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updated 4/17/2014 1:42:11 PM ET 2014-04-17T17:42:11

HARDBALL
April 16, 2014
Guests: Shannon Watts, Colin Goddard, John Feehery, Susan Page, Nia-Malika
Henderson

JOY REID, GUEST HOST: Bringing in the big guns.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Joy Reid, in for Chris Matthews.

And leading off tonight, a big new challenge to the National Rifle
Association. It comes on the seven-year anniversary of the deadliest mass
shooting in American history. Thirty-two people were gunned down at
Virginia Tech by a killer who was able to buy two guns, even though a judge
had declared him dangerously mentally ill.

For years, the debate over what to do about gun violence has remained
almost completely one-sided, with one group, the NRA, always the loudest
voice in the room, especially on Capitol Hill. The NRA solution has been
and continues to be very simple -- more guns, not fewer guns, and more
places where you can carry and display them.

Their leaders frequently appeal to the paranoia on the far right that this
president and his allies are going to try and take people`s guns away. And
because the "more guns" side has been more dedicated and more passionate,
even with the full force of the White House behind it, an effort last year
to close a simple loophole on background checks failed.

Well, today, advocates of stronger gun safety measures got what could
potentially be a major boost. Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg
pledged to spend at least $50 million this year alone on gun safety reform.
Unlike his previous efforts on the issue, the money isn`t going toward TV
ads, but rather into building up field operations on the grass roots level.
In doing so, it`s being set up as a direct challenge to the NRA, which
spends about $20 million on political activities each year, according to
"The New York Times."

Mayor Bloomberg was on the "TODAY" show this morning to discuss the effort.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, FMR. NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: This is not a battle of
dollars, this is a battle for the hearts and minds of America so that we
can protect our children, protect innocent people. We`re the only
civilized country in the world that has this problem.

What we have to do is convince those in both the parties who are running
that this is what the American public wants, and when they get through
their primaries and they come to a general election, they`re going to have
to be right on guns. And we`re going to do everything we can, Shannon and
I and all the people that we represent, to make sure that we reward those
who are protecting lives, and make sure that those who are trying to keep
people from being protected lose elections.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Shannon Watts is the founder of Moms Demand Action, which has
been absorbed into the new Bloomberg effort, Everytown for Gun Safety. And
Colin Goddard is a senior policy advocate for the group. He was a student
at Virginia Tech seven years ago when the gunman burst into his classroom
and shot him four times. Thanks to both of you for being here.

And Shannon, I want to start with you. The headline really is the $50
million that Michael Bloomberg is pouring in, but what is actually
different about what you`re planning to do on the ground?

SHANNON WATTS, MOMS DEMAND ACTION: This is a huge game changer. For the
first time, we have a grass roots effort. We can get people to work on
line, we can get them to work off line, and that has never existed in the
history of America. For 30 years, the gun lobby has had time to build up
their own grass roots network, and now we can go toe to toe with them in
the states.

REID: And Colin, you know, Michael Bloomberg today told "The New York
Times" that, really, the pro-gun control side or gun reform side needs to
actually learn from the NRA when it comes to punishing politicians who
disagree with them.

And he said, quote, "They say, We don`t care. We`re going to go after you.
If you don`t vote with us, we`re going to go after your kids and your
grandkids and your great-grandkids and we`re never going to stop. We`re
going to make them afraid of us."

What actually can your new effort learn from the way the NRA has done this
and done advocacy over the last 20, 30 years?

COLIN GODDARD, EVERYTOWN FOR GUN SAFETY: I think to put a face to the
problem, to put a personal touch to the policy and the politics behind it,
to make it real for people, to have, you know, concerned mothers and
fathers who lost a child to gun violence show up at a committee hearing and
testify, you know, these kind things, and show up for -- you know, in a
district office and have a meeting.

These are the types of dynamics that make, you know, an issue that people
think in the abstract term of gun violence very real. And when it becomes
real, people understand, Well, wow, we need to do something about this
because we actually do quite little in order to keep guns away from
dangerous people. And those people don`t know that. And when they learn
that, they`re quite shocked. And the best way to express that is to tell
the true stories that happen to 32 of us on a daily basis in this country.

REID: But Shannon, you know, to just be devil`s advocate, I mean, that is
what happened after Newtown. You had these families, these moms and dads
who lost children, children shot down in a school, even more shocking -- as
shocking as Virginia Tech was, I think people were even more shocked by
Sandy Hook.

And moms did go to Capitol Hill. They did get meetings and talk to
legislatures. They did buttonhole members of Congress. And it resulted in
nothing. No bill passed. And in fact, Democrats -- four Democrats
refusing to vote for the bill.

Why will it be any different for moms to show up at town hall meetings and
to be present this time when it didn`t work after Sandy Hook?

WATTS: The reality is, we had the same Congress we had the day after Sandy
Hook as the day before. So we need a new Congress. And that`s why, as
part of this effort that we launched today, we are going to go out and we
are going to get at least 1 million Americans to pledge to vote on the
issue of gun reform. That has never been done.

We`re building the foundation to educate mothers and all Americans about
the lax laws that exist in this country. And as Colin said, once you know
how unprotected we are as Americans and how much of a head start the gun
lobby has had in creating scary (ph) laws, you can`t help but act.

REID: Well, OK, so Colin, so Shannon says we need a new Congress. But
take a look at the Democrats who are up for reelection right now. You had
three Democrats who did not vote for really modest gun reform that was put
forward and failed in Congress. You have people like Mark Begich, you have
people like Pryor, people who are actually in red states, where winning re-
election is going to be difficult anyway.

If groups like yours go after those legislators, those senators, Democrats,
and actually, they`re defeated, does that defeat your purpose because
you`ll have a more Republican Senate as a result?

GODDARD: We also (INAUDIBLE) sorry. We also had Republicans vote for the
bill, as well. And so we`re not concerned if you`re a Republican or you`re
a Democrat, we`re concerned if, do you support common sense gun policy.
This is a longer-term thing than just the next election cycle or just who
controls the Senate for the next, you know, series of years. You know,
this is -- this is -- this is a long-term thing, like I said. And so it
doesn`t matter which party you`re from. You know, we`re making sure that
people who support good gun policy from both sides are going to get
support.

REID: But does that -- I mean, is that the way to get what you ultimately
want? I mean, because, Shannon, at the end of the day, if you wind up with
a more Republican Senate than you have now, do you get to your goal?

WATTS: It doesn`t matter. This is about laying the foundation. Right
now, women go to the polls based on three issues, abortion, health care and
jobs. We want one of those issues to be gun violence prevention, and this
is the way we go out there and start getting those voters.

REID: Well, now, when it comes to his own reputation around the country,
this is the other issue, is Michael Bloomberg, how (ph) does (ph) the
Bloomberg factor. Bloomberg was really dismissive of the skeptics, and
told "The Times" this. He said, quote, I don`t know what your perceptions
of our reputation are or mine, the name Bloomberg around the country." And
he said everywhere he goes, quote, "People say, You`re a rock star. People
are yelling out of cabs, Hey, way to go."

And here`s what "The Washington Post`s" Chris Cillizza had to say about
that. He said, quote, "It seems quite clear from these quotes that
Bloomberg doesn`t fully grasp how he`s viewed my many people outside major
cities and the Northeast. He is for many people outside of those enclaves
the living, breathing symbol of the sort of nanny government they loathe."

So Colin, I have this image of Bloomberg saying he`s going out into the
heartland and people are yelling out of cabs. How New York City is that?
I mean, is Bloomberg`s image going to be a problem for really selling this
idea of gun reform in red states?


GODDARD: Well, let`s look what happened in Tennessee this week, you know?
We had a grass roots network of moms and Moms Demand Action chapter help
defeat the NRA`s big legislative agenda, which was open carry and guns in,
you know, recreational parks." You know, that was not Michael Bloomberg
doing that in Nashville. That was concerned and upset moms and dads and
people from across the state.

So you know, that`s the reality that we`re seeing. And so you know, I
think we continue that, we continue to build the grass roots, just as Mike
Bloomberg is helping support, that`s ultimately how we`re going to get the
change we need.

REID: And Shannon, you know, Colin points to Tennessee. That`s one red
state. But can you point to any other parts of red America, non-purple
states, because I know there have been successes --

WATTS: Oh, yes.

REID: -- in Wisconsin and Colorado. How is -- you know, you have in
Florida the warning shot bill that`s about to be signed by the governor.
You have in Georgia expansion of gun rights. Are there red states besides
Tennessee where you`re seeing success?

WATTS: Absolutely. We have a chapter in every state of the country, and
that includes tough states like Montana, South Carolina, North Carolina.
For the first time, there are people showing up to oppose the gun lobby
agenda. That has never happened before. We are pushing back on bad bills
and we`re supporting good bills. And we are making a difference. We`ve
seen many bills shot down this year that should have passed or would have
passed in the past, and we are working with legislators to get proposed
good legislation that we can support.

REID: And are you talking about state-level bills, as well? Because you
have things --

WATTS: Yes.

REID: -- "stand your ground" that are still at issue in places like
Florida. Are you looking at state-level policy?

WATTS: We are -- child access prevention, suicide prevention, stand your
ground, all laws -- and Domestic violence prevention, all laws that moms
and women and Americans can get behind.

REID: And Colin, just for you -- I mean, when you`re looking at the
support that you`re looking to garner -- you said this is a non-partisan
issue -- do you have support among, let`s say, gun owners, NRA members,
Republicans? Can you point to something outside of the traditional base of
people who are advocates of gun reform?

GODDARD: Certainly. Check out Frank Luntz`s poll he did a few years ago
of NRA members directly and found, like, 75 percent support background
checks. You know, I know you mentioned the vote earlier this year -- or it
was last year -- sorry -- we had in the U.S. Senate -- yes, it didn`t pass
the filibuster, but we had a majority. We had 55 senators vote for that.
That`s a majority.

And today in the House, that same bill has 190 co-sponsors, Democrats and
Republicans. That`s more co-sponsors on any piece of good gun policy we`ve
had in the U.S. House than ever, even more than when Jim and Sarah Brady
did this and succeeded in the `90s.

REID: Right. And --

GODDARD: So we`re at a place now than -- further than we ever have been,
and it`s been in a short period of time. With more time, with more effort,
with more grass roots, we`ll get there.

REID: And give us a sort of a timeline of when you think that it`s
realistic to expect that we could see even a modest gun reform bill pass
the United States Senate. How long is it going to take for your
organization to get where the NRA is now?

GODDARD: I mean, I think we need an election cycle or two to make sure the
equation that senators and congressmen make in their heads when they`re
voting on a gun bill is different when they see that they`re actually going
to get a lot of heat from one side if they vote for it or against it, that,
you know, it was traditionally kind of one-sided. So it`s going to take
that time. That`s how, you know, decisions and votes are held accountable.
That`s how the people make their -- you know, express their will to their
elected officials.

So that`s what -- we haven`t had that yet since the big vote. And so
that`s what`s upcoming this year. We`re going to have a million new voters
who will vote on the single issue of good gun policy that we announced
today. And so you know, this takes time. Unfortunately, the media thinks
this is, like, some light -- flick to switch, or something like that. No,
this is the long-term grass roots (INAUDIBLE) all substantive change in
this country has come from long grass roots engagement, and that`s what
we`re doing.

REID: All right. Thanks so much to Shannon Watts and Colin Goddard.
Thanks to both of you for being here.

WATTS: Thank you.

GODDARD: Thanks.

REID: And coming up, the rancher and the right. He`s being hailed by
conservatives as a hero to the anti-government right, but is this tax
protester really the guy the right wants to wrap its brand around?

Plus, why doesn`t this surprise us? We learned today that the law firm
that, quote, "cleared" Chris Christie in the "bridge-gate" scandal donated
$10,000 to the Republican Governors Association, which, of course, is run
by, you guessed it, Chris Christie.

Meanwhile, coming this fall to an election near you, the fight over
personhood. Some Republican Senate candidates are promoting so-called
personhood measures, which declare full human rights begin at the moment of
fertilization.

And what happens when a politician is trashing another politician, and the
guy getting the business shows up and taps the trash talker on the
shoulder? It happened in Florida, and we`ll show you how it all went down.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REID: We`ve got new polling on possible presidential matchups for 2016.
Let`s check the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."

According to a new McClatchy Marist poll, Hillary Clinton leads Paul Ryan
nationally by 8 points. It`s Clinton 51, Ryan 44. No other Republican is
even within single digits. New Jersey governor Chris Christie trails by 11
points. It`s Clinton 53, Christie 42.

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee trails by 13, 53 to 40. Hillary
Clinton tops Rand Paul by 14 points, 54 for Clinton, 40 for Paul. Ted Cruz
trails by 15 points, 54 to 39. Marco Rubio is down a whopping 16 points,
54 to 38. And Jeb Bush also trails by 16 points, 55 to 39. All in all, a
poor showing for the Republicans against Hillary Clinton.

We`ll be back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REID: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Hard-right conservatives continue to
rally behind Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy, calling his fight against
the U.S. Bureau of Land Management a crusade against federal overreach.
But is championing Bundy smart politics for the GOP?

Here`s the back story, in case you missed it. Cliven Bundy has grazed his
cattle on the federally owned land surrounding his ranch for two decades,
flouting a 1993 law that requires ranchers to purchase grazing rights from
the Bureau of Land Management. He`s refused to pay because he doesn`t
believe the federal government has any authority over the land, which he
says his family has used since 1877. And he currently owes a million
dollars in back fees for those grazing rights.

Earlier this month, federal authorities moved to impound his cattle, and
Bundy fought back, joined by states` rights militia groups from across the
country. The standoff led to clashes like this one last week, when federal
agents used a Taser to keep Bundy`s family and their supporters off a
roadway.

Well, the showdown ended over the weekend after authorities walked back
from a potential standoff and released the cattle. Bundy`s still spoiling
for a fight. Here he is last night with Sean Hannity on Fox News.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLIVEN BUNDY, NEVADA RANCHER: Get your army out of Nevada! Get your army
away from my ranch and off Clark County public land and keep it out. And
if they come, we`ll deal with them tonight. If that`s what we got to do,
we`ll just deal with you. (INAUDIBLE) you got guts enough to do it? Come
on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: Bundy`s cause continues to attract allies on the right. Yesterday,
Kevin Williamson of "The National Review" compared Bundy to, of all people,
Gandhi and George Washington, saying, quote, "Gandhi and George Washington
both were British subjects who believed that their legal situation was at
odds with something deeper and more meaningful. Mr. Bundy is tapping into
a long-standing tendency in the American West to view the federal
government as a creature of the Eastern establishment, with political and
economic interests that are inimical to those of the West and its people."

With us now are MSNBC political analysts David Corn with "Mother Jones" and
Howard Fineman of the HuffingtonPost.

All right, Howard, I`m going to you first.

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: OK.

REID: How like Gandhi and George Washington is Cliven Bundy? Explain.

FINEMAN: Well, Gandhi had great respect for cattle, as well.

REID: Indeed.

FINEMAN: Except that he didn`t want to kill them and eat them, so there`s
that. I -- having spent a bunch of time in those parts of the United
States, I always find it amusing that people like Cliven Bundy and his
supporters rail against the federal government. But it`s the federal
government who provides enormous benefits in terms of payments for
minerals, in terms of water reclamation, in terms of rural electrification,
in terms of all the things that only the federal government has ability and
the power to provide.

But none of that means anything to somebody like Cliven Bundy, who is under
the illusion that he`s truly an independent actor who doesn`t need any help
from anyone else in the world. That`s just not the way it works. When
he`s shipping his cattle on interstate highways or on rails, he`s doing it
with the help of the entire United States, but that doesn`t fit into the
conservative narrative in places like "The National Review."

REID: Well, and then yes, and then also, there`s the fact that, you know,
Gandhi never called in a militia, an armed militia --

REID: Yes.

REID: -- to have a potential violent showdown with the government. You
know, David Corn, you, as the person who discovered the infamous 47 percent
video and published that in "Mother Jones" -- do you find it at all ironic
that this is a fight, essentially, on the right over wanting free stuff?
This gentleman wants free grazing rights. He wants the federal government
to give him something absolutely for free for 20-plus years.

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I think there`s a lot
of ironies here. You know, he`s looking for a free ride or a free lunch,
at least a free lunch for his cows, and at the same time, he`s encouraging
lawlessness when the Republican Party was always supposed to be the party
of law and order.

But what this really reminds me of -- and this is why I think it`s
dangerous, Joy -- I don`t want to just make jokes here -- back in the
1990s, when you people like G. Gordon Liddy and Wayne LaPierre, who we
still see these days, talking about the jackbooted thugs of the U.S.
government, people at the Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco and Firearms and
others, who are really breeding, they were breeding disrespect and creating
this sort of conspiratorial notion that the federal government had black
helicopters, they`re out to get you, at Waco, at Ruby Ridge.

And we know where that led to. It led to Oklahoma City bombing. After
that, you know, the militia movement kind of tampered down, but when you
give people like this, people like Cliven Bundy, who actually says he
doesn`t accept the authority of the federal government in any manner,
shape, or form, not just over this land issue, you put him on FOX News, you
bring the militia guys in, you validate, you justify the worst excesses of
the right wing -- of the right wing, and it could lead to more dangerous
situations.

REID: Yes, and to that exact point, David, Sean Hannity actually stoked
the fears of the hard right on FOX News last night, suggesting the Bundy
family, that federal authorities might, in fact, kill one of them in the
process of settling the dispute. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "HANNITY")

SEAN HANNITY, HOST, "HANNITY": Do you worry that, in fact, they may kill
either your dad or somebody in your family?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you know, this battle`s been going on for my
whole life almost, and if death were our main fear, we wouldn`t be here
today. Freedom is much greater than death.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: And, Howard, I have to go to you on this, because what could the
possible upside be for conservatives to sign on to that kind of an idea,
that a violent confrontation with the federal government is preferable to
following the law?

FINEMAN: Well, first of all, I think that Sean Hannity went over the line
there in playing into the fantasy of victimhood and martyrdom that`s part
of the dangerous -- sort of the dangerous part of what`s going on here.

I don`t think it does the Republican Party as a whole any good, for the
reason David said, because you can`t win an election on apocalyptic
paranoia in this country, as comforting as it might be to some of the
people who believe it, as much as a sense of camaraderie as it might give
the militia people and the states` rights people on the fringes of American
society.

That`s exactly what it is, a fringe, and it`s a need for inclusiveness,
it`s a need for community that the Republicans have been unable to express
beyond their narrow demographics that`s put them in the hole that they are
in heading into the presidential election in 2016. You can`t be a party
that reaches out to everybody if you`re a party who thinks that everybody`s
out to get you.

REID: No, absolutely, Howard. I think you make an excellent point. And
you haven`t heard a lot of the 2016 contenders actually come out and weigh
in on this.

FINEMAN: No, no. No.

REID: One has, however. And that would be, of course, Mike Huckabee, who
this past weekend in New Hampshire said this. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: Here`s what I would suggest,
that there is something incredibly wrong when a government believes that
some blades of grass that a cow is eating is so an egregious affront to the
government of the United States that we would literally put a gun in a
citizen`s face and threaten to shoot him over it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: And, David, before you -- before you respond, here`s what Senate
Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Monday about the drama that`s playing
out in his home state.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Well, it`s not over. We can`t
have an American people that violate the law and just walk away from it, so
it`s not over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: David Corn, it`s not over, that is an ominous -- those are ominous
words, given what the other side seems to be willing to do in order to keep
this going.

CORN: You know, Mike Huckabee is pretty conservative, but when he ran for
president and when he was governor of Arkansas, he tried to talk about
things from sort of, I thought, a sane perspective, a communal perspective,
actually.

And here he is with the most inflammatory of language, accusing federal law
enforcement officials, who work for us, who are protecting American
government property rights, right, you know, protecting the American
taxpayers, of threatening -- threatening to shoot someone, after they have
given him 21 years to get on the right side of the law.

And it reminds me again of that rhetoric we heard back in the `90s in which
some Republicans and some conservatives were basically encouraging the
militia movements and stoking, as Howard said, their paranoid, their most
paranoid fantasies. And when you do that, people out there feel validated,
they feel justified, and gosh knows what they are going to do.

This is a fight for freedom and they are willing to die for freedom, and
you encourage that, it`s going to lead to violence.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: Joy, I think David makes a really good point about the migration
of Mike Huckabee.

The fact is that, in the `90s, the people David was talking about really
were still pretty much on the fringe of the Republican Party and the
conservative movement, really. But now the rhetoric of resentment and fear
and paranoia about the federal government is reaching a fever pitch within
the basic mainstream conservative part of the Republican Party.

And that`s very interesting -- that`s very interesting and very dangerous,
I think, for the Republicans, if they hope to win a presidential election.

REID: Yes, absolutely.

CORN: You know, that`s a -- that`s a good point, because if you talk --
look at the Obamacare fight --

REID: Right.

CORN: -- what it`s all about, taking freedom away.

REID: Right.

CORN: We`re not a free country anymore. And they are tying that general
theme to events like this.

REID: Yes.

CORN: And it`s going to cause some people to take action into their own
hands.

REID: Yes, absolutely. It`s not a way to grow the party when you take the
fringe out of the attic and bring it into the living room and actually let
it take over the whole house.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

REID: Thank you very much, David Corn and Howard Fineman.

CORN: Thank you.

FINEMAN: Thank you, Joy.

REID: All right.

Up next: It appears the Romney family is still sore over something that
happened during the 2012 campaign.

That`s next in the "Sideshow."

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It`s going down.
I`m yelling timber. You better move. You better dance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: Who knew Hillary could get down like that?

Back with more HARDBALL, and it`s time now for the "Sideshow."

No politician is safe from the guys at BaracksDubs. And this time, they
have managed to get President Obama and his former secretary of state to
sing the pop hit "Timber."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(MUSIC)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: That`s not bad. I kind of like the presidential version.

Next up: Yesterday was the deadline to file income taxes, and along with
his taxes, good old Donald Rumsfeld also sent a letter to the IRS, which
basically says he has no idea if anything he filed is actually correct.

The letter reads in part: "I cannot have any confidence that I know what is
being requested, and, therefore, I cannot and do not know, as I suspect a
great many Americans cannot know, whether or not their taxes are accurate."

Talk about known unknowns. The former secretary of defense has sent a
letter like this to the IRS every year for at least two decades.

Also in line to meet the April 15 deadline was former presidential
candidate Mitt Romney. His son Josh tweeted out this picture of Romney in
line at the La Jolla, California, post office, with the caption: "Hey,
Senator Reid, here`s a shot of Mitt Romney paying taxes. Does it every
year. It`s how you get your paycheck."

Ouch. Looks like somebody is still bitter about the 2012 spat with the
Senate majority leader. That`s when Harry Reid claimed Romney hadn`t paid
taxes for 10 years, which the former Massachusetts governor vociferously
denied.

A former spokesman for the Obama campaign responded to Josh Romney`s tweet
by poking fun at Romney`s wealth, saying, "Pic of the vault in Zurich?"

Up next: That so-called objective report that cleared New Jersey Governor
Chris Christie wasn`t just conducted by lawyers he hired. We now know that
the law firm behind the report made a major contribution to the Republican
Governors Association, headed by one Chris Christie.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CRAIG MELVIN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Craig Melvin. Here`s what`s
happening right now.

Rescue teams are searching for survivors after a ferry sinks off the coast
of South Korea; 290 passengers, mostly high school students, are missing.
Six people are dead.

The man arrested for carrying a rice cooker in his backpack on the
anniversary of the Boston bombings made a court appearance today. Charges
against Kevin Edson include possession of a hoax device.

And President Obama and Vice President Biden announced $600 million in new
grants for job training and apprenticeship programs today -- now back to
HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RANDY MASTRO, ATTORNEY FOR NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: We are
because we had no incentive to do other than 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: And we`re back.

That was Randy Mastro, the Christie administration`s top lawyer, defending
his team`s investigation, which loudly and proudly declared his client was
totally innocent. The report cleared Christie of all charges, both legal
and political, even going so far as to say that they found no evidence of a
culture of political payback in the governor`s office, an idea most have
found to be, put it bluntly, laughable.

Christie clearly was hoping to use the report to resurrect his White House
ambitions. After it was made public, he headed right over to ABC, telling
Diane Sawyer that people in Iowa love him. And then he -- he then hopped a
flight to Las Vegas to participate in the Republican Party`s cattle call to
try and impress billionaire mega-donor Sheldon Adelson.

Well, while Mastro and Christie maintain that the administration`s lawyers
had no incentive other than to get to the truth, today`s big story in "The
Bergen Record" reveals that Mastro`s team was helping to bankroll a
Christie organization while they were investigating his office.

They report -- quote -- "Nine days before a team of its top lawyers made
public a report clearing Governor Christie in the George Washington Bridge
scandal, the law firm donated $10,000 to the Republican Governors
Association, a group he, Christie, heads."

A spokesperson for the law firm says they have been contributing to the RGA
since 2009. Christie was named chairman last year. Christie himself is on
the record adamantly defending the report as objective. Here he is singing
its praises.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: No matter who I chose to do this,
questions would be raised by some quarters as to those people`s
objectivity.

My answer to that is, look at the report. We gave them unfettered,
complete access to everyone in this government. I think the report will
stand the test of time. I don`t have any second thoughts about who we
selected or the process. No matter what, you`re going to be criticized in
this instance, and when you are, you just have to answer it and answer it
directly and that`s what we have done through the report.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: If the report is Christie`s political weapon, it`s looking
increasingly as if he`s armed himself with a dud.

John Feehery is a Republican strategist, and Eugene Robinson is an MSNBC
political analyst and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist with "The Washington
Post."

And, John, I`m going to start with you, because this strikes me as
political malpractice. I don`t know which is worse, the law firm for going
ahead and giving the contribution, or Chris Christie for not having a chat
with the finance department over at the Republican Governors Association,
and saying, hey, if a check comes from these guys, send it back.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I will tell you what. Gibson &
Dunn has also given plenty of money to Democrats, gave about $50,000 to the
DCCC over the last couple years.

REID: Not this year, John, not this year. They didn`t give to the DGA.
They gave to the RGA, which their client is running.

FEEHERY: Over the last couple years, they have given to the DCCC about
$50,000. It`s a bipartisan firm. It`s a well-respected firm.

REID: But, John --

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: Would you let me finish, Joy?

REID: Sure.

FEEHERY: The point here being that Gibson Dunn is a very well-respected
law firm. That`s why Chris Christie went to it.

The report, I think from what Christie said, stands the test of time. If
you have any problems with the report, focus on the report. Don`t focus on
the campaign contributions, which are routine for -- almost every big law
firm gives money to both sides.

REID: John, this is not a law firm that is just any law firm.

This is the firm that produced a report completely clearing their client,
the governor, the governor`s office, and then turned around and gave a
pretty substantial contribution to the Republican Governors Association.
You`re telling me you see nothing wrong with that, optics-wise, ethics-
wise? You see nothing wrong with that?

FEEHERY: I don`t see anything wrong with it ethics-wise.

I think, optics-wise, we can have a debate about that. The fact is that
it`s a law firm, it has plenty of clients, it does a lot of things for a
lot of clients. And you know what? They routinely give money to, as I
said, since 2009 to the RGA, because the RGA, no matter who the chairman
is, is a place where you get a chance to talk to governors and get things
done.

So, I think -- I understand why they did it. I don`t think it`s any --
ethically any problem. Optically, we can have that debate.

REID: John, they give a lot of clients -- not every client that is under
three separate investigations, and they are involved in those
investigations by doing a report that is a part of it, that can become a
part of those investigations.

FEEHERY: They --

REID: I`m actually going to throw this over to you, Eugene Robinson. Your
witness, sir.

Is this optically, ethically, in any way can -- can Christie justify
allowing this to happen? And the firm, can they justify it?

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Joy, I think you`re right
that the optics are not good.

John Feehery makes a good point about Gibson Dunn. I`m kind of familiar
with the firm. It`s a global law firm with something like 1,100 lawyers.
Among the partners are Ted Olson who has led the legal campaign before the
Supreme Court in favor of gay marriage. I mean -- you know, so it`s a lot
bigger than Randy Mastro, the lawyer associated with associates of
Christie, who did this report. That`s really the point here.

So the contribution doesn`t look good, but the real problem with this
report is that it was done by Christie`s lawyer. And it is in no sense an
objective report, and, in fact, in doing the report, Mastro and the Gibson
Dunn investigators, didn`t talk to any of the principals involved in the
lane closings in the bridge because they wouldn`t talk to them. So, on the
basis of no information, they declared Christie innocent. That is really
the scandal with the report.

REID: Essentially because he said so and was very emotional when he said
so.

Let`s go back to you, John.

The Mastro report actually isn`t scoring points with New Jersey voters
either. Only 36 percent in the latest polling think that the Mastro report
is legitimate, 56 percent think it`s a whitewash.

So, what are the odds even let`s say Christie escapes any legal action,
that primary states outside of New Jersey, in states like Iowa, New
Hampshire, South Carolina, will actually give Christie a pass when his own
residents in New Jersey do not believe this report?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, Joy, I think it`s a problem for
Chris Christie. I think that for Chris Christie, he`s got to get over this
scandal. He`s got to start governing New Jersey. He`s got to start
focusing on bringing jobs to New Jersey and improving their economy

Because otherwise, if he doesn`t do that, he`s not going to be able to
translate into any other state. He`s got to effectively prove that he can
govern.

And in this scandal hurts his ability to govern, he`s in big trouble not
only in New Jersey, but in the rest of the country. I think this is a
problem. Does it affect him as he governs and can he still be successful
as governor? And we don`t know the answer to that question.

REID: I mean, Eugene, doesn`t this payment, doesn`t this contribution made
by the same law firm that`s (INAUDIBLE) completely cleared Chris Christie,
doesn`t that just negate any usefulness this report even would have had,
even given the limited usefulness it`s had so far, politically for
Christie?

ROBINSON: Well, it certainly hasn`t helped. And for some people who may
have been inclined to give Christie the benefit of the doubt based on the
report, for some of those people, they`ll see the contribution and see the
linkage and say hold it, this smells.

But I don`t think there are a lot of those people. I don`t -- obviously,
as you said from the numbers you just read, the report doesn`t have a whole
lot of traction in terms of convincing people that Christie is innocent of
all this, because, you know, if I went out and hired a law firm, you know,
to investigate my past and was paying them or arranging for them to get
paid, I would kind of expect them to release a pretty favorable report.
And that`s exactly what happened.

REID: I mean, John, as a strategist within the GOP, isn`t it time to start
talking past the notion of Christie as a viable candidate? There doesn`t
seem to be much left really for him to go to. There aren`t that many wells
to go to. This report was kind of his last shot, right?

FEEHERY: I don`t want to start writing his political obituary right now.
I think he`s a talented politician, but this is a big problem for him, and
he`s got to figure out a way to overcome it. Part of it is he`s got to
govern more effectively and kind of get New Jersey back in good shape. The
other part is, he`s got to be cleared by all charges. We`ve got some time
left, but not a lot for the 2016 elections. So, you know, I think it`s a
real challenge for him, I`m not going to deny that.

REID: Yes.

ROBINSON: Joy -- Joy, this is a period right now in an ideal world in
terms of Christie`s presidential ambitions, he would be beginning to
consolidate some support from the Republican establishment, and for obvious
reasons, you know, some people still like him, some people maybe would
still like to support him, but a lot of people are nervous. They don`t
want to get too close, because as you said, there are these three
investigations, it`s like three anvils hanging over the head of this
potential candidacy and you never know when one might fall.

REID: Yes, absolutely. And preferably cleared by somebody who is not on
the payroll of the governor`s office or be the contributor to the RGA.

Thanks to both of you, John Feehery and Eugene Robinson.

FEEHERY: Thank you.

REID: All right. Up next to the fight over personhood. Lots of
Republicans running for Senate are pushing personhood measures saying full
human rights should begin right when an egg is fertilized. That`s an
opportunity for Democrats and that`s ahead.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REID: Here`s an awkward exchange caught on video by "The Palm Beach Post".
It`s Florida`s Republican Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera bashing
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist to reporters, when Crist
drops by.

Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARLOS LOPEZ-CANTERA (R), FLORIDA LT. GOVERNOR: He`ll say anything you
want to hear to get elected, but when it comes down to the facts, to the
record, when it comes time to make a difference --

CHARLIE CRIST (D), GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Good to see you.

LOPEZ-CANTERA: Hey. How are you?

CRIST: Doing well. Say hi to your family.

REPORTER: Governor, he said you told lies about Governor Scott --

CRIST: He`s got to debate the lieutenant governor candidate. Give me
Scott.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: Give me Scott.

Crist has been running slightly ahead of his successor Rick Scott in recent
polling, and we`ll be back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REID: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Remember the war on women? There won`t be a ceasefire anytime soon, when
it comes to the issue of personhood, which declares that full human rights
begin at fertilization. Republicans may have given Democrats some
ammunition in their quest to save their majority in the Senate this
November.

Republican Senate candidates in key states, like North Carolina, Georgia,
Iowa, Arkansas, Louisiana, Colorado, and Montana have all favored
personhood in one form or another. And as "The Washington Post`s" Greg
Sargent writes today, quote, "Once primary season is over and the Senate
general elections gets underway in earnest, you`re likely to see Democrats
attack Republicans over the issue."

Susan Page is Washington bureau chief for "USA Today." Nia-Malika
Henderson is a reporter for "The Washington Post."

And I`m going to start with you, Nia-Malika.

Essentially, we`ve had Republicans for primary purposes come out for
personhood, but then a little pause when they are actually attacked on it
in the larger market. Is personhood a big opening for Democrats,
particularly Senate candidates?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, THE WASHINGTON POST: You know, I think it is. It`s
a sleeper issue. We don`t know the contours of these races until, sort of
the primary battle is settled over the next couple of weeks and months.
But when it comes to the general election, you do know that the Democratic
candidates, a lot of them, women, empowered by groups like Emily`s List,
will try to make this an issue.

Remember, if we go back to 2011, a personhood in Mississippi, Mississippi,
failed when it was brought up on the ballot and it really caused even
Republicans to try to figure out, you know, where they stood on this issue,
even Republicans who were pro-life. So, I do think it`s a way for
Democrats to talk about the war on women, in talking about abortion and
contraception, because this personhood issue certainly brings that up.

They want to talk, I think, mainly about the war on women in terms of
economic issues, but it does seem like this will be a part of some of these
races, particularly races featuring women going against men.

REID: Yes. And, Susan, that is really the key, right? Because Democrats
are counting on a strong turnout among women, that will go in their
direction based on some of these issues. And what personhood gets to is
the risk of contraception actually being outlawed. So it goes beyond that
abortion debate.

Is that why it`s working for Democrats potentially?

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY: Well, yes. And on the abortion issue itself, it
would ban all forms, abortion for any reason, under any circumstances, and
would ban, presumably, some forms of contraception.

And so, think about a state like Colorado, where Mark Udall faces a pretty
stiff challenge from Cory Gardner. Cory Gardner has, in the past,
sponsored a personhood amendment. He now says that was a bad idea.

But in a year when Democrats are against the wall when it comes to talking
about issues like the Affordable Care Act, when they can`t count on
President Obama`s strong approval ratings in a state like Colorado, he
carried the state, but his approval ratings are down -- this is an issue
that appeals to a lot of voters in the center of the electorate and as Nia-
Malika said, especially women voters.

REID: Yes, zeroing in on Colorado, I mean, Republicans were really
actually especially happy after they coaxed Cory Gardner to get into that
race. And it`s one of those races that has been seen by Larry Sabato and
others as being in play because he`s considered a long candidate.

But not longer after he declared his candidacy, Gardner started to walk
back his support for personhood. This is what he told "The Denver Post."

He said, "This was a bad idea, driven by good intentions. I was not right.
I can`t support personhood now. I can`t support personhood going forward.
To do it again would be a mistake. I`ve learned to listen. I don`t get
everything right the first time."

And a spokesman for Democrat Mark Udall`s campaign told "The Post," quote,
"Coloradans will see through this cheap election-year stunt. Coloradans
want a senator who always promotes and protects women`s health, not one
that simply pretends to during election years."

So, Nia-Malika, I mean, for Gardner`s sake, he felt he had to reverse
positions, but is there some backlash coming to him from the right, from
his base of supporters, because he`s now wavered on a life issue?

HENDERSON: You know, we will have to see. Probably not. It certainly is
not going to come from the establishment. The establishment very much
wants to, (a), win, and they think the way to win is to really focus on
economic issues. They don`t want to necessarily fight these culture wars
around abortion and contraception, because it didn`t go so well for them in
2012.

So, I think they are -- you know, they pretty much hand-picked Cory Gardner
and scared away all of the other candidates who would have been in that
race.

So, I don`t think you`ll see much of a backlash. I think Cory Gardner
there is really looking at the waters there in Colorado with and seeing
what this issue could mean for him. And particularly, not only among
women, but possibly women who would vote Republican, or at least women who
are independent. Those are the kind of women, also that could be swayed
based on some of the language around a personhood bill.

REID: All right. We`ll be back with Susan Page and Nia-Malika Henderson.

More HARDBALL right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REID: We`re back with "USA Today`s" Susan Page, and Nia-Malika Henderson
of "The Washington Post."

I want to ask both of you where you think this personhood issue potentially
could be the most salient. Which Senate races will this be the hottest in?
Susan, you first.

PAGE: I would say Colorado, Iowa, and Michigan, because those are swing
states, and I would add Montana. It`s not a swing state, but it`s a state
with a lot of libertarian voters.

REID: And, Nia-Malika, what do you think?

HENDERSON: Yes, I mean, I think these races in the South, maybe they`re
going to try there if they look at Mississippi, that example there tells
them that this isn`t popular in states like Georgia and Louisiana, and
those races feature women who are running against men. So, I think in
those races, it might come into play as well.

REID: And, I mean, for women, I think a lot of people are watching the
Wendy Davis race and wondering why women`s issues isn`t an issue in Texas,
but why her race hasn`t picked up more traction when it comes to issues
salient to abortion and to women`s health. Susan, what do you think?

PAGE: Well, for one thing -- it`s a pretty Republican state and she`s had
some stumbles in her campaign, but, you know, campaigns take a long time.
So, we should remember at this point, it`s a long time until Election Day.

REID: Yes. But in the Senate races, Nia-Malika, you think that this
actually could play a part?

HENDERSON: Yes, I do think so. And I think she`s right about the Davis
race. They had a whole revamp of that campaign. A lot of new folks in the
publicity arm of that campaign and different people were running it. So, I
think we`ll see a different campaign going forward out of Wendy Davis.

REID: All right. Absolutely. And thank you so much to Susan Page and
Nia-Malika Henderson.

That is HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
BE UPDATED.
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