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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 8/15/17 Trump hits back today: Violence on both

Guests: Victoria McGrane, Clarence Page, Steve Benjamin, Heidi Przybyla, Sophia Nelson, Jonathan Swan, Jason Johnson, John Brabender

Show: HARDBALL Date: August 15, 2017 Guest: Victoria McGrane, Clarence Page, Steve Benjamin, Heidi Przybyla, Sophia Nelson, Jonathan Swan, Jason Johnson, John Brabender

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: David Duke says, Thank you, Mr. President!

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

This afternoon, Donald Trump looked into the mirror and made a decision. Should I be presidential, act and speak the way others want me to be, or should I be me? Well, "me" won the battle. The man we saw this afternoon was the man elected last November, the man who is now our president. Like him, hate him, trust him or fear him, that`s your call.

He made his call today at 4:00 o`clock Eastern Daylight Time. He`s going to be 100 percent Donald Trump, issuing a fusillade of counterattacks against critics who say he didn`t do enough to condemn white supremacists.

President Trump defended his statement of Saturday that both sides are to blame for the escalation violence, saying that the left bears responsibility in addition to the alt-right.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?


TRUMP: Let me ask you this. What about the fact they came charging -- that they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do.

You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that. But I`ll say it right now.


MATTHEWS: Well, he sure did. Here`s what the president went on to say when he was asked specifically if he draws a moral equivalence between the counterprotesters and the white supremacist demonstrators.


QUESTION: Are you calling what you call the alt-left and white supremacists on the moral same plane?

TRUMP: I`m not putting anybody on a moral plane. What I`m saying is this. You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other and they came at each other with clubs, and it was vicious and it was horrible and it was a horrible thing to watch. But there is another side.

QUESTION: Why do you think there`s blame...

TRUMP: Yes, I think there`s blame on both sides. You look at...


MATTHEWS: You look at both sides. I think there`s blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it. And you don`t have any doubt about it, either.


TRUMP: And -- and if you reported it accurately, you would say.


MATTHEWS: Well, he condemned the man now held responsible for the death of one counterprotester. But he said many of the demonstrators were not neo- Nazis or white supremacists, they merely wanted to preserve monuments to the Southern past. He said they were treated unfairly by the media because many of them were there peaceably -- peacefully to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. Here he goes.


TRUMP: You had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, OK, and the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.

QUESTION: You were saying the press has treated white nationalists unfairly? I just don`t understand what you were saying.

TRUMP: No, no. There were people in that rally -- and I looked the night before -- if you look, they were people protesting very quietly the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest because, you know, I don`t know if you know, they had a permit. The other group didn`t have a permit. So I only tell you this. There are two sides to a story.


MATTHEWS: Well, the president`s press conference late today quickly won him praise from white supremacist David Duke. The former grand wizard of the KKK tweeted, "Thank you, President Trump, for your honesty and courage to tell the truth about Charlottesville and condemn the leftist terrorists in Black Lives Matter and the anti-fascists."

Well, a senior White House official tells NBC News today that members of the president`s own team -- the president`s own team -- were stunned tonight by his actions in that press conference, and remain so apparently.

Joining me right now is NBC`s Hallie Jackson, Jonathan Swan is a political reporter for Axios, Heidi Przybyla is a senior political reporter at "USA Today" and an MSNBC political analyst, as well, and Jason Johnson is a political editor of TheRoot and an MSNBC contributor.

Hallie, you were there today. Tell us about the circumstances and why you, as a Trump expert -- you reported on so well so long -- what was it? Was it his id (ph) that finally broke out and said, Damn it, I`m tired of playing Mr. President, I`m going to be Donald Trump as president?

HALLIE JACKSON, NBC CORRESPONDENT: So let me just walk through chronologically briefly, Chris, how this unfolded because I think it might give you some insight into how this went down, which is that the president was supposed to talk about infrastructure. That was the ostensible reason for him coming down into the lobby of Trump Tower. They set up the podium for the first time, the presidential seal in the lobby. The president came down, flanked by his top advisers, cabinet-level people, like, for example, Stephen Mnuchin, his Treasury secretary, his transportation secretary, Elaine Chao. You might have seen it. I think they played it live on this network.

The president talked a little bit about his infrastructure plan, and then brought up Mick Mulvaney. There was a question -- I think there was an anticipation among reporters who were, I would say, 25 feet back from the president, of, Hey, will he take some questions? Because remember, last week at Bedminster, he did. He stood and talked with, at that point, members of the pool. This was something where other members of the press could get in, as well.

He called up his budget director and said, And I`d be happy to take some questions on infrastructure. The questions he answered were not on infrastructure. The questions he answered were, as you just played, almost exclusively about how his words are impacting his agenda, what he said, how he plans to heal or try to heal, as he talks about wanting to do, the racial divide in this country.

And perhaps most explosively, what was an extraordinary back and forth, this idea that he blamed both sides for the violence. This was -- listen, I`ve been in presidential -- sort of these interactions with President Trump as a candidate, during the transition, during the administration. He was fired up.

He has seemed in the last week or so like he has wanted to engage with members of the press more. He certainly seemed that way in Bedminster on Thursday and Friday. His new chief of staff, John Kelly, let him, essentially. Even after his press secretary last week held up a sign and said, Last question, he went on for another 10 minutes. Nobody was trying to hold up a sign in this instance because of how, sort of, high -- you could feel the moment, right?


JACKSON: The president responding to these questions, making these remarks. And I would just say this. John Kelly stood off to the side. I actually did not see him because I was sort of, you know, lasered in on the president.

But my producer and our cameraman who were there said afterwards, You got to see these images. And John Kelly is standing there, at one point appearing to do almost a double take, at one point, lowering his head and folding his arms. And I think that is indicative because you`re right, this was never supposed to happen, the president answering questions.


JACKSON: He was not set to do this. And one senior White House official tells us he basically went rogue.

MATTHEWS: That`s for sure. Thank you. Hold on there, Hallie.

Let me go to Jason. Jason, it seems to me that the president made an impossible argument tonight. He said that those people, who were just Southern -- old Southern sympathizers, reenactors, basically, they`re somehow (INAUDIBLE) next to guys using Nazi salutes, Nazi slogans, and somehow were innocents. That`s a hard argument to make.

JASON JOHNSON, THEROOT, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. These weren`t a bunch of ladies from the historical society coffee klatch saying, We don`t want to get rid of this because we have our picnics here.

Look, Chris, I`ve been saying this for a year. You look at Steve Bannon, you look at Stephen Miller, you look at Gorka, you look at the president`s relativism when it comes to Nazi attacks. The president is a terrorist sympathizer. He sympathizes with these groups. He gives them a space in our society that no previous president has ever done and it is a national security threat. And we need to make clear.

MATTHEWS: Well, he did point out that the person who -- alleged now to have killed the person in the crowd, Ms. Heyer, was a -- is a murderer and a killer (INAUDIBLE)

JOHNSON: But not a terrorist.

MATTHEWS: Well, his choice of words. Anyway, joining me right now is Sophia Nelson, former White House -- House GOP committee counsel and author of the book, "E Pluribus Unum` -- "E Pluribus One," actually, "Reclaiming Our Founders` Visions for a United America."

Thank you so much, Sophia. Give us a sense -- what -- what do you make of the president`s defense that some of the people in the protest group down there in Charlottesville over the weekend were, in fact, good guys, basically. That`s what he seemed to be saying. They weren`t all Nazis, weren`t all white supremacists. What do you make of that argument?

SOPHIA NELSON, FORMER HOUSE GOP COMMITTEE COUNSEL: Well, Chris, it`s clear he went rogue, and I don`t think any of us can argue with that.

And for me personally, as someone who`s been a lifelong African-American Republican my entire adult life, inspired by Jack Kemp to join the party in college, I can tell that you that this is a very disappointing moment for me to see a Republican president of the United States actually miss a major moment to bring this country together in the wake of what is unmistakably domestic terrorism, supremacy, Nazism, and to hesitate to do all this footsie he`s doing.

I`m not sure what`s going on with him, but I think he`s done a very devastating thing to this country today and to the Republican Party.

MATTHEWS: Yes, this looks like Athens and Sparta here. (INAUDIBLE) certainly, the -- the people with the Nazi regalia (INAUDIBLE) the Spartans here. They`re the ones looking for the fight.

NELSON: Right.

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, ``USA TODAY,`` MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Chris, the thing is, if the Nazi slogans and chanting wasn`t enough to convince you that these weren`t just innocent bystanders, they were carrying torches. Anybody who took a basic history class...

MATTHEWS: Nuremberg.

PRZYBYLA: ... in grade school knows what torches represent in our history, and it is something very...

MATTHEWS: Well, two things.

PRZYBYLA: ... ugly.

MATTHEWS: It represents the KKK and the night riders. It also represents the Nazis and their demonstrations in the `30s.

PRZYBYLA: This is a moment, I think, for the GOP. It is notable that we are hearing silence at this point. I think many are in shock, and they`re going to have to come up with a way to respond to this because this is not going away. These people are emboldened...


PRZYBYLA: ... David Duke`s...

MATTHEWS: OK, I got to get back to the question of Donald Trump himself. One (INAUDIBLE) hold on there, Jonathan. Hallie, here`s the question. Donald Trump -- I thought when I got up this morning, read all the papers, said -- I said, Donald Trump feels like he`s in a straitjacket this morning. He hates being this guy that said what he said yesterday because he didn`t believe what he said yesterday. He didn`t believe that he was going to be this perfect president, politically correct president. He didn`t want to be the guy that said, Oh, the hard right were the bad guys and the other people were the good guys.

So he woke up this morning and said, Damn it, I`m going to break out of this straitjacket. I`m going to be me again. And there he was today. Why do you think he decided -- I think he was never going to be happy pretending to be a regular president, that he is only happy being Donald Trump. And he made his choice late this afternoon. Your thoughts.

JACKSON: My thoughts are these, Chris. And it`s based on our reporting, which is that this day, and actually, these next couple of days, were and have been supposed to focus on the president`s agenda. When you talk to people inside the White House -- and frankly, even people close to this administration who have frequent conversations with the president and his advisers -- they all talk about wanting to get something done, something productive done, which, with the exception, perhaps, of the Supreme Court pick, of Neil Gorsuch getting on the court, it`s tough to point to a legislative accomplishment, as you know, that President Trump has.

So remember what happened up in that room today, hours of discussion about tax reform, according to one person in the White House, and then hours, or at least some period of discussion about this infrastructure plan that he had rolled out.

He wanted this week to be talking about veterans. He wanted this week to be talking about some of these issues that he wants to move forward on his agenda. But here`s what happened, and here`s what`s happened previously in this administration. What the president wants to do was overshadowed by what he said. That has been a pattern that has repeated itself over these last seven months.

MATTHEWS: I`ll say.

JACKSON: Republicans on Capitol Hill so far, Chris -- you saw Cory Gardner`s town hall this morning -- so far have stuck by him, despite being, they say, disturbed or dismayed by some of the president`s remarks. And remember, they get back to the Capitol in two weeks they got a real heavy lift come September when it comes to policy.

MATTHEWS: OK. Jonathan, I want to talk to you about this. That`s important. Trump`s failed to do what he knows he has to do, which is stay on course and actually get something done.

But the whole world heard what happened today. The whole world watched the president of the United States basically say there`s an equivalence morally between people waving Nazi regalia, speaking in Nazi slogans, giving the Hitler salute, with people that protested what they were doing.

That is an astounding development, and it takes us way back to square one on Saturday, when that was his gut instinct to do just that.

JONATHAN SWAN, AXIOS: Yes. I was just talking to a senior White House official who sympathizes with, you know, the argument about statues. But they said this is not the time to make that argument. And...

MATTHEWS: That`s an argument you make in the -- in the Charlottesville city council...

SWAN: Right. Right.

MATTHEWS: ... meeting when they decide this stuff.

SWAN: Right. And look, this is Trump`s core. This is his gut. This is Steve -- Steve Bannon and Trump are completely aligned on this. And my reporting today is that Steve Bannon -- he has been arguing. And look, he`s not with Trump, but...

MATTHEWS: Trump says he hasn`t been talking to him.

SWAN: Well...

MATTHEWS: He said it today.

SWAN: ... I hate to tell you, my reporting is that they have spoken by phone on the weekend. And -- and...

MATTHEWS: So he`s lying.

PRZYBYLA: You can`t blame this on Bannon. This is Trump.


SWAN: Just let me explain. I`m saying that they are of one mind on this, and Bannon`s view is that by coming back and saying, you know, these people are terrible and condemning them, you are -- Bannon`s view is you`re doing what he did...


SWAN: ... during the campaign with the deplorables.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s a big story today because he said, We`ll see what happens. In other words, the guy`s already headed under the bus.

Anyway, the president also defended his prior statements about Charlottesville, saying he didn`t want to talk about he knew -- because -- before he knew the facts. So he`s claiming -- Donald Trump is saying that Donald Trump needed to get all the facts before he spoke. Now, there`s a remarkable statement by that guy, a lack of self-awareness. But let`s listen to that.


TRUMP: I had to see the facts, unlike a lot of reporters.


TRUMP: Unlike a lot of reporters...


TRUMP: I didn`t know David Duke was there. I wanted to see the facts, and the facts as they started coming out were very well stated.

It was very important to me to get the facts out and correctly because if I would have made a fast statement -- and the first statement was made without knowing much other than what we were seeing. The second statement was made after, with knowledge, with great knowledge. There are still things...


TRUMP: Excuse me. There are still things that people don`t know.


MATTHEWS: So this president, as we just heard now, late this afternoon, Heidi, said, I didn`t have adequate knowledge to speak on Saturday. That explains why I didn`t condemn the bad guys, the Nazis. But then, when I did discover all the information today, I defended the Nazis -- I mean, defended in the sense that they`re morally equivalent and blamed both sides.

And I`m just wondering, what good did the information do if he ends up going right back where he was the first time? And by the way, since when has he needed information?

PRZYBYLA: Well, the thing is, the torches and the Nazi slogans were kind of enough evidence for most people, including his daughter, including his vice president and including many GOP senators to feel comfortable that they had the facts about what was going down there. So I think when members come back to Congress, this is going to be a really difficult moment...


PRZYBYLA: We`ve talked all along about Trump`s race -- or economic angst, the people who are flocking to him because of economic angst. This racial narrative is metastasizing and it`s not going away. There`s going to be something this weekend potentially in Boston.

MATTHEWS: I know. We...

PRZYBYLA: There`s a permit request in Richmond...


MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at this. Here`s an example on this question of David Duke. It always pops up at the worst moments in our history. David Duke shows up. It shows how the climate`s changed a bit when it comes to dog whistle politics. As the president said today, David Duke, the former grand wizard of the KKK, was in attendance this weekend at those demonstrations alongside those neo-Nazis and other white nationalists. But back in 1991, when Duke was trying to get elected as governor of Louisiana, he publicly denied expressing any admiration for Nazism.

Let`s watch how Tim Russert tried to hold Duke accountable for his past statements during an appearance on "MEET THE PRESS."


TIM RUSSERT, HOST, "MEET THE PRESS": What was it about this country, this society that you chose to become a Nazi? What did you find so offensive and so objectionable about the United States of America that you found Nazi Germany to be preferable?

DAVID DUKE (R), LOUISIANA LEGISLATURE: All right, first off, I was never a member of the Nazi party or anything like that.

RUSSERT: Do you still think that Adolf Hitler is the greatest genius...


RUSSERT: Excuse me. Do you think he`s the greatest genius in the world?

DUKE: I`ve never said that!

RUSSERT: Well, you...


MATTHEWS: Well, as a candidate in February of last year, Donald Trump refused to promptly condemn David Duke after he endorsed his candidacy. Watch this.


TRUMP: I don`t know anything about David Duke, OK? I don`t know anything about what you`re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. You wouldn`t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about!


MATTHEWS: That I know nothing about, know nothing about David Duke. Well, Trump professed to know nothing about David Duke in that interviews, but he clearly knew who he was back this 2000, when Trump specifically condemned Duke as a racist and a bigot. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you see as the biggest problem with the Reform Party right now?

TRUMP: Well, you`ve got David Duke just joined, a bigot, a racist, a problem. I mean, this is not exactly the people you want in your party.


MATTHEWS: Sophia, this president seems to have a tactic that when he doesn`t want to deal with the racial issues of a racist himself, David Duke, he has a failure of memory. And he`s done it before. He just did it again today. I didn`t know Duke was there. I don`t even know who Duke is. Oh, yes, I did 17 years ago when I talked about him as a bigot and a racist. This failure of memory is very convenient for a guy that`s very uncomfortable with the situation he`s in.

NELSON: Well, more important to me is the failure of moral leadership. When George Herbert Walker Bush was president of the United States of America, he had no bones about condemning David Duke. He was unequivocal in his language when he was running for the Senate. He wouldn`t support him. He wouldn`t endorse him. He said he didn`t want him in the Republican Party.

And so Donald Trump does have selective memory. On that, we agree, Chris, but...

MATTHEWS: Well, what about -- what about selective memory when it comes to Willie Horton ads in 1988? The Bush campaign ran those. Do you think that was -- you should remember that.

NELSON: You talking about George Herbert Walker Bush?

MATTHEWS: Shouldn`t we all remember Willie Horton? Shouldn`t we all remember Willie Horton? So don`t say that George Herbert Walker Bush is immune to this problem.

NELSON: No, no, no, no, Chris.

MATTHEWS: He`s not.

NELSON: Chris -- Chris, I don`t -- I don`t argue a point with you on whether or not Willie Horton was appropriate. We agree. But what I am saying is, is that we`re talking about Donald Trump and this moment in history, and what I think we ought to be focused on is no Republican president in my recent memory, and I`m 50 years old, has ever done what I saw done today where he equivocated and said that white supremacists and Nazis were the same as people protesting against them.

We have a young woman who`s dead, 20 people injured in Charlottesville, and this president of the United States has embarrassed all of us, regardless of party. That`s where I (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS: Well, you`re a young woman, of course, and I don`t mind challenging you on a couple of these points of history. Seriously. But Ronald Reagan, who had many things going for him in history -- and he will go down in history pretty well. We know that.

NELSON: Right.

MATTHEWS: But he was out there talking about "welfare queens" all the time, and we know what color they were. They were African-American. Welfare queens was his game.

NELSON: Right.

MATTHEWS: He talked about "young bucks," that was his word, waiting in line to use food stamps for gin.

We know that game was played. It was playing race. It was more than a dog whistle. It was a bugle out of the American cavalry, and everybody heard those calls. So it didn`t start with Trump in terms of playing the race card. Let`s be honest.

NELSON: No, no, Chris. Look, I`ve been in the Republican Party a long time, and we can talk about the 20, 30, 50 op-eds I`ve written in every major paper in this country about my issues with the GOP and the fact that it has been a party that has gone away from its roots. After the Nixon Southern strategy, you know the parties flipped personalities.

MATTHEWS: I can recite it to you line and verse.

NELSON: Yes, and it`s a problem. So on that -- I`m not going to argue with you that we haven`t done what we need to do. But today is a very dark moment for the Republican Party, very dark.

MATTHEWS: Thank you. Well said. Thank you. Well, it`s great to have you on. Please stay in with everyone else.

We`ll be back with Trump`s angry, defiant appearance today. We now know what he said Saturday is really what he believes. He said it again today, that both sides are to blame. They`re equally morally whatever (sic) about the violence down in Charlottesville, despite the Nazi salutes and slogans.

Plus, Trump`s false equivalence again. He says it`s Confederate leaders` whose statues are coming down now, and tomorrow it will be Washington and Jefferson. Well, let`s talk about that. We`ll get to that with the mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, where the Confederate battle flag was removed from the statehouse, thanks to Nikki Haley, the governor.

And, as Trump went on the attack today, you might have missed the reaction from his new chief of staff, General John Kelly. Poor John Kelly was hanging his head in embarrassment, at times grimacing today, perhaps knowing that no one can control, not even a general with many stars, Donald J. Trump.

Finally, Let Me Finish tonight with a Trump watch that may go down in the books. He really, really won`t like tonight.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Well, members of the AFL-CIO, including its president, Richard Trumka, have resigned from President Trump`s Council on Manufacturing.

The organization released a statement just a short time ago that reads: "We cannot sit on a council for a president who tolerates bigotry and domestic terrorism. President Trump`s remarks today repudiate his forced remarks yesterday about the KKK and neo-Nazis. We must resign on behalf of America`s working people, who reject all notions of legitimacy of these bigoted groups."

Well, this follows the resignations of four CEOs from the council, of course. There they are.

And we will be right back.


The crew from VICE News on HBO was on the ground through all the events of the weekend, capturing up close and pressure really well these interviews, as well as interactions between the white supremacists themselves and, of course, the counterprotesters.

They were there when demonstrators plowed -- that one demonstrator plowed his car right through a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one and injuring 19 others. There`s the scene of the accident there.

But they also had access to one of the speakers of the Unite the Right rally, a white supremacist and self-proclaimed fascist, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Here`s what he told VICE in a chilling interview just after the events Saturday.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The video appears to show someone striking that vehicle when these animals attacked him again. And he saw no way to get away from them except to hit the gas.

And, sadly, because our rivals are a bunch of animals who don`t pay attention, they couldn`t just get out of the way of his car, and some people got hurt. And that`s unfortunate.

QUESTION: So, you think it was justified?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it was more than justified. I think that a lot more people are going to die here before we`re done here, frankly.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why? Because people die every day. Right?

QUESTION: But not like of a heart attack? You mean violent death?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, people die violent deaths all the time. Right?

Like, this is part of the reason that we want an ethno-state, right? So, like, the blacks are killing each other in staggering numbers from coast to coast. We don`t really want to have a part of that anymore.

And so the fact that they resist us when we say, hey, we want a homeland is not shocking to me. All right? These -- these people want violence. And the right is just meeting market demand.


MATTHEWS: I`m back with Hallie Jackson from Trump Tower, Jonathan Swan of Axios, Heidi Przybyla of "USA Today," Jason Johnson of The Root, and Sophia Nelson, former GOP committee councilwoman.

Sophia, you saw those pictures, and I think you watched them like everybody all weekend. What did you make of the interpretation by that white nationalist of what happened when that woman was killed?

SOPHIA NELSON, AUTHOR, "BLACK WOMAN REDEFINED": It is my first time seeing that video clip. And it made my stomach hurt as I sit it.

I`m appalled. But what I`m very concern about is that young white men in this country are being radicalized. No different than ISIS radicalizes Muslim men.

And so I think that we really need to take a hard look, Chris, at what`s going on in America that there is this rise of Nazism, white supremacy. KKK is back in the streets with the hoods off. I saw the same thing everybody else saw. And I`m concerned, because it says that our country is deeply divided, that there`s a faction in our country who feels disaffected, disconnected, disenfranchised.

And they`re angry and they`re violent. And I think we have a serious problem on our hands.

MATTHEWS: Whose fault is it?

NELSON: I think it is -- it`s a lot of people`s fault. It is the culture`s fault.

But if you`re looking for the obvious answer, yes, I think the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has stoked this up in some subtle ways and some not-so-subtle ways. And, today, he really said who he really is, I think. I don`t think there`s a question anymore.


JASON JOHNSON, THE ROOT: First off, for all the statements that that guy wanted to make about, oh, people getting out of the way, what about Deandre Harris, the young black man who was beaten by five people in a tunnel in Charlottesville, who we interviewed at The Root.

That`s in video. He was beaten. People were bragging about it on Facebook. The president didn`t call him. The president wasn`t concerned about him.

That is what we`re talking about here. And I think this is important because Sophia sometimes sort of conflates these things. We`re not talking about bigots. We`re not talking about I don`t want them in my neighborhood, I don`t want them in my school.

We`re not even talking about white supremacists, I think black people are only good at basketball, and white people are good at math. We`re talking about white nationalists. That`s different.

These are people who say this country is only for Christian white people, and we want the removal of all non-Christian white people from this country.

That`s where it becomes terror. That`s where it becomes problematic. And to the degree that anybody in this administration doesn`t realize how dangerous that is, look, ISIS kills more Muslims than anybody else. They will kill white people. They will kill Jews. They will kill Catholics. They will kill anybody they need to kill until they accomplish their goal.

MATTHEWS: Yes, Heidi, you`re a straight reporter, and you were watching these scenes.

I mean, if you look at the scenes and just play referee, who were the aggressors?

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: We`re not there for every single skirmish.

There may have been instances where the people who they were trying to incite were successfully incited, and they charged first.

Look, but the goal of this entire episode was to incite. It was...


MATTHEWS: I heard that. People were yelling, using the N-word. They were using -- going after Jewish people. They were using anything they could to get in the face of the people across from them, yes.


JOHNSON: And they came with guns.

MATTHEWS: Jonathan.

NELSON: Hey, Chris, can I say something?

MATTHEWS: Yes, quick. I want to get Jonathan in here, too, but go ahead, Sophia.

NELSON: I just want to respond to Jason.

I don`t know what he means that Sophia deflates these things. Sophia has been unequivocal in her language about this.

If you are asking me who I think is to blame for the culture problem I mentioned of white males being radicalized, I think that`s a national problem. If you`re asking me about Charlottesville, yes, the Nazis did it. The white supremacists did it. I`m unequivocal about that. So, please don`t put words in my mouth. Thank you.

PRZYBYLA: Can I say one more thing, Chris?

Can we do away with this economic angst narrative? Because many of these - - they`re intentionally trying to recruit educated young white males. One of the main organizers here is the head of the College Republicans. These are educated, potentially professional men.


PRZYBYLA: And this is -- let`s just do away with this economic angst narrative.

MATTHEWS: It`s not exactly homegrown, because these guys were using the Nazi salute, which we all grew up with. We know what it is.

They were using slogans blood and soil, apparently from the Nazi movement. They were picking up on everything but goose-stepping and the torches. Everything was redolent Nazi Germany.

And I wonder what that has to do with America. We fought Nazi Germany. Why would they claim fealty, loyalty to that?

JONATHAN SWAN, AXIOS: Chris, the thing that...

MATTHEWS: Without admitting it is just pure race? It just is pure race. It`s not American culture or anything like that.

Go ahead.

SWAN: The most chilling part for me is that they don`t wear hoods anymore. It`s that they don`t wear hoods anymore.

MATTHEWS: They`re out in the open.

SWAN: They have their heads -- and they`re proud for their faces to be out there. That`s the most chilling thing about all of this.

MATTHEWS: And, by the way, national television makes...


SWAN: They don`t wear hoods anymore.

MATTHEWS: That guy who came on with the reporter -- by the way, congratulations to VICE. That was real good for American transparency.

But that guy was frighteningly happy. He looked like a happy guy to be espousing that awful stuff.

Hallie Jackson, thank you. Great reporting again.

Jonathan Swan, thank you, sir.

Heidi Przybyla, as always, Jason Johnson.

And, Sophia Nelson, thank you for joining. I know it`s been a tough interview for you, but you have been great. And thank you for coming on.

This is tough for Republican people to defend and , in fact, to deal with this crap. I mean it. I think it`s the worst world in the world for you guys.

Anyway, up next: President Trump pushes back on calls to remove Confederate statues, going so far as to ask, who`s next, George Washington?

Well, he sort of created the country. Some of these Confederate guys, I think, were into dividing the country. There`s a difference.

And this is HARDBALL -- I`m just kidding and understating -- where the action is. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. .

President Trump today defended those who gathered in Charlottesville to -- quote -- "innocently protest" -- close quote -- the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Here he is.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This week, it`s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson`s coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?

You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?

George Washington was a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So, will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down -- excuse me. Are we going to take down -- are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him? OK, good.

Are we going to take down his statue? He was a major slave owner. Are we going to take down his statue?

So, you know what? It`s fine. You`re changing history. You`re changing culture.


MATTHEWS: Well, Trump also said that the removal of the Lee statue should be a local issue.

For more, I`m joined by Steve Benjamin, mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, where the Confederate Battle Flag was removed from the statehouse, of course, two years ago. And also joining is Republican strategist John Brabender, who is in Pittsburgh.

Mayor, thanks for joining us.

What is your reaction to that? Where is the line that you think is appropriate historically to basically removing from public celebration statues of our ancestors?

STEVE BENJAMIN, MAYOR OF COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA: Chris, I have no idea what the president is talking about. I live in the heart of...


MATTHEWS: No, but, I mean, he says -- well, you know what he`s talking about. He`s saying, are we going to get rid of Washington?

BENJAMIN: Oh, I know exactly what he`s talking about.

MATTHEWS: We going to take Washington off our dollar bill? We going to get rid of Jefferson off our other, $2 bill? Are we going to go all the way with this thing? Our first six presidents had slaves.

BENJAMIN: Chris, the -- I live in the heart of the American South, the first state to secede from the Union.

And, as far as I can remember, February 1865, when General Sherman burned Columbia to the ground, none of the men that the president is talking about, these Confederate statues, were ever leaders of the United States of America.

The CSA, the Confederate States of America, ended in 1865. So, I`m not sure what the president is talking about.

I will say this. We know the history of this great country in which we live. We know it is an imperfect union, that it was birthed with the original sin of not just slavery, but also disenfranchisement of women as well.

We have evolved over the better part of over two centuries to become what I believe to be the greatest democratic nation in the history of the world. It is the moral prerogative of the president to be -- continue to be the optimistic looking forward to build a future, not to try and fight battles from 200 years ago or 150 years ago.

It is the moral responsibility of every leader to try and speak to love and grace and mercy and how you bring people together, not trying to sow seeds of division and hate.

And I will tell you. People ask me about the president`s tweets all the time or what he has to say. I blocked Donald Trump on Twitter well over a year ago. And so I always gets his tweets secondhand.

People saw exactly the direction this president was going in well over a year ago. Many condoned it. Many chose other reasons to vote for him. But it is crystal clear now that he has no desire to bring the people of America together. And I reach out to all my fellow Americans to push him to do better.


MATTHEWS: What do you make of his argument that there are good people that want to see those statues remain?

BENJAMIN: Well, I`m in the American South. I`m in a red, deep red state. Sometimes, we might be called a blue island in a red state.

But I will tell you our people here have a diversity of opinion as to what to do with these monuments and statues.

MATTHEWS: What`s yours?

BENJAMIN: I believe that there are some statues in our state capital that I find wholly offensive. Very few of them actually have to do with the Civil War.

Several of them have to do with the period post-Reconstruction, in which there were reigns of terror led by Ku Klux Klan and others like "Pitchfork" Ben Tillman.

The most offensive statue I find in our capital wasn`t a soldier. It was J. Marion Sims, who is considered to be the father of modern obstetrics and gynecology, who tortured slave women and children for years as he developed his treatments for gynecology.

There`s a statue of him here, Montgomery, Alabama, in New York City. It should come down at some point.

But the focus of the president, the focus of our governors, the focus of our local leaders and mayors all across this country ought to be on bringing people together.

Chris, my city, it is a city of people from 200 different countries who speak 90 different languages. We are a microcosm of a society that is focused on building the most talented, educated, and entrepreneurial city in America.

We are better, greater than the sum total of our parts. And we need a leader who is going to speak to that. If he can`t do that, then he ought not be the president of the United States of America.

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m a big fan of Columbia, South Carolina. My wife, Kathleen, and I both have honorary degrees from your great institutions down there. Thank you so much, Mayor.

And I think you made the case better than anybody could have done. I think you`re a peace guy, too.

BENJAMIN: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to John Brabender.

And this is a problem for the Republican Party, isn`t it?

JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, first, let me say this.

We really should put Republican and Democrat aside right now and stand up as Americans with a very loud and clear voice to say, collectively, we`re unified in repudiating the -- the KKK and the neo-Nazis. That needs to be said --

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Why didn`t he do that on Saturday?

BRABENDER: Well, personally, I think it should have been. I also marvel at how anybody would put on that press conference today and think that they were going to walk out of there talking about infrastructure without this being addressed. It should have been addressed right up front.

This is one of those issues that`s so important and where words matter so much.

MATTHEWS: OK, I`m with you.

BRABENDER: It should have been a statement.

MATTHEWS: John, I`m with you, but your party is not with you, because I remember when we had Boehner -- we had Speaker Boehner a couple years ago. And he was asked, why don`t you tell the president to stop pushing this birther thing, that the president of the United States at that time, Barack Obama, is not some foreigner snuck into the country. And he said as follows. I`m not going to tell people what to think.

Isn`t that the goal of leadership, to tell people what to think? Why does your party leadership shy away from saying Trump`s wrong? It seems to me that McConnell and the Speaker Ryan should be standing right now and saying, whatever Trump thinks personally, we know where we stand. We`re the Party of Lincoln still and we don`t stand for this and nobody is doing it.

BRABENDER: Speaker Ryan put out a very strong statements just a few moments ago.

MATTHEWS: Not really, yes, OK.

BRABENDER: Mike Pence put out a very strong statement two days ago. There are certainly people in this party.

The problem is this president falls into this terrible trap of deciding that he wants to talk about things like monuments and statues, when that is not the purpose today. The purpose today is clarity of message and anybody allowing him to do that, it`s disappointing that they even put him in that position.

MATTHEWS: All right.

BRABENDER: And the other thing, too, though, Chris, is there`s a lot of people that say, well, he`s playing to the base. I will tell you, that`s a very judgmental statement as well about the base. The base is a lot of Democrats right now too.

This is an issue where there should be unity in this entire country and I think it`s disappointing that we`re not all united on this.

MATTHEWS: Well, there`s -- you`re not happy about it. But two people are happy tonight. One is Donald Trump, the president of the United States. And the other one is David Duke.

Last word to the mayor. Let me go back to the mayor. He wants to talk.

Mayor, go ahead.

STEVE BENJAMIN, MAYOR OF COLUMBIA, SC: Chris, all I can is, hopefully, a message of hope. We`ve been here before. We`ve been here several times in the history of our country and people of goodwill have come together to move us forward.

I reach out to all of my friends who are Democrats, who are Republicans, independents, Green Party, libertarian, everyone, come together and repudiate this nonsense and together, let`s walk arm in arm into a very future that I believe the United States of America could and should have.

MATTHEWS: Well, you strike me as a leader, sir. Thank you so much for coming on HARDBALL. Please come back. Mayor Steve Benjamin of Columbia, South Carolina.

I want to thank as always John Brabender for being wise and good.

Up next -- well, not always. Up next, White House officials say they`re stunned that Trump went rogue today. But should they be? As the mayor just said, are we surprise really that Trump was Trump?

The HARDBALL roundtable is going to take that on, next. You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

After yesterday`s very scripted message on Charlottesville, the president went back to his comfort zone today and saying exactly what he wants to, in that moment, of course.

Let`s watch part of today`s presser.


DONALD TRUMP: What about the alt-left that came charging? Excuse me, what about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt right? Do they have any semblance of guilt? I think there`s blame on both sides and I have no doubt about it and you don`t have any doubt about it either.


TRUMP: And if you reported it accurately, you would say.


MATTHEWS: Well, let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable tonight. Victoria McGrane is political reporter for "The Boston Globe", I know how to say that part, "The Boston Globe". Clarence Page is a columnist with "The Chicago Tribune", and Jeremy Peters is a reporter for "The New York Times" and an MSNBC contributor.

Start with Jeremy, coming back here. I think Trump is really happy tonight because he got to be Trump in a way that offends the world, not just people that are embarrassed that the president of the United States would take the side of seemly, the side of really bad guys, the people with the Nazis salutes and all that crowd. But he seemed to want to be this guy.

JEREMY PETERS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. You know what --

MATTHEWS: He didn`t want to be the guy yesterday that was doing what he was supposed to do.

PETERS: And there are people in the West Wing right now, not exactly the Jared, Ivanka, Dina Powell wing, but others who are ecstatic with how this press conference went. The headline on "Breitbart" right now, Trump roars back. The base loves this stuff --

MATTHEWS: But they do worry that David Duke agrees with him, no?

PETERS: Are they what?

MATTHEWS: David Duke agreed with them. He likes this Trump --


PETERS: Yes, they do, too, and that`s more problematic definitely. But I mean, you have to -- listening to Trump`s words at that press conference, he was channeling the right. He was speaking the language of Sean Hannity, the alt left.

This term actually exists. It`s a fabrication and a misinterpretation of the term alt right by the far right. And it reflects that this false equivalency that they`ve created, that somehow the violent left fringe is just as vicious and hateful as the far right fringe KKK Nazi element.

MATTHEWS: Not clear who`s Athens` Sparta over the weekend. So, the liberals, the moderates, the progressives, the anti-racists, didn`t come with battle gear and semi-automatic rifles and stuff. They were outgunned literally.

CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Well, you can say that`s symbolic of our politics these days. There`s a strong anti-intellectual streak in the base, the part of base that Trump appeals to.

MATTHEWS: They want to Sparta.

PAGE: Yes, that`s right. And so, they just love to see him sticking it to the media, sticking it to the establishment. It doesn`t matter what he actually says, even if he sympathizes with Nazis and that`s what --


VICTORIA MCGRANE, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE BOSTON GLOBE: But that`s why I can`t believe these statements we`re hearing. These anonymous White House officials staying that the president went rogue and this wasn`t the plan.

MATTHEWS: Well, you heard another version, the version that says went (ph) rogue --


MCGRANE: Right, that I believe. But, you know, the General Kelly`s, the new White House chief --


MATTHEWS: He was dying.

MCGRANE: Right, what did they think was going to happen? Surely, President Trump was privately venting these frustrations before he went out there today. He was -- and it was very clear from that press conference, he was raring to go. He wanted to fight with the media. He wanted to get this off his chest, that he was right on Saturday and he did not enjoy being forced to be --

MATTHEWS: General Kelly looked like he`s about to be sentenced --


MATTHEWS: The poor was standing up and he asked (ph), do I have to be here? This is terrible.

Anyway, we`ll be right back with our roundtable. Next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Well, Republicans are starting to weigh in on President Trump`s presser today. Kansas Senator Jerry Moran tweeted: white supremacy, bigotry and racism have no absolutely no place in our society and no one, especially POTUS, that`s the president, should ever tolerate it.

Back with the HARDBALL roundtable after this.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Victoria McGrane, tell me something I don`t know.

MCGRANE: Well, there`s been a lot of talk about those confederate statues.


MCGRANE: According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the vast majority of them were constructed during the rise of Jim Crow, and then again during the civil rights era.

MATTHEWS: So, they weren`t monuments to the civil war.

MCGRANE: No, they were a part of a rewriting of history.

MATTHEWS: Yes, a good point.

PAGE: That`s right. I remember, too.

Chris, fans of the old "McLaughlin Group" of which you and I are both veterans will be happy to know there`s some important news coming up at "The McLaughlin Group" website tomorrow at 1:00. I can`t tell you exactly it is, but it`s not all over for the show.

MATTHEWS: If John McLaughlin comes back, it will be unbelievable.

PAGE: It`s not quite that spectacular.

MATTHEWS: I miss him, the late John McLaughlin.

PAGE: So do I.


PETERS: So, Steve Bannon, whose jobs have been in jeopardy over the last 24 hours, appears for now, I will say for now because you can never say anything with certainty when it comes to personnel with this administration, is safe in his job.

MATTHEWS: So, we`ll see what happens didn`t mean anything today?

PETERS: We`ll see what happen was, as we`re talking about earlier, it`s a cliffhanger. Trump loves a cliffhanger. But there were certain coded words in there, like, my friend Steve. I think he`s good for now.

MATTHEWS: OK. Good. He said nice things about Flynn, too, when he dumped him.

Thank you, Victoria McGrane and Clarence Page and Jeremy Peters for the hot one about Steve Bannon.

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

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, August 15th, 2016.

It was one of those moments when you couldn`t take your eyes off him. It was Trump being card, Trump the New York street fighter, Trump the jet from his first cigarette to his last dying day, Trump as Trump.

This afternoon, it was Trump without a script, with no teleprompter to make him say what he doesn`t want to say, just that inner Trump that carries the primitive in him, to his tongue, before a nanosecond of deliberation, even dare I say the word shame enters his brain, or to employ a metaphor here, his conscience.

To Trump, they were good people marching Friday night in that torch light parade, the sparkle with the sound and light of Nuremberg. They were not all Nazis and white supremacists. They were good people concerned with the lost cause of Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Really? Would you?

No matter what your sentiments about all those who bravely fought on both sides of Gettysburg and all those other horrible battles of the Civil War, would you march with people dressed up with swastikas and other Nazi regalia and insignia, singing the glory of racist rule? My God, all that was missing it was goose stepping.

No, Mr. President, I don`t think the re-enactors and others who pay tribute to the courage of soldiers in the 1860s would march with people doing Nazi salutes and shouting Nazi slogans, all in homage to the SS sadists of Hitler and Goebbels. I believe it is possible to celebrate courage without endorsing the cause. But there`s some behavior, not back in the 1860s, but in the past weekend that you cannot separate.

As Winston Churchill said, anyone who marches with Hitler is my enemy.

He said something else, Mr. President, something you need to repeat before every press conference. I refuse to be impartial between the fire brigade and the fire.

Mr. President, looking at Charlottesville as the leader of our country, this was and is and will be forever be seen as no time to be impartial.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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