Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 8/1/17 WaPo: Trump drafted son's Russia statement

Guests: Eliza Collins, Mack McLarty, Jeff Flake, Carol Leonnig, Susan Page

Show: HARDBALL Date: August 1, 2017 Guest: Eliza Collins, Mack McLarty, Jeff Flake, Carol Leonnig, Susan Page

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Just like Nixon.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Every step that Donald Trump takes now is into the path trod by Richard Milhous Nixon. First there was the Cubans` break-in to the Democratic National Committee. Then came the Russians hacking of the DNC. First, there was Nixon`s attempt to get the FBI off the case, then there was Trump`s effort to get the FBI off the case. First came Nixon`s forced retirement of his appointed attorney general and his firing of the special counsel. Then -- well, spoiler alert.

But where do you think Trump is headed right now? I`m getting ahead of things, but the latest troubling revelation in the Russian saga comes from "The Washington Post." It involves Donald Trump, Jr.`s, initial misleading response to reports he met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer during the campaign.

According to "The Washington Post," it was actually the president`s words that were put out in that statement. Quote, "Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump, Jr., said that he and the Russian lawyer had primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children."

Well, White House spokeswoman when Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked whether that report was true. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The statement that Don, Junior, issued is true. There`s no inaccuracy in the statement. The president weighed in, as any father would, based on the limited information that he had. This is all discussion, frankly, of no consequence. There was no follow-up. It was disclosed to the proper parties, which is how "The New York Times" found out about it to begin with.

QUESTION: Can you clarify the degree to which the president weighed in?

SANDERS: He certainly didn`t dictate, but you know, he -- like I said, he weighed in, offered suggestions like any father would do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Like any father would do. Anyway, Senators Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham both said that if the story is true, that the president dictated that statement inaccurately, dishonestly -- let`s watch. It`s troubling.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: I think the president is still viewing this as just a little family problem, a PR problem. It`s not. It`s serious.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think that he`s put himself in some sort of legal jeopardy?

DURBIN: Oh, I won`t go that far, but I will tell you I can`t believe any worthwhile prosecutor can ignore this. I mean, this is a reality. It was poor judgment on the president`s part to inject into this conversation about his son`s meeting, facts which, frankly, had no basis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It sounds like the president himself was trying to cover up the truth about that meeting.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If that`s true, then that was a bad decision by the president, which will make us ask more questions. When you get caught in a lie about one thing, that makes it hard to just say, Let the other stuff go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, from the beginning, President Trump has dismissed the significance of the story about the meeting in Trump Tower. Shortly after the story broke, the president said his son did nothing wrong. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think from a practical standpoint, most people would have taken that meeting. I`ve had many people call up, Oh, gee, we have information on this factor or this person, or frankly, Hillary. That`s their standard in politics. Politics is not the nicest business in the world, but it is very standard where they have information and you take the information.

In the case of Don, he listened. I guess they talked about -- as I see it, they talked about adoption and some things. Adoption wasn`t even a part of campaign. But nothing happened from the meeting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m joined right now by "The Washington Post`s" Carol Leonnig, who broke this news that the president was behind his son`s statement, "USA Today`s" Washington bureau chief Susan Page and MSNBC national security analyst Malcolm Nance.

Carol, I want to get to you in terms of the contest here. Here`s the president of the United States, Donald Trump, under investigation by a special counsel and two congressional committees for the possible collusion of him and his campaign with the Russians in winning that campaign.

And now it comes out that his son was meeting with Russian representatives, including one who spoke on behalf, apparently, of some people in the Russian government that they had some dirt on the rival in the campaign, Hillary Clinton. He goes into that meeting for that purpose.

The president puts out a statement that wasn`t what the meeting was about. He gave a cover-up statement saying it was about -- oh, something about Russian adoption, as if the campaign people were -- including his son, was somehow interested in that subject, a nonsensical cover-up statement. And I don`t know how anybody can`t see this as central to the question of collusion. Your thoughts.

CAROL LEONNIG, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, I look at it as central to Bob Mueller`s, special counsel Bob Mueller`s, investigation of obstruction. It`s not advisable for the president of the United States to, without the benefit of lawyers, on Air Force One, conferring with his family, overruling them and dictating a statement that conceals facts and information when it`s about his campaign`s contact with Russians.

I mean, let`s be clear about this. He left out important information and he emphasized that this was, quote, unquote, "not a campaign issue." But indeed, more details trickled out after the president helped his son issue a statement that showed that not to be the case. This was about a campaign issue. This was, an e-mail to Don, Junior, said, part of the Russian and its government`s effort to help your father`s campaign.

And to not be forthcoming about that and to concoct a story that misled is going to be something Bob Mueller is surely going to be looking into. How did they come to this idea, and why -- what was motivating the president and his family to not be forthcoming?

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s my question to you, and I guess it`s a reporter`s question., which is motive. Here we have the president basically covering up the nature of a meeting. The meeting was about a campaign issue. Do we have some dirt, some oppo, on the opponent, Hillary Clinton. We all know that.

The president said, No, it was sort of a parent of -- I`m not -- I`m sorry. The president was saying it was some effort to sort of help people get -- adopt kids from Russia. He, by the way, later on I doubled down on that by saying, That`s what I talked to Putin about at the G-20 little after-dinner dinner (sic) conversation.

He`s clearly focused on covering for his son. But the motive is, in the covering, whether it`s legal or not to lie to reporters or to say misstatements to reporters, it certainly tells Bob Mueller this guy`s into a cover-up.

LEONNIG: Yes. And it also -- it certainly suggests that there is some sort of guilty conscience or motive to cover. We don`t know all the facts here yet, though, Chris. And you know, when I look at it from the perspective of a -- you know, a prosecutor`s eye, I don`t see evidence of a criminal conspiracy yet to coordinate with the Russian government or emissaries of the Russian government. I see a lot of contacts that we still have a lot of questions about. Bob Mueller`s probably going to get a little deeper into this, as I`m sure...

MATTHEWS: OK...

LEONNIG: ... are we in the media. But what you`re worried about here, if you`re the lawyer for the president, is he`s now stepped in it. He has now made himself an actor concealing information, and why.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s the question, Susan. Why? If he wasn`t involved in actual collusion -- in other words, if you do this, I`ll do that -- if he wasn`t doing that -- that kind of quid pro quo thing, which we consider a sort of bribery kind of thing -- if he wasn`t doing that, why is he step by step trying to -- he`s not a helicopter mom helping with the homework. That thing from Huckabee Sanders today was cute, but it was ridiculous. He`s not helping him get the statement right, he`s covering for him. Let me go back to Susan on that -- Susan.

SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY": So I mean, I think there are other people he may be trying to protect. He might be trying to protect his son or his son-in- law. He may be concerned about what happened in his campaign at his behest.

And now, you know, he`s put his lawyers in a terrible spot because he`s had his lawyers out there lying about this, saying that he didn`t have a part in drafting the statement, that he didn`t draft it.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

PAGE: And you know that`s not necessarily -- that`s not against the law to have your lawyers lie to the press, but it does I think undercut the credibility this White House needs to have going forward when they`re asked questions about this (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS: Malcolm, also, to a sniffing hound, it`s blood on the trail. I mean, not to be too imaginative with my metaphor there, when you smell blood, you keep sniffing in that direction. The hounds chasing this president now know that he is covering up. For whatever reason, they don`t know, but he`s covering up. They know that.

MALCOLM NANCE, MSNBC NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: You`re absolutely correct. And it doesn`t appear -- you know, I say this all the time. He does not seem to understand the severity of this investigation. This started off -- now we`re at the special prosecutor. But this started off as a national counterintelligence investigation with people checking out the connections between his campaign and Russian intelligence officers or representatives of the Kremlin.

He gets to this point where we find some information that is clear and documented that there was an attempt to gain information from Russia, which could or could not, at some point, will be determined, criminal.

And then instead of becoming transparent, he decides to use really interrogation resistance techniques. Normally, when you come out with an excuse like this, you want to be believable, logical, consistent and flexible. And that`s how you use a cover story if you`re in the intelligence world.

His story was unbelievable. We had documentation. It was illogical. It was inconsistent. And now there`s no flexibility. And now he flips around and says, yes, I did that because I was helping my son. This is not going to help him in the long run.

MATTHEWS: It was like after he fired Comey, he said, OK, I did it to kill the Russian investigation.

NANCE: Right.

MATTHEWS: He always seems to come clean in this weird way.

NANCE: Confession.

MATTHEWS: Confession, right. Well, yesterday`s news was just the latest in a long line of actions taken by Trump that seemed aimed at undercutting the Russian investigation -- cover it up, in other words. According to Jim Comey, the president asked him to end the investigation into Michael Flynn. There were reports the president asked the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, to intervene with Comey on the same issue, to kill the investigation. He fire Comey citing the Russian thing. To the Russians -- he actually told them it was about the Russians. He criticized Jeff Sessions for his decision to recuse himself in the Russian investigation. He did that. He reportedly discussed with his lawyers his power to grant pardons -- hint, hint -- and his legal team reportedly combed through the backgrounds of the investigators working for Robert Mueller looking for conflicts of interest so he could...

I`m sorry, Carol. It looks like he doesn`t want to us get to the truth about his contacts with the Russians, whether it was collusion, whatever, whether it was the old money trail, "Follow the money," the Woodward- Bernstein thing, or whatever it is. He wants to kill this investigation.

And I`m going to say at the end of the show -- this is my judgment -- he`s headed toward Sessions. He wants to force him out of the job, put him at Homeland Security, whatever, get him out of there so he can get rid of Mueller because he sees Mueller as an existential threat to whatever, but certainly to his presidency.

LEONNIG: I think it`s really clear. And as you said, the president has not exactly minced his own words in describing his frustration with this probe and his desire that it be over. He thinks it`s silly. And many of the advisers that I spoke to, and my colleagues at "The Post" spoke to produce this story -- advisers to the president and his family have said to us, said to me, this is a president who doesn`t believe he`s done anything wrong, that there`s nothing -- there`s nothing illegal about any activity he`s taken. There`s no evidence in his mind of any conspiracy to collude with the government of Russia. And so this is a PR problem. This is something he will solve.

And what is infuriating to his advisers, and surely to his lawyers, is that he is not walling himself off from this probe. He is going in a full- throated way with both hands out at the investigators, at the attorney general, at the FBI director, at witnesses, at anybody who will -- that he thinks can fall in line and he can pressure them into falling in line with his view of events. He doesn`t see legal jeopardy to himself, and so he is going to be his own publicist, communications crisis director and lawyer.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, well -- that`s well said. Anyway, on MSNBC today, Senator Dianne Feinstein, who I`ve always considered a grown-up politically, warned the president not to terminate his attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Watch what she has to say here -- Dianne Feinstein.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: If the purpose is what many of us think it is, and that`s to stop the investigation of Bob Mueller and his team, that will not work because I believe that will be something that none of us can condone. And it could well be the beginning of the end of this short presidency.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Susan?

PAGE: You know, I think if you`re looking for an existential crisis for the Trump presidency, it would be getting rid of Robert Mueller because it wouldn`t just be Democrats like Dianne Feinstein. You would have Republicans lining up in opposition, Republican senators like Lindsey Graham, who sometimes has the president`s ear, saying this is unacceptable and taking (INAUDIBLE) That would be a firestorm like nothing he`s seen before. It would -- it would dwarf what happened with the firestorm over Jim Comey`s firing.

MATTHEWS: Well, you`re Donald Trump and you`re hearing what you just said, he`s also thinking, Well, that a bad couple of weeks but it`s better than losing the presidency in a follow-up by -- by Bob Mueller, where he really does get the dirt on me, going all the way back to my business dealings.

Thank you, Carol Leonnig. Thank you, Susan Page. More time for you next time, Malcolm -- Malcolm Nance, thank you so much for your expertise.

Coming up, the conservative case against Donald Trump. Arizona senator Jeff Flake, a Republican, is putting his political future on the line with a brutal takedown of the man in the White House. Nobody in the Republican Party has been as tough as this guy on this president, who says he`s a Republican. Anyway, Flake says conservatives stood idly by as Trump took charge with his brand of populism, nativism and demagoguery. Senator Flake joins us next.

Plus, General Kelly`s first move was to vamoose the mooch, why (ph) Anthony Scaramucci. But Kelly`s bigger challenge will be to control Trump and his family. You know, the Romanovs? They`re all around still. Already that`s proving harder than it looks.

And Eric Trump wants the Republican Party to stand up for his dad. But after months of Trump attacks on Republicans,like, John McCain, Dean Heller, Lisa Murkowski, why would try to be nice to him?

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

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, the Senate voted overwhelmingly this evening to confirm President Trump`s pick for FBI director. Christopher Ray was confirmed by a vote of 92 to 5. All the opposing votes came from Democrats. Wray takes over following the president`s abrupt firing, of course, of then FBI director James Comey in May. As we mentioned earlier, Trump later admitted that he considered the "Russia thing" when firing Comey. He didn`t like that thing.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Well, the main responsibility for the new White House chief of staff, John Kelly, a retired four-star general, will be to restore order to a White House that seems to thrive on chaos. Among his biggest challenges, managing the president`s relationships with two unusually close advisers, his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

On Monday, Ivanka tweeted she`s looking forward to working with General Kelly -- with General Kelly, not for him -- tweeting, quote, "Looking forward to serving alongside John Kelly as we work for the American people." Well, Sanders -- that`s Huckabee Sanders -- was asked about the role Ivanka and her husband will play in a Kelly-in-charge situation. Here`s what she had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Apparently, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have said they look forward to following General Kelly`s lead. When it comes to the people who have access to the president, will that conduit be narrowed down now? Will everything flow through Kelly, or will some things still flow around the chief of staff`s office?

SANDERS: As I just said, the president`s giving full authority to General Kelly, and he`ll make those determinations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, if Jared and Ivanka are reporting to General Kelly, he`ll have a lot to sign off on. As senior adviser to the president, Jared`s tasks include -- catch this list -- reforming criminal justice and veterans` care, serving as a diplomatic liaison, fight opioid addiction, streamlining the federal government, it`s entire federal government, and brokering, of course, is (ph) another job, Middle East peace. As assistant to the president, Ivanka`s working on pushing a nationwide family leave policy and child care tax credit in her father`s budget. She also advises her father on workplace development, human trafficking, climate change, LGBT issues, women`s health issues and education.

Well, columnist Eugene Robinson says Kelly will have a tough road ahead, particularly in dealing with Ivanka, writing, "Ivanka`s also said to have supported the defenestration of Reince Priebus in favor of John F. Kelly -- John B. Kelly -- John F. Kelly as chief of staff. It is true that Priebus didn`t do a very good job, but that`s mostly because he wasn`t allowed to, and Ivanka was one of his headaches, though perhaps not the worst. She is one of many aides who enjoy unfettered access to the president. If Kelly is not allowed to function as a gatekeeper, he, too, will fail."

Well, that`s Gene Robinson.

I`m joined right now by Mack McLarty, former White House chief of staff for President Bill Clinton. And Ron Reagan is an MSNBC political analyst.

Ron, I used to -- I got to know you. We got to be friends a long time ago, but I never saw you standing behind your dad during Cabinet meetings just looming there like Ivanka. By the way, she has great poise. And she -- I have no problem with her being there, but I wonder why.

And then, of course, Jared is always sitting neatly and perfectly grouped next to her. And as Gene Robinson asked a great question, why? Why are they there, except because of nepotism? Your thoughts.

RON REAGAN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, exactly.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... nepotism potential, as you were.

REAGAN: Jared Kushner isn`t exactly Robert Kennedy.

You do wonder why these people with no relevant experience are where they are, with security clearances. And this is one of the challenges that John Kelly is going to face here.

He is supposed to be the boss of the White House in a way. All things are supposed to flow through the chief of staff, John Kelly, now. But he has got a boss too, President Trump.

And if Kelly is supposed to bring order to this White House and do away with the chaos, his biggest problem is not so much Ivanka and Jared, although they are an issue. His biggest problem is Donald Trump himself, who is the prime agent of chaos in this White House.

How is he going to control him?

MATTHEWS: You`re giving a lot of thought here to Mack McLarty, who chief of staff.

And, by the way, I agree, the two kids, the son-in-law and the son, first of all, Jared Kushner has been given the portfolio of bringing peace to the Middle East. Why check with the chief of staff? He is going to be dealing with heads of state. He doesn`t have to deal with some staff guy.

But the other thing is Trump. You have got to get up at 6:30 in the morning to catch his first tweets. Is General Kelly going to be on the ball to get up that early and stop him? Hold off, Mr. President, I want to review those tweets?

I don`t think so.

(LAUGHTER)

MACK MCLARTY, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, you had a military voice there, Chris. That was commanding.

MATTHEWS: I did it. I worked for it.

MCLARTY: Well, I think the point is, and Ron alluded to it, first of all, this administration, Chris, has to pivot from the campaign to govern. They need to look outward, not inward.

These telenovelas need to stop.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I want to ask you, as a chief of staff. And Bill Clinton, who is a different kind of cat altogether from -- but he is a bit...

(CROSSTALK)

MCLARTY: Unwieldy. Unwieldy. Unwieldy.

MATTHEWS: He loved all-night meetings and all that stuff.

MCLARTY: He wanted to hear a lot of different points of view.

MATTHEWS: A lot of bull sessions.

Did you ever tell him, go in a back room with him and say Bill -- well, I will call you Bill. Cool it on that stuff. You`re wasting our time. You`re diddling around here. Stop it.

Did you ever say tell him that, you`re wasting your presidency?

MCLARTY: Oh, several times.

But let me say, first of all, while I referred to Governor Clinton as Bill in private, once he was elected as president, Chris, I always said Mr. President.

MATTHEWS: Even in the back room?

MCLARTY: Even in the back room.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: And you whacked the stick at him and say, enough already?

MCLARTY: Chris, every chief of staff has to have the ability and the kind of relationship to speak very candidly and directly to the president and to frankly offer criticism in the right, respectful way, and the president to feel that is going to not be leaked or reported.

And we talked about that before I accepted the role. And it worked well. Bill Clinton accepted criticism well, Chris.

MATTHEWS: You know, Ron, one the of things about your dad -- and of course I was on the other side politically, as I`m proud to say oftentimes.

REAGAN: Me, too.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I know you were. I`m sure that was more troubling than me by any standard.

The thing about Reagan was he went in with all these things he read in "Reader`s Digest" and all these social causes. He cared about all the usual list of social causes on the right which you disagreed with.

But he let Jim Baker say, no, we`re here on the economy. We`re here to cut taxes. We`re here to do the things that got you elected and we`re staying off the crazy stuff or the right-wing stuff.

I don`t think Trump is willing to give to the general a list of things he is willing not to talk about anymore. He wants to talk about LGBT, no more transgender. This is all -- he goes right into wacky land pretty often.

REAGAN: Well, he does. Nothing seems to be planned.

And some things are not only chaotic and unplanned, but tread right up to the line of illegality, perhaps, or at least unethicality.

The Ivanka-Jared issue is a problem, because you have got two classes of employees there in the White House, two of whom are family members, and they can have access to dad any time they want.

And that puts them in a different category as everybody else. But think about what happened on that airplane, or reportedly happened on that airplane "The Washington Post" is talking about with drafting this false statement about the Russian meeting.

What if General Kelly is in on a meeting like that? What does he do at that point, when something of dubious legality or ethics is happening right in front of him? Or is he excluded from that kind of thing, because everybody in the Trump family knows that, he`s one of those straight arrows who doesn`t do this sort of thing? That`s another issue here that he`s going to have face.

MATTHEWS: Yes. When Trump is pretending to be helicopter mom here and helping with the homework, when he is drafting a dishonest statement on to cover his son up from meeting with a Russian agent to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, this is not helicopter mom time. This isn`t late-night homework wars.

This is serious business.

MCLARTY: It is a serious issue, yes.

MATTHEWS: And what would the general say, the four-star general, when he`s told, he says, Mr. President, excuse me, sir, that`s a dishonest statement?

MCLARTY: I think first...

MATTHEWS: Do you think he will do that? Would you do that?

MCLARTY: You have to. You have to do it.

You have to do it in the right way. You probably do it in private. You may do it after the discussion. But you have to say, Mr. President, this is really a highly questionable judgment decision. You ought not to do it.

And I think, frankly, if he then goes around and you does it covertly, at some point, Chris, you can`t continue to serve. Thank goodness I never had to confront that.

MATTHEWS: Well, Ron, it is always great to have you on. I will never accuse you of being one of the Romanovs. You aren`t roaming around the White House acting like you just had the right as family members to own the fricking place.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you. You may have come for a sandwich in the middle of the night, though. I don`t know.

Anyway, Mack McLarty, Ron Reagan, my friend, thank you.

Up next: the Republican senator who is standing up to his own party over President Trump. We will be back with Arizona`s Jeff Flake after this.

And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.

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

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says Iran`s military has to leave Syria for the U.S. to work with Russia on ending the civil war there. He also said the U.S. is willing to talk on North Korea if it stops its nuclear program.

As tensions rise with North Korea, the U.S. is test-launching an intercontinental ballistic missile from California on Wednesday.

Shares of Apple climbed 6 percent to a record high after earnings beat estimates. Apple sold 41 million iPhones during the fiscal third quarter, its revenue clocking in at $45 billion -- back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

With the publication of his new book today, Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona has quickly emerged as the most outspoken Republican critic of President Donald Trump. And he is making clear he blames his own party for enabling Trump`s rise to power.

With a titled borrowed from former Senator Barry Goldwater, the book is called "Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle."

Flake says that in the Trump era, "Conservatism has been compromised by a decidedly conservative stew of celebrity and authoritarianism." And he argues that Republican lawmakers are in denial about the nature of Trump`s presidency, "that unnerving silence in the face of an erratic executive branch is an abdication, and those in positions of leadership bear particular responsibility."

With this book, Flake is calling on conservatives to stand up for their values and challenge President Trump personally. It comes as the president`s son Eric Trump echoes his father`s message the party needs to protect President Trump and defend him even more.

Let`s watch Eric Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC TRUMP, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: He said a couple weeks ago in a tweet. He said, am I going to have to carry this whole weight on my shoulder? When are some of the people in my own party going to start protecting me?

And I feel that as well. I want somebody to start fighting for him. And he is the best fighter in the world. He will do a better job fighting for himself than all of them will do fighting for him. But how much weight does he have to carry by himself?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m joined now by the author of "Conscience of a Conservative," Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona.

I think it was Frank Mankiewicz who said, ignore everything anybody says in Washington before the word but.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: And there he was, Eric, coming out saying, it is you guys` fault.

What do you owe Donald Trump in terms of loyalty as a party?

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Well, obviously, I`m a Republican. The president is a Republican.

MATTHEWS: Is he?

FLAKE: Yes, he`s a Republican. He won as a Republican.

MATTHEWS: Is he the leader of the Republican Party?

FLAKE: He`s the president of the United States.

MATTHEWS: Is he the leader of the Republican Party?

FLAKE: Well, he`s the president of the United States.

MATTHEWS: You`re not answering my question.

Is he the leader of the conservative movement?

FLAKE: The president of the United States, from whatever party, is usually the leader of that party.

MATTHEWS: Do you accept him as the leader of the Republican Party?

FLAKE: Well, yes, as the leader of the Republican Party.

MATTHEWS: Oh, really?

FLAKE: But that doesn`t mean that I agree with everything he does.

People forget, when I came to the Congress in 2001, Mike Pence and I came together. We both ran conservative think tanks.

MATTHEWS: Would Pence make a better president than Trump?

(LAUGHTER)

FLAKE: I like Mike Pence.

MATTHEWS: Would be a better president?

FLAKE: I`m not going on answer those kinds of questions.

MATTHEWS: Why not?

FLAKE: But Mike is a good friend.

MATTHEWS: You brought him up.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s talk about, what`s wrong with Trump? What`s wrong Trump?

FLAKE: I talk about it in the book.

Barry Goldwater in 1960 thought that the conservative party, the Republican Party, had been compromised by the New Deal. And so he wrote "Conscience of a Conservative."

I think today we have been compromised by other forces, protectionism, populism. And I don`t think that those bode well in the long term. It`s not a governing philosophy.

MATTHEWS: You skipped demagoguery this time. It`s in your book. Is Trump a demagogue?

FLAKE: I think that all of us at times as politicians demagogue. And he does some of it too.

But I do think that we bear the responsibility, as elected officials, to stand up more than we have. And I talk, this problem isn`t just this administration. It came long before.

I talk a lot in the book about my time in Congress, 2001 to 2012, in the House of Representatives. We became a decidedly less conservative party. And we jettisoned limited government and spent like drunken sailors.

And then, when we couldn`t argue that were the limited government party, then we started to argue on things like flag burning and the wedge issues. And then we lost the majority in 2006, and we deserved to do so. And then we lost the presidency in 2008.

And I fear that this majority that Republicans think is here to stay won`t be here very long if we continue down the path that we`re on.

MATTHEWS: What is in the nature of the Republican Party? Is it just the fact that the polling numbers show that 80-some percent of Republicans, registered Republicans, self-identified Republicans, like Trump`s positions on everything and they like him?

That explains why there`s been such party loyalty to this guy who is not really a Republican. What explains the fact that everybody sort of down the line refused to do what you`re doing, challenge him?

FLAKE: Well, I think you see it on both the Republican and Democratic side.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But this book is about your side. This book is about your side.

FLAKE: It is. It is.

But, on our side, I started to say, when I got to Congress, I opposed President Bush`s signature initiative, No Child Left Behind. Then prescription drug benefit, I opposed that as well.

I opposed for eight years his Cuba policy. And yet two months ago, he came to Arizona and did a fund-raiser for me, because I was with him on most things. And that`s how it used to be. We didn`t have to be -- it wasn`t just shirts vs. skins on everything.

MATTHEWS: I know.

FLAKE: And now we seem to think that we can only pass something in the Senate if we do it with 52 votes.

MATTHEWS: What is getting this book a lot of publicity and a lot of attention, the reason I`m fascinated with it, is how tough you are on Donald Trump, not this sort of generalized critique you`re offering about the world conditions you`re giving me here.

You have a different tone right now in this room than you have in this book. This book is very hard-hitting, very hard-hitting on Trump. Demagoguery is the word you use, populism, protectionism. You used all the tough words. And you don`t like them.

You don`t think this president is good for the country, do you?

FLAKE: Well, let me say...

MATTHEWS: Well, no. In this book, it says he`s not good for the country.

FLAKE: I will talk about what I talk about in the book.

MATTHEWS: OK, good.

FLAKE: I say in the book that I have agreed with him on many things. Supreme Court justice, great one. Great Cabinet picks. I have worked him on regulatory reform.

But where I think that he`s profoundly unconservative is on things like free trade. That`s something that we can`t abandon as Republicans. We are decidedly less conservative if we do so, and also being conservative on policy is just part of it.

You have got to be conservative in demeanor as well.

Conservatives...

MATTHEWS: Is he?

FLAKE: No.

Conservative foreign policy ought to be measured and deliberate and sober. And that`s not what we have.

MATTHEWS: I think it is a tough, well-written book. And I just want to keep you to it.

Anyway, a portion of your book focuses on conservative conspiracy theories and the recent spread of fake news. Most notably, you criticized those who pushed the false notion that Barack Obama wasn`t born in the U.S., saying that: "When a conspiracy theory becomes a litmus test orthodoxy, objective reality is at risk."

And when it comes to use of alternative facts in the Trump administration, you say: "Giving away one`s agency to such a confusion of fact and fantastic, when one has power, well, that`s truly dangerous."

I agree with you. To me, the original sin was Trump saying Barack Obama was born in Kenya or whatever and denying he was a legitimate president, calling him sort of a con artist. That was, to me, racist in its nature, to claim the guy is not a true American, when he was, clearly, to make fun of his documentation, to say he was sort of an illegal immigrant.

I think you`re dead right on that. I think that -- but I don`t understand why your party went along with it.

FLAKE: Well, it was an awful thing.

And not everyone did. But more of the party should have stood up at that time and said, hey, this is baloney. Let`s get off this kick. Some of us did. More of us should have. And because we didn`t, we allowed people to move forward spouting that stuff.

And then it gets worse. And now you come to a point where, today, I saw a poll just last week that half of all Republicans believe that President Trump won the popular vote.

MATTHEWS: Yes, isn`t that something?

FLAKE: He won the election. He is the president, legitimately. But he didn`t win the popular vote. That`s an objective fact.

(CROSSTALK)

FLAKE: And if we can`t accept and we can`t -- if we can`t have shared facts like that, then how do we tackle the real issues?

MATTHEWS: Are you going to run for president?

FLAKE: No. I`m...

MATTHEWS: Never? Shermanesque?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: This is HARDBALL. I got to do this.

(CROSSTALK)

FLAKE: How far can you go?

MATTHEWS: Your wife is here. I`m waiting to see if she has got an attitude about this.

FLAKE: With the last name Flake, I mean, how far can you go? The Senate is probably it.

MATTHEWS: What do you mean? With a name like Smucker`s, it has got to be good?

No, Flake is all right.

Anyway, and I think it is great you came on. I think it`s is a very tough, hard-hitting book. And it is very compelling. And everybody is going to talk about this book.

FLAKE: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: "Conscience of a Conservative." I read the first one by Barry Goldwater. This is a little different, same principles.

Thank you, Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona.

FLAKE: Thanks for having me on.

Up next: Eric Trump complains that the GOP is not fighting hard enough for his dad. But why should they defend a president who doesn`t want to acknowledge that he`s even a member of the Republican Party?

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

As we told you earlier, the president`s son Eric appeared on FOX News last night and demanded that the Republican Party come to his father`s defense.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC TRUMP, SON OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: I want somebody to start fighting for him. You know, he`s the best fighter in the world. He will do a better job fighting for himself than all of them will do fighting for him. But, I mean, how much weight does he have to carry by himself?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Well, but loyalty is not something candidate Donald Trump showed to the Republican Party. The one time registered Democrat spent months attacking his one-time rivals, at one point even linking Ted Cruz` father to the JFK assassination. You can`t do worse.

Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (via telephone): His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald being, you know, shot. I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous. What is this, prior to his being shot and nobody even brings it up.

He`s not a war. He`s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren`t captured, OK? I hate to tell you.

So, Lindsey Graham says to me, please, please, whatever you can do. You know, I`m saying to myself, what is this guy? A beggar? He`s like begging me to help him with "Fox and Friends". He gave me his number.

And I found card. I wrote the number down. I don`t know if it`s a right number. Let`s try it, 202 (AUDIO DELETED)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And now when he needs him the most, Trump seems to have trouble even associating with the GOP.

Here`s the Republican president talking about his colleagues in the Senate as if they weren`t a part of same political party.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: One of the things that should be solved but it probably won`t be is that the Republicans and Democrats don`t get together. And I`m open arms, but I don`t see that happening.

They fight each other, the level of hostility. And by the way, this isn`t just Trump. This has been like this for years.

I`m not going to own it. I can tell you, the Republicans are not going to own it.

For the last seven years, Republicans have been united in standing up for Obamacare`s victims. Remember, repeal and replace. Repeal and replace. They kept saying it over and over again. Senate Republicans have not done their job in ending the Obamacare nightmare.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Let`s bring in the HARDBALL round table. Sam Stein, politics editor for "The Daily Beast", and an MSNBC contributor, Eliza Collins is congressional reporter for "USA Today", and Jonathan Capehart, of course, opinion writer for "The Washington Post", also an MSNBC contributor.

Sam, you first. This reference to the Republicans as if they`re over there or somewhere.

SAM STEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: A born creature, yes.

MATTHEWS: I mean, how do you get -- that`s really getting -- we picked up on this but not everybody has. He is not accepting leadership, or even membership in the Republican Party now.

STEIN: Well, I don`t think he particularly thinks of himself as Republican Party because he hasn`t always been a Republican, very recent convert. And I think culturally, too, he probably associates more with Democrats. He`s from New York City. He`s rubbed elbows with these cosmopolitan bankers --

MATTHEWS: He culturally probably associates more with "Access Hollywood" bus, culturally.

STEIN: But I also think from a political standpoint, I mean, the health care is a great illustration of how uncomfortable he is in the context of the Republican Party. I mean, you do not -- it is expected that McCain might vote against your bill when you mocked his war hero service. You know, tell you stuff like that --

MATTHEWS: He`s enlisting the Romanovs, the family is being sent up for -- they all get different jobs to do. But here`s Eric who is not heard from too often. He is like a missing Marx brothers, you know, or missing --

STEIN: He keeps his head down.

MATTHEWS: Yes, you don`t see him. He is out there begging the country and the Republican Party to come to daddy`s aid. I mean, that`s pretty -- talk about whiney and weaky.

ELIZA COLLINS, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, USA TODAY: Well, Trump said, I carried all the Republicans on my back, not this week, from last week, and they are not defending me.

MATTHEWS: That`s not exactly true.

COLLINS: Right, a lot of the senators actually outperformed him.

STEIN: Exact opposite.

COLLINS: Yes, most of them.

So I think that that`s not a new idea. But the fact that people are surprise President Trump is not in line with the Republican Party is not a surprise, if we remember the campaign. We saw all those clips.

And remember, he wouldn`t commit to supporting the Republican nominee if he was not the nominee. So, it`s not new news.

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s why it is important, and let`s project this forward. It`s news because it`s unlikely that he will have that personal rapport or question with the Republican rank and file.

I don`t think he did badly getting 48 out of 50 on the health care. It`s a tricky issue. It doesn`t surprise me.

How do you get a united party on that one? It is impossible to say we`re going to repeal and replace. That was squaring a circle.

But I think he is complaining too much. I think the party has been very loyal to him. I think he`s had very good votes.

He`s getting all kinds of activity with Gorsuch. He got Gorsuch in there. He got them to get rid of their filibuster rule just for him. That`s bowing to him. He is getting all this stuff done on regulations.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But regulations are big with him. He`s getting rid of all those regulations.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Chris, imagine what would have happened if the president of the United States, the Republican president of the United States, actually put his shoulder to the wheel, just like President Obama did to get Obamacare across the line. Imagine what would have happened if Trump had done that?

And, you know, separating himself, this is actually an interesting observation. That he is separating himself from the Republican Party. And it made me think that with membership comes responsibility and accountability. And when you actively avoid associating yourself with that party, then you can avoid all the failures, all the foibles at least in his mind.

MATTHEWS: So, he`s running against one more institution he can blame for any trouble in the country.

CAPEHART: Right.

MATTHEWS: Not just the U.S. government. Not just the media, not jus the way we are, but to blame the Republicans and the Democrats. So, he is innocent of all charges.

COLLINS: Well, it`s a swamp.

STEIN: Yes, of course, and the idea that health care failure is a Republican congressional failure, something he wants to perpetuate here too. But you`re right. I mean, if you look at it objectively, the fact that they got 49 votes. They themselves said was a disgrace, is a remarkable achievement.

And the fact Republicans have stood by this president amidst all the scandal, they`re always asked, what about this Russia stuff? What about the latest Trump tweet?

MATTHEWS: That`s right.

STEIN: The de facto response is always, well, I`m too busy for that. I haven`t seen it. I mean, there`s a logical case to make that congressional Republicans should be bolting -- should more on this junction than they have.

MATTHEWS: It`s a battle of who wants to be the maverick. I mean, I just wonder whether John McCain who had the most delicious screw you in history when he put his thumbs down, you know, this thing.

COLLINS: Oh, yes, that as well.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: That was a dramatic sort of, the Italian expression is, revenge is best -- a dish best served cold. But who is the worst maverick, Trump or McCain, at this point?

STEIN: How about Murkowski? Murkowski was offended by Trump and then they went after her. The interior secretary threatened her state and she said, you know what, I`m not going to respond to vinegar. I might respond to honey, but not vinegar, and she voted on the health care bill.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think he`s ready to give Alaska back to the Russians.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. Don`t give them any ideas.

Up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, today, we learned about another stunning rebuke of President Trump, this time from the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration. In an agency-wide memo, the acting DEA chief disavowed the president`s recent comments the police officers should be, quote, rough with suspects. The DEA administrator said that the president, quote, condoned police misconduct. He went on to say, I write to offer strong reaffirmation of the operating principles to which we, as law enforcement professionals, adhere. I write because we have an obligation to speak out when something is wrong.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders today said the president`s remarks were meant to be a joke. We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Sam, tell me something I don`t know.

STEIN: You`re putting me on the spot, but there`s going to be a big fissure between Republicans and Trump on health care, where Trump likely is going to push for another repeal vote.

MATTHEWS: With McCain helping him?

STEIN: Well, they -- no one knows where he`s going to find success on this one, but they`re not giving it away. I talked to an administration source. They still want to get there. And Republicans on the Hill say, you know what?

Let`s get on stable footing, let`s talk bipartisan. We`re going to see two things come to a head here.

MATTHEWS: Eliza?

COLLINS: We`re talking health care, but we`re talking Republicans. Joe Manchin, basically a Republican, as moderate as you can be from --

STEIN: You`re on trouble with that --

COLLINS: I know, from a state that Trump won by 42 points. They are close. They talk every ten days. They haven`t talked in six weeks he told me because Trump asked him to support the bill and he said he couldn`t and they haven`t talked since.

MATTHEWS: Yes, he`s a Democrat. Let`s give him a break.

STEIN: He`s not a Democrat.

MATTHEWS: It`s hard to finds progressives in West Virginia.

Go, ahead.

CAPEHART: So, Sam talked about how there`s a renewed effort to, you know, do something with Obamacare reveal. Here`s a problem that the nation is going to face. When they come back from recess after Labor Day, there are 12 working days until the ends of the fiscal year. To not only do Obamacare repeal but also, raise the debt ceiling.

MATTHEWS: What about cutting taxes?

CAPEHART: And that.

MATTHEWS: That`s their big baby this year.

CAPEHART: End SCHIP. And tax reform. And fill in the -- flood insurance.

MATTHEWS: They got to cut taxes. The whole market right now, I`m told is based upon the fact he`s going to cut taxes.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, it`s a bubble if they don`t do it.

Sam Stein, sir, thank you. Eliza Collins, welcome. And Jonathan Capehart, always welcome forever.

When we return, let me finish tonight with Trump Watch. He won`t like it. You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Tuesday, August 1st, 2017.

Can you see the pattern? Can see you how with every step Donald Trump is falling, the historic route of Richard Nixon, first comes the news of the break in back in 1972, it was Cubans getting to the door of the Democratic National Committee. In 2016, it was the Russians hacking into the DNC -- new technology, same old principle, sneaking in to find dirt to use on the opposition.

Then came the endless road of cover up. With Nixon, it was trying to get the CIA to get the FBI to lay off the investigation. With Trump, it was trying to get the FBI off the investigation and then asking the head of U.S. intelligence to get the FBI off it again. What Nixon tried once, Trump trumped him by doing twice.

And then Trump really outdid Nixon by firing the head of the FBI for pursuing the Russian investigation. That`s what he told the Russians why he did it. Nixon got the attorney general to resign and then got the special counsel investigating him fired. Trump is still working on those two steps trying to get Sessions to quit so he could put someone in there to do the dirty work of firing the special counsel. He`s certainly heading in that direction.

Nixon bought in a general, Alexander Haig, as his chief of staff in May 1973. Trump has just done same thing, bringing in General Kelly to try to steady the ship. But the course is set, don`t you think? Point after point, Trump keeps trying to cover up what can`t be covered up.

Just look at how he dictated that cover up statement for Donald Jr., saying his meeting with the Russians was all about adoptions. It`s like Nixon. He keeps going back to the scene of the crime. Two weeks ago, he said that his conversation with Putin over the G20 was also about Russian adoptions.

Trump can`t stop trying to double down on a story that Mr. Robert Mueller knows full well isn`t true. It`s a story that smacks hard of cover-up. Richard Milhous Trump.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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