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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 3/21/2017

Guests: Matthew Rosenberg, Peter Emerson, Eli Stokols, Ruth Marcus, Terri Sewell, David Leonhardt, Matt Schlapp

Show: Hardball with Chris Matthews Date: March 21, 2017 Guest: Matthew Rosenberg, Peter Emerson, Eli Stokols, Ruth Marcus, Terri Sewell, David Leonhardt, Matt Schlapp

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Trump takes a fall.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Well, this is a city echoing from a bomb blast. We have a president`s campaign under criminal investigation for dealing with a foreign adversary. Historian Douglas Brinkley says there`s a smell of treason in the air. The president is now naked to his enemies, condemned by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for lying that President Obama had him wiretapped.

And who in the world`s going to believe him now? With the aroma of the FBI investigation of his Russian ties engulfing the White House and the condemnation of his false claim about wiretapping hanging over him, it`s a fact that the president has squandered the credibility that comes with the office.

By sticking to his charge that former president Obama had him wiretapped, he now runs the risk of losing the measure of political capital he still has left.

It appears Donald Trump is willing to dig his hole still deeper, however. During the hearing yesterday that condemned him, the president`s official Twitter account claimed, "The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence the electoral process." Oh. All this did was get Director Comey to slam that claim right back where it came from


REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: I`ve got a tweet from the president and hour ago saying, "The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence the electoral process." Is that accurate?

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: We`ve offered no opinion, have no view, have no information on potential impact because it`s never something that we looked at.

HIMES: The assertion that you have told the Congress that there was no influence on the electoral process is not quite right.

COMEY: Right. It wasn`t -- certainly wasn`t our intention to say that because we don`t have any information on that subject. And that`s not something that was looked at.


MATTHEWS: Well, today, when asked if this further kills the president`s credibility, anyway, press secretary Sean Spicer stepped that very question and said there`s nothing behind the allegations of collusion.


QUESTION: Is there concern on the part of the White House about the president`s credibility in that situation, that his own director is correcting his tweets and what he`s saying in real time?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I mean, let`s just be clear. I mean, he was answering questions. At some point, there is a distinction between an investigation that it goes into Russia`s involvement in 2016 and this continued narrative that falsely tries to link the Trump - - the president or the White House into any of it. They continue to see that there is nothing there.


MATTHEWS: Well, this comes after the White House said yesterday that collusion isn`t necessarily a part of that investigation, even though Director Comey put it in the public record that it was.


SPICER: When the people who have been briefed by the FBI about collusion between individuals, the answer is, continues to be no. While you can have an investigation, it doesn`t necessarily mean that you have to jump to the conclusion that, Aha, it must be about the collusion between those two things.


MATTHEWS: As I said yesterday, we`re in Baghdad Bob territory. And while the White House scrambles to limit the damage from Comey`s testimony, the president tried avoiding questions altogether about the investigation today.


QUESTION: Mr. President you`re under an FBI investigation.


QUESTION: ... part of the deal, Mr. President.

QUESTION: President Trump, what`s your response to the FBI investigating campaign ties to Russia?


MATTHEWS: Well, joining me right now is Democratic congresswoman is Terri Sewell of Alabama, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee. We saw her yesterday. Matt Schlapp is a Trump supporter and chairman of the American Conservative Union, and David Leonhardt is the op-ed columnist with "The New York Times." I want to get to all of you.

Congresswoman, thank you for joining us. I was watching yesterday. Let me just get to the facts of how they have come to be today. The president`s people are putting out -- Spicer is putting out the word that, somehow, Comey did not say that the president`s people are under investigation for their possible ties to the Russians. I thought that was the main thrust of the hearing yesterday, that that is, in fact, the truth.

REP. TERRI SEWELL (D), ALABAMA: Well, I think that Director Comey said outright that they were investigating the coordination between Trump associates and campaign associates and Russia. I think that that definitely goes to the heart of that. And he`s definitely -- he`s definitely investigating it.

MATTHEWS: Matt, I don`t understand. What`s the opposition? How is there any denial of what the FBI director put on the record yesterday?


MATTHEWS: It`s on the record. They`re investigating. He`s the only one that knows what the FBI is doing. He says the FBI is investigating possible criminal activity by the Trump crowd during the campaign in dealing with the Russians. Isn`t that a fact?

SCHLAPP: I listened to his answer. And I know there`s two types of investigations the FBI can get engaged on. One is espionage, the other is personal criminal wrongdoing. I heard him answer that he`s doing both...


SCHLAPP: ... that this is not only a question about Russia...

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s right. So then you`re not challenging there is an investigation.




SCHLAPP: ... Russia`s influence and also what happened with the Trump campaign.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s go with this (INAUDIBLE) New York Times op-ed, by the way, "All the president`s lies" (INAUDIBLE) front of me. David Leonhardt states that "not every untruth deserves to be branded with the L- word because it implies intent and somebody can state an untruth without doing so knowingly." But when it comes to President Trump, quote, "He lies in ways that no American politician ever has before. He has lied about, among other things, Obama`s birthplace" -- think about that one -- "John F. Kennedy`s assassination" -- think Ted Cruz`s father -- "September 11 and the people who supposedly cheered, the Iraq war, ISIS, NATO, military veterans, Mexican immigrants" -- you know, rapists -- "Muslim immigrants, anti-Semitic attacks" -- you know, as said by people who are either Jewish or liberals, all that to make them look bad.

Anyway, the unemployment rate -- he`s wrong on that -- the murder rate, the Electoral College, voter fraud and his groping of women. I think, through, David -- I think he was honest about his groping of women.

DAVID LEONHARDT, "NEW YORK TIMES": He initially was...

MATTHEWS: We heard him in the bus.

LEONHARDT: He initially was...

MATTHEWS: We heard honest statements there. We didn`t like them.

LEONHARDT: No. Right. He initially was, but he`s now since claimed that he was lying, it was locker room talk. He`s now claiming he was lying then, but in fact, the evidence suggests...

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s talk about the one that`s right there on the docket right now, that he said that President Obama wiretapped him.

LEONHARDT: Yes. Well, I mean, that`s clearly false.

MATTHEWS: Where`d he get it from? Where`d it come from at dawn on a Saturday morning when he started doing this thing on his tweeter? (sic) By the way, if he didn`t have a tweet -- I wonder if he`d be better off without that thing.

LEONHARDT: Well, he might be, right, because we might not have had Comey testifying yesterday if he wasn`t doing the tweets. Where we think it came from is there was some reporting by a combination of a Web site called HeatStreet, the BBC and "The Guardian" which was -- we think was accurate. Breitbart then took it, made it not so accurate, and Trump then took it from there and claimed that Obama...

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s take a look at these tweets because I`m not going to let them go away. I think this is an indelible spot on this guy. In his series of tweets on March 4th, President Trump charged that former president Obama tapped his phones in Trump Tower, during the campaign. Director Comey, by the way, summarily debunked those allegations saying neither the FBI nor the Department of Justice had any evidence to support that. Let`s listen, from yesterday.


COMEY: With respect to the president`s tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI. The Department of Justice has asked me to share with you that the answer is the same for the Department of Justice and all its components. The department has no information that supports those tweets.


MATTHEWS: Well, Sean Spicer said yesterday that the president stands by his allegation about Obama wiretapping him, and he today dodged a question about whether the president will ever deliver the evidence he promised that Obama wiretapped him.

Here he goes. Here`s Spicer.


QUESTION: Can we expect the president to this week present evidence that he was wiretapped by Barack Obama, or will he speak about it? Because he didn`t mention it last night in his rally.

SPICER: Right. Well, let`s see how the week goes.


MATTHEWS: You know, Congresswoman, I want to thank you on this, on getting on the show tonight. But let me ask you about this presidential lie, if you will. I don`t see any basis for it, do you why he said...


MATTHEWS: ... Obama wiretapped him? Where`d it come from? I mean why does he say these things? Obama was born in Kenya. Where does he make this stuff from? I mean, there`s never -- anything -- he says he`s got reporters out in Hawaii. He`s got people digging up...

SEWELL: You`re exactly right.

MATTHEWS: ... interesting -- he just -- and then he embroiders it with all this nonsense about how he`s working this case. I`m out there learning more. What do you thinks in his brain that makes him do this to Obama, who was very, very nice to him, very cordial, gracious? Did he resent the fact that Obama can be a gentleman? Is that what it -- I can`t figure the psycho part of this (INAUDIBLE)

SEWELL: I have no idea. I have no idea why he says it. But here`s what we know from yesterday. It`s baseless, as well as destructive. I think that what`s at the heart of his problem is that he`s lost credibility not only withes American people, but also with other nations and our allies. I think we really should focus on the fact that by giving such baseless claims, he`s making himself really incredible and not believable when things really matter.

MATTHEWS: Let`s me ask you, Matt, would you drop that if you were him? I mean, at some point, you have to drop something. He keeps saying -- I know -- Spicer`s got a terrible job. Spicer`s saying, Well, some day he`ll release it. You know, I remember O.J. saying he`s going after the real murderer. Nobody believed it. Whatever you thought about the LA police, you didn`t think there was somebody he`s looking for out there. Nobody believed that. So...

SCHLAPP: Nobody likes being under investigation, but the fact is the Trump campaign is under investigation. The FBI is looking at Russia`s...

MATTHEWS: But what about the charge...

SCHLAPP: ... involvement...

MATTHEWS: ... of wiretapping by Trump?

SCHLAPP: What I...

MATTHEWS: He said -- tell me which part of this is true. He said, Trump said in his tweet, which we can have -- it`ll be permanent, by the way. These tweets are never going to go away.

SCHLAPP: You just -- yes, never go away.

MATTHEWS: You can`t revise them. You can`t redefine them. He said "President Obama wiretapped me, sick." What part of that`s true? Is Obama sick?

SCHLAPP: So far...

MATTHEWS: Did he wiretap him?

SCHLAPP: So far, we have no evidence that...

MATTHEWS: Any of it`s true!

SCHLAPP: ... any of that is true.

MATTHEWS: Why`d he say it?

SCHLAPP: But let me just...

MATTHEWS: Why did he say it?

SCHLAPP: Because he believes that the Obama team surveilled the Trump team, and he believes it went far back. And they believe -- Chris, I got to ask you a question back. If Russia was involved...

MATTHEWS: Who`s "they"?

SCHLAPP: If Russia was...

MATTHEWS: Who is "they"? Who besides Trump personally believes he was wiretapped by the president?

SCHLAPP: I don`t know who did. That`s why...

MATTHEWS: Well, you said "they."

SCHLAPP: Well, They have an investigation to find out the...

MATTHEWS: You said "they." There are people who believe it. Do you believe it?

SCHLAPP: I believe that there was an investigation going into the Trump...

MATTHEWS: Do you believe President Obama wiretapped President Trump?

SCHLAPP: No. No, I think...


MATTHEWS: Oh, it`s nice term. What do you believe?

SCHLAPP: No, I think -- I think that Trump people were surveilled, and I think we were reading about it...

MATTHEWS: By whom? By whom?

SCHLAPP: ... in your newspaper...


SCHLAPP: ... on January 19th over the fact that -- I don`t know what -- I don`t know what arm it was...


MATTHEWS: There`s the FBI. There`s the FBI.

SCHLAPP: There`s -- there`s...

MATTHEWS: He denied it.

SCHLAPP: ... the FBI, which reports to DOJ.

MATTHEWS: And he denied it.

SCHLAPP: That`s right. Then...

MATTHEWS: So you`re saying that Comey`s a liar.

SCHLAPP: No, I`m...

MATTHEWS: OK, who did it, then, if wasn`t the FBI?

SCHLAPP: Comey said that he has no evidence as of now.

MATTHEWS: And he said...


SEWELL: Comey also said that no president has the right do it, is what he said.


SCHLAPP: No, he said you have to get -- you have to go to a court...


MATTHEWS: Who can go to a FISA court except...

SCHLAPP: He said DOJ did not go. That`s what he said.

MATTHEWS: Well, then, what -- why are you going around in circles (INAUDIBLE) got any evidence that it happened?

SCHLAPP: Because -- because...

MATTHEWS: Any evidence it happened!

SCHLAPP: Can I answer?


SCHLAPP: There was...

MATTHEWS: That`s a nice -- I know you all learn that at the leadership council, but the fact is, you keep saying, Can I answer? I`ve asked you three times. You won`t answer me.

SCHLAPP: There was...

MATTHEWS: What evidence do you have that the president ordered the wiretap of this president?

SCHLAPP: As I told you, I don`t buy into the wiretap question. I think the Trump people were surveilled, and that`s what we`ve been reading about...

MATTHEWS: What do you mean by surveilled?

SCHLAPP: They -- they used their devices -- it`s not the old days where you climb up a telephone pole.

MATTHEWS: Well, tell me...


MATTHEWS: Tell me what you mean.

SCHLAPP: We have these phones.

MATTHEWS: And what...

SCHLAPP: And they`re on, and that our government can listen to our phone calls. You know that. That`s how Mike Flynn was...


MATTHEWS: What evidence do you have that it happened?

SCHLAPP: That`s how Mike Flynn was unmasked.

MATTHEWS: What evidence do you have?

SCHLAPP: I don`t...


SCHLAPP: I want to see the answers of this investigation.

MATTHEWS: You know what? If somebody accused me of wiretapping somebody, I would take that seriously and I`d say either it`s true or it`s false. You`re admitting that`s false. So you say there was some other surveillance done by perhaps...


MATTHEWS: ... or somebody else could have done it. But Obama did not -- David?

LEONHARDT: I think the thing to remember...

MATTHEWS: There`s no evidence. By the way, Comey made it so clear yesterday. He said, I`ve checked with everybody else in the Justice Department, so that includes Sessions people, nobody has any evidence of President Obama seeking a FISA warrant to wiretap Trump. It never happened! So they`re going in all these other directions. Yes?

LEONHARDT: There`s zero evidence of it and there`s lots of evidence that the current president tells a lot of untruths, right? So put those two together.

SEWELL: Absolutely.

LEONHARDT: I think the thing to remember is the Obama administration was extremely small-c conservative with this Russia investigation. They knew that the FBI was concerned about links between the Trump campaign and Russia. And instead of going out and broadcasting that, Obama decided to keep it quiet because he thought it would look partisan.

And so this notion that Obama was engaged in this aggressive campaign against Trump just doesn`t fit with reality. If anything, Obama underreacted to the potential ties between Russia and Trump...

MATTHEWS: OK, well, let`s take a look at this...

LEONHARDT: ... rather than overreacted.

MATTHEWS: Here`s what`s going on right now. The White House right now, the president and his people, are downplaying the campaign`s association with several former aides whose involvement with Russia was scrutinized in the hearing yesterday, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, ousted national security adviser and former campaign adviser Michael Flynn, as well as former campaign for political adviser Carter Page.

Here`s what Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer had to say today about that.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: ... in the case of Mr. Page and Mr. Gordon, some others, that they really had very attenuated contacts to the campaign that I managed for the last three months. I`ve spoken directly with the president and other senior officials about this. He doesn`t know these gentlemen. He didn`t work with them.

SPICER: Even General Flynn was a volunteer of the campaign. And then, obviously, there`s been discussion of Paul Manafort, who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time. By the middle of August, he was no longer with the campaign, meaning that for the entire final stretch of the general election, he was not involved.


MATTHEWS: Never met the guy. Sergeant Schultz, I don`t know nuthin`!

Anyway, of course, Paul Manafort was the major -- he was the chairman of the campaign! I spoke to him at the convention! (INAUDIBLE) there I am talking (INAUDIBLE) he was chairman of the -- I know the guy was chairman because that`s how he was introduced to me!

Let me go to the congresswoman. What is going on now in terms of denial here? They`re all denying they know these guys. Nobody wants to know they -- admit they know Roger Stone. I know that problem. But everybody`s now -- I don`t know this guy. I don`t know Manafort. I don`t know Carter Page.

And the thing I raised last night -- I`ve never met a group that`s so busy visiting Russia all the time. My God, it`s like they`re -- it`s like Paris, France, to these people! Oh, going to Russia this weekend. And now Tillerson says, Got to go to Russia, can`t go to meet (ph) NATO. What is this Russian thing that the Trump people have? They seem to always be going over there!

SEWELL: Well, that`s exactly what -- that`s exactly what our investigation has to do. You know, it would be great if this president would apologize to President Obama, but I know that he won`t. We need to just move on and make sure that we do what the American people need us do, which is to investigate the coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia and make sure, most importantly, that Russian hacking, which frankly, what was said yesterday that I heard repeatedly was that this could happen again. And so the American people...


MATTHEWS: ... by your.

SEWELL: ... deserve to have us get to the bottom of this to make sure that it never happens again.

MATTHEWS: What is this thing about the Russia -- why are they so Russian- oriented, these people? I mean, why does he know Manafort? Why does he know Roger Stone? Why does he know Carter Page? Why are these people constantly back and forthing with the Russians? What is this about?

SCHLAPP: We`re going to find out. That`s the...


MATTHEWS: You`re getting very clean on me now. You`re getting very clean on me (INAUDIBLE) by the way, Bill Clinton once went to Russia.

SCHLAPP: Yes, he did.

MATTHEWS: And you guys...

SCHLAPP: We know about the passports.



SCHLAPP: Remember when leaks...

MATTHEWS: You never let him forget...


SCHLAPP: Remember when leaks...

MATTHEWS: ... college trip!

SCHLAPP: Remember when leaks got you in trouble?


MATTHEWS: I think Bernie had his honeymoon over there. Anyway, thank you. Different circumstance. I accept. Congresswoman, thank you so much. Please come back again and again. And thank you, Matt Schlapp, for the purposes you`re here, and thank you, David -- I`m not going to say the barrel (ph) -- Leonhardt, thank you.

Coming up, the art of the deal. President Trump is threatening Republican members of Congress to get behind his health care plan, the American Health Care plan, or risk losing in 2018. Got (ph) a little tougher than that. But as of tonight, Republicans just don`t have the votes in the House for that vote Thursday night. Can Trump twist enough arms to get it through? It`s always fascinating to watch.

Plus, as Trump`s nominee for the Supreme Court faces his first day of questioning on Capitol Hill today (sic), we thought it would be a good time to replay some of Trump`s attacks against judges and the judicial system in this country. Judge Neil Gorsuch called those attacks by Trump "disheartening." How dainty.

Anyway, and the eyes of the world are watching and what they`ve seen in the first two months of the Trump administration`s giving them real cause for worry as the United States presidency shrinks in stature.

Finally, let me finish with "Trump Watch." You`re going to like it, and he won`t.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Well, here`s another strange move that`s concerning our allies. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to skip what would be his first official meeting with NATO next month, instead skipping that meeting, and according to a Stephanopoulos spokesman, Tillerson plans instead to travel to Russia later in April for a series of unspecified meetings. There they go to Russia again!

Congressman Eliot Engel, a Democrat from New York, called the move an absolute disgrace, saying it won`t shake the confidence that the Trump administration is quite (sic) too cozy with Vladimir Putin. I`d say.

We`ll be right back.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had a great meeting. And I think we`re going to get a winner vote. We`re going to be -- we`re going to have a real winner.

It was a great meeting. They`re terrific people. They want a tremendous health care plan. That`s what we have. And there are going to be adjustments made, but I think we will get the vote on Thursday.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: President Trump was here to do what he does best, and that is to close the deal. He is all in, and we are all in to end this Obamacare nightmare.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was, of course, President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan in order there, in unison, actually, this morning presenting an optimistic front in their slog to win over skeptical members of their own party on the Trump- Ryan health care plan.

President Trump visited Capitol Hill today to meet, as you saw there, with House Republicans and sell the bill, the repeal and replacement plan. But some conservatives say the repeal part doesn`t go far enough. And some moderates think the replace part doesn`t go far enough.

I think that is about the order of things.

Here is more from Speaker Ryan himself.


RYAN: In this day and age, in this business, in politics, if you get 85 percent of what you want, that`s pretty darn good.

The president just came here and knocked the ball out of the park. He knocked the cover off the ball and explained to our members how it`s important to unify, how it`s important to work together, how we are advancing our principles and we are doing what we told the American people we would do.

This is our chance and this is our moment. It`s a big moment. And I think our members are beginning to appreciate just what kind of a rendezvous with destiny we have right here.



"The Washington Post"`s Robert Costa reports Trump used both charm and admonishment as he made his case today, reassuring skittish members that they would gain seats in Congress if the bill passed, and singling out Representative Mark Meadows, who is, of course, from North Carolina, the chairman of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus, in front of his colleagues, saying: "I`m going to come after you. But I know I won`t have to, because I know you will vote yes."

Well, Trump said, according to several Republican lawmakers who were at the meeting.

Anyway, Meadows told reporters that he`s still in the no on the plan -- he`s going to vote nay, but wasn`t worried about the president`s threat.


QUESTION: Are you worried, Mr. Meadows, that you will lose your seat, like the president said, if you vote no?

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: You know, I serve at the pleasure of the people of Western North Carolina. And when you serve at their pleasure, it`s only those 750,000 people that can send you home, and it`s a temporary job. And I have known that from day one.


MATTHEWS: That`s pretty strong.

But Senate minority leader -- Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also had a warning for fellow Republicans. He told the Associated Press today: "I would hate to be a Republican whose vote prevented us from keeping the commitment we have made to the American people for almost 10 years now."

Last night in Louisville, at another campaign-style rally, President Trump looked at McConnell -- looked to him for assurances.


TRUMP: Our senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, where is he?

Come here, Mitch. Thank you, Mitch.


TRUMP: How are you doing, Mitch? Hey, Mitch, we going to be OK? Everything good? That health care is looking good? Good. Thanks, Mitch.


MATTHEWS: He should have said Rover.

Anyway, Robert Costa is national political reporter for "The Washington Post." And Eli Stokols is the White House correspondent for Politico.

Robert, you`re up there. What is the vote? Are they going to get the 216 they need to pass this thing?

ROBERT COSTA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Leadership is expressing confidence.

But I`m talking to a lot of these skittish members, and they`re still on the fence. Some of my top sources in the House GOP tell me still 20 to 25, maybe even 30 no`s. And that could mean failure for this package.

MATTHEWS: Well, what is this Bluto number of his, I`m going to get you guys if you don`t vote for me? Could that backfire with the Freedom Caucus Types?

COSTA: He has got a lot of them on edge.


COSTA: They don`t like it. They don`t like this pressure from the president. They know it was a veiled threat, delivered with a chuckle in a private room this morning here at the Capitol.

But they know that this is someone who has attacked enemies in the past on Twitter, can be relentless. And they don`t want that. So, the White House is trying to soft-roll a lot of these Republicans, but at the same time trying to get them in line.

MATTHEWS: You know -- Eli, you know this business. And one thing Trump said when he was going to come in, and came in, he was going to get rid of the swamp.

But now you`re out there -- they`re out there bidding for these five or 10 guys they need to win this thing. And they`re going to be seen doing it, because these deals end up getting public.

ELI STOKOLS, POLITICO: Yes, easier said than done.

MATTHEWS: If they`re buying some off of members.

STOKOLS: Yes. And then Club for Growth still opposes this. Heritage still opposes this. The politics for conservatives are totally confused right now.

They`re trying to figure out...

MATTHEWS: Why would a guy want to vote for this, a member of Congress?

STOKOLS: Well, I mean, Republicans have been promising do this for six years, so there are a lot of people sort of who look at the party as a whole and do worry about going back to voters next November and saying, we didn`t actually follow through on this.

But it`s very complicated for Republican members of Congress. They have Breitbart on one, and which people thought was sort of behind this White House, saying -- threatening people who might vote yes on this bill. And then you have Trump sort of glibly threatening people who might vote no. It`s very confusing.

MATTHEWS: Which side -- I always thought Steve Bannon was Breitbart. Who is Breitbart now? Breitbart has broken with Bannon inside the White House?

STOKOLS: I don`t know if anybody really believes that, but, officially, yes, that`s the party line.

I think it`s just the politics on the right are really confused. The lines are blurred right now. And you heard Trump this morning. He`s so glib, just the way he said, oh, it was great, it was a great meeting, we are going to have a great bill.

But there`s no specifics. And I don`t know if he can sell this just with sheer force of will, personality.


MATTHEWS: Let`s go back to Robert.

Let`s talk about your congressman from home. I don`t know how you vote or if you vote at all. But Brian Fitzpatrick, what`s this guy -- well, he`s against it.

Barletta is the anti-immigrant guy from Pennsylvania. They`re two guys you`re pretty familiar with.

COSTA: Sure.

MATTHEWS: They`re both against this bill. Why?

COSTA: Barletta is more of a hard-liner on immigration. But he comes from an area where some of his constituents are on assistance. And they don`t like some of the changes to Medicaid in this bill.

Brian Fitzpatrick, he`s a freshman. His brother was in Congress. Bucks County, where I grew up, moderate Republicans, moderate Democrats in this district, they like parts of the Affordable Care Act. And he knows that. And that`s why he`s against it.

MATTHEWS: Well, his brother had health problems. People have health problems regardless of how wealthy their district is.

Is the mood in that district up for replace and repeal? Can you tell? Is that the mood of suburban, better-off districts like Fitzpatrick`s?

COSTA: There is some discomfort with the current law certainly in areas of Bucks County.

But when I was traveling in Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Pennsylvania in the last few months, you see a lot of support for Trump. The president has a real base of support. He won Pennsylvania, first Republican to so since `88.

But do they really want to change the current law? That`s a test for Trump. He`s embraced Speaker Ryan`s ideology, and he didn`t run as an ideological candidate.

MATTHEWS: Eli, put it together. What is the effect of the bad double days he`s had now, being called out about a liar basically about his charge of wiretapping by the former president, being caught now in an investigation, a criminal investigation by the FBI about possible involvement with the Russians?

How is that affecting -- is there a connection here with this vote Thursday night? Has he lost some of his pull?


STOKOLS: Well, you just see over the first 50 days of this presidency an administration that has continued to lose credibility.

And you need credibility with members of Congress and with the American people if you`re going to sell a major piece of legislation, not just to the votes -- the members that you need to vote on it, but also to the public itself.

It`s unclear whether sort of he is going to be able to do that. And, as far as threatening these members, they have to calculate it. They see a president under investigation by the FBI.

MATTHEWS: Yes. I wonder if there`s a connection.

STOKOLS: He`s saying he`s going to force a primary next year. There are questions whether he will even be president by November of 2018.

MATTHEWS: I know. I will have to be reading "The Wall Street Journal" to find out all this information, Eli.

Anyway, thank you, Eli, for coming in, as always.

STOKOLS: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: And Robert Costa of the great "Washington Post," which may well be winning the newspaper wars as we speak.

Up next: Trump`s Supreme Court pick says the president`s attacks on judges even to him is disheartening and demoralizing, but he still wants to be on the court. That`s ahead, along with some of Trump`s greatest hits -- they really are hits -- against the judicial system in this country.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


NEIL GORSUCH, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: A good judge doesn`t give a whit about politics or the political implications of his or her decision, decides where the law takes him or her fearlessly.

There is no such thing as a Republican judge or a Democratic judge. We just have judges. When I became a judge, they gave me a gavel, not a rubber stamp. And nobody comes to my court expecting a rubber stamp.


MATTHEWS: Well, he`s saying all the right things, isn`t he?

Anyway, Judge Neil Gorsuch is still in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee as we watch, and the first day of questioning goes on as we speak.

In fact, today, Judge Gorsuch, a Bush appointee, distanced himself from the man who picked him this time, Donald Trump, who has a long history, of course, of attacking judges.


TRUMP: This is, in the opinion of many, an unprecedented judicial overreach.

You don`t think this was done by a judge for political reasons, do you? No.

Courts seem to be so political. And it would be so great for our justice system if they would be able to read a statement and do what is right.

I listened to a bunch of stuff last night on television that was disgraceful.

He has been so unfair. And I don`t want to call out a judge, but he`s been so unfair. Now, maybe that will change. Maybe he will be fair. I would say he should recuse himself.


MATTHEWS: Well, late today, for the first time publicly, Judge Gorsuch responded to those attacks on the judgeships or the judiciary by the man who appointed him.


GORSUCH: I know these people, and I know how decent they are. And when anyone criticizes the honesty or integrity, the motives of a federal judge, well, I find that disheartening. I find that demoralizing, because I know the truth.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Anyone, including the president of the United States?

GORSUCH: Anyone is anyone.


MATTHEWS: Joining me right now for more is Ruth Marcus, columnist with "The Washington Post."

Ruth, this is an interesting situation, because you can like that performance, and you can say it`s perfect, but so much of this is dramatics -- high school dramatics. Everybody knows he has got a position on Roe v. Wade. Everybody knows he has got a position on Heller and gun control and a position on Citizens United.

We know he has all that in his head. And his job in about going after this job is not to let any of it get out.


MATTHEWS: Isn`t that what the game is?

MARCUS: That is what the game is. And it`s a game that has been going on for a long time, since Judge Bork.

MATTHEWS: So, what is the purpose of these hearings? To find out what you can`t find out?

MARCUS: Well, in part, yes.

But I have been thinking about this a lot actually, because I have covered a lot of these hearings. And I have always argued that, even though there are -- there are -- look, there are things that he should not -- questions that he should not answer. There are questions that the senators probably should not ask.

And there are reasonable things that you ought to be able to figure out about a judge`s judicial philosophy. But they get increasingly good, because they spend all their time watching their predecessor`s confirmation hearings, at figuring out all the smart ways to evade answers.

MATTHEWS: The Sherpa teaches them how to do that.

MARCUS: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: That`s Kelly Ayotte, the former senator from New Hampshire. She`s teaching him every moment what not to answer.

MARCUS: Sure. I can`t answer it because it might come before me. I can`t answer it because it`s...

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s catch this question.

The chairman of the Judiciary Committee -- he is not exactly a well guy -- Chuck Grassley, asked Judge Gorsuch`s about his views on Roe v. Wade, and here`s what he got back.


GORSUCH: Roe vs. Wade, decided in 1973, is a precedent of the United States Supreme Court. It has been reaffirmed. The reliance interests considerations are important there. And all of the other factors that go into analyzing precedent have to be considered.

It is a precedent of the United States Supreme Court. It was reaffirmed in Casey in 1992 and in several other cases. So, a good judge will consider it as precedent of the United States Supreme Court worthy as treatment of precedent like any other.


MATTHEWS: Is that enough to convince a pro-choice senator this guy is not going to change Roe v. Wade? Is that enough?

MARCUS: If your litmus test is, I need to know from you, Judge Gorsuch, that you won`t overrule Roe, that is not enough.

But I have to say, that is a pretty darn good answer. He...

MATTHEWS: But pro-lifers aren`t going to like to hear that, what he said.

MARCUS: Pro-lifers are going to sort of say to themselves...

MATTHEWS: This is a game.

MARCUS: ... look, we know, in his heart, that he doesn`t like Roe. We know from what he`s written about euthanasia and assisted suicide that his views about the sanctity and protection of human life, so we can intuit that.

I actually don`t think -- and I talked to some folks who have been at the hearings who are not at all sure about whether he would actually vote to overturn Roe. That is what Donald Trump promised as a candidate, but I`m not sure.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s watch. Here he is. Candidate Trump during the campaign promised to appoint justices that would overturn Roe v. Wade. Let`s watch him.


CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": Do you want to see the court overturn Roe v. Wade?

TRUMP: Well, if we put another two or perhaps three justice on, that`s really what`s going to be -- that will happen. And that will happen automatically, in my opinion, because I am putting pro-life justices on the court.


MATTHEWS: Well, Judge Gorsuch also was asked if he made that commitment to the president. Let`s listen here.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Had you ever met President Trump personally?

GORSUCH: Not until my interview.

GRAHAM: In that interview, did he ever ask you to overrule Roe v. Wade?

GORSUCH: No, Senator.

GRAHAM: What would you have done if he had asked?

GORSUCH: Senator, I would have walked out the door. It`s not what judges do. They don`t do it at that end of Pennsylvania Avenue, and they shouldn`t do it at this end either.


MATTHEWS: Did that look a little rehearsed?

MARCUS: I`m sure it was rehearsed.

MATTHEWS: It just looks like it an alley-oop play.

MARCUS: You would hold it against him if it wasn`t rehearsed.

But there was actually a fascinating moment later on, just about an hour or so ago. Senator Blumenthal, I think, Democrat of Connecticut...

MATTHEWS: He`s not going vote for him.


MARCUS: He`s not going vote for him -- said, did the subject of abortion come up in your conversation with the president?

And he said, yes, it did. And he talked to me but how he was sorry he didn`t get to win Colorado, that abortion was a divisive issue, that it was kind of half and half dividing the country.


MARCUS: And then he said he didn`t raise the question of Roe or overruling it. And then he went on to talk about nuclear weapons and how our nuclear arsenal was too old.

So, it was classic Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: Meandering.

Anyway, thank you, Ruth Marcus with "The Washington Post."

Up next: Here`s another casualty of the FBI director`s testimony yesterday. The American presidency is shrinking in the eyes of the world. The devastating headlines are taking a toll, and not just on President Trump.

The Roundtable is coming up next.

And you`re watching HARDBALL, where the action is.



JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: I truly believe we are a shining city on a hill to quote a great American, and one of the things we radiate to the world is the importance of our wonderful, often messy, but free and fair democratic system and the elections that undergird it. So, when there is an effort by a foreign nation state to mess with that, to destroy that, to corrupt that, it`s very, very serious. It threatens what is America.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was, of course, FBI Director James Comey stressing the danger that Russia poses to America`s democracy itself. Yesterday`s hearing which confirmed that the FBI is investigation whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia only added to the damage that the controversy has surrounded the Trump administration so far and what it has done to America`s standing in the world.

As "The Washington Post`s" Michael Gershon put it, "Foreigners see a Darwinian nationalist framework for American foreign policy now, a diminished commitment to global engagement, a brewing scandal that could distract and cripple the administration and a president who often conducts his affairs with peevish ignorance. Some will look at this spectacle and live in fear. Others may see a golden opportunity." They`re not the good guys.

The worldwide consequences of President Trump`s actions came up multiple times during yesterday`s hearing. Let`s watch it.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Does it do damage to our relationship with one of our closest intelligence partners for the president to make a baseless claim that the British participated in a conspiracy against him?

ADM. MIKE ROGERS, NSA DIRECTOR: I think it clearly frustrates a key ally.

SCHIFF: The claim he made about wiretapping directed at Merkel refer to something that came up in the context of the Snowden disclosures. Is it helpful to our relationship with the chancellor or our relationship with German intelligence to bring this up again in a public forum?

ROGERS: It certainly complicates things, but again, I`d like to think that our relationship is such that we can deal and keep moving forward.

SCHIFF: What is -- what is the Russian view of NATO? Do they like NATO? Do they want to see NATO strong?

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: They don`t like NATO. They think NATO encircles them and threatens them.


MATTHEWS: Succinct, wasn`t it?

Anyway, the sudden plunge in the stock market today may also signal that the so-called Trump rally has run its course. We`ll see. We had to see all this stuff, we never can predict, as investors second guess whether the president has the credibility to deliver on his many important promises.

Joining me right now, "The New York Times`" Yamiche Alcindor, Matthew Rosenberg, also of "The Times", and "Huffington Post`s" Peter Emerson.

I want to go to Yamiche on this. Let`s talk about this.

I`m looking at the face right now in my imagination of Angela Merkel last Friday sitting next to our president and his behavior that whole day. And then I look upon this week and I think about, she`s picking up the paper this morning and realizing that the FBI director said that he`s a liar, that there was no wiretapping by his predecessor of him. She also sees that FBI has him under criminal investigation with possible involvement with the Russians, his campaign, during the campaign.

How does that add up? And then we see Tillerson skipping the NATO meeting coming up and heading over to Russia. I went to a riff last night -- Russia, Russia, Russia, is the default place to go with this crowd. Strange.

What do you think the world thinks? By the way, the leaders, what do they think?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I think the leaders are definitely questioning the credibility of this president and thinking really hard about how much political capital he has, and whether or not they`re going to be able to see him as a leader, and whether or not they`re going to be really be able to --


MATTHEWS: To check his word now?

ALCINDOR: I don`t -- I think even before this that they had questions about his word. I don`t think that this is the thing that questions it. I mean, think about the way that he started his political career and think about all the things that happened before he was elected. So I don`t think that Angela Merkel somehow got -- that was the moment that made her think, oh, I can`t trust this guy. I think she probably walked into the White House thinking that.

MATTHEWS: Nixon was a smart president. He did a lot of smart things and then got in trouble. But he didn`t get in this situation until `74 when he went to Alexandria, Egypt, and try to rally himself. This guy is in this problem within the first 60, 70 days.

PETER EMERSON, THE HUFFINGTON POST CONTRIBUTOR: I think the real issue for the leaders that I`ve been tracking, as you know, I do a lot of work overseas, whether it`s Canada, China or Britain or Germany, they`re still probing the front lines of Trumpville trying to figure out can they work with him, can they benefit from him?

Because remember, the United States has played a leading role which seems to be now a negotiated position. So, at this point, I`m not sure that the leaders have really made up their minds. The local people I`ve talked to from Brazil to Europe, to even Africa, all talk about how they are waiting for the next kind of bizarre behavior, the next tweet.

One person said to me today, it`s sort of watching the new season of "Celebrity Apprentice" at the White House.

MATTHEWS: Well, I wish it was that funny. It`s not.


MATTHEWS: Matthew?


MATTHEWS: Worldwide impact of Trump`s behavior that last three or four days. I think something very bad has been going on in terms of almost like pushing the walls down around him like he`s just unhappy with what -- he didn`t look happy with Merkel, he didn`t know how to get out of -- he can just say look, I heard some things the reports were wrong. Move on.

He`s not a reporter. He`s counting on reports. He heard somehow that Obama had wiretapped him. He should just say it was wrong. Move on.

He took seven years to say Obama was born in America. Get it over with. Short circuit the baby.

ROSENBERG: It`s amazing. I mean, there are so many ways out of this, just to say, look, we`re moving on, there was an ongoing investigation. We don`t want to talk about it. I mean, they can get out of this in so many different ways.

But that Tillerson decision is something that I think amid all the talk of Russian investigations gets lost. If you`re one of the European leader, they are looking around and thinking until maybe yesterday, OK, you know, they say all this stuff, but NATO is NATO and they will stick through it. But now the secretary of state is skipping a NATO meeting to go to Russia?

MATTHEWS: Do you know what they call that in crime novels?


MATTHEWS: Returning to the scene of the crime.

ROSENBERG: I mean, it is one of the things that I think is freaking out Europe.

MATTHEWSD: I don`t get it. I did a (INAUDIBLE) last night, Peter, I don`t know if you saw it, I basically said there is something strange about this party, this Trump crowd with all their connects starting with Manafort and Stone and a whole bunch and Carter Page.

Guys, I knew a lot of these guys. I didn`t like a lot of them, but they have these incredible ties with Russia and he seems to have an affinity for that, too. He`s always talking positive about Putin.

EMERSON: Well, I think in going back through all of the tweets and all of the comments he made about Putin, he clearly is slightly delusional because on one hand, he says I never met him, on the other hand, he said, well, he came --

MATTHEWS: He met him in a greenroom.

EMERSON: He met him in a greenroom, but that he sent a lovely gift and all of this. I think we`re at the fundamental issue is fear and trust around the world. In reading the headlines of newspapers on every continent, people don`t know what the truth is anymore. And this --

MATTHEWS: Well, they know. They don`t know if he does.

EMERSON: Well, the general public around the world no longer knows just as many of us here don`t what is fake news being propagated by state actors, or worse of all, private mercenaries, hard to distinguish.

MATTHEWS: I`ve always believed that our basic journalism and major papers, metropolitan papers and wire services used to be believed, because it is put together by editors and reporters who are trying to tell the truth as best a human being can do it.

EMERSON: And he`s undermining it.

MATTHEWS: I know. Anyway, not with me.

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


MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump is addressing a meeting of the National Republican Congressional Committee tonight, right now. That`s the group responsible for electing Republicans to the House of Representatives. He`s already threatened House Republicans, sort of, to get behind his Obamacare repeal plan or else risk losing their seats come 2018.

Well, that vote right now is scheduled for Thursday. We`re going to see what happens and we`ll be right.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the round table.

Yamiche, tell me something I don`t know.

ALCINDOR: President Trump is meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus and he has not really met with any leaders of the civil rights organizations, so I think it`s going to be very interesting what he says and they`re probably going to ask them --

MATTHEWS: When`s that?

ALCINDOR: It`s at 3:00 p.m. tomorrow.


ALCINDOR: I`m told that they`re going to be talking about the Muslim ban and maybe answering the question about what black people have to lose. So, yeah.

MATTHEWS: Well, he knows where he stands with those guys. Not a vote in the room.


MATTHEWS: Matthew?

ROSENBERG: Remember the Trump, remember the tape, the hotel tape, the salacious tape we all kind of heard about?

MATTHEWS: Oh, yeah, the -- the bathroom break.

ROSENBERG: Exactly. So, allegedly somebody is running around Europe claiming to have a copy and there are a bunch of wealthy Dems looking to buy it. And I think the question is, are we going to get a revelation here?

MATTHEWS: You mean the tape?

ROSENBERG: An actual tape.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s --

ROSENBERG: Or are we going to end up with a rich liberal getting fleeced?


EMERSON: A top provider of cyber security, the U.S. government, including Customs and Immigration Enforcement just told their employees that all of their data -- personal names, Social Security numbers, compensation was stolen. The same way at the DNC.

MATTHEWS: OK. Yamiche, thank you. Thank you so much, Yamiche Alcindor and Matt Rosenberg of "The New York Times" and Peter Emerson of "The Huffington".

When we return, let me finish with Trump Watch. You ain`t gonna like this one.

You`re watching HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Tuesday, March 22, 2017.

Donald Trump wants the United States Senate to confirm his pick, Donald Trump`s pick, for the U.S. Supreme Court. He wants Democrats to join Republicans in giving his pick the 60 votes to override the expected filibuster.

Let me suggest a very good reason not to let this happen -- it`s not about Trump`s pick, it`s about President Obama`s pick, the one Mitch McConnell and his bunch decided did not even deserve a vote, did not even deserve a hearing, did not even deserve the respect of someone nominated to this high position. Just like McConnell decided in 2008 he was going to destroy the Obama presidency at the get-go, decided he wanted to wait for the next president to do business with. He decided eight years later that he would bump Obama`s court pick from the line and wait for a pick by the next president.

Well, this brand of bad politics has to stop. Since the Republicans aren`t going to stop it, the Democrats have to. It`s not about being a sap or a chump or any other word you call a person who gets taken and lets himself or herself get taken again. It`s about starting to fix the system. A president nominates a Supreme Court justice, the Senate deliberates on the nomination. We will not get back to such respect if we let Trump exploit the vacancy Mitch McConnell created. We cannot allow these two opportunists to complete what we call in basketball the alley-hoop play -- one guy throws the ball high above the basket and the guy standing there right underneath jams it in.

I don`t want to see Donald Trump stuff his nominee through the hoop. Why? Because it`s not his turn. It`s Merrick Garland`s turn and everyone knows it. Vote nay on Gorsuch, demand 60 votes and don`t give them to Trump. It`s not this guy`s turn, it`s not his guy`s turn and all the charm and dancing and Mr. Nice Guy is not going to change it.

It`s not about Gorsuch or even Trump, it`s about Mitch McConnell and the brand of low-level politics he stands for. Get it?

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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