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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 7/19/17 Trump-Putin hour-long conversation

Guests: James Clapper, Dan Donovan, John Brabender, Dick Durbin, Eric Swalwell, Joshua Green, Ayesha Rascoe, Ken Vogel

Show: HARDBALL Date: July 19, 2017 Guest: James Clapper, Dan Donovan, John Brabender, Dick Durbin, Eric Swalwell, Joshua Green, Ayesha Rascoe, Ken Vogel

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Donald Trump and Paul Manafort to testify in Congress.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in San Francisco.

There`s breaking news tonight on the Russian front. The Senate Judiciary Committee has called Donald Trump, Jr., and Paul Manafort to testify in open hearings next Wednesday. Also coming to Capitol Hill next week, Jared Kushner. The president`s son-in-law will be interviewed of the Senate intelligence Committee. This all comes after last week`s revelation that Kushner, Manafort and Trump, Jr., met with Russians in June of 2016 to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.

I`m joined right now by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin. He`s on the Judiciary Committee. Senator, do we know if they`re going to come, the president`s son and Manafort, the chairman of his campaign last year?

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: No, we don`t have confirmation yet. They`ve been invited. We hope we don`t have to go any further than to issue an invitation, but it`s scheduled for Wednesday morning.

MATTHEWS: Do you believe in an open hearing, you`d be in a position yourself, or other members, to just simply say, We`ve got all the time in the world, Mr. Trump, tell us all the meetings you had an conversations you had with the Russians in the last year-and-a-half?

DURBIN: Well, it`s an open format, as you mentioned. The only admonition we`ve received from the independent counsel is to make certain that the witnesses testify under oath and publicly. Other than that, no limitations. So certainly, questions can be asked on a lot of subjects.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about the beginning of this whole thing, at least what we think is, which is last June, when they met with the Russian lawyer in which she was apparently speaking on behalf of the Russian government, which there was a lure put out, a dangle, if you will, to get a relationship going. And that dangle was, We`re on your side -- in the e- mails to set up that meeting -- We`re on the side of Mr. Trump winning this election, and we`re going to give you dirt on Hillary Clinton to help you win the election.

Wouldn`t that seem to indicate a beginning of a relationship that carried all the way through election day?

DURBIN: It certainly could. That`s speculative, but it`s not out of the question. What we need to do is to hammer down as many specific facts as possible about what led up to that mattering, what took place at that meeting, and what was done afterward.

There`s a late-breaking news story tonight, "The New York Times," that Paul Manafort owns -- owes Russian banks some $17 million. I don`t know any truth to that, but it could lead to even more questions about Manafort`s relationship with Russia.

MATTHEWS: Does it look to you like there is -- I mean, I`ve used this reference before because I grew up with the Polaroid film, where it would develop in front of you. This picture of a Russian relationship with Trump, where Trump has said from the beginning, you know, he`s willing to give, apparently, on Ukraine, certainly on Crimea. He`s willing to give on election meddling, maybe even on the furtherance of continuation of the Assad regime, if he can get the Russians on our side in fighting ISIS.

And then find out today they`re dropping the support of our government for the opponents of Assad, the better opponents of Assad. What do you make of it all as a picture coming into view here?

DURBIN: It`s a tangled web, Chris, when it gets right down to it. And it starts with the premise this president, unlike other presidents, refuses to make full disclosure of his financial dealings. Why? What is it that`s contained therein that concerns him the most? And with all the speculation about Russia -- the investments, the banks, the interlocking relationships -- all of that, of course, leads us to ask even more questions.

You know as well as I do that in this town of Washington, D.C., it`s hardly ever the crime. It`s the cover-up that becomes the central issue. And secondly, when you`re caught in one of these situations, you need to make full disclosure. Now, the disclosures made by Donald Trump, Jr., of his e- mails last week I thought were full disclosures. Turned out there were a lot more people in that meeting, for example, than we were initially led to believe.

MATTHEWS: Well, you know, we did discover with Nixon -- I mean, I did a lot of the investigative work myself as a journalist for the San Francisco papers, and I -- you know, Nixon had a lot to hide. You know, he ordered a break-in of the Brookings Institution, illegal act right there. He ordered the break-in of the Republican National Committee to make it look like a Democratic job. He had all this in his head when he got caught with the break-in of the Democratic headquarters in June of `72. And I`m thinking is it possible that Trump is have some -- does have something really to worry about here?

DURBIN: Well...

MATTHEWS: That he doesn`t want us to know about.

DURBIN: I don`t know the answer, but I`ll tell you this. I`m putting my money on Bob Mueller. Now, it`s something when a politician says, I`m going to trust his judgment, some other person. But I know this man. I`ve known him since he headed up the FBI. I`ve worked with him over the years, former federal judge, a Republican, combat veteran, so forth. All of these things tell me he`ll put country first. He`ll handle this professionally. But certainly, the facts that are starting to emerge are really cascading on us on a daily basis.

MATTHEWS: Is it your sense that Donald Trump knows more than he`s telling?

DURBIN: Well, of course it is. And you know, he said initially, there were no contacts between the Russians and the Trump campaign, and now with the e-mails from his son, it`s clear that wasn`t the case.

MATTHEWS: And do you think he`s still trying to work a deal with the Russians on Syria?

DURBIN: I have no idea what his ultimate goal is. I don`t know if it`s related to foreign policy or personal or business-related. I just can`t tell you what it`s all about. But the fact that there`s such concealment of basic information and other facts are just leaking out slowly by slowly raises an awful lot of questions.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much. It`s great to have you on, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, one of the (INAUDIBLE)

DURBIN: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by U.S. Congressman Eric Swalwell of California. He`s on the Intelligence Committee on the House side. He`s also -- also joining us, "USA Today`s" -- one of our favorite reporters, Heidi Hei -- I mean, Heidi Przybyla.

Let me -- let me start with the congressman. What do you make of the fact we`re finally going to get these son and son-in-law and chairman of the Trump campaign under testimony, under oath?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Good evening, Chris. Let`s hear as much as possible. I think the American people are ready to hear just exactly why they thought meeting with Russians at the time of the campaign and receiving information on Hillary Clinton that would have been illegally obtained was a good idea. I think there`s a lot of fair questions for them. So let`s have the public finally hear it.

MATTHEWS: Well, you know, one -- I watch all the hearings and I`m always depressed by them because the members don`t seem to coordinate their questions with each other, and everybody`s doing their own thing, playing their own banjo. And happens is People get away with stuff.

Now, why don`t you just suspend the rules in these committees and say to theses people, starting with Donald, Jr., I want to know every single -- you`re under oath, buddy. I don`t care if you`re the president`s son, you`re under oath. And I want to hear every single meeting you`ve had, every e-mail, every conversation on the phone you`ve had with a Russian in the last year-and-a-half. And you`d better not miss any because we`re going to get you on it for perjury. Why don`t you tell them take all the - - take three hours if you want, buddy. We want everything. This is what Trey Gowdy said he wants. But yet it never seems to happen. Everybody goes their different ways in these hearings, and we don`t get the full story. Your thoughts.

SWALWELL: Coordination is better. If you remember the March 20 hearing with James Comey, actually, House Intelligence Democrats -- we met a number of times to make sure that we did not do exactly what you said. We wanted to make sure it was coordinated and that we had a narrative so the American people understood in a public setting the Trump contacts, personally, politically and financially. And I thought that teamwork really paid off because we just cared about making sure that the American people understood.

MATTHEWS: Good. Can you make demand of a witness? We want to know right now. Take all the time you want. This is an open exam. Every -- I mean, Trey Gowdy suggested -- he said ever since -- he made a joke of it. Ever since you saw "Dr. Zhivago," tell me every Russian you met with. Let`s hear it.

SWALWELL: Yes, put it all...

MATTHEWS: Is that a reasonable demand of a witness?

SWALWELL: Yes. Put it all on the table right now. Give us the exhaustive list from the time the campaign started until today. Who have you met with? Let`s just hear that first because that list continues to grow only, Chris, when they`re confronted with the evidence.

MATTHEWS: Yes, it seems to. Anyway, as you mentioned earlier, there`s some more breaking news tonight and it`s just out tonight. "The New York Times" reports financial records filed last year in the secretive tax haven of Cyprus, where Paul J. Manafort kept bank accounts during his years working in Ukraine and investing with a Russian oligarch, indicate that he had been in debt to pro-Russian interests by as much as $17 million before he joined Donald Trump`s president campaign in March 2016.

What is the fact that he was on -- he was in debt to all -- to that enormous amount of money to dangerous people in Russia -- the oligarchs don`t play patty-cake. What do you make of that?

SWALWELL: The Russians prey on financial distress. And Chris, this was something that -- testimony we elicited from then director Comey during the March 20 hearing. He couldn`t go into specifics, but he did acknowledge that financial distress was a vulnerability in someone that the Russians would expose, if they could, meaning that they would use that as leverage over you.

And so we want to know if that was the relationship with Paul Manafort, if that is why the Republican Party platform toward Ukraine changed and why Carter Page, while he was the chairperson of the campaign, went over to Moscow when Carter Page was a senior foreign policy adviser for the campaign. There`s a lot of questions about Paul Manafort`s financial ties to Russia.

MATTHEWS: Let`s put this element -- I`m not sure the rope has been tied together, but there are two ropes coming at each other. Starting last June, we now know that there was e-mails out there saying that the Russian government was out to help Trump win the election. We know that there was a meeting set up with the president`s son with the purpose of sharing dirt, if you will, on his adversary at the time, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president. We know they sent out that overture. We`re on your side, buddy. Let`s meet. We got some dirt on your opponent. We can actually help you.

And then we watched Trump all through the (INAUDIBLE) saying nice things about Russia right up until recently, sitting down with him at the G-20 and chatting away with him for an hour with no one else there We know his son- in-law was trying to set up a private channel with the Kremlin, all this nice behavior from our end following what seemed to be an overture of, I can help you guys politically, from the other end.

How do you put those two ropes together? How do you -- can you tie it together yet?

SWALWELL: Yes, you can. Chris, it reminds me of when you go to the eye doctor. You have a vision test. And they ask you, Is it lens number one or lens number two? Which one is clearer? Which one is blurrier?

The Don, Junior, e-mail chain makes everything clearer. All of the previous innocent explanations that were offered are no longer so innocent. And Chris, this excuse that he was just naive and didn`t know what he was doing -- somebody who says, Can we wait to have this information out there at the end of summer, right before the election, is exactly somebody who knows what they`re doing.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think so. Anyway, President Trump spent his campaign praising, as I said, Vladimir Putin, including after his son found about that Russian -- the Russian government was out to support Donald Trump. Let`s watch all that.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, they say, Donald Trump likes Putin. So here`s the story. By the way, if we could get Russia to help us get rid of ISIS, if we could actually be friendly with Russia, wouldn`t that be a good thing? Is that -- it`s so bad?

He`s a better leader than Obama because Obama`s not a leader. So he`s certainly doing a better job than Obama is, and that`s all. Now, look, you have to understand Putin -- if we could get along with Russia, I think that would be a good thing, not a bad thing. We don`t get along with Russia.

Putin called me brilliant. I like it! They want me to disavow!


TRUMP: Putin said Donald Trump is brilliant. Essentially, he`ll be the next leader, but Donald Trump is brilliant!


MATTHEWS: Heidi, as journalist, what would you like to see come out of that testimony that occurs next week with the president`s son and the chairman of the campaign, Manafort, with all this Russian entanglement? This is -- this is a virgin forest here, lots there.

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, "USA TODAY," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that is why it is fraught with peril. Did you see the timestamp on those recordings that you just played? That was right around the time when Paul Manafort was bending the ear of the Trumps.

So this is fraught with peril because Donald Trump, Jr., has been making false statements to friendly TV hosts that have been proven wrong within 24 to 48 hours. Here he`s going to be under oath talking to very savvy lawmakers who know the facts and who are going to get him on the record on a host of issues, including the one that is most suspect, which is, Did you really have no additional ties, no additional contacts, no additional e- mails following that meeting during which you were hoping the get the goods on Hillary Clinton?

And I think the getting him on the record on those points is going to be critical. But then also, their ties -- you know, the money angle, this new breaking news about "The New York Times," their ties to the Russian oligarchs.

We know that this is a big focus of Mueller`s investigation based on the fact that he`s issued requests to Treasury`s financial crimes unit. So this is weaving all of those threads together. I think it`s significant that this is an invitation and we have no indication yet of whether he`ll actually accept it.

MATTHEWS: Well, the father is the leader of this band, I think. And the question is wouldn`t the sons be moved to be cooperative with the Russians based up what Daddy Trump has been saying all through this campaign, he wants a warm relationship with Putin?

PRZYBYLA: Yes. Well, especially if, as we know, we suspected all along, Paul Manafort is the one who was kind of behind a lot of this. And like the congressman said, if you line things up, a lot of the most suspect statements were made around the time, within weeks of when Manafort took over as campaign chairman in terms of altering the Ukraine platform and some of...


SWALWELL: ... the rhetoric coming from Trump himself, including calling on the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton.

So absolutely. And it sounds like, you know, the son was very much interested in getting information on Hillary Clinton. And here`s what we know, Chris. They may not have delivered in that meeting, but they delivered, all right, in the form of Wikileaks, which wound up being a very effective tool for Donald Trump. I think those lawmakers are going to want to know, Did you really know nothing about that and you had no connection and no knowledge of what was going on with that massive dump?

MATTHEWS: Well, thank you. U.S. Congressman Eric Swalwell, so much, sir, from California, and Heidi Przybyla for joining us. By the way, I imagine over at Mueller`s operation, he`s got a big wall with all these connecting points that Heidi`s talking and the Congress are talking about and the senator`s talking about, the meetings, the meetings going up to what Trump said yesterday, the money end of what Manafort owes the oligarchs over there, all this stuff, all that, meetings with Kislyak and Lavrov, all that stuff on a big chart with all the other people like Carter Page and the rest of them and Roger Stone. I think this is one big map of hell (ph) we`re looking at.

Anyway, coming up, the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, is going to be here on Trump`s meeting with Putin. In fact, Trump, Junior`s, meeting with the Russians also and whether the Trumps are making Russia great again. Wait until you hear his reaction to that because it sounds like that`s what Trump`s been doing, help Russia and Putin be great again.

Plus, there`s growing unrest among some Republicans about President Trump. They`re coming to realize that Trump may claim any victory that he can for himself but run away from any defeat and blame the rest on them. Today, Trump even threatened a fellow Republican over health care, asking whether he really wants to remain a senator. That`s a threat.

And what`s really going on inside the Trump White House itself? Well, that`s a story. The Russian investigation and health care failures are sharpening the battle lines within the West Wing. And we`ve got a new report tonight about the pressure that the Trump family itself is feeling. By the way, friends say that Donald, Junior, just wants these four years to be over. He`s miserable.

Finally, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch." He won`t like it.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Earlier today, President Trump kicked off the inaugural meeting of his so-called voter fraud commission. Trump used the occasion to once again praise -- or raise the possibility that despite a lack of evidence, substantial voter fraud took place in the 2016 presidential election. Let`s listen.


TRUMP: This issue is very important to me because throughout the campaign, and even after, people would come up to me and express their concerns about voter inconsistencies and irregularities which they saw, in some cases having to do with very large numbers of people in certain states.


MATTHEWS: Well, the president also questioned why certain states were refusing to comply with the commission`s request for sensitive voter information, implying, he was, that those states must be hiding something. Well, he ought to know about that, hiding stuff.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The last time President Trump met with Russian officials in the Oval Office back in May, he reportedly revealed highly classified information from Israel and told them that firing James Comey, who he called at the time a nutjob, relieved great pressure on him with regards to the Russian investigation.

Well, yesterday, we learned the president met alone with an hour -- for an hour with Vladimir Putin at the G20 conference over in Germany, an hour, just the two of them. The only other person present was a Russian translator supplied by the Kremlin itself.

Well, the White House never disclosed that meeting. It was first reported by Ian Bremmer, who is president of the international consulting group the Eurasia Group.

Let`s watch.


IAN BREMMER, PRESIDENT, EURASIA GROUP: And I will tell you that many of the leaders that were in that room, including America`s most important allies, were quite surprised.

They found it unusual and noteworthy, the body language, the chemistry, the fact it went on for so long, and the fact that, of course, it reflected a much warmer relationship between Trump and Putin than he has with any of the other leaders in the room.


MATTHEWS: Well, White House spokesman Sean Spicer, for what it`s worth, told "The New York Times" this about G20 meeting -- quote -- "It was pleasantries and small talk."

How would Sean know?

President Trump tweeted today -- quote -- "Fake news story of secret dinner with Putin is sick. All G20 leaders and spouses were invited by chancellor of Germany."

Well, we all know that, but what happened afterwards?

Also today, "The Washington Post" reported President Trump is planning on ending the CIA`s covert program to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels. So, we`re on Assad`s side now.

Anyway, according to "The Post," "Officials said the phasing out of the secret program reflects Trump`s interests in finding ways to work with Russia, which saw the anti-Assad program as an assault on his -- or its interests."

NBC News has not confirmed the report.


MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by James Clapper, the former director of intelligence, national intelligence, under President Obama.

Mr. Director, from the beginning, Donald Trump has said his whole goal with Russia is to try to develop a deal of some kind to fight ISIS. And it looks like everything he`s been doing so far, forgiving them on Crimea, forgiving them on Eastern Ukraine, even to seemingly forgive them on interfering with our elections, if not bringing a blind eye to it, and now apparently to forgive them for supporting ISIS, it`s coming across to me like a Polaroid film.

It`s just developing in front of us. This is what Trump is up to.

You`re the expert. What do you see Trump doing here?

JAMES CLAPPER, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: Well, it seems clear to me that he`s very, very interested in a productive working relationship with the Russians.

I guess the concern I would have is, what concessions have been made or are being made? And if there are concessions being made or agreements being made, what is it -- what`s the quid pro quo for us? What is the United States getting out of this?

I`ve read the media reporting about stopping our support for the moderate opposition groups, which is a very profound move. And I should caveat by saying that`s certainly his prerogative as the president to do that.

But there are serious implications here. One is, it appears to me that he`s just kind of throwing in with the Russians and helping them as they have sustained propping up Assad, who, by the way, was the original cause of the civil war in Syria to start with.

And, of course, if we`re stopping that assistance, then we`re cutting the knees out from under these moderate opposition groups, who`ve grown very dependent on us.

And, of course, I think another aspect here is gauge what the reaction of the regional neighbors are. I read, again, that Jordan is supportive. I`m not sure all the others would be. So, this -- if this is true, this has huge implications.

MATTHEWS: Mr. Director, what do you make of that first meeting in June of last year?

It seemed to be the first meeting, when Donald Jr. was approached, Donald Trump Jr. was approached with a proposition that the Russians, apparently at the government level, had some dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Based on your knowledge of Russian methods, what were they up to there in establishing a relationship with Trump`s son? CLAPPER: Well, I think, first of all, this was the classic textbook Soviet, and now Russian, tradecraft, kind of a -- the soft approach.

And I think their principal -- they had two objectives here. One was to determine whether those close to then-candidate Trump would be interested in talking with them about and receiving dirt on Hillary Clinton. That was point one.

And point two was plausible deniability. And these are characteristics of typical Soviet/Russian intelligence service tradecraft. And I think that was the primary objective, just to find out if they reached out if there would be interest advanced. And there was.

MATTHEWS: And what kind of a response do you think they got? Because Trump seemed very pro-Russian in the months after that.

CLAPPER: Well, that`s true.

He -- he evinced that when we published our intelligence community assessment on the 6th of January and briefed him at Trump Tower about the Russian interference in our election in 2016.

And he, of course, was skeptical about it, although he wasn`t while we briefed him, but, in subsequent commentary, he was disparaging of it, and, in fact, at one point, characterized us as Nazis, I guess, for having reported to him what our judgment was about the magnitude and the extent and the scope of Russian interference, which -- and the results for them, I think, all they`re going to do is, they`re going to do it more.

They`re going to be back, and they`re going to be emboldened to be more aggressive.

MATTHEWS: So, even after sending a message to Manafort, Paul Manafort, the chairman of his campaign at the time, and his son that they were on his side, that they were willing to help him hurt Hillary Clinton in the campaign, even after getting that message clear as a bell, he told you folks, the intelligence experts, that he didn`t believe that the Russians were trying to help him.

CLAPPER: Well, he didn`t. He just kept iterating the possibility that, well, it could have been somebody else. It could have been a 400-pound guy in his bed in New Jersey.


CLAPPER: And he kind of reiterated that message during -- in his speech in Poland.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but it wasn`t a 400-pound person lying in their bed that came to his people, four of them in Trump -- three of them in Trump Tower, including his son-in-law and his son and his campaign chairman. That wasn`t a 400-pound person in their bed that came to him with the dirt on Hillary from Russia.

CLAPPER: That`s right. That`s right.

And I mention that only because I think he was trying to, apparently, obfuscate the origins of this interference. And just to be clear, in our minds, in the intelligence -- the minds of the intelligence community, the agencies that participated in this, there`s actually no doubt it was clearly the Russians. We had a very high confidence level about that, and still do.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about his reaction to all this.

We know that he`s denied the dossier. And that`s in dispute. And -- but yet he has been so nice to the Russians. He was nice to Mr. Gorbachev -- or Mr. Putin in the G20 meeting openly. And then, when they had the private meeting, went over and sat with him with just a -- his own -- Putin`s own translator, interpreter there, and he spent an hour with him there.

And now today, as you point out, he brings out this new overture in terms of supporting Assad, basically, by opposing -- or giving no more funding to the opponents of Assad, the side that we have been on all these months.

That adds up to me as cooperation and collusion. What do you think?

CLAPPER: Well, it`s very concerning to me that this appears to be going on.

I understand the -- it`s a good thing to look for areas where our interests converge. But it seems to me what we`re doing is suborning our interests to those of the Russians.

And if this is true about the action in Syria, well, this is a very serious thing, and this affinity for Russia is a very curious thing.

And, bear in mind, Russia is an existential threat to this country. They are embarked on a very aggressive modernization program for their strategic nuclear forces. They have a very aggressive counterspace program.

And these are all designed with one adversary in mind, and that`s the United States. And, oh, by the way, they`re also in violation of the INF treaty.

So, I have trouble understanding why we`re being so solicitous of Russia, who are not our friends, and are not doing any -- are not going to do anything that`s in our interest.

MATTHEWS: Lastly, how would you describe President Trump`s response to this adversary since taking office?

CLAPPER: Well, again, it appears to me that the approach to be taken here is to be very solicitous of the Russians.

And, again, if our -- the action that I`ve read in the media about Syria is true, it seems to me what we`re doing is essentially subordinating ourselves to the Russians as they sustain Assad, which has been their position all along.

And I think what that does in the long run is really marginalize whatever leverage we had in influencing developments there.

MATTHEWS: When one -- when an American or any other power lays down before Putin, what`s Putin`s reaction to that generally? How does he like that kind of response, that acceptance?

CLAPPER: Well, he revels in it.

He is, in my view, not a throwback necessarily to the Soviet era, but a throwback to the czar era. He`s not really an ideologue. I think he has this Russian greatness mind-set, and that Russia is a great power in the world, and that he craves that kind of recognition.

He uses that recognition to, you know, I think, intimidate his own people. And uses that as a way of trying to exhort their patriotism. So this all - - this phenomenon here plays right to his sweet spot.

MATTHEWS: You think our president helping Russia be great again?


CLAPPER: Yes, in a way, I guess he is, particularly if Putin gets his way in Syria, and if nothing is done to push back on the Russians in the Ukraine, yes.


James Clapper, former director of national intelligence, thank you, sir, for your time tonight.

CLAPPER: Thanks. Thanks, Chris, for having me.


MATTHEWS: Helping to make Russia great again. Isn`t that a great cause for our president?

Up next: President Trump asks a vulnerable Republican if he wants to remain a senator while sitting right now next to the guy at a White House event. He is threatening these guys. It`s just the latest example of the divide right now between President Trump and some of his fellow Republican Party members in the wake of their big failure to repeal and replace Obamacare.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

At a White House luncheon today, President Trump had some choice words for Republican senators who had opposed recent attempts at repealing Obamacare.

With the cameras rolling, Trump even issued a not-so-veiled threat to Nevada Senator Dean Heller.

Let`s watch this in action.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This was the one we were worried about. You weren`t there. But you`re going to be. You`re going to be.


TRUMP: Look, he wants to remain a senator, doesn`t he? OK.

And I think the people of your state, which I know very well, I think they`re going to appreciate what you hopefully will do.

Any senator who votes against starting debate is really telling America that you`re fine with Obamacare.


MATTHEWS: Well, Trump`s threat against Senator Heller is just the latest example of the deepening divide -- you can see it -- between Republicans and their party`s leader, if he really is their leader.

All this comes as the Congressional Budget Office comes released its score of the Senate Republican plan to repeal Obamacare now and then replace it later. Well, that plan would leave 32 million Americans uninsured over the next decade. That would be very tricky.

For more, I`m joined by U.S. Congressman Dan Donovan, Republican from New York City, and Republican strategist John Brabender.

Congressman, you first.

What do you make of that kind of threat? I haven`t seen that kind of thing since "The Untouchables," what Robert De Niro did to his merry band, threatening the guy sitting next to him, if you don`t play ball with me, you`re gone.

REP. DAN DONOVAN (R), NEW YORK: I`m not sure the president doesn`t do that in jest, Chris.


DONOVAN: When I went to see the president -- when I went to see the president -- as you know, I voted against the Republican House replacement plan.

I thought it didn`t help the people who were harmed by the Affordable Care Act, and I thought it was going to harm the people who were helped by it.

When I went to see the president in the Oval Office and told him my concerns, he listened more than he spoke. And then his reaction was, he knows that things that affect New York are different than what affects the rest of the country.

And I never got any pressure from him or our own leadership to change my mind.

MATTHEWS: Because they didn`t need your vote. That`s the difference, isn`t it?

DONOVAN: Well, you know, that -- well...

MATTHEWS: If they had needed your vote to get 216, they would have been a lot more hardball with you, don`t you think, Trump would have been?

DONOVAN: Well, at the time, it was the time when we delayed the vote because there weren`t enough votes. But I was never approached to change mine. Maybe other members were.

But, if you remember, back then, the vote was delayed for two weeks, until they got some members to change their mind. I was not one of the members that they approached.

MATTHEWS: Hey, John Brabender, you know this with the real people out there, the Trump voter that -- not the 30 percent who will be him if he shoots somebody on Fifth Avenue, as he put it, but that 30 to 45 percent that decides whether he does well in the states.

Will that 30 to -- that number, if it goes from 30 to 45 percent, that 15 percent, will they stick with him if health care just stays the way it is right now, having failed?

JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, I think they sent Donald Trump to Washington, saying, we`re disappointed with Democrats. We`re disappointed with Republicans. Here`s a guy who we really think is going to change things.

I think they`re patient for the moment, but I think they are looking for real change. And so I do think it is incumbent upon the Republicans to give them something.

I think there`s still a chance on this health care bill. I agree with the congressman. I think that Donald Trump was at least half-kidding with Senator Heller.

But I do think that the president is actually acting very presidential right now. He brought them in last night. He brought them into the White House for lunch today. He made sure that the Senate is meeting tonight.

And he is forcing them, saying now is the time to get this done. That`s what he should be doing as president.

MATTHEWS: Congressman, would you go along with plan, a bipartisan plan to fix Obamacare and make it a better program?

DONOVAN: Absolutely.

I did an op-ed yesterday, Chris. I said we have to get rid of this partisanship. I mean, we`re basking in each other`s failures. And who is getting -- who is the real failure affecting? The American people.

There are things in the bill, the Republican replacement bill, that everyone can agree on. And when Barack Obama left office, he asked his conference, please don`t help the Republicans undo what I will go down in history known for, the Affordable Care Act.

Well, I think everybody`s obligation is not to the former president, but to the American people. And there`s parts of that, allowing insurance companies to sell insurance across state lines, if that is going to cause competition, Chris, and that`s going to allow premiums to drop, let`s show America, rather than just telling it`s going to happen.

MATTHEWS: Well, the former president he may not fix his own program, I`d be surprised. I think you`re right in making that interpretation. But there`s another interpretation, too, which is it`s in the interest of the country to fix what`s broken.

Thank you, U.S. Congressman Dan Donovan of, well, Bay Ridge, Staten Island, all those great places.

And, John Brabender, from --

DONOVAN: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: -- the world of the regular people, in the middle of the country.

Up next, Donald Trump sits down with "The New York Times." I can`t believe he`s done this interview. But wait until you catch the news. He says he`s angry at his Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He`s angry at former FBI Director James Comey, big surprise, and he has a warning for special counsel Robert Mueller.

This is hot stuff and he gave it to the "New York Times" for tomorrow but we got it tonight.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

"The New York Times" is just out for tomorrow with some breaking news and we`ve got it tonight. In a wide ranging interview, quote, President Trump said today that he never would have appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions had he known that Mr. Sessions would recuse himself from overseeing the Russian investigation that has dogged his presidency, calling the decision very unfair to the president. That`s how Trump talks.

Trump told "The Times" that Sessions` decision to recuse ultimately led to the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel. "The Times" reports Mr. Trump said Mr. Mueller was running an office rife with conflicts of interest and warned that investigators would cross a red line if they delve into Trump family finances unrelated to Russia.

I`m joined right now by the roundtable, Josh Green, senior national correspondent with "Bloomberg Businessweek" and author of the new book, "Devil`s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and the Storming of the Presidency". Ayesha Rascoe is White House correspondent with "Reuters", and Ken Vogel is a reporter with "The New York Times."

Ken, you pick it up here. This is a hot story because of what it threatens. He basically threatens Mueller here in this interview with your paper, threatens him not to go into finances of the Trump family, which means don`t ask for my tax returns. That`s what I hear. What do you read here?

KEN VOGEL, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, and even more so, Chris. He leaves open the possibility of potentially firing Mueller if Mueller crosses him, including on this red line that he just seems to lay out regarding his business. It is important to note that he says that it`s not delving into his businesses generally but delving into his businesses as they are -- that are not related to Russia.

But what you see here throughout this interview is his obsession, his fixation on the Russia investigation. The reporters here tried to talk about other things. He kept bringing it back.


VOGEL: You see the way that it is hindering his agenda and his desire, his sort of unwillingness to accept responsibility for some of the ways in which his agenda have gone off the rails and to blame on others, on Sessions, on Comey, on Mueller for bringing such intensity to the Russia investigation. The buck is not stopping with Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: Ayesha, we learned all through Clinton investigations, fairly or not, one thing leads to another. Paula Jones leads the Monica. You know how these things work.

How do you say you`re going to investigate Trump`s methods and dealings with Russia, his economic relations with Russia, the hotels, the Miss Universe, the whole shebang -- how do you say you`re not going to ask for his tax returns if you`re going to examine those questions? I mean, it seems to me that red lines are going to be crossed by the very nature of this probe that Mr. Mueller has been assigned to.

AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: Well, yes. I mean, someone who President Trump is not a big fan of right now, James Comey, said, you know, when you start these investigations, when you start turning over rocks. You might find some things. So, the idea that he can somehow limit what Mueller is going to be able to look into, that just seems unlikely and unreasonable. I mean, this is a special counsel and if he finds something that he thinks is interesting or that he thinks could be illegal, you would think he could have kind of a moral responsibility to go after it.

MATTHEWS: Josh, your question -- same question to you because I`m going down the road here to where I think Mueller is going. I said earlier in the show, I imagine he has a big wall with a chart, with all these different personalities, starting with Roger Stone and Carter Page and all the others and all these meetings and this e-mail and everything suggesting one side trying to establish a relationship from the other side, all these financial things like we learned tonight that Mr. Manafort may owe $17 million to the oligarchs, which has him in hock with he started working on the campaign, which a dangerous, precarious position to be in. It seems to me Mueller is going to have to look at all of it, all of it, including the tax returns.

JOSHUA GREEN, SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK: Well, of course, he is, because he is a diligent, thorough investigator. And I think part of what is going on is that Trump is trying to intimidate him to try and suggest that some areas are out of bounds and still hasn`t accepted the fact that Mueller has free rein to investigate here.

I think the other thing that bear in mind is Trump`s state of mind. He is all at his most volatile and reckless when he`s just suffered some big loss. We`ve know that he`s getting increasingly upset over the Russia stuff. But now, health care is collapsing and he`s going to be held to account for that and I think he`s doing what he always does in this situations and lashing out at the people around him.

MATTHEWS: Well, Ken Vogel, back to you, in "The Times". What do you make? What`s you`re going to lead with this story? Because there`s so much in this story, the Sessions thing. He is angry at him for recusing himself, because that led to the naming of Mr. Mueller.

He is still mad at James Comey, thinking he was teasing him with that dossier about whatever going on and if nothing went or if something went on in that hotel room over in Moscow, he thought he was playing J. Edgar Hoover it sounds like and teasing with all this dirt. It really sounds like he`s accusing Comey of J. Edgar here.

VOGEL: Yes. I mean, obviously, this is on his mind, and he`s fixated. You take it to the g-20 a few days ago, and he talks again, he addresses the subject of this second meeting that we had Vladimir Putin, during or after this dinner with all the world leaders. He says the meeting lasted only 15 minutes. He brings up what he said that Putin wanted to talk about which is adoptions.

This gets into the subject of the meeting that Donald Trump Jr. held in June of last year during the campaign with these Russians, this Kremlin- linked lawyer who wanted to talk about this Magnitsky Act and the way that Russia had retaliated against the U.S. for this act by limiting adoptions. So, you see this is also on Trump`s mind explains the back drop here, like we are also interested in the Russia investigation.

MATTHEWS: Well, we know one thing. Putin wants to get these sanctions removed against the oligarchs. And that`s why he keeps bringing up the adoption issue because that was the counterpunch to that set of sanctions.

Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. And next, these three will tell me something I don`t know, all of three of them.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Well, the Russia investigation is weighing heavily on the president`s family apparently. A close friend of someone close to Donald Trump Jr. told "People" magazine, quote, the loyalty within this family is insane. You can`t bite the hand that feeds you, but he, Don Jr., can`t wait for these four years to be over.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Josh, tell me something I don`t know.

GREEN: Here`s something you don`t know -- Donald Trump actually thought politics and governing was going to be easy. In a quote he did for me that appears in the book just before he was elected, he actually said that business was the hard thing. Politics wasn`t that hard.

I`m going to read the quote he said because it`s so --


GREEN: -- unimaginable in current context.

He said: I deal with people that are extraordinarily talented people. I deal with Steve Wynn, with Carl Icahn. I deal with killers that blow these politicians away. It`s not even the same category. Politics is a category that`s like 19 levels lower.

I`m not sure he feels the same way today.

MATTHEWS: The name of the book?

GREEN: "Devil`s Bargain".

MATTHEWS: Thank you.


RASCOE: So, the U.S. and the Chinese had economic talks today. And both sides were supposed to have press conferences but they were unexpectedly cancelled without expectations. It`s a sign that maybe President Trump`s plan to kind of redo U.S. trade policy with China may not be going as easily as he had hoped.

MATTHEWS: Like other things.


VOGEL: Well, Chris, just a couple days after my colleagues at the "New York Times" broke this explosive story about this meeting that Donald Trump Jr. had with this Russian-linked lawyer and subsequently learned Russian- American lobbyist. A tranche of e-mails that were hacked from -- appear to have been hacked from the account of the State Department`s top Russian intel guys was posted on this Dark Web Website, and there is a lot of traffic in there about the attendees at this meeting, probably not a coincidence.

MATTHEWS: The number of people grows all the time.

Josh Green, thank you for that. Good luck with your book. Ayesha Rascoe, and, of course, Ken Vogel, congrats to "The Times". Another big night for them.

We`ll be right back with Trump Watch.


MATTHEWS: Trump Watch Wednesday, July 19th, 2017.

Let me remind everyone who grew up like me of the story of King Solomon and the baby. Remember how he decided who the true mother of the baby was. He proposed as a solution, cutting the baby in half and giving each mother one half. When one mother yelled out that he should give the baby to the other, it was then that King Solomon realize who had the true mother was.

I`ve watched President Trump act almost with glee over the prospect of having the Republicans blame the Democrats for what he predicts will be the failure of Obamacare down the road. Well, instead of showing concerned over the many who would be hurt, he thinks only of how he will somehow show up with a political score card. He doesn`t care if millions get hurt as long as the other side gets the blame.

I say we should follow the wisdom of Solomon.

And that`s HARDBALL for now.

"ALL IN" starts right now.