U.S.- North Korea diplomatic efforts in peril Transcript 10/25/17 Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Astead Herndon, Erica Werner, Jackie Speier, Nayyera Haq, Susan Del Percio

Show: HARDBALL Date: October 25, 2017 Guest: Astead Herndon, Erica Werner, Jackie Speier, Nayyera Haq, Susan Del Percio


Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

President Trump is fighting back hard today against his Republican detractors, trying to hold the new Trump-dominated party together. Yesterday, Arizona senator Jeff Flake announced he would not run again and warned his fellow Republicans the conduct of the president must not be counted as normal. The president responded in predictable fashion.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He was against me from before he ever knew me. He wrote a book about me before I ever met him, before I ever heard his name. I mean, he came out with this horrible book. And I said, Who is this guy? In fact, I remember the first time I saw him on television, I had not really been -- nobody knew me in terms of politics. But the first time I saw him on television, I said, I assume he`s a Democrat. Is he a Democrat? They said, He`s a Republican. I said, That`s impossible.

So look, his poll numbers are terrible. He`s done terribly for the great people of Arizona, a state that likes Donald Trump very much, as even you will admit. And he would have never won. So he did the smart thing for himself. This way he can get out somewhat gracefully.


MATTHEWS: Have you ever heard a sentence with so many first-person personal pronouns -- I, me, again and again? In a "Washington Post" op-ed, Senator Flake asked, "How many more disgraceful public feuds with Gold Star families can we witness in silence before we ourselves are disgraced? How many more times will we see moral ambiguity in the face of shocking bigotry and shrug it off. How many more childish insults do we need to see hurled at a hostile foreign power before we acknowledge the senseless danger of it."

Well, Flake said today when it comes to the president`s behavior, enough is enough.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: The problem is it seems now to be conservative, you have to be angry. I think if we are waiting for that pivot, we ought to quit waiting. After nine months, I think it`s not coming.

No president, Democrat or Republican, in recent memory has exhibited the kind of behavior that this president has. And so I -- - I -- you know, I am a Republican. I`m a conservative. I would love to have a Republican president. But not at any cost.


MATTHEWS: Well, meanwhile, the president bragged about his meeting with Republican senators yesterday, bragging that they gave him standing ovations.


TRUMP: I called it a lovefest. It was almost a lovefest. Maybe it was a lovefest. But we -- standing ovations. There is great unity.


MATTHEWS: Well, yet Senator Flake offered a different view of his Republican colleagues, as people who at least privately agree with his assessment of the president. Let`s watch.


FLAKE: I can just say that a lot of my colleagues share the concerns that I raised on the floor yesterday. And I believe that more of them will speak out in the future.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But those colleagues that you`ve had those conversations with behind the scenes that you believe will speak out -- what are they waiting for?

FLAKE: Oh, I think they will. And I think we`ve hit the tipping point, you know? There is -- at some point, just the weight of it just causes people to change and to say, I can`t take this anymore.


MATTHEWS: Well, Susan Del Percio is a Republican strategist, Ron Reagan`s an author and also MSNBC contributor here. Eugene Robinson is a columnist for "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC contributor.

I want to talk with Gene, but first of all, I`ve got to share this because I think this has is the craziest thing I`ve heard a president say, which is saying something. President Trump, a man who has picked fights with war heroes, Gold Star families, disabled journalists, even beauty pageant contestants, said it was the media that created the narrative that he wasn`t civil. Let`s watch him.


QUESTION: Should you be more civil as the leader of this country?

TRUMP: Well, I think the press makes me more uncivil than I am. You know, people don`t understand. I went to an Ivy League college. I was a nice student. I did very well. I`m a very intelligent person. I -- you know, the fact is, I think -- I really believe -- I think the press creates a different image of Donald Trump than the real person.

QUESTION: When is it OK for you to pull your punches? When will you (INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: Well, I think it`s always OK when somebody says something about you that`s false, I think it`s always OK to counterpunch or to fight back.


MATTHEWS: Gene, I do not understand why a president of the United States, with a normal psychological condition, would brag in saying that, I went to an Ivy League school. Here`s the guy that ran with the regular people, that didn`t like the academic, et cetera, elite. And there he is saying, Hey, I went to Penn!


MATTHEWS: Hey, I`m civil. I was nice in school. I`m waiting for Amy Gutmann, the president of Penn, to just say, He didn`t really go here.


MATTHEWS: I am tired of him saying -- he went there for two years. I`m waiting for -- Fordham never claims him, by the way. Fordham had him for two years. They never claim the guy. Your thoughts.

ROBINSON: Well, you qualified those remarks, "with a normal psychological condition," right? And I don`t think that`s what we`re dealing with here. I`m not sure he knows what the word "civil" means or "civility" is because clearly, that`s something he ain`t. And...

MATTHEWS: He walks around with his tie hanging out four feet down, the coat open like he wants to look like a bully. He swaggers and then he says, of course, I`m a nice person who went to an Ivy League school...


MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) beauty school or whatever the hell...

ROBINSON: It`s very weird to hear...

MATTHEWS: Finishing school.

FINEMAN: ... the president of the United States talking like that, but it`s been weird since inauguration day. But so far, we got, what, three senators who have actually come out publicly? We`ve got Flake, we`ve got Corker, we`ve got John McCain most of the time, some of the time. Where are the others?

MATTHEWS: Susan, thank you for joining us tonight. I keep thinking of one of my favorite movies, not my most favorite, that`s "Lawrence of Arabia" -- but do I think of "The Godfather" and poor Fredo, who ended up in the lake there, of course, saying the "Hail Mary." And poor Fredo had to go to Michael, who`s about to kill him, and says, I`m smart, Michael, I`m smart. Why don`t you respect me? I`m smart.

That`s what it sounds like with Trump! What is he talking like this for? I went to an Ivy League school. He`s president!

SUSAN DEL PERCIO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: There`s no explaining it, Chris. I`ve never seen someone who graduated 50 years ago talk so much about their alma mater. What it does is it goes to show Trump`s insecurities. And that`s why he`s always attacking. That`s what -- that`s the sign of a bully, his own insecurities. It`s almost like he can`t accept that he`s one and anyone who questions him is just wrong.

And that`s what`s so depressing about the conversation that we`re having in this country. And Donald Trump is just working to divide us more and more, whether it`s internally in the Republican Party or as a nation.

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s the president bragging today. Of course, his bragging today is just about a pattern with what he`s done before, again about his intelligence and memory and how it fits the pattern. Here -- I`m warming up for the cleanup hit of Ron Reagan to come on here. I want Ron to have this as his sort of pre-game. Here`s Trump bragging about his brain.


TRUMP: I went to an Ivy League college. I`m a very intelligent person. (INAUDIBLE) right from the beginning. There`s no hesitation, one of the great memories of all time.

So here I am, great schools, great brain, great success.

I went to an Ivy League school. I`m very highly educated. I know words -- I have the best words.

I was a good student. I always hear about the elite. You know, the elite? They`re elite? I went to better schools than they did. I was a better student than they were.

They say, There`s Donald Trump, an intellectual. Trust me, I`m, like, a smart person.


MATTHEWS: Ron, how can Alec Baldwin outdo that on Saturday night?


MATTHEWS: I know words! that`s the president of the United States, the leader of the world, and he`s talking like he`s an 8-year-old trying to get into second grade. I don`t know what to make of it.

RON REAGAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I`ve known a few smart people in my life, and I`ve never known any of them to tell you how smart they were. That just wasn`t necessary.

Listen, all three of you have touched on something that I think is really central here. You know, we get all outraged for a few days over the latest incivility, if you want, coming from Donald Trump, whatever tweet or remark he made about a Gold Star family. And it`s fine. We should note these things and catalog them.

But you three have already touched on the central problem here. And that is that Donald Trump is a deeply damaged human being. He is a sociopathic, malignant narcissist, and he happens to be the -- you know, the electoral system, not the American people, but the Electoral College has sort of vomited this thing up. And it landed in the Oval Office.

And it needs to be removed. It`s a stain. It`s a big glob on the carpet there. It needs to be removed. And that means impeachment or the 25th amendment. This man is a danger to the world.

MATTHEWS: Well, that brings me back, Gene, to my Yiddish as I began the show with. I`m not Jewish, but I am philo-semitic and I don`t mind using the terminology because it`s a rich language. Mishegoss means absolute confusion, hell gone to earth, everything`s wrong. This is the Republican Party. He`s their leader! They`re dropping off not like flies, but they`re flaking off, if you will, one at a time saying, This guy is not fit to serve, like Ron did.

ROBINSON: Well, and meanwhile, if you haven`t noticed, the Republican Party has big majorities and also -- statehouses and everything -- but can`t govern. The party is a mess, really. But it`s a very successful mess. And that...

MATTHEWS: Well, they haven`t done anything. They got rid of the filibuster rule to push through Gorsuch. That`s all they did.

ROBINSON: Successful in getting elected, not successful in governing. That puts the country in a really perilous state.

MATTHEWS: OK, well, let`s talk about how the Republican Party -- and I want Susan to explain this anthropologically, sociologically. The difference between -- you know, I went to Democratic conventions (INAUDIBLE) watching them and going to them and all, and I always heard somebody yelling from up front, Please clear the aisles. Nobody ever cleared the aisles. It was always mass confusion, but that`s the way Democrats are.

Republicans, when you say, Please clear the aisles, they do. They deal with their tow (ph). They fall in line, not in love. We`ve said that before.

Here`s Senator Flake. He`s had little support, however, not surprisingly, from his Republican colleagues, at least not in broad daylight. Let`s watch.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I think people should settle their differences personally. I think it`s better that way. I think it`s in our interests to have party unity so that we can continue to work forward on an agenda.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: ... because we`ve made this about personalities and less about policy. I think if we can stay on policy -- look, I have had honest disagreements with the president, and yet I`m still on very good terms with the president.

SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R), OKLAHOMA: This president has his own way of communicating, and look, it`s worked.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think Jeff Flake and Bob Corker will do what they think is best for the country. The one thing I would say to both of these -- of my colleagues -- I admire you, I like you, you`ve got guts. To the president, you won, you beat me, I want you to be successful. To all three of you, knock it off.


MATTHEWS: Yes, there they go, Susan. They`re telling the guys who question this president to behave like little North Koreans and strut in line, as they`re supposed to, saluting, applauding, actually applauding, with a standing o, preferably, the president of the United States, like his cabinet does, like the Senate caucus did yesterday.

They don`t want -- in other words, every time someone gets out of line, they say, It`s your fault. You`ve got to get in line with this president. What`s that about your party?

DEL PERCIO: Well, there`s a few things. I think one is that the party`s trying to get something done. So there`s that. And it is -- does go to Eugene`s point, if we`re not governing, then we`re not going to be successful. But there`s a lot being made of Corker`s comments and Flake`s comments in the last 24, 48 hours. But hat I think the real sea change could have happened back in Charlottesville, when Corker came out then because that was an issue that everybody, all Republicans were beginning to be very wary about Donald Trump. We were talking about race, we were talking about how Donald Trump was supporting neo-Nazis. Senator Corker came out with a comment questioning his stability.

But what happened? Steve Bannon left, and all the Republicans got to hide and take cover under Steve Bannon leaving. So now we`re going to have to find another moment, which I am unfortunately pretty sure Donald Trump will create another moment where all Americans can really say, This is unacceptable behavior. We cannot get behind someone who is a -- who supports neo-Nazis and calls them fine people.

MATTHEWS: Explain the silence of the lambs, Ron.

REAGAN: Well, apparently...

MATTHEWS: Why are they so silent?

REAGAN: Well, apparently, a lot of the country can get behind somebody who supports neo-Nazis. We`ve already seen that. Republicans in Congress are making two calculations. One involves a tax cut for the top 1 percent. This is their -- they want this more than anything. If they think Trump can help them get there, they`ll stay with him.

And the other is simply their re-election as individuals. They`ve got a divided party now. Roughly half of their party is all-in on Trump and will crucify anybody who doesn`t take his side. The other half is, you know, the establishment party.

But you can`t win with just half. You know, you`ve got to somehow put the two halves together there, and that`s the dilemma for all the Republicans now and why the party is coming apart, in what is really an historical moment here in this country.

MATTHEWS: Well, Gene, if it is an historic moment, then we`ve seen parties actually split.

ROBINSON: We have seen...

MATTHEWS: The Republican Party began as a party, the abolitionists, the sort of radical, anti-slavery people and the establishment whig party, the sort of Bush party, right?


MATTHEWS: And that`s coming apart now.


MATTHEWS: The right-wing, crazy Steve Bannon types are breaking up with the people like -- well, like we`ve been talking about, like Flake and the rest of them who are sliding away.

ROBINSON: Yes, but you know, I think the party is basically going to continue in this sort of fractious condition until it gets defeated, until you know -- a drubbing at the polls is what reforms a party generally and...

MATTHEWS: Susan, you agree with that?

ROBINSON: ... gets it back together.

DEL PERCIO: That`s absolutely right. There`s also another problem on hand is that a lot of donors and people don`t know where to go right now because they`re afraid to get behind any institutional person because they don`t know where the next tweet`s going to come because most of those donors have business in front of Washington.

So it`s going to be -- I think Eugene`s right. It`s going to come when they lose. In 2008, they took a thumping. And what happened was, is they almost got back too early. They didn`t have a long enough walk in the woods to really redefine themselves. And now we`re here. We went from the party to (ph) no to a party that`s in control, but not governing, which is almost worse than being the party of no.

MATTHEWS: I hope your party comes back some day.

DEL PERCIO: I do too, Chris. I really do.

MATTHEWS: The party of "The New York Herald Tribune," the moderate Republican Party. We`ll see if it comes back.

Susan Del Percio, thank you. Ron Reagan, as always, welcome back to the States.

REAGAN: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: I always can tell you when you just hit landfall. And Eugene Robinson thank you, sir, as always.

Coming up, we have now learned that the Clinton campaign and the DNC picked up the tab for that opposition research funding that produced the infamous Russian dossier on Donald Trump, despite their year-long denials of being involved in the funding. But even though President Trump calls the dossier "fake," some of its claims line up with known facts about Trump and Russia. And that`s ahead.

Plus, diplomatic talks have broken down with North Korea after Trump`s increasingly belligerent rhetoric against Kim Jong-un. It`s what Bob Corker warned about when he said that Donald Trump was leading us to World War III. Trump`s tough talk is making us less safe.

And the HARDBALL roundtable on the growing split in the Republican Party and whether Democrats can capitalize. We`ll see.

Finally, a big part of the show tonight, "Let Me Finish" with what we might see tomorrow when the government finally releases the John F. Kennedy assassination files. Stay with us to the end tonight. It`s very exciting what might happen tomorrow.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Well, "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that the Manhattan U.S. attorney`s office is now investigating former Trump campaign chairman, you guessed it, Paul Manafort.

According to "The Wall Street Journal," the investigation, quote, "is being conducted in collaboration with a probe by special counsel Robert Mueller into Mr. Manafort and possible money laundering." It adds that, quote, "The probe is unfolding at the same time that the Brooklyn U.S. attorney`s office pursues an inquiry involving Kushner companies, owned by the president`s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. "The Wall Street Journal" also notes that President Trump has personally interviewed candidates to head up both of the attorney offices in New York City.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. NBC News has confirmed reporting by "The Washington Post" that the Clinton campaign and the DNC, the Democratic National Committee, helped fund that research that ultimately produced the now-infamous dossier on Donald Trump. According to a source familiar with the situation, the lawfirm Perkins Coie, which represented the Clinton campaign and DNC, retained Fusion GPS in April of 2016 to conduct opposition research.

Fusion then hired former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele to further the work that Fusion had already begun on behalf of a previous unknown Republican client to dig up stuff on Trump. Steele went on to produce a collection of raw intelligence reports that allege, among other things, that the president and his associates engaged in a well-developed conspiracy of cooperation with Russia during the 2016 election.

"The New York Times" further reports that the Democratic attorney who retained Fusion GPS, Marc Elias, was not forthcoming about his involvement -- quote -- "Earlier this year, Mr. Elias had denied he had possessed the dossier before the election."

Maggie Haberman of "The New York Times" went further, saying: "Folks involved in funding this lied about it and with sanctimony for a year."

President Trump seized on the news today to assert that Steele`s findings in the dossier were made up.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it`s very sad what they`ve done with this fake dossier. It was made up. And I understand they paid a tremendous amount of money.

And Hillary Clinton always denied it. The Democrats always denied it. And now only because it`s going to come out in a court case, they said, yes, they did it. They admitted it. And they are embarrassed by it.


MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, and by Glenn Thrush, White House correspondent with "The New York Times" and an MSNBC political analyst.

You`re both here.

So, let me go to the congresswoman.

I was, I guess, vaguely informed, people tell me that the Democrats, Democrats, somebody had something to do with funding this dossier, the whole intel, the oppo research that came up with all of this on Trump, some of it raw, some of it useful, some of it not.

Did you know that Democrats were behind paying for the dossier?

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: No, I didn`t know that. In fact, we were first made aware...

MATTHEWS: Should you have known? Should they have told you? Should the Democrats have come clean on this months ago?

SPEIER: Well, you know, truly, Chris, it`s op research. It`s what any campaign engages in.

MATTHEWS: No, but should they have come clean during this massive investigation, with all the focus on the Russian connection of Donald Trump?

Why wouldn`t the Democrats come out and say, OK, we paid for it, instead of letting it leak out now, when it now brings into question the whole effort? Why weren`t they clean? Why did they hide this? Why did Hillary Clinton hide this?

SPEIER: Well, I don`t know that Hillary Clinton hid it, or was it just her attorney who was...


MATTHEWS: She paid for it.

SPEIER: Well, maybe she thought of it -- or her attorney thought of it as a client -- attorney-client privilege.

MATTHEWS: No, no, the result, the product. You mean, oh, it was a privilege to keep secret that Democrats paid for oppo on their opposition opponent, for their opponent in the campaign. They want to keep that secret.

Even after this investigation began, they sat on it. I don`t think it`s in her book. How come everybody is -- this is how you get in trouble with politics. You know, Jackie. I know you`re a good Democrat, but can`t you come out and say, this is one time that Democrats blew it? They should have come out months ago and say, we paid for that damned document, but it`s true.

Just say it like that. We paid for it, but it`s true, instead of now saying, blah, blah, blah. Did you hear in the paper today the Hillary Clinton campaign won`t even respond to questions? That makes them look really honest, doesn`t it? Go ahead. Your thoughts.

SPEIER: Well, I would just say that it would have been great to have them come forward with it.

But it`s not the basis on which the Intelligence Committee is looking into the issue of whether or not there was coordination by the Trump campaign with the Russians. It really is a separate and really not a very specific area that we`re looking at.

That`s something that I would think the Mueller operation through the special counsel is looking at. But we really haven`t invested time or energy into it.

MATTHEWS: Glenn, there`s something called rolling disclosure. It`s when you put out the information when you absolutely have to. Apparently because the subpoena`s here, they had to. They didn`t put it out because they wanted the public to know.

GLENN THRUSH, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there`s another factor here.

When this was an issue that was Mueller -- not Mueller -- Comey was talking about it, the FBI looked into this, remember, President Obama hedged up president-elect Trump during the transition period about this. The Democrats clearly wanted this information coming from the intelligence community.

If people believed that it was coming from Democratic sources -- and Marc Elias was definitely behind this, we have confirmed -- it wouldn`t look as good. It wouldn`t be as good of a story. So, clearly, they obfuscated this, so that they could...


MATTHEWS: Well, how`s it look now?

THRUSH: I think it looks -- it doesn`t look great for them.

But the bottom line is, none of this has a bearing on what is or -- has or hasn`t been proved by...


MATTHEWS: If you were a Trump supporter, wouldn`t you think it did?


And, by the way, any Democrat -- if Hillary Clinton were president, and the roles were reversed, she would be saying the same thing, that this is a hatchet job by the Republicans.

MATTHEWS: Fair enough.

I want people to watch it right now, to get it. You have got to look at things from both sides once in a while, especially when you get caught hiding something.

Anyway, the president further told Lou Dobbs with FOX Business Network that the dossier has been discredited. See what they`re going to do, watch, because of the way this was handled.


TRUMP: What I was amazed at, it`s almost $6 million that they paid. And it`s totally discredited. It`s a total phony. I call it fake news. It`s disgraceful. It`s disgraceful.

LOU DOBBS, FOX NEWS: Right. I think her word that she likes to use, it`s so serviceable, about that dossier, debunked.

TRUMP: Yes. Yes, right.

DOBBS: It`s been debunked.


MATTHEWS: Well, however, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Richard Burr, suggested earlier this month that his investigation had corroborated parts of the dossier up until a certain date. Here he goes.


SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA: We`re investigating a very expansive Russian network of interference in U.S. elections.

And though we have been incredibly enlightened at our ability to rebuild backwards the Steele dossier up to a certain date, getting past that point has been somewhat impossible.


MATTHEWS: Well, NBC News has also reported this month that investigators working for the special counsel have interviewed former British intelligence officer himself Christopher Steele, the MI6 guy.

And we also know that the FBI considered paying Steele to continue his information-gathering, but that never came to fruition. So, the FBI believed in the quality of this guy`s work.

And while the president says the dossier cost almost $6 million, and he just did, "The Washington Post" reports of Clinton`s legal fees that it`s impossible to tell from the filings how much of that work was for other legal matters and how much of it related to Fusion GPS.

Of course, it would help, Congresswoman, if the Clinton campaign, its remnants, would simply say, a lot of that money went to, you know, FEC requirements and filings and all that, only a small portion of it went to paying for the dossier.

But since they`re not talking, Trump can run up the score today.

SPEIER: Well, he can run up the score for a while.

But the truth is, we already have 17 different agencies within the intelligence community saying that the Russians interfered in our elections. Our job is to find out how and why and make sure it doesn`t continue to happen.

That`s why we`re focusing on the election machines in particular. That`s one of the areas I think we are most vulnerable to, and why we have to redouble our efforts in that regard.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Glenn on this.

How good is the -- after these months of looking at, is the dossier -- especially with regard to the alleged behavior in the hotel?

THRUSH: I think, on that end, nobody knows. And there hasn`t been any new reporting on this.

And the bottom line is, we`re not going to be able to determine anything until all of these investigations are concluded. And I presume that`s what Burr was talking about.

The one thing I will tell you, the time period that this took place, April -- the April, May, June time period in 2016, the Clinton campaign was borderline freaked out by the notions that Russians were casing them, Russians were tapping their phones.

I had numerous conversations with them at that point in time, where they expressed that anxiety in the most extreme terms. So it is not inconsistent with the way that they were feeling at that point in time, and them hiring -- having Perkins Coie be the cut-out.

MATTHEWS: And just to confirm everything here, whatever the questions are about the genesis of this dossier, in the end, Mueller`s team will check every line and verse.

THRUSH: That`s their job.

MATTHEWS: So, in other words, nothing is going to be proven from this, but this will lead us to different directions anyway. So, we know where we`re going.

Anyway, Jackie Speier, thank you, Congresswoman. You`re great to come on. This is HARDBALL. I reminded you of that today.

SPEIER: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you. Please, please come back again, despite that.


SPEIER: I will.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, anyway, Glenn Thrush of "The New York Times," Jackie Speier, U.S. congresswoman from California.

Up next: President Trump threatened North Korea with fire and fury. He mocked -- he has mocked Kim Jong-un, calling him Rocket Man. Well, today, there`s new reporting that all that tough talk or crazy talk has crippled our diplomatic efforts at possibly avoiding trouble over there.

And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.



TRUMP: We will see what happens.

Now, with that being said, we`re prepared for anything. We are so prepared, like you wouldn`t believe. You would be shocked to see how totally prepared we are if we need to be. Would it be nice not to do that? The answer is yes. Will that happen? Who knows?


MATTHEWS: I think he`s talking about war.

Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Trump with a cryptic assessment of his administration`s plans for dealing with North Korea.

NBC News reports today that the president`s actions are leading to a breakdown in talks with North Korea, writing: "Diplomatic efforts between the United States and North Korea are in peril, with Pyongyang shunning talks in response to President Donald Trump`s increased public attacks on Kim Jong-un."

The report adds that one top American diplomat has warned officials that "diplomatic efforts are on their last legs."

That same diplomat has told congressional aides that the president has handicapped diplomatic efforts.

That helps explain this dire warning from Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Corker.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: When you send out tweets into the region to raise tensions, when you kneecap, which is what he`s done publicly, when you kneecap your secretary of state, whose diplomacy you have to depend upon to really bring China to the table to do the things that need to be done, back-channeling, in some cases, to North Korea, when you kneecap that effort, you really move our country into a binary choice, which could lead to a world war.

So, yes, I want him to support diplomatic efforts, not embarrass and really malign efforts that are under way.


MATTHEWS: That`s the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker.

For more, I`m joined by Nayyera Haq, former State Department senior adviser, and Howard Fineman, global editorial director for The Huffington Post.

Let me start with Nayyera, first of all.

What`s the danger in this not talking because they`re so mad at Trump for making fun of their leader?

NAYYERA HAQ, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: We have effectively outsourced our diplomacy in foreign policy to every other country in the region, and not what is in the best interests of the United States.

In fact, it is now all about what is Donald Trump`s personality and what he wants. There`s not a strategic play or vision for what should happen in the region.

By underfunding the State Department, by only having 50 ambassadors in place out of 197, by publicly rebuking his own head diplomat, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, it has come down to Trump vs. Kim Jong-un.

And that is not a scenario that allows much room for any of the typical things in diplomacy, which is listening, empathy, helping people save face, and leaving room for discussion. None of those play to Trump`s strength.

MATTHEWS: Howard, could this president of ours -- and he is our president -- taunt this North Korean leader into a war, just taunt him into a war?

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that`s what not only Bob Corker, but the entire diplomatic community in the United States and in and around the world, is concerned about.

I have talked to Bob Corker about it. He understands Donald Trump`s personality and the dangers of Donald Trump in this kind of setting. This is not a negotiation over a zoning project variance in New York.

Trump personalizes everything, as you were saying. He wants it this way. Frankly, if he could have no ambassadors, he would prefer that. He wants it all about him. And he believes that he is the guy who has to be the story and the person who confronts or negotiates.

If it`s not binary -- not only binary, but binary in the mind and the personality of Donald Trump, it`s not the way he wants it.

MATTHEWS: We didn`t understand Japan before World War II fully, when they went to war with us.

But the emperor, Hirohito, was profound. If he said, we go to war, we go to war. Even more, he had the right prime minister at the time.

This guy, suppose he feels that he`s been humiliated, and all the generals around him feel he`s been humiliated, their Dear Leader? They could go to war on that.

HAQ: Absolutely. And this is not a democratic system we`re dealing with.

MATTHEWS: Look at these guys. They got -- by the way, what wars did these guys fight in? Look at all those war medals, these battle ribbons.

How many wars did they fight? Look at them. Geez, I`m just kidding. I don`t want to make fun of the guys. They will get -- they will start a war over it, but big hats, too.

HAQ: Right. There`s no opposition to rely on in North Korea to check the leader there.

And what we`re looking at now throughout the region is China being the check on North Korea, potentially Japan, and South Korea. And, hopefully, now, with Donald Trump going to Asia on his first trip, it will be more like a show-and-tell, and you hear from the people directly on the ground, and it will have some impact on him, because, clearly, experts, any of his own people in his inner circle have not been able to temper his rhetoric.

FINEMAN: And he doesn`t want...


MATTHEWS: Can Russia help here? Can his friend Putin help?

FINEMAN: I think so. I think so.

I think any back-channel can conceivably help.


FINEMAN: China`s almost too close, in a way.

And Vladimir Putin has made some efforts over the years to try to reestablish some ties in North Korea.

And Rex Tillerson, by the way, is close to Vladimir Putin, because of all the business deals that they did with Exxon. You don`t want to leave any avenue untried, except that Donald Trump doesn`t want any avenue that he doesn`t directly control. That`s the problem.

MATTHEWS: Well, it was Russia, by the way, that gave the OK to Kim Jong- un`s grandfather to go war in Korea.

FINEMAN: By the way, it`s Russian -- it`s Russian -- a lot of it`s Russian technology, and the missiles as well, which is more important, in a way, than the trade with China.

HAQ: Which is important to know that even Russia wants the rhetoric to dial down and is not looking for war...


MATTHEWS: Well, let`s hope Russia will come through here for once.

Nayyera Haq and Howard Fineman with a hopeful thought there.

Up next: Despite the very public split within his party, President Trump insists that there`s great unity among Republicans. But are Republicans unified enough to get anything done? I don`t know. We are going to get to that with the HARDBALL Roundtable coming up in a minute.

You`re watching HARDBALL.



Despite the intensity of the criticism by retiring Senators Corker and Flake, Donald Trump still owns the Republican Party, we think. Corker and Flake made their issues with the president public this week, which some reports say is privately echoed by others within the party. Get that word? Privately.

But if you hear President Trump tell it, everything is just fine.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have actually great unity in the Republican Party. We have great unity. There is great unity.

I mean, if you look at the Democrats with Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, that`s a mess.

There`s great unity. There was tremendous unity in that room. There`s great unity. Honestly, the Republicans are very, very well united.


MATTHEWS: He`s got words. He told us, he`s got one word there, unity.

Anyway, tax cuts may be the reason so few Republicans are following their colleagues` lead in criticizing the president.

Listen to what Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said yesterday.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: If there`s anything all Republicans think are important to the country and to our party, it`s comprehensive tax reform.


MATTHEWS: Well, "The New York Times" writes that most Republicans are willing to look past some actions and pronouncements by Mr. Trump, in the hopes of pushing into law some of their long-sought goals. The most important of which is tax cuts. That necessity ties them tightly to Mr. Trump, at least for now.

So, we`re joined right now by the HARDBALL roundtable, Ashley Parker, an MSNBC contributor, and White House reporter for "The Washington Post", Astead Herndon, reporter for "The Boston Globe", and Erica Werner, congressional correspondent with "The Associated Press".

Down the line here, let`s start with the Republicans. I sort of think they no longer say the word tax reform. They`re getting pretty blunt about it. They want a cut. They want a cut for the rich, the people that are paying their way, Ashley?


MATTHEWS: Corporate tax cut is number one.

PARKER: Yes, they`ve been pretty clear about that. But at this point, what they want is any sort of legislative achievement or a win or a deal. And if it ends up being a tax cut for the rich, they`ll take it, I think.

MATTHEWS: Well, they`re in the trough. They`re heading for it. They`ve got a stock market which is booming based on the discount or the expectations they will get this tax cut. They almost have to deliver.

ASTEAD HERNDON, REPORTER, THE BOSTON GLOBE: Well, I don`t know if that is -- I don`t know if that`s true. I don`t know if they`ll absolutely get it. But I know certainly they`re all trying to rally around that. And even more than that, they know that Donald Trump has the party and its base still loyally to them personally.


HERNDON: And so, this is both the legislative aspect where they want to be able to go back to voters in 2018 saying they have some legislative wins. But there`s a political aspect, too, where they know who just came out of that primary and they know that those voters still, even though the country at large may have an approval rating problem with him, that`s not true among his base.


ERICA WERNER, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well, a lot of them -- I mean, on both of those aspects, a lot of them literally fear for their political lives. If they don`t get tax cuts done, they have zero, zero to show, as far as House members in the 2018 midterms. And they think they`ll lose the House. That`s what they predict privately and publicly.

MATTHEWS: They ran the party of the common person. They ran as the party of the working class, non-college-educated regular person.

WERNER: Trump did.

MATTHEWS: Trump did. How do they deliver on that when they get rid of the estate tax, get rid of the -- lower the corporate tax from 35 to 20? Lower the top rate from 39.5 to 35? How -- that`s trillions of dollars. How does that help the working stiff?

I know I`m being rhetorical, but it`s a good question, isn`t it?

PARKER: It`s a fair question. I think they`re still arguing that their tax plan, while it does have certain notable benefits for the wealthy, that it is a middle class tax plan. And I think that they`re hoping that sort of the public will buy that.

But I also have to say, again, it just comes back to what Erica said, which is they need some sort of deal to go to people, even if it`s imperfect, even if it`s more skewed towards the wealthy.

MATTHEWS: OK, here`s the fly in the ointment. What happens if all the Republican senators, Congress people in New York, there`s a bunch of them upstate, and a bunch of California Republicans in the House, what happens to all of the people in these big tax states, like those two states in Massachusetts, they go -- there are not many of them -- but if all of those people say, I cannot go home to my voters and say, I have gotten rid of the tax deductions for our state taxes which are through the roof. Those people are gone. They can`t defend that.

WERNER: They have a rebellion on their hands over that, at this very moment. I mean, the House is trying to pass the budget tomorrow --


WERNER: -- that paves the way for tax reform. They`re having an emergency meeting at 9:00 p.m. tonight with Paul Ryan.

MATTHEWS: Because that`s in it.

WERNER: Because that`s in it -- on this issue, to try to come up with some kind of compromise that they`ll craft in the weeks ahead.

MATTHEWS: OK. You`re filing your tax return and you`re itemizing. And you take off what your church contributions. You take off your mortgage payments, your interests payments. And then you go, God, this god-awful state tax, I got to pay here. You`re right. And you say, that`s not so bad.

But if you can`t take those things off, you`re paying through the roof.

WERNER: Right. Well, they keep some of those deductions in. And there could be a compromise around a hard cap on those levels, on the state and local, but, yes, they have solve that. And that`s --

MATTHEWS: All right. Let`s talk about the Dems for a minute. The Democratic Party. I don`t see a leader yet. I could defend the Democrats and say it`s too early in the process. Barack Obama is still looming over as the most popular guy out there, Hillary is in defeat, Nancy Pelosi, not so much a big deal. Chuck Schumer seems to be playing an inside game. Tom Perez, I guess, he`s head of the party.

Where`s leader?

PARKER: It`s a good question. There is not a clear leader. And one thing that Democrats have benefitted from, but I think it will hurt them in the long term is they continue to sort of define themselves as an opposition to President Trump. And so, they haven`t had to grapple with, who is the leader? Who is our best candidate in 2020?

MATTHEWS: Astead, quickly?

HERNDON: I think -- I think that`s a great point. Republicans have success in that strategy, but we don`t know if that`s going to be the same, that`s going to be true for Democrats. In local places, we have seen some candidates try to rally around stuff, but we don`t know.

MATTHEWS: When we come back, the roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will give me some scoops for tomorrow that we can all talk about and dine out on tonight.

And tomorrow on HARDBALL, we`re going to have the headlines from the release of the last batch of the federal government`s files on the assassination of President Kennedy. Could be interesting, could not be. We`re going to find out tomorrow.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Once again today, President Trump defended his controversial phone call with the widow of Army Sergeant La David Johnson. That widow, Myeshia Johnson, said in an interview earlier this week that the president had stumbled over her husband`s name during the conversation.

Today, the president disputed that account, adding that aides had provided him with a chart that had Johnson`s name on it. Let`s listen.


TRUMP: I was really nice to her. I respect her. I respect her family. I certainly respect La David.

He -- who, by the way, I called La David right from the beginning. Just so I understand, they put a chart in front, La David, it says La David Johnson. So, right from the beginning, there`s no hesitation. One of the great memories of all time. There was no hesitation.


MATTHEWS: He knows he`s right.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

And we`re going to start with Erica who`s going to give me a bombshell scoop.

Go ahead.

WERNER: Well, Chris, something you may not know is that the U.S. capital has a pest infestation, a real one, mice and rats have infested the Capitol. There was a rat seen running outside the Senate chamber as big as a man`s foot. So, call the pest exterminators.

MATTHEWS: Democrats or Republicans? I`m just kidding.

Go ahead, Astead.

HERNDON: When Trump said that the widow of La David Johnson had fabricated the call, his voters believed him. The poll, poll from "Huffington Post" says 56 percent of Trump voters says that they thought that the widow and the congresswoman had totally made that up.

MATTHEWS: But only -- that`s only half of Trump supporters.


MATTHEWS: That`s not so great.

HERNDON: I mean, that`s not for the country at large, but still -- even when the chief of staff is confirming that account, that`s a big number.

MATTHEWS: I know. What a world. Go ahead, Ashley.

PARKER: So, we all know that Bannon is going after Mitch McConnell, but McConnell world has now started dropping opposition research on Bannon. And they`re trying to make him so unpalatable that Republicans don`t want to be associated with him in the midterms.

MATTHEWS: What can you say against Bannon besides the obvious? He`s a bully.

PARKER: Well, there`s some allegations of anti-Semitism. There`s some dirty stuff from his divorce.

MATTHEWS: Oh. Divorces always work in politics, don`t they?

Anyway, thank you, Ashley Parker. Thank you, Astead Herndon and Erica Werner.

When we return, let me finish with the release tomorrow as we mentioned of the John F. Kennedy assassination files.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with tomorrow`s release of the John F. Kennedy assassination files.

I`m not a conspiracy buff, I`ve long believed that the best argument against a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy was the basic fact pointed at years ago by his advance man, Jerry Bruno, that the motorcade route for that day in Dallas which ended up running just underneath that sixth floor window of the Texas Book Depository was not publicized until the day before. How could someone have placed marksman Lee Harvey Oswald in that job at the Book Depositor all those weeks before if no one knew it would be within rifle shot of the president`s motorcade?

Bobby Kennedy initially suspected like most people that his brother had been shot by someone opposed to his civil rights and foreign policy stance. Quote: There`s been so much bitterness. This press secretary, the respected journalist Ed Guthman recalled him saying just after getting news from Dallas. I thought they`d get one of us, but Jack after all he`d been through never worried about it. I thought it would be me.

In those first hours, Bobby also asked CIA Director John McCone whether anyone in the agency was involved. Kennedy said he phrased the question in a way that he couldn`t lie to me. He said he hadn`t.

But months later, on a trip to Krakow, Poland, Bobby Kennedy was asked the question directly, who killed your brother?

Quote: I believe it was done by a man with the name of Oswald who was a misfit in society who lived in the United States and was dissatisfied with our government and our way of life, who took up communism and went to the Soviet Union. He was dissatisfied there and he came back to the United States and was anti-social and felt that the only way to take out his strong feelings against life and society was by killing the president of the United States.

There is no question that he did it on his own, and by himself. He was not a member of a right-wing organization. He was a confessed communist, but even the communist would not have anything to do with him.

Well, Edward Kennedy, the president`s other brother, made the same determination in the book he wrote just before his own death. I`m well- aware that many scholars and others have questioned the findings ever since they were released. There were hundreds soft-called conspiracy theories. I was satisfied that the Warren Commission got it right. Satisfied then, satisfied now.

I know how strongly Bobby felt that this inquiry be thorough and accurate and all my subsequent conversations with him when all is said and done, I believe that Bobby accepted the Warren Commission`s findings too. But, I researched enough autobiography over the years to learn that historic figures like Bobby Kennedy and others say different things to different witnesses.

Ted Sorenson, President Kennedy`s close aide wrote in his memoirs that none of the conspiracy theories has produced any credible evidence to prove a plot by higher ups to hire Oswald to kill Kennedy. But then Sorenson wrote this: RFK was unable to quash his own suspicions that his brother`s enemies were behind his death.

When the files get released tomorrow, will we get evidence of other actors or will the trail end at that Robert Kennedy described in emotional detail in the months after Dallas? That misfit. That confessed communist, Lee Harvey Oswald, acting like so many assassins and mass killers before him and since, alone, in the darkness of his heart.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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