updated 2/18/2015 3:23:31 PM ET 2015-02-18T20:23:31

Show: HARDBALL
Date: February 17, 2015
Guest: Robert Grenier, John Brabender, Seth Shostak, Jackie Kucinich

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: The terror rages.

This is HARDBALL.

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

ISIS has just burned alive 45 Iraqis. They took them captive in Anbar
province, where ISIS is fighting for more territory, put them in a truck,
poured gasoline all over them and set them afire. That`s according to a
member of the Iraqi parliament from that area. And those that ISIS burned
alive include Iraqi government and local forces trying to defend their area
from the advancing Islamic State.

This horrific new form of terror that kills people in the most agonizing
way is an ISIS tactic to kill with impunity and to let its enemy know that
that`s what it does to people who dare stand in its way. To ISIS,
prisoners of war are torture and death exhibits for those who dare to face
them in battle.

Ayman Mohyeldin is an NBC News foreign correspondent and Robert Grenier is
former director of the CIA`s counterterrorism center. He`s the author of
"88 Days to Kandahar."

Ayman, talk about this incident, as much as you understand about it. This
seems to be escalating the horror, the pictures they`re presenting of
willing to burn people alive just for opposing them or being from another
religion or whatever.

AYMAN MOHYELDIN, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Chris, I mean, we`re still
getting the details of that incident, but it is not a shock to see how ISIS
is behaving with these people. Now, keep in mind that the Anbar province
is predominantly Sunni Arab. That is something that in the past, ISIS has
relied on for some kind of sympathy or support, that these people that had
grievances with the central government.

But it seems now that even in places where there are Sunni Arabs that
oppose the rule of ISIS, ISIS absolutely shows no mercy, shows any kind of
compassion in allowing these people who oppose them to coexist. What they
have done, as you mentioned -- gather about 45 people or so from two
various tribes, tribes that have deep roots in that part of the country,
tribes that are well respected and have thousands of followers and members,
and burned these individuals alive, including some members of the security
forces.

It just goes you -- it shows you the strength and it shows you the
willingness of ISIS to go to any length to continue to control that part of
the country, no matter what, at any cost, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Robert, besides sadism and just the usual reason why people for
centuries have done this to each other when they have the upper hand,
what`s the strategy here on the part of this -- to do this so horribly to
people, not just take them prisoners, shoot them in a firing squad, no,
burn them alive.

ROBERT GRENIER, AUTHOR, "88 DAYS TO KANDAHAR": Well, I would go even
further than Ayman. I would say not just even in the case of Sunni Muslims
who oppose ISIS, but I would say especially in the case of Sunni Muslims
who oppose ISIS will they use these unbelievably brutal tactics.

What they`re saying, in effect, is, Look, if you`re an unbeliever, OK,
that`s fine. We will mete out the punishments that are prescribed in the
Sunna (ph) Hadiths and the Quran and sharia. But if you are a Muslim and
you depart from the correct path, essentially, you`re an apostate. You`re
committing apostasy, and we will treat you accordingly.

But I want to go on from that and say that even in that context, I have
never seen anything as brutal as this. I spent much of my adult life in
the Middle East. I have followed these extremist groups for many, many
years. This is going completely beyond the pale, and they seriously risk
alienating not just the moderates in the region who you would expect not to
be terribly sympathetic to them in the first place, but I think they risk
alienating fundamentalists, as well. They`re clearly overplaying their
hand.

MATTHEWS: Well, this is a great question. I mean, I hate to even talk
about people that have been killed so ruthlessly and so brutally. But let
me start with Ayman, and then back to you, Robert. Is this a recruiting
tool, to be this horrific to people, the people -- to burn people alive,
the beheading people, Coptic Christians? Does this turn on, to be blunt
about it, young people in the slums around Paris or the slums here in the
United States or wherever? Does this make people excited to join them?


MOHYELDIN: Well, it`s very hard for me to answer that question. I think
what they are using those tactics locally for is to instill an absolute
sense of fear in everybody that may be anywhere around ISIS. The message
to the remaining tribesmen and to the remaining Sunnis, for example, in
Iraq, where these 45 people were killed, is that if you dare to raise your
voice, if you dare to ally yourself with anybody other than ISIS, this is
the fate that you will share.

And the message, as well, to the Christian world from ISIS is similar, is
that for those who ally themselves against ISIS, you will be beheaded
wherever we can get to you. That`s the message they`re doing, and not
because I think they want to recruit people in the West and in Europe.

That`s certainly an objective of theirs. We`ve heard that very explicitly
when their leaders have called on people in the West to carry out attacks.
But with these specific types of brutal murders, gruesome, grotesque, the
message is different. The message is, If anyone dares to challenge us,
this is the fate that you will have. Do not cross ISIS.

So I think they`re using fear as an attempt to keep people away from
confronting ISIS in both the Sunni-dominant areas, or whether it be those
that are allying themselves with the West--

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Robert, you first here. Tie this into the romance of going to
paradise. I mean, somebody was quoted the other day, I was listening to it
on the radio. They were going around in Tunisia, talking to people, and
some said, We hate the United States, and this is going to take us to
paradise.

If this is going to take you to paradise in your religious beliefs, to
nirvana, how does that fit with killing people in the most horrific way on
the way to nirvana? How does it work? Is it both a chance to be sadistic,
and also to get the pleasure of going to heaven? What is the drive here,
and how does it connect?

GRENIER: Well, actually, we`re talking about two different things here.
Yes, absolutely, the appeal of going to heaven is a very, very strong one,
but that involves your death. If you become a martyr in defense of Islam,
then you will receive, you know, great rewards.

What we`re talking about here in killing other people, that`s really quite
different. That`s not necessarily the road to nirvana. But that is
participating in the struggle. And while I think that Ayman is exactly
right, that using these particularly brutal tactics, the immolation of
captives -- that is a local terror tactic, as he has just described.
That`s telling them, Look, you oppose us at your peril. Don`t do it.

But a little bit more broadly than that, in their willingness to use
violence in order to expand the caliphate, that`s going back to the very
earliest days of Islam. And this is not an ant-Islamic statement at all.
I have the greatest personal respect for Islam. But during the rise of
Islam, it was a very violent rise. I mean, Islam was spread through
warfare earlier, and conquered people were given a choice. You will either
accept Islam or you will be killed. And there was a slightly better deal
that was offered to people of the book, to the Christians and the Jews.
But the initial expansion of Islam was a violent expansion.

Religions mature. Religions evolve. Religions moderate. And Islam is
certainly the same. These people are going back to that very violent
earliest tradition. And yes, to some, to some fundamentalists, this is a
very attractive thing. They`re returning to the roots of Islam. They are
regaining the glory of Islam that we had in the very earliest years.

MATTHEWS: Well, speaking to a White House-organized summit on countering
extremism, Vice President Joe Biden said the key was offering people an
alternative to the lure of groups like ISIS. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`re here today
because we all understand that in dealing with violent extremism, that we
need answers that go beyond a military answer. We need answers that go
beyond force.

Societies have to provide an affirmative alternative for immigrant
communities, a sense of opportunity, a sense of belonging, and to -- that
discredits the terrorist appeal. It`s not enough to take on these networks
of extremists who wish to do us harm. We also have to take on the ideology
that attracts foreign fighters from all around the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, Ayman, what the vice president`s there I don`t think
is going to be the solution because if the problem is poverty or the
problem is a lack of alternatives in life, you`re going to have to go to
not just 95 percent of all the people who are alienated by the West and who
are Muslim in this case and are turning to terrorism, you`re going to have
to go to 100 percent because all it takes is a few percent, is what we`re
talking bout, in every community in France or in Denmark or the United
States, or anywhere in the world.

You can`t turn everybody to the right side. Some people are going to go to
the other side because they`re losers or they`re zealots or something in
their brain soup makes them do it. This idea we`re going to recover all
these communities I think is just hopeless and long term to the point it`s
not going to deal with people in our lifetime, our grandkids` lifetime.

Why are we talking like this? You know, it sounds like we`re going to get
kids off drugs by giving them better education. Well, maybe, in most
cases, but there`s always -- in this case, we`re talking about worldwide
terrorism. It seem like -- that doesn`t seem strong enough a response.

MOHYELDIN: Well--

MATTHEWS: Is it?

MOHYELDIN: Well, I would have to say that there are two different
approaches here. One is what you`re talking about in the Arab world, where
a lot of this is taking place right now, this type of extremism, and then
what is happening in the West, in countries like France or here even in the
United States.

I think the vice president is talking to two different sets of problems
here.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MOHYELDIN: The first problem in the Middle East is, yes, you have to
create more political plurality. You have to improve the economic
situation. You`ve got to allow for a freedom of ideas, a freedom of the
interpretation of the religion to counter that extreme ideological
narrative that has now been hijacked by these individuals.

That`s separate from what he`s talking about back here in the U.S. and in
France, where we`ve got to have immigrant communities feel like they
belong. The U.S. experience with immigration -- very different. We`re not
looking at big slums on the outskirts of New York and Chicago and LA like
we see in Paris and other cities, where there are just thousands of young
people ripe for exploitation, disenfranchised, not feeling like they
belong.

Immigrants come to this country because they feel like they belong. And I
think that`s what the vice president is trying to say.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MOHYELDIN: We`ve got to make the immigrants who feel isolated in parts of
Europe feel they belong in Europe, feel they have a seat at the table and
part of the process so that they`re not lured and drawn to that ideology,
and in addition to the other problems that you`ve got to do that are
forward-operating problems--

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MOHYELDIN: -- things in the Middle East that you actually have to address
on the ground.

MATTHEWS: You know, Robert, everything that Ayman just said there, I think
you can argue for as American. In principle, we want democratization. We
want freedom. We want free expression. We want all those opportunities.
But you know, that was the neocon argument that got us into Iraq, it got us
all through the Middle East mess we`re in right now -- tear down these
dictatorships and out of them will bloom freedom. A "freedom agenda" it
was called. And yet all it did is create hell on earth.

GRENIER: Well--

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: We tore down these governments, and we`re left with what? We`re
left with ISIS and al Qaeda and all this -- in the ruins. The ruins have
been great for these bad guys.

GRENIER: Well, look, I--

MATTHEWS: They`ve loved us bringing down these governments. I`d like to
see Gadhafi back and Saddam back and the whole rest of these bums because
it least they were the Three Stooges over there! They weren`t threatening
Israel`s real existence. They certainly weren`t threatening ours. They
were a bunch of bums, but you know what? All they cared about was survival
and their Uday and Qusay kids to take care of them and give them sweet
opportunities later on.

GRENIER: Well, look--

MATTHEWS: They weren`t a threat really like ISIS is. It seems to me, I
think we`ve gotten worse. We`ve gone from the frying pan into the fire--

GRENIER: Well--

MATTHEWS: -- because of the neocons, that kind of thinking.

GRENIER: That kind of -- well, look at the end of the day, let`s not
overestimate what the United States is actually able to do. The United
States didn`t create the Arab spring. It wasn`t because of actions of the
United States that Egypt fell and that we have a civil war in Syria right
now, that Gadhafi fell.

At the end of the day, it`s the people in those countries that will
determine the path of their countries. And I think that Ayman is exactly
right over the long term. I think over the long term, yes, you have to
give people an alternative or they have to find an alternative to extremism
in order to meet their legitimate aspirations. In the short term, though,
when we`re -- going back to the -- the--

MATTHEWS: Wait a minute! I want to interrupt this.

GRENIER: -- issue of what the vice president is saying--

MATTHEWS: I want to interrupt there. We did create the situation in Iraq
today because all those generals and former members of the Saddam regime,
all those people in uniform were thrown out because of de-Ba`athification,
a U.S. policy, thrown into the -- nowhere. They found a place at (ph)
home. They call it ISIS.

GRENIER: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And by the way, we were warned, when Syria went down, it was
going to be replaced by something worse. Everybody knew that. It was
going to be worse.

GRENIER: When--

MATTHEWS: Than Assad.

GRENIER: That--

MATTHEWS: So I mean, there wasn`t, like, a shock--

(CROSSTALK)

GRENIER: No, that -- well, that wasn`t necessarily the case. In the case
of Iraq, well, actually, I go at great length in my book, as a matter of
fact, talking about all of the very serious mistakes that we made in Iraq.
There was an opportunity to achieve some very good things there, and
unfortunately, we squandered it.

But again, at the end of the day, when we`re trying to trying to counter
radicalism, radicalization in the Middle East, we are on the periphery of
that discussion. It`s not about us.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s a good argument, but unfortunately, they`re
bringing it to us on national and international television every night, and
we are watching the burnings alive and we`re watching the beheadings--

GRENIER: Oh, it doesn`t--

(CROSSTALK)

GRENIER: It doesn`t mean that -- look, we have a very important stake in
the outcome of these struggles. And it`s very important for us to be
engaged. It`s very important for us to try to reinforce the forces of
relative good, if you will, in those countries.

But at the end of the day, we have to very careful against overplaying our
hand. For instance, we`re constantly talking about a U.S.-led coalition
against ISIS. That may resonate well in domestic political context here in
this country, it does not resonate well in the region. Nobody wants to
defend the interests of the United States. The United States has to be in
a position where it is supporting the interests of those in the region who
want to counter a radical organization like ISIS.

MATTHEWS: Boy, I`d love you to figure out how to do that because we
haven`t figured that one out yet. Yes, I`d love to lead from behind.
That`s what you`re saying, lead from behind, right?

GRENIER: That`s exactly what I`m saying.

MATTHEWS: Well, we`ll try. Anyway, thank you, Ayman Mohyeldin and Robert
Grenier.

Coming up -- a group of anonymous Clinton allies used the newspaper "The
Hill" to launch a war against David Axelrod. My question -- if they`re
proud of what they`re doing, why are they keeping themselves anonymous?
These are all anonymous people yelling.

Plus, mystery in space. Scientists are puzzled by these images on Mars
that show a vast plume of haze in the planet`s hemisphere. What exactly is
it? I know this is something different for us tonight, but I found it
fascinating. What`s going on on Mars?

And a district judge in Texas dealt a blow to the president`s immigration
policy, temporarily at least, blocking the government from giving some
undocumented immigrants relief from deportation. Can this immigration plan
of the president`s survive the court challenge?

And "Let Me Finish" tonight with the growing horror of ISIS and the
American response.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: A new poll shows that most Americans disagree with how President
Obama`s handling the threat of ISIS. A CNN/ORC poll finds that 57 percent
of those surveyed disapprove of the president`s approach to the threat
posed by ISIS militants. But the poll also found that 78 percent -- 4 out
of 5 Americans -- believe Congress should give the president authority to
fight ISIS.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, the lead story on line for much of the day in "The Hill"
newspaper, which covers Capitol Hill, was this piece by reporter Amie
Parnes, who`s also the co-author of the book "HRC: State Secrets and the
Rebirth of Hillary Clinton." In the story, three anonymous Clinton allies
apparently are quoted as being outraged by comments made here by David
Axelrod about Hillary`s emerging campaign. Axelrod was, of course, the
senior adviser to President Obama and is also an analyst at this network.
He`s currently doing media for his new book.

Well, here`s the backlash against Axelrod. Quote, "`It`s not helpful, and
it`s definitely not appreciated,` said one Clinton ally. Another supporter
added `I don`t think a lot of us are scratching our head -- I think a lot
of us are scratching our heads, why is any of this necessary? A third
added, `She`s been a great team player. She`s been very supportive of the
president and she hasn`t gotten in front of him on a lot issues. So what`s
he trying to do?`"

Well, according to the story, Clinton`s allies are outraged in part by what
Axelrod told our show about the challenges facing John Podesta, who`s a
likely choice to be Hillary Clinton`s campaign chairman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID AXELROD, FORMER OBAMA SENIOR ADVISER: People are going to make
mistakes. I mean, the question is, do the mistakes reveal something that
voters take away from it, or are they glitches?

John Podesta has to get control of the Clinton operation. And I think
that`s part of his job--

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Yes, he`s pretty good at that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, are Axelrod`s comments really worth all these attacks in
the paper today? Who let the dogs out?

Are these sources, by the way, actually speaking with Hillary`s authority,
or is this some kind of blood sport we`re into here? And why do these
people refuse to identify themselves if they`re proud of what they`re
saying?

Robert Gibbs is an MSNBC political analyst and was President Obama`s press
secretary. John Brabender is a Republican strategist.

Robert, I`m going to ask an infantile question. But only you can get to
this primitive thought.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: If people are proud of what they`re saying, if they want the
world to know they`re for Hillary, which a lot of people in this city of
Washington are, why do they go on background? Why are they trashing
Axelrod for I would think a relatively constructive idea? Get your act
together. You`re starting a campaign in a few months?

Why are they all on background, so neatly anonymous? I don`t get that
part. I would be proud. If you`re for Hillary, get out there and say so.

ROBERT GIBBS, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, my guess is, much like I
remember dealing with in the White House, my guess is they`re not that
senior a person or a group of people. They`re not that influential in the
campaign, but they have convinced somebody to cite them as an anonymous
Clinton official.

I`m sure there are several thousand of those, while there are only probably
10 real decision-makers.

MATTHEWS: Sure.

GIBBS: I thought the comments themselves were, quite frankly, Chris,
laughable.

She`s bringing on John Podesta to fix what was a huge impediment and one of
the reasons she`s not president now, because the functioning operation of
her campaign was more interested in fighting inside the building than they
were effective at fighting outside the building.

And that`s all that David said. And quite frankly, if this has got them
rankled or whatever, I would only say this to the Clinton campaign. Buckle
up. It`s going to get a lot worse. It`s going to get worse from your
friends, and your donors, and it`s going to certainly get a lot worse from
Republicans. This is not an easy gauntlet to get to the White House, which
she knows.

MATTHEWS: Are these heavyweights within the -- people? Are these people
like -- we have watched people like Lanny Davis speak for the Clintons. I
always wondered if he ever met them. It goes on and on.

They`re people on the outside, David Brock, for example, or Sid Blumenthal,
or Lynn Rothschild, or whatever. They`re all over the place, but are they
in fact speaking for her campaign? But the way the press runs it now, any
time a person takes a shot now, they`re being portrayed as Clinton people.

GIBBS: Right.

MATTHEWS: Well, yes, but there`s millions of people that voted for
Clinton. Are they actually part of the hierarchy, yes or no? You don`t
know?

GIBBS: Well, my guess is they`re not part of the senior hierarchy. They
may be people that are tangentially involved.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

GIBBS: But all this story did today was kick up the fact that Hillary
Clinton had all these problems when she ran eight years ago.

I mean, what on earth would Clinton officials that were smart and savvy and
at the senior of the campaign`s ultimate leadership, why would they start
this fight today? It`s great for David. He`s going to sell some more
books because of it.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I hope so.

GIBBS: It doesn`t help Hillary Clinton at all.

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s a great book. I hope so. It`s called "Believer."

Let me go over to John on this question.

You`re watching this from the other side of the aisle. And I`m wondering,
is this the new rules of engagement, that if you say anything even
constructive about the Clinton campaign-to-be, which I assume it will be a
campaign, that somebody somewhere will take shots at you personally, and go
after you and question your motives and question your character?

Is that the new rule? And it doesn`t even have to be the campaign. It can
just be these sparkies out there, these characters that don`t even have
names.

JOHN BRABENDER, FORMER SENIOR SANTORUM CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Yes. Well, let
me first say to the opposite side of the aisle, thank you, keep it up.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BRABENDER: The ultimate irony is, they`re proving Axelrod right.

He said, look, someone has to get control of this, and so they send three
people out there to basically shut it down. The fact that we`re talking
about it, ironically, shows that it had an opposite effect and it also
shows that no one is calling the shots and there are these like loose
cannons over there.

I do think it also makes people start to wonder if this is what
Clintonville is. You go out and you say something that really wasn`t even
all that critical and all of a sudden everybody is jumping on you. I went
back and looked at all the comments. I think they were probably right on
and I didn`t find them overly critical.

MATTHEWS: I didn`t think so either.

Anyway, on your side of the aisle -- I will get to you in a moment, but be
ready for this. Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, is playing the
terrain as he travels to it. He`s playing it where he`s at. he`s being --
in Rome, he`s being a Roman. Anyway, after playing Mr. Nice Guy last week
in Iowa, Governor Christie assured crowds in New Hampshire this week that
he was anything but Iowa nice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I had one of your leaders say to me
today, we don`t want some kinder, gentler Chris Christie. We want the real
Chris Christie. Well, there`s only one Chris Christie, everybody. This is
it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow. Well, he also played up his aggressive fighting style,
which has seen its share of YouTube viral videos. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE: There will be times I will say some things that will make you
shake your head. There will be some times that I will say things in a way
that you will make you think he maybe could have said that a little bit
better.

But what you will never say is that I don`t know who he is, and I don`t
know what he believes, and I don`t know what he`s willing to fight for and
who he`s willing to fight to get there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Christie finds himself trailing the pack in all of the
primary states right now. And I know it`s early. In Iowa, for example,
he`s got 9 percent and trails Huckabee, Bush, and Walker. He`s running
fourth in New Hampshire, behind Bush, Walker, and Paul, Rand Paul

In South Carolina, he doesn`t even make the top five.

Rob, this thing about being two-faced or -- Huey Long did it in the old
days. He talked about his Protestant grandmother, Baptist grandmother in
one part of Louisiana. Then he talked about his Catholic one when he`s
down in New Orleans. I mean, you can get away with that before there was
like radio, but now it seems to me people know what people are saying in
other places.

GIBBS: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Can Christie be the tough live free or die character, gritty as
hell up in New Hampshire or the more, the word elegiac, easier-going fellow
out in Iowa, which hates loud noises?

GIBBS: Well, I do think it`s very hard, as you mentioned, Chris, to do
that in anything that approximates modern politics.

What you say one place trails you everywhere else.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

GIBBS: A good example, the whole vaccine outbreak, no pun intended, on the
-- on measles and vaccines happened when Chris Christie was in London.

And that was a big story in the United States. So, you really can`t do the
two audiences, you know, different things to the two audiences. I will say
obviously Iowa and New Hampshire are very different states. They are very
different voters and very different people on how they receive messages.
And I think quite frankly that most of the people running and deciding the
Republican primaries are going to want to see the Chris Christie they are
used to seeing.

And I think the worst thing any political consultant or adviser can do is
try to make somebody something that they are simply not.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

GIBBS: And I think Christie is what he is, and that`s what makes him
potentially electable.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: John, almost out of time, but what`s your view about the two
faces of Christie, one for New Hampshire, one for Iowa?

BRABENDER: Well, and knowing the Chris Christie people, who are smart
people, that`s not what it`s going to be.

He`s very authentic. They will keep that. It is going to be the Chris
Christie everybody has ever seen, and he`s better off when he acts himself,
and not tries to become something that he is not.

MATTHEWS: So Jersey is going to sell in Iowa?

BRABENDER: I think Chris Christie comes across as an American original,
which I do think sells in Iowa, as well as a lot of the other candidates
will sell in Iowa.

MATTHEWS: Well, it will be good for us all covering this campaign to have
a good show when Jersey -- when the Jersey boy hits Iowa.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: That is going to be great.

Anyway, thank you, Robert Gibbs. Thank you, John Brabender.

GIBBS: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Up next, something completely different. As I said, these
images of Mars showing a cloud-like are puzzling scientists, top page,
front page of "USA Today." We have got an expert coming up to explain
what`s going on, on Mars. We don`t usually do this, but we`re doing it
tonight.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

A mysterious cloud-like plume, as I said, appeared briefly in the upper
atmosphere over Mars, and the phenomena is baffling scientists right now.
Spanning roughly 300 to 600 miles, the plume were about the size of a
tropical storm. They were first spotted and observed by amateur
astronomers for 11 days back in the spring of 2012.

Now a team of researchers has published a report detailing the phenomena,
yet the scientists analyzing the images have been unable to come up with
any explanation.

Of course, this story comes as an ongoing Obama counselor, John Podesta,
tweeted this about the possible existence of UFOs -- quote -- "Finally, my
biggest failure of 2014, once again not securing the disclosure of the UFO
files. The truth is still out there."

Of course, he was kidding.

But I`m joined right now by Dr. Seth Shostak, senior astronomer --
astronomer and director of the SETI Institute, which searches for
extraterrestrial real life.

Doctor, thank you for joining us.

Your expertise is in listening on the radio or whatever technology we have,
sonar, to listen and see if there`s any reaction to signals we send out. I
want to ask you about that world. Have you ever heard anything come back,
any evidence of life out there responding to us?

SETH SHOSTAK, SETI INSTITUTE: Well, Chris -- yes, well, Chris, if we had
heard something, believe me, you would know about it.

(LAUGHTER)

SHOSTAK: That would be an enormous story.

No, not yet, but I remain optimistic.

MATTHEWS: OK.

Now let`s get to these plumes. I guess we are always looking for hope that
there`s life or potential life on other planets, that there might be H20,
some water, or livable habitat for us in case we get too crowded here.

How does this fit into that, these plumes, or does it or does it not?

SHOSTAK: To be honest, Chris, yes, there`s clearly something in the air on
the Red Planet, but it`s probably either dust that has been kicked up.

I mean, Mars has dust storms. It even has dust devils. You can go online
and find all these nifty videos of dust devils down near the surface of
Mars. But this thing is pretty high up. It`s like about 150 miles up.
It`s about the size of, well, the state of Nevada or a tropical storm.

So, what is it? Well, it could be dust. It could be little particles of
ice, water ice, dry ice, carbon dioxide ice. It could even be aurorae. It
could be, you know, like the Northern Lights. It could be any of these
things. We still don`t know what it is.

But I don`t think it tells you terribly much about whether there`s life on
Mars, because that`s a slightly different story.

MATTHEWS: Well, these chemicals you mentioned, like these compounds, CO2,
does that tell you that there`s H2O? What does it -- what do we know about
the plumes and life? That`s what I want to get to, life.

SHOSTAK: Yes.

Well, life is something else. Look, Mars is everybody`s favorite inhabited
planet. I mean, there are Martians everywhere, right, books, movies, radio
plays. The one place we haven`t found life on Mars is on Mars. OK?

But that isn`t to say it isn`t there. If you look at the surface of Mars,
it is a terrible place. If you look at the photos, it kind of looks like
some remote part of Nevada or Arizona or something like that, without the
cacti, right?

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SHOSTAK: There`s no obvious life there. Daytime temperatures, minus-50
degrees. No water, right? Terrible, terrible place.

But if you were to go to Mars tomorrow or the weekend and dig a hole maybe
100, 200, 300-feet deep, you might find life down there, not little gray
guys, but some sort of microbes. That`s not ruled out.

MATTHEWS: What bounds this story to the top of the fold to today`s "USA
Today," which really goes for the popular quiz? It goes for a real general
audience. It`s not a business newspaper or anything else. It goes for the
big interests people have.

What do you think put it up here? I`m holding it up right now. The top of
the fold of the front page, mystery plumes. What is that about?

SHOSTAK: Well, I`m not really sure.

I think that your theory here that it has something to do with Podesta`s
comments about UFOs, which has gotten enormous play -- I have gotten I
don`t know how many phone calls this morning from people saying, see? The
government is covering up.

This is the same government that runs the Postal Service, and yet they`re
able to cover up the evidence for visitors for 60 years or so.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: So you don`t believe there`s any secret stash of hard evidence
that we have been visited from other -- by other beings from other planets?
You don`t believe that?

SHOSTAK: No, Chris, I -- no, Chris, I don`t.

Look, to begin with, I`m not sure that the federal government would be
capable of keeping that secret, but even if you think they--

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I`m just asking, because I know some people care.

SHOSTAK: Yes. Oh--

MATTHEWS: People watching this show people are -- people are fascinated
with the possibility of UFOs.

Everybody has seen something that they can`t quite figure that moment as
what it is. And it`s something about our human nature. You`re part of it.
You`re doing it for a career. People do want to find something out there.

SHOSTAK: Yes. Well, that`s absolutely the case.

I mean, one-third of Americans -- polls have showed this for, I don`t know,
three decades. One-third of Americans think that the aliens are here,
buzzing the countryside, hauling people out of their bedrooms for
unauthorized experiments, one-third, OK? So they`re very interested in
that.

And they think the federal government is keeping it quiet.

(LAUGHTER)

SHOSTAK: But, on the other hand, if you think that`s true, then you have
also got to figure that the Bolivians and the Botswanans and the Belgians
and the -- all those -- all those guys are keeping it secret, too, or maybe
the aliens only like to visit the U.S., which seems improbable.

MATTHEWS: That`s why I don`t believe in time travel, because I always ask
the question, where are they? Where are the people from the future?

Anyway, thank you, Seth Shostak, Dr. Shostak. Thanks so much for your
expertise.

Up next: the district court decision that could be a major blow to the
president`s immigration policy. What will it mean for the nearly five
million illegal immigrants who could see some relief from deportation,
which is what the president is trying to give them?

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PAGE HOPKINS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Page Hopkins. Here`s what`s
happening.

A senior defense officials tells NBC News the U.S. will provide moderate
Syrian rebels with light pickup trucks, mortars and small arms to help them
protect their villages from ISIS and government forces.

Ashton Carter was officially sworn in earlier as defense secretary during a
ceremony at the White House.

And parts of the South that were hit with a rare winter storm yesterday,
well, they`re in for more misery, as a deep freeze moves in, sending
temperatures below zero in some areas of Kentucky, Tennessee, and North
Carolina -- and now we`re going to take you back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, last night, a federal judge down in Texas temporarily blocked part of
President Obama`s executive actions on immigration. Then, today, the
administration announced it will delay carrying out the executive orders.
Jeh Johnson, Homeland Security Secretary, said, quote, "The department of
justice will appeal that temporary injunction. In the meantime, we
recognize we must comply with it."

Mr. Johnson said.

Anyway, late today, President Obama spoke about the judge`s action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I disagree with the Texas
judge`s ruling and the Justice Department will appeal. This is not the
first time where a lower court judge has blocked something or attempted to
block something that ultimately was shown to be lawful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, this leaves up to 5 million undocumented immigrants
temporarily in limbo. And where does it leave the president?

Joining me right now is NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams.

Great question -- what does this do to his whole push since last November,
to help these people get relief from deportation?

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it puts it on ice for
now. We`ll have to see how fast the administration can get to the Fifth
Circuit Court of Appeals. Undoubtedly, the states that challenge this law
will respond, and then we`ll see how fast the Fifth Circuit responds. If
the government doesn`t get satisfaction from them, Chris, it can still ask
the Supreme Court.

But remember this is just round one in this court. The judge hasn`t yet to
rule on the guts of the lawsuit, which is a straight up challenge to it as
either illegal or constitutional. All he has done so far is said, Texas is
likely to prevail. It`s better to put a stay on it now and let this play
out than he says not to put a stay on, have all these people come forward
out of the shadows, in the phrase he used today in his ruling. And then,
if it`s later found unconstitutional or illegal, immigration people would
have all their names and they could risks deportation.

Now, you could claim that, you could argue that the judge is being a little
overdramatic there, but that is something that`s been raised as a concern.

MATTHEWS: Constitutional question, I know it`s a hard question. Did the
president legislate by these actions or did he just simply show
prosecutorial discretion?

WILLIAMS: Well, the judge would say that he went too far. You`re right,
the administration has said this is prosecutorial discretion, this is the
fact that the government can`t possibly handle all the people that here
illegally, so it`s going to concentrate on the ones with the most serious
threats, criminals, potentially terrorists, people who commit crimes. And,
therefore, it`s going to give a pass to the others.

But the judge says this is not just the government turning their back on
the others. This is the government reaching out to them and giving them
Social Security numbers, work permits, and other benefits. That he says is
going beyond what the law allows.

MATTHEWS: Well-said. Now, I understand it. Thanks so much, Pete
Williams.

I`m joined right now by the roundtable, Maria Teresa Kumar, president of
Voto Latino, of course, Jonathan Capehart of "The Washington Post", and
Jackie Kucinich of "The Daily Beast."

I want to start with Maria.

I know your advocacy role here and I`m trying to figure out what does this
concern you? Do you -- are you just the fact of this thing today, a judge
putting the stay and stopping the locomotive from going where it was going,
thanks to the president, towards relief for millions of people?

MARIA TERESA KUMAR, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think we have to look at
exactly what the judge said. It wasn`t the policy he was going after. He
actually said that it was the manner in which the policy was carried out.
So, the stay, when you look at the rest of the executive order, the rest of
the executive order, that part that actually focuses on enforcement,
enforcing the border, enforcing recent arrive, enforcing the individuals
that are the most criminal, those are -- that still continues.
What the judge had a problem with, Chris, was the idea, that the part of
extending DACA and DAPA, executive action for the undocumented to receive
temporary relief. He said that didn`t have enough comment.

Now, I spoke with some folks indeed administration, and they feel it will
be a temporary roadblock, but in the long term, that 11 million people are
going to eventually be able to come forward.

But I think the real issue is Congress needs to fix the problem. And while
this is a temporary order, this is up to Congress to say, we have a broken
system, let`s figure it out --

MATTHEWS: They don`t want to do it.

KUMAR: They don`t want to do it. They don`t want to do the hard work.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me go to Jonathan on this, because as a general
political analysis, the kind you do all the time, and we try to do, which
is, is it possible that the president`s biggest enemy right now is the
courts, both in this regard and the subsidies for Obamacare? The Congress,
as Maria just touched on, has been basically comatose in terms of getting
anything done.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Right.

MATTHEWS: They don`t get anything done. They`re still arguing among
themselves. And yet the court can be pretty cold and tough by saying,
look, you`ve gone too far, Mr. President, here, you`ve encouraged them to
come in from the cold, you`re giving them Social Security, you`re being
proactive here, you`re not just being not discriminating in terms of not
going after people that are a problem. You`re encouraging them to come out
online with these programs.

CAPEHART: Well, in many ways, because Congress is so inactive and doesn`t
get anything done, and where bills go to die, a lot of people have turned
to the courts for relief, turning the courts into not only the judicial
branch, but in some cases the legislative branch.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CAPEHART: And Maria Teresa is absolutely right. We wouldn`t be in this
position if Congress had moved on that comprehensive immigration bill that
passed the Senate in June 2013 with an amazing 68 votes. That`s a
bipartisan bill that went to the House, and Speaker Boehner let it sit
there and let it die. They could have resurrected it during the lame-duck
session and passed it then and actually trumped the president and taken
some credit for fixing a broken system. Instead they punted. And now, we
have a brand-new Congress, where they`re going to have to start all over
again.

And rather than use the comprehensive bill as a template to get something
done, they`re depending on the courts to do the work for them.

MATTHEWS: You know, let me ask you, though, Jackie, do you do you think
the president can act because the Congress screws up? I mean, they can`t
replace the Congress. You know, you fight the -- somebody said you fight
the battle with the army you have. All he`s got is this Congress, so he
says if they can`t do the job, I`ll do it, but that`s not so easy under our
Constitution. You know, you can only -- you can do certain things along
the margins, but can you create immigration law? Which is in effect what
he`ll be doing if Congress doesn`t act?

JACKIE KUCINICH, THE DAILY BEAST: You know, that`s the debate. What the
White House set they`re very much in the parameters, and right now,
congressional Republicans say he`s not and these 26 governors, that is the
question and that`s what we`re going to see play out.

But I`ll tell you this -- the president does want to see DHS passed and
what the Congress is doing there is probably a mistake for Republicans.

MATTHEWS: I agree, I agree, they screwed things up, but he can`t get away
with what he wants to do, which is to set policy without the Congress
participating. It`s a system of three branches of government and it`s very
tricky.

KUMAR: But it`s temporary.

MATTHEWS: I think the problem this year this summer is going to be the
courts. I looked at the subsidies with regard to exchanges. I worry about
that because I think the court -- I think Roberts could go the other way
this time.

Anyway, thank you.

The roundtable is staying with us, all of them.

Up next, back to the future. The Democrats` plan for retaking the Senate
in 2016, guess what, includes running people who lost the last time in 2010
and 2014. Can they win with guys who have already lost? This seems to be
their strategy. I don`t think it`s going to work.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`ve got some new polling on the 2016 presidential race from
the key swing state of New Hampshire. Let`s check the HARDBALL
scoreboards, some surprises here.

According to the new poll from St. Anselm College and Bloomberg, Hillary
Clinton would beat Rand Paul by seven points, 48-41.

But catch the rest of this. Against Scott Walker, Clinton`s lead grows to
13. Clinton 50, Walker 37.

But look at this baby, against Jeb Bush, the Republican with arguably the
highest name ID, Clinton`s got him by 14 right now. Clinton 50, which is
winning, Bush 36.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

Actually, Democrats think they can win back the U.S. Senate in 2016. And
to do that, they`re trying to lure back names back into the political arena
for comeback bids. The thinking is that strong Democratic candidates who
lost in the GOP wave elections of 2010 and 2014, when turnout was
exceedingly low and bad for Democrats, they have a chance at winning in a
presidential year when voter turnout is usually high.

Former Senators Kay Hagan of North Carolina lost a close one. Mark Begich
of Alaska lost in 2014 as well, has yet to rule out a comeback campaign in
2016. Former Senator Russ Feingold, a popular fellow in Wisconsin, former
U.S. Congressmen Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania who hasn`t stopped running
since last time, and former Governor Charlie Crist of Florida, all lost to
Republicans in 2010 and are all considering rematches in 2016. Former
Governor Ted Strickland of Ohio who lost a reelection in 2010 is also
weighing a Senate bid now.

Back now with our roundtable, Maria Teresa, and, of course, Jonathan and
Jackie.

I want to start with Jonathan this time. Do you think it is smart to go
with the retreads?

CAPEHART: Well, yes, it depends on how the retreads lost. All the people
you`re talking about, these are people who didn`t lose because they`re
constituents hated them, didn`t lose because they were terrible at their
jobs. They lost because the Democratic coalition didn`t come out to vote,
which, you know, by tradition, the Democratic coalition doesn`t come out to
vote in off year elections. You talk about the Republican wave that came
through during the midterm election.

So, if Begich and Hagan and others you talked about are on the ballot
during a presidential election year when there`s going to be a lot of
excitement --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CAPEHART: -- especially on the Democratic side for a potential, perhaps, a
nominee for Hillary Clinton, that they could get back into office.

MATTHEWS: But isn`t this, Maria Teresa, isn`t this recycling? You put
them in, and they face a six year situation six years from now when they`re
back again with the wrong kind of electorate and they get blown away again.
And the other guy goes in. This is a revolving door. These guys don`t
have the strength that went to a wrong kind of election.

So, it`s like baseball players. Left handers and right handers, you`ve got
to be able to take any kind of pitching. I`m sorry, that`s the part --

KUMAR: I think -- Chris, I think that could be true, but I think that what
the Democrats are calculating are two things. One, these are folks that
are tried and tested. They don`t want to repeat that I am the witch that
the Republicans said when they ran unknown candidates. And, two, they`re
in swing states presidential. So, Hillary is going to definitely be
stumping there.

And, finally, and most importantly, these are folks that have their own
personal fundraising network.

MATTHEWS: I see.

KUMAR: I think running a new candidate is going to be very difficult if
the Democratic machine is going to be supporting Hillary.

MATTHEWS: OK.

KUMAR: These are folks that actually have fundraising capabilities.

MATTHEWS: Yes, the difference is, let me just try this, Jackie. You know,
one thing I`ll give to the right wing, they come up with new people, they
pop up all over the place. We had not heard of Rubio until recently.
We`ve never heard of Cruz. I wish we had never heard of him lately.
They`re sprouting candidate out of the woods. But they come up with new
ones.

I think the Democrats are going back to where they were instead of reaching
out to new kinds of people, different ethnic candidates, Hispanics,
different kinds of people, where the Republicans are doing that a little
better, your thoughts? Sure, there`s someone who are dangerous (ph).

KUCINICH: I think it defends on the state. Look at Scott Brown. That
didn`t work too well for them.

But you`re right, somewhere like Ohio, the Democratic bench is not deep, so
they`re going for someone like Ted Strickland who has won statewide. So, I
think it really depends on --

MATTHEWS: He`s lost statewide, too.

KUCINICH: Yes, he has lost statewide. But I think it depends on the
election. It depends on the electorate. A lot has changed since the last
time Ted Strickland and some of these other candidates, maybe not Hagan,
maybe not Begich, but some of the others have run.

MATTHEWS: Yes?

KUMAR: But I think, Chris, what you`re saying to is what the Republicans
have done so well is they`re building a candidate bench that starts in the
state legislature and it preps them. The Democrats do not have that. As
an example, in California, you had roughly three or four Republican Latinas
for the first time run in their local elections and actually made it to the
state legislature and now, they`re going to be groomed for Congress. The
Democrats definitely don`t have that type of operation.

MATTHEWS: Yes, who are the Mia Loves on the Democratic side? Anyway,
thank you so much, Maria Teresa Kumar, Jonathan Capehart, and Jackie
Kucinich.

And I`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish with this new report of horrors we face.

These tortures and killers of ISIS burned 45 people alive today. They took
them prisoner in embattled Anbar province, loaded them on to a truck, throw
gasoline over them and lit a match. They burned them alive. For the same
reason that people have done horrors like this over the centuries, to
punish those who opposed them and to terrify others into bowing before
them.

But ISIS has changed the roles of warfare. They have eliminated the option
of capture, facing these sadists, you have two choices: run or fight to the
death and hope it is to the death. Capture becomes too horrendous to
consider, nobody opts for being burned alive.

I`ve said this before and I have to say it again. We Americans cannot
stand and watch this hell on earth without being effected by it. If we
don`t act, really act to fight, it`s going to weaken us morally. How can
it not? ISIS knows it`s got the hot hand and it`s playing it to the death.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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