Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 7/19/17 Trump-Putin hour-long conversation
Date: July 19, 2017
Guest: James Clapper, Dan Donovan, John Brabender, Dick Durbin, Eric
Swalwell, Joshua Green, Ayesha Rascoe, Ken Vogel
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Donald Trump and Paul Manafort to testify in
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in San Francisco.
There`s breaking news tonight on the Russian front. The Senate Judiciary
Committee has called Donald Trump, Jr., and Paul Manafort to testify in
open hearings next Wednesday. Also coming to Capitol Hill next week, Jared
Kushner. The president`s son-in-law will be interviewed of the Senate
intelligence Committee. This all comes after last week`s revelation that
Kushner, Manafort and Trump, Jr., met with Russians in June of 2016 to get
dirt on Hillary Clinton.
I`m joined right now by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin. He`s on the Judiciary
Committee. Senator, do we know if they`re going to come, the president`s
son and Manafort, the chairman of his campaign last year?
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: No, we don`t have confirmation yet.
They`ve been invited. We hope we don`t have to go any further than to
issue an invitation, but it`s scheduled for Wednesday morning.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe in an open hearing, you`d be in a position
yourself, or other members, to just simply say, We`ve got all the time in
the world, Mr. Trump, tell us all the meetings you had an conversations you
had with the Russians in the last year-and-a-half?
DURBIN: Well, it`s an open format, as you mentioned. The only admonition
we`ve received from the independent counsel is to make certain that the
witnesses testify under oath and publicly. Other than that, no
limitations. So certainly, questions can be asked on a lot of subjects.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about the beginning of this whole thing, at
least what we think is, which is last June, when they met with the Russian
lawyer in which she was apparently speaking on behalf of the Russian
government, which there was a lure put out, a dangle, if you will, to get a
relationship going. And that dangle was, We`re on your side – in the e-
mails to set up that meeting – We`re on the side of Mr. Trump winning this
election, and we`re going to give you dirt on Hillary Clinton to help you
win the election.
Wouldn`t that seem to indicate a beginning of a relationship that carried
all the way through election day?
DURBIN: It certainly could. That`s speculative, but it`s not out of the
question. What we need to do is to hammer down as many specific facts as
possible about what led up to that mattering, what took place at that
meeting, and what was done afterward.
There`s a late-breaking news story tonight, “The New York Times,” that Paul
Manafort owns – owes Russian banks some $17 million. I don`t know any
truth to that, but it could lead to even more questions about Manafort`s
relationship with Russia.
MATTHEWS: Does it look to you like there is – I mean, I`ve used this
reference before because I grew up with the Polaroid film, where it would
develop in front of you. This picture of a Russian relationship with
Trump, where Trump has said from the beginning, you know, he`s willing to
give, apparently, on Ukraine, certainly on Crimea. He`s willing to give on
election meddling, maybe even on the furtherance of continuation of the
Assad regime, if he can get the Russians on our side in fighting ISIS.
And then find out today they`re dropping the support of our government for
the opponents of Assad, the better opponents of Assad. What do you make of
it all as a picture coming into view here?
DURBIN: It`s a tangled web, Chris, when it gets right down to it. And it
starts with the premise this president, unlike other presidents, refuses to
make full disclosure of his financial dealings. Why? What is it that`s
contained therein that concerns him the most? And with all the speculation
about Russia – the investments, the banks, the interlocking relationships
– all of that, of course, leads us to ask even more questions.
You know as well as I do that in this town of Washington, D.C., it`s hardly
ever the crime. It`s the cover-up that becomes the central issue. And
secondly, when you`re caught in one of these situations, you need to make
full disclosure. Now, the disclosures made by Donald Trump, Jr., of his e-
mails last week I thought were full disclosures. Turned out there were a
lot more people in that meeting, for example, than we were initially led to
MATTHEWS: Well, you know, we did discover with Nixon – I mean, I did a
lot of the investigative work myself as a journalist for the San Francisco
papers, and I – you know, Nixon had a lot to hide. You know, he ordered a
break-in of the Brookings Institution, illegal act right there. He ordered
the break-in of the Republican National Committee to make it look like a
Democratic job. He had all this in his head when he got caught with the
break-in of the Democratic headquarters in June of `72. And I`m thinking
is it possible that Trump is have some – does have something really to
worry about here?
MATTHEWS: That he doesn`t want us to know about.
DURBIN: I don`t know the answer, but I`ll tell you this. I`m putting my
money on Bob Mueller. Now, it`s something when a politician says, I`m
going to trust his judgment, some other person. But I know this man. I`ve
known him since he headed up the FBI. I`ve worked with him over the years,
former federal judge, a Republican, combat veteran, so forth. All of these
things tell me he`ll put country first. He`ll handle this professionally.
But certainly, the facts that are starting to emerge are really cascading
on us on a daily basis.
MATTHEWS: Is it your sense that Donald Trump knows more than he`s telling?
DURBIN: Well, of course it is. And you know, he said initially, there
were no contacts between the Russians and the Trump campaign, and now with
the e-mails from his son, it`s clear that wasn`t the case.
MATTHEWS: And do you think he`s still trying to work a deal with the
Russians on Syria?
DURBIN: I have no idea what his ultimate goal is. I don`t know if it`s
related to foreign policy or personal or business-related. I just can`t
tell you what it`s all about. But the fact that there`s such concealment
of basic information and other facts are just leaking out slowly by slowly
raises an awful lot of questions.
MATTHEWS: Thank you so much. It`s great to have you on, Senator Dick
Durbin of Illinois, one of the (INAUDIBLE)
DURBIN: Thanks, Chris.
MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by U.S. Congressman Eric Swalwell of
California. He`s on the Intelligence Committee on the House side. He`s
also – also joining us, “USA Today`s” – one of our favorite reporters,
Heidi Hei – I mean, Heidi Przybyla.
Let me – let me start with the congressman. What do you make of the fact
we`re finally going to get these son and son-in-law and chairman of the
Trump campaign under testimony, under oath?
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Good evening, Chris. Let`s hear as
much as possible. I think the American people are ready to hear just
exactly why they thought meeting with Russians at the time of the campaign
and receiving information on Hillary Clinton that would have been illegally
obtained was a good idea. I think there`s a lot of fair questions for
them. So let`s have the public finally hear it.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know, one – I watch all the hearings and I`m always
depressed by them because the members don`t seem to coordinate their
questions with each other, and everybody`s doing their own thing, playing
their own banjo. And happens is People get away with stuff.
Now, why don`t you just suspend the rules in these committees and say to
theses people, starting with Donald, Jr., I want to know every single –
you`re under oath, buddy. I don`t care if you`re the president`s son,
you`re under oath. And I want to hear every single meeting you`ve had,
every e-mail, every conversation on the phone you`ve had with a Russian in
the last year-and-a-half. And you`d better not miss any because we`re
going to get you on it for perjury. Why don`t you tell them take all the -
- take three hours if you want, buddy. We want everything. This is what
Trey Gowdy said he wants. But yet it never seems to happen. Everybody
goes their different ways in these hearings, and we don`t get the full
story. Your thoughts.
SWALWELL: Coordination is better. If you remember the March 20 hearing
with James Comey, actually, House Intelligence Democrats – we met a number
of times to make sure that we did not do exactly what you said. We wanted
to make sure it was coordinated and that we had a narrative so the American
people understood in a public setting the Trump contacts, personally,
politically and financially. And I thought that teamwork really paid off
because we just cared about making sure that the American people
MATTHEWS: Good. Can you make demand of a witness? We want to know right
now. Take all the time you want. This is an open exam. Every – I mean,
Trey Gowdy suggested – he said ever since – he made a joke of it. Ever
since you saw “Dr. Zhivago,” tell me every Russian you met with. Let`s
SWALWELL: Yes, put it all…
MATTHEWS: Is that a reasonable demand of a witness?
SWALWELL: Yes. Put it all on the table right now. Give us the exhaustive
list from the time the campaign started until today. Who have you met
with? Let`s just hear that first because that list continues to grow only,
Chris, when they`re confronted with the evidence.
MATTHEWS: Yes, it seems to. Anyway, as you mentioned earlier, there`s
some more breaking news tonight and it`s just out tonight. “The New York
Times” reports financial records filed last year in the secretive tax haven
of Cyprus, where Paul J. Manafort kept bank accounts during his years
working in Ukraine and investing with a Russian oligarch, indicate that he
had been in debt to pro-Russian interests by as much as $17 million before
he joined Donald Trump`s president campaign in March 2016.
What is the fact that he was on – he was in debt to all – to that
enormous amount of money to dangerous people in Russia – the oligarchs
don`t play patty-cake. What do you make of that?
SWALWELL: The Russians prey on financial distress. And Chris, this was
something that – testimony we elicited from then director Comey during the
March 20 hearing. He couldn`t go into specifics, but he did acknowledge
that financial distress was a vulnerability in someone that the Russians
would expose, if they could, meaning that they would use that as leverage
And so we want to know if that was the relationship with Paul Manafort, if
that is why the Republican Party platform toward Ukraine changed and why
Carter Page, while he was the chairperson of the campaign, went over to
Moscow when Carter Page was a senior foreign policy adviser for the
campaign. There`s a lot of questions about Paul Manafort`s financial ties
MATTHEWS: Let`s put this element – I`m not sure the rope has been tied
together, but there are two ropes coming at each other. Starting last
June, we now know that there was e-mails out there saying that the Russian
government was out to help Trump win the election. We know that there was
a meeting set up with the president`s son with the purpose of sharing dirt,
if you will, on his adversary at the time, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic
nominee for president. We know they sent out that overture. We`re on your
side, buddy. Let`s meet. We got some dirt on your opponent. We can
actually help you.
And then we watched Trump all through the (INAUDIBLE) saying nice things
about Russia right up until recently, sitting down with him at the G-20 and
chatting away with him for an hour with no one else there We know his son-
in-law was trying to set up a private channel with the Kremlin, all this
nice behavior from our end following what seemed to be an overture of, I
can help you guys politically, from the other end.
How do you put those two ropes together? How do you – can you tie it
SWALWELL: Yes, you can. Chris, it reminds me of when you go to the eye
doctor. You have a vision test. And they ask you, Is it lens number one
or lens number two? Which one is clearer? Which one is blurrier?
The Don, Junior, e-mail chain makes everything clearer. All of the
previous innocent explanations that were offered are no longer so innocent.
And Chris, this excuse that he was just naive and didn`t know what he was
doing – somebody who says, Can we wait to have this information out there
at the end of summer, right before the election, is exactly somebody who
knows what they`re doing.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I think so. Anyway, President Trump spent his campaign
praising, as I said, Vladimir Putin, including after his son found about
that Russian – the Russian government was out to support Donald Trump.
Let`s watch all that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, they say, Donald Trump
likes Putin. So here`s the story. By the way, if we could get Russia to
help us get rid of ISIS, if we could actually be friendly with Russia,
wouldn`t that be a good thing? Is that – it`s so bad?
He`s a better leader than Obama because Obama`s not a leader. So he`s
certainly doing a better job than Obama is, and that`s all. Now, look, you
have to understand Putin – if we could get along with Russia, I think that
would be a good thing, not a bad thing. We don`t get along with Russia.
Putin called me brilliant. I like it! They want me to disavow!
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
TRUMP: Putin said Donald Trump is brilliant. Essentially, he`ll be the
next leader, but Donald Trump is brilliant!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Heidi, as journalist, what would you like to see come out of
that testimony that occurs next week with the president`s son and the
chairman of the campaign, Manafort, with all this Russian entanglement?
This is – this is a virgin forest here, lots there.
HEIDI PRZYBYLA, “USA TODAY,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that is why
it is fraught with peril. Did you see the timestamp on those recordings
that you just played? That was right around the time when Paul Manafort
was bending the ear of the Trumps.
So this is fraught with peril because Donald Trump, Jr., has been making
false statements to friendly TV hosts that have been proven wrong within 24
to 48 hours. Here he`s going to be under oath talking to very savvy
lawmakers who know the facts and who are going to get him on the record on
a host of issues, including the one that is most suspect, which is, Did you
really have no additional ties, no additional contacts, no additional e-
mails following that meeting during which you were hoping the get the goods
on Hillary Clinton?
And I think the getting him on the record on those points is going to be
critical. But then also, their ties – you know, the money angle, this new
breaking news about “The New York Times,” their ties to the Russian
We know that this is a big focus of Mueller`s investigation based on the
fact that he`s issued requests to Treasury`s financial crimes unit. So
this is weaving all of those threads together. I think it`s significant
that this is an invitation and we have no indication yet of whether he`ll
actually accept it.
MATTHEWS: Well, the father is the leader of this band, I think. And the
question is wouldn`t the sons be moved to be cooperative with the Russians
based up what Daddy Trump has been saying all through this campaign, he
wants a warm relationship with Putin?
PRZYBYLA: Yes. Well, especially if, as we know, we suspected all along,
Paul Manafort is the one who was kind of behind a lot of this. And like
the congressman said, if you line things up, a lot of the most suspect
statements were made around the time, within weeks of when Manafort took
over as campaign chairman in terms of altering the Ukraine platform and
SWALWELL: … the rhetoric coming from Trump himself, including calling on
the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton.
So absolutely. And it sounds like, you know, the son was very much
interested in getting information on Hillary Clinton. And here`s what we
know, Chris. They may not have delivered in that meeting, but they
delivered, all right, in the form of Wikileaks, which wound up being a very
effective tool for Donald Trump. I think those lawmakers are going to want
to know, Did you really know nothing about that and you had no connection
and no knowledge of what was going on with that massive dump?
MATTHEWS: Well, thank you. U.S. Congressman Eric Swalwell, so much, sir,
from California, and Heidi Przybyla for joining us. By the way, I imagine
over at Mueller`s operation, he`s got a big wall with all these connecting
points that Heidi`s talking and the Congress are talking about and the
senator`s talking about, the meetings, the meetings going up to what Trump
said yesterday, the money end of what Manafort owes the oligarchs over
there, all this stuff, all that, meetings with Kislyak and Lavrov, all that
stuff on a big chart with all the other people like Carter Page and the
rest of them and Roger Stone. I think this is one big map of hell (ph)
we`re looking at.
Anyway, coming up, the former director of national intelligence, James
Clapper, is going to be here on Trump`s meeting with Putin. In fact,
Trump, Junior`s, meeting with the Russians also and whether the Trumps are
making Russia great again. Wait until you hear his reaction to that
because it sounds like that`s what Trump`s been doing, help Russia and
Putin be great again.
Plus, there`s growing unrest among some Republicans about President Trump.
They`re coming to realize that Trump may claim any victory that he can for
himself but run away from any defeat and blame the rest on them. Today,
Trump even threatened a fellow Republican over health care, asking whether
he really wants to remain a senator. That`s a threat.
And what`s really going on inside the Trump White House itself? Well,
that`s a story. The Russian investigation and health care failures are
sharpening the battle lines within the West Wing. And we`ve got a new
report tonight about the pressure that the Trump family itself is feeling.
By the way, friends say that Donald, Junior, just wants these four years to
be over. He`s miserable.
Finally, let me finish tonight with “Trump Watch.” He won`t like it.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Earlier today, President Trump kicked off the inaugural meeting
of his so-called voter fraud commission. Trump used the occasion to once
again praise – or raise the possibility that despite a lack of evidence,
substantial voter fraud took place in the 2016 presidential election.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: This issue is very important to me because throughout the campaign,
and even after, people would come up to me and express their concerns about
voter inconsistencies and irregularities which they saw, in some cases
having to do with very large numbers of people in certain states.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, the president also questioned why certain states were
refusing to comply with the commission`s request for sensitive voter
information, implying, he was, that those states must be hiding something.
Well, he ought to know about that, hiding stuff.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The last time President Trump met with Russian officials in the Oval Office
back in May, he reportedly revealed highly classified information from
Israel and told them that firing James Comey, who he called at the time a
nutjob, relieved great pressure on him with regards to the Russian
Well, yesterday, we learned the president met alone with an hour – for an
hour with Vladimir Putin at the G20 conference over in Germany, an hour,
just the two of them. The only other person present was a Russian
translator supplied by the Kremlin itself.
Well, the White House never disclosed that meeting. It was first reported
by Ian Bremmer, who is president of the international consulting group the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
IAN BREMMER, PRESIDENT, EURASIA GROUP: And I will tell you that many of
the leaders that were in that room, including America`s most important
allies, were quite surprised.
They found it unusual and noteworthy, the body language, the chemistry, the
fact it went on for so long, and the fact that, of course, it reflected a
much warmer relationship between Trump and Putin than he has with any of
the other leaders in the room.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, White House spokesman Sean Spicer, for what it`s worth,
told “The New York Times” this about G20 meeting – quote – “It was
pleasantries and small talk.”
How would Sean know?
President Trump tweeted today – quote – “Fake news story of secret dinner
with Putin is sick. All G20 leaders and spouses were invited by chancellor
Well, we all know that, but what happened afterwards?
Also today, “The Washington Post” reported President Trump is planning on
ending the CIA`s covert program to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels.
So, we`re on Assad`s side now.
Anyway, according to “The Post,” “Officials said the phasing out of the
secret program reflects Trump`s interests in finding ways to work with
Russia, which saw the anti-Assad program as an assault on his – or its
NBC News has not confirmed the report.
MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by James Clapper, the former director of
intelligence, national intelligence, under President Obama.
Mr. Director, from the beginning, Donald Trump has said his whole goal with
Russia is to try to develop a deal of some kind to fight ISIS. And it
looks like everything he`s been doing so far, forgiving them on Crimea,
forgiving them on Eastern Ukraine, even to seemingly forgive them on
interfering with our elections, if not bringing a blind eye to it, and now
apparently to forgive them for supporting ISIS, it`s coming across to me
like a Polaroid film.
It`s just developing in front of us. This is what Trump is up to.
You`re the expert. What do you see Trump doing here?
JAMES CLAPPER, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: Well, it seems clear to me
that he`s very, very interested in a productive working relationship with
I guess the concern I would have is, what concessions have been made or are
being made? And if there are concessions being made or agreements being
made, what is it – what`s the quid pro quo for us? What is the United
States getting out of this?
I`ve read the media reporting about stopping our support for the moderate
opposition groups, which is a very profound move. And I should caveat by
saying that`s certainly his prerogative as the president to do that.
But there are serious implications here. One is, it appears to me that
he`s just kind of throwing in with the Russians and helping them as they
have sustained propping up Assad, who, by the way, was the original cause
of the civil war in Syria to start with.
And, of course, if we`re stopping that assistance, then we`re cutting the
knees out from under these moderate opposition groups, who`ve grown very
dependent on us.
And, of course, I think another aspect here is gauge what the reaction of
the regional neighbors are. I read, again, that Jordan is supportive. I`m
not sure all the others would be. So, this – if this is true, this has
MATTHEWS: Mr. Director, what do you make of that first meeting in June of
It seemed to be the first meeting, when Donald Jr. was approached, Donald
Trump Jr. was approached with a proposition that the Russians, apparently
at the government level, had some dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Based on your knowledge of Russian methods, what were they up to there in
establishing a relationship with Trump`s son?
CLAPPER: Well, I think, first of all, this was the classic textbook
Soviet, and now Russian, tradecraft, kind of a – the soft approach.
And I think their principal – they had two objectives here. One was to
determine whether those close to then-candidate Trump would be interested
in talking with them about and receiving dirt on Hillary Clinton. That was
And point two was plausible deniability. And these are characteristics of
typical Soviet/Russian intelligence service tradecraft. And I think that
was the primary objective, just to find out if they reached out if there
would be interest advanced. And there was.
MATTHEWS: And what kind of a response do you think they got? Because
Trump seemed very pro-Russian in the months after that.
CLAPPER: Well, that`s true.
He – he evinced that when we published our intelligence community
assessment on the 6th of January and briefed him at Trump Tower about the
Russian interference in our election in 2016.
And he, of course, was skeptical about it, although he wasn`t while we
briefed him, but, in subsequent commentary, he was disparaging of it, and,
in fact, at one point, characterized us as Nazis, I guess, for having
reported to him what our judgment was about the magnitude and the extent
and the scope of Russian interference, which – and the results for them, I
think, all they`re going to do is, they`re going to do it more.
They`re going to be back, and they`re going to be emboldened to be more
MATTHEWS: So, even after sending a message to Manafort, Paul Manafort, the
chairman of his campaign at the time, and his son that they were on his
side, that they were willing to help him hurt Hillary Clinton in the
campaign, even after getting that message clear as a bell, he told you
folks, the intelligence experts, that he didn`t believe that the Russians
were trying to help him.
CLAPPER: Well, he didn`t. He just kept iterating the possibility that,
well, it could have been somebody else. It could have been a 400-pound guy
in his bed in New Jersey.
CLAPPER: And he kind of reiterated that message during – in his speech in
MATTHEWS: Yes, but it wasn`t a 400-pound person lying in their bed that
came to his people, four of them in Trump – three of them in Trump Tower,
including his son-in-law and his son and his campaign chairman. That
wasn`t a 400-pound person in their bed that came to him with the dirt on
Hillary from Russia.
CLAPPER: That`s right. That`s right.
And I mention that only because I think he was trying to, apparently,
obfuscate the origins of this interference. And just to be clear, in our
minds, in the intelligence – the minds of the intelligence community, the
agencies that participated in this, there`s actually no doubt it was
clearly the Russians. We had a very high confidence level about that, and
MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about his reaction to all this.
We know that he`s denied the dossier. And that`s in dispute. And – but
yet he has been so nice to the Russians. He was nice to Mr. Gorbachev –
or Mr. Putin in the G20 meeting openly. And then, when they had the
private meeting, went over and sat with him with just a – his own –
Putin`s own translator, interpreter there, and he spent an hour with him
And now today, as you point out, he brings out this new overture in terms
of supporting Assad, basically, by opposing – or giving no more funding to
the opponents of Assad, the side that we have been on all these months.
That adds up to me as cooperation and collusion. What do you think?
CLAPPER: Well, it`s very concerning to me that this appears to be going
I understand the – it`s a good thing to look for areas where our interests
converge. But it seems to me what we`re doing is suborning our interests
to those of the Russians.
And if this is true about the action in Syria, well, this is a very serious
thing, and this affinity for Russia is a very curious thing.
And, bear in mind, Russia is an existential threat to this country. They
are embarked on a very aggressive modernization program for their strategic
nuclear forces. They have a very aggressive counterspace program.
And these are all designed with one adversary in mind, and that`s the
United States. And, oh, by the way, they`re also in violation of the INF
So, I have trouble understanding why we`re being so solicitous of Russia,
who are not our friends, and are not doing any – are not going to do
anything that`s in our interest.
MATTHEWS: Lastly, how would you describe President Trump`s response to
this adversary since taking office?
CLAPPER: Well, again, it appears to me that the approach to be taken here
is to be very solicitous of the Russians.
And, again, if our – the action that I`ve read in the media about Syria is
true, it seems to me what we`re doing is essentially subordinating
ourselves to the Russians as they sustain Assad, which has been their
position all along.
And I think what that does in the long run is really marginalize whatever
leverage we had in influencing developments there.
MATTHEWS: When one – when an American or any other power lays down before
Putin, what`s Putin`s reaction to that generally? How does he like that
kind of response, that acceptance?
CLAPPER: Well, he revels in it.
He is, in my view, not a throwback necessarily to the Soviet era, but a
throwback to the czar era. He`s not really an ideologue. I think he has
this Russian greatness mind-set, and that Russia is a great power in the
world, and that he craves that kind of recognition.
He uses that recognition to, you know, I think, intimidate his own people.
And uses that as a way of trying to exhort their patriotism. So this all -
- this phenomenon here plays right to his sweet spot.
MATTHEWS: You think our president helping Russia be great again?
CLAPPER: Yes, in a way, I guess he is, particularly if Putin gets his way
in Syria, and if nothing is done to push back on the Russians in the
James Clapper, former director of national intelligence, thank you, sir,
for your time tonight.
CLAPPER: Thanks. Thanks, Chris, for having me.
MATTHEWS: Helping to make Russia great again. Isn`t that a great cause
for our president?
Up next: President Trump asks a vulnerable Republican if he wants to
remain a senator while sitting right now next to the guy at a White House
event. He is threatening these guys. It`s just the latest example of the
divide right now between President Trump and some of his fellow Republican
Party members in the wake of their big failure to repeal and replace
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
At a White House luncheon today, President Trump had some choice words for
Republican senators who had opposed recent attempts at repealing Obamacare.
With the cameras rolling, Trump even issued a not-so-veiled threat to
Nevada Senator Dean Heller.
Let`s watch this in action.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This was the one we were
worried about. You weren`t there. But you`re going to be. You`re going
TRUMP: Look, he wants to remain a senator, doesn`t he? OK.
And I think the people of your state, which I know very well, I think
they`re going to appreciate what you hopefully will do.
Any senator who votes against starting debate is really telling America
that you`re fine with Obamacare.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Trump`s threat against Senator Heller is just the latest
example of the deepening divide – you can see it – between Republicans
and their party`s leader, if he really is their leader.
All this comes as the Congressional Budget Office comes released its score
of the Senate Republican plan to repeal Obamacare now and then replace it
later. Well, that plan would leave 32 million Americans uninsured over the
next decade. That would be very tricky.
For more, I`m joined by U.S. Congressman Dan Donovan, Republican from New
York City, and Republican strategist John Brabender.
Congressman, you first.
What do you make of that kind of threat? I haven`t seen that kind of thing
since “The Untouchables,” what Robert De Niro did to his merry band,
threatening the guy sitting next to him, if you don`t play ball with me,
REP. DAN DONOVAN (R), NEW YORK: I`m not sure the president doesn`t do that
in jest, Chris.
DONOVAN: When I went to see the president – when I went to see the
president – as you know, I voted against the Republican House replacement
I thought it didn`t help the people who were harmed by the Affordable Care
Act, and I thought it was going to harm the people who were helped by it.
When I went to see the president in the Oval Office and told him my
concerns, he listened more than he spoke. And then his reaction was, he
knows that things that affect New York are different than what affects the
rest of the country.
And I never got any pressure from him or our own leadership to change my
MATTHEWS: Because they didn`t need your vote. That`s the difference,
DONOVAN: Well, you know, that – well…
MATTHEWS: If they had needed your vote to get 216, they would have been a
lot more hardball with you, don`t you think, Trump would have been?
DONOVAN: Well, at the time, it was the time when we delayed the vote
because there weren`t enough votes. But I was never approached to change
mine. Maybe other members were.
But, if you remember, back then, the vote was delayed for two weeks, until
they got some members to change their mind. I was not one of the members
that they approached.
MATTHEWS: Hey, John Brabender, you know this with the real people out
there, the Trump voter that – not the 30 percent who will be him if he
shoots somebody on Fifth Avenue, as he put it, but that 30 to 45 percent
that decides whether he does well in the states.
Will that 30 to – that number, if it goes from 30 to 45 percent, that 15
percent, will they stick with him if health care just stays the way it is
right now, having failed?
JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, I think they sent Donald Trump
to Washington, saying, we`re disappointed with Democrats. We`re
disappointed with Republicans. Here`s a guy who we really think is going
to change things.
I think they`re patient for the moment, but I think they are looking for
real change. And so I do think it is incumbent upon the Republicans to
give them something.
I think there`s still a chance on this health care bill. I agree with the
congressman. I think that Donald Trump was at least half-kidding with
But I do think that the president is actually acting very presidential
right now. He brought them in last night. He brought them into the White
House for lunch today. He made sure that the Senate is meeting tonight.
And he is forcing them, saying now is the time to get this done. That`s
what he should be doing as president.
MATTHEWS: Congressman, would you go along with plan, a bipartisan plan to
fix Obamacare and make it a better program?
I did an op-ed yesterday, Chris. I said we have to get rid of this
partisanship. I mean, we`re basking in each other`s failures. And who is
getting – who is the real failure affecting? The American people.
There are things in the bill, the Republican replacement bill, that
everyone can agree on. And when Barack Obama left office, he asked his
conference, please don`t help the Republicans undo what I will go down in
history known for, the Affordable Care Act.
Well, I think everybody`s obligation is not to the former president, but to
the American people. And there`s parts of that, allowing insurance
companies to sell insurance across state lines, if that is going to cause
competition, Chris, and that`s going to allow premiums to drop, let`s show
America, rather than just telling it`s going to happen.
MATTHEWS: Well, the former president he may not fix his own program, I`d
be surprised. I think you`re right in making that interpretation. But
there`s another interpretation, too, which is it`s in the interest of the
country to fix what`s broken.
Thank you, U.S. Congressman Dan Donovan of, well, Bay Ridge, Staten Island,
all those great places.
And, John Brabender, from –
DONOVAN: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: – the world of the regular people, in the middle of the
Up next, Donald Trump sits down with “The New York Times.” I can`t believe
he`s done this interview. But wait until you catch the news. He says he`s
angry at his Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He`s angry at former FBI
Director James Comey, big surprise, and he has a warning for special
counsel Robert Mueller.
This is hot stuff and he gave it to the “New York Times” for tomorrow but
we got it tonight.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
“The New York Times” is just out for tomorrow with some breaking news and
we`ve got it tonight. In a wide ranging interview, quote, President Trump
said today that he never would have appointed Attorney General Jeff
Sessions had he known that Mr. Sessions would recuse himself from
overseeing the Russian investigation that has dogged his presidency,
calling the decision very unfair to the president. That`s how Trump talks.
Trump told “The Times” that Sessions` decision to recuse ultimately led to
the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel. “The Times” reports
Mr. Trump said Mr. Mueller was running an office rife with conflicts of
interest and warned that investigators would cross a red line if they delve
into Trump family finances unrelated to Russia.
I`m joined right now by the roundtable, Josh Green, senior national
correspondent with “Bloomberg Businessweek” and author of the new book,
“Devil`s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and the Storming of the
Presidency”. Ayesha Rascoe is White House correspondent with “Reuters”,
and Ken Vogel is a reporter with “The New York Times.”
Ken, you pick it up here. This is a hot story because of what it
threatens. He basically threatens Mueller here in this interview with your
paper, threatens him not to go into finances of the Trump family, which
means don`t ask for my tax returns. That`s what I hear. What do you read
KEN VOGEL, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, and even more so, Chris. He
leaves open the possibility of potentially firing Mueller if Mueller
crosses him, including on this red line that he just seems to lay out
regarding his business. It is important to note that he says that it`s not
delving into his businesses generally but delving into his businesses as
they are – that are not related to Russia.
But what you see here throughout this interview is his obsession, his
fixation on the Russia investigation. The reporters here tried to talk
about other things. He kept bringing it back.
VOGEL: You see the way that it is hindering his agenda and his desire, his
sort of unwillingness to accept responsibility for some of the ways in
which his agenda have gone off the rails and to blame on others, on
Sessions, on Comey, on Mueller for bringing such intensity to the Russia
investigation. The buck is not stopping with Donald Trump.
MATTHEWS: Ayesha, we learned all through Clinton investigations, fairly or
not, one thing leads to another. Paula Jones leads the Monica. You know
how these things work.
How do you say you`re going to investigate Trump`s methods and dealings
with Russia, his economic relations with Russia, the hotels, the Miss
Universe, the whole shebang – how do you say you`re not going to ask for
his tax returns if you`re going to examine those questions? I mean, it
seems to me that red lines are going to be crossed by the very nature of
this probe that Mr. Mueller has been assigned to.
AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: Well, yes. I mean,
someone who President Trump is not a big fan of right now, James Comey,
said, you know, when you start these investigations, when you start turning
over rocks. You might find some things. So, the idea that he can somehow
limit what Mueller is going to be able to look into, that just seems
unlikely and unreasonable. I mean, this is a special counsel and if he
finds something that he thinks is interesting or that he thinks could be
illegal, you would think he could have kind of a moral responsibility to go
MATTHEWS: Josh, your question – same question to you because I`m going
down the road here to where I think Mueller is going. I said earlier in
the show, I imagine he has a big wall with a chart, with all these
different personalities, starting with Roger Stone and Carter Page and all
the others and all these meetings and this e-mail and everything suggesting
one side trying to establish a relationship from the other side, all these
financial things like we learned tonight that Mr. Manafort may owe $17
million to the oligarchs, which has him in hock with he started working on
the campaign, which a dangerous, precarious position to be in. It seems to
me Mueller is going to have to look at all of it, all of it, including the
JOSHUA GREEN, SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK: Well,
of course, he is, because he is a diligent, thorough investigator. And I
think part of what is going on is that Trump is trying to intimidate him to
try and suggest that some areas are out of bounds and still hasn`t accepted
the fact that Mueller has free rein to investigate here.
I think the other thing that bear in mind is Trump`s state of mind. He is
all at his most volatile and reckless when he`s just suffered some big
loss. We`ve know that he`s getting increasingly upset over the Russia
stuff. But now, health care is collapsing and he`s going to be held to
account for that and I think he`s doing what he always does in this
situations and lashing out at the people around him.
MATTHEWS: Well, Ken Vogel, back to you, in “The Times”. What do you make?
What`s you`re going to lead with this story? Because there`s so much in
this story, the Sessions thing. He is angry at him for recusing himself,
because that led to the naming of Mr. Mueller.
He is still mad at James Comey, thinking he was teasing him with that
dossier about whatever going on and if nothing went or if something went on
in that hotel room over in Moscow, he thought he was playing J. Edgar
Hoover it sounds like and teasing with all this dirt. It really sounds
like he`s accusing Comey of J. Edgar here.
VOGEL: Yes. I mean, obviously, this is on his mind, and he`s fixated.
You take it to the g-20 a few days ago, and he talks again, he addresses
the subject of this second meeting that we had Vladimir Putin, during or
after this dinner with all the world leaders. He says the meeting lasted
only 15 minutes. He brings up what he said that Putin wanted to talk about
which is adoptions.
This gets into the subject of the meeting that Donald Trump Jr. held in
June of last year during the campaign with these Russians, this Kremlin-
linked lawyer who wanted to talk about this Magnitsky Act and the way that
Russia had retaliated against the U.S. for this act by limiting adoptions.
So, you see this is also on Trump`s mind explains the back drop here, like
we are also interested in the Russia investigation.
MATTHEWS: Well, we know one thing. Putin wants to get these sanctions
removed against the oligarchs. And that`s why he keeps bringing up the
adoption issue because that was the counterpunch to that set of sanctions.
Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. And next, these three will
tell me something I don`t know, all of three of them.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Well, the Russia investigation is weighing heavily on the
president`s family apparently. A close friend of someone close to Donald
Trump Jr. told “People” magazine, quote, the loyalty within this family is
insane. You can`t bite the hand that feeds you, but he, Don Jr., can`t
wait for these four years to be over.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.
Josh, tell me something I don`t know.
GREEN: Here`s something you don`t know – Donald Trump actually thought
politics and governing was going to be easy. In a quote he did for me that
appears in the book just before he was elected, he actually said that
business was the hard thing. Politics wasn`t that hard.
I`m going to read the quote he said because it`s so –
GREEN: – unimaginable in current context.
He said: I deal with people that are extraordinarily talented people. I
deal with Steve Wynn, with Carl Icahn. I deal with killers that blow these
politicians away. It`s not even the same category. Politics is a category
that`s like 19 levels lower.
I`m not sure he feels the same way today.
MATTHEWS: The name of the book?
GREEN: “Devil`s Bargain”.
MATTHEWS: Thank you.
RASCOE: So, the U.S. and the Chinese had economic talks today. And both
sides were supposed to have press conferences but they were unexpectedly
cancelled without expectations. It`s a sign that maybe President Trump`s
plan to kind of redo U.S. trade policy with China may not be going as
easily as he had hoped.
MATTHEWS: Like other things.
VOGEL: Well, Chris, just a couple days after my colleagues at the “New
York Times” broke this explosive story about this meeting that Donald Trump
Jr. had with this Russian-linked lawyer and subsequently learned Russian-
American lobbyist. A tranche of e-mails that were hacked from – appear to
have been hacked from the account of the State Department`s top Russian
intel guys was posted on this Dark Web Website, and there is a lot of
traffic in there about the attendees at this meeting, probably not a
MATTHEWS: The number of people grows all the time.
Josh Green, thank you for that. Good luck with your book. Ayesha Rascoe,
and, of course, Ken Vogel, congrats to “The Times”. Another big night for
We`ll be right back with Trump Watch.
MATTHEWS: Trump Watch Wednesday, July 19th, 2017.
Let me remind everyone who grew up like me of the story of King Solomon and
the baby. Remember how he decided who the true mother of the baby was. He
proposed as a solution, cutting the baby in half and giving each mother one
half. When one mother yelled out that he should give the baby to the
other, it was then that King Solomon realize who had the true mother was.
I`ve watched President Trump act almost with glee over the prospect of
having the Republicans blame the Democrats for what he predicts will be the
failure of Obamacare down the road. Well, instead of showing concerned
over the many who would be hurt, he thinks only of how he will somehow show
up with a political score card. He doesn`t care if millions get hurt as
long as the other side gets the blame.
I say we should follow the wisdom of Solomon.
And that`s HARDBALL for now.
“ALL IN” starts right now.
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