Trump "not backing down" on trade war. TRANSCRIPT: 03/05/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Ruth Marcus, Evan McMullin, Robert Costa, Annie Linskey, Steven Brill

Show: HARDBALL Date: March 5, 2018 Guest: Ruth Marcus, Evan McMullin, Robert Costa, Annie Linskey, Steven Brill

SAM NUNBERG, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: They`re not going to send me to jail. You know what, Mr. Mueller, if he wants to send me to jail, he can send me 20 jail. And then I`ll laugh about it and make a bigger spectacle than I am on your TV show right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: We`ll stay on the story.

That does it for "the Beat." As always, thanks for watching. "Hardball" starts now.

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

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

A campaign to Donald Trump said again today that Trump knew about the June meeting at Trump tower with the Russians to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. The little known witness in the special counsel`s Russia probe is speaking out today. And in the process revealing new details about the investigation into Donald Trump and his campaign.

After being questioned by the special counsel last month, former Trump campaign adviser Sam Nunberg today confirm that he has now received a subpoena to turn over documents as well as to testify before a grand jury this Friday.

However, in a series of interviews on multiple cable networks today, Nunberg made clear that he intends to defy that subpoena, a move that will inevitably set up legal showdown he is likely to win. But Nunberg is now telling all about his experience in the hot seat with Robert Mueller`s prosecutors. And he says he believes that the special counsel has already got the goods on Trump.

Early today, Nunberg said the President might have done something wrong during the election. Here is how he expanded on that with Ari Melber just moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAM NUNBERG, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: I think they were interested in something with his business.

MELBER: With his business?

NUNBERG: Yes. Did they ask you about the way he run his business?

NUNBERG: Yes, they asked me about his business. And by the way, I have no idea what he did. And he may not have done anything and I could be wrong.

MELBER: You felt they were asking you more about potential crimes related to Trump organization more than the Trump campaign?

NUNBERG: That`s what I felt, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, above all Nunberg was adamant on saying that he would not comply with Robert Mueller`s subpoena which was issue bade federal grand jury. The subpoena which was obtained by NBC News shows that investigators want emails, text messages, work papers, telephone logs and other documents going back to November 1st, 2015. The subpoena covers all communications and other materials relating the President Trump and nine of his associates, all of whom have been under scrutiny in the unfolding federal investigation.

Despite the potential legal repercussions, Nunberg said multiple times today he will refuse to comply. As one of the President`s earliest political advisers, Sam worked alongside Roger Stone, a self-proclaimed dirty trickster who is known to peddle in the dark arts of American politics. Stone is also under scrutiny in the Russia probe.

Well, starting in 2014, Nunberg worked with Trump through the official launch of the campaign in June of 2015. However, he was fired in August of that year just days before Roger Stone himself was fired.

Well today, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about Nunberg`s suggestion, the special counsel has something on the President. Here is what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KRISTIN WELKER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You just said on MSNBC moments ago I think he, meaning the President may have done something during the election, but I don`t know that for sure. Your reaction.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I think he definitely doesn`t know that for sure because he is incorrect. As we have said many times before, there was no collusion with the Trump campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, reacting to that late today, Nunberg took a shot across the bow at the White House, attacking Sarah Sanders by name. Here is Nunberg.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NUNBERG: Sarah should shut up. She is a terrible communications. By the way, her Presidential -- the person she defends every day, he is a 35 percent approval rating. She should shut her mouth.

MELBER: Let me ask you the important question.

NUNBERG: Yes.

MELBER: Do you understand --?

NUNBERG: And I`m warning her by the way to shut her mouth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m joined right now by Julia Ainsley, national security and justice reporter for NBC News. Paul Butler is former U.S. attorney and MSNBC legal analyst and Eli Stokols, of course, is MSNBC political analyst, Joyce Vance is a former U.S. attorney. She is with us also. Thank you all.

Well, there you had a taste of Harry, the night, meaning, a taste of Roy Cohn in the night. That shut up that whole sort of manner of talking, the sort of street corner manner, and then saying they have got something on Trump, but I`m not going to talk about it. I`m going ignore the subpoena. Put it all together, Julia.

JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right. I mean, this is definitely one of the big characters, you know, in what he portrayed today that is really grabbing a lot of headlines. But I think at the end of the day, Sam Nunberg, it`s not about defending Trump at all. He is really throwing Trump under the bus. He is saying he doesn`t want to comply with the subpoena right here because it`s too much work. That he doesn`t want to hand over everything, all of his communications on these ten people. That`s not really how one usually deals with the justice department.

And he is sort of turning this into him against them. Like they are a political opponent and not the justice department. And at the end of the day, it really seems to be more about saving his mentor, Roger Stone than it is about Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s what it sounded like. Nunberg said he believes Mueller`s investigation, investigators are using him to build a case against Roger Stone. And he said that he was offered immunity if he gives the prosecutor something.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NUNBERG: They are trying to set up a perjury stone against Roger Stone, and I`m not going to have them. Roger is my mentor. Roger is like family to me. And I`m not going to do it. I`m not going to do it. And Roger did not talk. Roger may have lied about it --

MELBER: Are you basing that view trying to use you to get to Roger based on a theory or based on the question they asked you?

NUNBERG: Based on the questions they asked me. I had no idea in advance what they wanted for the grand jury. But what they did tell me was I wasn`t going to be a subject or a target, and I was going to get the same kind of immunity. But they wanted something.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Joyce, I think we heard here the honor among thieves, if you will? The ability to be quite proud about loyalty as a value but not truth. And there you have his best friend saying he may lie because that`s OK, but he is not going give up Trump. Tell me about what the prosecutors are going -- given the fact they got this Nunberg guy here saying I`m loyal to Roger. Roger he says is loyal to Trump. How are they going unravel all of this and use them against each other back to Trump?

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: It`s really crazy. The most important thing that we know about the rule of law is that witnesses don`t get to decide who they will testify against. So if special counsel`s investigation wants this testimony, they will get it one way or the other. And Nunberg inviting Mueller to put him in jail seems like an invitation that Mueller will be capable and likely to take him up on. You can`t let witnesses run amok and decide when they will and won`t testify.

MATTHEWS: Well, Nunberg also laughed off the prospect at his refusal to comply with the subpoena would land him in jail. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If a witness refuses, then I do think they face contempt of court and possible jail.

MELBER: And contempt of court as Mr. Nunberg and I were discussing earlier can bring jail.

NUNBERG: I`m not going to jail. Come on, Ari. You think I`m going to jail?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What is this, judgment by Nunberg? I mean, this is - (INAUDIBLE). How does this guy -- he is a little bit like Carter Page. They all seem a little screwy. (INAUDIBLE). They don`t seem like the normal professionals you deal with in Washington. They admit that their best friends and the hero of their life is a liar, can lie, but not give away his other guy? It`s mob talk.

PAUL BUTLER, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. So fast forward into the trial. Robert Mueller, if anyone actually goes to trial, he is going to have a hard time with witnesses because all of his witnesses so far have either plead guilty to lying which makes them bad witnesses or they are kind of crazy like Carter Page and Nunberg.

So Mr. Nunberg, if your lawyer is listening, your lawyer needs to call you and talk to you. Because, I mean, no lawyer wants to see a client self- destruct like this. He is so going to jail. What you do as a prosecutor, a guy doesn`t show up or says he is not going to talk, you ask the United States Marshall, you first, you ask the judge to hold him into contempt. The judge says yes, United States marshal marches him right off to the federal penitentiary and he sit there`s until he gets with the program.

MATTHEWS: You know, Eli, you and I worked on this. We are working the story. It`s all about potentially down the road did the President do something criminal, could he be impeach? And let`s face it, that`s somewhere in the background. And now we have this guy, this witness who is refusing to be a witness, but every say - run on three TV show, the full (INAUDIBLE). The Ivory (ph) shows he can talk of that. He says Trump knew about the June meeting with his family members, meeting with the Russians to get dirt on Hillary. Admitting collusion I would think or certainly close to collusion. And he just spits it right out there. I mean I think that`s still the story that we`re working here.

ELI STOKOLS, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: And he says he wants to protect Roger Stone, his mentor. And he is not doing Roger Stone any favors blurting out he may have lied about it. Stone hasn`t talked to the special counsel. He has only talked to Congress. But telling the special counsel, signaling that hey, all these things that Roger Stone has said before may have been untruthful, coming from someone who claims to talk to Roger Stone more than a dozen times a day, not all that helpful to Roger Stone. Helpful to the special counsel and people in that office.

And I just think Sam Nunberg, I mean, this is a guy, all reporters have talked to, anybody covering Trump, we have all talked to him dozens of times. And you take what he says with a grain of salt. He is not in the inner circle, OK. Everything he hears is second or third hand from this White house. He is close with Steve Bannon --.

MATTHEWS: Is he a Kato Kalin (ph) type? He don`t care what he does.

STOKOLS: He has people compared today in the full Nunberg, if you want to call that to the O.J. chase and watching this sort of thing that you are just stunned to see going on for hours and hours.

MATTHEWS: He is not that shy. As I mentioned, Nunberg also said that Donald Trump knew about that infamous meeting with Russians at Trump tower in June of 2016. Let`s watch him sort of give it away here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Do you think that Donald Trump says that President Trump says he knew nothing about the meeting. Do you think that`s true?

NUNBERG: No.

TAPPER: You don`t think that`s true?

NUNBERG: No. You know it`s not true. He talked about it the week before. And I don`t know why he did this. All he had to say was, yes, we met with the Russians. The Russians offered us something, and we thought they had something. And that was it. I don`t know why he went around trying to hide it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Paul, just a minute. I want to get to the law here. If he did agree to meet, that`s a fact of law, a question of law. And he did (INAUDIBLE), send people, he had agents doing it, get some dirt on Hillary, get it from a foreign operative, is that a crime?

BUTLER: Well, so it depends on whether it`s a thing of value. You can talk about financial campaign contribution. You could talk if there is an agreement to hack emails or to strategically coordinate the release of those emails. Then all that of is a crime. It`s conspiracy to defraud the United States of America.

And this guy, Sam Nunberg, again, this is another sign that special counsel Mueller is shifting his focus from obstruction to collusion with Trump as the target. So this guy is allegedly the kind of whisper for Roger Stone. Roger Stone`s directly implicated in collusion. He exchanged emails with WikiLeaks.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, in another interview today, Nunberg also discussed Carter Page, the foreign policy adviser in the Trump campaign who has been under scrutiny as well for his Moscow trips during and after the campaign. Here is what Nunberg said when asked whether he had ever corresponded with page.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NUNBERG: He asked me about communications with Carter Page. Do you think I would communicate with Carter Page? Carter Page is a scumbag.

TAPPER: OK. So the answer is no. You would not communicate with Carter Page.

NUNBERG: So the answer is, no. And Carter Page was colluding with the Russians.

TAPPER: So Carter Page was including with the Russians, you think?

NUNBERG: Yes, I believe Carter Page was colluding with the Russians.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: He is talking. He is singing like a songbird about everybody, not saying a good word about anybody.

AINSLEY: Here is a thing, Chris. If he didn`t want to go before the green jury, he could actually before the grand jury and just not say anything. He could plead the fifth. He is taking a far more legally damning route by going public with this.

MATTHEWS: Is he afraid of, you know, bad language in the emails, stuff that is embarrassing personally he may have said? That`s what he seems to be getting at, just personally embarrassing conversation.

AINSLEY: If that was the case, he could go before them and plead the fifth. He has that right to do.

MATTHEWS: On a documentary.

AINSLEY: On the documents, yes. He could plead the fifth before the grand jury. The documents he would eventually need to give up. But the thing is here, he instead decided to take this route where he wants to not talk to the grand jury, but talk to everybody else in town (INAUDIBLE).

MATTHEWS: Joyce, let`s go to that point of law and that question about that. Paul is shaking his head, yes. So I assumed you can`t. You can always take the fifth. But do you need any grounds for it like personal embarrassment? I thought you had to defend yourself against incriminating yourself. That`s the fifth amendment. Do you have to point to a crime you might be guilty of to claim the fifth?

VANCE: You do. And the way it works in the grand jury is when a witness takes the fifth amendment, there will often be that little colloquy with prosecutors what the crime is. But in this case Nunberg, if he is to be believed said he was offered immunity by prosecutors. That means he would no longer have a fifth amendment privilege to assert. And he would have to respond to questions or face being held in contempt of court and held until he decided to answer questions down the road. So that won`t work for him here.

MATTHEWS: Paul, let`s talk about the way he went to. We have talked about this for weeks, months now, how a smart prosecutor like Mueller will work his way up to the tree. He will work one person to get to the other person to get to the other person and work his way. Why is he going in the crazy world now? Why is he going into the Roger Stone, Carter Page, Sam Nunberg crowd? These aren`t considered serious people in terms of government or even politics, but they are willing to do stuff that`s off the grid.

BUTLER: So what does it mean, Chris? Now we know his target is President Donald Trump. So he is getting in touch with people who are in Trump world, close to him. And he is hanging out with crazies. He is talking to people who are crazy, who happen to have pertinent information, again, about collusion.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

STOKOLS: I mean, Sam said in the interview with Ari, he said well, the interview with Mueller, they were asking -- or the special counsel attorneys, they were really not asking about the campaign stuff. They were mostly asking about his businesses.

Well, Sam was there the years before he was a Presidential candidate. He wasn`t on the campaign. So just because they weren`t asking him about the campaign doesn`t mean they`re not interested but it does tell you they`re looking at other stuff.

MATTHEWS: How long has Sam Nunberg, the guy who is a center of all these craziness today, attached in any way to Trump?

STOKOLS: A few years going back to around --.

AINSLEY: 2011.

STOKOLS: Yes.

MATTHEWS: I mean, Roger goes back to the 20th century.

STOKOLS: Right.

MATTHEWS: We had a town meeting and there he was sitting next to Melania. He was there just tagging along.

Anyway, speaking about the subpoena in his interview earlier in MSNBC, Nunberg specifically denied finding any damaging emails that he was worried about, saying he had not even looked at the emails, his emails after being contacted by the prosecutors. Let`s watch this defense of sorts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sam, did you find an email in the last 24 hours that made you worried? An email you didn`t want to hand over?

NUNBERG: Not at all. Did somebody just feed you that question by the way into your ear?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. It`s a question I came up with off the top of my head.

NUNBERG: It`s a very good question. No I did not. I did not at all. In fact, you know what I did, Katie, I did not go over any of my emails since I have been contacted by them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That`s one way to win the heart of the person interviewing you. Did somebody just give you the idea to ask the question?

Anyway, minutes later in that same interview Nunberg contradicted himself saying he had gone over his emails within the last couple of hours.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Has anybody at all contacted you in the last few days, the last 24 hours to encourage you not to talk to the special counsel?

NUNBERG: I decided --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m sorry, the grand jury.

NUNBERG: I decided a couple of hours, a couple hours ago, I decided this when I was going over all my emails.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s do a little psychobabble, because sometimes the best we can do in this crazy world. We now know that this guy has a lot of stuff to say against the President if he gets called into a witness box or before the Congress next year in an impeachment hearing. It`s all coming out of this guy.

Why is he afraid to answer honestly the subpoena to produce his emails? What`s your bet? Because this is a big -- he is facing a contempt. And, you know, we know people have spent months in prison, serious over here and over here in Arlington, wherever, Alexandria, if I visited somebody over there, a journalist, pretty well-known journalist who was over there. And you sit there for months in prison garb, eating prison food in a cold cell because you won`t abide by a subpoena.

AINSLEY: Yes, that`s right. So I mean, just kind of based on what he is saying here, he seems to be protecting Roger Stone. It could be that Roger Stone doesn`t want information that could come out in these emails. It could be that he --.

MATTHEWS: But he says they already have Stone`s emails with him, he thinks.

AINSLEY: Yes, that`s true. But he somehow doesn`t want to cooperate because he says that there could be a perjury case against Roger Stone. I will say another thing that is interesting, because I think that`s a tough question to answer is that we have heard at the White House today, and I know certainly in our offices at NBC, everybody had these interviews up on full volume. But the one person who was not watching this today was Robert Mueller. And we checked in at the special counsel`s office. This is sort of a sideshow to them. They of course want the guy to come.

MATTHEWS: Let`s not kid yourselves. They will be asking for the video tomorrow.

AINSLEY: But I think he was doing a public dance here. And they want to (INAUDIBLE) comment.

MATTHEWS: It will be on You Tube.

BUTLER: If Nunberg is saying that Stone lied, I mean, that`s more leverage that he can use against Stone. So this about Nunberg to Stone to the President of the United States.

MATTHEWS: I think it`s not squealing rather than anything else.

STOKOLS: Some people say I don`t think Nunberg knows who he is deal with. Trump sued him. Trump is bluffing. Mueller is not a bluffer. But you can look at this in another way in that Sam Nunberg realizes that he is under immense pressure here, doesn`t know what to do and that`s what generated this sort of public freak-out today.

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: Thank you Julia Ainsley, Paul Butler, Eli Stokols and Joyce Vance.

Coming up, as the Russia probe inches closer to Trump, Trump is once again blaming President Obama saying he did not to stop Russian interference in 2016. And of course that`s just another effort by Trump to distract, especially now that we know his own state department was given $120 million to stop Russian meddle, and then spent zero. They are not doing nothing, we as a country because of Trump isn`t doing anything right now.

Plus, the chaos inside the White House is being described as pure madness. Even Trump`s allies say negotiating with him is like a pinball machine. And now Trump is joking about being President for life.

And how to guard against fake news in the age of Trump? There is so much have been out there. And tonight, we are going to find out about a new effort under way to help you weed out the wheat from the chaff, as we say in the bible.

Finally, let me finish with last night`s academy awards. This is "Hardball," where the action.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: The 2018 primary season kicks off tomorrow, and there are signs that things are looking up for Democrats, even in places you might not expect.

Democrats are seeing record early vote numbers ahead in tomorrow`s Texas primary. That`s Tuesday. In the top 15 counties in that state, the Democratic early vote has jumped 105 percent when compared to the last midterm elections back in 2014.

On Republican side, they have only seen a 15 percent uptick. Well, that translates to nearly 50,000 more Democrats than Republicans casting early ballots. We will see how this picks up.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

As special counsel Robert Mueller zeros in on President Trump and his allies` connections to Russia, the former Soviet republic`s brazen assault on our democracy goes unpunished.

Instead, President Trump continues to cast blame on the Obama administration for not doing enough on Russia. This morning, he tweeted: "Why did the Obama administration start an investigation into the Trump campaign with zero proof of wrongdoing long before the election in November? Wanted to discredit so crooked Hillary would win? Unprecedented. Bigger than Watergate. Plus, Obama did nothing about Russia meddling."

That`s all the tweet.

Meanwhile, Trump`s only national security officials say they haven`t been directed to stop Russian meddling.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: Have you been directed to do so, given the strategic threat that faces the United States and the significant consequences you recognize already?

ADM. MIKE ROGERS, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY DIRECTOR: No, I have not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you think our adversaries think right now? If you do a cyber-attack on America, what`s going to happen to them?

ROGERS: So, basically, I would say right now they do not think that much will happen to them. Our adversaries have not seen our response in sufficient detail to change their behavior.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: When asked what steps the administration has taken, here is what White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had to say:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, just this week, they announced through the State Department that $40 million is being given to the Global Engagement Center to begin providing immediate support to private and public partners that expose and counter Russian and Chinese propaganda and misinformation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: However, according to "The New York Times," the State Department has yet to spend any of the $120 million allocated to counter foreign meddling in our elections.

"As a result, not one of the 23 analysts working in the government -- in department`s Global Engagement Center, which has been tasked with countering Moscow`s disinformation campaign, speaks Russian. And a department hiring freeze has hindered efforts to recruit the computer experts needed to track the Russian efforts."

This is a tough one.

For more, I`m joined right now by Evan McMullin, former CIA operative, and Ruth Marcus, who knows everything, columnist and deputy editorial page editor for "The Washington Post."

Ruth, I want to go -- maybe I will start with you.

RUTH MARCUS, "THE WASHINGTON POST": That`s kind of high bar for poor Evan here.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

EVAN MCMULLIN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, boy.

MATTHEWS: Evan, because I think it`s fascinating. We had this thing struck us in 2016. Here we are going into 2018.

Usually, you know, you fool me once, fool me twice, that whole thing. We`re letting it happen.

MCMULLIN: Absolutely.

So why are we letting it happen? I think the answer lies with the president. He is our commander in chief. He has the authority to respond to Russia in a way that would punish them and deter them. But he isn`t. And so there is some conflict there. There is some reason why he isn`t.

MATTHEWS: Give me that. Come on. You`re a political guy. You ran for president. Tell me why he is not doing it, because there is a reason. We know the reason.

(CROSSTALK)

MCMULLIN: Well, the reason could be that there`s -- that he has done something wrong in the past that Putin is aware of, and Putin holds that over him.

Or it could be -- and this is actually what I sense is part of it as well - - that, look, the president, like other politicians in Europe who are supported by Putin, they want the help. They want the Russian help. And so they`re not going to push against it or counteract it.

MATTHEWS: These are the right-wing people? Or which crowd likes this?

MCMULLIN: Well, right now, it`s far right. In the past, it`s been the far last. Sometimes, now it`s in the far left too. But these are the extremes that Russia tries to promote. Right now, they`re with Trump.

I don`t think he wants to stop it. I think he wants the help. And that`s why he isn`t. But I also think Putin knows something about Trump and his activities, whether it`s business activities or some other action or activity he was involved, in that was compromising to Trump.

And he has that and he holds it over Trump. That`s not an uncommon thing. It`s actually very common, especially among leaders that Putin supports. That`s what the situation is. And it`s unfortunate.

So we`re left without a commander in chief who is going to deter future attacks.

MATTHEWS: Ruth, you -- we have all sort of figured out Putin. He is a bully. He is a tyrant. He fits the old order, pre-World War II order, where every bully country bullies other countries, until some bully bullies them back again. That`s a world war.

But what`s Trump`s motive? If he recognizes the threat from Russia, he has recognized there was one in 2016, or nefariously, he doesn`t want to ruffle the feathers of a guy who has got stuff on him? Where are you on that?

MARCUS: So, I don`t know what his motive is.

It could be something nefarious, as Evan suggests. It could be something as less nefarious as he just feels threatened. He feels like the legitimacy of his election is threatened if he allows any possibility that Russian meddling existed and therefore could have affected the outcome.

My position on this is, I don`t care what the reason is, because he is guilty of dereliction of duty. Whatever happened in 2016, whatever that says about his election, he is the president now. He`s got a country to protect in 2018 and 2020.

What is he doing about it? He is tweeting about 2016 and Obama? Come on. Let`s have a Security Council meeting. Let`s have a serious effort to make sure this doesn`t happen. We haven`t seen that. That`s the outrage.

MATTHEWS: Well, Jane Mayer of "The New Yorker" magazine is also out with an extended profile of Christopher Steele now, the former British intelligence officer who compiled of course the Trump dossier.

She reports that in his interview with Mueller`s investigators, Steele is believed to have shared information from a senior Russian official about President Trump`s search for a secretary of state just before the election in November of 2016.

"The official said that he was merely relaying talk circulating in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But what he heard was astonishing. People were saying that the Kremlin had intervened to block Trump`s initial choice for secretary of state, Mitt Romney."

Furthermore, Steele reportedly learned that -- quote -- "The Kremlin through unspecified channels had asked Trump to appoint someone who would be prepared to lift Ukraine-related sanctions and who would cooperate on security issues of interest to Russia."

Well, I don`t know how far to go with this, Evan. But if we had a blackballing situation in Moscow, where the president was thinking, or the president-elect was, oh, thinking Romney is sort of pretty good, he is not my best friend, but he is competent, he speaks other languages, he has been around the world, he is a smart guy, but I`m not going to do it because the Russkies said I can`t do it, I mean, that`s pretty frightening.

MCMULLIN: Well, it is pretty frightening.

But this is my point here, is that I think we have to get past this idea that the president is just irresponsible or he is offended by accusations that the Russians helped him get elected, and it wasn`t his win, it wasn`t because he was...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Are you putting down Ruth`s theory here?

(CROSSTALK)

MARCUS: We have to get to beyond it.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: That was a slap shot.

MCMULLIN: No, no, no.

(CROSSTALK)

MARCUS: I`m just sticking with the evidence we know so far.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: We know he can`t say the word Russia within his Cabinet, because it`s like you can`t say that word here.

MARCUS: Right. It sets him off. We know it sets him off.

MCMULLIN: Yes, Ruth`s view is the most accepted view. I fully acknowledge that.

All I`m saying is, this is what happens in every country. When Putin intervenes, he chooses a candidate. He promotes extremist movements that are anti-democratic. Those leaders that he promotes, that he supports, they`re responsive to his -- this is how it works.

MATTHEWS: OK. You`re the spy here. You`re the spy.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: We have a spook here, so let`s ask him what he knows.

Do you think he is knowing what`s going on tonight with this guy Sam Nunberg? Because he knows there`s a guy out there blabbing away about these things with the Russians, with he and Roger Stone, all their connections over there, and who was at Trump Tower and who knew about it.

Is he getting that stuff in real time, Putin?

MCMULLIN: No, I don`t think so.

MATTHEWS: It`s late at night.

MCMULLIN: There are a lot of people involved here. Many of them are crazy or incompetent. Like, I don`t think there is so much control.

MARCUS: Can I ask a question, since we`re playing ask the spy?

My question is, wouldn`t the smart play for Putin and the Russians now in 2018, if they wanted to meddle in the election, be to meddle on behalf of Democrats, so that you could set up a Democratic House and have an impeachment scenario? Because then you just have the chaos that they`re looking for.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: That sounds like -- Nixon did that.

MCMULLIN: Perhaps. Perhaps. But then you get more sanctions to Moscow.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Meanwhile, Nixon had -- was trying to get -- I used to listen to the tapes. Nixon tried to get his crowd of henchmen to break into the Republican headquarters and make it look like a Democratic job.

Anyway, thank you, Evan McMullin, Mr. Spymaster, and Ruth Marcus.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: General information from her.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Up next: President Trump is reportedly being driven to madness by cable news coverage. He is so erratic that some are comparing his negotiating tactics to that of a pinball machine.

And against this backdrop, Trump is joking about being president for life?

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`re not worried about a trade war. Thank you.

QUESTION: No trade war.

TRUMP: I don`t think so. I don`t think you`re going have a trade war. No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump stunned even some of his own aides last week, announcing new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. He defended his proposal with tough talk, saying: "Trade wars are good and easy to win."

While Trump insists he is not backing down, his tariffs are causing turmoil for Republicans on Capitol Hill, who were left in the dark prior to the announcement.

A spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan told NBC News: "We are extremely worried about the consequences of a trade war and are urging the White House to not advance with this plan. Well, the new tax reform law has boosted the economy, and we certainly don`t want to jeopardize those gains."

That`s the House talking.

It`s not the first time in recent weeks Trump has teased taking action counter to Republican orthodoxy. He did that with guns and with the dreamers. However, he ultimately backed off in both cases.

Anyway, "The Washington Post" reports lawmakers have learned to expect the unexpected from this president. New York Representative Peter King said of Trump`s negotiating style: "It`s a zigzagging, something like a pinball machine."

Well, over the weekend "The Post" also reported Trump`s quick change policies on trade and guns are fueled by the scandals roiling the White House and Trump`s ominous moods.

According to "The Post": "Trump`s friends are increasingly concerned about his well-being, worried that the president`s obsession with cable commentary and perceived slights is taking a toll on the 71-year-old. `Pure madness,` lamented one exasperated ally."

Well, given all that, it can sometimes be a challenge to defend Trump. And that was certainly the case this weekend, especially with one stunning example.

We will be back with that incredible piece of tape and the HARDBALL Roundtable after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MEET THE PRESS WITH CHUCK TODD")

CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": So, this is going to happen this week for sure, the way he said it, 25 percent, 10 percent?

WILBUR ROSS, U.S. COMMERCE SECRETARY: Whatever his final decision is, is what will happen.

TODD: Meaning this isn`t a done deal?

ROSS: I didn`t say that. I just said, what he has said, he has said. If he says something different, it will be something different.

I have no reason to think he is going to change.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross covering himself, trying to explain President Trump`s position after his tariff announcement last week, maybe sure if it changes, he`s still with him. And it comes as "The Washington Post" quotes a Trump ally who describes the scene inside the White House as pure madness. By the way, what kind of ally says it`s pure madness? There is something wacky here.

Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable: Robert Costa, who knows this guy, national political reporter for "The Washington Post", Annie Linskey, national political reporter for "The Boston Globe", and Geoffrey Bennett, he`s, of course, correspondent for NBC.

Thank you all. Let`s just do this. I had a little time with the president, not just chatting with him and Melania, and, you know, I guess all politicians are good at chatting and charm. And he is as good as anybody. I didn`t sense in any sweat.

Let me go to you, Geoff. You were there the other night, weren`t you?

GEOFF BENNETT, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: At the what, the Gridiron Dinner?

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BENNETT: No, I wasn`t there.

MATTHEWS: Well, who? And Annie was there.

ANNIE LINSKEY, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE BOSTON GLOBE: I was there, yes.

MATTHEWS: Well, just tell me, he put on a show. His speech was good for about five or ten minutes and then it was bad and it was OK at the end. It looks like --

LINSKEY: It was a very surprising speech. I mean, it`s not the kind of speech I`ve ever heard from him before. You automatically think back to the Al Hunt dinner where his jokes didn`t go over well. But he --

MATTHEWS: Al Smith, please? Al Hunt --

LINSKEY: Al Hunt -- oh my goodness, you`re right. Al Smith dinner. And this speech, he made some very edgy remarks.

MATTHEWS: Yes, it wasn`t funny and charming. But he was -- it started off with the funny thing. I can do self deprecation. I`m the best there is at self-deprecation. He`s very good, because he worked in that.

But you can tell when a person, I was watching him up at the podium. He was starting to go to his notes and people came up and talked to him and say he wasn`t getting -- he wasn`t as prepared as much as he should have been. But he didn`t look shook. Your view?

ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: You have you to look at President Trump and say he may seem unrattled, but that doesn`t tell you everything behind the scenes because the same day --

MATTHEWS: Have you ever seen him rattled?

COSTA: He -- personally and temperamentally, he can be very thin-skinned with attacks. And so, if he sees a crowd number he doesn`t like reported, if he sees an attack on Twitter, then you saw earlier on the day on the Gridiron, he was going off on the media on Twitter. Then he comes in, puts the performance at the Gridiron dinner.

His aides tell me he is so unpredictable. Sometimes he`ll come down from the residence in the morning and he`ll be in a mood and they`ll have meetings and he`ll be in great spirits all day. Everything is cool, even if the Russia investigation has all these indictments and everything else. Other days he`ll come down after watching a few shows in the morning and he`ll be erupting all day.

MATTHEWS: Well, you pointed out there are five stories in "The New York times" recently, all on the front page, all against him. Now, you know, nurture, nature, right? Part of who he is. The other part of him is, what he`s put up, in the legitimate criticism of the guy is so strong. How does he take it? He deserves it. But taking it is another question.

Geoff, you go in there?

BENNETT: The question is how does he compartmentalize?

MATTHEWS: Yes. Bill Clinton has his own trouble, created his own problem but could give a speech for an hour and a half even when they had the wrong stuff on the teleprompter. Remember that one?

LINSKEY: Yes.

BENNETT: Well, here, you made the point, you didn`t see the president sweat, but that`s certainly not the case of his aides. And I think the way that this whole tariff issue has unfolded is a case study of the level of the sort of disorder and dysfunction --

MATTHEWS: I agree.

BENNETT: -- within the West Wing.

MATTHEWS: I agree.

BENNETT: And it wasn`t the president`s decision to announce the tariffs. It wasn`t at all motivated by policy. It was because he was seething after the news of Hope Hicks leaving.

MATTHEWS: He was spitballing.

(CROSSTALK)

BENNETT: He was seething and looking for a fight and he settled on tariff tariffs. As a result of that off-the-cuff comment, you have White House policy -- U.S. policy being created.

MATTHEWS: OK. Supposed he has to pull back on tariffs, create a lot of exceptions. You don`t remember in Pennsylvania and Ohio that he tried, and he`ll be the only president whoever tried to look out for the steel guys.

BENNETT: And people close to him say that`s why he is pushing this trade issue is because of the House seat up for grabs.

MATTHEWS: The 18th.

COSTA: Republican lawmakers tell me they don`t know what is going on here because they just passed a tax cut. And they say they`re going to run traditional Republicans in some of the swing districts. Now, the president is going out on a limb on trade and saying --

MATTHEWS: It`s Democratic policy, protectionism. This is the kind of stuff Democrats in Pennsylvania, people like Bob Casey have been fighting for going back to John Den of Western Pennsylvania. I`ve heard this all my life. We heard some of this guy depend -- Leo Gerard of the Steelworkers, somebody has to look out for us, the price trigger mechanism, all that stuff from over the years going back to Jimmy Carter. We have to help the steel industry.

Finally, a guy comes on, I`m going to help you guys. It could be B.S., I don`t know. But what do you think of the politics? Isn`t it a sure disaster?

LINSKEY: It really feels to me like brainstorming.

MATTHEWS: I agree with that.

LINSKEY: All of these issues, I mean, whether it`s guns, whether it`s DACA, it`s like, here is an idea. Let`s just throw this out and see how it goes.

MATTHEWS: The average person is tired of we know better economics because people with their advanced degrees in economics and law degrees say the people up there working up there in steel don`t know what they`re talking about.

LINSKEY: He ends up -- every time he ends up in the same place, which is the follow the Republican orthodoxy. I mean, he has always been --

MATTHEWS: You think he`ll pull back free trade?

LINSKEY: I mean, that has -- if you look at his pattern, he says things that are surprising but he ends up in the same place, which is Republican orthodoxy. I mean, he has always --

MATTHEWS: He can come back to free trade.

LINSKEY: I mean, that has -- if you look at his pattern, for saying things that are surprising, he ends up in the same place.

BENNETT: And here`s the thing, just as we`re speculating here about what the president may not or may do, so are White House officials we talked to today. They have no idea what is going to happen.

MATTHEWS: We`ve got to go.

The roundtable is stay with us. Up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable for Monday night.

Robert, tell me something I don`t know.

COSTA: You got to think back to Nunberg. He was Bannon before Bannon. I knew him in 2011, 2012, 2013. He was the who came up with the populism, the nationalism, the outsider run for Trump.

MATTHEWS: Really?

COSTA: He`s out there today. He is saying wild statements publicly. But if you knew him back then, he was the one telling Trump way back when to run as an outsider, run on immigration.

LINSKEY: That`s good.

MATTHEWS: Smarter than he looks. Go ahead.

LINSKEY: So, changing gears for a second. I was looking at some -- I wrote a story for "The Globe" in today`s paper, looking at -- Trump came in with the promise he was going to cut government. He tried to cut 19 agencies that he laid, and a year later, we found out they`re all ticking along and it looks like they`ll continue for the next certainly year, likely two years. It`s much harder than it appears.

MATTHEWS: Yes, it`s more complicated.

Geoff?

BENNETT: Comedian Jon Stewart joined New York lawmakers today to protest a White House plan that would reorganize the health care fund for 9/11 first responders. So, white House officials today more or less dismissed their concerns. But New York lawmakers and the bipartisan basis make a point that this is a program that is actually working and shouldn`t be tinkered with.

MATTHEWS: It`s to take care of the 9/11 responders.

BENNETT: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Well, good for that case.

Robert Costa, Annie Linskey, Geoff Bennett.

Up next, fighting fake news. One veteran journalist has come up with a new way to combat disinformation in the age of Trump.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You see this? The fake news back there. Look. Fake news.

It was fake news. It was a totally phony story. Thank you very much. It was made up.

It`s totally fake news. It`s just fake. It`s fake. It`s made-up stuff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump loves to call the media fake news when they report something he doesn`t like. The term also refers to disinformation that is spread online like this made-up story about Hillary Clinton posted on a fake news Website.

According to a Dartmouth study in the weeks surrounding the 2016 election, over 27 percent of adults visited an article on a pro-Trump or a pro- Clinton site that has been identified as a fake news hub. It`s a problem that will continue to affect our elections, and it`s one that journalist Steven Brill is attempting to address before the 2018 midterms with his new company "Newsguard". He is planning on hiring journalists to evaluate 7,500 Websites for accuracy and transparency. The goal is to have those ratings appear when people search for news on Facebook or Google, if those platforms allow.

I`m joined right now by Steven Brill, co-founder of "Newsguard".

Steve, you were going to make enemies with this, because the very people you`re trying to protect us from are going to go to war with you. The people that do spew propaganda want to spew it and they want to confuse us into believing it`s news.

STEVEN BRILL, CO-FOUNDER, "NEWSGUARD": Well, I`m used to doing some controversial stuff. But I actually, I will think this is going to be less controversial than it seems. The basic thing we`re doing is applying basic common sense to solve a problem that the algorithms are unable to solve, which is to say that there`s a real newspaper called "The Denver Post" and then there`s a fake news site called "The Denver Guardian", which I think was the site that posted some of the stuff you just referred to.

So, we`re going to have human beings, people who are trained as journalists, read the sites and just rate the sites green, yellow or red, the overwhelming majority likely to give the green rating. We`re not going to rate individual articles. We`re not going to be terribly nuanced about it. But fake is fake, and real is real.

And what we`re going to so is warn people with a red dot that something they`re about to read or about to share is probably not reliable and they can click on that rating and read a "Newsguard" nutrition label which will be a 200 or 300 or 400 word description of who the site is, whose behind it, how is it financed, what`s their reputation. And those nutrition labels will talk about, you know, the history of "The Baltimore Sun" or the history of MSNBC, what their approach is, who their people are, and the history of "The Denver Guardian".

MATTHEWS: What`s to stop people just Googling stuff, if you put somebody`s name like Steve Brill down, everything that is written about you no matter how notorious the site will show up. How do you get somebody to discriminate that process?

BRILL: Well, it is show up in the search under that -- the search that pops up may have, you know, ten different headlines and articles. Nine of which will be green and one of which will be red. And that won`t stop people from reading the red. But they`ll know that they maybe should take it with a grain of salt.

We`re not trying to block anything. We`re not trying to censor anything. What we`re trying do is apply common sense from journalists just to arm people with more information about what they`re reading, just the way they used to have that information if they walked into a magazine store, or went to a newsstand and they could see those brands, and they could tell the difference between the "Philadelphia Inquirer" and "The National Enquirer".

MATTHEWS: I hope they can always tell that difference. Thank you very much.

By the way, I always tell people, go to an edited newspaper. I worked for a newspaper for years, 15 years. And the great thing about editors is, it`s Friday night, it`s 6:30, you get the call, I`ve got a couple of questions, you call them back, they say good story. Somebody has got to check the facts.

And I`ll tell you, a great newspaper can do it. And people that don`t want to do it shouldn`t be around. Anyway, I hope you can clarify that and separate this wheat from the chaff as they say in the bible.

BRILL: That`s what we`re doing, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Thank you. Good luck with that, Steve.

BRILL: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: When we return, let me finish tonight with last night`s Academy Awards. You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with last night`s Academy Awards.

I have the same reaction every year. It`s how I identify with the writers, the people with the talent to make all those movie magics possible. These are the people I look up to.

I have to admit, the movie -- the mood up for best picture this year, the movie I`ve been watching over and over is "Darkest Hour" about Winston Churchill in World War II. We owe that movie, by the way, to the writers because some of the best scenes in that movie never happened like his visit, Churchill`s visit to the London subway when he heard the regular working people the city showed their passion to stand up against Hitler.

That scene, I think the heart of the movie showed Winston Churchill at his best. So I wonder where we`ll find the person to take on President Trump in 2020, that person of talent. Yes, we have many candidates out there said to be attractive.

But who has the talent? Who has aversion to what worked before, who has FDR`s talent for inspiring confidence a worry panic-stricken country, the depths of the Great Depression or Reagan`s talent for making the country simply feel good about itself again, or Barack Obama`s talent for believing in American exceptionalism? That is a country in which a story like Obama is possible.

Well, I saw a lot of talent, from Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans on Saturday night at the Gridiron Dinner. Let me put it on the record. He is the best candidate for 2020 so far should he enter the race. He shows the right stuff to take on Donald Trump. I think Trump saw it himself Saturday night as he watched and listened to Landrieu.

Landrieu was strong and consistent and most of all downright impressive, describing the kind of accountability a person leading a city has to show. He showed me for one that governing can be the best qualification for someone promising to govern. And that in 2018 going on `20 is talent.

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. END