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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 6/21/17 Trump holds rally in Iowa

Guests: Jeremy Peters, Richard Blumenthal, Tim Ryan, Jim Himes, Karoun Demirjian, Jonathan Swan, Ginger Gibson, Toluse Olorunnipa, Jennifer Rubin

Show: HARDBALL Date: June 21, 2017 Guest: Jeremy Peters, Richard Blumenthal, Tim Ryan, Jim Himes, Karoun Demirjian, Jonathan Swan, Ginger Gibson, Toluse Olorunnipa, Jennifer Rubin


Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

On Capitol Hill today, dramatic testimony about Russia`s interference in the American election last year and warnings that they could do it again. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees both held hearings this morning on Russia`s influence, and among the people testifying was former Department of Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson. And his was a dark picture of a serious and continuing threat. Let`s watch him.


JEH JOHNSON, FMR. DHS SECRETARY: In 2016, the Russian government, at the direction of Vladimir Putin himself, orchestrated cyber attacks on our nation for the purpose of influencing our election. That is a fact, plain and simple.

BILL PRIESTAP, ASST. DIR., FBI COUNTERINTELLIGENCE DIV.: This was a -- my opinion -- a well planned, well coordinated, multifaceted attack on our election process and democracy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are we prepared today to say publicly how many states were targeted?

JEANETTE MANFRA, ACTING DIR. DHS NATIONAL PROTECTION AND PROGRAMS: We -- as of right now, we have evidence of 21 states, or election-related systems in 21 states that were targeted.

SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Russia continues to engage in exploitation of the U.S. elections process.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: I`m deeply concerned about the danger posed by future interference in our elections and attempts by Russia to undermine confidence in our whole electoral system.

REP. DENNY HECK (D), WASHINGTON: Fair to assume you were concerned, if not worried, about `16 and `18 elections and all others going forward?



MATTHEWS: Testimony was a dramatic rebuke to a White House that has consistently dismissed that threat. Yesterday, Sean Spicer said he couldn`t even say that the president believes Russia was behind the plot. Let`s Watch Spicer in action.


QUESTION: Does President Trump believe that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 elections?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think -- I have not sat down and talked to him about that specific thing. Obviously, we`ve been dealing with a lot of other issues today. I`d be glad to touch base and...

QUESTION: Generally speaking, I mean, this conversation about Russian interference in our elections, there`s 16 intelligence agencies that say that they did. The former FBI director said that without a doubt, the Russians...

SPICER: I understand. I`ve seen the reports.

QUESTION: Does the president share those views?

SPICER: I have not sat down and asked him about the specific reaction to them, so I`d be glad to touch base and get back to you.


MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump has consistently hedged, of course, on the question of Russian interference. He`s called it fake news and an excuse by the Democrats, of course. Let`s watch.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hacking was very interesting. Once they hack, if you don`t catch them in the act, you`re not going to catch them. They have no idea if it`s Russia or China or somebody. It could be somebody sitting in a bed someplace. Personally, it could be Russia. It -- it -- I don`t really think it is, but who knows? I don`t know, either. They don`t know and I don`t know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you accept their opinion that Vladimir Putin ordered the hack of the DNC, the attempted hack of the RNC?

TRUMP: As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don`t think it`s phony that they, the Russians, tried to meddle in the election. You believe that...

TRUMP: That I don`t know.


TRUMP: If you don`t catch a hacker, OK, in the act, it`s very hard to say who did the hacking. With that being said, I`ll go along with Russia. Could have been China. Could have been a lot of different groups.


MATTHEWS: What`s with the hedging? Joining me right now is NBC`s Ken Dilanian, of course, U.S. Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut -- he`s a member of the Intelligence Committee -- "The Washington Post`s" Karoun Demirjian and Jonathan Swan of Axios.

I want to go to the congressman right now. And we have a commander-in- chief -- and that is part of the role of this president -- who does not acknowledge we were attacked. I`ve never heard of a country that`s been attacked where the commander-in-chief says, Maybe. I mean, what kind of an answer is that from -- you`re supposed to have a guy like Churchill that says, Damn it, we`re going to stop this, a little fire maybe. And you have no fire from this guy except what`s he hiding? That`s all we ask. What`s he hiding?

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: Yes, and look it`s a huge problem. I mean, when we think about the response to the Russians -- and the response is really important. And quite frankly, President Obama, though he had some measures to retaliate, they did not make an impression on Vladimir Putin. When there`s ambiguity on the part of the United States president about whether it even happened, the Russians are lapping that up, you know?

And so one of the things that needs to happen -- and you know, of course, the president is alone in his assessment. And by the way, you know, he`s not wrong. It`s hard to attribute cyber attacks. It`s not easy. But we do it, and we do it well, and there`s no question about this.

So one of the things that needs to happen is that he, as the president of the United States and commander-in-chief, needs to join the effort of countering what the Russians did. If he doesn`t do that, it`s happening again.

MATTHEWS: You know, Karoun, this is not an opinion question. You know, Do you like lower taxes, higher taxes, do you want a little more socialism, a little less socialism? And those opinions are honest opinions. This is about fact. Is there? You know, is there evolution, or is it all -- (INAUDIBLE) did somebody make those dinosaur bones and make them up and bury them in the ground and fake it for somebody? Is there no climate change despite, you know, Kilimanjaro is melting and the seas around Florida are rising all the time, the polar bears are looking for new places to live? I mean, and now this.

It`s not a question of the president -- it`s not a question of having an opinion. It`s a question of him denying fact, of every one of our 17 intelligence agencies. Why does he deny it? What`s the politics of denial about here? Because I haven`t quite figured it, except I have one theory, deny everything, everything, and maybe your people back in the places that they love you will think you`re strong.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, you`ve cited a bunch of examples there as comparisons where a lot of people have chosen to ignore evidence that points in one direction...

MATTHEWS: It`s all...


MATTHEWS: I don`t know where he is on evolution, but go ahead.

DEMIRJIAN: Right. Well, OK, but in this situation...

MATTHEWS: He hasn`t evolved.

DEMIRJIAN: The thing that`s really remarkable right now is that his surrogates are saying that they`re not even discussing it with him. And there`s reason...


MATTHEWS: ... by the way, Sean was supposed to check with the boss on that. How many days do we have to wait for that?

DEMIRJIAN: Well, I mean, we may be waiting a lot longer because think about it. We`re five months into his presidency right now, more than six months since we started talking about this. If the president hasn`t said, Yes, I believe the intelligence community`s assessment to this point, what behooves (ph) him to say it now, experience because the idea of -- today was one of those unique days where we`re really just talking about the Russian threat posed by hacking for future elections and (ph) would have been done in the past.

Usually, when we talk about that, we`re also talking about these allegations of collusion between the Trump surrogates and the Kremlin officials...

MATTHEWS: Of course.

DEMIRJIAN: ... which has been a reason for him to resist this. That is -- it is almost impossible these days to separate the two, except for (INAUDIBLE) days like today, where we`re really focused on that future Russian threat. And so if the president hasn`t gotten in lockstep with pretty much everybody else in Washington by this point, I`m not holding my breath to...


MATTHEWS: ... Christmas presents under the tree, you expect the kids to come racing down in the morning to get the gifts, and if they don`t, there`s something strange. He ran downstairs to get the gifts. Go ahead.

JONATHAN SWAN, AXIOS: Oh, it`s funny (ph), Chris. Like, anyone who spends any time around the president, the people we talk to on a daily basis as part of our reporting will tell you privately the president does not believe that Russia was behind this, that he thinks the whole thing is fake news, and he`s always sounding off about this.

So there`s no good answer for Sean Spicer because I`m sure, if Sean Spicer is spending any time in the president`s vicinity, he`s hearing this. So I mean, that`s just the incontrovertible fact. And James Comey said himself that the only time Trump spoke to him about Russia was when he asked him to lay off Flynn.

MATTHEWS: OK. Ken, I want you to handle (ph) this. Earlier this month, James Comey did testify the president showed little interest in the cyber attack. Here we go.


SEN. MARTIN HEINRICH (D), NEW MEXICO: Did the president in any of those interactions that you`ve shared with us today ask you what you should be doing or what our government should be doing, or the intelligence community, to protect America against Russian interference in our election system?

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I don`t recall a conversation like that.



HEINRICH: Do you find it odd...

COMEY: Not with President Trump.


COMEY: I attended a fair number of meetings on that with President Obama.


MATTHEWS: Well, meanwhile, the attorney general testified he never received a briefing on Russia`s activities. Let`s watch him. This is Sessions.


SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Do you believe the Russians interfered with the 2016 elections?

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: It appears so. The intelligence community seems to be united in that. But I have to tell you, Senator King, I know nothing but what I`ve read in the paper. I`ve never received any detailed briefing on how a hacking occurred or how information was alleged to have influenced the campaign...

KING: No, between the -- you`ve received no briefing on the Russian active measures in connection with the 2016 election.

SESSIONS: No. I don`t believe I ever did.


MATTHEWS: Ken, speculation from you, sir. Why would the president refuse to even learn what`s available to him? He can bring anyone in this country, in the world, really, into the Oval Office for information if he wants it. The world`s ready to brief him. He doesn`t want to know. His attorney general doesn`t want to know. What`s the reasonable speculation about why they don`t want to know the Russians did what they did?

KEN DILANIAN, NBC INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, look, it`s clear that Donald Trump sees this as impugning his election victory.

But I want to talk to you, Chris, about the real world implications of his refusal to come to grips with it. And the fact is, there is no political leadership from the White House on this issue, and therefore, there has been no response. And we learned today that we are still undecided and unprepared for the next wave of Russians attacks that intelligence officials tell us is coming in 2018.

MATTHEWS: Well -- that`s a great question, Congressman. What does the legislative body do if the executive body doesn`t want to do anything? What can you do to protect us again -- well, we got these special elections. Probably, that was small potatoes for the -- for the -- what we used to call the reds. I don`t think they`re involved in Georgia 6th, or whatever it was. But I do think they have an interest in screwing it up again next time, next -- next fall.

HIMES: Yes, I know. And the frustrating thing here is that a good response would start with the commander-in-chief saying, This happened, this was a serious attack on our democracy. And by the way, that would help the hearing. You know, nobody wants this hearing to be dragged out. I`d much rather be focusing on things that are of much more immediate concern to my constituents. I know the White House would like to not be talking about this investigation. Sadly, the White House`s approach has been exactly the opposite that would you expect it to be if there was nothing to hide...

MATTHEWS: So what is he hiding?

HIMES: Well, I don`t know what he`s hiding...

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) you really don`t know. You`ve got -- what do you think it is? Is it something that his son-in-law said to the Russians about sanctions? Was it some mixing of economic motive, personal economic motive from the Trump-land with his government responsibilities during the transition? What would it -- was it something Flynn said to Kislyak? Was it something said over a period of time by all the -- Carter Page, the whole rest of them? Manafort, was it his shenanigans?

HIMES: Yes, I...

MATTHEWS: Don`t you have a suspicion as to where this...


HIMES: I have my suspicions. But look, it`s really important -- the president`s not taking this seriously. It`s pretty important that everybody else, including the investigators, take this seriously and therefore not start speculating about where this may end up.

You and I both know that there are all kinds of questions. There were tons of meetings that weren`t reported by pretty much everybody, Flynn, Sessions, the attorney general, others. We have a long way to go on this, and it would be -- and it would be assisted and helped and it would move much more rapidly if the president would get on board, acknowledge that it happened, and then just say, Hey, nothing to hide here. We will help in any way we can.

MATTHEWS: If you had Flynn ready to spill the beans tomorrow morning in testimony, would you give him immunity?

HIMES: Well...

MATTHEWS: No, tomorrow morning end this -- you said you want this over with. You get Flynn, you put the hot seat on -- put him in the hot seat and say, You`re going to jail for 20 years, or you tell the truth right now about President Trump. Would you do that as a deal right now?

HIMES: Only if he`s got something to offer. Remember, if he...

MATTHEWS: You don`t think he`s got anything to offer?

HIMES: Well, you know...

MATTHEWS: Well, if he doesn`t...


MATTHEWS: ... a lot of them are clean!

HIMES: You wouldn`t give him immunity...

MATTHEWS: If he`s clean -- do you think he might be clean?

HIMES: I`m not saying that. I`m saying you wouldn`t give him immunity unless you knew what he had to offer. So you don`t to come and say, I`ll testify...

MATTHEWS: I just asked you, if you knew he was ready to spill the beans on Trump, would you give it to him?

HIMES: Well, he offered that. He offered -- he offered to testify in exchange for immunity.

MATTHEWS: Would you give it to him?

HIMES: I haven`t heard what he has to offer, so I can`t make a judgment there.

MATTHEWS: But you were not -- you won`t speculate if he`s -- see, I just want to move this forward, too, and if some people are ready to spin the -- people that are ready to sing, I`d like to hear them sing. I don`t care if a guy goes to jail for five years. I want to know what the president did.

DEMIRJIAN: Well, that`s an option, but you do have to weigh what each person might have to offer with what the next person up the pecking order might have to offer and balance all those things. But to get back to your other question about...


MATTHEWS: ... careful.

DEMIRJIAN: Well -- well...

MATTHEWS: But the problem -- now everybody`s being so careful, you`re being careful (INAUDIBLE) My question is, if you want it to move faster, like you just said, let`s move it!


MATTHEWS: OK, that`s (INAUDIBLE) I`m getting a little tough here because I do worry that everybody`s being so careful and special about this, what we`re going to end up with is a lot of wasted time.


HIMES: Chris, this is really important.

MATTHEWS: He offered to...


MATTHEWS: He offered to talk months ago!


HIMES: We`re talking about the core of our democracy!

MATTHEWS: You think he`s flipped yet? Has he flipped?

HIMES: You have got to be careful...


MATTHEWS: OK, has Flynn flipped yet? Has he flipped?

HIMES: My guess is -- now, remember, I don`t have any particular insight into what`s happening with the FBI, but my guess is that Michael Flynn has had a number of conversations with the Department of Justice investigators.

MATTHEWS: Jon, have you heard if he`s flipped yet?

SWAN: I have no idea, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Ken, has he filled?

DILANIAN: I don`t have reporting on that, Chris, but I think Representative Himes makes sense there.

MATTHEWS: Which is? Let me hear the sense again. I need -- I need -- I need...


DILANIAN: Which is that he`s had a number of conversations...

MATTHEWS: ... sophistication from you guys.

DILANIAN: I mean, when your lawyer -- when your lawyer issues a public statement...


DILANIAN: ... saying, "My client has a story to tell"...

MATTHEWS: We`re all being a little prissy around here!

DILANIAN: No, no. Well...

MATTHEWS: I`m just getting a little tired of it. Let`s go! What? What?


DILANIAN: No, I`m saying when your lawyer issues a statement saying, My client has a story to tell, you can assume he`s negotiating...


DILANIAN: ... with the Department of Justice (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS: He has so many -- the reason I bring this up is this guy Flynn has so many charges coming, so much failure to report honestly on all the forms. There`s Saudi Arabia now. There`s Turkey now. There`s Russia now. And not one time in any incident has he been clear and honest in filling out the forms, which each case carries a felony charge of about five years against him! If I were him, I`d say, It`s time to sell what I got.

DILANIAN: That`s a point, but no offense to the congressman, it`s not really the House`s call. If you really want to see Flynn face any consequences, that`s more Mueller`s call at this point, which is why all these deconfliction talks are happening between each of the committee heads and the members. But just to...


MATTHEWS: ... some rats. You know, John Dean was a good rat. And if you get some rats, you own (ph) the movie (ph) a lot faster. Before we even had the tapes, we had John Dean. Talk, somebody! And somebody`s got to give this guy some rat food so he`ll start talking!


DILANIAN: Yes, but Chris, remember Oliver North...


DILANIAN: Oliver North was given immunity by Congress, and it screwed up the prosecution and his conviction was overturned. That`s what they don`t want to happen here, right?

DEMIRJIAN: Right. Right. Right. And in the meantime, I just wanted to point out that there is something else the Congress is trying to do, which is that the Senate just passed a sanctions bill, which is hugely, hugely popular that is kind of dying on the footsteps of the House right now because of technical problems. And so the question is, you know, are there other things they can do to combat this -- or to combat the threat going down the line (ph) while they`re waiting...


MATTHEWS: Whenever governments with weaker...

SWAN: (INAUDIBLE) White House problem.

MATTHEWS: Governments with weaker constitutions have fallen by this inaction, you know? The Greeks. The colonels (ph) just came in because Greek democracy wasn`t working. At some point, our government has to begin to perform. That is my major concern. It doesn`t seem to perform.

Anyway, thank you. Ken Dilanian, you`re such a grown-up, and I`m just ridiculously crazy here.

DILANIAN: Not at all, Chris. Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, U.S. Congressman Jim Himes -- I`m being though on everybody, especially Karoun. Thank you, Karoun Demirjian...


MATTHEWS: ... putting up with me. Jonathan, you`re such an Australian gentleman.

SWAN: Thank you, mate!

MATTHEWS: Coming up, much more on the...


MATTHEWS: You`ll pay for that! The Russian investigation, including a new report that even though the CIA had blackmail concerns about Michael Flynn when he was national security adviser, they still briefed him on top -- this is a (INAUDIBLE) Rachel had this late. It came in late from "The Times" last night. We didn`t get it. We`re going to get it now. Why would (INAUDIBLE) Pompeo, the head of the CIA, sit there and listen to everything going to Flynn all the time they knew the guy was a bit corrupted? Slightly. That`s ahead.

Plus, more with those -- 130 members of Congress have signed on a lawsuit against President Trump. We`ll see where that`s going. They say he`s violating the United States Constitution. We`ll hear their case tonight from Senator Blumenthal.

What`s next for the Democrats, by the way, after their devastating defeat last night in Georgia? With all that hype about this guy`s going to win, he lost. One Democratic congressman says his party`s brand is worse than Trump`s. Democrats need to figure out how to win, by the way, in the age of Trump. And so far, 0 for 4.

Finally, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch."

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: This is a sad day. And in many ways, this is a way to expose with a little bit of humor, to expose the absurdity of this moment in time. It`s something that -- right now, there are literally Americans fearing what might be in this bill. For this all to be happening in privacy and secrecy is absurd. So we didn`t get a bill here, but what we got is a further affirmation that this is just a really destructive process when it comes to workings of the Senate.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was, of course, Democratic senator Cory Booker of New Jersey yesterday after he went to the Congressional Budget Office with a group of other Democrats to attempt to see the Republican health care bill.

Well, while lawmakers on both sides of the aisle haven`t seen the bill yet, NBC News has learned that Senate Republicans will be given, quote, "a discussion draft" -- isn`t that cute -- tomorrow morning. That`s all they`re going to get.

I`m joined right now by himself, Senator Cory Booker. Give us a sense of - - as you guys meet in the -- and women meet in the caucus, how you think you can protect "Obama care" and perhaps improve upon it over the next couple months.

BOOKER: Well, it`s all going to come down to a handful of Republican senators deciding not to go along with this. I`ve had conversations with my colleagues. A lot of them think this process is wrong in and of itself. And we`ve seen some of them defect before that`s allowed us to block things.

So again, this is a core American value. Our country is about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Critical to life, essential to life, is quality health care. And we know even before seeing this bill what the intention here is, to be biggest gut of the social safety net that we`ve seen in a lifetime or two with cuts to Medicaid. We know that they`re trying to end Planned Parenthood and funding to Planned Parenthood.


BOOKER: There`s a lot of things that make this a toxic bill before we`ve even seen it. And I think that`s going to really be the question is, Are we going to be able to get a few Republicans to stand with us against something that`s going to hurt blue states, red states, Republicans, Democrats. It`s going to hurt America.

MATTHEWS: For them to so-called repeal and replace, which I think are contradictory terms (INAUDIBLE) know what you think -- they need 50 out of 52. I think that`s unlikely given the fact that a couple people on the right like Rand Paul and a couple people on the moderate side like Murkowsky and Collins are not on the team.

Let me ask you a follow-up question because I know you are a concerned Democrat and a concerned social Democrat. What do we do to make sure that Obama doesn`t -- "Obama care" doesn`t die on the vine? I think one of the bad outcomes of all of this is the Republicans will fail in the Senate. Nothing will be done. But they`ll sit there and watch with great joy the gradual dissolution of "Obama care" because of different problems it has in different states.

How do you stop that from happening, that eventuality?

BOOKER: Well, Chris, let`s call it like it is. They`re not just sitting back and watching it. Literally, the White House is trying to choke "Obama care" dead and cause the so-called death spiral. If they were just stepping back and doing what the law requires, enforcing the individual mandate, doing common sense things like advertising -- they pulled advertising even -- and funding it to the weight (ph) of the law -- this -- this -- we even saw Standard & Poor`s right before the Trump administration began, Said, OK, these markets are strong.

What they`ve done in just a short few months is causing so much damage that insurance companies, in light of all this uncertainty, lack of guarantees, are beginning to pull out. And they`re causing some of the markets to see some -- some problems.

In fact, in New Jersey, I`m estimating that we are going to see some pretty high increases in the individual market places. Now, remember, 80 plus- percent of folks that are in those marketplaces get subsidies.


BOOKER: But we do have some problems.

And that`s, I think -- I hope you`re right and this thing doesn`t get to 50 votes. But if it does, the next big fight is to get the Trump administration to do no harm, to not kill Obamacare.


Remember, you promised we`re going to have dinner some night. We have to have this sit-down dinner, you and I, and talk about all these issues off- camera and learn about this challenge we face in this country, because you`re a comer. People are talking about you, sir. They are.

And I want to learn ahead about you. A lot of talk about Cory Booker, OK?

BOOKER: I appreciate it.


BOOKER: Would you eat vegan?


MATTHEWS: Oh, no. But I will have a steak, and you can have your potatoes. No, probably carrots.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey.

BOOKER: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: We will find some -- we will find the right restaurant.

BOOKER: All right.

MATTHEWS: Up next: back to the Russian investigation and new information that the CIA knew former national security -- this is great -- Michael Flynn was a blackmail target and still gave him top-secret intelligence briefings. They sat there, Pompeo and the rest of them, filling this guy with information, even though he`s tainted.

And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.



SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Did you have any if indication, secondhand, any sense at all, that the national security adviser might be vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians? That is a yes-or-no question.

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: It`s actually not a yes-or-no question, Senator. I can`t answer yes or no. I regret that I`m unable to do so.


MATTHEWS: Well, welcome back to HARDBALL.

That`s CIA Director Mike Pompeo last month refusing to say whether he was aware that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was compromised by Russia.

And now "The New York Times" reports overnight that people at the CIA and other intelligence agencies knew Flynn could be a security risk -- quote -- "Career officials agreed that Mr. Flynn represented an urgent problem. Yet nearly every day, for three weeks, the new CIA director, Mike Pompeo, sat in the Oval Office and briefed President Trump on the nation`s most sensitive intelligence with Mr. Flynn listening."

Well, it comes as Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Richard Blumenthal said this week that they wouldn`t be surprised if Flynn was cooperating with FBI investigators already. Let`s watch.


SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: All of the signals are suggesting that he`s already cooperating with the FBI and may have been for some time.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: The likelihood of his cooperation is very high, if not right now, at some point, very soon in the future, because of the very, very heavy legal culpability and potential penalty that he faces.


MATTHEWS: Well, Senator Blumenthal is also looking into whether the president has any financial links to Russia that may compromise his ability to do his job, charging in a lawsuit that Trump has violated the Constitution`s Emoluments Clause.

I`m joined right now by him, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, a former federal prosecutor who sits on the Judiciary Committee. And Jeremy Peters is a political reporter with "The New York Times."

Senator, I have got so many questions for you. You are great to come on, and I appreciate it.

First thing, what do you think? I know this is a question I put to the earlier people. If could you get Flynn to talk about the president, and what he knew and when he knew and what role he played in any possible collusions with the Russians, wouldn`t you give him immunity, get that information in the public record?

BLUMENTHAL: What I would do, rather than giving him immunity, is to work a deal where his cooperation might mean no incarceration or limited incarceration, but only -- and this is the essential condition -- that he be completely truthful and forthcoming.

And I suspect that`s the give-and-take that is going on right now.

MATTHEWS: Yes. You think a threat of 15 years in federal prison might be enough heat?

BLUMENTHAL: Well, it certainly would be for the ordinary, rational person, especially if he thought that Donald Trump was failing to be truthful and helpful to him.

And remember what he...


MATTHEWS: But he calls him up once in a while and sort of cuddles him every once in a while. He says, how is it going? Trump is doing that to keep the guy on board him.

BLUMENTHAL: What is key here, the reason why this question is so important about the Russians and about obstruction of justice, is remember that Trump demanded of Comey that he let Flynn go.

Why did he insist that Comey let Flynn go? And what did Flynn know about that conversation before and after it took place?

MATTHEWS: You`re on the same avenue I`m on, that there`s something there.

BLUMENTHAL: And it involves the Russians, because, as "The Times" reported, the CIA almost certainly, in fact, did know about Flynn being susceptible to blackmail, and yet Flynn was permitted to stay in that room in secret briefings for nearly three weeks.

MATTHEWS: Did you get that, Senator, from "The Times" or already knew it?

BLUMENTHAL: Well, I asked for Flynn`s security to be reviewed back in December, before he was even hired.

There was enough on the record for the Trump administration to say, no, Flynn does not belong in this administration and certainly he doesn`t belong in a room where there was classified information being discussed.

MATTHEWS: Jeremy, tell us about that story, because that story ran overnight. I missed it. Our colleague Rachel got it, Rachel Maddow, later in her show. It was great.

I`m watching this thing where the president allowed, deliberately allowed, what`s his name, Flynn, to sit in the room while they`re doing it -- all this latest, hottest intelligence coming in from Pompeo. And Pompeo sat there and did it, all apparently know -- apparently, Pompeo knew it. You guys think so.

And all the time, they`re acting like this guy is clean, when they knew he was susceptible to blackmail because of what he had been doing with the Russians.

JEREMY PETERS, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, what my colleagues reported here is troubling on a number of levels.

And there are two scenarios, neither of which should inspire a lot of confidence among Americans in the nation`s intelligence-gathering apparatus.


PETERS: One is that the CIA knew about Flynn and chose not to tell Pompeo because they didn`t trust Pompeo because he was a brand-new CIA director. That would explain -- and so Pompeo didn`t know. So, he is giving these briefings unaware that Flynn is compromised, potentially compromised.


PETERS: The second outcome or second scenario is that Flynn -- did know and he was giving these briefings any away in Flynn`s presence. And that is equally troubling.

So I don`t think we`re looking at a scenario here where our intelligence community comes off as terribly functional.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about Jared Kushner, because he is so rich in possibilities. He has the president`s love, apparently, through his wife and his relationship with the president. He is the son-in-law.

The president pushed like mad to give him a prominent role inside the Oval Office, inside the West Wing. And yet he`s now given him a portfolio to solve this -- you probably find a bit ludicrous -- he`s going to solve the Middle East problem.

He has the biggest portfolio, the biggest freedom to say anything. Well, he doesn`t say much to us, but he has a lot of power. And he, it seems to me, was able to talk to Kislyak. He was able to chat with those guys. He was involved in all that.

And he`s one person I don`t think the president would ever throw under the bus, which makes him very interesting. How do you see his security clearance and everything else right now and how he should be treated by us?

BLUMENTHAL: I have asked today, as a matter of fact, Chris, along two of my colleagues, Senator Franken and Hirono, and on the House side Congressman Cummings, that his security clearance be reviewed, two reasons.

First of all, among others, that he had these clandestine conversations with the head of the major bank in Russia who had ties to Putin and to the intelligence community in Russia.


BLUMENTHAL: And, second, this effort to establish a back-channel using Russian diplomatic facilities. So, those potential errors in judgment, not to mention divulging confidential information, require a security clearance review for him.

And I think that there`s an untold and unused term here, which is very important to understand.


BLUMENTHAL: And that term is conspiracy, because if Flynn and others in the White House in any way agreed or even cooperated, or even some of them agreed and others cooperated, there could be a potential conspiracy charge against any one of them or all of them.

MATTHEWS: Well, Jeremy, one thing that is important from your end, for "The New York Times" and the other great papers of this country, is that the public knew none of this.

They never knew that Jeremy was meeting -- I`m sorry -- that Jared was meeting with the Russians, the top bank guy who was involved with sanction and all. They never knew about Flynn and what he was doing.

This administration has told us nothing on the record. They complain about leaks, but they have given us -- everything we know has been rolling disclosure, which is when you only admit things when they`re already out there. And you guys broke all these stories.

And anybody who defends Trump has to defend the utter secrecy of everything they have been doing. And I think that`s a very important role. The press should be commended, don`t you think, Senator, for...


MATTHEWS: There`s so little that -- Trump has never admitted all this Russian shenanigans from day one, all the meetings with Carter Page and Manafort and his son-in-law and Sessions, his attorney general, all these people, and Flynn, all these Russian things going on all the time.

And the only reason we know about it is the press.

BLUMENTHAL: When the history of this era is written -- and I mean this very sincerely -- just as in the Watergate era, the heroes will be our free press and our independent judiciary.

MATTHEWS: I agree with you.

BLUMENTHAL: And the press has given us information that we need in Congress to know where the corruption is and where there should be investigations.

When we filed our legal action against the Trump administration, we used information divulged by the press.

MATTHEWS: You are a great guest, a great man for this country.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

Did you hear that? Get that on tape.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. And thank you, Jeremy Peters of "The New York Times."

Up next: What lessons do the Democrats need to learn after last night`s, well, defeat in Georgia? Let`s call it what it is. It`s a defeat. They need to figure out a way to win in the Trump era.

And we have got someone who has got some ideas on how to do that. That`s coming up next.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


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

Police in Flint, Michigan, are investigating the stabbing of a police officer at the airport there as a possible case of terrorism. The FBI says the suspect, a 50-year-old man from Canada, used the Arabic phrase for "God is great" during the attack. The victim, officer Jeff Neville, is in stable condition after being stabbed in the neck.

President Trump`s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is in the Middle East trying to jump-start the peace process. Kushner met earlier today with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before meeting Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank -- back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Aren`t you happy that peace is at hand? Jared Kushner is in charge of the Middle East peace effort.

Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL.

Last night, Republican Karen Handel defeated Democrat Jon Ossoff to claim victory in Georgia`s Sixth District down there. It was a special election. With Ossoff`s loss, Democrats are now 0-4 in congressional races this year, after sinking millions of dollars, $23 million actually, into that Georgia race down there.

And Democrats hoped the Georgia race would be a statement on President Trump`s popularity or unpopularity. But, last night, Karen Handel seemed to throw out that notion right out the window.

Let`s watch.


KAREN HANDEL (R), GEORGIA CONGRESSWOMAN-ELECT: I need to also thank Speaker Ryan and the House leadership and so many of the members across this country who also united to help us hold the Sixth.


HANDEL: And a special thanks to the president of the United States of America.



MATTHEWS: In fact, a super PAC affiliated with Speaker Ryan spent $7 million in Georgia on Handel`s behalf with a very clear message for Georgians. Let`s watch.


NARRATOR: The truth is, Nancy Pelosi`s friends are bankrolling Ossoff`s campaign because Ossoff will rubber-stamp her liberal agenda.

NARRATOR: Nancy Pelosi`s liberal agenda put America $20 trillion in debt. And Jon Ossoff is on her side.

WOMAN: There`s a reason Bay Area liberals have contributed more to Jon Ossoff`s campaign than people in Georgia. He`s one of us.

MAN: Ossoff and Pelosi? That`s a dream team.



MATTHEWS: Those are supposed to be hippies, I guess.

Anyway, Ossoff`s defeat has some Democrats seething.

U.S. Congressman Seth Moulton of Massachusetts tweeted: "Ossoff race better be a wakeup call for Democrats. Business as usual isn`t working. Time to start rehashing -- stop rehashing 2016 and talk about the future."

Another congressman, Tim Ryan of Ohio, told "The New York Times" bluntly, "Our brand is worse than Trump."

U.S. Congressman Tim Ryan Speak joins me right now.

Speak up about that. Explain, because, look, I heard from a lot of progressives, friends of mine. They were all hooting and hollering, we`re going to win this thing in Georgia.

Look, I think -- and I think -- and I say this as no fan of the president`s. He`s been underestimated. The people who vote for him don`t admit it. They just go into that booth and vote for him -- I`m going to talk about it at the end of the show -- over and over again.

They make that point. I`m not telling you how I`m voting, but I`m voting for Trump. And everybody is always surprised by it.


And then in the four races, they get the Trump proxy. These were clearly races Donald Trump against the Democrats. And we`re 0-4. And we need to figure out the strategy.

And I think the national brand -- Ossoff was a good candidate. Archie Parnell in South Carolina, great candidate.

MATTHEWS: He was great.


RYAN: I spent a day with him on Saturday. He`s great.

MATTHEWS: He ran a good race, better than this guy maybe.

RYAN: Yes. I think so.


RYAN: And so two candidates, but you`re carrying the baggage of a toxic national brand. And people in D.C. just aren`t getting it.


The Democratic Party hasn`t changed much in my life, although I think Hillary Clinton probably went too far on abortion rights, I think, when she talked about late term, she talked about funding. It just crossed that sort of peace line that`s been there. OK, freedom, make a decision on abortion. That`s your decision if you`re a decision, but late-term, little requirements there of checking things out of a bit about life and will -- being in danger -- and the kid being in danger.

Anyway, some Democrats are openly questioning Nancy Pelosi`s leadership. And one of our -- colleagues, Filemon Vela of Texas, told Politico, "I think you would have to be an idiot to think we could lose (sic) the House with Pelosi at the top. Nancy Pelosi is not the only reason that Ossoff lost. But she certainly is one of the reasons."

Boy, that`s tough.

RYAN: Well, you want to put yourself in the best position to win.

And I think it starts with message, economic message, jobs, wages, pensions, like that bread-and-butter stuff that average people were thinking about.


RYAN: And...

MATTHEWS: Well, what has Nancy done that takes you away from the Democratic base of issues, which are jobs and wages and basic stuff like health care? Where has she taken you away from those issues?

RYAN: Well, I don`t even -- I`m not saying that this is fair. I`m just saying the perception in the world now is that Democrats are liberals, elitists, from the coasts, don`t connect to working-class people.



MATTHEWS: What does San Francisco say to the person you`re trying to get? Is it the gay culture? Is it out there? What is it, when they say San Francisco, is it still hippies?

I used to work for the paper out there. It looks like a regular paper. I mean, there were all kinds of people. But it wasn`t some different cultural lifestyle in the newsroom. I can tell you that.

RYAN: Certain things become just symbols of certain --

MATTHEWS: What are you going to -- are you going to run from a symbol?

RYAN: Well, I think this is what I`m saying. We have to rebrand. I mean, if that`s what the brand is, right, wrong, indifferent, fair or not fair --


RYAN: -- you need a new brand. Our brand needs to be --

MATTHEWS: Who would be a good leader for the Democratic Party in the House?

RYAN: I think we got --

MATTHEWS: I mean, I know you ran --

RYAN: A loaded question.

MATTHEWS: It`s you -- it`s you that wants to take over.

RYAN: Well, you know, I think somebody young.


RYAN: I think Joe Crowley is a good leader.

MATTHEWS: You`re not going to (INAUDIBLE)

RYAN: Well, we`ve got a lot of internal politics. But the reality of it is, I just want to win. I want to be in the majority. I want to -- you know, I mean, you look at the news member. They`ve never been in the majority. There`s nothing like it.

MATTHEWS: I`ve got to tell you something, we`re about to have a race --

RYAN: There`s nothing like being in the majority.

MATTHEWS: You may have a point, but we`re about to see a race between Biden and Bernie. I mean, you`re right. But you`ve got a point. I do like Nancy.

RYAN: I like her too.

MATTHEWS: In fact I think she has been stronger than Tip O`Neill. I worked for him. She`s really good at disciplining the party and getting the vote. And a lot of people like her. And so, I know about PR and everything. The substance is very good though. Isn`t she good?

RYAN: She helped me get to where I was. I mean, I was there for the health care. There`s not a better inside game player than Nancy Pelosi.

MATTHEWS: She`s a nice person, too.

Thank you, U.S. Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio.

RYAN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Up next, the HARDBALL roundtable and what the Democrats need to do right now to get back in the game.

You`re watching HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The Democratic Party`s loss in Georgia`s sixth congressional district last night was just another gut-wrenching reminder that taking back control from Republicans is still an uphill battle. As Democrats begun licking their wounds, President Trump took a little victory lap, of course, and tweeted, well, the special elections are over and those who want to make America great again are 5-0. All the fake news, all the money spent, equal zero.

Well, the election brought some breathing space actually for Republicans, but not for Democrats. The question is, what happens next?

For more, I`m joined right now by our roundtable tonight. Ginger Gibson, right next to me, political correspondent for "Reuters", Toluse Olorunnipa, White House reporter from Bloomberg, and, of course, Jennifer Rubin, our pal here, opinion writer and author of the "Washington Post," "Right Turn Blog".

OK. Everybody here has a different point of view, in fact, I don`t even know all your points of view, but it seems to me that there was a lot of progressive hype about a guy that wasn`t running as a progressive, which is another interesting twist to this. He was running on basically, well, let`s get together and be normal or something. I don`t know what he was selling.

So, you can argue if you`re on the left, like this morning, oh, well, he should have been a real progressive. Or you can argue he was not a bad candidate, not a good candidate. Or I will argue very strongly, there is a hidden Trump vote, and every time you poll, you miss it. The polls are no different than now right before the election, high 30s. They haven`t changed.

Oh, we have him beat. No, you don`t.

Your thoughts, Ginger? Wide open, whatever you think. What did Democrats learn from last night?

GINGER GIBSON, REUTERS: The Democrats are going to have to remember that this was a seat held by Republicans. And I think we`ve seen this play before in 2009 and 2010. Look at Republicans who didn`t pick up the special elections of seats that were made vacant by Obama appointees and then Republicans went on and won the midterms in 2010. I think you have to remember this is one district in one state that went for Trump.

MATTHEWS: But, if it went for Ossoff, you would be saying how great a victory it was, right?

GIBSON: But I think --

MATTHEWS: Come on, you`re smiling. I know you`re smiling because I know how people play politics. If you lose, oh, no big thing. If you win, yay!

I mean, which is it?

GIBSON: It`s an anomaly if a Democrat wins that seat. It`s not an anomaly if a Republican wins that seat. I think that`s the thing to remember. There`s --


MATTHEWS: OK, Scott -- good example of your point, to make your point, Scott Brown from Massachusetts, Kennedy country, he takes Teddy`s seat and it goes back to Warren.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, BLOOMBERG: So, the Democrats are -- and leadership are saying that this is just one seat. This is a Republican seat. They didn`t lose a seat. They just did not pick up the seat.

MATTHEWS: They`re 0-4.

OLORUNNIPA: Yes, you`re hearing from leadership that they are working on an economic message.

MATTHEWS: Where`s all this backlash against Trump? When are we going to see evidence of it? Real evidence?

OLORUNNIPA: Well, they believe that the margin has shrunk.

MATTHEWS: Where is the back lash going to show itself in numbers?

OLORUNNIPA: Well, they believe the fact that the margin has shrunk means that there is some backlash.

MATTHEWS: Do you know what the phrase is? No cigar.


MATTHEWS: I`m sorry. I`ll just talking here because I heard -- I was ready, we called our producers last night. It was about 50/50. They`re pretty sophisticated that everybody that works here, and nobody knew. It was a jump off.

But you know what? I knew, every show, leading with -- I`m sorry, everybody is loving this thing. It was a real win for this guy Ossoff who didn`t even live in the district which I think is a little strange.

JENNIFER RUBIN, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right, my husband has an expression, scoreboard. Did you win? Did you lose?

MATTHEWS: We used to have a thing called scoreboard here.

RUBIN: Exactly. So, I think the Democrats have a problem. One, they really didn`t drive home this message that one health care and on economics that they could have. This guy was running on being polite, being nice. I think --

MATTHEWS: Cutting government waste.

RUBIN: And cutting government waste.

MATTHEWS: Nobody believes that.

RUBIN: I don`t think that`s a motivating issue for anybody.

MATTHEWS: Nobody is going to believe a Democrat is running on government - -


RUBIN: Exactly, exactly. And so, I think, listen, in 18 months, they`re either going to have Trump care which I think is going to be a disaster, or they`re going to have nothing. So, they`re going to be able to run on the Republicans (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at Rahm Emanuel. He`s a tough guy. In an article in "The Atlantic", Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Bruce Reed, a smart neo liberal who were in charge of the Democratic takeover of the House back in 2006 had some friendly advice for Democrats.

Democrats don`t have to make 2018 a referendum on Trump`s impeachment. If they want to win the majority, they need to order to hold Trump accountable, they`ll do much better making the election a referendum on Trump`s record.

Make it politics again. I think everybody is hoping on the left. Oh, there will be impeachment. The courts are going to take over. This is going to be the emoluments clause, all this talk. Oh, wait a minute.

How do I get back? Cory Booker is a smart guy. He`s a very smart guy. And yet, they think a lot of this is about just making fun of the Republicans.

And maybe that will work in the short run. But where`s the chance to improve Obamacare so that most Americans say great, let`s keep it?

GIBSON: I think that one thing is important for Democrats to remember is that the thing that got the biggest cheer at Trump rallies was when he said, I`m going to do something.


GIBSON: People want action. They don`t want --

MATTHEWS: Are they getting -- are they getting it now?

GIBSON: And they`re not getting it from anybody.

MATTHEWS: Are you sure they`re not getting it from Trump?

GIBSON: They`re getting a little bit of it from Trump, or they`re getting it from Congress and that`s just going to be on the ballot. Are they passing bills? Can they fund the government come September?

MATTHEWS: I think little thing like the Cuba thing and getting that guy back from North Korea, even though he died here, showed some action. Something.

The roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. Be right back.


MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump is taking his show on the road. Tonight, he`s holding a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, another state he turned red after years of voting for the Democrats and you can bet he`ll be crowing about what he had there, keep going, tonight, about winning in Georgia.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with a HARDBALL roundtable.

Ginger, tell me something I don`t know.

GIBSON: In the first few months of the Trump administration, more than $220,000 have been spent on advertising supporting the president.


GIBSON: That`s compared to the $9,000 that was spent supporting Obama in his first few months in office.


OLORUNNIPA: OK. The Democrats led by Nancy Pelosi are trying to come up with an economic message. They`re going to huddle over the next few months. In September, they`re going to roll out that economic message and they`re going to be able to roll with as they campaign in 2018.

MATTHEWS: Good. They need a positive message. Go ahead.

RUBIN: Paul Ryan gave a speech on taxes. The new thing is permanent tax cuts. Well, in order to do that by reconciliation, they`re going to try to stretch the budget window out to 20 and 30 years. This is the kind of fiscal recklessness that Republicans like Paul Ryan (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS: They can do that under reconciliation?

RUBIN: Well, they`re going to have to change the rules.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you, Ginger Gibson and Toluse Olorunnipa, and Jennifer Rubin.

And when we return, let me finish tonight with Trump Watch. It`s a hot one tonight.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Wednesday, June 21st, 2017.

The defeat of the Democratic candidate in yesterday`s Georgia special election in Georgia should be a yellow light to all those who think they`ve got the Trump thing all figured out. I say this is one who believes each day I arise, that the most important news has already happened. The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States continues to hit me as more stunning, more phenomenal in our world than anything that happens later.

So, please join me now and never forgetting the powerful, undeniable fact that Trump won with a favorable rating in the Gallup poll of, get this, 35 percent -- 35 percent. And for all the talk, all the luscious news that he`s failing, that he`s finished, that he`s dying politically, that the thing is over, that the storm has passed, Donald Trump`s current Gallup approval number is 38 percent.

And how can this be? How can he win polls showing him at 35 percent? How can he be now at 38 percent?

Well, the answer to the first question is, if you can handle it, is two part. First, we elect presidents, obviously, by the Electoral College and Trump was strong where he had to be, in those states that decided the election.

The second reason is that more people voted for him that told pollsters they were going to vote for him. They may have been too embarrassed to admit voting for Trump, but not embarrassed enough to avoid actually voting for him.

And the answer to the second question, how can he now be at 38 percent? Well, could it be that the Democratic Party hasn`t offered an alternative yet. That they`ve been so intent to dump Trump and talk about it than they haven`t (INAUDIBLE) trump him with better ideas like how to improve Obamacare.

Well, you figure out that one. I`m still struck with how Trump got his allegiance in the first place and manages against all kinds of attack and personal bad behavior to keep them.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.