U.S. – North Korea standoff slowly escalates Transcript 10/17/17 Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: John Brabender, Libby Casey, Sahil Kapur

Show: HARDBALL Date: October 16, 2017 Guest: John Brabender, Libby Casey, Sahil Kapur

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: It`s not my fault.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Donald Trump is a big leader of a divided Republican Party that is clearly not big enough to govern. Today, he decided to send a message to his critics denying that fact. Dogged by news reports that he is unraveling and unfit to serve, a defiant Trump began this week by holding a 45-minute outdoor news conference. And during that thrown-together event, the president tried to change the narrative, resorting to his favorite tactic, smearing President Obama.

He accused his predecessor of not calling the parents of fallen soldiers with expressions of pride and sorrow. Let`s listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The traditional way, if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn`t make calls. A lot of them didn`t make calls.


MATTHEWS: Right. He was asked to clarify.


QUESTION: Earlier, you said that President Obama never called the families of fallen soldiers. How can you make that claim?

TRUMP: I don`t know if he did. No, no. No. I was told that he didn`t often. And a lot of presidents don`t. They write letters. I do -- excuse me, Peter. I do a combination of both. Sometimes, it`s a very difficult thing to do, but I do a combination of both. President Obama I think probably did sometimes, and maybe sometimes he didn`t. I don`t know. That`s what I was told.


MATTHEWS: That`s what I was told. That`s what I was told. Thank you.

We were told by Peter Alexander the truth, which is previous presidents, certainly including President Obama, did make heartfelt calls to the parents who had lost their young sons and daughters in harm`s way.

That attack, by the way, by Trump came after a larger, more startling revelation. President Trump acknowledged that the last nine months have been an outright legislative failure and that he and his Congress were incapable of delivering on any major campaign promise this year, immigration, health care, or tax cuts. Let`s watch.


QUESTION: Would you be OK if tax reform were not passed until next year, as opposed to this year?

MATTHEWS: Well, I would like to see it be done this year, John. I would like very much to see it done this year. So we won`t go a step further. If we get it done, that`s a great achievement. But don`t forget, it took years for the Reagan administration to get taxes done. I`ve been here for nine months, a little more than nine months.


MATTHEWS: Well, actually, Ronald Reagan -- I didn`t really like it, but he did it. But he did it in a matter of a few months in 1981, within his first year in office.

Anyway, this comes just days after his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, vowed to wage an all-out war against the elected Republican Congress. Perhaps sensing blood in the water today, Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell papered over their differences and tried to present a united front.


TRUMP: My relationship with this gentleman is outstanding, has been outstanding. We are working very hard to get the tax cuts. We will continue to work hard to get the health care completed.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Thank you very much, Mr. President. I want to underscore what the president said. We have the same agenda. We`ve been friends and acquaintances for a long time. We talk frequently. We don`t give you a readout every time we have a conversation. But frequently, we talk on the weekends about the issues that are before us.


MATTHEWS: Yes, they`re bosom buddies. Anyway, at one point, Trump suggested he would tell Bannon to back off.


TRUMP: We have a very good relationship, as you know, with Steve Bannon. Steve has been a friend of mine for a long time. I like Steve a lot. Steve is doing what Steve thinks is the right thing. Some of the people that he may be looking at, I`m going see if we talk him out of that because, frankly, they`re great people.

What Mitch will tell you is that maybe with the exception of a few, and that is a very small few, I have a fantastic relationship with the people in the Senate and with the people in Congress. I mean, I have a -- with our House of Representatives. I have a great relationship with political people.

If you read the papers, you think I`m, like, on one island and they`re, like, on the other. Well, it`s not the way it is. We have a fantastic relationship. I`m friends with most of them.


MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker, who was at the White House this afternoon and was there for it all. You know, Kristen, it`s hard for me to get all this straight. Just last week, we heard from the president said he hates everybody in the White House. Then tonight -- he really did. And now we get the feeling that he likes everybody on Capitol Hill, although he`s not gotten anything through Capitol Hill. And we really get the sense he really doesn`t think much of Mitch McConnell`s leadership.

What did you make of today?

KRISTEN WELKER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, and not only in terms of the comments that he made last week about people here at the White House, but think about all of the times that he`s attacked Mitch McConnell on Twitter. I asked him about that. He tried to brush that aside.

Look, I think this is a president who is starting to accept the reality he needs to work with the establishment in order to get his legislation passed. At the same time, I think he feels like he has to walk a bit of a fine line. That`s why you heard a lot of mixed messaging today when it came to Steve Bannon, indicating in one instance, he supports Steve Bannon completely, and then on the other hand, well, he might talk to him and try to dissuade him from so aggressively waging war against the establishment.

The bottom line, though, Chris, if you talk to officials here at the White House and sources on Capitol Hill, they say that a grim reality is starting to set in, which is that there haven`t been legislative achievements. And so they need a win on tax reform. You`re going to see the president continue to criss-cross the country, I think, as he tries to sell this tax reform plan. And I think you`re going to see more outreach with leaders on Capitol Hill.

And by the way, Ivanka and Jared are hosting senators this evening to talk about tax reform. So this is all hands on deck because this is a president who couldn`t get health care done, and so he`s turning to tax reform.

And by the way, that was his excuse with health care, as well, that it took Obama so long to get "Obama care" passed. Bottom line, though, he feels as though he needs a win on one of these legislative issues, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Thanks so much, Kristen Welker at the White House.

By the way, despite controlling the House, the Senate and the White House, the Republican Party have gotten nothing done through the Congress this year. But the president during a cabinet meeting today refused to take any of that blame for that himself, for that failure. Let`s watch.


TRUMP: Despite what the press writes, I have great relationships with actually many senators, but in particular with most Republican senators. But we`re not getting the job done. And I`m not going to blame myself. I`ll be honest. They are not getting the job done.


MATTHEWS: In fact, during his press conference today, he went to great lengths to show just how well he was doing. Let`s watch.


TRUMP: My relationship with this gentleman is outstanding. We will set records in terms of the number of judges. The level of quality is extraordinary.

I have a fantastic relationship with the people in the Senate and with the people in Congress. I mean, I have a -- with our House of Representatives. I have a great relationship with political people.

We have a fantastic relationship. I`m friends with most of them. I can say, and I don`t think anybody could have much of a higher percentage. But I`m friends with most of them. I like and respect most of them. And I think they like and respect me.

The people of Alabama, who I like very much and they like me very much...

Many of the senators are running in states that I won by massive amounts. We just hit a new high today again in the stock market.

We have the lowest unemployment rate in I believe it`s almost 17 years.

James Lee Witt gave us an A-plus. We`re doing a good job.


MATTHEWS: Can you imagine buying a used car from this guy? I mean, can you imagine that? Look at the whitewalls on this car! Look at the dual exhausts! (INAUDIBLE) it`s illegal.

Anyway, for more on today`s Rose Garden press conference, I`m joined by two experts, John Brabender, Republican strategist, and Cornell Belcher, Democratic strategist and an MSNBC analyst.

Let`s talk about the realities, bottom line. What I heard tonight or today watching it intently was he hasn`t gotten through anything on immigration, except some stuff by executive order. He hasn`t done anything on -- except for Gorsuch, getting him through by getting rid of the filibuster rule. Hasn`t gotten anything done on health care. Doesn`t look like -- even today, I began to hear for the first time, Maybe next year we`ll do tax reform.

John, I didn`t hear a lot of confidence when he was asked about it. Didn`t get anything done. And then saying -- I can`t say lying. Saying that Ronald Reagan took eight years. Ronald Reagan, whatever I may have said at the time, did get it done. He got it done. I was opposed to it. I was working for the opposition. He got tax-free through and all that stuff done the first year.

Why does Trump come out to a bunch of Republicans out there somewhere saying something that every Republican knows isn`t true? Why does he keep saying this bragging stuff that isn`t true?



BRABENDER: First of all...

MATTHEWS: Why does he brag when he`s wrong?

BRABENDER: Let`s not be too dismissive of the Gorsuch stuff. If you`re...

MATTHEWS: No, I did it.


BRABENDER: You did that, number one. Number two is the president reminds me of a quarterback playing a football game who keeps calling time-out to also do the color analysis and report on himself. I mean, he has all these points...

MATTHEWS: Do they do that?


BRABENDER: My point would be it would be the same thing, as if they were. And so he has a lot of information that he doesn`t need to do. It gets him off message. Here`s the problem...

MATTHEWS: But if you can`t believe most of what he says, why do you believe any of it?

BRABENDER: Well, but here`s the problem. He is right on one thing. It is something wrong that we have the House, the Senate and the White House, we can`t repeal and replace like we had promised, or some of this other legislation. So the big difference is he has decided, I got to govern. This is the team they were giving me. I`m going to work with Mitch McConnell, who I`m sure came to him and said some of the things Steve Bannon is saying publicly is not going to help my effort for you. And so I think the president backed off.

Steve Bannon is looking at this completely different. He`s looking at that this is a transformational president and this is an incremental Senate.

MATTHEWS: Who`s helping who? Cornell, I look at a three-way Republican Party now, a few moderates -- the two women, basically Murkowski and Collins from the different coasts -- and I see some renegades out there -- Rand Paul, you never know what he`s going to do -- and John McCain, the ultimate maverick. They`re always going to be there. He has less than a majority. It`s not going to help to have the VP. He doesn`t have the votes.

And then he has this guy Bannon coming along, smashing windows, saying, I`m going to bring this house down. I`m going get rid of Flake. I`m getting rid of -- I`m going to get rid of the person up in Nebraska. I`m going to get rid of -- Fischer.


MATTHEWS: I`m going to knock out Orrin Hatch. I`m going to -- that may not even be helpful, either.

I don`t know where the party is going it`s going to get anything done.

BELCHER: It`s not helpful. Two big things here. One is, look, this is -- these are the seeds that they started planting in 2010, when then Speaker Boehner and the rest of them -- you know, the Tea Party, when people say, I want to take our country back, and that Tea Party sort of revolution started happening. You know, this is it coming to fruition, right?

And we do have to take Bannon seriously because we know that -- how you take out an incumbent today is probably through a primary. But the problem for Republicans is this. When you take out moderate Republicans like that, do you, in fact, get the sort of Republicans that have to go on television and say, I`m not a witch, right, who can`t win in a general election?

MATTHEWS: Or the 2nd Amendment favorite out there in Nevada who said, It`s time to use our 2nd Amendment rights to go after incumbent politicians.

BELCHER: Right. You go so far outside of mainstream, it becomes problematic for the Republican Party. But the other part on governing -- here`s for me the fundamental problem. When you look at their health care package and when you look at their tax reform package right now, it`s not like you have a majority in public polling who`s for any of this. They`re not trying to pass anything that actually has...


MATTHEWS: Anyway, during the press conference, President -- or Senator McConnell had a not so veiled message for Steve Bannon, who endorsed several right-wing candidates back in 2010 and 2012. Let`s watch.


MCCONNELL: The goal here is to win elections in November. Back in 2010 and 2012, we nominated several candidates -- Christine O`Donnell, Sharron Angle, Todd Akin, Richard Mourdoch (ph) -- they`re not in the Senate. And the reason for that was that they were not able to appeal to a broader electorate in the general election.

My goal, as the leader of the Republican Party in the Senate is to keep us in the majority. The way you do that is not complicated. You have to nominate people who can actually win because winners make policy and losers go home.


MATTHEWS: He`s the driest man in the world, but he did make a couple points. He had two rape (ph) candidates, Mourdoch and Akin, who talked about rape in a crazy way. He got a woman who said, I`m not a witch. He had a woman who said, I got my gun. I go after some politicians with it. They were a pretty loony-toony bunch.


BRABENDER: I have no idea where Steve Bannon...

MATTHEWS: Are you afraid of Steve Bannon?

BRABENDER: I know Steve Bannon.

MATTHEWS: Are you afraid of him?

BRABENDER: I`m not afraid of...

MATTHEWS: Can you say something against him?


BRABENDER: I`m not afraid of you, and I`m not going to say anything against you.


BRABENDER: Here`s what you have to understand about Steve Bannon. He was the architect that figured out that President Trump could win by winning the Rust Belt states, not by going after Colorado. He`s a smart strategist. Number two is he understands the Trump agenda probably even better than Trump himself.

MATTHEWS: Why is he out of the White House? Why did they fire him?

BRABENDER: Number three -- I don`t think his style works within the White House. It works much better outside of the White House. Here`s the thing why he`s dangerous to McConnell --


BRABENDER: He doesn`t need anything.

MATTHEWS: Does Trump`s style work in the White House?

BRABENDER: I think you have to...

MATTHEWS: Are you kidding me?

BRABENDER: You can`t have two Trumps in the White House. You have to build it around him. But Steve -- Steve Bannon is somebody who`s going to be serious in this, and I think McConnell is probably nervous about it.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about Trump`s attacks today. He went after the media as fake media. He went after the Democrats. He called them the usual stuff, said they`re just obstructionist. And it`s true, in some cases. (INAUDIBLE) judgeships the Democrats are playing hard to get. He`s going after the Republicans. He calls his own -- he calls them all a bunch of people he hates. This guy doesn`t like anybody, and that`s a fact and a problem. When a president looks around the room and sees only people he hates -- he doesn`t like McConnell. He doesn`t like any of those guys.

BRABENDER: He`ll throw McConnell...


MATTHEWS: I want to make a point. Trump also attacked Democrats, saying they`re good at obstruction. Let`s watch.


TRUMP: Democrats are holding them up beyond anything -- beyond comprehension, they`re holding them up. I mean, frankly, they have terrible, terrible policy, terrible policy. And perhaps they`re not even good politicians, but they are good at obstruction.


MATTHEWS: Cornell, defend the Democrats.

BELCHER: Are you kidding me? My head is about to explode! They`re complaining -- they`re complaining about -- about obstruction? Who was more obstructionist than the Republican Congress against Obama when they said, We`re going to try to make everything President Obama does fail? Who blocked more judges than Republicans...

MATTHEWS: They wouldn`t let him pick a judge.

BELCHER: They would not let him do anything! This idea that all of a sudden, Democrats are obstructionist? No. Reach across the aisle. Come to Democrats with something that they can actually work on and compromise on, not...


MATTHEWS: ... can the Republicans stand up there and say that they didn`t block everything Obama tried to do. They wouldn`t let him do anything.

BRABENDER: I`m not going to argue with you.


BRABENDER: It started in the mid-`90s when both sides did -- this is now we now have legislation by executive order.

MATTHEWS: What`s this "born yesterday" number by Trump? Like, I didn`t -- I wasn`t here. I don`t think Trump knows a lot.

BRABENDER: But do you agree that the Democrats -- I mean, this is payback that they`re being obstructionist, or don`t you?


BELCHER: It`s not close to what the Republicans did. At no time did -- did Nancy Pelosi...


MATTHEWS: Did Obama send letters of conciliation and feeling to the parents of soldiers that were lost in action?

BRABENDER: I`m sure he did. And I`m sure that he felt horrible every time an American died in battle.

MATTHEWS: Why did Trump say it?

BRABENDER: It was a mistake. He shouldn`t have said it.

MATTHEWS: Did Ronald Reagan take eight years to pass tax cuts?

BRABENDER: I don`t know what the exact term, but there was no reason to say it even if he did.

MATTHEWS: He did the first year! Why does he keeping saying stuff that`s wrong and you have to come here and defend it?

BRABENDER: I`m not defending it. My philosophy...



BRABENDER: You do not talk about your predecessors. You do not criticize them. You don`t talk about opponents that you beat last November. It adds nothing to the equation, and I think that`s wrong.

MATTHEWS: And you don`t use dead soldiers to make a political point.


MATTHEWS: And I think that`s true, and it`s awful.

Anyway, thank you, John Brabender for saying the truth at the end there because you (INAUDIBLE) you made the last shot clock. Anyway, and thank you, Cornell Belcher, for being very strong tonight.

Coming up -- President Trump promised to put an end to stupid wars. He did, he did, he did. But his administration now ratcheting up the heat, trying to start a new war with Iran, keeping the heat on that guy Kim Jong- un as if he`s trying to hurt the guy`s feelings. Maybe he can get him into a war. What`s the point?

Trump`s also once again threatening to totally terminate the Iran nuclear deal. And President -- well, Secretary Tillerson is offering up alarming talk of his own, saying diplomacy with North Korea will continue up until the first bomb drops. That`s what the Japanese said before Pearl Harbor. They talked right before the bomb dropped.

Plus, the Russian investigation. Trump said today that he has no plans to fire special counsel Mueller. Well, he would say that. This as Mueller`s team questions former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. Is the special counsel getting any closer to establishing an obstruction of justice case against Trump?

And according to a new report, President Trump openly mocks his vice president`s far-right views, even joking that Pence wants to hang gay people. That was a joke, we hope.

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

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Well, during today`s press conference, President Trump also took a jab against his former Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. Trump slammed Clinton for supporting NFL players who have protested the national anthem, saying that that explains why she lost the election. Let`s listen.


JOHN ROBERTS, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hillary Clinton said that she did not believe the players taking the knee in the NFL was about disrespecting the flag, at complete odds with the way you have portrayed this. You fired back in a tweet saying that you hope she runs again in 2020.

TRUMP: Oh, I hope Hillary runs. Is she going to run? I hope. Hillary, please run again. I think she is going to run again.

Look, when they take a knee, there`s plenty of time to do knees, and there`s plenty of time to do lots of other things. But when you take a knee -- well, that`s why she lost the election. I mean, honestly, it`s that thinking. That is the reason she lost the election. When you go down and take a knee or any other way, you`re sitting, essentially, for our great national anthem. You`re disrespecting our flag and you`re disrespecting our country.


MATTHEWS: I don`t think when you go down on your knee, you`re sitting, essentially. That`s not how we do it at church.

We`ll be right back.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You can`t fight two wars at one time. If you listen to him and you listen to some of the folks that I have been listening to, that`s why we have been in the Middle East for 15 years, and we haven`t won anything.

Obviously, the war in Iraq was a big fat mistake.

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

I would be very, very cautious. I think I would be a lot slower. She has a happy trigger.


MATTHEWS: Where did that guy go? I liked that guy.

Welcome back to HARDBALL -- at least on that issue of not stupid wars.

Donald Trump ran for president railing against the hawks, the neocons, et cetera, and drove -- that drove us into stupid wars. And he used that phrase all the time, stupid wars. He promised diplomacy, not destruction, one of the big reasons I think he won very well in the Rust Belt, by the way, because they`re the young kids who do all the fighting.

And yet President Trump is now dangerously escalating the rhetoric on two fronts. On North Korea, he insults the leader, Kim Jong-un, and threatens to totally destroy the country over there. Over the weekend, his secretary of state vowed diplomacy -- catch this -- until the first bombs drop.

Let`s watch that.


REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The president has also made clear to me that he wants this solved diplomatically. He`s not seeking to go to war.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN: So, he doesn`t think it`s a waste of time?

TILLERSON: But I -- no, sir.

He has made it clear to me to continue my diplomatic efforts, which we are, and we will -- as I have told others, those diplomatic efforts will continue until the first bomb drops.


MATTHEWS: Well, how exactly will Pyongyang interpret that? We will talk until we fight and drop bombs.

Anyway, on Iran, even as President Trump acknowledged the modified tone of, he again threatened to terminate the nuclear deal we have with them. Let`s watch.


TRUMP: Well, we have the Iran deal that right now is being studied. And I think a lot of people agreed with what I did. I feel strongly about what I did.

I`m tired of being taken advantage of as a nation. The Iran deal was something that I felt had to be done. And we will see what phase two is. Phase two might be positive and it might be very negative. It might be a total termination. That`s a very real possibility.

Some would say that`s a greater possibility.


MATTHEWS: Well, Bret Stephens is a columnist with "The New York Times" and David Corn is Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones." Both are MSNBC contributors.

Thank you, gentlemen.

What do you make of this turnabout? I -- I -- there was a real -- you can say it, nationalist. You say it was chauvinist, meaning isolationist, point of view. But it was his point of view in the campaign. It was against the neocons. It was against all this globalism. It was against this warlike jingoism, if you will, and certainly against this freedom agenda that W. promoted.

And now he sounds like somebody, I don`t know who. He is talking like the -- what do you call it? What is it called? The -- what`s that group called over there? The...


MATTHEWS: Foundation for the New America Century or something like that.

CORN: Yes.

Well, the key word you just used, Chris, was against.


CORN: Donald Trump is not man of policy. He is man of impulse.

And when he ran for the campaign -- and he is a situationalist. He will say what gives him an advantage at the time.

MATTHEWS: What`s the new situation?

CORN: Well, the new situation -- going back to the impulse, he is against the Iran deal obviously because it was Obama`s deal. Everyone around him, Tillerson, Mattis, Kelly, wants to stay in the deal. There`s no reason to decertify.

They have been -- Iran has been judged as being in compliance. So, his impulse is, if Obama was for it, I`m against it.

North Korea, he is kind of a bully. And so how does he deal with Marco Rubio during the campaign? You call people nicknames, and you deride them.


It works on the stage.

CORN: But the thing is, Marco -- yes, but Marco Rubio didn`t have nuclear weapons, as far as we knew.

So his impulses are what drives him. And it`s not matter of him changing his policy from where he had it during the campaign.

MATTHEWS: Bret, let`s start where we might find common ground here.

What is the logic between about -- about humiliating Kim Jong-un? And we all know from reading, especially lately, when you have a third-generation head of a country, basically a king, almost a deity, and the people in the country, certainly the officer corps, the top field rank generals, look up to him as almost a deity, to call him bad names, make fun of him and call him Rocket Man, the whole routine, what is the purpose of that strategically?

BRET STEPHENS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I don`t think there is a purpose.

Look, I find myself in a strange position, because, as a foreign policy hawk, I supported the decertification of the Iran deal. And I agree that the last 25 years of diplomacy with North Korea haven`t worked.

The problem is that 90 percent of policy lies in the execution. And in this case, execution lies in the hands of a temperamental president who seems to think that all of his opponents, whether it`s Kim Jong-un or Marco Rubio, can be subjected to schoolyard bullying with equal effect.

And that`s really dangerous. You want two things in foreign policy. You want clarity, and you want credibility. And with this president, you have neither.

Just listening to your last segment on politics, I was thinking that the president reminded me of the Black Knight from the Monty Python skit. No matter how many embarrassments he suffers, he keeps saying it`s just a scratch and he is going to fight on. At some point, he is going to be immobilized by his own rhetoric.

MATTHEWS: Yes, it`s like the guy going through a Veg-O-Matic. He looked like he had been split so many times, and he kept saying, don`t feel a thing.

There was a striking number, by the way, gentlemen, in the new Quinnipiac poll. And this one grabbed me; 46 percent, a plurality of Republicans said they would support a preemptive strike against North Korea; 41 percent would oppose it.

Back to you, Bret. I want you to start with this in the ping-pong match we`re having here. How do you have a preemptive strike against a country with, what, huge numbers are artillery facing south against our ally South Korea? How do you pincer them -- I mean, how do you puncture them in a way that, oh, you got me, I got nothing I can do about it?

How does that happen?

STEPHENS: Well, look, God forbid.

I mean, if nothing else, there are an estimated 300,000 Americans, about 30,000 American troops and many American civilians, in South Korea. We`re talking about the possibility of about a million dead in Seoul, which is just miles from the DMZ.

Now, the purpose -- a serious policy with North Korea would do everything we can to squeeze China to change the regime in North Korea or at least change the policy in North Korea.

But this kind of brinkmanship with an untested 31- or 32-year-old leader who seems to be remarkably trigger-happy is, I think, insane. And I think you were talking about Reagan earlier. This is not how Reagan would have dealt with the Soviet Union or even much lesser powers.


I was here with -- we had Nicholas Kristof, who had just been over there, last week on the show.

CORN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And I said, this is a potential First World War scenario where you had step by step leads to something nobody really wanted, with Third World War consequences.

It could happen that you could test that guy`s id, his self-notion, and that guy`s id would say, I have got to fight back. Or he could set a red line that that guy would then cross, and then Trump would say, I have got to act.

CORN: And it`s even more dangerous than that, because he -- Trump keeps making threats.

Now, we look at Trump. We -- some people see him as a buffoon. Some see him as a bully.

MATTHEWS: Some people...


CORN: Yes, right, and can dismiss it.

But if you`re sitting in North Korea`s place, you got to look at these threats as real. And if he is going to take out you or your nukes before you can use them, that gives you an incentive to strike.

And what strikes me right now is, you and I Bret are used to having ideological debates over foreign policy. It`s what we have done for the last couple of decades. Now we`re really talking about a dividing line between someone who is competent and responsible and completely bonkers.

MATTHEWS: That`s not where we should be in a democracy.

Thank you so much, Bret Stephens. Good to have you as our colleague.

Did I say that right? Colleague.

STEPHENS: I think you got that right. It wasn`t too hard to say.


MATTHEWS: It is hard.

Well, I don`t even like the word. It seems a little pompous.

Anyway, David Corn, thank you.

How about friendly ally?

Anyway up next: President Trump responds to the Russia investigation, once again denying that his campaign included with Russia. He is denying totally any collusion. But the Mueller probe isn`t slowing down one bit. Top investigators have now interviewed former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. Guess what they want to know from him? They want to know what he heard in the Oval Office.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.



TRUMP: The whole Russian thing was an excuse for the Democrats losing the election. There has been absolutely no collusion. It`s been stated that they have no collusion. They ought to get to the end of it, because I think the American public is sick of it.

QUESTION: Are you considering firing Robert Mueller?

TRUMP: No, not at all.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Trump, of course, today once again denying, as he should, he has to, that his campaign colluded with Russia during the election. Of course he has to say that.

And despite the progress of the special counsel`s probe, he says he is not considering any attempt to fire Mueller.

Anyway, this comes after Trump`s former chief of staff, Reince Priebus, remember him, was interviewed by Mueller`s investigators for a full day this past Friday.

According to "The Washington Post," the interview "is a sign that Mueller`s investigation is now reaching into the highest levels of Trump`s aides and former aides."

Politico points out that, as the top aide to the president, Priebus was "present for many meetings, including discussions on firing Comey and was near the Oval Office when Trump allegedly asked Comey to go easy on Flynn."

Joining me right now is Paul Butler, former federal prosecutor and MSNBC analyst.

When do you think about this, Paul, what do you think went on in that all- day probing of the mind and memory of Mr. Priebus?

PAUL BUTLER, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: So, of course they`re interested in collusion. And Priebus was the head of the RNC during the campaign.

So, they want to know what his involvement with the Russians were and what he knows about Trump. But they`re especially interested in obstruction, because Priebus was everywhere that Trump was. Reportedly, he was very concerned about what Trump would say. So he always wanted to be there to kind of monitor him.

And especially at that meeting where Trump famously excused the vice president, the attorney general and Priebus and said, I want to talk to Comey alone, we have this image of Priebus outside the office looking in. oh, my God, what are they talking about? What are they talking about?

So they`re going to ask him about all of that. What were you so concerned the president was going to say to the FBI director?

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about exposure of Mr. Priebus himself. If you`re sitting in a room, and three or four people or one other person is talking about committing a crime, obstruction of justice, to what extent are you exposed to the law?

Are you part that of if you sit there and don`t comment or you go, good point, interesting point, and you just play along with the guy? If you`re working for president, you`re not going to say, well, that`s B.S., or that`s stupid. Don`t do that. You`re crazy. That`s illegal.

But if he didn`t do those things, is he incriminated?

BUTLER: Well, Chris, it`s a great question.

And if you`re a typical prosecutor, somebody who is being prosecuted or investigated by the federal government, say a low-level drug employee, that would be enough for conspiracy. Unfortunately, you said the magic words, working in the White House.

There`s a different process that applies to these guys. And so unless there is some kind of smoking gun evidence, I think Priebus is more useful as a witness, as someone who can tell what Trump was actually thinking, what he did, as opposed to someone who is going to be the subject...

MATTHEWS: Yes. You don`t think -- well, what I`m getting at, you know, is whether they`re trying to squeeze him by threatening him, saying, we might have something on you here if you were in that room.

BUTLER: You know, when we compare other people who they are definitely going hard after, like Manafort...


MATTHEWS: OK, let`s talk about Manafort.


MATTHEWS: What about the $60 million in transactions it turns out he has accumulated with this Russian oligarch?

BUTLER: You know, it`s just another nail in the coffin.

The special counsel has so much evidence on Manafort that he could bring a case tomorrow if he wanted to. We look at the way he has gone in, the hardball no-knock warrant.


What did that tell you, the no-knock warrant a couple of weeks ago?

BUTLER: That was a symbol, that was a sign to anybody who is concerned that the special counsel, Mueller, isn`t treating this very seriously.

And it was also a signal to Manafort that, you need to cooperate, because we are very serious, and you`re going to jail for a long time unless you play ball with us, which means, give us the goods all the way to the top.

MATTHEWS: How many times do you think that fellow said to himself, why did I agree to be campaign chairman for this guy?


MATTHEWS: I would be walking the streets with lots of money right now, and nobody after me.

BUTLER: Yes, well, a lot of people are implicated who took these positions with Trump.

And you have to wonder what they`re thinking now. Michael Flynn is exhibit A.

But, again, President Obama warned Trump about Michael Flynn, as did Sally Yates. Trump just didn`t listen. So, when you lie down with, you know...

MATTHEWS: He should have probably warned Flynn about Trump.


MATTHEWS: Paul Butler, thank you, sir.

BUTLER: Good to be here.

MATTHEWS: Up next: new reporting on the relationship between Trump and his vice president. This is a little bit hilarious, actually.

Trump has mocked Pence`s far-right views, belittling his determination to overturn Roe v. Wade and even joking the vice president wants to hang -- joking -- hang gay people. Let`s hope it`s all for fun and nonsense, that he would never do such a horrible thing.

You`re watching HARDBALL.



REPORTER: Would you speak about your support for the 20-week abortion ban bill? How important is this bill to you, and what are you doing to work with Leader McConnell to make sure this gets through the Senate?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I`ll let Mitch. You want to talk about that?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Was the question about the - -

REPORTER: The abortion ban bill. What are you going to do?

MCCONNELL: It`s supported by virtually all of my members. And we expect to have a vote on it at some point.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Remember the old phrase from Harry Truman, the buck stop here is? Well, in that case, the buck stopped with Mitch McConnell. He flipped that hot potato as fast as he could to him.

Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Trump -- President Trump deferring, it`s a nice word, to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in his support for legislation recently passed by the House that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks.

While the Trump administration formally supports the measure, formally, a "New Yorker" profile of Vice President Pence titled "The Danger of President Pence" says Trump has mocked the vice president privately over his views on abortion and gay rights. It says that during a meeting with a legal scholar, the president, quote, belittled Pence`s determination to overturn Roe v. Wade. The piece goes on to add when the conversation turned to gay rights, Trump motioned towards Pence and joked, don`t ask that guy. He wants to hang them all.

I assume and hope, of course, that was a joke.

Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable. Libby Casey is a reporter with "The Washington Post", Jonathan Allen is national political reporter for NBC News digital, and Sahil Kapur is national political reporter for "Bloomberg Politics".

Thank you all.

What do we make of this? Sahil first. What do we make of the fact that president chuckle worthy making his vice president look like a character out of the "Da Vinci Code"?

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, it kind of calls into question how dedicated President Trump is and has been to the social issues, where he hit all the right notes I think in the campaign, evangelical supported him.

MATTHEWS: You think he is decided to those social issues?

KAPUR: Well, he knows his base.

MATTHEWS: You think he is anti-gay rights?

KAPUR: Deep down.

MATTHEWS: You think he is anti-abortion rights?

KAPUR: Married New Yorker who appeared in "Playboy" once. And he called himself very, very pro-choice in 1999. So, of course, there are questions about how commit head is to these things.

Mike Pence on the other hand certainly is. You know, he oozes that. He has had a record for it. He`s got the --

MATTHEWS: Sahil, you don`t think he had a road to Damascus conversion on the issues, do you?

KAPUR: Well, we don`t know. He has never talked about that. In his interview with you during --

MATTHEWS: Tell me what you think.

KAPUR: In his interview with you during the election, he went way off script on the issue of abortion.

MATTHEWS: Because he didn`t know the script of the pro-life position which is not to punish the women.

KAPUR: And his remarks are indicating this is a man who really believes it. It seems like a snarky way.

MATTHEWS: Jonathan, you`re chuckling because you don`t think this is -- this is humorous that he talks about the VP the way he does, right?


MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) at the "Da Vinci Code", some weirdo guy who flagellates himself. That`s basically the way he describes him.

ALLEN: Well, that`s very graphic.


ALLEN: Look, I`m chuckling a little bit because I think of two things going on here. Number one is, yes, President Trump as he showed on this show during the campaign doesn`t know the script, went so far as to say women should be punished for having abortions which the pro-life --

MATTHEWS: There should be some -- I love this -- there should be some form of punishment. He didn`t say imprisonment or fining. Some form of punishment. Isn`t it a weird thinking there?

ALLEN: It was little weird thinking. And it was so bad, so off message that the pro-life right was angry at him for botching it and saying what they`ve been trying to not say --

MATTHEWS: What does he think? And what does his vice president -- we know -- let me go to Lib. What`s his name? His VP is for real. I completely believe that Pence is Pence.


MATTHEWS: He isn`t playing Pence. He is Pence. And everything he says on social issue, moral issues as he sees them, he believe.

CASEY: Absolutely. And I do have to say one thing. Gay rights activists are not laughing at this. I mean, was it a joke? Was it sort of this --

MATTHEWS: Of course, hanging is not a joke.

CASEY: Right, absolutely --

MATTHEWS: Killing somebody -- cruelly killing somebody.


CASEY: -- concerned over this kind of language, coming from the president of the United States, even, you know, ribbing his VP.

But you to look at what Mike Pence gets out of this job, right? If he is the long suffering sidekick to Donald Trump, he gets a lot out of this, Chris. Just recently --

MATTHEWS: Well, he has read the Constitution. I`m sure he has perused it. It says he is the next president if something goes wrong.


CASEY: But let me give you a real thing. The Department of Health and Human Services has a draft strategic plan out that talks about life starting at conception, not even -- of course, not birth, not even talking about fertilization or, you know, a fetus. They`re talking about conception, to rewrite the way that a federal department thinks about life and abortion could be a major win --


MATTHEWS: That maybe consistent with the Republican platform. From their perspective, that`s not a --


CASEY: They have somebody in there. They have somebody in there.

KAPUR: It`s a really important point because regardless of what President Trump actually believes on the stuff, we can go back and forth on this, he has implemented the policies of a Mike Pence social conservative agenda, whether it`s undoing the birth control mandate, appointing pro-life judges.

MATTHEWS: In effect, you honestly think he wants to outlaw abortion in effect?

KAPUR: What he wants deep down is irrelevant because he is taking the action --


MATTHEWS: Anyway, "The New Yorker" -- I think the Republican Party would be in tatters if they outlawed abortion.

I mean, "The New Yorker" piece also quotes former Trump strategist Steve Bannon as saying Trump thinks Pence is great. But according to a long time associate, Trump also likes to let Pence know who is boss. That may offer some insight into Pence and others in the administration publicly praise President Trump.

A "Washington Post" report out today notes that one defining feature of managing Trump is frequent praise, which can leave this team in what seems to be a state of perpetual compliments. The White House pushes out news releases overflowing with top officials heaping flattery on Trump.

You ever look at the faces of the guys in North Korea? They`re all the same. Everybody has the same expression. It`s concern or it`s laughing. And they`re always sort of making sure they`re in synchronized swimming with the dear leader, right?

Does that sound like Trump`s people? Yes. It sounds like them.

KAPUR: The vice president has observed that prime directive. He knows the president loves to be praised. He is very happy to play that part. And I think the thing he hates the most about this profile is that it exists. He doesn`t want to --


MATTHEWS: Let`s look at a little bit of "Saturday Night Live". "Saturday Night Live" mocked Pence`s NFL walkout, which is ordered by President Trump at Indianapolis. Let`s watch.


ALEC BALDWIN AS PRESIDENT TRUMP: I actually got mike standing by right now at the Indiana Pacers game. What about the anthem?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wait. One of them is kneeling.

BALDWIN: Get out of there, Mike! Bail it, ditch it, haul ass, Mike!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are inside the Starbucks, Mr. President.

BALDWIN: Mike, I need you to check the cups. OK? Do they say happy holidays or do they say merry Christmas?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The cups say pumpkin spice is back, sir.

BALDWIN: Get out of there right now, Mike. Bail! In the private jet, vamoose.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I see the groom. He is waiting patiently at the altar. And then I see -- uh-oh, there is another groom.

BALDWIN: Get out there, Mike, bail, ditch it! I know you hate this word. Abort, but abort, Mike, abort. Vamanos!


MATTHEWS: Vamanos. He always gets the word wrong.

I like the sidestep dance that Pence had to do there.

CASEY: It is a question, though, of who have is pulling the strings, right? Mike Pence had the opportunity to make this moral stand that was going to play well. And then Donald Trump said, actually, I`m the one that told him to do that.

ALLEN: But the side dance is exactly what Mike Pence is doing all the time, right? So, he has to be the sycophant, and he has to take the abuse.

MATTHEWS: What`s a sycophant?

ALLEN: What is a --

MATTHEWS: Explain to those who don`t know.

ALLEN: A yes man, for a lack of a better term. Somebody who sucks up.

MATTHEWS: American answer, a yes man.

Our roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, three scoops you might be talking about tomorrow. You`ve get them here. This is HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Well, "Saturday Night Live" took a page from Stephen King this weekend. Actress and comedienne Kate McKinnon reprised her role as Kellyanne Conway, this time transforming the White House adviser into a demonic clown from the horror movie "It".

Here she is trying to lure CNN`s Anderson Cooper into the sewer. Let`s watch.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s me, Kellyanne Conway! But you can call me Kellywise, Kellywise the dancing clown. Oh, don`t go. Don`t you want a quote?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`ll give a quote. I`ll give you a crazy, crazy quote.

How about this? OK. So Puerto Rico actually was worse before hurricane Maria, and the hurricane did actually blow some buildings back together, and I don`t know why Elizabeth Warren won`t tweet about that.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know. You want another one?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. So, Secretary Tillerson did not call the president a moron. They were sharing a sundae and the president asked if he wanted more sprinkles? And the secretary says more on.



MATTHEWS: We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Libby, tell me something I don`t know.

CASEY: A "Washington Post" story published yesterday that the DEA had its hands tied in enforcement by a law passed by Congress pushed by Tom Marino of Pennsylvania. He is supposed to be Trump`s new drug czar.

His nomination is really in question. Donald Trump himself said they`re looking into it today. Republicans are still standing behind him, though. So watch Republicans come down on him.

MATTHEWS: What did he do wrong again?

CASEY: He sponsored a bill that basically tied the hands of the DEA to go after the drug distributors.

MATTHEWS: Why would he do something like that?

CASEY: Well, you would have to ask Congressman Marino that. He`s refused to answer "The Washington Post`s" question.

MATTHEWS: This does sound.

CASEY: But where is he going to go from here? And he`s going to support him. Republicans say this is an attack on him. But Trump has an out.

MATTHEWS: Sounds like a good one.

CASEY: President Obama signed this bill into law. So, he can say, hey, let`s get rid of the guy.

MATTHEWS: Jonathan?

ALLEN: Mick Mulvaney, the president`s budget director, used to be a congressman. Shut down his congressional campaign committee. But before doing that last month, he doled out about a half dozen checks to members of the House of Representatives, people he is lobbying for the Trump right now.

MATTHEWS: Oh, that`s very sacrificial.

ALLEN: Very sacrificial. Not illegal. But it certainly doesn`t feel like the swamp being drained.

MATTHEWS: No. Still swampy.

KAPUR: Chris, a new CNN poll finds that President Trump`s approval rating on dealing with hurricanes has crashed. It`s fallen by 20 points in the last month. He got high marks for dealing with Hurricane Harvey, which pounded Texas and parts of Louisiana. Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico, not so much. He is now in negative territory.

MATTHEWS: I bet he didn`t think that was coming.

Thank you, Libby Casey. Thank you, Jonathan Allen and Sahil Kapur.

When we return, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch". He`s not going to like tonight. But Winston Churchill would like what I have to say tonight, because it`s about how he stands still as a leader, a model.


MATTHEWS: "Trump Watch", Monday, October 16th, 2017.

Someone just sent me an old book of Winston Churchill observations. I immediately discovered one that fits that bloke in the White House to a T.

Quote: The end comes often early to such men whose spirits are so wrought that they know rest only in action, contentment only in danger, and in confusion find their only peace. When Churchill published this thought in the novel he wrote back at the end of the 19th century, but it sounds oddly like our 21st century president, Donald Trump. Only in confusion does he find his peace.

Up at 6:30 a.m., jumping to see the headlines, tweeting out his sentiments before he even sees the sun, finding contentment only in trouble.

Well, today in the Rose Garden, the president blamed all the affairs on the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell -- none of it on himself. He accused the major press of putting out fake news. He attacked the Democrats for obstructing his court appointments. It`s as if he, it really is, that doesn`t get enough dazzle out of this country`s really dangerous strike with North Korea and his push to unravel the nuclear agreement with Iran. He wants something more.

Back to Churchill. Why is Donald Trump so relentlessly bent on starting fights? Why is that where Donald Trump finds his only peace?

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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