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updated 2/12/2014 11:47:56 AM ET 2014-02-12T16:47:56

HARDBALL
February 11, 2014

Guests: Wayne Slater, John Feehery, Bob Ingle, Robert Gordon, John
Heilemann, Kate Zernike

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Christie claims executive privilege.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Let`s start tonight with this report out of New Jersey that says the
Christie administration will keep the governor`s staff from testifying
before legislative committees.

Does this mean Governor Christie is claiming some sort of executive
privilege, that he`s asserting the right to have his staff refuse to
testify before committees, even those digging into the scandal involving
the deliberate jamming up of traffic on the George Washington Bridge?

While a spokesman for Christie denies this is his claim, would this be
Christie`s ultimate move to protect himself, by claiming his right to keep
his top staff people, especially his chief of staff and counsel, from
answering questions from the Democrats investigating him in Trenton, to
resort to Richard Nixon`s defense that even in a case involving possible
criminal charges, that the papers and communications of top government
officials are beyond the reach of the law?

Well, tonight, we look at Chris Christie`s latest gambit, his
administration`s declaration of independence from those in Trenton, even
those investigating the infamous bridge scandal.

New Jersey state senator Robert Gordon is the Democrat who chairs the
oversight committee. And Bob Ingle is a reporter for "The Asbury Park
Press" and the co-author of "Chris Christie: The Inside Story of His Rise
to Power."

A remarkable story hit the Jersey press today. A local news outlet called
NJ Spotlight ran this report. "The Christie administration informed state
senator Robert Gordon, Bergen, chairman of the Senate legislative oversight
committee, that it is Christie administration policy that no members of the
governor`s office are allowed to appear before legislative committees."

Well, in this particular case, it was Christie`s office stonewalling the
state`s legislative oversight committee, which wanted access to Hurricane
Sandy officials inside the governor`s office. But what this means for the
state`s super-committee, which is leading the investigation into the bridge
scandal itself, is the much bigger question.

We reached out to Christie`s office today and got a response from Colin
Reed -- that`s the governor`s spokesman -- who said, in part, quote, "It
doesn`t exist. It would be inaccurate to say this policy exists." So
we`re getting crossed signals here.

Let`s go to Senator Gordon. This is strange. You got -- according to word
we`re getting in our reporting, you got a very clear declaration from the
administration in Trenton saying they`re not going to let staff people
testify before your committee. And now we`re hearing from the spokesman
for the governor, Oh, no, there is no such policy.

How do we put that together?

ROBERT GORDON (D), NEW JERSEY STATE SENATOR: Well, Chris, I don`t know
about a policy. I was told clearly through my staff that no one from the
governor`s office would be available to testify on the Sandy restoration
program, which we were investigating today. I should say we were told --

MATTHEWS: Well, but that article --

GORDON: -- that a cabinet member would be available, but --

MATTHEWS: Right.

GORDON: -- no one from the governor`s office, particularly the person we
wanted, who is the czar of the Sandy recovery program.

MATTHEWS: Well, according to the article that came out today in NJ
Spotlight, it says the Christie administration policy is that no members of
the governor`s office are allowed to appear. Was that what they told you,
they had a --

GORDON: I wasn`t --

MATTHEWS: -- your staff people? Did the administration --

GORDON: I didn`t hear the word policy. I was just told no one would be
permitted from the governor`s office to testify. I can tell you --

MATTHEWS: Permitted, OK.

GORDON: -- that in the Corzine administration, members of the governor`s
office did testify before legislative committees.

MATTHEWS: So there`s no precedent for this kind of executive privilege, if
you will, denying your -- I mean, you`re the oversight body in any
government. You`re the legislature. You`re supposed to do oversight.
That`s how democracy works.

GORDON: Right.

MATTHEWS: How can it work if the legislators who are elected by the people
can`t oversee the workings of the executive branch, which is the way our
governments perform in this republic? And all this --

GORDON: This is all about checks and balances.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

GORDON: We`re exercising our constitutional obligation to provide
oversight over the executive branch, which in the case of the Sandy
recovery money for the people who`ve experienced losses to their homes,
this program appears to be a major screw-up.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me go to Bob Ingle -- we`ve had him on before -- to
get the culture here. You have written about this. Is this another bully
exercise, where the governor`s people, the governor perhaps overseeing this
-- I bet he knew this damn well happened. A report comes out today,
they`re not going to let anybody testify from the governor`s office before
the legislature.

Well, certainly, that would preclude any kind of performance under oath
from Mr. O`Dowd, his chief of staff, or Mr. McKenna, his counsel, the only
two people, according to Christie, he even talks to. So he`d be protected
then. Everybody else takes the 5th. His two top people take executive
privilege. What a sweet deal that would be for keeping the truth away from
the public.

BOB INGLE, "ASBURY PARK PRESS: My first thought is, is this another one of
those memos that went out without the governor knowing about it, or is this
actually something that he was in on?

It sounds like they just don`t have their act together. The wheels are
coming off this communications effort. My guess is, just based on my
reporting experience over the years, every chief executive would like to
have some kind of immunity for the people around him. But we live in a
democracy. We have three arms of government to keep an eye on each other.

And what happens when the legislature wants to ask somebody from the
executive? I guess you go to the third and ask the courts to decide.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me just go to real political reality here. Senator,
we`ve had all day with this report in hand. The Christie people know it`s
been in hand. You know it`s been in hand, this statement by NJ Spotlight
that they`re not going to let any staff people testify from the governor`s
office before your legislative committee, which is looking into Sandy money
and things like that.

If that`s been sitting out there all day today, from what I understand, and
not once has anybody apparently called your office and said, No, no that`s
not true, we`re going to let our people testify. Has anybody called you
and said, There`s no policy stopping us from doing this? We`re going to
let you have our witnesses come out of the governor`s office. Heard that
today?

GORDON: I have not heard that today. If there --

MATTHEWS: Well, doesn`t that tell you something?

GORDON: If there is no such policy and if their staff can testify, we
would welcome hearing from Mark Ferzan to learn about how this recovery
program failed to provide funding to the people who deserved the money.

MATTHEWS: Well, how do you find out? When are you going to find out,
Senator, whether you can get witnesses coming from the governor`s office,
and whether there`s really an executive privilege being claimed here? When
does the clock run out? I mean, you found out this morning they`re not
going to do it. We all found out. You knew it -- when did you get the
word through your staff that they were not going to give you any witnesses
from their office, from the governor`s office?

GORDON: Well, the hearing was at 10:00 o`clock this morning. I heard late
yesterday afternoon that no one from the governor`s office would be coming.
We did hear that the commissioner of community affairs would make himself
available at a date that worked for him. He`s a -- he had a tough schedule
today. And I spoke with him, and we are going to work out the scheduling
so that he can testify. And I would say that he probably knows more about
this problem than the folks in the governor`s office.

MATTHEWS: Bob Ingle --

GORDON: So I`m confident that we`re going to get the information that we
need.

MATTHEWS: But you`re not going to get it from the governor`s staff people.

GORDON: Probably not, not unless we --

MATTHEWS: OK --

GORDON: -- decide to exercise additional powers.

MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Bob Ingle. Here`s the problem. It seems to
me we`ve seen this before. You know how politicians say, I`m totally
responsible, but I`m not guilty, mistakes were made, all this blah, blah,
blah that politicians -- both parties do this, left and right, as a way of
sort of skirting away from responsibility, but somehow seeming noble.

In this case, we`ve got -- I want to show -- I want to watch this for our
memory here, January 9th -- or January 14th, in his state of the state,
where Christie again said, I`m going to cooperate with everybody here in
getting all the information. Then we`re getting this first seed (ph) of
information here last night. Oh, yes, I`m going to help. But by the way,
don`t count on any of my staff people coming up -- coming over to the
legislature to testify on anything.

Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I`m the governor. And I`m ultimately
responsible for all that happens on my watch, both good and bad. And
without a doubt, we will cooperate with all appropriate inquiries to ensure
that this breach of trust does not happen again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So does the governor decide, Bob, which are the appropriate
inquiries affecting his administration? Does he go, Well, this is
inappropriate, so I`ll get somebody over from the cabinet? But I didn`t
get anybody near me getting near these people these days because they could
ask about anything. Once those people set foot up there before the
committees, all of a sudden, Senator Jordan (ph) may not ask the question,
but somebody else on the committee`ll ask the question, and they`ll be
asking about me and the bridge.

Go ahead.

INGLE: That`s right. Well, I think they should take him up on it.
Instead of making a phone call over there, I think they should make it a
formal invitation. Tell him who they want to talk to, and let`s find out
what they say back formally. And then we`ll go from there.

MATTHEWS: How do we find out, Senator Gordon, how much veracity -- I
sensed that she was telling the truth, but I`m not a lie detector. I
watched the mayor of Hoboken, Ms. Zimmer, Dawn Zimmer. She seemed to be
very fluent on what went on between her and Guadagno, the lieutenant
governor, about them holding her up and saying, If you don`t support this
real estate deal on the waterfront, you`re not getting any help from us on
funding.

You`re investigating Sandy funding. Is this something you`d like to know,
whether it was a strong-arm tactic used down there in Hoboken by the
lieutenant governor on behalf of the governor?

GORDON: Chris, you know, I have seen no evidence of any kind of strong-arm
tactics or politics. You know, I think this was just --

MATTHEWS: Well, what do you think the mayor was saying?

GORDON: -- managerial incompetence.

MATTHEWS: No. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. The charge for the mayor is
she was called (ph) on a parking lot at ShopRite and told on the parking
lot, It shouldn`t be this way, but the governor wants you to know that he
is saying if you don`t support this real estate deal, forget the money.
You`re not getting it.

That`s not about managerial incompetence. That`s a charge, to me, of
extortion. What do you take it as? It`s not managerial incompetence, it`s
--

GORDON: No, no, I was referring --

(CROSSTALK)

GORDON: -- the situation with the Sandy recovery money that we`re
investigating, which is --

MATTHEWS: Yes, well, what do you think? You`re looking at the money end
of this thing. Are you curious what happened down in Hoboken that
afternoon in that parking lot, or not? Aren`t you curious about that?

GORDON: You know, I think every New Jerseyian is interested in knowing
what happened. I mean, no one would approve of strong-arm tactics like
that. We just want to rebuild our towns and cities.

MATTHEWS: Is this the behavior you would expect of Christie, or not?

GORDON: Well, this is an administration that plays -- has been known to
play hardball. I`ve had some personal experiences with it myself.

MATTHEWS: Anything like this, where they say --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- you don`t play ball with us on this, you`re not going to get
something you would normally get? Anything like that?

GORDON: Well, you know, Chris, you know, I`m not sure how much we would
get done if elected officials did not use the levers of power. Lyndon
Johnson wouldn`t have gotten the Civil Rights Act through Congress unless
he threatened some Southern senators with withholding federal money.

But when you do things like shut down lanes on a bridge that put people at
risk, that`s something totally different, and you know, you`ve crossed the
line with that.

MATTHEWS: Well, what about going to a mayor and saying, If you don`t back
my buddies and all the people that used to work for me are now lawyers for
this operation, this Rockefeller Institute (sic) deal -- if you don`t back
this real estate deal, which is a privately funded money-making operation -
- if you don`t do this, because I want it done because of my pals, you`re
not going to get the money you normally should get from the government.

Is that to you a strong-arm or simply HARDBALL? Is that fair game?

INGLE: That is strong-arm. I mean, I was a mayor. And if someone had
threatened me with that, I would have told them to go jump in the Passaic
River.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s what I would think would be a nice thing to do.
Thank you, Robert Gordon, for coming on the show today.

GORDON: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: And of course, Bob Ingle, about your wisdom about the way things
work up there.

Coming up, bully pulpit. It seems to be the Christie administration`s MO,
say something critical, ask the wrong question or write a negative story,
and they go at you personally. The latest target, a conservative favorite,
"The New York Times."

Plus, the health care law has come a long way since the days of the botched
rollout, but that`s not stopping Republicans from keeping the heat and the
hatred going all the way through the 2014 election. Guess what? No matter
how truthful or untruthful what they`re saying.

And a family is supposed to be off-limits in politics, but then there`s Ted
Cruz`s father, Rafael. His Obama hatred is even more extreme than the
senator`s own. And Ted Cruz`s Senate campaign has been paying the old
man`s expenses.

Finally, when Marco Rubio was asked whether he had ever smoked pot, he
didn`t say yes but he never inhaled -- not exactly, but almost. Who cares?

Anyway, this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, guess what? It looks like there won`t be a showdown over
the debt ceiling this time around. The House of Representatives late today
passed a clean bill to raise the debt limit without asking for anything in
return. The vote was 221 to 201 with 28 Republicans joining the majority
of Democrats to approve the bill.

House Republican leadership decided this morning to bring a clean bill to
the floor after failing to attract enough support on the Republican side
for any bills seeking concessions from the White House.

We`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The Christie administration`s strong-
arm tactics extend beyond executive privilege. If you write or say
something that offends the Christie administration, the pushback is swift
and often in the form of a publicized memo.

Well, today`s target, Kate Zernike of "The New York Times," for comments
she made earlier today on MSNBC`s "MORNING JOE." Well, a few minutes after
noon Eastern today, an e-mail with the subject line "Setting the record
straight again on `The New York Times`" landed in inboxes. It was a
familiar memo format, like the earlier pushback -- I hate that word -- on
David Wildstein, with bullet points going all the way back to high school.

Well, this one came from the governor`s communications office. The e-mail
calls Zernike`s comments "myths," and among other things, takes issue with
her characterization of moves by Christie`s attorneys as threatening.

Kate Zernike of "The New York Times" and the subject of that Christie e-
mail blast is here with us now. And we`re also joined by "New York"
magazine`s John Heilemann, the co-author of "Double Down" and an MSNBC
political analyst.

Kate, thank you for joining us. I recognize the sort of the rubric here of
generalized pushiness and strong-arm tactics, going against somebody else,
creating another story. And so maybe I`m willing to believe that what
Christie`s really doing here, and the flacks around him, is to try to focus
on something besides scandal. Everybody`s out to get me. Everybody`s out
of step but Johnny, or in this case, Chris, the governor.

You know, I think it`s always smart politics to start a fight. I mean,
George, Sr., president, started a fight with Dan Rather. You know, I think
these kind of things are sort of interesting sparring matches.

Your thoughts and experiences in trying to cover a tricky story which keeps
growing.

KATE ZERNIKE, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I think, Chris, we`ve seen this
before. You know, the governor first tried to attack MSNBC when Steve
Kornacki had the story about Hoboken and the Sandy aid. Then they went
after Dawn Zimmer, the mayor of Hoboken. Then they went after David
Wildstein, who accused the governor of lying. Then they went after the --
you know, the governor said that he -- his staff had sent out the memo
about David Wildstein without consulting him.

So again, none of these people are the story. "The New York Times" is not
the story. The story is, why did Christie aides order the lane closings on
the George Washington Bridge and then engage in what appears to be a cover-
up to try to make it look like a traffic study? And you know, who knew
what when. And we all look forward to getting the facts in those (ph)
case. But those -- that`s not a story about the "New York Times" or
anybody else.

MATTHEWS: John Heilemann, in terms of MO here, how does this -- if this is
all the way it seems, which is pushback or whatever the term is -- I call
it riding the ref, like in a football or basketball game, guys who get the
courtside seats and yell at the ref all the through the game, hoping they
can probably reduce the number of fouls on their team and get a couple on
the other side. Whatever their game is, it`s obnoxious.

But it`s done in flackery. That`s what flacks do. Your thoughts.

JOHN HEILEMANN, "NEW YORK" MAGAZINE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it is.
But I think there`s something more specific here going on. And I agree
with Kate that the story shouldn`t be "The New York Times," but it is what
the Christie administration would like it to be. There is no -- it`s hard
for people who watch this network and for most people in America to
understand the extent to which "The New York Times" is the bete noir of the
right.

They are hated among Republican grassroots voters, that newspaper. It
symbolizes, in their view, everything that is wrong with the liberal media
establishment. And it is a --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Do they hate the Newark paper? Do they hate "The Bergen Record"
that broke all these earlier stories? Do they hate all local press?

(CROSSTALK)

HEILEMANN: No, they don`t hate all local press, Chris. This is the
national liberal establishment, in the view of Republican regulars.

And so you have seen Republican administrations going back 10, 20, 30, 40
years, picking on "The New York Times" when they are desperate, and trying
to change the story, change the subject.

And Chris Christie right now is -- beyond all the myriad political and
legal problems he has, he has a problem within the Republican Party, which
is that he doesn`t have that many supporters on the right among his own
people. And one of the ways in which he is trying to rally the right to
his cause is to make this story about someone they all despise, which is in
this case -- earlier, it was MSNBC. Now in this case, it`s "The New York
Times." And they think they have at least some kind of an advantage in
trying to wage that war.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me go back to Kate.

I don`t know you, Kate. I have seen your record and how many of these big
stories you have covered. You have covered terrorism, lots -- maybe bigger
stories than a bridge closing. But what is interesting about this is the
hard work. And my colleague Rachel Maddow has pointed this out. Other
people pointed out the hard work that has been done by local reporters up
there, who don`t make a lot of money, who don`t get their name on
television, who are not showboaters, who are hard workers. They`re
workhorses.

And they went out there and dug up this story from the beginning, starting
with the managing editor of the Bergen paper, not the managing -- the
publisher, which is unusual, a publisher having a piece of the action. He
had something to do with getting this story going, and then the executive
editor and then the reporter on the beat who covers traffic.

And then it`s gotten into the bigger papers. And it seems to me this is a
story that is going to be decided by the evidence, like Watergate was, not
by the yelling on both sides, or the P.R., and not by the flackery. It`s
going to be decided as evidence grows or doesn`t that the governor was
involved.

ZERNIKE: Right. That`s absolutely true.

And we have several investigations going on right now. We have the U.S.
attorney`s investigation. We have a legislative investigation, and,
theoretically, the governor`s office is doing an investigation too. The
governor`s office has said that it will investigate, it will do an internal
investigation of -- of who in their office knew what, and how this ended up
happening and how they can prevent it from happening again.

MATTHEWS: Do you see any reporting that has been done on the progress of
the governor`s investigation? You know, Nixon hired -- I think he got John
Dean to investigate Watergate. I`m a bit of a skeptic about internal
investigations. Are you?

ZERNIKE: Well, you know, I don`t really k.

MATTHEWS: Internal investigations like O.J. says, I`m looking for the real
killer, and, you know, it`s almost -- I shouldn`t be making jokes about
things.

But you hear so many people who have obvious reasons for saying things,
and, oh, we`re really trying hard to get to the bottom of this. What is
the first tidbit of information we have gotten from the governor that
wasn`t already published in one of your papers? Nothing. It`s called
rolling disclosure.

ZERNIKE: Well, what we know about -- what we know about the governors
investigation, what we know about it, he has hired Randy Mastro.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ZERNIKE: And we know that -- really, we know very little about what is
going on with -- he was hired in part to do an internal investigation at
the governor`s office.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ZERNIKE: But what we have seen is he is seeking e-mails between "The New
York Times" and Hoboken officials about the story there.

We know that he has sought to interview Dawn Zimmer, the mayor of Hoboken,
and sought to find out what kind of documents she is turning over. So, it
seems to be -- what we know publicly about this investigation is they`re
looking at other people who have made accusations against the governor and
trying to sort of suss out what they have.

MATTHEWS: So, are they trying to find out who leaked?

ZERNIKE: I don`t know about that.

I mean, they may be trying to figure out in those e-mails between "The New
York Times" and the Hoboken administration who -- you know, what kind of --
obviously, what kind of communications were going on. But whether there
was some leaking of classified information, I don`t know the answer to
that.

MATTHEWS: What is Mayor Zimmer`s feeling about being told she wants to --
the lawyers, these big-time lawyers for the governor want to talk to her?
Is her reaction they want to strong-arm her, they want to intimidate her?
Or is her reaction they just want to get some discovery here, it`s normal
procedure? How does she read it?

ZERNIKE: No. Her lawyer -- she is not responding. But her lawyer, who is
a very seasoned New York -- sorry -- New Jersey lawyer, has responded and
said, this is not -- it said essentially this feels like an attempt to
strong-arm, and we`re not going to fall prey to it.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ZERNIKE: And we`re involved in some other investigations.

MATTHEWS: John Heilemann, you guys had a great piece. I want to talk just
one minute here. I have got to take some time.

You had some very informative storytelling, a fact of discovery here about
how Governor Christie behaved when he pulled Mitt Romney, who was running
for president at the time, into a back room at Drumthwacket -- that`s the
mansion up there in Trenton -- and said, buddy, you`re not taking a nickel
out of this state until I say so.

HEILEMANN: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: And coming out of that meeting, you guys, in reporting, you got
a sense like this was like a "Sopranos" moment, where, this is muscle. I
have never heard of a politician, a governor, senator, whatever, saying to
anybody, whether they live in New York, New Jersey, California, or Puerto
Rico or anywhere elsewhere money is raised, Texas, you can`t touch this
state unless I give you the OK, or else you`re dead.

I mean, what did you make of that story? You broke it.

HEILEMANN: Well, it was certainly -- it was certainly the case, Chris, a
very vivid story, and a story that really struck people from Governor
Romney down in his organization as kind of an extraordinary thing.

They were shocked by Christie`s behavior.

MATTHEWS: Did they think it was mob behavior? What did they think?

HEILEMANN: They felt -- they felt it was like they -- there were those who
made the "Sopranos" parallel in our reporting, that -- when we talked to
people around Governor Romney.

And I`ll tell you, what was extraordinary about it from their perspective
was that Governor Romney had run for president in 2008. He had raised tons
of money in New Jersey. It`s one of the biggest Republican or any other
donor states outside of places like New York and California.

So Governor Romney had a bunch of donors in New Jersey who he had tapped in
2008, and now Governor Christie was saying, you can`t even go back to your
old friends, to people who have always given -- who gave money to you last
time, until I say that it`s OK.

They thought that was -- that was pretty bold and pretty brash on Governor
Christie`s part. And I can tell you that now they point to that story --
well, you talk to these people now, they point back to that story and say
it was a fore -- it kind of foreshadowed some of the style --

MATTHEWS: Yes. It`s almost like --

(CROSSTALK)

HEILEMANN: -- that we have seen from Chris Christie in some of these
stories we have seen more recently.

MATTHEWS: As well -- you`re going to have the jukebox in a New York diner
or you`re not going to be around next week.

Anyway, thank you, Kate Zernike, for coming on and putting this story where
it belongs, on the story.

ZERNIKE: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: John Heilemann, it`s great reporting in that book "Double Down."

HEILEMANN: Thanks.

MATTHEWS: Up next: Marco Rubio`s creative dodge when asked if he has ever
smoked pot. By the way, make me official on this. This isn`t the biggest
story in the world, but it is interesting.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Time for the "Sideshow."

With rumors of a presidential campaign in the works, Joe Biden is going
negative, double negative, that is. Take a look at what Conan O`Brien
pointed out about Biden`s syntax in some of his recent statements about
2016.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "CONAN")

CONAN O`BRIEN, HOST, "CONAN": Earlier this week, Joe Biden was asked if he
was planning to run for president, and he had this to say.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There may be reasons I
don`t run, but there is no obvious reason for me why I think I should not
run.

O`BRIEN: Well, that statement set the tone for Biden`s first presidential
campaign ad, which was released online just a few hours ago.

Check it out.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Joe Biden has served his country for over 40 years.
So when he says he is not uninterested in seeking the presidency, it
shouldn`t be a no-brainer to refuse to disbelieve him.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Biden won`t just not undermine the economy. He will
oppose reversing all efforts to negate unemployment.

Joe Biden, no compelling reason not to vote for the opposite of his
opponent.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I guess you could say that was -- well, it wasn`t unamusing.

Anyway, next up, the genie is out of the bottle when it comes to pot and
politicians these days. The issue has been more or less moot for voters
ever since Bill Clinton notoriously said he didn`t inhale way back in `92.
Well, Senator Marco Rubio became the latest politician to confront that
famous question now that Florida is considering a referendum on medical
marijuana.

And while his answer seems reasonable and well-thought-out, it was still a
dodge. Here he was at a Q&A at an event yesterday in Miami.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Young voters have asked me and they`re curious to
know, have you ever smoked marijuana?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: You know why I never answer that question?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why not?

(LAUGHTER)

RUBIO: I will tell you why I never answer that question.

(LAUGHTER)

RUBIO: If I tell you I haven`t, you won`t believe me. And if I tell you I
did, kids will look up to me and say, well, I can smoke marijuana, because
look how he made it. He did all right. So, I guess I can do it too.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That`s pretty smart. Up next, the Republicans are hoping to
keep -- but it wasn`t an answer.

The Republicans are hoping to keep up the heat and the hatred on health
care, all the way to a Senate majority next November.

Anyway, you`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Snow is coming -- snow is coming down across parts of the Southeastern U.S.
as a powerful winter storm is barreling through that region. It is
expected to be much worse than the storm that crippled Atlanta just two
weeks ago. Forecasters say ice and widespread power outages are a major
concern for parts of Georgia and the Carolinas.

And President Obama and his first lady are hosting a state dinner honor of
French President Francois Hollande. The big event will take place in a
giant tent on the South Lawn -- back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Republicans like their chances of winning control of the U.S. Senate in
this year`s midterm elections. And just as in 2010, they have a one-trick
pony to ride their way to the majority: health care. Republicans want to
use health care to sow the seeds of distrust against all Democrats.

According to "The Hill" newspaper, Republicans want to convince voters that
vulnerable Democrats are liars. They also want to make every senator into
the 60th vote that helped pass health care reform in 2010, and make every
Democrat personally liable for health care failures.

Well, the goal, according to "The Hill" newspaper, is to erode voters`
trust in respected members, not just hit them on the law`s problems.

Eugene Robinson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and -- with "The
Washington Post," of course, and an MSNBC political analyst. And Sam Stein
is senior politics editor for The Huffington Post and an MSNBC contributor.

Gentlemen, I want to talk about the phenomenon that is going on, not the
old story we`re used to of the problems with Obamacare rollout and this
stuff that goes out in anything, especially government programs, but this
sort of festering heat. They keep fanning the flames of hatred, the
ideological fury, the -- you must hate Obama because you hate Obamacare.
You must hate all Democrats because his promises weren`t fulfilled.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Well, they think they have
got something there, right? They think they have got something that works,
that works to destroy trust in President Obama and Democrats who supported
the health care law.

And so they`re going to push it. They`re going to continue pushing it as
hard as they can, regardless of what actually happens with the law. And
then that becomes kind of irrelevant. It is just the narrative that they
want to push, they`re going to continue to push.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You know, it reminds me in a weird way -- and nothing is ever
the same -- but, Sam, like the early Cold War, when there really was a
Soviet threat out there in the world, in Eastern Europe and around the
world, that everything was a Cold War issue.

SAM STEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes.

MATTHEWS: The Republicans let nothing be talked about. Anything else,
jobs, unemployment, education, health care, forget all that. The Cold War,
and you`re the wrong side. It seems like -- and it`s a character issue,
you know?

STEIN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Helen Douglas, you`re in bed with those people. You know,
you`re -- you`re pink right down to your underwear. In this case, every
single Democrat is -- has a character flaw --

STEIN: Yes. Sure.

MATTHEWS: -- because they voted for health care. And, therefore, they`re
part of the big lie or whatever. It`s pretty rough stuff out there. Your
thoughts.

(CROSSTALK)

STEIN: And you picked up -- you picked up on a funny trend, too, which is
that every one of these senators casts the deciding vote, that it all
hinged on so and so from Alaska, even though, if you followed the debate,
it was pretty clear who the deciding votes were.

But I think you`re absolutely right in your analysis. You can see it today
on the vote on the debt ceiling, for instance. House Republicans, the
Republicans in general don`t want to talk about anything else. They don`t
want to make a fuss about things they traditionally made a fuss about
because they put all their chips on the Obamacare wagon.

And they assume that it`s going to go to their benefit in the next
election. The only thing I would say, though, is that this is different
than 2010. In 2010, it was sort of an amorphous legislation that they
could run against. No one was truly familiar with the product. It had --
none of the benefits had accrued.

In 2014, yes, there was an incredibly rocky rollout. It was incredibly
mismanaged. There is a political downside for the White House.

MATTHEWS: You make a great point.

STEIN: But --

MATTHEWS: Can we skip ahead here to something? Because I want to make
your point for you with the number.

STEIN: Sure.

MATTHEWS: You say that it`s not the same. Now, we know that the health
care is not favorable. Unfavorable for -- is 50, and favorable is only 34.

STEIN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: But when you say, should we get rid of the program --

STEIN: Of course.

MATTHEWS: -- it is so fascinating, there`s -- there`s -- only 38 percent
of the country, just over a third -- there`s the number -- want to repeal
it.

It is -- this is so fascinating. In other words, I want you to pick up on
that and then Gene to pick up. You`re laughing, because, if they really
hate so it much, I would dump it. Trash can it. Get rid of it. Move on
the something else.

STEIN: But there --

MATTHEWS: But they don`t want to do that.

(CROSSTALK)

STEIN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: What do you think that differential is?

STEIN: Well, there is a broad recognition that the system prior to
Obamacare was a huge disaster. That`s one.

Two, you`re starting to see some of the benefits accrue, people who can
keep their kids on their parents` plans until 26, the ending of the
discrimination of people against pre -- with preexisting conditions, the
fact that millions of people are actually getting coverage.

Those are all benefits that people recognize, and they don`t want to take
away. Now, if you were to reverse the health care law, you would be
actually taking away insurance from people who never had it before and got
it for the first time, whereas, in 2012, 2010, that wasn`t the case,
really. People hadn`t gotten those benefits.

So it`s a totally different dynamic. I still think it`s a liability in
some respects for the president, but it`s not like 2010.

MATTHEWS: This is something that has been sort of customized for every
Democrat. We`re watching ads.

According to Kantor Media, the Americans for Prosperity, the group funded
by the billionaire Koch brothers says it has spent $27 million over the
past six months attacking the Affordable Care Act and vulnerable Senate
Democrats.

Here is a sample of the ads they`re running. They customize it to whoever
they hate that week or in that locale.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kay Hagan told us, if you like your insurance plan
and your doctors, you can keep them. That just wasn`t true.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Those individuals who like the coverage they already
have will be able to keep their current plan. This is a very accurate
description of this bill.

NARRATOR: But now, Louisianans are finding out they lied.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Basically, you said what the president said. Any
regrets?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, Wolf, whatsoever.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can keep your insurance if you like it.

NARRATOR: Tell Senator Shaheen, it`s time to be honest. Obama care
doesn`t work. New Hampshire families deserve better.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

MATTHEWS: Who is that forbidding voice? It`s always like black and white
pictures. Newspaper headlines, and then there is this forbidding, grim
voice.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Like the devil talking.

ROBINSON: I`m thinking of going into that, a second career.

MATTHEWS: Voiceovers.

ROBINSON: Right. But, you know, that`s very smart on their part, because
if you -- if you argue on the merits of the legislation and what it`s
actually doing, it`s letting you keep your kids on your policy until
they`re 26, people like that. It`s borrowing people from being denied
because of preexisting conditions. They like that. So, make it the moral
issue. Make it --

MATTHEWS: Character.

ROBINSON: Did Kay Hagan lie? Did Mary Landrieu lie?

MATTHEWS: OK, why is it necessary the Democrats can`t just have made a
mistake and had a bad week and missed out on something, or got something
wrong, Sam? Why do they have to be evil? Why is that important?

STEIN: Well, because this is politics.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK. But character. It`s always -- anyway, thank you, Gene
Robinson, thank you, Sam Stein. It ain`t funny, but it is ridiculous.

Up next, Ted Cruz may say his Obama-hating father and birther father
doesn`t speak for him, except he is paying the bills for this guy to go
around and spread this stuff.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Looks like another fault line is opening up in the Republican
Party. Rand Paul`s recent attacks on Bill and Hillary Clinton aren`t
sitting well with the architect himself, Karl Rove. Here is what Rove said
about Paul on FOX today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS: Frankly, Rand Paul spending a lot of time talking
about the mistakes of Bill Clinton does not look like a big agenda for the
future of the country. I`m not certain again that beating up on Bill
Clinton and Monica Lewinsky is a particularly good thing to strengthen your
skills.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, for a long time now, I`ve thought Rand Paul is the one to
watch on the Republican side. He has gone on the attack early as he has
tapped into the idea that people on the right are angry, and they want to
see someone hit the other side hard, and that`s what he is doing. That`s
just what he is doing with the Clintons.

And late today, Senator Paul went on the attack against President Obama.
He is planning a lawsuit against the president, the director of national
intelligence, and the heads of the NSA and the FBI over NSA surveillance.

We`ll be back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

Rafael Cruz, that`s Senator Ted Cruz`s father, has become a political
celebrity of sorts to the far right thanks to his unfiltered comments about
President Obama.

Here he is back in 2012.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAFAEL CRUZ, SEN. TED CRUZ`S FATHER: We have our work cut out for us. We
need to send Barack Obama back to Chicago. I`d like to send him back to
Kenya, back to Indonesia.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Send him back to Kenya.

He has also called the president a Marxist, looking to destroy all concept
of God. Let`s listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRUZ: We have to unmask this man. This is a man who seeks to destroy,
destroy all concept of God. And I`ll tell you what? This is classical
Marxist philosophy. Karl Marx very clearly said it. Marxism requires that
we destroy God because government must become God.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the elder Cruz right there regularly compares President
Obama to Fidel Castro, and he has said this administration, that`s Obama`s,
has put the country on the path to being a third world country. That`s
just the beginning, by the way, of a very long list of extreme statements
from this fellow. When asked about some of them last October, a spokesman
for Senator Ted Cruz protested that they were taken out of context. But he
also said, quote, "Cruz Sr. does not speak for the senator."

Well, the only problem there is that he does, and frequently. "The
Associated Press" wrote this week, this week, quote, "In comments to `The
Associated Press`, Ted Cruz and his staff acknowledge Rafael`s place as an
occasional political surrogate when asked about more than $16,000 in travel
expenses and mileage reimbursement his Senate campaign paid the elder Cruz
in 2012 and through December of just last year."

Well, the conservative "National Review" last year described the elder Cruz
as a power broker in his son`s office. Quote, "His son trusts his father`s
political instincts. And instead of hiring a big name Republican
strategist to shepherd his dissent, he uses his father for the kind of
guidance you would expect from a consultant."

In other words, Rafael Cruz, the guy slinging birther comments and accusing
the president of being a Marxist and out to kill religion as part of Ted
Cruz`s political team.

Wayne Slater is senior political write for "The Dallas Morning News", and
John Feehery is a Republican strategist.

Well, let me ask you, Wayne. What is this guy`s name? His name is the
same name as his son. He is a Cuban immigrant. Fair enough. We like
Cubans.

But here is the question. Has he brought that sort of communist patter and
we all hate Castro and simply applauded to our politics. That`s what it
sounds like. It sounds like he`s projected what he came from on to this
country.

Obama is not a Marxist or a Castro-ite or anything like it. He`s not anti-
God. He was just at the prayer breakfast.

I mean, what is this about? Why does he just cookie cut, to -- I`m with
the Cubans on that one, they had their country stolen from them. But
nobody stole this country from anybody. Obama was elected, damn it!

Why does this guy got his head screwed around where he came from and why
does he adjust to the fact his son is a United States senator and
representing him on the road? He ought to get his facts reasonably
straight.

Your thoughts?

WAYNE SLATER, DALLAS MORNING NEWS: Well, basically, look, the fact that he
is from Cuba, that he left Cuba, in fact, he fought for Castro for a while,
but then was fighting against Batista. The fact that he has that as a
credential makes the rest of this happen.

He is talking and saying things that Ted Cruz wants him to say to
particular constituencies. He`s preaching to the choir. To a choir that`s
very important to Ted Cruz.

Ted Cruz is his father`s son. Back when Ted Cruz was growing up and in
middle school, his father sent him to both church school and then
afterwards to a free enterprise school where they studied Austrian
economics and so forth.

Ted Cruz`s father, Rafael, does conflate the Cuban experience with a larger
anti-communist and subsequently anti-gay marriage, anti-Obama, anti-
Democratic philosophy and politics and it works with the folks he talks to.

MATTHEWS: Well, the only time I`ve seen his son go full moon like that
when he was on after Hagel with that McCarthy crap he was doing. I feel
like he was Joe McCarthy. But when he`s son what do you think -- he`s
picking the guy`s tab up when he travels for him. Is he his surrogate or
not?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Absolutely he`s a surrogate. He`s a
very charismatic speaker. He`s someone who appeals strongly to the
Republican base, the conservative base.

MATTHEWS: Your base. Ha!

FEEHERY: Well, the conservative base. Especially --

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s talk about the Republican Party.

FEEHERY: The Ted Cruz base.

MATTHEWS: Is the Republican Party include people who believe Obama was
born in Kenya? A significant number of people who won`t to hear that crap?

FEEHERY: Well, I think there`s a proportion of it.

MATTHEWS: Five percent, 10 percent?

FEEHERY: A number of folks. He has his personal story. And Ted Cruz
learns from it and is animated from it. And I think Rafael, from all I`ve
heard, is a better public speaker than his son.

MATTHEWS: Cruz`s father also tends to distort the facts to attack
President Obama. Take a look at this one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRUZ: If you have heard him recite the pledge, he skips "under God."
Never says those two words, "under God."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that might be a good applause line if it happened to be
true, but it`s totally false. All it takes is a quick Google search to
prove it`s false. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, & CROWD: We pledge
allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic
for which it stands, one nation, under god, indivisible, with liberty and
justice for all.

And to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God.

CROWD: One nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.

OBAMA: We have been and always will be one nation, under God, indivisible
with liberty and justice for all.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

MATTHEWS: There you have it, proof he`s never said "under God." What is
this -- who is this character? This guy, Rafael Cruz. He says something
we can prove thanks to production and videotape is not -- I hate to say the
word lie, but it is.

FEEHERY: He`s taking the greatest hits from the Internet and putting it
into one stump speech.

MATTHEWS: Where did this come from?

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: I have no idea.

MATTHEWS: Wayne, where is this stuff coming to a guy`s head? He must have
gotten it from some school of scandal. I don`t know where they learn this
stuff.

SLATER: Look, the key here is not whether this is encumbered by facts or
not. The key is that the audiences that Rafael Cruz is talking to believe
every word of this. When Rafael Cruz says Obamacare is currently
constituted, does have the death panels, we should never have beat up on
Sarah Palin, then the audience says yes. When he says Obama is a Marxist,
they say yes. When he talks about Kenya, they believe this.

The key to Ted Cruz is he understands, although the birther sort of
Marxist, anti-Marxist element, and the Republican Party may be relatively
small, it is a large constituency among those 60 percent of Christian
conservatives who are going to vote in the Iowa caucus and 50 percent of
Christian conservatives in South Carolina.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you.

Wayne -- the two major parties are not equally crazy.

Anyway, thank you, Wayne Slater, and thank you, John Feehery.

Anyway, we`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with a smash.

The feelings and excitement of 50 years ago, when a college freshman, that
would be me, witnessed the coming to this country, perhaps, the most
welcomed group in American history. It helped that the Beatles arrived a
winter after Kennedy was killed. It was a gloomy time. Especially up in
Massachusetts where I was a college freshman.

That Sunday night, in the dark of February, when those four young guys from
England showed up on "Ed Sullivan Show," everyone on our floor at Holy
Cross gathered in the R.A.`s room to watch.

Here we were in an all-men`s school watching young girls scream as the
Beatles sang "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "Till There Was You." This was
the early Beatles, before they became important -- important especially to
those of us dealing with Vietnam and the draft and generational struggle
that was only fun if you were looking at it from the outside. Fighting
with your father, having him angry with you for going to anti-war rallies
is no fun at all.

The thing is, millions of us went through this. As the new frontier
morphed into the `60s, the Beatles led the way and for seven years, they
never stopped. There is simply no other group that`s matched what this
group did. Consider the sheer numbers of their songs that live in our
heads today.

When I think of the `60s, I think of the record shop in Chapel Hill that
blared out "I`m a walrus" during my grad school years at the University of
North Carolina. I think of "Hey Jude", the song my Peace Corps outfit in
Swaziland made its own. And, of course, there`s "Imagine," John Lennon`s
haunting rebuke to all the reasons people invent for killing each other for
war. That`s the song we`re going to hear for as long as it`s necessary to
have someone singing it.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


END


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