Show: HARDBALL Date: March 8, 2018 Guest: Joseph Moreno, Shermichael Singleton, Ayesha Rascoe, Tamara Keith, Margaret Carlson
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: -- to give what President Trump says is a major announcement. NBC News saying the South Koreans have delivered a letter to the Trump administration from North Korea`s leader Kim Jong-un. We will be covering this story on "Hardball" with a live look at what happens. That`s right now.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Something big. This is "Hardball."
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington with breaking news out of the White House.
Early this evening, President Trump told reporters there would be a big announcement coming on North Korea at this time, 7:00 eastern. A senior South Korean official will brief reporters from the White House. This is expected to happen at any moment now.
South Korea`s national security adviser recently met with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. He was at the White House today briefing officials on that meeting. He also delivered a letter to President Trump from the North Korean leader.
We are joined right now by NBC`s chief White House correspondent Hallie Jackson.
Hallie, how do you read this right now?
HALLIE JACKSON, NBC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I read it as a significant development potentially, Chris, just given what we have seen develop over the last night. And let me start with where we are right now.
We expect to see that South Korean the national security adviser step to the microphones, not inside the building as we (INAUDIBLE) been told. Not in the briefing room but here at where we often called the stake out position in the driveway just in front of the west wing.
As you mentioned, NBC News has confirmed that the South -- rather North Korea sent a letter to the Trump administration, a letter from Kim Jong-un to President Trump. The President himself, Chris, alluded to this when he poked his head into the briefing room just after 5:00, something we have never seen him do in this administration and alluded to some kind of announcement tonight.
I want to give you a sense of what it is like here. I`m going to ask my photographer here, our camera man Bobby to pull out and to show you what a scene it is. Because I will tell you. This is unlike anything we have seen here on the driveway. The last thing I can remember is Jared Kushner came out and spoke here. But this is a packed house for sure.
It is still a question of what the announcement is. White House officials began huddling shortly after 5:10, 5:15 to figure out how this was going to go down, how the logistics were going to play out. And there were a lot of questions about this.
The day, up until now, had been dominated by talk of trade and tariffs. You saw the President sign that proclamation just a couple of hours beforehand. And forgive me, Chris, I`m keeping an eye on the door because we expect to see this official walk out any moment.
When he comes out, he will be joined by the rest of the South Korean delegation that came here to brief the U.S. national security advisor H.R. McMasters who we saw upstairs in the west wing not too long ago, by the way. Chris. They have come to brief the American officials, and I`m looking at the door here, about what exactly happened in those two days of meetings that face-to-face meeting with Kim Jong-un. That is the first time in about a decade you have the seen that kind of high level South Korean officials come out and speak with North Korea in Pyongyang. So that was significant.
They would have to debrief here. Apparently as we are now reporting this letter, as well. And any moment, Chris, we expect to hear and to know more.
Just to give you a little context on this. This was not an expected announcement. This was not on the schedule. This was not something that a lot of folks saw coming, frankly. This was something it sounds like the President wanted to do and wanted to talk about. And so he did and they will. And to that is where we are, what, 7:02, 7:03 eastern time, Chris, as we wait for this announcement any minute.
MATTHEWS: Hallie, stick with us.
Let`s bring in Evelyn Farkas, former deputy assistant secretary of defense and MSNBC contributor.
You know, Evelyn, everybody thinks about foreign policy, worries about the one trouble spot in the world that could blow up right now. And that`s the Kim Jong-un and his determination to build a nuclear arsenal capable of reaching us.
What would stop him? What can we imagine coming out of this announcement right now?
EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I mean, it seems to me, Chris, from the sources that I have that the letter probably contains an invitation for President Trump to meet with the North Korean leader. But you know, while that`s great and honestly, I have to say I`m encouraged at least that we are having this kind of attention being paid to the diplomatic side of things, there`s a lot of things that need to be done before you can have heads of state sit down in what we would normally call a summit. The diplomats have to meet to talk about what it is they would ultimately agree to. So I would caution viewers that even though this is a good step, I mean, I think obviously highlighting diplomacy is great. It is better than fire and fury, but there is going to be a long road to walk.
MATTHEWS: I know Churchill said better to Jaw-Jaw (ph) than war, war. But what about a testing freeze? What about a limit on the number of missiles they will build? I mean, there are middle ground, there are middle grounds here between them becoming a worldwide or a global nuclear danger and having some sort of self-esteem or whatever this guy, Kim Jong-un, is seeking here.
FARKAS: Absolutely. And that`s always been in every other round of negotiations that`s what we sought. So in 1994, when President Clinton got the agreed framework, it was basically based on a freeze on the North Korean side of their plutonium program. At the time they only had one nuclear program, the plutonium one.
In 2005, when George Bush got a negotiation going with the North Koreans, again, that was also based on a freeze. So I absolutely agree with you a freeze is the number one starting point. The North Koreans will probably ask us for something return in return. I think maybe we can do something with our exercises, perhaps, the once that we do with the South Koreans every year, maybe we can have the North Koreans watch them. Of course, we delayed them for the Olympics. So there`s a lot of intermediate steps, as you said that can be taken. I would be a lot more relaxed if we had an ambassador in Seoul right now.
MATTHEWS: Yes. What about the recognition of that country by us? Is that on the table? Could it be on the table?
FARKAS: That would be part of sort of a longer range ultimate solution because I think the real card that we hold is a real peace treaty. Right now there`s just a kind of a negotiated stalemate.
FARKAS: The armistice still are, yes.
FARKAS: Armistice is, exactly. And that`s not a peace treaty, that`s not a recognition of the Democratic people`s republic of Korea or that regime. Ultimately, that`s what Kim Jong-un says that he wants. He wants us to guarantee that we are not going to change his regime and that we will accept his country.
MATTHEWS: Let`s stay with us.
Right now, we are going joined on the phone right now by NBC News nuclear security analyst Joe Cirincione.
Joe, I guess the questions is, what is on the table here as you imagine, as we await this announcement?
JOE CIRINCIONE, NBC NEWS NUCLEAR SECURITY ANALYST (on the phone): We are going to be at least get an announcement that talks are beginning with the South Koreans and the North Koreans. It`s quite possible we are going to get at announcement that the U.S. is going to join those talks or have bilateral talks.
The big get would be if there was an invitation from Kim Jong-un to directly to President Trump inviting him to talks. There`s rumors that is what`s been on the table. So we are waiting to see that. If so, this could be a major breakthrough because while those talks are going on, North Korea has apparently agreed to freeze its test program, freeze its nuclear tests, freeze its missile test, not give up the weapons but freeze the development. That would be a major national security achievement for the United States and President Trump can rightly take credit for that. You want to stop them before they perfect the missiles that they have that can hit the United States. You want to stop them before they perfect the ability to shrink a nuclear warhead down to a size that can fit on one of those missiles, survive re-entry and hit a U.S. city.
MATTHEWS: So you believe what is at stake here, what will be on the table is the range of their missiles and the ability of hem to reach here continent of the United States or hit Hawaii or Alaska?
CIRINCIONE: Exactly. They have the ability right now to the deliver a nuclear warhead to South Korea, to Japan. They probably have a rudimentary capability to deliver one to the United States. But it`s not proven. They haven`t had enough tests. So what you have here is a possibility two leaders could declare victory.
Kim Jong-un could declare, as he has already this year, that he has completed his program, that he has achieved his nuclear capability and therefore, he is willing to talk. And you could have President Donald Trump declare that his sanctions program, his pressure program has worked and therefore, he is willing to talk. That would be a tremendous development. And that`s what you need for successful talks. Both sides have to be able to declare victory. Hopefully at the end of the process, but it`s a good sign they might be able to declare victory going into it.
As Evelyn correctly pointed out, this is going to be a long tricky procedure. Lots of things could go wrong with the talks. But we might -- if we are going to get what we expect, we will achieved two major achievements, one a de-escalation of the crisis.
Before the Olympics we were on a path to war. And you even this week, you had people urging us to go to war. If we can de-escalate the crisis and actually start of the process of negotiations that at least gives us the possibility of a diplomatic solution to this is very, very tense crisis.
MATTHEWS: So what has moved this guy, Kim Jong-un, who seem to be very insecure in his thrown, is killing people around him, his relatives. He has poisoned him. He is doing all kinds of things that show very fear that he might lose his regime, lose power. Why is he secure enough now that he feels he doesn`t have to go all the way with his nuclear program when he thought so just a few weeks ago?
CIRINCIONE: Right. One is that he has in fact, as you say, Chris, eliminated most of his rivals including some officials including his half- brother who were protected by China. So he has eliminated numbers of his rivals.
Number two, he had a very aggressive testing program in the last year. Over 20 missile tests. The first test ever of a hydrogen bomb. He has delivered on his promise. So he is consolidated his -- the support of the military.
Number three, he has had a very successful peace offensive here. He just tramped all over the United States at the Olympics. I mean, they dominated the news. They played the game. He has been playing his cards very well, very adroitly. And now what he wants is a pause. He wants to have a cause with the United States to remove the pressure from him so that he can believe some of the sanctions pressure and turn to the second part of what he has declared to be an agenda (INAUDIBLE) have a nuclear deterrent against the United States that we (INAUDIBLE) attacking. And number two to build up the economy. He has to show some progress on the economy. Talks might allow him to do that.
MATTHEWS: I have noticed that was very excellent article in "the Washington Post" the other day by David (INAUDIBLE) about the success of his peace moves regarding the Olympics.
Anyway, over the past year, President Trump has used unusually harsh language talking about the North Korean leader. Let`s remind ourselves of some of that. Here goes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States has great strength and patience. But if it is forced to defend itself or its allies we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.
North Korea, best not make any more threats to the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: OK. We are going back to the White House then for the South Korean national security adviser. Here he is.
CHUNG EUI-YONG, SOUTH KOREA NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: North Korea. I would like to thank President Trump the vice President and his wonderful national security team including my close friend general McMaster.
I explained to President Trump that his leadership and his maximum pressure policy together with international solidarity brought us to this juncture. I expressed President Moon Jae in`s personal gratitude for President Trump`s leadership.
I told President Trump that in our meeting, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said he is committed to denuclearization. He pledged that North Korea will refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests. He understands that the routine joint military exercises between the republic of Korea and the United States must continue. And he expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible.
President Trump officiated the briefing and said he would meet Kim Jong-un by May to achieve (INAUDIBLE) denuclearization. For Republic of Korea along with the United States, Japan and our many partners around the world remain fully and resolutely committed to the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
Along with President Trump, we are optimistic about continuing a diplomatic process to test the possibility of a peaceful resolution. The Republic of Korea, the United States and our partners stand together in insisting that we not repeat the mistakes of the past and that the pressure will continue until North Korea matches its words with concrete actions. Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Hallie, I want to go to on that.
Hallie Jackson, you are available right now? Hallie?
JACKSON: You heard there, Chris. Chris, you heard the announcement there that the President and North Korean leaders will meet apparently by May. The South Korean national security adviser walked back in. And forgive me, Chris, looking at the door here as everybody runs around did not answer any questions as he walked back inside. Gave a brief statement indicating that he informed the President North Koreans understand that joint military exercise is going to happen.
Chris, I have to go. I`m going to get some information. I will come right back to you.
MATTHEWS: OK, go ahead. Thank you.
Let me go back to Joe Cirincione. Joe, it seems a bit dramatic statement they are talking about. Kim Jong-un is actually talking about total denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. That just means - that means not just stopping testing, stopping development but stopping his program in its tracks. What do you make of that suggestion?
CIRINCIONE: This is actually a moment that we very few of us thought we would ever see, the North Koreans agreeing to put denuclearization on the table, agreeing to talks with the South Koreans, inviting the President of the United States to have the talks. Agreeing to suspend their nuclear missile tests while they are doing it in exchange for what? In exchange for nothing.
The deal, the people have been working on is a freeze for freeze. Freeze on our exercises. But you just heard the South Korean national security adviser said that they understand that the U.S., South Korean exercises will go on.
Well, these are major irritants to the North Koreans but they are apparently willing to swallow this. So we are seeing a lot of carrots put on the table on the North Korean side. Will we ever get to eat those carrots? We don`t know. But this is definitely an initiative worth pursuing. The talks themselves while they go on will freeze the program. That is a major national security achievement. The South Koreans are giving credit to President Trump. And that`s a good thing to do.
MATTHEWS: Evelyn Farkas, it seems to be, we learned at the end of the cold war the degree to which the cold war rivals in the eastern black like (INAUDIBLE) in East Germany. What they really wanted was recognition by the west. They wanted to be able to go to the White House and be received with honors. Could it be that what Kim Jong-un really wants is respect and the prestige that comes with sitting across the table against the greatest leader in the world, the President of the United States? Could that be the carrot?
FARKAS: Chris, he definitely wants respect. There`s no question about that. But I would caution everyone not to get overly enthusiastic. I think we are excited now because again, in the contrast between this negotiating and fire and fury military action which is what we were hearing out of the White House is scary. And so we are happy that we have engagement.
But if you remember what vice president Pence said coming back from the Olympics. He said we are going to look at engagement and maximum pressure. And I think it`s really important to remember, I mentioned earlier, twice before we have been here with the North Koreans where they offered to freeze their nuclear weapons programs, right, and twice before, we actually let up on our sanctions and the negotiations fell apart. The North Koreans pocketed what we gave them, the assistance and various other things and they left the negotiating table.
So I really believe that while we should absolutely go forward and we should pocket the concessions we can get from them and we should negotiate in good faith. But we needed to keep the pressure on. We can`t agree right now that we are going to take the pressure off. Because otherwise -- .
MATTHEWS: This time, this time we are not putting coal (ph). We are not giving them coal like the last time. We are not giving them stuff like the previous Presidents have.
FARKAS: Right. We are not taking them off of the terrorism, the state sponsored terrorism list, right?
MATTHEWS: I agree. So what have we got to lose by talking at this point?
FARKAS: Nothing. We absolutely have to talk. And I agree with Joe that, you know, we buy time. We buy time. And if what they really will be satisfied with is respect and normalization, great, we can give that to them. But we have to maintain the pressure. Because remember what got them to the table, the sanctions and unfortunately probably some of the bluster coming out of the White House.
MATTHEWS: Apparently so.
Anyway, let`s go to NBC`s Kelly Cobiella who is in Seoul, South Korea.
Kelly, it seems to me that not only did we hear from the national security adviser of the South Korean government but that he laid all kinds of applauded on the President of the United States saying it was his leadership, his pressure politics that got us this far. Your thoughts on that (INAUDIBLE) to the President?
KELLY COBIELLA, NBC NEWS FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it`s interesting, Chris. I mean, he is speaking to an audience in the United States right now, not an audience in South Korea necessarily or in North Korea. I mean, the point here is to get these two leaders to speak, get the two the countries to speak if that is the point, then what better way than to flatter the President of the United States.
I mean, you saw those pictures come out of that two-day summit in North Korea between this very man, the chief of the national security in South Korea as well as the intelligence chief. There were all sorts of smiles and handshakes a four-plus hour meeting with Kim Jong-un face-to-face meeting, you know. We could ask the question, was there a similar tone during that meeting, as well? We don`t have the verbatim of what happened during those four-hour talks. So it could be that the South Koreans are playing intermediaries and telling both sides kind of what they want to hear to get both sides to the table.
MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about the meeting coming up in May. Do you imagine that being in Pyongyang (ph), (INAUDIBLE) with treaty discussion have been going on since the first armistice in the early `50s? Are they going to meet in Japan? This is a fascinating question because the closer we go to him, Kim Jong-un, the bigger he is going to look.
COBIELLA: Yes. And it`s difficult to see Kim Jong-un leaving North Korea for a summit in another country. What country would it be? Possibly China? But he hasn`t yet met the leader of China. He meant hasn`t met Xi. He hasn`t met any other. He hasn`t met any head of state, period, at this point. So which country would it be if it`s not in the demilitarized zone? It`s hard to see the leader of North Korea leaving North Korea.
MATTHEWS: Well, that`s a great thought. Kelly Cobiella, thank you for joining us from Seoul.
Let`s go back to NBC News chief White House correspondent Hallie Jackson.
Hallie, we`re already talking about place, location of where they`re going to meet.
HALLIE JACKSON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
MATTHEWS: It`s by May. If it`s by may, can you imagine the president, President Trump, heading all the way over to this guy so he can have a home-court advantage in Panmunjom along the 38th Parallel?
Or is that what they`re talking about, something where he`s actually at home greeting us? Our president goes to him?
JACKSON: I wish I could give you more information on that, Chris.
But, right now, it is as much a question mark here in Washington, D.C., as it is there in South Korea, in Seoul, where Kelly Cobiella is, as she just talked about.
I will tell you that during the discussion, during the announcement and the briefing, you could call it, from the South Korean national security adviser, a number of White House aides were standing just behind where the row of reporters was here, including Sarah Sanders, including top NSC officials, including top officials from, for example, the vice president`s office, like his chief of staff.
And right as the session ended, we tried to get some answers. Nothing yet, although I expect that, at some point tonight, the White House will frankly, Chris, have to answer some of these questions at least preliminarily about where this is going to happen. By May leaves very little time.
We`re already in March here, Chris. So for discussions this monumental, you`re looking at a pretty tight time frame. I can pretty much guarantee you at over in the Executive Office Building behind me, you have National Security Council staffers who work on this issue scrambling to start getting prepared for this or to continue getting ready for these apparent discussions that are going to happen.
So, I think this point, more questions than answers. And I have to remind you that all of this is very unexpected, at least for the timing of this and the timing of this announcement tonight. I just can`t emphasize enough this was not preplanned. It`s not as though this was some sort of a rollout on a new policy announcement as it relates to North Korea.
This all came up just in the last few hours that this was going to be announced tonight. Now, I think back to the president said just six days ago or five days ago at that Gridiron Dinner here in Washington, where he said he would be, OK, of course, open to talks if, in fact, North Korea committed to the potential for denuclearization, abandoning its nuclear weapons program.
And it seems like that`s where we are. I do think that South Korea is going to continue to be intermediary here, going to be the intermediary here, as they have been. But it is certainly a remarkable evening here at the White House, Chris. That`s for sure.
MATTHEWS: Hallie Jackson at the scene of the action tonight.
We will monitor tonight`s breaking news. And it is big news. We will have much more tonight, including the latest news on the Russian investigation and the latest reports that special counsel Mueller is gathering evidence on two fronts, on collusion and on obstruction of justice, which looks very big.
And this is where HARDBALL -- this is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Multiple new reports show special counsel Robert Mueller is gathering more evidence now against the president on two big fronts, collusion and, of course, obstruction of justice.
First on obstruction, the special counsel has learned that President Trump recently spoke to two witnesses about the matters they discussed with the prosecutors.
Experts tell "The Times," "The New York Times," that the episodes could serve as evidence for Mr. Mueller in an obstruction case. When it comes to potential collusion, the special counsel has learned more about the purpose of that secret meeting that brought a Trump associate together with a Russian banker out in the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, a small chain of islands out there located, as I said, in the Indian Ocean.
"The Washington Post" reported Mueller has gathered evidence that the meeting it in the Seychelles just before the inauguration of Donald Trump was an effort to the establish a back channel between the incoming administration of Trump and the Kremlin, apparently contradicting statements made by lawmakers -- by one of its participants.
Well, that participant is Erik Prince, the founder of the private security company Blackwater and an informal adviser to the Trump transition.
The meeting in the Seychelles adds yet another data point to the multitude of reported contacts -- there they are on the screen -- that took place between Trump`s associates and Russians starting from the earliest days of the campaign through the inauguration.
I`m joined right now by Julia Ainsley, national security adviser for NBC News. Heidi Przybyla is national political correspondent for NBC News. And Joseph Moreno is a former federal prosecutor.
Let`s go with this meeting.
What does it add, Julia? Why are they meeting way off there a few days before the inauguration?
JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: The Seychelles meeting.
So, of course, so this would be January, right before they`re coming in. If -- this is a big if -- if there was any sort of payback that the Trump administration owed to the Russian government, this could be a good place to start setting up that communication about how that`s going to look.
And so that is obviously why Robert Mueller is worried about it. back when we first heard about back channels, John Kelly, who was not chief of staff then, but was the DHS secretary, came out on all the shows, remember, said back channels are no big deal. Not all diplomacy happens between two heads of state shaking hands in front of cameras.
But the fact that it was in this really remote place, the fact that Erik Prince lied about how he ran into the contacts there, it`s all sort of starting to add up into a way that looks like there`s a lot under the surface.
MATTHEWS: Joseph, look who got in trouble first, Michael Flynn, because he denied having had conversations with the Russian ambassador about sanctions.
So they were very nervous about the Logan Act. They were very nervous in the beginning, when they were just being schooled on what the law is of what you`re allowed to do before you become president and you have a new administration.
Obviously, they were very dodgy on this stuff. But they were going to the Seychelles potentially to something -- do really sneaky.
JOSEPH MORENO, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, Chris, under normal times, you want an incoming administrations to start developing those relationships. Right?
Under normal times, it might not be a big deal. Obviously, we`re not in normal times. And knowing the scrutiny that Russia should be under, and knowing that what they did with respect...
MATTHEWS: But not in a case where the president-elect may be in hock with the people you`re meeting with.
Look, the optics are not good. And so now we know -- we have known about the Seychelles meeting since it was reported last year by "The Washington Post." Now we know two new things, though, as you pointed out, one, that the special counsel is now looking into this meeting, and, two, that Mr. Prince`s testimony may have been less than fully truthful as to what was the genesis for this meeting in the first place.
MATTHEWS: Heidi, why did he deny it?
HEIDI PRZYBYLA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: That`s a good question.
MATTHEWS: Mr. Blackwater, not exactly a nice identity for most people, by the way.
PRZYBYLA: Here we have yet another character popping his head up who is, guess what, lying about his interactions with the Russians.
And there`s another dimension to this, other than what Julia mentioned, which is influence peddling and the influence of foreign governments on our policy here.
We have the potential that also the UAE funneling money. We don`t know where through exactly, what the mechanism would have been. But we know that our policy has been very favorable to the UAE and very tough on Qatar.
So, there`s many -- this Seychelles meeting brings together so many different data points. We have known. It`s been out there for a long time. We`re didn`t have enough of the building blocks. But we`re now getting there to where this appears to be a nexus between a lot of the different things, the back channel with the Russians, money, foreign influence peddling, and potentially collusion.
MATTHEWS: Go ahead, Julia.
AINSLEY: Yes, I think that web that you`re putting together there is also a lot of what we have seen in the reporting over the past week.
We reported last week here at NBC about how Mueller was looking into not just conversations that Jared Kushner may have had with Russians.
He`s also looking into his business dealings with Qataris and the Emiratis. And this piece, the fact that the Emiratis were in the Seychelles, shows that there may be something to this idea that they would be a conduit to the Russians. So, it`s all a web. We`re getting more strings as we go.
MATTHEWS: I just got to go back to Joe.
It seems to me that this guy -- and I say it before -- just on the surface, why so much Russian contact? Why is it? We just put that on the screen there, 20 or 30 moments of contact with the Russians. A lot of men and women run for president without any Russian contacts.
They just don`t do it. Why does this guy do it all the time? What is going on here? Look at that screen.
MORENO: Yes, look, absolutely. And it seems like we learn about more every day.
The fact is that there could be absolutely benign reasons for these contacts. It could be. Under normal times, that might be the case. Here, though, there`s no doubt this is adding fuel to the fire and that every time the special counsel seems to peel back another layer, there`s more to find.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, as I also mentioned, "The New York Times" is reporting that President Trump has spoken to two key witnesses about the matters they discussed with Mueller`s people.
In one instance, the president asked his White House counsel, Don McGahn, his lawyer to deny a January news story which reported that McGahn had threatened to quit when the president asked him to fire Mueller last June.
In an Oval Office confrontation, "The president said he had never ordered McGahn to fire the special counsel. Mr. McGahn replied that the president was wrong. However, the president told Mr. McGahn that he did not remember the discussion that way." That`s according to people familiar.
What do we make of this? Heidi, you got to take this hot one. What do we make of a president who tells his lawyer, the president`s counsel, to fire Mueller. And then when Mueller says I don`t remember it that way, Trump says, I do remember, I`m sorry, but they don`t agree on whether he ever told -- you don`t casually say to some guy, hey, fire the special counsel and there`s confusion about what you just said.
PRZYBYLA: Who hasn`t he pressured in this investigation from the very beginning, when he was pressuring James Comey to say that he wasn`t under investigation?
But the thing to me that is notable about this is that this pressure campaign apparently took place, Chris, while the president was well aware that he personally might have been under investigation and that people within his own White House might even be cooperating, might even be wearing wires.
And yet he`s so concerned that he takes that risk to then continue to pressure people knowing that...
Julia, here`s the president. He says, I`m going to will you into thinking my way. I`m going to will you to change your memory. I know and you know that I told you to fire Mueller. But let`s agree now, I didn`t.
That`s an amazing -- it`s a mind control of not a monster necessarily, but certainly a dictator.
MATTHEWS: That`s how dictators talk.
AINSLEY: It`s a lot of manipulation. And it`s completely rebuffing all of the advice that he gets from his lawyers, who say don`t talk, don`t talk.
No, he likes to give orders.
Anyway, thank you Julia Ainsley. Thank you, Joseph Moreno and Heidi Przybyla.
Up next: the continued fallout over porn star Stormy Daniels` lawsuit against the president. This would be normally -- a big story. The president -- Republicans have gone silent on the topic. The Republicans don`t want to talk about it. Where is the party of family values meeting this week?
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Well, the headlines surrounding President Trump`s alleged relations with an adult film actor, Stormy Daniels, are not going anywhere, it seems, especially given the recent legal maneuvering on both sides.
Yesterday, the president`s press secretary, Sarah Sanders, denied those allegations, but they have proven to be a headache for his whole party, the Republicans.
The recent news that the president is being sued by an adult film star is a topic that the majority of congressional Republicans, including Speaker Paul Ryan, are looking to avoid.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I`m not even -- I haven`t put a second of thought into this. It`s just not on my radar screen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I think it is.
Family vales and morality used to be the bedrock of public conservative ideals, public ideals. Let`s look back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We Republicans have been blessed with grassroots supporters who are committed to the ideals of individual freedom, family values, free enterprise and a strong America.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let the other side ridicule family values. I`m talking about work, responsibility, loving thy neighbor.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We discovered that who we are is more important than what we have, and we know we must renew our values to restore our country.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It`s a wonderful experience to be where family values.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We need once again to be willing to fight for freedom, free markets and traditional moral values with everything we have got.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, the Republican Party used to be the party of family values, at least in public. Where has that party gone? Where are they meeting this week, as I said a moment ago?
For more, I`m joined by Shermichael Singleton, Republican strategist, and Maria Teresa Kumar, who is president of Voto Latino and an MSNBC contributor.
OK, you`re on.
I know hypocrisy is the name of the game politically. Most people look at it that way. And when Bill Clinton got in trouble, all the Republicans jumped all over him, I think fairly, because it was a White House official or person he was involved in.
But, you know, MoveOn.org started then. We`re not going to talk about that anymore. That was the Democrats` position. Now it`s the Republican. They should start a MoveOn.org because they want to move on from this thing.
Look at Paul Ryan. I haven`t given a second`s thought? I think he`s given a few seconds` thoughts, like when he put his head on the pillow last night.
MATTHEWS: What the hell is going on here?
MATTHEWS: No, Shermichael, is this a bipartisan problem? Is this just human nature that gets in trouble?
SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No, of course. It`s...
MATTHEWS: And $130,000 paid a week before the last election for president to shut somebody up. Let`s be blunt about it.
SINGLETON: We have to look at the legalities of this.
I do not believe when the White House goes out and says the president did not know about this. This was his personal attorney who paid $130,000, and reports have behind -- it has been documented that he was telling....
MATTHEWS: Do lawyers do things for free?
SINGLETON: Of course they don`t, not that much money, Chris.
But reports are that he was complaining to people that the president didn`t pay him his money back, which means the president knew. Republicans should be calling for an investigation into this. It`s a serious issue. MATTHEWS: What would have happened if Barack Obama had been caught...
SINGLETON: They would have called for his impeachment, absolutely.
Republicans would have said, this guy has to be impeached.
MATTHEWS: But you`re here as a Republican person, a persona.
SINGLETON: I am because I believe in conservatism.
The Latin the root word of conservatism is conservare, which is means to conserve. If you`re going to purport that you`re conserving family values because they`re important to the institutions of our society, they`re the bedrock of our society, then you have to call out these things.
Otherwise, it`s hypocritical.
MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about the law of this thing, because we`re all better -- this is HARDBALL. It`s not something else. It`s not "Hard Copy."
Let me talk about this.
MARIA TERESA KUMAR, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Come on, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about John Edwards, because a very similar thing happened. He had a problem. He was involved with someone, a filmographer, and that got exposed.
And before they got exposed, they tried to keep it secret. So, Bunny Mellon, a wealthy woman, gave him some money to pay her off. That was charged by the courts as an example of a campaign in-kind contribution.
MATTHEWS: What Bunny Mellon was really doing, according to the prosecutor, was help John Edwards` campaign by keeping this thing quiet.
MATTHEWS: Is that the same deal?
KUMAR: It`s basically...
MATTHEWS: That ended up with a hung jury.
KUMAR: Right. Exactly.
But I think, I mean, the biggest challenge is that when comes to campaign finance, when it comes to doing contributions, everything is line item. There is a money trail. That is why John Edwards got in trouble, is that they were basically trying to funnel his money to his mistress illegally.
MATTHEWS: Is there any legal way to do it?
KUMAR: No, no, but all fair, but in all intents and purposes, the fact that she received $100,000 on his filings, there`s $130,000, you could make the connection that it`s to the same person. But the idea that the Republican Party right now has become not only hypocritical but really going completely against values that`s the real issue. This idea that yes, they may be conservative but you may be a conservative, but the top of the -- Mitch McConnell considers himself a conservative. He`s not standing up to the Republican Party.
So, where is that leadership? We are right now.
MATTHEWS: Standing up for the Republicans.
What about -- everything seemed -- free trade was a Republican belief system.
KUMAR: That`s exactly right.
MATTHEWS: This week.
SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It was until Trump. And that`s why, Chris, I`m wondering if we --
MATTHEWS: And, by the way, Devin Nunes used to be a Republican conservative, certainly so, then he runs to this huge tax, runs up the deficit a trillion and a half on purpose.
SINGLETON: Which Republicans have argued under Obama we cannot spend more money, we have to focus on the deficit. I`m wondering and Maria and I were talking about this, if the Republican Party, if conservatism is in the midst of a paradigm shift, as conservatism as we formally know it no longer exists under Trump.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe that?
MATTHEWS: The moment of Napoleon.
KUMAR: I think the progressives are having the same call to Jesus. The fact again the Trump agenda basically are the ones anti-trade is obscene. But I do think it`s because the Republican Party, what they want more than anything is that they want power. They were able to get their trade deficits, the trade cuts that they wanted -- excuse me, the tax cuts they wanted. And they were able to get --
MATTHEWS: Shermichael, we await the restoration.
MATTHEWS: We`re living through a Cromwellian times.
Shermichal Singleton and Maria Teresa.
Up next, more on our breaking news story tonight. South Korea`s national security director says President Donald Trump has decided he will meet with North Korean dictator by May. Probably somewhere in the Korean peninsula because Kim Jong-un doesn`t travel.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL.
Tonight`s big news, President Donald Trump has accepted an offer to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un by May. Well, that`s coming soon. That`s according to a senior South Korean official who spoke to reporters as we saw a few moments ago in front of the White House.
It`s a remarkable turn around, of course. Last year, President Trump taunted Kim Jong-un as the little rocket man and threatened him with fire and fury.
Let`s bring in tonight`s roundtable. Ayesha Rascoe is White House correspondent for "Reuters", Tamara Keith is White House correspondent for NPR, and Margaret Carlson is a columnist for "The Daily Beast".
All of you in order, this question. They`re going to meet somewhere, the president has agreed to meet. Once you agree to meet, it`s just a question of where. I don`t think they`ll find over that. It could be in Korea, South Korea, Panmunjom, on the border at 38th Parallel. I don`t think it will be in Mar-a-Lago. Maybe Trump will want to get like Hawaii.
AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: Yes, I mean, this is -- this is a big deal. This is something that President Trump, he has had very harsh words for North Korea and for Kim Jong-un. He said, you know, called him rocket man and all those things and threatening fire and fury.
But since they`ve kind of had this cooling off period with the Olympics, he has expressed that he is willing to kind of work with the North Koreans and he said earlier this week that he thought they were sincere in saying that they wanted to have these talks.
MATTHEWS: Well, here`s the question. It`s all about the objective facts. We`ve got to stop them from developing a nuclear program capable of threatening us. That`s the bottom line.
TAMARA KEITH, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: So, what they have said in order to get to this point to apparently get President Trump to agree to meet is that they are, that North Korea is willing to stop its testing. That -- stopping testing is a long way from denuclearization. That is the next big step.
MATTHEWS: Well, at least it`s a step.
KEITH: It is a step. And Sarah Sanders, White House press secretary, we have it coming from the White House and not just from the South Koreans that the president is saying that the meeting will happen at a time and place yet to be determined.
MATTHEWS: Well, the president said, actually a White House statement tonight, quote: President Trump greatly appreciates the nice words of the South Korean delegation and President Moon. He will accept the invitation to meet with Kim Jong-un at a place and time to be determined. We look forward to the denuclearization of North Korea. In the meantime, all sanctions and maximum pressure must remain.
Margaret, two big developments. First of all, they admitted they`re going to stop the testing themselves. They`re taking the initiative. Secondly, they don`t mind the fact that United States and South Korea continues our military operations together, our exercises.
And third, they`re talking about denuclearization. They`re not about deals or discussing the elements. They`re saying denuclearization. They put the line on table of what they know we want.
MARGARET CARLSON, COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: It`s a lot to put out there actually. And I mean, the devil is in the details but what a lot to do given that you know, it was little rocket man and my button is bigger than your button.
CARLSON: So, it`s a lot of the progress. Maybe Kim Jong-un is looking at his economy and his people eating tree bark and realizing that he has to do more in that way.
MATTHEWS: He`s not eating tree bark.
CARLSON: No, he`s eating, you know, Kobe beef.
CARLSON: But, you know, a lot is to be determined on there but I hope we don`t -- I would rather credit the Olympics. They didn`t get very good ratings but maybe they opened up diplomatic channels.
MATTHEWS: I thought it was interesting about the nice words because the first thing the national security director of South Korea said was, it was the president`s leadership, Trump`s leadership and his pressure politics that did this. Why would they give all the credit except maybe to flirt or flatter?
RASCOE: I think they know the importance of that with President Trump and it goes a long way to say -- to give him credit and to say, look, you were the one who made this possible. And you know, President Trump has said over and over again this should have been dealt with by many presidents and I`m the one who`s going to fix it. So, to give him that credit has to carry a lot of weight for him.
MATTHEWS: Tamara, the number one target for North Korea is South Korea. If you live in Seoul, you live within rifle range of the North. Just a conventional weaponry, the artillery they have, the tunnels they`ve dug, they can destroy that city in hours.
So, they -- the fact -- I`ve wondered about this. Does anybody know why the South Koreans are much more benign and calm about this than we are? When we`re over here, they`re over there?
KEITH: Yes. I mean, our South Korea correspondent talks about it all the time. That everybody is blase about the threats there in Seoul where she is and yet here, we`re very much on edge about you know, some tests that happened. And I don`t think I fully understand it except when you live life under a threat and you are that close to your mortal enemy, you just have to live your life.
MATTHEWS: I don`t know any North or South Koreans, but I know some in business up near my house. One of the guys who`s done some of the businesses near me, came up to me, a very serous, about in his 50s. He came up to me and he said, you know what, something is going on. he said something very positive is coming up.
He told me this earlier this week.
CARLSON: And Chip is an expert, your brother-in-law.
MATTHEWS: My brother in law who works over there.
Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: We`re going to come back with the roundtable in a minute. Up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL round table.
Ayesha, tell me something I don`t know.
RASCOE: Well, "Reuters" is reporting that the White House is planning --
MATTHEWS: Your organization.
RASCOE: Yes -- is planning a meeting at the White House between big ag and big oil as they try to work out a deal on renewable fuel standards which requires the blending of ethanol and to gasoline. It`s a big fight going and it`s pulling these kind of two key constituencies for the president against each other. And so, they are trying to figure out what to do about it.
KEITH: Yes, so the "A.P." is reporting that the Interior Department is spending nearly $139,000 to replace a few doors for Ryan Zinke`s office.
MATTTHEWS: That is the same amount of money paid to Stormy Daniels.
KEITH: It is a little more.
CARLSON: The porn star went for less.
MATTHEWS: That was -- this is government money. Go ahead.
CARLSON: So, Chris, in our state of Pennsylvania, you know the race is close in the special election --
MATTHEWS: Yes, the 18th.
CARLSON: -- when the finger pointing starts early. "Politico" interviewed about two dozen national Republicans who are blaming the candidate Rick Saccone on being a very poor candidate, didn`t fund raise, can`t give a speech. He does videos in which he is yakking it up with the department (INAUDIBLE) Santa Claus --
MATTHEWS: OK, I read the "Politico" account today. They referred to him as the mustachio --
CARLSON: Yes, correct.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, Ayesha Rascoe, Tamara Keith and Margaret Carlson, with a little color from the Keystone State.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Trump watch Thursday, March 8th, 2018.
Watching the Republican Party obey Donald Trump is like watching kids of my generation playing a game of "Simon says". That was the game where you did whatever the other player told you to do. Clap your hands, jump up and down and slap your knee, as long as he or she says "Simon says".
Well, now, it`s Trump says. Trump says tariffs. Republicans are now for tariffs. Trump says to pass tax cuts to drive up the federal deficit. Republicans say tax cut to drive up the federal deficit. Trump says to like Russia. Republicans are supposed to be nice to Russia now.
This Trump says get a little trickier, of course, when it comes to personal stuff. Back in September of 2009, someone said, we need for our movement and our future to be willing to fight for freedom, free markets, and traditional moral values. That was Mike Pence. Now, the country`s vice president speaking not so long ago. Free markets but Trump says tariffs. Traditional moral values, but Trump says forget about it.
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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