Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 9/4/17 Trump Senior staff dropping like flies

Eli Stokols, Jason Johnson

Date: September 4, 2017

Guest: Eli Stokols, Jason Johnson

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: “Lord of the Flies.”

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Yes, they`re dropping like flies. In only his first seven months in
office, Donald Trump has shed almost all of his senior staff. The result,
one of the most chaotic, unstable West Wings in recent history.

Take a look at this incredible photo. It`s of the men pictured in late
January. The only ones that remain in that picture are President Trump and
Vice President Pence, constitutional officers.

Then there was the firing of James Comey in May. The president himself
said that the “Russian thing” was on his mind. And of course, there was
the spectacular implosion of “The Mooch,” Anthony Scaramucci. His tenure
was brief, of course. His downfall was unforgettable.

What does it all mean for the Trump White House, the JR, if you will?
Chaos paralleled, perhaps, the governing chaos we`ve seen. We`ve got an
all-star panel to talk about that tonight. “The Wall Street Journal`s” Eli
Stokols, “USA Today`s” Heidi Przybyla, and The Root`s Jason Johnson.

We begin with Donald Trump`s first national security adviser, remember him?
General Michael Flynn was a bombastic attack dog during the campaign.
Let`s watch and listen.


GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN, U.S. ARMY (RET.): We do not need a reckless president
who believes she is above the law! Lock her up! That`s right! Yes,
that`s right! Lock her up! I`m going to tell you what. If I – a guy who
knows this business, if I did a tenth, a tenth of what she did, I would be
in jail today!


MATTHEWS: Well, the irony must have been lost on him. Anyway, hours after
Flynn was canned on February 13th, “The Washington Post” reported the
acting attorney general informed the Trump White House late last month that
she believed Michael Flynn had misled senior administration officials about
the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United
States and warned that the national security adviser was potentially
vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

Remarkably, President Trump defended the man he fired a few days later,
spinning his firing as though Flynn had been the victim of the media.


Flynn, is a wonderful man. I think he`s been treated very, very unfairly
by the media – as I call it, the fake media, in many cases. And I think
it`s really a sad thing that he was treated so badly.


MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump also said Flynn didn`t do anything wrong
by reaching out to the Russians, prior to the inauguration. Let`s watch.


QUESTION: I just want to clarify…

TRUMP: Yes? Yes?

QUESTION: … an important point, I think.

TRUMP: Sure.

QUESTION: Did you direct Mike Flynn to discuss sanctions with the Russian

TRUMP: No, I didn`t.

QUESTION: … prior to your…

TRUMP: No, I didn`t.

QUESTION: … inauguration?

TRUMP: No, I didn`t.

QUESTION: And would you have fired him…

TRUMP: Excuse me!

QUESTION: … if the information hadn`t had leaked out?

TRUMP: No, I fired him because of what he said to Mike Pence, very simple.
Mike was doing his job. He was calling countries and his counterparts. So
it certainly would have been OK with me if he did it. I would have
directed him to do it if I thought he wasn`t doing it. I didn`t direct
him, but I would have directed him because that`s his job.


MATTHEWS: Why do you think Flynn left? He was fired.

ELI STOKOLS, “WALL STREET JOURNAL”: He was fired. And there was a lot of
discussion inside about, Do we have to fire him? Mike Pence sort of laid
the gauntlet (sic) down and said, This guy lied to me, I want him out. And
there were a lot of people inside the White House who wanted Flynn out
anyway because he was one of the Bannon guys. He was too close – you
know, he`s running the NSC. I mean, there was just a lot of people in
defense circles that were worried about Mike Flynn having that job in the
first place.

And one common thread throughout all these firings is the fact that, you
know, these are all born of a campaign that actually didn`t expect to win,
didn`t expect to have to put a transition together. Then suddenly, they
win, and there`s this very hastily thrown together transition.

So a lot of people weren`t fully vetted the way normal – normal
transitions and incoming administrations are going to vet people. And
that`s why you`ve had so much turnover just in general in the first several

But the Flynn was an interesting case because, you know, it`s always a
matter of, like, pressure on Trump or pressure on the person, whether it
comes from the – most of the time, it comes from the media reporting


STOKOLS: … in this case, it all came out. Pence took a stand, and the
president said, OK, I`ll do it. And you could hear, days later, he was
sort of regretting that he felt backed into a corner and forced to do this.

MATTHEWS: What about the acting attorney general, Sally Yates, coming out
and saying, Wait a minute, the guy is basically a hostage to the Russians
because they know – they had talks with him about sanctions, and he`s out
there denying it?

of this is so unbelievable, that the administration didn`t know these
things. And this is why timing is so important.

When you ask why, Chris, let`s point out – back up a little bit and point
out that this came after bombshell reporting about those talks that Flynn
was having and that they had to do with sanctions.

There is – it is highly unlikely that the administration did not know
these things, which were supposedly the premise for Flynn`s firing, prior
to the publishing of that news reporting. It was the news reporting which
put sunlight on this and forced the administration into taking those steps.

So you know, we still don`t know – we saw the question to the president
about whether he directed these talks. Fine. He says he didn`t direct
them. Did he know about it? That is still something we`re going to find
out, hopefully, as Bob Mueller`s investigation goes on.

MATTHEWS: Jason, I think – we all have the same buzz world. We all live
here in Washington. And maybe it`s a little dull right now, but for months
now, everyone`s talked about this guy as a flipper.


MATTHEWS: Everybody (INAUDIBLE) thinks that the president keeps saying
nice things about him because he`s hoping he can soften (INAUDIBLE)
reporting in his own interest what went on between him and the Russians…


MATTHEWS: … and what the president knew about what went on between him
and the Russians.

JOHNSON: I think that`s highly likely, but I also think…

MATTHEWS: Likely that he`ll flip.

JOHNSON: Well, I think it`s likely that he`ll flip. I think that what
happened with Paul Manafort was a warning to people like Michael Flynn –
like, We`ll do this to you. We will send FBI guys in the vinyl jackets to
your house to make you look bad.

But I also think this. This was the beginning of what we`ve seen
throughout this entire administration. Yes, there were problems with
Flynn. Yes, there were warnings. But it was also a panic move. And even
though Trump is regretting it now and even though, he`s, like, No, I think
Michael Flynn`s a nice guy and I want him to be covered (ph), I think there
were a lot of panic moves at the beginning because, as we`ve mentioned, I
don`t think they expected to win.

I don`t think they thought this was going to be much of a problem. I don`t
think they expected the press to investigate the way they have. And that`s
why Michael Flynn is gone.

MATTHEWS: Well, why did he wait to hear the press announce the fact that
there had been this problem with those conversations that he wasn`t up
front with the vice president about? Why did he wait, even when he found
out about that, until – well, you take up – why did he wait until the
press reported it? Did he – would he have kept Flynn otherwise?

STOKOLS: Probably, I mean, until something else came out. This is a guy

MATTHEWS: Because he has to protect himself! That`s why you can`t fire
people. You throw them to the wolves, and they talk!


PRZYBYLA: What we now know is that Flynn wasn`t the only one. His son-in-
law was also talking to the Russians about a back channel. So much more
reporting has come out since the firing of Flynn that shows there were
other people who did the same darn thing.

MATTHEWS: Well, Flynn…



STOKOLS: The son-in-law also forgot a hundred or so things on his FS-86.
He still has a job. I mean, of all these people we, you know, talk about
who have gotten fired, Jared Kushner is still there.

MATTHEWS: Well, you know why. He`s married to…

STOKOLS: Well, that`s what I`m saying.

MATTHEWS: … his lovely daughter! Anyway, in May came – go ahead,

JOHNSON: You know, look, you break up the marriage and then your wife or
your husband can testify against you, right? I mean, he wanted to keep

MATTHEWS: Well, Javanka`s not a bad term (INAUDIBLE) came up with because
they are close. I mean, he obviously loves his son-in-law, too.


MATTHEWS: Look, I`ve always called them the Romanovs because they behave
less like a political operation than a family because they are a family.

Anyway, in may came the shocking news that President Trump was firing his
FBI director. The White House first said Trump went along with a
recommendation by his then attorney general, his attorney general still,
and deputy attorney general to fire him because of his handling of the
Clinton e-mail investigation.

Then a few days later, the president said he would have fired him no matter
what, and it was really all about the Russian thing. Those are the
president`s terms, “the Russian thing.”

Then President Trump proceeded to attack Comey.


TRUMP: He`s a showboat. He`s a grandstander. The FBI has been in
turmoil. You know that. I know that. Everybody knows that.

Director Comey was very unpopular with most people. I actually thought
when I made that decision – and I also got a very, very strong
recommendation, as you know, from the deputy attorney general, Rod
Rosenstein. But when I made that decision, I actually thought that it
would be a bipartisan decision.


MATTHEWS: You know, I love it the way Lester Holt gives you that poker
face when he says, here`s a guy – Donald Trump is saying that guy`s a
showboat. Excuse me?


MATTHEWS: Anyway, what about this thing? This Comey thing seems to have
really got bad legs for this president.

STOKOLS: This is by far the most consequential of all the firings. And
the reason why is this is what triggered the appointment of Bob Mueller to
lead – you know, as a special counsel to lead…

MATTHEWS: Explain that triggering mechanism. Why did Rosenstein, the
deputy attorney general, the acting attorney general, in the case of
anything to do with Russia because the other guy – because Sessions has
recused himself…

STOKOLS: Because the – I mean, the…

MATTHEWS: Why did he have to – what was the reason he gave then for, we
need a special counsel?

STOKOLS: Just the sort of…

PRZYBYLA: Because of the memo. I mean, the Comey memo came out at that
point, where we learned that the president had tried to, you know, one on
one, pressure Comey to back off the investigation of Flynn. And so
Rosenstein was put in an impossible situation. He had no choice but to
appoint that special prosecutor, given that – given this raised real
questions about obstruction of justice.

MATTHEWS: Explain that a little further. Explicate the…


MATTHEWS: … because – because, well, the president wasn`t trustworthy
in this regard. He was really going to be the target of this further
investigation. But why didn`t they just name a new FBI director?

PRZYBYLA: This opened the president to new questions about obstruction of
justice. Naming a new FBI director – the FBI director would then be
working for the president. This would take it outside that kind of chain
of command that you needed to have a special counsel.

JOHNSON: There`s also sort of the political consideration. You had
members of the Senate, you had members of the House, you had people
concerned – as long as – as long as the Russian investigation was being
handled by Comey, it was over there. It was handled by the FBI. If you
have Comey not there and you have him being fired because the president
says, I want him off the Russia thing, then it`s on the backs of the

Then the Senate has to investigate. Then the public expects them, then the
press expects them to be the most aggressive investigators of the
situation. So I think, in some respects, it was a way of keeping this over
on the side. As long as Mueller is working in silence, not talking to the
public on a regular basis, it`s then not on the pockets (ph) and not in the
sort of pants of…

MATTHEWS: But it`s still not in the president`s interests that any of this
go on.

Anyway, in June, the country watched Comey testify before the Senate and
excoriate President Trump.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I was honestly concerned that he might
lie about the nature of our meeting. And so I thought it really important
to document.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Quote, “I hope” – this is the president speaking – “I
hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.
He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

COMEY: I took it as a direction. This is the president of the United
States with me alone saying, I hope this. I took it as this is what he
wants me to do. It`s my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia
investigation. I was fired in some way to change or the endeavor was to
change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted.

The administration then chose to defame me, and more importantly the FBI,
by saying that the organization was in disarray. Those were lies, plain
and simple.


MATTHEWS: You know, Heidi, every time I think about Mueller, I think about
a guy – maybe not a bloodhound, but a pro, a real winner of a guy – look
at his resume – heading toward anything we see in the media, any news that
develops as somewhat related to this Russia thing because of that Comey
guy. I think it`s not just friendship. It`s professional respect. He
knows he has to do a 100 percent job on this, Mueller.

PRZYBYLA: Yes, I mean, he is one of the longest-serving FBI directors. He
was – they – Congress passed legislation to extend his term because he is
considered such a pro. He has impeccable credentials and is trusted by
people on both sides of the aisle. And that`s why you see so many members
– now we`re learning about Mitch McConnell, as well, having been pressured
by the president, pushing back, and trying to link arms and introduce
legislation, right before they left town, to make sure that the


PRZYBYLA: … couldn`t do something while they were out of town to try and
push Mueller out.

MATTHEWS: That is something (ph) – and the president is still putting his
fingers in, trying to mess with that, still complaining to Thom Tillis of
North Carolina…

PRZYBYLA: It`s like he didn`t learn.

MATTHEWS: … Why are you – Why are you protecting Mueller? I may need
to get rid of the guy, is implicitly what he`s saying.

Anyway, we`re (INAUDIBLE) a little lighter moment here. Sean Spicer was
next to go. He resigned July 21st. Seems like a long time ago, the day it
was announced Anthony Scaramucci was joining the White House as
communications director.

For months, the Spicer show was must-see TV.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This was the largest audience to
ever witness an inauguration, period! Both in person and around the globe.

You had a – you know, someone as despicable as Hitler who didn`t even sink
to the – to the – to using chemical weapons.

QUESTION: He says it`s a ban.

SPICER: He`s using the words that the media is using.

QUESTION: I understand your point, but…

SPICER: It is extreme vetting.

QUESTION: … the president himself called it a ban.

SPICER: I understand.

QUESTION: Is he confused, or are you confused?

SPICER: No, I`m not confused. I think that the words that are being used
to describe it are derived from what the media is calling this. He has
been very clear that it is extreme vetting.

QUESTION: Does the president believe that millions voted illegally in this

SPICER: The president does believe that. He has stated that before. I
think he`s stated his concerns, voter fraud and people voting illegally
during the campaign. And he continues to maintain that belief based on
studies and evidence that people have presented to him.


MATTHEWS: What do you think of this guy professionally? He went in there,
and he obviously – we can all imagine what goes on.


MATTHEWS: He`s in (INAUDIBLE) the president, You tell those people it was
the biggest crowd in history!

JOHNSON: There are very few people in this administration I feel sorry
for. Sean Spicer is one of them. I had worked with Sean Spicer before.
He was a hard-working, legitimate, dedicated Republican. And for him to
have to go in and lie on a regular basis – you just got the feeling he
came home and would just whip himself in the mirror every single day…


JOHNSON: … saying, Why do I have to do this?


JOHNSON: Exactly! He just – and you felt bad for him. But it set a
precedent. It set a precedent for what you have to do to be a part of this
administration. Your integrity is left at the door. You have to lie for
this president. You have to be dedicated to this president. And even when
he eventually leaves out in the rain, you got to smile and say, Thank you,
give me another.

MATTHEWS: Well, I`ve seen him since, saw him in the train stations a
couple weeks ago. He looks pretty happy.


STOKOLS: A big weight lifted off his shoulders now. That`s definitely
true of Sean. But you do – you know, you can feel sorry for him if you
want, but he chose to go every day. He chose the notoriety and he chose
the infamy that came from his, what, six-month tenure on that job. And you
know that is a difficult job…

MATTHEWS: It`s tough to quit the first week.

STOKOLS: … to work for this president.

MATTHEWS: It`s tough to quit the first week.

STOKOLS: It is. But I mean, he – his credibility was shot from day one.

MATTHEWS: I know. You know, he even got so befuddled about something in -
- in that – it`s a position up here. It`s the highest position of our
presidential spokesman, next to the president. And he`s saying the Nazis
didn`t use chemical weapons. Well, they used chemicals, certainly.


MATTHEWS: They killed (INAUDIBLE) million people, six million people. But
you know, he meant in his battlefield situations, OK? But even that was
being watched. And the guy wasn`t ready for this onslaught of…

PRZYBYLA: You have to wonder if there was just a level of stress
underneath it all that would explain making a slip like that.

MATTHEWS: OK, you know what was…

PRZYBYLA: You know the president was watching…


MATTHEWS: He didn`t like his looks!

JOHNSON: He didn`t think he was protecting him enough.

MATTHEWS: Well, he didn`t like his looks.

PRZYBYLA: Well, they were picking – he…

MATTHEWS: You know who I`m betting on? What`s her name? Hope Hicks is
coming, eventually, anyway – anyway – although Sarah`s doing a great job,
I think, Sarah Sanders, Huckabee Sanders. I think she looks country.
She`s very much, I think, at ease with that kind of presentation. I think
she`s probably better for this job. Anyway, our panel – she`s the
daughter of an Arkansas governor, anyway. That`s pretty country.

Our panel`s sticking with us throughout this hour. Coming up, Mooch,
vamoose! Trump`s former White House communications director Anthony
Scaramucci thought he`d last, as he put it beautifully, longer than a
carton of milk. But he didn`t. He`s not only the – the only colorful
figure that`s been shown the door so far. Let`s not forget chief
strategist Steve Bannon. Ooh! Anyway, Darth Vader.

Plus, if you thought this summer was a busy one, get ready for the fall.
President Trump`s threatening to shut down the government if he doesn`t get
his wall. And let`s not forget Bob Mueller`s Russian investigation.

And can Democrats take back the House and the Senate next year? We`re
about to get a rough, very rough electoral indicator of where things stand
heading into 2018.

Finally, these three will tell me something I don`t know.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.




senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity
and the blessing that you have given us to serve your agenda and the
American people.

And we`re continuing to work very hard every day to accomplish those goals.


MATTHEWS: That was an embarrassing time.

All around the Cabinet, they did those sort of benedictions, anyway – or

That was the over-the-top praise. It wasn`t enough for the president`s
chief of staff, however, to keep his job. He was fired on July 28.

Priebus was a major target of the newly installed communications director,
Anthony Scaramucci, alias, the Mooch, who boasted about not reporting to
Priebus, but rather to the president directly.

Well, Scaramucci began his tenure with a similarly over-the-top love song
to the president. Let`s watch.


we`re doing an amazing job.

The president himself is always going to be the president.

I think he`s got some of the best political instincts in the world, and
perhaps in history.

The president is phenomenal with the press, OK? And he`s a great
communicator. He is an unbelievable politician.

The president`s a winner, OK? And what we`re going to do is, we`re going
to do a lot of winning. The president has really good karma, OK? And the
world turns back to him.

He`s a genuinely – a wonderful human being. He`s the most competitive
person I have ever met.

Look, I have seen this guy throw a dead spiral through a tire. He sinks
three-foot putts.

But I love the president and I`m very, very loyal to the president. And I
love the mission that the president has. I love the president. And I
think a lot of you guys know in the media I have been very, very loyal to

Here`s what I will tell you, OK? I love the president. And the president
is a very, very effective communicator.


MATTHEWS: Jimmy, two times, three times, four times. How many times do
you have to say, I love the guy?

Anyway, his spectacular downfall, the Mooch`s, came with this phone call to
“The New Yorker”`s Ryan Lizza.


SCARAMUCCI: Reince is a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) paranoid schizophrenic,

And he`s going to do is, oh, maybe Bill Shine is coming in his office. And
let me leak the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) thing and see if I can (EXPLETIVE
DELETED) these people, the way I (EXPLETIVE DELETED) blocked Scaramucci for
six months.

OK, but he leaked the (INAUDIBLE) stuff on me. You know my financial
disclosure has been leaked to Politico, which is a felony.


MATTHEWS: Well, that call was made public on July 27. He was fired four
days later. And he later joked, the Mooch did, about this with Stephen


SCARAMUCCI: When you take a job like that, Stephen, you know that your
expiration date is coming. I didn`t think I was going to last too long,
but I thought I would last longer than, like, a carton of milk.




MATTHEWS: You can`t beat the guy for metaphors.


STOKOLS: I mean, the thing you can say about this presidency is, the lines
between politics and entertainment are completely blurred.

PRZYBYLA: There`s no…


MATTHEWS: Doesn`t it belong on “Steve Colbert”?

There is no difference. Stephen Colbert`s coverage is almost like he`s a
news show now.

STOKOLS: Here`s the thing about Scaramucci. He was brought in to take out
Priebus, OK? That was where the animus was. He came in. He did his job.
And yes, I think Kushner and the people who brought him..

MATTHEWS: Didn`t he also knock out…

STOKOLS: … did think he would last a little bit longer. And he lit
himself on fire by calling Ryan Lizza and going off like a volcano.

PRZYBYLA: Doesn`t that tell you so much about how this White House
functions, though?

Because prior to that call with Ryan, he went on TV and ripped Reince. And
the news reports at the time were that the president actually liked it.


PRZYBYLA: It tells you, you know, the blurring of that line. He likes the
reality show. He likes this display, which all of us take it in and say,
ooh, that`s dysfunction. He likes it. He likes the drama and the reality
show aspect to it.

STOKOLS: And the president didn`t like that Reince didn`t fight back.
There was this perception that Reince was kind of feckless, running from
meetings, scampering around the West Wing, never really…


MATTHEWS: Didn`t fight who back?

STOKOLS: And he didn`t fight back. When Mooch torched him on TV, Reince
didn`t say anything. It`s not Reince`s style.

Mooch was much more in the president`s personal style.

MATTHEWS: Well, I started the show by saying “Lord of the Flies,” because
we have read that book about these kids stuck on a desert island somewhere,
where it`s about this kind of who`s the king of the hill, who`s going to
beat who up, who`s got the conch, who`s the got the – literally, who has
got the voice?


Well, kill the pig, smash his head, right? And who was the pig? The pig
is whoever Trump is not happy with in that particular week.

And what was interesting, also, as you heard about with the interview with
Mooch, is he`s saying, look, Reince has been blocking me for a long time.
So, it seems like he was waiting to get into this administration and felt
like it was traditional Republicans that were keeping him out.

But, again, they still didn`t vet him. He was still getting rid of old


MATTHEWS: I want some psychobabble, Jason. I want psychobabble from you.

Why can`t the president fire Reince? Why did he need the Mooch to do it?

STOKOLS: Because he`s a coward.


Last but not least, alt-right firebrand Steve Bannon, well, Bannon`s tenure
was rocky. He seemed to float in and out of flavor with the president, or
favor – flavor. And he landed on the cover of “TIME” magazine. Always a
mistake. Presidents don`t like being upstaged by their peeps.

Anyway, Trump dismissed him as an insignificant factor in his campaign and
presidency. Watch him erase the guy from his history.


friend of mine. But Mr. Bannon came on very late. You know that.

I went through 17 senators, governors, and I won all the primaries. Mr.
Bannon came on very much later than that. And I like him. He`s a good
man. He is not a racist. I can tell you that. He`s a good person.


MATTHEWS: Well, the word “but” sort of introduced the truth there.

Anyway, in an interview with “The Wall Street Journal,” he called Bannon “a
guy who works for me.” Bannon clashed with the people he reportedly called
the globalists in the White House. That included, of course, the
president`s daughter and son-in-law, the couple that Bannon calls Javanka
behind their backs. He was fired August 28.

That day, Bannon said he was heading back to Breitbart and told “The Weekly
Standard”: “The Trump presidency that we fought for and won is over. We
still have a huge movement and will make something of this Trump
presidency, but that presidency is over. It will be something else.”

You know, Eli, how does a guy who`s the ultimate nationalist go to “The
Weekly Standard,” which is globalist and neocon, and say, this is my
departure speech?

I just thought the whole thing was…


STOKOLS: Or “The American Prospect” a couple of days earlier, a Democratic
magazine. I mean, Bannon…


Why was he going to the enemy press to make his goodbye remarks?

STOKOLS: Well, I think he was bored.

He was sitting in the White House while everybody else was up in
Bedminster. He knew he had been left behind and his days were numbered.

And I don`t know if it was sort of strategic or cabin fever, but he felt
the need to reach out and sort of push his narrative.

MATTHEWS: It`s brilliant P.R.

STOKOLS: And it was a conflicting narrative in a lot of ways.

MATTHEWS: Because he got a lot of ink out of those interviews.

STOKOLS: But the interesting thing about Steve Bannon, there will be
perhaps over the next several months some tension between the nationalist
base that Bannon represents sort of keeping an eye on this White House that
Steve Bannon says now you look up and you see generals, you see Democrats
in charge.

But one of Steve Bannon`s goals was the destruction of the administrative
state. And I will say, you know, in sort of looking at all of this palace
intrigue and all of these firings and all the fact that Scaramucci and
Reince Priebus are household names across America, people know about who`s
in and who`s out of the president`s favor at the White House.

And that has been an effective smokescreen for what this administration has
done in terms of the administrative state, in terms of what is going on at
a lot of these government agencies.

MATTHEWS: There`s no State Department.

STOKOLS: The EPA, HUD, the State Department. There`s not been…

MATTHEWS: They have hollowed them out.

STOKOLS: … enough focus on those things because everybody is watching
the reality drama at 1600.

MATTHEWS: OK. Nationalism says no more stupid wars. That`s sort of the
Bannon doctrine.

A day after he`s gone or the day he left, the president comes out and
escalates the battle in Afghanistan.


PRZYBYLA: Well, I mean, that`s one of the results of surrounding yourself
with generals and having Kelly come in and be your new chief of staff. So
it`s a logical outcome.

And we have seen previous presidents who have wanted to extract themselves,
Obama, and gotten further enmeshed. And so I think it`s just a logical
result and something that we could have expected going into this.

MATTHEWS: Well, they blame the generals, Jason, but I think the question
that goes into this Situation Room from the president is always, how do I
lose a war and still look good?

JOHNSON: Right. Right.

MATTHEWS: And the answer is, you can`t.

JOHNSON: You can`t.

Look, everybody has been increasing the troops in Afghanistan. We`re
probably not going to be able to figure out a way to get out of that. And
that`s the kind of thing that Trump ran on. He ran on…


MATTHEWS: Would Bernie take us out of Afghanistan?

JOHNSON: Bernie would say he was going to.

MATTHEWS: Would he do it?


JOHNSON: … the exact same situation. He wouldn`t pull us out.

MATTHEWS: I`m just trying to – I use it as an extreme case, because he
was so doctrinally against this war.

JOHNSON: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: And I wondered if even he could face the generals down and say,
OK, I`m going to take the loss in the next election. They can blame me for
losing Afghanistan. We never really had it. I`m not kidding myself.

Anyway, up next: The White House turmoil has been a boon to the late-night
comics. We`re going to take a look at their greatest hits, which are all
at the expense of Trump, obviously.

And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.


top headlines.

The Caribbean is bracing for Hurricane Irma, now a Category 4 storm with
maximum sustained winds of 130 miles per hour. The governors of Puerto
Rico and Florida have declared states of emergency ahead of the storm`s
expected arrival.

And Congress will vote this week on financial relief for those affected by
Hurricane Harvey. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy says the chamber
will vote Wednesday on the first relief package – back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, the various late-night hosts have had fun covering the comings and
goings, a lot of goings, actually, of the Trump administration. Here`s
what they had to say about all of the people who have been ousted, fired,
if you will, off the island, if you will, under Trump.

Let`s watch.


or will he speculation, Sean Spicer has finally stepped down as press
secretary, I`m guessing so he can spend more time with the bushes outside
the White House.




afternoon, I was shocked by this breaking nooch.



JAKE TAPPER, CNN: Anthony Scaramucci gone after just a week and change on
the job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Mooch is toast.

COLBERT: Yes, the Mooch is toast. The front-stabber has been backstabbed.


COLBERT: He said he was going to fire everybody. And I got to admit, he





like – you know, this is the song of the summer. Scaramucci came into our
lives, made everyone obsessed with him for like a week, and then he left us
with nothing but memories and like a bunch of weird moves.

Like, Macarena. Hey, Macarena. Macarena. Hey, Scaramucci.



MEYERS: Just think about that. Scaramucci got Priebus fired, and then he
got fired two days later. That`s like telling someone, see you in hell,
and then literally showing up in hell the next day.




Bannon is gone. He leaves behind a legacy defined called by quasi-
constitutional xenophobia, unfulfilled campaign promises, and a definitive
answer to the question, what would happen if Martin Sheen ate nothing
besides sea salts for 1,000 years?




MATTHEWS: Well, we`re back with Eli, Heidi, and Jason.

Guys, I don`t know who is hot on this, but I`ll tell you, there is no line.
There is no red line between satire and late-night and what we talk about
in politics.

JOHNSON: You had – like, Jon Stewart would talk about this beforehand,
that we thought that Trump would kill comedy, because how can you make fun
of someone who`s so ridiculous?

And yet his administration has provided tons of comedy. If anything, it`s
impossible now to do late-night television and not talk about politics. No
one can escape it.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me talk about polarization, because isn`t it true that
“SNL” – oh, you had a better thought. I can tell. Go ahead.

PRZYBYLA: No, I just think it`s a way of national self-soothing, in a way,
because when you think about the numbers of people who didn`t vote or who
didn`t vote for Trump, it`s many, many millions more people.

And I think people have also been activated and awakened, and many of the
people who didn`t vote. And this is a way of – there`s nothing you can do
at this point, other than organize and self-soothe and at least find some
humor in it.

STOKOLS: But the entertainment value of this president – I mean, it`s a
presidency. It`s about the country.


STOKOLS: And yet it is being consumed as if it is nothing different than a
TV show. It`s huge ratings, not just for these shows, but for our
business, for our newspapers.

And, you know, so a presidency that is, by most accounts, not a real
successful presidency so far, approval rating in the 30s, is a smash hit on

And the issue is, when you step back from it, people are eating all this
stuff up every night on TV. And they can`t seem to get enough of it. Are
people comprehending the gravity of this? Sometimes, you don`t sense that
the president comprehends the gravity of it, because he jokes about stuff
too. When he says offensive things, the next day, the response is, oh, he
was joking.


MATTHEWS: Well, Charlie Chaplin made fun of Hitler – not that he`s Hitler
or anything.

But Charlie Chaplin made fun of that dictator, and it was funny. But then
we realized how Hitler wasn`t just a pain in the butt. He was horrible.

And so humor and satire didn`t cut it. Right?

Victor Borge, the great comedian I grew up with who was Danish, who was
Jewish, had escaped from the Nazis, he made a living making fun of the
Nazis until he had to escape Europe.

So, the satire only goes so far. And I just wonder whether – maybe you
are suggesting, are you, that somehow we`re covering up our own fears or
legitimate fears, or else we`re denying them?

STOKOLS: I don`t know.

I just – you can tell that there is just this sort of – everyone`s
feeding the beast all the time. Nobody can seem to get enough of stories
and coverage about this administration. Perhaps that`s because everybody
is kind of on edge about it. But the entertainment value of this is
undeniable. And I don`t know what that is.

PRZYBYLA: There is a very serious moment…


MATTHEWS: Every conversation I have been in, in Washington or anywhere in
the Northeast is the same.

Now, I know I run in that circle, progressive to moderate, whatever. And -
- but everybody seems to say – and I know the conversation`s different in
Texas or in Alabama. We know it is. Is it different? Are they watching
“SNL”? Are they watching “Colbert” in those parts of the country? Are

JOHNSON: There are people who still find – even conservative people, who
still find some humor in some of the antics. They can still laugh at Sean

Now, they may be laughing for different reasons than liberal people do.
They can still laugh at Scaramucci`s antics. This is catharsis for a
country that`s desperately waiting for the 2018 midterm elections. That`s
what I think this is really building towards, because people, they can`t
vote him out, they can`t say, I feel sorry enough.

They have got to laugh until they have an opportunity to really express how
they feel about this presidency next year.

MATTHEWS: Whistling past the graveyard.



PRZYBYLA: Chris, it`s not just geographic. It`s generational.

Even before Trump ever came into office, we know that millennials, younger
people, a disproportionate number of them are already getting their news
from late-night comedians. And so I think there is actually a civic sense
among some of these comedians as well that they`re getting their jabs in.

And they`re getting the information – they`re getting message across, too,
through their comedy. And, yes, they have even had some serious moments
after some of the worst stuff that`s happened, like Charlottesville.

And it`s a way to, I think, broadcast that to a younger generation, that,
I`m sorry, but fewer of them are watching us. They`re watching the

MATTHEWS: Speak for yourself.


MATTHEWS: Up next: President Trump maintains there`s been no collusion
with Russia. So, why is he obsessed with the Russian investigation? Why
is he telling senators to protect his right to get rid of Mueller?

And why is he so upset with the GOP for not doing more to quote – I`m
sorry – here it comes again – “to protect him”? That`s what he seems to
be worried about, this investigation. And I will bet he should be.

You`re watching HARDBALL.



Democrats would like us not to do it, but believe me, if we have to close
down our government, we`re building that wall.



That was President Trump, of course, threatening to hold the U.S.
government hostage in a shutdown, until Congress funds his border wall with
Mexico. And that`s not the only crisis the president will have to confront
this fall. He`s still denying the legitimacy of the investigation into the
Trump campaign`s possible collusion with Russia.

Let`s watch.


TRUMP: We have a situation which is very unusual. Everybody said there`s
no collusion. You look at the councils that come in, we have a Senate
hearing, we have judiciary, we have intelligence, and we have a House
hearing. And everything walks out, even the enemies. I say, no, there`s
no collusion, there`s no collusion.

So, they`re investigating something that never happened. There was no
collusion between us and Russia.


MATTHEWS: Russia has consumed the president`s mind over the past few
months and has strained his relationship with Republican leaders,
especially Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“The New York Times” reports that Trump was even more animated about what
he intimated was the Senate leader`s refusal to protect him from
investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

We`re back with Eli, Heidi, and Jason.

If I were Trump and I had any kind of conversations, either through my son-
in-law or my son or my daughter with the Russians, that nobody knows about,
yes, I would be worried.

acted like he`s worried. And he also betrays this naivete about thinking
that people in D.C. can protect him and that he – that they are going to
be loyal to him, protecting him. He came in as an outsider. He torched
D.C. and the establishment and the swamp. But relationships matter in this

And so, when you`re looking at the fall and you`re looking at an
investigation that you`re trying to stave off, when you`re looking at
Congress and trying to come up with something that is a win, he doesn`t
have anybody really who knows him and has a deep relationship with him
here. Very few people, maybe David Perdue and a few others on the Hill,
but just not enough. And then he`s out there on Twitter every morning,
scratching the itch. And he`s alienating them more.

MATTHEWS: You know, Eli really understands this city, because I know how
that works. Because if you have a question mark about somebody and you
don`t like `em, you go after `em. If there`s a question mark about
somebody you do like, you go, let`s see if there`s more on that.

STOKOLS: Most people take it out in the open –

MATTHEWS: Let`s see if there`s more on that. If there`s more on it, I`ll
move. But that`s not enough for me to move right now. It`s called
prosecutorial discretion.

But in a legislative context, it`s always there. Do I give this prosecutor
more muscle? Do I give them more protection from being fired? Or just a
little. And it`s all nuance. And it`s up to these relationships.

JASON JOHNSON, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, I think the other problem is
that Trump has not been able to demonstrate thus far that he can protect
you, either. I mean, we start at the beginning, look at all the different
people that he`s fired. So, even if I am a Trump loyalist, even if I think
that Russia is absolutely flimsy nonsense and created by the fake media –

MATTHEWS: Hence the pardon talk.

JOHNSON: Yes, exactly, like he`s got to be able to pardon, he`s got to be
able to provide some more support for the people who are willing to take
bullets for him and right now, he hasn`t show that he`s as good a shield.

up until this point, his entire life, he`s a 72-year-old man, the way that
he`s actually gotten things done is by stomping his foot, kicking down,
making people cower, because he`s the chief executive, he`s the sole
proprietor of essentially a family-owned business and you work for him, so
you do what he says. Then he comes to Washington and he tries doing that
to Mark Meadows.


PRZYBYLA: He tries doing that to Paul Ryan. He tries doing that to Mitch

Well, hello, Mr. Trump, there are people here in Washington who have
equally as big egos and they don`t work for you. Congress doesn`t work for
you. It`s a fundamental, also, revealing of kind of a civic
misunderstanding of the separation of powers here in Washington, and how
you get things done. Very different from, you know, being the sole
proprietor of a family-owned business.

JOHNSON: The transaction is totally different because in his business,
he`s buying. So, he can say, I`m not buying. OK, we won`t do the deal,
I`m not buying, you`re going to be poor, right? He doesn`t pay bills,
we`ve heard that, OK? I don`t have – but now he`s asking people to do
stuff for him.

It`s a totally different transaction, Jason.

JOHNSON: And here`s the thing – and he doesn`t have the power, he doesn`t
have the knowledge of the city yet to even cower people into control the
way he used to. Look, when senators walked into George Bush`s office and
said, you`re going to listen to me, what`d he do to Trent Lott? Just
knocked him out, knocked him out. He demonstrated his like, look, if you
don`t get along with my program, if you don`t like me, even if you don`t
like Karl Rove, I can demonstrate some political savvy and power. Trump
hasn`t been able to do that yet.

Now, maybe if some of these Republicans –

MATTHEWS: If he knocks off Jeff Flake next year.

JOHNSON: Exactly. If he can knock out somebody in a primary, but until
then, he`s paper tiger.

PRZYBYLA: And he does it in such a public way of bullying these people,
such that the news reports get out or he does it over Twitter. It`s not
that we haven`t had presidents before who have been intimidating and maybe
even bullying like LBJ, but they did it in private. They didn`t do it in

MATTHEWS: The more I hear about Jeff Flake`s primary opponent, the more I
like Jeff Flake by the way.


STOKOLS: People on both sides of the aisle like Jeff Flake, because they
have a relationship with him and he`s a decent guy.

MATTHEWS: He`s a senator from Arizona.

STOKOLS: It`s the myopia. It`s never thinking more than one play ahead
with President Trump himself, and so, who cares? Maybe he takes out flake
in a primary. But does she win that race or do they give up the seat? And
even if she wins the seat – if she wins the seat, what is the cost to the
relationships with Mitch McConnell and the Republican caucus?

MATTHEWS: You know how you play pool? It`s about placement of the ball
after you make the shot. Not just about making the shot.

Anyway, when we come back, a big test for president coming up this

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

September`s a pivotal month for the president`s legislative agenda, but
November`s gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia will be taken
by some as the first test to President Trump`s political prowess. The
outcomes of these races are taken by some as the first clues about the
national mood a year after a president`s election. In this case, Trump`s,
and a year before the midterm 2018 elections this time.

And for Democrats, it`s their first opportunity to prove to voters they`re
more than just the resistance.

We`re back with Eli, Heidi, and Jason.

Let`s just – I`m just going to say it. New Jersey looks good for the
Democrats. This guy, Paul Murphy, is probably going to win. Chris
Christie has just left a bathtub ring around the governor`s office –

PRZYBYLA: His approval ratings are worse than Trump`s.

MATTHEWS: It`s not going to be good for anything.

Let`s talk about Virginia, which is fascinating. It`s a purple state. Ed
Gillespie lost a race, a couple of years ago, a good candidate, a
surprising candidate, almost knocked off Mark Warner, and amazing
performance actually. But now, he`s behind about six points, but it`s a
good race. The monuments issue.

I`ve just looked at this poll here. Now, Virginia`s Virginia. It`s not
New Jersey. It`s not Philadelphia of Pennsylvania. Fifty-two percent of
voters polled think the monument is part of Southern heritage. That can
cover a lot of territory, 52. Twenty-five percent believe the statues a
symbols of racism pure and simple. That`s not just minorities, some
liberal whites, too.

But I have a sense that that`s Gillespie`s only chance to make this a
referendum on, do we betray our heritage.

JOHNSON: You`ve had people who have actually attacked Northam already and
basically – they called him a race traitor for this particular issue. I
think that when this debate happens, when we see a debate between these
candidates, it might be one of the most explosive things that we`ve seen in
this country in a gubernatorial race in years.

I don`t know what the right answer is. I don`t think anyone in Virginia
yet know –


JOHNSON: Yes, I don`t think anyone knows what the political right answer
is, because it`s not just about heritage. It`s just not about hate. It`s
also about a terrorist attack. And what kind of terminology you use to
discuss –

MATTHEWS: In Charlottesville?

JOHNSON: In Charlottesville.

PRZYBYLA: But here`s what I think could happen. Right now, things were
looking very good for Northam. You know, he`s ahead in the polls. Trump`s
approval ratings are lower than average there. The Democrats are doing a
good job of tying Gillespie to Trump.

But if this issue, depending on how it plays out, energizes the right in
the way Democrats feel energized –

MATTHEWS: The southern part of the state.

PRZYBYLA: – right now – in the southern part of the state – right now,
they`re depending very much on the Democrats in northern Virginia, who are
hot to trot, want to get out there in the midterms and vote. But if this
issue, depending on how it plays out, energizes the right, then I think,
you know, this race is a lot closer than we think.

And it`s also going to be very bad for Democrats, because many analysts no
longer consider Virginia even a purple state. Democrats have taken it at
the presidential level, nine out of the past ten. If a Republican wins,
and this is one of the only elections, the only major election that we have
this year, rolling into the midterms, I think that`s going to be a
significant scalping for the Republican Party.


STOKOLS: Yes, I think that`s right. And this is a very interesting test
case, because Heidi`s right. Virginia, Colorado, states we used to
consider purple states, they`re more blue now than some of these Rust Belt
states that Democrats have taken for granted for a long time. At least
with the politics of our country the way they are today with Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: What about with the monuments?

STOKOLS: Well, I think that there`s a reason that Donald Trump decided to
pivot from the both sides screw-up in the aftermath of Charlottesville to,
I`m defending the monuments, because it`s a better political issue, and I
think the Democrats who latched on to that issue are sort of playing or
misplaying what was a very good hand.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me give you a little red line. There`s a nice little
statue on the Main Street of Washington Street in old town Alexandria, not
far from here. It`s not about a big general riding on a horse, I won this
battle. It`s not about slavery, as you can see.

It`s a poor white – I guess white – Southern soldier, a grunt, leaning
down southwards, called Appomattox. It`s about failure. It`s about
defeat. It`s about a region that lost.

They go after that one, they`re making a mistake. That`s my hunch. If the
progressives think that`s something that has something to do with slavery,
I think they lose on that, but I`m not sure. I think they lose on that

JOHNSON: We still have time, but I also say this. If there`s ever a
canary in a mine, look at Justin Fairfax. Look, you have an African-
American male who`s running for lieutenant governor in the state and this
has not affected his numbers at all. He has come out and said, he has
threaded that needle.

He said, look, we need to look at this on sort of a case-by-case basis. We
don`t like the violence that happened down there, but communities do have a
right to say if something offended that community.

MATTHEWS: Case by case. It`s so true.

PRZYBYLA: Northam has said – Northam has moved slightly left to a place
he might be in a good place on this because he said, these monuments should
stay and be put in historical context. So, let`s just put up additional

MATTHEWS: In museums?

PRZYBYLA: That`s the position I think he`s going to keep –

MATTHEWS: I`m not sure it will win. I`m not sure it will win.

Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. Up next, these three will tell
me something I don`t know.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Eli, you`re first. Tell me something I don`t know.

STOKOLS: OK. So, we`re just six to seven months into this presidency.
He`s already had political rallies run by his re-election campaign, but
I`ve talked to people in the last few weeks who are close to the president
and speak with him regularly. And there`s a lot of chatter that he`s not
even going to be running for re-election in 2020. There`s just people
close to the president think this has taken too much of a toll and they
don`t know he`s going to last four years, but they`re cold on the idea that
he`s going to run again.

MATTHEWS: Wow. I hear that.

PRZYBYLA: We talk a lot on this show and other shows about how the
president –


STOKOLS: People pretty close to this president.


PRZYBYLA: We`ve talked a lot about how this president isn`t getting
anything done and there`s an important distinction. He`s not getting
anything done in Congress, but there are plenty of things that are getting
done and one of the top ones is energy. It`s not just clearing the way for
XL Pipeline, there`s many regulatory reforms that he`s putting in place.

And as a matter of fact, we`re now getting the numbers in that last year
coal production is up by about 15 percent. We can`t prove the causality,
but that`s a number that`s hard now.

MATTHEWS: I think regulatory, you`re going to claim credit, as you hear
from business guys. And I think he wants to get another Supreme Court
justice in there, and he might quit. I think he wants to get a little more
accomplishment behind him.

JOHNSON: “New York Times” has a piece out talking about after 35 years, a
series of affirmative action has done nothing to improve the number of
minorities at elite schools in the United States of America. They say the
numbers are pretty much the same as 1980, but Latinos and African-
Americans, when you talk about Harvard, Duke and elite institutions.

But they`ve only got half the story, which you may not know, is over the
last three years, there`s been a massive increase in minority students to
historically black colleges and universities, in part because of costs, in
part because of issues of on-campus safety, and in part because many
students feel that going to an elite undergrad institution is not going to
improve their chances in the economy.

MATTHEWS: Very interesting.

Thank you to our great panel tonight, Eli Stokols, Heidi Przybyla, and
Jason Johnson.

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

“ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES” starts right now.


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