STEVE KORNACKI, GUEST HOST: Deal or no deal? Let`s play HARDBALL. Good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki, in for Chris Matthews. Chris is in Japan this week as a guest of Ambassador Caroline Kennedy and the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation for an event honoring the legacy of President Kennedy. He`ll be back next week. "Let Me Start" tonight with Iran`s pen pal, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. The freshman was able to corral 46 of his fellow senators to send a letter to Iranian leaders essentially aimed at blowing up nuclear negotiations. This evening, Cotton took to the Senate floor and defended the move. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: The deal foreshadowed by the president allowing Iran to have uranium enrichment capabilities and accepting an expiration date on any agreement, to quote Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, doesn`t block Iran`s path to the bomb, it paves Iran`s path to the bomb. If you think, as I do, the Islamic State is dangerous, a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic is even more so. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: One of the few Republicans to express a measure of regret over that letter, Senator John McCain, conceded it was a rush job due, in part, to the fact that, quote, "Everybody was looking forward to getting out of town because of the snowstorm last week." But McCain was a rare exception. For the most part, Republicans doubled down on their support for the letter, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying that he has no regrets. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: I signed the letter. I don`t think it was a mistake. It`s no more unusual than Robert Byrd going to Moscow or John Kerry going to Managua. DANA BASH, HOST, CNN`S "STATE OF THE UNION": Did -- did you go -- do you go over it? Did you -- did you look at it? MCCONNELL: Yes, I read it. BASH: Did you suggest... MCCONNELL: I read it. I thought... BASH: Make suggestions? MCCONNELL: ... it was entirely appropriate to explain that the process is going to include Congress at some point. Now, the president would like to keep us out of it. We know that. But we`re going to be involved in it. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Secretary of State John Kerry again called the letter reckless. When asked if he would have to apologize to the Iranians for the letter, Kerry had this to say. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Not on your life. I`m not going to apologize for the -- for an unconstitutional, unthought-out action by somebody who`s been in the United States Senate for 60-some days. That`s just inappropriate. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Secretary Kerry and his Iranian counterpart held five hours of talks today in Switzerland, one U.S. official telling Reuters that the Iranian delegation raised the Cotton letter and called it ill-timed and ill-advised. Late this afternoon, I spoke with Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KORNACKI: So Senator Manchin, on this issue of the letter that 47 Republicans signed last week, the negotiations are resuming now in Switzerland. Do you think that letter could affect those negotiations and whether a deal is struck? SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Well, Steve, it sure isn`t going to help. There`s no way that letter can be of any help for us getting an agreement that`s going to be good for us to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. And that`s the whole purpose of what we`re doing in negotiations. So you know, I signed a letter -- there were 10 senators with Menendez, that we signed saying, Let`s wait until March 24th. Lay the deal out. Let`s see what we negotiated with our other five NATO partners and go down this, or with the P5-plus-1. We`re not in it by ourself. Let`s see what we have. And then we -- also, I`ve signed a piece of legislation, the Menendez- Kirk. It`s bipartisan, Democrats and Republicans, that says if we don`t have a deal by the end of June, we`ll double down on our sanctions, which we know will be effective. And it will hurt them. So I`ve done and put myself in a position. And Steve, we`ve said this, if -- this is policy, or is it politics? If you`re wanting to do policy, it should be bipartisan. No one ever approached me about a letter, even tell me what the contents, show me the letter, or asked me if I would want to sign. I would not have signed it, but I would have had input of why I thought it shouldn`t be done. KORNACKI: Was it -- was it -- do you think the motive here, then, primarily from Tom Cotton and the Republicans was to make a political statement, or was it to have some effect on the outcome of the negotiations? MANCHIN: Well, either way has to make a political statement. I mean, either way it goes, it`s a political statement to be made. It wasn`t intended to, nor was there an attempt to make it bipartisan. If you want pure policy here, especially within the Senate, you better have Democrats and Republicans, at least a few on both sides, working together. KORNACKI: You mentioned... MANCHIN: That didn`t happen. KORNACKI: You mentioned the bill that you and Senator Menendez are behind. There`s also this legislation from Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman. MANCHIN: Yes. KORNACKI: He wants to introduce a bill that would require Congress to approve any deal before it`s implemented. And over the weekend, White House chief of staff Denis McDonough sending a letter to Corker urging him to reconsider that. He wrote, quote, "We believe that the legislation would likely have a profoundly negative impact on the ongoing negotiations, emboldening Iranian hardliners, differentiating the U.S. position from our allies in the negotiations, and once again calling into question our ability to negotiate this deal. The administration`s request to the Congress is simple. Let us complete the negotiations before the Congress acts on legislation. If we successfully negotiate a framework by the end of this month and a final deal by the end of June, we expect a robust debate in Congress." Well, let me ask you, what is the role, in your mind, the proper role for Congress here? Because the case that the Republicans are making, the Democrats who signed on to the Corker legislation, make is, Hey, look, any deal that`s struck is going to involve easing sanctions that Congress passed. So shouldn`t Congress get a vote on any deal? MANCHIN: Well, Steve, first of all, Bob Corker is a dear friend of mine. He came and he asked me to look at the letter, or look at the bill and sign on. I`ve looked at the bill and I`m just not comfortable signing onto that bill until I see if we`re able through diplomacy and diplomatic measures get a commitment and a treaty, if you will. Let me say this. You know when we had all, at the time, a year-and-a- half, two years ago, when the White House and the State Department wanted to drop bombs on Syria? I spoke out very loudly against that because I didn`t know what it was going to prove. We weren`t going to take out Assad. We weren`t going to be able to get the weapons, chemical weapons, off the table, if you will. And we were table to convince and change because of the input. We worked through the process. We didn`t get the final signoff, but they worked out a deal with Russia, and now we have chemical weapons taken off the table in Syria. I think that was a success. So I`m going to do everything I can through the process we have. I`ll be outspoken when needed. I`m signed (ph) -- I`m in a position now to make sure that a treaty, a good treaty is going to be signed. If not, then we`re going to double down on sanctions, which we`re serious about. And the 24th, the end of this week, we should have a complete layout of where the deal is. SO I would say, let`s wait and see what comes forth and then make the decision, whether it be on the Corker or any other legislation. KORNACKI: Yes, well, so and that`s -- that`s -- the question then is how much time do you want to wait here? You`re talking about the end of this month, the 24th. Apparently, we`ll have a framework. If there`s going to be a deal, we`ll know that the framework is. The White House now also putting out the word the actual specifics of the deal, though, maybe not until mid-June, maybe not until late June. Would you be willing to wait? And will the Senate be willing to wait that long? MANCHIN: Well, the framework, basically, is going to tell us the path they`re going down. I want to see that framework. You know, everybody`s saying they don`t know what`s in the deal. You know, I wanted to have a briefing, so I went -- I went and called State Department and Samantha Powers (sic) called me back. We had a nice chat. I went through everything that I heard in the Netanyahu speech, everything that I`ve seen and read about. And we were very -- she was very frank and very direct. It was a very good conversation. They`ve been very open, and they`re willing to continue to meet and be very open of where they are in the process. So I feel that I have been getting the knowledge and the input I need, and I`ll continue to ask for that. But I`m willing to say on March 24th, look at the deal. Look at the diaphragm, (sic) if you will, the diagram of the deal, and then be able to see and keep updated by the State Department to find out what areas we can, whether it`s, you know, the time, the length of time that we`re talking about, or the breakout time, all the different things, or the centrifuges or the unfettered access. All these things we`re concerned about. I`m determined, as every other senator here is determined, that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon. We all have different directions and different ways to get there, and I feel that, basically, there`s a process in place, and we should work with the process we have. KORNACKI: All right. Senator Joe Manchin, thanks for your time. MANCHIN: Thank you, Steve. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: This weekend, Senator Tom Cotton insisted the letter was meant to send a clear message to the Iranian regime and that they were within their rights in doing so. CBS`s Bob Schieffer asked Cotton this pointed question. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BOB SCHIEFFER, HOST, "FACE THE NATION": Are you planning to contact any other of our adversaries around the country? For example, do you plan to check with the North Koreans to make sure that they know that any deal has to be approved by the Congress? COTTON: Bob, right now, I and most every other senator is focused on stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. And that`s why it`s so important that we communicated this message straight to Iran because they`re not hearing it from Geneva. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: I`m joined now by retired Army general Paul Eaton -- he`s an adviser to the group VoteVets -- and "Washington Post" columnist Eugene Robinson. He`s an MSNBC political analyst. So General, let me start with you and the same question I asked Senator Manchin there. Kerry, with the Iranians in Switzerland trying to hammer out this deal -- what role does that letter that was sent last week, that open letter to the Iranian regime by those 47 Republican senators -- what role is that playing? How is it affecting those conversations and those negotiations in Switzerland? GEN. PAUL EATON, U.S. ARMY (RET.), VOTEVETS ADVISER: Steve, thank you, and good to be with you, Mr. Robinson. That letter was patronizing. It was poorly written. And it was I think a gross breach of discipline. It serves no other purpose than to undercut the primary negotiators en route to a negotiated agreement, we hope, and it was very destructive to that process. So we`ve been at this for 18 months. Let`s demonstrate some strategic patience and some discipline here and wait to see what we`ve got coming out of it. KORNACKI: Rand Paul was among the senators who signed onto Cotton`s letter. This weekend, Paul gave a novel rationale for the support. He said he was just trying to help President Obama. According to the HuffingtonPost, Paul said, quote, "There`s no one in Washington more against war and more for a negotiated deal than I am, but I want the negotiated deal to be a good deal. So my reason for signing onto the letter, I think it reiterates what is the actual law, that Congress will have to undo sanctions. But I also signed onto the letter because I want the president to negotiate from a position of strength, which means that he needs to be telling them in Iran that I`ve got Congress to deal with." Well, Gene, so let`s talk about Congress and the role they`re trying to play here, at least, the Republicans with this letter, but also some of this legislation, this Bob Corker legislation, for instance, has had Democratic support behind it. There is no indication yet -- for all of the Democratic outrage over the letter itself, there`s no indication that the Democrats who`ve been supporting this legislation are going to back off yet. It seems the White House still has its work cut out for it on that front. EUGENE ROBINSON, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the White House will have its work cut out, if, indeed, it reaches a framework agreement, depending on what that agreement says. And of course, we don`t know where they`re going to end up. So you know, in that sense, all of this is premature. And look, as far as Rand Paul`s contention that this was all to help the president, I wonder if he got a thank you call from the White House. I kind of doubt it because while it is in any negotiation the sort of good cop/bad cop setup -- it could be useful to have some noise in Washington about, you know, This better be a good deal, this better be, you know, a deal that really locks down the program -- in fact, it is not at all helpful to have this sort of letter from 47 U.S. senators to the supreme leadership of Iran. This is unprecedented, and it only can be destructive to what I think Rand Paul genuinely wants and what most people genuinely want, which is a solution to this without war. KORNACKI: Well, General, in terms of the conversation, then, of Congress`s role, a vote by Congress, what the Corker bill wants, they say, Hey, if you cut a deal with Iran, we want in Congress to have a vote in this. That`s what the Corker bill is basically saying here. What about the argument for that, you know, which is basically as you were saying with Senator Manchin there, the argument that Congress would have to ease some of these restrictions that Congress passed in the event of any deal? So why shouldn`t Congress get an up/down vote on the deal itself? What do you think of that? EATON: Steve, we`re talking about an executive agreement here, the same kind of agreement that ended the Vietnam war in 1973. This is the purview of the president of the United States. We`re not talking about a treaty negotiation here. Advice and consent for treaty passage by 67 senators -- I get that. This is an opportunity for senators to weigh in with the president of the United States, with the secretary of state, and provide their advice. Consent not required. KORNACKI: All right, thank you, General Paul Eaton, Eugene Robinson from "The Washington Post." Appreciate the time. Coming up, the fight is on up in New Hampshire, where Scott Walker and Jeb Bush traded punches. And not to be outdone, Ted Cruz told a 3-year-old girl that her world is on fire. We`ve got all the action in the 2016 race in just a minute. Plus, does Hillary Clinton need a sparring partner, a Democratic rival to make her a stronger candidate against the Republicans? James Carville and Jerry Brown both say no, but a lot of Democrats right now aren`t convinced their presumed front-runner is quite ready for primetime. And the story that`s captivated the country, the arrest and what appears to be the stunning confession of fugitive millionaire Robert Durst. And finally tonight, President Obama is doing it. So are 40 million other Americans. it`s time to make your Final Four picks. And tonight, something you`re not going to get anywhere else. We have got our blue state and red state brackets, the teams you should be picking if you`re a progressive, the teams you should be picking if you`re a conservative. We will unveil that a few minutes from now. This is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: With just hours now until polls open in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today making a last-minute effort to court the right wing today, telling an Israeli newspaper that if he remains in charge, there will be no Palestinian state on his watch. That is a reversal for Netanyahu, who endorsed a two-state solution back in 2009. We`ll be back right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Jeb Bush finds himself faltering in the polls, Scott Walker puts the front-runner target on his back, and Ted Cruz finds out what happens when you tell a 3-year-old that the world is on fire. It was a wild weekend in Republican presidential politics as four candidates -- count them, four candidates -- descended on the first-in-the- nation state of New Hampshire. The heavyweight matchup up there, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, each candidate`s first visit to the Granite State in years. Right now, Walker has clearly stolen the hot hand from Bush. In December, 63 percent of Republicans said they could see themselves supporting Bush, versus 33 percent for Walker. In just a few months, though, Bush`s numbers have dropped 14 points -- this is among Republicans, remember -- and Walker`s have soared by 20. They`re now neck and neck in that metric. Walker`s clearly got the momentum here, but Bush has some friends in some very high places and a fund-raising machine that could outspend Mr. Monopoly, if it ever wanted to. Let`s drill down here. John Brabender is a Republican strategist. Ron Reagan is an MSNBC political analyst. So John, let me start with you. We showed those poll numbers right there, the NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll last week. Scott Walker -- it`s not only that the number of Republicans who say they could vote for him has risen so much, but the numbers who say, Hey, those candidates are off limits. It`s about twice as high when it comes to Jeb Bush as it is with Scott Walker. What is Scott Walker tapping into right here in the Republican Party? JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, what generally happens in a race like this is people are looking for something sort of new and exciting to be part of. It`s like test-driving a car. You don`t want to just go on the lot and drive the car you had before, you want to drive something new. The problem, also, though, is what comes with that is further scrutiny. And I would imagine Scott Walker is probably the first one that says, Please don`t call me the front-runner, because he knows that changes things. But look, this -- these type of races are incredibly fluid. We saw that in the last two presidential primaries on the Republican side. It`ll happen again this time, as well. KORNACKI: Well, he actually -- I ought to say, last week, he was asked about -- he was asked about some of the attacks from Democrats on him, and he seemed to embrace the front-runner`s label. It was sort of surprising. You wouldn`t normally see a candidate in that position do it. But, Ron, let me ask you about that, too. So, this idea, one thing that I think might be going on here is that Bush fatigue is working two ways in the Republican Party. One is at a pragmatic level. They look at Bush and they say, I don`t know if the rest of the country is ready to elect another Bush. Maybe we`re better off having somebody up there whose last name isn`t Bush. But the other thing is, the Republican Party has moved so far to the right since Bush`s presidency -- that`s the rise of the Tea Party and all that sort of thing -- that they look at Jeb Bush and they say, well, the reason we got into the whole mess we have with President Obama and all that is because of a Bush. We need somebody more conservative than that. So, it`s a different party right now. RON REAGAN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think you`re absolutely right. Listen, we`re talking about this because Jeb Bush and Scott Walker essentially represent the two different halves of the Republican Party. It`s a bit of an oversimplification, because you can divide the pie into more chunks than just in half. But Jeb Bush, of course, represents the establishment of the Republican Party and he`s tapped into the establishment money already. But Scott Walker does have the heat behind him right now. He appeals to the right wing of the Republican Party, the Tea Party, if you will. Jeb Bush`s problem really I think and why his numbers have gone down so far, he`s boring. I think his numbers were high until he got into the race. And then people started to look at his record a little bit, particularly the conservatives, and not liking what they see on, say, immigration, and other people began listening to him and thinking, huh, what`s the big deal with this guy? He`s not very exciting. He`s not very charismatic. And John is absolutely right. I think he`s put his finger on it. The Republican Party I think now is ready for somebody not establishment, somebody to shake things up a little bit, somebody coming out of Wisconsin, maybe, somebody from the Tea Party, maybe. And they`re souring on Bush a little bit. I think John is right about that. (CROSSTALK) KORNACKI: I think he might be on to something there, too, about the Jeb Bush style. The contrast between watching Jeb Bush talk in public and his brother -- I mean, his brother was made fun of all the time for mangling words or whatever. But his brother, I saw a real sort of populist common touch there. REAGAN: Yes. KORNACKI: I`m not necessarily picking up on that with Jeb Bush. REAGAN: Not at all. KORNACKI: But speaking of the other one, too, Scott Walker -- Scott Walker up there in New Hampshire facing multiple questions from the press on criticism that he`s a flip-flopper, that he`s flip-flopped on issues like immigration and abortion. Here`s Walker`s response to that. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) QUESTION: Flip-flopper, the charge. Governor, how do you respond to that? GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), WISCONSIN: It`s just a narrative from the other campaigns who are frustrated with the fact that we have got a strong reputation of keeping our word. And the only major issue out there is immigration, and we listened to the people. QUESTION: Governor, what do you think the difference is between changing your mind and flip-flopping? WALKER: I think the key is, if you listen to people and you have got a valid argument for why you have done it -- we have laid out exactly what we have done. But I think people want strong leaders and they want leaders who listen to the people. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: And also while on the trail in New Hampshire, Jeb Bush being asked several times about rival Scott Walker. Let`s watch his response to that. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) QUESTION: Scott Walker is also here in New Hampshire today, and he called himself a possible front-runner. Do you think that`s a premature assessment? How do you judge it? JEB BUSH (R), FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: Well, I`m not a candidate. I don`t think he -- maybe he is. I don`t know. QUESTION: Is Scott Walker a flip-flopper? BUSH: I don`t -- I don`t -- I don`t know. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Well, John, so how is that flip-flopper charge going to play in the Republican Party? You know, Mitt Romney, it may have held him back with conservatives when he ran in 2008. There were all these suspicions, is he really one of us? They`re trying to throw that against Scott Walker now. I think we`re going to be hearing this a lot. How is that going to play? BRABENDER: Well, first of all, Scott Walker realizes something very clearly when it comes to immigration. You`re better to change your position than to keep a bad position. So they very early on have made a concession that his position has evolved, as they called it. But let`s be clear. Hillary Clinton I`m sure has the same problems. When she first probably decided to run for president about age 12, I`m sure the positions she holds today are not the same that she has. Every one of these candidates have something like that, but Scott Walker seems to be handling it in a pretty smart way. KORNACKI: All right. Well, a 3-year-old girl named Julie Trant actually stole the show at Ted Cruz`s rally in New Hampshire over the weekend when she heard Ted Cruz warn the crowd that the world was on fire because of the president`s policies. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: The whole world`s on fire. JULIE TRANT, 3 YEARS OLD: The whole world`s on fire? CRUZ: The world is on fire. Yes. (LAUGHTER) CRUZ: Your world is on fire. But you know what? Your mommy`s here, and everyone`s here to make sure that the world you grow up in is even better. (APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Well, after a flood of headlines that Cruz scared the girl, the little girl`s mother went on local radio to clarify that her daughter thinks that Cruz is a hero. The woman is an enthusiast for Ted Cruz. Well, Ron, what do you make of that? It seems like he -- it takes him about five, 10 seconds there to realize he`s talking to a 3-year-old girl and he changes his tone pretty abruptly. REAGAN: Well, yes, but not abruptly enough. When a little girl thinks that the world is literally on fire, you reassure her that it`s not. You don`t reinforce the idea that literally the world is on fire. And then your mother -- her mother, of course, then tells her that Ted Cruz is the guy who`s going to put the fire out. He just seemed a little creepy and strange to me there. And he`s got to stop scaring children. KORNACKI: Well, we will see what happens if the kid asks him if Santa Claus exists on the trail. (LAUGHTER) KORNACKI: We will keep our -- we will keep our eyes open for that. Anyway, thank you, John Brabender, Ron Reagan. Appreciate the time. REAGAN: Thanks, Steve. KORNACKI: Up next: the arrest and apparent confession of fugitive millionaire Robert Durst. We will talk to a friend of his wife, Kathleen, who disappeared three decades ago. This is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Real estate millionaire Robert Durst waived his right to extradition in a New Orleans courtroom today and will be sent to Los Angeles. And the district attorney in Los Angeles just announced that Durst will be charged with cold case murder. The 71-year-old Durst was arrested over the weekend in New Orleans by the FBI, who say they now have evidence linking Durst to the slaying of his friend and writer Susan Berman. In case you`re not familiar, Durst has been the subject of a six-part HBO documentary series called "The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst," which investigates Durst`s connections to three murders. He was questioned, but not charged in the disappearance and death of his first wife, Kathleen Durst, back in 1982 and also after the murder of his longtime friend Susan Berman in 2000. Then, in 2001, Durst was arrested for the murder of his Texas neighbor, Morris Black, but, in 2003, Durst was acquitted of shooting, killing and dismembering Black`s body. In last night`s HBO finale of the six-part series and just one day after Durst`s latest arrest in New Orleans, Durst made what appears to be a stunning confession. While in a bathroom following the HBO interview, and still wearing his open microphone, Durst whispers to himself: "What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course." The remarks were captured on audiotape. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROBERT DURST, SUSPECT: What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Excuse me. Joining me now is a friend of Robert Durst`s first wife, Kathleen, who went missing in 1982, Ellen Strauss, Lisa DePaulo of Bloomberg Politics, who`s been covering this. Well, let me start with you, Ellen. How do you feel today? This is - - I have never seen anything like this, what seems to be a confession caught on tape like that from a guy who was trying to defend himself and trying to deny everything. Do you look at this and say, got him now, this is the end of it? ELLEN STRAUSS, FRIEND OF KATHLEEN DURST: I`m over the moon, to tell you the truth. There`s no such thing as justice, unless you go to divinity school. We`re not going to get Kathie back. We`re not going to get Susan back or Morris back. But if he ends up in prison for the rest of his life or even in a home for the very, very bewildered, I will be satisfied. KORNACKI: Well, Lisa, so what do you make of this? We have the tape there. He`s beaten the rap before. He`s been sort of -- he`s been out there for 30-plus years right now. Is this something that would hold up in court, do you think? Is this thing he could walk back and say, I was ticked off at them, I was being sarcastic, I was just muttering to myself what I thought they wanted to hear? Is there a way out of this for him? LISA DEPAULO, BLOOMBERG NEWS: I`m sure there are a million ways out of this. He got -- he got -- he walked out of the courtroom a free man after getting on the stand and admitting to chopping up his friend and throwing... (CROSSTALK) KORNACKI: How did he -- how did he get out of that? DEPAULO: Well, partly, he was only charged with murder, and -- I know, only. But they convinced a jury that the actual killing was in self-defense. And he convinced a jury that the reason he chopped Morris Black up and threw him in the bay was because they were coming after him for Kathie`s disappearance all these years ago and he had -- nobody would believe his story. They bought that. So, in many ways, what`s going to happen? You know, he got -- what happened in Galveston is so terrifying. KORNACKI: Well, Ellen, is there something about this guy? Tell us about -- yes. STRAUSS: Well, first of all, the prosecution -- as an attorney, I will talk. The prosecution made a mistake in not having any lesser included offenses when they tried him in Dallas. That`s what I think Lisa was trying to say. (CROSSTALK) DEPAULO: Yes. Yes. Yes. STRAUSS: Had they done that, he could have been convicted of something lesser than murder. Everybody thinks, heck, you go to Texas, and you kill somebody, death chamber. The only thing he was convicted of was misdemeanor, cutting up of a dead body. Once the body`s dead, you want to cut it up, well, you may be a bit nuts, but you`re not -- it`s not murder. (CROSSTALK) STRAUSS: He made a very brilliant three-day testimony on the stand about how they struggled for the gun. And so we never found Morris` head, we don`t know which way the bullet went in, whether it went in from here, as if they were struggling, or whether it went in from the back, the way Susan Berman was murdered. KORNACKI: So, what is -- how does this last -- can somebody be out there for 30 years? I mean, three different... STRAUSS: Thirty-three KORNACKI: Thirty-three years. DEPAULO: Right. KORNACKI: Three different crimes, all of this suspicion. How is it that only when he mutters something like this, he`s cornered? DEPAULO: Well, really, every investigation was botched, OK? STRAUSS: Mm-hmm. DEPAULO: Right? Kathie, there was never a real investigation in 1982, neither by New York City, where he tried to pretend it happened, which it didn`t. She never left South Salem, we now know, or in South Salem. Then, Susan`s murder happens the 23rd of December. Frankly, somebody had a train set to put together, and you know what? Nobody knew she was somebody, right? And they didn`t investigate it in the beginning. And Bobby wasn`t even a -- quote -- "suspect" for -- until a few years. OK. Then, in Texas, they -- the cops did a great job. They connected all the dots. They had all the evidence in the world, and the prosecution dropped the ball. KORNACKI: Well, is this -- I mean, he comes from money. DEPAULO: Right. Right. KORNACKI: He comes from a prominent family. Now, the family put out a statement saying they`re happy that he`s been... STRAUSS: I`m sure they are. (CROSSTALK) KORNACKI: That he`s in custody right now. STRAUSS: They have bodyguards for themselves. KORNACKI: But the name -- do his name -- the connections that he had, did that play some role in... (CROSSTALK) DEPAULO: It meant nothing in Galveston, except for paying for the lawyers. KORNACKI: Right. DEPAULO: But, strangely enough, I think it had -- there were so many other things at play here. He did get the best defense possible... STRAUSS: Absolutely brilliant. DEPAULO: ... that money could buy. But even if -- even if he got a cheap defense, for some reason, that jury was easy to sway, and it was because the prosecution did not prosecute. They did not rebut anything. KORNACKI: Is there something about his personality that is particularly persuasive, that wins the benefit of the doubt from people, whether it`s law enforcement, whether it`s a jury? Is there something about him that just is extra and unusually convincing? STRAUSS: Jarecki found him charming. DEPAULO: Right. Jarecki found him charming. STRAUSS: I think some people -- I have only met him once. KORNACKI: This is the director of the... (CROSSTALK) STRAUSS: The director, one of -- yes, the director and producer of "The Jinx." I never found him charming, but I only met him once. And, you know, I used to say to Kathie, leave him. He`s crazy. He would mutter to himself and make these sounds. DEPAULO: I`m glad you said this, because he talked to himself when they were dating. This isn`t some new development, Bobby Durst talking to himself in the bathroom. KORNACKI: So, this is a thing. He walks -- yes, this is part of a pattern with him. DEPAULO: Yes. Yes. Right? STRAUSS: The belching, the whole nine yards. DEPAULO: And he would belch in public and -- OK. But -- so this is nothing new. He had -- he was always that way. But it was eccentric because he was rich. It was, oh, that`s eccentric Bobby. KORNACKI: Yes. It`s the most bizarre thing I have seen in a long time, somebody who is -- first of all, somebody in that position agreeing to give an interview. STRAUSS: That was stupid. He didn`t listen to his attorneys. You pay them all that money, you don`t listen? KORNACKI: Yes. (CROSSTALK) KORNACKI: The idea of agreeing to do it and sitting there and just pleading your innocence and then getting up, you know, I -- I know I have got the microphone on. You think you would realize that. Anyway, it`s bizarre. We will see what happens next. As we say, the news tonight, that the L.A. district attorney is going to charge him with cold case murder, that`s the most recent news. And there will be a lot more to follow, though. Thank you, though, for now, Ellen Strauss, Lisa DePaulo. DEPAULO: Thanks, Steve. STRAUSS: Let`s hope they don`t use the O.J. prosecutors. We need somebody really smart. KORNACKI: Yes. STRAUSS: Maybe a special prosecutor. KORNACKI: We will see if the fourth time is the charm, so to speak. Anyway, up next: Hillary Clinton`s had a few stumbles out of the gate. She hasn`t announced her presidential campaign yet. But she does need a sparring partner, a viable Democratic contender, to help make her a stronger candidate. That`s what some people think on the Democratic side. You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Well, Republican contenders for 2016 are already duking it out. Hillary Clinton is sitting comfortably above the fray among a field of much lesser known Democratic challengers. According to a "Wall Street Journal"/NBC News poll last week, a whopping 86 percent of Democratic voters say they can see themselves voting for the former secretary of state in the upcoming primaries. Most likely opponents include former Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, former Maryland Governor Martin O`Malley, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Yet all of them are polling in the low single digits among Democrats nationwide. Clinton is so favored to win, the Clinton loyalist James Carville now says her Democratic challengers shouldn`t bother, quote, "wasting their time." (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) JAMES CARVILLE, CLINTON LOYALIST: Of course, Senator Webb, Governor O`Malley can run for anything they want, but in terms of the party, in every poll that you see shows 86 percent the last "Wall Street Journal" poll was out, 86 percent of Democrats say they`re going to vote for Hillary. Well, I -- I don`t know how much data you can get, but who am I to tell Senator Webb or Governor O`Malley, both know you can`t run. You`re not going to win, but if you want to waste your time, that`s your business. (END AUDIO CLIP) KORNACKI: And even Governor Jerry Brown of California who ran an aggressive primary campaign against Bill Clinton in 1992, who attacked Hillary Clinton in that as well, said last Friday that Hillary should not be challenged. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPORTER: On 2016, do you think it would be a good thing for Hillary Clinton to have more competition in the primary? And if not, why not? GOV. JERRY BROWN (D), CALIFORNIA: Certainly not. I can`t think of anything I`d rather have less if I were running for president than have a competitor in the primary. And I`ll tell you why, because the primaries, get into all the little nuances and small differences among candidates of the same party. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: But would a viable Democratic opponent in the primaries make Hillary a stronger candidate? I`m joined now by the HARDBALL roundtable, April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks, Ruth Marcus of "The Washington Post", the Democratic pollster, Cornell Belcher. Well, Cornell, let me start with you on this basic question of, does she need a challenger? It occurs to me you`re sort of in unprecedented territory here. We`ve had primaries where candidates run unopposed, but that candidate has been an incumbent president. Every other major party nomination in the sort of modern media age of politics, there`s been some serious competition for it. Hillary Clinton right now doesn`t have much serious competition. Does she need some? CORNELL BLECHER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, she kind of is the incumbent if you look at sort of, you know, her history, and sort of who she is, how established she is, she`s kind of is the incumbent. Look, I don`t think -- I`m a campaign hack, so you never want to see a primary because you don`t want to spend money and spend time and resources attacking your fellow Democrats. But on the other side, what`s the upside? The upside is particularly for Hillary Clinton, if you got grumblings on the left, there`s nothing wrong with her running a campaign and have a conversation to the base of the party and work for those votes. I don`t think there`s anything wrong with that. Another part about this is, look, on the backend, I think she probably will come out a better candidate. Look, I worked on the Obama `08 campaign. You know, candidate Obama was a lot better candidate after the primaries than he was when he began that process. And we were better positioned in the general election because quite frankly, we wouldn`t -- 11 percent of our electorate there 2008 were brand new voters. We would not have had that expansion of the electorate in 2008 which was so important to Barack Obama if, in fact, we had not had the process where we talked to more voters and expanded the electorate and energized our base. So, I think that`s the upside of it. KORNACKI: You know, Ruth, there`s a difference I guess between having a challenger whose name appears on the ballot and that`s pretty much it, versus having a challenger who forces you into uncomfortable positions, says some things about you that makes you defend yourself, you know, lands a punch or two. I`m looking at Martin O`Malley who, right now, seems to be lining up to run against her. It seems every opportunity he has to take a shot and draw a contrast with Hillary Clinton, he`s passing on it. People are telling me that means he wants to be her vice president. Does that count as a real challenge if he`s really auditioning for number two? RUTH MARCUS, THE WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST: I was about to say, gee, I wonder why that is that he`s taking a pass. Look, a primary campaign can get very intense and times nasty. But it`s never going to be quite as vicious as between-parties rivalry. Look, I thought it was very nice of James Carville to worry so much about whether Governor O`Malley and Senator Webb are wasting their time. And I understand that it is possible for a candidate to improve from the experience of going through this, but Hillary Clinton will get enough during the primary campaign, enough slings and arrows coming at her from Republicans who understand that she is the incumbent, as Cornell says, that she doesn`t really need that testing and it is much better position for her to be in with pretty much non-opponent opponents, who are running to make a little point, make a little name for themselves, but don`t seem at this point to be very much of a threat to her. KORNACKI: Well, April, what about the media`s role in this, the press` role there this? When there`s an active campaign, really competitive campaign, you know, one candidate is going to throw charges at the other candidate. The press is going to investigate, tell you if there`s something to it or not, dig up more if there`s more to it. If there`s no real competition on the Democratic side, how is the press going to be handling Hillary Clinton for the next year? APRIL RYAN, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS: Whether there`s a viable candidate or not, that`s going to go up against Hillary Clinton, the press is going to be on her because she is Hillary Clinton. She`s part of that machine, this -- what has been known as one of the great political machines of our modern era. I mean, her husband was known as the comeback kid. He got two terms in office, and she was a first lady who became a U.S. senator, who also is now running for president. And who was secretary of state. Who else has the pedigree that she does? So, she is someone that attracts media attention. She has a story. She is a magnet for everyone to come to particularly the press. So she will definitely be scrutinized under the microscope of the press as well as from her fellow competition whoever that may be, even if it`s Martin O`Malley or whomever else that comes up. She is really right now for all intents and purposes, she is the person to beat. This is her stage on the Democratic side. KORNACKI: Well, the House Select Committee on Benghazi might also complicate Hillary`s 2016 campaign, if the investigation continues into next year. Here`s what Trey Gowdy, who is chairing that committee, said yesterday about that on "Meet the Press." (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I would like to be through as quickly as possible. But keep in mind, when you are never told that the secretary of state kept her records, when you`re never told that she didn`t have a state.gov e-mail account, it does tend to draw things out. I don`t get to fully decide how quickly it`s done. I need some cooperation from the people who have access to the witnesses and the information. (END VIDEO CLIP) KORNACKI: Ruth, I bet in one way, you know, if the Republicans do persist with the Benghazi thing into 2016, in a way that isolates Hillary Clinton in her own party because Democrats are going to want to rally around her, aren`t they? MARCUS: Well, you know, that might not be the bargain she`d want to strike and I`m sure Congressman Gowdy would be really, really sorry to see this dragging into a general election campaign. But this -- I mean, the fact that there is the Benghazi committee and the fact that by virtue of her own decision making and actions, Secretary Clinton has invited additional scrutiny of Benghazi and her e-mails really kind of underscores the point that April was making, it doesn`t totally matter whether she has competition from inside her party or not. First of all, we in the press are going to be looking at everything Hillary Clinton does, we magnify our attention. And second of all, even more Republicans who understand that she`s the nominee to beat are going to be scrutinizing her. KORANCKI: All right. The roundtable is staying with us. Up next, it`s that time of year again, time to make your Final Four picks. We have got our blue state bracket and our red state bracket. The teams you should be rooting for if you`re a liberal, the teams you should be cheering for if you`re a conservative. We`re going to show you that, next. This is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: You heard of red America and blue America. So, what does that look like when it comes to the NCAA basketball tournament? We have our red bracket and blue bracket. We will unveil them both, next. HARDBALL back in a minute. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: All right. We are back with something I have been looking forward to all day. Call this one two brackets for two Americas. So, you all walked into the office today and got one of these. You know what this looks like. This is a little funny. We tried to squeeze it to fit it all on the screen. But this is the bracket -- 68 teams in the NCAA basketball tournament. It`s starting this week. It was announced last night. You got to fill them out. You got to put your 10 bucks in and someone who knows nothing about college basketball takes all your money. That`s how it works every year. So, we thought, let`s come up with a different way, a novel way of filling out your bracket. We said, a blue bracket for blue America and a red bracket for red America. The teams you should be cheering for if you want politics to define who wings these games. So, here`s what we mean by this. Actually, we teamed up -- we took a look at niche.com. What is Niche.com? Well, they have a survey of 100,000 college students across the country, and they took the data to rank each school in the country, a list of the most liberal schools, from the most liberal to the least liberal, and the most conservative to the least conservative. And we said, we`re going to fill out our brackets based on those statistics. So, let`s take a look at what that means. For instance, look at this matchup. This is a first round match up on your bracket. You`re going to see Oregon, the Oregon ducks playing Oklahoma State. Well, think of the politics of these two schools. Oregon, this is Nike, this is Phil Knight, this is the liberal Pacific Northwest, this is a blue state. Oklahoma State, this is T. Boone Pickens. He ran those swift boat ads against John Kerry back in 2004, big time Republican. He funds the athletic department there, Oklahoma State very conservative. So, how liberal, how conservative? Well, in those rankings that we have, Oregon is the 55th most liberal college in the United States. Oklahoma State is the 799th. So what does that mean? That means in the blue bracket, Oregon is going to win the game. So, what does that look like? That means we filled out Oregon is the winner, and we did that for every single match up in the tournament. We just took the team that was more liberal, that`s how we created the blue bracket. We did the same thing on the Republican side. We take a match up like this, Baylor versus Georgia State. Baylor, Ken Starr, the Whitewater prosecutor. He`s the president of that school. Georgia State, much more liberal than Baylor. So, for the red bracket, the conservative bracket, the Republican bracket, that means that we advance Baylor, and we go all the way through like that, advancing the most conservative school in every match. So, we do that for both of them, and what does that get us? Well, this is what the big blue bracket looks like. We filled it in with the more liberal school in each of those matchups, and you get this as your final four. Northeastern, this is crazy, Northeastern is a 14 seed. They should never make the final four, but they do in the blue bracket. Oregon makes the final four, Lafayette, a 16th seed, they should not be on the final four, they are in the blue bracket, UCLA. You get Oregon and Lafayette for the title, Oregon wins the title. Now, on the Republican side, you go all the way through it. What`s your final four? Notre Dame, BYU wins the play in game, and they make the final four. Wyoming, Utah, and ends up being BYU, your national champion is BYU on the Republican side of the bracket. So, that is -- that is the crazy tournament thing we have there. April Ryan, Ruth Marcus, and Cornell Belcher, I want to thank you for joining us. We ran out of time but we`ll be right back after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: Tomorrow night, Israelis go to the polls to decide whether to reelect Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party. The Israeli election comes just two weeks after Netanyahu came to Washington to slam President Obama`s nuclear talks with Iran in front of a joint session of Congress. And tomorrow, we may find out whether that move backfired on him. Polls show Netanyahu could be in real trouble over there. And, obviously, there is the possibility of this being an Israeli election that the fun will just start tomorrow night with all of the jockeying, and deals and coalition-building that it takes to form a government over there. So, tune into HARDBALL tomorrow. We will have the latest on the race from Israel. 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. 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