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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 3/23/2017

Guests: Mike Quigley, Mieke Eoyang, Mark Warner, Simon Marks, Leonard Lance, Michael Scherer, Jay Newton-Small, Paul Singer

Show: HARDBALL Date: March 23, 2017 Guest: Mike Quigley, Mieke Eoyang, Mark Warner, Simon Marks, Leonard Lance, Michael Scherer, Jay Newton-Small, Paul Singer


Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

This is a city sacked by barbarians right now. Nothing stands where it did before. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee runs to the White House with the politicical equivalent of a first aid kit, trying desperately to bandage the president`s self-inflicted wound, his claim that his predecessor wiretapped him during the campaign.

U.S. Congressman Nunes turns out not to have a big enough bandage that-- well, nothing he`s got backs Trump`s claim that a ``sick`` President Obama wiretapped him at Trump Tower during the campaign.

Well, by the way, that Trump claim that Obama was sick was in quotes. Well, it wasn`t in quotes, really. He meant it. And he still hasn`t taken it back, much less apologized for it.

Meanwhile, the president`s health care bill, ``Trump care,`` lies tonight in grave condition, pulled from the schedule, a case of political euthanasia. There was no way it was going to survive, only of how much pain this gang of Obama alitionists (ph)-- Obama-litionists (ph) is going to suffer.

Right now, House Republicans are meeting to plot the way forward, maybe, but Trump`s problem is that he came into office with a preexisting condition himself. He had no idea of how to replace ``Obama care.`` And tonight`s yanking of the ``Trump care`` from the schedule proves that.

We begin tonight with fallout from Devin Nunes`s mad dash to the White House yesterday. The House Intelligence chairman ran right past the members of his own committee on his way to multiple press conferences and a meeting with the president. He shared what he called ``alarming new information`` that Trump associates were picked up on legal surveillance of foreign officials.

Nunes was asked about his actions today.


QUESTION: Why did you find it important then to brief the press and then the president before even making (INAUDIBLE)

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: Just a judgment call. I mean, you know, it was my-- I mean, it was-- there was a lot going on yesterday, and it was a judgment call on my part. And that`s-- at the end of the day, that`s-- you know, sometimes you make the right decisions, sometimes you make the wrong one, but you got to stick by what you-- the decisions you make.


MATTHEWS: Well, the bizarre spectacle left many wondering if he, the congressman, was coordinateing with the White House. Twice today, he refused to answer that question. Did he get this little nugget from the White House and then run back to White House and show them his nugget that he got from the White House? Here`s his reaction.



NINES: As you know, we have to keep our sources and methods here very, very quiet.

QUESTION: You are denying that any of this information came from the Trump administration?

QUESTION: Yeah, I`m not going to-- look, on this-- at this committee, we are not going to ever reveal sources, or if not. who`s ever going to come down to the committee?


MATTHEWS: Well, at the briefing today, Sean Spicer diverted questions about why Nunes did what he did. Instead, he told reporters they should investigate his claims.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There seems to be this obsession with the process! You know, how did he get here? When did he go? What was the reaction? At some point, there should be a concern about the substance.

That`s a very serious revelation that he`s made about what happened during the 2016 election with respect to our side and some of the things that happened. And at some point. I would implore, urge, beg some of you to use some of your investigative skills to look into what actually did happen. Why did it happen? What was going on back there? Who knew what, when?


MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump also seemed to celebrate the assist from his former transition official Nunes. Here`s what he told "Time" magazine yesterday. ``Nunes said, so that means I`m right. Nunes said the surveillance appears to have been incidental collection that does not appear to have been related to concerns over Russia.`` Who knows that that meant?

Anyway, asked about his claim that President Obama wiretapped him, the president said, ``Well, I don`t know where these wiretaps came from. They came from someplace. That is what they should find out.`` Unbelievable.

Now-- joining me right now is U.S. Congressman Mike Quigley. He`s a member of the House Intelligence Committee. And Mieke Eoyang is the director of the National Security Program at Thid Wary and a former staffer on the Intelliience Committee.

Congressman, let`s just try to recall before our heads get fogged up by what`s coming from the White House-- it`s very clear that getting up at dawn in Mar-a-Lago, around 6:00 in the morning, Donald Trump, president of the United States, tweeted that President Obama-- a ``sick`` President Obama-- had him wiretapped during the campaign at Trump Tower.

Despite all the smoke of the last couple days from Nunes, your chair, none of that has been challenged. None of that has been conflicted with. That all stands as his ridiculous claim that he cannot back up. How do you stand?

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS: This is a two-pronged campaign of obstruction and distraction. It began with that tweet, I suspect after he read something in Breitbart. And I think the second element of that was what you saw yesterday with Chairman Nunes, is an attempt to distract from what is obvious, that there was no wiretapping.

And to what Mr. Spicer said today, they should investigate this-- I don`t believe the chairman suggested that anything in his undocumented allegation was illegal. He was talking about the possibility of incidental collection. So I`m not sure why anyone would want to investigate that. They`d want to investigate why we need a distraction.

MATTHEWS: Do you think Mr. Nunes can conduct a bipartisan or non-partisan investigation of anything now, having shown his loyalty to the White House in the way he did yesterday?

QUIGLEY: Well, it makes it far more difficult for him because he has to overcome this assumption that he`s-- he`s got a different master than the one as chairman of this important investigation.

I have to be fair. The first two years that I`ve served with him, he has been a good chairman. He`s run his meetings very well. Ever since Mr. Trump has become president, though, unfortunately, it`s been a different story.

MATTHEWS: You know, there`s a civics lesson we all are lucky enough to get in high school, if we go to a good school and get a decent civics course, which is harder to do these days, and you understand something called checks and balances. It`s the job of Congress not to obey the president, but to watch him and to make sure he does the job of running the executive branch.

Does Nunes know that?

QUIGLEY: Well, I think--

MATTHEWS: Or does he think his job is to play St. Bernard to the president when he`s in trouble?

QUIGLEY: Well, unfortunately, this comes on the heels of Mr. Comey announcing that there`s an investigation involving the Trump campaign and the Russians. So this comes at the worst possible time.

I can`t stress enough this is the most important investigation of a president in our history since Watergate. The person investigating it has to be of an open mind and has to understand he cannot serve the president, he`s a member of Congress.

MATTHEWS: Where is your district, sir?

QUIGLEY: Think Wrigley Field, north side of Chicago, western suburbs.

MATTHEWS: Oh! Rosty`s old seat.

QUIGLEY: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Good for you.

QUIGLEY: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: That`s the place you drive with all the nice Polish churches on the way from the airport. Thank you.

QUIGLEY: Thank you so much.

MATTHEWS: Reaction to Nunes`s actions drew bipartisan puzzle (ph), and here was Senator John McCain today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you explain any reason why Chairman Nunes would have done what he did yesterday?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: No. I have not seen anything like that. And I`m happy to say that in the Senate Intelligence Committee, there`s a very good working relationship between Senator Burr and Senator Warner. And no, I have not seen anything like it, and it`s very disturbing.


MATTHEWS: Mike, it looks to me like what happened yesterday is that Mr. Nunes had been serving well in a non-partisan capacity and the White House didn`t like that and they put some heat in his saddle. And all of a sudden, he goes running down there to sort of promote this new information, which does not challenge, or certainly doesn`t support the president`s claim that he was wiretapped at Trump Tower during the campaign by a ``sick`` President Obama.

None of that is confirmed by this thing he claims he has. But he looks like he`s pretty much working for the president right now.

MIEKE EOYANG, THIRD WAY NATIONAL SECURITY PROGRAM: I think that`s absolutely right. And people forget that when Nunes talks about the wiretapping of the Trump transition team, the person who was the head of the national security transition for the Trump administration was Devin Nunes. He`s been on both sides of this thing from the beginning.

So now as the committee chairman, he`s grading the work on national security that he was putting together as the head of the transition.

MATTHEWS: Have you ever seen this before?

EOYANG: Never.

MATTHEWS: Running down to the White House.

Anyway, Congressman Schiff, who`s the ranking Democrat on the committee, told MSNBC yesterday the evidence of collusion now is more than circumstantial. He`s talking about the Russian piece of this, the big part, the possible connection between Trump and the Russians who were helping him. Let`s watch.


CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, ``MEET THE PRESS``: But you admit it`s-- all you have right now is a circumstantial case.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Actually, no, Chuck. I can tell you that the case is more than that. And I can`t go into the particulars, but there is more than circumstantial evidence now. So again, I think Director Clapper--

TODD: So you have seen direct evidence of collusion.

SCHIFF: I don`t want to go into specifics, but I will say that there is evidence that is not circumstantial and is very much worthy of investigations.


MATTHEWS: Congressman Quigley, do you go along with that, more than circumstantial evidence at this point?

QUIGLEY: As an old trial attorney, I`d say there`s probable cause to believe there was coordination.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thanks so much, U.S. Congressman Mike Quigley--

QUIGLEY: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: --and Mieke Eoyang.

EOYANG: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by Senator Mark Warner, the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Former vice president Joe Biden tweeted this morning, Senator, that Devin Nunes, quote, ``checks and balances the chair of the committee investigating the White House can`t share info with the White House? McCain is right, need select committee.``

Where do you stand on the need for a select committee, Senator?

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Well, listen, I think the Senate committee is doing its job, doing it in a bipartisan way. I think a special prosecutor-- I`m wide opened for that. My concern with a select committee would be both sides would end up picking their most partisan members, and it would take them literally months to get to where we are already.

We`re having a public hearing next week. We`ve started interviews. We`ve got a lot of folks that we`ve got to talk to. We`ve got to get some additional information from a couple of the agencies.

But we are doing this in a way I think that is methodical, and we`re going to follow the intel wherever it leads. And candidly, I was surprised as everybody else was about what Mr. Nunes did yesterday.

MATTHEWS: Well, would you call that partisan or non-partisan, the race down to the White House to give the president what he discovered-- we still don`t know whether he got that information from the White House, do we.

WARNER: We don`t have the slightest idea. And I can tell you, we had an intel meeting this afternoon. My chairman, Richard Burr-- he didn`t have any knowledge of what he was talking about. We`ve reached out to a couple of the agencies and have said, Hey, if there`s something that you shared with Nunes, you need to share it with us, as well. They all have kind of a response of saying they don`t know what he`s talking about, as well.

So I think it will be incumbent upon Mr. Nunes at some point to tell somebody, I hope, other than whoever he told at the White House, what kind of information he`s talking about.

MATTHEWS: Well, Senator, it`s not sinking in to me how Nunes in any way is a fig leaf for what the president put out in his tweet a couple weeks ago. It had nothing to do with the campaign, nothing to do with certainly President Obama. It wasn`t ordered by Obama. It wasn`t a wiretap. And it wasn`t to do with the campaign. And they`re somehow saying, Well, this shatters the-- the putdown (ph) of the president. I don`t see how it even cover the president at all, do you?

WARNER: I don`t see what the connection or the nexus is at all. All I know is, until the other day, you had both the House Republican and Democrats saying no wiretapping.

Our position has still been the same, no wiretapping by the Obama administration or anyone else of Trump Tower. You had the director of the FBI speaking on behalf of the FBI and the whole Justice Department, and you had the head of the NSA saying no such thing.

And then even when the White House tried to say, Well, let`s blame it on the Brits, which is, frankly, insulting to our strongest ally, they pushed back, as well.

I just don`t understand why the president won`t acknowledge he`s wrong or prove with some evidence other than tweets what he`s talking about.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of the Russian connection? I`ve been sort of kidding about it because it`s gotten to be ridiculous, the number of connections between the Trump team and Moscow. I mean, it`s all over the place. And now we get this $10 million-a-year contract that Paul Manafort had. I`m not saying it`s illegal, but it certainly gets entangling when you realize he was the chair of the campaign.

WARNER: Well, we know-- here`s what we know for a fact. We know there was massive Russian interference in our election in an unprecedented way. We know they hacked into the DNC, John Podesta, leaked that information on a very selected basis. We know they had a thousand so-called internet trolls, who were, in effect, manipulating computers in the United States, creating what`s a bot-net, in certainly ways, overwhelming some of the search engines.

We know for a fact that the Republican platform changed in only one way from when Romney ran, and that was a way that was more favorable towards Russia and less favorable to Ukraine.

And one of the questions that we`ve got to answer is, we`ve got this cast of characters that have to varying degrees ties with Russia. We got Roger Stone, for example, who said he talked to Wikileaks, he predicted the Podesta e-mails, and said he was in direct communication with Guccifer 2, which the intelligence agencies have said is a Russian agent.

Now, again, I don`t know where all this leads, but if the White House has any credibility at all and they want to remove this cloud, they ought to support our investigation so we can get to the bottom of it.

MATTHEWS: Can you imagine-- I`m just speculating here with you because you`ve been through this. If you had campaign contributions coming or people helping your campaign as volunteers, say, working hours after hours for your campaign, if you`ve got people like that, and you met with them and you never thanked him.

I just-- is it even plausible that the Trump people didn`t thank the Russians for helping them? Is it even imaginable (INAUDIBLE) Hey, thanks, buddy, it`s been help-- it`s been very helpful. We like the way you`ve done this. We`re going to remember this later. I mean, excuse me--

WARNER: Well, it just-- it just-- Chris--

MATTHEWS: it doesn`t sound right.

WARNER: Again, it doesn`t sound right. It also doesn`t sound right that then candidate Trump basically invited the Russians to hack into the Clinton e-mails. I mean--

MATTHEWS: Help me more. He says, Help me more. Help me more.

WARNER: Some of this you can`t make up.


WARNER: Now, again, he`s the president. We owe him the benefit of the doubt. And we`ve got to do this. That`s why we`ve got to do this bipartisan because no matter what we come up with, there`s going to will be a whole lot of Americans that doesn`t-- don`t believe our report unless we`re-- unless we`re--


WARNER: --transparent, unless we do it as much in public, and also as long as we keep it bipartisan.

MATTHEWS: What would be the biggest surprise to you, now that you`re into this a bit, Senator, that there is nothing there in terms of a reciprocity from the Trum people to what the Russians did to help get them elected, or that there is something? What would be a bigger surprise?

WARNER: Well, Chris, I got to tell you--

MATTHEWS: Nothing or nothing or something?

WARNER: You know, I know where you`re headed, but I`m not going to answer that at this point. All I can say is I thought there was nothing that this administration could do that would continue to surprise me. But almost every day or every other day, they continue to do stuff that`s basically unprecedented.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Senator Mark Warner, Democrat from Virginia, also ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

That was where I was heading.

Coming up, our other top story tonight. House Republicans postpone a vote on their plan to repeal and replace ``Obama care.`` The vote was supposed to happen tonight, but after days of arm-twisting, President Trump just doesn`t have enough members of his party behind him. That`s next.

Plus, Trump and Russia. New details tonight about Trump`s former campaign manager and his ties to figures close to the Russian government. That`s, of course, Paul Manafort we are talking about. And that`s ahead.

And facing major questions about his own credibility, President Trump doubles down on his unsubstantiated charges Obama wiretapped him during the campaign, that millions of people illegally voted for Hillary Clinton, even about his debunked claim that Ted Cruz`s poor father was involved in the Kennedy assassination.

And get this. He says he can`t be doing badly because, hell, he`s president and you`re not. That`s what he said to the reporter who interviewed him. And anyway, that reporter`s going to join us on HARDBALL tonight in the roundtable.

Finally, let me finish with ``Trump Watch.`` He won`t like tonight, either.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Republican leaders are meeting right now on Capitol Hill to plot the path forward, if there is one, after delaying the bill on their health care vote. NBC`s Kasie Hunt is at the Capitol for us tonight.

Kasie, it just seems to me like they`re trying to square a circle. There are people in the Republican Party who that don`t want to have a government program on health care. They may want to get rid of ``Obama care,`` but they don`t want to necessarily want replace it.

KASIE HUNT, NBC CORRESPONDENT: I do think that they are trying to do just that, Chris, and they`ve kind of put themselves into an impossible position here because these conservative who have opposet it have essentially come out and said, Look, this is ``Obama care lite.`` It`s the opposite of what we`re trying to do.


HUNT: It`s very hard to move off of that position once you`ve drawn that line in the sand. And as the leaders have tried to negotiate with them, but the reality is, there`s more of them than there are of these moderates, who also have concerns-- but the problem is, the more concessions they`ve given over there, it`s worn down the moderate members that they still do need.


HUNT: And the more of those that come out publicly, the harder that this is to do. And now, you know, I`m hearing they`re talking about pre- existing conditions, they`re talking about kids who are on their parents` plans until the age of 26. And for moderates, that`s a complete non- starter. So it`s just not clear to me--

MATTHEWS: Getting rid of those things.

HUNT: --how these negotiations get where they need to be.

MATTHEWS: OK. Have you got any smell on whether there`s bullying going on or buying? How much bullying and how much buying is going on to get these votes, to get to 216?

HUNT: I think we are firmly in the bullying phase, Chris. I think that there was a lot of buying going on across the course of the day. I think that was kind of the pitch to the Freedom Caucus, their standing ovation for the president. They wanted to be at the table. They were trying to win them over.

And now I think we`ve reached the point where frustrations are boiling over. I`ll be interested to know what it`s like in this room they are meeting right behind me.

MATTHEWS: Well, just go in!

HUNT: I`m sure you know it well. It`s HC5 down in the basement of the Capitol.

MATTHEWS: Well, just go in!


MATTHEWS: You`re strong enough. You can you do-- I wouldn`t be surprised if you did it one of these times, just go barging in and say, Excuse me!

HUNT: I think I might get myself permanently banned from the Capitol, probably, if I did that.


HUNT: But, yes, so, one -- whatever is happening in there, the tension, I think, in that room is telling, is going to be telling.

And what they come -- what they say when they come out of there is going to tell us what happens next. If we see House Speaker Paul Ryan go to the cameras and say, hey, we are voting in the morning, OK, it`s possible that they came to a realization, if you will, that throwing this out the window will spike their entire agenda.


HUNT: But if we don`t see them, if they put it off until Monday, I think this whole thing could be dead.

MATTHEWS: I don`t think there are many epiphanies in Trump land.

Anyway, thank you for the report.

There was buying during the day and bullying during the evening. I love the conciseness.

Thank you, NBC`s Kasie Hunt.

We are going to have more on that health care fight coming up in an hour -- in the hour.

And when we return, the latest on the Trump`s campaign ties to Russia. It just keeps growing, the Russia connection.

HARDBALL returns after this.



QUESTION: Two questions on Paul Manafort. Did the president know that he had worked to advance Putin`s interests previous to becoming the campaign chairman?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No, the president was not aware of Paul`s clients from last decade. No.

QUESTION: You`re saying he didn`t know.

SPICER: No, he did not know.

QUESTION: He had not idea that Manafort had done this.

SPICER: Of course not. To suggest that everybody knew everybody`s background -- did they pay their taxes, how much did they pay, what deductions did they take, who did they work for in the...

QUESTION: Shouldn`t he have disclosed that? I mean, he did work for -- he had worked on behalf of an adversary of the United States. He got a $10 million contract.

SPICER: Again, I`m not here to vouch for what he did or how -- I don`t know.

QUESTION: But the president would want to know, wouldn`t he?

Mr. SPICER: Maybe. Maybe. Maybe not.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was something. That was White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, the man always in the barrel, yesterday denying that President Trump knew anything about the past clients of former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

This followed the Associated Press story that Manafort worked for a Russian oligarch to advance the interests of Vladimir Putin from 2006 through at least 2009.

Well, today, the Associated Press is reporting that the investigation of Manafort -- quote -- "crossed the Atlantic earlier this year to the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus, of course, once known as a haven for money laundering by Russian billionaires, and that Treasury agents in recent months obtained information connected to Manafort`s transactions."

Manafort is a central campaign figure, of course, along with other associates whose potential involvement with Russia is being scrutinized in multiple investigations.

We know that Paul Manafort has been closely associated with longtime Trump ally Roger Stone, who is also under scrutiny. In the 1980s and `90s, the two partners were in the lobby consulting firm Black, Manafort and Stone.

And as "The Washington Post" noted at that time, they had -- quote -- "a list of clients that by 1988 already included Donald Trump."

Well, Stone continued to be a top political adviser to Trump as he flirted multiple times with a White House bid. He joined Trump and his then girlfriend, the current first lady, at my -- this is me talking -- 1999 -- look at this. There is a picture of Roger Stone sitting right next to Melania during our HARDBALL College Tour at Penn when Trump was considering -- at least he said so -- a run for 2000 for the presidency.

There is Melania and Roger Stone, who they will now say they don`t even know the guy.


MATTHEWS: Also today, "New York Times" columnist Nick Kristof reported that -- quote -- "I`m also told, not by a Democrat, that there`s a persuasive piece of intelligence on ties between Russia and a member of the Trump team that isn`t yet public."

That`s Nick Kristof of "The Times."

I`m joined right now by two pros, MSNBC analyst David Corn, Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones," and Simon Marks, chief correspondent with Feature Story News.

Thank you.

Let`s talk about this Trump. Now, I was kidding the other day, because I remember an old Jackie Mason thing about the O.J. trial. But I want to say, all this Russian, Russian, Russian. It`s always Russia. I don`t know anybody in my life that I have heard about has so many connections with Moscow.

And here`s the guy. And then poor -- I don`t say poor, but pathetic Sean Spicer...


MATTHEWS: ... has to say, Well, why would he ask them that?

Well, because you are in the middle of a scandal, with the Russians helping you, and you never asked the guy sitting next to you, running your campaign, running your convention, how much money, how many millions of dollars have you taken from the Russians?

CORN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Ask him once, maybe?

CORN: They are trying obviously to deflect. They`re in a bad position.

And when Sean Spicer gets out there and says, well, he was a client of Manafort`s -- Manafort 10, 12 years ago, worked for Putin, according to the story, but why should we care about that 12 years later?

Well, the reason you should care is that here is a guy running Trump`s campaign who has demonstrated that, for $10 million a year, he will help Russia, he will help Putin. He has connections also to the Ukrainians who were allies of Putin.

And so, while Russia is committing political warfare against the United States and trying to undermine...


MATTHEWS: They know who they can buy. They know who they can buy.

CORN: They know who they can buy.

They also know, if there has to be any form of contact or any desire even just to send a signal -- I`m not talking collusion, but send a signal to the Russians that Trump is a better deal for you, who is going to say that?

MATTHEWS: So, Michael Flynn, they say, come on over and give a speech. Have dinner with us, and we will give you $100,000 -- or what is it, some...

CORN: Thirty-five.

MATTHEWS: Thirty-five thousand dollars to have dinner with you.

So, these guys are on the take. It`s not illegal, if they weren`t running the government.


Look, there are lots of people in Washington, D.C., that have made glorious careers out of sitting on K Street and representing shanky (ph) governments around the world.

MATTHEWS: What kind?

MARKS: Shanky, dodgy.


MARKS: That`s an English word -- around the world that want to raise their profile and try to buy themselves some credibility here in Washington, D.C.

The difficulty with Spicer`s presentation there and the White House position is, we are now supposed to believe that, the moment these people started getting involved in Donald Trump`s campaign, suddenly, they became whiter than white. They forgot everything they ever know about their association with Oleg Deripaska, with other associates of Vladimir Putin, and, from then on, they have been absolutely pure as the driven snow.

MATTHEWS: Well, they haven`t been, because they have been back and forth the whole year.

Every time there`s -- can I go -- what is the guy? Carter Page. Can I go to Moscow? Can I go to Russia?


MATTHEWS: Anyway, the AP`s report on Manafort`s work with a close Putin ally appeared to contradict his denial last July about having any ties to Putin or his regime. Let`s watch.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Are there any ties between Mr. Trump, you or your campaign and Putin and his regime?

PAUL MANAFORT, FORMER DONALD TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: No, there are not. That`s absurd. And, you know, there`s no basis to it.


MATTHEWS: Well, that now appears to be in dispute. But Manafort also issued a similar denial when it came to whether Donald Trump had any dealings with Russian oligarchs. Watch this closely. Take a look.


QUESTION: So, to be clear, Mr. Trump has no financial relationships with any Russian oligarchs?

MANAFORT: That`s what he said. That`s what I -- that`s obviously what our position is.



MATTHEWS: "That`s what he said. That`s what he said. That`s our position."

That looked like he was on a police lineup. And that was Norah O`Donnell him with the question.

But Trump`s told a conference in 2008 that -- quote -- "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia."

What do we make of it? They are both sides of their mouth on this.

CORN: But there is a lot -- there is more than that.

Donald Trump held the Miss Universe contest, which he owned at the time, in Moscow.

MATTHEWS: And he could have held it anywhere.

CORN: Yes. Yes. Who was his partner? A Russian oligarch.

Who did he meet with while he was there? Russian oligarchs. What did he say after...


MATTHEWS: Do you buy the MI6 report? Do accepted the dossier?

CORN: There is a lot in it that is clearly true.

MATTHEWS: A lot in it?

CORN: A lot.

MATTHEWS: Do you buy it all?

CORN: No, I`m not saying -- but it wasn`t -- having been the first person to report on it, it`s not a dossier. It was a series of memos with a source saying, this is what I`m hearing, this is what I`m picking up.

It wasn`t that he said everything in it is true. He is saying, this is what I`m hearing.

MATTHEWS: What was that word you told me a minute ago? Dodgy?

MARKS: Shanky.

MATTHEWS: Is the shanky part true in it?


CORN: Well, I don`t know about that. But I do know that Trump made many trips to Moscow and that he...


MATTHEWS: He stayed at the Ritz-Carlton.

CORN: ... certainly was surveilled while he was there.

MARKS: And let me tell you...

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s right. He is claiming now to be surveilled. Maybe that was it.

CORN: Yes, it was by Moscow, not by Obama.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, last word.

MARKS: In that interview -- I think it was with Norah O`Donnell -- Manafort said he had never spoken to Russian intelligence officers. He was sure, but, after all, he couldn`t be sure, because they don`t wear a badge saying, "I`m with Russian intelligence."

I lived there for two-and-a-half years. I am absolutely sure that, at various times, I spoke to people who were with Russian intelligence.

MATTHEWS: You know what your handlers look like.

MARKS: You know who these people are.

MATTHEWS: Thank you. They`re following you on the subway, anyway. And some good-looking women shows you -- on the subway: Nice to meet you. Aren`t you wonderful?

How many times does that happen?

Anyway, thank you, David Corn.

CORN: All the time.

MATTHEWS: It doesn`t happen in real life. But it happens in Russia.


MATTHEWS: Thank you, Simon.

I have heard about that.

Simon Marks, sir, thank you.

Up next, we`re going to talk to a Republican member of Congress who is a no vote on the new health care plan of the president`s. Maybe it`s going to be the old care -- old plan by tonight. He met today with the president. And we`re going to get the latest on the failure today by Republicans to even hold a vote on Trumpcare.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.



DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There won`t be any Obamacare with Trump.


TRUMP: Because it will be repealed and replaced with something far better.

Obamacare, we are going to repeal it, we are going to replace it, we are going to get something better.


TRUMP: Obamacare is a total disaster. It`s dying of its own weight. And, by `17, meaning he will be playing golf, and I will be working very hard -- but, by `17, it`s dead.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump`s promise to repeal Obamacare took a serious hit today. Speaker Paul Ryan, who originally scheduled a House vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act in its seventh anniversary, does not have enough votes to bring the bill, repeal to the floor tonight.

And the problem is that all Republicans want repeal. I think that`s fair. But only some, maybe a majority, but only some, want to replace.

In the past seven years under President Obama, Republicans have voted -- catch this -- more than 60 times to repeal.

Well, earlier today, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer called out Republicans on their hesitancy.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is something that we have talked about. You have taken a bunch of these free votes when it didn`t matter, because you didn`t have a Republican president. And you got for repeal and go back and tell your constituents something like 50 times.

Well, this is a live -- this is a live ball now. And this is for real, and we`re going to do what we pledged to the American people and keep our word.


MATTHEWS: Well, a broken clock, as you know, is right twice a day. And he was right there, Spicer.

They had a lot of fun voting to repeal, as long as they were sure there was nobody to sign the bill and make it real.

The hardball conservative group, by the way, the House Freedom Caucus received a major concession from the White House today, which agreed to eliminate Obamacare`s essential health benefits, requiring insurers to cover E.R. services, maternity care, and counseling for substance abuse and other issues.

The concessions frustrated, however, many moderate Republicans, who held marathon meetings with Speaker Ryan late Wednesday night. According to Politico, attendees found the concessions to the right-wing caucus hard to swallow, because they were worried -- quote -- "that the leadership would force swing district members to take a risky vote, when the Senate would likely strip out the provision anyway."

Well, the entire House Republican Conference is currently meeting behind closed doors, trying to figure out a way forward. We just Kasie Hunt up there.

For more, I am joined by Republican Congressman from New Jersey Leonard Lance, who just left that Republican Conference meeting, and former RNC chair and MSNBC political analyst Michael Steele.

Congressman, how does this thing stand? Is it in grave condition? Is that fair?

REP. LEONARD LANCE (R), NEW JERSEY: I think the votes are not necessarily there at the moment.

And I am a no vote, because I do not think that it will lead to lower insurance costs for the American people. And I was concerned about the new CBO score that came out this evening, Chris.

But I think that the Democratic Party should come to the table as well, because this is a bipartisan matter that needs a bipartisan fix.

MATTHEWS: Would the Republicans come to help of an effort to save their program? I don`t know whether that`s normal in the current situation.

This bipartisan, I know, is my belief. I share that religion you just mentioned. But it doesn`t seem to be in practice these days. One party saving another party from its own self-destruction doesn`t seem to be way things work anymore.

LANCE: I think that we should put the national interests first.

And I do think that the exchanges are in great difficulty, Chris.


LANCE: As you know, one-third of the counties in this country have only insurer. And so I hope that we might work together -- and this is true in the Senate as well -- in a bipartisan capacity.

MATTHEWS: Would the president be the one to broker that kind of a deal? He`s a deal-maker, he says.

LANCE: Certainly, I think that`s a possibility.

And I hope that Democrats here in the House, as well as Democrats in the Senate, will come to the table, because, in my opinion, the exchanges are in difficulty, and we need a better system for the entire nation.


That sounds like a very prudent thing you offer. But I think right now what`s going on is the Republican Party can`t solve this problem, despite their strong majority in the House.

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: They can`t solve this problem, because I think individuals and collectively, like Congressman Lance, you know, really believe fundamentally, because their constituents believe, you are going to go to Washington and you are going to repeal Obamacare soup to nuts.


STEELE: There is no dalliances, there`s no straggling, there`s no add-ons.

MATTHEWS: What about those 60 votes they all cast to get rid of it?

LANCE: Well, that`s -- no, and I think that`s a fair point.

And that really, I think, where the congressman and others would say, yes, give us the bill that does exactly what we said we wanted it to do, and we will do that. We will have -- have the votes you need.


Congressman Lance, did you vote to repeal Obamacare?

LANCE: I did. I was one of those who...


MATTHEWS: Well, then you wanted to get rid of it. And now you say you want to fix it. Which is it?

LANCE: I think that`s a fair point, Chris. I voted as a part...


MATTHEWS: It`s certainly fair. What is the answer? Do you want to fix it or kill it?

LANCE: I want to fix it.

MATTHEWS: Well, why did you vote to kill it so many times?

LANCE: This was a negotiating...

MATTHEWS: Why did you vote 50 times to kill it?

LANCE: This was a negotiating strategy with President Obama...


LANCE: ... to bring him to the table. And I certainly think it needs to be fixed. And I want to work in a bipartisan capacity to do so.


But it couldn`t be a negotiating tactic. I know that sounds right to someone who doesn`t know the process. But the president didn`t need to sign that bill. He could just veto it. He didn`t have to go...

LANCE: I think that the president should have recognized that there are -- the exchanges are in difficulty.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you.

Congressman, thank you for joining us.

We`re going to go to Mark Meadows of the Freedom Caucus right now.

LANCE: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Well, it doesn`t look like they got a deal.

Here`s Kasie. We`re going to get Kasie Hunt here in a second. She just walked past there. We are going to get the camera focused on her.

Michael, what do you think?

STEELE: This is hard -- this is hard.

MATTHEWS: They don`t have a deal.

STEELE: They don`t have a deal.

MATTHEWS: Yes, he would, he would be all over it. He does know how to bring the cameras around them.

STEELE: Yes, there is no deal here because of the reality that you go if one direction, you pull conservatives, you go in another.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk politics. If he blows it on this, it looks like he has, he`s not going to get anything out of it. Soup-to-nuts, he is not getting the soup.


MATTHEWS: What about tax reform and all the stuff he says he was going to do later?

STEELE: This is why he should have led with tax reform, because that is the foundational thing --

MATTHEWS: That means tax cuts to the rich.

STEELE: Well, whatever it may mean.

MATTHEWS: I know what it means.

STEELE: Whatever it may mean, Chris. It`s not this. And you don`t need to do Obamacare repeal first to put in place the tax reforms that you want, number one. Number two, that then foundation lays out an argument and runway, if you will, for jobs and all the things that Donald Trump wants to talk about. You set this victory up, it`s the same argument Rahm Emanuel in 2009.

MATTHEWS: Against Hillary --

STEELE: Against Hillary, yes -- Obamacare.

MATTHEWS: Against Obamacare.

STEELE: Don`t lead with health care. It`s too much of a thicket to get into.

MATTHEWS: Let`s go to Kasie.

Kasie, how does it look, Kasie Hunt?

KASIE HUNT, NBC NEWS CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Chris, I apologize, we are getting the latest download here.

We had one member come out of this meeting and tell us they will be and up or down vote on this bill tomorrow. We may see one additional major change tonight to the legislation. They may put that out this evening. We`re keeping an eye out for that.

But we`re also told that Mick Mulvaney, the budget director, said that President Trump wants a vote tomorrow. He is done negotiating. This is where he wants to go from here.

MATTHEWS: I`m using a military term. Is this for range or effect? They want to find out how many votes they need to work on those people over the weekend?

HUNT: It sounds like at this point, the president wants them to go forward with this. Obviously, the president isn`t the speaker of the House, so it doesn`t technically decide any of this. So, he could be putting Paul Ryan, the speaker, in a pretty difficult position, if they do not, in fact, have the votes. It sounds like Trump is sick of the back and forth -- the president, excuse me, is sick of the back and forth, and wants us to move forward, Chris.

MATTHEWS: So, you think tomorrow morning looks good right now?

HUNT: It seems as though the pressure is certainly on for that. I mean, we will look and see what kind of a policy change will be concluded. I think these conversations are going to continue. I think what Speaker Ryan has to say will tell us the most about this. And I`m going to follow this crowd here --

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much as always. Kasie Hunt right on the job there, NBC`s Kasie Hunt.

Thank you, Congressman Leonard Lance

Congressman, one last thought, are you still there?


MATTHEWS: Are you going to vote for this tomorrow if it comes up or are you sticking with the position it`s not the right bill?

LANCE: I`m a no tomorrow, Chris.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you. It`s great having you on. Congressman Leonard Lance of New Jersey.

LANCE: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: And, Michael Steele, as always.

Up next, President Trump tells "Time" magazine, he doesn`t have to apologize for his false statements. He says he can`t be doing badly, because, after all, he`s the president and we`re not. That`s true. He got me on that one.

The roundtable is next with that. He says he`s a clairvoyant, a psychic. That is something -- give us some advice on the next horse race, Mr. President.

You`re watching HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Donald Trump has another one of his coveted "Time" magazine cover this week, this time questioning, "Is Truth Dead?" I don`t think he wanted that one.

When pressed on his tendency to make statements without any factual basis, the president pushed back. He defended his claims on illegal voting, wiretapping, even on his allegations that Ted Cruz` father was involved with the JFK killing.

Let`s watch some of his previous statements on such topics.


INTERVIEWER: Do you think that talking about millions of illegal votes is dangerous to this country?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, not at all. Not at all, because many people feel the same way I do.

INTERVIEWER: And you tweet, the former administration, wiretapped me, surveilled me at Trump Tower during the last election.

How did you find out? You said I just find out. How did you learn about that?

TRUMP: Well, I`ve been reading about things.

What were they doing with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the death, before the shooting? It`s horrible.


MATTHEWS: Well in his "Time" interview, the president doubled down on his claims, asking, "What do you say that I have to apologize? I`m just quoting the newspaper just like I quoted the judge the other day." When asked if these things affect his credibility, President Trump told "Time`s" Michael Scherer, "I can`t be doing so badly because I`m president, and you, Michael Scherer, are not."

Anyway, we just now heard that President Trump is done negotiating on health care and is demanding a vote tomorrow. By the way, he didn`t predict tonight`s loss, did he?

Joining me right now is Michael Scherer, "Time" magazine`s Washington bureau chief and the writer of this cover story we`re looking at, and, of course, "Time" magazine contributor, Jay Newton-Small, and "USA Today" Washington correspondent Paul Singer.

A great group tonight, as always.

This, it sounds almost looney tune to say I am instinctive. It sounded like he was a clairvoyant, a psychic. If he really believes that, he would test it out every day of his life.

If I can predict the future, I`d be betting on horses, I`d be betting how it goes on a roulette table, I`d be betting on everything, because you can make unlimited amounts of money predicting what`s going to happen in ten minutes. And he says he can do that.

MICHAEL SCHERER, TIME MAGAZINE: Yes, he mentioned the statement he made about Sweden last month where he said there was something that happened last night. He now says that was right, because something happened two days later.

MATTHEWS: But that`s what people do -- fortune tellers to make a fortune, because they reinterpret what they predicted. So, they`re always right.

SCHERER: This is the thing. He feels he is getting short shift in our discussion, because we just point out what he gets wrong in a literal sense, which is what we do for a living, it`s our job.


SCHERER: He thinks this is all negotiation, it`s not a matter of black and white, right or wrong or true or false, that he can say wiretapping the president, but then he can pull back and say, it`s in quotes. He can say 3 million undocumented --

MATTHEWS: He didn`t say it was in quotes, it was during the campaign and President Obama ordered it. Neither of those are true.

SCHERER: No, it`s a negotiation. It`s not -- it`s all a negotiation, we`re negotiating. You say, oh, you didn`t say in quotes, but you know maybe I was talking about wiretapping.

The 3 million undocumented, he said, well, maybe it was registration, not voting. Maybe it was illegal. His whole career is about that.

MATTHEWS: What`s what they say about the Middle East, you make your deal, then they start negotiating. In other words, there is no end to it. It`s a constant negotiation over what the facts are.

JAY NEWTON-SMALL, TIME MAGAZINE: As Michael writes in this story, it`s about moving the goal post, right? So, he moves the goal posts even farther away and basically says, oops, now the middle is here -- even though --


MATTHEWS: Why is it important for the president to be able to tell the future?

PAUL SINGER, USA TODAY: Oh, I don`t think it`s about telling the future.

MATTHEWS: He says the Swedes are going to have a bad time two weeks now.

SINGER: But see, he believes -- and to some degree, he`s been proven right. He has his own.

MATTHEWS: No, no, no --



SINGER: He has his finger on the pulse of something that we are missing. We are mindless pedantry. We just care about you useless book facts. He understands people.


MATTHEWS: He was asked and answered, "Well, a lot of people feel that". Well, a lot o feel that is not a factual statement. A lot of people can feel a whole lot of things but they don`t know anymore than you know.

A lot of people think, oh, the CIA killed Kennedy. They have no evidence but they feel that. You`re allowed to feel whatever you want. It`s a free country. To feel, think, whatever, you may be right. But without evidence, it doesn`t mean anything.

SCHERER: We here in the fact business, so we tend to take offense at this stuff. If you say something that`s not true, it`s a violation.

He does -- he uses disputed facts, wrong facts, false facts to virally insert himself into the conversation. We`re talking about this right now. For his supporters if they`re watching this show they`re thinking, oh, there goes Donald Trump again. He`s got those Washington elites right where he wants him.

MATTHEWS: Let`s try reality in real time which I don`t think he`s comfortable in. They didn`t have a vote tonight. They were going to have a vote. He thought they were going to have a vote but they`re not, so his ability to predict is little off.

He wants to vote tomorrow. I think what he`s up to -- I guess I`m hearing this already -- he knows he`s probably going to lose tomorrow, and then he`ll be able to say, "Well, I`m tired of that, I don`t like this losing thing. I`m not going to blame it on Democrats".

SINGER: Or Paul Ryan or anybody else I want to blame. I mean, again, you`ll notice, If you read that interview, there`s never blame falling upon Donald Trump. That`s the real bottom line here.

MATTHEWS: Well, he`s president.

SINGER: Ultimately, he`s not responsible or guilty for it.

MATTHEWS: You`re not president.

SINGER: I didn`t say it, it was in the paper. I just read the paper. I`m just saying what`s in the newspaper. I didn`t say it. It wasn`t my claim.

You`re always shifting blame to somebody else.

MATTHEWS: So, what`s Spicer`s job, Jay?

NEWTON-SMALL: To wag the dog.

SINGER: Indeed.

MATTHEWS: What`s his job everyday?

NEWTON-SMALL: I mean, no, literally, to basically come out and respond to us saying, wait, the facts are this and he just says, "Oh, but there`s other interpretations, there`s alternative facts. There`s other ways it might be understood." And basically to move the press into the conversation they want it to be moved to. They want to be talking act something different.

MATTHEWS: These people are national celebrities now. They are. Kellyanne Conway, I`ve known her for 30 years. I get along with her personally. She`s on the cover of "New York" magazine.

I mean, these people are like figures in our lives. They`re personages now.

SINGER: But, she`s important, she`s powerful.

NEWTON-SMALL: It`s entertainment.

MATTHEWS: Sean Spicer is a figure.

NEWTON-SMALL: It`s entertainment. This is literally about entertainment. It`s about TV ratings, it`s about the next drama, the next thing that`s going to happen.

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s talk about Paul Manafort because the Russian connection, you know, $10 million is a lot of years, a lot of rubles. And he`s getting that money and he acts like it never happened.

I watched -- did you see the clip we showed earlier tonight on HARDBALL? He acted like well, whoa, maybe, maybe, that`s what he says, I`m sticking to that. That`s our story.

Obviously, he has a problem. And it wasn`t wrong until he became chairman of the Trump campaign.

SINGER: And the interesting thing is to watch the sort of shifting conversation from the White House about exactly what his job was and how he`s just a gentleman who happened to work there.

MATTHEWS: Never knew the guy.

SINGER: Never barely knew the guy.

MATTHEWS: And Nunes says he`s never heard of Roger Stone. Maybe he hasn`t, but he`s chairman of the intelligence committee, he should know who Roger Stone is. Then they show a picture of Roger Stone sitting back to Melania at my town meeting. And they don`t know who he is. He`s the only guy escorting her. I think they knew him.

SINGER: They can credibly argue that Manafort`s contract was ten years ago, right? That`s a credible argument. The question is then he was working with some Ukrainians --

MATTHEWS: They don`t do follow-up. The Russians give you $10 million but they don`t follow up.

SINGER: Correct.

MATTHEWS: I get the feeling it`s more like the mob. They can come after you, you get pulled back in.

The round table is sticking with us. Up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. Be right back.


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

Michael, tell me something I don`t know about Trump, because you had a lot of time with him. Trump, what`s the story of Trump? Just kidding.

Go ahead. What do you got?

SCHERER: I printed what I know about that interview. This is what I`d say that we`re not paying attention to right now. When Steve Bannon came out and said, "We`re deconstructing the administrative state", that thing is real and it`s happening and it`s big. It`s going on in the general counsel`s office, they`re hiring up at the strategic initiatives group in the White House and as the legislative wheels kind of come grinding to a halt here most likely, I think the most lasting legacy of this first year is going to be what they can do to take apart the powers of the bureaucracy.

MATTHEWS: What Nixon tried to do. Didn`t get done. Reagan tried.

NEWTON-SMALL: This is supposed to be the day -- today is the day of the anniversaries, the seventh anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Care Act. So I have three anniversaries for you, Chris. One is for the freedom caucus. This is -- on this day in 1776, Patrick Henry actually uttered the words, "Give me liberty or give me death."

MATTHEWS: You told this to somebody else before you told me. This is live television. Go ahead. I can read this. Stonewall Jackson -- go ahead.

NEWTON-SMALL: The second one is for Donald Trump, and it`s Stonewall Jackson who at that point claimed to be a cousin of Donald Trump`s favorite President Andrew Jackson had his only defeat --

MATTHEWS: I thought he was German, not Scotch Irish.

NEWTON-SMALL: They claimed to be but they weren`t in the end.

He had his only defeat in the entire civil war and on this day in 1826.

And for all Americans, on this day in 1839, the word "OK" entered our lexicon. So, everything is going to be okay.

MATTHEWS: Where does it come from?

NEWTON-SMALL: It comes from oll korrect.

MATTHEWS: See, I love that.

SINGER: Those of us from old Kinderhook, New York, would you tell that`s not true. But go ahead. NEWTON-SMALL: Right.

MATTHEWS: You got one?

SINGER: Yes, the Breitbart Washington bureau is, A, been evacuated by and large, Steve Bannon is no longer there, neither is Breitbart, which is OK because it was probably illegal.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Michael Scherer, Jay Newton-Small and Paul Singer. Thank you, Paul.

When we return, let me finish with Trump Watch.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Thursday, March 23rd, 2017.

The failure of the Trump presidency to deliver a replacement to affordable care is now a matter of historic record. All those votes cast in past years, dozens and dozens of them, are now shown for what they were -- cheap politics. They were voting for a bill they had full confidence would never become law for the obvious reason that the president who created affordable care was not going to assist with its lethal injection.

And the reason Trump and his party failed cuts to the heart of what President Obama was able to achieve, we no longer live in a country where it`s every person for himself when it comes to health insurance. This is why the Republicans can`t pass a health care replacement to Obama because they are deeply divided on how or even whether to meet this public expectation. Some want to simply repeal what Obamacare created, others want to find some way to replace it, to somehow honor the public`s insistence that there be a national health care plan.

So, good luck, Mr. Trump. Until you convince an entire political party to change its stripes, you`re not going to deliver on that repeal and replace promise of yours.

Let`s face it, guys. You`re a lot better at deception than you are at conception.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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