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White House aides dreading 2018 Transcript 1/2/18 Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: John Podhoretz, Zerlina Maxwell, Jonathan Lemire

Show: HARDBALL Date: January 2, 2018 Guest: John Podhoretz, Zerlina Maxwell, Jonathan Lemire

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: New Year`s same president. Let`s play "Hardball.``

And good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki in for Chris Matthews. He is on vacation this week and he will be back next week.

We begin tonight with a new calendar year, but the same President. 20128 beginning for Donald Trump and his presidency just as 2017 ended. A combative President, going after the press, going after his opponents, his enemies, going after his defeated opponent from the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton, and of course continuing his attacks on the justice system and what he calls the deep state.

Now, all of this, you can see here in his latest tweet. The President saying, as our country rapidly grows stronger and smarter, I want to wish all my friends, supporters, enemies, haters, and even the very dishonest fake news media a happy and healthy new year.

And this morning, he offered some advice, if you want to call it that, to the new publisher of "The New York Times," (INAUDIBLE). He said quote "get impartial journalists of a much higher standard, lose all of your phony and nonexistent sources and treat the President of the United States fairly so that the next time I and the people win you won`t have to write an apology to your readers for a job poorly done. Good luck.

President Trump, also, as we said, continues to go after the justice department. He suggested a former aide to Hillary Clinton should be jailed.

Trump writing, crooked Hillary Clinton`s top aide, Huma Abedin, has been accused of disregarding basic security protocols. She put classified passwords into the hands of foreign agents. Remember sailor pictures on submarine? Jail deep state justice department must finally act. Also on Comey and others.

Now in regard to Abedin, the President appears to be referring to a report from the "Daily Caller" that she had quote "forwarded sensitive state department emails including passwords to government systems to her personal Yahoo! email account. Yahoo! later faced a system wide hacking.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about that tweet today.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did the President mean when he said the deep state justice department? And does this administration believe that the deep state is a real thing? That there is this shadow government out there, actively plotting to sabotage him?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, the President finds some of those actions very disturbing and he thinks that we need to make sure if there is an issue, that it`s looked at, but if there was anything beyond that, I would refer you to the department of justice.


KORNACKI: In "The New York Times" this weekend, Peter Baker, the paper`s chief White House correspondent summed up the President`s first year in office. According to Baker, Trump has transformed the presidency into a blunt instrument to advance personal policy and political goals. The presidency has served a as vehicle for Mr. Trump to construct and promote his own narrative, one with crackling verve, but riddled with inaccuracies, distortions, and outright lies according to fact checkers.

For more, I`m joined by MSNBC`s Katy Tur, former chairman of the Republican National committee Michael Steele, and "the Washington Post," Robert Costa. Both of them are MSNBC contributors.

Katy, let me start with you. A lot to dig in to here. Let me start on the fact that he is still talking about Hillary Clinton. It`s 2018, the election was 2016. There`s references to Hillary Clinton, to Huma Abedin. These were things that he was talking about in the 2016 campaign, it seems like Donald Trump looks at Hillary Clinton and sees a political advantage for himself in making sure she is still in the news somehow.

KATY TUR, MSNBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: He still needs a foil. And right now Republicans aren`t a good foil for him. They just passed tax legislation with them, so he`s not going to go after Mitch McConnell, at least for the moment. Democrats don`t pose a very good foil, either. I mean, he can go after Nancy Pelosi, but I don`t think he thinks that is going to get him the energy of his base the way going after somebody like Hillary Clinton does.

When we were at these rallies, they would scream "lock her up," they would wear shirts with terrible things said about her. And they would come in dressed head-to-toe in prison gear. Hillary Clinton is somebody that animates his base, and he knows that, and that`s why he still goes after her. I`m not sure, though, it`s going to be such an animating force, though, in 2020, if he`s running again, or in 2018.

Hillary Clinton is not in the White House. She is not in politics. Huma Abedin is not in politics. He can go after them all he wants, but ultimately, they don`t matter right now. Donald Trump matters.

KORNACKI: Yes, it feels like he is baiting her, trying to get her to speak up, trying to get her back into the arena.

TUR: He needs her.

KORNACKI: Well, Michael Steele, you are our sort of translator of the Republican base, the Republican community. Let me put it this way. So we are talking about Hillary Clinton. Katy is talking about what she was seeing at those rallies last year. What the name Hillary Clinton did to a Republican, to a Trump audience. So that`s one of his targets. We see it here as well today. The news media, he calls it the fake news media, another common target of the Democrats in general, whether it is Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Democrats, those three things, Hillary, the media, the Democrats, linked them in terms if you`re a Republican politician, if you`re Trump, where are you getting the most back for your buck with that Republican base he is going after there?

[19:05:21] MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you are getting that bang from all of those sources and then some. Even to Katy`s point about the Republican establishment, Mitch McConnell, and others, there`s still a little bit of fodder there, because, you know, you had some Republicans at the end of the year talking about, now that we passed tax reform, wave got to be a little bit more diligent about debt and deficit issues. And of course, that is not language that Trump`s base wants to hear, now that they have opened up this door, because you have got infrastructure, you`ve got other things that are more attuned to what Trump wants to get done.

So I think the President is going to pivot between the two. On any given day, depending on how his sauce is being laid on his plate, that`s how he`s going to play his hand. He`s going to figure out, who is the bigger target for the issue that I`m trike to promote, for what I`m trying to gain advantage on, and that`s where he`s going to go. And this week, starting off the New Year, it is the tried and true fake news, as well as even his own justice department.

KORNACKI: Right. That`s the other one we want to talk about here. The President`s swipe also at what he calls the deep state justice department. That also seems to fit a pattern. Just last week when asked by the "New York times" whether the justice department should reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton`s emails. President Trump said he stayed uninvolved in that matter, but added, I have an absolute right to do what I want to do with the justice department. But in the past, he has said that he is frustrated by the fact that as President, he is not supposed to be doing the things I`m supposed to be doing, such as having the justice department and FBI investigate Hillary Clinton.

After a terror attack in New York, he bemoaned being too politically correct in responding to terror, said our criminal justice system was a joke and a laughingstock. He also went after judges who disagreed with him. He said the FBI`s reputation is quote "in tatters." And he publicly rebuked his attorney general for recusing himself on the Russia investigation.

Last week`s "New York Times" Trump also praised former attorney general Eric Holder for his relationship with President Obama. Trump saying quote "I will say this. Holder protected President Obama, totally protected him, and I have great respect for that. I will be honest, I have great respect for that."

There`s a lot here, Robert costa. Let me start with you with this question here. The President using this term "deep state," suggesting his own, what, FBI, justice -- forces within sort of the government of the United States are out to get him. Can you add some specificity, just in terms of, what is the President`s grievance there? What`s the specific grievance he is getting at? Is there something in particular he is pointing to?

ROBERT COSTA, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: When you are President of the United States, you are the ultimate insider in the federal government. You are atop the federal government, as the head of the executive branch. Yet, President Trump regularly acts as if he is an outsider within his own government. And he reacts to activities of the intelligence community and different agencies, with alarm and surprise.

And his view of the so-called deep state, he is referring to what is, in his view, the intelligence community and the justice department in some respects, what he thinks is a liberal tilt in some of those areas. It`s a conspiratorial view. And I can`t offer specificity to those claims.

KORNACKI: Yes. I mean, Katy, what`s your sense to that? I mean, is this a blanket attack? Are there specific individuals he is talking about here?

TUR: It`s more of a blanket attack. Listen. Donald Trump operates in an us versus them mentality. A me versus everybody else. He has always operated that way.

Bob was talking about how he feels like an outsider in this government. He felt like an outsider in New York real estate, even as he was making deals and building bright, shiny, tall towers. That`s how he works. He needs somebody to fight against. He needs somebody to punch in order to feel like he has made it in some way. And he is going to do this in the White House for as long as he is in the White House. There will always be somebody who is not praising him enough or is critical of him.

So when the FBI has an investigation against him, on his campaign, what`s going on with Russia last year, he is going to criticize the FBI. Criticize the DOJ in order to undercut the credibility. If he feels aggrieved, he is going to punch back. He is going to do that with everybody that goes against him in his mind. If that`s the press being critical of his policies or fact checking him or calling what he says not true, he will go after the press. It doesn`t matter who you are.

KORNACKI: It was so interesting Michael Steele, that quote we read there from that interview last week, the President praising Eric Holder, saying he thought Eric Holder had somehow, you know, protected President Obama. I mean, clearly seemed what he was really doing there was taking a shot at his own guy, at Jeff Sessions, basically saying, you haven`t protected me. That relationship, the attorney general of the United States, an original supporter of Donald Trump, from very early on in that campaign, Sessions kind of been a loner in his own party in Washington in a lot of ways.

Thinking ahead in 2018, how do you see that playing out, Trump and his own attorney general in 2018?

[19:10:25] STEELE: I think they are going to be at odds going forward. I think that there are still some aspects of what`s going on and coming out of the justice department that are bothersome to the President. And I think to Katy`s point, he is looking for enemies and he doesn`t have that far to look. That us versus -- that me versus them kind of mind-set.

And certainly, this probe, this ongoing probe by the justice department, a chief law enforcement officer who has recused himself and his attorney general from overseeing those proceedings, are all problematic for this President. He looks at someone like Holder and he -- what he sees is kind of the underbelly of that relationship.

In other words, the role of the attorney general is to be the protector of the President and to get out of the President`s way those things that are bad for the President. And he sees his attorney general Sessions not having done that.

KORNACKI: There was also this on twitter this morning. The President taking credit for the state of airline safety.

He wrote, since taking office, I have been very strict on commercial aviation. Good news, it was just reported that there was zero deaths in 2017, the best and safest year on record.

NBC News contacted multiple aviation sources. They said they were not aware of any actions by the White House that addressed aviation safety. Also, there have been no fatal crashes on U.S. commercial airlines since 2009.

Robert Costa, I wonder what you make of that tweet. Is this just sort of, you know, Donald Trump grasping for something that he can say, hey, this happened, I was President, I want credit for that. Do you see -- do you recognize the Trump who is doing this?

COSTA: It seems to be a pretty good guess, Steve. I think it`s a blessing that no one has died in a crash this year on a passenger commercial flight. The President is trying to tie himself into this fact and it is a fact. But the administration can only claim so much credit for the work of pilots and regulatory officials in the airline industry. But this is part of a broader trend of the President to try to proclaim good things on his record as President, whether he was directly involved in that or not.

KORNACKI: Katy, let me just ask you this because you have been watching Donald Trump from the early days of his campaign. I mean, we had there in the opening from "The New York Times," all the ways that Donald Trump has kind of changed and redefined the presidency. And there`s a question there of whoever comes after Trump, will the presidency be forever changed, will revert to what we have known?

I`m curious, though, because you have been watching him from the beginning, have you seen any ways in which the presidency has changed Donald Trump?

TUR: No, I really haven`t. I think Donald Trump is who he is. I mean, maybe he adjusted his position on Afghanistan once and said that once he got into the White House, it changed his opinion on things. But mostly, we have just seen the same Donald Trump that we saw in the campaign trail and the same Donald Trump that we have been seeing for years in the spotlight and in the tabloids here in New York City. And also on "the Apprentice."

You know, the aviation tweet this morning was interesting. It`s almost as if he saw it on the news somewhere or read it in the paper and then decided that, you know, this was something that he should take responsibility for. It`s only one step removed, since it`s been happening since 2009, it seems like it`s only one stepped removed from Donald Trump trying to take credit for the sun rising every morning. The sun rose today. So I think that I`m doing a really great job.

I mean, this is happening since 2009. I mean, it`s a bit absurd to go out there and say that I have been very strict with aviation when we can`t find a single aviation source telling us that the White House has done anything.

KORNACKI: Right. I mean, obviously, goes out to aviation. And as somebody who is terrified as airline travel, it is great news, obviously, that there were no fatalities.

TUR: Of course.

KORNACKI: But then it becomes this political question and we weren`t anticipating that, certainly. I guess that`s the headline we have had with the Trump presidency a number of times since last year.

Anyway, Katy Tur, Robert Costa, Michael Steele, thanks to all of you for joining us.

And coming up, the Russia investigation. New reporting from "The New York Times" about what triggered the FBI probe that was Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos back in May of 2016 telling an Australian diplomat the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton. That`s ahead.

Plus, Trump versus the world. The commander in chief takes to twitter to skewer the leaders of Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan.

And Trump`s to-do list in the New Year jam-packed, but he is facing political head winds heading to this year`s midterms. White House aides are increasingly worried about a potential blue wave in the fall.

And finally, from the weakening environmental regulations that pushing citizen question, critics say will sabotage the senses. All the things the Trump administration did over the holiday break while you might not have been looking.

This is "hardball," where the action is.


[19:16:05] KORNACKI: Well, we got some big news today in the world of politics and elections for 2018 have caused us to go over to the big board.

The big news is that Orrin Hatch, Republican senator from Utah, he has been there for 42 years, he is not going to run for reelection in 2018. It potentially means that Mitt Romney will replace him. May run for Senate in Utah. Might be favored to win.

Let`s take a look, first of all, at the politics of all of this. The interesting thing in the last few weeks, the guessing game, would hatch run, wouldn`t he? He has been trying to cozy up to President Trump. There were indications maybe he thought he would get some help from Donald Trump. He needed the help.

First thing to keep in mind, Orrin Hatch in the deep, deep red state of Utah. He had an upside down approval rating. He was in big political trouble out there. He was in big trouble heading into his re-election here. So that was number one.

Number two, with he mentioned the name Mitt Romney. Romney has made it clear, he is interested in this race if Orrin Hatch doesn`t run. Well, look at this, Mitt Romney in Utah extremely popular, 71 percent favorable rating. Remember Mitt Romney moved out to Utah a couple of years ago. He had been there before, running the Olympics in 2002. This is a state he absolutely cleaned up.

When he ran for President in 2008, Republican primary in Utah, Mitt Romney got 90 percent of the vote. There are few politicians in any state in the country as popular as Mitt Romney in Utah. So you add those two factors together, check this out, this is kind of a weird poll, but the only one that`s out there. They threw a bunch of polls together of Utah politicians and asked voters, if you had a chance, who would you want in the Senate? Look at that. Mitt Romney, I mean, it`s not even close. Mitt Romney is out there at 44 percent.

Look at this, though, by the way. Orrin Hatch was sitting back at eight percent. A U.S. senator for more than 40 years was getting lapped like six times by Mitt Romney in this poll. That`s what Hatch was up against. That`s a big part of the story here of him backing out today. The question now is will Mitt Romney step forward and run? And that has potential implications, not just because of the novelty of a former Presidential candidate going back to the Senate. But there`s also this. Mitt Romney, you know how critical he was of Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign.

Remember this about Utah, this is the most anti-Trump red state in America. In 2016, Trump came in third place in the caucuses in Utah. And I mean, look at this, almost 70 percent for Cruz. Trump lost by more than 50 points in Utah. And it wasn`t a fluke, because, look, in the general election, Evan McMullen, remember tried to run that independent campaign. This is really the only place he got any traction. And boy, did he get traction. Because all of those Republican voters who really didn`t like Trump, McMullen got more than 20 percent of the vote.

I mean, by comparison, when Romney ran, he got like close to 75 percent of the vote in Utah. Trump was all the way down at 46. So you think about that. That popularity of Mitt Romney. The criticism he leveled at Trump in 2016. And the fact that Utah is not really a Trump state.

It`s the possibility that Mitt Romney would be in a position that basically no other Republican senator in the country he is in. If he wanted to, he could criticized President Trump and he wouldn`t have to worry about offending his own voters.

That is a unique situation and that`s one the White House probably doesn`t like thinking about. We will see if Mitt Romney gets in the race.

And we will be back with more "Hardball" right after this.


KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

We are learning new details about the origin of the Trump-Russia probe, which first began as a counterintelligence investigation back in July of 2016.

"The New York Times" is now reporting that former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who is now cooperating with investigators, played a crucial role in spurring the FBI to open the case in the first place.

According to "The Times" -- quote -- "During a night of heavy drinking at an upscale London bar in May 2016, George Papadopoulos made a startling revelation to Australia`s top diplomat in Britain. Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton."

Now, court documents show that, just two weeks earlier, a professor with alleged Kremlin contacts told Papadopoulos that the Russians have thousands of e-mails, which were described as dirt on Hillary Clinton.

When the hacked DNC e-mails were released two months later, Australian officials warned their American counterparts about the information Papadopoulos had provided.

As "The Times" reports, "The hacking and the revelation that a member of the Trump campaign may have had inside information about it were driving factors that led the FBI to open an investigation."

For more, I am joined now by one of the authors of that report, Matt Apuzzo of "The New York Times."

Matt, thank you for taking a few minutes.

A lot of things to ask you about here. Let me start with this, because I think when you raise this subject here of e-mails that could be dirt on Hillary Clinton, one question that comes to my mind is, which e-mails? Do we have a sense here? Put the timeline in perspective. This is May 2016. Papadopoulos is talking about e-mails coming out.

A couple months later, you have got these DNC e-mails. That`s July. In October, you have got these Podesta e-mails that come out. There`s also this question of these 30,000 deleted Hillary Clinton e-mails that Trump seemed to be convinced were out there somewhere. Which e-mails does Papadopoulos think he`s hearing about in May?

MATT APUZZO, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": 2016, it was the year of the e-mails.


APUZZO: Yes, we don`t know from the court documents whether Papadopoulos says, oh, well, what e-mails do you have?

What we know from court records is that Papadopoulos told Bob Mueller and the special counsel investigators that he was told, Russia`s got dirt on Hillary Clinton. They have got thousands of her e-mails.

Now, to your point, which batch of this? Because the hacking campaign that the Russian government unleashed did attack multiple targets. So it`s not clear which ones they were talking about. And it`s not clear whether George Papadopoulos drilled down.

What we know is when the first -- when those hacked e-mails started to appear, those Democratic e-mails that were not Hillary Clinton`s personal e-mails, started to appear in the late spring, early summer of 2016, The Australian government, it seems like they made the connection, where they said, you know what, we actually had a conversation with George Papadopoulos from the Trump campaign that suggested they may have known something about this.

And that`s -- they then go to the FBI. And you can obviously understand why they would be concerned.

KORNACKI: Matt, did you -- is the reporting here about, did Papadopoulos say anything in that period between May and July, when these things, the DNC ones at least, start coming out? Did he tell anybody in the Trump campaign? Did he say something? Did he say anything, and how specific is what he said?

APUZZO: Yes, it`s a great question, because if this is a significant enough detail that he`s going to talk about it over drinks with an Australian diplomat, somebody as ambitious as George Papadopoulos was in the campaign, you would think that he might have said something to his bosses or somebody else in the campaign.

Now, my colleagues and I have actually obtained and reviewed many of George Papadopoulos` e-mails with the campaign and with his Russian contacts. And we haven`t found any evidence that he, at least in e-mails, did tell anybody in the campaign. Now, if he did, that`s very significant, of course.

And we can assume that Bob Mueller knows the answer to that.

KORNACKI: Right, because it seems there`s a -- if you play this out a little bit, there`s a key issue here, a key question, I guess, that`s kind of raised by this, of, you know, you have Donald Trump out there publicly in the summer of 2016, saying, hey, Russia, if you`re listening, would love to get these 33,000 e-mails.

That seemed to be on his mind there. Is this a situation where the Trump folks are getting some scuttlebutt from Europe, some scuttlebutt that Russia`s got something, and Trump`s sort of broadly encouraging that without knowing? Or is this an indication that some kind of contact was made here that established some kind of relationship? It seems like that that`s question that this raised here.

APUZZO: Right, that is a question.

And that`s certainly part and parcel of what Bob Mueller`s looking at is -- and you can see why. In the summer and fall of 2016, if you`re at the FBI, you would be really concerned, because you see these hacked e-mails. You see that they -- in the words of the FBI, that the Russians have weaponized them by releasing them.

And then you hear from one of your most trusted intelligence allies, the Australians, that there`s evidence that someone in the Trump campaign may have had inside information about this months earlier. And you add to that, you know, other contacts with the campaign and then what Donald Trump is talking about, hey, Russia, if you`re listening, go -- you know, we would love to have you go get more of Hillary Clinton`s e-mails, you can see why, when you add all this together, there was great concern inside the United States` intelligence agencies.

KORNACKI: Now, your report also rebuts a talking point that Trump`s defenders have repeated for the last few weeks that says that Christopher Steele, that dossier, the Steele dossier, which was paid for by -- through the Clinton campaign, was the basis of the FBI`s investigation.

Quote: "That information was not part of the justification to start a counterintelligence inquiry, American officials said."

This seems like a key point. And I would like you to drill down on it a little bit more here, because I know -- I think "The Times" a few months ago -- I think it was back in April -- talked about Carter Page as potentially being the catalyst or one of the key catalysts...

APUZZO: A catalyst, right.

KORNACKI: ... for the FBI`s investigation. Now the attention here is on Papadopoulos.

APUZZO: Right.

KORNACKI: There`s also been the question raised here. Now, Trump`s defenders have put this out there, some others have as well, the question of, did this dossier play a role?

So explain how you know that it`s not the dossier and it is Papadopoulos.

APUZZO: Well, you have to remember that all of these things are sort of happening at the same time, right? You have the e-mails get released, the hacked e-mails. Then you get the information from the Australians about Papadopoulos.

And then they start to realize that Carter Page, who years earlier had been recruited by Russian intelligence agencies, had also made a trip to Russia in that same month, in July.

And we have been reporting for months now that one of the people he was in contact with there was a suspected Russian intelligence agent. And so all that stuff is happening at the same time.

Now, with the dossier, this is this political -- we will call it opposition research that was paid for by the Clinton campaign. We have been reporting since April that that information in the dossier didn`t start to arrive at counterintelligence agency -- excuse me -- at the FBI Counterintelligence Division until late August, so, I mean, weeks, weeks after it was opened.

Now, I think it`s a very fair question to ask, what role did politically paid-for research, whether it`s opposition research or not, play in a law enforcement and counterintelligence investigation?

And, certainly, if the -- the Republican talking point has been, we want to see any FISAs, surveillance warrants, to know whether this opposition research underpinned the surveillance warrants. That is a real question, because, frankly, you don`t want the FBI to be in a position where it`s being seen as taking political research and turning it into investigations.

But our information is that the actual investigation that Bob Mueller`s supervising now did not begin with the dossier. It began with this confluence of factors and George Papadopoulos and his conversation with the Australians.

KORNACKI: And let me just -- on the timeline, just to pin this down more precisely, then, because I believe the article makes reference to somebody in the FBI -- correct me if I`m wrong here -- having contact with Steele, you know, from this dossier, in July, which is when the counterintelligence investigation begins.

APUZZO: Right. Right.

KORNACKI: But you`re saying that conversation did not factor until late August? Is that...

APUZZO: Right.

So, Steele is a longtime, for lack of a better word, informant or source, colleague with the FBI. His work is in British intelligence, and he specializes in Russian organized crime.

He actually takes the beginnings of his research to an FBI contact he had in Europe and passes this information on. And our understanding -- and we have been reporting this going back to April of 2017, long before the dossier was this hot-button issue -- that this doesn`t make its way, the significance of this document, when it`s passed in Europe in July, is not immediately clear.

And it actually doesn`t make its way to counterintelligence officers, officials in Washington for several weeks. And part of the issue there was that the Trump investigation was super close-hold in the FBI, because they were -- one of the reasons was, they were really worried. They didn`t want to be seen as hurting Donald Trump and going out of his way to try to damage his campaign.

Remember, they had just been criticized for the way they handled the Hillary Clinton investigation. And they did -- they were very, very sensitive to being seen as doing that again.

KORNACKI: All right.

Matt Apuzzo, one of the authors of that "New York Times" report.

Matt, thanks for joining us.

APUZZO: Any time.


And up next: the world according to Trump. The commander in chief has taken to Twitter to take on the leaders of Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


KORNACKI: Hey, and welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump has spent the last few days tackling foreign policy on Twitter. He weighed in on the anti-government protests in Iran, calling the country failing.

And, today, he tweeted: "The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime. All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their pockets. The people have little food, big inflation, and no human rights. The U.S. is watching."

He also went after North Korea`s Kim Jong-un, tweeting that -- quote -- "Sanctions and other pressures are beginning to have a big impact on North Korea. Soldiers are dangerously fleeing to South Korea. Rocket man now wants to talk to South Korea for first time. Perhaps that is good news. Perhaps not. We will see."

For more, I`m joined now by David Ignatius, who is a columnist at "The Washington Post" and an NBC News-MSNBC contributor, and Hagar Chemali, who is a former spokesperson to the U.S. Mission at the U.N.

David, let me start with you.

These were two examples. We have got a bunch more from the last couple of days.

When the president does this, when he tweets about any of these topics on Twitter, when he`s out there calling Kim Jong-un rocket man, something like that, what is going on behind the scenes in terms of the United States, other countries around the world, whether they`re the countries the president is talking about himself or allies in the world, who are wondering what this exactly means?

Is somebody in the administration on the phone to translate for other countries around the world, or is everybody out there left guessing? How does it work when he puts a tweet out there like this?

DAVID IGNATIUS, NBC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I think sometimes when there`s something very controversial, very confusing, people will go to the NSC, will go to the State Department, but more to the NSC, and seek explanation.

What exactly does this mean? What is really changing in U.S. policy?

I think the tweets that we have seen today, the last few days, are more really Trump in this role that he obviously loves, which is being his own chief publicist, communications officer. He likes dropping these bombs. He loves calling Kim Jong-un rocket man.

If you look at the substance of that tweet, the interesting part is that he seemingly is accepting, endorsing the idea of talks between North and South Korea. We weren`t sure what the administration`s position would be on that until the tweets.

So, I think, sometimes, the message is disguised. You have to figure out, as intelligence officers often say, what`s the signal here and what`s just the noise that surrounds it?

KORNACKI: And the other question there, Hagar, take the tweet about Iran, the protesters in the street. Now, it`s delivered in a uniquely Trumpian voice, through a uniquely sort of Trumpian medium, Twitter.

So, that`s different than the past, but the message he`s conveying there of, hey, the United States has some solidarity here with these protesters, that seems to be the message that a lot of Americans would expect any president to be sending.


I think the message -- aside from his small and actually false jab regarding President Obama and money towards the Iranians, I think, aside from that, I think the message was right to support the Iranian protesters and certainly their basic human rights.

If I were his communications adviser, I would have never advised to do something like that over a tweet. It`s too informal. It doesn`t speak to the seriousness of the issue. I would have advised a more formal written statement followed up by some actions that show the support for the protesters.

But that`s very typical of President Trump.

KORNACKI: And I think, David, it raises another question, too, maybe just assessing at the end of year one, the start of year two, the presentation of foreign policy, obviously, very different than we have ever seen with a president.

But the substantive policy, how many breaks have we seen in terms of what has traditionally been U.S. foreign policy, past presidents, Democratic and Republican, vs. what Trump is doing?

IGNATIUS: We have seen some breaks.

I think relationships with traditional U.S. allies, like the United Kingdom, Germany, are worse than I can remember them being in many years, maybe ever, certainly in modern times.

I think relationships with our potential adversaries, like China and Russia, this president has been much more accommodating in his personal statements. We have a new national security strategy that`s more hawkish.

I think, strangely enough, Trump probably thinks that this style, bombastic, public comments, tweets, this very disruptive style, I think he`d probably say it`s successful. It puts other countries off their game.

So, I think we have to bear that in mind. What we may see as disruptive and unsuccessful, he probably sees differently.

I just want to note, like Hagar, I think that for the president to stand with the people of Iran in this period when they`re out in the streets, I think that`s good. I think you would want an American president to do that.

Trump could go too far in how he expresses it, but I think the fact that he`s in solidarity with them, he says the world is watching, that`s what he should say.

KORNACKI: All right, well, David Ignatius and Hagar Chemali, it`s a conversation we will probably return to at some point this year. I imagine the president will have more to say on Twitter about foreign policy and many other subjects.

President Trump, meanwhile, has a busy to-do list for the new year, but will 2018 be the year Democrats take control of Congress? That is ahead.

You`re watching HARDBALL.



With 2018 now underway, President Trump and Congress face a busy to-do list for the New Year, a year that culminates, of course, in the midterm elections. "The Washington Post" reports on the jam-packed agenda amid looming deadlines, including a government shutdown and DACA.

President Trump wrote on Twitter this morning, quote, Democrats are doing nothing for DACA. Just interested in politics. DACA activists and Hispanics will go hard against Dems. Will start falling in love with Republicans and their president. We are about results.

Meanwhile, politico reports White House aides are already anxious about 2018, anticipating a West Wing brain drain in working under the shadow of the ongoing Russia investigation, writing, quote: The grim reality of 2018 has generated a sense of foreboding among White House aides. The report goes on to add that the West Wing aides expect limited progress for getting things done in Washington this year, heading into a contentious midterm election.

Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable, John Podhoretz is columnist for "The New York Post", Zerlina Maxwell is director for progressive programming for Sirius XM Radio, and Jonathan Lemire is a White House reporter for "The Associated Press", and I must say a native of Lowell, Massachusetts, the greatest city in the world.

Because of that, let me start with you.

JONATHAN LEMIRE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: It`s an all-American sign. It says on all the signs.

KORNACKI: It`s a beautiful place.

Expectations from 2018 from the White House` perspective. I ask people sometimes who cover the White House, what does Trump want? What does the White House want? They always say, they want to win.

OK, what does that mean in 2018? In 2017, they got tax reform done. I guess that`s the highlight. They got Gorsuch. Are there big-ticket items, beyond keeping the government open, beyond DACA, are there big-ticket items the White House is looking at in 2018 and saying, this would be the win for us this year?

LEMIRE: Well, certainly, they feel like they ended 2017 with some momentum. You mentioned the tax win. The White House did desperately need a victory and they feel like they got one right under the wire.

In terms of 2018, there`s a debate in the White House as to what to do. There`s one school of thought. Some advisers and outside allies of the president are pitching to make more of a bipartisan push, to really finally get to infrastructure, which a lot of critics think they should have opened with last year in an attempt to bring some Democrats onboard. Now, whether some Democrats actually want to work with this president right now, who has terrible poll numbers and who is shadowed by the Russia probe, that`s another story.

The other idea would be to sort of double down on what the president has always wants to do, which is cater to the base, and that could include welfare reform or some other sort of attempts to address entitlement programs. That is what they`re trying to figure out right now. I think it`s clearly going to that kind of debate is going to headline discussions at Camp David this weekend, when Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan meet with the president.

KORNACKI: So, let me ask you this, Zerlina, from the perspective of a Democrat. If infrastructure ends up being where the White House goes, if that ends up being one of the areas, that seems like the most plausible way to get Democrats back onboard for something. Especially if you look at those Democrats -- you know, Manchin in West Virginia, Donnelly in Indiana --



KORNACKI: OK. So, if Trump says, you know what, I want to do infrastructure. I want shovels, I want jobs, I want ribbon cuttings, all that, are there Democrats who say, you know what, with let`s sign up for that?

MNAXWELL: I think there are some Democrats. And certainly, you know, those Democrats that are in these red states, that are in states where it actually does matter that they work with Republicans in trying to pass legislation, because their constituencies are more moderate, those Democrats certainly may be willing to work with the president.

I don`t think that they will, though. And I think that the Russia probe actually is a bigger shadow than the White House clearly seems to imagine in this particular moment. I also think that to Jonathan`s point about welfare reform, I think that some of these pushes that the White House may do, they have to align with what Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell want to do.

And so, Paul Ryan wants welfare reform, that`s probably what they`re going end to up doing in the congress, regardless of what the White House wants, because this White House essentially has been pushed to the side, because Trump is not a good communicator on legislation.

KORNACKI: And, John, let me ask you a different variation of that, but John talks about the base of the Republican Party, midterm election coming up this year. Paul Ryan wants to keep the House, Mitch McConnell wants to keep the Senate. If you`re trying to motivate Republican voters to go out there and vote, because we saw an enthusiasm gap in 2017, what could the White House do? What could Republicans do this year that would have that effect?


KORNACKI: Nothing?

PODHORETZ: Nothing. I really don`t think that there is anything on the agenda that is exciting, unless it is responsive to things that we don`t know yet. In other words, things will happen, they`ll be unexpected events. Trump can potentially create another spasm like, you know, Colin Kaepernick and the NFL, cultural fights over nothing that sort of blow up and balloon to kind of stir people`s emotions. But I don`t think legislatively, there is anything that pushes anybody`s buttons.

KORNACKI: So why is it that the base is so deflated?

PODHORETZ: Because the president is unpopular. A lot of people don`t like the tweeting. They don`t like the mood. They don`t like the spirit of things. And they don`t think that they`re getting that much out of -- now, if there is a big economic boom this year and the tax cuts seem to be working, people will be in a better mood.

However, I still think you`re looking at a wave coming in November of 2018 and the real Machiavellian thing to do for Ryan and McConnell would be to sit down and say, what can we get done before we can no longer get anything done, whatsoever?


PODHORETZ: That`s why Ryan wants to do entitlements and McConnell says he doesn`t, because McConnell actually is in a position where he can defend his Senate majority and doesn`t want to do anything controversial. Ryan`s like, let`s roll the dice and try to do something on entitlement reform before the wave hits and we no longer have any power.

KORNACKI: It`s echoes of Democrats in 2010, if that Massachusetts special election -- now or never on health care. And they got it done.

The roundtable is staying with us.

Up next, some things the Trump administration did over the holiday break that you might have missed. You`re watching HARDBALL.


KORNACKI: The United States Senate is back in session tomorrow in Washington, but Al Franken is no longer among his Senate colleagues. The Minnesota Democrat officially resigned today, stepping down amid allegations of misconduct with women. His successor, Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith, will be sworn in tomorrow, as will Alabama`s Doug Jones, the Democrat who defeated Roy Moore in that special election last month.

We`ll be right back.


KORNACKI: And we`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

"The Washington Post" today reported on ten end-of-year actions by the Trump administration you might have missed over the holidays, writing that while Trump was in Florida, quote, his political appointees back in Washington worked overtime to deconstruct the administrative state, eviscerate several of Barack Obama`s signature achievements, and roll back significant environmental protections.

Other action includes maneuvering behind the scenes to sabotage the census, citing a "ProPublica" report detailing that, quote, the Justice Department is pushing for a question on citizenship to be added into the 2020 census, a move that observers say could depress participation by immigrants, who fear that the government could use the information against them.

Zerlina, it`s true. I mean, I`ll admit the holidays, I might have missed a few things. How significant do you think is what happened over the last week or two?

MAXWELL: When you`re talking about the census, that`s critically important because marginalized communities are most frequently undercounted. And that means that resources don`t go into those communities. So, asking someone, including a citizenship question on the census, is something that is going to deter people of color from answering their door when a census- taker is at their door to make sure that they`re counted so that the resources are allocated properly.

The other piece is that essentially Donald Trump ran as a populist, he`s governing as somebody who just wants to undo everything his predecessor did, without any real underlying ideology. It`s essentially just, well, if Obama did it, I`m against it. I think that the long-term ramifications for some of these policies are going to be extremely damaging when you`re stripping back EPA regulations and, you know, you already have situations like Flint all over the country. That`s going to be something we should keep a close eye on.

KORNACKI: Well, John, you look at that list, do you categorize these as things that only Trump would have done?


PODHORETZ: No, any Republican president would have done this. He is -- Obama places regulations on, the Republican takes them off. This is one of the ways in which Trump is a conventional Republican president, not a revolutionary Republican president. Obama overregulated, he`s deregulating. Obama used executive action to make legislative policy from the White House, that`s all being overlaid.

So, this is what happens when a Republican president wins and there`s a Republican House and a Republican Senate and no one`s going to do a lot of pushing back on the Hill.

MAXWELL: Checking and balancing.

KORNACKI: And, Jon, quickly here, the folks implementing this stuff, we hear about the president himself. How efficient is the White House operation?

LEMIRE: It`s growing more so in terms of getting policy done. That is one of the impacts that John Kelley has had on this White House is to sort of better organize, more efficiently be able to roll back policies like this.

I also suspect, I know this was done quietly over the last few days, it may not stay quiet long. You`re right, Republicans like to undo Democratic accomplishments, this president does it with zeal. I think that he will like to tout some of the things he`s done, especially if he believes it helps businesses and, you know, undoes some of the Obama-era environmental regulations.

KORNACKI: OK. And just now to tell you this coming in through Twitter, President Trump responding to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Trump tweeting out: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un stated the nuclear button is on his desk at all times, will someone from his depleted and food-starved regime please inform him that I too have a nuclear button but it is a much bigger and more powerful one than his, and my button works.

Let me -- we`re just seeing this now for the first time. Let me get a response here.

MAXWELL: Little bit on live television. This is my greatest fear is that Donald Trump will escalate the tension with North Korea on his Twitter feed, and that`s why him understanding the underlying policy details and the ramifications for what he`s actually saying, you know, they said his tweets are a presidential statement, well, we should take it seriously and be alarm because this is not a game. This is a global threat. It`s important that he understands what this means.

PODHORETZ: OK, we have to -- he is not ratcheting up things with North Korea, North Korea is ratcheting things up. It`s North Korea that`s testing the ICBMs. It is North Korea that is exploding --

MAXWELL: Obama would not have tweeted that. That is escalating tensions.

PODHORETZ: The tensions are escalated whether or not he tweets it.

MAXWELL: No, it does matter, you have to have one side who`s responsible. The other side, we can`t do anything about that.

PODHORETZ: Who says we`re not responsible?

MAXWELL: That doesn`t look like responsible tweeting form the president.

PODHORETZ: This is who this president is. He is confrontational.

MAXWELL: That`s a problem.

PODHORETZ: I understand you think it`s a problem but you cannot blame the United States or the White House for being the escalator in what`s going on here. It is Kim Jong-un who is pushing the nuclear program, who is testing weaponry that can hit the United States and who is advancing his nuclear program radically quickly. It is not the United States --

MAXWELL: I didn`t agree -- I didn`t disagree, I said we`re certainly contributing.

KORNACKI: Jonathan?

LEMIRE: Yes, I mean, certainly, what we`ll see is whether there`s policy that accompanies a tweet like this. But there`s no question this is a president who`s taken to rhetoric, none of his predecessors would have done publicly, who is -- we remember over the summer with fire and fury, locked and loaded, now we have this.

It`s a pretty extraordinary tweet to put it out there this way. I think we can all agree that the button on the president`s desk that summons a Diet Coke is far less newsworthy than the button he`s talking about here. This is real-world stuff, potentially very serious. I`d be curious how it plays in capitals like Tokyo and Seoul tonight.


PODHORETZ: He doesn`t have a button, he`s got a case. He`s got a nuclear --

KORNACKI: It`s not technically a button.


KORNACKI: Let me just try to -- as somebody who covers the White House, let me ask you. We`re all seeing this tweet for the first time. When he sends out a tweet like this, clearly this is another more provocative end of them. Is there a typical pattern in your reporting that you`ve found, does it come after consultation with someone? Is this -- what is the anatomy of a tweet like this? Do you have a sense?

LEMIRE: Yes, I mean, it`s scattershot. There are some tweets that he runs by John Kelly or consults with other aides. Certainly, some tweets are actually done by Dana Scavino, the social media director, as opposed to the president himself. But others he just does, whether in response to perhaps something formal like a briefing that he had received in the hours or days before, or something very informal, because he saw it on "Fox and Friends" or other cable TV networks.

It`s obviously unclear as to what prompted this tweet. We don`t know yet. We`ll try to find out.

Reporting-wise, in terms of what, you know, if who -- if anyone, he consulted before tweeting this. But that is one of the unknowns of the president`s Twitter account and one of the things he loves so much about it, he feels it keeps people -- it keeps America`s allies and adversaries alike on their toes.

KORNACKI: He has -- I think he tweeted in the last few days, sometime in the recent past. There`s this clip of Bill Clinton when he was president in 1993 publicly making a threat to North Korea, basically we have the ability to wipe you out, so don`t mess with us. I think the message Trump was trying to send there, was, hey, basically if I send a tweet like I just sent, it is not -- the message is not necessarily one that presidents haven`t delivered in the past.

MAXWELL: That doesn`t make it OK today. And I think that what I was trying to say is not that president Trump is this person. I agree with you, that this is this person, we should be -- expect these kinds of tweets from him. I don`t think that we should normalize these kinds of tweets from him. I think these kinds of tweets are increasingly dangerous and we should have a responsible president that at least is talking to some of the advisers some of tweeting about foreign policy.

PODHORETZ: Let me just say, the voters normalized them, that`s all I`m saying.


KORNACKI: We are at the end now. But I want to say, obviously, big breaking news here. This will not be the end of the discussion about this.

John Podhoretz, Zerlina Maxwell, Jonathan Lemire, thank you for being with us tonight.

Thank you at home.

And "ALL IN" starts right now.




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