Former Presidents appear to rebuke Trump Transcript 10/20/17 Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Eliza Collins, Brian Bennett, Chris Buskirk, Karine Jean-Pierre, Seung Min Kim, Joyce Vance, Anita Kumar, Clarence Page

Show: HARDBALL Date: October 20, 2017

Guest: Eliza Collins, Brian Bennett, Chris Buskirk, Karine Jean-Pierre, Seung Min Kim, Joyce Vance, Anita Kumar, Clarence Page

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: War cries.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

The president`s chief of staff delivered a powerful defense of his boss in a surprise appearance yesterday before the White House press corps. He attacked the Florida congresswoman who criticized the president`s call to the family of a fallen soldier.

Of course, Donald Trump couldn`t let his chief of staff have the last word. Pulling defeat from the jaws of victory, he tweeted, "The fake news is going crazy with wacky Congresswoman Wilson, a Democrat who was secretly on a very personal call and gave a total lie on content."

In one tweet, the president stirred up the fight all over again, misstating facts, politicizing the issue and doing exactly what General Kelly knocked the congresswoman for doing, misusing something as sacred as the death of a fallen soldier.

Meanwhile, that Florida Congresswoman, Frederica Wilson, is pushing back against Trump and Kelly, who both knocked her for listening in on that conversation with the family.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. FREDRICA WILSON (D), FLORIDA: I wasn`t listening in, I was in a car.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you willing to allow today that it`s possible that you misinterpreted what the president`s intentions were in that phone call to Sergeant Johnson`s wife?

WILSON: There`s nothing to misinterpret. He said what he said. I just don`t agree with it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the president accused her of lying, but Congresswoman Wilson and General Kelly seem to agree on the content of what President Trump told the family.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILSON: He was almost, like, joking. He said, Well, I guess you knew he - - something to the fact that he knew what he was getting into when he signed up, but I guess it hurts anyway. You know, just matter-of-factly that this is what happens.

JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: He said, Kell, he was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1 percent. He knew what the possibilities were because we`re at war. That`s what the president tried to say to four families the other day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, joining me right now is White House correspondent for McClatchy newspapers Anita Kumar and "Chicago Tribune" columnist Clarence Page and author Charlie Sykes.

Why don`t we start with Anita. This is tricky stuff because you have two people interpreting what they heard on the phone, and then all this other after-fire. It seems like Trump definitely wants this fight. He wants to keep it hot. And I think the congresswoman is quite willing to oblige him. Let`s go.

ANITA KUMAR, MCCLATCHY: Right. I mean, you were right. He -- General Kelly was put out there in the White House yesterday to end the sentence, period, it`s over. And the president couldn`t help himself but tweet last night. And this is going on and on and here we have another day and such a disservice to the family because this is how they`re grieving is this back and forth.

But you know, General Kelly did misstate the facts yesterday, and that`s what`s...

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) explain.

KUMAR: Yes. That`s what`s kept this going. General Kelly referred to or recalled a 2015 incident where he was -- event where he was in Miami and Congresswoman Wilson was there. But he got the facts wrong. It was to dedicate an FBI building in Miami. And he said she was grandstanding and a showboat, as the president likes to say, and that she was taking credit for getting the funding for the building. She wasn`t doing that.

MATTHEWS: Why do you think he escalated the battle, like advancing into Cambodia during the Vietnam war? Why expand the war into something that before -- anyway, here it is yesterday, General Kelly did criticize comments that Congresswoman Wilson made in that 2015 dedication of the FBI building named after two slain FBI agents. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLY: And the congresswoman stood up, and in the long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there in all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building and how she took care of her constituents because she got the money. And she called up President Obama, and on that phone call, he gave the money, the $20 million to build the building. And she sat down. We were stunned, stunned that she`d done it!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the problem is that General Kelly got his facts wrong there. Wilson did speak at that dedication, but she never took credit for getting the funding, something that happened before she was even in the Congress. Wilson did talk about working to speed up the process of naming the building.

Let`s watch part of what she said that day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILSON: I went to the speaker, Speaker Boehner. And I said, Mr. Speaker, I need your help. The FBI needs your help. And our country need your help. And we have no time to waste. He went into attack mode, and in two days, pulled it out of committee, brought it to floor for a vote. Senator Nelson and Senator Rubio, who I believe have representatives here today -- they hotlined it to the Senate floor in just two days.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the bulk of her 10-minute speech was delivering praise, actually, for the FBI agents, themselves and the FBI generally. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said today that General Kelly stands by his comments. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Most of it was her effusively praising these FBI acts, when she was talking about what she did in Congress, she was not talking about getting (ph) security (ph) of $20 million. She was talking about naming the building.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: She also mentioned that and she also had quite a few comments that day that weren`t part of that speech and weren`t part of that video that were also witnessed by many people that were there, what General Kelly referenced yesterday.

QUESTION: Tell us specifically because...

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: Exactly what he said. There was a lot of grandstanding. He was stunned that she had taken that opportunity to make it about herself. If you want to go after General Kelly, that`s up to you. But I think that if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that`s something highly inappropriate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: This is -- I mean, if I were coming from another planet, I`d be saying, What are you people fighting about? Are you fighting about what somebody said two years ago in a ceremony, and what is all this about? What it`s about, it`s this damn culture war in this country that both sides seem to be getting into right now, clearly. This thing about how dare you question a general -- what is this, a junta running the country? You can`t question a general? Of course you can!

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What kind of -- that`s culture war talk.

CLARENCE PAGE, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE" COLUMNIST: I was waiting for Sarah Huckabee to break her cool. She`s usually is smarter than this, but that was really an inappropriate statement. I mean, obviously, the retired general, the chief of staff is just as accountable to the public and the press as any other public official, but -- and she will admit that she misspoke, I`m sure. But she`s directly contradicting how Kelly described the congresswoman`s speech.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

PAGE: And there`s is no evidence to back up what she`s saying. Or if she`s got some, I`d like to hear it.

MATTHEWS: Charlie, explain the culture was going on here because it`s all, Whose side are you on? In the next segment, I talk about the 38th parallel. As long as Trump can hold his 38 percent, it doesn`t matter, but it`s all about holding that 30 percent. We`re pro-Army. We`re basically a pro-majority race, if you want to be blunt about it. That comes into the factor an awful (ph) times. It`s all about being culturally conservative on the usual fighting war issues. It`s the same old ramparts we`re getting into all the time here.

And the congresswoman from Florida has taken on the fight from her side, and it involves somebody -- people were killed and they weren`t respected properly and all this. Explain. Because this is something that everybody out there listening on the radio or reading in the paper tomorrow -- they all get it. Everybody in this country gets what`s going on here.

SYKES: Well, first of all, this is a travesty and a tragedy. I mean, think about the misdirection that we`re talking about here. We should be focusing on the dead heroes who gave their lives. We should also be focusing not on the congresswoman and what she said, which was apparently accurate, but how about the fact that the Gold Star family had this reaction?

You know, the White House has succeeded in a certain amount of misdirection here. They needed somebody they could beat up on. They needed a target. They settled on Congressman (sic) Wilson, and then they misrepresented what she said.

But again, can we just, like, take back -- you know, step back, take a deep breath and realize that the White House has got us talking about the congresswoman, rather than the grieving family of these men who gave their lives? And I think that`s something that we all ought to -- you know, that we ought to put this in some context here.

Donald Trump spent two weeks not talking about the death of these soldiers, two weeks. Then when he`s asked about it, he gets defensive. He is the one who politicized it. Then he lies about -- he accuses the congresswoman of lying, but again, it`s the misdirection.

When Kelly came out, he essentially confirmed everything she said. So why are we still talking about her unless, of course, again, in this culture war, you have to have somebody you can beat up on, so that we don`t focus on the fact that the president apparently botched this rather sensitive phone call.

MATTHEWS: I know. I agree, that`s true. And also botched the fact that he took defeat from the jaws of victory. I think Kelly helped him out a lot yesterday. Didn`t win the battle. He had inaccuracies. But he certainly looked better than the president. So why did the president keep the battle going? Why does he always -- like Frank Sinatra, he meets somebody in the men`s room, they say something he doesn`t like, and he brings in Jilly Rizzo and they start fighting. It`s always a war with this guy. He loves to fight!

KUMAR: He cannot help himself. He wants to. His staff is trying to help him end controversy, and it just gets under his skin.

PAGE: This is that deja vu. Remember, the same thing happened during the Democratic convention, when Trump got into this shouting match with the Gold Star family there at the convention.

MATTHEWS: Khizr Khan.

PAGE: Khizr Khan, yes.

MATTHEWS: Let it go!

PAGE: Cut your losses, brother!

(CROSSTALK)

SYKES: He`s incapable of apologizing.

MATTHEWS: And admitting he may have not said it the right way. I think the general told him what to say because it was said to him when he lost his son. And there`s -- probably, you need a little dramatic coaching to get it right maybe. Maybe he didn`t know what it meant to say, he knew what he was getting into, in the way a soldier or even a soldier`s parent would understand. Anyway -- because they know the young guys -- in most cases, the guys -- love to get into the military. And he wanted to be a soldier for his country. Help wanted to do that. This is what he really wanted to do!

PAGE: I can tell you, Chris, as a veteran, we all knew that. You know, we knew what we signed on for. But as we know, Donald Trump approaches the English language kind of like a second language. I mean, he`s still figuring it out as far as the language of empathy is concerned. Just imagine how he heard -- it`s like the game of telephone, he heard the general say one thing, and then he tried to say it the whole different time.

MATTHEWS: Yes, like J. Edgar Hoover telling Bobby his brother`s dead.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, yesterday-...

KUMAR: General Kelly said that. He basically said yesterday, He did the best he could.

MATTHEWS: That`s a pretty good answer.

KUMAR: Yes. And you know, it was such an easy way to get out of this.

MATTHEWS: I tried.

(CROSSTALK)

KUMAR: I tried my best.

MATTHEWS: I tried. I`m not that good at this.

Anyway, yesterday, General Kelly mourned the loss of things he said the country once considered sacred. The message might have been lost on his boss because -- well, let`s listen to General Kelly and Donald Trump and how they might be clashing here in their values and empathy department, as Clarence said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLY: When I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred and looked upon with great honor.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And when you`re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whatever you want.

TRUMP: Grab `em by the (DELETED)

KELLY: Religion, that seems to be gone, as well.

TRUMP: Now, when I take -- you know, when we go in church and when I drink my little wine, which is about the only wine I drink, and have my little cracker, I guess that`s a form of asking for forgiveness.

KELLY: Gold Star families -- I think that left in the convention over the summer.

TRUMP: If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably maybe she wasn`t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me. But plenty of people have written that.

KELLY: I just thought that the selfless devotion that brings a man and woman to die on the battlefield -- I just thought that that might be sacred.

TRUMP: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Charlie, I don`t think he`s on the same page as his general. I mean, he abuses and takes advantage of and exploits everything that General Kelly says we shouldn`t be doing, and he`s doing it all himself, leading the way.

SYKES: Yes. This is literally cringe-worthy when you play the juxtaposition. And you know, I -- you know, General Kelly is an honorable man who I think believes that he is upholding all of these, you know, sacred values. But he`s working for someone who on a regular basis is degrading all of these kind of norms. I mean, on a regular basis! You know -- but the last person in American politics that you would describe as treating women as sacred or, you know, showing respect for some of these institutions and these values and these traditions that we ought to respect -- so you do sort of wonder, was there a little lack of self-awareness there? Do you know who you work for, General Kelly?

MATTHEWS: I know. Clarence, last word from you...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What do you think the general thinks of Trump`s personal life?

PAGE: The general`s reminded of -- and every day, I`m sure, and he must think like he does when he sees a young recruit come into basic training who hasn`t been conditioned to the norms of behavior yet. Trump is all about defying norms here in Washington, and the general is there to try to bring him back into line.

MATTHEWS: OK. That`s a nice way of putting it, as always, from you.

PAGE: I try.

MATTHEWS: You`re such a jack (ph). Anita Kumar, thank you, and Clarence Page and Charlie Sykes. Charlie, you`ve been great tonight.

Coming up -- you can bet Trump loves this fight with Congresswoman Wilson. It`s the latest from in the endless culture war he`s using to divide and distract the country. Trump just keeps stirring the pot because it feeds his base, his 38 percent, his 38th parallel, to use a Korean expression. That`s all he wants to do, keep the 38 now and then beat the hell out of the person he runs against in 2020, get up to 42 where he can win.

Plus, new reporting that Trump is personally interviewing candidates to be U.S. attorneys. Guess why? The very people who could bring indictments against Trump (INAUDIBLE) he cares about New York and Washington, D.C. Wonder why? Does he think the federal prosecutors he appoints actually work for him? I guess so.

And from George W. Bush to Barack Obama to Joe Biden and John McCain, we`re hearing a lot of criticism of Donald Trump`s toxic influence on politics in this country. The HARDBALL roundtable will be here with that.

Finally, "Let me finish" tonight with tomorrow`s big anniversary in the anti-Vietnam war movement. I was there.

And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: House speaker Paul Ryan was the keynote speaker at last night`s Al Smith dinner up in New York. In keeping with the tradition of the charity event, Ryan poked fun at himself and his colleagues on both sides of the political aisle. Most of the punchlines, however, were directed at one man, Donald Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Enough with the applause, all right? You sound like the cabinet when Donald Trump walks in the room.

(LAUGHTER)

Just might as well get (ph) off to it, right?

I know last year that Donald Trump offended some people. I know his comments, according to critics, went too far. Some said it was unbecoming of a public figure and they said that his comments were offensive. Well, thank God he`s learned his lesson!

(LAUGHTER)

Every morning, I wake up in my office and I scroll Twitter to see which tweets that I`ll have to pretend that I did not see later on.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, he didn`t write those jokes. He`s not a funny guy. I bet you Landon Parvin (ph) wrote those jokes because he writes for a lot of those guys.

Anyway, Speaker Ryan may have been joking or trying to tell jokes, but plenty of the prominent politicians there are taking serious shots right now at President Trump. We`re going to have more on that later in the show, lots of shots at Trump these days from the grandees of both parties.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. President Trump loves a good fight, and he knows the voters who put him in office like one, too. Whether it`s raging against the Congress or professional athletes, the president does so with one audience in mind, the good old base. Plagued by chaos and a legislative agenda that has stalled, he seems to keep his base engaged by waging culture wars against the media, the NFL, and of course, Hollywood, to name a few. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The calls I have to make are the calls where this happens, soldiers are killed. 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.

Wouldn`t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say get that son of a bitch off the field right now? Out. He`s fired.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: They don`t use the word Christmas because it`s not politically correct.

You go to department stores and they will say, happy new year. We`re saying merry Christmas again.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: What the prosecutor should be looking at are Hillary Clinton`s 33,000 deleted e-mails.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: I think there`s blame on both sides. You look at both sides, I think there is blame on both side. You also had people that were very fine people on both sides.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That was the Klan rally down in Charleston he`s talking about anyway -- or Charlottesville.

And while he keeps his base fired up, it`s unclear if these battles will help him enact his agenda.

According to Politico -- quote -- "The seeming distractions are the president`s substance, and the legislative agenda his predecessors have approached with a singular focus is, for him, largely a diversion."

For more, I`m joined by Chris Buskirk. He`s editor and publisher of "The American Greatness," an online journal, and Karine Jean-Pierre, who is senior adviser for MoveOn.org.

So, let`s talk about the fact that Donald Trump relishes a good fight. We know that. And Franklin Roosevelt does too -- or did too in the old day, and Kennedy did too, and Nixon, all politicians. And even Reagan liked a good fight.

But his fights are almost always on cultural issues, whether it has to do with who was demonstrating down in Charlottesville in Virginia, who is saying the wrong thing or protesting the wrong way at an NFL game, or an issue he is having now with this congresswoman down in Florida.

And it seems to me that he would rather do that, get up in the morning and argue a culture issue, than argue about what`s in Medicaid expansion, or what`s going to be in the tax package, or anything that do with foreign policy even. He just relishes the culture fight, and then sometimes the ethnic fight. It`s an ethnic fight, too.

CHRIS BUSKIRK, AMERICANGREATNESS.ORG: Yes, he relishes the fight, for sure.

There is a sense in which the bigger battle is cultural, not political. Right? This is the idea that politics is downstream from culture. And I think Donald Trump innately senses that. And so he goes right for that. Why? Because he`s trying to appeal, sure, to his base, but to a broad middle class.

And I think he senses that on these issues like the flag or some of these other things, that there is a constituency out there that is listening to him. And so, sure, he is going to engage that.

But you start to talk about the details of Medicare Part D or something like that, people tune out.

MATTHEWS: Why does he need to keep that the war, the range war, the frontier hot all the time?

He gets up in the morning and he starts the fights again. He doesn`t want it to settle down. He never seems to want a calm front, where he can talk about taxes or talk about health care. He seems to want the culture war.

And fighting with this congresswoman, he loves this fight. She may like it too, for all I know. I don`t know the woman, the congresswoman. But they both seem to want it to go. And I see with over the NFL players.

He`s not going to stop. He`s talking about Christmas and merry Christmas. Look, I don`t mind that argument. That`s a -- I can see that culture war on both sides.

But why is he fighting about merry Christmas in October? He`s just looking for trouble. What do you think?

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Chris, I call at the tribal cultural war, because it`s really speaking to his -- that very distinctive, small and shrinking base.

MATTHEWS: White Christians?

JEAN-PIERRE: Exactly. Right?

And that`s what he`s doing. And what he`s trying to do is, he wants to anger enough, right, that those folks, those white males, who feel like -- who -- and tapping into their anxiety, right, and ginning up racism, ginning up Islamophobia, ginning up anti-Semitism.

This is what he does.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Anti-Semitism, I`m a little -- I`m not sure about that.

Where do you see that?

JEAN-PIERRE: Well, he doubles down on it.

Just when you look at Nazis stomping on the streets of Charlottesville and in Florida and when -- when the Charlottesville happened, he said, oh, very fine people.

I think it`s all -- it`s all connected into that as well.

MATTHEWS: I think that`s unintentional. I don`t think -- the other I think is intentional many times.

JEAN-PIERRE: But the other point I was wanting to make is the day -- that Monday when he talked about Obama and past presidents and how they treated fallen soldiers, we got to remember what happened the day before.

Rex Tillerson was doing Sunday interviews. The moron story started again. It was about the adult centers. And so he was trying to also distract. He was trying to change the narrative.

MATTHEWS: You are an expert on this, Chris, because you write to people that are interested in this.

And I was thinking that Trump wants to get 38 percent and hold onto it. In all the polls, he has about 38 percent, pretty much. It`s like true north for him, about 38. And he knows, if he keeps them with the red meat flying, and there is always a hot cultural issue, and sometimes -- not always, but about nationalism, patriotism, do you kneel, do you stand, the whole thing.

He likes this fight. If he can hold 38 percent with that, then come 2020, he can pick up another five by attacking and destroying his opponent. And that`s all he needs is the low 40s, we know that, to win these things in the Electoral College.

I think it`s calculated. Fight the culture war, and people won`t worry about taxes or infrastructure or Medicaid exactly or health care, because they are going to be with you on the culture side. I think that`s his calculation. Do you agree?

BUSKIRK: Yes, in part, because I think he does -- you always want to dance with the those who brung you, right? So, you want to keep the base on your side.

But I think that Donald Trump does not view politics in the racial terms that are popular on the left. I think he views them in class terms.

And so he`s looking at the country and saying...

MATTHEWS: So it`s an accident that the players that he fights with at the NFL are all African-American?

BUSKIRK: I think that`s besides the point.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: It`s an accident this congresswoman is African-American?

BUSKIRK: Yes, I think that`s neither here nor there for him. I think this is a middle-class issue. He says, this is a middle-class country.

MATTHEWS: That he took the side of the white supremacists and said they were even-steven with the other side down in Charlottesville wasn`t a racial statement?

BUSKIRK: No, look, at the NFL. He was talking about the national anthem, about respect for the flag, period.

MATTHEWS: Oh, I know.

BUSKIRK: Whether...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: He was talking about human behavior he didn`t like. Let`s be honest. He`s not complaining about the flag. He`s complaining about the players.

JEAN-PIERRE: Yes.

BUSKIRK: He`s complaining about their actions.

MATTHEWS: Right.

BUSKIRK: Not the players as people, but their actions he thought were disrespectful. And that`s something that I think resonates with a lot of middle-class...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I agree it resonates, but it has also a racial factor, because that`s the fact.

Go ahead.

JEAN-PIERRE: That`s exactly right.

Just an example, a week ago, 10 days ago, you had Eminem, a white rapper from Detroit, just scathingly attack, destroyed Donald Trump. We haven`t heard anything from Donald Trump going after Eminem, not at all.

But here`s -- to your question, Chris...

MATTHEWS: So, your point is, he doesn`t want that fight?

JEAN-PIERRE: He didn`t want that fight. It`s easier for him to dehumanize people of color. That`s what he does over and over. And you see that with his policies.

But to your point about the 2020 election, look, the problem there is, yes, I agree he is trying to hold on to that 38 percent. But he is going to be president now. He`s not going to be just a candidate. He has to run for reelection.

I have worked on a few presidential campaigns. And it is hard to be the incumbent.

MATTHEWS: One thing I want to say. The congresswoman -- and I don`t know her -- she`s a woman of the progressive side of politics down in Florida.

I think that thing habit the empty barrels, that is not a racist statement. I grew up with that in grade school from the nuns. The nuns always said, always said, your empty barrels make the most noise. That is a phrase I grew up with. And it`s going nothing to do with ethnicity or race or anything else. So, I disagree with that point as well.

I will score one point for the other side.

Thank you, Chris Buskirk, for coming on tonight, and Karine Jean-Pierre.

JEAN-PIERRE: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Up next: new reporting that President Trump, himself, is interviewing U.S. attorney candidates. Why would he care? Well, they`re the very people who could eventually investigate him and perhaps charge him with obstruction of justice.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RICHARD LUI, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Hi. I`m Richard Lui in the MSNBC newsroom.

The FAA is proposing a worldwide ban on laptops and other electronic devices in checked luggage. It says the devices pose too great a risk of fire and explosion due to their lithium ion batteries.

Exactly one month after Hurricane Irma, officials now saying in Puerto Rico resources are still not being put to good use there. Only a fraction of the 250 beds aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort are currently being used.

And in Las Vegas, hundreds turned out for the funeral procession of an off- duty police officer killed in this month`s mass shooting -- now back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

With the Russian investigation posing a looming threat to President Trump, Democrats say it looks like Trump is attempting to pick his own prosecutors.

Anyway, that`s because, according to Politico -- quote -- "Trump has personally interviewed at least two potential candidates for U.S. attorney positions in New York, a move that critics say raises questions about whether they can be sufficiently independent from the president."

Well, President Trump is considering the candidates for the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York state, the latter of which has jurisdiction over Trump Tower.

And while a president that power to nominate U.S. attorneys, they typically do not interfere or interview prospective candidates. He does.

As Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal told Politico, "For him to be interviewing candidates for that prosecutor who may in turn consider whether to bring indictments involving him and his administration seems to smack of political interference."

That`s Senator Blumenthal.

Documents show that the president also met with the U.S. attorney for the District of Colombia before nominating her to the post.

I am joined right now by the author of that story in Politico, Seung Min Kim, and also Joyce Vance, a former U.S. attorney.

Seung Min Kim, thank you and congratulations.

I didn`t know this. I don`t know. Can you tell us how you find this out?

SEUNG MIN KIM, POLITICO: Oh. Well, thank you for that compliment on the story.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, I want to know your tradecraft.

KIM: OK.

MATTHEWS: How did you find out that Trump is out there personally, personally meeting with candidates to be U.S. attorney, prosecutor, in New York, where it affects all his business affairs, and in D.C., which affects any possible of obstruction of justice? And they`re the only ones he seems to be interested in.

KIM: Well, the one part I can talk about is that the Senate Judiciary Committee, which these nominee do have to go through in order to get confirmed, has been asking the U.S. attorney candidates who have been formally nominated, who did you meet with regarding your nomination? Did you meet with anyone from the White House?

So, with Ms. Jessie Liu, who was nominated for the District of Columbia position earlier this year back in June, when she had submitted her QFRs, questions for the record, back to the committee, that was when we learned about the meeting.

MATTHEWS: Where do these names -- I`m not familiar. Do they come from the Bar Association, the Federalist Society for Republicans? Where do candidates for U.S. attorney come from? How does the president know who to even think about?

(CROSSTALK)

KIM: So, traditionally, a lot of it is based in consultation with their home state senators. That`s why...

MATTHEWS: How about if they are Democrats?

KIM: That`s why that does get interesting with the New York positions, considering there are two Democratic senators there.

But it worked -- traditionally, White Houses work with the two home state senators who then in turn work with their local legal communities. A lot of these states have different commissions that recommend people to come up with what they call a consensus list of nominees.

MATTHEWS: OK.

Let me go to Joyce on this.

What do you make of the president of the United States vetting candidates for prosecutor?

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: You know, it`s a terrible idea, Chris.

It may not violate a law that we can point to, but politics and prosecution don`t mix. And this is a slippery slope to eroding the Justice Department`s independence.

This is the type of process that you would expect to see an attorney general push back strongly against, suggesting to the president that nothing good happens when the public starts to have questions about the independence of a prosecutor.

MATTHEWS: So it`s Sessions` job -- excuse me -- it`s Sessions` to tell him, you think, don`t do this?

VANCE: You know, you wouldn`t normally expect to see a president to do it. It`s a longstanding tradition in both Democratic and Republican administrations that there is no contact.

MATTHEWS: Well, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Wednesday that he didn`t remember whether the interviews had taken place. He defended Trump`s right to meet with prospective candidates.

Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I`m not sure I remember whether he had interviewed for New York, but if you say so, I assume so.

And he has the right to, but -- for sure, because he has to make an appointment. And I assume that everybody would understand that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Seung Min, let`s start with you, then Joyce.

It seems to me that every one of these candidate, potential U.S. attorneys, knows what Trump did with James Comey. They read the papers. I assume they`re cognizant of the reality.

They know that Trump vetted to see if he was a loyalist, whether he was going to defend him as head of the FBI. They walk in the room with the president. They know the question that`s implicitly on his mind. Are you going to be with me?

Isn`t that already tainted?

KIM: We don`t really know the contents of -- especially with the ones that we reported on. We don`t kind of know the contents of that discussion just yet. I will note...

MATTHEWS: But we do know what they knew going in.

They knew going in that the president had vetted James Comey on his loyalty, and then fired him.

KIM: I will note, though, that with that D.C. prosecutor candidate, who was confirmed unanimously earlier this year, so Democrats did not end up throwing up objections against her nomination, when Democrats did a follow- up questionnaire, they asked her very specific questions.

Did you talk -- did anyone talk to you about any current ongoing investigations into the Cabinet, into the Trump family, into the administration? She said none of that was raised.

MATTHEWS: Joyce, what do you make of this? Because there is a context.

Candidates for U.S. attorneys know what`s going on politically. They are political people, most of them. And they know the president wants to know whether you are loyal or not, because he went through this whole process with James Comey. And when he didn`t get the right answers from Comey, he sacked them.

They are walking into these interviews knowing this.

VANCE: And that`s absolutely the problem here.

Even if nothing wrong took place in these sorts of interviews, the public will question, right? The press will question it.

MATTHEWS: I`m questioning it.

VANCE: And we don`t really have the kind of...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: If they don`t bring charges against Trump on something like his business relations and his tax returns and all the rest, it will look spooky. We will go, wait a minute, he already picked the ones he wanted. He picked his judge.

VANCE: Prosecutors need to serve the people and not the president. And that`s what is being eroded here.

MATTHEWS: Joyce Vance, thank you so much.

And, Seung Min Kim, great story here. I mean, didn`t -- we didn`t know. You told me something I didn`t know. And I think we ought to know this.

Up next: Party elders on both sides of the aisle are taking on President Trump and his divisive brand of politics. We will get to that. Every one of these four people we`re looking at has been taking shots at the president on his behavior, not all of them saying they are talking about him. Of course, Joe Biden, not being nuanced, said he`s talking about Trump.

That`s next with the HARDBALL Roundtable.

You are watching it, HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: If you have to win a campaign by dividing people, you`re not going to be able to govern them. You won`t be able to unite them later if that`s how you start.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Those were former presidents Obama and Bush taking on President Trump, obviously, though, not by name. In remarkable display of bipartisan unity, actually, both men spoke Thursday sending poignant messages about President Trump`s influence on politics in this country.

Let`s listen to more.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: At a time when our politics just seems so divided and so angry and so nasty, why are we deliberately trying to misunderstand each other and be cruel to each other?

BUSH: We`ve seen our discourse degraded by casualty cruelty.

OBAMA: We got folks who are deliberately trying to make folks angry, to demonize people who have different ideas.

BUSH: Argument turns too easily to animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization.

OBAMA: Folks don`t feel good right now about what they see. They don`t feel as if our public life reflects our best.

BUSH: At times it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable. Elisa Collins is Capitol Hill reporter for "USA Today" and Jeremy Peters is a reporter, a reporter for the "New York Times," Brian Bennett is White House reporter for "The Los Angeles Times".

Eliza, this is -- I guess you`re pretty young, but I`ve got to tell you, this is fairly unusual to have these grandees jumping on the currents president as if he`s the outsider. He`s the bad guy.

ELIZA COLLINS, CAPITOL HILL REPORTER, USA TODAY: Right. And we saw -- George W. Bush did not criticize Obama and they were in different parties when Obama was in office, and the fact that he is criticizing a member of his own party, they doing it the same day, they brought up a lot of the same points, these using the same words like cruel -- I mean, it`s interesting.

MATTHEWS: What do you think he objects to personally to drive them around here to do this?

COLLINS: I think some of the divisive comments, things like the way Trump handled Charlottesville, which is something that Bush brought up, I think are things that he can really point to. The immigration he brought up, he was a pro-immigration president and Trump won on and anti-immigration campaign and the DACA stuff, he removed it.

JEREMY PETERS, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes. Well, how about the fact that the Trump presidency is a total repudiation of the Bush years? I mean, literally, this is not George W. Bush`s father`s Republican Party anymore. Trump ran on getting us out of Bush wars. He ran on withdrawing the United States from this global community that you know against this idea --

MATTHEWS: His father came up with NAFTA.

PETERS: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: He did develop NAFTA.

PETERS: Both Bushes had the United States as a leader of a global community. There are many inside the Trump administration, Chris, who reject the idea that there even is such a thing as a global community.

BRIAN BENNETT, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Brian?

BENNETT: It`s quite remarkable these two past presidents came out this way. And the reason is because Trump ran on a campaign to completely upset the apple cart when it came to the two parties. He has tried to dismantle the major initiatives under Obama including the Iran deal and Obamacare. When it comes to Bush, he has tried to repudiate as Jeremy said the Bush wars and get us out of our --

MATTHEWS: It`s so interesting that the two parties can be capsulized as something they can agree on across the board, so many things, trade and everything else, global around the world and our idea of deposit. And the current president is outside that box.

Anyway, former Vice President Joe Biden, not the most subtle man, also issued and asses assessment of President Trump, in this case by name. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: There are certain basic norms and he doesn`t understand them, the ones he understands he tries to break down. This penchant for self aggrandizement and this penchant for tweeting, this penchant to focus so specifically and internally on what he does or doesn`t do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: He, he, he`s talking about Trump.

As if to drive that point home this morning, President Trump tweeted, just out, report, United Kingdom crime rises 13 percent annually amid spread of radical Islamic terror, not good. We must keep America safe.

On Thursday, President Trump offered this thought on the administration`s response to the recovery in Puerto Rico.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Between one and 10, how would you grade the White House response so far?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`d say it was a 10. I give ourselves a 10.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, I mean, it`s cartoonish. I`m sorry, Eliza, it`s cartoonish. It`s interesting as I said all these grandees of the parties, these older statesmen are all agreeing on everything that they agree against Trump on. It`s colossal.

COLLINS: But these older statesmen the base that elected Trump doesn`t like these older statesmen no matter what R or Ds in front of their party or in front of their names. So, I don`t think who Trump is appealing to doesn`t like Joe Biden or George Bush or Obama.

MATTHEWS: So, his 38th percent, I`m calling it the 38th parallel like in Korea, is going to hold no matter how much he lashes at these guys or they`re lashing him?

PETERS: I think it goes up. If George W. Bush lashes out at Donald Trump, I think Donald Trump`s base loves that. I went to an event last night where Laura Ingraham was speaking, promoting her new book. And first thing she did was tear in George W. Bush for what he said yesterday and the crowd loved it. So, those benefit Trump.

MATTHEWS: They were yelping around cheering on that war in Iraq for W. and Cheney, they were all a part of that. How can they skip away from that, Brian? How can they escape away from the -- they`re probably in large extent responsible for Trump winning, because stupid wars was one of his selling points. It worked for me.

BENNETT: It`s out of Bannon`s playbook. I mean, Bannon told Donald Trump when he became -- came into Donald Trump`s campaign, look, as long as you play on the identity politics field and you can push the Democrats into that arena, then you`re going to expand your base, and keep your base and you`re going to win this election.

And Donald Trump has continued to do that. When it came to Charlottesville, he pushed against the race issue, when it came to the. In and players kneeling against the national anthem, he pushed against that this is a concerted effort to try to mobilize his base and keep them energize and also to every day try to win the news cycle on those terms.

MATTHEWS: I agree. I think at Route 40 the cocktail restaurants on the state roads, they`re cheering him on.

Anyway, a second speech on Thursday, President Bush echoed the words of Senator John McCain earlier in the week. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: To fear the world we`ve organized and led three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership, and our duty to remain the last best hope of earth, for the sake of some half- baked, spurious nationalism, cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.

BUSH: We have seen the return of isolationist sentiments, forgetting that American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What do you think, Eliza, that half-baked nationalism, he`s sticking it to Steve Bannon and the whole sort of think, the thought that goes behind Trump, that there is one.

COLLINS: Well, McCain is someone who has been critical of Trump all along, but talk about someone riling up the base and by criticizing Trump, the base hates McCain. A lot of the Republican Party right now is frustrated with him, remember, he was that no vote that sunk the Obamacare repeal.

MATTHEWS: At 1:30 in the morning.

COLLINS: Right. So --

MATTHEWS: I think he`s waiting in the bushes to do it to the tax cut. I think he`s waiting.

COLLINS: It`s a concern.

PETERS: True to form.

MATTHEWS: Well, he`s not going down as the 50th Republican. He`s going down as a maverick. That`s my bet.

Brian, you agree? Do you think John McCain wants to be one of the 50 in the Senate or he wants to be a maverick.

BENNETT: I think he wants to be a maverick.

MATTHEWS: Yes, anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us.

Coming up, these three are going to give us scoops for tomorrow, something to talk about over the weekend. They`re coming up with it.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We want to draw your attention to a story out of Florida that hasn`t gotten a lot of national press. Over the past week and a half, tens of thousands of Floridians have waited in line for hours, often in this sweltering heat down there to receive special food stamps available to victims of Hurricane Irma. And some residents reported waiting in line for 13 hours starting at 6:00 a.m. only to leave empty handed. Several distribution centers were shut down over concerns about people suffering from heat exhaustion.

The state agencies that`s administering the federal aid program says it has deployed more staff members to help deal with the demand. It`s also extended hours and application sites.

We`ll keep up with that story and we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with our roundtable.

Eliza?

COLLINS: We`re talking about tax reform. Paul Ryan says it gets done by the end of the year. A lot of GOP members at the House, I talked to a lot of different aides, there`s some real skepticism about that and I think if something gets done, it`s going to be really, really narrow, just to say they got a win.

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

PETERS: As you know, Steve Bannon and his merry band of revolutionaries have declared war on the Republican Party. That puts Donald Trump in an awkward position because he needs to decide whether or not he is going to endorse some of the candidates who may be more ideologically and attitudinally in step with him, right?

In the coming weeks, he`s going to be making some endorsements, not sure exactly where he`s going to come down, but I think there will be some surprises in there.

MATTHEWS: Pro-Bannon or anti-Bannon?

PETERS: I think it`s going to be a mix.

MATTHEWS: Brian?

BENETT: Watch investigation for Niger ambush. Donald Trump didn`t talk about this for 12 days after it happened and the investigations are looking into it. We`re hearing that the military wants to know if French forces were attacked in the same area but that information wasn`t relayed to the special forces unit that was operating there.

MATTHEWS: Just like Vietnam. Thank you.

Eliza Collins, thank you, Jeremy Peters and Brian Bennett.

Maybe this is going to be Trump`s Benghazi.

When we return, let me finish tonight with an event that happened 50 years ago tomorrow. The same day, Saturday too.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish with an event that occurred 50 year ago tomorrow, October 21st, 1967.

That day too was a Saturday. On that day, the National Mobilization Committee to end the war in Vietnam organized the march on the Pentagon. A crowd of 70,000 showed up on the Washington mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Among the speakers were Dr. Benjamin Spock, Norman Miller and poet Robert Lowell (ph). Also the folk singer Phil Oaks famed for his anti-war ballad such as, "What Are You Fighting For?"

Once the demonstration on the mall ended 50,000 women, men and children walked across Memorial Bridge to the Department of Defense headquarters. It was my first large scale anti-war event. What I recall from that sparkling Saturday was the smell of trampled grass, the low end kind (ph), the innocence of the young parents pushing baby strollers and the young nuns I saw with the prevailing good cheer of the vast crowd.

Whatever politics, whether old style new, were being proselytized at the many tables, one truth was clear, the one success of recruiter there was a chance to oppose the war. I found myself increasingly engaged at the Pentagon parking lot. There was something about the crack U.S. military, the infantry, exercising crowd control that struck me as unnecessarily provocative. At that moment, I understood how you can find yourself caught up in mob psychology. I saw good people being treated as if they were bad people, which they clearly were not and they knew it.

These were the early days of the anti-war movement, when it was innocent and hopeful. Sadly, for our country, and tragically for those involved, our leaders kept this in the fighting for five more years, and so many more deaths and so much more bitterness.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END

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