January 22, 2014
Guests: Richard Ben-Veniste, Greg Whiteley
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Call the witnesses.
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in San Francisco.
"Let Me Start" tonight with this. Like barnacles on a boat, suspicious
matters now cling to the New Jersey governor`s office in Trenton. It began
with an e-mail from Governor Christie`s office setting the clock for
traffic problems in Fort Lee.
Who struck up that conspiracy which led a deputy chief of staff to simply
alert David Wildstein of the bridge authority it was time for that jam-up
to occur? Who masterminded the scheme to disrupt traffic holding on --
heading into the George Washington Bridge the first day of school? Who
scripted the cover-up that the bridge tie-up was the result of a traffic
Did the governor himself finally step in to shut down the noise level by
calling Governor Cuomo of New York to get him to cool down the
investigation into the traffic problems in Fort Lee? And how does anyone
in the governor`s circle account for the entry in the journal of Hoboken
mayor Dawn Zimmer that the lieutenant governor had put the squeeze on her,
saying the governor put her up to it, to back a development project favored
by Christie`s associates, or else forfeit state disaster funds? The
lieutenant governor denies that version of the conversation.
Yes, there are questions about these matters, but the matters themselves
now sit there for the prosecutors to pursue, to either nail down for a
grand jury or put aside. Unfortunately for the governor of New Jersey, all
it takes is for one of his associates to testify that he, the governor, had
reason to know what was up.
The question now is who of any of those names so far, David Wildstein,
whose attorney has now said repeatedly he is looking for immunity before he
talks, or Bridget Kelly, whom the governor has publicly called a liar, or
one of the two reports Christie has admitted to having his chief of staff
O`Dowd or his counsel McKenna, will provide faithful information under
oath? Mayor Dawn Zimmer may have already done so. The threat to the
governor is clear. It takes only one good hole in his defense to sink his
Howard Fineman`s an MSNBC political analyst and the editorial director of
the Huffington Post Media Group, and Richard Ben-Veniste was a special
prosecutor during Watergate. He was also the chief counsel to the Senate`s
Richard, with your advice, we have put together a set of conditions now
that could be a problem. Here`s the very treacherous path for Governor
Christie to weather the scandal.
First, he needs to hope that no more incriminating documents surface, which
may seem like a long shot if you consider how freewheeling some of his
aides communicate via their private e-mail. Second, that no one in his
inner circle decides to pin at least some of the blame on him in exchange
for a deal with prosecutors for immunity if they`re facing charges.
Third, everyone who provides testimony agrees that Christie wasn`t involved
at all in any way. Fourth, they also agree that they cooked up the scheme
and executed it all by themselves without his involvement. And fifth, that
no other leads turn up which give prosecutors an excuse to broaden their
investigation. In other words, this has to be an isolated event. And
based on other issues brewing, including the Hoboken mayor`s claims, those
odds don`t seem promising.
Richard, expand on that in terms of the exposure if not -- exposure --
close (ph) to exposure in which the governor now sits.
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, FMR. WATERGATE COUNSEL: There are a number of
potential pitfalls, as you have very ably summarized, Chris, for the
governor here. There are state and federal investigations going on, as
well as the legislative inquiry that`s going on, all of whom have subpoena
power and the potential for putting people under oath, immunizing them and
bringing perjury charges in the event they are found to have testified
There`s a specific statute in New Jersey, the criminal mischief statute,
that deals with interruption, deliberate interruption of public
transportation of a substantial nature, which clearly this was. So the
prosecutors will be armed, certainly in the first line of individuals who
were involved in causing the traffic delays, with potential criminal
statutes, not insubstantial in their penalties, three to five years, and
actually five to ten in the event that the substantial interruption
recklessly causes death.
We know that one individual did die who -- for whom medical attention was
called. The initial report was, though, that she was gone before the
But that`s an indication of the fact that these are serious crimes in New
MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Howard on the reporting of this. We already
have in the reports, with pretty sound journalism behind it, that there`s
an e-mail out there that the prosecutors have their hands on which says,
Time to start -- start some traffic problems in Fort Lee. We know it went
from Bridget Kelly, the deputy chief of staff of the governor -- his
office, in other words -- over to Wildstein, who was over at the Port
It seems to me if there is a mischief statute that`s available for the
prosecutors, they`ve got some handy material here already, Howard, and they
can then squeeze those people with the threat of incarceration, serious
jail time, prison time, and say, Look, even if we don`t get the governor,
we`re going to get you, so you better cooperate.
HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:
Well, one interesting part of that e-mail exchange was it`s -- Wildstein
didn`t say, What are you talking about? In other words, she said, Time to
start some traffic problems over in Fort Lee. Wildstein didn`t say, What
are you talking about, which indicates --
FINEMAN: -- which indicates to me that there had been some other
conversations going on about this. He wasn`t surprised by her e-mail,
evidently. This is something they talked about before. As Richard says,
this will all be fleshed out by investigations and subpoenas, and so forth.
And I -- to me, another key player here that`s been not discussed enough is
David Samson, who is a very close friend of the governor`s and a lawyer in
New Jersey of considerable note, who was very much involved in the Port
Authority and who`s hired Michael Chertoff, one of the premier lawyers who
knows about New Jersey, who was a federal judge, who was head of Homeland
Security, who advised the Christie administration about the Port Authority
in its safety operations.
I mean, as Richard knows, there`s going to be a lot of lawyers involved
here. And the great Edward Bennett Williams, the defense attorney here in
Washington, would say, Well, you don`t just represent your client, you
represent the situation. There`s a heck of a situation developing here --
FINEMAN: -- where a lot of lawyers are going to be involved. And it`s
like a whole split-screen story between the governor trying to be governor
and this colossal series of investigations going on.
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s take a look at this other matter in Hoboken. Some
legal experts say conspiracy charges already a slam dunk here. Look at
this from the HuffingtonPost. The easiest criminal issue is conspiracy.
And this was clearly a conspiracy among several people to accomplish an
illegal purpose, the shutdown of the roadways, not in accordance with
whatever rules govern shutting down the roadways. Fordham University law
professor Jim Cohen (ph) said, And conspiracy is often breath-takingly easy
And then I throw in the Hoboken case now, where you do have the fellow you
just mentioned, David Samson. He was lawyer for this Rockefeller Group
that wanted to do the waterfront development there. My God, they`ve got
all that information right now. And they`ve got the woman`s -- the mayor
of Hoboken`s diary entry which says, basically, I`m being squeezed here by
the lieutenant governor, who says she`s come here with word from the
governor, You better do something, or else you`re not going to get any
It does seem like there`s a lot of room here -- Richard, I know you told
one of our producers today that there`s a lot of ways that the prosecutors
can look for a hole -- or -- a hole in the ship of state of New Jersey.
You don`t have to get them all, you just find one big hole in the argument
that the governor knew nothing about the manner the behavior of his
lieutenant governor -- I mean, to believe him, you have to believe that the
Hoboken mayor is lying, that Bridget Kelly`s lying, that Wildstein doesn`t
really want to offer up any testimony, really he`s just bluffing. You got
to believe an awful lot on the governor`s side and believe a lot of rotten
testimony or dishonesty on the part of other people to believe he`s clean,
at least looking out (ph) for it from now.
BEN-VENISTE: Well, clearly, Chris, if, in fact, there was a pattern of use
of withholding disaster funds in exchange for a promise to support
unrelated either legislation or projects or the like, then you have
potential Hobbs Act violations, a serious federal crime, if that, in fact,
is the case.
Right now, it`s a "She said, she said" situation. Obviously, as you
mentioned, there seems to be a rather loose use of e-mails in the
governor`s inner circle, and those e-mails will eventually be subpoenaed.
If they have been deleted, they`ll will be restored.
And there will be a serious inquiry into whether there was a pattern of
misuse of the authority of the governor`s office immediately following this
landslide election, which is reminiscent, as you`ve pointed out before, of
the arrogance of power that we have seen historically, in a situation where
a chief executive exultant over a significant victory at the polls now
asserts his authority in ways that are overreaching and improper.
MATTHEWS: Yes, we`re talking Nixon. By the way, "Newark Star-Ledger,"
which has been a big newspaper breaking this story, said today, "Enough
evidence to pursue Hoboken mayor`s claims against Christie administration.
The word of a single person under oath` -- that would be the mayor of
Hoboken -- "if believed, could be considered by a jury as proof beyond a
reasonable doubt,` said Darren Gelber (ph), president of the Association of
Criminal Defense Lawyers of New Jersey. There are people serving long
prison terms based on the sworn testimony of a single person without any
corroborating physical evidence."
Howard, it seems to me that the mayor -- it`s not just, as Richard said,
"She said, she said." You`ve got a mayor who would have no other reason to
bring this case except that it happened, and certainly wouldn`t replicate
or create a diary entry to risk the fraud charge against her, whatever it
would be, the prison time that would be facing her if it was ever shown
that she fabricated a diary entry just to get a little publicity, whereas
there`s an obvious motive on the part of the lieutenant governor to deny,
quote, "that version" of what happened.
FINEMAN: Well --
MATTHEWS: I mean, if I were on a jury, I`d believe one person and not the
FINEMAN: Well, Chris, what`s going on here is what some people at some
times might regard as business as usual in a place like New Jersey is now
being looked at in a different light because of the bridge incident. The
bridge incident has suddenly changed the optics of this, where things that
might have otherwise been looked at the other way -- the U.S. attorneys got
a lot of other things to do than to try to turn, you know, New Jersey into
the pristine reformer state that it`s never going to be.
You know, now -- now everybody`s on guard and everybody`s aware. And a lot
of Democrats, who in the past might have decided to play ball with Chris
Christie, who had played ball with him in the past, who didn`t want to be
threatened by him, who wanted to go along -- and you know, the mayor of
Hoboken may be one of them -- said you know, the times have changed, the
circumstances have changed. I`m going to come forward.
And one of the things Chris Christie has to worry about, and anybody who`s
thinking of him as a potential presidential candidate, is what other
Democrats, who used to be sort of getting along and going along, partly
because it was New Jersey, partly it`s because of Chris Christie, are going
to say now, You know what? In the light of day, let`s look at this a
little differently, and I`m going to come forward. I`m sure that Dawn
Zimmer is not the only one who`s thinking that right now, the only
MATTHEWS: Well, thank you, Richard Ben-Veniste --
BEN-VENISTE: It seems to me that in the real world, a federal prosecution
is not going to go forward based on what we have seen publicly at this
point with respect to the Mayor Zimmer situation. However, if there is
corroboration, it seems that her story does have the badge of credibility
associated with it. Why would she make this up and take these kind of
risks? Yet prosecutors, and in this case the federal prosecutor in Newark,
Paul Fishman, who`s an experienced, savvy, careful guy -- I don`t think
he`s going to bring a case simply based on the existing record.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know what? I think it was a great comment, gentlemen,
by Jim Dwyer (ph) of "The New York Times" today that only when a crime
became something that the average person can understand does it grab the
headlines. Watergate was a break-in. Everybody knows what a burglary is.
We lock our doors at night. We know what a burglary is, and we don`t like
And in this case, a bridge closing, which everybody who`s ever bucked
traffic in the commute trying to get to work on time and gotten there late
and is ticked about it, can get it. And I think that`s the key to this
story. We can get it, all of us. It ain`t sophisticated. It`s simple.
BEN-VENISTE: No doubt.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman. Thank you, Richard Ben-
Veniste of Watergate fame.
Coming up: Two rising stars, two dramatic falls from grace all in the same
time, Chris Christie and just former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell. Both
are considered -- they were -- up-and-comers in the Republican Party. Now
Christie`s fighting for his political future and McDonnell`s been indicted.
So was his wife. Bad week for the East Coast Republicans.
Anyway, Obama reaches out to Russian president Vladimir Putin, trying to
get a handle on the threat of terrorism in the Sochi Olympics. Could be a
little warming up here today in the self-interest of both northern powers
against the Islamic terrorist threat. Tonight, we`re going to look at the
politics of all this. President Obama has a real chance to look good
helping out Mr. Tough Guy, Vladimir Putin.
And the filmmaker behind the new documentary about Mitt Romney`s failed bid
for the White House. It`s fascinating. Right up to the very end, in the
middle of election night, this guy thought he had won the thing. It`s
great to watch, to learn it from the inside of the loser.
Finally, look who`s back in the headlines.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROB FORD, TORONTO MAYOR: (INAUDIBLE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that`s booze, I guess. Anyway, that, of course, is
Toronto mayor Rob Ford under the influence, who admits once again he was
drinking. He`s in the "Sideshow," where he`ll always be.
And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: One Republican politician who survived a scandal is U.S. Senator
David Vitter of Louisiana, and now he has his eye on the state`s top job.
Vitter, a two-term Republican senator, will run for governor of Louisiana
in 2015. The current governor, Republican Bobby Jindal, is limited to two
Seven years ago, Vitter weathered a prostitution scandal both in D.C. and
down there, and he won reelection regardless in 2010 with 57 percent of the
Boy, Louisiana -- I guess they`ve seen worse.
And we`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Four years ago at this time, newly
elected governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Bob McDonnell of
Virginia were the GOP`s rising stars, two East Coast governors who
prevailed in states President Obama won just the year before. They were
the Republican future.
Now Christie`s in the political fight of his life in New Jersey, and
McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were indicted by the federal grand jury on
charges of accepting more $140,000 in loans and gifts.
As I mentioned, Jim Dwyer of "The New York Times" summed it up today in
basic terms. In fact, why we`re interested in the case. He writes, quote,
"The Christie machine broke a basic law of politics codified by a corrupt
Philadelphia politician and passed along by Richard Argood (ph), a Pulitzer
Prize-winning newsman." Quote, "`Never do nothing crooked or evil that the
average person can understand.`"
Well, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" -- that`s
understandable. And Governor McDonnell and wife charged with illegally
accepting lavish vacations, opulent gifts and large loans -- well, the
average person can understand that, too.
Here`s an excerpt from the indictment about a New York City shopping spree
paid for by Jonnie Williams, a Virginia businessman, who sought special
treatment from the state government.
Quote, "JW paid for the entire luxury shopping trip for Maureen McDonnell
and spent approximately $10,999 at Oscar de la Renta, approximately $5,685
at Louis Vuitton, and approximately $2,604 at Bergdorf Goodman. As
promised by Maureen McDonnell, JW was seated next to Robert McDonnell at
the Union League (ph) Club event later that evening."
Well, these two situations aren`t equivalent legally, of course. After
all, McDonnell has been indicted. But these two governors, Jersey`s and
Virginia`s recent won, who were the face of the Republican future just four
years ago, are now in a far different place.
Alex Wagner is the host of "NOW WITH ALEX WAGNER" on MSNBC at 4:00. And
David Corn is the Washington bureau chief of "Mother Jones" and an MSNBC
Alex, what I like about you is you always see these things in perspective.
And what is strange when you pull back a little bit is, A., the
recognizable wrongdoing if it can be pinned on these two governors -- if it
can be pinned either legally or politically. People get a bridge jam-up.
They get screwing around with political rivals. They get that.
They get muscle on the docks of New Jersey. They can figure that one out
from the movies, from "On the Waterfront." They have seen that. And now
you have got people just supermarket sweepstakes in New York City where
somebody is running around in town going to the best designers, grabbing
all this stuff off the -- well, not off the hook. This is stuff, this is
good stuff, knowing that some sugar daddy apparently, according to this
indictment, is picking up the bill. For what?
Why is this guy doing this? The average person must say, who is this
person that wants to say go buy what you want and I will take care of it?
ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well --
MATTHEWS: Politically, we understand it.
WAGNER: I think that the American public and the residents of Virginia
certainly get the short end of the stick.
But a close second is Jonnie Williams, the guy that forked over hundreds of
thousands of dollars in gifts and got sort of passing endorsements from the
governor, good seats at certain dinner tables, but, really, I think at the
end of the day was a chump in this story.
Chris, to your point about the big picture, this confirms every American`s
worst suspicion about politics and what happens when you get into power.
You become a bully, you become corrupt, you take gifts. You are not a
public servant anymore.
And, honestly, we have talked about this a lot. If Republicans have been
successful in anything in the sort of grand trajectory of American history,
it is maligning public service.
WAGNER: The Republicans in Congress have broken government. And the
Republicans in state offices in these two specific examples have really
shown us the ugly side of being a public servant, the corruption, the naked
greed, and the sense that you are no longer beholden to elected office.
MATTHEWS: Isn`t this is a win-win? I think that is a good thought there,
David Corn, because every time government looks bad, the right wing, not
necessarily the Republican Party, but the right wing that says government
sucks wins, because, hey, even our own guys are crooks?
DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
MATTHEWS: We can`t even trust these East Coast Republicans, these RINOs
back there, these Republicans in name only. Any power corrupts. Any power
corrupts, not just absolute power corrupts absolutely. Any power corrupt.
And so give it to us, the libertarians, the guys who don`t believe in
really -- we don`t touch our hands. We may go to Washington to tag up once
in a while, but we won`t even live there. You know what I mean? We won`t
even be a part of it.
CORN: If we are talking about Rolex watches and traffic jams, that really
helps the overall attack on government that Alex has referred to that has
been going on for decades now.
I mean, the interesting thing is, if you actually bother to read Chris
Christie`s inauguration address, which he delivered yesterday in a somewhat
somber mood, he actually talked up making government work and compromise
and bipartisanship and even -- he even talked about having mandatory drug
treatment for nonviolent offenders, which is not a very Republican idea.
But all that gets blown out of the water by cronyism, by bullyism and by
any possibility of illegality. And the same thing with McDonnell, who was
seen at first a pretty conservative guy, but somebody who was actually
given and trying to make things work in Virginia. He is now going to be
remembered for Rolex watches and Oscar de la Renta gowns, which I assume
went to his wife, not to him.
But this discredits government, discredits politicians. Republicans
couldn`t be happier, because they want power to be taken away, stripped
down from government? Why? Because government might use that power to
help boost the economy and help Americans who need a little more
MATTHEWS: Well, just to make that point, they have already -- today, we
just found out that Mike Lee of Utah, the Sancho Panza of Ted Cruz, is now
being named to be the voice of the Tea Party come State of the Union night.
I guess we will cover it on MSNBC. I don`t see how we can avoid it. We
will cover that, as well as the Republican response.
So we will a three-ring circus next weekend -- next weekday. And it seems
to me that they will be able to make the point politics sucks, it stinks,
it`s all corrupt, the less the better. Cash out.
WAGNER: Chris, what is interesting to me is the Tea Party has announced
who their guy is, but the establishment Republicans haven`t picked their
guy, because the guys that they would pick really aren`t on the national
stage in any sort of legitimate fashion anymore.
That is a problem for the likes of John Boehner, someone who had said he
wants to get immigration reform done. They don`t have ambassadors anymore.
Marco Rubio, there was water bottle gate for him. There is no one left,
and they have got a very, very short bench.
MATTHEWS: Well, we have picked up the -- we have picked up the rock and we
see the bug life under the rock. It`s not pretty to look at.
Maybe somebody will say -- like, I like Kasich, always liked him. This has
gotten me in trouble with some of my progressive friends, but I like
Kasich. He might be OK. A working-class regular guy with a somewhat
ethnic name may be the smart move for them.
MATTHEWS: We will see. We will see.
CORN: What we have here, what you`re going to have in the next year or two
is this division between Tea Party legislators like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul,
put Marco Rubio in that category in terms of competing for 2016, and a few
of the governors left out there, if Chris Christie isn`t.
You mentioned Kasich. Got Scott Walker, maybe Jeb Bush, who knows, even
though his mom doesn`t want him to do this.
MATTHEWS: And the voters don`t want him. They don`t want him.
CORN: Probably, but this is the dividing line now between Tea Party kind
of ideologically more pure legislators, senators, vs. these governors out
there. And there`s still a few left. And the party can`t come to terms
with this conflict. It`s going to have to be fought very fiercely I think
through the Republican primaries and caucuses.
MATTHEWS: Well, this -- 2016 could be a crazy year. This could be like
the 1964 election with Lyndon Johnson being portrayed this time by Hillary
Clinton grabbing 60 percent of the vote, because she grabs the middle. She
is a bit more hawkish than Obama. She is more establishment Democrat. She
can grab the middle.
The Republicans run a wacko bird, as John McCain calls them. We have a
sweeping election. It might mean something. Who knows?
Anyway, thank you, Alex Wagner. Thank you, David Corn.
Up next, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is back in the news, apparently blotto
again. Another videotape has emerged, and once again he says he was
And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL and time for the "Sideshow."
It may have been inevitable, but Toronto Rob Ford is at it again. And this
time, he`s more incoherent than ever. A video posted on social media
yesterday shows him babbling with a Jamaican accent at a fast food
restaurant. Have a look and try to listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROB FORD, MAYOR OF TORONTO, CANADA: (INAUDIBLE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, the mayor spoke briefly to reporters yesterday and
addressed the video. Here is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Were you drinking last night?
FORD: A little bit, yes.
QUESTION: Do you think that video was offensive to people?
FORD: No, I was with some friends. And what I do with my personal life
and my personal friends, that`s up to me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Next up, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger went
undercover as a trainer at Gold`s Gym to raise awareness and money for
After-School All-Stars, a nationwide program that provides free mentorship
to students of low-income families.
And while it is hard not to recognize a guy as famous as Schwarzenegger,
some gym rats had more difficulty than you would expect.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), FORMER GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA: How many miles
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God. Hi.
SCHWARZENEGGER: How is it going?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pretty good. Thanks.
SCHWARZENEGGER: Drinking a lot of water? That`s good, because, remember,
75 percent of the body is water. Keep drinking. OK? We will not finished
yet with the water drinking. When it burns, it grows. Remember that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You look so familiar.
SCHWARZENEGGER: Maybe you saw me on the FBI most wanted list.
Stop being a baby. This is Gold`s Gym. It`s not a baby gym.
Wow. You look so good, so handsome.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, up next, can`t miss that story, can we?
The United States and Russia are working together to snuff out the terror
threat at the Winter Olympics in Russia, and the joint effort could really
help President Obama in his world standing, I think.
You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MILISSA REHBERGER, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger. Here`s
President Obama has announced a task force to help colleges prevent and
respond to sexual assaults, especially on women. He said schools should be
a place where young people feel secure.
In Geneva, talks on ending the civil war in Syria are off to a rocky start.
Secretary of State John Kerry called it a tough and complicated process.
And a powerful explosion and fire at a Mississippi biodiesel plant sent
smoke and flames shooting into the air earlier. There are no reported
injuries -- back to HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Remember when the Republicans were accusing President Obama of not being
strong enough with Russian President Vladimir Putin, that he was being
played? Well, after Edward Snowden landed in Moscow, Senator Orrin Hatch
said -- quote -- "They know our president is weak. They`re playing on it.
And they`re enjoying it very, very much, Putin in particular."
Well, there are reports now that the Russians are asking for tactical help
from the United States on security at the Sochi Olympics.
NBC News reports that Russia`s military chief asked the U.S. chief of the
staff, Martin Dempsey, to share sophisticated electronic detection
equipment used to uncover remote-controlled bombs. A relationship that
seemed to be frozen in a cold place is showing small signs now of thawing,
even if it is just to do with the Olympics. It is still a significant
development and this is basically the first time they have asked, the
Russians, for security help from the United States since the days of Lend-
Lease and World War II.
Yesterday, President Obama and President Putin also spoke on the phone
about security at the Games. Russia is facing a daunting task, of course.
Sochi is just 400 miles west of one of the world`s most restive regions,
the terrorist groups that have vowed to target the Games.
In the past, Putin has played up anti-Americanism. But is this a case
where the old East/West divide between us and the Soviets, the old Soviets,
pales in comparison to the common enemy from north down to south?
Well, Chuck Todd is chief White House correspondent and political director
for NBC News, and Evan Kohlmann is an NBC terrorism analyst.
I love the geopolitical development here, because I have long thought,
Chuck and Evan, like a lot of people have, that the old East/West fight was
going to be replaced by a north/south fight because of the nature of just
the world, the way it is configured. And the Russians had their problems
with the nationalities issue all through the last 30 years actually of the
Soviet Union fighting with the Russian people, Jewish people that wanted to
leave and all the other people that wanted to leave.
And now we confront potentially a common enemy, the terrorists. Your
thoughts about how this could redound to the relationship between the two
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, look, the last time there
was actually some cooperation, it was more on the intelligence level, was
during the Boston Marathon bombing, when there was some concern at the time
that maybe the Tsarnaev brothers had more than just inspirational help from
the Chechen republics.
And you saw the Russians were all too eager to help. They almost wanted
that connection. And this -- a little bit of a backstory here, Chris. The
Russians have always been trying to enlist the United States -- I think
Evan can speak to this better -- the United States in their fight with the
And the United States has always been very hesitant to sort of agree that
what Russia is going through with -- in this sort of what is essentially --
some could argue it`s somewhat of a civil war of sorts, what is going on in
the Caucasus, the U.S. has never sort of given its stamp of, oh, yes, you
are in the middle of fighting Islamic terrorism, too.
There`s always been a little bit of hesitance here. But on this and in
particular the Games, obviously, I think that this is where you are seeing
the transactional guy that is Vladimir Putin. He doesn`t want to get
embarrassed on the world stage.
A terrorist attack or the lack of security at an Olympics would be an
embarrassment to him, and he knows that the United States at the end of the
day will always help if they -- as long as he is asking.
MATTHEWS: Evan, what is he asking for?
EVAN KOHLMANN, MSNBC TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, right now, he is not exactly
asking for American warplanes and soldiers and intelligence.
What he is asking for right now is equipment, equipment that was built and
was developed at the cost of American lives in places like Afghanistan and
Iraq. And it is really not that much of a jump to expect that he would ask
or they would ask for this kind of equipment.
I think what we shouldn`t really expect for is for the Russians to be
eagerly accepting our military, our ships, our aircraft in the event that
we have to evacuate athletes. This is not the kind of thing they`re very
eager about. And even though we did see cooperation around the Boston
bombings, it was fraught with complications.
Let`s not forget that in order to get a congressional delegation over
there, we had to get Steven Seagal to serve as the interpreter. That`s not
exactly a good relationship.
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s zero-base this, Evan, and think it through this way.
If you`re a proud guy who has to bring back greater Russia in terms of its
ego, its national ego, which I understand why he`d want to do that, for the
collapse of the society union and want to be Mr. Tough Guy like he presents
himself, isn`t it hard to ask for technical assistance? Do the Russians
like admitting we are ahead of them technically?
KOHLMANN: It`s embarrassing and I`m sure it`s not something rank on
Putin`s top 10 list. But what`s more embarrassing? Asking the U.S. for
technical assistance or having the Sochi Olympics, the crown jewel of
Putin`s reign, turn into a giant fiasco because of a terrorist attack. I
think it is clear why they are willing to ask for U.S. support.
MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Chuck on a bigger question.
Do you have a sense of the calibration that went into the decision by the
president and the first family and actually the whole circle around him to
skip the Olympics? What`s going on in that?
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC ANCHOR: Yes, look, and I know that some would read it as
a full fledged snub. But -- and I think there was a decision to send a
message with the delegation.
Look, the relationship is not good. Let`s not pretend that it is. There`s
all sorts of disagreements. Putin does want to be treated like a
superpower. This all goes to that a little bit, and in many ways he goes
around searching for ways to poke, stick his finger in the president`s eye.
I think now in more experts I talk to think it wouldn`t matter who was
president right now this is what Putin would be doing to everybody because
it`s all about reasserting what he believes is Russia`s place in a bipolar
world or tri-polar world. He wants Russia to be one of the legs of the
world stool, and I think that that`s driving him here.
But look, this is the United States wanting to send a message to Putin on
gay rights. I mean, the entire delegation. You know, they didn`t hide
that. And I think the idea if Vice President Biden wanted to go to Sochi -
- I don`t think a lot of the administration wanted to go to Sochi. It`s
not exactly the most inviting place.
MATTHEWS: That`s what I get the feeling off. Evan, let`s get back to the
north/south fight. You are the expert. This -- I remember watching with
the Jewish people -- we covered that story with Jackson and Amendment, to
try to get them out of Russia.
I was told at the time it was the Russian government at that time, the
Soviet government`s fear, that if they let Jewish people out there, it
would signal other nationalities they could get out, too. And what we`ve
seen since then, since the `80s, is it has come apart. All of these people
wanted their independence.
Is this north/south problem in Russia whatever they say or whatever we say
sort of like we`re facing all the problem we are facing with the Islamist
world? It`s the same thing.
KOHLMANN: And that`s exactly what the Russians argue. The Russians argue,
how can you not understand the fight that we`re fighting in Chechnya
because of the same fight that you are fighting in Afghanistan? And to
that point, look, admittedly, there are connections between the Islamic
emirate of the Caucuses, in the Caucuses region, and al Qaeda and the
But -- there`s a big "but" here and that is the Russians tend to label
anyone in the Caucuses who doesn`t like them as a terrorist, as a jihadist,
as an extremist.
MATTHEWS: I see.
KOHLMANN: And they have done awful, terrible things in the Caucuses. They
have murdered people. There have been gross human rights abuses.
And for the U.S. to be in league with those policies, we have to be very
much eyes open, because if we help the Russians with their counter-
terrorism strategy in the Caucuses, inevitably, we will also help them
crack down on people who may not necessarily be adversaries of ours but
simply are adversaries of the Russians, maybe people that aren`t just
extremists but people that are looking to stand up for their rights. And I
think that`s the problem with the Russian campaign in the Caucuses, is that
it doesn`t distinguish between people that are genuine, dangerous
extremists who are killing innocent people with others who are simply
demanding their rights.
MATTHEWS: I am learning something here tonight. Thank you for that, Evan
Kohlmann. And thank you, Chuck Todd. I always learn from you.
Up next, right now, to the end of 2012, the campaign, of course, we`re
going to talk about that. Mitt Romney thought he had it won. This is a
great story coming up on HARDBALL.
We`re going to have this documentary, pieces of it. This guy right until
the middle of the night of election night in November 2012 thought he won
the election. And then, all of a sudden, it`s gone. It`s amazing to watch
these scenes inside the Romney collapse.
And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: A reminder: you can take MSNBC with you wherever you go with our
new MSNBC app. You can stream MSNBC live on your iPad or iPhone, watch
HARDBALL and the rest of our lineup on demand, and view the show content.
It`s free and you can get it right now at the App Store.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: We`re back.
It is a rare thing in American politics to see the man behind the curtain
of a presidential campaign. But a new documentary set to premiere on
Netflix Friday, this Friday, does just that.
"Mitt", the film, is a strikingly intimate portrait of Mitt Romney and his
family as he campaigned for president in 2008 and 2012.
The strength of the film is the access filmmaker Greg Whiteley was able to
get to the candidate and his family, capturing the kind of personal moments
and intimate conversations that no reporter can even dream of getting. And
what the audience sees behind the scenes is what most pundits never did, a
private guy supported by a devoted family as he endures two punishing
campaigns, both defeats.
Here is a preview from the trailer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you don`t win, we will still love you. The country
may think of you as a laughingstock and we`ll know the truth.
MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ouch.
I look at what happens to anybody in this country who loses as the nominee
of the party. They become a loser for life, all right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A year ago we said we would love you no matter how this
thing turns out and --
ROMNEY: Now, we`re not so sure.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, we`re not so sure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Seven years in the making, "Mitt" is the work of filmmaker Greg
Whiteley, as I said. He joins us now.
And I think what`s great about your film and your work here over this long
period of time, Greg, is you give us a portrait of what politics is like at
the highest level. Not necessarily -- I mean, you may disagree obviously
about Romney, but anybody who has to go into that incredible meat grinder
of running for public office.
Let me ask you -- you showed him with his family in pictures where most
people relax, a comfort zone, if you will -- is this helpful for us
understanding what he would be like in a crisis? When he has to deal with
a lot of bad people that you may not like or people that are out to get
GREG WHITELEY, DIRECTOR, "MITT": That had never occurred to m me. Perhaps
to a degree that`s true.
You see Mitt Romney under some very stressful situations. The access that
I got were backstage with him both right before the big debate with Barack
Obama, and right after we were with him, that debate went well. We are
with him during the second debate when it didn`t go well.
I was always impressed with the way he handled himself when things did not
go well. If it were me during some of those situations, I would curl up in
a fetal position on my bed somewhere, in my hotel room, and not want to
talk to anybody.
Mitt was extremely gracious. Some of those things seemed to just kind of
failures would just roll off his back, he was always anxious to be around
his grandkids and his kids. One of the things I found most striking, that
you see in our film, which you probably remember, right after the second
debate, there`s that moment in which he`s not properly prepped on Benghazi,
and Barack Obama is able to have a very significant moment in which --
MATTHEWS: Sure, we all remember that one.
WHITELEY: And so, afterwards, you would just imagine, well, how
disappointed are you? This is a very difficult moment in the campaign.
And he`s engaged in a debate with his son over where to get the best food
at the LaGuardia Airport.
WHITELEY: I don`t think it`s because he doesn`t care about the campaign, I
think it`s because it`s how he`s learned to deal and cope under stressful
MATTHEWS: OK, that`s what struck me, Greg, that`s what struck me on your
doc. Here we are, we all remember, of course, covering election night.
But the film reveals -- your inside film -- that Romney hadn`t prepare at
all for the possibility he wouldn`t win in November of 2012. So, the
numbers started coming in from Florida. In fact, he knocked out his
concession speech on his own iPad there. You can see him reading a draft
of the stage before taking to the stage.
Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: This is a time of great challenges for America and I pray that the
president will be successful in guiding the nation. No one`s listening.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What`s going on?
ROMNEY: We`re writing a concession speech.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: And then you have his wife there coming on and say -- I`m sure
she`s stunned by the whole development -- what`s he doing here? He`s
writing his concession speech.
What I thought was so real and I guess unreal was I remember covering it
that night with Rachel, I`m sitting there watching, OK, here is Virginia
too close to call. Too close to call. So, I`m thinking that must mean
that Ohio is going to go for Obama. So, that`s when I figured out Obama
He did it the same way. He looked at Florida by 500 votes, he said, well,
if we`re only winning Florida by 500, we ain`t got any chance of winning
Ohio. It`s so interesting the way we all in the political world try to
figure things. What I`m sort of watch as an observer and he`s watching it
as a candidate, and yet he doesn`t cry, which I`ve seen politicians do when
they lose the big ones, nothing wrong with that, their whole life has been
rejected, they are personally being rejected.
He just sort of sits there like -- I don`t know -- how would you describe
it, Greg? His reaction was so calm, it was unusual.
WHITELEY: I asked him about that, just about defeat in general. He used
to quote his dad to me, and George Romney would say, listen, I believe in
public service. And I`m going to offer my public service, and if the
public doesn`t want it, fine. I`ve got a great life I can go back and
I think Mitt really believed that. When you look at his family and the
great life, the great lives they lead, part of it is due to this
extraordinary success he`s had in his life.
I think, you know, he`s a competitive guy. I know he was devastated. It
was unbelievably disappointing.
And to be in that room the night he was learning this six-year endeavor was
coming to an end and it was not going to be successful. You could feel the
weight in that room and how difficult that was.
But I was also -- I`m with you, that was -- that was my same observation.
I just thought, no, he`s telling the truth.
WHITELEY: He`s got a great life, and if the public does not want his
service, he`s fine with that.
MATTHEWS: Well, you won`t dislike Mitt Romney any more than you might
already after watching this movie, you may like him a bit more. It`s an
interesting look at this guy.
I wasn`t stunned by because I`ve met him in difficult circumstances when
he`s been incredibly gracious. It didn`t surprise me that he`s a gracious
gentleman. That didn`t surprise me, but the film is fascinating, just for
anybody who`s thinking about running for office.
The movie is called "Mitt". It`s coming out on Netflix, which is pretty
hot right now. And the producer is Greg Whiteley.
And we`ll be right back after this.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this:
Jim Dwyer with "The New York Times" today quoted a Philadelphia politician
in saying how dangerous it is to commit a crime that the average person can
understand. In other words, don`t grab the money, don`t screw the guy or
woman out there trying to buck traffic and get to work, don`t throw your
weight around if it means costing disaster help.
Suddenly, the headlines in the airwaves are full of news about politicians
being accused of doing the old time stuff, stuff that the average Joe can
get his head around. Not for our time, the byzantine channels of Iran
Contra or the black bag missions of the White House plumbers.
No, today, these stories are about bridge jam and paid for shopping sprees
in Manhattan, and strong arm tactics on the waterfront of Hoboken. For
these gritty stories in today`s newspapers, we need Marlon Brando and Lee
J. Cobb and, Karl Malden, maybe that old muckraker himself Walter
Windshield (ph) to do the reporting.
One bit of good news to leave with you tonight: these stories are not hard
to follow, are they?
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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