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updated 2/5/2014 11:21:50 AM ET 2014-02-05T16:21:50

HARDBALL
February 4, 2014

Guests: Dana Milbank, Brian Murphy, John Feehery

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Rolling disclosure.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

"Let Me Start" tonight with something we who cover politicians call
"rolling disclosure." It`s when someone under the spotlight only tells you
something when they`re caught doing something.

Last Friday, Governor Chris Christie`s appointee to the George Washington
Bridge authority, David Wildstein, said that there was evidence that the
governor knew about the infamous bridge lane closures while they were
happening. Wildstein thereby challenged Christie`s assertion he didn`t
know what was happening until, in his words, after it was over.

Well, guess what? Last night, the governor who told the world on January
9th that he didn`t know nuttin` about the bridge problem until after it was
over admitted that people might have mentioned to it him before that, which
is pretty much what he had denied until Wildstein said evidence exists that
he did, in fact, know about it. So Christie now admits someone may have
mentioned the bridge situation to him earlier, after having denied that he
knew about it when it was happening.

By the way, what`s the difference between someone mentioning something to
him and someone telling him? Well, the difference is the way the governor
now admits the truth when it does no more good to deny it, a classic case
of rolling disclosure, telling us what we already know but not a mention of
anything more. That`s how we`re getting the information now.

John Heilemann`s an MSNBC political analyst and the co-author of "Double
Down," and Brian Murphy was the managing editor of Politicsnj, where he
worked for David Wildstein, and as a reporter, and he also is friends with
Bill Baroni, another figure in this case.

I want to start with my friend John Heilemann, who covers politics. It
seems to me that this governor is not telling us what he knows. And I say
that because he only tell us -- you smile! -- when someone brings up
something, makes an assertion. He then makes himself available and
basically admits to what the guy is saying.

He did know more about this. Then afterwards, he knew about it more around
the time. Apparently, things had just happened or were happening still.
It`s still a bit foggy.

But that line of defense of his, which seemed like the Maginot line on
January 9th, has now been moved a few feet back to, quote, "the period
before this."

What -- what is -- this is rolling disclosure. This is what politicians
do. They`re glad to tell you what they know, if you already know it.

JOHN HEILEMANN, CO-AUTHOR "DOUBLE DOWN," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
That`s certainly true, Chris. I mean, I still think that it`s -- he still
is sort of -- I mean, they -- it`s a very -- the thing he said yesterday on
the radio about this period of time is very fuzzy. And it`s certainly not
as unequivocal as he had been in the past.

But he`s still saying, Well, I might have heard traffic reports about it.
Somebody might have mentioned something to me about the traffic --

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) mean?

HEILEMANN: Sorry?

MATTHEWS: What does "mention" mean, rather than "tell"?

HEILEMANN: I have absolutely --

MATTHEWS: What an interesting word you`re using there.

HEILEMANN: -- no idea. And I don`t know what "something about the
traffic" -- I mean, he doesn`t really say specifically about the lane
closures or about the motivations of the lane closures, who was involved or
why or anything else. So he`s moved the line just a little bit, but he has
certainly moved it.

And no one knows what Wildstein has. And there`s no doubt, if you look at
the way that Christie has behaved since Friday, if you look at the sequence
of events, from the initial response that they had on Friday afternoon or
early Friday evening to the attacks on Wildstein, wild attacks, over the
weekend, to then his decision to go on the radio show on Monday, this is
the look of a group that is scrambling to try to deal with the unknown and
with an unknown that carries almost no positive potential upside. It`s all
danger for them.

And I think you`re right, he`s trying to say as little as he can, to create
a little bit of wiggle room, but is really operating in a dark room right
now in terms of what is to come.

MATTHEWS: And we`re to believe that he`s been looking for the real killer,
if you will, to use another old crime case, that he`s been looking for this
information with his staff, that he`s been dramatically out there, you
know, keelhauling his staff for information, running a real law firm
investigation, and yet when he comes on TV last night, he tells us nothing
we don`t know. He never tells us anything we don`t know.

And we are to believe this is the big -- this is the story as of today, the
Christie story. I didn`t know what happened to the bridge last September
until I was blindsided by the news this January.

Brian Murphy, knowing what you know about the governor, knowing those
people, Baroni, knowing Wildstein, having worked with him, knowing that
Jersey culture, watching this guy in action, is it credible that for four
months, Chris Christie saw the largest traffic artery in the world stopped
for four to five hours for four to five days and never got to the bottom of
what was going on?

Because why? He didn`t want to officially be heard asking or he already
knew or both?

BRIAN MURPHY, FMR. MANAGING EDITOR POLITICSNJ.COM: Chris, I think you just
answered your own question, didn`t you? I mean, it seems -- it seems
extremely unlikely that that`s how this played out.

And one of the news items that the governor told us yesterday was that
early on, he asked his chief of staff and his chief counsel to begin
looking into this. So he was clearly aware that something had gone very
wrong here early on, moreso than he led on when he did his press conference
in December and joked about moving the cones, and much more than he let on
when he talked about this again in January and claimed to have been totally
blindsided by it.

MATTHEWS: Well, what do you buy with this notion that he hardly knows
Wildstein, that Baroni`s another guy he can throw under the bus, that he
can throw, you know, the woman he calls a liar, you know, Megan -- or Megan
-- Bridget Kelly out the door --

MURPHY: Bridget Kelly.

MATTHEWS: -- and all these people are getting basically dropped as
credible people by him.

MURPHY: Right.

MATTHEWS: And yet he`s the odd man out. He`s the only guy that didn`t
know what was going on.

MURPHY: Right. I mean, you know, the thing that strikes me about their
appointments to the Port Authority in general, right -- the port is a big,
multi-billion agency that deals with infrastructure. It was meant in its
creation to take some of the patronage and the politics out of
infrastructure development in the New York and New Jersey metropolitan
area.

Bill Baroni and David Wildstein are both very intelligent men, but they
didn`t have a background in transportation policy at all, right? They`re
very skilled, very smart operators. The reason they were put in that
position, the reason a position was created for David Wildstein by the
governor, is because they were meant to be there to make, I think -- based
on what we know, to make the Port Authority an extension of the political
operation of the Christie administration.

So the idea that, suddenly, he had no idea about what Wildstein`s
background was or he didn`t know that Baroni would be involved in something
like this just doesn`t -- doesn`t square with what we know about why they
were put there and what they did while they were there.

MATTHEWS: But there is an understanding of why -- a motive why he would
say that, I was the class president, I was a jock, and this guy was a nerd
on the chess team.

MURPHY: Sure. Right.

MATTHEWS: I mean, he was -- he`s trying to -- let me go back to John.
This culture war here between the coolest kid in the class saying that
anybody who testifies against him is either a liar, like Bridget Kelly --
he`s called her a liar, or stupid -- he`s also called her that -- or
Wildstein, some nerd in the chess club or some club that had nothing to do
with the cool guys in class. What weirdness we`re getting here, attacking
the guy`s experience with the guy in grade -- or high school at the time
he`s just trying to defend his butt.

HEILEMANN: Well, yes. And of course, it`s been pointed out by many people
since then that it`s rather damming for the Christie administration to
trash this guy the way they did over the weekend. This is the guy that
they appointed to this job. So it`s -- there`s -- you know, there`s been
many people have made that point, but it`s pretty -- it`s pretty weird.

And look, you know, you get in trouble when you start casting aspersions on
people. It tends to get their back up. It also tends to -- you know, any
-- whatever loyalty, whatever shreds of loyalty they might still have tend
to go out the window. But --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Slime them. Slime them before they testify. That`s --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let`s go on here. I want to give you something new, John.
Here`s what`s so hard to believe, when you think about Christie`s
explanations.

HEILEMANN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Just look at the timeline here.

HEILEMANN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Christie says he first realized there was a problem with the
lane closures incident when he saw in the newspaper -- that`s "The Wall
Street Journal" -- that the Port Authority`s chief, Patrick Foye, a New
York appointment to the Point Authority, had written a scathing letter to
Christie`s appointees in the agency. And here`s the lead from that big
"Wall Street Journal" story back on October 1.

"The abrupt closure of local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge
last month triggered a pointed private response from the executive director
of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who said the move likely
broke state and federal laws and could have caused deaths because of
snarled traffic."

Then on December 6th, Christie`s appointee to the agency, David Wildstein,
resigned, specifically citing the Fort Lee issue in his resignation letter.
Just a week later, on December 13th, his other top guy at the Port
Authority, Bill Baroni resigned.

During a press conference, Governor Christie publicly acknowledged that
mistakes were made at the agency. And he says he`s bothered by what`s
going on. But Christie is then shocked when "The Bergen Record" blows the
story open on January 8th of 2014.

So we have to believe that through all of this, from September through
January, four months, that Christie never wanted to truly figure out what
the heck was going on.

Does that square with your knowledge of the culture of his office, his
governorship, Brian Murphy?

MURPHY: No, it doesn`t. Not at all. Christie is -- Christie has a
reputation as a very hands-on manager.

And the thing about -- the thing about this that gets even more confusing
is when you dig into those documents that were released, there were many
people in the governor`s office who knew not to take the Fort Lee mayor`s
call during that week.

So it begins to -- and early on, after there was a problem identified, an
e-mail is forwarded to someone on the governor`s counsel`s office who`s in
charge of having relations with various agencies. That woman was slated to
be the incoming chief of staff until this whole thing blew up. So it gets
-- it`s not just the four people --

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s go back to that bombshell you just dropped, at least
to my ears.

MURPHY: OK.

MATTHEWS: For a week the people working for the governor in his office
knew not to take the phone call from the Fort Lee mayor`s office.

MURPHY: Right.

MATTHEWS: Tell me about that. How do you know that?

MURPHY: Because it`s in the documents that were released by the assembly
committee.

MATTHEWS: OK.

MURPHY: And one of the -- the women who resigned last week, or over the
weekend -- she resigned last Friday in advance of the subpoenas being
answered, her assistant --

MATTHEWS: Renna. Renna.

MURPHY: Right. So there`s a guy -- I don`t want to call him a kid, but a
guy, Evan Ridley (ph), who works in the governor`s office, who`s a very
junior-level staffer. During the -- I believe it was during the Asbury
Park fire, the boardwalk fire, the mayor of Fort Lee called Trenton, called
the governor`s office, called from his secretary`s number. Somebody
inadvertently -- they were under orders not to answer his call. But he
called from a different number, a number they didn`t recognize on their
caller ID. They put it through. Evan Ridley took the call.

After he takes the call, he sends an e-mail to Christina Renna and says,
you know, I kind of -- I made a mistake here. I took the call from the
fine mayor. I just thought you should know. And here`s what the -- here`s
the detail of his complaint.

What`s clear from this, though, is that everybody in the governor`s office
knew enough not to take a call from this guy during this particular week,
right? And the guy is Mayor Mark Sokolich from Fort Lee. Everybody in the
office knew about this. So it becomes very difficult to believe that
everybody in the office except for the governor was in on what was going on
during that week.

MATTHEWS: OK, well, how do you square that -- I`m sorry, John. I got to
get into this (INAUDIBLE) If that`s the case, that everybody in the
governor`s office knew there was a cabal to screw this guy in Fort Lee, let
him scream, but don`t listen to the screams, don`t be bothered by it, just
shut him off. At the same time, the governor says that in December, he
went into his office, told all the people, You got an hour to tell me if
you were involved in any of this.

By your account, they were all involved because they all knew not to take
the call. They were all in on the cabal to punish this guy. So everybody
knew about it. So this was sort of like a cartoon, opera bouffe The big
guy, governor, walks into the office and says to his people, Look, I know
you all know about this. But just for the record, none of you knew about
it, right?

Is that what went on here?

HEILEMANN: Well, if you`re asking me, Chris, I don`t -- we don`t know the
answer to that question. But look, it has always somewhat strained
credulity that the number of people in the office who knew not to take the
call from the mayor and the number of people in the office who we know from
the e-mail and text evidence that we have that were kind of high-fiving
over the lane closures --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HEILEMANN: -- that they were doing -- that they had done this -- they
clearly did not do it because they thought it would displease their boss,
right? They wouldn`t have taken this stop if they thought Christie would
be mad about it.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HEILEMANN: They did it because they thought that it would be a good thing,
that this was how politics --

MATTHEWS: OK, were they all --

HEILEMANN: -- should be played. So the idea that no one in the office
was high-fiving about this because they were high-fiving in the e-mail
traffic and they were high-fiving in the text traffic, that no one in the
office was talking about it, no one was slapping anybody on the back, no
one was taking credit for it, for something that they presumably thought
Christie would approve of because that`s the only reason --

MATTHEWS: OK --

HEILEMANN: -- they would have done it in the first place -- it has
always strained credulity --

MATTHEWS: I love that theory --

HEILEMANN: -- from the very beginning.

MATTHEWS: I love that theory, except for one thing. Brian, back to you.
Last question to you guys. This is fascinating. If they are all in on
this and all knew not to take the call from the mayor they were punishing,
and everybody`s in on this thing, how come -- were they also in on the fact
we can`t say to the governor we`re in on this? We can`t wink at him. We
say, How`s your day? I guess they`re having a nice time in Fort Lee today.

No remarks, no -- except these things he now calls "mentionings." There
may have been some mentionings to me -- in other words, a wink, a nod.
Boy, that little Serb, you know, whatever they were calling him ethnically
that week -- he was Croatian, but whatever they were knocking him as in
their weird little wars -- in other words, they were, like -- he -- did he
countenance the possibility that somebody was winking at him, pulling his
leg, having some fun, saying, You know what? That little bastard`s getting
screwed the way he ought to. Isn`t it fun, Governor? And he could just
say, They may have mentioned to it me. Is that what we`re talking about
here, this high school of what happened? Your thoughts.

MURPHY: I think we just don`t know yet. I mean, we -- and the reason -- I
don`t mean to be slippery on that answer. I think the reason --

MATTHEWS: But you said the cabal was known, was widespread --

MURPHY: Yes. Right.

MATTHEWS: -- that everybody in the office knew about it.

MURPHY: I think the question, the million-dollar question in my mind, or
maybe the billion-dollar question, is why. And we don`t know the motive of
this yet because what was funny is that the governor at that December press
conference knew enough to joke about moving the cones, which suggested to
me when I heard it that he had a certain operational level of detail,
detailed knowledge --

MATTHEWS: Yes, because that`s what they did, they moved the cones.

MURPHY: -- about what had gone on at the bridge.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MURPHY: That`s right. And you know, just by reading the press accounts --
and I had been following the story by then -- I didn`t really know -- until
I got a look at the area, I didn`t know that cones were being moved. I
didn`t know that was kind of how you did this. And it turns out that`s
exactly what you did. You moved the cones to change the lane configuration
there.

MATTHEWS: OK --

MURPHY: How did he know that?

MATTHEWS: Well, you know what this squares with? Again speculation that
he had given a general order or the people knew that their MO was to get --
take care of people who were difficult, like the mayor. And he didn`t get
down to doing the cone work. He just got -- he as at the level of, Will no
one rid me of this meddlesome mayor, that kind of thing. And that`s what
he was protecting himself against -- speculatively here. But you know
what? It`s beginning to -- the picture -- the Polaroid picture is starting
to develop here, to use an old phrase.

Anyway, thank you, John Heilemann, and thank you, Brian Murphy.

Coming up --

MURPHY: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: -- how long can Chris Christie keep up his Sergeant Schultz
defense, I know nothing, I see nothing. Well, right now, it looks like his
strategy is to fight and hope that the worst is over. I don`t think so.

Also, the latest case of Obama derangement syndrome, Lindsey Graham, who
can be sane, calls the president`s comments on Fox on Benghazi the lie of
the year. Well, no, it isn`t. James Inhoff, the senator from Oklahoma,
says it`s the greatest cover-up in history. No. And he didn`t even see
the interview. Boy, he goes to great lengths to trash the president. I
guess it`s safe to do it down in the patch.

Plus, is Hillary Clinton repeating the mistakes that she made in her 2008 -
- she hasn`t even begun to make mistakes! How can she be accused of making
mistakes? By the way, that`s what some Obama folks are saying. I don`t
buy this. I think she hasn`t done anything wrong yet. By the way, it`s
all in the record.

And it was 49 years ago that Bob Dylan was booed by purists for playing
electric guitar. Do you believe that? Now the purists are booing again,
but this time over a Super Bowl commercial. Be easier to boo (INAUDIBLE)
it`s hard to beat (ph) Bob Dylan.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Women`s rights activist Sandra Fluke has filed paperwork out in
California to run for Henry Waxman`s seat in Congress. It`s the first step
towards an actual campaign.

Fluke became a national figure after Rush Limbaugh disparaged her with a
vulgar term for asking the federal government to pay for women`s
contraception during a congressional hearing back in 2012. Later that
year, she spoke to the Democratic convention in Charlotte.

While Fluke has filed with the state Democratic committee, she has until
March 7th to officially file her candidacy with the Federal Election
Commission.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: So what I can tell you, 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.
And, even then, what I was told was that it was a traffic study.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Chris Christie on January 9. Did you catch what he said? He
didn`t know about the lane closures until after it was over.

Well, last night, Christie changed his story. Listen to him now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE: What`s going on now with all this other stuff is just a game of
gotcha, you know. It -- you know, when did I first learn about this or
that?

Well, the fact of the matter is, I have been very clear about this. Before
these lanes were closed, I knew nothing about it. I didn`t plan it. I
didn`t authorize it. I didn`t approve it. I knew nothing about it.

Thereafter, and I have said this a number of times before, it became clear
to me this was an issue that I had to have somebody look into when the Foye
e-mail came out.

So in the period of time before that, there were press accounts, you know.
Things could have been mentioned to me about traffic at any point in time.
None of it was memorable to me, Eric, because I didn`t know there was any
issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, things could have been mentioned to me about traffic.

Well, that`s different than his flat-out denial that he first learned about
it only after it was all over, I think. What difference does that make?
Well, this story continues to hurt Christie. This story keeps moving
forward. New disclosures emerge. New allegations come out, new denials
from the governor, and sometimes acceptances of the new information.

And as long as it keeps moving, the business of governing for Christie and
potentially running for president of the United States in 2016, it`s going
to be very difficult. And yet that is what Christie is actually signaling
he is doing and is doing right now, ignore the story as much as possible, I
guess a la Bill Clinton, and stay busy out there. He plans on traveling
across the country in the coming weeks as the head of the Republicans
Governor Association, which is basically a campaign organization.


But the question is, how much will his, Christie`s problems back home in
Jersey be a distraction for him and the Republican governors he is raising
money for? At what point, if ever, does the scandal ever overtake his own
2016 ambitions?

Jonathan Capehart is an opinion writer for "The Washington Post" and an
MSNBC contributor, and John Feehery is a Republican strategist.

Thank you, gentlemen.

I want you to take a look at some numbers here which are fascinating. And
they all have happened this week, yesterday, in fact, where you see Chris
Christie now basically well behind Hillary Clinton, 16 points behind
nationwide. Before the scandal, they were basically neck and neck. Now
look at the rundown in the Republican Party. There are no leaders, by the
way, right now.

Huckabee, who was basically forgotten, is now at 14 in the CNN poll, and
Rand Paul at 13. Jeb Bush at 10 tied with Chris Christie, and then the
rest, Ryan, et cetera.

Where is your party on Christie right now?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: They`re undecided.

MATTHEWS: Well, it doesn`t like it. It`s about 10 percent.

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: Ironically, this Chris Christie, this attack, this scandal has
helped him with some conservatives. If I were him, I would go to every Tea
Party organization in the world.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But -- no, let`s look at the facts, though. I know that`s a
good argument, except it shatters the numbers. He was at 24 percent a
couple weeks ago. Now he is at 10. And you say conservatives are moving
toward him?

FEEHERY: Which is the irony, right?

MATTHEWS: How do you go from 24 to 10? Who are these people that are
bucking --

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: I`m talking some of the talk show hosts, Rush Limbaugh, folks
like that.

MATTHEWS: Oh, I see.

FEEHERY: They see him being attacked.

MATTHEWS: Could that be good for them?

FEEHERY: It could be good for them. It could be good for him. It`s kind
of like when Nixon was attacked. He was kind of seen as a liberal. He was
attacked during Watergate. People started to love him.

MATTHEWS: I read that. And I remember. I`m older than you.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Nobody -- Barry Goldwater walked in the room to Nixon and told
him to quit. This idea that the right wing swung to him is just not true.

Maybe -- I don`t know who -- maybe somebody from down South. But I will
tell you, the Republican Party gave up on Nixon. That`s what happened to
him.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, keep something in mind here.

When -- Chris Christie, at the height of his popularity, he was viewed with
such suspicion by the Republican Party base, the conservative base of the
Republican Party, that folks who really know how this stuff worked looked
and thought, there is no way Chris Christie will get the Republican Party
nomination, because he is viewed with suspicion, because of what he did at
the Republican Convention, when he talked about himself, instead of the
nominee, Mitt Romney, because of what he did in the final days of the
presidential campaign, putting his arm around President Obama when his
state needed help after hurricane -- super storm Sandy.

So --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: It reminds you of John McCain, doesn`t it?

CAPEHART: Well --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: The same thing happened to John McCain back in 2000. He had
great media support. He used to call it my base, the media.

CAPEHART: Right. Right.

MATTHEWS: And nobody had bigger support among the media, including around
here, than Christie had, because he has always been good copy. In good
times and bad, Chris Christie is great copy.

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: He`s like the most interesting man in politics.

MATTHEWS: He is. He is.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: He is far more interesting -- I`m sorry. Name another
interesting Republican out there.

FEEHERY: But the thing about Chris Christie has been -- his strength --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Scott Walker? You couldn`t identify him in a lineup.

FEEHERY: His strength been coming into this the big money guys liked him.

MATTHEWS: Right.

FEEHERY: The question for Chris Christie is, will the big money guys
continue to like him or will they shop elsewhere?

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: And that`s why I say it`s undecided.

MATTHEWS: They`re still sort of rubbing up against him.

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: They`re still not sure. And I think that`s why they`re
undecided.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: It is aversion to the other people on the list? Now, I still
think there are some center-right candidates out there that could emerge,
certainly Jeb, and certainly Scott Walker, who I did disparage, but I don`t
know what he looks like. I do know what he looks like.

And, certainly -- who else there could be reasonable? Kasich could be
reasonable.

FEEHERY: Well, I think John Kasich. I think Rob Portman, if he decides to
run.

MATTHEWS: Yes. He would be.

FEEHERY: And he is at the Senatorial Committee right now. He is raising
tons of money. It`s all about at the end of the day who is going to have
the big money.

You know why George Bush beat John McCain? Because he had the money. So,
that`s what the most interesting thing about this. Who are the big money
guys and who do they support?

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s go to Chris Christie, because I don`t think it`s the
media. I know it`s been -- he is in the spotlight. I will admit I put the
spotlight on him. I think he is the spotlight story.

I think he is the best story in the country right now, because he is smart,
he is a big, he is a smart lawyer. He`s got the good lawyers on his side,
and he`s got great lawyers against him, and he`s got people all around him
who are fighting for their own lives to keep out of prison.

And this is going to be a big story in the law, in the courts, and in the
legislature for months to come. It`s a huge story about the biggest guy in
the metropolitan -- and, by the way, New York is news, by the way. Have
you noticed?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: If you`re near New York, you play for a New York team, it`s
news.

FEEHERY: Of course, yes.

CAPEHART: Right. Right.

Here`s the thing. Here`s the thing.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: By the way, how come the Super Bowl was in New York, but it was
actually in Jersey, but Christie is clearly in Jersey?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: New York hasn`t claimed Christie, I noticed.

CAPEHART: And as Governor Christie said on the radio show yesterday, the
game was played in Jersey, it wasn`t played in New York.

Look, the thing about Chris Christie that has made him popular, not just
with the media, but with moderates and independents, is that he is not
crazy. When his state needed -- when his state needed help, he put
politics aside and worked with the president to help the people of his
state, at a time when the American people are so tired of the divisions and
arguments.

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: He is also a straight talker. He is also authentic.

CAPEHART: Right.

FEEHERY: He is a real American. He`s not blow-dried. Or no one can say
he is blow-dried. And that was the great virtue of Chris Christie.

And then -- if he survives this, he will be stronger than ever. But if it
turns out he is lying, he is through.

MATTHEWS: But the problem is, there probably is -- and even Giuliani, who
I have always defended, Giuliani, because I went to school with guys like
Giuliani. I sort of like him. He`s rough-hewn.

But Giuliani basically says we got to find out what happens now. He is no
longer 100 percent on this guy. So it is up to the courts. I think it`s
like Watergate. It`s not a P.R. campaign. It`s not a political campaign.
Sure, politics is involved. In the end, it`s going to be evidence against
Christie. If there is no evidence he set this operation up, no evidence
that he created this kind of M.O. and he didn`t know about it, he will
walk.

FEEHERY: I think that`s right.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But, also, if the other people go to jail, he won`t look that
good.

CAPEHART: But, legally, yes, but, politically, he is damaged.

MATTHEWS: I think you`re right.

If a bunch of people around you all go to prison, that`s a problem.

CAPEHART: Yes. You don`t look good.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Jonathan Capehart.

MATTHEWS: Do you agree with that?

FEEHERY: I do. Yes.

MATTHEWS: OK, thanks, Feehery. You`re a reasonable guy too.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Up next, Jon Stewart, another reasonable guy, isn`t buying Chris
Christie`s attack on David Wildstein. And that`s next in the "Sideshow."
Stay here for Jon Stewart. I just saw him this weekend.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE: David and I were not friends in high school. We were not even
acquaintances in high school. I was the class president and athlete. I
don`t know what David was doing during that period of time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Time now for the "Sideshow."

That of course was Chris Christie last month distancing himself from former
Port Authority official and Livingston High schoolmate David Wildstein.
But for a guy who says he didn`t know Wildstein in high school, the
governor`s team seems to know a lot about Wildstein in high school, and
they weren`t afraid of using his past against him.

Here was Jon Stewart`s reaction to the charges Christie dug up over the
weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART")

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The governor`s office went after Wildstein.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Claimed that as a 16-year-old kid, he sued over a
local school board election.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was publicly accused by his high school social
studies teacher of deceptive behavior.

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": Publicly accused by
his high school social studies teacher of deceptive behavior?

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: What does that even mean?

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: Wildstein, stand up. You didn`t have to go to the bathroom, did
you?

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: You just wanted a hall pass. You son of a (EXPLETIVE DELETED)!

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: Why can`t you be more like star athlete and class president Chris
Christie?

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Next up, it was one of the most popular Super Bowl ads on Sunday
night, but some Bob Dylan purists out there aren`t only objecting to the
music legend`s appearance in Chrysler`s new ad. They`re taking issue with
part of the message as well. Here is a clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it`s made here. it`s made with the one thing you
can`t import from anywhere else, American pride. So let Germany brew your
beer. Let Switzerland make your watch. Let Asia assemble your phone. We
will build your car.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: If critics viewed that as a tacit endorsement of outsourcing,
then Conan O`Brien`s version might give them more cause for concern.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "CONAN")

CONAN O`BRIEN, HOST, "CONAN": Here is the part they edited out for time.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Let France make your water. Let Denmark make your
cheese. Let India answer your tech support.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Let Chile catch your sea bass.

Let Mexico make your pinatas.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Let Canada make your dental floss. Let Costa Rica sew
your cargo shorts.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Let Yemen manufacture your Chia Pet.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: We will build your car -- at least the parts that
aren`t built in Canada or Mexico.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Love that voice.

Up next: Obama derangement syndrome. Some Republicans out there can`t stop
crying Benghazi. It`s their Geronimo.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

The second winter storm in a week is dropping snow in the Midwest and it`s
heading east. Forecasters say more than 100 million people in 32 states
are in its path.

A test vote is expected Thursday for a jobless benefit extension. The
measure would extend benefits for three months.

And in Alaska, an effort to legalize pot has been put on the state ballot
and has gathered more than enough signatures. The initiative would allow
adults 21 and over to possess the drug, but it would prohibit public
consumption -- now back to HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Obama, as we said yesterday, punched back at the litany of far-
right conspiracy theories he was confronted with in the Super Bowl pregame
interview with FOX`s Bill O`Reilly. Well, in the latest manifestation of
Obama derangement syndrome, the far right wing has honed in on the
president`s pushback on Benghazi to promote the notion that the president
and his administration lied about and covered up what happened there, this
despite numerous inquiries and investigations that have found the claim
unfounded.

Anyway, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma was told by a local radio host
that the president -- quote -- "blamed all this brouhaha on FOX for ginning
up a controversy when there is none." That`s a debatable interpretation of
the president`s comments.

But here is Inhofe`s response, which was worse.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R), OKLAHOMA: It`s just an outrageous lie, and it`s
kind of hard to call it anything else.

I will say this to my dying day. I realize people don`t realize it now,
but that`s going to go down in history as the greatest cover-up. And I`m
talking about compared to the Pentagon Papers, Iran/Contra, Watergate and
the rest of them. This was a cover-up in order for people right before the
election to think that there is no longer a problem with terrorism in the
Middle East.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Senator Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, gave this
emphatic answer, despite admitting to the radio host that he hadn`t
actually seen the president`s Super Bowl interview.

And Senator Lindsey Graham, usually a normal person, took issue with the
president`s comments on Benghazi, saying -- quote -- well, here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "CAVUTO")

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: No, I`m telling the public the
president misled the nation about what happened in Benghazi.

Last year, he got the lie of the year award for saying if you like your
health care, you could keep it. He`s going to have back-to-back titles by
saying this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, let`s look again at the president`s Super Bowl pregame
interview. And, actually, we did watch it. And we`re going to watch it
again, unlike Inhofe, who is never going to watch it.

Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O`REILLY, FOX NEWS: Your detractors believe you did not tell the
world there was a terror attack because your campaign didn`t want that out.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And they believe it because
folks like you are telling them. And what I`m saying is that is
inaccurate. We revealed to the American people exactly what we understood
at the time.

The notion that we would hide the ball for political purposes when a week
later we all said in fact there was a terrorist attack taking place the day
after, I said it was an act of terror, that wouldn`t be a very good cover-
up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well said.

Joining me is "Washington Post" columnist Dana Milbank and Eugene Robinson.

Gentlemen, I don`t -- there is something here that has become a code for
something that has nothing to do with what it is talking about. Benghazi
doesn`t mean Benghazi.

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST: No.

MATTHEWS: It means something -- because the bipartisan intelligence
committee, both parties said everything Susan Rice said was accurate. It
was caused by that crazy move in California which caused the craziness in
Cairo which was copyrighted in Benghazi. That`s what we knew then and
that`s what we know now. Nothing has changed. The president was telling
the truth and so was Susan Rice. Why do they keep saying this stuff?

ROBINSON: Benghazi, when said to the Republican base, means I hate
President Obama, I hate Hillary Clinton, and I hate Susan Rice.

And -- just like you. I mean, that`s what it says.

MATTHEWS: Just like you. So I`m OK on that one?

ROBINSOIN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: That`s what it means.

Why Lindsey Graham, who`s got a brain?

DANA MILBANK, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right. I mean, we can set Jim Inhofe
aside.

MATTHEWS: By the way, do you watch Lindsey -- I really like the guy. I`m
watching him, I`m thinking POW. He`s got to read the statement.

MILBANK: So, Inhofe says whenever it snows that`s proof that there is no
global warming.

MATTHEWS: I don`t really like him. I don`t want to hurt him down there.
I don`t really like him that much.

MILBANK: Lindsey Graham has -- he is likely to have a difficult primary
challenge.

MATTHEWS: Seven people running against him.

MILBANK: And sometimes he just gets something stuck in his craw here. The
odd thing, though, is this isn`t even about Benghazi. We`re not talking
what happened, whether there is adequate security, why these guys got
killed, could something have been done to prevent it. We`re talking about
things that happened after they died.

And did he call it terrorists? Did he call it extremists? It doesn`t
matter if he called it a ham sandwich.

ROBINSON: We`re talking about the editing of talking points, OK? I mean -
-

MATTHEWS: The CIA, the intelligence committee wrote the term "extremism".
That`s the word they use for terrorists. It was General --

MILBANK: Right.

MATTHEWS: -- General Petraeus himself is DCI, ahead of these directives
who took out the phrase al Qaeda. It`s all in the record.

MILBANK: Right. But to have a cover-up, there has to be something you`re
covering up.

MATTHEWS: OK, here is where I think it`s slippery. Here`s where I think
it`s going. I think you made the point. You hate Obama like I do.

When Lindsey Graham switched so quickly to the IRS, which is another
slithery story we can`t get our hands on, which isn`t there probably, the
fact that he changed subject instantly told me he wasn`t really comfortable
with the Benghazi character assassination of Hillary Clinton, who he does
respect.

So, let`s slip over to the anonymous bureaucrats over there in the IRS.

ROBINSON: Exactly. You make the point --

MATTHEWS: But there`s no connection.

ROBINSON: It`s kind of dance away -- I mean, because he didn`t want to get
into any substance because I think he believe there isn`t much substance
there. I mean, my --

MATTHEWS: So what is it about American politics? Is this like -- are you
crazy? Yes, I`m crazy. Let`s keep talking.

MILBANK: You have to hit those two buttons and you also have to hit the
Obamacare button and a few others, and everybody out there in the base is
saying yes, right. We need to impeach this guy or at least --

MATTHEWS: Did you catch the fellow? I don`t know the fellow, he may be a
good guy, but he`s certainly crazy. I asked -- two weeks ago, I said to
them, just to sort of check his stud book of a record of where he stands in
the brain department, I said, did you want -- do you think the president
was legitimately elected?

"I knew you were going to take me down that rabbit hole." Well, why is
that a rabbit hole? Can`t we start like you do in high school debating?
You define terms. He is president of the United States. Let`s go on.

If you can`t do that, what are we doing here? That`s what I -- and these
guys are not willing to give you that. They`re not willing to, as Arlen
Specter used to say, stipulate. They`re not willing to stipulate that he
is president.

ROBINSON: No, there is no stipulation of legitimacy to the Obama
presidency, and for various reasons.

MATTHEWS: OK. You explain the syndrome. You do satire.

MILBANK: Well, it`s --

MATTHEWS: What`s the Obama derangement syndrome?

MILBANK: Well, it`s the idea that we`re no longer engaged in political
debate, that this guy is outside of the political system. If you say
you`re a criminal, you`re lawless, you`re outside of the system, you were
probably born in Kenya, and I`m not engaging with you. You`re wrong.

It`s a way of just shutting it off.

ROBINSON: And also a denial of the fact that the American people elected
him twice, to be president.

MATTHEWS: Oh, you fell for that. Oh, gee. You fell for that.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON: I`ve got a videotape. It happened.

MATTHEWS: That`s just a theory like trying to change and evolution.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Dana Milbank. Only here can we have this fun.

Thank you, Dana Milbank. Thank you, Eugene Robinson.

Up next, serious stuff. Think Hillary is a shoo-in in 2016? Well, top
Obama people are out there warning Hillary may be repeating the same
mistakes she made last time in 2008. And I`m not so sure, but this is the
kind of conversation we`re going to have for the two years we wait whether
she decides to run or not.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Irish America Magazine" named its Hall of Fame class this year
and I`m thrilled and honored to say I made the list. Past inductees
include Bill Clinton, Joe Biden. So I`m in great company. I`ll be
inducted next month in New York City.

The motto for the Irish America Hall of fame is: remember the people from
whom you came.

And to those of you who join me here on HARDBALL each night, you know my
pride and where I came from.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

There is little doubt that Hillary Clinton plans to run for president. But
some of the people who outmaneuvered the Clinton machine back in 2008 are
voicing concerns, real or not, that Hillary is repeating the same mistakes
she made back then. That`s what they`re saying.

With four super PACs serving as a Hillary campaign in waiting, all run by
Clinton loyalists, the focus on building the machine instead of the
rationale for a Hillary presidency is dangerous, some way, and some
Democrats are beginning to worry.

President Obama`s chief pollster Joe Benenson told "BuzzFeed", quote, "I
don`t see any strategic value in stories positioning her as inevitable or
the preemptive nominee. And I don`t think people who are out there are
talking about this help her. And I think she should make that clear."

Well, Ed Rendell is the former governor of Pennsylvania and MSNBC political
analyst, and Joan Walsh is with "Salon," also an MSNBC contributor.

Governor, I don`t know, I think there`s very little that could hurt Hillary
Clinton. I mean, these nuances about the machine before the message. What
do you make of it? Is this a problem?

ED RENDELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: First of all, a lot of the Obama
campaign hierarchy including Jim Messina is working for the Hillary PAC.
That`s number one.

MATTHEWS: With Priorities USA.

RENDELL: Right, with Priorities.

Number two, they`re trying to avoid the mistakes of the campaign of `08.
The campaign of `08 didn`t plan. It didn`t get ready. They`re trying to
avoid those mistakes.

Nobody thinks this is inevitable. Everybody is ready for a fight. And,
Hillary, if you recall, Chris, won the last part of the primaries because
she`s become a fighter for the middle class. She`s not going to lose that
persona.

MATTHEWS: So, Joan Walsh, that`s the question, I guess. I guess there are
two critiques buried in this, I thought, somewhat hard to argue case that
somehow Hillary can blow this by working too hard at the beginning. I
always find that as a hard conundrum, putting in too much money, getting
too many people.

Two, you get encrusted with the wrong people. The kind of people that come
to you too early are not necessarily the people you want in your inner
circle people out later on. Two, it does crowd out. I`ve seen this -- you
know campaigns years ago, you couldn`t get in the headquarters because the
big shots in there wanted nobody to come in. They wanted to run it. They
ran it right into the ground.

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: And, third, if you talk too much inevitability, you lose that
magic that Hillary got when she ran for Senate, which is I`m up here to
listen, I`m up here to get to know you first. I`m not big footing anybody.
I`m coming here to ask for your vote and ask thinking.

Does she miss that with all this noise and excitement of -- I hate talking
about fund-raising anyway. Your thoughts?

JOAN WALSH, SALON: Well, right. I mean, think to an extent this is a
story about a group of campaign consultants and workers criticizing
campaign consultants and workers. It`s not really about Hillary, Chris,
because she`s not in the middle of this. Yes, some people close to her are
running some of these things. Some people aren`t close to her at all as
Governor Rendell said.

So, there`s a weird kind of inside baseball consultants criticizing
consultants thing going on. However, I do think that you did put your
finger on what the problem -- the potential problem, I want to emphasize,
potential problem is, and that is an air of inevitability.

There`s also real or imagined a sense that she`s got to tame that unruly
nation of Clinton Land where she comes with a lot of people, with a lot of
baggage, and the first thing she`s got to do is put those people in their
place and run a very orderly disciplined campaign this time. She didn`t
that so much last time. So that`s a real concern.

I don`t think -- you know, I hope she`s not taking it for granted. I see
no signs she`s taking for granted. At the end of the day or at the end of
this process, there does have to be a candidate who`s a fighter with an
animating message for 2016 that`s not backwards looking.

That`s her challenge. It`s not about all of this machinery on the ground.

MATTHEWS: The trouble is a reasonable person would take it for granted at
this point because I can`t think of anybody to beat her or get closer.
President Obama, by the way, his former national press secretary, Ben
LaBolt, told "BuzzFeed" this article, quote, "The further out front the
escort, the effort to elect Secretary Clinton is three years before
Election Day, the greater for the incentive is for the press, perspective
opponents and adversarial groups to scrutinize and attack her every move."

Well, that`s actually true.

"Even if it is a well-known candidate -- sometimes more so -- activist
donors and voters like to see candidates fighting for every vote. They
start to feel like their power and influence is diminished, it could have
unforeseen consequences."

Governor, I can`t -- I know this happens. Americans always root for the
underdog. That`s what we do. But there`s no underdog here.

RENDELL: Well, that`s right. When you look at the polls --

MATTHEWS: Who`s running against Hillary Clinton?

RENDELL: Hillary Clinton, 61 points ahead of the vice president who`s well
known and well-liked in Democratic circles. That`s astonishing.

But, look, Hillary has to -- I think Joan made a good point. She has to
ignore this stuff, she has to gear up, she has to run a good campaign.
Your suggestion is a great suggestion. Go back to that New York model. Do
listening tours. Do listening tours in Iowa.

You know, act as if -- not only act, but get feedback from the people all
across the country. Those are the things that made her successful.

MATTHEWS: Would it have been nice if -- you`re looking at her right now.
That`s the Hillary Clinton I know, that woman there -- regular person,
laughing, enjoying life, being a normal person.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I think she has to find places -- yes, it was a pretty great
tweet.

RENDELL: It`s a great tweet.

MATTHEWS: Because it was a knock at FOX.

I wish she would like a lot of candidates in the past would find a way to
get across to TV camera. It`s a hard thing. Bill Clinton could do it.
She hasn`t been able to do it yet.

RENDELL: What she did in person in 2008, I was just telling you this story
off camera about marching in the Pittsburgh and Scranton, St. Paddy`s Day
Parade.

MATTHEWS: Who advanced that?

RENDELL: I did.

MATTHEWS: Ha!

RENDELL: But you would have thought she was a rock star. Women were
screaming for her, begging for her to come over and sign their books.
That`s the difference.

MATTHEWS: The hardest thing is to get through the TV screen to be the
person for people to get to know.

Anyway, thank you, Joan Walsh, as always. Thank you, Ed Rendell, governor.

We`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this:

Before it gets any crazier into the week, I want to say in admiring word
about my friend Jay Leno. Sometimes, you can`t tell about people watching
him on television. You don`t know whether they`re kind or not, whether
they take a genuine interest on other people, whether they`re phonies or
not, big shots who act nice when the cameras are on, but like, well, big
shots when the public isn`t watching.

Jay Leno, I can tell you, after almost 30 appearances on the "Tonight Show"
is the real deal. He`s actually warmer, friendlier, and nicer in the back
dressing room before and after the show than you can believe. Every time
I`ve been out there, he comes in to see me beforehand so casually, usually
wearing blue jeans and a blue shirt, or a plaid shirt, that it`s only when
you realize that, hey, it`s Jay Leno, that you`re sharing this little room
with one of the best loved, best known people in show business.

And he`s always great, always never pushing you on, jut ask you if you`re
comfortable with what you`re about to talk about. He`s got all the facts
straight about what you`ve been up to. And when you get out there sitting
on that famous couch, he roots for you, he makes it easy to look out into
that gung-ho studio audience of his that`s waited hours to see the show.

And during commercial breaks and even afterwards, he`s always there ready
to chat away and ask how it`s going or ask something else he hasn`t gotten
to on air. So, what`s Jay Leno really like, this guy who so many millions
of people count on to end their day? He`s the guy you can count on, too.
And I can`t thank him and his great producers enough for all those great
times on the "Tonight Show."

And, Jimmy Fallon, go out there and break a leg. You`ve got a tough act to
follow and a great human being.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


END

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