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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 4/3/2017

Guests: Matt Schlapp, Gillian Tett, Adam Entous, Jackie Speier, Ken Vogel, Sabrina Siddiqui, Michael Tomasky

Show: Hardball with Chris Matthews Date: April 3, 2017 Guest: Matt Schlapp, Gillian Tett, Adam Entous, Jackie Speier, Ken Vogel, Sabrina Siddiqui, Michael Tomasky

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Siberian express.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Tonight, "The Washington Post" is reporting that a secret meeting occurred between Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a Russian close to President Vladimir Putin as part of an apparent effort to establish a back channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump. Prince was a major contributor to Trump`s campaign and is the brother of Betsy DeVos, who now serves adds the president`s secretary of education.

Well, all this follows the president`s desperate effort to distract from probes into the Russian connection. For three days now, he has been tweeting in an attempt to shift attention from accusations of possible collusion between his campaign and Russia.

Referring to a story on Fox this morning, for example, Trump tweeted, "Such amazing reporting on unmasking and the crooked scheme against U.S. by Fox and Friends spied on before nomination, the real story." And from there, the president went back to his rear-view mirror again, the giant one. "Did Hillary Clinton ever apologize for receiving the answers to that debate? Just asking."

This is the president of the United States. These followed Trump`s tweet on Saturday morning attacking NBC News, quote, "When will sleepy eyes Chuck Todd at NBC News start talking about the Obama surveillance scandal and stop with the fake Trump Russia story."

Well, Republicans are falling dutifully in line on that point. Three out of five tell pollsters right now they don`t support an FBI probe of Trump`s possible Russian ties. That`s compared to 65 percent of independents who do want to get an investigation going by the FBI.

Well, Trump meanwhile seems desperate to distract attention from any investigation that could get to the truth about anything the president may have done to thank Putin for his help in the campaign.

Yesterday, U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat in the House Intelligence Committee, called out the president for his diversionary tactics.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: He`s not subtle. And I think his tweets tell the story, and the story is, Look over there at leaks and look over there at anything the Obama administration we can claim did wrong on incidental collection or anything else. But whatever you do, under no circumstances look here at me or at Russia.

I would tell people whenever they see the president use the word "fake," it ought to set off alarm bells. And I think that`s really what`s gone on here.


MATTHEWS: Well, meanwhile, newly released financial disclosure forms shows that ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn failed to report payments he received from Russian-related companies in his filing with the Office of Government ethics last February. Anyway, among his unreported income was the $45,000 he received from Russia`s propaganda network, RT, as well as payments from two other Russian companies. By the way, it was this February.

Flynn submitted an amended disclosure form last Friday, just one day after he requested immunity from the Congress and the FBI.

We`re going to discuss that and more, but first to "The Post`s" new reporting on that Trump back channel. Joining me now is Adam Entous, who has co-authored this story for "The Washington Post." Thank you, Adam.

MATTHEWS: What is this breaking story between -- you guys have got about the Blackwater founder, brother of Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, and people associated very closely with Putin? What`s up?

ADAM ENTOUS, "WASHINGTON POST": Yes. So what you did -- what you had here was you had a meeting that was organized by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, who was approached by Prince. Prince presented himself to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi as, basically, being an envoy for -- for talks with Putin. And so the crown prince then set up a meeting in the Seychelles, where the crown prince owns a few properties, and so then they had the meeting on January 11th.

And it`s our understanding that there wasn`t a second meeting after that because you have to keep in mind that the timing, January 11th, was about a week after the intelligence community came out with this report pointing to Russia intervening in the election to help Trump and just literally a day before the initial disclosures about Flynn`s communications with the Russian ambassador.

MATTHEWS: Do we know whether this fellow was talking to Trump about what he was doing in the Seychelles with this friend of Putin?

ENTOUS: That we don`t know. I mean, there`s also -- you know, there`s a lot of unanswered questions here. Did the crown prince in any way communicate with people at the White House, or at that point the transition office to coordinate this with them before setting up this meeting between Prince and a confidant of Putin? We also don`t know the name of the Russian that went to the Seychelles for that meeting.

You know, we also don`t know, you know, why they decided to try this. You know, why did the UAE and Prince and maybe others decide to set up a meeting like this so soon -- so close to the inauguration -- it was only a few days away before the inauguration -- when, obviously, if they had just waited until after the inauguration, it wouldn`t be an issue at all to set up these kinds of meetings.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Adam Entous of "The Washington Post."

Joining me right now, Democratic congresswoman Jackie Speier of California, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee. Heidi Przybyla`s an MSNBC political analyst and senior politics reporter for "USA Today. Robert Costa is an MSNBC political analyst and national political reporter with "The Washington Post."

Well, let me go to Congresswoman Speier on this because now we`re getting so much on your plate there on a committee that has been discredited because of your chairman, but I know you`re going to do the best you can, despite Nunes claiming to -- seeming to work in a back room with the president.

But here`s the question. More Russian connection here, which is the focus of your hearings. What do you make of this meeting over in the Seychelles between the brother of Betsy DeVos, the new secretary of education, a big contributor to the president, who`s over there on this mission? Doesn`t look like a -- it doesn`t look like freelancing to me. It looks like something. How do you see it?

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I see it as, one, a violation of "the one president at a time" rule, with all this conduct going on, this effort to try and negotiate with portfolio or without portfolio.

And it underscores the fact that we have this incredible, unusual Web of relationships between Vladimir Putin and Trump associates, and that is very disconcerting. And it`s so disconcerting that it had -- Director Comey at the FBI come out at the hearing we had on March 20th and say, We are looking into whether or not there was coordination between the campaign and the Russian hackers.

I think what we have here is one month -- March 4th was the first time the president tweeted about being wiretapped. We`ve spent a month on this deflection and not focused on what`s really important.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s just -- moments ago, we`ve got more, Congressman. Buzzfeed reports now that the former Trump adviser -- we know him -- Carter Page, met with a Russian spy back in 2013, three years before he met Donald Trump. According to the report, Page provided documents about the energy business to a Russian operative later charged with being an unregistered agent of a foreign government. That`s back in 2015 (sic).

As Buzzfeed notes, the revolution (ph) of Page`s connection to Russia is the most clearly documented contact to date between Russian intelligence and someone in Trump`s orbit.

How do you put that in as one more layer, one more relation -- you`re going to need a pretty complicated chart now to connect Roger Stone, Manafort, Michael Flynn. And by the way, Michael Flynn`s been caught not reporting the money he got from Russia. It does seem to have a lot of entanglement there.

SPEIER: And Carter Page...

MATTHEWS: Trump does.

SPEIER: Carter Page in December was in Moscow when Rosneft actually sold 19 percent interest to a third party. And as you recall, Christopher Steele, who had the dossier, says that part of that was payment to Carter Page. So we don`t know the truth or validity of that.

But again, it is far too complex in these relationships, and they`re all in President Trump`s orbit when he was a candidate and president-elect, and now we`re dealing with it in the aftermath.

MATTHEWS: Hold on for a second, Congresswoman. I want to bring in Heidi - - Heidi Przybyla Heidi, this is a complicated story now, but it seems now to make sense why Trump is so busy over the weekend, so festively (ph) exercised in trying to create any distraction, any sort of firecracker he can light off or glistening object to get us away from what seems to be a rolling disclosure of connection between him, his people and Putin.

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, "USA TODAY" MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: What`s happening is that a Web is now being spun out that we were told before didn`t exist, right? And at the same time, the timing of these divergences is critical in terms of Nunes coming out when he did. That was when Comey had pretty much blown up Trump`s wiretapping accusation. So the timing of it`s important, and then the Web that`s spinning out.

Chris, this is just one story. Last week, "USA Today" was reporting about all the Russian oligarchs and money launderers who also had third party connections to Donald Trump. Is that a coincidence? Is it a coincidence that you had a former KGB agent living in his some of his properties?

All of these indirect contacts are just basically one person removed from Trump, and we`re supposed to think that this is just a coincidence.

MATTHEWS: Robert Costa, you know the man. You know Trump better than any reporter I know. You know how he works. These, well, series of crazy tweets over the weekend -- I`m not going to follow them all down because I know that he wants to talk about Hillary Clinton getting something from Donna Brazile last year in the debates.

Are you kidding me? He`s president of the United States. We got to talk about what`s on the table right now. What`s on the table right now is this possible collusion with the Russians in the past election. What do you think he`s up to?

ROBERT COSTA, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the president is known, based on my reporting, to be very responsive to what he sees on television, actively tweeting, often without consulting his top advisers. So he`s watching this, seeking sometimes narratives that are not backed up by evidence.

We saw that with the wiretap tweets a few weeks ago that led the White House to try to back up some of the president`s claims, even though evidence did not exist, and that was, again, stated by the FBI.

So you have a president who has these convictions based sometimes on things he sees in the conservative press, reacting and it`s creating more controversy, in a sense, prompting people like Nunes, the chairman in the House, to try to come up with some kind of story that they believe backs up what the president`s asserting.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, let me ask you about Trump and this whole thing with Mike Flynn. Now, Mike Flynn`s got some problems. Apparently, he wasn`t honest in disclosing his income from the Russians when he went up from his job as national security adviser.

And then you`ve got this thing where Trump now saying he`s -- at least, publicly saying Mike Flynn`s right to ask for immunity. Normally, when you`re the target of an investigation at the top, you don`t want somebody down the -- somewhere down the chain of command, like Flynn, to get immunity because the way they save their butt to get out of trouble is they sell off somebody at the top.

Why is Trump -- is this just clever like a fox for him to say, Of course I support Mike Flynn`s call for immunity. I think that`s what it is. What do you think? What do you know?

COSTA: Well, it`s certainly unusual. And here on Capitol Hill, Chris, there`s a lot of raised eyebrows privately even among Republicans about the president`s decision to recommend Flynn taking immunity.

There`s a sense here of Republicans and Democrats that that should be up to the Justice Department as it pursues its different investigations about possible Russian interference in the election, that it`s not the president`s decision to weigh in or appropriate for the president to weigh in. So you don`t see a lot of Republicans rallying to the president`s side as he makes these kind of statements.

MATTHEWS: Well, several high-profile Republicans, including former chair of the House Intelligence Committee Mike Rogers, disagreed with the president, as you said, saying Flynn should not be granted immunity.


MIKE ROGERS (R), FMR. U.S. CONGRESSMAN: If I were the committees, I wouldn`t great immunity. And the other thing I would stop doing is having all of this public attention to an investigation. If this is really an investigation, everybody needs to clam up, candidly, including the president. Stop talking about it.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I wouldn`t give immunity to somebody unless I knew they had something to offer. The whole situation with General Flynn is a bit bizarre.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: I don`t think he should get immigration. I -- we -- immunity for what, first of all? But if there`s an active open investigation by the FBI, they shouldn`t do that. We may be doing something later this week related to his payments that he received from not only Russia but Turkey, as well. You`re just not allowed to accept these types of payments as a former military officer.


MATTHEWS: Congresswoman, I take a general view of all of this stuff, which is I noticed that independents want an FBI investigation into the Russian connection. They want to pursue it. They want to find out the truth. Republicans don`t want an investigation.

And when I hear somebody doesn`t want to give immunity, I say, Well, maybe you don`t want any testimony. It`s very hard for me to read it now because in Watergate terms, it`s clear. If you want testimony to get to the guy at the top, you immunize people at the bottom, they squeal. What`s your thinking? That`s the traditional way of looking at immigration. You don`t want somebody below you in the food chain to get immunity because you`re going to get eaten next.

SPEIER: So that`s absolutely right. You only give immunity if you`re going to get the big fish. And the big fish here is the president of the United States. It`s unclear whether or not General Flynn has anything worth giving him immunity for.

And this is so far in the future that it wouldn`t even be contemplated for months, and yet I think this is the strategy of this attorney to try and, you know, put him forward in a matter that makes him look like he`s in a good light.

General Flynn has violated so many laws already, whether it`s the emoluments clause within the Department of Defense, where you cannot, as a retired general, take a gift or any kind of compensation from a foreign country unless you get approval of the Department of Defense because you still can be called back into active duty. He didn`t properly indicate that he was actually lobbying on behalf of a foreign country last year.

I mean, the list goes on and on. So yes, I can see why he might want immunity, but I don`t think there`s any reason for us to offer him that.

MATTHEWS: Heidi, we`re -- I know it`s the independents are very much for a strong investigation. So it seems to me the nonpartisan American out there who doesn`t own loyalty to a political party is saying, Let`s find out what happened.

PRZYBYLA: Well, that`s why we are going to find out what happened, either through the Senate or through an independent investigation.

But in terms of immunity, I think a lot of these members are also old enough to remember Iran-contra and Ollie North, when immunity was traded away and it then impeded the Department of Justice`s ability to bring charges.

I think the congresswoman is right, that they need to find out if he has a proffer, if he has something to offer. And immunity is not necessarily down the road off the table. But he knows a lot, Chris. I bring you back to the Kislyak conversation back in December. Who believes that General Flynn when he was discussing sanctions, which by the way, he lied about, was really freelancing? What national security adviser...


MATTHEWS: ... that`s a big one.

PRZYBYLA: ... and discuss that stuff on their own? So I think they need to figure -- we`re at the very beginning, and investigators need to figure out what he has to offer.

MATTHEWS: Remember what Trump said on the record, everybody, including the Congresswoman. It was Trump who said, If Flynn was talking to those people, I would have told him to do it anyway. He didn`t have to be told. But clearly talking about sanctions was the hot topic, was it not.

Thank you. U.S. Congressman Jackie Speier of California, thank you so much. She sits on the Intelligence Committee. Thank you, Robert Costa, as always, for understanding Trump. And Heidi Przybyla.

Coming up, President Trump`s increasingly relying on his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Now Jared`s in Iraq, even before the secretary of state ever got there. As Jared`s role inside the White House grows, so does the question, Why him?

Plus, a top-level defector from North Korea says Kim Il-sung -- Kim Jong-un is prepared to use his nuclear arsenal against the United States if he sees an imminent threat to his country, like tanks coming across the boarder or missiles coming in.

Anyway, the HARDBALL roundtable will be here tonight to talk about the looming showdown -- I hope not -- over Trump -- well, this one -- there is going to be a showdown with the Supreme Court justice. I was thinking Korea. That`s what I don`t want.

Democrats are forcing Republicans to kill the filibuster, which they will do I think Thursday night.

Finally, let me finish with "Trump Watch" for this Monday night. Trump`s not going to like it again.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Well, tonight, Vice President Mike Pence is heading to the U.S. Capitol to meet with members of the Freedom Caucus. That`s the Tea Party people. And that`s the group that derailed the president`s plans to replace "Obama care."

NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker just had an impromptu meeting with President Trump inside the Oval Office. Kristen joins us now for the -- is there going to be a real second effort here on health care, Kristen?

KRISTEN WELKER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: It seems like the president is serious about this, Chris. Let me give you the headlines from my meeting that I had with President Trump. He told me he had a very serious discussion with Senator Rand Paul over the weekend. As we`ve been reporting, the two went golfing together. He said they discussed specifics.

He said this notion that he`s not read in on the details simply isn`t true. And he said the notion that the health care effort is dead is not true, either. He says he`s still negotiating, that this is all a part of his negotiating process and that what we saw two weeks ago was just round one.

He said he thinks he can get a deal done. Well, I asked him, who`s he going to work with? Will he work with Democrats? He doesn`t think he`s going to be able to necessarily get a deal done with Democrats right now, Chris. He cited the fact that tensions are fairly high, particularly given the fact that Democrats are posed to filibuster Neil Gorsuch. He thinks he can take a second bite of the apple with the conservative Freedom Caucus and the Tuesday Group. Vice President Mike Pence met with the Tuesday Group earlier today.

He`s headed back over to Capitol Hill to meet with the Freedom Caucus to discuss a potential compromise that was discussed with the Freedom group (sic). That compromise would entail, essentially, allowing states to forego certain regulations, like essential health benefits, for example, if they can prove it will lower the cost of premiums, that it will make health care more affordable in their states.

So the tone here from the White House, Chris, is that they are working on this in earnest. The president was very emphatic on that point, and Vice President Mike Pence will be holding his second round of meetings about this today, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Well, I think that`s what he`s trying to do. It makes sense. But if he moves over to the right to reach the Tea Party`s demands, he`s giving up on a lot of the residual moderate Republicans from the suburban areas who look for things, and they`re not going to turn away essential services because those people they represent want to be taken care of in terms of their health.

We`ll see. NBC`s Kristen Welker, with a great scoop (ph) from the White House.

We`ll be right back after this.

WELKER: Thanks, Chris.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Donald Trump is increasingly relying on his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who today made an unannounced trip to Iraq. Kushner joined the chairman of the Joint Chiefs in meetings with Iraqi, American and coalition officials. There they are, and there he is.

According to a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs: "Mr. Kushner is traveling on behalf of the president to express the president`s support and commitment to the government of Iraq and U.S. personnel currently engaged in the campaign."

You can add Iraq to a growing portfolio for Kushner. It includes China, Canada, Mexico, Middle East peace and overhauling the federal government here at home while he`s at it.

Well, today, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer defended Kushner`s various roles.


QUESTION: Can he does all of these things?

SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think not to -- it`s not like he doesn`t -- he has a team that he oversees. And I think there`s a lot of areas that he has been working very diligently on behalf of the government, on behalf of the president`s agenda.


MATTHEWS: Well, "The New York Times" reported this weekend that China sees Kushner as person who the president -- has the president`s ear -- quote -- "In Mr. Trump`s Washington, his son-in-law is the man to see."

That sounds very Chinese.

Anyway, Ron Reagan is the author and MSNBC political analyst. And Matt Schlapp is the chairman the American Conservative Union.

Ron, did your dad ever ask you to take over the Middle East peace agreements and to try to forge our alliance over there? Did he ever bump aside Scowcroft or Jim Baker and say, Ron, get in here, I want you to handle Yasser Arafat and everybody else in Israel, I want you to take them on, make them best friends?

RON REAGAN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: He did think I should start a one-man Mars colony, but other than that, no.



Jared Kushner must be an enormously talented young fellow, though. It`s just -- it`s extraordinary.

There are so many problems with this, ethics concerns, of course. There`s practical concerns, like, don`t we have a State Department? Shouldn`t they be doing a lot of things that Jared Kushner is apparently doing?

And the issue of mere competence -- I mean, who the hell is Jared Kushner, basically? Why is he involved in all these things he knows nothing about?

But the bigger question is really who -- who would put him in this position? What president would assign his son-in -- his 36-year-old son- in-law, who has no relevant experience, to do all of these things? And I would say an insecure and perhaps delusional president.

MATTHEWS: Well, Matt Schlapp, you just heard that. The gauntlet has been thrown down there.


MATT SCHLAPP, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF POLITICAL AFFAIRS: I always think it`s interesting to hear Democrats going after Jared Kushner, who himself is a Democrat, who is probably the president`s closest adviser.


SCHLAPP: And so what`s wrong with the fact that he`s got someone next to him who is giving him diverse political guidance over all these Republicans?

MATTHEWS: What advice does he have to give him on Mexico, Canada, the Middle East, Iraq, all these countries in the world? He`s relying on his son-in-law. This is called nepotism.

SCHLAPP: Well, I mean, it`s the Bobby Kennedy role.

MATTHEWS: Is it? Is it? Do you want to start there?


SCHLAPP: I think it`s...

MATTHEWS: Do you want to start there?



Let`s start with the fact that Bobby Kennedy was his campaign manager, his brother`s campaign manager.

SCHLAPP: Right. And so was...

MATTHEWS: And for three years, he was chief counsel on the Rackets Committee, taking down the gangsters of this country...


MATTHEWS: And made a name for himself doing something.

SCHLAPP: You`re going to say Jared...

MATTHEWS: What was Kushner? What was Kushner?

SCHLAPP: You`re going to say Jared Kushner is no Bobby Kennedy.

What I`m saying is...

MATTHEWS: Well, no, you brought up Bobby Kennedy. It was a mistake.

SCHLAPP: Well, my point is, is this, which is, Jared, who was very involved, who has been very involved in Donald Trump`s business life, is probably one of those people on this earth that the president talks to the most.

And what he does is, he`s being honest and open with the American people, having him shed his business ties, going through all the ethics steps he has to go through.

MATTHEWS: That`s the why he`s doing -- that`s why he`s doing this?

SCHLAPP: It`s the right way to do it. The wrong way to do it would be to allow him to be his adviser without having to go through all the ethics hoops. He`s going through the ethics hoops.

MATTHEWS: OK. OK. Here is the question. Is he the best man for the job?

SCHLAPP: Yes, because it`s the one the president listens to.

MATTHEWS: So, he`s comfortable with him.

SCHLAPP: Presidents talk to who they want to talk to, Chris.

MATTHEWS: OK. Is his success with the president his ability to deal with the president or deal with the world?

SCHLAPP: Well, I couldn`t hear that.

MATTHEWS: Is Kushner`s advantage here and the reason he has this position not his ability to deal with the world, which he`s being asked to do, but his ability to deal with Donald Trump?

SCHLAPP: I think that`s a very...

MATTHEWS: Isn`t that the reason he`s there?

SCHLAPP: That`s a fair statement.

MATTHEWS: He`s a blankie.

SCHLAPP: Well, presidents...

MATTHEWS: He`s somebody who makes the president feel comfortable.

SCHLAPP: That`s a little cheap. But...

MATTHEWS: It is. That`s what I mean. That`s how I mean it.

SCHLAPP: ... presidents...


SCHLAPP: All presidents, including Democratic presidents, put people around them who they want to listen to.

MATTHEWS: Ron has been in this position of being a president`s son.

SCHLAPP: I would like to know what he did for the president in terms of official role. It would be interesting.

MATTHEWS: Well, I don`t know if he played any, because he was -- first of all, he was a progressive from the time he was born.

Go ahead, Ron.

REAGAN: I had no official role, Matt. I had no official role.


SCHLAPP: Good. Good, Ron. I`m happy about that.

REAGAN: Yes, I`m sure you are.


MATTHEWS: The nepotism law is real.

SCHLAPP: Your sister Maureen did have a role, in all candor. She had a role.


REAGAN: Yes, she did. She did, a small role and a very specific role.

Jared Kushner seems to be all over the place. And it seems pretty obvious to me that Donald Trump is a guy who is in a position now where he realizes he`s in over his head, and he`s looking for a security blanket.

SCHLAPP: He`s borrowing your analogy.

REAGAN: He wants all the people he`s familiar with around him now.

He wants all his familiars around him as his security blanket. And the problem with that, as everybody must know, is, he needs to be reaching out to people who actually know what they`re talking about.

And Jared Kushner doesn`t have the faintest idea what he`s doing in all of these disparate realms that he`s been put in charge of.

MATTHEWS: OK. Matt, you`re part of this world.

SCHLAPP: I am part of this world.

MATTHEWS: I`m sorry, Ron.

You`re part of this world. So tell me about this world.

The president of the United States hasn`t gotten through the clearances. The Congress has not confirmed the appointments of anybody in the State Department, no deputies, no undersecretaries.

SCHLAPP: I agree. It`s terrible.

MATTHEWS: So, all over the world, whether it`s Far East, Africa, Middle East, there`s nobody to really support the new secretary of state.

SCHLAPP: That`s right.


MATTHEWS: So, Tillerson travels around the world without a press combo behind him. I can under -- I guess I can understand it, although I don`t really.

He goes sort of incognito, heads out in his private -- he wants a smaller plane, so he can travel around the world.


MATTHEWS: Does he relate to the Kushner operation? Does the Kushner operation report to the State Department and anybody connected to the president? You got four different identities there.


SCHLAPP: This is a fair criticism, which is the personnel process is not moving fast enough.

MATTHEWS: How do these four identities mesh?

SCHLAPP: These Cabinet secretaries do not have enough Senate-confirmed sub-Cabinet underneath them. They have a big problem at State.

And the secondary question is this, which you always know. There`s always a fight between big heads at the White House and these Cabinet secretaries.


SCHLAPP: And so far, the people at the White House I think are dominating a lot of these Cabinet secretaries, which I think for some is asymmetrical. They want to see these Cabinet secretaries playing a big role.

How are you going to play that role when you don`t have your political team around you?

MATTHEWS: I agree. But why did he put up Elliott Abrams for his deputy? Why did he put up the worst neocon in the world?

SCHLAPP: You know why.

Well, he was blocked. You should be happy about that. He was blocked because he made anti-Trump statements.


MATTHEWS: I know, but Ron, it`s crazy, that we have a new CEO who operates like Don Regan, traveling around the world like he`s prime minister, and doesn`t even need a president, like he`s Mr. CEO: I don`t need press. I don`t need assistants. I don`t need knowledge, because I`m the CEO of America.

It`s strange. And then we have got Jared Kushner, the crown prince, moving around on his own entourage. And then we have a State Department sitting over there waiting to be asked a question. Maybe a translation? They`re not even being talked to.

And, meanwhile, you have the president living between Mar-a-Lago, where he meets foreign dignitaries, and Trump Tower, where he meets the other ones.

This is wack-a-bird. Anyway, your thoughts? There`s a lots going on. And it doesn`t seem to be coherent.

REAGAN: I could not have said it better, Chris. The competence issues here are just enormous.

And it`s unsustainable. I mean, we can`t sustain statecraft like this, with Jared Kushner in charge of everything.


REAGAN: And the question of how do they coordinate with the State Department, well, indeed.

I mean, if Jared Kushner is off meeting with the Chinese and making arrangements with them, and taking care of Israel and Palestine, when do they connect with the State Department? Is the State Department in the loop on all of this stuff, or not?

MATTHEWS: I don`t think Kushner says Palestine. But we will figure that one out later.

Anyway, thank you.


SCHLAPP: It`s going to be OK, Ron. It`s going to be OK.

MATTHEWS: Thank you. Thank you, Ron Reagan.

MATTHEWS: I don`t know.

Matt Schlapp is very comfortable with his movement.

By the way, it`s all over the place.

Up next: A top-level defector from North Korea says Kim Jong-un is prepared to use his nuclear arsenal against us if it comes down to an imminent threat to him and North Korea. If he sees a tank move across the 38th Parallel, this guy is shooting them off. A little scary.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


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

An explosion tore through a subway train in Saint Petersburg, Russia, killing 11 and injuring 39. A second explosive device at another station failed to detonate. Terrorism is among the causes being investigated.

Parts of the Southeast are under severe weather threat after multiple tornadoes hit Louisiana and Texas, killing at least two people.

And Tesla has surpassed Ford to become the second largest U.S. automaker in investor value. Tesla is worth $47 billion and is second to GM -- back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

In an NBC News exclusive, Lester Holt sat down with a high-ranking North Korean diplomat who defected last year and gave rare insight into Kim Jong- un. Here goes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kim Jong-un is a person who did not even hesitate to kill his uncle a few weeks ago, even his half-brother. So, he`s a man who can do anything.

Once he sees that there is any kind of sign of, you know, kind of attack of an imminent threat from America, then he would, you know, use his nuclear weapons with ICBM.


MATTHEWS: Well, the warning comes amid rising tensions in the region, of course, which President Trump said he will solve on his own.

In an oval Office interview, President Trump told "The Financial Times" -- quote -- "China has great influence over North Korea, and China will either decide to help us with North Korea or they won`t. If they do, that will be very good for China. And if they don`t, it won`t be good for anyone. If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will."

Well, last month, North Korea reportedly launched at least three test missiles capable of reaching regional allies of ours and even the United States. Secretary of Defense James "Mad Dog" Mattis has warned that North Korea has to be stopped.

And in a recent visit to the area, Secretary of State Tillerson warned that -- quote -- "The policy of strategic patience has ended."

Well, President Trump is set to meet China`s President Xi Jinping Thursday -- Xi Jinping -- on Thursday in Mar-a-Lago.

With more now, I`m joined by Gillian Tett of the U.S. managing -- she`s the U.S. managing editor for "The Financial Times." She interviewed President Trump.

Thank you, Gillian, for joining us.

What did you -- did you have a sense of the degree of sensitivity that he needs to use in dealing with someone perhaps as set to explode as Kim Jong- un?

GILLIAN TETT, "THE FINANCIAL TIMES": Well, I don`t think that President Trump is a man who normally embraces much sensitivity or subtlety in his dealings with anybody, let alone other world leaders.

But two things came out of our interview with President Trump and other White House officials on Friday, firstly, that there`s a rising level of concern, serious concern, about what`s going on, which, frankly, is not surprising, because most of the security and intelligence reports that actually North Korea is very close to putting together what it needs to send an intercontinental ballistic missile maybe as far as the U.S.

And it well be miniaturizing nuclear technology, too, to put on that. But, secondly, Trump is a man who is a deal-maker. He is renowned for talking very tough and trying to cow his rival opponents in submission, and then backtracking a bit.

So, it`s very hard to tell whether he`s actually just talking tough ahead of this crucial summit on Thursday, to hoping that the Chinese actually relent, or whether he really does mean that he would go it alone.

MATTHEWS: Well, it was troubling when I interviewed him about a year ago, a couple days beyond a year ago, when he talked about keeping nuclear weapons on the table, a phrase he was very comfortable people have -- been using it -- on the table, as it was one of our reasonable weapons.

Even in the case of Europe, he talked about it being on the table.

TETT: Well...

MATTHEWS: So the question you have to ask is, does Trump know that weapons are there as deterrent, they`re not there to be used? You don`t use nuclear weapons. Does he get it?

TETT: Well, the Chinese leadership made a comment recently where they said that both North Korea and the U.S. seemed like trains on a track hurtling towards each other.

And by that, they didn`t just mean the strategic pressures are growing, although they certainly are. They also meant that you have, essentially, two pretty unpredictable leaders. Now, there may be people in the White House who think that the only way to cope with an unpredictable leader like the North Korean leadership is to be equally unpredictable.


TETT: They may just be doing this to bluff. Who knows?

But the reality is that tensions are rising. And in some ways, it`s ironic that people spent so much time last year worrying about Iran and Syria and things like that, when, actually, the threat from North Korea is very present and it`s rising.

MATTHEWS: Well, my concern, like anyone who has read the history of what happened in most wars, whether it`s Barbara Tuchman writing about World War I or what happened at the end of World War II with our use of nuclear weapons, is that one side will feel it`s the only way to win -- we did -- without having million people dead on the beaches of Japan.

TETT: Well...

MATTHEWS: And the other side may feel that they don`t really have to face the fact because they will be able to bluff it out.

My concern here is that Trump will think we have to move on them to prevent them from ever using a nuclear weapon, and that could ignite the use of a nuclear weapon by North Korea. That`s the concern most people would have.

TETT: Well, tragically, many wars start not because of any single thoughtful, proactive decision, but because of lots of small mistakes, until something suddenly cracks.

It`s what the sociologist Diane Vaughn called the normalization of deviance, where you keep shifting the boundaries a little way each time because you make mistakes.


TETT: And then you have an incremental slippage, if you like, that causes a catastrophe.

I mean, I really hope it doesn`t happen here. And if you want to be optimistic, here is one thing to think about, Chris. The very fact that the U.S. leadership is getting so concerned and the Chinese appear to be concerned as well might just possibly actually drive these two sides together.

And there are some people saying that actually what`s going on right now are people are talking about trade and the nuclear issue and the whole South Korean -- the whole Korean Peninsula and South China Sea. They could come together as a bundle of issues, and maybe fear on both sides, i.e., the Chinese and the U.S., will actually force them closer together than people expect.

It would be nice to think that anyway.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s going to take a nimble foreign policy.

Thank you so much.

I`m not sure we have it in our hands to do it.

But thank you, Gillian Tett, for bringing us the optimism.

TETT: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Up next, the HARDBALL roundtable and the showdown in the Senate over Trump`s Supreme Court nominee, some Trump state Democrats, states that went for Trump, are backing Neil Gorsuch. Others are holding their ground. It`s very interesting to see which Democratic senators are going to cross the aisle because they`re worried about their own re-election, which makes sense.

You`re watching HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, today, Democrats reached their magic number, lining up enough votes to block President Trump`s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, and preventing Republicans from getting those 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. Of the 10 Democratic senators up for reelection in 2018 in states that Donald Trump won last November, three of them announced that they will cross party lines, oppose a filibuster and support Gorsuch. Trump carried Joe Manchin`s state of West Virginia with 69 percent of the vote. He won Heidi Heitkamp`s state of North Dakota with 64 percent. And Joe Donnelly, state of Indiana, with 57 percent.

Severn others Trump state Democrats facing re-election in 2018 and are voting against, however, voting against Gorsuch and backing a filibuster. Two of them are especially vulnerable next year, Trump won both, Claire McCaskill`s Missouri, and Jon Tester`s home state of Montana with 57 percent of the vote.

For more on the fight over the court, let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable. Ken Vogel is chief investigative correspondent for "Politico", Sabrina Siddiqui is political correspondent for "The Guardian", and Michael Tomasky is contributor to "The Daily Beast".

In order, run through it, is this a battle of survival for the Democrats? The ones that are going over to Gorsuch simply know they can`t ignore their constituents at home.

KEN VOGEL, POLITICO: I certainly think that`s part of the calculation. But I also think there`s another side to that, which is 2018, it`s a base election. Your base is super excited for the fight --

MATTHEWS: That`s an argument for fighting Gorsuch.


MATTHEWS: Three exposed people go the other way.

Is there a base -- is there a base in West Virginia for the left? Is there a base for in North --

VOGEL: Yes, I mean, it`s a midterm election. So, that`s when the left will come out.

MATTHEWS: The left is going to roar out in West Virginia.

VOGEL: Well, it`s going to be lower turnout election. So, you need to have a base.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, THE GUARDIAN: Well, it harkens back in 2014 when you had a very difficult map for Senate Democrats and you had a lot of them break from the party and stake out their own position and it was still a terrible election year for Democrats, because hyper partisan environment regardless of the calculations Joe Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp and Joe Donnelly might be making in these red states, they still have a D next to their name.

MATTHEWS: And, by the way, and history tells us the first midterm can be just really tough.

SIDDIQUI: And it`s still not clear how big of an issue the Supreme Court nomination fight will be in the midterm.

MICHAEL TOMASKY, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, and also, Chris, these people who are up for re-election next year, they first in what, 2012, a presidential election year, when Obama was on the ballot and lot more Democrats were coming up to vote.

So, Manchin, Heitkamp, Donnelly, and maybe some others, they can`t be exactly sure and confident about what their electorate is going to be. They have to assume that their electorate is going to be different than the electorate elected them back in 2012, when most of them won fairly narrowly.

MATTHEWS: Can you count an electorate to switch? I agree with you completely, because the beauty of being a senator, rather the ugliness of it is, you win what you can win during a presidential year, because you`re with the majority people and most people show up for the Democrat, right, normally. And if you`re a public, fewer people show up, but every other time, you got to run a risky situation.

VOGEL: Yes, certainly, there is a hope on the Democratic side --

MATTHEWS: But that`s how -- let`s go to predictability. Do you think it`s going to be safer for Joe Donnelly in Indiana to vote against Gorsuch? Is that the safer vote?

VOGEL: I mean, I think --

MATTHEWS: Do you think that`s the safer vote? Heitkamp in North Dakota?

VOGEL: I think over all, maybe for them personally. But for the Democratic Party as a whole, they really want --

MATTHEWS: But that`s now how people run for office.

VOGEL: But it certainly, again, in midterm, you`re not going to have that turn out. The Trump phenomenon said there was one.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me make an argument. I`m a voter, Democratic voted for Trump. I`d say you ignored me. You just threw that back in my face. I voted for Trump and you wouldn`t let me have it. You trashed my vote.

I can hear that argument. I can hear the Republican ad campaign against that guy, can`t you?

VOGEL: Certainly.

MATTHEWS: You ignore this.

SIDDIQUI: You can hear the Republican add campaign. It`s not as though it`s going to reward Democrat who does cross party lines and vote to confirm Donald Trump`s nominee. And also, Donald Trump has record low approval rating, midterms typically to be referendum on the sitting president. And so, again, it`s hard to make the case that public opinion is really going to be shaped necessarily by this.

MATTHEWS: Look at these guys, they`re already moderate, some of them. I don`t consider moderate a bad word, you don`t get a majority without some moderates obviously. Manchin, he`s a West Virginia, former governor. Heitkamp I think is a moderate and Donnelly is, I think.

But then, you get down to McCaskill. She`s such a tough cookie. She`s a tough warrior. She takes on tough races all the time.

Tester, another moderate, I think he seems moderate. Sherrod Brown is such a progressive labor guy, he can`t hide under the bush and say, "I voted for Gorsuch," that wouldn`t help.


MATTHEWS: He is who he is.

VOGEL: The Democrats who voted for Trump did so on sort of an economic motivation. The Supreme Court nomination is all about the social issues.

MATTHEWS: You laugh at that, but women, gay people, there`s a lot of reasons that it cuts right there to quick, I mean, right who they have to live as, right?

VOGEL: I mean, I just don`t think that`s Supreme Court, Supreme Court nomination is going to hurt a member of the opposite party, even if it will, it will --

MATTHEWS: Maybe I remember Anita Hill, but there`s a lot of women that got elected in `94.


TOMASKY: I know, I know West Virginia, I`m from there. My dad knew Joe Manchin`s uncle, who was a long time secretary of state. So, I know the state pretty well.

He`s got to vote for Gorsuch. He, you know, he`ll just get clobbered. The Republican Party is going to come at him with millions and millions of dollars and try to take him out, and Chuck Schumer knows this obviously and Chuck Schumer thinks, hey, I`ll take a Democrat in that -- from that state any time.

MATTHEWS: Yes, he`s got to release a bunch of these guys. He can release up to 59 of them, up to 59.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, it looks like 55 -- how many votes -- how many Democratic -- how many total votes for Gorsuch, 55, 56?

VOGEL: Maybe fewer even.

SIDDIQUI: I would say about 55.

TOMASKY: Fifty-five, just those three.

MATTHEWS: Fifty-five right now, no more. Thank you -- 55.

You don`t think it`s 55?

VOGEL: If you look at the ones who are on the fence that could end up voting with the Democrats, it`s possible.


VOGEL: The roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these people tell me something I don`t know.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Great friend and ally and the United States --


MATTHEWS: Well, today, President Trump, you can see in there, meeting with president of Egypt, al-Sisi, and called himself a great friend and ally of the Egyptian leader, whoa!

Well, during the Obama administration, al-Sisi was barred from the White House because of his record on human rights. At least 40,000 political prisoners had been detained during al-Sisi`s rule.

We`ll be right back.


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

Ken, tell me something I don`t know.

VOGEL: Well, my sources in the White House tell me there`s a lot of resentment for Jared Kushner and his growing portfolio. So much so that there was an "Onion" story, in the parody newspaper with the headline Jared Kushner quietly transferred, solved Middle East crisis to next week`s to-do list. White House staffers passed that around and got a laugh at his expense.

MATTHEWS: We did this in the second block tonight.

VOGEL: I get headlined up.

MATTHEWS: Pretty much. We had this covered. But thank you.


VOGEL: You did that.

MATTHEWS: I`m teasing.

VOGEL: I`ve got to watch for it closely.


SIDDIQUI: You may recall that Tulsi Gabbard, Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii, met Bashar Assad in Syria in January. Now, today, a Lebanese newspaper is claiming that she carried a message from Donald Trump asking to take a call from him. Now, her office is disputing this account. But Donald Trump and the White House refused to comment on it.

MATTHEWS: Ten seconds left.

TOMASKY: Government shutdown. It`s 25 days away, right? April 28th? No, in the legislative calendar, it`s six days away because they`re going to be out of session for most of April. It`s gone to be a panic.

MATTHEWS: The real thing is October, right?

TOMASKY: I don`t know April 28 is pretty serious.

MATTHEWS: They`ve got to pay for that wall. Democrats aren`t going to pay for it.

Ken Vogel, thank you, Sabrina Siddiqui and Michael Tomasky.

When we return, let me finish with Trump Watch.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Monday, April 23rd, 2017.

In a world of danger, Donald Trump looks like he`s put much of it in the hands of son-in-law. Let`s see. The Middle East, Mexico, Canada, the list goes on and American ambassador appointed out of personal connection will have his or hands filling with one country. Jared gets the planet to swirl about.

Trump is also giving him charge of overhauling the entire U.S. government from the ground floor up. He`s made Jared a 21st century Hoover Commission.

Does this bother you a little? Does it make you wonder if the real reason Trump`s dumping all of this power into the hands of the guy who married his daughter is that he doesn`t know anyone better to do the job?

Well, this is a difficult, complicated, too often scary world that takes knowledge, political skill and as yet indefinable factor to master the globe in this century. We have allies that need tending, adversaries that need watching, and outright enemies who needs fighting.

So, why isn`t Trump open to picking people to do the job to help him do the job who knows more than he does? Why does he pick a member of the family he knows primarily how to deal not with the world, but with him, Donald Trump?

Nepotism has been rejected over these centuries for the simple reason that while it works for the sovereign, it doesn`t work for the country or the people. It serves the interest and comfort of the leader but not those of the people. In a represented democracy like ours is the reason it`s been discredited, and more and more of this presidency does resemble nothing -- while nothing before it with a possible exception of the Romanovs, the last royal family of Russia. Maybe that tells us something.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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