updated 3/28/2012 3:03:14 PM ET 2012-03-28T19:03:14

Guests: Pete Williams, Howard Fineman, Tyler Mathisen, Neera Tanden, Greg Abbott, Jonathan Gruber, Sari Horwitz, Charles Blow, Cynthia Tucker, Sam Stein

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Health warning.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews up in New York. Leading off
tonight: March mandate madness. Did we get the first hint, perhaps a big
one, of where the Supreme Court may be headed on the individual mandate?
The Court`s four conservative Justices plus swing vote Anthony Kennedy
asked very tough questions of the administrator`s lawyers today. That
might mean that a bare majority of five Justices do not find the mandate of
the president`s to be constitutional.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney keeps running away, away from his signature
achievement as Massachusetts governor, health care reform and the
individual mandate. But tonight, we`ve got the MIT professor who advised
both President Obama and Mitt Romney on health care and famously said -- he
said, the professor, They`re the same bleeping bill. Well.

Plus, talk about stepping on your own message again. Romney had hoped
to exploit President Obama`s open mic moment the other day but wound up
making an even more damaging statement himself, that the Russians are our
number one geopolitical foe. Really? Could you cool it with the "evil
empire" talk, Governor?

And we`ll have the latest information on the Trayvon Martin case.
Let`s get everything we can tonight on the table.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" tonight with Mitt Romney`s declaration of
hostility toward modern Russia.

We begin with day two at the Supreme Court. What a day. NBC News
justice correspondent Pete Williams -- was this a bad day at black rock for
the president, to use an old movie title?

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Bad day at the white temple. Yes,
it wasn`t a great day for the administration, Chris. Now, it`s always --
it`s always risky to predict how the Court`s going to vote based on how the
argument goes because there`s a lot that goes on once the gavel sounds on
the argument. The Justices circulate opinions back and forth, and things
can shift.

But the fact is that it`s quite clear that they didn`t pick up any of
the conservatives. There was some thought here maybe they could get
Justice Scalia, who has in the past been willing to give quite a broad show
of support for Congress`s commerce power. None of that today. He is a
lost cause to the government. So the question comes down to Justice
Kennedy.

Now, for most of the questioning today, he showed great skepticism.
He said to the government at one point that this bill basically alters the
relationship between the federal government and an individual, and asked
the government lawyer, Doesn`t that show you have a heavy burden?

And for most of the argument, there was no indication that he thought
the government had met that burden. But at the very end of the argument,
there may have been a glimmer of hope for the administration because the
government`s argument here is, in response to those who say, If the
government can regulate this, then it could regulate anything -- and the
conservatives said, Could you require everybody to have a cell phone in
case there was an emergency? Or could you make everybody buy broccoli to
become healthier?

The government says what`s different about the health care market is
that if you don`t have insurance, when you show up at the emergency room,
you will be treated, and the cost of your care will be shifted to people
who do have insurance. Now, they say that`s unlike any other market. Not
true with cell phones, not true with food.

And what Justice Kennedy said is, Well, maybe that makes this industry
different, that the young person who doesn`t have insurance is shifting the
cost to others. And he said, "That`s my concern."

So those three words, "that`s my concern," may indicate that he is
struggling with this and could perhaps try to write a decision, if he`s in
the majority, that would say, OK, this is a concern for us, but in the
health care market only, Congress could do something like this. Who knows?

You know, that is a thin reed of hope for the government. It did not
-- but as you say, it was not a great day for them. There`s no clear
winner today.

MATTHEWS: And Justice Kennedy is the swing vote, we can be sure of
that, based again on what you heard today in argument.

WILLIAMS: It sure seemed that way. You know, there was some
suggestion, perhaps, that Chief Justice John Roberts was sympathetic to the
government`s argument. I certainly didn`t read it that way. He seemed --
he did seem to be sort of an equal opportunity quizzer to both sides today,
asking tough questions of both sides. But it seemed to me the thrust of
his questions was more skeptical of the government`s argument than
supportive.

MATTHEWS: Well, ironically or not, that building behind you never
looked more beautiful than it does tonight, Pete. What a great shot you`re
in right now. You ought to take a look at it, get it photographed.

WILLIAMS: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Pete Williams on perhaps the biggest story from
the Supreme Court in decades.

Here`s an example, by the way, of some of the tough questioning the
Obama administration`s lawyers got thrown at them today. This is Justice
Anthony Kennedy, the Court`s swing vote, as I said, grilling Solicitor
General Donald Verrilli, who`s defending the health care law of the
president. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

ASSOC. JUSTICE ANTHONY KENNEDY, UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT: When you
are changing the relation of the individual to the government in this --
what we can stipulate is, I think, a unique way, do you not have a heavy
burden of justification to show authorization under the Constitution?

DONALD VERRILLI, SOLICITOR GENERAL: So two things about that, Justice
Kennedy. First, we think this is regulation of people`s participation in
the health care market. And all -- all this minimum coverage provision
does is say that instead of requiring insurance at the point of sale, that
Congress has the authority under the commerce power and the necessary and
proper power to ensure that people have insurance in advance of the point
of sale because of the unique nature of this market.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow. We`ll figure out what that means. Neera Tanden`s
president of the Center for American Progress. She is a senior adviser on
health reform in the Obama administration. Greg Abbott`s attorney general
of Texas and one of the 26 state attorney generals who brought this case
against the government.

Let me start with Neera. This (INAUDIBLE) are you as concerned, as
I`ve just heard the report justifies it, that this looks like Kennedy is
leaning toward the conservative position, perhaps ready to declare the
individual mandate of the president`s bill unconstitutional?

NEERA TANDEN, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: No. Look, I expect
Justices to ask tough questions of both sides. And you know, in the
appellate courts, conservative judges asked really tough questions of the
government and then ruled in favor of the government, in favor of the
individual mandate. So I`m not surprised.

I know you did see Pete Williams did talk about Justice Kennedy`s
remarks at the end, where he did express that this is perhaps a unique
market and came up with his own limiting principle. So I expected tough
questions. I think -- you know, I`m still confident we should win this
case if the judges apply -- Justices apply the previous precedent.

MATTHEWS: Attorney General Abbott, thank you for joining us tonight.

GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS ATTORNEY GENERAL: Sure.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the question of heavy burden. I mean,
the Justices seemed to believe that the question here is not just the
extension or the possible flexibility of the interstate commerce clause,
but this more fundamental inherent question as to what our government`s all
about, our Constitution`s all about, talking about this would change --
this bill would change the basic relationship between government and
citizen.

Is that your argument, that this is so fundamental, it can`t be done
here under our Constitution, this is really changing things in this
country?

ABBOTT: Right. That is the argument. That is why you see thousands
of people gathered around the United States Supreme Court building
protesting today, and for two years prior to today, because people realize
this is a constitutional moment.

This is exactly why the argument is lasting three days, as opposed to
one hour, and that`s because this decision will determine whether or not
Congress has unlimited power or if it is limited by the United States
Constitution.

That question that Justice Kennedy was raising was the point that
never before in history has Congress imposed a mandate that people go out
and purchase something.

MATTHEWS: Right.

ABBOTT: The commerce clause has not been used in that way, and so the
question the Court raised today that the government was unable to answer is
to establish that line of demarcation, the limiting line that would limit
Congress`s ability to impose mandates like this.

MATTHEWS: Here`s your point. Here`s Justice Kennedy pointing out the
individual mandate forces people to do something they might not do on their
own. Let`s listen to that.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

KENNEDY: And here the government is saying that the federal
government has a duty to tell the individual citizen that it must act. And
that is different from what we have in previous cases.

VERRILLI: Well...

KENNEDY: That changes the relationship of the federal government to
the individual in a very fundamental way.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Neera, just to make the argument -- I`m not a lawyer, but I
do study this, like every American takes a look at it. The Civil Rights
case which had a positive review by the Supreme Court back in `64 basically
told you, If you`re going to open up a store, you can`t open it up for
white people. Everybody comes to that door has to be treated by -- even if
you just want to sell hamburgers to white people, you can`t do that.

So it does change, in that case, the -- it did change, decades ago,
the fundamental real between the individual and the government and said the
government can tell you you got to sell hamburgers to anybody comes in that
door.

Isn`t this just another incremental step in the government finding a
new area where it has to exercise regulation of interstate commerce?

TANDEN: Look, that`s exactly right. And I would also add the issue
about health care -- and Don Verrilli made this point -- is health care is
not like every other market. When you choose not to buy health insurance -
- we have laws in this country that say if you get in an accident, you have
to be cared for. So unlike every other market, I pay when someone else
doesn`t have health insurance and gets sick.

And so that`s what distinguishes this from every other single market.
It is a basic distinction. Don Verrilli made this point, and I think at
the end, Justice Kennedy heard that point because he made the point very
clearly that young people not participating in health insurance drives up
the cost for other people.

MATTHEWS: I know.

TANDEN: That`s unlike every other part of the market, and I think
that`s the limiting principle the courts will find persuasive.

MATTHEWS: OK, Justice Scalia challenged the solicitor general, Mr.
Verrilli, the government`s lawyer, about the reach of this law and
precedent that it would set. Scalia made what is known as the broccoli
argument. Here he is making it. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

ASSOC. JUSTICE ANTONIN SCALIA, UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT: Why do
you define the market that broadly -- health care? It may well be that
everybody needs health care sooner or later, but not everybody needs a
heart transplant. Not everybody needs a liver transplant. Why -- what --
I mean...

VERRILLI: That`s correct, Justice Scalia, but you never know whether
you`re going to be that person.

SCALIA: Could you define the market -- everybody has to buy food
sooner or later, so you define the market as food. Therefore, everybody`s
in the market. Therefore, you can make people buy broccoli.

VERRILLI: No. That`s quite different. It`s quite different.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: General Abbott, how do you respond to that charge that if
you get in a car accident, if you have a heart attack and you`re taken to a
hospital, there you have doctors and nurses and administrators and all
kinds of, well, resources available for you. And therefore, you`re already
in that market, whether you`ve agreed to sign up an insurance policy or
not. Therefore, we`re just regulating here your role in that market.

ABBOTT: Well, the overall picture here is that there are problems and
challenges with regard to the structure of our health care system, but
those problems and challenges aren`t solved by imposing an unprecedented
mandate on people having to go out and purchase a product.

The very issue you`re talking about was raised by one of the Justices
today, and that is, Couldn`t you be forced to buy that product when you`re
there at the emergency room. That would, of course, drive up the price of
that product at that time, but that would be the penalty you pay for not
having gotten insurance before that.

But Chris, also, I want to go back to...

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you a values question. No, I want to ask you a
fundamental question.

ABBOTT: Sure.

MATTHEWS: Who should pay for your health care if you refuse to do it?

ABBOTT: That is a policy and political question that is not a part of
the Constitution. We`re involved in trying to make sure Congress abides by
the Constitution.

Chris, I will admit that health care is a noble cause and improving
health care and access to health care is essential in our country. However
noble the cause may be does not mean that Congress has the ability to
trample on the limitations imposed in the Constitution.

If the Congress -- as pointed out by the Justice today, if Congress is
not eliminated -- or limited by the enumerated clauses in the Constitution,
it will erode the Constitution...

MATTHEWS: OK...

ABBOTT: ... for all time.

MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Attorney General Greg Abbott of Texas.
And Neera Tanden, thank you, as always for coming on the program.

We`re going to continue this debate here even as the Court begins to
rule in the next couple of weeks.

Coming up; Mitt Romney pioneered the individual mandate up in
Massachusetts. We all know that. He created the idea of it. He`s the
pioneer, if you will, the individual mandate. Now he`s running away from
it for some reason. I guess he`s running for president. Up next, the MIT
economist who famously said "Romney care" and "Obama care" are the same
thing.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Wow, that Dresden-style bombing`s happening again. Mitt
Romney`s vastly outspending Rick Santorum, this time in Wisconsin, perhaps
the final meaningful contest of this race.

The primary`s next Tuesday, and so far, Romney and his Restore Our
Future super-PAC have spent $3.1 million on TV ads there. Santorum and his
Red, White and Blue super-PAC have kicked in about $340,000. That`s it for
him.

That`s nearly a 10-to-1 advantage for Romney again, and it`s paying
off for Romney, of course. He now has an 8-point lead out there in
Wisconsin over Santorum, according to a new Marquette Law School poll.

And here`s a sad fact about Romney`s super-PAC. So far this primary
campaign, it`s spent $35 million on commercials attacking Santorum and Newt
Gingrich, versus just a million dollars promoting -- building up Romney.
It`s all about destroying the other guys, and it seems to be working quite
well, if not for the republic, for Romney.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. It might be one of the greatest ironies
of the 2012 presidential election. The politician who has been one of the
strongest and most persuasive advocates for the controversial individual
mandate in health care is not the president of the United States, but
rather his very likely Republican opponent.

Mitt Romney put in place a law in Massachusetts that became the role
model for the president`s own law, but he`s now one of the biggest critics
of what`s called "Obama care," at least by his critics.

Jonathan Gruber`s a professor. He`s uniquely positioned to discuss
the similarities and differences between the two plans. He advised both
Mitt Romney and President Obama on their health care laws. He`s a
professor at MIT and author of the book "Health Care Reform." And Howard
Fineman is editorial director of the Huffington Post and an MSNBC political
analyst.

Gentlemen, thank you for joining us. Professor Gruber, in any terms,
layman`s or expert`s, is there any big difference between what Romney did
up in Massachusetts and what the president has done through his law
nationwide?

JONATHAN GRUBER, MIT ECONOMIST: Chris, there`s not really a
meaningful difference in the core of the plans. The basis of the national
plan is what we did in Massachusetts. Both -- both -- just in how it`s
structured, you can see that. It`s the same structure.

And in the development of it, I can testify that I was asked
constantly, How did you do it in Massachusetts? How did you make it work
in Massachusetts?

Now, the federal law is more ambitious in two ways. First of all, in
Massachusetts, Mitt Romney had a nice leg up because the feds paid for his
bill. The federal government doesn`t have that leg up. Second of all, our
bill in Massachusetts did not try to take on cost control, which the
Affordable Care Act.

So you can really think of the Affordable Care Act as Romney`s plan
for Massachusetts with these two extra parts.

MATTHEWS: And it has to have cost control to make up for the fact it
didn`t have a revenue stream. Howard, it seems to me that -- let me go one
more question here.

This difference -- what is the fight about, then? Is it just purely
politics, Professor? There is no substantive difference between what
Romney wanted to tell people, look, as he put it, 92 percent of the people
in Massachusetts have health care insurance, the other 8 don`t. I`m going
to make sure the other 8 get it.

GRUBER: You know, you don`t have to listen to my opinion, just do the
logic on this. This is a Republican idea. It was originally developed by
conservative economists. And at the bill signing in 2006, when Mitt Romney
proudly signed this law into place, on the podium was a speaker from the
Heritage Foundation talking about what a great conservative law this was.

All of a sudden, President Obama, being pragmatic and smart about it,
said, This is a good idea, let`s adopt that, and suddenly, it`s the devil`s
work. I don`t see how that could be anything but pure partisan politics.

MATTHEWS: You know, Howard, it reminds me of the song from the `30s,
"You say neither, I say neither," a distinction without a difference. Any
time Obama calls for a tax cut on -- on -- a payroll tax deduction or
anything like that, it`s called no good. The Republicans think of it, it`s
a great idea, the same exact proposal. Is this what`s going on here? You
guys did it first, so we`re going to dump on you for it. We`re going to
try to declare it unconstitutional, even though it`s a conservative
provision?

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:
Well, sure. And here`s -- here`s four pages of talking points from the
Romney campaign about -- about "Obama care." It doesn`t mention at all the
word "mandate." In other words, Mitt Romney is totally glossing over the
fact that the conceptual core of his plan and the president`s plan is to
require everybody to have insurance.

It doesn`t work, it doesn`t pencil unless you require healthy, mostly
younger people to take part and spread the costs.

MATTHEWS: Right.

FINEMAN: It doesn`t work. So conceptually they`re the same, as the
professor said, but Mitt Romney doesn`t want to mention that and his
talking points don`t mention it.

Instead, the Romney talking points focus on the cost control part,
they focus on this alleged huge bureaucracy that`s going to spend a lot of
money, et cetera, because Mitt Romney doesn`t want to admit that it was his
plan and his advisers who generated the whole thing. And, ironically,
President Obama, back when he was a candidate, was against the individual
mandate for the same neither/neither, tomato/tomato reason.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I know. I know. I know. You`re right.

FINEMAN: He took the opposite...

MATTHEWS: He was against it. Hillary was for it.

FINEMAN: Hillary was for it.

So, yes, it`s another case of tomato/tomato politics, only this time
between the parties, instead of within the parties.

MATTHEWS: Professor and Howard, for our own gratification, here`s the
president of the United States now defending in court what he attacked as a
candidate back in 2008. Let`s watch him. Here`s part of his argument.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 2008)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If a mandate was a
solution, we could try that to solve homelessness by mandating everybody
buy a house. The reason they don`t have a house is they don`t have the
money. And so our focus has been on reducing costs, making it available.

I`m confident that if people have a chance to buy high-quality health
care that`s affordable, they will do so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, I was thinking about a broken clock is right
twice a day, I like to tell you. You`re never always right, and the guy
who is always wrong is sometimes right.

Santorum, for example, says Romney is the worst candidate to run
against the president on the issue of health care because he invented it.
Do you think Obama made a mistake by putting racing stripes on the same
vehicle that came here from Massachusetts and made it look juicier and more
exciting than it was, making it more left-wing in fact than it was,
Professor?

GRUBER: Well, look, I think what President Obama did, as he`s done
many times in his presidency, is do the right thing for policy reasons,
even if it`s not necessarily the right thing for political reasons.

We have seen this a number of times, of challenges he`s taken off. He
saw that it worked. That`s the thing. When we do major changes in
government, we rarely have the chance to run the experiment first. In this
case, we did. We ran the experiment in Massachusetts. We have covered
two-thirds of our uninsured. We have fixed a broken insurance market and
cut premiums for individuals in half.

For people who don`t have employer-sponsored insurance, premiums have
fallen in half. President Obama looked at that, said this worked. I think
I was wrong. I think the mandate is the way to go and let`s go ahead and
adopt that. I think he deserves praise for doing what is right, even if it
wasn`t necessarily what is...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: Well, he also -- he also did it for -- he also did it for
two other reasons, Chris.

I think one of them was personal and political in that a key moment in
the Obama presidential campaign, if not the pivotal moment, was when
Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts endorsed Barack Obama.

MATTHEWS: Sure was.

FINEMAN: And implicit in that was the promise, which the president
carried out, Barack Obama carried out as president, to push for health care
reform.

And this was the chosen path. Don`t forget that the president
eschewed, to the dismay of lot of progressives in his own party, a so-
called single-player plan that would basically be an extension of health
care. The president said, no, he was going to go a more market-oriented,
compromised route, the route that Ted Kennedy himself had come to accept.
Don`t forget Ted Kennedy had spent his whole career arguing for national
health insurance.

MATTHEWS: OK.

FINEMAN: And that`s -- this is the result of that. This is a result
of that.

MATTHEWS: Professor Gruber, I have got a curveball for you from the
left field. All right? I`m mixing my metaphors here.

GRUBER: OK. OK.

MATTHEWS: If the Supreme Court strikes -- I want Howard to follow up
here.

FINEMAN: Sure.

MATTHEWS: If the Supreme Court strikes down the individual mandate
today, which is the most conservative way to have national health for
everybody, requiring people to take responsibility as individuals, if that
fails, and the progressive left of the Democratic Party says, no, now is
our chance to go for either a single-payer or what is called the public
option -- I guess it will end up being the same thing because there won`t
be another option, really -- is that a better economic proposition, that
the government simply provides health insurance for the country?

Single-player, is that a better economic deal with no profit motive?

(CROSSTALK)

GRUBER: I think that single-payer, if you could start over, I think
single-payer has a lot to recommend it, but we can`t. And I think the
bottom line is...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But we may have to start over after tonight -- I mean,
after this ruling.

GRUBER: No, I agree. But if we start over, it`s -- the problem with
failing, if this ruling goes against and this law fails, we will see the
same pattern we have seen for the past century, which is when we start over
again, which will on average will be about 17 years from now, because it`s
about every 17 years we start over, it`s going to be further to the right
of where we are.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

GRUBER: Every 17 years -- remember, Richard Nixon proposed something
to the left of the Affordable Care Act.

MATTHEWS: I know he did. I know he did, individual -- yes, employer
mandate.

GRUBER: Every 17 years, we move -- every 17 years, we move to the
right. If this fails, the next round is not going to be single-payer.
It`s going to be even more conservative than what we have now.

MATTHEWS: Howard, what happens if this goes down and say June of this
year we get a ruling from the Supreme Court declaring the heart of the
president`s plan unconstitutional?

FINEMAN: Well, I think basically the president is in a lose/lose
political situation here. I think if the law is upheld, it will redouble
the fury of the Republican right, which will use this as their rallying cry
to say, there`s only one way to change this law, the Supreme Court didn`t
do it, we have to change presidents to do it.

MATTHEWS: Right.

FINEMAN: And I think that would redound to the Republicans` benefit.

I think if the bill -- if the law goes down, if the Supreme Court
strikes it down, it will be a sign of futility on the president`s part, the
fact that he spent a year-and-a-half or two years and all his political
capital trying to get a bill passed that was found to be constitutionally
flawed. It`s unpopular politically.

If you look at the polls, it`s just not popular.

MATTHEWS: I know.

FINEMAN: And he`s not going to spend the next six -- July, August,
September and October arguing against the Supreme Court if the Supreme
Court tears it down.

It`s a tough position for the president to be in. He might have done
it for all the right reasons policy-wise and in terms of his relationship
with Ted Kennedy, but, politically, it`s very, very tough.

MATTHEWS: OK.

You`re dead wrong, Howard. It`s a win/win for the president.

I`m sorry. That`s the way everybody talks today.

You`re probably right, Howard, unfortunately.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I was just going to do the usual thing where you disagree
with everybody.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Howard. It was a sad commentary, but
probably a very accurate one.

Professor Gruber, thanks so much, Jonathan Gruber from the best
economics department in the country, MIT. And everybody knows it who has
tried to get into it.

Up next, how desperate is Newt Gingrich these -- well, the usual. His
latest money-making scheme on the campaign trail, he`s selling pictures of
himself with you. Would you like one? I think they`re $5. Sheldon
Adelson is already paid up for the 100,000 photos.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up, this past weekend, Rick Santorum went after "New York Times"
reporter Jeff Zeleny.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: You said that Mitt Romney is the worst Republican in the
country. Is that true?

SANTORUM: What speech did you listen to?

QUESTION: I have it right here. You said he is the worst
Republican...

SANTORUM: Stop lying. I said he was the worst Republican to run on
the issue of Obamacare. Would you guys quit distorting what I`m saying?

QUESTION: Do you think he is the worst Republican to run on those
issues?

SANTORUM: To run against Barack Obama on the issue of health care,
because he fashioned the blueprint. I have been saying it in every speech.
Quit distorting our words. If I see it, it`s bull (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, not everybody thought that was a winning moment for a
presidential candidate, but at least one person said Santorum was right in
that dispute. Let`s take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: Santorum`s response to that
liberal leftist in the tank for the Obama press character really revealed
some of Rick Santorum`s character. And it was good, and it was strong, and
it was about time.

When I heard Rick Santorum`s response, I was like, well, welcome to my
world, Rick, and good on you. Don`t retreat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I wonder what she thinks of me.

Anyway, so after nailing Romney as the blueprint for Obamacare, what
do you think the odds are of a Romney-Santorum ticket? Well, you might be
surprised. Here`s what Romney said when CBN`s David Brody asked him if he
would accept an offer from his chief rival.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID BRODY, SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CHRISTIAN BROADCASTING
NETWORK: Would you even consider it? Would you consider it?

SANTORUM: Of course. Look, would do in this race -- as I always say,
this is the most important race in our country`s history. And so I`m going
to do everything I can.

BRODY: You`re keeping your options open.

SANTORUM: I will do whatever is necessary to help our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Did you hear that little quiet "of course," period, he said
right up front?

Well, one thing about Rick Santorum, he tells you what he`s thinking.
He wants it.

Finally, desperation strikes. People who showed up to see Mitt Romney
-- actually, Newt Gingrich at an event in Delaware yesterday might have
been a tad thrown when the candidate himself said this about posing with
him for a quick photo.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think they have some
program where some people who want to can get pictures made up here, but I
want to come by here first and just say hi and thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Just say hi, no picture, by the way, a new program for
getting your picture taken with the candidate. What`s that about? Well,
pretty much one thing. Now you have to pay up.

Until recently, there was no charge for a photo with Newt, unless the
event was classified as a fund-raiser. But now it`s $50, 5-0, a pop. As I
said, Sheldon Adelson is already paid up for 100,000 photos with his
favorite candidate.

Up next, we`re going to have the latest information on the Trayvon
Martin case.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

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HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

"The Miami Herald" is reporting new information about Trayvon Martin`s
school record, a record that includes three suspensions.

Charles Blow is a columnist for "The New York Times" and Sari Horwitz
is a reporter with "The Washington Post."

Sari, I was talking to you just a few moments ago. I want to get --
you have been doing a lot of I think hard-nosed reporting on this story,
going through all the sources that have been reported, that have been
actually covered in the various newspapers, "The Miami Herald," "The
Orlando Sentinel."

Where is this -- what is the latest news coming out, hard news
regarding the actual incident that occurred a month ago that led to the
death of Trayvon Martin?

SARI HORWITZ, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, Chris, what we`re seeing
is the narrative of this story is shifting.

And what we`re finding out because a police report has been leaked
yesterday to "The Orlando Sentinel," we`re hearing George Zimmerman`s
version of events that night. And what he said is that, in fact, Trayvon
Martin attacked him, that he was following him, he lost him, he turned, he
was going back to his car, and then Trayvon came up from behind him. There
were words between them.

He said, do you have a problem with me? And Zimmerman said, no, and
he said, well you do now. He punched him in the nose, jumped on top of
him, slammed his head on the sidewalk, and Zimmerman is saying that he
feared for his life, which is why he...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: So this is the report by the police based upon the
testimony of the assailant in this case, the ultimate -- the shooter, if
you will?

HORWITZ: This was his statement on the night of the arrest, and that
is what has leaked out.

MATTHEWS: And what about -- was there an eyewitness at all to this
account? Was there anyone who corroborated that statement that you just
gave us from the police?

HORWITZ: You know, an eyewitness came forward today to a local
television station in Florida, a man who said he saw someone on the ground
wearing red and someone on top of him, and the man was yelling.

Well, that night Zimmerman was wearing red, so that does sort of
corroborate Zimmerman`s account.

MATTHEWS: Well, who was on top and who was yelling?

HORWITZ: Well, what this eyewitness says is that he heard the man who
was on the ground screaming for help. And that would have been Zimmerman,
because he says the man was wearing red.

MATTHEWS: OK. OK.

One other bit of information you let me know had come out actually
from ABC News this afternoon, that is that the chief detective, the
homicide detective in this case wanted to bring manslaughter charges
against Mr. Zimmerman. How does that fit with what you have told me?

HORWITZ: On the night of the arrest, when Zimmerman gave this
statement, the lead homicide investigator for the Sanford Police Department
didn`t buy it, he didn`t buy Zimmerman`s version. And he wanted to press
manslaughter charges.

He was overruled by the state`s attorney in that case, who said he
does not think there was evidence. And so the lead homicide investigator
wrote up an affidavit -- this was reported by ABC News today -- saying that
he thought charges should have been brought in this case and he didn`t
believe Zimmerman`s account.

MATTHEWS: Before we bring in Charles, one last thought. Are we going
to be able to get scientific or expert, any kind of expertise on the sound
which was picked on one of the 911 callers about the call for help, whether
it was Zimmerman or it was Mr. Martin?

HORWITZ: You know, Chris, that`s a very good question.

The -- the new special prosecutor on the case told me today she`s
bringing in independent audio forensic experts to analyze the 911 calls --
there were eight of them -- from people who called in, and you can hear
loud screaming in the background, someone screaming for help.

But it`s unclear, is it Trayvon or is it Zimmerman?

MATTHEWS: Right. Right.

HORWITZ: And they`re going to try to figure that out.

MATTHEWS: Sari, hold for a minute.

Charles Blow, you have been writing very well on this, I think. And
I`m -- you may be offering, I think, a pretty balanced look at this. I
want know -- you know, it seems to me this is the problem. We know there
is a stand and fight -- stand your ground law.

We know that, at some point, there was a fight. We -- we have got so
much evidence. There must have been a fight. We know that words were
exchanged. There was attitude on both sides. We know that they end up
fighting. The gist of it so-called -- so far suggests that Mr. Martin was
on top and he was winning the fight.

The question is -- if that, if, if, of course, we`re not trying it --
is there any point at which a guy says, OK, I started to fight, I said
terrible things, he got mad at me, he started throwing some blows, I threw
some blows back. He was better at the fight. I feel in danger.

This is a problem with the law, it seems to me.

CHARLES BLOW, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right.

MATTHEWS: Maybe not the justice under the law but the law itself.

BLOW: Right.

MATTHEWS: If you have a "Stand Your Ground" law and a guy is on top
of you and he`s pounding your head or whatever he`s doing, you pull the gun
and kill the guy. Now, most people would say that`s a pretty extraordinary
thing to do and it may be a manslaughter charge. Now we have conflicting
judgment at the scene, which is interesting.

BLOW: The question is, who was standing whose ground? Is Trayvon
the person who should be covered on the Florida "Stand Your Ground" law,
because a strange man with a gun followed, and in some cases, by some
accounts, chased him to the point that he came within arm`s reach of him.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BLOW: And he felt threatened for his life and struck out.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BLOW: If, in fact, he was the person who initiated the encounter.

Or did Zimmerman do all those things and then initiate a physical
encounter with Trayvon?

MATTHEWS: We don`t know that.

BLOW: So, we don`t know the answer to that question. But who is
covered by "Stand Your Ground" is a crucial question in this case.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you about this. Sorry, I don`t know if
you`re equipped to answer this, but it seems like we`re on the -- we know,
from everything we`ve seen, that the only reason Zimmerman was there was
some kind of neighborhood watch guy, was really the neighborhood guy,
whether it was official or not, we know he was there. So, the
circumstances are he was responsible for it.

The encounter of who talked to who first, who made themselves aware
of the other guy made himself -- brought himself into the presence of the
other person, that`s also an encounter. And then there`s the question of
who took the first punch? Who threw the first punch?

And then there`s the question of whether in any reasonable way he
felt his life was in danger or he`s facing serious -- you know, a
concussion or something? These are all factors, but how do you get to them
unless you bring a charge?

HORWITZ: Well, that`s a good point. But under the Florida "Stand
Your Ground" laws, the police said they couldn`t make an arrest. Now, the
state`s special prosecutor is looking at this, and she may have a grand
jury.

But, you know, Charles made a very good point about these two
different versions and the problem is we have Zimmerman`s version but we`ll
never have Trayvon`s version.

MATTHEWS: I know that. That`s true of all, you know, cases where
people are killed. That is the problem.

HORWITZ: Right.

MATTHEWS: That is a problem where you have an assailant and you have
a defendant in a case that could be capital one or manslaughter, it is the
horror of killing somebody, you`re there afterwards.

HORWITZ: Exactly. And what`s happened today is we`re seeing leaks
of information about Trayvon, as you brought up, the suspensions in school,
that really have nothing to do with the incident. But, you know, people
are trying to paint a portrait, a fuller portrait of him, but it`s sort of
very much angering the parents because it has nothing to do with the
incident.

MATTHEWS: Can you tell me as a reporter -- I want to you respond to
this -- the police. I know all good reporters, including Charles, you have
to go out and trust your sources. And in the end, you got to tradecraft.
You got to go around, check them out, bounce them off against each other,
triangulate, find a way to get to the truth, all right?

Is it your sense as a reporter, what is the attitude of the police?
Are they playing defense here? Do they feel scared? Do they feel they
have to play -- are they really trying to get information out for the
public good or what? How would weigh it right now?

HORWITZ: Well, the police --

MATTHEWS: Was that a naive question? What are they doing, these
cops?

HORWITZ: Well, the police are no longer in this case. They`ve been
taken out of the case. The case has been given to the special prosecutor.

MATTHEWS: All right.

HORWITZ: The police chief was basically ousted and put on a
temporary leave. So they`re not really involved in the case anymore.

And yesterday, they had an extraordinary press conference where they
said that the information that was leaked was accurate, it was an
unauthorized leak, but it was accurate.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I know.

Charles, let me -- I want to turn this over to Charles now. Your
judgment about where there`s going. I fear this is going to be one of
those issues, a racial issue in this country, where everybody comes with
their baggage, everybody. And that baggage is racial, and it doesn`t lead
itself to a common view of things.

And I hope we can get the -- I wish there was a scientist who could
reenact this thing for us all. We won`t get that scientist.

BLOW: No, we will not.

MATTHEWS: So, we`re going to get some empty mark, empty moments here
we have to figure out things.

BLOW: This is a classic case if you have to consider the source,
which means not only is George Zimmerman under investigation, the Sanford
Police Department is under investigation.

MATTHEWS: Right.

BLOW: And they have to kind of cover their backsides to make sure
that they have done the right thing.

(CROSSTALK)

BLOW: They have -- well, the Feds are involved now and you will have
a grand jury. But you to always when the Sanford police are speaking, and
they continue to come out and issue statements that say, OK, this is
accurate, this is what has happened, this is what George Zimmerman has
said, the fact that you continue to make public statements means that you
are an active member of this investigation, because you are -- you know,
it`s not -- it`s kind of influencing the jury pool.

Every time that you add weight to something that Zimmerman has said,
if you`re not in it, stay out of it until the investigation is done. If
you want to start issuing statements -- for instance, there was a woman
early on, Mrs. Kutcher, who came out and said, I had information. Police
did not consult me or take my testimony, they came out, issued a statement
saying she`s not telling the truth. It does not corroborate with
Zimmerman`s account.

Who does that? When you`re in the middle of an investigation, that
doesn`t happen.

MATTHEWS: OK. This is going to be a tough jury situation, no matter
what happens.

Thank you, Charles Blow.

And thank you, Sari Horwitz. I just met you today. You`re very
helpful tonight on our reporting.

Up next, Mitt Romney hoped to exploit President Obama`s open mic
moment the other day with the president of Russia. But once again, Mitt
stepped in it calling Russia our number one geopolitical enemy. What`s
this, the empire again? Is Romney running for president in 2012 or 1952?

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`ll be back with Mitt Romney`s latest misstep, his
geopolitical faux pas.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back

It was a moment Mitt Romney probably thought he could use to his
advantage. The president caught on open mic telling the Russian President
Dmitry Medvedev to give him space on missile defense. But once again,
Romney stepped on his own message.

Cynthia Tucker is Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professor of
University of Georgia; and Sam Stein covers politics for "The Huffington
Post."

Here it is. Here`s Romney yesterday on CNN trying to capitalize on
the president`s remarks.

Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If he is planning on doing
more and suggests to Russia that he has things he is willing to do with
them he`s not willing to tell the American people -- this is to Russia.
This is, without question, our number one geopolitical foe. They fight
every cause for the world`s worst actors.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Cynthia, I don`t know what decade this guy is living. It
sounds like `72, `52 even. It`s not Stalin over there. It`s not
Khrushchev. It`s not Brezhnev. It`s Medvedev.

CYNTHIA TUCKER, UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA: It`s not the Cuban missile
crisis.

MATTHEWS: It`s another country in the world. It`s no longer the
Soviet Union. Is he trying to play Ronald Reagan here or what? What is he
up to?

TUCKER: You know, this is Mitt Romney`s severely conservative
problem. He struggles so hard to be persuasive, to make a case against
Obama, that he always ends up jumping sharks, saying something that is
completely off key and not credible.

It`s no great surprise that he was going it try to take advantage of
this, to criticize President Obama. He was hoping, no doubt, that this
would have the same affect against President Obama that his aides message
of calling Mitt Romney the Etch-a-Sketch candidate --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

TUCKER: -- would have on him.

But it didn`t work. It made Romney look dumb. He`s not a dumb man.
But he said something that was clearly dumb.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s argumentative on your party, Cynthia. He`s
not dumb, because I tell you -- Sam, I`ll tell you, I don`t know Medvedev.
We`ve got mixed views to these guys. But he seems so sophisticated and
witty about his response.

I mean, he just said this is an ideological cliche from decades ago.
This isn`t -- as he put it, it`s not the mid-1970s any more. This is the
21st century, Mr. Romney.

SAM STEIN, HUFFINGTON POST: Yes, but, you know, it does provide a
window into how Romney looks at some of the, you know, geopolitical
problems that we`ve faced. He`s always opted for more hawkish, militant
stance, whether it`s beefing up our presence in the Mediterranean, whether
it`s beefing up our defense budget, armament. Across the board, it`s
always opt towards more militancy.

The fact that he declared Russia the preeminent geopolitical problem
that the United States faced in the world is an antiquated world view, but
it`s not something that`s being hidden from Romney`s policy platform. He`s
articulated stuff like this in the past. The problem that he can run to
that, it`s a much more complicated situation than it ever has been, that
Russia is a much different country than it`s been in many decades.

MATTHEWS: Sure. Got it. It sounds like Gene Kirkpatrick, the old -
-

(CROSSTALK)

STEIN: But his statement deeply complicates the U.S.-Russians
relationship should Romney end up being president.

MATTHEWS: Well, he was caught off-base here, guys.

Look, here`s Speaker John Boehner asking -- when asked about Romney`s
remarks that Russia was America`s number one geopolitical foe, he didn`t
defend Romney. Take a look at how he cut him off here. He trimmed him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Clearly, the
president is overseas. He`s at a conference. And, you know, while the
president is overseas, I think it`s appropriate that the -- that people not
be critical of him or of our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Is that a criticism, Cynthia, of Mr. Romney by saying I
wouldn`t criticize the president when he`s overseas?

TUCKER: You bet it is. I thought that what John Boehner said and
did not say spoke volumes. He didn`t -- not only did he not defend Mitt
Romney. He criticized him. He rebuked him. Let`s leave this alone.

Because what Romney had said was indefensible. We need Russia. We
need Russia at table to help us with our real geopolitical enemies.

How about Iran? We need Russia if we`re going to confront Iran. We
need Russia on North Korea.

So to call them our number one geopolitical enemy -- who attacked us
on 9/11, by the way -- was so far off key.

MATTHEWS: OK. I`m with you.

TUCKER: Again, it makes Romney seem dumb.

MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Cynthia Tucker. Thank you, Sam. I`m
personally worried about what it says to the Russian people, that they
actually think we don`t like them.

STEIN: Right.

MATTHEWS: What`s the point? All these millions of people think we
think of them as our enemy? That`s just making trouble.

Anyway, when we return, I`m coming back, "Let Me Finish" with Mitt
Romney. I`ve got some thoughts about this guy and his anachronistic
declaration of hostility towards modern Russia. Very strange. Very junior
-- well, I was going to say junior league, but he`d probably like that.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

It`s one thing to jump on a president when he`s overseas representing
our country. It`s another to end up making yourself look bad in the
process.

Case in point: Mitt Romney. Now that he`s on the road to wrapping up
the Republican nomination, you would think he`d play it a little more
careful. Not this guy.

When President Obama was overheard on an open microphone telling
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have had -- he will have
more flexibility negotiating missile defense after this coming election,
Romney pounced. He accused the president of sharing state secrets and then
added this little sugar plum. He called Russia, quote, "without question,
our number one geopolitical foe." Our number one geopolitical foe.

Well, President Medvedev ended up grabbing the high ground here. He
dismissed Romney`s line as an old ideological cliche and gave the
Republican frontrunner two bits of advice: use your head and look at your
watch. We are in 2012, and not the mid-`70s. Good for him.

I`m glad the Russian president has a sense of humor and sense of
balance, neither of which Romney seems to possess in any great store.

Those of us who grew up in the worst days of the Cold War and glad
it`s over, it`s been over ever since Boris Yeltsin stood up to the Moscow
coup in August of `91. And we`re glad Mikhail Gorbachev came along, glad
Ronald Reagan recognized the Soviet leader who was not one of the communist
robots we have been dealing for all those terrible decades, and we`re glad
that with all the differences we have with modern Russia, we`re not in the
Cold War with them any more. And they are not our number one geopolitical
foe.

And Mr. Romney should write that down in his candidate`s copy book.
Take it to heart and be careful now that he`s on the big kids` stage.

Well, that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton 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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