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updated 4/1/2014 10:39:50 AM ET 2014-04-01T14:39:50

HARDBALL
March 31, 2014
Guests: Ken Vogel, Joshua Green, Ceci Connolly, Nia-Malika Henderson


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Dynasty.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

And "Let Me Start" tonight with the coming dynastic struggle, the now
increasingly plausible battle between Hillary Rodham Clinton, the recent
U.S. secretary of state, and Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida. It
is, of course, the lineage as much as the resumes of these two candidates
that either excites or disturbs the country`s most politically sensitive
citizenry, the plausibility of facing a November 2016 choice between the
spouse of one recent president and the brother and son of two recent
presidents.

What will it look like to historians and those who read history, I have to
wonder, to see such bunching of these familiar family names around the turn
of the 21st century? Was the country so enamored of the Clintons and the
Bushes as our country`s top leaders that they couldn`t quite resist them?

Well, "enamored" is not, of course, the general attitude. Ask most people
about Bill Clinton, for example, and you`ll get a knowing smile that knows
all, certainly expects all things about him and comes out in the main on
his side. But let`s face it, only in the main. When all facets are
examined and added, pluses beating out the minuses, ultimately and after
reflection, yes, he was a pretty good president, all considered.

On the Bushes, the need for reflective consent has taken longer. George,
Sr., does incredibly well in recent polls. People seem to like his
handling of the deficit, even as he paid a price for raising taxes. They
like his decency, and let`s face it, his old money class over the years.

As for W., well, he showed a novel and much appreciated degree of it the
last five years simply by observing the time-honored protocol of getting
the heck out of the way. His retreat back to Texas has probably been the
most eloquent statement he could have made about the misconceived Iraq war
that, much to his advantage, most people blame on Dick Cheney and the
ideologues who pumped up W. with their weird brew of hatred, mischief and
God knows what else. As for W., there`s, as I said, a quiet honesty in
simply being quiet about something that is clearly nothing to brag about.

And so we march on to the very real possibility now that a Republican
Party, needy in its center, will turn, as surely the Democrats now intend,
to a favored family that at least makes it feel clean and still somewhat
noble, and of course comfortably Republican.

Joining me is Republican strategist John Feehery and "Washington Post"
opinion writer and MSNBC contributor Jonathan Capehart.

I never thought I`d come to this so fast, Mr. Feehery, my friend. By the
way, again, happy St. Patrick`s Day.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Thank you. Thank you.

MATTHEWS: But to see the front page of your paper, Jonathan, "The
Washington Post," pumping up the story that it looks like Jeb is getting
into this darn thing, and that means Hillary and Jeb could well be the
contenders of the 2016 election. How did it happen and why?

Let`s talk about the Republican side. What`s the allure of Jeb Bush?

FEEHERY: Well, the Republican establishment likes royalty, and nothing
says royalty more than Bush. I think the challenge for Jeb Bush is he`s
going to have to establish his own identity apart from his father and apart
from his brother. And that`s going to be a challenge because the Bush name
is so toxic still with --

MATTHEWS: Yes, but the old man looks good.

FEEHERY: The fact -- that`s true. The other thing, he can win the money
game. And with Chris Christie out, pretty much out, he`s going to win the
money game because all the big donors feel comfortable with Jeb Bush. They
know he`s not going to take the country down in a ditch.

And keep in mind that Jeb Bush was always known as the smart Bush, and so
that`s going to help him in this money game.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about the demand, Jonathan. It seems to me there`s a
demand. The Republican Party knows they cannot put out a field of Rick
Santorum, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and God knows, all to the
right. And they`d have -- they don`t have convincing big name centrist
Republican now that Christie`s got his problems.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well --
well, yes, and -- and what Jeb Bush brings is -- as you were saying, he`s
someone who`s known. He is the smart Bush, in that when he and Governor --
then -- George W. Bush ran for governor in Texas, they both ran for
governor at the same time, Jeb in Florida. Jeb was the one everyone
thought would win --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- the family did.

CAPEHART: Well, yes. Well -- so now here -- so you`ve got the money
people who are looking for someone who`s not a crazy ideologue, who`s not
going to -- who`s not so far to the right that they can`t win the White
House. And I think, if anything, you`ve got the money people in the
Republican Party establishment who are hungering --

MATTHEWS: And where was Jeb this weekend?

CAPEHART: -- to win the -- to win the building behind you.

MATTHEWS: Jeb was out at the money thing. We`ll talk about -- he was out
at Adelson`s --

FEEHERY: Las Vegas.

MATTHEWS: -- event out in Vegas.

Anyway, as I said, the front page "Washington Post" article that grabbed me
over the weekend -- headline, "Influential Republicans working to draft
Bush" -- Jeb Bush -- "into 2016 presidential race." It zeroed in on this
as the heart of the situation.

Quote, "Concern that the George Washington Bridge traffic scandal has
damaged New Jersey governor Chris Christie`s political standing and alarmed
by the steady rise of Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, prominent donors,
conservative leaders and long-time operatives say they consider Bush the
GOP`s brightest hope to win back the White House."

Jonathan.

CAPEHART: Well, right, that was the last point I was making, is that --
and correct me if I`m wrong, John -- but I think the Republican money
people, and especially the Republican establishment -- they hunger to win
back that building that`s behind you. They want to win the White House.
It`s not enough to have --

MATTHEWS: They can lose --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: If they lose this to Hillary Clinton -- and my view is, these
big money guys who have so much clout in your party still, they`re
thinking, Who could I get my wife to vote for against Hillary Clinton?
That would be the standard if I were -- because half the money`s the wife`s
money, too, if it`s a rich guy. And so he`s thinking, Who can I sell my
wife on and my life happiness on that I`m pushing somebody -- they can`t
push somebody who isn`t seen as at least pro-women to some extent, like Jeb
seems to be a modern man in many ways.

FEEHERY: Well, Jeb also could help you with Hispanic voters. He`s got a -
- he speaks Spanish. His wife is Hispanic. And so I think that helps.
And you know, he is a kinder, softer Republican from the perspective of --

MATTHEWS: His wife was born in Mexico.

FEEHERY: -- of Ted Cruz --

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: -- exactly -- from the perspective of Rand Paul or Ted Cruz.
You know, the other thing, you know, George Bush -- or Jeb Bush did govern
as a conservative, so he has conservative credentials. Now, he`s moved
slightly away from that, but then again, the party`s moved further away to
the right.

MATTHEWS: Because he`s pro -- he`s pro-assimilation. He believes people
can come to this country, be part of this country in a positive way.

FEEHERY: Well, he`s been on both sides of the immigration thing. I mean,
I --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- pretty dramatic!

FEEHERY: He`ll a strong supporter of immigration reform.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the Democrats. If you`re Hillary Clinton
or Bill Clinton or one of the people around Secretary Clinton, and you`re
thinking, Well, the biggest knock on me is going to be the, you know, same
old same old -- Whoa! I got a solution. I run against a Bush. Not that
she gets to control it, but is she smiling now at the fact that we`re
talking Bush?

CAPEHART: Well, sure, because think about it. They each have a knock
against them. The Republicans are going to slam -- slam her through her
husband, you know, all the things that happened during the Clinton
administration, all the bad things that happened. And you know, what they
can do, what the Clinton people can do is just hurl it back at them and
say, Excuse me, but when Bill Clinton was president of the United States,
he left your brother --

MATTHEWS: OK, it is fair to say that the Clintons, especially -- well,
Bill and Hillary together as a political team, which they are, have a
positive, net positive impact historically, that given all the Monica stuff
and all the White House fundraising I didn`t particularly like, they came
out on top in terms of the economy, and Bill Clinton still has still got
good numbers coming out of the White House, and Hillary Clinton has very
good numbers -- compared to the Bushes, do the Bushes have a positive net
in terms of public recognition right --

FEEHERY: Well, I think part of that --

MATTHEWS: -- as a family?

FEEHERY: Listen, I think Bill Clinton got lucky with an economy that was
expanding because of the dot.com revolution, and he left a lot of issues
that George Bush had to clean up, including a very diminished national
security state. And I think Hillary Clinton is vastly overrated as
secretary of state. I think John Kerry is actually showing how overrated
she was as secretary of state.

(CROSSTALK)

CAPEHART: I`m just saying. Come on!

MATTHEWS: Those observing this program have John Feehery (INAUDIBLE)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: -- vastly overrated. But I understand you`re a partisan. But
here to you, the question is -- Clintons are positive.

CAPEHART: Yes.

MATTHEWS: A positive. And the Bushes?

CAPEHART: And the Bushes I think --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Positive for what?

CAPEHART: Well, compared to the Clintons, in terms of running on record,
putting the families` records up against each other, I think the Clintons
come out better because the people who are going to be going to the polls
are the people who are going to remember or grew up at a time --

MATTHEWS: OK --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let me be blunt. Who else can beat Hillary Clinton? I think
she`s going to be formidable -- not unbeatable, but formidable. Who can
beat her in your party besides W.? I mean, besides -- not W -- .

FEEHERY: Well, as you know, I really -- I really -- I really like John
Kasich. I think he`s an Ohio governor. He`s got --

MATTHEWS: Can he rise?

FEEHERY: I think he can rise. I think he can beat Hillary Clinton on a
debating point. I think that he has a good track record. And I think that
he`s someone who can punch back. And he also is not part of Washington. I
mean, the thing -- the problem with both Bush and Clinton -- and they`re so
part of Washington --

MATTHEWS: OK, does he have the full package? Is he married and
everything?

FEEHERY: He`s married (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS: OK, great. Anyway, Tea Party stalwarts, of course, take a dim
view of Jeb Bush as the Republican nominee. That`s the Tea Party crowd.
They can`t stand the establishment. On Saturday, co-founder of the Tea
Party Patriots, Mark Meckler, discounted many of the Republican aspirants
who were out there in Las Vegas this weekend courting mega-donor Sheldon
Adelson.

Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK MECKLER, TEA PARTY PATRIOTS: Each of these folks has their
weaknesses, if you ran them by a Tea Party litmus test. I don`t think
anybody has an appetite for a third Bush presidency. I don`t think we`re
looking for a dynasty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: These -- this party -- now, back to you, first of all to you,
John. Will your party run an establishment figure in `16 or a Tea Partier?

FEEHERY: Well, this is the real problem. I think they`ll run an
establishment because that`s where the money`s going to be, but it`s going
to be a real problem to activate that base. And that`s a big challenge for
Jeb Bush. And on some issues like common Core, he really goes against the
Tea Party. And somehow he`s got to figure out how to bring them back in
the fold so they actually turn up and vote.

MATTHEWS: So could there be a Bush/Rand Paul ticket?

FEEHERY: Could be.

CAPEHART: Oh, my God!

(LAUGHTER)

CAPEHART: Look, the problem that Jeb Bush is going to have is this guy --

FEEHERY: It`s better than -- it`s better than Bush/Ted Cruz.

(LAUGHTER)

CAPEHART: Well, yes, OK. But -- yes, not by much. But Jeb Bush`s problem
is going to be, as you said, ginning up the enthusiasm within the
Republican Party base to get him the nomination. I think Jeb Bush in a
general election would be a formidable candidate against Hillary Clinton.
But that`s the problem that the Republican Party has right now.

MATTHEWS: Their best candidates can`t get --

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: -- keep saying that, but we didn`t -- people didn`t turn out
for Mitt Romney against Barack Obama. You need to have a candidate that
can appeal --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You still have one sane state, New Hampshire. After all the
craziness in Iowa, the craziness of -- there`s one state that tends to pick
somebody that makes some kind of sense, historically.

Anyway, thank you, John Feehery. You`re a cheerful cheerleader. And
Jonathan Capehart, a tough, tough analyst.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Coming up, one more reason people are skeptical about that
report aimed at clearing Chris Christie. Lawyer Randy Master says its
critics can`t handle the truth. He thinks he`s Jack Nicholson. But does
that sound like more like the words of an independent investigator or a
defense lawyer?

Plus, Las Vegas buyers club. That`s a good phrase. Vegas is "sin city,"
the perfect setting for the parade of Republicans who humiliatingly showed
up and actually showed some leg this weekend to try to separate Sheldon
Adelson from some of his billions.


And the good news about the new health care law, enrollment is actually
spiking above expectations. Now the bad news. It remains unpopular. The
test for Democrats? Obviously, figure out how to turn the plan`s growing
success into votes, especially this November.

Speaking of the health care law, we know President Obama has been using
social media to spread the word. Well, this weekend, "Saturday Night Live"
had its own idea about what the White House could do to spread the word,
get help from the pope.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, now, for this next video, it`s going to be
a Vine video. We want to see you both dancing the namay (ph). All right?
Hit it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, I don`t know --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Three, two, one --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t think we should --

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, got it!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Former president Jimmy Carter was a guest on "Real Time With
Bill Maher" Friday when the subject of Hillary Clinton running in 2016 came
up. Here`s how it played out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL MAHER, HOST: What do you think about Hillary Clinton running for
president?

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I don`t think
there`s much doubt that she`s going to. I think she`ll be very likely to
win.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: He`s still a politician. Sounds like she`s got support, by the
way. Did you hear that crowd? That HBO crowd certainly likes her.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Listen, the facts are the facts,
Melissa (ph). Read the report. I mean, you know, they can`t make up
facts! And I`ve read the report. Every one of the factual assertions they
make in the report is footnoted, endnoted, backed up by documentary
evidence or testimonial evidence that they got from interviews. I mean,
that just can`t be manufactured.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was Governor Chris Christie on
Friday, taking on the press by doubling down on a report commissioned by
his own administration which proclaims his innocence, his honesty, his
integrity. The report has been soundly criticized, however, in the press
for lacking thoroughness and objectivity.

And as reporters continue to comb through the thousands of pages of
supporting material, they are uncovering documents which contradict some of
the report`s own conclusions and narratives. As the Bergen "Record"
reports, quote, "In the thousands of pages of footnotes and exhibits
released Thursday, many documents appear to lend at least some credence to
allegations against Christie that the report plainly said can`t be true."

We`ll get to some of those, by the way, here in a moment. But yesterday,
the report`s author, Randy Mastro, was defiant when ABC`s George
Stephanopoulos challenged him about the report`s questionable use of
evidence, including the outing of a personal relationship between Bridget
Kelly and Bill Stepien.

Here`s Mastro.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RANDY MASTRO, CHRISTIE ATTORNEY: We had no incentive to do anything other
than to get to the truth. And I have to say this. For the skeptics out
there, there are some who have a visceral reaction to this bridge
controversy. It reminds me of the movie line "They can`t handle the
truth." We believe we got to the truth, George.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Yes, well, he didn`t quite explain why he brought up a personal
matter.

Anyway, Kendall Coffey is a former U.S. attorney and NBC legal analyst and
Heather Haddon is a reporter for "The Wall Street Journal." Thank you so
much.

Heather, I went -- you know, our producers -- I have to give credit around
here -- went around and really dug up some interesting quotes. And what
you come across in the full report is some of this tough guy stuff, if you
will -- I don`t know if "bullying" is the right word in politics, but it
shows where Drewniak and Stepien, these guys all close to the governor,
even his press secretaries or his campaign manager, talking about how
they`re going to rough up people like Mayor Zimmer if she doesn`t play ball
or going -- it just seems they`re sending the word out there all the time
that they`re going to nail -- or Wildstein -- they`re going to pour
gasoline in his skull, I mean -- through his eye sockets. I mean, this is
"Sopranos" talk.

HEATHER HADDON, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Yes.

MATTHEWS: And it`s not exactly inconsistent with "Time for some traffic
problems in Fort Lee."

HADDON: Yes. We went through all 4,000 pages of the exhibits, and there
are some really interesting tidbits in there that you don`t get just by
reading the report itself. And one of the things that came out was what
you were referring to is some campaign e-mails.

So one interesting thing right in the beginning is they talk about a target
list of Democrats that they were looking to woo and court for endorsements.
And when -- we`ve reported on this before, the campaign was very careful to
say that the Democrats endorsed them voluntarily. This would seem to
indicate there was at least some effort to really get these endorsements.

MATTHEWS: This is key.

HADDON: Yes.

MATTHEWS: This is key. This is key that there was, in fact, a backdrop to
why people like Bridget Kelly and Wildstein would try to punish or push or
whatever, manipulate the mayor of Fort Lee.

Here it is. "The master report rejects any notion that there was a culture
of political retaliation. But documents buried deep within the report
raise questions about those conclusions. In one, we learn that Christie`s
campaign did keep a list of approved targets. These were Democratic mayors
they wanted to endorse the governor, including Fort Lee mayor Mark
Sokolich."

HADDON: Right. Right.

MATTHEWS: And then there`s this July conversation, where Christie`s
campaign manager -- I mentioned this -- Bill Stepien, writes to chief
political strategist Mike Duhame (ph), quote, "We`re approaching a point in
time where we have the `So what it`s going to be` conversation with Hoboken
mayor Dawn Zimmer and Jersey City mayor Steve Fulop. `Are you with us or
against us?`"

So Heather, it just seems like now we -- I don`t know if you can call this
the smoking gun, but the argument there was no evidence that the governor
was after the mayor or ready to push him hard --

HADDON: Right.

MATTHEWS: -- is there now. We now have it.

HADDON: Well, Randy Mastro, again, has said with this report that they`re
drawing no conclusions as to why Mark Sokolich, the mayor of Fort Lee, was
targeted. But Democrats I`ve talked to today, you know, they`ve certainly
made note of that target list. And I think this is something that they`re
going to be pursuing and questioning if and when they start calling in
people to testify and to take testimony. Was there -- how was this target
list used? Why was it developed? And what role does it have in Fort Lee?

MATTHEWS: You know, Kendall, it took decades for those of us who dug up a
lot of this stuff in the archives to find out Richard Nixon`s role in
Watergate. There has never been any evidence he ordered that particular
break-in. But he ordered so many other break-ins of the Brookings
Institution.

He ordered specifically different times of night, who he wanted to do it.
He talked about who he wanted to do it, the whole details. He talked about
how he wanted somebody to break into the Republican national headquarters
to make it look like a Democratic job.

The M.O. was there. The culture was there. And what I`m getting in
reading these notes in the report put out by Mastro of all people is that
kind of backdrop, the -- we`re going to get the mayor, we`re going to push
this guy, pour gasoline in his skull, take out his eye sockets.

The language is the "Soprano" tough guy, worse than that perhaps. Your
thoughts?

KENDALL COFFEY, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Yes.

And the tough guy language that is disclosed in some of those exhibits is
inconsistent with the theme that this governor didn`t do anything to in any
way suggest a culture of payback or reward. And probably the report didn`t
need to go that far.

You think about it, Chris, that`s really a difficult thing to prove across
the board with so many cities and so many different moving pieces -- pieces
and parts in a state like New Jersey. If it had been a more focused
report, I think there could be less controversy about it.

For example, if they had said, we have interviewed 70 people. We have
looked at 250,000 documents. Five, we couldn`t interview. They`re
obviously very important. But we haven`t found any indication that Chris
Christie was personally complicit in Bridgegate. That would have been
something that I think could have been helpful for Christie in a lot of
respects --

MATTHEWS: It`s very narrow, though.

COFFEY: -- something that could have been received credibly.

MATTHEWS: Very narrow. Very narrow defense.

COFFEY: It`s narrow. But now they`re getting into speculating about the
motive for Bridget Kelly. And that`s provoked a firestorm of controversy.

They`re trying to give sort of a broad bit of immunity for everything from
anything about a culture of bullying to the controversy about Hoboken and
Dawn Zimmer, who has said repeatedly that under oath she would back up what
she said. I think it`s pretty hard to be dismissive without a whole lot of
fact-finding on something like that.

And I think the report by dismissing that allegation maybe set itself up to
look more like a Chris Christie document than a truly objective independent
counsel`s document.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: And, by the way, that to me always hits me the hardest of all
these stories, Heather and Kendall, that is, this talk about the sort of
lieutenant governor coming in saying, I wish it wasn`t this way. It had
real credibility. I wish it didn`t have to be this way, I wish it wasn`t
this way, but the governor told me last night if you don`t back this
project that he cares about on the waterfront in Hoboken, you ain`t getting
any money from the government.

Anyway, let`s look at another conversation that is buried in the supporting
documents of the Mastro report that we just mentioned. In January,
Christie`s spokesman, as I mentioned, Michael Drewniak, sends a colorful
text message to a friend which reads: "The only trouble is David Wildstein
is/was a true friend of mine. Now I could claw his eyes out, pour gasoline
in the sockets and light him up."

Well, if that ever went before a jury, I don`t know, Heather, I just
wonder, I don`t think you can get that image out of your head of this kind
of frightening vengeance, to even think theatrically, like I`m going to
fill his head with burning gasoline.

HADDON: Yes.

Michael Drewniak was in -- his name referenced in some of the subpoenas
that came out earlier with the documents that Democrats released. There
was also some colorful language there in terms of how he referred to
reporters and talking about this issue within the administration.

So, again, I expect, you know, Democrats are going to make note of that. I
think also really coming back to the relationship issue with Bill Stepien
and Bridget Kelly, which is referenced in the report --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Did he ever explain it? Did he ever justify that to anybody,
whether it was George Stephanopoulos at ABC or anybody, why he would bring
up what seemed to be, not even tangential, just sort of sitting out there,
without really explaining why a relationship if it occurred between those
two people would be relevant?

HADDON: Well, Randy Mastro was asked about this during Friday during the
press conference. He says it relates to the state of mind of Bridget Kelly
at the time, that they -- according to him that the relationship had broken
up and therefore they weren`t talking as much, her and bill Stepien, and
she was out of the loop in some sense, and maybe she was acting on her own.
But again --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: It wasn`t to make her look loopy?

(LAUGHTER)

HADDON: Well, Democrats I talked to today are really fixating on that.
And they really think that that stands out as a point that is gratuitous.

And when you look at the document, there is no footnotes or notation there
that it`s based on an interview. And that gets back to the points that
they`re making now is they want the 70 people who they interviewed
released. They want those names. They also want the transcripts of the
testimony and those interviews released.

And I believe that they are going to issue, potentially issue subpoenas for
those, because they say that there is a lot of unanswered questions from
that document.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I got an argument for them. Heather, I got an argument for
them. It`s state property. That could be an argument. And therefore they
should release it.

Kendall, is that a good argument? All the background information collected
by Randy Mastro was done at the government`s expense. Therefore, it seems
like the legislature would have the entitlement to demand that it be
publicized and released.

COFFEY: They`re going to get every scrap of that paper, every document,
every interview, and they`re going to push for the notes, because, of
course, a lot of the -- there is a lot of work product that goes into
creating a report on that. They`re going to insist on that.

And I think the issues about the report`s unfortunate reference to Bridget
Kelly and her relationship is, it centers on a big weakness in the report.
What is the motivation here? If in fact nobody in a higher-up position
knew anything about this, if in fact there was no sort of tacit culture of
encouragement for tough stuff politically, then why on earth does Bridget
Kelly and Wildstein cook up this scheme?

(CROSSTALK)

COFFEY: It doesn`t make sense. And that is the big weakness in the
report. It doesn`t have a plausible hypothesis and motive. And if you
can`t answer and even compellingly suggest the why, then it`s just that
much harder to be convinced that you know what happened.

MATTHEWS: Just -- it`s so well said there. I think -- I never thought of
that before, but having worked in politics, because it`s something you
think the boss would like to have done, even if he didn`t want to know
about it. That`s to me a culture of we all work in for good, better, or
evil, but that`s politics.

You always do something that you think the boss would like. Even if he
didn`t like it being done, he knew it had to be done. You do things in his
interest or her interest.

Anyway, thank you, Kendall Coffey.

And at his direction too, usually.

Heather Haddon, thank you so much from "The Wall Street Journal."

HADDON: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Up next: "SNL"`s helpful hint that President Obama -- I`m not
sure I like this sacrilegious stuff here -- but to spread the word about
the health care law.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER")

BILL MAHER, HOST, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER": Chris Christie`s legal team
released a report written by Chris Christie`s legal team --

(LAUGHTER)

MAHER: -- that said he had absolutely no role in the George Washington
Bridge.

(LAUGHTER)

MAHER: You know what? If you believe this, there is a movie that came out
today called "Noah`s Ark" you might enjoy.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Time for the "Sideshow." That was Bill Maher on the results of
Christie`s internal review of the George Washington Bridge scandal.

Next up: The Obama administration is making a final push to get people to
sign up for health care before the midnight deadline tonight. But folks at
"Saturday Night Live" came up with a few more ways the president could use
social media to boost enrollment in the last stretch. Here is one of them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: OK, sir, I think if I think if you trust Mara, she
will get you at least 10 million new sign-ups on healthcare.gov in the next
48 hours.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Great. So what do we need to do?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: You know who is hot right now? The pope. So let`s
get him in here, Your Holiness.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You got Pope Francis?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Yes.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: He loves affordable health care.

Thank you so much for coming.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: No problemo.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: All right. Now, for this next video, it`s going to
be a Vine video. We want to see you both dancing the Nae Nae. All right?
Hit it.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: OK. I don`t know. I don`t think we should --

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: And, OK, got it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I don`t think so.

Anyway, next up, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is in a tough fight for reelection.
And it seems his drinking and crack smoking might be catching up with him,
politically at least. A new group called No Ford Nation has created
posters mocking the crack smoking mayor by supporting several fake
candidates of dubious character, because they say anyone is better than Rob
Ford.

Here is an example -- quote -- "Elect Jeff McElroy. He promises to just
smoke pot as mayor, just smoke it, not crack."

Another -- "The current mayor threatens to kill people and get publicly
drunk. If elected, I will just get publicly drunk. Vote for Ray Faranzi."

Hmm.

Up next: the Las Vegas buyers club. Republicans line up for a bite out of
Sheldon Adelson`s billions.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

A ship carrying a device that detects pings from flight data recorders has
left Perth to help in the search for the Malaysia Airlines` missing jet.
Meanwhile, officials now say the last words from the plane`s cockpit were
"Good night, Malaysia 370."

The death toll from a massive mudslide in Washington State has risen to 24.
More than two dozen are missing.

And in California, there have been hundreds of aftershocks since Friday`s
magnitude-5.1 earthquake, including a 2.1 quake this morning -- back to
HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

It was the biggest spectacle in Las Vegas this weekend. Casino mogul
Sheldon Adelson held his own personal primary, and four Republican
candidates, really big shots, showed up to vie for his affection. Chris
Christie, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and John Kasich were ostensibly in Las
Vegas to attend a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition. But they all
also met privately with the billionaire Republican and would-be kingmaker.

They also played to him shamelessly.

"The Washington Post" Dan Balz put hit the way: "an event emblematic of how
warped the system for financing presidential elections has become."

Well said, Dan.

The scene in Las Vegas at times seemed to take on an air of the ridiculous.
And it was all focused on one man, there he is, Sheldon Adelson.

Politico`s Ken Vogel was there. And he wrote -- quote -- "As Adelson
whizzed around his Venetian kingdom on a motorized scooter during the
retreat, he was often trailed by GOP operatives, politicians and fellow
donors eager to assess his state of mind, advise him on what he should do
or just lavish him with praise and gratitude."

Ken Vogel joins me right now. Also joining us Joshua Green, senior
national correspondent for "Bloomberg Businessweek."

Vegas used to known for a lot of prostitution out there.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: And I was thinking it seems to have -- prostitution seems to
have made a comeback this weekend, with all this choose me action.

KENNETH VOGEL, POLITICO: Yes, this is very emblematic of the new politics,
where Sheldon Adelson can and did in 2012 totally upend the Republican
Party.

MATTHEWS: Because he kept -- because he kept people in the race who
wouldn`t be in the race, like Newt, right?

VOGEL: Yes, absolutely. And so Republican elites are nervous that that`s
going to happen again. So they`re pleased to see him inviting out to Vegas
to schmooze with him, kiss his ring.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, if you need any reminder who was really the focus of
attention this weekend, take a look at Ohio Governor John Kasich.
Remember, he is addressing the entire group of Republican Jewish Coalition
members, but one name seemed to be on the tip of his tongue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: And Sheldon and I were kind of talking about
his background.

Say Sheldon and I owned a restaurant together. So in Ohio, we`re no longer
flyover, Sheldon. Hey, listen, Sheldon, thanks for inviting me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Oh my God, it`s like a command performance with the queen.

VOGEL: And it`s necessary for these guys. It`s smart for them. If they
actually want to run for president, they need to have either Sheldon
Adelson or folks like him on their side.

MATTHEWS: Do you know Sheldon very well?

VOGEL: I don`t know him at all. I have talked to him a few times.

MATTHEWS: Does he like to have his butt kissed publicly?

(CROSSTALK)

VOGEL: He is definitely someone who responds to solicitation.

(CROSSTALK)

JOSHUA GREEN, "BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK": Here`s the only thing you need to
know about it.

MATTHEWS: Because most people don`t like it that overt.

GREEN: He is the 10th -- he is the 10th richest guy in the world,
according to Bloomberg.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: By the end, he has Macau with the cash registers zinging out
there. Apparently, at the roulette tables and the blackjack tables and the
crap tables in Macau, he makes, what, three times what he makes in Vegas.
It just pours in every night. No matter how much he gives away in the next
presidential cycle, he will be richer at the end of it. Right?

(CROSSTALK)

GREEN: Right. Last cycle, he gave away, what, $93 million.

VOGEL: Right. And it`s also unique in that he will weigh in, in a
Republican primary, whereas a lot of the guys are more cautious.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK.

One thing I learned about the Koch brothers is they like to have influence
and power. But they don`t won`t -- and they don`t mind people knowing it
generally, but they won`t answer any questions.

What happened when you tried to enter the sanctum sanctorum out there and
tried to get in and watch this thing going on?

VOGEL: There were in fact some public events, like the speech that you
just saw from Governor Kasich, as well as Christie and some of the other
governors. However, most of it was behind closed doors. So, I tried to
crash.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: It didn`t stop, you did it?

VOGEL: I tried to crash a Republican Jewish Coalition --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, what is it like physically? Do you walk through a door
that was open and Adelson -- and you got ahold of Adelson, and he said?

VOGEL: I asked him what -- what he was going to go in 2016. He said: "How
did you get in here? It`s a private meeting."

(LAUGHTER)

VOGEL: Which, of course, it was, and they had every right to escort me
out, which, of course, they did.

But it was sort of this scene where you had all these fellow donors who
were queued up to talk to him, to pick his brain to advise, because again,
these Republicans are frighten of what he is going to do. They`re scared
he`s going to back another Newt Gingrich.

MATTHEWS: So, what meeting did you try to get into? What --

VOGEL: It was the Republican coalition Jewish board meeting to discuss
their plans for 2014 and for some extent 2016.

MATTHEWS: We`ve had big donors for years, Clement Stone, remember, you
don`t remember in the Watergate days, there has always been some name for
it. Now, it`s the Koch brothers that you put them on movies because they
become the iconic bad guys.

JOSHUA GREEN, BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK: Well, they become the iconic bad
guys. But the laws have also changed in a way that make these billionaires
much more influential, right? Running for president today --

MATTHEWS: You don`t have to bundle?

GREEN: You don`t have to bundle. Running for president today is a billion
dollar proposition. If you got a guy like Sheldon Adelson, he`s
essentially an ATM. And so, these candidates have to be out here as
unseemly and tacky as it is to be rattling the tin cup in front of this
billionaire. This is what you have to do if you want to run for president.

MATTHEWS: The money he has (INAUDIBLE) is less than a tenth of a billion?
It`s $100 million. Anyway, Chris Christie was one of the potential 2016
contenders. These choose me guys out to address the Republican Jewish
Coalition and Sheldon Adelson personally.

But it didn`t go entirely smoothly. The New Jersey governor caused some
stir in the crowd, it`s a right wing crowd, when he referred to the West
Bank -- I thought this was not a problem. But he called the occupied
territory. Let`s watch what happened.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I took a helicopter ride from the
occupied territories across. And just felt personally how extraordinary
that was to understand the military risk that Israel faces every day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: One person in that event tried to correct Mr. Christie after he
left the stage, according to "The New York Times." He suggested the
governor use the term "disputed territory." but Christie only scowled at
him. In fact, later according to NBC News, Christie did apologize to
Adelson for using the phrase "occupied territory."

I remember that Tom DeLay when he was really sucking up to ring wing people
about the Middle East, he said when I flew over the occupied, I didn`t see
no occupied territory, I just saw Israel. Of course it is disputed. Of
course it is occupied.

But the fact you have to get your phrase just right in front of this crowd
or you`re dismissed? Not everybody is on the hard right on Middle East
politics?

VOGEL: Right. But this crowd certainly is. And this is a fault line that
frankly Christie should have been aware. And I think it is illustrative --

MATTHEWS: Judea Samaria go all the way with the line.

VOGEL: That probably would have attracted some cheers, but would have been
sort of turnoff a broader audience. So, the way to do it probably would
have been to say disputed territories or something like that. I thought it
was illustrative that right after that you had this Zionist activist,
Martin Klein (ph) go up and try to correct him. And he dismissed the guy.

But a couple of hours later, he apologized profusely.

MATTHEWS: Sure. And just to put this in perspective, U.S. policy under
about W, who was certainly a hawk and very pro-Israeli, in fact, right wing
on the topic was for a two-state solution. Sheldon Adelson does not accept
that even as a premise, despite all the obstacles ahead of us. He doesn`t
accept the idea of giving the land back to anybody in the separate state,
right?

So when he says disputed, you got to talk the language, you had to walk the
talk here or talk the walk.

GREEN: Right. If you`re out here shaking them down for money, you need to
know that and you need to speak accordingly, or you`re not going to get --

MATTHEWS: So what is the exercise, if it`s to learn the lingo, learn the
phraseology. Who can decide whether you get ready cash? As you said,
their ATM window is open for service.

GREEN: But the real event this weekend wasn`t the public speeches. It
wasn`t even the board meeting that Ken crashed. It was the private
meetings. Each of these guys had one-on-one with Adelson to kind of lay
out how they view things, what their strategy is to the White House and
trying to get in position to be the recipient of all that money.

MATTHEWS: Why would people that haven`t even announced their running yet?
Scuttling out there like Jeb who we think is running now, everybody thinks
he is. I think he is getting damn close to announcing at some point, and
Kasich who is an outsider. Why do they go here before they`re even ready
to say I`m running?

VOGEL: This is the new politics. This is the critical bit of foundation-
laying for a presidential campaign. Used to be you would have to go to
living rooms and rec centers in Iowa and New Hampshire. Now, you find your
sugar daddy. Once you nail that down, then you can do the other more
traditional --

MATTHEWS: Is there anybody that can win the Sheldon Adelson primary and
the Iowa caucuses both? Are they mutually exclusive? Like Rand Paul is
going to Iowa, but he didn`t go to Vegas.

GREEN: Rand Paul is not going to win the Sheldon Adelson primary, I
guarantee you that because of his foreign policy views. But sure, I mean,
I guess in theory someone could. It`s going to be tough, though, with the
conservatives in Iowa.

MATTHEWS: Whoever wins, both of them, will never be elected president of
the United States.

GREEN: That`s another story.

MATTHEWS: It`s going to Rick Santorum.

Anyway, thank you, Ken Vogel. Good work, the physical stuff, Joshua. I
like guys that pushed away in the door.

Up next, enrollment for the new health care law is spiking, believe it or
not. Now Democrats need to turn that growing success into votes this
November especially.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Republican Congressman Dave Camp, chairman of the powerful Ways
and Means Committee will not run for reelection. His office has confirmed
to NBC News. The House now has 23 members who have announce they will not
seek reelection in November -- 13 Republicans and 10 Democrats.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HHS SECRETARY: I think success looks like at least 7
million people having signed up by the end of March 2014.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That was, of course, Health and Human Services Secretary
Kathleen Sebelius forecasting what a success might look like for the
Affordable Care Act before the disastrous roll-out that was her back then.

But the first roll-out period for the law ends at midnight tonight, in just
over four hours. And so far, more than, believe it or not, 6 million
people have enrolled in health care, the health care under the state and
federal exchanges. It`s possible the final number could be close to seven
million by tomorrow, helped by a last-minute spike in enrollments.

As signups for the health care law surge, the unknown still loom. How much
will premiums rise this year? Will the penalties for not signing up
signing up be paid? Are people -- working people signing up? That`s my
favorite question. Politically, will the law survive GOP threats to
destroy it?

A "Washington Post"/ABC poll out just this afternoon shows the health care
law in positive territory for the first time in the history of that poll
with 49 percent saying they support the law, 48 percent oppose.

We`re going to have to wait to see whether that poll represents a trend or
is on outlier, since all other surveys have shown the law to be in negative
territory.

Ceci Connolly is an analyst and managing director of PricewaterhouseCoopers
Health Research Institute.

And Nia-Malika Henderson, as we all know, is a reporter with "The
Washington Post," as you were not too long ago.

I want to talk with Ceci, the expert, and then I`m going to go to the
reporter, of course, Nia. Is this thing working the way that most people
on the progressive side wanted it to work, meaning to get people enrolled
who work every day but don`t have health care? Is the plan enrolling
people like that?

CECI CONNOLLY, PWC HEALTH RESEARCH INSTITUTE: In the early going,
definitely not. That was very distressing to the supporters of this
legislation, Chris. But more recently, there are indications they`re now
reaching the uninsured. Great reporting by Noam Levey of "The L.A. Times,"
this morning, estimating 9.5 millions of people getting health insurance
who didn`t have it previously. State such as New York and Kentucky are
saying 70 percent to 75 percent of their enrollees are newly insured.

So, it does appear that now in these final weeks and hours, they`re getting
more to that target group.

MATTHEWS: Nia, that`s always to me the interesting thing that the
president didn`t do. He didn`t sell this health care thing. He did it
because he`d argue things like pre-existing conditions and your kids get
covered until they`re 26 and all that, to reach the middle class, in some
cases, comfortable middle class. But he didn`t ever want to ever sell it
for working people, people that are just right at the line of having a job
but not health insurance.

Well, this number we`re hearing now, close to 10 million, begin to take
down that 40 million we talk about on the liberal side of things that
aren`t covered? Is this going to get paid, or with people who vote
Democrat, the base, if you will?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, THE WASHINGTON POST: Possibly. And you`re right.
This is administration who never knew how to sell this, right? Was it
about the responsibility that government had to give people health care?
Was it about an economic argument?

And they never really argument also, "B", that this would be a program that
would expand Medicaid and give people in the states that wanted to expand
Medicaid, give them that plan as well. So, they have to figure out how to
sell this. But I think for Democrats, there`s sort of a national narrative
about this that "Washington Post" poll finally showing that more people
like it than don`t.

There`s a national story, then there`s a state-by-state story, that
Democrats who are running in these tough races, they`re going to have to
figure out a way to sell this and message this. You`ve got Bill Clinton on
the one hand, saying right, go for it and embrace Obamacare. And then you
have some people saying, hang a lantern on your problem and essentially
argue that you want to amend it and not end it.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s a Bobby Kennedy phrase. I love that one. Hang a
lantern on your problem is Bobby`s phrase.

Here`s the question. If you look at all social advances it this country, I
argue liberalism also wins eventually. Whether it`s women`s rights, it`s
suffrage, or it`s abolition, or it`s gay rights, or equal marriage
equality, it always ends up winning eventually. That`s just the way the
country rolls.

My question is, will the country roll in that direction on health care?
Will it eventually say, it was a pain in the butt, but, you know, we`re
better with it?

CONNOLLY: Well, if we learned anything from history, Chris, we know that
people do tend to adjust and adapt to new government programs. As you well
know, Medicare was not terribly popular when it was first enacted.

MATTHEWS: My dad ended up loving it.

CONNOLLY: You go and ask a senior, they say, keep your hands off of my
Medicare.

MATTHEWS: Keep the government out of it.

CONNOLLY: Absolutely. Absolutely.

So, we`ve seen that many times over and I don`t think it should surprise us
if a few years from now, it`s simply a part of the fabric.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk women, for example. Because, Nia, you cover women,
especially. I`m trying to think about in health and families, and this is
an old person`s -- this is a reality. In health, the wife often is better
knowing what shots the kids have had. He`s very aware of her older
parents, his older parents if they`re married, health conditions. They`re
very focused on this.

Is this a big issue with women voters, in perpetuity? The fact that the
Democrats did this and Republicans fought it tooth and nail.

HENDERSON: That`s right. It will be a big issue. You also see
Republicans very much using women as the face of their opposition to
Obamacare.

If you look at those AFP ads, Americans for Prosperity, all of them are
featuring women, particularly white working class women. So, for
Republicans, they feel like it sort of cuts two ways when it comes to women
voters.

MATTHEWS: Well, time will tell. That`s a huge line. I`m taking a wait
and see attitude toward this, Martin. Anyway, an old Washington reference
there.

Thank you, Ceci Connolly. And the country is taking a wait and see.

Nia-Malika Henderson, as always for your expertise.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with Governor Christie.

His administration`s lawyer, Randy Mastro, says that we can`t handle the
truth. Well, that charge, sir, can go both ways.

A couple of facts that predate the governor`s legal team`s report remain
important here.

One, these people involved in the bridge closures since September are
Christie people. They appear to represent the kind of people he feels
comfortable with. They were at the time of this travesty, after all, his
governmental agents there to carry out his political purposes. What does
this say about him to be out there now calling these people of his stupid,
dishonest, whatever?

Second, there is the declaration by Mayor Zimmer of Hoboken that she was
confronted by the lieutenant governor armed with an ultimatum from the
governor that if the mayor didn`t play ball on a waterfront development,
she would be aced out of money for flood assistance.

The master report, itself, contains similar evidence of tough guy behavior.
Campaign manager Bill Stepien`s demand that Mayor Zimmer get with the
program or be dumped out of the way. Press Secretary Michael Drewniak`s
text message he`d like to pour gasoline into David Wildstein`s eye sockets.

These do sound like the kind of talk you`d connect with "Time for some
traffic problems in Fort Lee", wouldn`t you agree? In fact, the smell of
this administration may be worse than what you can clearly see. What we
may never be able to see.

And that said, the faster we get the full truth behind that smell, the
better. Then we will see who can or cannot deal with the truth.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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