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Axios: Trump demands more "executive time" Transcript 1/10/18 Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Chris Coons, Leon Panetta, Donna Edwards, Chris Wilson, Annie Linskey

Show: HARDBALL Date: January 10, 2018 Guest: Chris Coons, Leon Panetta, Donna Edwards, Chris Wilson, Annie Linskey

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Democrats play HARDBALL. Let`s us play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. In a defiant press conference late today, President Donald Trump called the special counsel`s Russia probe a Democratic hoax. He insists that no evidence of collusion has been found though investigators have issued no such conclusion. And while the President`s lawyers are negotiating how the special counsel will ultimately question the President, Trump says it`s unlikely he will ever sit down with the investigators at all. Here was President Trump today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you be willing to meet with him without condition or would you demand that a strict set of parameters be placed around any encounter between you and the special counsel?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, again, John, there has been no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians or Trump and Russians, no collusion. I have been in office now for 11 months. For 11 months they have had this phony clouds over this administration, over our government, and it has hurt our government. It does hurt our government. It`s a Democrat hoax that was brought up as an excuse for losing an election. Certainly I will see what happens. But when they have no collusion and nobody`s found any collusion at any level, it seems unlikely that you would even have an interview.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, this comes amid mounting signs that Democrats seeing the game Republicans are playing in either covering up or distracting from the truth are taking matters into their own hands. They are now stepping up to fight Republican efforts to hide and polite size the facts emerging from the investigations of Russian meddling and potential collusion.

Today Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued a comprehensive report on Russian meddling around the world asserting that President Trump has neglected to protect this country from Russian aggression. Report finds that as we approach the 2018 mid-term elections the U.S. still lacks quote "a coherent, comprehensive and coordinated approach to deter the Russian threat. It warns that quote "before never before in American history is so clear a threat to national security been so clearly ignored by a U.S. President.

And speaking this morning the ranking Democrat on that committee, Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, well-known as a national security hawk issued a chilling opinion of President Trump`s leadership.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-M) FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Following attacks like Pearl Harbor, 9/11, U.S. Presidents have rallied the country and the world to address the challenges facing the nation. Yet today the current President of the United States who barely acknowledges the threat posed by Mr. Putin`s repeated attacks on democratic governments and institutions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, in a related move yesterday, Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein of California decided to defy the chairman of the Judiciary Committee and release the testimony of Glen Simpson, the founder of the research firm Fusion GPS.

In his testimony, Simpson explained how he came to hire former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele to investigate Trump`s connections to Russia, producing the dossier. The Republicans have tried so hard to discredit.

This morning, the President attacked Senator Feinstein tweeting, the fact that sneaky Dianne Feinstein who has on numerous occasions stated that collusion between Trump and Russia has not been found would release testimony in such an underhanded and possibly illegal way totally without authorization is a disgrace. Must have tough primary.

I`m joined now by Democratic senator Chris Coons who sits on both the judiciary and a foreign relations committee, Jason Johnson is politics editor of "the Root" and an MSNBC contributor and Heidi Pryzbyla, White House reporter for "USA Today" and an MSNBC political analyst as well.

Let me go to Senator Coons on this. It seems to me that Democrats now, if they are watching what the Republicans have been up, in terms of distracting from, undermining, whatever, this probe of the Russian connection are taking matters into your own hands and saying it`s time to get the truth out even if the Republicans don`t want it out.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: That`s right, Chris. I support what senator Feinstein on the Judiciary Committee did in releasing the transcript of the Glen Simpson interview. Something, by the way, that Mr. Simpson urged us to do. Why? Because a number of Republican members were trying to distract from or undermine special counsel Robert Mueller`s investigation by misleadingly suggesting that it was because of this Steele dossier, because of this Fusion GPS funded research that the whole investigation by the FBI into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia began.

We now know that`s not the case. That there were other sources from foreign intelligence, from someone in the Trump campaign that led the FBI to begin investigating this question. And while the President in today`s somewhat belligerent press conference insisted, there is no collusion, there is no evidence of collusion, that conclusion has not yet been reached.

And I think all of us, Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, have an obligation to make sure that we respond to Russia`s attack on our democracy in the 2016 election. And that we fully prepare for our next elections.

I commend Senator Cardin on foreign relations for releasing this strong and comprehensive report you referenced that issues a real clarion call to defending America`s elections.

MATTHEWS: You know, you and I grew up, me before you, I was older than you, but I have to tell you I grew up with the idea that the Republicans were tougher on the defense. They were the hawkish party. And they were the toughest on the Soviet Union although. Good for them.

But now, it seems to me that this Republican Party led by Trump could be accused as Ben Cardin, your neighbor from Maryland suggests, that sort of appeasing the Russians. Why does Trump again and again cover for the Russians and say, yes, they maybe - but I`m not going to look into any of this stuff and they are going to screw with people`s elections around the world. I`m not going to do any of that. Don`t look at that. Why is he doing that? Why is he covering for Putin?

COONS: It is really hard to come up with any coherent or positive explanation for why President Trump, as candidate Trump repeatedly complimented Vladimir Putin and aggravated or annoyed our democratic allies in Western Europe. And why as President Trump, he has failed to lead our allies in the western democracies and to defend our nations against Russia`s provocations and Russia`s interferences in the elections of so many countries, not just in the United States, Chris. Also Germany, also France, also the U.K. and a dozen other smaller countries across Western Europe. In this thoroughly detailed report by Senator Cardin, he lays out the case. That our President, for the first time in our modern history, has utterly failed to respond to a direct attack on what makes America a democracy, credible, free and fair elections.

MATTHEWS: What do you think it might be in to him on a financial end of things, that he may owe then something for past promises and financial help, for his hotel and for his son-in-law`s hotel and chain? Is there money behind all of this niceness?

COONS: That`s not yet been proven, but it certainly raises questions because the President`s behavior and his conduct is dramatically out of step with a long tradition, bipartisan tradition of standing up and defending America`s democracy.

And as you put it, going back to our childhood of Republicans being the tougher party on standing up to Russian aggression in particular. Why he is doing this, we don`t have an explanation in detail or proven yet, but it certainly raises very troubling questions about whether there are financial complications or there is some sort of a relationship that was started in the course of the campaign that has led him to take these unprecedented positions and to fail to protect the United States and our democracy.

MATTHEWS: Well, I hope we can follow the money.

Anyway, attacking Senator Feinstein of California so personally, President Trump may be barking up the wrong tree. In her decades long public career she has been known to be a force to be reckoned with. From her early days on the San Francisco parole board she upheld law and order and public confidence when Mayor George Musconia (ph) and (INAUDIBLE) assassinated out there. And more recently one applauded her dogged pursuit of the truth about the CIA`s torture program.

However, Senator Feinstein was very control in her response today in the President`s tweet. Here she goes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can we just get your reaction to the President tweeting about you saying that your actions about potentially releasing these transcripts are illegal?

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I don`t believe they are. And obviously I wouldn`t have done it if I thought they are. The one regret I have is that I should have spoken with Senator Grassley before it. And I think the American people have a right to know. I don`t think -- there`s something that is classified. I don`t think there is anything that`s highly problematic. But at least it`s a clearing of the air so that the facts are out there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does it offend you when the President calls you shady in a tweet?

FEINSTEIN: Well, he tends to call people names very quickly so I`m not alone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Heidi, this is the first time I have heard somebody being called sneaky for getting the truth out. I mean, she is not hiding it. She is putting out in bright out there at the public. She said you want to know how the CIA -- rather, the FBI got involved in looking into the Russian probe. Well, they got a heads up from the Australian guy. They got a way before they got this dossier. And for some reason, while we know what the reason is, Republicans still want to say it`s all about the dossier.

HEIDI PRYZBYLA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, USA TODAY: Point for point, it takes down the argument that somehow this was a witch hunt, you know, funded by Hillary Clinton`s supported backers. And it goes through that including where the seed money comes from.

The seed money from this investigation came from the Washington free beacon. And who funds that? Paul Singer, the GOP mega donor.

And it shows that the orders that were given to Steele were pretty simple. They were, don`t draw any conclusions, you know partisan conclusions, just get the facts about what Trump`s relationship is to Russia. And it also has some embarrassing stuff in there, too. You know, Trump has always said I don`t have any ties to Russia. Well, this shows actually pretty elaborate financial ties to some of the surrounding countries where Russia parks a lot of its money. And so, there were a lot of things in there that probably Republicans don`t really want out there.

MATTHEWS: Well, as I mentioned, Glen Simpson`s testimony which Dianne Feinstein put out, undercuts the Republican argument that the Christopher Steele dossier was intended as part of a hit job just because it was funded by the Clinton campaign originally.

As Simpson explains in the transcript which we know have, Steele felt professionally obligated to bring his findings to the FBI, not because of politics but because quote "he was very concerned about whether this represented a national security threat."

Jason, in the real world if you find that somebody is screwing with your elections and is involved with all kinds of hanky-panky, you bring it to the authorities, you know. If you see something, say something. We are all taught that taking Amtrak, you know. I`m sorry. It isn`t kind - and they are making this into something that shouldn`t be talked about.

We ought to know why there was an FBI probe, why Comey was probably fired, because he was getting to something, and here Dianne Feinstein did a public service of putting out the transcript so this guy, Simpson, could tell us how it all started.

JASON JOHNSON, POLITICS EDITOR, THE ROOT: Well, and here is the thing. This is why she is not concern. This is - I mean, you know, she was very, very nice in that sort of interview right there. But she was basically come at me. I just did what the American public needs, which is find out what this gentleman is talking about. The fact that Republicans keep wanting to keep this behind closed doors and then leak what they want to leak when it`s convenient to them is what leads this into being such a problematic situation overall. And the important thing --.

MATTHEWS: It looks like a cover up to me.

JOHNSON: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, following his attack, that`s the President`s on Dianne Feinstein, the President went after the probe itself saying, the single greatest witch hunt in American history continues. There was no collusion. Everybody including the Dems know there was no collusion yet on and on it goes. Russia and the world is laughing at the stupid at this they are witnessing. Republicans should finally take control.

Senate chairman Chuck Grassley was asked about that tweet today. Let`s ask him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator, the President said that the Republicans should take control of the investigation in light of the release of this transcript. Are you losing control of this investigation and should you regain control?

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I don`t know what the President has in mind. And I don`t think I better comment until I have a discussion with the President on that point. I don`t intend to have a discussion with the President on that point. And I hope he doesn`t call me and tell me the same thing that you said he said.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, senator.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Senator, it looks like your older partner there is wise enough to stay away from this one. What is -- what is the situation now as you see it, the lay of the land in terms of this probe? Are the Republicans now worried that this thing is getting somewhere in terms of the finances of the President? This is going to go beyond possible collusion to the question of what Trump`s business relationships were that may have preceded it and given it context and perhaps affected how he has been dealing with the Russians as you were talking a few moments ago? Or is it because they really think they have won the game, there`s nothing there. Which is it that causes them to try to cover this thing up now?

COONS: Well, there`s a lot of different republicans actors here in Congress and in the administration. So I think it`s a mix of both, Chris.

I am genuinely concerned about special counsel Robert Mueller. His ability to complete this investigation, to see it all the way through and a number of Republicans have joined in efforts to try and protect Robert Mueller, make it harder for him to be fired by the President because I think all of us recognize -- many of us recognize that it`s really in President Trump`s best interests. It`s in the best interests of the rule of law and our society and democracy for this to be seen through to the finish. And for us to know once and for all whether there is evidence of collusion.

For the Judiciary Committee, our jurisdiction covers the department of justice, the FBI. And I would hope that chairman Grassley would change direction and be willing to work more closely with ranking member Feinstein and that we could reengage in a constructive way.

Their staff counsel have been disagreeing and they have been fighting now for several months over which witnesses to bring in, which direction to take this. I think there has been serious efforts by some Republican senators to take us off track by focusing on things that date back many years. Allegations about Hillary Clinton rather than focusing on what is right in front of us, whether or not there was obstruction of justice and the firing of the FBI director and whether or not we are adequately prepared to protect our democracy from meddling in the next election. That`s what we should be working on. There are real threats to this and there are some here I think in the capitol who are throwing sand in the gears and trying to distract and there`s others who I suspect genuinely believe that there`s nothing to this at the end of the day.

MATTHEWS: OK.

COONS: Regardless of their views, I think it`s in our best interests to make sure that it gets to the end, that Robert Mueller is able to finish a full investigation.

MATTHEWS: Only a few minutes left, Heidi and Jason. Do you think the Democrats have said, we are going to sit around and let the Republicans hide this thing?

PRYZBYLA: I think they have realized that they have given them now well over a year. We have another election coming up. Not only do we not have a strategy for tackling what may happen with the Russians. We don`t even have an autopsy, for example, what happened with the social media companies.

This stands in contrast not just to Pearl Harbor and major events like September 11th, but even just to smaller investigations like Watergate, like Whitewater which didn`t have national security implications when committees actually staffed up and deployed the resources.

MATTHEWS: Why are the Republicans backing Trump on this cover up or refusing the Russian threat in the same way they went along with on the tax thing? I know Republicans love to cut taxes for the rich. That`s sort of endemic. But why are they going along with this Russian cover up? Why are they so pro-Moscow all of a sudden?

JOHNSON: Well, two things.

MATTHEWS: Never were.

JOHNSON: One, because the pro-Moscow thing is sort of happening under Obama. Remember was like they thought he was a stronger leader because this hostility towards sitting president. But the other thing to remember is this, and this is what you always see with Trump. It`s not just the Russian collusion. Because remember, collusion may or may not be illegal. That`s impeachment issue. They are concerned about obstruction of justice. Because that is where this is really about. Trump keep saying (INAUDIBLE), you call me a liar and a thief, I`m not a thief, right. But he is really concern about obstruction of justice. And that`s where the Democrats --

MATTHEWS: I don`t see the party of Ronald Reagan here anymore. I mean, it is the part of Reagan that was anti-communist.

Anyway, thank you Chris Coons, senator from Delaware. Thank you so much Jason Johnson, sir, and Heidi Pryzbyla, so much.

Coming up, author Michael Wolff describes a White House where President Trump weeks havoc on willing to accept advice from those around him. How much does that scare those who have been in the inside of the White House?

I`m going to talk to former CIA director and defense secretary Leon Panetta who himself served as chief of staff to a President. His reaction to that.

And to Trump`s bloody nose strategy on North Korea. Does Trump really think he can launch a military strike against Kim Jong-un and he is just going to walk away and take it on why do you hit me so hard?

Plus, President Trump yesterday said that the Congress should pass a bill of love to protect the DREAMERS. But today, he took in silent different tone, didn`t you notice? Is Trump worried about alienating his base when it comes to immigration? You bet.

And who is afraid of the big bad Wolff, that`s Wolff with two Fs. That tell-all book had purge questions about Trump`s basic mental stability. So is the President now painting a new picture of himself, one that he thinks he needs to paint?

And finally, let me finish tonight with Trump, watch more like this when this is "Hardball" where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: In January of last year Texas congressman Sam Johnson became the first House Republican to announce that he would retire at the end of 2018. And later that month Kansas congresswoman Lin Jenkins called it quits. In April came the news that Ileana Ross-Lehtinen of Florida was also retiring. Then it was Tennessee congressman John Duncan.

By September there were three more big names, Pennsylvania congressman Charlie Dent as well as Congressman Dave Reichert, (INAUDIBLE), all of whom represent swing districts.

In October, Congressman Jeb Hensarling of Texas throwing the towel. By the end of 2017 six more Republicans announced their plans to leave the House. And they continue to fall in 2018. Three more, including California`s Ed Royce have called it quits as of last night. And today, an 18th House Republican announced that he will retire at the end of his term, California congressman Darrell Issa. Issa was considered particularly vulnerable heading into this year`s midterm election having barely won reelection in 2016.

So the dominos continue to fall. And today, Issa made it number 18. Democrats need just 24 seats to regain control of the U.S. House. And we will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL WOLFF, AUTHOR, "FIRE AND FURY: INSIDE THE TRUMP WHITE HOUSE": 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 inevitably prone to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was, of course, author Michael Wolff on HARDBALL last night.

In his new book, "Fire and Fury," Wolff paints a picture of an isolated president, treated like a child by the people around him, and who doesn`t seek or accept advice from anyone.

Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: 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 on, that he trusts as a brain, as a consigliere, if you will?

WOLFF: No, absolutely not.

MATTHEWS: Anybody?

WOLFF: Absolutely not.

The one thing you cannot say to Donald Trump is, you can`t praise somebody else`s intelligence. He`s been repeatedly asked this question, who do you turn to? Who do you get your advice from? Who`s your who`s -- who`s your mainstay? And he--

MATTHEWS: Sure.

WOLFF: -- always says: It`s me. I`m the person I turn to for advice.

MATTHEWS: OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, is this any way to run a White House?

I`m joined right now by someone who would know. Leon Panetta served as chief of staff to President Clinton. He also served as secretary of defense and CIA director under President Obama.

Mr. Secretary, thank you. It`s honor to have somebody on who`s a public servant who has some willingness to talk about what it takes.

What did you make of this portrait we have here of -- I said it was like a "Twilight Zone" episode last night, where this little kid is scaring this whole town because he has all this power, and they`re all afraid of doing anything but please him?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Chris, I think we have we have known for a long time now that we have a very unusual president who is erratic and very unpredictable, and obviously is pretty focused on who he is and how to basically please him.

You know, I think the book, in large measure, confirms what the press and others have been saying about the president and this White House for the last year.

The problem is, he`s now using people from the inside. And that makes it more worrisome. But, at the same time, look, the American people will ultimately judge this president for who he is.

MATTHEWS: You know, you and I have had presidents, in reading our history, like FDR, who made sure he had a brain trust smarter than him. He always had real eggheads around him.

Kennedy too had really smart people like McNamara around him. And you were in.

The idea of a president is, you can pick anybody you want, so pick people smarter than yourselves.

Trump -- and I`m not knocking these people as individuals -- Hope Hicks and Steve Miller, these are young people with no real background in public life. They`re apparently his consiglieres. They`re the ones he goes to in a fix.

What do you make of that?

PANETTA: Well, I think this president, having no experience in Washington, no experience with politics, basically brought the standards that he used as a developer in New York.

And his basic approach as a developer is that he was the one who knew everything about everything, and that he could basically tangle with anybody because he felt that he was the person who had all the answers. I think he`s pretty much brought that same series of values as a developer to the White House, and that`s the way he`s serving as president.

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s one I don`t think he brought with him.

Earlier this week, Axios reported that the president isn`t spending as much time in the Oval Office as most presidents do. According to Axios: "President Trump is starting his official day much later than he did in the early days of his presidency, often around 11:00. And this is largely to meet Trump`s demands for more `executive time,` which almost means TV and Twitter time alone in the residence."

What do you make? I mean, suppose -- I was kidding last night. It`s not the 3:00 a.m. phone call you worry about. It`s the 10:00 a.m. phone call. Where`s the president? He doesn`t even come downstairs to meet people because he`s watching "FOX & Friends" and God knows what else and Twittering.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I don`t know. You have got nobody like this you know, I know, but go ahead.

PANETTA: You know, based on my experience, usually, you set up a schedule to kind of fit the president`s rhythm and make sure that, you know, he can he can basically do some of the things he needs to do in order to handle the responsibilities of that office.

But we`re looking at a schedule that, at least on paper and as reported, runs from 11:00 to 4:15 in the Oval Office.

And, you know, my concern is that there are just too many issues that confront this president, any president during the day. And whether or not they have worked out a way to ensure that the president is made aware of these issues in the middle of this kind of schedule is what concerns me.

I just -- I just think -- you know, I understand you want to keep the president calm and cool and be able to do the things he wants to do, but he also happens to be president of the United States and commander in chief. And as a result, he has some very huge responsibilities that have to be met.

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s one, Mr. Secretary.

Even as South Korea and North Korea have opened up their diplomatic communications, "The Wall Street Journal" reports that White House are considering a risky approach in terms of North Korea.

According to "The Journal": "U.S. officials are quietly debating whether it`s possible to mount a limited military strike against North Korea sites without igniting an all-out war on the Korean Peninsula. The idea is known as the bloody nose strategy. React to some nuclear test with a limited strike against a North Korean facility to bloody Pyongyang`s nose and illustrate the high price the regime could pay for its behavior. The hope would be to make that point without inciting a full-bore reprisal."

How dangerous would that be, to humiliate Kim Jong-un by blowing up something he has just built, something that is state of the art in terms of technology, nuclear technology, and hope that he won`t fire all or any of his artillery on the South, on Seoul?

PANETTA: Well, I just think that whoever came up with that approach really doesn`t understand the risks involved with the North Korean leader.

First of all, it violates a principle that the president himself has talked about, which is that you don`t openly talk about whatever military options you`re thinking about. Obviously, this is now out in the public, and North Korea is going to be more than prepared to deal with any kind of response.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

PANETTA: Secondly, there are huge risks here. You can`t just give North Korea a bloody nose and expect that they`re going to hold back in terms of retaliating against the South.

They have got thousands of artillery pieces, thousands of mortars that are set up that can do incredible damage to Seoul. So it`s a risk that, frankly, is just one that no president has been willing to take because of the consequences.

I just think this is a situation where the better course for this president is to keep the pressure on North Korea, keep the sanctions on, keep building up our military presence, develop a missile shield to protect our country and South Korea, and continue to try to see whether or not the South Koreans have been able to open up some further discussions here to talk about the nuclear threat that all of us want to deal with.

MATTHEWS: Well, last week, the president bragged about the size of his -- quote -- "nuclear button," of all things, and today he gave a thumbs up to what he called good talks going on between the North and South in Korea, though he also blamed previous administrations for handing him the mess there.

Let`s watch the latest shot from him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I see a lot of good energy. I like it very much, what I`m seeing.

I just spoke this morning with the -- as you know, with the president, President Moon of South Korea. He had some really great meetings. His representatives had a great, great meeting.

And I had some very good feedback from that, so hopefully a lot of good things are going to work out.

I think it is much better to work with Russia. It`s very much better having to do with North Korea, where we currently have a problem that never should have been my problem. This should have been a problem solved many years ago, when it was much less dangerous.

But it was given to me, along with a big mess of other things.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, he`s so partisan.

Let me ask you, Mr. Secretary, about this line he gave out today. He referred to Dianne Feinstein, your long-term -- longtime colleague -- and I know you respect her a lot, as we all do, who work worked out there -- sneaky Dianne Feinstein.

Doing -- using a term like that, sneaky, on someone who had put out to the public what`s been going on in terms of this probe, this Russian probe, it just seemed to me -- what do you think of that tone? It`s the kind of language we have been getting from Trump. And I think it`s bringing us all down. Your thoughts?

PANETTA: I think the worst thing that this president does is basically tweet out his emotions and what he`s thinking, and using the kind of terms that he used against Senator Feinstein.

It really demeans the office of the presidency, and, frankly, it demeans him. I just don`t see how you can conduct a presidency when, one day, you`re sitting down with members of Congress trying to see if you can work out a resolution of some serious issues on Capitol Hill, and then the next day start tweeting names against senators who are participating in that meeting, and also beginning to denounce the very things that you tried to work out.

I mean, it`s that kind of roller-coaster ride that I think makes most Americans very uncomfortable about how we`re going to operate with this kind of president.

MATTHEWS: Well, I wish you were running the show, Mr. Secretary.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: But you`re not. He is.

PANETTA: No.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much for coming to us tonight. I wish we could have you on a lot more than we do.

Senator -- actually not senator, but former defense secretary, former CIA director, former U.S. congressman, former chief of staff at the White House.

Leon Panetta, thank you for your public service in so many ways, sir.

Up next: President Trump says he`s ready to strike a deal on immigration. But his base, you know, the right-wingers out there, have nothing -- they want nothing to do with it. In fact, Ann Coulter called yesterday`s show of bipartisanship on the issue the lowest days of his presidency.

Hmm. Maybe he`s doing something good to get her after him.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Yesterday`s freewheeling and at times chaotic immigration meeting with bipartisan members of Congress left many on the right wing and the left confused.

Many of President Trump`s statements yesterday stood in sharp contrast to things he had said on the campaign trail. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: And we don`t need a 2,000-mile wall. We don`t need a wall where you have rivers and mountains and everything else protecting it.

Oh, we will build a wall. This guy is -- don`t worry about it. It will be a great wall. It will be a real wall, folks.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: I feel having the Democrats in with us is absolutely vital, because this should be a bipartisan bill. This 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 border.

Ted Cruz, who, by the way, is very, very weak on illegal immigration -- so is Rubio, very weak on illegal immigration.

And Bush is so weak that he calls it an act of love, right?

I will take the heat. I don`t care. I don`t care. I will take all the heat you want to give me.

QUESTION: And the DREAM Act and DACA?

TRUMP: You`re going to have to. We have to make a whole new set of standards.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Can you follow that?

Anyway, yesterday`s 54-minute media availability gave some of Trump`s supporters whiplash and left many of them wondering what exactly was behind the shift.

Let`s watch them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANN COULTER, AUTHOR, "IN TRUMP WE TRUST": When Kevin McCarthy is the hard- liner on immigration in the room, I think we can call this the lowest day in the Trump presidency.

I mean, he was clearly trying to overcome the bad press of this Michael Wolff book by showing, oh, he`s in command, but, in fact, what he did was fulfill every description of him in the Michael Wolff book. Lou, this is a disaster. It was the lowest day of his presidency.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Hmm.

Well, today, President Trump was asked to clarify his position by the conservative newspaper "The Washington Examiner." Let`s take a look at that answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Would you be willing to sign an immigration deal that ultimately did not include funding for the border wall, or would that be a red line for you?

TRUMP: No. No.

QUESTION: No?

TRUMP: It`s got to include the wall. We need the wall for security. We need the wall for safety.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, in another interesting reversal, ironically, on the same day Breitbart ousted Steve Bannon, the White House announced that the president would be attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

That means Trump will now be rubbing elbows with the same global elites he railed against during the campaign.

So, what`s with the president`s newfound goodwill and bipartisanship? And does the Republican Party`s bleak 2018 prospects have something to do with it? I think so.

So, stay tuned. We will be getting into all of them with the Roundtable tonight.

I think Trump is changing because he`s scared to death he`s going to lose the House, and lose the House, which has subpoena power, and that means impeachment. And that`s why he`s decided to be Mr. Reasonable in the last 24 hours.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump made a nod to his lengthy televised discussion on immigration today during his first cabinet meeting of the year. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Welcome back to the studio. Nice to have you. Yesterday we had a bipartisan meeting with House members and senators on immigration reform, something they`ve been talking about for many, many years but we brought them together in this room and it was a tremendous meeting. Actually, it was reported as incredibly good and my performance, you know, someone of them called it a performance, I consider it work, but had great reviews.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Whoa. Anyway, what accounts for the president`s shifting views on DACA, on his new found interest in bipartisan?

Let`s bring in the roundtable for that. Donna Edwards is a former Democratic U.S. congresswoman from Maryland. Chris Wilson is a Republican pollster and former executive director of the Texas Republican Party. And Annie Linskey is a national political reporter for the "Boston Globe".

Let me start in that order. What`s he up to? I mean, it seems like the whole thing is, there`s a Potemkin village, he has to show he`s mister I listen to all sides, which he doesn`t.

He acted reasonable. He made a show. He made a joke about it. This is post-modern, however you call it. My kids used that term.

He calls it a studio. He`s calling his cabinet room a studio because it`s all just for show.

Your thoughts, Donna?

FORMER REP. DONNA EDWARDS (D), MARYLAND: He talks about his performance. I mean, I don`t think there`s any real strategy here. What I do believe is that President Trump doesn`t have any core beliefs and so when you don`t, you just grab at anything depending on who you`re talking to.

You can see in that meeting he`s talking to Dianne Feinstein. She`s making a case and he`s nodding and he agrees. No strategy.

MATTHEWS: He`s playing to the one in front of him. I know pols like that. But is that all it is?

I think it`s all reaction. I think that Wolff book shook him to his core because it`s true, because the people around him are fearful that they`re basically baby-sitters and it`s scary to him that he`s being seen by his own people that way. So, he has to create this whole new reality that he`s reasonable, he has meetings with people and he listens.

CHRIS WILSON, FORMER EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, TEXAS REPUBLICAN PARTY: So, we`re into season two of the presidency I guess is what they were supposed to. You know, there`s two schools of thought here. One is that he`s taken a Clintonian approach of triangulating, moving to the middle on immigration. I would call it more the Jeb Bush approach to the Republican primary which worked out really well.

MATTHEWS: But Jeb Bush believed it.

WILSON: He did, that`s right. That`s part of the difference. I mean, to your point.

I think the other aspect of it is, is he is now trying to dial that back because he recognizes very quickly that the base that elected him, both in the primary and general election, is now rejecting this action and it has the -- it probably puts the Republican majority even more in peril if it wasn`t much.

MATTHEWS: I`m a pamphlet (ph) political analyst, I don`t know much about anything else except movies. But I know one thing, Annie, politics.

ANNIE LINSKEY, BOSTON GLOBE: Yes.

MATTHEWS: The other day, he gets a briefing out at Camp David from all of the leaders of the house and Senate. And their job is to get themselves re-elected and hold the majority.

LINSKEY: Yes.

MATTHEWS: They said we`re in trouble. We`re losing a member -- every day, they`re jumping ship. There`s the new guy today, Darrell Issa jumping ship. They`re all leaving the boat.

LINSKEY: Yes.

MATTHEWS: They`re saying to him, we`re going to lose the suburbs. We`re going to lose the burbs around the big cities. You`re going to lose the House. That means they have the power of what do you call it -- power of subpoena?

LINSKEY: Subpoena, right.

MATTHEWS: Once you get subpoena power, that`s impeachment, because the Black Caucus is already, the left, the Democratic Party is already for impeachment, many of them, and you`re finished.

LINSKEY: Yes.

MATTHEWS: So you better sharpen up and get the suburbs under control. What did he do yesterday? He acted suburban.

LINSKEY: Right.

MATTHEWS: Reasonable, tolerant, negotiating, compromising. It was like he was running in the Philly suburbs.

LINSKEY: Well, I know. I think, you know, you said this is sort of a post-modern meeting. I would say it`s a post-Camp David meeting.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

LINSKEY: I think there`s no question that Republican leaders when they talked to Trump laid out the map. I mean, the House map, the Republicans if they lose 24 seats, they lose their majority and that --

MATTHEWS: They`ve lost 18 guys by retirement as of today.

LINSKEY: That is terrifying. And this is something that, you know, the Republicans that I talk to, whether they are, you know, never Trumpers, whether they`re libertarians, wherever they come from in the sort of Republican tent, they are all worried about losing House seats and just the question is how many are we going to lose? So, 24 is the magic number there.

But then you go over to the Senate, a chamber which if you look at the map, it should be a slam dunk for Republicans and suddenly, losing -- you know, losing Alabama, it begins to make you wonder, gosh, could you also lose Arizona and could there even be two seats up in Arizona and lose both of them or lose one of the two of them? Because your -- the map has changed so much.

So I think what he saw is Trump perhaps scared by that book certainly, but Trump scared by what he heard.

MATTHEWS: The big bad Wolff book.

LINSKEY: Anyway, at that cabinet meeting today, President Trump added another item to his 2018 agenda. It comes in the wake of a publication of that book, Michael Wolff`s "Fire and Fury". Let`s listen to his latest idea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We are going to take a strong look at our country`s liable laws so that when somebody says something that is false and defamatory about someone, that person will have meaningful recourse in our courts. Our current liable laws are a sham and a disgrace and do not represent American values or American fairness. So, we`re going to take a strong look at that. We want fairness.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So much for the First Amendment. First, he wanted to stop publication of the book and now he wants to sue the people who published it with the implication that it`s dishonest. That`s how he`s going to win the case in court.

What? Nobody is saying this book isn`t true.

EDWARDS: He can take a strong look but he`s not going to find anything. I mean, the president thinks that he lives someplace else, that he`s not governed by a Constitution.

MATTHEWS: He lives in London.

EDWARDS: The First Amendment. I mean, he clearly doesn`t understand that.

And, really, if I had a dollar for every time as a public official somebody said something I didn`t like, that wasn`t true, I`d be as wealthy as Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: Nobody ever criticizes you.

Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, each of them will tell us something we don`t know.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump said yesterday that he would beat Oprah Winfrey if she dared to run against him in 20. Well, today, we heard from the competition on the Democratic side. Senator Elizabeth Warren, a leading contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination, had this to say about a possible Oprah bid. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oprah Winfrey for president. Your thoughts?

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: You know, wasn`t that a fabulous speech? And hearing Oprah`s voice and her energy and her passion and her determination, it`s inspiring to all of us. And, she shows great leadership. And I`m delighted that she`s doing it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Delighted that she may run for president?

WARREN: You know, that`ll be up to Oprah. I don`t think anyone tells Oprah what to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with the roundtable.

Donna Edwards, tell me something I don`t know?

EDWARDS: Well, if you go to Maryland and you look at Maryland`s 9,800 DACA recipients --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

EDWARDS: -- our state, like other states around the country, are going to realize that this is millions and millions of dollars that`s going to come out of their GDP. They`re not going to stand for it.

MATTHEWS: You mean, if the people are grabbed?

EDWARDS: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: Chris? A nice name.

WILSON: Thank you.

The Republicans passed term limits for committee chairman. At this point of the committee chairman that took over in 2013, five of the six have announced the retirement with that ruling.

MATTHEWS: Why are they all leaving?

WILSON: They don`t want to serve in leadership anymore. They`re just done. They`re done. Mike McConnell is the last one standing.

MATTHEWS: Why are 18 Republicans leaving as of today?

WILSON: They don`t want to run in these seats. They don`t want Trump at the top of the ticket. They don`t want to run in an unpopular environment. And, frankly, in some cases, they want to move on and do something else with their lives, which is not a bad place to be.

MATTHEWS: Guys in their early 60s make -- and women -- make that decision. If there`s a life to lead somewhere else, they tend to quit at that age.

WILSON: They think they may have something else they can be in their lives, right?

MATTHEWS: That they`re useful.

LINSKEY: Earmarks, the president started talking about bringing back earmarks.

MATTHEWS: What`s an earmark?

LINSKEY: It`s a pet project that members of Congress --

MATTHEWS: And you attach it to a bill.

LINSKEY: Attach to a bill, like a purse museum or something like that.

And the interest thing about earmarks is conservative groups tried very hard to get rid of them and they succeeded. Their biggest ally in that fight was a congressman from Indiana known as Mike Pence. And his chief of staff at the time, who was Marc Short, now the legislative director at the White House.

So, the president has some convincing to do sort of within his own ranks.

MATTHEWS: I think it helps the president to bring in, if it`s a close vote in the House, he can get a couple votes with earmarks.

Anyway, thank you, former Congresswoman Donna Edwards of Maryland, Chris Wilson, which just joined us, and Annie Linskey, a good friend of ours.

When we return, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch".

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Trump Watch", Wednesday, January 10th, 2018.

We all know the story of the frog and the pot. You raise the heat ever so slowly, the frog hardly notices as the pot is climbing in degrees until it is too late and the frog is part of the soup.

Donald Trump has raised the sleaze in our country`s public life every moment since he first entered into it. He called the president of the United States an African-American, a foreigner, someone who had snuck into the country and assumed an American identity. Well, then he covered each of his Republican rivals with sleaze, then topped it off by calling his general election rival "crooked", crooked Hillary.

And the country let him get away with that. His allies loving it, his opponents assuming it was a part of the act, another infantilism, the kind we gotten used to after all those months of wiping the floor with the faces of those Republicans he dirtied.

And today, he called one of the country`s finest public servants sneaky Dianne Feinstein. He said that of a person who led her city of San Francisco with cool and stoic courage in a moment of horror, who as mayor and then all these years as United States senator with dignity and wisdom and I say, greatness. I don`t look up to all of those who hold public office, of course, but I do look up to her, because you cannot fake dignity or wisdom or greatness.

And with his sleazy attack on Feinstein today for daring to bring to light information about the Russia investigation, Trump has brought the civil life of this country to a new level of incivility. He`s made it normal, if we dare use that term, to call your opponent, no matter who it is, anything, no matter what it is. Donald Trump, congratulations. You have made this country a land where sleaze is the political environment itself. And that`s saying something, sir.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END

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