Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 10/5/17 Trump hints at "calm before the storm"

Guests: Alex Carter, Ed Rendell, Glenn Thrush, Anne Gearan, Joe Hoeffel, Susan Page, Astead Herndon

Show: HARDBALL Date: October 5, 2017

Guest: Alex Carter, Ed Rendell, Glenn Thrush, Anne Gearan, Joe Hoeffel, Susan Page, Astead Herndon

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Furious.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington with some breaking news.

NBC News is reporting tonight that President Trump was furious after our report that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called him a "moron." Vice President Mike Pence and Tillerson talked, and that led to Tillerson`s remarkable press conference yesterday morning, when he denied threatening to quit. But not that that called -- but that he did not call Trump a moron. He didn`t deny that.

This morning, President Trump aimed his fury, publicly at least, at NBC. He tweeted, "Rex Tillerson never threatened to resign. This is fake news put out by NBC News, low news and reporting standards. No verification (ph) from me."

Well, this afternoon, President Trump`s spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, was asked about NBC`s reporting that Tillerson insulted the president. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Was the president upset that his secretary of state didn`t deny calling him a moron in his public remarks yesterday?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, as well as the secretary of state said, this is a petty, ridiculous accusation. And frankly, I think it`s beneath the secretary of state to weigh in on every rumor out there. His spokesperson, however, did come out and clarified that the secretary of state had never used those words.

QUESTION: And what`s your response to those who say the president has undercut the secretary of state, Sarah, just quickly?

SANDERS: I think the premise of that question is absolutely ridiculous. The president can`t undercut his own cabinet. The president is the leader of the cabinet. He sets the tone. He sets the agenda.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: For more, I`m joined by NBC`s chief foreign affairs correspondent, Andrea Mitchell. Also joining me, "The New York Times`s" Glenn Thrush, former Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele and "The Washington Post`s" Ann Gearan.

First to you, Andrea. Your reporting on this -- it seems to me like there`s high dungeon (sic) at the White House.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: There`s certainly anger. The president was already angry at Rex Tillerson because of what he said Saturday in China about being open to direct talks with North Korea. Then when he had tweeted out tweets objecting to what Tillerson said, then he was hit with our report and was furious about that report as he was preparing to go to Las Vegas.

So for a variety of reasons, according to the White House -- namely that John kelly, the chief of staff, had to work on other management issues at the White House, but also, according to our reporting, that he wanted to manage this firestorm -- he stayed behind. He did not take that trip.

He later in the day met with both Tillerson and Defense Secretary Mattis at the White House to figure out how to go forward with so much turmoil and with the president so angry at his secretary of state.

MATTHEWS: How does one go forward when your top diplomat in the world, in fact, your top cabinet member, apparently has insulted you in the company of a number of people?

MITCHELL: It`s hard to understand how that is going to work because he has been so badly damaged. Some of this is self-inflicted because over these last eight months, he has isolated himself, according to critics, has not filled key posts. Diplomacy is almost paralyzed by this, foreign officials saying they can`t get meetings with the secretary of state, foreign ministers from major allies having difficulty getting through. There just aren`t enough people handling these relationships.

That said, the core relationship between the president and his top diplomat is deeply troubled, has been for months and months. The White House view is that Tillerson lectures the president, doesn`t agree with him, is rude and not respectful enough.

Mike Pence, on a number of occasions, according to our reporting, has tried to intervene. They did talk yesterday, Pence, who was also very angry about a number of the details in our report, details that have not been challenged, and the fact is, Pence did talk to Tillerson. Tillerson then came out and gave that extraordinary news conference, a man who does not welcome contacts with the news media, having that news conference and basically praising the president and trying to get things right.

MATTHEWS: You`re the best, Andrea. But how do you find out who`s right and who`s wrong here? Is there any to -- is it just a bad marriage, or what would you call it?

MITCHELL: It`s definitely a bad marriage. It`s a relationship that I don`t think can be repaired. But divorce is not really an option right now because according to most people in and outside of the White House, political advisers, the politics of losing his secretary of state right now, when he`s already lost his national security adviser, two communications directors, his press secretary, his chief of staff -- I mean, there have been -- Tom Price, the HHS secretary -- he does not have a Homeland Security secretary because John Kelly moved to the White House, so there`s an acting secretary there. No one has been nominated yet. There`s just too many vacancies.

And the optics of losing your top cabinet official, the secretary of state, fourth in line to the presidency, as you`re preparing for a major Asian trip, as you`re preparing to announce a new Iran policy next week, and that you`re facing a continuing North Korea nuclear crisis, would just be appalling.

For all the criticisms of Rex Tillerson, most of the assumption in most foreign policy circles, certainly what Foreign Relations chairman Bob Corker is saying, is that best that he stay and that he and Mattis and Kelly try to shore up the White House going through all of these crises.

MATTHEWS: Andrea, hang in there. Let`s go to Carol Lee, who broke this story about the moron charge the other day.

Carol, you know, an old phrase in Washington was the walls have ears, and meaning, like, when you say something that gets heard -- you seemed to get the story first, what got heard. This fury that the president has seems so -- one of the most normal things I`ve heard about Donald Trump is he doesn`t like being called a moron.

CAROL LEE, NBC CORRESPONDENT: No, but who does, you know?

MATTHEWS: Right!

LEE: He certainly does not like being called a moron. He didn`t like that. He didn`t like the story. He was very angered by it. He spent a lot of time venting about it, according to our reporting. And he actually wasn`t quite satisfied with Rex Tillerson`s statement because he didn`t give a full-throated denial of -- that he -- denied that he said that the president was a moron.

So I mean, I agree with Andrea, who`s been reporting on this extensively. You know, it`s hard to see this relationship getting repaired. It looks like they may try to muddle through, for a little while, but these two have never really managed to hit it off. And I think at this point, it`s very much in doubt that they will in the future.

MATTHEWS: Let`s bring in some other reporters. Glenn, every time I see the president there -- I don`t know who put those pictures together -- I see Nikki Haley. Is she in the on-deck circle? Is that what`s -- he wants her to have a little bit more training before she becomes secretary of state? That`s what it looks like.

GLENN THRUSH, "NEW YORK TIMES": There have been rumors to that effect. There was a rumor that swept about seven days, ten days ago that he was dissatisfied with Nikki Haley.

I will underscore what Carol said. I don`t think this is a president who particularly likes being called a moron, but it is also noteworthy that Sarah Huckabee Sanders did not -- again did not completely deny the charge. And what...

MATTHEWS: Well, how could she? She wasn`t there. These denials don`t mean anything unless you get the secretary of state to say, I didn`t say it or I take it back.

THRUSH: But it was -- look, Heather Nauert denied it yesterday. It`s noteworthy that...

MATTHEWS: And was she there?

THRUSH: Exactly -- that Tillerson himself still hasn`t put out a statement denying it.

MATTHEWS: These denials mean nothing. They`re flackery.

Anne, what`s going on here? This is a strange White House when the president -- the president of the United States is head of our foreign policy. The secretary of state is our foreign minister. They are at odds, and personally so at odds.

GEARAN: Yes, I mean, when Sarah Huckabee Sanders said today that it`s ridiculous to presume that the president could undercut his cabinet secretary -- that`s not ridiculous at all. That`s exactly what Trump did, you know, multiple times. I mean, he basically cut Tillerson off at the knees on the Middle East diplomacy surrounding the Gulf breach with Qatar and he cut Tillerson off at the knees about North Korea. Now, that may be Tillerson`s fault, Tillerson misunderstood what the president wanted him to do and say and went out and said something that the president hasn`t approved, then that`s on him.

But it`s certainly possible for the president to undercut the diplomacy that Tillerson`s trying to do, and he`s done it multiple times.

MATTHEWS: Trump is spitballing his foreign policy. He just says, Well, I`m not going to talk to North Korea. I`m going to cut off -- I`m going to not -- I`m going to decertify the Iranian arms deal. It doesn`t seem like he`s sitting and studying the papers, studying -- he`s got his secretary and an entire State Department studying this stuff and he ignores them.

MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: He does. That`s the problem. If you want to know the frustration down in Foggy Bottom, it rests around the fact that this has been a State Department that has largely been marginalized from day one. Remember, you have heads of states come into this country that the State Department didn`t know were here. They didn`t get...

MATTHEWS: I like it when he goes to another country (INAUDIBLE) meet with our ambassador.

STEELE: Right. So -- so you -- so this was the beginning of the relationship totally set by the president himself. At a certain point, it is expected that an individual like a Rex Tillerson is going to have enough, or have too much of it. And I think this is what...

MATTHEWS: Well, he`s a rich man, but he`s a proud man.

Another tweet this morning by the president was aimed at the news media, no surprise here, blame the messenger. Quote, "Why isn`t the Senate Intel Committee looking into the fake news networks in our country to see why so much of our news is just made up, fake."

President Trump frequently demonized the media or at least a large part of the media, with a couple of glaring exceptions, of course. Let`s watch his exceptions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For the most part, honestly, 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.

"The Washington Post" is terrible. The failing "New York Times," which is, like, so bad (INAUDIBLE) Or CNN, which is so bad and so pathetic and their ratings are going down.

It was fake news. It was a totally phony story. Thank you very much. It was made up. It was made up by NBC. They just made it up. Where are you from?

QUESTION: BBC.

TRUMP: OK. Here`s another beauty.

And Hannity! How good is Hannity? And "Fox & Friends" in the morning is the best show, and it`s the absolute most honest show.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Yes, Steve Doocy is the new Walter Cronkite. I figured that one out a long time ago.

Let me go back to Anne on this and then to the other reporters out here because it seems to me that Trump doesn`t care about opinion from people like me or anyone else. He cares about straight front-page news reporting. It drives him crazy. He hates facts.

GEARAN: Well, I`d love to think he was reading the front pages every day. He certainly gets a lot of his news from what`s on television. And he processes information visually and I think on a gut level. And if he likes what he hears, if he thinks it has a positive spin about what he`s doing, he likes it. And he -- and if he doesn`t, he blasts with equal opportunity at anybody who has...

MATTHEWS: Glenn, what do you -- I`m sorry. Glenn, what do you think of this big investigation by the intel community? I think you said earlier today you wouldn`t mind if he did investigate...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: So what?

THRUSH: It would be hideous from a constitutional perspective.

MATTHEWS: Right.

THRUSH: But I think there are a lot of reporters in that briefing room who wouldn`t mind having the entire panoply of West Wing staff being forced under oath to testify that all these stories are incorrect. You know why? Because they`re not! They`re totally true.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Andrea, you work for a major news organization I`m lucky to serve in a different capacity. The seriousness with which the news industry at the high level, like NBC and "The New York Times," is so serious and so grown-up. And to be criticized by this president, who says things like Obama is an African, says things that don`t mean anything, is an absurdity.

MITCHELL: Well, we have systems, all our news organizations have systems, have people in charge of standards, in charge of legal review. Everything gets reviewed. And mistakes can happen. Everyone is human. But we double and triple-source.

But to compare that with the false statements that are made on a daily basis by government officials is pretty astounding. And I do think it undermines the credibility, and in this -- in this environment, it is directed at, I think, undermining the credibility of the news media, particularly on the Russian probe because that will, I think he believes, and is probably having its effect make a lot of people not respect the findings of either Robert Mueller...

MATTHEWS: That`s the plan.

MITCHELL: ... the committees or the reporting.

MATTHEWS: That`s the plan. Don`t you think that`s the plan?

Let me go to Carol on this because, Carol, I think that I`ve watched now for three days now, ever since your reporting on the word "moron," which maybe isn`t the most important thing ever reported, but it is fascinating, the way nobody has denied it, not Huckabee Sanders, not the secretary of state, not the president. Any one of those guys could have come out with their mouths and said, He didn`t call me a moron. They haven`t.

LEE: That`s right. And that`s because it`s true. The only two people who have denied it are R.C. Hammond (ph), who`s the...

MATTHEWS: Who doesn`t know.

LEE: Well, who also, you know, had -- said something to NBC that the vice president`s office said was absolutely, patently false -- and Secretary Tillerson and the press secretary at the state department. They`re the only two people who have come out and denied that Secretary Tillerson said that. So I think, you know, the secretary had multiple opportunities yesterday to knock that down, and he very specifically chose not to.

MATTHEWS: The next time the president talks about siccing investigators on the news media, the prominent news media, I think we should all recall, his friends, enemies, critics and neutralists, if there are any, how he was sending down investigators, top investigators out to Hawaii to check into the president`s birth certificate. And they were developing what he said, some very interesting information. All nonsense. Made up. That`s the fake news coming from the president.

Anyway, "The New York Times" added to the reporting on the relationship between the president and his secretary of state. According to "The New York Times," aides and Trump associates who have been in the room with them said Mr. Tillerson`s body language, eye rolling and terse expressions left little doubt that he disapproves of Mr. Trump`s approach.

Mr. Trump, they said, has noticed how Mr. Tillerson slouches in his presence, slouches particularly when he disagrees with a decision. When overruled, Mr. Tillerson often says, "It`s your deal," to the president`s irritation, according to two -- I love this stuff! This is high school crap! If I were Trump, I`d be mad at the (INAUDIBLE) In any way he can, he shows disrespect.

THRUSH: I had four people -- the "it`s your deal" thing apparently drives Trump completely nuts.

MATTHEWS: Well, it implies bonehead.

THRUSH: It`s, like, well, if you want to go with that, it`s your deal.

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: Well, what do you expect from a guy who makes a big deal about being a deal maker. And so again, this gets back to the earlier point that Tillerson has had enough. He`s fed up, and he`s pushing back. And I think he`s pushing himself out the door.

MATTHEWS: Let me get back to Anne. You are a solid reporter. And I`m thinking this is almost like going into a funhouse mirror situation.

GEARAN: I certainly never covered any secretary of state like Rex Tillerson, any president like Trump or any relationship like the two of them have. It`s completely -- it`s completely new and it`s completely bonkers. I mean, you can`t do diplomacy like this. I mean, you can do foreign policy, but you can`t do diplomacy.

MATTHEWS: Yes, the North Koreans are laughing at us. No, that`s too much. I won`t go that far. Thank you, Andrea Mitchell, Carol Lee, Glenn Thrush, Michael Steele and Anne. Congratulations to all the amazing reporters, print guys, and Andrea, of course, and Carol, who`s not a print person anymore. She`s one of ours. But doing great! Doing great!

LEE: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, coming up -- after Las Vegas, will Congress finally act on guns or at least on these things that make guns into those tommy guns? We`re going to talk tonight with some key Republicans and how they might open up to action. They`re actually talking about actually doing something about these bump stocks that turn semi-automatics into, well, tommy guns. And we`re going to talk about that. So let`s find out how serious those Republicans are. Will they do something, or are they afraid once again of the slippery slope to gun control?

Plus, breaking news tonight in the Russian investigation. More of that coming tonight, a lot. NBC News can report that investigators from special counsel Robert Mueller`s office have interviewed, catch this, Christopher Steele. They got to him in London, the British spy who compiled the dossier. I wonder if they asked about the bathroom. I`m sorry, the men`s room. I`m sorry, the bedroom.

And the HARDBALL roundtable and the country at the crossroads. Americans are increasingly optimistic about the economy, but very pessimistic about the direction of the country as a whole. That`s never happened before. Usually, when the economy`s getting better, people are happier. They`re not. And Who do they blame? The man in the White House. Big surprise.

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

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: According to a series of new reports, Russian hackers stole highly sensitive spying tools a from a U.S. government contractor. Anyway, the "White House Journal" says the stolen material includes, quote, "details of how the U.S. penetrates foreign computer networks and defends against cyber attacks." According to the experts, the theft is one of the most significant security breaches in recent years.

The contractor, who worked for the NSA, put the highly classified material on his home computer. The Russian hackers were then able to access his computer because he used a popular anti-virus software made by a Russian- based company. That was smart. Unbelievable.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Despite Republican efforts this week to put off a debate on gun control, pressure is mounting on Congress to do something in the wake of Sunday`s deadly massacre. And now there are signs of a potential bipartisan consensus in Congress, at least when it comes to these bump stocks, the gun accessory that effectively turns a semiautomatic weapon into a machine gun, right out of the 1930s.

Anyway, those rapid-fire devices were among the 12 rifles found in Stephen Paddock`s hotel room where he massacred 58 people from his window in roughly 10 minutes.

Here`s what Speaker Paul Ryan said today when he told -- he talked about how he`s going to allow legislation addressing the sale of bump stocks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I didn`t know what they were until this week. And I`m an avid sportsman. I think we`re quickly coming up to speed with what this is.

Fully automatic weapons have been banned for a long time. Apparently, this allows you to take a semiautomatic and turn it into a fully automatic, so clearly that`s something we need to look into.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: How do you have say -- why do you have to say you`re an avid sportsman when you`re talking about automatic weapons?

Anyway, today, the NRA released its first statement since the massacre in Las Vegas -- quote -- "The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semiautomatic rifles to function like fully automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations."

Isn`t that clever?

But rather than support new legislation, the NRA is calling on the ATF to review whether bump stocks comply with existing law. According to NBC News, the ATF has already concluded that bump stocks do not violate currently federal law. So it`s all nonsense from the NRA.

I`m joined now by former Democratic Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania and Columbia Law professor Alex Carter.

Governor, thank you so much.

You ran against the NRA on issues like this in Pennsylvania, a real gun state. Now, what do make of this by Paul Ryan? Do you think he is serious about anything that sounds like the slippery slope to the NRA?

ED RENDELL (D), FORMER PENNSYLVANIA GOVERNOR: You know, I think the heat is so great from around the country.

People are saying, this is it, enough is enough, finally, that they`re going to do something. They`re going to throw us a bone.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

RENDELL: Bump stocks, solving that problem by making them illegal will solve maybe 1 percent of the problem.

What I hope our Democrats do and some progressive Republicans do is amend that bill and make them vote on reinstating the assault weapons ban, which never should have been allowed to sunset, because semiautomatic weapons, if that guy had semiautomatic, as opposed to automatic, if he had no bump stocks, he would have hit at least 400 people, maybe not 600 -- 400 people is 400 too many.

Secondly, we ought to put universal background checks, which, as you pointed out on your show last night, 90 percent of the country believes ought to be enforced. And we ought to limit magazines to 10 shots a magazine.

Imagine if that guy had to reload after every 10 shots. Imagine the difference it would have made. And I don`t care if they say it won`t stop it from happening. Sure, it won`t stop it from happening. But it would get the death count down dramatically. It would get the wounded and injured down dramatically.

And one person is too many. Let`s get real in this country. You don`t hunt with semiautomatic or automatic weapons. You don`t need a magazine that has more than 10 shots to shoot a deer or an elk. Let`s get real. Let`s do something to protect our people.

MATTHEWS: OK.

Well, in a letter to the editor of "The New York Times" today I happened to read today, Alex wrote today, Alex Carter -- she`s a professor of law at Columbia Journalism -- you have to understand why this shooting happened. It`s much less -- much more important than how -- less than it happened. Anyway, find how it happened, not why this guy did it.

"When we feel we understand why someone did something terrible, we can blame that why and understand how we are separate from it. The critical question, the more difficult one to ask is, how? How does someone like Stephen Paddock obtain 47 guns and bring 23 of them into a hotel suite?"

Professor Carter, I love that argument, because it`s the heart of this issue. If you can hand out 100 automatic weapons to somebody or modify 100 automatic weapons, someone is going to use one in a crazy way. It`s just a number of -- it`s about selection and random nature and the way people are.

If guns get in the hands of people, someone`s going to use them. We have got to figure out how to keep the guns out of the hands of people. Your thoughts?

ALEX CARTER, PROFESSOR, COLUMBIA LAW SCHOOL: Yes, absolutely, right?

Asking why, I think, is at best a distraction and at worst a diversion from the real issue, which is, how are we going to prevent this and other tragedies like this from happening again?

And even if, you know, some of the sensible regulations that the governor proposed, right, universal background checks, or even an assault ban or a limit on the total number of guns that one can purchase, even if it wouldn`t have prevented all of the carnage in this prior incident, it might prevent the next one. Isn`t that reason enough?

MATTHEWS: Well, it sounds like it.

Republican lawmakers have voiced varying degrees of support for a ban on these bump stocks that create actually automatic weapons.

Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin told Politico that, "If that actually gets on the Senate floor, I would vote for it."

Isn`t that nice?

Congressman Bill Flores of Texas told "The Hill" that: "I think they should be banned."

That`s soft too.

And Congressman Senator Tom Rooney of Florida called for leadership from the president, telling Politico that: "Trump needs to take the lead on this bump stock issue. He`s the only one that can."

Sarah Huckabee Sanders also signaled today that the White House is open to regulating or banning bump stocks. Here she is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Does the president support legislation that would ban or regulate bump stocks?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: So, we`re certainly open to that moving forward, but we want to be part of that conversation as it takes place in the coming days and weeks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Governor, let`s talk about the politics, because there`s so many states, as I said last night, from New York, all the way across the middle of the country, until you get there, like California, that are pro-gun.

Pennsylvania is well known to be pro-gun. Yet you have been elected twice governor in that state by pretty comfortable margins by being a gun control guy. How do you do it?

RENDELL: Yes.

And, Chris, remember, Pennsylvania has the second highest number of NRA members of any state in the country. And, by the way, the majority of NRA members don`t agree with the NRA on a number of positions, as we know from universal background checks.

Look, I won three elections where the NRA was against me by 10 points, 12 points, and 21 points. Those are considered landslides, particularly in a purple state like ours.

The NRA is a paper tiger. What they do is, they pick on one state representative or one congressman, and they pour all their money into that one race and defeat that one person and say, see, we can do it to you.

But if everyone stands up and has the guts and the courage of their convictions and everyone votes the right way, the NRA will be powerless to do anything about it. And any senator, Democrats included, any senator who doesn`t support this commonsense gun legislation ought to be ashamed of themselves. How much more does it take? What will it take to get Congress to act?

MATTHEWS: Professor, I looked at the Republican platform today. You don`t have to be partisan. I know you`re a professor.

But let me tell you, the Republican platform protects magazines. It protects AR-15s. It protects everything that is even discussed. They haven`t gotten to this bump thing yet, this thing that changes the gun into an automatic.

But they clearly -- when they hear something`s coming their way, they put it in their platform and say, leave it alone. They are fanatics. The Republican Party, as a party, is a fanatic party on guns.

CARTER: Well, Chris, last I checked, the Constitution, and not the platform of either party, was the supreme law of the land.

And we know that other constitutional rights, like the right to free speech, are subject to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions.

MATTHEWS: Well, you know what the Republicans say in their platform? That the right to bear arms precedes the Constitution. It`s a God-given, sort of theological right.

They treat this like religion, Governor. I don`t know how to explain it. It`s a religious, essential notion to them that everybody should have any kind of gun they want, any -- a bazooka, a tank. They never put a limit on it, ever.

RENDELL: And which is ridiculous.

And, look, Chris, I have a message to everyone out there who`s a commonsense person. Don`t get fooled by this willingness to do something about bump stocks. Bump stocks will take care of 1 percent of the problem.

We need them to do something about assault weapons, semiautomatic assault weapons. We need them to do something about the capacity of magazines. And we need universal background checks. Come on, America. You know what`s right.

This is a time to stand up and give them a loud and clear and deafening message.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Governor Rendell of Pennsylvania.

And, professor Alex Carter, I loved your letter to the editor today. And I really tuned in on it. That`s why you`re here tonight. Thank you so much.

CARTER: Thank you, Chris. I appreciate it.

MATTHEWS: Up next: breaking news on the Russian investigation. NBC News has confirmed that special counsel Mueller`s team has interviewed, has done it, the British spy behind the Trump dossier. They have gotten to Christopher Steele, even if the Senate committee hasn`t.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

NBC News tonight confirmed that investigators working for special counsel Robert Mueller have interviewed former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. That`s according to -- that`s according to a source close to Steele himself.

Steele is the author of the now-infamous dossier on President Donald Trump, a collection of raw intelligence reports that allege, among other things, that the president and his associates engaged in a -- catch this -- "well- developed conspiracy of cooperation" -- close quote -- with Russian intelligence during the 2016 election.

It comes after the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday said they had been unable to reach Steele, but suggested that they had corroborated parts of his dossier.

I`m right now joined by Ken Dilanian, investigative reporter with NBC.

Ken, give us the full feel on this. I think Trump won`t like to hear this. He will see how serious Mueller is taking this, even to the point of arranging a meeting with Christopher Steele. What do we know?

KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I think this is really going to get under Donald Trump`s skin, Chris.

You`re absolutely right, because Trump and the White House have been denouncing this dossier, above all other things in this Russia investigation, from the beginning of his presidency.

You will recall his first news conference, he took time out to denounce this dossier. And, you know, what most people probably remember about this are the salacious sexual allegations about Trump...

MATTHEWS: Sure.

DILANIAN: ... that he absolutely denies.

But, as you just said, there is much more in this document. This document lays out a road map for what it says is a conspiracy of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

And much of it is unproven. I mean, for example, it says that Paul Manafort sort of coordinated between Russian intelligence and the Trump campaign. That is not proven, although Paul Manafort is under investigation.

But there are some things that have been corroborated. I mean, Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in so many words yesterday, that they had been able to rebuild, as he put it, the timeline of the dossier, parts of it. They won`t tell us which parts, though, because it`s classified.

So, this is a document that investigators from both the Congress and now we know special counsel Robert Mueller are taking very seriously. And the White House doesn`t like it.

MATTHEWS: How about Steele`s credibility, Christopher Steele? Is he considered a crackpot, fringy, or someone who is a real serious spy?

DILANIAN: Not in the least.

My intelligence sources tell me this guy is a serious person. He was stationed in Moscow. He worked for the British secret intelligence service, MI6. He`s known as a Russia expert, and he has credibility.

Moreover, the FBI worked with Steele in their investigation of corruption in international soccer before he began working on the Trump thing. And then the FBI was prepared to pay Steele to allow him to continue his fact- gathering on the Trump-Russia stuff.

That didn`t come through. But the FBI has been working with Steele all along. And now we know that Mueller has some additional questions for him.

MATTHEWS: Well, is this going to be like he meets -- if Mueller meets with the guy, he gives him a template, sort of a blueprint for what to check out. In other words, he can give him a guideline as what to look for. Then Mueller has the opportunity now to prove a lot of it.

DILANIAN: Yes, I actually think that has already happened.

So, what this would be is probably follow-up questions. There are things that the FBI can`t answer, wants to understand better, where Steele got it, how -- you know, what`s the timeline around a particular meeting.

And that`s probably the kind of thing they`re asking now, because don`t forget they have had this Steele information since last July, some of it. So, it forms the basis of the FBI`s investigation in many ways.

MATTHEWS: Ken, do you ever wonder what`s in Bob Mueller`s attache case? That is a heavy, heavy bag.

(LAUGHTER)

DILANIAN: Every day, Chris.

MATTHEWS: And he walks around with it, like it unbalances him.

I keep thinking, what has he got in that bag that Trump ought to -- look at him. There he is. He carries it like it`s got something heavy in there. And I just wonder. If I were Trump, I would be scared to death of that case. This is a serious guy.

DILANIAN: I mean, look, this is a Marine combat veteran.

I don`t know that he`s the kind of guy to write books, but if he ever does a book deal some day, when this is all over, I will be first in line to buy it.

MATTHEWS: He looks like a pro to me.

Thank you, NBC`s Ken Dilanian.

Up next: more on top story this evening. New reporting on just how furious President Trump was after learning that Secretary Tillerson, his secretary of state, his foreign minister, called him a moron.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Let`s go back to our top story tonight. So, it`s a dozer, reporting tonight from NBC News that President Trump was furious, that`s the word, upon learning that his secretary of state had called him a moron. The vice president was also fuming about that and talked to Tillerson about it, leading to that extraordinary news conference yesterday where Tillerson had to come out and face the music.

Let`s bring in the HARDBALL round -- Joe Hoeffel is a former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania and the author of "Fighting for the Progressive Center in the Age of Trump", Susan Page is Washington bureau chief of "USA Today" and Astead Martin -- I`m sorry Astead Herndon is national political reporter for "The Boston Globe."

Astead, let`s talk about this. I guess you remember high school. You`re closer to it than I am, but this fun and games. The president of the United States and his foreign minister basically fighting over name-calling and now, Trump apparently a few minutes ago tonight talking about it`s the calm before the storm, maybe there`s more coming, maybe a firing tonight, who knows?

ASTEAD HERNDON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE BOSTON GLOBE: We`ve seen this throughout the presidency. We`ve seen name calling. We`ve seen these kind of little fights between cabinet members.

But I think there`s something new to this word "moron." We have Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, in front of other White House officials, other State Department officials, going so far as to say that about the president, in a public setting. That seems like an escalation. And that really speaks to, I think, the depths at which there is real in-fighting, real inability to govern amongst this White House.

MATTHEWS: Of all the gross public figures in our lifetime, Susan, and me, the guy who uses the worst words from other women, women are ugly, they`re bleeding from their face, they`re sweating, you know, they`re little Marco, they`re short. Every physical thing you can go after a person on, he goes after them on, and now, he`s upset somebody called him a moron?

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: Well, wouldn`t that be a firing offense in any other White House? And the only reason it`s not a firing offense here is because they are concerned about what happens to U.S. foreign policy, to U.S. standing in the world if Tillerson --

MATTHEWS: Are they that grown-up to worry about those things?

PAGE: Well, I think the chief of staff Kelly is, and I think Defense Secretary Mattis is, and that`s why they were getting together as NBC News just reported, to discuss how in the world they can go forward. Does anybody in Washington think Tillerson will be secretary of state, say, by Christmas?

MATTHEWS: No.

PAGE: I don`t think so.

MATTHEWS: Congressman, let`s talk about politics and grown-up politics and, you`re a political moderate to progressive guy. And it seems to me that this is a clown show, bluntly stated. And the only people that defend Trump are those who are very right wing and very pro-Trump. Because all our polling shows two-thirds of the American people think we`re heading the wrong direction right now. Two-thirds.

FORMER REP. JOSEPH HOEFFEL (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, I think those two- thirds or those people that believe we`re in the wrong direction think it about Trump, not the country.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HOEFFEL: He`s divisive. He`s insulting to people. He can`t get a program together. He hasn`t drained --

MATTHEWS: Why`d your state vote for him?

HOEFFEL: That`s a great question!

MATTHEWS: Ha! I come from there, too, and I am stunned that a reasonable state, like Pennsylvania, is not a right-wing state, voted for Trump.

HOEFFEL: I think Hillary lost touch with her working class roots. The party`s working class roots. I think that`s why she lost Pennsylvania.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about the scary stuff, North Korea because we don`t know. Trump is a little unsteady, but Kim Jong-un is really unstable, and we wonder whether the combination of these two could cause trouble.

PAGE: And you wonder why if people think the economy is getting better, which they do, are they still so concerned about the direction of the country?

MATTHEWS: Because they read the papers.

PAGE: And because of things like the secretary of state is calling the president a moron and we seem to be steaming towards a confrontation with North Korea. So, I think it is not irrational for people to be worried about exactly what`s going to be ahead.

MATTHEWS: Astead, you know, we have problems with North Korea on the nuclear front, you know, they`re talking about building a weapon that could reach us, San Francisco, or whatever on the coast, and now he wants to reopen -- rip the scab off the Iranian nuclear deal and get them building nuclear weapons again. It`s like he wants a two-front war. It`s crazy.

HERNDON: And it`s interesting because the president has always talked about unpredictability as his friend, but in issues like diplomacy and foreign policy, there can be a problem and a miscalculation. You want the North Koreans, the Iranians to know what they can expect from the president, from the White House.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HERNDON: And when you have a president who`s tweeted one thing, who`s undercutting his secretary of state and the U.N. ambassador, that creates a problem in which what can these actors who may be irrational, what can they expect from the White House? And if they can`t, if they don`t have a sense of -- if they don`t have a sense of what to expect, then what do they do next? And that can get --

MATTHEWS: Guess what`s coming tonight. Take a look at President Trump, just moments ago, as I said, dining with the first lady, members of the military and their spouses, catch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You guys know what this represents? Maybe it`s the calm before the storm.

REPORTER: What`s the storm?

TRUMP: Could be the calm before the storm.

REPORTER: Iran, ISIS, or what? What storm, Mr. President?

TRUMP: We have the world`s great military people here in this room, I will tell you that. And we`re going to have a great evening. Thank you all for coming.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What`s the calm before the storm, Susan?

PAGE: Well, I think he might be talking about coming to a decision on the Iran nuclear deal and decertifying, I mean, because that`s coming up next week, we know there are final meetings at the White House dealing with that. So maybe that`s what`s on his mind.

MATTHEWS: He wants a storm?

PAGE: I don`t know. The real answer is, I don`t know, but if you want to speculate about what he could be referring to --

MATTHEWS: The one thing he said I like during the campaign, he said, two things I like in the campaign Trump. But I`ll admit, I said it before. I like the infrastructure, because I think we need to rebuild this country, including mass transit, fast transit across the country, and also stupid wars, let`s stop him. And here he is opening up the war again with Iran.

HOEFFEL: Yes, it`s crazy. And he`s evaluating that deal all wrong. This is just about stopping Iran from getting nukes. He`s complaining about the terrorism, and he should, but he`s talking about apples and comparing them to oranges.

MATTHEWS: That would require he read the document and he hasn`t. Thank you.

The roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Joe, tell me something I don`t know.

HOEFFEL: Well, Congress and the president have to get our fiscal house in order. And if they don`t, if we can`t come up with a sustainable budget, we`re not going to be able to invest in people or grow the economy.

MATTHEWS: And we`re about 900,000 in deficit right now.

HOEFFEL: It`s a terrible $200 trillion national debt.

MATTHEWS: And a good economy.

Yes?

PAGE: New "USA Today"/Suffolk poll out today, 56 percent of Americans say they want the Congress elected next area to confront Trump --

MATTHEWS: I saw that.

PAGE: -- including one out of five Republicans.

MATTHEWS: So they want -- so the Democrats look healthy right now.

PAGE: They do.

MATTHEWS: If they`ll vote. If they show up.

PAGE: The door is open.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

Astead?

HERNDON: You were mentioning bump stocks and certainly, that legislation could come banning them, but that`s actually helping their sales right now.

MATTHEWS: I heard.

HERNDON: The company has sold out wall to wall on them --

MATTHEWS: Isn`t that heartwarming?

HERNDON: And they are triple the price.

MATTHEWS: So, all the people are running out to get guns, turn their guns into automatic weapons, so they can be, what, be able to shoot automatic weapons. They want to be machine gun Kelly.

Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Former U.S. Congressman Joe Hoeffel is here. He`s back with us, along with Susan Page, and Astead Herndon.

Well, Democrats are at a harsh reality check after they lost in 2016, as we all know, and they have a tough battle ahead to win back American voters and win back the Congress and the presidency. In Joe`s new book, "Fighting for the Progressive Center in the Age of Trump," he writes: Progressives need to fight for the political center of our civil arena with policies that are both socially liberal and fiscally responsible, if we are going to win the battle for public support against Donald Trump.

He also warns progressive always need to have the courage of our convictions. We must be willing to defend our records and define and explain our accomplishments, if we don`t, the right wing will do it for us, and we know how distorted that will be.

Joe, I would have thought that was common sense. And then I saw Donald Trump talking about punishing women for having an abortion and winning. So explain. How do they win with that dogma?

HOEFFEL: Well, that`s not why he won.

MATTHEWS: Well, he did win.

HOEFFEL: He won.

MATTHEWS: And he did say that.

HOEFFEL: Yes, he did.

MATTHEWS: OK, go ahead.

HOEFFEL: But he promised political change. And he promised to end economic stagnation.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HOEFFEL: Now, neither of those things has happened. We still have the swamp in Washington. It`s just different people paddling around in the muck. And the economic stagnation and income inequality is greater than ever.

That`s why he`s in trouble. That`s why the Republicans I think are going to get shellacked in the 2018 election.

MATTHEWS: That`s what I`m asking about. Jump -- you can jump in here, Susan.

I mean, Republicans won not because rich people voted for them, there aren`t that many, but regular, regular people voted for them, and they voted for him because they thought this guy was on their side. Now, we see the tax bill, excuse me, the estate tax, you have to have $11 million to give your kids for that to help you out, $11 million. That`s not for the average Joe or Jane.

PAGE: He also won because people bothered to turn out to vote for him. And there are any number of Democratic voters who didn`t bother to turn out to vote. So, the question is --

MATTHEWS: Why not?

PAGE: Because I think they didn`t feel energized --

MATTHEWS: They`re excited by Obama but not Hillary?

PAGE: They were -- maybe they weren`t crazy about Trump but they weren`t crazy about Hillary Clinton either, and a lot of voters stayed home.

So, the question for 2018 is who`s going to have the energy? I don`t think you can tell right now. I mean, I don`t think this is a slam dunk for Democrats. It`s an opportunity for Democrats.

MATTHEWS: Astead then back to Joe. I look at all these suburban districts like Fitzpatrick, in Bucks County, and I look at Meehan in Delaware County, I go, whoa. How come all these suburban areas where they are pro-choice, and they are pro-gay rights, they`re all moderate on social issues, are voting for -- you start, why are they voting for Trump? These people are not right-wingers.

HERNDON: I think I would be remiss to say he also honed in on racial resentment.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HERNDON: And we look at what types of people voted for him, that also often falls along racial lines and how people feel about other groups. And so you can`t separate, I don`t think, the economics of Donald Trump, which certainly promised a form of populism. But for that social rhetoric that he honed in on, that`s also a key portion of why people turned out.

MATTHEWS: OK, Joe, you respond. Did he pick up on wedge issues?

HOEFFEL: Oh, yes, you`re kidding me? He`s still doing it. He sends out dog whistles to the Republican base. He did that on Puerto Rico. He mentioned, well, they`re not quite working on it.

MATTHEWS: He liked Las Vegas a lot more, didn`t he?

HOEFFEL: Yes. Not quite working hard enough in Puerto Rico.

MATTHEWS: Ungrateful.

HOEFFEL: Have you ever heard an American president criticize American citizens in the middle of a natural disaster? I mean, it`s unbelievable.

MATTHEWS: I don`t think he educated us to the fact that Puerto Rico is part of America. He made it sound like a distant land.

Joe Hoeffel, moderate, well, I don`t want to overdo -- a moderate progressive, author of the book, "Fighting for the Progressive Center in the Age of Trump." And I want to thank you, Susan Page, as always. And, Astead, always, you guys are great.

When we return, let me finish tonight with Trump Watch. You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Thursday, October 5th, 2017.

The percentage of Americans who believe the country under Donald Trump is headed in the wrong direction has jumped 21 percent since he took office. It`s now up to 64 percent. That`s nearly two-thirds of the country.

But what about the other third? You have to wonder about those people who claim things are getting better. What precisely could they be referring to?

He`s got a foreign policy team in complete chaos. The secretary of state calling him a moron and a lot of people around Trump wishing the man who called him that would drop the insults and get out of town himself.

But wait a minute, what about the president? He`s out to kill the nuclear deal with Iran and wants to end all communication with North Korea. For whatever reason, he seems to want to raise the temperature on relations with both countries. What`s the plan, Stan?

At home, Trump seems equally without blueprints. He`s pushed an end to Obamacare with all the desperate and keen collect of Elmer Fudd chasing hopelessly after Bugs Bunny, and with the same zero effect. Nothing has gotten done.

On tax reform, he`s going in one direction, his team the other, talking about keeping the lower rate at 10 percent rather than raising it to 12 percent, as if that`s going to make poor people like him. He has yet to say what loopholes he`s going to eliminate except to suggest he`s going after states where they tax the most so that he can tax more. That sounds fair.

Name an area where he`s got his act together. He goes to San Juan and throws out paper towels. He goes to Vegas and refuses to even mention a word about gun violence. Isn`t that the reason he was there?

Again, back to the question. Who are these people who think things are going swimmingly? Have they been down so long it looks like up? What about the hopes even I had that he`d do something about rebuilding this country, getting serious about catching up with the rest of the world on mass transit? What about the more desperate hope I had that he would end the stupid wars? He promised to.

And now, we`re back in Afghanistan big-time and he wants to heat things up with Iran. Why can`t he at least get two things done, even his skeptics had hoped he would? Right direction? Get a compass.

This is HARDBALL. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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