Growing concerns over President Trump's stability Transcript 10/12/17 Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Gabe Sherman, Ruth Marcus, Gov. Dannel Malloy, Darren Samuelsohn, Jill Wine-Banks, Leon Panetta, Susan Page, Anita Kumar

Show: HARDBALL Date: October 12, 2017 Guest: Gabe Sherman, Ruth Marcus, Gov. Dannel Malloy, Darren Samuelsohn, Jill Wine-Banks, Leon Panetta, Susan Page, Anita Kumar


Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

President Trump is angry, frustrated and lashing out. His chief of staff said today the president is frustrated by the media and by the Congress, and according to "The Washington Post," the president was also livid back in July when his advisers suggested that he recertify the Iran nuclear deal. One person familiar with that meeting told "The Post," "He threw a fit. He was furious, really furious."

Well, today, President Trump lashed out about Puerto Rico, tweeting "Electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes. We cannot keep FEMA, the military and the first responders in Puerto Rico forever."

He`s talking about going after television networks now who report stories he doesn`t like. He tweeted today, "The fake news is going all out in order to demean and denigrate. Such hatred." He continued his culture crusade against NFL players who take a knee during the national anthem. Let`s watch.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So I watched Colin Kaepernick, and I thought it was terrible. And then it got bigger and bigger and started mushrooming. You cannot disrespect our country, our flag, our anthem. You cannot do that.



MATTHEWS: Well, also in that interview, he attacked what he called grandstanding Republicans, as well as the Democrats in Congress.


TRUMP: The one thing with the Democrats, they stay together like glue. They`re lousy politicians and their policies are terrible, but they do stick together.


MATTHEWS: Well, he started a war of tweets with Senator Bob Corker, of course, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, labelling him "Little Bob Corker." And there`s a pattern now of the wild behavior here. After his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, reportedly called him a moron, Trump said they should compare IQ tests. And "Vanity Fair" hyde (ph) reported yesterday the president recently told an ally, "I hate everyone in the White House. There are a few exceptions, but I hate them."

There have been multiple reports this week about the president`s deteriorating mood. "The Washington Post" spoke to one Trump confidante who compared the president to a whistling teapot, and according to that person, quote, "I think we`re in pressure cooker territory." "Vanity Fair" spoke to several people close to the president who described him as unstable and unraveling. And "The L.A. Times" said he was engaged or has engaged in shouting matches with his chief of staff, John Kelly.

Well, today, there was a surprise guest at the White House briefing, General John Kelly, who rejected reports today that he was going anywhere. Let`s watch him.


JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Although I read it all the time, pretty consistently, I`m not quitting today.


KELLY: I don`t believe -- and I just talked to the president, I don`t think I`m being fired today. And I am not so frustrated in this job that I`m thinking of leaving. I will tell you, this is the hardest job I`ve ever had. This is, in my view, the most important job I ever had.


MATTHEWS: Wow. I`m joined right now by "Vanity Fair`s" Gabe Sherman, "Washington Post" columnist Ruth Marcus and former Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele.

Gabe, give us a sense of how this whole mushrooming of rage seems to be getting together, coming together.

GABE SHERMAN, "VANITY FAIR": Yes. Well, Chris, you know, this is a president who is increasingly isolated. He is cut off from his friends, the donors and the New York confidantes that he is used to speaking with going back decades with his time at Trump Tower. And the consequence of that is he is lashing out.

He -- and advisers -- and I think you`re seeing the leaks represent this -- people are troubled by his mental decline and his unstable behavior, and we`ve seen tremendous leaks, especially to NBC News, about the a idea that he wanted to increase the nuclear stockpiles tenfold, and then the leaks that I received this week from his inner circle that talked about his mental decline.

So I think this is really an inflection point, and what Bob Corker said publicly brought into the fore what Republicans in Washington have been talking about privately and I think really freed up some sources to start talking about what is going on inside this White House.

MATTHEWS: Well, Ruth, it`s October now, and of course, some of this reporting by us, in fact, comes from July, where the pressure cooker mentality was already at work. I mean, is this modulating? It is consistently growing in pressure? Is the guy getting loopy or what?


MATTHEWS: Or is it just, occasionally he does things that show a really bad temper?

MARCUS: Well, we have had presidents with tempers before. You know...

MATTHEWS: Sure, Roosevelt, Eisenhower. Eisenhower had a horrible one.

MARCUS: Bill Clinton could turn red and yell at you at a moment`s notice if you were a White House staffer, and then he got over it and he blew over. But he also got things accomplished and he also knew the policy and everything else.

I think that this is episodic on Trump`s part. He goes up and down. But there is a ramping up because, look, his first year is coming to a close. What does he have to show for it? A Supreme Court Justice that Senator McConnell, now one of his arch enemies, helped pave the way for, and that`s about it. So as the pressure is on, the pressure cooker starts to heat up.

MATTHEWS: Let`s look at the worlds the president lives in. He lives in a world where he has to deal with Congress. He has no confidence and love for Congress. I mean, they`re a joke, as far as he`s -- especially Republicans. He has to deal with the media. Hates the media, the way he talks, at least, hates his White House staff. Is there any world in which he`s comfortable, he`s not hating somebody? It`s just like he hates all the worlds he knows.


MARCUS: He likes playing golf.

STEELE: Those worlds are foreign to him. I think the reality is the world that Trump has created over the last 35-plus years, where he is the center of that -- that particular...

MATTHEWS: Where you don`t have to pay your bills?

STEELE: You don`t have to pay your bills...

MATTHEWS: You can fire people?

STEELE: You can do whatever you want.

MATTHEWS: Well, who wouldn`t want that world? You don`t have to pay your bills. You can fire anybody you like...


STEELE: There`s no back talk. Well, you create that world, that`s your world.

MATTHEWS: And a media that is -- that is scared to death of you.

STEELE: Right. Right.

MATTHEWS: The business media has to operate entirely on the willingness of the subject to give you an interview.

STEELE: Right. Exactly. New York business media, even New York social media, is not the Washington press corps, not "The New York Times," not those folks who have been covering the White House for 15, 20 years. And they don`t -- they don`t just sort of kowtow to this notion that the president is unhappy with you. OK. So? Could you answer the question, please? And that`s not something he`s used to.

MATTHEWS: Apparently not. General Kelly today was asked about the president`s frustrations. Here`s what he said. Let`s watch.


KELLY: It is astounding to me how much is misreported. I will give you the benefit of the doubt that you are operating off of contacts, leaks, whatever you call them, but I would just offer to you the advice, I`d say, you know, maybe develop some better sources. The Congress has been frustrating to him. Our government is designed to be slow. And it is. His sense, I think, as a man who is outside of the Washington arena, a businessman, much more of a man of action, his great -- I would say his great frustration is the process that he now finds himself...


MATTHEWS: Gabe, let`s cut through the PR here. The only reason we`re hearing from the chief of staff is because of rumors, insistent rumors, he`s going to quit. So he has the come out and play defense. We`ve had -- you`ve had the president come out the other day like Fredo in "The Godfather," say, I`m smart. These are all defensive public relations moves. We would not know anything if they weren`t scared and felt they had to defend themselves.

SHERMAN: Yes. I received -- on my way over to the studio, I talked with a person very close to the president who said that, of course, he sent John Kelly out there to shoot down these rumors, that the president was lived, especially over my piece in "Vanity Fair," was calling advisers in a panic about the idea that the image of his presidency is one that is coming apart at the seams.

piece. So what I think we`re seeing this week -- and it`s Thursday, and we`ll see it through Friday -- is an effort of damage control to try to change the narrative.

But the facts are the facts. And we see his Twitter feed, and he`s lashing out at Puerto Rico in the middle of a humanitarian crisis. This is not a president that is projecting somebody who is confidently -- and providing confident and steady leadership.

MATTHEWS: You know, we had "no drama Obama," I mean, a president who was known for his Sinatra-like cool. I mean, it could drive us crazy because he could be aloof, President Obama, but very calm and nothing was -- he would have beer summits, anything to calm anything down. He could actually get a little hot.

This president, I do believe, likes it. I think he likes it shaken up. I think he thinks as long as it`s 52 card pickup and all of the cards are in the air and everybody doesn`t know what anybody else is doing, he feels he`s got a comparative advantage. In other words, if the establishment is shook up, he`s attacking, everybody, there`s commotion, there`s headlines of collision and grief and anger and friction, he likes it!

He doesn`t like calm because calm is something he could establish in an hour. He could simply stop tweeting. He could stop attacking these groups. He could live with them. And he doesn`t want to just live with people.

MARCUS: Well, he...

MATTHEWS: It seems to me. He likes it.

MARCUS: He kind of likes it. He -- he likes to...

MATTHEWS: He tweets at 6:30 in the morning to get it going!

MARCUS: He like to shake things up. He likes to keep people off -- you know, off-kilter. But he doesn`t actually strike me as somebody who`s having a lot of fun right now.

MATTHEWS: True enough.

MARCUS: Despite the 73 he shot in golf the other day.

MATTHEWS: Did he really? Was that a Bill Clinton 73? Come on!


MATTHEWS: Who`s keeping score?

Anyway, President Trump has been particularly agitated with the media these past few days after NBC`s exclusive report that he wanted to increase the U.S. nuclear arsenal this summer by 10-fold. Here`s some of what the president has said. Let`s watch him.


TRUMP: And it`s frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write. And people should look into it.

Media is bad. They`re really dishonest people. These are very, very dishonest people. I call it fake media. It`s fake. So much fake news, and we have to understand...

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Do you agree with that, fake news?



MATTHEWS: That`s his interlocutor there, Sean Hannity! Anyway -- it`s like one of these infomercials, isn`t it? You know, I`m using this new foundation -- how`s it going?

Anyway, Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, of course, responded last night. "Mr. President, words spoken by the president of the United States matter." That`s the senator talking. Are you tonight recanting of the oath you took on January 20 to preserve, protect and defend the 1st Amendment?"


STEELE: Hey...

MATTHEWS: And there`s a true conservative from Nebraska, not a wild and crazy guy by any (INAUDIBLE)...

STEELE: No, not a wild and crazy guy.

MATTHEWS: ... saying this president better start paying attention to his oath.

STEELE: And there are more voices in the Senate and the House and elsewhere around the country that need to come up to that standard. You know, it`s one thing to say that when you`re on your way out the door, it`s something very different when you know you`re going to be there next year and the year after that. And I think Ben Sasse and others are now finding that space to carve out because here`s the reality for the GOP.


STEELE: This president has redefined the party in such a way that it is probably running into that sphere where it`s going to be unelectable...


STEELE: ... in a number of states that are critical to holding and maintaining control of both chambers. So they`ve got to start looking at this idea of self-preservation if any value or any principle they`ve espoused or hold onto still matters because this president is agnostic to all of that. And isn`t -- and just by -- the fact that Bannon is out there saying, We will take you out, tells you the president`s imprimatur`s on that and this is a direction for the party that`s going to be beyond dangerous.

MATTHEWS: Ruth, then Gabe, I want you to talk about the media here. It seems like the president has decided, like judge-shopping, he`s media- shopping. He`s got Steve Doocy in the morning. He`s got Sean at night. Fair enough. He`s got -- he doesn`t really use Rush Limbaugh, he goes to those two. So he basically says there`s two people. Remember Rabbi Korff back in the Nixon days?

MARCUS: Yes, I do!


MATTHEWS: Nixon had one last friend. It was Rabbi Korff. He`s got -- he`s got Sean, OK? And it seems to work.

Ruth and Gabe, it seems to be -- it gets enough information out through tweeting and those two people to reach in the morning, he tweets and he does Steve Doocy in the morning show, the "Fox and Friends," and then he goes Sean at night for a bigger audience. And combining that with his tweeting, he is reaching his 30-some percent. He`s doing what he wants to do. He`s feeding his army with the words he thinks are his message.

SHERMAN: Chris...

MARCUS: He`s...


MARCUS: He`s communicating with them, and I also think it`s actually quite therapeutic for him, as is the Twitter. It helps him let off steam. He`s in a safe place, you know, with -- safe space with his friends at "Fox and Friends"...


MARCUS: ... and Fox and friends at night, and it makes him feel better. One of the things that`s striking as I was listening to General Kelly again was the number of times he used the word "frustration."


MARCUS: He`s not so frustrated he`s leaving, which suggests he might be a little frustrated...

MATTHEWS: He seems pretty cool, that guy.

MARCUS: He did a very good job. But the president`s frustrations were evident from his behavior, but they`re also evident from his chief of staff.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Gabe Sherman.


MATTHEWS: And thank you, Ruth Marcus, as always, and thank you, Michael Steele.

Coming up, the Russian investigation. President Trump`s lawyers may offer him up -- him up -- for an interview under oath, apparently, with special counsel Robert Mueller as an attempt to speed up the investigation, but it comes with big-time risk to a president who has a shaky relationship with the truth. He could, you know, perjure himself.

And it comes as John McCain is asking why the Trump administration still hasn`t acted against Russia for meddling in our election, hasn`t done nothing. In fact, we`re going to get to the footsie the president`s still playing with the Russians and not doing anything to impose the sanctions.

Plus, former defense secretary and former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta is coming here to talk about Iran, North Korea and the chaos we`re watching inside the Trump White House.

And from his executive order sabotaging the Affordable Care Act to his expected announcement tomorrow to decertify the Iran deal, President Trump continues to do the only things he knows how to do, destroy the legacy brick and mortar of his predecessor, Barack Obama.

Finally, let me finish tonight with what happened -- what happened the first of this month in Las Vegas and how nothing has happened since to deal with the gun issue.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. It`s been barely a week since the deadly massacre in Las Vegas, and House speaker Paul Ryan has already made it clear that Congress isn`t going to do anything about it. Even though a bipartisan group of representatives has introduced a bill to ban bump stocks, the device that the Las Vegas shooter used to fire his gun at the speed of an automatic weapon, Speaker Ryan said yesterday that this should be a regulatory fix, not a legislative one. Let`s watch him.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We are still trying to assess why the ATF let this go through in the first place. We think the regulatory fix is the smartest, quickest fix. And I`d frankly like to know how it happened in the first place.


MATTHEWS: Well, this comes after the National Rifle Administration said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, firearms and explosives should, quote, "immediately review whether these devices comply with the federal law." Well, the ATF approved the first bump stock back in 2010 -- that`s seven years ago -- and has since said that they don`t, quote, "have the authority to restrict their lawful possession, use or transfer because the bump stock itself is not a firearm."

I`m joined now by Connecticut governor Dannel Malloy. Governor Malloy, this is so unbelievably obvious and predictable. The House of Representatives is not going to do nada, nothing about the device that allowed that guy to kill 58 people last week.

GOV. DANNEL MALLOY (D), CONNECTICUT: Yes, I mean, I -- the speaker doesn`t want to have a vote. He`s actually fearful that if there was a vote, people would actually go on record as saying that we should outlaw these devices, and he`s afraid that that would be used against some of his members by even wilder and perhaps more -- crazier gun folks. And so he doesn`t want to have his members in that situation.

But his solution is not a legal one. Clearly, ATF made a ruling based on the fact that the instrument itself was not illegal and nor did it permanently change the firearm, which was the standard that was applied. So he knows what is the outcome would be.


MALLOY: He knows that if it comes to Congress, people will be embarrassed by that vote, and he can`t go back and have an honest conversation with the NRA and simply say, Hey, NRA, you`re wrong on this, why don`t you join us, why don`t we appear to be reasonable, even though perhaps we`re not, let`s get something done to get this monkey off our back and, by the way, make Americans safer. That would be a pretty good idea and a winning combination, but he`s too fearful to do it because he knows what the NRA will say. If you do that, we will take your money away.

MATTHEWS: Do you get a sense that they`re just passing the buck around here? They, Oh, go -- let`s go over to the ATF, they`ll do it. Now, we know they won`t do it, so we`ll ask them to do it. That will give us a couple days. But when the ATF come back eventually, says, We`re not going to do it, the heat will be off. Isn`t that what they`re up to? They`re waiting for the heat to get off.

MALLOY: They are, Chris. But you know, you and I have talked about guns now for five years, ever since we had our own incident almost five years ago at Sandy Hook school. And what I said then to you, and I`ll say it again, this is going to happen in your neighborhood. This is happening time and time again. We don`t go days without mass shootings in America. This one is a particularly terrible one because not only were 58 people killed but 500 injured.

But you don`t think madmen are going to be inspired by this? You don`t think madmen are going to say, How do we be do better than that? Of course we should stop the sale of these instruments. We should plead with people to turn them in. We should tell people they can help make America safer.

Let me tell you, in Connecticut, when we changed our gun laws, we`ve had four years of the most rapid decline in violent crime of any state in the nation. That`s what you get when you pass smart laws on a bipartisan basis.

Come on, NRA, come on, Republicans in Congress and the Senate, let`s get this done. Let`s make America safer.

MATTHEWS: Well said. Thank you, Governor Dannel Malloy of Connecticut.

Up next, new reporting that Trump`s lawyers may offer Mr. Mueller, Bob Mueller, a meeting with the president. Is Trump`s legal team serious? Are they? Would they actually go through with something like this, allowing the president to testimony under oath? I don`t think so. But they`re bluffing, I think.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

While President Trump continues to politicize the investigation into Russian meddling, there are new signs out there that the president is still going easy on Russia.

Senators John McCain and Ben Cardin yesterday slammed the administration for not implementing sanctions on Russian by the October 1 deadline.

As they said in a statement: "The delay calls into question the Trump administration`s commitment to the sanctions bill which was signed into law more than two months ago."

And it comes as the president said again last night, the topic of Russia, is merely a Democratic excuse for losing the election.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia was an excuse used by the Democrats when they lost the election.


TRUMP: They said -- they lost the election. They sat in a room and they said, wow, we look bad.

So, look, here`s the story. And I think it`s so -- this was an excuse by the Democrats, and people got carried away.


MATTHEWS: Meanwhile Politico is reporting that Trump`s lawyers are considering a different approach toward special counsel Mueller. According to a senior White House official, if Mueller doesn`t request an interview by Thanksgiving, Trump`s lawyers might even force the issue by volunteering Trump`s time.

However, Politico notes that Trump lawyer John Dodd denied that reporting after the story was published.

So, let`s find out what`s going on here.

I`m joined right now by Jill Wine-Banks, a former Watergate assistant prosecutor.

Thank you.

And Darren Samuelsohn is author of that report in Politico.

Let`s go to the report here.

Darren, what do we know? Do they -- are they proffering the idea of some sort of sit-down under oath with the president of the United States?

DARREN SAMUELSOHN, POLITICO: Well, they know they`re going to have to testify if Bob Mueller calls. The Supreme Court precedent says if the president is called to testify, he will.

MATTHEWS: Like Bill Clinton did.

SAMUELSOHN: Like Bill Clinton did. Like a lot of other presidents have before as well.

So, for that matter...

MATTHEWS: What other presidents have had to testify, other president?

SAMUELSOHN: Every other president since Watergate, except Barack Obama, has had to answer questions from a federal prosecutor.


SAMUELSOHN: So, it`s quite amazing.

I mean, Obama, as you said before, no drama during that period of time. He didn`t have to answer any questions. But George W. Bush answered questions on Scooter Libby, Ronald Reagan on Iran-Contra. Gerald Ford even answered questions on the assassination...


MATTHEWS: Well, Scooter Libby got convicted.

So, let`s talk about what would be the strategy in letting the president sit down with people who know a lot, but not everything?


It`s risky for President Trump. It`s risky for Bob Mueller too. Undoubtedly, it`s going to have to happen. I think Bob Mueller would prefer to wait until his investigation is done, whether he`s crossed all of his T`s and dotted all of his I`s.

Near the end of this investigation, whether it leads to indictments, whether it leads to just a report to Congress, or complete exoneration, I think he would prefer to wait. Trump`s people would like to move this along faster.


Let me go to Jill.

Jill, could the president be asked under oath to sit there in front of counsel, the special counsel, and he will say to him, in fact, warn him ahead of time, I`m going to ask you for the what we call ticktock in the media? I want to know where you were since you were a nominee, before you were a nominee, when you were a candidate.

I want all of your connections with the Russians, every time you met with a Russian, anybody from Russia, anybody speaking for somebody in Russia. I want you to tell me all about those exchanges.

Can you do that?


And I think the point, though, is really relevant that it`s not so much what he knows. It`s how he`s acting and what people might think of him. It`s much better for Mueller to wait until he`s actually questioned every other witness, because you`re only going to get the president once.

And you want to be able to ask the right questions and phrase them so that you get the right answers. And if he asks them before he knows everything, he may not ask the right question. And it could be -- given the president`s loose relationship to the truth, it may be that he won`t get the exact right answer that he`s hoping to get, and that it will be a little bit off, and you won`t be able to charge him with perjury, because, under the Constitution, if it is deliberately misleading, but literally true, it`s not perjury.

MATTHEWS: But aren`t witnesses called back all of the time? Why wouldn`t they say, we have got new evidence and we need to talk to the president again?

WINE-BANKS: Witnesses are called back multiple times.

I think, with the president and particularly this president, you might have a problem. But you`re right, because the Supreme Court has made it very clear, as has past practice, that a prosecutor of this sort, a special prosecutor, can call the president, and the president will have to testify.

And it`s also a bad strategy. President Clinton avoided trying to testify. He really fought it. And it looked worse for him than it would have if he would have cooperated. So there is some public perception that might be influenced.

Right now, the president is playing to a very limited audience. He`s playing to his own base. And all of the things that he says about fake news and everything else are intended to persuade his base, not the people who really want to get out all of the facts.

MATTHEWS: I wonder whether facts have much influence on his base at this point, his supporter base.

Anyway, Darren, you write on the risk -- about the risk of the president if he does give the interview to the special counsel -- quote -- "One angry or untrue statement could have devastating political and legal consequences for the president."

SAMUELSOHN: That`s right.

I mean, think about Bill Clinton`s and his arguing in the grand jury in the grand jury testimony. That ended up being key in the impeachment proceedings that the House led against him.

Now, I`m not saying that impeachment proceedings are anywhere close with Donald Trump. But you have got to remember that this is a record that he`s building that they will be using. The special prosecutor`s report, whatever information he might get out of that grand jury interview with President Trump, or it`s even just a deposition, will go toward the report that will ultimately be produced.

MATTHEWS: One question for the prosecutor. I forgot to ask this.

Jill, if it`s established that the president did favors, whether he was helping change the Republican platform regarding Russia and Ukraine, or he has been slow in the last couple of months in implementing the sanctions against Russia, is that all part potentially of corruption, that he`s doing things for help he got in the campaign?

WINE-BANKS: It certainly can look that way, and it certainly provides a motive. There is something going on. We have to look at what is the president`s motive for how he`s behaved toward Russia, whether it was the platform or whether it`s not implementing the sanctions that have been voted by Congress right now.

All of that makes him look guilty and provides a possible motive, if we look at, what did the Russians do to help him? And if he`s not admitting that it`s the Russians, which he`s still not admitting, it seems to me it`s just a lot of hot air when he keeps saying that it isn`t the Russians, that it might be someone else, and that this is an excuse for the Democrats losing.

The investigation of the Russian collusion and the following obstruction of justice is absolutely a legitimate criminal investigation. It is not an excuse or looking at anything to do with the election. It`s looking to do with what President Trump`s behavior is right now.

MATTHEWS: And he has said publicly that he could gun down somebody on Fifth Avenue, and his peeps would stick with him.

Anyway, thank you, Jill Wine-Banks and Daniel -- and Darren Samuelsohn.

Up next: White House Chief of Staff John Kelly says he`s not quitting and he`s not getting fired. But can he get a handle on this chaos inside the Trump administration? Charming fellow, but a ridiculously important job. I don`t know if it`s a doable job.

Anyway, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who once served as chief of staff under President Clinton, is coming here to talk about the job this guy is doing.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


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

At least 29 people have died in wildfires burning in Northern California, and officials say the death toll is likely to surge. More than 8,000 firefighters are battling the infernos, which are now the state`s deadliest on record.

An American woman, her Canadian woman and their three young children are free tonight five years after being taken hostage in Afghanistan by a group tied to the Taliban. U.S. officials say Pakistan`s military carried out the rescue of Caitlan Coleman, her husband, Joshua Boyle, and their three children, all born in captivity -- back to HARDBALL.


TRUMP: General Kelly has done an incredible job. These are people, they know how to do it. But they have to be allowed to do it.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was, of course, President Trump in this case praising his Chief of Staff John Kelly just yesterday.

Trump pushed back on reports of chaos inside the White House this morning, writing on Twitter: "The fake news is going all out in order to demean and denigrate. Such hatred."

Well, the "Vanity Fair" piece that said Trump is said to be unraveling, as that Chief of Staff John Kelly is miserable in his job and is remaining only out of a sense of duty to keep Trump from making some sort of disastrous decision -- that`s the reporting.

Kelly made a surprise appearance today at the White House briefing to refute some of these charges.

Let`s watch.


JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: So, unless things change, I`m not quitting, I`m not getting fired, and I don`t think I will fire anyone tomorrow.

This is hard, hard work, John. And my only frustration, with all due respect to everyone in the room, is when I come to work in the morning and read about things I allegedly said or things that Mr. Trump allegedly said or people who were going to be fired or whatever or all think, and it`s just not true. That`s my frustration. I mean no disrespect to you all.


MATTHEWS: Well, that was nice.

For more, I`m joined by Leon Panetta, former CIA director, and of course secretary of defense under President Obama, and a former White House chief of staff to President Clinton. He`s held every major position in the U.S. government, short of president himself.

Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

Have you talked to Mr. Kelly, General Kelly, who you knew as General Kelly, recently?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I haven`t talked to John recently, but talked to him before he took that job. And he asked me about the important steps that he would have to take.

He has taken a lot of important steps in developing a chain of command and providing better discipline there, in establishing some kind of order with regards to policy-making.

I think his biggest issue, as he himself will admit, is the challenge of dealing with President Trump, who is just somebody who doesn`t accept discipline very easily.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of the facial expressions of General Kelly during these press conferences and speeches by the president? He looks like he`s in pain. Sometimes, he just puts his hand over his face and leans down like he`s in purgatory.

What -- he can`t -- can he control the president, who he works for? Is that doable?

PANETTA: Well, I think he`s got an impossible job to try to do that.

But, look, he`s a Marine first and foremost. To understand John Kelly, who is a good man, you have to understand that, as a Marine, he was very dedicated to the country, dedicated to the mission, wants to support whoever is commander in chief, and try to do the best job that he can.

So, yes, when he doesn`t have a sense of control about what`s happening, wakes up in the morning and gets a bunch of tweets from the president that nobody is prepared for, I`m sure that has to be aggravating for the poor guy.

MATTHEWS: Why do you think -- here`s an area you know much about, which is negotiations between the legislative and the executive.

It seems to me Trump is playing -- he has a very limited hand right now. He has got about two 8`s or something in his hand. He probably won`t get anything done this year. But if he does get anything done, it`s only because he changes his pattern of behavior.

Why do you think -- I mean, this is a -- child questions, but why don`t they sit down over a weekend, instead of going and playing golf for a weekend, and just sit somewhere -- I don`t care whether it`s Mar-a-Lago or it`s the West Wing -- and sit down with Chuck, your friend Chuck Schumer, and sit down with Nancy Pelosi, and sit down the leader of the Republican Party, Mitch McConnell, and Speaker Ryan, and try to work out some deal on, say, reducing corporate taxes or bringing taxes from abroad back home that people are hiding overseas, or something on infrastructure that actually could pass muster with those top people?

Why doesn`t he try to work out something? Because it looks like he`s going to get nothing.

PANETTA: Chris, you and I come from a tradition where the people we work for -- and when I was in the Congress, there was a willingness of both Republicans and Democrats, Tip O`Neill, Bob Michel, willing to work together to try to find solutions to the problems facing this country.

The biggest challenge for President Trump is that he does not seem to have the ability to understand what goes into the governing process, and the ability to sit down with both sides in a room, in a trusting relationship, exchange views, and try to come up with an approach.

And the fact is that every president, including this president, is going to be tested by what he is able to do or not do for the country. And right now, this president has a lousy record when it comes to dealing with the legislation on Capitol Hill.

MATTHEWS: What do you think of -- you know, I`m surrounded by progressives a lot of my days here, my family and people I know. They`re all around me, I think. And I listen to them, and I hear it on the air, and I hear people calling me.

And they say, well, we will go after the 25th Amendment and say he`s unfit for office or impeach the guy. And I then think Nancy Pelosi has warned people in the Democratic Caucus, you know, be careful. You don`t have an impeachable offense, so stop talking.

And people talk about the 25th Amendment as if the president was unfit to just get into office and serve all day, that he`s in some sort of coma. That`s what the 25th Amendment is about, somebody in a coma.

They don`t seem to understand you have to defeat somebody at the ballot box. They think, all we can do is use these techniques.

What do you think about the president? Do you think he should be impeached? Do you think he should removed from office for unfitness?

PANETTA: No, look, I think to jump into that arena is going to hurt everybody involved. And the end result is not going to produce what somebody may be after.

In this situation, where you`re dealing with a very unpredictable and erratic president, I think the most important thing you need to do is to allow our system of checks and balances to work in order to contain what the president can accomplish in terms of doing something that might really get the country in trouble.

So you need a good staff, and he`s got a good national security team to try to hopefully keep him in the right place. You need to have leadership in the Congress, both Republicans and Democrats who are willing to pass legislation that will ensure that this country stays in the right direction, despite what the president may or may not want. You have the courts.

And in the end, you have voters who have to exercise the right to vote. That`s the way we keep our democracy on the right track.

MATTHEWS: The buck stops with us. Thank you so much. I love the way you said that.

Former secretary, former congressman, former chief of staff, Leon Panetta of California.

Up next, today, President Trump signed an executive order to weaken Obamacare. Tomorrow, he`s expected to decertify the Iran deal. He seems fixated on dismantling, destroying anything Obama did in his legacy any way he can. We`re going to get to that. This attempt to destroy the memory, in fact, of Barack Obama by this president.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

After almost a year in office, President Trump is still without any significant legislative wins. Frustrated by his losses, Trump has turned his attention to destroying President Obama`s achievements. Don`t you notice?

In June, he withdrew from the Paris climate accord. Today, he`s sabotaging Obamacare. Tomorrow, he`s killing the Iran deal.

For more, I`m joined by the HARDBALL round table tonight. Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today", Phil Rucker, White House bureau chief for "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC political analyst, and Anita Kumar, White House correspondent for "McClatchy".

You know, I want to start with you, Anita, and I think there is a pattern here, scorched earth. He doesn`t like Obama in the history books. He wants to rip him out of it.

ANITA KUMAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY: I agree but I also think that every president kind of thinks that about the predecessor.

MATTHEWS: Oh, really?

KUMAR: Yes, they always want to get rid of things. And he`s had --

MATTHEWS: Eisenhower came in and accepted the New Deal.

KUMAR: Well --

MATTHEWS: Nixon came in and basically accepted the New Frontier. He didn`t try to get rid of Medicare, the civil rights bill --

KUMAR: President Obama came in and wanted to get rid of everything George Bush did. So --

MATTHEWS: Like what, the Iraq War? He kept the Iraq war going.

KUMAR: I think there`s a lot of things that he wants to get rid of. And I think it`s both policy and a little bit of personality. I think he gets under -- Obama gets under his skin a little bit.

MATTHEWS: I agree with that, right, Susan? I remember the White House correspondent`s dinner. I think we were all there watching the president skewer this guy, talking about -- what was it, something to do with making fun of his business career. And --

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: And his political aspirations.


PAGE: Saying outrage -- ridiculous the idea that he might possibly be president one day.

MATTHEWS: And this was before Trump announced.

PAGE: Yes, it was.

MATTHEWS: So, you think Trump has been getting even ever since?

PAGE: I think Trump doesn`t forget a slight. I think we know that. I`m sure he remembers that occasion. One of the things at that dinner that was notable was he didn`t even pretend to laugh. You know, the thing you`re supposed to do is to pretend you can take the self-deprecating -- the humor in a self-deprecating way. Trump did not do that night.

So, I think Obama does get under his skin.

I think what`s different from previous presidents, previous presidents come in and wanted to do things differently than the guy who was in before them.


PAGE: But President Trump has not done other things. So his legacy so far is almost entirely a negative legacy. It`s not as though he`s passed the things that he talked about his signature issues during the campaign.

MATTHEWS: Usually presidents get something done during the first year, I mean, something. Or at least heading towards getting something on the second year.

There`s been no effort, there`s no projection, there`s no trajectory here. It doesn`t look like he`s going to get health care, it doesn`t look like he`s going to get a tax bill at this point, and it doesn`t look like he`s got anything on immigration coming. You know, what?

PHILIP RUCKER, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, THE WASHINGTON POST: Part of the reason for that is Trump made a decision early on in his presidency to begin with health care, which was basically undoing something that Obama did rather than try to start with something like infrastructure or tax cuts or immigration where he might be able to get some bipartisan support and be something more proactively.

And I think Susan and Anita are exactly right. That President Trump, his instinct is always anything that has to do with Obama is negative. It`s the worst in history. It`s never been as bad as that and you hear that rhetorically whenever he talks about Iran deal or the Paris Accords or Obamacare.

MATTHEWS: Anita, let`s go the other way -- what does he deeply care about getting done? If her were to -- what`s on his bucket list as president? He really wants to say I got this done?

KUMAR: Well, I mean, he wants health care, right? So, he`s trying to --

MATTHEWS: Does he really care?

KUMAR: Well, I think his number one thing that he cares about is tax reform, right? So, he really does want that.

But his problem is that he gives a speech last night or yesterday about it, but then he`ll spend a week doing something else.


KUMAR: And he`ll get off topic and he`ll talk about Puerto Rico and he`ll criticize Bob Corker and so then, he`ll come back to it. It`s not like he`s not really, you know, pushing -- putting all of his energy on it.

But he has done a couple of things. There`s things that we don`t really hear that much about. He`s gotten rid of a lot of regulations. His base loves that.

He`s appointed -- he`s faster than Obama on appointing judicial judges. So, he`s done stuff that are under the radar, people aren`t talking about him. But that, you`re right, it`s not a big signature accomplishment.

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s the question: what does he care about? I`ll ask it again. It might be tax cut. I think he is a business guys, all businessmen and women want lower taxes.

PAGE: Right. I don`t think he cares so much about any of these issues. I think he cares about an attitude of disruption. I think his bucket list is let`s stir things up, let`s change things. And it`s less what follows or what policy follows.

RUCKER: And he cares most of all about seen as a winner. He wants to have wins. He wants victories. He wants to have legislation he can sign like that executive order that he signed today in the White House. He likes those events. He feels like that`s a sense of accomplishment, like he`s proving the establishment wrong that he can actually come here and govern and be an effective --

MATTHEWS: Just watch him walking to the helicopter with his beautiful wife. Watch how he struts. You`ve got it. That`s who he is. He wants to be a guy who struts.


RUCKER: And who is strong and who wins.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. And next, we`re going to get some scoops you might be talking about tomorrow.



MATTHEWS: I mentioned at the top of the show that President Trump`s tweet this morning was about Puerto Rico. He said, quote: We cannot keep FEMA, the military and the first responders who have been amazing under the most difficult circumstances in Puerto Rico forever.

Well, now, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz is responding to President Trump. In a statement to MSNBC, she says: Your tweets and comments just show desperation and underscore the inadequacy of your government`s response to this humanitarian crisis. It is not that you do not get it, it is that you are incapable of empathy, and frankly simply cannot get the general done.

She then called on Americans to let this president know we will not be left to die.

That`s strong words. We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Susan, tell me something I don`t know.

PAGE: OK. So, left-wing candidates are lining up to challenge Dianne Feinstein with her decision to run for another term. Kevin de Leon, the state senate president, Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmentalist. But she has a secret weapon, which is called the jungle primary, which means that she could come in second to a liberal, more liberal Democrat in the California primary, she still makes the runoff and she`ll beat them we being able to attract more votes in the middle and on the right and that is exactly what a jungle primary is designed to do.

MATTHEWS: Let`s hope so.

RUCKER: So, we all know President Trump loves a good photo op, right? And when he goes to Asia next week or next month rather, the question inside the White House is whether he`s going to go for the ultimate photo op, which is a visit to the demilitarized zone between South Korea and North Korea. There`s a lot of talk he might do it and stare straight into North Korea.

MATTHEWS: What do you think of that?

RUCKER: I think he would love to do it.

MATTHEWS: Is it good for safety?

RUCKER: It`s a dangerous place to be.

MATTHEWS: Someone might want to do something.

RUCKER: But you know what? He lives on the edge, Donald Trump.


KUMAR: I`m going to tell you a tidbit someone told me, somebody close to the president --

MATTHEWS: Is it a big enough tidbit for us?

KUMAR: Sure.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you.

KUMAR: It`s a fun fact. You know, we also think that when the president`s tweeting something, that it`s something he`s seen on TV or he`s seeing something in real-time, and this person told me. Actually, it`s whoever walks into the Oval Office, brings up something that might have happened three months ago. Bob corker might have said something three months ago but someone brings it up again, there he goes, he`s off on Twitter again. So, it could be anything in the world.

MATTHEWS: Fickle man.

Anyway, Susan Page, thank you, Bill Rucker, and Anita Kumar.

When we return, let me finish tonight with what happened the first of this month in Las Vegas, remember that? Fifty-eight people killed.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with what happened the first of this month in Las Vegas. I speak of the 58 people gunned down by a man using a bump stock, a device that converts a semiautomatic rifle, say an AR-15, into a Tommy gun, capable of spitting out to 800 bullets a minute.

I suspect that when tragedy struck and we all saw what had happened and how, that the gun lobby would win again and nothing would be done about this latest escalation in kill power, this device that would allow anyone no matter how demented or untrained or unfastened to reality to set up a tripod and execute a whole crowd of people by the dozens.

Yesterday, the speaker of the House proved me right. He declared that he was not even going to consider a ban on the bump stock, that he was going to leave to it once again to federal regulators to do something about the device, federal regulators who made clear seven years ago they weren`t going to touch it.

Usually, the rabbits in Congress wait until the heat is off before they confess defeat and go raising for the tall grass. This time, they waited all of ten days before declaring full retreat.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for giving us an early warning you weren`t going to do a thing about Las Vegas, just as the Congress didn`t do anything about Columbine, Sandy Hook, Orlando, San Bernardino, Roseburg, why go on?

Jack Kennedy was killed by a mail-order rifle. Ronald Reagan was shot by a mentally deranged character out to impress a movie star. It makes little difference how a killer gets his gun or what conditions he`s in. All that matters is he hits his target and the Congress does nothing to stop the next killer getting his, whether it`s a school room, a movie theater, a country music concert or one of their fellow politicians. Guns don`t scare politicians, only the gun lobby does.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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