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updated 2/3/2014 11:32:56 AM ET 2014-02-03T16:32:56

HARDBALL
January 31, 2014

Guests: John Wisniewski

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Do we have a witness?

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews up in New York.

"Let Me Start" tonight with this. As we go to press this weekend, a
potential blockbuster in the Chris Christie bridge scandal. The attorney
for David Wildstein, Christie`s appointment to the bridge authority, has
released a letter saying that his client, David Wildstein, says evidence
exists linking Christie, the governor, to knowledge of the lane closings on
the bridge during the time of the deliberate traffic holdup.

Here`s the key part of that letter. "It has also come to light that a
person within the Christie administration communicated the Christie
administration`s order that certain lanes on the George Washington Bridge
were to be closed, and evidence exists, as well, tying Mr. Christie to
having knowledge of the lane closures during the period when the lanes were
closed, contrary to what the governor stated publicly in a two-hour press
conference he gave immediately before Mr. Wildstein was scheduled to appear
before the transportation committee. Mr. Wildstein contests the accuracy
of various statements that the governor made about him, and he can prove
the inaccuracy of some."

Well, it`s clear that the attorney for this key witness, Wildstein, is
attempting win immunity for his client as a price for delivering this
evidence. The question is, does this evidence contradict statements made
by Governor Christie?

Michael Isikoff is national investigative correspondent for NBC News
and John Wisniewski`s a Democratic assemblyman from New Jersey. He is co-
chair of the super-committee that`s leading the state`s investigation into
the bridge scandal.

Michael Isikoff, when you look at the statement made by Christie in
the press conference, he said he didn`t know about the bridge closure until
afterwards. Here you have a statement by the lawyer for Wildstein saying
he knew about it during it. Your thoughts.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, he said he knew about them
while they took place. And we just got the statement from the governor`s
office in which, you know, they`re making the point that the governor said
he read about the lane closures. There was certainly press about them that
week.

So we don`t know exactly what David Wildstein is saying here, what
he`s saying the governor knew and exactly when he knew it. That`s key to
evaluating this.

But taking a step back, it is a pretty breathtaking development to
have somebody as close to Governor Christie...

MATTHEWS: OK...

ISIKOFF: ... basically pointing the finger at him. And you know, how
-- what evidence he`s got, what he has to say exactly is going to be key to
evaluating where this goes from here.

MATTHEWS: OK, I want to talk about right now with Mr. Wisniewski what
the governor has said. And you know what I know he said. In his January
9th press conference, Governor Christie was asked point-blank by a reporter
about why people would have a hard time believing he didn`t know about this
thing.

Here was Christie`s response. Now, catch the word at the end. "I
didn`t know about this bridge closures until afterwards." Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: What I can tell you is, if
people find that hard to believe, I don`t know what else to say, except to
tell them that I had no knowledge of this, of the planning, the execution,
or anything about it, and that I first found out about it after it was
over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: "After it was over." That is a clear statement of the
timeline, Assemblyman. After it was over is the first I knew about
anything about this. In the letter from the lawyer for Wildstein, who
could be the key witness in this case, it says the governor knew about it
during the event and he had evidence to that effect.

So my question is, is this a significant contradiction? I think it
is. A guy had two hours to explain what he knew about this thing. He
tells the American people in his press conference, I didn`t know about it
until after it happened. We now have a key witness who`s lawyer is saying,
We have evidence he knew about it during it happening.

JOHN WISNIEWSKI (D), NJ ASSEMBLYMAN, SUPER-COMMITTEE CO-CHAIR: Well,
the implication of the lawyer`s letter is the lawyer is saying that the
governor was not being truthful in his statement.

MATTHEWS: Right.

WISNIEWSKI: What we don`t know, what I haven`t seen, is I don`t know
what these documents are that Mr. Wildstein or his attorney says he has
that contradict the governor.

You know, Chris, my frustration is, is that the committee subpoenaed
documents from Mr. Wildstein, and he supposedly gave us everything
responsive. Now somehow these documents surface. I don`t know what they
are. I don`t know if they`re different documents that weren`t responsive
to the subpoena.

These are serious allegations, and it certainly adds to the skepticism
that many people have had about the governor`s statement. But I do think
we need to look at what he`s talking about, see the actual documents to see
whether or not they really say what he says they say.

MATTHEWS: Well, late today, the Christie administration released the
following statement. Now, I don`t think this contradicts or in any way
denies what we`re talking about.

WISNIEWSKI: Right.

MATTHEWS: But here are the words. "Mr. Wildstein`s lawyer confirms
what the governor has said all along. He had absolutely no prior knowledge
of the lane closures before they happened. And whatever Mr. Wildstein`s
motivations were for closing them to begin with, as the governor said in a
December 13th press conference, he only first learned the lanes were closed
when it was reported by the press, and as he said in his January 9th press
conference, had no indication that this was anything other than a traffic
study until he read otherwise the morning of January 8th."

Well, the governor denies Mr. Wildstein`s lawyer`s other assertion.
And my question back to you, Michael, is -- nobody said he knew about it
beforehand. This use of the word "prior" is totally extraneous. It`s not
a denial. He is not denying he knew about it during the actual events, and
that`s what the lawyer for Mr. Wildstein is saying his client is going to
testify.

ISIKOFF: Right, but the key...

MATTHEWS: So why is he putting out a statement that doesn`t deny the
bombshell that Wildstein just dropped?

ISIKOFF: Well, I mean, the key word there is "it." What is "it"? Is
it the lane closures? Look, we do...

MATTHEWS: But he said, I don`t know anything about it.

ISIKOFF: ... or is it that the lane -- right, no -- that`s...

MATTHEWS: Anything about it until afterwards.

ISIKOFF: Right. That`s -- that`s -- that`s true. He did say that,
and he may have some political trouble explaining that, but whether he has
some culpability...

MATTHEWS: I think he`d have trouble in the witness chair with that
one!

ISIKOFF: Well, he could...

MATTHEWS: What about sitting in a witness chair saying, I knew about
it afterwards. Now it comes out, Well, I didn`t know about it beforehand.
Well, this thing went on for five days.

By the way, Michael, you and I wondered -- I know you did because I
did -- how can the governor of a state fighting for reelection, looking to
run up the score never knew or talked about it with anybody at the water
cooler after -- never talked about these bridge problems while they were
happening?

ISIKOFF: Right.

MATTHEWS: Why -- never (INAUDIBLE) What a denial. And now he says,
Well, I didn`t deny that, I just denied I didn`t know before the five days.
Well, that`s a totally different denial.

ISIKOFF: Right. Right. But I think that the assemblyman makes a
very important point here, which is that Wildstein was subpoenaed for all
his documents. Now, he turned over these very damning e-mails that
basically caused this whole thing to explode, with lots of redactions. He
made those redactions. So he basically was redacting material he was
saying -- he was asserting was not responsive to the subpoena.

So if it`s those redacted e-mails and texts, Wildstein may have some
culpability here on his own...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ISIKOFF: ... not just for ordering the lane closures in the first
place, but for covering up and obstructing the assemblyman`s investigation
by concealing the content of those e-mails and texts.

MATTHEWS: Good question. That goes to Mr. Wisniewski. What do you
make of that? You said a moment ago he may not have been forth coming in
the evidence he had. Now, he may know -- I`m not defending Mr. Wildstein
or his attorney`s behavior here...

WISNIEWSKI: Right.

MATTHEWS: But he may be saying, I know somebody has e-mails to those
(ph) effect (ph). I don`t have them in my possession. You can`t get them
from me in discovery. I do know about somebody else or -- you`re right,
though. How -- how -- how broad a subpoena did you issue to Wildstein to
collect everything like this that he now says he`s got?

WISNIEWSKI: Well, Chris, the thing that everybody has to understand
is that when we were asking for the documents, we had no idea that this was
going to lead into the governor`s office, so we were looking very narrowly
at the Port Authority. In retrospect, there`s a lot of other areas that we
need to look at to make sure that we have all the facts. And so it is
entirely possible that this is not something that we asked for. These
could be somebody else`s documents that he`s now come into possession.

My point is, is that these are very serious allegations. They add to
the skepticism that everybody`s had. But what we need to see is exactly
what he`s talking about. He needs to make those available to the committee
so that we can analyze them and really figure out what Mr. Wildstein is
alleging here and whether or not it goes to the credibility of the
governor`s statement.

MATTHEWS: Mr. Wisniewski, the question comes down to, what would be
the smart move on the part of the defense lawyer here -- or rather, the
witness`s lawyer here? Would it be to show your best cards first or would
it be to show some cards now but say you got something bigger later?

WISNIEWSKI: Well, I think it`s an interplay between two things.
Clearly, the attorney has an obligation to be truthful and provide the
information the committee asks for. But we don`t know all of the
information he has. We may not be asking the right questions.

So clearly, if he`s negotiating for immunity from some agency, he`s
not going to tip his hand automatically and let us know all of the things
he has. We don`t know a lot about these allegations that were made in this
letter today, and we need to see more details about it to really judge it,
you know, for its full value.

But no matter what -- what the sentiment, what the point that Mr.
Wildstein is making is that, Don`t believe the governor. And we need to
see the facts behind that so that we can understand whether that is
something we need to pursue.

ISIKOFF: Chris...

MATTHEWS: Michael, yes, it seems like this day, Friday, was a built -
- there was a buildup to this for week news because Mr. Wildstein`s
attorney said a while back that he was the looking for immunity, he`s ready
to talk. And then this morning in "The Wall Street Journal," there`s talk
he`s headed towards offering up something. And now he`s done it. He`s
given us something about contradictions in time.

ISIKOFF: Right. I think I said on your show about three weeks ago,
Chris, that Wildstein`s lawyer was suggesting he might be the John Dean of
this affair.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ISIKOFF: And this would seem to -- seem to prove that that`s the
case. But look, let`s be clear. For him to get immunity from the U.S.
attorney in Newark, Paul Fishman, he`s going to have to make a proffer.
He`s going to have to show the evidence he`s got. He`s going to have to
give -- his lawyer is going to have to give a statement about what David
Wildstein has to say. And then the federal prosecutors are going to
evaluate whether or not they think that`s a credible account or not.

So I think we`re a long ways away from getting immunity. But for him
to get it, he`s going to have to show a lot more than he`s asserting in
this letter.

MATTHEWS: OK, Mr. Wisniewski, here`s the key question from tonight
going into the weekend. Why did the governor`s people put out a statement
tonight denying that he didn`t know about the bridge closures before they
occurred, but did not deny knowing about them during the closures, during
that four or five-day period?

It seems to me they do not want to admit openly that they knew about
those closures while they were going on because that opens, perhaps, a can
of worms. If they knew about them, what was the governor asking about?
Who was he talking to about them?

Go ahead. Your thoughts. Why is he still not really denying the
charge made by Wildstein`s lawyer tonight, which is he knew about it during
-- during the closures?

WISNIEWSKI: This really goes to the remarkable lack of curiosity the
governor had. And I think it was in December he made a statement saying
that he had known about the lane closures because he had heard about it in
press accounts or newspaper stories. And so the question that all of us
have is, Don`t you ask questions when you see that there`s this traffic jam
coming out of the George Washington Bridge affecting Fort Lee? Where was
the curiosity about why this was happening?

MATTHEWS: Well, what do you mean? What`s your implication? He
didn`t have curiosity, or he knew damn well what was going on and didn`t
want to be caught talking about it?

WISNIEWSKI: Well, at a minimum, a curious lack of curiosity. I mean,
it gets worse from there. We just don`t have all the answers to that,
Chris.

MATTHEWS: Same question to you, Michael. Last question for you, and
that`s this. Why would he say tonight, I didn`t know about it prior to the
events, but he wasn`t accused of that in the latest story. Wildstein`s
attorney said he knew about it during the event. Why the distinction
there? Why does he avoid denying the charge itself?

ISIKOFF: Well, it could be that the charge is a little bit vague, as
I think we`ve been -- and I think we`ve been making that point. We don`t
know exactly what Wildstein is saying.

MATTHEWS: "Knowledge of the lane closures during the period when the
lanes were closed." That`s pretty clear.

ISIKOFF: Right. Right. It`s clear that -- knowledge of the lane
closures, but the issue here is, were those lane closures ordered for
political reasons? Were they done as part of some political vendetta? And
that`s -- that`s the key question here.

It is worth noting that they were together that week, Wildstein and
Christie, on September 11. There are photographs of them together at an
event. And so clearly, one would think that part of what Wildstein has to
say here is what his conversation was with Governor Christie while these
lane closures were taking place.

MATTHEWS: OK, we still have to get a clear statement from the
governor -- we don`t have it -- whether he knew about this event when it
was occurring. There`s all kinds of contradictions in what he`s said so
far.

Thank you, Michael Isikoff -- and they`ve been brought to life tonight
by Wildstein`s attorney. And Assemblyman Wisniewski, thanks for joining
us, as before.

We`re going to stay on this story and all it`s implications in just a
moment. This story is big going into the weekend. And one angle -- Rudy
Giuliani now says he did not say or mean to say that he thought it was 50-
50 that Christie talked to his deputy chief about tying up that traffic in
the first place. But check this quote. We did. It seems as if that`s not
exactly what he said.

Plus, that right-wing freak-out over President Obama`s promise to
bypass a Congress that refuses to work with him -- lawless, a tyrant, like
a king. Well, let`s be clear. These right-wingers want one thing, to
delegitimize the Obama presidency and basically erase him from the history
books.

Also, the late night comedians are still having their say about the
State of the Union. Speaker John Boehner -- well, he takes it here from
Leno and Letterman.

And "Let Me Finish" tonight with the -- well, where those facts in the
Christie investigation may be leading us.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Much more on the late-breaking news on the Chris Christie
bridge scandal, and what it may mean for him politically. HARDBALL back
after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: It might seem like today`s big accusations from David
Wildstein`s attorney came from out of the blue. But if you were following
these things closely, there were clear signs that something big was
building from Wildstein`s team. Back on January 9th, Wildstein`s attorney,
Alan Zegas, told New Jersey lawmakers at a hearing on the bridge scandal
that his client, David Wildstein, had one heck of a story to tell, but
there was a price for that story, his immunity from prosecution.

Here`s Mr. Zegas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those documents only tell part of the story.

ALAN ZEGAS, ATTORNEY FOR DAVID WILDSTEIN: Well, if the attorneys
general for New Jersey, New York and the United States were all to agree to
clothe (ph) Mr. Wildstein with an immunity, I think you`d find yourselves
in a far different position with respect to information he could provide.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s your job. We just want answers to our
questions.

(LAUGHTER)

ZEGAS: Understood. I`m suggesting a way you can get there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s pretty clear there. And today, "The Wall
Street Journal" this morning teased that Wildstein`s attorney might be
making moves. Quote, "Statements from Wildstein`s attorney, Alan Zegas,
about possible immigration for his client had made Mr. Wildstein something
of a wild card in the unfolding investigations into why bridge toll lanes
were diverted for that week in September and who was behind it. Mr. Zegas
has said that Mr. Wildstein has a story to tell if his testimony isn`t used
against him" -- in other words, he gets immunity.

"Prosecutors don`t grant immunity lightly, and the lawyer`s request
for immunity suggests that he believes Mr. Wildstein has information that
could be valuable enough to prosecutors as they determine if any laws have
been broken here."

New York magazine`s John Heilemann is an MSNBC political analyst and
the co-author of "Double Down," and Jonathan Capehart`s an opinion writer
for "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC contributor.

John, there is something here in terms of a clear contradiction. We
can go back, as we`ve done in the earlier segment, and show the governor
saying he didn`t know about this whole bridge problem until afterwards,
after it had happened. And then we get a claim from his lawyer for the --
for Wildstein that he knew about it during it and has evidence to prove
that the governor knew about it during the events themselves.

And then we got a rather obscure -- or rather oddly written denial by
-- non-denial denial by the governor late this evening saying, I didn`t
know about it prior to the events. Well, no one said he knew prior. They
said he knew during.

My question -- does this add up to a problem of credibility on the
part of the governor, who still hasn`t gotten his story straight? Meaning
he`s already been caught in a situation where he`s been contradicted. So
instead of admitting he was contradicted or denying it, he`s moved back to
a non-denial denial saying, I didn`t know about it prior. Well, every
print reporter and TV person watching this can see through that screen.
He`s not answering the question.

Your thoughts.

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Chris, I think the
problem -- there is a big problem here, which is with the vagueness of the
letter from Wildstein`s lawyer, right?

There`s two claims he is making, one of which is -- that is written in
a passive voice, where he says evidence suggests. He doesn`t claim that he
has that evidence.

MATTHEWS: Exists.

HEILEMANN: He claims that evidence suggests.

MATTHEWS: Exists. Evidence exists.

HEILEMANN: And then the second claim is, there are some things I can
-- there are some things I can prove that Christie has said about me that
are false, not necessarily about the bridge and the bridge closing, but
things that Christie has said.

So it`s a little hard at this point. What we know is Wildstein is
apparently trying to cut a deal, and he is ready to turn on Christie.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HEILEMANN: And I think he is willing to give up whatever he has to
get himself in a better place in terms of striking an immunity deal.

That is bad news for Christie, per se. This is the first rat, so to
speak, who is fleeing the -- the putatively sinking ship. So that`s bad
news in and of itself. But the question of how bad the news is totally
depends on what this evidence actually is. And we don`t know that until
right now. But Christie cannot be feeling comfortable right now with this
turn of events.

MATTHEWS: Well, some rats talk the truth. I mean, John Dean...

HEILEMANN: Yes. Yes.

MATTHEWS: ... whatever you think of his loyalty to Nixon, which
wasn`t there, obviously, nor was it reciprocated, told the truth.

Anyway...

HEILEMANN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: ... here is that key part of the letter that said -- that
Wildstein`s lawyer released tonight.

"And it`s also come to light that a person within the Christie
administration communicated the Christie administration`s order that
certain lanes on the George Washington Bridge were to be closed, and
evidence exists as well tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane
closures during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the
governor stated publicly in that two-hour press conference he gave
immediately before Mr. Wildstein was scheduled to appear before the
Transportation Committee. Mr. Wildstein contests the accuracy of various
statements that the governor made about him, and he can prove the
inaccuracy of some."

Jonathan Capehart?

JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Wow.

I mean, that right there, as John said, the governor cannot be
comfortable with this. And his statement doesn`t tamp down anything. If
anything -- if anything, I think the governor`s statement is a bit of
playing for time here.

I will be very curious to see what comes of -- what happens on Monday.
The one thing that we haven`t talked about in all of this is the
environment in which this Wildstein letter drops. On Monday, February 3,
is when those subpoenas from the legislative investigative body, that`s
when those subpoenas come due.

And that`s when we`re going to find out a whole lot of other things.
Documents, e-mails, text messages that the committee will have will
suddenly be public. And then I think, once we all get a chance to comb
through at least some of those, that maybe a fuller picture will come to
light.

And maybe what Mr. Wildstein has, maybe it`s in -- maybe it`s in
earlier batches of e-mails, or maybe, maybe he will drop something again on
Monday.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

Well, again, in his January 9 press conference, which we all watched
here, Christie was asked by a reporter about why people would have a hard
time believing he didn`t know about this whole thing.

Here was Christie`s rather complete response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: What I can tell you is, if
people find that hard to believe, I don`t know what else to say, except to
tell them I had no knowledge of this, of the planning, the execution or
anything about it, and that I first found out about it after it was over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: First found out about it when it was over.

Now, that question, John Heilemann, "I first found out about it when
it was over," does that mean he didn`t know about the bridge closures?
Because now he is saying in the letter tonight, I didn`t know about the
bridge closures prior to them happening. He is moving them even further
back, not only -- so the accusation from Wildstein`s lawyer is that
Wildstein will testify or say he has got evidence to prove he knew about it
during it.

Now the governor, instead of denying that, has moved back and said, I
didn`t know about it prior. Why this skipping away from the denial by the
governor`s people?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Why are they denying -- why are they refusing to deny the
charge that was made here, that he knew about it during it happening? If
he didn`t know about anything, why didn`t he just say that?

(CROSSTALK)

HEILEMANN: Right.

Well, Chris, I think that`s a very good question. And if you were
just reading this from a distance, right, on the basis of no reporting
whatsoever, what it sounds like, what -- the way you would hear what
they`re saying now is, they`re trying to get themselves in a position where
they can say that Governor Christie did not order the lanes closed, right?

That`s one question people have. Did Governor Christie order this?
That would be the worst crime or sin, if not actually a legal crime, the
worst political sin he could have committed. But there`s a whole bunch of
other questions. And, as you know, in both of those press conferences in
December and January, he went much further.

MATTHEWS: Yes, you know when he could know? He could smell -- two
things possible here, totally possible.

HEILEMANN: Right.

MATTHEWS: One thing is, he did find out it was going on and did
nothing to stop it once it started, he said, good idea, boys.

Or he could have said, damn it, you guys are crazy people, but I can`t
say anything now. It`s too late.

HEILEMANN: Right.

MATTHEWS: I mean, it`s all possible, you went too far, or I didn`t
know you were going to do this, or I know I have done it to other guys like
this or something like this.

But it`s so Nixonian that way.

HEILEMANN: Right.

CAPEHART: Right.

MATTHEWS: He creates -- Jonathan, you`re too young to remember.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: But I got to tell you, Nixon created this monster, and then
he created the tape recording machine to catch it all. And he couldn`t
stop the damn thing.

CAPEHART: Either -- either way, Chris, whether he knew ahead of time
or didn`t know, it says a lot about -- about him, about his management
style.

What made Chris Christie a national star? It was the fact that he was
a hands-on governor, he was take-charge, he would get in your face if you
didn`t agree with him or he didn`t agree with you. And so now, all of a
sudden, we`re supposed to sort of pretend that something this egregious,
something this spectacular, in that it`s on the world`s busiest bridge and
happening around the September 11 -- the anniversary of the September 11
terrorist attacks, that he didn`t know about this, that his staff was --
had gone so rogue...

MATTHEWS: What`s your name? What`s your name? What is it, Jonathan?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Jonathan, it`s none of your business.

(LAUGHTER)

CAPEHART: Right.

MATTHEWS: That`s how the guy talks to people.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: He wants to know your name first.

Now, we thought that was kind of like, oh, faux toughness, what we
thought it was. John, I think you know what I mean, people who have
certain mannerisms. Like, Archie Bunker really is Carroll O`Connor, who is
the big liberal from Missoula, Montana, the liberal out there who went to
school out there.

But he is really Archie Bunker here. I mean, he really is the guy he
was seeming to be, not pretending to be. And I think that`s a problem,
John.

HEILEMANN: Well, it`s -- yes, it certainly is a problem.

And I will say more than what Jonathan said. I think it`s a problem
in the sense that he has made a very dramatic set of claims. He`s -- not
just that he didn`t order this thing, but, as we all know, he claimed that,
until January, until that press conference, the famous operatic press
conference, that he didn`t really know his office was solved in this in any
way for all of those months.

And, boy, that`s a very dramatic claim, that he had no -- to go that
far. You know, he could be perfectly innocent, having never ordered this
thing, but could still have been caught in a lie on many -- by many
different people under many different scenarios and many different pieces
of documentary evidence that might be coming in now that Wildstein might
have about that rather larger blanket claim. And that would be politically
devastating for him if it were true.

MATTHEWS: Last question for both of you.

You start with this, John. You know Giuliani. He said yesterday it`s
50-50 whether the governor knew about all this stuff.

HEILEMANN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And, today, he obviously had to backtrack and he did. And
he said, I`m 100 percent behind him, blah, blah, blah, and all this. But
why do you think he said it yesterday? Because that was the key giveaway.
Why would he say out of nowhere, you know, and even -- he even said later
in the same interview, he made it pretty clear, you know, I don`t know who
is telling the truth, and we won`t know until the investigation is over.

HEILEMANN: I do not know, Chris.

But it certainly has been -- been dramatic how far Rudy Giuliani has
been out on a limb for Chris Christie. He has got a lot of people...

MATTHEWS: Well, he is crawling back.

HEILEMANN: He has had a lot of people who have been -- who are from
the Giuliani campaign from 2008 who are now with Chris Christie. Maybe
there is some residual -- residual loyalty to staff and advisers who are
working with Chris Christie.

But I certainly feel like he got -- he was so far out there on the
limb. And, yesterday, the things he said to Geraldo, which, if you read
that interview in both of those instances you`re talking about and read it
in context, there is no doubt what he is saying, which is, he is trying to
backtrack, and now again he is trying to backtrack in the other direction
today, when he -- when this story, when the interview became big news that
it seemed like he was also abandoning the sinking ship.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think a lot of it, Jonathan, is the New York media
and just sitting up there reading "The New York Times" and reading the New
Jersey papers. The enterprise going into this story must scare the bejesus
out of this guy, Governor Christie, because all the effort is to try to
find the truth, and I`m not sure he wants all that out.

Last thought.

CAPEHART: Right.

And for Mayor Giuliani to step way out there and defend Chris Christie
is pretty interesting, in that Mayor Giuliani is the only Republican of any
kind of stature who has been out there doing this. And now, with...

MATTHEWS: And he is not really out there.

CAPEHART: Well -- well, not anymore.

(LAUGHTER)

CAPEHART: And now, with today`s news, he looks really foolish.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, I think he was wrong -- he was right the first
time, yesterday, with Geraldo.

CAPEHART: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, good work by Geraldo, by the way, on that question.

Anyway, thank you, John Heilemann.

Thank you, Jonathan Capehart.

Have a nice weekend.

CAPEHART: Thanks, Chris.

(CROSSTALK)


MATTHEWS: We will be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Coming up when HARDBALL returns: The right wing is once
again challenging President Obama`s legitimacy, calling him lawless and a
tyrant for promising to do something every other president, including
Ronald Reagan, has done.

That`s ahead. You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

California officials say they won`t be able to provide water to
millions of people and many farms because of severe drought. It is the
first time the state water project has been unable to provide supplies.

A State Department study on the Keystone XL pipeline says the project
would have little impact on the environment.

And President Obama signed an executive order today that directs
federal agencies to make sure unemployed Americans get a fair shot in
hiring -- now back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Obama`s decision to go around Congress and use executive
action to do things like raise the minimum wage for federal contractors may
not seem like the end of the world, but, in the right wing clown car, it
came close.

Ted Cruz wrote in "The Wall Street Journal" -- quote -- "Of all the
troubling aspects of the Obama presidency, none is more dangerous than the
president`s persistent pattern of lawlessness, his willingness to disregard
the written law, and instead enforce his own policies via executive fiat."

Marco Rubio called it borderline unconstitutional. Congressman Randy
Weber tweeted about the socialistic dictator. Steve Stockman took it a
step further, walking out of the State of the Union and later saying --
quote -- "I could not bear to watch as he continued to cross the clearly
defined boundaries of the constitutional separation of powers."

His colleague Michele Bachmann told reporters -- quote -- "He is the
president of the United States. He`s not a king. He may think he`s a
king. He may declare himself king. But that`s not what he is under our
Constitution."

And Tim Huelskamp echoed her, tweeting -- quote -- "First release of
Obama`s speech reads like dictates from a king."

My colleague Rachel Maddow called him out -- called him out on that
one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW")

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW": "The release of the
speech reads like dictates from a king #lawless."

REP. TIM HUELSKAMP (R), KANSAS: It does.

MADDOW: What did he say in the speech that was lawless tonight?

HUELSKAMP: Fourteen different points where the president said I don`t
like the American people, who they elect. That`s what the president was
saying. He said, I don`t like Congress. I don`t like the American people
that sent these people up here. And so he listed 14 different dictates.

MADDOW: Dictates?

HUELSKAMP: Executive orders, yes, that he was going to take.

MADDOW: Are executive orders lawless?

HUELSKAMP: An executive action without authority is lawlessness.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW: Executive orders by presidents are lawless?

HUELSKAMP: If there is no authority.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, why is the right wing freaking out over the president
issuing a series of relatively modest executive actions, something he is
far from the first president to do?

Well, sadly, it fits a pattern from the right in dealing with this
president, of course, and calling into question, as they often do, his
legitimacy.

Dana Milbank is a columnist "The Washington Post" and Sam Stein`s a
political editor for The Huffington Post.

Dana, this word lawless seems to -- lawlessness, like he is some
cowboy maverick out there in the saddle somewhere, breaking the law,
shooting up a town.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Where did the word lawless first originate in the -- I
think it`s a second term birtherism. He was illegitimately elected. Now
he is behaving illegitimately. This goes back to the whole notion that the
right has. He wants -- they want to put an asterisk next to this guy. He
really wasn`t a law-abiding or even legally, legitimately elected
president.

DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST":
Right.

MATTHEWS: Your thoughts. Your own thoughts here.

MILBANK: Yes.

I think what is going on here is, this is one of those episodes when
it flares up, Chris. And the Republicans from the very beginning have been
seeking to discredit Obama, not saying we disagree with his policies, but
to say, this guy is bad, this guy is other, this guy is something else.

And, you know, there has been this sort of latent Obama derangement
syndrome. The virus remains in the blood. And it just seems to flare up
from time to time. But it`s not necessarily something they`re calculating,
I think. It`s just there is some sort of reflexive hatred that drives us
from time to time.

MATTHEWS: Let me go -- let me go to Sam on this, because, maybe you
don`t agree, but I see these words as unusual in the American discourse.

Certainly, we have had our red-baiting periods and all that in the
`50s and earlier, and we have had all kinds of periods of the words
corrupt. That was a big Newt Gingrich -- Jim Wright was corrupt. These
terms so Third World in their over-the-topness, the kinds of things you
hear in countries a lot less stable than this one.

Your thoughts.

SAM STEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I agree with you in part, but I
think it`s a little bit more a -- an excuse of convenience for the
Republican Party.

What they are saying, and what they have done is they have said, well,
this is such an imperial presidency that we cannot trust him, or we cannot
pass policies, because he will then change it.

If you look at any of the excuses that they have given recently for
their unwillingness to pass immigration reform, it always comes down to we
can`t trust the president to enforce the laws that we pass because he is an
imperial presidency. He makes the laws as he sees fit. It`s an excuse of
convenience in some respects for Republicans to accuse him of being above
the law because it excuses them from doing anything legislatively.

MATTHEWS: Well, the president was asked about the right wing reaction
in an interview on CNN. Here`s what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I don`t think
that`s very serious. The truth of the matter is that every president
engages in executive actions. In fact, we`ve been very disciplined and
sparing in terms of the executive actions that we have taken. We make sure
that we`re doing it within the authority that we have, under statute. But
I`m not going to make an apology for saying that if I can help middle class
families and folks who are working hard to try to get in the middle class
do a little bit better, then I`m going to do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What we`re talk about here isn`t exactly a power grab. The
White House issued a list of 12 executive actions the president plans on
taking this year. They include, as I said, raising the minimum wage for
federal contract workers, as I`ve said. Creating a new savings account to
help workers prepare for retirement, convening a meeting with CEOs in the
country to try and figure out a solution for long-term unemployment and
setting new fuel efficiency standards for trucks.

Back to you, Dana. I think there is something here that goes out
there to people not necessarily on the fringe, but the ideological people
in the Republican Party who vote in the primaries especially and the
caucuses.

This notion that the federal government is out of control, that there
is a Tenth Amendment that has been ignored, that the government is grabbing
power that hasn`t been there before, and that somehow we better be scared
in river city.

DANA MILBANK, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And this seems to be based upon ideology rather than events
or even behaviors of the president. They grab at these behaviors. But
they really believe this long before he came into office. And now, they`re
using him as the worst case scenario.

MILBANK: Right. It feeds into that paranoia.

And it also has the effect of shutting down debate. In that clip you
played of Tim Huelskamp, he couldn`t come up with anything that he thought
was lawless. But once you call the guy a dictator, it`s like when you
compare your opponent to Hitler, it shut downs the debate. They don`t have
to have the argument.

So, look, we can point out this president has made fewer executive
orders than George W. Bush did, than Ronald Reagan did. And we can also
point out that the reason he is doing these small executive actions he had
no -- the Congress isn`t willing to pass anything. But we`re not going to
have that debate because it`s the idea of saying we`re not going to talk
about it, you`re a dictator. You`re violating the constitution, end of
discussion.

MATTHEWS: Sam, I just think that`s right.

STEIN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: It`s almost like a trump card. You say once you say
somebody is a dictator, you really don`t have to lay it out much, because I
think they think his very election was giving the guy too much power, a lot
of people on the right. Why is this guy got all this power? Who says (ph)
he`s president?

STEIN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Where did he come from anyway? Wait a second, are you sure
he is legal?

And remember the guy I had on the other night. I don`t know if you`re
watching every night. But I thought it was interesting on HARDBALL, the
other night this week. I had someone on, an activist, a local Republican
figure who was pushing this petition in Arizona to get rid of John McCain
and some sort of lefty.

STEIN: Oh, yes, I saw that one. Yes.

MATTHEWS: And I asked him, do you think this president was elected
legitimately. And he said I`m not going down that rat hole. I knew you
would take me there.

Why do they have to insist on this most primitive approach to Obama
which is he is not really president? And I`m not making this up you,
because you ask these guys, they could just throw it off the board and say,
of course, he`s legitimately elected. But let`s move on to policy issues.

They don`t. They say, I will not answer your question because I don`t
think they go back to their crowd at home, wherever they are, people the
far right of them, and say, they have to answer the question, did you say
Obama was legitimately president of the United States? How dare you say
that?

Anyway, was that too primitive to say that`s where they are at? That
they don`t want to accept him as president, let alone executive orders?

STEIN: I would say -- I would say it`s a bit of an
overgeneralization. But I would also say that, you know, every bit of
evidence, every shred of evidence suggested the president has been pretty
modest when it comes to executive action.

MATTHEWS: How many people do you think I can get on this show to say,
I`m not going to answer your question whether he is legitimate or not?

How many will say? Of course, he is and how many will say, I`m not
answering? What do you think the percentage would be, before you accuse me
of overgeneralization?

STEIN: I would have to ask your bookers what the percentages that
they`ve confronted --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You are so old wise, Sam. We don`t know ahead of time what
these guys are going to say.

STEIN: What I want to say is this --

MATTHEWS: I`m always amazed, by the way. My answer -- I`m always
amazed at the number of them, who jumped right up and say, I`m not going to
say he is legitimate.

Thank you, Dana Milbank.

Good thinking there, Sam Stein.

Up next, is Mitt Romney thinking about making a comeback? When you
listen to him, he`s saying no -- well, that`s the smart answer. What`s he
thinking, given on the fact he`s making a little come back here? And times
are tough for the Democrats.

Anyway, this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: New polling shows two big state Republican governors in
real jeopardy this year. Let`s check the HARDBALL scoreboard.

First to Florida, where a new Quinnipiac poll shows former Governor
Charlie Crist, now a Democrat, beating his successor, Rick Scott by eight
points. It`s Crist, 46, Scott 38.

In Pennsylvania, a new poll shows that less than a quarter of voters
say Governor Tom Corbett deserves reelection versus 63 percent who say it`s
time for a change.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

The Romneys have been everywhere since the release of that Netflix
documentary about Mitt`s two presidential campaigns.

Earlier today on FOX News, in fact, Ann Romney lamented it was the
country that lost out as a result of the 2012 election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANN ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY`S WIFE: I believe this. I really believe
this. You know, we lost, but truly country lost by not having Mitt as
president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you think President Obama is doing?

ANN ROMNEY: Oh.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A year into the second term?

ANN ROMNEY: I think I`ll be polite and nice and not comment on that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: But even Mitt Romney, himself, acknowledges earlier this
week on FOX News that he was the problem, himself. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Frankly, the biggest
problem in my campaign was me and my campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And despite a campaign damaged by strategic and public
relations errors, Mitt Romney could still be the GOP`s best chance in 2016
with what seems to be the implosion of Chris Christie`s national political
prospects.

John Feehery is a Republican strategist. And Ed Rendell is the former
governor of Pennsylvania.

Let me go to your party, John, for a second. We`ll start with you.

The history of the Republican Party is to ask whose turn it is. It`s
been a very stable selection process going back, to Nixon in `52, he`s on
the ticket for five out of six years. It just seems to me they`re --
Romney might be joining that team of regulars.

If I were Romney, I would be saying what he`s saying, I`m not running
again. If I were Romney, I`d be thinking I was so close to winning Ohio,
if I can win Ohio, I can win this thing. I could win Ohio right now. This
economy is not getting that much better. I can win it next time. Is he
going to be thinking about running again, Mitt Romney?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You know, I watch that video of
mitt and I thought, this is a really nice guy. He was right. He didn`t
run a great campaign and he was his own worst enemy. I just don`t know if
he has the patience or if he really wants to go through this again. But,
you know, watching the Chris Christie thing and watching some other
candidates who kind of flame out, if he`s patient and kind of holds off,
you never know.

I think the biggest challenge for him is, if Jeb Bush decides to run,
I think he would automatically be the front-runner. But if no one else
runs, you know, why wouldn`t he give it another shot?

MATTHEWS: I think Mitt Romney has a better chance than Jeb.

Anyway, Governor, you know how it works. Gene McCarthy once said it`s
easier to run for president than to stop. Once you`ve run, it seems like
you go back and run again, whether you`re Vance Harkey (ph), Arlen Specter,
they all go running for president.

You ran for governor way back when you were 23 years old and lost and
came back and won the thing big-time. You must have kept your eyes on it.
And it seems to me Mitt Romney`s eyes are on the presidency.

Your thoughts?

ED RENDELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think the previous
analysis is right. I think Mitt Romney probably down deep would love to
have another shot, but the best strategy for him is to wait and see and to
see if everybody implodes. I think the ball, assuming Governor Christie`s
out, and I think that`s fairly likely, the ball goes to Jeb Bush.

If Jeb Bush steps up, I think he, then, becomes the moderate in the
race. And he`s running against some extreme conservatives and I think the
moderate end of the race has a very good chance to win. If Jeb decides not
to run, as you think, Chris, then I think there`s a huge gap. Maybe a
Scott Walker gets in.

But Scott Walker compared to Mitt Romney in terms of ability to raise
money, in terms of national profile, isn`t close. So, if Jeb Bush takes a
pass with Christie imploding, I think there`s a very good chance for Mitt
Romney if he wants to do it. I think he wants to do it.

But the big question is, can he convince Ann to do it one more time?

MATTHEWS: Great question. Anyway, here`s a lollipop for him to run.

The bipartisan Purple Strategies firm released a poll this week that
shows Romney as the 2016 front-runner in the primary state of New
Hampshire, 25 percent of New Hampshire Republicans chose Romney as their
preference for 2016. Senator Rand Paul was next with 18 percent. Governor
Chris Christie at 17 percent and dropping I assume. Jeb at 13 percent.
Ted Cruz way, way down.

Anyway, what do you make of this? I think that`s a lollipop. He`s
looking, wait a minute, there`s somebody out there saying, please run --
you and I know, John and the governor, this is name ID.

But he`s not thinking that. He`s thinking I haven`t turned anybody
off. I did a classy concession. I walked away. I did it with style. I
ain`t looking any worse now than I looked after that second debate. I`m
still up there after the -- he`s not as good as the first debate but looks
as good as he did in the second debate.

FEHEERY: Well, you know, I think Ann Romney said it best. They spent
a lot of time in New Hampshire, from the next door state. And you`re
right, Chris, there is still a lot of name ID, and in these type of early
kind of contests, if you will, it`s really all about name ID and everyone
knows Mitt Romney, and they don`t know any of these other characters.

So, you know, the other person who I think is very intriguing is his
running mate, Paul Ryan, who has been taking some pretty impressive
decisions and positions in the House and he`s really, really up there --

MATTHEWS: He didn`t strike me as president.

FEEHERY: -- as a possibility.

MATTHEWS: He doesn`t strike me as presidential. But Romney looks
like a president. Romney runs again, by the way, and he has to run as
Romney.

As the governor said, Governor Rendell, you said, run as the moderate,
run as the moderate, stop all the B.S. and pretending you`re some crazy
right winger when you`re not. It hurt you. People could tell you were a
fraud.

Thank you, John Feehery. Not a bad fraud. Just a fraud.

Thank you, Ed Rendell, Governor. Thank you for joining us.

We`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this:

We began tonight`s program with this letter from the attorney for
David Wildstein, Governor Christie`s appointee to the authority overseeing
the George Washington Bridge. This letter suggests evidence to tie the
governor to knowledge of the lane closures during the four-day period of
the traffic tie-ups.

Does this mean the governor knew there was a deliberate move by his
people to close down the traffic lanes or simply that he was aware there
were traffic tie-ups in the first place? It`s not clear in the lawyer`s
letter released late today.

But it is clear that the man at the center of the bridge scandal right
now wants prosecutors to know that he has evidence to offer and wants
immunity from prosecution as a price tag. This explains why he put out a
letter suggesting he does, indeed, possess such evidence.

This case is moving. People are moving to protect themselves. The
only weapons they possess. Those weapons are evidence that the prosecutors
and legislative investigators believe is useful to getting the whole truth
and placing the blame where it belongs, as high as that goes.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. 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.
END

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