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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 2/14/2017

Guests: Susan Page, David Ignatius, Glenn Thrush, Claire McCaskill, Ashley Parker, Matt Schlapp, Ruth Marcus, John Stanton, Indira Lakshmanan

Show: HARDBALL Date: February 14, 2017 Guest: Susan Page, David Ignatius, Glenn Thrush, Claire McCaskill, Ashley Parker, Matt Schlapp, Ruth Marcus, John Stanton, Indira Lakshmanan CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  How deep does this go?

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.  Well, today, NBC reported that President Trump failed to tell Vice President Mike Pence that despite all the White House denials, national security director Mike Flynn did, in fact, speak with the Russian ambassador about those sanctions that Obama slapped on Russia for interfering with our elections.

Well, for two weeks, the vice president thought he was right when he told the country that Flynn never discussed sanctions with the Russian envoy.  The VP only learned the truth, by the way, five days ago, all which raises the question, what were Trump and Flynn talking about all the this time?  Before Flynn called the Russians, after he called Russians and ever since, was Trump in cahoots with Flynn, or was Flynn out there all alone opening up this new era of good relations with Vladimir Putin all by himself?

Well, today, explaining why Flynn was fired, Sean Spicer confirmed reports that the acting general told the Trump White House about Flynn`s conversations with the ambassador.  Spicer also made clear that the White House does not believe Flynn did anything that constituted a legal violation.

Let`s watch.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  The acting attorney general informed the White House counsel that they wanted to give, quote, "a heads- up to" us on some comments that may have seemed in conflict with what the - - he had sent the vice president out, in particular.

The White House counsel informed the president immediately.  The President asked him to conduct a review of whether there was legal situation there.  That was immediately determined that there wasn`t.  That was what the president believed at the time, from what he had been told, and he was proved to be correct.  The issue, pure and simple, came down to a matter of trust

QUESTION:  That is not a problem, that General Flynn discussed sanctions with the Russians?

SPICER:  No, there is -- as I -- I can`t say it clearly enough.  There was nothing in what General Flynn did in terms of conducting himself that was an issue.  What came down to, plain and simply, was him misleading the vice president and others and not having a firm grasp on his recollection of that.


MATTHEWS:  Well, Flynn`s conversation with the Russian ambassador took place December 29th, the same day the Obama administration unveiled new sanctions against Russia for messing with our elections.  And that conversation was first made public in mid-January by "The Washington Post" columnist David Ignatius.  In the days that followed, Trump officials, including Vice President Pence and spokesman Sean Spicer, denied sanctions were ever discussed in that conversation.

Democrats on Capitol Hill today called for an investigation.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER:  General Flynn`s resignation is not the end of the story, it is merely the beginning.  There needs to be an independent and transparent investigation because the White House knew for weeks that General Flynn misled the vice president and that discussion about sanctions with the Russian government could potentially compromise our national security because he was subject to blackmail.


MATTHEWS:  Well, meanwhile, "The New York Times" reported today that the FBI agents interviewed Michael Flynn last month after his conversation with the Russian ambassador.

I`m joined right now by "USA Today`s" Washington bureau chief Susan Page, "New York Times" White House correspondent Glenn Thrush and "Washington Post" columnist David Ignatius, who broke a lot of this story.

I guess this gets a little entangled.  And Hallie -- and Hallie Jackson, of course, is with us from -- let`s go to Hallie Jackson right now for the update on that.

Hallie, what grabs us -- and it`s almost like the television show "Veep," with Julia Dreyfus (ph).  You know, you go -- Louis Dreyfus.  You go, how can you not tell the vice president for two weeks that he was putting out the wrong story when he was told to put out the story that there was no discussions of sanctions in that conversation between Mike Flynn, the national security director, and the Russian ambassador, when, in fact, the White House knew, the president knew and never told the vice president that that was in the conversation?

HALLIE JACKSON, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Right.  And I mean, that was something that you saw on this network, Chris, is this idea that Vice President Pence did not -- you know, was apparently unaware that these inconsistencies existed.

I want to share some information with you, additional information that I`m getting in the last couple of minutes here from a White House official.  And excuse me for being out of breath from running over from the West Wing but -- and for looking at my iPad here.

But I found it interesting that according to this official, the vice president and Mike Flynn spoke on Friday about all of this.  So it was a day after "The Washington Post" story came out.  It was a day after, as we now have learned on the record the vice president learned all of this through media reports, likely that "Washington Post" report that came out on Thursday night, and a day after, according to the press secretary here in the White House, Mike Flynn modified his story, if you will, essentially, tacked on that sentence, you know, in addition to saying that he didn`t not believe he talked about election-related sanctions, saying, But I could be, you know, misremembering.  And I`m paraphrasing here, but saying that, I might have said something.   I`m not really sure.

You know, I asked about the attitude currently of Mike Flynn -- you know, sort of in the idea this is somebody who`s going to now come out and maybe speak publicly against the president.  But I am told that as of today, at least, he seemed rather upbeat, rather stoic about all this.

You may have seen that yesterday morning, there was interview that came out with the DailyCaller, which is an outlet that was published -- founded, rather, by Fox News`s Tucker Carlson, in which Flynn vigorously defended himself, said that he had the confidence of the president, said he crossed no lines in that conversation with the Russian ambassador and was particularly perturbed about leaks coming from inside the White House.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  OK.

JACKSON:  I am told that at that point, Flynn felt the ambiguity around his status had been lifting, which is interesting, given that not, you know, 12 hours later, we were already hearing that the president was evaluating Flynn`s position...


JACKSON:  ... and then, of course, the ultimate resignation -- Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Thanks.  Thanks so much, Hallie Jackson from the White House with scoop.

Let me go -- let me go back to David.  You put the dates together, January 26th, when the White House counsel was informed that there was a conversation about sanctions between Flynn and the Russian ambassador.  And then you put together (INAUDIBLE) last Friday.  That`s a hell of a differential in time.  That`s 14 days or so.

Is there any explanation why the White House never told the VP what was going on and let him go out there and tell the wrong story?

DAVID IGNATIUS, "WASHINGTON POST":  No.  And Sean Spicer said in the little clip that you showed that this is about a matter of trust.  And I think that there`s a reasonable question, especially for Mike Pence, whether he was trusted by President Trump.  President Trump withheld from him the same information that we`ve been upset, we`ve been writing about, Mike Flynn having withheld from him.  He allowed Pence to be out there advancing a narrative that we now know to have been false.

And the president similarly allowed -- allowed Mike Pence to be in that same situation.  Increasingly, Chris, as I look at this, I have the feeling that President Trump intended to try to ride this out until it became public, thanks to the reporting of "The Washington Post" last Thursday night.  And that -- I think that should...

MATTHEWS:  Your reporting, yes.

IGNATIUS:  ... bother people.

MATTHEWS:  I want to go to Glenn on this because if you look at -- if there were any moral justice in the world -- we don`t expect a whole lot in politics, at least not immediate justice -- you know, Pence should fire Trump for the same thing Trump fired Flynn, You didn`t tell me, you didn`t trust me, you give me the wrong story and let me hang on it.

GLENN THRUSH, "NEW YORK TIMES":  I would just point out that Mike Pence now has a fairly long track record of having to go out and defend the indefensible for Donald Trump.  I think this is what he signed up for.

You know, I talked -- I`ve been talking with his staff on and off for a couple of weeks about this.  I think there`s a lot of anger on his staff, and I think some of that came through to him.  I don`t think Mike Pence is expressing his anger to Donald Trump.  I think Mike Pence was expressing his anger to Flynn.

And the way that I heard it over the last couple of days is that even after this was proven, Flynn still wouldn`t give him a full apology.  Flynn was just saying, This could have been a mistake in my recollection.  And I think that`s what pushed Pence.

And we should say Pence is a remarkably slow man to anger, as we have seen...


THRUSH:  That is really what pushed him.  And I think that in addition to the headline that came out yesterday about the FBI investigation -- I think Trump -- your reporting is absolutely right.  I think Trump was totally willing to wait this out.  He was in no rush to get rid of Flynn.


THRUSH:  In fact, the main reason he didn`t want to get rid of Flynn is because it looked bad getting rid of your national security adviser three weeks into the game, not because of any special loyalty.  But once these headlines started piling up, he had Pence on his back, I think that made it all inevitable.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Susan, I guess the big question -- you write all the front page stories for "USA Today," and you guys know the big front page, the A section stuff.  Is the big story here that Flynn blew it, he didn`t tell the truth?  Or is the big story there`s remaining murkiness about our relations between -- between Trump and Putin?

Putin was helping Trump win the election.  That`s all established fact.  We put sanctions on him for having done so.  There was a conversation now we know of between -- between Trump`s guy, Flynn, and Putin`s guy, the ambassador, about how things are going to be nice or something.  We all can figure that out.

This possibility that Trump`s people were in cahoots at some point with Putin when Putin decided to put his thumb on the scale.  That to me is the big scandal, if there is one, in this whole piece that will go down in the history books, that there was collusion at some level, passively at least, between the Trump people and the guy helping them win the election over in Moscow.  That`s to me the big story.

SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY":  You know, the...

MATTHEWS:  Or it`s not.

PAGE:  That`s right.  And the fact is, General Flynn doesn`t matter.  What matters is the president.  And why has he had this attitude from -- through the campaign and as president to have this remarkable deference to Russia.  And I would just say I think the cause and effect is the reverse on -- in terms of leaks.  I think the fact that the president wasn`t going to act prompted people to be willing to leak.  And now he`s mad at the leaks because they forced him to act, but that is going to be a signature of his presidency.

PAGE:  Yes.

PAGE:  You know, this is the way in which institutional Washington can push back...

MATTHEWS:  You mean political people in the NSC, people that can talk to the press.

PAGE:  Or in the State Department or...


PAGE:  You know, there was one...


MATTHEWS:  Will you interpret what Trump means?  If you`re a Trumpster out there, you`re a real gung-ho Trump guy or woman, and he`s saying to you, You know, I didn`t do anything wrong here.  The press just leaks.  But if anybody knows what leaking means, it`s not creating a story, it`s revealing it.

PAGE:  That`s right.

MATTHEWS:  And so the...

PAGE:  It`s forcing action...


MATTHEWS:  Leakers are talking to the reader, the person out there.  They`re serving the person, the leaker.  You know, they`re blowing the whistle on somebody.  And somebody blew the whistle on Trump and that whole team were doing, covering up what Flynn had been talking about, Glenn.

I would think, if I were a person out there and felt alienated, I`d say, Thank God somebody`s looking out for me and leaking me what`s really going on in D.C. because that`s what Trump said he would stop, the secrecy and elitism of Washington.

THRUSH:  Well, now you have secrecy without elitism, right?


THRUSH:  I mean -- and I think these leaks -- I would extend the universe of leakers beyond NSC and other civil service career staff.  His own people leak on him to communicate with him.  You can`t argue with Donald Trump across the Resolute desk in the Oval Office.  It doesn`t work.  You either lose your job, or you say, Thank you, sir, and walk out of the room.  The way that you communicate...

MATTHEWS:  You rat him out afterwards.

THRUSH:  The way you communicate with him -- and we have heard his aides say this -- is to go on the -- either go on the Sunday shows, go on this program...

PAGE:  Yes.

THRUSH:  ... and commute with him that way, or now in the most time-honored Washington tradition, leak unsatisfactory facts, let the pressure build, and then you can force a result.

MATTHEWS:  OK, back to you, David, because it`s your reporting here that`s created -- moved history along here.  Trump blames you, basically, for putting in stories in "The Washington Post," which is doing a hell of a job on this whole front, and so`s "The New York Times."  You guys are battling it out like the old days.   I love it because we`re getting great coverage.  You had the story last night.  You must have been up all night with it...


MATTHEWS:  The guy`s gone.  It`s great stuff!

IGNATIUS:  It`s -- it`s...


IGNATIUS:  It`s been a good time for our business.  We`re doing our job.  It does worry me that the president has now identified illegal leaking as the thing he`s most worried about.  It also worries me that Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the same thing today.  So there`s an attempt to focus on the leaking of information, not the underlying behavior.  That`s worrying.

Let me just note one interesting thing that came out in the last 24 hours.  We now know that Jim Comey, the director of the FBI was reluctant to allow the acting attorney general, Sally Yates, to give this information to the White House showing that Mike Pence had been lied to because she was afraid that the White House would interfere with the FBI`s ongoing investigation...

MATTHEWS:  She was afraid, or Comey was afraid?

IGNATIUS:  Comey was afraid.  Comey said, Madam acting attorney general, don`t give them this information.  He later changed his mind.  What does that tell you?  It tells you that the director of the FBI is worried that the White House is going to sabotage an ongoing legal investigation.  That`s really disturbing.


MATTHEWS:  ... a lot people on the left, the progressive side of the politics who watch this show a lot and -- they would be surprised because they thought Comey had his finger on the scale against Hillary Clinton, for Trump.  Now I think he`s a institutionalist myself.  And this would bear that out, right?

IGNATIUS:  Well, I think it means that he wants to preserve the integrity of this investigation.  We should all -- all -- I mean, the only way we`re going to get out of this thicket is that these investigations are completed and there are facts...

PAGE:  Yes.

IGNATIUS:  ... the public accepts.  And that`s what Comey`s trying to do, and he was trying to protect that.

PAGE:  I think that is -- but I think that`s true of calculation being made by the intelligence community on what information they give the White House, what information they give about sources of information, because of concern about -- you don`t really know what the story is behind this administration`s attitude toward Russia.

THRUSH:  And I think what you`re starting to see -- and this is the really dangerous dynamic for the president.  You`re starting to see Roy Blunt in the Senate, on the Republican side, Lindsey Graham, who`s always been a bit of an outlier, and now some indication that Mitch McConnell might be open to a larger investigation.  We already have the intel committees looking into this stuff.  The further that moves down the road, the bigger the trouble for the president.

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) by the way, congratulations for "Saturday Night Live" and Bobby Moynihan (ph) playing a much larger size version of you, I must say.  Let me as you about...

THRUSH:  I`m bigger than life.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Chuck Schumer came out today, and Chuck Schumer showed a bit of (INAUDIBLE) coming out and say -- We want the Justice Department to do this, but we don`t want -- we don`t want Jeff Sessions doing it.  So you have one of these recusal kind of things.  Is that the strongest danger to this White House, it`s done as a -- as a criminal investigation by the Justice Department?  Is that the thing that would really scare them?

THRUSH:  Oh, I think it would scare the hell out of them.  You know, I also think -- remember, this entire crew that got Donald Trump election, when you go to Kellyanne Conway, Dave Bossie, this entire group of people, Bannon -- they`re Clinton hunters from the 1990s.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, yes.

THRUSH:  And so they understand the danger of appointing a special prosecutor better than anybody!  It is -- it would be, I should say because we`re not up the road yet, one of the richest ironies and perhaps the biggest consolation prize for the Clintons if it moved into the direction of a special prosecutor.

MATTHEWS:  And they all remember Phil Rheines, who`s the presidents guy for Hillary Clinton -- he`s already put out (INAUDIBLE) his tweet, you know, because he`s a -- he`s -- you know, you got what you paid for, basically.  What goes around comes around, an old Washington expression.  The Hillary people are actually -- I`m not knocking them.  They`re thrilled with this stuff.  And maybe they should be.

Thanks, Susan Page, Glenn Thrush, David Ignatius, who made the news this week.

Coming up, reaction from Capitol Hill.  Democrats are calling for investigations, as we said.  The chairman of the House Oversight Committee says there`s no need to investigate Flynn and his Russian ties.  Of course you would say that.  How long can Republicans hold the line on that baby?  Tonight, cracks are starting to form.  The truth may come out here.

Plus, with Flynn out after just 25 days, it`s worth remembering what he said about Hillary Clinton, as I said, last summer.  Catch this for those of you who believe in (INAUDIBLE) might call getting even, at the Republican convention.


GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN, U.S. ARMY (RET.):  ... a tenth, a tenth of what she did, I would be in jail today!  Crooked Hillary Clinton, leave this race now!



MATTHEWS:  He was leading the "lock her up" number.  Anyway, more of that ahead.  And maybe a lot more of that ahead.

And tonight, inside the White House, upheaval is becoming the new normal, a resignation at the highest level, actually a firing, a power struggle in the West Wing and a slew of leaks, as we said.  Can Trump keep this going?

Finally, let me finish with "Trump Watch" for this Tuesday night.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS:  Well, guess who came to lunch at the White House today?  New Jersey governor Chris Christie.  Christie was shut out of a job in the Trump administration in part because of his role prosecuting the father of President Trump`s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.  But with the White House now in turmoil, could Christie get another chance?  White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the conversation today had to do with combating drug abuse.  Well.

We`ll be right back.



SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA:  I would like to know, did he just do this as a rogue General Flynn, that he just decided to call the Russians up one day and say, we`re going to have a different view on sanctions, don`t worry about it, or did it come from somebody else in the White House?


MATTHEWS:  That`s exactly my question for Senator Graham there.  That`s what I`m thinking.  Who set him up?  Who got Mike Pence on the phone with the Russian ambassador?

That was Senator Lindsey Graham asking some of the same unanswered question looming today everywhere in the wake of Lieutenant General Michael Flynn`s resignation.  Actually, he was pushed to resign as national security adviser. 

In addition to the FBI-led counterintelligence inquiry into potential contacts between Trump aides and Kremlin officials, there are also investigations under way in various committees up on the Congress. 

Republican Senator Roy Blunt, a Republican, told a Saint Louis radio station today that Flynn should be questioned by the Intelligence Committee as soon as possible. 

Here`s Blunt.


SEN. ROY BLUNT (R), MISSOURI:  The Senate Intelligence Committee is looking at this.  I would think we should talk to General Flynn very soon.  And that should answer a lot of questions. 

What did he know, what did he do, and is there any reason to believe that anybody else knew that and didn`t take the kind of action they should have taken?


MATTHEWS:  While members of both parties, Democrats and Republicans, clearly want answers, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer went further today and called upon law enforcement, the Justice Department, to conduct an independent investigation. 

I`m joined right now by Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

Thank you, Senator. 

As a former prosecutor, I just want to get your thinking on this.  The big question that leaps to mind all day, or certainly late today, was what Lindsey Graham, the senator from South Carolina raised, which is, does anybody think that Mike Flynn went out there all alone and established this cordial relationship with the Russian government, where he`s up there chatting away about sanctions or whatever else on the phone, without any leave from the new president?

Hey, get on the phone and work this guy.  Just tell them we didn`t like what they did in the campaign.

It just seems to me that Putin`s guy talking to Trump`s guy would both be on a leash of some kind.  They wouldn`t be just having this get-together across the line there between two countries. 

Your thoughts? 

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI:  Well, and, as a former prosecutor, that brings up so many other questions.

How many times had General Flynn talked to people in Russia during the campaign?  What, if anything, happened when he was in Russia in 2015?  What kind of contacts were there?  Surely, it was not a coincidence that the leaked material from Podesta`s e-mails came out two hours after the tape started being played of what Donald Trump said on that bus about grabbing women. 

This is all -- all of this has to be looked at.  And the public has a right to see it. 

And the double standard, Chris, that is going on right now is stunning.  Keep in mind that Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, issued 70 subpoenas after the head of the FBI announced there was no criminal activity involved with Hillary Clinton`s e-mail server.  That was after.  He still issued 70 subpoenas.

So, the notion that there`s no subpoenas, there are public hearings going on, there are not these questions being asked, and certainly the answers are not being provided in a public forum, demands that we have a select committee that looks at all of this and lets the public make up their mind as to whether or not this administration can be trusted. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you the question that Lindsey Graham raised, the senator from South Carolina again.  And it`s a question on everybody`s head. 

If you put all this together, these dots, if you will, from the beginning, we know it is an established fact that the Russians, Putin, helped defeat Hillary Clinton. 

We know it by leaking all that stuff out of the DNC.  They didn`t leak it out of the RNC, just the DNC.  We all know.  And because of that established fact -- again, not fake facts, alternative facts, not fake news, reality -- the last administration under President Obama went out and put some of these sanctions. 

They made some people persona non grata.  They sent some people home.  They were probably spooks to begin with, but they sent them home to Moscow. 

So, this is all fact.  And it`s also a fact now that Mike Flynn was on the phone with the Russian ambassador talking about sanctions, and I guess also talking about the new administration and their reaction to those sanctions, whether they would lift them or not.

Do we have enough evidence here already as fact that there`s been an interesting relationship, intriguing, mysterious, maybe illegal relationship, between this new administration and the Russians?  Do we have enough to go with an investigation now? 

MCCASKILL:  Absolutely. 

And keep in mind that, in December, there was a bipartisan call for a select committee that could look at this, because, as you know, Chris, in the Senate, every committee has jurisdiction, but no committee has jurisdiction over all of this. 

That`s why select committees are formed, so that we can look at the CIA and the FBI and the military all in one setting. 

Well, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan said, no, let`s do it in the Intelligence Committees. 

Now, what do the Intelligence Committees mean?  It means that this is all not done in public. 


MCCASKILL:  And I think -- I think there was an effort to try to tamp this down, look the other way.

And that`s what is really a problem here.  I don`t know what the facts -- all the facts are at there point.  And I want the truth to come out.  But for these Republicans who spent days and days and millions and millions of dollars over repeated hearings around Hillary Clinton`s e-mail server...

MATTHEWS:  Public, televised hearings. 

MCCASKILL:  Yes.  That`s...

MATTHEWS:  They all wanted them publicized.  They didn`t want to do anything in private.

MCCASKILL:  They all wanted -- that`s exactly right.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MCCASKILL:  And so that`s why I think it`s really important that we apply the same standard.

People in America are sick of this rabid partisanship, that, if it`s one party, it gets investigated, if it`s the other party, we look the troops way.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MCCASKILL:  Let`s do this above-board, by the book, and have the investigation that can reassure.  I think, frankly, the Trump administration ought to welcome it, because how are they going to govern with this cloud over them until all this gets cleared up?

MATTHEWS:  I love it that we have senators from a state, a purple state like Missouri, so we can actually hear something near reasonable.

Anyway, before his short tenure in the White House, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn was an outspoken critic of Hillary Clinton.  Here`s his speech at the Republican Convention last summer.  He called her reckless and careless.

And, well, watch this.  Watch this quote about lock her up.  He led the cheers. 


MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER:  We do not need a reckless president who believes she is above the law. 

AUDIENCE:  Lock her up!  Lock her up! 

FLYNN:  Lock her up.  That`s right.  Yes, that`s right.  Lock her up. 

I have called on Hillary Clinton to drop out of the race because she -- she put our nation`s security at extremely high risk with her careless use of a private e-mail server. 

If I -- a guy who knows this business, if I did a tenth, a tenth of what she did, I would be in jail today. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, we will see where that one goes.

Anyway, did you notice the way he said "she"?  He didn`t like that word "she," did he, Senator?


MATTHEWS:  Maybe I`m being too Freudian here, but I thought it was an odd way he kept saying, with disgust, the pronoun "she."

Anyway, what do you think?


And maybe I`m old-fashioned. 

MATTHEWS:  You`re not old-fashioned.  Go ahead.

MCCASKILL:  But working on the Armed Services Committee, I really value the fact that our military leaders really try to avoid partisanship. 

So, it was stunning to me that General Flynn was so partisan and, I think, reckless in the way he participated in the campaign.  If you`re going to lead this nation in the area of national security, you have to conduct yourself in a very dignified way...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MCCASKILL:  ... and make sure the American people don`t think you are trying to play sides, but rather you`re trying to protect them.

And I thought he was an odd choice for that job in the first place, given some of the things he did during the campaign. 

MATTHEWS:  He reminded me of "A Tale of Two Cities."  He was playing Madame Defarge, the one...


MATTHEWS:  ... sewing the shroud for her enemy.

Anyway, thank you so much, Senator Claire McCaskill of the state of Missouri.

MCCASKILL:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  I`m joined right now by MSNBC political analyst Michael Steele, former chair -- another moderate voice, sir.  Thank you. 


MATTHEWS:  It`s interesting to watch Roy Blunt, who is a regular Republican...

STEELE:  Yes.  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... established Republican, and Lindsey Graham, because I think most people, they`re all looking for what I think people call deep history.  There`s a pattern of this thing.

And knowing Trump`s ego, it`s not especially evil, but can we imagine him not responding to the Cupid`s arrow coming across from Moscow and not responding to this -- he gave him the election?

STEELE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Don`t you think he would respond and say, well, we will look out for you down the road or something?

So I don`t think it`s surprising that Mike Flynn was on the horn talking to the Russian ambassador about, well, we will walk these sanctions Obama put on.  We will work this...

STEELE:  Right.  We will work it out.  And I think that...

MATTHEWS:  And then lying about it.

STEELE:  That`s the problem.  It is that phone call on the day he placed it that relates back to the campaign, given everything that we know so far that has been in the public.

I think the administration has a view that if it can just go away and we not deal with it...

MATTHEWS:  Well, that`s what David Ignatius, who broke this story, said. 

STEELE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  It looked like the president sat on it for 11 to 14 days and didn`t even tell his V.P., and let his V.P. keep telling the false story. 

STEELE:  Right.  Right, because the thinking was, it would go away.


STEELE:  What they didn`t anticipate correctly was that the press would follow the bread crumbs in the story.


STEELE:  And it would reveal what has now led to the...

MATTHEWS:  I like that, the bread crumbs.  I like that.

STEELE:  Yes.  They followed the bread crumbs.

MATTHEWS:  It`s Grimm`s fairy tales.

STEELE:  Yes, you know? 


STEELE:  ... in the oven.


STEELE:  So, here we are. 

So, I think the call by commonsense Republicans, Republicans who understand that there`s a political consequence that could be paid from this as well, that they want to get this out in the open.  This is not the best way -- this is no way to start an administration. 

MATTHEWS:  Who can walk into the room tell the president, do the right thing here?

STEELE:  That`s -- now, that`s the question.  That`s the question. 

MATTHEWS:  Get it behind you, brother.

STEELE:  Where is the Howard Baker in this lot...


STEELE:  ... who has, at a critical moment, not to go tell the president to resign or get impeached and all that, but to go in that room and say, we have got a problem and we need -- we need to deal with it?

MATTHEWS:  The only way you can -- the problem with that is, it was the problem with Nixon in Watergate.  It got so deep, he couldn`t get out of it.

STEELE:  He couldn`t get out. 

MATTHEWS:  Because if they had said that to him and say, Mr. president, don`t be so pious with us, you`re the guy that got him on the phone in the first place, if that`s the case.

STEELE:  Right. 

Well, and that figure can do that now, if that figure -- is it Paul Ryan? 

MATTHEWS:  If that is true.

STEELE:  We will see.  Is it Mitch McConnell?  We will find out. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Mike Flynn knows it all.

STEELE:  But Mike Flynn knows it all.

MATTHEWS:  He knows it. 

STEELE:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  And he`s off and loose right now.

Thank you, Michael Steele.  I love the fact that Roy Blunt said, get to him fast...

STEELE:  Get to him fast.

MATTHEWS:  ... before he builds a story up. 

STEELE:  That`s right. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next: turmoil and upheaval in the White House we`re talking about.  We just over three weeks into the Trump administration, but is this normal?  Is this the new normal?  It`s certainly not the regular normal.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is. 



DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Now, this just came out.  This just came out.  WikiLeaks.  I love WikiLeaks. 


TRUMP:  You have to go back to WikiLeaks.  Oh, WikiLeaks.



MATTHEWS:  What an ironic turn of events that represents.

Anyway, as a candidate, as you saw, President Trump loved the rolling disclosure of hacked e-mails known as WikiLeaks that unleashed damaging information on his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton.  He loved them.  He waved them around.  This is another leak.

But now the president, President Trump, is blaming what he calls illegal leaks for the downfall of his national security adviser, Michael Flynn. 

President Trump tweeted this morning, for example: "The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington?  Will these leaks be happening as I deal on North Korea, et cetera?"

Well, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer reiterated the president`s concern -- of course he does -- that`s what he does -- he reiterates -- in his briefing this afternoon. 


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  But I think there`s also a story here, when the amount of leaks that are coming out of people that are entrusted with national security secrets and classified information are leaking it out.  That`s a real concern for this president. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, President Trump`s allies on the right are also blaming leaks for the drama unfolding at the White House.  They`re also joining in this.  Here they go. 


LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  But I think this really was the death by a thousand leaks.  We have seen...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The leaks, exactly. 

INGRAHAM:  ... a leak problem, which I think -- we wrote about this maybe three or four weeks ago.


INGRAHAM:  The leaks that were coming out of this administration and the transition before the administration were at a level that I don`t remember seeing for quite some time. 

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN:  Those are the questions that have to be asked.  Who tapped the phones?  Who was listening to it?  Who leaked it?

I think those are legitimate questions to ask.  And leaks of this nature are incredibly damaging to America, to our national security, and we need to look into it. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, "The Washington Post" reports -- quote -- "Upset about damaging leaks of his calls with world leaders and other national security information, Trump has ordered an internal investigation to find the leakers."

I think Nixon tried that.

Republican strategist and former Bush White House official Steve Schmidt told "The Washington Post" -- quote -- "None of this is normal.  The incompetence, the sloppiness and the leaking is unprecedented."

Matt Schlapp is president of the American Conservative Union and a former political director to George W. Bush.  Ashley Parker is a White House correspondent for "The Washington Post."

I have got to start with Ashley, because leaking is from one end a way for people in the government, whether they`re political appointments or civil service people, to let the public know stuff.  Their constituency is the public, who wants to know what is going on.  And they tell them.

Whether they`re doing it properly or not, at least they know who they are serving.  They are serving the public.  And reporters carry the news. 

I`m making your case, I think. 


MATTHEWS:  But that`s what you do, I think, for a living, is try to let people in the government tell the country what`s really going on. 


Well, there`s a long tradition, as you know, in history of whistle-blowing.  But I would also try to make a distinction between leaks and what has been quite good reporting by "The Washington Post" and other news organization to kind of ferret out the truth of what actually is going on in this White House and, for instance, what General Flynn may or may not have discussed with the Russian ambassador. 

So, it is a combination, of course, of people being willing to talk to us, but also reporters being quite dogged in trying to tease out the truth that the White House doesn`t necessarily want out there. 

MATTHEWS:  Matt, how do we -- I don`t think the public cares about leaks.  I know people in government, presidents...


MATTHEWS:  Nixon went -- he created the plumbers because of leaks.

SCHLAPP:  Reagan hated it.  He told Casey to go investigate the leaks.  It`s -- they hate it. 

MATTHEWS:  And, by the way, you can`t check the e-mail, because nobody is a doofus enough to e-mail leaks.

SCHLAPP:  Yes.  That`s exactly right.

MATTHEWS:  You do it on the phone sotto voce on a cell phone somewhere in the bathroom, wherever you go to do it.  I don`t know where...

SCHLAPP:  There might be a couple doofuses that might do that.  I don`t know.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you make of this fight? 

Trump is caught.  He`s caught -- his national security chief, former national security chief, Mike Flynn, was talking to the Russian -- the Russian ambassador about what is -- how things are going to be different and whatever regarding these sanctions.

That`s maybe not a Logan Act violation, but it`s a little bit murky.  And now the president gets mad because we know about it.  Well, the president wasn`t going to tell us.  He wouldn`t even tell his vice president.  So, how can he blame the media for telling the public, when he is keeping it secret from everybody?

SCHLAPP:  Yes, I think it`s painful for the president, because I actually think he really likes General Flynn.  I think they got to be pretty good friends and colleagues.

MATTHEWS:  He doesn`t trust him.

SCHLAPP:  Look, I think he got caught in a...

MATTHEWS:  He says, I don`t trust the guy. 

SCHLAPP:  He got -- exactly.  He got caught in a bad position, because General Flynn changed his answer.

And he made the vice president go out there with the wrong story.  And I think, eventually, that just wasn`t lasting.  And he had to take steps and he accepted the resignation.  I think it`s actually the right thing for him to do. 

It`s amazing how people are criticizing him for doing this.  The Donald Trump most people on the left would criticize would be the guy who wouldn`t accept the fact that it`s time to move on.  And he did.  He accepted the resignation.

MATTHEWS:  Well, there`s still the great story out there, Ashley.

And that`s to what extent did the president know about these conversations or conversation with the Russians, because, of course, Trump must be thrilled that he got elected president.  Who wouldn`t be?  And he must understand that one of the reasons he was elected at the last minute was all this leaking about the DNC by the Russians, all the hacking.

That was a factor, determined by the last administration as worthy of sanctions against Russia.  And then to have his guy talking about those sanctions with the Russians, are we to believe Trump knew none of this, any of it? 

PARKER:  Well, if you look at what`s been reporter, and it is still sort of unfolding in real-time, but after Vice President Pence went out and defended Flynn that the Department of Justice then went to the White House counsel`s office said, you know, Flynn has not been honest with the vice president, and in the process, he has compromised himself.  And apparently, that was conveyed to the president that evening. 

It`s still little unclear the full scope of what was conveyed.  So, for about two weeks, the president has known these conversations have gone on to at least some extent. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, and he kept it to himself. 

How is this Pence thing working out? 

MATT SCHLAPP, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR:  I think it`s working out great. 

MATTHEWS:  Even though the president doesn`t tell him what`s going on. 

SCHLAPP:  Well, I think, look, I think -- we don`t know exactly what the president was told obviously. 

MATTHEWS:  We know that Pence, the vice president, know about these things, he heard in the papers. 

SCHLAPP:  He didn`t commit a crime.  There was nothing illegally.  What he did is he probably just (INAUDIBLE) lied and the president was having trouble figure out how to -- how does he handle this and he decided that the gave him the ultimate penalty, kicked him off the team. 

MATTHEWS:  He sure did.  And he called him untrustworthy.  That`s brutal.  That`s not good for your resume. 

SCHLAPP:  It`s the guy he respects.

MATTHEWS:  And by the way, we`re going to see if we have an enemy out there, too, now.  Anyway, but you don`t think he`ll have an enemy?

SCHLAPP:  Who will have an enemy?

MATTHEWS:  Trump will not have an enemy on Mike Flynn. 

SCHLAPP:  No, absolutely not. 

MATTHEWS:  We`ll see.  How he sweet talks it.

Anyway, Ashley Parker, thanks for your reporting and coming on.

Matt Schlapp, a good fellow.  He sometimes has to serve an unpleasant duty here.

Up next, a Flynn fall-out.  Where do things go from here?  The HARDBALL roundtable will be here next.

You`re watching HARDBALL, where the action is. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

It`s only -- well, it`s day 25 of the Trump administration.  It seems like longer than that, and the resignation of retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn last night has raised more questions than is answer, obviously. 

For more, I`m joined by our roundtable.  Ruth Marcus, columnist for "The Washington Post".  John Stanton, who`s senior national correspondent for "BuzzFeed News".  And Indira Lakshmanan, who`s a columnist with the "Boston Globe" now. 

I remember listening to you in NPR all those years. 

Anyway, Indira, I want you to start, and this is wide open roundtable.  Please talk to each other, talk among yourselves. 

I want to know where the story is going.  Last night about -- early in the evening, Kellyanne was out there defending it saying it was not going to happen.  So, she -- this all broke sometime late yesterday. 

All of a sudden, Flynn was fired.  He -- but that became clear today.  Last night, he resigned, what a noble act.  Today, he was fired because they don`t trust him. 

This story keeps developing hour by hour.  Where is it going?  Is it going to the question of the relationship between Donald Trump, his troops, including Flynn, and the Russians?  A cahoots relationship, something that was too tweet for the law and for us to like.  What`s it about?

INDIRA LASHKMANAN, BOSTON GLOBE:  I think it`s an inevitably going to what did Donald Trump know?  The obvious, of what`s become a cliche, and when did he know it? 

I think we have been asking that question since the campaign.  We have been asking about it with regard to Russian hacking about what did Donald Trump know.  But we have to also been asking the question about what did he know about that telephone call.  And to me and to all the former national security officials who I`ve talked to, Republicans and Democrats alike who worked in that National Security Advisers office, it absolutely strains credulity that an incoming national security adviser would not tell his president-elect what he is talking about.  And even if it`s not specifically about sanctions, even if it`s about the expulsion of these 35 Russian spies, there is no way he wouldn`t have talked to the president about that. 

So, I think what happens next is definitely the investigations that we`re going to see on the -- 

RUTH MARCUS, THE WASHINGTON POST:  He probably just inadvertently didn`t talk to the president about that.  I think Indira has got it right.  And you have to add to that, the fact that the president-elect tweeted after the Russians decided not to do a sort of tit-for-tat expulsion.  I always knew Vladimir Putin was smart. 

So, you know he was paying attention to this at the very same time that Sean Spicer tells us today.  Of course, not --

MATTHEWS:  So, Flynn might have just -- might have said to the president, you know why they didn`t retaliate because we chatted the other day and I calmed things down. 

JOHN STANTON, BUZZFEED NEWS:  Let`s look at this, this does sort of highlight a problem that for this administration, which is, if you look at what happened last night, right, Kellyanne Conway said he resigned.  He`s fallen on his sword.  Most administration would have sort of handled that.  But then there`s the story that comes out in "Politico" saying that it was really difficult for Trump, that he didn`t want to go to talk to Flynn.  And then, immediately, they come out and they`re like, oh, he fired him. 

MATTHEWS:  And fired him and admit what he called with, whatever -- 

MARCUS:  Extreme prejudice. 

MATTHEWS:  Extreme prejudice, that`s the old execution term.

STANTON:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  And they said because he wasn`t trustworthy.  Why did they through that on top if it? 


LAKSHMANAN:  Because he wasn`t. 

And not to mention they`ve known about it for weeks, even though Trump told the press on Air Force One and there`s video of it, that the press asked, what about these stories about Flynn?  And he said, what are you talking?  I don`t know about that.  We`re going to have to look into that.

MARCUS:  There`s so many different layers of arguments here and sort of elbowing, right?  There`s Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer elbowing.  There`s the Mike Pence --

MATTHEWS:  They`re elbowing each other?

MARCUS:  Well, they`re certainly not -- 

LAKSHMANAN:  The information is elbowing, right?

MARCUS:  Mike Pence, who has very good reason to feel seriously aggrieved in how this affects our relationship --

MATTHEWS:  You must have been watching a lot of "Veep" to get ready for this. 

MARCUS:  Not only -- 

MATTHEWS:  Julia Louis-Dreyfus never was told anything.

MARCUS:  Not only with the president, her meeting in the West Wing -- 


MARCUS:  But with others in the White House staff, I`m curious about whether there are other heads to roll in the White House staff, and the way in which this really ramps up the pressure on the Senate and Congress to investigate. 

STANTON:  They`re taking the cues from him and he seems to care about his appearance.  So, if he only he cares about --

MATTHEWS:  That`s what Ignatius said a few months ago in the show.  He said he would have kept this whole thing to himself.

The roundtable sticking with us.  And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.  This is getting interesting. 

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS:  Well, President Trump`s pick for labor secretary is now on shaky ground tonight.  The "Washington Post" is reporting that at least four Republican senators are on the fence now about whether to support Andrew Puzder.  They include Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Georgia`s Johnny Isakson, and Tim Scott of South Carolina, all are withholding judgment at this point. 

Plus, they may represent the Democrats` last best chance to pick off a Trump cabinet nominee. 

And we`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS:  We`re back with the HARDBALL round table. 

And starting off, Ruth, tell me something I don`t know. 

MARCUS:  So, Donald Trump has spent a lot of time complaining about how Democrats are obstructing confirmation of his nominees.  Well, guess what?  He`s going to have only himself to blame after the cabinet is finished.  There are only three deputies that have been identified of all the cabinet departments, to fill this void. 

And hardly anybody else is going to be home alone at all those agencies, so some of the -- if you thought --

MATTHEWS:  Whose fault is the fact -- don`t they have to -- doesn`t the Senate have to confirm those deputies? 

MARCUS:  Yes, the Senate can only confirm people if they`re nominated.  Nobody has been nominated.

MATTHEWS:  Is he leading up to the cabinet secretary?  Is the call on who to nominate as under secretary?

MARCUS:  No, he`s fighting with them.  You know, you saw with Elliott Abrams.  There`s a lot of division.  But when you don`t get that staff started, and it`s not just deputies.  It`s all the things down.  You`re going to have a government in continuing disarray. 


STANTON:  The House Republicans are asking EPA to begin an investigation on their scientists, alleging they`re using encrypted e-mails and other technology that makes it impossible to see what they`re using to communicate with each other, and they are alleging they are conspiring against the new EPA administrator. 

MATTHEWS:  People with brains are keeping to themselves. 

OK, Indira?

LAKSHMANAN:  I spent the day talking to House and Senate folks investigating Michael Flynn and you may not know, there are apparently transcripts of these conversations that he had with the Russian ambassador.  So, that is the next shoe to drop.

MATTHEWS:  When do we see that? 

LAKSHMANAN:  That is what the Democrats are pushing for.

MATTHEWS:  I want to read them. 

Anyway, Ruth Marcus, thank you.  John Stanton -- we want to know what he`s talking too the Russians about.  Indira Lakshmanan, thank you, from "The Boston Globe", from the hub. 

When we return, let me finish with Trump Watch.  You`re watching HARDBALL.  The hub.


MATTHEWS:  Trump watch, Tuesday, February 14, 2017. 

In Washington, the spectacle of a political hanging creates a good bit of Schadenfreude, that excellent German word for the feeling one gets when someone else is suffering and it`s not you.  It`s why I don`t like saying it, but I will.  Nobody in this city of Washington, D.C. is ever late for a hanging.  It`s the one show people will drop everything else in order not to miss.

And this, let`s accept it, is the reason why people get fired, because it grabs all the attention away from that big, bad story -- the guy doing the hanging would prefer you not ask too many questions about.  Is the big story here about Mike Flynn, or is it about the half-told mystery of what the Russians, Vladimir Putin, that is, were up to in the 2016 presidential elections?  And closer to home, what was his electoral beneficiary up to?  By that I mean our new president. 

Did Donald Trump`s team ever send a thank you note to Moscow?  Did they ever whisper that the Russian government should hold off on bad behavior toward us before the new team gets to town and makes things square between us?  Was there a message sent back to Putin that his kindness before November 8th would be rewarded after January 20? 

On that point, what was the deal between the Russian benefactor, Putin, and the American beneficiary, Donald Trump, during all those weeks?  Did Trump say nothing when he saw cupid`s arrow flying through the air?  Did he not respond at all when Vlad the Impaler impaled Hillary?  Or did he say something, send some note of gratitude that he might some day soon be called to explain?

It`s all interesting.  The dots are there.  We need someone to see if they`re connected, don`t you think?

Anyway, happy Valentine`s Day. 

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.