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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 02/26/15

Guests: Raffaello Pantucci, Tom Sanderson, Lt. Col. John Nagl, Al Cardenas,Mercedes Schlapp

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Now we know him, so how do we get him? Let`s play HARDBALL. Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews up in New York. And ever since ISIS started terrorizing Americans this past summer with horrific beheadings, one man has personified the killers without ever showing his face. The masked murderer appeared in the beheading video of American journalist James Foley in August, and then again in the videos of Steven Satloff, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, and American humanitarian Peter Kassig. He was last seen in the beheading video of the Japanese journalist Kenji Goto in January. With a distinct British accent, he often taunted the West. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m back, Obama. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: "I`m back, Obama." Well, the irreverent British press have dubbed him "Jihadi John," but we now know who he is. "The Washington Post" reported today his name is Mohammed Emwazi. He`s thought to be about 27 years old, born in Kuwait. He grew up in London. He comes from a well-to- do family and is a college graduate who studied computer programming. A U.S. intelligence official confirmed his identity to NBC News.   How do we account for this journey from middle class Londoner to vicious executioner? "The Washington Post" offers a few hints. In 2009, he traveled to Tanzania, where he and two friends were detained by police. He later said that British authorities detained him again when he returned to Europe. The next year, he tried to move back to his homeland of Kuwait, but reportedly was prevented from doing so by authorities. Well, according to the BBC, he came to the attention of the counterterrorism officials in Britain as an associate of two men thought to be involved with extremists over in Africa. Emwazi eventually made he way to Syria and joined ISIS. Along with two other Brits, he guarded Western hostages. The three were dubbed "the Beatles" because of their accents. And by all accounts, they were deliberately brutal. A source familiar with the hostages told NBC News back in August, quote, "They were really rough with the hostages. Whenever the Beatles showed up, there was some kind of physical beating or torture." Well, "The New York Times" said, quote, "They seemed to take pleasure in brutalizing them." The abuse included prolonged beatings, mock executions and repeated waterboarding. For more on the identity of this brutal man, I`m joined right now by NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, who`s over in Istanbul. Richard, what do we know about Mohammed Emwazi? RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, you outlined his biography, and I think one of the key things is he was so well known to British authorities, to British intelligence and law enforcement. And we keep seeing this. That was the case in Paris, where the two shooters were known, the two brothers were well known, had been under surveillance. The man who opened fire in that cafe in Sydney, Australia, also had been under surveillance, actually was out on bail for allegedly murdering his wife. So in all of these cases, we have people who have been tracked, and yet somehow managed to slip through the cracks. Not very surprising that he came from a middle class or somewhat better than middle class upbringing. People who are being attracted to ISIS have to pay their own way. This is -- these are not necessarily the poor and destitute who have no jobs. These are people who are ideologically driven to join a cause, to join the caliphate. He went there. He started out as a guard, one of the "Beatles" guarding Western hostages, brutalizing them, involved in waterboard and other forms of torture. And then with these execution videos, he rose in prominence and became one of the group`s most effective recruiters, became one of the group`s most effective spokesmen. And the propaganda arm of ISIS has been incredibly effective in drawing other people just lime Mohammed Emwazi. According to estimates, there are about 15,000 foreign fighters, most of them from Arab countries, and around 3,000 to 4,000 from Western countries, just like the man from London now identified as Mohammed Emwazi. MATTHEWS: Is it reasonable, Richard, to assume that they do this, put a guy out with a British accent in order to tell the people, Come on in, the water is fine, to encourage like-minded people of that background, of - - you know, people with an Islamic background with a predilection perhaps towards this political point of view, if not the violence, by their attitude about living in a different country? What is the motivation, by the way, if it`s not money -- and I never thought it was -- for this ideological shift to the point of being a beheader?   ENGEL: Well, this is obviously someone who is deeply disturbed, someone who beheaded repeatedly and on camera. What motivates someone to do that? You`d have to look into the mind of a murderer. What motivates people to join ISIS is something of a push and a pull. There is this -- the draw of joining the caliphate, the idea that has always been in circles in the Islamic world that the caliphate is something that needs to be restored, that one day will be restored, and that it is an Islamic duty to go and find and be part of the caliphate. Then there is the group itself, which is advertising on line all the time, on Twitter, on social media, telling people, Come, the water is warm, come on in, and his beheadings were a key part of that messages campaign, to show power, really, because if you remember, in all of these videos, he`s standing. He`s holding his knife. He`s wearing a holster. He`s speaking and carrying himself with a swagger. He`s calling President Obama just -- you know, just referring to him as "Obama." MATTHEWS: Yes. ENGEL: And it shows power as his hostages kneeling, cowering in front of him in an orange jumpsuit, about to be beheaded. And I think that`s what it`s all about, for people who are angry, who want to see a change in the world, who want to see the Islamic world stand on its feet again, that this group represents people who are taking action, and who won`t say no and are standing while their oppressors are kneeling, about to die. MATTHEWS: That`s a very emphatic description. Thank you so much, Richard Engel over in Istanbul. I`m joined right now by Raffaello Pantucci. He`s the director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute. Well, what did you make of that assessment by Richard Engel that we`re looking at someone who might be psychopathic or sociopathic in terms of what they do in beheading people, but their overall orientation is this extremist ideology, which, basically, I guess it`s fair to say, justifies the worst kind of behavior on the way toward the caliphate? RAFFAELLO PANTUCCI, TERRORISM ANALYST, ROYAL UNITED SERVICES INSTITUTE: Well, I think that`s probably a pretty accurate characterization, in some ways. I mean, what you`re dealing with is, fundamentally, a movement to create a new alternative world and to create a sort of -- you know, this is a political -- politically motivated terrorist organization, so it`s all about trying to show that they`re creating a new state. And this is the vanguard state that is leading the sort of clash of civilizations that they see that`s happening in the world between the Muslim world and the West. And this guy is sort of standing up, you know, as Richard Engel pointed out, you know, with these sort of people cowering before him, talking directly to the president of the United States. He`s really standing up. It`s sort of -- it`s a real show of strength and a real show of power, and really showing that what they`re doing in this Islamic State, as they so call it, is really creating a sort of a new world and something that is attractive and that people who sort of want to get excited and are sort of drawn to these sorts of ideas have a place to go to. MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask about the real psycho part of this. How do you get people to believe that their prisoners, in this case captives, are evil, that they justify this kind of end and this kind of humiliating end to their lives?   PANTUCCI: Well, I think, you know, it`s probably individual cases have different sort of rationales behind them. It`s possible some of these people -- and if we look at sort of historical cases, there is some evidence that some people have social or psychopathic issues. But often, what really happens is this is a slow path (ph). So we look at a figure like this, this Mohammed Emwazi, we know he went out there a while ago. He may have initially participated in some training. He may have been involved in some fighting. But then he sort of seems to have risen up the ranks from that. And you know, as sort of becomes more involved in the conflict and the whole situation becomes more dehumanizing, it becomes easier maybe to accept that this is the sort of thing that needs to be done to really advance your cause and advance your message. And then, of course there`s the other aspect of, you know, once he has been maybe told by his superiors to do something like this, you know, it`s difficult to say no. And so then you`re sort of tied into that. And once you participate and really wrap yourself into the group, maybe you become stuck in these sorts of choices. So I think, you know, we have to look at it as something that doesn`t happen overnight or suddenly. It`s probably something that happens over a longer period of time, and it`s sort of a brutalization of an individual. MATTHEWS: Yes, I keep thinking of the SS in World War II. Anyway, thank you so much, Raffaello Pantucci. There`s news tonight on that other major ISIS story, the arrest of those men from Brooklyn yesterday, who were accused of plotting to fight for ISIS. Tonight, a fourth man has been arrested by federal agents. He`s being questioned in connection to the other men, but he has not been charged in that conspiracy. Rather, he`s being held on immigration charges. Yesterday, New York City police commissioner Bill Bratton warned of the danger that happens if people like this fail in their effort to travel overseas and decide to wage jihad back here. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BILL BRATTON, NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER: This is real. This is the concern about the lone wolf inspired to act without ever going to the Mideast, or the concern of once they get to the Mideast, acquire fighting skills, capabilities, and then attempting to return to the country. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: FBI director James Comey also made clear the threat is very real.   (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: We have investigations of people in various stages of radicalizing in all 50 states. I tell my state and local partners this is about all of us being connected tightly to each other. This isn`t a New York phenomenon or a Washington phenomenon. This is all 50 states, and in ways that are very hard to see. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by Thomas Sanderson. He`s co-director of the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Mr. Sanderson, thank you for this. Do you have a clue about why someone living in America, or living in Western Europe, especially here, though, which -- we take pride in this country and our ability to assimilate people, not always perfectly, but you can become an American within one generation in most cases, fully American in your culture, your attitudes, your comfort in this country. What is the problem with these people that don`t fit? TOM SANDERSON, CSIS: Well, it may have nothing to do with their experience in America, though sometimes it does. In Europe, it has more with their experience there in Europe. For these young guys, and many others who want to go over to Syria and Iraq, it`s about what`s happening there, the sense of -- and hatred over those who are fighting, those who they`re fighting against, the Shia, those who are engaged in the coalition, the defense of the caliphate. All of these things are highly motivating and would push someone, whether they are integrated or not in the United States, to go over and fulfill a mission that they feel they have a duty to fulfill. MATTHEWS: But why would they want to go over and kill Christian -- Coptic Christians or Yazidis or other Sunni? It`s not Sunni versus Shia in so many cases. How do we explain the fact they`re just out to kill, it seems to me, anybody in their path. SANDERSON: Well, look, there`s a different story and motivation behind each person. They may be interested in killing Christians or other Sunnis they don`t -- they deem insufficiently Muslim, or they`re largely going after Shia. So it totally depends on which one we`re talking about here. MATTHEWS: What about that threat that Bill Bratton, the New York police commissioner, just mentioned on this tape, that if they get confounded in their efforts to get over there to the Islamic State to help develop the caliphate and make it grow, that they might move here -- I mean, act at home.   SANDERSON: Absolutely. Well, think about those that are living in a sense of marginalization, where they don`t feel they have capability or power or a sense of purpose. They want to go over and fight, yet they`re unable to do it. That compounds their sense of impotency and then leaves them with few options, which includes attacking in place, either where they live or traveling to other parts of the United States. So those that fail to go over and that are motivated to go over, they, I think, are very dangerous individuals because they now feel even more incapable of fulfilling their duty, and they`ll look around them and see plenty of targets. MATTHEWS: Yes, all they have to do is find a semiautomatic weapon of some kind and they can do mass killing. SANDERSON: Absolutely, which is very simple in the States. MATTHEWS: Unfortunately, it`s too handy. Anyway, thank you, Tom Sanderson, for that expertise. Coming up -- more and more Americans say they support military action against ISIS, even American boots on the ground. How will President Obama, the president who got us out of Iraq, deal with this growing call to get us back in? Plus, the red hots on the right host their annual CPAC jamboree, and the name of the game for this crowd is who can hate President Obama and Hillary Clinton the most. And Donald Trump says this time, he really means it. He says he`s serious about running for president in 2016. So I say once again it`s "Peanuts" time, and once again, Lucy is really promising Charlie Brown that she really won`t pull that football away. Finally, "Let Me Finish" with the face of evil behind the ISIS mask. And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)   MATTHEWS: The United States Senate will vote to fund the Department of Homeland Security before the money runs out at midnight tomorrow night. But on the House side, John Boehner refuses to say how he`ll protect the country. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We`re waiting to see what the Senate can or can`t do, and -- and then we`ll make decisions about how we`re going to proceed. QUESTION: With respect, Mr. Speaker, your answer is about what you`re going to do the same as yesterday. Can we -- we -- Mitch McConnell has said exactly what he`s going to do. You know exactly what you`re going to get. It`s going to be a clean DHS funding bill. Are you going to put it on the floor? Are you going to kill it? Do you want a vote on it? Have you even had this discussion. (LAUGHTER) BOEHNER: When I make decisions, I`ll let you know. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Blowing a kiss there. Well, anyway, meanwhile, U.S. Congressman Peter King of New York, a Republican, is up in arms over his party`s inability to get its act together and fund Homeland Security. Yesterday, he tweeted that, quote, "There are terrorist attacks all over the world, and we`re talking about closing down Homeland Security? This is like living in the world of the crazy people." House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi is using that tweet from Congressman King to pressure Republicans to hold a clean vote on DHS funding. And here`s what King said about that on "ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS." (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Whatever it takes to get it done. And it shows how off the rails the Republican Party is. We`re allowing Nancy Pelosi to be the spokeswoman for Homeland Security. That should be our issue. We`re the ones who are the party of Homeland Security, and that`s why these people who say they`re conservative, who say they`re Republicans -- they`re the ones who are really going to ruin the Republican Party. So we have to end this, and the speaker has to bring this to a vote.   (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: I think Congressman King is embarrassed by his party. We`ll be right back after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Well, support is growing for U.S. ground war against ISIS in this country. According to a new Pew Research poll, support for American ground troops to fight ISIS has grown by 8 points since October -- 47 percent now favor a U.S. ground war in that poll, and that poll is hardly an outlier. CNN`s most recent poll showed a 9-point jump in support for ground troops to fight ISIS. And according to this month`s CBS News poll, 57, a strong percentage of the country, now supports sending U.S. troops to the Mideast. That`s an 18-point increase since September. So how does President Obama deal with this growing call for war with the bad guys? John Nagl is a retired air lieutenant -- lieutenant colonel -- Army lieutenant colonel, a counterinsurgency expert and the author of "Knife Fights," and Eugene Robinson, of course, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist with "The Washington Post." Colonel Nagl, please tell us how you would use ground troops to defeat ISIS, or help defeat them? LT. COL. JOHN NAGL, U.S. ARMY (ret.): So we currently have some 3,000 American combat troops in Iraq. They are forbidden from embedding with Iraqi units outside the wire. They are forbidden from engaging in combat. I would multiply that number by five. I`d have 15,000 American advisers, combat advisers embedded inside every Iraqi and Kurdish unit. They would accompany those units to the front lines. They would call in air strikes. They would provide front-line intelligence, and they would help us defeat ISIS in very short order. MATTHEWS: What would happen if one of those embedded officers or men were captured and beheaded in some sort of horrific, dramatic fashion? Wouldn`t that cause this country to go for a much greater escalation right on the spot? NAGL: This country should go for a much greater escalation. We need to defeat ISIS.   MATTHEWS: Well, then what do you think we have to do? We -- 15,000 is just the ante here? NAGL: No, I think 15,000 is a good number. We want the Iraqi and Kurdish forces to do most of the fighting, most of the killing, and, frankly, most of the dying. Some Americans may well die in that effort, but as the president has correctly stated, we have to defeat and ultimately destroy ISIS. They are a threat to us, to our friends and our interests around the globe. They have to be defeated, and they have to be defeated soon. MATTHEWS: I`m not asking tricky questions. I just want to know the trajectory here. You said if they grabbed one of our guys and beheaded them, we would probably have the urge, the feeling that we should escalate with more troops there. Is there a limit on your thinking to how far we can engage? NAGL: I don`t... MATTHEWS: How far can we go without making this an American war? NAGL: I don`t think we need much more than 15,000. I do think Americans will die in that effort, and I think this effort is so important that that price is worth paying. MATTHEWS: And when we take the ground back from ISIS -- and I would love to see us do it -- if we take the ground back from them in Iraq or in Syria, who do we turn it over to for the occupation? NAGL: We`re going to need a long-term presence of American advisers supporting Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces to occupy that territory for probably a generation to come. MATTHEWS: But what country does -- gets sovereignty over it?   NAGL: It`s Iraq. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Does the Iraq government led by Shia take over Sunni territory? Would that work? NAGL: It does and it will, as long as the Shia-dominated government of Iraq continues to provide legal protections to the Sunnis. Hopefully, it`s learned its lesson. MATTHEWS: Hopefully. Well, that`s a hopeful line. Let`s go to Eugene Robinson. What do you think the president has to do. And you know the politics as well as I do. The pressure is growing, especially -- it`s really growing, I would think, among Republicans and some independents for military action on the ground. EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, I think the president is not anxious to have ground troops in Iraq, obviously, and certainly not in Syria. I think if he believed we could do it with 15,000 troops, he might take another look at it, but my guess is -- and I have not heard this from him -- but my guess is he believes that`s optimistic. I certainly -- that frankly, sounds optimistic to me, because the question is, is the one you asked. First of all, how -- do you -- are you able, with the Iraqi army, which essentially collapsed, are you able, with 15,000 U.S. advisers, able to recapture that territory, much less hold it? Second, how are you dealing with the fact that ISIS is holding the Sunni territory with the help of the Sunni tribal leaders and the Sunni forces, essentially? And, essentially, right now, we`re supporting three different groups who are all at war with each other, the Kurds and the Shiites and Sunnis?   Do you send -- put advisers with all of them, so that they all fight each other? I just -- I don`t understand how this works with just 15,000. It seems to me that you inevitably escalate, and you end up with a whole lot more than that. MATTHEWS: Colonel Nagl, your response? NAGL: First, they`re not all at war with each other. Second, 15,000 American advisers is plenty. We currently have no American advisers embedded inside Iraqi combat units. I trained American advisers who embedded inside Iraqi and Afghan battalions and brigades during the earlier phases of this war. Teams of a dozen or so American advisers inside a battalion of 500 or so Iraqi and Kurdish troops will multiply the combat effectiveness of those forces dramatically. The Iraqi and Kurdish forces will be able to occupy and hold the territory once it`s been cleared largely by American airpower, and then the territory will be cleared and held by Iraqi and Kurdish troops. They can`t do it on their own. They`re going to need the combat multipliers that American combat advisers bring. MATTHEWS: What do we bring -- Colonel, what do we bring to the fight? Do we bring the fight to the fight? Do they have the fight in them to take on ISIS? Or do we have to bring that sense of fight to them? You say that they need us, but do they need us for materiel or for training? Or do they really need to really want to win the war, which they don`t seem to be willing to fight? NAGL: They need us to provide the additional oomph required... MATTHEWS: Well, oomph. NAGL: ... to squeeze ISIS out of the territory it currently holds. So, with American advisers, American airpower is infinitely more effective. With American advisers, intelligence moves right down to the front lines. With American advisers, their will to fight and their knowledge that if they are wounded they will be helped and they will receive help all increases dramatically. MATTHEWS: Well, my question to Gene -- I think we agree on this -- if we were fighting on the sides of the South Koreans, we wouldn`t have any problems; if we were fighting on the side of the Turks in the Korean War, I would have no problem.   I think we`re fighting on the side of an army that is Shia-led. The Shia militia want to kill. I`m not sure the Shia -- the government of Baghdad has the capability to raise a true army of Sunni people who are willing to take back that territory. ROBINSON: Well, I`m not sure either. I wonder what happens to the Iranians, who are playing -- right now playing a role in bolstering the Shia-dominated Iraqi forces, to the extent they`re able to fight at all, to hold that part of Southern Iraq that they`re able to hold? Do we just brush them aside? Do we fight alongside the Iranians? Or what -- or do we just sort of ignore their presence? MATTHEWS: OK. I have got to ask -- I have got to turn on you -- you`re a man at my side there, Gene. I want to ask you the tough question on the left. And this is the tough one. How long can our president survive in office politically and have his credibility as leader and commander in chief when we have these beheadings, these burnings alive, all on television? To me, it shames us. How long can he put up with it without taking aggressive action against the enemy? ROBINSON: Well, look, he`s president. He doesn`t have to face the voters again. Obviously, there are other political considerations, and it does weaken him and stretch his credibility if -- as this stuff continues. I think the president would love, for example, to be able to take out Jihadi John with a drone and be able to say, you know, we got that guy, and to present a couple of high-profile successes from the current campaign to illustrate why there`s perhaps no need to escalate the battle. MATTHEWS: Right. ROBINSON: I just tend to feel, you know, without prejudging the issue, but I tend to feel that if you`re in for a dime, you`re in for a whole lot more than a dime. MATTHEWS: I think so too. We`re in for a -- this fight has just begun, this argument. Thank you much, Colonel Nagl, for joining me. This is a good argument for America right now.   And thank you, Gene Robinson, my friend. Up next: Donald Trump is once again making noise about running for president. Why is anyone taking this talk seriously? We`re going to get to that, because I think he has a credibility problem, not at a business tycoon -- that`s done -- but as a political candidate. I don`t see it. I have never seen it, I think. Anyway, this is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Donald Trump is saying again that he`s more serious than ever about running for president. According to "The Washington Post," Trump has delayed negotiations on the next season of the "Celebrity Apprentice" and is staffing up in key primary states. He met with Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus on Monday of this weekend to discuss his potential 2016 presidential campaign. Well, this is at least the fourth time that Donald Trump has toyed publicly with the idea of running for president. Trump first floated the idea in several newspapers back in 1987. He didn`t run that time, of course, but he was asked about it after Bush won that nomination, the first Bush. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) QUESTION: You took out full-page ads in "The New York Times" to talk about your foreign policy. Some people would say... DONALD TRUMP, CHAIRMAN & CEO, TRUMP HOTELS & CASINO RESORTS: I feel very strongly. I do feel very strongly about the country. I love the country. But I think you`re going to have probably George Bush as your next president. QUESTION: Well, I wasn`t talking about this year, Mr. Trump, but you have said that, if you ran for president, you would win.   TRUMP: I think I would have a very good chance. I mean, I like to win. When I do something, I like to win. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Well, then again in 1999, Donald Trump talked openly about running for president in the 2000 year election. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) QUESTION: Everyone who runs for public office has to be able to look into the camera and tell people why they should vote for him. TRUMP: Well, I will just look at you. I don`t have to look at a camera. I will look at you. I will look you right in the eyes and I will just say that I would be a great president, if I decide to do it. I know how things should run. And this country has not run properly. And if I were president, this country would indeed run properly. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: And four years ago, Donald Trump teased the country with the prospect of another run, using President Obama`s birth certificate as his main issue. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: It`s hard to believe that Obama became the president of the United States, not because of race, not because of color, not because of anything, but because of all of the things that we don`t know about him.   Why did he spend millions of dollars trying to get out of the birth certificate issue? (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Well, this is beginning to sound like Groundhog Day. I think I`m actually hearing Sonny and Cher singing, "I Got You, Babe" again. Anyway, I`m joined right now by MSNBC political analyst Ron Reagan. There`s that clock radio again in the morning, that Donald Trump is running for president. I don`t know why he does it, except that we`re talking about him, and he likes that. Ron, your theory? RON REAGAN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Donald Trump will be a strangely coiffed comedy grenade lobbed right into the middle of the Republican primary if he actually decides to get in. Listen, this guy has got absolutely no policy credentials whatsoever. He seems to be motivated mostly by self-interest. And he appears to say anything that pops into his head. I promise you, I promise you that the Republican Party stalwarts right now, the people who are really running real campaigns, they are not happy about this. This is going to turn a three-ring circus into a freak show. MATTHEWS: Well, let me show you something along those lines. When it comes to policy you mentioned there, Donald Trump has taken some unconventional positions over the years. For instance, in 1987, he said the United States should simply take over Iran`s oil. Let`s watch.   (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: Iran has taken advantage of this country for years. Iran is in big trouble in terms of the military. We ought to go in the next time they fire so much as a bullet at one of our ships. We ought to go in and take over their oil. I have no doubt about it. Other people would say, oh, Donald, that might start a war. We are going to have a war through weakness. You go in, you take over -- you take over the oil. Then let them have the rest of their country. We just want the oil. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: You know, compared to him, Chris Christie sounds like Swee`Pea. I don`t know, but I don`t think it -- it really works. I mean, how do you exactly do this? You go in there, kill a bunch of Iranians, take over the oil. They shoot at a bunch of us. We kill some more people, and we end up giving the oil back. REAGAN: Yes. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: I mean, what kind of game are we talking about here? REAGAN: Well, and game is the right word here. I mean, does anybody seriously think that Donald Trump is serious about running for president, that he would actually want to be president? He likes the attention. As you said, this is a good way to attract attention to yourself. Maybe he gets a little more money for his television show this way, because he can be the former presidential candidate Donald Trump.   (LAUGHTER) MATTHEWS: Yes. REAGAN: I will make a prediction, though, for you. And I don`t really get into predictions much, but this one, I will go way out on a limb. Donald Trump will never, ever be president of the United States. MATTHEWS: OK. I have got a guy to back up that prediction. Trump himself did once say he would probably never run. (LAUGHTER) MATTHEWS: It was here in HARDBALL back in 2003. Here he is, the guy to predict. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Well, here`s what you said: "I continue to be interested in the political process, and cannot rule out a possible candidacy in 2004." That was you February 2000. TRUMP: Oh, well, that was a long time ago, no, because I hadn`t heard that one a long time. No, I never did.   MATTHEWS: Well, you heard it here, Donald. (LAUGHTER) TRUMP: I never did run and I probably never will run. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Well, that`s it, isn`t it? "I never will run." Thank you, Donald, for truth. We had to go back to the tapes for that, but we found it. (LAUGHTER) MATTHEWS: Ron Reagan, thank you. I think you`re right on that bet. REAGAN: You bet. MATTHEWS: Up next: From one circus to another, the conservative CPAC conference is under way, and it`s a contest apparently to show who hates President Obama and Hillary Clinton the mostest. You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.   (COMMERCIAL BREAK) RICHARD LUI, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Hi. I`m Richard Lui in the MSNBC newsroom for you. The Judiciary Committee has voted to confirm Loretta Lynch, President Obama`s choice to replace Eric Holder as attorney general. A full Senate vote on her confirmation is expected in the next two weeks. Three deaths are being blamed on the winter storm system that began punishing Mississippi on Tuesday. And a judge has overturned Adrian Peterson`s suspension. The Vikings running back was suspended by the NFL in November after pleading no contest in a child abuse case. The league plans to appeal that ruling -- now back to HARDBALL. MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Well, today was the first day of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. It`s called CPAC. Kicking off the event were a few Republican presidential hopefuls who took their turns bashing President Obama and his potential successor, Hillary Clinton. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Hillary Clinton embodies the corruption of Washington. Obamacare is a train wreck. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) CRUZ: And that`s actually not fair to train wrecks.   (LAUGHTER) DR. BEN CARSON, CONSERVATIVE ACTIVIST: I started to talk about all the failures of the current administration, but I figured that was too depressing. And that`s probably why they`re ready for Hillary, too. CARLY FIORINA, FORMER HEWLETT-PACKARD CEO: Yes, Mr. President, ISIS indeed wants to drive the whole world back to the Middle Ages, but the rest of us moved on about 800 years ago. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) FIORINA: Like Mrs. Clinton, I too have traveled the globe. Unlike Mrs. Clinton, I know that flying is an activity, not an accomplishment. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Sarcasm wins the day down there. For more on the heat from CPAC, let`s bring in the roundtable: Al Cardenas is the former chair of the American Conservative Union which runs this thing, Jonathan Capehart is an opinion writer for "The Washington Post", and Mercedes Schlapp is a former spokesperson for President George W. Bush. Let me ask you about the mood down there. First of all, Al, thanks for joining us. Is the mood that nasty, or am I just imagining that everybody knows that if you want to score a 10 down there, whack the president, and on the way by, whack Hillary? AL CARDENAS, FORMER CHAIR, AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION: Well, look, it`s part of the show, but the main purpose is to train, give the tools and the toolbox to young activists and older activists to be there for the 2016 challenge, to learn something. And the only place in the world in the country really that you can watch wannabe for 2016 back to back to back and make your own choices.   But, Chris, the ultimate goal in my opinion, as you watch this people is, is this candidate a statesman or crowd pleaser? And number two, has he given me or she, a clear path to where America needs to be or should be and be all it can be? And so, those are the two goals that I always had as a youngster when I went to CPAC. MATTHEWS: You`re making my point, Al, because all these people come in with the door prizes. They come in with these little snapper jokes about Hillary thinking that travel is work, and somebody else comparing it as a train wreck, saying he`s worse than a train wreck. This is all prepared material, and all it is, is applause lines to snap at the president and the possibly future Democratic nominee. It`s a snapper stuff. It`s all prepared ahead, cooked ahead and brought in to excite the kids out there. CARDENAS: Well, you know, there`s a time for everything. And America -- MATTHEWS: What is this a time for? (CROSSTALK) CARDENAS: -- are great. Well, look, the time is for practical solution, for problem-solving, for heading America in the right direction. And politics, after all, is all about the art of the possible. That`s what I love to see at the end of the program. MATTHEWS: I`m with you. Mercedes, do you think that`s what they`re going to do at CPAC, cook up solution for America`s problems or just hatchet jobs on the Dems? MERCEDES SCHLAPP, FORMER PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH SPOKESPERSON: You know, I think it`s both. I think, first of all, what this is doing is rallying the base. This is the rally cry. This is the fact for conservatives they are tired of the six years of Obama presidency. They don`t want to have a follow-up with a Hillary presidency. So, what do you do? You train your activists, you get them motivated, and you basically have this parade of different candidates that are coming out and, yes, they`re going to be given the one-liners. But guess what, Chris? The media is covering the one-liners. It`s how they`re best rallying the base. And they are talking about policy solutions. I mean, they have panels on a bunch of very different topics. It`s also trying to educate and prepare the conservative base for what`s coming up in the next 21 months before the 2016 election.   MATTHEWS: Well, you could have problems, Al and Mercedes, because I believe Chelsea Clinton will be well over 35 by the year 2024. So, this maybe the worst thought -- SCHLAPP: Another Clinton? Come on. MATTHEWS: This may be your worst nightmare. Anyway, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who is surging in the polls lately very impressively, also aimed his fire today at President Obama and Hillary Clinton. Here he is, the governor of Wisconsin. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), WISCONSIN: We have a president, a president who drawing lines in the sand and fails to act, a president who calls ISIS the jayvee club, who calls Yemen a success, and who calls Iran a country we can do business with, and to add insult to injury, who`s former secretary of state actually gave a reset button to the Russians, a reset button! We need a leader in America who stands up and realizes that radical Islamic terrorism is the threat to our way of life and to all freedom-loving people around the world. (APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Well, John, he hit all the buttons there, radical Islamic, it can`t just been terrorism. I mean, every point, I mean, he knows his stuff. JONATHAN CAPEHART, THE WASHINGTON POST OPINION WRITER: If that speech were a pinball machine, he hit all the bumpers and flippers. SCHLAPP: Right.   CAPEHART: You know, that Scott Walker was in tone and in his substance. I don`t agree with anything he just said, but I have to tell you, that he struck me as rather impressive there. It`s a pity, though, that he can`t be that impressive when he`s not speaking from his stump speech, when he`s asked a question about evolution, when he asked a question about the president and his religion. When he`s asked questions that, you know, are off the cuff and contemporaneous, he can`t -- he can`t seem to perform. But if he stays in venues like this, no wonder he`s high in the polls against his likely challengers. MATTHEWS: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie sat down for a question and answer period, than what he wanted with Laura Ingraham. And Christie told Ingraham that Jeb Bush, the perceived front runner going into this thing, is the choice of the elites in the GOP. Not a nice thing to say. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: A lot of the fancy political consultants and a lot of the media types covering this today, they basically think this is Jeb Bush`s race to lose. GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: If the elites in Washington who make backroom deals decide who the president is going to be, then he`s definitely the front-runner. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Al, it seems like your party has taste for the populism, going against the rich people in New York and Washington, you know? They`re the bad guys now. Is that the spirit? CARDENAS: Well, you know, as I get older, I get a little less patient with whining and cynicism, to be truthful. I`ll tell you this, I was with Jeb Bush when he visited the sugar mills in Florida, a big industry, and when he demanded of those owners that there`d be better housing and conditions for those farm workers. I was with Jeb Bush when he fought for the underserved and unrepresented in seeking immigration policies that were compassionate with people. I was with Jeb Bush one night when we walked past -- and frankly I walked past a homeless man and he stopped to see how he was doing. MATTHEWS: OK.   CARDENAS: I don`t think -- I don`t think comments of that nature about anybody. I wouldn`t say anything about Chris Christie like that or anyone else. MATTHEWS: Let me ask a question, Al, from your heart, is Jeb Bush conservative enough to be the Republican nominee in 2016? CARDENAS: You know, Chris, the media in 2000 decided that they wanted to cover intensely the differences between the Bush brothers. You recall that. MATTHEWS: Right. CARDENAS: And now, the whole coverage is about how similar they are. Well, they are all different, as all siblings in every family are different. So, he has a lot of time, fortunately, to tell the American people what he`s all about. He was one of the most conservative governors the country had when he stepped down in 2006. He -- he received plaudits from all the conservative activists who are having a little bit of a memory loss. But I`ve got their quotes, and I`ve got their comments about what a great conservative he was. MATTHEWS: Well, to make your point, Al, I think he`s Hillary people`s worst nightmare if he runs. Anyway -- because if he wins the nomination, the middle is in play. Anyway, thank you. SCHLAPP: That`s right. MATTHEWS: The roundtable is staying with us.   And up next, is this headline in today`s "Washington Post" going to cause problems for Hillary Clinton, foreign governments gave millions to her foundation while Clinton was at the State Department. This is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Here`s an update on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu`s trip to Washington next week. Netanyahu will meet with the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate after his address to Congress on Tuesday. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell announced the meeting today. Earlier this week, Netanyahu refused an invitation to meet with Senate Democrats, saying it would look partisan. Netanyahu, of course, was invited to address Congress, just two weeks before his own election by John Boehner. And the White House wasn`t notified at that time. We`ll be right back after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: We`re back. A conflict of interest can be a dangerous thing in politics, especially if it sticks to your party`s future nominee for president. Today`s big story in the front page of "The Washington Post" places serious scrutiny on the money behind Hillary Clinton`s powerful group, the Clinton Foundation. They report, quote, "The Clinton Foundation accepted millions of dollars from seven foreign governments during Hillary Rodham Clinton`s tenure as U.S. Secretary of State, including one donation that violated its ethics agreement with the Obama administration." Republican presidential hopefuls Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz ripped into the story today when speaking to the conservatives at the CPAC gathering. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)   FIORINA: Mrs. Clinton, please name an accomplishment. And in the meantime, in the meantime, please accept and explain why we should accept that the millions and millions of dollars that have flowed into the Clinton Foundation from foreign governments do not represent a conflict of interest. (APPLAUSE) SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: We could have had Hillary here. But we could not find a foreign nation to foot the bill. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Well, he said it with a smirk but it still has power. Back at the roundtable, Al, Jonathan and Mercedes. Mercedes, are you guys going to jump on this? SCHLAPP: Well, absolutely, I mean, this is just one of those episodes where we`re seeing the true Clinton come out which is pay-for-play. This is too close for Secretary Clinton to be involved in this foundation, accept money from foreign government, knowing at some point that some of the governments were lobbying her during the time that she was secretary of state. So, this is absolutely a very -- it`s a sticky situation, I believe, for the Clintons. And I think Republicans can justify -- you know, can come out and justify saying this loophole they have with the foreign government and Hillary Clinton and that relationship is just -- it can be very problematic for them. MATTHEWS: Jonathan, how do you deal with this? How do you deal with it on the editorial page? CAPEHART: Well, I mean, these are legitimate questions. Today`s story raises legitimate questions. The key here will be how Secretary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation responds as more and more of these questions come up.   I would like to point out, though, that when our paper, the post, went to the Clinton Foundation and asked these things the foundation answered. And the other thing is, we have to keep in mind that in the clip you just read from the story, there was an agreement between the Obama administration and the foundation about what it can and cannot do. And as you read, only one of those donations was in violation of that agreement. But still, it`s going to require Hillary Clinton and the foundation to explain what that agreement is, what it entails, and what kind of influence it had, if any. I take issue with the word lobbying that Mercedes used, because as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton is not lobbing for anything, or open to lobbying for anything. She can`t write legislation. She didn`t have any say over laws. But, you know, foreign governments, you know -- SCHLAPP: Well, let`s call it influence, Jonathan. I mean, it`s influence. It`s meetings with the secretary -- you know, with the State Department. MATTHEWS: For the record, the State Department is sticking with Hillary saying she is OK on this. Anyway, thank you, Al Cardenas. Thank you, Jonathan Capehart. And Mercedes Schlapp, thank you. Great conversation tonight. We`ll be right back after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this killer who hides behind a mask and celebrates his hatred of us. It`s hard to face up to such a figure to accept that he stands on this earth with us, openly and coldly slicing off our heads one at a time or in groups. He lacks not an ounce of sympathy for us, of course, believe that if nothing else. He cares not for our fears, or horrors or our final humiliation, or, of course, the death that comes at the end. In fact, he wants this moment, wants to be there, taking pleasure in them, wants to know before, during, and after, that he has the power of inflicting death, fearful, terrifying, total.   And he wants you, those of you watching these videos he sends out, to know it, feel it, hate it, and know there is nothing you can do about it, nothing to stop him. The Jihadi John, the headline writers have dubbed him, but unlike Baghdad Bob, we called that guy who couldn`t and wouldn`t defeat of Saddam`s armies, there`s nothing of mirth in this man, nor should there be in a name thrown upon him. Masked or not, he is the face of evil, and as long as he stands out there, condemning, humiliating and ultimately executing people, he looms as a specter of evil that I don`t think can be endured without shaming ourselves. There needs to be a reckoning with this evil. The challenge to President Barack Obama which he must now know, as anyone else knows, is to find a way to bring it. And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END Copyright 2015 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>