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updated 2/4/2014 10:16:51 AM ET 2014-02-04T15:16:51

HARDBALL
February 3, 2014

Guest: Kendall Coffey, Clarence Page, Zeke Miller, Loretta Weinberg


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: More trash talk from Trenton.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

"Let Me Start" tonight with this wild weekend we just saw in Trenton. What
possessed the Christie team to put out a memo trashing the man he, the
governor, personally appointed to the New York Port Authority? Why did he
get so down in the mud to go after the man`s behavior back in high school
days -- yes, high school?

If the governor was out to prove himself a bully, this would be, let`s face
it, the way to go. If he were out to show he knows how to intimidate an
adversary, someone not getting in line with him, this would be the MO to
follow, go out there and trash the guy, go back to his teen years, rough
him up, show you`ve got stuff on him. Show you`re ready as hell to get
down in the mud with him.

Well, that`s what Governor Christie did this weekend. In what has all the
earmarks of being a desperate effort to save his own skin, the governor`s
out ripping the bark off his very appointee at the bridge authority.

If you`ve only got one public personality to show, Governor, let me advise
you. Why on earth are you showing us this one? This thing`s getting dirty
out there.

Howard Fineman is an MSNBC political analyst with the HuffingtonPost and
Kendall Coffey is former U.S. attorney and an MSNBC legal analyst.

I want to start with the politics and the way this looks at (ph), "New York
Times" this weekend. First of all, he trashes "The Times." He trashes
everybody. But most importantly, his office -- you never know what the
office is, he, I assume, approved this -- put out a statement trashing
David Wildstein, the very guy he put on the bridge authority, he gave the
big job, apparently created the job for. Now he says the guy`s a
sleazeball, basically.

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes,
he`s either a sleazeball or he didn`t know him. I don`t know how it can be
both.

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN: He`s a sleazeball I didn`t know--

MATTHEWS: And he was from his teenage years, though--

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: -- didn`t know him. And when he resigned from the Port Authority
back last winter -- you know, in December, Chris Christie said he had done
-- this guy he didn`t know and who`s a sleazeball had done a terrific job,
did an excellent job as a public servant.

I mean, I think what this shows, number one, is that we`re in for the long
haul here, that Christie and his entourage are preparing for hand-to-hand
combat, and they`re basically trying to send a signal to everybody who was
in his administration or who may still be in his administration that, If
you flip, if you try to go to the other side, we`re going to come after
you.

I don`t think he did it very effectively here. This is like going after
somebody with a nerf gun, if you`re saying, We`re going to go after your
high school social studies record. But that`s the message he was trying to
send here.

MATTHEWS: Kendall Coffey, thanks for joining us. As a legal strategy, is
it smart to basically go to the mattresses like this, as they say in the
mob, go after this guy and say, We`re going after your whatever, even when
you were a teenager, barely pubescent, we`re going after you because this
is the game you`re playing. Because you`ve dared to talk about having
evidence against -- or there being evidence against the governor, we`re
going to destroy you. It seems like that`s the strategy.

KENDALL COFFEE, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I don`t
think it`s much -- yes, I don`t think it`s much of a legal strategy. First
of all, prosecutors were thinking about whether or not to grant immunity to
a particular witness. They know about this kind of stuff already.

And by the way, prosecutors deal with witnesses, cooperating witnesses all
the time who`ve got more baggage than pond scum. That makes somebody like
David Wildstein look like a saint. So that`s not a message to prosecutors,
and it`s irrelevant in a court of law.

But here`s where the message might get some traction. Is it going to keep
somebody from cooperating with the government if they are facing potential
criminal charges? No. If you`ve got really serious things like jail time
to worry about, you`re not going to care too much about getting
embarrassed, even publicly.

But there`s a category of accusations that they don`t want made publicly.
And Wildstein was the first one to come out publicly. So at least this
part of the message might register. If you step up and publicly accuse
Chris Christie of anything, get ready. You throw any mud at all, and you
are going to get buried in a mudslide.

MATTHEWS: Let`s go back to this question of this weekend because it sets
up this whole mud-throwing that the Christie operation put us through the
last 48 hours. It seems to me what bugged them was this statement coming
out of Wildstein that said, basically, the governor has contradicted
himself. He said he didn`t know about this thing until afterwards. We got
evidence showing he knew about it during it.

But instead of denying that, the Christie operation put out the statement,
We didn`t know about it before.

FINEMAN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: They didn`t deny that they knew about it during until a more
recent statement, then they did it again. This seems to be a real problem
on the governor`s part, and his legal defense team and his PR operation,
don`t -- they don`t know where to draw the line of defense. Do (ph) they
say they didn`t know about it afterwards? Well, they admit everybody knew
about it afterwards. Did they know about it during? Well, that`s a little
murky.

And they seem to go back to -- occasionally to, We didn`t know about it
before. But there are other bits of evidence, like, you know, people
saying they talked to his lawyer during the time of the November (ph), and
that must have gotten to him. And we got -- the leading indicators that
probably he did get the word, but we don`t know for sure.

FINEMAN: Well, they`re trying to draw the line, Chris. The Christie camp
is trying to draw the line at the first public notice of the event -- in
other words, "The Bergen Record" story, the first public knowledge of it.

MATTHEWS: Right.

FINEMAN: And what Wildstein did implicitly was to threaten that narrative
by saying that Christie -- that there is evidence that Chris Christie knew
about it right at the time it was beginning to happen. This took place
over a four-day period --

MATTHEWS: What do you think that evidence is? If he doesn`t have it in
his -- because the Christie people say he doesn`t have it in his hand. He
just says it exists.

FINEMAN: Well, I think it -- you know, the Christie people made a big deal
out of the fact that "The New York Times" tweaked its story between the on-
line version and the print version. In the on-line version, it says he has
the evidence, Wildstein has the evidence. But once the lawyer`s letter
came out, it distanced it.

MATTHEWS: Yes. I know.

FINEMAN: There`s a legal reason for that because if Wildstein had said,
I`ve got the piece of paper here, then the prosecutors and the
investigators go after that piece of paper. They go after that specific
piece of evidence--

MATTHEWS: Without a deal.

FINEMAN: Without a deal.

MATTHEWS: Right.

FINEMAN: So now that evidence is going to be a little harder to find.
Correct me if I`m wrong, Mr Prosecutor--

MATTHEWS: Sound right to you, Kendall, that what`s going on here is
negotiation between what could be the John Dean here, the star witness, a
la Watergate, against the top guy? If it comes to that.

COFFEY: Yes, I think you guys--

MATTHEWS: Does he--

COFFEY: -- have nailed it.

MATTHEWS: He`s proffering, I got--

(CROSSTALK)

COFFEY: Right. He`s shopping himself as a cooperating witness.

FINEMAN: Right.

COFFEY: So he doesn`t want to say, I`m holding it in my hand, just as you
described. He`s saying, maybe I can find it for you, but we better talk,
and I need a deal.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s what we`re talking about it here. It only took
about 24 hours before Christie`s operation -- we -- you know, this is the
thing that comes out of politics. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, when
somebody said, There`s a call from the White House, he said, There`s no
such thing as the White House. The building doesn`t talk. Who is calling
me?

Well, Christie`s operation peddled out this thing over the weekend, this
memo under the -- apparently, the e-mail of Colin Reed (ph), his deputy
communications director, but it`s from the office. Why is he still playing
the man behind the curtain, like he did, apparently -- who knows if he did
-- behind, you know, Bridget Kelly`s operation? Who is speaking for the
governor here?

Anyway, it`s back (ph) to Wildstein`s explosive letter on Friday that there
was evidence proving that the governor lied. Well, Christie`s retribution
came in the form of a memo, as I said, to his closest supporters, put out
by his office this weekend, which has been obtained by NBC News, as well as
other news organizations.

It goes so far as to dig up dirt, as I said, to go all the back to
Wildstein`s days as a high school student in Livingston, Jersey. It`s
quite a bully letter, plain and simple. Here`s a portion of it. This is
what they put out from the governor`s office this weekend.

"In David Wildstein`s past, people and newspaper accounts have described
him as tumultuous and someone who made moves that were not productive."
Ooh, that`s terrible! I think I`ve been unproductive in my life.

"As a 16-year-old kid, he sued over a local school board election." OK,
he`s litigious. "He was publicly accused by his high school social studies
teacher of deceptive behavior. He had a controversial tenure as mayor of
Livingston." Governor, you`re controversial!

"He was an anonymous blogger known as Wally Edge. He Had a strange habit
of registering Web addresses for other people`s names without telling
them."

Kendall, this is trash talk. It`s like throwing everything you can and see
if it sticks to the wall. But boy, it shows desperation. It says the
governor doesn`t want to talk about the facts, he wants to talk about the
personalities of the people, their pasts, when, in fact, he subsequently
named this guy to a job he created on the New York Port Authority, the
bridge commission. It happened subsequent to that. Now he`s going back to
the past and saying, Don`t believe this guy.

COFFEY: And that`s why I keep thinking that he knows better than to think
this is going to impress prosecutors. It`s certainly not going impress the
media, who, like you, totally gets the hypocrisy of this. All this stuff
is old news, small news, and all of it was known to the Christie
administration (SOUND DROP) approved his appointment to the Port Authority
before they praised him just a few months ago. But think about this--

MATTHEWS: But is this prebuttal?

COFFEY: It is--

MATTHEWS: Is this what we call in football prevent defense? Are they
basically -- that`s not the perfect metaphor, given the name of the game of
football. But is this an attempt to smear, to be put -- someone`s
testimony, like they said -- he said Bridget Kelly is a liar. OK, I get
it. Don`t believe her testimony.

Is this what he`s doing, he`s dirtying up the jury pool, if you will?

COFFEY: Perhaps. But also sending this message to anybody else because
nobody wants their 16-year-old exploits or non-exploits talked about.
Nobody wants to be embarrassed, even on kind of silly stuff, as you point
out, very, very implausible stuff.

So what he`s saying pure and simple is if anybody else steps up publicly,
here it comes. You better be absolutely pristine and pure, noble and
virtuous for all the last 30 or 40 years of your life.

And yes, it seems like retaliation. Perhaps some would say bullying. But
perhaps somebody is thinking that being accused of bullying is bad, but
maybe there are other accusations you`re trying to avoid being made
publicly that could be a lot worse.

MATTHEWS: You know what`s interesting? It`s about (ph) Christina, what`s
her name, Renna just quit today. She was one of the women -- she was one
of the people who works for Bridget Kelly--

FINEMAN: She worked for Bridget Kelly.

MATTHEWS: -- who -- who said there`s word coming from Fort Lee they think
this is political retribution.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: She said she`s been thinking of retiring for months.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: OK! You know what I find fascinating? I always say this in
politics, where there`s charges of criminality or bad behavior, whatever.
It doesn`t matter. Who`s in the room with you? I always ask because you
always want to know that. When Bill Clinton was in trouble, who did he
call on for help? When Ted Kennedy was in trouble, who do do you call for
help?

That lifeline person is fascinating. Who`s in the room with Chris Christie
now? I assume his wife, who can`t testify against him, not that she would,
of course. His attorney has lawyer-client privilege. I`ll get to Kendall
with this. And you`re -- you studied law. Is there somebody in the room
he`s careful to talk to now and know they won`t rat him out, you know, two
months in a courtroom?

FINEMAN: Well, I think, actually, there may be some people who he
otherwise might be talking to who might have advised him not to send this
thing out because if you`re going to go after somebody, you got to really
go after them with something more than just the high school social studies
teacher, OK? So somebody like David Samson, who is a premier lawyer in New
Jersey, who was head of-

MATTHEWS: The man he made chair of the Port Authority.

FINEMAN: -- the man he made chair of the Port Authority, who is by all
accounts considered a really top-shelf, tough guy lawyer in the state --
I`m not sure that Christie risks or that David Samson risks the kind of
heart-to-heart discussions that they might have used to have over legal
issues.

This thing that came out over the weekend has all the earmarks to me of
Chris Christie with his deputy press secretary, saying, Let`s--

MATTHEWS: Let`s trash them.

FINEMAN: Darn it, they screwed up my Super Bowl. I`m not going to get on
Fox. And you know, Let`s fire a shot across their bow.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: It`s childish. The whole thing is childish.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me -- is this -- Kendall, is this like in basketball,
you have to foul the other team to get the ball back? I mean, he had a bad
weekend going. Let`s be honest about this. "The New York Times" was --
had the facts on him based upon Wildstein`s statement that he had real
contradiction in denying he knew about this during the time it was
happening. It comes out he does, apparently, know about it. Or at least,
that`s the accusation. So he goes after "The New York Times."

He must figure, I can`t fight "The New York Times" unless I`ve got some
trash to throw out the window. He throws out the window at Wildstein.
What`s the strategy here? I guess we have to end with that, but I don`t
know the answer, except, "I`m desperate." Your thoughts, Kendall.

COFFEY: Very frustrated and embattled decision-making process that`s not
in high gear and not at its best.

MATTHEWS: I think you`re right. This isn`t the A-team. The A-team is
taking the 5th.

Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman. Thank you, Kendall Coffey. Howard,
you`re right, this ain`t the smartest guys in the room advising him right
now because he can`t talk to them on the record.

Coming up: It`s looking more and like it`s every man and woman for himself
and herself. The former members of Christie`s tight circle look
increasingly -- let`s put it, they`re into a maverick mode right now.
Their top priority, protecting number one, and that ain`t the name of the
governor. They`re looking out for themselves.

This is frightening. Imagine Christie surrounded by people all afraid
they`re going to prison if they stick with him.

Plus, until a few weeks ago, Chris Christie was considered by some, many,
to be a top candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. I
thought he was the front-runner. Now it`s looking like he`s not just
having a bad month, he may be headed for a bad career.

Also, we don`t do media criticism here on HARDBALL, but President Obama can
and did. We`ll do a postgame review of the president`s pregame interview
with Fox`s Bill O`Reilly the other day. That`s Sunday.

And "Let Me Finish" tonight with the loss of a treasure of the American
screen and stage. This is -- I don`t like doing this. This is a loss,
pure and simple, Philip Seymour Hoffman. What a great.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Governor Chris Christie is taking questions at this hour on a
New Jersey radio station. He`s answering questions about the lane closures
at the George Washington Bridge, and so far, he hasn`t said anything he
hasn`t said before. We`re watching it, however. We`ll be giving you an
update a little later in the hour.

We`ll be right back with more.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Well, today is the day subpoenas
issued by the New Jersey special legislative committee investigating the
bridge closures are due in. And you`ll recall they went out to 20 people
and organizations related to Governor Chris Christie himself. Many have
received extensions, but as the investigation churns forward, it`s becoming
clear that it may be every man or woman for himself or herself.

David Wildstein -- it`s crystal clear after Friday`s letter from his
lawyer, Wildstein wants immunity, and he`s looking out for David Wildstein,
number one. Bill Stepien, nearly lost in the wash of Wildstein news on
Friday, is what`s happening with Christie`s former campaign manager.
Christie severed ties Stepien because he says he lost faith in Stepien`s
judgment following the release of e-mails related to the bridge scandal.
Now Stepien`s digging in. His lawyer on Friday requested that the
legislative subpoena, which seeks a wide array of documents from him,
including e-mails -- well, he doesn`t want -- he wants it withdrawn.

Bridget Anne Kelly -- in late January, the governor`s former deputy chief
of staff -- there she is -- whom Christie famously said he fired for lying
to him, called her a liar, changed lawyers. Her original lawyer was known
to be in Governor Christie`s orbit. Not the new one.

Joining me now is New Jersey state senator Loretta Weinberg, who is co-
chair of the legislative select committee investigating the George
Washington Bridge lane closures, and Bob Ingle, who writes about politics
for "The Asbury Park Press" and is co-author of "Chris Christie: The Inside
Story of His Rise to Power."

I`m going to go to Bob Ingle, first of all, just to get a reaction to (ph)
you (ph). When you up there in Jersey imagine all these people out there
lawyered up now, especially Wildstein, and of course, I imagine Bridget
Kelly`s got a top-flight lawyer -- we read that -- and Bill Stepien --
they`re all trying to avoid trouble, legally, for themselves, which might
include prison time. We don`t know what the charges might be. But they`re
looking out for number one, whoever number one happens to be.

My question to you is -- Christie`s reaction to that -- we just talked
about it in the last segment -- what do you make of Christie`s reaction to
that, the way he trashed the high school behavior of Wildstein, who he
subsequently in his adult years appointed to the bridge commission, to the
New York Port Authority? What`s this smell like to you right now?

BOB INGLE, "ASBURY PARK PRESS": I thought it was one of the most
amateurish things I have ever seen in politics, Chris. They`re supposed to
be really, really good at communications. Everybody who heard about that
was saying, Gosh, what did I do when I was 16? And we don`t want anybody
to go back and find out what our history teacher thought about us. It
really was beneath the office.

MATTHEWS: And why is he doing it? Is it just anger, stupid anger, We got
to throw some crap up against the wall because this other story is beating
us in "The Times"? We got to throw something up, or this momentum is going
to get out of hand? Why would you do something really stupid?

INGLE: It`s really ill-advised. I don`t know, because I`ve been watching
these people for years, and they have been very good at what they did.
This is just completely out of line. It says desperation to me.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s go to -- let`s go to the assemblywoman. I want to
talk to Loretta Weinberg about this.

Loretta, if I may call you that, Ms. Weinberg--

LORETTA WEINBERG (D), NEW JERSEY STATE SENATOR: You may.

MATTHEWS: -- let me ask you to react to this thing.

This is the kind of thing you have probably been thinking about yourself
because of your involvement in this. Governor Christie has offered a
multiple choice, if you will, of responses as to when he first learned
about the lane closures and what was going on generally up there. In his
December 13 press conference, that`s December, Christie said he knew in
October -- quote -- "The first I ever heard about the issue was when it was
reported in the press, which I think was in the aftermath of Mr. -- the
leak of Mr. Foye`s e-mail. I think that was the first I heard of it."

Foye`s e-mail leaked to "The Wall Street Journal" on October 1. In a
December 23 interview, Christie said he knew in September. Let`s listen
here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Well, I mean, I first heard about the
lane closure back in September--

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

CHRISTIE: -- you know, from press accounts. But, you know, this has kind
of been an evolving thing. I -- I -- there was no like moment where I went
oh, wow, look at this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, it goes from September -- October to September. Now in
Governor Christie`s January 9 presser, he said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE: 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: Well, in his statement on Friday, that`s a couple of days ago,
following the Wildstein news, we got this: "Mr. Wildstein`s lawyer confirm
what`s the governor has said all along. He had absolutely no prior
knowledge of the lane closures before they happened."

And from a February one memo -- quote -- "The governor first learned lanes
at the George Washington Bridge were even closed from press accounts after
the fact."

So to sum it up, Christie has said that first he learned about the lane
closures in October, in September, after it was over, and when they
happened.

So, Senator, you talked O`Dowd, his chief of staff in November, November
18, I believe it was, and said--

WEINBERG: Yes.

MATTHEWS: -- I`m not going to let up on my probe here. So what do you
make of the fact that in November you were talking and his knowledge --
what does it all tell you about the timeline, when he must have been aware?
He is saying he didn`t know about it until this press conference in
January, until the story broke, Wildstein`s memo came -- all this stuff
came out in January.

When do you think he knew about it?

WEINBERG: OK.

I can`t conjecture when he knew about it. I can only tell you what I know.
And that is after I read reports in the newspaper about the traffic jam
around the 13th, 12th, 13th of September, and started getting calls from
constituents, on September 19, I wrote a letter to Commissioner Pat Schuber
saying I was at a loss for words to explain this to the people I represent.

I sent a copy of that letter to the governor and to the chair of the Port
Authority, David Samson. Following that, having received no reply from any
of the three aforementioned, on October 6 or 7, I appeared at a
subcommittee meeting chaired by Commissioner Schuber of the Port Authority,
a committee which I thought was appropriately named for me to appear before
about ethics and governance.

And I outlined what we had learned and what we had learned I believe about
what was printed in the newspaper about Pat Foye`s e-mail. It was at that
meeting that I believe I said something to the effect, if we don`t get
answers here, I am going to go back and ask for subpoena power from the
Senate.

I then appeared at the November meeting of the Port Authority, at the --
pardon me -- at the full meeting of the Port Authority in October, again in
November, and again in December. All of those meetings were covered quite
widely in the press, that I was there, that I was asking questions.

On November 18, backtrack a few weeks, I had a meeting with the governor`s
chief of staff, Kevin O`Dowd. It was a meeting about other legislative
matters. And at the end of the meeting, when we concluded the legislative
business, I don`t even know why I did it or why I said it, but I stood up
and I -- as I was leaving the office, I said to him, please tell the
governor I am not backing off on this issue, and I plan to continue
pressing for answers.

That was November 18. And then, of course, on November 25 is when Bill
Baroni came forward to the Assembly Transportation Committee, not under
subpoena, not under oath with his -- as we call it, his once upon a time
story.

MATTHEWS: OK. Senator--

WEINBERG: But as I was listening to you earlier, I was trying to think
about what from my high school days I should confess publicly right now.

(LAUGHTER)

WEINBERG: And I think, by the way, I remember that I was actually caught
smoking a cigarette, a nicotine cigarette, along with a group of other
students on the front lawn of the high school. So I`m confessing on
national TV.

MATTHEWS: I just love the way you protect yourself, Senator, nicotine -- a
nicotine cigarette. Aren`t you careful? Aren`t you a careful politician?

(LAUGHTER)

WEINBERG: Well, I wanted to make that clear.

MATTHEWS: Let me go -- I think it`s great. I think it`s nice that you did
that.

WEINBERG: And I don`t smoke anymore.

MATTHEWS: I -- well, you`re good.

Bob, Bob, let me ask you, Bob. You`re not running for anything. Let me
ask you, Bob.

INGLE: No.

MATTHEWS: This is the heart of this story, what the senator was just
talking about in great detail.

The heart of the story is, are we willing to believe, as sentient human
beings who follow politics, that the governor of New Jersey, the hottest
pol in the country for the last three or four months, who is clearly
running for president, maybe still today, was certainly running back in
September when this bridge thing happened, wasn`t aware that the main
traffic artery through his state to New York was held up for five days for
four to five hours a day, and did not know he was at odds with the mayor of
that city who was affected, and did not at some point at the watercooler,
over a beer, some time driving to work, coming home from work, and some
time to either Bridget or David Wildstein or Bill Stepien, his campaign
manager, never said or asked, what the hell is going on with that bridge?

And if he didn`t ask that, why didn`t he ask that, except that he knew
exactly what was going on there and wanted to keep his hands clean? Your
thoughts. Isn`t that the way to look at this? And we`re to believe that
none of these people being subpoenaed now for e-mail, telephone
conversations, memos, none of them ever had a conversation in all those
months with the governor?

INGLE: It`s really hard to believe.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: And what about November? The state senator said she went to his
chief of staff and said, tell the governor this. Apparently, we`re to
believe he never told him. Your thoughts.

INGLE: It`s really hard to believe that, especially this governor, who
tries to be on top of everything, could have, as you said, the world`s
busiest bridge backed up, and nobody would ask any questions about why it
was going on.

It is just really hard to believe that`s the case.

MATTHEWS: Well, we will see, because that`s the question that still looms
before us, and looms before Governor Christie as he watches programs like
this.

Thank you very much, state Senator Loretta Weinberg. Continue your good
efforts. And, Bob Ingle, thanks for your smartness.

More on Chris Christie`s political future nationally coming up, because
this guy was the kingpin. Now I`m reading that Huckabee is number one.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL and time for the "Sideshow."

While Capitol Police decided against pressing charges against New York
Republican Congressman Michael Grimm for threatening a New York One
reporter last week, he didn`t escape the wrath of "SNL."

Here is Melissa McCarthy playing a freshman congressman with even more
serious anger issues.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: And what about claims made by your ex-campaign manager
that--

MELISSA MCCARTHY, ACTRESS: I`m here to talk about the planning committee
and nothing else.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: But your constituents have a right to know.

MCCARTHY: We`re done here.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: So, as you can see, the congresswoman is not
interested in answering to these new damning accusations.

MCCARTHY: Have you ever been thrown out a window, bro? Because you know
what? When I do it, I don`t open it first, because you go down with the
glass.

You get that?

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I was just trying to--

MCCARTHY: I was just trying to--

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: At this point, Kelly realized the camera was still on.

MCCARTHY: That still on?

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: But a passerby had started filming the altercation
with his cell phone, and we can pick it up there.

MCCARTHY: Is that still on? Is that still on? You (EXPLETIVE DELETED)
film me? You (EXPLETIVE DELETED) film me?

Yes, you better run.

I am freshman Congresswoman Sheila Kelly, and I am invincible!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: That`s great.

Up next: Forget about the presidency. Chris Christie is fighting now to
save Chris Christie.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

The winter storm that is punishing the Mid-Atlantic states in the Northeast
is making travel miserable. More than 1,000 flights have been canceled
across the U.S. More than 2,000 have been delayed, including the one
carrying the Super Bowl-winning Seattle Seahawks back home.

It was a brutal day for stocks. The Dow skidded 326. The S&P 500 dropped
40. The Nasdaq also fell triple digits.

And Joan Mondale, the wife of former Vice President Walter Mondale, has
died. She was 83 years old -- now back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Well, the fact is, we have been listening to Governor Chris
Christie answer questions about the George Washington Bridge Scandal and
other matters on a New Jersey radio station. He didn`t deny knowing about
the traffic problems in September, and says it didn`t rise to the
gubernatorial level. However, he also said he didn`t know it was an issue
until some time in October.

MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman is back with us, and we`re joined
now by Clarence Page of "The Chicago Tribune."

Howard, I thought it was interesting. He didn`t admit anything we didn`t
know on the record already.

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No, but he is very
carefully and selectively climbing down off the dangerous perch he has been
on--

MATTHEWS: Of I didn`t know nothing?

FINEMAN: -- of I didn`t know nothing. He is now saying, well, OK, it`s
possible that I heard about the lane closures after they began, which is
September 9, but I didn`t know they were an issue -- that`s sort of the
indirect way he is admitting that -- until the stories came out in the
press about the complaints from the Port Authority. And that was October
1.

So he has kind of moved the -- moved the awareness that he might have had
back from October 1 to September 9. And it`s important for him to do that
both for his public image and potentially for any liability.

MATTHEWS: Why it is important for his public image?

FINEMAN: Well, it`s because he was known as a straight-talking, straight-
shooting guy. Now his veracity, his truthfulness--

MATTHEWS: And a hands-on guy.

FINEMAN: And a hands-on guy. And now it`s been questioned.

MATTHEWS: Well, here he is moments ago. Here he is. Let`s listen to the
governor in his latest iteration of what he says happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE: The most important issue is, did I know anything about the plan
to close these lanes? Did I authorize it? Did I know about it? Did I
approve it? Did I have any knowledge of it beforehand?

And the answer is still the same. It`s unequivocally no. And, in fact, no
one has ever accused me of that. And that`s the thing that I think the
people of New Jersey care about the most.

Now, when did I first know about the lane closures? Yes, the fact is that
the first time this really came into my consciousness as an issue was when
Pat Foye, the executive director of the Port Authority`s e-mail about this
incident was leaked to the media and reported on. And that was the first
time that I got a sense that there might be some issue here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s the statement of fact, which we have already had in
our hands before of public record. "The Wall Street Journal" covered that
Pat Foye memo that basically bought this issue to light October 1. He is
not admitting anything new here.

CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST, "THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE": No. He is effectively
trying to get things back to -- well, he is right now denying something of
which, as he points out, he has not been accused, which is that he knew in
advance.

MATTHEWS: Right.

PAGE: He was part of this -- some kind of planning, as if there was a
conspiracy going on that he was involved in. And he said that`s what the
people really care about, and, no, that`s not what happened.

But what people really care about is what did happen. And he is moving the
goalpost back in the sense of now admitting that he knew there were traffic
problems. He said, listen, we have traffic problems every day.

This helps to somewhat restore his images as the hands-on governor.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Yes, let`s come back--

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE: By saying it wasn`t an issue.

MATTHEWS: The four-hour traffic stoppage, you just stopped the traffic on
a major highway going -- in this country from state to state.

FINEMAN: The busiest bridge in America.

MATTHEWS: And you just stop it, and for four or five days, he doesn`t know
about it, he doesn`t know there is somebody up to something here, he didn`t
smell trouble?

That`s always been my question, the strange lack of curiosity about what
had the earmarks of mayhem here.

FINEMAN: Well, and, initially, the tone and the emphasis of what he said
was, hey, I didn`t know anything about this until I read about it in the
paper.

PAGE: Right.

FINEMAN: That`s essentially what he said at the beginning.

MATTHEWS: Right, tonight.

FINEMAN: Yes.

But what he is saying by saying, well, I didn`t know about it as an issue -
- and you got to listen to what politicians say where they allow themselves
a trapdoor to escape through. That`s what that phrase as an issue means.

MATTHEWS: Well, we got -- here is more for the governor tonight on his
radio program. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE: I know prior to that that there were press accounts about
traffic issues up there.

And if someone -- you know, if I either read that or someone something said
to me about traffic issues up there, it wouldn`t have been meaningful to
me, because I didn`t know that there was any problem up there, you know,
because I didn`t know that we had actually closed lanes up there before
that.

So, my dispute is twofold. First, to make clear to everybody in the midst
of, you know, all the things that were reported over the weekend, that
nobody has said that I knew anything about this before it happened. And I
think that`s the most important question.

Secondly, that when this first became an issue for me, because let`s face
it, there is traffic every day at the George Washington Bridge, at the
Lincoln Tunnel, at the Holland Tunnel. I hear those reports on the radio.
We all hear about them.

That`s not something that rises to the gubernatorial level.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Here is the problem for the governor, to be credible here,
through the whole legal and political process -- all his people around him,
Stepien, his campaign manager at the time he is talking about it in the
fall, his deputy chief of staff, the person he put on the bridge authority,
everybody is taking the Fifth Amendment. Everybody now formally thinks
they`re in trouble. Everybody is afraid of prosecution, perhaps afraid of
prison. It`s likely.

And yet he says, "I didn`t know anything about this thing." It`s now
almost at the edge of looks like a criminal offense here.

And my question to you, Clarence, is he credible? And that`s the problem.
He didn`t know anything about it, but everybody else was involved and all
around him were involved in it, and he didn`t know anything about it and
never asked.

CLARENCE PAGE, CHIGAGO TRIBUNE: It sounded like a lot of (INAUDIBLE)
smoke. I mean, he was saying on the one hand he knew there was traffic
problems, but it didn`t rise to the level of governor. At the same time,
if it was that serious, why didn`t he check into it? Why didn`t he --

MATTHEWS: Well, everybody in the governor`s office thought it was at the
level of the governor because they were doing it.

PAGE: Right.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman. Thank you, Clarence Page.

Up next, President Obama pushes back against those right wing canards about
Benghazi and the IRS. And that`s ahead.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: If former Republican Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts
decides to run for Senate in neighboring New Hampshire, he`s got a bit of
an uphill battle. Look at this. Let`s check the HARDBALL scoreboard.

According to a new WMUR/University of New Hampshire poll, Brown would trail
incumbent Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen by 10 points, 47 to 37. Brown
has been making noise about running in New Hampshire, where he established
residency after losing a Senate race to Elizabeth Warren in neighboring
Massachusetts.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

A lot of people were eager to see Bill O`Reilly interview President Obama
on FOX last night before the Super Bowl. Conservatives wanted to see the
president forced to answer questions about right wing obsession --
Benghazi, the IRS, and, of course, health care reform.

And Obama supporters wanted to see him swat them back. I`m sure I wanted
to see that.

Both sides got what they wanted last night, many believe.

Joy Reid is MSNBC contributor and managing editor of "The Grio", and she`s
soon to have her own show on MSNBC at exactly 2:00 on MSNBC.

And Zeke Miller is a reporter with "Time" magazine.

So, here is the president responding to the right wing attack on Benghazi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Understand by definition,
Bill, when somebody is attack our compound --

BILL O`REILLY, FOX NEWS: Yes.

OBAMA: -- that`s an act of terror.

O`REILLY: More than that, because as Susan Rice goes out and tells the
world that it was a spontaneous demonstration off a videotape, but your
commanders and the secretary of defense know it`s a terror attack.

OBAMA: Bill, Bill --

O`REILLY: Just as an American, I`m just confused.

OBAMA: Bill, I`ve gone through this. And we have had multiple hearings on
it.

What happens is you have an attack like this taking place, and you have a
mix of folks who are just troublemakers, you have folks who have an
ideological agenda.

O`REILLY: All right.

OBAMA: You have some who are affiliated with terrorist organizations. You
have some that are not.

But the main thing that all of us have to take away from this is our
diplomats are serving in some very dangerous places.

O`REILLY: Your detractors believe that you did not tell the world it was
terror attack because your campaign didn`t want that out.

OBAMA: Bill, think about --

O`REILLY: That`s what they believe.

OBAMA: And they believe it because folks like you are telling them that.

O`REILLY: No, I`m not --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, beyond what the president said there, which is true, the
bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report released last month said
the attacks were likely to be put together in short order following
protests in Cairo over an inflammatory video coming out of Los Angeles.
The bipartisan report potentially inoculates Susan Rice from criticism for
saying just that on Sunday morning television, in fact on "Meet the Press."
In other words, Rice had it correct after all.

This is my problem, Joy, with that interview, and the questioning from
O`Reilly. I`m not a media critic. But the information is out there that
Susan Rice told the truth. It was spontaneous attack on our facility in
Benghazi. It did come as a kind of copycat that what was happening on all
the airwaves in Cairo, which was the attack there`s were in response,
apparently, to the video, the crazy right wing video that came out of Los
Angeles.

So, it was right. She got it right, Susan Rice. Why is the president not
just blasting it back at the guy and saying O`Reilly, catch up?

JOY REID, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: You know what? That`s a good question as to
the president`s response. Because I do think that what Bill O`Reilly was
doing was sort of reheating all of the right wing memes, all of the
obsessions that the right has. He might as well have asked about his birth
certificate while he was at it, because this was not an interview about
current events. This was an interview about conspiracy theories held by
many on the right, many of his viewers.

And it was not about, let`s say, the 100 million people there to watch the
Super Bowl, it was a much narrower audience 3 million or 4 million people
who are going to watch back the interview on FOX News and who really wanted
to see combat, who wanted to see the president put in his place, who wanted
to see Bill O`Reilly do what they viscerally want to do themselves, which
was scold, interrogate, and force the president back on his heels.

Now, the president did continually try when he could get a word in edgewise
to say these are questions that have been answered game. But audience
doesn`t want to hear that. They don`t want the answer. They want the
conspiracy.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

Anyway, President Obama also addressed suspicions from the right about the
administration dealing with the IRS to target conservative groups, they
say. Was there corruption? That was O`Reilly. That was the word he`s
used.

And here is the president`s response to that one. We`ll get Zeke`s
reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O`REILLY: Some people are saying is that the IRS was used at a local level
in Cincinnati, maybe other places, to go after --

OBAMA: Absolutely wrong.

O`REILLY: How do you know that? Because we still don`t know what happened
there.

OBAMA: Bill, we do. That`s not what happened. Folks have, again, had
multiple hearings on this. I mean, these kinds of things keep on
surfacing, in part because you and your TV station will promote them.

O`REILLY: You`re saying no corruption?

OBAMA: No.

O`REILLY: None?

OBAMA: No, there was some boneheaded decisions out of a local office --

O`REILLY: Bonehead decisions. But no mass corruption?

OBAMA: Not even mass corruption. Not even a smidgen of corruption.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I don`t know about this. I don`t know. I guess the president
had to do the interview. O`Reilly had to do what he did. Everybody does
what they have to do.

What did we learn from this?

ZEKE MILLER, TIME MAGAZINE: Not much. What this is, is an exercise for
the right to get those questions into the president. And exercise on the
left in sort of watching the president sort of bat back at FOX News who
they accuse of being, you know, and sort of the right wing conspiracy
theories in a bunch of cases here.

So everybody got what they wanted. It was great entertainment, great TV.

But in terms of what this means for the president going forward, or
anything like that, I think what you saw was an exercise in the sort of
White House frustration with these --

MATTHEWS: I`ll go back to Joy. Joy, you know, David Petraeus took out the
phrase al Qaeda from the CIA talking points. Does the CIA said to use the
word extremists not terrorist.

Why doesn`t the president say this is B.S., this stuff came from the
authorities we all trust, especially David Petraeus, who`s much respected
on the right? Why doesn`t he say that instead of getting into a kerfuffle
with this guy? O`Reilly was able to raise issues which you know is the
name of the game if politics as long as you get Benghazi in the headlines,
you win. That`s what I think.

REID: I don`t think it would have mattered what President Obama said quite
honestly because, again, this was not about a broad audience. This was not
about a broad audience that had come really to a nonpartisan event to watch
a football game. This was about a very narrow base that Bill O`Reilly was
placating with this interview.

It wasn`t about the audience watching it in real time. It was about the
audience that was going to watch it back later on his show, on the cable
show. Remember, this was on the broadcast network. This was going to the
FOX station groups. This was going to the stations in ordinary cities
where people were really coming to the broadcast apolitically.

This wasn`t about a broad audience or independents or people who claim --
Bill O`Reilly claims to be an independent. This wasn`t about them. This
was about a narrow targeted audience --

MATTHEWS: OK, we`ll see.

REID: -- who doesn`t want the answer and wouldn`t accept any answer no
matter what the president says.

MATTHEWS: OK, I`ll bet you -- when we start polling on this in a couple
weeks from now, I bet you O`Reilly wins because he gets these words out
there.

MILLER: Exactly. This is also about fundraising.

MATTHEWS: He gets Benghazi out there. Anyway, thank you. Thank you, Zeke
Miller. More time, next time.

Joy Reid, thank you. I wish you were right.

When we return, let me finish with the loss of an American classic.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me end with this tonight.

Nothing I could say here will lessen the loss of the 46-year-old Philip
Seymour Hoffman, perhaps the greatest actor of his generation. I say
perhaps because there are so many great actors today -- Cate Blanchett,
Naomi Watts, Russell Crow, Christian Bale, all in their 40s.

Now, there`s one less. A brilliant actor whose life ended this weekend in
a West Village apartment. I don`t know how I will look at these scenes now
that he is no more, that there is no more Philip Seymour Hoffman, but here
it goes.

I knew when I saw his portrayal in "Talented Mr. Ripley" that this young
actor was capable of the terrifying menace of the person who can see right
into you, unclothing your deepest secret, the fraud in you. Here he is
doing this to Matt Damon`s "Mr. Ripley."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN: The only one who looks like Dickey is you.

MATT DAMON: Hardly.

HOFFMAN: Have you done something to your hair?

DAMON: Is there something you`d like to say, Freddy?

HOFFMAN: What?

DAMON: Do you have something you`d like to say?

HOFFMAN: I think I`m saying it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: In "Charlie Wilson`s War," he`s a CIA agent so righteously
nonconformist that the agency higher ups can`t see he`s a guy who truly
knows how to spy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did Crystal back up your story that you weren`t
using?

TOM HANKS: Just go put out the statement.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know what? You never should have been in the
same room, Congressman.

HANKS: Goth?

HOFFMAN: Yes?

HANKS: The Swiss make an anti-aircraft gun called the Oerlikon?

HOFFMAN: Listen, Charlie --

HANKS: Twenty millimeter cannon. I read about it.

HOFFMAN: I know the Oerlikon. Don`t forget the limo driver.

HANKS: What do you mean?

HOFFMAN: You took a limo from the casino to the airport. It`s easy enough
to track down a limo driver, hand him a subpoena, ask if anything was going
on the back seat. So, you know, terms of cleaning up this.

HANK: Were you listening at the door?

HOFFMAN: I was at the door.

HANK: Were you standing at the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) door listening to me?

HOFFMAN: No.

HANK: How could you -- yes, but that`s a thick door. You stood there and
you listened to me?

HOFFMAN: I just stand at the door. Don`t be an idiot. I bugged the
scotch bottle.

HANK: What?

HOFFMAN: It`s got a little transmitter on it. Got a little thing in my
ear. Get past it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Then there`s Dow, about the Catholic priest accused by a sister
superior of abusing an older boy. You can see Hoffman in the film and root
for either verdict, yet suspect there`s so much more to the story, so much
more or less to the priest he is playing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOFFMAN: You have to stop this campaign against me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can stop it. At any time.

HOFFMAN: How?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Confess. And resign.

HOFFMAN: You are attempting to destroy my reputation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You keep opening my window. What are you doing in
this school?

HOFFMAN: I`m trying to do good.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Even more to the point. What are you doing in the
priesthood?

HOFFMAN: You are singlehandedly holding this school and this parish back.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: From what?

HOFFMAN: Progressive education and a welcoming church.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can`t distract me, father. This is not about my
behavior.

HOFFMAN: No, it`s about your unfounded suspicions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEAMLE: That`s right.

HOFFMAN: Just leave that. It`s not important.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I will decide what`s important.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I`ve seen him in "Moneyball" as the old-style baseball manager.
In the "Ides of March," as the veteran political expert, and, of course, as
Truman Capote (ph) refusing to play at camp but showing the corners of
great troubled writer`s character.

I prefer to remember him as I first character I spotted with that character
Freddy out front, him the actor in the back, wondering what it was like to
be Mr. Ripley, with the specter of truth invading his soul and knowing he
must confront and defeat this menace or fall before it.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, the best of the best.


END

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BE UPDATED.
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