
them in August, probably not a good idea. I told him in early September.

But when you have my job, there`s something you have to learn.

JAY LENO, COMEDIAN/TV HOST: Yes.

BOEHNER: When I looked up, I saw my colleagues going this way. And
you learn that a leader without followers is simply a man taking a walk.

LENO: Right.

BOEHNER: So I said you want to fight this fight? I`ll go fight the
fight with you.

LENO: Right.

BOEHNER: But it was a very predictable disaster.

LENO: Yes.

BOEHNER: So the sooner we got it over with, the better.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, it doesn`t sound like Speaker Boehner will let the
Tea Party lead him into another disaster, maybe, unless they do.

Anyway, Clarence Page is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The
Chicago Tribune".

And E.J. Dionne is a brilliant "Washington Post" columnist for "The
Washington Post", also a professor, also at the Brookings Institute. E.J.
does everything. Thank you for coming.

Let me go to Clarence to start with. It seems to me that without
overstating it, lately when I watch a guy like him go on a popular show
like Leno, a general audience show, and say the troops behind me were
fools, I went along with them know they`re fools. I don`t mind saying so
on Jay Leno, I think he`s got the upper hand.

And, by the way, he got a hell of o hand the other night. The
barkeep`s son. They seem to like.

CLARENCE PAGE, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Oh, yes. I think he does have
the upper hand and what he -- the story -- the narrative that he told was
only slightly truncated. He didn`t mention his own speech there where he
railed against the outside influences, the Club for Growth and the Heritage
Action. Remember, he said, what are you kidding me? Meaning, you know,
you all had said, OK, we didn`t think we were going to win this showdown
anyway, OK, that`s it, we played things your way, we`ll play it my way.
That`s what you`re seeing now.

He`s literally almost -- he`s being candid. He could be even more
candid in saying I told you so, because right now he`s not as scared to the
Tea Party --

MATTHEWS: The bad news for the Democrats, I think, I`m guessing, E.J.
Dionne, he`s confident if he keeps a steady hand at the helm for the next
couple months through November, the Democrats and Republicans are going to
win a lot more seats, at least they`re going to hold their lead in the
House, probably do well. They`re up in the generic vote.

Why screw it up with crazy behavior between now and November?

DIONNE: No, and that`s the assumption in the Republican Party and
that`s why he`s winning. I mean, sometimes when people get hit really hard
by a 2 x 4, they learn something and that shutdown really was a 2 x 4.

It`s not a whole lot of leadership at the initial stage there by
Boehner when you listen to that Leno interview. Nonetheless, he gave him
what he wanted and the Republicans cratered in the polls.

So, I think what`s happened is there`s -- the hardcore Tea Party vote
is about 60 in the House. There are probably at least about 100 members
who are basically worried about Tea Party primaries.

And so when the Tea Party`s in the ascendancy, they sided with him.
But they`re even more worried about the Republicans losing their majority
and if the Republicans hadn`t changed course, after the shutdown, and if
President Obama hadn`t had the problems with the health care rollout, the
Republicans were in great jeopardy of losing the House. And that`s
Boehner`s whole card. They don`t want to lose the power they have.

MATTHEWS: What do you think about the some demise of Ted Cruz?

PAGE: Yes.

MATTHEWS: We punched him up around here. I don`t mind doing it. I
think he`s a radical. I think he`s a negative force in American politics.
Don`t mind saying so.

I`m not sure Rand Paul is. He`s a libertarian.

But I think Ted Cruz with his McCarthy-ite tactics. He seems like
he`s back in -- back in the pack now.

PAGE: Well, you can see by the way Ted Cruz is denying he had
anything to do with the shutdown --

MATTHEWS: Isn`t that absurd? How can he say it? How can he talk
like that?

PAGE: He says it with a great face --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: And these moderators and people are not going to let him
get away with it. I mean --

PAGE: His fellow Republicans know he`s not telling the truth. I
mean, the fact is he lost and distracted everybody at a time when Obamacare
--

MATTHEWS: He`s out there filibustering for it.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: E.J., you`re the professor. Put your professor`s hat on.
How can the guy say something that`s so -- some crazy talk that he wasn`t
leader of the shutdown? Ted Cruz was the shutdown`s face.

DIONNE: Well, he had the famous Tortilla Coast meeting. You know,
Chris, that old story about the new member of Congress who refers to the
other party as the enemy and the older member says, oh, no, there are
opponents, the Senate is the enemy.

And I think this notion of a guy coming from the other side, a right
winger who`s trying to aggrandize himself and ginning up this opposition to
Boehner just didn`t play well with a lot of House members.

MATTHEWS: E.J., thanks so much, E.J. Thanks for coming on. Clarence
as well. Big night here tonight.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this.

The Republicans may want this Christie story to die. Certainly, it
would allow them to turn the fire back on the president.

But there`s a huge factor working against them here. The first is
that people understand this story. They know what it means to balk traffic
especially when it`s in the morning and you`re fighting to cover your butt
at work. Nobody likes the feeling of walk into work late.

So, we get it. We get it some big shot thought it was hunky dory to
screw up the traffic lanes, throw out some traffic cones to screw up
people`s lives so they could slap a political rival over the nose.

Second, we all know the feeling of being bullied. We don`t like to
see the big shot showing his big shot muscle to someone further down the
food chain.

Well, this scene of the New Jersey governor`s people showing up in
Hoboken presents a picture we`ve seen before. Maybe if we`re lucky just in
the movies, a muscle being applied. It`s like the guys who showed up in
the old days of the little restaurants and told the owner he`d be wise to
let the big boys put their jukebox in a place and not cause trouble about
it.

We have to hear all this in court, of course, but the scene described
in the e-mails shows a scene in Hoboken right out of "On the Waterfront"
and we`re waiting for a hero to stand up to the dockside bullies. You can
call it the American in us.

Anyway, that`s HARDBALL. It`s better at 7:00. Thanks for being with
us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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