updated 8/13/2013 10:32:45 AM ET 2013-08-13T14:32:45

HARDBALL
August 12, 2013
Guests: George Pataki, Sherrilyn Ifill, Bill Carter, Michael Crowley, Susan
Page, Kevin Cullen, George Anastasia


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST: Crime, punishment, and a victory for civil
rights.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Michael Smerconish, in for Chris Matthews.

Leading off tonight: A landmark day for civil rights advocates, winning key
victories on a pair of issues, one national, one local, both historic. The
first, Attorney General Eric Holder, the nation`s top cop and a leading
civil rights figure in the Obama administration, announcing a major
overhaul to easy government drug sentencing guidelines.

Holder was clear this isn`t just about reforming an outdated, inefficient
and expensive war on drugs, he said. This is about reforming a judicial
system of inequality that abuses blacks and minorities.

This is Holder speaking about how minorities are disproportionately
involved in that system.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: We also must confront
the reality that once they`re in that system, people of color often face
harsher punishments than their peers. In recent years, black male
offenders have received sentences nearly 20 percent longer than those
imposed on white males convicted of similar crimes. This isn`t just
unacceptable, it is shameful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Now, the second case, in New York City, where a federal judge
demolished the city`s tactics surrounding a controversial "stop and frisk"
law. The law has become a flashpoint for racial tensions nationwide, not
unlike "stand your ground" in the Trayvon Martin case.

In her ruling, the judge said that tens of thousand of New Yorkers had
their rights systemically violated, an overwhelming majority of the victims
black and Hispanic. The city must now follow a strict series of remedies
at the court`s request, including the appointment of an independent monitor
to oversee the NYPD conduct.

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg was livid. The law, in convection a
declining crime rate, has been a defining part of his legacy. And at a
press conference earlier today, he didn`t hide his disgust, particularly
when it came to the issue of a monitor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: If somebody pulls a gun and you
want to get home to your family, you don`t have time to say, Well, now,
wait a second, the commissioner said one thing, the monitor said another
and the IG said another. By that time, you`re dead! And I`d like to see
you go to the funeral and explain to the family why their son or husband or
father is not coming home at night.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Sherrilyn Ifill is the president and director of the NAACP`s
Legal Defense and Education Fund. George Pataki is a former governor from
the great state of New York.

Governor, these are called terry (ph) stops. And in a terry stop, a police
officer needs to be operating on more than a hunch. The way in which New
York City was carrying out "stop and frisk," the judge said, that this
resulted in an indirect form of racial profiling.

GEORGE PATAKI (R), FMR. NEW YORK GOVERNOR: Yes, I totally disagree with
the judge, Michael. I`m -- you`re probably not surprised by that. But I
think that what we have seen is a dramatic reduction in violent crime in
this city. There will be at least 2,000 fewer murders this year than there
were about 10 years ago in one year.

The vast majority of those victims are minorities, and their lives are
being saved because we have a police department and a mayor who are being
proactive in going after illegal guns, illegal activity on the street in a
way that I believe -- and I hope the mayor will appeal and is ultimately
determined to be constitutional.

SMERCONISH: Sherrilyn, respond to that and also tell me how, how will this
be received in the minority community, where the governor points out, folks
are disproportionately affected by crime?

SHERRILYN IFILL, NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE & EDUCATION FUND: Well, let`s begin
by saying while violent crime has been certainly reduced in New York City,
it`s been reduced all over this country. In fact, the violent crime rate
in this country is where it was in 1966. And yet the prison population is
far beyond where it was in 1966.

"Stop and frisk" policies are not about illegal activity. Certainly, those
in the minority community, as the governor right points out, are
disproportionately the victims of violence crime, care about illegal guns
and illegal activity in the community.

But "stop and frisk," which resulted in the stopping of over 600,000 New
Yorkers, the vast majority of whom are African-American and Latino, and
which produced arrests of about 12 percent of those who were stopped and
frisked, is about engaging in this conduct towards people who are doing
nothing wrong.

It`s a form of racial profiling. And we`re thrilled that Judge Scheindlin,
in this exhaustive, 200-page opinion, recognized that the activities of the
police and this policy infringes on the constitutional rights of New
Yorkers.

SMERCONISH: I think the governor is saying, in part, that one of the
reasons that crime has reached this 40-year low is because of the
implementation of programs like "stop and frisk."

IFILL: And I guess one of the things I`m saying is, how do you account for
the fact that crime has reached a low all over the United States, including
places where you don`t have "stop and frisk"?

The reality is that crime began to go down in New York in the 1990s, when
Dinkins was mayor, when David Dinkins was mayor, before we instituted "stop
and frisk." And all over the country, crime has been going down. We`re at
astonishingly low rates of crime in the country. And the question is, can
we now begin to correct some of the excesses like "stop and frisk" that
Judge Scheindlin identified today?

SMERCONISH: Allow me to show you both this. Mayor Bloomberg was quick to
defend the police`s use of "stop and frisk," arguing the law has been a key
part of New York`s reduced crime rate, just as we mentioned.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLOOMBERG: Every day, Commissioner Kelly and I wake up determined to keep
New Yorkers safe and save lives. And our crime strategies and tools,
including "stop, question, frisk," have made New York City the safest big
city in America.

And I`m happy to say we are on pace for another record low of shootings and
homicides this year because our police officers follow the law and follow
the crime. They fight crime wherever crime is occurring, and they don`t
worry if their work doesn`t match up to a census chart.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Governor, this is a big part of his legacy. He doesn`t want
to leave office with the record that he has intact and all of a sudden be
remembered as the guy who was implementing "stop and frisk" on an
unconstitutional basis.

PATAKI: Well, I think he should be remembered as the man who helped reduce
violent crime to historically levels in this city. And Sherrilyn is
absolutely right. We have seen a decline across the country. But we
haven`t seen anything like the dramatic decline in New York City.

And you contrast New York City, where we have policing including "stop and
frisk," with Chicago, where the rate of minority murders in that city is
just unacceptable.

And Sherrilyn is also right when you look at the statistics. But look at
the statistics of the "stop and frisk." It reflects, basically, the
percentages of those who ultimately are arrested and charged with crimes in
this city.

The sad fact is that not only are minorities an overwhelming percentage of
the victims of the violent crime, they tragically are also those who most
often end up being convicted of committing those crimes.

SMERCONISH: President Obama made a point much like that when he came out
and seemed to speak extemporaneously on that Friday. In fact, I think you
and I may have been together analyzing the speech that day. But he made
the governor`s point about African-Americans being disproportionately
represented on both sides of that deal.

IFILL: You know what`s interesting about this is that, actually, you know,
"stop and frisk" policies -- they actually undermine law enforcement
because what ends up happening is that young men, like many of the men who
testified and who brought forward evidence in this case, who`ve been
stopped and frisked 12, 13, 14 times in a five-year period, young men who
were in high school, young men who were in college doing nothing wrong --
they and their families later come to distrust the police.

They`re the same people who are going to sit on our juries. They`re the
same people who we need to call the police to give information about real
crime happening in their communities. And they become distrustful. It
sets up a barrier between law enforcement and the communities, and that
harms African-Americans as well as the rest of the residents of the city.

SMERCONISH: Let`s talk briefly about the sentencing case, if we can,
because in his speech today, Attorney General Eric Holder combated
criticisms that his actions in sentencing reform would be labeled as soft
on crime or compromising public safety. The attorney general defended his
proposals to ease drug sentencing guidelines by pointing to state programs
that have focused on community programs instead of hard-line prosecution.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOLDER: Be clear, these measures have not compromised public safety. In
fact, many states have seen drops in recidivism at the same time their
prison populations were declining. While our federal prison system has
continued to slowly expand, significant state-level reductions have led to
three consecutive years of decline in America`s overall prison population,
including in 2012, the largest drop ever experienced in a single year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Governor, some are saying that this is an end run around
Congress. I happen to think that it is, but I get it. Members of Congress
want to thump their chests and be tough on crime, so they`ll vote for
mandatory minimums. But when it comes time to dial that back, nobody wants
to be held accountable.

PATAKI: I disagree with you. I think to the extent that the attorney
general is proposing to change the drug sentencing laws, it should be done
by statute. It should be done with Congress.

And I did exactly that in New York state. We put in place policies that
provided shock incarceration, community-based treatment for certain low-
level drug offenders. And at the same time, we increased the penalties for
those who would have a gun or use a gun or the higher-level drug kingpins.
And when I left office, we had 7,000 people fewer in prison than we did
because of those intelligent reforms.

SMERCONISH: What I`m saying is I don`t think they could get it through the
Congress because I don`t think people want to stand up and vote aye for
something that dials it back. It`s a political problem.

PATAKI: Michael, I think I have had a record and have an attitude that is
as tough on crime, including drug violations, as any governor in this
state. And yet I was able not just to sign that into law but to propose
reforms.

When they`re done intelligently and when it`s balanced and you don`t look
at it as a way to allow high-level drug dealers or those who have a gun or
those who have a history of violence to get out early, then I think you can
create a bipartisan consensus for treatment and alternatives to
incarceration.

SMERCONISH: OK, let me ask you both this. We have the statistics, the
data here, and it`s been bandied about a great deal today. Five 5 percent
of the world population, 25 percent of the world`s incarcerated population,
and a 40-year low in crime.

Can you read all of that together and say, Well, one of the reasons why we
have such a high rate of incarceration and such low crime is because a lot
of the bad seeds have been taken off the street?

PATAKI: I don`t mean to cut Sherrilyn out, but I totally agree with that.
One of the things we did was change sentencing not just in the drug area,
but we have much tougher sentences for violent criminals, for those who are
repeat criminals, and it`s one of the reasons why we saw such a dramatic
reduction in crime in New York state.

IFILL: Listen, in 1971, the prison population in the entire United States
was about 200,000. That`s now about the federal prison population, about
219,000. Overall, we have 2.2 million people who are incarcerated in the
United States. That`s a dramatic increase in the last 30, 40 years. And
we just talked about the all-time low, you know, in violent crime.

We overreached and we broke families and we broke communities. The reality
is, the vast majority of people who are in prison are going to get out.
And when they get out, they will have the deficit of their record. They
will have the deficit of what happened to them when they were in prison.
They will have precious few resources that are available to begin their
lives again.

And so what the attorney general suggested today is -- and I think it`s
really fascinating. He`s focusing on a little-discussed area of authority
and power, and that`s prosecutorial discretion. He says it`s not about end
runs around the law. Prosecutors have the ability to decide what they`re
going to charge a criminal defendant with.

SMERCONISH: Understood.

IFILL: And he says our prosecutors, U.S. attorneys, need to use that
charging power in a smart way. They need to use it to do just what Judge
(sic) Pataki said, to make sure that you come hard against those who have
the record, who have been involved in criminal -- in violent criminal
activity, but not against people who have a clean record who are involved
in nonviolent activities. You don`t use the drug kingpin statutes that
were meant to get the worst of the worst against those kinds of
individuals.

SMERCONISH: It`s a great conversation. Thank you both for being here to
participate in it.

PATAKI: Thank you.

IFILL: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Sherrilyn Ifill and George Pataki.

Coming up: What`s the one thing that could ruin the fun that Reince Priebus
has been having bashing NBC for planning a Hillary mini-series? That would
be if it turned out that Fox was producing it. And guess what? They are
considering producing it. It`s now your move, Reince.

Also, the gift that keeps on giving, the Iowa caucuses. They`re only 880
days away, give or take a couple of weeks, but already Ds and Rs are acting
like it`s 14 degrees and we`re in January of 2016.

Plus, guilty as charged. Boston mobster Whitey Bulger is convicted of a
bunch of racketeering charges, including 11 murders. The government is
likely to provide Bulger`s housing for the rest of his life.

And perhaps the biggest clown in what Chris Matthews loves to call the 2012
Republican presidential clown show back with more birther nonsense.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: President Obama gave his most spirited defense of his health
care law on Friday, and now Republicans have revived some of the false
talking points to discredit it. Here`s RNC chair Reince Priebus.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REINCE PRIEBUS, RNC CHAIR: The fact is, what people don`t want are
government panels deciding whether something`s medically necessary.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Government panels? Sounds a lot like those "death panels"
that Sarah Palin used to talk about. By the way, one reason why more
Americans oppose "Obama care" than support it, it`s getting killed on
Twitter. Cantar (ph) Media`s Campaign for Media Analysis group tracks
political ads and tweets, and it found that negative tweets about "Obama
care" outnumber positive tweets by 6 or 7 to one.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That Hillary Clinton mini-series
hasn`t been produced yet, and already there`s a plot twist. Last week, RNC
chair Reince Priebus spent much of his time on television threatening CNN
and NBC that he will pull GOP primary debates in the 208916 presidential
cycle if both networks move forward with planned specials about Hillary
Clinton.

But over the weekend, "The New York Times" revealed that the conservative
Fox News Channel`s own sister entertainment division, Fox Television
Studios, is in talks to produce and distribute the script for the mini-
series being planned to air on NBC.

Candy Crowley confronted Priebus, putting the chairman on the defensive
about those revelations yesterday on CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: "The New York Times" is
reporting that the NBC Clinton series might likely be produced by Fox
Television Studios. That`s sort of a sister company to Fox News. So if we
follow your logic, do you think that there then is a connection to Fox
News, and would they be subject to the same kind of scrutiny?

PRIEBUS: I`m going to boycott the company that puts the mini-series and
the documentaries on the air for the American people to view. I`m not
interested in whether they use the same sound studio or whether they use
the same set.

I don`t know the truth of anything you`re talking about, but I do know
what`s very clear is that the company that puts these things on the air to
promote Hillary Clinton, including CNN, is the company that is not going to
be involved in our debates, period.

CROWLEY: So the people that write --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: With me now, Bill Carter of "The New York Times" and Sam Stein
of the HuffingtonPost.

Bill, let`s be clear. We`re or they`re arguing about a script that hasn`t
even been written.

BILL CARTER, "NEW YORK TIMES": That`s right. And I think -- first of all,
I have no dog in this fight, but when I wrote the story and realized that
Fox had an involvement with their entertainment arm, I thought it was
certainly interesting and sort of raises the question of who is really
responsible for putting on an entertainment thing and how does it relate to
anybody`s news division?

SMERCONISH: But I think it becomes -- and I recognize you have no dog in
the fight. But it seems like a hard an argument for Reince Priebus to make
to say, Well, I`m going to hold accountable that network or those networks
that air it, as compared to those who produce it.

When I read your piece and I then heard what he had to say, as a lawyer, I
thought of civil law and product liability. Those who get held accountable
are manufacturers and vendors, assuming it`s it`s a detective product.

CARTER: That`s correct. I mean, look, in all entertainment -- the
entertainment world, there are entangled relationships. And in this case,
NBC picks up the project that was pitched all around and they look for a
production entity. That production entity will have deep involvement.
They will approve the script. They`re not just going to put on what NBC
says. They also get the international distribution rights. So they have a
real vested interest in this. They are involved. If they do it, they`ll
be deeply involved.

SMERCONISH: Sam, does he have egg on his face, or is this all about
playing to the base anyway? I think, politically, it`s been a very wise
move for Reince Priebus. But what about now, given what Bill Carter has
reported?

SAM STEIN, HUFFINGTONPOST, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, I
wish I had the legal chops to do the arguments that you`re making, but I
don`t.

(LAUGHTER)

STEIN: But, from a political standpoint, I do think he has a bit of egg on
his face.

I don`t really get the distinction point production and distribution and
airing the documentary. If you`re involved in the general product, I think
that you`re involved in the general product. And, for Reince Priebus, that
involvement was big enough and good enough to get you kicked out of hosting
Republican debates.

So, by logic, the next question becomes, why is FOX any less culpable than
NBC? And I don`t think he has given a sufficient explanation. But let`s
be brutally frank about this. This wasn`t about anything other than
raising money and trying to influence the refs. And by that, I mean he was
basically trying to influence the tenor and tone of the documentary itself
before it was written and aired.

SMERCONISH: Bill, I want to ask about the impact on the public of these
sort of projects, and television. "Game Change" comes to mind.

CARTER: Yes.

SMERCONISH: "The Kennedys" comes to mind.

CARTER: Right.

SMERCONISH: Years ago, there was a McCain movie based on that
autobiography of his.

CARTER: Yes.

SMERCONISH: In the movie theaters --

CARTER: Reagan -- they did a Reagan --

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: "The Reagans."

CARTER: Which was opposed by Republicans and forced off CBS, by the way.

SMERCONISH: Right, "Fahrenheit 911" in movie theaters.

CARTER: Right.

SMERCONISH: Or the Dinesh D`Souza attempted takedown of Obama in the last
cycle.

Do they all just preach to the converted? In other words, do we make too
much over the value that they would have in swaying minds?

CARTER: I think, to me, the idea that that`s going to change someone`s
opinion of Hillary Clinton seems improbable.

And because know her extremely well, that`s why the movie is being made.
She`s an historical figure now.

STEIN: Yes.

CARTER: That`s really -- I don`t think it could have that impact.

So, but I do think -- you see the news divisions that are uncomfortable
with it. They don`t want to be tied into what might be a valentine to
Hillary Clinton, because it won`t look good and it will be assailed and it
will be a sideshow, if that happens.

SMERCONISH: And, Sam, I think it`s all about ratings and that if there
were a personality within the GOP, they would be champing at the bit to put
on a program about him or her, beyond Chris Christie, as you look at 2016.
And I don`t know that the Christie record is sufficiently defined to
warrant a two-hour or four-hour treatment.

STEIN: Sure. Ratings are really what matters here. That`s why Sarah
Palin was the subject of many of these a couple years ago.

But with respect to the news divisions and with respect to the RNC, my
solution is just wait for it to air and then make your judgments. We have
no idea what the actual script will say. We have no idea if it`s going to
be flattering or if it will be critical. Now, we can make guesses and some
of them are educated guesses.

But there`s nothing stopping Reince Priebus from saying, after the airing,
well, that was way too flattering, now I`m going to cancel the debates on
CNN or NBC. He`s just doing this to generate money for the RNC, to
influence the refs.

And, ironically, I think, he`s drawing more attention to a documentary that
he doesn`t want to have aired anyway.

SMERCONISH: Well, I think part of the problem, Bill Carter, for his
argument is that the line has so totally blurred between celebrity and
politicians, because they`re equals now. Look at the Donald.

CARTER: Yes. Well, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: He wants to be viewed in both quarters. Today, is Sarah Palin
a celebrity or is she a politician? She`s both. They`re all both.

CARTER: She`s both. And they all appear on late-night shows now. They
all make shows. They`re funny people.

Incidentally, CNN, who is in the same boat targeted by the RNC, said to me
they would be happy to do a documentary on Christie, because they think
he`s really interesting and has news value. They would be happy to do it.
I think really you have to really separate these things. The entertainment
people are interested in ratings and money.

One of the things that I heard from FOX television people was, we think we
can make money with this. That`s why they`re involved, not because they
have a message or anything else. That is what they want to do.

SMERCONISH: Will this controversy cause the production unit, the
entertainment unit to say, you know what, this is just too hot?

CARTER: It`s possible. I would say that was possible. But it also could
make them think, we really want to be involved in this. This is going to
really get big ratings and it will sell internationally, where we have the
rights.

STEIN: Yes.

SMERCONISH: Sam, you think it drives up their desire?

(CROSSTALK)

STEIN: I was going to say, why run away from a project now that it`s being
discussed on cable news ad nauseum? What -- this is the best thing they
could have possibly hoped for.

There`s so much more interest in this project now than there was when it
was initially announced, in large part because the RNC has placed it
squarely into the political spotlight.

SMERCONISH: And hysterical for me to have this conversation about this
project. There`s no script.

CARTER: There`s no script.

SMERCONISH: There`s no script.

STEIN: I know.

CARTER: But there is a star. That`s another thing. They have a real
movie star playing Hillary Clinton.

SMERCONISH: Big star.

STEIN: Yes.

CARTER: And there`s a third movie being made. There`s a theatrical movie
called "Rodham" that is being made by the "Twilight` producers.

SMERCONISH: You can tell --

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: -- it`s derisive by the fact that it`s called "Rodham."
Come on.

CARTER: Yes. It`s for -- about her early life.

SMERCONISH: Yes.

CARTER: And they tried to get, like, Scarlett Johansson and Carey Mulligan
to play that part. So, they want a movie star to play Hillary.

SMERCONISH: Thank you very much, Bill Carter.

Thank you, Sam Stein.

STEIN: Thanks, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Up next, the return of birtherism in all of its nasty forms.

And a reminder. You can follow me on Twitter, so long as you know how to
spell Smerconish.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Missouri`s Rodeo Cowboy Association is under fire for a controversial
performance at its state fair on Saturday. The bull riding event featured
a rodeo clown wearing a President Obama mask, and the actor was then
routinely mocked over the P.A. System. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, let me tell these people who we got helping.
Obama is going to have to just stay there. Obama, watch out for those
bulls.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, I know I`m a clown. He just runs around acting
like one, doesn`t know he is one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You ready?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obama, they`re coming for you this time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As soon as this bull comes out, don`t you move. He`s
going to get you, get you, get you!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: That video was filmed by audience member Perry Beam, who also
reported that another clown ran up and started bobbling the lips on the
mask. Here`s how he characterized that scene on "The Today Show."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TODAY SHOW")

PERRY BEAM, AUDIENCE MEMBER: Like an effigy at a -- at Klan rally. There
would have been no reason to mess with his lips if he had been a white
president. But, playing on that stereotype, they had to go up there and
diddle with his lips.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: The organizers of the taxpayer-funded event apologized last
night. The clown has been banned from performing there ever again.

Next up, New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner seems to be in on the
joke these days. He was marching in the Dominican Day Parade over the
weekend when he reportedly grabbed a giant plantain from a woman in the
crowd and waved it around.

And if this latest photo-op seems although odd even for him, you might be
onto the something, because "The New York Post" is reporting that the
candidate is being filmed for a potential documentary. So, maybe he was
just hamming it up for the camera.

And, finally, birtherism is still up for debate, at least according to
Donald Trump. Here he was sparring with Jonathan Karl about that on ABC`s
"This Week" on Sunday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THIS WEEK")

JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS: You don`t still question that he was born in the
United States, do you?

DONALD TRUMP, CHAIRMAN & CEO, TRUMP HOTELS & CASINO RESORTS: I have no
idea.

KARL: Even at this point?

TRUMP: There -- well, I don`t know. Was there a birth certificate? You
tell me. Some people say that wasn`t his birth certificate.

I`m saying I don`t know. Nobody knows, and you don`t know either,
Jonathan. You`re a smart guy. You don`t know either.

KARL: I`m pretty convinced he was born in the United States.

TRUMP: Pretty. Ah, pretty, pretty.

KARL: I am convinced --

TRUMP: No, no, you said pretty.

(CROSSTALK)

KARL: -- totally, without question, that he was born in the United
States.

TRUMP: Excuse me. Jonathan, you said you`re pretty convinced.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Up next, there`s still 29 months until the start of the 2016
presidential race, but don`t tell that to the potential contenders.
They`re already flocking to Iowa.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SUE HERERA, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Sue Herera with your CNBC "Market
Wrap."

The Dow fell 5. The S&P dropped one and the Nasdaq added nine in a slow
day of summer trading. It was a battle of the smartphones, as Apple jumped
amid news that its next-generation iPhone may be unveiled September 10.
Meantime, sources say Samsung will roll out a new Galaxy phone in Berlin a
week ahead of Apple. And BlackBerry spiked after announcing it`s exploring
new business strategies which could include a partnering or a sale of the
company.

And that`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide -- and now back to
HARDBALL.

SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

If political activity in the state of Iowa this weekend is any indication,
it`s game on for the 2016 presidential race. The conservative Family
Leadership Summit attracted some of the high-octane names often mentioned
as 2016 contenders.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: More important regulatory reform that we can do
than to repeal every single word of Obamacare.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: My challenge to the Republican
Party is to take a page out of our book and start putting forth an agenda
of ideas to raise up folks who want to vote for us.

You saw it for the last election. They didn`t want to the vote for
President Obama, but at least he went out and talked to them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: On the Democratic side, word that Vice President Biden will be
in Iowa next month to speak at Senator Tom Harkin`s annual steak fry.
That`s an event considered a signature stop for any Democratic presidential
contender.

Also attending, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who had a high-profile
speaking slot at last year`s Democratic National Convention, delivering the
keynote address. That`s the same speaking slot in 2012 that launched
President Obama`s presidential arc back in 2004.

And even though Hillary Clinton didn`t set foot in the state of Iowa, she
didn`t need to in order to be the topic of presidential conversation at an
EMILY`s List event on Friday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: Getting everyone excited now about
what I hope will be that moment in 2017 when we all get to say Madam
President to Hillary Rodham Clinton.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: So let the games begin.

Susan Page is Washington bureau chief for "USA Today." Michael Crowley is
a senior correspondent for "TIME" magazine.

Michael, I love this stuff. I think HARDBALL watchers love this stuff.
Others might be thinking, oh, it`s just too soon. What is the importance
of the early jockeying?

MICHAEL CROWLEY, DEPUTY BUREAU CHIEF, "TIME": Well, you know, on some
level, it`s not that important.

A lot of the people who get early attention and applause at these things
don`t end up going anywhere. You know, we will recall how Michele Bachmann
won the straw poll last time around, you know, but there is -- there are --
there are these invisible primaries under way.

And particularly I think the most interesting one right now is this
jockeying to be the kind of -- there`s clearly going to be a moderate
establishment candidate, a Romney-esque candidate. It might be someone
like Chris Christie. And there are a lot of people who want to fill the
more of the more kind of Tea Party, libertarian, hard-core, take-no-
prisoners conservative candidate.

So I think what`s happening right now to a large degree within the party is
jockeying, for instance, including Cruz and Rand Paul to be that more
conservative alternative. But this is all -- you know, it`s still very
nebulous.

And, by the way, I think for Cruz the most important thing is to boost his
name recognition. It helps him to have more leverage and attention back in
Washington and be effective in the Senate.

SMERCONISH: Right. Good for Cruz regardless of whether he actually runs.

Susan, it looks though already like there are a lot of folks interested in
that GOP field. Could be a big field. So let me read into it and say, if
it is a big GOP field and if it consists of the Rand Pauls and the Ted
Cruzes and the Rick Santorums, that`s good news for Chris Christie.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": Because you divide the
right side of the party.

SMERCONISH: Correct.

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE: But you don`t think there`s any chance that Americans will get sick
of this contest if we start covering it now, do you? Do you think they`re
ready for a three-and-a-half-year presidential campaign?

SMERCONISH: Some people.

PAGE: Because that`s what --

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Not our people.

PAGE: Maybe viewers of this show.

(LAUGHTER)

PAGE: You know, Chris Christie has a difficult needle to thread here. But
you`re right. If you fragment the party on the other side, maybe that
opens the door to it.

I think what is happening now is that people are trying to raise their
hands to say, hey, you can`t do much now. You can`t raise money. You
can`t get -- really get organized in these early states like Iowa and New
Hampshire. But you can raise your hand. You can meet the activists. You
can make sure that when people are putting together a list of possible
contenders for this wide-open race on the GOP side, that your name is on
it. And that`s what I think people like Ted Cruz are doing.

SMERCONISH: All right. Let`s talk about the Donald. Donald Trump also
found himself in Iowa this weekend addressing the Family Leadership Summit
with his take on the 2016 race.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Obama should have been beaten. Hillary`s going to be tougher to
beat.

And the Republicans have to do what`s right. If they don`t pick the right
person -- and I mean the right person, perfect -- it`s got to be the
perfect person -- they are going to get drubbed in the 2016 election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Now, it`s worth remembering that Donald Trump has been
inserting himself into presidential politics going all the way back to
1988. And his forays often accompany his need to promote a book, a show or
just himself in general.

Steve Kornacki pointed this out in the last election cycle in a piece for
Salon titled "Trump`s White House Con Began 24 Years Ago." In the 1988
cycle, publication of his book "The Art of the Deal" coincided with Trump`s
denials that he was running for president, even though no one was saying
that he was running.

In the 2000 cycle, Donald Trump joined the Reform Party and toyed with the
idea of running for president while also promoting his book "The America We
Deserve." And in 2012, when Trump flirted with a presidential run, he was
also coincidentally drawing attention to his prime-time reality show
"Celebrity Apprentice."

So, Michael, evaluate the Donald factor.

CROWLEY: Right.

So, he wrote this book "The America We Deserve." I guess Trump is sort of
the circus clown that this process deserves, in a way the media deserves.
We talk about these candidates before they really show any sign of real
serious investment. We need stories to cover and Trump somewhat
masterfully exploits that.

I don`t think him seriously at all. I don`t think there`s any reason to
take him seriously given the past record you just described. So, you know,
to some degree, we`re his enablers by talking about him. He`s an
entertaining character.

I think to the degree there`s anything substantive to say about it, it`s
bad for Republicans for him to be part of the mix. I think they`re trying
to get past this idea that the primary`s last time around were almost --
again, it was a clown car, it was a circus. These are the phrases you hear
even everybody Republican activists.

And I think that Trump`s presence and the attention Trump is getting at
this point kind of creates that atmosphere again it`s a free-for-all and
anyone can get in.

SMERCONISH: Can I just say to Michael`s point that I think that`s the
long-term implication. This continues to be the face of the GOP, whether
it`s Donald Trump, whether it`s Ted Cruz.

I`m going to show a clip in a moment. In fact, I`ll show it to you right
now.

Senator Cruz`s father, Rafael Cruz, also spoke at the Iowa Family
Leadership Summit and compared President Obama to Fidel Castro.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAFAEL CRUZ, FATHER OF SEN. TED CRUZ: A young charismatic leader rose up
talking about hope and change. His name was Fidel Castro.

Socialism requires that government becomes your god. That`s why they have
to destroy the concept of God. They have to destroy all loyalties except
loyalty to the government. That`s what is behind homosexual marriage.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Susan, the point being that this continues to be the face, the
brand of the GOP. I doubt any of the people that we`ve just discussed who
were on those stages is going to be the nominee and could be elected
president, but people sitting at home much watching this sort of thing that
reinforces, that`s where the party is today.

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY: You know, I agree with you. I think that what
Reverend Cruz was talking about comparing Barack Obama to Fidel Castro
played pretty well in that audience, but it`s the kind of thing that makes
it very difficult for Republicans to appeal to voters in the middle if
you`re going to win a presidential is election.

And in that way, I think that that speech is more damaging than the
appearance by Donald Trump. I mean, Donald Trump --

SMERCONISH: I agree with you. Let me wrap up if I might, because courtesy
of NBC`s "First Read", a reminder of how early we are in the 2016 race.

At this point in the `08 cycle, so that would have been August of 2005,
this was the state of play. On the Republican side, Senator George Allen
was considered at least the co-front-runner for the nomination. In fact,
here he is with the cover of "The National Review" with the headline "His
Future is Now," and the subhead, first string presidential talent out of
Virginia.

Just a year later, Allen lost his bid for re-election. Hillary Clinton was
seen as the overwhelming favorite on the Democratic side. As for eventual
winner Barack Obama, he had been a senator for only seven months and wasn`t
viewed as a presidential contender. So, there you go.

Thank you, Susan Page. Thank you, Michael Crowley.

Up next, the verdict in the racketeering and murder trial of Whitey Bulger.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Republican Governor Pat McCrory of North Carolina quietly
signed sweeping new election reform into law. The governor did it without
fanfare and no signing ceremony. The new law slashes early voting and
requires voters to show photo ID, something Republicans insist will clamp
down on voter fraud. But Democrats and libertarians have argued the true
goal was to suppress turnout, especially among African-Americans, the young
and the poor groups that traditionally vote for Democrats.

We`ll be back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: We`re back.

James Whitey Bulger reached legendary heights as a feared Boston area crime
boss before disappearing in 1994. He even served as inspiration for the
Martin Scorsese movie "The Departed" portrayed by Jack Nicholson. Bulger
was eventually caught in 2011 in California.

And today in a courtroom in Boston, his past finally caught up with him, a
jury found him guilty of 31 out of 32 counts including racketeering,
conspiracy, murder, money laundering and extortion. The 83-year-old Bulger
called the trial a sham. For many, it seemed like his focus during the
two-month trial was disputing charges by the prosecution that he was an FBI
informant. He also strongly denied he ever killed women.

The trial was heavy on drama with Bulger often cursing his former criminal
associates who are testifying against him. But surprising to some he never
took the stand himself.

For more on the case, we`re joined by Kevin Cullen, a columnist for "The
Boston Globe", author of "Whitey Bulger: America`s Most Gangster and the
Manhunt that Brought Him to Justice". And George Anastasia, a reporter for
the "Philadelphia Inquirer" who co-authored the autobiography of former
Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, who got his start as a mob lawyer.

George, speak about the mind-set of guys like this, this honor, this code
business where it`s like OK if you say you were a mafia kingpin but please
don`t say I killed women and please don`t say I was a snitch.

GEORGE ANASTASIA, "PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER": Well, I mean, that`s a an
position he took in this case. But I think the facts undermine that.
Bulger had this, I think, enhanced image of who he was.

And I think Kevin, who has written extensively about him, can speak more to
that than I could. Whitey Bulger created a persona that wasn`t reality. I
think what we saw in this trial and the evidence is this is the real Whitey
Bulger. He is a despicable individual.

SMERCONISH: Kevin, were you surprised that he did not take the stand in
his own defense? Because -- and I asked that, I mean, it`s common in
criminal trials. But in this case, it seemed like this guy had a story he
wanted to tell.

KEVIN CULLEN, THE BOSTON GLOBE: I think he did. I mean -- but in the same
time, Michael, I think -- I wrote a column the day after he did not
testify. And I said at the end of the day, Whitey Bulger is a bully, and
all bullies are cowards. I don`t think he had the courage to stand up and
say what he did.

And more, he did not want to submit himself to cross-examination when
prosecutors would have brought out he had been a snitch as far back as 1956
when he gave up his bank robbery accomplices.

SMERCONISH: So, was he a snitch, and did he kill women?

CULLEN: I think -- well, a jury found today that he killed Deborah Hasse
(ph). The jury could not reach a verdict on the killing of Deborah Davis,
the girlfriend of his long-time criminal associate Steve Flemmi. But as I
said to Stevie Davis, her brother, he was crushed obviously.

But if you look at what the jury did, I think the jury did an excellent
job. I think most juries do excellent jobs. They did not support any
uncorroborated evidence. They basically said if the evidence was
uncorroborated, we would not support it.
In the case of the killing of Deborah Davis, it came down basically to
Stevie Flemmi`s account. There was some hearsay evidence of what people
said after. It really came down to Stevie Flemmi`s version of this. And
Stevie Flemmi is as big a degenerate as Whitey Bulger.

SMERCONISH: The courtroom had -- you know, George, you wrote a book about
mob movies. The courtroom had all these colorful exchanges.

In one instance he disrupted Kevin Weeks after Weeks testified that it
bothered he him that Bulger was an informant for the FBI. Quote, "Because
we killed people that were rats, and I had the two biggest rats right next
to me." And from his seat in the courtroom Bulger screams, "You suck."
Weeks responds, "F you, OK?" And Bulger says, "F you too." And then Weeks
says, "What do you want to do?" And he jumped to his feet on the witness
stand before the judge calmed things down.

George, I mean, it`s straight out of a screenplay.

ANASTASIA: Well, that`s been the Whitey Bulger saga. I mean, you can`t
make this stuff up. One of the things that gets lost in all this, though,
is this case, this whole Whitey Bulger story, is an indictment of the way
the FBI operates. I mean, it was an indictment of let`s get La Cosa Nostra
at any cost, and I think that`s what happened here. And Bulger was able to
manipulate at least two FBI agents and undermine the system.

And I think that has gotten lost in the story of Whitey Bulger in this
trial.

SMERCONISH: Hey, Kevin Cullen, tell us, remind us, tell us what became of
Whitey Bulger`s girlfriend, the woman with whom he was on the lam and
living in Santa Monica.

CULLEN: Kathy Greig. She was sentenced to eight years in the same court a
year ago. And she wouldn`t talk. She went out as a Tammy Wynette of south
Boston. She stood by her man. Didn`t say anything.

And, of course, talking to a lot of the families here, the victims`
families, they know that Whitey Bulger stashed money all over the country,
if not all over the world. He had safety deposit boxes in Dublin, London,
Paris.

So, they`re saying, where is the money? Does Kathy know? Does his brother
Billy, the former politician know? Does his brother Jackie who was here
every day for the trial, do they know?

All the families believe there is millions of dollars stashed out there.
That`s the mystery.

SMERCONISH: Wow.

CULLEN: There is no mystery. Hey, Whitey Bulger was thug and a killer,
and the jury just said that.

SMERCONISH: Thank you.

CULLEN: But we don`t know where all his money is.

SMERCONISH: Kevin Cullen, thank you so much. George Anastasia, thanks so
much.

When we return, let me finish with a regular rite of summer, albeit a
misguided one -- criticizing the president for taking a vacation.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Let me finish tonight with this.

The First Family is on vacation in Martha`s Vineyard. This is their fourth
vacation trip to the island. They skipped last year in the midst of the
2012 campaign.

The president, he hit the links with a press pool watching, both yesterday
and today.

I noticed that this morning, Drudge was leading with a story that talked
about the arrival of Bo, the family dog, via an Osprey helicopter, the
number of hotel rooms needed for the Secret Service, and the presence of a
mesh bag filled with basketballs in the luggage.

Criticizing a president`s vacation, especially this president`s vacation,
has become a rite of summer.

To learn more of the facts, today I chatted with Mark Knoller. He`s the
White House correspondent for CBS News. But he`s more than that. He`s the
go-to statistician for presidential behavior, he often shares his data with
colleagues, and sometimes with the presidents themselves.

He maintains lists of literally everything the commander-in-chief does --
from bill signings, pardons, and vetoes to Air Force One flights, Marine
One trips, and vacation destinations, even church attendance.

You should follow him @markknoller. It`s a must.

As for the numbers: since taking office, President Obama has taken 14
vacation trips spanning all or part of 95 days.

So how does that compare?

At the same point in his presidency, Bill Clinton had taken 11 vacation
trips for 84 days.

And Ronald Reagan made 29 visits to his ranch for 180 days.
At the same point in office, President George W. Bush had made 50 visits to
his Texas ranch, totaling all or part of 323 days.

Knoller said he always puts the word "vacation" in quotes because as he
often says, U.S. presidents don`t really get to take vacation. The job
comes with them 24/7.

Well, I`m hoping President Obama plays lots of golf in the next few days,
or shoots hoops, or whatever else he needs to do to maintain his mental
edge.

I felt the same way about President George W. Bush and I never begrudged
him his time at this ranch. All told, he was there 490 days during his
presidency.

The health of the country is largely a function of the physical and mental
health of its commander in chief. If blowing off some steam with a couple
of bogeys and a beer in the clubhouse keeps him sharper when the red phone
rings, we`re all better off for it.

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

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.


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