Show: Hardball with Chris Matthews Date: April 4, 2017 Guest: Denny Heck, Simon Marks, John Dean, Cynthia Alksne, Jay Newton-Small, Mark Jacobson, Nayyera Haq
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Moscow nights.
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
The big news of the week remains the investigations into Russia`s meddling in our election and the reciprocal role played by the Trump people. Here are the latest headlines. "The Financial Times" reports that the FBI is setting up a special section based here in Washington to coordinate its investigation.
According to "The Times," the move is a sign of how seriously the bureau is taking allegations of Russian meddling into American politics and is also aimed at giving FBI director James Comey greater visibility into the investigation and its details. There will be more than 20 dedicated agents working on the investigation. They will brief Comey on a weekly basis.
Meanwhile, NBC News has confirmed that bombshell "Washington Post" report that the United Arab Emirates arranged a secret meeting in January, a week before the inauguration, 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. "The Post" noted that Prince presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump.
The Blackwater founder gave a quarter of a million dollars to the Trump campaign and pro-Trump super-PACs last year, and he`s been seen in the Trump`s transition offices in December. A spokesman for Prince rejected the story and the White House called the suggestion of a back water (ph) channel ridiculous.
Well, meanwhile, as the investigation of the Trump-Putin connection moves forward, Trump pushes stories that distract attention from the investigation. Yesterday, for example, Bloomberg`s Eli Lake reported White House lawyers last month learned that the former national security adviser, Susan Rice, requested the identities of U.S. persons in raw intelligence reports on dozens of occasions that connect to the Trump transition and campaign, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter. Well, today, President Trump re-tweeted a Drudge Report headline about that story.
In an exclusive interview with Andrea Mitchell, by the way, Susan Rice today explained there is a big difference between requesting information about sources in intelligence reports and surveilling political opponents, as President Trump has alleged.
Let`s watch her.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUSAN RICE, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The allegation is that, somehow, Obama administration officials utilized intelligence for political purposes. That`s absolutely false.
There were occasions when I would receive a report in which a U.S. person was referred to -- name not provided, just U.S. person. And sometimes in that context, in order to understand the importance of the report and assess its significance, it was necessary to find out or request the information as to who that U.S. official was.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, said the White House is trying to change the focus and divert the investigation into his campaign`s ties to Russia. Let`s watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: If anyone in the White House had a concern about any of these materials, they should have been shared and not gone through this charade that we saw over the last two weeks.
What prompted that? What was the urgency there, when we`ve already asked for materials about incidental collection? And I have to think the urgency was created at that Monday hearing when James Comey said not only there was no truth to the president`s claim that he was surveilled or wiretapped or what have you, but also when the FBI director said that the Trump campaign team was under an FBI investigation. I think this was the response to that rather breath-taking hearing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Congressman Denny Heck of Washington state is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Simon Marks is the chief correspondent for Feature Story News, and David Corn is Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones."
Congressman, let me ask you about this. What do you make of this investigation and now the fact that Comey, the FBI director, is really kind of focusing attention, creating a special section to go into what happened between Russia and the Trump people?
REP. DENNY HECK (D), WASHINGTON: So one former FBI agent indicated that this represents a surge in resources. Anybody associated with the Trump orbit that was involved in Russia financial entanglements probably was calling their lawyer today, Chris. That`s what I make of it.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about this other latest bombshell story, that there was a meeting nine days before inauguration between the Blackwater founder, who`s the brother of the person -- Betsy DeVos, of course, who was named by Trump to be secretary of education, her brother, the guy who met over in the Seychelles with the Putin guy, gave a ton of money to Trump.
What is a huge backer of a presidential candidate who has already become a president-elect doing fishing out there, putting together relations with Russia? I don`t know whether it`s illegal, but it certainly suggests more entanglement between the Trump folks and the Putin folks.
HECK: Chris, there`s so much smoke here. Every smoke alarm in the house is going off. There`s so much smoke here, you can`t see a foot in front of your face.
Listen, this thing is taking on a life of its own. It`s gathering speed. It`s the Senate. It`s the FBI with new resources. And by the way, I have it by word tonight that the House is going to get its investigation back on track. The chair and the ranking member, I believe, are near agreement on a witness list so we can enter the auction. (ph)
And as I have said all along, I wouldn`t be the slightest bit surprised if there aren`t also some local prosecutors looking into some things like this.
MATTHEWS: Is the chairman of your committee his own man?
HECK: Well, Chris, I`m going to give him the benefit of the doubt of an opportunity to get this back on track.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me put it this way...
HECK: I asked him to recuse himself. I think that was the right thing to do. But right now, let`s focus on getting it back on track.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me -- the reason I asked that is obvious, but I also know from a former member of the House who`s now in the Senate once told me that when you go into markup and you actually have to write bills, you can sometimes realize that one of your colleagues is in the tank with some corporation. They just begin to behave like they`re not really their own person.
We`ve seen pretty adequate evidence that Mr. Nunes is not his own person. What`s he doing hanging around, picking up the laundry from the White House and taking it back to the White House after he`s cleaned it by saying he`s an investigator? He wasn`t an investigator. He was a delivery boy, bringing this stuff back that they gave him and saying it was news, and alarming news.
If that isn`t show-boating for the president, I don`t know what is. What do you think it was?
HECK: Well, I think the best thing that can be said about it is that it`s ham-handed.
MATTHEWS: Well, that`s true.
HECK: As I`ve said all along, I feel like I`m watching a 3-D movie -- deception, deflection and distraction. That`s what he`s trying to do. But it`s not going to work.
MATTHEWS: One of your colleagues on the committee, Joaquin Castro, another Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said on CNN just late today he thinks some of President Trump`s associates -- that`s a nice word for them -- could end up in prison or in jail, he said. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), CALIFORNIA: I guess I would say this, that my impression is I wouldn`t be surprised after all of this is said and done that some people end up in jail.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN: Really? And how high does that go, in your suspicion? That`s all we could call it right now.
CASTRO: Well, that`s yet to be determined.
BLITZER: You`re confident that at least some Trump associates will wind up in jail.
CASTRO: If I was betting, I would say yes.
BLITZER: Including some who are still -- who are working in the new administration or people who worked or advised the president during the campaign and maybe during the transition.
CASTRO: As you can imagine, Wolf, I`ll have to comment on that later. But again, if somebody asked me my impression, I would -- my impression is that people will probably be charged, and I think people will probably go to jail.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Congressman, last question to you. What do you make of Michael Flynn, the general who was head of national security, asking for immunity? Immunity means immunity from prison, basically. He must think something`s coming his way.
HECK: Well, I can only quote General Flynn, who said nobody asks for immunity that hasn`t committed a crime.
Can I just respectfully disagree...
MATTHEWS: Yes. Go ahead.
HECK: I want to -- I want to -- I want to respectfully disagree with my dear friend, Joaquin Castro, next to whom I sit on the Intelligence Committee. He said he would not be surprised if people ended up going to jail. I will be surprised if people don`t end up going to jail.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you very much, Congressman Denny Heck of Washington state, right?
HECK: Yes, sir.
MATTHEWS: Thank you so much.
Anyway, let`s go back to these other folks. Let me go to Simon first and then David. This thing is getting coherent. Comey is taking it seriously, by outward effect. What do you make of it all?
SIMON MARKS, FEATURE STORY NEWS: Well, look...
MATTHEWS: And people are talking about immunity. We`re getting more information about the Seychelles. You don`t meet in the Seychelles if you want the people to know about it.
MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) way in the Indian Ocean as you can go to meet anybody!
MARKS: Look, I`m not that -- I`m old enough to remember when Sean Spicer was standing behind that lectern at the White House just a few weeks ago assuring everybody there`s nothing to see here, time to stop digging. Everybody that`s looked into this...
MATTHEWS: That`s before Melissa McCarthy...
MARKS: ... has found nothing...
MATTHEWS: ... took over his podium there.
MARKS: Now you`ve got the FBI surging resources, according to "The Financial Times." That is a very, very clear indication that they think there`s something there to dig into and to get their teeth into.
MATTHEWS: And Trump gets more and more -- for a man that you would think - - well, I don`t think he`s totally innocent of any of these relationships (ph). There`s no reason to believe he doesn`t have Russian connections. But every time this gets tighter around his neck, he starts going crazy with the tweets over the weekend.
MATTHEWS: ... shooting up the fireworks.
DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, look at this. He keeps calling this a hoax. That`s his word, it`s a hoax. It`s a hoax. Fake news, fake news. You have the director of the FBI, that he oversees as president, saying, actually, this is not a hoax.
And this is getting more intense, less intense after looking at it for nine months (INAUDIBLE) It shows me that Comey is not dismissing it. He`s finding more to focus on. You have Republicans who lead the intelligence committees, even Nunes, saying this is real. You have Nikki Haley saying this is real. So what does it mean that all these Republicans...
MATTHEWS: Nikki Haley has said that, as well.
CORN: Yes. All these Republicans, people in his own cabinet say it`s real, and he keeps saying it`s a hoax.
MATTHEWS: I think Nikki Haley sees herself having a future. That`s why she`s keeping herself clean.
MATTHEWS: Have you noticed the opera aspect of this? First of all, he goes after Donna Brazile. OK, Donna Brazile passed some stuff she shouldn`t have back there in the day she worked at CNN as a contributor, but also as primarily DNC chair at the time, passed, apparently, some questions from a debate to Hillary. That shouldn`t have been done.
But why is he going back after that? Why is he going after Hillary`s performance in the debate, which he did the other day, this weekend. Why is he going after Susan Rice? It`s like he pulls out -- he`s like an old deejay. He pulls out the old records from 20 years ago and plays them again.
MARKS: Well, he`s like the magician who`s saying, Don`t look over here, look over here. He`s desperate to get everybody to divert their attention today. I do think Susan Rice...
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s watch that. As soon as reports about Susan Rice`s role in unmasking the names of Trump associates emerged, many Republicans pounced. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe Susan Rice abused the system, and she did it for political purposes. She needs to be brought in and questioned under oath.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She did an interview 12 days ago. Was she forthcoming in that interview, Senator?
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have no idea. But when it comes to Susan Rice, you need to verify, not trust.
SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: Susan Rice is the typhoid Mary of the Obama administration foreign policy. Every time something went wrong, she seemed to turn up in the middle of it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: OK, Bates Motel. Anyway, Mike Huckabee tweeted yesterday, "Donald Trump will await apology from the media now that he has revealed Susan Rice unmasked names. Orange jumpsuit in (INAUDIBLE) "
CORN: Oh, God.
MATTHEWS: I mean, Huckabee has no shame. These guys are trooping along like camp followers of Trump.
MARKS: They`re looking for a pinata.
MARKS: They found one in Susan Rice. I do think...
MATTHEWS: Notice it`s always a female? Just a thought.
MARKS: That`s also true. But I do think she slightly played into their hands.
MATTHEWS: Typhoid Mary?
MARKS: No, clearly not. But the best things...
MATTHEWS: OK, look...
MATTHEWS: Susan Rice`s job is to watch national security. As she told Andrea today, our colleague, she made it very clear that what she was doing is making sure, when she saw an American name show up in a surveillance of a foreign perhaps agent, she wanted to know who that was. What`s wrong with that?
CORN: There is nothing wrong with that.
MATTHEWS: What`s wrong with that?
MARKS: I don`t think there`s necessarily anything wrong with it. I think, unfortunately for Susan Rice, she`s given two contradictory interviews, an interview to PBS a couple of weeks ago where she said nothing to see here and...
MATTHEWS: Well, she said there was no surveillance. She wasn`t saying she didn`t pick up some names by asking through proper authority who are they talking about.
CORN: You know...
MATTHEWS: And by the way, this is all after the election. This wasn`t politics. Go ahead.
CORN: At the end of the day, we need some element of decency. When Rand Paul gets out there and says she`s abused this right -- there is not an iota of evidence that she`s abused anything. Calling her Typhoid Mary -- she -- all we know now is that she did her job.
Did she do something wrong? There is no information indicating that. So they are making her -- you know, basically, they`re defaming her without any reason to do so because she`s a woman, maybe because she`s a black woman, maybe because they didn`t like her during Benghazi. This is all about the...
MATTHEWS: ... a little British commentary from me right now. Remember that great scene in "Man for All Seasons" where Henry the 8th, Robert Shaw, steps into the muddy water when he gets off the boat and all the courtiers jump in the muddy water with him? That`s what we`re watching, led by Huckabee.
Anyway, Simon Marks, thank you, David Corn.
We have some breaking news right now to report. The South Korean military has confirmed that North Korea has just fired a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan. It comes just days before President Trump is set to meet with the Chinese president.
Well, NBC`s Lester Holt is at the Osan Air Base in South Korea, where these missile launches are tracked. Lester, what can you tell us about this disturbing news?
LESTER HOLT, ANCHOR, "NBC NIGHTLY NEWS": Chris, we`re getting confirmation now not only from South Korean officials but also U.S. Pacific Command. This missile was launched on the east coast of North Korea. This would be the seventh in the last two months, a ballistic missile that traveled about 37 miles before going down in the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan.
This comes just on the heels of the North Koreans issuing more statements against the joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises going on here. We were on some of those exercises yesterday. They continue to train together for eventualities here, including -- a lot of what we saw was dealing with the possibility of weapons of mass destruction.
Now, we can tell you that that missile would have been tracked at the air operations center here at Osan Air Base. It`s about a 10, 15-minute walk from where we are. It is underground. It is very secure. And we had rare access there a couple of days ago. U.S.-South Korean operators -- they have just moments to react when these things happen. They`ve got to identify the launch point and do the math or the computers do the math very quickly to figure out where it`s going to come down. In other words, is it an attack, or is it going to be a harmless test, as this turned out to be?
But it is a time of rising tensions, certainly, on this peninsula. We`ve spent the last four days with various military units. They continue to train to the standard they always do, and their slogan is "Ready to fight tonight." In other words, things could flip, they know, on this peninsula at any moment, and their posture is to be ready to go at any moment, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Lester Holt at Osan Air Base in South Korea. Lester, of course, is an anchor of the "Nightly News" for NBC News.
Coming up -- should President Trump`s former national security director, Michael Flynn, get immunity? He says he has a story to tell to pay for that immunity, but would that story net the bigger fish? Well, Donald Trump perhaps? That`s the question everyone`s asking. Former Watergate whistleblower and Nixon White House counsel John Dean joins us in just a minute.
Plus, today`s Equal Pay Day, the day that symbolizes how far into a new year women must earn to catch up with men from the previous year. Ivanka Trump says we need to close that pay gap, but her dad rolled back an Obama regulation last month that ensures federal contractors pay women the same amount as their male counterparts. So what gives?
And the HARDBALL roundtable is here to talk about how Trump can deal with Russia when Russia continues to prop up a murderous regime down in Syria.
Finally, let me finish tonight with the same story (INAUDIBLE) from history, actually, past and present tied to the top college basketball team in the country, UNC.
And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump is blaming his predecessor`s policies after a suspected chemical attack in Syria killed at least 83 people, including 25 children. The pictures are horrible. We want to warn viewers that the pictures from that attack are very graphic in nature, to put it lightly.
Syrian activists say the attack happened in a northern rebel-held region, and hours later, a field hospital in the area was also hit. Eyewitnesses say the attack was launched by an air strike from Syrian and Russian warplanes and activists say it bears all the hallmarks of the Assad government. Both Damascus and Moscow deny responsibility.
In a statement today, President Trump condemned the attack, calling it a consequence of the Obama administration`s weakness -- that was his word -- on the war in Syria back in 2012 when President Obama said chemical weapons used in Syria would cross a red line. A year later, the Assad regime used chemical weapons against civilians, and President Obama didn`t act.
At the time, Trump repeatedly urged Obama not to use force. Well, he agreed with Obama not to use force in Syria at that time. Well, today, White House press secretary Sean Spicer says Bashar Assad`s government in Syria is a political reality, but McCain says Trump needs to take a more forceful stand against the Syrian president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I want to hear him say we`re going to arm the Free Syrian Army. We`re going to dedicate ourselves to the removal of Bashar Assad, and we will not sit by and watch chemical weapons being used to slaughter innocent women and children.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that`s not the Trump view. We`ll get much more on what Trump may do about the war in Syria, especially given Moscow`s support for Assad, later with our roundtable tonight.
And we`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The big question about Michael Flynn and his request for immunity is whether his testimony can bring down the president, of course. In his statement last week, Flynn`s attorney suggested his client might possess information that could be useful to investigators, saying: "General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit."
That`s how he put it.
Well, does the story have to tell have to do with Trump`s dealings with Russia? Flynn`s lawyer is certainly no friend of the president. According to BuzzFeed News, he once describes Donald Trump as a Manchurian Candidate, questioned his ties to Vladimir Putin, and queried his unwillingness to release his tax returns.
Flynn also had good reason to trade what he may have on Trump to save himself from a potential prison term. If it`s found he lied to the FBI, for example, that could otherwise mean a felony charge.
Well, back in 1973, former White House counsel John Dean -- there he is -- the key witness who exposed President Nixon`s Watergate cover-up was granted what is called use immunity. That meant what he said to the committee, the Watergate Committee, could not be use the against him in a criminal action.
Well, today -- well, anyway, Dean`s testimony was corroborated, of course, by the White House tapes. He proved to be very good at his testimony in terms of accuracy and honesty. And ultimately, those tapes led to Nixon`s resignation, as we all know, in 1974.
There`s Nixon heading to the helicopter.
I`m joined right now by former White House counselor to President Nixon John Dean himself, and Cynthia Alksne, who is a federal -- former federal prosecutor.
Mr. Dean, thank you for joining us.
I -- when I hear immunity, I hear food chain. I immediately think, who above him would the public and the prosecutor like to get their hands on to have for dinner that night? In this case, it`s Trump.
How do you read it? When you first heard he was asking for immunity, what do you think he was fishing for?
JOHN DEAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Well, you certainly have to have something to trade.
And as they said back in the Nixon days, and it`s on the tapes, immunity was traded for the big enchilada. And that`s pretty accurate.
Well, what did you think at the time about the motivation behind -- well, your motivation was pretty clear, because they basically hung you out to dry. They were going to kill you, the Nixon people, from what I know. You were not going to escape their clutches. So you didn`t have much choice.
But do you think this guy -- I think this guy may be afraid of prison, because I`m looking at these disclosure forms he may not have filled out accurately. It may not seem like a big deal, but he never explained the Russian money he got, for example. I would think that might be felonious.
Your thinking how exposed he is -- as lawyers like to say, exposed?
DEAN: Well, with use immunity, of course, Chris, they can collect evidence before he testifies, and have that evidence in their possession and still prosecutor him even if he testifies about it before the Hill.
So, it`s a very limited statute.
MATTHEWS: Suppose he gets an immunity bath.
DEAN: Well, that`s different.
Transactional immunity, that`s going to have to be granted by the prosecutors. The Congress doesn`t have that power.
MATTHEWS: Yes. I see.
Let me go to Cynthia.
You know all this from every side, as a prosecutor and everything. What do you think is in the works here, just inside, inside what`s going on the committees? What are they really fishing back and forth for?
CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, it`s way too early for them to give anybody immunity, and I don`t think they will.
And the more information he has, the less likely it is they are to give him immunity, because it messes up a federal case down the road.
MATTHEWS: But who cares about Flynn?
ALKSNE: Well, everybody cares about winning and about knowing exactly what their case is, and they are not going to throw it away.
Here`s the deal.
MATTHEWS: Would a prosecutor give up a chance to get somebody bigger, like the president, in order to nail somebody lower down?
ALKSNE: Yes, but there`s no reason to do it now.
And you`re more likely to mess up the whole case. What happened after Ollie North was prosecuted was that, because the -- he had gotten immunity in the Congress, it messed up the federal case, and it changed the law. And now everybody is gun-shy.
So no one is going to give him immunity and agree that he should have immunity at the congressional level. My hunch is, what`s happening is, his lawyer would love for him to get immunity, so he can mess up the federal case. And that`s the game he`s playing. And it`s just not going to work this time.
MATTHEWS: Go ahead, John. Your thinking.
DEAN: I agree with that a hundred percent, that the lawyer is trying to mess up a federal case.
We don`t know if there is or is not a grand jury at this point. But getting immunity at this stage would certainly make it harder for the feds and rely on the precedent in the District of Columbia that Ollie North set, where you really won`t let the government get two bites out of the same Apple. So, that`s -- clearly, that`s what the lawyer is doing.
MATTHEWS: Well, shortly before you were fired by Richard Nixon as his counsel, President Nixon was heard on the White House taping machine fretting over whether you would turn on him and whether you possessed any damaging information.
This is an unusual case. We have it all on tape, as you know, John. Let`s listen to history.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
RICHARD NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don`t think that kicking Dean`s ass out here is going to do it. I`m not ruling out kicking his ass out, but I think you have got to figure, what the hell does he know that he could do? What kind of blackmail does he have?
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, the taping system, John, is always better on the telephone, as you know.
MATTHEWS: And it not -- there, it is kind of a rackety sound in a big hall. But it`s just the Oval Office.
And he thought that you might hurt him, because you knew -- you were in on the meetings. You knew what he`s up to. You knew his M.O.
DEAN: Well, initially, he said he had no meetings with me, but then it turned out he`d had 37 on the subject of Watergate.
DEAN: So, suddenly, there was much more there than he thought.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you a question on that.
DEAN: And, of course, my conversations aren`t the worst.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of Nixon and Trump? What would you compare them? How would you compare them?
DEAN: Well, they`re different and similar.
They have similar personalities. Nixon, of course, was behind closed doors, where Trump is right out there, in their hostility towards the media, their collection of enemies, their desire for revenge. So, they have that similarity.
But, as I say, Trump`s out front about it, whereas Nixon was rather a shy public person in many regards.
Who do you think -- who do you think had more fun, Trump or Nixon? I get the feeling Trump enjoys it to an extent, until the sun comes down, and then he`s totally alone around after 6:00. I just -- and then, by 6:00 in the morning, he`s just nuts to communicate with somebody. He gets on the Twitter machine.
DEAN: Well, one of the differences, of course, Nixon drank.
DEAN: And he was pretty -- pretty well gone in the early evening. And that increased as Watergate got more serious.
Trump doesn`t drink, so maybe the tweets will increase.
MATTHEWS: Well, in your column, by the way, in "Newsweek," John, you describe how Donald Trump has broken all the norms you have come -- we have come to expect from our presidents.
Quote -- here`s your words -- "His behavior is so outrageous, it appears un-American. It`s certainly beyond simply being unorthodox, because ignorance at this level is neither tolerable nor excusable."
I can see Trump, John, making all the mistakes that he could possibly make because he doesn`t know they were all made before.
DEAN: I know.
MATTHEWS: Because Nixon knew everything that happened before. Nixon was knowledgeable.
Anyway, I want to go to Cynthia on this.
Cynthia, this -- what would you recommend Mr. Trump to do right now? Come clean on all his relations with Russia or let it -- or fight it out and...
ALKSNE: Oh, he won`t do that. He`s going to fight it out and stonewall.
That`s exactly what`s going to happen. The interesting thing is...
MATTHEWS: But it`s not all necessarily criminal, if you look at it from a certain perspective.
ALKSNE: Yes, but...
MATTHEWS: You can argue he`s just trying to save the country by bringing peace to the Middle East through Russia`s hands and joining us in helping us end the fight in Syria.
I mean, he can argue that.
It will be interesting to see how Trump -- how the prosecution team eventually actually deals with Flynn. I don`t really agree with you that he`s worried about his exposure in terms of jail time.
ALKSNE: I think -- Flynn. I think he`s motivated by revenge.
You know, he treated the Obama people that way when they fired him, and now he`s been hung out to dry by the Trump people. I think you -- as a prosecutor, I would be appealing to that desire of his to get his reputation back.
He`s been destroyed. He`s discredited. He has no way to make money. He`s a liar in the public eye. I think there`s a way to get him to come along.
MATTHEWS: Yes, it could be both.
John, do you think it`s both rules, both motives, self-preservation, keep yourself out of prison? I mean, if your attorney says to you, you could face two or you could face 20, we got to be careful here, or here`s your chance to get even with Trump.
DEAN: Well, that`s an issue. I think it could be some of both. Certainly, he doesn`t want to -- no one wants to go to prison.
Federal white-collar criminals, it`s not the same as a lot of state hellholes that people get put in, but not a pleasant place.
And I think Cynthia makes a good point about his reaction to his former firings. He`s a man that seeks revenge, you know, on his -- those who have done him, he feels, wrong.
MATTHEWS: I can imagine someone like Mike Flynn thinking more about those state hell -- state-run hellholes, minimum and heavy security prisons. You don`t want to end up there. Maybe going to Lewisburg or Allenwood may be imaginable, but not that.
Anyway, thank you, John Dean.
Thank you, Cynthia Alksne.
DEAN: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Up next: Today marks Equal Pay Day for 2017, the year -- actually, it`s the day when women need to work up until just to make up for what they lost last year in 2016.
Ivanka Trump is out there saying we need to close that pay gap between men and women. But the president is quietly rolling back protections for women in the workplace. He did it last month.
We`re going to talk about the father-daughter relationship here on this baby. And that`s next.
And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger. Here`s what`s happening.
North Korea has fired a ballistic missile into the East China Sea, or the Sea of Japan. The launch comes ahead of the U.S. visit by China`s president.
An Arizona sheriff is shutting down Tent City. That is the controversial complex of jails created by former Sheriff Joe Arpaio to ease overcrowding.
LGBT workers are protected from discrimination in the workplace under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The decision was made by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals -- now back to HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Last month, President Trump rolled back the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Order, a regulation that ensured federal contractors were paying women equal to their male counterparts.
Well, fast-forward to today, Equal Pay Day, when first daughter and assistant to the president Ivanka Trump tweeted: "Equal Pay Day is a reminder that women deserve equal pay for equal work. We must work to close the gender pay gap."
But during a business leaders town hall today, Ivanka wasn`t clear on how her own proposed work force initiatives would empower women.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
IVANKA TRUMP, ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: My father wants to create 25 million jobs in this country, and women need to fully participate for that to be realized and for that goal to be realized.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, the question put to her is where she stands and where does the president stand on getting equal pay for women.
She talked about a number of issues related to women, but we have yet to see any action there.
For more, I`m joined by MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle.
Stephanie, this is an unusual situation. She is a well-placed White House official with an office and a retinue and all the perks that go with it. She has power. We know that.
MATTHEWS: And the question is, does she have power to use for women?
STEPHANIE RUHLE, MSNBC ANCHOR: Well, there`s one more thing that goes with it, and that`s accountability.
Ivanka Trump has an extraordinary message, to wake up today and say it is time to address this gender pay gap and do something about it. But now she`s got to walk the walk. And she can no longer be part of this fine line, well, I`m just my father`s daughter.
Remember, when President Trump sent the tweet out attacking Nordstrom for pulling her clothing line, he said, this is just my daughter. She`s not part of the administration.
Well, now she truly is one of the most powerful women in the world. So, while Planned Parenthood is being defunded, so while policies that Obama put in place to protect women in the work force are being rolled back, the U.N. Health Fund, which helps women and girls, is no longer being funded, the question is, Ivanka Trump, when are you going to support your message with some actual action?
MATTHEWS: Well, when is she? You act like she`s an independent principal, political principal. Is she, or is she a staffer for her father?
It sounds like she`s a staffer, which means you do what the boss wants, not a person with an individual voice and point of view. You suggests she should have a point of view.
RUHLE: She does have a point of view.
MATTHEWS: I mean effect a point of view.
RUHLE: People will say -- I mean, just today, I did a panel with Chris Liddell, who is a senior White House adviser, and he said, Ivanka and Jared are the two people to bet on.
On the Sunday shows, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said we should be celebrating that Ivanka and Jared are there.
So, let`s have an open mind and an open heart. Ivanka, to Gayle King, said, if being complicit is being a force for good, then I`m complicit.
Well, guess what? There`s a huge lane to do good. Giddy up.
Ivanka Trump sat down with CBS News. She addressed criticisms that she is complicit with her father and his decisions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I hope to make a positive impact. I don`t know what it means to be complicit.
But, you know, I hope time will prove that I have done a good job and, much more importantly, that my father`s administration is the success that I know it will be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You know, history shows that nepotism doesn`t work. It works for the sovereign, as I said last night, but it doesn`t work for the people.
And that`s why, over time, no matter how many door this guy smashes through, that has been the practice. Now, there have been exceptions, like Bobby Kennedy, who spent three years while he ran his brother`s presidential campaign, his Senate campaign. He was head of the -- he was chief counsel to the Rackets Investigating Committee for three years. He knew what he was doing in Washington politics.
She`s a newbie. Her husband is a son-in-law. It is like the Romanovs. He is distributing the -- he is -- he is distributing the wealth among his family members, power.
RUHLE: Well, what doesn`t...
MATTHEWS: It`s an unusual, un-American thing to be doing.
RUHLE: Well, what doesn`t line up is the messaging and the policy.
If you think about Jared Kushner for a moment, he`s now charged with leading innovation. What`s tied to innovation? Science, technology, research. Well, NIH? No funding there.
MATTHEWS: Oh, yes.
RUHLE: Research? No funding there.
MATTHEWS: Well, this is a broader...
RUHLE: So, how are you going to do it?
MATTHEWS: This is a broader attack.
RUHLE: It`s not an attack.
RUHLE: We`re saying, listen, if Ivanka and Jared want to choose a lane, and that lane is to be senior White House advisers, well, that`s a fast lane, and you`re going to be held accountable.
MATTHEWS: Do you think they should be independent in their voice or subservient to the president?
RUHLE: I don`t think anything, Chris. I`m just here to observe.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you, Stephanie. I know I know.
Up next: Trump and the Russian connection. The HARDBALL Roundtable puts together what we know tonight and how it relates to the horror we`re watching in Syria. Can Trump cut a deal with Putin that keeps the Assad family doing what they`re doing, perhaps with poison chemicals on kids?
Wait until you see these pictures.
You`re watching HARDBALL, where the action is.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
It appears everything President Trump has done over the course of his campaign and since he`s assumed the office has been, in effect, to win a U.S.-Russian alliance to bring peace to war torn Syria. Well, this effort`s clear from "The Washington Post" report that a secret meeting was arranged in January, actually nine days before Trump`s inauguration, between Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a Russian ally of Putin. He`s a major Trump donor and a brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos meeting with the Putin guy.
Well, "The Post" describes the meeting, which took place in the Seychelles Islands, that`s out in the Indian Ocean, as an apparent effort to establish a back channel line of communication between Moscow and the president-elect and to explore whether Russia could be persuaded to curtail its relationship with Iran, including in Syria.
Well, today, we`re witnessing the brutality of Syria`s government under Bashar Assad. Under that regime, again, the pictures we`re about to show as I said before are very graphic. Assad`s regime is now the primary suspect of a chemical attack killing at least 83 people, including 25 children.
These pictures -- I`ve seen them in close-up. They`re something else. These are people washing people off of chemical weapons, trying to reduce the damage done to them already. Many of them are not going to make it as we see in these pictures.
But everybody is doing their best here to save the lives of these people that have been hit by a chemical attack. If confirmed, it would be the deadliest chemical attack since Assad`s strike in 2013 which killed over a thousand and nearly pushed the United States to retaliate at that point.
Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable. Jay Newton-Small is a contributor to "Time Magazine", Mark Jacobson is a former senior adviser to the secretary of defense, and senior fellow now at the Pell Center for International Relations, Nayyera Haq is a former State Department spokesperson.
Thank you all.
This is some foreign for me to think about, but the fact is how do you square this circle? How do you bring peace to Syria, which just keeps bleeding and people keep bleeding out of that country, trying to make it across the Mediterranean and boats that sunk in? The horror of it not just in terms of social congestion and horror but lives lost under Assad? He doesn`t seem to have that much of a heart, and yet -- and yet he can`t be removed.
JAY NEWTON-SMALL, TIME MAGAZINE CONTRIBUTOR: No.
MATTHEWS: And if Trump gets together with the Russians, even less likely he`ll be removed.
NEWTON-SMALL: And so this has been the tacit U.S. policy for years now, basically since the French bombings in Paris, that we are just --
MATTHEWS: What, live and let die?
NETWON-SMALL: Yes. It`s better to have Assad in place because that`s what the Europeans have said. I mean, the French used to be the most opposed country in Europe to Assad, and now, they`re one of the almost strongest supporters of Assad.
MATTHEWS: It used to be their country first of all. Wasn`t it theirs?
NEWTON-SMALL: At one point, yes. Because they`re basically saying that, look, we`re betting that Assad taking control of Syria is going to mean less refugees for Europe. And so, it`s the most stabilizing path right now.
MATTHEWS: If the war ends.
NETWON-SMALL: If the war ends.
MATTHEWS: But who`s going to give up over there? People in the Middle East don`t give up, do they, Marc?
MARK JACOBSON, FORMER SR. ADVIOSR TO SECTY OF DEF. CARTER: No, absolutely not.
MATTHEWS: They keep fighting. I mean, Israelis will fight for every -- some of the settlers will fight all of Judea and Samaria. The Arabs will fight for what they have. And these different groups, the Shia and the Sunni are fighting, and the Kurds now against the Arabs. It just seems like nobody ever says, oh, I give up. I`ll let you have what you have. It just keeps going.
JACOBSON: This is what happens when you cede leadership responsibilities like the United States is doing. Look, I`ll hold the current administration responsible for not doing anything against these reprehensible acts the same way I would hold the Obama administration accountable for not doing anything in 2013.
MATTHEWS: How do you deal with it? You say hold them accountable, how do you that?
JACOBSON: Well, first, I think --
MATTHEWS: If Assad stays, what do you do?
JACOBSON: I think there are two ways of going after Assad to get him to leave. I mean, the one is certainly the political dimension, and Trump`s given up on that. You know, we`re friends with the Russians. We`re going to allow Assad to stay. I`m not sure that`s the right way to do it. In fact, I know that`s not the right way.
The other way is coercive diplomacy. I do think the time is long past where we should be looking at strikes against Assad`s chemical weapon facilities, stopping his aircraft from being able to take off and I understand --
MATTHEWS: What happens if we shoot down a Russian plane?
JACOBSON: We`re going to have be to extraordinarily careful but I think --
MATTHEWS: Do you know how careful the military is? They can be very careful and still shoot down Russian plane.
JACOBSON: They still make mistakes, but what we can do is reduce the likelihood that happens by --
MATTHEWS: What happens if we shoot down a Russian plane in Syria?
JACOBSON: Well, when you have a White House that`s attuned to diplomacy, that speaks to the Russians ahead of time, and that coordinates with them, I think you reduce the likelihood of that.
MATTHEWS: But I don`t think the Russians are going to help us get rid of Assad.
NAYYERA HAQ, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: What`s the point of being friends with Russia if you can`t actually work with them to reach your own leadership objectives, right? So, we have a White House that is very close, has longstanding ties with Russia, at multiple levels. This is its opportunity for the White House, Trump, Secretary Tillerson to actually be engaging directly with Putin and talking about the human rights abuses that are going on there, to have Putin put pressure on Assad.
Short of that, there really isn`t much of an outcry in the United States for intervention. There is an outcry for human rights, horror at the images, but the same challenge that President Obama had then in going to Congress, you have people who are in Congress and in the United States, the general public, making statements condemning the attacks, but not really an interest to go to war. This is --
MATTHEWS: OK, let`s talk about the reality. We`re looking at these pictures of these kids, 25 kids. A lot of them dead now to put it bluntly, but a lot of them suffering obviously. These are kids that just got hit by a chemical weapon. This is going on and on and on and only one part of the world we see this, under Assad`s regime. We see the use of chemical weapons.
Should there be a red line again? Should this administration say no more? No mas, this is it?
HAQ: This is administration ran -- I mean Trump ran on being a man of brash military action. If he was going to chide President Obama for being weak or soft on power, then this is an opportunity for him to put his money where his mouth is and answer the $1 million question, which is what is the military action going to be?
MATTHEWS: So you`re for all attacks? All of you? Attack Assad militarily right now.
HAQ: No, I`m not.
MATTHEWS: Attack Assad militarily?
HAQ: I think there`s other options first.
MATTHEWS: Like what?
HAQ: I would be happy with that conclusion.
MATTHEWS: What`s the other one?
HAQ: No-fly zone. Diplomacy with Russia.
MATTHEWS: You`re going to use military strikes against it, they fly in certain areas.
HAQ: I think you use military threat to reach diplomatic goals.
HAQ: When those are not met, then you have the threat that you can bring to bear.
MATTHEWS: Europe is always a little bit less moralistic than we are. It just is. They`re a little older and a little more cynical.
You say they want to live with this guy no matter how he behaves.
NEWTON-SMALL: Not just him. Look, the one point in the debates where Trump was asked specifically and said, I disagree with my Vice President Mike Pence, was Mike Pence says Assad has to go, and Trump in the debate said no. Assad should stay. Assad should stay because that makes Syria more stable. And so, there`s been this kind of tacit policy, now overt policy for years that --
HAQ: Here`s the contradiction.
MATTHEWS: It`s more complicated than he thought.
HAQ: It`s not only more complicated but the Syria we thought no longer exists. The national boundary, the population that used to be Syria ten years ago is no longer there.
NEWTON-SMALL: You never could have counted for them to be back together. It is completely gone.
MATTHEWS: That`s why I think I`m with Biden in all this. I think partition is probably the best thing you do like we did in Ireland and all these other places. We hated it. They hated it in South Asia. Everybody hates partition but in the end at least it stops the blood.
HAQ: And the Europeans are the ones dealing with this on their frontline.
MATTHEWS: OK. The round table is sticking with us.
And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Well, Senate Republicans are pushing ahead toward a nuclear option so-called for President Trump`s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell today filed a cloture motion setting up a series of procedural votes on this Thursday, that`s two days from now, that will lead to the changing of Senate rules to allow for a simple majority of 50 to confirm Gorsuch.
Until now, Supreme Court nominees have needed at least technically 60 votes in the Senate to be confirmed. But Democrats have enough votes to filibuster Gorsuch`s nomination.
And we`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL round table.
Jay, tell me something I don`t know.
NEWTON-SMALL: So, Chris, in 2013, I did a profile for time of Bashar al Assad, and I interviewed a lot of his childhood friends, his -- and one of the people I interviewed when he was in surgery, surgical school, I guess, surgery, in London talked about how his father had wanted him to be a surgeon, but he didn`t like blood. So he became an ophthalmologist because he was afraid of blood.
NEWTON-SMALL: And the other thing is --
MATTHEWS: Rand Paul and he could get together.
NEWTON-SMALL: And then he got called back to Syria after his brother Bassel was killed, and his father because his trainer. Ryan Crocker was asked and has met with ambassador at the time. I interviewed Ryan Crocker and he was asked to train Bashar al Assad on his father`s behalf in international relations and Crocker said he was completely ignorant of international relations at the time, just came --
MATTHEWS: Yes, did you get a nice note from Bashar after your piece?
NEWTON-SMALL: No, we did not.
JACOBSON: So, everyone is exclaiming that Rex Tillerson has been able to reduce the impacts of the Trump budget cuts on the State Department and USAID. But I`m hearing from people that the cuts impact on USAID could be upwards of 50 percent. That means they`re already starting to plan for closing missions in exactly the types of places we need them to combat violent extremism.
MATTHEWS: To avoid war.
JACOBSON: We are in for a world of hurt.
MATTHEWS: Yes, they sometimes think the only people Americans met are military people or tourist with money. Is the Peace Corps OK?
JACOBSON: I think the Peace Corps in the end will be OK. The politics behind that are way too strong for Trump to hurt.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Nayyera?
HAQ: Billionaire China branding. It`s actually not Trump. It is Warren Buffett has for the month of march, he is the biggest investor in Coca- Cola, his face has been appearing on cherry Coke cans all throughout China. Interesting considering that we are -- the United States government has been having meetings with China this week.
MATTHEWS: They like rich.
Thank you very much, Jay Newton-Small, Mark Jacobson and Nayyera Haq.
When we return, let me finish with some history, past and present, tied to the top college basketball team in the country. You know it. It`s UNC.
And you`re watching HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with the University of North Carolina Tar Heels who last night became for the sixth time the top college basketball team in the country.
There`s some history here. That name Tar Heel came from soldiers trudging through the North Carolina pine forest. The same could be said for the Tar Heels` season this year. They trudged all the way back from last year`s loss in the last split seconds of the final game to Villanova. They came back to beat another great team, Gonzaga, with an 8-0 run in the last night`s final 100 seconds.
I loved the play at the end, especially by Joel Berry, the point guard for Carolina, who scored as I said, not just all night, just at the very times it mattered. That`s what championships are all about.
As a grad student, I spent a good year of my life in Chapel Hill, that southern part of heaven, and UNC is one of the country`s great universities, an institution, along with NC State and Duke, has helped bring North Carolina into the 21st century.
Thank God, by the way, for Dean Smith, the coach to whom Roy Williams, last night`s winning coach paid tribute to as his mentor. To North Carolina, Dean Smith was so much more, as the state itself can surely be so much more.
I hold personally to the faith that the Tar Heel State will give up to that great example of that great man of tolerance and generosity. That`s all it needs to be perfect.
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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