Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 8/24/17 Trump's obsession with Russia.

Guests: Jonathan Swan, Elana Schor, Bob Cusack, Kimberly Atkins

Show: HARDBALL Date: August 24, 2017

Guest: Jonathan Swan, Elana Schor, Bob Cusack, Kimberly Atkins

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Russian roulette.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

For months, there`s been a clear pattern coming from the occupant of 1,600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He`s used every tool he has as president to obstruct, slow down and undermine the investigation into his campaign`s possible collusion with Russia.

He reportedly asked top intelligence officials to intervene with James Comey. He asked Comey himself to kill the investigation into Michael Flynn. Then he fired Comey. He lashed out at his attorney general for recusing himself in the investigation, allowing Robert Mueller to be appointed.

And now there are reports that President Trump is calling up U.S. senators to express his frustration with their refusal to protect him from Mueller. As one senior Republican aide told Politico, It seems he is just always focused on Russia.

Well, President Trump called North Carolina senator Thom Tillis on August 8th. Tillis is working on legislation along with Senator Chris Coons to shield Mueller in case the president tries to fire him. According to Politico, Trump was unhappy with the legislation and didn`t want to it pass.

Meanwhile, "The New York Times" reported a phone call between the president and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell two days later on August 9th that devolved into a profane shouting match. The president accused Mr. McConnell of bungling the health care issue. He was even more animated about what he intimated was the Senate leader`s refusal to protect him from investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election?

What is spooking the president is clear. As the DailyBeast wrote today, the special counsel has essentially built his own miniature Justice Department with 16 of the country`s top lawyers aboard.

Well, let`s go to find out what he`s afraid of. Jonathan Swan`s national political reporter at Axios. Elana Schor`s a congressional reporter with Politico. And Paul Butler`s a former federal prosecutor and author of "Chokehold: Policing Black Men." Thank you.

I want to find out from you (INAUDIBLE) What`s in this dossier? We`ve all heard about the dossier and what`s in it besides the embarrassing part, which may or may not be true. It may well be true, too. What`s in it that is scaring the bejesus out of Trump? Because every time he hears that the Senate`s investigating it, or hearing a witness about it, like Glenn Simpson, one of the people who`s behind the dossier production, he goes whacko.

JONATHAN SWAN, AXIOS: Well, the crux of the unsubstantiated allegations in the dossier is that over the course of five years, the Russians built a relationship with Trump, gathered compromising material on Trump, and did it all with the intention of manipulating him if he ever, you know, rose to power. Now, a lot of the stuff has been discredited. Some of it, we don`t know if it`s true or not. It`s unverifiable. Some of it has not been verified. But it`s clearly bothering Trump, every time this comes up.

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m going to end this with my belief about all these cases. Conspiracy cases, investigations, whether it`s on TV, in the movies or in real life, a city hall case, the person involved in the case knows it all. They know what they did. As they said in the Abscam case in Philly when I was growing up, Georgie knows what Georgie`s done. They all know it.

Trump knows everything he`s done wrong, everything he`s tried to cover up, everything he wished he hadn`t done now. He knows it all. It is not a mystery story to him.

So when he hears about Bob Mueller hiring 16 lawyers and they`re really going to town on the Hill after him and they`re bringing in the guy did the dossier and they`re really serious about this investigation and getting it done -- Paul, you tell me. You`ve dealt with criminal defendants and people that are watching the case. You can look at them in court. And they`re hearing stuff, they go, Oh, my God, they know that. Oh, my God, they know that. they know that.

PAUL BUTLER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Well, if you`re innocent, you say, I welcome a full objective investigation because my name will be cleared. If you`re not so innocent, then maybe you try to get the FBI director to pledge you loyalty. Maybe you try to threaten the attorney general being fired. And maybe you call up a few senators, which smacks of desperation there`s nothing that McConnell or a senator can do.

The reason why this is important is, one, it`s another link in the chain to obstruction of justice. But more importantly, Chris, the question the prosecutors ask is, Is this somebody who`s made innocent or ignorant mistakes, or is this a bad dude? And more and more, the president is looking like a bad dude who`s running scared.

MATTHEWS: And you`re -- you`re referencing the fact that we now have information in August, just a few days, he called up Tillis, who`s the North Carolina senator, colleague, by the way, of Richard Burr, who`s investigating him -- and you don`t know how they`re working together, if they are -- and Mitch McConnell saying, Gee whiz, why didn`t you guys protect me from this special counsel? You`re right. It`s spilled milk.

BUTLER: Yes. I mean, it`s coming from a safe (ph) sunken (ph) place. Either he`s just so clueless or has some kind of disability that he doesn`t understand what he`s doing, which has got to be against the advice of counsel. His lawyers have got to be spinning around -- Trump, you have to stop if you want to stay out of jail. So he`s not listening to them. But it also -- again, it sounds kind of desperate. What is he so afraid of this investigation?

MATTHEWS: Elana, your thoughts here because -- well, let`s just talk about your reporting. We know now that he`s making these calls. We now know that he`s hounding people because maybe the door`s already -- the milk`s spilt. I mean, they already got an investigation. I don`t know how they can protect him. But it`s one thing he is trying to prevent. He doesn`t want any restrictions on his ability to fire Mueller. He wants to be able to fire him for cause or just because he`s mad that day.

ELANA SCHOR, POLITICO: And it`s important to remember there are two proposals that would restrict him from firing Mueller. The other bipartisan one is sponsored by Lindsey Graham, who we already know that he`s gone after publicly. He, just like -- and Thom Tillis all sit on the Judiciary Committee that heard from the author of this dossier this week. These are important people that he`s alienating.

MATTHEWS: So what do you make of the fact that for 10 hours, they heard testimony about the dossier? The fact is -- I`ve always thought when we heard about -- there`s of course the embarrassing claim about the hotel room, whatever you make of that. But there`s also other stuff about what you just laid out, the whole history of the Russian effort to try to entrap him into a relationship he couldn`t get out of. We understand. We watched "The Americans." We know how things are done. You bring the guy in or the wife in and you -- you give him stuff, and all of a sudden, they`re involved in part of the cabal.

In this case, what`s he most worried about in that?

SCHOR: Well, obviously, we don`t really know until we see the transcripts of this 10-hour discussion that the author (sic) of the dossier had...

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE)

SCHOR: ... and that is expected to come out as soon as next week. So then we could shed some more light on exactly what Trump is so scared of.

MATTHEWS: Adam Schiff thinks there`s something -- I mean, we keep hearing these intimations, a nice Latinate word -- we keep hearing these intimations from Adam Schiff. There`s something there.

SWAN: Well, the other...

MATTHEWS: And Trump acts like there`s something there.

SWAN: The other wrinkle, which we haven`t talked about, is ABC reported that Christopher Steele, who`s the former British spy, who actually did all this...

MATTHEWS: MI6.

SWAN: ... has met with the FBI and told them who his sources are. I mean...

MATTHEWS: So now -- OK, this is what I`m hearing, Paul. We`re hearing that Mueller -- who`s the best resume in America, practically. He`s got it all from schooling and experience as an attorney -- and the 16 people he`s been able to recruit. We understand he`s using the dossier as his template. In other words, Let`s check out that claim, let`s check out that claim -- in other words, using that as the skeleton of his investigation.

SCHOR: Yes. So we called Robert Mueller "Bob the boss" when he was my supervisor at the Department of Justice since he`s extremely thorough and he`s very fair. So he`s looking at this dossier as a piece of evidence. It`s unsubstantiated obligations, but it`s his duty to look at every single thing.

So I think Trump is worried about collusion, certainly, but there`s always mission creep with special counsels. So he`s equally worried, I think about financial transactions, financial dealings, including real estate back in Queens back in the day because that`s all going to be exposed. It`s all coming -- going to come to the light of day, and maybe that`s what the president (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS: We have other evidence in terms of possible cover-up evidence here. We know that before Comey was fired, he showed the dossier to Trump. I`m laughing because it can only be -- it`s almost like, you know, a television -- he shows the, Here`s where we`re heading here, Mr. President. Here`s the stuff we may have on you. This may be our road map to putting you out of this office. And Trump`s, Oh, thank you for that, James.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, as I mentioned, Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, said some of the info in the dossier has already been shown to be in line with what we now know happened. So he`s backing it up. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: And there`s been, I think, an effort by some to discredit the firm Fusion GPS or discredit Mr. Steele. And as you say, Mr. Steele has a very good reputation.

I think the key thing from an investigative point of view is not trying to impeach the people who produced the report, or commissioned the report, but rather find out whether the facts are true in the report. And when you look at just what has become public, some of the public information is very much in line with what is reported in that dossier.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You get the sense -- and I know he`s a politician, Democratic politician (INAUDIBLE) politician. But you get the sense from him -- and he looks very sober when you look at Schiff -- that he`s got something. He keeps acting like he`s got something. He`s read much more than we`ve read.

SCHOR: Well, and it`s important to remember that the Judiciary Committee that`s looking at this dossier isn`t the only investigation going. There`s also the Intelligence Committee, which McConnell has empowered to an extent that he didn`t have to. He`s giving them a long leash.

MATTHEWS: So why is Trump mad at him? I think you`ve answered the question. You know, somebody said the last couple days that, around here, that -- you know, we`ve all watched TV shows. That`s where I learned a lot about some of this prosecutorial stuff. It`s is called discretion. A prosecutor can decide to prosecute -- like the guy in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, decided not to prosecute Cosby. He said, I don`t have enough stuff. Maybe he was right, but he decided not to -- enough (ph) evidence.

In this case, you`ve got friends in politics. You`ve got allies, but they`re not friends. McConnell`s not a friend of Donald Trump, and neither are any of these people. He`s saying to them, you know, Why are you giving so much leeway to this guy? Why are you giving him such an unrestrained mandate? Right? And nobody -- in fact, now they want to strengthen the mandate, people like Lindsey Graham, who`s got a bee in his head about Trump anyway. You can tell that. He`s giving more -- you -- he wants to make it so you can`t fire the guy. You`ve got this guy Tillis now, the same way.

Trump`s saying, I don`t have any friends on the Hill. They`re not helping -- they`re not going to protect me if I go down. They`re going to let them bring me down.

SWAN: Well, he`s not trying to make any friends, is he. I mean, he`s -- he`s publicly attacking -- even today, after he put out this sort of statement last night, trying to walk it back a little bit. He then wakes up this morning and attacks Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan.

So on one level, he`s sort of publicly divorcing himself from the Republican Party, and then the next time, he`s calling these people up, hoping (ph) them to protect him or help him on Russia. It`s not -- it`s not really (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS: Elana, let`s talk about the politics of this, not the law. He has no friends.

SCHOR: Absolutely. And he`s trying to pass tax reform? How is that going to happen?

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s not get off on that. OK, I know that`s relevant...

SCHOR: Well, I mean, it`s important...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: He`s not getting anything done.

SCHOR: Not getting anything done because...

MATTHEWS: Why doesn`t he just hold up say -- (INAUDIBLE) one second. I think you`re onto something. Why doesn`t just say, I`m inviting you guys to Mar-a-Lago or Bedminster or one of these places he hangs out, get rid of the golf clubs, sit in a room with these guys, and say, You know, we do control the U.S. Senate. We do control the House of Representatives and I`m president. We have the means to get some things done. Now, what we have to do is either use reconciliation for 50 votes or we use some other - - the normal legislative process for 60 votes. But if we don`t do either one of those ways of getting something done, nothing`s getting done. And we will be a disaster and we will lose the next election.

SCHOR: But remember what happened the last time he did that. Dean Heller was sitting next to him. It was tailor-made campaign ad as he just cajoled them on health care. That didn`t go over well the last time he invited Republicans to the White House.

MATTHEWS: Paul, common sense says you make -- you make friends -- somebody said if you`re going to swim in the river, make friends with the alligators.

BUTLER: Well, the senator friends -- the senator friends can`t help him with Mueller. They sure can help him with impeachment, though, because that`s the prerogative of the Senate and the House to charge and to convict. And he`s already in that territory. It`s a lower standard for impeachment for obstruction of justice than for a criminal conviction, so I don`t know why just on that ground he`s not being much friendlier to the folks...

MATTHEWS: Well, so far, he only has to deal with the pretty (ph) progressive left on that so far.

At a rally in Phoenix this week, of course, the president used unusually harsh language, even for him, in going after the media. This is his latest plan to avoid responsibility.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These are really, really dishonest people. And they`re bad people. And I really think they don`t like our country. I really believe that.

These are sick people. You know the thing I don`t understand? You would think -- you would think they`d want to make our country great again, and I honestly believe they don`t. I honestly believe it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, there`s a ridiculous statement. Anyway, historian Jon Meacham suggests the president had a strategy of sorts. Let`s watch him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON MEACHAM, HISTORIAN: I had a sinking and sneaking feeling watching tonight that to some extent, this is a preemptive strike on the credibility of much of the press in preparation for whatever bad news might be coming and -- whether it`s about Russia or whether it`s something that even he`s not sure what it is. But if you wound the messenger, if you discredit the messenger to whom the vast majority of country turns, then you raise skepticism, you raise doubt about whatever is reported.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, when Reagan lost that first debate to -- I know it`s hard to imagine that Reagan ever lost a debate, but he lost it to Mondale. He looked kind of confused. But Lee Atwater, who was one of the toughest political operatives ever, put out the word, If he loses another one of these debates, we got to create a fog machine. We got to create so much fog out there, nobody knows whatever`s going on. I get the feeling that, Paul, what -- what they`re already planning to do, no matter how bad is the news is coming out of these committees, no matter how much Mueller digs up, Trump`s going to say dishonest media, fake news.

BUTLER: But all they`re doing is reporting. And again, that`s not going to make a darn bit of difference when and if the special counsel both issues a report and brings charges. Again, the president could not be charged as a sitting president. He might be charged after. But you know, deals will be made. Mueller now has the power to subpoena witnesses to touch -- to get every document any of these guys has ever touched. So if there`s something to be uncovered, it will be found.

MATTHEWS: I think the way you talk scares the heck out of them right now because you know what you`re talking about. We`ll have more for you the next time.

Thank you, Jonathan Swan, Elana Schor and Paul Butler.

Coming up, President Trump`s fixation with Barack Obama. This is really strange and a little screwball here. Today, Trump retweeted an image of him eclipsing the former president. Why is he so hung up on his predecessor? Has he got Obama envy?

Plus, President Trump has boomeranged from divisive talk to calls for unity this week. And today, he`s defending the week of whiplash. He calls a -- he calls on (INAUDIBLE) question the president`s stability, and others are talking about his erratic behavior. They`re getting a little weird about this president.

And the GOP civil war rages on, of course. Trump`s ramping up threats to hold the government hostage if Republicans don`t give him his wall. That`s crazy talk.

Finally, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch." I don`t think he`s going to like this one, either.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`ve got an update on a bad story out of Cuba. The State Department now says that at least 16 Americans associated with our embassy are down there in Havana are being treated for a variety of symptoms, including severe hearing loss.

The U.S. government officials say NBC News -- or tell NBC News they suspect the diplomats were the target of, quote, "acoustic attacks" possibly caused by devices deployed inside or outside of the Americans` Havana residencies. Well, the State Department`s calling the incidents, quote, "unprecedented." A spokesperson says that the victims have been receiving treatment in the U.S., as well as in Cuba.

This is not good. This is bad old-time communist behavior.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Well, since the inauguration, President Trump has gone after President Obama`s legacy with vigor. And today, he did it again. Just this morning he retweeted an image of himself eclipsing former president Obama. He`s obsessed. Some would argue that President Trump became the president because of his hostility towards Barack Obama.

Then a billionaire businessman, Mr. Trump questioned not only his birth place, Obama`s, but also his academic pedigree. Listen to this wild stuff.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: If he has a birth certificate, he should release it.

All I want to do is see this guy`s birth certificate!

If he weren`t lying, why wouldn`t he just solve it? And I wish he would because if he doesn`t, it`s one of the greatest scams in the history of politics and in the history, period.

Our current president came out of nowhere. Came out of nowhere! Fact, I`ll go a step further. The people that went to school with him, they don`t even know -- they never saw him. They don`t know who he is. It`s crazy!

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, now as President, Trump has made a habit of comparing himself to his predecessor, starting with the size of his inaugural crowd. Let`s watch that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Yes, a young girl who is an Egyptian prison. President Obama works three and a half years to trying to get her out, he was unable to get her out. I had a meeting with General el-Sisi of Egypt. And within one minute, we made an agreement and she was released.

By the way, just a question. Did President Obama ever come to a jamboree?

CROWD: No!

TRUMP: And we`ll be back. We`ll be back. The answer is no and -- but we`ll be back.

They asked me, what about Race Relations in the United States? Now, I have to say they were pretty bad under Barack Obama, that I can tell you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, some European Officials who have dealt with the President Trump in the past, believe that his foreign policy is driven by obsession with unraveling Obama`s Legacies. They told BuzzFeed, quote "He is obsessed with Obama." Well given the recent events in Charlottesville, some people are calling on former President Barack Obama to speak up.

And today`s New York Times piece, for example, Caroline Randall Williams writes, "We are a country troubled by the looming possibility of a constitutional crisis, and hate groups are claiming the President as theirs. We need your voice." More on drama -- the author of that New York Times piece, Caroline Randall Williams and Gianno Caldwell, a Republican Strategist. Well, I`ll going to let you two go out of here in terms of this question Should Barack Obama come out into the public square -- he hasn`t been there in months, he hasn`t been there since the inauguration of Trump -- and join Trump in this argument over legacy? Your thoughts Caroline.

CAROLINE RANDALL WILLIAMS, WRITER-IN-RESIDENCE, FISK UNIVERSITY: I mean, obviously, I`ve written my article, I feel like he`s got to. You know, he`s always been such a poised, measured and careful speaker and I think a lot of us are accustomed in a national crisis to hearing from him. And I think it feels like a crisis to a lot of us right now, Chris. And so, I`m really longing to hear his insight in this moment.

MATTHEWS: Gianno, your view of this. As a Political Strategist, would you recommend he gets into a public at back and forth with the current President?

GIANNO CALDWELL, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, actually, Chris, this is an interesting segment because on national television yesterday, I said especially over Charlottesville and the fact that we need to have a national dialogue on race. I said it would be awesome if President Trump invited President Obama -- former President Obama to the White House so we could have that dialogue. Absolutely that would be great. In terms of President Trump being vocal, and criticizing President Trump. I don`t think that`s necessary, I don`t think that adds anything to our national discourse at this point. But I think that did he could be a welcome voice in terms of uniting the country, standing together with President Trump.

I thought that President Trump, to Carol`s point, President Trump`s comments on Charlottesville, I believe he betrayed the conscience of the country. I believe that he added a lot of fuel to the fire, I thought it was very inappropriate. And I think we need to move forward and unite our country at this point in time.

MATTHEWS: Well, you`re talking about a parlay. You`d get rid of parlay. Caroline, I don`t think you`re talking about a parlay when they sit together and talk over things. You`re talking about a public debate.

WILLIAMS: Well, I don`t even know that I`m talking about, you know some -- I`m not even sure I`m talking about a conversation in that -- in that same way. Right, I`m interested in Barack weighing in. I`m not sure I`m even asking, I`m not asking for him to criticize what`s going on. I`m asking for him to provide some insights, because, for a lot of us, this seems like chaos. And when there`s chaos happening, you bring in an experts to help you to understand better what is going on. Barack Obama has held the highest office in the land. He held it for eight years. It was a successful tenure. And I would like to know what he thinks of what is going on.

CALDWELL: So, I would be very intrigued to know from your point of view, what do you expect? Even if he weighs in which he did with the Nelson Mandela tweet. If he weight in, in a way that he uses -- utilizes vocal variety in this conversation, how does that move us forward as a country? Because I think the only thing that he would really say if it`s not a discussion, a national discussion on race bring in the two Presidents together, a former President with current President Trump, I don`t understand what he would say outside of criticizing Trump. So I`m really looking to hear from you what is it that you believe that he would add to the conversation? Although there is a lot of chaos going on in our country, I agree with you on that. What is it that he -- you would expect him to do?

WILLIAMS: One of the things that I`d be interested in knowing, for example, you know, things like civic duties that we have as citizens. I`d be interested in his insight about things that we could do to effectively come together, to navigate these moments where we feel drawn to protest more effectively. I`d be interested in his ideas about that, because he is a public citizen now -- excuse me, a private citizen now. And I think that he would be one of the most compelling leaders of any kind of movement that we would feel wanting to part to stay then

CALDWELL: And if -- and if I will recall correctly, when he gave a speech in Chicago. I believe he was at The University of Chicago or something like. He spokes this in young leaders and he said he wanted to do just that. He wanted to pass the baton to the next generation. So, I would argue that your point is mute because his already going about doing that. Perhaps not in the --

WILLIAMS: But I -- you`re right. But -- and I say in my article this morning I`ve knowledge that talked, right? But the thing about that talk is that you know, I`m a teacher. If I teach my students something and then they miss it, or they`re -- the class descends into chaos because they have missed the lesson. Then I make a decision to come back in and reframe the conversation and help set my class back on track. And I don`t think that you can -- this is not a moment for a last day fair, right? And I`m not saying that President Obama is being last day fair, but what I am saying is that it might be time to step in and redirect some of this.

MATTHEWS: Let me just suggest on. You guys are great and I would like to do this for hour but I want to interject one thing. Donald Trump doesn`t come to any discussion, any parlay or debate with clean hands. He got his initial 20 percent by basically a racist charge that Obama is not an American, he`s some sort of illegal immigrant he pulled a street con, a scam as Trump called it and somehow didn`t even go to the schools he went.to. He said he wasn`t there like he was a phantom.

The charge was so outrageous, it could only appeal to a racist. And I want to go to you, Gianno, on this question, why would anybody believe Trump on a Barack Obama issue personally? Why believe anything that Trump ever says about Barack Obama?

CALDWELL: I don`t -- I don`t know. I mean, there`s a lot as a -- as a conservative, there was a lot of issues that I personally have with President Obama in terms of policy. I like him as a person very much, though, you know, just to talk about some of the things that President Trump has said when there has been issues that have come up, and he had mentioned Barrack Obama almost this somewhat would call at this scape goat. But I would bring people back to February 2009 when President Obama had an interview with your sister network, NBC and Matt Lauer on the "TODAY SHOW." When he said that if the economy doesn`t turn around in three years, then it would be pretty much my father than it would be on me. But he blamed, and I going to remind the viewers, it`s George Bush`s fault. He continued with that narrative throughout the three years. And even after the three years, he still didn`t -- he didn`t accomplish what he said he should accomplish.

MATTHEWS: Gianno, you are so right. All Presidents blamed their predecessors.

CALDWELL: Oh, my gosh! Chris Matthews said I`m right about something. This is a win!

MATTHEWS: the way you exert your enthusiasm amazes me but, you didn`t catch the question, why did he deny that President Obama had the resume that he obviously had if he was a racist? I never heard anybody said about a white guy that he even, he didn`t go to the schools he went to, that he doesn`t exist? That`s a hell of a statement.

CALDWELL: Well, I think -- I think. Listen -- listen, I want to -- I want to be very-very clear. I thought that him doing that, the birther movement in you, I disagreed with all of that. Just to say that somebody that allege that -- as he did, which he was completely wrong, utterly, it was disrespectful. I couldn`t say that in it of itself is evidence of racism.

WILLIAMS: Stop, actually no. That is no. Did he ever say that?

CALDWELL: I can say that. No, I couldn`t say that conclusively.

MATTHEWS: Caroline, last word. Caroline, last word.

WILLIAMS: Listen, its racism because it`s plain to people who want to hear that because they are racist. And so, saying it, whether or not it might have seemed racist to you is a racist act because it`s plain to racists, by saying it.

MATTHEWS: I`ve never heard he said about a white guy, that you`re somehow a foreigner, you`re from other continent, that you snacking here, that you didn`t go to school as you claim you did, all your resume, all your degrees, everything is made up, you`re a phantom. That is a sub-human claim. That`s a make a claim, he`s not even a person.

CALDWELL: It`s extremely disrespectful wrong and incorrect.

MATTHEWS: And you said you disagree with that but now you`re agreeing with me. I should jump up and throw my hands in the air like you did. Hey, thank you for coming on, Gianno Caldwell. You got a little exuberated.

CALDWELL: Thank you for having me.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, Caroline Randell Williams, you`re a beautiful rider. I got to tell you have the gift of what we call in our judgment education`s rhetoric. And I mean it -- I mean it in a positive sense. The ability to make an argument.

Up next, the former Director of National Intelligence said he worries about President Trump`s access to the Nuclear Codes. Well, today, President Trump went on the offensive attacking him and the rest of his critics. They`re talking about his possible mental unsoundness. This is HARDBALL where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you questioning his fitness?

JAMES CLAPPER, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE FORMER DIRECTOR: Yes, I do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is he a threat to National Security? The President?

CLAPPER: He certainly could be. Again, having some understanding of the leverage that a President can exercise, I worry about frankly, you know, the access to Nuclear Codes. In a fit of pique, he decides to do something about Kim Jong-Un. There`s actually very little to stop him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was former Director of National Intelligence. In fact, recent Director James Clapper`s reaction to President Trump`s rally on Tuesday night. When the President responded this morning, tweeting, "James Clapper who famously got caught lying to Congress is now an authority on Donald Trump. Will he show you his beautiful letter to me?" He also tweeted the Democrats after facing criticism for his abrupt change of the meaning of week, writing," The Fake News is now complaining about my different types of back to back speeches. Well, there was Afghanistan, sober, and the big rally, enthusiastic, dynamic and fun, and the American Legion, the V.A., respectful and strong. Too bad the Dems have no one who can change tones."

Well, this comes the discussion about the President`s very confident self- expanded. Some Democrats have seen on this opportunity, with POLITICO reported that California Democrats are stoking a debate over Donald Trump`s mental health and fitness for office, opening a new front in the resistance to the President. But it`s not just the opposition party. Let`s watch Republican Tennessee Senator Bob Corker last week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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. He also recently has not demonstrated that he understands the character of this nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well here`s now a White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded of what he said to Senator from Tennessee just today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think that`s a ridiculous and outrageous claim and doesn`t dignify a response from this podium.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m joined right now by author and MSNBC Analyst, Ron Reagan. Ron, this has been a developing story, people of sound mind and body, who begin like Gene Robinson who has appears on this show. Who begin to talk about the President`s, not his politics.

We`re talking about the swings of mood that the President now decides are really matters of style. That`s what he`s calling it, he says the Democrats can`t match with my rhythmic going from crazy to calm, from wild to not wild, my Dr. Jekyll number as a matter of trade craft. I mean that`s what he`s saying. I`m just quoting the President.

RON REAGAN, MSNBC, POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it is what you see he`s saying. I`ve been maybe the Democrats don`t have anybody pathological enough to flip like that.

You know, think about how extraordinary it is that we`re even having this conversation. I mean, you and I have differences with various Presidents. I`ve been very tough on George W. Bush for instance, on torture and things like that. But we`re actually talking about a President`s very sanity here. And doing it in a serious way, not a flippant kind, what a crazy thing that was sort of way.

You know, we`re really genuinely worried and with good reason that the very sober people are worried that this man is simply unfit for office. Character, logically, emotionally, mentally, he does not have the stability it seems to hold the office.

MATTHEWS: So, who`s going to tell the story of this President? Am I Char Malogne? I mean I`m beginning -- I just saw Split the other night on T.V., about a person with split personality. And it`s like, you know, one night I`m reasonable. And he even says I like Barack Obama, he`s good human being, all that stuff. And then he`s not there, he doesn`t exist, Barack Obama, he`s a phantom. That trade craft

REAGAN: Yes. That whole -- yes, we`re acting like this is a sort of new thing like we`re just sort of realizing suddenly that Donald Trump is not well. But this has been apparent for a long time. All that business with Barack Obama and the birther stuff that should have disqualified him a long time ago. It is not just a lie. It`s a racist crazy lie.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think so. Ok, your dad when he`s President, Jim Baker said to set the schedule, keep things in line, keep the focus. I mean you know that story, he did he a good job. He didn`t change your dad. He just sort of kept him on the line, or what tis are talking about he kept him disciplined.

This guy, General Kelly, his job is to make sure now, nobody gets will to see him unless they go through me. And now no paper moves to him like he`s controlling the cage. Like no -- nothing gets into the cage without me. I thought of Trump about fire about just saying it. But he can`t control Trump at 6:00 in the morning, when he gets up and starts burping out these tweets. He hasn`t been able to stop that.

REAGAN: No, he can`t and again you can`t control a President who is pathological in his behavior. It is not that he`s not behaving as a normal President does. He is not behaving as a normal grown-up does. He doesn`t have the sort of human instincts.

You know whether it`s Charlottesville or something else. The boy scouts, for God`s sake, talking about going out on a yacht with a lot of women and a guy with a lot of money to the boy scouts, who does this? You know, what adult would stand there and say that? Or any of the -- so many things that he says? He just doesn`t seem to have the instinct for the appropriate mature stance given whatever circumstances he`s facing.

MATTHEWS: Well, most of the time he does stuff your mother told you never to do.

REAGAN: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: I mean, the behavior, the manners, I think you touched on some interesting stuff. Ron Reagan, thank you so much for joining us tonight.

Up next, President Trump is ramping up attacks. Now, on the Republican leadership, the people he needs to get his stuff done. Going after Mitch McConnell again, and Paul Ryan again by name. Can he ever make anything happen on the Hill if he makes them the fall guys from the failures of Washington. What good is it to blame them if nothing gets done? Still, nothing got done. You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, President Trump ramped up his attacks in Republican both chambers of Congress now writing on Twitter, again, Twitter: I requested that Mitch McConnell and Paul R, that`s Ryan, tie the debt ceiling legislation into the popular V.A, bill which just passed for easy approval. They didn`t do it, so now we have a big deal with Dems holding them up as usual on debt ceiling approval. Could have been so easy -- now a mess.

Well, Tuesday in Phoenix, Trump raised the possibility of a different type of fiscal crisis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we have to close down our government, we`re building that wall.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, threatening Congress over building the wall makes them reverse one of his signature campaign promise, you may remember this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I will build a great, great wall on our southern border and I will have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.

And, by the way, we will build a wall and Mexico is going to pay for that wall. That wall will go up so fast your head will spin and you`ll say, you know, he meant it. Do you know what else I mean? Mexico is going to pay for the wall.

We will build a great wall along the southern border. And Mexico will pay for the wall.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, a senior White House official tells NBC News, Trump is serious about his shutdown threat over the wall and acknowledges Trump and McConnell haven`t spoken in weeks.

Let`s bring in our HARDBALL roundtable tonight: Bob Cusack is editor in chief of "The Hill", that`s a big job. Kimberly Atkins is chief Washington reporter for "The Boston Herald", that`s a big job, too. I know "The Herald" and me are not the same person. And Michael Steele is former RNC chair and an MSNBC political analyst.

Everybody likes you, Kimberly, so, I`m going to ask you this question. You`re on a plane that`s going too slow, right? So, you go to the front of the plane. You get into a cockpit and you start beating up the pilot. I mean, it doesn`t make sense.

The only way Trump is going to get anything passed is Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. He`s beating them up.

KIMBERLY ATKINS, CHIEF WASHINGTON REPORTER, THE BOSTON HERALD: It`s true. He`s beating them up. And he also, especially with this shut down threat, there seems to be no end game. Even if he does somehow force a shutdown over building a wall, that`s not going to be the solution I think that he`s --

MATTHEWS: Because it`s not that it shuts down for a burp, like a couple days.

ATKINS: Right.

MATTHEWS: He is saying it ain`t going to start up again until I get my wall. This is a hostage situation.

BOB CUSACK, EDITOR IN CHIEF, THE HILL: Yes, absolutely, and this is a weird situation where you could have a bill going to Trump that might need the votes to override a veto to keep the government funding. I think there`s going to be a government shutdown, and I think -- as you alluded to, it could be going on for a while.

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m worried, because, you know, we`ve had government shutdowns, the museums close, they turn the lights off in the Washington monument, OK, we can live with that.

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

MATTHEWS: We can live with it for a couple weeks. But what happens when we`re not paying our bills? What happens when the world says we`re a deadbeat nation?

STEELE: That becomes the immediate problem for many, many government employees.

MATTHEWS: You become like the cities -- like Detroit that ran into fiscal -- or New York at one point. Just deadbeat cities.

STEELE: Right. And so, the reality of what the president is talking about is putting the onus on his own party, his own political leadership for putting thousands of American citizens out of work, who worked for the government, worked with various agencies. It`s not just about closing down a --

MATTHEWS: But he won`t get -- after all -- Kimberly says after all of that back and forth.

STEELE: He won`t get the wall. His problem --

MATTHEWS: There`s no wall and there`s no budget. So, what do we got?

STEELE: There`s no budget. There`s no wall. There`s no debt ceiling.

MATTHEWS: So, where are we going?

STEELE: So, you`re at -- the president I think doing bravado which he does very well. The reality is this. His problem is not Democrats here. His problem are fiscal conservative who are not going to want to spend a trillion plus more dollars added to the debt of the nation.

MATTHEWS: Kimberly, what good does it do to strap a suicide belt around the U.S. government? That`s what he`s doing.

ATKINS: It is. It is. I think he believes --

MATTHEWS: It will blow up and he seems to think the blowing up threat is going to get him -- like a little kid, you say, I`m not going on eat my peas if you don`t like me, or something. What is he up to?

ATKINS: I mean, look, he said this at a rally in Arizona. He was in front of his supporters. He believed that he can sort of rally the support.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You say he is out of control.

ATKINS: I didn`t say he was out of control. I said he believes that he can use the support of his supporters to sort of bully the Congress to do what he wants to do. But I don`t think that is going to work for him.

MATTHEWS: Well, Trump took a second shot at the Senate Republican leader this morning writing: The only problem I have with Mitch McConnell is that after hearing repeal and replace for seven years, he failed. That should never have happened.

So, he`s bouncing him again for what happened. He didn`t get McCain`s vote.

CUSACK: No, no.

MATTHEWS: And whose fault is that? Well, McCain doesn`t like Trump.

CUSACK: Right, no.

MATTHEWS: And he didn`t mine having Trump need him and be able to say, you know, I know you really need me tonight at 1:30 in the morning. Guess what? I remember everything you`ve said about me. I`m out of here, I spent seven years, while you were having a good time in New York, I was in a cell over in Hanoi, and I was shot down over enemy territory. That wasn`t fun to go over there. That was scary. I did it for the country.

And I ended up being tortured for a couple years and you made fun of that. And now, you want me to vote at 1:30 in the morning? Well, you know what, I don`t think it`s the right vote.

CUSACK: Right. No, that`s what --

MATTHEWS: I was just being honest. I can think of Trump -- I don`t think McCain agreed with him. He didn`t think the politics were right and he damn well wasn`t going to do something he didn`t believe in so Trump could be happy.

CUSACK: Well, Trump made it easier, though, because of those insults to vote no. Remember, Mitch McConnell was defending Trump on the campaign trail. How awkward is this for McConnell`s wife, Elaine Chao, she works for Trump as transportation secretary, you know? And --

MATTHEWS: Well, she`s a nice person. If she wants to work for Trump, that`s her decision. That`s a toughie. I`m not going to sit and go, I`m not into victimology here. I don`t think there are any victims in politics. Politicians do what they wanted to do --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Even you are not a victim, Michael.

STEELE: That`s right.

ATKINS: But that health care vote was a dangerous vote for the lawmakers to make. That was a terribly unpopular bill. Every policy they put forward on health care was unpopular. And to bash Republicans and then turn around and ask him. Hey, we need you to take this unpopular vote for us. I mean, I don`t understand how he thought that would succeed.

MATTHEWS: People like Medicare more than -- actually they liked Obamacare more than Republicans counted on. Michael?

STEELE: Well, they grew to like it, when you`re faced with the reality of losing the health care that you have for your family for the first time.

MATTHEWS: I haven`t heard anybody in the Republican Party say let`s get back to where we were before without anything. So, it`s better than what we had, that`s what they had to admit. When Republicans admit that Obamacare is better than nothing, better than what we had, which was nothing, then they can move forward and stop all this repeal crap and say, let`s start from here and improve. Let`s start from where we are, which is we admit is better than what we had.

STEELE: But you have a seven-year --

MATTHEWS: That`s just logic of that is. You don`t repeal.

STEELE: -- receive that point and that`s what they`re stuck on.

MATTHEWS: Repeal was the bad word.

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

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Wow, a long time Massachusetts hospital worker is now $759 million richer after winning the second largest Powerball jackpot in American history. Fifty-three-year-old Mavis Wanczyk said she realized she had the winning number after finishing her shift at the hospital last night. She said she was so rattled that she made a co-worker follow her home just to make sure she didn`t veer off the road. I don`t blame her.

She claimed her prize and promptly quit her job. I knew this would happen, of 32 years.

Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAVIS WANCZYK, POWERBALL WINNER: I`ve called them and told them I would not be coming back.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Take that job and shove it.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Bob, tell me something I don`t know.

CUSACK: This is only one way to pass a debt ceiling hike and that`s a clean bill. No spending reforms. Otherwise, nothing gets -- .

MATTHEWS: No walls?

CUSACK: No wall, right. But --

MATTHEWS: You know, Trump is watching you right now. No wall.

CUSACK: There`s a lot of fear that there are not enough Republican votes. They only need two dozen.

MATTHEWS: Because they want to do some sort of right wing --

CUSACK: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Besides the wall, what do they want to do? What`s the right wing thing they want to throw into --

CUSACK: They want to have a penny plan and reduce government spending across the board. Democrats will never go for that.

MATTHEWS: Thank you. Kimberly?

ATKINS: We may see some Republicans joining the Democratic effort to censure the president over his remarks about Charlottesville. This ongoing battle --

MATTHEWS: Which names?

ATKINS: I can`t give names just yes.

MATTHEWS: They don`t exist?

ATKINS: They do exist. One way it may happen is if Democrats agree to come to the negotiating table and give a little bit on some of their key agenda items such as tax reform. The fact this ongoing fight with Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan is giving leaders a chance to give a little cover - -

MATTHEWS: "The Boston Herald" has spoken. Thank you. Michael?

I`m a long time reader, even if I`ve disagreed with every word. Go ahead.

STEELE: Little know this, the Secretary of Energy Rick Perry has been are diligently putting together an effort to level the playing field between renewables and coal and other sources and we`ll have some success I think in leveling that playing field when this report comes out.

MATTHEWS: Bob Cusack, Kimberly Atkins and Michael Steele.

We`ll be right back Trump Watch tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Thursday, August 24, 2017.

There was a line I remember from the Abscam investigation, you know, that government sting operation in the 1970s that caught all those corrupt politicians in Philadelphia and South Jersey. It involved one of those being investigated. Georgy knows what Georgy has done.

You see, in criminal investigations, whether it`s in the movies, on TV or in real life city hall, the guy who did what he did knows what he did, and he knows that he didn`t want to get caught doing it. He still doesn`t want to get caught.

It`s not a mystery story to the guy who committed the crime. He knows it all. He knows what did he, what he was thinking when he did it, knows how he thought he could avoid getting caught.

So, you`re watching Donald Trump all these months, the way I`m watching Donald Trump and you see certain signs. You see him react when the subject of Russia comes up. You see him trying to stop the gears in this investigation with Robert Mueller and his cohort of 16 top attorneys are ramrodding. You see this prosecution machine worrying away right here in the same city where Trump now lives day and night determined to find the dirt under Trump`s finger nails, traces of conversations last summer and fall, finger prints of meetings, signs that this Russian move to help Trump was not a one-sided operation. There were Americans encouraging this Moscow plot to put their man in the White House.

So, people can charge Trump with being unstable or irrational or unhinged, but there`s none of that in his fears about Russia and Mueller, and those hot shot lawyers now putting every bit of their brain power and juice into finding out what Trump already knows and has known even as he took the oath of office in January.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2017 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2017 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.