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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 7/7/17 When Donald met

Guests: John Podesta, Ken Vogel, David Ignatius, Clint Watts, Phil Rucker, Astead Herndon, Margaret Carlson, Patrick Granfield

Show: HARDBALL Date: July 7, 2017 Guest: John Podesta, Ken Vogel, David Ignatius, Clint Watts, Phil Rucker, Astead Herndon, Margaret Carlson, Patrick Granfield

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Vlad to see you!

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

For months, Donald Trump has spoken of his good meetings with Vladimir Putin, how he got along with him great, about their being, as he put it, "stablemates" on "60 Minutes," and all that about the relationship they`ve enjoyed, interspersed, of course, with denials they never (sic) met, not even once. Well, you figure.

Today in Hamburg, Germany, after all the fuss, denials and general BS, the two men actually did meet, and it`s still a bit murky of what actually happened. The meeting, of course, did happen, and earlier in the day, the two shared handshake at a G-20 conference meeting.

Donald Trump once made this prediction about his relationship with the Russian leader. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think I`d get along very well with Vladimir Putin. I just think so. People would say, What do you mean? I think I`d get along well with him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, today, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said there was a very clear positive chemistry between the two men, and before they met privately, President Trump expressed optimism. Let`s watch that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: President Putin and I have been discussing various things, and I think it`s going very well. We`ve had some very, very good talks. We`re going to have a talk now, and obviously, that will continue. But we look forward to a lot of very positive things happening for Russia, for the United States and for everybody concerned. It`s an honor to be with you. Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, note the "man-spreading" there by the two gentlemen. Anyway, the elephant in the room was Russia`s effort to meddle in last year`s election here. According to Tillerson, the president pushed Putin on that topic. Let`s watch him.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The president opened the meeting with President Putin by raising the concerns of the American people regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election. They had a very robust and lengthy exchange on the subject. The president pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement. President Putin denied such involvement, as I think he has in the past. The two leaders agreed, though, that this is a substantial hindrance in the ability of us to move the Russian-U.S. relationship forward.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Secretary Tillerson said the Russians also asked for evidence. And ultimately, the president determined it was important to, quote, "go forward with other matters." For his part, the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said President Trump accepted Putin`s assurance that Russia didn`t interfere in the election. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SERGEI LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): President Trump has said that he has heard clear declarations from Mr. Putin that Russian leadership and Russian government has not interfered in the elections, and he accepts these -- the things that Putin -- Mr. Putin has said.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the White House denies that.

And for more on today`s big meeting, I`m joined by NBC`s Kelly O`Donnell over in Hamburg. Kelly, did President Trump accuse the Russians of interfering in our 2016 elections? And what was the response?

KELLY O`DONNELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Chris. Given the fact President Trump has not fully embraced the idea that Vladimir Putin is the mastermind behind the cyber-hacking of 2016, it might be surprising that right out of the gate, he raised the issue with Putin in their two-hour- and-16-minute meeting, according to Secretary Tillerson, who says that President Trump repeatedly pressed Putin on the issue and that Putin denied any involvement.

Russia`s take on it is different, saying that President Trump acknowledged the fact that there wasn`t enough evidence and that President Putin was not responsible. That`s the surprising part, perhaps, a differing view.

But they did agree to keep working on this issue, and at the State Department level, that would be important to keep the conversation going -- Chris.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Kelly O`Donnell. For more, I`m joined right now by "The Washington Post" columnist Eugene Robinson, former FBI special agent Clint Watts and White House bureau chief for "The Washington Post" Philip Rucker.

Let me go with Gene on this. I mean, maybe we -- (INAUDIBLE) me, too, are naive in thinking that President Trump, who many of us think had some role in colluding with the Russians in terms of last year`s election, would be vigorous in interrogating the guy he was colluding with about whether he was colluding.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I mean, there was a certain absurdity to our hopes, perhaps. Your view.

EUGENE ROBINSON, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, when Secretary of State Tillerson says the president pressed President Putin, I wonder about the use of the word "pressed." How hard did he press? Because, in fact, President Trump has made clear time and time again it could have been anybody, he...

MATTHEWS: Yes, some 400-pound person on a bed somewhere.

ROBINSON: (INAUDIBLE) the other day, he said, yes, you know, yes, well, maybe it was Russia, but a lot of people do the same thing.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ROBINSON: So you know, he -- and he has said repeatedly that this is all just an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won. You know, he sees it as an attempt to delegitimize his own election as president.

And so he -- I don`t think he will ever get fully behind the Intelligence Committee`s assessment that, yes, Russia did a very bad thing and a very menacing thing in meddling with the electoral process of the United States. I Just -- you know, call me naive, but I don`t think Donald Trump will ever get behind that.

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) thinking (ph) about Bob Mueller watching this today, trying to figure out what he can learn, the guy who`s investigating this whole matter, especially the U.S. role in this thing.

PHILIP RUCKER, "WASHINGTON POST": Yes, and the thing that...

MATTHEWS: What did we -- did we get anything today?

RUCKER: I don`t know. The thing that stuck out to me in Tillerson`s statement is he said that Trump pressed Putin about the American people`s concern.

MATTHEWS: Yes, not his...

(CROSSTALK)

RUCKER (on-camera): ... personal concern because, as Gene was saying, we don`t know that he has a personal concern about it. But look, Trump knew he had to say something. His advisers had been briefing on this meeting with Putin. There was extraordinary pressure back home in Washington from senators from both parties for him to confront Putin on the matter, and he had to do something in that meeting.

MATTHEWS: Clint, give me a sense of -- in the KGB or the modern KGB be (ph) equivalent is watching all this. They`re all -- I mean, to me, Trump, as I said the other night, he has a -- not Trump, what`s his name, Vladimir Putin -- he knows everything. Vladimir Putin knows what the Russians did. He knows what role he did in approving it and watching over and it operating it, and he knows what role the Americans played in it, if there was any collusion. He knows it all!

And for the president of the United States to say, My people back home are concerned about this, what can you tell us, seems so idiotic. I mean, if I were Putin, I`d say, Wait a minute. You know all about it, brother. You were helping me.

CLINT WATTS, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Yes, that`s right. And both parties got what they wanted. Trump got elected, and Putin helped Trump get elected. So the outcome is mutual on both, which is why they want to move past this so quickly to what they essentially have as a shared agenda.

What I find strange for me today is when I listen to Tillerson`s explanation of what happened in the meeting, and Lavrov`s, I`m more likely to believe Lavrov`s version of the events because as -- as he just -- as you just noted, he said people are -- you know, the American people are concerned about you meddling in the election. It wasn`t he was concerned about it.

Also, Lavrov said that some people are exaggerating in the U.S. That`s what he quoted Trump as saying. They basically said the same thing. But what is most concerning is they just want to move past it. And so that leaves the door open for Putin. Putin will move forward until he is stopped, until he`s resisted. And he doesn`t have to meddle in future elections if Trump does everything he wants in terms of foreign policy.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s take a look at the -- I want to get to the strange murkiness of this sort of "Alice in Wonderland" aspect of this whole thing. Let`s take a look at the history of what Trump has said about his relationship with Vladimir Putin coming into this meeting. This is the first face-to-face meeting, of course. Let`s watch that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I do have a relationship. And I can tell that you he`s very interested in what we`re doing here today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vladimir Putin -- have you ever met the guy?

TRUMP: He`s a tough guy. I met him once.

I was in Russia. I was in Moscow recently, and I spoke indirectly and directly with President Putin, who could not have been nicer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you met Vladimir Putin?

TRUMP: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have?

TRUMP: One time, yes, a long time ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you feel...

TRUMP: Got along with him, great, by the way.

I got to know him very well because we were both on "60 Minutes." We were stablemates. And we did very well that night. But you know that.

I never met Putin. I don`t know who Putin is. He said one nice thing about me. He said I`m a genius. What do I have to get involved with Putin for? I have nothing to do with Putin. I`ve never spoken to him. I don`t know anything about him other than he will respect me.

I have no relationship with Putin. I have no relationship with Putin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But if you have no relationship with Putin, then why did you say in 2013, I do have a relationship. In 2014...

TRUMP: Because he has said nice things about me over the years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Phil Rucker, you`ve got to do this. This is, to me -- I don`t care how big a Trump guy or woman you are, you got to now recognize when you watch that montage there that facts mean nothing to him, that he will say one thing on one occasion, contrary 18 degrees the next, I`m him good buddy, or stablemates, whatever the hell that is, where you`re (ph) back and forth, direct, indirect, all this information about the relationship. And then he just says -- throws his arms apart and says, Never met the guy. Don`t who know he is. And that doesn`t bother his supporters?

RUCKER: You know, it`s like this on so many issues, right?

MATTHEWS: But this one -- he`s meeting with the other nuclear superpower, and we can`t even get it straight if this is their first meeting. Not from him.

RUCKER: Well, I think we know it`s their first face-to-face meeting since...

MATTHEWS: That`s what a meeting is, by the way.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You can call it face to face. A meeting is a meeting.

(CROSSTALK)

RUCKER: ... and one thing stood out is how long this...

MATTHEWS: By the way -- I`m sorry. Clinton -- let me go to Clint on this. I don`t know how you can say -- Have you met him? Oh, yes, he said nice things about me. That`s not a meeting! I mean, does Trump -- well, let`s -- didn`t the -- they never met before, right? We know that.

WATTS: Right, and it goes to the circumstances of the meeting today. This is where the president`s lies, conspiracies, false accusations start to collapse in on him because now you see Secretary of State Tillerson has to go out and give an accounting of what happened during that meeting. He was the only one in there from the American side that can do that.

And we don`t have any faith in that because just yesterday, President Trump cast doubt on the allegations regarding Russia. And we see from that montage you just saw, he never says the same thing twice. So in terms of credibility, in a bizarre way, we`re actually going to Russia now to get a take on what happened during that meeting.

MATTHEWS: Yes, we`re counting on the Russians for the truth. I mean, this is an absurdity!

WATTS: They`re the only ones that had pictures of the last one meeting.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... might be a better source than the president.

ROBINSON: ... absurd. And by the way, the contrast in that meeting -- I mean, I agree. It`s very weird and unprecedented to have a president whose words simply can`t be trusted. He just can`t be trusted to recite simple facts.

But in that meeting, you had Donald Trump, total neophyte at foreign policy, Rex Tillerson, you know, a man who`s negotiated billion-dollar oil and gas contracts, but again, a neophyte at diplomacy. You`ve got Putin, who`s been doing this for decades. You`ve got Lavrov, who`s been foreign minister since 2004. It was kind of a mismatch in terms of...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ROBINSON: ... of diplomatic skill and...

MATTHEWS: What did you make of the Boris and Natasha translator? That guy`s English was really bad! He was talking without any -- you know, any articles or pronouns or anything! I mean -- I mean, (INAUDIBLE)

(CROSSTALK)

RUCKER: It was a tight meeting. It was a tight meeting. They only had those four officials and the translators from both sides...

MATTHEWS: Barely a translator!

RUCKER: ... and kept tight in part by the U.S. side so that there wouldn`t be leaks from other officials that were in the meeting. In a normal bilateral meeting, you would...

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s talk about the one thing, the one thing -- Phil, you start -- Clinton, start on this. There`s some hope that I`ve had -- I mean, I`m one of those people that did see some hope in Trump on (INAUDIBLE) some of these peripheral questions like ending stupid wars, cutting some deal in Syria.

Tillerson was very strong after the meeting (INAUDIBLE) saying that the Assads have to go, period. They`re not the part of the future of Syria. That was very clear, more clear than we`ve ever heard from Trump.

Is that real? Are we really going to take sides over there in some clear way now?

WATTS: I hope so. And I do think that`s maybe echoing McMaster or the national security staff, who is very strong and very sharp. They`ve been fighting our wars now for 15 years. And what you saw was some movement in that space to end the Syrian conflict.

So I think we do have some hope in that, that -- one thing about President Trump is he wants wins. He wants to take credit for things. And if we have really strong hands in national security, McMaster and Mattis, which we do, they can actually devise something that can give the president a win. Whether he understands what he`s agreeing to or not doesn`t matter. But we can actually move the ball forward on an issue that`s been lingering now for six or seven years and is really the cause of a lot of the international terrorism we see today.

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s Friday, so let`s have some good news. Gene, you first. You know, we and I (sic) are about the same age, and we`re always thinking about, you know, a trigger, a crazy thing that causes two egos to go at each other in, like, a street corner situation, you know, somebody`s dissing somebody.

So I watched Trump -- these two giant egos, Trump`s and Vladimir Putin`s, and I`ve worried that we`d get ourselves into a situation fairly soon where one would feel they had to show some strength, and all of a sudden, we`re in a local fighting war and all of a sudden we`re in a big war. They did seem to both be trying to avoid that today.

ROBINSON: I think they`re totally trying to avoid that. I think Putin thinks he -- there`s a lot he can get out of Trump. I don`t know all the specifics of what he thinks he can get out of Trump, but Putin seems to think he can work Trump to achieve his national ends. And Trump seems to feel the same way about Putin. I don`t quite get the relationship yet. I don`t quite get what they -- like on the Assad question, for example. Tillerson said he`s got to go. That`s not what you heard from the Russians today.

MATTHEWS: I know.

ROBINSON: That`s not what you`re going to hear from the Russians, I think...

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s not worth a nuclear war, I`ll tell you that. Syria`s not worth a nuclear war, but I do like the fact that -- and I will find a silver lining in what happened today. As murky as it was about our -- their role in our elections, it didn`t look like they were in a fighting mood.

RUCKER: Yes and both sides did get something out of today. There was this ceasefire that was announced. It`s a very limited ceasefire...

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) in Syria.

RUCKER: ... in one portion of Syria. But that -- that is something that Trump can point to as diplomatic win for him. And Putin got relevance. He got to be on par and equal of the president of the United States for two- and-a-half hours in that meeting. No other foreign leader at the G-20 has had that attention...

MATTHEWS: Considering all they are is a gas station with an army.

ROBINSON: Exactly. There you go.

MATTHEWS: They certainly are in pretty good...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Anyway...

ROBINSON: A big army.

MATTHEWS: A big army. Anyway, thank you, Gene Robinson. Thank you, Clint Watts, sir, and thank you, Phil Rucker.

Coming up, just hours before his big meeting today with Putin, Trump tweeted out a bizarre attack on former Clinton campaign manager, or chairman, John Podesta saying everyone at the G-20 -- catch this -- "Everyone at the G-20 is talking about why Podesta refused to give the DNC server to the FBI and the CIA." Don`t you believe that, all the world leaders talking about John Podesta`s server or the DNC`s server? We`re going to have John Podesta call us from his road trip in a minute to tell us about what that crazy moment was about, in a minute.

Plus, playing chess with Putin. What`s Putin`s end game? And what`s Russia looking for from Trump?

And the HARDBALL roundtable tonight on Trump`s day of diplomacy and his other big meeting today with the president of Mexico. Whatever happened to the big, beautiful wall that was promised?

Finally, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch." (INAUDIBLE)

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Amid all the other international news today, we also got a big jobs report here at home. It was a lot stronger than analysts expected. The economy added 222,000 jobs in June, about 50,000 more than economists had predicted. June marked the 81st straight month of job creation in this county, by far the longest streak on record. The unemployment rate ticked up to 4.4 percent, but that is because more people joined the labor force.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. As leaders of the world`s largest industrialized countries gathered to discuss climate change, trade and the global economy, the president of the United States, Donald Trump, decided to tweet about Hillary Clinton`s former campaign chairman, John Podesta. He wrote, quote, "Everyone here is talking about why John Podesta refused to give the DNC server to the FBI and the CIA. Disgraceful!"

Well, it came just hours before Trump`s face-to-face meeting with Vladimir Putin, the man American intelligence agencies say ordered the hacking of our 2016 presidential election.

Well, Podesta, who was on the road trip with his wife, pulled over to respond, calling the president a whack job.

In a string of tweets, he wrote -- quote -- "Get a grip, man. The Russians committed a crime when they stole my e-mail to help get you elected president. Maybe you might try to find a way to mention that to President Putin, dude. Get your head in the game. You`re representing the U.S. at the G20."

Well, I`m joined right now on the phone by himself, former Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

John, thanks for pulling over to the side of the road to respond.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHN PODESTA, FORMER CLINTON CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: What do you think? Have you got any background about why Trump, about to face probably the most important meeting since he got into office with Putin, the other nuclear superpower, and he`s talking about you and what happened or didn`t happen months ago?

What do you make of it? What is your reaction?

PODESTA: It is just totally amazing.

I think my tweets kind of reflected my view, which is, how could you imagine sitting there, preparing for one of the most important meetings you will have on the world stage, both with the bilateral with Putin and, more particularly, at the G20 summit, and be staring at his phone and tweeting about me, and all of it is wrong?

I had nothing to do with the DNC.

MATTHEWS: I know the word server came up with Hillary Clinton. But what is this about the DNC server and the CIA -- well, the CIA would never ask for something domestically.

PODESTA: Yes, it is illegal for the CIA to make that request. So, I don`t know what he`s talking about.

I had nothing to do with the DNC. I was the chair of the Clinton campaign. I was certainly never asked by the FBI. And I don`t know anything about what the DNC did. But they have said they fully cooperated with the requests that the FBI made.

So, it is -- this guy is unhinged. And I think he is under so much pressure from this Russia investigation that, when he is in a corner, all he does is, he strikes back, and he doesn`t care about whether anything is true or not true.

And I think they made a big deal of the fact that he raised the topic with Putin. But, you know, if you look at what transpired, I think taking the best case from Secretary Tillerson, he said he raised it and they decided, well, maybe it was an intractable problem, so both countries ought to move on and forget about it.

So, I don`t know. That ain`t much pressure. And Foreign Minister Lavrov, who was also in the meeting, said that Trump said that, even though this has been going on for months, that no facts have been presented, notwithstanding that 17 intelligence agencies have concluded that the Russians did do the hacks and did interfere in our, and that he accepted President Putin`s assurances that the Russians hadn`t been involved.

So, I think he was playing really a sucker game with respect to Putin, because it just gave Putin another chance to deny it.

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m just thinking about the complexity.

There, we got have Lavrov, the foreign minister. His Foreign Ministry includes Kislyak, the ambassador to the U.S., who has been involved in all these meetings with Kushner and Michael Flynn, very much right in the middle of it. His ministry is right involved in it.

And we know Putin directs everything in Russia. He knows all about the dossier, whether it`s true or not. He knows everything that -- every single that Trump may have done in colluding with the Russian efforts.

And it is all there. And yet we`re asking the president of the United States to ask Putin to tell us the role that Putin played, and by implication perhaps telling us the role that Trump played.

This is so intermingled. And yet we keep hoping for a Perry Mason moment, where one of these clowns will put up their hand and say, OK, here`s what happened. And we have Bob Mueller watching the whole thing trying to figure it out honestly.

PODESTA: Chris, the last time the president met privately with Lavrov, he was gloating that he had the day before fired Jim, Comey, and saying that had taken the pressure off of them.

They failed to disclose that until someone leaked a memorandum of the meeting to the media. And then they didn`t deny it. And so you can`t really believe anymore what particularly the White House press office puts out as what happened in a private meeting, because they rarely come forward with the facts.

So, yes, I guess he raised it in a way that said, do you want to respond to this? He said I deny it, and he said, OK, let`s move on. The other thing that that ignores is the Russians are continuing to be at it. They were active in the French election. They`re active now in the German election. This is a very serious threat to democracy. But it`s not taken as such by Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: Do you believe all that you know -- and don`t speculate more than you have in answering this question.

Do you believe that the Russians played a significant role in affecting the results of the election?

PODESTA: Look, I think they clearly were trying to, as the intelligence community predicted.

I think they kept the e-mail issue alive for the last month. I think the combination of that and Jim Comey reopening the investigation and then quickly closing it, I think there was a lot of harmonic convergence, as you were, as it were.

The other thing I think that`s less covered is how much the Russians were active in spreading -- actively spreading fake news through their trolls and their automated robots to push in social media the fake news, the lying conspiracies into the bloodstream of the American -- of American politics. That`s what they do in other countries. That is what they do in the U.S.

It is a very serious matter, and it should be taken seriously by our government. But, unfortunately, our government is led by someone who reaped the results of that, and so I guess he doesn`t care.

MATTHEWS: I guess, when you go to bed at night, John, buddy, I`m sure it occurs to you occasionally, I can`t believe we lost to that guy.

Anyway, John Podesta, on to Utah, sir. Thank you for so much taking time on the roadside. Thanks.

PODESTA: All right, Chris.

MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by Ken Vogel, political reporter for "The New York Times," and Ashley Parker, White House reporter for "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC analyst as well.

Ashley, you`re here. Let me ask you about this. This is bizarre. It`s more than a sidebar. It`s the mentality of the president of the United States going into high-level meeting with the world leaders and he is trying on trash an old argument and an old adversary, John Podesta, about something that never anyone has ever accused of anything. There was no call for a server from John Podesta by the CIA or anybody.

ASHLEY PARKER, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Sure.

I mean, it certainly tells you where his head was this morning just hours before his meeting with Putin. And I`m normally not of the belief that the president tweets strategically. I think normally he tweets what he is thinking and feeling in that moment.

But in this case, I do think there was a sense. He`s coming into this meeting with Putin. He knows that the e-mails or the hacking is going to come up one way or another, if Russia meddled in the U.S. elections, whether he talks about it or not.

And I do think this was an incident where he thought this is a good talking point for him. That is what he believes, taking it away from what Russia may have done and moving it back to the Democrats.

MATTHEWS: Is this for his 35 percent?

PARKER: For his base?

MATTHEWS: The people backing him, yes. Is this something for them? Because it won`t make the front pages of the paper.

PARKER: I don`t know that it was something for them. I think it was something he knows it is going to be a hard conversation.

And he thinks -- I`m not saying correctly -- but he thinks this is a good talking point for him to sort of distract from the real issue.

MATTHEWS: Ken, what do you think the world thinks of this when they get wind of the fact the president of the United States walking into a meeting with Putin -- the real meeting, by the way -- it has never happened before, even though there`s been B.S.ing about this both ways.

What does the world think of a president who is nursing an old wound, or ripping an old scab off, a stupid fight that never really actually happened? It`s just something in the air that there was some bad blood over Hillary`s server or something. I guess that`s what he`s trying to get to.

KEN VOGEL, POLITICO: Yes, I agree with you, Chris.

This is a talking point that is for his base, that plays domestically, to the extent that it does play domestically, plays to his base. It is similar to his saying that not all 17 intelligence agencies agreed with the finding that Russia meddled in the election with the intention of helping him, or suggesting Barack Obama choked and didn`t do enough. It`s of a piece with that.

On the world stage, I think it is pretty puzzling. And I don`t think it is going to have the effect of making Putin feel off-guard, if that was in fact part of goal. But it clearly is, as Ashley said, something that he`s obsessed with. And he was getting a lot of pressure, both from his own aides and from the body politic here in the United States, to raise the election hacking with Putin.

This is where his head went. This is his response.

MATTHEWS: Well, saw "Dr. Strangelove" recently.

And I have to tell you, he must be thinking about -- speaking of the body politic -- precious bodily fluids, the weirdness of the guy to have these things on his mind when he should have bigger things.

Thank you, Ashley. It`s great having you on.

And thank you, Ken. I know it`s hard to talk about something insane.

Up next: What was Putin hoping to get from Trump today realistically? Did he achieve his goal? Well, he got to sit with him. And they have got the little man-spreading going on there together. See that?

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger with breaking news.

You`re looking at a live picture from Hamburg, Germany, where police continue to clash with anti-globalization protesters at the G20 summit. Earlier today, protesters set cars on fire and threw gasoline bombs at police. Nearly 200 officers were injured, as were dozens of protesters, and more than 70 demonstrators were arrested.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the violent demonstrations, calling them unacceptable. In all, more than 20,000 police officers are on patrol in Hamburg during the summit -- back to HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): In the grand scheme of things, we don`t care who is the head of the United States. We know more or less what is going to happen. And so, in this regard, even if we wanted to, it wouldn`t make sense for to us interfere.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, that was, of course, Russian President Vladimir Putin denying his country`s interference in the 2016 election during an interview last month with NBC`s Megyn Kelly.

Well, Putin apparently made a similar denial today to President Donald Trump. He has repeatedly mocked American concerns about Russian hacking, calling them hysteria. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PUTIN (through translator): For me, this is just amazing. You have created a sensation out of nothing. And out of the sensation, you turn it into a weapon of war against the current president.

Well, this is -- you know, you`re just -- you people are so creative over there. Good job. Your lives must be boring.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Putin may think America`s concerns are overreaction, but he has got his own interests in mind, of course, among them, getting rid of U.S. sanctions imposed by the Obama administration.

The first came after Russia`s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. And more were put in place, more sanctions following the meddling into our 2016 election.

In an article published Thursday in a German newspaper, Putin called such sanctions -- quote -- "Nothing but masked protectionism. We believe those sanctions are not only doomed to fail, but also run counter to the G20 principles of cooperation in the interests of all countries."

Anyway, for more, I`m joined by David Ignatius, foreign affairs columnist for "The Washington Post."

As a foreign affairs expert and person focused on it, forget all the clownery. Or that`s not the right word. Trump`s clownish behavior and everything else about his fighting with John Podesta and all the other atmospherics and theatrics. What got done today in terms of the world and its future?

DAVID IGNATIUS, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think today was a big deal.

What got done was, at a very dangerous point in U.S./Russian relations that reminded us all of the Cold War, there was a meeting between the presidents of the two countries. They came with a lot of baggage, both of them.

But I think managing to have dialogue about Syria, about North Korea, about Russian hacking, to begin to have the conversations that are necessary is important. This was something that Donald Trump very controversially said through the campaign last year he wanted to do.

Today, he did it. And as near as I can tell, the results of that are generally positive.

MATTHEWS: What I worry about is a regional situation like Syria leading to a war. We have had that ever since World War I, the fear that one thing can lead to another. And with egos involved, I think it was more of a severe threat.

Did you have a sense today that both leaders were trying to make it clear that we`re not at the knifepoint, at the edge of any kind of brinksmanship?

IGNATIUS: So, Chris, what I can tell you, based on my reporting -- a week ago, I was in Syria -- is that this agreement today emerged out of secret conversations between the U.S. and Russia to deconflict forces.

After the shoot-down of the Syrian fighter jet, as you will remember, about three weeks ago, it looked for a moment like we were really at a very dangerous flash point. And our generals began talking to their generals.

They reached a deconfliction line, kilometer by kilometer. And then they moved to this area of southwest Syria, which is the area where the deal today -- was announced today -- focuses. They have talked about a lot of additional steps they could take.

But this is the kind of thing that if we`re ever going to help the Syrian people get out of their nightmare, this is the kind of thing that has to happen. And there was a lot of foundation work done that was here by Secretary Tillerson before they ever got to Hamburg.

MATTHEWS: Are we going to be able to eliminate ISIS on the ground with this new deal with the Russians?

IGNATIUS: This deal allows the U.S., Russia, and everybody else, including the Syrian regime, to focus on getting rid of ISIS.

ISIS is already on the run. What I heard from U.S. commanders when I was traveling with them is, this campaign is going so much faster than we expected that the one thing they`re worried about is that ISIS could collapse so quickly that refugees will have nowhere to go. There will be no provisions made for them.

But ISIS really is finally on the run. And that`s a real achievement. Here`s an interesting fact, Chris. In the three years that the U.S. has been pushing ISIS back, working with its partners, how many Americans have been killed in action in Syria and Iraq? Answer, five. That`s a different model than the one we followed in Iraq, to such disastrous effect.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s good for us.

Anyway, it looks to me like we have a -- what about the -- do you have any sense if there is any resolution of the question as to the Russian involvement in our campaign last year?

IGNATIUS: I don`t have a sense there`s any resolution, but I was pleased....

MATTHEWS: Why didn`t -- if I were Putin, and I wanted to stick it to the other guy, because he`s competing with Trump, I would say, Donald, you know all about it, you were helping us.

Why wouldn`t he say that?

(LAUGHTER)

IGNATIUS: Because intelligence officers don`t reveal the nature of their assets, if they have any. I`m not suggesting that that is the case here.

Anything Putin would say about what happened in our election, I wouldn`t take seriously.

MATTHEWS: Would you believe the dossier was true?

IGNATIUS: I`m waiting to find out.

We now have an investigation by Robert Mueller that is going to tell me and tell you whether the dossier is true. But for me to make a guess, I would rather, to be honest, wait for the people who have the evidence to tell all of us.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you would know the answer to. If the dossier is true in all its gross details, or at least in most of its details, would Putin know all of it?

IGNATIUS: Putin has unusually tight control of his intelligence services, not just because he is a former KGB officer, but he runs a very tight ship.

MATTHEWS: So, he would be sitting there looking at the movies, looking at the texts and everything?

IGNATIUS: We have reported in "The Washington Post" that Putin personally ran the covert operation that led to the meddling in our elections.

This was not others doing it. Putin was overseeing every bit of it. So, whatever there was, Putin knows about it.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, David Ignatius of "The Washington Post."

Up next: President Trump showcases his distinct brand of diplomacy at a meeting with the Mexican president today. The HARDBALL Roundtable weighs in on that meeting, as well as the big meeting with Vlad.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump had an opportunity to show case his diplomatic skills in meetings with a variety of world leaders. All eyes though were, of course, on his first face to face with Putin.

Well, according to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump pressed Putin on Russia`s interference in the 2016 election here, an allegation Putin denied.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The president opened the meeting with President Putin by raising the concerns of the American people regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election. Now, they had a very robust and lengthy exchange on the subject. The president pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement. President Putin denied such involvement, as I think he has in the past. The two leaders agreed this is a substantial hindrance in the ability of us to move the U.S.-Russian relationship forward.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I agree with that. That said, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters after the meeting that President Trump accepts Putin`s denial.

Well, let`s bring in tonight`s HARDBALL roundtable. Astead Herndon is a national political reporter for the great "Boston Globe", Margaret Carlson is a columnist for "Bloomberg View", and Patrick Granfield was a speechwriter for former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.

Astead, sir, let`s talk about the big thing today, that meeting. Did you get anything out of it? I mean, Trump apparently said, well, a lot of people back home are worried about you screwing with the election, I guess I got to bring the issue up, at which point the Russians said it didn`t happen. The Russian foreign minister said, OK, you`ve accepted it didn`t happen. Is that it?

ASTEAD HERNDON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BOSTON GLOBE: The -- it`s interesting that Secretary Tillerson put it in the words of the American people and not in the federal government. He said the American people are concerned about Russian election interference but didn`t say it was a priority of the administration. It is critical --

MATTHEWS: I guess official delivery here, dump it on the table here. That`s what it was like.

HERNDON: And it`s a critical thing of what happens next. When President Putin denied they had any interference in the election, did President Trump push back on that? Did he say --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Tillerson says he brought it up a number of times. I would think that he would have said didn`t happen would be enough. If he brought it up again, did he say, I told you it didn`t happen? I told you it didn`t happen.

What kind of a -- Margaret, this is a little high school again involving Trump and bringing up that attack on John Podesta. We just had him on the road trip out west is childish.

MARGARET CARLSON, COLUMNIST, BLOOMBERG VIEW: Yes. I mean, he tweeted in the morning, blaming the victim.

MATTHEWS: Blaming Podesta for being he hacked by the Russians, who he is about to meet but didn`t really want to bring it up with them.

CARLSON: Right. And, you know, the day before, he said nobody is really sure who did it. So, you know, that fish, the vivid fish you have on the table, Trump doesn`t want to eat it either because Trump is vested in continuing to deny if not obscure that Russia hacked the election, because if he admits it, it casts a shadow on his victory over Hillary Clinton and he would have to do something about it.

So, I think he did bring it up because his aide you`ll look like a weak guy if you don`t, but then he was happy to drop it.

MATTHEWS: Well, you look at all, I want to talk about the end of the show, but you look at all the man spreading going on with the legs. I`ve never seen guys sit like that exactly, like they`re both trying to be jocks or something.

CARLSON: At least it`s equal man spreading.

MATTHEWS: I`ve never seen a meeting last so long and have so little product. Over two hours and after it was over, Melania had to come in and say, guys, let`s get it over with, that didn`t work and yet, when we were trying to distill any product, there`s nothing there really.

PATRICK GRANFIELD, FORMER SPEECHWRITER FOR FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY ASH CARTER: Well, I think the two of you made great points, but I think there`s more than meets the eye. I think there already is some product. My time at State and the Pentagon, one of the things I learned was diplomacy without force is a symphony without instruments.

Well, of OK, if he raised the issue, that`s great. But how did he press the issue? What consequences did he bring to the election hacking?

And as far as we know, there were none. Tillerson intimated that there`s some sort of cyber working group now between Russia and the United States, which is the equivalent of letting the fox into the hen house basically.

MATTHEWS: Well, sitting alongside the Mexican president today, Trump insists that he still wants Mexico to build the wall and to pay for the wall. It`s insane. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Mr. Trump, do you still want Mexico to pay for the wall?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Absolutely.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that said, the White House official position read out from their private bilateral meeting today included zero mention of the wall. So, when they got to business, he never talked about it.

President Trump, of course, ran on the notion that he was going to build a wall and that Mexico would have to pay for it. Let`s watch that in action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Promise we`re building the wall and Mexico will pay for the wall.

Mexico will pay for the wall. And I think they`ll end up actually being very happy to do so.

Yesterday, the top person, president of Mexico, said, we will never, ever pay for that wall. And the press called me up. And they said, Calderon, the head person, top person, he said he won`t pay. He won`t pay for it.

Do you know what I said? I said the wall just got ten feet higher. That`s right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Why does he do this?

HERNDON: It`s a response to his base. I mean, I think that this is a person who doesn`t like apologizing --

MATTHEWS: But he`s never trying to build a wall. There`s never going to be a wall. The Mexicans aren`t going to pony up for it. So, why does he keep bringing it up again?

HERNDON: It`s not about policy outcomes. It`s about rhetoric, it`s about political rhetoric. It`s about scoring points.

MATTHEWS: Patrick, are we going to have some morning a Friday when nothing else is going on. He`s gong to drop what he did like with Obama that he`s from Kenya, oh, by the way, we`re not building the wall. Move on. Is he going to do that to us?

GRANFIELD: I think he may be forced to. Although this is sort of a troupe that Kellyanne Conway and the president`s representatives like to pull out that the president keeps his promises. So, they wanted to keep saying that, so that Rush Limbaugh can cut some sound or something.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

GRANFIELD: But at the same time, it hurts the very people who he thinks he`s appealing to, because when you look at Mexico, they`re our third largest exporter. And they do a lot of agriculture. So, for these states in the West, this is going to hurt them because Mexico can go to Argentina, and go to Brazil --

MATTHEWS: You big thinkers. You big thinkers.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: I want to take a moment right now to send our thoughts and prayers to U.S. Congressman Steve Scalise. And yesterday, the congressman underwent another round of surgery, serious business. This time to handle an infection from wounds he did sustain during last month`s shooting at that congressional baseball practice.

Everyone here at HARDBALL is rooting for the guy. We`re thinking of you and praying for you, sir.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Astead, tell me something I don`t know.

HERNDON: Well, health care. Remember that?

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HERNDON: Today, Mitch McConnell said he would be open to working with Democrats if the current repeal fails, about fixing and not repealing Obamacare. This could be the first sign of maybe an exit strategy for Republicans and might be what the Democrats have been calling for.

MATTHEWS: Will Schumer is going to go along with them?

HERNDON: We`ll see. I mean, he`ll have calls from the base about a public option, about single payer. And that`s --

MATTHEWS: Oh, yes, that`s going to be -- so if the Democrats will go along fixing Obamacare if they can change it.

HERNDON: It`s going to be the next frontier.

CARLSON: So, Chris, the Trump administration is taking back a promise to undocumented immigrants, that if they sign up for military service, they could eventually get legal status. And that`s one reason why California is speeding along with its desire to become the first sanctuary state with the California Values Act, which will be -- which is an effort to stop, quote, the Trump deportation machine.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me go to Patrick.

GRANFIELD: Well, a big surprise, Chris. The diplomats I talked on are not talking about John Podesta or his e-mails. They`re still talking about the confidence of the Trump administration and not just about the personality of Donald Trump, but the fact that they have nobody to talk to, that Donald Trump has not staffed up his agencies --

MATTHEWS: OK, you`ve raised the issue. I don`t understand this. We don`t have deputy secretaries of state. We don`t have ambassadors to key countries. We don`t have anything. We don`t have regional assistant secretaries. That`s really ridiculous.

GRANFIELD: It really is.

MATTHEWS: And why is that the case?

GRANFIELD: I mean, you look at the --

(CROSSTALK)

GRANFIELD: For some of it, for some of it, it`s because they have nominated people who haven`t gone through. Look at the secretaries of the army. They`ve had two that had to go back. They`ve had a secretary of navy that`s --

MATTHEWS: Who is picking these guys?

GRANFIELD: And so, they don`t look to have a real vetting operation.

MATTHEWS: Who`s picking they wrong people that can`t get through muster?

GRANFIELD: I mean -- it seems like there are still arguments over that. I mean, we saw how Tillerson was getting in a fight with Jared Kushner just last week. So, who knows?

MATTHES: It`s a fascinating disaster and frankly a disgrace. Anyway, the government of the United States ought to be functioning.

Astead Herndon, thank you, sir. Thank you, Margaret Carlson. Thank you, Patrick Granfield.

When we return, let me finish with Trump Watch. He won`t like this, but he might see something useful.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Friday, July 7th, 2017.

Did you see how these two men sat today?

Both tried to sit as far forward as they could in those big chairs up there in Hamburg, Germany. Putin, a much smaller fellow, seemed a bit dwarfed and I`d say not very happy about the picture he was presenting.

But the big story was the way they both engaged in the art of man spreading, widening their legs out as far as the wings of those chairs allow them. Nobody is going to out-man spread me, you could hear their little psyches urging them on.

Then there was the hand shake. Usually, we Americans do it once and leave it at that. Well, this time, with all the cameras and the moment of the occasion, the two seemed to use handshakes as a kind of synchronizing mechanism. Every time they wanted to show agreement, they were reaching out to the other to show they were operating as some ready agreement. It was like they were using handshakes to punctuate points in a contract.

Well, the big news, I was about to say all kidding aside, is that they were, in fact, smiling a good deal of time, considering that both men could draw enough nuclear weapons to blow up much of the world and with it extinguish the joy in human existence. That`s a good sign.

One thing has worried me over these months, that these two superpower egos were going to get into a test of whose is bigger with the world itself as the stakes. None of that today. None of it, let`s pray, ever.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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