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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 4/7/2017

Guests: Chris Murphy, Nayyera Haq, Tamara Wittes, Eric Lichtblau, Eli Stokols, Annie Karni, Clarence Page, Francesca Chambers, Sally Bedell Smith

Show: HARDBALL Date: April 7, 2017 Guest: Chris Murphy, Nayyera Haq, Tamara Wittes, Eric Lichtblau, Eli Stokols, Annie Karni, Clarence Page, Francesca Chambers, Sally Bedell Smith CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Two strikes, you`re out.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

President Donald Trump`s order to strike Syria also struck at the heart of his "America first" approach to avoiding foreign entanglements, especially in the Middle East.

There`s news tonight of a second strike.  This one hits at the very Trump people, those causing trouble in the White House itself.  Get ready for that second explosion to hit alt-right Steve Bannon, establishment survivalist Reince Priebus, or both at any moment.  Big winner, hawkish son-in-law Jared Kushner and national security chief General H.R. McMaster.  Again, big loser, America first, Steve Bannon.

But first those 60 Tomahawk missiles Trump sent flying last night were a pretty dramatic shot at Trump`s bromance with Vladimir Putin.  Russia`s got a good many troops embedded with Syrian forces.  While they got an hour`s heads-up last night, it could still mean trouble.

The strike was ordered, of course, in retaliation for Syria`s reported chemical weapons attack earlier this week which killed over 80 people, including children.  Today, Russia is maintaining that no chemical weapons were used.

Well, according to officials, last night`s target was the same military airfield that was used to launch those deadly chemical weapons attack.  Anyway, U.S. officials tell NBC the strike destroyed aircraft and infrastructure, like fuel pumps.  Syria claims that at least six people are dead.

It all unfolded as President Trump hosted the Chinese president at Mar-a- Lago club down in Palm Beach.  When the Chinese delegation departed shortly after the missiles were launched, President Trump gathered again with his national security team to be briefed in a makeshift Situation Room.  Roughly 30 minutes later, the president delivered his remarks on the strike, which he said served the national security interests of us.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.


MATTHEWS:  International reaction has been largely positive with support from Germany, France, Israel and the U.K.  However, Russia was quick to condemn the strike.

But let`s be clear.  Russia itself bears key responsibility for Syria`s use of chemical weapons in the first place.  In a 2013 deal -- that`s four years ago -- with the United States, the Kremlin guaranteed -- guaranteed that all chemical weapons would be removed from Syria.  They promised to get rid of those weapons, the Russians.

As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, "Clearly, Russia has failed in its responsibility to deliver on that commitment from 2013.  So either Russia has been complicit or simply incompetent," he said -- our secretary of state -- "in its ability to deliver on that agreement," close quote.

Well, in a special emergency session of the United Nations Security Council, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley went even further in calling out the Kremlin for their support of Syrian president Bashar al Assad.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS:  It could be that Russia is knowingly allowing chemical weapons to remain in Syria.  It could be that Russia has been incompetent in its efforts to remove the chemical weapons.  Or it could be that the Assad regime is playing the Russians for fools.

The world is waiting for Russia to reconsider its misplaced alliance with Bashar Assad.  The United States will no longer wait for Assad to use chemical weapons without any consequences.  Those days are over.


MATTHEWS:  Well, that U.N. ambassador you`re watching there, I believe, has been fully weaponized politically.  She`s a star of the future.  Watch her.

Anyway, now the United States military is assessing whether Russia was complicit itself or even assisted in Syria`s chemical weapons attack on its own people.

I`m joined right now by NBC`s chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel.  He`s near the Turkey-Syria border right now.  Richard, where`s this stand internationally, the whole picture, if you can give it to us?

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, let`s just start with the immediate aftermath of the strike.  So far, as you said, it appears to be contained.  There are no indications that Russia is going to retaliate militarily.  Syria doesn`t seem like it is interested at all in retaliating militarily, and it could.  There are hundreds of American troops in Syria.

There have been some condemnations from Russia and from Syria, but they`ve been fairly muted, with the Syrian government calling this foolish and Russia sticking with its narrative that there were no chemical weapons used and that the U.S. shouldn`t be go it alone -- couldn`t go it alone and that this was illegal.

But when Russia is really angry, the world knows about it.  And it seems like Russia is content to move on with this.  There is still a meeting scheduled for next week in Moscow between Putin and Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, that hasn`t been canceled.

So if this was a one-off -- and by now, it seems like it was a one-off, at least for now -- it seems like that Russia is prepared to move on from this.  The international reaction has been positive except from Russia, Syria and Iran.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the use of weaponry.  We could have gone with flying planes over Syria.  That`s always more dangerous because you get hit by triple-A fire or SAMs or whatever.  You have more skin in the game, more accuracy perhaps.

But you also, in the case of stand-back weapons like these cruise missiles -- is that a sign that we`re really in retreat or we`re on advance?  What kind of a political signal does it give the countries like North Korea?

ENGEL:  I think it was -- and I was told this by a U.S. official who is very well briefed on this, that it was a happy coincidence that this took place right at the same time as the meeting with the Chinese president in order to send a message to him and through him to North Korea that the games have changed, that the U.S. will act with its military, will not waste time.  And I think that it was -- President Trump was proud to show that message at that time.

It doesn`t change much on the ground, to answer your initial question, in Syria.  The U.S. -- what the U.S. policy is in Syria right now remains unclear.  Is it now a policy to go after Bashar al Assad and to remove him?  It doesn`t seem to be.  Is the policy to back Syrian rebels to get them to overthrow Assad?  That also doesn`t seem to be the case.

It just seemed to be an attempt to -- to respond to a specific incident, to say, We will not tolerate the use of egregious chemical weapons.

And there can be a case made that this was in the U.S. national security interest because there are American troops in Syria, and it would benefit the United States, since there are troops there, to deter Bashar al Assad from using chemical weapons.  So you can make an argument that this was clearly in the U.S. interest.

MATTHEWS:  I think that`s a crystal clear report.  Thank you so much, NBC`s Richard Engel, over in Turkey right now.

Anyway, lawmakers on Capitol Hill were briefed on the president`s actions last night.  And while many from both parties have praised the president`s use of a limited strike, some have concerns over his apparent contradiction in policy.  Assad`s reported use of chemical weapons came just five days, for example, after Secretary of State Tillerson appeared to project a hands-off approach to Syria.  And here`s what he said last week.


REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE:  I think the status and the longer-term -- longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.


MATTHEWS:  Well, now Tillerson appears to have reversed himself as he told reporters today, quote, "We will start a political process to resolve Syria`s future in terms of its governance structure, and that ultimately, in our view, will lead to a resolution of Bashar Assad`s departure."  Boy, that`s a switch.

Joining me right now is the Democratic senator from Connecticut, Chris Murphy.  Let me ask you about -- if you were asked yes or no last night, would you have approved the president`s action?

SEN.CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT:  I wouldn`t have.  I wouldn`t have because I think he needs congressional authorization first.  And I don`t think you can view it in isolation.

In isolation, it is a proportional response.  But the fact of the matter is, this military engagement that the Trump administration is involved in is much bigger, and I don`t believe this is ultimately the end.  You`re right, we do have troops inside Syria.  That means this might not be the final act when it comes to air strikes against the Syrian regime.

And if that`s the case, I don`t trust the ability of the Trump administration to be able to thread this needle.  So I would not have authorized this strike.  I would have come to Congress first in large part because I think that`s what the Constitution demands.

MATTHEWS:  How long would it have taken to get approval by the entire Congress for this strike?  How many days?

MURPHY:  Listen, it would have taken days.  Perhaps it would have taken a week.  Maybe the strike would have been a little bit less effective when it was said and done.  But the Constitution doesn`t give the power to the president to decide these questions unilaterally.

The fact of the matter is, this was a pinprick strike.  It killed a couple of Syrians.  It took out some equipment.  That equipment would have still been able to be found a week from now.


MURPHY:  A pinprick strike doesn`t have to happen immediately.  It can happen after congressional authorization occurs.

MATTHEWS:  What would have stopped -- well, I`m going to argue this because what would have stopped the Syrians -- they`re not the good guys of the world -- of using the old trick of the bad guys, which is to bring women and children somewhere into the bomb site to fill it so you couldn`t hit it, or if you did hit it, you would be villains of the world?  I mean, they`re not going to let that stay -- that area stay pristine from personnel so that we can hit it.

Maybe the Russians would scatter, but I don`t think the Syrians would have scattered, do you?

MURPHY:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  If we picked a target like this, like, We`re going to try to hit somewhere in your country where there are no people at that point.  Would they have allowed that to happen?

MURPHY:  Well, this is -- this is -- maybe they would have made it harder to hit this specific airfield, but the importance of that airfield is largely symbolic.  We didn`t go after the chemical weapons stores.  We went after a handful of planes and equipment.  We could have done that somewhere else.

My worry is that, ultimately, we`re talking about a much broader engagement.  We`re spending all this time talking about this air strike, and we are largely blind to the fact there are about 600 U.S. troops with no well-defined mission, with no exit plan, that we may end up having to defend for a very, very long time.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, let`s talk about policy as you wish.  And let`s talk about Tillerson switching from five days ago where it was hands off, Let them decide their future, to, We`re going to get rid of Assad.  How do you read that, positively or negatively, that call by the secretary of state, Tillerson?

MURPHY:  Well, it`s -- it`s head-spinning and it`s...

MATTHEWS:  But it is -- it`s different.  So what do you make of the difference, of the change?

MURPHY:  So I make the -- I think Donald Trump watched TV, and he saw these images...

MATTHEWS:  Are you with him on this?  Are you with him on this switch towards an interventionist mode right now, which is, We`re going to help dump this royal family of Syria?

MURPHY:  Absolutely not, right?  This is a return to the kind of hubris that Donald Trump campaigned against, the idea that the United States can, you know, be the great power that ends up settling scores between tribes and sects inside the Middle East.  We cannot.  Now, we can help be part of the political process and lend humanitarian support, but the idea that we are going to be the ones that decide who controls Syria just greatly overestimates our impact in that region.

MATTHEWS:  Well, today, Senate Majority Leader, Republican of course, Mitch McConnell, was asked why he now supports President Trump`s decision when he opposed a similar proposal under President Obama when Obama did what you want him to do, Senator, propose it to Congress, and Congress didn`t act.  Here`s Mitch McConnell.


QUESTION:  Senator, you have opposed military intervention in Syria in the past as recently as 2013.  What makes last night different and (INAUDIBLE)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER:  Yes, let me tell you the difference.  Secretary Kerry, I guess in order to reassure the left-leaning members of his own party, said it would sort of be like a pinprick.  But this was a strike that was well planned, well executed, went right to the heart of the matter, which is using chemical weapons.  So had I seen that kind of approach by President Obama, I`m sure I would have signed up.


MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that, Senator Murphy, what he just said, that he would have given a different...


MATTHEWS:  It sounds to me like he was just covering himself here.

MURPHY:  Yes, that`s cover.  I mean, the fact of the matter is the Obama administration made it pretty clear that this is exactly the kind of strike that they were going to carry out.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, what does that tell you, the fact that Congress sat on its hands when the president you much preferred, and I did too, of course, Obama -- he (INAUDIBLE) Congress, following the correct procedures under the Constitution as you see it, and got nothing.  And then he`s been blamed ever since for not crossing -- not acting when Assad crossed the red line.

MURPHY:  So let me say this.  There are legitimate differences, right?  There is a difference between using chemical weapons once and using it twice, right?  Having done it a second time, that is reason for some people to change their opinion.  But that`s not what`s going on here.

What`s happening here is that Republicans didn`t want to support a Democratic president using military power in the Middle East.  They`re willing to support a Republican president.  This is just pure politics coming from, I think, most Republicans.

MATTHEWS:  Did you support the call last time when it was from Obama?

MURPHY:  No, I didn`t.  I was one of the -- I was actually one of the few to actually vote against it as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  OK.  So it isn`t just a need for getting congressional approval.  It`s to get your approval, and you don`t give it.

MURPHY:  Here`s the problem.  If we don`t...

MATTHEWS:  In either case.

MURPHY:  Yes, if we don`t weigh in on questions like this, then Congress is never going to have a role in foreign policy.  There`s no way to argue that the president has the ability to carry out a military attack against the Syrian regime when there`s no imminent threat against the United States.


MURPHY:  Maybe this is a small proportional attack, but there`s no end to what President Trump will be able to do unilaterally if Congress doesn`t weigh in on this.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I understand the principle.  Thank you so much, Chris Murphy, senator from Connecticut.

I`m joined right now by former State Department spokesperson Nayyera Haq and Tamara Wittes of the -- she`s a senior fellow for Middle East policy at Brookings.  Thank you both.

So what do you make of that?  Let`s get to the point of -- is this good policy, to hit them proportionally, to hit the airfield and its facilities and infrastructure where that plane took off to drop those chemical weapons?  Is this a proportional and appropriate act by our president?

NAYYERA HAQ, FMR. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON:  It is certainly good public affairs, and it is certainly good politics based on the reaction that we`ve seen in the last 24 hours.  But we don`t know what the policy is, and that`s part of the challenge right now.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what about the action itself?

HAQ:  What is the -- what is the end state look like...

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the action?

HAQ:  ... and what`s the goal?  For those who believe in humanitarian intervention militarily, this is what people have been waiting for for several years.  But part of the humanitarian intervention is taking care of the human beings who have been forced to flee the country, now 11 million Syrians displaced, thousands who have been killed.

What is going to be the resolution for them if this is about the "beautiful babies," as the president mentioned?  Our borders are now closed to any Syrian refugees.  Other countries are bearing the burden.  So how are we able to be compassionate by attacking an airfield...

MATTHEWS:  You know what I thought the other day when I heard it?

HAQ:  What?

MATTHEWS:  Are you compassionate, Mr. President?  Why aren`t you compassionate when you say things like, I hope "Obama care" implodes and all the people who are desperate for medical attention to all of a sudden in this country don`t get it? Where`s your compassion there?

That said, I don`t want to make the perfect the enemy of the good here.  Either you like this policy or you don`t.  What do you make of it, Tamara?

HAQ:  Well, there`s...

MATTHEWS:  I`m sorry.

TAMARA WITTES, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION:  Look, I do think that this is a proportionate response.  If the goal here is to deter further chemical weapons use, it may, in fact, succeed.  But it`s not going to...

MATTHEWS:  Why does he do it?  Why does Assad, knowing the whole world`s watching, knowing the Russkis even are -- are -- for him not to do it?  The Russians have guaranteed he wouldn`t do it.  Everybody (INAUDIBLE) was in on this in the whole world.  Chemical weapons are wrong and everybody is saying they`re evil.  They were outlawed basically after World War I.

WITTES:  It`s inevitable...

MATTHEWS:  Why`s he do it?

WITTES:  Look, it`s inevitable that a new president is going to be tested.

MATTHEWS:  That`s what it is.

WITTES:  And I think after the words we heard from the administration last week about Assad`s future is up to the Syrian people, and you know, we don`t have a dog in this fight...


WITTES:  ... it`s not surprising that...


MATTHEWS:  ... one of those April Glaspie things where we sent the wrong message, or Acheson did before Korea, where we said, We aren`t going to defend Korea, then North Koreans attack South Korea.  We weren`t going to defend Kuwait.  The Iraqis attack Kuwait.  If we don`t give a clear (INAUDIBLE) the problem was three or four days ago when Tillerson said we don`t care. (INAUDIBLE)

WITTES:  I think that was a problem, and I think that this strike does not actually change the situation on the ground.  It doesn`t change Assad`s calculus.  He`s still winning on the battlefield, and he can hold out.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  OK.  You know what I was thinking the other day?  After all this (INAUDIBLE) even 10 people are killed, they are 10 people that are not alive right now, that were living regular lives and probably not bad people at all, just doing their jobs.

He gets up in the morning.  He still gets the right jelly on his croissant.


MATTHEWS:  He still has the right...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He and his wife (INAUDIBLE) yesterday.

MATTHEWS:  He has the right, you know, coffee, he has the nice breakfast, his beautiful family.  He`s still living in a palace.  We`re not punishing him.  We`re punishing some of his pawns.

So I always wonder about the injustice of any kind of military action because the royal family sits there squatting in their happiness.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  If you are Syrian and you are hearing about U.S. military strikes and military intervention, part of your question is, How has my life changed?  If the bombs are Russian that are falling on me or they`re my own government attacking me...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  What should we do?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I think humanitarian intervention with an actual follow-through policy of diplomacy.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think?  Get in there or stay out?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Look, I think we should use this as leverage for a stronger diplomatic process.  Tillerson needs to go to Moscow with some very strong words.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And that might mean we need to do more.

MATTHEWS:  I think you got to hope they`ll cut the rope with these people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, part of...

MATTHEWS:  If I were a Russian, I`d say, You know, I was with you, bud -- I was with you until you started using chemical weapons.  The world hates you.  Why did you do it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Those are good talking points.

MATTHEWS:  I would do it.  I don`t know it in Russian.  I know it in English.  Anyway, thank you, Nayyera.  It`s always great to have you.  And Tamara, thank you, Tamara Wittes.

Coming up -- heads may be rolling soon in the White House.  Actually, Trump`s senior White House staff may be in trouble.  The president`s said to be tired of all the infighting among his staff.  And that means Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus could be axed.  The latest on that coming up next.  This is going to be fun, by the way.  As they say in Washington, no one is ever late for a hanging.

Plus, some big developments in the Russian investigation.  "The New York Times" reports that the CIA knew Russia was working to get Trump elected early, like back in August of last year, and that unnamed Trump advisers -- this is the phrase they use in the CIA -- might be working with the Russians.  This was back in August they thought the Trump people were up to something.

And there`s also new questions tonight about why Jared Kushner -- well, he failed to disclose his contacts with the Russians as he applied for a top secret clearance.  It`s right on the form, by the way, "Have you had any contacts with other governments," blank.  Anyway, all that`s coming up.

And the HARDBALL roundtable is here with much more on the political reaction to that Syria strike last night both at home and abroad.

And finally, we compare rule by the Trump family to the real thing, you know, the royal family, a great new look at the future king of England tonight.

And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS:  Fourteen months after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the United States Supreme Court is back to nine members.  Today, the Senate did confirm Neil Gorsuch -- or Gorsuch -- by a vote of 54-45. 

Three Democrats, all up for reelection in red states, or Trump states, voted for Gorsuch, West Virginia`s Joe Manchin, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.  They`re all sort of moderate Democrats, too.  It`s not just geography.

We will be right back. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Last night, President Trump`s evolution from isolationist to interventionist was in stark display.  Let`s watch. 


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Years of previous attempts at changing Assad`s behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically.  Tonight, I call on all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria, and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, candidate Trump came into office promising a dramatically different approach to Assad and Syria. 


TRUMP:  We can`t fight Syria and Assad, who is not a good guy, but we`re backing people to fight Assad.  We have no idea.  Look at Hillary Clinton, what happened with Libya. 

Somehow, Syria and World War III don`t go along great to me.  We can`t be fighting Assad.  And when you`re fighting Assad, you`re fighting Russia, you`re fighting -- you`re fighting a lot of different groups.  But we can`t be fighting everybody at one time. 

You can`t fight them both.  You got to pick your guy.  You got to pick your guy.  And I will tell you who I would pick. 

But she`s trigger-happy.  And she wants to start shooting wars in Syria.  What the hell are we doing with Syria?  I mean, I have listened to what she says about Syria.  We will end up in World War III over Syria with her, believe me. 


MATTHEWS: "We will end up in World War III" with Hillary. 

Anyway, Hillary backs him on this anyway.  That`s so ironic.

Anyway, the strikes on Syria come as the president`s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and his son-in-law -- I guess he`s a bit of a hawk -- Jared Kushner, are locked in an epic battle over which way to steer this president and our country. 

"The Wall Street Journal" is reporting right now that heads are about to roll within the Trump administration because the president is "unhappy with the infighting among his top advisers and is determined to see it end."

The White House pushed back on those assertions, of course, but, according to "The New York Times," both Trump confidants are clashing -- confidants - - are clashing over policy -- quote -- "Mr. Kushner`s more inclined toward intervention in the Middle East, while Mr. Bannon would prefer the United States remain as uncommitted as possible."

Those are starkly different points of view. 

"The New York Times" -- or, actually, "New York" magazine is reporting that Steve Bannon argued against striking Syria because it did not advance the Trump doctrine of America first. 

For more, I`m joined by Jeremy Peters, reporter with "The New York Times" and an MSNBC contributor, and the great Eli Stokols, now the great White House reporter.  You`re kind of moving up there, aren`t you, Eli?  You are moving up.  This is your "Sports Illustrated" cover right here.

ELI STOKOLS, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL":  Oh, I will take it, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.  Let`s talk about it, you first.  Let`s talk about this.

Bannon is very clear.  You can call him alt-right.  I do that.  He`s basically a nationalist.  He`s America first, almost like the America Firsters pre-World War II.  It`s us, fortress America.  We`re not getting involved in the Middle East, no entanglements, no troops on the ground.  We`re staying out. 

The president of the United States talked just like that in the campaign.  And now the president goes in, the same way I think Hillary would have gone in.  He was right.  Hillary`s a bit of a hawk, and he was a bit of a hawk last night. 

STOKOLS:  Well, the job changes you, right?  It`s easy to talk about these things on the campaign trail.  And Trump basically used the Bannon point of view and that rhetoric on the campaign trail. 

But, now in office, you see him ceding so much control to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to other folks. 

MATTHEWS:  What`s Kushner`s strength, besides blood -- or almost blood, married to his daughter?  What is strength over the president? 

STOKOLS:  I think he sort of doesn`t get out over his skis.  He keeps it very close to the vest. 

But he`s sort of the power broker in the West Wing.  And I think what you have with Bannon, Bannon didn`t like this attack, didn`t want to do it.  But I don`t think he spoke up all that strongly.  He`s pushed back on our questions to him about, you know, we hear that you didn`t want to do this.  He said, no, that`s not true.  But he...

MATTHEWS:  Of course they say that. 

STOKOLS:  But he doesn`t have the juice in the administration right now to pick this fight. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, OK.  Well, he was downgraded.  He was taken off -- he had his sort of epaulets ripped off, not a member of the National Security Council, very baroque about it, but they ripped the epaulets.  You`re not in the NSC anymore.  You`re sitting back behind me in the meetings, whereas Kushner is right up there in the big table all the time. 

JEREMY PETERS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Yes, look, I wouldn`t over-read too much into that, because Kushner was always having a seat at the table there in the Cabinet Room. 


PETERS:  Bannon was usually in the shadows. 

MATTHEWS:  But wait a minute. 

PETERS:  But there`s no doubt...

MATTHEWS:  Bannon was wrong on this fight.  And Jared Kushner was in there with McMaster, who is the hero in the White House, that those guys won their way. 

PETERS:  Bannon is a victim of two things, his own ambition and his ambitions outpacing Trump`s patience, and the disarray in the White House. 

He`s a victim of that as well, because, without Mike Flynn, you don`t have Steve Bannon on the National Security Council, you don`t have the necessary reorganization that has to happen after Mike Flynn is fired.  And so then Steve Bannon comes off as a casualty of that. 

STOKOLS:  But he`s being blamed for the disaster of Mike Flynn, those 24 days that he was the national security adviser. 

MATTHEWS:  Bannon is? 

STOKOLS:  Yes.  And I think...


MATTHEWS:  Who gets blamed for the crazy escapade of Nunes being offered up little bits of documents to come -- that midnight raid that everybody laughs at now?

STOKOLS:  Well, they all deserve the blame...

MATTHEWS:  Bannon has something to do with that.

STOKOLS:  ... for trying to reverse-engineer an alibi for a tweet that came from the president himself.

But your point about Kushner going to Iraq, I think, is really important, because what you see there with the Joint Chiefs, what you see there with McMaster, they`re cultivating someone that they know is very important and has the president`s ear. 

MATTHEWS:  The Chinese are doing the same thing, aren`t they?  The Chinese think Kushner is the hot act right now, the guy to get connected with.

PETERS:  Yes, they absolutely do.  Right?  They understand these family dynasty dynamics.  Right?  It`s...


MATTHEWS:  The Romanovs.

PETERS:  Exactly.  They get it. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me ask you about corporate life, where Trump comes from, sort of. 

My limited experience with corporate life is, if you`re up for CEO and you`re like 52 years old, and the other guy 52 years old is up for it, and the other guy gets it, you`re gone, that they don`t want you around. 

Can there be a Kushner in the White House and a Jared -- and a Bannon?  If Bannon doesn`t get to be the top senior adviser to the president on everything, does he have to go? 

PETERS:  Well, I think that what you`re going to see is -- what our reporting tells us is a reorganization of some type is under consideration. 

It`s not going to happen until after this Chinese summit, because Trump just has too much on his plate.  Maybe it happens over Easter weekend, when they hope no one is paying attention. 

But there is a political role for Steve Bannon in the White House.  Just because he`s had his demotion doesn`t mean that he`s out altogether. 

MATTHEWS:  Let`s get into the fun of Washington, the Kremlin wall. 

It`s almost a Kremlin wall.  It`s the Romanovs wall.  Who is up to take over Reince Priebus?  I know most of these guys.  In fact, I know them all.  I don`t know Gary Cohn.  I know David Urban, who helped Trump win Pennsylvania.  He played a big part in winning the state I never thought they could win.

STOKOLS:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  I know Wayne Berman is one of the smartest lobbyists in knowing everything kind of thing -- has in Washington.  You go to him for brainpower. 

And Kevin McCarthy, the guy from California, the number two guy, I don`t think he`s going to give up what he has, because you never know when he will be speaker. 


MATTHEWS:  But let`s talk about those other guys. 

The old -- how do you pick somebody from the swamp to clean up the swamp, Eli?  Because these guys are swamp creatures.  I like them, but they are swamp creatures.  They are Washingtonians in the core.  Can he pick one of them as his...


STOKOLS:  Yes, Urban is a lobbyist.  Trump likes him, though. 

MATTHEWS:  He ought to like him.

STOKOLS:  I think Gary Cohn is another person who has had conversations with the president about this position.  So, those two may be the top two names.  But you just never know. 


PETERS:  I wouldn`t write Reince...


MATTHEWS:  Last word.  Does he want a tough kick, a top kick who will kick butt, who will really make things work?  And I think that would be Urban or Wayne Berman -- Berman or Urban.  Does he want somebody that tough, or he wants a nicer guy like Reince Priebus? 

PETERS:  I wouldn`t write Reince off at this point. 

With Trump, you`re riding high in April, you`re down in May.  You never know what`s going to happen with this guy.  He changes his mind constantly.  This is -- we saw this over the course of the campaign.  So, don`t write any of these people off. 

STOKOLS:  Well, and every time he makes a change, it doesn`t end the infighting.  The infighting is a byproduct of the way Trump manages, not about the people. 

MATTHEWS:  I think he wants cleanliness and order.  And I think he`s tired of losing. 

 I think he got beaten on health care.  I think it`s been a slow slog.  And he hasn`t looked good, and he needs points on the board.  He needs an organized team.  I think he`s going to bring in an Urban.  That`s what I think he`s going to do.  We will see. 

By the way, nice Sinatra reference there, Jeremy Peters.

  PETERS:  I knew you would appreciate that.

MATTHEWS:  And we have a Sinatra guy in the audience tonight.

And thank you, Eli Stokols.  Thank you.  Congratulations, "The Wall Street Journal." 

Up next -- by the way, the A Section, totally straight, the op-ed page, a little wacky. 


MATTHEWS:  Up next: new developments in the Russia investigation, including a new report that the CIA was aware -- catch this -- last August that Russia was working to get Trump elected, earlier than we thought, and that then CIA Director John Brennan told leaders in Congress that unnamed Trump advisers might be -- working with Trump. 

This is last August that they knew about it.  That`s next. 

This is HARDBALL, where the action is. 


RICHARD LUI, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Hi.  I`m Richard Lui in the MSNBC newsroom.

A suspected terrorist attack in Sweden`s capital, as a truck plows through a busy shopping district there, killing four people and injuring 15 others, one individual has been arrested, but a manhunt continues for one more.  It is the latest in a series of vehicle-based attacks across Europe. 

Tonight, the Eiffel Tower going dark in memory of those killed in Sweden.  The tower also went dark after recent attacks in London and St. Petersburg -- now back to HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Big developments tonight in the investigation into Russia`s election meddling here.  "The New York Times" reported today that the CIA had evidence of Russia`s effort to help Trump in the election earlier than we thought, and before anyone else. 

"The Times" reports that, in late August, 10 weeks before the election, John Brennan, then the CIA director, was so concerned about increasing evidence of Russia`s election meddling that he began "a series of urgent individual briefings for eight top members of Congress, some of them on secure phone lines while they were on their summer break.  Officials said Mr. Brennan also indicated that unnamed advisers to Mr. Trump might be working with the Russians to interfere in the election."

Of course, that`s what we`re trying to find out right now, to nail that one down. 

Joining me now is Eric Lichtblau, who wrote that report in "The New York Times," and also joining us is MSNBC terrorism analyst, of course our friend Malcolm Nance. 

I want to start with Eric on this one. 

Tell us what`s new here, because we went all around this thing, the role of the Russians, their purpose in the campaign, our campaign, and what role the Trump people played. 

ERIC LICHTBLAU, "THE NEW YORK TIMES":  Well, if you go back to last summer, which was when the concern about the Russian hack of the DNC really erupted, the thinking, the conventional wisdom within Washington for at least a while was the Russians are just trying to muck with the election.  They`re not targeting anyone in particular.  They`re not putting their finger on the scale.  They`re just trying to sort of threaten democracy and poke their finger in our eye. 

What came out in classified briefings that we`re only now just learning last summer to members of Congress was, hey, we think now there`s indications that the Russians are actually trying to help Trump get elected and hurt Hillary and damage her election. 

Now, that was a finding that would come out months and months later officially after Trump had already been elected. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that shows that the people working for President Obama, professionals like Brennan, weren`t out there leafletting this information to the world.  They weren`t out there trying to help Hillary by exposing the Trump -- preference for him.

LICHTBLAU:  That is true. 

They were sort of boxed into a corner, because they thought, if they were too aggressive sort of in putting this intel out there, they would look like they were trying to help Hillary and politicizing the intel. 


Well, how strong -- I saw it in your piece, but it wasn`t in the lead, which is the role the Trump people played.  The word "might" is used.  What is that?  How much power does that word have, "might" have been helping the Russians? 

LICHTBLAU:  You know, enough that they`re telling Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid, and Paul Ryan and others in these briefings that there are indications that some people in the Trump universe might have been involved.  And that`s the question that -- that`s the question today. 

MATTHEWS:  Wouldn`t that -- I mean, this steps behind your reporting, but wouldn`t that say to the Trump people, get off this thing?  If Harry -- not Harry -- he`s not going to tell the Trump people, but if Mitch McConnell told his fellow Republican Party and said, Mr. Trump and your people, be careful.  You`re being watched.  You take any more action than necessary, in fact, you do anything in helping the Russians, you could be involved with a Logan Act violation or worse. 

LICHTBLAU:  You would think. 

I mean, my understanding is, Mitch McConnell was pretty skeptical of this intelligence and almost dismissive, dismissive of it. 


LICHTBLAU:  The other problem for the CIA was that they don`t want to get involved in domestic intelligence.  That was the FBI`s bailiwick. 

And there was a little bit of a disconnect between what the CIA knew and the FBI knew.

MATTHEWS:  Malcolm, put this together with your other analysis.  What do you make of this? 

MALCOLM NANCE, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST:  Well, what I make of it is that John Brennan by August 25 had developed a lot of intelligence that we still don`t know about. 

By the time that he went and took this information to the Gang of Eight, that means he had personally high confidence in the collection that he had seen, which means that it had been analyzed, he had seen raw traffic.  And if he used the phrase "might have," that Trump associated "might have" been involved, then that means that he has a probability of somewhere about 75 percent. 

But he took that to the Gang of Eight and tried to convince people with technically hair on fire that the United States was under attack.  And we were saying that on this channel, you know, between July 25 and August 25 almost every day. 

But for the director of the central intelligence to finally say that and bring it to the top decision-makers in Congress tells you that this was very, very serious. 

MATTHEWS:  It sure is.  We`re going to learn more about this.  And it gets to the heart of the investigation under way right now by the FBI with that special unit looking at it. 

Eric Lichtblau, great reporting.  You papers are something else.  Print is God right now, "New York Times," "Washington Post." 

LICHTBLAU:  Thank you.  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Malcolm Nance, thank you, sir, as always, for your expertise. 

NANCE:  Pleasure.

MATTHEWS:  When we return: the political reaction to President Trump`s strike last night in Syria, and more on the looming shakeup -- I`m calling it heads rolling -- at the Trump White House.  It sure looks like it.

You`re watching HARDBALL, where the action is. 



Anyway, President Trump`s retaliation against Syria drew bipartisan praise overnight even from those who have criticized his temperament as commander- in-chief.  Let`s watch. 


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA:  All I can say about this president, he has the instincts of Ronald Reagan in many ways.  He`s an emotional man, but he`s also a very smart man.  I think he feels that he did the right thing by those children. 

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT:  I think it`s important that Assad get the message and frankly that others get the message around the world that when they step over a line into the use of unconventional weapons, that they are taking a very significant risk. 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA:  I`m glad that the president has shown trust in his national security team, which is outstanding. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, that`s interesting. 

Joining me right now are "Politico" White House reporter Annie Karni, "Chicago Tribune" columnist Clarence Page, and Francesca Chambers, White House correspondent for "The Daily Mail". 

I want to hear from all of you the politics.  We`ve talked about the substance.  How is this selling among Trump people, middle of the roaders, and Trump haters?  Annie? 

ANNIE KARNI, "POLITICO" WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  I think that there`s some concern among his base that this is a contradiction of his America first policy.  But I think overall this is good for him politically.  It makes him look decisive and strong.  It distracts from the infighting inside the White House and the dysfunction on other levels of this White House. 

It puts in front, inside of Reince and Bannon fighting, Mattis and McMaster and Tillerson and like people who are taken seriously as foreign policy experts by Democrats and Republicans alike.  It makes him more -- so it was a conventional move that even Hillary Clinton earlier in the day had said she would do the same thing. 

MATTHEWS:  She said it before he did. 

KARNI:  She did. 


KARNI:  But I think that overall it`s a political win for him and it makes him look more independent from Russia, which is a --

MATTHEWS:  It may cover his tracks from a year of kissing the guy. 

KARNI:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Clarence? 

CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE:  Well, war has a short-term effect of boosting a president`s stature and popularity.  But Trump just lost Ann Coulter.  He just lost a bunch of people from the right and the left.

MATTHEWS:  Laura Ingraham, too. 

PAGE:  Yes, people who believe in his America first approach, this is not America first.  This is a reversal of that. 

The question is, how long is he going -- how is he going to handle Syria now?  But I think on the whole, yes, it`s a plus in the short term. 

MATTHEWS:  Francesca? 

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, THE DAILY MAIL:  At the same time, he also got John McCain, who I think that may be the first time that we`ve ever heard John McCain say something nice. 

MATTHEWS:  Lindsey too. 

CHAMBERS:  Right.  I love Lindsey Graham.  Now he`s comparing him to Ronald Reagan all of a sudden? 

MATTHEWS:  That is adoration.

CHAMBERS:  So he`s gained a lot of people on his side. 

But there`s also strange bedfellows being made about the people who were against this.  You`ve got Rand Paul on one hand and Justin Amash.  You`ve also got Elizabeth Warren very against this.

MATTHEWS:  They don`t like this.

CHAMBERS:  Doesn`t like this. 

MATTHEWS:  What`s Elizabeth -- what`s Senator Warren saying?  What she`s saying?

CHAMBERS:  That as many Democrats are saying, that he should have come to Congress.  You have to have constitutional authority for this.  But also what`s his plan?  What`s the next move?  And there`s many Republicans and Democrats asking that same question. 

MATTHEWS:  Don`t you like these guys like Chris Murphy?  I like the guy but he comes on and says he should have asked us.  Of course we would have said no because they always say no.  And he said no.

CHAMBERS:  Which is what happened to Barack Obama.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  They don`t like putting their fingerprints on it.

Let me ask you about the battle within.  OK.  You`re an America Firster.  I understand the isolationist, Washington warned us don`t get involved when foreign entanglements.  But when you see the Holocaust, of course, when you see what happened in Rwanda, everybody has a breaking point when they say, yes, I`m generally against getting involved in other people`s struggles but I`m not going to stand by when we can do something about it. 

PAGE:  Yes, I think we have to talk about policy, which Trump does not have.  He doesn`t have a Syria policy.  He`s not been a policy man in general.  We knew that. 

Now we`re seeing the consequences of it.  In a case where he is driven by TV images, which is very much like how the elder George Bush got us into Somalia. 

MATTHEWS:  As are most people. 

PAGE:  But, yes.  You know, that happens.  But the question is what are the consequences of it?  You know, I enjoy seeing that Donald Trump has a heart because how can you not be moved by --

MATTHEWS:  Just remember, we all -- not everybody.  I think I speak for most humanity.  Nobody liked W.`s ignoring what happened in Katrina -- 

PAGE:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  -- when he flew by in the airplane and looked out at the window like Maria Antoinette, oh.  If he had showed up with a bunch of water bottles for all those people at the building down there --

PAGE:  Or with Rwanda -- 

CHAMBERS:  But Barack Obama even said that one of the things that haunted him most from his own presidency was that he didn`t get involved in Syria, that he let that red line crossed.

MATTHEWS:  The red line, the red line crossed.

CHAMBERS:  Let the red line crossed.

But to your point about going to Congress about this, it would have taken weeks.  It may not have happened at all.  And that essentially is what happened in 2013. 

He was going to ask for permission, found that it wasn`t going to happen and that is why --

MATTHEWS:  It reminds me of abortion rights which is a morally, tricky issue for a lot of people, saying, it`s state`s rights.  It`s just another dodge.  I`m sorry.  It`s another dodge.  Bring it to Congress so we can -- you`re still going to make decisions. 

Anyway, 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:  Lost amid the news of the strike on Syria was today`s jobs report from March, and it was worse than analysts expected.  The economy only created 96,000 jobs, just over half of what economists were anticipating.  Well, the unemployment rate ticked down to 4.5 percent.  That often happens because less people are looking for jobs. 

We`ll be right back. 


MATTHEWS:  We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable. 

Annie, tell me something I don`t know. 

KARNI:  A non-Trump news.  The Mitt Romney for Senate rumors. 

MATTHEWS:  In Utah? 

KARNI:  Are realer than you might think.  Mitch McConnell said today that he has spoken to Romney about potentially running. 

MATTHEWS:  I think Romney runs and wins with 80 percent. 


PAGE:  Stop making fun of Jared Kushner, Donald Trump`s son-in-law, because a number of foreign policy experts say the fact that he`s got President Trump`s ear is enough to give him stature with overseas government. 

MATTHEWS:  That`s what I hear.  The Chinese, too. 


PAGE:  Right. 

CHAMBERS:  Looking forward to next week in Donald Trump news.  The U.N. secretary -- sorry, NATO secretary general is coming to the White House.  So, to your point, Chris, it will be interesting to see if Trump`s America first foreign policy survives after this and whether or not he`s more interested in defending NATO countries. 

MATTHEWS:  NATO is one of the best things we`ve ever done and playing with it is crazy. 

Anyway, Annie Karni, thank you, Clarence Page and Francesca Chambers.

Up next, we compare Jared, Ivanka and the rest of the Trump family with real royals.  A real royal family.

We`ll be right back after this.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

I`ve said here that President Trump behaves like he`s got a royal family running the country.  But the real royal family that Americans are obsessed with is in Britain, of course.

And here`s a clip from the Netflix hit "The Crown."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Come on.  You`ll never catch a fish. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Cast it.  Watch what I do. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He`s wonderful with Ben. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I still think he`s too hard on him.  Taking out his own frustrations on an innocent child. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, the new book "Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of An Improbable Life" sheds light on the man the royal is really all about. 

I`m joined right now by the author, a fabulous author, Sally Bedell Smith, who writes about the Clintons, Kennedys, and now, the royal next king of England. 

Why is it that every time I go out to get milk or raisin or whatever late at night, I go to Safeway, there`s hardly anybody there and I have time to read and everything is about Kate Middleton, the royal family.  Why are we Americans royally crazy sometimes? 

SALLY BEDELL SMITH, AUTHOR, "PRINCE CHARLES":  Well I think we`ve always been fascinated.  Actually, we used to be ruled by them, but I think the fascination, the obsession really began with the marriage of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer and has just multiplied since then because they had so many problems and they became very public, and then Kate came along and married William but --

MATTHEWS:  Let me tell you, I`m as superficial as a lot of people.  I shouldn`t be, but I am.  Most guys would look at Princess Diana and say, one of the most beautiful women ever in the world like Jackie Kennedy or somebody, and he doesn`t seem to appreciate her much.  He goes and marries an older woman who he`s buddy with for years and it doesn`t seem that romantic. 

What went wrong with that wedding?  That marriage that we all loved, yes, Princess Diana was the Lady Di? 

SMITH:  It was doomed.  First of all, Camilla, he fell in love with in 1972.  He never got her out of --

MATHEWS:  Even though she was married? 

SMITH:  She wasn`t married.  She was the girl for him.  And he met her and he fell in love --

MATTHEWS:  But then she got married. 

SMITH:  She got married.  Her father and the father of the man she loved at the time, Andrew Parker Bowles, actually publish the engagement announcement in the times and forced the proposal.  But he was a philanderer and he broke her heart. 

And Prince -- she went back to Prince Charles.  But he was under -- Prince Charles was under terrible pressure to get married.  He said he had to get married by 30.  His duty was to marry a sweet virginal girl he can put on the pedestal.

Diana looked on paper as if she was the one.  They were 12 years apart.  They had no interests in common.  They had only been together 12 times when he proposed to her. 


SMITH:  He didn`t know her.  She didn`t know him.  And the marriage was doomed. 

MATTHEWS:  Tell me about Charles.  He seems like a stiff to me.  What`s Charles about?  He`s going to be king of England eventually, right? 

SMITH:  He is.  I met him in 1991 by complete happenstance.  I was shocked how different he was from the old fogy that we were all led to believe he was. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you like him? 

SMITH:  I like him.  He was charming.  He was warm.  One of his grandmother`s beloved best friends was there.  He kissed her on the cheek, asked her about her health.  I was shocked --

MATTHEWS:  The Queen Mum. 

SMITH:  The Queen Mum. 

MATTHEWS:  What about Elizabeth, is she cold? 

SMTH:  Who? 

MATTHEWS:  His mother. 

SMITH:  His mother.  No, she`s a very warm person.  When I wrote about her, I had to sort of part the curtain and show the warmth and humor and everything behind her. 

MATTHEWS:  Sally Bedell Smith, I`ve known her forever.  This is a beautifully written book.  It reads like an angel wrote it.  This is -- if you want to read an amazing book, I`m not saying it`s beach reading yet, but it`s definitely Easter reading. 

This read is ready to be read.  It`s beautiful, you know?  It`s beautiful. 

The book`s called "Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life."  Get it this weekend.

And, by the way, that`s HARDBALL for tonight.  Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.