Show: Hardball with Chris Matthews Date: March 27, 2017 Guest: Eric Swalwell, Alex Isenstadt, Ayesha Rascoe, Phil Rucker
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Deception.
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
Imagine a U.S. president caught in a false charge against his predecessor orchestrating a huge deception. First he tells the American people that he`s willing to be judged by the Congressional committees charged with oversight. Then he arranges to secretly hand over helpful evidence to the chairman of that oversight committee one night at the White House.
He then has that chairman show up the White House the next day excited with what he calls "alarming information," information he`s just been given the night before at the White House itself.
And what if we learned the congressman involved had changed cars on his way to the White House that night before, had been admitted when he got there in a way that evaded detection? What if the president`s own press secretary wasn`t told of the shenanigans? Bigger question. Would the American people believe a president who went to this trouble to deceive them?
And here`s what we know for sure. Five days ago, U.S. Congressman Devin Nunes, the Republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee, has said he`d been -- he`d seen classified information that led him to conclude that members of the president`s own transition team were swept up in incidental surveillance of foreigners.
After discovering that information, Nunes said, he was so alarmed that he rushed the White House to disclose it to President Trump himself because, he later said, the president was taking heat from the media.
Well, later that day, President Trump claimed incorrectly he had been vindicated for his now debunked allegation that he was wiretapped during the campaign by President Obama. Nothing that Nunes has disclosed to date confirms the president`s allegation, but his bizarre attempt to provide cover to the president by that late night thing, the morning thing has led many to believe that Nunes could have obtained his information from someone at the White House itself.
And as I mentioned, today, we learned where Nunes saw that classified information and how he snuck to the White House to secretly meet with his source.
Well, "The Washington Post" reports that on the night before his press conference, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee was on his way to an event late Tuesday when the evening`s plans abruptly changed. After taking a brief phone call, Representative Nunes swapped cars and slipped away from his staff. And from there, Nunes proceeded to the White House.
He defended the move in an interview with Bloomberg, saying it was the most convenient secure location with a computer connected to the system that included the reports. He added that his source was not a White House staffer and was an intelligence official, but it wasn`t the White House.
And late today, Chairman Nunes portrayed it as a routine visit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: It`s actually pretty common, probably at least once a week if not more than that, we have to go to the executive branch in order to read classified intelligence. So that could be the White House grounds. It could be the White House. It could be the Pentagon. It could be CIA. There`s a number of places we go.
So I`ve been working this for a long time with many different sources and needed a place that I could actually finally go because I knew what I was looking for and I could actually get access to what I needed to see.
Number one, I wasn`t sneaking out. It wasn`t at night. What it was -- it was in the middle -- you know, the sun was out, and I actually stopped and talked to several people along the way. Many foreign dignitaries were there. Some I recognized. I said hello...
WOLF BLITZER, CNN: So you have other meetings at the White House. Did you meet with the president or any of his aides while you were there that night?
NUNES: No. No. And in fact, I`m quite sure that I think people in the West Wing had no idea that I was there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, now, just minutes ago, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff from California, called upon Nunes to recuse himself from this investigation.
Joining me right now is NBC White House correspondent Kristen Welker. Ken Dilanian`s the intelligence reporter with the -- NBC News, of course, investigating unit. And Democratic congressman Eric Swalwell also joins us. He serves on the Intelligence Committee.
I have to go to Kristin Welker because you know more than any of us right now. It seems to me that this guy`s now playing games about the timing, or he comes in at 9:00 o`clock at night and says he can still see the sun. He says that he didn`t sneak in, but yet his staff people saw him disappear. He changed cars, didn`t tell anybody where he was going and he waited until about 6:30 at night to come up with his explanation, which is always a sign, when you have to put your story together, to wait hours and hours before you come clean.
What do you know about how somebody can go into the White House, get a briefing on high intelligence information, secret intelligence, from somebody who`s apparently whistleblowing, we`re being told? What do you make of the whole story?
KRISTEN WELKER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, Chris, he would need to be signed into the White House. So the question is and our whole focus here is who exactly signed him into the White House. Now, we pressed White House press secretary Sean Spicer on that earlier today. He had said he will get back to us with an answer. So far, that hasn`t happened. But even a member of Congress can`t just walk into the White House.
Now, we also pressed Spicer on who exactly briefed him and if the White House was aware of who briefed him. They dodged questions about that throughout the day. Spicer did during his briefing and effectively put this back on Devin Nunes and said he`s the one who can answer those questions.
But Chris, this does raise a lot of questions about whether or not this was a White House staffer who briefed him. Even though he says it wasn`t, Sean Spicer didn`t rule out that possibility. So there are still a lot of unanswered questions here about who specifically not only briefed him but who signed him into the White House in the first place. In order to get in here, you would need White House clearance, Chris.
MATTHEWS: I have a sense that Spicer has no idea what happened because when he was asked by you folks in the press corps last week, Would it make any sense for a guy like -- for Nunes to go over there on a nighttime before and then show up the next day as if he`s got hot information which he picked up at the White House itself. He said that would make no sense because it doesn`t make any sense.
If you pick up the information at one agency, the White House, and you bring it back with great alarm, Guess what I found out here last night, it doesn`t make sense. So how do we put that together? Spicer looks like he was in the dark on this thing.
WELKER: Well, he absolutely does. You`re right about that, Chris. And I think the broader question becomes, Does this not make the case for some type of independent investigation? Now, the White House isn`t prepared to go so far as to back that. But as you know, the calls are growing on Capitol Hill for an independent investigation because there are so many questions.
Nunes is saying, Hey, look, I`m not going to tell you who gave me this information because I want to protect my methods and sources. But the reality is, there are mounting calls to get to the bottom of exactly what he was told because, as you know, he`s wavered in terms of his story.
The president said initially he felt somewhat vindicated by what he heard from Nunes, but he`s walked back from his initial statements. So the White House not willing to go so far as to say that there should be an independent investigation into this, Chris, but there are growing calls on that in Pennsylvania Avenue, and frankly, some here within the White House behind the scenes, as well.
MATTHEWS: You know, it looks like the old political alley-oop play. Remember way back when Dick Cheney gave some information to "The New York Times." It appeared in the Sunday morning "New York Times." Then he goes on "MEET THE PRESS" and he says, Did you see what`s in "The New York Times" today?
I mean, here`s a case of a guy gets information from the White House, and the next day comes back and says, I`ve got some new information that exonerates you, Mr. President. The president says, Oh, yes, this is helpful.
It looks like the alley-oop play, working together and making it look like, you know, it some kind of serendipity, when, in fact, it was a play. Can you react to that or not?
WELKER: Well, I can tell you there were a lot of heated exchanges about that in the briefing. And when Spicer was pressed on any element of that assertion, he pushed back very forcefully and said, Look, there`s just no indication or evidence that that is the case, and that gets ahead of things.
But the optics of it, Chris, as you point out -- the optics right now are the problem because certainly, that`s what a number of people are asking. Was this not planted by the White House to give cover to President Trump?
And you`ll remember when Devin Nunes was standing basically in the same spot that I`m standing here last week and gave that press conference, we pressed him on whether or not he was effectively trying to give some cover to President Trump. He said that wasn`t the case. But this certainly raises a whole lot more questions in that regard, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Well, for those who believe in the Easter bunny, I`m sure it`s very sellable. Thank you so much, Kristen Welker, from the White House, who knows a lot of this stuff.
WELKER: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Senator Mark Warner (INAUDIBLE) actually the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and today he said at the very least, someone must have escorted Nunes into the White House grounds. Watch here. He`s the ranking Democrat on the Senate committee.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Anybody who knows, anywhere in the White House complex, whether the Eisenhower building or the White House itself, you have to be escorted. Who was he meeting with? Was it a source or was it somebody from the administration? And then he goes to this -- what appears to be a charade, where he comes out the next day and briefs the president before he tells the Democrats.
I`m not even sure he`s told the other House Republicans what this, quote, unquote "information" was. So it raises a lot of questions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Charade, masquerade, escapade -- I keep thinking the right word -- I think he may have it there, the senator.
Anyway, Sean Spicer, who I mentioned before, said today he didn`t know whether Chairman Nunes, as a sitting U.S. congressman, had to be cleared to get into the White House and whether he would require help to access a SCIF here you listen to this stuff, or you get this information, which is used to review classified information.
Here`s Spicer trying to catch up with the news here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) White House grounds, you have to be cleared (INAUDIBLE)
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No, not necessarily. I don`t know that members of Congress need to be cleared.
QUESTION: Yes, members of Congress may not need to be cleared in, but to get access to a SCIF, I do believe that requires some cooperation from the executive branch because there are intelligence places on Capitol Hill that are secure where this meeting could have taken place.
SPICER: I will be glad to take a look at that and figure out whether or not that is an accurate statement or not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: He sounds more and more like Sergeant Schultz, I don`t know nuthin`.
Let me go to Congressman Swalwell. You`re on the committee. What do you make of this? What do you make of your chairman?
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Yes, he`s betrayed the independence that we`re supposed to show. He shouldn`t be anywhere near this investigation, let alone leading it. And when you watch the way that this White House works when it comes to Russia, this is what it looks like when you`re covering up the crime.
MATTHEWS: Did you ever switch cars to evade detection? Did you ever lose your staff people so you could skip town and head to some meeting somewhere? I mean, this is cloak and dagger stuff. It doesn`t look like a routine visit that the chairman claims it to be.
SWALWELL: No. And I like Devin Nunes. Before this, before he went on the Trump transition team, we never saw anything like this. I don`t think he`s come off the Trump transition team. That`s what`s so frustrating.
And Chris, I will also say this. What is so disturbing is that he said he`s had this information for a very long time, which raises the question, Well, if you had it for a long time, why didn`t you share it with the ranking member on our committee? I think it could be more explained if this was something he received urgently that he had to get to the White House (INAUDIBLE) he`d been sitting on this, allegedly.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, do you think he should still be chairman on the issue of Russia and this whole interview, this whole investigation?
SWALWELL: No. He shouldn`t have anything to do with Russia. And whether he chairs the committee or not, that`s up to Paul Ryan, who, by the way, not enough`s been talked about -- Paul Ryan signed off on every step that Devin Nunes has taken so far with this investigation, including going to the White House.
MATTHEWS: Do you think he told Paul Ryan, the speaker, that he`d just been to the White House to get the information he was about to deliver with great alarm to the White House? Do you think Paul Ryan knew about this whole masquerade event?
SWALWELL: Can`t speak to that. But it only seems to make sense that if he asked Paul Ryan`s permission to take information to the White House, that he probably had to tell him how he got that information.
But Chris, this is all the more reason we need an independent commission. Elijah Cummings and I have the bill in Congress. Every Democrat`s on board, and Walter Jones is the only Republican. We need more Republicans to do that.
MATTHEWS: Did you ever hear of a chairman of an oversight committee heading to the target of the oversight and checking in with them and giving them exculpatory information that might help them that he just got from the target of the investigation itself? Have you ever heard of that one?
SWALWELL: No. You can only wear one uniform on the field, and he`s trying to wear both. And that`s jeopardizing our ability to have a credible investigation.
MATTHEWS: Congressman, thank you for joining us tonight.
I want to go to Ken, who`s our expert...
SWALWELL: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: ... put it together. You`re good at cloak and dagger stuff. I mean, this -- he says it wasn`t nighttime yet (INAUDIBLE) about 9:00 o`clock at night, there`s still some light out there. But the changing of cars, the losing of the staff people -- the whole fact, and I know enough about politics. I don`t know much about spying. But when you wait until 6:30 at night to explain, you`ve spent all day trying to figure out your explanation.
KEN DILANIAN, NBC INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, let`s take what...
DILANIAN: Let`s take what he`s saying at face value and break it down because it is possible for whistleblowers to provide information to the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. That`s his job. He can get information under the table.
But so -- but this was information that was favorable to the Trump administration, so these people worked for the Trump administration...
MATTHEWS: Well, wait a minute. The people inside the White House knew he was coming in.
DILANIAN: Well, there`s that, too, of course. I mean...
MATTHEWS: I mean, what kind of whistleblower operates like -- if you want to whistle blow, don`t you whistle blow -- don`t you scribble some notes and take them down the street? I don`t know you meet -- you meet in a bar, don`t you?
DILANIAN: This wasn`t Edward Snowden signing into the White House SCIF. That`s right.
MATTHEWS: I get (INAUDIBLE) cahoots here. I don`t think this is secret.
DILANIAN: It looked like...
MATTHEWS: I think the president...
MATTHEWS: ... call up the president, said, Guess what? I got some hot stuff. And then the president says- well, just game (ph) it out. And the president -- Where did you get this stuff? Here. I mean, where did you get this stuff? Here. Oh, you got it here? One of my people gave it to you? Oh, great. Trump, said, No, I feel satisfied. I feel, you know...
MATTHEWS: Vindicated. So in other words, the president -- (INAUDIBLE) the president didn`t care it was whistleblown. He didn`t care that it was snuck out from somebody who didn`t tell their superiors, which is what the congressman`s saying. He said, thank you, basically.
DILANIAN: And look, he could have ordered these reports to be brought to his desk at any moment. He could have come -- taken off (ph) and said, Hey, I`m interested in -- what kind of surveillance...
MATTHEWS: OK, here`s the theory.
DILANIAN: ... I was under during the transition.
MATTHEWS: Here is the working theory here. Donald Trump wants to be exonerated for the stupid dawn patrol quackery tweeting of his. So to get coverage on it, he wants the Congress, as he`s been saying from the beginning, to judge him, to adjudicate him and to find him innocent.
So what he does is, his people feed something to this guy Nunes. He comes back with it and says, I`ve discovered this information, therefore I`ve found you innocent. It`s a perfect, perfect play.
DILANIAN: And why would...
MATTHEWS: A morality play that makes him look -- because Trump wanted somebody on the Hill to clear him.
DILANIAN: It`s laundering the information...
DILANIAN: ... under this theory, and many Democrats subscribe to this theory, Chris -- laundering the information through a quasi-independent Devin Nunes, who`s not viewed as independent anymore, but you know -- and he`s protected. He can disclose this information. Had the Trump people done this, they would have been under fire for disclosing potentially...
MATTHEWS: And he`s still sitting on it, what he says is exonerating information. And by the way, just to clear up -- it doesn`t exonerate Trump from anything.
MATTHEWS: He said the former president -- none -- none of this supposed (ph) information has any information on it at all, even mentions (ph) -- he said he was wiretapped by the former president, no evidence of any wiretapping. And third, it was done during the campaign.
All this stuff that he`s talking about tonight, Nunes, a couple minutes ago, all had to do with later into the transition period. So it was just enough for him to do a quick -- a quick effort to make himself confusing to his supporters and to murk (ph) it enough possible to get by the true believers.
DILANIAN: Now, look, I`m a reporter, so I`m going to say something in his defense. There`s a legitimate issue here. Were names improperly shared? Was information about the Trump campaign and its people collected by the NSA...
MATTHEWS: No, no! This isn`t about the campaign. This is about the transition.
DILANIAN: The transition, sorry.
MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) it`s a big difference!
DILANIAN: OK. But well, it`s even more...
MATTHEWS: It didn`t influence the campaign!
DILANIAN: ... potentially consequential if -- if...
MATTHEWS: Well, suppose it`s just information from your FBI full (ph) field (ph). Everybody gets picked for a cabinet post or a top position -- I had to (INAUDIBLE) for the Peace Corps and when I was a speech writer for the White House. You have to go through a FBI full field. Right? How can you not go through one of that? What news is it that Tillerson or somebody had a full field investigation of him by the FBI and his name was mentioned in it? How can that be news?
DILANIAN: This is more like the NSA listening to a foreign diplomat talking about Trump and his people...
DILANIAN: ... going back to the embassy. That gets shared around. Nunes is saying, Hey, I didn`t see any intelligence value in this. If Democrats were raising that, we`d probably be paying attention...
MATTHEWS: We`ll see.
DILANIAN: ... and saying that`s a legitimate issue.
MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) explain that.
DILANIAN: But the way he did it...
MATTHEWS: You`ve got to explain that. You know, that`s not the way he`s chosen (ph). And by the way, if he`s totally innocent, why doesn`t he act it and why is he sneaking around the White House in the middle of the night and coming back the next day and acting like he hadn`t been there the night before? That`s the problem.
DILANIAN: Those are fair questions.
MATTHEWS: It looks like an escapade. Anyway, NBC`s Ken Dilanian -- you know your stuff.
Coming up -- shifting the blame. Harry S. Truman famously said the buck stops here, meaning on his desk. For Donald Trump, the failure to get "Trump care" through is everyone else`s fault. Does the White House want to move on or point the finger? Well, we know what`s going on right now of a hundred (ph) -- I bet he`s got so many people he`s mad at.
Plus, I`ve said the Trump family`s like the Romanovs, the old Russian family before the revolution. Now both Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are getting big jobs inside the West Wing, and that`s raising new questions about nepotism.
Remember, I warned you about nepotism about three weeks ago. I said they go in the door a little bit, they get past one law, they`re (INAUDIBLE) It is like a royal family. They`re doing everything. Jared`s in charge of all foreign policy. Ivanka is in charge of the federal government.
The HARDBALL roundtable will be here as Chairman Nunes`s performance art continues. He sneaks into the White House to get the goods one day, then rushes back the next day to brief the president on what he got. Could the White House really not be in on Nunes` visits?
Finally, let me finish with "Trump Watch" tonight for Monday night. Again, I don`t think he`ll like it.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Well, "The New York Times" reported today that President Trump`s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, will speak to Senate investigators. Quote, "The White House counsel`s office was informed this month that the Senate Intelligence Committee wanted to question Mr. Kushner about meetings he arranged with the Russian ambassador, Sergei Kislyak. The meetings, which took place during the transition period, included a previously unreported sitdown with the head of Russia`s state-owned development bank."
We`ll be back after this.
Guest: Charlie Dent, Susan Page, Annie Karni
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now we`re going to go for tax reform, which I have always liked.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Right now, we have got an agenda to continue to pursue.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Now we`re going to move on with the rest of our agenda, because we have big, ambitious plans to improve people`s lives in this country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We`re going to move on. We really are.
CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": The bill no longer a priority, a 100-day priority?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, because we have moved on to other things. The president does have things he wants to accomplish.
REINCE PRIEBUS, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We`re moving on to tax reform. We have got the budget coming up.
QUESTION: But what do you do now?
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: Well, I think we move on to the next thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Who passes out these words, moving on? It`s like it is moving on, moving on.
Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL.
Well, that was the official message from the White House and other Republicans: We`re moving on from the health care disaster to something else.
Anyway, Steve Bannon told Politico today that there would be action, action, action -- those are his words -- coming from the White House this week.
But the president himself seems to be casting a wide net for blame. On Friday, he faulted Democrats for offering zero votes to help them pass the bill. But, on Sunday, he had gone back to his own gut. He went after the Freedom Caucus, the Club for Growth and Heritage Action, all three right- wing groups.
And then there was the bizarre episode Saturday when he told his followers to watch Judge Jeanine Pirro`s show on FOX News that night. Well, Judge Pirro opened her show with this attack line on Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS: Paul Ryan needs to step down as speaker of the House. The reason? He failed to deliver the votes on his health care bill.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, the White House insists that was just a coincidence.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRIEBUS: There was no preplanning here. The president...
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": Why would he say watch her, and then that`s the first thing out of her mouth?
PRIEBUS: Because he loves Judge Jeanine, and he wanted to do Judge Jeanine a favor.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: How do people say this? How do you talk like a puppet? He`s doing it there.
Clearly, he wanted people to watch Judge Jeanine call for the ouster of Paul Ryan, because he said to do that specifically.
Meanwhile, "The New York Times" reported that Steve Bannon pushed for a vote in the House in order to identify the no`s. He was seeking to compile an enemies list. Good Bannon wanted to know who to hate.
And the "Times" report -- according to the "Times" report, Robert Draper reported on a pre-vote White House meeting with moderates, including Congressman Charlie Dent, when Congressman Dent told the president he would vote no on the bill, according to Draper -- quote -- "Trump angrily informed Dent that was destroying the Republican Party and was going to take down tax reform. `And I`m going to blame you.`"
Anyway, Congressman Dent joins us right now, along with "USA Today"`s Washington bureau chief, Susan Page.
Well, he`s a tough -- he talks like, you know, a mob figure. What do you make of that, I`m going to destroy you? Do you like that kind of lingo? Is that useful for the political get-togethers?
REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Chris, is that question to me or to Susan? I`m sorry.
MATTHEWS: Oh, no, it`s all for you, sir.
DENT: Oh, OK. Well, very good.
MATTHEWS: Because you were there. You were not -- you were...
MATTHEWS: You were in that room while he said he`s going to break you. I mean, that`s pretty strong stuff.
DENT: Chris, just another day at the office for me, I`m afraid.
A couple things. Look, I understand emotions get kind of high when we`re having these high-stake votes. But the point is, I met with the president on Tuesday with a group of center-right members from the Tuesday Group and the Main Street Partnership.
And I thought that meeting was pretty constructive, went well. I expressed my reservations. And I was leaning no at that time. I came back again on Thursday when I made a decision that I was going to oppose the bill, along with a number of other members from the Tuesday Group and Main Street.
And when I told the president the second and third time I was not going to support the bill, he didn`t it take it quite as well.
Bottom line is, I held my ground. And the fact is that the bill, in my view, was rushed. It wasn`t ready. There was too much discussion about artificial timelines, arbitrary deadlines, all to improve the baseline for tax reform, when this debate really should have been about making sure that we`re really taking care of the people who are going to be affected by our decisions and their health care.
So, that was really where I was pretty frustrated, that, you know, this discussion has -- health care reform shouldn`t be seen as some speed bump on the road to tax reform. And we got to get it right.
I have talked to a lot of Republican governors. John Kasich was just in town today, talking with him. They had some serious proposals, the Republican governors.
DENT: They wanted to be brought in.
There was a tax credit piece that still wasn`t right. And there were other provisions that were very problematic for me.
MATTHEWS: Well, hold on. I want to go to Susan.
Susan, I think you can spend months and years and a lifetime and the history of mankind and womankind and not come up with a way to square a circle. There`s a real difference here.
Repeal means get rid of. Replace means find facsimile of it that will meet the needs of the people as the thing you`re getting rid of does. They are totally different goals. Repeal means, I don`t like this whole thing. Replace means, let`s fix it.
I don`t think the Republican Party can decide which party it is, a replace party or a repeal party. And all in the same bill is asking too much. That`s what I think.
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": And you can fault the Trump White House for not being very competent or skillful in dealing with this.
But the fact is, the Republican Party is fundamentally divided on the role of the government. There are moderate Republicans, like Congressman Dent, who see a role for government...
MATTHEWS: Traditional Republicans.
PAGE: There are conservative Republicans who want to shrink the government, do not think that it ought to be open to the free market, libertarian Republicans.
And you do not have a speaker of the House who has yet figured out how to bring these Republicans together.
MATTHEWS: I don`t think they can. You sound like it`s a mechanics issues.
PAGE: Well, it`s not -- it`s a substantive issue. And President Trump is something different entirely. He`s kind of a populist Republican who had a different kind of coalition.
MATTHEWS: He likes...
PAGE: And his supporters do too. The supporters he drew to the Republican side who elected him want these programs to continue.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thanks, Susan.
Let`s take a look at this. Since Friday`s health care debacle, Republicans on both sides of the argument were explaining how to look to pass blame. Let`s watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KINZINGER: I think it`s important to note, there`s about 30 of these folks in the House Freedom Caucus. I call them the so-called Freedom Caucus. There`s 200 other members of the House. So, we`re a very united party, but these folks can deny us the ability to vote in a majority.
REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: Mr. Priebus was talking about don`t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Well, this wasn`t even good. When no one likes the legislation, you have to do it different.
REP. TED POE (R), TEXAS: No matter what changes were made, the goalpost kept getting moved. And then, at the end of the day, no was the answer. And sometimes you`re going to have to say yes.
TOMMY BINION, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: We promised to fully repeal and replace it with conservative solutions. The American Health Care Act falls short on both of those. And so stopping it was a good thing.
PRIEBUS: I think it was a real shame. And I think the president is disappointed in the number of people that he thought were loyal to him that weren`t.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, U.S. Congressman Austin Scott of Georgia tweeted the following about the leader of the Freedom Caucus: "Mark Meadows betrayed Trump and America and supported Pelosi and Dems to protect Obamacare."
It`s getting pretty rough, Congressman.
Is there going to be a resolution when you come to like tax reform or infrastructure? I keep thinking, where is it that the Republican Party speaks with one voice? Is there an issue?
DENT: Well, Chris, here`s the real issue.
If we`re going to do something big, like reform the health care system, or take on tax reform, or even infrastructure, we are going to have to do it on a bipartisan basis, if we want a sustainable, durable reform.
DENT: That was the mistake the Democrats made back in 2010. They jammed this thing through. They muscled it through on a partisan basis. And we have been fighting about it ever since.
We, the Republicans, shouldn`t make that same mistake. Now, you mentioned the Freedom Caucus. Look, there are some folks from the hard right. That the White House is making concessions to folks from the hard right on essential health benefits and other issues in the 11th hour, and, as they did that, they were driving away people from the center-right.
That`s what essentially happened and why this thing came apart.
MATTHEWS: You know what, Susan? I keep thinking that there`s a majority in the House, a majority in the House to do infrastructure. There`s probably in the majority that to do a real immigration reform, comprehensive reform, the good kind.
But to get that, you have to get a bill on the floor. And the Republican leadership will not put something on the floor that is not Republican. So, I think Democrats would probably all join an immigration bill if they could find 30 or 40 Republics to split from the Republican leadership.
But the leadership is not going to let them join. They`re not going to let Charlie Dent go free.
MATTHEWS: They`re not going to let them join a majority that`s not a Republican majority.
PAGE: And, in fact...
MATTHEWS: And that`s why we`re going to get nothing done, probably.
PAGE: And, in fact, there`s no inclination, I think, on the part of Democrats to really cooperate even on issues where they might have -- see some overlap because it is to their political advantage at the moment to let Republicans and the White House...
MATTHEWS: Well, they should.
MATTHEWS: They should do infrastructure. And they should do immigration. There are things they should do.
Congressman, is there any chance a majority -- a minority of Republicans, moderate Republicans like yourself in the burbs, would join with the Democrats and do something like break the rule, beat the leadership, get control of the agenda, so you can actually get something on the floor like immigration, like infrastructure, like good tax reform?
Can you break the rule? That`s what happened with Reagan. He broke the rule. He broke Speaker O`Neill`s rule and got control of things. Is that feasible? Or is it all up to Paul Ryan? Is it all up to Paul Ryan?
DENT: Well, we have actually broken the rule before.
You may remember, on fast-track authority, I don`t know, about a year ago in the summertime, we -- the Democrats -- we needed Democrats to help us pass a rule to give President Obama at the time fast-track authority.
So, there is some precedent for it.
DENT: You mentioned infrastructure.
I absolutely believe that should be the next item of the agenda -- on the agenda.
DENT: Because that`s the -- that issue lends itself better to bipartisan cooperation than tax reform.
I think we should do tax reform. But I think that`s a much harder issue. A lot of Democrats want to take on infrastructure, as do many Republicans.
MATTHEWS: I will give you a trick.
Call up the chief engineer of the main city of all the opponents of infrastructure and find out the number of bridges below code. That`s what I did when I worked for Speaker O`Neill. And it blew the other side out of the water.
Get the list of all the dangerous bridges in their districts, and make them defend dangerous bridges when the school buses go over. Then you will get stuff done. Got to play hard.
Congressman Dent, thank you so much for joining me. I`m sure you can take on Trump when you get those boxing gloves on.
MATTHEWS: Up next: With his presidency on the rocks, Trump is turning to his family again -- they`re the Romanovs -- giving new posts to daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared.
You ever seen the Romanovs, the last Russian family? They`re all the place. They got every job. That`s raising a new round of questions about nepotism in the White House. And that`s ahead.
How many jobs can this duet handle? He had all foreign policy. Now he`s doing a whole overhaul of the federal government. She`s doing everything else.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Thank you very much. It`s my pleasure to welcome such incredible women, including my daughter...
TRUMP: ... and unbelievable entrepreneurs and small business leaders to the White House.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Reeling from a bruising loss on Friday, losing health care, the president is turning to those he trusts the most, his family.
Today, the president announced that his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, will head up a new SWAT team within the administration that has been tasked with making the federal government run more efficiently, the whole federal government. Trump is calling it White House Office of American Innovation.
And just last week, Trump enlisted his daughter in a yet-to-be-defined role at the White House in the West Wing. According to Politico, in her unofficial role, the first daughter will -- quote -- "serve as the president`s eyes and ears, while providing broad-ranging advice, not just limited to women`s empowerment issues."
Ivanka`s new position also comes with a West Wing office and, of course, top security clearance.
But it was only four months ago that president-elect Trump assured the public that his family would not be receiving clearances.
Trump tweeted: "I`m not trying to get top-level security clearance for my children. This was a typically false news story."
Well, while nepotism is illegal, it`s alive and well in the current administration, because the Justice Department ruled that the law didn`t apply to this family.
And during the transition, I warned our viewers against this becoming a big problem.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: But the law is the law. We need our president to obey it. We need to let him know he has to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, for more, I`m joined by Annie Karni, White House reporter for Politico, who broke this story on Ivanka Trump.
I keep referring to the Romanovs, the last Russian royal family, because they were a family that ruled Russia. It was as simple as that. They ruled, the family.
And yet I see this guy giving us -- you know, offering -- Ivanka gets this. I mean, during the transition, Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, was in charge, according to the testimony today, all foreign policy, not Middle East, where he had some interest, all of it.
Now he`s being put in charge of refitting or overhauling the entire federal government.
ANNIE KARNI, POLITICO: Yes.
MATTHEWS: And Ivanka just seems to have this sort of Eleanor Roosevelt role of anything she sees or hears, she`s going to report and act on, I guess, with an official position.
KARNI: There`s a lot going on here.
You know, it`s funny. We talked a lot about, will Donald Trump change when -- his presidency? Will it become more presidential?
And the real thing is, the presidential -- the presidency is becoming more Donald Trump. This is the way he always ran his company. He`s used to working with his family. And he`s doing -- he`s doing the same setup in the White House.
There`s a lot more at stake there.
MATTHEWS: Well, the problem lies with this. This week, the family went on a skiing vacation -- I wish I had one this week -- to Aspen, a great place to go. And it was Eric and his sons and all that, and, of course, Jared. They`re all along.
Well, half that traveling family unit...
KARNI: Is in -- at Trump Tower.
MATTHEWS: ... is running Trump`s businesses.
MATTHEWS: And the other half is beginning to run the federal government.
MATTHEWS: And we`re expected to believe they don`t talk.
And we now find out they are talking about business.
KARNI: There was an article in "Forbes" this week that Eric actually admitted that he does talk to his father, is going to give him quarterly business reports about the company.
But Ivanka`s role in the White House does create another channel of connection between the company and the White House, that there`s never been a hard firewall between them.
We have seen Trump only go to Trump-branded properties since he got into the White House. When he`s at Mar-a-Lago, he`s at his property. When he`s been here for the weekend, he has gone to the Trump Hotel or to his Trump golf course in Virginia. Like, this is all sort of free advertising.
MATTHEWS: Do you think bothers the country to have sort of a Romanov royal family running the place?
KARNI: I don`t know.
MATTHEWS: Because let me just say. We kid. I kid about everything.
But Uday and Qusay, working for Saddam Hussein, you couldn`t go to restaurant and have eye contact with one of those guys without getting killed.
KARNI: Well, here...
MATTHEWS: These people are really powerful. Imagine getting into a fight in the office with Jared or Ivanka.
KARNI: Well, that`s the thing.
MATTHEWS: They have enormous power. And they`re always going to be there.
KARNI: This is what I worry about for other people in the White House.
Ivanka has been described as her father`s eyes and ears on the ground. That`s a little scary if you`re just a regular White House staffer who maybe wants to offer advice that criticizes the president. This is a person who loyalty is the number one trait that is -- that Trump cares about.
Are people going to feel comfortable offering advice that contradicts the president in front of Ivanka or Jared? And that could mean that he`s not getting -- the president is not getting advice that would benefit him and benefit the country, potentially.
I think that could be a concern, more than a violation of the anti-nepotism laws, which their lawyers have ruled you can have advisers that are...
MATTHEWS: I heard it. They have got good lawyers.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Annie Karni.
Up next -- thanks for coming on.
KARNI: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Could the White House really not be in on that stunt last week by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Nunes?
The Roundtable is coming here to talk about that, that alley-oop play, where he goes to the White House one night, next morning, comes back to the White House and said, guess what I got, Mr. President?
You`re watching HARDBALL, where the action is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: The president needs to know that these intelligence reports are out there. And I have a duty to tell him that. So, administration I don`t think is aware of this, so I want to make sure that I go over there and tell them what I know. You can ask me every single name that exists on the planet and I`m still not going to tell you who our sources are.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes last week attempting to justify his decision to brief President Trump on intelligence reports that he said show that members of President Trump`s transition team were incidentally surveilled. Now we that know that Congressman Nunes actually got the information at the White House the night before and switched cars so his car -- so his staff didn`t know where he was going, it further calls his motives and behavior into question.
U.S. Congressman Nunes said tonight that he wasn`t trying to sneak around or hide from anyone but he wouldn`t answer who cleared him into the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NUNES: I`m quite sure that people in the West Wing had no idea that I was there. Look, I go over there a lot, go over there often, for meetings and briefings to meet foreign dignitaries, all those sorts of thing. I go to all the agencies. It`s part of the role of oversight.
Look, if it was -- if I really wanted to, I could have snuck on to the grounds late at night and probably nobody would have seen me. But I wasn`t trying to hide.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, and today, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer denied there was any deceptive coordination between Nunes and the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Well, it appears there was some degree of cooperation in this process that the White House granted Chairman Nunes, making it not just an investigative action, but a cooperative one?
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We`ve asked both of these entities, both the House and the Senate Intelligence Committees to undertake this review. So, it is partially at our request that they`re looking into this. Number two, number two, based on the public comments that he made to Margaret`s organization, he has said, from my understanding on the record, that he has not, that he did not meet with White House staff.
So, again, I think you`re trying to make something that he has himself, from what I`ve read, not actually been the case.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: However, a former special assistant to President Obama, Ned Price, tells NBC News that it`s just not possible the White House was unaware or uninvolved.
And late today, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, a Democrat, called for Congressman Nunes, the chair, to recuse himself from this whole investigation of any conclusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the last election.
Here he is just moments ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I think it would be worthwhile for chairman to recuse himself from any investigation involving either the Trump campaign or the Trump transition. He was a key member of the Trump transition team. And I think that presents an inherent conflict.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, I`m joined right now by "Politico`s" Alex Isenstadt, "Reuters" White House correspondent Ayesha, right?
AYESHA RASCOE, REUTERS: Ayesha.
MATTHEWS: Ayesha Rascoe. And "Washington Post" political reporter, Phil Rucker.
Ayesha, you first.
RASCOE: I mean --
MATTHEWS: What does this all add up, because, first of all, let`s go with the timing. Why did he wait until 6:30 tonight, Nunes, to explain the answer to this, why he was sneaking into the White House? I don`t care what he says the night before, the next morning, showing up and say, guess what, Mr. President, what I dug up, here, and the Trump know the whole thing. How can Trump not know the whole thing?
RASCOE: I think it raises more questions than it does answers. I mean, I think the more that we hear, the more kind of confusing it gets. I mean, Sean Spicer today was saying basically, he didn`t know anything. He didn`t know --
MATTHEWS: You think it`s possible he was outside the loop? I think he was.
RASCOE: I mean, he said he didn`t know anything.
MATTHEWS: I don`t know that they told them.
RASCOE: Yes. And so, it`s unclear, like where is this coming from? So, the question was going to be, who cleared him in?
MATTHEWS: What if you were president of the United States and you found out the guy getting all the information he just gave you, it makes you look like not a clown, but a crook. It makes you look like you`re playing a game here, pretending to learn all of this new information. Guess what? The guy comes in with alarm. I`ve got some alarming information, where did you get it? I got it here last night.
It doesn`t make sense to say that to the president, or for the president not to ask where you got it.
PHILIP RUCKER, THE WASHINGTON POST: It doesn`t make sense, based on the facts of what we know, there`s nothing actually that`s wrong here. But it certainly is conspiratorial. It looks suspicious. And I think it just creates this cloud over Nunes. He`s trying to be an independent leader of this Russia probe, this investigation.
RUCKER: He`s already been a member of the Trump transition team and here he is doing this activity at the White House and it just makes a lot of people wonder whether he can be trusted.
MATTHEWS: Alex, what about the changing of cars? I mean, I don`t think in my whole life, I`ve had some interesting times of my life, I don`t think I ever switched cars to evade surveillance or evade somebody chasing after me. It`s almost like follow that cat or movies, you know?
ALEX ISENSTADT, POLITICO: It`s like a movie. It keeps us talking about it. It keeps it in the news. And it`s sort of like the Russian investigation, right? It`s like this drip, drip, drip of information and we keep on wanting to know more and it keeps it in the news.
And it`s what we`re talking about instead of Trump`s agenda and sort of the things that he deeds to get done, the things that he`s really following behind on in terms of his first 100 days.
MATTHEWS: OK. The behavior this weekend. Trump went Friday to do the usual political thing, blamed the other party. I`ve been living with this all my life. I think it`s boring.
Then, by Sunday, he couldn`t resist. He had to go blame his own people, because the other ones he really (INAUDIBLE), what did you think of that? Blaming guys, he`s going to fight with over tax reform, immigration reform, infrastructure -- the same thing down the road is facing him. The split in his party between the regular Republicans and the red hot Tea Party people that don`t believe in all this government.
RASCOE: Well, we all know loyalty is key to President Trump. He values loyalty over everything. So, I have to believe that he`s going to remember these people who he asked to vote for this and they didn`t do it.
MATTHEWS: Do you buy that Steve Bannon theory that Bannon wanted to list - - he wanted to have a vote on Friday, they didn`t have one, so he could find out who their enemies were?
RASCOE: Well, I think even without the vote, they know who wasn`t going to vote for them. So, I think they`re going to remember that. I can`t see them not remembering that.
RUCKER: But President Trump threatened in those negotiations that there would be retaliation, there would be consequences if they didn`t vote for this health care bill. So, he can`t now make nice with them. He has to retaliate in some way to keep his word. This is what he threatened he would do and I expect we`ll see even more of it.
MATTHEWS: What would the Tea Party go along with that he would want? They may go along with the stupid wall with Mexico. But that`s not going to happen. They`re not going to do true immigration reform, because they don`t allow a path to citizenship in 100 years even though they should. They`re not going to do anything on, it seems infrastructure, because they don`t want a deficit growth, right?
And anything they do on taxes would basically be cut taxes for the rich. That`s the only vote you`ll get from those 30 guys, right?
ISENSTADT: Yes, absolutely.
MATTHEWS: What are they going to vote for. They`re never going to be his friend because they don`t want to do anything.
ISENSTADT: Well, and also, what is it that`s forcing them to go along with him? He`s at 36 percent approval. They`re thinking about their own primaries, their own races back at home. He doesn`t carry a lot of force, a lot of weight right now.
MATTHEWS: You know what he was right before the election?
ISENSTADT: Well --
MATTHEWS: But you`re right. He`s down the last week. He was down five over the weekend.
RASCOE: Well, I mean, even before this happened, I mean, now that this has happened with the health care bill, he blinked. So, you know, he said they had to vote, they didn`t vote. He was going to make them do this, they didn`t. So, at this point, you can kind of see the blood in the water, you know, he`s not necessarily going to do what --
MATTHEWS: You mean, he`s not as great as he thought he was?
RASCOE: Well, he`s not going to do necessarily, you cannot -- you can call his bluff, basically.
MATTHEWS: This is not a company town. It`s political, with everybody for themselves. And that`s what he discovered, I think.
The round table is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Well, Democrats in the Senate Judiciary Committee today forced delay of the vote on President Trump`s pick for the U.S. Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch. The committee will now vote one week from now whether to send Gorsuch`s nomination to the full Senate or not. Meanwhile, at least 19 Democratic senators have come out against Gorsuch, and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer says he`ll filibuster the nomination, meaning Republicans will need 60 votes, unless, of course, they go nuclear and dealt with 50. This is getting messy.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.
Alex, tell me something I don`t know.
ISENSTADT: There`s a special congressional election coming up in suburban Atlanta. Republicans are probably going to win. But if Democrats win, that could be a litmus test and a real test of how -- of things to come and Republicans are kind of worried about it.
MATTHEWS: Those are always big ones, right after the presidential.
RASCOE: Ivanka Trump is going to be going to Germany next month for a Women`s Economic Summit. So, that`s going to be her first foray into kind of --
MATTHEWS: What`s Trump got against Merkel?
RASCOE: I don`t know.
MATTHEWS: I don`t know either.
RUCKER: So, Ivanka`s husband Jared Kushner, he`s the White House couple`s therapist, when various senior staffers or factions are feuding, they meet in his office on his couch to work it out.
MATTHEWS: He does everything. He does all --
RUCKER: He`s a renaissance man.
MATTHEWS: The entire federal governor and he`s a counselor.
Anyway, Alex Isenstadt, Ayesha Rascoe and Phil Rucker -- thank you all.
When we come back, let me finish with Trump Watch. You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Monday, March 27th, 2017.
What can you say about this escapade, the president finds himself in trouble for tweeting a lame brain charge that his predecessor had wiretapped him during the campaign? Then, when he can`t back that up, he finds a member of the Congress ready to come up to the White House one evening, pick up some info that makes the president seems almost right, and then the next morning receives that congressman, the president does, with fanfare and the self exonerating statement that the info somewhat clears him.
What kind of president would orchestrate such an escapade, what sort of character one elected member of Congress would agree to play such a supportive part, changing cars, heading down to the White House at nightfall, being escorted in, and then filled with exciting info, come heading back the next morning to share his alarm that the president was being mistreated?
Well, Senate Democratic leader called today for Chairman Nunes to step down. I think the larger question is whether this president will step up to the proper role of a president. This whole story smacks of gimmickry. Next time, skipped the tweeting, Mr. President, and I`ll let you skip the masquerade. How does this sound? Not tweeting means not having to say you`re sorry.
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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