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Donald Trump vs. institution of the free press Transcript 1/17/18 Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Eugene Scott, Tamara Keith, Denny Heck, Joyce Vance, David Cay Johnston

Show: HARDBALL Date: January 17, 2018 Guest: Eugene Scott, Tamara Keith, Denny Heck, Joyce Vance, David Cay Johnston

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Attacking the messenger. Let`s play "Hardball."

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

For the past year, the country faced a spectacle of the commander-in-chief waging a war against the members of the press. And even the concept of a free press. He has turned fake news into his go-to punch line anytime he sees a threat to his presidency, whether it`s on the question of Russian collusion or simply a poll number he dislikes. Let`s watch him.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You see there`s the fake news back there. Look, everybody. Fake news.

I call it fake news, fake polls.

Look, the media is fake. We are doing so well in so many ways and nobody talks about it.

I like real news, not fake news.

If the press were not fake and if it was honest, the press would have said what I said was very nice. Wait a minute. I`m not finished. I`m not finished, fake news.

The press honestly is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control. The public doesn`t believe you people anymore. Now, maybe I had something to do with that, I don`t know.

As you know I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on earth.


MATTHEWS: The media. In other words, the fake news. As any media that dislikes what he has just done.

Anyway, today, the President received a double rebuke from members of his own party. In a column for the "Washington Post" Senator John McCain said President Trump is sending a dangerous message to the world.

He wrote, while administration officials often condemn violence against reporters abroad Trump continues his unrelenting attacks on the integrity of American journalists and news outlets. This is providing cover for repressive regimes to follow suit.

And on the Senate floor this morning, McCain`s Arizona colleague Jeff Flake criticized the President for using a term associated with the former soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Let`s watch.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: The enemy of the people was how the President of the United States called the free press in 2017. It is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own President uses words infamously spoken by Joseph Stalin to describe his enemies. This alone should be the source of great shame for us and this body. Especially for those of us in the President`s party. For they are shameful, repulsive statements.

When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn`t suit him, fake news, it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press. We know well that no matter how powerful, no President will ever have dominion over objective reality. No politician will ever get or tell us what the truth is and what it is not. And anyone who presumes to try to attack or manipulate the press for his own purposes should be made to realize his mistake and to be held to account.


MATTHEWS: Those where is two impressive statements. But at the White House briefing today, Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissed Senator Flake`s speech as a cry for attention.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He is not criticizing the President because he is against oppression. He is criticizing the President because he has terrible poll numbers. And he is, I think, looking for some attention. I think it`s unfortunate. And certainly I think our position here at the White House is that we welcome access to the media every day.


MATTHEWS: That was pathetic.

Anyway. Then there was the theater of the absurd. For weeks, the President has been teasing in an award ceremony of sorts for the most dishonest or corrupt media awards of the year.

He wrote subjects will cover dishonesty and bad reporting in various categories from the fake news media.

Last week, he wrote the fake news awards, those are going to the most corrupt and biased of the mainstream media will be presented losers on Wednesday, January 17th. Of course, that`s today. At her briefing today, Sanders promised something later today. As of this hour, it`s still a mystery what it is. That`s the absurd.

Here is the reality. According to committee to the protect journalists 42 were killed last year doing their jobs, another 262 were imprisoned, 21 arrested on charges of false news. Those were the phrase used.

I`m joined right now by Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, "Washington Post" columnist Eugene Robinson, he is chairman of the Pulitzer-prize board and Katie Townsend, the litigation director for the reporter`s committee for freedom of the press.

I want to start with Katie. And congratulations on your organization. Thank you.

Tell me what`s the danger of the press, just using the press as his tackling dummy, if you will, because he doesn`t like objective reporting, not opinion like Eugene. He is afraid it seems to me of front page facts that are just thrown out there as part of regular daily reporting. He doesn`t want that objective reality confronting his behavior.

KATIE TOWNSEND, REPORTERS COMMITTEE FOR FREEDOM OF THE PRESS: These relentless attacks on the credibility of journalists, the use of the fake news term repeatedly calling the press the enemy of the people, these have real world effects, not just here in the United States where we have seen an uptick in threats against members of the media who are just simply doing their jobs but also abroad.

I think as both senator McCain and senator Flake pointed out today, the President`s words matter. They have an impact when the President of the United States uses the term "fake news" to criticize reporting that he doesn`t like. That language is used as a license by people like Assad in Syria, Duterte in the Philippines to call reporting -- they don`t like fake news.

MATTHEWS: Senator, when he uses this as a broad brush when he doesn`t win the popular vote. And there is not a single person that believes he won the popular vote. But he says he did. He said the only reason it`s not counted that way is because all these people that added to Hillary`s popular vote were foreigners illegally will voting in the country. He just lies like that. That`s his idea of news.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: When the history of this time is written, Chris and I`ve said it before, the heroes will be our free press and the judiciary bulwarks of our democracy. When the President says he won the popular vote when he says that the crowd at inaugural was the biggest ever, the press has stood up to him. Think about what we would not know now about Russian meddling in our election, about the attempts to cover up and obstruct justice, whether it`s the air force one statement or the Trump tower meeting.

And Katie is absolutely right. The real world effects are staggering, not only abroad where 262 journalists have been imprisoned over the last year alone, the most dangerous year to be a journalist in the world. But here at home where dismissal of that Russian meddling as a hoax or a witch hunt puts our national security literally in danger because the Russians will continue doing it. And belittling the Russian threat is a disservice to our democracy.

MATTHEWS: So you served all over the world reporting. Latin America, countries run by people called strong men.


MATTHEWS: Strong men. And their attitude is I am the state, they decide what the truth is. And they beat the hell out of anybody sometimes literally who dares challenge them in the press.

ROBINSON: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: This is what Trump is emulating.

ROBINSON: This is the official press and they censor press voices that they don`t like. I covered Chile under Pinochet. And that`s what it was like under Pinochet.

You know, we journalists, you and I have been doing this for a long time. As a journalist you have to have a thick skin because guess what, if officials love everything you write, then you are probably not doing a very good job. You are supposed to hold them accountable.

What President Trump is doing is something different. He is trying to erase the line between what is true and what is not true. Erase the line between reality and his own convenient fantasy, his own version of reality to have a democracy, we have to have a chronicle of events that we all agree on. And we have to have an encyclopedia of facts we all agree on.

And then we can argue what to do with those things and what those events mean and what those facts mean. But he is trying to warp reality to suit his own political purposes, and his own ego half the time. I think it`s more psychological than political. But it`s very dangerous.

MATTHEWS: Senator.

BLUMENTHAL: It is dangerous because it`s also different from past presidents. Anybody like me or anyone else in public life has to also have a thick skin and answer tough questions. And past Presidents have sometimes disliked what has been written about them. Harry Truman threatened to punch the music critic of the "Washington Post."

MATTHEWS: Because he made fun of his daughter`s performance.

BLUMENTHAL: And John F. Kennedy canceled the herald tribune.

MATTHEWS: Canceled his subscription.

BLUMENTHAL: He cancelled his subscription. But what`s different here is the relentless repeated attempt to erode the credibility and trust.

MATTHEWS: Anybody who writes on the front page of a newspaper writes the budget news on the evening news.

Anyway, Senator Flake today said a leader threatening to style of criticism is corrosive to our democratic institutions. This is the Arizona Republican senator talking. Let`s watch.


FLAKE: An American President who cannot take criticism who must constantly deflect and distort and distract who must find someone else to blame is charting a very dangerous path. Now we are told via twitter that today, the President intends to announce his choice for the quote "most corrupt and dishonesty media awards." If beggars belief that an American President would engage in such a spectacle. But here we are.


MATTHEWS: Katie, back to you because I know this is important. My daughter-in-law works, by the way, with your organization. These are journalists, you are helping journalists. You are mostly lawyers and you are going after to defend them. Tell me what needs to be defended here against this kind of line by the President.

TOWNSEND: Chris, I think that - and I want to underscore too that senator Flake is absolutely right in how important it is that Republicans as well as Democrats speak out against this type of rhetoric.

This is a bipartisan issue or it should be or a nonpartisan issue. Press freedom is not only a bulwark of American democracy, but it`s also I would say an American value. And I think in terms of what needs to be done, as I said, we have seen the uptick in threats against journalists not only threats to take them to court but physical threats and physical attacks on journalists not just abroad but here in the United States. And so I think this rhetoric we are seeing from the President underscores precisely why it`s important for organizations like ours to continue to support journalists.

MATTHEWS: I`m telling you as a consumer of print, you are a consumer, you get up and have your coffee at 7:00 in the morning usually. And you look at papers like "The New York Times," an amazing newspaper, it covers the world. And it is all there in print. You just open it up. It covers everything. You get "the Washington Post" with the best political coverage. It`s all over the coverage. You learn so much in maybe an hour at the breakfast table. By the time you have had your cereal and coffee, you`re damn informed with pretty damn objective facts.

I don`t know anywhere in the world we benefit from this system and to have this clownish leader making fun of one of the best things we have in the country, it`s wonderful, especially if you have curiosity like we all do.

ROBINSON: Go to Cuba and spend a week reading the official Cuban newspaper. And see how well informed you are.

MATTHEWS: Yes. It`s the latest from the Castro brothers. The bad Castro brothers.


BLUMENTHAL: But the point is very important to make that more than words are necessary here.

Just last spring, the President of the United States threatened to jail reporters asked his attorney general to consider jailing reporters if they will published classified information. Now we all know prior restraint and that kind of action is unconstitutional, but the threat of it is chilling. And my Republican colleagues as well as Democrats need to do as well as say what they mean to protect the free press.

MATTHEWS: And then the absurdity of the President of all people calling out fake news. He seems to treat conspiracy theories rumors an tabloid fodder as reliably as his daily intelligence briefing from the CIA. Let`s watch the President in action.


TRUMP: Trump comes along and said, birth certificate. He gave a birth certificate. Whether or not that was a real certificate because a lot of people question it, I certainly question it.

His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald`s being -- you know, shot. I mean the whole thing is ridiculous. That was reported and nobody talks about it.

I guess it was the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why should Americans trust you when you accuse the information they receive of being fake when you`re providing information that`s.

TRUMP: I don`t know. Actually, I`ve seen that information around.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Earlier you said President Obama never called the families of fallen soldiers. How can you make that claim?

TRUMP: No, I was told that he didn`t often. I don`t know. What do I know about it? All I know is what`s on the internet.


MATTHEWS: All I know. Gene, a willingness to spew out nonsense about, you know, a political opponent. I`m no fan of Ted Cruz, nor is anybody really. But Ted Cruz`s father helped kill Kennedy? How can you throw that crap out and your troops your 38 percent believe you?

ROBINSON: Well, how do you work with a guy after he said that about your father?. You know.

MATTHEWS: Because he`s --.

ROBINSON: It`s difficult to know how much of this is deliberate toward a political end and how much of this is just Donald Trump. He trafficked in wild ridiculous conspiracy theories long before he became a politician. I mean, this is who he is on some level. He is willing to believe this stuff.

MATTHEWS: How can he say things all I know is what I read in the Internet. All I know is I read this in the "National Enquirer." He is saying his IQ is about 3? Why would you say you believe all that stuff? Senator, explain that. You must have some Trump voters in Connecticut?

BLUMENTHAL: We have a fair number of Trump voters in Connecticut.

MATTHEWS: What do they make of this show, this clown show?

BLUMENTHAL: And I think that dismissing it as a clown show is a disservice to how threatening and how dangerous it really is because it is undermining and corrosive to our democracy. And the real threat here is that people will lose faith although frankly, what I hear in Connecticut is that folks are watching MSNBC.


BLUMENTHAL: They are watching this show. They are watching other cable. They are reading at levels never before seen, and I think it is that kind of reaction that should be inspiring to many of us.

MATTHEWS: And also bad clowns.

Anyway, thank you, Senator Blumenthal for enlightening me there. Thank you, Eugene Robinson. Katie Townsend, great service (INAUDIBLE).

Coming up, learning more about Steve Bannon`s bizarre testimony yesterday in the Russia investigation. Now his attorney was on the phone with the White House in real-time with White House attorneys instructing Bannon apparently on what questions he could answer and which he couldn`t answer. Democrats say the White House trying to gag Bannon or maybe he wants to be gagged. There could be some collusion between Bannon and the White House. We are going to figure this one out.

Plus, it`s even worse than you think. That`s the title of a new book by investigative journalist David Cay Johnson about what Donald Trump is doing to our country, some of the secret stuff in the regulatory era we haven`t paid enough attention to. We will tonight. David Cay Johnson joins us.

And Trump`s racial language derailed hopes of saving DACA and even voiding a government shutdown this Friday night. And we heard it last week from the President. Today we got similar talk, this time from his attorney general.

And finally, let me finish with Trump watch. He won`t like it. This is "hardball" where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Along before today`s comments in the "Washington Post," Senator John McCain defended the freedom of our press. For more than that, far more than that, McCain has also developed a warm relationship with the media, one that has evaded our current President. That relationship by McCain with the media was most clearly on display during the 2008 Presidential campaign when McCain spoke at the al smith dinner up in New York. Let`s watch. It`s fun.

And we will be right back.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Some advocates for senator Obama are less restrained in their enthusiasm, even in the media. Usually is at table 228, for example, is my old friend and green room pal Chris Matthews. He used to like me but he found somebody new. Somebody who opened his eyes so body who gave him a thrill up his leg. And we have talked about it. I told him maverick I can do. But messiah is above my pay grade. You know, it`s going to be a long, long night at MSNBC if I manage to pull this thing off.


MATTHEWS: He has a sense of humor. A good man. I don`t agree with him on a lot of stuff but a good man.

We will be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Former White House strategist Steve Bannon is at the center of a growing showdown now over whether the White House can effectively gag witnesses in the Russian investigation.

During his 11-hour appearance before the House Intelligence Committee yesterday, Bannon said that the White House instructed him not to answer questions about his time in the White House or in the transition.

In an effort to compel his testimony, the committee subpoenaed Bannon on the spot yesterday.

However, NBC News reports now that after the subpoena was issued, Bannon attorney William Burck conferred with the White House officials, who continued to insist that Bannon should still not answer the committee`s questions.

Despite following those orders for the most part, Axios is today reporting that Bannon made one conspicuous slip-up -- quote -- "Bannon admitted he had had conversations with Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer and legal spokesman Mark Corallo about Don Jr.`s" -- that`s Donald Trump Jr.`s -- "infamous meeting with the Russians in Trump Tower in June 2016."

So, they were all talking about that meeting at the White House.

Meanwhile, after the special counsel also served Bannon with a grand jury subpoena last week, a source close to Bannon`s lawyers tell NBC News now that Bannon will now be questioned by Robert Mueller`s team, instead of testifying before a grand jury.

Let`s get to what all that means.

I`m joined now by about Democratic Congressman Denny Heck, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee. Julia Ainsley is an investigative reporter with NBC News. And Joyce Vance is a former federal prosecutor.

Talk about this, Congressman. What about this slip-up where, yesterday in his testimony before your committee, Steve Bannon admitted that they had talked in the White House about that infamous meeting at Trump Tower involving Donald Jr. and Jared and Manafort and the Russians?

REP. DENNY HECK (D), WASHINGTON: Well, after 11 hours, anybody is bound to slip up and let the truth out a little bit, Chris.

But the question here that has prompted this, what are they trying to hide? But we shouldn`t be surprised. This is an administration that is the first in American history, at least modern history, not to disclose the president`s tax returns. And now evidently he is instructing witnesses before the Intelligence Committee to withhold information?

What are they afraid of? What are they trying to hide, Chris?

MATTHEWS: Well, let me get back to what you must think, because that surmise, I think appropriately, is what Bannon himself said in the book, Michael Wolff`s book. They`re worried, appropriately, about money laundering involving Jared and Donald Jr., the whole bunch of them, because somehow they might be involved with having a criminal enterprise on the way to the White House, some way to make money as they run for president.

I assume that`s what Steve Bannon says they ought to be worried about, because that`s what he said.

HECK: Well, I`m not going to get into the specifics of what he said, by committee policy.

But I will say this. Whether or not he gets away with stiff-arming the Intelligence Committee, he`s not going to get away with stiff-arming Bob Mueller. Chris, I don`t know that you know this, but you know what Bob Mueller`s nickname was when he arrived at the Department of Justice? It was Bobby Three Sticks, Robert Mueller III, Robert Mueller the hockey player, and Robert Mueller the Boy Scout.

He is straight as they can be. He eats his lunch at his desk every day. He is a decorated Marine veteran who I think won the Purple Heart. This guy is laser-focused in on getting at the truth. And Steve Bannon nor the White House is going to stand in his way.

MATTHEWS: Well, Bannon`s refusal to answer questions at the behest of the White House has now spurred debate over executive privilege, which allows the president to keep certain White House communications private.

The White House has not officially invoked that privilege yet, but lawmakers tell NBC that it reserved the right to do so.

Anyway, last night, the ranking Democrat on the committee, Congressman Adam Schiff -- we know him well -- accused the White House of gagging a key witness in this investigation.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: The scope of this assertion of privilege, if that`s what it is, is breathtaking. It goes well beyond anything we have seen in this investigation.

This was effectively a gag order by the White House preventing this witness from answering almost any question concerning his time in the transition or the administration and many questions even after he left the administration.


MATTHEWS: However, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said today the Trump White House is only following the same procedure, she says, as past administrations.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This White House is following the same practice that many White Houses before us have that have gone back decades, that there is a process that you go through.

Any time you have congressional inquiries touching upon White House, the Congress should consult with the White House prior to obtaining confidential material. Executive privilege is something that goes back decades, because it`s something that needs to be protected, whether it`s during this administration or one 20 years from now.

We want to make sure we follow the process and the precedent. And that`s all that`s taking place here.


MATTHEWS: Well, here`s the point. There`s the meat of the story tonight. And you`re on top of this, Julia.

It seems to me the president is worried, his people are worried, because the president was sitting around in the Oval Office. We have seen pictures of it all the time, with the feet up in the air, feet up on the desk, going -- sitting around shooting the whatever, talking about the whole question of what they`re facing.

I mean, that`s what people do in politics. How much are we facing? How are we exposed here? What happened at that Trump Tower meeting? What did Donald Jr. do? What did he say to the Russians? Who set up the meeting? What came out of the meeting? How did they follow up on the meeting? All that stuff.

And all the time, there`s Bannon in the room with them.


MATTHEWS: Bannon has all this in his head. Trump knows he has it in his head. He`s fired Bannon, after trusting him in the room with him for all those months. He must be scared to death. What did I say while Bannon was in the room, and what can he bring against me to Bob Mueller when the time comes?

AINSLEY: And that`s exactly the argument.

That`s why the White House is so worried about what Steve Bannon might say. He really exposes them to a lot of vulnerabilities, not only because he was in the room and he was around during the campaign, transition and eight months into the White House, but because Bannon himself is not implicated in a lot of this.

We know, just from the fact that he was subpoenaed by Bob Mueller, he`s not the target of this investigation. And so, therefore, he can go forward and say a lot. He can talk about the conversations that he had with Priebus and Spicer, like what he slipped up on yesterday.


AINSLEY: It`s almost a warning shot.

MATTHEWS: About the meeting in June at the Trump Tower.

AINSLEY: Yes, it`s almost a warning shot to say, look what I know. Yes.

MATTHEWS: Add to this his attitude towards Jared and Donald Jr. He doesn`t think much of these nepotism types.

AINSLEY: Well, that -- yes, that all came out in the book, obviously.

If you think about it, Bannon and kind of the Breitbart band, they`re people who come from the outside. They don`t like nepotism. They don`t like the swamp. He would, of course, be against someone like a Jared Kushner and, of course, a Priebus as well.

So, he wants to kind of establish himself as an outsider. And he`s always gotten under their skin. And now he`s in a position to do it more than ever.

MATTHEWS: He has got the truth, he has a memory, and he`s a pretty smart guy.

Anyway, Steve Bannon himself reportedly told author Michael Wolff that he doesn`t believe claims of executive privilege can protect the White House from Mueller. According to Wolff`s book "Fire and Fury," Bannon said: "There`s no executive privilege. We have proved that with Watergate. They`re sitting on a beach trying to stop a Category 5."

Let me go to Joyce on this, Joyce Vance.

what do you make of this? We have been through Nixon. We have been through cases where they have tried at the White House to say, we can`t talk, almost like a husband can`t testify against his spouse or something like that. How hard is that principle of executive privilege here?

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: You know, executive privilege is one of those amorphous legal topics that is not fully fleshed out. It develops over time in the case law.

So, the question, does it protect these kinds of testimonial experiences that the White House is trying to apparently shut down, the most interesting aspect of this problem is that, so far, the White House has gotten away without having the president actually invoke the privilege.

And so none of these witnesses can -- are obligated to avoid answering the questions. Bannon could have gone ahead and testified, because the White House had not invoked it.


VANCE: We won`t see a real test of the privilege until it`s invoked, until it comes before a tribunal.

One thing that I do think is correct is that he will have a lot less success in front of Bob Mueller than he will have had on the Hill.

MATTHEWS: Tough question now.

Suppose Steve Bannon wants to tell the truth, and the White House reaches outs to him and says, you can`t. What`s to stop hip? What law, what penalty would he face if he decided to tell it all, regardless of what the White House lawyers say about executive privilege?

VANCE: Well, he won`t face any penalty whatsoever in front of the grand jury. He can go in, he can testify. The rules of evidence have very limited application there.

If they were still on the Hill, the White House could perhaps go to court, file some sort of a temporary restraining order to keep him from testifying until the privilege issue was decided.

But here`s the double-edged sword for the White House. Once they start trying to keep a broad brush of Bannon`s testimony out of the view of investigators, it really looks more and more like they have something to hide.

Executive privilege should have a narrow focus on deliberative type issues. It`s not meant to entirely exclude the activities of an administration from start to finish from investigators` view.

MATTHEWS: OK. We have got a Republican Supreme Court, however. We will see.

Anyway, the congressman, thank you, U.S. Congressman Denny Heck of Washington state. And thank you, Julia Ainsley of NBC News. And, Joyce Vance, thank you for your expertise.

Up next, we are going to speak to an investigative journalist who has covered Trump for decades. David Cay Johnston is out with a new book that says the Trump administration is destroying our government. "It`s Worse Than You Think," that`s the title of the book. That`s going to be interesting.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have begun the most far- reaching regulatory reform in American history. So, together, let`s cut the red tape.

Let`s set free our dreams. And, yes, let`s make America great again.

So, this is what we have now. This is where we were in 1960. And when we`re finished, which won`t be in too long a period of time, we will be less than where we were in 1960, and we will have a great regulatory climate. OK?


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Trump just last month literally cutting through the red tape of government regulations.

In his new book, "It`s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America," David Cay Johnston writes: "This is an administration that actively looks for the least qualified and the most aggressive termites to eat away at the structure of government."

He notes that the Trump administration has rolled back environmental and worker safety protections, with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration even removing data on worker fatalities, people that get killed on the job, from its Web site, and has proposed reducing spending on science, education, and veterans. He`s nominated people like Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who himself sued the EPA 14 times as Oklahoma A.G.

And just last night, "The Washington Post" reported that: "More than three- quarters of the members of a federally chartered board advising the National Park Service have quit out of frustration that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had refused to even meet with them or convene a single meeting last year."

I`m joined right now by author David Cay Johnston.

I just got a letter, a note from Carrie Hessler, who was the head of the Peace Corps. She just quit that Park Service board because they never meet.

I get the sense that one of the reasons the Dow Jones is going up -- it`s generally good news, but in this case, I wonder if it is, because what it means is all the stuff that we rooted for, for the last 40 or 50 years, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, all the things that good legislators like Ed Muskie got through, are being termited to death, are being killed by administrators who want the government to fail in its mission.

Your thoughts, your book and what is in it.


And, Chris, there`s no free lunch. If you`re not going to enforce pollution laws, you`re going to have more people get cancer. You`re going to have children develop asthma. You`re going to have more people with heart disease.

If you`re going to stop making sure that we do the best we can or at least try to reduce worker deaths, 4,800 a year in recent years, and withdraw the data, more workers are going to die and more marginal employers are going to pay less respect to safety practices.

Plenty of places that I would be thoroughly in favor of redoing or simplifying regulations, but that`s not what they`re doing. They`re putting the people from the industries that are affected in charge and letting them remove the regulations that are designed to protect public health, public safety.

MATTHEWS: You know, every time people say they don`t like regulation, I say, when you open up a can of tuna fish, OK, you open it up, you want to know if it`s safe? And how are you going to know it`s safe?

I say, you don`t like regulation? You want to get on an airplane that`s not safe? What do you mean you don`t want regulation? Of course you do.

Anyway, David, you write in your book: "Donald Trump`s manifestly unfit to hold any public office. Trump lacks the emotional stability, the knowledge, the critical thinking skills and the judgment to be commander in chief."

How do you know that?

JOHNSTON: Well, from knowing Donald for 30 years and from his own behavior.

I mean, Donald is just appallingly ignorant about the world. This is a man who on his first foreign trip goes to Saudi Arabia and praises the Saudis for fighting against terrorism? The Saudis, the biggest funders of terrorism in the world?

MATTHEWS: Fifteen of the guys on the airplane -- was it 15 or 14 -- of the 19 on the planes on 9/11 were Saudis.

JOHNSTON: Were Saudis, exactly.


JOHNSTON: And so Donald is -- look at the tweets he does and the things he says. The key thing to understand is, Donald Trump`s presidency is unlike every other, because instead of trying to make the country better -- and some failed and some succeeded at that -- Donald`s presidency is about Donald.

He wants to you go, oh, the great and glorious leader. Thank you, Donald. Let`s go around the table and see how much we can do to praise the glorious leader.

That`s not how you operate in a democratic society.

MATTHEWS: You opened up your book by calling him a narcissist. And I think people get the wrong idea what narcissist means.

They think it means you think you`re good-looking. No. It thinks -- you think you`re the center of the universe.


MATTHEWS: That`s what narcissism is.

JOHNSTON: And Donald`s narcissism, unlike that of the mythical Narcissus, who came to a bad end, has so far done him very well. It got him all the way to the White House.

MATTHEWS: What do you think are his deepest values?

I mean, we have been talking about his comment, that S-hole word about the poor countries?

I`m going to close the show tonight by basically saying he judges people by the value of the real estate they live in. If you live in a poor neighborhood, you`re no good. If you live in a high-rise near him on Fifth Avenue, you`re a great person. If you to go Mar-a-Lago, let`s have dinner together.

I mean, people -- the more money you have, the more he likes you. The less money, the less he respects you. It`s literally true. And when it has to do with race it, it often does.

JOHNSTON: Well, in fact, Eric Trump just said yesterday that all his father cares about is green, is money. And that`s basically right.

MATTHEWS: That`s a defense. That`s his defense.

JOHNSTON: Yes, but it`s also a revelation and an admission.

And Donald judges people by the content or presumed content of their wallets and, when he was in business, how much he could get out of your wallet without fulfilling his part of business bargains.

But who does he rely on? Robert Mercer, the hedge fund guy who helped him with targeting voters, perhaps with the help of the Russians. And it`s Mercer who says human beings` worth is entirely based on their net worth and that his cats are worth more than most Americans, because they give him pleasure.

That`s the kind of values Donald has.

MATTHEWS: Well, I hope the voters between now and 2020, and certainly by 2018, in fact, read or pay attention, if they have to Google it, the tax bill he just signed. And look at it and see what it does to them.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, David Cay Johnston.

Your book is "It`s Even Worse Than You Think," which is really worse.

Up next, Trump`s comments about African countries have already upended immigration talks. And today, there was similar language from Trump land. Attorney General Sessions says a good nation doesn`t need illiterate immigrants.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, this weekend will mark the one-year anniversary of President Trump taking the oath of office, believe it or not, and unless lawmakers can get their act together --and him, too -- it will also mark the first government shutdown since 2013, the first Trump shutdown.

Anyway, the Congress is currently careening toward a shutdown as Republicans and the president refuse to deal with Democrats on DACA to help the Dreamers. Well, late today, the president criticized a bipartisan immigration proposal, telling "Reuters" that the deal is horrible, although he said it was pretty good last week and, quote, the opposite of what I campaigned for.

Well, progress on an agreement had already stalled following the president`s degrading comments about African countries. President Trump`s allies have lined up to defend him.

Let`s take a look.


JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: What good does it do to bring in somebody who is illiterate in their own country, has no skills and is going to struggle in our country and not be successful?

ERIC TRUMP, BUSINESSMAN: My father sees one color, green. That`s all he cares about. He cares about the economy, right? He does not see race. He`s the least racist person I`ve met in my entire life. It`s total nonsense.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, a new Quinnipiac poll shows that a majority of Americans do not agree with the son. Nearly six in 10 voters, 59 percent in fact think Trump does not respect people of color as much as he respects white people.

For more, I`m joined by the HARDBALL roundtable. Heidi Przybyla, White House reporter for "USA Today", Eugene Scott, political reporter for "The Washington Post", and Tamara Keith, White House correspondent for NPR.

You know, let me just ask you the simple question, how is his use of the word he used African countries and Haiti, what has that done to the chances of the Democrats wanting to sign on to any deal? Heidi?

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, USA TODAY: Well, aside from the language, there`s the language itself and then there`s the erratic behavior of seeming like you`re going to accept this deal. You invite them all to your office and then you trash it.

And so, that basically introduces this element of total unpredictability. They feel like Schumer said yesterday they didn`t feel like they could deal with him anymore. Then the use of the s-hole word has upset everyone on Capitol Hill. And now you see many lawmakers trying to work around him on this, and even Mitch McConnell saying that the president has to tell us what his bottom line is. So, even the Republicans feeling like they can`t read their own leader.

MATTHEWS: Eugene, who wants to fight and who wants to deal? You can usually tell. I don`t know if I can tell. Who would like to have a deal by Friday night and who would be quite happy to have the fight?

I think the Democrats want a fight over DACA. They feel comfortable. That`s my hunch. What`s yours?

EUGENE SCOTT, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I certainly think they want to stick to what they have put out there, saying that we believe that the plan and ideas we have, that we`ve proposed before Trump even got into the White House would be the best option for the American people.

But I think ultimately, everyone who is up for re-election or who thinks they can lose their seat is really who wants to fight because they will be held accountable for this in November if they don`t get a deal.

TAMARA KEITH, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Government shutdowns don`t happen accidentally. So, people have to do it with purpose. It`s not clear right now based on what we`re hearing from the Hill whether people really -- whether Democrats really do want a shutdown or not.

MATTHEWS: I think they do.

KEITH: What is clear is that they want to make Republicans take the hard vote.

MATTHEWS: Don`t they want to see a country where the Hispanic vote which grows every year and will grow our entire lifetime as a percentage of our electorate, it just will, it`s the way things in terms of population, reproduction, immigration, it all adds up to a higher and higher percentage maybe, it will be 20 percent some day fairly soon. Why wouldn`t the Democrats want to have a lock on that community by standing up for young people who came here because their parents brought them here and be noticed, taking the good fight for them and let Trump oppose them? How do they lose?

PRZYBYLA: As a party writ large and the leadership, oh, yes, they`re probably all with you. But I do think there are some red state Democrats who feel like this could be used as a cudgel against them at the state level.

MATTHEWS: Claire McCaskill?

PRZYBYLA: Like If you`re a Joe Manchin, a Claire McCaskill, or Heidi Heitkamp, that, hey, look what this guy did, he held up government funding over helping these Dreamer kids. There`s a segment of their population.


MATTHEWS: There`s Steny Hoyer who basically said we are united 100 percent on that, right? Gene?

SCOTT: Absolutely. We saw the president express once again little interest in speaking with the Black Caucus about this deal as a whole. And the Black Caucus to many people`s surprise has a vested interest because DACA is not limited to immigrants from Mexico and Latin American countries.

MATTHEWS: As we`ve heard.

SCOTT: As we`ve heard, right?

MATTHEWS: New polling suggests voters are poised to blame Republicans if Congress fails to keep the government working. The poll conducted by the Democratic leaning firm Hart Research Associates surveyed voters in a dozen battleground states and found 42 percent of Americans would blame the president and the majority, only 31 percent would blame Democrats. And a whopping 81 percent of the battleground voters say any budget agreement should include a deal to prevent the deportation of undocumented Dreamers.

So, Tam, there we go.

KEITH: So, but here`s the thing. We`re not talking about all Democrats. All you need, you know the math, is about 10 Democrats in the Senate to vote for this. And, you know, they can kick that can, punt that football, whatever you want to call it, and not deal with DACA.

MATTHEWS: Give me 10 names. Come on, but give me 10 names.

KEITH: I`m not going to give you 10 names right now. But --

MATTHEWS: I -- look, I do understand constituency politics. I think that the Hispanic people, the Latinos in this country are very sensitive, they`re reading the paper, they`re watching the news, who`s on our side.

And we saw what happened in California a decade or so ago, two decades ago. Good-bye to the Hispanic vote out there. The Republican Party kissed good- bye, if you want to be blunt about it, to the Hispanic vote. Anyway, the Latino vote.

Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, we`re going to see what the buzz is in D.C. What`s new for us, what`s new pussycat. Well, I shouldn`t -- well, that`s a great song actually.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Well, if Republicans needed another wake-up call heading into the 2018 midterms, they got one last night in Wisconsin. Catch this: Democrats flipped the state Senate seat that had been held by Republicans for 17 years. Democrat Patty Schachtner defeated her Republican opponent by 11 points, according to unofficial returns. Trump had carried that same district by 17 points. That`s a turnaround of 28 points since a year ago.

Anyway, Governor Scott Walker who`s up for re-election this year sounded the alarm last night. Minutes after the race was called, he tweeted the Senate district 10 special election win by a Democrat is a wake-up call for Republicans in Wisconsin. Walker knows his business. They`re in trouble.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the roundtable.

Heidi, tell me something I don`t know.

PRZYBYLA: Chris, Jeff Sessions and the Justice Department are requesting that citizenship be one of the questions in the 2020 census. This could have huge ramifications. And there`s many people within the Census Department who are really concerned that this could have a chilling effect especially in some of these Latino-dominated states like California, so significant that this is a state that should pick up seats they could actually lose seats if this goes forward.

MATTHEWS: Go ahead, Gene.

SCOTT: We got first polling numbers back from Oprah/Trump match-up.

MATTHEWS: Yes, sir?

SCOTT: Oprah 52, Trump 39.

MATTHEWS: Is this adults or registered voters?

SCOTT: It`s adults and she`s leading.

MATTHEWS: I don`t know about adults. I want to see registered voters, likely voters.

Go ahead. Give us a nice number. Go ahead.

KEITH: We have a new NPR poll out. As you were talking in your first segment about the president`s attack on the media, it seems to be working especially among Republicans, 90 percent of Republicans polled have little or no confidence in the news media.

MATTHEWS: Oh, bless their hearts.

Anyway, thank you, Heidi. Thank you, Gene. And thank you, Tamara Keith.

When we return, let me finish tonight with Trump Watch. You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Trump Watch Wednesday, January 17th, 2018.

Donald Trump I`ve noticed judges people by the price of their real estate. He doesn`t want people from poor places. He wants them from the better off parts of the world.

Nigerians, stay where you are. Norwegians, come on in. Like so many of us, I have grandparents who came to this country for a better life, for hope, leaving behind levels of real estate Mr. Trump might view as subpar.

Well, the real matter at hand here since we`re talking about the head of state is how he sees not the price of land or a piece of land but the value of an individual human being. Good leaders talk about people. They root for people no matter their condition. Some very good leaders root for those people, those that have it the hardest all the harder. Bobby Kennedy whom I just wrote a book about made a point of exploring places where poor people live, the Mississippi delta where kids with distended stomachs barely survived on a diet of molasses. Families of California farm workers where their employers refused to even let them organize. Native Americans living desperately on reservations.

He discovered their desperate conditions, learned what he could. And imagine walking in their shoes and called those conditions unacceptable in this country. What a far cry from this president who simply dismisses such people from human consideration.

My book is "Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit," now ten weeks on the "New York Times" bestseller list.

The president we have is Donald Trump, close to a year in office but not a step closer to learning his duty to all the people, even those who neither live on a pricey block along Fifth Avenue, like Trump Tower, nor hold a current membership in sunny Mar-a-Lago.

And that`s HARDBALL -- it really is -- for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.



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