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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 04/01/15

Guests: Sandy Rios, Gregory Angelo, Dana Milbank, Montel Williams, DavidIgnatius, April Ryan

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: The Indiana timebomb. Let`s play HARDBALL. Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. Three big stories tonight. First, the time bomb started in Indiana is blowing nationwide. The governor of Arkansas said today he`ll have no part of what many see as a gay-bashing move. He refused to sign a religious freedom restoration act until it has LGBT protections in it. Second, the talks will continue overnight in Geneva to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapons, with Republicans howling. My question -- do the Republicans even have a foreign policy, or is Benghazi all they have? Last but not least, the U.S. Justice Department hits New Jersey senator Bob Menendez with enough corruption charges to put him away forever. He`s expected to respond to those charges in this hour. Is this payback, which the right wing is charging, or good old New Jersey justice? Let`s start with our trifecta with the Indiana timebomb, stewing right now from that controversy Indiana law (sic) that has forced the state`s governor, Mike Pence, to retreat as he seeks to fix the law and quiet the public fallout. And just today, as everyone braced for Arkansas`s governor, Asa Hutchinson, to sign identical legislation, Governor Hutchinson shocked everyone by announcing that he first wants his state`s legislature to fix the religious freedom law before it even gets to his desk.   Here is he. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R), ARKANSAS: The issue has become divisive because our nation remains split on how to balance the diversity of our culture with the traditions and firmly held religious convictions. It has divided families, and there is clearly a generational gap on this issue. My son, Seth, signed the petition asking me, Dad, the governor, to veto this bill. The bill that is on my desk at the present time does not precisely mirror the federal law. Therefore, I ask that changes be made in the legislation, and I`ve asked that the leaders of the general assembly to recall the bill so that it can be amended to reflect the terms of the federal Religious Freedom and Restoration Act. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: But the damage to the Republican Party, which desperately wants to win the White House in 2016, may already be done. Just before Indiana governor Mike Pence started to fold a little bit on the religious freedom law, four of the GOP`s presidential candidates came to his defense and have now put themselves to the right of the Indiana governor, further exposing the Republican Party to a much different place on gay rights than the rest of the country. According to last month`s NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll, for example, 59 percent of all Americans, 74 percent of Democrats, and most importantly, 60 percent of independents favor gay marriage. Forty percent of Republicans do. Well, as "The Washington Post" writes today, "The position puts the Republican field out of step with a growing national consensus on gay rights, handing Hillary Rodham Clinton and other Democrats a way to portray Republicans as intolerant and insensitive. As the divide grows between the business wing and the social conservative wings of the Republican Party, the GOP is on a cumbustive (ph) course with the rest of the country, as Republican presidential hopefuls are drawn into the culture wars. Does the GOP really want the 2016 election to be about God, guns and gays?" Dana Milbank is an opinion writer with "The Washington Post." Gregory Angelo is executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, and Sandy Rios is with the American Family Association. Let me get to a point that has just come up. This is an Arizona pizza owner, a pizzeria owner, who just has put out a statement -- let`s take a look at what this guy has to say, this woman has to say. Crystal O`Connor of Memories Pizza out in Indiana says her family would serve a gay couple of a non-Christian couple -- or a non-Christian couple at its restaurant in Walkerton, Indiana, which is about 20 miles southwest of South Bend in northern Indiana.   But O`Connor tells WBEN -- BND -- that`s South Bend TV -- that the restaurant would say no if a gay couple asked it to provide pizzas for their wedding. O`Connor says the business reflects her family`s Christian beliefs. Where are you on that, Gregory? What do you make of a woman saying, I`ve got a law now that protects my right to say, No weddings. OK, I`ll be there in 30 -- 30 minutes with the pizza. GREGORY ANGELO, EXECUTIVE DIR., LOG CABIN REPUBLICANS: The funny thing -- MATTHEWS: But I`m not going if you call me ahead of time for a wedding. ANGELO: Right. Well, first thing I thought is this has to be an April Fool`s joke because there`s no way a gay couple would be ordering pizza for their wedding. (LAUGHTER) ANGELO: But -- MATTHEWS: Is this a class statement on your part? (LAUGHTER) MATTHEWS: Gay guys are much more sophisticated than to have pizza -- I thought the same thing, actually. ANGELO: But I`ll say this. For Governor Pence getting out there yesterday and saying this bill is not about allowing discrimination for anyone, regardless of who they love --   MATTHEWS: Well, Crystal O`Connor thinks it is -- (CROSSTALK) ANGELO: Then the next day, you have this business owner that is actually excited to use this RFRA legislation specifically as a license to discriminate. So something is definitely wrong with this law. This is a law that Log Cabin Republicans has opposed because it is too broad. It`s also redundant, and it`s the very definition of these special rights that just a few years ago, Republicans on the far right were accusing the LGBT community of demanding for ourselves. MATTHEWS: Let me go to -- let me go to Sandy on this. Do you think -- let`s talk about the pizza owner. Let`s go to cases, not theory here. She says, I`ll serve them under 30 minutes, I guess, or whatever Domino`s rule is -- I like Domino`s -- but they`re not going to do an advance case of some big wedding ceremony because they don`t believe in gay marriage. SANDY RIOS, AMERICAN FAMILY ASSOCIATION: Well, Chris -- MATTHEWS: Can she use this law for that reason? RIOS: No because that law is a law that`s a tool that`s used in court. That law does not give her the right to do that. If she can prove that she has deeply held beliefs about gay marriage, then she could be -- if she`s taken to court by whoever it is because she won`t serve them at their wedding, she can use this as a defense, but it doesn`t mean that she`s going to win. I think the problem -- MATTHEWS: Well, wait a minute. Is that -- but if we didn`t have this law, where would she be any worse off? I mean -- RIOS: Well, OK, it would be -- I`ll tell you -- (CROSSTALK)   MATTHEWS: Why do we need this law? RIOS: We need this law, Chris, because Barronelle Stutzman (ph), 71-year- old grandmother in the state of Washington, has a floral shop that she inherited from her mother. She serves gay people. She has gay friends. But a gay couple came to her that she served for years and asked for her to do flowers at their wedding. She said, I can`t, I`m a Christian. I just can`t -- I don`t embrace gay -- I can`t do a gay wedding. And you know what? The state of the Washington is suing her. They`re trying to -- they want to take her house, her business. You know, Chris, that`s wrong, and that`s why these laws are stepping up, so that Barronelle Stutzman and people like her, like the couple, Melissa and Aaron Klein, who`ve lost their complete business -- this baking -- MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you another question -- (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Suppose your religion opposed interracial marriage, and the same exact -- where would you be on that? RIOS: Every single thing, Chris, has to go before the court. MATTHEWS: Oh, you`re saying -- RIOS: This law does not say -- this law not does not make anybody serve anyone. MATTHEWS: No, but it says -- RIOS: Or doesn`t stop them --   MATTHEWS: It says your religion can be used to oppose -- RIOS: In a court of law! MATTHEWS: -- public accommodations. RIOS: It gives you a reason. It gives you a foundation upon which to bring a lawsuit or defend yourself, just like Hobby Lobby did. That`s the law that they used. MATTHEWS: So you think it`s OK. You -- as a value, you think it`s OK for a business open to the public to say, No interracial marriage -- weddings will be celebrated by us or -- RIOS: No, I didn`t say that. MATTHEWS: Well, what did you say? RIOS: Because I think interracial marriage is not a moral issue. But gay marriage is. And -- MATTHEWS: Well, it certainly was a moral issue years ago. What do you -- RIOS: Well, it was a moral issue because it was a -- it was a custom in the South that that was just abhorrent to them, but that doesn`t mean it`s a moral issue. A moral issue is something that opposes God`s standard, and God`s standard is marriage between one man and one woman. DANA MILBANK, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think that`s exactly the point, and that is it is no longer becoming a moral issue for most Americans. And if you look at where interracial marriage was, it really is a perfect sort of analogy here. A majority of Americans thought --   MATTHEWS: South Africa called it the Morality Act under the law. MILBANK: But in the 1980s -- MATTHEWS: Under the law. MILBANK: In 1980s -- this isn`t ancient history -- the majority thought interracial marriage was immoral and -- RIOS: But we don`t -- we don`t -- MILBANK: -- and that has changed fundamentally to the point that I think only 4 percent of Americans have that view today. RIOS: Yes, but we don`t -- we don`t -- MILBANK: You can see it crossing over in the same way, in presumably, in 10or 20 years from now, only 4 percent -- RIOS: We don`t -- MILBANK: -- of Americans -- RIOS: We do not --   MILBANK: -- will see homosexuality -- RIOS: -- draw our moral values -- MILBANK: -- as immoral. RIOS: -- from polls. People that hold moral values draw them from God`s law, and of course, there`s disagreements on some things. But some things we can be certain about, like -- (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Do you believe that it`s a good -- do you oppose gay marriage personally? RIOS: Yes, I do. MATTHEWS: OK. Do you oppose gay rights? RIOS: It depends on the right. I would never -- MATTHEWS: Well, how about -- (CROSSTALK)   MATTHEWS: All right, let me go through the cases, the most ridiculous -- RIOS: OK. MATTHEWS: You tell me where you get off the train. RIOS: All right. MATTHEWS: You tell me where the train ought to not stop. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Two guys go into a gas station to buy gas. Now, it`s clear that they`re lovers because they`re holding hands, whatever they`re doing to show affection, sexual attraction. Can you say, No gas to you, buddy, I`m not part of this? RIOS: Absolutely not, Chris! MATTHEWS: OK, you can`t -- OK. How about if you have -- RIOS: No, I -- MATTHEWS: No, a hotel. Two people of the same sex try to check in at midnight, and it`s clear they`re lovers. Do you stop them?   RIOS: If I had a hotel -- (CROSSTALK) RIOS: No, wait a second! If I -- (CROSSTALK) RIOS: If I had a Christian business that catered to Christian families and it was a retreat center -- MATTHEWS: What`s a Christian hotel? RIOS: Well, I don`t know. I`m just telling you. If there were -- ANGELO: This is the difficulty with this, this -- (CROSSTALK) ANGELO: -- there was a bed and breakfast that was, and they were challenged and they lost in court. But I think Christians who have a Christian business catering to Christians should have the right to do that. But a public accommodation -- MATTHEWS: But how about a Christian gas station?   RIOS: -- like, you know, the Hilton or -- (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: How about a Christian gas station? (CROSSTALK) RIOS: Gas is not -- gasoline is not a moral issue. But participating in a gay wedding is something -- MATTHEWS: How about a hotel? RIOS: -- is troubling to the conscience. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: I want to get an answer here. (CROSSTALK) RIOS: I`m with you, Chris, about -- I don`t think there are Christian hotels.   MATTHEWS: But should a hotel get to discriminate? RIOS: No, I don`t think so because I don`t think we can do that in this culture. I don`t -- I don`t think -- because, I mean, listen, if we did that, we`d have to say, Show me your marriage license, you know, because I don`t -- you know, the moral -- MATTHEWS: So they can have the honeymoon in your hotel but they can`t have the wedding at your bakery? RIOS: You`re asking a baker to go in and use her creativity to participate in the wedding. MATTHEWS: OK. I just -- RIOS: She doesn`t want to do that. MATTHEWS: So religion`s the trump -- (CROSSTALK) RIOS: And so she`s lost her business. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: OK, so you take the position that your religious association, the beliefs of your religion should trump public accommodations.   RIOS: Chris, I did not say that. MATTHEWS: Well, how do you say it? RIOS: I said that when you have a personal conviction about something, you should not be required to participate in it if it goes against your conscience. Let me give you an example -- MATTHEWS: So your business is open to the public except for anything that gets in the way of your religion. RIOS: Well, you know what? It`s like that (INAUDIBLE) morning-after pill when it was approved, and Christian pharmacists did not want to give -- did not want to, you know, give the pill to people, so they`d say, You know what? There`s a -- here`s a pharmacist down the street that`ll do it, but I can`t -- MATTHEWS: Yes, but they`re not selling it to other people, too. The difference is that it is a -- RIOS: Yes, but it`s a matter of personal conscience, and Chris, we have a 1st Amendment right -- MATTHEWS: If you`re selling hot dogs, but I`m not selling hot dogs to gay people, that`s -- RIOS: That is not -- MATTHEWS: That is discrimination. RIOS: -- what we`re talking about! We`re talking about --   (CROSSTALK) ANGELO: -- be an arbiter here to some degree -- MATTHEWS: No, you`re -- you`re -- (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: You`re not going to be the arbiter here. I`m the arbiter! (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: You give me your position. Don`t play arbiter. ANGELO: -- position on this, and there`s a story that`s been underreported, in my opinion, in the media. And that is that just three weeks ago, you had Republicans in the Utah state legislature, the Republican governor, leaders from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and LGBT advocates all come to the table, and essentially, what they did was propose an LGBT non-discrimination bill coupled with a religious freedom bill, and it passed, passed in Utah. And Republican -- MATTHEWS: But it didn`t pass in Indiana. ANGELO: That`s because they`re not -- they`re not pairing, RFRA, at least now, with LGBT protections. MATTHEWS: Well, at the time --   (CROSSTALK) ANGELO: I think that they should. MATTHEWS: At the time, their Religious -- Freedom of -- Religious Freedom Restoration Act came up this post week in Indianapolis, there was a proposal to add to it a provision guaranteeing access of people to public accommodations. (CROSSTALK) ANGELO: -- the Republican governor -- the Republican mayor of Indianapolis actually signed it -- (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: But the legislature opposed it overwhelmingly. ANGELO: Well -- (CROSSTALK) ANGELO: That was before they had this backlash from RFRA that they`re experiencing now, and I think they`re forced to recognize this. That`s why they`re going back to the table. We`ll see what this fix is. MATTHEWS: So when was the Utah vote?   ANGELO: The idea -- when was the Utah vote? It was about three weeks ago. MATTHEWS: Well, this one -- ANGELO: It`s called the Utah compromise. MATTHEWS: So more recently than that, we had a problem with people voting that way. MILBANK: I think this has been something of a watershed moment, and I think when it was passed in Indiana, they didn`t necessarily realize what they were getting into. MATTHEWS: They weren`t being watched! MILBANK: Exactly. And now that you`ve seen the focus on it and you`ve seen the power of this issue -- MATTHEWS: It was a private ceremony to sign this thing! MILBANK: It is -- it is extremely difficult to explain. And you`re entitled to your principled positions -- RIOS: I`d be happy to! Give me a chance! MILBANK: -- and the presidential candidates are entitled to --   MATTHEWS: Oh, don`t -- don`t play the old right-wing -- (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: You had full time to debate your position. RIOS: No, no, no. I know, Chris. No, I`m not saying you`ve been unfair to me in any way, but I`m just saying it can be explained. That law -- MILBANK: It can be explained, but you`ve had a great deal of difficulty -- MATTHEWS: Who`s winning this argument? MILBANK: -- doing it here -- MATTHEWS: Who`s winning this argument? (CROSSTALK) ANGELO: I think gay advocates are winning this argument right now, but they need -- MATTHEWS: Who`s winning?   ANGELO: -- to also recognize -- RIOS: Gay advocates -- ANGELO: -- religious liberty. RIOS: Gay advocates are winning because they`re not -- people are not hearing the other side. They don`t know about Barronelle Stutzman losing her home. They don`t know about the baking couple that`s lost their business. MATTHEWS: Keep talking. Please come back. RIOS: Yes, I`d love to do that. MATTHEWS: Please come back. Anyway, (INAUDIBLE) Sandy Rios, thank you so much. I meant it. Gregory Angelo -- and you`re not the arbiter, I am. Anyway -- (LAUGHTER) MATTHEWS: -- Dana Milbank -- ANGELO: Fair enough. MATTHEWS: We have breaking news right now. Senator Bob Menendez is making a statement after being indicted on federal corruption charges today. Let`s listen to Senator Menendez. Here he is.   (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: Please. Thank you. Thank you. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We support you! MENENDEZ: For nearly three years I have lived under a Justice Department cloud, and today I`m outraged that this cloud has not been lifted. I`m outraged that prosecutors at the Justice Department were tricked into starting this investigation three years ago with false allegations by those who have a political motive to silence me. But I will not be silenced. I am confident -- (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) MENENDEZ: I`m confident, at the end of the day, I will be vindicated and they will be exposed. (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) MENENDEZ: And I -- this is a press conference, so I appreciate if you would just withhold -- thank you. (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) MENENDEZ: Look, I began my political career 40 years ago fighting corruption in city government. I publicly complained about illegal financial dealings in my city until the FBI investigated and the U.S. attorney filed corruption charges against the mayor and others. I was called to testify for the prosecution. I received death threats. I wore a bulletproof vest for a month. That`s how I began my career in public service, and this is not how my career is going to end!   (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) MENENDEZ: I have always -- I have always conducted myself -- I have always conducted myself in accordance with the law. I have always stood up for what I believe is right. I fight for issues I believe in, the people I represent, and for the safety and security of this country every single day. That`s who I am and I am proud of what I have accomplished, and I am not going anywhere! I`m angry -- (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) (MENENDEZ: I`m angry and ready to fight because today contradicts my public service career and my entire life. I`m angry because prosecutors at the Justice Department don`t know the difference between friendship and corruption and have chosen to twist my duties as a senator and my friendship into something that is improper. They are dead wrong, and I am confident that they will be proven so. And I`m gratified to live in a country where prosecutors` mistakes can be corrected by courts and juries. And I ask my friends, my colleagues and the community to hold their judgment and remember all the other times when prosecutors got it wrong. The people of this great state elected me to serve and represent their interests in the United States Senate, and that is exactly what I have and will continue to do, no matter how long it takes to clear my good name. New Jersey is my home, and I intend to continue to fight for it. Now, please excuse me as I say a few words in Spanish. MATTHEWS: Well, that`s Senator Bob Menendez with a strong statement, I thought. He`s the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee responding to his federal indictment today on lots of corruption charges. MSNBC`s Steve Kornacki is with us right now. Steve, he`s stepping down as ranking Democrat on Foreign Relations. What does that say about his vulnerability here politically? STEVE KORNACKI, HOST, "UP WITH STEVE KORNACKI": Well, I mean, he`s -- yes, he`s stepping down as the ranking member. If you talk to his people, his people will tell you that`s because he wanted -- he didn`t want to put anybody in the Democratic caucus in an uncomfortable position. But beyond that, I have to tell you, talking to the Menendez camp tonight, I would say they feel very confident that this is something they can beat in a court of law, and if they can beat it in a court of law, they can survive it politically. Obviously, if he loses in a court of law, that`s the end of it. But you saw it right there, a very aggressive posture tonight.   If you talk to the Menendez people, a couple things that are going to come out right away. First of all, it`s the idea that there`s been misconduct here on the part of the Department of Justice, that the Department of Justice has bungled this thing. There`s been a series of leaks that this thing started a few years ago because a right-wing publication had published a false story linking Senator Menendez to underage prostitutes, saying that`s the genesis of this thing. There have been a series of likes over the last two years. They`re going to allow the suggestion, they`re certainly going to encourage it. I don`t think they will say it themselves, but they want the suggestion out there very much that Menendez is being targeted by the DOJ right now, the Obama administration`s DOJ, because of his opposition to the administration on Iran. And you certainly have a number of Republicans out there, like Mark Kirk, Lindsey Graham who are suggesting that the Menendez people want that out there. MATTHEWS: But isn`t that wrong, logically? Doesn`t the prosecutor -- and certainly the investigation of this guy and the cloud around him in terms of corruption goes way back to "The New York Times" endorsement of him, actually where they said he`s always had a problem of lapses of ethical judgment. And there you have -- this investigation didn`t start with his opposition to the president`s position on Iran. How can you claim -- how can you claim causality -- KORNACKI: No, right. I mean -- MATTHEWS: -- if the time doesn`t work out here? It doesn`t make any sense! KORNACKI: The Iran thing is a few months old. The investigation is -- is two years old. That`s right. But what this is ultimately going rest on, if this does get to a court of law, if this does get to a jury, it`s a matter of interpretation. It`s going to be Menendez saying, Look, yes, you can -- the gifts -- in this indictment, the gifts we`re talking about here, by the way -- talking about a weekend at the Park Hyatt hotel in Paris. You`re talking about three nights in the Dominican Republic, a weekend of travel and entertainment in the Dominican Republic. You`re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts -- and Menendez saying, Yes, of course, I don`t dispute any of that. He`s my friend. We went to funerals together. We went to weddings together, and it`s perfectly fine for friends to exchange gifts like that. That`s -- (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Last question. Did this -- did this argument, It`s just friends giving each other presents, save the governor of Virginia from long-time prison?   KORNACKI: What they -- what they think is they say Ted Stevens. They say Ted Stevens was originally convicted -- MATTHEWS: I know the Ted Stevens case. KORNACKI: That`s the one they`re thinking of. That`s the one they`re thinking of. MATTHEWS: This seems closer to the McDonnell case. Thank you so much, Steve Kornacki -- KORNACKI: Sure. MATTHEWS: -- from a state that seems to have some problems on this front. Coming up -- the nuclear talks with Iran are headed into double overtime tonight, and still there`s no deal. And that`s exactly what so many Republicans in this country clearly seem to be hoping for, for the talks to fail. Plus, the talk show host Montel Williams is coming here. He`s fighting to free a veteran of the United States Marines who is being held captive right now in Iran. And with the indictment late today of Democratic Senator Bob Menendez on federal corruption charges, wait until you hear the latest right-wing conspiracy theory. It`s that the charges were brought as payback for bucking the White House on Iran. Finally, let me finish tonight with the Republican mantra for 2016: gods, guns, Benghazi, and go back where you came from. This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.   (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. While the world waits out there for news from Switzerland, the forces lined up against a deal with Iran are filling the vacuum. Today, House Speaker John Boehner met with Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu -- Netanyahu over in Israel. Before the meeting, Netanyahu blasted the deal being worked on. Here he is again. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Evidently, giving Iran`s murderous regime a clear path to the bomb is negotiable. This is unconscionable. This concessions offered to Iran in Lausanne would ensure a bad deal that would endanger Israel, the Middle East and the peace of the world. Now is the time for the international community to insist on a better deal. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Meanwhile, Dick Cheney told a group of New Jersey Republicans last night he doesn`t see any good coming out of the negotiations. And what would he do? What should we do? War, he says. According to Cheney -- quote -- "There have been a number of times where we have been faced with the potential threat of a nuclear Middle East. And what`s worked is military force and the willingness to go in and use military capability to strip nuclear arms from places such as Iraq, such as Iran, such as Syria. And, unfortunately, Barack Obama doesn`t seem to understand that." That`s Dick Cheney, unashamedly. Cheney gave a number of examples, including, I say shamelessly, the Iraq War. He said: "When we went into Iraq in 2003, it was based in part on the conviction that what we had -- we had to be worried about after 9/11 that there would be another mass attack against the United States and it might involve terrorists with weapons of mass destruction."   It was Cheney back in 2002 and 2003 who recited a series of falsehoods on weapons of mass destruction that helped gin up the war. And here he is, just to remind you, of his worthiness of truth. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt that he`s amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us. He has indeed stepped up his capacity to produce and deliver biological weapons, that he has reconstituted his nuclear program to develop a nuclear weapon, that there are efforts under way inside Iraq to significantly expand his capability. We know he`s been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons and we believe he has in fact reconstituted nuclear weapons. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Well, there he is, the guy to believe. Anyway, I`m joined right now by David Corn, Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" and an MSNBC political analyst, and of course David Ignatius, columnist for "The Washington Post." David Corn, you first. Cheney is unashamed. DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, yes.   MATTHEWS: He us into a war he wanted to fight, because he wanted to fight it for other reasons besides WMD. That was a sale pitch for the Europeans, as they admitted gradually. And what does he want us to do now? What is the Cheney alternative, trying to negotiate some kind of containment here? CORN: I think there are two things going on, on in terms of the conservative opposition to Barack Obama. The best interpretation for some is they are just against it politically, because it`s Barack Obama. They want to make common cause for political gain with Netanyahu. The fellows who are more policy-minded on the neoconservative hawkish side actually, I think, want war. They don`t believe in negotiations. They don`t believe in diplomacy. And they want an excuse to basically try war, bombing, whatever it might be -- and it doesn`t have to be boots on the ground -- against Iran. And they won`t be satisfied, because, in essence, when they keep blasting the deal, they keep saying Iraq -- Iran is going to cheat and we can`t do anything about this, what they are saying is, there can be no peaceful resolution, because tighter sanctions is not a realistic solution, given the fact that no other nation in the world will go along with that solution. MATTHEWS: Well, any -- many Republicans, as I said, are openly cheering for these talks to fail. Let`s watch them. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We have got a regime that`s never quite kept their word about anything. I just don`t understand why we would sign an agreement with a group of people who, in my opinion, have no intention of keeping their word. NETANYAHU: Will this increase or decrease Iran`s aggression? Will this make their move forward more moderate or will it make it more extreme? I think it`s a no-brainer. SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: The group who are here share your concerns about this potential agreement. QUESTION: Would you disown an agreement that this president signs with Iran that leaves Iran with uranium enrichment? Would you reject that deal if you took the Oval Office?   GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), WISCONSIN: Absolutely, on day one. SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: The end of these negotiations is not an unintended consequence of congressional action. It`s very much an intended consequence, a feature, not a bug, so to speak. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: There is the latest joiner of the camp, Tom Cotton, there. What do you think, David Ignatius? You`re an expert on the Middle East. You know all the spooks. You know all the intel. What do the Republicans want? Is there an answer? DAVID IGNATIUS, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": The Republicans couldn`t be clearer. They want to scuttle the negotiations. They think the deal that Obama is contemplating is a mistake. MATTHEWS: Then what? IGNATIUS: Well, they don`t answer that. I think that they hope that a combination of additional pressure, some form of military action, perhaps covert, perhaps more cyber-warfare, will undue the Iranian program. I just would note, we just watched Dick Cheney. Cheney made these arguments to President George W. Bush in 2007 and 2008. And he was unsuccessful. At that time, Cheney argued just the same thing: This Iranian program is dangerous. We should use military action to go after it. And President Bush decided no. There`s a real continuity between what George W. Bush did --   MATTHEWS: But doesn`t Cheney always say bomb? Isn`t he the real Dr. Strangelove here? I mean, really? I know you`re more sophisticated than that. He always says bomb. (CROSSTALK) IGNATIUS: He does believe that use of military power answers these problems. For most Americans, the evidence of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 is a counterexample. People look back at that and say, this was a mistake. MATTHEWS: We gave Iran Iraq, didn`t we? IGNATIUS: Yes. Essentially, we did. Cheney never anticipated that. But, you know, look back to the 2012 election. Mitt Romney made these same arguments at the beginning of the campaign. By the end of the campaign, he had stopped because he knew the American people weren`t there. MATTHEWS: OK. You know what I saw the other day watching polls? That Rand Paul is beating Hillary Clinton by a point in Pennsylvania. I don`t think that will hold. I think Hillary Clinton will be a hell of a campaigner. But it tells you how against war a regular state like Pennsylvania is. It`s not an Iowa. It says, we have had enough of war, and that`s why Rand Paul starts to look good. CORN: Well, the neocons have ruined war in a lot of ways. They gave us a bad reason. They handled it poorly. And the outcome has still -- is still a mess. And the public has gotten that.   MATTHEWS: Pennsylvania, to make my point, is not Greenwich Village. CORN: Yes. MATTHEWS: Pennsylvania is a gun-toting, tough-ass country. And the fact that they don`t want any more wars tells me a lot. Anyway, thank you, David Corn. Thank you, David Ignatius, who knows far more about these things than I do. Up next: a veteran of the United States Marines -- and this is a real American story -- held captive and tortured over in Iran right now. And now the talk show host and ex-Marine himself Montel Williams is working to get him out. Montel is coming here. This is going to be an honor for us to be doing a good cause which he`s on the head of. And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Well, as negotiations with Iran come down to the wire, another diplomatic impasse with that country goes unresolved, the case of Amir Hekmati.   An American-born, an American, former U.S. Marine who served honorably, has been held in Iran for three-and-a-half years now. Hekmati is a veteran of the Iraq War who was honorably discharged, as I said, in 2005. He was issued an Iranian passport in 2011 to visit his dying grandmother over there. But, once he got there, he was accused of spying for the U.S. Hekmati was sentenced to death at first. Then months later, he was secretly retried and given 10 years at Evin prison over there, the same prison where many Americans were held during the Iran hostage crisis 36 years ago. Anyway, the U.S. State Department has called Iran`s charges of espionage false, but little else is known about the government`s effort to secure this guy`s freedom. His name is Hekmati. Now, as the administration tries to close a deal with Iran over its nuclear program, some in this country want Hekmati`s case to be part of the negotiations. Here`s what former Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson had to say on that just yesterday. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) BILL RICHARDSON (D), FORMER NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR: I would like to see them behave a lot better in the region. They`re -- they have an American Marine in prison, an American journalist. You know, Iran has to develop an international posture that is obviously more responsible, the way they have been acting. Maybe that can be brought in, besides a nuclear agreement. (END AUDIO CLIP) MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by former U.S. Marine and talk show house Montel Williams, who has been advocating for Hekmati`s release. Montel, I can`t say anything, except I have great honor for what you have said. Just tell the story I heard you tell this morning about this fellow who served his country and is now stuck over there. MONTEL WILLIAMS, TALK SHOW HOST: Chris, what`s insane about this is this has been three-and-a-half years, and we`re just now talking about it as a nation.   When I found out about this story about -- oh, about eight months ago -- but, if you remember, we were involved in another Marine who was being held overseas. So, I spoke to Governor Richardson this morning. This young man has been in prison now for three-and-a-half years. He`s been tortured. He`s been whipped with cords and cables on his feet. He`s been starved. He`s been put in three-by-three cells. He -- they even took it this far, Chris. They have addicted him to lithium. He didn`t bring drugs into the prison by himself. They have addicted him to lithium, so that they can stretch it out for a little bit, and then they take him off it, so he has to go through all the writhing pain of withdrawal. He`s lost about 35 pounds. If it wasn`t for Christiane Amanpour, he wouldn`t have had an opportunity to go and talk to his family. Now, I have got to say this. Listen to me. This is a Marine. He`s an American citizen, three-and-a-half years in prison. And the president about six months ago said, unequivocally, we leave no soldiers behind, Marine Corps, Army, Air Force, you know, a Coast Guardsman. We leave no one behind. So, therefore, why are we leaving this young man behind? And right now, what happened is, they originally sentenced him to death. They withdrew that. And then they tried him in absentia. He was in prison. They didn`t even let him and his lawyers go to court. Then they found him guilty of conspiring with a foreign country and then sentenced him to 10 years. Now, what is going on here, which is crazy, he is an American citizen. Today, he had to renounce his Iranian lineage just so that the Iranian government could stop using this over his head to claim that they have some sort of control over him. The bottom line is, he served honorably. The honorable thing for us to do as a nation is to get this man home. And if you know this, I`m not going to stop until we do. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: No, I`m with you on this. As you said, he has been -- had to renounce his Iranian citizenship in an attempt to be deported from that country. That is what he is trying to get done here. He spoke about it, however, in a letter he dictated over the phone from prison last month. Let`s listen to Hekmati in his own words. Here he is. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) AMIR HEKMATI, FORMER U.S. MARINE: I was falsely imprisoned and put as part of a propaganda campaign by the Ministry of Intelligence and for nearly three-and-a-half years have endured inhumane treatment and witnessed devastation.   My Iranian heritage and affinity for the Iranian people will always be a part of me, but I wish to have no ties to an organization that places so little value on my human rights and dignity. (END AUDIO CLIP) MATTHEWS: How did he get to say that? It seemed -- these people that hold our people prisoners never let somebody talk. Montel, how did he get -- even get that message out? WILLIAMS: We`re trying to figure this out. I think he was able to surreptitiously get it recorded -- no, but through a phone call. He called. He called in. He was allowed to call in his mother and they recorded that on the phone, not knowing that he was doing that. MATTHEWS: I see. WILLIAMS: And I`m glad that he was able to get that out. I want to make sure that I don`t go away without saying, everybody who is watching, Chris, please, if they just hashtag #freeamirnow, #freeamirnow. MATTHEWS: A-M-I-R. (CROSSTALK) WILLIAMS: Yes, A-M-I-R. Please, I want to get the White House. I want everybody to understand that, right now, again, we keep claiming the leave no man behind.   We`re leaving one behind. And this is someone who served for us. The reason why they are holding him is because he fought in Iraq. And they know that. So is this -- you just had Dick Cheney on. Dick Cheney is talking about going to war. Really? Well, how many soldiers are you going to put in the United States military when they realize that, when they come home, we won`t go and get you back? We don`t have your back. You see what is going on with the VA right now. MATTHEWS: Yes. WILLIAMS: I mean, how disgusting is this, that we can talk about going to war and fighting a war, and we can`t even protect those who have done that for us? And then we turn our backs and act like -- you know, now I`m going to say this. MATTHEWS: Yes. (CROSSTALK) WILLIAMS: The State Department has been doing things on the sly behind the scenes. I spoke to Governor Richardson today. He`s working behind the scenes, but so far, no one has been able to crack this nut. If they`re going to end these talks tomorrow, those talks should not end without Americans coming home. MATTHEWS: I hope this message gets to the White House and the State Department. Thank you, Montel Williams. What a great cause.   Up next: It`s the latest conspiracy theory from the right wing, that the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was indicted today on corruption charges because he disagrees with the president on Iran. Nonsense. They say it`s payback. But how come the investigation and all the corruption charges were all out in the air long before there was this disagreement over Iran? This is nonsense. But this corruption charge is not. You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: I`m outraged that prosecutors at the Justice Department were tricked into starting this investigation three years ago with false allegations by those who have a political motive to silence me. But I will not be silenced. I am confident at the end of the day I will be vindicated and they will be exposed. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. He is not going down without a fight. You can see at least there rhetorically. That was Senator Menendez, this hour, just now responding to a 14-count criminal indictment on federal corruption charges that prosecutors unveiled today. The charges against Menendez, who is the most powerful Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, and a vocal critic of the Iranian nuclear talks, include eight counts of bribery, which carry up to 15 years in prison a piece. Menendez has been under suspicion for years in his 2006 Senate race, "The New York Times" gave him a less than ringing endorsement although they endorse Democrats generally, of blasting him, quote, "for a history of ethical lapses." That`s a ringing endorsement.   But the right wing`s latest conspiracy is -- catch this -- President Obama cooked up all these indictments to shut up Menendez. Anyway, Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois, a Republican, says the administration has a vendetta against Menendez, quote, "it seems political, to silence him for his work on Iran with me." Anyway, Kirk is part of a chorus and figures on the right who claim a conspiracy. Here he is. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I`m not surprised. I mean, this doesn`t surprise me at all. Bob Menendez? Give me a break. This is about Iran and nukes. I mean, this is -- this is pretty obvious what happened here. SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: It raises a suggestion to other Democrats that if you day part from the Obama White House, that criminal prosecutions will be used potentially as a political weapon against you as well. NEIL CAVUTO, FOX NEWS: Some of the charges of political favorites for friends were raised a few years ago. At the time, Senator Menendez was not criticizing the administration on all of these key issues as he is now. Do you think there is a connection? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I think there`s a connection. MARK LEVIN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: He objects to Obama negotiating with the Islamo-Nazi regime in Tehran, and apparently, he`s a prominent supporter of Israel. If Menendez`s name had been Barbara Boxer, and if he`d been a leftist, they -- I doubt this would be happening. But then, on the other hand, he is a sleaze ball. (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: That is the most amazing defense. First of all, "The New York Times" says, well, he has ethical lapses. This guy says he`s getting screwed by the Obama team but he is a sleaze ball. Anyway, nice guy, Levin there.   Anyway, the round table, "Huffington Post" global editorial director and MSNBC analyst Howard Fineman, American Urban Radio Network White House correspondent April Ryan, and Columbia professor, Ivy League professor, and MSNBC contributor, Dorian Warren. In this order -- is this a chicken and egg? Was this all started because this guy opposed Obama on Iran? Is because he has this problem, maybe not sleaze ball, but somewhere in that area? HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: No, it`s not because of Iran, OK? And even Mark Levin could not say that with a straight face. MATTHEWS: He had kind of a spasm -- FINEMAN: He had a spasm of truth there -- MATTHEWS: Look, first of all, Bob Menendez comes from Hudson County, New Jersey. If you can survive and be ethical out of Hudson County, you`re practically a saint. That`s number one. Number two, the guy learned how to play the game, and he`s played the game. Number three, this investigation has been going on for a long time before Iran was on the radar screen and, on most issues, Menendez has been pretty close with Barack Obama and the administration. He hasn`t opposed them on a whole lot of things, by any means. And last point is that the U.S. attorney in New Jersey who brought this case is known as a professional, an incorruptible -- MATTHEWS: It is Paul Fishman, isn`t it?   FINEMAN: Yes, pro`s pro. MATTHEWS: Why does he move on to this other thing? FINEMAN: Pro`s pro. The idea that Barack Obama would call up this guy and say, you know, I`m having a little trouble with negotiations. MATTHEWS: Let`s squeeze Menendez. (LAUGHTER) FINEMAN: I`m sorry. It`s ridiculous. MATTHEWS: I agree with Howard, but just to keep this somewhat, I`ll be devil`s advocate. APRIL RYAN, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORK: Uh-oh. MATTHEWS: No. Ted Stevens got screwed by the prosecutors. They withheld evidence that was exculpatory as they say. It would make him look much less guilty, much less guilty, and screwed him, and the guy died defeated for re-election because of that conviction and because of bad, bad evil crooked politics -- what do you call it -- prosecution. Is there any chance that is going on here? RYAN: No.   MATTHEWS: Just for purpose of argument. RYAN: No, not all. There`s not any bad prosecution there. They`re working out -- they have -- this started out -- they started looking at this in 2012, I believe. MATTHEWS: Yes, before this talk. RYAN: Yes. And things have to come to a conclusion. It`s coincidental, OK, but one thing we know for sure -- the White House is not inclusion with this because the president is not supposed to know anything about any investigation. So, this investigation is independent of anything to do with the White House. But I find it very interesting kind of going into it weeds that they say this because the White House is actually -- if they did have something to do this, they`re cutting the nose despite their face because Loretta Lynch has to go for a vote and the vote is tight. So now -- MATTHEWS: Linkage. RYAN: Hey, how about that? FINEMAN: Good point. RYAN: You know, they should have done it after Loretta Lynch, and they would say, yes, they are in cahoots. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about friendship. This defense of friendship with Bob McDonnell out of Virginia, you know, the guy gave, what these watches called, the expensive ones?   FINEMAN: Rolex. DORIAN WARREN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: You don`t know that? RYAN: You don`t know that? MATTHEWS: I spend money on other things, but not watches. FINEMAN: He only wears a cloth coat. (LAUGHTER) MATTHEWS: No, I know. I`m not claiming that. Don`t put words in my mouth. But the fact is, these guys always say, like he said tonight, Menendez, they don`t understand friendship. Friendship. WARREN: That`s the hubris of this whole entire -- he spent press conference to say, oh, he`s a friend. I`m sorry, your friend lives in Florida, he doesn`t live in New Jersey. So, you`re not representing the interest of New Jersey residents, number one. (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: You know what I noticed? I got my first job at the White House when I was 30, right, and a friend of mine called me and said, notice any new friends? Because you become friends in Washington because you have these jobs. All of a sudden, if they gave you money, that`s a friend. Oh, he`s a friend.   WARREN: Also, he did not file the disclosures for -- (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Anybody gives you anything, right? Every year. WARREN: How about at no point has he ever taken responsibility or been held accountable for -- MATTHEWS: Is that a criminal offense, not putting a new disclosure? WARREN: It`s a failure of ethics and there are congressional committees that can investigate him for that. But he`s been through this -- you start off by saying there`s a history to this. (CROSSTALK) RYAN: That reporting -- by not reporting, that caused more people to look at it more. Reportable things, he could have reported it and it would have been fine. WARREN: Or apologize and -- RYAN: Yes. (CROSSTALK)   MATTHEWS: Is he right, is he right he was innocent with the sex workers down there -- FINEMAN: I think the government investigator said so. Look, there`s a difference between saying that the Iran connection is ridiculous and convicting the guy right now. He says he has an explanation for everything. Let`s hear what it is. And it is true that the whole call girl thing where they said he was consorting with call girls and "The Daily Caller" Web site published all of that. That turned out to be completely wrong. We don`t know to this day what the source of that was. However, that has nothing to do with the -- with what`s in the indictment, which is about trading favors of legislation in exchange for the money. That`s the corruption -- (CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: Is this the result of a hunt for trouble? Did they go looking for something he did wrong? WARREN: Possibly. But, hey, when you start looking and find some things that are possibly wrong, then they are going to keep looking. So, he has to take responsibility for -- MATTHEWS: You mean like Monica? (CROSSTALK) FINEMAN: It`s a 14-count indictment. MATTHEWS: If they can find a fire. Anyway, guys. You`re all tough -- Howard Fineman, April Ryan, and Dorian Warren.   We`ll be right back after this. And the Republicans mantra for 2016 -- God, guns and go back to where you came from. That`s their immigration policy. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Sixty-one thousand, that`s the number of bridges across this country that are structurally deficient, according to the American Transportation Builders Association. Who knows, you could have driven over one of those bridges on your way to work today. And while that doesn`t mean those bridges are on the verge of actually collapsing, it does mean that they`re in need of serious repair for safety reasons. The states with the highest number of structurally deficient bridges are in Pennsylvania, Iowa, Oklahoma and Missouri. Federal highway and transit funding it said to expire the end of next month if Congress does not act. It`s obviously a workable way for the Congress to step up and fix those bridges. And also put Americans to work in the process. When we return, let me finish with the Republican mantra shaping up for 2016 God, guns, Benghazi, and immigration-wise, go back to where you came from. You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with the Republican mantra that seems to be shaping up for 2016. God, guns, Benghazi, and go back where you came from. It`s barely April, the year before the election, and the Republican candidates are getting into lockstep if you will of the right wing of the party. To qualify for the run, it`s now clear all candidates must do the following: (a), stand with Governor Pence in his Religious Freedom Restoration Act, (b), stand opposed to negotiating with Iran over nuclear weapons, (c), stand opposed to any safety restrictions on firearms, (d), oppose any legislation that grants a road to citizenship for those who entered the country illegally. These are the rules for being a Republican presidential hopeful next time. They must take the side of those who push the Indiana law, allowing businesses to refuse service to people based on sexual identity or orientation, they must be hawks on Mideast matters, standing oppose to negotiations with Iran, and with Netanyahu on opposing a two-state solution as a way to address the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The only exception here, as I said is Rand Paul, who refuses to get in lockstep or even step foot on the Republican war path.   Next, they must be opposed to any measure that might be called gun control, including the modest proposal requiring that anyone who sells a gun must at least check out the criminal or mental record of the buyer. They must oppose a comprehensive immigration bill that allows for a path to citizenship no matter how tough the bill is on illegal hiring, which everyone knows is the chief magnet for illegal immigration in this country. This lockstep march of the candidates promises to yield a pack of candidates very much in line with the party`s hard right, with the centrist candidate having a very little chance to break loose when it`s time to face the American people at large -- God, guns, and go back where you came from, I forgot Benghazi. That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now. END THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. 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