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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 8/21/17 Bannon more dangerous?

Guests: Shannon Pettypiece, Dana Milbank, Annie Linskey, Kelly Magsamen

Show: HARDBALL Date: August 21, 2017

Guest: Shannon Pettypiece, Dana Milbank, Annie Linskey, Kelly Magsamen

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Bannon unleashed.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Remember this piece of advice from "The Godfather" -- the movie, I mean. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Well, President Trump may want to study up on that one now that he`s released Steve Bannon into the wild. Over the weekend, the president tweeted these warm words to the man he just fired. "Steve Bannon will be a tough and smart new voice at Breitbart. Well, maybe even better than ever before. Fake news needs the competition." There`s Trump trying to soften up his new opponent.

For his part, Bannon said he`d remain a fighter for President Trump. He told Bloomberg, "I`m going go to war for Trump against the his opponents on Capitol Hill, in the media and in corporate America." But he also had harsh words for the Trump White House. He told "The Washington Post," "No administration in history has been so divided among itself about the direction about where it should go."

And to "The Weekly Standard," he said, "The Trump presidency that we fought for and won is over. We still have a huge movement and we will make something of this Trump presidency, but that presidency is over. It`ll be something else."

About his return to Breitbart, he said, "I feel jacked up. Now I`m free. I`ve got my hands back on my weapons. I`m definitely going to crush the opposition."

Well, so far, those weapons seem focused on some of his former colleagues. Look at some of his recent headlines from Breitbart. "Source, McMaster fails to brief Trump before `That`s too bad` error." "H.R. McMaster endorsed book that advocates Quran-kissing apology ceremonies." "Report, powerful GOP donor Sheldon Adelson supports campaign to oust McMaster." "Six times President Trump upset Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump and the media found out." And, "Report, Bannon urged Trump to remove U.S. embassy -- or move U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, was blocked by Jared Kushner."

So who does Steve Bannon have on his enemies list? That`s my question tonight. I`m joined by "The Washington Post`s" Robert Costa, "The New York Times`s" Jeremy Peters, who wrote a great piece today. And "The Boston Globe`s Annie Linskey."

But I want to start tonight with a show-stopper. I didn`t plan on doing this, but I just came across an amazing number. A brand-new "Washington Post"/ABC News poll just out, "Do you think it`s acceptable or unacceptable to hold neo-Nazi or white supremacist views?" Well, this 9 percent may not seem like a lot, but it`s a lot to me. This is 9 percent willing to tell these pollsters, "The Washington Post," "New York Times" (sic) -- they`re willing to tell them that they`re for Nazis, that being a Nazi is OK with them. I found it amazing.

Jeremy, what did you think of that, the fact that people are willing to say, a significant percentage of the country, that we`re happy with Nazis. No problem here.

JEREMY PETERS, "NEW YORK TIMES," MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: It`s also, coincidentally, the same percent of the country that holds Congress in high esteem, so...


MATTHEWS: You`re laughing, but it`s not funny. This is Nazism they`re talking about, white supremacy out front.

PETERS: Chris, the first thing I looked at when I saw this poll was the percentage of error, the margin of error, which is 3 percent.

MATTHEWS: So these...

PETERS: Could be 6. Could be 12. But you know, it`s -- this movement has been growing across Europe, and you`ve seen it in other countries. And so I suppose in some terrible way, we`re not immune to those types of movements.

MATTHEWS: Well, Robert Costa, I think you share my skepticism about regular people not telling their views to elitist reporters, or -- not you -- or pollsters. This is 9 percent who are willing to say they like the Nazis. Your thoughts? You think the number`s surprising?

ROBERT COSTA, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: The number`s alarming. It`s deeply troubling. But Annie...

MATTHEWS: Robert Costa is talking but not being heard.

Anyway, Jeremy, according to your article -- we`ll get back to Robert on this hot one. According -- can you hear me now, Robert?

COSTA: I can hear you. Can you hear me?

MATTHEWS: OK, Jeremy, according to your article in "The New York Times," Bannon -- that`s Steve Bannon -- had a positive reaction when General Kelly put in place new rules restricting the open door policy to the Oval Office for staffers, including family. Bannon reportedly told multiple people, "Those days are over when Ivanka can run in and lay her head on the desk and cry." Bannon also referred to Ivanka and Jared Kushner as "Javanka" behind their backs.

This is a direct shot by the most dangerous guy in the White House -- he just left, this (ph) fired -- a direct (INAUDIBLE) against the favorite, the president`s daughter, and her husband, a direct shot at his beloved.

PETERS: Exactly. And he`s playing nice now. Bannon unleashed -- you had it exactly right, Chris. What we`re going to see, though, I think, more than aiming his artillery fire at Ivanka and Jared and Gary Cohn and others inside the White House -- most immediately, where Steve Bannon and Breitbart are going to be focused is on the Republican establishment, the leaders in Congress.

MATTHEWS: Well, he`s going after the family!


MATTHEWS: The Romanovs!

PETERS: And he`ll continue to do that...

MATTHEWS: He directly hitting the daughter, who is the dream daughter of the president. He`s saying she`s Javanka...


MATTHEWS: ... and she`s crying on his desk!

LINSKEY: It does seem to me that that is one place where Bannon should not go. I mean, I completely agree with you because you`re -- this person has some power now. And when you leave the White House, you sort of -- he`s leaving with this giant sort of high, it seems. But he needs to be careful. And this is an area that Trump will not put up with. He never has. And I think that there`s only so far he can go before he`s...

MATTHEWS: Well, my question is, this guy looks dangerous to me outside the White House. And the old argument of Lyndon Johnson -- it`s better to them in the tent going out than outside coming in. We know what they`re talking about.

And I think -- I think he have now a guy on the outside who`s going to take shots every day at his enemies and he`s going to start with the White House and work his way up to Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and the rest of those guys.

LINSKEY: And you know, the thing is, I don`t know how widely Breitbart is really read. I mean, I spent the weekend in Tennessee with a -- at a NASCAR race. And I talked to about probably 50 people, and almost all of them said they got their news from Fox News or talk radio.


PETERS: Well, here`s where Breitbart is really effective. Breitbart is good at whipping up an angry constituency that they can turn on Congress. We saw this during the government shutdown. We saw this during the immigration reform debate. And the issues that they pursue tend to be very kind of Tea-Party-aligned, very nationalistic.


PETERS: And much in the way that you saw individual members of Congress weaponize their Twitter constituencies -- like Ted Cruz did during the government shutdown of 2013. That`s what Breitbart is, but only like times a hundred.

MATTHEWS: Well, there`s two kinds of people in the White House. There are the people who are the nationalist types like Bannon, and then there`s the globalists, the more Democratic -- upper case Democrat, like Ivanka and the rest. They can be very comfortable being Democrats, those people, Jared and them.

LINSKEY: Many of them have been.

MATTHEWS: And Gary Cohn and them. Who`s going to win now with Breitbart out of there, with Bannon out of there?

PETERS: I mean...


MATTHEWS: I`m worried about tonight, by the way.

LINSKEY: There`s always going to be...

MATTHEWS: I`m already worried about tonight. We will get it to the next segment -- that we`re going to escalate in Afghanistan, which is pure the old style of establishment, Let`s put more troops, like Johnson did, Kennedy did...

PETERS: Well, this is why Bannon...

MATTHEWS: ... Nixon did. We always go to war, and then we put more and more troops in and we think we`re going to solve the problem. And I`m wondering if that isn`t McMaster talking, if that isn`t Jared...

LINSKEY: General Kelly...

MATTHEWS: ... Javanka talking.

LINSKEY: I think it would be more of the generals talking. I mean, you have powerful generals in this sort of militarized White House at this point. And you know, their influence is being felt very clearly. I mean, it was General Kelly who sort of has quite a bit of credit for pushing out, you know, not only Scaramucci but also Bannon.


LINSKEY: He`s clearly asserting his power...


MATTHEWS: We have a real problem. It seems to me that people like me, who are doves, must wonder what is going to happen now without Bannon there. At least the one thing Bannon did...

PETERS: That`s what he worried about, too.

MATTHEWS: ... was keep them from wars.

PETERS: He worried about that. His calculation -- he told many people, he told me sitting in his office last week when I saw him -- his calculation was, How effective can I be outside the White House? I think that I can drive immigration stuff, the trade stuff. I can drive the conversation about that outside the White House. But I can`t be at the meetings with McMaster on Afghanistan if I leave.

And his -- his -- he -- he ticked off three things that Trump promised, reduce immigration...

MATTHEWS: Illegal immigration, yes.

PETERS: ... provide jobs and get us out of foreign wars.

MATTHEWS: That was the trifecta that got him elected.

PETERS: And to Bannon, it is so important to reduce America`s involvement in messy foreign entanglements. He`s not going to be able to wage that war as effectively on the outside.

MATTHEWS: Well, anyway, two different reactions to the president`s going rogue last week when responding to the violence in Charlottesville. Newt Gingrich today said he showed a lack of discipline. Let`s listen.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), FMR. HOUSE SPEAKER, FOX CONTRIBUTOR: The last thing he`s got to do -- and I`m very candid here -- is he`s got to quit stepping on himself. He had a very good infrastructure press conference the other day, and then he stepped on it, blew it, guaranteed that it wouldn`t get covered.

He`s got to be more disciplined, and he`s got to work as part of a team. And then I think, generally, he could end up being a remarkably great president. But he`s got to make a couple of mid-course corrections.


MATTHEWS: Well, Steve Bannon had a very different take. He told "The Weekly Standard" magazine that forces in the White House will try to control President Trump against his instincts. Quote, "I think they`re going to try to moderate him. I think he`ll sign a clean debt ceiling. I think you`ll see all this stuff. His natural tendency -- and I think you saw it this week on Charlottesville -- actual default position is the position of his base (INAUDIBLE) that got him elected. I think you`re going to see a lot of constraints on that. I think it`ll be much more conventional."

So Jeremy and Annie, it looks like Trump has now been defanged. He`s lost Bannon. He`s going to do what he`s supposed to by the establishment, starting with a war, escalating a war.

PETERS: Well, Trump is ultimately his own strategist, right? And regardless of whether or not Steve Bannon is there, John Kelly is there. He`s going to do what he wants to do on his own. Jared and Ivanka...

MATTHEWS: Tonight?

PETERS: ... are not going to be...

MATTHEWS: Do you really think he`s not going to escalate tonight?

PETERS: I think that he is escalating because he`s in the position that so many presidents we`ve seen before have been in. Do they really want to be the ones responsible for losing a war?

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s right, but that`s classic establishment politics! That`s what we all grew up with, presidents staying in wars so they don`t get blamed for losing them. So we just stay in the war, people keep getting killed, we keep killing people, so that the president doesn`t blamed politically. That`s -- and then we leave and end up losing the war anyway.

LINSKEY: I mean, I think the other piece here, Chris, is that with Bannon leaving, it leaves a vacuum for Trump that I think will be filled. I mean, he has always had a Bannon-like character...

MATTHEWS: Who`s it going to be?

LINSKEY: I mean, that`s the question. I don`t know who it`s going to be. But whether you go back to Roger Stone -- I mean, I`m not suggesting he`ll come back, but you`ve always had characters like that at Trump`s side. And so I think there`s a -- there will be a position that`s empty, and it`s going to be filled.

MATTHEWS: Less (ph) interesting. Anyway, thank you, Jeremy Peters. Thank you, Annie Linskey.

Coming up -- as a candidate, President Trump railed against stupid leaders for prolonging the war in Afghanistan. But tonight, as our commander-in- chief, Trump plans to see the war in primetime, calling for an increase in troop deployments, American troops, to Afghanistan. What changed? What changed his mind? Trump`s mind.

Plus, to serve or not to serve. Given the president`s response to Charlottesville, should members of his administration resign in protest? We`ll talk to one man who left his post earlier this year saying the president`s moral standing is, quote, "completely gone."

And the president announces that he will skip the Kennedy Center honors after multiple honorees said they planned to boycott a reception at the White House. With corporations, the arts and even some voters shunning Trump, his presidency hit a new low, don`t you think?

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

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump, first lady Melania and son Barron watched today`s solar eclipse from the balcony overlooking the White House South Lawn. They were joined by other top aides, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who until very recently the president referred to as beleaguered.

We also got a photo of the Bush family, all four generations, enjoying the eclipse earlier today up there in Kennebunkport.

We`ll be right back.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It`s a very big decision for me. I took over a mess. And we`re going to make it a lot less messy. But that has been a place -- 17 years, our longest war.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was President Trump, of course, just a few weeks after reviewing -- or previewing a decision on Afghanistan, America`s longest war now. Sixteen years we`ve been in Afghanistan fighting. And part of the reason why candidate Trump was elected was because he spent months going after when a called "crazy wars." Here he goes.


TRUMP: Unlike my opponent, my foreign policy will emphasize diplomacy, not destruction.

Our failed establishment has brought us nothing but poverty at home and disaster overseas! That`s what we have, disaster, the wars we never win.

You`re tired of the reckless foreign policy, the crazy wars that are never won.


MATTHEWS: You heard that "damn right" coming from the crowd. In January of `13, Trump tweeted, "Let`s get out of Afghanistan. Our troops are being killed by the Afghans we train, and we waste billions there. Nonsense. Rebuild the USA."

Well, today the president is set to announce his administration`s path forward in Afghanistan in his first nationally televised primetime address since he spoke before Congress back in January. It`s going to be 9:00 o`clock Eastern tonight.

According to various reports, he`s set to announce an increase in U.S. troop numbers over in Afghanistan. Defense Department officials tell NBC News the president may not get specific about troop levels, but they say as many as 4,000 could be sent in addition to the 8,000 we have there now. Well, since October 2001, America has suffered nearly 2,400 American casualties as (ph) deaths in Afghanistan. We sent more than 800,000 American troops to serve tours of duty over there so far and spent more than $600 billion fighting in Afghanistan.

Well, last month, according to news reports, the president acknowledged that we`re not winning our war over there. Well, will we ever win over there? My question. That`s my question.

For more, we`re joined by Katty Kay, anchor for "BBC World News America" and an MSNBC political analyst and Kelly Magsamen, who worked in the Defense Department under President Obama. Thank you both for joining us.

I am a skeptic. I am a dove. I do not see where you go into these wars, you go in, you never can come home. We never say we`re going -- and I understand why the generals generally oppose going to war because they know we`re going to get stuck. And then the generals always say we have to stay in there because of what the -- what we`ve lost in blood and treasure justifies staying in.

That`s my worry? Is it justified? Katty Kay, do you think we`re going in for a bigger war in Afghanistan tonight?

KATTY KAY, BBC WORLD NEWS AMERICA MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the president will extend troops in Afghanistan. And if Afghanistan represents -- if you believe Afghanistan represents an existential threat to the United States because the Taliban is taking more territory there, because we`ve seen the rise of Islamic State there, then you may decide that 12,000 American troops are worth the price of keeping us...

MATTHEWS: For how long?

KAY: I think America`s going to be half -- the president is almost going to have to level with the American public. We`re going to be there for years and years. This is...

MATTHEWS: No, years and years are just enough for him to get -- to avoid being blamed for losing.

KAY: Because there`s...

MATTHEWS: That`s what they all do.

KAY: This is the shadow of Iraq (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS: In other words, as long as he`s president, we`ll be there. And the next president comes in, and as long as he or she is president, we`ll be in there. So we`re ever leaving.

KAY: I don`t know if "never`...

MATTHEWS: Well, what would you say would be time to leave it not now, after 16 years?

KAY: I think...

MATTHEWS: When would be the optimum time to get out of there?

KAY: I think personally there`s a very strong case for getting out of there now. I`m not sure that 12,000 troops is going to make very much difference to the spread of the Taliban and to the spread of Islamic State there. It stops the country falling into Taliban hands completely, possibly, but you`ve still got the spread of Islamic State, and that`s...

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s going to happen -- the Islamic State is not a geographical point.

KAY: And Islamic State can operate...

MATTHEWS: It can be anywhere.

KAY: ... from other places, too.

MATTHEWS: Let me go -- let me go -- let me go to Kelly. You worked (INAUDIBLE) you covered -- you worked at the Pentagon. Is there an intrinsic institutional bias towards staying in wars we`ve begun in the -- in the military?

KELLY MAGSAMEN, FORMER ACTING ASST. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I think there`s an institutional bias towards trying to win wars we`ve begun, which is -- explains a lot of where Mattis...

MATTHEWS: Win? OK, when does the military intend that we will win this war in Afghanistan?

MAGSAMEN: Well, I think that...

MATTHEWS: This American war.

MAGSAMEN: For the president tonight, it`s going to be important for him to lay out precisely what winning looks like. What is the end state we`re actually trying to achieve? And you know, all the focus right now is on the troop number, but really, you know, civil wars like this and conflicts like this usually end in political settlements.

And so what I`d like to hear from the president of the United States tonight is not about how many thousands more U.S. troops are going, but what`s the political strategy to bring the conflict to an end so that we can come home.

MATTHEWS: So men are going to -- and women are going to get killed over there so that at some point, something that`s never happened is going to happen. They`re going to have a compromise between the pro-Western government over there, now, moderate -- relatively pro-Western, and the Taliban. They`re going to have a deal.

MAGSAMEN: Which is why...

MATTHEWS: Wait a minute. You really think -- you`re laughing. You really think there`s going to be a deal...


MATTHEWS: ... in our lifetime, any lifetime?

MAGSAMEN: I think there won`t be...

MATTHEWS: It`s going to be a Taliban deal with someone non-Taliban?

MAGSAMEN: I think there won`t be a deal unless they have a strategy to get one. And I think 4,000 additional troops is not going to bring that out.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, David Bossie, Mr. Nice guy, the president`s deputy campaign manager in 2016, was asked how the proposed troop increase corresponded with the anti-war message that President Trump campaigned on. And we all remember that. Over and over again, stupid wars, stupid wars, stupid wars. He kept talking about it, and the working class people out there that voted for Trump bought it. They trusted him. Let`s listen to what Bossie says now.


DAVID BOSSIE, TRUMP`S DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, he hates spending the money and he hates sending our soldiers over to anywhere in the world where it`s not necessary, where it`s not in the vital interest of the United States. And so, he has taken this time to figure out with his commanders, what is the right strategy. Not only in Afghanistan, but in Iraq and other places. I think he is going to give them a chance to prove what they want and their strategy. And -- but he is also a man who will reflect on that over the coming weeks and months. And he is able to change it if he decides, this is not working.


MATTHEWS: Well, that is blah, blah, blah, if you ever heard it. The guy had a clear message. Bossie, he`s a -- he`s a libertarian. He`s a -- he`s a nationalist and all that. And then he goes on with the blah, blah, blah. Leaving it up to the generals is not how our constitution works. We don`t turn it over to the generals. They have had the generals, and all of men and women have been fighting over there for 16 years have had that war. And now they said, we`re going to make them decide. Of course, they have decided all along. And it hasn`t work, because the people of Afghanistan are not willing to fight the Taliban with the zeal that the Taliban is going to fight with, right, Kelly?


MATTHEWS: Who`s going to win the battle if we get out there and stay out of there?

MAGSAMEN: I think one of fundamental problems that we have with President Trump is that he`s showing his largely disinterest in this issue.

MATTHEWS: Oh my God.

MAGSAMEN: He hasn`t travelled to Afghanistan before this decision. He hasn`t called the President of Afghanistan to relay this decision. He deferred that to Vice President Pence today. He just hasn`t generally --

MATTHEWS: So, Pence is going over there?

MAGSAMEN: We`ll see.

KATTY KAY, BBC WORLD NEWS ANCHOR: As by the by way as much of the American public right? Not very interested in this decision, which is I think why the President can make the call that he`s making tonight. Send additional 4,000 troops or whatever it is that he announces and be secure in a political knowledge that this is not going to cost him a huge amount amongst his base. I don`t -- I don`t think his base deserve him in Afghanistan.

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s too bad, because he promise his base he wouldn`t do this.

KAY: But it`s not an issue -- he`s promised a lot of things on the campaign trail.

MATTHEWS: This is in the heart -- I think it`s the heart of it. Anyway, the wife -- worrying -- the wife worrying on (INAUDIBLE) working class people get to fight these wars. Anyway, Secretary Jim Mattis, who oversold the war in Afghanistan when he was Commander of U.S. Central Command reportedly told the President, "Mr. President, we haven`t fought a 16-year war so much as we have fought a one-year war, 16 times." What does that mean? Kelly, you`re the expert. What does that mean?

MAGSAMEN: I`ve heard that a lot from Secretary Mattis from previous roles. I think it`s actually somewhat of a lazy phenomenon. You know, there`s a lot of reasons why things aren`t working out in Afghanistan. There`s been -- you know, we had the Karzai government, which was atrocious. We`d have a real governance problem and a corruption problem across Afghanistan. There are lots of reasons why it`s not just about how we`ve been fighting the war.

MATTHEWS: Here`s my -- here`s my view of war. Katty, when you go in, if you`re from here, and you`re going there, you know you`re coming back here, eventually. The enemy over there, whether it`s Vietnam, or it`s the Taliban, knows we`re eventually coming back here. All they have to do is wait us out. Now, we can say in four years, it will be different. No, I won`t because we`re coming home in four years. And they know were coming home in four years. It changes the timetable but not the reality, it`s their country. And they`re going to rule it.

KAY: And this--

MATTHEWS: Just like the Vietnamese did all the fighting and 60,000 guys of my generation got killed trying to stop history from taking place. It`s their country, we`re coming home, it`s going to be their country. That`s the arithmetic fact that military guys and everybody else should get into their heads.

KAY: And it`s exactly the argument that President Obama was up against when he was contemplating a search during his first term and what he was hearing from the Taliban and from the Afghans was, we know that you are on a timetable. We know that you are on a deadline. The clock is ticking. You will get out, eventually. We`re staying.

MATTHEWS: The Brits left in the 19th century, to the last man, I think they were killed, right? I`m trying to get to the Khyber Pass. They`re dead, all of them. Then Russians went --

KAY: The graveyard of empires.

MATTHEWS: Then Russian went in there with all the firepower they had and all the helicopters, Charlie Wilson knocked them out with a few stingers, they`re gone. It always happens, we have to come home. Nobody wants to live in Afghanistan, except Afghans. We aren`t going over there to live, we`re coming home. This isn`t colonization. So, we`re going to come home and they`re going to take over. Thank you, Katty Kay, and thank you Kelly Magsamen, an expert.

Up next -- let`s watch (INAUDIBLE) -- up next, a new report says that White House Staffers are scared to quit because they`re the only thing standing in the way of Trump`s worst impulses. Senate fear and argue we`re going to get to somebody who recently resigned his post after battling with the Trump administration was over ethics, I think. This is HARDBALL for the (INAUDIBLE).


RICHARD LUI, MSNBC NEWS ANCHOR: Hi, Richard Lui at the MSNBC Newsroom. The Navy ordering a worldwide operational pause as 10 U.S. sailors are still missing and others injured after the USS John S. McCain and an oil tanker collided off of Singapore. It is the second major ship collision in just two months. A prosecutor says the gunman who shot and wounded an Ohio Judge is the father of a High School Football Player convicted of rape in 2013. And the director of the Secret Service says more than a thousand agents will get their overtime cap for the year under President Trump. Some 42 people received protection compared to 31 during the Obama Administration. Now, back to "HARDBALL".

MATTHEWS: Would you believe all those people getting Secret Service protection at highest levels of our government under Trump? Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL. After President Trump`s handling of the Charlottesville tragedy lead to a mass exit of some CEOs from his business councils. Many Cabinet Members and White House staffers have faced similar calls to abandon the President, to get out of there. More than 300, by the way, of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin`s Yale classmates signed a letter urging him to quit immediately. Mnuchin, Secretary of Treasury, of course, responded to the statement writing, "I don`t believe the allegations against the President are accurate and I believe that having highly talented men and women in our country surrounding the President in his administration should be reassuring to you -- that`s to his classmates -- and all the American people." That`s what Mnuchin had to say.

Well, other White House staffer defending their service in a different way. A recent Axios report, quotes one staffer saying "You have no idea how much crazy stuff we kill." The report adds they quote, "The most common response centers on the urgent importance of having smart, sane people around Trump to fight his worst impulses." That`s all in quote. We`re now joined by Walter Shaub who is the former Director of the United States Office of Government Ethics.

Mr. Shaub resigned from that post last month after repeatedly clashing with the Trump administration. Walter, let`s just -- I want to give you some time here. And I thought about this. There are certain posts that have to be filled. Somebody is going to run NASA. That hasn`t much to do with Trump. Somebody is going to run the Peace Corps, which I served in. Somebody has to serve -- run FEMA, in case we have a big flood or something terribly. You already have these floods. Somebody has to sort of man or woman the posts regardless of what -- whoever is President, left, right or crazy. What do you think of that? Is that true, we need to keep people on their posts and probably better off with better people than worst people? What do you think?

WALTER SHAUB, FORMER DIRECTOR FOR U.S. OFFICE OF GOVERNMENT ETHICS: Well, I definitely think that`s true to a point. I certainly gave it my best shot. I would have walked out on January 20th if I disagreed with that sentiment. I think the standard I would use for anyone outside the White House is, do they feel they can still be effective? Can they do their jobs ethically and morally? And by that, I`ll give you the example of the OLC torture opinion in the early 2000s.

MATTHEWS: Office of Legal Counsel.

SHAUB: That`s right, the Office of Legal Counsel. And the moral responsibility of every career employee in that office was to have nothing to do with that memo. And my understanding is, it was handled strictly by the politicals. And then the third standard -- third element in the standard that I would use is, can you still speak the truth?


SHAUB: And if you search your soul and decide that all three of those are true, then we do need some people staying in the government.

MATTHEWS: So, it seems to me that the job difference there would be, if you have to speak for the administration, for the President, you better be careful, right?

SHAUB: Well, and that`s why I distinguish the White House. The White House is not involved in the substantive work of government. It`s a policy and political office. It`s appointees or appointed under a different statute, giving the President complete latitude. These are people who are political operators, not career civil servants. They make the choice to be there and they own everything the President says. And frankly--

MATTHEWS: So, they`re part of his commentary or failure to comment correctly or honestly or morally about Charlottesville and the Nazis?


MATTHEWS: They have that on their conscience.

SHAUB: I think they do. And I think you`re seeing that, the evidence that they have some guilt about that and then whispering to reporters after criticizing the media for printing anonymous sources. And now, they`re criticizing the President behind his back anonymously. And frankly, I think that`s disloyal to the President and if they feel that way, they should quit.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s strong. Here`s what Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin had to say last week when asked if he could stand by President Trump`s comments on Charlottesville. Let`s watch him.


DAVID SHULKIN, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS: He`s denounced bigotry, hatred, violence, Nazis, White Supremacists, and I think that he can speak for himself.


MATTHEWS: I think he can speak for himself. What do you make of that position?

SHAUB: Well, I think --

MATTHEWS: Those aren`t my words, they`re the President`s, so don`t blame me. I`m this -- I`m a Veteran`s Affairs guy here.

SHAUB: I have sympathy for Shulkin. He cares about veterans. He wants to serve them. I worked at the V.A., I get that. But he`s also responsible for a very diverse group of veterans who need his support. And what isn`t shown in that clip is a little further on. He equivocated and hedged as to whether he would condemn those words. I think the prong that I articulated in my standard of you should still be able to speak the truth. I think the man equivocated and didn`t state--

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s speak for -- I want you to talk right now on T.V., we`re on live, to the people still working in the White House. Kellyanne, Fitzpatrick, we`ve got -- we`ve got Hope Hicks, the new -- the new Head of Communications, interim perhaps, maybe permanent. You`ve got John Kelly, the general, who`s apparently running the place now. Should they leave, or are they going to be, the rest of their lives, responsible for what Trump is doing right now?

SHAUB: I think they absolutely are going to own everything that he has done so far and will do in the future. They`ve made the choice to be part of this political operation. Is anybody ever going to believe anything Sean Spicer says again? General McMaster, himself, came out and defended Trump after he hosted Russians in the White House and went on T.V. saying, it did not happen. I was in the room. He did not share classified information. And then the President turned around and admitted to sharing classified information but defended it as, I`m the President and I`m allowed to.

MATTHEWS: Well, nobody is going to ever charge Sean on crowd sizes. Not at all, I mean, I`m laughing but it`s not very good for the Press Secretary to put out bogus numbers that he knows are bogus. Or if it was a (INAUDIBLE) she knows. Anyway, Walter, you`ve been very clear. I appreciate you coming on. I think people listen to you, heard what you had to say about the morality of serving someone you don`t think is moral.

Up next, the top GOP Senators says it`s, "Difficult to say if Trump will be the party`s nominee in 2020." But will backlash like this ultimately hurt the President`s chances at reelection? You`re watching HARDBALL?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He`s already running for reelection. What happens next?

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Well, it`s far too early to tell now. There`s a long ways between now and that point.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think will end up the party`s nominee in 2020?

COLLINS: It`s too difficult to say.


MATTHEWS: And I love how she asked those questions to Senator Collins of Maine, a Republican, and she won`t even say. But it is the smart answer. It`s too early to say but not very supportive of Trump. Anyway, for us, that was Republican Senator Susan Collins saying she doesn`t know if Trump will be on the ballot in 2020. It comes amid criticism from the President`s own party after his response to the violence stand in Charlottesville. Let`s watch.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: I`m very concerned about the rhetoric that`s being used. I was concerned early in the campaign and during the campaign about that the rhetoric that was used. And I don`t think the response to - - you know, came out of Charlottesville was the right response that Americans need to hear. So, I hope that we do better in the future.

SEN. TIM SCOTT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: As we look into -- look to the future, it`s going to be very difficult for this President to lead if, in fact, that moral authority remains compromised.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: The President has not yet -- has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability, nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.


MATTHEWS: Well, when the President seemed concerned last week about being associated with white supremacist and Nazis, companies decided that it wasn`t worth it for them to be associated with Trump. The President had to shut down his two Business Advisory Councils after the CEOs of company`s including Campbell Soup, Intel, Under Armour and Johnson & Johnson decide to resign due to the president`s comments.

And the White House announced that the president and first lady wouldn`t be attending the Kennedy Center honors after honorees Carmen de Lavallade and Norman Lear said they wouldn`t attend a Whiter House reception.

Of course, somebody else, I forgot who it was that they weren`t sure they were going to show up or not. Lionel Richie, he signaled he might boycott the reception. He wanted to wait and see the situation was. I love the way he answered it.

Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable. Jason Johnson is a politics editor for "The Root" and MSNBC contributor as well, Shannon Pettypiece is a White House reporter for "The Bloomberg News", and Dana Milbank is a columnist with "The Washington Post".

Dana, I want you to start because I think you will be sharpest on this and I want you to be this sharp. It seems to me that the president had good political cover when he had people like Steve Schwarzman and all these people around him saying, you know, we`re going to try to do infrastructure. We`re going to try to rebuild this country. We may not be Trumpites, but we`re going to be part of this effort. There are people that we`re going to do tax reform.

Now that they`ve all abandoned ship, I think it`s going to harder for him to do anything he promised to do when I think the market is going to do show that pretty soon.

DANA MILBANK, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, they haven`t all abandoned ship, but some have, and that is important, because, you know, every time we have one of these big flaps and crises, they say, oh, that`s the straw that will break the camel`s back. The camel`s back doesn`t break, but what`s happened is the camel has gotten weighted down, it`s up to its hump in the sand and it can`t move.

This president has no political capital as a result of that. Hasn`t been able to get anything through Congress. The big test is going to be September, October. Can he get tax reform through? Because that`s what`s propping up markets, this notion that they`re going to get their tax cut.

MATTHEWS: The cut.

MILBANK: And if they discover that he`s lost enough experts -- you know, I mean, just the rumor that Gary Cohn was going to quit sends the Dow down 250 points. So, if you actually have these guys flee, you can`t actually get tax reform. That`s --


MATTHEWS: I`m with you. I`m with you.

Shannon, I know this is Marxist analysis because this is about economics, but I economics is at the root and that`s why business people love Trump, because they want lower taxes. It`s always the obsession of big business, taxes.

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Right, they desperately want that tax cut. They know they have to get that through. And if Congress is able to work with this president and somehow push it through, I think it only buys them a little bit of breathing room because I think that tax cuts only going so far. I think there`s big fundamental issues in this economy that are not going to be solved by a tax cut to individuals, or tax cuts to corporations.

MATTHEWS: It doesn`t hurt.

PETTYPIECE: There are labor shortages. There`s -- you know, we`re so far from being able to bring back manufacturing. And people`s expectations are very high for this president and what he was going to be able to do. He is not going to be --

MATTHEWS: Back to the camel reference, which we all share, and we all grow them, there is a reason why Trump would walk a mile for a camel, to use an old line. But the fact that he has found that camel and we are looking at these new numbers, by the way. In the states that really matter, let`s take a look at these numbers -- Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The new numbers are interesting. The swing states that got him elected, basically.

He`s down on average five points, look at there, 36, 35, 34. In each case, the polling before the election, right, had him up five over all those numbers. It`s very consistent. That`s enough to lose the election he won.

JASON JOHNSON, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. It`s enough for him to lose the election. That`s still two or three years off.

I think the issue now is, you look at Bob Corker. Bob Corker was a huge Trump supporter. He was on the short list to be VP. He is in a state that Trump won by 20-something points.

Look at Tim Scott. When Republicans in red states during recess are home talking to their constituents and feel proud enough and comfortable enough that they can criticize the president on national television, knowing he`s going to hear that message, then he`s got no political capital left in Washington, D.C., it`s going to be really hard for him to get anything done.


PETTYPIECE: You know, the interesting thing about those numbers are, I believe those are for voters as a whole. Not just Republicans. And even though Republican support has shrunk, it`s still good. It`s --


MATTHEWS: It`s not enough to win an election, though.

PETTYPIECE: Yes, but if you`re -- if you`re primaried in 2018 --

MATTHEWS: He only 36 to beat the character with 32.


MILBANK: It`s not enough to win an election. Even Republicans are turning against him in the sense in these polls, you saw one in three Republicans say they are embarrassed by Trump.

You`re not winning an election but it shows why he is only playing to the base.

MATTHEWS: Back in `67, which I`m familiar with, 1967, when Gene McCarthy ran against Lyndon Johnson, he said, I knew it was safe to go against Lyndon Johnson, when I could go into any bar, trash Johnson and not get punched in the nose. Are we in that state now? Are people willing to take on Trump?

MILBANK: Well, no, people most likely to punch you in the nose in the bar are the strongest Trump supporters. That`s what I`m saying. There`s just 25 percent of America, half of the Republicans. These are the people in the polls said just 10 days ago said, if Trump said, I want to postpone 2020 election, OK, that`s fine. We`ll go along with that.

MATTHEWS: How about the 9 percent saying they are OK with Nazism?



JOHNSON: I was on the phone with a lot of my friends in RNC, it`s not a rumor anymore that Trump is going to get primaried. There are money people. I mean, I talked to three people who were like, look, yes, the Pence thing was only because we thought maybe if Trump is not on the ballot, if something happens or whatever.

But now, they`re like money people are lining up. People are having the conversation. He is very likely going to get primaried.

MATTHEWS: Well, Trump is looking ahead to the next game. Trump is now putting together a negative campaign. An oppo research campaign against Elizabeth Warren and a couple of other people. He is already eye-balling who he thinks he`s going to face.

Shannon? He doesn`t think he`s going to get beaten in a primary.

PETTYPIECE: Well, I remember not so long ago a Republican --


PETTYPIECE: I mean, they tried to primary him before and the Republican establishment couldn`t have gone any harder against him than they were during the last election. And a whole slate of candidates and they blew right through him. So --


MATTHEWS: Remember how he did it? Each one came forward, and as they came forward, he gave a nickname, knocked them out of ring and that person fell. He said, give me the next one. He took them on one at a time and destroyed them in terms of reputation.

MILBANK: What is his nickname for Pence going to be? He is already looking ahead to Pocahontas for the general election.

MATTHEWS: I know he is.

MILBANK: He`s got a problem.

JOHNSON: I mean, if, look, if --

MATTHEWS: Wait a minute, Pocahontas is the name used by Trump for Elizabeth Warren. Is Pence going to primary him?


MATTHEWS: I think we have a headline here if you want to go with that, Dana.

JOHNSON: Yes, I don`t think that`s likely. Look, if it`s like an old kung fu movie where people just surround the guy and line up so he can punch them down then yes, of course, he`s going to win. But, I think, look, you know, it`s far enough away. But if 2018 goes badly, if they can`t get anything done, if they can`t get this legislative done to improve tax reform, he`s going to have a problem.

MATTHEWS: If he can`t get a tax bill through, the market goes down, the rats really start the leaving the ship.


MILBANK: Because that`s when people are thinking he is bringing steel jobs back to Midwest. He`s bringing coal jobs back. Everything is going to be better. That`s when they start realizing, oh, actually, all this rhetoric amounted to nothing, and we`re not getting our jobs back. That`s when you get to that 25 percent of Americans --


MATTHEWS: Do you think your reporting or anybody else, Shannon, does your reporting tell that Trump knows that that`s the name of the game? He has to get a tax cut for the rich, for business --

PETTYPIECE: Yes. They are taking tax reform very seriously. Very organized. They really know they need to get that through. Republican leadership knows they need to get that through. But they`ve got to get it through and it`s got to produce some sort of results, though. People --

MATTHEWS: No, I`m just talking by Christmastime, they have at least started it.

PETTYPIECE: Yes, I think --

MATTHEWS: My question, again, by 2018, they got votes in the House, right?


MATTHEWS: So, they got to get it through the Senate. Do they need 60 or 50?

PETTYPIECE: Well, I don`t know. Theoretically, they should probably 60. And tax reform, if this is just tax cuts, I think if it is just some middle class tax cut or corporate tax cut, (INAUDIBLE) right through. If this is tax reform, really taking on the fundamental roots of our system, then there are so many land mines and different breaks that go along the way.

MILBANK: Even the tax, Goldman Sachs had a report last week saying it`s likelier than not that it will happen, but they don`t have a lot of confidence it`ll happen.

MATTHEWS: I don`t know how they can be so bone-headed so far. They`ve got nothing. No infrastructure. Nothing rebuilt. America is not getting rebuilt. Everything Trump promised from Penn Station to LAX airport, we`re going to rebuild and make America really a growing country again. Nada.

PETTYPIECE: And they`re still talking about health care.

MATTHEWS: Well, that was a bone-head start.

Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. That`s common.

And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.


well the world lost two comedic giants this weekend. Dick gregory died at age 84. >

MATTHEWS: Well, the world lost two comedic giants this weekend. Dick Gregory died Saturday at the age of 84. There he is. He was a trailblazer of the Civil Rights era, becoming one of the first black standup acts to perform at major white comedy clubs back in the early `60s. When approached by "The Tonight Show," Gregory famously refused to even come on the show until the host Jack Paar committed to him sitting down for a conversation after his act which was, believe it or not, a privilege rarely afforded to black entertainers.

Jerry Lewis also lost this weekend, partnered years ago with a crooner named Dean Martin. They started their act together for all late night performance at a mob run Atlantic City nightclub. Overnight, they became the top show business attraction in the entire country. That`s an amazing story.

Let`s watch Jerry back in 2005 when he showed up here to tell those stories on HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: I say this about campaigns. You know, just remember, all campaigns for office run -- started with some cheap storefront somewhere. Nobody else wants with a phone hanging out of the wall and maybe some take out coffee cups and that`s it. You started out with Dean Martin, hottest act ever, in show business, in real life, with a folding chair, and a sandwich bag with pastrami sandwiches in it. Tell me about that night.

JERRY LEWIS, ENTERTAINMENT ICON: Well, I told Wolfy at the 500 Club, please get Dean to come in. He needed an act to fill the bill.

And he said, no, I don`t want another singer. I said, listen to me. We are friends. We not only do our acts but we do silly things together.

I need to get him a job. He came in the next night. He did his three songs. I did my record act. We were off.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, Lewis, who I loved as a kid, was 91.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable. Jason, tell me something I don`t know.

JOHNSON: So, we know last Saturday, there was a big freedom of speech march in Boston.


JOHNSON: There was also a Freedom of Speech event here in D.C. A group of high school student from union high school in Pennsylvania dawned MAGA hats, Make America Great hats and Trump shirts and marched into the cafeteria of Howard University claiming they didn`t know it was HBCU and they were just looking for lunch. The students claimed they were harassed. The students at Howard say they were trying to cause trouble.

MATTHEWS: I think the students at Howard were right.



PETTYPIECE: I know that.


PETTYPIECE: I spent the past week traveling with Mike Pence throughout Latin America. It`s like a parallel universe, being with the vice president. It`s calm. It`s organized. And his influence is growing.

We`ve lost a couple of factions in the White House. The Steve Bannon camp. The Reince Priebus RNC camp. And Pence is growing closer with the president and more influential.

MATTHEWS: Did you have any fun?

PETTYPIECE: Yes. We had a great time.

MATTHEWS: OK, there we go.


MILBANK: Now, you`ve heard that Steve Mnuchin has been defending Trump to his Yale classmates. What you have not heard is he also wrote a group of them offering them jobs in the Treasury Department is. He got zero takers. And one of them wrote back to him, it`s good to see you have retained your sense of humor.

MATTHEWS: Ha! Ha! He`s offering -- he is giving out jobs. Patronage.

Jason Johnson, Shannon Pettypiece and Dana Milbank -- I knew you`d kill.

We`ll be right back with Trump Watch.


MATTHEWS: Trump Watch Monday, August 21st, 2017.

Donald Trump won his electoral victory last November with a promise to, quote, end stupid wars. What I expected him to say tonight in prime time will be a contradiction. I expect he will call for more troops in Afghanistan and call for, in fact, a 50 percent hike in American forces there from 8,000 to 12,000.

To put it another way, instead of ending the 16-year American war over there, longest in our history, he`s going to lengthen it.

My question is how is this any different than previous presidents? From Kennedy to Johnson to Nixon in Vietnam, from Bush to Obama to Trump in Iraq? How Trump is different than any president before him in making the decision to keep an American war going just long enough to escape blame from having lost it?

Better question, how does Trump justify putting more troops in harm`s way without promising a better result in Afghanistan when we leave eventually than what we would get leaving right now. If he can`t promise a better result, how can he morally ask Americans to die for a war we don`t believe we will ever win?

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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