updated 2/14/2014 11:49:56 AM ET 2014-02-14T16:49:56

HARDBALL
February 13, 2014

Guests: Bob Ingle, Melissa Hayes, Kathleen Clyde, Dale Ho

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Dragnet.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews down in Washington.

"Let Me Start" tonight with this. Up in New Jersey tonight, the
dragnet is closing, the iron grip of subpoenas now ensnaring Chris
Christie`s political army from Trenton to the Hudson River. The people who
stopped traffic across the country`s busiest bridge are now among those
caught in a web of investigations that threaten trouble to them and the
governor for whom they serve.

Two nets now extend across the Garden State, the first grabbing into
its midst all those mentioned in the deliberate closing of the George
Washington Bridge last September, the second net the group of those engaged
in what appears to be the cover-up, the alibi about the whole matter being
caused by a traffic study. What`s now clear, there was no such thing, only
the urgent need to find cover by those forced already testify.

And now, with no escaping the legal probes in New Jersey and in
Washington, the road ahead is filled ahead with menace far worse than
traffic cones. The investigators are calling witnesses, demanding
evidence, capturing the truth by coming at it from all sides, forcing
people to open their drawers and computers, if not their mouths, for fear
that a colleague will beat them to it, leaving them stranded and exposed as
culprits themselves.

All the while, an enterprising press is looking to further the truth
of the Chris Christie story and the political world he championed before
all this came to light, before the rock was lifted and we began to see the
bugs, large and small, squirming in the sand.

Joining us now are two great on-the-ground reporters in Jersey. Bob
Ingle is with "The Asbury Park Press" and the co-author of "Chris Christie:
The Inside Story of His Rise to Power." And Melissa Hayes (ph) is with the
Bergen "Record." Thank you both for joining us.

I want to get into the breaking story right now. Earlier this week,
we got word that state investigators were issuing nearly 20 more subpoenas,
dramatically expanding the dragnet they`d cast in their investigation into
Christie and his team. We weren`t entirely sure what exactly they were
looking for until now.

It`s not just the bridge scandal. The state`s investigative committee
has subpoenaed documents relating to a massive rail project called the
third tunnel that Christie supported, then killed back in 2010. But this
is the key thread -- 16 of the 18 new subpoenas are seeking documents that
relate to Bill Baroni`s now discredited November 25th testimony to New
Jersey lawmakers. It was that show, where Baroni said that this was all a
big misunderstanding about a traffic study.

If you recall, the Port Authority`s executive director then testified
on December 9th that there was, in fact, no traffic study. And just a few
days later, on December 13th, Baroni resigned.

Well, these new subpoenas are targeting the Port Authority`s top
lawyer, Philip Kwon, who was the subject of a "Wall Street Journal" story
last week which reported that, quote, "Kwon spent parts of four to five
days helping to prepare Bill Baroni before he spoke to a New Jersey
legislative committee on November 25th. New Jersey Democrats have
questioned why Mr. Baroni needed so much preparation before his committee
testimony."

Well, in addition to Kwon, investigators are demanding documents from
lower-level staffers, including governor`s office and the office itself and
the Port Authority. In essence, the committee is plumbing the depths of
this cover-up.

Let me go right now to Melissa Hayes of the Bergen "Record." It seems
to me that if you just look at what the prosecutors here are looking for,
the legislative committee, that they have extended this net, this dragnet,
out to include anyone involved in what looked to be the coaching of Mr.
Baroni, the preparation of him to say, Oh, this wasn`t what it looked like.
This wasn`t political payback or revenge. This was about a traffic study.

MELISSA HAYES, BERGEN "RECORD": Yes, absolutely. I mean, we had
lawmakers that told us yesterday that they`ve seen there were different
drafts of what he had prepared to say to the legislative committee. So
they`re trying to get to the bottom of who was involved in helping him
craft this story that there was a traffic study and not something else
going on, and who was involved in these various revisions that were made.

So we know that they subpoenaed Phil Kwon, as you said. They`ve also
subpoenaed a number of people in the governor`s office. They`re trying to
figure out who from Christie`s staff was involved in this.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Mr. Ingle now. It seems to me the question
then obtains, or rises on the horizon here, if it was a crime to
deliberately cause trouble on that bridge -- and it looks to me like it may
well be, you`re certainly putting people in jeopardy on purpose for
political reasons -- then there`s the question of what is a cover-up.

Is it a crime then to say, Oh, it was some alibi, it had something to
do with a traffic study, knowing, perhaps, that that was something
confected, that that wasn`t the truth, that there was no traffic study, and
in fact, there was a coaching job by Mr. Kwon of Mr. Baroni? And that`s
what we`re looking at in terms of these subpoenas. That`s what they`re
going after.

BOB INGLE, "ASBURY PARK PRESS": Well, you know, the cover-up is
always worse than whatever it is they`re trying to cover up. And that`s
definitely what they think and that`s why they`re going for this. And the
other thing is that when Bill Baroni testified, he really irked a lot of
people. People thought he was being a smartaleck and he was playing a game
with them. And they didn`t like it, and now they got the subpoena power
and they`re going to go find out what they can find out.

MATTHEWS: Why does Governor Christie keep saying, at least as late as
he`s talked about it, that there may have been a traffic study that turned
into a political punishment job, or it might have been a political
punishment job that turned into a traffic study? Why does he -- well, give
me a surmise. Why would he keep backing up what looks to be an alibi here,
rather than a reality?

INGLE: Beats the heck out of me. We were surprised when he said it
could have been a traffic study. The Port Authority`s already said there
was no traffic study. We can`t figure out why he went back, although he
has been off his game lately. He also said he didn`t know anything about a
bill that he had signed the previous month. So he`s got a lot on his mind,
I guess.

MATTHEWS: Well, lawyers always tell you to say you don`t remember.
Anyway, if you look at the individuals that have been caught in the
dragnet, they fall into two categories. The first, Melissa, the people
mentioned as being in the act itself, that four-day payback traffic jam,
apparently. They include, of course, Bridget Kelly, who gave the order for
some traffic problems in Fort Lee, David Wildstein, the Christie appointee
at the Port Authority who carried out that order, Christina Renna, a
staffer in the governor`s office who basically apologized to Bridget Kelly
when one of her staffers apparently broke the embargo not to answer the
Fort Lee mayor`s calls -- you know, the radio silence there.

Evan Ridley, the low-level aide who was apparently on the lookout for
the mayor`s call to presumably ignore him, shut him out, Bill Stepien,
Christie`s campaign manager, who called Mayor Sokolich an idiot and
flippantly told Wildstein, You win some, you lose some, and David Samson,
of course, the Port Authority commissioner, who Wildstein says he was
calling in to help them retaliate when the Port Authority`s chief
threatened to shut down their scheme.

Then there`s this second group we`re looking at right now, the
staffers mentioned as being connected to the traffic study cover-up, the
cover-up part of this thing. Bill Baroni, Christie`s guy at the Port
Authority, who gave discredited testimony to lawmakers about that bogus
traffic study that never existed, Philip Kwon, the Port Authority`s general
counsel, who spent five days apparently prepping or coaching Baroni on what
to say, making up this traffic study thing, Bridget Kelly, who said she was
very happy with Baroni`s testimony, his performance, according to texts
from Wildstein, and then Nicole Crifo, a top lawyer inside Christie`s
office itself, who we presume is the "Nicole" that Wildstein also mentions
in those same texts, and lastly, Charlie McKenna, Christie`s chief counsel
as of right now, who Wildstein tells Baroni said, We did great -- or You
did great.

Melissa, this is fascinating because this is a large web of people
that were involved in coaching or saluting or praising Baroni`s cover-up
claim it was all a traffic study. It`s almost growing to be as large as
the original number of people who were in on this cabal to punish the mayor
of Fort Lee. It`s fascinating. And all these people are getting squeezed
now by U.S. attorney people and by people in Trenton, the legislators, who
want to know who`s going to talk.

HAYES: I mean, that`s the question we`re all waiting to see what
happens here. You know, Bill Stepien, the campaign manager, and Bridget
Kelly, the deputy chief of staff, have already taken the 5th with the
legislative panel. We don`t know what`s happening with the U.S. attorney`s
investigation.

But as you just said, there`s a ton of questions out there about who
was involved in what and where there was overlap. I mean, Baroni left that
November 25th legislative hearing, where he said that this was all a
traffic study, and he immediately texted Wildstein and asked for feedback
from Trenton. And then Wildstein told him that, Bridget and Nicole said
you did a good job, and then later on added that, Charlie said you did a
good job.

You have to wonder if these are the Bridget and Nicole and the Charlie
that are in Christie`s office.

MATTHEWS: Yes. So Melissa...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I know you don`t have to do this as straight reporting,
just getting the facts and breaking this. But anybody looking at this
right now on television (INAUDIBLE) what is this, a high school play? They
shut down the traffic, and then they come up with this cover-up scheme of,
It`s a traffic study. Then they call around to everybody, How did we do?
How`d it go? Did you like the show?

And Robert, you have as much maturity in watching these as I do. I
mean, it`s like they were, like, Oh, isn`t this fun? We screwed around
with this mayor, then we got caught, so we came up with this alibi, this
cover-up. How did we do with the cover-up? And they`re all giggling about
it, checking in. What did Bridget think? What did Nicole think? What did
Charlie think? Oh, Charlie thought it was great!

I mean, what is this? It`s like a high school play performance the
next morning at school.

INGLE: I think Christie`s going to have to explain why he has so many
of those people close to him.

MATTHEWS: Good question. Well, Christie says he keeps a tight-knit
inner circle. Here`s the governor last month. Now, listen for the key
phrase. This is him talking to the world last month.

GOV CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Ever since the time I was U.S.
attorney, I`ve engendered the sense and feeling among the people closest to
me that we`re a family and we work together and we tell each other the
truth. We support each other when we need to be supported, and we admonish
each other when we need to be admonished. I am heartbroken that someone
who I permitted to be in that circle of trust for the last five years
betrayed my trust.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Melissa, this circle of trust has a lot of sound to it. It
could mean a lot of things. We don`t talk outside of school, you know,
What happens here stays here, like in Las Vegas. It can mean just, you
know, If I make a little mistake or I say something wrong at work, you`re
not going to rat me out. Fine. Most people live like that.

But what does he mean by the "circle of trust"? Does he mean nobody
talks? Does that mean everybody comes up with a front explanation like
traffic study? Does it mean, If we get circled, we all come back with
pushbacking arguments that don`t make any sense but cover our butts?

Do you have a thought on this, what "circle of trust" means?

HAYES: Sure. Well, I think now that they`re -- you know, they`ve
taken the subpoenas in this direction, we`re all wondering what he meant by
that. But I mean, in the past, Christie`s talked about having an inner
circle of people he really trusted.

Stepien was somebody who was in Bridget Kelly`s job before he left to
be Christie`s campaign manager, and he was supposed to be traveling the
country with him this year in his role as chairman of the RGA. This was
the guy that he trusted immensely.

MATTHEWS: OK...

HAYES: So these are people...

MATTHEWS: I`m wondering what "circle of trust"...

HAYES: ... that Christie`s has had with him for a long time. They`re
really close to him. To me, that meant that he trusted them to be high-
ranking members of his staff and to do some, you know, big jobs for the
state.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HAYES: I don`t know if there was more implied there or not.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I don`t know whether it`s implied, either. Let me go
to Robert on that question because it seems to me that he`s been making
nice in his public statements about the people that may testify. Have you
noticed they were liars and stupid a couple weeks ago, or a month ago, and
now they`re all people just victims of bad judgment.

Is he trying to soften the attacks coming (ph) -- maybe make people
feel guilty out there, like Wildstein? I don`t think Wildstein`s in a
position to be nice to the governor. He`s got to save his life. Your
thoughts.

INGLE: Yes. Right. Well, I thought it was also interesting that he
said that "someone" -- it sounds to me, like that list that you ticked off,
it was "someones" plural.

MATTHEWS: Boy, a lot of people.

INGLE: But he seems to think that firing one person would fix it.
But obviously, that`s not the case.

MATTHEWS: There is a lot of virgin timber out here for the woodsmen
to go after, reporters and probers, a lot of people that can talk. And all
it takes is one John Dean, one person to break the -- what`s it`s called?
Circumstance of trust. Anyway, thank you, Melissa Hayes. It`s great to
have you on. Please come back. You`re a great guest.

HAYES: Thanks for having me.

MATTHEWS: And Bob Ingle, we know you`re great. You`ve been great for
a long time.

Coming up: So with all the investigations, all the subpoenas and the
drip, drip, drip of reporting out of New Jersey by the local press, He`s
trying desperately to change the subject, but that`s easier said than done.

Plus, Ted Cruz has managed to pit Republicans against Republicans.
The Tea Party already had it out for House Speaker John Boehner after the
clean vote to raise the debt ceiling. Now they`re after Mitch McConnell.
The Mad Hatter`s tea party, that`s what it is, thanks to the latest stunt
by Mr. Ted Cruz.

And here`s an easy way to keep Democrats from voting. Republicans in
one Florida county eliminated half the polling places in the heavily --
guess what? -- minority district. Got the picture? The good news is
Democrats in other states are working to expand voting rights.

Anyway, "Let Me Finish" with this question. It`s along those lines.
Is the party of Abe Lincoln -- dare me (ph) to be conversational about the
guy -- become the party of Jeff Davis? It looks that way in terms of
voting rights.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Boy, that Kentucky Senate race is getting tight. Let`s
check the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."

According to a new poll from Wenzel Strategies, a Republican polling
firm, Mitch McConnell has a 1-point lead over Democrat Alison Lundergan
Grimes. It`s McConnell 43, Grimes 42.

And later this month, Grimes will be getting a big boost from the big
dog himself, Bill Clinton. The former president will campaign for Grimes
in Louisville. Clinton is close friends with Grimes`s father, former state
Democratic Party chair Jerry Lundergan. And don`t forget Clinton carried
Kentucky in `92 and `96, the last Democratic presidential candidate to do
so.

And we`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. No exit! We go from the
Christie dragnet to the Christie calendar. It`s been just a few weeks
since the Bergen "Record" blew this story wide open. And in that time,
we`ve seen nearly 40 subpoenas from state investigators to probes, by the
way, the U.S. attorney is doing there in New Jersey, and a whole lot of
reports about unethical, possibly illegal activity out of the governor`s
office itself.

Christie`s out there trying to change the subject in any way he can
politically, but it`s not hard to see that for the big guy down there in
Trenton, there is no escape from New Jersey.

Howard Fineman is the editorial director at the Huffington Post Media
Group, and Jonathan Capehart is an opinion writer with "The Washington
Post." Both are, of course, MSNBC political analysts.

Gentlemen, I want to talk what`s coming down the road. If you`re
Christie, you go to bed at night, you put your head on the pillow, and you
know you`re doing all this jazzing, running around, politicking. But you
know that that`s just like Nixon visiting Sadat or Brezhnev as he goes down
the tubes in Watergate. It`s nice pictures for a day or two.

What`s he thinking about?

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:
Well, he`s probably thinking about trying not to think about it because --
because if he were to spend all of his time, or even most of his time,
thinking about the state investigations, the legislative investigations,
and most ominously, the U.S. attorney`s investigations...

MATTHEWS: Well, why wouldn`t you spend all your time doing that? You
got to save your life.

FINEMAN: I don`t think -- I think he can`t do it all, or he would
never be able to get out on the campaign trail. Don`t forget, this was
supposed to be the year of national triumph for Chris Christie -- the
Republican Governors Association, a heavy travel schedule, a big fund-
raising schedule for other candidates.

Don`t forget that Chris Christie got on the map politically by being a
fundraiser for George W. Bush in 2000. He was going to go out and raise
money for all the Republican candidates all around the country...

MATTHEWS: Yes, OK...

FINEMAN: ... to win chips for himself. He can`t do that now...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I have to tell you this -- I`m sorry, Howard, you are a pro
beyond my imagination sometimes. But I think this hyping about head of the
Republican Governors Association -- name one other one in history? Has
there ever been anybody`s head of the Republican Governors Association got
any -- it`s a not -- it`s a boring position. Anyway, your thoughts.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well,
it might be a boring position. But you know, to Howard`s point, yes...

MATTHEWS: It`s an excuse to travel.

CAPEHART: Well, this was supposed to be -- this was supposed to be
Governor Christie`s two months, his reelection, his inauguration, his state
of the state, Super Bowl, and his heavy travel schedule...

MATTHEWS: OK, well, let`s...

CAPEHART: ... with the RGA. But what he`s doing, Chris, is he`s
taking a play -- a play out of Bill Clinton`s book from when he got into
the whole impeachment-Monica Lewinsky thing. Keep doing the job the people
elected you to do.

MATTHEWS: OK, there`s a problem with that. The problem with that
parallel is that Bill Clinton basically escaped conviction in the U.S.
Senate politically because politically, they didn`t think it was worth
convicting a guy and kicking him out of office. That was a political
decision. It wasn`t about evidence. Everybody knew he`d gotten involved
with Monica. He had the blue dress on (ph). No. This is going to be
resolved by courts. This is going to be resolved by evidence and decisions
made in juries...

CAPEHART: No, but what I...

MATTHEWS: ... in courtrooms.

CAPEHART: But what I...

MATTHEWS: So all this campaigning doesn`t mean jack.

CAPEHART: Well, no, I`m not -- the campaigning is one thing. I`m
talking about him also just serving as governor. Remember, he did that...

(CROSSTALK)

CAPEHART: ... where he`s talking about, Hey, I`ll take care of this
for you. Call my office. We`ll do that. He`s being governor.

(CROSSTALK)

CAPEHART: I agree with you.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Howard, what is...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: I agree with Bob Ingle, who was on earlier, who said, you
know, he is kind of off his game now.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: He is not remembering bills that he signed and so forth.
And that`s understandable.

I think you`re -- I think you`re right that the trouble that he is in
legally, that everyone around him at least is in legally, is enough to
occupy him full-time.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: I`m just saying what he had hoped to be doing...

CAPEHART: Right.

FINEMAN: ... was using the RGA job not for its high profile, but to
raise money and collect favors from other politicians.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I just think all this stiff -- I was watching "MORNING JOE"
this morning -- all this discussion, fair enough, about, oh, there is going
to be a lot of good days and bad days, this isn`t like that. This is about
the slow grinding of the justice system.

CAPEHART: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And it finds -- it grinds very slowly and finely. And
eventually it gets the fact or not the fact of this guy`s involvement.

Anyway, it`s not hard to see where this is all going for Governor
Christie. You have new evidence being dug up by judicial proceedings that
includes two investigations now. You have an army of hungry journalists
out there up in New Jersey to expose anything and everything in the
Christie statehouse.

You have the existing stories which we`re just starting to put
together into a complete narrative about Christie really works and how he
really works. And then you have the net of people around Christie. This
is the group that, regardless how things play out in court, Christie will
have to answer for.

It`s not hard to see that there is basically no exit here for the
governor. And that`s my question.

Suppose heaven comes to Chris Christie world, and somehow there is no
proof that he ordered this closing any of the bridges -- this is a harder
one -- no evidence he encouraged any kind of a cover-up, but all there is
this notion he trained this crew of people, of goons in many ways to do
this stuff, and they all were well-trained, he created the culture, set up
the automatic system, and they did this stuff when he didn`t even have to
say it.

In that case, they swing, a couple of convictions, maybe a couple of
years in prison for some people, people with names now. Does he walk away
from that and say, oh, that was just the people around me, I`m running for
president?

CAPEHART: And that...

MATTHEWS: Is that feasible?

CAPEHART: No. No.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: They`re just the people around me?

CAPEHART: No, no, no, no, it`s not, because I think Chris Christie`s
problem is twofold.

There is the legal -- the legal problem that he has, which he very
well might be able to walk out without there being that one gotcha e-mail,
text message, or...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: So he is not an indicted person.

CAPEHART: But, politically...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CAPEHART: ... he is in big, big trouble, because then how do you
catapult yourself from Drumthwacket to the building behind you.

FINEMAN: You just wanted an excuse to say Drumthwacket.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I -- explain what Drumthwacket...

FINEMAN: Drumthwacket is the name of the governor`s mansion in
Trenton -- in New Jersey.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: That`s almost like a lesson you take in speech training
when you got a speech impediment.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: Something right out of the "House of Cards."

I think the other problem that he`s got is that it`s going to take a
long time, Chris, for all this to play out. You`re not going to know if he
escapes without that killer e-mail for at least a year, I would say,
because...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: It only takes one.

FINEMAN: It only takes one, and you`re not going to know for a long,
long time.

So all the people he is going to be asking to sign up with him over
the next year are going to say, you have got to be kidding me. I don`t
know what the U.S. attorney is going to do. You tell me, Mr. Governor, if
you want me to give you all that money, what is the U.S. attorney going to
do? And Chris Christie doesn`t know.

MATTHEWS: Well, anyway, here is an example of Christie egomania, if
you will, which we all seemed to close our eyes to back when it happened,
me included. That was last year.

In June, Governor Christie made what many saw as a cold and calculated
move, when he chose the date for Jersey`s special election for United
States senator after Frank Lautenberg passed away, by the way, a really
good guy.

And here`s how "The New York Times" reported it -- quote -- "Mr.
Christie was defiant in announcing his plan, scowling when reporters
pressed him about the cost of a special election. `I don`t know what the
cost, and I, quite frankly, don`t care.`" This is the governor.

He said, "`I don`t think you can put a price tag on what it`s worth to
have an elected person in the United States Senate. And he repeatedly
denied political calculations were at play. But his advisers privately
conceded that adding the Senate contest to the general election risked
energizing Democrats, who outnumber Republicans by 700,000 registered
voters in New Jersey."

So, at the time, he had his own traffic study excuse. Oh, the reason
I`m having a special election in October, rather than having them both the
same day, saving people`s time and money, especially people`s time to vote,
I`m just going to exploit this and have a separate vote for Senate because
I don`t want all those minorities coming out and voting against me, right?

CAPEHART: But -- well, that was part of it, but, also, this money
excuse was something that got him into trouble with conservatives who were
upset, thinking, wait a minute, you`re going to waste state resources
because you don`t want to be on the ballot with Cory Booker?

MATTHEWS: Well, he got away with it. OK. How did he get away with
it, politically?

CAPEHART: Well, politically, he was coasting to reelection. Then, he
was the golden boy.

FINEMAN: I will tell you -- I will tell you how else he got away with
it. He basically helped smooth Cory Booker`s path into the United States
Senate.

CAPEHART: Well, that`s the thing.

MATTHEWS: How?

FINEMAN: Well, just by separating it out that you -- just as there
wouldn`t be more Democrats turning out in his election, there wouldn`t be
more Republicans turning out in Cory Booker`s election.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: And this is...

MATTHEWS: Who won in that trade?

FINEMAN: Well, this is -- Cory Booker did.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: And this is part of the way Chris Christie operated, which
was by making deals with Democrats. It goes all the way back to when he
was U.S. attorney, deciding whom to prosecute and who not to prosecute
among the Democratic machine...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Does he still have a reach in the prosecuting committees?

FINEMAN: No, but -- no, but what I`m saying is now the Democrats who
were playing ball with him, and there were lots and lots and lots of them,
some of them are going to be under increasing pressure legally and
politically to do him in.

So the people he was allying himself with on the Democratic side are
now slowly but surely moving away from him. That`s part of the problem
that he has got in New Jersey.

MATTHEWS: Yes. I think he is probably going to reach and hold them
back.

Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman. Thank you, Jonathan Capehart.

Up next, Stephen Colbert stakes his claim as the first lady of France
next in the "Sideshow." We will get past that and into the real politics,
because this is the place for politics tonight.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE COLBERT REPORT")

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who is he going to bring along as France`s first
lady?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As of late last night, organizers here at the
White House hadn`t even decided who would get that coveted seat typically
reserved for the visiting leader`s spouse.

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": So it all came down to
who would be seated next to Mrs. Obama. Well, let`s see. There is the
president and there is Francois Hollande, and there is Michelle Obama. And
who is next to her? It`s me!

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

COLBERT: I`m the first lady of France.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

COLBERT: Merci! Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! Ooh!

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Time for the "Sideshow."

That was, of course, Stephen Colbert crowning himself the first lady
of France last night after checking the seating assignment reserved for the
French first lady at Tuesday`s state dinner. He shouldn`t get too excited,
however. As we have seen, it`s not exactly a full-time job.

Anyway, next up, all of Washington is counting down to the release of
season two of the Netflix hit series "House of Cards" tomorrow. It`s the
ultimate Valentine`s Day gift for folks in this town. And with much of the
city shut down due to the snowstorm, the timing couldn`t be better.

In anticipation of its debut, NowThis News sought out some real
congressmen on the Hill and allowed them to indulge their "House of Cards"
fantasies by acting out some of the actual lines from the show.

Take a look at familiar faces here from both political parties,
including House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and assistant Democratic
Leader Jim Clyburn.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "HOUSE OF CARDS")

KEVIN SPACEY, ACTOR: As for me, I`m just the lowly House majority
whip. I keep things moving in a Congress choked by pettiness and
lassitude.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, the bill is going to come up this Wednesday.
I never make such big decisions so long after sunset and so far from dawn.
It`s still going to come up.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: I have no patience for
useless things.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have zero tolerance for betrayal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Power is a lot like real estate. Location,
location, location.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, be sure to keep an eye out for me, actually, if
you`re bingeing this weekend. I was lucky enough to have a small role this
season in an episode directed by Claire Underwood herself, the ever-
gracious Robin Wright. There we are at the studio right here in this room.

Up next: Ted Cruz`s latest stunt has Republicans against Republicans
again. This guy is causing trouble for the R`s.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RICHARD LUI, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Richard Lui, and this is your
MSNBC update.

The winter storm that has blanketed the East Coast in snow and ice now
stretches from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Nova Scotia, Canada. Snowfall
totals of 11 inches are reported in the Washington, D.C., area, while parts
of New Jersey and Long Island have already received a foot of snow. More
is possible tonight. At least 17 fatalities now blamed on that storm.

Nearly 500,000 people are also without power, with the majority
located in Georgia and South Carolina.

A freight train carrying crude oil derailed about 45 minutes outside
Pittsburgh. One building was hit by a freight car, but there are no
reports of injuries. So far, no homes have been evacuated there. Hazmat
crews responded to that. No official word on what caused the train to
derail.

Now, President Obama is expected to soon sign the bill to raise the
debt ceiling for the next 13 months. That bill passed in the Senate along
party lines 55-43, avoiding a government default on its debt.

General Motors is recalling nearly 780,000 older compact cars because
of a faulty ignition switch. The company says 22 crashes resulted from the
problem. Six people have died from that -- now back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Never content to rest on his laurels, like shutting down the
government, Ted Cruz was back at it yesterday, pulling a stunt that
accomplished little, beyond showing the huge rifts in his own party.

Here is what happened. Following the vote in the House on Tuesday to
avoid defaulting on the national debt, it was the Senate`s turn.
Republican leaders hoped to keep their fingerprints off the vote and let it
pass with just Democrats doing the voting. But Cruz filibustered and
forced a 60-vote threshold, which meant at least five Republicans would
have to join Democrats.

Well, the only problem, none wanted to. Well, according to Politico -
- quote -- "As the drama grew in the chamber with the vote`s prospects in
doubt, McConnell turned to his colleagues and said, `We`re not doing this
again,` according to a source close to him and his remarks."

Well, ultimately, McConnell and his number two, Senator John Cornyn,
voted to break the filibuster; 10 other Republicans joined them. Well, the
reaction from the right wing was immediate and ferocious. The consensus?
McConnell now has to go.

Well, Ted Cruz showed no remorse. When asked if McConnell should be
replaced as party leader, he told reporters -- quote -- "You know, that is
ultimately a decision for the voters of Kentucky to make."

Hmm. Do they elect a leader?

So what should we make of this mad hatter`s Tea Party that is Ted
Cruz`s Republican Party?

Joan Walsh is editor at large of Salon and an MSNBC political analyst.
And Ron Reagan is also an MSNBC political analyst.

I want to cut to the chase here, Joan. It is so -- yes, I know you`re
smiling. It is the craziest thing I have ever seen. All they had to do
yesterday was let the 51 Democrats walk the plank, do the dirty work of
raising the debt ceiling. Nobody wants to vote the debt ceiling. But they
were willing to do it, the Democrats.

Instead, crazy Ted Cruz -- Is crazy the right word? -- said, we need
60 votes because I`m going to filibuster it otherwise, which meant they had
to have 55 Democrats, five Republicans. Oh, five Republicans have to vote
to raise the debt ceiling. Why did he do that? Is he cuckoo?

At which point, the Senate leader, McConnell, says, you know what?
Then the 60th person, man or woman, any Republican, will be blamed as the
60th person. Now I have got to come up with a large number, say 12
Republicans, to make it 67 or whatever, so that I don`t get blamed, and
nobody gets blamed individually, including me.

So now they got more exposed Republicans, more to be blamed for --
quote -- as Republicans on the right like to say, "raising the national
debt." They get blamed for every dollar that`s spent.

My question, is Cruz trying to torpedo the Republican Party, so that
it will blow up completely and somebody as wildly crazy as him would get
the nomination for president? Is that what he is up to?

JOAN WALSH, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think that is what he is
up to, Chris.

But, you know, he wanted to get these people on record saying in some
fashion that they support raising the debt limit. And I think this is a
totally pathetic charade. I just have to say, I can`t give Mitch McConnell
a lot of credit for bravery, because look at what these guys are doing, and
look at what we as Americans have let them do.

They want to pretend that they don`t want to lift the debt ceiling,
which, again, means paying our bills, paying bills we already racked up,
paying for a dinner we already consumed. They want to pretend that they`re
against that, but God forbid that happened. That would put us in default.
They don`t want that either. So they want Democrats to do, as you say, the
dirty work of paying their bills, and they can be blameless and they can
also go on lying to their voters...

MATTHEWS: But why -- OK.

WALSH: ... lying to their voters and saying, we don`t want to do
this.

MATTHEWS: But, Joan, you`re missing it. OK, you have explained that.
But they already had the Democrats having to vote for it. They were the
ones that were going to have to vote for it. Then they pushed it and made
it 60. It meant at least five had to join them.

WALSH: Well...

MATTHEWS: So, Ron, you pick up here.

Why do they want to kill their own people? Why do they shoot their
wounded or create the -- wound them, then shoot them? Why do they -- why
does Ted Cruz want to hurt Republicans?

RON REAGAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, that is the big
question here. What exactly was on Ted Cruz`s mind? What was he thinking
about in terms of relationship with his Senate colleagues?

You`re quite right, of course. They could have all voted against the
debt limit increase. They could have gone back home to their constituents
in Kentucky or Texas or wherever and say we didn`t vote for this thing.

MATTHEWS: I know.

REAGAN: But no, Ted Cruz put his own people in this impossible,
untenable position, many who are facing primaries, many who may face Tea
Party people who are way over to their right. And he forced them to do
this.

What is on his mind? He seems to want to run for president. Has it
occurred to him that he might enjoy the help of his Senate colleagues if he
at least played ball with them?

MATTHEWS: I think he is Van Ackerman on "Advice & Consent." The bad
guy.

Anyway, not unlike the wrath they let loose on John Boehner earlier
this week. Right wing activist groups there were quick to pounce on
McConnell himself. Conservative activist Brent Bozell said, quote,
"Americans deserve better than fake leaders who make empty promises and
deliver zero results. It`s time to dump the leadership."

Matt Kibbe, our pal here if you will, president of the Tea Party group
FreedomWorks, said, quote, "Between the grassroots frustration with Mitch
McConnell and with John Boehner, it`s the perfect storm."

And conservative blogger Erick Erickson wrote that Republicans had
abdicated their responsibility. "Mitch McConnell was the deciding vote in
the Senate to move forward. John Boehner, Eric Cantor and House GOP
leaders structured this deal in the House. Primaries matter. Until you
defeat these guys you will do nothing to change Washington."

So they want to go crazy. Here is my question. We`re going to cut to
the chase now, Joan. I know you care a lot.

If there is going to be a general election for president in 2016, and
I`m betting there is going to be an election. OK? I`m really putting a
lot of money on this. There will be an election.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: And I`m betting pretty good money, though you never know
about the future on the Democratic candidate who that is going to be,
Secretary Clinton. I believe she will. I can`t predict anything. I think
that`s a pretty good bet right now.

Why does the Republican Party want to blow itself up right down the
middle between the people who know how to get elected like McConnell and
Boehner and know something about government against the crazies out there
who want to blow it up? How can they elect a president with a party broken
down the middle like this?

JOAN WALSH, SALON: They can`t. They cannot elect a president. And
they are falling apart. And they are a party that is about to be embroiled
in a civil war.

But I just want to say, you know, Ted Cruz is doing this for a reason.
These people are doing it for a reason. They want to remake the party in
their own image. They`re deluded. They think if they went far right, they
would win more support. They will not. They will become a fringe party in
the wilderness.

But they are -- they`re sticking to their principles, and they`re
trying to drive out the RINOs.

I also have to point out, they suspended the Senate rules to do this,
Chris. It`s really quite amazing. There was no transparency.

There is usually the verbal aye and nay. They were using -- they were
putting their hand up. I think somebody was wiggling their nose as a
secret symbol that they supported the bill. It`s something we have never
seen before.

And it`s really -- I mean, it`s terrible for our democracy on every
single level.

MATTHEWS: Ron Reagan, my fellow progressive, I now put this question
to you. Is the lesson of the 1950s to the Republican Party, they should
have gone with Joe McCarthy, not Eisenhower? Is that the message that they
made --

WALSH: Yes.

MATTHEWS: -- oh, we blew it? We went with Eisenhower, the hero that
won the war. Why didn`t we go with Joe McCarthy, this is the right way to
go? It looks like this guy, Cruz is McCarthy incarnate.

Your thoughts.

REAGAN: Ted Cruz apparently thinks that somebody has got to rise from
the smoking ruins of what is left of the Republican Party and apparently he
feels that that somebody can be him. And so, he first has to create the
smoking ruins, of course. And he is doing a pretty good job of that.

MATTHEWS: What a phoenix he ain`t.

Anyway, thank you, Ronald Reagan. Thank you, Joan Walsh.

We`ll be right back.

WALSH: Thanks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Up next, the latest efforts by Republicans to keep
Democrats, especially minorities from voting, and what Democrats are trying
to do about it.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

We made a concerted effort here to shine the light on HARDBALL in
efforts to suppress the vote, to draw attention to this inherently un-
democratic strategy, let`s be honest about it. The beat goes unfortunately
in 2014. The Brennan Center reports that already, barely two months into
this year, there are bills to restrict voting that are working their ways
through legislatures in some 19 states.

Look at the map, in Ohio, as this "Columbus Dispatch" headline shows a
bill to trim early voting moves forward. There is also a movement to end
same-day registration and put new limits on absentee ballots. In Florida
on the state`s gulf coast, Manatee County commissioner, the commissioners
down there have OK`d the closing -- catch this -- of 30 polling places,
which amounts to, well, about 1/3 of the county`s total.

The local NAACP president said of the shutdowns the more affluent
community was left alone. And as far as their polling place, they didn`t
suffer some kind of closings as poor neighborhoods did.

Well, it`s no coincidence the right to vote is under assault in two of
the most important swing states in the country, especially in presidential
elections.

Remember Tim Russert? Ohio, Ohio, Ohio, Florida, Florida, Florida.

Well, Democratic assemblywoman, State Representative Kathleen Clyde,
is in the Ohio State Assembly. And Dale Ho is director of the ACLU`s
Voting Rights Projects.

I want to start with an elective official.

Representative Clyde, tell me what is going on in Ohio with this
effort to make it harder, to be blunt, minorities, older people, who are
Democrats in many cases to vote. Your thoughts?

STATE REP. KATHLEE CLYDE (D), OHIO: Well, the Republicans have
introduced bill after bill to try to attack the right to vote in Ohio.
These two recent bills were attacking early voting, making cuts to early
voting, cutting down on the amount of days available to vote early. And
then also cuts to mail-in voting, making it harder to send applications to
voters to get their absentee ballot then coming up with a whole new set of
hurdles to getting that ballot counted. So, it`s been a relentless attack.

MATTHEWS: What`s their excuse? Do they have a bridge survey they`re
doing? What`s their excuse? Just kidding.

What is their excuse for cutting down the rights -- the ease with
which people can vote?

CLYDE: They really don`t offer good policy reasons for doing any of
these attacks on the right to vote. And whenever they do, they`re easily
shot down as being false reasons. And at this point, they`re coming right
out and saying they don`t want certain people to vote. One of the leaders
in the Republican Party in the House said that we don`t want to cater to
these voters who take the bus after church on Sunday to vote.

So, they`re just coming right out and saying they don`t want certain
people voting in Ohio.

MATTHEWS: So let me go right now to Dale. In other words, they`re
welfare queens because they want to vote on Sunday. I mean, they cater to,
what kind of language is that?

The government is not paying for the buses. The churches are. People
involved with the Democratic politics in many cases.

DALE HO, ACLU VOTING RIGHTS PROJECT: I think there`s a difference of
world view here, Chris. There are some people who actually are in favor of
erecting barriers to the ballot box. I think what they think is that we
only want voters who are capable and willing to try to overcome those
barriers in order to vote.

MATTHEWS: That`s pretty Hamiltonian, isn`t it?

HO: Yes. I mean, there`s this idea that`s the way you get the --

MATTHEWS: Plutocrat.

HO: It`s not too far from the philosophy that underlies poll taxes,
literacy tests. Anything else --

MATTHEWS: Property. Men of property.

HO: Right. Absolutely. Now, I have a different view.

MATTHEWS: Do they ever voice that, Dale? Do they ever say we think
people with limited income and limited motor transportation really are
better off not voting? Do they say that? If you take the subway, we don`t
want you voting.

HO: They don`t come right out and say it all the time. But every now
and then someone slips up.

You mentioned Manatee County in Florida, right? Well, the supervisor
of elections in Manatee County, Florida, when they`re debating early voting
cutbacks back in 2012 said he wanted to make it harder for people to vote.
He said he wanted it to make it more like Africa where people walk 100, 200
miles to a polling place -- which is absolutely crazy that someone would
think that`s the way our democracy should function.

I mean, in my view, you start with the principle that everyone counts
equally in a democracy. And if that`s your view, then the purpose of an
election is not to test the fortitude of voters, it`s to discern the will
of the --

MATTHEWS: Why don`t we pick up on some of the single party, one-party
rule in the countries? Why don`t we just have one political party? That
would be an African way we could apply things.

Let me go back to Ohio. Does everybody know how important Ohio is in
Ohio? Representative, do you guys know you`re a state I`ve been watching
since I was about 10 years old as a key state politically, that Ohio really
is sort of the center? For whatever reason, ethnic, history, age-wise,
Ohio seems to be the state that decides who wins these election. If I were
Hillary Clinton`s people, I`d say find an appeal that wins big in Ohio and
we`ll win this thing. If I were a Republican, I`d be doing exactly the
same thing. And here they are trying to limit the number the people who
vote.

Is that the Republican way of winning the presidential election?

CLYDE: I think that is their strategy. We had a great voter turnout
in 2008 and again in 2012, and you see the Republicans grasping at straws,
desperately trying to reverse that trend and cut back on early voting and
some of these reforms that were put in place after Ohio was really an
embarrassment in 2004, with four and five and six-hour-long lines for
people to vote. We enacted reforms, made things better and these
Republicans are desperately trying to reverse that.

I think Democrats are fighting these efforts by the GOP and there are
citizens groups out there as well who are watching what`s going on and are
fighting back. So, I think we realize that it`s important, it`s just with
the gerrymandered legislature, it`s hard to fight.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you a tough question. Do you think that Ohio
election was stolen from John Kerry in 2004 in your state?

CLYDE: I think that there were severely long lines in Ohio and we
will never know how many people, hardworking, middle class, working class,
families in Ohio showed up to vote, saw a four or five-hour-long line and
couldn`t wait. Had to go home.

And we saw that all over the state. So, you know, I think that it`s
important that we continue to be concerned about the impact that that could
have on our country.

MATTHEWS: Well, keep us up to date, and thank you, State
Representative Kathleen Clyde of Ohio. And thank you, Dale Ho of the ACLU.

We`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this.

Someone should ask Reince Priebus, him being the leader of the
Republican Party in this country, why his party is so compelled to deny
people the right to vote. Wasn`t it Abraham Lincoln who would run the risk
of being called a "Republican in name only" today, who won the civil war so
people, especially African-Americans, could be regular voting citizens?

Or is this all in the past? Is this the Republican Party of the 21st
century that`s so different from its founders that it can openly spend its
time passing laws in the state capitols of this country, 19 measures since
New Year`s, grabbing every chance it can to keep minorities from the voting
booth?

Mr. Priebus likes to toss off the charge that he`s responsible for all
this, but doesn`t the Republican national committee have duties to go
beyond raising money and showing up on the Sunday talk shows? Doesn`t it
have a responsibility, a moral responsibility, to tell the parties across
the country that the Party of Lincoln shouldn`t become the party of
Jefferson Davis? Is that where we`re headed?

You tell us, Mr. Priebus.

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.
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