Show: HARDBALL Date: July 24, 2017 Guest: David Cay Johnston, John Feehery, Buddy Carter, Ruth Marcus, Charlie Savage, Sabrina Siddiqui
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Whatever it takes.
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
We begin an explosive week in Trump land. Anything is possible. President Trump displays no limits to what he will do to protect himself. He accepts no limits of what he will do now. The presidency is his and he will use every weapon at hand, the greatest of which is his personal readiness to use all of them.
He`s fired men and women in his way and he will fire more. He will fire until he gets what he wants, a North Korean caliber of obedience. He will assert powers never imagined. No attorney general, no special prosecutor is safe the moment Trump decides to dump him. And this weekend, he tweeted that he has the complete power to pardon.
This morning, he took another shot at Attorney General Sessions. Quote, "So why aren`t the committees and investigators, and if course, our beleaguered" -- there`s a shot -- "attorney general looking into crooked Hillary`s crimes and Russian relations," whatever they were.
Axios today reported President Trump is so unhappy with Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he has raised the possibility of bringing back Rudolph Giuliani to head the Justice Department, according to West Wing confidants. Anyway, Giuliani denied he was being considered for the position, although he may not have heard that conversation, and he backed Sessions`s decision to recuse himself.
Well, according to NBC News, one source close to the White House said the Giuliani idea can best be described as spitballing. Well, today at an event with White House interns, the president only rolled his eyes when he was asked about Sessions. Let`s watch it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Mr. President (INAUDIBLE) Jeff Sessions (INAUDIBLE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: That`s the president behaving like an intern. Anyway, in an interview with "The New York Times" last week, President Trump criticized his attorney general for not letting the president know that he would recuse himself. Let`s watch that.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, Sessions should have never recused himself. And if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, the president also delivered this warning to Robert Mueller.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mueller (INAUDIBLE) your finances, your family`s finances unrelated to Russia. Is that a red line?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would that be a breach of what his actual...
TRUMP: I would say yes. Yes, I would say yes.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by "USA Today`s" Heidi Przybyla, "Washington Post" columnist Eugene Robinson and David Cay -- and David Cay Johnston, the author of "The Making of Donald Trump." Thank you all.
Let`s start with Heidi. It seems to me he`s operating on two fronts. We got the pardon thing he`s keeping back, like his little Derringer in his back pocket. And then we have this frontal attack on the attorney general and on Mueller. Is there any doubt that Trump will do what he has to do to save himself?
HEIDI PRZYBYLA, "USA TODAY," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he`s being pretty transparent, Chris, about it. We`ve had presidents in the past who have been accused of executive overreach or doing things in secret. This is right in front of us. And it`s begun from the very beginning with his attacks on the intelligence community, his attacks on the media, now on his own attorney general.
There`s no question that he`s going after Sessions because -- he said it was because of his recusal. It`s not because of the job that Sessions is doing as attorney general. Arguably, he is fulfilling Trump`s agenda more than any other cabinet member at this point, with immigration and...
MATTHEWS: So it`s targeted on preventing himself from being challenged, impeached, whatever by Mueller.
PRZYBYLA: But the amazing thing is he`s totally transparent about it.
MATTHEWS: Gene, let`s talk about the -- the president making it clear. As Heidi said, he`s made it very clear he wants to have a clear road to exoneration. And the way to do that is get Sessions to quit. Pick somebody to replace him who`ll do what he`s told to do. And what he`s told to do will be, of course, fire Mueller and not name another special counsel and drop this whole thing.
EUGENE ROBINSON, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, but I`m not sure how he thinks he`s going to get that, how he`s going to get...
MATTHEWS: What would stop him?
ROBINSON: ... an attorney general who`s actually going to do the Saturday massacre on whatever day it happens. Now, maybe -- maybe he can find that. It seems to me that his annoyance and exasperation with Sessions is possibly could be just that, could be that he just can`t get out of his head the idea that Sessions`s recusal somehow started this cascade of events, even though it didn`t. But Trump seems to actually believe that.
So what he seems to be doing now is essentially what he did to Sean Spicer, which is make it impossible for him to stay. And so this thing about the beleaguered attorney general...
PRZYBYLA: He`s the one who`s beleaguering him.
ROBINSON: For the president to say that about his own attorney general -- it`s as if he`s trying to put Sessions into a position where he has to resign.
MATTHEWS: Out of humiliation.
ROBINSON: Oh, yes.
MATTHEWS: Well, David, you`ve been writing about this. You had a great job at "The San Francisco Examiner," I recall, once, and now you`re doing this book. Tell me, what is Trump capable of doing here to save himself?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, AUTHOR, "THE MAKING OF DONALD TRUMP": Oh, Donald will do anything to save himself, including, if necessary, throwing members of his own family under the bus. He`s in full survival mode here, so you shouldn`t be surprised at anything Donald does.
And I agree with Heidi. He`s being quite transparent. As a candidate, he talked like the presidency was a dictator. As president, he acts as if he thinks the presidency is a dictator.
By the way, I was at "The LA Times" in San Francisco.
MATTHEWS: Oh, I thought so.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, let me ask you about this...
JOHNSTON: The other guy, the other David Johnston.
MATTHEWS: Well, you have to answer for him, too. Let me ask you about this shot at Schiff. Now, Schiff does a lot of TV time and he may be running for president or senator, but that`s all right. Politicians do that. Calling him calling sleazy -- anybody that questions Trump is deserving, according to Trump, of the worst kind of put-down. "Sleazy" is just about at the top of the worst thing you can say about a politician.
Tell me about that tendency, to give people nicknames and things like that that he`s shown already, destroy somebody`s reputation if they get in your way.
JOHNSTON: Well, this belittling of other people has been a tactic of Donald`s his whole life. This isn`t something new. And so it`s not the least bit surprising that he is going to continue to in various ways attack anybody.
Donald has two modes, adoration and survival. That`s it. There`s two sides to the coin, adoration and survival. And he is so far in over his head on this job that, as I predicted, he`s becoming more and more erratic as time goes by.
MATTHEWS: Let`s look at "USA Today." It has an amazing front page, top of the fold. Already at 42 percent -- well, here it is. They woke up this morning. I read the paper. Look, it says "Americans poll, split 42 percent to 42 percent on impeaching" Clinton -- I mean, impeaching Trump. It is to me -- look, they haven`t brought a case to court. They haven`t taken it to the House Judiciary Committee. There hasn`t been a finding or hearings or anything. Forty-two percent of the people want to get rid of this guy and only 42 percent want to save him, even though he got 46 percent in the election, so 4 percent are dropping off already going from, I voted for the guy, to, I want him impeached. I mean, it`s astounding!
PRZYBYLA: You know what I thought was even more notable in that poll is that 46 percent think that he`s not making it to the end of his first term. Just 27 percent think that he will. So we know our country...
PRZYBYLA: ... is evenly divided...
PRZYBYLA: ... but the fact that only 27 percent actually acknowledge that despite their wishes, they don`t think that he will make it -- I thought that that was an astounding...
MATTHEWS: It would be hard to anyone somebody who could pass muster with lawyers now. You know, the voir dire. You know, Have you got an open mind on this? I mean, the American people have closed their -- they`ve have made a decision. Forty-two percent say, Get the guy out of here. Now we don`t need a trial.
ROBINSON: Yes. Right. Now, of course, that`s kind of a political question, right? So you get political answers. I mean -- ultimately, impeachment is a political process...
MATTHEWS: Yes, but we`ve learned...
MATTHEWS: ... information on this Russia thing. Go ahead.
JOHNSTON: Yes. Jerry Ford said the reason that he pardoned Nixon in part is was he believed it would be impossible to get a fair jury to try him. So the idea is not without precedent regarding Trump. And if Trump is removed from office and isn`t tried, convicted and in prison, he will spend the rest of his life doing what Nixon didn`t do. Nixon shut up and then came back trying to revive himself. Donald will attack the legitimacy of the U.S. government.
MATTHEWS: I`m not sure he`ll obey the court. We have no reason to believe he will obey any norm. We`ve seen it with this nepotism thing. He goes right down his direction. Anyway, as -- look what he did to his predecessor, accusing him of being an illegal immigrant. And he did it over and over and over and over again. The guy`s ruthless on this stuff, if it benefits him politically. And unfortunately for this country to say it -- I think it helped to get elected president.
ROBINSON: Of course it did.
MATTHEWS: Yes, OK, thank you. I`m very -- as I mentioned, the president has a pattern of ruthlessly getting rid of anyone who creates a problem for him. He fired his campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, after "The New York Times" reported Manafort`s business dealings with a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party from Ukraine. According to a new book by Bloomberg reporter Josh Green, Jared Kushner delivered the news at a breakfast meeting. At first, Manafort objected to stepping down. According to Green, Kushner`s demeanor hardened, and he glanced at his watch. We`re putting out a press release at 9:00 AM that says you`ve resigned. He said, That`s in 30 seconds. This is Kushner, that sweetheart that we saw today walking happily to testify.
And then there was the firing of national security adviser Michael Flynn. Again, it came after media reports embarrassed the White House by revealing that Flynn had, in fact, discussed sanctions with the Russian officials. And the White House had known about it for weeks, by the way, but they finally got around under pressure to doing something. According to President Trump, Flynn did nothing wrong but was fired for misleading the vice president. Here he goes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Fired him because of what he said to Mike Pence, very simple. Mike was doing his job. He was calling countries and his counterparts. So it certainly would have been OK with me if he did it. I would have directed him to do it if I thought he wasn`t doing it. I didn`t direct him, but I would have directed him because that`s his job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, in May, the president fired FBI director James Comey and suggested to NBC`s Lester Holt the Russia investigation was the reason for his firing. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It`s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: We`re going to get to it in the next segment, but let`s do a little tease now. Kushner came off as this little pure little guy -- I don`t like publicity, although I bought a newspaper, I got a job at the White House, doesn`t like publicity -- just a shy little guy, a nice person basically. And then you read how he fired Manafort like...
ROBINSON: Thirty seconds.
MATTHEWS: ... a Mafia guy.
ROBINSON: Thirty seconds!
JOHNSTON: This excuse...
MATTHEWS: Go ahead, David.
JOHNSTON: This excuse he didn`t know -- this excuse that he didn`t know what was in the e-mails. You mean he didn`t read the subject line of the e-mail? If he can`t read the subject line of e-mails, what is he doing working in the White House with this huge portfolio his father-in-law gave him?
MATTHEWS: Yes, confidential note to you. Come to this meeting. It`s important. And he says, I don`t remember anything about the meeting. And then he blamed it on his assistant. This is the most amazing amount of BS...
PRZYBYLA: The charitable interpretation is that he and his father-in-law are -- just simply have not made the transition from being the sole proprietors, the chief executives of a company who are unquestioned, can make any decision to fire...
PRZYBYLA: ... or from "The Apprentice" maybe...
MATTHEWS: These guys are ruthless.
ROBINSON: ... in over their heads. But I -- but I -- look, they`ve had enough time to figure out at least that much about this job, right?
PRZYBYLA: So that`s the charitable interpretation.
MATTHEWS: Just remember -- we`ll get to the next segment. Everything that Jared had to confront is a fact he couldn`t change. It was always these news, Oh, I didn`t know, I don`t remember, all the BS they do when they don`t want to tell the truth. And they didn`t.
Anyway, last thought to you, David. Where are we going with this guy you`re writing about, you`ve written about? David Johnston, where are we going with Trump? Is he willing to fire the special prosecutor, in effect, by firing the attorney general? Is he willing to go all the way and pardon himself? How far will he go?
JOHNSTON: Well, Donald will wait until last possible minute to take actions because he doesn`t know what`s going to happen. And it`s pretty clear under the Constitution that he can`t pardon himself because it goes against the whole idea of the checks and balances in our Constitution. He may try it, but that doesn`t mean a court will approve it.
And by the way, to do it, he would have to acknowledge that he has committed crimes against the United States. He has to admit he`s a criminal if he tries to pardon himself.
MATTHEWS: We`ll see. I`m not sure because I`m not sure it`s that explicit in the Constitution, and this court is pretty Republican. We`ll see. I`m not sure he couldn`t get five votes on this court. He`s got Gorsuch waiting to help him out there in payback.
Anyway, Heidi Przybyla, Eugene Robinson and David Cay Johnston.
Coming up, President Trump`s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, tells Senate investigators he met with Russians on four separate times during the 2016 election. But he says he never colluded with them. Think about the dictionary purpose of that one.
Plus, the showdown vote this week on health care. President Trump is now targeting his own party, urging them to repeal "Obama care," but even as he turns up the pressure, Republicans look like they still don`t have the votes. They don`t.
And can a sitting president be indicted? A newly unearthed memo from Clinton independent counsel Ken Starr says the answer is a big Y-E-S. So what does this mean for the president? That`s ahead with the roundtable.
Finally, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch." He won`t like it at all this time.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: The top Democrat in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein, is calling on Attorney General Jeff Sessions -- Jeff Sessions to testify as soon as possible before the committee. In a letter to chairman Chuck Grassley, Feinstein cites Friday`s "Washington Post" report that Session discussed campaign-related matters with the Russian ambassador. This thing gets bigger all the time.
She writes, quote, "If this is true, it would be directly contrary to testimony that Attorney General Sessions gave under oath before the Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearings."
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Everything we`ve seen from Jared Kushner today suggests he`s not only following a precise legal strategy in connection with the Trump-Russia investigation, but also a carefully crafted PR effort. The top aide to the president was smiling ear to ear this morning as he visited Capitol Hill for a closed door interview with staffers from the Senate Intelligence Committee. In a meticulously drafted 11-page statement, Kushner downplayed but did not deny four encounters he had with Russian figures during the campaign and the transition.
Then speaking later to the White House press, rather than Capitol Hill reporters, Kushner staged a short public photo-op delivering scripted remarks at a podium bearing the White House insignia. Here`s what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JARED KUSHNER, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S SON-IN-LAW: Let me be very clear. I did not collude with Russia nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so. I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds for my businesses. And I have been fully transparent in providing all requested information.
Donald Trump had a better message and ran a smarter campaign, and that is why he won. Suggesting otherwise ridicules those who voted for him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, he didn`t take any questions there. He walked back almost like a cuckoo-clock figure, went right back to the White House, answered no questions. Now here`s Republican strategist to join us is John Feehery and Ron Reagan is author of -- well, he`s an author and he`s an MSNBC political analyst, as well.
Ron, I want to talk to you about this because I saw a PR stunt today. Couple things. First of all, they made a point of going back to White House press corps rather than facing the lions -- the Capitol building. They got the -- the people who have to cover the president all the time, which I thought that was interesting. No question. And then he had that bogus defense that nobody ever -- nobody said that Hillary Clinton lost because the Russians got involved. They said the Russians got involved and the Trump people helped them. And that`s a different case, but he -- he put a strawman there, so it`s pure politics.
I thought there was a lot going on in that press conference, everything but the truth, like answering questions. I think the guy had a lot more power and he`s a lot more ruthless. Look how he fired Manafort. You got 30 seconds. You`re out there.
Then he comes out (INAUDIBLE) like Mr. Simon Pure, like, I wouldn`t do anything -- I`m a shy guy. That`s the part that got to me. I`m shy. I don`t want publicity. I bought a newspaper in New York, of course, and I`m working at the White House and married Trump`s daughter, but I don`t want any publicity.
Give me a break! Your thoughts?
RON REAGAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: No. Well, I mean, you`re right that this was all about optics. This was Mr. Kushner goes to Washington. He was talking for the Jimmy Stewart role there.
But out in front of the White House with a White House podium in front of him, as you said, smiling ear to ear, Hey, nothing to see here. I`m an innocent sort of guy.
But of course, when you examine, you know, his statement and you think about the context and the history of all this, it paints a rather different picture here.
I mean, we are meant to believe that he is so innocent and so naive about all of this, that he just sort of stumbled into meetings with Russian, you know, former intelligence agents, without really knowing what`s going on.
But, you know, there`s always a tell about these sorts of things. When you`re lying -- and these people lie constantly -- the whole family does -- you always slip up somehow.
And if you look at his statement, his written statement, he mentioned it in a sort of -- he says, of course, he knew nothing about why this meeting was taking place.
But he mentions then later on, just as a sort of aside, when he entered the meeting, he found that they were talking about adoption, and he was surprised to discover that they were talking about adoption.
Well, why would they be surprised if they were talking about organic vegetables or the newest developments in denture cream, since he had no idea what meeting was about, by his own -- by his own representation there?
This whole thing stinks. And if he`s so naive that doesn`t know that meeting with Russian representatives before you`re even in the White House is a little troubling, he is certainly too naive to be handling Middle East peace, the opioid crisis and remaking the government, and he`s too naive to have a security clearance.
MATTHEWS: John, did you believe him today?
JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I did.
I thought it was a -- you`re right about the P.R. strategy. I thought it worked pretty well. I read the statement. I thought it was pretty convincing.
But I`m the kind of guy that would think that someone like Jared Kushner, who just came into politics, not really a political animal, this is the first campaign he has been part of, I`m the kind of guy that believes he probably didn`t know what -- all the things that were happening...
MATTHEWS: Wait a minute.
He knew -- first of all, he got a memo saying private and confidential, we`re going to meet with some people about the Russian situation. We`re going to meet with some Russians who say they are going to help your father-in-law win the election and hurt Hillary.
He knows all that going into the meeting. And now he is saying, I don`t know what it was about. But we know all that is on the record. All that is a fact. That`s why he showed up -- he got an invitation.
FEEHERY: What he said in his statement was that he was supposed to be at this meeting, as we have all been campaigns, and how the craziness of campaigns. You go from meeting to meeting.
MATTHEWS: This said Russia. He knew it was about that.
FEEHERY: He said it was...
MATTHEWS: It was about Russians putting a...
FEEHERY: That he had...
MATTHEWS: Oh, you believe he went in not knowing it was about Russia?
FEEHERY: Well, I don`t think he -- he might have. I don`t know.
MATTHEWS: It says private and confidential. The Russians are going to help up in this race.
FEEHERY: What he said in the thing is that he didn`t read all the e-mail.
MATTHEWS: Well, why did he show up?
FEEHERY: Because you know what? When the boss` son says show up, you show up.
MATTHEWS: OK, you`re smart. Look to me.
There`s two things you can deal with here, facts you can`t deny, like you showed up at the meeting. So, he doesn`t deny that. He doesn`t deny the meetings.
MATTHEWS: What he denies is this sort of aspect.
Like, when I filled out the forms that didn`t admit I had all these meetings, it was my assistant who sent in -- pushed the send button.
I mean, come on. Then it had happened twice. Both times, the assistant pushed the send button without talking to me?
It`s all this, what are you willing to give your 30 percent of the country that is willing to buy any crap you give them?
FEEHERY: Well, I will say this, that...
MATTHEWS: Nobody normal believes this stuff.
FEEHERY: I know, I know, I know several members of Congress who had to refile whatever forms they had.
I know that you do that all the time. And know that -- I also know that assistants sometimes make mistakes. So, I`m willing to give Jared Kushner the benefit of the doubt.
He is new to politics. And I`m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
MATTHEWS: What about him firing Manafort the way he did? Do you think that fits with the image we`re getting here? Does that square with this Mr. Innocent here?
FEEHERY: Listen, I think if Paul Manafort -- there was a lot of things going on in that campaign.
MATTHEWS: If this is guy such a newbie, how did he fire Manafort and said, 30 seconds, you`re out of here, get ready, move out the door? Does that sound like a newbie?
FEEHERY: I think he could be a very tough businessman. I don`t think there is any doubt about that, but I don`t think he knows much about politics.
MATTHEWS: Ron, here is a guy that has been assigned the Middle East portfolio, the Middle East. What do we make of that?
And also working people and all kinds of stuff, to get jobs for working- class people. I don`t know what he knows about that.
MATTHEWS: But he`s been given -- it`s like he is Fredo on the one side and he`s Michael on the other. Which is he?
REAGAN: You can`t have it both ways. You cannot have it both ways.
Either he is naive and he`s inexperienced and he`s really in over his head, in which case he shouldn`t be where he is, or he is doing like colluding with the Russians, in which case he really shouldn`t be where he is.
MATTHEWS: Well, we know he was colluding. We know he was there anyway.
He was talking to the Russians about their efforts to help his father-in- law win the election.
MATTHEWS: I don`t know what collusion means anyway -- except that.
Anyway, reacting to Kushner`s statement to the Intel Committee today, conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin writes in "The Washington Post": "Kushner is not the worldly boy wonder in his version, but a distracted dilettante. If not evidence of malicious deception, the story reveals a young man who is in over his head and out of his depth to such a degree that he does not know he is in over his head and out of his depth."
I don`t buy that. I thought it was a show today.
FEEHERY: I think it was a pretty well-produced show.
MATTHEWS: Did it exhibit the truth or not the truth?
FEEHERY: From a P.R. perspective, it was brilliant, because it got his side of the story out before it leaked out from the committee, which I think was smart.
MATTHEWS: OK, let`s do this.
He refuses to appear in open committee.
MATTHEWS: He refuses to talk to members of the United States Senate in open committee. He refuses to take questions there. He reads a script verbatim.
Is that being transparent?
FEEHERY: Well, he is getting out in front of the story, which is what you want to do.
He`s telling his side of story. And then he`s having a private meeting with the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is...
MATTHEWS: Private, private, private.
FEEHERY: And he`s giving all of the information that he has. I think he`s doing a...
MATTHEWS: If they have nothing to hide, why not just have him speak in open hearings? And why don`t they have him talk to the press openly?
FEEHERY: That`s a decision they made. I don`t...
MATTHEWS: Well, why do you think they made that decision?
FEEHERY: Because he doesn`t want to further this story along. And I think that`s smart.
MATTHEWS: Oh, well, I`ll tell you, that performance today, that cuckoo clock performance, where he walked out there and walked back in like a robot, that isn`t save him from anybody, except people that are willing to defend anything he says.
REAGAN: And we can talk about the optics all we want here.
MATTHEWS: Anybody that will defend anything you say.
But I`m sorry, Ron. Go ahead.
REAGAN: I was going to say, we can talk about the optics all we want and the P.R. aspect of all this all we want here, but we can`t lose sight that there is something really serious going on here.
A hostile foreign power meddled in our election, and there is good evidence, there is a good intuitive sense that the White House, the current White House, Donald Trump and his family, were somehow involved in that.
And there is certainly colluding after the fact by covering up and refusing to investigate. That`s collusion right there.
MATTHEWS: And point two, Ron, for all his attack on Washington, this city, where there are a lot of good professional people that know how to deal with Congress, know how to deal with the press, Jamie Gorelick, a top-rate lawyer, former deputy attorney general, and a friend of mine, actually, a longtime friend -- and you have people like Abbe Lowell, another guy I know pretty well and like.
These are the best in the business. They help these people. So for his always knocking of Washington, Trump is using the best of Washington to save his keister.
Anyway, thank you, John Feehery. And thank you, Ron Reagan.
Up next: With the GOP health care plan on the ropes, President Trump takes aim at Republicans now, saying they have done very little to protect their president. He is now -- he is like Caesar. I`m speaking in the third person. I`m talking about himself, you remember, like Bob Dole.
Anyway, but will threat be enough to keep his party in line? I don`t think so.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
PAGE HOPKINS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Page Hopkins. And here`s what`s happening.
The fiancee of the truck driver charged in connection with the deaths of 10 immigrants smuggled in the back of a tractor-trailer claims that James Bradley was unaware his truck was packed with 90 people.
Pope Francis is praying for the critically ill baby who is hospitalized in Britain. Earlier today, Charlie Gard`s parents dropped their legal battle to send their 11-month-old to the United States for treatment.
Seventeen hikers were rescued in Arizona after monsoon storms dumped two inches of rain in less than an hour near Tucson -- and now we`re going to take you back to HARDBALL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You`re going to have such great health care at a tiny fraction of the cost. And it`s going to be so easy.
President Obama has been the most ignorant president in our history. He has been a disaster as a president. He will go down as one of the worst presidents in the history of our country.
Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL.
President Trump elected on the promise -- you just it heard there -- that he would enact a bold and aggressive agenda that would wipe away President Obama`s legacy.
But six months in now -- it`s July, almost the end of July -- he and his party have little to show for themselves.
Senate Republicans, however, are hoping to change that. Tomorrow, they are expected to plow forward with a vote to begin debate on legislation that would repeal and replace Obamacare.
This afternoon, President Trump turned up the heat on Republicans, calling on them to keep their promise. Let`s take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Every Republican running for office promised immediate relief from this disastrous law. We, as a party, must fulfill that solemn promise to the voters of this country to repeal and replace, what they have been saying for the last seven years.
Any senator who votes against starting debate is telling America that you are fine with the Obamacare nightmare.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, meanwhile, Trump`s fellow Republicans are growing weary with a health care debate that seems to have exposed deep fault lines within the party.
Texas Republican Congressman Pete Sessions told one political Web site that internal tensions and distrust within the party are as bad as he has seen in years.
White House aides have told Politico that the president is looking to distance himself from congressional inaction, all while going after Republicans who oppose the legislation.
This weekend, Trump previewed those attacks, tweeting: "It is very sad that Republicans, even some that were carried over the line by -- on my back, do very little to protect their president."
For more, I`m joined by Republican Congressman from Georgia Buddy Carter.
Congressman, thank you for this.
I have always understood -- well, let me ask you this. Why didn`t Trump come into office and test the water on repeal by having a quick vote in both houses on straight repeal? And then would you have known how many votes you had and how many you today give away to get some -- you know, save some of the features of Obamacare.
REP. BUDDY CARTER (R), GEORGIA: Well, quite honestly, I don`t think anyone envisioned this being the problem that it has become.
When you think about the fact that, just last year, in the 114th Congress, we passed a repeal act...
MATTHEWS: But you knew there would be nobody to sign it, so it was easy.
CARTER: Well, that`s the key. And...
MATTHEWS: Well, it was a joke. It wasn`t a joke. It was impotent, because you could vote -- 60-some times before you became a member, the House voted, the Republican majority, to repeal, knowing that Obama would never sign a repeal of his most important legislation.
So, it looked good. It was good for reelection. But then you`re confronted with the reality. How do keep the parts of Obamacare that people like, preexisting conditions? And how do you do that even harder by getting rid of all the mandatory requirements to be in the system?
It is very hard to do this.
CARTER: It is very hard. And the president said himself that health care is difficult. And it is. It`s complicated.
MATTHEWS: How are you going to end up here?
CARTER: Well, what we`re going to end up is hopefully that Mitch McConnell will get the bill in the procedural passed vote tomorrow, get the debate started, and then hopefully pass the American Health Care Act that passed out of the House.
MATTHEWS: But you already have four or five people now, maybe more, up to 10 senators on your side of the aisle who say they won`t vote for it.
MATTHEWS: How do you get 50?
CARTER: That`s what they said last week. We will see tomorrow how they vote on it.
MATTHEWS: If you allow people who have -- who are just maybe, you might say, unable financially, or maybe irresponsible personally, and say I`m not going to buy insurance -- a lot of kids in their 20s -- I don`t think I would have been thinking about it -- ride motorcycles without a helmet, enjoy life and a drink or whatever else.
And then you get in an accident, or later in life, you find you have diabetes or something really serious with your heart. And then you like to buy insurance.
Your system would allow for that, because if you don`t require people to be in the system, but yet cover preexisting, you are saying to a person, when you`re 45, 50, 60, 70 years old, and you finally get sick, then sign up.
That won`t work financially. Then you only have sick people in the system.
CARTER: The American Health Care Act allows parents to continue to cover their children up to the age of 26. That is part of what Obamacare had in it.
MATTHEWS: But it doesn`t require them to do it.
CARTER: Well, it doesn`t require them.
MATTHEWS: Well, then how do are keep healthy people in the system?
CARTER: Well, what is going to happen is, we`re going to create a robust, vibrant insurance market where insurers are competing for your business, right?
MATTHEWS: Not for people with preexisting conditions.
Now, the American Health Care Act addresses preexisting conditions. We took care of that. What we sent over to Senate takes care of preexisting conditions. We made certain of that. We promised that. We promised there would be...
To the average guy or woman out there who is thinking I got to pay all the bills, I got to feed my family, I got to pay tuition bills and everything else, and heating bills and everything else, and by the time I done the list of what I have to buy, I don`t have enough money to buy insurance.
So, I`m going to wait until somebody gets really sick. Then I`m going to buy insurance. What stops them from doing that under your system?
CARTER: Well, under our system, under the American Health Care Act, what we did is, we penalized them if they did not have coverage.
We made -- they have to have a 30 percent penalty.
MATTHEWS: So, that`s a mandatory then?
CARTER: Well, that`s a penalty they have to pay...
MATTHEWS: Well, then it is mandatory. Then you are making it mandatory.
CARTER: We`re not making it mandatory.
MATTHEWS: You`re going to just punish them if they don`t do it.
CARTER: Well, listen, they should be punished.
You can`t buy fire insurance when your house is on fire.
MATTHEWS: I`m with you. I`m with you.
CARTER: You shouldn`t be able to buy health insurance...
MATTHEWS: I don`t know any kid who likes to ride a motorcycle -- I used to ride one.
CARTER: As did I.
MATTHEWS: When you`re out on the highway and you get -- you wipe out, which happens once in a while, you want somebody to come and take you back to the hospital, and you hadn`t paid a nickel for that. But you expect it to happen.
CARTER: Right. Right.
MATTHEWS: How does that square with the libertarian philosophy?
CARTER: Well, that`s not going to change. You are still going to be taken to the hospital. None of that will change.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you this.
Do you think this is going to pass, your plan? Do you think Trump is going to win here, really, really? Think about it.
CARTER: I`m still very optimistic and still very confident that we can get this done.
MATTHEWS: I disagree. But that`s why you`re here.
CARTER: That`s right.
MATTHEWS: Difference of opinion.
Thank you much, U.S. Congressman Buddy Carter of the state of Georgia.
CARTER: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Up next: It`s a question that`s getting increasing attention in the face of the Russian investigation. Can a president be indicted?
Well, a long hidden memo says, yes, they can.
The HARDBALL Roundtable here to talk about what President Trump can do. Can he pardon himself? Can he avoid indictment? And will he try? I think he will try. That`s for sure.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Last week, "The Washington Post" reported that President Trump`s legal team was exploring whether or not he had the power to pardon aides, family member or potentially even himself over issues related to the ongoing Russian investigation.
Well, on Saturday, the president asserted that he does, in fact, have that power, tweeting while all agree the U.S. president has the complete power to pardon, why think of that when only crime so far is leaks against him. Fake news.
Well, that wasn`t clear at all what he meant.
Meanwhile, the president`s team offers somewhat conflicting takes on whether the president does indeed has been discussing the issue of pardons. Let`s listen to the jamboree of thought here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY SEKULOW,MEMBER OF PRESIDENT TRUMP`S LEGAL TEAM: We have not and continued to not have conversations with the president of the United States regarding pardons. Pardons have not been discussed and pardons are not on the table.
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I`m in the Oval Office with the president last week. We are talking about that. He said he brought that up, but he doesn`t have to be pardoned. There`s nobody around him that has to be pardoned.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is the White House prepping pardons for everyone in the West Wing?
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: The answer is no. And I discussed this with the president directly. That`s another part of the hoax. His point is exactly what he says at the end of the tweet, which is that why are we talking about -- there is nothing to pardon. There`s no one to pardon. Why are we talking about presidential pardon when there is no presidential crime?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, the president`s new communications director is part of the hoax, I guess, because he`s the one saying the president has been talking about pardoning himself. Anyway, that`s raised a host of previously untested constitutional questions. And here we are, they`re all about the president`s authority to pardon or not to be indicted or not -- well, there`s the big question, I think big enough actually.
"The New York Times`" Charlie Savage is here. He has been looking into both on the president`s authority to issue a pardon himself, to pardon himself.
Savage writes that the answer, quote: is not clear. The only limitation explicitly stated in the Constitution is a ban on using a pardon to stop an actual impeachment in Congress. But adds: While pardons are widely understood to be irrevocable, even if obtained through questionable means, some experts think that a president who abuses his pardon authority might be subject to prosecution.
Well, that complicates it all, doesn`t it Mr. President?
And if the president does become subject to prosecution, can he be indicted?
Well, Savage points to a newly unearthed memo from Clinton independent counsel Ken Starr`s office suggesting the answer could be yes. In it, an adviser to Starr writes: it is proper constitutionally and legal for a federal grand jury to indict a sitting president for serious criminals acts that are not part of and are contrary to the president`s official duties in this country. No one, even President Clinton, is above the law.
Well, that`s one view. For more, we bring in the HARDBALL tonight. Ruth Marcus is a columnist for "The Washington Post". Charlie Savage himself is here, Washington correspondent for "The New York Times". And Sabrina Siddiqui is a political reporter for "The Guardian".
All in. Let`s start in the first topic. Charlie, can the president pardon himself?
CHARLIE SAVAGE, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Nobody knows is the truth. The Constitution doesn`t say he can`t, but the argument is, it would be a conflict of interest. Surely, you can`t be a judge in your own case. Justice Department --
MATTHEWS: Why hasn`t anyone ever written down, the president can`t pardon himself if he does have the pardon authority?
SAVAGE: Well, so, the Justice Department wrote that down in -- four days before Nixon resigned. But it is sort of asserted, it seems -- this makes no sense. They don`t explain why this thing that is rational is exactly a law.
MATTHEWS: Quickly, if you`re Judge Scalia, original intent guy, which a lot of members of the court are, who believe that if it isn`t written in the Constitution, if it`s not a power, if not`s a power provider whatever denied, then it`s not there. There`s no penumbra of privacy about the impeachment, like there is with abortion rights. Why would this Supreme Court, which is conservative, led now by Gorsuch, basically, ideologically, why wouldn`t they say the president has the right to pardon himself. Why not to say that?
SAVAGE: Well, we`d have to find out. What would have to happen is President Trump would have to purport to pardon himself and some time down the road --
MATTHEWS: Just do it.
SAVAGE: Well, say I`m doing it and sometime down the road someone indicts him. And he says, you can`t indict me, I`m pardoned. And then the courts would have a chance to finally answer this question.
MATTHEWS: Who would have standing to fight the president`s pardon? Who would challenge him on this?
SAVAGE: Well, if the prosecutor indicted him later, the president or now ex president, probably, would fight the indictment in the first place. And say, throw this out of court.
MATTHEWS: OK. So, the president of the United States, I pardon myself, drop it. I don`t want to hear about it again. It goes to the Supreme Court --
SAVAGE: Only if he`s indicated.
MATTHEWS: -- and then he has to obey the Supreme Court.
And Trump, we don`t know what he would do even then. Do we? We don`t even know then what he would do.
RUTH MARCUS, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST": Thank you for inviting me to the advanced constitutional law seminar.
MATTHEWS: You`re a lawyer.
MARCUS: I`m glad to be here. I hope I can handle it.
MATTHEWS: OK. I`ll ask you the same question, can he pardon himself?
MARCUS: Actually, I think that the better explanation and more logical argument, looking at the structure of the Constitution, is that he can`t pardon himself. Charlie is totally right, we don`t know. But I do think even the justice --
MATTHEWS: Is that just what liberals would say because they don`t like this guy?
MARCUS: No, I don`t think so at all. There is definitely some at least situational ethics if not hypocrisy.
MATTHEWS: I always see this guy, these experts, it`s always -- you know, Cox, it always reflects ideology.
MARCUS: Well, so on the Scalia question, I think that somebody who is looking at the Constitution would say, we don`t have an exact answer here but we have to look at structure of the Constitution. The structure of the Constitution provides one way to deal with the president. It provides the pardon power. But it does seem to involve a concept that a man can`t sit, or woman, can`t sit in judgment of his own case. I think the better answer is no.
On the situational question, if you`re a conservative independent counsel or investigating a Democratic president or a Democratic-leaning independent counsel investigating Republican president, if you are a prosecutor, you think that president cannot be indicted and if you are the president`s lawyers, you think a president can`t be indicted.
MATTHEWS: I think he is talking about it. I believe the people in the room who said he was talking about it are accurate. Why else would he say it? I think he`s talking about it as a brilliant strategy, or part of a brilliant strategy. They basically confound the opposition.
If you guys want to waste all your time prosecuting me, I`m going to pardon myself. It`s all going to be a big waste of time.
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: So, on this question, legal experts I spoke with say that the fact that we`re even talking about the potential of the president pardoning himself just shows how far Trump has stretched the debate over the powers of presidency. And regardless of the little validity of whether or not he can pardon himself, they said presidential self pardon could be grounds of impeachment within and of itself because there`s an ongoing investigation. And if it appears that he`s trying to interfere with that investigation or send a message --
MATTHEWS: Who`s going to indict him for that? Who`s going to indict him for that?
SIDDIQUI: The indictment again could potentially be raised by impeachment. That`s the one exception, right?
SIDDIQUI: By the way, must have read the -- I don`t want to interrupt -- but 42-42 on the front page of "USA Today" about whether he should be impeached. Forty-two percent of the American people already believe without any trial or any impeachment activity in the House Judiciary Committee or a vote in the House on articles of impeachment, they don`t even have to need articles.
This is how strange this debate`s gotten. People don`t need an article. They just say, I want him out of here, because of embarrassment or whatever reasons.
MARCUS: And I would argue that that`s premature and we should get some factual --
MATTEHWS: Will you go tell that 42 percent?
MARCUS: I will go tell that 42 percent.
But I think that as I think about that sort of likelihood of pardons, I don`t think we`re going to get a test of the question about whether the president is going to pardon himself. What if it develops this way, the president pardons a bunch of other people, says, hey, special counsel Mueller, I pardoned all these people, you`ve got nothing more to investigate.
MATTHEWS: The better route to the victory for Trump, he fires -- he gets Sessions to quit. He humiliates him to death like he did Sean Spicer. He picks an acting, he will never get a new approved by Senate. He gets an acting A.G. He`ll tell that acting A.G., get rid of that guy Mueller, or else, I`ll get an acting A.G. that does it. Then there won`t be any more Muellers.
And then he`ll say, by the way, get rid of this Russia investigation. What`s to stop Trump from going that route?
SAVAGE: Well, you know, the acting A.G. would have to be a Senate- confirmed official and he doesn`t really have that --
MATTHEWS: No, on acting.
SAVAGE: Under the Vacancies Act, he would have to be. The scenario you`re worried about is a recess appointment. We are staring down the bullet of August recess.
MATTHEWS: If we had an acting A.G., why couldn`t the acting A.G. perform the actions?
SAVAGE: Because they have to be Senate confirmed. In some position in the government, to become an acting A.G. under Vacancies Act.
MATTHEWS: In some positions, they have to be.
SAVAGE: They could be -- they could be the -- a secretary of health and human services.
MATTHEWS: Could be his favorite U.S. attorney.
SAVAGE: Yes. But he doesn`t have any yet, right?
MATTHEWS: He could find one.
SAVAGE: No, he`s got to get someone Senate confirmed. They are all fired.
SIDDIQUI: Just one aspect of this to raise and to gain different direction. Republicans I have spoken with on Capitol Hill, big question that they`ve been facing is, when do they say enough is enough? What do they need to say with Trump and the Russia investigation to actually be more concerned? So far, they broadly defended him throughout this ordeal. The idea of a presidential self-pardon, Republicans I spoke with privately say would be a colossal mistake, as would be the potential of him firing Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor. That`s something he also signaled he is looking into.
MATTHEWS: When one of these guys stands up or women, I`ll be -- I believe it. By the way, they said it to you without identification.
MATTHEWS: That`s very --
MATTHEWS: Very ballsy, the fact they`re telling you privately what they should be saying publicly. I`m still waiting for someone like Richard Burr to stand up to this guy. Or maybe he`s already doing that.
The roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.
MATTHEWS: If you live anywhere near the nation`s capitol, you heard this news already. Jim Vance, the anchor of our city, and I mean that in many ways the anchor of our city, died this weekend. For almost a half century, Vance has been the one constant, the one local figure who stood in adult support of us all through the challenges, potential divisions and sadly, the real divisions of this area.
And like Walter Cronkite, he`s been there in the evening and again late at night, as this capital city`s light house, a sentinel of calm in urban storms.
Kathleen and I and the entire HARDBALL team pay our tribute and gratitude to a true prince of this city, the great late be loved Jim Vance.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with HARDBALL roundtable.
Ruth, tell me something I don`t know.
MARCUS: Well, the White House went after the Congressional Budget Office for purveying fake news. Now, the House Freedom Caucus, Mark Meadows, wants to go after their budget, take away their ability to analyze things - -
MATTHEWS: CBO, blame the messenger.
MARCUS: Outsource that to think tanks and just aggregate their findings.
MATTHEWS: Oh, the Heritage Foundation is going to tell us the --
MARCUS: Yes, not going to work.
SIDDIQUI: Republicans are looking into flying Senator John McCain back to Washington for tomorrow`s procedural vote on health care. Of course, he is recuperating and getting treatment for brain cancer. They`re seeking approval from his doctors. That tells you just how tight they expect this vote to be. They really need John McCain to be there.
MATTHEWS: Charlie, do we get -- we already got our secret from you, didn`t we?
SAVAGE: How about one more? I don`t know it`s a secret, but a couple former, a couple of Democratic donors and a former Democratic staffer who had their private information dumped out a year ago, more or less right now, and WikiLeaks put out Democratic e-mails that have been hacked just before the convention, have filed a lawsuit against the Trump campaign and Roger Stone, alleging in conspiracy and invasion of privacy.
If this can get to discovery, it becomes a new method for investigating what happened not under control of Republicans.
MATTHEWS: More trouble in paradise. Anyway, Ruth Marcus, Charlie Savage and Sabrina Siddiqui.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Monday, July 24th, 2017.
Donald Trump as we have seen to our national dismay will do what is necessary to defend his presidency. He`s fired Michael Flynn, Sally Yates, James Comey and driven out Sean Spicer. He`s in the process of giving that last treatment to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Well, this is as good as any available guy to the Trump trajectory. What`s coming next? Once he rids himself of Sessions, he can pick an acting attorney general who will perform a pair of mandatory tasks. One, fire special prosecutor Mueller. Two, don`t name a replacement. Three, push the Trump Russian case to the legal equivalent of Siberia.
If there remains a dim sign of life in prosecution, President Trump will use his constitutional pardon to free daughter Ivanka, son-in-law Jared and son Don Jr. from harm`s way. If it comes to it, he will test his constitutional prerogative to do the same for himself. And no one can say with certitude what Trump will do next, yet to say that he will do what is necessary to keep him in the White House is a slam dunk.
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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