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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 4/5/2017

Guests: Susan Page, Michael McFaul, Bill Gavin, Glenn Thrush, Shane Harris, Richard Blumenthal, John Brabender, Jason Johnson, Michelle Bernard

Show: Hardball with Chris Matthews Date: April 5, 2017 Guest: Susan Page, Michael McFaul, Bill Gavin, Glenn Thrush, Shane Harris, Richard Blumenthal, John Brabender, Jason Johnson, Michelle Bernard

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Bannon banned.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington, amid today`s crossfire of news. Start with the dumping of Steve Bannon from the National Security Council. It looks like NSC director General McMaster finally had it with the self-styled Leninist talking government destruction and using the NSC as his political playground. I`ll bet it was the nighttime Nunes nonsense that did it -- big-time here and a big win for grown-ups.

And how about this afternoon`s Rose Garden assault on Syria? Looks like Trump has got military action at the ready. That chemical attack on those kids may have changed everything.

Third, how long can this president play Scheherazad, spinning out one story after another to shift attention from his Russian dealings?

One of the major knocks on Donald Trump from his opponents during the campaign was that he lacked the temperament to handle international emergencies. Let`s watch.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On foreign policy, Donald Trump is temperamentally unfit.

HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Donald Trump has proven himself to be temperamentally unfit and unqualified to be president of the United States!

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I wake up every day and laugh at the latest thing Donald has tweeted because he`s losing it.

I mean, we`re liable to wake up one morning and Donald, if he were president, would have nuked Denmark.


MATTHEWS: Well, today, facing mounting crises, from a North Korean missile launch to a chemical weapon attack in Syria, President Trump said he will take responsibility for handling them both.

But he also repeatedly blamed President Obama again and again. Let`s watch.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the Obama administration had a great opportunity to solve this crisis a long time ago when he said the red line in the sand. And when he didn`t cross that line after making the threat, I think that set us back a long ways not only in Syria but in many other parts of the world.

And that`s another responsibility we have, and that`s called the country of North Korea. And I`ll tell you, that responsibility could have made -- been made a lot easier if it was handled years ago.

The Iran deal made by the previous administration is one of the worst deals I have ever witnessed.

The world is a mess. I inherited a mess. Whether it`s the Middle East, whether it`s North Korea, whether it`s so many other things, I inherited a mess. We`re going to fix it.


MATTHEWS: A mess. Well, despite his current attacks on his predecessor, back in 2013, let`s not forget Donald Trump urged then-President Obama not to attack Syria. Remember that? Well, President Trump told reporters today his views on Syria and Bashar Assad were changing.

Meanwhile, there was a major shake-up on the president`s national security team. As I said, President Trump has dumped his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, from the NSC council. The decision was reportedly made by national security adviser H.R. McMaster. What`s behind that removal?

NBC`s Kirstin -- or Kristen Welker -- my friend, Kristen Welker, is at the White House. Kristen, have we -- you and I were talking today, trying to get through the machinations that led to the removal...


MATTHEWS: ... or the dumping, I`d like to say, of Bannon from the NSC. What`s behind it all?

WELKER: Well, let me give you the official line, Chris, and then I will tell you what I`ve learned in the past couple of hours. The official line is that Steve Bannon was brought in to essentially oversee the first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, to make sure that he was carrying out the president`s vision for the NSC, which essentially involved making it less bureaucratic, they said making it sort of the opposite of the NSC under the former national security adviser, Susan Rice.

Now, we also know there were tensions behind the scenes. In particular, it was revealed that Ezra Watnick-Cohen (sic), who is one of the names who was involved in that whole giving of intelligence information over to Intelligence chair Devin Nunes -- his job was protected by Stephen Bannon and some others after H.R. McMaster, the new national security adviser, wanted him out. So we know that that may have ruffled a few feathers behind the scenes.

I`m also told, according to one of my sources, that there are some tensions between Bannon and Jared Kushner, who is, of course, the president`s son- in-law and one of his top advisers, as well.

The question is, what does this mean, Chris? This is a big shake-up, certainly. He`s not going to be at the principals` table per se. He still is going to be in high-level meetings. He still has the highest national security clearance, or security clearance, I should say, here at the White House. So he`s still going to be engaged in a lot of these high-level meetings and having a seat at the table.

However, he`s not going to be making the decisions for the national security, particularly when it comes to some of those foreign policy tests that you just mapped out with North Korea and with Syria, Chris. So this certainly is a big shake-up less than 100 days into this administration, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Well, thank you so much, Kristen Welker from the White House.

President Trump today called the chemical attack on civilians in Syria an affront to humanity, and he said it crossed a lot of lines for him. President Trump also said he stands by his statement put out by the White House yesterday that said, "These heinous actions by the Bashar Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration`s weakness and irresolution. President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a red line against the use of chemical weapons, then did nothing."

For years, Donald Trump, by the way, has said he was against taking action against Assad. Let`s watch.


TRUMP: Now it`s such a mess over there with everybody involved, and the airspace is very limited. You know, it`s not that big an area. The airspace is very limited. So now you have -- what, are we going to start World War III off of Syria?

I would have stayed out of Syria, and I wouldn`t have fought so much for Assad, against Assad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What you`re saying is Assad can stay in power. That`s not your interest. Your interest...

TRUMP: No, what I`m saying is we have bigger problems than Assad.

Let Syria and Isis fight. Why are we -- why do we care? I look at Assad, and Assad to me looks better than the other side.


MATTHEWS: Well, president Trump faces a major test on that.

Anyway, joining us right now is Howard Fineman, global editorial director for the HuffingtonPost, of course, Susan Page of "USA Today" and Michael McFaul, the former ambassador to the Soviet Union, to Russia, actually.

Let me -- let me go to a couple thoughts here. First of all, on the Bannon thing, which I really like, it seems to me what`s happened to the consigliere, his sort of in-house Leninist, who likes to bring everything down in our government, has finally got caught using the NSC as his playpen.

I think he did bring Cohen over there. He got Cohen over -- he got him over there, protected his job, probably got him to do that weird little meeting in the night with Nunes, which embarrassed everybody. No matter what the White House says, they`ve got a cover for that nonsense, it looked like a caper, and they got caught doing it. It was amateur hour, and I`m sure that McMaster, the head of NSC, said, Keep that dope out of my operation.

And number two, I`m sure that in a hothouse like the White House, Jared Kushner said, I told you he`s a little nuts. And here`s the (INAUDIBLE) I think it was a downgrade. There`s no other way to (INAUDIBLE)

SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY": I think that`s right. Now...

MATTHEWS: They took him out of the NSC. Bannon is down right now.

PAGE: He`s not gone.

MATTHEWS: He`s down.

PAGE: He`s still there, but definitely down. And (INAUDIBLE) kind of the establishment pushing back, right? Now McMaster has a relatively conventional, traditional kind of National Security Council...

MATTHEWS: It`s for grown-ups.

PAGE: ... that he is in charge of.


PAGE: And it`s also a sign of how powerful Jared Kushner is. The portfolio he has is extraordinary. I can`t think of a non-chief of staff, a non-national security adviser with the breadth of a portfolio that anyone has had...

MATTHEWS: I know a couple, Uday and Qusay in the old days of Saddam Hussein.

PAGE: In an American administration.

MATTHEWS: OK, good. Howard, do you see it...


MATTHEWS: ... the way I see it, that this is a downgrade because...

FINEMAN: Yes, of course.

MATTHEWS: ... he screwed up with this whole thing with Cohen going over there, saving his job, then apparently, detailing him to bring in Nunes with that midnight briefing.

FINEMAN: Well...

MATTHEWS: It didn`t work!

FINEMAN: OK, it`s one thing to maneuver around in Hollywood making movies, you know, which Bannon was dabbling in. It`s another thing to be second echelon at Goldman Sachs and do deals, and so on. Here you`re dealing with a guy like General McMaster, who is a past master at what goes on in this city, which is the accumulation and use of power in the national interest, especially for national security.

That`s as tough as politics gets inside of this city. And what McMaster did is bide his time. Initially...

MATTHEWS: Oh, by the way, he looks like the guy you`re describing.

FINEMAN: He bides...

MATTHEWS: He looks tough.

FINEMAN: He bides his time. He bided his time -- he bid his time here in the sense that he asked for some changes on the staff. He asked to get rid of a couple Bannon people when he first came in, McMaster did. He lost that battle initially. And then he just sat back and waited for Bannon to make some mistakes, which, as you say, he did.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think so, probably involving the guy whose job he saved.

PAGE: A couple other mistakes Bannon made. One of them was going to the Freedom -- this is not related to national security per se. He encouraged the president, and he himself went to the Freedom Caucus during the health care debate and said, We`re taking names. You`re either with us, or we`re going to destroy you.

MATTHEWS: This is Bannon?

FINEMAN: This is Bannon.

MATTHEWS: Didn`t work. Let`s go to...

FINEMAN: It didn`t work. And Trump likes nothing less...


FINEMAN: ... than a ploy that doesn`t work.

MATTHEWS: That`s how he made his money.


MATTHEWS: Let`s turn to Syria right now, serious business. Today, President Trump said in the Rose Garden his view on Syria and Assad, Bashar Assad, is changing. You bet. Watch this.


TRUMP: I like to think of myself as a very flexible person. I don`t have to have one specific way, and if the world changes, I go the same way. I don`t change. Well, I do change. And I am flexible, and I`m proud of that flexibility.

And I will tell you that attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me, big impact. And it`s very, very possible, and I will tell you it`s already happened, that my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.


MATTHEWS: Ambassador McFaul, This is a dramatic statement from a guy who we all thought was hooked up with Putin on dealing with Assad and keeping Assad as part of his grand arrangement for the future. And now it looks like he`s ready to just chop the guy`s head off because he nailed him. He said he did the chemical attack. I`m not sure we`re sure of that, but he certainly said he did.

And it looks like there`s no way he can do any business with this guy. In other words, the whole Russian notion of, you know, a north-south fight with us on the side of the Russians against ISIS and everybody else looks like -- it doesn`t look very good right now.

MICHAEL MCFAUL, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Absolutely. I mean, he made a giant policy change today, at least rhetorically. He made it clear that he didn`t like what happened, and it`s going to lead to policy changes.

Now, there`s problems with that. It`s easy to talk tough. It`s harder to follow through on a policy that executes on that. And now he faces a real dilemma, the same dilemma, by the way, that President Obama faced in 2013 when I worked for him.

Everybody was outraged by it, but what is he going to do, in particular because Vladimir Putin is Mr. Assad`s ally? I actually hold the Russians responsible for those chemical weapons still being there. We worked with them back in 2013 to get rid of all the chemical weapons. Apparently, that didn`t happen.

What is he now going to say not only in terms of actions in Syria, but to his colleague, President Putin?

MATTHEWS: You know, the producers around here and I -- moreso the producers -- are very upset about this chemical attack as human beings.

PAGE: These pictures...

MATTHEWS: These pictures bring home a confusing Middle East policy to a very personal level. Why would a leader use nuclear (sic) weapons against kids? And then you see what happens. They have -- they`re trying to mop them off with the poison already on them. The kids are dying in front of us. It`s indiscriminate killing of people in the cruelest way.

PAGE: I think it`s actually these pictures that prompted President Trump to change positions on Assad, although as the ambassador was saying...

MATTHEWS: Look at this. Look at this kid!

PAGE: ... he has not yet made any commitment on actual action he`s going to take. And interestingly, President Trump today did not mention Russia in his remarks, unlike Nikki Haley at the U.N., who did finger Russia as a key player protecting Assad and these attacks on civilians.

FINEMAN: And I have to believe, Chris, that there`s enough organization now within the White House with McMaster there and at the national security level, and so on, that it`s no -- that there was a coordinated thing where the president wasn`t going to go after Russia in the Rose Garden, but Nikki Haley did big-time.


FINEMAN: She called Russia out big-time, and I don`t think that was freelancing by Nikki Haley. I think that was intentional. That was interesting, and that was important.

By the way, on Bannon, it wasn`t Bannon who went to Iraq to check out the situation there recently, it was Jared Kushner who went. And Bannon was not at the White House briefing today. You know where they said he was? They said he was up on the Hill working on a health care deal. That`s punishment.

MATTHEWS: Ambassador, what do you think Putin does when he sees that the president trashes and basically indicts, if not declares war against, Assad, his guy, his fresh water -- his warm water port, his guy, his satellite, whatever? What happens to the Russians in their view of what Trump`s going to be like?

MCFAUL: Well, well before this horrible tragedy, already the Kremlin was losing faith that President Trump was going to be able to deliver on any of his campaign promises about a warming of relations with Russia, in part because it`s been rather dysfunctional in general so they don`t know what the foreign policy in, and in part because of the ongoing scandals involving Russian involvement in our elections.


MCFAUL: This is just one more chapter to that, and I`m really interested in what Secretary Tillerson is going to say when he sits down with President Putin. Is he going to repeat what the president said today?

I hope he does. But then they have to have a policy to follow through. It`s one thing to talk tough, it`s another thing to actually do something different about it.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk politics for a minute. Both of you on this side of the table can explain it. The whole tenor of news coverage by mainstream reporters -- "The Times," "The Post," everybody else, you guys -- has been that there was something going on in the campaign from the Trump side of the Russian equation.

Yesterday -- rather, today -- everything moves so fast -- this afternoon -- I mean, things are moving by the hour. They really are moving. Trump comes out against the Russian ally over there, Assad. Is this his way of clearing that up? I didn`t have a deal with Russia. Look, I`m out against their number one ally. I`m not in bed with Putin.

FINEMAN: I think he`s going to have to go a lot farther than that, if that`s what he`s up to. I think that`s part of the overall...

MATTHEWS: Just be clear (ph)?

FINEMAN: That`s part of the overall equation here, and I think that`s one of the reasons why Bannon is being slowly eased off the stage here...

MATTHEWS: Is Bannon a pro-Russian guy?

FINEMAN: ... because despite the efforts of the White House to turn that Russia story into a story of Susan Rice, you know, and all that business...

MATTHEWS: You`re doing that. That`s what they want...


FINEMAN: I`m not doing it! I`m saying despite their efforts to do it, it`s not going to work. The big surround of all of this, McMaster, the intelligence community, the fight within the intelligence community, the election, Syria -- all of it is the story of Russia and the United States.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I know.

FINEMAN: And unless Donald Trump gets clear of the notion that he`s somehow a puppet, witting or unwitting, to Russia...


FINEMAN: ... politically, he`s in trouble. The Republican base is not going to buy the notion we`re suddenly going to link arms with Russia. The Republican base is not going to buy that.

MATTHEWS: OK, what about today? Do you think...


MATTHEWS: ... breaking with Russia?

PAGE: No, he didn`t talk about Russia. I don`t think you break with Russia unless you talk about Russia. I don`t think you can...



MATTHEWS: I`m talking politically here, Susan. I`m always thinking politics, and I think Trump is, too. Thank you -- although he is episodic. And I`m not sure...

FINEMAN: He`s flexible.

MATTHEWS: ... anything is rational.

FINEMAN: He`s flexible.

MATTHEWS: I don`t think he has an ideology. (INAUDIBLE) e-mail me. He doesn`t have ideology. He doesn`t have party loyalty. He doesn`t have position loyalty. It can all flip in a second, like we saw today. Look out, Assad. We`ll see if he goes after him. I think he`s going to have to hit Assad in the next few days to back up what he was saying in the Rose Garden today.

By the way, he had the arm around him of Abdullah, a real leader, a genuine leader, the king of Jordan.

Anyway, Michael McFaul, thank you, Ambassador. Thank you, Susan Page. Thank you, Howard Fineman.

MCFAUL: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Coming up -- now that the FBI is ramping up its investigation into that connection of the Trump campaign may well have had with Russia, President Trump is throwing out bright, shiny objects.

Well, first it was Donna Brazile giving debate questions to Hillary. Well, now it`s Trump says former Obama national security adviser Susan Page (sic) was out giving out names of Trump people from intercepts. But the facts of the case say otherwise. And that`s ahead.

Plus, President Trump is nearing 100 days in office. He`s got nothing to show for it, no thing, no legislative accomplishments, nothing despite full Republican control of both houses of Congress.

And the HARDBALL roundtable is here tonight to talk about Bannon`s removal -- what a delightful topic -- from the National Security Council and the three big international tests facing the president tonight, North Korea, Syria, and later this week, China. He says he inherited a mess, but what about it?

Finally, let me finish with "Trump Watch."

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: ... prize-winning investigative reporting web site ProPublica broke the story this week that despite placing his business empire in a trust, President Trump can withdraw money from the business whenever he wants to without disclosing it. Well, that`s not separate.

Here`s what White House press secretary Sean Spicer said about that report on Monday.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Just because a left-wing blog makes the point of something changing doesn`t mean it actually happened. I`m not aware that there was ever a change in the trust. And the idea that the president is withdrawing money at some point is exactly the purpose of what the trust -- why a trust is set up, regardless of an individual.


MATTHEWS: New golf balls. Anyway, while Trump Organization attorney Alan Garten confirmed the ProPublica report that Trump could pull money from his businesses anytime he wanted to, and while that language was not included in a January 2th summary of the trust agreement, Garten says it was always part of the actual deal. Isn`t that cute?

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Ever since he claimed that former President Obama wiretapped him, President Trump has engaged in a variety of efforts to justify that allegation as a way to deflect attention, of course, from the investigation into his campaign`s potential collusion with Russia during the campaign.

Well, today, the president went further, suggesting to "The New York Times" that former National Security Adviser Susan Rice did something wrong by requesting the names of Americans swept up by incidental surveillance.

Well, it`s actually routine for a national security adviser to do her job, to make such a request for intelligence purposes. And it`s the agencies themselves, the intel agencies themselves, not Susan Rice or anybody at the NSC, that decides whether to grant those requests.

In spite of that, the president told "The Times" that this is -- quote -- "such an important story for our country and the world. It is one of the big stories of our time."

However, he declined to say if he had personally reviewed new intelligence to bolster his claim, but pledged to explain himself -- quote -- "at the right time."

Well, the president`s newest unsubstantiated allegation is likely another attempt to deflect from the Russia investigations, which could implicate top associates close to him. In fact, two members of the House Intelligence Committee, Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro and Denny Heck, both predicted yesterday the investigation into Russia and Trump will lead to convictions here.

Let`s watch.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN: Well, have you seen any hard evidence of collusion yet?

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: Well, 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.

REP. DENNIS HECK (D), WASHINGTON: 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: Well, this also comes as "The Financial Times" reports that the FBI is devoting more resources to its investigation of Trump starting next month.

Joining me right now is Glenn Thrush, White House correspondent for "The New York Times," who interviewed the president today, Shane Harris, a senior writer for national security for "The Wall Street Journal," and Bill Gavin, a former assistant FBI director in New York.

Bill, I want to start with you.

Tell me about the FBI and what it means when they create a special unit in D.C. What does that tell you about effort?

BILL GAVIN, FORMER NEW YORK FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Chris, it just -- it shows you that there`s two important things here, the gravity of the case involved and the concentration of manpower to arrive at a conclusion.

This isn`t one of those cases where, after a year`s worth of investigation, it can end up with a question mark. This is a case that has to be resolved. We have to arrive at a conclusion as to what happened in this case.

So, the way it`s set up right now, from an administrative standpoint, headquarters -- everything falls through headquarters. So, any leads are immediately covered. Headquarters has contact with all the other intelligence and investigative agencies with their headquarters in Washington, D.C., as well.

So it`s one of those things where you gather the information in the field. You bring it back through headquarters. It also gives the director the ability to have a granular upgrade every single day or every minute, if he wants it, if he hears something.

MATTHEWS: Yes, granular, I love that word.


MATTHEWS: What about if you pick a list of the dramatis personae here, like in a Shakespeare play, and you go through Carter Page, you go through Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, you go through a list of every name we have heard connected to Russia?

Would you be assured now, looking at this investigation, within a year, we will know all communications between those people and Russians? Will we know it?

GAVIN: Chris, I have been around long enough and been gone long enough to understand that you can never say -- reach any definitive conclusion with this much information that we have.

There is so much more to be done and so much more information to be garnered, that it`s very difficult to say when this thing will end.

MATTHEWS: But do you believe that we will know everything about those people I mentioned, what they had to do with Russia?

GAVIN: I have no way of knowing. I just -- that would be just a wild guess, and I don`t do those kinds of things.


Let me go to Glenn Thrush on this.

Glenn, these efforts by the administration have had success. They have been able to divert attention. They have been able to throw up a name like Susan Rice. They have been able to throw up Donna Brazile. They throw that one up the other day. They throw these names out like firecrackers. And, I mean, they explode, and they get in the press.

Is this just the power of the president we have to live with, that mainstream journalism has to cover whatever malarkey, to use a Joe Biden expression, throws out there?

GLENN THRUSH, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, thanks for -- no.

Look, the president of the United States...

MATTHEWS: Well, I am taking a shot, OK? I am taking a shot. All right? You heard it.

THRUSH: Look, if the president -- you know, the point is, if candidate Donald Trump makes these kinds of allegations, that`s one thing.

The fact that the president of the United States sitting in the Oval Office with the full power of the presidency decides to use the bully pulpit of an interview -- and, by the way, by the way, we did not prompt him to start talking about Susan Rice.

We came into the office, my colleague Maggie Haberman and I, to talk about infrastructure. We had 10 detailed questions to talk with him about infrastructure.


THRUSH: And, boom, right out of the box, he starts talking about Susan Rice.

First, he makes an allegation essentially that there are other Obama administration officials who are complicit in the same kind of unmasking behavior. We asked him for the names. He refused to provide them.

He then said again that this was one of the biggest stories in the world and how dare we as a news organization not cover it. We informed him that we have, in fact, covered it.

You know, and then, in terms of his characterization of the case, as he moved along, it became obvious to me that it was important to ask whether or not he viewed this in criminal terms. And he accepted that predicate when I asked him, do you think that you did anything wrong criminally?


THRUSH: He said that.

I think, when the president of the United States says this, you know, for good or for ill, we have to pay attention to it. It is smart tactical politics, Chris, insofar as it diverts attention.

And one thing he said in the interview that is true, Susan Rice is not a particularly polished public performer. We saw that on the Sunday shows after Benghazi. Sometimes, she appears to be sort of defensive and a little bit skittish.

She wasn`t great on "ANDREA MITCHELL" yesterday. And this is a president who`s very much looking, as you said, to change the narrative. And he pounced on it.

You know, that said, from a reportorial perspective, there are questions that need to be asked. But, as you know, a lot of the experts that we have interviewed as an organization have said it is highly unlikely that Ambassador Rice`s behavior represents a widespread pattern of surveillance against the Trump campaign.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me go to Shane on this, because I think that the president has -- he reminds me of one of those James Bond cars that spews out the oil slick behind them when they`re chasing him, you know? And the other car behind him goes skidding all over the place.

I`m not saying that Glenn did that, but they`re pretty good at that. They get the grease out onto the highway, and you don`t know which direction you`re going anymore.

Glenn`s not laughing. But this is really good.

THRUSH: I`m laughing.


MATTHEWS: I mean, but Glenn said the fact, that if a president of the United States comes out with the moon is made of blue cheese, headline above the fold, "Trump says moon made of blue cheese."


MATTHEWS: Well, I don`t know he would go that far. They might say the president has gone crackers.


HARRIS: The president is alleging a fairly vast conspiracy here.


MATTHEWS: But I don`t understand the criminal element aspect of it.

HARRIS: Well, there isn`t a criminal element.


MATTHEWS: If she checks a name out, she sees somebody is dealing with Russia or Turkey or somebody and says, who in the hell was that guy or person, and she finds out who it is -- they`re not even accusing her of disseminating it necessarily. They just said looking it up is somehow a crime.

HARRIS: Right. And there...

MATTHEWS: That`s the job of somebody looking out for security.

HARRIS: Precisely. And there`s a process.

And let`s remember something, too. This is not an allegation where Susan Rice went into some database and started unmasking names.


HARRIS: There`s a process. Several people review it. There are multiple steps.

She can only request that an identity be known.


HARRIS: That has to go over to an agency like the NSA, where it`s reviewed. They can tell her no.


HARRIS: There`s documentation of all of this. Where`s the documentation?

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk press -- let`s talk tradecraft here.

Let me go to Glenn on this.

Do -- you know this story began, as we all know, with this weird Old Testament thing, basically, that President Obama wiretapped President Trump during the campaign -- during the campaign in Trump Tower.

From that, we get this variety of possibilities that are conflated that somehow set that up as truth. Do you notice, Glenn, how they do this?


MATTHEWS: It has gotten so far afield, that it`s her checking out the names of some intercept and seeing who this person is has now somehow -- wiretapping Trump during the campaign, when now we`re talking about something that happened during the transition involving some of these peripheral figures perhaps, nothing to do with wiretapping, nothing to do with President Obama, nothing to do with Trump even, having to do with nothing.

And yet Trump uses it to back up his crazy campaign theme that somehow, during the campaign, he was being wiretapped. Your thoughts.

THRUSH: Well, look, you know, first of all, I would love to see a chart, just a chart that includes all of the news stories that that one tweet spawned.


THRUSH: Just think about this, a month of crazy diversionary coverage, the whole Nunes affair, which is quite likely...


THRUSH: Again, I still think he`s a very compromised broker in terms of his investigation. Sooner or later, he`s either going to be replaced or...


THRUSH: ... or whatever.

MATTHEWS: Well, maybe it got rid of -- maybe it knocked down Bannon a couple of pegs. We will see if that turns out.

THRUSH: Well, just like think of how much manpower and energy on the White House staff.

And the other thing about it, Chris, is, they have gone through various theories in terms of the pushback. Remember, last week, we had a former Obama administration official who had been gone since 2015 who they trotted out as saying something which Sean said from the podium was exculpatory.


THRUSH: And so it`s very, very clear that they`re looking for some pushback.

But, again, look, the Susan Rice angle, from a tactical perspective from the White House, is not a terrible political pushback. Rice has been a target of the right for a long time.

MATTHEWS: I know. They don`t like her.

THRUSH: Again, again, Chris, it gets back to the basic problem that this president has. He is always playing to the base.

So, picking on Susan Rice and creating Susan Rice as a target riles up the base. He gets a lot of these people who are sort of turned off by some of these losses that he`s had, the compromise that he was forced initially to make on health care, and he riles them back up.


THRUSH: So, the thing about the president is, everything he turns to seems to corner him in the same political box.

MATTHEWS: He spends so much time in diversionary tactics, it`s hard to believe he has time to be commander in chief. We will see.

By the way, I can`t believe to see what Bobby Moynihan has planned for you, sir.

Glenn Thrush, thank you for coming on, Shane Harris and Bill Gavin.

Up next: President Trump is closing in on his hundredth day in office, believe it or not, and so far no legislative accomplishments at all.

And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump has racked up zero wins since being inaugurated in January. And as the Politico Playbook writes today -- quote -- "Trump will get through one-third of his first year in the White House without a single major legislative accomplishment."

Republicans control both the House and the Senate of course. The president`s influence should be at its peak right now, but nothing`s getting done.

Following the disastrous breakdown of the Republican plan to replace Obamacare, of course, something they have been promising now for eight years, the prospects of passing big-ticket items like tax reform and an infrastructure package look weak.

Trump is also facing two international crises that may require a U.S. response, the chemical weapons attacks over in Syria and the missile launch by North Korea recently.

But one victory the president may see perhaps as soon as this week is the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. But since he hasn`t put any wins on the board yet, does that mean his favorite word which he has ascribed to so many rivals now applies to him?


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a bunch of babies running our country, folks.


TRUMP: We have a bunch of losers. They`re losers. They`re babies.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC ANCHOR: What would you say to George Will?

TRUMP: Well, George is a major loser.

When I watch a George Will or a Charles Krauthammer, I watched them for years. They`re losers. They`re just losers.

Look at these people. What a bunch of losers, I`ll tell you. You are a loser.


TRUMP: You really are a loser.

Well, Rosie is a loser. Rosie has been a loser for a long time.

Bill Kristol, he`s got some magazine. I don`t even know what the hell it is. What a loser. What a loser.

Like poor Mitt Romney. Poor Mitt. I understand losers. I understand losers. You can make a lot of money with losers.

I think the losers are Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.


MATTHEWS: See how he`s changed?


MATTHEWS: He`s in the White House, and he`s still talking like that.

Joining me right now is Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat from Connecticut. He`s a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Senator, let me ask you about the -- I guess Gorsuch is coming in the wrong way. Is that how you see it, without 60 votes? It looks like it`s going to happen?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: If it happens -- and there`s still hope it won`t -- it will be because Donald Trump and the Republican leadership in the Senate essentially have blown up the rules. They changed the rules and are going to win, if they do, only because they have left that wreckage in their wake.

And there`s a reason they call it the nuclear option. It has fallout. The repercussions may well be long-lasting, and they are the blame to Donald Trump, as well as to Republican leadership here.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about legislative tactics, because I remember your old mentor and my hero, Patrick Moynihan, used to talk about you have to sequence things when you bring them to the floor. In his case, you got to do health -- they said, the Clintons, when they were in that first term, instead of doing health care, which didn`t work, they should have started with welfare reform, because then we would have had a Democratic version of welfare reform, instead of the one that Bob Dole liked later on.

In this case, what seems to be the problem is, they can`t off health care, because they can`t -- if they don`t get a health care replacement, if there is such a thing, for Obamacare, they can`t do tax reform. It looks like they`re really stuck on the Republican side.

What -- well, how do you see their problem?

BLUMENTHAL: They are stuck, Chris. You`re absolutely right.

And sequencing is important. And, as our mentor used to say, everybody is entitled to his own opinions, but not to his own facts.

And the facts are about health care that it is complicated, as Donald Trump discovered. And they have yet to reconcile those conflicting facts that made the Affordable Care Act so difficult to reach as a matter of consensus.

And now Trumpcare is in tatters. The immigration reform that he touted, basically a Muslim ban, is equally in tatters, because the Supreme -- the courts have struck it down.

And the Neil Gorsuch nomination, if it succeeds, will be only because he changed those rules, which may leave the Supreme Court, as well as the Senate, a lesser institution, because he`s dragged them down. He`s demeaned the courts by his constant, relentless attack.

MATTHEWS: Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, it`s always great to have you on, Senator. Thank you for coming on.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Up next: Trump`s Svengali, Steve Bannon, the Leninist, is removed from the National Security Council, maybe for being a Leninist. He likes to shake things up and destroy institutions. By the way, the United States military is maybe our great institution.

Anyway, big problem coming up in international affairs and we don`t have any clear notion of who in the White House is calling the shots. Not Bannon anymore.

You`re watching HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

As President Trump seemed to shift his Syrian policy from one of passive observation to active engagement, his chief strategist today, Steve Bannon, was missing from the audience. That`s out in the Rose Garden today. A White House source told NBC News that Bannon, who today was removed from the president`s National Security Council, quote, "only does foreign leader things that are vital."

Well, according to NBC, he`s attended every press conference but this one. The president`s most trusted allies, Jared and Ivanka Kushner, were in the front row of course today. "Politico" is reporting that Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon have been clashing lately, and one person familiar with Kushner`s thinking tells "Politico" that Kushner believes Bannon is more of a problem than Reince Priebus. I guess Reince Priebus is considered a big problem.

For more, I`m joined by our round table, Jason Johnson, politics editor for, Michelle Bernard, president of the Bernard Center for Women, and John Brabender, Republican strategist.

By the way, Michelle, you have the same deal as King Abdullah, right? You cannot be defeated for re-election.

Let me go -- let me start with you, Michelle. This Bannon thing, I love it.


MATTHEWS: Because I think Bannon had a lot to do with this guy Cohen, who was feeding all this little material in the middle of the night to Nunes. He made Nunes look like a dunce. He humiliated him by bringing him there, made the president look peripherally like a dunce.


MATTHEWS: This caper that everybody unraveled in a matter of days or hours made the president look like he was weirdly goofy, not the kind of guy he wants to look like. I would blame Bannon.

BERNARD: Well --

MATTHEWS: And now, he`s been downgraded.

BERNARD: Well, he`s been downgraded. According to "The Wall Street Journal", I just want to tell you --

MATTHEWS: He`s a Leninist, by the way.

BERNARD: As a matter of deflection, "The Wall Street Journal" has Bannon being quoted as saying that Susan Rice -- of course everything is Susan Rice`s fault -- was operationalized the National Security Council, and he was put on to de-operationalize.

MATTHEWS: Well, he`s operationalized it.

BERNARD: And now that General McMaster --

MATTHEWS: Michelle, that`s what he did, though. But, Michelle, that`s what he did do. You`re supposed to be advisers, not running around at midnight --

BERNARD: I don`t disagree with you. I`m just saying, here`s the blame game. He says he was brought on to ensure that deoperational --


MATTHEWS: OK. The problem with their cover story, two months ago they got rid of Michael Flynn, the guy he was in there to watch.


MATTHEWS: Two months ago. The guy who is supposed to be the commissar, keeping his eye on, left. This excuse that they`ve come up with, he`s been downgraded.

JASON JOHNSON, THE ROOT: He`s embarrasses. He`s not invited to the parties the way he used to be --


BERNARD: In the front row -- I`m sorry to interrupt, but I think it`s really important. Kushner and his wife were sitting in the front row on the White House lawn today. Steve Bannon is in an avowed anti-Semite. How on earth would Kushner and his wife be able to work with a man --

MATTHEWS: Steve Bannon is an avowed anti-Semite? That`s --

JOHNSON: He`s a member of the alt-right.

MATTHEWS: He vows this? He`s really that bad?

BERNARD: Yes, he really is that bad. .

MATTHEWS: I don`t want to make light of it. I didn`t hear that before. But go ahead.

JOHNSON: Look, he`s a member of the alt-right. I don`t think he should have been in the administration to begin with, given a lot of his associations, given what Breitbart did. But here`s the other thing to remember. As long -- maybe he`s being embarrassed publicly now. Maybe he`s been taken off of NatSec. He didn`t go to meetings anyway according to most reports. He only went to one meeting.

At the end of the day, as long as he`s got open door privileges, this might be one of those oh, don`t throw me in the briar patch thing. He didn`t want -- it didn`t seem like he really cared about being on that committee.


MATTHEWS: Oh, yes, that`s what he`s going to say. All I know is when you go back and look at the clips, it was the biggest deal in the world when he got on that thing. Everybody said, how can he let some pol, some operative into national security decisions?

John Brabender, do you like this guy, Steve Bannon? It looks to me like he`s a super nationalist and probably some weird kind of Leninist he says because he wants to destroy all government institutions? That`s cool.

JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Let`s be first a little fair to him.

MATTHEWS: That`s why you`re here.

BRABENDER: It took Bob from season 2 of "The Apprentice" who got thrown off after the first episode and put him on the National Security Council.

MATTHEWS: You mean like Omarosa. You`re putting down Omarosa.


BRABENDER: My point is, here`s somebody that was an officer in the Navy, here`s somebody that had a master`s degree in foreign affairs, all that type of stuff. So, he had credibility.

MATTHEWS: We`re into credentials now.

BRABENDER: I think everybody is missing the bigger story.


BRABENDER: The bigger story is there`s a reset going on. I think the administration is very frustrated that their agenda is not going the way they thought. I think they believe and --

MATTHEWS: Who is the they, by the way? Who is part of the existing --

BRABENDER: I think Trump is.

MATTHEWS: After Trump, who else besides him? Ivanka?

BERNARD: Ivanka and Jared Kushner.

BRABENDER: Yes, if you looked at the campaign, it`s always the kids.

MATTHEWS: It`s the Romanovs. It`s the royal Russian family.

BRABENDER: Every campaign does this in the first 60 days.


BRABENDER: And what they`re doing is saying, look, Steve Bannon, what is he, he`s a strategist. Let`s get him out there. You know, let`s not put him inside the administration.

MATTHEWS: But what`s left, John? What do they have left? When they get rid of Bannon, they get rid of Michael Flynn --

BRABENDER: They didn`t get rid of him. They reassigned him.

MATTHEWS: OK, all right. Go back to Michelle.

I don`t see -- I know you`ve got Republican contacts. I don`t see anybody who survives. It looks to me like the only ones surviving are family members.


MATTHEWS: Uday and Qusay, that`s all they`ve got.

BERNARD: And this -- well, and General McMaster.

MATTHEWS: Yeah. He`s a grown-up.

BERNARD: Has survived. He got his way. He`s got his people on the NSC in the places where they should be.

MATTHEWS: He looks tough.


BERNARD: Yeah. I wouldn`t mess with him.

BRABENDER: You guys are missing how loyal Trump is. You don`t understand how loyal --


BRABNEDER: What they realize -- and I`m glad they did --


MATTHEWS: Here`s his loyalty -- Giuliani, good-bye. Michael Flynn, good- bye. Governor Christie, good-bye. Excuse me.

BRABENDER: No, no, no. They were never in.

MATTHEWS: Carter Page, Roger Stone.

BRABENDER: What they understand is that the job is half about the legislation and half about getting the narrative out there. They knew they didn`t get the narrative out there. Now, they`re moving people all around. They put Katie Walsh over at the super PAC.

MATTHEWS: Will they get any bills pass this year through?

BRABENDER: Yes, absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Which one? What they`ll get through?

BRABENDER: I think health care will get through this year.

BERNARD: Oh, wow.

JOHNSON: I don`t think there`s a chance of that happening.


BRABENDER: You saw the job that Mike Pence did --

MATTHEWS: By the way, you don`t need to tell me something because you just --


MATTHEWS: Up next, these two will tell me something I don`t know. By the way, these three have already done that.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Well, apparently, Georgetown University`s basketball team has stricter rules about nepotism than the current White House. Georgetown this week hired former star Patrick Ewing to be its new head coach. Trouble is Patrick Ewing`s son, Patrick Ewing Jr., was already on the Georgetown staff. And now, Ewing Jr., oh, my god, he`s out. He won`t be able to stay on staff because the university`s real nepotism clause.

Contrast that with what`s happening across town with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner getting plum jobs inside the Trump White House. Nepotism lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue but not at Georgetown.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the round table.

And, Jason, tell me something I don`t know.

JOHNSON: Yesterday, the mayor of Ferguson was reelected. Yes, the same mayor, Matthew Knowles, who was there during the riots, who denigrated Mike Brown, got reelected for the second time since the Ferguson riots. And what`s worst, even though they`re 24,000 registered voters in the city, only 1 percent turned out.

MATTHEWS: What was the minority turnout?

JOHNSON: The minority turnout was still really low.

MATTHEWS: Where was the get out the vote campaign?

JOHNSON: There was. It wasn`t effective. I did an interview with the people today. They say the folks -- as angry as they are at Knowles, he`s the devil they know. He beat an African-American woman for that position.



BERNARD: My tell you something you don`t know says it all. I`ve got one tweet for you by Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King. If only daddy would have known about the power of Pepsi. Yesterday, Pepsi had to pull an ad starring reality star Kendall Jenner, who ends racism by handing a cop a can of Pepsi.

You know, she`s modeling. She`s in a photo shoot. She joins the protesters, and this white woman ends racism by handing the cop Pepsi.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me tell you, when I was growing up, Coke was the Democrat drink, and Pepsi was the Republican drink.

BERNARD: Well, Pepsi is in a lot of trouble.

MATTHEWS: It had something to do with Joan Crawford, the actress, I don`t know.

John Brabender?

BRABENDER: For years, progressive rock fans were absolutely outraged that the group YES was not inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. So, two years ago, Republican-Democrat consultants got together. They`re being inducted bipartisan.

MATTHEWS: Thank you. Two big ones from him tonight. Thank you, John Brabender, Jason Johnson and Michelle Bernard.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Wednesday, April 5th, 2017.

Something strange in the neighborhood. Today, word got out that Trump`s consigliore, Steve Bannon, has been dumped from the National Security Council. Maybe more important, the president has delinked himself from Putin, at least. Putin backs the Syrian regime of the Assad family. Trump now holds the Assads responsible for firing nuclear weapons on kids. We`ve all seen the pictures now.

On the dumping of Steve Bannon from the NSC, it sounds like General McMaster, the NSC director, has had enough of Bannon using the NSC as his playground. On the declaration of hostility to it, Bashar Assad, I`m impressed. Trump`s strength is his ability to pick up on public sentiment, he knows how regular people react and no one likes the pictures of those kids in Syria, those pictures of people trying to wash poison chemicals off of them.

This is the most vicious part of a vicious war, the side that`s caught using chemical weapons is going to be the bad guy, and it`s just been caught. Trump knows it. Knows how it moves this country.

I think some sort of military action is now in the wings. The guy who promised to keep us out of stupid wars may have seen an enemy he quite simply wants to fight. At least he did this afternoon in the Rose Garden. Tomorrow, who knows?

At least Steve Bannon won`t be in the NSC calling the shots.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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