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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 1/24/2017

Guests: Ashley Parker, Heidi Przybyla, Eli Stokols, Francesca Chambers, Ted Melfi, Mark McManus, Terry O`Sullivan

Show: HARDBALL Date: January 24, 2017 Guest: Ashley Parker, Heidi Przybyla, Eli Stokols, Francesca Chambers, Ted Melfi, Mark McManus, Terry O`Sullivan

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Pick a number, any number.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Donald Trump has shown in the past an ability to trump a bad story with some wild statement that grabs the media attention away. Now in his first days as president, he seems to be trumping a good story.

The headline for the new president tonight should be, Jobs, jobs, jobs. He`s meeting with union leaders, business leaders, auto makers and congressional leaders of both parties. He`s cutting regulations, withdrawing from the Trans Pacific Partnership and going ahead with the Keystone, pipeline, insisting it be built with U.S.-made steel.

That`s all stuff that people who voted for him, and many who didn`t, want to hear. Instead, the oxygen in the briefing room today at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is taken up by the false claim, the bogus claim made by the president himself, that widespread voter fraud in the range of 3 to 5 million votes by people in this country illegally explains away his popular vote lost to Hillary Clinton. Wow.

Trump`s claim came at the beginning of a meeting with congressional leader yesterday when Trump spent about the first 10 minutes talking about the campaign and about how 3 to 5 million illegals, he called them, voted in the election.

According to "The Post`s" fact-checker, this is a bogus claim with no documented proof. The origin of Trump`s dodgy numbers appears to be the conspiracy theorist and 9/11 truther Alex Jones, whose Web site published this headline, this headline back in November. Quote, "Report: Three million votes in presidential election cast by illegal aliens," close quote,

Well, according to Politifact, the report is actually a tweet and the person who authored the tweet won`t explain how he arrived at his figure. He would also not say what the data is or where it came from or what methodology he used.

Well, today, Trump`s press secretary, the guy with the toughest job in the world, Sean Spicer, backed up him and suggested a White House investigation could happen.


QUESTION: Does the president believe that millions voted illegally in this election?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president does believe that. He has stated that before. I think he`s stated his concerns, voter fraud and people voting illegally, during the campaign. And he continues to maintain that belief based on studies and evidence that people have presented to him.

QUESTION: What evidence do you have?

SPICER: I -- I -- as I said, I think the president has believed that for a while, based on studies and information he has.

QUESTION: Wouldn`t he want an investigation of this?

SPICER: Well, I -- you know...


SPICER: ... as I`ve noted several times now, he`s believed this for a long time.


SPICER: And I think he won fairly, overwhelmingly, so he`s not...


SPICER: Look, we`ll work...

QUESTION: I`m asking you why not investigate something that...


SPICER: Maybe we will.

QUESTION: Do you believe there was widespread voter fraud?

SPICER: Listen, my job is not...


SPICER: Look, I -- this...

QUESTION: How can he be comfortable with his win if he believes...

SPICER: He`s very comfortable with his win.

QUESTION: ... that there was three million votes? Maybe he didn`t win it.

SPICER: No, he`s very comfortable with his win. It`s an electoral-based system. He got 306 electoral votes.


MATTHEWS: Well, that`s the second time in three days that Spicer`s been forced to defend his boss`s questionable numbers to the press. Here he was on Saturday night.


SPICER: We know that 420,000 people used the D.C. metro public transit yesterday, which actually compares to 317,000 that used it for President Obama`s last inaugural. This was the largest audience to ever witness inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe!


MATTHEWS: Well, you don`t want to get your train schedule from this guy. According to "The Washington Post," "After Sean Spicer delivered that rebuke to the press Saturday night, many critics thought Spicer went too far and compromised his own integrity. But in Trump`s mind, Spicer`s attack on the news media was not forceful enough. The president was also bothered that the spokesman read, at times haltingly, from printed material."

Anyway, Ashley Parker`s a reporter with "The Washington Post" and a co- author of today`s story on the White House, what`s going on there. Michael Steele is the former chair of the Republican National Committee. David Corn`s Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones."

This is really weird. First of all, I thought that Jeff Zeleny of "The New York Times had a great question. He said to Sean Spicer, Do you believe this 3 to 5 million vote theft by illegal immigrants?


MATTHEWS: Because it forced him to admit, OK, I`m a flack. I`m just here doing my job. I got a boss watching on the nannycam. I better say the right thing and better say it with some force. But he didn`t answer that question. He didn`t say he believed it.

PARKER: Yes. I mean, I think he clearly dodged the question. And I think the reason why is because he`s the spokesperson who is channeling Donald Trump, both the message, the facts or the alternative facts, as the case may be, and even the tone and the demeanor, and when he can swing it, the look. I mean, that is his job and that is what every president demands of their press secretary, but Donald Trump more than most.

MATTHEWS: Why would Donald Trump leak to the newspapers through his confidante, and I think he was quote or she was quoted, saying he didn`t like the fact that Sean Spicer -- this is the presidency of the United States -- doesn`t like the fact he doesn`t own any dark suits.

So after reading that in the paper on the wires this morning, Mike Allen`s piece or something this morning, in walks Sean Spicer in a dark suit for the first time. I mean, is this how the president of the United States communicates and on the issues he chooses to communicate with his national spokesman?

PARKER: Let`s be clear he also communicate through Twitter, but one thing...

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) why didn`t he call him and say, Hey, Sean, wear a dark suit tomorrow?


MATTHEWS: I mean, I don`t think it matters, but it did to him.

PARKER: Well, either way, Sean certainly got the message. And you could see that he changed the color, the cut...

MATTHEWS: Flashy tie.

PARKER: Yes. He looked a lot better in Donald Trump`s eyes, I think.

MATTHEWS: Michael, this is sad because he`s leaking the fact he doesn`t like the guy`s looks. This is fairly (ph) pathetic.


MATTHEWS: This really reads like he`s casting Miss Universe again.

STEELE: This is how Trump rolls. I mean, I think it`s -- Trump is a guy who has his finger on everybody, not -- not just the ones that relate...

MATTHEWS: OK, why doesn`t he have...



MATTHEWS: Well, wait a minute. What about the 3 to 5 million people, I assume he means Hispanic people who came in the country without papers -- I guess that`s what he`s talking about, assuming that they didn`t vote for him, although 29 percent of Hispanic voters did vote for him...

STEELE: Well, this is...

MATTHEWS: And by the way, as you pointed out in the Green Room here -- I`m going to steal your line here -- there`s only -- I know it`s not -- there`s a 11 million people here in this country without papers, illegally.

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: OK, that means 3 million of them risked being picked up by somebody or other. They came out and -- that shows patriotism! I would give them all papers now! They are more -- they`re better voters than...


MATTHEWS: ... better voting record than most people!

STEELE: This is what I have to say about all of that...

MATTHEWS: If that ever happened.

STEELE: You are in the Roosevelt Room with the political leadership of both parties talking about your agenda. That would tell me you won the election. It`s not like you`re sitting at a cafe having a cold cup of coffee...

MATTHEWS: Who`s going to tell him?

STEELE: ... trying to figure out what happened in your election. So the focus on this -- on the fact that 3 million people, 5 million people -- it`s all about having lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. That`s what rubs this man to his core.

CORN: Well, this is what...

STEELE: And the problem is his people can`t get him off of that stick.

CORN: Well, this is what...

MATTHEWS: By the way...


MATTHEWS: He`s still fighting over the number of people who showed up at the inauguration. He`s showing up -- he argues over this...


MATTHEWS: ... poll numbers, who won the debates.

CORN: What seems to matter most to Donald Trump, through the campaign and up through now, is Donald Trump. And the fact that he can`t get off the stick, as you put it, and when you goes the CIA wall that memorializes -- ...

MATTHEWS: What`s the stick?


STEELE: He can`t get off of that issue.

CORN: He goes the CIA, stands in front of a wall that commemorates people who`ve died, and he goes on about how he`s been on more covers than Tom Brady. There is something wrong with a person...


CORN: ... who can`t see beyond his own egocentric needs, and it`s not going to change...


CORN: ... and it leads him to believe in delusional...

MATTHEWS: OK, here`s where it`s going to hurt...


CORN: ... like 3 to 5 million people or the size of the inauguration.

MATTHEWS: OK. He`s got to go in and to argue with Congress, tough cookies like Chuck Schumer and Paul Ryan.

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: And he`s got to argue facts with them. And in the end, that`s how he`s going to win these legislative fights, knowing what he`s talking about. Donald Trump`s assertion -- and that`s all it is -- that millions of illegal immigrants, while in the country illegally, illegally voted for him. That was peddled on line by conspiracy Web sites after the election. It`s been widely reputed -- actually, refuted. The California secretary of state today called it a "corrosive lie." Many Republicans rejected the claim, as well.

Let`s watch them.


QUESTION: Did you feel the need to correct him? And does it trouble you that he continues to hold a belief like this that isn`t based in fact?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look, I`ve already commented on that. I`ve seen no evidence to that effect, and I`ve made that very, very clear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have no evidence whatsoever, and I don`t know that anyone does, that there were that many illegal people who voted. And frankly, it doesn`t matter. He`s the president. And whether 20 million voted, it doesn`t matter anymore. He`s the president, and I`m not sure why he brought it up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m telling you he is now the president of the United States. He`s the chief law enforcement officer in such a -- he sits at the top of our nation`s legal structure. He`s in charge of the executive branch. This has to stop. One of two things need to happen quickly. We need to -- he needs to share with us the information he has, or he needs to recant this.


MATTHEWS: I`m kind of amazed that, you know, even the -- the major metropolitan papers, the quality papers like yours and "The Times" and "The Wall Street Journal" -- they try to avoid really radical language. "Lie" was on the front page I think of "The Times" today.


MATTHEWS: That these numbers he`s putting out are lies.

PARKER: I mean, I think sort of early on, journalists realized that this election cycle in particular was taking place in sort of a post-truth world and -- and because of that, you saw a move away from the traditional -- you know, some critics say this, other people say this, too (ph), when you have the facts that something is false, that something is bogus, something is not true, then it is OK to call it what it is, which is simply a lie, and that`s what you`re seeing happening in these papers.

STEELE: I think they have to. I think that when...

MATTHEWS: They have to call it a...

STEELE: They have to call it what is because otherwise, you do get sucked into that alternative fact universe.

MATTHEWS: Alt-fact.

CORN: Look what -- look what...

STEELE: And yes, alt-fact. And that is not the space that I think the American press, of whatever stripe...



MATTHEWS: You never worked on the inside. I have. At some point, the people around the president, men, women of whatever age, whatever vintage they are politically, have to go up to him and say, Boss, I`m your biggest true believer. You got to drop this rap. This is no good for you. You got to get off of it. You got to say, like you did with the birther thing, OK --

CORN: He didn`t get off...

MATTHEWS: ... I`m cashing in my chips. I`m not go to say it one more day.

CORN: But he...

MATTHEWS: You got to do that.

CORN: He really didn`t get off the birther thing.


CORN: I mean, he...

MATTHEWS: He said he`s an American! He was born American.

CORN: Yes, but he wouldn`t -- he wouldn`t `fess up to the fact that he had done this for five years.


CORN: And throughout the campaign -- again and again, we saw at this very table, Chris, from the time he attacked John McCain onward, and we said, Why don`t the people around him tell him to stop tweeting, stop saying this, stop attacking Miss Universe, stop going after Khizr Khan. And the truth of the matter is, he can`t, he won`t, and it`s not going to stop. This is our president. Get used to it.

MATTHEWS: Well, apparently -- you`re right, but he seems unwilling to let it go when it come to the size of his inaugural crowd.


MATTHEWS: He tweeted out today again this image, a photo delivered yesterday that will be displayed in the upper lower press hall, another part of his problem. And according to Congressman Steny Hoyer from Maryland, who was at the meeting with the president yesterday, the topic of crowd size came up there.


REP. STENY HOYER (D), MARYLAND: He didn`t change his point of view on the crowd size. It was -- it was...

QUESTION: He brought it up?

HOYER: ... from his perspective, a very, very large crowd. And we didn`t -- we didn`t push it beyond that, but it was clear that this was still on his mind.


MATTHEWS: You know, during the -- I`m going to be a little bipartisan here. You weren`t here, but I was here during the whole Clinton mess. And for a long time, I sort of watched the people around him and think, Who`s going to be honest through (ph) this real mess, because you have a president saying something that`s not true. Everybody knows it`s not true. He did have this relationship. For whatever you think of it, it was a fact.

But some people around, like Carville, would never deny it. He would just say, That itsy-bitsy sex thing, with his Alabama (sic) accent. In other words, he never denied it. And I always kept track of the ones who denied it and played like Spicer has to do because when you start getting into making your people lie with you, and use the United States government -- cabinet secretaries are going to be asked this!

They`re going to have to lie with him. You`re misusing your office thoroughly, you know? It gets to be like Kim Jong-un. It gets to be like, Oh, you got a great haircut today, Mr. President, where everything`s (INAUDIBLE) Or (INAUDIBLE) you know all this stuff. What do they say about Kim Jong (sic), he thinks he`s the greatest novelist in the world, the greatest everything in the -- and they`re all supposed to say it!

CORN: Yes, and he can play basketball really well...


MATTHEWS: He`s a great basketball player!

CORN: This is a problem on so many levels...

MATTHEWS: If you make people like for you...

CORN: It`s a problem on so many levels. You`ve been there. If you can`t take advice on these issues of war and peace and the economy, and you can`t accept other facts that are beyond what you assume, you can`t make the decisions. The people around you can`t do their jobs, and the American public loses faith in you, as it already has.


MATTHEWS: Spicer is in a terrible position. Somebody`s going to ask the cabinet secretaries, maybe because I`m raising it now -- they`re going to ask, you know, the secretary of state, Do you believe that there was -- you`re the secretary of state. You ought to know these things. Do you think there was 5 million votes stolen by illegal -- people in the country illegally? Do you believe that`s even slightly true.

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, Ashley, I got a question for you. According to your article in "The Washington Post," front page today, quote, "The turbulence and competing factions that were a hall mark of Trump`s campaign have been transported to the White House. Some privately wonder whether Kellyanne Conway is now trying to undermine Sean Spicer. Two people close to the transition also said a number of Trump`s most loyal campaign aides have been alarmed by Jared Kushner`s efforts to elbow aside anyone he perceives as a possible threat to his role as Trump`s chief consigliere. And some Trump insiders have suggested tension between Conway and Reince Priebus. But she said that could be -- not be further from the truth." Of course, she said that, but that`s all right. That`s what everybody...

What is this about the craziness inside? Is this the way Trump wants it? Can you tell, a lot of scrambling for the seat -- in fact, you said in your piece they`re even fighting over office space.

PARKER: Yes. I mean, I think that this is Donald Trump`s deliberate management style. Not only did you see this in the campaign, you heard this from people who worked with him in business. And -- and he does that. He establishes I wouldn`t say a team of rivals the way President Obama did, but I would say competing power centers who are constantly vying for each other -- against each other and vying for his attention. And I think he seems to think that sort of the out of the muck and the chaos can come some great ideas, but it is a very stressful work environment for these people on a daily basis.

MATTHEWS: This isn`t Secretary Seward against Salmon Chase here, by the way.

STEELE: No, no.



STEELE: This isn`t that deep, no.

MATTHEWS: But who`s going to mess with the son-in-law?

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: I mean, that`s...


STEELE: At the end of the day...

MATTHEWS: ... going to be there.

STEELE: That`s the line. That`s the line. Proximity, proximity, proximity.

MATTHEWS: Although Mussolini executed his son-in-law.



STEELE: There`s precedence for that. But the reality is proximity, and it`s not just proximity of office space. It`s proximity to the ear of the president. And the reality of it is that`s going to be a huge challenge for the chief of staff because at the end of the day, he and he alone is the one who -- that has that final space (ph) in the tradition of the office. That is not to...


MATTHEWS: Is Reince Priebus strong enough, Ashley, to tell the rest of the staff, Stop talking to the press, stop talking to you, about this inside...

CORN: She hopes not!


MATTHEWS: Can he do it? Does he have the clout.

PARKER: I don`t think he does because one of the reasons he`s risen so far in the Trump organization is by sort of taking what flows downhill. He`s sort of a good soldier and a loyalist, certainly, but he hasn`t gotten to where he is by standing up to Donald Trump or necessarily a ton of other people in that organization.

CORN: This is what happens when you have competing power centers and at the center of that is a fellow who can`t take advice or hear things he doesn`t want to hear. It is a recipe for a big problem, a disaster, and you know, I think the public should be worried.

MATTHEWS: I`m hoping that we can play an educational role here. We can help improve him.


MATTHEWS: I`m more hopeful than you. I`m more -- I have to be hopeful. The glass is half full.


MATTHEWS: There were jobs talked about today, and that`s important. Anyway, thank you David Corn. Thank you, Ashley Parker, great reporting. We love this stuff, don`t we?


MATTHEWS: Michael Steele -- we love the inside skinny.

Coming up, Trump`s trying on -- this is the best part of the day (INAUDIBLE) trumped (ph) by this. He met today, last night, with union leaders at 3:00 o`clock at the White House. When we come back, we`re going to find out what happened in that meeting with two top international labor presidents who were there. Will they get behind him if he gets their people to work. I think work is good.

Plus, it`s day five of the Trump White House, and already we`re getting reports of infighting, turf wars -- we`re getting that already -- and Trump`s anger over the way his press secretary dresses. He didn`t like Sean Spicer`s suits. Is this any way to run a government? Much more on that coming up.

We`ve also got three things about the early days of the Trump presidency you might not know because I don`t. Anyway, the HARDBALL roundtable will be here next.

And finally, "Let Me Finish" with the Academy Award nominations.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Well, mark your calendars, as they say. House Speaker Paul Ryan has invited President Trump to address a joint session of Congress on February 28th. It will be the first opportunity for the new president to outline his agenda in a nationally televised address. Presidents don`t normally present a State of the Union address in their first year, so Trump`s address will serve that function. Former President Barack Obama gave a similar address in February of 2009, where he discussed his plans to restart the nation`s economy. And boy, did he do it.

And we`ll be right back.



DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have been talking about this for a long time. OK. Great thing for the American worker, what we just did.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Trump yesterday formally withdrawing from the Trans- Pacific Partnership trade pact, otherwise known as the TPP.

And last night, President Trump convened leaders from the construction, carpenters, plumbers and sheet metal unions to the White House, where they applauded the termination of our role in the landmark trade deal negotiated by President Obama.


TRUMP: We just officially terminated TPP.


TRUMP: We`re going to stop the ridiculous trade deals that are taking everybody out of our country and taking companies out of our country.


MATTHEWS: President Trump also reiterated his campaign promise to direct billions of dollars towards infrastructure investments.

Sean McGarvey is president of North America`s Building Trades Unions. He told reporters that Trump gave him the impression that "The American citizenry and the American treasury will be invested building public infrastructure."

Well, a promise to invest in infrastructure was a central tenet of Trump`s campaign. Listen.


TRUMP: We will build the next generation of roads, bridges, railways, tunnels, seaports and airports. That, believe me, folks, is what our country deserves.


MATTHEWS: Well, joining me now are two union leaders who were at that meeting with President Trump.

Terry O`Sullivan is president of the Laborers International Union of North America. And Mark McManus -- you notice the sort of tribal connection here -- is president of the Union of Plumbers, Fitters, Welders and Service Techs.

Gentlemen, thank you for coming on.


MATTHEWS: Are you guys happy?

I will start with you, Terry.

Are you happy that Trump at least is talking the talk about infrastructure jobs, real high-paying jobs, real paying jobs?

O`SULLIVAN: Absolutely. Here is what was impressive, Chris.

He gets inaugurated on Friday. Monday, the building trades had a meeting with the president, the vice president and all of his key staff. And that meeting was based on a whole host of things. But infrastructure was the main tenet of that.

And so we talked about infrastructure and we talked about good-paying, family-supporting jobs. So, we were more than encouraged by the meeting. The president`s a builder. We`re builders.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Mark, is he talking about government doing this? Highways are government business. Bridges are government business. Airport, to some extent, are too. Trains station certainly are. Rail is.

Is he talking about the government laying down some money to create jobs, or is he talking about some kind of tax breaks for corporations?

MARK MCMANUS, PRESIDENT, UNITED ASSOCIATION: He is talking about the government laying down money and equity on it.

He`s also talking public-private partnerships. We come to the table as well with some of our pension funds and investment vehicles, J for Jobs, Ullico, infrastructure, different funds that we can be partnerships that we do traditionally well with our members` return on investments as well. So, there was a bit of a discussion on that.

Tax breaks wasn`t in the discussion. But it`s all of the above. And we`re for it. I`m more than encouraged for my members.

MATTHEWS: I know it`s rare in this city of Washington to see a deal made. Is this something? Schumer is talking about a trillion dollars now. Do you think they can get together to do something, both sides?

O`SULLIVAN: We certainly hope.

Chris, it`s always been a bipartisan issue.

MATTHEWS: Highways have always been.

O`SULLIVAN: Absolutely.

And there`s no reason why it can`t be this time as well. At the end of the day, I think what is encouraging is our conversation with the president and his plan to have a massive infrastructure spending, and the Democrats in the Senate talking about it as well.

So, it`s on the front burner. We`re encouraged by that and we look forward to working with everybody to make it a reality.

MATTHEWS: Mark, I have said this 2,000 times on this show. It`s the problem of nothing getting done.


MATTHEWS: The Republicans are trusted to spend the money, but they won`t do it.

MCMANUS: Correct.

MATTHEWS: They`re tight-fisted.

Democrats want to spend the money, but they are not trusted to spend it, because they think they will blow it away somewhere on just a lot of whatever.

MCMANUS: So, we have the wild card now.


MCMANUS: Mr. Trump. President Trump is the...

MATTHEWS: Can he bring them together and get the people that don`t like to spend to spend and the people that do spend, spend it so it doesn`t get wasted, it goes into real jobs?

MCMANUS: I think we`re in peril if we`re underestimating, and I think we`re in peril if we`re predicting what Mr. Trump, President Trump, can do.

I do have optimism coming out of that meeting, talking with Senator Schumer and talking with the White House staff. There`s a deal to be made. And it`s good for the country. And I think the good leadership in Senator Schumer and the good leadership of the president of the United States, he wants to get off on the right start.

I do think there`s a deal, and I`m optimistic about the deal. In this town, I`m optimistic about the deal.

MATTHEWS: He said something today, I know it`s going to grab people, not just pipeline, not just Keystone and Dakota.

But when he started talking about making it with American pipe, I think guys, people are going to like that. That`s my hunch.

O`SULLIVAN: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Our steel.

O`SULLIVAN: This was a big day. Less than 24 hours ago, we were in the Roosevelt Room and the Oval room, Mark, myself and some other labor leaders talking about these very issues. And in less than 24 hours, there`s five executive orders that are going to make a difference in our economy, our country and in the lives of men and women we represent.

MCMANUS: And, Chris, you`re going to love this part about it. He asked to bring in plumber in, a steamfitter in that I represent, a pipe coverer in, a sheet metal worker in.

He wanted some rank-and-file guys that had tools in their hands. They had jeans on. They came halfway across town. They were working in the morning, broke for lunch and came over, and he talked to them. He talked to everybody.

There`s a respect there at least, good first step, good first step.

MATTHEWS: I hope you guys stay in touch with us. Come on once in a while and tell us, because that`s one thing I think.

I didn`t vote for the guy, the big secret here. But I tell you I did like the infrastructure stuff. And I like the going against stupid wars part, too. I like that other part.

There`s a couple of things about Trump that I liked from the beginning, anyway.

But thank you. This is the big part.

Terry O`Sullivan and Mark McManus, thank you both. Peace in Northern Ireland.

Up next, we`re learning more the cell phones -- those phone calls between Trump`s national security adviser and the Russians. A U.S. intelligence official now tells NBC News that nothing improper happened.

We will get the latest when we come back.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


NBC News is today reporting that, according to a U.S. intelligence official, the FBI did not find anything improper in the communication between National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador here in the U.S.

The phone calls that intelligence agencies reviewed were placed on the day President Obama imposed sanctions on Russia and were picked up by routine eavesdropping on the Russian ambassador.

Well, the development follows additional reporting last night from "The Washington Post" which said -- quote -- "Flynn himself is not the active target of an investigation."

Meanwhile, "The New York Times" reported that President Trump asked FBI Director James Comey to remain in his post in this administration. The moves comes as the inspector general of the Justice Department investigates Comey`s handling of the Clinton e-mail case.

I`m joined right now by NBC News investigative reporter Ken Dilanian.

And so I guess we need to get the context. Last night, we talked with Shane Harris here as well. We talked about Flynn might have been doing something he shouldn`t have been doing. And that is why this whole question of clearing up what he said to the ambassador and all that from Russia is important.

But what makes people begin to focus on Flynn as someone who may have been involved with improper conversations with the Russians? What leads us into that topic?

KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, the context here is that Flynn had relationship with R.T., Russian state television, which the U.S. intelligence community has said is a tool of Russian intelligence.

Flynn gave a paid speech. He went to Moscow. He sat next to Vladimir Putin. Now, he says there was nothing amiss about that, it was perfectly innocent.

But that`s the context. The other issue is this phone call with the Russian ambassador happened on the day the Obama administration...


MATTHEWS: December 29.

DILANIAN: Right. They announced the sanctions against Russia over the hacking and interference and expelled 35 Russian diplomats. So, people are very keen to know what was discussed.

And so our information is -- Russian diplomats are monitored by FBI counter intelligence agents, right? And Mike Flynn undoubtedly knew that.

MATTHEWS: He would not have -- just common sense tells you he wouldn`t have tried to say something that he should not have if he knew he was being monitored.

DILANIAN: That does seem like common sense. Right?

MATTHEWS: What does your gut tell you about his behavior, his conduct as an American citizen throughout these months with the Russians?

DILANIAN: Well, I have known Mike Flynn in my career as an intelligence reporter. I know him to be a patriot. And what we`re told in this situation is that there`s no finding of wrongdoing on his part here.

MATTHEWS: The weird thing about politics is, I grew up in the Cold War, and it was always the people on the right politically didn`t like the Russians because they were communists.

They were run by Stalin and Khrushchev and Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko, and finally Gorbachev, but not nice guys. They were dictators. They were frightening, and they were certainly out against us.

Now it seems like it`s flipped, where people -- it`s like the enemy of my enemy is my friend. So, if Obama doesn`t like you and Hillary Clinton doesn`t like you, then you must be my buddy. It`s weird how it`s gotten.

DILANIAN: It`s weird.

MATTHEWS: Trump feeling very comfortable with Putin, who, whatever he is, is not our buddy. He is not that. He may be something not necessarily like a Cold War enemy, but he is not our buddy.

DILANIAN: But what is even weirder is all Trump`s senior national security picks got up in front on Congress in their confirmation hearings and took the Republican hard line against Russia that you just articulated.

And it`s completely at odds with what Trump has said during the campaign. So, how are they going to square that circle when they go to make policy?

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think people would like to see a little distance, but no wars.

Anyway, thank you very much. Thanks. You`re always great to come on, Ken Dilanian of NBC News.

Up next, it`s day five and only three members of the Trump Cabinet are actually in office now. Today on the Hill, we saw more fireworks on the confirmation hearings, as Democrats faced off against Trump`s picks.

And now we`re learning of chaos inside the Trump White House, Trump`s unhappiness, his unhappiness with the way his press secretary -- catch this -- dresses. He doesn`t like his suits. And that`s ahead.

You`re watching HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

It`s day five now of Donald Trump`s presidency, and Sean Spicer, his press secretary, has certainly got a tough job on his hands. We learned that on Saturday, his boss, the new president, complained about Spicer`s, believe it or not, attire.

According to Mike Allen`s new Web site, Axios, Trump asked an aide on Saturday, "Doesn`t the guy own a dark suit?

So, yesterday and today, Spicer walked out in -- there he is -- a dark suit, which also makes you wonder, why are we hearing so much about this kind of stuff?

I`m joined right now by the Roundtable.

Heidi Przybyla is a senior political reporter with "USA Today." Eli Stokols is White House correspondent for Politico. And Francesca Chambers is White House correspondent for The Daily Mail.

In order, first of all, what`s it`s like working for Trump where the guy dumps on your suit -- men don`t even pay attention to what other men wear anyway, normally -- and then leaks it so that the guy gets the word by reading the press?

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, "USA TODAY": This is totally expected, though, Chris.

Trump has been obsessed throughout the whole entirety of the campaign with his image. And you should know going into this that branding and public perception are huge, and, three, that he is always watching TV. His entire life, his livelihood, his self-worth has been tied up in how he is perceived and kind of the public relations aspect.

MATTHEWS: Eli, you have to be careful here. This is discussing women`s appearance and all. You have got to be very careful.

But Trump said, according to this leak, he wanted to pick a woman to be his spokesperson because they would be prettier. I mean, this is the stuff that is leaking out.


And there have always been leaks coming from the highest levels of the Trump hierarchy and the Trump operation, just because that is the way he sets it up. The power struggles, the backstabbing, he almost sort of encourages it by putting people in place that he knows are going to sort of collide with each other and duke it out. He likes that.

It does lead to a lot of embarrassing coverage. And Heidi is right. This is a guy who is obsessed with television. Everything he does is for the cameras. Today, he is signing executive actions in the Oval Office. And what is he doing? He`s sort of talking to the pool camera that is in there, saying, this one, and he reads it.

It`s like he reading to a child and explains it, but he makes a show of it. It`s very unusual.


MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s go to the part that might be really troubling: numbers.

The United States government put out unemployment numbers, it puts out GDP numbers, it puts out inflation numbers, it puts out everything, all right? We believe in -- trade statistics. Numbers matter, because they tell us how we`re doing.


MATTHEWS: Trump said three to five million illegal people in this country illegally vote illegally, and he`s sticking to it.

And Sean Spicer has the unpleasant task of saying, not that he believes it, because he wouldn`t say today to Jeff Zeleny and "The New York Times," but that he`s willing to at least promote the idea that Trump is right.

CHAMBERS: That`s his job. He has to got out there and defend the boss.

And I think that the difficulty today was, when he was getting hammered on this by reporters, slipping up saying that anything is possible in terms of whether there could be an investigation. But there`s not an investigation currently, as he took heat for the fact that, if this is massive voter fraud, why isn`t there an investigation?


So, let me explain, because first of all, I think Trump is very smart I think in terms of the media and marketing and stuff, beyond anybody in the business. I`ve never seen anybody more aware of how to make things work his way.

He has to make precise number of decision to make a profit. You`ve got to know what the specs are, you`ve got to know what it costs, you`ve got to know whether it`s feasible, and you have to know if there`s going to be margin there, and you got to get the money. That`s how you get to be in 11th time millionaire or something like it.

How can he be good in numbers in work and that this B.S. set of numbers, the number of people in the mall, which aren`t right he puts out, he shows pictures but the numbers aren`t there, he shows the ratings points for his debate performances, they`re not what he says they are.

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, USA TODAY: Because you`re right, and that he`s smart and this is deliberate. And I am completely serious when I say this, this is tactic that we see in other countries, specifically out of the Kremlin. That is you put something out that you know is a falsehood, but you also know that no matter what you say, one-third of the people are always going to believe it.

So, if you can sow distrust or doubt among the other third, or half, you`ve accomplished your goal, you`ve dominated that news cycle, it doesn`t get corrected at least for 24 hours. Sean Spicer took no questions. And when it does get corrected, that never gets as much attention. You`ve got it out in the social media sphere.

MATTHEWS: Through the people, we don`t know this, but I guess that`s one argument. You know, in a criminal defense situation, not the same, but the criminal defense doesn`t say anything. They always have to have a defense, you know, I didn`t do it. Somebody else did it. They have to setup a counter argument, a counter scenario.

ELI STOKOLS, POLITICO: That`s almost Trump`s logic, it`s reasonable doubt. If you just have a little bit of doubt, a little bit of reason to doubt the press, that`s enough for him. I think one of the things that got him steamed on Saturday when Sean Spicer walk in the briefing room and just let reporters have it, was that it wasn`t delicate.

When Trump does this, when Trump gets up and lies and just sort of throws out, you know, conspiracy theories on the campaign trail or even now, you know, he does it via Twitter, he does it casually with kind of a joke. And Spicer did it, and it just sort of was massively, so obviously an untruth.

MATTHEWS: Francesca, how does he prepare his cabinet members to deal with these questions? Supposed the secretary of state is asked this offhand, do you believe there was 5 million votes casts illegal by people in the country without documents? Do you believe that? Do you believe that? Because Spicer wouldn`t say he believed (ph) it.


CHAMBERS: They`re already shown inside of these hearings already that they`re willing to disagree with Donald Trump --

MATTHEWS: What, on facts?

CHAMBERS: They`re willing to disagree with him on issues like NATO, on whether --


MATTHEWS: That`s an argument, that`s not a fact.

CHAMBERS: And whether or not the United States has a responsibility to go --


MATTHEWS: How does he say it`s Friday, and Trump says it`s Thursday?

CHAMBERS: I think that will be the difficulty for anyone who works for Donald Trump, going back to the Sean Spicer thing, when the boss says one thing, you basically have to back up the boss.

MATTHEWS: No, Sean Spicer didn`t back him up today. He wouldn`t answer the question of Jeff Zeleny of "The New York Times", do you believe that it was three to five million --

CHAMBERS: He at least didn`t throw the bus under the bus.

STOKOLS: But that`s Sean Spicer`s job. For Republicans on the Hill, they`re going to get tired very quickly of having reporters come out to them and say, did you hear that Trump lied again today about this? What do you think? It`s going to -- right now, they may want to sort of shrug and walk off, but they`re not going to be able to defend outright lies --

PRZYBYLA: But a number that will go along with it and this is a problem for our democracy.

MATTHEWS: The number, who, cabinet members?

PRZYBYLA: A number of them will go along for it. That`s why we as the media are going to have to be vigilant, because it`s going to happen within his cabinet. And other countries are watching, Chris. China, in China state TV, they`re running this, and they`re watching this and they`re using it as an argument for why democracy is not sustainable long term. The world is watching.

MATTHEWS: I was amazed, Eli first and then Francesca. "The New York Times" used the word lying on the front page today.

STOKOLS: They were right to do so.

MATTHEWS: They said the president lied. I mean, it`s amazing statement. Lie.

STOKOLS: Several times today during the briefing, Sean Spicer was asked about this. Do you have proof? Why not an investigation? There are no good answers. The lie is self evident to everybody. The problem is, his success in being able to get enough people to believe it and question it and that`s where you see the sort of fragility of democracy --

MATTHEWS: David Corn, a moment ago on this program, said there were only, you know, worse case now, 11 million people in this country illegally right now. Well, some of them are below voting age, right? And a lot of them are scared to death of exposing themselves to the government, right.


MATTHEWS: Three million out of, what, five or six million voted? I mean, it`s insane. It just -- I`m giving you the most anti-immigrant person in the world. You have to say, wait a minute, they are so patriotic these people, so committed to our process, they all sneak in and vote under, what names did they use? Whose names they used?

CHAMBERS: And I think what we`re seeing before is that Paul Ryan set a really good tone for this today, saying that there`s no evidence for this. Not going along with the president and --


MATTHEWS: What are you saying?

PRZYBYLA: Sean backed it up from the podium of the White House, citing bogus studies that researchers themselves had said do not prove this. They are talking is dead people that are still registered. It`s just a problem of cleaning up our registration system. There`s no indication that those people actually voted.

MATTHEWS: Studies, I like that word. Jeez.

Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. Be right back.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with HARDBALL roundtable.

Heidi, tell me something I don`t know.

PRZYBYLA: Chris, there`s some skepticism right now about the women`s march that we saw and whether this is going to have a long -- be a long-term movement.

Let me give you some early anecdotal information. Move, which is one of the major organization groups, had an emergency call the day after. You know how many dialed in? Twenty-five thousand people. Today, outside of a number of vulnerable offices, there are a number of people amassing. I have seen the pictures, at least 100 people outside Senator Pat Toomey`s office.

So, this is real. It was not a one-day hissy fit. I don`t know that it`s going to amount to a huge movement, but there are early indicators that it was not just a one day phenomenon.

MATTHEWS: And people have skin in the game now. They were there. They want to come back. That`s what I think.

STOKOLS: We`re just talking about the Orwellian aspects of this new administration. It`s a version to accepting basic obvious fact.

MATTHEWS: News speak.

STOKOLS: That`s right. All facts. Well, keep an eye on this crackdown that is just beginning on agencies. Trump`s favorite mode of communication, Twitter. But they are cracking down on government federal agencies on Twitter.

Tonight, Badlands National Park, check the Twitter feed, out there tweeting scientifically proven facts about climate science, those tweets all disappeared moments after people on the Internet starting taking note of them.

MATTHEWS: So, we have a gag order here.

STOKOLS: That`s what it looks like.

MATTHEWS: Francesca?

CHAMBERS: Well, this afternoon, President Trump met with Senate leaders about his Supreme Court nominee, which the White House says a name will be out early next week. The keyword coming out of that meeting this afternoon though was mainstream. You have Chuck Schumer still saying that he`s not going to vote for anyone that`s one out of the mainstream. You had Chuck Grassley coming out of the meeting saying that they`re all within the mainstream. So, the definition of mainstream seams to be what`s at debate here, and no one seems defining it.

MATTHEWS: I can`t wait to hear in the scripts.

Anyway, thank you, Heidi Przybyla, Eli Stokols and Francesca Chambers.

When we come back, the director of the great movie "Hidden Figures", which is nominated today for three Academy Awards, including best picture.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Well, the Oscar nominations came out today and the great film "Hidden Figures" was nominated for three Academy Awards, including best picture, best adapted screenplay and best supporting actress for the great Octavia Spencer.

Well, last month, I interviewed the stars of the movie along with producer Pharrell Williams and director Ted Melfi.

And here`s what Octavia Spencer told me at that time about portraying the Jim Crow era in the movies.


OCTAVIA SPENCER, ACTRESS: Jim Crow is a very difficult time to immerse yourself in but when you`re doing a period film, we have agency as contemporary women that African-American women did not have in the Jim Crow era. So, there`s something wonderful to be said about the solidarity that we felt on the set, very insulated.

Ted created a safe place for us to work and have fun.


MATTHEWS: Well said. Well, director Ted Melfi joins me right now from Los Angeles. He was nominated today for co-writing the adapted screenplay.

Congratulations, sir. And more importantly, congratulations on the box office.

I`ve got some fairly conservative relatives, and I`ve got to tell you, they love this movie and it`s amazing. This is not some movie if you only like going to African-American movies, if there is such a thing. This is a movie that is just spectacularly fascinating and inspiring. I think people walked out of the room feeling great about -- well, life, maybe. Tell me about it.

TED MELFI, DIRECTOR, "HIDDEN FIGURES": Yes, it`s been, like, a wild, inspiring ride. You know, we`ve gotten texts from Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee. It`s crossing the aisles. Teachers were taking kids, buying out theaters, schools are -- it`s just been remarkable.

It`s been such a -- so inspiring seems like it`s been a catalyst for change in the country and a catalyst for women and kids to think about math and science, engineering degrees. I don`t know, it`s just been -- it`s been overwhelming.

MATTHEWS: Well, you must have known in writing the screenplay that it is the American story, the underdog, the person that`s overlooked, the person who has to make the run at the end, who has to really surprise everybody and this one, they`d already done it but nobody knew about it. That`s the amazing story here for Americans.

MELFI: Yes, it seems like the country -- you know, 65 percent of our audience and 35 percent is other. So, like the entire country embracing this story as an American story, which is also have been uplifting for us and wonderful to watch.

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s the way you put it together. I think you put it together in a way that was inclusive. Anyway, let`s watch a scene from the movie "Hidden Figures."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How did you know the Redstone couldn`t support orbital flight. That`s classified information. It`s top secret.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, it`s no secret why the Redstone tests keep failing. Numbers don`t lie.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You figured all that out with this? Half the data is redacted.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, what`s there tells a story if you read between the lines.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You did the math?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you know about the Atlas rocket? That`s not math. That data is not here, like you said, it`s classified.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I held it up to the light.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You held it up to the light?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, there it is.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Atlas. What`s your name?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you a spy, Catherine?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I said, are you a Russian spy?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, sir. I`m not Russian.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She`s not Russian, sir.


MATTHEWS: Little humor there, right? She`s not Russian, sir.

I mean, it`s great stuff. It`s great humor in it and pathos and, you know, white people like me, you learn something even in a movie about life and about the situation back then, especially where these women, as I said, with Pharrell the other night when we had him on with you guys that you don`t know what it`s like to not have a colored woman`s bathroom within running distance of where you work everyday. You have to find what building it`s in. It`s like a horror story.

MELFI: Yes, what these women went through to achieve what they achieved is tremendous. I mean, to think that they drink at different water fountains and went to lunches, different cafeteria, went to the bathroom a quarter mile away and still put their heads down and helped put a man in space. I mean, it`s the ultimate "Rocky" story.

MATTHEWS: It is that. Thank you so much, Ted Melfi.

Good luck. I hope everybody watching goes to see this movie, it`s going to make you happy.

When we return, let me finish the Academy Award nominations across the board. I got a lot of the thoughts in the movies. You know I go.

And this is watching -- well, you`re watching HARDBALL right now.


MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with the Academy Award nominations today.

First, some nominees I recommend you see, "La La Land", because if this movie doesn`t float your boat, you`ve got pretty bad holes in it. It`s about Hollywood and hope and talent and what really matters, the willingness to believe in it. So, see it if you want to see Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone dance together.

"Hidden Figures" is an American success story of another kind, about the people who make us great, the people who get passed over when the spotlight turns, but truly make all the difference. Just go see it, it will thrill you.

"Moonlight" is about the mystery of who we are and maybe, too, what we want. It`s a quiet look at the lives we lead so alone, so in the dark, so deep with life long drama.

"Hell or High Water" is pure country Americana. Jeff Bridges is always great. In this movie, Ben Foster is better. I don`t care if he wasn`t nominated, he should have been.

I haven`t seen "Fences" yet but I`m big on Denzel Washington and August Wilson. I`ve seen his plays and Viola Davis. But my wife Kathleen was crying after she saw the movie.

There`s a lot of buzz about the many men and women of color among this year`s Oscar nominees. That`s good. What`s really good are the movies they`re in.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.