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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 4/12/2017

Guests: David Ignatius, Indira Lakshmanan, Steve Schmidt, Julia Ioffe, Bianna Golodryga, Matthew Rosenberg

Show: Hardball with Chris Matthews Date: April 12, 2017 Guest: David Ignatius, Indira Lakshmanan, Steve Schmidt, Julia Ioffe, Bianna Golodryga, Matthew Rosenberg>

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Turning the page.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews.

Last night, "The Washington Post" reported that the FBI began an investigation last summer of an associate of Donald Trump with ties to the Russians. Were they trying to get this guy to be a mole for Moscow in the Trump campaign? Then how do we explain Donald Trump today saying relations with Moscow are the worst ever?

And what`s up with Steve Bannon? Has Trump abandoned the nationalist bad boy who brought him to victory last November? Is he dumping the "America first" doctrine that powered him to the White House and buying into the same establishment thinking on Mideast, Russia and China that (ph) Hillary or a regular Republican would have bought into and brought to the office?

But as the president signals anger with Russia over Syria`s use of chemical weapons, the news keeps coming of his campaign`s connections with Moscow. "The Washington Post" is reporting that a FISA court granted a warrant last summer to monitor the communications of former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page.

Quote, "The FBI and the Justice Department obtained the warrant targeting Carter Page`s communications after convincing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge that there was probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, in this case, Russia."

This follows the explosive reports last week that revealed Page met with a Russian agent who attempted to recruit him back in 2013. According to court documents, that agent called Mr. Page "an idiot," but said he was enthusiastic before being sentenced to 30 months in prison in 2015, whatever that all means. Reacting to the "Post" story today, Page called the whole thing a joke and wouldn`t say whether he`s talking to the FBI.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN: There was probable cause to believe that you were acting as an agent for a foreign government. So my question is, were you?

CARTER PAGE, FMR. TRUMP ADVISER: Of course I wasn`t, Jake. This is -- it`s just such a joke that it`s beyond words.

TAPPER: Have you talked to the FBI about their Russia investigation? Have you been interviewed by them or questioned by them in any way?

PAGE: I`ve always respected confidentiality. I have nothing to say about any ongoing investigations that may or may not be going on.

TAPPER: You`re not going to comment? Is that what you`re saying?

PAGE: I have no comment.


MATTHEWS: Well, that`s a fruitful interview. Anyway, Page is just one of several Trump associates who have been scrutinized for their dealings or potential dealings with Russian figures. But much like former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who couldn`t get their stories straight, Carter Page publicly denied having had meetings with Russians before later admitting he did have conversations with them.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`ll ask again. Did you have any meetings last year with Russian officials in Russia, outside Russia, anywhere?

PAGE: I had no meetings, no meetings.

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC: Did you meet Sergey Kislyak in Cleveland? Did you talk to him?

PAGE: I`m not going to deny that I talked with him, although...

HAYES: So you did talk to him?

PAGE: I will say that I never met him anywhere outside of Cleveland. Let`s just say that much.

HAYES: The only time that you met him was in Cleveland.

PAGE: That I may have met him, possibly, might have been in Cleveland.


MATTHEWS: Well, meanwhile, NBC News reports today that Paul Manafort may register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for his work for the pro-Putin former government of Ukraine.

This all comes after two members of the House Intelligence Committee, Democratic congressmen Joaquin Castro and Denny Heck, predicted last week that the Russian investigations will lead to convictions, felony convictions.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN: ... 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. DENNY 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, I`m joined right now by MSNBC political analyst David Corn, Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones, Matthew Rosenberg, a national security reporter for "The New York Times," and Malcolm Nance is an MSNBC intelligence analyst.

Malcolm, I want to start with you. Put it together, what we`re seeing here. Let`s just start with the Carter Page thing. The guy seems so loosey-goosey, like some kind of narcissist who just likes to be on television but never answers a single straight question, but he always wants to come out and giggle about it like he`s on "The Dating Game" or something.

Explain the personality of the -- is he a mole, a potential mole or just somebody looking for attention? I can`t tell.

MALCOLM NASH, MSNBC INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: You know, a few months ago, when we -- when Chris Hayes did the interview of Carter Page, I made a commentary after that. You know, right off the top of my head, I felt that there was something wrong about the way he was answering questions. He was not just evasive, he also used what are technically known as resistance techniques. And resistance techniques are the way that you should respond when you do not want an enemy to actually understand or know what you know, and you try to play stupid as possible.

And you know, but the way that he, as you said, wants to be on television, he wants to be in the limelight, and that may be part of his role. I don`t know what he works for at this point. But the FBI got a FISA warrant on the basis that they believed that he was either an asset or an agent of a foreign intelligence agency.

And as I said in that exact same interview with Chris Hayes, he had better either get a very good lawyer, or at the end of this, he had better prove that he was actually an FBI or a CIA asset working against Russian intelligence officers. You know, whichever one comes out of this is going to determine Carter Page`s fate.

MATTHEWS: David, this whole question is whether they were trying to recruit a mole to go into the campaign. I`m trying to figure this whole thing out. But obviously, as Malcolm makes the point, they met the standard of probable cause to get the FISA warrant.

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I don`t think the Russians necessarily needed a mole inside Trump`s campaign because all through the campaign season, he was more or less praising Putin and saying things that were in line with what Putin would like to see -- you know, getting rid of sanctions...


MATTHEWS: Releasing Hillary e-mails.

CORN: ... and you know, getting -- and so that -- so there was -- you know, and as we`ve seen, unless he`s putting on a great act...

MATTHEWS: This guy.

NANCE: Yes, Carter Page reminds me almost of Zelig. I mean, he`s not the guy I would sort of use to penetrate a campaign. But there`s a lot else going on, whether he...

MATTHEWS: You think that was resistance tactic, what Malcolm suggested, that loosey-goosey personality...


CORN: ... certainly is being evasive and not answering things directly, yet still seeking the limelight. And if he was being handled by the Russians or the FBI, they both would be telling him, Don`t do this. So I can`t figure out...

MATTHEWS: OK (INAUDIBLE) in on this one. Page was also asked about his trip to Russia last summer for a commencement speech. I don`t know why anybody would want that guy to give a commencement speech, but here`s what he said when asked whether he spoke to anybody outside the community about the U.S. elections. Here he is.


TAPPER: You did not talk to any Russian at all other than students and parents and scholars about the presidential election.

PAGE: I met a few business people, but no negotiations about anything in terms of anything related to the campaign whatsoever.

TAPPER: Well, I`m not talking about negotiations. Did you ever talk with anyone there about maybe President Trump, if he were elected, then- candidate Trump, would be willing to get rid of the sanctions?

PAGE: Never any direct conversations such as that. I mean, look, it`s...

TAPPER: What do you mean direct? What -- what -- I don`t know what that means, direct conversations.

PAGE: Well, I`m just saying no -- that was never -- never said, no.


MATTHEWS: Well, it took him a while to get to that, Matthew! (INAUDIBLE) direct. I mean, the guy is trying to tease something. What`s he doing, just playing a game here?

MATTHEW ROSENBERG, "NEW YORK TIMES": You know, he`s great. He`s easy to get on the phone, but he just talks nothing.

MATTHEWS: Does he talk like that on the phone?

ROSENBERG: Yes. We had this conversation the first time I talked to him, where he mentioned, like, J. Edgar Hoover, Watergate, the Church commission, Muhammad Ali, like, you know, every conspiracy theory in the book in, like, the first 10 minutes. And you`re just, like, what`s going on here? Why is he doing this?

You know, he`s not -- let`s just say the Russians aren`t the only ones who have called him an idiot.


ROSENBERG: But the readout we keep getting from people is -- is that -- is that -- that this was about money for him. He was looking to make money. Did he ever make any real money? There is another question. He doesn`t seem to have done that well, but that this was a money issue for him, that it`s not about being pro-Russian or anti-American or either/or. He wants to be make money.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s talk politics for a second. Why doesn`t Trump -- Trump seems to be -- we`ll get to it later in the show tonight because of this 180 going on like I`ve never seen before. It`s like us after Pearl Harbor. All of a sudden, we`re at war. All of a sudden, we decided -- all of a sudden, we`ve decided that we`re now anti-Russia and we want to get rid of -- the other guy`s a butcher and Assad -- anyway, how does that fit -- is this Trump -- I`m always skeptical -- covering his tracks? Is his new anti-Russian posture to cover all this crazy stuff that was going on during the campaign.

CORN: Trump had the opportunity today to speak out against Putin, and he didn`t. He was asked at the press conference with the NATO secretary general, What is your view -- has your view of Putin changed?


CORN: And he said -- this is almost verbatim -- Russia -- he is -- Russia is a strong country...

MATTHEWS: And we`re a very strong country.

CORN: ... and we`re a very strong country and he`s a strong leader. So he didn`t take the chance. Nikki Haley, Rex Tillerson -- they`re saying whatever they`re saying...

MATTHEWS: Spicer, they`re all doing it!

CORN: ... without any coordination...


CORN: ... and without, you know, the president...

MATTHEWS: Without any coordination! (INAUDIBLE) what you`re saying, that this administration has a secretary of state, it has -- the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a press secretary, and they`re not coordinating, and you just assume that`s...

CORN: I think they`re keeping track of everyone by tweets. That seems to be the best they`re doing at the moment.

MATTHEWS: Malcolm, you made a little chuckle there, and I`m just trying to figure out by your chuckle. It`s just weird. I mean, he`s now decided he`s going to be a cold warrior. He`s going to be tough as any hawkish Middle East policy maker or any neocon. He`s going to take on Assad like he`s a butcher, OK.

I mean, it`s a pretty direct statement, but it`s going back to something like a normal American foreign policy compared to what his thing was going with Bannon and that whole "America first" job. And now he`s into this whole new thing, and it happened, like, overnight because he talked to Ivanka. Excuse me. That seems to be what`s going on.

NANCE: Right. And this is -- well, it appears that he`s making war- fighting decisions on the basis of the politics of emotion. And you know, I had predicted early on that it probably was Ivanka who came into the Oval Office, showed him the video, showed him that she was upset.

You know, we changed all of our norms. He went straight to the Barack Obama school of, Let`s take out the Syrian air force, only he pulled his punch. He didn`t destroy anything other than a few old aircraft that will now be replaced with better airplanes. He didn`t destroy the chemical weapons, and he actually called the enemy and their associates and told them the missiles would be coming, get off the base.

So you know, we are now, possibly because you have General McMaster and you have General Mattis leading the charge, and you know, Tillerson, his rhetoric is now in line with McMaster`s, Mattis...

MATTHEWS: Yes, how do you figure that?

NANCE: ... and Nikki Haley in the White House.

MATTHEWS: How do you figure a guy hiring his own baby-sitters? What do you make of that?


NANCE: I don`t -- to be quite honest, I don`t know. And -- but you know, for the good of this nation...

MATTHEWS: Well, we all feel better because...

NANCE: ... it`s good that we have these commanders.

MATTHEWS: Malcolm, I don`t know your politics, but I know your analytical stuff -- ability, and I think it`s interesting that you`ve come up with a point like a lot of people have. We`re better off having his cabinet run the show than him.

NANCE: Well, he is president of the United States. He gets to be the final decision maker, you know?


NANCE: But this is to him perhaps a form of "Apprentice" and he thinks that this is just the way CEOs do things.

But this is life and death. His statement towards North Korea yesterday terrified me! I mean, the North Koreans are not playing games with these atomic weapons they have, and to make a statement like, Well, if China doesn`t come with us, we`ll just take care of them ourselves -- you know, what he says is going to have real-life consequences which could kill American citizens or cause harm to other nations.

MATTHEWS: Matthew?

ROSENBERG: I think Trump`s probably...

MATTHEWS: This is not a TV show. (INAUDIBLE) I think Malcolm`s right. We get dragged into thinking we`re watching an interesting "Survival" or something here, or "Apprentice," and in fact, the stakes are us.

ROSENBERG: I think what`s always been a big fear, too, is every day, there`s friction with the U.S. somewhere in the world. We`re the biggest world power. And every day, we`ve depended on officials, the president, others to recognize it and ease off and press the gas when necessary.

The fear has always been that Trump will stumble into a war by accident, by talking too tough on North Korea when they`re not playing around, by -- you know, let`s say he launched those Tomahawks in the wrong place and the intelligence isn`t right. You hit some Russians by accident, which is certainly plausible if you try to repeat in Syria.

These are all really serious issues, and we`re getting this kind of tough guy routine followed up by, Well, Russia is a strong country, though, but we are strong, too. It`s kind of bizarre talk in the middle of all this.

CORN: Well, there`s -- there are no core principles that seem to be guiding this, which means that everything is situational, which is how he lives his life. He says what he says at the time, doesn`t matter that he had a different position five nanoseconds ago. It`s all about what`s going to be right at that moment and best for him.

MATTHEWS: I agree with that.

CORN: And that makes it hard -- I mean, I`m sympathetic to McMaster and the people around him because it`s like trying to deal with a tornado that never touches down and you don`t know which direction it`s going while you`re trying to have a coherent policy.

And you know, this is easy to sort of, you know, put -- you know, dismiss. But a lot of countries like to see stability and have an understanding of where a country like the United States is heading, whatever direction, so you can deal with it.

MATTHEWS: I agree with that. And by the way, most -- a lot of the math we do in school is trying to figure out a -- Malcolm, is a trend line. You try to figure out, with all the crazy gyrations, what`s the trend line? I think that what "The New York Times" and "The Post" and everybody else is trying to do and we`re trying to do is figure out where this is taking us every night because it isn`t clear from him.

NANCE: Right.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, it`s great to have you on, Malcolm, as always, Malcolm Nancy, David Corn and Matthew Rosenberg of "The New York Times.

And we`ll have more on the Russian investigation with former CIA director Leon Panetta. He`s coming here tomorrow night at 7:00 PM Eastern right here.

Coming up -- is Trump backing away from Steve Bannon? That`s another weird thing going -- lately, the guy seems to be disowning the guy that brought him. The president tells "The Wall Street Journal" today that Bannon is, quote, "a guy who works for me." That`s it. Sounds like one of the strongest indications yet that Bannon`s days may be numbered.

Plus, Vladimir Putin meets with Secretary Rex Tillerson. After saying relations between the United States and Russia are deteriorating, President Trump says the meeting went better than he thought it would, but our relationship with Russia is at an all-time low. Trump said that late today. We`ll have the latest from Moscow.

And later, we`re going to talk to our roundtable about Trump`s foreign policy, again trying to figure out this baby. Is the president trying to steer this ship of state in a more traditional direction? Well, he was for about two to three minutes today. I thought, Wait a minute. This guy is talking like a regular president.

I caught something in that conversation just for a couple minutes -- I`ll talk about that later -- which mystified me, but impressed me and scared me, too, because who knows if that`ll ever come back again, that two minutes. I want to finish tonight talking about that.

And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: The first lady has settled her defamation lawsuit with "The Daily Mail." Melania Trump filed a suit against the print and on-line editions of the tabloid after it reported she may have, quote, "provided services beyond simply modeling." Isn`t that cute?

Well, Trump and her attorney released a statement today saying "The Daily Mail" has apologized and agreed to pay her millions of dollars in damages and that Mrs. Trump will remain vigilant to protect her good name and reputation from those who make false and defamatory statements about her. Good for her.

And we`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. NBC News reports that President Trump is frustrated with the constant squabbling in the White House, and he meant to fire a warning shot at Steve Bannon just yesterday when he gave this response to a "New York Post" reporter who asked if he still had confidence in his senior adviser.

Quote, "I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late. I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn`t know Steve. I`m my own strategist, and it wasn`t like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary." That`s Trump.

He added this warning. "Steve`s a good guy, but I told him to straighten it out, or I will."

In an interview with "The Wall Street Journal" today, President Trump referred to Bannon as "a guy who works for me."

Meanwhile, there`s another White House official under fire. Press secretary Sean Spicer again apologized for remarks yesterday that seemed to ignore the Holocaust. Spicer told reporters that Adolf Hitler, unlike Syria`s Bashar Assad, didn`t use chemical weapons and didn`t gas his own people.

Well, here was Spicer apologizing today.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I made a mistake. There`s no easy (ph) way -- I mean, there`s no other way to say it. I got into a topic that I shouldn`t have, and I screwed up.

It`s a very holy week for both the Jewish people and the Christian people, and this is not -- to make a gaffe and a mistake like this is inexcusable and reprehensible. On a professional level, it`s disappointing because I think I`ve let the president down. And so on both a personal level and a professional level, that will definitely go down as not a very good day in my -- my history.

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m joined by "Washington Post" columnist Eugene Robinson and, of course, Republican strategist Steve Schmidt.

I should say Steve Schmidt, of course, a Republican strategist.


MATTHEWS: Let me -- what do you make of this? You have been in politics. Gene has been clean on this thing.

You have never been on the inside.


MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about both these guys, first of all, Bannon.

I think somebody once said in a maxim, beware that -- make sure the boss or the king never knows that you know his secrets.


MATTHEWS: And Bannon was on the inside when they were really looking like they weren`t going to win. Bannon was with them during the bus story with Billy Bush and all that. He was with them through that hell that they had to go through. And this guys knows what Trump was like when he thought he was losing.

STEVE SCHMIDT, FORMER MCCAIN CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: Take a step back for a second as we come to the end of the 100 days. It`s the most unsuccessful first 100 days of any presidency in the modern era.

His domestic agenda is completely stagnated. It`s flat. As a Republican and conservative, I`m delighted by the appointment and the Supreme Court justice, Gorsuch, but, aside from that -- and Steve Bannon is the architect of all of this stuff, the chaos of the travel order, the Obamacare.

MATTHEWS: Was it his agenda?



SCHMIDT: Well, his agenda -- and we were talking off-air. This is the 72nd anniversary tonight of the death of Franklin Roosevelt.

And we think about the postwar U.S.-led liberal global order that all presidents of both parties have bought into, the security, the peace of the world, the lifting of two billion people out of abject poverty around the world over the last 70 years, and Steve Bannon is hostile to it.

You have never had someone in either party around a president of the United States with the views as radical as Steve Bannon. And I think, pragmatically, the president is going to have to make a choice. If he has any path to success, any claim to success, he`s going to have to get some of these guys out of there.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of that, Gene? Because it is -- the way Steve points it, there`s NATO, there`s United Nations, there`s the Marshall Plan, everything that worked to restore the world after World War II, everything that was sort of positive.

ROBINSON: Yes. And Bannon doesn`t believe in it and wants to trash it.

I mean, look, if the Trump White House were a slasher movie, we`d all be in the theater screaming, Steve, don`t go in the basement, don`t go in the basement.


MATTHEWS: Don`t go in the wine cellar.


ROBINSON: Exactly, because those quotes from Trump make it sound like he may be the next one to get it, clearly expressed dissatisfaction.


MATTHEWS: Usually, the best friend gets -- the best friend gets knocked off near the end of most movies to make the movie interesting. But you think...

ROBINSON: Yes, but is he the best friend?



Well, what do you make of -- what do you make of Bannon? Do you think that he`s being short -- sold short by Trump when Trump says he`s just a functionary, he`s some guy that works for me around the shed somewhere, you know?

ROBINSON: That`s not what he was during the campaign, and that`s not what he is in the White House.

He has largely set the agenda, I think, for the sort of opening weeks and months of the Trump administration.

MATTHEWS: And they put that out, too.

ROBINSON: And, as Steve said, it has not been successful.


SCHMIDT: It hasn`t worked.

ROBINSON: So, you know, you have got the Bannon-led faction, and you have got the Jared Kushner-led faction.

And the Jared Kushner-led faction is way ahead.

MATTHEWS: Well, they`re about -- that`s exactly what the talk is around the office here among my producers, who I listen to all day.

And it is that Trump likes success. Big surprise. The last couple of weeks have been good for him. Sure, Spicer has got a problem. He will have that problem for a while, maybe for a long while. But the big success has been Gorsuch, as you said, and this fact -- and taking on Assad, who nobody likes, apparently getting through that use of firepower, you know, apparently not killing any Russians, not really doing more damage than minimally necessary.

He looked like a man who could make a decision, and now facing down Putin in a way most Americans would like to see us do, and getting along with China in a way that we know we have to do.

I mean, you know, David Ignatius, who is going to come on the show later, said this has been a magic moment. For a couple minutes there, he seems to be doing it right, and he`s doing it against the advice of Steve Bannon, clearly.

SCHMIDT: Yes, a very successful summit with the Chinese leader, a lot of antagonism towards Jared Kushner with regard to his age, to his inexperience.

But Jared worked to put that summit together. It was successful. So, when you look at the Bannon vs. Kushner fight, it seems to me that the Kushner side of the fight is the one that`s delivering wins and successes for the president. He`s conducting himself in a way that`s resulting in good coverage for the president.

And I think, with regard to Syria, you saw the president of the United States reestablish a fundamental important norm in the international order, which is the United States will strike you if you use chemical weapons, period, full stop. It is, in fact, a red line.


You brought in the subject of the really sad story. This is a Washington story, if there every was one. In his press briefing yesterday, Sean Spicer, trying to make a point about Bashar Assad`s use of chemical weapons by comparing him, something none of us should ever do in life, comparing anybody to Hitler.

He said, during World War II, even Hitler didn`t sink to using chemical weapons. Well, later, a reporter tried to help him clarify that statement. Let`s watch.


QUESTION: Quote: "Hitler didn`t even sink to the level of using chemical weapons," what did you mean by that?

SPICER: I think, when you come to sarin gas, there was no -- he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing.

There is clearly -- I understand -- thank you. Thank you. I appreciate that. There was not in the -- he brought them into the Holocaust center. I understand that.

But I`m saying that in a way that Assad used them, where he went into towns, dropped them down to innocent -- into the middle of towns, it was brought -- so, the use of it. And I appreciate the clarification there. That was not the intent.


MATTHEWS: He was not really in an area of comfort or intelligence there, because what he was saying -- and I will give him the credit -- he was saying, what we all grew up with, World War I was horrific, because, in the trenches, it was all gas.

And then, in World War II, in the battlefield, there was no use of gas even by Hitler at the end.


MATTHEWS: But there was certainly gas used in the gas chambers.

ROBINSON: In the gas chambers.


MATTHEWS: More than six million people dead. And he wasn`t think -- was he parroting something he had heard Trump say a couple hours before?

Somebody before him had said something about battlefield use of chemical weapons, and I think he was saying without any context.

SCHMIDT: Well, I think what he was trying to say was, militarily...


SCHMIDT: ... the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe did not deploy chemical weapons on the battlefield.


SCHMIDT: But, of course, the Nazis murdered, with Zyklon B gas, six million Jews.


MATTHEWS: So is this a killer for him in a world of gaffes?

SCHMIDT: I think...

MATTHEWS: Trump has said worse -- much worse stuff about Barack Obama being an illegal immigrant for seven or eight years, Mexicans all being rapists, Muslims all being killers.

I mean, he meant it when he said it. Those weren`t gaffes.

SCHMIDT: I think the omission of the word Jews from the Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, it might not be a bad idea for some members of the White House staff to maybe go and get an after-hours tour at the Holocaust Museum.



SCHMIDT: Because they are a -- they are a linguistics disaster talking about this, talking about the subject.

MATTHEWS: Well, they should go to there tomorrow.

SCHMIDT: And it`s important because each generation, particularly as the generation that fought that war, that survived those camps passes from the span of a human lifetime, it`s now our obligation to bear witness to the greatest crime in all of humanity.

ROBINSON: It absolutely is. And don`t ever just easily reach for the Hitler analogy.


ROBINSON: Don`t ever, ever, ever do that.

MATTHEWS: I`m so proud of my uncle George. He was a tank commander and he went into one of those camps.


MATTHEWS: They weren`t called Holocaust centers.


ROBINSON: No, they weren`t.

MATTHEWS: They were camps.

Anyway, I do wish him well, in the sense that I think Spicer has made a mistake. And that`s what it is, a mistake.

Anyway, Eugene Robinson, Steve Schmidt, thank you.

Up next: Donald Trump says relations between the United States and Russia are now at an all-time low, this as his secretary of state sat down with Vladimir Putin for a meeting in Moscow that Trump says, although he hadn`t talked to Tillerson, said went better than he thought it would.


MATTHEWS: This is the craziest group. They don`t even talk to each other.

Anyway, this is HARDBALL.

It`s not funny. Why am I laughing?


PAGE HOPKINS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Page Hopkins. And here`s what`s happening.

The U.S. dollar dropped suddenly against the yen today, after President Trump said the currency was getting too strong.

United Airlines will refund the fares of all passengers aboard that flight from which a passenger was forcibly dragged out. Two more officers involved in that incident have been placed on leave.

And Tesla has a major parking shortage at its California facility, despite being the most valuable U.S. carmaker. Tesla`s CEO called it one of his biggest nightmares -- and now we`re going to take you back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Candidate Trump campaigned on resetting relations with Russia. And today, as his secretary of state wrapped up a meeting in Moscow, President Trump wasn`t so optimistic.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that, based on everything I`m hearing, things went pretty well, maybe better than anticipated.

It would be wonderful, as we were discussing just a little while ago, if NATO and our country could get along with Russia. Right now, we`re not getting along with Russia at all. We may be at an all-time low in terms of relationship with Russia.

This has built for a long period of time, but we`re going to see what happens.


MATTHEWS: Well, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sat down with Russian President Vladimir Putin for nearly two hours today. According to "The New York Times," it wasn`t such a success.

The two men appeared unable to agree on the facts involving deadly chemical weapons assault. Well, hours later -- actually, hours earlier, in a clear dig at President Trump, Putin also told Russian television that U.S.- Russian relations were lower than it had been under the Obama administration.

Well, Tillerson concluded that two-hour meeting with a tense public briefing alongside foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Their differences were most apparent when it comes to Assad`s role in that chemical attack.


REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The perspective from the United States, supported by the facts that we have, are conclusive, that the recent chemical weapons attack carried out in Syria was planned, and it was directed and executed by Syrian regime forces.

SERGEI LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (voice-over): I would have to echo the words, it`s quite evident this topic with regard to which we have differences of opinion.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, for more, I`m joined by Julia Ioffe, a foreign policy writer for "Atlantic." And she attended that press conference and joins me from Moscow. And Bianna Golodryga, a Yahoo News and finance anchor.

Thank you both.

Let me go with Julia.

Give me a sense of what you thought of that meeting.

JULIA IOFFE, "THE ATLANTIC": I thought it was fascinating.

First of all, Vladimir Putin, even after playing games for about 24 hours, he`s not going to meet with Tillerson, he is going to meet with Tillerson, he showed up to that meeting on time, which is unheard of. He was 45 minutes late to meet the pope. He was four hours late to meet Angela Merkel. He was three hours late to meet John Kerry once, and he was on time for Tillerson.

And during that press conference, what was interesting is, Tillerson held a pretty firm line. He said things that we don`t even hear from President Trump. He said, you know, the case is pretty much closed. The evidence is all there on Russian meddling in the U.S. elections.

He called -- he didn`t push back against somebody invoking President Trump calling Assad an animal. He said he brought it on himself. And, meanwhile, you had Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sitting next to him, trying to paper over these differences, trying to say, well, we`re talking. We`re talking about talking. We`re going to get this thing back on track.

So, the Russians, from everything I have been hearing in the last couple days, are really kind of caught off-guard by this 180 in the last few days. And they`re holding on to any kind of shred of hope or explanation as to why this is happening, that, you know, President Trump has his 100-day marker coming up, and he has to have something to show for his first 100 days. He`s beholden to people like John McCain or Lindsey Graham or Marco Rubio. He has to appease the neocons.

So, they`re trying to latch onto any kind of explanation they can and any kind of hope they can that maybe, if Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump sit down together, the same kind of great chemistry that Trump talks about in his meeting with Chinese leader Xi, that this could possibly happen with Putin.

MATTHEWS: Bianna, your thinking? Do they want peace? Do they want a good relationship or what?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO NEWS: Well, they want to be the two superpowers of the world. So both countries really got to walk away with something and a bit of leverage.

I mean, Lavrov had home court advantage, and he really capitalized on that. It was interesting. He sort of schooled, and was very patronizing at the time for Rex Tillerson, calling him a political neophyte and reminding him of the U.S.` history of past incursions in the Middle East and warning against regime change as well.

It`s interesting also, when talk came up about sanctions, they seemed to speak over each other, Rex Tillerson at one point saying that Russia acted so suspiciously in Syria that it warrants bringing up increased sanctions. And Lavrov quickly responded by saying, sanctions were not discussed at all.

I will say that who was watching this closely, aside from the rest of the world, obviously, was Ukraine, because there was a moment that was reported upon when Tillerson had been meeting with his G7 counterparts and a report suggesting that he asked them point blank, why should American taxpayers care about sanctions on Ukraine?

Of course, that sent alarm bells as well. But, as Julia said, Russia is really trying to try and figure out who Donald Trump is, who`s the real Donald Trump?

Meantime, President Trump still has not publicly said anything against Vladimir Putin personally.

MATTHEWS: Julia, I had the sense that Trump still wants to pull a masterstroke of foreign policy and cut a deal with Putin that somehow uses Russian leverage on our side in the Middle East, so that everybody will say greatest president ever, because if he can pull a deal like that, it will be better than Teddy Roosevelt in the Russo-Japanese War and everything else.

You know, what do you think? Has he still got -- and, by the way, when the Russians say things that aren`t true at the top, do the people over there believe them? Do they believe there wasn`t any gas used in Syria?

IOFFE: Yes, I mean, it depends on what -- you know, how many versions you see of this.

But, look, Russia has always acted not just as Bashar al-Assad`s ultimate backer, but as his defense attorney, right? They`re his Johnnie Cochran. They don`t need to prove definitively that somebody else used the chemical weapons.

They just have to muddy the waters a little bit and offer other potentially plausible versions, so that people can say, well, all these other things could have happened, too, and how do we know that this one version put out by the Americans, who already have a flawed track record when it comes to presenting intelligence about weapons of mass destruction -- destruction, and using it as a pretext for military action, you know, when you consider all this other stuff, it`s perfectly reasonable?

MATTHEWS: Last word for both of you.

First of all to Julia, do they believe the Russians helped Trump win?


MATTHEWS: They don`t?

OK. Bianna, do they think the Russians helped Trump win?

IOFFE: No, they don`t.

GOLODRYGA: I`m sorry, what?

MATTHEWS: Do they believe the Russians helped Trump win?

GOLODRYGA: Do they believe that Russians helped Trump win?

I think it depends on who you ask. I think, for the most part, no. I think they believe in Vladimir Putin. I think that he`s been able to distract them from economic distraughts at home. The country is now on its third year of economic recession, because we`re talking about Russia on a daily basis.

And we have spent three days debating as to whether Vladimir Putin would meet with Rex Tillerson. This is the fourth administration that`s been trying to understand and develop some sort of relationship with Vladimir Putin.

So, I would just warn President Trump to be quick and don`t focus too much about outfoxing Vladimir Putin, because he`s outlasted a lot of his predecessors.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Julia Ioffe and Bianna Golodryga.

Up next: Trump`s foreign policy. Is the president trying to steer the ship of state in a more traditional direction now, all of a sudden? The HARDBALL Roundtable is here coming up next.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Donald Trump has been consistent when it comes to his domestic policy America first. It`s a line he repeated throughout his campaign and strongly reiterated during his inaugural address.

But it`s his foreign policy that has been a work in progress. Today, he walked back his campaign criticism that NATO was obsolete and he told "The Wall Street Journal" that he would no longer declare China a currency manipulator. And if you didn`t know who was speaking, you`d think it was Hillary Clinton.

Is Donald Trump finally being normalized?

For more, I`m joined by our round table tonight: David Ignatius, columnist for "The Washington Post", Indira Lakshmanan, who`s a columnist with "The Boston Globe", and ethics chair for the Poynter Institute, and Howard which is more to you? Which of those two? Anyway, I like "The Globe" part. Anyway, and Howard Fineman, of course, is global editorial director for "The Huffington Post", which is enough of a job in itself.

Howard, I`m going to go -- I`ve got to go with David because we read your column today. For a couple, I`m going to say this at the end of the show tonight, for a couple of moments during his press conference today, I said, my God, Trump is capable of sustaining for a few minutes what sounds like common sense about the need to have a skeptical view of Russia, kind of a keep them calm view of China, and a tough view of Assad. And I thought it all made sense for a day -- for a while today.

DAVID IGNATIUS, THE WASHINGTON POST: I thought the press conference today was an unusual -- this has been a catastrophic three months for Donald Trump. I thought today`s press conference, we saw somebody who was learning how to be president. I thought the way he described his meetings with Xi Jinping, the president of China, arguably the most important country for the U.S. to learn to deal with, the way he described working with Xi to figure out a way to deal with North Korea`s nuclear program, I thought those were the things that you want a president to do. He talked about them in the right way.

Just one final point. When he said that NATO is no longer obsolete, note - - he said it wasn`t obsolete because he fixed it. He said it`s now dealing with terrorism. So, it`s no longer -- so it was a win for Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: He also had an ally there, the head of NATO, which is -- the Norwegian guy. It was amazing to see somebody who didn`t like they`re embarrassed to be there for the first time. Indira?

INDIRA LAKSHMANAN, BOSTON GLOBE: I think the problem here is that Donald Trump is doing foreign policy by gut, and this is not foreign policy by expertise or by knowledge.

MATTHEWS: Or history.

LAKSHMANAN: Or history. It`s basically based on who he last spoke to. So, before he meets the Chinese leader, China`s a currency manipulator. Once he sits down with him, spends an evening with him, a day, he`s like, oh, he`s not that bad. He makes some interesting points, particularly about North Korea. Actually North Korea, handling it harder than I thought it was. I`m so surprised.

I mean the consistent message here is that Donald Trump is inconsistent from the campaign until now.

MATTHEWS: Indira, aren`t you giving me the definition of the ultimately unsophisticated person?

LAKSHMANAN: I mean this is the problem. He didn`t understand how hard foreign policy was. He didn`t understand how hard health care was.

He keeps saying things, like nobody knew how hard health care was. Actually, we all knew that. Nobody knew how hard controlling North Korea was. We did actually know that.

So, he`s suddenly finding out all these things.

MATTHEWS: I agree with you.

LAKSHMANAN: But, you know, he said, I alone can fix it. He said, I know more about ISIS than the generals. And, you know, now based on whoever last influences him, whether it`s Ivanka over the Syrian gas attacks or whatever, he`s changing policy as it goes.

MATTHEWS: Howard, where did he find this sudden scholar? Where did he come from?


MATTHEWS: Left from the womb --


MATTHEWS: He said I don`t know any of this stuff.

FINEMAN: I don`t think he`s pretending that he`s a scholar. I think, you know, this is like Henry Kissinger on Mountain Dew. He rushed onto the stage. Suddenly, he`s making all kinds of big elaborate plays between Russia and China. He was basically sort of saying to Russia today in so many words, you know, OK, I don`t have to just like you. I really like China right now, you know, because I spent time with Xi Jinping. He came down to Mar-a-Lago --

MATTHEWS: Oh my God. I know what you`re saying. You`re almost my age. You`re saying Betty and Veronica.


FINEMAN: He`s really a great guy. I think the danger in this --

MATTHEWS: Oh my God!

FINEMAN: -- the danger in this is, you know, we demand of every president they have a doctrine. You know, the Obama doctrine, the Truman doctrine. Trump is saying, I don`t have a doctrine. I`m flexible.

So, if I can use a football analogy, he`s going to be -- he`s not going to listen to the coach on the sidelines. He`s going to run out onto the field. He`s going to call all the plays himself.

MATTHEWS: Audibles.

FINEMAN: Audibles -- even though he`s never played football.

Now, he may have a great gut for this, and he may be able to simplistically say, you know what, I`m going to no longer say that China is a currency manipulator and they`re not going to ship coal to North Korea, and they`re going to play with me, and that`s going to make Putin scared. I mean, he doesn`t know any of the underlying stuff. So, who is really --

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s start around the room with when it gets close to mattering. It`s not about deliberation necessarily, but it`s about preparedness. How does he prepare to keep Kim Jong-un from firing off a missile in the next four years?

IGNATIUS: Well, clearly, what he`s decided is that when Kim and North Korea do not yet have the ability to strike the United States with a nuclear weapon is the time to deal with this problem, and I think that`s probably good policy. If you wait until they have the ability to attack, that`s a much, much different, much worse. So, I think he`s looked that in the eye.

I think he`s in many ways winging it. This man was radically unprepared to be president. He`s kind of in a sense lurching from issue to issue.

He has seemed in the last week to have more balance. I don`t think it`s just the last person he talked to. I think he`s restrained himself just enough to let the policy process work. Note that he didn`t -- he could have blown up all this diplomacy with stupid tweets in the middle of it, and generally he didn`t, and that`s a difference from right after the inauguration.

FINEMAN: I agree with that. He has -- he has pretty much stopped, pretty much, not entirely. He has pretty much for now stopped trying to conduct diplomacy by tweet.

MATTHEWS: Indira, last word. That`s good news.

LAKSHMANAN: Strategy does require discipline, and this man is ill- disciplined. We know that. He does still have a twitchy Twitter finger and I expect that to come back. You need predictability in foreign policy. Your allies need it. Your adversary --

MATTHEWS: What do they prefer, a neophyte or a neocon?


FINEMAN: Trump is saying no to predictability. He`s saying, I`m going to handle this the way I handle real estate negotiation in Manhattan.

MATTHEWS: You`ll all be back in a minute. The roundtable is sticking with us.

And up next, they`re going to tell me something I don`t know. That`s always the exciting part of the show.

And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Senator Orrin Hatch isn`t ready to call it quits just yet. He plans to seek re-election in 2018 because President Trump wants him to stay put. Take a listen.


SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: He is all over me to run again. My leadership in the Republican Senate are all over me to run again. The House leadership, some of those want me to run again.

You know, I don`t want to hold on to this job just to hold on to it. If I couldn`t do the job or I wasn`t in a position to really help this country come out of the mess it`s in -- yes, I wouldn`t consider it at all. But I know I`m in a position where I can help, where I can help Donald Trump like nobody else can.


MATTHEWS: Well, the 83-year-old senator previously said he may not seek an eighth term if Mitt Romney decided to run for the Senate seat in Utah. I guess that`s gone. He`s sticking.

We`ll be right back.


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

David, tell me something I don`t know.

IGNATIUS: Such is the animosity towards Steve Bannon among some of his White House colleagues that his statement after he was fired from the NSC that he had just been trying to de-operationalize the NSC was described by one of his colleagues as an insult to the NSC.


LAKSHMANAN: Today, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson was stuck in an elevator at a housing project in Miami that he was visiting that is co-owned by Miami Heat`s Alonzo Mourning and his nonprofit. And the idea of being stuck in a housing development in the elevator just felt to me like an analogy for something.

MATTHEWS: Housing.

FINEMAN: Well, since this is Bannon week, let me add that Donald Trump likes his senior advisers to look shipshape. He likes Rex Tillerson looking like the big dog. He likes --

MATTHEWS: We`re looking at Bannon right now.

FINEMAN: And that particular picture of Steve Bannon, which was on the front page of drudge today, significantly on the conservative website is an expression of Donald Trump`s displeasure. Shape up or ship out.

MATTHEWS: Oh, my God. Trump`s not exactly a skinny mini.

FINEMAN: He doesn`t have to do with skinny.

IGNATIUS: He wears a tie.

FINEMAN: He wears a tie.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you, David Ignatius, Indira Lakshmanan, and Howard Fineman.

When we return, let me finish tonight with Trump Watch. He ain`t going to like it.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Wednesday, April 12th, 2017.

Donald Trump never took Winston Churchill`s advice to study history. For him, the earth was created in quite recent memory. Everything is without precedent. The hugest, the whateverest. Nothing ever happened before, and everything now is -- as he put is so finely this afternoon -- a mess.

Well, let`s start with the mess part, which is easiest to explain because if you accept his statement that all is lost, then anything is not a mess a few months from now. It goes to his credit. He will be the one who rose us up from the mess.

It`s his ignorance of the past, of history that I predict is going to confound us. Didn`t he take any humanities courses at Penn? Didn`t he read anything at all in his 70 years? Didn`t he give any thought to anything but real estate?

Trump seems to be thinking about the Mideast, Russia, NATO, the whole ball wax, the whole globe we live on for the first time. Does he know we have to wear two hats in the Mideast? One is an ally of Israel, one is an honest broker. Does he know we have to avoid at all cost a military confrontation with Russia?

Does he know how frightening tricky it is to keep Kim Jong-un from firing off a missile? Does he have a sense of where we`ve been on relationships to be able to handle a territory now? Does he know the hazards that have all scared -- scared all the men before him?

Maybe we`ll strike it just right like the proverbial monkey given enough time on the keyboard will type "Merry Christmas." But should we dread the thought of how many other combinations he`s capable of in the meantime.

Here`s something I really worry about. Late today in his press conference, I thought for a few minutes that when Trump was talking about giving our relationship with Russia time, when he talked about really getting to know China`s President Xi, when he called Bashar al Assad a butcher, I thought I heard someone say, merry Christmas.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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