February 20, 2014
Guests: Heather Hadden, Brian Murphy, John Nichols, Alex Burns
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Bridge jam-up to last a month?
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews up in New York.
"Let Me Start" tonight with the big new developments in the Chris
Christie bridge scandal. Number one, according to logs at the Fort Lee
Police Department, there`s reason to believe that the scheme was to have
the bridge block-up last a full month -- not four days, four weeks. Are
these guys nuts?
Number two, we know that a well-placed police authority -- or bridge
authority police officer, the one who drove Wildstein around that day, knew
exactly what was going on, knew to say it was all some kind of bridge study
or traffic study, a four-week jam-up of traffic across the busiest bridge
anywhere, and it was all a traffic study.
What this adds is a plan is that the plan to jam up the traffic and
the plan to blame on it the traffic study, a month-long traffic study, was
known to the Christie appointees on the bridge authority, the Port
Authority police union chief and the same Port Authority police officer,
Chip Michaels, who told the Fort Lee chief of police that day that the jam-
up was going to last a month.
Well, every day, we`re learning that more and more people knew about
this plot, including key people in Christie`s own office -- everyone, we
are to believe, I suppose, but the man in whose name they were doing all
this. From the New York Port Authority to the governor`s office, people
knew that no one was to take a phone call from the Fort Lee mayor. They
were to maintain what they liked to call radio silence for as long as the
traffic jam-up lasted. That could be a month.
Some other information out today. There were several traffic
accidents caused by this bridge scheme, delays of emergency vehicles, and
at least four cases where ambulances were held up, all for the purpose of
putting some kind of punishing squeeze, apparently, on the mayor of Fort
Lee, a squeeze that lasted only four full days, but was planned, as we know
now, to go four weeks, if that`s what it took for the man in Fort Lee to
get whatever message was being sent.
You have to wonder about the basic IQ here of the people involved.
They were going to carry out this crazy campaign, this battle of Fort Lee,
if you will, for week after week after week after week -- until what?
Heather Hadden`s a reporter with "The Wall Street Journal" and Brian
Murphy`s a reporter -- was a reporter with Politicsnj.com, is now a
professor at Baruch College over here in New York.
Heather, let me ask you about the development here. This month-long
plan we`re hearing about today, it seems to me that suggests, if you try to
figure out the political calculation, they must have assumed that whatever
was going to come back from Fort Lee, whatever message was being sent would
be responded to in that time, and they wouldn`t have to go the full month
because four weeks of five days a week of traffic jam-up for four to some
hours every single day would be almost ballistic in terms of what it would
do to the drivers.
HEATHER HADDEN, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Yes, this was an interesting new
development. We had never really heard before how long the supposed
traffic study was to last. I mean, It was aborted prematurely by Pat Foye,
the executive director of the Port Authority, who said, We need to put a
stop to this. There could be serious consequences in terms of, you know,
people getting stuck on the bridge or ambulances getting delayed, which
does seem to have occurred.
But in this log, this hand-written log from the Fort Lee police chief,
he wrote that Chip Michaels, the lieutenant that you referred to earlier
on, had informed him on the first day of the traffic study -- supposed
traffic study -- that it was to last a month.
Now, in testimony that Bill Baroni, the Christie appointee to the Port
Authority, gave when he was discussing the traffic study, he had never said
how long it was supposed to last. So it seems like they really meant
business, I guess, with this traffic study.
We still don`t have a lot of details exactly how they planned to
implement it. Was it going to be every day for the month? We don`t really
know. But I mean, that month would have really taken a toll if it had
lasted for that long.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the fact that the official, Chip
Michaels, the uniformed officer on the bridge who was driving Wildstein,
David Wildstein, around that day, apparently -- that he is`s contact with
the police chief from Fort Lee, telling him all this? What does that tell
you, that he would serve notice? What does telling a guy it`s a month --
what`s that tell you?
HADDEN: Well, I mean, the police chief, from what I understand, was
inquiring about what exactly this new traffic pattern was on that first day
that it went into effect, and that was the limited amount that the police
chief was told. I mean, we have a lot of new questions now about exactly
if he was given more details.
I mean, this handwritten log was really bare bones. He was recording
his observations of those five days of the traffic study, including all the
-- you know, the various delays that was caused. He said in that log that
there were many incidences of road rage. There was a car crash that he
observed, and that there was a lot of phone calls that he placed to Port
Authority officials that weren`t returned when he was really urgently
trying to get information about what was going on there.
So again, we don`t really know exactly how much more information he
was told about that...
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, we`re getting a lot of information...
HADDEN: ... so we still have a lot more questions.
MATTHEWS: Well, look at today, yesterday, in fact, officials in Fort
Lee released more than 2,000 pages of new documents relating to the bridge
scandal, including notes that the Fort Lee police chief made about
conversations, as we just said, with the Port Authority officials during
the lane closures last September.
And one of those notes tells us something about the full extent of
this political punishment operation that we`re now piecing together. At
first glance, the police chief`s notes might look a bit cryptic. They say
"Chip Michaels, month, last relieve, route 95 from executive Jersey City" -
- obviously, cables there.
Well, here`s what it means in English, non-police, according to two
journalists familiar with those logs. Chip Michaels, a Port Authority
police lieutenant informed the Fort Lee police chief on day one of the
political punishment operations that the bridge lane closures were going to
last for an entire month. Well, that`s what those words meant. In other
words, Fort Lee was going to be told that their city was going to be turned
into a parking lot for the entire month of September.
Brian Murphy, come in on this because it seems to me there`s a lot of
information being shared here. It seemed like everybody was in on this
punishment operation to send some kind of message to the mayor of Fort Lee,
whether it had to do with trying to get him to endorse or trying to get him
to go along with something or not go along. We don`t even know yet.
BRIAN MURPHY, BARUCH COLLEGE: Right.
MATTHEWS: Everybody knows everything but the motive here.
MURPHY: Right. Yes. Exactly. Right. We don`t know. It looks to
me like they`re building -- I mean, it`s inconceivable that you would be
able to do this for four weeks. I just don`t see how...
MATTHEWS: Or are they crazy?
MURPHY: When Pat Foye finds out about it on Thursday, or Friday -- or
early Friday morning, Thursday night, it`s shut down by Friday morning,
right? I don`t know how they ever thought that they could keep him from
finding that out for weeks and weeks on end.
MATTHEWS: Well, it told me they wanted to do it long enough to get
this guy`s attention because they`re saying all the time, No radio contact
with this guy...
MATTHEWS: ... in the military, radio silence meaning he`s going to
call and beg for help here. Let`s make sure he really comes through and
really begs and gives us what we want, apparently.
MURPHY: Right. And they want him to think that it`s going to go on
for four weeks, right? That`s the important thing.
MURPHY: You need to make him think this is going to go on forever and
that he`ll never get an answer to those calls.
MATTHEWS: Well, Heather, I don`t know how your reporting stacks up
with that, but that does make, in this crazy world, some kind of sense. At
least there`s the notion of -- apply pressure, make him hurt, make his
commuters call back to city hall, as the police officers were telling them
on the bridge that day. Call your mayor, complain to him. Let the word
get to him.
All that pressure against him until he breaks and does -- and this is
the big question mark -- does whatever the Christie people want him to do.
HADDEN: Yes. I mean, what`s interesting also that was released in
the 2,000 pages of documents was a phone call log from the borough hall of
Fort Lee to various numbers during those days. And you see repeated calls
from borough hall to Bill Baroni, the deputy executive director at the Port
Authority, and another aide to him. It was something like almost a dozen
calls made to the Port Authority.
So you know, the officials were frantically trying to get some
information about this. It seems like they had very limited information
beforehand. And then on the flip side, they were getting calls from angry
drivers. So they were really getting barraged from both sides, but not
getting a lot of questions answered.
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s put some more material together because this is
adding up. Not only do we learn today they have gone (ph) through (ph) it
(ph) for a month, but we also know from past history here that Baroni and
Wildstein were all mad at this guy, Patrick Foye, who blew the whistle,
from the bridge commission, and said -- the director over there, and said,
You got to stop this. They were mad at him for stopping it.
Does that mean that they were mad because they wanted a four-day stop
-- jam-up to last four weeks and it was ruining their plan? That`s what it
adds up to.
MURPHY: There`s a line...
MURPHY: There is a line that David Samson has when they`re angry with
Pat Foye is that, the line that they say is that he is "playing in
traffic." He`s playing a dangerous game, playing in traffic. That`s the
line that Samson -- that the chairman of the Port Authority...
MATTHEWS: It makes it...
MATTHEWS: Brian, you`re -- you have to put these things together,
like we all do. It seems to me like everybody`s in on this political
intrigue. Everybody knows what the game`s about generally. We`re going to
put some kind of pressure on Fort Lee. And the only one that doesn`t see
it is the Boy Scout here.
MATTHEWS: Patrick Foye, who was appointed by Governor Cuomo. And
again, I go back to my favorite question. What happened on the phone call
between Governor Christie and Governor Cuomo?
MATTHEWS: When apparently, according to a "Wall Street Journal"
report back -- reported later by "The Times," that, in fact, it was a call
from Christie for help, right?
MURPHY: Right. Right. Maybe. I mean, the thing...
MATTHEWS: Get this guy off my punishment campaign. Why is he
interfering with this thing?
MURPHY: The thing about Pat Foye is, though, yesterday, there was a
Port Authority board meeting. Steve Kornacki was there and asked Pat Foye
a question during a press availability he had, What did you think David
Wildstein`s job was at the Port Authority, because they created this job
for him. When Wildstein left, they didn`t renew the job. It`s gone now,
MATTHEWS: Right. There was...
MURPHY: They asked him, What did he do there? And Foye said, Well,
my understanding was he was here to do politics.
MATTHEWS: Which means?
MURPHY: He`s there to be Christie`s eyes and ears, right? He`s the
guy who`s feeding his -- who`s there as the Christie appointee who...
MATTHEWS: And who said that?
MURPHY: Pat Foye said that.
MATTHEWS: Well, there you go. What do you know about the
relationship, Heather, in reporting this, that -- what the conflict is here
between the Christie team -- Wildstein, Baroni, all the rest of them,
Bridget Kelly, whose name hasn`t been popping up lately, Stepien, that
whole sort of group of people that are all Christie people, all involved --
and we know this now from e-mails and other indications. They`re all
involved in this jam-up of traffic, deliberate jam-up. We all know they
knew about this sort of cover story. They were all in on it together.
What was their relationship with the Cuomo people? Were they at odds,
or what? Because the Cuomo guy blew the whistle and stopped this thing.
HADDEN: Well, really, the nature of the Port Authority is it`s a bi-
state agency, and there`s always tension between the New York side and the
New Jersey side because each are competing for resources to buttress their
own projects. Each side wants, you know, a piece of the pie. So this
tension has always existed.
And it does seem from reporting this that that heightened to some
degree when David Wildstein was appointed to the Port Authority...
HADDEN: ... that he really ruffled some feathers there, including on
the New York side, including with the Port Authority police, from what I
understand, because he was involved in lots of aspects of the agency and in
trying to advance, it seems, New Jersey`s interests in them. So there was
a lot of tensions around him and between the two states.
MURPHY: They wanted him to be a director-level appointee at first.
He was going to be paid over $200,000. And the New York people rebelled
and said, Absolutely not. You can`t do it. And they bumped him down to
MATTHEWS: Yes. He`s gone now. Thank you so much, Heather Hadden.
Everybody`s heard here expect the governor. Brian Murphy, thank you, as
Coming up: With Hillary Clinton gearing up for a possible presidential
run, get ready for the unearthing, the exhuming of all the old Clinton
conspiracy stuff -- Whitewater, "file-gate," "travel-gate," prostitution,
drug money, laundering, murder. It`s a reminder that halting a Democratic
president is nothing new, or hating one.
And as we know so well, it hasn`t gone well, either -- gone away,
either, the latest example of hating President Obama first and then
figuring out why later, as Marco Rubio blasted the president for
apologizing to an art history professor in the same tweet in which he
agreed with him. And that`s tricky with just a few characters to work
Plus, there`s some unwelcome focus on Governor Scott Walker of
Wisconsin. E-mails released yesterday detail how people in his office,
when he was county executive down in Milwaukee, mixed government and
campaign business on the public`s dime. It`s hardly unique in politics,
mixing politics with government, hardly at all. But when laws get broken,
it does cause unwanted headlines, Governor.
Finally, it`s hard to beat the latest Jimmy Fallon mash-up, this one
involving two of our NBC colleagues, Brian Williams and Lester Holt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, "NBC NIGHTLY NEWS" ANCHOR So far, you`ve heard my
voice, but I brought two friends along. And next on the mike is my man,
Hank. Come on, Hank, sing that song.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Check it out. (INAUDIBLE)
MATTHEWS: New poll numbers on the presidential race in the key
battleground state of Ohio. Let`s check the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."
According to a new Quinnipiac poll, Hillary Clinton has a 9-point lead
over U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan out there in Ohio, 49-40. And Ryan comes
closest to Hillary among all the Republicans. Ohio governor John Kasich is
the next closest, but he`s down 12 points to Hillary, 52-39. Rand Paul
trails Hillary Clinton by 13, 51-38.
Chris Christie`s sinking fast. He`s down 13 points after trailing by
only 1 point in November. It`s Clinton 49, Christie 36. Clinton tops
Marco Rubio by 14, 50 to 36. She beats Jeb Bush by 15, 51-36. And the
Republican who fares worst against Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz. He`s down 17
in Ohio, 51 to 34.
And we`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Two years before the Iowa
caucuses for 2016, the far right`s beginning to attack on the Clintons.
It`s called shaping the battlefield, if you will. The chairman of the
Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, started this week with the
tweet, "Remember all the Clinton scandals? That`s not what America needs
Anyway, today on the "Mother Jones" Web site, David Corn, our pal,
with help from NationalMemo`s Joe Conason, tells us to expect the far right
to revive some of the tales, including the Vince Foster suicide, which some
on the right still say could have been murder, Whitewater, the million-
dollar search for wrongdoing by the Clintons in an Arkansas land deal that
ended up proving nothing except that the Clintons lost money, "Travel-
gate," an exhaustive investigation that found no intentional wrongdoing by
Hillary Clinton as first lady, and a slipshod travel office operation that
deserved scrutiny, "File-gate," accusations proven untrue that Hillary
Clinton had ordered up FBI background files to target political opponents.
Years later, a Reagan-appointed federal judge dismissed a civil lawsuit
based on those allegations saying there was no there there.
Well, what does this matter? It doesn`t matter a lot to the right.
As David Corn writes, "There`s still life in these old conspiracies for
some on the far right. Like ordnance left over after a war," he wrote,
"this ammunition remains ready to be used by conservatives who recoil at
the thought of another Clinton in the White House. It doesn`t matter that
these bombs are duds."
Well, David Corn`s here with us right now. He`s Washington bureau
chief for "Mother Jones." And Michael Steele, of course, is former chair
of the Republican National Committee. Both are MSNBC political analysts.
Michael, I think you`re in the barrel again on this one.
MATTHEWS: I don`t know what`s going on with your party. But let me
go with you first because I think you`re -- you`ve been in the party. You
were chair before this genius, Reince Priebus, came in.
MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.
MATTHEWS: It seems to me...
MATTHEWS: ... that if all your party has is the old compost pile, if
you will, of stuff from...
MATTHEWS: ... 20 to 30 years ago, that`s your stuff, it will open up
the Republican candidate for Hillary Clinton to say, There you go again,
because that`s exactly how Reagan killed my old boss, Jimmy Carter.
MATTHEWS: He got him not being inaccurate, but being so old and all
the old crap he pulled out.
MATTHEWS: He said, Is that all you`ve got? Your thoughts.
STEELE: Well, no, I -- you know what? That`s a song sheet. I don`t
know why anyone`s pulling it out. You know, if that is the game plan, and
if that`s the ultimate strategy of the party writ large, and certainly our
nominee, then we will lose. There`s no doubt about that. America does not
want to retry 25, 30-year-old information.
Certainly, as you laid out, those indictments were long since thrown
out. And I think the fact of the matter is, looking at Hillary`s service
in the Senate, looking at her service as the secretary of state, that you
can shape an argument about what she supported in this administration, a
continuation of Obama policies, those types of things, that`s a
battleground that you can -- I think the party can stand on.
But, if this is the -- if this is the fight, then I think we`re going
to be sorely disappointed with the outcome.
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s go back to the first lady who is going to be
the target of all this. It`s all about beating her. It`s not about
getting even with Bill Clinton again.
Or it is, David? My question to you is, could it be brain soup, as we
say? Could it be that the Republicans aren`t just being strategic, because
they may be boneheaded about this? It`s in their being that they love this
DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, yes.
MATTHEWS: They want to go back into the old Vince Foster case because
they have these theories.
Remember Dan Burton, the congressman who was shooting cantaloupes in
his backyard to prove that somehow Vince Foster didn`t shoot himself? I
mean, normal people don`t do that.
MATTHEWS: I feel like this is a pot of boiling water with a lid on,
and they`re just waiting for the pressure to build up and come out.
I mean, people like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have been talking
about Vince Foster for the last 10 years. Every time something happens
with Hillary, they go, well, remember what happened to Vince Foster.
MATTHEWS: What did happen?
What do they really believe happened?
MATTHEWS: The guy was -- was really hurting and he went out on the
Potomac River here and shot himself to death. It was a horrible story.
Why do people want to bring it back?
CORN: Well, when you take a step back and look at it, what people on
the right have done has just been disgusting. He was a victim of
depression. He killed himself.
And yet they have come up with all these schemes. Kathleen Willey,
who was booked on FOX News just a few days ago, has been out there in the
past making sort of a convoluted suggestion that Hillary Clinton and Bill
Clinton were involved in the death of Vince Foster.
Why? Maybe to cover up something for Whitewater. Other conservatives
said it was to cover up his relationship with Hillary Clinton. It`s all a
lot of trash and rubbish. But let me take one issue...
MATTHEWS: Well, that`s one way to kill -- first of all, there is no
reason to believe there was a relationship.
MATTHEWS: But, secondly, one way to bring attention to a relationship
is have the guy shoot himself or kill the guy.
MATTHEWS: This stuff doesn`t even add up to its own perfect purposes.
It doesn`t make sense even to the arguers.
CORN: It doesn`t make sense.
But let me take one issue with Michael Steele. I think if the right
starts relitigating -- relitigating the particulars of these scandals, it
won`t work. And he is right about that. But I think what the smart ones
will try to do is make it seem like there is just some kind of taint to the
Clintons. And you don`t want to go back to the past. If they can have
people thinking that she is a candidate of some tainted past...
CORN: ... and that`s it, that might help them in 2016.
STEELE: Well, I`m not going to disagree with that either, David. But
we saw that with Democrats in 2008 in Hillary.
STEELE: So, yes, there is enough there for the Clintons as a package
to go after.
STEELE: And I think this is really the rub of what Chris is talking
about -- is this smart politics going into what will be a very charged
presidential election? I don`t think so.
MATTHEWS: I think they got to be very careful and, what is the right
word, clinical, because there are things you can go after the Clintons on.
First of all, Monica, you don`t even have to mention, because
everybody knows about it. And the people that know about it, it bothers
them or it doesn`t. They have already made up their minds. You don`t have
to remind them of it.
Things like the way the Clintons raised money, the old Motel 6, all
those people staying in the Lincoln Bedroom, that`s a good thing to go
after, I think.
MATTHEWS: Anybody should go after that.
But here -- here was the first rumble about the Clinton conspiracy
machine revving up again. In November of 2012, just after President Barack
Obama was reelected, "The National Enquirer" published a special issue on
the Clintons. It was entitled "Love, Lies and Betrayal" with this ominous
headline, "Their Dramatic Plot to Win Back the White House."
Well, you know, I don`t know whether -- you know, it`s always good for
Michael, back to you. I mean, is the -- how do you go after the
Clintons in a way that is Marquis of Queensbury, at least close enough to
it that people don`t feel bad even hearing about it?
STEELE: Well, I think you just touched on it, Chris. I think there
are issues there that still are unsettling for folks.
They don`t have to get into Monica and Vince Foster and all of that.
But just talk about how the Clintons -- their style, what they have brought
to politics, sort of the way you feel about some of the dealings that they
have had, of that aspect. And a lot of what we have seen people trying to
do with Chris Christie and Bridgegate, well, you know, it`s the tone, it`s
the attitude that he sets in the office and how that infects people and how
that affects the process.
I think that that`s a legitimate area to talk about. And, certainly,
Benghazi will certainly be on the table. We know that. And there are
still legitimate questions there to be asked. But so all of this kind of
rolls into a package that I think is a better and stronger package than
just the recurrences of old stuff.
MATTHEWS: I think every politician comes with their own style, and
you either like the slickness or you don`t.
MATTHEWS: But one thing about Bill Clinton, he wins.
And let me tell you, what I think the crazy part, and this is what the
right tends to do more than the left, I think, but you can check me on this
after David gets through with me, and that`s this idea of character. It is
a familiar -- meme is the new word. You know, Bill Clinton had a character
problem. Barack Obama is evil.
It isn`t, we disagree with them. It isn`t, we have different
ideologies even. It`s that the person is somehow a dark, evil presence in
our world that must be removed. And anything touching him, comes out of
him, is part of him is evil because of it. And anything goes in bringing
And this is the part that gets to me, David. If you accept the fact
that that guy we`re looking at, Bill Clinton, is the prince of evil, I
don`t know who does, but some people on the right do, or that Barack Obama
is, then anything you do, you can justify to yourself and say, damn it, I
have to do what I have to do. All is fair in love and war.
And that`s what I think you get into with this Clinton chronicles
stuff, the accusation that he murdered people. All this stuff, it just
keeps getting more and more to the soul of the man. It`s not his politics,
it`s his soul. And that justifies all the worst kind of politics. Your
CORN: Well, I think the argument is that Bill Clinton back then and
Barack Obama now are not legitimate, that they`re illegitimate...
CORN: ... and that they have plans to destroy or harm America.
I mean, I don`t -- a lot of people...
MATTHEWS: Where does it come from, David? Where does that argument
MATTHEWS: Where is that born in their souls? He is just a
politician. These guys are all just politicians.
CORN: Well, I...
MATTHEWS: Let`s not turn them into demigods of evil and good. There
are politicians on both sides.
CORN: I think it comes from -- I think it comes from a fundamentalist
view that Barack Obama and Bill Clinton represent an other -- the other
America, and it`s almost unbelievable that they could somehow become the
elected leaders of this country.
I know a lot of people, myself included, were critical of George W.
Bush. But I never thought he had an active plan to destroy or weaken
America. I just thought he was wrong. And you can -- but a lot of people
believe that Barack Obama has secret plans.
MATTHEWS: What about Cheney? What about Cheney?
CORN: Well, same thing.
MATTHEWS: Do you think he`s clean in that regard?
STEELE: Yes. Yes, what about Cheney? What about Cheney, David?
CORN: He was -- I think Cheney was very wrong. But I do believe that
he believed -- that he believed he was doing what was best for the country,
while people who attack Barack Obama or thought Bill Clinton was a
"Manchurian Candidate" from the Soviets believe these guys were sort of...
MATTHEWS: OK. I will go with you as far as W.
CORN: ... their fifth column.
MATTHEWS: David, you`re arguing too hard a case here. We`re going to
do a whole hour on this. I can`t go further than W. not knowing what he
was doing. But I think Cheney knew exactly what evil he was up to.
Anyway, thank you.
STEELE: My quick last point, Chris, character still counts.
MATTHEWS: Oh, yes.
STEELE: And I think that that -- that`s a big part of the discussion
about the office of the presidency.
STEELE: And that`s going to be on the table come 2016.
MATTHEWS: You just can`t accuse everybody who runs as a Democratic of
having a character problem, because people think you`re crying wolf,
because then you got to come along and say, well, the last Democrat who had
character would be, hmm.
Anyway, thank you, David Corn.
And thank you, Michael Steele.
MATTHEWS: You guys have to go way back. I guessed you liked Lincoln,
maybe? I`m not sure about some of the Dixiecrats in your party.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, up next, you can now get your own...
STEELE: Your guys...
MATTHEWS: ... now get your own souvenir from the Chris Christie
bridge scandal. It`s coming up in the "Sideshow."
And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL, and time for the "Sideshow."
Last night was just Jimmy Fallon`s third night as host of "The Tonight
Show." But, thankfully, he is up to some of his old tricks. Here is his
latest mash-up. This time, it`s NBC`s Brian Williams and Lester Holt
singing the hip-hop classic "Rapper`s Delight." Check it out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JIMMY FALLON")
BRIAN WILLIAMS, ANCHOR, "NBC NIGHTLY NEWS": So far, you heard my
voice, but I brought two friends along and next on the mike is my man Hank.
Come on, Hank, sing that out.
LESTER HOLT, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Check it out.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Next up, if you have ever visited rest stops along the
Jersey Turnpike, then you have surely seen the wide range of Garden State
souvenirs at these gift shops. But if you`re in the market for something
more creative, you can now buy your own, very own Chris Christie Bridgegate
The governor who sarcastically joked that he was the guy out there
moving the cones on the George Washington Bridge is depicted here in a
crossing guard uniform complete with a stop sign that reads "Traffic
Study." They`re produced by a designer in Florida using a 3-D printer.
Christie is trying not to show the pain, of course. At a town meeting
today, a town hall meeting, a supporter asked him about his idol, Bruce
Springsteen, who famously parodied the governor in a performance with Jimmy
Fallon last month. Here is how that exchange played out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But when you go home tonight, would you please
destroy all your Bruce Springsteen C.D.s?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is not a friend of yours, Governor.
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: The C.D.s could be destroyed. I
have it all on my iPhone now. I still live in hope that, some day, even as
he gets older and older, he is going to wake up and go, yes, all right, he
is a good guy. It`s all right. Yes, we could be friends. He told me we
were friends actually few -- about a year-and-a-half ago.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Got to get an update on that one.
Up next: what all those e-mails might mean for Wisconsin Governor
You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger.
Here`s what`s happening.
Another day of violence in Ukraine left 70 people dead, hundreds more
injured. The White House expressed outrage that the country`s security
forces were firing on their own people.
Oregon says it will not defend the state`s same-sex marriage ban
because it would not withstand a federal constitutional challenge.
And two apparent tornadoes were spotted earlier in Illinois. A
tornado watch is in effect for the central portion of the state as a storm
system moves through there -- back to HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Scott Walker is seen as a potential contender in the crowded 2016
Republican field for president. But a trove of newly released e-mails and
court documents in a years-old case is causing embarrassment for the
Wisconsin governor. In 2012, a former aide to Walker during his time as
Milwaukee County executive plead guilty to misconduct in public office.
She was charged with mixing political activities with her official duties
as an employee of the county, violating Wisconsin`s very strict campaign
Well, the e-mails released yesterday show that kind of activity was
common in his office. Walker even directed his separate county and
campaign staffs to hold a daily conference call to coordinate strategies.
Importantly, the investigation is closed and found no wrongdoing on
the part of Walker himself.
In a statement, the governor spokesman said -- quote -- "The recently
released communications of a county staffer from several years ago are part
of a legal process that was completed early last year. Governor Walker is
confident during that legal process these communications were thoroughly
reviewed by the authorities."
Well, the political stakes are clear. With the Bridgegate scandal
continuing to hobble Chris Christie`s prospects, establishment Republicans
have been looking for a 2016 candidate capable of taking on Tea Party
forces like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Some thought they found the prospect,
in fact, I thought they did, in Governor Walker. They may still have him
John Nichols is Washington bureau chief for "The Nation" magazine. He
has been combing through the newly released documents already. And John
Heilemann is co-author of "Double Down" and has been an MSNBC political
analyst of great worth.
Let me ask you this. I want to get John, because I respect your
reporting, and I do respect the law obviously in every state. I guess, for
somebody like myself who has worked in politics, been around politics for,
what, 40 years now, I am not, what should I say, mortified at the notion
that people working for politicians who are running for reelection or
running for higher office are deeply involved and engaged in helping them
You spend every day helping them politically. You help Congress --
members of Congress get reelected every day. It`s part of the job.
Wisconsin`s got these big -- they have got a big firewall there. You can`t
do this if you`re working for the government of a county or the state. You
can`t get involved in campaigns. I get it.
But politically speaking, is this going to be a diriment impediment,
as we say in the Catholic Church, something that will stop him, Governor
Scott Walker, from being a credible candidate for president in 2016?
JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I find it sort --
MATTHEWS: I`m going to go with John first.
HEILEMANN: I find it sort of hard to believe that this is the kind of
thing that would -- this in and of itself, what we currently know would be
a major impediment for Walker for a couple reasons. One of which is, as
they say in their statement, you know, the prosecutor investigated this,
looked at these e-mails and decided that Walker was not guilty of anything
and he was not punished. And they have that as a pretty strong line of
But as you said, Chris, I think most people think that David Plouffe,
when he was the senior adviser to Barack Obama in 2012, that he was doing
the people`s business and he was also deeply involved in the reelection
effort. When Chris Matthews worked in the Carter White House --
MATTHEWS: As a speechwriter. I was writing campaign speeches.
HEILEMANN: You were writing campaign speeches in the same time that
you were writing --
MATTHEWS: But we were going through a very elaborate thing. John
Nichols, you listen to this, because to obey the law then, we made a point
of like take off a day a week, a certain amount of hours of working for
government as presidential speech writers, certain amount working as
writers for candidate Carter. So, we were very deliberate about observing
HEILEMANN: And, of course, President Carter was not making
fundraising phone calls from the over office. There are obviously bright
lines over which you step you`re in real serious trouble. It doesn`t at
this moment look to me like Governor Walker has done that. If that`s the
case, where we are right now, I think this is something that if he handles
it well, he can get around it.
MATTHEWS: OK, let`s go to John.
So, John, you`ve been covering this. You know the guy well over all
these years. Give us a calibration of how important this is politically
first, or maybe legally first and what that means politically -- however
you want to do it.
JOHN NICHOLS, THE NATION: Well, we can go both ways. Let`s start
with legal. It is true that these revelations coming from 27,000 pages of
e-mails as well as 400 pages of legal documents are rooted in a case that
played out a year or so ago, several years ago.
But it`s an ongoing case. This woman is wrangling over her
conviction. And there is another investigation going on.
And so, the notion that everything settled and every "I" has been
dotted and every "T" has been crossed is simply not true. Governor Walker
has ongoing problems as regards how he has mixed politics and governing.
Now, let`s go deeper though on this core question --
MATTHEWS: But let me ask you to explain this -- Wisconsin, as Teddy
White said years ago, he used to say if there is a vote, where someone wins
by one vote in Wisconsin or Minnesota, you know they won by one vote.
It`s a clean as a whistle state, Wisconsin. So is Minnesota. There
aren`t that many. But those are two of them. Clean as a whistle.
Is it particularly pristine in terms of that firewall as I called it
between politics and government in your state?
NICHOLS: It`s pretty pristine. There is no doubt about that.
Historically, it was. I think it changed a lot about, you know, over the
last 15, 20 years as the politics has become more nationalist.
But I would remind both you have that there is another state that has
a history of pretty pristine politics. That`s Iowa, where they begin the
And this is the important thing to understand here. We are not
talking about a politician and his aides talking about politics, discussing
politics. We are talking here about the establishment of a sophisticated
infrastructure, a secret e-mail routing system so that public employees
could work at their desks on political projects so that they could fund
raise, so they could help to run a campaign for lieutenant governor out of
a public office.
We are also talking about a politician, Scott Walker, who the e-mails
reveal micromanaged serious developments, a crisis at a county mental
health center, an infrastructure collapse in which someone was killed,
apparently, with an eye toward having the best political play out. Now, we
know politicians do that. I understand that.
But here we saw him doing it not just with his campaign staff, but
also a lot of management of the public staff and telling them let`s hold
this story back. Let`s not cooperate with that Freedom of Information Act
request. People around him saying those things.
MATTHEWS: OK. John, great reporting. Let me go to something --
NICHOLS: This is where the trouble arises.
MATTHEWS: -- that a lot of people are going to be talking about all
over the country, not just in Wisconsin where you`re covering. Perhaps the
most embarrassing e-mails released yesterday had nothing to do with Walker
yesterday. Rather, they were several clearly racist messages being
forwarded or endorsed by staffers of Walker, the governor.
One email sent to Walker`s deputy chief of staff relays a joke
comparing welfare recipients to dogs. Quote, "At first, the lady at the
welfare office said, `Dogs are not eligible to draw welfare.` So I
explained to her that my dogs are mixed in color, unemployed, lazy, can`t
speak English, and have no frigging clue who their daddies are. They
expect me to feed them, provide them with housing and medical care and feel
guilty because they are dogs."
Well, the punch line, quote, "My dogs get their first checks Friday".
Well, the staffer responded, quote, "That is hilarious. And so true."
Well, there is another so-called joke e-mail forwarded by Walker`s
chief of staff at the time. It`s about a nightmare in quotes in which an
unknown author discovers among other things he is African-American, Jewish
At the end of the five-page email, the author writes, quote, "Say it
isn`t so. I can handle being black, disabled, one-armed drug addicted
Jewish, homosexual on a pacemaker, who is HIV positive, bald, orphaned,
unemployed, lives in a slum and has a Mexican boyfriend. But please, oh
dear God please don`t tell me I`m Democrat."
You know what, John? None of it`s funny and it`s so old hat, like 30,
40 years ago it`d be bad. Now, it`s just rancid and they think it`s funny.
Now, that`s an indictment that I can share.
MATTHEWS: Why -- who are these people in public office, serving a
mixed ethnic community of Milwaukee, a lot of African Americans, a lot of
Hispanic people there serving under oath, and they`re talking about them
HEILEMANN: It is not -- that`s not a pretty picture. And, you know,
Governor Walker, having those people around him, we talked a lot. I think
these two stories between the New Jersey story with Chris Christie and the
story with Scott Walker are dramatically different in terms of their
MATTHEWS: I agree.
HEILEMANN: But one of the things we talked about with Chris Christie
is what s the culture around the governor. And here we have another case
that people are going to look at and say what is the culture around Scott
Walker? Who are the kind of people employed? What are their attitudes
MATTHEWS: OK. You know what I like to do? I like to pick up the
rock and everybody watching, white, Spanish, African American, whatever,
you pick up the rock. You hear what people talk like when you`re not
there. Isn`t it fascinating?
John Nichols, thanks for your great reporting.
And thank you, John Heilemann, as always.
Up next, President Obama apologizes -- well, this isn`t really an
apology. It`s not really a conversation. But the right wing is going nuts
Remember the other day he said that you take art history, it won`t
necessarily get you a job, or something like that. OK. Off the top of his
Well, if Marco Rubio had a head, he wouldn`t have said a word about
it. And he did say a word about it. It isn`t too smart. He called the
president`s words pathetic. Excuse me.
This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: HARDBALL back with the latest example of the right wing`s
hate Obama reflex. You know the knee-jerk?
We`ll be right back after this.
MATTHEWS: We`re back.
Here`s the latest example of the right wing`s anti-Obama reflex, the
Last month, President Obama made some off-the-cuff remarks about the
job prospects of people who major in art history. That offended art
history degree holders apparently. And after weeks of receiving angry
responses to his comments, President Obama apologized in the form of a
handwritten note to art historian Ann Collins Johns.
Here`s what he wrote, quote, "Let me apologize for my off-the-cuff
remarks. I was making a point about the jobs market, not the value of art
history. As it is happens, art history was my favorite subject in high
school and it`s helped me take in a great deal of joy in my life that I
might otherwise have missed."
Well, that sounds pretty honest. Well, not so for the Florida --
Florida Senator Marco Rubio is quick to react. Rubio tweeted out -- what
great word for him -- tweeted out that the president`s apology was
pathetic, writing, "Pathetic Obama apology to art history prof. We do need
more degrees that lead to jobs."
We`ve seen this over and over again from the far right. First, they
hate and they find a reason to rationalize it.
Joan Walsh is with "Salon" and is an MSNBC contributor, and Alex Burns
is senior political reporter for "Politico."
Gentleman and lady, here`s the nonsense of this thing. You`re limited
in the number of characters you can use in a tweet.
JOAN WALSH, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes.
MATTHEWS: This guy, Rubio, of limited availability, was able to do
something really miraculous to trash the president and agree with him in a
limited number of characters.
WALSH: That was clever from Marco Rubio.
MATTHEWS: What was the purpose of the tweet?
WALSH: Oh, the purpose of the tweet, look, this is such an old
cultural divide. You know it. It is basically to say to his followers
that Obama is a snob.
Now, the cultural divide is, I read that note, probably you do, too.
I like that guy better. I like that guy who wrote that note. And he`s
saying -- and this is what liberals say -- we want college educations where
you`re not a cog in the machine but where you learn about art history. It
shouldn`t just be for the rich, and there is a debate right now about we
need more science and math students. That is all true.
But I think he overstepped and he is correcting and it was a lovely
note. But he`s playing to the haters and it goes back to Rick Santorum,
right? He was a snob because he wants us all to go to college.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I think that`s probably deeper than this already.
I mean, Alex, at "Politico," I mean, you guys specialize in the
nuances of these things. Why did this guy tweet? Why did they just let it
ALEX BURNS, POLITICO: You know, Chris, if I can play devil`s advocate
and defend both of these guys at the same time.
MATTHEWS: Well, you don`t have to defend President Obama. Go with
defending the Rubio character.
BURNS: Politics is -- Chris, politics is getting more unfiltered,
more authentic. People who put their own personalities out there, their
own impulses, their own --
MATTHEWS: OK. What personality is reflected by "Pathetic Obama
apology to art history prof. We do need more degrees that lead to jobs."
What`s the personality there?
BURNS: We complain all the time about politicians being too robotic,
too scripted. The president makes a comment about art history. You know,
there`s a controversy he has to apologize for. Rubio fires off a hot-
tempered tweet. Here we are talking about it.
MATTHEWS: No, wait a minute. Don`t skate on this symmetry nonsense.
This is not even Steven. What does he mean?
I know what the president meant. I`m with Joan on that. He made a
comment that offended a few people. So, in public life, you`ve got to deal
with that, just the fact you offended people rightly or wrongly.
What was tweety up to here? What was he up to? Just tell me --
you`re trying to even Steven. Tell me what justify --
BURNS: I am trying to be even Steven, Chris, that`s my job. He was
trying to agree with the president and score some points. That`s what
politicians do. I don`t think you should be surprised about that.
MATTHEWS: He agreed with him, but what was the basis for trashing
BURNS: Because the president -- he saw the president of walking back.
Look, I`m not defending the substance of calling the president pathetic.
The point is, he was --
MATTHEWS: What were you doing?
BURNS: -- he was playing to the gallery. He was also making a point
about saying, look, we do need to have a serious conversation about getting
people more technical education. I don`t think we need to call this
MATTHEWS: No, I wasn`t. I wasn`t actually. I was calling it tweety
talks to the peanut gallery.
OK. Thank you, Joan Walsh. And thank you, Alexander Burns.
We`ll be right back after this.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this:
Why does a U.S. senator who has all kinds of press agents around to
put out statements, speeches, positions, need to tweet and why if he does,
does he have to do it idiotically?
Watching the Olympics lately, I`ve come to see all politicians now
divided into two categories: snowboarders and skiers.
Snowboarders are the wild ones. They`re fast and loose. They make it
up as they go along. If you`ve ever had one coming up behind you, they
make a lot of noise.
Ted Cruz is a snowboarder. Can we agree on that? So is Rand Paul,
though he might end up winning the gold medal after all in 2016.
The skiers are different from the snowboarders. They`re the classic
form of politician. They perform by strict traditional methods. They do
it in the way they`ve seen it done by the generations before them. They
perfect the craft, run by run.
Compared to the snowboarder, they`re keenly averse to wiping out.
They`re control freaks.
Mitch McConnell is a skier. Better than him to make few mistakes. If
he doesn`t win the race, it won`t be because he wiped out.
Marco Rubio would like to be taken seriously. Sadly, he`s just shown
himself to be a snowboarder. He proved it with that tweet making fun of
the president and agreeing with him all in the same tweet.
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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