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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 2/15/2017

Guests: Jennifer Palmieri, John Brabender, Jay Newton-Small, Jeremy Ben-Ami, Mark Landler, Jenna Johnson, Jeff Greenfield, Tim Weiner

Show: Hardball with Chris Matthews Date: February 15, 2017 Guest: Jennifer Palmieri, John Brabender, Jay Newton-Small, Jeremy Ben-Ami, Mark Landler, Jenna Johnson, Jeff Greenfield, Tim Weiner

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Russian roulette.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

It`s getting a little wacky out there, don`t you think? Two days ago, President Trump sacked his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, saying he didn`t trust him. Well, today, 48 hours later, he said it was the media who booted him. Or was it the intel community?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Michael Flynn, General Flynn, is a wonderful man. I think he`s been treated very, very unfairly by the media, as I call it, the fake media in many cases. And I think it`s really a sad thing that he was treated so badly.


MATTHEWS: Well, again, Donald Trump is the man that fired Flynn, not the media. That`s not fake news. It`s just news. Just yesterday, his press secretary, Sean Spicer, said Flynn was terminated because he misled the vice president about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

Well, today`s wackiness comes on the day "The New York Times" broke news about communications between Russian officials and Trump campaign aides last year. Boy, that`s getting intriguing. According to the "Times" report, quote, "Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald Trump`s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates" -- that`s a great phrase -- "had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election."

Well, "The Times" notes that law enforcement officials have found no evidence of collusion yet between Trump`s aides and the Russians and it`s not known what was discussed in calls. And NBC News reports investigators have determined that while some Trump campaign aides and Trump business associates were in contact with Russians, there`s no indication those Russians were all intelligence officers.

Well, according to "The New York Times," one person picked up on the calls was Trump`s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. Manafort told NBC News he had, quote, "no contact knowingly with Russian intelligence officials."

Well, President Trump responded to the story this morning on Twitter, writing, "The fake news media is going crazy with their conspiracy theories and blind hatred" and, quote, "This Russian connection nonsense is merely an attempt to cover up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton`s losing campaign." This is like precious bodily fluids from "Dr. Strangelove."

In another setback for the Trump administration, late today, the president`s pick to be labor secretary withdrew his nomination. Andrew Puzder pulled out after it became clear he didn`t have the Republican votes he needed to win confirmation.

Joining me right now, "Washington Post" White House correspondent Jenna Johnson and "New York Times" White House correspondent Mark Landler. And of course, and also joining us, columnist for Politico and the DailyBeast, Jeff Greenfield.

Jeff, I want you to weigh in on this thing because I don`t think anybody`s seen anything quite like a president. This is strange because one day, he puts out the fact through his press secretary that he fired the guy, you know, with extreme prejudice, you must say, because he didn`t trust him. And now today, 24 hours after the press secretary speaks the thoughts of the president, he says, No, it was the media. Oh, yes, it was the intel community.

JEFF GREENFIELD, DAILYBEAST: Well, to paraphrase a question that will be asked around a lot of tables next month, why is this event not different from any other event? If you watched Trump in the last 15 months and you came out of that experience expecting a kind of studied, rational, coherent, consistent response to various realities, you just weren`t watching what was going on.

This is who he is. Sharks got to swim, bats got to fly. And Donald Trump got a lot further than any of us thought he would do by constructing his own sense of what`s real and what`s fake and what two plus two equals.

MATTHEWS: Well said. Let`s go to the two newspapers that are doing a bang-up job. This is like the old days of Chicago in the `30s. I just saw a front page, you know, with Nathan Lane (ph). You guys are battling it out. I`m not going to say who`s winning, but I`ll tell you that you`re each watching each other.

I`m want to start with Mark of "The Times." And this story, it just keeps growing. Let`s talk about your report, main story this morning on the right-hand side is always the main story, these contacts between Trump officials and Russians. Do we know what that means besides that those occurred -- those occurred?

MARK LANDLER, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I mean, we have to stipulate there`s a lot we don`t know. We don`t know the content of these conversations. You know, there`s no evidence, as you said earlier, of collusion between the Trump officials...

MATTHEWS: Well, they weren`t...


MATTHEWS: ... but they were something.

LANDLER: Absolutely. And they were coming at sort of key moments throughout the year before the election and after the election. So it suggests that this communication was an ongoing thing. This is, of course, what Democrats always suspected...


LANDLER: ... in the walkup to the election. And I think that the story really has new momentum. It was a sort of a -- I think, a bit of game changer in this story to establish that pattern of contact.

MATTHEWS: Well, we had the stuff over the water -- over the, you know, superstructure of this story is -- there you have a presidential candidate sort of cheering on Soviet intelligence, basically. Can you leak some more stuff about the DNC? Can you get some more stuff out about Hillary Clinton? So that`s done on the surface. So underneath, do we know how much waving on we were getting from the Trump people to the Russians...


MATTHEWS: ... to destroy the Hillary Clinton campaign as much as they could?

JOHNSON: ... this is the big question. What were these communications? And was there an attempt by the Russians to influence the election through Donald Trump himself?

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s talk about some people we know. Jeff, you get in here because you`re a New York guy and you know all this history of politics. What is Roger Stone doing in this mess? What is Manafort doing in this? How come Trump knows Manafort except through his Russian entanglements? Roger Stone used to be a business partner of Paul Manafort, Black, Manafort and Stone with Charlie Black. Why do they all know each other, is my question to start with?

GREENFIELD: You know, Chris, I`ve spent a fair amount of time writing political satire, and when you list things like that, and add about 90 others, I can`t answer that question. Certainly, Roger Stone has been at Donald Trump`s side. I remember him escorting Trump onto a convention floor several conventions ago when he was going to run for president and we all thought that was a joke.


LANDLER: The question about Paul Manafort, who was engaged in helping pro -- you mentioned Soviet, it`s funny that I had that same instinct to call them Soviets and not Russians -- pro-Russian Ukrainians. There`s so much entangled in this. And indeed, I think one of the things that has helped Trump is that the different skeins of this are so entangled and raise so many questions that it`s very hard to focus on any one strain and say that`s what we have to know.

The question I think really comes down to, are the Senate Republicans, who have looked at Trump as their instrument for getting a lot of good things done and have tended to overlook a lot of stuff -- are they beginning to see this as a series of questions institutionally that have to be answered?

MATTHEWS: Well, Senator John McCain today along those lines said the White House needs to clean up their act, and he told CNN he didn`t know if any laws were broken, but serious questions, he said, were raised by that "Times" report this morning.

And here`s Senator McCain.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We know that the Russians attempted to affect the outcome of our election. We know that, although we don`t think they succeeded. But the latest information in the media requires questions to be answered.

QUESTION: Do you think there`s any evidence of coordination between the Trump campaign and...

MCCAIN: It`s too early. I think it`s too early, but it raises serious questions.


MATTHEWS: Well, there`s McCain. Anyway, a real patriot. Also today, Senators Chuck Schumer -- actually, Chuck Grassley (INAUDIBLE) and Dianne Feinstein, the chair and ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to the Justice Department requesting information about Michael Flynn`s communications with Russian officials.

OK. We`re not there. I don`t see that element. We`re not getting that right now. Let me -- let me ask you about this two campaign (INAUDIBLE) Let`s start with the big one. Jen, I`m going to give you the big one.


MATTHEWS: There were two campaigns going on simultaneously last year. There was Trump`s campaign for president, an unlikely campaign with unlikely success. There was the Russian campaign led by Vladimir Putin to rebuild something of the old Soviet empire, to try to rebuild their influence, to perhaps finlandize -- finlandize -- take Crimea, finlandize Ukraine, regain that larger empire that they lost at the end of the cold war.

These are simultaneous campaigns, and the question historians are going to wonder, how were they working together?

JOHNSON: Well, there are a lot of similarities between how Putin thinks and acts and how Donald Trump thinks and acts. And there`s also a worldwide movement going on...

MATTHEWS: Nationalist thing.

JOHNSON: Yes, with a lot of people wanting to protect their borders and their way of life, and that`s playing out in a lot of countries.

MATTHEWS: Let`s stay on this particular thing, which is there`s an ambition -- the guy without the shirt on, the guy who thinks he`s Mr. Macho Man, the guy -- maybe he is like Trump -- trying to rebuild what the Soviets had and the Russians have lost...

LANDLER: Well...

MATTHEWS: ... with the help of the American president, perhaps, or something, some indirect shot at him.

LANDLER: And of course, the big question here is, leaving aside the personality traits that they do share in common, there is clearly a big question about why Donald Trump has consistently throughout, before, during and after the election taken positions that appear to favor the Russians, that appear to take a softer line. There was a very...

MATTHEWS: Oh, by the way, another soft line came from him because after Obama`s people slapped the sanctions on him for fiddling with our elections, he did nothing.

LANDLER: Well, yes.

MATTHEWS: After a conversation with Michael Flynn.

LANDLER: Yes, he did nothing...

MATTHEWS: Which you might wonder, are they playing footsie?

LANDLER: What is Michael Flynn saying to the Russian ambassador? Maybe something along the lines, Listen, don`t worry because we`re about to come in, we can maybe take care of this situation.

MATTHEWS: Well, back to this. Donald Trump attacked the intelligence community today over leaks to the media. He tweeted "Information is being illegally given to the failing New York Times and Washington Post by the intelligence community, NSA and FBI, just like Russia." That`s Trump talking.

And here`s more. "And the real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by intention like candy. Very un-American."

And here he was earlier today. This was Trump.


TRUMP: From intelligence, papers are being leaked, things are being leaked. It`s a criminal action, criminal act. And it`s been going on for a long time, before me. But now it`s really going on. And people are trying to cover up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton.


MATTHEWS: Jeff, I`d like to ask this question the way the strongest Trump supporter in the world is trying to figure this out because we all are. I mean, trump said it was the media and the intelligence community that brought down Michael Flynn. But on the fact yesterday, and his press secretary said this for him, as well as what he said in sacking him, was, I`m doing it because I don`t trust the guy.

And now the president is saying, I wish they hadn`t told me I didn`t trust the guy because then I have to get rid of him. This is strange for any super-Trump supporter to swallow!

GREENFIELD: I think up to now -- I was in Philadelphia, in fact, talking to some Trump supporters over the weekend. On the big picture, they say, He`s doing what we want him to do, he`s got problems, we hope he gets more stable, but that travel ban, that`s what we want. The wall is what we want. The Supreme Court justices are what we want.

And I think what we`re going to see -- you know, it`s hard to remember this is, like, 27 days, not 8 year -- is, is there a point at which Trump`s liabilities, the instability, the complete inability to recognize reality is going to bother the people who`ve been for Trump because of what they think he will accomplish elsewhere? To the answer to that question, your guess is as good as mine, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, gentlemen, both you guys -- we`re going to finish here in a minute, but I want to find out where this story is going. I mean, you`ve got a great bureau chief. You`ve got a leader in your paper and everything, and it`s all there. You got Marty Baron. You got Elizabeth Humor (ph). You got all these people working you. You`re all working the -- where`s the story going, Jenna?

JOHNSON: Well, I think the White House...

MATTHEWS: What`s it going to be next week, if you think -- you know, where are the headlines pointing?

JOHNSON: Well, I`ve given up trying to predict anything with this White House. Who knows what we will be covering next week? I think the White House really hoped that all of this talk of Russia and Flynn would end as soon as Flynn handed over his letter of resignation. But there`s just more information that just keeps coming out...

MATTHEWS: I thought Nixon thought that when Ehrlichmann and Haldeman went down. I don`t...


MATTHEWS: Blood in the water!

LANDLER: I mean, look, the ultimate question is, is there evidence or will evidence emerge that links Trump directly to these exchanges, conversations between Flynn and the Russians? That would lift this to an entirely different level, and I think that`s what all of us need to push to try to establish.

MATTHEWS: OK. We`re going to keep working on this story. Anyway, Jenna Johnson of "The Washington Post," Mark Landler of "The New York Times," and Jeff Greenfield, sir, thank you.

Coming up -- news that Donald Trump`s -- Trump`s campaign aides were in constant contact with senior Russian officials has Democrats and Republicans alike calling for a big probe. All this as the Intelligence Committee digs deeper into that -- those connections and what they`re all about. And that`s ahead.

Plus, President Trump says the scandal over his campaign`s connection with Russia is nonsense and just a coverup for Hillary Clinton`s mistakes. How do you -- get out of the rearview mirror, Mr. President! Look ahead on the road where you`re taking us. We`re going to hear from a top Clinton campaign staffer about that.

And while President Trump doesn`t answer -- didn`t answer any questions about Russia in his news conference today with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he did talk Middle East peace. But catch this. This is maybe the worst news of the day. He abandoned the goal of a two-state solution, and no one else on the earth has any route to peace over there except through a two-state.

Finally, let me finish with "Trump Watch" tonight.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Well,last Thursday, Politico reported that Donald Trump once again claimed he was the victim of voter fraud. He told a roomful of senators that he would have won New Hampshire if it weren`t for, quote, "thousands of people who were brought in on buses from neighboring Massachusetts to illegally vote." Anyway, White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller repeated that claim this Sunday.


STEVEN MILLER, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: I`ve actually -- having worked before on a campaign in New Hampshire, I can tell you that this issue of busing voters into New Hampshire is widely known by anyone who`s worked in New Hampshire politics. It`s very real. It`s very serious. This morning on this show is not the venue for me to lay out all the evidence to you...



STEPHANOPOULOS: Hold on a second. I`m asking you, as the White House senior policy adviser -- the president made a statement saying he was the victim of voter fraud.


MILLER: And the president -- the president -- the president was!

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you have any evidence?

MILLER: This is an issue -- if this is an issue that interests you, then we can talk about it more in the future.


MATTHEWS: I would gladly pay you on Tuesday for a hamburger today. Anyway, researched that claim and found no evidence to support it. The New Hampshire secretary of state, the office of the attorney general and the U.S. attorney`s office in New Hampshire reported receiving no complaints of voter fraud for the 2016 election.

In the 2014 New Hampshire Senate election, which Miller is referring to, Jeanne Shaheen defeated Scott Brown by over 15,000 votes. In 2016, Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump by more than 2,000 votes.

Let`s go right now, joining me right now, the senior Democratic senator from New Hampshire, Jeanne Shaheen. Senator, I`m not shining you up here. I`m simply establishing a fact that everybody knows New Hampshire`s one of the clean states. This isn`t one of the states that have had problems and irregularities. You run a clean shop up in there in the elections. Go ahead.

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: You`re absolutely correct. We have heard from the secretary of state, the longest-serving secretary of state in this country, Bill Gardner, who knows something about elections, that there`s no evidence of voter fraud. We`ve heard from two former Republican chairs, who say no evidence of any voter fraud. We`ve heard from former attorney general Tom Rath (ph), also a Republican, no voter fraud. This is a totally made-up charge.

MATTHEWS: Where do they get this, busloads, serious -- because the busload idea -- I can -- I mean, I know busloads of volunteers go up there to help in the campaigns. I know that Menino did it and Marty Walsh does it. It`s all honest, above-board politics, people going around doing Burmashave things along the highway. I`ve seen this all my life -- all my life, a long time.

But the idea of busloading in 16,000 people, dropping them off at particular voting stations, having them brilliantly impersonate local voters who are not going to vote that day and have worked it out individually, is zany to think that could have happened -- zany!

SHAHEEN: It`s absolutely nuts. The fact is, if that were going on, don`t you think somebody someplace would have taken a picture with their cell phone of those buses, that there would have been a supervisor of the checklist who would have taken a picture of somebody voting illegally?

This is something that undermines the credibility of our democracy, of our voting process and our elections. And you know what they`re laying the groundwork for? They`re laying the groundwork for laws that would suppress the vote, limit the number of people who could vote.

In New Hampshire, we have same-day registration, which means that people can come to the polls on election day, students in particular, other people who may not be able to plan far in advance and can get there and vote. That`s what our democracy is all about. And when we try and undercut the ability of people to vote, then we undermine our democracy.

MATTHEWS: OK. You know why you won a big re-election? Because I was up there and you saw me up there. I got to tell you, we were going around your campaign headquarters, all those young kids working their butts off on the phones, including that young girl with the deelybopper (ph) on. I hope she hears me because it was that kind of enthusiasm that wins election, not the sneaky-peaky ping (ph) thing that Trump`s talking about.

SHAHEEN: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: You know how you win elections? You get the most votes. Thank you, Senator Jeanne Shaheen of the Granite State of New Hampshire.

SHAHEEN: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Up next, we`re going to try to make some sense of Trump`s intriguing statements over the years about Vlad "the impaler" Putin -- Putin.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Recent reporting from "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times," as you heard, has brought new attention to the intrigue involving President Donald Trump and Russia`s Vladimir Putin.

Let`s take a look back at some of the statements that Mr. Trump, himself, has made about Putin so far.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think I would get along very well with Vladimir Putin. I just think so.

I got to know him very well, because we were both on "60 Minutes."

I would get along with Putin. I have dealt with Russia.

I think Putin`s been a very strong leader for Russia. I think he`s been a lot stronger than our leader. That, I can tell you.

Putin said, Donald Trump is a genius. He is going to be the next great leader of the United States. Putin did call me a genius.

My attitude, when people like me, I like them, even Putin.

I`m going to disavow a statement when somebody calls me a genius? I`m not disavowing anything.


TRUMP: Russia, if you`re listening, I hope you`re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.

He does have an 82 percent approval rating, according to the different pollsters.


TRUMP: Got a lot of killers. We got a lot of killers. What, you think our country`s so innocent?


MATTHEWS: Well, that was a Michael Corleone imitation.

Anyway, ever -- even prior to that candidacy, Trump openly aspired to become Putin`s pal. In 2013, Trump asked -- quote -- "Do you think Putin will be going to the Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow? If so, will he become my new best friend?"

This is grownup talk.

He claimed to have a relationship with Putin later that same year. Here we go.


QUESTION: Do you have a relationship with Vladimir Putin, a conversational relationship, or anything that you feel you have sway or influence over his government?

TRUMP: I do have a relationship. And I can tell you that he`s very interested in what we`re doing here today.


MATTHEWS: While Mr. Trump has denied business dealings with Russia, his son told a conference in 2008 that -- quote -- "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia."


In terms of policy, Trump`s campaign broke with party orthodoxy during the Republican Convention and removed a platform plank that criticized Russia for their seizure of Crimea.

Well, Trump later said he wasn`t involved and defended Russia`s occupation.


QUESTION: Why did you soften the GOP platform on Ukraine?

TRUMP: I wasn`t involved in that. You know, the people of Crimea, from what I have heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were. And you have to look at that also.


MATTHEWS: Well, now, in light of more recent developments, Trump`s past behavior toward Russia raises serious questions.

I`m joined right now by Malcolm Nance, MSNBC intelligence analyst and author of "The Plot to Hack America." And Tim Weiner is an investigative reporter and author of "Enemies: A History of the FBI" and "Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA."

Gentlemen, I want you both on to tell us what you know. And act like you`re being investigators right now, rather than journalists or commentators.

I want you to know, Malcolm, first of all, where would you -- if you were heading up the FBI right now, in terms of counterintelligence, where would you be looking to try to find how these dots connect?

MALCOLM NANCE, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, since the FBI, we already know, has FISA warrants out there, I would be doing exactly what we have already seen.

We`re coordinating -- or they`re coordinating with the National Security Agency. They`re coordinating with the Central Intelligence Agency.

And, however, getting that warrant also allows them to take in intelligence from other foreign intelligence collectors, the Ukrainians, the Latvians, the Estonians, the Germans, the French, GCHQ in England.

That`s an enormous amount of collection power out there. And I would scrub every connection that these people had, personal, telephone, financial, and I would try to determine exactly what they`re trying to determine now. Are these people connected to Russian spies? Are they being handled by Russian spies? Are they Russian spies?

MATTHEWS: Can we tell, using modern electronics and data collection, if somebody`s met, if they have talked on the phone, if they have e-mailed? Can we basically get a universal look at all communication pretty much now? Is that how -- what percentage of communication can we nail down?

NANCE: Well, not universal look at communications. What we get is a focused look at communications, target-oriented look at communications.

If we are going after a very specific target, we won`t do the vacuum cleaner. We will use very specific, multibillion-dollar systems to hone down on what we know about their communications, and branch out from there and see if it interconnects with any known intelligence assets or intelligence agencies.

And this is apparently what`s most likely being done right now. And it could be unwitting. They may not know that they`re being handled by Russian intelligence officers. However, the connections that they have regarding Russia should have been suspect to anyone who was making those.

You know, the FSB, formerly the KGB, never stops working.


Let me go to Tim on this.

Same question to you. But give me more of a historic -- what`s been going on in the last several weeks? How far have they progressed in nailing down -- I mean, it`s like Google, the way that -- you know, that Malcolm just said, oh, let`s -- let`s punch in Paul Manafort. Let`s punch in Roger Stone. Let`s punch in somebody else and see if that connects in any way to the Kremlin.

TIM WEINER, AUTHOR, "ENEMIES: A HISTORY OF THE FBI": The American people are getting a look in real time at the most politically charged counterintelligence investigation since the Soviets stole the secret of the atomic bomb in the end of World War II.

MATTHEWS: So, Klaus Fuchs involved here, that kind of thing, right?


That was a case that took almost 10 years from beginning to end. This is moving a lot faster because technology has improved in terms of intelligence-gathering. But we`re in a case now -- you were hearkening back to Watergate, Chris.

This is a case where...


MATTHEWS: No, I`m not. I`m hearkening back to the Venona encryptions. I`m going back to Venona.


MATTHEWS: I`m going back to the way we got all the communications between Moscow and America...


MATTHEWS: ... during and before the Second World War, that kind of stuff.


But here we have a case where it`s not the cover-up. It`s the crime.


WEINER: We know what the cover-up is. It`s lying about the crime. What is the crime here?

MATTHEWS: What do you think the crime could be?

WEINER: Collaboration between Russian intelligence services and Americans to disrupt the United States` electoral system and American democracy.

MATTHEWS: Could that be prior, simultaneous, or after the fact? Can you be an accessory after the fact to that kind of fiddling with our election process, or it would have to be prior or simultaneous, the crime?

WEINER: I think that, if you are conducting an operation wittingly with an agent of a foreign power, you are in for a world of pain.

Now, Mike Flynn, if he delivered Flynn facts, that is, falsehoods, to the FBI during his interview, he`s looking at slammer time.

MATTHEWS: I`m calling it Flynnstoning. I`m going to -- we will all have names for this.


MATTHEWS: Let me go to Malcolm on this here.

I heard you were shaking your head.

Flynnstoning is what I call not exactly telling people what you`re up do in international dealing.

What do you make of this potential here for a real, a real scandal involving U.S. -- American collusion in foreign intervention in our political season?

NANCE: Well, first, let me tell you, Tim has written two of the most -- the seminal books on the FBI and intelligence collection. And what he said is absolutely right.

But I`m going to take this one level further. I think that this scandal is unique in all of American history. This would be the equivalent of the British, you know, running Abraham Lincoln or actually funding Jefferson Davis to take over the United States.

This is -- there has never been anything like this. This is the...


MATTHEWS: Well, the Brits were rooting for -- Malcolm, you know your history. The Brits were rooting for the South.


MATTHEWS: That is no -- that is no secret.

NANCE: They were rooting -- sure. They were rooting for the South, but this isn`t...

MATTHEWS: The Russians were rooting -- the Russians were rooting for the North in that war. Remember that? That was the Russians on our side, believe it or not.

NANCE: Sure.

Sure, but this is the equivalent of the queen of England actually handling Jefferson Davis as an agent, right? This is different. We are in a place where we are potentially looking at people who were handled as assets or -- unwitting or wittingly, for Russian intelligence, in order to affect an election of the president of the United States and disrupting the entire American electoral process to get that person elected.

This is close to Benedict Arnold territory, I`m afraid to say.

MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Tim on this question.

The number of dots, it`s like the happy hunting ground. There are so many dots here. Why Manafort? Why is Manafort even hooked up with Trump? Why is Roger Stone`s name showing up here?

Why did Trump call publicly for Russia to help hack him Hillary`s -- Hillary Clinton`s e-mail? What did -- all this -- why does he want to meet him at the Miss Universe contest? The public bromance is just -- the superstructure to this, the underground does involve people who have done business.

And then the son coming along and saying, we make a ton of money out of Russia, after the father says he hasn`t got -- made a nickel over there, there`s so much discrepancy here.

WEINER: Chris, there are two people in this government who have the power and the will to address those questions and get answers under subpoena.

And they are Jim Comey, the head of the FBI, and Senator John McCain, the last cold warrior left standing in the Senate.

MATTHEWS: Well, we`re watching McCain. Tonight, McCain is out there. We will see how far he goes.

I agree with you. If McCain stays on this front, things are going to break open.

Thank you so, Malcolm Nance -- that`s very informative -- and Tim Weiner.

Up next: President Trump says -- or, actually, says the reports about his campaign`s contact with Russian officials is just a distraction away from Hillary Clinton`s mistakes of last year. He keeps looking in the rear-view mirror, this guy. We`re going to hear from a senior Clinton campaign staffer about that next.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Earlier today, Donald Trump defended the man he fired, Michael Flynn, by going after intelligence officials for what he said were illegal leaking information in an attempt to cover for Secretary Clinton`s loss back in November. Figure that one out. So, all these spies are really Hillary-o- philes.

Anyway, he also tweeted: "This Russian connection non-sense is merely an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton`s losing campaign."

It`s an ironic twist, when, just a few months before the election, then- candidate Trump celebrated the leaked e-mails that were illegally obtained by WikiLeaks.

Here he is.


TRUMP: Russia, if you`re listening, I hope you`re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.

All you have to do is take a look at WikiLeaks.

This just came out. This just came out. WikiLeaks. I love WikiLeaks.


TRUMP: Amazing how nothing`s secret today when you talk about the Internet.

Oh, we love WikiLeaks. Boy, they have really -- WikiLeaks, they have revealed a lot.


MATTHEWS: Well, Russia`s interference in our election plagued Hillary Clinton during the campaign, and now it`s plaguing Trump`s administration, ironically.

For more, I`m joined by Jennifer Palmieri, former communications director for both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. And John Brabender is a Republican strategist and a good fellow.

So, let`s talk about this.


MATTHEWS: I mean, you guys are real veterans.


MATTHEWS: You`re not the kind of -- you`re not the kind of people that show up on some networks and say Republican strategist or -- you really are.


MATTHEWS: You knew everything that was happening inside the Clinton administration.

I just want to know, as a human being, how much did it rattle the cage to hear, oh, my God, what are they going to leak, release tomorrow morning? What conversation, e-mail is going to go out tomorrow?

You don`t have to be detailed here, just the feeling of the Russians are watching what we`re saying.

PALMIERI: Yes, we did have -- you know, I think by the time we got to June, which I think was when it was first reported that the hack was Russia-orchestrated, and we believed, just because we`re smart and we could observe how the leaking was going, that the leaking was done in a manner to help Donald Trump.

And it also was too sophisticated to not be done with some American -- without some American input. So, we did have the moment in the summer we were like, wow, we are running against Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. And no one will pay attention to the latter.


PALMIERI: And on the WikiLeaks front, I`m proud to say I never did a search on my own name, which I thought was a very healthy thing to do.

MATTHEWS: Oh, that`s like Googling yourself. You never want to do that.


PALMIERI: Yes. But plenty of people got -- because I knew part of what they`re trying to do is distract us and pit us against each other.


MATTHEWS: Yes, I know.

John, it reminded me of the old tricks, the dirty tricks of politics, which is, you rent all the buses for a weekend when the other guy is coming into town, the other candidate is coming into town and has a rally. Or you tie up all the lines by robo-calling their phones over and over again, so they can`t communicate.

This seemed to be the Russians trying to completely just create chaos in the Clinton campaign.

JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, first of all, I think there was chaos in both campaigns. This is American politics.

Here`s the part I don`t understand. How did they ultimately influence the election? Like, we`re talking about Manafort taking phone calls.

MATTHEWS: Well, you can`t tell.

BRABENDER: What`s he doing, giving them polling data?

Believe me, the American consultants are better than the Russians` consultants.

PALMIERI: Right. I think that`s true.

And I`m not sure what -- whether their role was definitive. But I do believe you had the -- WikiLeaks was -- what I understood the damage that WikiLeaks was doing day to day was that there wasn`t any one story that was going to stick, but, every day, there was something new, and, every day, there was something new to lead the -- to lead the morning show with.

And it just -- we had no oxygen, so we couldn`t...


MATTHEWS: Where do you think this is headed, by the way?

Let`s talk about the future, because the Russians know how to do this now.


MATTHEWS: They picked one party this time, the Democrats. They could pick the Republicans next time, to show their versatility.

If they start putting out -- you know, people -- I hope people are not stupid enough to still use e-mail for anything sensitive. But people occasionally say something they shouldn`t in an e-mail. And they could put it out and just cause another ruckus for another week and put the campaign back a week.

They can do whatever they want to.

BRABENDER: Well, first of all -- and I believe this honestly, that we`re creating this Russian hysteria.

MATTHEWS: No, I`m -- not hysteria. I`m just noticing the history.

BRABENDER: Let me give you an example.


PALMIERI: ... be more careful.

BRABENDER: Let me give you an example.


MATTHEWS: Does she look hysterical to you?



PALMIERI: I`m not hysterical.

MATTHEWS: She`s not hysterical. She`s...

BRABENDER: If you had heard in the middle of the campaign -- you had heard in the middle of the campaign there was a secret audio where Donald Trump had talked to the Russians and said, as soon as the election is over, I can be more flexible on negotiating your missiles, everybody`s head would have exploded.

But that is exactly what Barack Obama did. And it was like a one-week story.


BRABENDER: I mean, what did the Russians...


MATTHEWS: Let me ask you.

Had Hillary Clinton been elected in a squeaker, had won a couple of those industrial states, OK, and she had won, and word was out that the Russians helped her, the Russians, the former communist -- what would your party have done with that?

BRABENDER: It depends what help her means.

PALMIERI: This is not -- this is -- I think what should concern everyone is that the Russians set out to initially, according to our intelligence agencies, to initially try to influence the U.S. election for the purposes of undermining our faith in our democracy.




PALMIERI: Look, that is a huge deal. And...


BRABENDER: I believe we should all have a love fest to stop this and make --

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Here`s what I want to find out.

BRABENDER: I agree with that.

MATTHEWS: I want to cue you guys. I want you both to say it together, Russia, stay out of our politics. One, two, three, go.

BRABENDER: Of course.

MATTHEWS: Say it. Russians, stay out of our politics.

BRABENDER: Stay out of our politics.

MATTHEWS: Jennifer.


MATTHEWS: I wanted you to do it together.

BRABENDER: The only thing they did was to get Bernie Sanders voters to know that Hillary Clinton tried to stop Bernie Sanders.

MATTHEWS: He`s running again. Be careful. He`s running again.

Anyway, thank you, Jennifer Palmieri. You are a professional.

Thank you, John Brabender. You`re pretty even-minded most of the time.

Up next, President Trump ends decades of policy in Middle East. He says we`re going to live with a two-state solution or one-state solution. Well, that one-state solution is problematic and that`s ahead.

You`re watching HARDBALL, where the action is.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So I`m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I`m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.

I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two, but honestly, if Bibi and if the Palestinians, if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I`m happy with the one they like the best.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today where the president refused to commit to a two-state solution to Middle East peace. It was a departure, of course, from a policy that`s guided the U.S.`s role in mediating peace between the Israelis and Palestinians for decades, under both Republican and Democratic presidencies.

President Trump insists that he will be able to negotiate a bigger or better deal than anyone thinks is possible.


TRUMP: I think we`re going to make a deal. It might be a bigger and better deal than people in this room even understand. That`s a possibility. So, let`s see what we do.


TRUMP: Doesn`t sound too optimistic but --


TRUMP: Good negotiator.

NETANYAHU: That`s the art of the deal.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, the world`s reacting to the announcement today. The headline on the BBC`s website reads, "U.S. no longer tied to two-state solution." I`ve been predicting that all day. That`s going to be a huge story around the world.

Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable tonight. Howard Fineman, of course, global editorial director of "The Huffington Post" and MSNBC political analyst, as well. Jay Newton-Small is a contributor to "Time" magazine. Jeremy Ben-Ami is the president of J Street.

Jeremy, I`ve got to go to the expert here.

I don`t understand what Trump`s talking about. I do know he`s playing checkers next to a guy playing chess today. That Bibi --

JEREMY BEN-AMI, PRESIDENT, J STREET: I don`t think you`re the only one that doesn`t know what he`s talking about.

MATTHEWS: I just don`t know what Trump was doing except pretending he was naive about a one-state solution, which means the populations of the Arabs living in the larger area of Israel and the occupied -- the disputed territories is going to equal pretty much the Jewish population of Israel in a couple years. And what -- how can you have a one-state solution? I never thought that was possible.

BEN-AMI: You can`t. One-state is the problem. You need a solution to this present one-state problem. One-state is 13 million people fighting for 100 years now over control of one piece of land. You need to separate the two people. You need to listen to every single military commander in Israel who says Israel can not be Jewish and democratic if it`s one-state for 13 million people between the river and the sea.

MATTHEWS: Howard, you start.


MATTHEWS: Just look at these numbers, just so people know the problem, the population bomb over there -- 6.3 million Jewish people, 6.2 million Palestinians in Israel, in the territories. I mean, it`s just a problem.

FINEMAN: Well, I think Jeremy`s correct. And I think what we saw today while on one level it may seem haphazard is in its own way kind of historic, because it`s been 16, 17 year the United States has been fully committed to the two-state solution. The United Nations is fully committed to the two-state solution. Most of the world is committed to it. And it`s more of a risk to Israel in the long run, most people believe, if they don`t grab that chance when they still have it.


FINEMAN: Now, what`s happening is that people are talking about an outside-in solution where the Gulf States and other actors in the region are going to be on Israel`s side and help bring peace, but they`re not going to do it. The Emiratis are not going to do it. The Saudis are not going to do it. They`re not going to do it without the two-state solution.

They can`t say, OK, we`re going to help Israel, but we`re going to help Israel to one-state solution. That`s a nonstarter. The Israelis think they`ve got the Gulf Arabs on their side now.


FINEMAN: But they`re not going to go very far without the two states.

MATTHEWS: What happens to the Palestinian leadership if they agree to a deal to autonomy within the Israeli state, within the state of Israel? If they accepted that, Israeli sovereignty over Gaza and the West Bank, and agreed to be basically a little state like Montreal or something or Quebec -- just part of a larger state but this Arab part of it.

JAY NEWTON-SMALL, TIME MAGAZINE: First of all, it`s not something either one of the Arab groups would actually accept. Abbas, who`s the head of the West Bank, has always said it has to be a two-state solution. And Hamas runs the Gaza Strip and there`s no way Hamas --

MATTHEWS: So, what`s Trump up to with Jared Kushner? Do we have any idea what his big deal could be?


NEWTON-SMALL: It`s inside-out.

MATTHEWS: Everybody, give me your idea what the deal is.

BEN-AMI: I mean, I think the key is this isn`t actually a moment of incredible opportunity in the Middle East. You actually have the opportunity to bring together the Sunni-Arab states and state of Israel to face their common threats. This is a moment of tremendous opportunity but you`ve got to include a resolution to the Palestinian conflict.



NEWTON-SMALL: It`s either like you said in the beginning. It`s either incredibly naive, and it`s sort of abandonment of the one-China, you know, the policy, all of a sudden, two weeks later, he`s on the phone in the middle of the night with President Xi, of course, I believe in one China. But -- or he`s doing it on purpose, floating it to sort of say, for Kushner to say, let`s see if we can policy, see if he can float this and let`s see how the Arab states react to this.

FINEMAN: That`s animating thing here I think and Jeremy, correct me if I`m wrong here, the animating here is that the Gulf Arabs have made some noises about saying, you know what, maybe there`s a deal to be made here. Israel`s not necessarily our enemy. That`s because the Gulf States are looking at Iran and are scared of --

MATTHEWS: Which is growing and growing in strength.

FINEMAN: Growing and growing in strength. They`re saying, wait a minute.

As Jeremy was saying, the possibility of a deal. But you can`t not give the Gulf States a lot, which is one reason why Donald Trump against what he`d said earlier during the campaign said, you know, I think you ought to slow down a little bit on the --

MATTHEWS: Moving the settlements and moving the embassy.

FINEMAN: And moving the embassy. There`s got to be --


NEWTON-SMALL: Slow down the settlement.

FINEMAN: I wonder how King Abdullah will be reading the papers tomorrow morning, oh, my God, no more two-state solution, so I got two-thirds of my country is Palestinian. They may not like it. There`s a lot more meds than there are beds in my country right now.

Anyway, the round table is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Well, Senator -- actually, President Trump welcomed Senator Marco Rubio to the White House for a little get-together, a dinner tonight, actually. Rubio ran for the Republican nomination against Trump who repeatedly tormented him by calling him "Little Marco." Remember that?

Well, the timing of Rubio`s visit is curious because the Florida senator was an outspoken critic of using the information from WikiLeaks in Russia during the 2016 campaign. Back in October, Rubio warned fellow Republicans not to capitalize politically on the leaks, saying, "Today, it`s the Democrats, tomorrow, it could be us." Well, that`s prescient.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We are back with the HARDBALL round table.

Howard, tell me something I don`t know.

FINEMAN: Chris, the key guy in what we were discussing in the Middle East is the ambassador from the United Arab Emirates. His name is Yousef Al Otaiba. Watch him, because he and Jared Kushner have been talking.


NEWTON-SMALL: So, for all the complaints during the campaign about the private server that Hillary used, I`ve heard from sources, Republican sources, that not only does the Trump White House used a program called Confide, which automatically erases e-mails and messages after a few seconds, they also have to -- require external people e-mailing the White House to use signal, which is the same thing --

MATTHEWS: I know what that is, the white phones.

NEWTON-SMALL: No, no, signal is end-to-end encryption. It`s what Edward Snowden uses.

MATTHEWS: And they keep the metadata, don`t they?

NEWTON-SMALL: There`s no way for Signal.

FINEMAN: I have Signal on the app on my phone.

BEN-AMI: David Friedman is Trump`s nominee to be ambassador of Israel. Hearing is tomorrow. Breaking news this afternoon: the housing in the settlement that Friedman raises money for and that his name is on is an illegal settlement on Palestinian privately owned land, and the Israeli Supreme Court has asked for its demolition.

MATTHEWS: Yes, they`re pretty good on that, the courts over there. The Israeli courts.

Thank you, Howard Fineman. Thank you, Jay Newton-Small, and Jeremy Ben- Ami.

When we return, let me finish Trump Watch.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Wednesday, February 15, 2017.

It`s time for President Trump to stop staring into his rear-view mirror. It doesn`t matter anymore what he says about the election returns in New Hampshire or anywhere else.

Mr. President, time to keep your eyes on the road ahead. You`re the one driving the car now and the key to your success is a simple yes or no. Will you increase the number of good-paying jobs in this country by the end of your presidential term or will you fail? Yes or no.

And that is the question he must have a good answer for when the time of reckoning comes. Not the whacky conspiracy theories about bus loads of voters sneaking into New Hampshire. Why? Because who needs conspiracy theories if you gotten the obvious right. What good will that be, by the way, if you boot the reason you said you were running for president, the reason people voted you into the White House, creating good paying jobs for good patriotic Americans.

And if you can`t deliver on that, all the king`s horses and all the king`s men will not be able to put humpty-dumpty together again. That`s you, by the way, humpty-dumpty.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.