Fire and Fury rocks the White House Transcript 1/3/18 Hardball with Chris Matthews
Date: January 3, 2018
Guest: Catherine Rampell, Christina Greer
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Fire and fury rocks the White House. Let`s
And good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki in for Chris Matthews.
New revelations from a soon to be published book are rocking the Trump
administration tonight portraying President Trump as a volatile and
uncontrollable force within the White House. Set for release next week,
“Fire and Fury” by author Michael Wolf offers a deeply unsettling window
into the dynamic of current and former members of the President`s inner
circle. Most damning of all from this book are accounts provided by former
White House strategist Steve Bannon, who is anything but flattering to the
President and to his family.
In particular, Bannon takes aim at the President`s son, Donald Trump, Jr.
for arranging that now infamous June 2016 meeting with multiple Russians
and top campaign staff at Trump tower. Bannon called the meeting
treasonous, saying quote “even if you thought that this was not treasonous
or unpatriotic or bad (bleep), and I happen to think it is all of that, you
should have called the FBI immediately.”
Speaking of the consequences, Bannon said that they are going to crack Don
Junior like an egg on national TV. Trump has maintained the he knew
nothing about that meeting. Bannon says, the chance that Don Junior did
not walk those jumos, that`s referring to the Russians, up to his father`s
office on the 26th floor is zero. That is what is Bannon claims.
However, NBC News reports that one of the participants in that meeting
maintains that they did not meet with Trump on that day. And that the
White House denies that such an encounter occur. Well, it`s clear that
Bannon has his own political motivations, his comments have transformed the
long simmering tensions between him and Trump into open warfare.
Responding in a written statement, President Trump offered a scathing
critique of his former top strategist quote “Steve Bannon has nothing to do
with me or my presidency. When he was fired he not only lost his job, he
lost his mind. Steve doesn`t represent my base. He is only in it for
White House has also called the book a work of fiction.
Joining me now are two MSNBC political analysts, Peter Baker is the White
House correspondent - the chief White House correspondent for “The New York
Times” and Heidi Przybyla is a White House reporter for “USA today” and
Kristen Welker a White House correspondent for NBC News. Thanks to all of
you for joining us.
So Kristen, let me start with you. Look. It seems like the bottom line,
we can get into the details that this book contains, the questions that are
out there about how reliable all of the anecdotes are. But what we know
right now is the President and his former ally, Steve Bannon, appear now to
be at open warfare. This is a seemingly permanent break between them.
KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: It seems to be permanent. And it
is a stunning rupture.
Just to give some context to how significant this is. This is someone who
came into the Trump campaign, when it was struggling, stood by then
candidate Trump during some of its rockiest periods, including when that
“Access Hollywood” tape broke. We heard Steve Bannon refer to that period
frequently say, I was one of those who stood by him, who never wavered, not
even for a second. He was made one of the President`s top advisers here at
the White House. And he really weighed in on a range of issues, everything
from health care to trade deals. And then he was ousted, of course, over
He was perceived as the touchstone to the President`s base. Someone who
really had a feel for what the populist movement within this country wanted
from this President. And I think he saw himself as holding the President
to accountable to a number of his promises to the voters. Even after he
left the White House, though Steve, they continued to be in contact. The
President praised him, in fact, after he left the White House.
But behind the scenes, Steve, I can tell you that Bannon was growing
increasingly critical of this administration. The fact that there were a
number of campaign promises that haven`t been met yet, particularly when it
comes to immigration, to building a border wall, for example, critical of
the revelations about Donald Trump, Jr. Some of the revelations about
Jared Kushner. And so I think that was creating a rift in addition to the
fact that Steve Bannon had declared open warfare on the Republican
establishment and that complicated things for this President.
So I think you can`t understate how significant this is. And it could, in
fact, create more complications for the President and his base moving
forward. That remains an open question. But it`s certainly something we
are going to have to look at.
KORNACKI: Yes. And Peter Baker, it seems like Bannon is trying to hit the
President where it hurts here. I mean, we have those excerpts at the top
there about that June 2016 meeting with the Russians in Trump tower.
Bannon basically coming out and characterizing that as treasonous, as
unpatriotic, speculating the President`s son is basically going to be torn
apart in the judicial system here, at least potentially.
Is this Bannon just sort of trying to find Trump`s weakness and go for it?
Is there something strategic about why he is raising this? What do you
make of those particular comments from Bannon here?
[19:05:19] PETER BAKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes. It is a good question.
It`s not that we didn`t know that this was Steve Bannon`s view. He had
talked to enough people around town saying these kinds of things. But to
put it On the Record and be quoted in a book saying it out loud like this
really undercuts the President. He spent a lot of time working him because
the President, of course, says this investigation is just a witch hunt.
It`s nothing. And that meeting in June 2016 was no big deal, just ordinary
opposition research. Well, Steve Bannon says the opposite and gives
credibility to the investigation and to the concerns that people have about
So why he was trying to do it I think is the question we are going to be
trying to chew over now for days to come. It`s certainly not something
that`s helping out the President he helped get elected and serve in the
KORNACKI: Well, here`s the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee
Sanders responded when asking if Donald Trump Jr. committed treason, let`s
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did the President`s son, Donald Trump, Jr. commit
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think that`s a
ridiculous accusation. And one that I`m pretty sure we had addressed many
times here before. If that`s in reference to comments made by Mr. Bannon,
I refer you back to the one that he made previously on “60 Minutes” where
he called the collusion with Russia about this president a total farce. So
I think I will look back at that. If anybody has been inconsistent, it`s
been him. Certainly hasn`t been the President or this administration. I
would certainly think that going after the President`s son in an absolutely
outrageous and unprecedented way is probably not the best way to curry
favor with anybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: You know, Heidi, one thing I`m trying to figure out from
Bannon`s standpoint, is this premeditated? Was he sitting down with
Michael Wolff, aware that he was going to come to the end of his alliance
with Trump that he wanted a big dramatic break or is this the guy who maybe
was shooting his mouth off and as surprised to the rest of us or do they
find this all in print looking like it looks?
HEIDI PRZYBYLA, USA TODAY: That is the big question. And we do not know
when these comments were made, right, and what the context was. Steve
Bannon left in August. But this book has been in the works for many, many
months. So was it some kind of payback as well? We don`t know.
We do know that he has had tensions from the beginning, though, with the
Trump children, with Jared, with Ivanka. And that maybe he did overstep a
bit here and essentially implicating the President as well,
unintentionally, implicate the President here as knowing about that Trump
So I think the timing is important, because Bannon has also been feeling, I
think on the outs in recent months. But especially now in light also of
the special election in Alabama, where he really was viewed as the
mastermind behind this disastrous campaign of Roy Moore or even though he
wasn`t the mastermind, he kind of glommed onto that. And it was
embarrassment for the President. So we don`t know what is motivating Steve
Bannon here and whether he really was trying to go after the President
himself in this and not just the children.
KORNACKI: Yes. And the President in that statement, the statement coming
from the White House say thing is the President`s words. I think if you
read the statement, you have no trouble believing that. He does among
other things accuse Bannon of losing that Senate seat for Republicans down
there in Alabama.
But Peter Baker, look, when Steve Bannon left the White House, he said
basically I`m going out there to protect the President. I`m going out
there to have the President`s back in public, to lead that Trump army out
there in the country. That was supposed to be his role. Breitbart is the
site sort of spouting words that would be in the administration`s interest.
What could the future hold for Steve Bannon now? If the President is now
his enemy, if he is lobbed all these grenades Donald Trump`s way, obviously
he can`t be his chief defender in public, what is he going to become now?
BAKER: Yes. It is a great question. It is a real test of who has greater
resonance with that populist, nationalist base that they had cultivated
together, you know. Is it President Trump or is it Steve Bannon?
Steve Bannon is the more intellectual, you know, adherent to the kind of
ideas that base stands for. President Trump seen as somebody kind of came
along and sort of took over and represented that base. It`s – it could
fracture things. It could create internal warfare within that sort of
It was interesting tonight to see Breitbart`s site though on this. Takes a
pretty restrained view, not firing really back at the President on this.
And Steve Bannon privately has said by people close to him to feel some
confidence that at some point the President might come back to him, that
might need him at a point when he is politically vulnerable and wants
support from that movement.
KORNACKI: Yes. I mean, again, I say this apparently seems like the end of
the permanent break here. But with this presidency, I think you never
know. You always have to add that word apparently or it appears.
Bannon also appears to takes the prospect of impeachment seriously,
especially if the President seems to fires Robert Mueller, the special
counsel, as he told the author quote “if he fires Mueller, he just brings
the impeachment quicker. Why not let`s do it. Let`s get it on.”
Again, Kristen Welker, it seems like he is going for the things that are
going to upset and frustrate the President most right there. Bigger
picture here, if he is starting to talk about it within the Republican
party, if it`s public warfare between Donald Trump and Steve Bannon, you
had Bannon talking about organizing these primary campaigns next year
against the Republican establishment, that he said was trying to stop, that
was trying to thwart Donald Trump. He is going to organize this primary
challenges to help the President. What is this going to mean for the
Republican Party now?
[19:10:51] WELKER: Well, I do think that it`s going to be divided in ways
that we could not have perceived prior to these revelations. But remember,
Steve Bannon was emboldened after the loss of Roy Moore. He doubled down.
He said this just strengthened my resolve to fight this war against the
establishment, to try to take on Mitch McConnell and all of his supporters.
And again, from his perspective, he makes the case that he is staying true
not only to the populous base, but to the base of President Trump. And
that way indirectly, he is ultimately helping out the presidency of Donald
Trump. But clearly, again, he is doing just the opposite with some of
these quotes that we learned about today.
One more point I will make, Steve, I think it`s important to point out as
you just did, his comments about Robert Mueller. The perspective of Steve
Bannon has long been if you talk to people who are close to him. That
Robert Mueller is out for blood. That he is a killer. That he is going
for the President and straight to the oval office and he has been arguing
for a long time for the legal team to get a whole lot tougher. And I think
you heard residents of that, in that quote you just talked about, Steve.
KORNACKI: Yes, that`s a very good segue to where we are going to be going
next in this show.
For now, though, Kristen Welker, Peter Baker, Heidi Przybyla, thanks to all
of you for joining us.
And coming up, as I just said, more revelations from Bannon about the
Russia investigation and where that might be going. Bannon talks about
money laundering saying the path to the President goes through Paul
Manafort, Jared Kushner, and Donald Trump, Jr. All this comes as the
leaders of fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that commissioned this
Steel dossier, are speaking out about what actually triggered the probe
into Trump and Russia.
Plus, Trump boasts his nuclear button is bigger and more powerful than Kim
Jong-un is the latest example of loose talk about nuclear war from the
And much more from Michael Wolf`s new book on the Trump White House,
including Ivanka Trump`s owned presidential ambitions perhaps. We will get
to that with the round table tonight.
Finally, remember when Mitt Romney said Donald Trump was a phony, a fraud,
who is playing the American public for suckers? But when Donald Trump said
Romney walk like a penguin, we are going to take a look back at the
complicated, maybe that is word there, complicated relationship between
Trump and Romney, because it is back in the news in a big way.
This is “Hardball,” where the action is.
[19:14:13] KORNACKI: The Republican majority in the Senate got a little
narrower today. Democrat Doug Jones was sworn in as Alabama`s newest
senator. That tightens the Republican majority to just 51/49. Jones was
sworn in alongside Tina Smith. She succeeds Al Franken in Minnesota. As
his customary, the vice President Mike Pence administered the oath of
office. Today`s swearing in actually brought three U.S. vice Presidents
together. You had Pence, you had Walter Mondale and you had Joe Biden.
Biden was there to escort his longtime friend Doug Jones into the Senate
chamber for the first time. Mondale of course a Minnesota native. He
escorted Tina Smith, now his state`s newest senator.
We will be right back.
[19:16:58] KORNACKI: And welcome back to “Hardball.”
Speaking to Michael Wolff for the new book “Fire and Fury,” Steve Bannon
didn`t stop at calling that June 2016 campaign meeting with Russians
treasonous and unpatriotic. He also said the Mueller investigation was
quote “all about money laundering. Their path to Trump goes right through
Paul Manafort, Don Junior and Jared Kushner. It is as plain as a hair on
Bannon further mock the idea the executive privilege might protect the
President saying quote “there is no executive privilege to, we proved that
in Watergate.” Bannon`s comments at the same time that Trump and his
defenders have tried to undermine the Mueller probe, most reason the
Republicans have said the FBI should not have used the Christopher Steele
dossier to justify launching the Russian investigation because it was
financed by the Clinton campaign through the opposition research from
In “The New York Times” op-ed founders of GPS point out that they hired
Steele quote “without informing him whom he will working for.” And they
add we don`t believe that Steele dossier was the trigger for the FBI`s
investigation into Russian meddling. Our sources said the dosser was taken
so seriously because it corroborated reports the bureau had received from
other sources including one inside the Trump camp.
I`m joined now by Ken Dilanian who is an NBC News intelligence and national
security reporter and Eli Estokols who is a White House reporter for “the
Wall Street Journal” and an MSNBC political analyst.
Ken, let me start with you just to pick up that line from the fusion GPS
op-ed from “The New York Times” I just read there. Because at the very end
of that line, I saw when this went up last night caused quite a bit of
commotion online because it sounds like when they are saying a source
inside the Trump campaign, some people were taken it to mean, there`s a
Trump campaign mole who is talking there. I think the explanation might be
able to be more pedestrian. But what do you know about that?
KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: That`s right, Steve. I got
all excited, as well. But it turns out that was a sly reference to George
Papadopoulos, who did ultimately begin giving the FBI inside information
about the Trump – about what happened during the election, but not right
away. Not during that time. So it`s a little misleading. It`s
Papadopoulos. It is not a secret mole that we have never heard of.
KORNACKI: OK. Yes. I mean, to say it was a commotion online when that
hit last night. Might be an understatement there. But in terms of this
question – so the issue has been raised out there, the criticism from
Mueller, you are hearing from Trump folks, you are hearing from some
Republicans now. Is the idea that this dossier, this Steele dossier
provided there through fusion GPS, that this was either the basis for the
FBI`s counterintelligence investigation in the first place or this was, you
know, a source the FBI was relying on as it pursued the investigation. You
have this report in “The New York Times” saying no, it`s actually
Papadopoulos. Do we have precise clarity on what if any role the dossier
played in this actual FBI investigation?
You know, we really don`t, Steve. That`s a great point that you are
raising. What we do – it is very clear that the dossier was not the
trigger in and of itself. Because by the time Christopher Steele went to
his FBI contact in Rome with some of the information he had been
uncovering, the FBI had already been in receipt of information through the
CIA from foreign governments about troubling contacts between members of
the Trump team and Russia. And as fusion GPS says in their op-ed,
essentially, it was communicated that, hey, we already know some of this
stuff. Thanks for corroborating some of it.
But it`s not clear, after that, you know, how – what role the Christopher
Steele information played in the whole investigation. We have reported
that the FBI was prepared to pay Steele. Steele was a reliable reporter.
They knew him. FBI, CIA knew this former British intelligence operative.
He had provided the FBI information in their investigation of corruption in
international soccer. So it`s reasonable, I think, to assume that they
relied in part on some of this information that Steele gathered.
But they would never rely on information in an investigation that they
didn`t know the source of. And clearly they have their own ways to gather
information, including the national intelligence apparatus, eavesdropping,
signal intelligence, human intelligence.
And that clearly was at play in this Russia investigation.
KORNACKI: All right, Eli, let me bring you in now back on this question of
Bannon, this book that folks watching might have heard about once or twice
KORNACKI: So you have got Bannon in here apparently saying, hey, look,
he`s alarmed about this investigation. He thinks – he raises this idea of
He creates sort of a sequence there that he says could eventually lead
Mueller to the president. What do you make of Bannon going forward and
saying that? Is he trying to sound some kind of alarm here for the White
House? This issue of money laundering, what is your understanding of what
he`s trying to say there?
ELI STOKOLS, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”: Well, to me, it sounded a lot like
gloating today from Steve Bannon when we read these lines in this
This is a person who we all know never liked Jared Kushner, never liked the
president`s adult children, sparred with them in the White House, and
seemed to be in his comments to Michael Wolff really distancing himself
from them and ridiculing them and blaming them, in effect, for where the
president finds himself in terms of being under investigation for the
Russia meeting and all these other things.
And there are a lot of people who say don`t get lost in the back and forth
and the personal enmity between Bannon and Trump.
What Bannon is saying, whether it was smart for him to say it or not, when
he`s talking about money laundering, that could be a key to the
investigation. People are saying don`t discount that as just the ramblings
of a bitter old man, because money laundering could be at the heart of the
special counsel`s investigation, when you talk about Deutsche Bank, an
organization that has leant hundreds of millions, we understand, to Donald
Trump, to Jared Kushner over the years, and is under investigation by a
number of countries, including the U.S. Justice Department, for its ties to
the Russian government and possibly money laundering charges there.
That is why it`s so central perhaps to this investigation. And it was
reported, I believe in December, that Robert Mueller has subpoenaed records
from Deutsche Bank. There`s some confusion over whether or not those
records are the president`s personal financial records or just people close
to the president.
But that is something that the special counsel is looking at. And, as
Bannon alludes to, that is a reason for concern.
KORNACKI: And let me just ask you. You`re around the White House. You`re
talking to the folks there, folks around there all the time.
How much does that come up? When you are talking to them about Mueller and
this investigation, how much of the chatter, how much of what they`re
talking about is about this question of Russia and collusion vs. how much
are they talking about these other angles we haven`t been exploring as
STOKOLS: They don`t like to talk about it.
I think the people closest to the president, there is some fear about what
could be coming from the special counsel. The president can go out there
in every public interview, say, there`s no collusion, there`s no collusion,
trying to sort of will his words into reality here.
But there are some people, some frayed nerves around the president. And
I`m sure the president himself is concerned about liability, not knowing
what the special counsel already knows and what he may be looking at.
There has just been, you know, blow by blow, as information has come out
and the special counsel has indicted people close to this president. The
White House hasn`t known, hasn`t anticipated, hasn`t gotten any forewarning
And so that creates a lot of nervousness, not knowing when the next shoe is
going to drop.
KORNACKI: Well, this Michael Wolff book also has Trump`s legal team
spokesperson, Mark Corallo – quote – “seeing no good outcome and
privately confiding that he believed the meeting on Air Force One
represented a likely obstruction of justice – quit.”
Ken Dilanian, legal spokesman, a spokesman for the legal team there, saying
that, apparently. What do you make of that?
DILANIAN: It seems pretty damning, Steve.
We don`t know the full facts there, but we do know that what Donald Trump
instructed his son to say about that Trump Tower meeting, that it was about
Russian – adoption of Russian children, and that turned out not to be
accurate, that is a central question for Robert Mueller in terms of this
obstruction of justice aspect of his investigation, because while there`s
really no evidence that Donald Trump knew about the Trump Tower meeting
while it was happening, he clearly seemed to want to spin the defense of it
on his son`s behalf.
And the question is why. And maybe the answer is because, as Steve Bannon
put it, it seemed extraordinarily unpatriotic and showed bad judgment to
take that meeting. And no reasonable campaign would have taken it.
And it`s really interesting that Bannon`s judgment, while he portrays
himself as an iconoclast and anti-establishment, his political judgment on
these matters seems to comport with the mainstream, and it`s very different
from Donald Trump.
He advised Trump that he shouldn`t fire Comey, according to this book, that
that would be a horrible mistake. That turned out to be true. He said the
Trump Tower meeting was – showed terrible judgment. That turns out to be
So Bannon comes across looking more mainstream perhaps than we might have
Ken Dilanian and Eli Stokols, thanks to both of you for joining us.
And up next: President Trump taunts the North Korean dictator, saying his
nuclear button is bigger than Kim Jong-un`s. It is more loose talk from
the president, but does the White House actually have a plan to deal with
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger. Here`s
Snowflakes fell in Northern Florida today. The winter weather is part of a
larger storm system bringing freezing rain, snow and sleet to Georgia and
the Carolinas. It is expected to intensify, moving further north, and
could drop more than a foot of snow in New England. The storm has forced
airlines to cancel some 560 flights today and more than 2,000 tomorrow,
according to FlightAware.
Tonight`s Powerball jackpot is warming up people with lotto fever. It`s at
$460 million. And Friday`s Mega Millions is now at $418 million – back to
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it is – shows
really poor judgment for the president to perform the way he does,
particularly with tweets, but not just with his tweets.
Words matter. The only war that`s worse than one that`s intended is one
that`s unintended. This is not a game. This is not about his, you know,
can I puff my chest out bigger than your chest?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was former Vice President Joe Biden reacting to President Trump`s
tweet last night taunting the North Korean leader.
On Monday, Kim Jong-un said the – quote – “nuclear button is always on
Trump then responded: “I too have a nuclear button, but it is a much bigger
and more powerful one than his, and my button works.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about that
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Should Americans be concerned about the president`s mental
fitness, that he appears to be speaking so lightly about threats regarding
the nuclear button?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think the president
and the people of this country should be concerned about the mental fitness
of the leader of North Korea.
QUESTION: You just said that people should question the mental fitness of
Kim Jong-un, so then isn`t it dangerous for the president to be taunting
him on Twitter?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I don`t think that it`s taunting to stand up for the
people of this country. I think what`s dangerous is to ignore the
If the previous administration had done anything and dealt with North
Korea, dealt with Iran, instead of sitting by and doing nothing, we
wouldn`t have to clean up their mess now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And I`m joined now by Gordon Chang, a columnist for The Daily
Beast and the author of “Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World.”
Gordon, thanks for joining us.
Look, that tweet, I got the button, mine is bigger, it is in response to
something that the North Korean leader said.
I think the question, sort of the bottom-line question people looking at
that, is, do you think that is and do you see that as a strategic tweet on
Trump`s part or an impulsive tweet?
GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, “NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN: NORTH KOREA TAKES ON THE WORLD”:
Remember, yesterday, there were two tweets from the president about North
Korea. The one in the morning actually was strategic. It was a good one.
It talked how sanctions were hurting the North Korean regime.
And that`s important, because if there`s any peaceful solution to this, it
is basically sanctioning North Korea to the point where they realize they
have got to give up their weapons.
Now, you come to the evening and that tweet, we`re not talking about the
strategic tweet. We`re not talking about sanctions. We`re not talking
about Ambassador Nikki Haley, who in the afternoon set down America`s
negotiating priorities and guidelines.
No. Of course, we`re talking about a schoolyard tweet. And that`s
unfortunate, because President Trump needs to talk about sanctions. He
doesn`t need to talk about the American nuclear arsenal in terms that are
KORNACKI: That implied threat has always been there, from the United
States towards North Korea.
KORNACKI: You got a nuke, you try to use it, we can wipe it out. I
remember Clinton once even explicitly saying it.
The president then tweeting this out like this, does that have an effect on
North Korea? Does that change their posture at all from anything we have
seen in the past?
CHANG: Well, Kim Jong-un probably liked that tweet, because what it did
was, it put him on the same level as the president of the United States.
And, yes, it is a juvenile fight. But, nonetheless, they see themselves as
equal to us now. That`s really wrong. You know, we can prevent that.
That`s within our control. We have let that happen.
Now, of course, Kim Jong-un right now is at a very sensitive point. He`s
trying to drive this wedge between the United States and South Korea, but
also between the United States and China and the United States and Russia,
trying to make himself appear to be the mature person in this drama.
And so far, he`s succeeding. Now, President Trump can change that
narrative, but he`s got to work at it now.
KORNACKI: All right, well, some of Donald Trump`s past comments about
nuclear weapons have raised questions about his views on the most dangerous
weapons in the world.
He called on the U.S. to – quote – “strengthen and expand” its nuclear
capability. He told MSNBC`s Mika Brzezinski that he`s willing to engage in
an arms race.
This past summer, he warned Kim Jong-un – quote – “Military solutions are
now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely.”
And here`s what he said during the campaign of 2016.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: So you have no problem with Japan and South Korea
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I thought…
COOPER: … nuclear weapons?
TRUMP: At some point, we have to say, you know what, we`re better off if
Japan protects itself against this maniac in North Korea. We`re better
off, frankly, if South Korea is going to start to protect itself..
Nuclear should be off the table, but would there be a time when it could be
used? Possibly. Possibly.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: OK. The trouble is, when you said that, the whole
world heard it. David Cameron in Britain heard it. The Japanese, where we
bombed them in `45, heard it.
They`re hearing a guy running for president of the United States talking of
maybe using nuclear weapons. Nobody wants to hear that about an American
TRUMP: Then why are we making them? Why do we make them? We have….
MATTHEWS: Because of the old mutual assured destruction, which Reagan
hated and tried to get rid of.
TRUMP: I was against Iraq. I would be the last one to use the nuclear
MATTHEWS: So can you take it off the table now?
TRUMP: Because that`s sort of like the end of the ball game.
MATTHEWS: Can you tell the Middle East we`re not using a nuclear weapon on
TRUMP: I would never say that. I would never take any of my cards off the
MATTHEWS: How about Europe? We won`t use it in Europe?
TRUMP: I – I`m not going to take it off the table.
MATTHEWS: You might use it in Europe?
TRUMP: No, I don`t think so. But I`m not taking…
MATTHEWS: Well, just say it. “I will never use a nuclear weapon in
TRUMP: I am not – I am not taking cards off the table.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: That seems to be, if you can discern from that sort of a policy
logic, it seems to be, I won`t take anything off the table, because that
would weaken me somehow.
What do you think of that?
CHANG: Well, you know, American presidents have always said all options
are on the table. But you don`t have to say it in those terms.
The clip that I thought was really significant was the first one. Goes
back to March of last one, where you had basically Trump saying, we`re
willing to walk away from South Korea and Japan. They can develop their
That`s the point where China really started to get on board with Trump,
because they thought, oh, the U.S. was leaving.
Now, of course, American policy since President Trump took the oath of
office, it`s the same as it was before. But, nonetheless, that unnerved
our allies in two critical capitals, Seoul and Tokyo.
KORNACKI: Very quickly, there`s a report today that the South and North,
South Korea and North Korea, divided at that 38th Parallel, have reopened a
sensitive hot line in that demilitarized zone.
What does that mean?
CHANG: Well, it means that North Korea wants South Korean money, because
the sanctions are hurting.
In Kim Jong-un`s New Year`s address, he actually hinted at that and one
point actually came out and said it, that sanctions are an existential
threat to his state. So Trump`s plan is actually working.
And that`s an important thing, but no one knows that because we`re talking
about the size of the button. We`re not talking about the underlying
American policies. And Trump needs to talk about those underlying
KORNACKI: OK, Gordon Chang from The Daily Beast, thank you for coming in
tonight. Appreciate that.
And up next: much more from that big new book about the Trump White House,
including word that Ivanka Trump maybe had plans of her own for a
You`re watching HARDBALL.
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We`re back now with more from stunning new book about life inside the Trump
White House, “Fire and Fury”.
Author Michael Wolff writes this about Ivanka Trump`s political
aspirations, quote: Jared and Ivanka have made an earnest deal between
themselves, if sometime in the future the time came, she`d be the one to
run for president or the first one of them to take the shot. The first
woman president, Ivanka entertained, would not be Hillary Clinton, it would
be Ivanka Trump.
Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable. Catherine Rampell is opinion
columnist for “The Washington Post”, Christina Greer is a McSilver
Institute fellow at New York University, and Rick Tyler is a Republican
It feels to me – obviously this book seems to be – there`s a lot of
Bannon in this book. There`s a lot of Bannon`s perspective in this book.
And one of the things that jumps out at me in these segments, in these
sections about Bannon, about Jared and Ivanka, is the frustration he
seemingly felt trying to play an outsize role, trying to guide the
administration and having family members right there.
CATHERINE RAMPELL, OPINION COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, you can`t
fire family members, right? I mean, it was ultimately not a fair fight.
Everybody knew it wasn`t going to be a fair fight if you were Bannon.
And that`s part of the reason, to be honest, why you generally don`t hire
family members. That`s why we have nepotism laws because if they screw up,
if they are fighting with other members of your office or your
administration or what-have-you, then you can`t get rid of them. And so,
you can understand why Bannon was frustrated.
I mean, from my perspective, it`s hard to know who to root for amongst
those cast of characters, because they`re all incredibly problematic for
lots of different reasons. But, again, you can get rid of Bannon, you can
get rid of Spicer, you can get rid of Priebus, but the president`s
daughter, the president`s son-in-law? Sorry, you can`t fire them.
KORNACKI: And, Christina, and again, we seem to be getting Bannon`s
perspective. But the perspective that`s emerging from this book is the
idea that Jared, that Ivanka didn`t even have specific portfolios here.
This was the tasks they are working, the things they were doing every day.
They just sort of flitted from one task to the other, while other folks
around them tried to exercise discipline.
CHRSITIAN GREER, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: Well, the one thing we do know about
Jared and Ivanka is that they`re both highly unqualified to be anywhere
near Washington, D.C. Both have them have gotten where they are in life
because of their daddies. They have zero qualifications. They are not
public servants. They don`t come from families of public servants.
So, why are they in Washington, D.C., making policy and sitting in on upper
level meetings with these major security clearances and absolute – I mean,
I can`t stress enough the lack of qualification. So, when you have someone
like Bannon, who traffics with anti-Semites, which I also think was very
problematic, that he would even be in a room with Jared Kushner, and Jared
Kushner would even sort of use him as a partner, which to me, he`ll have to
deal with his ancestors on that one.
But when you have someone like Jared, what we know he`s there as the sort
of window dressing, he`s also the father of Trump`s grandchildren. So, no,
he`s not going to get fired. But the two of them are in way over their
heads and this is the result that we`ve seen in the –
KORNACKI: So, it creates a situation then where Jared is still there,
Ivanka is still there, Bannon is on the outside and Bannon is taking shots.
But, Rick, veteran of Republican Party politics of many past campaigns, you
must have stories about family members and campaigns and trying to do the
job with family members lurking around.
RICK TYLER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Sure. None of which I would hike to
Look, it turns out that Bannon also has a nuclear button on his desk and he
pushed it today. And so, it`s remarkable that he`s implicating the
president at the same time. It`s been no secret that Bannon doesn`t like
what he refers to as Javanka, Jared and Ivanka, precisely because they have
the president`s ear. And he doesn`t agree with him with where they want to
Say what you will about Steve Bannon, he actually believes stuff. He has
an ideology. He wants to follow that ideology. Trump doesn`t.
KORNACKI: So, do you have a sense – do you think he was just venting and
he didn`t realize how much was going to end in print?
TYLER: No, I`m sure he realized it. Remember, he invited the author
Michael Wolff into the White House, the dozen times that Michael Wolff came
into the White House, most of them were at the request of Steve Bannon.
So, he must have known – look, Michael wrote a book. I mean, Michael
didn`t make up this stuff in the book. He interviewed 200 people and then
he wrote down what they said.
KORNACKI: I mean, that raises the possibility, if this is premeditated on
Bannon`s part, that this is a premeditated split. I mean, the implications
for the Trump era Republican Party are huge if you`ve got Trump and Bannon
at war with each other publicly. Bannon, if it`s true, this is
premeditated, has some endgame in mind here.
RAMPELL: Maybe he does, maybe he doesn`t. I mean, Bannon was throwing
bombs into Republican Party, basically for the last several years. This is
not a new strategy for him.
It is a different outcome in that he`s having a potentially public split
with Trump. And who knows what that means for the Bannon wing of the
party? I saw that Don Jr. was on Twitter saying that he was scouring the
comments on “Breitbart” and “Breitbart” readers are unhappy. You know
you`re reaching to the bottom of the barrel when you`re looking to
“Breitbart” commenters, anonymous commenters for validation.
But we don`t know what it means for the Bannon wing and we don`t know what
it means for Trump. You know, it`s not clear that either of them, Trump or
Bannon, is going to end up stronger at the end of this.
KORNACKI: OK. The roundtable is staying with us.
And up next, it is a rivalry that could shake 2018, maybe beyond. Mitt
Romney has blasted Trump`s bullying, greed and third grade antics. That`s
what he called them. Now, Romney could be headed to Washington and he
could become one of the president`s biggest opponents.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: President Trump late today abruptly disbanded his controversial
voter fraud commission. Trump formed the panel back in May after claiming
without evidence that millions of Americans voted illegally in the 2016
In a statement, the White House said, quote: Despite substantial evidence
of voter fraud, many states have refused to provide the Presidential
Advisory Commission on Election Integrity with basic information relevant
to its inquiry. Rather than engage in endless legal battles at taxpayer
expense, today I signed an executive order to dissolve the commission.
Trump has asked the Department of Homeland Security to look into the issue
of voter integrity and, quote, determine next courses of action.
We`ll be right back.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
NBC News reports that it is now a matter of when and not if Mitt Romney
will announce his bid for U.S. Senate from Utah. This comes after
Republican Senator Orrin Hatch announced yesterday that he will retire in
The two Republicans have had a very different type of relationship with
President Trump in the past.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Mr. President, I have to say that you`re
living up to every – everything I thought you would. You`re one heck of a
MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump is a phony, a
fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University.
HATCH: He`s been one of the best presidents I`ve served under.
ROMNEY: He`s playing the members of the American public for suckers. He
gets a free ride to the White House, and all we get is a lousy hat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: President Trump hasn`t had a problem attacking Romney.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I backed Mitt Romney. I
backed him. You can see how loyal he is. He was begging for my
I could have said, Mitt, drop to your knees, he would have dropped to his
knees. He was begging.
He choked like a dog. You ever see them in athletics? He`s a choker! And
he walks like a penguin onto the stage. You ever see him? Like a penguin.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: But the two men appeared to have a somewhat cordial relationship
at least when then President-elect Trump considered Romney for secretary of
state. NBC News reports that Romney might not run as a pure anti-Trump
We`re back here with our roundtable: Catherine, Christina and Rick.
Well, that`s a key question, Catherine – Christina. If this race – it
looks like Romney wins the Senate seat, so which Romney shows up in
Washington, the guy who`s calling Trump a fraud or the guy who`s dining
with him after the election?
GREER: We don`t know. I mean, we`ve seen Romney actually, as the clips
have shown, stand up to him, but we saw all of those Republicans stand
behind Donald Trump after the tax bill was passed and just prostrate
themselves in front of the man. I mean, just praising him as though he`s a
dictator from a developing nation.
I mean, so we don`t know because we have seen Mitt Romney switch.
Hopefully, the Mitt Romney that has some integrity, the Mitt Romney who is
the son of George Romney, governor of Michigan, you know, former
presidential candidate who actually cared about the American people, Mitt
Romney needs to remember he is second generation public servant. Hopefully
that Mitt Romney will show up and not the one who goes along to get long
with the rest of his Republican colleagues.
KORNACKI: And, Rick, Christina points to the tax bill. Look, you got
basically you got universal Republican support there. Almost all the
Republicans were onboard for that Obamacare repeal. It does raise the
question, the Republicans who have expressed criticism, the election
officials, the criticism of Trump seem to be more about tone, about style.
When it comes to substantive policy on most of these key questions, they
have been there.
Where does Romney fall in that? Is his disagreement on tone? Is his issue
on policy? Where does he fit in that Republican sort of sorting out that`s
going on right now?
TYLER: Oh, I don`t know. Do you get Mitt Romney the Obamacare, or
Romneycare, governor of Massachusetts or do you get the Utah, very
conservative, Mormon, save the Olympics. If he runs –
KORNACKI: Well, it`s not always been clear with Romney in the past either.
TYLER: No. And if you listen to his staff now, what I find interesting is
the tone because the juxtaposition between Trump and his tone and what
they`re saying about Romney now is he`s going to give the senator a chance
to, you know, bask in the sun for his retirement, all this. So, he`s doing
all the right things. But are people ready to sort of go back to that sort
of politician that lost.
We had 16 of them in the Republican Party, all very – you know, all their
comments were planned, they all sounded like politicians. Trump comes
along, blows it all up and wins. So, I don`t know.
So, look, Romney will be a senator, there`s no question in my mind about
TYLER: I don`t think – look, he got punked by Trump. Remember, Trump
didn`t want him to be secretary of state. He wanted to prove to him that
I`m in charge and you`re not coming on this administration.
KORNACKI: Right. And as supposedly, there was that story there was a
demand for a public apology from Romney. Romney didn`t do that and now
you`ve got Rex Tillerson there.
But it is interesting, if it is a question of when Mitt Romney runs and not
if, it certainly looks likely he`d win, Catherine. He would be in a unique
position among the Republicans in Washington. His popularity in Utah, I
could try to quantify it for everybody and it wouldn`t do justice.
Utah is also as red states go a very anti-Trump state. He got 13 percent
there in the Republican primaries last year, 45 percent in the general.
That`s like 35 points worse than a Republican normally does.
All of those Republicans in Washington who are afraid they break with
Trump, their base gets mad at them. Senator Romney wouldn`t have to worry
RAMPELL: It would not apply to Romney. Exactly.
Actually, the last approval ratings that I had seen for Romney were
something like 69 percent, 70 percent within Utah and for Trump, it was
like 40 something percent. So, yes, Romney is significantly more popular.
He does not necessarily have to worry about his base retaliating or his
voter constituency retaliating against him if he picks a fight with the
And if I were Trump, I would be worried.
KORNACKI: It sounds like they are. It sounds like Trump was trying to
talk Orrin Hatch into taking another shot but that didn`t work out.
The roundtable is staying with us. Up next, three scoops you`ll be talking
You`re watching HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: All right. We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.
Catherine, tell me something I don`t know.
RAMPELL: So, preparations for the 2020 census, which as you know is
required by the Constitution, they`re already behind schedule, they`re
already severely underfunded. The Department of Justice is now trying to
get census to add an additional question on citizenship to that census,
which is likely to depress turnout – or participation of Hispanics, which
will lead to major implications for how congressional seats get divvied up
and how funding gets divvied up.
KORNACKI: OK, Christina?
GREER: Everyone is looking at Congress and, you know, Senate races and
what`s going on in 2018, but since we know that Republicans control the
vast majority of governorships and the control of the vast majority of
statehouses, I`m actually looking at all the women who are running for
governor, especially Stacy Abrams running for governor of Georgia. If she
wins, she would be the first black female governor in the history of the
KORNACKI: That`s a race to keep an eye on.
TYLER: Something you do know, Steve, but I think is worth repeating.
While we cover “Fire and Fury”, which is important in this administration,
there are people in Iran who wants freedom. And the United States needs to
be emblematic of that freedom so that people can look to the United State
and say that`s what we want to represent and we`re not doing that right
KORNACKI: OK. Catherine, Christina and Rick, thanks to all of you for
being with us.
That is HARDBALL for now. Thank you at home for being with us.
And “ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES” starts right now.
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