Show: HARDBALL Date: March 6, 2018 Guest: Natasha Bertrand, Kim Wehle, Ken Vogel, Anita Kumar, Chris Wilson, Elena Schneider
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Thanks for watching "the Beat." We are here every night at 6:00 p.m. eastern.
Now I hand it over to "Hardball" with Chris Matthews starting now.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Man overboard. Let`s play "Hardball."
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
Even as President Trump tries to convince the world there is no chaos at the White House and everybody wants to work there, his top economic adviser just quit. Gary Cohn`s decision seems to be a rebellion against Trump`s decision just last week to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, something many in the President`s own party have warned could lead to a trade war.
Cohn was one of several White House advisers who strongly urged the President to relent on that decision. It`s a dramatic end for a man reportedly considered in recent times to be a candidate for chief of staff.
As Trump spoke this afternoon, a joint press conference with the Swedish prime minister, there was an ominous sign in the room, Gary Cohn`s seat, there it is, was empty. NBC News reported Friday that Donald Trump became unglued over the new stories about Hope Hicks, Jeff Sessions and Jared Kushner.
According to two officials he was angry and gunning for a fight and he chose a trade war. Well, early this morning, Donald Trump tweeted the new fake news narrative is that there is chaos in the White House. Wrong. People will always come and go. And I want strong dialogue before making a final decision. I still have some people that I want to change. Always seeking perfection. There is no chaos, only great energy.
That was the President`s tweet this morning. Trump was asked about that tweet today, specifically who he wants to change next. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does that include your attorney general Jeff Sessions or either of your cabinet secretaries?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I don`t really talk about that. I just said that the White House has tremendous energy. It has tremendous spirit. It is a great place to be working. Many, many people want every single job. I read where, oh, gee, maybe people don`t want to work for Trump. And believe me, everybody wants to work in the White House.
It`s tough. I like conflict. I like having two people with different points of view. And I certainly have that. Then I make a decision. But I like watching it. I like seeing it. And I think it`s the best way to go.
Yes, there be people, I`m not going to be specific, but there will be people that change. They always change. Sometimes they want to go out and do something else. But they all want to be in the White House. So many people want to come in. And I have a choice of anybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I`m joined now by NBC White House correspondent Kristen Welker, MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle and the former chair of the Republican National Committee Michael Steele. Also with us, "Washington Post" columnist Dana Milbank.
A great first team now to try to understand, chaos or not chaos.
Kristen, the fact that they had had the empty chair today, the fact that they have this to come out after the President said everybody wants to work here, you know, everybody loves Raymond kind of thing. And then have the guy walk out the door. I know the two moved who don`t want to work in the White House, Hope Hicks last week and this guy just left today. So not everybody is clamoring to be there.
Your thoughts about what it fits their narrative. He calls it the fake news narrative that everybody is leaving even though everybody is leaving. Your thoughts.
KRISTIN WELKER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It was really like a pre-battle this astounding visual, Chris. The fact that you have the ominous sign of the empty chair and then the President talking about how, in his words, everyone wants a piece of the oval office. He was essentially foreshadowing what would we learn to become true in just a few hours. And of course, the timing also interesting, Chris, because it happened after the markets closed.
It was clear the White House wanted to stave off any type of market reaction today. Now, we will obviously be watching very closely overnight, Asian markets and then of course the U.S. markets as they open up tomorrow morning.
But the stature of Gary Cohn inside this White House cannot can be overstated. This is someone who was not only opposed to the tariffs, Chris, he was sharply opposed to the tariffs but he is a free trade Democrat. He is someone who is not afraid to clash with the President with Wilbur Ross. And he has just seen as a stabilizing force. So his ouster, his resignation will be a big deal for this White House. The question is, what will the ripple effects be within the broader economy, Chris?
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Stephanie on this.
Because he knows he is leaving at a time the President is in a chaos world, a narrative. Everybody is talking about everybody leaving, you know. The fact that he - well, one piece of the oval office he doesn`t want is the chair. He wouldn`t sit in this today. And this is a weird, weird choreography. This could have been handled behind closed doors. But usually in the real world of politics, they used to say, well, Jimmy`s leaving but Joe is coming or Mary is coming. There will be a new economic adviser to the President. This guy leaves an empty chair literally. And you can`t tell me that`s organized. Is it?
STEPHANIE RUHLE, MSNBC ANCHOR: It`s absolutely not. I don`t know Jimmy, Joe or Mary but I know Gary. And Gary Cohn is a process guy. In January, after tax reform got done, he went to the President and he went to general Kelly and said, I`m only working at 20 percent capacity. I need something to do here. I can do more. He said to the President, I`m ready for a cabinet level position. I want to do something bigger. Could be something in the state department. Could be something in the CIA. The President said, well, look around. Why don`t you focus on infrastructure? And Gary was the one who drove infrastructure and has been waiting to work on that and hasn`t been able to.
Things got sigh lined with DACA, things got sidelined after the shooting. But also, ideally sidelines because the President doesn`t pay attention. And he has said to the President, I`m willing to leave and come back if a bigger role comes up down account line. And then remember what happened last Wednesday.
Now they have talking about tariff Tuesday every week talking about it for months. And you know the President`s nationalist views for over a year. But things getting completely out of hand with Wilbur Ross and Peter Navarro who Gary Cohn has zero respect for and Peter Navarro is not respected by any mainstream economist and so suddenly, Gary is saying you know what? If this is the process is going to be, state, treasury, no one is aware, I`m going to going.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me go back Mike, the way normally things - I always tell people, when you take a job, take the job. Don`t think the job. Think I`ll get a raise later.
MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: right.
MATTHEWS: Cut the deal then and live with it. This Mike, he wasn`t asked to be secretary of state or treasury.
MATTHEWS: He was asked to be economic adviser for a President who was openly for protectionism. Who ran - in every state he went, all the key industrial states he ran in, he said I`m going to screw our competitive partners around the world. And now he says I can`t believe that there`s protectionism going on around here.
RUHLE: No, that`s not true, Chris. That`s not true. It`s a process.
MATTHEWS: Why does he demand a big job when he didn`t get a big job offer?
RUHLE: No, no, no. Let`s be clear. He didn`t demand a bigger job. He said, sir, I can do more. And in this, the President is going to make a decision on tariffs potentially that`s not in the best interests of the country. So Gary`s job is to be there to focus on the economy. And he is not giving Gary an opportunity to do that. Then what`s the point of being there?
MATTHEWS: What states did Cohn Gary?
RUHLE: Excuse me.
MATTHEWS: What states did he carry? I`m just wondering who the boss is. I`m confused here. It`s not his job to set economic policy. It`s the President`s job.
RUHLE: Yes. And so, Gary has done his job with the President. If he doesn`t work anymore, he is happy to go.
MATTHEWS: Yes. I think it is chaos. Your thoughts.
MATTHEWS: It is. By the way, you usually wait for somebody to replace you before you take French leave.
STEELE: Right. And I think Gary has been telegraphing his displeasure and inclination to leave for some time. And certainly, what happened this weekend was for hip the final straw.
But it does speaks to the overall chaos. The White House didn`t have time to put someone in place for Gary because they are not thinking that far ahead. They are not reading the body language of their own people that`s telling them about the dissatisfaction and the concern they have over policy.
It`s a big deal for the economic adviser to the President of the United States to leave over this particular issue. Particularly given that he doesn`t have the kind of support right now among House Republicans at least, Senate Republicans, as well, and how this plays out with the broader business community.
MATTHEWS: I want to go back to Kristen. Just on the reporting from the White House, what`s it feel like there when you have Hope Hicks, who is a very close confidante of the President walks out of nowhere? She walks there and gone. This guy leaves his chair sitting there empty. I`m sorry, I can accept what Stephanie said about the qualifications of the guy and the way he looks at things and he is for good government and good economics.
But Trump is running the place and I don`t get it. I mean, it looks like a ship that is sinking and people are jumping. This is what it looks like.
WELKER: In terms of what it feels like, Chris, I can tell you, you can see real concern in the eyes of the people who work here. In part, from a practical standpoint, they are concerned about the workload that they will now shoulder with the fact that can Hope Hicks is leaving, for example. What is that going to mean for rest of her communications team? There still hasn`t been a new communications advice named.
And then more broadly, obviously, for economic policy, this is a significant, significant departure. And again, I think what a lot of people here feel is the President is losing I a counter weight, a counter balance to how he views economic policy and how so many of those close to him view economic policy.
And so, there`s a real concern that some of the forces that were stabilizing him are now departing. What will that mean? Not only for the messaging here at the White House, Chris, some of the tweets that he sends out, for example, early in the morning. But what will it mean more broadly for policy and for them to be able to actually get stuff done.
Steph, makes the point of infrastructure. That was one of the issues that the President really wanted to focus on. And of course, that`s gotten completely off-track. So how do they get back on track with what was supposed to be a key priority for this President.
MATTHEWS: I`m going to end the show tonight by talking about Peter King has said. It is like a guy playing a pinball machine. As long as you got actions and the ball keeps moving back and forth, (INAUDIBLE), you are winning. And my question, I don`t think Trump cares about many other things except everybody knows he is the boss. He does what anybody - and Stephanie, verify this. But then, then don`t want any challenge. And Gary Cohn, when you look at him, looks like the grownup. Well, he looks like the kind of guy who is in the room has to be taken seriously. And I don`t think Trump likes that.
DANA MILBANK, COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON POST: He has certainly achieved the effect of dominating headlines at all points. But you can`t even argue the question of chaos. It is not subjective. We actually have numbers. As of last week, with Hope Hicks according to this Brookings tally, 40 percent of senior White House positions had turned over within a year. Now it`s approaching one in two have left.
MATTHEWS: And more coming the President says.
MILBANK: This is double or triple what it is. And they are not just leaving because, well, I have done my job and I`m leaving. They are being destroyed. Look what happened to Gary Cohn. He is standing there at Trump`s side during did the Charlottesville disgrace. He has passed over for the federal reserve. He is hanging on just to try to keep him from going in a protectionist direction. After a year, he gives up that as well. They are all getting chewed up. Who is going to wants to come into this White House and do that?
MATTHEWS: Let`s get back to some news.
Stephanie, I understand there was a meeting planned, I think it maybe in your note. There`s a scheduled meeting for was scheduled two days from now on Thursday where they are going to hear the counter, the rebuttal to this protectionist notion. And now that Gary Cohn had no confidence that meeting would take place. Is that true?
RUHLE: Well, it is true. But it also speaks to exactly the point that was just being made. We know Gary was very angry with the President after Charlottesville. But he didn`t leave. So one could say well, then, why would he leave over this? Because he is there specifically to work on issues of economics relating to trade. And if he cannot get the President`s attention, you know, you said before he`s leaving over policy. He is leaving over process.
The President made this claim, this big plan about the tariffs and he did not have the White House legal team signing off. He said this was an issue of national security. The White House legal team has not approved that. So people are going, well, you know, Trump goes I like when there`s two different opinions to know and he didn`t say the names. But a Wilbur Ross versus Gary.
This is still President Trump versus his own White House counsel. He didn`t have clearance. And so, for a process guy, if he is not going to get to lead the process, he is saying forget about it.
And you are exactly right. President Trump is an, I and I alone guy. He doesn`t want to go to Mar-a-Lago and have people say, really glad Gary is there. Really good for the markets. That`s not what Trump likes.
MATTHEWS: Let me go back -- I love it.
Let me go back to Kris on this. Because that`s the very point I want to get to is personnel, the warring tribes in the White House. You are much better at this than anybody else.
And here is the tribes -- Ivanka, Jared, Gary Cohn. That was apparently one of the tribal groups, one of the gangs if you will. And now that gang is under assault again. Cohn`s gone. Jared is on the - I don`t know what is - the opposite of the on-deck circle. He is not going to go to bat. What is going on there in terms of the warfare inside of the White House?
WELKER: Well, it is a great point. First of all, you will recall Steve Bannon called that group you just talked about the west wing Democrats. That`s how closely aligned they were in terms of policy and alliances here.
You are right. Jared Kushner has effectively lost his top security clearance. Remember, he was the guy spearheading Middle East peace. What does that mean for his ability to carry out that task? I think ultimately, what it means, Chris, is that right now, John Kelly has been emboldened. And what`s so interesting about that is that just several days ago we were talking about the fact maybe he would be on the chopping block in the wake of the Rob Porter incident. And so you are seeing these power alliances constantly shift.
I want to make one point what Steph was saying which is not only was President Trump`s announcement on trade and tariffs not mapped out from a legal perspective but look at the messaging. It`s really been all over the place. He made the announcement. He said trade wars are a good thing. Then he said there is not going to be a trade war. And then today, he seemed to flip again and said look, trade wars aren`t so bad.
And so, he is sort been all over the map. And even his top officials here don`t know how to protect him on this issue because they don`t know where he really stands right now, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Mike, I go back to my point which is what I do love in politics is the personality of the leader. And we have a President with a (INAUDIBLE) view of the universe. The rest of the universe really doesn`t matter. It is a -- I am the sun and I am the sun, the solar system. There`s one sun. It burns hot.
If this guy going to be the happiest man in the world but he is home alone and there`s nobody around, just him. And everybody has to give him credit?
STEELE: Well, yes.
MATTHEWS: For the economy.
STEELE: Well, it - he looks at the indices that he is looking at are OK, what he believes is happening with the economy right now on the heels of the tax bill. He sees this despite the peak surrounding the trade decision, for him, that feeds that narrative with his base. So he is out there doing what he thinks he needs to do to keep the universe centered right around that sun. That`s it.
MILBANK: But this is different because you see Republicans were holding fire to some extent because they still thought he would change his mind. Clearly with Gary Cohn gone, they are not changing his mind on this. There is going to be open warfare right now.
MATTHEWS: There is a lot of money to be made in free trade, Stephanie, right? There`s a lot more money and free trade than in protectionism, I would think.
RUHLE: Without a doubt. Now Gary is not walking out tonight. He will be there for another two weeks. So I suspect he will be trying to get the President on track.
But in terms of willing to stand by the President, you know, Gary wanted to hang his hat saying I got tax reform done. If you notice, a lot get tried to take credit for. They are all trying to take credit for getting tax reform done, the one thing. Gary doesn`t want to be there because it`s embarrassing for him if tariffs go the wrong way. Because they all want to want to save face and say, well, I don`t stand with Trump on the crazy stuff. But look, he is getting the economic staff right. And he walk, they don`t want to stand there. They feel embarrassed.
MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) waste with Gary still in town.
Anyway, thank you, Kristen Welker. Thank you, Stephanie, it is great having you on when we have this crazy situation affecting the markets and the economy. And everything including out futures, we call on you. Thank you. Michael Steele, thank you.
MATTHEWS: And Dana, I know you will have an interesting turn on this in the next 48 hours. We are going to get to the market`s reaction of Gary Cohn leaving in a minute.
And coming up later, the timing of Cohn`s departure couldn`t be worse as we have said. It comes one day after Sam Nunberg says he thinks Trump may have done something wrong on the Russian thing.
And tonight, we are getting more clues about the direction of Robert Mueller`s investigation. That`s ahead tonight, here on "Hardball."
Plus, nothing to see here. Trump wants you to know there`s no chaos in the White House. Just the everyday comings and goings of a typical presidency. After Cohn`s exit you late today, is anyone buying that?
And it is primary night in Texas tonight. The first battle for control of the Congress is underway tonight. I want you to know will the resistance show up. That is the question. Will the resistance against Trump show up at the polls? Will there be a big blue wave this year? We will see how real that is.
Finally, let me finish tonight with Trump watch. He won`t like it. He might actually in a weird way like this one because it`s how whacky the whole thing is but seems to fit with him.
This is "Hardball" where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to "Hardball."
Stock future trading tonight is pointing to a lower stock market opening tomorrow after news broke that White House chief economic adviser Gary Cohn is gone. He will be gone in two weeks. But effectively, he is out of a job now.
I`m joined by CNBC`s John Harwood.
This would shock most of the world that the top economic advisor to a head of government has walked right after a major announcement on trade has been made. This is a conflict maybe? We have been thinking some country like Italy was going crazy if this happened. Your thoughts about the impact from the number one country in the world, us.
JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC REPORTER: Well, Chris, as you know is, we have got a Republican party that is split between hits blue collar working class wing which has grown and its pro-business pro-market wing.
Now, in Donald Trump`s era, the blue collar wing has become ascendant. I`m standing here in Pennsylvania, southwest Pennsylvania. Right behind me, Joe Biden is in there giving a speech for a Republican -- Democratic congressional candidate Conner Lamb. And some of the thinking was that President Trump wanted to help the Republican running for this special election next week by applying these tariffs.
But this is a President who is siding on a critical economic issue with that be blue collar wing. That`s not normal. That`s not what Republicans - that`s not what the Bushes have done in the past. That`s not what the Mitt Romney would have done. They would have sided with the pro-market, pro-business wings. And this nomination and election of Donald Trump had consequences where we are seeing them right now. The markets are likely to open lower tomorrow.
And I do think, Chris, if President Trump gets pounded in the markets for multiple days, that will influence who he picks to succeed Gary Cohn...
HARWOOD: ... and maybe what he does going forward on trade.
There`s a much bigger trade decision that the Trump White House faces on China later this year on intellectual property. And if they go full-out to punish China for stealing our intellectual property, that is going to be a much bigger and more economically consequential step than these tariffs he has announced right now.
MATTHEWS: Well, the great irony, John, you got to is people like Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Sherrod Brown, very tough on trade, they think that you have got to help these steelworkers.
You got Leo Gerard of the Steelworkers. These are tough guys, very angry for decades about what they see as the dying of our steel industry.
HARWOOD: That`s right.
MATTHEWS: And now they have got a president who at least is leaning in their direction. This is a strange political division here we`re looking at, the working-class Democrats and Trump, looks like.
HARWOOD: Well, the weird thing about it, Chris, is that we had a pro-labor Republican, Tim Murphy, who was forced from office over a personal sexual scandal. Now the Republicans have put up an anti-labor Republican.
Trump`s trying to help him here. He`s embraced the tariffs, but so has Conor Lamb...
MATTHEWS: Yes, sure.
HARWOOD: ... the Democrat running for this seat, and he`s kind of neutralizing that issue.
MATTHEWS: It`s a union state still.
Thank you, John Harwood.
HARWOOD: That`s right.
MATTHEWS: Thank you so much for coming on tonight.
Up next: the latest on the Russian probe. Special counsel Mueller is reportedly interested in Trump`s longtime lawyer Michael Cohen. That`s giving us a better sense of where this whole investigation is headed, which is everywhere. It`s looking at everything, the laundering business, collusion, obstruction, the works.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
As the White House reels after the departure of top economic adviser Gary Cohn, we have new reporting tonight that another member of the president`s inner circle is of interest to special counsel Robert Mueller.
According to "The Washington Post," Mueller has requested documents and interviewed witnesses about incidents involving Michael Cohen, the longtime lawyer for President Trump whose wide-ranging portfolio has given him a unique vantage point into Trump`s business, campaign, and political activities.
While there`s no indication that Cohen is specifically a target of the Russia investigation, this is yet another sign that Mueller may be zeroing in on the president`s financial dealings.
Now, in another breaking story late tonight -- that`s just now -- "The New York Times" is reporting that Robert Mueller has also gained the cooperation of an adviser to the United Arab Emirates, part of an effort to the determine whether foreign money had any influence on Mr. Trump`s political activities.
All this comes after Trump`s former campaign adviser Sam Nunberg, who has spoken to Mueller`s investigators as a witness in the probe, told MSNBC that he thinks Mueller already has found something on President Trump and that it may relate to his business.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAM NUNBERG, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: And they probably have something on Trump. Trump did something pretty bad, I would assume.
QUESTION: What do they have?
NUNBERG: I don`t know.
QUESTION: You felt they were asking you more about potential crimes related to the Trump Organization than related to the Trump campaign?
NUNBERG: That`s what I felt, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, joining me right now is Natasha Bertrand, who covers the Russia probe for "The Atlantic," and Kim Wehle is a former U.S. assistant U.S. attorney.
Well, let`s start with this Michael Cohen. We know he was involved with Stormy or whatever her name was in that whole payout of $130,000, all that. We know him from that sort of background.
What -- it looks to me like Trump is about to make a reckoning with this guy Robert Mueller. He made it clear months ago that he`s going to treat as a red line, you go after my business affairs, you`re just fishing, because all business guys would hate that, I suppose. Most of them would.
And he says, if you do that, I`m going to get rid of you.
Well, he`s going after relations with the UAE, Emirates, United Arab Emirates, and with everything with regard to his lawyer, who does all his business stuff.
This guy Mueller is not stopping at the narrow definition of what his investigation started with.
NATASHA BERTRAND, "THE ATLANTIC": No, not at all.
And, of course, the financial aspect of this is incredibly important, because that is ultimately the biggest form of leverage that Russia would have over the president, if it indeed existed.
MATTHEWS: What would they have?
BERTRAND: They would have potential money laundering deals, which, of course, has been heavily scrutinized by many reporters, and including the founder of Fusion GPS testified before the House Intelligence Committee and said that they had seen a lot of indications that Russian money had flowed through Trump properties, and that all signs pointed to money laundering.
And if that did occur, then that would create a position where Trump was susceptible to kompromat, because it would be something that the Russian government would know about.
So, this is definitely an example of Mueller going after the heart of the question, which is, is there a reason why President Trump never criticizes Vladimir Putin? Is there a reason why throughout the entire campaign, he seemed to be cozying up to the Russians and welcoming their help, including asking them to actually hack into Hillary Clinton`s e-mails?
MATTHEWS: He did it again today, Kim. He said there may have been some meddling. It didn`t affect the votes, of course. He said that again.
But he said other countries may have done it as well and other individuals. So, he`s trying to spread the blame around, so that Vladimir won`t hear him attacking him. He doesn`t want Vladimir to make the point just made hearing him bad-mouth him. He doesn`t want -- for some reason, he doesn`t want him mad at him.
KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSOCIATE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: Yes, it`s a fair implication.
And I think we don`t as Americans care a whole lot about what happens in other countries, to the extent to which it affects our democracy. Right? We want our elected leaders to make decisions based on the facts and what`s best for the country, not based on shady business dealings, something you owe somebody else, the Russians, whatever.
The money matters here because it gives a rationale or a justification for collusion, for lack of a better word, which could lead to other crimes. But the money laundering itself and these other financial machinations can be crimes in and of themselves.
So, I actually think this is squarely within Rod Rosenstein`s mandate.
MATTHEWS: Well, it says anything he uncovers.
MATTHEWS: It`s really a wide mandate.
Tell me about this United Arab Emirates talker. Who is this new squeal pigeon, stool pigeon, as they say in the movies?
There is a really remarkable story out from "The New York Times" tonight about how this adviser to the United Arab Emirates, rMD-BO_George Nader, is now cooperating with the special counsel.
And, of course, we -- "The New York Times" had reported previously that he had been interviewed by Mueller`s team. But no one could really understand how the UAE had a nexus to Mueller`s investigation into Russia`s election interference.
Well, now we know that Nader was actually at that meeting in the Seychelles in December of 2016, along with Erik Prince and a representative of Vladimir Putin.
MATTHEWS: What happened at that meeting? Refresh my mind on that one.
BERTRAND: During that -- well, there are conflicting reports.
So, there is -- Erik Prince has said that it was just a casual meeting with an investor, Russian investor, over beers, and they just chatted about general global affairs.
But others have said -- people who were present at the meeting told "The New York Times" that the Emiratis, for their part, thought that Erik Prince was a representative of the Trump campaign, and so did the Russians.
So there is some speculation that perhaps, after the election took place, after Trump won, there was then this meeting to kind of get their ducks in a row. And...
MATTHEWS: Why would they meet in this third place? Why would they go down to the Seychelles? That`s pretty much odd geography to choose. Was that to keep it secret?
BERTRAND: They perhaps thought it was, yes, more easily concealable.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you about what we heard yesterday.
This guy Sam Nunberg, OK, now he`s like this Kato Kaelin type character we meet in these. There`s a little bit dodgy. You can`t -- they say things that don`t seem to be well-thought-through. But they do make news.
And when he said he thinks that Mueller`s got something, that the president did something bad, do we count that as a serious contribution to the facts here?
WEHLE: No, I don`t think so, frankly.
I mean, I think it`s relevant, I guess, to the public discourse to understand that people within the grand jury are reporting that these are the kinds of questions that the Mueller team is asking.
But it really shows that Mueller is following the facts and will ultimately make a determination.
MATTHEWS: Well, what do you make of these characters? Carter Page.
They all seem a little loopy. And the way they look and behave on camera doesn`t seem to be normal.
WEHLE: Well, we have three guilty pleas from people within the president`s core team already. So...
MATTHEWS: We have got Erin Burnett -- yes, Erin Burnett the other night saying, were you drinking today?
I mean, this is not -- I`m not used to hearing this kind of conversation. I`m sorry. This is strange.
BERTRAND: Well, apparently, Sam Nunberg has just grown really frustrated with the fact that he feels like a lot of friends during the campaign have completely abandoned him.
He was actually very pivotal to the campaign`s early days. And then he was ousted not once, but twice, right after a series of kind of racist Facebook posts were unearthed.
But he now feels that he`s been kind of thrown under he bus. He does not have any loyalty to Donald Trump. His loyalty is to Roger Stone.
MATTHEWS: You got the hot hand. Tell me, what`s Trump most worried about, the business end, the obstruction end, or the collusion piece?
BERTRAND: Well, the obstruction...
MATTHEWS: Where is he most worried?
BERTRAND: The financials, because the tax returns, he`s still trying to hide.
WEHLE: I think Mueller probably has them.
BERTRAND: I think Mueller has them, but he doesn`t want them publicly released. And there`s a reason for that. So...
MATTHEWS: Why? He`s not rich?
BERTRAND: Maybe they show some evidence of wrongdoing.
MATTHEWS: His hands are smaller than we thought?
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Natasha Bertrand and Kim Wehle.
Up next: Despite reporting that the White House is descending into pure madness, President Trump says everything is just fine. According to Trump, there`s no chaos, only great energy.
After today`s exit by the top economic adviser, however, who does the president think he`s fooling?
You`re watching HARDBALL.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
This morning, President Trump called reports of chaos in the White House a fake narrative. Well, even as the president was tweeting that this morning, Bloomberg reported Trump "has told advisers that he believes economic adviser Gary Cohn will leave his White House job if Trump decides to go forward with tariffs on imported steel and aluminum."
Well, late today, Trump`s fears came true, as Cohn announced his resignation. It`s a big blow to an administration whose number one issue is supposed to be the economy.
Well, let`s bring in the HARDBALL Roundtable for that. Ken Vogel is political reporter for "The New York Times." Anita Kumar is White House correspondent for McClatchy.
And -- you like the way I said that? McClatchy.
And Chris Wilson is a Republican pollster and former executive director of the Texas -- Texas Republican Party.
Let me ask you about this whole thing.
I remember there was a play we -- a high school play, everybody -- it was "Ten Little Indians." I think they changed the name of it. It was about 10 people staying at a mansion one weekend, and each one keeps dying. And, all of a sudden, you finally forget -- well, the murderer is one of the few people left.
What is going on here? Because they are all dying. They`re walking out the door. His most confident confidant, Hope Hicks, walks last week. Right in the middle of the day, she comes in and says, I`m getting out of here.
This guy, I guess he gave forewarning, but he`s not exactly -- he didn`t wait around to be replaced. He`s not waiting for anybody.
KEN VOGEL, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": This is a feature. This is a feature, Chris, not a bug, of Trump-run organizations. It goes back to the Trump Organization, where he admitted that he pitted his own wife Ivana Ivana Trump against one of his casino executives in a battle for control.
Certainly, we saw it on the campaign. It was the whole premise of "The Apprentice." And now we see it in the White House. He likes there to be warring factions. I guess, giving him the benefit of the doubt, you might have good ideas emerge from that battle.
But more often than not, what you get is chaos.
MATTHEWS: But it looks like chaos, Anita. Is that really good, to look like chaos?
ANITA KUMAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS: But it looks like chaos.
You said it earlier today -- or earlier on the show, how if you have someone who is leaving, the normal way to do it is to have someone who is coming in and announce the replacement at the same time.
Instead, what the White House has been doing every time is saying, this person`s been thinking about it for a number of weeks. If they had, why didn`t you have someone lined up replacing them and just have a smooth transition? And they haven`t done that for anyone. Hope Hicks, the same exact thing happened with her.
MATTHEWS: In politics, Chris -- and you and I know politics -- it seems to me in politics you always have somebody in the room with you. You get in trouble, you call the person up. It could be your lawyer, your best friend, your spouse, often your spouse.
But Trump seems to have very few people that he can call up anymore. Who is he calling now?
MATTHEWS: Tom Barrack? What the -- that guy Barrack.
Who is left out in wherever he is, somewhere out West? Who does he call when he`s in trouble?
CHRIS WILSON, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: I don`t know. It`s a good question. I think with Cohn, though, it`s a little bit of a unique situation. This is no question that there is a pattern. But, having said that, Gary Cohn was instrumental in shepherding and designing the tax bill. He`s been talking about leaving since it happened.
It was really, after it passed, there`s nowhere to go but down after that. So, I don`t think it`s that surprising he left. Maybe the way in which he left isn`t. It shows probably the battle that is going on over tariffs at the White House right now. I think that is what it speaks to more than it does anything else about chaos.
MATTHEWS: Well, there`s still a business cycle. We going to have a down soon. At some point, there will be a down. Recoveries don`t last forever. They`re called recoveries, but they last seven years maybe.
But it will die. There will be a time you need to reorganize this whole president`s economic program and get the juice running again. It`s going to happen probably before the election in 2020 for sure. Who is going to be around to help him do it?
VOGEL: Well, it`s already happy. And the protectionists are ascendant now. We talk about Peter Navarro, Robert Lighthizer. These are the guys who are pushing the tariffs. These are the guys who...
MATTHEWS: That`s a political solution, though. Is that an economic policy?
VOGEL: Well, I mean, whether it`s political or economic, these are the folks who right now have Trump`s ear.
And Gary Cohn was the one fighting who was against that. He`s gone. It`s tough to see anyone really giving that balance now. Maybe they will bring in someone else. Maybe Kushner or Ivanka will push one of their sort are of New York Democrat friends, as Steve Bannon derisively called them, to sort of balance out that agenda.
But, right now, it`s very much...
MATTHEWS: Good point.
Anita, there was a fight in the White House for months now between sort of the Steve Bannon sort of nationalists, almost hard right, against the traditional sort of metropolitan New Yorkers who have friends around the world and think big.
Well, it looks like the think big crowd has just taken a big fall.
KUMAR: Yes. And all the news today obviously is about Gary Cohn. But let`s not forget...
MATTHEWS: Wilbur Ross is winning. Ross won this one.
KUMAR: Oh, yes.
The Jared -- the big picture here is that Jared Kushner part of the White House is slowly leaving.
KUMAR: Jared`s there, right? He has a diminished role.
We have seen one person after another that is tight with Jared and Ivanka, they are leaving. It`s all of those people. And it`s not just trade. It`s climate, it`s immigration, all these issues that the globalists wanted. That side of the White House, they`re gone.
MATTHEWS: Well, the liberals, such as you call them, liberals.
MATTHEWS: Whatever. They`re not right-wing -- they`re not nationalists.
Chris, who is winning this?
MATTHEWS: Is Trump getting more Trump?
WILSON: Well, there`s no question he`s getting more Trump.
But I don`t know that I would make this a -- it`s not a simple right/left, Republican/Democrat issue. I mean, there`s plenty of division within the Republican Party.
MATTHEWS: Well, there`s a damn well fight between this president and this speaker of the House. The speaker of the House believes in free trade, and he doesn`t believe in changing immigration law.
WILSON: The other side of where the president is going right now. That`s an issue from the standpoint of moving forward in the 2018 elections.
KEN VOGEL, THE NEW YORK TIMES: It`s so ironic that it was Gary Cohn who is enforcing the Republican orthodoxy on free trade. He was a Democrat. Now he`s gone.
MATTHEWS: Democrats largely in the big state or industrial -- you know, tend to be pro-protectionists right now, at least their sentiment.
VOGEL: Well, there are plenty of Democrats in the Rust Belt who are cheering these tariffs, as well.
WILSON: There are.
MATTHEWS: I don`t know what Bob Casey and Sherrod Brown are saying about this, but they can`t be attacking it.
WILSON: That`s right.
MATTHEWS: Not up there.
Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.
Ken, tell me something I don`t know.
VOGEL: Well, the White House has tried to create some distance with Sam Nunberg, the former Trump aide who`s been on this media tour.
MATTHEWS: They don`t accept judgment at Nunberg.
MATTHEWS: I`m sorry.
VOGEL: Anyway, they say that they make the point valid one that he never worked in the administration. But in fact, he has remained close to and worked for two Trump insiders who did work in the administration including Steve Bannon as well as Chris Ruddy, this Trump friend.
MATTHEWS: So, they were picking a point.
VOGEL: Right, exactly. But he definitely has entree.
MATTHEWS: Anita? He was closer than they admit.
ANITA KUMAR, MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS: As if there isn`t enough going on in this White House, the Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, is getting involved in state budget disputes. What this shows is that he and the administration is still strongly opposing Obamacare and so they`re getting involved. They just recently got involved in the Virginia budget dispute that`s over Obamacare. So, they`re telling Virginia do not expand Medicaid. We do not support it.
WILSON: Today`s primary election day in Texas. Democrat turnout over up 100 percent from 2014. Every couple years, Democrats latched on their couple of factoids and say, oh, it`s going to be a blue wave. Never is. Falls flat.
We analyzed election data for primary election, early vote and the general election going back to 1996. Zero correlation between who votes on primary and what happens in the general election.
MATTHEWS: So, you don`t expect a blue wave based on what we`ve seen?
WILSON: No, I don`t think in Texas.
MATTHEWS: So, the Democrats will not get the House.
WILSON: I think the House in Texas will look almost like it does today.
MATTHEWS: How about the House in the country?
WILSON: That`s different -- a story for a different day.
MATTHEWS: You`re chuckling. I think they`re going to lose the House.
Anyway, thank you, Ken Vogel. Thank you, Anita Kumar, and, Chris Wilson.
Up next, as we mentioned tonight, we`ll get our first sense whether or not we can expect a blue wave, a big Democratic win this November. It`s primary night tonight in Texas. Polls will be closed in much of the state at the top of this hour. The early vote numbers have been great for Democrats. But will the resistance show up tonight?
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Well, there`s been a major development in the country`s -- our country`s standoff with North Korea. North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-un has told South Korean envoys that he`s willing to talk with the U.S. about abandoning his country`s nuclear weapons, abandoning them. In addition, Kim Jong-un says his regime will halt nuclear and missile tests during diplomatic talks.
Well, President Trump welcomed the possible progress on Twitter, writing: The world is watching and waiting, maybe false hope but the U.S. is ready to go hard in either direction.
He echoed that -- the president echoed that sentiment at the White House this afternoon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They seem to be acting positively. We`re going to see. I`m willing to go, as you probably noticed this morning, where we sent out through social media a statement willing to go either way. Hopefully, it`s going to be the proper way, the proper way is the way that everybody knows and everybody wants. But we are prepared to go either way. I think that their statement and the statements coming out of South Korea and North Korea had have been very positive. That would be a great thing for the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: We`ll be right back after this.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Polls will be closed in most of the Lone Star State at the top of the hour. The country will have its first indication from Texas of what`s in store for the fall midterm elections nationwide.
And for Democrats, the road to the majority in the House and potential impeachment of president begins in Texas. Of course, Democrats have a reason to be excited down there. They`ve doubled their early voting turnout from the last midterm election. In fact, the top 15 counties in Texas, early vote shot up 105 percent since 2014, the last midterm. Republicans have only gone up 15 percent.
Despite these troubling signs for the GOP, the president talked bullish on Republican prospects in the 2018 election. While a recent Gallup poll showed Donald Trump`s approval rating statewide in Texas at 39 percent, a University of Texas poll among Republicans showed that 83 percent approve of the job he`s doing.
Well, Republicans remain the dominating force in the state but Democrats remain hopeful that their enthusiasm can translate into victories down there.
So, the question is, will the resistance we`ve seen since the day after Trump was elected show up and what does it mean if they do show up?
For more, I`m joined by Elena Schneider, campaign reporter from "Politico".
Thank you so much, Elena. You`re our person down there. You`re all we got.
So, you tell me, can you tell from now or we have to wait until late tonight maybe late tonight to get did the first tea leaves on whether there`s a blue wave coming this November?
ELENA SCHNEIDER, POLITICO: Certainly, Democrats are excited to vote. You can tell that just from the early vote. And we`re going to see high turnout all over the state. That tracks with what we`ve seen in Virginia, in New Jersey and state special elections all across the country in the last year.
So, this goes along with a larger Democratic enthusiasm. What it means for the ability to change hands in the house, it certainly gives Democrats a reason to be excited about that possibility. But so far from Texas, it doesn`t necessarily mean that Texas is going to suddenly turn blue. It certainly is still a very red state. We`re expecting to see that coming out of the primaries.
MATTHEWS: Let me give hope to some people, our progressive watchers. What about Beto O`Rourke? Can this guy beat Ted Cruz in November if he gets the nomination?
SCHNEIDER: So, if he gets the nomination, it`s certainly somebody who put up a tough fight. He`s going to be incredibly well-funded. The grassroots have shown a huge amount of support for him, fueling his campaign with millions of dollars. But the chances that he`s going to be able to beat Cruz, somebody who remains pretty popular in the state, it seems very unlikely in a red state like Texas.
MATTHEWS: Well, thank you, Elena, very much.
We`ve got news coming in here now I think at any moment. Do we have it yet? There it is, some of the breaking news right now. Stormy Daniels sues President Trump saying their hush agreement is invalid because he never signed it.
What do you make of that, Ken?
VOGEL: I mean, potentially problematic. She`s already been out there, let`s not forget and sort of the contours of what she`s going to say are pretty well-known. She gave this 2011 interview in which she alleged an affair. Maybe she will say -- the interesting thing is it doesn`t seem to matter for Trump`s supporters. They don`t seem to care.
MATTHEWS: I think you`re right.
Anita, adult film star, you might say, adult film, we know what that means, $130,000 nondisclosure agreement, worked out to apparently Michael Cohen, the president`s lawyer. We don`t know who -- we assume so far that he paid -- the lawyer paid it and still waiting to get compensation from the president. But does that still hold? It sounds like Stormy Daniels doesn`t honor it anymore?
KUMAR: Right. I mean, it also sounds like that, you know, a lot of critics are saying there were campaign violations. So, finance violations.
MATTHEWS: Because it would be seen as an in kind contribution of some kind.
KUMAR: Right. I mean, why did he do it? He did it for the president, right, for Donald Trump.
VOGEL: Or whether he coordinated.
VOGEL: He talked about he held off because he was trying to get in touch with Trump. That`s what the "Wall Street Journal" reported. He wanted to get to Trump before he paid her. Why?
MATTHEWS: I spent my life hearing about people who never get paid by the competition.
KUMAR: A huge story out there that was barely gotten any air play.
WILSON: As you know, I worked for Ted Cruz in the primary against Donald Trump. Forty-two states we went up against him. If we took all the different scandals that happened during the campaign, this would not be in the top 20. This is like not going to be --
MATTHEWS: Explain that in your party, why that doesn`t seem --
WILSON: If I could explain it, I wouldn`t be sitting here right now. I would be one of the guys leaving the White House.
MATTHEWS: It used to matter. I mean, I don`t know.
Anyway, thank you, Ken Vogel. Thank you, Anita Kumar, and thank you, Chris Wilson, for that nice admission that we have no idea what`s going on.
Elena Schneider, thank you from down in Texas, for going down in Texas.
When we return, let me finish tonight with Trump watch. You`re watching, in fact, you might like it. We`ll be --
MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Tuesday, March 6th, 2017 -- 2018.
Congressman Peter King, a big city guy like Donald Trump, compared the president`s behavior these days to someone playing an old pinball machine, trying to keep the action going by shaking the table, keeping the ball jittering from side to side, anything to keep it moving in play and in his control.
I think the congressman from Long Island has got it. He`s got Trump. More than that, he`s got our time.
I used to tell young political press secretaries to rely on old news radio. The reason is that if you listen to an all news radio station in a big city, you realize the station needs to re-up the stories every two hours. Everything gets old fast for the person driving in their car. You need to keep giving them new news.
Well, today, it`s a lot faster. Every minute, there`s a new material, new news coming out at us, just like we don`t wait for nightfall to find out what`s happened. We don`t wait for the hourly news or half hour news report to give it to us on radio.
I think Trump gets this. He understands that we not only get our news faster, we move in the news cycles faster. What happened an hour ago is history. What`s happening now is news.
So, he tweets. He tweets at dawn, over the weekend, and when the Congress is back hope, he tweets at every new moment because he knows that every new moment is practically like a new era, things are coming at us that fast, receding from us that fast.
What Trump knows and has exploited is the fast paced news cycle of the big city, especially the Big Apple. He knows to dominate the news now, you have to produce news now. There`s no such thing as living off what you need or said yesterday, this morning, or this afternoon, or last night. To own now, you have to be talking in now.
And right now, the president just tweeted: We`ll be making a decision soon on the appointment of a new chief economic adviser. Many people wanting the job, will choose wisely.
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" rights now -- right now.
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