Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 5/11/2017

Ashley Parker, Angus King, Mike Quigley, Ken Vogel, Kathleen Parker, Clarence Page

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Do you believe him now?


Let`s play HARDBALL.


Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.


Two days ago, the White House crafted a cover story about the firing of

James Comey.  According to countless White House officials up to and

including the vice president, the order of events went like this.  The

deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, and the attorney general, Jeff

Sessions, came to see President Trump to recommend that he fire James

Comey, the head of the FBI.  The president agreed with them and took



That was the White House story for two days.  Today, we found that wasn`t

true, and we found out from a reliable source, President Trump.


And here`s part of the president`s interview today with “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS”

anchor Lester Holt.




LESTER HOLT, NBC ANCHOR:  Monday, you met with the deputy attorney general,

Rod Rosenstein.




HOLT:  Did you ask for a recommendation?


TRUMP:  What I did was, I was going to fire Comey.  My decision.  It was



HOLT:  You had made the decision before they came in the room.


TRUMP:  I was going to fire Comey.  There`s no good time to do it, by the

way.  They…


HOLT:  Because in your letter, you said, “I accepted their recommendation.”


TRUMP:  Yes, well, they also…


HOLT:  So you had already made the decision.


TRUMP:  Oh, I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.  He made a

recommendation.  He`s highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy.  The

Democrats like him.  The Republicans like him.  He made a recommendation. 

But regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.




MATTHEWS:  Well, for days, the president`s spokespeople told a very

different story, and let`s watch it.




QUESTION:  You said last week the president had full confidence in his FBI

director.  What changed?


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  The recommendation that came

today and the rationale behind it.


QUESTION:  So the president made the decision today?




QUESTION:  Did anyone at the White House order the Department of Justice to

do into FBI Director Comey.





receive a report that is so clear and a recommendation by someone like the

deputy attorney general, you have no choice but to act.



president takes when he is told by the deputy attorney general, who has

only been on the job for 14 days, so he took a new assessment, a new look

at everything…



that the deputy attorney general outlined to the president that were

endorsed and agreed with by the attorney general, the president made the

right decision at the right time.




MATTHEWS:  Well, the president`s reversal – and it came today – comes as

reporting suggests that Rod Rosenstein was not happy with the original

White House version of events.  According to “The Washington Post,”

Rosenstein threatened to resign after the narrative emerging from the White

House on Tuesday evening cast him as a prime mover of the decision to fire

Comey and that the president acted only on his recommendation.


For more on the president`s interview on NBC, I`m joined by the former

chair of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele, and columnist

for “The Washington Post” Eugene Robinson.  Thank you – Pulitzer Prize



Let`s look at a couple things.  First of all, the highest-level problem

here.  The president not only put out Ms. Huckle – Huckle – what`s her –





MATTHEWS:  Huckabee, as in Huckabee, whatever Huckabee Sanders, the

daughter of the governor.  He put her out for two days to say that all this

came from the deputy attorney general, from Mr. Rosenstein.  It all came

from him – I accepted the recommendation of Rosenstein.


Now the president comes out and corrects his own flackery and says, No,

what the vice president has been saying for two days, what all my people

have been saying for two days, that`s not true.  I ordered it.  I made up

my mind long before those guys even came in the office.


Why is this happening in America?  Why is the chief executive of the United

States, the president of the United States, having his people put out the

wrong story?  He puts out what apparently is the true story.  It`s got

nothing to do with Hillary Clinton last year.  It has to do with what Trump

doesn`t want – he doesn`t want Comey doing now.



this investigation to go forward.  All of this hinges off of the reality of

the inquiry made by Mr. Comey to Mr. Rosenstein about, I need more

resources for this investigation.  I need to expand this thing to the next

level because there is a there there, apparently.


MATTHEWS:  OK, how does the vice president deal with the fact he was – I

don`t like the word “lied,” but how about fibbed, a couple times, big-time

fibbing, all right?  First of all, he was told by Michael – let`s try this

out with you – Michael – Michael Flynn says, you know…




MATTHEWS:  … I didn`t talk sanctions.





that a lie, Chris.


MATTHEWS:  And then this guy says – OK, I…


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You can call that a lie.




MATTHEWS:  … call a guy a liar, you can`t deal with him anymore.  These

people were told to lie.




MATTHEWS:  Unless they were told a lie to tell.


ROBINSON:  But look, I Just – poor Mike Pence.  I mean, I kind of feel

sorry for him.  He signed up for this, right, so you can`t feel but so

sorry.  But this is the second time in a very high-profile way he`s been

left hanging out to dry, sitting right out under that limb and it cracks.


MATTHEWS:  He does “Simon says” every time…




MATTHEWS:  He does it every time.


ROBINSON:  Exactly.  But – but you know, yes, you cannot take seriously

what this administration`s spokespeople say.  You just can`t take it





MATTHEWS:  And they were trying to cover for the president today.




STEELE:  … trying to cover for the president, and the vice president was

given a bucket of water to carry with a lot of holes in it.  And so he`s

got this all over his shoes right now, number one.  The communication shop

does, as well.  However this decision came down, it was clear that no one

had command and control over it the night the president fired Comey.


ROBINSON:  Right, but the president – the central question really is, what

is the president afraid of?  What does the president not want to reveal?


MATTHEWS:  What is that?  What is that thing he doesn`t want – because he

has used every deflection device now for weeks now.  He`s trashed

everybody.  Now he`s calling, what, Comey a trouble – or showboater…


STEELE:  A showboater and then – right.


ROBINSON:  He is obviously – he`s obviously…


MATTHEWS:  He`s trashing the guy.


ROBINSON:  … obsessed about this investigation.


MATTHEWS:  Well, Lester Holt also asked – this is a pretty good interview. 

Lester Holt also asked President Trump about one of the more bizarre lines

in his termination letter to Comey.  Let`s watch this odd little codicil in

the letter.  Let`s watch.




HOLT:  Let me ask you about your termination letter to Mr. Comey.  You

write, “I greatly you appreciate you informing me on three separate

occasions that I am not under investigation.”  Why did you put that in



TRUMP:  Because he told me that.  I mean, he told me that.


HOLT:  He told you you weren`t under investigation with regard to the

Russia investigation?


TRUMP:  Yes, and I`ve heard that – I`ve heard that from others.  I



HOLT:  Was it in a phone call?  Did you meet face to face?


TRUMP:  I had a dinner with him.  He wanted to have dinner because he

wanted to stay on.  We had a very nice dinner at the White House fairly

early on.


HOLT:  He asked for the dinner?


TRUMP:  A dinner was arranged.  I think he asked for the dinner.  And he

wanted to stay on as the FBI head.  And I said, I`ll, you know, consider. 

We`ll see what happens.  But we had a very nice dinner, and at that time,

he told me, You are not under investigation, which I knew anyway.


HOLT:  That was one meeting.  What were the other two?


TRUMP:  First of all, when you`re under investigation, you`re giving all

sorts of documents and everything.  I knew I was under.  And I heard it was

stated at the committee.  You had some committee level that I wasn`t. 

Number one.


HOLT:  So that didn`t come directly from him.


TRUMP:  Then during the phone call, he said it.  And then during another

phone call, he said it.  So he said it once at dinner, and then he said it

twice during phone calls.


HOLT:  Did you call him?


TRUMP:  In one case, I called him.  In one case, he called me.


HOLT:  And did you ask, Am I under investigation?


TRUMP:  I actually asked him, yes.  I said, If it`s possible, will you let

me know, am I under investigation?  He said, You are not under



HOLT:  But he`s given sworn testimony that there`s an ongoing investigation

into the Trump campaign and possible collusion with the Russian government.


TRUMP:  Right.


HOLT:  You were the centerpiece of the Trump campaign.




HOLT:  So was he being truthful when…


TRUMP:  I know that I`m not under investigation, me personally.  I`m not

talking about campaigns.  I`m not talking about anything else.  I`m not

under investigation.




MATTHEWS:  Michael, Gene, this is like a deposition.  I have never seen a

president submit himself to this.  Why is he – first of all, Lester`s a

pro and he knows how to ask the question.  But it`s like he`s talking him

into a perjury problem because he made him directly make these claims –

three conversations, two on the phone.  He was basically voicing the words

he says that Comey used.


ROBINSON:  Exactly.


STEELE:  The president will pivot and deflect and move to another



MATTHEWS:  But why is he giving us…


STEELE:  … later on.


MATTHEWS:  … all this information because it can all be checked?


STEELE:  Because…


MATTHEWS:  Well, maybe it can`t be.




STEELE:  It`s hard to check.  The only way you check this is have Mr. Comey

come out and say whether or not he did, in fact, on three occasions give

the president, twice by phone, once at dinner, the heads-up that he was not

being investigated.  Now, you know, I know a little bit about this process.


ROBINSON:  Yes, right.


STEELE:  Typically, given that level of investigation, you`re not going to

go in and confirm or deny that.  I mean – and the other thing…


MATTHEWS:  Who wouldn`t confirm or deny it?


STEELE:  Comey wouldn`t.




STEELE:  But again, let`s take it back.  Remember how exercised everyone

got about a certain plane on a certain tarmac with the attorney general and

the former president of the United States and what went on there?




STEELE:  Hello?




STEELE:  Are we not in that same space here again where you have the

attorney general – the FBI director was saying to someone who`s under an

active investigation…




MATTHEWS:  If a senator makes one little phone call, of either party,

either gender makes a phone call to a regulatory agency about some pal of

theirs, that`s a problem.  You can`t – how`s herb`s case going over there?


ROBINSON:  Exactly.


MATTHEWS:  That`s a problem.




ROBINSON:  That`s a problem.


MATTHEWS:  Anyway, the president came under bipartisan criticism today for

those comments to Lester Holt about James Comey.  Let`s watch.




TRUMP:  Look, he`s a showboat.  He`s a grandstander.  The FBI has been in

turmoil.  You know that.  I know that.  Everybody knows that.  You take a

look at the FBI a year ago, it was in virtual turmoil less than a year ago. 

It hasn`t recovered from that.




MATTHEWS:  So he`s going back to a year ago and saying that that`s why he`s

concerned about the way they may have helped Hillary in the campaign.


ROBINSON:  Once again, he`s talking about – right.


MATTHEWS:  This is going back to the scene of the crime.


Anyway, the chair and vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee,

Richard Burr, who I`m really counting on to do this job here, and Mark

Warner, responded to that.  Let`s watch.




SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA:  I found him to be one of the most

ethical, upright, straightforward individuals I`ve had the opportunity to

work with.


SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA:  I thought he`d made some mistakes last

fall, but I never called for his resignation.  I thought he was a straight

shooter.  And frankly, I`m offended at the president`s comments today. 

This is a continuing pattern of disrespecting the men and women who serve

in our intelligence community.




MATTHEWS:  I think the president proved again today with Lester Holt he

fears two kinds of people, straight reporters for the front page.  Can`t

stand them, factual reporting.  He can deal with any kind of left-wing

opinion.  He doesn`t mind opinion.  I`m sorry.  He can live with you.  He

can live with me.  He can live with any attitude…




MATTHEWS:  He likes it, in fact, in a weird way.  He relishes…


ROBINSON:  Yes, he does.


MATTHEWS:  But he`s afraid of straight facts on the front page.  He`s

afraid of public servants who do their job and are not political.


ROBINSON:  Exactly.


MATTHEWS:  Like Sally Yates and this guy.


ROBINSON:  And who don`t owe him.  They don`t owe him.




MATTHEWS:  … he hates because they possess the truth.


ROBINSON:  And he – look, there was just no – he could not abide having

the FBI, which is investigating his campaign, run by a guy who didn`t owe

him, who didn`t owe him his job, who didn`t owe him his loyalty.


MATTHEWS:  As you know, as a Watergate, “Washington Post” guy, who brought

down Nixon?  It wasn`t just Woodward and Bernstein.  It was the sources

they had, the FBI…


ROBINSON:  Exactly.




ROBINSON:  Exactly.  Exactly.


MATTHEWS:  Mark Felt (ph).  Anyway, Lester Holt…


ROBINSON:  They know a lot.


MATTHEWS:  Lester – what?


ROBINSON:  They know a lot.




MATTHEWS:  Lester Holt asked – and Trump knows what they know.  President

– he asked President Trump about his commitment to the Russian

investigation.  Let`s watch that.




HOLT:  What you said a moment ago about supporting the idea of

investigation, a lot of people would find it hard to believe that the man

who just said that tweeted very recently, It`s a total hoax.  It`s a

taxpayer charade.


TRUMP:  Oh, I think that looking into me and the campaign – look, I have

nothing to do.  This was set up by the Democrats.  There`s no collusion

between me and my campaign and the Russians.  The other thing is the

Russians did not affect the vote, and everybody seems to think that.


HOLT:  There is an investigation under way, though, an FBI investigation. 

Is that a charade?


TRUMP:  Well, I don`t know if it`s an FBI or – there`s so many

investigations.  I don`t know if it`s an FBI investigation or if it`s

Congress, if it`s the Senate.


HOLT:  Well, James Comey testified there was an FBI investigation.


TRUMP:  Well, yes, but I think they`re also helping the House and the

Senate.  So you probably have FBI, but you have House, you have Senate. 

They have other investigations.




MATTHEWS:  Look at him, he`s actually denying there that there is an FBI



ROBINSON:  What`s he talking about?


MATTHEWS:  If you listen to him, he`s saying it could be them just doing

the bidding of the House and the Senate.  That`s not true.  We found out

from Comey that they`ve been investigating him since last summer.


STEELE:  Since July of last year…




STEELE:  Since July of last year, before we knew.


ROBINSON:  He says this is set up by the Democrats?  I don`t – you know,

where – where does this come from?  He`s just making stuff up.  He`s

making stuff up.


STEELE:  Well, and I think that`s where guys like Comey get to a point

where I believe, now that he`s a private citizen, may say, Enough is

enough, short of, you know, disclosing something that`s classified.  It

will be interesting to see him before a Senate committee talking about the

very things that he knows.


MATTHEWS:  You cover politics.  You are politics.  Let me ask you this.  It

seems to me that Trump`s made a calculation in firing this guy and knowing

there`ll be a backfire from that.  He knows the guy will come back at him. 

Whatever he has to do, he`ll get back at him because he`s had his career

attacked, his credibility (INAUDIBLE)


I think Trump made a very calculated decision, which is, I can survive what

he knows now about me because I – or else I wouldn`t be firing the guy

because I know he`s going to go out and spread it around, whatever he`s

got, and his people already have it.


What I can`t take is what they`re going to get to.  So I`m willing to do a

queen`s sacrifice, like in chess.  I`m going to give away – I`m going to

give away how angry people are going to be for a week because I don`t want

this thing going on at full steam for another year because they`re going to

get to whatever it is, Gene, you were talking about.  We don`t know what it



STEELE:  And I`ll make another queen.  And I`ll make another queen

(INAUDIBLE) his appointment.


MATTHEWS:  Well, that`s – I don`t know if he`ll get away with that.


ROBINSON:  Well, see  We`ll see what they get away with.


STEELE:  I`ll make another queen.


ROBINSON:  I mean, it…


MATTHEWS:  Maybe it`s Merrick Garland?  What do you think?




MATTHEWS:  Merrick Garland somebody (INAUDIBLE) why don`t you name Merrick





STEELE:  Some folks are floating Joe Lieberman.  I mean…


ROBINSON:  It`s not an easy thing to stop an FBI investigation in its

tracks, right, because they`re a bunch of bulldogs…




MATTHEWS:  … play harder now or…


ROBINSON:  And this sort of thing tends to make them mad.  And so – I

mean, it does.


STEELE:  It does.


ROBINSON:  It tends to make them mad.  So you know, I hope the president,

from his point of view, put that into his calculation because it`s not





MATTHEWS:  … he`s trying to decapitate them by getting rid of…




ROBINSON:  I mean, the acting head of the FBI has now promised to come up

to the Hill and testify…




ROBINSON:  … if there`s any interference from the White House.


MATTHEWS:  And also, McCabe is also vouching for Comey now, saying he was a

respected leader.


STEELE:  But the key thing to what you said is the president still doesn`t

know what else they know.




STEELE:  There`s a whole `nother universe of stuff that…




ROBINSON:  … how far they got.


MATTHEWS:  Well, here`s Lester question to President Trump about Sally

Yates`s testimony this week about Michael Flynn.




HOLT:  General Flynn is a part of this investigation, as you know.  Sally

Yates recently testified that the White House was notified that he had been

compromised.  He was at risk of being blackmailed.  It was 18 days later

that he was finally fired.  During that 18 days, he had access, I assume,

to all the nation`s top secrets.  One day, you meet on the issue of



TRUMP:  Right.


HOLT:  … and you fire him in a humiliating way while he`s sitting in a

room with his colleagues and it`s appearing on the TV.


TRUMP:  Because my White House counsel, Don McGahn, came back to me and did

not sound like an emergency of any – it didn`t make it sound like he was -

- you know, and she actually didn`t make it sound that way, either, in the

hearings the other day, like it had to be done immediately.


This man has served for many years.  He`s a general.  He`s, in my opinion,

a very good person.  I believed that it would be very unfair to hear from

somebody who we don`t even know and immediately run out and fire a general. 



HOLT:  She was the acting attorney general at the time.


TRUMP:  My White House counsel came to me.  They had, I believe, two

meetings, and we ultimately fired.  But we fired for a different reason.


HOLT:  Did you know that he had received payments from the Russian





HOLT:  … that he had received payments from the Turkish government?


TRUMP:  No.  But Obama perhaps knew because he had clearance from the Obama

administration, and his clearance – and this is something they never want

to report.  He had clearance from the Obama administration, the highest

clearance you can have.




MATTHEWS:  You know, if I were Stasi or somebody going through this thin,

this tape over and over again, I would hear something there.  And what I

heard was, We fired him for a different reason.  And that`s what I think

happened with Comey.


ROBINSON:  Yes, I know.


MATTHEWS:  We went after last year because we were worried about next year.




MATTHEWS:  I think he gave away something right there.


STEELE:  I think that`s very true.  And I think that that`s part of the

problem.  This narrative has a lot of parts that still have not…


MATTHEWS:  Where`s Reince, your old buddy – I`m not being sarcastic, which

I always am for fun – Reince Priebus, who succeed you as chair of the

Republican Party – he`s supposed to be – he`s supposed to be chief of





MATTHEWS:  He`s supposed to keep things organized and tell him what`s going

on.  Trump doesn`t know what`s going on the way we`re looking at him.  We

all see him.  He`s like a little bug on the table.  We know what he`s



STEELE:  But – but I think your assumption is…


MATTHEWS:  We know he`s…


STEELE:  … that hasn`t been informed or otherwise advised of what`s going

on and he`s chosen to ignore that.


ROBINSON:  Right.  Right.  Which he may have.


STEELE:  And so the other part of that as reported earlier about the

meeting the next day after the firing in the senior staff meeting, it was a

line item that would say, Well, you`ve all heard about the news last night. 

Moving on.


So clearly, this White House has an attitude about this that they don`t see

not just the danger that`s at the surface but how that`s leaking down

beneath the surface and rotting away the foundation of the administration.


MATTHEWS:  I smell Steve Bannon.  I think he`s back.




ROBINSON:  He never went away.


MATTHEWS:  … take somebody of that nationalistic, Screw you, you know,

monarchical, We run this place, attitude to the way to fire people like

this firing.  By the way, there`ll be more firings because there are more

public servants out there.




MATTHEWS:  There`s a lot of decent public servants-…




STEELE:  … quitting, too, on their own.


MATTHEWS:  And they`re not highly paid.  They do the job for the country,

and they`re not going to take this crap.  Anyway, Michael Steele, thank

you, Eugene Robinson.


Coming up, did President Trump use Rosenstein as a fall guy?  Do you think

so, maybe, in the Russian caper?


And the Senate Intel Committee heard from Acting FBI Director Andrew

McCabe, another stand-up guy, today, who contradicted the story out of the

White House00 yesterday.  He testified Comey had the support of the rank

and file agents at the FBI.  Senator Angus King and U.S. Congressman Mike

Quigley of Illinois, who both sit on the congressional Intelligence

Committees, will be here to set the record straight.


And more reaction tonight to Lester Holt`s exclusive interview – and what

an interview – with President Trump.  You got to wonder.  He showed up. 

Well, I give Trump that.  He didn`t have much to say that made any sense,

but he did show up for Lester.  The HARDBALL roundtable will be here to

discuss it.


Finally, let me finish tonight with “Trump Watch.”  Yes, he won`t like this

one, either.


This is HARDBALL, where the action is.




MATTHEWS:  President Trump has signed an executive order establishing a

commission to review alleged voter fraud and voter suppression.  The

Presidential Commission on Election Integrity will be spearheaded by Vice

President Pence and focus on, quote, “improper voting, fraudulent voter

registrations and fraudulent voting.”  Well, I think we said that.


President Trump has repeatedly made claims that the election was rigged

against him and that he actually won the popular vote if you deduce the

millions of people who vote illegally,


Well, the panel, which consists of both Democrats and Republicans, is

expected to meet for the first time within a few months.


We`ll be right back






QUESTION:  Is the White House`s assertion that Rod Rosenstein decided on

his own, after being confirmed, to review Comey`s performance? 








Welcome back to HARDBALL. 


That was Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders yesterday – mark

that name and that day, yesterday – saying it was Attorney General Rod

Rosenstein, not President Trump, who initiated the process that led to the

firing of FBI Director James Comey. 


Sean Spicer also said late Tuesday night that President Trump did not

direct the move, saying of Rosenstein, “It was all him,” Rosenstein. 


Reports today not only contradict those statements, but also reveal that

Rosenstein might be uncomfortable with the messaging from the White House

you just saw. 


And as “The Washington Post” reports on Trump`s meeting with the attorney

general and his deputy, “Trump gave Sessions and Rosenstein a directive to

explain in writing the case against Comey.”


So they were told to do what they did. 


“The Post” also reports that following Comey`s departure, “Rosenstein

threatened to resign after the narrative emerging from the White House on

Tuesday evening cast him as a prime mover of the decision to fire Comey and

that the president acted only on his recommendation.”


Well, in response, two anonymous sources at the Justice Department – catch

this, anonymous – disputed that report telling NBC News that Rosenstein

did not threaten to resign. 


Anyway, why would anybody go anonymous if they`re defending the president

of the United States they work for?  It makes no sense, unless they`re

embarrassed by their job. 


I`m joined right now by two of the authors of the “Washington Post” report. 

Ashley Parker is a White House correspondent.  And, of course, Robert Costa

is national political reporter and an MSNBC analyst.


Thank you both. 


Yesterday, it looked like – and the day before – it looked like the

president wanted everybody to think the president was simply playing an

administerial role, that he was given a paper that said, we got to get rid

of Comey because of what he did last year with Hillary Clinton, and you

signed it off – sign off on it, Mr. President, and it will be done



And today we find out that the president was like the boss.  I made that

decision before these gentlemen came in to see me.  They may have made a

recommendation, but my decision was made. 


Which is it?  These are dramatic developments.  And the vice president

spent two days telling the wrong story. 


ASHLEY PARKER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  I think it`s the latter.  It`s what

the president said.  He had already made up his mind to fire Director Comey

well before he received that memo from the Department of Justice.  And…


MATTHEWS:  Then why the cover story?  Why the fall guy? 


PARKER:  Well, I think it`s very tough, it`s certainly politically tricky

to fire the director of the FBI when the FBI has an active, open

investigation into if your campaign possibly was involved in collusion with

the Russian government. 


And so I think, originally, it was a lot more palatable to say, you know, I

was basically ordered to do this, you know, under the pretense of this

directive and this agency telling him to do it. 


But as news reports sort of told the true story, you saw that narrative

change in a very quick 24 hours, and then the president came out, and his

deputies also came out and said what they said. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, Robert, you heard the president.  I don`t know if you were

listening to the program just a moment ago, but Trump used those very words

to describe another instance where somebody used a different reason to get

something done they wanted done, but wouldn`t – but did a sort of a decoy

duck thing.  So, the real reason I`m doing it over here, and, in fact, I`m

doing it over here. 


And there he – that would be an explanation.  He got rid of him because

he`s coming after him on Russia.  He doesn`t give a nickel to what happened

last year where Hillary Clinton got hurt by the actions of – why would he

care now about what happened to Hillary to help him get elected, when he,

of course, brought out that investigation 11 days before the election? 

What is Trump up to?


ROBERT COSTA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, and of all the people

involved, Rosenstein, we`re told in the course of our reporting, is alarmed

that he`s being seen as the impetus, that his rationale laid out in this

memorandum provided to the president both in a conversation that began on

Monday and ended up in the memo on Tuesday.


He thinks the president and he knows that the president, based – according

to people who know him, made the decision long before that Monday meeting

with the attorney general and with Rosenstein.  Then they used this Monday

meeting as a way to have some kind of cover for the decision when it was



But as people on Capitol Hill were telling me just a few hours ago, they`re

really unhappy in the Republican Party about how the White House handled

it, because they feel exposed.  And they were articulating this narrative

that was laid out by the White House, and then the president comes out in

the Lester Holt interview and says, it actually wasn`t like that. 


MATTHEWS:  Do you know why they didn`t ask him about that in the meeting

with Burr today and Warner, why it didn`t come up? 


COSTA:  You mean the meeting with Rosenstein? 


MATTHEWS:  Wasn`t Rosenstein up on the Hill today, and he didn`t get asked

about this? 


COSTA:  He was. 


MATTHEWS:  How did that happen?  It doesn`t make sense, why he didn`t take

the opportunity to say, look, I didn`t initiate this thing.  Trump did. 

The president did.  Do we know?


COSTA:  So far – look, there`s a lot of scrutiny now, just not on the

White House, but on the congressional committees.  What`s the Senate

Intelligence Committee going to do in light of the – in the wake of Comey? 


You already have the House Intelligence Committee have the problem of the

chairman, Devin Nunes of California, recusing himself because of his

alliance with the White House and the way all those events unfolded that

you have deeply covered. 


Now the pressure is on Burr and the Republican-controlled House and Senate. 

How are they going to handle this White House?  So far, they`re falling in

line publicly, but I`m telling you, Chris, in the Cloak Room of the Senate

and the House – the Senate was in session today.  When I was talking to

some senators privately, they`re grousing about the way this was handled at

the White House.


And they`re saying they`re going to have to, politically, to cover

themselves do something it terms of investigation, furthering the



MATTHEWS:  Ashley, it`s hard to get analysis.  I know you can`t deal with

this as a straight reporter.  But it seems like we have turned a bend now.


It isn`t about Trump defending Trumpism, looking out for the working-class

guy about a loss of factory jobs or concerns about illegal immigration. 

It`s about Trump himself covering his rear end.  I just wonder whether he

really has the political cover that he`s had on other issues, now that it`s

him.  It`s about him. 


PARKER:  Yes, he certainly is losing the political cover in Washington,

even, as Bob just said, among Republicans.  They`re increasingly

frustrated, in part because they feel exposed. 


They feel they went out and they parroted these White House talking points,

and then had the White House do a total 180.  I think it`s an interesting

question of what Trump voters think.


MATTHEWS:  Yes, we don`t know yet, do we?


PARKER:  And we don`t know, because you have to keep in mind that, for

months, Comey was sort of this – the only bipartisan issue everyone could

agree on was that Comey had botched everything. 


That didn`t mean he deserved to be fired.  That wasn`t necessarily what

Democrats were calling for.  But it is unclear if Trump voters will turn on

him for this. 


MATTHEWS:  You know, I just saw “High Noon,” the old movie.  And when the

marshal has to defend himself, not the town anymore, the town doesn`t care. 

It`s tough business. 


But politics is about your interests.  And I`m not sure the average soddy

buster who voted for Trump really gives a damn about covering up him for

something he did with regard to Russia.


Anyway, thank you. 


And the other irony is, he may have been trying to do something good with

Russia.  He may have been trying to end the war in Syria by going over and

developing some footsie deal with Putin that may have been for the interest

of the United States.  And in the beginning, he said, I may have done that. 

And then he spent all these months covering up what he may have done for



This is the weird thing, Robert.  You and I have to talk about this,

because you have been covering this guy when he first started to do this

Russia thing.  And I wonder whether he`s covering up something he shouldn`t

be covering up.  He should have been saying from the beginning, yes, I have

been trying to cut a deal with Russia for the interest of world peace. 


By the way, it`s the reason that Nixon got in trouble with Kissinger, who

said, stop all the leaking, let`s create the plumbers, all that stuff? 

It`s interesting.  Some guys get in huge trouble for doing the right thing

because they do it wrong.  Anyway…


COSTA:  Well, I think – well, I think you got…




COSTA:  Real quick, you have to separate Trump`s difference on ideology. 

He`s not a traditional Republican hawk.  He is thinking about Russia in new



But that`s a separate issue from Russian interference and possible work

with Trump campaign associates.  Those are two different things related to



MATTHEWS:  Good work.  So true.  The wrong way.  He should have done it

that way. 


Thank you, Ashley Parker.  Thank you, Robert Costa. 


Up next:  With so many people crying foul on what we`re hearing from the

Trump administration, the Intelligence Committees of both the House and the

Senate have their work cut out for them to flesh out the truth, don`t you

think?  And we`re going to hear from members of both of those committees in

a second – actually, a minute or so – coming up here on HARDBALL. 


This is it, HARDBALL, where the action is. 




MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 


In order to justify the firing of the now former FBI Director James Comey,

the White House has maintained that Comey had lost the confidence of the

bureau he led. 


Well, however, in his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee

today, the acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe, made it clear that the White

House is wrong. 




SEN. MARTIN HEINRICH (D), NEW MEXICO:  Is it accurate that the rank and

file no longer supported Director Comey? 


ANDREW MCCABE, ACTING FBI DIRECTOR:  No, sir, that is not accurate. 


Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI, and still does to this

day.  The vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep and positive

connection to Director Comey. 




MATTHEWS:  I like this guy. 


And the acting director also contradicted the administration when it comes

to the size and scope of the ongoing Russian investigation, which the White

House has downplayed. 




SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE:  Yesterday, a White House press spokesman said

that this is one of the smallest things on the plate of the FBI. 


Is this a small investigation in relation to all the other work that you`re



MCCABE:  Sir, we consider it to be a highly significant investigation. 


KING:  So you would not characterize it as one of the smallest things

you`re engaged in? 


MCCABE:  I would not. 




MATTHEWS:  I`m joined right now by Senator Angus King of Maine, who sits on

the Senate Intelligence Committee. 


Senator, do you believe what comes out of the White House these days? 


KING:  No.  I don`t see how you can. 




KING:  We have had two rationalizations for this firing in the last 48

hours, and both of them have been proved manifestly untrue. 


The first one was that it was based on the recommendation of Rod

Rosenstein`s memo.  The president himself today said that wasn`t true.  And

then they talk about the FBI being a mess, they have lost confidence.  And

the acting director said that wasn`t true. 


I talked to a friend of mine, Chris, of 30 years who just retired as a

senior official at the FBI.  He characterized those comments as nonsense

and unbelievable, that Comey is one of the most deeply respected men who

has led the FBI in many, many years. 


And so they keep throwing out new rationales, and they keep being proven

untrue.  And it is disturbing.  There`s no doubt about it. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, here again is what Donald Trump says about James Comey

today in his interview with Lester Holt.  Let`s watch. 





He`s a grandstander.  The FBI has been in turmoil.  You know that.  I know

that.  Everybody knows that. 


You take a look at the FBI a year ago, it was in virtual turmoil, less than

a year ago.  It hasn`t recovered from that. 




MATTHEWS:  Well, Senator, I have never seen – well, he`s trashing a guy he

just fired.  OK, that`s pretty rough business. 


But he also said that Comey on three different occasions told him he wasn`t

under investigation.  Do you believe that conversation, those three

conversations ever occurred? 


KING:  There`s no way to tell. 


He was more specific on the Lester Holt interview about Comey telling him

that, Director Comey telling him that.  It would surprise me that Director

Comey would say something like that, because, number one, the investigation

isn`t over.  I don`t know how he could make such an assertion. 




KING:  You know, we all have a tendency to hear what we want to hear, but I

would be very surprised. 


But give me a break.  Donald Trump calling somebody a showboat and a





KING:  I mean, and I got to tell you, Comey doesn`t come to Congress

because he volunteers and says, I want to come.  He is asked to come,

invited to come by the various committees.


And that – he is the antithesis of a showboat.  I have been referring to

him for two years – when I talk to friends, they say, what`s Comey like? 

The best word I can come up with, he is a Boy Scout. 


I disagree with him on some things.  And we have had disagreements in the

past.  I have gotten to know him.  I have four years on the Intelligence

Committee.  I have probably been with him 10 or 15 times. 




KING:  He`s a straight arrow.  And to talk about him being a grandstander,

just it absolutely doesn`t pass the straight face test, particularly coming

from this president. 


MATTHEWS:  So, the president is the showboater, and he`s the Boy Scout.  I

like it already.


Thank you, Senator Angus King, for that interpretation. 




MATTHEWS:  I`m joined – I`m serious.


I`m joined right now by Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois, who also sits

on the Intelligence Committee, in his case the House committee.


Again, the question to you, Congressman, do you believe what you`re hearing

from the White House, the president`s various accounts of what he calls



REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS:  I mean, there`s a pattern here of

deflection, distraction, denial.  And the fourth D that comes to mind with

me is, unfortunately – and if I can say this with respect – delusional. 


MATTHEWS:  What do you think he – he clearly doesn`t want an investigation

into whatever happened between his campaign people and the Russians.  That

is just – all the world – I think if you look at the headlines in the

world, they will say that was the reason he fired the chief investigator of

those relations. 


What do you think?  Is there any more to this story than the obvious? 


QUIGLEY:  Well, look, let`s look at the pattern.  Obviously, he didn`t like

the first open hearing in which Director Comey said there is an

investigation, first time it was said publicly. 


And the director also said that there was Russian hacking into this process

and that they did it to help Mr. Trump and to hurt Mrs. Clinton.  I`m sure

he didn`t like that. 


Watch what happened around these times.  That was the time in which the

distraction began, when the president accused President Obama of

wiretapping Trump Tower.  That`s when another public hearing was canceled. 

It`s when, you know, the excursions to the White House took place, the

masking/unmasking issues, anything to deflect from the reality of the



And let`s not remember – I mean, just remember, this week, we had the

testimony of Ms. Yates, who he can`t fire anymore.  And we had the

revelation that the director was asking for more resources to complete this



MATTHEWS:  What do you think the impact was of Ms. Yates` – Sally Yates`

performance that we all watched on television, and you watched on the Hill? 

What do you think the impact of that was on Trump this week? 


QUIGLEY:  Yes, I`m sure it wasn`t his best day. 


The fact is, whenever he`s confronted with reality, he behaves poorly.  She

has brought the reality back to the situation, that the White House knew,

far before they fired General Yates, what had taken place, that he was

susceptible to blackmail, that he had lied to them, and that there were

other issues with him. 


They just can`t accept the reality of the situation, and they certainly

won`t cooperate with this investigation. 


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Thank you so much, U.S. Congressman Mike

Quigley of Illinois. 


Up next, the HARDBALL roundtable will tackle why we`re getting so many

mixed messages from the White House. 


Plus, they`ll have reaction to what President Trump told Lester Holt, which

is on the news tonight.  You`re watching HARDBALL.




MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.


In a sit-down interview today with Lester Holt, President Trump left some

of his closest aides and allies holding the bag.  Yesterday, the vice

president told reporters seven times that Trump fired Comey because of

Rosenstein`s recommendation.  Here are a few of them. 





and decisive leadership here to put the safety and security of the American

people first by accepting the recommendation of the deputy attorney

general, because of the actions that the deputy attorney general outlined

to the president.  The American people expect a president to act on the

recommendations of those within the administration who are charged with

oversight.  In this case, the deputy attorney general, when he brought the

recommendation to the president that the director of the FBI should be

removed, President Trump provided the kind of strong and decisive

leadership the American people have come to be accustomed from him. 




MATTHEWS:  Well, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was taken to

task for her contradictory statements over the past two days.  Here`s what

she said. 





process, I gave you the best information I had at the moment.  I still

don`t think that it contradicts the president`s decision. 




MATTHEWS:  What seems to be clear here is we`re witnessing a White House

underwater and desperate for a lifeboat.


For more, I`m joined by our roundtable tonight.  Ken Vogel, chief

investigative reporter for “Politico”, Kathleen Parker with “The Washington

Post,” Clarence Page, columnist for “The Chicago Tribune.”


All of you, I find it interesting that the president decided to come clean

today, at least partially, and say that he wanted Comey out of there for

his own reasons.  They weren`t Rosenstein`s reasons.  It had nothing to do

with the little letters that were printed up for the occasion because if

you listen to Trump, he said sometimes people do thinks for different

reasons than they admit. 


And he didn`t quite admit it was about Russia, but he dropped the whole

cover story.  He left that flying out the window. 


KEN VOGEL, POLITICO:  Yes, and I think people assume that`s why he did it

in the first place, that it was just a gut reaction.  So, for the White

House staff all the way up to the vice president to come up with this

justification and then present it even if it seems disingenuous, and to

have Trump come and wipe their legs out from under them is extremely

frustrating.  That`s what we hear –




MATTHEWS:  We`re arguing, how do you pronounce the name?  We figured out it

was Stein because you had to check with the fellow.  In other words, his

debut on the national stage, he`s out there being used as a fall guy by the



KATHLEEN PARKER, THE WASHINGTON POST:  He`s suddenly the guy that`s

responsible for this whole massacre.  You know, no one doubts ever that

Trump does exactly what he wants to.  He does the counterintuitive thing



He also does this thing – he seems to hold his staff and even his vice

president in contempt.  It`s sort of like, well, you guys really screwed

up, but I`m in charge and this is how I do things, you know?  And even

though, it`s – I mean, I feel sorry for them frankly because there`s no

guidance for them and they`re kind of stuck –


MATTHEWS:  Who does he care about?  His family? 


PARKER:  He cares about himself, my dear. 


MATTHEWS:  I think he cares about Ivanka and her husband and maybe a few of

the other kids. 


VOGEL:  He cares about people going out there and defending him on TV, but

he`s put them in this untenable position where it`s almost impossible to do



PARKER:  It`s always, always, always about loyalty.  You know, people who

work in the administration are required to sign an oath of loyalty.  And if

they`re not willing to do that, they have to leave.


MATTHEWS:  That is – 


PARKER:  Or people do not –


MATTHEWS:  Is this reporting you`re giving us now? 


PARKER:  I have a friend who is leaving because she refused to sign this



MATTHEWS:  That`s not very American. 


PARKER:  Well, no, it isn`t, is it?  There`s a lot about this

administration that`s not very –


MATTHEWS:  Your oath is to our country under the Constitution.  That`s your

first responsibility as a citizen generally, but as a public official, it`s

your prime responsibility, Clarence. 


CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE:  These are NDAs, non-disclosure agreements. 

That`s what he`s referring about, you know?  And it`s like there`s – well,

he really cares about those people who will care about him, but he also

cares about being in control. 


I think that was the big frustration with Comey because he`s under control

of nobody.  That`s why both right and left have reasons to have grudges

against him. 


MATTHEWS:  Right, the one thing you have to agree on Comey because he`s

disliked by so many people is he is his own person.  I think he`s loyal to

the agency, I think he`s loyal to the agency.  And they got caught in that

lie today, and it was a lie to say that he somehow not respected by the

troops, special agents.  And according to McCabe who went up to the Hill

and said right to the camera, yes, he is respected. 


VOGEL:  I mean, he was in a very tough position as well, where if he had

withheld the information, you know, going back to why the left hates him,

if he had withheld the information about the Clinton investigation and then

something were to have come out after the election, then they would have

piled on him.  Now, he`s in the sort of opposite position. 


MATTHEWS:  Kathleen, respond to this.  We`re going to show you one more

bite.  This is an amazing interview and we`re proud of it.  Here`s an

exchange with Lester Holt and President Trump on the current investigations

into Russia.  We`re going right into the heart here.  Let`s watch. 




HOLT:  When you put out tweets, it`s a total hoax.  It`s a taxpayer

charade, and you`re looking for a new FBI director, are you not sending

this person a message to lay off? 


TRUMP:  No, I`m not doing that.  I think that we have to get back to work. 

But I want to find out – I want to get to the bottom.  If Russia hacked,

if Russia did anything having to do with our election, I want to know about



HOLT:  Well, there`s already intelligence from virtually every intelligence

agency that, yes, that happened. 


TRUMP:  I`ll tell you this.  If Russia or anybody else is trying to

interfere with our elections, I think it`s a horrible thing, and I want to

get to the bottom of it, and I want to make sure it will never, ever





MATTHEWS:  You know, I was thinking of the East German inquisitions in the

lives of others and I`m just wondering, I`d love to study that tape over

and over again.  When Trump is telling the truth, when he`s making up

stuff, when he`s scared, there`s so much facial stuff going on, Kathleen. 


PARKER:  That would have been a reasonable thing for him to say six months

ago, eight months ago, but we`ve all known this.  We all know this.  I`d

like to introduce the president to “The Washington Post,” for example, the

newspaper that he could read and know this for a fact.


MATTHEWS:  Know what? 


PARKER:  That we were hacked and that this did happen, that Russia –


MATTHEWS:  He denied the FBI is investigating it. 




PARKER:  Suddenly, he wants to get to the bottom of this.  That`s what

everyone around him is trying to do, and he`s doing everything he can to –


MATTHEWS:  How can he deny that the FBI is investigating him, which he did? 

He said they may be working for the House or Senate, Clarence, but they`re

not really doing it on their own, I don`t think. 


PARKER:  He said, I don`t even know if there`s an FBI investigation. 


PAGE:  He`s trying to say they`re investigating his campaign but not him,

which he`s a central figure.  That`s a real stretch. 


MATTHEWS:  Yes, anyway, he`s riding in that car.  Anyway, the roundtable is

sticking with us. 


And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.  We`ll be





MATTHEWS:  Well, you can play HARDBALL all week long if you want online. 

Follow the show on Twitter and Instagram and like us on Facebook. 


And we`ll be right back.




MATTHEWS:  We`re back with the roundtable, the HARDBALL roundtable. 


And, Ken, tell me something I don`t know. 


VOGEL:  Well, Chris, in the absence of any specific information from the

FBI about what they`re looking into in regards to Trump`s team and their

ties to Russia, there`s a lot of speculation out there today the FBI raided

a GOP consulting firm in Annapolis, Maryland.  All the speculation was it

was either tied to Trump, his campaign, or Paul Manafort.  I did some

investigating on that. 


MATTHEWS:  Who was it? 


VOGEL:  Absolutely no ties.  I mean –


MATTHEWS:  Who was in Annapolis? 


VOGEL:  Oh, it`s a firm called Strategic – Campaign Strategic Group. 


MATTHEWS:  Who`s the bold faced name in that community? 


VOGEL:  The one guy they were looking at is a guy who used to work with

Charlie Black, so there was some thought –


MATTHEWS:  Black, Manafort and Stone? 


VOGEL:  Exactly.




MATTHEWS:  That firm is unbelievable. 


Go ahead.


PARKER:  OK, mine is easy and quick.  Aetna, the third largest insurance

company, has decided to drop all of their insurance programs in Obamacare



MATTHEWS:  Well, that`s pleasant news. 


PAGE:  Big one. 


Oh, you mentioned earlier that the Trump administration is having a

commission on voter fraud. 


MATTHEWS:  Oh, yes, I really believe that one. 


PAGE:  Yes.  The Democrats are preparing to deal with whatever that means,

targeting areas where voter registration and other impediments might be

enforced.  They`ve been doing this for the last couple of election cycles,

so they`re getting pretty good at it. 


MATTHEWS:  I heard there`s like 30 illegal voters in the country. 


Anyway, thank you. 


PAGE:  That`s about right. 


MATTHEWS:  Ken Vogel, Kathleen Parker and Clarence Page.


When we return, let me finish tonight with Trump Watch.  You`re watching





MATTHEWS:  Trump Watch, Thursday, May 11th, 2017. 


These are the times that try Trump`s soul.  He spent the last several hours

trying to regain a story – regain control of a story he created himself. 

Did he fire James Comey?  Well, for two days, he had his people paid by the

government, working for him, putting out this story that he the president

was only following the recommendation of the deputy attorney general.  He

simply accepted that guy`s recommendation. 


Well, today when Lester Holt asked him for the truth, Trump said he himself

wanted the troublesome, troublesome to Donald Trump, FBI director fired. 

After two days of happily having the deputy A.G. be the fall guy, Trump

confessed the obvious, he admitted he was the one who wanted to get rid of

the FBI director. 


Well, there was another Trump fib flying around out there today, that Comey

had lost the confidence of his agents in the FBI.  Oh, yes?  Well, it turns

out the man who replaced Comey has shot down that notion saying Comey had

great respect among the FBI`s agents.  So there. 


So, we come to the third claim that Trump has made about the matter.  He

said that James Comey told him on three occasions that he was not a subject

of an FBI investigation into his dealings with Russia.  Well, given what

Trump said about Comey on the other related questions, it is hard to

believe this one, isn`t it?


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


“ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES” starts right now. 
















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