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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 3/3/2016

Guests: Matt Schlapp, Jeanne Cummings, Laura Coates, Francesca Chambers, Liz Mair, David Catanese

Show: HARDBALL Date: March 3, 2016 Guest: Matt Schlapp, Jeanne Cummings, Laura Coates, Francesca Chambers, Liz Mair, David Catanese

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Moment (ph) a (ph) month (ph).

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews, back in Washington.

First it was Jeb, then the pope, then Vicente Fox, now it`s the ghost of Christmas past, Mitt Romney. The Republican Party now faces a coup d`etat against front-runner Donald Trump. Having won 10 of the first 15 contests, Trump is fending off multiple attacks right now from within his party, especially from its donor class. I love that phrase.

Hawks aligned with the Republican Party also announced today in an open letter, a standard tool of the neocons, that they`re against him. According to Politico, Wall Street is also getting ready to go nuclear on Trump with millions of dollars in negative advertising. By the way, these ads have had no impact whatever for or against any candidate so far this year.

And then there is the most dramatic example. It came from the last man to win the Republican nomination, as I said, who would dearly like to get it this time. In his speech today, Mitt Romney eviscerated Trump on his economic and foreign policies, his personal traits and his personal temperament. He called Trump dishonest, bully, a phony and a fraud.


MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: If Donald Trump`s plans were ever implemented, the country would sink into prolonged recession.

Mr. Trump`s bombast is already alarming our allies and fueling the enmity of our enemies.

Think of Donald Trump`s personal qualities, the bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd 3rd grade theatrics.

He creates scapegoats of Muslims and Mexican immigrants. He calls for the use of torture. He calls for killing the innocent children and family members of terrorists.

This is the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss.

Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University.


MATTHEWS: Wow, coup d`etat by teleprompter. There was much more, of course. Romney also challenged Trump`s business competence.


ROMNEY: His bankruptcies have crushed small businesses and the men and women who work for them. He inherited his business, he didn`t create it. And whatever happened to Trump Airlines? How about Trump University? And then there`s Trump Magazine and Trump vodka and Trump Steaks and Trump Mortgage. A business genius he is not.


MATTHEWS: Well, a short time later, Trump responded.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I heard that Mitt Romney made a fairly long speech.

Mitt is a failed candidate. He failed. He failed horribly. That was a race that absolutely should have been won, and I don`t know what happened to him.

I backed Mitt Romney.


TRUMP: I backed him. You can see how loyal he is. He was begging for my endorsement. I could have said, Mitt, drop to your knees, he would have dropped to his knees. He was begging!



MATTHEWS: Well, he was begging. Robert Costa`s national political reporter for "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC political analyst, David Corn -- I haven`t seen you in a while -- Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" and an MSNBC political analyst, and Matt Schlapp is the chairman of the American Conservative Union, which is hosting CPAC this weekend, the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Actually, I`ve spoken there myself at one point. I won`t be there for a while, though. And that`s coming up this Saturday. We`ll be covering that, among other things, when we cover the primaries this Saturday on MSNBC later that night.

Let me go to -- let me go to Robert on this one. Robert, I don`t know, but I think he benefits, Trump does, with all his mixed nature, and he is a mixed bag at best or at worst. He seems to benefit from his enemies. These guys are like the old Joe Louis opponent who (ph) would knock out every month. I mean, I`m sorry, the pope wasn`t a good adversary for him. Nor is Vicente Fox. Nor was Jeb Bush.

And now the loser, I mean, certified loser has come back like a dead cat in from the rain -- or a wet cat in from the rain, I should say -- to rejoin it with the obvious ambition of the people finally going to him.

What other reason could Mitt Romney have for bringing the teleprompters out with the script he`s just unleashed? Your thoughts.

ROBERT COSTA, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST : Speaking to Trump allies today, they feel pretty good. They think in Romney, they have an easy foil, someone they can batter in the coming days. But there is some private concern --

MATTHEWS: Mr. 47 percent, yes.

COSTA: Exactly --

MATTHEWS: Mr. 47 percent. Yes.

COSTA: But the worry in Trump`s orbit is that Romney provides the anti- Trump movement with a face, some coherence in argument, and it`s been an incoherent movement for quite some time.

MATTHEWS: Well, I actually think it`s still incoherent because Romney`s not a hawk. All the other hawks are -- the neocons are all circling, too. There`s still a lot of factions out there that are all losing and all men. David Corn.

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, there`s a cleavage line in the Republican and the conservative movement. Do you accept Trump or do you oppose Trump? And they -- and even on each side of that equation, particularly on the against Trump, they can`t come up with a course of action, what to do, who to support.

Trump -- excuse me -- Romney very interesting today --

MATTHEWS: Are they to the left or right of him, the opposition? I can`t even --


CORN: Well, Trump is a mish-mash. He`s running as a Congress populist, but he wants to protect Social Security. He wants to give health care to all --

MATTHEWS: He`s for Planned Parenthood.

CORN: So he`s all -- and he`s against the trade deals that the conservative business types like. He`s all over.

But today, Romney said, Don`t pick a better candidate. Vote strategically. Vote against Trump. In any state, vote for the number two guy. What does that give you? A deadlocked convention. Who benefits from a deadlocked convention? None of the people running. Someone on the outside might. And who might that be?

MATTHEWS: Yes, Mitt Romney. Let me go to Matt Schlapp because you know your party, your side of the things. What do conservatives think? I think most conservatives I think who are true blues are still with Cruz. But tell me, what`s this Mitt Romney guy out saying he`s going to now speak for the -- for everybody in the party, including conservatives, against Trump?

MATT SCHLAPP, CONSERVATIVE UNION PRES.: Yes, I don`t really understand it, Chris. I mean, we just had the Nevada primary that has a big LDS population. They very much love Mitt Romney. Why didn`t he speak up then? Why is he speaking up so late now?

Here`s the reason I think it is. These super-PACs, these anti-Trump super- PACs have been established. And I think this was the call for all the moneyed folks to start writing checks for the super-PACs. But I think this is a last ditch financial effort to do everything they can to stop Trump.

MATTHEWS: You know, sometimes (INAUDIBLE) as much as I got problems with Trump, he ain`t so bad compared to this crowd. This is money people talking. They`re afraid their money`s at risk, right?

CORN: Well, yes --

MATTHEWS: Isn`t that it? It`s about big money, 1 percent --

CORN: And up --

MATTHEWS: -- is now speaking.

CORN: And up to now, the billionaire donors of the GOP have not wanted to go after Trump. They don`t want to get in a -- you know, in a fight with him. They don`t want to be brought into the spotlight the way he would --

MATTHEWS: Into the lights.

CORN: Into the light the way he would. And they`ve all been waiting for - - like all the candidates were, waiting for someone else to go first. And it`s gotten way too late for their money to make much of an impact, and they`re going to bet it all in Florida --


MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Robert on this. Robert, and then to Matt, same question. People vote because they care enough to do their duty as citizens. In primaries, they tend to add to that with some political passion for somebody. They fall in love or in line. Something drives them into that voting booth, men and women, to actually vote someone.

How do you teach people to do something completely against that instinct and say, Don`t vote for this guy when you go vote. Don`t vote for anybody else.

I don`t know how you train people to think like that because voting can be a pain sometimes, and it`s complicated for some people who have to work eight hours a day pretty far from where they vote. So they may have to make an effort after work or before work. They don`t have their own businesses.

So you tell a person to go out of your way --

SCHLAPP: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: -- oh, by the way, just don`t vote for Trump. That doesn`t sound like the usual American way to vote. Your thinking.

SCHLAPP: Yes. I agree with that, Chris. I think that -- I think that the problem they have right now is, is that, you know, you have Cruz and you have Marco, the two most likely alternatives to Trump. You know, until they decide which one is staying in and being that alternative, this idea that anyone is an alternative to Trump only benefits Trump.

And here`s one thing that Trump is doing that the others are failing to do, is that he`s simply talking to people out there in the country. And they`re trying to talk to all these people inside the Beltway to get them to write checks. They`re focused to the wrong group. They should be focused in on these states, talking to voters, and they`re caught up in the wrong -- they`re focusing on the wrong election.

MATTHEWS: Robert, what do you think? How do you get people to vote not for somebody? Remember that old line about Nixon, as he told to Pat Buchanan -- I think I`ve told you -- whenever you hear of a stop X movement, vote for X, or bet on X, because it`s very hard to stop somebody once they`re there because they (INAUDIBLE) almost to the barn by the time you say, Stop.

COSTA: It`s very hard. You look at past "stop" movements, you look at -- think of "Stop Carter." It didn`t work. It was an outsider coming in in `76. Some of the establishment Democrats didn`t like it. I think with "Stop Trump," it`s a very difficult proposition because when you go out there on the campaign trail, these Trump voters are not rank-and-file Republicans.

These are people who are not persuaded by the party elites. They`re coming out. They may have sat on the sidelines through the Bush era, through the Obama era. And to say to them now to sit back and make some kind of different calculation for the good of the party -- well, this is a party they don`t have much stake in.

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s Romney, what he had to say about his plan, by the way. Here he is.


ROMNEY: If the other candidates can find some common ground, I believe we can nominate a person who can win the general election and who will represent the values and policies of conservatism.

Given the current delegate selection process, that means that I vote for Marco Rubio in Florida and for John Kasich in Ohio and for Ted Cruz, or whichever one of the other two contenders has the best chance of beating Mr. Trump in a given state.


MATTHEWS: There he is.

CORN: You know --

MATTHEWS: It doesn`t sound like democracy. I don`t know what it sounds like. It sounds like the mullahs in Iran.

CORN: Well, it sounds like calculation. And there is a degree of phoniness to this. I mean, Mitt Romney warmly embraced Donald Trump four years ago, when he was already --

MATTHEWS: He did get down on his knees!


CORN: -- when he was a birther and --

MATTHEWS: He went all the way out to Vegas to do it!

CORN: And Trump raised money for him.


CORN: And 90 percent of what he said that he didn`t like about Donald Trump today was present in 2012. And so the Republican Party played footsie with him, and all the politics of hate --


CORN: We`ve been talking about this for the last eight years. And now they`re saying he`s beyond the pale? They created (INAUDIBLE) .

MATTHEWS: Let me -- let me -- let me tell you, Matt, why I`m enjoying this, because for years, the Republican Party, the wealthy people in the Republican Party (INAUDIBLE) ideologues, they`ve enjoyed picking up and recruiting -- and there`s nothing wrong with this, the working class white people, the regular people out there that don`t have money, the cloth coat Republicans. They`ve gone after them and said, You know, we can use your help as sort of our -- oh, our alliance, you know, our whatever. And we`ll take your votes. But don`t tell us who to pick as presidential nominee. Oh, no. You can`t do that. You can`t pick somebody like Trump --

SCHLAPP: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: -- because your job is to go along with the Romneys of the world and the Doles of this world and the W`s of this world. Your job is to (INAUDIBLE) extra white vote, if you will, for victory. You`re not supposed to make a decision. Well, now they`ve made a decision.

SCHLAPP: You know --

MATTHEWS: And to me, I actually have some sympathy for Trump now because all of a sudden, I realize democracy, for whatever it is, is at least democracy. It`s not this thing they`re talking about.

SCHLAPP: Well, you might be -- Chris, you might be enjoying this, the rest of us really aren`t enjoying this.


SCHLAPP: And you might have been to CPAC before, and you have been -- and you have been to PAC before because we do let people from all persuasions speak, including members of the media. But at the end of the day --


MATTHEWS: -- Clinton`s behavior in the White House. That`s why you had me there. Don`t kid yourself!

SCHLAPP: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: It wasn`t because you were reaching out for diversity! I just thought Clinton wasn`t telling the truth --

SCHLAPP: Hey, Chris --

MATTHEWS: -- about you know what. Go ahead.

SCHLAPP: Hey, Chris, we just hope we don`t have to live through that all over again. But the fact is that for Mitt Romney --

MATTHEWS: Oh! No, not with Hillary.


MATTHEWS: Hillary will be no problem.

SCHLAPP: -- conservatives -- for Mitt Romney to think he`s the one to speak to conservatives, the type of people that are in this hall tonight and that he will convince them to go someplace -- it just shows that they have just a lack of understanding of where the party is. They actually don`t want to hear from people like Mitt Romney. They might like him and respect him and think he`s good man, but he`s not the man of the moment.

MATTHEWS: I agree.

SCHLAPP: And I think that`s what all these old-time --


SCHLAPP: -- Republican leaders just simply don`t get.

MATTHEWS: I just want to go back to Robert because we always like getting Robert. What do you see is the next step? If the Romney thing doesn`t work, what`s their next step? I mean, it seems like they`re just flying around here, flaying (sic) around for a way to stop -- if he wins Michigan next Tuesday, if he wins Ohio or two of the three, Ohio -- Ohio, Florida and Michigan -- he`s still on a roll, isn`t he?

COSTA: He`s still on a roll. He may not get to that 1,237. I`ll tell you this, Chris, calling around to Republican donors today, top people in the party, they saw today`s speech not just as an indictment of Trump, but as a start possibly of a Romney draft movement. They think Romney`s putting himself out there to help his party, but also remind them that back in 2015, he teased a run, said he was maybe interested in a third bid, and he seems to be doing so again in the minds of many donors.

MATTHEWS: So he`ll have a campaign that leads to the convention, but skips the primaries.

COSTA: On the floor, second ballot.

MATTHEWS: Last time that happened was when?

COSTA: Very rare. It`s a very long time ago.

MATTHEWS: In 1952, Adlai Stevenson in Chicago, who gave their welcoming speech as governor of Illinois, and beat Kefauver, even though he had never run in the primaries.

COSTA: -- battle between Bob Taft --


MATTHEWS: That was a day so long ago.

COSTA: -- and Eisenhower that same year.

MATTHEWS: But Eisenhower won the New Hampshire primary, did very well in Minnesota, went out there, met the people and defeated Robert Taft in the field. I don`t think the American people are ready for a candidate of a party that hasn`t won the primaries.

Thank you, Robert Costa. Thank you, David Corn. And thank you, Matt Schlapp.

Coming up -- it`s not just the Republican establishment that wants to stop Donald Trump, Politico is reporting that top Republican hawks, neocons, the gang that brought us the Iraq war, are scared to death of Trump, with some open to voting for Hillary Clinton, if they think she`s more hawkish than Trump. And some do think that. Maybe I do some days.

Plus, with just 12 days left before the make-or-break primaries in Florida and Ohio, how hard will Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and John Kasich hit Trump in tonight`s big debate in Detroit? I`ll be there afterwards here on MSNBC right here at this desk to talk about the debate for a couple hours tonight. So come back to us tonight at 11:00.

And a big development in the investigation into Hillary Clinton`s e-mails. Justice Department grants immunity to the staffer who set up her e-mail server. Immunity is usually a problem if you`re a target of an investigation. We`re going find out where the investigation`s headed and what it means for Secretary Clinton.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" with a good memory, and along with it, an appeal to Congress on this national day of action for former volunteers in the United States Peace Corps.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. More than 70 foreign policy types, most of them hawks from the Republican Party, have penned an open letter posted on line last night saying that Donald Trump is dangerous to the national security of this country, condemning Trump`s, quote, "anti-Muslim rhetoric, his, quote, "admiration of foreign dictators" and his support for the expansive use of torture, they write, quote, "His equation of business acumen with foreign policy experience is false. Not all lethal conflicts can be resolved as a real estate deal might, and there is no recourse to bankruptcy court in international affairs."

Well, that`s pretty cute. Anyway, of Trump`s foreign policy positions, they say, "It swings from isolationism to military adventurism within the space of one sentence." Anyway, the letter concludes, "We are unable to support a party ticket with Mr. Trump at its head."

The letter has the backing of several officials from the administration of George W. Bush, including many neoconservatives who pushed hard for the invasion of Iraq. As Politico reports, some of the signers (ph) say, quote, "they could vote for Hillary Clinton over Trump in November," while others would prefer to vote for a third party or write-in candidate.

I`m joined right now by the managing editor of Bloomberg Politics, Mark Halperin, who hosts "With All Due Respect," and Howard Fineman, of course - - he`s with me -- global editorial director of the HuffingtonPost, and Jeanne Cummings, political editor for "The Wall Street Journal."

Since I have three heavyweights here, I want you all to take the time we have and talk about what this means. I mean, putting letters out -- it`s and old, you know, neocon thing of letter to this, letters to that, putting people together.

I might -- I`m not going to say (INAUDIBLE) it goes back many, many centuries, this kind of politics. Read "The Fountainhead" and you`ll figure it out. It`s Ellsworth Toohey`s game -- left or right.

Mark Halperin, after that allusion to "The Fountainhead" and Ayn Rand, I ask you to get in here. Is this for real? I like the part because it resounds to me -- Hillary Clinton was a big supporter of the Iraq war. It was only after she took a lot of heat, political heat -- it wasn`t (INAUDIBLE) policy. She really wanted to do it. She wanted to be for the war. She believes in what you call muscular foreign policy, you know? She is not Marty Peretz, but she is muscular in her foreign policy.

Are they really looking to her, the people who have been aligned intellectually in terms of foreign policy with the Republican Party`s hawkishness to go to Hillary next -- this November? Is it real?

MARK HALPERIN, MSNBC SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that group would based on her policy positions and her record and based on their view of Donald Trump`s stability as a leader.

I think a lot of them would vote for Hillary Clinton and would prefer her as an abstract notion of what kind of commander in chief they would like. I think this a strand that might have an impact on the race in some small way, less than Romney, and a strand. But I don`t know that it really matters that much.

What these intellectuals think about the choice of Romney -- of Trump vs. Clinton, I just don`t think it`s all that relevant to the question of who the next president is going to be.

MATTHEWS: Mark, where are you by the way? You like you`re in a snow drift somewhere.

HALPERIN: Chris, Chris, I`m in a very glamorous top floor of a sports bar standing in the snow listening to anti-Republican protesters in downtown Detroit, basically my dream slot.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, Detroit, there you are.

Let me go to Howard on this.

He looks great out there, the abominable snowman.

Anyway, let me get this. Howard, your thinking? Because if you vote only on foreign policy toughness, muscular foreign -- you know the phrases, muscular. You have to get out there and fight on. Usually, regime change is one of your current needs in whatever country. Trump is not playing that game. His comment about I might be neutral in the Middle East was a step too far, I would argue.

But, generally, everybody knows, this guy is going to waste -- he is not going to waste his presidency on a stupid war.


Well, first of all, the letter from these people matters not one whit. And also, if I`m Donald Trump, here is what I`m thinking. Who do I want to oppose me now that I`m really running hard?

MATTHEWS: The guys that gave us Iraq.

FINEMAN: The guys who brought us Iraq and Wall Street billionaires. That`s who is opposed to me.

MATTHEWS: He already knocked off the people and Vicente Fox and Jeb.

FINEMAN: That is who is opposing him right now. What better way to become beloved by working people who feel squeezed than to have the warmongers and the Wall Street people against you? It`s lunacy. It`s absolute lunacy.

MATTHEWS: Howard, I`m with you.

I have been saying for weeks, there`s three reasons why they like Trump. You can say nationalism, but break it down. They don`t like the trade deals that cost the good jobs to China. They don`t like the illegal immigration, because that`s the bad jobs are going to other people. And they hate their kids, men and women, fighting in stupid wars in maximum deployments. They don`t want these wars.

Go ahead.


MATTHEWS: They don`t like anything that suggest the upper rich -- surprisingly, Trump, Mr. Billionaire, has become a tribune of regular guys.

CUMMINGS: Absolutely. One of the people.

So, I don`t think, though, that Romney or any of these people are talking to Trump supporters. I think they know they`re not going to move the Trump supporters. They`re talking to the rest of the party. That`s who they want to behave differently.

MATTHEWS: Who are they going to get, the burbs? Who is it going to move?

CUMMINGS: Maybe they want -- maybe they`re hoping that this will get people off the couch and into a voting booth come primary day, because they may now realize what the stakes are.

MATTHEWS: Who is the hawk they will vote for? Rubio is a hawk. Is he big enough to be president?

CUMMINGS: Well, that was the other message.

MATTHEWS: He`s old enough. I`m not sure he`s big enough.

CUMMINGS: That was the message though that Romney was also trying to deliver twofold. Get involved, know the stakes and vote smart.


CUMMINGS: Wait. He said vote for the guy who can win your state. That`s what he said.

FINEMAN: It`s not only a matter of an attractive candidate. It`s a message to the same people that Donald Trump is drawing.

What these people aren`t realizing is, Donald Trump has identified and connected with a constituency that the Republican Party desperately needs and used to have with Ronald Reagan a generation ago. They should be thinking of how to reach those people and take them away from Donald Trump with an actual message, not with a bunch of game-playing.


MATTHEWS: Go ahead, Jeanne.

CUMMINGS: We have been pushing numbers.

And the question is, how many more are there of them to bring out while at the same time you`re insulting suburban women?

MATTHEWS: Did you see our numbers? We didn`t put them up yet. We will put them up. Michigan is going to Trump. So it`s week after week. And then after we got Miami voting -- he carries Florida against Rubio, I don`t know what`s left after that. They can talk all they want about Mitt Romney.

CUMMINGS: I think it`s game over.

MATTHEWS: Former CIA Director Michael Hayden talk Bill Maher on Friday that the United States military might refuse Trump`s orders if they know his orders violate international laws. That seems pretty obvious.

Here is how Trump responded to that today.


MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now, I`m far from the first to conclude that Donald Trump lacks the temperament to be president. After all, this is an individual who mocked a disabled reporter, who attributed a reporter`s questions to her menstrual cycle, who mocked a brilliant rival who happened to be a woman due to her appearance, who bragged about his marital affairs, and who laces his public speeches with vulgarity.

Dishonesty is Donald Trump`s hallmark. He`s not of the temperament of the kind of stable, thoughtful person we need as a leader.


MATTHEWS: Remember in the movie "Batman" when the bad guy kept coming on the screen not matter --


MATTHEWS: We got him by mistake there. We don`t have the right tape.


MATTHEWS: Let me come back to Mark Halperin.

Mark, this question about the scattershot approach to this front-runner right now. You`re the expert watching this. How does the scatter shots add up to a demolition? I don`t see.

HALPERIN: Well, look, there`s a scattershot approach on message, there`s a scattershot approach on electoral strategy.

But the reality is, if Trump does not sweep both the winner-take-all states, if other people can win some of them, and if they can keep accumulating delegates, they can stop him from a majority. And that`s it right now.

So, I think, again, these strands, are these foreign policy experts going to influence some voters in suburban Illinois? Maybe. They just need to mobilize the wing of the party, as Jeanne suggested, who are people not with Trump now, and hope that there`s a way at the convention to take it from him.

That`s it. And every little bit potentially helps, as scattershot as it is.

MATTHEWS: Can they use between now and July to educate the public that the party is within its rights to deny the nomination for the presidency to someone who gets less than the majority, even though the public after 50 years is used to the candidate with the most votes winning in the primaries? Can they teach the public that in this time?


HALPERIN: It`s going to be a close call.

Look, it`s a two-step process, right, or really three steps. First, you got to deny Trump a majority. Then you have to take it from the convention and then you have to unite the party if someone else becomes the nominee. All of that, Trump is in a commanding position because all of that is hard.

It`s not impossible, though, because under the rules, that`s an acceptable outcome under the rules. I think the constituency is really not the public at first, though. It`s going to be the delegates to the convention. What do they think about the prospects of denying someone who has won a strong plurality of the delegates the nomination?

MATTHEWS: Yes, OK. It just hasn`t been done in years. You have to go back to -- God, all I could think was Kefauver losing -- not Kefauver -- Kefauver in `52 at the Democratic Convention in Chicago losing to Stevenson, who hadn`t run in the primaries.

But since then, anyone who has run the best in the primaries has won the nomination.

Let`s go that bite we didn`t have. This is Trump, Donald Trump talking to George Stephanopoulos about the very topic of how he responds to all this stuff.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: If you order torture and the military refuses to carry out your orders, how will you respond?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don`t think that would happen. I am a leader. I don`t think that would happen. They`re cutting off heads in the Middle East. They`re chopping off people`s heads in the Middle East and we`re afraid to water-board. Give me a break, George. Give me a break,


MATTHEWS: Well, I don`t think the military would.

What do you think? Do think the military is out there thinking right now, suppose I get an order? You say I`m just obeying orders. We know that from international law since Nuremberg. You can`t get away with that one.

FINEMAN: No, you can`t get away with it, but the overall attitude in the military -- among the military people I talked to is that they`re not big fans of Barack Obama right now.

MATTHEWS: They think he is what?

FINEMAN: They don`t think he is strong enough as a commander in chief.

They`re not going to overcorrect and go all the way to Donald Trump. But it`s a closer question at least within the military than some people think.

MATTHEWS: What about this kill all their wives and chambermaids? Kill their families, I mean, that`s mob stuff.

FINEMAN: That`s absurd. That`s absurd.

CUMMINGS: I think actually what Comey said is pretty dangerous.

We are a nation, a democracy here, and the military can`t at some point start deciding, you know, what are they going to --

MATTHEWS: But what about international law and the Geneva Conventions? You don`t kill the wives on the way to killing Osama bin Laden.


CUMMINGS: That means the military has got to figure a way to cope with this, other than saying I`m just not going to do what the president says.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but the water-boarding is an interesting one, because they did what Dick Cheney told them to do.

CUMMINGS: Well, and there are consequences, that`s for sure.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mark Halperin. Thank you, Jeanne Cummings. Great group here. Howard Fineman, as always. He`s staying with us, actually.

Up next, new details.

Held over by popular demand, Howard Fineman.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, investigating right now Hillary Clinton`s private e-mail server, what does this mean when her top guy who put the e-mail thing together got immunity? Immunity usually means they`re going for somebody if we all know -- we all know that. What is going on at Justice?

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


PAGE HOPKINS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Page Hopkins. Here`s what`s happening.

Florida Governor Rick Scott says he will not be endorsing a Republican presidential candidate ahead of the state`s primary later this month.

In Milwaukee today, President Obama said he and his family will likely stay in Washington after his term ends, so his daughter Sasha can graduate high school.

And some San Bernardino victims` family members argue Apple should comply with an order to unlock an iPhone used by gunman Syed Farook. they have filed a legal brief on behalf of the government -- and now we take you back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, the Department of Justice has reportedly granted immunity to a staffer, the staffer who set up the private e-mail server Hillary Clinton used while secretary of state. Bryan Pagliano worked for Hillary Clinton on 2008 presidential campaign and stayed on to work for her at the State Department.

"The Washington Post" broke the story that Pagliano received immunity from prosecutors related to an FBI investigation into the server and noted that -- quote -- "The Clinton campaign has described the probe as a security review, but current and former officials in the FBI and at the Justice Department have said investigators are trying to determine whether a crime was committed here."

Well, last September, Pagliano invoked his Fifth Amendment right when called to testify at the separate inquiry by the House Benghazi Committee. The FBI investigation comes at a sensitive time, of course, as Hillary Clinton takes a commanding lead in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary fight.

2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney paused from his assault on Donald Trump today to knock Secretary Clinton on her use of the server.


ROMNEY: She compromised our national secrets. She dissembled to the families of the slain. And she jettisoned her most profound beliefs to gain presidential power.

A person so untrustworthy and dishonest as Hillary Clinton must not become president.


MATTHEWS: Well, I`m waiting to hear what Candy Crowley has to say.

Anyway, Howard Fineman is back with us. And joining me now is attorney Laura Coates. She is a former federal prosecutor and worked as a trial attorney in the Department of Justice.

Just the facts, ma`am. Thank you for joining us.

This seems to be open to anything, any interpretation. But when I heard immunity, I heard an aggressive prosecution aggressively trying to get the truth, because that`s when you give people immunity, because you let them escape justice, basically, right?


MATTHEWS: Why are you doing something like this?

COATES: You do it because -- first of all, before you get immunity, you have to Actually proffer to the government, tell me why I should give you the pass of getting criminally prosecuted. And is that something juicy?

MATTHEWS: Is that open to interpretation or is that always something negative for the person they`re trying to grab, probative, something probative?


COATES: It`s not always negative for Hillary Clinton in this particular case. It could mean, for example, that Pagliano has useful information to close an investigation against her, or it could mean that he is the only person --

MATTHEWS: Is that the way prosecutors work? They look for ways to let somebody off?

COATES: Look for reasons to get the actual target. And if he`s not the real target, you give him immunity in order to get information towards the real target.

In this case, Bryan Pagliano is the only person with information to know whether there was a private conversation between him and Hillary Clinton that says, I knowingly --

MATTHEWS: Should Hillary be nervous about this, about the news in the paper today?


MATTHEWS: I`m sure she read it first.

FINEMAN: I think the answer is yes.

I don`t know the political import of it. We won`t know until we know the details. But what`s going on here, it seems to me, my sense of it, is that the FBI and Justice Department are looking to see how deliberate, how planned, how detailed was the effort to set up a system of communication outside the one that is required and allowed by law?

MATTHEWS: Well, isn`t the issue -- Laura has instructed me before the show that the issue is whether she did it for convenience, as she said, I want to have one --

FINEMAN: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: -- one cell phone, or was it to avoid FOIA, from freedom of information requests?

FINEMAN: Right. Exactly. And then that would then get back to whatever conversation she might have had.

MATTHEWS: But would Pagliano know? How would Pagliano know what the motive was of Hillary Clinton? She`s hard to read generally.

COATES: Well, the only way he would know is if there was a direct conversation or there were actual e-mails saying I would like a secure server that they cannot access on the classified system. And that`s where her Achilles` heel eviscerates.

MATTHEWS: OK. Give me the worst-case scenario for people who are pro- Hillary and anti-Hillary. Is there any case that she committed an actual crime of motive, like you can under -- she did something bad?

COATES: The only -- the worst-case scenario for Hillary Clinton, honestly, is she will get the mishandling of classified information, which Petraeus also got.

MATTHEWS: Which is recklessness.

COATES: Recklessness.

MATTHEWS: But his wasn`t recklessness. He went and gave it to the girl he was having a relationship with, that woman.

COATES: He did. He did.

MATTHEWS: That`s not reckless. That`s choosing to do something you know is wrong for some other purpose. Right?

FINEMAN: The question here would be whether she was setting up this system for the purpose of dealing in classified information outside of the system.

MATTHEWS: Why would she want to do that?

FINEMAN: I have no idea.

COATES: But it`s very different than Petraeus.

This is somebody who -- the allegation is that she rendered a system vulnerable for hacking, not that she gave away top-secret information.


MATTHEWS: Is that right, Howard? Don`t you agree with that? That`s a distinction.

FINEMAN: Yes, and that`s why also I think it was the Clinton people who made sure that "The New York Times" had the story today that --

MATTHEWS: Oh, you think they put it out.

FINEMAN: Preliminary studies have shown that there was no hacking done on that outside system, because that`s a very important part of what we`re talking about.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you a final question. You`re the expert.


MATTHEWS: Timing, would somebody like the FBI director, and certainly the attorney general, who is a political appointment -- however professional she is, Loretta Lynch is a political appointment -- be sensitive of the fact we`re in the middle of picking a president and Hillary Clinton is the front-runner?

COATES: They should be. They will wrap this up by May, they have said, for those very reasons, because obviously whether they choose to indict or not -- they most likely will not, in my opinion, based on the facts in this case -- they have to before there is a Democratic nominee for president.

Otherwise, it will look completely complicit --


MATTHEWS: If she is indicted, what happens to her politically?

COATES: The voters have to decide. It comes in November at that point.

MATTHEWS: would they keep her on the ticket?

FINEMAN: Well, who is they? Again --

MATTHEWS: I`m sorry. I keep forgetting.


FINEMAN: There is no they anymore, Chris.

MATTHEWS: There is no they anymore.

FINEMAN: There is no they anymore.

MATTHEWS: There`s no party. It`s just a candidate.

FINEMAN: There is no they anymore.

MATTHEWS: Thank you. You`re so smart to catch me on that. Old thinking. I was thinking previous to 1952.


MATTHEWS: I`m a little out of date. I was 6.

Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman, who was much younger. And, Laura, you were not even around. You were not even a footnote then yet. Anyway, Laura Coates, thanks for your expertise.

Up next, as Republicans take the debate stage tonight, Donald Trump finds himself under fire from his GOP rivals. What else is new? Look at him. I think he revels in this stuff. Can the front-runner, Mr. Trump, keep his cool tonight when they all go at him as this race gets nastier? By the way, I don`t know who is nastier, him or -- he or Rubio. And that`s a hell of a question to be asking.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.



MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now, I`m far from the first to conclude that Donald Trump lacks the temperament to be president. After all, this is an individual who mocked a disabled reporter, who attributed a reporter`s questions to her menstrual cycle, who mocked a brilliant rival who happened to be a woman, due to her appearance, who bragged about his marital affairs, and laces his public speeches with vulgarity.

Dishonesty is Donald Trump`s hallmark. He`s not of the temperament of the thoughtful person we need as a leader.


MATTHEWS: Well, the big word there is "temperament".

Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was more from Mitt Romney`s speech today attacking Donald Trump.

Anyway, Romney`s remarks were saluted by presidential candidate John Kasich who tweeted, "Well said, Mitt Romney."

Rubio aide Alex Conant said, "Great to see Mitt Romney help expose Donald Trump for being a con artist and fraud." And fraud -- I think they`re the same.

And Senator John McCain tweeted, "I share my friend," this is the best part. "My friend Mitt Romney concerns -- hope American people think hard about who they want as commander in chief." Well, they should think that.

Tonight, the four remaining GOP candidates meet for a debate hosted by FOX News, in Detroit, otherwise known as Di-troit (ph), Michigan, where Trump is expected to come under more fire from his rivals, Rubio and Cruz. It also sets up a reunion if you will, of Trump and FOX News anchor Megyn Kelly. Kelly and Trump clashed, of course, in that first FOX News debate last August, August, and the GOP frontrunner spent weeks savaging her on social media.

Anyway, Trump skipped the debate hosted by FOX News in Iowa, right before the state`s caucuses last month. But tonight, Trump and Kelly meet again.

Liz Mair is a Republican strategist, David Catanese is with "The U.S. News and World Report", Francesca Chambers, White House correspondent for "The Daily Mail".

Francesca, let`s start with this now -- first of all, can you get a better critic than Mitt Romney or do you think it hurts? I think it`s one of the bumps of the month, knock off one at a time, Mr. Establishment, I could take this guy.

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, THE DAILY MAIL: Well, I think it can go both ways. On one hand, he`s saying what the Republican Party, the formal Republican National Committee cannot say. They cannot openly attack Donald Trump and say, please vote for someone else.

MATTHEWS: So, he is the voice of Reince Priebus?

CHAMBERS: I don`t -- I wouldn`t say that. But he cannot -- he`s doing what the Republican Party --


MATTHEWS: Where is his influence, David? In Massachusetts, where he`s lived for many years, and was governor. He`s Mormon, he`s LDS, so we have some influence in Nevada, he could have some influence perhaps in Utah.

Why is he speaking after the primaries that where he could have had a real influence?

DAVID CATANESE, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT: He is too late, but he sees an opportunity for himself. Mitt Romney still wants --

MATTHEWS: What`s his road to the nomination?

CATANESE: His road to nomination is Rubio winning Florida, Kasich winning Ohio, Cruz winning some southern states, maybe through the Midwest, maybe a Missouri, and it looks like chaos. He hinted at this today.

MATTHEWS: Missouri is contiguous with Oklahoma.

CATANESE: Oklahoma and Illinois.

MATTHEWS: They`re winning blocks of states, filling out a puzzle when you`re playing monopoly. They`re building blocks.

Go ahead.

LIZ MAIR, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Right, but you have to put them together to build a hotel or whatever.

MATTHEWS: Well, he`s got Oklahoma. He almost got Arkansas I think.

MAIR: Perhaps hotel was the wrong thing, with the monopoly, at least, right.

Yes, no, I mean, I think to the general point about is this going to help or hurt, it`s probably more or less a wash. Although I will say one thing that`s interesting that is overlooked. Weirdly, while it seems totally inconceivable, there are quite a few people who seem to like Romney and Trump. They like this business experience.

A very close personal family friend of ours is somebody who`s like a rabid Trump fan and a rabid Romney fan.

MATTHEWS: Rabid Romney?

MAIR: Yes, no, I know. It sounds totally nuts, right?

I have these conversations with her and what is --


MATTHEWS: -- an interesting circle.

CHAMBERS: The point today that Romney was making about business is so salient because you can`t say he doesn`t have business experience.

CATANESE: But he said Trump had good business experience four years ago.

MAIR: Sure.

CATANESE: Standing next to him.

MATTHEWS: Bowing down.

MAIR: But the point that I`m making is that when people say that this is not going to have no effect or it`s only going to be good for Trump and give him another establishment guy to knock off, I`m not sure that that`s totally true. Probably, it doesn`t do a lot to change the race, but actually, yes, there are a few people out there who might be moved by it. So, why not give it a go?

MATTHEWS: A former movie star, until I heard what he used to do for sport. He used to get two fishhooks and put them at the end of the string, right, and he throw that string way up in the air and the two seagulls would grab each end of it, and fight to the death in the sky for his entertainment, OK? I can`t tell you his name if you find out who it is.

But that`s what Trump has done with his opponents, because it`s Cruz against Rubio, for the next several weeks, trying to kill each other, to get that little bit of bait, right?

CATANESE: Yes, that`s good. The longer that the four remain, that`s good for Trump. I think Super Tuesday was the best possible result, because you had a couple of Cruz wins and Rubio, snuck out a win out in Minnesota.

MAIR: And nearly --

CATANESE: And nearly -- and did pretty well in Virginia and Kasich threatened him in Vermont. So, they all had a ticket to ride, as long as they have a ticket to ride, I mean, this is now, as we all know, it`s about stopping him from getting to --

MATTHEWS: Rubio`s appeal to the establishment, and he seems more moderate because he did have a good position on immigration and he`s East Coast I guess, and the other guys is a southwestern conservative, right? So Trump somehow becomes not the golden mean, but he`s in the middle, and these guys are biting off each end of him. It helps him.

CHAMBERS: I think it does help him. You`re right to a certain point. But to go back to what Mitt Romney suggested today, he was suggesting this brokered convention idea. If you --

MATTHEWS: Here`s a phrase, I haven`t heard until now, and I don`t think it`s ever going to mean anything.

CHAMBERS: Or contested.


MATTHEWS: You tell the American people, after six months of primaries, they don`t matter. Go ahead.

CHAMBERS: It was seem to be what he was suggesting today. If Rubio were to win Florida, if Kasich wins Ohio, then that puts the Trump in the position where it would be hard climb to get to the delegate count and that`s how Mitt Romney or someone else could swoop in there and take this back.

Do I think that`s going to happen? No, I don`t think that`s going to happen.

MATTHEWS: OK, who wins if it`s a three way? Donald Trump ahead here, who wins if it`s a three way, and some -- the Republican convention picks some dweeb who is not even running, and Trump runs third party, I bet on Trump to get more votes than guy. This will be a Bull Moose Party back again. The Teddy Party.

Anyway, thank you. The round table sticking with us.

Come back and join us for a special edition for HARDBALL tonight at 11:00 p.m. Eastern. And as I said, we`re going to have full post-debate coverage tonight and analysis. And it`s a two-hour show tonight. After the Republican face off in Detroit. Tonight`s best moments. Plus, top reporting and analysis on tonight`s debate and how it will affect the debate, actually the race.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the roundtable.

Liz, tell me something I don`t know.

MAIR: Something you don`t know.

MATTHEWS: Many things I don`t know.

MAIR: I`m sure there are.

One thing I thought was interesting about a poll that Patrick Ruffini, former digital campaign strategist for the RNC, for a variety of Republican campaigns, tweeted about, I thought was very interested. It was a story that broke on Monday in "The Washington Post" about Trump mortgage. That appears to have been seen by 13 percent of the voters in a poll he was looking at.

CATANESE: Kansas is one of four states that vote Republicans on Saturday. They are getting such overwhelming turnout that they`re going to have one of their caucuses in Missouri. Why? Because Wichita State is a basketball team playing in the Missouri Valley Conference in St. Louis. They will set up caucus site.

MATTHEWS: That`s legal?

CATANESE: In St. Louis, it`s legal in Republican rules. Democrats don`t allow it.

MATTHEWS: OK, Francesca?

CHAMBERS: While some people might have thought that Super Tuesday suggested this was over for Bernie Sanders. The Sanders campaign telling told us on Tuesday or Wednesday morning in Burlington that they are prepared to take this all the way until June when California votes. So, he could be in here a lot longer.

MATTHEWS: He could win California, on a good night.

CHAMBERS: They think that he can win California, and that`s why they are prepared to take it all the way until then.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Francesca. Thank you, Liz Mair. And thank you, David Catanese.

When we return, let me finish with a good memory and along with it an appeal of the Congress on this national day of action for former volunteers in the Peace Corps.

We`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Let me finish with a good memory and along with it an appeal to Congress on this national day of action for former volunteers in the Peace Corps.

Of all the fine things that President Kennedy did on this earth, perhaps his finest was this. He got the idea campaigning across the country, discovering the idealism of America`s youth, and when he went on college campuses he met young men and women ready and eager to head off to remote lands and get their hands dirty and economic and social development. The idea was a little bit of guts and sacrifice by an American could go a long way in making this a better world.

Well, how could we disagree? I spent two years in the African country of Swaziland. It`s tucked between South Africa and Mozambique. My title was trade development adviser. My real work was riding a motorbike out into the African belt meeting with small traders and helping them get their businesses better organized.

It was an extraordinary experience that included putting together week-long business courses and a national industrial exposition to which the king himself attended. I hope that it helped.

It certainly helped me. I spent a couple months of training in the backwoods of Louisiana, learning a language related to Zulu, a couple of years, putting it to use, in a part of the world, they were not used to seeing some like, certainly not close up.

What I gained was the regard of the outright affection of the men I was teaching. It was the supreme authority to get out of life in this country into a life of a very different human experience, but human it was and human it is. And that, when I think about it, is the great experience of the Peace Corps.

They travel thousands of miles around the globe and discover that with all the outward differences, there is unity in the human experience and, yes, love and knowing it.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

Come back tonight at 11:00 p.m. after the Republicans debate for a special two-hour edition of HARDBALL. It`s always hardball in these debates, by the way.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.