Show: HARDBALL Date: January 11, 2018 Guest: Terry McAuliffe, Frank Figliuzzi, Alexi McCammond, Jeff Mason
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: The voice of America? Let`s play HARDBALL. Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington with breaking news tonight.
President Trump reportedly told lawmakers what he really thinks about immigrants from other countries. "The Washington Post" was first to report on a meeting today in the oval office. Lawmakers pushed to restore protections for immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries. And according to "the Post," Trump responded, why are we having all these people from -- you see it there on the screen, blank whole countries. He was referring to Haiti and African countries. He then suggested that the United States should instead bring more people from countries like Norway.
If the President is trying to play down the idea that he`s unfit for his office, it`s not working. I`m joined right now by "The New York Times" chief White House correspondent, Peter Baker, Maria Teresa Kumar, president/CEO of Voto Latino and the former chair of the Republican National Committee Michael Steele.
Michael, I want to start with you about the President. And this is sort of like his own - well, he on good behavior this week. He had a 50-minute meeting in front of the cameras. He is trying to show he`s reasonable on things like DACA and then he drops this bomb, basically trashing 57 countries and Africa, a number of the countries in the Caribbean, all of them African-American or African in ethnicity. He is making a reference to them, which is a terrible term. We have shown it up on the screen. What`s he up to? Slip of the tongue or pure Trump?
PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: No. No, not slip of the tongue. This is exactly what he believes. This confirms the story that my colleague, Michael Sheer and Julie Davis reported around Christmastime. That last year in a meeting with his top advisers, he said very similar things about both people from Haiti and from Africa. He said people from Haiti, we are talking about immigrants. He says why do we let them in, they all have "Aids," unquote? He said if people are let in from Africa, you know, they will never want to go back to their huts in Africa.
The comments today seem to confirm the same spirit of his beliefs. The White House denied that at the time, but they are not denying this today. So, you know, I think that it reveals a lot about his attitude towards immigration, his attitude towards people from certain countries coming in towards the United States.
MATTHEWS: Well, I can`t say the word -- I refuse to, anyway, on television.
But Maria, let me ask you about this question. Everybody in Africa, I mean, there is newspaper nervous one of those countries. Tomorrow morning, you have the newspaper, the President calls us holes, you know, (INAUDIBLE) holes or whatever word or language they are using that day.
MARIA TERESA KUMAR, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I think he actually -- he continues to diminish the role and the power and leadership that people have always looked to for the United States, for America. If anything, if he is going against our DNA, a country of immigrants that welcome individual that want to come in and build the American dream. And what is interesting though -- .
MATTHEWS: But these are all black countries.
KUMAR: Well, he was also referring to -- he was referring to specifically to temporary protective status.
MATTHEWS: Yes, but he referred to countries in Africa.
KUMAR: But it also -- it also includes Nicaragua, El Salvador, so he was basically compiling these individuals. And this --
MATTHEWS: But then saying he preferred Norway as a country of origin. I think you get the message.
KUMAR: Well, I think he`s cementing what he is trying to do with his immigration policy, and that is very much --
KUMAR: Right. Well, he is nationalist. And he is basically trying to purify --
MATTHEWS: Are Norwegians more American than people from Kenya?
KUMAR: The moment that you get here, whether you are Kenyan or Norwegian, you are American.
MATTHEWS: Michael, what do you make of this? Is the President speaking for the United States? He is our chief of state. He represents us not just politically, but as a country and a people. He gets caught now. Everybody now knows what he thinks.
MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: I think that very candid moment reflects not just a particular attitude of the President, but it reflects an attitude that is a growing one among a significant portion of white Americans who have a concern about the browning of this country.
STEELE: And what does immigration really mean for them? Not for the immigrants coming to the nation. Not for the immigrants who are seeking freedom, economic opportunity, or whatever their journey may lead them to desire. But what does it mean to me, in my protected status, in my community, in the view, in my view of what America is? So, this is an honest reflection of what the man thinks and feels. But it`s also, we have to be honest about this, an honest reflection of how a lot of Americans feel when they look at an immigrant from Africa, from the Caribbean, or from Asia.
MATTHEWS: You know, you could say hellhole, you could say things that talk about the violence in those countries and how frightening it is, but this is a diminishment of the people themselves.
Anyway, the White House responded in a statement tonight, certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries. But President Trump will always fight for the American people. The press will only accept an immigration deal that adequately addresses the visa lottery system and chain migration, two programs that hurt our economy and allow terrorists into our countries. Note, they didn`t deny what he said.
What do you make of that, Peter? There is no denial here. They are not playing that game.
BAKER: Yes. No, that is not a denial. It`s not a denial at all. And it`s quite striking. Again, you know, they did deny it at Christmas when they reported him saying that these types of things. They are not denying it now. And I think, you know, I think that they can`t.
I mean, there are too many people in the room who don`t work for President Trump, who can testify to what he said here. And, you know, it is endemic of -- it is indicative, I think, of his point of view toward these specific countries. And I think that the senators in the room, both Senator Durbin and Senator Graham, a Democrat and a Republican, are advocates of immigration reform. They would like to create a system that both enhances security while also giving a pathway to citizenship for many of the people who are here illegally. But you can see how that issue is complicated by a President who has made his mark on the other side of that divide.
MATTHEWS: The crazy aspect of this, it`s not just a bad word he used in the way it diminishes people and who they are, not just their situation, but who they are. But this thing about Kim Jong-un this week, I`m telling you, the President said late this afternoon, today, that you know, he has this great working relationship with Kim Jong-un, a guy who he has called rocket man.
Look at this. Here`s more of the breaking news. In an interview with "the Wall Street Journal" today, the President talked about the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. He said, I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong-un. And I have relationships with people. That`s like, I know words. I think people were surprised.
What is this make? Asked if he has spoken, I spoken with the North Korean leader. He says I don`t want to comment on that. I`m not saying I have or haven`t, I just don`t want to comment.
Well, the President has used some alarming rhetoric, of course, about Kim Jong-un in the past. Last week he tweeted, I too have a nuclear button, but it is a much bigger and more powerful one than his and my button works. And of course, he taunts Kim Jong-un with a nickname. Watch him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Michael, you were leader of a political party for a while and I just wonder what leaders have the responsibility to keep from screwing up. Why is he taunting somebody with nuclear weapons?
STEELE: Well, that`s because --
MATTHEWS: Is that a normal, reasonable behavior?
STEELE: For him, yes.
MATTHEWS: Is it reasonable behavior?
STEELE: It`s not reasonable for those of us looking at it.
MATTHEWS: It`s typical of him, but not reasonable.
STEELE: It`s typical, but not reasonable.
KUMAR: Not for the office.
STEELE: Yes. And I think a lot of it has to do -- Donald Trump likes to go out there and find the most outrageous and loudest thing he can say, the big bang. Create the big bang and then see how everybody responds whether it`s Kim Jong-un, whether it`s our American media, no matter who it is. Now, then he comes back a little bit later on, once he has an assessment of things and goes, yes, we have a good relationship.
He redefines those terms on a daily basis for himself. It`s not about what we think. It`s not about what even Kim Jong-un thinks.
MATTHEWS: But what does it mean to say, I have a good relationship with a guy I trash every day?
KUMAR: Because I think fundamentally, he does not like not to be liked. It`s a relationship with "the New York Times." He says he hates "the New York Times," but all of a sudden he sits down and has lengthy conversations with them.
MATTHEWS: I think he has been erratic more so lately.
Peter, I`m sorry, I`m going to go back to my point. On DACA, he said he was for a clean bill on DACA, with Dianne Feinstein. A couple minutes later when Kevin McCarthy said, what about security, he said, OK, I don`t want a clean bill. He just flipping around, you know, like a fish in a boat. He is all over the place. And I just wonder, you are the paper of record. You write the big story in the front page. Do the analysis. Has he got it together, Peter?
BAKER: Well, another good example today of sort of on back and forth is that the FISA amendment would passed the Congress. This is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The House representatives was working to reauthorize this for six years. There was a big fight over whether to install more civil liberties protections in it.
The President of the United States watches FOX this morning, a FOX commentator says, hey, this is terrible, Mr. President. You need to do something. Directly addressing the President. And he tweets about it, basically seeming to suggest that it is a bad idea to renew this law. That`s entirely in contrast with his administration`s position.
Paul Ryan, the speaker panics -- not panics, he obviously becomes alarmed. He calls the President. And then after that conversation, the President tweets again saying, but I`m actually for passing this today. It`s really important. Clearly, didn`t understand the issue. He didn`t -- impulsively decided to tweet something about something he didn`t actually understand before having to be educated that he actually was for it before he was against it.
MATTHEWS: All of that today. Maria?
KUMAR: I actually think that the President is speaking to two audiences. He is speaking to the mainstream answer and then he is speaking to the alt- right audience. So what we witness during the conversation with Feinstein, when he said comprehensive immigration reform, most Americans are like, see, he is reasonable?
But then he went back and started talking about and drilling down on the wall, that`s all his folks are going to hear, because they are so much in literally all balkanized media tunnel, that they can`t hear an alternative conversation. And I think that the challenge is that he keeps pivoting, and that is actually what distracts us.
MATTHEWS: It`s a blur, that`s for sure.
Anyway, the country`s newspaper of record, as I mentioned, "New York Times," asked him in its lead editorial today, is the President of the United States nuts? That`s the lead editorial in "the New York Times" this morning.
And I think the country has entered some unchartered waters here. Even while it dismisses efforts to diagnose him as beside the point, "the New York Times" editorial notes Mr. Trump`s behavior in office, impulsive, erratic, dishonest, childish, crude, certainly proved that today, is so alarming and so far from what Americans expect in their chief executive that it cries out for a deeper explanation.
By the way, also, "the New Yorker" chief, editor-in-chief, David Remnick wrote last week. Quote "Trump is unfit to hold any public office, much less the highest in the land. The President of the United States has become a leading security threat to the United States." That`s David Remnick, editor-in-chief of "New Yorker" magazine.
Anyway, "Time" magazine`s new cover just out late today depicts Donald Trump with his hair on fire. The caption reads, Year one.
Michael, this is not isolated opinion. It is mainstream opinion.
STEELE: It is becoming more and more mainstream opinion. And the problem is, you will walk this very fine line about, you know, just you know, pop psychology and try to diagnose someone when you have no capacity to really do that. But the President`s words, actions, behaviors do give you some concern. Does raise that concern for a lot more people out there than we have seen over the past year. And so today, the example we are ta talking about tonight, just one more narrative that feeds into this overarching story line.
MATTHEWS: This captain (INAUDIBLE) thing, the king -- Humphrey Bogert`s losing it over the frozen strawberries and he keeps focusing on the frozen strawberries.
Well, this morning the frozen strawberries were Hillary Clinton again. The President Trump again tweeted about his former rival, Hillary Clinton. He wrote, did Dems or Clinton also pay Russians? Where are hidden and smashed DNC servers? Where are crooked Hillary emails? What a mess.
And yesterday, during a press conference with the Norwegian prime minister, the President attacked Clinton twice, both times unprompted. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: When you talk about interviews, Hillary Clinton had an interview where she wasn`t sworn in. She wasn`t given the oath. They didn`t take notice. They didn`t record. And it was done on the Fourth of July weekend. That`s, perhaps, ridiculous and a lot of people looked upon that as being a very serious breach and it really was.
I am for the strongest military that the United States ever had. Putin can`t love that. But Hillary was not more a strong military and Hillary, my opponent, was for windmills.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: There we go again, Peter. His obsession, it is like Hillary Clinton is living in his head, rent-free. He doesn`t -- she doesn`t even have to pay condo fees. She is just living in this guy`s head. He con -- imagine if you are talking to a Norwegian, by the way, the only country he wants people to come from, and he is talking not foreign ministers and he is talking about this person. He ran against apparently successfully a year-and-a-half ago. What is this with Hillary? Can you figure it out?
BAKER: Well, there are two things going on. One, obviously, this Russia probe is clearly on his mind. The Russia probe brings into question his election in 2016. In effect, he thinks, is challenging his legitimacy. So he is refighting that election again and again and again, partly because the Russia probe is so front and center. It`s not that he is bringing up completely at random.
Having said that, he also enjoys having a foil. He feels like he does better politically if he has an adversary to go against. And the Democrats don`t have another strong figure, a national figure right now to be his adversary. So Hillary Clinton continues to serve that role.
MATTHEWS: And I think a lot of people voted for Trump, because they didn`t like Hillary. So if he keeps reminding people how much they didn`t like Hillary, maybe they will like him. He must be thinking that, too and the sort of seesaw. Thing he believes it in caucus.
Anyway, just hours after President Trump called out Hillary Clinton, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway made this claim, I guess you can call it a claim. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You guys are frozen in that moment. That`s why you bring up Hillary Clinton. That`s why you are having her investigated.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: Chris, that`s not true.
CONWAY: Hey, Chris, nobody here talks about Hillary Clinton.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Nobody here. Isn`t the President here in the White House? Nobody here? Nobody here talks about Hillary Clinton, except, of course, him, here, again and again and again. Let`s watch.
TRUMP: Those were Hillary votes. Hillary Clinton.
Hillary had a great asset.
Hillary cheating on the debates, which, by the way, nobody mentions. Nobody mentions that Hillary received the questions to the debates. Hillary Clinton gave them 20 percent of our uranium. Hillary Clinton did a reset, remember, with the stupid plastic button that made us all look like a bunch of jerks.
Hillary Clinton -- that was a reset.
Do you think Hillary would have asked for $700 million -- oh, boy, I hope you -- I assume you wanted her to win.
Hillary Clinton tried so hard --
The Clinton campaign --
Hillary was going to cut the budget.
Oh, I hope Hillary -- is she going to run? I hope. Hillary, please run again.
As Hillary said.
Hillary Clinton lied many times to the FBI.
Hillary Clinton investigation.
Hillary Clinton, the DNC, and the Russians.
Hillary Clinton had an interview.
Oh, these resisters resist.
Hillary resisted, and you know what happened? She lost the election in a landslide.
MATTHEWS: It`s like an old torch. An old girlfriend he can`t get over in a weird way. And obviously, perversely, he can`t get her out of his head. What is this? What do you make of it, Maria?
KUMAR: I think, one is, absolutely what our colleague was saying is that it`s a way to deflect in a foil so they can remind how much --
MATTHEWS: You think it`s intellectual. You are giving this guy a lot of - -
KUMAR: Not so much - well, I actually think he is savvier than we want to give him credit for. And he is beating us. He is beating and creating the narrative. We are talking about this gentlemen every single day while he is distracting --
MATTHEWS: Well, we have some numbers coming up that defy that argument very strongly. People do think he is adamant.
KUMAR: Yes. But the conversations we are having right now is distracting us --
STEELE: He drives the narrative. He drives the narrative. And the Hillary narrative is one that does a couple of things. One, it gives him a foil, as was noted. At some place he can go play safely. And two, it feeds that base that has had Hillary until their cross since 1992. And so, there`s --
MATTHEWS: That`s what I think it is. But he`s part of that base.
KUMAR: He is.
STEELE: Replaying those scenes over and over again.
MATTHEWS: It reminds me -- no, I don`t want to say it.
Anyway, thank you, Peter Baker. Thank you, Maria Teresa Kumar and Michael Steele. It is great to have you on. A strange night here after the President use of that term in defining the reality of life in Africa and some Caribbean countries. Not a nice word. This is going to haunt this country, our country for a long time. They are not going to forget what our President said about their places of birth.
Coming up, aside from the questions about his fitness for office, Trump also doesn`t seem to have a basic grasp, big surprise here, on the issues. He proved it again today, blasting an accepted U.S. security measure ahead of a House vote before changing his position less than two hours later. And that`s coming up.
Plus, one of the Democrats` best positions to take on Trump in 20. I`m going to ask outgoing Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, and he really is outgoing, about his party`s chances in 2020.
Oprah, I`m going to ask him about her. And also Trump`s unhealthy obsession with his friend, Terry McAuliffe`s friend, Hillary Clinton.
And according to the "Washington Post," Trump has now made 2,000 false statements since becoming President. That`s 2,000. And no one around him seems willing or able to stop the stream of falsehoods coming out of his mouth.
Finally, let me finish tonight with this year, it`s only just begun, 2018.
And this is "Hardball," where the action is.
MATTHEWS: According to a new Quinnipiac poll, a majority of American voters think that President Trump is smart. But that doesn`t mean they consider him fit to serve. The poll found that 53 percent of voters think that Trump is intelligent compared to 44 percent who believe he is not. But 57 percent think that he is not fit to serve as President of the United States and a whopping 69 percent, seven in ten, say Trump is not levelheaded.
We will be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. TERRY MCAULIFFE (D), VIRGINIA: It is a historic night here in the Commonwealth of Virginia. I am so proud of the campaign that was run by my lieutenant governor, Ralph Northam.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
MCAULIFFE: But what I`m even more proud of is the accomplishments that he and I have had over the last four years. You made a choice for better schools, for better jobs, for better education, and better health care.
And you rejected Donald Trump`s fear, hatred, and bigotry.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe on election night back in November.
Ralph Northam`s win in the Virginia governor`s race this fall was a major victory for Democrats in 2017 and a defeat of the Trump playbook, as embraced by Republican Ed Gillespie, the Virginia Republican candidate for governor.
But as we saw in 2016, Democrats and Republicans haven`t had success going head-to-head against Trump himself. Democrats will hope to replicate what happened in Virginia across the country in 2018, of course, but with the 2020 field still wide open, who can be the Democrat, the person to stand up to Donald Trump?
For more, let`s turn to Virginia`s governor, Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe.
Terry, my friend, Governor, my friend, thank you.
You`re very -- a very serious face you`re giving me right now, so I`m worried. What do you make of this president using this term, I guess I can say craphole, but much worse than that, describing all the countries of Africa, all African countries, North Africa, referring to some countries from the Caribbean, poor countries, where people come here out of desperation, if you will, and referring to them in the way he did?
What does that say about his fulfilling the role as chief of state, as the representative of our country -- of our country?
MCAULIFFE: He`s an embarrassment to our country.
He comes off looking like a lunatic saying things like this, disparaging individuals. You know, we need to bring this country together. We need to work together. He just doesn`t have the ability to be able to do it. He is hurting everyone`s ability to grow jobs and do what we need to do to be successful.
That`s why, in Virginia last area, we swept all three statewide offices, and we won, Chris, 15 House delegate seats. That`s the most since the 1880s. It was a great affirmation of our four years, and it was a great repudiation of Donald Trump and the things that he does and the things that he says.
MATTHEWS: You`re a student of politics, besides being a practitioner and a leader. What do you make of the Republican Party?
I didn`t think I would ask this, but I have to, because it will come up tomorrow and the days ahead after this comment by the president tonight, this awful statement about our attitude. It`s racist. It`s whatever you want to say. It`s awful. This is a country of immigrants. He`s referring to the people most desperately coming here in the way he did.
What do you make of the Republican Party lockstep, like lemmings, every single one of them? And it seems no matter what the issue is, even people I respect like Lindsey Graham, jumping in line with him, trying to trash the investigation of him on the Russian front.
What is it about Republicans that makes them so martinets, just marching along like North Korean soldiers, doing what -- goose-stepping, if you will, at least their goose-stepping? What do you make of that?
MCAULIFFE: Very sad, disappointing.
I can tell you that`s what happened here in Virginia. And that`s why we crushed them last November in the election. And coming up this year, we`re going to win the House, we`re going to win Senate back. And part of the problem is...
MATTHEWS: You think the Senate? You think the Senate?
MCAULIFFE: I think we -- you look at what happened here, Chris,we had 300,000 more people show up than have ever showed up in an off-year.
People are engaged; 92 million people stayed home in `16, and they woke up and said, oh, how did this happen? They`re not sitting home anymore. They have had it with Trump. They have had it with his divisive tactics.
And I`m telling you, you`re going to see a renaissance across the security. It`s a repudiation of the Republicans. And they not coming out and attacking him for the horrible things he says, they`re right in the same bucket, right in the same pot with Trump. And they are going to pay a huge price in the polls.
MATTHEWS: Somehow along the line, just because I like to cause trouble, I can`t stand the fact that a lot of people on the Democratic side, progressive side, even left, center-left people, think it`s enough to dump on Trump.
I don`t think it works that way. It`s not a seesaw, he goes down, you go up. I don`t think it`s always that way.
MATTHEWS: I think what you have been doing -- and I`m not blowing smoke here -- I think you have got some good comments. You were talking about your unemployment rate. What is in Virginia when you left office, the rate of unemployment?
MCAULIFFE: we -- I announced last night we have gone from 5.4 to 3.7.
MATTHEWS: Well, 3.7.
MCAULIFFE: We have brought in $20 billion of new capital. We`re down to 3.7. Our unemployment initial claim just reached a 44-year low.
My budget growth for the first six months of this year is 5.9 percent. We are doing it in Virginia. Record investment in education, $1 billion K-12. We have reformed transportation. We have -- our economy is humming today. We are a different state.
But, Chris, we have made Virginia open and welcome. I have got rid of the horrible anti-women, anti-LGBT legislation. I have vetoed all of it. We have put it to bed. We`re a new state today. Four years ago, when I took office, a record budget deficit of $2.4 billion. I am leaving office with the largest surplus in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia on Saturday, when I leave office.
MATTHEWS: Back to Trump, what he does is, he seems to have an ability to intimidate his opponents. He takes people who are level-headed, like Jeb Bush, and makes them look weak. He says low-energy Jeb, and it works.
MATTHEWS: He refers to somebody as little Marco because he`s not as tall as he is, or he finds anybody`s weakness and turns it into something is that destroys his opponent.
I know Hillary`s a friend of yours and she`s a strong person, but even -- he did that thing of leaving over her in that weird kind of, I don`t know what, Godzilla way during the debate. What would you do in a debate with him if he tried that? If he came over and leaned over back of you, what would you do?
MCAULIFFE: You would have to pick him up off the floor.
MATTHEWS: OK. OK, you mean, you would deck him?
MCAULIFFE: Listen, this guy got in my space, you want to get in my space, I have always said, Chris, you punch me, I`m going to punch you back twice as hard. And it wouldn`t be hard to do it.
This guy thinks he can intimidate everybody. It`s disgraceful. It`s embarrassing. But I tell you, when we take him on back in his face with the facts, don`t take anything from him and hit him back as hard as you possibly can.
But if he ever came over and leaned on me and got in my space, that would be the last time Donald Trump ever did that, I promise you that.
MATTHEWS: You sound like an Irish-American politician.
Terry McAuliffe, thank you for coming on HARDBALL tonight.
MCAULIFFE: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: What a performance.
MCAULIFFE: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: That will go down -- that will go viral, sir, I can tell you.
Coming up: Trump`s big flip-flop today. He was against a critical security measure before he was for it, all over the place on surveillance. And his own party was baffled by his changing positions once again.
And that`s ahead. This is HARDBALL -- what a night -- where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back HARDBALL.
President Trump bungled his position on a key policy today, undermining his administration`s message just hours before a crucial vote on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Around 7:30 this morning, the president tweeted: "House votes on controversial Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act today. This is the act that may have been used with the help of the discredited and phony dossier to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump campaign by the previous administration and others."
Well, the reaction from stunned lawmakers was swift. According to Axios, sources in GOP leadership were horrified by a tweet they consider wildly irresponsible. That`s because the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allows a judge to warrant surveillance on foreigners suspected of espionage or terrorism, something the intelligence community says is essentially to national security.
Yet Trump`s tweet suggested, because he claims the government spied on him, we shouldn`t be able to spy on our country`s enemies. Not only that, but the president`s tweet contradicted his own stated policy that the act should be reauthorized.
Well, two hours after his first tweet, the president reversed course, saying: "Today`s vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land. We need it. get smart."
Of course, the president was wrong on that point, because the act also allows for surveillance of foreign agents within the United States.
Joining me now is Frank Figliuzzi, former director for counterintelligence at the FBI and an MSNBC News national security contributor. And Andrea Mitchell is chief foreign affairs correspondent for NBC News.
I want to start with Andrea about this, because there`s a pattern this week that really abounds, which is President Trump, maybe because he`s under pressure because of this book that`s come out, personalizes all policy questions, whether it`s libel laws or its intelligence-gathering, counterintelligence.
Everything seems to go back to his sense of what it does to him.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it also shows, in an incredible way, that he`s not only at war with the intelligence community, but that he`s not taking in the information that they`re giving him.
His own favored CIA director is strongly in favor of this. His own White House put out a statement last night promoting the passage today of the House version of the bill.
And this is something that his intelligence agencies have been working on for months and months with leaders in both parties, against the advice of some libertarians, like Rand Paul, and some liberals very concerned about privacy, also, like Ron Wyden.
But this was strongly supported by the entire intelligence community. And for him to come out 30 minutes after "FOX & Friends" this morning did a segment opposing it and appealing to the conspiracy theory, the same conspiracy theories that have driven the president about whether or not he was being eavesdropped on by the Obama White House -- not true -- which prompted another tweet that got him into a lot of difficulties, this was basically telling all the leaders on the Hill and foreign leaders and our adversaries that this president does not understand the basic law and was ignoring his own White House.
I mean, it was an incredible act of self-destruction, if you will, because it set the hair on fire. You had Paul Ryan calling him personally. You had the White House trying to repair it and then, two hours later, getting it walked back.
And there was mayhem, John Kelly running to the hill, to the speaker`s lobby right off the floor, you know, grabbing people and saying, don`t go against it.
Nancy Pelosi saying to Ryan, let`s pull the bill. You know, we can`t let it go down.
This is something they have worked on for months. And the president did not understand it.
MATTHEWS: Frank, one thing presidents of either party and throughout history have been jealous about is intelligence. They always want to know what`s going on and who`s coming at this country. They want to arm their people, so that they`re as best as possible prepared to catch people in the act.
Why wouldn`t he love FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act? Why wouldn`t he love it?
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, MSNBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, look, Chris, what we saw this morning may have nothing to do with collusion, but it has a whole lot to do with confusion.
And I think the president is really confused when it comes to differentiating between his own self-interests and national interests. So he`s willing to tweet something that may undermine passage of a key technique used in the intelligence community against terrorists, against spies.
Why? Because he thinks it was used against him. And, by the way, there is no evidence to date that he was ever the subject of electronic surveillance. The FBI director said it didn`t happen. The director of national intelligence, Clapper, said it didn`t happen.
But yet he`s willing to put self-interest over national interest. Chris, it`s the same thing we`re seeing with regard to his approach on the special counsel inquiry. Why haven`t we seen a plan come out of the White House to deal with foreign meddling in elections? Because the president seems to think that, if he does that and acknowledges foreign meddling, it somehow is against his own self-interest.
That`s what`s governing the day today, his self-interest.
MATTHEWS: Well, Andrea, you and I have been around. So, we know how people normally get information. They rely on the papers of -- newspapers of record. They rely on their own intelligence, their own Cabinet. They rely on their own staff.
Trump seems to rely on the media that he likes to listen to, because it seems to be conspiratorial, as we have suggested. It seems to offer an alternative view from the established view of reality. And then he acts on it.
I guess that`s the scary part, when you jump and run and you start tweeting based on what you just heard on FOX or any other source.
MITCHELL: Well, especially when you`re reacting to conspiracy theories that appeal to the worst part of your own psychology.
Look, he trusts Mike Pompeo. And his own CIA director has briefed him on this. Tom Bossert had briefed him on this.
MITCHELL: So, you know, he doesn`t have to read to take this kind of information in. This is verbal -- you know, verbal briefings that he`s getting in the Oval Office every single day at 11:00 a.m.
MITCHELL: And it`s just inexplicable that, on the very day of the vote, he would do this.
And I can`t overemphasize what this does to his reputation with the people in both parties on Capitol Hill.
MATTHEWS: Well said.
MITCHELL: Because, for all the attempts to dispute the basic narrative, with whatever factual errors there have been, in the Wolff book, he totally took down his own counternarrative today.
And even his press secretary showing in her briefing that she did not understand the difference between two aspects of the 702 law, the surveillance law.
MATTHEWS: Well, not only that, but what you hit on there, I think, is very important, Andrea, and that is that Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, is somebody he really does trust, who is probably up for a bigger job still. We all talk about he might get A.G. or something.
It`s the guy he really -- the person he really relies on. And if he doesn`t really rely on the one person he really relies on, it`s just like the book. It`s just like Michael Wolff`s book. He doesn`t rely or trust anybody inside. He only trusts the conspiracy theories he hears from strange sources.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, Andrea Mitchell, thank you. It`s a scary story, as you know. Frank Figliuzzi, thank you, sir, for your time tonight.
Up next, back to our top story, President Trump`s language about immigrants and the countries they come from. We can`t even use the word here. It`s not nice. But he was talking -- it`s going to be on the front page of every African newspaper tomorrow morning, you watch, and a lot of Caribbean newspapers.
You can`t refer to people`s countries of origin as that.
Plus: The president crosses a major milestone.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We`re back now with the breaking story tonight that the president of the United States, our voice of America, referred to Haiti and the African continent as a hole with a vulgar word. You see it there on your screen right now. I can`t say it, I don`t want to.
The White House did not deny that the president, in fact, made that very statement about the entire continent of Africa and a few parts of our own hemisphere.
For more, I`m joined by the HARDBALL roundtable: Geoff Bennett, White House correspondent for NBC News, Alexi McCammond, who`s reporter and editor with "Axios", and Jeff Mason, White House correspondent for "Reuters".
I want to start at that end and come this way. What do you make of the president`s -- this is going to be all over the world tomorrow. You can say what you want, that word begins with a bad word and ends with "hole" is going to be everywhere in the world, because he`s calling those countries that.
JEFF MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: Yes. Well, for sure. And using that kind of language is going to not only ruffle feathers, it`s going to offend, for sure. According to a source familiar with that meeting, he wasn`t trying to use a slur. He was trying to talk about using unskilled versus skilled laborers and saying, why would we take unskilled workers from this country when we could take skilled workers from another country. But that context aside, it`s going to offend.
MATTHEWS: So he said, Norway is where we need to go for refugees. Your thoughts, Alexi?
ALEXI MCCAMMOND, REPORTER AND EDITOR, AXIOS: He constantly creates this us versus them dynamic, right? It`s him and everyone who doesn`t look like him is against him. And he doesn`t even trying to understand these people`s lives, or what they live like. We heard this on the campaign. When he said to African-American citizens in the United States, what do you have to lose, right? Painted them as being so down and out.
And that is setting a dangerous and abnormal precedent for years to come for what it means to be modern day presidential, as he sort of blames this behavior on time and again. And a Republican close to Republican leaders in the White House told "Axios" that the only way he can stay sane in Trump`s Washington is by ignoring everything Trump says. But I don`t think this can go ignored.
MATTHEWS: Who`s this guy who says that?
MCCAMMOND: A Republican who`s close to Republican leaders in the White House.
MATTHEWS: You know, George W., I`m no big fan of his war policy, because I didn`t like his war, but George W. did a lot for Africa with PEPFAR, with fighting AIDS over there. And those countries in the polling showed they liked us for that. And now, all of that`s erased tomorrow morning`s newspaper over there. The statesman in Nairobi tomorrow, it`s going to be right at the top of the page.
GEOFF BENNETT, NBC NEWS: Chris, I think the president`s pejorative against Haiti and the 54 countries in Africa fits a pattern in this way. Back in 2013, he gave a speech at the conservative CPAC Conference and he openly lamented why there weren`t more European immigrants contrasted to what he called the illegal immigrants who he said would always vote Democratic, right?
BENNETT: So, at least, there`s one White House --
MATTHEWS: There`s 200 years of European immigrants, first of all.
BENNETT: That`s right. And I spoke to one White House official who thinks that this will resonate with the president`s base in much the same way.
MATTHEWS: That they`ll like this.
BENNETT: Against NFL players resonated.
MATTHEWS: You mean with taking a knee and --
BENNETT: That`s right, yes.
MATTHEWS: I think it`s grosser. Let`s talk about the president and his failure to speak with honesty. And he -- I`m not saying we can argue ten versus eight and he might be off by a number. He has had a pattern since he took office, and even before, of saying things which are just wrong.
Alexi, first of all, he went after -- let me go there -- "The Washington Post" has put it together. The president has now made more than 2,000 false statements since becoming president. "The Washington Post" says he`s averaging 5.6 false statements a day. Trump seems to have a reckless disregard for the truth, of course, and a particular penchant for bald- faced lies.
Here are some of them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The fact is, he doesn`t have a birth certificate. His grandma in Kenya said, oh, no, he was born in Kenya and I was there and I witnessed the birth.
Our current president came out of nowhere, came out of nowhere. In fact, I`ll go a step further. The people who went to school with him, they don`t even know -- they never saw him. They don`t know who he is. It`s crazy.
His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald`s being, you know, shot. I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous.
I guess it was the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan.
Obamacare covers very few people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Jeff Mason, he seems to get people and uses their ethnicity to turn them into the worst case. He says, well, Obama`s got an African name, so he`s from Africa. He`s got a guy Cuban-America, a guy who came here from Cuba -- oh, he killed Kennedy. I mean, he finds these little -- somebody`s Pocahontas. He plays every ethnic card he can play and turns it into the worst joke he can make, which he thinks is a joke.
And, by the way, his audience likes that stuff. They were laughing about Obama being some sort of phantom who never really went though these schools. So he knows their button, Jeff.
MASON: Well, I think it does sometimes resonate with people in his base. But whether it resonates or not, I think, I would turn the issue around and say, what is our responsibility as journalists, whether you`re a White House correspondent, whether you`re an anchor is to call out either the president of the United States or anybody else in public life who has a loose relationship with the truth.
And in many cases, that has been the case with President Donald Trump, with candidate Donald Trump, with president Donald Trump, and it`s our job to watch that and to point it out.
MATTHEWS: Alexi, do they believe that crowd when they chuckle for him, they just like -- it`s like FOX when they say, fair and balanced, everybody knows they`re not fair and balanced, being fair or balanced against us or something. They enjoy the joke, I think, right? They don`t think they`re middle of the road, obviously. They wouldn`t be watching it.
MATTHEWS: So when they say something, Obama is really an African and he snuck in the country. He really didn`t even have a name -- he didn`t even go to these schools. Nobody knew him at school.
Do they really believe that malarkey or just talk like Joe Biden, malarkey, or do they just enjoy the rub?
MCCAMMOND: Well, I think we see the way that far-right media, which largely supports Trump, pushes these same false and misleading claims on his part, which suggests to me that they believe it.
MATTHEWS: They believe that Ted Cruz`s dad helped knock off Kennedy?
MCCAMMOND: Right, they believe --
MCCAMMOND: Because they want to, because it`s entertaining, because they love Trump more than anything.
MATTHEWS: OK, Trump got more electoral votes than anybody since Reagan. Where`d he get that from?
BENNETT: Who knows? I mean, the thing is, lying is inherent in politics, right?
MATTHEWS: It is. You`re really pessimistic. You are cynic by saying inherent in politics to lie, OK? Go ahead.
BENNETT: What`s different about President Trump is that he continues to say things that don`t align with the facts, even once he knows --
MATTHEWS: You are such a gentlemen. I`m telling you. He must like hearing this stuff. That young man has it right. I`m not aligned with facts.
BENNETT: My point is, once President Obama knew the line, you know, if you like your doctor, you can keep it, once he knew that wasn`t true, he stopped saying it. President George W. Bush stopped making the point about WMDs in Iraq at some point. But President Trump has not shown the same ability to stop repeating --
MASON: And it`s different when you`re president as well, because of that bully pulpit.
MATTHEWS: Richard Nixon had shame. I think he was deeply ashamed of what he had done to his White House and his whole career and his family, and Trump doesn`t have that element.
MASON: I was just going to add, it`s different as well when you`re president of the United States. He got a lot of attention as a candidate. Donald Trump got a lot of attention as a businessman.
Now, he`s the president of the United States. The bully pulpit is his power. And it raises the stakes when you say something that`s not true.
MATTHEWS: Guess what? When you use that word about Africa, you`re speaking for us. As I said at the beginning of the show, this is the voice of America. You don`t have to like it.
MASON: He`s speaking for himself.
MATTHEWS: Well, the world hears an American president talking, not just Donald Trump. That`s the scary part and the awful part.
Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us and next they`re going to tell me something I don`t know. And what`s the buzz -- it`s going to be the buzz after these guys are done. They`re going to make buzz tonight in the next few minutes.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Roughly 215 workers at that Carrier plant out in Indianapolis are out of work starting today as the company moves more of its manufacturing jobs to Mexico. The news comes about a year after President- elect Trump traveled to that Carrier plant to tout a deal that would keep some of those jobs in this country.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Companies are not going to leave the United States anymore without consequences, not going to happen. It`s not going to happen. I`ll tell you right now. I just want to let all of the other companies know that we`re going to do great things for businesses. No reason for them to leave anymore.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, as part of the agreement struck by the Trump team, Carrier received millions in tax incentives and agreed to stay open in Indianapolis for 10 years. But the deal did not prevent the company from moving some jobs south to Mexico. Union members say they have been betrayed by Trump.
The former head of the local union said yesterday, Trump is a liar and an idiot, he`s a con man, pure and simple.
And we`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.
Geoff, tell me something I don`t know.
BENNETT: I reported earlier this week Democratic women plan to wear black to President Trump`s first State of the Union. They`re taking their cues from the actors who wore black to the Golden Globes. It`s a show of solidarity with the "Me Too" and "Time`s Up" anti-sexual harassment movements.
MCCAMMOND: Kevin Cramer announced he`s not running against Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota for his Senate seat.
MATTHEWS: Is that good for her?
MCCAMMOND: It`s good for her, and also for the 10 Dems who represent states Trump won, he`s five of the ten Republicans who have dropped out of those races. So, the GOP might not be able to take it back as easily as they think.
MATTHEWS: Doesn`t look like they`re optimistic.
MASON: President Trump is getting a physical tomorrow, but don`t expect --
MASON: He`s getting a physical --
MASON: -- that`s probably not going to include any nothing about his mental health.
MATTHEWS: Well, that would be an incomplete survey of his situation.
Anyway, thank you, Geoff Bennett, Alexi McCammond, and Jeff Mason.
When we come back, let me finish with this year that`s beginning, 2018. You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this year that`s beginning, 2018.
This is the half century mark of the most stirring year in modern American politics. The very phrase 1968 means everything. The Tet Offensive in Vietnam. The generals` call for 200,000 more U.S. troops on top of the 500,000 already there. Bobby Kennedy`s challenge to Lyndon Johnson on the war issue. Johnson`s stunning withdrawal from the race, the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, the assassination of Kennedy, all this in a matter of weeks.
To live in those times is to feel deep down inside the power of politics to come alive and change a country`s direction. With all its tragedy, and left those of us who witnessed it with the confidence that the will of the people matters, that what people think and feel about their government and its policies is vital and can in the end bring change. But it`s not a case of having to live with a lead history fails to represent us.
I learned last night that my book "Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit" is now on "The New York Times" bestseller list for the tenth straight week. I ask that you get a copy for yourself on Amazon or your local bookstore and follow those electrifying events that we will mark in the coming months.
We need to know especially with the leadership in Washington now that America is capable of something finer, more courageous, more compassionate.
"Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit." I`m so proud to have written it. I ask you to join me in carrying on this fine`s spirit. We knew America was a great country, he wanted it to be a good country, and so do we.
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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