Trump escalates attacks. TRANSCRIPT: 12/17/2018, Hardball w. Chris Matthews.
Date: December 17, 2018
Guest: Natasha Bertrand, J. Ann Selzer, Adrienne Elrod, John Brabender,
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Twenty tweets for the bunker. Let`s play
Good evening. I`m Chris Mathews in Washington.
Ratted out, Trump retreats to the bunker. President Trump spent the
weekend launching a slew of angry tweets as he finds himself under siege on
multiple fronts. Hunkered down in the White House on a rainy weekend,
Trump tweeted roughly 20 times since Friday night lashing out at the media,
denouncing the special counsel`s probe as a witch-hunt and once again,
blaming good old Jeff Sessions, of all people, for allowing this total hoax
to get started.
At one point President Trump referred to his long-time fixer and personal
lawyer Michael Cohen as a rat. Tweeting, remember, Michael Cohen only
became a rat after the FBI did something which was absolutely unthinkable,
and it hurt up until the witch-hunt was illegally started, they broke into
an attorney`s office.
Well, this all comes on the heels of a rough week for Trump and his family.
Trump is under scrutiny now on six different fronts. According to reports,
the Trump campaign, the Trump transition, the Trump inauguration, the Trump
administration, the Trump organization, and the Trump foundation are all
being probed for things ranging from campaign finance violations to
Now over the weekend, another one of President Trump`s cabinet members was
forced to resign under a cloud of ethics inquiries, setting another record
for the President who has the most cabinet replacements by a first-term
president in 100 years. And if this were not enough, President Trump and
the Republican trolled Congress have just four days to avert a second
shutdown of the U.S. government in just two years.
And looming overall this is special counsel Robert Mueller`s investigation.
Rudy Giuliani, the President`s out-front lawyer, insisted that his client
will never speak to Robert Mueller now, never. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Is the special counsel, does he want to
interview the President?
RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S LAWYER: Yes, good luck. Good luck, after
what they did to Flynn, trapped him in perjury –
WALLACE: So when you say good luck, there is no way, no interview?
GIULIANI: They are a joke. Over my dead body, but, you know, I could be
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: That`s a strange comment. That might be wise.
A new NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll shows that only six in ten, actually
well over six in ten don`t believe the President, 62 percent of Americans
now don`t believe the President is being truthful when it comes to the
Russia investigation, 62 percent don`t believe him.
And breaking just moments ago, the FBI has released a key memo ahead of
Michael Flynn`s sentencing tomorrow. The document contains FBI agents`
notes following their initial interview with Trump`s former national
security advisor Michael Flynn.
For more I`m joined by Heidi Przybyla, U.S. news national political
correspondent - I mean, NBC News. Elliot Williams, former federal
prosecutor, and Philip Bump, “Washington Post”/”Politico” reporter.
Philip, I want to get you of heads up when this new report just flashing
out right now, these notes on the Michael Flynn investigation and then
PHILIP BUMP, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right, yes. So,
there is a new memo that just came out that was essentially was transcribed
apparently at the time the FBI agents interviewed Flynn in the White House
in early January, rather late January 2017.
It documents more completely than we have seen publicly so far what that
conversation looked like. Flynn talking to the FBI agents about the fact
that he was in Dominican Republic, that he didn`t have good cell
receptions, he doesn`t remember having spoken to the Russian ambassador
about the specifics of what he was - of the requested Trump administration,
the Trump transition team was making of the Russians in response to new
sanctions over being imposed by Obama`s government.
So it sort of outlines broadly what it is that we have known in the
abstract for months now, which is that Flynn had this extensive
conversation with the FBI, made representations to them about the
conversations he had had with Kislyak that ended up being undermined by
other information the government had apparently from surveying Kislyak`s
MATTHEWS: So this is what they are going to use against him in the
BUMP: Right, yes. So, this is part of the initial plea agreement from
Flynn was that he had misrepresented the truth in this conversation with
the FBI. There were other aspects to it as well, including that he
misrepresented the extent of his relationship with Turkey, which also we
had some new news on today with the indictment of two people he used to
work with. But yes, this is part of the case the government had made to
get him to get to that plea deal in the first place.
MATTHEWS: Lets` talk about this weekend and the President`s behavior.
Twenty tweets coming out of the White House starting after this program,
after HARDBALL Friday night. He kept at it all weekend. Apparently, the
rain had something to do with it. People believe that rain is not good for
Trump because it frees him up from (INAUDIBLE) and others sort of active
engagements which keeps him from tweeting.
But this weekend it was all tweets. What he – Heidi, what is his
particular fear? Six fronts he is being hit on we pointed out. All these
probes coming at him. It only takes one to get him.
HEIDI PRYZBYLA, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the
turning point did seem to be the Cohen sentencing memo, where this is
completely outside the scope of Mueller and yet now we are talking about
him being named with a potential crime. It is something that doesn`t have
anything to do with Russia collusion. He has been calling it the witch-
hunt all this time.
Well now, he is named as someone who was part of a conspiracy, who created
a shell company in order to essentially mislead the American people,
defraud the American people, and the question now is that people like us
are debating whether a sitting President can be indicted. That`s got to
really scare him. And on top of that, you see all the staff turnover,
General Kelly leaving.
MATTHEWS: Who would make that call to indict him just to get it nailed?
Could it be you don`t need Mueller to do it? Somebody up from New York can
do it. But what happens then? Who enforces an indictment of the president
from the southern district of New York, the sergeant of arms in the Senate?
I mean, who does this? They come and get him?
PRYZBYLA: I mean, I guess we are in uncharted territory. You would be
better to speak on that.
MATTHEWS: Federal marshals? Who comes and gets the President to say you
are under arrest?
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: So I believe that the only
person who can actually arrest the President is the sergeant of arms of the
United States Senate like you said. But again, it would open up years and
years of litigation, months and months of litigation over whether you can
indict the President. So it sort of create a mess.
MATTHEWS: It might as well be a sheriff of knotting him coming to get
because that matter. He is not going to be arrested, the President of the
United States. So what`s this indictment fear about? He is afraid, do you
WILLIAMS: I think he is afraid. And that is why where all these tweets
are coming from. It sort like a TV show “Mad Man” have said, if you don`t
like what people are saying, change the conversation. And what they are
trying to do is just distract the United States and distract everybody into
– away from what the President is really facing.
What it does is undermines people`s faith in law enforcement. When you`re
talking about rats and breaking into the people`s house.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Don`t shoot you, man. I mean, you are having the same
series of days – Heidi, you first. The same – then to Philip. The same
series of days the President talks about being ratted out like he is a gang
roadster. He is in the underworld. I have been ratted out. It is like
James Cagney in the old movies. I have been ratted out.
And at the same, his guy, time Rudy Giuliani says he is not going to talk.
So basically, he is using gang roadster talk to be really crude about it.
He is going after people who rat him out and he is taking the fifth –
which he used to say was tantamount to admission of guilt.
PRYZBYLA: I think Lax to use that, you know, make that connection in terms
of the mob language. But this isn`t the first time. Remember when he
talked about Paul Manafort. Not only is he calling Cohen a rat, but he is
saying Manafort was, you know, he is praising him for not flipping on him.
But I don`t think Giuliani did him any favors in those interviews because,
number one, he pushed the time frame way back in terms of the Trump tower
that Trump may have known about Trump tower and been negotiating with the
Russians all the way to November of 2016, which would be a key plank in the
MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at them. In other words, he was working on
his deal in Russia with the Russians all the way through the actual general
election of 2016, not up until January of 2016 as previously confessed to.
Anyway, in his interview with ABC, Rudy Giuliani, the President`s out front
lawyer, seemed to shift the goal post, as Heidi said, when the President
stops talks over building a Trump tower in Moscow. Michael Cohen pleaded
guilty to lying to Congress when he told them that talks of the tower ended
in January 2016, the beginning of 2016. He later admitted that the talks
lasted up until June.
But yesterday another six months, Giuliani suggested the conversation
continued through March of 2016. Let`s watch that language.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did the President, did Donald Trump know that Michael
Cohen was pursuing the Trump tower in Moscow into the summer of 2016?
GIULIANI: According to the answer that he gave, it would have covered all
the way up to November of – covered November of 2016. Said he had
conversations with him with the President –
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Earlier they said those conversations stopped in
GIULIANI: I mean the date – until you actually sit down and answer the
questions and you go back and you look at the papers and you look at the –
you`re not going to know what happened. That`s why, that`s why lawyers,
you know, prepare for those answers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Philip, I imagine the President watching that from his bunker
saying, that bone head, why did he confess now that I`m talking Trump tower
with the Ruskies (ph) all the way up to my election as if I`m hedging I`m
thinking, OK, if I don`t win the presidency I will get the tower in Russia.
It seems like he was working both sides of his options.
BUMP: I mean, I read that Rudy Giuliani quote a little differently. I
think he was saying - and, who knows the specifics. I think he was saying
the answer that he gave to Mueller would cover any conversations through
November. I don`t know that if he actually there were conversation through
November. But it raises the very good question of why is Rudy Giuliani
still going on TV. He never has once done any good for Donald Trump.
Donald Trump is the only person who ever speaks for Donald Trump anyway, so
why have someone out there that constantly is muddying the waters,
constantly having to change his story when new details come out of a
Michael Cohen, for example, it`s baffling. No idea.
MATTHEWS: And George Stephanopoulos, great reporter who was sitting there
with a lot of help. You know, need much help. But he sit there and he
knows everything today. He could tell everything was at the tip of his
tongue. And this guy was just sort of winging it.
Rudy Giuliani cannot wing it, just back from Arabia where he just was a few
hours before. Anyway, Giuliani also claimed this weekend that it didn`t
matter the President can`t keep his story straight because he`s not under
oath. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: Southern district says, you can get out of jail if you do this.
You have got three years now. There`s a real motivation to sing like
crazy. He has to do a lot of singing to get out of the three years. And
he will say whatever he has to say. He has changed his story four or five
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, MSNBC ANCHOR: So has the President.
GIULIANI: The President is not under oath.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You know, I don`t like this reference, but the mob talk never
stops. Singing? I mean, what are we watching city hall here? I remember
the movie “City Hall” with Danny Ayala, the singer. You remember? Had
commit suicide. It is a mob boss. Nina Potatoes (ph), supposedly in
Brooklyn. He says, you are a singer. So this kind of language, singing,
ratting out, you know, taking the fifth, it`s under world talk.
WILLIAMS: it is underworld talk. But here is - I worked on mob cases
before. At least they are smart enough to use code when they are talking
on tape. They are smart enough - no, they are smart enough to start to try
to cover their tracks. But these guys really are behaving as if they have
– I mean, Rudy Giuliani having been a United States attorney, who has
prosecuted mobsters, is actually being an incredible sloppy way.
WILLIAMS: All of the above. But being out there giving these interviews
that are not helping his client in any way and actually kind of making
PRYZBYLA: He is also covering himself, too. He seems realty starting to
hedge here. And I thought it was telling that when he was asked about
whether Roger Stone tipped off Trump about WikiLeaks, he really paused.
That, that was I think really troubling. And a sign of either he knows
something or he is unwilling - he is at a point where he is unwilling to
fully defend this President.
WILLIAMS: And the other thing is that – look, again, having been a
prosecutor, had a big guy at the justice department, doesn`t seem to
understand that lying even not under oath is still a federal offense under
18 U.S. C-1008. He could go to jail –.
MATTHEWS: The movie references here because this I keep hearing – I used
to watch them on TV when I was growing up, the movies from the `30s.
MATTHEWS: And the Cagney stuff and Humphrey Bogart. Let`s take a look.
The word rat, for example, is a term used in the underworld described a
witness who provides truthful, incriminating information about a high value
target, a rat. Here are just a few examples of that kind of mob language.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You take the first like a man and you learn the two
greatest things in life.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at me. Never rat on your friends, and always keep
your mouth shut.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You dirty yellow belly, I`ll give it to you through the
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn`t rat.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, you didn`t rat.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did a good thing, right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, you did a good thing. You did a good thing for a
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Philip, your last words here because we didn`t invent this
language. The movies made up. I hear mobsters they talk about mobsters in
PRYZBYLA: Right. Al Capone actually used that word. I looked it up.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, he said you dirty rat. Apparently, Jimmy Cagney
never said you dirty rat, but it was pretty close.
Why do think that the made a lot of – they go on TV and talk like
characters in the bad guys?
BUMP: I mean, I think there is this undercurrent in politics where
everyone likes to feel tough. This is something that comes up constantly.
People are always talking about it, going hard after - yada, yada. There
is this overlap between the way that people look at themselves in politics
quite frankly. And the way that people look at themselves in, you know,
criminal activity rarely do we actually see the overlap that is suggested
by some of the recent revelations. And quite frankly, I think seeing good
fellas at this most permanent at this point in time, he is where he is
constantly on the lookout for the helicopters. I think that`s the stage
that we are getting to in this administration.
MATTHEWS: Great movie. Thank you so much, Heidi Przybyla and Elliot
Williams and Phil Bump.
Coming up, Russia`s campaign to elect Donald Trump and hurt Hillary
Clinton. Two stunning reports now show how widespread the Russia campaign
to influence the 2016 election was and it`s worse than we previously
thought, even worse.
Plus, the 2020 Presidential campaign coming up. We are getting a look at
who is leading among potential Democratic candidates in the first caucus
state Iowa. Most voters say they are looking for a candidate who can beat
And the White House shuffle continues. John Kelly, Ryan Zinke out while
Mick Mulvaney in for a-while temporary on his second job in administration
acting chief of staff? How many jobs can Mulvaney handle?
Finally, let me finish tonight with how the Mueller investigation could
end. This could be exciting, sort of like Spiro Agnew.
This is ball hard. This is HARDBALL where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Two stunning reports out today show that Russia`s effort to manipulate the
2016 Presidential election was widespread and went even further than we
previously thought. The reports commissioned by the Senate intelligence
committee – this is a bipartisan report conducted a sweeping analysis of
the Russian disinformation campaign, reviewing millions of social media
posts from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and You Tube, created by a group
called the internet research agency.
NBC News reports that the two separate reports found the organization set
out in the 2016 Presidential election to help Trump and hurt Hillary
Clinton. In part by inflaming right wing conspiracy theories and seeking
to engender this trust among and suppress the vote of left leaning groups
including African-Americans. In fact, President Trump himself alluded to
how African-American turnout may have helped him during post-election
appearances in two key states, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They didn`t come out to vote
for Hillary. They didn`t come out. And that was a big – so thank you to
the African-American community.
And the African-American community was great to us. They came through big
league. Big league. And, frankly, if they had any doubt, they didn`t
vote. And that was almost as good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that was a poker face, wasn`t it?
I`m joined by Natasha Bertrand, staff writer for “the Atlantic” and Ken
Dilanian, NBC News intelligence and nation at security reporter.
Let me go to Ken on this because we want to know it would seems to me that
they were sharper than a lot of micro analysts on one of the candidates,
Hillary Clinton. Because they seem to know exactly how to turn off black
voters and make them think, these two guys, Hillary and Trump, aren`t any
better than one or the other, so stay home.
KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: That
really was remarkable at this. We knew about this effort, obviously.
Robert Mueller indicted the people behind this internet research agency and
he described some of their efforts. But these reports make clear that a
huge part of it was aimed at African-Americans and, in part, to suppress
There was a three-prong effort. They were – they were given
misinformation about the timing of the election and polling place location.
They were urged to vote for a third-party candidate, Jill Stein. And they
were fed all kinds of conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton and videos
about police brutality, feeding into their very legitimate grievances with
MATTHEWS: Yes, I wish I had an African-American on this panel.
MATTHEWS: We will get back to this. I feel a little uncomfortable with
that. But this came up as part of this discussion.
And what do we make of the fact that they really were smart? Now, some
people can say, well, everybody knows you could work the black vote by
turning them off to both other candidates. But I didn`t think you could.
NATASHA BERTRAND, “THE ATLANTIC”: Yes, I mean, I think that there are
serious questions about whether or not certain aspects of this campaign was
coordinated with perhaps the Trump campaign, especially when it comes to
the geographic targeting.
I mean, how did they know how to target certain areas of the country that
were more perhaps vulnerable to manipulation than others?
MATTHEWS: Well, Detroit and Philly.
BERTRAND: Right. So this was – the geographic targeting is a very
interesting part of this.
But I also think that it`s not particularly difficult to determine the
cleavages in our society, where it`s gun rights, African-American rights,
military and veteran issues.
So I think that there are serious questions about certain aspects of this
campaign. But, broadly, this interference effort was based on things that
are very obvious about American society.
I also think that the Russians` campaign would not have been nearly as
effective if it wasn`t amplified constantly by then candidate Donald Trump.
If the Russians` messaging had diverged significantly from messages that
were already being put out by Trump, then perhaps it wouldn`t have been as
But because they were so aligned in the things that they were putting out,
then it just resonated that much more.
MATTHEWS: Well, in response to the reports, the chairman of the Senate
Intelligence Committee, North Carolina Republican Richard Burr, said:
“Increasingly, we have seen how social media platforms intended to foster
open dialogues can be used by hostile foreign actors seeking to manipulate
and subvert public opinion. Most thoroughly, it shows that these
activities have not stopped.”
Ken, and then Natasha again, what do we make of the fact that people that
go online to look up something, they want to know what movie – they can
look up anything, and they find themselves in the posting of some kind, and
they find themselves being manipulated? You can`t stop it, can you?
DILANIAN: So, this is amazing technology that`s – that`s spread democracy
and democratic speech online. And it`s invented by Americans. And it`s
made some people billionaires.
But it`s also made us incredibly susceptible to propaganda. That`s what
we`re learning here. The Russians were – had infiltrated this stuff right
under the noses of the American intelligence community, which apparently
was unable to stop it, and the companies, which were really slow to come to
grips with this.
They tried to say in the beginning that this wasn`t happening. Then they
tried to say it was very minimal. This report shows it was widespread.
MATTHEWS: Suppose the same coalition shows up next time, the Russians and
Trump. Who is to stop them from working together in 2020, which is coming
on next year?
BERTRAND: Right. I mean, hopefully, the social media companies will be a
little better equipped to deal with it.
But this report did say that they only did the bare minimum to deal with
BERTRAND: And they really did not recognize that it was happening until
far too late.
MATTHEWS: Did they do something? Did they to do anything?
BERTRAND: Well, Facebook set up a war room during the midterm elections to
kind of monitor fake news that was being disseminated on the platform. And
that is a good start.
They have also started setting up kind of fact-checks and notifying people
that something is not – not correct or factually inaccurate. So I think
that that`s a good step in the right direction . But with the proliferation
of bots on Twitter, for example, and all of the ways in which our social
BERTRAND: Bots, automated accounts on Twitter, and all the ways that the
social media platforms are still able to be manipulated by the Russians,
particularly on YouTube, which is far more influential than anyone thinks,
I think it`s really important to keep an eye on this.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s cut to the quick.
Is there any way to know whether the Russians threw it for Trump?
DILANIAN: There`s no way to know.
MATTHEWS: Numerically, like Pennsylvania by a certainly majority,
Wisconsin certain majority, Michigan? Is there any way to say, well, that
– they accounted for that many votes roughly?
DILANIAN: Just the way you can`t say that particular ad swung votes or
this ad buy or this amount of ad spending, you can`t measure that.
There`s no way to gauge behavior. But what we can say is that Hillary
Clinton underperformed in the black vote expectations in these key states
of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
MATTHEWS: But there`s other reasons. Look, I don`t want to challenge
this, because I think it`s history, and we`re learning history.
But I also know the excitement in the African-American community – I wish
there was an African-American sitting here, because they would check me on
this. We will bring this up with another group.
But it seems to me, without the – with the absence of Barack Obama, an
African-American, the first one, on the ticket – he had been on `08 and
`12. Then he wasn`t on it in `16. You had a white woman running. OK,
fine, normal – not normal, but new at least, whatever, a different kind of
And they didn`t show up as much. That doesn`t surprise me. That wouldn`t
take the Russians to change that way.
DILANIAN: It`s not surprising that she underperformed Barack Obama, but
it`s surprising that she underperformed even what people thought she was
going to get those states.
I`m not a political expert, but that`s what I was told today by those who
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you. We`re going to get back this again with a bigger
audience. A bigger panel.
Natasha Bertrand, thank you, Ken Dilanian.
Up next: The field of potential Democratic presidential candidates covers
a wide spectrum of talents, abilities, experiences, ages. A new poll out
in Iowa provides the first hints of what qualities would count most with
voters and in first-in-the-country caucus.
It`s only 14 months off. This is not way ahead, by the way. And the
debates will be coming up about halfway between now and then.
And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
With the 2020 presidential campaign on the horizon, we`re getting our first
look at how Iowa Democrats are sizing up the nominees – potential
nominees, I should say.
A new poll from “The Des Moines Register” out there has former Vice
President Joe Biden leading the pack with 32 percent. That`s hefty.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders comes in second with 19 points, followed by
Texas Congressman Beto O`Rourke in third with 11. Wow.
The poll also finds that a majority say they care more about nominating a
candidate with a stronger chance of beating Trump than about picking the
candidate who best aligns with their own political views.
Well, the Iowa caucuses, our first-in-the-nation contest, but for Democrats
– catch this – the winner has going on since 1996 to clinch the party`s
nomination. And I believe going back to 1976, when Carter won it, all
those middle people back there between – were basically Midwesterners.
So, if you discount the Midwestern candidate, they pick the winner.
For more, I`m joined by J. Ann Selzer, an Iowa pollster who conducted the
“Des Moines Register” poll, and Jonathan Allen, national political reporter
for NBC News.
Ann, thank you for joining us.
What do you make of the poll? What surprised you, as a pollster, Ann, when
you looked at those numbers as they came in?
J. ANN SELZER, SELZER & COMPANY, INC.: Well a couple of things surprise
First of all, it`s a huge field. And so we had to kind of cut it off at 20
candidates who people are talking about AS potential out there. For Joe
Biden to get the number that he got, more than 30 percent, out of more than
20 candidates people could choose from, that by itself is an
But there were six people that we have thought of as the top of the
leaderboard, three people who are familiar to Iowa and three people who are
relative newcomers. So I think, when you`re talking about, are people
looking more for a season hand, yes, in some ways. Are they open to a
MATTHEWS: What does it tell you when people that are on TV all the time
got down there in the single digits, for example, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala
Harris, and Cory, who were so prolific in the Kavanaugh hearings?
Everybody saw them in action and down there, really about – let me go to
Jon on this.
Did that surprise you, that they didn`t really get into double digits?
JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS POLITICAL REPORTER: It doesn`t surprise me,
because I think – and Ann could speak to this.
I think Iowa voters really want to meet these folks before – this is an
incredible process in Iowa, where people campaign all year long. Really
want to meet people before they – before they commit to them.
They know Bernie Sanders. He almost won the caucuses last time. Joe Biden
first started campaigning there in 1988. That doesn`t shock me.
What surprises me is that you got a U.S. House member who got in double
digits, Beto O`Rourke. You popped the graphic up there earlier. It looked
like “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” He`s trying to get – he is like
Charlie trying to get the golden ticket, with grandpa Joe and grandpa
Bernie looking on.
MATTHEWS: Well, the age thing is interesting.
Three candidates of the top four, except for Beto O`Rourke, in their 70s.
SELZER: Well, that`s right.
But I think the fact, again, that the field was so dominated by one
candidate, Joe Biden, that he sort of is sucking the oxygen out. And this
is not Joe Biden`s first rodeo. It`s not his second rodeo.
So he`s the best known of anybody. I don`t know that there`s a living room
in Iowa that he hasn`t visited. So that`s room for other people to come in
and do well.
And one thing we learned from the last time is that Bernie Sanders, when we
first measured him, came in at 3 percent. So I don`t worry too much for
these candidates are showing up in single digits. As I say, anybody can
come to Iowa and win, anybody.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the – about the winnability thing.
I mean, everybody knows Trump will be vulnerable. We know he`s not going
to be up at 60 percent. He will be about 45 percent going in next time. I
have a theory that almost anybody can beat him and almost anybody can lose
So I don`t say I can pick the winner. I don`t claim that Joe Biden`s a
better bet than a Bernie. I don`t know. I will be honest about it,
because sometimes passion and ideology can offset moderation in these
races. Sometimes, you`re better off with – Ronald Reagan won big.
I mean, it`s possible you can have somebody who`s all the way. But the
voters out there, at least at the margin of 54 to 40 percent, by a 14-point
spread, say they want a winner over somebody who aligns with them
ALLEN: Well, first of all, I think you`re right. I mean, the floor…
MATTHEWS: That`s the poll, not me. But go ahead.
ALLEN: The floor for Trump is lower than anybody else, and the ceiling may
Right now, he`s still in that base mentality. And I think the mathematical
formula is base plus zero equals loss. So he`s got to figure out a way to
expand. But if he`s running against somebody else, he may be able to do
I do think Democrats are rallied around the idea they want to beat Donald
Trump more than any other idea.
MATTHEWS: Is that right, Ann?
Do you sense that, I don`t care what it takes, we`re going to beat that
guy? Was that it? Or I`m a true progressive – that`s the term of art
today – I`m a real progressive, or I`m even a social Democrat, or
Democratic socialist, whatever, I`m a hard ideologue on the left, and I`m
damn well not going to let a moderate win?
Which sentiment did you hear?
SELZER: Well, there was a modest majority who said that they wanted
somebody who could beat Trump. But that margin wasn`t as big as you might
There is still a substantial part of likely Democratic caucus-goers who are
true blue, and they want someone who really reflects their – the way that
they feel about the office, the way they think about that office and the
issues and what they can accomplish.
And I think, in Iowa, almost uniquely, they see more candidates than any
other state, and so they have the luxury of really figuring out, well,
where do I align, where do I align?
In the end, as we get closer, I`m going to guess that it comes down to who
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about Bernie.
Bernie has got – I got them in my family, OK? And I got Bernie-ites all
the way, all right, lots of them – not a lot, but significant numbers.
MATTHEWS: And does he have to worry about not being able to do what he did
last time at his – he`s older, and not the most important thing, but he
did so well last time?
ALLEN: Absolutely, he has to worry about that.
I mean, certainly, the poll that Ann conducted shows that he`s not nearly
where he was in Iowa before. National polls suggest he wasn`t where he was
last time. And I think there may have been a tendency for Bernie and
people around him to overestimate the degree to which his support last time
was about him, vs. activating some – some latent anti-Clinton sentiment
within the Democratic Party.
MATTHEWS: Yes, it`s very hard to read back. You just never know.
I mean, Hillary had such a profound impact on people`s – in terms of who
she is to voters. It`s very hard to control her out of the conversation
last time, and therefore to project this time.
Anyway, J. Ann Selzer, thank you. We love this stuff. Keep it coming.
We want to know what it looks – by the way, how did you have for years
Grassley out there, this – oh, this conservative – cranky conservative
senator for the Republican side from Iowa all these years, reelected year
after year, at the same time you elected liberals like Tom Harkin?
What is your state all about, Ann? Explain us.
SELZER: Well, I…
SELZER: Well, I think, when you had both Harkin and Grassley being elected
with over 60 percent of the vote, there was a fair number of crossover
These were people who felt that those senators would put Iowa first, put
Iowa ahead of party. And they were able to get things done.
MATTHEWS: Thank you so much. Thank you, J. Ann Selzer. And thank you so
Up next, more staff – and Jon Allen, of course.
Up next, more staff shakeups in what is already a remarkably high-turnover
White House, don`t you think? And why is it so hard for this president to
find and keep qualified pros in key posts?
It`s a decent question, isn`t it? Why is everybody running away as soon as
they get there? Everybody is acting at this White House.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: Do I like Donald Trump? No.
Is he a role model for my, for two of my – I have 16-year-old triplets,
for you who don`t know about me, two boys and a girl. Is he a role model
for my sons? Absolutely not.
Yes, I`m supporting Donald Trump. I`m doing so as enthusiastically as I
can, given the fact I think he`s a terrible human being.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I think he`s terrible.
That was President Trump`s next chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, back in –
well, not a million years ago, 2016, calling Donald Trump a horrible
person. That sort of covers the bases, doesn`t it? Horrible person.
Well, Trump named Mulvaney as acting chief of staff this Friday after a
chaotic search, and he was desperate to end the story line that no one
wanted to be his chief of staff, according to NBC News. NBC News also
reported Mulvaney understood the president was in a jam and felt he didn`t
have much choice, but made clear his intention to serve a limited period of
time given his general reluctance to accept the position.
Mulvaney`s new job isn`t the only staff shakeup at the Trump
administration. This weekend, the president announced in a tweet Interior
Secretary Ryan Zinke will leave at the end of the year, which is about 20
days – no, it`s about 10 days.
Zinke asked multiple probes looking into ethical violations, making him the
fourth cabinet secretary to leave amid such intense scrutiny, ethical
scrutiny. Zinke`s departure makes President Trump`s 11th cabinet vacancy
in less than two years overall.
Let`s bring tonight`s roundtable. Adrienne Elrod is the former director of
strategic communications for Hillary for America, John Brabender is a
Republican strategist, Sahil Kapur is national political reporter for
Thank you all.
Mick Mulvaney, you know what I like about politics today? The bad sound
quote. Whenever somebody is being picked up on bad sound from ambient –
being picked up by the room rather than personal mic, is something they
didn`t expect to be picked up on, John. Here`s a guy who said a horrible
person. He didn`t think it was going to be broadcast to the universe, now
he has to live with it.
JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, let`s go back. First,
everybody wanted Nick Ayers in that position. The good news for the
president is I believe Nick Ayers is going to play a major role in a super
MATTHEWS: He`s Ivanka`s candidate.
BRABENDER: But that`s exactly where Nick Ayers should be.
MATTHEWS: Can`t they hire him to work at the hotel somewhere?
BRABENDER: Who, Nick?
MATTHEWS: No, Jared and Ivanka, that`s who they want as their guy.
BRABENDER: No, no, everybody knows he`s one of the top strategists around.
He should be on the campaign side.
Here`s the deal, though. You can also spin that he said that interview
before he worked for him. Now after getting to know him, he wants to be
his chief of staff.
MATTHEWS: Adrienne, these aren`t top choices in either direction.
ADRIENNE ELROD, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Right.
MATTHEWS: This wasn`t the – Mick Mulvaney`s top choice for president. So
the word acting I think should be hung on all the jobs from now on out.
ELROD: Yes, acting. I don`t know how he`s going to actually do this job
and run OMB. OMB is a big job.
MATTHEWS: I think it`s crazy.
ELROD: I think it`s crazy, too.
SAHIL KAPUR, BLOOMBERG: He`s not resigning from OMB. Nobody can do chief
of staff, run the White House and be OMB director at the same time. That
is a Senate confirmable position, though. The fact that the president is
not removing Mulvaney from that position –
MATTHEWS: Who is the head of –
BRABENDER: They did say though his full time job is going to be his chief
KAPUR: Why is he resigning from OMB?
BRABENDER: They have confidence of the people there. But they did say –
KAPUR: He`s auditioning Mulvaney for this position, but not sure about it.
ELROD: Or maybe Mulvaney wants to be temporary and he`s not sure about it.
MATTHEWS: This would solve the problem. We have two weeks of vacation.
He`s going to Mar-a-Lago. Who is going to run the country? He doesn`t
have a chief of staff any more.
KAPUR: I don`t know that it matters much. The chief of staff sets up
processes and structures and the president is resistant to that. He
doesn`t abide by it. He`s his own chief of staff, his own senior advisor,
his own communications director all rolled into one.
MATTHEWS: Who makes the decision s? John, you`re the most political guy
here. Who makes decisions? The president of the United States – how does
he know when to go to Wisconsin next? How does he know when to go to
Europe, the next G20 or not? Who makes the big decisions on his schedule,
who is he going to butter up – who does the calls?
BRABENDER: People have to understand, you have to understand this is not
the White House we`re used to. When he doesn`t fit into the role, oh, my
gosh, something is wrong with Trump. Trump is the CEO of this country.
MATTHEWS: I agree.
BRABENDER: And people come to him and say, here`s my recommendation, not,
here`s where you`re going next.
The other thing, too, why we`re seeing this big change in the White House
is Trump, I believe, feels a lot of people did it their way and he went
along with it. He knows who he likes, doesn`t like, get rid of the people
he doesn`t like.
MATTHEWS: That`s the theory he can get up at 5:00 and tweet 20 times and
run the country. That proves – if he gets reelected with that strategy,
God help this country. If that`s the way it`s going to be run the rest of
ELROD: That`s the norm that`s going to be scary. But like to the point
you just said, there is not a chief of staff that can come in and be the
chief of staff that is a traditional chief of staff.
MATTHEWS: Somebody say go back to bed, Mr. President, at 5:00 in the
KAPUR: No, of course not.
It`s a facilitator job. The president plays it by his gut. He always has.
MATTHEWS: On Friday, he wants not a chief of staff, he wants a concierge.
BRABENDER: That`s one way of looking at it. He wants somebody to execute
what he wants to do.
MATTHEWS: That`s a concierge.
BRABENDER: You know what? The people that voted for him knew that`s
exactly how he was going to be and that`s one of the reasons they voted for
MATTHEWS: Meanwhile, a federal judge in Texas struck down the Affordable
Care Act on Friday, a not insignificant event, if you`re on Obamacare. It
was upheld by Supreme Court in 2012 as part of Congress`s power to collect
taxes. But U.S. District Court Reed O`Connor used Congress`s 2017 removal
of the individual mandate, the tax, which required Americans to pay a
penalty if they didn`t pay health insurance, to argue that without the
mandate, health care law was unconstitutional.
The judge wrote that Obama`s architectural design fails without the
individual mandate compare it to a slow game of Jenga. In an opinion piece
in “The Washington Post”, a law professor described the ruling as, quote,
raw judicial activism and impossible to defend. The case is expected to be
appealed by the U.S. Supreme Court and the ACA will remain in place for.
President Trump tweeted shortly after the ruling: As I predicted all along,
Obamacare has been struck down as a constitutional disaster.
Sahil, it does have a logic to it. John Roberts, the chief justice voted
for AC on the grounds Congress has the right to set taxes. The individual
mandate was set up as a tax. You pay it if you don`t get health care.
Once that was removed by congressional action, there was no more rationale
for this being a tax bill.
KAPUR: Right. This is not the debate that Republicans wanted. This is
kind of a no win situation for them because based on the fact that Chief
Justice Roberts and the other four members of the Supreme Court who upheld
this law in 2012 are still on the court, the prospect of success for them
are remote. And the fact that health care was –
MATTHEWS: How can Roberts say this is a tax law if it doesn`t have a tax
KAPUR: Well, so, the argument is Congress made a decision December 2017 to
zero out the tax penalty. At no point did Congress say it wanted to
overturn the rest of the law. It tried to repeal the rest of the law and
So, it`s difficult - the legal argument against this is that Congress has
made clear it wanted to repeal just this aspect and didn`t think the rest
of the law had to go with it.
MATTHEWS: Adrienne, do you think – I think this has to be taken to the
MATTHEWS: Do we want some form of national health for people that don`t
have health care. There would be some way of getting to people that
normally can`t get it in the market. Does the country want that say yes to
ELROD: I don`t think the country wants to see an overhaul of the ACA,
because as we saw that in the midterm election because they know that it
took so long to get to that point, the majority of Americans resisted it
then when they finally got Obamacare in place, they actually liked it.
They weren`t being denied preexisting conditions.
MATTHEWS: I`ll say it a different way. I think we did reach that
threshold, John. I don`t think any future Congress is going to say it`s up
to you to get health care, we`re not helping you. Go out there and get it,
get tough. Those days are over.
BRABENDER: I don`t think anybody believes it. Let`s negotiate this now.
You agree in preexisting illnesses, right?
ELROD: Of course.
BRABENDER: Can you name any Republican that doesn`t?
ELROD: I can name a lot of Republicans who want to see this completely
dismantled. That means getting rid of preexisting conditions. What are
you going to have?
BRABENDER: They don`t want a mandate to say to younger people, we`re
forcing you to –
ELROD: That`s what makes it work.
MATTHEWS: I know I`ve been fighting this thing. If you set up a so-called
insurance company where only older, sick people are in it, that`s not
insurance, that`s health maintenance. If young, healthy people don`t
insure themselves, you`re not sharing the risk the health care.
BRABENDER: Look, everybody called it the Affordable Care Act. What
happens, the premiums kept going up and going up. Who is it affordable
for? It was only affordable if we could find other people to pay for t.
MATTHEWS: Name the last Republican health care bill. Thank you.
BRABENDER: Earlier this year, the Republican in the Senate preexisting –
MATTHEWS: You guys control the Congress –
MATTHEWS: The roundtable is sticking with us. Up next, some think
“Saturday Night Live” should be investigated for making fun of him. We`re
making progress here.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
“Saturday Night Live” opened their show this weekend with a spoof of “It`s
A Wonderful Life”, the old Jimmy Stewart movie, imagining a world where
Trump was never, ever elected president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow, so everyone is better off without me being
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, not just them. You`re better off, too.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Clarence, what about my agenda, all the things I wanted
to accomplish as president?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, that`s the best part about not being president.
You can still say the same stuff, build a wall, bring back coal, but you
don`t have to deal with the fact that their ideas are impractical and
insane. So, Americans love you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s all so great. It`s like Robert Mueller doesn`t
exist. Wow, this night put everything into perspective. I`ve had an
epiphany. I guess the world does need me to be president after all.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that was not the lesson at home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Keenan is so great.
Trump reacted to that spoof in a tweet the next morning, writing the
“SNL`s” one sided coverage should be tested in courts, noting that, quote,
it can`t be legal.
We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable, Adrienne, John and Sahil.
No comment. Yours – the floor is to you. He said it`s illegal to have
them make fun of him.
ELROD: Well, we always knew Donald Trump was not a scholar of the
Constitution, but he probably needs to study up more on the First
Amendment. Look, past presidents, “SNL” has always had spoofs on past
presidents and non-past presidents.
MATTHEWS: Darrell Hammond did Clinton better than anybody.
ELROD: Exactly. And he`d just have to go with it. It`s fun, the absence
of humor to the whole, you know, stifling –
MATTHEWS: It`s not politically balanced. Let`s not kid ourselves.
BRABENDER: No. Look, I believe 100 percent in the First Amendment. They
have a right to do this, comedy a bigger pass. However, there is one
discussion here. As a candidate, you can`t accept unlimited monies, you`re
limited what you can spend and do something. Here you have networks,
though, that it`s not even their money –
MATTHEWS: You think the network is writing these scripts? You`re crazy,
John. They don`t have the slightest ability to write this stuff.
BRABENDER: They`re paying for it. But there are stations like this, they
actually are becoming –
KAPUR: It was harsh, and it was mocking of the president. But it`s not
illegal to harshly mock the president.
BRABENDER: No one said it is.
KAPUR: He tweets –
MATTHEWS: “SNL” is great. When we return – let me talk about how the
Mueller investigation could end. This is going to really be excited how
this whole thing ends.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with how the Mueller investigation could
Given the toughness Bob Mueller is showing, it looks like he would have no
hesitation indicting anyone he finds guilty in his path. Look at his
treatment of Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort and all the rest. If you did the
crime, you`re going to do the time. That`s unless you`re ready to turn
states evidence against the king pin Donald Trump.
Which brings us to a pair of Mueller subjects who lack that option –
Donald Trump, Jr., and Ivanka Trump. The president`s children stand right
in the line of Mueller`s investigative progress. They stand as the next
dominos to fall. But therein lies the problem.
Where earlier Mueller subjects have given Trump up, these two lack the
option to do that. They can hardly testify against their father, which
brings the country to the reckoning. If the prosecutor will not be stopped
and the kids will not fall to him, we see the president`s adult children
heading to prison. But what if the prosecutor were to offer the president
an alternative, what if he were to say he would let the children walk if
the old man does the same. They get to go scot-free if he`s willing to
take the Agnew way out. That would mean giving up the presidency for
acquittals all around, not just for himself, but for his kids.
You say this won`t happen? Then what will? Will the Trump kids avoid
indictments? Will they turn states evidence? Will Trump allow them to be
convicted and sentenced? Can he pardon them when they have evidence to
bring against him?
No. The reckoning in the American saga, this one may come down to the
solution faced by prosecutors and Richard Nixon`s twice chosen vice-
president. Leverage the office while you still have it.
The courts would not have to resolve whether a president could be indicted
while in office. History has already decided that a veep can. No one
questions a presidential son or daughter could.
So, let`s watch the probable events brick all this to a breaking point. It
is going to be historic.
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
“ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES” starts right now.
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