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FBI Director grilled on Porter's clearance. TRANSCRIPT: 2/13/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Joe Kennedy, Adrienne Elrod, Shermichael Singleton, Eddie Glaude, Ruth Marcus, Mieke Eoyang, Natasha Bertrand

Show: HARDBALL Date: February 13, 2018 Guest: Joe Kennedy, Adrienne Elrod, Shermichael Singleton, Eddie Glaude, Ruth Marcus, Mieke Eoyang, Natasha Bertrand

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: Eagles player Tori Smith will join me tomorrow to talk about why he is snubbing the Trump White House.

And "Hardball" starts right now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: General confusion. Let`s play "Hardball."

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

We are now seven days into a crisis the White House can`t pull itself out of. Every day brings new self-inflicted wounds. Testifying on captain hill today, Trump appointed FBI director Christopher Wray contradicted the White House`s timeline on when it found out about abuse allegations against a senior aide, Rob Porter.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So was the White House informed that this could affect his security clearance? That`s a yes or no.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: I can`t get into the content of what was briefed to the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were they informed?

WRAY: I can tell you is that the FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March. And then a completed background investigation in late July that soon thereafter, we received requests for follow-up inquiry. And we did the follow-up and provided that information in November. And then we administratively closed the file in January. And then earlier this month, we received some additional information and we passed that on, as well.


MATTHEWS: Well, that testimony given under oath is at odds with the White House spin. Here`s what Raj Shah and Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters in recent days.


RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: His background investigation was ongoing. He was operating on and interim security clearance. His clearance was never denied and he resigned.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The process for the background was ongoing. And the White House had not received any specific papers regarding did the completion of that background check.


MATTHEWS: So FBI director Christopher Wray says the FBI investigation was completed last July. They followed up on it and briefed the White House again in November but the White House contends the investigation was, I love this phrase, ongoing. In other words, not done.

Well today, Sarah Sanders tried to explain that contradiction. And she said the FBI delivered is the report to the White House personnel security office which she said was a totally separate entity to the rest of the White House. Let`s watch.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You said yesterday that you didn`t get any paperwork from the FBI. Chris Wray said that he did submit paperwork (INAUDIBLE).

SANDERS: Again, that would come through the White House personnel security office, which had not completed their investigation and not passed that information to the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you speak to did anyone at the White House personnel security office had anything conversations with anyone in the west wing about Rob Porter` clearance between when the FBI started submitting interim reports and --.

SANDERS: I`m not aware of any communication. I can`t say definitively, but I am not aware of any communications.


MATTHEWS: That explanation is in conflict with what Sanders said just yesterday when she told reporters the process doesn`t operate within the White House but rather it is done by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. In terms of who knew what and when, the White House spent this week sowing in confusion.

On Friday, chief of staff John Kelly told NBC, he found out the allegations against Porter were true last Tuesday. And 40 minutes afterwards, Porter was gone. In fact, NBC reported that Kelly knew about the accusations from Porter`s ex-wives back in November.

Meanwhile, "Politico" reported the initial report or effort to protect Porter was more aggressive than previously known.

Quote "in the hours immediately after the "Daily Mail" published a photograph of Porter`s first wife with a black eye, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders hastily arranged an off the record meeting in the west wing with Porter and four reporters. Porter relayed his version of events and fielded questions from the group.

Well today, John Kelly defended how the White House handled Porter`s situation. He told the "Wall Street Journal," catch this, it was all done right.

For more on all this, I`m joined by NBC national security reporter Ken Dilanian, "Washington Post" columnist Ruth Marcus and "Washington Post" White House bureau chief Phil Rucker. He is an MSNBC political analyst.

I want to start with you, Phil, about this thing. What do you make of this? I mean, Sarah Huckabee, we are going to get the later where she basically admits she is just reading what they gave her to give and she has no idea what`s going on here. That she is just basically covering over an embarrassing situation.

If you listen to the FBI director, Christopher Wray today under oath, the first person to speak under oath about this embarrassment, the White House knew about this last year early on in the first instance. They got more refinement and more refinement. But they knew basically there were problems of assault and battery basically in at least one ex-wife`s case from the get-go. Your thoughts?

PHIL RUCKER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, Chris, the White House story has shifted continually for the last week now. And today was a real blow because FBI director Wray cast in doubt a lot of what the White House had been saying in terms of the timeline and version of events. You know, as for Sarah Sanders, she is the one going to the podium with information that she has provided by chief of staff John Kelly, the counsel Don McGahn. If those officials aren`t being up front with her, then not.

MATTHEWS: You know, I think some analysis here, I think -- you got to make some interpretation here at this point because we are not getting anything straight. Why does the White House cover for this guy? Why they cover for him for so long and why are they covering themselves now?

RUTH MARCUS, REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, cover is the right word because what we are seeing here and by the way, general Kelly`s assessment, if this is handled right, I would hate to see what wrong looks like.

MATTHEWS: Sounds like Trump.

MARCUS: -- in how not to handle.

MATTHEWS: He is the guy to bring order to this White House.

MARCUS: Well, yes. The grownup in the room.


MARCUS: But what we are seeing here is kind of a cover-up of a cover-up. First they wanted to cover up the fact that this guy had a spousal abuse problem in his past. And now they are covering up. And I know that`s a pretty harsh word but now they are covering up the ways in which they knew about this.

MATTHEWS: Covering themselves.

MARCUS: Yes, cover-up. Cover-up.

MATTHEWS: They are covering up themselves.

MARCUS: Well, they are covering up themselves and doing a really bad job of if. And that could have been predicted.

MATTHEWS: Let`s go to Ken Dilanian, Mr. national security. I rely on you to talk about the heavy stuff. This isn`t a sit-com. This isn`t a drama. This is a reality. When you walk into the White House, you are under protection. I`m sorry the President is under protection from the get-go. All the people who get near him have to be safe. You don`t want any people in there who are dangerous. You don`t want people in there who are spies. And that`s all protected by the secret service and the FBI. They make sure it the right people get near the President and the wrong people don`t. And here is a guy that was the wrong person and he got near the President for a year going on 13 months and nobody stopped him. At he was looking at the most vital papers that the President sees. He was seeing them and nobody stopped him.

KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: That`s the thing to focus on, Chris. This wasn`t just a member of the cleaning crew. This wasn`t an executive secretary. This was the staff secretary who is in- charge of the paper flow in the oval office, as you said, conveying the most sensitive information in the government, the top secret documents and in the room where top secret briefing are happening. So this wasn`t just anybody. And he was subject to allegations that made him liable to blackmail.

MATTHEWS: Of course.

DILANIAN: That`s why these people are subject to the security clearances. And it`s important for our viewers to understand one thing. The FBI does not grant security clearances. What the FBI does is conduct a background check. And it`s very clear what early on in March, they flagged a problem in his background because that`s what a partial finding means. There isn`t a partial finding unless there`s a big problem. That was conveyed to the White House. And then over a series of steps, it seems like, we don`t know the full facts. But it seems like the White House kept going to the FBI and saying check again. Is there anything you can look at? And continually the message got back to the White House, no, there`s still a problem. This guy - they don`t - again, they don`t say he is not subject to a security clearance. They say there are negative findings here. And then it`s up to the White House to decide.

But the idea that the White House personnel office is making that kind of decision is just ridiculous when you talk to people who know how these security clearances process works. The Whit House castle and the chief of staff and often the President in past White house are always consulted when something serious is flagged in the background of somebody as high up as Rob Porter.

MATTHEWS: I was going to say that this is the kind of person the Russians are always looking for, someone that they can squeeze. But of course, there`s so much of that going on in the White House. We don`t need this one.

A White House official today told Jonathan Swan of Axios, Wray`s FBI timeline makes one thing clear, the Kelly cover-up is unraveling right before our eyes. And as if the schedule - as if one schedule, Anthony Scaramucci who was fired by John Kelly tweeted this.

Based on the FBI testimony, chief of staff John Kelly almost certainly knew about credible allegations of domestic abuse against Rob Porter at least six months ago. Then recently forced others to lie about that timeline. Inexcusable. Kelly must resign.

Meanwhile Sarah Sanders was asked today about what Kelly knew and when. Let`s watch.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is the White House still maintaining that John Kelly really had no idea about these allegations of domestic abuse until this story broke.

SANDERS: I can only give you the best information that I have, and that`s my understanding.


MATTHEWS: Did you hear what she said? I can only give you account information they hand me to parrot out here.

We are also joined now by MSNBC contributor Eddie Glaude, the chairman of the center for African-American studies in Princeton.

Eddie, thank you so much, professor.

Look. You are getting here late. I know you got trapped out of the studio for some reason. So let`s catch on here.

This is about a cover-up as Ruth said of a cover-up. Basically, they covered up for Rob Porter for a year. It looks like or up to a year since the first indication came from the two ex-wives about one of them being beat up and the other one being beat up emotionally at least. And then you have the fact that they had covered up this embarrassment from what they had done. And this is all unraveling right now. And the FBI comes out -- the head of the FBI who Trump appointed and tells us under oath none of it is true. It`s not the way it happened. The timeline is all wrong. They knew about lit last January. Your thoughts.

EDDIE GLAUDE, PROFESSOR, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Yes. I mean, it`s a combination of three things. One, they are lying. They are trying to cover up their lie. And the lying is actually connected to what is the actual vetting process that`s happening in the White House? We don`t quite note what they are doing.

MATTHEWS: Do you love Donald Trump? Have you always loved Donald Trump? That`s the vetting process. I`m serious. That seems to be where Flynn came from and all these guys come from including Scaramucci. All the ones fired in the last year. They came over the transom because they said I wish to love Donald Trump. And I guess he will like me if I love him enough. That seems to be the vetting process.

GLAUDE: Yes. So they are lying, Chris. And they are lying and then they love him. And then it turns out that once they get past that loving vetting process, there is a kind of cohort of folk who are not sexist but misogynist. There`s a sense in which the way in which Porter has functioned, who he represents, who they are defending is a person who beat women. And it`s reflected. And I think it`s a reflection.

MATTHEWS: Are you saying comfortable with that?

GLAUDE: It seems to be. Why else defend him? Why else cover it up? Why else lie?

MATTHEWS: I don`t know. Let me go to some reporting on that to Phil.

Phil, It seems to me, I mean, I have only met the guy once in a dinner. You were sitting across the room from me. He looked like another, you know, I don`t know, another staffer. I don`t know how to judge the guy. But you know, anybody understands this syndrome of people who spousal abuse, and these guys the beaters as they are called in the streets. They don`t show it all the time. I mean, I don`t know what the White House expected him to behave like in the White House mess if he has got this history. It doesn`t show itself at the mess when you are ordering a hamburger. It shows you in a spousal relationship is when it comes up. Your thoughts?

RUCKER: Yes, I think that`s right. Certainly Rob Porter appeared to be a very professional high achieving, highly competent, well-educated member of the White House staff and his behavior at home has completely caught its colleagues off guard. But the problem for the White House is that as soon as they heard these allegations, their inclination was to not only believe Rob Porter but to publicly defend him. And it`s what they did for the first 24 or 48 hours, really. And that`s created this huge problem for John Kelly who knew about these allegations ahead of time.

And you know, in talking to some White House officials today, people say they believe Kelly cannot be trusted. That he is lying internally about this. We are going to have some more reporting on that tonight at "the Washington Post." But it`s a problem for this White House and puts the chief of staff under siege.

MATTHEWS: Just give us something here. Give us something.

RUCKER: Well, what we have here is the staff inside the White House because some of them are turning on John Kelly. So he according to Sarah Sanders has the confidence of the President at this hour. But he does not have the full confidence of his subordinates who are leaking a lot of information about him.


MATTHEWS: I want to get to that.

Ken, you know who is leaking, the guys who don`t like Kelly. It is not just the good guys, the truth tellers, the whistleblowers. He has got a whole legion of regiment of enemies that he has kept out of the oval office. Your thoughts,, Ken?

DILANIAN: Well, I was going to go back. And of course, the White House staffers who are friends with and colleagues with Rob Porter going to tend to believe him when they only hearing his story. That`s why normal White Houses rely on the dispassionate FBI background investigation to determine what the facts are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Blow that professionalism.

DILANIAN: And that`s what appears to have happened here, Chris.

MATTHEWS: How is this going to sell? Let`s get to (INAUDIBLE).

Kelly survives, having done this? The President pushes on to the next disaster. You know, the next memo that he discharges or whatever covers up. And this just becomes part of, you know, a black eye on the White House, to be blunt about it. It will be a black eye. So how will it look to women? How will it look to people who say they covered up for this guy who punched one wife in the eye. You see that transparently. What do we make of that? How is that politically going to be dealt with?

MARCUS: The outcome for the White House is either chaos or chaos, right, at this stage. There`s not a good outcome here. And by the way, I think that there`s one person Ken mentioned him briefly we really haven`t focused on his role very much, which is the White House counsel, Don McGahn, who seems from my understanding.

MATTHEWS: Who is protecting him? The media hasn`t hit him very hard.

MARCUS: Well, he seems to have known about this information.

MATTHEWS: Because it`s his job to know it.

MARCUS: The conduit for receiving this information. Where was he advising the President? But the fundamental - you know, is this going to be a political problem for the White House? With who? With women who have seen him time after time assert that women aren`t to be believed and come up with these ridiculous claims of fealty to due process when he is perfectly willing to throw Hillary Clinton in jail? I mean, come on. There is a core of -- I mean, he is losing support among women. So maybe a rational White House would worry about this. But he is with his, you know, core base.

MATTHEWS: Peggy Noonan who has different political views than you, she said the other day, you can`t blackmail Donald Trump.

Anyway. Thank you, Ken. I shouldn`t be laughing but it is ridiculous.

Anyway, Ken Dilanian, it is always great your expertise. Thank you, Ruth, your analysis. Eddie Glaude, thank you for coming in tonight. You are great to come on. And Phil Rucker, I wish I knew what you knew now.

Anyway, coming up, it is unanimous. The top leaders in the intelligence community in this country all say Russian is still meddling in our elections. So why is Trump not re-enacting or enacting any sanctions that overwhelmingly passed the U.S. Congress? Why isn`t he putting these into effect? And why isn`t the Trump administration doing anything it can or everything to keep our democracy safe? Apparent he has never given any orders to anybody to do anything to stop this meddling in our political lives by the Russians.

Plus, congressman Joe Kennedy is coming here, John Kennedy III. He delivered the Democratic response, of course, the state of the union. He will be sitting here in a few minutes. Tonight, he tells me how Democrats can win in the age of Trump. We will see.

And the Senate begins its grand debate on immigration this week. And Trump is the sidelines warning that this is the last chance to fix DACA and protect the Dreamers. We will get to that with the "Hardball" round table tonight. This could be the last chance for everybody.

Finally, let me finish tonight with Trump watch.

This is "Hardball" where the action is.


MATTHEWS: White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders today also commented on President Trump`s assessment of embattled chief of staff John Kelly.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where does John Kelly stand as we sit here today, if the President has confidence in him, why does he have confidence in him based on everything we have learned over the last week.

SANDERS: Look, I don`t have anything further to add. The President has confidence in his chief of staff.


MATTHEWS: I don`t know what that means.

As we have seen before, a vote of confidence doesn`t necessarily translate to a job security for anyone, especially when dealing with the Trump crowd. Let`s watch.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI) SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Reince is doing a fantastic job at the White House. And I believe he has the President`s confidence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does he remain as chief of staff?

RYAN: I think Reince is doing a great job as chief of staff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Basically question here, does the national security adviser enjoy the full confidence of President Trump?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Yes, general Flynn does enjoy the full confidence of the President.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Was it a mistake not to ask Jim Comey to step down from the FBI at the outset of your presidency? Is it too late now to ask him to step down.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It`s not too late. But you know, I have confidence in him.


MATTHEWS: Priebus, Comey, Flynn, all 86, all gone. `

We will be right back.



DAN COATS, U.S. DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Frankly, the United States is under attack, under attack by entities that are using cyber to penetrate virtually every major action that takes place in the United States.

There should be no doubt that Russia perceived that its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That, of course, is a real civil servant there, Dan Coats, and that was a stark warning from him, the director of national intelligence, who today joined other intelligence officials to testify under oath before the Senate Intelligence Committee on the worldwide threats to the U.S.

When it came to the subject of Russian interference, their message was clear and it was unanimous. Russia attacked our country`s election in 2016 and they will attack us again. Do you hear that? They attacked us in 2016 and they will so again.

However, as FBI Director Christopher Wray revealed under questioning, also under oath, President Trump has never directed his bureau or him to take any proactive steps to confront the future Russian threat.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has the president directed you and your agency to take specific actions to confront and blunt Russian influence activities that are ongoing?

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: We`re taking a lot of specific efforts to blunt...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... directed by the president?

WRAY: Not as specifically directed by the president.


MATTHEWS: Well, the president`s inaction in the face of Russian aggression is most evident in his decision not to punish the Kremlin for meddling in the 2016 election, a move that could invite, of course, further interference. When

But when Senator Kamala Harris of California asked Director Coats how Russia views the president`s decision not to implement the sanctions that Congress passed so overwhelmingly, he said he did not know. Watch this.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: The last year, Congress passed a bipartisan Russian sanctions bill. However, the administration has not imposed those sanctions.

From an intelligence perspective, what is your assessment of how Russia interprets the administration`s inaction?

COATS: I don`t have information relative to what the Russian thinking is in terms of that particular specific reaction. Specifically on your question, I don`t have an answer for that.


MATTHEWS: Well, this comes as the president`s campaign is under federal investigation for possibly collaborating with the Russians during the election. We all know that.

And as a reminder of the progress we have seen in that probe, today marks the one year since former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was fired from the White House. This has been going on a year. Flynn is now a cooperating witness and apparently a useful witness for the prosecution.

Joining me right now is Natasha Bertrand, staff writer for "The Atlantic." And Mieke Eoyang is a former staff director of the House Intelligence Committee.

I want to start with Mieke on this thing.

Let`s just lay it bald, or bold, or whatever, starkly. Apparently, we`re doing nothing to punish the Russians for what they obviously did in 2016. And, according to the FBI director, we`re not doing anything to catch them this time, which is 2018, or for 2020.

So, they, past, present and future, are off scot-free for whatever they wanted to do, did do and will do. They`re scot-free in terms of this administration.


Normally, when you would be attacked by a foreign adversary, you would take very specific responses to let them know that that`s not acceptable. You would impose sanctions, like Congress is trying to do. You would work with allies on this, through our NATO allies. You would try and prosecute some of these hackers.

But what you don`t see is this administration taking even the smallest step, and, in fact, trying to block the steps that Congress wants to take to hold Russia accountable. It`s really, really shocking, the inaction.

MATTHEWS: There`s a term called Finlandizing, where you`re so weak next to your big neighbor, you take whatever they do to you. How did we get to be Finland, where the Russians can do to us whatever they want to do, because of their weak neighbor?

How did it happen? I mean, that`s a rhetorical question. I want a rhetorical answer.

NATASHA BERTRAND, "THE ATLANTIC": That`s the question that everyone`s asking. Right?

We`re trying to get to the bottom of why Vladimir Putin is arguably the single leader that Trump has not criticized since even before he took office.

MATTHEWS: Won`t enforce sanctions passed by Congress.

BERTRAND: He won`t enforce sanctions passed by Congress. He won`t criticize Putin.

He consistently says that he still wants to work with Russia, even though the intelligence community says that that is very, very difficult, because Russia`s foreign policy goals are extremely divergent from the United States and their values just broadly.

But this is really the big question now. Is Trump only doing this because he sees Russia`s election interference as a threat to his own presidency, because he sees it as perhaps something that delegitimizes his victory, or is it something a bit more sinister, something more nefarious, where he sees any attention being put on Russia is also attention put on the fact or the idea that he may have collaborated?

MATTHEWS: You offer options. I will tell you, none of those options are good, because he`s chief executive of the United States. He`s supposed to carry out the law.

Anyway, asked about the president`s allegation of corruption at the top levels of the FBI, Director Wray defended the performance of his agency.


WRAY: Well, Senator, I would say that my experience, now six months in with the FBI, has validated all my prior experiences with the FBI, which is that it is the finest group of professionals and public servants I could hope to work for.

There are 37,000 people in the FBI who do unbelievable things all around the world. And although you would never know it from watching the news, we actually have more than two investigations. And most of them do a lot to keep Americans safe.


MATTHEWS: Well, Director Wray also said he`s encouraged employees to ignore what they hear about the FBI on TV and specifically denied allegations of bias.


WRAY: Senator, there`s no shortage of opinions about our agency, just like every other agency up here. And I encourage our folks not to get too hung up what I consider to be the noise on TV and in social media.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you haven`t seen any evidence of some sort of inherent political bias in the agency?



MATTHEWS: You know, let me go back to Natasha.

It seems to me that Trump has a strategy to trash the FBI, trash anybody that will get the goods on him, trash the media, anybody that might bring facts forward. You want to do this? Go for it.


The FBI right now is of course investigating him for potential obstruction of justice.

MATTHEWS: So they`re the bad guys.

BERTRAND: So, he`s framing them in a way that could undermine their credibility.

MATTHEWS: Framing them is the right word. As they say in the movies, framing them.

Go ahead.

BERTRAND: And this is actually probably going to play pretty well within the bureau largely, just kind of Director Wray`s ability to come out and say, there is no bias, there`s nothing going on here, because, of course, when he did let McCabe go, that did not play well in the FBI.

A lot of folks within the bureau...

MATTHEWS: Number two guy.

BERTRAND: ... were kind of annoyed at how that went down. They thought that McCabe did not deserve to be let go that way.

So, the fact that now Wray seems to be kind of stepping up to the plate and defending the agents, the bureau is probably going to play very well within the ranks.

MATTHEWS: Well, Mieke, the president of the United States is also, besides a political leader and the head of the executive branch, he`s chief executive. He`s also commander in chief. He`s chiefly -- he is in charge of our national defense. The top guy, the top person.

If he`s not leading the effort to keep the Russians out of our stuff, who will?

EOYANG: Well, this is exactly the question that the intelligence agency heads got asked today. They said, who is leading the effort?

And they said, no one agency is empowered. And when you have a problem of this magnitude that can be solved on a law enforcement front, that it needs to be confronted through military alliances, that needs to e confronted through diplomacy, that is the kind of thing where you would expect coordination to happen at the White House, through an interagency process, led by the president.

MATTHEWS: Usually, the president kicks butt and says, let`s get the job done.

EOYANG: That`s right.

BERTRAND: Or empowers the vice president, at a minimum.

EOYANG: But you don`t see Pence leading these meetings. You don`t see the president calling people together.

MATTHEWS: For fear of offending his guy that made him.

EOYANG: That`s right. And without clear direction, nobody is doing anything.

MATTHEWS: This is pretty sad.

And we all got in testimony today. It`s one day I liked. It was all under oath today by public servants, including Christopher Wray, appointed by the president to the head the FBI, the national director of intelligence, Dan Coats. These are good people doing their job. And the president did not look good today, because he was up against truth-tellers.

Natasha Bertrand, thank you. And, Mieke Eoyang, thank you. Both of you are truth-tellers.

Up next: Do Democrats have a message beyond just being anti-Trump? And if so, what is that message? U.S. Congressman Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts delivered the State of the Union response for the Democrats, and tonight he joins us right here on HARDBALL.

And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.



REP. JOE KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Many have spent the last year anxious, angry, afraid. We all feel the fractured fault lines across our country. We hear the voices of Americans who are forgotten and feel forsaken.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Congressman Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts delivering the Democratic response to President Trump`s State of the Union.

Can he link much of the turmoil of the last year directly to Trump and his administration?

With Democrats looking to retake Congress this November and the White House perhaps in 2020, he also offered this rallying cry:


KENNEDY: We are bombarded with one false choice after another. Coal miners or single moms. Rural communities or inner cities. The coast or the heartland.

As if the mechanic in Pittsburgh, a teacher in Tulsa, and a day care worker in Birmingham are bitter rivals, rather than mutual casualties of a system forcefully rigged towards those at the top.

So here is the answer that Democrats offer tonight. We choose both.



MATTHEWS: Congressman Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts joins us now.

By the way, I thought that was a good argument, because I have been making it a long time, from your grandfather`s lips about both, that don`t choose between the factory worker out of work up in Erie and the kid in North Philly who has never had a chance, the regular kid.

KENNEDY: No, look, we don`t.

You don`t -- when our country`s at our best, we don`t. That`s not who we are.

Look, the fact is, Chris, just as you pointed out, the challenges that we confront as a nation -- and they are real and they are entrenched and they are complicated -- they are no match for a country that is united in trying to tackle them.

But what we have seen out of this administration is one that continues to divide America up and offer a series of solutions that comes only for part of America, at the expense of another.

MATTHEWS: How do you convince people in Pennsylvania, or Wisconsin, Ohio, those kind of states that decided the election, that the interests of the factory worker who is out of work, the 55-year-old factor worker, are the same as the minority kid in terms of job training and economic opportunity, the whole works, security and things like Social Security, Medicare, things like that?

KENNEDY: Because, Chris, the bottom line is that every American that I have ever talked to, every American that I represent back in my district in Massachusetts, whether they`re a Democrat, Republican or other, they care about keeping a roof over their head, food on their plate, their kid in a good school, saving for retirement and making sure that when they wake up tomorrow, they`re safe and secure in their community.

That is not a Democrat idea, a Republican idea. That connects every single American. So you fight for those policies. You fight for those people. You give them a chance to actually win and succeed. That is what has built America. That is what has pulled us together. That is what has actually gotten us over these major challenges that we have confronted as nation.

What doesn`t get you there is saying, in order for somebody to win, someone else has to lose, and trying to pit American against American in some bizarre, odd version of reality television. That`s not how you govern the most powerful country in the world.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about putting flesh and bones on that idea.

Joe Biden.


MATTHEWS: What do you think it is about him? You have said this in different words. What is it would have made him a strong, attractive candidate against Trump in the stretch last time? What did he have or has?


KENNEDY: I think what Vice President Biden represents is a -- in many ways a throwback to what Democrats have represented and what we seek to represent, which is the idea that every single person has dignity, every single person can succeed and every single person wants to.

You give them a shot and you fight for them. And, look, I was a strong supporter of Mrs. Clinton. I believe she would have been a great president. I traveled all over the country for her.

I think that what we as a party have to do is to make sure that we focus on that message that does -- that is not a political one.

MATTHEWS: What made -- I get what you`re saying. I know you`re a political person. You can`t say it exactly the way somebody like I can say it. I know you can`t.

Biden doesn`t ever give you the sense that he`s elite. He never gives you a sense that he`s better than you. He doesn`t look like he`s dumping anybody. He`s not -- people aren`t being discarded. A lot of people in this country feel that the Democratic Party has discarded them. And Biden doesn`t give off that image, for some -- how does he avoid giving off that image?

KENNEDY: So, I think Democrats, we believe in good government. We want to solve a problem. We are very good at diagnosing an issue, finding a really smart person to run a regression analysis, and come up with a policy response that will solve the problem.

What that misses is the human side to it. There`s one thing to say that there`s various industries that might be in decline. There`s another thing to recognize that some of those industries have powered America, built us to where we are today.

Just tossing that aside, whether those happen to be coal miners -- or, Chris, for us, look, those coal miners that some like to talk about, those are our fishermen that have been fighting in Massachusetts for generations to go out in the dead of winter to pull up lobster pots and flounder and haddock for us to eat.


MATTHEWS: I get you. I get you.

KENNEDY: This is not -- this isn`t something that you kind of wave your hand out and say, let`s put them out of business. This is something, an industry that we should be proud of and people we should be fighting for.

MATTHEWS: Trump has got a half-assed, to use a term that people would normally would use, infrastructure program. It`s the chintziest thing in the world. It`s not serious.

He had a huge tax cut for the rich. What do the Democrats have to counter those two things?

KENNEDY: Look, we do have an infrastructure plan. And I think...

MATTHEWS: I never heard of it.

KENNEDY: Well, we released it last week.

MATTHEWS: Where is it? Where is it?

KENNEDY: We released it last week.

MATTHEWS: Is it in a silken garment somewhere? Where is it?


MATTHEWS: Where is this infrastructure plan? What`s it look like?

KENNEDY: I think what we have to recognize, one, is that it becomes awfully hard to put forth a viable infrastructure plan, when you have got an administration that just passed off $1.5 trillion on the next generation.


KENNEDY: What we have and what I would challenge this administration on, which is exactly what you pointed out, it`s one thing to say we want to -- we have such an infrastructure gap, we need to spread the money around. Fine. There might be some logical argument to that.

It`s another thing to say, we want to focus on rural America. Fine. There`s an argument to that.


KENNEDY: What I would counter with is, what are you going to do for Fall River? What are you going to do for...


MATTHEWS: Exactly.

Well, I`m wondering, because you did the Big Dig, and I like it.


MATTHEWS: The Big Dig is great. But it works.

KENNEDY: I agree.

MATTHEWS: And, by the way, Massachusetts made it economically because of hospitals, high education, and infrastructure investment. It had a lot of powerful people like Tip O`Neill and your uncles. It got great things done.

KENNEDY: Great staff members working for them.

MATTHEWS: Sometimes. Anyway, thanks, U.S. Congressman Joe Kennedy trying to charm me of Massachusetts.

Up next -- please come back. We`re watching you. Anyway, thank you.

Anyway, President Trump warns that this is the last chance to fix the DACA program. What happened to his love for Dreamers and why is it so chancy and how are the Democrats going to win this one?

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The Senate immigration debate got off to a turbulent start today as Democrats rejected a Republican proposal to crack down on sanctuary cities, both parties are scrambling to come up with language that can pass the 60- vote threshold in the Senate.

The president makes things easier when he tweeted, negotiations on DACA have begun. Republicans want to make a deal and Democrats said they want to make a deal. Wouldn`t it be great if we could after so many years solve the DACA puzzle. This will be our last chance. There will never be another opportunity March 5th.

Well, March 5th deadline is actually on hold after a federal judge ordered the administration to resume accepting DACA renewal applications. And late today, a second judge in New York also blocked the president`s decision. When it comes to solving the DACA puzzle, President Trump hasn`t helped. Let`s watch.


CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: You`ll rescind the DREAM Act executive order, the DACA?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You`re going to have to. We have to make a whole new set of standards.

I have a love for these people and hopefully now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly. I think my positions are going to be what the people in this room come up with. I am very much reliant on the people in this room.

REPORTER: Would you be willing to sign immigration deal that ultimately does not include funding for the border wall or would that be a red line for you.

TRUMP: No, it`s got to include the wall. We need the wall for security. We need the wall for safety.


MATTHEWS: Well, it`s unclear where the president really stands. A source close to the White House recently told "Axios" that Trump is going to be looking for opportunities to stir up the base more than focusing on any particular legislation or issue. In other words, he would rather have the issue.

Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable, Kimberly Atkins, D.C. bureau chief for the "Boston Herald" and an MSNBC contributor, Adrienne Elrod is former director of strategic communications for Hillary Clinton`s presidential campaign, and Shermichael Singleton, a Republican strategist.

Wow, we have a diversity of thinking here perhaps. But I want to ask anybody, is anybody optimistic about getting a bill through to both houses, 60 votes in the Senate, 218 in the House that actually does something for the Dreamers?

KIMBERLY ATKINS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I think at the very end, Donald Trump needs to support this. I think when it comes to the politics of this, that you`re right. I think he is happy to use this as an issue particularly ahead of the 2018 election. We`ve already seen him doing it today joking - - I think joking with Sherrod Brown at the trade meeting today saying, hey, it`s the Republicans that want to fix DACA, not you, not the Democrats.

MATTHEWS: Does he want it fixed or does he want the issue to use against immigration?

SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think he wants the issue to use against immigration. Remember, Chris, it was days ago, or at least days ago, where Trump tweeted, Republicans want to solve immigration. It`s the Democrats that are stalling this process.

And remember, this is a wedge issue that Trump`s base love. And I don`t think he`s going to do anything.

MATTHEWS: So, the tougher he is on family unification, on diversity lotteries on the wall, the tougher he is on demanding all kinds of price to be paid for the Dreamers, he doesn`t -- he can`t lose.

ADRIENNE ELROD, FORMER CLINTON AMPAIGN DIRECTOR OF STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: Yes, I think he wants to see this as an issue that continues to go on in the trajectory we`re talking about for the next six, seven eight months heeding up to midterms, because he wants to try to go to his base and say I`m trying to fight for the wall and try to fight for funding. At the same time, Democrats are saying we need to have a path for Dreamers, which is what we support.

So, he wants this to stay in the public debate. I mean, he does not want this issue to go away.

MATTHEWS: Well, Kimberly, let me ask you about -- how long is this going to go on, this death rattle? Three or four days of debate arguing about things that aren`t going to ever reach compromise. They`ll never agree on sanctuary cities ever, and they`re never agree on family unification. They won`t agree. They could probably agree on inches of the wall if they could get account Dreamers free for that.

ATKINS: Well, that`s the problem.

MATTHEWS: That`s probably what they could deal with, because Schumer would like to do that.

ATKINS: You`re right. Well, the president set the parameters so wide to include things like family reunification and the visa lottery, whereas there was a consensus for a smaller bill, something that addressed DACA --

MATTHEWS: A little wall and a lot of Dreamer.

ATKINS: Exactly. Now, that seems to be off the table with the conservatives now have something to hold on to very much dug in on the issue of family reunification. The president is not going to let that go. So, you were just going to see people taking votes just like today that they know it`s going to get shot down.

MATTHEWS: Shermichael, how many Republicans in the House of Representatives, which is always a problem for immigration will not, under any circumstances, will not vote for anything that looks like amnesty? In other words, a road to citizenship. We`ll never ever do it because it means they get primaried and they`re gone. How many? Give me a number.

SINGLETON: That`s a concern and I can`t give you a number. But I will say, I think the House Freedom Caucus will be the biggest hurdle here.

MATTHEWS: It`s 30 to start with.

SINGLETON: Precisely. Unlike McConnell, that is why Paul Ryan has to walk a very tight rope. If you lose too many voters, can you get enough Democrats?

MATTHEWS: Does he lose his job if he brings that to the floor?

SINGLETON: Well, he`s probably going to retire anyway, Chris. So, I think at this point --

MATTHEWS: Will he lose his job if he brings up a vote on amnesty?

ELROD: I think he will.

ATKINS: If he doesn`t have a majority of the majority, certainly, I think that he will.

ELROD: Absolutely. I think his job is in jeopardy regardless of what happens in the midterms. If Republicans lose the House, I think his job is in jeopardy. If Democrats win the House, his job is also in jeopardy.


MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about demographics, I hate to talk like South Africans, but when you come down to ethnicity, it doesn`t matter. Are there so many congressional seats held by Republicans that are so conservative or negative on the issue of immigration, too few Hispanic people and too many people that care about Hispanics, that they`re never going to vote for that group of people, never going to do it, so you`re never going to get to 218 in the House because Republicans will never be interested in helping them?

Is that possible? We`re just talking about something that won`t happen.

ATKINS: I don`t see a path in the House.

MATTHEWS: Remember, we had a civil war over slavery because it couldn`t be solved. We only got civil rights in `64 because they had a liberal Supreme Court that said, OK, you can do it by statute, all right? And you didn`t have to change the Constitution.

Is this one thing we won`t get done legislatively?

SINGLETON: I don`t think so, Chris. And I think it`s really difficult, the Freedom Caucus, those folks are so reactionary. It`s nearly impossible. Remember, John Boehner had an issue with them. Even if they replace Paul Ryan with someone else, I don`t foresee anything changing for Republicans on the House.

MATTHEWS: The minute they vote for something, there`s somebody on the radio calling him a traitor.

SINGLETON: Well, that`s true.

ELROD: But you got to remember, that 80 percent of the American people, regardless of political party, want a path to citizenship for Dreamers.

MATTHEWS: What kind of Republican are you anyways?

SINGLETON: A Jack Kemp Republican.

MATTHEWS: OK, that`s a small -- that`s a small place to be.

Anyway, the roundtable sticking with us. You`re watching HARDBALL.

That`s very small.


MATTHEWS: We`ll be right back with the hard roundtable to tell us three things we don`t know. It`s actually the best part of the show most nights. They want to tell us something you`re never going to forget, right, guys? Never going to forget.

Back after this.


MATTHEWS: As promise, we`re back with our roundtable.

Kimberly, tell me something I don`t know.

ATKINS: There`s one particular part of the president`s budget facing derision from the left. He proposed for the SNAP program, the food stamp program, instead of giving money to give boxes of food harvest boxes they call it, something like Blue Apron, but the left is calling it Blue Apron but terrible, literally a food delivery to the home.

MATTHEWS: What is it, vegetables for the garden?

ATKINS: Yes, literally a food delivery to the home, you know --

MATTHEWS: Packaged foods.

ATKINS: Instead of money. So, it`s sort of a throwback to food --

MATTHEWS: You get to pick what you want?

ATKINS: I don`t think so. It`s like government cheese.


ELROD: So, there`s been a little bit of criticism about the Democratic Party`s fund-raising especially in 2017. But I want to put things in perspective here. First of all, the DNC raised $66 million in 2017, which is more than they raised in 2005 and 2007 which were the off years.

Two-thirds of those donations, you know this this is a critical number, two-thirds of those were from the grassroots, $21 on average donation, 63 percent of those donations came from women. This is good for the Democratic Party.

MATTHEWS: I was wondering how you would make fundraising interesting. Go ahead, Shermichael.

SINGLETON: Kay Cole James was recently promoted as president of the conservative Heritage Foundation. I think that`s a very good thing. I expect that we`ll begin to see more policy prescriptions targeting issues impacting African-Americans and Hispanics. And those are two demographic groups contract Republican Party has a problem with.

MATTHEWS: I never forget that Heritage Foundation gave us Obamacare.

SINGLETON: No comment.

MATTHEWS: Yes, it did. Thank you. Nobody wants to admit that.

Kimberly Atkins, Adrienne Elrod and Shermichael Singleton, it`s all history.

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


MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Tuesday, February 13th, 2018.

An American president is first of all, a human like the rest of us. He wakes up in the morning, realizes who he is, reads the newspaper, eats breakfast and begins his day. Yes, if we forget, he is a human like us.

If there is fear around this person, he knows when first awaking that he`s in the midst of it. He must decide what is right for his country. For this, he needs to be of sound mind and body. He needs to sense the consequences of the decisions he will make, hold a vision of where it will take his country and his country`s rivals, and how it will disturb the conditions he`s up against. Yes, it is awesome, this power we give to a president.

Lincoln chose to fight a terrible civil war rather than let is the country dissolve. FDR chose to side with the British against Hitler. Truman ordered the dropping of an atom bomb on Japan. And then another. W. chose to take us into a war that would cost 100,000 lives.

This is the world we live in. One person in a room who gets up each day knowing he will change so much of this planet at such risk with unknown consequences. How I wonder, how I worry, how knowing what we see of life in today`s White House can give us a steady heart.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.