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WH: Blame Obama for Russian interference. TRANSCRIPT: 02/27/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Susan Page, Philip Rucker, Jay Inslee, Adrienne Elrod, John Brabender, Eugene Scott, Mike Quigley; Kim Wehle

Show: HARDBALL Date: February 27, 2018 Guest: Susan Page, Philip Rucker, Jay Inslee, Adrienne Elrod, John Brabender, Eugene Scott, Mike Quigley; Kim Wehle

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: That does it for me. I will see you back on "the Beat" at 6:00 tomorrow. "Hardball" starts right now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Gates of hell. Let`s play "Hardball."

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

We have wanted for months to see the star witnesses to appear against Donald Trump. Witnesses whose testimony could lead to his impeachment perhaps. Well today, special counsel Robert Mueller dropped several serious charges against former deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates in what was part of a deal for him to become a star witness. Gates is now committed answer all of Mueller`s questions, all his demands for documents, everything.

"Axios" reports today that Mueller`s decision to drop the more expansive charges against Gates suggests that he may have provided good information for Mueller`s probe. The unanswered question now is whether that information will be used to further pressure Paul Manafort or whether Gates has the goods on the President himself.

Meanwhile, NBC News is now reporting among the many states that were targeted by Russian hackers some were actually compromised. Quote "the U.S. intelligence community developed substantial evidence that state web sites and seven states with compromised by Russian-backed covert operatives prior to the 2016 election but never told the states involved," according to multiple U.S. officials.

As of January of last year, those seven states included Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Texas, and Wisconsin. While state and federal officials say no votes were actually changed quote "they are concerned that 2016 was laying the groundwork for a possible future attack," in other words the Russians were casing the joint. This report comes as the director of national security agency, the NSA, admiral Mike Rogers testified today that neither President Trump nor the secretary of defense has ever directed him to take any retaliatory measure toward Russia. Wow.

That revelation led to this very tense exchange between Rogers and senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri at a U.S. cyber command hearing with the Senate armed services committee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D-MI), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I`m going to try to channel a woman who came up to me at the grocery store not along ago. She asked me, are we strong enough and smart enough that we can keep them from doing this again?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

MCCASKILL: OK. So then the next question she asked me, I said the same thing. The next question she asked me, are we doing that right now.

ADM. MIKE ROGERS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY: We are taking steps but we are probably not doing enough.

MCCASKILL: OK. So she wants to know and I want to know why the hell not? What`s it going to take?

ROGERS: I`m an operational commander, ma`am. You are asking me a question that is so much bigger than --.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m joined now by Democratic congressman Mike Quigley who sits in the House intelligence committee, Julia Ansley is an investigative reporter for NBC News and Kim Wehle is a former federal prosecutor. Thank you all for joining us.

Let`s start. There`s so much that happened today. But let`s start with the fact that the Rick Gates is now available to the prosecution. He has been with this campaign as deputy campaign chair all the way through, all the Russia meetings, all that stuff, all the meetings with the ambassador from Russia. He sat in on everything Manafort sat in on. What do you think he has got for Mueller? How much can Mueller squeeze out of this guy?

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D-IL), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Look, Mueller is a master at this now. He did the same thing winning general Flynn. He didn`t even indict his son. He had the ability, the maximum exposure on general Flynn instead he only him on one count. He is doing the same thing with Gates. And when you do that, you are not going laterally, you are not going down, you are going up.

MATTHEWS: Do you think he can go to the President, Gates?

QUIGLEY: I think this is a periphery moving toward the middle.

MATTHEWS: What`s between him and the President? What`s stopping Gates from testifying that he has heard the President say with all these meetings?

QUIGLEY: I wouldn`t know the specifics. I think he would know and Mr. Manafort would certainly now.

MATTHEWS: What do you think? Julia, first. I want the reporting first. We`ll get the jurisdiction later. Jurisprudence next. Go ahead.

JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, obviously, you have got to set up a proffer. So Mueller knew what Gates could offer before he made the sweeping decision to dismiss a lot of these charges. So whatever does Gates was offering probably wasn`t just on his boss, Paul Manafort. He also probably used his position on the campaign. Remember, he stayed on longer than Manafort, his boss, did. He worked on the inauguration. He had conversations during the transition. It is clear that Mueller thinks that there`s enough to get from Gates that he is willing to drop what we saw was a sweeping and serious slew of charges.

MATTHEWS: You know, I think I see a John Dean on the horizon here from Watergate days, you know. I think just start with the guy. As a prosecutor in this case, special counsel Mueller, able to just say OK, thank you for cooperating. We are going to make life good for you if you`re good for us. Tell me every single thing you did this day, every single thing you heard that day, day after day after day, everything you heard from Manafort, every conversation you ever heard, every document you have got in your hand, everything I need. You know I need to get the President.

KIM WEHLE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes. I think he`s already asked all of that and already knows probably what the witness knows. And if you read the plea agreement, this is - he is large and in charge. Mueller has all the cards here. And if he doesn`t cooperate with turning over documents with saying what he says he is going to do, then the gauntlet comes down. And he is holding all of that at bay here. The charges were dismissed without prejudice. They can always be brought back. And Gates has to be very, very careful to tow the line. But the carrot at the other end is huge. It`s not just dropping a lot of charges. But if you read it carefully it could be a 5k letter to actually get probation. So you are going from years and years of prison to possibly probation. That`s --.

MATTHEWS: Guys, I always think back to Colombo days. It always great nights watching Colombo. And you always knew the bad guy was some snooty big shot, you know, some sophisticated actor playing him. But that guy knew he was guilty from the beginning of the show, we knew he was guilty. The joy was watching a guy like Colombo in that raincoat asking one more question. Do you think the President knows everything that happened?

QUIGLEY: I think the President knows exactly how much vulnerability he has on the financial side. I don`t think he totally understands all the money laundering issues that he probably has. And I think he doesn`t understand his total legal peril right now.

MATTHEWS: Do you think he understands conspiracy laws and how they work and how he may have been supporting something and following up on things that were illegal that made him a conspirator?

QUIGLEY: I think watching this for the last year, I think he is creating the opportunities to be charged with obstruction step by step by act and by deed. And it is clear he has to show the intent, but having watched him work with our folks on the intel committee, they have teamed up at this point in time to obstruct the investigation at every step. And I think those are elements.

Trump has and I think some of the Republicans on intel have.

MATTHEWS: Yes, they look like it. Meanwhile, when asked why the White House hasn`t given admiral Mike Rogers authority to even counter Russian aggression, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders took issue with the question. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In charge of cyber command, why not give him the authority?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Nobody is denying him the authority. We are looking at a number of different ways that we can put pressure. Look. This President, as I told you last week has been much tougher on Russia than his predecessor. Let`s not forget that this happened under Obama. It didn`t happen under President Trump. If you want to blame somebody on past problems, then you need to look at the Obama administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Congressman, then I want everybody to respond down the line here. Here you have the President`s spokesperson who is very good at her job of defending the President. That`s what she does. But asked a very direct question. Why hasn`t the President given orders to the NSA to try to stop the Russian interference with our politics in this country? Why hasn`t he given an ordered to do the job of defending the country? And she goes back to the old default button of going after Obama more than a year ago.

QUIGLEY: What he has really done is made us less safe and more vulnerable by calling this a hoax. And saying it could have been some big heavy guy in jersey. In the meantime, we are not ready. We need all new election equipment. It is 10 to 12 years old. We couldn`t even put anti-hacking cyberware on in.

MATTHEWS: The President hasn`t given any orders. This guy, Mike Rogers said he has never told me to do anything. This President is got a truce of a cease-fire with Putin.

AINSLEY: That`s exactly right, Chris.

MATTHEWS: One ended cease fire.

AINSLEY: It blows apart is the whole argument that Obama did less on Russia than Trump did. That is something that Trump has been repeating. It`s something that we see that`s really been promoted by the right this week. But if you think about all the details that were laid out how Russia did their influence campaign by Robert Mueller just a few weeks ago.

MATTHEWS: And now we know seven states have been cased out to possibly be broken into this November for all we know.

AINSLEY: Sure. So they may not be doing enough now to protect that. That seems clear from the testimony. But also remember that the Obama administration didn`t have all the details. It took Robert Mueller, you know, months and months to get to that level of detail and now that we have it, there`s no response. It seems really limited. And it seems that there`s really a cry from the intelligence community to say give us the tools we need to be able to stop this in the future because it`s a serious threat.

MATTHEWS: How do you see this prosecution going now, Kim?

WEHLE: Well, I think it is actually our democracy in a way is hanging by a thread on his ability to continue to do his job. I mean, the Russian interference here I think takes us out of the political spectrum from someone who worked in the whitewater investigation, Democratic president.

I mean, think about if your home was invaded and spies were left all over and you slept through it, you are aware that it happened. There`s 100 percent chance they are coming back. There`s still there. There`s 100 percent chance and you are not going to call the police. You are not going to say anything. You do not. I mean, that doesn`t make any sense.

And I think the American public needs to wake up and realize what`s happened. It`s done. They have done it into.

MATTHEWS: I know your district a little bit. Northwest Chicago. And I`m just wondering, what about the Republicans you deal with? I know you`re nonpartisan the way you deal with constituents. That`s how it works in the big city and all. What do they say about the Russians?

QUIGLEY: We are just re-litigating the election. After Charlottesville, I said you`re just re-litigating the civil war. I try to convince them. They should have been concerned. It could have just as easily been an attack on the Republicans.

And by the way, seven states is wrong. It`s more like 35 or 36. It`s your voting apparatus they attacked. And as Comey said, they will be back. We are not ready.

MATTHEWS: And what are they up to next time? We don`t know.

QUIGLEY: Well, I think they hacked into the databases already. They can do a lot of mischief there. I think they want to hack into the voting machines. Thirteen states don`t even have a paper record that we can audit if they hack.

MATTHEWS: Do you think we should go to paper this fall just to be careful?

QUIGLEY: I think that we need a combination of the touch screens with paper. That can be audited.

MATTHEWS: Julia, 69 percent, seven out of ten Americans believe the Russians were involved in our election last time. Now there is a difference about how much they affected the totals and all that. But they know, most people overwhelmingly believe that Russians were screwing with us trying to hurt our democracy.

WEHLE: Sure. And something that`s been made really clear and James Comey said this in testimony, the Russians really tried to leave bread crumbs. They want to show Americans that they can interfere in our elections whether that`s through penetrating voter databases or releasing hacked emails or launching social media campaigns.

MATTHEWS: Why? Why do that?

WEHLE: Because it seems they want us to stoke fear. So that the next time you go to the polls and then next time you see the results of an election, you have a little bit of doubt. And of course, it doesn`t matter which side it`s on.

MATTHEWS: A shaky third world democracy.

Anyway, I have a question for the congressman. Remember, the intelligence committee. Meanwhile, White House communications director Hope Hicks was on Capitol Hill today to testify before your committee. While she answers questions about the campaign and the presidential transition, Hicks refused to answer any questions on anything that took place after Trump took the presidency.

"The New York Times" is also previously reported that Hicks met with Mueller`s investigators in December. So did you get from her?

QUIGLEY: I think it is part of a pattern with the White House working with the intelligence committee on the Republican side to obstruct the investigation. They did not actually assert privilege and if they did, the scope of it would be enormous. Unprecedented. Basically who are operating under a gag order and the Republicans have agreed to let the President do this. They are teaming up with him. The memo was part of that, the Nunes trip to the White House. It`s all part of a pattern where they are actually helping the President avoid investigation.

MATTHEWS: Why? I mean, I know what partisanship is. I know what it is. But this, this is embarrassing for Nunes and the rest of them.

QUIGLEY: This is the ball game. This is power.

MATTHEWS: Are they trying to protect him from being impeached?

QUIGLEY: I think they are trying to protect him politically and they are trying to protect him legally. In part of that a lot of that protects hem politically, as well.

MATTHEWS: So what`s Nunes up for, CIA? What is he going to get out of this? Italy? Spain? What`s he get worth all this embarrassment?

QUIGLEY: You have to ask the chairman.

MATTHEWS: I know. It`s a terrible question to ask. What price are you, sir.

Anyway, thank you Congressman Mike Quigley of Chicago. Julia Ansley, thank you. And thank you, Kim Wehle.

Coming up, Jared Kushner loses his top secret security clearance today. He will no longer be allowed to access top secret intelligence but when you are the President`s son-in-law, do the rules apply or what is he? Why is he in a top secret business if he can`t even know what`s going on. I don`t actually sure he ever did.

Plus, is Trump pulling back from his idea to raise the minimum wage top buy an assault weapon to 21? I think so. The White House says he is still there, but Donald think so. We have heard plenty of talk from this guy and so far zero action. And that means, once again, nothing`s getting done on guns.

And Trump takes to twitter once again dismissing the Russia investigation as a witch hunt. A trouble with that, it is not working majority, 70 percent of the Americans -- most of them trust special prosecutor Robert Mueller to get to the truth about Russia and they don`t trust Trump and they do believe seven of ten of us think the Russians were involved in screwing with us in 2016.

Finally, let me finish tonight with Trump watch. He won`t like this one.

This is "Hardball" where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, of course, President Trump yesterday made that bold claim that he would have charged in to Stoneman Douglas high school to stop the school shooting even if he was unarmed. Late night hosts had plenty to say about that claim. Let`s watch them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look, sir, sir, we already know how you react to combat situations. You got five deferments from Vietnam. What are you going to do, run in there and stab them with your bone spurs?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got to say, I find it hard it believe Trump would voluntarily run inside a place of education.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s going to run in? When Trump ran for President, that was the first time he ran in his entire life. Come on, man. You are telling me this guy is brave enough to run into an unarmed - he is brave enough to run into a school shooting? This guy?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Whether or not President Trump would have taken on the gunman, it`s increasingly clear the president is unwilling to take on the gun lobby itself. That story is coming up.

You are watching "Hardball."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to "Hardball."

NBC News confirmed today that Jared Kushner`s security clearance has been downgraded. In other words, erased. The White House security office sent a memo on Friday letting Kushner and all other staffers who have been operating under interim clearances since June 1st to know they would be denied access to highly classified information.

As NBC points out, other senior staff like Trump`s daughter Ivanka had also been operating on interim clearances for access to highly classified information. Before the news broke this afternoon, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Kushner would continue do important work. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: She is a valued member of the team and he will continue to do the important work that he has been doing since he started in the administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And chief of staff John Kelly said in his statement last week that he has full confidence in Kushner`s ability to continue performing his duties in his foreign policy portfolio including overseeing our Israeli/Palestinian peace effort and serving as integral part of our relationship with Mexico. Well tonight a senior administration official told NBC News Trump feels Kushner has been quote "treated very unfairly. He never gets any credit. He works for nothing and we all know Jared works on major pieces of the President`s portfolio both foreign and domestic."

I`m joined now by Phil Rucker, White House bureau chief for the "Washington Post" and MSNBC Political analyst and Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA today."

You know, I don`t often do this. I only do this once in a while like every five years. I told you so. I want to show you right now something that I said back when they pushed this guy, this person into this ridiculous position of deciding our Middle Eastern policy, our hemispheric policy, et cetera. I said it would be complicated for Trump to have a family member so close inside the White House. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: This guy has power, and now he says he`s going to having power domestically and foreign. Who is going to mess with him in the White House? Who is going to fire him? This is something else.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right. Right.

MATTHEWS: And nobody is going to -- people are going to -- oh, well, we`re going to make an exception here, or maybe the rule doesn`t quite apply to - - the principle of the anti-nepotism law is to stop nepotism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I think I was pretty clear on it. It was a problem that was going to come. He`s an untouchable without any background in anything he`s been assigned to do.

He knows nothing about Middle East policy, nothing about hemispheric policy. Yet he`s the boss. Apparently, he`s the go-to guy in this administration on dealing with the future of any Middle East peace deal of any kind.

He`s the guy.

PHILIP RUCKER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": And he`s going to continue to have that portfolio.

We have got Prime Minister Netanyahu coming to Washington at the end of this week and into next week. And Jared Kushner is right in the middle of negotiations in the Middle East peace process.

MATTHEWS: How is he going to do the job, Susan, if he doesn`t have the top-secret -- how does he know what Abdullah is able to handle in terms of accepting deals? How does he know the inside on the emirates, what they are up to, what they will really accept, what they really need?

The stuff that decides negotiations is what can the side give, what do they need, and try to work it together in some beautiful way, some choreography, the way Kissinger used to do it.

This guy is going to do this without any top security information, except from Dermer and Netanyahu. They will probably tell him all they want him to hear. But even in that case, he won`t know what their real position is, because they`re playing him, like everybody else will.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": You in fact cannot do the job of being the point person for trying to negotiate a Middle East peace without top-secret, compartmentalized security clearance. It`s not possible.

Now, maybe the president will give him access to this, even though he doesn`t have the clearance. That`s possible.

MATTHEWS: What, pass him the test paper?

PAGE: I think -- my understanding is the president -- it`s up to the president who can see what.

So is that right, Phil?

(CROSSTALK)

RUCKER: I think that`s right.

MATTHEWS: Well, why did he say it`s up to Kelly whether he gets cleared or not?

PAGE: So, because I think it is politically untenable to say you`re my chief of staff, but I`m going to give my son-in-law clearance you don`t think he deserves.

MATTHEWS: So, he`s going to pass him the paper.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I`m really brutal here, but I think I`m telling the truth.

If the president doesn`t read, how can he brief anybody else?

RUCKER: Well...

MATTHEWS: What is he willing to sit down and study so he can share with his son-in-law?

RUCKER: The president can instruct the intelligence community to share certain information with him.

MATTHEWS: He can?

RUCKER: And the I.C. can present a carry a watered-down briefing for Jared Kushner...

MATTHEWS: Intelligence community.

RUCKER: ... where they would maybe go over the top-line information that he`s available to have with that secret clearance, but not the top-secret material.

MATTHEWS: OK. Why isn`t he cleared?

RUCKER: Well, it`s a good question. There`s not a definitive answer for that.

MATTHEWS: That`s why you`re here. I want an answer.

Why don`t they clear this guy? He`s been around for more than a year. He`s the president`s son-in-law. What`s wrong with this guy? What is wrong?

RUCKER: "The Washington Post" has a story out.

MATTHEWS: Is his nose clear? Or has he got something wrong with him that is that supposed that they won`t clear him?

RUCKER: Yes.

Yes, my colleagues have a story out this afternoon on this topic, actually, which says that the foreign conversations that he`s had have led officials in four different countries, including two...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: We have got that.

"The Washington Post" is reporting that "officials in at least four countries have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience. Officials in the White House were concerned that Kushner was naive and being tricked in conversations with foreign officials, some of whom said they wanted to deal only with Kushner directly, and not with more experienced personnel."

That is an amazing statement. Give us your weak link.

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE: Yes.

And that`s why you have experienced people. That`s why you have to have a security clearance to do this, so that you have some basis of information, and so that you know how to handle this kind of thing.

These four countries, such an interesting "Post" story, don`t just include adversaries like China. It includes two of our good allies, Mexico and Israel, trying to manipulate.

(CROSSTALK)

RUCKER: Yes. And those are the countries he`s dealing with most directly.

MATTHEWS: Well, who is think -- if he`s going to treat his son-in-law with special treatment, which he`s doing, if he`s going to make sure he`s allowed to get information he`s not supposed to get, and remain in a privileged position he`s not ready for, who`s to say he won`t pardon him when the time comes?

Who is to say if he`s going to protect him at all costs, like this? It looks to me like the prima facie case he`s ready to pardon this guy when the time comes.

RUCKER: I don`t know what the answer to that question is. And then we will find out if and when it comes.

MATTHEWS: It looks like he`s untouchable, is what I`m saying.

RUCKER: I would be surprised, frankly, if the president didn`t pardon him if it came to that.

MATTHEWS: Susan, he`s obviously got a tremendous sensitivity towards his daughter and his son-in-law, to the point they shouldn`t be in there.

PAGE: Right.

And the pardon power is almost unlimited. A president can do just about what he wants. Just very few limits on a president`s power to pardon, with no review. So, if he chose to, he could.

RUCKER: And, remember, the president pardoned Joe Arpaio, the sheriff in Maricopa County, Arizona. If he is willing to do, surely he would be willing to pardon his son-in-law.

MATTHEWS: Why are they there? Are they like people who carry the comfort beings on airplanes with them? They have to have these beings like dogs or whatever else with him? He needs them for company? Is that why they`re there? Why are they there? They`re not smart.

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE: He`s always had, even during the campaign, not a big professional operation.

He had a couple friends and people who have been with him and family members who he trusts.

MATTHEWS: Trust for what?

PAGE: Trusts them to be loyal to him. Maybe trusts their judgment.

MATTHEWS: You think?

PAGE: But he`s always had a surprisingly few number of traditional experienced professional folks around him.

MATTHEWS: To do the real work of helping him out.

PAGE: Traditional, in a traditional White House operation.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You know big people are -- NBA basketball players. A lot of people like to bring their old friends with them whenever they go anywhere.

I understand the tendency to want old pals around you. But this is the presidency of the United States. It`s not his property. It`s not his world. And he`s making like the Romanovs, like a royal family situation. It`s what makes him comfortable.

RUCKER: To her credit, the president sent Ivanka Trump to lead the delegation at the Closing Ceremonies at the Olympics, a delicate situation with North Korea being represented in that box.

And the White House officials I have talked to say she handled it perfectly.

MATTHEWS: Well, she was our viceroy.

(CROSSTALK)

RUCKER: Well, they`re very pleased with how it went.

MATTHEWS: No, but she`s representing the United States.

RUCKER: Yes, exactly.

MATTHEWS: Ivanka Trump. And he does that kind of role when he goes to the Middle East and meets with the Emirates?

RUCKER: Yes.

They`re senior advisers in the White House. They represent this government.

MATTHEWS: And they can`t get -- pass clearance?

RUCKER: Correct.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you. It`s the world we live in. It is the Romanovs.

Phil Rucker, thank you, Susan Page. You`re so dry about this. You just accept this as if this is normal American life. It`s not!

Up next, President Trump -- it`s Russia normal. It`s the way they do it in Russia. The Romanovs. But they got rid of all them.

Anyway, is the president pulling back on his promise for the sweeping gun control thing? Remember, he`s going to do all this stuff when the issue was a little hotter, about two weeks ago? Is he pulling his dance, where he says, I will do it, and two weeks later, he forgot what he promised? Promise everything, deliver nothing, the Trump method, the M.O.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

In the wake of the devastating Parkland school shooting, President Trump has tried to seize control of the gun debate. He`s using his two-step technique, however, promise everything, then deliver nothing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`re talking about rules and regulations for purchasing. We`re talking about changing an age from 18 to 21. These other weapons that we talk about that some people don`t like, they`re allowed to buy them at 18. So, how does that make sense?

Trump wants all teachers to have guns. Trump wants teachers to have guns. I don`t want teachers to have guns. I want highly trained people that have a natural talent.

I say the only way you stop it is retribution. I don`t think you`re going to stop it by being kind.

We got to stop. By the way, bump stocks, we`re writing that out. I`m writing that out myself. I don`t care if Congress does it or not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, despite all those commitments from the president, he`s been working with the leaders of the NRA.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Don`t worry about the NRA. They`re on our side. You guys, half of you are so afraid of the NRA. There`s nothing to be afraid of.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, it should come as no surprise that, despite the groundswell of support for sweeping gun legislation spearheaded by the survivors of the Parkland shooting who are on Capitol Hill right now, it doesn`t look like congressional Republicans will actually do anything to challenge the NRA.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: First of all, you know, I`m not going to micromanage this. Let me just say this on -- on -- on -- we shouldn`t be banning guns for law-abiding citizens. We should be focusing on making sure that citizens who should not get guns in the first place don`t get those guns.

So, of course we want to listen to the kids, but we also want to make sure that we protect people`s due process rights.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, in Tallahassee, Florida, state senators rejected a bill that would ban the AR-15.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, by your vote, the bill, the amendment is not adopted. We will go to the next amendment.

(SHOUTING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Shame! Shame! Shame!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Excuse me.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the two issues that seem to getting the most support, arming teachers and fixing background checks, are the ones sanctioned by the National Rifle Association.

But not everybody agrees with the notion that teachers should be armed guards. Yesterday, the governor of Washington State pushed back on that idea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JAY INSLEE (D), WASHINGTON: I have listened to the people who would be affected by that. I have listened to the biology teachers, and they don`t want to do that at any percentage. I have listened to the first grade teachers that don`t want to be pistol-packing teachers.

Now, I just think this is a circumstance where we need to listen, that educators should educate, and they should not be foisted upon this responsibility of packing heat in first grade classes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, for more, I`m joined by himself, Democratic Governor from Washington State Jay Inslee.

Governor, thank you.

INSLEE: You bet.

MATTHEWS: Do you think Trump -- a little bit of psychobabble from you I would like right now.

Do you think Trump really means to arm the teachers, or that`s his excuse next time when the horror strikes again at a school, we have another mass shooting of a school? He will stay, I told you we need to arm our teachers, knowing that the unions and nobody else will go along with it. He`s covered.

I`m just thinking politically. Do you think he is?

INSLEE: Well, I have no idea what goes on between those ears.

But I can tell you, if history is a guide, it will be part of a long con of one sort of another, a bait and switch, where he will say something and never come through with leadership. And we need leadership right now.

I would characterize this as a ludicrous idea. It has been rejected by five million educators in this country. It`s been rejected law enforcement, who don`t believe it`s a meaningful way to deal with this problem.

And it`s really a distraction, to try to distract. This is an NRA tactic. We have seen this for years, to distract with this argument that the solution to guns is just more guns everywhere, every time, day or night, inside or outside.

And I don`t think it is a real solution. And it`s disappointing, because we need real solutions. And this one solution that I heard him at one point agree that we need to raise the age to get an assault weapon. And now I have heard he might be backing off from that.

We should not be surprised. I heard your run-ups mention the two-step shuffle. And I hope we don`t get that, because we need real solutions in a commonsense way. And I hope we do. And I tried to bring the voice of teachers and parents and law enforcement into the White House yesterday.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about -- first of all, it`s an established pattern. He did it with DACA, where he said, I`m all for it, I love these kids, love them, love them, cherish them.

INSLEE: Right.

MATTHEWS: Next thing you know, he dropped the whole thing.

Let me ask you about the assault rifle. It`s the rifle that is a semiautomatic. It has a certain look to it. It looks like an automatic weapon. It`s scary. It looks military. It is military. It has multiple, multiple rounds in it. You can shoot up to 30 rounds apparently with these magazines.

The people, the bad people, whatever their mental or emotional state, who shoot up schools choose this weapon. This is the weapon of choice for them.

Why do people in the IRA (sic) world want to keep it? Why do they want to keep that on the market for people, that weapon?

INSLEE: Well, this is -- I know why some politicians. Because they`re shackled by fear of the NRA. That`s the only reason, because commonsense folks believe that there`s no reason for a military weapon of war for deer hunting or self-protection.

It has become the weapon of choice, because it`s extremely lethal with its muzzle velocity, creates a lethality and injury to people that`s unprecedented relative to other weapons.

I have believed this for a long time. I voted to ban these weapons in 1994, when I was in Congress. I believed that was the right vote then, and I believe it`s the right vote now.

MATTHEWS: How did that turn out for you? You got beaten in that...

INSLEE: Well, for years -- but, for years, we had a ban on them. And there was reduction of these mass shootings.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

INSLEE: It does -- it did have an appreciable impact of reducing some of the mass shootings, because this has become sort of a badge of honor for folks who want to cause mass destruction.

We`re seeing this over and over and over again. So, that will be one of the things to do.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: It`s almost like the Middle East.

If you sign a treaty and you`re Anwar Sadat or you`re Yitzhak Rabin, you do the right thing, you get killed.

You lost on the issue. Tom Foley lost on the issue. And you`re watching Ryan, who is always sold to me. I have never bought the Paul Ryan argument that he`s so great. He, right out there today, said, I`m not going to do anything on gun control. I`m not touching the weapons. He just said it.

INSLEE: It`s very disappointing when you have overwhelming majorities of Americans.

There is no possible argument why Congress should not ban bump stocks. And we`re doing that. I will sign a bill to do that shortly. There is no reason you that can`t buy a pistol until you`re 21, but you can go out and buy an assault weapon, then buy a bump stock, and turn it into a fully automatic weapon.

There`s absolutely no logic for that. There`s no reason that the country doesn`t have what we have in our state of an extreme risk protection order that allows family members to take a firearm out of the homes, with the assistance of law enforcement after a court hearing, of a person who is endangering themselves or potentially endangering others.

Now, these are all common sense. The American people, red, blue areas, urban and rural, hunters and people who don`t own fire arms, all agree on that.

But the fact is the matter is, we have the Republican Party, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the NRA. And we need presidential leadership. And, unfortunately, we`re not getting it. We`re getting these absurd ideas that what we want is our first graders to have a Glock on their hip.

Now, you think about how ridiculous that is.

MATTHEWS: I know.

INSLEE: And what the president talked about, he wanted 20 percent of the five million educators to be carrying around weapons in the schools. That`s a million teachers.

We don`t need a million teaches to be distracted from their educational duties. So, I think it`s important to listen to the people in our country who would be affected by this. I have done that up and down the spectrum. And that`s a bad idea. And we should put common sense to work for us here.

MATTHEWS: It`s great to have you on tonight. Thank you so much for taking the time.

INSLEE: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Governor Jay Inslee of Washington state.

Up next: President Trump once again today ridiculed the Russian investigation, calling it nothing more than a witch-hunt. Too bad Americans aren`t buying that Trump argument. The majority have faith in special counsel Robert Mueller. And they can`t say the same about the president.

Also, seven in 10 think there really was Russian interference in our election in `16. That`s a big chunk of this country, 70 percent.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE ROGERS, NSA DIRECTOR: Everything both as a director of NSA and what I see in the Cyber Command side leads me to believe if we don`t change the dynamic this is going to continue and 2016 won`t be viewed as something isolated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome to HARDBALL.

That was, of course, NSA Director Mike Rogers with a dire warning about Russia`s intentions to interfere in future U.S. elections. Despite overwhelming evidence from the intelligence community and special counsel Robert Mueller`s indictment of 13 Russians for spreading disinformation in the 2016 election, Rogers told senators he has not been directed by President Trump to stop Russia`s meddling. Has not been instructed.

For his part, the president today tweeted a series of quotes arguing there is no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Trump summed things up by saying witch hunt. He does it in capital letters by the way.

But a new "USA Today" poll finds that most voters disagree with the president. Only 36 percent have trust in Trump`s denials of Russian collusion. A majority, 57 percent, said they have little trust or none. Fifty-eight percent said they have trust in special counsel Robert Mueller`s investigation. Only 28 percent have little or no trust in him.

Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable. Adrienne Elrod, former director of strategic communications for Hillary Clinton`s presidential campaign, John Brabender, Republican strategist, and Eugene Scott, a reporter for "The Washington Post."

Let me ask you, there`s two issues. One is the Democrats and the special counsel and everybody else get enough on Trump to begin to impeach him. That`s one issue, of great interest to many of our viewers. The other is, what is the question of Russia`s involvement clearly established in the 2016 election? Whatever effect it had? Did it turn it against Hillary? Did it just may have marginal effect?

Whatever it was, it was there. The American people know it was there and most believe it`s coming back at us in `18. How is that going to affect this administration`s history in the books? Adrienne?

ADRIENNE ELROD, FORMER CLINTON CAMPAIGN DIRECTOR OF STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: Well, I think it`s going to go --

MATTHEWS: That they`re not fighting the Russians?

ELROD: Yes, I think it`s going to affect -- very negatively affect President Trump`s history. I mean, look, it is infuriating as an American that our president does not seem to care about this, despite collusion or not, the fact that he doesn`t seem to care about this, the fact that he`s had two major intelligence officials testify in the last two weeks that he has not directed them to do anything. It`s going to have a dismal effect.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of that Christopher Wray, the FBI director, the NSA, Mike Rogers, all of them saying he`s never told me to do anything about the Russians?

JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, the bigger problem was we`re taking --

MATTHEWS: Isn`t that a problem?

BRABENDER: No, here`s the bigger problem. I`m taking the whole Russia thing and we`re throwing into one category, and there`s three. Number one, did they interfere? Yes. Everybody can --

MATTHEWS: He won`t say that.

BRABENDER: He would say they do.

MATTHEWS: There was the 400-pound guy lying on the bed somewhere.

BRABENDER: Was there collusion? And the president`s right. So far, there`s been absolutely no proof that there was collusion. Number three, did it impact the election? I would tell you as an election expert who`s done this for 30 years, it did not have an impact on the election. So, I do believe my advice --

MATTHEWS: It didn`t have an impact on who won.

BRABENDER: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Who won. We know that they penetrated seven states for sure into their election process.

BRABENDER: They tried to. We don`t know that they successfully did. We don`t know.

MATTHEWS: They could have done.

BRABENDER: No one`s going to convince me that a billion dollar was spent on these campaigns and with memes they changed the outcome.

MATTHEWS: There are crown jewels there. There are three people I can think of, Papadopoulos, Flynn, and now Rick Gates who have all been basically involved in plea bargains to give stuff to Trump on Trump to Mueller. What do you think that is? It has nothing to do with Russia?

BRABENDER: I don`t think that has anything to do with Russia and the campaign, absolutely. No, I don`t. First of all, tell me what Russia could have done.

MATTHEWS: That`s what he`s investigating.

BRABENDER: Here`s what the argument has been, what Russia has done --

MATTHEWS: OK.

BRABENDER: -- to influence the election was to release e-mails where Hillary Clinton was trying to scam the election from Bernie Sanders. That`s what we`re using as what the Russians successfully did?

ELROD: There were a lot more development than that.

(CROSSTALK)

EUGENE SCOTT, THE WASHINGTON POST: So, there`s been a lot more than what`s being said about that. So, one of the things that has been said is that through the factories, the troll factories, fake accounts have been put out that were aimed at increasing, I`m sorry, decreasing turnout amongst particular demographics and that we do have data that some demographics did not vote especially in some of those swing states.

BRABENDER: Yes, but you`re combining those two. So, what you`re basically saying despite a billion dollars worth of advertising, despite all the network coverage and all the debates, some Russians somewhere put a meme on Facebook and --

SCOTT: Not a meme, lots of trolls, lots of memes, lots of tweets, lots of fake news articles.

(CROSSTALK)

BRABENDER: How much did they spend? How much did they spend on Facebook? How much did they spend?

ELROD: We don`t know. That`s what we`re trying to figure out.

(CROSSTALK)

BRABENDER: Memes and posts on Facebook by some Russians influenced the election, that`s insulting to voters.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: If the Republicans had lost the presidential election, would you be as unconcerned about the degree?

BRABENDER: Here`s the thing.

MATTHEWS: You`re saying this --

BRABENDER: The Democrats are right now like the sort of group where they need a drug to get -- how did we lose this election.

MATTHEWS: That is the Trump argument. That`s the Trump argument. I don`t believe it.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask Adrienne.

BRABENDER: Do you think the Russians tilted the election?

MATTHEWS: No, I`m going to is that question of someone who is involved in strategy.

ELROD: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Do you believe -- I personally believe the Comey argument. I accept the Lanny Davis. I believe ten days out, when you announce Hillary is still under investigation, that can have an influence on anybody`s voting, especially I think it added to the baggage of Hillary Clinton. Fact.

Do you think the Russians threw the election to Trump, the Russians, by themselves threw the election to Trump?

ELROD: I think they were a significant competing factor.

MATTHEWS: Did they throw the election?

ELROD: Look, we don`t know.

MATTHEWS: Do you think they did?

ELROD: I think they had a huge influence. And I think there are a number of factors.

MATTHEWS: I think Comey may have thrown it.

ELROD: The 13 indictments of the Russians, that tells you a lot.

MATTHEWS: I can only ask three times.

BRABENDER: Who ended up putting Trump over the top? Democrats in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan.

ELROD: There were a number of things.

BRABENDER: And what you`re saying is basically the Russians through Facebook changed all the --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: They have no evidence so far.

ELROD: We`re still learning.

BRABENDER: I have higher opinions of the Democrats than you guys do.

MATTHEWS: All I know is that they were targeting what they thought were purple states, Virginia, Colorado. The election was turning in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. They weren`t working those three states.

BRABENDER: So, they were as bad as Hillary --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: They didn`t have it right. So, I`m glad they didn`t shoot straight. But I think Comey did affect the election. In fact, Tony -- Anthony, was his Anthony Weiner, blame him. Don`t even blame Comey.

Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. Up next, they`re going to tell me something I don`t know.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, just two weeks to go in that exciting special election for Pennsylvania`s 18th congressional district. And the race continues to tighten. It couldn`t get any tighter.

Today, the Cook Political Report moved the race from lean Republican to toss-up, even though President Trump carried the district by 20 points, quote, many Republicans admit that Democrat Conor Lamb has simply proven to be a stronger candidate than Rick Saccone.

By the way, Republicans tried to sink Lamb by tying him to House Minority Nancy Pelosi who is broadly unpopular. Those attacks apparently have fallen flat particularly because Lamb says he won`t back Pelosi as the speaker. He better vote for her. She won`t you may not get elected. You have to vote for the speaker if you`re the Democratic congressman.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Adrienne, tell me something I don`t know. I don`t think you`ve done this before. Go ahead.

ELROD: I have done this before. I did it once before.

So, since the Parkland shooting, 20 corporations have severed ties with the NRA. Companies like FedEx and Amazon streaming have not. There`s a huge effort today called boycott NRA that`s been generating online that for the next 24 hours starting tomorrow, people are urged to not have anything to do with those companies still associated with the NRA.

MATTHEWS: John Brabender?

BRABENDER: I was at one of the committees today where they do this index, where they monitor engagement of voters. It`s been really high for the Democrats, remains high for the Democrats. For the first time in the last two weeks, there`s an uptick among Republicans.

MATTHEWS: Like guns?

BRABENDER: Well, I don`t know. I was hoping it was the tax cuts. But I`m saying for the first time Republicans are starting --

MATTHEWS: I think your tax cut is a political winner unfortunately because the Democrats haven`t challenged enough effectively.

SCOTT: Eric Holder is still declining to say whether or not he will run in 2020 for president. But today --

MATTHEWS: Eugene, that`s not how it works. You don`t decide whether you`re going to run. You announce you`re running and you take over.

SCOTT: Well, what he`s done is announce he`s still considering it, today with "The Washington Post."

MATTHEWS: Gee whiz, come on, Eric. He`s quite capable of running. Why is he doing it this way?

SCOTT: I think he just wants to see who else is going to run.

MATTHEWS: Twenty other people is what`s going --

SCOTT: He wants to see which ones.

MATTHEWS: Well, anyway, thank you.

The shape of the field determines the winners they say in Massachusetts, he will be late if he does it that way.

Adrienne Elrod, thank you. John Brabender and Eugene Scott pushing the possibility of Eric Holder.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Trump Watch Tuesday, February 27th, 2018.

When Donald Trump practiced what he calls, he calls chain migration, bringing his various family members along with him into the White House, you could see the trouble come. It`s called nepotism. It`s when you give prize jobs to people not on the basis of ability but a blood. They`re your relatives and they want a piece of the pie. They want to enjoy some of the action, and not precariously but personally. They want to sit where the guy elected as sitting they want in.

It`s beyond me what the president sees in his son-in-law what got him to yield up the entire Middle East, Mexico and who knows what other parts of the planet for him to serve as his viceroy. But now, he`s worsened the situation. Trump has left his son-in-law in charge of global geography without the help of intelligence. He would be negotiating deals among countries without the benefit of knowing their true positions, to know what they can accept and what they need -- in other words, the very elements of any successful negotiation.

In a murky world, Jared Kushner will be flying without instruments already shy on the ways of the world, he will be also flying blind. There`s something pathetic here if Jared Kushner cannot pass muster with the FBI, what is he doing in the FBI? If he`s the security risk, why is the man handling highly sensitive U.S. policy?

If he weren`t the president`s son-in-law, how far would he fall down on the list of those qualified? One hundred millionth? Two hundred millionth? Three hundred millionth?

It wasn`t just me saying this. Kushner`s appointment was a mistake. It was history saying it. If the president had done a little reading, he would have spotted it, long before this absurdity of having a top secret aide with whom nobody wants to trust with the top secrets.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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

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