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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 2/21/2017

Guests: Mark Potok, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, John Feehery, Ned Ryun, Karine Jean-Pierre, Annie Karni

Show: Hardball with Chris Matthews Date: February 21, 2017 Guest: Mark Potok, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, John Feehery, Ned Ryun, Karine Jean-Pierre, Annie Karni

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Friends without benefits.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

In the beginning, Donald Trump was known for attacking President Obama`s Americanism. Trump accused him of being -- coming from Kenya, sneaking into the country and the presidency under an assumed identity. It got Trump noticed by the far right.

Then Trump went after immigrants from Mexico, calling them rapists. That won him support from another swatch (sic) on the hard right. His attacks on Muslims, his push for anti-Muslim bans excited still more enthusiasm out there on the perimeter.

Well, Trump`s appeal has triggered new level of aggression now on the right. According the Southern Poverty Law Center, it`s given strength and confidence to the extreme right wing, including anti-Semitic elements. Well, now the desecration of a Jewish burial ground outside of St. Louis, Missouri, this weekend has brought the issue of hate and extremism to the forefront.

Numerous headstones -- you can see them there -- were overturned and in many cases broken by vandals who gained access to the historic cemetery. Local police estimate that almost 200 gravesites were targeted over the weekend.

It comes amid a recent spike in hate-related incidents targeting the Jewish community. On Monday, 11 Jewish centers across the country received bomb threats. They follow a number of similar threats that have taken place since January. Reacting last night, Ivanka Trump, who converted to orthodox Judaism in 2009, spoke out on Twitter. Quote -- this is her -- "America is a nation built on the principle of religious tolerance. We must protect or houses of worship and religious centers."

In an interview with Craig Melvin today -- our own Craig Melvin -- President Trump condemned the vandalism, as well as the larger problem of anti-Semitism in this country.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it`s terrible. I think it`s horrible. Whether it`s anti-Semitism or racism or anything you want to think about having to do with the divide. Anti-Semitism is just likewise -- it`s just terrible. And you don`t know where it`s coming from, but I certainly hope they catch the people. I think you maybe have had it for longer than people think, and maybe it gets brought up a little bit more, but I will tell you that anti-Semitism is horrible and it`s going to stop. And it has to stop.

CRAIG MELVIN, NBC CORRESPONDENT: So you`re denouncing it now once and for all (INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: Oh, of course. And I do it -- wherever I get a chance, I do it.


MATTHEWS: Well, to many, the recent vandalism in St. Louis is part of a larger trend of incidents targeting minority communities. The Southern Poverty Law Center produced a report this month noting the correlation between Trump`s election and the uptick in acts of hate.

Quote, "In the immediate aftermath of the election day, a wave of hate crimes and lesser hate incidents swept the country, 1,094 bias incidents in the first 34 days. The hate is clearly tied directly to Trump`s victory. The highest count came on the first day after the election, with the numbers diminishing steadily after that." Well, and "More than a third of the incidents directly referenced either Trump, his "Make America great again" slogan or his infamous remarks about grabbing women.

I`m joined right now by Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Mark, thank you for joining us. What is it -- is it correlation, is it -- is it causality? What can you find here in the data?

MARK POTOK, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: Well, I think you`ve been over a couple of the key points. One, we know it was related to the election because it was a huge outburst of these incidents starting immediately after the election.

And two, in analyzing all of the incidents, we found 37 percent of the perpetrators, as you said, either named President Trump by saying something like -- you know, yelling to a women wearing a hijab, You go back to your country, now Donald Trump is president, that kind of thing, or the "Make America great" slogan or the grabbing women comment.

So you know,I think what`s happened -- and it wasn`t particularly only anti-Semitic acts and attacks that we saw. Basically, every minority in America was attacked during that period. It was really quite something to see.

MATTHEWS: Well, shortly after the election, Donald Trump was asked on "60 Minutes" to respond to acts of hate that were committed by his supporters. Here`s exchange with Leslie Stahl.


TRUMP: I don`t hear it. I...

LESLIE STAHL, "60 MINUTES": You don`t -- you`re not seeing it...

TRUMP: I saw -- I saw one or two instances.

STAHL: ... on social media?

TRUMP: But I think it`s a very small amount. Again, I think it`s...

STAHL: Do you want to say anything to those people?

TRUMP: I would say don`t do it. That`s terrible. Because I`m going to bring this country together.

STAHL: They`re harassing Latinos, Muslims.

TRUMP: I am so saddened to hear that. And I say stop it. If it -- if it helps, I will say this, and I`ll say it right to the camera. Stop it.


MATTHEWS: Out it all together, Mark. I mean, you`re a expert on these problems with hate groups and what they do, their actions as well as their attitudes. Trump to me -- I don`t think he`s anti-Semitic for a lot of reasons. One, I think he loves his daughter, who`s converted. He loves his son-in-law, apparently, Jared.

And politically, Jared`s got a lot of pull with the guy, apparently. He`s been very pro-Bibi. He`s been to the right in terms of Israel is (INAUDIBLE) I don`t think what that says about his attitudes towards the Jewish people, but certainly to the right in terms of supporting his settlements and this one-state thing he`s pulling right now.

How do you put it all together personally? How do you figure him out?

POTOK: Well...

MATTHEWS: Or is it just he`s in the right-wing coalition, which includes some bad characters?

POTOK: I mean, first of all, I would say that the comments to Leslie Stahl, as well as the comments today, you know, that and 50 cents will buy you a cup of coffee.

You know, I mean, the reality is, is that Donald Trump from the very first day of his campaign, when he denounced Mexican immigrants as drug dealers and rapists. has playing a game of footsie with the extreme right. You know, he backed away repeatedly from disavowing David Duke, the former Klan leader...


POTOK: ... claiming that he didn`t know who he was. And that was simply false. And in any number of other ways, he avoided until the very last moment, until he was backed into a corner by reporters or other people, making these kinds of statements.

Now, you know, do I believe Donald Trump is personally anti-Semitic? You know, it hardly matters whether he is personally anti-Semitic or racist. The fact is, is that when he makes these comments, when he describes Muslims as people not deserving to be in this country, when he attacks immigrants in general, Latinos in particular, and on and on and on, he essentially gives permission to people out there to act in this way.

So you know, no -- I mean, certainly, he has done some anti-Semitic things during the course of his campaign. It is hard to forget his refusal to mention Jews in his comments about Holocaust Remembrance Day. It`s hard to forget him tweeting a star of David with the picture of Hillary Clinton, and you know, piles of money, you know, and then later claiming this was a sheriff`s star, not a Jewish star and so on.

MATTHEWS: That`s one I forgot. Thank you, Mark. I forgot that baby. Thanks for reminding me of that one. That one was a problem, definitely. You`re right. Thank you...

POTOK: Yes, there were a whole series of these things. And I think, you know, he`s not trying to attack Jews, he trying to avoid offending the anti-Semites out there who support him, and there are quite a lot of them.

MATTHEWS: I think that`s a good way of putting it. Thank you so much.

President Trump`s critics have said that he`s missed several opportunities to speak out, as Mark said, about incidents like those.

Anyway, here`s how the president responded to a question about the rise in threats to the Jewish centers, I think Jewish community centers, in his press conference last week.


QUESTION: There has been a report out that 48 bomb threats have been made against Jewish centers all across the country in the last couple of weeks. There are people who are committing anti-Semitic acts or threatening to...

TRUMP: See, he said he`s going to ask a very simple, easy question. And it`s not.

QUESTION: It`s an important (INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: It`s not. Not a -- not a simple question, not a fair question. OK, sit down. I understand the rest of your question. So here`s the story, folks. Number one, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you`ve ever seen in your entire life.


MATTHEWS: Well, a series of those threats that were mentioned there by that person, the reporter, were made against Jewish community centers in the state of Connecticut last month.

I`m joined right now by Connecticut senator Richard Blumenthal. Thank you for joining us, Senator.

What do you -- what do you make of this...


MATTHEWS: ... pattern, its correlation, the causality? It`s very hard to prove causality unless people put some kind of graffiti or something that says Trump`s name on it, but apparently, some people do that very thing. They identify themselves with the slogan of this president and with some of the other characteristics of his campaign.

BLUMENTHAL: His silence really has spoken volumes until today. Yesterday`s statement was very weak. His response that you just played to that reporter at the press conference, his failure to mention Jews in the Holocaust statement all have sent signals and have given license to many of the white supremacists and white nationalists who, in fact, have supported same of the people around him, like Steve Bannon.

So what`s needed now is a clear, unequivocal, emphatic condemnation not just once but repeated, and also action, which speaks louder than words, directing his attorney general to apprehend, prosecute and convict the people behind these desecrations and threats because that kind of action will deter it in the future.

MATTHEWS: You know what I liked? I don`t usually get that inspired by politicians, although I do occasionally, Senator, get inspired. And I was inspired in the last campaign -- going back to `08 -- when John McCain, who was fighting a very tough uphill campaign against Barack Obama -- when that woman said that Barack Obama was an Arab in a very -- very nasty way she said -- nothing wrong with being an Arab, but she made it sound pretty bad. And he said, No, he`s not. He`s a good American.

Do you think Trump should do something like that once in a while, stand up for the right, the good?

BLUMENTHAL: That`s -- that is exactly the kind of leadership that has been lacking. And John McCain standing up to that statement took enormous courage, very gutsy. That`s the kind of leadership that would quell and put to rest a lot of the doubts about President Trump`s motives or views on this issue.

And moreover, increasing the strength of the present (ph) law (ph). I`m proposing legislation that will provide tougher penalties but also more resources for local law enforcement and a private right of action, private ability to sue the perpetrators of this kind of action. This kind of action, again, speaks louder than words.

MATTHEWS: You know, and I have to say that I think it takes a really sick mind, a hater mind, to go after a cemetery. It`s just -- there`s nothing there except the hell you want to raise and the evil you want to do to people who are dead and just to their memories, to their families` memories.

BLUMENTHAL: And it`s more than just against Jews. It is also against Muslims. It`s against the weak and sometimes disabled. And the actions of now President Trump during his campaign I think gave license to that kind of malicious instinct, really...


BLUMENTHAL: ... a despicable kind of instinct on the part of people other than President Trump.

MATTHEWS: It`s hard to argue with that. Thank you so much, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. Please come back again.

Joining me right now is Heidi Przybyla of "USA Today," who`s reporting on this today for the front page tomorrow, as well as Republican strategist John Feehery.

This is a tough one to talk about because there`s always a little bit of prejudice floating around in this country. We`re a country of many different ethnic groups and religions, and try to get along.


MATTHEWS: And somebody goes to a graveyard on the weekend down in St. Louis and starts knocking over gravestones, you go, Wait a minute. Something`s going bad here.

PRZYBYLA: Right, and that`s putting a magnifying glass for the whole country on this phenomenon of what was once kind of a right-wing fringe alt-right white nationalist movement moving more into the mainstream, possibly gaining traction. And I don`t think that people are calling -- just like that Jewish reporter wasn`t calling Donald Trump anti-Semitic, but they`re asking him, as a leader, as the president of the United States...

MATTHEWS: Well, he took it that way.

PRZYBYLA: He took it that way but he -- they`re asking him, What is your response to this? What is the imperative for your response to this as president of the United States because...

MATTHEWS: Proactive.

PRZYBYLA: ... the numbers don`t lie. There has been a spike. And if you want to believe the Southern Poverty Law Center, then believe the FBI because they`ve got numbers, too.

MATTHEWS: You know, even back in the `60s -- I have this long political memory, as you know, John, and, like -- Barry Goldwater, who was not a racist -- he was a constitutionalists -- he had people riding around in this country with, you know, rebel license plates to make the point that they were with him on racial reasons, the wrong way.


MATTHEWS: So you get company you don`t want sometimes in politics.

FEEHERY: Well, what Donald Trump should do what Senator Blumenthal said and -- and not only condemn these folks but go after them and prosecute them. But, you know, he`s not an anti-Semite. And I think that you have to be careful...


MATTHEWS: I spent the day arguing with our producers. That`s not saying that because you never know (INAUDIBLE) person`s heart anyway.

FEEHERY: Right. (INAUDIBLE) he`s got a long history of not been anti- Semitic.


FEEHERY: And he`s also -- you know, I think that -- but he does have to make some...

MATTHEWS: But politically -- look at this!


MATTHEWS: ... played the racial card with the birther thing. He played the anti-Mexican, Central American card with the rapist thing. And the Muslim ban was a religion he was talking about.

PRZYBYLA: And it goes back to his campaign slogan, too.

MATTHEWS: So he`s been playing these cards on the right.

TRUMP: "America first" campaign slogan, which a lot of people, you know, point out kind of the historical...

MATTHEWS: Well, we know what that is. That`s 1940.

PRZYBYLA: The history of -- but here`s the critical thing, OK? It`s not just this fringe group -- this fringe movement going mainstream, but it`s a pattern of delayed responses. So it`s not just, you know, not responding in that Thursday news conference until today, but there`s been several incidents of that. Like, when Richard Spencer did the kind of "hail Trump" thing at the ballroom. And they had people doing the Nazi salute. It wasn`t until "The New York Times" pushed him to denounce that. So it`s this pattern of delayed...

MATTHEWS: And by the way, nobody`s ever accused of Trump of being anti- Mexican, but he`s played that card. You know that.

FEEHERY: Well, he...

MATTHEWS: He`s played that card.

FEEHERY: He played some cards that helped get him to the White House.


FEEHERY: What he`s got to do if he wants to really bring the country together, he`s got to act like it. And I think he`s got to get some stuff done for the American people. He has no percentage in attacking the Jewish community. I don`t think he`s...


MATTHEWS: ... overtly.

PRZYBYLA: What`s the down side of just doing a major address? Because as a reporter, I remember thinking, Gee, this campaign was so ugly and there was so much hate being spewed on both sides that he`s got to give some kind of a -- an address to really...

MATTHEWS: He`s got a list to work down, by the way.


MATTHEWS: ... number of ethnic groups to convince them that he wasn`t against him, right? Well, I`ll say it.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, in his briefing today, his press briefing, Sean Spicer there, still working it out, said that no matter what the president does, his critics will say it`s not enough. Let`s watch.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He has been very forceful with his denunciation of people who seek to attack people because of their hate -- excuse me -- because of their religion, because of their gender, because of the color of their skin. But (INAUDIBLE) it`s -- it`s ironic that no matter how many times he talks about this that it`s never good enough.


MATTHEWS: What do you think of that kind of job that he`s doing there, I mean, saying that he`s victim? I mean, that`s what Sean`s saying. Sean`s working for the guy. He`s press secretary of the United States who believes he`s been set upon.

FEEHERY: Listen, I think that Trump has made some mistakes. But I think a lot of these attacks are wrong and are (ph) political, though. And I think that, unfortunately, for Sean, what else is he going to say? I think that in many ways, it`s not going to be enough because there is an element of politics here, and I do think that Donald Trump can make many speeches as he wants, and they`re still going to make him -- accusations against him because sometimes that`s what Democrats do.

PRZYBYLA: There will always be politics, but again, it`s like -- it made me think of when I force my husband to apologize when we have an argument, I never feel good about it because I know it`s forced. And I think that`s the case here!


MATTHEWS: You don`t like that -- you don`t like that...


MATTHEWS: By the way, we can talk about this for hours. (INAUDIBLE) But I do -- I did get a couple of anti-Semitic calls lately, and the reason I like this topic (INAUDIBLE) because I think there`s something weird going on. I got a couple calls.

FEEHERY: Well...

MATTHEWS: You know, the guy who calls you up and makes the usual anti- Semitic crap on the phone and where you work, and everything. And I go -- and then I see this -- (INAUDIBLE) is there something going on in the zeitgeist...


FEEHERY: There`s a real problem, and I think Trump would be smart to address it and address it and be effective on it. And I think that Senator Blumenthal has a point there, prosecute some of these knuckleheads.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, also, it`s that mentality of the media and everything. Anyway, it ain`t true. Anyway, Heidi, thank you. (INAUDIBLE) talk about your husband...


MATTHEWS: ... getting a little personal around here, but I do like it because a lot of life does come down to relationships with people who live together for their whole lives. It does get personal.

Anyway, John Feehery, sir, thank you.

Coming up, the controversial editor Milo Yiannopoulos resigns from Breitbart after getting banned from the speaking engagement he had at the annual CPAC convention. How far are conservatives willing to push the envelope in the age of Trump? Well, he`s not going to make it anymore.

Plus -- the Russians are coming, and guess what? They`re contradicting President Trump. "The "New York Times" quotes Russian officials now saying Trump`s team did have contact with them, the Russians, during the campaign. Who are you going to believe?

And the president promises to heal division in this country. In our new NBC News exclusive interview, he said he wants to bring people together. But with attacks on his political opponents and the media, it`s not happening, is it.

Finally, let me finish with "Trump Watch."

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Members of Congress are back home right now and many are facing protests at town hall meetings with their constituents. Today, Republican state senator -- or Senate leader Mitch McConnell met angry crowds at a town hall with voters back home in Kentucky. And late today, President Trump tweeted about it. Quote, "The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually in numerous cases planned out by liberal activists. Sad."

By the way, outside agitators? Heard that one before?

We`ll be back after this.



BILL MAHER, HOST, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER": You`re a conservative. I`m a liberal. That`s the difference.

MILO YIANNOPOULOS, CONSERVATIVE BLOGGER: I don`t know if I`m conservative.


MAHER: Well, you work for Breitbart, and you`re a Trump supporter. You`re a conservative.

YIANNOPOULOS: Well, it`s interesting that the radical gay editorials saying interesting, provocative things about gays are now being published by Breitbart. And I don`t think really that you can call Trump a traditional conservative. He`s not that Republican.


MATTHEWS: Well, welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was the controversial news editor for Breitbart News, Milo Yiannopoulos, during an appearance on "Real Time With Bill Maher."

This afternoon, Yiannopoulos resigned from the hard-right news Web site. It comes a day after CPAC, a major conservative conference held annually here in Washington, withdrew its invitation to the polarizing figure.

They withdrew the invitation after the conservative advocacy group called Reagan Battalion posted clips in which he appeared to defend sexual relationships between young teenagers and adults in some circumstances. Well, that`s interesting.

Matt Schlapp, of course our friend here, chairman of the American Conservative Union, which hosts CPAC, explained the decision to bump him.


MATT SCHLAPP, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF POLITICAL AFFAIRS: We are OK with having controversy on the stage at CPAC. We don`t endorse everything every speaker says at CPAC.

As a matter of fact, since I have been chairman, we have tried to take controversies, especially those amongst conservatives, and put them on our stage. But there are boundaries. And over the weekend, I was made aware of these comments, and it just broke through very important boundaries.

And we felt like the CPAC stage was not an appropriate place for this any longer.


MATTHEWS: Well, the rescinded invitation to CPAC wasn`t only the fallout for the controversial blogger. Yesterday, Simon & Schuster decided to cancel the publication of Yiannopoulos`s book which was scheduled for release in June.

Amidst the controversy, the blogger decided to defend himself this afternoon. Here he is.


YIANNOPOULOS: I have reviewed the tapes that appeared a few days ago in the proper context. And I don`t believe they say what is being reported.

But I understand that my usual blend of sassy, gay British sarcasm, provocation and gallows humor might have come across at flippancy, the lack of care for other victims or, even worse, as seems to have been the case in reports, advocacy.

I`m horrified by that impression. I would like to restate my disgust at adults who sexually abuse minors.


MATTHEWS: Well, the initial CPAC invitation created quite an uproar among prominent conservatives.

In a post, conservative blogger Erick Erickson slammed that decision as a publicity stunt, writing that the Breitbart editor -- quote -- "has expressly said he is not a conservative. His entire shtick is about political correctness. If CPAC`s criteria for inviting someone is just in opposition to political correctness, then Milo Yiannopoulos fits the bill."

Well, Ned Ryun, he is on the -- American Conservative Union board members. He`s one of the people that sponsored this CPAC convention. He tweeted: "The alt-right and its fellow travelers have no place inside the movement."

Joining me right now is him, American Conservative Union board member and CEO of American Majority, Ned Ryun, and former RNC chair Michael Steele.

Thank you both, gentlemen.

Is this weeding-out process that`s begun on the hard right, pulling out people like Yiannopoulos because of...


MATTHEWS: Oh, go ahead.


RYUN: In the conservative movement, not hard right.


MATTHEWS: Don`t hold your tongue.

RYUN: No, this is one of the things where I think we actually have to take a stance and say the alt-right is not part of the conservative movement. And when Schlapp says we want rigorous debate among conservatives, we do at CPAC.

We absolutely do.

MATTHEWS: Well, who is out, who is in?

RYUN: The alt-right is not part of the conservative movement. And I don`t think we need to normalize them. And so I have very strong opinions about them.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s start with the spectrum. Let`s have some fun here.

George F. Will, the classic newspaper conservative, right, he`s a conservative, right? He`s within...

RYUN: Right.

MATTHEWS: Pat Buchanan.


RYUN: What, are we going to play a game?

MATTHEWS: Well, how far we -- I want to know, how far..


MATTHEWS: You say you can decide who is in and who is out? Who is in and who is out?

RYUN: When you`re using anti-Semitic...

MATTHEWS: Who is out? OK. Who is out besides this guy Yiannopoulos?

RYUN: ... racist, misogynistic white nationalism...

MATTHEWS: Give me a list of who...


RYUN: ... that`s not part of the conservative movement.

MATTHEWS: OK. Give me some names.



RYUN: All I`m going on here to say is the alt-right ha nothing to do with the conservative movement.

MATTHEWS: OK. Who else is in the alt-right?


RYUN: Should not be embraced, should not be normalized.

MATTHEWS: Name some names. Who shouldn`t be in your union? who shouldn`t be a conservative?

RYUN: Right now, Milo being uninvited, glad -- I was so happy that it was rescinded.

MATTHEWS: Well, great, but give me some other names.

RYUN: But my problem in all of this was, we rescinded his invitation over pedophilia, when, in fact, we should have the debate on, what is the alt- right?


RYUN: Why are we embracing them? We shouldn`t be. In this day and age, when we`re seeing more and sadly some anti-Semitism...


MATTHEWS: Is Ann Coulter in or out?

RYUN: We need to...


MATTHEWS: Well, if you`re a gatekeeper, I just want to know...


RYUN: I`m all for free speech. Not all people deserve a platform.


MATTHEWS: Give me the names of people you don`t consider belonging in the conservative moment.

RYUN: I`m only talking the alt-right tonight and Milo.

MATTHEWS: Well, who is in the alt-right that we should know about? Or define -- I`m sorry. Just define the alt-right.


RYUN: No. I mean, Richard Spencer.

My problem is, if we`re going to invite Milo to come onto the stage and give our tacit endorsement, because that`s what you get when you come on a main stage. It`s a very...



RYUN: It`s a big deal.

Michael, you know this. You have been to plenty of CPACs. It`s a big deal.

We don`t want to give our tacit endorsement to this. So, of course we don`t want to see Milo up there. We don`t want to see a Richard Spencer.


MATTHEWS: How about Breitbart itself, the whole operation?

RYUN: I love the Breitbart guys. And I think they made a mistake. And I think they corrected that mistake today by...


RYUN: If he didn`t resign, I think he would have been fired.

MATTHEWS: So Bannon is OK with you, Steve Bannon?

RYUN: Yes, I hope so.


STEELE: I think a lot of what you`re getting at, Chris, has to do -- when you ask, who is the alt-right, it`s not so much the who. It`s the philosophy.

And does that line up with where mainstream conservatism is? And it goes to something that I had to deal with as chairman and that I think the party has to deal with as a whole going forward. And that is a full-throated definition of who we are, what we believe.


MATTHEWS: I`m just wondering why Breitbart -- it`s OK to have Steve Bannon in the White House and Miller in the White House, and yet it`s no good for this guy Yiannopoulos.

What`s the difference between them?

RYUN: But I want to go to what Michael was talking about.

I think we`re in a very interesting era in which we`re having to have conversations and define, what is the conservative movement, what do we actually believe, what do we not believe, what would we accept, what should we reject?

And so I think you`re going to actually see something of a rigorous debate, I hope over the next couple years, because what does it look like?

STEELE: Because, as we saw with Tea Party, everybody has their own agendas which they bring to that tent.

And they get underneath that tent and they project outward, like they`re a part of that, when, in fact, they have their own thing. That`s what the alt-right effectively has done. They have sort of glommed on to the conservative mantle and used it as a stepping-stone.

MATTHEWS: So, just to clarify, you don`t think Breitbart is anti-Semitic?

RYUN: No, I do not.

MATTHEWS: OK, good. I want...

RYUN: Andrew Breitbart, Larry Solov, two Jewish guys, founding this...

MATTHEWS: I`m talking about Bannon and what is going on.

RYUN: Steve Bannon helps finance them, to take them to the next level.

They start something called Big Jerusalem that advocates the state of Israel. I found that one to be one of the most ridiculous charges against Breitbart.


MATTHEWS: CPAC`s invitation to the controversial former Breitbart editor has sparked a debate about where the Republican Party is actually headed.

"The Washington Post" wrote: "Trump`s GOP has come to be defined as much by what it`s not -- politically correct, playing nice, a friend of the mainstream media, adhering to political norms and facts -- as what it actually is. It`s a longstanding middle finger to the political establishment, and in that way, Yiannopoulos very much fit the mold."

Today, Milo told reporters that he and President Trump were testaments to a new direction.



YIANNOPOULOS: This sort of populist, nationalist revolution that is happening, the anti-political correctness, pro-speech revolution that is happening all over the Western world is not going anywhere.

For the last 30 years, speech codes have been the order of the day. And right-wing politicians have run terrified and screaming from allegations of racism and sexism and basically given ground on almost every serious issue.

Well, that`s changing with the rise of bold electorates and bold politicians. Donald Trump is an example of that. I`m example of a cultural figure related to that social change.


MATTHEWS: What do you feel all about -- Michael, you first. What do you make of that performance?

STEELE: Well, look, he is in trouble. And so he dials it back. He sort of gets the glasses on, the hair, the suit, the whole thing, as opposed to the shtick that we saw, for example, the behavior on "Bill Maher" and how he`s approached this.

So, when you`re in trouble, that is what it looks like, OK? But here is the problem. CPAC and other organizations have to be very careful in terms of how they extend such invitations, because by the initial extension of that invitation, you created this confusion within the ranks of conservatives.

RYUN: Right, that we are embracing and normalizing it.

STEELE: That we are embracing and normalizing someone who they know is outside of their mainstream, let alone...


MATTHEWS: I spoke there once years ago.

Anyway, but I think you do, like everybody, like, Michael -- like Bill Maher, you put on somebody that gets some attention. So, for years, you guys have Ann Coulter, puts on a good show.

RYUN: I`m pretty sure having the vice president and the president of the United States this year is going to be a pretty good show.

MATTHEWS: Yes. So, you don`t think they had to go wild?

RYUN: No, I don`t.


STEELE: With the president, the vice president and Milo?

RYUN: Yes, that didn`t make sense.

STEELE: Seriously? That makes no sense.

RYUN: But, really quick, when he is saying he is in lockstep with the president...

MATTHEWS: We will get Matt Schlapp on here the next couple days and have him defend his...


RYUN: First of all, Trump rejected the alt-right two weeks after the election on Twitter, made it very public: I reject it. I disavow it. I want nothing to do with it.

So, he is not in lockstep with them. He is a fellow traveler, claims to be a fellow traveler of the alt-right. Trump has rejected that.

MATTHEWS: You`re saying Trump never played to the hard right with birtherism, with attacking Mexicans as rapists, as saying the president of the United States is some sort of illegal immigrant from Kenya who came here under an assumed name? You don`t think that`s playing to the hard right? You don`t think that is?


MATTHEWS: You`re laughing. I don`t think it`s funny.

RYUN: No, some of those things that I think...


MATTHEWS: The first African-American president is treated as some sort of interloper.

RYUN: Some of the rhetoric.

MATTHEWS: No, not rhetoric. Not rhetoric. A statement that President Obama is not an American. That`s not a joke.

RYUN: But here`s part of my problem. And I think that part of this Milo problem has been a problem. We have to be focused more on our not rhetoric, not to distract from our message, and actually focus on who we are as conservatives.


MATTHEWS: Look, Trump put the whistle out there. He said, first of all, Obama was not an American. Then he said Mexicans were -- he could have said, we have got a problem with illegal immigration. That`s a reasonable debate. We have had it here a lot.

You don`t call them all rapists. You don`t accuse Muslims of all being terrorists. You don`t accuse the first American -- African-American president of being some sort of foreigner who snuck in the country and is an illegal immigrant.

You don`t think that`s playing to the hard right?

RYUN: Here`s my thing.

MATTHEWS: Wait a minute. Why don`t you answer the question? You think that`s not playing to the hard right? Or do you think he believes this crap? I don`t think he believes any of it. I think he plays to the right.


MATTHEWS: But I think he plays to the hard right.


RYUN: But here is my thing with the conservative movement.


MATTHEWS: Can you make your thing answering a question, please? Just answer one question.

RYUN: I`m pivoting here. I`m deflecting.

MATTHEWS: Pivoting quick. Pivot.

RYUN: No. With the conservative moment, we don`t need to play footsie with this sort of thing.

MATTHEWS: Well, why are you?

RYUN: We don`t need to ...

MATTHEWS: Why is your group doing it?

RYUN: I`m calling it out. I`m saying we should not be associated with the alt-right.


MATTHEWS: OK. That`s good. OK. Thank you.

RYUN: Let`s make it definitive.


STEELE: Yiannopoulos got caught talking about kids and sex, and that`s what called him out, not his ideology.

RYUN: This is what I`m concerned about. We should have had that debate.

MATTHEWS: You`re on the board.

Ned Ryun, thank you, sir, for being on the board and answering a few of my questions, not the big ones.


MATTHEWS: Michael Steele, thank you.

Up next: new reporting tonight from "The New York Times" on the Trump campaign`s connections with the Russians. He has got them.

And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Last week, President Trump insisted again, as he has for months, that he neither nor his aides have had any contact with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign.

And now Matthew Rosenberg of "The New York Times" writes: "The denial stands at odds with statements by Russian officials who have at least twice acknowledged contacts with aides to Mr. Trump before the election, before November."

Rosenberg is referring to the Russian deputy foreign minister who told Interfax news agency two days after November`s elections that -- quote -- "There were contacts between the Russian government and members of Trump`s immediate entourage during the campaign."

He also said that the Russians continued to have contact with Trump`s people after the election as well.

Well, Trump`s spokeswoman Hope Hicks denied any contact between campaign staff and the Russian officials prior to the election.

And the Russian ambassador to the U.S. told "The Washington Post" -- quote -- "He had communicated with Michael Flynn by text message, by phone, and in person, but declined to say whether they had discussed sanctions, all before the November 8 election."

So, who are we to believe, the president of the United States or the Russians?

Jeremy Peters is a reporter with "The New York Times" and an MSNBC contributor.

Jeremy, what -- what I like this story is -- the "New York Times" has been out on big this story. They have talked about a long series of conversations involving Trump people, whether it`s business associates, whether it`s Manafort, whoever it is, and the Russians.

Trump offers this blanket denial, if you just listen to him generally, but it`s covered with caveats, like "as far as I can remember, according to my recollection, according to this."


MATTHEWS: "As far as I know."

So, what`s up? What can we deduce from the reporting of your newspaper and Trump`s denials?

PETERS: Well, clearly, there were conversations at some level between his campaign and between the Russian government.

And what`s odd about his denials is that, if indeed they didn`t really communicate, I feel like we would know that by now. It`s something -- it`s one of these things with Trump where you`re in this very strange position of having to question, OK, do we believe the Russians more than we believe our own president?

And it`s kind of just emblematic of how odd this White House really is and how difficult it can be to cover.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s talk about the big -- the worst-case scenario is that there was hand-holding on both sides by Trump and the Russians, with Putin involved, that they would be very nice to Trump by leaking everything from the Democratic National Committee, humiliating Hillary, helping her lose the campaign, to the extent they could. And all the time, they`re in cahoots with the Trump people.

That would be the worst case. I don`t know if it`s impeachable, but it`s close, if it is, if it`s true.

And the other possibility is, at the other end, these were casual conversations that have nothing to do with the campaign. They just off- handed, whatever, I don`t know what, old friends. I don`t know what it could be, but the Russians are saying there were contacts.

PETERS: Well, that would be fine and that would be perfectly -- a perfectly legitimate explanation, if Trump himself had not gotten up and said, hey, Russians, please hack Hillary`s e-mails.

So, I think he loses a little bit of credibility there. And it doesn`t -- we know that Manafort had extensive contacts.


MATTHEWS: How did Manafort get together with Trump? Was it through Russia?

PETERS: Oh, yes, through Roger Stone. They have known each other for years.

MATTHEWS: Who also was involved with Russia.

PETERS: Manafort has -- I believe he still has a place in Trump Tower in New York.

MATTHEWS: Well, Black, Manafort, and Stone is the law -- is the firm that...

PETERS: Goes way back, when...

MATTHEWS: That Manafort worked in. So, maybe that`s how, if he did get involved, that was Stone involved there. They were clients over there, right?

PETERS: Well, they -- Trump, Roger Stone, and Paul Manafort go back 20- some years. They have always been kind of on the same page politically.


Well, thank you, Jeremy Peters. This story has got big legs, long legs.

Up next, President Trump`s vow to heal the racial divide and unite the country, the HARDBALL Roundtable is going to go at that next.

And tomorrow night at 10:00 Eastern, join us along with -- I will be with Brian Williams and Rachel Maddow for a special two-hour look at President Trump`s first month as president. We`re going to look at the hits, the misses and this president`s few days in office altogether, what he has gotten right and what he has gotten right wrong.

And this is tomorrow night. It`s not tomorrow night yet, but it`s 10:00 tomorrow night Eastern time for two hours.

You`re watching HARDBALL, where the action is.



CRAIG MELVIN, NBC NEWS: What do you think there`s divisions exist in this country? Why do you think they are so deep, so persistent?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think it`s just age old. It`s -- there is something going on that doesn`t allow it to fully heal. Sometimes it gets better and then it busts apart. But we want to have it get very much better, get unified and stay together. But you`ve seen it, where it often times, it will get much better and then it blows up.



That was Donald Trump today with NBC`s Craig Melvin after touring the Museum of African-American History and Culture here in Washington. The president has some ground to make up, of course. For years, he championed the racist birther charge against his predecessor, President Obama, and during the campaign, he reached out to African-American voters with the somewhat uninspiring message of, what do you got to lose?

In the past months, he`s had a few awkward moments discussing race. He referred to the abolitionist icon, Frederick Douglass, in the present tense, as, quote, "someone who has done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more." The tense is wrong there.

And last week, he had this exchange with April Ryan during his press conference.


TRUMP: We`re going to do a lot of work in the inner cities. I have great people lined up to help with the inner cities, OK?

APRIL RYAN, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORK: When you say the inner cities, are you going to -- are you going to include the CBC, Mr. President, in your conversations with your urban agenda, your inner city agenda, as well as --

TRUMP: Am I going to include who?

RYAN: Are you going to include the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus?

TRUMP: Well, I would. I`ll tell you what? You want to set up the meeting? Do you want to set up the meeting?

RYAN: No, no, no, no. I`m just a reporter --

TRUMP: Are they friends of yours? Get, setup the meeting.

RYAN: I know some of them, but I`m sure --

TRUMP: Let`s go and set up a meeting. I would love to meet with the Black Caucus. I think it`s great, the Congressional Black Caucus. I think it`s great.


MATTHEWS: Well, joining me right now is tonight`s roundtable, Karine Jean- Pierre is spokesperson for, Robert Traynham is MSNBC political analyst and vice president of Bipartisan Center, that`s a good move, Bipartisan Policy Center, and Annie Karni is a White House reporter for "Politico".

Annie, you start here. Do you believe him? It sounded nice.

ANNIE KARNI, POLITICO: It sounded nice.

MATTHEWS: Except for that about your crowd, where he`s looking to April basically. Why don`t you get together your pals and the caucus, like you live in the same neighborhood, I thought was interesting.

KARNI: It was -- it was a start. I mean, he went to the African-American museum.

MATTHEWS: He got a ticket. Good for him.

KARNI: It`s better not, but I think it`s all a little belated. This was sort of packaged with his first statement with his first statement about anti-Semitism and the incidents that have been happening since he became elected.

One thing that struck me about his interview today with MSNBC is that he used passive voice. He said, you know, anti-Semitism and racism, anything having to do with the divide, it`s horrible. You don`t know where it`s coming home. I hope they catch the people. Who is "they"? Like it`s not him.

MATTHEWS: The police, obviously.

Well, let me go to stuff that I understand birtherism. This guy picked up his first 20 percent with that number of his. The only people who like it are really right wingers who thought they had a problem with a black president. And so, they said you can`t be one of us, we want to put an asterisk next to his name, like you know -- he doesn`t get to be -- like Pete Rose, he doesn`t get to be hall of fame. He did something wrong, so we don`t really treat as one of the presidents.

ROBERT TRAYNHAM, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, two things. One, you`re absolutely right. I mean, for eight years, Donald Trump spent a lot of time trying to delegitimize President Barack Obama.

But I want to go back to your earlier question, Chris. I think this is important. I think Donald Trump was trying, meaning, he was trying to be sincere today with Craig Melvin. I think -- there`s no hesitancy in this voice. So, does this president deserve a reset? Sure. I think we should try to give him that.

But the question --

MATTHEWS: Do you think it help that he was in the African-American museum and be interviewed by an African-American reporter? Do you think that might have moved him towards the positive thinking?

TRAYNHAM: Well, you know waht? Every little bit helps. But the real point really is what is he going to do about HBCUs? What is he going to do within the black community.

MATTHEWS: Historically black colleges and universities --

TRAYNHAM: Yes. What is he going to do to try to bridge this racial divide that he helped create? That`s the real question here. And I guess my point is simply to your question, do you believe him? I`m sorry, go ahead.

MATTHEWS: You first, I don`t interrupt men, but I don`t want to interrupt women. But, you know, when you get 8 percent of the black vote, something is going on. That`s really a low number. And I think there was a message to the -- you know, Karine?


MATTHEWS: I mean, the fact -- 8 percent is crap. It`s a terrible number. It`s people said I hear something from this guy I don`t like.


JEAN-PIERRE: Well, here is the thing, you cannot erase 18 months of hateful rhetoric, of racist policies in one visit to the National African- American Museum.

MATTHEWS: What was the racist policy?

JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I mean, he would go out in front of white audiences and talk about, and do dog whistle, kind of use dog whistle, overtly racist language. He would say we live in hell holes.

MATTHEWS: Oh, that part.

JEAN-PIERRE: He never even understood the black community. He said, oh you guys are going to get shot, what do you have to lose?

I mean, all of those things are a problem. And it`s not just the last 18 months. It`s been a lifelong, his whole entire life. Let`s not forget the Central Park five, he accused them of being guilty, falsely accused them of being guilty. Put out an ad --

MATTHEWS: By the way, most of the American blacks live in the Deep South. They don`t live in a cold city like Detroit.

Anyway, President Trump`s message to African-American voters during the campaign was, what do you got to lose? Let`s watch.


TRUMP: What do you have to lose? You`re living in poverty. Your schools are no good. You have no jobs. Fifty-eight percent of you`re youth is unemployed.

What the hell do you have to lose?

We`re going to rebuild our inner cities because our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape that they have ever been in before ever, ever, ever. You take a look at the inner cities, you get no education, you get no jobs, you get shot walking down the street.


TRAYNHAM: That was despicable and here`s why it was despicable for two reasons. One, he`s -- I don`t believe he`s speaking to the African- Americans there.

JEAN-PIERRE: No, he`s not.

TRAYNHAM: During that SOT, I would be curious to know who he was actually speaking to.


TRAYNHAM: It`s suburban white voters.

KARNI: That is exactly right.

TRAYNHAM: But also, too --

MATTHEWS: Why would he do that?

TRAYNHAM: Well, come on, Chris. I mean, we know why. I mean, this is, 1972, Nixon -- I`m sorry. Go ahead.

JEAN-PIERRE: I`m sorry. This is dog whistle. This is the things that he did during the campaign to kind of show -- oh, yes, I care but I don`t care because I`m not in the community. Oh, this is -- yes, I see how everybody here views African-Americans.

Yes, they live in poverty. They shoot each other. It`s playing into that horrible stereotype -- that`s what he does.

TRAYNHAM: In 1972, Richard Nixon said, "I`m law and order candidate", that was code for saying, for all of you people out there that do not look you and I, it`s going to be okay. Vote for me. I believe what the president was doing --

MATTHEWS: By the way, he`s also against students in those days. So --

TRAYNHAM: But the larger point he didn`t speak to people who looked like me and Karine.

MATTHEWS: I went to Reagan. Reagan were talking about the welfare mother, the young buck buying liquor with his food stamps. Reagan played that card, too.

TRAYNHAM: Well, we`re talking about Trump though.


KARNI: What has he done since the election, which is hold a victory tour, where he went to states that he won, where he had big crowds of white voters, rally in Florida, a lot of white voters. So, he hasn`t done a lot to -- there`s a not a lot to reach out.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, the roundtable is staying with us.

And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. I only knew that.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: And check this out -- a group calling itself Alt Lady Liberty unfurled a banner that read "Refugees Welcome" along the base of the Statue of Liberty there. Look at that.

The group says they aren`t a formal organization. Just private citizens who say they feel like, well, they needed to say something about the America we believe in. Park Police are trying to figure out how the group was able to get that banner on Lady Liberty. They had to climb up there.

Look at it. Neatly done.

We`ll be right back after this.


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

Karine, tell me something I don`t know.

JEAN-PIERRE: Well, there`s a perception out there that the activism is going to fatigue or die out because after essentially one month of Trump administration, but what we`re seeing at Move On is actually an uptick. Every week, we have these activist calls where more and more people join, tens of thousands of people join the call and also people are really wanting to go to these town halls and be part of that.

MATTHEWS: I think the women`s march started it.

TRAYNHAM: Historically black college and university presidents are cautiously optimistic on the president`s executive order. They actually think it might be better than President Obama, ironically.

KARNI: Today was one of the few mornings that Donald Trump woke up and didn`t tweet before 8:15 a.m.


KARNI: It`s like I think you can count on one hand how many days that`s been true.

MATTHEWS: I guess his "New York Times" didn`t get there in time.

Anyway, thank you, Karine Jean-Pierre, Robert Traynham and Annie Karni. I mean that. That`s what he tweets.

When we come back, let me finish with Trump watch. It`s going to be good tonight. I think you know what I`m talking about tonight.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Tuesday, February 21st, 2017.

The danger of heading too far right, even in this good country, is that you meet some strange people. And I don`t mean strange in the good sense. These are oddities on the bad side -- racists, militarists, nationalist of the "my country right or wrong" variety.

While I could say the same about the far left in other periods of our history, people who defended the crimes of Joseph Stalin, for example, they are not the country`s worry right now. The beehive buzzing today is the hard right. It includes the sort of people Donald Trump aroused from under their rocks during the last campaign.

I refer to those captivated early by his condemnation of Barack Obama as a guy who snuck into this country from East Africa, build up a phony resume, assumed a bogus identity in schools where Trump said no one knew him and somehow traveled underground at places like Harvard Law School and the White House, all the while pretending to be a guy born to a Kansas mother, grandson of a World War II combat vet.

Well, from there, Trump began beating the drum about rapists sneaking in here from Mexico and pushing in an all out ban on Muslims sneaking in here to terrorize. So, Trump has no one to blame beyond himself for the image he`s projected of someone comfortable with people who champion an intolerant view toward minorities.

He said a while a back that he didn`t know who David Duke was. Well, Trump`s problem is that people like David Duke know precisely who Donald Trump is and like what they see and hear. More than that, some apparently see him as the tribune of their un-American, unpatriotic world view. And that is something he should fix. A sustained attack on anti-Semitism would be a wonderful start.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.