updated 1/15/2014 12:17:21 PM ET 2014-01-15T17:17:21

HARDBALL
Date: January 14, 2014

Guest: Bob Ingle, Frank Pallone, Ted Mann, Louis Greenwald, Bob Ingle, Bill Maher


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: New weeds in the Garden State.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews back up in New York.

"Let Me Start" tonight with this. Governor Chris Christie now faces the
ticking clock. Each second takes him closer to the moment when those he
has blamed for this bridge scandal testify under oath. If he has signaled
to any of them or any other staffer or appointee that this is the way he
wanted things done, this story will develop like an old Polaroid snapshot.
We will see the reality that`s appeared until now only in murk and shadow.
We will know precisely who told what to whom.

Well, today, Governor Christie said he would not let the bridge scandal
define New Jersey. Well, it doesn`t, Governor. It defines you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Now, the last week has certainly
tested this administration. Mistakes were clearly made. And as a result,
we let down the people we`re entrusted to serve. I know our citizens
deserve better, much better.

Now, I`m the governor, and I`m ultimately responsible for all that happens
on my watch, both good and bad. And without a doubt, we will cooperate
with all appropriate inquiries to ensure that this breach of trust does not
happen again. But I also want to assure the people of New Jersey today
that what has occurred does not define us or our state.

This administration and this legislature will not allow the work that needs
to be done to improve the people`s lives in New Jersey to be delayed for
any reason.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: He said that "mistakes were made." He really said that, this
phrase that has been so corrupted by every defendant in every scandal we
can remember. He said that he is ultimately responsible for what happened,
though guilty of none of it specifically. Ah, how grand it is to be
responsible while you`re out there casting the blame on others.

I go back to one point. We know who`s been looking out to punish
Christie`s enemies. His entire team seemed to be doing that. We know
who`s been looking out for Christie. That`s the governor himself. But who
in this whole pile of corrupt values was looking out for the people of New
Jersey, those whose good name the governor said today he has his full heart
into protecting?

The truth will not come in speeches by politicians out there to save
themselves. It will come under the harsh light of sworn testimony when
someone somewhere in Trenton or New York or Washington tells what words
were passed, what signals were sent, what missions were assigned between
the chief executive of New Jersey and those who are subject to his control
and to his loyalty.

Democrat Louis Greenwald is the majority leader of the New Jersey assembly.
Ted Mann is covering this story for "The Wall Street Journal." And my
colleague, Alex Wagner, is the host of "NOW" weekdays at 4:00 Eastern on
MSNBC.

Let me go to Assemblyman -- majority leader -- Mr. Greenwald. Thank you,
sir, for joining us. We haven`t had you on before. I want to know what
you thought of that performance by the governor in the context of what has
happened and what we know so far.


LOUIS GREENWALD (D), NEW JERSEY ASSEMBLY MAJORITY LEADER: Well, I think
the governor`s performance today was a little stale, to be honest with you,
compared to what we`re used to seeing, some of the bombastic comments and
bravado that he`s brought to the state of the states in previous years.

But I think in the intro, it was very well said. Bridge-gate defines him.
It doesn`t define us as a state, it defines him and his actions. And while
he did not focus much on it today -- and I actually think that was
appropriate because we ought to get to the business of the state -- the
truth of the matter is, the governor keeps apologizing to the people for
his staff betraying him.

It`s time for the governor to apologize to the people of the state of New
Jersey and the inconvenience that his leadership and the culture that he
created caused the people of Fort Lee and Bergen County in the state of New
Jersey now as we move forward with these investigations.

MATTHEWS: Today, "The Wall Street Journal" published a picture
accompanying Ted Mann`s article that shows Governor Christie and David
Wildstein, the Port Authority official who arranged that George Washington
Bridge lane closing, together at the same place in the midst of the week-
long epic traffic jam.

The caption reads, "Governor Chris Christie is seen with David Wildstein on
September 11, 2013, before a ceremony on the 12th anniversary of the 2001
World Trade Center attacks in Manhattan, in a photo obtained by `The Wall
Street Journal.`" September 11 was, of course, the third day of the lane
closures in Fort Lee, New Jersey.

So there you have -- despite the governor`s attempt to distance himself
from his appointee over there at the Port Authority, there he is with the
guy right in the third day of this whole mess. And we are to believe he
never looked the guy in the eye and said, What the hell`s going on here
with these five-hour bridge closings?

Your thoughts. What can you report today?

TED MANN, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, the governor has said not only that
he didn`t ask at that point what was going on with the traffic, but that he
didn`t even know. We had a story earlier this week saying that he
initially said he didn`t learn of any of this until the angry e-mail from a
New York official at the Port Authority leaked out in October. Then last
week, he said it was actually some of the initial press reports.

But this shows that they were together days before that. It creates a
slight problem for Governor Christie in that he said it has been a long,
long time since he`d seen Wildstein, that it was long before election day.
That leads up to the minds of the voters of New Jersey to decide if
September 11 is a "long, long time" before November 5th, first of all.

And I think it will provide Democrats -- Mr. Greenwald can speak to this --
plenty of questions to ask both the governor`s staff, and potentially him
eventually, about whether they really didn`t speak of any of this because
it wasn`t just Wildstein, it`s also Bill Baroni who was helping manage this
situation, who was also there with him that morning.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me go back to the assembly leader, the majority
leader. Mr. Greenwald, it seems to me that every single person whose name
has come up in this, starting with Wildstein and Baroni and Kelly and
Stepien, everybody who`s really been nabbed here has somebody -- was part
of this little cabal to close the bridges down, knew about it, enjoyed what
was going on, was totally with it. And nobody seems to have been -- no
appointee of the governor ever raised their hands, his or her hands, and
said, This isn`t what our governor wants done here.

There`s no evidence at all, Mr. Greenwald, of anybody in the governor`s
circle, those closest to him, hand-picked by him, that ever said anything
but, This is great. Let`s close that bridge down for four or five days.

GREENWALD: Yes, you know, you`re absolutely right. The reality is that
the governor is the chief executive and -- but he`s also intimately
involved in his campaign. And he rose to national prominence because he`s
a very savvy politician. There is not a politician worth their weight in
gold who literally less than two months before the election in the most
populated county in the state would not pick up the phone and call the Port
Authority or the Department of Transportation commissioner and say, What
the hell is going on out there? There are traffic jams five days in a row,
you know, that are being reported on the news.

So I can`t imagine. I also know, being an elected official myself and in
that campaign mode between September and November, you`re talking to your
campaign manager every day. So whether it was in his executive office with
Bridget Kelly or on his campaign staff with his campaign manager, with
everything that was at stake and the pressure to get the numbers to all-
time highs for his national platform, I can`t imagine that they weren`t
focused on that or he just said, Aw, shucks, can`t believe this is going
on.

He is too active. He is -- he`s too in charge to not reach out and ask
that question. Now, the governor says he didn`t, and we`re going to take
him at his word. Our investigation is going to go to people like Bridget
Kelly, like Mr. Stepien in a very methodical and strategic approach and see
-- we all know there was an abuse of power. But what was the root of the
abuse of power and how deep did it go?

MATTHEWS: Are you going to subpoena them all this week?

GREENWALD: We are interviewing outside counsel right now. We are not --
you know, the state of New Jersey is 120 legislators on a very small budget
for our legislative staffs. So we are interviewing outside counsel right
now. We hope to make an announcement tomorrow.

We believe -- and as a lawyer, I would say there needs to be a very
methodical and systematic approach. There will be further subpoenas.
There are going to be further hearings. But we`re going to work directly
with outside counsel to see what that procedure should be, what order it
should take to make sure that it is be done in a fair way and a fair
process but doesn`t overreach to lose credibility for the investigation
itself.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s go to -- let`s go to Alex Wagner, my colleague.
Alex, it seems to me that all great dramas involve personalities, faces we
begin to recognize and know well. Certainly, Bridget Kelly is now one,
fingered by the governor directly, called a liar four different ways in one
big press conference. She`s the bad one. She`s the betrayer. She`s the
traitor. She`s the liar, phrases that are just amazing that you`d call
into question about a person who`s been working with you. And we`ve got
lots of pictures showing them working hand in glove. She`s got the
clipboard. She`s got the phone. She`s taking him around. They are
working -- all of a sudden, he doesn`t talk to her, doesn`t call her up,
just announced that she`s a louse on television, not to be talked to, not
to be trusted, not to be believed.

Somebody said the other day, and I thought it was pretty profound, what
he`s doing is setting her up as a liar on the witness stand. He wants her
-- he assumes she`s going to come out against him. Better to lace (ph) her
first before she gets in the chair.

These are strong words. He could have said she could have come forward.
He could have called her in the office and said, Why didn`t you tell me you
were involved in this? And besides all that, what we have from the e-mails
is, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." That wasn`t the
beginning of a conversation. That`s in the midst of a conversation. She
had been talking to people in the governor`s office, all kinds of people.
Well you, know the story.

I think we got a great drama developing here, and I think, based on being
today on "The View" with a lot of women in that audience, they`re rooting
for her, not the big guy in Trenton. Your thoughts.

ALEX WAGNER, HOST, MSNBC "NOW": Well, yes, I think you hit it, Chris.
First of all, I thought that was a strategically incredibly risky move. If
you`re right, I mean, he`s betting the farm on the fact that the American
public is going to be with Chris Christie in this. And we have just had
mounting pieces of evidence that he is -- you know, the truth is a fungible
thing if you`re Chris Christie.

I also thought, Chris, when he called her a liar and he called her
effectively an idiot, someone who was deceitful, that just reinforces a
narrative of Chris Christie being a bully. Here`s someone who is a loyal
servant, a loyal staff member, and he turned on her so quickly, so
abruptly.

The last thing that I thought it did, which I think will really hurt him in
the long term, is it seemed, I thought, undisciplined. It seemed
emotional. It seemed like somewhat of an overreaction. And it questions,
you know, how much Chris Christie, if he is elected to higher office, can
be trusted to make a calm and considered decision in a period of duress.

MATTHEWS: Well, he knows things we don`t know. He may know...

WAGNER: That`s true.

MATTHEWS: ... she knows things he doesn`t want said or believed. But
anyway...

WAGNER: We don`t know what we don`t know.

MATTHEWS: But as I just said, earlier today, I was on "The View," a very
popular show here in the -- actually, an ABC show. And the audience
certainly sound like they were on Bridget Kelly`s side.

Listen to this reaction from a lot of women who came to that program today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: My question is going to be answered when Bridget Kelly shows up
in the witness booth and she`s under oath...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She`s the aide.

MATTHEWS: ... and she`s been called a liar a number of times by the
governor, who`s trying to destroy the jury pool by saying she`s a liar to
start with. If I were her, I`d come back with everything I had against
this guy.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, let me go back -- let me go back to Ted Mann and his
story. Where are the likes of this story heading right now, to the witness
box, to people under oath in Trenton? Where`s it going?

MANN: Well, as far as testifying, I think we should learn from the example
of what David Wildstein did the other day, which is show up and take the
5th (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS: You think they`ll all do that?

MANN: And what -- he was held in contempt by the committee, but then his
lawyer said, basically, he would have said more if he`d been granted
immunity. So he seemed to be putting up a hand to say, I would cooperate
if someone wants me to cooperate.

It`s unclear to me whether others would do the same thing if the
legislature subpoenas them or not. I know that one of the other
legislators has said that they`re going to subpoena more documents. And
that presumably means they want to know if there were earlier messages that
allude to this particular...

MATTHEWS: Well, don`t you...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... talk law here because it seems to me your number one goal,
if you`re one of these people that the governor has fingered, especially
Bridget Kelly, you want to make sure you don`t get charged and convicted of
anything in this regard, no matter what (INAUDIBLE) because if you`re
charged and convicted, even of a misdemeanor or what you call denial of
public services, those kinds of charges they come up with -- if you`re hit
with any one of them, then all the people out there who were hurt during
that bridge holdup for five days can sue you because you`ve just been hit
with a criminal charge and a conviction.

You have to exonerate yourself legally under the criminal statutes
completely if you want to have a decent life henceforth. Your thoughts,
Ted. Isn`t that a problem for them?

MANN: Well, I mean, certainly, I think that`s something that they would
all be considering. And then the other question is how many other people
within the administration, if there were any, knew that this was happening
or some variation of it?

I mean, if you look at those e-mails, Bridget Kelly is not the only member
of the governor`s staff who got a heads-up during this week that the mayor
thought political retribution was happening. People took messages to that
effect. And the governor has said that he interviewed everybody, that his
chief of staff did, they knew nothing untoward was going on. But I have a
feeling Mr. Greenwald and some of the other Democrats are going to be
picking away at that for a while. So are there more people within the
administration who`ll have to answer those questions?

MATTHEWS: I would bet the minute he got in the elevator, went to the water
cooler, or somebody said, What do you think about this bridge situation?

Anyway, thank you, Assemblyman Louis Greenwald. Thank you for joining us,
sir, and Ted Mann, of course, great reporting, Alex Wagner, my new
colleague closer to me...

WAGNER: That`s where I...

MATTHEWS: ... at 4:00 o`clock.

WAGNER: ... want to be, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Good luck. It`s great to have you up there on the starting team
early in the afternoon, the front line, if you will.

WAGNER: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Coming up: The other problem Chris Christie is facing. Did his
administration use Hurricane Sandy recovery money for tourism ads designed
primarily to benefit his reelection campaign? This is a story that goes to
Christie`s character, how he does business.

Also, who better to vent about Chris Christie than New Jersey native Bill
Maher, the host of HBO`s "Real Time With Bill Maher." He joins us tonight.

Plus, it wasn`t liberal, it wasn`t conservative, it wasn`t even moderate.
It was just wrong. New York mayor Bill De Blasio`s pizza parlor faux pas.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" tonight with the opposition to the current effort
to avoid a third and far more dangerous war in the Islamic world.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Chris Christie`s job approval rating`s starting to slip, but
just a bit. His overall approval rating`s at 59 percent in a new statewide
Monmouth University poll, still high.

But take a look at the breakdown by party. Republicans are sticking with
him big-time. Nearly 9 in 10 say they approve the job he`s doing. But
among Democrats and independents, there are cracks beginning to appear.
Approval among Democrats down 9 points since a month ago, among
independents down 11 points.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Jersey shore is open.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The word is spreading.

CHRISTIE: Because we`re stronger than the storm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You bet we are!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Governor Christie`s office is now
battling a two-pronged assault from investigators. In addition to the
George Washington Bridge scandal, the feds are now diving head first into
the money trail behind those famous Sandy recovery ads featuring Governor
Christie.

When they ran last year, Congressman Frank Pallone, a Democrat from New
Jersey, said he smelled something fishy about the whole thing. There was
Christie getting a bit of free press in an election year, no less, by
appearing in a massive multi-state ad campaign funded by federal Hurricane
Sandy relief money. Well, late last week, federal investigators told
Congressman Pallone that they`d found enough evidence of potentially
improper activity here to turn a preliminary review into a full-scale
investigation.

"The National Journal" is running this flashy headline, "Federal probe of
Chris Christie`s tourism ads could make bridge-gate look like an
afterthought."

They report, quote, "It may seem obviously crazy to try to use loose
political ties to help sway a contract worth millions of dollars, but just
a few weeks ago, it also would have seemed obviously crazy for New Jersey
officials to shut down traffic lanes to punish a mayor for not giving the
governor a political endorsement. In this atmosphere, Christie may not get
the benefit of the doubt."

Well, it all feeds a growing narrative, if you will, that Christie, the
governor, who remains the Republican Party`s best shot at taking on Hillary
Clinton in 2016 -- wanted to show his muscle by running up the score in
last year`s governor`s race, even if that meant strong-arming his way to a
big win.

Well, Democratic Congressman Frank Pallone of New Jersey is with us right
now, also Bob Ingle, who is with "The Asbury Park Press." He`s the author
of the book "Chris Christie: The Inside Story of His Rise to Power."

Congressman Pallone, tell us about this story, how you smelled it out, you
thought it was fishy. I mean, I do think it is odd that we got something
like a $25 million ad buy that makes a guy look gorgeous out there, has his
wife in it, narrating it, and that`s not a political ad, when it looks
awfully like a political ad that should be paid for by private funds, not
by hurricane relief money.

REP. FRANK PALLONE (D), NEW JERSEY: Well, Chris, I think the main thing
here, as "The Asbury Park Press" brought out in their own investigation, is
that this money that could have been used, you know, for Sandy relief.

I still have a lot of homeowners and businesses that haven`t gotten their
money to rebuild or raze their homes. The fact of the matter is, there was
the difference between the low bid, which wasn`t chosen, which wasn`t going
to include Chris Christie and his family, and the bid that was chosen,
which was about $2.2 million more expensive.

And so this is one of the things that I`m asking the inspector general to
look in to, whether there was impropriety in choosing a higher bidder for
more cost just because Chris Christie was going to be in the ad during the
campaign season.

MATTHEWS: Well, speaking of hurricane relief, the name Michele Brown comes
to mind here right now, Bob Ingle. Here is the person, the head of the
development fund that the governor set up. She was knocked out of his
office when he was U.S. attorney for taking a $46,000 loan from her boss,
which is an odd amount of money to get from somebody who is also a public
servant.

And then she came back in for a $250,000 job as head of this development
corporation. She`s the one that cut the contract with this big fancy way
to make the governor look good in TV advertisement, again, $25 million in
this case. So the money keeps going up, from a $46,000 loan to a $250,000
job. How do you put it together, the fact that she got a loan from the
governor, was pushed aside back then, comes back for a quarter-million-
dollar-a-year job, and now approves a $25 million ad buy, which makes the
governor look awful cheek -- awful cheerful and good for a reelection
campaign?

BOB INGLE, "THE ASBURY PARK PRESS": Well, yes.

We have several pages of that in the Chris Christie book, as a matter of
fact. The Christies and the Browns are family friends. There was a
loan...

MATTHEWS: I will bet.

INGLE: ... for 10 years for an amount of money that was to be paid back.

And that`s how he explains that one. She was in the U.S. attorney`s office
for 11 years before Christie got there. And when he came to the governor`s
office, he brought her and a lot of other people, and then, when this job,
which is a pretty good job to have, actually, came up, and he sent her over
to that.

Now, we asked for the tally sheet on who voted and how -- what kind of
points they gave to these two different plans. They sent us over the
tallies and the numbers, but they redacted who voted which way. So that`s
something that we`re still trying to get. We can`t really say who gave how
many points to this plan that won.

MATTHEWS: But the governor, the people working for the governor, here the
woman he had lent them money to, he had given the quarter-million-a-year
job to, she picked out the ad that was more expensive, but highlighted his
success in the cleanup, rather than the cheaper ad that didn`t, right?

INGLE: Right.

Well, what happened is, in the written proposal, there was no mention of
Christie. It was celebrities, well-known -- well-known New Jersey people.
And -- but they had a verbal session when they discussed this.

Now, we asked for the minutes from that verbal section to see what was
discussed, and they haven`t turned that over to us. But, apparently, it
was in that meeting that they decided they really wanted the big guy,
Christie, in the ads. It wasn`t in the written proposal.

MATTHEWS: Congressman -- Congressman Pallone, let me -- you`re a Jersey
political figure. And everybody is now saying, oh, this is just Jersey
politics, you know, letting contracts that make you look good -- maybe
they`re more expensive, but they make you look good. So, it`s an old pal
of yours you put in there, you lent money to in the past, you have been
loyal to, very close friends with.

Just like the President of the United States George W. Bush, who had his
pal -- remember, heck a job? "You`re doing a heck of a job, Brownie,"
somebody from the Arabian horse commission that some -- racing commission -
- somehow became head of the disaster relief.

Here, you have another friendly appointment and you have friendly behavior
on her part in helping the governor. Is this the way Jersey runs? Is this
something we just have to get used to?

PALLONE: No.

MATTHEWS: And that the governor is somehow free of any blame here? ,

PALLONE: No, Chris, we should never get used to this.

The fact of the matter that this is money that came from the federal
government that could have been used for Sandy relief. And as far as I`m
concerned, you know, representing people at the Jersey Shore who are still
looking for their checks and haven`t received them, I`m not going to go
along with any idea that says that`s OK because that`s the way we do it in
New Jersey.

In New Jersey, we`re honest. We do things properly. And if the governor,
you know, made a decision here through his aides that he was going to take
the more expensive ad because of the fact that he was included in it and it
was going to run during a campaign season, that`s the wrong thing to do.

And I`m certainly not going to condone it. And I`m glad that the inspector
general is doing this investigation. Let`s get to the bottom of it.

MATTHEWS: And a lot of people are still hurting in New Jersey and up in
New York, in Breezy Point, of course, and Staten Island and Rockaway, and
so many places. You`re dead right. They deserve to get the right kind of
publicity, how they`re hurting, not how great the governor of New Jersey
is.

Thank you, U.S. Congressman Frank Pallone, for bringing this story, and Bob
Ingle for reporting it.

Still ahead, Bill Maher joins us. And who better to talk about Jersey than
the guy from there, and talking about Chris Christie?

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": They said, well,
Governor Christie, do you think this will hurt your chances for becoming
president of the United States? And he said, hey -- because he is kind of
a bully -- he said, hey.

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN: We will close that bridge when we come to it.

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN: Ah. That`s right.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "CONAN")

CONAN O`BRIEN, HOST, "CONAN": People investigating the Chris Christie
bridge scandal say the governor could be removed from office. That`s true,
yes. Critics say that removing Christie from office would require a
federal indictment, full support of both houses, and a three-ton
construction crane.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome to the "Sideshow."

If the late-night talk shows are any indication, the George Washington
Bridge saga will remain a punchline indefinitely. It`s just too good to
resist. But there is also a new controversy developing just across the
Hudson in New York City.

It may only be his second week on the job, but Mayor Bill de Blasio still
isn`t getting a pass from fellow New Yorkers for committing a faux pas so
indefensible that many in the Big Apple are now questioning his street
cred.

Here is how they told the story last night on "The Daily Show."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART")

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So the mayor stopped by for a slice in Staten Island
this afternoon. He cut his pizza with a knife and a fork.

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": Mother (EXPLETIVE
DELETED)!

You`re supposed to be champion of the middle class. Two weeks into your
term, and we catch you eating pizza a la Trump?

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

STEWART: And you call yourself a radical socialist bent on destroying the
United States.

BILL DE BLASIO (D), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: I often start with a knife and
fork. But then I cross over to the American approach and pick it up when I
go farther into the pizza.

STEWART: Oh, you start on it there. You bring it over there. You start
over here. You bring it over there.

What is this? What is this? Mixed martial arts? What do you mean you
start over there?

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: You`re eating a slice of pizza, for crying out loud.

I start out with the Italian approach. I switch to the American. Then I
go to the Mongolian cheese slurp.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: No!

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

STEWART: You pick it up and you eat it with your (EXPLETIVE DELETED)
hands!

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: While the story is obviously a bit overblown, Jimmy Fallon was
able to put it in perspective.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON")

JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON": That`s right. Bill de
Blasio`s first scandal in office is eating pizza with a knife and fork.

(LAUGHTER)

FALLON: When he heard that, Chris Christie was like, hey, want to trade
scandals?

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Goodfellas Pizza, the restaurant where the mayor
perpetrated this breach of etiquette, has put the fork on display, the
actual fork, and plans to auction it to eBay to raise money for the
Hurricane Sandy relief effort.

Good ending to that story.

Up next: The one and only Bill Maher is going to come here with plenty to
say about the big guy, Chris Christie.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

A 12-year-old is in custody after shooting two fellow students at a
Roswell, New Mexico, middle school. Two children were seriously hurt.

The retired police officers charged with fatally shooting a man at a movie
Florida was in court earlier. He is charged with second-degree murder and
is being held without bond.

And efforts to advance a jobless benefits extension failed earlier in the
Senate. The parties remain split on how to pay for it and how long to
extend those benefits -- back to HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Politics ain`t beanbag, OK? And
everybody in the country who engages in politics knows that. On the other
hand, that`s very, very different than saying that, you know, someone is a
bully.

I am who I am, but I am not a bully.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Chris Christie was seen by some as the savior of the Republican Party, a
somewhat moderate force who could possibly capture his party`s nomination
in 2016. In some polls, in fact, he was even slightly beating Hillary
Clinton.

But for the past week, he has been the punchline for late-night comedians
and a target for Democrats and even some Republicans. Can Christie survive
politically? And if he can`t, if he is hobbled by this scandal, where does
that leave the Republican Party after he is out of the running?

Who better to discuss all of this than Bill Maher, the host of "Real time
With Bill Maher," which, thank God, returns this weekend with new episodes
this Friday at 10:00 on HBO. Bill is, by the way, a son of the great state
of Jersey.

Bill, I have to say, I`m going to warm you up now, because I always have to
be careful about you, because I don`t know which way you`re going on me.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Your show is without doubt the number one show I could ever
appear on, besides this one, of course. Every time I do your show, about
two times, three times a year, every single person I meet says, I saw you
on "Maher."

So you must have incredible ratings, even though they don`t matter on HBO.
So, now I have done it.

BILL MAHER, HOST, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER": Yes, we actually do. Yes,
we do have incredible ratings. It`s a well-kept secret in the media, but
so much is, Chris.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about -- but you in the media. You`re from Jersey.
Does this smell like Jersey? Does this smell like Jersey or smell like
Chris Christie? Do you smell the fact that there is somebody going to
testify, like a John Dean in a couple of weeks? I`m betting and hoping
actually for -- for Bridget Kelly to talk about what really it was like
working for this big guy and what the orders were and the signals were and
the atmosphere was.

MAHER: Right.

MATTHEWS: And that`s why she had this conversation, "Time for traffic
problems in Fort Lee," as if she had been having this conversation for
months. Your thoughts?

MAHER: Well, I don`t think they will ever find a smoking ham, you know, to
attribute to Chris Christie directly.

I think he is too clever for that. That`s not how thugs work. The whole
reason that you hire someone like Bridget Kelly is to carry out orders like
this that you don`t actually give. Remember when Benedict was the God`s
rottweiler, or the pope`s rottweiler, they called him before he got the
pope job?

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MAHER: Well, she is blob`s rottweiler, OK?

She knows to do this without actually having to be told. It`s the
atmosphere. What I think is interesting that I find new about a scandal
like this is, I never knew before of a scandal where an administration,
maybe it wasn`t Christie himself, but the administration actually purposely
inflicted pain on its own citizens to make a point to other politicians.

I mean, Nixon had an enemies list, but he carried out his vengeance
directly against the people who were his enemies. He didn`t, you know, use
the people of America as hostage shields.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I remember hitchhiking as a kid, and this couple, kind of a
rough couple, because that`s who you hitchhiked with, one of them was
torturing the kid, punishing him in some way, slapping him, to get even
with the person -- the other spouse. It was horrible to sit in the back
seat.

But it`s like this. Why would you go and go punish somebody to sort of
send a weird kind of message to your -- your other guy? I mean, first of
all, what was the purpose of doing it? He wasn`t going to like you
afterwards. What would be the message, that don`t mess with me because I`m
going to screw your commuters? And, by the way, somebody might get killed
or might have a terrible situation like we have been recounting on this
show, but the hell with that. I will get my message across.

By the way, let me ask you about this. You deal in comedy, but not
sarcasm. Here is the governor`s first reaction. I believe sarcasm never
works with a politician for some reason. Here he is reacting when it first
was nailed on him and they came back at him in the press. Here was his
mock response to a question. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE: Yes, I worked the cones actually, Matt. Unbeknownst to
everybody, I was actually the guy out there. I was in overalls and a hat,
so I wasn`t -- but I actually was the guy working the cones out there. You
really are not serious with that question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: There you go. It didn`t work, did it?

MAHER: No, it didn`t work, and it never does.

Politicians can`t do that. Politicians should in general not try to be
funny. That almost never works. It`s not what people are looking for in a
politician. That`s our job to make the jokes.

But, you know, I also don`t think that this is going to be a scandal that
is going to affect him negatively with -- with the people in his own party.
He keeps saying, I`m not a bully.

Sure he is a bully, and that`s what they like about him is that he is a
bully. If he is not a bully, who is he? He is just Lamar Alexander.

(LAUGHTER)

MAHER: They`re always looking for a bully in that party.

MATTHEWS: OK.

MAHER: They love Sarah Palin, remember?

MATTHEWS: Well, Let`s not generalize.

MAHER: Sarah Palin was a bully.

MATTHEWS: Let`s not generalize.

MAHER: I`m sorry?

MATTHEWS: Let`s not generalize. He has to go to Iowa where you and I know
they really have distaste for any rough talk or hardball behavior. Maybe
in New Hampshire.

You tell me which states are going to like this personality, this thuggish
personality. Which state? South Carolina? Are they going to go for it?

MAHER: Everywhere there where there are Republican primary voters, where
there are the kind of voters who booed the gay soldier, who cheered when
somebody said what should we just let people die? Those Republican primary
voters are in every state.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MAHER: And in every state, they`re going to like Chris Christie.

This is not the disaster for him that people think it is. I don`t think
so. I think it`s Miley Cyrus. It look like a scandal when she was
twerking at the VMA Award, but it turns out that it just made her a bigger
star.

MATTHEWS: I think you`re the only person that would make that comparison.

MAHER: All I saw was every network covering Chris Christie`s State of the
State speech. When did you ever see networks cover a governor`s State of
the State speech? He is just a bigger star than ever right now.

MATTHEWS: Let`s turn over the pillow to the pope. I know you`re not a
practicing religious person. You`re an atheist, I think, pretty much --
which is fair, because you`re honest about it. And now, the pope --
because it seems to me everybody I know, especially people who are not
Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, whatever, all my friends and workers, they
come up to me and I really like this new pope.

Is it because he is not exactly talking about religious belief, he is
talking about human ideal behavior toward each other and it`s something
that we could all look to? I don`t know how you`re going to react to this,
but it seems that he struck a note here that even the president it looks
like in his State of the Union is going to talk about, inequality of
economic life in this world.

MAHER: Right. Well, I mean, he keeps shaking things up in a way we have
never really seen a pope do. I mean, he just appointed a bunch of new
cardinals which is kind of the way a pope does redistricting. And none of
them were from America, you know? They were all from third world places.

You know, I`m sure the people in the Vatican, that entrenched bureaucracy
that he is trying to unseat, I`m sure they`re going nuts, because he keeps
saying things that must just blow their minds.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MAHER: The first thing he said when he got into office was that atheists
get into heaven. You know when he said that they were like we got to
prepare the poison now.

MATTHEWS: That`s not good for business.

Let me tell you though, I have to tell you, I went to church this Sunday,
and I got to tell you something. It was packed. As I was going out of
church, a guy said, is this the pope that is doing this? Is this Francis?
That`s fascinating stuff from our point of view, I think, that he could
actually be bringing people back to listen by what has been said by this
guy, this leader.

MAHER: Yes. I mean, I think he is kind of the Gorbachev of the Catholic
Church. And I think ultimately maybe his goal is to kind of bring it down.

MATTHEWS: Maybe the de Klerk, maybe the F.W. de Klerk I would say maybe.
The guys that sees the time has to change.

MAHER: Something like that.

MATTHEWS: Hey, by the way, Bill, I love your show. I`m not just blowing
smoke. Your show is amazing. It`s always challenging to be on because I
never know what I`m supposed to do except listen to you.

MAHER: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, "Real Time with Bill Maher" returns at 10:00 on HBO.
And you can catch him doing stand up. In February, he`ll be in Mobile,
Alabama, on the 8th of February, and Corpus Christi, Texas, on the 9th.
These one-night shows are spectacular.

Thank you, Bill Maher.

Up next, how would you restore Chris Christie`s reputation if you were in
the business? We`ve got a couple of political heavyweights coming here to
play crisis manager. And you`ll recognize them. They know what is going
on. They`re going to help this guy, I think.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Marriage equality is on the move in another deep red state.
Late today, a federal judge ruled the gay marriage ban in Oklahoma is
unconstitutional. The ruling is stayed pending appeal, meaning same-sex
marriages won`t immediately happen in the Sooner State.

Last month, a federal judge ruled the same-sex marriage ban in Utah was
unconstitutional, opening the door to gay marriage in a very conservative
state.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

Chris Christie has a big crisis on his hands, and how he handles it will
not only affect his political future, but also the Republicans` hopes of
winning the White House come 2016.

For the Republican Party, Christie was their best shot. Before the scandal
broke, poll after poll showed Christie is the candidate who runs strongest
against a Democratic front-runner right now, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

So, let`s talk about Christie`s fight for survival politically and
nationally with two political pros who know how to manage state
governments, actually know a lot about politics.

Ed Rendell was the governor of Pennsylvania and the chairman of the
Democratic National Committee.

Michael Steele was the lieutenant governor of Maryland and chairman of the
Republican National Committee.

I want to start with you, Governor Rendell.

I think it has to do with facts. I think this case will be decided by
facts, sworn testimony down the road under the lights of all the press and
all the focus of the country, people speaking under oath.

But before that happens, what should be the posture of this governor if he
wants to save his national reputation?

ED RENDELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he`s got to do, Chris,
something analogous what Bill Clinton did. Shrug it off. Do not direct
vengeance towards legislators who are trying to get to the bottom of this.

Move in a bipartisan way, develop programs. Go into areas with Democratic
mayors who didn`t endorse you, do good things, economic development things.
He`s got to perform like Bill Clinton performed.

Bill Clinton has a litany of achievements during that year when the House
that he was dealing with was trying to impeach him and in fact did impeach
him.

So, that`s what Christie`s got to do. I think he`s got a huge credibility
problem that is going to make it very difficult for him to escape this.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Michael on this.

Michael, what do you say he should do? We`re assuming he doesn`t know how
things are going to turn out down the road.

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: You`re taking that into
consideration or not, that into consideration or not, either way, I think
Christie has done the oh, gee, I didn`t know, my bad, we made a mistake.
Now get back to work.

I think the fact is he needs to govern. He needs to go back to doing what
governors do in states like New Jersey that still have issues and problems
that need to be solved. Those have not gone away. I think to Governor
Rendell`s point, the less you focus on your political opponents and
retribution, and all of that, and getting caught up in that conversation
and show more of your willingness to continue the bipartisan efforts that
have been successful for you up to this point, the better off you will be.

And again, Chris, this is barring no further revolutions, no other shoe`s
dropping showing his fingerprints are directly on this. Barring that, I
think Christie going back to work is the best thing for him now.

STEELE: Well, the whole question, you know, Governor Rendell, it seems
back when Watergate was happening, everybody was saying it`s going to be
decided by the politicians and ended up being decided by the evidence. It
was happening, the House Judiciary Committee where people really did a good
job under Peter Rodino. They just looked at the evidence and looked at the
tapes and they had Nixon, they had him in the cover-up of Watergate. They
nailed him for an impeachable offense as they all saw it.
In this case, does he have to have a different strategy, depending on what
he knows? For example, if he knows he did say something to Bridget Kelly,
he did say something to Kevin O`Dowd, as chief of staff, he did say
something or listened to something from Charlie McKenna, his counsel, he`s
counting on what, executive privilege down the line? Is he counting on
Bridget Kelly not being believed? What`s his bet here?

Because he`s basically circled the wagons and said I only have two report,
those two guys and she`s not to be believed. That`s where he`s circling
the wagons now.

RENDELL: I think he`s simply got to hope that the people around him, the
people involved in this stay with the party line and say that he didn`t
know anything about it. We did it on our own.

But, Chris, the problem with that is, let`s assume Governor Christie didn`t
know anything about it. Then why for God`s name would an activist
governor, and he was an activist governor just like I was, why would he let
the lanes be closed for five days, jeopardizing public safety, when they
told him it was a traffic study?

If they said that to me, I would have said, take that traffic study and
stick it where the sun don`t shine. Let`s open those lanes right now. I
want those lanes opened in 30 minutes.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s exactly the kind of governor/mayor you were.

Let me go back to Michael. I know that`s the kind of governor and mayor he
was, because when there`s a big fire, you want to see the mayor and
governor on the curb across the street. When the policeman is killed, you
want to see or hurt, you want to see the guy -- the mayor in the hospital
with him, like Mayor Rendell was all those nights. You want him there on
the beat.

You don`t want the guy hiding somewhere saying, gee wiz, don`t tell me
what`s going on, I can`t afford to know it like Peter the Hermit. He can`t
be that guy.

STEELE: Well, there are two pieces here. The first you`re talking about
now, the hands-on guy. So, when Chris Christie made the joke about the guy
moving the cones, the expectation is, you know, if as an activist governor,
that you would be at a turnstile wondering what`s going on with the cars
not getting through.

The other side of this, though, is the fact that, you know, the information
he`s getting is coming from second, third sources. And how that`s
processed internally is something I think will be further exposed here.

And at the end of the day, you know, Chris Christie was a former U.S.
attorney. I can`t imagine him putting himself in a box and then taking
that box and putting it in a corner then painting around that box so you
can`t get out of that corner.

So, the point for me is when he gave that press conference and said what he
said, he knew exactly what he did and did not do with respect to this
bridge -- these lane closures.

MATTHEWS: Would you back him for president?

STEELE: I think he feels comfortable with that.

MATTHEWS: Would you back him for president, Michael?

STEEL: Yes, I would. Yes.

MATTHEWS: I know you won`t, Governor Rendell. Anyway, thank you, Governor
Ed Rendell. He`s the wrong party for you. Thank you, Michael Steele, for
being straight up for this guy.

We`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this.

I am deeply concerned that the opposition led by Republicans in the
Congress to the current effort to avoid a third and far more dangerous war
in the Islamic world. President Obama and Secretary Kerry are working hard
to find way to constrain the Iranian nuclear program, to keep that country
from building nuclear weapons. They have worked a short-term deal and are
working now on a long-term deal. It is obviously a tricky bit of business.

The United States and other countries are determined that Iran not build
weapons, nuclear weapons. Iran is still a revolutionary country does not
want its sovereignty questioned. Whatever deal is struck needs too to be
struck, of course, from both sides.

Now, right in the middle of this sensitive deal-making come a huge number
of senators, mostly Republicans who want to impose new sanctions on Iran.
Whatever the motives of these senators, and what good does it do to ask
about those motives, they are undermining the talks between the world
powers and Tehran. They`re giving the hardliners in Iran a great
opportunity to say that it would do no good to hold back on weaponizing its
nuclear program because Iran is going to get hit economically either way.

Well, this is not the way the United States avoids wars. We ended the Cold
War because Ronald Reagan took the lead and the Democrats backed him up. I
was there. Before Reagan even met with Gorbachev in 1985, the speaker of
the House, my boss at the time, led a bipartisan delegation to Moscow
vouching for Reagan saying he spoke for our country and that he was truly
serious about nuclear arms reduction.

In subsequent years, the speaker made a point that each time Reagan met
with new Soviet leader, the Democrats were supported back home. If
Gorbachev wanted to deal with the United States, he had one option, dealing
with the elected U.S. president.

If we`re going to avert a war with Iran, and don`t kid yourself, an attack
by the United States would begin one, there`s one route the next three
years. That is through this president and this State Department. Anything
else is simply undermining the one chance we have to avoid what threatens
to be a horrific unending war with Iran, one backed by the secular,
moderate people of the country who will be united with the hardliners if we
fail at peace and resort to an act of war.

It`s time for the opposition to do what it did in ending the Cold War,
stand together with the president. At least give him and peace a chance.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


END

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