Trump was angry and "unglued" when he started trade war. 03/02/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthew

Guests: Betsy Woodruff, Edward-Isaac Dovere, Ginger Gibson, Shannon Pettypiece, Phil Rucker

Show: HARDBALL Date: March 2, 2018 Guest: Betsy Woodruff, Edward-Isaac Dovere, Ginger Gibson, Shannon Pettypiece, Phil Rucker

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

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews up in New York.

We are witnessing, by the way, the consequences of governing by chaos. The President is reportedly angry, isolated, depressed, and he is slashing out in ways away that have big repercussions.

NBC News reports now that on Wednesday evening, the President became unglued. That`s the word in the words of one official familiar with the President`s state of mind, unglued. A trifecta of events had set him off in a way that two officials say they have not seen before.

Hope Hicks` testimony to lawmakers investigating Russia`s interference in the 2016 election, conduct by his embattled attorney general and the treatment of his son-in-law by his chief of staff.

Anyway, Trump, the two officials said was angry and gunning for a fight. And he chose a trade war. That decision announced without any review by the state, treasury or defense departments and taking most of his own staff by surprise led the stock market to drop hundreds of points.

The chaos in the White House might lead to a staff shakeup as well. His chief of staff John Kelly and own family seem locked in a battle right now. And according to "Associated Press," one Kelly backer said the chief of staff standing remains tenuous. In part because of his clashes with the Kushner, with Kushner himself over policy, personnel and White House structure. Wow.

While "the Washington Post" reports the President`s adult son, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric were especially angry and felt that by not protecting Kushner, Kelly had been disloyal to the President himself, these people said.

Meanwhile "the Washington Post" reports some colleagues privately mock Kushner as a shadow of his former self. For his part Donald Trump seems to be annoyed with everyone around him. According to "Axios," staff at times manage to talk him off the ledge. No more. Tired of the restraints tired. Tired of his own staff. Trump is rebelling and ticking off just about every person who serving him. That`s "the Washington Post" report.

The Post adds Trump has grown to especially hate Kelly`s rigid rules. So he purposefully blew off Kelly`s process and announced planned tariff in a half hazard way. What a week.

Joining me tonight, "Bloomberg" News White House reporter Shannon Pettypiece, national political reporter for Axios, Jonathan Swan. White House bureau chief for the "Washington Post" Phil Rucker and Republican strategist Susan Del Percio.

Look. I want to start with the Jonathan Swan on this. Give us the big ramifications, repercussions, if you will, consequences of this craziness this michigas in the White House, where everybody seems to be an enemy of the president. And he (INAUDIBLE) where he has to show he is still the boss and will do anything to do that.

JONATHAN SWAN, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: I want to emphasize for your viewers just how chaotic it was when "the Washington Post" to their credit broke that story that Trump (INAUDIBLE) were going to have a bunch of steal executives around the White House the next day to announce major tariffs on steal aluminum. I started calling as you do that evening senior White House officials who should have been involved in the discussion. Nobody knew a thing. Nobody knew a thing.

Wilbur Ross knew about it. (INAUDIBLE) knew about it. Donald J. Trump knew about it. So there was this frantic scramble to find out what is Trump doing? What is he planned? What is he going to announce? One thing that everyone said to me that evening was, well, he is not going to sign anything because there is nothing for him to sign.

There`s no paperwork. The paperwork hasn`t gone through a legal process. There has been no interagency process. This stuff was planned out for weeks and weeks and weeks in advance and was still being (INAUDIBLE) among this trade team.

And you know, this is not a small decision. Twenty-five percent tariff on steal. We don`t know, you know, whether there are carve outs, 10 percent aluminum. This is something that James Mattis, the defense secretary opposed on national security grounds which is ironic given it is being invoked on national security grounds. Mattis actually says it`s actually going to do us harm because who do we get on aluminum phone? It is actually Canada mostly, not China. And still China is down the list. Some of these other countries are selling.

So we are getting our allies off side. And it was done in the most impulsive way humanly possible.

MATTHEWS: Impulsive is the word. And I want to go to Shannon on that because this is big time stuff trade policy. A lot of countries like Britain and Canada spend all their time thinking about trade. We have spent some time. But we never had a president do it in a way of a pout as a way of - I will show that, Kelly. I will do stuff when he is not around.

I will end run him because I`m in a bad mood this week over what happened to Hope Hicks. She is gone. Kushner is in a corner and basically dethroned. And he doesn`t like Sessions. And what`s his name, McMaster is ready to walk. This is a crazy house. And then to show that he doesn`t like the way things are going, he calls a trade policy war, basically a trade war just to show he is still got two guns. Your thoughts.

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, and I mean, you mention trade policy sound kind of wonkish sometimes. But not only it impact on the economy that is your - saying the impact on foreign policy and national security that the role that steel plays in all of that is enormous. So for there not to be a foreign policy consideration or discussion about this too is also really troubling a lot of people.

And we get back to this broader issue of governing. Who is governing right now? We have issues around a budget. We have immigration. Gun control. They would like to see entitlement reform on the Hill. And in Congress, there is still mass confusion about what this president will sign. What if they send him, will he actually agree to get on board with. You can`t even get that message from the President of their own party.

So as far as governing, I mean, it`s chaotic as you can imagine. And it`s hard to see how this ship gets straightened out.

MATTHEWS: Phil Rucker, you know Washington, you covered for the Post which covers Washington as well. Does any organization and I`m just telling you, I want to ask you about this chaotic situation in the White House. It`s like fun house mirrors that normally distort you but somehow when Trump looks in the mirror, he looks normal. The distortion is the reality.

This is crazy when you have the first son-in-law basically being miniaturized by the chief of staff. You have got the chief favor to the President walking on him in the middle of all this storm without telling him ahead of time. That`s Hope Hicks. Seems to be something of a young professional. She walks out the door. And same time, first was attorney general as Mr. Magoo making fun of blind people, but basically saying to this guy, you are an old loser. You are an old guy who doesn`t know what he is doing here.

This is weird. I`m sorry. It gets weirder. But in a broad (ph) consequences, I mean, if he starts a trade war, by the way, autos need aluminum. They need steel to be made. So if you want the American auto industry to be competitive, you have to get them cheaper materials. You don`t make the price of materials go up by starting a trade war. Anyway, your thoughts. You are the pro of this. Go ahead, Phil.

PHILIP RUCKER, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, THE WASHINGTON POST: So Chris, talking to folks who work at the White House but also people who have been talking to the president over the last few days. He is just isolated and angry as they have seen him during this presidency. He is at war, open war with his own justice department. He has got a son-in-law in a heap of trouble both politically inside the building but also legally.

There is an increasing investigation into his financing and other issues. And the Russia probe that the Mueller probe is creeping closer and closer to the oval office and has the President very much on edge and a-nerved and we are seeing the policy fallout of that with the trade action. But he is just losing it according to the people who are interacting with him this last 48-72 hours.

MATTHEWS: Susan, let`s talk about business dealings trade. He has a son- in-law who just borrowed $185 million and he cut the deal sitting in the White House. And there`s questions about whether what he -- if he doesn`t like Qatar, he will maybe do a little war on that country to get even. This is scary stuff. The guy is using his White House to make money.

SUSAN DEL PERCIO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: And not only that.

MATTHEWS: Big money.

DEL PERCIO: He has been deemed vulnerable for potential enemies of our country to poach and go after because he does need this financial help. The President --.

MATTHEWS: Just to make sure, Kushner has got problems.

DEL PERCIO: Oh, Kushner.

MATTHEWS: Up the zoo. He bought a building on 666, whatever, Sixth Avenue wherever it is in New York City where I am at right now. He couldn`t afford it. It wasn`t a good investment. He is under water.

DEL PERCIO: Multiple properties.

MATTHEWS: To fix the problem, he uses the White House as a way to cut good debt deals.

DEL PERCIO: Don`t forget, and his sister went to China saying we can get you visas if you do certain deals with us. This is something that Kushner has been doing all along. It`s now just coming to accumulation.

MATTHEWS: This is third world stuff. This is what they do in countries that we say are corrupt.

DEL PERCIO: This is what happens when you elect a president who is in over his head who doesn`t understand how government works who thinks because he won he is entitled to do whatever he wants.

MATTHEWS: Do you think he is on top of all on this? He knows what his son-in-law is up to?

DEL PERCIO: My guess is --.

MATTHEWS: How is your day (INAUDIBLE), you know? (INAUDIBLE). I borrowed $185 million today sitting in the White House seat you gave me.

Anyway, meanwhile, a major question to hang over the White House, is Jared Kushner on the way out? According to "New York Times," Mr. Trump is also frustrated with Mr. Kushner, whom he views as a liability because of his legal entanglements. The investigation of the Kushner family`s real estate company and the publicity over having his security clearance downgraded, according to two people familiar with views.

In private conversation, the President vacillates between sounding regretful that Mr. Kushner is taking arrows and annoyed that he is another problem to deal with.

Jonathan, I can understand how that can be at some point you root for a guy then you realize you are spending your time rooting for the salvation of your son-in-law when you have other things you ought to be doing.

SWAN: Yes. And I think the "New York Times" framed it correctly, because the President is conflicted over this. He does vent about Jared privately, but he also likes having Ivanka and also Jared to some extent around. So I think the most interesting thing to happen this week on that front is the "Wall Street Journal" put out an editorial in the kindest possible way suggesting that Ivanka and Jared might want to consider walking out and leaving the White House for the good of the president.

Rupert Murdoch, there is no bigger booster of Jared Kushner than Rupert Murdock. They talk privately regularly. He is almost a mentor mentee relationship. They are very, very close. And nothing like that would get published in "the Wall Street Journal" editorial page without a minimum at least Rupert`s knowledge and people who are familiar with the process say probably actually more than knowledge and probably a bit of back and forth on that. So that`s a pretty significant signal.

MATTHEWS: Well the Murdoch mind is always about business so does that mean he thinks it`s smarter for the president to get rid of his son-in-law and his daughter?

SWAN: That`s absolutely what the editorial said. The editorial was these are great people unfairly maligned and the press is going after them. But you know, there comes a point where only they must know about their vulnerabilities if there`s more to come, you know, do it for --.

MATTHEWS: This is one thing, you know, this is not the end of the trouble. He will get rid of family members. You have move them out and we all know that there will be more Trump problems to come.

One thing about Trump, we know this whole something a soap opera. I`m talking about the end of the show tonight. It is a soap opera with characters dropping off him (INAUDIBLE) like down. You know, Matthew leaves, Hope Hicks leaves. Where there is going to be more people leaving and more trouble.

After starting a trade war, yesterday, by the way, he just did it yesterday, the President tweeted today how easy it is to win trade wars. Do you know that? He wrote when a country, the U.S.A. is losing many billions of dollars on trade withal virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good and easy to win. Example, when we are down $100 billion with a certain country and then get cue -- don`t trade anymore. We can win big. It`s easy.

Well, winning a trade war is not the only thing Donald Trump has declared. Easy. Let`s watch him talk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m not worried about 60 votes. I really believe that 60 votes, 60 percent should be so easy.

It`s very easy to be presidential.

So many of these things are so easy to fix.

We will get our jobs back.

A lot of politicians said you can`t get Mexico to pay for the wall. It`s going to be so easy.

You are going to have such great health care at a fraction of the cost. And it`s going to be so easy.

I do all the time. I work with politicians all my life. They are easy.

I`m so good at this stuff. I`m so good. It is so easy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That`s the old one, two, three. Remember that song, it`s so easy. Like taking candy from a baby.

You know, the great thing about Muhammad Ali, Shannon, was that when he said I`m going to knock that guy out, the big ugly bear, whoever he is fighting, he did. Trump doesn`t usually follow through with these easiness claims.

PETTYPIECE: Well, to his credit, he did admit that healthcare was way more complicated than anyone realized. So he did admit that one wasn`t so easy. Of course, we didn`t get any healthcare legislation passed.

MATTHEWS: But that was McCain`s fault.

PETTYPIECE: There was a lot of wind in their sails coming off tax reform. And there was really a lot of bounce in the step of people in the White House coming into January getting tax reform done. And I think maybe that did leave them with this perception that like immigration would be easy. That they had some momentum. But it really does seem like that momentum is ground to the halt. And you talk about the people around them who are leaving. I know there`s been so much time spent on Hope Hicks. But even if Kushner and Ivanka stay on, they have lost so much of their inner circle that was there to help shepherd them through Washington. People like Dina Powell to help them weather this storm, like Josh Rafael (ph) and Hope Hicks. Even people on domestic policy end. So anybody who is going to get things done, they are just few and far between and less at this point.

MATTHEWS: Speaking of problems. Let me end with Phil there.

Phil, for some reason the chief of staff to the President, the President doesn`t really like that much, John Kelly, the general, is now going ruminating and going back and filling over the question of what he knew or didn`t know about Robert Porter. And now he is saying he didn`t know there was physical abuse. What do you make of that?

RUCKER: Well, I don`t know whether to believe it or not. I mean, that`s his version of events now. It does not match the version of events at the time a month ago. It also doesn`t match with the testimony that the FBI director gave to Congress where he made clear that reports of the abuse of Porter`s wife and their allegations were made clear to the White House. And so maybe Kelly didn`t know about the physical abuse. I don`t know. You would have to ask him under oath. But he is trying to sort of get himself out of that hole. He lost a lot of credibility last month over his handling of the Porter crisis and attempt today with reporters was to try to clean up that mess.

MATTHEWS: You know, I actually think when we talk about molestation, all they are going, (INAUDIBLE). Say what it was. We are grownups. Why did they -- why did McGahn, rather, the White House lawyer supposed to clear all the stuff? Why didn`t he tell the chief of staff? Because according to Kelly, he was never told what we are talking about here.

DEL PERCIO: According to Kelly he was never told. I`m not sure he was never told. I`m not sure I actually believe that statement. I don`t understand how this man could be working in the White House. He has gone through the clearances. Obviously, the FBI made this a big flag. If McGahn did not tell Kelly, he should be fired. That is just malpractice. It is just crazy. And I also don`t think it is necessarily not true that the president didn`t know what was actually happening with --.

MATTHEWS: It just reminds me the whole paternal (ph) thing. That horrible thing where this is weird little Russia where somebody told somebody, somebody told somebody to say it. Be grownups and get over with it. Be grownups and be responsibility and accept accountability. It`s a cruel world, but be honest.

Jonathan Swan, thank you, sir. Phil Rucker, thank you. Shannon Pettypiece, thank you. And Susan Del Percio, who is not on our show enough.

Coming up, the Trump family is in trouble and NBC News now report that Jared Kushner, as we said, is being investigated for using his position in the White House for personal financial advantage. It`s the royal family, if you will, using the presidency to make personal cash. Don`t you think that`s bad and that`s ahead.

Plus, why is the first thing on Trump`s brain this morning starting a twitter fight with actor and comedian Alec Baldwin? Why does he take the bait? But not say anything about the new nuclear threat from Vladimir Putin. That`s not worth talking about. But Alec Baldwin, we got to get into that one by 6:00 this morning, he was tweeting about Alec Baldwin. This is the President of the United States, remind ourselves.

Anyway, we saw Donald Trump propose numerous gun control measures, remember when the cameras were rolling this week at the White House. But then we didn`t see something else. That late night meeting last night at the White House, secretly no cameras with the NRA. Apparently they brought Trump back to NRA side.

Finally, let me finish tonight with Trump but he won`t like it.

This is "Hardball" where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, we have more now of NBC`s exclusive interview with Russian president Vladimir Putin who has denied any Russian government, that is the word, government involvement after U.S. charged with election meddling by the Russian.

But what about Russian citizens who have been indicted in special counsel investigation? Well, NBC`s Megyn Kelly asked Putin that today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): With all due respect for you personally, with all due respect for Congress, you must have people with legal degrees, 100 percent you do. And people who are well educated who must understand that we, Russia, do not prosecute anyone if they have not violated Russian laws. If you do not have a legal degree, I can explain to you.

MEGYN KELLY, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: I do.

PUTIN (through translator): Then you have to understand what it takes is an official request to the general prosecutor of the Russian federation. Give us a document. Give us an official request.

MEGYN: You said that the last time and now I`m back with an indictment.

PUTIN (through translator): This has to go through official channels. Not through the press and yelling and hollering in the United States Congress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: We will have more of Megyn Kelly`s reporting from Russia in the days to come.

And we will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): This has to go through official channels, not through the press or yelling and hollering in the United States Congress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: We will have more of Megyn Kelly`s reporting from Russia in the days to come.

And we will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Yesterday, we covered the loans that Jared Kushner`s family`s business received after Kushner met with the executives from the companies making those loans. He met with them in the White House.

Well, today, another story that suggests Kushner may have used his public office for personal gain. NBC News is today reporting that federal investigators are scrutinizing whether any of Jared Kushner`s business discussions with foreigners during the presidential transition later shaped White House policies in ways designed either benefit or retaliate against those he spoke with.

That`s according to people familiar with the investigation so far, as well as witnesses who have been questioned by Mueller`s team.

Those witnesses say the special counsel is asking about Kushner`s efforts to secure financing for his family`s real estate properties, focusing specifically on his discussions with individuals about Qatar and Turkey, as well as Russia, China and the United Arab Emirates.

Well, a spokesman for Kushner`s attorney says -- tells NBC that -- quote -- "He did not mix his or his former company`s business in those contacts, and any claim otherwise is false."

Well, joining me now to sort it out is co-author of that report, Carol Lee of NBC News. And Betsy Woodruff covers the Russia probe for The Daily Beast.

I want to start with Carol.

Tell us what you know as a reporter, what you can tell us about the overlay between Kushner, the son-in-law of the president, and Kushner, the leader, the business wheeler-dealer.

CAROL LEE, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Right.

Well, there are several things. What we have learned that is new in the dimensions of Kushner`s business dealings mingling in with his official White House business is that the special counsel is looking at whether there`s a link between his conversations during the transition with foreigners to policies once he was inside the White House.

The other thing that is significant that we have learned is that Mueller is reaching out to foreign nationals. So, for instance, in Turkey, he`s reached out to the FBI field office in Ankara to see if he can talk to Turkish nationals about -- as part of the investigation, which is a new dimension that we didn`t before know publicly.

MATTHEWS: What do we know so far, though? Do we know that he got that loan and he got it using his prestige and cache as the son-in-law of the president?

LEE: We know that these things are being scrutinized. We don`t know necessarily whether there was specific wrongdoing.

But to give you an example...

MATTHEWS: Well, it smells bad, doesn`t it, sitting in the White House and negotiating debt deals where you can get credit you normally wouldn`t be able to get?

LEE: I think any -- if there was -- anything that the special counsel is looking at, clearly, the special counsel thinks is worth looking into.

In this instance, to give you another example of what he`s looking at is with Qatar, if you just take that example. The Kushner Company has had discussions with the government of Qatar about possibly funding some of their business deals, their properties. Those talks fell through.

There was obviously a blockade that the White House strongly supported against Qatar.

MATTHEWS: What was the time sequence between not getting the money they wanted for Qatar and hurting them?

LEE: Well, it was weeks, perhaps months, but it was -- the sequencing was close, because if you think of when the blockade started to take place, it was only last spring.

MATTHEWS: Betsy, let`s hear your reporting on this, because, clearly, there`s an overlay here. He`s doing business with Middle East potentates at the same time he`s overviewing, in fact designing U.S.-Middle East policy. There`s certainly a conflict there.

BETSY WOODRUFF, THE DAILY BEAST: Right.

And one piece of this Qatar story that`s caused a significant amount of consternation to Qatari officials and diplomats who have to deal with the United States is that Kushner was a key player in getting the White House to support the Saudis` decision to blockade Qatar, cutting off food imports going into that country, severing diplomatic ties.

Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, opposed the blockade, thought it was a bad idea. The Qataris saw him as a helpful ally, as someone who, as America`s chief diplomat, would be able to potentially resolve that crisis in a way that would have been quick and straightforward.

But instead of Tillerson getting his way, which would have been what the Qataris wanted, according to multiple reports, Jared Kushner stepped in and played a major role in shifting the White House. Instead of having the White House oppose this blockade, the White House supported it.

And that is something where , look, if you`re a Qatari official or diplomat, and you look at that, and you look at the separation, the difference between where the State Department is and where the White House is, and then look at the fact that Kushner`s father, according to one report, hit up folks in your government for money, folks in your government said no, all the pieces put together, as that, all those facts, it looks really terrible.

So it`s not a surprise that Mueller is trying to figure out what the answer to those questions is and if there`s anything more sinister going on.

MATTHEWS: You know, Carol, I have followed politics for a long time. And there`s a long pattern.

Samuel Houston Johnson, Lyndon Johnson`s brother, Nixon`s, Richard Nixon`s brother Donald, Billy Carter, the history of family, often siblings, who just can`t resist taking advantage of their relative`s power and prestige.

And they get -- embarrass the president. And it just seems to come with the territory. And in this case, he`s working inside with an official position, Kushner.

LEE: Well, this is one of the reasons why, if you talk to ethics experts, they would tell you, you know, part of what is happening is because he -- Kushner made a decision to not fully divest from his companies. He did not completely sell his stake and walk away.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But he did make a decision to get a job inside the White House.

LEE: Right, but also maintain some connections with his company.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

LEE: And so that opens him up to a whole other level of scrutiny, because you can`t do that job, he can`t be the head of figuring out if this administration can do a Middle East peace deal, and not deal with governments that are mixing with his family business.

And what ethics experts would say is that what you do in a situation like that is completely just de-tangle yourself from the business. And Kushner chose not to do that.

MATTHEWS: Betsy, I imagine that everybody who does business with the United States, especially in the Middle East, where we have such a hand in there, have a baseball card on Jared Kushner, a little baseball card that tells them everything they need to know about Kushner.

What`s on that card? What do they have to work with? How can they possibly perhaps probably manipulate him knowing what they know about him?

WOODRUFF: One thing that without a doubt is on that card is 666 Fifth Avenue, the clunker of a building in Midtown Manhattan that Jared Kushner had his family company buy in 2007, which is when the housing market bubble was at its fattest, when it was just about to burst.

They bought that building for a significant of money. They took out a loan of more than a billion dollars. And the housing bubble popped. The building lost a ton of its value. And early next year, the loan is up for Kushner Companies, for Kushner`s family company.

They have been searching the globe essentially for cash, so they can find a way to pay off that loan, and thus far have had very limited success, very little evidence that this cash hunt has gotten them all the capital that they need to make that mortgage.

So, if you`re a foreign government official, if you`re familiar with the way that international financial dealings work, and you know that Kushner and his family companies have this major, literal liability, that`s something to pay attention to. That`s something you follow and potentially look at as a possible vulnerability to exploit.

MATTHEWS: We`re going to have to see more about this as it develops, but it looks like fertile territory for Mr. Mueller.

Thank you so much, Carol Lee and Betsy Woodruff. We rely so much on this great reporting, especially the NBC kind.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, up next, when President Trump woke up at 6:00 this morning, in the a.m. -- he tweets at dawn -- the first thing on his mind was attacking comedian Alec Baldwin, first thing on the mind.

Why does he constantly take the bait, instead of focusing on things like, well, Russia?

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

With everything that is going on in the White House and around the world right now, President Trump woke up today and delivered a blistering attack against Alec Baldwin.

In a tweet that revealed what`s really on his mind, the president said -- quote -- "Alec Baldwin, whose dying, mediocre career was saved by his terrible impersonation of me on `SNL,` now says playing me was agony. Alec, it was agony for those who were forced to watch. Bring back Darrell Hammond. Funnier and a far greater talent."

That`s all Trump this morning at 6:00 a.m.

Joining me right now is Jason Johnson, politics editor at The Root.

Jason, Dr. Johnson, you have to play shrink right now.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Why would a man of any age, of any responsibility, let alone the presidency of the United States, get up at dawn and begin tweeting against an actor-comedian? What`s it about?

JASON JOHNSON, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Because clearly -- this the beyond narcissism, Chris.

This is just avoidance. Like, I think sometimes Donald Trump wakes up in the morning as president and looks at security briefings and says, I don`t want to deal with that right now. Let me find some gossip to deal with. Let me do something that is going to end up in TMZ.

Because I don`t understand how he could be more concerned with Alec Baldwin, who shows up every other episode of "SNL," than the dozens of other more pressing issues that are facing our country every single day.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s think about this.

Do you think he believes he is hurting Baldwin or scorching him a little bit with this attack on his career? Does he think it works? Or does it make him feel better?

I don`t see how it helps -- how it hurts. Baldwin is fantastic in this role. He is -- I like Darrell too. But Baldwin, he has had this whole new blossoming of his career because of this.

JOHNSON: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: It hasn`t hurt him. It`s been fabulous for him and for "SNL" and NBC. Let`s be honest. I`m in the building here, 30 Rock. It`s been fabulous.

Why does he want to bring more attention to it as we go to another Saturday night? He`s promoting the show.

JOHNSON: Yes. He`s promoting the show.

And also he`s failing to learn the most important trick of any politician. You remember George Bush and Dana Carvey? George Bush learned to love the Dana Carvey impression. And that made things much easier for him.

And here`s the other thing. Alec Baldwin buried him on Twitter. Alec Baldwin buried him on Twitter. You don`t start a Twitter fight with a comedian. They are smarter and quicker than you and they`re always going to get the final word.

And I think Trump should have learned that lesson, above and beyond the fact that he`s advertising for a show that`s just going to make fun of him more on Saturday.

MATTHEWS: Well, Trump`s attack on Alec Baldwin comes one day after Russian leader Vladimir Putin unveiled what he called a new generation of missiles that have the ability to avoid detection. And some, Putin says, can also evade interception by U.S. missile defense systems which are designed to shoot them down.

And one of the videos even showed nuclear warheads descending on the state of Florida.

Putin`s message? "Nobody listened to Russia. Listen to us now."

Well, while U.S. officials question whether Putin might be bluffing about his capabilities, the bellicose rhetoric is hard to ignore. But ignore it, Trump did.

The president hasn`t responded to Putin`s saber-rattling at all. Yet he responds to Alec Baldwin.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON: Chris, I think it`s crazy.

But I got to say this. This is one time I`m happy that Trump didn`t say anything. I don`t feel safe as an American citizen when the president decides that he`s going to use Twitter to do foreign policy.

I do think, at some point, he should meet with the Joint Chiefs and say, hey, is this missile real and how should we feel about the fact that Putin is basically putting up cartoon war games videos of attacking Mar-a-Lago?

But, again, stay off Twitter with foreign policy.

MATTHEWS: Don`t call him rocket man, in other words.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: Don`t call him rocket man.

Anyway, thank you, Jason Johnson, for that psychological explanation.

Up next: President Trump this week mocked lawmakers, saying they`re afraid of the NRA. But it turns out that he might be the one who is most fearful of the gun lobby. After a late-night meeting last night at the White House, Trump is back to toeing the NRA line. What happened in that meeting? Thumbscrews?

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: The reason nothing has gotten done here is because the gun lobby has had a veto power over any legislation that comes before Congress.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The reason I had lunch with the NRA on Sunday, I called them. I said you`ve got to come over. I said, fellas, we`ve got to do something. And they do have great power, I agree with that. They have great power over you people.

They have less power over me. I don`t need -- I don`t -- what do I need? But I tell you, they are well-meaning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: They have less power over me, the NRA, right?

Well, welcome back to HARDBALL.

In a span of roughly just 48 hours, President Trump has changed his tune on gun control. All it took was a gentle nudge you might say from his friends at the NRA. In the wake of Wednesday`s remarkable televised meeting with lawmakers, Trump at a private dinner with the leaders of NRA last night. And these are the same people we spent roughly $30 million helping him get elected president.

Chris Cox, lead of -- head of the lobbying wing of the NRA attended the meeting. He later tweeted, I had a great meeting tonight with Donald Trump and the vice president. We all want safe schools, mental health reform, and to keep guns away from dangerous people. The president of the United States and vice president of the United States support the Second Amendment. Support strong due process and don`t want gun control.

Roughly an hour later, the president tweeted, good. Great meeting in the Oval Office tonight with the NRA.

Well, it`s more than two weeks since the Parkland high school shooting. And we still have no idea what the president is going to want, to ask for. But that`s part of the Trump two-step sometimes, promise everything and then deliver in the end nada, nothing.

For more, I`m joined by the HARDBALL roundtable tonight. Kimberly Atkins, chief Washington reporter for "The Boston Herald", Edward-Isaac Dovere who`s chief Washington correspondent for "Politico", and Ginger Gibson correspondent for "Reuters".

Well, thank you all. Let`s, Kimberly, start off. Tell me what you`re seeing in the several hours -- really only 48 or so hours watching the very nice. I think we all enjoyed that give-and-take with the Democratic and Republican senators and other people in the Roosevelt room, but then following -- with the come of nightfall, with a meeting with the NRA, which might be a lot more important.

KIMBERLY ATKINS, CHIEF WASHINGTON REPORTER, BOSTON HERALD: Yes, I think we saw essentially a replay of what the president did with the DACA debate play out over guns where initially he brought together lawmakers had this big discussion on camera where he threw out all kinds of ideas or expressed support for all kinds of things, and then was rained in later by the more conservative folks and NRA to really back off some of the things he expressed support for for background check to raising the age limit and remember that meeting at one point he even went around the idea taking gun from people expected of being dangerous or mentally unstable and, you know, do due process later.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ATKINS: And at another part, you know, you had Senator Dianne Feinstein rubbing her hands together gleefully at the idea that things could really go well for the Democrats only to find out a couple days later this is what happens when you have a president who really doesn`t have an ideology about guns. He wants to be in the center of it, but when he has that position, that opportunity to lead, he sort of leaves it to lawmakers and leaves it to other folks with power like the NRA and it looks like nothing is going to get done here.

MATTHEWS: Do you think he can get away, Isaac, with doing nothing on guns after Parkland, I mean, nothing.

EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Well, it would seem on the one hand, not. But if we look at the history of this, the course of his presidency, wouldn`t be the first time he talked about doing something big, especially in front of the cameras. When the cameras go away, he backs off of it.

Look, that was classic reality show television the other day. And it was great reality show television. But it sort of reminded me of "The Bachelor", and that it seems like love, but then nobody ever gets married at the end of it, right? It doesn`t seem like we`re anywhere closer to having legislation go through Congress or, by the way, any executive action taken by the White House or the administration about guns. And I don`t know when we`re going to get to that point.

MATTHEWS: Ginger, if you were asked as a reporter to make a prediction -- a projection, will there be action on guns as a result of what happened in Florida? Will there in by in action? Anything?

GINGER GIBSON, CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: We could see very tiny incremental change. There is more pressure and I think that the midterms are playing a role in the change in Congress this year.

We see on the ground in states unlike in previous times, a real pressure from voters that something be done. That it look like they`ve accomplished something. I think we can get a sense of that pulse when we look at the way Donald Trump is handling this. He wants to ride the fence and the reason he wants to ride the fence is that he knows there`s a sizable group of people, a group of people who are really amped up about this issue on the other side.

And he`s now willing to just walk away from them and I think that`s why he wants to be able to say one thing on camera and tweet another thing from the Oval Office later on to try to make everyone happy and probably make no one happy at the end of the day.

MATTHEWS: Kimberly, a big crowd of young people and parents and teachers show up in Washington in a couple of weeks, I mean, maybe up to half a million people. Fill the streets. Will that put him in a position to not want to be in a bunker doing nothing? Will that make it turn a bit towards action?

ATKINS: It will certainly get his attention. Look, I think in the issue of guns is going to have to start. It can`t start at Congress. It can`t even start at White House. It`s going to have to start from the bottom up. And that`s what you`re seeing with this movement of young people, really pushing and trying to change minds of people.

It is that movement that has spurred retailers to stop selling some of these high powered guns. That`s where the action. That`s where the energy is right now. So, I think it will be incumbent eventually on Congress to respond to that. I don`t think they`re the ones that are going to lead the change here.

MATTHEWS: Well, on Wednesday, President Trump asked some of the gathered senators in that meeting why they are so scared of the NRA. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The hand gun, you can`t buy one. You have to wait until you`re 21. But you can buy the kind of weapon used in the school shooting at 18. I think it`s something you have to think about. Just curious as to what you did on your bill. You don`t --

SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R), PENNSYLVANIA: We didn`t address it, Mr. President.

TRUMP: Because you`re afraid of the NRA, right?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, of course they are. Of course, Toomey is. And probably Manchin is too. I think the president is talking rather lossy-goosy about changing the age from 18 to 21 to buy an assault rifle. It looks to me like those rural senators are scared to death of that idea. Kill them at home. They`re afraid.

DOVERE: It does seem to be what`s going on. I do wonder whether we are in the midst of a change and how this issue is playing out. Look, in the Virginia governor`s race last year, exit polls showed that guns was the number two issue for people voting for Ralph Northam who was a Democrat and who was in favor of stronger gun restriction. That`s in Virginia.

If that`s true in Virginia, there`s reason to believe that it`s true elsewhere around the country. But we don`t know yet how it`s going to play out. Look, it may be a factor in the end in the Florida Senate race, the Florida governor`s race, just right around Parkland. But it may be a factor elsewhere around the country too as this election takes shape.

MATTHEWS: So, Rick Scott is coming out in Florida for raising the age to 21 from 18 in Florida. State law saying, now, you have to be 21 to buy an assault rifle, an AR-15. Is that the smart move down there, Ginger?

GIBSON: I think we`ve seen Rick Scott responding to his constituents. And we also have to remember that Rick Scott`s name gets thrown out a lot about being a Senate challenger to Bill Nelson in that seat that`s up this November.

MATTHEWS: Sure.

GIBSON: It`s about politics. Politics is about responding to your voters. I think that`s what we`re seeing here. A smart political move is always to do what the majority of your voters want you to do. And I think we are seeing that.

And the president wants to sort of flippantly joke about the power of the NRA. The NRA spent a lot of money advocating for him to be president. A lot of money advocating for a lot of members of Congress to be president, but when they start seeing the shift in the public and their own membership, we know polls tell us own membership supports background checks. That`s when we start to see those changes. People responding to what voters are telling them.

MATTHEWS: I`m not so sure the Florida culture is strongly pro-gun. It`s pro-gun, but it doesn`t have that sort of rural Appalachian thing when the father teaches a son how to use a rifle. I think Rick Scott can get away with stuff that Joe Manchin can`t get away with and I think Toomey can`t get away with and Bobby Casey and some of them. We`ll see though.

The roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

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MATTHEWS: Well, Washington may be unwilling to change guns but the same can`t be said of the private sector. LL Bean today became the latest retailer to announce that it will no longer sell guns or a ammunition to anyone under the age of 21.

Meanwhile, the outdoor retail giant REI says it`s cutting off one of its key suppliers due to the fact that the company also makes ammunition and assault style rifles. Wow.

We`ll be right back.

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MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL round table.

Kimberly, tell me something I don`t know. It`s Friday night. Let`s hear it.

ATKINS: Well, this week, the Treasury cut about half the funding that it was set to send for Puerto Rico to about $2 billion from over $4 billion. This comes at the same time that a new wave of power outages are hitting the country affecting nearly a million people and we`re just a few weeks away from the start of hurricane season.

MATTHEWS: How many electoral votes does Puerto Rico have?

ATKINS: Well, that`s part of -- well, it will be a lot more if more of those people move to Florida.

MATTHEWS: OK, they`ve got zero. That explains a lot.

Anyway, Isaac, go ahead.

DOVERE: You`ve had Anthony Scaramucci in the last day or two coming out very hard against John Kelly. He`s not the only person in the Trump orbit who`s doing that, trying to seed the idea that Kelly should be kicked out. You saw Kelly, seems like somewhat defensive about it meeting with reporters at the White House and talking about the Rob Porter scandal again. They thought they had gotten past it at the White House and in the end, he dug his hole a little deeper there because he gave yet another version of what happened.

MATTHEWS: Thank you. Let me go to Ginger. Ginger?

GIBSON: All of this chaos in the last 24 hours about tariffs on steel and aluminum, it`s not over. No, I talked to a lot of sources today that phones were ringing in the Commerce Department and in the White House and business is still trying to get the president to back down or carve out all kinds of exemptions where the proposed new tariffs would not apply. So, it could be gutted very quickly.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Kimberly Atkins, Isaac Dovere and Ginger Gibson.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Friday, March 2nd, 2018.

So, here it is, Friday, at the end of a long desperate week in the Donald Trump soap opera, with everyone just trying to keep their heads above water. Let`s call it search for tomorrow. This has been an especially bad week for fans of Hope Hicks.

Also this week, more trouble with Jared. Lots of fans are wondering whether the son-in-law is using family ties to prop up business investments, getting lines of credit he wouldn`t have gotten if he weren`t meeting these new creditors in the White House.

But here`s the rub, how does Donald Trump deal with son-in-law without hurting his beloved daughter Ivanka? Tune in next week.

Meanwhile, people are calling Mr. Trump unglued like a little off the beam based on the wild trade thing he threw out the other day. Some say he did that to show General Kelly he could do anything he wants.

So, it keeps getting crazier in Trump world. His old lawyer pays off an actress for him and dumps Robert Porter for spousal abuse and his chief of staff is giving a hard time to Trump`s son-in-law who may be skimming business opportunities on the side. And all the time, the paterfamilias himself, Donald Trump, has to show that he`s not sweating and somehow throughout all these mishegoss show that yes, even in the 21st century, this father knows best.

Well, that`s the HARDBALL right now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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