updated 1/17/2014 10:42:36 AM ET 2014-01-17T15:42:36

HARDBALL
January 16, 2014

Guests: Heather Haddon, Bonnie Watson Coleman, John Feehery, Jim Moran,
James Carafano, Kellyanne Conway

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The battle of Fort Lee, and now the assault on
Fort Hillary.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

"Let Me Start" tonight with this. The investigation of Operation Road
Hog, the deliberate closing of traffic to the George Washington Bridge, has
just gotten serious. The special investigator brought in after his role in
the successful prosecution of Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich -- B-Rod --
has issued about 20 subpoenas in the case.

He`s going after not just Bridget Kelly, who promises to be the star
witness, and Bill Stepien, the Christie campaign manager, but a wide
variety of figures, including those at the Christie reelection campaign.

This says the New Jersey assembly people mean business. They picked
an investigator with a big notch on his belt already, Reid Schar. They`ve
given him wide latitude to get the truth, including the truth about which
of Christie`s cronies tried covering up this bridge caper.

I`m reminded of the seriousness with which New Jersey`s Peter Rodino
supercharged his investigation of Richard Nixon by hiring the estimable
John Doar, who`d earned his spurs in Robert Kennedy`s Justice Department.
Then as now, the best start to a hot investigation is a hot investigator.
Let`s see where this is all taking us.

Heather Haddon has been covering this story for "The Wall Street
Journal." Heather, I`m impressed by the speed with which this committee,
the special investigative committee has moved in issuing 20-some subpoenas
already.

HEATHER HADDON, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Yes, it has moved very
quickly. Now, they are issuing the subpoenas at some point today. We
don`t know exactly when. And during the press conference that was just
held about this, we weren`t given any names. So they are not confirming
any names until the subpoenas are actually issued to 17 individuals and
three organizations.

We were told that all the individuals and organizations are within New
Jersey. And when asked, Assemblyman Wisniewski, who`s chairing the
committee, said none of the names should be surprising. So we could see
Bill Stepien on there and Bridget Kelly. Those are names that they`ve been
discussed in the past. But we don`t have that confirmed as of now.

MATTHEWS: We`ve heard from Wisniewski, who`s the chair of the special
investigative committee on the New Jersey assembly, that he was surprised
at the breadth of the subpoena-issuing. He thought it was just going to be
Kelly and Stepien. And he said this is what you learn from a smart
investigator, go wide.

HADDON: Yes, well, the investigation really is moving in directions
that they did not anticipate in the beginning. You know, when we started
this investigation several months ago, it was just the Port Authority.
Since then, they have said repeatedly this is going to move on to other
organizations, other individuals.

Again, they have not said they`re subpoenaing Governor Christie at
this point, but they have made it clear that it has moved into the
administration. And the legal counsel they have retained for this
investigation is very prominent. He, you know, worked in Illinois
successfully for the prosecution you discussed. And we were told today
that legal counsel has had discussions with the front office for the
Christie administration today in discussing the process. So they are
moving very swiftly on this.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Heather Haddon of "The Wall Street
Journal."

So to recap what happened today in the George Washington Bridge
confango (ph) here, the Chris Christie scandal, as I said earlier,
approximately 20 subpoenas have been issued, 17 individuals, three
organizations. We believe one of them is going to be his campaign
committee. Recipients will be given approximately two week news to respond
to the subpoenas. So the investigative committee expects responses in
early February.

At this point, they will not be subpoenaing documents from the
governor himself yet. They`re issuing the subpoenas based on references,
people mentioned in the documents they`ve seen, of course, names like
Bridget Kelly, I assume.

And this -- they point (INAUDIBLE) have any leads right now pointing
to the governor yet. But the committee chairman stressed that could
change. That`s Wisniewski. As of now, the committee is not expected to
meet again until mid-February, when they get the people coming in, of
course, on these subpoenas.

Joining me now Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, who`s been
appointed to that select committee in investigations. Thank you --
Assemblywoman, thank you for joining us -- Coleman. Where -- where -- what
are you curious about? What do you want to know, as a politician who`s
involved in the assembly, has watched Governor Christie`s behavior, his MO,
if you will, and has watched this case unwind? What it is that, when you
go to bed at night do you think about? I`d like to know something I don`t
know the answer to yet.

BONNIE WATSON COLEMAN (D), NJ ASSEMBLY: Well, unlike the governor, I
haven`t lost any sleep in bed over this. But I do want to know, as a
legislator, as a lawmaker, as someone who is supposed to be upholding the
law, where does this go? What happened here? Who was responsible for
this?

We know that there was an abuse of power. We know that there was an
incident which created havoc, perhaps unsafe conditions, that
inconvenienced thousands of commuters. I mean, we live in the most densely
populated state in the nation. We always have traffic. So that was just
an additional burden.

What I want to know -- I want to know, where did the idea come from?
How far does this go? And what was the motivation? And if I can`t find
out the motivation, at least let us follow all of the information that will
ultimately take us to the beginning of this.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of the governor`s change in wording? He
first of all said he`d be open to all investigations. And then he said
he`d be open to all appropriate investigations. How does he get to decide
what`s appropriate? Can he pull executive privilege and say, You`re not
talking to my chief of staff, you`re not talking to my lawyer? How far do
you think he`s going to go with this use of the word "appropriate"?

COLEMAN: Well, I`m going to tell you, Chris, he cannot say that this
legislative inquiry is inappropriate. We`re the lieutenant governor branch
of government. We have an accountability responsibility. We`re an equal
branch of government. So if he wishes to use language of that nature and
speak to what is and what is not appropriate, then he cannot in any way
form (ph) suggest that the legislative inquiry that is taking place here or
the forum that is in charge of this inquiry is inappropriate.

MATTHEWS: Well, Assemblywoman, please hang in there. I want to bring
in Steve Kornacki to join us right now. He`s host of "UP" on weekends here
-- weekend mornings. It`s a hell of a show, and he`s been a tiger.

What do you see happening here? I was impressed by a couple of
things, not just the bringing in of Reid Schar, who`s a pretty good of a
hotshot investigator and prosecutor out of Illinois, having gone in and
succeeded with the Blagojevich case. He`s off in prison somewhere after
these guys did their work.

My question also about the lawyering up of Christie`s, brought in
Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, the big firm in LA, based in LA. Apparently,
he`s got some Giuliani buddies over there that are -- that he`s bringing in
as his attorneys. He is lawyering up, preparing for the worst.

STEVE KORNACKI, HOST, MSNBC "UP": Well, listen, the thing -- if you
talk to Democrats down in Trenton -- some Democrats down in Trenton, anyway
-- the apprehension that I pick up on is the existence not of this assembly
committee. The assembly committee, when you talk to Democrats who are
eager to really get to the bottom of this thing -- they like this
committee. They like the counsel who`s been brought in. They think this
looks like a real first-rate professional operation that`s being put
together here. And when you look at the scope of the subpoenas that we`re
now talking about right away, you`re looking at a committee that means
business.

The trepidation that you pick up on when you talk to these same
Democrats is the existence of the senate -- the senate investigation, and
they`re wondering if it doesn`t -- two things. You know, one is the fact
that the reality of Trenton and the reality of New Jersey politics that you
really need to understand nationally is nationally, we`re just so used to
looking at, you know, Democrats, Republicans -- you know, Democrats try to
get Republicans, Republicans try to get Democrats.

In New Jersey, there is a band. There is a powerful band of Democrats
who are aligned with and who will protect and whose interests are aligned
with Chris Christie`s, and one of them is president of the state senate.
That`s Steve Sweeney.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but I got good news for those...

KORNACKI: He`s part of an organization...

MATTHEWS: ... for those who want the truth...

KORNACKI: ... a Democratic organization in south Jersey that has been
very friendly towards this governor. So there`s a lot of skepticism toward
him...

MATTHEWS: OK...

KORNACKI: ... towards Norcross Democrats, especially in the state
senate. And there`s also a fear...

MATTHEWS: OK...

KORNACKI: There`s also a fear that the existence of these two
committees, assembly and senate committee, would create an opening for the
governor`s office to go to court and to basically say...

MATTHEWS: OK...

KORNACKI: ... Look, this is an undue burden. You are subpoenaing --
the assembly is subpoenaing somebody, the Senate is subpoenaing somebody.
They`re both...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Yes, Steve? Steve, can you hear me?

KORNACKI: ... maybe one is saying (ph) something...

MATTHEWS: Can you hear me?

KORNACKI: ... slightly different rules, and the court should step in
and make the legislature act as one. And there`s a potential there maybe
for the Christie administration to create...

MATTHEWS: OK...

KORNACKI: ... a bit of a legal mess here that really bogs this thing
up in court. That`s when you talk to Democrats that say they`re worried
about.

MATTHEWS: Michael Isikoff is reporting to us, confirming that the New
Jersey senate seat (ph) that you`re very skeptical about, and fairly
enough, they`ve issued subpoenas now of David Samson, chairman of the Port
Authority, also Regina Egea, who`s next in line to be the governor`s chief
of staff.

I mean, if they`re going to pussyfoot this thing and slowball it,
Steve, why are they going ahead and bringing in these hot witnesses?

KORNACKI: Well, no, the question that`s being asked by Democrats is
that you have these parallel investigations going on. Does it create an
opening for the Christie administration to go ahead and go to a court and
say, You`re subpoenaing the same people. Each committee is subpoenaing the
same person. Each committee`s asking for documents from the same person.
Hey, we need a court here to step in and say the legislature should be
acting as one.

That is the concern when I talk to Democrats down in Trenton. That`s
the concern that I hear.

MATTHEWS: OK. Assemblywoman, are you worried about...

COLEMAN: Well, you know, Steve, that`s...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Is anybody able to hear me? Can you hear me up there? I`m
sorry.

COLEMAN: Yes, I can.

MATTHEWS: I`m trying to moderate this discussion. Assemblywoman, do
you -- are you concerned what Steve`s concerns are, that there might be a
conflict between the purposes, the ultimate purposes of truth getting
between your house, the assembly, and the senate up there that may want to
slow walk this thing?

COLEMAN: Yes. I can`t speak to the senate`s motivation. I can
simply tell you that we`ve been moving with due haste. We`ve been doing
our due diligence. We`re going to continue to move forward. The senate
obviously is behind us. It`s just beginning to do whatever it is it`s
trying to do.

I don`t think that at the end of the day, we`re going to slow down
what we do. We`re going to follow the information. We`re going to be
aggressive in getting the information. We`re going to be respectful of the
process, and we`re going to declare everybody is innocent until otherwise
proven.

But there`s nothing that the senate can do or the governor can do that
is going to deter us or detract us from doing what we need to do.

MATTHEWS: Well, Governor Christie, as I said, has hired a lawyer
today. His office put out a written statement that former federal
prosecutor and Rudy Giuliani aide Randy Mastro will assist, quote, "with
the internal review." The statement said, quote, "Governor Christie made
clear last week that he will conduct an internal review to uncover the
facts surrounding the lane closures in Fort Lee. His administration is
fully cooperating with the U.S. attorney inquiry and other appropriate
inquiries and requests for information."

Now, of course, in December, the governor made very different remarks.
Let`s look at what he said in December about how he would never even begin
to find out, because he didn`t want to, what was going on. He didn`t want
to be, as he put it, a prosecutor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: You guys all want to keep
chasing it around, chase it around. I mean, it`s your business. But I`m
not running around doing independent investigations. I`m not a prosecutor
anymore, I`m the governor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, here he is. And I have to tell you, Jay Rockefeller
-- there`s a senator who`s not taking any guff from this guy. Jay
Rockefeller, chairman of the U.S. Senate conference -- Commerce, Science
and Transportation Committee, submitted questions to the Port Authority
last month about the traffic mess, and he was not pleased with the
response.

These are excerpts from his statement. Quote, "The Port Authority`s
response provides zero evidence that the purpose of these closures was to
conduct a legitimate traffic study. I am also disturbed by the evidence
showing that the Port Authority`s professional and engineering staff raised
serious concerns about the lane closure plan. They explained that the
closures would cause significant congestion and delays and would increase
the risk of sideswipe crashes. It`s unconscionable that anyone would block
commercial traffic and risk the safety of thousands on our interstate
highway system in this way."

Steve, it looks to me like the feds, in the form here of the United
States Senate -- and Jay Rockefeller`s retiring at the end of this year --
is going to go out with a bang. It looks to me like we got to look at this
whole other front here of the federals talking about interstate commerce,
bridge crossing between Jersey and New York, clearly interstate commerce.

Where do you see the action on that end?

KORNACKI: Well, look, what you have to ask yourself what has moved
this along so far. We`re talking about something that started -- that took
place all the way back in September and didn`t really explode as a story
until the last week, the last 10 days.

Why did it explode as a story? It`s because of the assembly power of
the state assembly committee -- the subpoena power of the state assembly
committee that was looking into it and the documents that emerged from that
and the documents that came into public view. That`s what exploded this
story.

And if this story, at least publicly, is going to continue to play
out, with questions being raised, with questions being answered, with new
names entering into the mix, the question is, any of the subpoenas that
come out from anybody that`s looking into this, whatever committee it is
that happens to be looking into this, does the governor`s office, does
whoever is subpoenaed, do they comply with the subpoena? Do they supply
all of the documents that are requested? And do we get to see those
documents?

And as long as that keeps happening, as long as that process keeps
playing out, I think there are going to be -- I have no idea where it`s
going, but there are going to be all sorts of new revelations, and this
story is going to stay alive for a long time.

But if that process gets slowed down, if that gets bogged down in some
kind of court fight over, should the assembly have this power, should the
senate have this power, that changes things. Also, if the U.S. attorney
steps in and basically shut downs the assembly and the senate
investigations and takes over, you don`t know where that`s going to go.
This is the U.S. attorney in New Jersey, who doesn`t have a lot of
experience when it comes to, you know, high-level public corruption cases.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

KORNACKI: It`s not something he`s made his priority. He`s not run
his office -- for better and for worse, he`s not run his office the way
Chris Christie ran the U.S. attorney`s office. And of course, you do have
the issue of how many Chris Christie people are still in the U.S.
attorney`s office.

MATTHEWS: OK.

KORNACKI: So if this U.S. attorney`s office comes in and takes this
over and shut downs the assembly and senate side of it, that could
ultimately be a good thing, but I think in terms -- from a public
standpoint, in terms of learning what we`ve learned so far, that will shut
that process down for a long time.

MATTHEWS: It looks like we have a lot of legs to this case.

COLEMAN: Well, Steve...

MATTHEWS: Thank you very much. Go ahead, Assemblywoman. Last point.

COLEMAN: Thank you. I was simply going to say that we`re not looking
at criminal activity. We`re looking at policies and actions that occurred
that negatively impacted the citizens of the state of New Jersey. And no
one shuts down the legislative inquiry into those things, not the U.S.
attorney, not the governor, not anybody.

And so maybe there will be a different bent to this investigation. We
will wait and see. But I assure you, the assembly will be front and center
in trying to get at the truth.

MATTHEWS: Well said. Thank you very much, Assemblywoman Bonnie
Watson, who`s on the investigating committee.

COLEMAN: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: And Steve Kornacki, thank you so much for opening up all
the legs of this story.

Coming up, Chris Christie goes to war. He`s facing, as we said,
multiple investigations, as Steve said. He`s got the subpoena coming at
him and a hostile right wing, of course. And he can`t get past all of
this. By the way, he`s hitting up his big donors this weekend. Christie`s
presidential ambitions may be in trouble, but he`s not stopping his
movement toward that.

Also, Republicans are using yesterday`s Senate report on Benghazi to
place blame directly on Hillary Clinton, the person. The report never
mentions her name, by the way. That`s interesting information.

Plus, comparing the two stories, the two sets of charges, the Jersey
jam and Benghazi. Why bridge-gate, or road hog, I call it, poses much
bigger threat to Chris Christie than what happened in Benghazi to Hillary
Clinton. That`s what we think.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" with more on this new bipartisan Senate
report on Benghazi, which backs up to the T, to the dotted I, Susan Rice.
Boy, does she look good now.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Take a look at this nugget from our new NBC News Marist
poll. Texas senator Ted Cruz, the flavor of the month among Republicans
for much of 2013, has fallen off the map.

Here`s who Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say they`d
support in the 2016 presidential primary race. Chris Christie still out in
front with, well, 16 percent, followed by Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush,
Marco Rubio, and Rick Perry, believe it or not. Rick Perry is still up
there, Ted Cruz way down the list, below Rick Perry, his fellow Texan. And
just -- well, all he`s got is 5 percent, which happens to be the same as
Rick Santorum.

Well, that`ll tell you something. Of course, just one poll, and it`s
very early. But Cruz is the bubble gum that`s lost its flavor.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, you can`t beat facts with spin, not when the facts are still
coming in.

And Christie, of course, Governor Christie, isn`t waiting around for
those new facts. The headlines in "The Washington Post" today, "Christie
and His Aides Are Planning a Comeback Campaign After the Bridge Flap."

So, it`s only January, let`s face it, and Christie`s staffers are
facing a flood of subpoenas as of today. State lawmakers are gearing up
for more hearings. And the U.S. attorney is hot on Christie`s trail.
Senator Jay Rockefeller`s Commerce Committee down here in Washington is
also digging in for its own dirt. And the guy who brought down
Blagojevich, by the way, is the leading special prosecutor up in Trenton.
And you also got class-action lawsuits being filed by anybody in that
traffic jam.

You don`t know what lawyers are out there looking for people. Anyway,
the star witness in all of this is, of course, Bridget Kelly. It`s only an
amount of time before we hear her side of the story, and everyone will be
watching.

She has already been named as a defendant in one class-action lawsuit.
And you can bet more than anything she knows what is coming, more suit
against her. So she has to decide whether to defend herself out there and
turn the tables on Christie, the governor, or she gets destroyed in court
as a liar, a stoop, and all kinds of things he has called her. You don`t
stay mum after those kinds of attacks.

Anyway, no matter how this plays out over the next couple weeks, it`s
going to end with a bang, many people believe, not a whimper. It should be
clear, for Christie, he only has one shot at being president. That`s
coming up. He ain`t going to get another shot after this. So, he either
wins this baby big, knocks everybody out of the courtroom or he goes down.

John Feehery is a Republican start and Jonathan Capehart is a
columnist for "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC political analyst.

So, gentlemen, I guess this whole question is the comeback trail, and
the difference between publicity, P.R., public relations, what gets into
newspapers, and what is going on in backrooms when people are working
witnesses and making deals and giving immunity, and all kinds of stuff, and
pushing and screeching and saying, you got to talk, you got to talk.

And who wins the fight? The people in the back room or the P.R. out
front? Or Christie? He thinks he can win out front, apparently.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think Chris Christie is
doing the right thing. He is the comeback kid, just kind of like the other
guy, Bill Clinton, who was the comeback kid. And you got to keep going
forward.

This is all part of the process. You`re right. All these backroom
guys are all saying, don`t talk, keep it quiet, be strategically smart with
your defense. But for Christie, either he is telling the truth or he is
not. If he is telling the truth, he is going to be fine. If he is not
telling the truth, he is done anyway. So just keep going forward.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s a good point.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: And I have to go with that one anyway.

Jonathan, that`s my point. I have got an old Lincoln quote somewhere
I have dug up that makes that point, that in the end, it doesn`t matter how
many angels saying you`re great. If the facts go against you, you`re
screwed. And in this case, I think it is going to come down to what
happens in court. And I want to -- you talk about this. And then I`m
going to tell you what happened to Nixon, because it`s a very interesting
parallel.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, yes, it does depend on
what happens in court. Specifically, as you said, does Bridget Anne Kelly
speak? Does Bill Baroni get subpoenaed and he speaks? Do any the people
who are on those e-mails and texts we have been talking about for the last
few weeks, do they go into court and do they bring more evidence, more e-
mails, more text messages with them that might not tie the governor
directly to the mess that they created on the George Washington Bridge in
Fort Lee, but at least puts him -- it casts a shadow on his judgment and
his leadership?

Because I know one member, one Republican person said, these are the
types of people you`re hiring. What does that say -- what does that say
about you?

MATTHEWS: Well, it says you`re like them, and they`re like you. By
the way, the fish rots from the top. That`s something that Dukakis said.
It`s the only thing memorable he ever said when he ran for president. But
I think it`s true.

And everything you have seen in politics, everything you have seen in
politics, certainly everything I have seen, you take your lead from the
boss. People end up talking like the boss, dressing like the boss. All
the people working for Kennedy, thin ties, the whole routine, short hair.

Christie, by the way, might be able to weather the political storm,
but he can`t escape evidence. If you want proof, take a look at President
Nixon`s approval ratings during Watergate. This is fascinating. In June
of `72, the Watergate break-in took place. It was five months before
Nixon`s 49-state reelection victory over McGovern.

For five months, the guy was floating high after the Watergate break-
in and exposure of his people. That scandal didn`t burst his approval
ratings until much, much later. In January of `73, the following year, two
of Nixon`s aides were convicted of conspiracy, which started the real
political downfall of Nixon. Nixon`s approval ratings then tanked, going
from 67 percent in the beginning of `73 down to 24 percent when he had to
resign in `74.

So Nixon was able to bluff it. He had the POWs coming home. He won
the -- the war was over. Everything was great, until the evidence came in.
Now, Christie can do all the campaigning and showboating he wants, I will
argue, but then again, he might as well, because he is going down anyway.
He might as well have a good time.

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: Bridgegate is no Watergate. They`re completely different.

MATTHEWS: Road Hog. Operation Road Hog.

FEEHERY: I hear you.

MATTHEWS: Bridgegate is so boring.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Operation Road Hog.

FEEHERY: There were high crimes and misdemeanor with President Nixon.

MATTHEWS: What, a break-in was worse than this?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: If you were in that traffic, would you rather have a break-
in or...

FEEHERY: Traffic is annoying. Doing something to the Constitution is
really kind of breaking the law.

MATTHEWS: Just remember, nobody drowned at Watergate. Go ahead.

(LAUGHTER)

FEEHERY: Well, that`s also true.

Listen, I think, for Christie, he`s got to keep moving forward. And I
think that going -- the donors still like him. He is -- the Republican
primary voters still like him. And I think...

MATTHEWS: Do you think -- let`s be tough here.

If he is a bully, isn`t the smart bully move to be big shot? Go down
to Rick -- what`s his name, Rick Scott`s fund-raiser down in Florida, talk
around the RGA, be a big shot, throw your weight around down there, make
yourself -- so that the people back here like, well Bridget Kelly, oh, my
God, I can`t beat that guy in court, they won`t believe me against him?

FEEHERY: I think that`s exactly right.

And, also, if he is going to be a bully, let him be a bully against
bureaucrats. Let him be a bully for the taxpayers. I don`t think
necessarily people don`t dislike bullies as long as they`re on their side.

And you know what? This is Chris Christie`s point.

MATTHEWS: Does your party like bullies more than Democrats do?

FEEHERY: I think they like tough guys.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Come on. Come on.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I have a statistic here for you. Chris Christie, strong
leader among everybody, 49 percent, among -- a bully, 26 percent. Among
your crowd, Republicans, 71 percent say he is a strong leader. Only 11
percent say he is a bully.

FEEHERY: They want someone who will get things done and tame the
bureaucracy.

MATTHEWS: So, your party is the bully party.

FEEHERY: Well, they want...

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, let me read you -- I have to leave you with this,
Jonathan. This is what Abraham Lincoln said in a matter similar to this,
although very dissimilar probably.

"If the end brings me out all right, what is said against me won`t
amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, then 10 angels
swearing I was right would make no difference."

(LAUGHTER)

CAPEHART: Well, here is what I have to say to that, Chris.

I highly doubt there will be 10 angels swooping down for Governor
Christie.

(LAUGHTER)

FEEHERY: Well, we got...

CAPEHART: There are too many people who were involved in this who are
very close to him. And like I said before, even if he is not directly
implicated, the people who are, are so close to him, that it casts a very
big shadow over his leadership and his judgment.

MATTHEWS: OK. You`re one of the seraphim, by the way.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

That`s of Catholic school stuff.

Anyway, thank you, John Feehery, one of the thrones and nominations.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, Jonathan Capehart.

All the different kinds of angels.

Thank you, sir.

CAPEHART: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Up next: the bridge Chris Christie fought to keep open
nearly three decades ago. Never forget what you write in school. It comes
back.

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": We put
together -- I think we excerpted the highlight -- this would be the
highlight of Governor Chris Christie`s remarks yesterday during the state
of the state address. Take a look.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I shrank by over 20 percent, but
I remain the largest human in America.

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN: Largest human in America.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: How do they know to do that?

Anyway, time for the "Sideshow."

That was David Letterman`s takeaway from Chris Christie`s state of the
state address on Tuesday.

While there is no question the Garden State is a new shiny object for
late-night comedians, one outspoken conservative out there is taking issue
with Bruce Springsteen`s recent appearance this week on "The Late Show With
Jimmy Fallon."

On his show yesterday, Rush Limbaugh -- Limbaugh called Springsteen a
low-rent character. Well, those are fighting words from the Rushbo.

And here`s another bridge-related twist that is all over Twitter
today. It`s from the earliest days of Christie`s political career. And
this time, it`s about keeping a bridge open. A 1984 article from
Christie`s days at the University of Delaware couldn`t be more ironic,
considering what we know now. Its headline reads "Bridge to be Open for
Graduation."

And it`s about Christie, who was then the president of the student
Congress at Delaware, announcing that planned construction over a bride
over a major thoroughfare, Route 896, wouldn`t affect traffic during
commencement.

And here is a bit of news from Hollywood that might have been
overshadowed by today`s Oscar announcements. Mega-producer Harvey
Weinstein revealed that he has plans to take on the National Rifle
Association, the NRA, with a new film on the gun issue.

In an interview with Howard Stern yesterday, Weinstein described what
he has in mind, and he is talking big-time.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

HARVEY WEINSTEIN, MOVIE PRODUCER: I don`t think we need guns in this
country. And I hate it, and I think that the NRA is a disaster area. And
I`m going to actually make a movie. And I shouldn`t say this, but I will
tell it to you, Howard. I`m going to make a movie with Meryl Streep, and
we`re going to take this issue head-on, and they`re going wish they weren`t
alive after I`m done with them.

HOWARD STERN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: A documentary-type thing?

WEINSTEIN: Oh, no, a big movie.

STERN: Big movie?

WEINSTEIN: Like a "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

STERN: That will move people to perhaps rethink the whole gun
situation?

(CROSSTALK)

WEINSTEIN: Those gun stocks, I don`t want to be involved in that
stuff. It`s going to be like crash and burn.

STERN: Really?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, we will see how this fight between Weinstein and the
NRA turns out. Should be a big battle.

Up next: The right-wing fog machine is doing what it does best,
distorting, misrepresenting and attacking. This time, they`re twisting
with the big Senate report on Benghazi had to say about Hillary Clinton.
It had nothing to say about Hillary Clinton. And that`s ahead.

And you`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Hey there. I`m Veronica De
La Cruz. And here`s what`s happening.

The Senate has approved the $1.1 trillion spending bill passed by the
House on Wednesday. The measure funds government operations through
September 30, and now heads to the president`s desk.

Firefighters are battling an out-of-control wildfire near California`s
San Gabriel Mountains. And 1,700 acres have been charred. Thousands of
people have been evacuated.

And Russell Johnson, who played the Professor on "Gilligan`s Island,"
has died. He was 89 years old.

I`m Veronica De La Cruz. Let`s get you back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Republicans are back on Benghazi again, using a new bipartisan report
from the Senate Intelligence Committee to attack Hillary Clinton before the
2016 presidential race even begins. Let`s be clear. The report didn`t
find any evidence of a cover-up. However, it did find that the attack that
killed four Americans was -- quote -- "preventable based on the known
security shortfalls at the U.S. mission and warnings from the intelligence
community beforehand about the deteriorating and dangerous situation
there."

Well, there you have it. In an addendum from Republican members of
the Intelligence Committee, they set their sights on the former secretary
herself, saying -- quote -- "At the end of the day, she was responsible for
ensuring the safety of all Americans serving in our diplomatic facilities.
Her failure to do so clearly made a difference in the lives of the four
murdered Americans and their families."

And one Republican member of the committee, Marco Rubio, who is also
obviously a candidate for president next time, began to lay the groundwork
for a 2016 campaign against Hillary Clinton. Here he goes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: She has ultimate responsibility,
Secretary Clinton did at the time, for the security of our personnel. No
one has been held accountable to date. Certainly none of the decision-
makers have. And as she herself says, the buck stops of at the top. And
she was in charge of this -- at the State Department at the time.

I think anyone`s record when they run for president is going to be
carefully examined. And if in fact she decides to run, this is a part of
her record that will have -- and rightfully so -- have careful examination.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Congressman Jim Moran is a Democrat from Virginia. And
James Carafano is vice president for foreign affairs and defense policy at
the Heritage Foundation.

Mr. Moran, let me ask you about this whole question. If you read the
report, her name never comes up. Is it fair for the Republicans to say
that anything that goes bad among our 300-some facilities around the world,
anybody that gets killed, anything that happens is the fault of the
secretary of state? Because that seems to be what they`re saying.

REP. JIM MORAN (D), VIRGINIA: You know, it`s a stretch. You know
that, Chris.

She didn`t do anything that would cause any culpability, any charge of
culpability on the secretary`s part. You know, you can say that the
commander in chief of the military is responsible for every military
fatality, but, you know, it`s a stretch. Common sense tells you that the
people who make decisions are accountable for the results of that decision.

Hillary Clinton didn`t make any decisions that resulted in the death
of Ambassador Stevens. If anything, Ambassador Stevens was responsible for
what happened, but not culpable. He was loved by the Libyans because he
chose not to stand -- to stay behind walls. He chose to get out among the
Libyan people.

And twice he rejected the idea of having a security force around him,
so that he wouldn`t be, you know, cut off from the people. The Libyan
people loved him. And, in fact, it was the Libyans that rescued him from
that building and got him to the hospital trying to save his life.
Unfortunately, he died of asphyxiation from the -- the smoke and the
flames, as did the I.T. specialist that was with him.

Hillary was not culpable, and there was no White House cover-up. And
the bipartisan report makes that clear.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Mr. Carafano.

Is there any way we`re going to ever get a report? I mean, we wanted
for this report from the intelligence committee, and I do believe that
Feinstein, although a Democrat, you have to be something, she`s a grownup.
And this committee tends to be pretty bipartisan.

What do you expect to come out of this thing? I know the Republicans
are using it as a battering ram to get to her. But I didn`t see it in the
report.

JAMES CARAFANO, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Yes, well, I got to tell you,
first of all, I like a lot of things Jim said, and I agree with him. I
really like the report because it does something in a lot of ways that we
haven`t had before, is a lot of detailed information, because my number one
issue always from the beginning hasn`t been, who`s responsible, who is
responsible? It was, how does this happen?

Because we have embassies, consulates and missions all over the world.
A lot of them are in the category called "high risk", which we know people
are out to get them. We know Islamist terrorist groups like this as a
target. We needed to learn everything we could from the situation so we
can make sure it didn`t happen again.

And the thing I love most about the report is, it actually gives us a
lot of meat and potatoes about how we could have done a lot better.

MATTHEWS: It also does something that I`m going to argue at the end
of show. It justifies not that there`s not politics in every public
statement on every Sunday show. We know that.

But on the basic facts, Susan Rice came on television, basically said
that this was a result, it looks like the best estimate now is that this
event occurred, this attack on our facility in Benghazi, followed the all-
day coverage in Islamic press and all around the Middle East of what was
happening in Cairo that day. What happened in Cairo that day may well have
resulted, nobody knows for sure, it seems based on the protest -- language
of the protesters, had something to do with the stupid anti-Islamic film
made by that nut out in California.

So there was a daisy chain of connection. It wasn`t some planned al
Qaeda operation. They never said al Qaeda. It was certainly done by
terrorists because it was an act of terror, and they used the word
"extremists" in the talking points because that`s what they use -- General
Petraeus uses to say terrorists.

Jim, all this talk about how Rice got it wrong I think has been shot
down by this bipartisan report.

MORAN: Yes. I think -- well, you`re talking to James or Jim?

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s start with Congressman Moran first?

MORAN: I happen to agree with James too. It seems like we may have a
similar perspective. I think there may have been a connection.

I don`t think that Susan Rice had been given all of the information
that we now have available. I think she was going on talking points. Some
of those talking points seemed a bit misleading, because we really haven`t
proven the direct connection between that anti-Islamic video and the
protest. But that may well have been what sparked it.

I`m not sure that that`s clear until we bring the individuals to trial
who are directly responsible for the deaths. But I think Susan was doing
the best she could with the information available. And I don`t think it
was really fair to make her scapegoat for what occurred.

MATTHEWS: Let`s look, for example, Mr. Carafano, let`s take a look at
what Bob Gates, the recent secretary of defense, had to say when asked
about this by my colleague, Andrea Mitchell. I think it`s interesting to
always hear what he has to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: Many Republicans certainly are saying
and critics of Hillary Clinton are saying that this really is disqualifying
for someone who wants to be commander in chief if she chooses to run.

ROBERT GATES, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: But it seems to me that
the critical questions are what was offered to the ambassador, what did he
reject, what did he ask for, and was it turned down? And if so, who turned
it down and in what timeline? And did the question ever get to Hillary or
was the decision made by the undersecretary or the deputy secretary or
somebody else?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Mr. Carafano, it seems to me we now know from this
bipartisan report that Chris Stevens, who everybody loved, the ambassador
in country at the time basically asked that he would be -- he said he wants
to rely on the Libyan forces he was able to line up, the militia people.
He didn`t want more U.S. personnel at that post.

CARAFANO: Yes. Let me -- well, just to go back to the point about
the talking points for a second. One of the things that we are getting
more information on is that there were contrasting views about what the
sources were. I don`t necessarily -- what I would fault the administration
on this, that is normal. When you`re in a crisis situation, normally, you
get conflicting reports coming in. And you have to sort of sort through
that.

And if you have information that directly contradicts other
information that you have, I think you to deal with that rather than just
kind of polish over it in the talking points, because then you wind up in
exactly the situation the administration wound up in. You know, this is
one of --

MATTHEWS: But that`s a far cry from the attacks made on Susan Rice
that her and the White House staff people, the flaks if you will,
manipulate that. It looks like they went with everything they were given
by the intelligence community and went right through what they were given.

CARAFANO: But the footnote to that is there was other input which
wasn`t included. And the question is, was that prudent to make that? But
that`s a whole another issue.

MATTHEWS: OK.

CARAFANO: Gates makes some really good points. This has really of
been the thing that we haven`t wanted to touch in the beginning, which is
normally the ambassador is the head of the country team, and he is
responsible for the safety, security of everybody on the ground. And a lot
of these decisions did deal with him. And, of course, he can`t speak for
himself because he is dead.

And I think we have been very reticent to say, was he doing prudent
things? Was he excessive risks? This raises interesting -- more
interesting questions. But it still doesn`t answer all those either.

MATTHEWS: I know. Yes, I think you`ve said the same thing
Congressman Moran said. The man was a dashing figure, a gutsy guy who went
out almost like a Peace Corps volunteer and didn`t mind connecting out with
people, even if there was risk that he knew all about.

Anyway, thank you, U.S. Congressman Jim Moran.

MORAN: He was a risk taker. We need more people like him, Chris.

CARAFANO: Nobody is questioning his courage. He was a courageous
man.

MATTHEWS: No, he wasn`t a pinstripe guy handing out cookies.

Anyway, thank you, U.S. Congressman Jim Moran, and Heritage
Foundation`s James Carafano.

Up next, Benghazi versus the bridge and why Chris Christie has more to
worry about than Hillary Clinton as of this show.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Why Operation Road Hog, and that`s what I`m calling the
George Washington Bridge closure, is a bigger deal for Chris Christie`s
presidential hopes than Benghazi is for Hillary Clinton`s.

HARDBALL coming back with that tussle.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

Hillary Clinton and Chris Christie are still at the top of the food
chain for 2016. They`re both leading the polls. But both are also facing
big hurdles.

Despite weathering the storm for almost a year and a half now, Hillary
Clinton is still being dogged by cries of Benghazi -- the word itself is a
call to arms among the Republican rank and file.

For Chris Christie, his challenges are just beginning. His
administration is deeply involved in this scandal that`s tarnished his
brand, and threatens to derail his career if he`s further ensnared.

So, is Benghazi or if Benghazi and the bridgegate are preexisting
conditions, who has the bigger challenge moving forward? Hillary or
Christie?

With us now is MSNBC political analyst Joan Walsh of "Salon", and
Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway, my old friend.

Kellyanne, who has the strongest line of defense facing this, Hillary
or the governor?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: Probably Hillary. But I want
to say from the beginning, neither story is great for their respective
political futures, but they`re also not on the same scale. I do want to
acknowledge that in Benghazi, people died. I don`t want to disrespect
because I`m giving political analysis.

But in the case of bridgegate, the investigation should be ongoing by
the time the presidential campaign is in earnest. So, I think Hillary
testified a year ago before Congress.

I think what`s been difference are their immediate responses. In
other words, you know, Hillary and others blamed a tape instead of blaming
terrorists, said, what difference does it make?

Christie expressed, apology, humiliation and embarrassment.

So, I think the handling is different, but I don`t think they`re on
the same scale. If you gave me like an SAT analogy test and it says
bridgegate is to Christie what blank is to Hillary, very few people with
common sense, people would put Benghazi on the blank.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to you, Joan, about this because I thought that
the news report and certainly the reading I`ve done of the Senate committee
report by Diane Feinstein, who is a grown-up, you and I know.

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And it`s a sound bipartisan report. It does blame the
agency. It blames the State Department whole hog because they run the
show.

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: But it didn`t show a line to her in terms of a call to her.
How about more troops, how more security and she said no?

WALSH: No.

MATTHEWS: Nothing seemed to tie it to her that I could find.

WALSH: No, nothing has tied it to her. And Senator Feinstein was
even forced to take him out today and say, please stop these comparisons
and please saying that we indicated Secretary Clinton because we did not.

I mean, I really appreciate Kellyanne`s honesty. These things are not
comparable. Benghazi is a tragedy. It is not a scandal. And no one has
ever linked it to Hillary Clinton directly.

As you`ve said before, Ambassador Stevens himself wanted a light
military footprint and wanted to work with the local folks. Whereas, you
know, the bridge scandal is actually a scandal. We do know people, whether
or not the governor knew about it, actually ordered this as some sort of
reprisal, some sort of politics.

It`s the kind of things that Americans grasp easily. We saw in 2012,
Benghazi really didn`t get through. Mitt Romney sadly tried to use it, and
the American people see it as a fog of war situation. It`s only a scandal
in the fever swamps on the right, not in -- with the American public.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me put the question to Kellyanne, who knows as
much about this as anybody, Kellyanne.

Come 2016 at the Republican convention wherever it`s held, will not
the keynote speaker, will not the people get up on that platform use the
word "Benghazi", or will they not? Will it still be a red hot poker to jam
at Hillary Clinton?

CONWAY: Maybe not. I think at that point, her challenges will be
many. And Benghazi will be part of it. But her challenges are really
going to come from the left. I think what bridgegate --

MATTHEWS: At the convention?

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: -- people are inclined not to support them in excuse to do
that. And I think for both of them, they have trouble with their base in
that regard. She`s got trouble from the left. You`re going to find people
running against her, much to people`s surprise, maybe Howard Dean is on
this network, why not?

And, of course, Christie`s always --

MATTHEWS: OK.

CONWAY: -- had a little bit of trouble from the right. So I think it
gives people an excuse.

But come the convention and come the Clinton campaign, I think this
presidential campaign in 2016, Chris and Joan, is going to be what it
always is after a two-term president? Do you want to extend that into the
third term, or do you want something totally different? And there --

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s good for your party.

CONWAY: -- is probably the question that goes way beyond Benghazi for
Secretary Clinton and into the realm of are you going to own or disown the
Affordable Care Act, will you own or disown all of this foreign policy?
Own or disown his economic plan?

MATTHEWS: It took you seven minutes to get to affordable care. But
that`s all right.

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH: -- certainly not mean anything in a Democratic primary. If
Secretary Clinton is challenged from the left, which right now there`s not
a single person, except maybe Brian Schweitzer who`s even talking about it,
Governor Dean even said nice things about her the other day. Benghazi will
never, never play a role in the Democratic primary. That will not be one
of the problems --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: No problem on the left from Benghazi.

Thank you, Joan Walsh and Kellyanne Conway.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this.

I`m impressed by that bipartisan report of the Senate Intelligence
Committee. It must have been particularly good and gratifying news for
National Security Adviser Susan Rice. Let me nail the points.

Point one, what Rice said to "Meet the Press" about the attack on the
Benghazi facility was true. It was a spontaneous, opportunistic attack
that had been triggered by a similar, earlier attack in Cairo that day --
an attack that was triggered, they suspect, by that anti-Islamist movie
made by some character out in California.

Two, the failure to use the word "terrorist" was a decision of the CIA
who wrote the talking points. The ones Rice used on "Meet the Press."
This CIA, including its director, General David Petraeus, at the time, uses
the word "extremist", not "terrorist", to mean part of a terrorist
organization. It was his and the agency`s word choice, not Rice`s.

Third, the failure to mention al Qaeda on "Meet the Press" tracked the
talking points handed Ambassador Rice by the CIA. She did what the CIA
told her to say. She didn`t mention al Qaeda because they made a point to
take it out of the talking points. They, at the agency, made that
decision.

So, somebody out there on the right tonight owes Ms. Rice an apology,
don`t you think? Don`t you think?

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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

Copyright 2014 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by
United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,
transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written
permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,
copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>