Hardball with Chris Matthew, Transcript 9/11/17 Trump’s letter of intent Moscow Tower released
Date: September 11, 2017
Guest: Rachel Bade, Clarence Page, Lenny Curry, Charlie Dent, Annie
Linskey, Michael Isikoff
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Bannon rips the scab off.
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
We`ve got news tonight on the recent developments in the Russia
investigation as well as Steve Bannon`s remarks about the firing of former
FBI director James Comey.
But first, just a word on Hurricane Irma. It has left a trail of
destruction across much of the state of Florida, as we know, triggering
severe flooding now in Jacksonville, Florida, the state`s largest city.
More than seven million homes and businesses are without power tonight
across the southeast. And officials are going house to house now in the
Florida Keys, which took the brunt of the hit as the storm first made
Here`s what it looked like here on MSNBC when the big storm moved through.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the rain that`s…
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: … hitting me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow. Why don`t you get under the overhang there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This came off one of the palm trees to the east of me.
And I`m not going let go of it because it actually could just fly around.
Probably weighs about 25, 30 pounds.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The angle of approach can make all the difference. And
a storm that`s more parallel – Oh! That hurt!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: That hurts. We`ll get the latest on Irma, now a tropical storm,
ahead on HARDBALL.
But now to the Russian investigation and what former White House strategist
Steve Bannon is now saying. Just weeks after he was ousted, Bannon is
reigniting the debate over President Trump`s firing of former FBI director
James Comey, a subject the White House has tried to avoid amid the
obstruction of justice investigation into the president. Bannon said on
“60 Minutes” that Trump`s decision to cut Comey loose was the biggest
mistake in modern political history.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE BANNON, BREITBART NEWS: I don`t think there`s any doubt that if
James Comey had not been fired, we would not have a special counsel.
CHARLIE ROSE, CBS NEWS: Someone said to me that you described the firing
of James Comey – you`re a student of history – as the biggest mistake in
BANNON: That would be probably – that would probably be too bombastic
even for me, but maybe modern political history.
ROSE: So the firing of James Comey was the biggest mistake in modern
BANNON: If you`re saying that that`s associated with me, then I`ll leave
it at that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: “I`ll leave it at that.” Anyway, the remark reignited the
debate over Comey`s ouster and forced the White House to once again defend
the president`s decision to fire him. In the briefing today, press
secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders accused Comey – there they go again – of
making false testimony, among other things.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Do you have a reaction to Steve Bannon`s comments on “60
Minutes” saying that the firing of James Comey was the biggest political
mistake in modern history?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Certainly, I think
that it has been shown in the days that followed that the president was
right in firing Director Comey. Since the director`s firing, we`ve learned
new information about his conduct that only provided further justification
for that firing, including giving false testimony, leaking privileged
information to journalists. He went outside of the chain of command and
politicized an investigation into a presidential candidate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Perfect flackery. Anyway, meanwhile, following reports that
Robert Mueller`s team of investigators want to talk to multiple current and
former White House aides, some are now lawyering up, as you might expect,
including interim communications director Hope Hicks – they`re all hiring
lawyers – White House counsel Don McGahn, a lawyer himself, and former
chief of staff Reince Priebus. They`re all getting ready for their
Joining me right now is Michael Isikoff, chief investigative correspondent
Yahoo News, Ann Linskey – Annie Linskey and – chief national
correspondent at “The Boston Globe,” and Paul Butler is a former federal
prosecutor and MSNBC legal analyst.
Paul, you know, I listen to the flackery – and that`s what it is from her,
from Huckabee – she`s the perfect part for this, you know, a little
country, a little, you know, sincerity. But basically, she was reading
from a list of flackery notes.
Everybody knows he fired him. He fired Comey because Comey was getting too
close on the Russian investigation. Now we have this guy ripping the scab
off, and not – in an indelicate way of saying they`re back to where they
don`t want to be, defending the firing of Comey, which was done to prevent
any further progress on the Russian investigation. And everyone watching
now knows the motive. Now they are back to the BS again.
PAUL BUTLER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: That`s right.
It`s so ironic because there actually were credible reasons to fire Comey,
although (ph) those unsupported allegations he made against Hillary
Clinton. But that`s not why Comey was fired. And so now we have this
You know, when he says that it`s the biggest blunder in political history,
he`s got insider knowledge. So that makes me think, is this a bigger
blunder than Bill Clinton allegedly lying about whether he had sex with
Monica Lewinsky? Because Clinton got impeached for that. He wasn`t
convicted in the Senate. But Bannon is implying this could go even
MATTHEWS: Well, I – Annie, I find it interesting because there`s a Catch-
22 buried in this. You know, if Trump is guilty as hell and knows it,
firing Comey makes sort of instinctive sense. One guy knock him down, now
knock the next guy down, just keep knocking them down.
ANNIE LINSKEY, “BOSTON GLOBE”: True.
MATTHEWS: And this sort of assumes that what Bannon and his weird
strategizing is saying is, Oh, he`s clean as a whistle. Why did he fire
Comey? I don`t think anybody up there thinks he`s clean as a whistle, so
Bannon is flacking it his way for the guy.
LINSKEY: I think that Bannon is seeing sort of the knock-on effect as the
biggest mistake in modern political history. I mean, I think he`s seeing
the hiring of Mueller as an existential threat to the White House and to
MATTHEWS: By the way, when is Steve Bannon some intellectual?
LINSKEY: Well, he`s – he`s…
MATTHEWS: Some thinker and historian.
LINSKEY: He`s called things pretty darn well.
MATTHEWS: I want to see him on “Jeopardy” first (INAUDIBLE) say how good
LINSKEY: He`s pretty – he`s a smart guy. He went to Harvard Business
School. And he has done pretty well in the last two years.
MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) the theory of credentials, the establishment has
just got it made in this country.
Anyway, Michael, you`re reporting on Yahoo News now that the FBI is
investigating the Russian state-funded news outlet propaganda organ Sputnik
to determine whether it is acting as an undeclared propaganda arm of the
Kremlin in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, a law intended
to check foreign propaganda.
The bureau has interviewed – that`s the FBI – a former White House
correspondent for Sputnik, Andrew Feinberg (ph), who says that his
supervisors regularly would say, Moscow wants this, or Moscow wants that.
Feinberg says he was directed to raise questions in the White House
briefing about a now discredited report that cast doubt on Russia`s role in
the DNC hacking, and also suggested Syria`s Bashar Assad was not behind the
chemical attack. So he was told by his bosses (INAUDIBLE) propagandize in
the press room. He said no, they fired him.
You know what this reminds me of? “The Americans.” It`s like the center.
It`s like Moscow says, the center says, you know? And then Frank Langella
comes in with the big news in that series, and it`s always bad.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, YAHOO NEWS: Look, this is…
MATTHEWS: So you`ve got this story. Tell me what the story is about
ISIKOFF: Well, first of all, this is significant because you have these
two Russian news organizations in the United States, Sputnik and RT…
MATTHEWS: Yes. Are they accredited anywhere, like up on the Hill or in
the White House? Are they allowed in the door, given press credentials?
ISIKOFF: Well, they – I mean, Andrew Feinberg, the reporter who…
MATTHEWS: He`s an American?
ISIKOFF: He`s an American from the Washington suburbs who was the White
House reporter. So he had White House press credentials to go in there on
behalf of Sputnik. Now both Sputnik and…
MATTHEWS: But he – he seemed – he just sort of choked on this crap. He
wouldn`t do what they finally told him to do, go in there and BS this thing
ISIKOFF: Right. That`s how – and he talked to Yahoo about it, about how
he was fired after he refused to ask that question about Seth Rich, that
they wanted him to give circulation to this bogus conspiracy theory. And
then he wrote a piece for Politico about it. And then it was after that
that the FBI reaches out to him, says they want to talk to him.
MATTHEWS: Well, is there any doubt that the – I mean, it seems like the
FBI`s got a simple one here. Is RT and is Sputnik a propaganda operation?
Isn`t the answer obviously yes?
ISIKOFF: Well, the U.S. intelligence community basically said that in its
January report, saying that both RT and Sputnik played a role in the
Russian influence campaign during the 2016 presidential election, that they
were there to further Kremlin propaganda, to boost Donald Trump, to attack
MATTHEWS: So they were already there?
ISIKOFF: They were – they were doing…
MATTHEWS: But what`s your news? What`s your scoop then?
ISIKOFF: Well, the fact that the FBI is investigating this and trying to
bring them under the orbit of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
MATTHEWS: What`s the find? What`s the find that they catch? Is it, OK,
you`re just a bunch of…
ISIKOFF: It`s a criminal offense. It`s not – it`s not often that…
MATTHEWS: Can you put some Russians in jail?
ISIKOFF: You could, conceivably. But the more important thing…
MATTHEWS: Well, that would be exciting.
MATTHEWS: I think a lot of people watching would like to see some of the
Russians involved in screwing with our election put behind bars.
ISIKOFF: If I may make the point here that what`s significant…
MATTHEWS: You`re not getting enough time here, is that your problem,
Michael? Make your point. Let`s go.
ISIKOFF: What`s significant here is that if you`re covered under FARA,
MATTHEWS: FARA being?
ISIKOFF: The Foreign Agents Registration Act. Anything you disseminate
has to be labeled as propaganda.
MATTHEWS: And the word…
ISIKOFF: In every piece of information you put out.
MATTHEWS: Wouldn`t that discredit every word you said if you said this is
ISIKOFF: Exactly! If you`re a news organization, you`re presenting
yourself as reporting news, and it would have to be labelled, This is
propaganda, at the end of every story, I think it would undermine your
MATTHEWS: You can`t say fair and balanced.
MATTHEWS: Well, anyway, last week…
ISIKOFF: … have a problem.
MATTHEWS: … “The Washington Post” revealed – good reporting there –
revealed that the Washington – Russian firm bought ads attacking or
targeting American voters through fraudulent Facebook accounts. A report
in The DailyBeast now estimates that those propaganda posts were likely
seen by a minimum of 23 million people and might have reached as many as 70
MATTHEWS: A lot of power out there in the propaganda operation.
LINSKEY: I think this is one of the most insidious stories, actually, to
come out in this entire sort of discussion about how Russia has influenced
or sought to influence our election because you wonder how in the world
were those 20 million people targeted? And that is the question that we
don`t have answered yet.
But that`s where you begin to wonder if there`s any sort of nexus at all
between the Trump campaign or supporters of his campaign and information
about where exactly those ads should go because they didn`t go randomly. I
mean, I certainly didn`t see any of those on my Facebook feed. You know, I
don`t know many people who did sort of in my immediate family, in my
network, which is sort of very truth-based. So you have to wonder, you
know, who was – how did they get the targeting on that? And I think that
is the key question here.
MATTHEWS: But do we know what`s in those ads yet? Do we know what`s in
ISIKOFF: That`s a very good point because Facebook has refused to disclose
them. They say they have to protect the privacy of its users. Now, its
users in this case were fake account holders tied to a Russian troll
ISIKOFF: But they say they have to follow the rules.
MATTHEWS: How is that private information if it`s already been posted? I
mean, how do you maintain the privacy of a client when you`ve already put
out their propaganda as the relationship you have with them?
BUTLER: So it`s waived. Of course, the Department of Justice has firm
guidelines whenever there`s a concern about infringing on the press because
of the 1st Amendment. But at the end of the day, if Robert Mueller or some
official of the Justice Department wants this information from Facebook,
they will get it.
MATTHEWS: Well, on Friday, a reporter with “The New York Times” released a
letter of intent between the Trump Organization and a Russian developer for
a planned – catch this – Trump Tower in Moscow. It`s the latest evidence
that Trump was pursuing business deals in Russia during his campaign for
president. Get it? He was pursuing business deals during the race for
president, the campaign, despite his numerous public denials on the record
that he has nothing to do with Russia. Let`s watch those denials.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have nothing to do with
Russia, folks, OK?
I don`t have any deals in Russia.
I have no relationship to Russia whatsoever.
I have nothing to do with Russia. I have no investments in Russia, none
I have no dealings with Russia. I have no deals in Russia. I have no
deals that could happen in Russia because we`ve stayed away.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: The word “liar” is a cruel word, but there you have a guy
saying, I`ve had no relations, business relations, and now we have
documentary evidence of a proposal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
LINSKEY: Yes. That`s right. I mean – you know, but I`ve got to say, is
this the first time a politician has lied? I mean, it`s not exactly
against the law. He was not under oath in any of those circumstances.
BUTLER: But at least make it a lie about something. It`s not illegal to
have business in Russia. So when he lies about it, it sounds like a cover-
up, like he`s afraid of what the investigation will reveal.
MATTHEWS: If I`m a prosecutor like you have been, I would begin to think
this guy`s covering up because he instinctively covers up. You say
business in Russia, why would he deny it?
BUTLER: Yes. Again, there`s no reason…
MATTHEWS: If it`s a document sitting out there he`s trying to build a
building over there, a big one, a real big building like Trump likes to,
why would he lie?
ISIKOFF: Actually, if you parse every one of those…
MATTHEWS: I`m not parsing anymore. Sexual relations…
ISIKOFF: … “is” is.
MATTHEWS: I know how they go, these games (ph).
ISIKOFF: He was speaking in the present tense.
MATTHEWS: You know what, Michael?
MATTHEWS: You`ve been beaten up too many times. Thank you, Michael
Isikoff. He`s been through two many wars. Annie Linskey – great
reporter, though. Annie Linskey and Paul Butler.
We`ll be back with the politics in a minute.
But up next – Irma may have left Florida, but not without triggering
severe flooding in the state`s largest city of Jacksonville. That`s going
on right now. And of course, the damage has been done in the Florida Keys,
where the hurricane first made landfall. And that was a vulnerable place
down there. It still is. The devastation down there is widespread. We`re
going to have the latest on the devastation left in Irma`s path in just a
Plus, we`re starting to see the first retirements, and they`re not nice
retirements, from moderate Republicans in Congress. And that`s a bad sign
for a political party that hopes to keep control come 2018 and the
midterms. One reason for those moderates are calling it quits, Steve
Bannon. He`s basically declared war on mainstream Republicans and is
plotting right-wing primary challenges, purges if you will, against several
key senators. But a lot of them just don`t want to be associated with
Trump and the party right now.
Finally, the HARDBALL roundtable will be here with three things you might
not know tonight. You`ll know them later here.
And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: In her first television interview since losing the 2016
presidential election, Hillary Clinton pulled no punches in talking about
her former opponent, President Donald Trump. She mocked Trump for
underestimating how difficult the presidency would be, and had this to say
about the, quote, “out of body experience” she had while attending the
inauguration. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I had a big decision to
make. Was I going to go to the inauguration?
JANE PAULEY, CBS NEWS: Well, defeated candidates don`t necessarily show
PAULEY: But you`re a former first lady.
CLINTON: But I`m a former first lady and former presidents and first
ladies show up. So there I was on the platform, you know, feeling like an
out of body experience. And then his speech, which was a cry from the
white nationalist gut…
TRUMP: This American carnage stops!
CLINTON: What an opportunity to say, OK, I`m proud of my supporters, but
I`m the president of all Americans. That`s not what we heard at all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. As the sun sets over Florida tonight,
thousands are surveying the damage left in Hurricane Irma`s wake. Flooded
streets, downed trees, you see them all over the place, and crushed cars
litter the sidewalks from Miami all the way to Tampa. And currently. Irma
is sitting over Georgia. Irma has now weakened into a tropical storm as it
continues its damaging trek north, however, heading towards North Carolina,
South Carolina and Alabama – not in that order.
Downtown Jacksonville is under a flash flood emergency right now as the
city`s experiencing record storm surges. Statewide, more than seven
million homes and businesses are without power, and 220,000 people continue
to huddle in shelters tonight. Officials have warned that it could take
weeks to restore power to people down in Florida.
Here`s Governor Rick Scott.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: Power outages. We have about 65 percent of
the state without power. It`s going take us a long time to get power back.
I know for our entire state, but especially for the Keys, it`s going to be
a long road.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, residents in the Keys have only begun to assess the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Water damage and certainly wind damage here. Homes are
Looks like Tornado Alley in some places here, where they have been shredded
to pieces. So it`s a mix here of what we have been seeing over the last
several blocks, the high water damage that has flooded out neighborhoods,
but also homes that have been just torn apart by Irma`s powerful 130-plus-
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: What a beautiful part of the country.
Anyway – not now, of course, with this damage.
But on the tiny Caribbean island of Saint Martin, desperation is mounting.
“The New York Times” reports that the disintegration of law and order has
set in as the survivors struggle in the face of severe food and water
shortages, in the absence of electricity and phone service.
For the very latest, we turn to NBC News correspondent Catie Beck, joining
us from Jacksonville, Florida.
Catie, tell us what is happening right there as the storm has passed
CATIE BECK, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Chris.
Yes, this is a low-lying neighborhood in downtown Jacksonville. It is
right next to the Saint Johns River. And this is really the storm surge
that is wreaking havoc on this city right now. You can see this entire
neighborhood behind me is submerged.
The further you go down, the deeper the waters get. So, unfortunately, we
can`t show you what`s at the end of that block, which is waters that we`re
told are as deep as five feet at this point.
We have been told that authorities here have been in rescue mode all day
long, taking canoes and kayaks throughout these communities here along the
riverfront, making rescues, getting people out of harm`s way.
And the reason for that is because, as the tide comes in and out, these
water levels are going to continue to rise and fall. Low tide is at 8:00
tonight. So what we`re seeing right now is probably the lowest the waters
have been all day.
Around 2:00 a.m., that surge is going to come right back in and fill in
this neighborhood. This process, we`re told, could take a week or more for
all of the waters to recede. Their power outages here are substantial.
Almost no one in Jacksonville has power, and nothing is open.
So, folks are really hunkering down in those shelters and trying to find
the resources they can. Some people are trying to come back and survey the
damage in their home. Not wise at this moment, especially with the tides
coming in and out and being unpredictable, but certainly a long way from
back to normal for is the city of Jacksonville.
MATTHEWS: Thanks so much, NBC`s Catie Beck.
For more, we`re joined right now by the mayor of Jacksonville himself,
Mayor Lenny Curry.
Mr. Mayor, thank you for joining us by phone.
You know, I have to tell you that I`m not often in this mind-set, but I am
impressed by the urgency with which the officials in Florida, led by the
governor, Governor Scott, have addressed this threat. They have talked
about it as a serious threat from the first moment it appeared over the
horizon from the Caribbean. They have gotten people in their ear sight.
They have got the people ready. People are being told by officials what to
do. It does seem that, if we have a more limited loss of life than
expected, it`s because of public action. Your thoughts.
LENNY CURRY, MAYOR OF JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA: That`s right, Chris.
And thank you, and good evening.
The governor has been on top of this, working with us well before the
storm. President Trump`s White House has been in touch with the governor
and reached out to us before the storm. And we here locally, you know, we
began evacuations on Wednesday.
We told people, these are voluntary, but they`re eventually going to be
mandatory. And we`re starting them early because of the traffic flow
coming into South Florida. We moved to mandatory on Friday.
Unfortunately, some didn`t leave. And now we`re dealing with a once-in-a-
lifetime flood surge – flood surge, storm surge.
MATTHEWS: How deep is the water in Jacksonville? I`m looking at somebody
about two or three feet, but that`s just the tide coming in.
CURRY: Chris, we have got people – so, the information that was available
to us this morning that was not previously available to us was that we have
Category 3 storm surge and tropical storm weather.
So we had to move quickly this morning. I had to tell people that we need
you to call us. We need to know where you are. We need you to put a white
flag or something white to represent that on your home, so we can see it
from the outside and we can come get you.
MATTHEWS: I see.
CURRY: And that`s what our search-and-rescue teams, firemen, policemen,
state assets sent in by the governor have been doing all day. We remain in
rescue mode at this moment.
MATTHEWS: Well, are some people staying behind and just resisting all
direction, all advice to the contrary?
CURRY: There are certainly people who stayed in areas that we wish they
would not have.
But now it`s time for us. That`s behind us. The event is – the storm is
gone. The floods are here. And we just got to get in and save lives, save
lives and take care of our people.
MATTHEWS: Well, thanks so much. I have got friends down there. And I
hope they`re well right now tonight, Mayor Lenny Curry of Jacksonville,
Meanwhile, in the Florida Keys, officials say there is no fuel, no
electricity, running water, or cell service. Many homes were devastated.
Look at these pictures. And residents are unable to return home to even
look at the damage.
I`m now joined by Miguel Almaguer, who surveyed the destruction in the Keys
earlier today, and joins us now from Florida City, Florida.
Thanks so much, Miguel.
Give us a sense of what you`re looking at down there. You got to look at
MIGUEL ALMAGUER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Chris, it was our first time to
actually get a good look at what happened in the Florida Keys.
As you know, Irma made landfall first in the Keys with wind speeds of 135
miles an hour plus. We also are told that the waves there were towering up
to 15 feet tall. So, imagine the damage there. We saw some homes that
were clearly ripped apart, ripped to shreds by those powerful winds.
We also saw homes, entire neighborhoods, city blocks that were still
underwater, under a couple of feet of water. And some folks were actually
wading through their neighborhoods. We know that the military is now on
scene. The National Guard is going in to help. The Navy is just offshore
with three warships prepared to help in search and rescues which they will
deploy tomorrow, and also with an arrange of supplies, everything from food
and water for folks that may be trapped there.
During the peak of the storm, we`re told about 10,000 people remained
behind. They did not choose to evacuate. They were there when Irma made
landfall on Sunday and tore through the area.
One person who was there told us it sounded and looked like a nuclear bomb
went off. That`s how hard and how fast this impact was. Many people still
remain there today. Others cannot return home. The police have actually
shut down US-1 behind me. It`s the main artery, the iconic road…
ALMAGUER: … that leads in and out of the Keys. That`s shut down. Only
emergency personnel and construction crews are allowed to go back in.
They`re still assessing the damage, taking a look at roads and other
infrastructure to see how they fared in this storm, so, certainly several
days of cleanup, if not weeks or months, ahead, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Well, that main drag, it has got to be one of the most beautiful
drives in the country, maybe only in comparison or challenged by Northern
California, because, when you drive down, you can see the ocean on one
side, the Caribbean on the other side. And you see the Gulf of Mexico on
the other side. It`s all there and all beautiful.
Was that road closed during this? Could you still travel that during this
During the storm, they had opened it for folks to evacuate one way out.
But when the storm actually touched down, they closed it. Much too
dangerous for anyone to be on that fairly narrow strip of road…
MATTHEWS: Yes, it is.
ALMAGUER: … as the storm was coming over.
Over my shoulder here, you will see this is probably the National Guard
that`s arriving here now. These high-water rescue vehicles will likely be
used to go and snake through those neighborhoods and pull people out of
homes that remain stuck there.
So, you can see the Guard, the Navy working tonight, working overtime to do
what they can to pull out anyone that may need help, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Well, this is an amazing time to say it, but I have to say
everybody should get a chance in their lifetime to see the Keys. They are
something else in our geography. And you`re down there reporting on the
worst time ever to be down there. But it is generally one of the real
wonderful spots in our country.
Thank you, Miguel Almaguer, for this great reporting.
ALMAGUER: You got it.
MATTHEWS: Up next: A top Republican senator and frequent critic of
President Trump signals that he just may quit in 2018. That`s Bob Corker
there of Tennessee. A number of moderate Republicans say they plan to give
up their seats, just walk away. Why are they leaving? And does it have
anything to do with President Trump?
What do you think?
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: There is a lot of polarization around
here. It`s going to be difficult to get some things done.
So, I`m going to continue to be a voice for the sensible center, and might
just do it from the outside, rather than from the inside.
I am concerned about this growing isolationism, nativism, protectionism,
with a touch of nihilism, which these are not attributes of a great nation.
I will not rule out running for office again, but I have no plans or desire
to run in the 2018 cycle.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Charlie Dent on why he is not
running for reelection next year.
Along with Dent, moderate Republicans David Trott and Dave Reichert have
announced they`re stepping down in 2018, opening up for Democrats, I
suppose, to win those swing district seats.
As NBC News points out, the more GOP retirements, the better chance
Well, on the Republican side, Tennessee Republican Bob Corker said today in
a statement that: “Running for reelection has never been an automatic for
me. While we are in a strong position, I`m still contemplating the future
and will make a decision at the appropriate time.”
I`m joined right now by Representative Charlie Dent in his first on-camera
sit-down interview since he announced his retirement.
Well, I`m kind of surprised, because it seems to me that you have been a
stalwart Republican, and the kind – the kind we all grew up with in
Pennsylvania. We don`t have right-wing Republicans generally in
Pennsylvania, except for Santorum. And he is sort of gone.
And yet you fit the mold of Tom Ridge, of Bill Scranton, of Arlen Specter,
of all the leaders that I grew up with, moderate Republicans. I don`t know
if I voted for any of them. But I used to really like, when I was a kid,
Scranton. I knew there were some really good moderate Republicans.
Why are you leaving the band? Because you`re leaving it to the Trump
world. You`re leaving him to run the show.
DENT: Well, I`m leaving, Chris, because I have been thinking about this
since September of 2013, since the government shut down.
I have had these conversations with my family. I did 14 years of elected
service at the state level. I`m in my seventh term now. It will be 14
years at the federal level.
And I thought I want to leave at the top of my game. Some people hang here
too long. And of course there is some frustration.
MATTHEWS: If it weren`t for Trump, would you stick it out?
DENT: Probably not. I really – I really feel strongly that the…
DENT: Look, some of the challenges…
MATTHEWS: Why am I getting the sense that Trump is just bad news for you,
and you don`t want to be in his world?
DENT: Well, it`s not just the president.
We were having challenges prior to Donald Trump. I mean, the simple basic
task of governance, just funding the government through a continuing
resolution or preventing a default, these shouldn`t be very difficult
things to do. But they became excruciatingly hard, just these really basic
I mean, we have some responsibilities. And we just can`t get them done.
And if you can`t take care of the basics, the fundamentals, then how can
you advance big policy initiatives, like tax reform, health care reform,
That`s, I guess, the frustration for me. But don`t get me wrong. I love
this job. It`s fun. You get to do a lot of interesting things, meet a lot
of great people. But it`s just getting harder to do the basics.
MATTHEWS: Is the Republican Party a governing party right now?
MATTHEWS: Is it interested primarily in governing the country? Is that`s
what it`s doing?
DENT: We don`t have…
MATTHEWS: Because we don`t see that.
DENT: Well, I will tell you what.
The battle prior to Donald Trump was this. We had the purists vs. the
pragmatists. And the pragmatists were largely the governing wing of the
party, of which I was a part. That was the battle. That was the litmus
Now, since Donald Trump has become president, the litmus test is more Trump
loyalty, you know, are you loyal enough?
But we still have this underlying fight between the pragmatists and the
DENT: But I think, in many respect, the ideologues have an upper hand,
because you look at all the big issues that we had to deal with, from
budget agreements, debt ceilings, Violence Against Women Act, Sandy relief.
We always had a small number of Republicans, in many cases 80 or 90, who
would vote for the bills, along with a substantial number of Democrats,
DENT: … to actually enact them into law.
MATTHEWS: You know what bothers me? I have always wanted government to
I`m just sort of that – whatever ideology it is, I tend to be progressive,
but I also want it to work. And when you had something like the
immigration bill, where you had the Republicans and the Democrats found a
compromise a number of years ago, and this House Republican leader wouldn`t
even bring it up. The speaker wouldn`t bring it up, because he didn`t have
a majority of Republicans behind it.
So it wasn`t going to be majority rule. We weren`t going to get anything
MATTHEWS: We have got enough checks and balances in this country, without
having new ones like the Hastert rule.
And I see – what did you feel than when that came up? There wasn`t going
to be an immigration bill because the leadership in the Republican Party
said, we`re afraid that it will pass.
DENT: Well, what I have always said, the so-called Hastert…
MATTHEWS: The compromises.
DENT: The so-called Hastert rule, a majority of the majority, I would
argue that that rule has never been violated.
There are always – there was always a majority of support in the House
Republican Conference for these initiatives. There weren`t a majority of
votes, but there was always a majority of support.
So, I have never bought into the Hastert rule so much. When – we violate
it whenever we must.
DENT: That`s way it`s been.
Now, a lot of us want to deal with this – with these children, the DACA
DENT: We want to deal with them. And we have a bill. And I think many of
us, now that president has acted on that issue, we have to – we must do
And there is going to be a big push to move that.
Well, as you leave next year, I want you to consider – because we will
have you back a number of times.
DENT: Yes. Sure.
MATTHEWS: I keep wondering why good compromise doesn`t solve the problem.
For example, if you want to have a big immigration – a big infrastructure
bill, and the Democrats run around saying, oh, we can`t do it unless it`s
if – it not – if it`s not Davis-Bacon, if it`s not labor unions, if it`s
not all – and the Republicans say, no, we don`t need – we don`t want
I say, why don`t you double-breast? Just say half, some of the jobs will
be union and some won`t be. There are ways to compromise and still put
millions people to work.
Why doesn`t that happen? Why don`t they sit down and say we will double-
breast, some union jobs, some non-union jobs, but let`s spend some money
and build some stuff?
It doesn`t seem like anybody wants to compromise. Just cut the cards, move
DENT: You can you move forward on an infrastructure bill.
MATTHEWS: Nobody does.
DENT: And, truthfully, on the bill of Davis-Bacon, I`m not a fan of Davis-
Bacon, but it`s going to be a part of an infrastructure bill, because the
votes are there.
Well, why don`t they get around all these things?
DENT: Well, I`ll tell you what, because we need to finance it.
An infrastructure bill is not hard to do. The trick is financing it. And
that`s why we got to get this tax reform right. And we have to put some
revenue on the table to finance infrastructure.
DENT: That`s the key thing right now. Right – the highway bill is not
going to be that hard.
MATTHEWS: How did Lincoln build the railroad during the Civil War, huh?
MATTHEWS: How did Ike, Mr. Do Nothing, create the interstate highway
system during the do-nothing `50s?
They built the Empire State Building in the depths of the Great Depression.
We built this city in the depths of the Depression. Why don`t people do
things like they used to?
DENT: Yes, I`ll tell you what. I`ll tell you, one thing on
infrastructure, we don`t live in the 1950s anymore. We didn`t…
MATTHEWS: But what do we live in?
DENT: Well, we have a lot more rules and process that you have to go
You can`t just say, we`re going to pass a highway bill, we`re going to take
the spade and put it in the dirt. It`s not so easy anymore.
MATTHEWS: Are you proud of Amtrak, Acela, getting on that train, that
ridiculous train? Compared to any train in the world, it`s a joke.
DENT: Well, and, by the way, if you ride the train from Philadelphia down
here to Washington, that`s the best leg of Amtrak. That`s the one that
MATTHEWS: Well, you don`t get on that crazy jalopy feeling you get around
Thank you very much, U.S. Congressman Charlie Dent.
DENT: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Actually further up.
Up next: The HARDBALL – I hope you stick around.
The HARDBALL Roundtable weighs in now on Steve Bannon`s declaration of war
on the Republican establishment. He wants to get rid of guys like this.
Is he succeeding?
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE BANNON, BREITBART.COM: They`re not going to help you unless they`re
put on notice they`re going to be held accountable if they do not support
the president of the United States. Right now, there is no accountability.
They have totally – they do not support the president`s program. It`s an
open secret on Capitol Hill. Everybody in this city knows it.
CHARLIE ROSE, 60 MINUTES: And so, therefore, now that you`re out of the
White House you`re, going to war with them?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was, of course, Steve Bannon declaring war on Republican leaders in
Bannon blasted House Speaker Ryan and Majority Leader McConnell saying they
don`t want President Trump`s agenda implemented. Interesting point. Maybe
The White House responded to questions about Bannon`s statement earlier
today. Let`s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president wants
to work with all members of Congress. Obviously, that includes Republican
leadership as well as Democrats.
REPORTER: Would you like to see different leadership in the Republican
SANDERS: Look, right now the president is committed to working with the
leadership we have.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: My God.
“Politico” reports that Bannon is also plotting primaries against several
Republican Senate incumbents. He is specifically targeted four senators –
Dean Heller out there in – where is it, Nevada. Jeff Flake in Arizona.
Bob Corker, Tennessee. And Roger Wicker I believe in Mississippi.
The challenge from the right is yet another headache for Majority Leader
McConnell, who was snubbed last week by the president after Trump struck a
deal with Democratic leaders. Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer says he got
a call from the president raving about the press coverage of the deal
Here is what he told “The New York Times.”
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: I got a call early this
morning. He said, this was so great. And here`s what he said. He said,
do you watch FOX News? I said, not really. He said, they`re praising you,
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable.
Rachel Bade is congressional reporter for “Politico”. Clarence Page is a
columnist with “The Chicago Tribune”, and John Heilemann is national
affairs analyst for NBC News and MSNBC.
Rachel, thank you for joining us. First time you`re here. But let me ask
you about this. Is Bannon relevant? Can Bannon by himself destroy an
RACHEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Absolutely he is relevant
right now. I can tell you.
MATTHEWS: Did he get rid of somebody?
BADE: He`s going to try. He got a president-elected. So, yes, I think
he`s got some oomph behind him right now. And plus, we talk about him
potentially primarying some Republicans in the Senate, also trying to take
out Speaker Paul Ryan.
He`s found an alliance with a bunch of conservatives in the House who are
also really upset right now because they keep – you know, they`re not
getting Obamacare repeal done. They`re still stalled on tax reform.
They`re ticked at leadership.
And so, he is whispering in their ear, potential ally to take out Paul
MATTHEWS: So, you`re betting he is going to dump Ryan?
BADE: I think he`ll try.
MATTHEWS: At least try, try, try. Do you think he`s going to win with any
of these cases?
BADE: I think that potentially on primary, it could be a big problem for
McConnell when it comes to Senate primaries and pushing candidates further
to the right. And then when they go in the general election –
MATTHEWS: That is true. That is attention.
John Heilemann, I`ve heard of presidents like Franklin Roosevelt saying
he`s going to get rid of people who don`t play ball with him. It never
seems to work because the people in the districts say stay out of our
voting. Don`t come in and tell what`s to do.
JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: That`s true. However,
it`s fair the say at this moment that “Breitbart” is a more powerful media
institution and a more powerful institution on the right than FOX News.
And I think all of us would agree for the last 20 years, if FOX News
decided to get behind the candidate, that was trouble of a primary
challenge, that was trouble for the incumbent.
If Steve Bannon decides to train all “Breitbart`s” fire on an incumbent
Republican and the president of the United States decides to do the same or
not support the incumbent, you`re going to have a vulnerable incumbent in
that circumstance. Whether they will get rid of them or not, that`s going
to be a messy primary if that`s the way the game lays out.
MATTHEWS: Let me challenge one of the other grassroots on this. Clarence,
it seems to me that the people at the local level like this guy in Alabama,
this guy running against Strange, Moore, the guy with the Ten Commandments,
that whole things.
CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Right.
MATTHEWS: He`s got grassroots support. It looks to me like Trump is
playing a little triangle there. I think I`ll go with the guy who is
winning. So, Moore is really leading the band because the people are
behind him because they like that fundamentalist right wing thing. It`s
not so much Trump or Bannon. It`s people.
PAGE: Moore has been the Donald Trump of Alabama for decades.
MATTHEWS: Mississippi still has the Confederate battle flag, its flag.
MATTHEWS: I mean, it`s a pretty conservative state.
PAGE: And Moore was responsible of the Ten Commandments on public
MATTHEWS: Yes, I`m not sure Trump or – I`ll go back to you. I`m not sure
if it`s Trump or Bannon. It`s the conservative grassroots far right
thinking of voters in places like Mississippi in primaries.
BADE: You know, it`s interesting you bring up the point. Is Bannon going
to be effective? Is Breitbart going to be effective?
This whole thing, there was a series of stories last week where, you know,
reports that Bannon was talking to the freedom caucus about who could take
out Paul Ryan. It – I think it showed the limits of that actually,
because there were a lot of Republicans who heard these stories, heard
these rumors, and it had the reverse effect with Speaker Ryan. I saw a lot
of Republicans who were ticked at leadership read these stories and go,
what the heck, man. If you`re going to do blind quotes, why don`t you come
out and say these things publicly.
We saw “The Wall Street Journal.” Same.
MATTHEWS: I don`t like snakes in the White House, no matter who is
Let me ask you about Tarkanian. I saw him today. He impressed me, John.
Can he beat Heller, even with Trump`s help?
HEILEMANN: You know – maybe. Look, I get a lot of fire training against
Dean Heller. Tarkanian has run before and has not been able to get through
primaries, let alone to get through further than that. He is an impressive
MATTHEWS: I thought so.
HEILEMANN: He`s a relatively impressive guy. Very TV friendly. Again, I
don`t think it`s like that Bannon guarantees a win for a challenger. And I
don`t think that Trump will always go with challengers, to your point.
My only point is that in terms of the disarray that can – that unfolds for
the Republican Party, if this is going to be a jihad, which is everything
Bannon is trying to – is signaling here, that is an ugly way to win, even
if you`re an incumbent who survives that primary. It just creates a lot of
chaos and disarray on the field as you get down to the election.
MATTHEWS: OK, I`ll start with you in your reporting. You start, Rachel.
Will there be casualties next year because of what Bannon is up to?
BADE: Very possibly I think, yeah.
MATTHEWS: Will there or won`t there?
BADE: Yes, there will.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you.
Clarence? I`m sorry to be pushy, but it is HARDBALL.
PAGE: I suspect there will be. And –
MATTHEWS: That means there will be?
PAGE: Well, Bannon is bullying his way to the front of the pack here and
into control. And because it`s an off-year election and “Breitbart”
readers tend to be the core voters for the Republican Party and primaries,
that just gives him extra oomph right now. But I would just love to see
his effort lose, because I hate to see bullies.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I see the tree branches rotting and falling more than I see
people chopping them down. That tends to be the case. You can sense when
somebody is going down.
MATTHEWS: Who was the guy from Virginia who was a big leader in the
Republican party and all of the sudden he is gone? The professor beat him?
HEILEMANN: Good old Eric Cantor.
MATTHEWS: This stems from the voter.
HEILEMANN: Good old Eric Cantor. That`s the case with some of these
incumbents. They are pretty distant from voters.
But I think Clarence has gotten the right vote here, which is to your thing
earlier. Yes, it`s the people. But in these primaries, especially in
relatively low turnout primaries, Breitbart is channeling that part of the
party. The reason why all this kind of comes together is that there are
just a lot of really, really angry Republicans who are energized by what
Steve Bannon is saying, by what Donald Trump is saying on the days when
he`s saying the things that we hear.
HEILEMANN: It`s the synergy between the media organ, the angry Bannon, the
powerful Trump and a bunch of people who are just the same things that were
driving them in 2016, only they`re now bringing it to Republican politics.
MATTHEWS: Last question, tie breaker. Who would win a debate on stage,
Michael Moore or Steve Bannon? Who would win the debate when it went head
to head? John Heilemann?
HEILEMANN: Man. That`s –
MATTHEWS: They look sort of alike. Go ahead.
HEILEMANN: I think Michael Moore has been in a lot more of those debates
than Steve Bannon has been. He`s better around television show. I give to
it Michael Moore.
MATTHEWS: Who would win that debate?
BADE: I`m going to go with the same, yes, performance wise.
PAGE: Bannon is a seasoned talk show host, too, though. But the thing
about this debate, facts would have nothing to do with it. I know that.
HEILEMANN: That`s a radio show.
MATTHEWS: – loopy, he`s tough to deal with.
Anyway, roundtable is sticking with us. This is HARDBALL, where the action
MATTHEWS: Up next, the HARDBALL roundtable will tell me three things I
don`t know. Be back with HARDBALL right after this.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.
Rachel, new kid on the block, tell me something I don`t know.
BADE: House Republicans booed and hissed at White House officials, Mick
Mulvaney and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin. Basically last week, they came in
try to rally Republicans around this deal that Trump suddenly struck with
Democrats, totally going against GOP leadership. And for the first time, a
lot of times, we hear House Republicans defend the White House and stick up
for Trump, they actually booed and hissed at them and drove them out and
basically lectured them for going against leadership. And I think it`s
significant because it shows the souring relationship.
MATTHEWS: Between the leadership and?
BADE: Between House Republicans and the White House.
PAGE: Well, outside the beltway, I got to salute. Kimberly Page Barnett,
a candidate for the Republican primary for the mayor of Charlotte, who
recently on Facebook advertised that she should be a mayor because she is,
quote, Republican and smart, white and traditional, unquote. That little
white in there has gotten her in trouble with the county party to say the
MATTHEWS: You can`t argue about it. It`s just – it`s irrelevant.
Go ahead, John Heilemann.
HEILEMANN: Clarence mentioned Facebook. You talked about it earlier today
on the show. The combination of this fake news story and the story about
fake users from last week and the connection to Russia, we have seen about
I think about 120th of the degree of the problem. And Facebook will be
forced to come clean about this stuff. And it`s going to be a huge, huge
story about both 2016 and –
MATTHEWS: Reaching some 50 million people.
Anyway, Rachel Bade, Clarence Page and John Heilemann.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Today, the country paused to remember the attacks of September
11th, just 16 years ago today. Together with the first lady and White
House staffers, the president observed a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m.,
marking the moment the first plane struck the north tower of the World
A short time later, the president attended and remembered ceremony at the
Pentagon. And tonight in lower Manhattan, two vertical columns of light
are shining into the sky at the site of the World Trade Center in the
memory of those who were lost this day 16 years ago.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2017 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Copyright 2017 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are
protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the