Trump on Moore: "He totally denies it." Transcript 11/22/17 HArdball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Margaret Carlson, Francesca Chambers, Betsy Woodruff, A.B. Stoddard

Show: HARDBALL Date: November 22, 2017 Guest: Margaret Carlson, Francesca Chambers, Betsy Woodruff, A.B. Stoddard

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: That`s where we land. Cell service needs to fall back. If people are using that trick to get off the phone with the President, that is amazing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

MELBER: Liz, thanks for being on the show. This other guy, thank you for being on the show.

That`s our show. Have a great thanksgiving Friday at 6:00 p.m. We do have our special on "Russia on trial." Check that out. And "Hardball" starts now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Trump stands alone. Let`s play "Hardball."

Good evening, I`m Chris Matthews up in Boston. For weeks, Republicans have distanced themselves from Roy Moore. They have pulled endorsements and urged him to drop out. And many have said they believe his accusers. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe these allegations to be true?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: I believe the women, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am -- have no reason to doubt these young women.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I think these charges are very serious. I think these accusers are very credible.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: You believe the women. You think that these are credible allegations, that he assaulted -- sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl and sexually molested a 14-year-old girl?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do. I did not find his denials to be convincing at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The evidence is becoming overwhelming, that he had a problem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the women`s allegations have the ring of truth and this stuff sort of confirms the behavior in question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And then there`s Donald Trump, the head of the party. President Trump backed up the Alabama Senate candidate by raising questions about the timing of the accusations against him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you look at what is really going on and you look at all the things that have happened over the last 48 hours, he totally denies it. He says it didn`t happen. And, you know, you have to listen to him also. You are talking about he said 40 years ago, this did not happen. So, you know. And I do have to say, 40 years is a long time. He has run eight races and this has never come up. So 40 years is a long time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, both "New York" tabloids ran with the same headline today in response to that performance. And "Politico" reports the President has vents about Moore`s accusers for days, expressing skepticism about their account.

Quote "during animated conversations with senior Republicans and White House aides, the President said he doubted the stories presented by Moore`s accusers and questioned why they were emerging now, just weeks before the election. According to two White House advisers and two other people familiar with the talks. The White House advisers said the President drew parallels between Moore`s predicament and the one he faced just over a year ago."

Nine women have made accusations against Moore, most of whom were in their teens when the incidents occurred, though they vary by age and by circumstances. Some say Moore just pursued them for dates. Others say he assaulted them. Moore has denied them all. Here are a few of those women in their own words.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TINA JOHNSON, ROY MOORE ACCUSER: My mother went first. And then when I got up and went out, he grabbed my behind. Just, hard. He grabbed it so hard that it was almost like fondling. And he was like, it was such a hard -- like a -- I could even feel the dents of his fingers.

BEVERLY YOUNG NELSON, SAYS MOORE GROPED HER: Mr. Moore reached open and began groping me, him putting his hands on my breasts. I tried fighting him off while yelling at him to stop. But instead of stopping, he began grabbing my neck, attempting to force my head on to his crotch.

LEIGH CORFMAN, SAYS MOORE MOLESTED HER: He removed my clothing. He left the room and came back in wearing his white underwear. And he touched me over my clothing, what was left of it. And he tried to get me to touch him as well. But I was a 14-year-old child trying to play in an adult`s world and he was 32 years old.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS: For more, I`m joined by "National Post" national political reporter, Robert Costa, "New York Times" national political reporter Yamiche Alcindor and "New York Times" chief White House correspondent Peter Baker, all are MSNBC contributors.

Well, let`s go in that order. Robert, I always count on you to give me a sense of Trump, the man. Why is Trump the man defending Roy Moore, the man? This person?

ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: It`s pure politics, Chris. And when you listen to insiders in the White House, they say they have to get this tax bill through. And the President is haunted by these accusations he faced Los Angeles last year. And so he doesn`t want to wade into this national debate about sexual harassment, even though he knows that these women are making pretty credible accusations.

So the White House feels politically boxed in and the President has chosen to make a political decision that puts him at odds with his own party and the congressional leadership.

MATTHEWS: Well, do you figure out based on the timing of this, if Roy Moore where win this fight, this special election, when would he take office?

[19:05:05] COSTA: He would take office very soon after December 12th.

MATTHEWS: So he might be a voter on the tax bill?

COSTA: He would. And that`s the explanation coming from some White House officials. But there is a real divide in the course of my reporting, when I talk to Senate Republican sources and House Republican sources. They say they don`t want Judge Moore on Capitol Hill because even if he would be a vote for taxes next year, they say long-term, he is a burden for the party in the 2018 midterms.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Yamiche on this. I think - I have been thinking about this for the last couple of seconds, which is the poll numbers on the U.S. Congress are dreadful because when they have an image of it, they have the leadership in mind. That`s bad enough. If they have Roy Moore in mind, it will sink them even further.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I think it will sink them even further, but this political calculation that President Trump is making is one that is in some ways questionable, because when you have someone like Mitch McConnell saying, not only, I think, saying, yes, I believe the women, and I don`t want Roy Moore here, even before all of these allegations, Mitch McConnell was going to have a really, really hard time convincing Roy Moore to vote for any bill for the good of the party.

Now, whether or not he would vote for tax reform is one thing, but long- term, when Republicans have to put together other things like healthcare or infrastructure bills, Roy Moore is not going to be someone whose vote you are just going to be able to whip by telling him you have to do what`s best for the Republican Party. So I think there`s something going on there.

But I also agree with Robert that President Trump is haunted by the own allegations that he has made in recent days. There have been stories asking, what about the women who said that President Trump was sexually inappropriate to them? Are they all going to have a second voice here?

So I think in the media, and I also have to say within the party and Democrats, everyone when you are interviewing them about Roy Moore, other people, that the conversation always go back to President Trump and why he kind of was able to send political success while still having all these other women saying these things.

MATTHEWS: Peter Baker, let me broaden this for a moment before we go further on the details here. It seems to me by defending Roy Moore, President Trump yields up, basically, forfeits any notion of being a moral arbitrator on any of these cases, including his predecessor, two or three before him, to Bill Clinton. That question came up thanks to Kirsten Gillibrand, the Senator from New York. If he says Roy is OK, does he have any say in any other case? It seems to me he doesn`t.

PETER BAKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, it`s been very striking, of course, his own daughter, Ivanka Trump, said there is a special place in hell for people who molest children. And she obviously was talking about Roy Moore at that time. Is he in fact being used by the democrat Doug Jones in his campaign ads against Roy Moore? Her father taking a different position, basically saying, well, all you have is a he said/she said and it is 40 years ago. And you have to listen to him as well as to the women.

And you are right, you know, it`s a selective case. He tweeted out against Al Franken, the senator from Minnesota. There was photographic evidence in that case. And what the White House would say is, look, Al Franken admitted what he did and therefore it was fair game for the President to talk about. But it does raise questions about when he`s going to be a moral arbitrator, a leader of the country beyond a party figure.

MATTHEWS: Well President Trump called Roy Moore`s opponent, Doug Jones, soft on crime. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I can tell you one thing for sure. We don`t need a liberal person in there, a Democrat, Jones. I have looked at his record. It`s terrible on crime. It`s terrible on the border, it`s terrible on the military. I`ll tell you that we do not need somebody who`s going to be bad on crime, bad on military, bad for the second amendment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Bad on crime? Well, for the record, Jones is a former federal prosecutor who won convictions against two Ku Klux Klan members for the 1963 bombing of the Birmingham church that killed four young black girls.

Meanwhile, Jones is making a provocative argument against Moore in a new web video his campaign released just today. It`s pretty powerful. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Leigh Corfman, Beverly Young Nelson, Debbie Wesson Gibson, Gloria Thacker Deeson, Gena Richardson, Wendy Miller, Kelly Harrison Thorpe, and the list is growing. They were girls when Roy Moore immorally pursued them. Now they are women, witnesses to us all of his disturbing conduct. Will we make their abuser a U.S. Senator?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Robert Costa, again, the man for understanding the President personally. Do you think the President`s squirming about this personally? And I know he`s out there saying this is false testimony, he`s political, well-timed for that. And you know he`s argued that the timing is disturbing, but the charges in themselves seem very credible and they make this guy look like some character out of some horror movie. Do you think Trump is bothered to be on his side?

COSTA: Those images, the statements of these women, it`s troubling, it is emotional to see. Sexual harassment is a tragedy for women. At the same time, we heard from President Trump echoes the remarks of Governor Kay Ivy of Alabama, that they are trying to separate the growing referendum idea in Alabama, that Doug Jones and other Democrats are pushing and trying to separate that idea of making this a referendum on Roy Moore and make it about Republican policies and Republican politics.

And that`s the test case here in Alabama. Can the Democrats score a win in the south by making this about politics and about the politics of people`s personal choices, not just how they vote when they`re on Capitol Hill.

[19:10:41] MATTHEWS: Yamiche, it seems like they are trying to turn it into a British election, where you basically vote party no matter who the person is?

ALCINDOR: Well, I will say that to someone who went to swing states in North Carolina, to Ohio, right after the "Access Hollywood" tape came out, I talked to so many Republican women who said, yes, I don`t like the fact that the President Trump said this. I don`t like the fact that then candidate Trump was accused of being sexually inappropriate with women. But at the end of the day, I need Republicans policies, I`m pro-life, I believe in the tax reform that they are going to have. I believe in the way they look at the world. And as a result, I`m going to go with the party. Because I know if I put Hillary Clinton in there, she is going to do democratic things that I don`t agree with.

So there are women who made that political calculation. And that`s why President Trump won overwhelmingly white women, because they looked at the women that were accusing President Trump of acting improperly and said, you know, I feel bad for you, but I`m going to go with my party. So President Trump is, I would say, isn`t doing anything that`s atypical of Republicans. It`s how he got into office.

MATTHEWS: Well, allies for Roy Moore have offered some truly bizarre defenses. Catch this. We have saved this. On Monday, Pastor Phillip Bennam offered perhaps the most ridiculous one yet. He told an Alabama radio show that Moore dated younger girls for their purity. Bennam also said that Moore returned home in his 1930s or in his 30s after serving in the military and going to law school and women his own age, Moore`s own age, were already married, so therefore, let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PASTOR PHILLIP BENNAM, DEFENDED ROY MOORE: Many of the ladies that he possibly could have married were not available then. They were there are married. Maybe somewhere. And so he looked in a different direction. And always with the parents of younger ladies.

By the way, the lady that he has married to now, Miss Kayla, is a younger woman. He did that because, you know, there`s something about the purity of a young woman. And there`s something about, something that`s good, that`s true, that`s straight. Is it all right for a man who is 30 years old to date and court a young lady who is 14 years old with their parent`s consent? Is it or is it not?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not at my house. No, it`s not. Not in the `80s.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Peter, I`m going to give you that one. I don`t know what to say. I mean, that pabulum (ph) he`s giving people is so -- I don`t know what -- what is it? What is the word? It`s a terrible idea, that somehow that this guy can go for sex, basically, with 14-year-olds because the 25- year-olds are all taken and then he said he did it with their parent`s consent. Why doesn`t he come up with this list of young women who were in their early teens at that time that did get his parent`s consent? He`s acknowledging all the charges can but saying it`s OK because the guy was desperate.

BAKER: Yes, exactly. He is not disputing the facts, unlike Roy Moore who says it`s not true. His defenders are saying, well, yes, it could be true, and if it`s true, it`s OK, because in fact it`s not predatory, even if people today might look at it that way.

It`s an extraordinary rationalization, of course. And the real question is whether that resonant with voters in Alabama. I do think that, you know, party preferences, as we have just been talking about, tend to, you know, tend win out a lot of cases like this because it`s not a choice between two Republicans, it`s a choice between a Republican and a Democrat. People sometimes will hold their nose and vote for someone they see as flawed because of the policies they care about.

MATTHEWS: I`m going to make a prediction right now. I predict that Roy Moore loses this race. I don`t think Alabama is going to put up with this stuff.

Anyway, thank you, Robert Costa, Yamiche Alcindor, and Peter Baker.

Coming up, the Russian investigation and new information about an associate of Michael Flynn, General Flynn now a subject of special counsel Robert Mueller`s investigation. More coming, getting deeper, in Russia. This as Mueller may be zeroing in on Trump`s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. He looks like the next one to fall. That`s ahead.

Plus, how did Trump spend the day before thanksgiving? Well, you will see, tweeting of course, with another attack. This case again on the father of the UCLA basketball player and a vulgar re-treat about Hillary Clinton, of course and Obama envy. President Trump is taking every opportunity now to remind his base how much he wants to race the accomplishments of his predecessor, even with regard to pardoning turkeys.

And no opportunity is too small.

Finally, let me finish tonight with a day no one will ever forget.

This is "Hardball" where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:16:28] MATTHEWS: Well, in an interview earlier today with conservative radio host, Hugh Hewitt, Hillary Clinton spoke about how hard it was to have her message break through during the 2016 Presidential election. Clinton blamed that difficulty in part on running against Donald Trump, who she called the first reality TV candidate. She also said that picking another running mate, someone other than Tim Kaine, would not have made a difference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think you would have won with a different vice Presidential candidate?

HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don`t think so. I`m not sure that that`s how it works anymore. But, you know, I think I bear the responsibility of -- for not succeeding.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:19:16] MATTHEWS: Welcome back to "Hardball."

We already know that special counsel Robert Mueller has enough evidence to bring indictments into investigations against former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and his son. And now NBC News is reporting tonight that another Flynn associate has become a third subject in Mueller`s probe of Flynn.

Quote "federal investigators are zeroing in on Bijan Kian, a partner at the now-dissolved Flynn intel group that have questioned multiple witnesses in recent weeks about his loobying work in behalf of Turkey." That`s according to three sources familiar with the probe who say a grand jury is expected to question some of those witness as soon as.

Suspected email also showed Kian was with Flynn at a meeting in September of 2016, with pro-Russian congressman, Dana Rohrabacher, as MSNBC previously reported. That meeting which was not disclosed when Flynn registered as foreign agent is under scrutiny by Mueller`s team.

I`m joined now by the author of that report , Julia Ainsley of NBC News. And Betsy Woodruff is a reporter with The Daily Beast.

Put it together, Julia. What are they -- is this a Gambino-style roll-up, where they are going to start with the most tertiary of figures, this guy who worked with Flynn, to try to get to Flynn, get to Flynn through his son, then get to the president? Is that what is going on here?

JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, we saw with this play out a little bit in the first indictments we saw in this case with Rick Gates and Paul Manafort.

Rick Gates was, of course, the business partner of Paul Manafort, his deputy. And Bijan Kian played a very spectacular role with Michael Flynn at the Flynn Intel Group. He was more involved than Michael Flynn`s son was. He was arranging a lot of these meetings, was kind of the person out front shaking hands and arranging for him to meet people like Dana Rohrabacher.

And so now this is a point where Mueller has not just only questioned Kian for information about Flynn, but he`s focusing specifically on him and is bringing witnesses, as you said, before the grand jury in coming weeks.

So, it tells us that, yes, Mueller is following this strategy where he kind of circles everyone. He figures out who someone he is trying to get to worked with, and then he works on getting to those people, possibly hanging an indictment over them, to get them to cooperate and tell him the whole story.

MATTHEWS: Is Jared Kushner next on the food chain?

AINSLEY: There`s been a steady drumbeat of reporting over the past few weeks. It seems like we`re hearing more and more about what Kushner did and what he did not disclose in terms of his foreign contacts or outreach from Russia.

So it seems that Mueller has a lot of information on him, and he could be someone that he could go to next, especially as he works his way further inside this Trump inner circle.

MATTHEWS: Well, Jared Kushner is also under more scrutiny.

According to "The Wall Street Journal," investigators are asking questions about Kushner`s interactions with foreign leaders during the presidential transition. The inquiry includes his meeting with the executive of a sanctioned Russian bank, as well as a request from Israel asking the Trump team for help blocking a U.N. resolution.

As we already know, Kushner initially failed to disclose any foreign contacts on his security clearance form, which he called an administrative error. But Kushner could also be a key part of a potential obstruction case, as "The Journal" reports: "Mr. Mueller`s prosecutors have asked witnesses detailed questions about Mr. Kushner`s view of Mr. Comey and whether Mr. Kushner was in favor of firing him or had staked out a position."

Anyway, according to four people familiar with the matter, "Mr. Kushner pushed for Mr. Comey`s firing and discussions among the president and his top advisers."

Betsy, I`m looking at two areas here, as a person trying to keep up with this complicated story. Two things. Kushner was involved with the Russians. Kushner was afraid of his involvement with the Russians. Kushner didn`t like Comey coming after his involvement with the Russians. He tries to get rid of Comey, gets the president to get rid of Comey.

Both the obstruction piece and the collusion piece touch on Jared Kushner, the president`s son-in-law. That`s awful close to the nervous system of this president.

BETSY WOODRUFF, THE DAILY BEAST: This is a really stressful time to be Jared Kushner.

And it`s important to remember that the news that we`re getting about Michael Flynn over the past few weeks also relates directly to Jared Kushner himself. During the transition period, according to reports, Flynn, Kushner, and Sergey Kislyak, the controversial Russian ambassador to the United States, had a meeting together that, as you might expect, didn`t get disclosed on that security clearance form.

And in that meeting, it appears that there were conversations about setting up some sort of back channel between Trump world and Russian leaders.

And something really astonishing happened recently. And that is, Chuck Grassley, who`s the Republican -- Republican, conservative guy -- who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, actually released a letter where he said Jared Kushner failed to turn over e-mails to him for his committee`s investigation that involved the efforts to set up that back channel.

So we have a U.S. senator on the record saying, first that Kushner somehow was involved in communicates about a back channel, and second that Kushner wasn`t completely forthcoming with that Republican U.S. senator about those efforts.

What that all means is that Kushner is in a tough place.

MATTHEWS: OK, what is -- what is unique, what is wrong -- I`m sorry, Betsy.

What is wrong, legally, what`s illegal about a back channel?

WOODRUFF: I think -- I can`t necessarily speak to that. That`s a complicated diplomatic issue. It`s definitely outside of the norms of how the United States generally conducts these foreign policy matters.

And, of course, when we`re talking about the Mueller probe, what we have to remember is that, first and foremost, it`s a counterintelligence probe. It`s looking at Russian efforts to influence the United States.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I understand.

WOODRUFF: It`s not primarily a criminal probe.

So, those counterintelligence matters relate directly to the way that powerful folks in the United States may try to communicate with powerful folks in the Kremlin.

Additionally, of course, the major legal liability for Kushner here is the fact that he did such a poor job disclosing all of these conversations when he was trying to get a security clearance to have access to even more classified and incredibly sensitive material.

MATTHEWS: Well, I will start with Julia on this, believe I know a lot about Bobby Kennedy. Bobby Kennedy had a back-channel relationship with Georgi Bolshakov.

Now, he could have been KGB at the time. He may well have been. But that back channel was the way we got through the Cuban Missile Crisis, because it was Bolshakov that Bobby suggested that we deal with the Turkish missiles and trading them for the Cuban missiles. And it ended up saving us from a nuclear war, another case of nepotism, by the way, Bobby Kennedy.

Is it illegal to have a back channel, again, the same question?

AINSLEY: So, we have to look at what this back channel looks like.

John Kelly, when he was DHS secretary, came to Kushner`s defense earlier this year when it came out that Kushner may have been trying to set up these back channels. He said, look, people have to do diplomacy in a number of ways.

Here`s where it gets tricky. If there was a way for him to set up a back channel where it couldn`t be secured, where things were either being traded quid pro quo, and the U.S. didn`t know about that, or in a way where this information wouldn`t have been secure, so, that, in other words, the U.S. wouldn`t know about its own diplomatic conversations, but another country, say, like Russia, could hear this, if it had perhaps happened at the Russian Consulate, we would be running into major national security risks, and, of course, running into what could be illegal activity, if there`s some sort of trading and selling off of U.S. foreign policy.

MATTHEWS: Yes. I think in the case...

AINSLEY: It would be the content, not the back channel itself.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think, in the Cold War sense, it was just an attempt to defuse a possible confrontation, a nuclear confrontation.

Anyway, thank you, Julia Ainsley and Betsy Woodruff. Great reporting.

Up next: President Trump is gearing up for Thanksgiving by asking why people don`t thank him enough. Interesting. It`s him again. Trump launched into a Twitter tirade about those basketball players he helped free from China, calling one of their fathers an ungrateful fool.

This is HARDBALL -- and that`s the president -- where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PAGE HOPKINS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Page Hopkins. Here`s what`s happening.

U.S. and Japanese naval ships searching the Philippine Seas for three service members missing after a U.S. Navy plane crashed on its way to the Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier. Eight others were rescued in good condition.

GOP Texas Congressman Joe Barton is responding to a nude photo that surfaced online. Barton said he had consensual relationships with mature adult women while separated from his wife.

Workers are inflating the iconic balloons for the Macy`s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Security will be extra tight at the annual tradition this year -- and now we take you back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

On the eve of Thanksgiving, as families gather together to give thanks for all that they have, the president of the United States decided to launch another series of Twitter attacks.

And, today, he decided to continue a fight he`s had with LaVar Ball, the father of a UCLA basketball player arrested in China for shoplifting. Ball has refused to thank the president for his role in orchestrating the release of his son and two other players. Here he is this past Monday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAVAR BALL, FATHER: It wasn`t like he was in the U.S. and said, OK, there`s three kids in China. I need to go over there and get them. Just because people say things, you know, it`s supposed to be true, like, hey, I stop them from serving 10 years.

Maybe we was doing some talking with some other people before we even got there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: OK, anyway, a worthy opponent.

Anyway, Trump didn`t seem to appreciate that, because at 5:30 in the morning, the president tweeted: "It wasn`t the White House, it wasn`t the State Department, it wasn`t father LaVar`s so-called people on the ground in China that got his son out of a long-term prison sentence. It was me. Too bad. LaVar is just a poor man`s version of Don King, but without the hair."

He then went on to call Ball a -- quote -- "ungrateful fool."

Well, for more, I`m joined by A.B. Stoddard, columnist and associate editor with RealClearPolitics and host of No Labels Radio on SiriusXM, and Jonathan Capehart, "Washington Post" editorial writer and an MSNBC contributor.

Jonathan, why does the president punch down? Why does he get another ego guy like himself, who nobody ever heard of, and pitch up a holiday-long fight with this guy?

JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, that`s a good question. The president always punches down.

Let`s think about this for a second, Chris. We have the president of the United States, who is engaged in a fight with a private citizen, with an American citizen.

You know, we used to have presidents who used to rise above these things, who would let such insults as the interview that LaVar Ball gave on CNN, just let that slide, because that sort of thing is beneath -- should be beneath the president, should be beneath the office of the presidency.

And yet what we have here, Chris, are two big egos in the age of Trump, where the president feels that it`s OK to punch down and get into a very public fight with a private citizen, and where that private citizen sees no problem whatsoever or at all with engaging in a fight with the president of the United States.

And one more thing, Chris. What we have here are two people, clearly, for whom everything is about themselves. The president is getting into this fight because he feels personally insulted by LaVar Ball.

And then you have got LaVar Ball, who`s someone who, from what I understand, is very savvy when it comes to creating publicity for himself. And he`s got a business of his own. And this helps him.

MATTHEWS: Yes, exactly.

A.B., I think if the guy had the intention of sparking up a feud that would make him on the level of the president of the United States, he pulled it off. And the fact that President Trump understands what the guy was up to, he compared him to Don King, one of the great promoters of all time in boxing, he admitted he knew what the guy was up to, and he played his game.

I don`t get this. I mean, why does he want to have a -- unless there`s a race piece to this, where he wants to have an African-American opponent whenever he can find one. That would be another way of looking at it. Your thoughts?

A.B. STODDARD, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Well, there`s a couple of aspects to this.

One, President Trump is energized by grievance and by fighting. So that`s just -- if someone throws him some bait, he`s going to come at it. Number two, as Jonathan points out, this guy is a provocateur and a self-promoter.

And if you watched the entire interview the other night, he`s a serious jerk. So, it provided -- it`s not only that President Trump takes the bait, but he became a good sort of foil for the president, because the president is really trying to, as he -- you know, as he tweeted again about NFL players, sort of speak to the sense to his voters that these are privileged, entitled athletes and they`re doing the wrong thing.

And so if you if you have the combination of the culture war over NFL players, and this guy, who sort is willing to set off President Trump, be really rude about it. It was kind of the perfect storm, right?

MATTHEWS: Sure.

STODDARD: And then, at the same time, President Trump has a theme that we have heard often, even back to the campaign, before he was a president, that he doesn`t get enough credit for things.

And he likes to be given credit for things. And so he anticipated that he wouldn`t be thanked by the basketball players. Remember the tweet from a week ago that, I bet they don`t even thank me. Then they thanked him, he sort of calmed down, and then now we`re back where we are.

I really hope that father Ball doesn`t continue this feud, because Donald Trump will stay with it.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: The president also retweeted a London-based pro-Trump broadcaster who took a swipe at Mr. Ball and Hillary Clinton.

The Trump supporter wrote: "The ungratefulness is something I have never seen before. If you get someone`s son out of prison, he should be grateful to you, period. I don`t care. If Hillary got my kid out of prison, as much as I hate the woman, I would thank her corrupt" -- well, you fill in the bank.

Jonathan, this seems to be -- I do think it`s the president`s wheelhouse, though.

CAPEHART: Yes.

MATTHEWS: If you look at the take the knee fight, which he raised to the level of the heavens, if you look at the statues fight, when he played completely in ethnic terms, he does seem to want to aggravate this ethnic fight we have in this country and widen the gap as wide as he can get it that day. That day, he wants it to be wide.

CAPEHART: Look, Chris, to pick up on what A.B. was talking about, this isn`t just a fight with privileged athletes or privileged NFL players.

This is the president of the United States, who always seems to find time to pick fights with African-Americans, that we cannot look away from the race angle that`s at play here.

The president, for one reason or another, thinks that -- and we have seen it work -- that his base likes the fact that he is standing up to people who they think are benefiting from a system that`s been rigged against them, and that what better way to feed, to stoke that grievance that A.B. was talking about -- and I agree 100 percent -- but what better way to stoke that grievance than to pick a fight with African-Americans, whether they`re African-American men who may or may -- may be jerks, like LaVar Ball, or with Colin Kaepernick, who`s taking a knee on standing -- standing on a principle, or Jemele Hill, who had, so-called, the temerity to criticize the president of the United States.

This works with his base. Unfortunately, what works for his tiny base is really horrible and detrimental to the rest of us in the United States.

MATTHEWS: It`s so rich, didn`t it -- lastly to you, A.B.

It`s so rich that he mentioned Don King, the ultimate promoter of boxing fights. I mean, here`s Trump, who loves to be promoted. And he promotes himself in fight after fight after fight to keep his core together.

STODDARD: And Don King is a friend, supposedly, of Donald Trump`s.

But, obviously, the tweet was incredibly personal, incredibly ugly, and he called him an ungrateful fool. And that`s why I`m worried that LaVar Ball will punch back.

MATTHEWS: OK, great. Thank you.

Remember what P.T. Barnum said. If you want a crowd, start a fight.

Trump does it every day, and he gets a fight, and we pay attention to him, unfortunately.

Anyway, thank you, A.B. Stoddard. Happy Thanksgiving.

STODDARD: You, too.

MATTHEWS: And also to my friend, longtime buddy, as well as A.B., Jonathan Capehart. Thank you, sir.

CAPEHART: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Up next: It certainly seems like President Trump is fixated on his predecessor, Barack Obama. And, yesterday, we got a stark reminder of that. Even at the Turkey pardoning ceremony, Trump was talking about erasing Obama`s legacy in that regard.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump never misses a chance to undermine his predecessor. Yesterday at the annual Thanksgiving turkey pardon, of all things, Trump, alongside first lady Melania Trump and son Barron, spared the lives of two turkeys, Wishbone and Drumstick.

But the president couldn`t resist the urge to get political once again, taking a shot at his predecessor, Barack Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Drumstick and his friend, Wishbone, will live out their days at Gobbler`s Rest. Beautiful place. There they`ll join Tater and Tot, the two turkeys pardoned last year by President Obama.

As many of you know, I have been very active in overturning a number of executive actions by my predecessor. However, I have been informed by the White House counsel`s office that Tater and Tot`s pardons cannot, under any circumstances, be revoked. So, we`re not going to revoke them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHES: Well, let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable. We need heavyweights for this topic.

Margaret Carlson is a columnist with "The Daily Beast". Howard Fineman is global editorial director for the "Huffington Post." I think you can handle this one. And Francesca Chambers is White House correspondent for "The Daily Mail."

In that order, what do we make of Trump in this reach, this strange, strained attempt to take something that`s supposed to be felicitous, happy, cheerful and turn it into a cheap little job on Obama? Margaret?

MARGARET CARLSON, COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: The turkey pardoning is a ceremony that allows you to riff a bit. However, the unifying theory, if there is one, of the Trump administration, is to undo everything he can that Obama has done. And so, he has to insert this into a pleasant holiday tradition, because he can`t resist this impulse, this impulse drives everything. It`s why we have, you know, an EPA, we have Scott Pruitt, who`s reversing everything that Obama did, so that coal is becoming the official fuel of the United States of America. The agriculture reversing everything.

It is -- it is what Trump wants to do. And so it -- he`s standing there and it just flies into his mind. And when those cameras are rolling, he can`t stop himself.

MATTHEWS: Howard, I`m wondering if he`s not being political here. Could it be in his interests -- I watch politicians these days. They have to act like they have no friends on the other side of the aisle, because their friendship is for their contributors. They give their friendship to their contributors. So they have to like the friends they get money from and they have to hate the enemies of their contributors.

So, it`s important for him to be seen as somebody that has nothing but contempt and hatred for Obama, for his own political well-being. And I think it`s sick, but I think it is going on in politics today.

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I think you`re absolutely right. And at the risk of sounding like I`m buttering up the host of the show, I think that`s brilliant. I hadn`t heard it expressed that way.

There`s no event too trivial not to be politicized, and politicized for the reason that you say. Which is, we`re on our side, they`re on their side. We`re going to see that playing out at Thanksgiving dinners all over the country tomorrow.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Fund put out a bulletin for everybody about how to argue with your Republican relatives tomorrow. That`s the world that Donald Trump came into. It`s the one he`s exaggerating and accentuating. And, by the way, that`s the way he`s going to play it down in Alabama.

MATTHEWS: Francesca, what do you make about this turkey, this turkey talking about turkeys? I mean, I`m sorry, I shouldn`t say that. But there`s a turkey aspect to the president`s behavior.

Who would talk about turkeys with such enthusiasm as political pawns?

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE DAILY MAIL: Well, he was riffing, as Margaret was saying. And I think that he thought that he was being funny, kind of making a funny joke about his predecessor. But, of course, for people who support those policies that Barack Obama put in place, that Donald Trump is now revoking, it`s not as funny to say that.

But one has to wonder if the White House was breathing a deep sigh of relief when he didn`t bring up other potential pardon jokes that he could have made yesterday. There are some other folks that everyone is wondering, people that he could potentially pardon in his administration and I think there was definitely a sense of whether he would make some jokes either about that or about his other favorite person who`s a Democrat, Hillary Clinton. And I think there was a real question whether he would bring her up instead of Barack Obama and a potential pardon for her.

MATTHEWS: Well, back to my conversation with Howard, I really do think he has to make it clear that he hates Hillary. He has to make it clear all the time, because his people hate Hillary.

Anyway, late-night comedian Stephen Colbert couldn`t resist making his own political joke about Trump`s reference of revoking Obama`s pardons of Tater and Tot. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN COLBERT, LATE NIGHT COMEDIAN: Because, if they could, I would eat Tater and make Tot watch. You`re next, Tot.

I`m eating Tater because he talked to Mueller.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Francesca, Howard, and Margaret, in that order, what do we make of the fact that it`s hard to tell satire from reality. I mean, it`s getting more tricky to discern the difference.

CHAMBERS: I think the late-night comedians are having quite a ball, as you could see there, with this event. But, you know, I do want to point something else out. The other reason that President Trump might have brought up President Barack Obama yesterday is looking back on the previous year`s event.

There was some speculation that President Obama took a slap at Donald Trump in his final turkey pardoning. He mentioned one nation for everyone and how we should be a divided society and we need to move forward after this past election. And there was some questions about that.

So, I`m also wondering if that was in president Trump`s mind, because he has a very long memory, as we know, and likes to talk about the election quite often.

CARLSON: Well, you couldn`t be more opposite than what Trump did in his pardoning, than what Obama said and what Trump said.

FINEMAN: He`s got a whole -- Chris, this guy has a whole castle full of bank woes ghosts. You know, there are people who haunt him, and I think somewhat guiltily in his own mind, about his -- where he is and how he got there and who he ran over there to get there on the way. And he`ll run back over Barack Obama every time he can and the same with Hillary Clinton. His mind is full of those people who challenge him.

I`ve never seen -- and I`ve covered a lot of presidents, as have you. I`ve never seen the mix of egotism and paranoia that this guy displays. And as you said, there`s no event too trivial for him to bring that up. It`s inescapable, every minute of the waking day for him.

MATTHEWS: It could be in the middle of the night subway ride from somewhere dark, deep into Queens, on his way to Manhattan, and he`s not quite there yet. Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us.

And up next, these people will give me some scoops, three of them, that you`ll be talking about all weekend as you`re eating your cold turkey on Saturday.

Anyway, you`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: A programming note now about this Friday, November 24th, the day after Thanksgiving. We`ll be back on the air with a special edition of HARDBALL, "President Trump: In His Own Words". Anyway, we`ll examine whether Trump`s delivered on the promises he`s made, take a look at his trouble with the truth, and discuss his fixation with his predecessor, Barack Obama.

That`s this Friday, Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Margaret, tell me something I don`t know.

CARLSON: So, Chris, it`s a happy Thanksgiving Day for big agro business, Cargill and Butterball, thanks to Donald Trump, who is punishing the small farmers who voted for him by taking away their protections that, by the way, Obama had given him.

MATTHEWS: Wow. Howard?

CARLSON: Had given them. Had given all of the small growers.

FINEMAN: Chris, the whole sexual harassment story is just beginning on Capitol Hill, as you all can imagine. And one reason is that secret list of $15 million worth of payments to various staffers on the Hill. Many of them, we presume, for sexual harassment claims.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who`s really taken the lead on this issue, is pushing now and is gaining support for a measure that would require that list to be made public, and all future payments to be made public. That`s going to be a focus of this debate heading forward into next year.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Howard.

Francesca?

GRAHAM: All right. Well, next week, Ivanka Trump, the first daughter and also a senior White House adviser, will be heading to India to represent the White House at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad. And this year, it will focus on women, women in the workforce. She`ll be on two panels and be giving a keynote speech at that summit and I`m also going with her.

MATTHEWS: Oh, good for you.

GRAHAM: So, I`ll be reporting live from there.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Margaret Carlson, Howard Fineman and Francesca Chambers.

When we return, let me finish tonight with a day that no one will ever forget. You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with a day no one will ever forget -- that other November 22nd, the one in 1963.

It was a day that seemed to separate two realities, the life before the zesty early 1960s when the world was heading our way, and the troubled world since of Vietnam and Watergate and this gray, grinding division running through life ever since.

I spent that afternoon watching Walter Cronkite give us the news flash from Dallas, the news that would change everything, it seemed. I watched him on the other networks tell the story of the new frontier and everything that was now lost. We never quite recovered, did we?

And as I write in "Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit," he changed after the tragedy in Dallas himself. Having spent much of his career chasing villains, crooked labor leaders, mobsters, communists, he decided to spend his later years, especially after Dallas, tending to their victims, to lives overlooked, and to those discarded.

And so, he ended up giving us a model that villains tend to create their own hells here on earth. He end up saying, if we want to do some good, we should be ready to make an effort, we should work to heal the divide between black and white, Anglo and Hispanic, Christian and Jew and Muslim. We can do that, of course. If you want to be good, that`s what we should do.

And that`s why I spent these years digging for and discovering Bobby story, the one sure I`ve learned is because we have suffered such a day as November 22nd, 1963, we need ways to not only recover, but raise again the spirit we had before.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us tonight. Wishing you and yours a very happy Thanksgiving.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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