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updated 3/12/2014 10:56:55 AM ET 2014-03-12T14:56:55

HARDBALL
March 11, 2014

Guests: Stan Brand, Jonathan Landay, Jeremy Bash, Lizz Winstead, Dana
Milbank

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Bridget Kelly`s blues.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews up in Philadelphia.

"Let Me Start" tonight with this, a double barrel of politics today. In
New Jersey, Bridget Kelly, trying to keep "bridge-gate" from becoming
Bridget-gate, refuses to hand over e-mails on the scandal, saying to do so
would be an admission of involvement.


Well, today in Washington, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee
accused the CIA of violating the Constitution by spying on the Senate
itself. More on that explosive story right after this.

In Trenton today, Bridget Kelly`s lawyer says he won`t give capital
investigators the e-mail that says "Time for some traffic problems in Fort
Lee" because to do so would make her an agent of the investigators, he
said, a role she`s not willing to play, or not just yet.

The big question, what does Bridget Kelly know and when will we know it?
Will the U.S. attorney give her immunity to get to someone higher up? Will
the state legislators or the U.S. attorney decide that she has something
really good to give before giving her a pass to freedom?

So what will it take for the probers in Trenton to get those e-mails and
other documents that explain why stopping the traffic on the George
Washington Bridge last September was so darned important to so many
Christie people.

Brian Murphy is an MSNBC contributor and was the managing editor of
PoliticsNewJersey (sic) -- NJ, rather. And Stanley Brand is a law
professor at Penn State and was the general counsel to the U.S. House of
Representatives. Gentlemen, thank you.

Brian, I want you to start with this thing here. Let`s go to the courtroom
drama in Trenton today. Bridget Kelly, the key witness in this
investigation, appeared in New Jersey superior court today to wage war
against state investigators who are demanding she comply with a subpoena
for documents. Her attorney threw down the gauntlet in court, arguing
would concede nothing, nada. He wouldn`t even acknowledge that Bridget
Kelly wrote, quote, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

But then he took it even further. Listen to her lawyer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL CRITCHLEY, BRIDGET KELLY`S ATTORNEY: Everybody says, My God, this
does it. This is the document. We duced (ph) the lanes. OK, so when I
look at this document, I look at it, on its face -- on its face -- does it
regard the George Washington Bridge? No. On its face, does it regard the
reduction of three lanes to one access lanes to the George Washington
Bridge? No. On its face, does it relate to activities between September
9th and September 12th? No.

Now, it doesn`t on its face. So if I respond, hypothetically, if I respond
and turn over this document, I will basically be testifying, yes, although
it does not on its face relate to the George Washington Bridge, I`m
authenticating that it does.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That`s what we used to call Jesuitical. The fact is that the e-
mail said, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" and said nothing
about reducing the traffic lanes, Mr. Attorney.

Anyway, the lawyer representing the state -- he`s the tough guy, Reid Schar
-- called that argument by Critchley, the lawyer for Bridget, insane, and
then dropped this bomb on the court. Here`s Schar.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REID SCHAR, ATTORNEY FOR NJ SELECT COMMITTEE: The fact that the
defendant`s position is we can`t get the e-mail that says "It`s time for
traffic problems in Fort Lee," despite the fact we have a third party who`s
provided it to us, an e-mail from Bridget Anne Kelly, with absolute
particularity, highlights the absurdity of the situation.

If the standard is everyone can withhold everything until some third party
has come forward and provided an affidavit that says, This is authentic, no
one`s going to be able to ever get anything in response to a subpoena.

It is a forgone conclusion, based on the type of communications that are
going on, that, in fact, there are additional e-mails that are out there.
And I`m not guessing, Judge. I know it because I`ve seen them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Reid Schar seems to have the evidence here. But the
attorney for Bridget Kelly says he`s not going to turn over even what is a
duplicate of the "Time for some traffic problems at Fort Lee." How does he
argue that that`s not particular to this matter, or particular to this
subpoena, when it`s at the very center and the target -- the center of the
target?

BRIAN MURPHY, BARUCH COLLEGE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, I find that argument
--

MATTHEWS: What kind of defense is this?

MURPHY: I can understand why we would -- we would -- right, as Americans,
we would be biased in favor of broad interpretations of the 5th Amendment.
But this isn`t -- we know that this is a very specific subpoena that`s been
issued here. They`re looking for material related to "bridge-gate." And
this has already been produced. I mean, that`s the baffling thing about
this part of the argument is --

MATTHEWS: Wildstein already --

MURPHY: -- we already know about this e-mail.

MATTHEWS: -- produced it. Wildstein produced it in January.

MURPHY: That`s right. We already know that it`s been -- and everything
that Wildstein produced we know is responsive to the question, Give us
everything that you have related to the bridge lane closures. So we
already know that this exists. I mean, trying to get a do-over on this one
-- it`s already been out there, and the cat is totally out of the bag.

MATTHEWS: Yes. I agree.

MURPHY: It just seems like a --

MATTHEWS: Hey (INAUDIBLE) Brand -- Stan -- I want to go to Stan on this
because, Stan, I`ve read some of your notes today. I think they`re
brilliant. It ain`t her property! She doesn`t own e-mail.

STAN BRAND, FMR. GENERAL COUNSEL, U.S. HOUSE OF REP.: Right.

MATTHEWS: This is -- this is public business. Whether it`s Gmail or it`s
dot-gov or however she sent it, if it`s public business about stopping
traffic, we own it, or the citizens of New Jersey own it.

BRAND: Right. It`s not personal. It`s not -- it`s not a diary. It`s not
a private letter. It`s a document created in her capacity as a government
employee. And generally speaking, the 5th Amendment doesn`t reach that
stuff. I don`t know whether the lawyers argued that in a separate part of
the hearing, but that`s at least one way to penetrate the privilege.

MATTHEWS: Well, Brian, as a Murphy, you might remember this. The biggest
mistake the Irish revolutionaries made back in their first fight, the
rising, was to create a barricade situation because a barricade situation
doesn`t last. This defense looks like a barricade situation.

MURPHY: It does.

MATTHEWS: How long can they withstand these subpoenas if all the
prosecutor has to do in this case -- the lawyer, the counsel for the
legislature, he simply rewrites the subpoena, according to this guy`s
dictates. And they still get it eventually, right, if that`s his defense,
that it isn`t particular enough?

MURPHY: Yes, and it`s already a fairly particular -- it`s not a fishing
expedition kind of subpoena. I mean, we already know that they`ve --
right, the subpoena that`s been issued to her, that she and Bill Stepien
are fighting, that`s a subpoena that`s been issued in response to documents
that have already been produced relating to a fairly specific matter.

So I`m really not sure how -- how you can fight that for very long,
especially since you`re also dealing with a situation where the
legislature`s investigation isn`t a criminal matter. This is simply the
legislature -- this is a question about the legislature being able to
conduct its constitutional job --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MURPHY: -- to provide oversight over the executive. It`s not -- you
know, regardless of whether or not the chairman has made statements about
whether or not a law has been broken, the legislature -- I mean, we would
agree, legislatures have to be able to investigate an executive. And if
everybody working for the executive could just claim the 5th all the time,
then that entire process falls apart.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you the logic of this thing. So (ph) the
lawyer knows he`s losing, but he`s got to play for time, or she -- in this
case, a he -- and the guy -- Critchley, Michael Critchley, simply says, I`m
going to try some of this stuff. It may be crapola, but I`m going to try
it for a couple of weeks. It`ll give me a couple weeks.

What`s he doing this for? What`s the delaying action? If it`s not going
to defend his defendant from having to testify eventually, what`s his play
here, Brian? What`s his play?

(CROSSTALK)

MURPHY: I would imagine -- I mean, I`m not a lawyer, right, and this would
-- this would be a question that someone else could answer better. But it
seems to me like you would hope that there would be the chance that the
state court would just not want to touch this, that it would -- this could
get kicked into a federal court. And maybe, right, because courts do tend
to interpret the 5th Amendment fairly broadly, we could find a way to just
prevent this from coming out. I`m really not sure, you know, what the long
game is here --

MATTHEWS: OK.

MURPHY: -- because it seems like --

MATTHEWS: I don`t -- I go with Stan -- let me go to Stan on this because I
think you`ve got a case here that this is public documents. If the public
doesn`t own this information, who does? It seems to me this is all about
public information. If Richard Nixon couldn`t claim the tapes as personal,
how can Bridget Kelly do it?

MURPHY: That`s a good point.

BRAND: Yes, well, the other problem here, Chris, is the U.S. attorney
lurking in the background. I don`t know if this lawyer would be spending
all this time and effort trying to delay the legislative subpoena if it
weren`t for the U.S. attorney lurking in the background, who is obviously,
in this case, the 800-pound gorilla.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BRAND: And the reason why I think a lot of these people are maneuvering in
the state legislature the way they are is they`re doubtful or uncertain or
fearful of what testifying in front of the legislature will do vis-a-vis
the feds. Were they to get any kind of immunity, obviously, that problem
would go away since they would be immunized for anything they say, except
for perjury.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BRAND: And that is one of the things that --

MATTHEWS: Stan -- Stan -- guys, both of you, but first Stan -- if you`re
the governor and you`re watching this case, you`re obviously
circumstantially involved in this, and certainly involved politically in
this whole scandal issue because it`s all your people involved here, even
if your fingernails or fingerprints aren`t on it -- eventually.

And my question to you, Stan, is, what do you think if you`re Governor
Christie watching these developments today? You`re watching a very tough
defense attorney defending Bridget Kelly and probably defense attorney for
Stepien the same way, his campaign manager, saying -- fighting tooth and
nail to keep from providing this information. Is that good or bad news for
the governor, Stan?

BRAND: Well, I think, ultimately, it`s bad news on two fronts. The first
front is that the pressure builds to give her some kind of immunity. And
then you`re worried about what she`s going to say under the protection of
the immunity and whether she`s going to implicate you or others.

The second thing that`s worrisome is the fact that, apparently, the U.S.
attorney in Manhattan, who then withdrew the subpoena, and now it`s been
taken over by New Jersey -- is that this has spread to the Port Authority
itself. And the U.S. attorney has issued subpoenas for the records of the
Port Authority related to the supposed conflicts of interest of the
chairman that Governor Christie appointed. So this is spreading to other
issues, as well.

MATTHEWS: Well, my question to you, Brian, then is, where is it going?
Because it seems to me this may have nothing to do with whether Sokolich,
the mayor of Fort Lee, was or was not going to endorse the governor for
reelection. It gets to the question of, why would you want to stop traffic
for a month across the bridge from Fort Lee unless you`re trying to
interfere or trying to squeeze somebody with regard to an economic
development plan there, something that a month of delays would send a
message to developers, We can`t develop with this new traffic pattern.

It seems to me bigger than just screwing a guy because he wouldn`t back you
for reelection. It seems to me the fact they`re going over the Port
Authority for further investigation, this may be more economic and bigger.
Your thoughts, Brian, right now.

MURPHY: This story has always seemed that way, right? It doesn`t really
make sense that it would be about an endorsement. People wouldn`t put
themselves in this kind of legal jeopardy if it was just about endorsement.

And the question I think Christie has to be asking himself, what did these
people write down? Maybe Christie has a habit of not writing things in e-
mails and not -- not producing documents that could later be subpoenaed.
But does his staff know enough, are they good enough to follow that rule
all of the time in all cases? And he`s got to be wondering --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MURPHY: -- what it is that might turn up. I mean, unless he`s
completely innocent in this, all -- right, all it takes for everybody
involved here is one e-mail saying the governor is concerned or the
governor would like this or that, right? Just invoking him in any way
makes this story blow up in a way that he would not be happy with and that
prosecutors and reporters and the legislature would all be very interested
in.

MURPHY: Yes, the only other interpretation besides complete innocence is a
deliberate obliviousness --

MURPHY: Right.

MATTHEWS: -- where ignorance is bliss, and he said, I don`t want
anything to do with it. I know what`s going on. I can figure what`s going
on. It sounds like my MO of my team over there, but I`m not talking to
nobody. I`m keeping myself out of it. That could (INAUDIBLE) but you`re
right. Actual innocence is one of the options.

Thank you so much, Brian Murphy, and thank you, Stan Brand.

Coming up: Spy games. Dianne Feinstein accuses the CIA of spying on the
Senate Intelligence Committee. She says the CIA pulled documents from her
committee`s own files that thwarted (ph) an investigation into Bush-era
interrogation tactics, including waterboard. (sic) This is hot stuff.

Florida, Florida, Florida -- the polls have just closed in a special
election for an open congressional district down in Florida today. If
Democrat Alex Sink can pull off a win here, it may mean -- may mean -- that
Democrats survive the GOP`s anti-"Obama care" onslaught we all know in (ph)
his (ph) plan for November. Watch it. We`ll see what happens.

Plus, you`ve never seen a president like the president -- this president,
President Obama on Zach Galifianakis`s tongue-in-cheek Web interview show
"Between Two Ferns." Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZACH GALIFIANAKIS, "BETWEEN TWO FERNS": You said if you had a son, you
would not let him play football. What makes you think that he would want
to play football? What if he was a nerd like you?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Do you think a woman like
Michelle would marry a nerd? Why don`t you ask her whether she thinks I`m
a nerd.

GALIFIANAKIS: Could I?

OBAMA: No, I`m not going to let her near you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: "I`m not going to let her near you," like it`s his decision!
Anyway, there`s more. Trust me. The president definitely brought his A
game.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" tonight with the death of a great newspaper
columnist and author, Joe McGinnis, the hero of my youth, the guy who blew
the lid on Vietnam and Richard Nixon both.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`ve all heard the right-wing bugle brigade out there calling
for tough action against Russia. But Americans aren`t buying it. A new
Pew poll out says that most Americans, by nearly 2 to 1, say it`s more
important for the United States to not get involved in this situation
between Russia and Ukraine -- 56 percent say we shouldn`t get involved,
just 29 percent say we should take a firm stand against Russian actions.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. For years, the bipartisan Senate
Intelligence Committee has been probing the CIA detention and interrogation
activities during the Bush years, with particular attention to brutal
interrogation tactics like waterboarding.

Well, today, in a stunning move, the chair of the committee, Dianne
Feinstein of California, accused the CIA of conducting an unconstitutional
search -- an unconstitutional search of Senate Intelligence computers -- in
other words, spying on the staff members doing the investigating and trying
to deny those investigators documents that show the CIA admitting its
misconduct.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Without prior notification or
approval, CIA personnel had conducted a search -- that was John Brennan`s
word -- of the committee computers.

I have grave concerns that the CIA search may well have violated the
separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Dianne Feinstein is a political grownup. I take her
seriously. By the way, she spoke to my colleague, Andrea Mitchell, who
interviewed CIA director John Brennan, who denied the CIA had been involved
in spying, hacking or monitoring of the Senate Intelligence Committee
staff.

Let`s hear Brennan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BRENNAN, CIA DIRECTOR: As far as the allegations of, you know, CIA
hacking into, you know, Senate computers, nothing could be further from the
truth. I mean, we wouldn`t do that. I mean, that`s -- that`s -- that`s
just beyond the -- you know, the scope of reason.

When the facts come out on this, I think a lot of people who are claiming
that there has been this tremendous sort of spying and monitoring and
hacking will be proved wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So here you have the Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman
saying her committee was spied on by the CIA, the very organization it`s
charged with overseeing.

Well, joining me right now is Jonathan Landay, national security
correspondent for McClatchy, and Jeremy Bash, who was chief of staff to CIA
director Leon Panetta from 2009 to 2011 and worked on drafting the
investigation agreement between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the
CIA.

Let me go right now to Jonathan on this. You broke this story. Jonathan,
this seems to be a fact fight, which I like. Fact -- is it a fact that the
CIA went back in and grabbed some materials, particularly the Panetta
report looking at what happened with detention practices, back from the
committee staff that had possession of it?

JONATHAN LANDAY, MCCLATCHY: No. That allegation concerns other documents
that we don`t know the nature of, that allegation from Dianne Feinstein.
But it is a question as to, I guess, your definition or a popular
definition of monitoring.

What U.S. official -- now, we haven`t heard the CIA go into any details
officially of what happened, but U.S. officials say what, indeed, the CIA
did was what they do in every government agency, which is to maintain logs
of the use of computers -- they`re mandated to do this -- and that when
they caught wind that the Senate Intelligence Committee staff had gotten
ahold of a document they thought they shouldn`t have, they went back into
the logs that were kept of the committee computers, went back some three
years, and discovered that in fact the committee staff had gotten ahold of
these documents.

So was it monitoring? It does seem to be that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Jonathan, let`s get it down. How could they know that the
committee staff had access to a document they didn`t want it to have unless
they hacked into or somehow got into their systems, or got into one of the
people on the staff? How could they have known that they had this
information they didn`t want them to have?

LANDAY: What my understanding is, is that the committee wrote a letter to
-- Chairman Feinstein wrote a letter to the CIA, I`m told, back in
November, intimating that they had a copy of the Panetta review, but not
actually saying that they did.

And that perked up attention at the agency. And they began sort of what I
guess is referred to of a forensic review of the use of the computers and
found out -- at least that`s what I`m being told -- that three years
earlier, the committee had gotten ahold of this draft of the report.

Now, Chairman Feinstein disputes the CIA`s contention, or at least what
we`re told is the CIA`s belief that they shouldn`t have had a copy of this,
this document, that this document was in a database of documents that the
CIA --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Right. But that`s irrelevant.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Look, look, Jonathan, I have an argument with you here. It
doesn`t matter what the CIA says. If the Senate Intelligence Committee has
the job of overseeing the CIA, gets information, it`s allowed to keep that
information. The CIA can`t grab it back or block it or anything else.

Once they have this report by Panetta basically spilling the beans on the
problems they had over there with intelligence in terms of retention -- or
detention and interrogation, they had a right to keep it. Their job is to
oversee the CIA. How can the CIA say, we can somehow be -- take back what
we didn`t want them to have?

That`s what I`m -- let`s go to Jeremy on this one.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Jeremy, your thinking about this. What are the rules? I know
the Constitution. The Committee on Intelligence, a bipartisan committee,
has one job. Watch the CIA.

JEREMY BASH, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO LEON PANETTA: Well, Chris, actually
--

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: And to say that they`re not allowed to their job is a real
problem.

Go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: I have been on both sides of this.

I have been both chief counsel of the congressional Intelligence Committee
on the House side and I have also worked at the agency. And both
institutions have incredibly important jobs. And they have got to work
together to promote national security.

Now, in this case, I was involved in 2009, when Chairman Feinstein came to
Director -- then Director Panetta and said, we would like to look at these
interrogation practices. Now, remember, President Obama had ended the
interrogation practices. And, of course, only three individuals were
water-boarded, and many of the interrogation practices were by then many
years old and largely dormant.

But the congressional committee said they want to look into this. So we
basically opened up the archives to the CIA and provided basically
unfettered access to the committee to look into this. It`s a very
legitimate review.

It`s gone on now five years. I believe it`s over 6,000 pages. I think
it`s in the best interests of the country and relations between Congress
and the CIA to basically complete the review, put it out there and close
this chapter.

MATTHEWS: But what do you think about Feinstein --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Jeremy, I want you to answer the question. Why would Dianne
Feinstein accuse the CIA of spying on her committee?

BASH: So, I think here you referenced, Chris, something called the Panetta
review.

And I think it`s actually important to have some context about what this
was and what this wasn`t. At the time, Director Panetta said, hey, let`s
keep track inside the CIA of every document, all the thousands, hundreds of
thousands, maybe millions of documents that were being provided to the
congressional committee. Let`s keep track of them. Let`s summarize them.
Let`s write up short gists of those documents.

At a certain point, when Attorney General Holder authorized a criminal
investigation by then acting U.S. Attorney John Durham to look into whether
any criminal laws had been violated in the interrogation program, the
agency in conjunction with DOJ decided to wind down the process of creating
any other documents, because as you know, Chris, they could become
exculpatory.

And Brady material, exculpatory material, is not something that a
prosecutor wants. So that process stopped. So, this document, if you
will, was basically summaries of documents. They were drafts. They were
incomplete. And they were never provided to Director Panetta. They were
never provided to the agency leadership.

And so to call this some secret Panetta review, I think, is a little bit
overstating the case.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: -- documents were there in the database. Let`s say the doctors
were there in the database. Your question was --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Go ahead. I want clarity here.

BASH: So, your question was --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Did the CIA break -- did the CIA violate the Constitution by
grabbing information that was in the possession of a Senate oversight
committee, yes or no?

BASH: I think we need to take a deep breath and really focus on the facts.
The agency had some records.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: That`s what I`m trying to do here. Did it happen or didn`t it?

BASH: Well, let me tell you what I know of, because --

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: I want to tell you what I`m aware of.

The agency created documents. Those documents were drafts. They were not
reviewed by Director Panetta. The committee took those doctors.

MATTHEWS: Did the committee get ahold of them?

BASH: The committee took those documents, as I understand it.

MATTHEWS: Did the committee get those documents?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Did the committee get those documents?

BASH: I have been told that the committee took the documents back to the
committee`s base. That`s what Senator Feinstein said on the floor today.

MATTHEWS: Right, OK.

BASH: And then they -- the committee asked the CIA for them, and now they
have triggered this back-and-forth he said/she said about whether the
agency properly reviewed --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK. This is a problem. No, I want to get clarity here.

OK. In other words, the committee had the material. Then they asked for
some sort of protocol to be met so that they could get permission to get
what they already had. Is that what you`re saying, Jeremy? And then,
somehow, the CIA director gets involved in saying, no, you can`t have it
and took some kind of step to prevent them from getting it again or
whatever. This is very strange.

BASH: I don`t know that -- I don`t know that that`s right. I think that`s
important. I don`t know that he took some step to prevent them from
getting it. I think he had them. I think your question was about whether
they inappropriately monitored the computers.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: We`re going to keep going on this. We`re going to keep going.
My question is the very question raised by Senator Feinstein, the chair of
the committee, who I have always respected. Simple question. Did the CIA
violate the Constitution by grabbing information back that the committee,
which its job is to oversee the CIA, got hold of?

The American people would like that committee to have this information. I
can tell you that right now.

Thank you, Jonathan Landay and thank you, Jeremy Bash.

Up next: The late-night comedians just can`t get enough of Sarah Palin.
That`s next in the "Sideshow."

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS")

SETH MEYERS, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS": Sarah Palin offered some
advice to President Obama regarding Vladimir Putin, saying the only thing
that stops a bad guy with a nuke is a good guy with a nuke.

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: And the most shocking part of that statement is that she considers
President Obama a good guy --

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: -- which is progress, I think.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, time for the "Sideshow." that was Seth Meyers on Sarah
Palin`s speech at CPAC this weekend. She thought it would be funny, by the
way, to joke about nuclear war. News flash: It`s not.

In fact, Palin`s speech was so facetious, it was hard to separate farce
from fiction. She also followed Ted Cruz`s lead with a dramatic, if you
will, reading from Dr. Seuss` "Green Eggs and Ham," which Cruz famously
read on the Senate floor in September. Here is how Palin rewrote it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: I do not like this Uncle Sam. I
do not like his health care scam.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I think Mike Barnicle called her a moron the other day.

Anyway, I guess copying is the highest form of flattery, as they say. But
take a look at what Jimmy Fallon had to say about that performance on "The
Tonight Show" last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JIMMY FALLON")

JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JIMMY FALLON": Now, of course
this upset President Obama. But the one person it really upset, Sam I Am.

(LAUGHTER)

FALLON: He was so annoyed -- so annoyed that she quoted Dr. Seuss that he
issued a rebuttal of his own.

Yes, he said: "I do not like the speech you spoke. The speech you spoke
was quite a joke. I found your words were lacking taste. You first hit
copy, then hit paste."

(LAUGHTER)

FALLON: "I would not like this on a beach, so, next time, write your own
damn speech."

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow. A little harsh.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well done.

Up next: Polls are closed in that special congressional election down in
Florida today. It`s a must-win for Democrats, who need to show they can
handle the anti-Obamacare onslaught coming in November.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BETTY NGUYEN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everybody. I`m Betty Nguyen.

We`re watching the returns from that special election in Florida`s 13th
Congressional District. And right now, with 221 of the 225 precincts
reporting, Republican David Jolly has 87,700 votes, and Democrat Alex Sink
has 84,574 votes. Now, that is a lead of about 3,100 votes for the
Republican Jolly. The race is seen as a critical one because the district
is a bellwether. It went for President Obama by a small margin back in
2012 and 2008.

Both national parties and outside groups poured money and energy into the
contest to test-drive their messaging for the November midterms. And the
winner will replace Republican Bill Young, who held the seat until his
death last fall.

We will have more on this race next on HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

It`s decision time in Florida tonight. Polls have just closed in Florida`s
13th Congressional District, where voters are choosing a new representative
to send to Washington. The special election campaign has been a ferocious
battle waged between the heavyweight Democrat Alex Sink, who lost the
governor`s race four years ago to Rick Scott by a single point, and former
Washington lobbyist Republican David Jolly.

And the outside groups on both sides are spending millions to win this
swingingest of swing congressional seats in the ultimate swing state, of
course, Florida.

Special elections are not always harbingers of the general election coming
November, but this race is the first chance for both political parties,
Democrats and Republicans, to test-drive their messages for this big
November.

It`s a must-win contest for Democrats if they want to disprove the
conventional wisdom out there that they`re doomed in the midterm elections.
And Republicans have made the race ground zero for their assault on the
Affordable Care Act, Obamacare. A GOP victory will say a lot about the
national political environment and the woods -- actually, the moods of
moderate voters, inclined to send a message to the White House.

Mark Halperin is a senior MSNBC political analyst. Eugene Robinson is a
Pulitzer Prize-winning writer with "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC
contributor.

Mark, it`s great to have you on because you`re an expert at the sort of
fine-tuning of what the meaning would be. Let`s try this. Suppose Sink
survives, wins. She`s a heavyweight. She beats this guy who is a
lobbyist. She has got great name I.D. from running for governor and almost
beating the governor down there.

What do you make of, if it goes for her, what does it say?

MARK HALPERIN, MSNBC SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think Democrats get two
big benefits. One is psychic. One is practical.

The psychic one is that it will show that a candidate stand -- withstand a
withering assault on the Affordable Care Act, with the message, the
practical message of, let`s keep it, but let`s fix it. And that`s the
message you`re going hear from a lot of Democrats with fuller voice if she
wins.

The psychic -- the practical benefit is also going to be the outside
groups. If Sink wins, a lot of these outside groups who played heavily in
this race and their contributors are going to say, hey, do we really want
to spend all this money? Does spending all this money really make a
difference?

MATTHEWS: OK, Gene, what about the other result? This is a close one.
It`s going to end some time tonight. And my question is, suppose somebody
as well-liked, as prestigious as Alex Sink loses. What does that say about
the environment out there politically come November?

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, she is the
better candidate in this race. It`s a swing district.

It`s very close. In fact, Republicans have a bit of an edge in that
district. But, if she loses, I think it would be taken as a confirmation
of the Republican narrative that Obamacare is poison, is political poison
for Democrats in the fall.

MATTHEWS: Well, massive amounts of money, as I said, have flowed into this
race from outside groups. It always happens in these special elections.
It`s coming from left and right.

The National Republican Campaign Committee and Karl Rove`s group called
American Crossroads, they have been hammering Sink on health care, as Gene
said, by flooding the airwaves with ads like this one from the U.S. Chamber
of Commerce.

By the way, it`s not a local Chamber of Commerce. It`s the big lobbying
operation called the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE AD)

NARRATOR: Three hundred thousand Floridians will lose their health
coverage because of Obamacare. Alex Sink supported it, and she still does.

Now Sink is running for Congress, and she is still pushing Obamacare.
Canceled health plans, higher premiums, Medicare cuts, people losing their
doctors, a disaster for families and seniors.

With Alex Sink, the priority is Obamacare, not us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Where did they get that announcer, Mark? He sounds like
somebody from the Dust Bowl. Who wouldn`t --

(LAUGHTER)

HALPERIN: He is highly aggrieved. He is highly aggrieved.

MATTHEWS: Senior citizens. What kind of voice was that?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

Highly aggrieved is right.

(LAUGHTER)

HALPERIN: Look --

MATTHEWS: What do you make of that ad, USA -- U.S. Chamber of Commerce
coming in there to pound Alex Sink; she is the bad one?

HALPERIN: Look, it`s Florida, and -- and you would -- hard to find a
district that doesn`t have a lot of older voters. It`s a kind of a weird
reversal in the sense that historically, we`ve looked at Republicans as
being stronger in early vote. In this case, Democrats think they`ll do
better in the early vote. And Sink needs to do well there. A lot of
ballots have been cast that way. We`re not sure what percentage they`ll
end up being.

But, look, Republicans are going to do a bunch of advertising. And one of
the heartening things for Republicans, even if they lose, but especially if
they win is the messaging has been pretty well coordinated. You have all
these outside groups, and often, it`s a Tower of Babel. It`s different
messages. It`s messages executed in a different away sometimes goes across
currents.

In this case, the outside groups have done a pretty good job of focusing on
the Affordable Care Act in a way that, again, if she loses, I think they`ll
be heartened by it and take some practical lessons from.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me go to the question of psychology. Gene, I always
thought the American voter tends to be a negative voter, get rid of this
guy, get rid of that guy, get rid of Carter, get rid of W., even though it
was too late to get rid of him. We tend to drive new people into office
because it`s a way of driving the ones who are in out. It`s a tough by-
election situation.

Doesn`t Alex Sink have to take all the heat from everybody who doesn`t like
the president`s policies in the Middle East, doesn`t like his policies in
Ukraine, doesn`t like his gun policies, doesn`t like his Medicare policy,
doesn`t like Affordable Care. It`s just an accumulation to me, opportunity
for people to hit the -- to bang on the pipes and say more hot water, or
whatever they`re angry about.

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, you know, it is, Chris. On
the other hand, the Republican Party is not exactly that popular right now
either. So, but your point is well taken that if voters are mad at
everybody, you know, it`s the president`s party that probably suffers most.

You know, win or lose, I think on both sides, the professionals are going
to be looking at the results down to the precinct level to try to figure
out which Obamacare message played well where, in front of what voters,
what age groups, what race, what demographics. And they`re going to try to
fine-tune that for the fall.

MATTHEWS: Well, I think one of the things she said, and I think it`s
objectively true, I think Alex Sink is a heavyweight candidate, certainly a
light heavyweight, close to the top as a quality candidate for Congress,
well-known, respected. And if she loses, that`s going to hurt.

Anyway, thank you, Mark Halperin, as always for your expertise. And Eugene
Robinson, thank you.

Up next, President Obama goes between the ferns, if you will -- actually,
that`s what he did on Zach Galifianakis`s "Funny or Die" web show. It`s a
riot. Here`s a bit of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And the law means that
insurers can`t discriminate against you if you`ve got a preexisting
condition anymore.

ZACH GALIFIANAKIS, FUNNY OR DIE: Yes. But what about -- what about this,
though?

OBAMA: That`s disgusting. How long have you had that?

GALIFIANAKIS: Just four months.

OBAMA: Really?

GALIFIANAKIS: Spider bites. I got attacked by spiders.

OBAMA: Zach, you need to get that checked right away. You need to get on
Healthcare.gov, because that`s one of the most disgusting things I`ve ever
seen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BETTY NGUYEN, MSNBC ANCHOR: Hello, everybody. I`m Betty Nguyen.

All 225 precincts have reported in that special election. That`s Florida`s
13th congressional district. And Republican David Jolly leads with just
over 48 percent of the vote. Sink took just 46 percent, and the
libertarian in that race got 5 percent.

Now, this race is seen as critical because the district is a bellwether.
It went for President Obama by small margins in 2012 and 2008. Both
national parties and outside groups poured money and energy into the
contest to test drive their messaging for November midterms. The winner
will replace Republican Bill Young who held the seat until his death last
fall.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We are back.

Well, the president made an unusual media appearance today. Zach
Galifianakis` online parody interview show "Between Two Ferns" on the
comedy website Funny or Die. Well, the web series is known for its
awkward, even cringe-inducing interviews with celebrities like Ben Stiller
and Justin Bieber.

Well, President Obama was no exception.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GALIFIANAKIS: Where are you planning on building your presidential
library, Hawaii or your home country of Kenya? Because both places seem
like they would be --

OBAMA: Zach, that`s a ridiculous question.

GALIFIANAKS: Well, you know, not to bring up the birth certificate thing,
but you never really did produce --

OBAMA: Where is your birth certificate? Why don`t you want to show it to
us right now?

GALIFIANAKIS: I don`t want to show anybody my birth certificate because
it`s embarrassing.

OBAMA: What`s embarrassing about it?

GALIFIANAKIS: My weight on it. It says I was born 7 pounds, 800 ounces.

You know what I would do if I were president, Mr. President? I would make
same sex divorce illegal. Then see how bad they want it.

OBAMA: I think that`s why you`re not president. And that`s a good thing.

GALIFIANAKIS: You said if you had a son, you would not let him play
football. What makes you think that he would want to play football? What
if he was a nerd like you?

OBAMA: Do you think a woman like Michelle would marry a nerd? Why don`t
you ask her whether she thinks I`m a nerd?

GALIFIANAKIS: Could I?

OBAMA: No. I`m not going to let her near you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I`m not going to let her near you. That makes like he is the
decider.

Andy Funny or Die executives reportedly pitched the White House on that
idea last summer. The president taped that six and a half minute
appearance two weeks ago as part of the administration`s campaign to get
young people to sign up for health care under the Affordable Care Act
before the March 31st enrollment deadline.

And of course, the health care is a major part of the interview. Here`s
the president with his speech.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: If they get that health care insurance, they can really make a big
difference. They`ve got until March 31st to sign up.

GALIFIANAKIS: I don`t have a computer. So, how does --

OBAMA: Well, then, you can call 1-800-318-2596.

GALIFIANAKIS: I don`t have a phone. I`m off the grid. I don`t want you
people looking at my text, if you know what I mean.

OBAMA: First of all, Zach, nobody is interested in your texts. But second
of all, you can do it in person. And the law means that insurers can`t
discriminate against you if you`ve got a preexisting condition anymore.

GALIFIANAKIS: Yes. But what about -- what about this, though?

OBAMA: That`s disgusting. How long have you had that?

GALIFIANAKIS: Just four months.

OBAMA: Really?

GALIFIANAKIS: Spider bites. I got attacked by spiders.

OBAMA: Zach, you need to get that checked right away. You need to get on
Healthcare.gov, because that`s one of the most disgusting things I`ve ever
seen.

GALIFIANAKIS: Is your plug finally over?

OBAMA: I suppose so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, Dana and Lizz, when I interviewed the president a
couple months ago I was trying to be respectful, even by asking some
serious questions. But this guy is unbelievable.

Anyway, since that video, we just watched the bit, debuted at 7:30 this
morning. More than 6.5 million people have looked at it. And the White
House is boasting that it`s currently the number one source of referrals to
the Healthcare.gov Web site. So, it`s working.

Dana Milbank is a columnist for "The Washington Post," and, keep going, and
comedian Lizz Winstead was the co-creator of "The Daily Show."

First of all, Lizz, did you watch the whole thing? Like we`re going to
show more of it in a minute, but did you watch the whole thing? I thought
it was hilarious.

LIZZ COMEDIAN, COMEDIAN: It was so hilarious. What I loved about it is
you run the risk on doing a video like that where it`s so funny that you
forget what the message is supposed to be. Or if it`s a celebrity, you
really talk about the celebrity and how funny it was, but then you don`t
talk about it was for health care. But not with this, man. They nailed
it.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think, Dana, this is going to be interesting because
somebody, some -- you know, knuckle heads out there say the president
shouldn`t do this, when in fact, this is exactly what he has to do. He`s
up against millions of dollars of advertisement trying to croak his health
care bill. He gets on and tries to snag some free media with the younger
person we`re trying to get the healthy, young person to enroll. Makes
sense to me. I`m sure he`ll be croaked for it, himself.

DANA MILBANK, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, you hear this whenever the
president does late night shows or anything else, as if the president of
the United States can`t walk and chew gum at the same time.

First of all, this is how you reach people generally whether or not you
have a message. It`s not I`d like it to still be the president gets his
message out by sitting down with "The Washington Post." I`d even show him
my spider bites if he`d do it. But that`s not how it works anymore.

And in this case, it achieves a policy aim. It wasn`t just to show the
president`s personal side. It actually did something in terms of policy so
you can`t really fault him for going through that medium.

WINSTEAD: Well, especially --

MATTHEWS: I`m -- go ahead, Lizz.

WINSTEAD: I`m going to say especially when the target is young kids who
look at viral videos and send them around and when they`re edgy, they send
them around more. And when you have, you know, 4 million, 5 million hits
on a video, if you can get 10 percent of that for people to go, whoa, I
think I will sign up and I love Zach Galifianakis and that`s hilarious, and
I`m going to sign up for health care, it`s a win. Like just pinpointing
who you need to sign up, it was brilliant.

MATTHEWS: Lizz, in every table, every campus dining hall or anything, what
do you see?

Anyway, here`s some more of President Obama mixing it up with Galifianakis,
who`s also one of the stars of the "Hangover" movies. You`ll get it here.
Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GALIFIANAKIS: I have to know, what is it like to be the last black
president?

OBAMA: Seriously? What`s it like for this to be the last time you ever
talk to a president?

GALIFIANAKIS: It must kind of stink, though, you can`t run three times.

OBAMA: No, actually, I think it`s a good idea. You know, if I ran a third
time, it would be sort of like doing a third "Hangover" movie. Didn`t
really work out very well, did it?

Now, I have to say I`ve seen this show before, and some of the episodes
have probably been a little bit better than this. For example, the one
with Bradley Cooper. That was a great --

GALIFIANAKIS: Bradley Cooper --

OBAMA: He kind of carried that movie, didn`t he?

GALIFIANAKIS: Which film are you speaking of?

OBAMA: Those "Hangover" movies. Basically he carried them.

GALIFIANAKIS: Yes, everybody loves Bradley. Good for him.

OBAMA: Good-looking guy.

GALIFIANAKIS: Being like that in Hollywood, that`s easy. Tall, handsome.
Be short, fat and smell like Doritos and try to make it to Hollywood.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Smell like --

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Smell like Doritos?

Anyway, the one time in there, I have to stay I`m a skeptic they didn`t
rehearse this one line. Do you think the president is quick enough to pick
up on a comparison of a third term for president and a fairly unsuccessful
"Hangover 3"? That connection was so neat and on point.

Is anybody that smart -- if he is that smart, he is really spontaneous. Do
you think that was written ahead or not?

WINSTEAD: I think that -- I think that they put into his head at least
bullet points on Zach. And let`s be honest, "Hangover 3" was a horrible
movie. So, if you`re in the zeitgeist at all, a "Hangover 3" would be
pretty awful.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, that`s probably the way presidents go.

Anyway, here`s more from that interview. Let`s watch quick. Here`s more
of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GALIFIANAKIS: So, which country were you rooting for in the Winter
Olympics?

OBAMA: Seriously? I`m the president of the United States. What do you
think, Zach?

GALIFIANAKIS: I want to thank President Obama for being on the show.

OBAMA: I`m going to press this.

GALIFIANAKIS: Don`t touch that, please.

(BUZZER)

Thanks for the interview, and thanks for letting me shoot my show here all
these years.

OBAMA: You`ve been shooting these shows here in the Diplomatic Room? Who
gave you permission to do that?

GALIFIANAKIS: Bush.

OBAMA: Seriously? Who gave him clearance?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Dana Milbank, Lizz Winstead, thanks for joining us with the fun.

We`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with the great Joe McGinniss, the hot shot
writer who just died.

McGinniss graduated from my college, Holy Cross, wrote for my daily
newspaper growing up, "The Philadelphia Inquirer." His columns which ran
three times a week were explosive. He wrote one during the Vietnam War
that described the soldiers working over in Vietnam in grave registration.
He described the bodies of U.S. servicemen being packed in tuna fish-style
containers being sent home to America so he could get there, as he put it,
just in time for Christmas.

Yes, he was explosive, even downright unpleasant. But so was the Vietnam
War he was reporting on, reporting on in a way that got to the reality.
The huge number of U.S. combat deaths in a war that was not going to end
the way President Johnson said it was going to end.

When Richard Nixon ran for president the second time in 1968, McGinniss
ripped the scab off that campaign almost as brutally. He showed how Nixon
and his people used television to repackage their candidate, to confect a
new Nixon for public consumption. He showed the takes, the retakes, the
whole inside of how Nixon created the notion that he was out there meeting
the people, debating the issues in what was really an extremely produced
campaign performance.

Nixon was avoiding the kind of real debate that killed him in the `60
campaign against John F. Kennedy, by pretending to be performing before a
real live audience that was there to judge him. It worked.

Only when we read McGinniss` superb "Selling of the President" did we see
how it worked. I remember getting a copy of that book when I was over in
Swaziland teaching business in the Peace Corps. The book made its round
among the volunteers, and we all were waiting to read it. This inside look
at state of the art media politics was something new back then.

Joe McGinniss was the guy who let the cat out of the bag, how it was all a
big fat infomercial.

I look up to Joe as a kid in college, as a Peace Corps volunteer and when I
started as a syndicated columnist myself. He was good. He was hot. And
he had the guts to get the story to the reader ahead of everybody else.


END


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