Trump tries to walk back comments. TRANSCRIPT: 6/14/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Natasha Betrand; Michael McFaul; David Frum, Anita Kumar, Adrienne Elrod, Ginger Gibson

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  On this new video that’s taking on the Trump

family separation policy directly.  We’re going to get into that with him. 

It’s an exclusive on Monday and a lot of more.


So have a great weekend.  I’ll be on The Last Word tonight filling in for

Lawrence.  But don’t go anywhere right now because HARDBALL with Chris

Matthews is up next.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  A new cover-up.  Let’s play HARDBALL.


Good evening.  I’m Chris Matthews in Washington.


He’s done it again.  The President just told us he would take political

dirt from a foreign government and woke up in full denial.


Also in big 2020 news tonight, the lineups are set for the first democratic

debates this month which will be held over two nights.  Who will face who? 

I’ll predict the candidates that will be attacking each other personally.


And at the end of this hour, backseat denials, how Trump and George

Stephanopoulos reminded me of that scene from On the Waterfront.


First up, it’s been two days since President Trump admitted to the world

that he would openly entertain the notion of accepting dirt on a political

opponent from a foreign government and would not call the FBI.




DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT:  I have seen a lot of things over in my life. 

I don’t think in my life I have ever called the FBI, in my whole life.  You

don’t call the FBI.  You throw somebody out of your office.  You do

whatever –


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS HOST:  And you want that kind interference

in our elections?


TRUMP:  It’s not an interference.  They have information.  I think I’d take





MATTHEWS:  But in the wake of that admission and the fallout from that and

in the face of growing course of criticism, the President headed to his

favorite TV show this morning to deny what he had said.




TRUMP:  If I was, and, of course, you have to look at it, because if you

don’t look at it, you’re not going to know if it’s bad.  How are you going

to know if it’s bad?  But, of course, you give it to the FBI or report it

to the Attorney General or somebody like that.  But, of course, you do

that.  You couldn’t have that happen with our country.  But how are you

going to – if you don’t hear what it is, you don’t know what it is.


Nobody is going to say bad things to me.  They know I’m very a straight





MATTHEWS:  And there’s Steve Doocy shaking his head in obvious approval.


It’s important to note that the Mueller report, quote, identified numerous

links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign and found that

the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency

and worked to secure that outcome and that the campaign expected it would

benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian

efforts, so they were working back and forth.


Moving ahead to the 2020 campaign, Trump’s campaign press secretary told

CBS News, that they would consider offers from foreign adversaries, but

would also report them to the FBI.  Let’s watch.





directive, as he said, a case-by-case basis, he said he would likely do





MATTHEWS:  Well, those comments paired with the President’s seemed like an

invitation for interference from other governments, including Russia come



Well, President Trump’s position pits him against his own FBI Director,

Chris Wray.




CHRIS WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR:  It’s going to take all of us working together to

hold the field, because this threat is not going away.  As I have said

consistently, Russia attempted to interfere with the last election and

continues to engage in malign influence operations to this day.  This is a

threat we need to take extremely seriously and to tackle and respond to

with fierce determination and focus.




MATTHEWS:  Well, nearly a dozen law enforcement veterans tell Politico that

comments have undone months of work, essentially inviting foreign spies to

meddle with 2020 presidential campaigns and demoralizing the agents trying

to stop them.  But the President doesn’t look like he is helping that

effort at all.


Meanwhile, ABC News has obtained President Trump’s first internal re-

election campaign poll conducted this March.  And it shows former Vice

President Joe Biden beating Trump by wide margins in key battleground

states.  The poll, which the President deny that George Stephanopoulos even

exists shows Biden with double-digit leads over him in Pennsylvania and in



For more, I’m joined former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul,

Natasha Bertrand, National Security Correspondent for Politico, and David

Frum, Senior Editor of The Atlantic.


Natasha, tell me what you have been able to report here.



spoke with nearly a dozen law enforcement veterans and they tell us that

this task force that was set up by Christopher Wray just after he became

the FBI Director in 2017 is really the exact opposite.  Their mission has

been the exact opposite in a good way of what the President’s stated

mindset is, which is that they are trying to fight foreign interference,

foreign influence operations in the United States, and this is a

combination of cyber security, counterintelligence and counterintelligence

officials who are working with every field office in the country, all 56

FBI field offices, in order to combat interference and combat this threat

that the President has now essentially said, well, bring it on, open door. 

We welcome it.


So in that sense, he has made the FBI’s job a lot harder, because now, it’s

emboldened the foreign adversaries who want to try to attack the 2020

election.  And one of the things that they expressed concern over was that

Bill Barr, who is responsible for, you know, the priorities that the FBI

has, the budget, et cetera, the resources, he has been extremely aligned

with this White House.  So how is he going to look at this priority?


MATTHEWS:  Ambassador, let me go to you.  Look, you’ve had experience of

being in Moscow, you’ve worked with station chiefs with the CIA, you know

how intelligence works.  Everybody works together, I’d like to think.  Tell

me how this would affect people like a station chief over Moscow, how it

would affect the FBI, people working with the counterintelligence when they

hear the President of the United States say, I probably wouldn’t tell the

FBI what’s going on if I got some dirt from an overseas government.  Okay,

George, if you ask me, but I guess I’ll say the right answer, yes, yes,

yes, yes, I would call him them, sure.


Then you call your favorite news program in the morning, Fox and Friends,

tell Steve Doocy, yes, yes, I would do that, I think, you know.  This

doesn’t sound like the clarion call of a leader.



I think there would be two reactions from my friends in the Intelligence

Community.  One, of course, it’s demoralizing because the President is

encouraging the exact behavior that they are trying to counter, but, two, I

think it would also be that genuine belief that the President of the United

States does not understand what these other governments do.


He doesn’t understand counterintelligence.  He doesn’t understand that when

foreigners show up to your campaign headquarters, they don’t introduce

themselves with a business card that says, hey, I’m working for an

intelligence organization from Russia or Iran.  It’s much more – they have

covers for that.


And he doesn’t understand that when they hand over information, two other

things.  One, they’re doing that to advance the interests of their country,

Russia, not candidate Trump or President Trump.  And, two, they may be

providing disinformation at the same time that they’re providing alleged

information.  And that’s why they would be, I think, very deflating for

that community to hear those remarks.


MATTHEWS:  David, it seems like if you’re fighting a war and you’re in the

trenches, but it’s a cyber war, and you find out that the Commander-in-

Chief, at least the person with that job description is part of the

constitution, isn’t really into the war.


DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC:  I think the situation is much

worse than that.  And let’s step back and remember what it was that

happened in 2016 and in this great mess of wars that we’re all throwing up

in the air.


This story originated with a crime.  It originated with the Russians

entering democratic servers or deceiving democratic people to steal.  It’s

exactly like Watergate.  It happened to digital rather than a physical

property, but it began with a theft, it began with a crime.  And everybody

knew who had done it and they knew it as early as the summer of 2016.


When Don Trump got the invitation to meet with the Russians, they weren’t

offering him intelligence.  They were saying, we found some dusty archives

at the Moscow State University that maybe you are interested in.  He knew

there was the possibility of stolen property.  That’s what he went to the

meeting to get.


Now, he was disappointed.  They did not deliver the stolen property.  But

that’s what he was trying to get.  This is the fruits of the Watergate

break-in that they are being tantalized with.


Now, ultimately, when the stolen property is produced, it’s distributed

through WikiLeaks in the summer of 2017, and then, again, more

devastatingly in the fall.


But this is not – Fox and Friends and Hannity and all the Trump talkers

are trying to make it seem like, well, are you saying you can never have

tea with a German Ambassador?  Of course, you can have tea with the German

Ambassador.  This is about a Russian theft that everyone understood at the

time it was happening and the Trump people most of all understood and that

they wanted to receive the benefit of.


MATTHEWS:  Ambassador, just to get back in your expertise here, it seems

that there is two realities.  The President’s reality that he is just POW

(ph), a beginner POW (ph), learning the ropes, taking whatever shot he had

and would look like an uphill campaign, like he was going to lose Hillary. 

Go on and be a rich businessman again but not the presidency.


So the same time he is having all these meetings with the Trump Tower and

his kids and hanging around with the Russian ambassadors and all these

people trooping through the republican convention, walking around

everywhere like it’s an arcade that they own.


At the same time, are the FBI people in their role as counterintelligence

people, are they watching this too or did they miss what Trump saw?  In

other words, could he have been that he could have been the lookout for all

this stuff if he’d chosen to be?


MCFAUL:  Well, that’s exactly right, he should have.  And that would have

been the obvious right thing to do.  But what’s so shocking about it is

after two years, and the Mueller investigation and years and years of

talking about it, it should just have been a no brainer, at least

politically, even he didn’t really believe it to say, I would never do

that.  And that’s the other part of this that is so shocking to me, that he

just says what he thought.


And I used to work at the White House at the National Security Council as

well.  We used to provide talking points for the President of the United

States to kind of shape the message we wanted for national security.  That

also doesn’t seem to be working here, which was shocking to me what he



MATTHEWS:  Well, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, now, this doesn’t

surprise anybody tonight, broke his silence last night during an interview

with Fox to attack democrats while ignoring what the President said about

not really caring to tell the FBI when he’s up to – when he’s in cahoots

with Russians.  Here he goes.




LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST:  Do you have a problem with that answer? 

Because the democrats seem to be taking that and saying, aha, see, we told

you so.  Now, it’s on to impeachment.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY):  They just can’t let it go, Laura.  You know,

I said weeks ago, case closed.  He gets picked at every day over every

different aspect of it.




MATTHEWS:  David, he sounds like he’s sitting on a corner at some little

local, I don’t know, Cracker Barrel, you know, chewing the tobacco and

acting like he’s not the Senate leader.  He talks with that hokey-pokey way

of talking of his like I’m not really involved in running this government,

like I have no responsibilities for the law.


FRUM:  Well, Mitch McConnell is a simple country lawyer with charming



MATTHEWS:  That’s the game he’s playing right there.


FRUM:  (INAUDIBLE) with sophisticated people.




FRUM:  But one of the reasons what the President said was so important, as

well has been so disturbing, is why did Mueller not charge President Trump

or not suggest the charges were appropriate?  And he said, look, we can see

the Russians committing these criminal acts and we can see the Trump

campaign welcoming it.  We could never find the evidence to connect the



And especially at the Trump Tower meeting, we could never be sure that Don

Trump Jr. was a sophisticated enough to player to have the mental state for

us to call him guilty.  Maybe he didn’t know what was going on.  That was

Mueller’s point, is that we cannot – we did not know what was in his mind. 

And it’s the same thing about the meeting between Manafort and his friends

in Russia.


MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute.  What about an alternative assumption that’s RICO

a situation?  He’s running a criminal activity without doing everything



FRUM:  Well, that’s why the statement was so important.  Because Donald

Trump just answered the question about state of mind.  The question, did

you have the intention?  And he said, would you do it?  One of the ways to

know if you have guilty intentions, you know, I had no idea, officer, that

was a 30-mile – that was a school zone, I should drive at 15.  So if you

say to officer, well, would you do it now that I’ve told you it’s a school

zone?  How do you – oh, intend to go 55 again.  Thank you, handcuffs on.


MATTHEWS:  And, Natasha, you reported on this.  This is, I believe I said

the other night, the reason why his lawyers were smart enough not to let

him testify.


BERTRAND:  I think that’s exactly right, yes, because he would say

something like this or he would walk back.


MATTHEWS:  Admit motive?


BERTRAND:  Right.  And I think now he realizes that he made a mistake.  I

think his advisers are telling him, you need to clean this up.  That’s why

we saw the Fox and Friends interview, and that’s why we see him kind of

still trying to play defense here.  But –


MATTHEWS:  I love the way that Steve does the approving dad thing with the

head when he’s saying that.  I would never do that.  I would call the FBI,

and here’s (INAUDIBLE) the United States.  Good for you.


BERTRAND:  Right.  One of the things that makes no sense though about this

new talking point about, oh, they’re just trying to re-litigate 2016, this

has nothing to do with 2016.  This has to do with 2020, the President that

he would accept foreign help in 2020.  So it’s not a matter of re-

litigating 2016.  It’s about what David before.


MATTHEWS:  Ambassador, do you think Vladimir Putin heard that when he said

the other night that he would take dirt, that he has no problem with it? 

What do you think?  How quickly do you think the associates of the Kremlin

leader got that news to him the other night?


MCFAUL:  Of course.  Because, remember, when they are going to offer

information, they are also trying to gather information, they’re running

counterintelligence operations, seeking agents, but they are not the only

ones.  That’s the other thing when I listen to those comments.  Why does

the President always assume that all foreign agents around the world are

going to be on his side in 2020?  And so he’s opened up the invitation for

all kinds of people to be involved.  That is not in America’s national

security interest.


And I’m glad he’s walking it back, that we should give him credit for that,

but I think what we saw is what he really believes.  He was being honest in

his preferences when he was speaking the other day.


MATTHEWS:  And just as a little thank you note to the Speaker of the House

and others who have been pushing this case, he called her a fascist today. 

That was really nice of him.


Anyway, thank you, Mr. Ambassador, Michael McFaul, Natasha Betrand for your

great reporting on this very segment (ph), David Frum for your thinking.


Coming up, fact check Friday.  President Trump says he never suggested

firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, never did it no matter what his

lawyers said.  When asked about his refusal to answer questions about

obstruction, he said I didn’t do nothing.


Plus, check your brackets.  It’s like March madness coming up in June. 

Look at the candidates.  The lineups are now set.  We know which night,

which person are going to shoot spit balls at the big shots, the single-

digit people, the 1 percenters, they’re going for the double-digit people. 

Watch that night, both nights.  We’re going to look at all the key matchups

coming and who might be a breakout candidate.  You know, somebody is going

to win this thing.


Plus, why did Ohio flip from Ohio to Trump, and now is it now firmly Trump

country? Maybe.  But we’re heading to Dayton, Ohio this Monday for a

special, The Deciders program, where we’re going to talk to the voters,

republicans and democrats.  A preview of the The Deciders is coming up in a

moment.  Stay with us.






The President continued to wage a disinformation campaign this week, all

week, in fact, in an effort to mischaracterize or outright deny the Special

Counsel’s findings.


In the second part of his interview with ABC News, the President said he

never directed Special Counsel Robert Mueller to be fired, never did, never

said.  A claim that contradicts his former White House Counsel, his lawyer

at the White House, Don McGahn, who said he did under oath.




TRUMP:  I was never going to fire Mueller.  I never suggested firing



STEPHANOPOULOS:  That’s what he says.


TRUMP:  I don’t care what he says.  It doesn’t matter.  That was to show

everyone what a good counsel he was.


STEPHANOPOULOS:  Why would Don McGahn lie – why would lie under oath?


TRUMP:  Because he wanted to make himself look like a good lawyer or, or he

believed it because I would constantly tell anybody that would listen,

including you, including the media that Robert Mueller was conflicted. 

Robert Mueller had a total conflict of interest.


STEPHANOPOULOS:  And has to go?


TRUMP:  I didn’t say that.




MATTHEWS:  In denying that he tried to fire Mueller, Trump has asked the

American people to take his word over the findings of the Special Counsel’s

report, which stated that, quote, the President called McGahn and directed

him to have the Special Counsel removed.  That’s pretty clear.


Moreover, Trump is asking us to believe, instead of Mcgahn, a seasoned

lawyer who testified to Mueller under penalty of perjury.  As I said, he

spoke under penalty of perjury.  The President is just wistfully saying,

well, I may have said there was a conflict there, trying to find a little

piece of truth there.


Tonight, a person close to McGahn dismissed the President’s comments saying

– telling NBC News, in fact, it’s just fantasyland.


In contrast with McGahn, the President refused to testify, of course, under

oath despite promising to do so because his lawyers reportedly believe he

would perjure himself, smart guys.


Here’s how Trump reacted when George Stephanopoulos pressed him about that



Here’s how Trump reacted when George Stephanopoulos pressed him about that





STEPHANOPOULOS:  If you answer these questions to me now, why not answer

them to Robert Mueller under oath? 


TRUMP:  Because they were looking to get us for lies for slight



STEPHANOPOULOS:  You didn’t answer questions on obstruction. 


TRUMP:  No, wait a minute, wait a minute.  I did answer questions.  I

answered them in writing.


STEPHANOPOULOS:  Not on obstruction.


TRUMP:  I don’t know about those – I don’t know.  I answered a lot of

questions.  They gave me questions.  I answered them in writing.


STEPHANOPOULOS:  Not on obstruction. 


TRUMP:  Look, George, you’re being a little wise guy, OK, which is typical

for you.  Just so you understand, very simple.  It’s very simple.  There

was no crime. 




MATTHEWS:  Little wise guy.  He never stops.


Again, the president’s misrepresenting what happened.  He did not answer

any written questions on obstruction of justice.  Fact. 


And all this comes from a president who, according to “The Washington

Post,” has made over 10,000 false or misleading claims since taking office. 

That’s a lot. 


I’m joined right now by Anita Kumar, White House correspondent for

Politico, Glenn Kirschner, former federal prosecutor, Eugene Robinson, a

columnist for “The Washington Post.”


Gene, you write about everything wisely. 




MATTHEWS:  Explain why the Trump – the Trump – he is sort of the Trump –

he goes to George Stephanopoulos.  He gives him this tremendous, wide-open

interview thing, for whatever reason.




MATTHEWS:  To show off he’s president, I think, is really what he was up

to.  He calls him little.




MATTHEWS:  He says he’s a wise guy, which is sort of an ethnic slur in all

kinds of ways.  A little wise – he’s a mobster, he’s calling him.


ROBINSON:  You’re not making stuff up.


MATTHEWS:  And all George is quoting is the president’s own lawyer, who the

president says – it’s hard to believe he is president – the president

says he told the truth because he wants to look like a good lawyer. 


Well, first of all, he’s violating confidence with his client, the

president.  He’s not gaining any points in this.  He is just telling the





Right, because he’s under over oath, and if he lies, he could go to jail.


MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Good point.




MATTHEWS:  He doesn’t – Trump doesn’t understand that.


ROBINSON:  He can get disbarred and also some bad stuff can happen to him.  


So the president did not put himself in that position.  He calls George

Stephanopoulos a little wise guy because he points that out, and also

points out just the fact that the president did not answer questions about

obstruction of justice.  He just didn’t. 


And, somehow, Trump argues against just the fact.  He just simply did not. 

It’s ridiculous.


MATTHEWS:  Glenn, your thoughts here.  I have to ask you this, because you

have been through a lot of this with me.


And I think – I think the 40-some percent – and it’s still there, about

40 to 45, somewhere in that range – people do not care how often he lies.


GLENN KIRSCHNER, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:  But what might change that is if the

public can see a Don McGahn testify and say, listen, America, let me tell

you what your president did.


MATTHEWS:  Hope springs eternal.


KIRSCHNER:  Hope springs eternal.  Half – the glass is always half-full. 




KIRSCHNER:  Let me tell you what the president did.  He told me to fire the

special counsel.  And when he said no, because that might be obstruction of

justice, I told him to lie about it and create a false document. 


I don’t know what’s going through McGahn’s head.  But when the president

said, McGahn lied to special counsel, he’s not just calling him a liar. 

He’s calling him a felon.  And the question becomes, what’s McGahn going to



I think, Chris, McGahn might be waiting for – if we look through the lens

of rational human behavior, maybe what he’s waiting for is for a judge to

say, all of these privileges that the administration is asserting, they’re

nonsense.  Mr. McGahn, you’re free to testify. 


That may be what he’s waiting for.


MATTHEWS:  Anita, somewhere, we’re waiting for truth. 


ANITA KUMAR, POLITICO:  Yes, but, I mean, he acts like – the president

acts like he spoke for five minutes.  He testified, talked to them for 30



So, presumably, they asked that question repeatedly.  Not only that, but

Robert Mueller and his investigators would have talked to other people who

would have gotten other corroborating information.  It’s not just his word

against his, right?  So there’s a bit more there.


And remember how upset President Trump was when the Mueller report came

out, right, that he was – the one person he was very upset with was Don



MATTHEWS:  Well, because he never thought he would tell the truth,



KUMAR:  I don’t think he thought he would sit down for 30 hours.


MATTHEWS:  Because he didn’t understand…




MATTHEWS:  He doesn’t understand people that tell the truth.  I think

that’s unfathomable for him.


Anyway, the last time Trump suggested McGahn had lied to the special

counsel, in May, last month, he then refused to say whether he thought his

former White House counsel should be charged with perjury. 




QUESTION:  Is there a situation that you could see where Don McGahn is

charged with perjury?  You seem to be contradicting what he is saying?


TRUMP:  Well, I don’t want to talk about that now.  We have other things

that we’re talking about, but I will respond to that question at a later





MATTHEWS:  What do we make of fantasyland?  McGahn – obviously, McGahn

wants to protect himself on this executive privilege litigation, but he

lets out the word clearly it was OK. 


But the president’s denial is fantasyland. 


KIRSCHNER:  It is fantasyland. 


And I can’t believe that anybody who watches this would believe, as Anita

said, that Don McGahn went in and for 30 hours lied to falsely incriminate

the president of the United States.


MATTHEWS:  Who is a young lawyer whose entire bar status is at stake here.




And it makes no sense, because Trump calls George Stephanopoulos, hey,

you’re a little wise guy.  Well, I will tell you, let me use another phrase

from criminal practice.  McGahn gave up Trump hard in those 30 hours.


And as soon as the American people get to see that firsthand, I think it

could be a turning point. 


KUMAR:  I don’t know if they’re going to get to see that, right?


KIRSCHNER:  I think they will once a judge clears him to testify.


Now, look, McGahn can’t take it upon himself to say, I know the

administration has said that these privileges apply, I’m going to decide

they don’t, and I’m going to walk into Congress.




KIRSCHNER:  He’s waiting for a judge to do that.


MATTHEWS:  Point of law here. 


Anita, I thought executive privilege met that President Nixon in the old

days talking to Kissinger about China or something.  It really meant

something.  It’s national security stuff. 


KUMAR:  Right.


MATTHEWS:  It wasn’t criminal behavior.  It wasn’t about this stuff. 


KUMAR:  Right. 


MATTHEWS:  And, by the way, what’s to stop another person who no longer

works in the White House from exercising their First Amendment?  They

didn’t do nondisclosure agreements. 


KUMAR:  Well, some of these people don’t have to listen to what the

administration wants, right?


Some of these things, he’s claiming executive privilege.  Some of these

other people, he’s not.  He’s just saying, don’t testify, don’t go to

Congress and talk.  And they’re saying, OK.


MATTHEWS:  What are they, dogs?


KUMAR:  Well, they’re not doing it. 




KUMAR:  They can do – they can – they can go and do that if they want.


MATTHEWS:  Heel?  Sit?


KUMAR:  I think…




MATTHEWS:  Anyway, the president was also asked about Senator Kamala

Harris’ statement this week that, if elected – I’m not sure she should

have said this – she would want the Justice Department, her Justice

Department, to charge Trump with obstructing justice as a criminal. 


Here he goes.




TRUMP:  She’s running for president.  She’s doing horribly.  She’s way down

in the polls.  She says she – I must say, Pocahontas is really cleaning

her clock. 




TRUMP:  And I heard she made that statement.  And you know what?  Who



Probably, if I were running in her position, I would make the same





MATTHEWS:  How many slurs did he get in that sentence?




ROBINSON:  I couldn’t count them.  They came so fast.


And I don’t really even care.  I mean, number one, I think she shouldn’t

have said that.  I don’t want my president making the decisions who gets



MATTHEWS:  Right.  Yes. 


I think Nixon once said it about Manson. 


ROBINSON:  Right, exactly. 


MATTHEWS:  Didn’t help.


ROBINSON:  I mean, I want the Justice Department, an independent Justice

Department, making those decisions. 


However, the president’s response, as usual, was crazy.  And he has to top

it off by saying, well, I probably would have said that, right?




ROBINSON:  I probably would have done the same thing.  This is a guy who…


MATTHEWS:  In other words, we’re all sleazy politicians.


ROBINSON:  Well, lock her up, lock her up.


KUMAR:  Everybody is doing the partisan thing, the political thing. 




MATTHEWS:  Daniel Patrick Moynihan once talked about defining deviancy

downward, just everything goes down.




ROBINSON:  Oh, yes.


MATTHEWS:  It does seem like really a developing democracy, to put it

bluntly, when everybody says, if I win, I will put my opponents in jail. 

And if I don’t win, I will say it was a rigged election. 


This is the lingua franca of Trump land.


KUMAR:  Well, I think the senator would argue that she is – she was an

attorney general, she was a prosecutor, that she knows a thing or two about

the law. 


MATTHEWS:  Right. 


So what’s that tell you? 


KUMAR:  Well…


MATTHEWS:  She should adjudicate this case?


KUMAR:  No, I’m just merely saying she has some legal perspective.  It’s

not like she’s coming out of nowhere. 


KIRSCHNER:  But, on the one hand, I agree, don’t dumb yourself down to his



On the other hand, we have the Mueller report, which sets out the evidence

fulfilling each and every element of obstruction of justice.  So I do think

a prosecution should be in play once he leaves office.  


MATTHEWS:  Do you think it will be?


KIRSCHNER:  I think it will be, but we have to wait and see who pardons



MATTHEWS:  What about if he gets reelected? 


KIRSCHNER:  Well, no, then he’s got four more years of being king and not

being held accountable for anything.


MATTHEWS:  What about the statute of limitations?


KIRSCHNER:  The statute of limitations will run. 


I mean, we’re going to have to go into court someday and fight.  We’re

going to have to say, listen, the statute stops, it pauses because of the

DOJ policy that says you can’t indict.  That may not be a winning argument,





ROBINSON:  It makes sense, but it might not win.


MATTHEWS:  It makes sense logically, like you don’t have to pay off your

student loan if you’re in the Army. 




ROBINSON:  No, if you’re the one person who for that period of time cannot

be prosecuted, it makes sense that the statute would be paused. 


MATTHEWS:  It does.  It makes logical…


ROBINSON:  However, I agree with you.  I don’t know if that would…




MATTHEWS:  I think old cases get tough. 


Anyway, thank you, Anita Kumar, Glenn Kirschner, Eugene Robinson.


Gene, you know so much.


Up next:  The lineup is now set for the first Democratic debate coming up

very soon, two weeks.  How’s it going to play out?  I want to know what

sparks are going to fly.  My bet, the 1 percenters who just made this cut

are going after the double-digit people.  And you’re going to see that on



I’m curious, by the way, which – who’s going to after who.  I have some



We will be right back.




MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.


With 12 days to go for the first 2020 Democratic debate, the stages are

officially set.  Today, NBC News announced the lineup of candidates who

will go head to head and on which nights you can see the fireworks. 


The first night, Wednesday, June 26, about two weeks from now, you will see

Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Bill de Blasio, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard,

Jay Inslee, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Tim Ryan, and Elizabeth Warren,

Elizabeth Warren being the star, big name on that panel in terms of the

numbers so far. 


The second night, Thursday, June 27, will feature Michael Bennet, Joe

Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, John

Hickenlooper, Bernie Sanders, Eric Swalwell, Marianne Williamson, and

Andrew Yang.


And where the candidates will stand on stage each night has not yet been

announced.  And that’s going to be important. 


The matchups were determined by a random drawing at NBC News headquarters

in New York at 30 Rock.  The candidates were divided into two groups, those

polling above or below 2 percent, and then a random draw pulled from each

group to recreate the two groups of 10. 


You can watch both nights of debate, of course, June 26 and 27, live from

Miami right here on MSNBC or NBC News or Telemundo. 


And we may be in for some dramatic confrontations between candidates those

nights, who are already taking shots at each other.  We will take you

through the possible confrontations, the preliminaries, the intramurals

that I expect will be coming.  Everybody wants to move up, except the

people at the top, who want to keep them from doing it. 


That’s coming up next. 






We now know who will face off on that first two night – in fact, both

nights of those debates, June 26 and 27, in Miami this month, a couple

weeks from now.


On each of those two nights, I predict we’re going to see candidates square

off with more of the swipes they have already been taken at each other out

on the trail.


On the first night, will – well, let’s ask our panelists here. 


Will Elizabeth Warren, who said she’s done with one set of rules for

Democrats and Republicans, spar with fellow Senator Amy Klobuchar, who has

argued that, when it comes to legislation, there has to be some compromise?


On the second night, former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has already

gone head to head with Bernie Sanders, Hickenlooper going after him for his

socialism.  That same night will feature Pete Buttigieg, who said Democrats

can’t turn back the clock to the ’90s, obviously going after Joe Biden, who

is going to be sitting right near him.


For more, I’m joined by Ginger Gibson, political correspondent for Reuters,

and Adrienne Elrod, former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton. 


Let me go with – let me go with Ginger on this. 


Who do you think is going to be the one to take the first shot at somebody



GINGER GIBSON, REUTERS:  I think that it’s going to happen on the second

night.  I think the first night is probably going to be very light on

swings, while that second night with Biden on the stage, with Bernie

Sanders and Hickenlooper, as you already pointed out on the stage, these

are some folks who have already started to receive some incoming, and are

going to get even more.


Also, we can think back to Bernie’s first debate in the 2016 election.  He

did not take any swings at Hillary Clinton in that debate.  He held off

into the subsequent debates.  I would be surprised if he gets through this

full debate without taking a swipe at Joe Biden.


MATTHEWS:  Well, one of the great things about politics is, when one person

attacks another, when A attacks B, C gains.  Isn’t that beautiful?  You

shoot at the other guy, you pay for being nasty.



AMERICA:  Yes.  Lots of people can gain.


MATTHEWS:  The person you hit gets hurt.


ELROD:  Yes. 


MATTHEWS:  But then somebody else benefits.  I just love these weird

situations, these ricochets.


ELROD:  Well, that’s what’s so fascinating. 


And I think we have all been waiting for bated breath to know who was going

to make the debate stage and then, of course, to know who’s going to be on

which night.  I agree with you.  I think the first night, I don’t think

it’s necessarily going to be tame. 


I you’re going to see Elizabeth Warren try to create a very stately type of

persona.  I don’t think she’s going to throw a lot of swings either.  I

think she’s going to try to look very presidential and very policy-focused. 


I do think the second night is going to be pretty wild, to put it mildly.


MATTHEWS:  Well, Mayor Pete Buttigieg will appear on stage with Kirsten

Gillibrand, the first Democratic senator to call for Senator Al Franken of

Minnesota to leave the U.S. Senate.  That was two years ago. 


Here’s what Mayor Pete said about Franken during our HARDBALL town hall,

believe it or not, just last week.  It seems like a year ago.  Here we go. 




MATTHEWS:  Al Franken, should have been pushed to resign from the U.S.

Senate by the Democratic Caucus, his fellow caucus members?


PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think it was his decision to

make.  But I think the way that we basically held him to a higher standard

than the GOP does their people has been used against us. 


MATTHEWS:  Do you think he should have been pushed to leave? 


BUTTIGIEG:  Again, it was his decision. 


I think that…


MATTHEWS:  But I’m not asking you about his decision.  Should the other

members of the Democratic Caucus in the Senate, starting at the top, Chuck

Schumer down, and the other people that pushed him to get out – they put a

lot of pressure on him to leave – were they right or wrong? 


BUTTIGIEG:  Well, I think it’s not a bad thing that we hold ourselves to a

higher standard.


MATTHEWS:  I know, but were they right to do that, to push him out of the

Senate?  Because they did.


BUTTIGIEG:  I would not have applied that pressure at that time before we

knew more. 




MATTHEWS:  Isn’t it interesting how people get to an answer? 




GIBSON:  It is.  And, you know…


MATTHEWS:  And now she, of course, the senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, who was

really the leader of that – there’s so many senators.


By the way, to be fair, Kamala was for it.  Michael Bennet was for getting

him out of there.  They were all very rough on that guy, because it was

right in the middle of the race in Alabama, and they were worried about

Doug Jones, right, and running against that character down there.


GIBSON:  And it’s going to be near impossible, I think, for Buttigieg to

try to go after Gillibrand or even draw any sort of distinction there,

because he’s already having to answer accusations that he’s getting more

attention because he’s a white male, compared to the more experienced

female candidates on the – in the field.


MATTHEWS:  Well, why do you think it’s his fault that he’s getting more



GIBSON:  Yes.  And it’s a question.


MATTHEWS:  Because, for a while, Beto got a lot of attention.  And it

really hurt him, I think, maybe.


GIBSON:  It did. 


And we will see what the light does to Buttigieg.  But, I mean, how do you

answer that question, when you say, are they paying attention to me more

because I’m a man?  I’m the mayor of a city.




MATTHEWS:  Well, Barney Frank was on.  I mean, this gets wild.  Barney

Frank, who is a brilliant guy – he is an openly gay guy – he says it’s

because he’s gay.  That makes him interesting.  I mean, that’s what Barney



ELROD:  Yes, look, I think there’s a lot of different reasons why he’s

breaking out and why he’s gotten so much press attention. 


He’s a great messenger.  He represents a generational change in our party. 

But, look, when it comes to Kirsten Gillibrand, she is desperately in need

of a breakout moment.  And I think that you will see her draw a contrast

with Mayor Pete on Al Franken. 


MATTHEWS:  Is the Last Chance Saloon for these candidates for the summer? 

I guess the next one is in July. 


ELROD:  I think Kirsten Gillibrand, I think she will qualify for the second

debate in July.  But I think she’s got a really tough time qualifying for

the third debate. 


And it’s not just her.  There’s a lot of other candidates, because, of

course, on the third debate, you have got to get at least 2 percent of

national polls, and you have got to raise grassroots donations and…




MATTHEWS:  OK.  OK.  You’re both – let me ask you both.  You are in this

business like my – I am.


Is this a time to pick a presidential candidate that can be president, and

certainly begin by beating the other guy, Trump, or is it still the sort of

Baskin and Robbins era, where you go into an ice cream store, and you go,

hmm, I think I’m going to try pistachio today?


ELROD:  I think it’s the latter.


MATTHEWS:  Is it still like – yes.


I get the feeling it’s still like, I sort of liked Buttigieg last night, or

I sort of liked Kirsten Gillibrand last night, or I like this new Tulsi



Or – is it still at that era? 


GIBSON:  I was on the trail last week with Elizabeth Warren.  I was talking

to in Michigan and Indiana.


I have to tell you, there is a little bit of that.  But there’s also this

real desire for stability and calm.  They see a chaos that they want ended. 

And that’s kind of vanilla, right?  Like, that’s no risks, want what’s

going to be the calmest.


MATTHEWS:  Safety school.


GIBSON:  So it’s like – yes, it’s, Warren seems great, and Buttigieg seems





MATTHEWS:  But Biden is vanilla.


GIBSON:  But Biden is vanilla.


MATTHEWS:  Well, that’s not – he can own that one.  I’m not sure he likes

it, but I think he can own it. 


Anyway, meanwhile, in his interview with FOX this morning, President Trump

weighed in on several of his potential Democratic rivals.  Here comes the

slur machine, ladies and gentlemen.  Hold your ears. 




TRUMP:  Look, everybody knows that Joe Biden does not have what it takes,

OK?  He doesn’t have what it takes.  Everybody knows that.


QUESTION:  What does that mean? 




TRUMP:  It means mental capacity.  It means a lot of different things. 


Now I see that Pocahontas is doing better.  I would love to run against

her, frankly.  I see that Bernie Sanders is not doing well at all.  I would

have, frankly, liked to have run against – I think it’s probably those

three.  I don’t see the other ones.  I really don’t see it.


They talk about Kamala.  I don’t see Kamala.  I don’t see – I think it’s

probably between the three of them.


QUESTION:  Mayor Pete?


QUESTION:  Right. 


TRUMP:  Mayor Pete, I don’t see it all.  I think that’s a joke. 




MATTHEWS:  What do you think?  Is he smart?  By the way, it’s Kamala.


ELROD:  Well, I know.  Exactly.  He got her name wrong. 


Look, I mean, there’s no question right now that Elizabeth Warren is on the

rise, that Biden and Bernie are still the top two candidates.  So, to an



MATTHEWS:  Is Elizabeth passing Bernie? 


ELROD:  I think she’s going to.


MATTHEWS:  You think so?


GIBSON:  She’s – I mean, I think that the support she’s building on the

ground – she’s very good in a town hall, and people are taking notice. 


ELROD:  The one thing, Chris, we got to keep in mind, though, is that she’s

not bundling.  And I think that could possibly hurt her. 


She’s not able to raise the funds that she needs to raise in larger amounts

to stay in the race.  But, hopefully, the grassroots donations will come in

for her.


MATTHEWS:  I hate conversations about fund-raising.  I know it goes on.  I

know it’s necessary.  It appalls me.  It does.


GIBSON:  She’s taking a gamble, though. 




GIBSON:  She’s got twice the staff of anybody else running. 




MATTHEWS:  I think the socialist tag is not helping within the Democratic



I looked at the only polled group are those under 30 who are not – who –

not at all like that title.


Anyway, Ginger Gibson, thank you, and Adrienne Elrod.


Up next, we’re giving you a sneak peek at HARDBALL’s coming special event

“The Deciders.”  We will be hearing from voters in a crucial swing state of

Ohio.  Ohio, well, Republicans need it to win.  We’re going to find out how

that state looks right now next week. 


This is great stuff, by the way.  We’re going to want to see this. 


Don’t go anywhere.  Coming up. 




 MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.


On Monday night – that’s coming up – I won’t be in Washington or New York

or with politicians or the big shots.  Instead, I will be in Dayton, Ohio,

at a special time, by the way, 10:00, this coming Monday, talking to people

that matter ahead of 2020, the voters out there.  We call them the



Dayton is in Montgomery County, Ohio, which voted for Obama twice, voted

for Trump in 2016.  Also, the state did the same thing. 


NBC’s Cal Perry went to Dayton ahead of us this week to talk to voters

about how they’re feeling two-and-a-half years into Trump’s presidency. 


For some, the stronger economy is Trump’s card.  It makes Trump everything

– even the president behavior doesn’t matter to those people.


Let’s listen. 




KITTY KLIPSTINE, OHIO VOTER:  People don’t like exactly how he goes about

doing it.  But he’s – that’s Trump, whether you like it or not. 


But the bottom line, he’s getting things done.


DREW SMITH, OHIO VOTER:  Economically, for me, it seems to be like 100 –

100 percent better. 


MARK GORDON, OHIO VOTER:  So, if I would want a preacher up in the White

House, I would have voted a preacher guy in. 




MATTHEWS:  Well, Cal also talked to a left-leaning voter who had a warning

for Democrats come 2020.  Let’s watch.




BILL DAVIS, OHIO VOTER:  The Democrats, I’m fed up with them because

they’re – they have sold out to the corporations, just like the GOP, maybe

not as bad, but bad enough, to make me vote for – I voted for Jill Stein

in the last presidential election.


And, no, I don’t feel like I wasted my vote at all.  I exercised my voice

of dissatisfaction with what the parties were – were serving up.  And I

don’t think – the Democrats had that election to lose, and they did.  They

lost it.  And I’m afraid they’re going to lose the next one too. 




MATTHEWS:  Well, Cal Perry joins us right now from Helena, Montana, where

he interviewed Governor Steve Bullock today.


Cal, it is great that you do the advance work on this and also working with

me come Monday night. 


What’s the – what’s the mood in the country after – let’s talk about

Ohio.  Let’s talk about Montgomery County, Dayton, Ohio.  Are they ready to

vote for Trump again? 


CAL PERRY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, I mean, I think a lot of people

are.  You listen to what people say. 


And I love the sort of “Deciders” that you did first in Pennsylvania,

because a lot of those issues are the same in Ohio, where the bottom line

is, for many people, the economic bottom line, right?  You talk to people.


We spoke to one 21-year-old who’s in the asphalt business, and he said,

look, I’m doubling my profits.  So, of course, I don’t like how the

president is acting, but my bottom line is my economic bottom line.


The other big issue we’re hearing about – same in Pennsylvania as it is in

Ohio – health care, and who will the Democratic Party run?  Who do

Democrats run that can compete in these states?  You may want a more

liberal candidate.  You may relate to a more liberal candidate, but in a

place like Ohio, a place like Pennsylvania, moderates and how people speak

to people matters. 


This is what we heard today from Governor Bullock.  He will position

himself as a man who can talk to people who are outside of that sort of

Beltway.  You and I have talked about this.  The Russia investigation does

not rate at the dinner table in Ohio.  It just doesn’t matter as much as

paying for your kids’ tuition or putting food on the table, Chris.


MATTHEWS:  Well, I guess another question that keeps leaping into my mind

is, will the Democrats who participate in these debates – watch these

debates, rather, the ones who go to the primaries and caucuses, are they

going to represent the larger Democratic vote?


Because a lot of moderate Democrats and other Democrats just don’t

participate.  But they do vote in November.


Jimmy Breslin, the columnist, used to say, those people, the ones that

don’t show up for these primaries and these debates, think it’s patriotic

to vote in November.  And they vote. 


PERRY:  And how do you balance getting through the Democratic primary with

the general election, right? 


I mean, 23 candidates all going at each other on two different stages on

two different nights, I mean, that’s going to be really nasty.  We saw the

way that the Republicans did this to their party two years ago during the

presidential election. 


So when you look at these debates, and you look at how people are jockeying

around, who is going to position themselves in a general election to

compete with Donald Trump in these places, like Pennsylvania, in Ohio,

where we’re going to be on Monday night, when you’re talking to voters

about jobs and about health care, and less about how Donald Trump is

behaving in public or how he behaves on these foreign trips?


Getting through that Democratic primary, positioning yourself as somebody

who can win in a general, but still winning in that primary, is going to be

incredibly tricky.  And you know better than anybody, Chris, the way that

these candidates position themselves in the next few weeks is going to

matter a great deal. 


MATTHEWS:  Help me with this disconnect.  The national polls show that

people recognize a stronger economy, but don’t credit Trump for it, and yet

I sense from what you have interviewed with people they do connect the two. 


PERRY:  They connect with the salesman job that he provides. 


So he comes to your hometown, and he says, look at those new jobs,

employers can’t find enough employees.  What he’s leaving out there is

that, of course, these employers are not paying a living wage; $10 an hour

is not enough to support your family.  You have to pick up a second or

third job. 


But he comes to these towns.  He spends time in them.  That is key.  Every

Democrat we talked to the Midwest says, Hillary should have done a better

job about banging on doors and getting out the vote and having a ground

game, and she didn’t do a good enough job.  And we have to fix that in the

future, right?


But Donald Trump comes to your hometown, and he says, I understand the

issue that’s important to you, and the Democratic Party does not.


MATTHEWS:  Oh, that’s so important.  We’re going to talk about that.


You and I are going to get the people to talk about that, the sense of

being overlooked, of being discarded in these small, middle-sized cities…


PERRY:  Yes, sir.


MATTHEWS:  … because, unfortunately, the Hillary campaign did not make

these visits ahead of the election the way Trump did.  It’s as simple as,

well, who cares, who shows up.


Thank you so much, Cal Perry. 


We will see you on Monday in Dayton.  We will see you on Monday. 


And, by the way, don’t miss “The Deciders.”  That’s Monday night at 10:00

p.m. this week.  We’re not going to be on at 7:00 Eastern, but 10:00. 


And up next, by the way, Trump in the backseat with George Stephanopoulos,

I’m overwhelmed by that scene of those two guys crowded together in that

backseat.  And it reminded me of maybe the most famous movie scene – or

one of the most famous scenes ever. 


We will get to that in just a minute.  Stay with us. 




MATTHEWS:  Being an avid movie guy, I have noticed moments in politics that

remind me of what I once saw on film. 


And when I watched that interview with President Trump and what he did with

George Stephanopoulos, with Trump trying to deny that his own polls were

showing him losing key states, and George insisting on the cruel reality, I

couldn’t stop thinking of that other famous backseat scene in “On the

Waterfront,” with Rod Steiger trying to deny to his brother, played by

Marlon Brando, that he had sold him out.




MARLON BRANDO, ACTOR:  I could have had class.  I could have been a

contender.  I could have been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I

am, let’s face it. 


It was you, Charley. 






MATTHEWS:  In both cases, two guys arguing in a backseat, but one truth

sitting between them.


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


“ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES” starts right now.










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