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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 2/20/2017

Guests: Anne Gearan, Nicholas Confessore, Julia Ioffe, Ed Goeas, Jay Newton-Small, John Dean, Richard Ben-Veniste

Show: HARDBALL Date: February 20, 2017 Guest: Anne Gearan, Nicholas Confessore, Julia Ioffe, Ed Goeas, Jay Newton-Small, John Dean, Richard Ben-Veniste   CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The Trump probe goes bipartisan.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

President Trump has a new national security adviser.  In a brief statement at Mar-a-Lago today, Trump named Major (sic) General H.R. McMaster to serve in that role following his dismissal of Lieutenant General Michael Flynn last week.

But while Flynn`s out of the White House, he`s not out of the woods.  With the FBI already leading a counterintelligence inquiry, the Senate Intelligence Communist has begun their own investigation of Russia`s involvement in our election, including a probe into the former national security adviser`s communications with the Russian ambassador.

Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that, quote, "The Senate Intelligence Committee has sent formal requests to more than a dozen organizations, agencies and individuals asking them to preserve all materials related to the committee`s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and related issues."  And as NBC confirmed yesterday, that letter reached the White House.

It comes after FBI director James Comey met with members of the Intelligence Committee for two hours on Friday.  And shortly after that meeting, Senator Marco Rubio posted this tweet.  "I am now very confident Senate Intelligence Committee I serve on will conduct thorough bipartisan investigation of Putin interference and influence," close quote.

In his interview on "MEET THE PRESS" yesterday, chief of staff Reince Priebus confirmed that the White House had received the committee`s letter, but he downplayed its significance, as well as the forthcoming investigation itself."


REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF:  That doesn`t mean that there`s anything there.  It just means they need to do some things to satisfy their committee that they`ve looked into something, and then they can have -- they can have meetings behind closed doors, like they always do on the Intel Committee, and then they`ll issue a report.

And as long as they do their job and we -- and we cooperate with them, they`ll issue a report and the report will say there`s nothing there.  I know what they were told by the FBI because I`ve talked to the FBI.  I know what they`re saying.


MATTHEWS:  Well, that`s interesting that has been talking to the FBI, the chief of staff.

Anyway, meanwhile, Reuters had this weekend confirmed reporting from "The New York Times" from last week that, quote, "Americans with ties to Trump or his campaign had repeated contacts with current and former Russian intelligence officers."

Joining me right now is Nick Confessore, a political reporter with "The New York Times," Julia Ioffe is a writer at "The Atlantic," and Anne Gearan, of course, is political correspondent with "The Washington Post."

Anyway, I want to talk to all of you.  First of all, I want to go to Nick and get back down to here (ph).  Oh, I`m going to start with Anne.  You`re right here.  Anne, this question of this paper that`s been sent in, found its way on the desk of Mike Flynn.  It proposed what looks to be a very Russian-tilting proposal for how to deal with our relations with Ukraine and Russia.  And we don`t know how to got there, except this guy Mike Cohen, who`s the president`s lawyer, somehow just dropped it on the desk.

ANNE GEARAN, "WASHINGTON POST":  And he`s now changed that, retracted that, says he was -- it -- "The New York Times" reporting that he had left it in Flynn`s office is incorrect and that that never happened.  "The Times" is standing by its story.  So we don`t really know what happened.  But the original story was that he...

MATTHEWS:  Well, here it is.


MATTHEWS:  "The proposal detailed a peace plan that between Russia and Ukraine that would also remove U.S. sanctions on Russia.  According to the Ukrainian lawmaker who drafted the proposal, the plan was green-lighted by aides to Russian president Vladimir Putin."

GEARAN:  Right.  And as you, it would essentially codify a Russian-leaning solution to the violence in eastern Ukraine.  Russia would withdraw troops and the annexation of Crimea would be put up for referendum, which presumably would -- would be approved, that it would become some sort of, you know, Russian-leased (ph) vassal (ph) area.  And that would go against the current U.S. position, at least as stated by the Obama administration, and the Trump administration hasn`t come up with its own position yet on the future of Crimea.  So this is all, you know, a -- it`s -- it`s the conduction (ph) of private democracy through...


JULIA IOFFE, "THE ATLANTIC":  ... an end run around the Minsk agreements, which are -- which the Russians have been backing off of, from what I`ve heard...

MATTHEWS:  What are the Minsk agreements?

IOFFE:  The Minsk agreements essentially froze the Ukrainian conflict, the three -- year-old Ukrainian conflict into place.  And there`s still all these negotiations about the Minsk agreement to...

MATTHEWS:  OK, let`s...

IOFFE:  ... unfreeze it.

MATTHEWS:  Let`s focus on one thing here, everybody here.  Nick, let`s go back to you.  I want to focus on one thing, the role of the Trump people in playing pussyfoot or whatever you want to call it with the Russians, especially Vladimir Putin, during the campaign.

This new document which has surfaced -- Mike Cohen, who`s a lawyer for -- a personal lawyer for -- in private life to Donald Trump now says he didn`t put it on the desk of the national security -- of the recent natural security director Michael Flynn.  However, "The New York Times," your paper, says he did.  And here we go.

What is the -- people around Trump doing -- doing the work flacking for, working for Vladimir Putin?  This thickens the stew beyond what most people thought was possible.  It really looks like they`re are working together, the Trump people and the Vladimir people -- well, I shouldn`t say the people, Vladimir Putin himself.

NICHOLAS CONFESSORE, "NEW YORK TIMES":  Well, aside from the narrow question of who put the letter on the desk, right -- it`s a good detail.  It`s true, as we say.  But look at the last week, right?  So on Tuesday, "The Times"  breaks a story saying that the Trump campaign was in constant contact with Russian intelligence.  Friday, Comey briefs the Senate Intel committee, and -- and people on the committee come out of that committee like ghosts.

And Rubio says, you know, it`s going to be an investigation and we`re doing it, and the demand letter, the freeze the documents letter, comes out that same day.  This is all happening in a week, right?  And then on Sunday, Senator Graham, who`s at conference in Germany, says that 2017 is going to be the year of kicking Russia`s butt.  So there`s obviously, you know, a lot of facts on the ground here, and a huge amount of smoke and also some fire, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I would say so.  Back to you, Anne.  This question of just sequence, as they put it -- they have a meeting.  The guy who`s briefing them is Comey.  They come out, and they`re all of a sudden bipartisan.  It`s all the brotherhood and sisterhood all happening there all against Trump.  And then all of a sudden, they send a letter, Don`t go to the -- don`t go -- what do they call that thing that...

GEARAN:  Don`t go destroying it...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, that`s right.  What do they call it, the -- the mag -- the thing that rips up every...

GEARAN:  Shredder.

MATTHEWS:  The shredder.  Stay away from the shredder.

GEARAN:  Yes.  Well, I mean, the committee is clearly protecting the integrity of -- of whatever investigation they do.  They do not want to be -- anybody, including the Republicans on that committee -- do not want to be accused later of having set up the investigation to fail by allowing documents to be destroyed or by not setting the proper scope for this investigation.

Clearly, Comey told them some things that concerned them enough that they were ready to say, Republicans and Democrats a alike, after that meeting that this going to be a broad bipartisan and vigorous investigation.  And Oh, by the way, White House and 12 agencies, you know, don`t -- don`t put anything in the shredder in the meantime because we`re going to want to look at it.

MATTHEWS:  Let me stay (ph) to the root of the matter, the question.  Putin had ambitions for a greater Russia again, something like the old Soviet Union, bringing back a sphere of influence over Ukraine, grabbing back effective control over Crimea, maybe other (INAUDIBLE) maybe making a threat, or try to Finlandize the Baltic states, or whatever, or worse.  We know that goal.

What do we know now about how that goal was brought to the use -- in -- in collaboration with the Trump people who just wanted to get Trump elected?

IOFFE:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Those are two goals that seem to have nothing to do with each other, except the paper seems to be showing them spliced together more and more.

IOFFE:  Well, they sure do have a lot in common because part of Putin`s ambition has been to get rid of the unipolar world, as he called it, that existed after the end of the cold war, with just America calling the shots instead of this constant tug of war between Washington and Moscow.  And so to do that, instead of raising Russia up, he also brings America down a few notches.

I think they never expected Trump to win.  They wanted to hobble Hillary Clinton, expecting that she`d be elected and would come in injured and limping and hobbled.

MATTHEWS:  You think that was the goal?

IOFFE:  I think that -- well, either way -- either way...

MATTHEWS:  It makes sense because she was the probable winner, and why not hamstring her from the start?

IOFFE:  Yes, and either way, they win, right?  Either way, Hillary comes in hobbled or you have...

GEARAN:  And under a cloud.

IOFFE:  And under a cloud.  Or you have a guy who is just a bomb-thrower, like, destroying the operation you want to destroy from within.

GEARAN:  Who also seems to have some common cause, you know, in -- in...

IOFFE:  And personal...


GEARAN:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  Well, because they`re both men of -- strongmen, you might say, but also because, giving Trump a little bit of credit here, he does think it`s going to be East-West alliance against the south.

IOFFE:  Well, and...


IOFFE:  Right, and he campaigned saying that the United States can`t, you know, solve every problem and be everybody`s policeman, which is exactly what Putin wants the United States not to be.

MATTHEWS:  I know.  NBC`s reporting right now today that the Russia government is preparing a psychological profile on President Trump to help brief President Putin before the leaders -- I love to say that word, Putin -- among (ph) meet in person.  So they`re looking out for this guy, trying to figure out Trump.  By the way, that is a common interest around this table.

Quote, "Among its preliminary conclusion is that the new American leader is a risk taker who can be naive, according to a senior Kremlin adviser.  Well, deputy foreign minister Andrei Federov (ph) also remarked on the trouble Trump is causing in this country, telling NBC News that, quote, "Trump cannot come to meeting with Putin as a loser."  There`s a term Trump uses. "He has to sort out his domestic problems first.  Federov added that Trump`s constant battle with the mass media was worrying us.  The U.S. president is dancing on thin ice, he said.  It`s a risky game."

Anyway, Bloomberg also reports that, quote, "The Kremlin ordered state media to cut back on their fawning coverage of President Donald Trump.  However, a Kremlin spokesman did not" -- I`m not sure -- denied (ph) that story -- I`m not sure I buy that story.  Anyway, I don`t know Putin`s worried about looking out for Trump or not looking out for him.

But let me go to you, Nick, and the question of -- of what they make of Trump.  Now that they`ve got him, following what Anne said and what Julia said, if they didn`t know he was coming, he`s here.  Trump is president of the United States.  Now they got to figure out this guy, what kettle of fish he is.  I think it`s fascinating all they`ve come up with is that he`s a risk-taker.  I mean, anyone here could have said that.  He ran for president!


MATTHEWS:  ... risk taker!  Yes.  Go ahead.

CONFESSORE:  The whole dossier seems like a Google search.  I mean, it seems like the kinds of thing you pick up if you -- you know, if you had read the paper.  He`s a risk taker.  He`s a bit naive about government and governance and policy.  We knew that already!


CONFESSORE:  So it seems like a little bit of a jab at him to kind of mess with him a bit.  Look, I think that what Putin wants or what Russia wants a weakened America and a weakened EU, which allows them to have more power in Eastern Europe and around the world.  That is their goal, period.  If they can mess with Trump, if they can have him off chasing his tail on domestic policy, or you know, dossiers, it helps them.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, well, it looks like they don`t buy that MI-6 report in its entirety of all they got on him is he`s a risk-taker!


MATTHEWS:  Anyway, Nicholas Confessore...

GEARAN:  Well...


GEARAN:  Remember we used to put together these reports, these dossiers on Putin, our government agencies, right?  Like, he`s mysterious, he`s secretive.  They were equally vague and...


MATTHEWS:  The old American joke was, they`d try to warm up some guy, a cold (ph) guy from the East or something, say, He enjoys American jazz and the occasional scotch or something.  Oh, what a regular guy!


MATTHEWS:  And then we find out the guy`s a killer!

Anyway, thank you, anyway, Nicholas Confessore, Julia Ioffe and Anne Gearan.

Coming up -- Donald Trump said NATO`s obsolete.  And after Iraq, he said we should just take their oil.  Well, now Vice President Pence is assuring NATO we`re committed and the secretary of defense, "Mad Dog" Mattis says we`re not really taking anybody`s oil.  So those are the calming clean-up acts for President Trump.   What does he do when he finds out they`re cleaning up for him overseas?  Is this the Trump doctrine, talk tough to people at home and let the grown-ups in our administration clean up overseas?  We used to get the European version of movies.  Now the American version is the European version.  They`re getting a censored version.  How times changed since the `60s.

Anyway, plus, we`ve heard a lot of comparisons between President Trump and Richard Nixon and the Russian scandal and Watergate (INAUDIBLE) Well, anyway, Nixon`s White House counsel and former Watergate investigators are coming here to tell us comparisons are not appropriate.

And on the campaign, Trump appealed to working class voters regular American.  Now we have new audiotape from after the election telling wealthy members of his golf club that they are the "special people" and inviting them to join him as he puts together his administration.  No deplorable in my administration!

Finally, the HARDBALL roundtable will be here to tell me three things I don`t know tonight.

Anyway, this is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS:  This could be the week we get a revised executive order from President Trump banning immigration from majority-Muslim countries.  According to the Associated Press, the order will target the same seven countries he originally listed.  But a senior administration official tells the AP that Green Card holders and dual citizens of the United States and (ph) any of those seven countries would be exempt.  The original order has been tied up in federal court.

And we`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The world is watching President Trump, don`t you thinks?  As a candidate, Trump said he will grab oil in Iraq.  Let`s watch him do it.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I didn`t want to go there in the first place, but now we take the oil.  We should have kept the oil.  Now we go in, we knock the hell out of them, take the oil.

I said keep the oil!  Keep the oil.  Keep the oil.  Don`t let somebody else get it!

You know, it used to be to the victor belong the spoils.  Now, there was no victor there.  Believe me, there was no victor.  But I always said take the oil.

Four years ago, I said bomb the oil and take the oil.  And if we did that, they wouldn`t have the wealth they have right now.  Now I still say the same thing.

We should have kept the oil.  But OK.


TRUMP:  Maybe we`ll have another chance.


MATTHEWS:  Yesterday, Defense Secretary James "Mad Dog" Mattis told reporter the U.S. would, in fact, not take Iraq`s oil.  Here he is.


GEN. JAMES MATTIS, USMC (RET.), DEFENSE SECRETARY:  I think all of us here in this room, all of us in America, have generally paid for our gas and oil all along, and I`m sure that we will continue to do so in the future.  We`re not in Iraq to seize anybody`s oil.


MATTHEWS:  And then there`s President Trump`s strong words for Europe and NATO.  As recently as last month, the president said this about NATO.  "It`s obsolete first because it was designed many, many years ago.  Secondly, and countries aren`t paying what they should.  And NATO didn`t deal with terrorism.

Well, today in Europe, Vice President Mike Pence reassured our allies the president was, quote, "committed to our alliances."


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The United States of America strongly supports NATO and will be unwavering in our commitment to this transatlantic alliance!


MATTHEWS:  Well, Eugene Robinson`s, of course, a columnist with "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC analyst and Evelyn Farkas is former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia and is now an MSNBC national security analyst.

You know, Gene, I remember when Don Regan, the secretary of the treasury for President Reagan infelicitously said he was cleaning up after the elephants!



MATTHEWS:  I don`t think Nancy Reagan liked the fact that her husband was a pooping elephant...


ROBINSON:  She didn`t like it at all.

MATTHEWS:  So here we have...

ROBINSON:  However...


MATTHEWS:  Now we have two guys over there, the VP and the defense chief, cleaning up after President Trump, openly doing it!

ROBINSON:  They`re sweeping up as fast as they can!


ROBINSON:  And how could they not, right?  I mean, how could you -- because you`ve got to make clear that, No, we`re not going to seize Iraq`s oil, which would be a war crime, by the way.

MATTHEWS:  By the way, can you imagine your son...

ROBINSON:  It would be totally (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  ... or daughter dying in a war, but we got a couple gallons of gas out of it.

ROBINSON:  Yes.  Right.

MATTHEWS:  You know.

ROBINSON:  Yes, and...

MATTHEWS:  It`s unimaginable.

ROBINSON:  And also, you have to reassure the NATO allies, who are -- I think the technical term is freaked out over what President Trump has been saying all along.  And so what do you believe, if you`re sitting in Brussels?

MATTHEWS:  What`s broken...


ROBINSON:  What do you believe if you`re sitting in Riyadh?


MATTHEWS:  The old rule is don`t break it if it`s not -- don`t fix it if it`s not broken.  My question here is, Evelyn, why -- what`s wrong where NATO?  It`s the one good thing.  That and the Marshall plan -- It worked!

EVELYN FARKAS, MSNBC NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST:  It`s the only operational alliance we have in the whole world.  Even our alliances in Asia don`t have the same level of...

MATTHEWS:  You know, CETO (ph) isn`t working anymore?


FARKAS:  No, I mean, we have great alliances...

MATTHEWS:  I`m just kidding.

FARKAS:  ... our South Korean allies and with our Japanese allies, but it`s not the same.  In NATO, first of all, there`s all -- almost, you know, automaticity, so almost automatically.  It`s not automatic, but almost automatically, we go to war if someone attacks one of the NATO allies.

Second of all, we practice.  We have exercises.  We make war plans.  I mean, that is serious stuff.  We have gone to war together with our NATO allies.  Every time we go to war, they come with us. 

After 9/11, the attack against the United States, that was the only time that NATO invoked that Article V.  And all those allies came.  First, they came and they patrolled over the United States.  They sent ships to the Med.  And then they went to Afghanistan.  And they`re still with us today.

So, it`s ridiculous.  But Vice President Pence did a fantastic job.  I was there in Munich.  I saw him.  I didn`t see him in Brussels.  But it was the same thing in Brussels.  But everyone wants to know what the president`s policy is. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, just remember what LBJ said when de Gaulle was giving us a hard time about our having our headquarters in Paris.  He said, do you want us to bring back the cemeteries, too?  Because we were the guys that won the war over there.

FARKAS:  But the French came back to NATO.

MATTHEWS:  I know.  Don`t kill my punchline.


FARKAS:  I`m sorry.

MATTHEWS:  On Saturday, President Trump made this curious reference to Sweden during a rally.  Sweden, of course, was neutral in World War II -- in Florida.

Let`s watch.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We have got to keep our country safe.  You look at what is happening.  We have got to keep our country safe. 

You look at what`s happening in Germany.  You look at what`s happening last night in Sweden, Sweden -- who would believe this, Sweden.  They took in large numbers.  They`re having problems like they never thought possible. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, what exactly was that last night happening in Sweden?

Well, it turns out it was a FOX News segment that aired the night before suggesting refugees in Sweden were responsible for an increase in crime. 

Well, the president later tweeted: "My statement as to what`s happening in Sweden was in reference to a story that was broadcast on FOX News concerning immigrants and Sweden." 

Well, today, Trump tweeted: "Give the public a break.  The fake news media is trying to say that large-scale immigration in Sweden is working out just beautifully.  Not!"

By the way, people stopped saying not about 10 years ago. 

ROBINSON:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  A former prime minister of Sweden called, Carl Bildt, respond to Twitter -- or by Twitter by: "What has he been smoking?"

OK, you`re the expert.  What is he talking about?  What is happening?


MATTHEWS:  I assume they are having the problems of assimilation that all countries in Europe are having with refugees.  What else is new? 

FARKAS:  Yes.  Yes.  And guess what?  They have crime.

MATTHEWS:  No crime going up.

FARKAS:  Like all of us.  I mean, every country has crime.  I don`t know what percentage of the crime is caused by the refugees. 

But again...

MATTHEWS:  How do you think Swedish crime compares to ours? 



ROBINSON:  I can tell you, I covered Sweden when I was London bureau chief.  I did stories in the `90s about Sweden assimilating or trying to assimilate refugees from the wars in the former Yugoslavia.

So, this is nothing new.  And it`s the same issues that every European countries has had with assimilation.  But it`s not -- there`s nothing special about Sweden.

MATTHEWS:  Well, they sort of need to assimilate.  You know why?  Because they don`t reproduce very much over there.  These countries do not have a great fertility rate, a lot of them.

ROBINSON:  Well, the other issue obviously is that the United States, which is good at assimilation, is a cradle country, right?  We are based on creed.  We are not based on blood.  We are not based on land, per se.  We are based on our ideals. 

MATTHEWS:  We got more land. 

ROBINSON:  Well, we do have more. 

FARKAS:  Can I just say something, though?  Because I think this is a distraction.  It`s not about Sweden or crime.

MATTHEWS:  Well, why is he doing it? 

FARKAS:  Because he is trying to -- pardon the choice of a verb -- but he`s trying to trump up a threat, a terrorist threat, an imminent terrorist threat that would somehow justify this ban that he is trying put into place.




MATTHEWS:  I get it now.  I think you`re right.  That is the mood of the week, because he is about to put out a new ban. 

ROBINSON:  Right. 

FARKAS:  Yes.  And I would like to hear from the experts on terrorism, because there has not been an uptick in terrorism.  I have not seen any evidence of a terrorist threat emanating imminently from overseas. 

ROBINSON:  Heaven help us.  We could become Sweden, with no guns, no crime.


MATTHEWS:  Just there`s always the chance that one of these refugees will not be a refugee.

Anyway, nearly two million Britons signed a petition opposing a planned visit from President Trump that would include the pomp and circumstance of a full state visit.

Well, today, the British Parliament debated the president`s visit.  Let`s watch them.


PAUL FLYNN, BRITISH PARLIAMENTARIAN:  This was of great concern.  When you have a man who is the president behaving like a petulant child, how is he going to behave in a future?  A conflict might arise. 

We`re in the position unlike any faced by any previous Parliament, where we have a person of a unique personality running the United States. 

NIGEL EVANS, BRITISH PARLIAMENTARIAN:  And for those who find it difficult to understand that the American people voted for Donald Trump, get over it, because he is president of the United States. 

When we stand up in this country and then condemn him for being racist -- and I have seen no evidence of that -- I have seen no evidence of him being racist -- or that they attack him in an unseemly way, we are actually attacking the American people. 


MATTHEWS:  That could be any dinner table in Washington. 

ROBINSON:  Yes, really.

MATTHEWS:  Or certainly in the country, except that those people actually have different opinions. 

At most dinner tables in Washington, everybody has the same opinion.  Then you go to other parts of the country, they have the same exact opinion.  I love to see a real debate like that. 

FARKAS:  Well, I think it`s actually apt that you mention dinner party, because it sort of feels to make like a public discussion about whether to invite someone over for dinner.  Who cares?

They should not invite him to meet with the queen.  He should still meet with the prime minister.

MATTHEWS:  But they have told him he was going to have a state visit.


MATTHEWS:  You can`t go -- Trump is not going to go if they downgrade the trip from state visit, once raising it.  He will never go.

ROBINSON:  That petition, I don`t think, has any sort of binding...


MATTHEWS:  If I were Trump, I would go.  I would say to the British people, you got any guts?  You got any guts?  Bring me in on a state visit.  You promised you would.  Stick to your promise. 


MATTHEWS:  I`m American on this one. 



ROBINSON:  This is up to the queen.


FARKAS:  That`s what I feel I like.  It`s up to her.  It`s her house.

MATTHEWS:  You know what Popeye Doyle said?  I would rather be a lamppost in New York than the president of France.

Anyway, thank you.

I`m not that bad.

Eugene Robinson, Evelyn Farkas.

Up next, the parallels between President Trump and President Nixon.  When we come back, Nixon`s former White House counselor and a Watergate investigator both come to join us to talk about why the comparisons are not right.  It`s interesting. 

This is HARDBALL, where the action is. 



HOWARD BAKER, U.S. SENATOR:  What did the president know, and when did he know it?


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was, of course, Senator Howard Baker`s famous quote from the Watergate hearings in 1973, which ultimately brought down President Richard Nixon.

Now, with investigations looming, many are asking the same question of the current occupant of the White House, President Donald Trump.

Recent comparisons between the two presidents prompted this cartoon in the latest edition of "The New Yorker" with the ghost of the Nixon telling Trump, "It`s time we have a little chat."

Anyway, veteran TV anchor and reporter Dan Rather recently commented on the parallels between Watergate and what we are seeing today -- quote -- "Watergate is the biggest political scandal of my lifetime, until maybe now.  On a 10 scale of Armageddon for our form of government, I would put Watergate at nine.  This Russia scandal is currently somewhere around five or six, in my opinion.  But it`s cascading in intensity seemingly by the hour."

I`m joined right now author John Dean, former White House counsel in the Nixon administration, as well as Richard Ben-Veniste, former Watergate assistant special prosecutor.

Mr. Dean...


MATTHEWS:  ... presidents -- echo, whatever, or denial, or nothing is the same?  Where do you stand? 

DEAN:  Well, I see some interesting parallels. 

Obviously, the Russian break-in was a little different than the Watergate break-in itself.  It was a hacking vs. a bungled bugging and ransacking of the files.  But they obviously deal both with the DNC. 

And I think that`s where the comparisons come from, Chris.  And from there, there`s clear cover-ups going on.  No one is coming forward and confessing any of this.  And that`s, of course, what we had in Watergate. 


And I was thinking, Richard, that I don`t think Watergate had much impact on the campaign in `72.  It was a swamp for Nixon, but he won it all basically.  But this time around, I`m not sure. 

I think some of the disruption of the DNC, the Palmieri thing, the Podesta letter, all that stuff, I know it was at least a dirty trick, like tying up the telephone lines or hiring all the buses some weekend.  They were screwing up their operation. 

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, FORMER WATERGATE COUNSEL:  But, here, you have got a foreign power, our adversary, the Russians, who are interfering, according to the unified version of our intelligence community, interfering with our election, with our electoral process.  So, that`s big. 

So, the question is, was Mr. Trump, now President Trump, or any of his close associates somehow involved with the Russians during this course of conduct?  And, if so, then that would be huge. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it impeachable at this point?  Can you have retrospective impeachment for something done before you take office?

BEN-VENISTE:  If there was -- and that`s a humongous, big if -- if there was such activity, then this would be a criminal act.

MATTHEWS:  So, it would be a high crime and misdemeanor, right?

BEN-VENISTE:  A criminal conspiracy that would be of the utmost seriousness to this country. 

MATTHEWS:  It would be a crime.  OK.

Now, much like Trump, Nixon`s disdain for the mainstream media was made clear on a regular basis back then, including this 1973 press conference. 


QUESTION:  What is it about the television coverage of you in these past weeks and months that has so aroused your anger? 

RICHARD NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Don`t get the impression that you arouse my anger.


QUESTION:  I have that impression. 

NIXON:  You see, one can only be angry with those he respects. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, how British of him. 

Anyway, but Nixon went further in his private conversations, calling the press the enemy.  Let`s listen. 


NIXON:  We`re going to be around and outlive our enemies.  And also never forget, the press is the enemy.  The press is the enemy. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, he repeats himself.  Trump does that. 

Anyway, similarly, President Trump has regularly attacked the credibility of the news media, tweeting on just this past Friday: "The fake news media, failing New York Times, NBC News, ABC News, CBS, and CNN is not my enemy.  It is the enemy of the American people."

John Dean, your thoughts on this comparison between the two media haters?


DEAN:  Well, what is interesting is that Nixon was typically much more bitter and aggressive behind closed doors.

Trump is very aggressive right out in public.  That`s the difference in their style.  And Nixon kind of worked behind the scenes to see if he couldn`t hurt the press.  He kept his enemies list.  He had surveillance on something like, I guess, about a dozen newsmen at one point.

He has his plumber squad that is out looking for leaks and leads to great disasters later.  So, that`s the difference.

So far, Trump has just been right out front, even taking it to the degree of a press conference where he openly attacks the media in the press conference. 

MATTHEWS:  Nobody I have read in history -- you got to always make the Hitler exception -- thinks they are bad.  From their internal perception, the way they look at the world, even the bad guys think they are good guys. 

OK.  So, my question to you, John Dean, because you really worked for Nixon.  You knew him in the first part of that -- the second part of that - - first part of the second part of the administration, near the end.

What was Nixon`s big goal, to be the great president, to be on this list of great presidents?  Is that what it was?  Was it as basic as that?

DEAN:  Peacemaker.  That`s what he wanted.  He really didn`t care much about domestic affairs.  He spent his full time and focus on foreign affairs. 

And that`s what he envisioned his presidency to be.  And that`s what he hoped the success of his presidency would be.


MATTHEWS:  What do you see?  Can you see, Richard, what this guy wants?  Peacemaker?  He says, I`m going to get rid of ISIS and bring peace to the Middle East. 

BEN-VENISTE:  Richard Nixon, say what you will about him, was eminently prepared to be president of the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  You know who said that?  My old boss Tip O`Neill.  Nobody was ever more prepared, he said, than Nixon.

BEN-VENISTE:  Well, eight years as vice president, member of the House for years, senator.

This is on-the-job training for President Trump.  And one can only hope that he utilizes the vast resources that are available to the president of the United States, and to pick people who will say no to him. 

This is what was Nixon`s downfall.  He surrounded himself by people who catered to his dark side. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I think you`re right.  I think Haldeman, Haldeman was a problem.

Thank you so much, John Dean. 

DEAN:  Thank you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  And some of the other guys weren`t so great either. 

It`s great to have you on, John Dean.  Thank you, sir.

Richard Ben-Veniste, my pal, thank you.  Up next -- a great attorney.

Up next:  It`s a day of anti-Trump rallies across the country.  People have taken to the streets to march against President Trump because it`s President`s Day, and they are saying, not our President`s Day. 

Anyway, while Republicans in Congress face angry voters -- wait until you catch this stuff going on in these -- these congressional seats are not as warm as they used to be.

You`re watching HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Bringing back the excitement of his 2016 campaign for president, President Trump held what you could call his first 2020 campaign rally in Melbourne, Florida, this weekend.  Roughly 9,000 people showed up to hear the president speak and return the love, even called a supporter up on stage. 


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Come on up.  This guy -- so he has been all over television, saying the best things -- I see him standing -- you got here 4:00 in the morning? 


TRUMP:  Say a couple of words to this rally. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. President, thank you sir.  We the people all movement is the reason why our president of the United States is standing here in front of us today. 


MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Meanwhile, outside the event, hundreds were protesting the president. 

"The Washington Post" to the country`s deep division right now is in stark display.  In fact, on one side of the street, thousands of Trump supporters wearing campaign gear and vendor selling anti-Hillary Clinton merchandise.  On other side of the street, hundreds of protesters gathered in a free speech zone behind orange mesh fencing.  I don`t know why it`s orange.  Anyway, tens of thousands of people gathered for not my president`s today rally, "Not My President" rallies across the country, a clear challenge to President Trump and his agenda.

Well, the country is clearly divided.  Nobody challenges that, with each side growing more entrenched.  For more, I`m joined by some experts the roundtable tonight on this president`s day. 

Ed Goeas, Republican pollster and strategist, and he`s a good one.  Jay Newton-Small, contributor for "Time Magazine", and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who`s also an MSNBC contributor.

Well, you`re the man that made it famous.  Yes, you can.  I forget that phrase, but I thought it was dynamite.


MATTHEWS:  You have the powers, and I believe -- I thought you`re unbelievable, I guess you agreed with me.  But I agree with you.

Look, let`s talk about a polarized country.  You know on this business of cable TV, you can have a huge intensive audience with maybe 10 percent.  I mean, a very passionate group of people behind you.  And radio is -- Rush Limbaugh proved that to be right.  You only need 10 percent, 20 percent to be a superstar. 

Political parties eventually need 40-some percent to get in the game, right? 

DEAN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  So, which ways the Democratic Party doing in this weird division, because it is getting entrenched. 

DEAN:  We`re about to change substantially.  And as usually, the inside the beltway Democrats are far behind what`s happening.  If you look at the protests at the immigration, at the airport and so forth, that is not Bernie Sanders people.  Some of them are.  They are the new Democratic Party. 

The problem is, they don`t like institutions and they`re not -- we haven`t sold them yet.  They have voted for our candidates three times in the row.  That usually means they`re going to vote with us for the rest of their lives.  But they don`t like institutions, this generation.  So, our party - -

MATTHEWS:  Which generations?  Because I read that over 45 voted for Trump.  People under 45 didn`t.  Boomers narrowly voted for Trump, but anybody younger that boomers --

DEAN:  Under 35, I`d say.  I call them the first global generation.  Most people call them the millennials -- 

MATTHEWS:  What`s this about them leaning pretty far to being identified with socialists and they don`t have any problem with that word, that -- 

DEAN:  They don`t have a problem with the word, but they`re not economically -- actually, the Republicans could conceivably get them if they stop all the social right wing stuff they are doing it.  But they are not going to get them and they`re pretty much cemented.

The big problem is what`s happening now is the Democratic Party is getting way out in front of its base.  They`re out there and they`re not doing this violently.  There`s a few handful of wacko and anarchists than they`re always are.  But they`re -- I mean, you should have seen the pictures of young women lawyers, about 30 years old, drafting motion to go before the judges on behalf of these immigrants a couple of weeks ago.  That`s future of the Democratic Party.  They`re committed activists and they don`t believe -- 

MATTHEWS:  Pro-immigrant.

DEAN:  Well, pro-immigrant, pro-Muslim, pro-gay, pro -- I mean, they see this country is needing to be united, not divided. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let`s talk about that split because that`s not Trump`s world.

DEAN:  No.

JAY NEWTON-SMALL, TIME MAGAZINE:  So, I`m cusp millennial certainly and I`ve written a book about women.  And one of the definitions of millennials, of the millennial generation is that they believe absolutely, they`re born and believe in equality of women because they are first generation born to --

MATTHEWS:  They don`t like Trump, do they? 

NEWTON-SMALL:  And they don`t like Trump at all.  But they are -- but absolutely, Governor Dean is right.  They don`t believe -- 

DEAN:  It will be fine.


NEWTON-SMALL:  They are one of the most activist generations on the planet, like ever.  So, they are very, very activist.  They`re very engaged in civil service.  They`re very engaged in like, and getting out there and volunteering.  But they don`t like joining governments.  They don`t like running for office. 

And so, they have very low rate --

MATTHEWS:  We have a pollster here.  What is this division going to be like? 

ED GOEAS, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER:  Well, I mean, first of all, the country has been divided for over a decade now.  And you have 41, 42 percent saying they`re Democrats, and about 41 percent, 42 percent saying they`re Republicans.  Everyone else is kind of soft. 

I think the thing we always missed in these discussions is that only 70 percent of eligible adults registered to vote and only 70 percent of them vote in an election year.  And so, there`s a lot of room for playing that - -

MATTHEWS:  If you do that math, that`s 49 percent.  That`s not even half. 

GOEAS:  And that`s where everyone gets it wrong this terms of talking about this group or that group. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let`s talk about the people that matter in terms of elections, like 2018 coming up.  Who is going to vote in that election? 

GOEAS:  Well, there what you see in an off-year is you see a huge drop of independent voter --


GOEAS:  And so, it drops from being about 70 percent of the registered -- 

MATTHEWS:  As they get older. 

GOEAS:  It does get much older, it gets quite frankly more white.  The one thing you don`t know is usually the outparty from the White House has more intensity.  And so, you may see some math games being played --

DEAN:  I`m guess -- I`m sorry. 

GOEAS:  But, you know, they are making too much of what is happening --


MATTHEWS:  Do you buy the street as an indicator or not --

GOEAS:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  The governor said before we went on, that 9,000 people down in Melbourne means nothing.  What does turnout mean? 

GOEAS:  It`s an indicator, but it could be misread.  This campaign started off with both Trump and Hillary Clinton in the mid 50s with their unfavorables.  They ended the campaign in the mid-50s.  The only thing that changed with those numbers was the intensity of their negatives went up for both of them.

And intensity of Trump`s positives went up during the time.  It didn`t change for all numbers.

MATTHEWS:  That`s my anecdotal -- 

GOEAS:  And so, what you maybe seeing now is the intensity of the Hillary favorables becoming more intense.  But it`s not changing the overall numbers. 

MATTHEWS:  I don`t hear her name lately. 

GOEAS:  Only when Trump raised it up.

MATTHEWS:  No, really, not that, she`ll come back -- 


DEAN:  Ed is 100 percent right, but I`m betting what`s happened is these young people have been traumatized by Trump`s election, because it was essentially a reneging on every single value that somebody in this country under 35 has and they were shocked.  I think they`re coming out in 2008, which they did not do in 2014. 

NEWTON-SMALL:  But you have a ton -- every women`s serve I`m on talks about how there`s a gazillion women running for office right now.  There`s so many -- women energized.  By some counts, 13,000 women are running for office in 2018.  And that could have huge impact on the midterm elections where women traditionally don`t turn out. 

And if women -- when you get women to turn out -- if women turned out in 2012 in the same numbers they turned out in 2008, Democrats would have kept the Senate, they would have won the House.  That`s how powerful women voters are. 

GOEAS:  Except again, when you talk about subgroups like that, you have to take out the minorities and what`s happening with the white vote really tell what`s happening.  A good example was in this election, white vote was 1 percent higher of the vote participation, but suburban white vote was down.  And white vote in the rural areas was 8 percent.  And that`s the Trump voters and that`s the one no one is watching closely. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I thought, I believe all the polling had said suburbs are going to smash Trump because women in the suburbs and men cared about women equality would have been turned off by the guy.  And It didn`t go that powerfully.  It didn`t happen. 

Anyway, the inner city, African-Americans turned out, but the suburbs were not an anti-Trump as they talked the pollsters about. 

Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us.

And coming up, on the President`s Day, which presidents are top rated in history and how is Barack Obama doing?

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.  


MATTHEWS:  Well, the third weekend in a row, the president spent the weekend at Mar-a-Lago, down in Florida.  In an audio recording, however, obtained by "Politico", then-president-elect is inviting members of the Trump national golf club up in New Jersey to join him in interviews as he conducted transition business.  Let`s listen. 


TRUMP:  We`re going to be interviewing everybody -- Treasury.  We`re going to be interviewing secretary of state.  We have everybody coming in and we`re going to have -- and I don`t know if you want to come around but if you want to, it`s going to be unbelievable -- it`s going to be an unbelievable day. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, this comes a week after the president hosted the prime minister of Japan down in Florida.  The two held an impromptu crisis meeting on the patio of Mar-a-Lago after North Korea launched a ballistic missile. 

We`ll be back after this. 


MATTHEWS:  We`re back with a special Presidents` Day edition of the HARDBALL round table. 

By the way, C-Span has a new presidential survey in which historians themselves rank our country`s best and worst presidents. 

The usual guys at the top: Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, both Roosevelts keep their hold in the top spots.  So, that`s Washington, Lincoln, the two Roosevelts.

And then big news here, Dwight Eisenhower moved into the top five for the first time ahead of Harry Truman.  Nobody would have believed this. 

I`m back with our roundtable, Ed Goeas, Jay Newton-Small and former Governor Howard Dean.

Who do you think is missing on the list?  Who do you think should be hired?  I think -- I understand why Ike, peace and prosperity, kept us out of the Middle East in the Suez campaign, kept us out of Vietnam.  I think he had, and also kept us from over-arming and took Kennedy and Roosevelt, you know, missile gap, and all of that crap. 

Ike was a pretty good president but he wasn`t good on civil rights.  That`s my thought.

GOEAS:  Perhaps not good on civil rights but I think with everything you`re hearing in terms of the military and national defense, I think you`re seeing him rise a little bit because of that.  I think you also have -- you know, quite frankly, if I looked at that list, Abraham Lincoln would obviously be on there.  Roosevelt. 

MATTHEWS:  Near the top. 

GOEAS:  Teddy Roosevelt, the first true populist Republican.  But I also Ronald Reagan because I got to work for him --

MATTHEWS:  He`s number nine, which is not bad.  I think the top ten is like nominated for the Academy Award.  The nomination is the key.  Top ten is pretty darn good. 

NEWTON-SMALL:  I mean, I`ve just been reading it.  I just began a book on Teddy Roosevelt by Edmund Morris and just, I love the --

MATTHEWS:  "The Rise of Teddy Roosevelt", that one? 

NEWTON-SMALL:  Yes, yes, yes.  And so, the ego that it takes to run for president I think is really apt for this day and age.  I`ll tell you, they`re writing about this.  And his daughter talks about how he had to be at every christening, the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral --


MATTHEWS:  Who does that sound like, ego? 


DEAN:  George Washington.  Number one, I`ll tell you why.  He did a lot for the country, although I think Lincoln had a rougher ride.  But Washington is something that no other president did and it affected the whole world.  He refused the third term and refused supposedly offers of becoming king, which may or may not actually happen.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Do you know what George III said about that? 

DEAN:  What`s that? 

MATTHEWS:  The guy who was painting him said, he`s an American, an expat living in England.  He said, what do you think Washington is going to do after the war?  This is real. 

DEAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  And he said, I think he`s going back to his farm.  You know what George III said?  Well, then, he`ll be the greatest man in the world. 

DEAN:  Well, that`s essentially what he did.

MATTHEWS:  He knew.

DEAN:  Chris, that`s my argument.  At the time of the development of democracy, he established the principle of the office was more important than the person in it, and I think that`s why I think Washington is the greatest person. 

MATTHEWS:  And who would have known that Mad George III would get it. 

Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us and these three will tell me more about what I do not know.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  We`re back with the roundtable. 

Ed, tell me something I don`t know.  You know a lot. 

GOEAS:  Well, we`ve spent a lot to talk about the fact we have 33 of the 50 governors, we have 68, 69 of the 98. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, you`re the party.

GOEAS:  One of the things I think you`re going to have out of the next two years, a lot of discussion, again, about a balanced budget amendment and Republicans are just one chamber short of having both chambers and a governor to be able to pass a national --

MATTHEWS:  How are you going to do that with Trump spending all the money on infrastructure? 

GOEAS:  Well, I think that`s one of the reasons why you may see that become more and more of an issue as we get towards the next two years. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Ten seconds. 

NEWTON-SMALL:  OK.  So, Republicans, main street partnership, the second week of the administration met with the speaker and actually mentioned the word impeachment.  Whether they were joking or not --

MATTHEWS:  Governor? 

DEAN:  Democrats have an outside chance of appointing a 35-year-old guy chairman, who`s a mayor in South Bend, Indiana.  Two-term --

MATTHEWS:  Are you for him? 

DEAN:  I kind of am a little bit. 

MATTHEWS:  Good, good.  He got an endorsement. 

Thank you, Ed Goeas.  Thank you, Jay Newton-Small.  Thank you, Howard Dean.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.