Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 3/29/2017

Guests: Ashley Parker, Astead Herndon,Chris Murphy, April Ryan

Show: Hardball Date: March 29, 2017 Guest: Ashley Parker, Astead Herndon,Chris Murphy, April Ryan

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Trump`s got a burr in his saddle.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Today, a rare beam of hope. For the first time in months, we saw a pair of grown-ups. They`re looking into the role the Trump troops played in cahoots with Vladimir Putin`s troops in manipulating the 2016 presidential election. As I said, an usual picture.

Today, at a joint press conference of the Senate Intelligence Committee leaders, Republican Richard Burr and Democrat Mark Warner, we heard plans from them for a major credible set of televised hearings on the matter.

The Senate offers reason for hope because the House Intelligence Committee under the bizarre leadership of Chairman Devin Nunes offers, in effect, zero hope. He`s canceled all of his committee`s hearings this week after making a secret trip last week to the White House, and what has all the appearances of being a coordinated effort with the administration to muddy up the investigation.

Senate Chairman Burr, on the other hand, with a strong contingent of professional staffers working on the investigation, has his committee now examining thousands of pieces of intelligence. And they are, as he said today, within weeks of completing that review.

Well, the committee has also made 20 requests for interviews. Among them, Jared Kushner. Their first hearing is tomorrow. The scope of the Senate investigation is massive, and the overreaching message, overarching message today was that it will be bipartisan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA: This was one of the biggest investigations that the Hill has seen in my tenure here.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: An outside foreign adversary effectively sought to hijack our most critical democratic process, the election of a president.

BURR: Mark and I work hand in hand on this, and contrary to maybe popular belief, we`re partners to see that this is completed and that we`ve got a product at the end of the day that we can have bipartisanship in supporting.

WARNER: We`re here to assure you, and more importantly, the American people who are watching and listening, that we will get to the bottom of this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the contrast with the farce on the House side is stark. Republican congressman Charlie Dent today, in remarkable bluntness, said that the only hope for a real investigation of this Russian connection is in the Senate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: What I think should happen right now is that the Senate is going to lead this discussion, this investigation on the Russian meddling into the election. I think that`s where it is. It`s unfortunate we are where we are in the House. It seems like there`s not going to be a House report on intelligence, on the Russian meddling. And so I think we have to turn our eyes to the Senate to see if they can come to a resolution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What an amazing admission, that the House is incapable of doing one.

Anyway, meanwhile, serious questions remain about Devin Nunes`s secret trip to the White House to review mystery evidence which he has yet to share with his colleagues in the House committee, Republicans or Democrats.

In fact, two days ago, you might recall, Sean Spicer, who`s got a rather miserable job these days, said he would look into who actually let Nunes into the White House grounds, who opened the door for him? Who escorted him? And he was asked that again today in a FOB (ph). Here`s what he says.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Do you have any information to live up to the commitment you made here on Monday to provide more details about how that happened in a process you just told us yet again is aboveboard and totally appropriate?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don`t have anything for you on that at this time. I don`t...

QUESTION: Have you looked into it?

SPICER: I -- I have asked some preliminary questions. I have not gotten answers yet. And I think there`s a -- but -- no, I don`t have anything further on that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: He`s the White House press secretary, and he can`t answer the question of how this guy got into the White House. This is not foreign relations.

Anyway, joining me right now, Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, David Corn, of course, Washington bureau chief of "Mother Jones" and an MSNBC political analyst and NBC investigative reporter Ken Dilanian.

Ken, let`s just talk about this. From your experience, how good is the Senate committee because the House committee is a joke at this point because of its chairman`s behavior, his midnight Paul Revere ride to the White House, whatever you want to call it. What do you make of this thing you saw today, the joint press conference from Richard Burr of North Carolina, the Republican chair, and of course, Mark Warner, the Democratic ranking member?

KEN DILANIAN, NBC INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: I thought it was a strong performance, Chris. I mean, they did exactly what they set out to do, which was to reassure the American public. And you know, Richard burr, who was just elected to a six-year term, was pretty frank that he voted for Donald Trump but that this was really important. He was going to follow the evidence wherever it leads. And this could be an unpleasant moment for the White House, but Burr seems serious about it.

Now, there`s always been the potential for a partisan crack-up in this town, as you know, Chris. But you know, Mark Warner, the Democrat, has been cultivating Burr and cultivating that bipartisan relationship for a long time now, and you saw that pay off today.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about mark Warner. Let`s talk about these chair (ph). You`re in the Senate, sir, Senator Murphy. And I`m wonderful -- I am a romantic about politics. I keep looking for heroes. And I thought I saw a gleam today of people actually going to -- do a serious job of finding out what role Trump`s people played with the Russians in manipulating our elections last year.

Are you confident they can do it?

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: Well, I`m confident that they can stick together and make this bipartisan. They have a strong relationship. I think there was some question initially as to whether they were going to let the facts lead wherever they may. But...

MATTHEWS: What made you question them?

MURPHY: Well...

MATTHEWS: Who don`t you trust?

MURPHY: Well, initially, Burr was suggesting that there was going to be limitations on the investigation, and I think he`s seen previews of evidence that suggest that they have to make this as comprehensive as possible. And I think they`ve been pushed by the debacle in the House to show the American public that there is going to be a non-partisan investigation.

MATTHEWS: Well, what do you think of the committee? Because you`ve got people in there like Dianne Feinstein, I`ve always considered a grownup. You`ve got people like Ron Wyden, a passionate progressive from Oregon. You have people in there that want to get to the truth. And then you have these neocon guys on the other side like Tom Cotton from Arkansas. These people hate Russia!

MURPHY: Yes.

MATTHEWS: So they`re not Trump`s buddy on this.

MURPHY: Well, and you have other serious Republicans like James Lankford from Oklahoma, Susan Collins of Maine. I mean, you have some real solid Republicans on that committee.

Listen, I think we have to temper our expectations, right. The House Intelligence Committee is not by tradition an investigatory body, right? So if you really...

MATTHEWS: But they have subpoena power!

MURPHY: Well, they have subpoena power, but remember, who are the really, truly good professional investigators? That`s the FBI, right?

MATTHEWS: Yes, but they can subpoena everything they`ve got.

MURPHY: That`s right. So I just -- eventually, the truth may come not through one of these committees but through an FBI process.

MATTHEWS: OK, one thing you and I know a lot more, not what he knows because he`s a member of the United States Senate...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: But one thing you and I understand -- I certainly understand, is the power of television. And I watched it with the Army-McCarthy hearings bringing down Joe McCarthy. I saw them with the -- God, the Keefauver committee exposing organized crime. We saw it in "Godfather 2."

You can -- television, with a really good staff operation, with good investigation and people under oath and the power of the subpoena, you can break these people out from under their rocks. You can bring up -- Jared Kushner is going to be under oath. These guys like Christopher Steele are going to be talking on national television for weeks. This has the power to blow this thing up!

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It has the potential to do that, but the chairman, Richard Burr, while he was very strong today, has to be committed to going all the way. We`ve seen it with the 9/11 investigations, we saw it with Iran-contra that there were a lot of political infightings about who would testify and who would get to question them and how far it would go.

In that case, Oliver North got the better of the committee because there were restraints on what the committee could ask him. So there are...

MATTHEWS: Well, television values of the Oliver North thing and...

CORN: But -- but...

MATTHEWS: ... Brendan Sullivan (ph) and the whole way they handled that because in a way, and those people did not handle it right. They let a guy show up in uniform.

CORN: Right, and there were...

MATTHEWS: They sat 20 feet above him and made him into the victim!

CORN: And there were a lot of things they were not allowed to ask him about...

MATTHEWS: Yes, well, this...

CORN: ... such as contra drug-running.

MATTHEWS: OK.

CORN: But putting that aside, there are about 10,000 decisions that Burr is going to have to make...

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s talk about...

CORN: ... in the next couple weeks and months...

MATTHEWS: ... the big one.

CORN: ... and to see whether he will go for every witness. There may be some witnesses in South Korea. Will he send people there? And will he be able to get from the FBI what he needs to because Comey...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Will they get Sally Yates to talk and explain what she did with regard explaining the role that Michael Flynn played with the Russians?

MURPHY: I think they will. She`s willing to testify. The White House says they`re not going to stop her. And from that public testimony today from Burr and Warner, it sounds like they`re going to bring her before the committee.

MATTHEWS: What about -- what about Christopher Steele, the MI6 guy, the ex-MI6 guy who did the famous dossier, which is getting a lot more credibility now than it did?

MURPHY: Well, I think that`s important, right, that the dossier, right, which looked sort of out there at first is getting truer and truer and truer as facts come out. They`ve got to let the facts go where they may.

But listen, I don`t think there`s going to be "A Few Good Men" moment here. It`s not going to be testimony that`s going to break this thing wide open.

MATTHEWS: "You can`t handle the truth"?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, let me -- let me go to -- let me go to Ken on this before we take more information here. Ken, what about these other witnesses? Do you think they`ll be able to get them, first of all, Christopher Steele, the MI6 guy? Are they going to get him in the chair? Are they going to get Manafort? He`s already agreed to show. What -- what -- who`s going to be -- Senator Murphy has a good point, and David, that there might be some restraints on the truth. What would they be? What could be kept from us?

DILANIAN: I think the FBI has a lot more work to do, though, before we have a smart hearing because, for example, Christopher Steele, even if he would come to the United States to testify, which is not clear at all, he...

MATTHEWS: Because the Russians might try to kill him.

DILANIAN: That`s right. And -- well, he`s not sure how the Trump administration would greet him, either. But he`s made a series of allegations...

MATTHEWS: Well, they won`t kill him.

(CROSSTALK)

DILANIAN: I don`t think they`ll kill him, but he`s concerned about legal jeopardy potentially, sources tell me. But he`s made a series of allegations in the dossier. They are unproven, and the FBI is investigating them right now. So if he came to Congress and repeated these allegations, that would be pretty unsatisfactory.

We sort of need the FBI to get to the truth or falsity of these things.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

DILANIAN: I mean the allegation is a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia to, you know to -- to...

MATTHEWS: In cahoots.

DILANIAN: ... interfere in the election.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, Vladimir -- I want to ask you about Vladimir Kara- Meza -- Murza, rather, a Putin critic who has twice been poisoned. He testified before a Senate committee today. Let`s watch him -- about the dangers of testifying.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VLADIMIR KARA-MURZA, RUSSIAN OPPOSITION POLITICIAN: In the last several years, investigative journalists, opposition figures, human rights activists, anti-corruption campaigners and whistleblowers have met untimely deaths.

Sometimes, there are near misses, and one happens to be sitting before you, Mr. Chairman. Twice in the past two years, in May of 2015 and just last month, both times in Moscow, I experienced a sudden onset of symptoms consistent with poisoning that led to multiple organ failure and left me in a coma and on life support.

And contrary to the claims by the Kremlin`s propaganda, we never ask the United States for any kind of political support. All we ask is that you`re honest about what is happening in Russia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What do you make of that?

MURPHY: Well, I don`t think there`s any risk to someone`s life for testifying before this committee. But this is serious, and it`s part of a pattern of Putin going after his political opponents. And listen, let me just say this...

MATTHEWS: You know who doesn`t believe any of that? Watch this. Here`s Donald Trump. He`s dismissed criticism -- any criticism of Vladimir Putin. Watch this charade.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE SCARBOROUGH, CO-HOST, "MORNING JOE": He`s a person that kills journalists, political opponents, and invades countries. Obviously, that would be a concern, would it not?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He`s running his country, and at least he`s a leader, you know, unlike what we have in this country.

BILL O`REILLY, FOX NEWS: Do you respect Putin?

TRUMP: I do respect him.

O`REILLY: Do you? Why?

TRUMP: Well, I respect a lot of people, but that doesn`t mean I`m going to get along with them.

O`REILLY: He`s a killer, though. Putin`s a killer.

TRUMP: We got a lot of killers. We got a lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent? Do you think our country`s so innocent?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I don`t know what to make of that.

CORN: You know...

MATTHEWS: I thought that was a scene from "The Godfather." Go ahead.

CORN: In June 2013, he tweeted out, Will Putin come to Miss Universe in Moscow? Will he become my BFF -- best friend forever? I mean, it`s really ludicrous that the president of the United States is cozying up and playing nice and playing footsie with a fellow who does create an atmosphere in which dissidents and journalists are murdered, poisoned, thrown from windows.

It just keeps on happening, and he can`t bring himself -- this is why this whole Russian, you know, Trump scandal kind of got fuel to begin with because no one could make sense out of what he was saying, from the left, from the right, from the center. None of it makes any sense except if there are things in the dossier that might be true.

MATTHEWS: You know, I grew up during the -- I don`t remember the Army- McCarthy hearings, but I remember my mom watching them. I think she was on McCarthy`s side, but she was...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: It`s an Irish thing. But I certainly remember the Watergate hearings. And after a couple of weeks of that, things started to happen -- Dean`s testimony, the testimony of all these characters that came out of the woods, and then you finally found out that Nixon had a taping system. Things happen. Fulbright and his hearings on Vietnam.

Do you think your Senate can do that today, really explode a story with serious committee hearings?

MURPHY: Well, you`re right, that that`s how Watergate played out. But remember, even without these hearings, the story is coming out every single day, right? So this story is naturally evolving. The truth is eventually going to come out.

The hearings may precipitate that, but I would say this. Even without the hearings, I don`t think there`s any way to ultimately avoid the Trump administration coming face to face with the truth.

MATTHEWS: You think we`re going to find out?

MURPHY: I just think the trend line is going in only one direction...

MATTHEWS: OK, my favorite question. Would it surprise you more that they weren`t involved in this election in helping the Russians help them or that they were?

MURPHY: It would surprise me if there was no coordination between his campaign. I don`t want to believe that`s true, but at this point, it`s...

MATTHEWS: Too much smoke.

MURPHY: The facts point in that direction.

CORN: I think the case may be, if it wasn`t coordination, at least encouragement. If Michael Flynn was talking to the Russian ambassador before the election, which the ambassador says...

MATTHEWS: Is that seditious? Is that seditious?

CORN: Well, if you know that they`re attacking us politically with this covert operation, and you say you`ll get a better deal with us...

MATTHEWS: That`s what I`m asking.

CORN: Yes, well, that`s pretty close to seditious.

MURPHY: And I think just an important caveat. I don`t know that I think today that Donald Trump, right, was involved in this. There`s no suggestion that the evidence points there yet. But...

MATTHEWS: But what about him asking for the break-in (INAUDIBLE) get the e-mails, give us Hillary`s e-mails?

MURPHY: Encouragement.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Senator Chris Murphy. You`re always great to come over here. David Corn, thank you. Ken Dilanian, thank you, my colleague.

Coming up -- Hillary Clinton got political last -- got political last night for the first time since losing the election. Her comments were sparked by an incident during yesterday`s White House press briefing. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: I`m sorry that that disgusts you! You`re shaking your head. I appreciate it, but -- but...

APRIL RYAN, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORK: (INAUDIBLE)

SPICER: OK, but understand this, that at some point, the facts are what they are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So you can`t shake your head if you`re in a White House press briefing now. That`s mind -- that`s head control! Anyway, the reporter, April Ryan, is going to be here in a minute to talk about that.

Plus, two former allies of Governor Chris Christie are sentenced to prison. They`re going to be felons, felons for their involvement in the 2013 "bridge-gate" scandal. NBC`s Steve Kornacki, who broke the story, will be here.

And after the failure of the Republican health care bill, President Trump now acts like he wants to reach -- acts like he wants to reach across the aisle to get real things done. I don`t believe it. Considering his track record of attacking Democrats personally, it`s hard to buy.

And let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch." He won`t like it.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Ivanka Trump is now officially a government employee. The White House confirms that Trump will be sworn in as assistant to the president and has moved already into her new office in the West Wing of the White House.

The first daughter released a statement saying, "I have heard the concerns some have with my advising the president in my personal capacity while voluntarily complying with all ethics rules, and I have instead -- I will instead serve as an unpaid employee in the White House office subject to all the same rules as other federal employees," close quote.

This will mark the first time a president and his child or her child has worked together since Dwight Eisenhower and his son, John.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: I hope she testifies. We have no problem with her testifying, plain and simple. The report in "The Washington Post" is 100 percent false.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Despite the assertion right there of press secretary Sean Spicer yesterday -- that was him yesterday -- "The Washington Post" stood by its story overnight that the White House tried to block former acting attorney general Sally Yates from testifying before the Intelligence Committee.

According to "The Post," Yates had made it clear to government officials that, quote, "her testimony to the committee would probably contradict some statements that White House officials had made."

Well, correspondence with Yates`s attorney shows that the Justice Department asserted executive privilege to claim that Yates`s testimony could not be disclosed without the consent of the White House.

She had been scheduled to appear yesterday before the House Intelligence Committee. Well, that was until Republican chairman Devin Nunes canceled the hearing last week. Nunes denies that the White House was involved in that decision, but his actions today to effectively shut down the investigation in the House, at least for now.

Here`s what ranking Democrat Adam Schiff said about that canceled hearing late today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: There`s no reason to delay the hearing that we had scheduled for this week. As we were talking about earlier, if this is all about trying to avoid Sally Yates testifying, we now have the White House saying they`re in favor of it. We`re in favor of it. The public is in favor of it. So there`s no reason to put this off.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, joining me right now is MSNBC political analyst Robert Costa of "The Washington Post," and April Ryan is White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks.

I want to start with April here.

Let me ask you this about -- the White House claim is that -- well, I should say Chairman Nunes` claim is he has some secret deal where he goes someplace, and he`s dealing with perhaps a whistle-blower. And what everybody believes is, he`s working in cahoots with the White House, that they`re a part of some cover-up to protect Trump from any kind of question about what -- his nonsensical claim that he was wiretapped.

APRIL RYAN, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS: You know, that is -- that is the question that we are asking in the White House.

We are also asking Sean Spicer -- Major Garrett asked the question today, you know, who let Nunes in? We don`t have that information. And he`s been saying he`s going to give it.

Not only that. I talked to a former Obama administration official just a few weeks ago, a very high-ranking official in national intelligence. And they said, this president does not act like a person who is innocent. So, the question of collusion...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

RYAN: ... circulates. The question of impropriety circulates.

And to come to the White House to say you`re in need of a secure location, when others on Capitol Hill say there are secure locations and there are committees that deal with sensitive information, why not there? Why go to the White House?

MATTHEWS: Well, there`s reasons for that.

Let me go to Robert.

RYAN: At this point...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Two questions. Did the White House interfere with the testimony of someone -- Sally Yates, the former attorney general, coming and testifying before the House committee?

"The Washington Post," your paper, says that they did, they tried to stop it through exclusive privilege. Is that the story?

ROBERT COSTA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: "The Washington Post" has stood by its story, believing and reporting out with a lot of details about the reluctance within many parts of the administration to have Yates come forward.

The specifics about what the White House did and who are the players inside of the White House who are really pushing Yates remain some areas to be explored. But, certainly, there was a frustration within the top ranks of the administration about Yates.

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s the question I have. And I don`t know the legal definition of obstruction of justice here. But here you have the White House in cahoots apparently with somebody, the chairman of that committee, letting him come down to the White House to get some sort of helpful information, because the White House, as of today, thanks to Major Garrett, we know won`t answer the question as to who opened the door, who escorted him to wherever he was going.

The next day, he shows up back at the White House with, guess what, I got some good information for you, Mr. President. The president, we`re told, didn`t ask him where he got it, never said, oh, did you get that here? Oh, thank you for helping me.

He said he did it to clear the president from the political heat he was facing. He admitted his motive.

Let me go to you on this, April. He admits he was doing it to help the president out politically.

RYAN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And he`s the chairman of the committee investigating the president.

RYAN: So, now...

MATTHEWS: How does this work?

RYAN: How does it work?

So, now Speaker Ryan has to really look at this and see if he can really be a credible chair of this Intel Committee. Does he need to be off? He says he`s not going to recuse himself.

But you have a U.S. attorney general who has recused himself from the Russia investigation. And you have this chair of the Intel Committee going to the White House back and forth with information as this process is under way.

MATTHEWS: Did you ever hear of a press secretary telling a member of the White House press corps to shop shaking their head? He did that to you the other day. Are you not allowed to express skepticism of what he says?

You have to show like you`re all lemmings there, and you all obediently accept his word? I have never heard that standard before.

RYAN: You said obediently. Oh, well, that`s interesting.

(LAUGHTER)

RYAN: The bottom line is, I did not shake my head at the -- the first time he said that. I dropped my head to listen and to figure out a question.

And then later on, in dismay, I shook my head, but...

MATTHEWS: He said in disgust. He was reading your mind. I`m just teasing. But it was strange behavior. I will let you off the hook on that.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, the White House continues to deny that there`s anything to the Russian story, though questions about the investigation seem to be exasperating members of the administration.

Sean Spicer again appeared annoyed yesterday when April Ryan here asked him to address some of those stories.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN: You got this Yates story today. You have got other things going on. You have got Russia. You have got wiretapping. You have got...

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No, we don`t have that.

You have got Russia. If the president puts Russian salad dressing on his salad tonight, somehow, that is a Russian connection.

I`m sorry that that disgusts you. You are shaking your head. I appreciate it.

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: But understand this, that, at some point, the facts are what they are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, there you are.

That exchange triggered a reaction from Hillary Clinton last night. Let`s watch the former secretary of state.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE; April Ryan, a respected journalist with unrivaled integrity, was doing her job just this afternoon in the White House press room, when she was patronized and cut off trying to ask a question.

Too many women, especially women of color, have had a lifetime of practice taking precisely these kinds of indignities in stride.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Comment?

RYAN: I was shocked that she did it, but she`s right.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

Let me go back to Robert again.

Robert, this question about Trump, and he does -- well, you got to cover this guy straight. You have got a very difficult job. You can`t have an opinion about him. You can only have news that day. You have got to report for him daily.

It does seem to me that they`re very sensitive about this Russian story, and they want to kill it. They don`t want any more investigations. They basically humiliated the House committee out of existence really. The Senate committee, I think, forms a bit of a threat to them. Your thoughts?

COSTA: There is certainly unease within the White House.

I was speaking to a top White House official today, and I heard about these meetings that happened last night at the White House. I said, what was that all about? Was it about staffing, personnel? They said, no, the meetings last night were about the ongoing investigations, trying to come up with a strategy, making sure everyone within the top ranks of the White House is on the same page, and so that you see it wearing down some people within the West Wing about the ongoing questions about Russia and possible connections or collusion.

These things loomed over the campaign. Now they loom over the White House.

MATTHEWS: Is Sean Spicer going to last?

COSTA: Sean Spicer is close with Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. They -- and he has become, from what I`m told from multiple sources, closer to the president in recent months than he was during the campaign.

I don`t see any movement of Spicer away from the White House at this moment. He remains close to the chief of staff and in the day-to-day conversations with the president.

But, as we all know, President Trump in past has been known to make changes. But I have no reporting to back up any sort of personnel change right now.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

April, do you have any sense that he`s getting a little desperate there, going after you like that, worried about your head-shaking and stuff like that?

RYAN: He`s frustrated. He`s clearly frustrated.

And I know for a fact he was frustrated with my second question yesterday. I asked about Condoleezza Rice, and -- the former secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration. And my sources have been telling me that she`s coming Friday, and she will be talking to this president, President Trump, about issues of Russia and Secretary Tillerson.

MATTHEWS: And she`s going to challenge them on what they have been doing?

(CROSSTALK)

RYAN: I don`t know. But I understand.

MATTHEWS: She`s no friend of Russia.

RYAN: Well, she`s not.

MATTHEWS: She`s an expert.

RYAN: She`s an expert, but she will be talking about Russia and Tillerson Friday.

MATTHEWS: Usually, experts on Russia are not friends of Russia.

Anyway, thank you, Robert Costa.

Thank you, April Ryan. Keep up your dukes.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Up next: judgment day in the Bridgegate scandal. This is terrible -- well, for anybody to go to prison on this. Two former allies of Chris Christie were hoping to avoid prison for their involvement in that 2013 traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge. That`s not how things played out today.

We`re going to have the story for you in just a minute.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger. Here`s what`s happening.

A federal judge in Hawaii says he will rule today on President Trump`s revised travel ban. The government is asking the judge to allow the suspension of new visas for six Muslim-majority countries.

Seattle is suing President Trump over his executive order cutting funds for so-called sanctuary cities. The city`s mayor says the order is creating fear and uncertainty.

Twelve people have died in Southwest Texas in a head-on collision between a bus and a truck. Elderly church members were on board that bus -- back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Two former members New Jersey Governor Chris Christie`s inner circle were sentenced today four months after being convicted for their roles in orchestrating the shutdown of toll lanes at the George Washington Bridge in 2014.

Bill Baroni, the former deputy executive director of the Port Authority, was sentenced to 24 months in prison. That`s two years. And Bridget Kelly, Christie`s one-time deputy chief of staff, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for her role in the Bridgegate scandal. Both are now felons.

The September 2013 shutdown of the George Washington Bridge was a political retribution scheme designed to target the mayor of Fort Lee over his refusal to endorse Christie`s reelection. It was Kelly`s e-mail to the prosecution`s witness Port Authority political appointee David Wildstein which produced the strongest evidence.

Kelly told Wildstein in that e-mail, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

Well, in the weeks following the bridge closure, Christie mocked a reporter for even asking about the scandal and any role he may have played at a press conference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I worked the cones actually, Matt. Unbeknownst to everybody, I was actually the guy out there. I was in overalls and a hat, so I wasn`t -- but I actually was the guy working the cones out there.

You really are not serious with that question. What happened?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

CHRISTIE: No, I haven`t.

Listen, just because John Wisniewski is obsessed with this and Loretta Weinberg, it just shows you they really have nothing to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, he`s talking about members of the New Jersey legislature there.

Here`s what Governor Christie said this morning prior to the sentencing of his two former aides.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE: The judge will do what the judge believes is appropriate, Matt. And it`s not my role or anybody else`s role, other than the judge in that courtroom, to pass sentence on people who have committed crimes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: MSNBC`s Steve Kornacki, who reported on this story from the beginning, joins me now.

Steve, let`s connect the dots here. Christie and the two people who are now felons, what`s the connection in this concern? Was Christie the leader, or was he simply the bystander of these crimes?

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, his name -- look, his name came up in the trial. And we have also got indications that, at least when it comes to Bridget Kelly, that maybe at some point now that this is - - the legal part of this is almost at its end, she may something in public in an interview.

The closest thing, though, to have to a judge -- to the judge here passing some kind of verdict on Christie is, in her sentencing today, she talked about a culture in Trenton that you`re either with us or you`re against us. She was sentencing Bridget Kelly. She said she had some sympathy to the situation that Bridget Kelly had found herself in, because that was the broader culture of the administration.

But in terms of, like, actually connecting Christie to giving an order, to being fully in on it, anything like that, that was never here.

MATTHEWS: But that -- Steve, the problem with that is we have had clean governors of New Jersey. We have had Tom Kean and people like that who would never have set up a culture like that.

It makes it sound like it comes in the building, it`s in the atmosphere of the building itself in Trenton. The governor sets the tone if you`re governor of a state. Isn`t that the normal way anybody would look at this from the outside? It wouldn`t be the building. The atmosphere comes from the leader.

KORNACKI: I think the other thing you have to keep in mind here is the timing of this. This goes all the way back to 2013. What was 2013? It was Chris Christie`s reelection year.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

KORNACKI: Remember, Chris Christie was a national political hero in 2013. He had guided the state through Sandy. He was the leader in every poll you took of insiders about who is going to be the Republican nominee in 2016. And what did he want to do?

He made this very clear to people. He wanted to run up a huge margin in blue state New Jersey. He wanted to win the Latino vote in 2013 in New Jersey. He wanted to crush his Democratic opponent by 20, 30 points. He wanted to roll that into 2016, so he`d be an unstoppable force.

And I think -- now, this is not to say that he ever gave any kind of order or anything like that. None of that`s ever been proven. But you could see how a culture could emerge from that where, if you`re at any level in this administration, there is an incentive to do anything that you could possibly do to increase his margin, even if it`s by five votes, 10 votes, 20 votes, 100 votes.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

Speaking of numbers, when you have a campaign being run right in your office, in your office, and you`re governor, and the entire campaign is about rewarding and most especially punishing Democratic mayors who don`t go along for your second term, who do not endorse you, all that`s going on around you when you`re governor, and he can claim innocence of this whole scandal.

How does he do it? How does he say, I don`t know anything about this thing?

KORNACKI: Well, and that`s the other thing.

When these reports first emerged -- you had the story in September 2013. That was when we first learned about the lane closure. Remember, it really wasn`t until January when that e-mail came out that you just showed, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

MATTHEWS: True.

KORNACKI: That was the first time Chris Christie had got -- had to admit that something was up here.

And if you look at his actions in those four months, again, you will never be able to prove anything. It sure looked like a governor, though, who didn`t want to know anything.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

We also know about a lot of organized criminals that are able to get stuff done because they want it done without getting their fingerprints on it.

Anyway, I`m not going to say it`s exactly the same, but it`s certainly a political parallel.

Anyway, Steve Kornacki, all my experience in politics is, it comes from the top. People behave like the boss.

Up next: Trump -- great work, by the way. This was your story.

Anyway, Trump says he`s ready to work with the Democrats when it comes to health care, but are they willing to come back to the negotiating table at this -- is he really serious about talking to people he calls clown head or whatever? And the stuff he`s saying about Schumer is not endearing.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`re going to be doing a great job, and hopefully, it will start being bipartisan because everybody really wants the same thing. We want greatness for this country that we love. So, I think we`re going to have some very good relationships. Right, Chuck? I see Chuck. Hello, Chuck.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Hello, Chuck.

Welcome back.

He was talking to the Democratic leader of the United States Senate he`s been trashing for weeks.

Anyway, last night, President Trump hosted a bipartisan gathering at the White House, seemingly offering an olive branch to the Democratic side. It was an unexpected move from a president who has made a habit of using Democrats as targets for personal insult.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

TRUMP: If the Democrats who have -- all you have to do is look at where they are right now. The only thing they can do is delay because they`ve screwed things up royally, believe me.

I know Chuck Schumer yesterday with fake tears. I`m going to ask him who is his acting coach, because I know him very well. I don`t see him as a cryer. If he is, he`s a different man.

`17 is going to be a disaster, a disaster for Obamacare if we don`t do something. Let it be a disaster because we can blame that on the Dems that in our room, and we can blame that on the Democrats and President Obama. Let it implode.

The losers are Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer because now they own Obamacare. They own it, 100 percent own it. And this is not a Republican health care. This is not anything but a Democrat health care.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

MATTHEWS: Well, as President Trump continues to plot a path forward after Friday`s bruising loss on his care, his Trumpcare. Democrats are suddenly in high demand. But the real question is, will they play ball? I think the other question is, does he mean?

And more, I`m joined by Jeremy Peters, of course, reporter with "The New York Times" and an MSNBC contributor, Ashley Parker, White House reporter for "the Washington Post," and Astead Herndon who is national political reporter for "The Boston Globe".

Astead, let`s talk about this. First of all, do you believe Trump? Do you believe he wants to deal across the aisle? Hey, Chuck.

ASTEAD HERNDON, BOSTON GLOBE: It`s hard to believe him. I mean this is someone, like you said, who has been trashing Democrats.

MATTHEWS: Personally.

HERNDON: And personally talked about a lot of the big leaders in the Democratic Party. And it`s hard to believe that now he would make an overture, especially when we haven`t seen any policy that would suggest that the White House would do anything the Democrats would support that wouldn`t be from the right side of the aisle. So, it really is tough to think that he would.

MATTHEWS: Ashley?

ASHLEY PARKER THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I will say does he want to deal? Trump is a guy who always wants to get a deal. He cares about the top line, and I think he is happy to get the deal however he can. So, in that sense, if he believes Democrats can help him get a win or a victory, you know, as he would see it, then I think absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Does he have the brains to pull that off?

PARKER: I think he wants to do it. But I think you`re right --

MATTHEWS: Does he have the brains to do it? It takes skill, legislative skill to put together a way to break the rule and take on the Democratic- Republican leadership. He has to put together a coalition of enough Republicans and all the Democrats on infrastructure, for example. There are things they could do, but it takes breaking the Republican logjam. He has to break apart the Tea Party people from the Ryan people and try to get something done over there.

PARKER: I don`t think it`s a question of brains. I think it`s a question of strategy and understanding of Congress and legislation. And I think he certainly does not understand that. I think he learned a few lessons from the healthcare debacle. But I don`t know if he has --

MATTHEWS: You think?

PARKER: I do.

(CROSSTALK)

JEREMY PETERS, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I think they do. I mean, the White House is sounding a surprising note of contrition, at least privately, about how they screwed this up. If they want to do it again, they`re not sure they can do this again, come back at it and have a successful outcome. But they acknowledge that they`re going to have to do it a lot differently.

MATTHEWS: OK. Like, it`s almost like the Republicans created religion, and it`s called Reaganism. It`s a religion, and you have to always like Reagan`s tax cuts. Well, I don`t think there`s anything perfectly at parallel, but Democrats -- for Democrats, that`s Obamacare. If there`s one thing that unites all Democrats, it`s their pride in having given the country at least 9 hope of a national health care system, right?

And now to ask them to repeal it because I read as of a few hours ago they`re still talking repeal. Why should a Democrat go along with that? It`s not a reasonable bargaining offer, is it?

HERNDON: It wouldn`t seem that would be the issue he would find much Democratic support on. Maybe infrastructure like you mentioned previously. If he can come with something that doesn`t repeal the signature accomplishment of the party in the last ten years --

MATTHEWS: Which is an entitlement. And he hates -- the right wing hates entitlements.

PETERS: I don`t know that he hates them, though.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but he`s in a party that does.

PETERS: This is so dead. This is dead. Health care is dead.

There is no way they are going to come back this year and touch it. Maybe the House passes something so the House can say, see, we got our act together.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s just try to be idealistic tonight, thinking, this guy Burr may be for real. OK, suppose you`re Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer and you say, you know what? Obamacare does need some tweaking, some fixing. You go to the House and you say, look, we got to get 50 Republicans to help us do it because we`re going to fix the system, while admit it`s got some flaws and fix it. Can they get 50 Republicans to join them, to break the rule and get it to the floor, get past Ryan?

PETERS: I don`t think so, no.

MATTHEWS: Well, how do they work together again? If you can`t fix Obamacare, which should a Democrat lift his finger? You made that point.

HERNDON: That`s my point about policy, is that it`s hard to find a point that has a meeting ground where all these ideologies can meet, especially if you`re talking about health care. Anything that doesn`t go as far as repealing would be something that would be unpalatable to the right. And then on the other side, if they do do that, you can`t imagine them getting any Democratic support. I don`t know where that would come from.

MATTHEWS: Ashley, tax reform. Tax reform means two different things to different people. To Republicans, it means lower the tax rates of rich people. It just does. Lower corporate taxes, lower capital gains. I understand their point of view, make life more fun for people at the top.

To Democrats, it means get rid of loopholes, clean up the system.

How can they possibly reach a combination?

PARKER: Not just that. It means different things to different people within the Trump administration. What`s fascinating to me is they said this is going to be different than health care. We`re going to drive the train.

But it`s unclear who they believe is going to actually be the conductor. Steve Mnuchin is telling people he`s the point person. Gary Cohn is telling people he`s the point person. So, they`ll have to figure that out.

MATTHEWS: Do you think the Democrats will ever go with a national sales tax called the VAT? Here`s why I`m going to answer my own question. Never. Never, never. Because Democrats work for working people and poor people who spend every nickel they make. They spend it all.

So if they`re taxing them on sales tax, you`re taxing them all over again with another income tax because they spend all the money. Rich people get to save it. They like a skimp. Oh, yes. we`ll make those poor people spend all their money and we`ll tax them right to the death and we`ll save a little money on the side, who won`t have to pay that tax.

PETERS: Tax reform --

MATTHEWS: I mean, it`s an indirect regressive tax.

PETERS: Tax reform -- the tax reform to beat will make the health care repeal debate look like passing a resolution to name a post office after someone.

MATTHEWS: Ashley, who is going to vote for national sales tax? That`s what Ryan loves.

PARKER: I don`t quite know yet.

MATTHEWS: It`s frightening. People say another tax?

HERNDON: And it`s going to be difficult, especially politically after he spent the campaign talking about opposite things to come in and pitch that to the American people. You would see that he would run into a fight.

MATTHEWS: OK, the mayor of Philly pushed the soda tax. Nobody is going to pay it. They said, no, it`s not going to happen. People don`t like new taxes. They hate old taxes. New taxes are despised.

Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, the first lady made a rare public appearance today at the state department to honor women. Melania Trump presented 13 recipients with the Women of Courage Award. The award recognizes those who have demonstrated leadership while advocating for women`s rights. Here she is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY: We must continue to work towards gender empowerment and respect for people from all backgrounds and ethnicities, remembering always that we are all ultimately members of one race, the human race.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Jeremy, tell me something I don`t know.

PETERS: So during the whole health care debacle which we know how that ended, President Trump was so insistent that he get something done, he actually told people, "I don`t care what`s in this bill. I just want a ceremony." He`s that desperate to get an achievement.

MATTHEWS: Ashley?

PARKER: I just reported a profile of Second Lady Karen Pence, and there`s an image of her as a sort of church going Midwesterner, dutiful wife, mother of three, and that`s all true. But what I found is that she`s incredibly powerful behind the scenes and has real influence on the vice president, who still has real influence on the president.

MATTHEWS: Doesn`t surprise me. Ha!

Astead?

HERNDON: I just got back from district of a House Freedom Caucus --

MATTHEWS: I live in a world like that. Go ahead.

(LAUGHTER)

HERNDON: I just got back from a district of a Freedom Caucus member. In talking to voters, the one thing I was surprised is how many people are taking on Trump`s language. They were upset at Democrats and upset at Congress for blocking the health care bill, but not President Trump.

MATTHEWS: A third of the people still with him? How many do you think?

HERNDON: I would say so. There was some type of consternation but not a lot.

MATTHEWS: Thank you for that.

Anyway, we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Wednesday, March 29th, 2017.

I`ve been waiting for some heroes to arrive in this travesty we`ve been watching, this Russian intrusion into our democracy and the bizarre traffic of Trump people heading back and forth to Moscow and these random meetings with the Russian ambassador, not to mention the remarkable penchant of this president and his campaign staff to do business with the Kremlin and its loathsome oligarchs.

Well, call me an optimist but I believe we saw a good sign today. The chairman and ranking Democratic member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senators Richard Burr and Mark Warner presented themselves today as grown-ups, two men capable of pushing hard for the truth in this embarrassing episode. Most important, I`ve learned this over the years, is their commitment to full-scale televised hearings on the matter with all the various characters brought into public light and placed, I believe, and I`m sure, under oath.

We learned from Watergate, the Senate hearings well-planned, well-prepared and televised elevate the public`s understanding. The mere fact of getting these people to talk with the cameras and bright lights on them seems to bring the truth to the surface. It shakes the cobwebs from their minds, gives us answers to what otherwise remain mysterious.

We learn quickly who looks credible and who looks like they`re hiding something. It will be intriguing to hear from Christopher Steele, the former MI-6 figure who prepared that dossier on Trump and the Russians to learn what conversation did occur between all these Trump people and the Russian envoy and what business Trump has been doing with the Russians during these months of moral murkiness.

I have faith the two men we saw today will do this for us. I believe the Senate Intelligence Committee with its complement of committed Democrats and anti-Russian neocons could forge just the alliance we need to get the truth. Trump must hate what he saw get started today.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS" starts right now.

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