updated 3/19/2014 10:03:57 AM ET 2014-03-19T14:03:57

HARDBALL
March 18, 2014

Guests: Daniel Rose, Loretta Weinberg, Dana Milbank, Clarence Page, Sara
Burnett

CHUCK TODD, GUEST HOST: After Putin`s defiance, it`s President Obama`s
move.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chuck Todd, in tonight for Chris Matthews.

Leading off: A defiant Vladimir Putin told a joint session of parliament
today that in, quote, "people`s hearts and minds, Crimea has always been an
inseparable part of Russia," and the Russian leader signed a treaty
declaring the region part of Russia officially.

The move comes a day after the United States and European Union imposed
sanctions on a number of Russian officials. And today, there were warnings
of stronger sanctions to come. Crimea has been part of Ukraine since that
country`s independence in 1991, but on Sunday, an overwhelming majority of
voters chose to break away and join Russia, although the ballot only seemed
to have one choice on it.

President Obama today called for a meeting with the seven members of the
G8, the old G7, of course, with the notable exception of Russia, to discuss
the Ukrainian crisis. That meeting will take place in Amsterdam next week.

And Vice President Biden landed in Poland on a trip meant to show
solidarity with Russia`s eastern European neighbors, and he met with the
president of Poland.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, Mr. President,
we spoke about a situation that`s unfolding in Ukraine. We agreed on the
need for United States, Poland and our European friends to stand together
in support of Ukraine`s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its
internationally recognized borders, rejecting Russia`s absolutely
illegitimate claims and steps to annex Crimea.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: The sanctions announced yesterday were met by some in Russia with
mockery. The deputy prime minister sarcastically tweeted, quote, "I think
some prankster prepared the draft of this act of the U.S. president."

And in Putin`s 40-minute speech from the Kremlin, he also slammed the West,
saying, "In the case of the Ukraine, our Western partners crossed the line.
Their behavior was rude, irresponsible and unprofessional. They knew very
well that millions of Russians live in both Crimea and the Ukraine. Russia
found itself in a position that it could not back down from. If you push
the spring too hard, it will recoil. You have to always remember that."
That was Vladimir Putin.

Here`s how, though, Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia,
reacted to the speech.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL MCFAUL, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: President Putin`s very dug
in. I mean, this speech today was really over the top, and in my opinion,
really ends the post-cold war era. I mean, this is a period that started
in the early years of Gorbachev. It`s now over. This is a different
world. He`s seeing everything in zero sum terms, and the West and the
United States is clearly his enemy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: David Axelrod is former senior political adviser to President Obama
and Eugene Robinson is a columnist for "The Washington Post." Both, of
course, are MSNBC political analysts.

Eugene, let me start with you. Mike McFaul, you heard him there declaring
the end of the post-cold war. It`s over. Putin has declared the end of
that. Pretty strong declaration.

EUGENE ROBINSON, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I
actually don`t agree with that. I mean, remember the cold war. The cold
war was not just some little thing --

TODD: Other countries chose to side with the other side. We don`t have
other countries siding with Russia, really.

ROBINSON: Exactly. It was two philosophical systems --

TODD: Right.

ROBINSON: -- two, you know, huge arsenals of nuclear weapons pointed at
each other. I mean, this -- the cold war was a whole different thing from
what we have now. Russia clearly sees itself as an adversary, sees itself
as a rival in some ways. I wouldn`t go quite so far as enemy. There are
common interests that Russia has with the West. And I wouldn`t say that
the cold war has reignited.

TODD: David Axelrod, obviously, you worked with Mike McFaul, particularly
when he was on the National Security Council. I know that you`re probably
loathe to disagree with him. He`s got this expertise into Russia. But
he`s been -- he`s been pretty pessimistic about Putin basically from the
get-go.

Any reason to believe that this is going to end anytime soon?

DAVID AXELROD, FMR. OBAMA ADVISER, SR. MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: No. Look,
first of all, Putin`s getting tremendous support in his country. Just as a
matter of pure politics -- and I`m a political guy -- you look at the
amount of --

TODD: Politics is local. It is an interesting --

AXELROD: Exactly.

TODD: You almost wonder if he`s covering something up in his own country
and trying to use this.

AXELROD: Well, they`ve got their own issues, and this has rallied the
entire country around this sort of xenophobia, and so he`s gaining from
this. He also -- as we know, he -- he -- he lamented the breakup of the
old Soviet Union, and I`m sure that that enters into it.

But it is a different world than it was in the 1980s, as Gene points out.
And part of the reason why this is so complicated is the integration of the
economies of the world, and particularly of Europe and Russia, which makes
this whole sanctions game a lot more challenging.

So I have huge respect for Mike McFaul, but I do think that it was a little
hyperbolic.

TODD: Well, we`re obviously waiting to see sort of the next move by the
president. Jay Carney hinted today that there would be some new sanctions
coming in response to this.

But David, let me go to you first on this because I heard you say in
response to our NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll, when you saw the
president`s numbers go down, you reminded -- you were reminded of the fact
that anytime a foreign policy crisis has cropped up on this White House,
unlike previous presidents, there`s never been a rally around the
commander-in-chief moment for him, outside of bin Laden, and you think
that`s because of the domestic situation here. Is that right?

AXELROD: Well, I think it`s -- well, I think it`s a combination of things.
I think there`s a war-weariness in this country, and people have turned
inward. And you combine that with the economic pressures that people are
feeling, and they want the president of the United States focused like a
laser on economic -- on their economic challenges. And when these stories
break out and the only thing they see on the news of the president is the
president dealing with a foreign crisis --

TODD: Right.

AXELROD: -- I think that they just assume that he`s not working on the
stuff that they care about and that`s close to them. And I really -- I do
think it`s a measurable thing. In your poll, he actually marginally was
getting an approval for his handling of the Ukraine --

TODD: Right.

AXELROD: -- but his numbers were down overall. I`ve seen other polls
where his handling -- similarly, he -- people feel like he`s not focused on
the main issue. So I do think this presents a political problem for him
back here --

TODD: Right.

AXELROD: -- but that`s part of being president, Chuck.

TODD: Right.

AXELROD: You`ve got to deal with what comes your way, even if it`s
politically inconvenient.

TODD: Well, speaking of the inconvenient, I wrote this on "First Read"
this morning, Eugene, which is that, you know, the real political impact
here on the president is that it`s handcuffing him, right?

ROBINSON: Yes.

TODD: It`s keeping him in the -- he`s not out there trying to get -- you
know, they`re still trying to do their health care --

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: -- still trying to rally people to sign up for health care in
these last two weeks.

ROBINSON: Yes, he`s --

TODD: He`s not out there fixing his own politics, which a bunch of
Democrats would like to see him do, because this is dominating all of his
time.

ROBINSON: Exactly. And he can`t ignore it. You know, so --

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: I mean, then it becomes a political problem for another reason, if
he ignores it.

ROBINSON: Right. Right. Right. But political problem or not, you know,
you`ve got a sovereign country, you know, a piece of a sovereign country
has been plucked off --

TODD: Right.

ROBINSON: -- by Vladimir Putin. You have to deal with that if you`re
president of the United States. And the political ramifications just have
to fall where they may. And so if you`re President Obama, you get
criticized by John McCain, you get criticized by Lindsey Graham --

TODD: Right.

ROBINSON: -- and Mitt Romney, who, by the way --

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: -- in a minute.

ROBINSON: -- don`t have solutions. There you have it.

TODD: Very quickly, David, I`m actually reminded a little bit, oddly, of
the oil spill. The timing of that took you guys off the midterm playing
field in 2010. Could we see a similar thing, where this sort of constant
crisis right now with Russia, Syria (ph) in general, that these foreign
policy sort of -- keep the president more off the midterm playing field
than he would like to be?

AXELROD: Maybe so, Chuck. But I think -- it`s only March, and you can
anticipate that there`ll be things that we can`t even -- we can`t even
think about now that will -- that -- domestic, foreign, that will crop up
in between now and then. So I think it`s too early to say that this will
take him off the field for the midterms, but there`s no doubt that it`s
taking him off the field right now.

TODD: All right, I got to get to the Mitt Romney op-ed that he wrote this
morning in "The Wall Street Journal," called "The Price of Failed
Leadership." I want to read you an excerpt here.

"When protests in Ukraine grew and violence ensued, it was surely
evidence," Romney writes, "to people in the intelligence community and to
the White House that President Putin might try to take advantage of the
situation to capture Crimea or more. That was the time to talk with our
global allies about punishments and sanctions to secure their solidarity
and to communicate to this Russian president. These steps, plus assurances
that we could not exclude Russia from its base in Sevastopol or threaten
its influence in Kiev, might have dissuaded him from invasion."

And before I get your reaction, David Axelrod, I did ask Jay Carney if he
wanted to respond to the op-ed, and here`s what he said to me earlier
today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: (INAUDIBLE) response to Mitt Romney`s op-ed today that seemed to
suggest that the president takes too -- that he`s left with bad options as
he takes too long to make decisions in certain situations, whether it`s
Syria or Russia, on foreign policy. I just didn`t know if you had a
response to --

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don`t have a response.

TODD: (INAUDIBLE) anything to say?

CARNEY: I`ll resist.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Jay Carney resisted, David.

AXELROD: Well, I`m not -- I`m not confined, as Carney is. I`ll tell what
popped in my mind when I read this, which should have been called "Notes
from the peanut gallery," and that is the line where he said able leaders
anticipate events, prepare for them and act to shape them. And all I had
in my mind was the image of Mitt Romney sitting there on election night,
the only man in America who didn`t know that he had lost the election. And
he didn`t sure prepare for that one.

I think it`s -- it`s -- it is -- the whole column, as Gene pointed out,
offered no solutions and offered -- and offered no at least acknowledgment
that there may have been conversations going on that Mitt Romney wasn`t
privy to.

TODD: Right.

AXELROD: So I mean, it really -- it came off more like sour grapes than
constructive criticism.

TODD: Well, what was interesting here, Eugene, is obviously, there are a
lot of people in Romney world -- I`ve heard this, Romney -- who said, Hey,
guess what? President Obama mocked Romney when he said that Russia was,
you know --

ROBINSON: Exactly.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON: -- sore point.

TODD: It`s a sore point for Romney and may be the motivator for this op-
ed. Just to refresh people, here`s the back-and-forth. Here`s president
Obama during the debate in 2012 when he mocked Mitt Romney for that
comment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Governor Romney, I`m glad
that you recognize that al Qaeda`s a threat because a few months ago, when
you were asked what`s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you
said Russia, not al Qaeda, you said Russia. And the 1980s are now calling
to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the cold war`s been
over for 20 years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Do you think Mitt Romney -- obviously, that bugs Mitt Romney.

ROBINSON: Yes.

TODD: That`s where this op-ed is coming from. Does Romney have a point?

ROBINSON: Well, up to a point, he has a point. You could argue that
Russia was turning into more of a rival than the president acknowledged.
However, what`s the biggest geopolitical threat? Iran, you know? You
wouldn`t say it`s Russia. And so he`s still wrong on that specific point.

(CROSSTALK)

AXELROD: Can I -- can I --

TODD: Very quickly, David. Yes.

AXELROD: Can I add something about -- and Iran is one of those issues in
which we`re working with Russia to try and control. And it speaks to the
whole complicated --

TODD: We hope the Russians are still --

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: We hope the Russians are still going to work with us.

AXELROD: Right, but that is part of the complicated world in which we have
to deal. And Mitt Romney didn`t acknowledge that in his piece.

TODD: All right, I will leave it there. David Axelrod, Eugene Robinson.
Nothing like politicizing a foreign policy crisis, but hey, we`re a
political network. Thank you both.

Coming up, the mystery of the Malaysian jetliner. We learned today that
someone in the cockpit turned that plane to the west, but we`re no closer
to knowing who or why. And as the search for the plane goes on, one U.S.
military official says it`s like trying to find a few people somewhere
between, oh, New York and California.

Meanwhile, the dragnet in New Jersey continues. New documents just
released show Governor Chris Christie`s chief political adviser was also
involved in discussions after -- during the aftermath of those lane
closures at the George Washington Bridge, while his campaign manager was
more involved with the fallout than previously known. All of that`s coming
up.

Plus, Scott Brown, we think, inching towards a bid for the U.S. Senate in
New Hampshire, but maybe it`s another state. Democrats in state like
Colorado, Arkansas and Alaska, they`re actually more nervous about this
maybe than Jeanne Shaheen.

And finally, look who`s back in Iowa for the fourth time in eight months.
That`s right. We`ll tell you. You know who it is.

This is HARDBALL, place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Quite an emotional ceremony today at the White House, where
President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to 24 veterans, some of whom
were posthumous awards, who served during World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

For the president and the country, it`s a case of righting some old wrongs.
These 24 veterans that were honored today were found by a congressional
review to be deserving of the nation`s military highest honor, but they may
have been wrongly denied the medal simply because of the color of their
skin or their ethnicity or their religion. Most of today`s honorees are
Latino, Jewish and African-American. And of the 24 honored, only three are
still alive today to receive those medals in person.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Day 11 since Malaysian Airlines flight
370 vanished with 239 passengers and crew on board. Today, here`s the new
information. Whoever was flying the plane when it made that first sharp
turn to the west used the on-board computer system to pre-program that
change.

Well, this is what this means. It tells us that whoever was at the
controls has significant knowledge of a Boeing aircraft -- i.e., the pilots
-- and it wasn`t just someone manually navigating the plane.

Also today, the search area has become mind-bogglingly large. This is the
Malaysian transport minister at a press conference this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SERI HISHAMMUDDIN, MALAYSIAN TRANSPORT MINISTER: The entire search area is
now 2.24 million square nautical miles. This is an enormous search area,
and it is something that Malaysia cannot possibly search on its own.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Search crews are looking for aircraft debris as far north as
Kazakhstan and as far south as the southern Indian Ocean. And if the plane
landed -- at this point, a very unlikely scenario, according to many
experts -- these yellow dots on the screen show the many possible locations
that have runways long enough to land a plane like this.

But despite the Malaysian -- Malaysia`s request for help, which you just
heard from the transport minister, countries, including the United States,
India and Vietnam, are actually scaling back their search efforts. The
U.S., for instance, has stopped using the destroyer USS Kidd to scour the
Indian Ocean. And Vietnam and India have also stopped their search
efforts, as well. Other countries are expected to follow suit.

Joining me now with even more new information is NBC News`s Kerry Sanders.
All right, Kerry, we seem to be getting more and more updates about what
happened with the routes that were programmed and when -- either before or
after certain systems were turned off. What can you tell us?

KERRY SANDERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: There`s a very significant development
today concerning that programmed turn -- and you used the right word when
you said pre-programmed -- on that flight management system. NBC aviation
correspondent Tom Costello has spoken to his sources, who now say that the
data that they have reviewed from what`s called the ACARS system shows that
that pre-programming happened in the cockpit, but may have happened just
moments after takeoff.

It`s unclear because up until now, there`s been this belief that that pre-
programming or the programming itself was taking place in flight just
moments before the turn took place. Now sources to Tom Costello suggest
that that programming may have taken place just moments after takeoff.

Now, why would somebody in the cockpit, like the pilot or co-pilot, program
or pre-program a turn like that? Well, it`s not uncommon, according to
experts, for pilots, especially a pilot like this who has extensive
experience, to put in an emergency go-back-to-base sort of turn in case
they run into trouble.

But it also raises questions about whether there was some sort of plot
being worked out and this was all part of that plot. And so, it`s a really
rather large development, one that the investigators can use to try to
piece together a story, but what they really can`t do is answer the
question until they get some sort of wreckage, hopefully a black box.

TODD: Yes, obviously.

And, Kerry, you brought up the pilot, but I just want to bring up this --
this sort of additional news. Malaysian authorities say so far, any -- all
the searches that have been done of the captain and the first officer`s
homes, computers, the flight simulator, it`s turned up nothing suspicious,
correct?

SANDERS: Yes. And you would think at this point now -- it`s not like they
just got that computer two minutes ago.

TODD: Right.

SANDERS: They have had a chance to look at that flight simulator. It
doesn`t take much of a forensic review of the hard disk to say, was this a
-- was there like a practice on the flight simulator, so that they can now
say, hey, it looks like he followed that rehearsal that was on the flight
simulator.

I think that one of the questions that really is hanging out there is, they
have gone over the flight manifest of who the passengers were, the flight
crew, extensive research into the pilot and the co-pilot. But what has not
really been answered is whether somebody was on this plane that just wasn`t
on one of those manifests and that that person may have somehow been
involved in what`s taken place here.

TODD: And, Kerry, very quickly, the longer this has gone on, the more
speculation has gone to some crazy scenarios that people are painting. But
the actual investigators, the longer that they go without any evidence of
the plane anywhere, any new evidence of the plane, physical evidence
showing up, what does that tell them?

Does that make them think it`s more likely a crash, more likely in the
ocean? What do the investigators themselves take away from the fact that
we`re now 11 days in and have no physical -- no evidence of the plane
turning up anywhere?

SANDERS: I think significant is that the NTSB working with the -- that`s
the National Transportation Safety Board from the United States -- working
with the Australian authorities, have basically carved out an area in the
Southern Indian Ocean where they are now attacking with resources from New
Zealand, Australia and the United States aircraft that are flying there.

Why have they targeted that specific area? Yes, the plane crashed. We
believe from all of the authorities that -- at this point that it crashed
because somebody was at the controls doing something deliberate. And at
the end of the day, I think they`re going to conclude that it`s somewhere
in this deep, deep waters off of Australia, about -- it`s about 1,500 miles
west of Perth where they`re beginning the search.

But it is such a large area. It`s 600,000 square kilometers. It will take
a long time, weeks.

TODD: All right. Thank you, NBC`s Kerry Sanders.

We`re now joined by pilot and aviation expert Daniel Rose.

Mr. Rose, good evening to you, sir.

DANIEL ROSE, AVIATION AND MARITIME ATTORNEY: Good evening, Chuck.

TODD: Well, you have heard this new information about the programming of
the computers. So, I just want to get your reaction on that.

ROSE: Well, you know, seems to be another string of these tidbits of
information that we`re getting that are not in and of themselves
dispositive, but can certainly be used to support either a deliberate type
of action in the cockpit or as could easily also be used to support a
mechanical issue and a mechanical failure.

You pointed out that it`s not uncommon for a prudent pilot to preprogram an
emergency flight route. That could exactly be the explanation for why that
was in there, and he was faced with an emergency situation.

TODD: Well, it`s funny you bring up the idea of a mechanical -- one of the
theories that has gained so much traction in social media is one that was
written in "Wired" magazine by Chris Goodfellow, the retired pilot, who
says he believes the explanation is simple, that this was simply an
electrical fire.

Now, you have spent a lot of time dealing with, representing victims of
plane crashes, or the families of victims of plane crashes, and so you have
spent a lot of time investigating these, and being -- following these
investigations. He`s writing -- he`s trying to write sort of the Occam`s
razor approach, right, what`s the most logical explanation of what could
have happened, and that`s what he came up with.

What do you make of it?

ROSE: Well, it`s hard to say that that`s the simplest, given what we know
about the information we have, and, unfortunately, the accuracy over the
last week of some of it.

But I tend to fundamentally agree that -- and I think that`s a precept of
aviation investigations -- you have to look hard at the simplest answer.
And, you know, I was involved in the last Boeing that had an in-flight
fire, the legal claims that came out of that.

And the thing about an in-flight fire or a mechanical failure, or a
structural failure, is that it provides a kind of randomness to explain how
these dots all connect, because, right now, all we have are these discrete
tidbits of information that can line up one way or the other.

And, you know, a mechanical malfunction or an in-flight fire can explain
how certain systems come offline in a certain sequence that fits and
comports with the information that we have.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: It sounds like, essentially, it`s using chaos theory to explain.
You have to have some -- it seems illogical until something logical --
until you come up with a logical explanation that connects disparate
thoughts is what you`re saying.

ROSE: Yes. No, exactly. I mean, that is -- that is exactly what you may
need in a situation to explain what we`re faced with here, because --

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: Well, we got to -- we got to find the -- we got to find the plane.

(CROSSTALK)

ROSE: Yes, you got to find the plane. That will provide all the answers.
And, you know, that could take some time at this point.

TODD: All right, Mr. Rose, I appreciate your time and your expertise on
this. Thanks very much.

ROSE: My pleasure.

TODD: All right. Coming up, we have still got a lot more to talk about,
Scott Brown, Chris Christie. It`s all coming up right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: You get a little Chris there with the laugh. Right?

Time now for the "Sideshow."

As tensions continue to mount with Russia over Ukraine, many have pointed
out that the battle lines of the Cold War are back. Most recently, Russian
journalist Dmitry Kiselyov, a Putin-appointed TV anchor, ratcheted up the
rhetoric, saying that Russia is -- quote -- "the only country in the world
capable of turning the USA into radioactive dust."

Gee, thanks a lot. He also depicted what he called Russia`s -- quote --
"system of guaranteed nuclear revenge," a device called "The Perimeter,"
which is set to automatically deploy nuclear warheads in the case of an
attack.

It`s the kind of thing that sounds like it`s straight out of the script of
a certain movie, "Dr. Strangelove," Stanley Kubrick`s 1964 black comedy
about the Cold War. And anyone who`s seen that film knows of the perils of
bad communication in times of crisis.

But here`s something you may not know, that it was the first movie that
actually depicted the infamous red phone, or the hot line, that direct link
that connected Washington to Moscow. Since "Dr. Strangelove," numerous
films, from "James Bond" to "Batman," have portrayed the hot line, most
commonly in the form of -- you`re seeing it there -- the infamous red
telephone, no rotary.

It was even used in a campaign spot for then presidential candidate Walter
Mondale in 1984. Now, while it`s true that the hot line does exist, the
notion that it`s a red phone is actually a myth. In fact, it was never a
phone at all.

Here`s what the hot line really looked like when it was installed in is
1963.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At the Pentagon today, they rolled in the teletype
machines to be hooked on to our end of the Washington-Moscow hot line. The
hot line will be in service 24 hours a day for urgent messages only.

During the Cuba crisis, the communications were dangerously slow, so, the
hot line.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Chuck, back to you.

Anyway, today, the White House confirmed to us that the hot line with
Moscow, by the way, still exists, and although President Obama has never
used it, he uses a direct voice-link, a telephone, to speak with Vladimir
Putin when he does it.

Anyway, there`s your little Cold War cultural update.

Up next, the investigation into the lane closures at the George Washington
Bridge. More documents showed up today, and these indicate that Governor
Christie`s chief political strategist was part of the discussions about the
fallout from the scandal. He was not a part of the scandal itself. And
his campaign manager, though, apparently was more involved in the
Bridgegate aftermath than was previously known. All of that`s coming up.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

John Kerry says Vladimir Putin is on the wrong side of history after his
move to annex Ukraine`s Crimea region.

GM`s CEO has apologized for deaths linked to faulty ignition switches in
some compact cars and for its handling of that issue. At least 12 resulted
from the problem. That company faces four investigations into the matter.

And two people were killed earlier when a news helicopter crashed near the
Space Needle in Seattle, and one person on the ground was seriously injured
-- now back to HARDBALL.

TODD: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The Christie dragnet just keeps getting a tad bigger. "The New York Times"
is reporting that federal prosecutors in New Jersey have subpoenaed the
Port Authority chairman, David Samson, relating to potential conflicts of
interest. Their immediate focus involves contracts worth nearly $3
billion. This is separate, of course, from the bridge incident for now.

In addition, "The Newark Star-Ledger" reports that new documents that have
been made public by state investigators now link Christie`s chief political
strategist to discussions about fallout from the scandal. That strategist
is Mike DuHaime. He`s of course the former political director for John
McCain`s presidential campaign. He managed Rudy Giuliani`s campaign.

Wouldn`t be that surprising if, after the fact, he would be brought into
these discussions. "The Star-Ledger," by the way, also reports that the
documents reveal Christie`s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, was more in the
loop about the Bridgegate aftermath than previously known.

So, why does that matter? Well, here`s why. Bill Stepien, along with
Bridget Kelly, are waging an all-out legal war right now against the state
investigators. They of course are two figures in this investigation.
Stepien is on record as calling Fort Lee Mayor Sokolich an idiot.

And Bridget Kelly of course is the one who penned the famous e-mail that
said -- text that said "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

Now, both Kelly and Stepien have been taken to court for refusing to comply
with subpoenas for documents. Their lawyers are pleading the Fifth,
arguing that producing documents is equivalent to self-incrimination and
that the investigation is a fishing expedition.

But those newly released documents suggest otherwise. In them, Stepien is
basically told by Christie`s appointee at the Port Authority, Bill Baroni,
that they`re developing a -- quote -- "narrative" to contain the bridge
fallout. Stepien even praises him for the counternarrative on November 25.

Baroni testified to lawmakers in rather grand fashion that this whole
ordeal was the result of an innocent traffic study, when, according to
later testimony of Port Authority officials, no such traffic study ever
existed.

And the evidence strongly suggests that those lanes were closed as an act
of political payback. And now we know that the day after Baroni`s
testimony, Stepien texted Baroni -- quote -- "Hey, great job yesterday. I
know it`s not a fun topic and not nearly as fun as beating up on Frank
Lautenberg, but you did great and I wanted to thank you," to which Baroni
replied: "Thanks, William. Loretta" -- referring to Loretta Weinberg --
"and Wis" -- referring to John Wisniewski -- "will keep their nonsense, but
at least we have explained the counternarrative."

Well, Loretta Weinberg is a Democratic state senator from New Jersey and
the co-chair of the committee investigating Bridgegate. And Kendall Coffey
is an MSNBC legal analyst and a former U.S. attorney.

Senator Weinberg, let me start with you. You`re mentioned in that text
message, obviously called it nonsense. But I want to focus on this phrase
counternarrative.

LORETTA WEINBERG (D), NEW JERSEY STATE SENATOR: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: It sort of struck me as an odd phrase to say, if it`s not that --
why not -- if you`re telling -- you would assume if you`re telling the
truth, you would say, I`m telling the truth.

WEINBERG: Well, counternarrative is a good euphemism for cover-up.

I knew the moment --

TODD: And that`s what you think? That`s the way -- you take that away,
that this was a cover-up, that he came in and lied?

WEINBERG: Well, I knew it was a cover-up because the moment that I heard
Bill Baroni`s testimony, I knew that it was untrue, because it was all
built around the idea that there are somehow private roads for Fort Lee-
only residents that lead to the George Washington Bridge.

That is completely untrue. There are no such lanes of traffic. There are
no private roads are only open to Fort Lee residents. And in fact the
roads that were reduced from three lanes to two lanes -- to one lane,
pardon me -- actually carry 25 percent of the traffic, and they are 25
percent of the roadways that lead to the upper level of the George
Washington Bridge.

TODD: Right.

WEINBERG: So, not only was there no traffic study. There were no private
and are no private roads for the use of Fort Lee residents only.

So, that was a cover-up. It was untrue. And it was untrue from the moment
somebody wrote it to the moment Bill Baroni uttered it. So --

TODD: Was Bill Baroni under oath when he told you this? Was he under oath
in your committee?

WEINBERG: I`m sorry? Repeat that.

TODD: Was he under oath when he said testified --

WEINBERG: No, he was not.

(CROSSTALK)

WEINBERG: Nor was he there as a result of subpoena. He was there by the
prior assembly transportation committee, which was a precursor to our joint
committee.

TODD: Let me bring in Kendall Coffey, Senator Weinberg. Kendall, if you
had a client that was saying counter-narrative, what would you assume that
client was really trying to tell you?

KENDALL COFFEY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I would assume there is a
script that somebody`s been developing and when it`s counter to the truth,
I`d be kind of concerned about it. Stepien is not only endorsing that
counter-narrative, it turns out to be false. He`s cheerleading it, saying,
great job.

So, it`s got to be something that`s a concern right now to Stepien and his
counsel, one of many reasons why they`re pushing very hard on a Fifth
Amendment protections.

TODD: Well, I want to ask you about these papers, because it was
interesting you had Michael Critchley, the lawyer for Bridget Kelly, claims
that these documents will support Kelly`s claim that providing similar
documents would require her to in effect testify against herself by
identifying which documents pertain to the closures. If you were her
lawyer, would you be doing what he`s doing, which is fighting this on Fifth
Amendment, citing the Fifth Amendment?

COFFEY: I would. I would not be trying to make it any easier to build a
case against my client. At the same time, as long as Bridget Kelly or Bill
Stepien and I`m not assuming anything about anybody`s guilt or innocence or
anything at this point --

TODD: Right.

COFFEY: -- but as long as they have information, which hasn`t been turned
over to prosecutors, if, in fact, they had done something wrong, they`ve
got to make a deal with somebody, then they`ve got a few more cards to play
by keeping those cards in their own hands and not handing them over to
state legislative investigators.

TODD: Senator, what is it -- why is it that you need these papers?

WEINBERG: Well, we didn`t put Bill Stepien`s name into the record. Those
e-mails and the reasons we are asking for what ever other documents he
might have were given to us by third parties. Obviously, when --

TODD: But you don`t know which document. Can you -- is there any way of
identifying what you really want or is there any way of narrowing --

WEINBERG: Well, I believe our attorney did that. We are only concerned
with the issues around closures of the lanes. We know what happened. The
Lord knows what happened as a result of those closures. Now, we want to
know why and who knew about these lanes before or who might have given
Bridget Kelly the go ahead to do this.

So, obviously, Mr. Stepien`s name turned up from other e-mails that we
received or other documents that we received. So we`re only asking Mr.
Stepien and Ms. Kelly for those documents that already exist. We`re not
asking them to produce anything new or to give us testimony. We are just
asking for the documents that already exist. Why did Bridget Kelly send
that e-mail?

Again, we`re not on a fishing expedition. We didn`t terminate Mr. Stepien
from his potential job, as the state Republican chair.

TODD: Right, the governor did.

WEINBERG: The governor did that. We didn`t suggest that he shouldn`t be a
consultant to the Republican Governors Association, the governor did that.
His ostensible reason was because Mr. Stepien called the mayor an idiot.

Well, you know, I might pose the question as opposed to what? As opposed
to what the -- how the governor has terminated, I`m sorry, not terminated,
but has used words about some of my colleagues in the legislature?

TODD: Fair enough, right.

WEINBERG: So, you know, as I said, this is not anything that we in the
legislative committee dreamed up. This was done by other documents that we
received and now, we`d like to know from Mr. Stepien and Ms. Kelly what
role they played in this.

TODD: Kendall Coffey, very, very, very quickly, how likely is it that the
judge will quash this subpoena?

WEINBERG: I think she`s going to look for balance. There`s some Fifth
Amendment issues, there`s some documents the legislative process ought to
get. She`s going to try to find a way to reach the middle ground.

TODD: Fair enough.

Kendall Coffey, State Senator Loretta Weinberg, thank you both.

WEINBERG: Thank you.

TODD: Coming up next, Scott Brown is closer to running for Senate in New
Hampshire, making a lot of Democrats in other states sweat, but maybe not
Jeanne Shaheen. We`ll explain.

This is HARDBALL, place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Well, you probably knew this, but Ted Cruz kind of has his eye on a
presidential run. The Texas senator is making his fourth trip to the first
in the nation caucus state of Iowa and it`s just in the last eight months.
Cruz, of course, has not even been in the U.S. Senate for two years.

He`s keynote speaker for the network of Iowa Christian home educators.
These are actually very important folks to have organizing in a caucus.
Cruz is going to be in a front raiser, and a little pheasant hunting with
Congressman Steve King. Cruz, by the way, has made more trips to Iowa than
any of the other potential Republican contenders with the exception of one,
Rand Paul.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT BROWN (R), FORMER MASSACHUSETTS SENATOR: I`m announcing today I
formed an exploratory committee to prepare a campaign for the United States
Senate in New Hampshire.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: We`re back.

That was former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown announcing a committee to
run for the U.S. Senate again. This time, from neighboring New Hampshire,
trying to become a Republican nominee against Jeanne Shaheen.

Now, Shaheen starts off with a double digit lead over Brown, that is at
least if you believe the latest poll out of New Hampshire, Suffolk
University.

But his potential candidacy is another setback in Democrats` quest to hold
control of the Senate in this year`s midterm election and here`s why. They
could face a slew of defeats in what some say could be another GOP wave
like 2010. The big fear is that Scott Brown, while he doesn`t defeat a
Jeanne Shaheen, takes away precious resource from other Democrats.

Joan Walsh is with "Salon", of course, and an MSNBC contributor.

And Dana Milbank is an opinion writer with "The Washington Post."

Well, Joan, we want to get into this whole Scott Brown and how long it`s
taken him to get into this thing a little bit, but the big picture here,
Republicans found another, you know, plausible challenger to a Democratic
incumbent in a purple state. Not exactly a red state.

JOAN WALSH, SALON: Sure. No, I mean -- look, if it really is a wave
election, Chuck, we both know pretty much any pair of hands with an "R"
next to his name wins and that describes Scott Brown.

On the other hand, I mean, it`s incredibly brazen. I`d have to -- you
know, I`m not a New Hampshire Republican. But even if -- I mean, even New
Hampshire Republicans have to be saying the guy just served a year ago in
the Senate from another state, like, it gives carpetbagging a bad name.

So, you know, it`s not a hugely fearsome challenge, but it probably -- it
will force her to spend some money, force Democrats to spend some money
that they`d rather spend someplace else.

TODD: But, you know, this primary, Dana Milbank, is not a fore gone
conclusion. This is New Hampshire that invented the conservative primary
challenge. It didn`t -- you know, this was -- this used to happen all the
time.

Kelly Ayotte in 2010 barely got out of her primary. She was the
establishment candidate. She was the moderate and then she got this last-
minute Sarah Palin endorsement and beat back these conservative
challengers.

You know, he`s got Bob Smith, a former U.S. senator from New Hampshire,
conservative, very conservative candidate, who by the way is the last guy
to try to run for the Senate in another state like Scott Brown did. He`s
in this primary.

The primary is not a foregone conclusion for Scott Brown.

DANA MILBANK, THE WASHINGTON POST: No, it`s not. I mean, Bob Smith did
crazy before crazy was in vogue, you know, back --

TODD: Right. He was marginalized in the Senate. Today, he might be
celebrated.

MILBANK: No, no, he would definitely be in the mainstream right now.

WALSH: Right.

MILBANK: But theoretically. But that`s a big name. There are probably a
lot of New Hampshire Republicans who would just like to have anybody other
than Bob Smith there. I don`t think the primary is his primary challenge.
I think that the, you know, New Hampshire is not the same live free or die
conservative state that it used to be. It`s -- you know, a lot of bedroom
community for Massachusetts, lot of people getting lattes after their yoga
class.

TODD: You know, it`s interesting the fun little item that`s making the
rounds today, Joan, is this "New York Times" magazine piece by Mark
Leibovich, about sort of people who professionally float themselves for
office, and at least, at least Scott Brown, unlike Sarah Palin or Donald
Trump or others, appears to actually run rather than just have himself as
part of the great mentioner.

WALSH: He does run and he did win, so he has a leg up on other people.
But he does look like exactly what Mark is talking about. This perennial
candidate who`s, you know, going to make money and keep us talking about
him.

TODD: It is. Very quickly, Dana, do you think if Brown is successful in
this, this encourages more of the great mentioners and then suddenly --

MILBANK: Oh, goodness.

TODD: -- the entire -- is this one of those --

MILBANK: President Scott Brown, he`s been to Iowa a few times.

WALSH: Right.

TODD: I think he`s going to Iowa again.

WALSH: He is.

MILBANK: Just what the Republicans need -- another guy from Massachusetts
with a vacation home in New Hampshire, worked out really well for them last
time.

TODD: Now his residency is New Hampshire. Maybe he figured that was the
mistake Mitt Romney made.

All right. Dana Milbank, Joan Walsh, I think we`re going to have fun with
this all day long, but I have to keep it there.

We`ll be right back after this.

WALSH: Thanks, Chuck.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: It`s Tuesday. Somebody`s voting somewhere. That`s Illinois today.

A pack of Republicans are fighting for the opportunity to take on perhaps
the most vulnerable Democratic governor in the country, Pat Quinn. Bruce
Rauner, the socially moderate venture capitalist and first time politician
from suburban Chicago, leads that Republican field. Polls in Illinois
close at 8:00 Eastern Time.

Clarence Page is a columnist with the "Chicago Tribune" and "Associated
Press`" Sara Burnett is with us from Chicago.

Clarence, very quickly, I`m going to go to you. Pat Quinn, you covered
Illinois politics a long time. Have you ever seen a governor this
vulnerable going into re-election?

CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: It`s hard to remember, but four years ago,
he was down in the polls also.

TODD: Yes.

PAGE: Four years ago was a little different election year. So this time,
I mean, he`ll win the primary.

TODD: Sure.

PAGE: Only token opposition there.

TODD: Yes, no Bill Daley, no Lisa Madigan, who a lot of people thought
Quinn would get primaried and he didn`t.

PAGE: That`s right, he didn`t. The general, you mentioned, Bruce Rauner,
he`s got a lot of money behind him. He`s new. He`s expected to win.

TODD: Right.

PAGE: And we`ll see what happens in November. But Quinn still has
organized labor on his side, a lot of other cards on the deck.

TODD: Hey, Sarah, with Bruce Rauner, you know, my following of Illinois
politics says the self-funding millionaire candidates actually don`t have a
good track record. What makes him potentially different?

SARA BURNETT, ASSOCIATED PRESS: That`s correct. You know, he has come in,
though, with a very strong message about shaking up how things are done at
the state capitol, ending pay to play, starting term limits which has been
very popular with Illinois voters. And he`s gone right after those labor
unions, saying that he wants to governor in the same way as Scott Walker
and Mitch Daniels did. That attracted union involvement in this GOP
primary like we`ve never seen before.

TODD: Mention the name Scott Walker, though, and Mitch Daniels, that`s
going to fire up the Democratic base, perhaps. But do they ever get fired
up about Pat Quinn, or are they going to need Barack Obama jumping in and
helping, who I hear his numbers are actually not great right now in
Illinois?

PAGE: Yes, that`s right. And a lot of that is the disenchantment. That
he`ll have excitement of four years or so ago, not six years ago. This
organized labor is also divided because Quinn pushed --

TODD: Yes, they don`t like the pension reform he did, right?

PAGE: That`s right. Illinois is at the bottom as far as debt is
concerned, and also unemployment, about third from the bottom.

So, obviously, there are fiscal problems to be taken care of and Quinn is
in the squeeze. So, anything could happen.

TODD: Do you expect if Rauner gets the nomination, Sara, he`s going to
make a hard move to the center?

BURNETT: Absolutely. I mean, he has been so disciplined already about
keeping his message focused on economics, the state`s massive financial
problems. He`s gone as far as to say I don`t have a social agenda.

TODD: Oh, we shall see. It`s going to be one of the most -- probably the
closest governor`s race in the country if it happens.

PAGE: That`s right.

TODD: Quinn/Rauner, we`ll watch tonight for those results.

Thank you, Clarence Page. Thank you, Sara Burnett.

BURNETT: Thank you.

TODD: 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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