Trump, WH, Kelly reportedly reach “truce.” TRANSCRIPT: 03/16/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthews
March 16, 2018
Guest: David Ignatius, Shermichael Singleton, Stephanie Schriock, Ayesha Rascoe, Michelle Goldberg, David Jolly
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Next head to roll? Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
Throughout the campaign, Donald Trump promised that he would solve
Washington`s problems. That he alone could fix things.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nobody knows the system
better than me. Which is why I alone can fix it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, now Trump seems to be putting that statement to the test.
In the past few weeks, he has been emboldened to go it alone, literally.
The President parted ways with his chief economic adviser and booted his
secretary of state via twitter. The two join a growing list of staffers
that have been chewed up and spit out by this presidency.
And it`s about to get worse. “The Washington Post” is reporting that
President Trump has decided to remove his national security adviser H.R.
McMaster, a person with whom he never personally gelled. According to “the
Post,” Trump is actively discussing potential replacements.
The news of McMaster`s departure was first reported by NBC News on March
1st. For weeks now, the White House has been on edge over who may be next.
And according to the “Washington Post” staffers are gripped by fear and
uncertainty as they await the next move from an impulsive President who
enjoys stoking conflict.
Well, the “Associated Press” reports that the President has been consuming
news with amusement, even jokingly asking who is next? And according to
the news organization “Axios,” the President`s chief of staff John Kelly
acknowledged that the President himself is probably contributing to staff
chaos stories. Publicly his press had to put the kibosh on reports of
White House turmoil.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The staff actually
spoke to a number of staff this morning reassuring them that there were
personnel changes, no immediate personnel changes at this time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: While McMaster may live to die another day, the daily job of
governing has turned into a reality TV program. You have to tune in each
day to find out who survives.
And as Michelle Goldberg writes in “The New York Times” quote “increasingly
the people who were supposed to be the adults in the room aren`t in the
room anymore. The self-styled grown-ups are for the most part being
replaced by lackeys and ideologues.”
For more, I`m joined by Ashley Parker, White House reporter for the “The
Washington Post” and an MSNBC contributor, Heidi Pryzbyla, national
political reporter for NBC News, Michelle Goldberg, columnist for The New
York Times” and Dave Jolly, former Republican congressman from Florida.
A great group to talk about this.
Ashley, you guys at the Post and at the times are amazingly able to get
into the thought process in the White House. These people seem to be
turbulent to tell the news of how bad it is.
ASHLEY PARKER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, the thing
is, in this White House because right now in this moment, west wing aides
and White House advisers don`t even really know what`s going on. They are
sort of in their own way doing what we are doing which is trying to figure
who is in, who is out, what does this mean what does the President going to
do next. And so there have been some White House aides who will call
reporters to ask what we are hearing because our information is potentially
good as theirs.
MATTHEWS: What about John Kelly saying it, apparently, in a somewhat off
the record but not successfully so, comment today that the President is
causing this by asking around about who to get rid of inside and outside
the White House? He is going what do you think of this guy? What do you
think of that guy? What do you think I get rid of this person?
PARKER: Well, it is no secret that the President late at night, he calls
friends, he calls confidantes, he floats things and that`s how he makes
decisions. He likes to spitball. You know, what do you think of Sean
Spicer? What should I do about Reince? You know, how about McMaster? How
about this? How about that? The problem is –
MATTHEWS: You guys call it midnight to collect the honey after he has made
the calls. You are laughing. I know you guys do. That`s your trade
It is what`s going on. But I have never seen a White House – Michelle
Goldberg in the column said that the White House staff people have been
discharged or have left should talk about what`s going on. I think they
are already talking, aren`t they, Ashley? It seems like a lot of talking
is going on there about the trouble.
PARKER: Well, again, they are trying to figure out what is going on and
they are in the same situations. So in this process of trying to parse
fact from fiction, a lot of it ends up leaking out into the news.
MATTHEWS: Michelle, we gave mentioned you. Tell me, I have never seen
such a chatter box of disquietude. Who keeps secret in the White House
anymore? But you say they ought to do more and give real tone. Come out
with some rhetoric about the duty of the people to speak to the country.
MICHELLE GOLDBERG, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I mean, I think that a
lot of people are talking off the record, right? And so you have, you
know, a lot of leaking. I think that some of these people who have assured
reporters that they are the adults in the room, that they are not complicit
in this administration but really serving the American people, you know,
now that they are not there anymore, they I believe have a duty to the
If they believe this President needed baby-sitting and that he was a
dangerous fool and that they stayed there to prevent the worst from
happening, now that they are not there anymore, they should tell the rest
of us what`s going on. And they should put their names behind it.
You know, Rex Tillerson thinks that this President is a moron. Well, he is
now a moron who is unleashed, unbound who has, you know, kind of the
guardrails are off. And we are in a lot of trouble in this country. And
these people who say that they went into service because they are patriots
I think should take the risk of putting their names to the whispers that
they have been putting out there.
MATTHEWS: Michelle, now that you are on the word moron which grabs
attention, it`s impossible to forget the use of the word by someone who is
secretary of state and speaking about the President who named him secretary
of state, referring to him as moron is unforgettable. Is he willing by
anyone`s evidence gathering that he is willing to talk about the moron he
says is in the White House now? Now that he is free to speak?
GOLDBERG: No. I mean, I certainly haven`t seen any sign of it. But like
I said I think it`s really his and other people who have left, it`s their
patriotic duty. If they believe that this President is unfit or at least
unfit to rule in the absence of a bunch of people who are there to hem him
in, it is really their responsibility to speak out. I mean, one thing that
has happened over the last year is that because you have had these people
who tried to thwart Trump`s more like idiotic whims or erratic impulses, is
a lot of the country has been shielded I think from the consequences of
having a man as unfit as him as President.
And meanwhile, we have all become into nerd to things that, you know, to
this outrageous behavior so that it doesn`t seem shocking anymore when a
President runs his White House as if it was a sadistic reality show.
But things are really out of control now. And now suddenly, the people who
were – who purported to be protecting us from this President aren`t there
anymore. And he has consolidated his power and learned how to transcend
the limits that has been put on him.
MATTHEWS: You know, I have been columnist so long, Michelle, as you know.
And I just say I watch Presidents of limited intellectual ability like W
walk into that office and be appalled at their lack of any kind of
sophistication. But the way you talk about it is to me is frightening.
Anyway. I mean, frightening in its reality, not in your comments.
Anyway, recently, chief of staff John Kelly has fallen out of favor with
President Trump. The “Associated Press” is reporting that the President is
still frustrated by an interview that Kelly gave to FOX News nearly two
months ago in which he suggested the President has quote “evolved in his
thinking about the need for a wall, an actual wall, at the Mexican border.”
Well, according to “Wall Street Journal,” the two have reached a temporary
truce rather than a real peace treaty.
I don`t know where he go from this because the talk about a moron in the
White House is so amazing to me. But Heidi, we chuckle here at the awful
absurdity of it, not the humor.
HEIDI PRYZBYLA, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, the most
disturbing part of it is that because the President apparently likes this
chaos, that it is his style.
MATTHEWS: It is like a shell. It`s survival.
PRYZBYLA: That there is no indication that it is actually going to come to
an end. He says I`m finally getting the cabinet that I always wanted.
Well, he has been in the White House for almost a year and a half. But
there is a trend I think – there`s some threads of what`s happening which
is that the people who are being put out to pasture like Rex Tillerson are
people who actually had some disagreement with him ideologically. Rex
Tillerson was considered more of a moderate.
MATTHEWS: On the Iran deal and things like that and climate.
PRYZBYLA: Right. So the people who are coming in, there is twos things
about them. One, they are viewed as more hawkish, more loyalist, more
ideological and then he is also looking at these people, we see reports
that he is spending more executive time in the oval office like what he is
doing is watching FOX and recruiting new people.
MATTHEWS: Yes. And apparently recruiting them right off the air when he
sees their looks.
Anyway, Congressman Jolly, let me ask you about this.
DAVID JOLLY (R), FORMER FLORIDA REPRESENTATIVE: Sure.
MATTHEWS: I don`t know, I doubt if you were ever called a moron by a staff
member. But I always wonder why people continue to serve somebody they see
as moronic. And I - if that is the right adjective. What do you make of
this? This is the high of awful. Michelle Goldberg thinks the guy - says
just there, casually on the air, as a smart reporter, a columnist and she
has an opinion, he is unfit. And terms like that have just dropped.
Unfit. That`s a hell of a statement.
JOLLY: And look, he surrounded himself –.
MATTHEWS: – disagree with everything he does but he is not fit to the sit
in Lincoln`s chair. He is not fit to be there.
JOLLY: And whether you agree with the ideology, he has surrounded himself
by a lot of principles who were fit for the office. And he is
demonstrating the difference between what it means to be a boss or a
leader. Instead of empowering the people around him, behaving like a
leader, inspiring, he is behaving like a boss. He needs the credit. He is
insulting his own team. He is pushing them away.
And Chris, the reality is that`s bad for the country. Because as Donald
Trump pushes away the voices he needs, Kelly, McMaster, Sessions, Cohn,
Tillerson, go on and on, as he pushes them away, he leaves himself
surrounded only by those whose voices don`t matter, the d-listers who
accept mediocrity and provide him with mediocrity.
MATTHEWS: Well McMaster, the head of the NSC isn`t the only official on
thin ice with the President. “The Washington Post” is also reporting that
Veteran affairs Secretary David Shulkin, house and urban development
secretary Ben Carson and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt who have garnered
negative headlines for questionable spending of taxpayer dollars are all
considered at risk for termination or reprimand. We don`t know.
Well, let`s go back to your reporting here. How does it look for the
weekend? I`m serious. Give me weather report. How many people may
defenestrated the next couple hours even?
PARKER: It is an open question. And a lot of these people you hear who
are in trouble, it is not necessarily imminent. That is not to say I`m not
making a prediction that there may not be a tweet even as you are doing the
show. That someone is that I learned not to predict about this President.
But that he does in this process, he does want to have replacements lined
up. And one of the challenges for replacing his cabinet secretaries
especially is because of the midterms. He doesn`t want to choose someone
from the House or the Senate open up a potentially competitive seat. And
so there is some pause while he sort of tries to do this in a slightly
organized manner if he decides to make a move.
MATTHEWS: Heidi, last week he apparently showed mercy as only a malignant
king would, malignant king. He was going to fire his secretary of state
while he was in Nairobi. He wanted to really stick it to the guy. Hit him
while he is on a foreign trip or foreign soil, humiliate him before the
government of Kenya and do it for fun. And he was talked out of that
little exercise and sadism, a term used earlier tonight by his chief of
staff John Kelly. He said you can warn him it is coming. Let him down
easy. Let him sweat it out for the next 48 hours and then we will fire him
when he gets off the plane. This is sadistic staff.
PRYZBYLA: Chris, there were many humiliations along that road. I mean,
just because the ultimate act wasn`t executed didn`t mean that Rex
Tillerson wasn`t regularly humiliated. For example with some of the tweets
and overruling him on North Korea and putting him in his place. And you
saw that. You have seen that that has been his style from the beginning
with the way that he fired James Comey. He didn`t find out about it either
and until he saw it on news reports.
PARKER: And this President, he is actually horrible at firing people. So
one thing he often does as he tries to especially with say attorney general
Sessions. He tries to make their jobs as awful as possible to force them
to quit. And a lot of these people around him has kind of made an internal
decision that says if you want me gone, you are going to have to do it.
You are going to have to fire me. And it leads to some public humiliation
along the way. But they are not going to resign just because the President
is belittling them publicly.
MATTHEWS: David, let me ask you about that whole process of firing.
The gutsy thing to do is to call the other guy or person in the room with
you and sit down across the table, maybe have a – we used to have a
cigarette, maybe, in the old days but have a cup of coffee say you know
what, brother or sister, you have been a great colleague. It isn`t working
out. And you know it and I know it. So why don`t we part ways and do it
some class? Let`s walk out and face the press right now. Meanwhile, you
have got in your head the person to replace the person with. That would be
the grown-up way to handle something.
MATTHEWS: He doesn`t do that way.
JOLLY: No. By word, indeed. We have seen Donald Trump is not someone of
immense personal mettle.
Look. It takes a very weak coward in leadership to not be able to
terminate one of your most senior people face-to-face. To have that
conversation. And Chris, why it matters is because we are dealing with the
highest office in the land. We are dealing what matters of national
security with North Korea.
MATTHEWS: The only President we have.
JOLLY: With the trade, he is the only President we have. The one thing I
will tell you politically, and this is – if he was smart enough to give
him credit for doing so, perhaps we could. But a lot of administrations,
look, but for the Stormy Daniels situation, we would be focused on the
impropriety at VA, at interior and at HUD and those would be campaign
issues going into the midterms and the President might want to clean House.
But I don`t think he is doing this with a long lens looking at how to
improve the cabinet. He is looking at how to improve loyalty to him
MATTHEWS: And sometimes I wonder which scandal he prefers us to focus on.
Because there is always a lot to choose from.
Thank you so much, Mr. Jolly. Thank you very much, Ashley Parker, Heidi
Pryzbyla and Michelle Goldberg. Thank you all.
Coming up, has Vladimir Putin finally gone too far to see, I Vladimir like
an I Tanya? Russia is obsessed with hacking our election systems and now
our power grids. And it looks like Putin, I Putin himself, was behind the
murder of a spy using a banned nerve agent on British soil. Putin is
pushing perhaps against because he knows he can get away with it. That
Trump won`t push back. And those are facts. And that`s ahead.
Plus, the other scandal encroaching on the oval office, the one mentioned
ago, the attorney for Stormy Daniels now says she was physically
threatened, threatened physically to keep quiet about anything she had to
do with Donald Trump.
And back to the White House, turn to plug the holes, Trump is plucking
people right out of the FOX News green room. To him, the real experts on
this planet are the people who show up on television especially on FOX, the
Finally, let me finish tonight with Trump watch.
This is HARDBALL where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Of veteran New York congresswoman Louise Slaughter has died.
First elected to Congress in 1986, there she is. She rose through the
Democratic ranks becoming the first woman to chair the House rules
committee. A liberal stalwart who represent the Rochester area of upstate
New York for more than three decades and that`s (INAUDIBLE) as a champion
of women`s rights including co-authoring the 1994 violence against women
act. But she was also a relentless defender of blue collar workers, never
forgetting her roots as the daughter of a Kentucky Black Smith. What a
history. Congresswoman Slaughter was 88 years old.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
In addition to meddling in the 2016 Presidential election, Russia`s recent
actions show that Vladimir Putin is taking more brazen steps to thumb his
nose at the west. Increasingly, his country`s government is looking more
like criminal enterprise than that of a respective world power.
First there was the unprovoked attack on U.S. troops in Syria last month by
so-called Russian mercenaries working for an oligarch close to Putin.
After U.S. counter strike, the six-hour battle ended with 200 to 300 dead,
Russian. Among the Russian forces, no Americans were killed.
The clash marks the first direct military engagement between American and
Russian forces in decades. Then there was the unprecedented chemical
attack this month against a former Russian spy and his daughter in
Salisbury, England. Nineteen others were treated for exposure to the
internationally banned nerve agent there which Moscow developed in the
closing days of the cold war.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said it`s the first attack of its kind
in a NATO territory and pointed the finger at Russia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: They have provided no credible
explanation that they – that could suggest they lost control of their
nerve agent, no explanation as to why Russia has an undeclared chemical
weapons program, in contravention of international law.
Instead, they have treated the use of a military-grade nerve agent in
Europe with sarcasm, contempt and defiance.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, most recently, the U.S. identified Russia as the culprit
behind a series of cyber-attacks against critical infrastructure here in
the U.S. and in Europe which took place as recently as last year.
And, most alarmingly, the Department of Homeland Security released this
photograph showing the controls of a power facility that Russia accessed,
making clear that Russia, Russian state hackers had the foothold they would
have needed to manipulate or shut down our power plants.
I`m joined right now by Malcolm Nance, MSNBC terrorism analyst. And David
Ignatius is a columnist with “The Washington Post.”
David, I want to start with you about, why is Russia behaving like Tonya
Harding? Like, we can`t compete with the Russians – I mean, with the
Americans, so we`re going to do all the dirty tricks we can pull to slow
them down and humiliate them.
DAVID IGNATIUS, COLUMNIST, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Vladimir Putin is a
He has a chip on his shoulder. He is angry. He`s seeking to restore
Russia as a significant world power.
MATTHEWS: By bringing us down through…
IGNATIUS: So, Putin`s experience is that everything, every place he`s
pushing, he`s succeeding. There`s been very little to stop him.
And it`s obvious that, absent that stop, Putin keeps going. And I think
that`s what`s finally become clear to Britain, to France, to Germany, and
to the U.S.
MATTHEWS: Is that implicitly because they can`t compete with us in GDP and
innovation and technology? They can`t compete with us.
IGNATIUS: Russia in most ways is a declining power. Russia is a one-
export economy. It`s basically dependent on oil and gas. It`s trying to
become modern, but it`s slipping further and further behind.
This is not China. This is not a strong economic competitor. Putin has
one thing, which is this defiant willingness to use force, and he`s doing
it again and again. And I do think finally he`s gone too far and people
have put up the stop sign.
MATTHEWS: Well, Malcolm, it`s always been said that the most dangerous
animal is the wounded animal. And if the old Soviet Union, now the Russian
republic is so wounded, so angry, so much with a chip on its shoulder,
they`re to be watched, at least, and perhaps curbed.
MALCOLM NANCE, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, certainly, the chip on their
shoulder goes further back than the Soviet Union. This is almost a Russian
trait, this insecurity about how they position themselves vis-a-vis the
I mean, Vladimir Putin sees himself as sort of a Renaissance Peter the
Great, but one which rejects the outreach to the West. He is literally
trying to reengineer the polar axis away from what they call the Atlantic
alliance into the Eurasian axis, which is Europe held down by Russia.
Russia is resurgent, only in the sense that, as you said earlier, the
United States must be brought to heel and turned into the third-rate
superpower, with Russia and China as the top two.
And that`s the entire basis of what he`s doing.
MATTHEWS: Well, even when confronted by the evidence, we have seen Putin
consistently deny responsibility for his actions.
For instance, when asked by Megyn Kelly in that interview about the
indictment of 13 Russians recently who meddled in our elections, Putin was
dismissive. Let`s watch him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Why have you
decided the Russian authorities, myself included, gave anybody permission
to do this? Nothing has changed since you and I talked last time in St.
Petersburg. Some names have popped up. So what?
MEGYN KELLY, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: So it wasn`t the Russians?
PUTIN (through translator): OK, fine, Russians, but they`re not government
officials. So what if they`re Russians? There are 146 million Russians.
KELLY: If the 13 Russian nationals, plus three Russian companies did in
fact interfere in our elections, is that OK with you?
PUTIN (through translator): I don`t care. I couldn`t care less.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Smirking like – anyway, David, you write in your column this
week that: “Putin used the phrase `So what?` nine times during the
interview with Megyn Kelly. That`s his tell.” That`s his tell, as we say.
“He thinks he can get away with it based on his experience over the past 18
years in power. When he gets caught cheating, he throws up his hands in
That was like a smirking kid from Our Gang comedy or something, like an 8-
IGNATIUS: We just watched it. We just watched Mr. So What.
I`m telling you, he thinks he can get away with it. So, he keeps doing it.
And his answer when pushed is, so? So, what are you going to do about it?
And the answer has been nothing.
MATTHEWS: Malcolm, what do you make of that guy and that smirk? Because I
don`t know what he was doing there, but he wasn`t acting like a grownup,
because he didn`t think he had to.
NANCE: No, it`s not a question of acting like a grownup. This is a man
who understands power politics. He understands that he is now in the
He does not care how his hybrid warfare strategy affects the rest of the
world, except when he wants it to affect – have an effect the way he needs
it. And what he did with meddling in that – not meddling, but attacking
the United States, going after the French elections, essentially trying to
reengineer all conservatism in the Western world to be his – you know, to
be his asset, so to speak, he is essentially saying, he doesn`t care.
He has a plan in place, and it`s being effective, and it`s working. So
MATTHEWS: I just think he`s like a guy who can`t afford a good car, so he
goes around keying all the other good cars he sees. You know? Let me just
go around and key every good-looking car, scratch them up, so they will
look like hell.
And then I will feel better, because I can`t have a nice car. It`s that
simple. Isn`t that about it, David?
IGNATIUS: Well, he`s – there`s a mischievous, malicious…
MATTHEWS: OK. Why does Trump put up with it? Question of the year.
IGNATIUS: So, that is the question of year.
Let`s ask special counsel Robert Mueller for his answer as to why he puts
up with it.
MATTHEWS: Because he`s got Trump by the tail, or what?
IGNATIUS: So, Trump campaigned saying he wanted better relations with
Russia. That`s a plausible argument to make.
MATTHEWS: That was two years ago.
IGNATIUS: I understand, so what`s the deeper part of this? We don`t know
the answer to that yet.
I do think it`s important that Putin has – I think has finally gone too
far. Even Donald Trump has said, I think Putin`s responsible for poisoning
this former agent in Salisbury, England.
IGNATIUS: And we finally have the imposition of sanctions by the Trump
administration against Russia. So, I think a small corner has been turned.
The question is whether Trump will stick with it.
MATTHEWS: Both of you guys know the spooks out there. You know the
underworld. You know that back alley world that, what was his name, Dick
Cheney liked to talk about it we have to use.
Does Trump – does Trump – I`m sorry. Has Putin, Trump`s friend, has he
killed people personally? Has he put people on – contracts on people and
say, kill that guy, take him out by a nerve agent?
IGNATIUS: He was a KGB officer. And the KGB uses – uses violence.
And the British accusation here is very direct.
MATTHEWS: Is that directed to him?
IGNATIUS: The British prime minister has said this was, you know, a breach
of international law on our soil. It was an attempted murder of somebody
in Britain. And she`s essentially blamed Putin himself for authorizing it.
MATTHEWS: Malcolm, is he a killer?
NANCE: Yes, absolutely.
Look, this guy is a former KGB officer. And, you know, their motto is,
once KGB, always KGB. He calls the FSB, the successor, and the SVR, the
new nobility of Russia.
Nothing gets done in that country without a former KGB or FSB officer on
your staff. He has personally ordered these attacks. He has killed
people. And he does not care whether we know about it.
MATTHEWS: Apparently so.
Thank you, Malcolm Nance. Malcolm Nance, thank you, and David Ignatius.
IGNATIUS: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, gentlemen.
Up next: Disturbing allegations continue to emerge from the Stormy Daniels
scandal. Daniels` lawyer now says that the film actor was physically
threatened to keep quiet about anything she had to do with Donald Trump.
Well, that has certainly escalated.
This is the HARDBALL – this is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Disturbing allegations continue to emerge in the Stormy Daniels scandal.
This morning, Daniels` lawyer, Michael Avenatti, told MSNBC`s “Morning Joe”
that the adult film star was physically threatened to remain silent about
her alleged relationship with Donald Trump.
Let`s watch it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKA BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC HOST: Was she threatened in any way?
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: Yes.
BRZEZINSKI: Was she threatened physical harm?
BRZEZINSKI: What do you mean by that? Was her life threatened?
AVENATTI: Again I`m not going to answer that. People will have to tune in
to “60 Minutes” on March…
JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC HOST: Can you tell us whether it came from the
president directly, the physical threats?
AVENATTI: I`m not going to answer that.
SCARBOROUGH: Will you deny that the president of the United States
threatened your client?
AVENATTI: I will not confirm or deny.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: God, it`s like the old, what`s my line?
Mika, good for you. Good for you. Good props for getting that question at
the dateline there, at the buzzer.
Avenatti also said that Daniels would offer more details on her upcoming
interview – boy, they`re hyping this – on CBS` “60 Minutes,” reportedly
scheduled now for the 25th, which is the Sunday after this.
Daniels` attorney said he was unaware of any specific legal challenges to
prevent that interview from airing. So, CBS is not vulnerable here. She
But “The Washington Post” that “Powerful figures can slow publication of
damaging material simply by threatening legal action,” adding that “Some
legal experts see potential peril for Daniels if the `60 Minutes` interview
goes ahead,” as I said.
Anyway, the White House has denied allegations of the relationship
altogether between Daniels and the president.
For more, I`m joined by former federal prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks. She`s
also an MSNBC legal analyst.
This is – I don`t know what to say, but the physical danger, what do you
mean? I guess there`s a couple ways that could mean. Somebody called up,
said, you better be careful, lady. You better be careful. You might be in
What do you think it meant to say physical threat?
JILL WINE-BANKS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: It`s always hard to know with the
president or with Michael Cohen exactly what was meant.
But I take it as a serious threat of bodily injury. And it could void the
contract, depending on whether the threat preceded the contract or was
after the contract. We don`t know, but it`s a crime in and of itself to
threaten physical harm to anybody.
So whoever made that threat could be in legal jeopardy just for making the
threat, unrelated to the fact that there is a nondisclosure agreement.
MATTHEWS: Well, what would the nondisclosure agreement do to that?
In other words, if it preceded the nondisclosure agreement, you would be
covering up not just the sexual relationship, if it occurred, but also the
threat that had been posed at you. You would be covering up an awful lot
for money, right?
WINE-BANKS: Well, I don`t think that a threat of physical harm would be
covered by the nondisclosure agreement, especially if it happened after the
agreement was signed, because that couldn`t can be covered by a preexisting
And, of course, there is a question now as to whether the document is
enforceable because it wasn`t signed by Donald Trump, or D.D.
And I would say there`s another reason why it might not be enforceable,
which is, it seems to be a completely inequitable agreement, where all the
benefits flow to D.D., who we assume is Donald Trump, and all of the
obligations are on the part of P.P., who we know is Stormy Daniels.
MATTHEWS: But she`s gets 130K out of it. I mean, there is money for her
if she had a case here. She had – they got the money.
WINE-BANKS: Yes, she got $130,000 and agreed in exchange to do a lot of
things, and all of the things that she agreed to included $1 million in
liquidated damages each and every time she revealed anything that was
prohibited under the agreement; $130,000 is not enough for anybody to
knowingly agree to pay $1 million in damages.
That seems inequitable right there. And he had no obligations, other than
the payment of the money, except to sign the agreement, which apparently he
did not do.
MATTHEWS: God, you`re right.
WINE-BANKS: So there`s some serious questions about whether it`s enable.
MATTHEWS: Just back to the question, if he – if she was threatened by one
of his agents or henchmen or whatever before she signed or agreed to this
nondisclosure, would that tell you anything?
How would that affect this whole thing?
WINE-BANKS: If she was threatened before that?
WINE-BANKS: It would totally void the contract, because it would have been
signed under the threat of the physical harm.
WINE-BANKS: And that would make it not a freely agreed to document.
Even though the document might say, we did this freely and fairly, if you
were threatened, that`s not a free and fair agreement and could not be
enforced under any law.
MATTHEWS: So we have to intuit that it came afterwards if it happened, the
WINE-BANKS: I`m assuming that, because, I`m assuming that if it happened
before, that would have been alleged by her lawyer, who said it`s not
enforceable because it wasn`t signed on the line it was supposed to be
signed by Donald Trump, but also…
MATTHEWS: You know, you lawyers really have your – you have your uses.
You know, you`re really good at this.
MATTHEWS: Thank you.
A lot of it doesn`t come to mind to a lot of us who aren`t lawyers. But
thank you. I mean that. I`m not being condescending, obviously.
I never thought of the fact that, if she had been threatened, obviously,
she couldn`t honestly – neither party could honestly say this was done out
of a free will of either partner – party.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you so much.
WINE-BANKS: You`re welcome.
Up next: If Trump`s new – thank you.
If Trump`s staff looks familiar, it should, because it turns out the
president is doing most of his recruiting right now, his hiring, from what
he watches on FOX News. So much for experts. Trump just wants people who
are good at arguing his case on the tube.
You know, you know these people. And he knows them the same way you know
them, watching during his executive time. That means watching television.
That`s what presidents like him – and there`s only one like him – do.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
You can call it the green room cabinet. “The Washington Post” is reporting
that President Trump may hire multiple cable news personalities as part of
his administration`s staff shake-up. Trump`s reportedly considering
replacing national security adviser H.R. McMaster with Bush administration
hawk, did I say that loud enough, John Bolton. Bolton frequently appears
on Fox News and defended the president on Russia investigation.
Let`s watch John Bolton.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BOLTON, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: The fact that President Trump opened
the meeting by talking about Russian interference in our election and
according to Secretary of State Tillerson pressed it several times should
be the end of the allegations about Russian collusion with the Trump
campaign. Of course, it won`t be. But just for reality`s sake, that was
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, veteran Pete Hegseth, military veteran, has been floated
as a possible replacement for Veteran Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. He
is a co-host of “Fox & Friends” weekend and a fierce advocate of the
president – for the president.
Here he is defending Trump`s attacks on NFL players.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETE HEGSETH, FOX HOST: I have to ask you, what are we kneeling for at
this point? Because you talk about social injustice. This is the least
sexist, least racist, most free, most equal, most prosperous country in the
history of humankind. I mean, free peoples governing themselves, yet we
can`t even now stand together for I don`t know, what is it a minute and a
half, two minutes for our national anthem. That`s the divisive action.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Actually, that`s called freedom.
Then there`s CNBC analyst Larry Kudlow who Trump tapped as his new chief
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LARRY KUDLOW, CNBC ANALYST: I`ve known the president a long time. We have
mutual admiration society. The president likes me as a media communicator.
So, I`ll be more than happy to oblige.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump may love TV personalities but doesn`t feel
the same way about policy experts.
We`ll have that coming up next with HARDBALL and our roundtable.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All of these experts, oh, we
need an expert. The experts are terrible. Look at the mess we`re in with
all these experts that we have.
I mean, these people don`t know what they`re doing. They say Donald Trump
needs a foreign policy adviser. Supposing I didn`t have one, and I have a
lot of people I met last week a lot of people, all good people. But
supposing I didn`t have one. Would it be worse than what we`re doing now?
The people, the experts and I`m not knocking them, I`m just saying the
world is a mess. We`ve helped to make it a mess.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was Trump during the campaign dismissing anything – well, experts,
them. While Trump may not value policy expertise, he certainly likes a
good TV personalities, given the candidates who reportedly are being
considered for jobs in his administration.
Let`s bring in our HARDBALL roundtable for this circus.
Shermichael Singleton is a Republican strategist. Stephanie Schriock is
president of Emily`s List. Ayesha Rascoe is the White House correspondent
for Reuters news service.
So, Shermichael, you for the defense here. You know, I think – does he
like fix his own teeth when he has a cavity?
SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Maybe.
MATTHEWS: Does he fix his own plumbing when something is going wrong in
the toilet? I mean, if he does like certain kinds of experts but not the
SINGLETON: I mean, look, there is value in having people with experience
and knowledge in certain subject areas. Those individuals have guided
previous presidents and leaders across the board how to make the proper
decisions for organizations and countries alike.
It`s interesting when you observe Trump, he`s almost a case study on
pseudo-transformational leadership. He`s the type of leader who makes
short term goals without thinking about long-term repercussions. And I
think that`s what we`re seeing –
MATTHEWS: That`s scary.
SINGLETON: It is very scary. I don`t disagree with you, Chris. It`s not
a good thing. And I think –
MATTHEWS: Like if we do a surgical bombing of North Korea, something might
SINGLETON: You would think, right? But I think the president wants people
MATTHEWS: How does he know this stuff without having an ambassador to
SINGLETON: He doesn`t feel like he needs one.
MATTHEWS: Shermichael –
MATTHEWS: Stephanie, you`re up. This guy doesn`t want to defend. Go
STEPHANIE SCHRIOCK, PRESIDENT, EMILY`S LIST: I mean, it is undefendable.
You know, I often think about it from my perspective. I run an
organization. I have 100 staff. I actually think about.
SCHRIOCK: Bringing in staff who complement me and question me and push me.
And I do the same thing. And that`s how we get the best work done. I was
Senator Jon Tester`s chief of staff. I think about how great of an
organization he put together as a senator and that he wanted people with
different ideas so you got to the best idea.
MATTHEWS: What`s Trump want?
SCHRIOCK: He wants yes people. He seems to want yes people.
MATTHEWS: What`s your reporting tell you? What`s he want?
AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: I don`t know that he
even wants yes people. But he wants people that are going to do what he
tells them to do ultimately. And I think that for the first year that he
was in office, he had these people, they weren`t necessarily the usual
experts because a lot of them didn`t have a lot of Washington experience
but they had some expertise. But they kind of tried to manage him a bit.
And I think now, he`s a point where he just wants to do what he said he was
going to do. He wanted to put tariffs on stuff. He`s going to slap
tariffs on stuff. And I think he just wants people that are going to
execute that. Now, we`ll have to wait and see what happens.
MATTHEWS: Well, “The Washington Post” points out that installing cabinet
or cable pundits in decision making jobs has not worked out well for Trump
thus far. Former Fox Anchor K.T. McFarland was nominated to be the
ambassador to Singapore, but her nomination was withdrawn after she was
implicated in the Russia probe. Fox News contributor Monica Crowley was
nominated to be on the National Security Council. Her nomination was
withdrawn after alleging plagiarism.
So, he hasn`t been picky. You know, the trouble with picking your people
from over the transom, people looking for jobs because they don`t have
employment opportunities is you get some people that aren`t exactly ready
to run the country.
SINGLETON: But, Chris, people with good, solid experience would not want
to work in this administration, with this level of chaos. They just don`t
want to do it. I think to your point when you think –
MATTHEWS: You`re laying down on me here.
SINGLETON: Because you wouldn`t do it, Chris.
MATTHEWS: I want to ask you another question. What can Trump do to fix
SINGLETON: Hire qualified people. It`s simple.
RASCOE: But even when you talk about hiring qualified people and you say
he`s bringing in TV people, well, we see how he`s influenced by what he
sees on Fox. So, even with the people that he`s hired, if you get on “Fox
& Friends,” you`ll get more of a response from President Trump.
MATTHEWS: Remember –
SINGLETON: That`s absurdity.
MATTHEWS: Remember the Peter Sellers movie “Being There,” where all the
guy was limited intellectually. All he knew was what he saw on television,
right? He`s living on U Street. This guy –
SCHRIOCK: This is now how you run a country, a company. He doesn`t even
run a company.
MATTHEWS: He has something called executive time which is when he`s
watching Fox. He doesn`t meet people. He only meets what`s on Fox. So,
obviously, when it comes time to replace people, I know this guy on Fox.
It makes sense. Executive time it`s called.
SINGLETON: Yes, I don`t know about that. I don`t know about that at all.
Chris, look, I think if the president –
MATTHEWS: Let me tell you about it. It`s called executive time.
SCHRIOCK: It sounds so great. It`s not on my schedule yet.
SINGLETON: Running for president because I`m a great executive. I have
these experiences. That`s not the case.
SCHRIOCK: I think what is becoming more upsetting to me is like the chaos
is exhausting. Voters find the chaos exhausting. But where are the
Republicans in Congress? Like I want to see some folks stand up and say
enough. This is way too important to have this behavior.
MATTHEWS: I hate to think what this sounds like our conversation in
Russian. As Putin finds out this guy is dealing with, it`s scary, because
he`s our president right now, the one we got.
Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will
tell me something I don`t know. You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the roundtable.
Shermichael, tell me what I don`t know.
SINGLETON: I think that Conor Lamb who just won the seat in Pennsylvania
is going to have a very difficult time running again nine months from now
in November. He`s now going to be running in what will be the 17th
MATTHEWS: Yes, but that`s more suburban.
SINGLETON: Well, wait a minute, against a Republican who beat a Democrat
in 2012. Think about this, 2012 when Obama was on the ballot and –
MATTHEWS: The better opens up outside in a few minutes. Come around to
the betting window. No, come around the betting window.
Go ahead, Stephanie.
SCHRIOCK: Emily`s List had a good night in Texas ten days ago with five of
our primaries going through. We`ve got five more in Illinois on Tuesday.
And this is just ten of dozens and dozens of women that are running to take
back the House majority.
And I have to say one last thing. We lost a great, great congresswoman
today in Louise Slaughter. I feel like we got to deliver the majority for
RASCOE: I mentioned tariffs earlier and the European Union right now is
preparing to or taking the first steps on putting tariffs on U.S. products,
if President Trump doesn`t give them an exemption next Friday. So they
released a ten-page list of American products from rice to orange juice to
motorcycles that they would put tariffs on and right now, they`re seeking
comments from their industries.
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s keep the border open between Northern Ireland and
the republic. That`s the most important thing for me right now.
Thank you, Shermichael Singleton, Stephanie Schriock and Ayesha Rascoe.
When we return, let me finish tonight with Trump watch. You`re watching
MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, March 16th – Friday, March 16th, 2017.
This week, we saw two very different messages Democrats could deliver
heading toward the congressional elections this November. One was the
message sent this week by the person Donald Trump outscored in the
Electoral College in 2016, Secretary Hillary Clinton. If you look at the
map of the United States, she said, there`s all that red in the middle
where Trump won. She said that in a speech in India.
I win the coast, I win Illinois and Minnesota. Places like that. I won
the places that represent two-thirds of America`s gross domestic product.
So, I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward.
And his whole campaign, make America great again, was looking backwards.
Clinton described what she said was the motive of those who voted for
Donald Trump. He didn`t like black people getting rights. You don`t like
women, you know, getting jobs. You don`t want to see that Indian-American
succeeding more than you are. Whatever your problem is, I`m going to solve
Well, that is one way to address the voter who voted for Trump in 2016.
You would like that vote for you, a Democrat running for Congress in 2018.
The other way is the way young Conor Lamb talked to voters in Pennsylvania
this week. He basically told them programs like Social Security and
Medicare are popular with people for the basic reason they are for
everyone. He reminded voters many who vote ford Trump they have an
interest in the programs Democrats created for Americans just like them.
This is to me an acid test for Democrats this year. You can probably win
with simple resistance, attack Trump and by dangerous implication attack
those who voted for him. In other words, tell people they made a mistake
driven to that mistake by their prejudices or as Congressman-elect Lamb put
it, you can appeal to their basic economic interest and values, treating
them with dignity, as people made one judgment one year and will make
another this year.
My sense is you`ll never get anyone calling voters racists or idiots or
anything else, you see as below you and expect them to rise up and support
you in the coming election or any election that follows. So, I say bet on
Conor Lamb`s approach. I think he gets it.
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. And have a happy
St. Patrick`s Day tomorrow.
ALL WITH CHRIS HAYES starts right now.
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