Show: HARDBALL Date: January 9, 2018 Guest: Barbara McQuade, Shannon Pettypiece, John Brabender, Michael Wolff
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: The book that bounced Bannon. Let`s play HARDBALL. Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
He is out. Breitbart announced today that Steve Bannon, President Trump`s number one -- or number -- actually, one-time adviser and top champion is stepping down from his post at the right-wing Web site. Bannon quickly fell out of favor, of course, last week after the publication of the new book, "Fire and Fury" by Michael Wolff.
In the book, Bannon is quoted bad mouthing members of Trump`s own family. He called Donald Jr. and his meeting with the Russians treasonous and unpatriotic. But he later tried to backtrack, Bannon did, saying he wasn`t talking about the President`s son, but the damage was done. His main financial backers publicly distanced themselves. And by this past weekend, the President bestowed the Trumpian version of the kiss of death, a nickname.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just so you know, I never interviewed with him in the White House at all. He was never in the oval office. I don`t know this man. 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 is now looking for a job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, he is certainly, now. White House aides also took to the air to bash their one-time colleague, now known as sloppy Steve. Here was Stephen Miller trashing the man once seen as his ally in the administration. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN MILLER, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR POLICY ADVISOR: It`s tragic and unfortunate that Steve would make these grotesque comments so out of touch with reality and obviously so vindictive. And the whole White House staff is deeply disappointed in his comments. It reads like an angry, vindictive person spouting off to a highly discreditable author.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Wow. Again, the news today, Steve Bannon has become the first casualty of the book, "Fire and Fury." And what`s clear Trump is stewing over, is his depiction of himself in the book, as isolated and ill- informed, surrounded by White House staffers concerned about by his mental state.
I`m joined by right now by the author of "Fire and Fury," Michael Wolff.
Michael, what do you think when you watch this today with the announcement that Bannon is gone from Breitbart? His post, the thing he created?
MICHAEL WOLFF, AUTHOR, FIRE AND FURY: I`m thinking that the real villain of the book who is Donald Trump is still ensconced in the White House. So it`s a little bit of a tragedy here.
MATTHEWS: For whom? For the country?
WOLFF: For the American people, yes.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about, do you see a cause and effect between the words he spoke about the President`s family, including the President`s son and namesake and the fact that he can`t even hold a job at Breitbart as of today?
WOLFF: Well, I mean, I`m not sure that -- I think he can`t hold a job at Breitbart because the President at this moment in time was much stronger than Steve Bannon thought he would be.
My theory on this is that Bannon thought Roy Moore would win. And that would be -- that would put Steve in a very strong position and the President in a very weak position. And at that moment, I think Steve anticipated my book would appear and that would begin to precipitate his break with Donald Trump, who frankly, he thinks is an idiot.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the President`s performance today. Out of nowhere, a press spray that usually lasts in the seconds, where they let the cameras in, he makes some burping sounds to the press, and they are gone. This time, I thought, to make up for the portrayal you have given of him in the book, and maybe a very accurate one, he tried to show a very different picture of an (INAUDIBLE), of a calm, collected, reasonable, open to negotiations, perfect being out there, just for the cameras. Do you think he is trying to create a pre-emptive (ph) village to offset the portrait you wrote in the book?
WOLFF: Yes, absolutely. I mean, there could -- what else could there be here? I mean, remember just the other day, he was assuring us that he was sane and stable. So this is, this is the weirdest thing I have ever seen.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about, you know, you know, I really mean this. When I was reading your book, and I was getting this portrait. And I worked in a White House and I know what it was like to lose. I know that feeling. I was with President Carter on Marine One and I said, I`m inside a dead bird or a bird that`s dying. I can feel it.
The mood of yours is a different sense. It is a scary sense. It reminds me of that "Twilight" episode way back in the 1960s, where this kid with all of kinetic powers, ferocious kid with no mental or emotional development who could kill anybody he wanted to, destroy their lives terrifically and everybody just pandered to him, pacified him. It`s like there is an 8-year-old in that west wing and everyone around him is scared to death that he will do something really destructive if they don`t please him that moment. Did you see that "Twilight" episode back then?
WOLFF: I certainly did. We are of a similar generation.
But I think it`s a little different than that. I mean, I think -- I absolutely think that the people around him have no illusions. They know who this guy is. They know what trouble he can wreak. And one of the reasons that they are there and that they continue to stay there is the hope that they can mitigate this, they can stand between him and the havoc and chaos that he is. He is inevitably prone to.
So, in a sense, I mean, in a sense, you want to say to these people, how can you do this, how can you enable them. But in another sense, you can see many of these people, and many of them are now gone, dangerously, you can see them as patriots.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about -- what do you think the reaction is -- I have to project here a little bit on the trajectory. These people in the White House know what happened today. Bannon has now not only been kicked out of the White House. He has been kicked out of Breitbart. The President has tracked him down or his minions have. Do you think they are now more trepidations about crossing it or trepidations about crossing a guy who know shows a willingness to get to hunt down his enemy and destroy him to the end?
WOLFF: Yes, but the other interesting thing is that there is not really anybody or in a some sense hardly anybody left in the White House. You know, at the end, with the loss of most of the staff that he went in there on January 20th, almost a year ago, he is left with -- from what I can tell, the two senior most advisers to the President of the United States are Hope Hicks, a 28 or 29-year-old young woman whose background is as a fashion, as a sort of junior fashion PR person and Stephen Miller, who everybody saw this weekend. And I don`t think anybody wants to quite see again. These are the two people who are the -- they are the brains of Trump`s White House.
MATTHEWS: But most Presidents, including our best Presidents, and I don`t think Trump`s one of them, certainly not yet, by any measure. People like Lincoln, people like Washington, I assume, Roosevelt, certainly. Roosevelt made a point of making sure everyone in the White House was smarter than he was. I think Kennedy did the same. They were humble enough in their IQs, if you will. They had great temperaments that they knew they needed smarter people around them. Aren`t they?
Is there anybody who is in the White House as a general adviser, someone in the loop, in the room, when there`s something critical going, that he trusts as a brain, as a conciliar, if you will?
WOLFF: No, absolutely not. And this is - I mean, there are actually two interesting things here and you cannot -- the one thing you cannot say to Donald Trump, is you cannot praise somebody else`s intelligence. You just can`t. That`s - he will go away in a snit with his lip curling. You cannot do it.
And the other thing is that he is been repeatedly asked this question. Who do you turn to? Who do you get your advice from? Who is your - who is your mainstay? And he always says, it`s me. I`m the person I turn to for advice.
MATTHEWS: OK. And now we come to the cold, scary part of your book, the fitness question. It seems to me, and I thought about this just a couple of moments, I think it`s what most people would come to mind if they are thinking about, what does a President have to be? Regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, whatever. Presidents have to have three things. They have to have the ability to resort to reasonable judgment, to make a reasonable judgment. They have to be cool under pressure. They can`t be going stark when something goes crazy. And they have to recognize this, maybe the most important thing, that they have to look at the consequence of their acts. They can`t be impulsive.
If I do this, this is in a checkers game, this is a chess game, this will this, this will this, and that will that, and I better damned well make the right option because those things will happen. Does Trump have the ability to show reasonable judgment, coolness under pressure, and recognition of consequences by the people around him?
WOLFF: He -- I think that`s a -- that`s a fine and perfect list and on each point, he does not have that attribute.
MATTHEWS: And those in the White House that you`ve interviewed extensively agree with that? They all agree he has those lackings? Those deficits?
WOLFF: Each of them, the recurring description in the White House is of Trump as a child. And what is meant by that is that he needs immediate gratification. Always. Nothing can be delayed. It has to be what he wants, when he wants it.
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s talk about gratification. I don`t want to go back and talk about it, but I probably will, the small hands thing and all of that seems to suggest to Trump, which is nonsensical and high schoolish. Then you get to, all right, I have bigger hands, I get bigger crowds on inaugural day, bigger, bigger, bigger, and I even have a bigger nuclear button!
The idea that he has to prove to himself -- he also said to me in an interview before the election, why do we have nuclear weapons if we are not going to use them? And that is really scary. They are somehow building blocks. They are steel girders. They are windows. They are the things you put buildings up with. Would you use nuclear weapons? They are not a deterrent. He doesn`t seem to understand the reason you have a nuclear weapon is not to use it. Does he get that?
WOLFF: He doesn`t. Every assumption, every conventional assumption, every assumption that has been -- that has become part of modern history, he doesn`t -- first, he doesn`t know that those assumptions exist and he doesn`t -- and even if he did know those assumptions exist, he thinks he is larger than any assumption.
MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about the thing that - I love the facts in your book. Because it is a non-fiction book with a lot of facts. We can argue around the edges, but the facts are like giant blocks of reality.
One of them is this work day. Now, Reagan, Ronald Reagan, everybody laughed about the fact he didn`t get to work until 8:30 in the morning. Well, this guy comes to work around 11:00, according to you reporting. He comes in around 11:00. Leaves about, well, before dinner or at least talk during campaigns. Certainly, Secretary Clinton talked about, what happens at 3:00 in the morning.
What about if there`s a 9:00 in the morning call, is he reachable? He locks his door. Tell me about the locking of the door and the staying up in his rooms in the morning and getting there not too late, in the late afternoon.
WOLFF: Well, the locking of the door was something that happened early on, not too long after the inaugural. And it was -- he wanted to install his own lock on the door. And the secret service flipped out and there was a confrontation. And, in fact, they seem, I understand, to have won that. But he wanted -- he wanted to block himself off. He needed that kind of, that kind of privacy.
Remember, on top of everything else, Trump is incredibly phobic. You know, there was a -- he threw a fit, you know, the White House has a fairly elaborate cleaning staff and maid service, and they did his room and he flipped out. If my shirt is on the floor, it`s because I want it on the floor. If I want my sheets changed, I will strip the bed. This is unusual behavior.
MATTHEWS: Well, does that go back to he didn`t like hand shaking before he ran for politics? That sort of --
WOLFF: I would --
MATTHEWS: -- keep away physically from me in every way of my being. That is bizarre.
WOLFF: Yes. I would assume that is all part of that.
MATTHEWS: Final question, and this has been fascinating. Let me ask you - - congratulations on the book. I have tried to sell books. I got to tell you. I don`t know how you did it, but the book leaked out and everything worked out wonderfully for you. But congratulations.
In fact, tonight I believe is your pub date. Lots happened before this pub date.
Let me ask you about this sense of the people you`ve talked to. By the way, you remind me of the great reporter, Joe McGinnis. You really started this behind the lines kind of reporting with Jeffrey McDonald (ph). Before that with the Nixon people and selling of the press, where he went in there and had an indefinite role. Nobody know who he was. But somehow he got clearance, and somehow thanks to Roger Ailes and other people, he told the whole story of how Nixon put together that phony baloney campaign in 1968. OK.
Now, do the people talk to each other? Could you tell the date when they close the door and you have your conversations can them Soto Voce (ph), do you have a sense they talk to each other the way they talk to you about the world that they share inside the west wing?
WOLFF: A super good question, Chris. And I think - I could tell that they were each feeling the other out on how to do this. On how do you say, oh, my God. And in many cases, they don`t, because they are polarized.
I mean, Steve Bannon did not speak to Jared Kushner. You know, you had this -- these factions in the White House that were absolutely cleaved. But gradually, it was actually Priebus and -- Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon had an enormous amount of -- they were polarized, let`s say, in the early months of the administration. And they actually came together. I think that they became quite good friends because they understood. They understood this was a -- this was an entirely anomalous situation that they had found themselves in and it was coming apart.
MATTHEWS: I guess when you`re dealing with ude (ph) and cuse (ph) every day, you do find common purposes.
Anyway, thank you. Congratulations, Michael Wolff. "Fire and Fury." I don`t have to help this book but go out and buy it or you are missing out on the big story of this year so far.
Thank you Michael Wolff for coming to "Hardball."
WOLFF: Chris, thanks.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, Senator Dianne Feinstein, my favorite senator, released the entire transcript in the testimony from Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that commissioned the famous Steele dossier. Democrats want to prove that Republicans aren`t being straight with the American people about how the Russia investigation actually began and it began before the dossier.
And it comes as Robert Mueller is figuring out how he will question, interrogate, if you will, President Trump about his contacts, which he had, with Russians. And that`s ahead.
Plus, Oprah`s closest friend, Gayle King, now says she is intrigued, Oprah is, by the idea of actually running for President of the United States. Today, Trump said he could beat her. Big surprise.
And inside Trump`s extraordinary bipartisan meeting today on immigration as I talk about it. It was a rare look behind the scenes of the back and forth negotiations between -- I thought it was a Potemkin village. It looked nice. I`m not sure it is nice. And it was a way for Trump to push back, as I said, against claims that he was not mentally fit to have such meetings.
Finally, let me finish tonight with Trump watch. I think you will like it. He won`t.
This is "Hardball," where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The news that special counsel Robert Mueller wants to question the president himself, perhaps within weeks now, has set off a debate among Trump`s lawyers about how they could try to limit any damage to the president they expect.
Anyway, as "The New York Times" reports, "Allowing prosecutors to interview a sitting president who has a history of hyperbolic or baseless assertions carries legal risk for him."
Well, it could be a crime, in fact, for the president to knowingly lie to a federal official. As we have already seen, it`s a big risk. All four of the president`s former aides, Trump`s former aides, who have been charged in this probe so far, this Russian probe, have faced at least one count of making false statements to federal officials.
Arguing today that the president should only respond to written questions, like a take-home test, Trump ally Newt Gingrich warned that the president could find himself outmatched against Mueller`s prosecutors if it were a face-to-face setting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I think that they should proffer that Mueller can submit written questions, and they will answer his written questions.
QUESTION: Yes, make it that easy.
GINGRICH: But I would not get involved in a free-for-all. I think the idea of putting Trump in a room with five or six hardened, very, very clever lawyers, all of whom who are trying to trap him, would be a very, very bad idea.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, there you just heard Newt Gingrich`s ineffable, or actually unmatchable, statement that the president`s not up to it mentally.
Anyway, negotiations over the format of a questioning of the president is ongoing right now. But if Trump`s lawyer team does not cooperate, Mueller could subpoena the president to simply say, you`re going to appear before a grand jury, something the president`s lawyers are trying like hell to avoid.
I`m joined by Ken Dilanian right now, investigative reporter for NBC News, Jeremy Bash, former CIA chief of staff and an MSNBC analyst -- we`re lucky for that -- and Barbara McQuade, former federal prosecutor.
Ms. McQuade, I have got to get to you about this tough question.
I would think -- I have seen like Jerry Ford had to testify. Bill Clinton had to testify about the Paula Jones matter, which led into the Monica thing. How do you -- how does a president simply say, no, thank you, I refuse to be questioned or interrogated by a Justice Department official? Can he do that?
BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: No, I don`t think he can.
I think that he can try to negotiate terms that are favorable to him. But at the end of the day, Robert Mueller really holds all of the cards, because he can use a subpoena to compel him to testify if it comes to that.
I think, as a matter, a political matter, President Trump doesn`t want it to come to that. So I think that they will reach some sort of agreement with some terms of engagement of how this interview will go forward.
MATTHEWS: When you say negotiate, as if they have got a negotiating position, how can they deny -- if the guy says, I`m going to subpoena you, buddy, I don`t care if you`re president of the United States, what can he do about it?
And, by the way, I would not give this president a take-home quiz. I would not let him take it back to smarter people than him and have them answer the questions overnight or over 48 hours or whatever, because you lose the whole advantage of surprise, don`t you?
MCQUADE: Absolutely. I don`t think there`s any realistic possibility that Robert Mueller would accept written responses. It`s really important to a prosecutor, as I`m sure it is to a reporter, to able to not only get the answer to the questions, but to get them unfiltered in the person`s own words, and to be able to watch them, to watch body language, to listen for tone, to make credibility assessments.
So, I don`t think there`s any way that Robert Mueller would accept those terms. I think, just as a matter of professional courtesy, respect for the position of the presidency of the United States, that they might allow an interview in his office, for example, as opposed to calling him before the grand jury, those kinds of things.
But at the end of the day, I don`t think there`s any question that Robert Mueller is not going to get one shot at the president.
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s talk about this, Jeremy, politically.
The president has his minions. He has got 30-some percent of the country behind him, and they basically say screw you to anybody who is going after him. No matter what he says is right. They don`t care about Russia. Right? He`s talking to them all the time.
So he says, I`m going to negotiate. I`m not going to get -- I want a written set of questions. I mean, it seems to me that`s an admission of a low I.Q. or whatever. I have to have them written down, so I can go back and look at the facts with somebody or make up a story.
JEREMY BASH, MSNBC NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That`s right.
MATTHEWS: Cops don`t let you do that, by the way. When they pick you up, they start interrogating you.
BASH: That`s right.
MATTHEWS: They don`t wait for you to go, let`s take a couple of weeks off while you get a lawyer and think about it.
BASH: And Trump could direct his counsel to file a motion with the district court to quash the subpoena.
BASH: And that could result in litigation that could go up and down to the Supreme Court, and basically Trump could try to run out the clock and make it much harder for Bob Mueller.
So I agree with Barbara Mueller ultimately holds a lot of the cards. But the president has a legal strategy that he can employ to try to delay this, to try to elongate this, and to try to avoid scrutiny, because I think if the president sits down with Mueller, he`s going to be caught between perjury and stating incriminating facts about his own conduct.
MATTHEWS: OK, well, what about the question?
Ms. McQuade, here we go. Barbara, let me ask you this question. How broad can -- I went over this last night, but it`s still my favorite thought of line. Can a guy like Bob Mueller walk into a room with the president of the United States or anybody and say, I want you to tell me the instances in which you talked about Russian sanctions with anybody in the last year?
Give me those instances. Did you talk about that with Flynn? Did you talk about that with your son-in-law? Did you talk about it with your son? Who did you talk about Russian sanctions, with ever this past year?
I would want to know those answers, all of them.
MCQUADE: I think all of that is fair game. And, you know, some suggestion that Robert Mueller`s team might be trying to trick President Trump into wordplay, I don`t think that`s their goal whatsoever.
But I do think that they are interested in a quest for the truth. And I think all of those questions are fair game.
MATTHEWS: Give me the idea of a -- if you had to do a baseball card on Bob Mueller, what do you think he`d be like in an interrogation? What do you think? How would he go about getting the president back on his heels, where he would actually start saying something that`s either perjurious or truthful or something useful to the prosecution?
MCQUADE: Well, the first strategy, when you`re interviewing somebody, is to just get them talking about something they`re comfortable about, so that they get into a rhythm of talking and being forthcoming and not being defensive, so that when you do get to the more critical questions, they are feeling comfortable and willing to speak and not tight and defensive.
MATTHEWS: Yes. That sounds like Mike Wallace doing "60 Minutes" interviews, those four-hour interviews leading to the critical three or four-minute Q&A that kills the guy.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, in a rebuke of the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein today -- and she`s my favorite -- released the full transcript of the testimony delivered in August by Glenn Simpson. He`s the founder of the firm that hired former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele to compile that dossier on Donald Trump.
The dossier alleges, among other things, that the Trump campaign engaged in a -- quote -- "well-developed conspiracy of cooperation with Russian intelligence during the 2016 election."
Well, the Republicans have sought to discredit it because it was funded by the Clinton campaign. And they claim that the FBI wrongly used the dossier as its justification to even open the investigation into the Trump campaign.
But what Republicans seemed to have been hiding is that Simpson`s testimony on the record suggested the FBI had their own concerns about potential collusion by Trump people with the Russians which was unrelated to the dossier. In other words, the dossier did not trigger this investigation.
Simpson says that when the dossier was shared with the FBI -- quote -- "They believed Christopher Steele`s information might be credible because they had other intelligence that indicated the same thing."
Senator Feinstein was asked late today why she chose to release this transcript over Senator Grassley`s objections. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Why did you decide to do that?
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Oh, because, I think the people are entitled to know what was said. And the lawyers also wanted it released. I see no problem with releasing it.
QUESTION: But, Senator Feinstein, Senator Grassley says you have jeopardized their ability to get certain witnesses like Kushner. Your reaction?
FEINSTEIN: Oh, I don`t think so. That`s been difficult in any event.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Ken Dilanian, you`re the expert for us on this. Goal away. Fire away.
Why is it significant that this testimony shows that the FBI, the Justice Department, Comey and everybody began this investigation into a Russian connection by the Trump people before they got hands on that dossier?
KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, you nailed it in your intro, Chris.
This has been a Republican talking point, that the dossier, which was funded by the Democrats, caused the Russia investigation. It`s absolutely not true. Simpson`s testimony, not under oath, but under penalty of criminal, you know, sanction if he lied, lays out that Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence operative, sat down with the FBI in Rome in September.
And he basically told them everything he was finding in Russia. And he was deeply concerned, by the way, about what he was learning. He thought Trump was subject to blackmail. And the FBI`s response was, that`s very interesting. We have already heard some very troubling information from this Australian diplomat who told us that campaign aide George Papadopoulos appeared to know that the Russians had Democratic e-mails well before that fact had been public.
So, the FBI was already on the case. Steele didn`t know it at the time, but they had already opened a secret counterintelligence investigation in July 2016. You know, it`s interesting. Steele actually grew disillusioned. He thought the FBI wasn`t taking this very seriously.
He was wondering. He saw a "New York Times" story in October that said there was no link between Trump and Russia. It turns out the FBI was keeping what they were doing secret. And after the election, John McCain handed the dossier to James Comey. And that sparked even renewed interest within the FBI. And now we are where we are, with a full-scale investigation, Chris.
MATTHEWS: So, why are they saying this? It sounds, duh. Why are the Republicans making up this nonsense, this crap, if you will, about somehow the dossier being the trigger mechanism of this whole thing, when we all remember, if we think about it -- remember at the time Comey shared the dossier with the top leaders on the Hill?
He said, this isn`t part of our investigation, but this is corollary information you ought to get from us, rather than getting through a bootleg copy or somewhere.
It clearly was not the triggering mechanism. It was an associative thing that he thought he ought to get in the hands of the politicians on the Hill.
And yet now they`re saying, oh, no, this is sort of the original sin here.
Your thoughts? Why are they doing it? Is it just political?
DILANIAN: Well, look, they`re doing it, obviously, to do whatever they can to poor cold water on this investigation.
In fairness, it is fair for them to question to what extent a Democratic- funded opposition research project infected an FBI investigation. And this is complicated, because Christopher Steele was a trusted figure by the FBI. He had helped them with their soccer corruption investigation.
And he seems to have had some kind of cooperative relationship, where he was learning things and they were learning things from him. But the bottom line is, that didn`t start it. That`s not what it was about. And some Republicans have even said that they got FISA warrants based on the Christopher Steele dossier. There`s no evidence of that, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Well, good for the guy we -- the woman we call Di-Fi out in California. Dianne Feinstein made this public, so we can all read it.
DILANIAN: She`s fed up.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Ken Dilanian, thank you, Jeremy Bash, and thank you, Barbara McQuade, all of you.
Up next: President Trump says he will beat Oprah if she decides to run against him in 2020. Will she? Winfrey`s closest friend -- that`s Gayle King -- says she`s intrigued by the idea and that people are already offering to be her campaign manager. Maybe it`s going to get serious.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
As 2020 buzz continues to swirl around Oprah Winfrey, the man who could face off with her in two years has this to say about the potential challenge. Actually, I think it`s three years from now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Can you beat Oprah, by the way?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, I will beat Oprah. Oprah would be a lot of fun. No, I like Oprah. I don`t think she`s going to run.
QUESTION: But you can beat her?
TRUMP: I don`t think she`s going to run.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Actually, it is two years.
Meanwhile, a number of Hollywood`s biggest is stars are lining up behind her.
One of Hollywood`s biggest, of course, Meryl Streep, gave Oprah her seal of approval, telling "The Washington Post": "I want her to run for president. I don`t think she had any intention of declaring, but now she doesn`t have a choice."
Well, Oprah`s best friend, of course, CBS morning host Gayle King, was asked if Winfrey would won. She did not completely discount the idea, however. That was this morning. She left the door open for her friend. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: OK, is she considering it?
GAYLE KING, "CBS THIS MORNING": No, I absolutely don`t think that her position has changed. I don`t. I was up talking to her very late last night.
I do think this, though, guys. I do think she`s intrigued by the idea. I do Think that. I also know that, after years of watching the Oprah show, you always have the right to change your mind. I don`t think, at this point, she`s actually considering it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: So, will she run? And what does the buzz surrounding Winfrey say about the Democratic field before this talk last Sunday.
Anyway, for more, I`m joined by the HARDBALL Roundtable tonight. It`s going to be a wild one.
Shannon Pettypiece, White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, Cornell Belcher, Democratic pollster and strategist, John Brabender, Republican strategist.
I don`t know, but here`s the question I have got.
Does Hollywood actually have -- in the past, when you had candidates like Bernie or George McGovern way back then, Hollywood would get behind people, certainly Obama. But they wouldn`t instigate it. They wouldn`t say, here`s our candidate for president. You guys going to jump aboard or not?
I know she`s not a Hollywood person, but she`s a Hollywood sort of endorsee. Can Hollywood push a candidate out onto the arena and give them a good shot at being president, Hollywood, the people at the so-called Golden Globes, which are basically there because a bunch of foreign writers decided what the best picture is?
PETTYPIECE: I don`t think so, and especially in sort of this populist movement going on in this country right now.
PETTYPIECE: Having Hollywood pushing a candidate, right, in their $100,000 earrings at a party doesn`t really resonate with people. But there is a feeling of this, "you need to fight fire with fire" strategy out there, and that the Democrats need a candidate who is not the traditional politician who can take on Trump, the anti-politician.
MATTHEWS: What`s that -- I interrupted you, because I`m excited.
JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: That`s the first time that`s ever happened.
BELCHER: He interrupts us all the time.
MATTHEWS: Why -- why -- OK, I interrupt. OK.
MATTHEWS: What does it say about these guys who have been -- and women -- who have been spending their 20, 30 years of their life going to law school, running for student council president, running for the local jobs?
You know them. Go ahead, Cornell. Joe Biden spent 60 years waiting for somebody to say, we would like you to be president. What do they do? They ignored him. New hot shots like Kirsten Gillibrand are doing everything they can to position themselves to be the nominee, right? Ignored.
Everyone was ignored Sunday night.
BELCHER: Well, yes, because it was a Hollywood setting.
But, one, I wouldn`t think -- you can`t -- Gillibrand, Tim Ryan, Booker, Kamala, they`re not being -- I don`t think they`re being -- say they`re being ignored.
However, I will say this, and you know this better than most, Chris. Politics is about likability. Right?
MATTHEWS: I`m with you. I`m with you.
BELCHER: You cannot -- politics is about likability. George Bush had over Al Gore people would have a drink with him. You do -- you cannot...
MATTHEWS: George Sr. had it over Dukakis.
BELCHER: Right. You cannot underestimate the power that Oprah has.
And then I will say this, and I`m on record on "The Washington Post" on this. If Oprah Winfrey enters the Democratic primary -- it`s not about the general. If she enters the Democratic -- she throws her hat in the ring for the Democratic primary, she`s the front-runner in the Democratic primary.
She will place in Iowa and New Hampshire and she will flat-out win South Carolina. And when she flat-out wins South Carolina, no one`s going to catch her.
MATTHEWS: She wins California then.
BELCHER: She wins California, but she also runs through the South, the black belt of the South. And just like Obama in 2008, no one is going to catch her.
MATTHEWS: So, she beats Elizabeth Warren in Iowa, or she just places?
BELCHER: She places. She doesn`t have to beat her. She has to place.
MATTHEWS: In New Hampshire, she places behind Elizabeth Warren again.
BELCHER: She places. And she wins South Carolina.
MATTHEWS: And she wins South Carolina. And even though she`s lost the first two, who wins Nevada?
BELCHER: I think Oprah.
MATTHEWS: I think you`re right. This is the first time I have heard this laid out like this.
BRABENDER: But here`s the irony. The irony of all of this is, Donald Trump paved the way for her by changing the model of what you can be to run.
You know, the second thing is, she really is not Hollywood, because...
MATTHEWS: I know she`s not.
BRABENDER: ... people didn`t get know her as a character.
MATTHEWS: She`s daytime.
BRABENDER: They got to know her as herself, which, in my opinion, makes her a lot more credible than a traditional Hollywood actor.
MATTHEWS: Let me tell you why that`s important, what you just said. You can jump in here.
I think, when you`re a woman, a traditional woman who stays at home, does her work at home, who`s your company all day?
PETTYPIECE: Oprah. Right.
MATTHEWS: She`s the one that knocked Phil Donahue out of this business, yes.
PETTYPIECE: And it`s like Trump. She`s in your home, in your living room.
MATTHEWS: She`s your friend. She`s empathetic in the way Trump is not really.
I think -- and she`s never been in any way ethnic or racial. It`s always been for everybody in trouble. I do get thrilled thinking about how -- what a nice person she is.
Anyway, the Roundtable is sticking with us.
And up next: a rare look behind the curtain. Cameras are rolling as Trump starts to negotiate the immigration bill. Was this a Potemkin village? Was this a show because Michael Wolff knocked his block off in that book? Is that what this is about?
It was fascinating meeting to watch today. We did like to watch it. We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
In an unusual moment at the Trump White House today, the press was allowed to attend an almost 55-minute bipartisan discussion on immigration, involving the president, members of the House, and the Senate from both parties. The president laid out a list of priorities on the negotiating table, including DACA, border security, changing the family-based migration system and ending the visa lottery system.
He said he wanted the end result to be -- love this phrase -- a bill of love, and claimed that they were close to a comprehensive immigration reform. Well, let`s watch him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I feel having the Democrats in with us is absolutely vital, because this should be a bipartisan bill. There should be a bill of love, truly. It should be a bill of love. And we can do that.
But it also has to be a bill where we`re able to secure our borders. We`ll do DACA and we can certainly start comprehensive immigration reform the following afternoon, OK? We`ll take an hour off and then we`ll start.
I`ll take all the heat you want to give me. And I`ll take the heat off both the Democrats and the Republicans. My whole life has been heat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Well, this show of deal making by the president has come at a convenient time for him who has faced mounting questions about his mental fitness.
And his supporters didn`t hesitate to take advantage of the positive press. Lindsey Graham tweeted after the meeting today that this was the most fascinating meeting I`ve ever been involved with in 20-plus year of politics. I very much appreciated President Trump`s attitude, demeanor, and desire to get something done.
He sounds like Orrin Hatch.
We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.
Shannon, simple question. The American people like DACA. They want to help these kids, their parents brought them here illegally, but feel to be Americans. They want to be Americans. Let them stay. Leave them alone.
You`ve got to give Trump some sort of wiggle room to say he`s still for the wall, right? And you`ve got to keep the government open, which means Democratic participation. How do you get it all done in the next few days?
SHANNON PETTYPIECE, REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: It`s a very, very tough needle to threat. There`s going to have to be compromises. Maybe some compromises on DACA. Maybe we`re looking at a wall-lite. Maybe Trump says, I got amazing money for border security and we kept the government running, so he kept funding our military and protected our country, you know, maybe he makes an argument like that.
MATTHEWS: So, a couple more thousand men and women on the border is a wall.
PETTYPIECE: Yes, I don`t think Democrats are giving anything on the wall. Maybe a mini-wall.
MATTHEWS: Democrats like personnel.
MATTHEWS: They do. They want people to be hired. They want people to go to work.
CORNELL BELCHER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It`s a jobs program.
BELCHER: Look, I think it`s very tough, right?
MATTHEWS: Can we get all three?
BELCHER: No, I don`t think you can get all three. It`s very tough, because immigration is such a tough issue for the hard right wing of the Republican Party, the Freedom Caucus or Tea Party Caucus, immigration. You can`t get comprehensive immigration reform --
MATTHEWS: You can`t get DACA.
BELCHER: You`re not going to get comprehensive immigration reform without Democrats --
MATTHEWS: No, we`re not -- stay out of. Three things in the next few weeks. Can you get DACA, the wall, and keep the government open?
BELCHER: No, you`re not going to get all these of those things.
MATTHEWS: Then what happens?
BELCHER: Well --
MATTHEWS: The government doesn`t say open.
BELCHER: He`s going to have to find some compromise with Democrats and work with them on DACA. The problem is, the moment that you try to just -- that`s why you`re talking about bipartisanship. The moment you try to force that through with just -- try to force that through, it becomes a problem for Speaker Ryan, because the hard right wing of his party, they`re not for what DACA and immigration reform.
MATTHEWS: Speak for him, John.
JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Let`s be honest. I think it`s cute that the president really believes that there`s a bipartisan solution here, but the Democrats are not going to give him any type of compromise, any type of win on immigration. They are the obstructionists. Look, they talk about wall --
BELCHER: The Democrats --
MATTHEWS: Can you call the wall --
BRABENDER: On everything --
MATTHEWS: He`s talking about a wall, but he says, now we`ve got mountains and rivers and everything, we don`t need a wall all the way across the Rio Grande.
BRABENDER: Look, I don`t mind if there`s a negotiation on what we describe as a wall and how big it is and all of that. But this president has got to get a wall. He can`t walk away from that.
To me, though, the most interesting thing today was watching it live. I mean, I think they should make all of this stuff live.
MATTHEWS: Did you think it was real?
BRABENDER: I do, to some degree. But they`re all on their best behavior. Because they --
MATTHEWS: That`s what I said --
BRABENDER: I`m just telling you, why not do this with everything? Why can`t it be live?
MATTHEWS: I think he caught the Democrats off base. They weren`t -- Steny gave a nice talk and Durbin and all that. But nobody has put their bargaining position out there.
PETTYPIECE: They did not know the cameras were going to stay there. The reporters in the room, the cameras and other cameras were going to stay there.
MATTHEWS: Can you get compromise with a camera on?
BRABENDER: You have a better chance to have getting it with it on than with it off?
MATTHEWS: Really? You guys tend to agree with that? It has to be -- how does a Democrat give an inch on the wall, meaning, all right, hire 5,000 more people but I`m not pulling that wall up. How do you make those deals in public?
PETTYPIECE: I mean, we do have cameras on C-span in Congress, but, yes. I mean, maybe this is the --
BRABENBDER: But that`s not where the deals are made.
MATTHEWS: But you know, Cornell, that these guys have to cut these deals carefully.
BELCHER: You do. Here`s the problem with the cameras. You are playing to the camera. At some point, you have to be like --
BRABENDER: No, you`re not playing to the camera, you`re playing to the American people.
MATTHEWS: We`re on camera, by the way.
Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us and up next these, three will be giving us some scoops we can all be talking about with our friends tomorrow and actually tonight.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Well, catch this. Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, remember him, Arpaio, the immigration hardliner, of course, and Trump hero, announced today that he`s running for the United States Senate in Arizona. It comes less than five months after President Trump pardoned him for criminal contempt after defying a court order related to racial profiling. The sheriff seeking to replace Senator Jeff Flake, who announced he`s retiring due to concerns over President Trump and the rest of the Republican Party, also the fear he`d lose the primary.
In an interview with NBC News, the 85-year-old Arpaio said that it`s time for some fresh blood in Washington.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with HARDBALL roundtable.
Shannon, tell me something I don`t know.
PETTYPIECE: Trump has a physical on Friday. His first one --
MATTHEWS: It`s not a mental thing, right?
PETTYPIECE: Well, whatever we find out, it`s going to be up to Trump. Because like every American, he has the right to release or keep private his medical information. So, we could get some results from it but it`s only going to be the ones Trump wants.
MATTHEWS: Are they going to ask him how many fingers am I holding up?
PETTYPIECE: Typically, typically there`s a neurological exam in a presidential physical.
MATTHEWS: OK. Cornell?
BELCHER: The DOG is requesting for the first time.
MATTHEWS: What`s the DOG?
BELCHER: DOJ. My southern accent, which many people believe it`s a way to push down the number of minorities who take the census, which is really important, being that we need accurate counts for redistricting.
John Brabender, who doesn`t like accurate counts and redistricting --
BRABENDER: Yes, yes.
Mine is Kirsten Gillibrand is about to have her life turned upside down in New York. The centrists are mad at her because of her Blue Dog, you know, background is gone, she`s moved left.
MATTHEWS: I know.
BRADENDER: The left is mad at her because they thought she was grandstanding when it came to Al Franken. There`s going to be an entry in the Republican side, a woman who`s -- one of the most credible Republican women I`ve seen run for office in a long time. And it`s going to be on in New York starting about a week.
MATTHEWS: Can I place my bet on Kirsten right now?
BRABENDER: She`s against Chele Farley.
MATTHEWS: Do you think that could be a race in New York?
BRABENDER: You know, normally, I would say no, but when they see this Republican candidate, people are going to be amazed. The Republican Party is uniting behind her quickly, very credible, the type of candidate Republicans need more quite frankly.
MATTHEWS: Explain to me something about Kirsten Gillibrand, somebody here, because she`s to me would be a very attractive candidate. She`s very smart. She`s on the left. That`s where she is, that`s where she positioned herself, especially on women`s concerns.
Why doesn`t she do more television? Most people wouldn`t recognize her. Yet she`s got this tremendous name ID developing. What`s that about? Everybody uses television.
PETTYPIECE: I don`t know. I have no idea. But I do know, to your point - -
MATTHEWS: It`s a question to me. I mean, most people are looking at her, oh, that`s what she looks like, I didn`t know her. I mean, it`s true.
BRABENDER: Well, it hasn`t worked out recently.
PETTYPIECE: Put her on your show.
MATTHEWS: Well, we try all the time. She`s a get.
Anyway, Shannon Pettypiece, thank you very much. You`re a get. Thank you. And so is Cornell, so is John Brabender.
When we return, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch." As I said, you like it, he may not. In fact, he won`t.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: "Trump Watch", Tuesday, January 9th, 2018.
It reminds me of "Twilight Zone." I`m talking about Michael Wolff`s description of life in the Trump White House. Grownups scared to death of this little boy they see possessed with enormous powers. Remember that episode of "Twilight Zone", it was when the kid is so frightening and emotionally undeveloped, that all those around this kid are afraid what was he`ll do next.
Well, now, of course, we`re talking not about science fiction, but about the nonfiction of the West Wing and the Oval Office, the world in which a child-like Donald Trump holds sway, this according to the hottest book in the country.
And it is this that must disturb you. That 100 percent of the people around Donald Trump don`t see him as fit to hold the office --100 percent who say danger, who see danger in this man they come to work each morning to protect us from.
Speaking of which, what do you make of an American president who spends such a large chunk of his day hiding alone in his room? Who comes to work an hour before noon, only to head back upstairs well before most of the people who work for him are even known their dinner time?
Well, this is a little odd for a president, don`t you think? We can all see is engaged in a spat right now with North Korea`s Kim Jong-un, who mocks him as rocket man and brags about having a bigger nuclear button than him. But, of course, of graver concern than his lack of restraint and of graver concern of lack of the people around him who might restrain him is the feeling by those working directly with Trump that he, the president, lacks the basics of presidential competence. The ability to make reasonable judgments, to perform with coolness under pressure, a recognition of the need to reckon the consequences what was he does or decides he wants done.
This is a very unsettling account of life within the confines of today`s White House.
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thank for being with us. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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