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Bannon backpedals on Trump criticism Transcript 1/8/18 Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Clarence Page, Jenna Johnson, David Catanese

Show: HARDBALL Date: January 8, 2018 Guest: Clarence Page, Jenna Johnson, David Catanese

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: I also want to say a big thank you to Ayman Mohyeldin and Chris Jansing for anchoring all last week. I will be back here at 6:00 p.m. eastern tomorrow.

"Hardball" with Chris Matthews starts right now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Big bad Wolf. Let`s play "Hardball."

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews back in Washington.

Well, the President spent the weekend defending his mental stability. And look, I have been away for two weeks and I come back to that kind of news. And perhaps more telling, his defense of his military or I say mental stability only raised more questions about, you guessed it, his mental stability. And then there is the new hope of the resistance. Like other heroic figures, she goes by one name and one name only, Oprah.


OPRAH WINFREY, TV HOST: What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. I want all the girls watching here now to know that a new day is on the horizon!


MATTHEWS: Well, the TV legend received the Cecil B. Demille award last night at the Golden Globes. And overnight, Oprah 2020 began trending. She seems to be everything the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is not inclusive. We know that. She includes everyone. Calm, always grown up, yes, and there he add, nice. She seems to care.

And that brings us to Donald Trump and his formidable new adversary author Michael Wolff, the big bad Wolf of journalism, whose bestselling book gives us the, until now unheard whispers from inside the White House, that he, Mr. Trump doesn`t have the mental stability for the job of President.

On Saturday, President Trump tweeted, actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being really smart. I went from a very successful businessman to top TV star to President of the United States on my first try. I think that would qualify as not smart but genius. And a very stable genius at that.

That was the President over the weekend. Well, the President told reporters he tweeted about his stability because of the charges in Michael Wolff`s new book.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I consider it a work of fiction. And I think it`s a disgrace that somebody is able to have something, do something like that. The libel laws are very weak in this country. If they were strong, it would be very helpful. You wouldn`t have things like that happen where you can say whatever comes to your head.

But just so you know, I never interviewed with him in the White House at all. He was never in the oval office. I guess sloppy Steve brought him into the White House quite a bit. And it was one of those things. That`s why sloppy Steve now looking for a job.


MATTHEWS: That would be Steve Bannon, of course. Another guy he doesn`t like. According to Michael Wolff, the author of the new book, the people around the President think something is wrong with their boss. Let`s watch.


MICHAEL WOLFF, AUTHOR, FIRE ND FURY: Everybody in this White House, and I keep saying this 100 percent, because it is 100 percent of the people closest to the President, to Donald Trump, believe that there is something wrong here, something fundamentally wrong. Something that scares them. As a matter of fact, they went from if there is any reason they stay in the White House now, it`s because they are scared. They believe they have a responsibility to the American people.


MATTHEWS: Well, that scarce you.

Anyway, meanwhile, "Axios" report there is actually much less to the President`s schedule than meets the eye.

Jonathan Swan sitting to my left here writes President Trump is starting his official day much later than he did in the early days of his presidency, often around 11:00 a.m. "This is largely to meet Trump`s demands for more executive time," that`s in quotes, which almost always means TV and twitter time alone in the residence.

Trump`s days in the oval office are relatively short, from about 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. And during that time he usually has a meeting or two, but spends a good deal of time making phone calls and watching cable news in the dining room adjoining the oval office.

For more I`m joined by himself, Jonathan Swan -- I didn`t mean to be sarcastic. Jonathan Swan of Axios along with "USA Today" Washington bureau chief Susan Page and "Washington Post" Eugene Robinson, a columnist.

First, this is a great group to start me back, you know. I have to tell you, when you are away for a couple of weeks like I was and you have been reading all this stuff, you know, what the hell is happening? The President of the United States is out there tweeting his mental defense, claiming he would pass the kind of competency test you would get when your relatives put you away. I mean, is he demented? Is that what they are saying about him in the White House? Your reporting.

JONATHAN SWAN, AXIOS: My own reporting is there are White House staffers that question his stability, but by no means --

MATTHEWS: Is it mental stability, emotional or is it IQ? Is it brains or stability?

SWAN: I would say it`s both.

[19:05:01] MATTHEWS: Really?

SWAN: However. It is complete nonsense that it is 100 percent as Michael Wolff claims. That is just absurd. But yes, there are --.

MATTHEWS: Give me a percentage.

SWAN: It`s hard. It`s hard to know.

MATTHEWS: Is it high?

SWAN: I would say it is reasonable. It is a reasonable percentage. There are senior staff who are -- who deride him privately, who I would say have contempt.

MATTHEWS: Why are they still there? Look, I worked in politics for years. And you worked for somebody. You were loyal to that person. That`s why you were working for them. I mean you always need a job, but that`s why you were working for them. These people -- how do they defend they are still there if they are dumping on their boss, the President of the United States?

SWAN: Well, we have written about this. It is the whole - it is better that you have good people there protecting the country.

MATTHEWS: So they truly believe he is a little nuts and they got to protect the country from him?

SWAN: One hundred percent there are people who believe that, yes.

MATTHEWS: Susan, you are reporting there are people in the White House who believe this President is unstable and part of their patriotic duty is to be there to keep him from going off the rails?

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU, USA TODAY: Yes. I think that`s one of the reason some of the people at the White House and in the administration and senior jobs feel. But I have to say that -

MATTHEWS: You know what you are saying here. This is historic. I mean, I think we have had people like President Wilson who got sick at the end, his wife had to be his caretaker. We had people who had deep depression like Abraham Lincoln, Gene.


MATTHEWS: But we didn`t have anybody like this, this people thought he was stalkers (ph).

ROBINSON: Not that I can remember. Not that I can think of.

MATTHEWS: And Nixon at the very end when he was drinking too much.

ROBINSON: Right. Nixon at the very end. And toward the end of Ronald Reagan`s term, there were questions about, you know, whether he lost a step, right.

MATTHEWS: But not unstable. Not unstable.

ROBINSON: Not like this. Nobody to my recollection has questioned, number one, a President`s basic fitness for the job in terms of his ability.

MATTHEWS: Is this 25th amendment stuff? Is this the sense that maybe says somebody says we will have to come in and take him out some day under the constitutional amendment, where you basically have the cabinet vote him out?

PAGE: So that is the dilemma I think with those who think the 25th amendment is how this ends. You need the vice President and the cabinet to agree that - not that the President needs to be removed, but that the power should be transferred to the vice President. I think that is a very hard thing to envision.

SWAN: It`s a left wing fantasy. This 25th amendment stuff is a left wing fantasy.

MATTHEWS: Because?

SWAN: Because it is - again, Susan just laid it out.

MATTHEWS: Is a reasonable number of people in the White House who think he sun stable.

MATTHEWS: SWAN: Not 25th amendment.

MATTHEWS: Unstable?

SWAN: Well, irrational, volatile. But what meant, Michael Wolff says the 25th amendment is discussed every day in the White House. Absolute nonsense. Absolute nonsense. I tell you in my reporting.

ROBINSON: I agree that 25th amendment is not going to happen, right. I mean, it`s just ridiculous to assume that. Unless he is just, you know, barking at the moon. No, I`m serious. Literally, unless he is clearly off his rocker.


ROBINSON: It`s not going to come up and it`s not going to happen.

PAGE: Impeachment is more likely than the 25th amendment. If the Democrats win control of the House and the special counsel comes back with a damning report, it is conceivable, politically conceivable to have impeachment.

ROBINSON: More likely than any of that is --


MATTHEWS: Look out. I think next time if the Democrats win their House this fall, the subpoena power will be used next spring.

ROBINSON: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: And they will act.

ROBINSON: Subpoena power.

MATTHEWS: Because they already have a huge number of Democrats who want to impeach him now. By the time this thing goes its course, it is going to actually 19 and Trump must know.

ROBINSON: But Congress has a power to restrain and constrain an out of control executive. And I think if the Democrats were to win control, that would be the most likely thing.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at this. White house advisor, we all watched this today. It was on yesterday. But it`s been around all day. Stephen Miller defending his boss on CNN in an interview with Jake Tapper. They quickly grew heated, I would say. Let`s watch.

The only other tragedies of this grotesque work of fiction sets portrayal of the President. The reality is the President is a political genius, a self-made billionaire who revolutionized reality TV.


STEPHEN MILLER, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR POLICY ADVISOR: The one other tragedies of this grotesque work of fiction is the betrayal of the president. The reality is, is the President is a political genius. A self-made billionaire who revolutionized reality TV.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: And I`m sure he is watching and he is happy you said that.

MILLER: That`s a snide remark. You are sure he is watching this. He is happy. Let me tell you something.

TAPPER: Why is it so?

MILLER: Your network -- look, you can be as condescending as you want. Its part of your MO.

TAPPER: I`m trying to get to the President`s fitness which a lot of people question.

MILLER: Well, I`m getting to the issue --

TAPPER: Stephen, you`re being --

MILLER: You`re not going to give three minutes for the American people.

TAPPER: I get it. There is one viewer that you care about right now, and you are being obsequious, you`re being a factotum in order to please him.


TAPPER: I think I wasted enough of my viewers` time. Thank you, Stephen.

MILLER: You know who I care about?


MATTHEWS: Well, the President tweeted shortly after that program quote "Jake Tapper of fake news CNN just got destroyed in his interview with Stephen Miller of the Trump administration. Watch the hatred and unfairness of this CNN flunky."

Is Trump actually watching this in real-time or does Stephen Miller (INAUDIBLE) say guess what? You got to see how I did on CNN. I mean, how does the President have the ability to tweet? He is the President of the United States and he is watching this stuff over the weekend. Isn`t he playing golf or doing something like that?

[19:10:10] SWAN: Well, Chris, if you don`t think that this whole thing was orchestrated for exactly what we saw, I mean, they haven`t Jake Tapper -- they have not given Jake Tapper on CNN, they have not given him a single senior administration official for weeks. To send Stephen Miller, the most provocative one out there, it was blood sport.

MATTHEWS: They went no to provoke this fight scene.

SWAN: Of course, of course.


MATTHEWS: No, they clearly won. I think Jonathan is absolutely right. They obviously wanted this fight. They are not in the habit of providing senior administration officials to go on Jake Tapper`s show. They just don`t do that.

MATTHEWS: This is the 39 percent still with Trump after the tax increase.

SWAN: Just for Donald J. Trump.

ROBINSON: It is for Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: It`s for him.

SWAN: One of the reasons he was on was to publicly behead Steve Bannon. That was one of the purposes of him going on that show.

MATTHEWS: You mean -- turkey, go on there -- for Stephen Miller go out there --.


SWAN: And gut him.

MATTHEWS: The sloppy Steve he calls him now.

Anyway, he was his hero. In a statement, Steve Bannon backtracked a bit from his criticism in the Wolff book of the 2016 Trump tower meeting with the Russians. Remember that? In June of 2016. He called it treasonous and unpatriotic.

Well, yesterday, Bannon wrote Donald Trump Jr. is both a patriot and a good man. My comments were aimed at Paul Manafort, a seasoned campaign professional with experience and knowledge of how the Russians operate. He should have known they were (INAUDIBLE) cunning and not our friends. To reiterate, those comments were not aimed at Don Jr. According to Michael Wolff, however, that isn`t true. Let`s watch.


WOLFF: I like Steve. I`m grateful for the time he gave me, the insights he gave me, and I don`t want to put him in more hot water than he is already in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That statement was false?

WOLFF: It was not directed at Manafort. It was directed directly at Don Jr.


MATTHEWS: Meanwhile, the Steve Bannon statement doesn`t seem to have helped.

According to Bloomberg, Trump`s aides are tracking who came out with full throated criticism of Bannon over the weekend. And they put out the word that the President is keeping score. Bannon may have hoped his statement would begin to put the episode behind him. A half dozen source describe almost the exact opposite. Trump remains angry at the disloyalty of his former strategist.

Susan, put this all back together (INAUDIBLE). What is going on? Is there anybody still -- I keep thinking. I was away. And I kept watching all that is going on in this country, I kept thinking this reminds me of the Shakespeare play "Julius Caesar." Where at one point as the emperor, he became empress, start he made a self-one. Eventually he had no real friends. He had sycophants, but he had Brutus around him. It looks to me like they are all Brutuses now.

Who is really besides the sycophants who get paid and do what they are told, is there any like grown-up person around Trump who is still a Trumpite, who is still loyal to him? And look, you don`t have (INAUDIBLE). I don`t care what you damn people, the journalist wrote or saying. I like the guy. He is smart. He is running this country well. Are there people like that? Tom Barrack (ph) is like that?

PAGE: Well, in terms of -- who are not from the Trump world, who have independent standing and who are still close to him. I think the chief of staff Kelly is one who comes closest. Someone who could tell the truth to Trump and have standing with Trump.

MATTHEWS: Does he believe in him, though, or does he believe he has to contain him?

PAGE: Well, I think that`s a fair question. I think he has recognized the limits of his ability to contain Trump. And so I think he tries to do what he can do. And he actually seemed to be more a defender of Trump than you might have expected when he took the job.

MATTHEWS: Let`s get back to how we started the segment. You say that reasonable number of people in the White House don`t think the president has got it together.

SWAN: To be clear, they don`t think he is mentally deranged. They think that he is not up to the job, that he is unqualified for job and he doesn`t have the --.

MATTHEWS: Unfit for the job.

SWAN: Doesn`t have the requisite knowledge. You could use the word unfit, but again, they are not making psychiatric diagnosis. They are more saying he doesn`t he is ignorant and things like that. But every one of us who cover the White House hear that privately with all that conversation.

MATTHEWS: But we in the outside here, Gene, which is at least I do. I`m watching this. I watched President since I was born tragically since Ike, like you and I. And I never heard a President who seems to be so reactive. He cares what anybody says. I mean, he is the opposite of say Ike who said the hell with that guy.

ROBINSON: Exactly. No, he is super sensitive to any sort of criticism. And that`s the way he is. I got to say, though, that I have spoken with people who have known him for many, many years who think he is different now, who think he has -- that something isn`t quite the same. That he is more sensitive, that he is more sort of -- got more of a hair trigger, that he is less able to digest and sort of process complicated information than he was before.

Now I have spoken with people who have said that. And I haven`t known him for 40 years. So I can`t evaluate that that`s out there too.

[19:15:08] MATTHEWS: The pressure of having so many people dislike what he has been doing. He has done things that make himself very unpopular.

Anyway, but could you say it`s not the first time a President`s mental fitness has been questioned. In fact, back in 2014, not a million years ago, Donald Trump tweeted I`m starting to think there is something seriously wrong with President Obama`s mental health. Why won`t he stop the flights? Psycho!

That`s Trump talking. He was talking to the U.S. response to the e-bola outbreak. He wanted the President to stop travel from West Africa. I don`t want to overdo it, but he was using the words about mental health and psycho. I mean, he really doesn`t have much to defend here about what people are saying about him right now.

SWAN: There is an old saying, there is a tweet for everything. Literally everything that Trump says, you can go back and find the tweet where he, you know, said the opposite.

MATTHEWS: And that would be the truth.

Thank you, Susan Page. I saved that. Eugene Robinson, it is great to be back. Jonathan Swan, you are back from Aussie land.

Anyway, the program note. Michael Wolff, author of "Fire and Fury" which they even want in Nigeria, everybody wants a copy, inside the Trump White House will be our guest here on "Hardball" tomorrow night. I can bet we are going to open the show with him.

Coming up, the Russia investigation goes on. Trump keeps saying there is nothing to see there. But talks are under way right now about a potential interview with the President and special counsel Robert Mueller getting together, I think under oath. We are going to talk about that interview. It is ahead here on "Hardball" tonight.

Plus, after that impassioned speech last night at the Golden Globes, there are a lot of people seriously talking about Oprah Winfrey to run for President. And it does make sense. She has the charisma to take on a Trump. Something the rest of the democratic contenders may be lacking. By the way, they haven`t proven any charisma yet. I`ll say that.

And the "Hardball" round table with three big scoops that you`ll be talking about tomorrow.

Finally, let me finish with Trump watch. I`m back.

This is "Hardball," where the action.


[19:18:01] MATTHEWS: In addition to defending his mental state, the President this weekend also announced he was postponing his fake news awards, so-called, originally planned for this evening.

Tonight the President tweeted the fake news awards, those going to the most corrupt and biased of the mainstream media will be presented to the losers on Wednesday, January 17th rather than this coming Monday. He said that. And the interest in and importance of these awards is far greater than anyone could have anticipated. Unbelievable.

We will be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

With all the concern over President Trump`s fitness for office, the bigger existential problem for presidency may be, what is he hiding when it comes to his exposure in the Russian probe and what he know, what he didn`t know, and when did he know it, and better yet what did he do and when did he do it?

Speaking out this weekend, the president denied that he is even under investigation and again said the probe reflects badly on this country.


QUESTION: If Robert Mueller asks you to come and speak with his committee personally, are you committed still to doing that?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just so you understand, just so you understand, there has been no collusion. There has been no crime.

And, in theory, everybody tells me I`m not under investigation. We could have done it two ways. We could have been very closed and it would have taken years. But sort of like, when you have done nothing wrong, let`s be open and get it over with, because honestly it`s very, very bad for our country. It`s making our country look foolish.


MATTHEWS: Well, now NBC News is reporting, however, that initial talks are under way for a potential interview between the president and Robert Mueller`s investigators.

Three people familiar with the matter say that the president`s legal team is discussing a range of potential options for the format, including written responses to questions, in lieu of a formal sit-down. But they`re also seeking potential compromise that could avoid an interview altogether, according to two of the sources.

Separately, "The Washington Post" is reporting that an interview could possibly come within the next several weeks, according to a person close to the president.

The White House declined to comment, only saying it`s continuing its full cooperation with the Office of Special Counsel in order to facilitate the earliest possible resolution.

I`m joined right now by Julia Ainsley, a reporter with NBC News, and Evan McMullin, of course, a former CIA operative and former independent candidate for president in 2016. And Jill Wine-Banks was an associate -- or assistant prosecutor during Watergate.

Jill, let me ask you about this.

Why is the president of the United States, unlike Bill Clinton and people before him -- Jerry Ford had to go before the Congress and be interviewed. And why does he get to set obstacles and conditions? Well, I might want it in a written form.

Is he willing to say -- if Mueller says, look, I don`t want to hear about this crap about written, you come in and you answer my questions, what is the president allowed to do there constitutionally? Can he just say no?

JILL WINE-BANKS, FORMER WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: No man is above the law. And so he should be subject to coming in for an interview.

And the written part is a ridiculous option. Usually, when you have written interrogatories, they`re answered by lawyers. They deal with specific kinds of facts, the kind of thing like please identify all documents that you have or give me some data. It wouldn`t be asking for what did you do and when did you do it, what did you know and when did you know it.

Those are things you have to do under oath and in person, not through any other form. And he should not be any different than Bill Clinton or anybody else who has had to answer questions from a prosecutor. So he should be subject to that.

I would look forward to that and think it`s an essential step in resolving the full terms of this investigation.

MATTHEWS: Joy, one of the senses I have had coming home from being abroad is this -- it`s not hysterical, but this craziness in the White House. Something is going on. Everybody is pointing fingers at each other. Everybody is trying to get out of the trap of being blamed for something.

Is that because they sense this is getting to somewhere, the fact that now Mueller wants to talk to the president? He is ready. At least he has heard enough to challenge him with some tough questions, like, did you get economic help from the Russians when you built those hotels? Were you getting secret money from them to launder?

Very direct questions that could be perjurious.

JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think you`re tapping into something.

If we look at the timeline, we know that Mueller`s team met with Trump`s legal team in late December. And then now we`re hearing that they are talking about how they might want to negotiate. They`re in preliminary and ongoing discussions about whether and how the president would sit down with Mueller`s team.

And they`re trying to avoid that to some extent.


MATTHEWS: Why? There`s the obvious. He is lying. He has got some dirty he doesn`t want discussed. He knows he`s broken the law.

What are the optional reasons why he doesn`t want to talk?

AINSLEY: Think of the client here, Chris. This is a president who mouths off a lot. He talks on Twitter.

He is someone who could very easily incriminate himself even if he doesn`t have anything to hide. Even if there is nothing to hide, he is someone who could say something that could backfire against a legal strategy. And, really, any defense counsel would not want their client to speak to the prosecution.

But in this case, it`s the president of the United States. Politically, he can`t plead the Fifth, or it looks like he has something huge to hide.

MATTHEWS: Well, the reason you want -- we all went to school. You don`t want a pop quiz when the teacher asks you the question to your face. I will do a take-home here. And I got to go look at the books and see if my friends know more than I do.


MATTHEWS: The fact is -- the fact that he wants it in writing would seem to me he is afraid of a surprise question.

MCMULLIN: Well, absolutely.

MATTHEWS: He just has no idea what they`re going to ask him.

MCMULLIN: And I think his attorneys are rightly concerned about that.

But, look, President Trump will have to sit down with Mueller or with his team. It`s a political imperative, especially as we head into 2018. You`re right. It`s a quiz. It`s not a pop quiz, but it`s a quiz.

And if this quiz is failed by the president, then it has serious implications in 2018. The thing is, though, I think he is stuck between a rock and a hard place. I think this goes very poorly for him. But if he avoids it, that`s also a disaster.

MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Jill on this.

It seems to me, how wide a question can you ask? Can you say to a guy in the witness chair who is basically the target of the investigation, how many conversation and when were they, and I want them listed when you talked to anybody about the Russians? I want to know in the last year who did you talk to about Russians?

Just Russians. Just get it all on the paper. All the meetings, all the conversations with the people working for him, whether it`s Jared, his son- in-law, whoever it is. Everything you talk to anybody about, about Russia, I want the answer. Can they do that in court? Can they do it in a deposition like this?

WINE-BANKS: In a deposition, you could. In court, you would have to be probably a little bit more specific, or you would have relevance options.

But right now I would say that any conversation he had with any member of his staff or with any Russian directly would be relevant. The one thing I -- I want to go back to something Julia said, which is if you have written questions, they can be answered by the lawyer and frequently are written down by the lawyer.

In the case of this one, I`m not sure that`s a big advantage to him, because right now, John Dowd, his lawyer, is taking credit for the very incriminating tweet that said that he had fired Flynn because -- I`m sorry -- that he had fired Comey because -- I`m sorry.

I`m back to Flynn -- that he fired Flynn because he had lied to both the vice president and the FBI, which is very incriminating. So I`m not sure he is better off having his lawyers draft the answers.


WINE-BANKS: But she is absolutely right that it is very dangerous for him to answer questions, because he says whatever comes to his mind. And it could be very incriminating.

MATTHEWS: Well, Trump`s lawyers appear to want to minimize the risk involved here, as I said, in an interview with their client and the special counsel, Mueller.

However, the president said publicly in June that he would be willing to speak to Robert Mueller, at least to dispute James Comey`s testimony. Here he goes.


QUESTION: Would you be willing to speak under oath to give your version of those events?

TRUMP: One hundred percent.

QUESTION: So, if Robert Mueller wanted to speak with you about that, you would...


TRUMP: I would be glad to tell him exactly what I just told you.


MATTHEWS: And in spite now saying he is told he is not under investigation, Trump stated on Twitter last June, "I am being investigated for firing the FBI director." He said that.

What is this -- this is so ridiculous. He is under investigation. His lawyers are arguing what kind of testimony he is going to give, how he is going give, whether it`s in writing or in person. And then he still holds off the fact he is not being investigated. What is going on?

AINSLEY: I think we can go back and we can look at these clips. He says he is not being investigated, he is. I don`t really think that there`s a lot of rhetorical strategy that is going into these tweets or a lot of legal strategy going into what`s happening here.

He wants to say that he is not under investigation, and he may be told that by his legal team, because they want him to keep calm and not write more tweets like this. But we know that at the heart of any investigation into whether or not Trump and the campaign colluded with Russia, you have to talk to the candidate.

MATTHEWS: What do you think of this thing whole about he how told Sessions he didn`t want him recused? He kept saying, tell Sessions, his lawyer and everybody else, tell Sessions he can`t recuse himself.

He wanted to have an attorney general who would defend him. He didn`t want an attorney general investigating him or helping an investigation.

Is that obstruction? It seems to me it`s certainly politically looks like it.

MCMULLIN: Well, it just seems like everywhere you look, Trump is trying in a different way to block this investigation.

He said if Sessions was going to recuse himself, I would have -- if I had known that, I would have selected a different attorney general. So that`s pretty damning, in and of itself.

I will say, though, that in Trump`s continued repetition of this phrase "I am not under investigation," he hedged on that on Saturday. He said, in theory, I`m not under investigation.

And I think it is just becoming so patently obvious for the reasons Julia mentioned that he is part of this investigation, that even he can`t get away with saying it anymore.

MATTHEWS: Evan, don`t you wish you knew all this when you were running against him?

MCMULLIN: Sure. Sure do.

MATTHEWS: Evan McMullin and Jill Wine-Banks, thank you, Jill, so much, and Julia Ainsley.

I love reporters these days. Reporters are the best.

Up next: Oprah`s Golden Globes speech is igniting calls for her to run for president in 2020. We have talked about this before. And one guy who talked about her holding national office was Donald Trump. We will get to that old quote from my program.

But is the excitement surrounding Oprah just another acknowledgment that Democrats like a proven star, someone with charisma to take on Trump?

And I think that may be the back story here, which is they need somebody like her. They haven`t found somebody like her, if not her.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


Seemingly under siege after the release of the scathing new tell-all "Fire and Fury" by Michael Wolff, President Trump is striking out, this time against a new round of questions surrounding his mental health and fitness. Here he is on Saturday.


QUESTION: This morning, you were tweeting about your mental state. Why did you feel the need to tweet about that this morning?

TRUMP: Well, only because I went to the best colleges -- or college. I went to a -- I had a situation where I was a very excellent student, came out, made billions and billions of dollars, became one of the top businesspeople, went to television, and for 10 years was a tremendous success, as you probably have heard, ran for president one time and won.


MATTHEWS: Isn`t that the way your mother and father told you not to talk?

Anyway, it`s not the first time the president has felt the need to tout his accomplishments.


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

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

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

And then they say, is Donald Trump an intellectual? Trust me, I`m, like, a smart person.


MATTHEWS: I know words.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, with Trump`s popularity stuck in its usual place, in the upper 30s, Democrats are looking for a breakout star to take on the president come 2020.

And last night at the Golden Globes, Oprah Winfrey broke through. The media mogul who was being honored for her role promoting strong female characters on and off the screen delivered this powerful speech.


OPRAH WINFREY, HOST, "THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW": I want all the girls watching here now to know that a new day is on the horizon!


WINFREY: And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say me too again.



MATTHEWS: Almost immediately, Twitter lit up with calls for her to run for president.

A source close to Winfrey, who retired from her daily television show way back in 2011, has told NBC News that she`s got no intention of running.

But, today, her longtime partner Stedman Graham told the "L.A. Times": "It`s up to the people. She would absolutely do it."

Well, back in 1999 during a HARDBALL College Tour, Oprah got an early endorsement, albeit from a different -- for a different job. It came from a potential rival, Donald Trump.


QUESTION: Would you consider a woman for your running mate? And if so, who?

TRUMP: Well, I would consider. And, as Chris can tell you, I threw out the name of a friend of mine who I think the world of. She is great. And some people thought it was an incredible idea. Some people didn`t, but Oprah. I said Oprah Winfrey, who is really great.


TRUMP: And I think we would be a very formidable team.


MATTHEWS: Well, does Oprah have a shot?

Stay tuned for the HARDBALL Roundtable. We will talk about her chances of actually running and winning.

And we will be right back.



As we mentioned before the break, Donald Trump has touted Oprah Winfrey`s political prospects way back when, even suggesting her as a possible running mate when I talked to him back in `99. Long before that, back in 1988, it was the future media mogul Oprah Winfrey herself who raised speculation about the celebrity businessman`s future ambitions.

Here she is on the other guy.


OPRAH WINFREY, MEDIA MOGUL: I know people have talked to you about whether or not you want to run. Would you ever?

DONALD TRUMP, BUSINESSMAN: Probably not. But I do get tired of seeing the country ripped off.

WINFREY: Why would you not?

TRUMP: I just don`t think I really I really have the inclination to do it. I love what I`m doing. I really like it.

WINFREY: Also doesn`t pay as well.

TRUMP: No, it doesn`t.


MATTHEWS: So is this a matchup we`re going to see in 2020?

Let`s talk and bring in the HARDBALL round table tonight. This is not heavy lifting. Clarence Page is a columnist from "Chicago Tribune" and Jenna Johnson, White House reporter for "The Washington Post." And David Catanese, senior politics editor for "U.S. News and World Report".

I`m going to let you just talk about yourselves. I don`t know when Stedman Graham, her long-time partner, said, you know, it`s up to the people. It sounded to me like he is throwing her hat in the ring. For real.

CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: I don`t know who "The L.A. Times" sources were, but they claimed two sources. And I would guess the other one is probably Gayle. But --

MATTHEWS: Gayle King.

PAGE: Gayle King, exactly. Word has been around for a while that Oprah has been interested in this. And she has had political inclinations in the past. Remember, she testified on Capitol Hill in favor of the Child Protection Act. And she has been quite active on some issues involving South Africa where she has a school down there.

MATTHEWS: That`s right.

PAGE: She`s had some activism over the years. So she is not totally green to this.

MATTHEWS: Jenna, go on here. This is something that tells me a lot about our country. It shows we don`t have any tall trees running for presidency yet. I think Bernie would do well. Elizabeth Warren would do well. But nobody looks like the person who has closed the field and said there is no opening here.

JENNA JOHNSON, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: I mean, people are just rallying behind her today. Every time I looked up at the TV, there she was. I mean, in the past 24 hours, we`ve seen how so many Democrats are just eager to find a big personality to get behind. And she`s not any big personality. She is someone who can kind of challenge Trump on his own turf.

MATTHEWS: How so? How would that look if the two of them went on stage together? Would she let him stand behind her? I mean, I`m not being tough when Hillary --

JOHNSON: Would he try?

MATTHEWS: Would she turn around and say, what the hell are you doing, buddy?

PAGE: He can only do that once, I think.

JOHNSON: When he talks about the billions and billions of dollars that he has made, look at the empire that she`s built, all on her own. And she was born into poverty. She didn`t have parents giving her a million dollar loan or chipping in here and there and things like that.

He talks about the success of "The Apprentice", you know, that was on air for nearly 12 years. Look at her show, on the air for 25 years. And popular in a way that "The Apprentice" never, ever was.

But the big thing that we saw last night was she got in front of an audience to accept an award. Trump would have talked a lot about himself. Oprah got up there and she talked about the people who inspired her when she was a kid. She talked about civil rights icons. And she talked about people who she felt like had been kind of left out of the Me Too.

MATTHEWS: I want to say, I`m going to be the values here. What I like about here, first of all, she is a nice person. I hope that doesn`t put somebody down to say they`re nice these days. She is inclusive.

I`ve watched her for years. She doesn`t play ethnic games. She doesn`t play cards. It`s all about everybody. She is rooting for everybody in trouble. She is always rooting for, you know, men and women, mostly women.

But I`ve watched her. The reason we love her is she seems to care about the person watching her on television. She seems to have empathy, which Trump doesn`t.

DAVID CATANESE, SENIOR POLITICS EDITOR, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT: But it`s also the liberal vacuum for anybody that can stand against Trump. This is the Democratic Party that doesn`t have an obvious leader. And here is someone who does a killer speech, who has 100 percent name ID, who most people like. I think most people like Oprah.

What was the most fascinating thing to me today and just watching how this unfolded was that people -- serious Democrats embraced it.


CATANESE: You had people from the Clinton campaign coming out there saying I think she should run. She would be great you. You have Barack Obama`s Iowa director from 2012 said, Oprah, call me. I can introduce you to some county chairs in Iowa.

Now, it`s a little bit of a media creation that gets behind these things. But many people that were out there saying do it. A lot of people said no. The answer is not a celebrity.

Serious Democrats said look, this is too far. She gave one speech.


CATANESE: We need someone that knows issues that has experience. We can`t match a celebrity that doesn`t know what he is doing with another celebrity that has no experience.


MATTHEWS: I wouldn`t say she doesn`t know what she is doing.

CATANESE: Well, she doesn`t have government experience.

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s go to possibility the Oprah Winfrey candidacy got a boost today from one Democratic senator, Hawaii`s Mazie Hirono. Let`s listen.


SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D), HAWAII: I love the fact that somebody like Oprah Winfrey, who I really like and really loved her speech last night because, you know, it`s time to put an end to harassment at all levels. If she wants to join the group of wonderful people running for Democratic presidency, I say great.


MATTHEWS: Well, that was soft. If she wants to join the other people, that wasn`t quite an endorsement.

Anyway, NBC`s Jonathan Allen writes that with her speech last night, Oprah Winfrey, quote, delivered the kind of inspirational and aspirational message at the Golden Globes that Hillary Clinton had trouble hammering home in the 2016 presidential election.

You know what I think? The question for me is what is Trump going to do right now? Is he dopey? I`m not going to ask that. That`s the wrong way to put it. Is he stupid enough to attack her? Or is he going to be smart and lay back and let this thing write its course?

PAGE: He won`t attack her until he feels likes she`s attacking him, because you know how he is. He`s always got to come back with a nuclear --


MATTHEWS: He gets quiet.

PAGE: That`s right. What I was reminded of watching Oprah`s speech is Barack Obama back at that 2004 convention in Boston. You remember that? He lit that place up.

Democrats at the time were demoralized. They were feeling down in the dumps. They were worried about Al Sharpton.

MATTHEWS: And who was the guy right after he spoke said you have just seen the first African-American president? Who was that?

PAGE: Was it me by any chance?


MATTHEWS: Winfrey would ask the crowd, I`m talking like Trump. No more bragging.

Anyway, the crowded Trump field in 2020 where she would have run, well, just as Trump did in 2016. One of his vanquished rivals Lindsey Graham was asked today about the questions surrounding the president`s mental stability.

Let`s get back to that choice question. Let`s listen.


JOY BEHAR, TV HOST: Anyway, Saturday, Trump called himself, quote, like, really smart and a stable genius. So, do you think he is, like, really smart and a stable genius?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think this. If he doesn`t call himself a genius, nobody else will.


MATTHEWS: That`s his friend talking. What do you make of that?

JOHNSON: I mean, we`re sitting here laughing.

MATTHEWS: What else are you going to do?

JOHNSON: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: The Lindsey Graham who is the local, the most loyal guy right now saying if he doesn`t call himself smart, nobody else will.

JOHNSON: I mean, the fact that this has gotten away from the white house in the way that it has, Trump latched on to Michael Wolff`s book. A lot of people would have looked away, and he went right for it. And here we are, having this conversation about his mental health, something that we avoided until he went there and started talking about it himself.

MATTHEWS: You know why? Because just a few days ago, he was talking about his nuclear button being bigger than the North Koreans. The guy with little hands talking about a big button. That is loony talk. That`s loony talk to talk about the nuclear war -- potential of nuclear war. I got a bigger button than he does.

Anyway, the round table is sticking with us. And up next three scoops we`re going to get and these people will be talking about tomorrow, all three of them.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: You know, during the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly drew a bleak picture of African-American life in this country. Here he goes.


TRUMP: You`re living in poverty. Your schools are no good. You have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?


MATTHEWS: Well, now Donald Trump is taking credit for turning things around. This morning, he tweeted: African-American unemployment is at its lowest ever recorded in our country`s history. The Hispanic unemployment rate dropped a full point in the last year and it`s close to the lowest in recorded history. Dems did nothing for you but get your vote. #neverforget.

While it`s that the African-American unemployment has dropped to a record low to 6.8 percent, that number also fell steadily under President Obama. It peaked at nearly 17 percent during the -- actually after the financial crisis. But by the time Obama left office, it had dropped more than half, down to 7.8. Obama deserves a lot of credit.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL round table.

Starting off is Clarence. Tell me something I don`t know.

PAGE: Well, you remember Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is going to run for president.

MATTHEWS: Of course. He was there last night.

PAGE: Well, people were talking about how what happened to his campaign. He looked around, saw that his booked up for movie production up into 2021. So, now, he says he is looking at 2024, along with Kanye West. So, the way is now clear for Hollywood ticket.

MATTHEWS: Upon this rock, we will build our hopes.

PAGE: There you go.


JOHNSON: Months ago, Vice President Pence`s team started planning this big trip to the Middle East. Then, the president made his big Jerusalem decision.

The trip was postponed. It was postponed again. It was delayed. It was postponed a little bit more.

As of today, they finally have dates on the calendar.

MATTHEWS: How did they get around the Christian groups that didn`t want him to go?

JOHNSON: They`re not meeting with them. He is going to go to Egypt first is going to be the first stop on January 20th and then to Jordan, which is a new stop that wasn`t on the original schedule. Two days in Israel, and then back to the United States.

MATTHEWS: OK. Go ahead, David.

CATANESE: Another House Republican retirement today. Congressman Ed Royce of California hanging it up.

MATTHEWS: Why are they quitting?

CATANESE: Quitting because they see a wave coming, a blue wave coming. There are now more than 30 House Republicans that are retiring or resigning, not choosing to run in their House seats next year.

Remember, Democrats only need 24 pickups to win. You now have a real scenario. I talked to operatives on both sides think you could have a Democratic House. The Senate math is tougher, Republican Senate. So, still have divided government in 2018.

MATTHEWS: David, if they get the House, the Democrats, they get subpoena power, they go -- impeachment starts a year from now.


MATTHEWS: Right now.

Anyway, the Clarence Page, thank you. Jenna Johnson and David Catanese.

When we return, let me finish with Trump watch. I`m back. I got one. I like it. I hope you do too.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: "Trump Watch", Monday, January 8th, 2018.

When you`re away from this country as I`ve been these past two weeks, you get a distant but in many ways deeper look at what`s been going on here in the U.S. also, the stakes. We are not like the French or the Chinese as each of you know an ethnic country. What unites you and me, all of us together isn`t the same religion or folk songs passed down by our ancestors or ancient tribal memories of loyalties and adversaries.

No. What unites us as Americans is our shared belief in certain principles. Rule of law, for one. Think of any other country with a leader who had done something like John Adams had done, gone into court to defend the very British soldiers who had fired on our patriots in the Boston massacre.

That`s what made us different, really different. We were going to be the kind of country where even soldiers were going get the protections of law because we wanted those protections for ourselves. We wanted everyone to honor the law.

Think of George Washington, who after serving two terms as president could easily have ruled this country like a dictator, who gave up all the trappings of office and went back to Virginia. This is not some place where a guy who fights for independence was going get the chance to become ruler for life and grab it. We`re going to be a country where power, even out of our popular hero, was going to be limited.

And think of our free press, of people like Thomas Paine who wrote a pamphlet called "Common Sense" that demanded this country have independence.

And more than that, we were going to be the kind of independent country as Thomas Jefferson advised where people if having to choose would demand a free press over any kind of government trying to deny one.

Well, these are the principles, the American principles which are now under stress, of course. More than, that the world is watching us. Less than a year ago, we were the country the world looked up to for these principles of rule by law, no one above the law, of limited government, of a free and independent press.

And now, we`re the country of Donald Trump. It`s the country`s democratic principles that need to get back into power, don`t you think? And that`s why I`m here. And that`s what HARDBALL is for.

Thank you for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.



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