HARDBALL March 13, 2018 Guest: Adam Schiff, Michael Isikoff, Charlie Dent, Adolfo Franco, Donna Edwards, Anne Gearan
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: I will be live in Washington tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. eastern with a lot of guests.
HARDBALL with Chris Matthews starts now.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Don`t call me a moron. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`ll Chris Matthews in Washington. It`s been a wild day with a tweet this morning at 8:44, President Trump fired his secretary of state. Can you imagine George Washington doing that to Thomas Jefferson? Even if he could tweet?
It came out here a mere hours after Rex Tillerson touched down at Joint Base Andrews back from cut short five-country tour of Africa. And after this morning`s tweet, those still be for reaching out to Tillerson himself, Trump spoke to reporters and made clear he wanted someone in the state department who wouldn`t disagree with him. He found his man in CIA director Mike Pompeo. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Rex and I have been talking about this for a long time. We got along actually quite well. But we disagreed on things. When you look at the Iran deal, I think it`s terrible. I guess he thought it was OK. I wanted to either break it or do something. And he felt a little bit differently. So we were not really thinking the same.
With Mike Pompeo, we have a very similar thought process. I think it`s going to go very well. I actually got along well with Rex. But, really, it was a different mind-set. It was a different thinking. I wish Rex a lot of good things. I think he is going to do - I think he is going to be very happy. I think Rex will be much happier now, but I really appreciate his service. But with Mike, we have had a very good chemistry right from the beginning.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Actually, Rex is not the name of a dog. It`s the name of the secretary of state until a few hours ago. Rex Tillerson often seemed to be, however, out of the loop on foreign policy. He pushed talks with North Korea when Trump was arguing for fire and fury. Then last week, Tillerson told reporters America was a long way from negotiations just hours before President Trump deputized the South Koreans to inform reporters and by the way to Trump he agreed to meet with Kim Jong-un by May. So he is always a cross swords with this guy.
Tillerson never denied at NBC report in October last year that he had called the President a moron last summer. I think Trump remembered that. Today NBC reported the President could never get past inside that naming of him as a moron. He talked about comparing IQ scores.
Anyway, the White House and state department seem to offer counter narratives as to when Tillerson actually found out he was finished. According to NBC chief of staff John Kelly spoke with Tillerson by phone on Friday and told him that Trump intended to ask him to step aside. Kelly did not specify when the change might come.
Kelly also called Tillerson again on Saturday, a senior White House official said expressing once again the President`s imminent intention to replace him as secretary of state. A senior state department official told NBC that Tillerson officially learned of his firing when the President tweeted the news this morning.
And Steve Goldstein, the undersecretary of state for public affairs said today the secretary had every intention of remaining and the secretary didn`t speak to the President this morning and is unaware of the reason. Well hours later, Goldstein was fired.
Josh Lederman, the A.P. reporter who was on the plane with Tillerson last night described the secretary`s demeanor, let`s listen to him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSH LEDERMAN, ASSOCIATED PRESS REPORTER: I have to tell you there were really no indications from his behavior from that of his aides or other people on the plane this was imminent. If Tillerson knew at that point that this was his swan song and that he would not appear publicly much longer as secretary of state, he sure didn`t show it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Rex Tillerson delivered a statement of his own today thanking diplomats, soldiers and the American people, but leaving out the man he served for the past 14 months, Donald Trump. The only mention of the President was a reference to the fact that he didn`t hear from him until hours after the news had broken. Let`s watch that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I received a call today from the President of the United States at a little after noontime from air force one and I have also spoken to White House chief of staff Kelly. I will be meeting members of my front office team and policy planning later today to thank them for their service. They have been extraordinarily dedicated to our mission which includes promoting values that view as being very important.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Andrea Mitchell is NBC`s chief foreign affairs correspondent, Jonathan Swan is national political reporter for "Axios" and Michael Steele is the former chair of the Republican national committee and an MSNBC political analyst.
Andy, I have been thinking about you all morning. This is amazing. You have studied this foreign policy sphere for so long. Have anybody - has any President in history treated his or her secretary of state like a dog like this?
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Not that I can recall. I mean, Alexander Haig was fired arguably for cause.
Their chemistry was terrible between these two. So there`s no question that Rex Tillerson was on the outs with the President. But he had an ally in Jim Mattis, the defense secretary. And many people in the government felt that he was at least retraining some of the President`s worst impulses, you know. He had always said that he would have to fire him to his face, that he was not going to quit. And in fact, what happened was he was fired on twitter and then that follow-up phone call as you point out from air force one. So there was no question that this was really a terrible way of executing the secretary of state and he was emotional in that appearance today. I have never seen him quite like that.
And in fact, Josh Lederman is absolutely correct. Our producer Abigail Williams was also on the trip and said that he was ebullient in his briefing and unusual briefing to the state department press corps overnight. And in that final night, on the plane, he told them how much he was looking forward to leading being the point person for the talks with North Korea.
He went through a lot of the policy issues. And then also went through a very tough criticism of Russia for its role according to the U.K. in the attempted assassination by nerve gas of former Russian spy and his daughter in the U.K.
So he took a very hard line against Russia which the White House deliberately did not do just hours earlier from the podium. There were so many disagreements. But I think Iran was the most profound one plus the lack of chemistry between the two.
MATTHEWS: Well, what about this fight? I just want to get through this because it tells us more about the President than the now ex-secretary of state.
MATTHEWS: Do you think he told him on Friday? Is there any way to get through this? Or he never knew till he heard the tweet this morning? Which is the truth.
MITCHELL: Well, John Kelly is telling White House officials that he certainly gave them the heads-up. But this was only the last of so many -- so many times during the last 14 months when the President was threatening to fire Rex Tillerson. So Tillerson did not take that to heart, did not think that he would going to be fired.
And Kelly, of course, we have known in the past, has not always been straightforward in describing conversations. So all we know is from White House officials and White House correspondents that Kelly says that he certainly gave him the heads-up on Friday night and again at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday morning. Tillerson had been up for some 72 hours and then that was certainly a warning sign, but he thought he could repair it when he got back here.
MATTHEWS: Well, hold on, Andrea. Let me go to Jonathan.
It seems to me, I get to the question of the President`s behavior here. And it`s either personal or just vindictive as torture, is he cruel? Is he sadistic? Does he like to fire people at long distance or is he afraid do it face-to-face, man-to-man? Because he seems to have this habit now of firing Comey when he was on the west coast 3,000 miles away or Reince Priebus when he was somewhere else. And presidents, I think, well, I will just say this. They owe the people they bring to Washington the courtesy of a man-to-man or face-to-face, you know, offer to -- request to resign. Let the man resign with some class. What`s the reason he has to humiliate them by remote control I should say.
JONATHAN SWAN, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: Right. Well, I can`t psychoanalyze Trump. But what I can tell you is that the only context in which he has fired people is on television directly is literally the only time he has actually directly face-to-face told people that they are fired.
MATTHEWS: You mean when he was on the "Apprentice."
SWAN: When he said on the "Apprentice" show, you are fired.
And this is the weirdness of working for Donald Trump. When you talk to people at the senior level of the White House, they will tell you in graphic detail about all the things Trump has said in the past 24 hours about John Kelly, his chief of staff. He opens the kimono, tells them everything. But then he must be ready to fire them. And then he will bounce names off but it doesn`t happen. And this is the same inertia.
MATTHEWS: Well, NBC reported that Tillerson called the President a moron after a meeting at the Pentagon where Trump proposed increasing the country`s nuclear arsenal. The President told "Forbes" magazine I think it is fake news, but if he did that, I guess we will have to compare IQ tests and I can tell you who is going to win. This is Trump talking last year.
In an interview with CNN the following week, Tillerson repeatedly refused to deny using the word moron. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TILLERSON: As I indicated earlier when I was asked about that, I`m not going to deal with that kind of petty stuff. I mean, this is a town that seems to relish gossip, rumor, innuendo, and they feed on it. They feed on one another in a very destructive way. I don`t work that way. And I`m just not going to dignify the question. I`m not playing. These are the games of Washington. I`m not dignifying the questions with an answer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Nice try. But the President heard him say that he was a moron.
MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
MATTHEWS: That`s why his days numbered? Was he like --?
STEELE: Yes. From that moment on. I think there were problems with the relationship coming in the door. Tillerson was not necessarily Trump`s guy, but it was, you know, Reince and Jared and others who really liked the idea of bringing Tillerson in. And from that moment, that was it. I think the President was pretty much biding his time and to your first questions about his ability to fire people, he has never had to do that because it`s all been scripted before.
STEELE: And now this is real life where to your point, the dignity of the office requires you approach those individuals with a certain amount of dignity and give them that. He still doesn`t see that. He sees this as the end game. This is how I win. Ultimately I Trump your cards with this approach.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me go back to Andrea.
I want to get back to couple of things about Trump. Let me -- Andrea, I want to get back to you because I`m wondering about foreign policy now. Donald Trump campaigned on kind of a mish mash of policies. But one of them was, I`m going to rebuild America and do infrastructure, something that appealed, I must say, as a person, as a citizen. He also talked about stopping stupid wars which clearly was running against "W" and how he got involved with Iraq especially. That was very attractive to working people, a lot of their kids have to fight these wars. Now he is into the hawkish mode again on Iran.
If we don`t have this treaty with Iran, if we don`t have this deal to stop them from developing nuclear weapons, we have got to have some other method of stopping them. And that means some sort of active war, it seems to me. So why are we going back -- it seems to me Trump is getting dangerous again.
MITCHELL: Well, Trump is very, very - well, he is very heavily influenced by Netanyahu and by all of those Trump supporters like Sheldon Adelson and other supporters who are really, really against Iran. And certainly by Saudi Arabia.
MITCHELL: Look. He went to Riyadh first. So this is the Sunni Arabs aligned against Iran. And that`s the side he has taken. The counter argument which you make and with a lot of diplomats and others make is that if you blow up the Iran deal and there`s another deadline approaching in May, what signal are you sending to Kim Jong-un and others with nuclear weapons?
But most principally, North Korea that any deal negotiated with the U.S., with the Trump administration will not be observed. So not only is it a real breach as far as all of our European allies plus Russia and China, the other signatories to the Iran deal. It`s not just a two-way deal. This was a six-party agreement blessed by the U.N. and the European Union. So you blow that up just before you sit down with Kim Jong-un, not smart and in fact very risky foreign policy. So that`s one thing.
The other thing about dignity and what you were describing with Jonathan and with Michael is, are there things that really upset Tillerson? Clearly upset him? Remember the Boy Scout jamboree?
Tillerson had only two or three days earlier been awarded a medal there at the Boy Scout jamboree. He is a former eagle scout. He cares about the boy scouts. This is very important. He is on Boy Scout board. And to watch the President then go and give a really flagrantly political speech to the boy scouts with lots of curse words and other suggestions was really deeply offensive. And he was upset by Charlottesville.
So there`s a side to Rex Tillerson which is a dignified person. He didn`t understand the state department. He didn`t understand the culture here. He fired people or forced them to resign in dismay. Two of the most prominent very recently in the last ten days, their vacancies. He has hollowed out this department. People are not -- young people are no longer taking the foreign service exam in large numbers. There is a real problem here which might be generational. That said, this was a decent man and he was treated shamefully.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you so much. You are the expert, Andrea Mitchell. It`s great to hear your expertise on this topic especially foreign affairs. You know it all. And you know every one of the people you are talking about. Thank you.
Jonathan Swan, we have morn (ph). I want to talk about the basic nuttiness of this behavior by the President next time round. And Michael Steele, too.
Coming up, the Russian investigation. Roger Stone, remember him, reportedly talked to the founder of WikiLeaks and knew in advance about that hacked Democratic emails. It comes amid new reporting about a proposed meeting between candidate Trump and Vladimir Putin. It`s more damning evidence just one day after Republicans on the House intelligence committee denied there was any collusion between at Trump campaign and Russia. Nice try, GOPs.
Plus in less than an hour, polls close in the race for Pennsylvania`s 18th congressional district. Democrats are hoping a win in Trump country will late groundwork for a big blue wave come November.
And Trump`s clearing House and clearly his head, certainly clearing his head with today`s firing of Rex Tillerson, the President sent a message if you are not on his decide be prepared to get out of the way. Imagine if Mitt Romney had taken the job of secretary of state over five legs. Remember that dinner? He would be humiliated today just like Rex.
And finally, let me finish tonight with Trump watch.
This is HARDBALL where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Well, if you are setting off a political firestorm in Washington, D.C. early today, President Trump headed to California. The trip which includes a Republican fund-raiser later this evening marks Trump`s first visit to California since becoming President, first visit.
Shortly after touching down, Trump headed to the California desert where he inspected prototypes for his border wall while reviewing the structures, there they are, Trump stresses the need for a wall that would prevent incredible climbers, you know, real climbers from getting into this country. Here he goes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The round piece that you see up here or you see more clearly back there, the larger it is, the better it is because it`s very hard to get over the top. It`s really deterrent from getting over the top. Who would think? Who would think? But getting over the top is easy. These are like professional mountain climbers. They are incredible climbers. They can`t climb some of these walls. Some of them they can. Those are the walls we are not using.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: We will be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
In a stunning display of partisanship, Republicans controlling the House intelligence committee have abruptly shut down their investigation of Russian interference prematurely clearing President Trump and his campaign for what happened in 2016. Yet, we are already seeing that at least one top Republican on the committee, Congressman Mike Conaway is having a difficult time explaining the report`s conclusions. Conaway said last night that the full Republican report would quote "suggest that the extent that any Russians acted on behalf of either candidate it was for Hillary Clinton."
Today, however, Conaway is taking that back saying he misspoke. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said twice yesterday that you actually believe that the Russians wanted to help Hillary Clinton. Can you be clear what`s in the report (INAUDIBLE)?
REP. MIKE CONAWAY(R), TEXAS: (INAUDIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Twice yesterday.
CONAWAY: Hurt Hillary.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. Yesterday, we when asked you twice, you said that you believed --
CONAWAY: I misspoke. Nothing that they did remotely helped Hillary Clinton. There was no evidence to my view that they were trying to help her. I`m sorry if I misspoke.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Sorry if I misspoke.
Well, meanwhile, after being left in the dark by their Republican colleagues, Democrats on that committee, the Intel Committee, have described the Republican report as a sham and a capitulation to the White House.
Tonight, they have released a report of their own summarizing their findings in the investigation to date.
And joining me right now is the ranking Democrat of the House Intelligence Committee, U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff.
Congressman Schiff, thank you for joining us.
What is a -- what is the burning problem with the Republican report, as you read it?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, it reads like an elongated version of the Nunes memo. It cherry-picks information. It omits key facts and it`s designed to convey a political narrative, rather than a fact-finding mission.
And, of course, it`s dramatically incomplete, because they curtail the investigation when we still have dozens of key witnesses to interview and lots of documents that we didn`t even request.
There are issues, for example, involving Trump campaign personnel reaching out to WikiLeaks and being in direct communication with Guccifer 2. And we asked to subpoena Twitter and get those messages. They were unwilling to do it.
We had allegations just within the last two weeks that people who testified under oath in our committee may have testified falsely. But they`re unwilling to pursue it.
Even Steve Bannon, who they with great ceremony beat their chest and said we cannot allow him to stonewall and refuse to answer questions and he needs to be hauled before the court to answer if necessary, they`ve decided, well, never mind. We`d rather not know.
And that`s the fundamental problem here. It`s been an unserious effort, really an effort to give the appearance of an investigation, without doing a credible and thorough investigation.
MATTHEWS: Well, in the report you released tonight, you suggested there might be more documentation of the president`s interactions with former FBI Director James Comey, interactions that could represent obstruction of justice -- quote -- "The minority has a good-faith reason to believe that the White House does in fact possess such documentation memorializing President Trump`s conversations with Director Comey."
So, tell us where that goes. Do you think you`ve got strong evidence now or good evidence that suggests obstruction of justice by the president?
SCHIFF: Well, it`s really hard to say, because these documents that we requested, they haven`t been willing to insist upon.
Mr. Conaway and I wrote to the White House on a bipartisan basis when the president suggested that he might have tapes of conversations with James Comey, asking for any recordings, but not just recordings, any memoranda or other documents that reflect his conversations with Comey that would shed light on the issue of obstruction of justice.
The White House basically told us that they answered our letter by tweet. And when we took issue and wrote them a second bipartisan letter suggesting that, if they didn`t comply, we would subpoena them, they told us to pound sand.
SCHIFF: From that point until today, we haven`t been able to get the majority to follow up with a subpoena. And that would be a pattern that would replicated time and time again over the last year. When we got no for an answer, the Republicans said, we`re perfectly fine with that.
MATTHEWS: Well, "The Washington Post" is reporting, Congressman, that Trump`s former campaign adviser Roger Stone told an associate in the spring of 2016 that he had advance knowledge of the Russian hacked e-mails that would upend the 2016 election.
In a phone conversation -- quote -- "Stone said he had learned from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange that his organization had obtained e-mails that would torment senior Democrats such as John Podesta, then campaign chairman of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The reported conversation occurred before it was publicly known that hackers had obtained the e-mails of Podesta and of the Democratic National Committee."
The reporting appears to contradict what Stone said last week on MSNBC. Let`s watch that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: I never had any advance knowledge of the content, the source, or the exact timing of the WikiLeaks disclosures. I never predicted that John Podesta`s e-mails would be hacked. I predicted that his business activities would come under scrutiny.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Congressman, what do you make of that defense by Roger Stone?
We`ve heard about the time in the barrel and all that stuff, how Podesta is getting his turn, it`s coming, based upon what looked to be earlier knowledge by Roger Stone of what the Russians had hacked and who they`re going to hurt with it.
And now he`s coming back and saying, well, I was talking about something else. But now we`re getting reporting that he did in fact get advanced word about WikiLeaks and what they`re getting from the Russians.
What do you make of all this in terms of collusion?
SCHIFF: Well, what Roger Stone has said before is that his whole strategy is deny, deny, deny. And ,indeed, that`s a strategy that President Trump also adopts. He repeats no collusion, no collusion, no collusion as a mantra.
He credits Roy Moore when Roy Moore says, I didn`t do it. He credits Rob Porter when Porter says, I didn`t do it.
If you deny, you`ll be fine in the president`s world and in Roger Stone`s. You`re a loser if you admit to anything.
We as a committee can`t simply take Roger Stone`s word for things. We need to get from Twitter, because we can`t be confident we`ll get them from Roger Stone, any private communications that he had, direct messages that he had with Guccifer 2.0 or WikiLeaks.
And other witnesses that contradict Roger Stone should be brought before our committee. We should find out who is telling the truth.
What the Republicans would like to do instead is put out a report that essentially says, we asked Roger Stone and he denied it and, therefore, there`s no evidence to the contrary.
That`s not an investigation. That`s just a facade of an investigation.
MATTHEWS: OK. They don`t look good.
By the way, why does the Senate committee work so in such a bipartisan way, and Richard Burr works so well with Mark Warner, and they actually seem like they`re on the level, whereas the Republicans on your committee don`t look they`re on the level?
They look like -- to use an old political term -- toadies for Trump. That`s what they look and sound like.
SCHIFF: Well, you know, the leadership -- the leadership comes from the top. And the leadership on our committee, even during periods when he said he was recused, comes from Chairman Nunes.
And I think he has seen his mission as carrying the water for the White House, rather than doing a credible investigation.
That, of course, put us in the position of either going along with that charade or speaking out. And that really was no choice at all.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Congressman, U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff of California.
A new book, by the way, out today provides a captivating new account of Russia`s unprecedented influence campaign as it played out during the 2016 presidential campaign.
"Russian Roulette" by authors David Corn and Michael Isikoff puts together many of the pieces that are undoubtedly central to the special counsel`s ongoing investigation.
And one of the new details in the book they report focuses on a meeting in March of 2016 between Trump, Jeff Sessions and the campaign`s foreign policy team. They reveal that when foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos said had he foreign contacts who could arrange a meeting with Putin, he received at least tacit approval to proceed.
Quote: "Papadopoulos later told investigators he believed Trump gave him encouragement, according to sources familiar with Papadopoulos` account. Trump said the idea was interesting and looked at Sessions as if he expected him to follow up, and Sessions nodded in response."
I`m joined right now by the book`s authors. David Corn is Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones." And Michael Isikoff is chief investigative correspondent for Yahoo News.
Gentlemen, thank you. You are great investigative reporters.
So, let me start with David and then go to Michael.
What was the juiciest stuff in your book? What is it that people should read to dig for and enjoy because it makes a point historically? What is that to look for?
DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, how much time do you have, Chris?
MATTHEWS: Just start with the biggies.
CORN: Well, you just mentioned one of the biggies.
That was an indication from an eyewitness, from a person who was in contact with the Russians for five months, first trying to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin, and then, when that didn`t seem possible, setting up a back-channel, off-the-record connection with Putin`s own office.
And he was doing this throughout the summer after it was publicly reported that Russia had hacked the Democratic e-mails and had dumped them, when we knew there was an information warfare campaign against the United States from Moscow.
So, I think that`s pretty significant. We also talk about a secret source in the Kremlin in 2014 giving a U.S. official a sort of heads-up that Putin was planning a massive information campaign. And there`s a great opening scene in the book, of course, in the opening chapter, in which Donald Trump is briefed by Jim Comey on the Steele dossier, which hasn`t become public yet.
He`s given a two-page summary of that. And Trump thinks -- looks at Comey and says -- well, walks, actually -- after he gets the memo -- walks out and tells his aides, Comey is trying to set me up. This is a shakedown.
Trump thought the whole intelligence community was trying to tell Trump, we have something on you. You better do what we want.
So the whole paranoia that prevents Trump from dealing with the pressing issue of Russian meddling in the election and maybe even future elections sort of came from that very dramatic moment. Those are just a few.
Mike probably has his own.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, CO-AUTHOR, "RUSSIAN ROULETTE": Yes, sure.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about, Michael, another career I have. I have watched politics since I was a kid, 5 years old. And I have never heard a presidential campaign so tied up with Russians, Russians here, Russians there, everything, all these weird characters, from Carter Page to Roger Stone, all Russian-connected, all those Russian names you can`t pronounce all around them, all these meetings.
Why? Did you ever..
MATTHEWS: And you`re writing -- what is this weird Russophile, loved by the Trump people? Why are they involved with Russians so much? Your thoughts.
ISIKOFF: Look, it goes back to where we start the book, actually, opening chapter, which is the Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow, where Trump`s primary goal was a business deal with an oligarch close to Putin, Aras Agalarov, to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Trump is obsessed with -- during that trip...
ISIKOFF: Why? Because...
MATTHEWS: Who wants to go to Russia? It`s like last on the list of any places anybody wants to visit. Why does he want to go there?
ISIKOFF: He wants to solidify himself as a global oligarch.
This was something he had thought about, talked about for years, made numerous efforts. Here, he was coming close. But in order to get close, in order for that deal to go through, he needed Putin`s approval. So, that`s where you see the birth of the bromance between Trump and Putin.
Trump, during that time -- and we have some fresh reporting on this -- is obsessed with the idea of meeting Putin during that trip. He keeps asking everybody around him: Is Putin coming? Have we heard from Putin yet? He`s expecting a phone call. Has Putin called?
Ultimately, he does get a phone call, but it`s not from Putin. It`s from Peskov, the press spokesman, who tells him he`s sorry, the Russian president is tied up, isn`t going to be able to make it.
But Putin follows up, sends Trump after that trip this gift in a black lacquered box including -- and a personal note. Talk about the things that the House Intelligence Committee didn`t get in its investigation. What was in that? What was in that gift?
MATTHEWS: I can`t hear Michael. What`s going on here?
We will be right back. Let`s take a break. We will be right back with David Corn and Michael Isikoff, right back.
MATTHEWS: We had a technical difficulty, as you know, at the end of that block.
We would like to thank David Corn and Michael Isikoff, great investigative reporting, for coming on the show.
We will be back to you in a few days to go over it again. That`s a hell of a book. We want to know more about it, "Russian Roulette."
Meanwhile, it`s election night in Southwestern Pennsylvania. We`re only about 30 minutes away from the polls closing in Pennsylvania. Republican Rick Saccone faces off against moderate Democrat Conor Lamb in a special election to fill the vacated House seat in Pennsylvania`s -- there it is -- 18th District. It`s down there in the southwest.
Republicans are desperate for a win, hoping to avoid an embarrassing loss in what some see as a key litmus test of President Trump`s popularity ahead of the 2018 midterms.
That said, a Republican with knowledge of the race tells NBC News tonight, "We`re not feeling good."
According to "The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette," voter turnout was high this morning. That`s good for the Democrat.
For more, I`m joined by Charlie Dent, outgoing Republican congressman from Pennsylvania`s 15th District.
Congressman, that`s Jack Murtha country, very conservative Democrat country or Republican country. It`s Appalachian. It`s poor, white in many ways. It`s a little bit sophisticated, you might say, suburban, but generally rural, and it`s seen as very much Trump country.
REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, correct. The South Hills...
MATTHEWS: Twenty points, he won by.
DENT: Yes. The South Hills of Pittsburgh are a little bit more suburban, a little more moderate. But the rest of the district is pretty much deer hunter country, coal, fracking, all that.
Look, Trump won this district by 20 points, but I don`t believe it`s a 20- point Trump district. A lot of people who were supporting President Trump were anti-Hillary. So, I think it`s actually tighter.
Clearly, recent polls show a tight race. One today, Monmouth, had Lamb up by six. And...
MATTHEWS: Yes, in a surge model, if it really is a big turnout.
DENT: Yes. And intensity and energy seems to be on the Democratic side at the moment.
MATTHEWS: If it`s up around six, if -- we`re all predicting now -- we all know in a couple hours. Polls close at 8:00 Eastern.
What happens if Lamb wins big? Does that tell you that the delegation in Pennsylvania could end up being about 9-9, instead of what it is now, 13-5, in terms of the proportion of Democrat and Republican members of Congress?
DENT: Under the new map, it could conceivably go -- on a great night for Democrats, it could go 10-8 Democrat, 9-9. That is true.
But what is interesting about...
MATTHEWS: They could pick up five seats just in Pennsylvania?
DENT: Well, in the southeast.
Look, under the new map, there are seven guaranteed Republican seats, five guaranteed Democrat seats and six competitive seats. The Democrats, if they run the tables in Eastern Pennsylvania, and they could do that, that could take...
MATTHEWS: Yes. Do you think your district`s going for the Dems?
DENT: Well, right now, it`s been redistricted. It`s a slight lean- Democratic seat on the PVI, presidential index, plus one Democrat. It could. It`s the same district that I won four times more or less.
MATTHEWS: I could see four in the east going Democrat that haven`t been before.
DENT: Yes. No, that`s entirely, entirely possible.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about Trump. Is he going to carry Pennsylvania next time? Or is that resentment he ran on the first time worn out already?
DENT: Well, it depends on who the Democratic candidate is.
My feeling was last...
MATTHEWS: Well, they`re not going to run Pelosi.
DENT: That`s right.
MATTHEWS: They`re not going to run somebody that this guy Saccone just loves running against.
DENT: I just remember a lot of people who supported Donald Trump were anti-Hillary. And I thought that that was a big part of it.
MATTHEWS: Who wins, Trump or Elizabeth Warren in Pennsylvania next time?
DENT: I believe Trump would win that.
DENT: Because she`s just too far.
MATTHEWS: How about him against Bernie?
DENT: I still -- well...
MATTHEWS: How about him against Biden?
DENT: I think it would be really tough to beat Biden, because I think he can appeal to a lot of folks that maybe Bernie or Elizabeth...
MATTHEWS: Who would you vote for?
DENT: That`s a tough one.
MATTHEWS: No, who would you vote for, Trump or Biden? Come on, make news. You would vote for Biden. Come on.
DENT: Well, I don`t know yet. We will see. We will see. That`s a long way off.
By the way, these two guys who are running in Pittsburgh, both of them could be congressmen in November.
MATTHEWS: I know. I know.
DENT: That`s going to happen.
MATTHEWS: I`m predicting -- you`re predicting Lamb tonight?
DENT: I think, right now, slight edge Democrat.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you. Looks like about four. We will see.
Anyway, Congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, now a track tout.
Up next: Today`s firing of Rex Tillerson shows the president is looking to get rid of anyone who doesn`t agree with him 100 times -- 100 percent of the time. He`s the boss. And he`s not looking to build a team of rivals. He ain`t no Lincoln. Trump is no Lincoln. Big surprise.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
President Trump today told reporters that Rex Tillerson will be much happier now he`s out as secretary of state. But it might also improve the president`s spirits now that he`s showing who is boss.
According to "Reuters", today`s announcement shows the president`s, quote, growing impatience with his initial set of handpicked advisers who he viewed as slow-walking his favored policies.
Meanwhile, "The Washington Post`s" David Ignatius writes: Tillerson was ousted in a way that reinforced the humiliating treatment he received from Trump since the beginning: fired by tweet, given only an elliptical warning by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.
In fact, Trump`s sacking of Tillerson is just the latest in a series of indirect dismissals, all from a man famous for firing people face-to-face on television. Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey while he was traveling in California, 3,000 miles away. And he announced the departure of Chief of Staff Reince Priebus from Air Force One while Reince sat on the tarmac outside the plane. Cute.
So, who is the next high profile departure from the White House? We`ll get to that and some other staff shake-ups that are raising eyebrows today. That`s next with the HARDBALL roundtable.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Rex Tillerson was the biggest name to be ousted from the Trump administration this week, but he`s not the only one. Tillerson`s spokesman, Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein was left go after contradicting the White House account, the White House account of Tillerson`s firing.
On Monday, Trump`s personal assistant John McEntee was sacked and escorted from the White House premises and not allowed to get his coat.
NBC News reports that McEntee is under investigation by the Secret Service for serious financial crimes. And his security clearance had been revoked. How does that make him different?
Anyway, he will join Trump`s 2020 re-election campaign as a senior adviser, even though they walked him out of the room.
Anyway, let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable, Adolfo Franco is a Republican strategist and RNC surrogate, Donna Edwards is a former Democratic congresswoman from Maryland and senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, and Anne Gearan is White House correspondent for -- she`s also a candidate for county executive in Prince George`s county, not to be called PG County, Prince George`s County in nearby Washington, an executive position.
OK. Anybody wants to start this. What does this say about Trump the way he sacked his secretary of state?
ANNE GEARAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Go ahead.
DONNA EDWARDS (D), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN: He has no class. You know, and you obviously you have to be either a sycophant or son-in-law to keep your job in the White House and you better look for your resume.
ADOLFO FRANCO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Oh, I think the president has used tweets before and he`s gotten used to tweeting. I don`t think people are read too much into this. They keep saying you`re fired. That was a television program.
At the end of the day, you know, all these individuals you mentioned, with all due respect, including the secretary of state, knew that his -- the chief of staff has said of the White House to John Kelly, it`s imminent. Wait until I get back. He waited until he returned.
MATTHEWS: How come the reports say him coming back on the plane last night acted happy go luck, he had no idea it was coming?
GEARAN: He gave an interview -- he came back and talked to the reporters traveling with him on the plane and not only did he give absolutely no sign that he was about to lose his job, but he talked about long-term plans. He was in a good mood.
FRANCO: He did.
GEARAN: He gave not only a retrospective of the trip but he said, here`s what we`re doing going forward. He said he was going to be part of the North Korean discussions. He either didn`t know, which was the clear view of the reporters with him, or he was doing a really good job faking it.
FRANCO: Let`s be honest about this. The big story would be, the surprise is, if he would remain on the job. We were just talking four, five, six months ago whether he would --
MATTHEWS: What, the moron comment did it?
FRANCO: The moron comment was made months and months ago.
MATTHEWS: Do you think the president should have forgiven the moron comment?
FRANCO: I think the president did forgive the moron comment. The moron comment was made eight months ago. But he -- there was really talk, Congresswoman, about his departure in December. The big -- why does the big story here --
MATTHEWS: The secretary of state and he was sacked by tweet.
EDWARDS: It`s because of the way he did it. It`s really shameful.
FRANCO: So, our program here is about form over substance? Just the way things were communicated?
MATTHEWS: Is this the planet of the apes? Is this how we behave now?
FRANCO: No, but I think we`re talking about rather than policy.
MATTHEWS: OK, I`ll talk policy.
FRANCO: Talk about Iran.
EDWARDS: Look, it is the secretary of state. I mean, the president has a right to have the people around him that he wants.
EDWARDS: But the question is how you do some things. President actually has ended up creating a news story that he didn`t need, but maybe at Trump the news story of Stormy Daniels who he knocked off the front pages, I think the president does that, too.
But the fact is, I mean, the president, go ahead. I mean, the president has a right to have the people he wants.
GEARAN: We`re overthinking this, right? I mean, to a point, this has been inevitable. This was an anvil waiting to fall.
But at the same time, do you do it this way? He was actually fired while he was overseas.
FRANCO: I`m not sure he`s afraid.
GEARAN: It`s about not having the upper hand. And this is a way to ensure --
MATTHEWS: Why doesn`t he call the guy in the office and woman in the office and say, you know, it`s not working out. I like you to resign.
EDWARDS: Because I think he likes to humiliate people to elevate himself. It`s been clear he`s done it over and over again.
FRANCO: I`m not -- I`m not -- I have to disagree. I`m not sure getting a text or a tweet that was broadcast to the entire American people saying you did a terrific job, thank you very much for what you`ve done is a humiliation. I really don`t.
I think the big difference is we have a North Korea --
GEARAN: Are you watching his face in the room today?
EDWARDS: Don`t start firing your employees by tweet.
FRANCO: We have a North Korea summit potentially looming of which there were sharp differences of opinion between the president and the secretary of state. We have differences over Iran.
MATTHEWS: What was the difference?
FRANCO: So, the difference -- well, I think you said three or four times at many important junctures when the president was applying pressure to North Korea, it appeared as though, Mr. Tillerson was putting that pressure off. That was the perception that was created.
GEARAN: But in the end --
FRANCO: The president didn`t like it. He has said the secretary of state on news programs that he has differences of opinion, on North Korea and Iran.
EDWARDS: On North Korea, the secretary of state actually.
MATTHEWS: What do we do, Anne, you`re the expert, what do we do in Iran right now if we kill the treaty?
GEARAN: Well, I mean, the president shows every sign of planning to walk away in May. That was the clearest policy disagreement he had with Tillerson and it`s not one he has with Pompeo. So, presumably, Pompeo will be on the side now apparently the winning side of arguing to the president that he can walk away from the deal without blowing up alliances and without risking --
MATTHEWS: How do we do it? How do we pull out?
FRANCO: Consistent with what he ran on as president.
MATTHEWS: He said no more stupid wars.
FRANCO: But he also said this was the worst deal.
MATTHEWS: No stupid wars. What`s coming now, a war that Netanyahu would love us to do some bombing over there?
FRANCO: I don`t know if the war is coming.
EDWARDS: So would Saudi Arabia.
FRANCO: I don`t know if a war is coming, but we can certainly put the pressure on Iran to say --
MATTHEWS: Should we bomb Iran?
FRANCO: I`m not saying we should bomb Iran but --
MATTHEWS: Do you think it`s a good idea to talk about it?
FRANCO: Well, you know what, I think that option on the table and I have to be honest with you, I think that option on the table is an important option.
MATTHEWS: Do you think it`s an act of war?
FRANCO: Well, in five years, we`re going to be --
MATTHEWS: It`s an act of war. You want to come in and go to war with Iran.
FRANCO: Well, we -- Israel bombed Iraq -- MATTHEWS: Do you want to go to war with Iran?
FRANCO: I`m not sure I want to go to war with Iran, but I`m not sure that`s the only option for Iran.
MATTHEWS: I think if you bomb them, they`ll think they`re at war with us.
Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL round table.
Adolfo is going to tell me something I don`t know. I`m waiting.
FRANCO: Here I think what you don`t know. I think the Democratic Party has blown it with respect to DACA. I think they played their hand with a Schumer shutdown. They lost on it. It`s gone to the back burner. I think the Latino community is not going to show up in the numbers that Democrats were expecting.
MATTHEWS: What should we do with the kids?
FRANCO: I think they should be part of comprehensive form. I don`t think they should be done in isolation. I think the kids should remain here but they shouldn`t remain here without a wall.
EDWARDS: Look --
MATTHEWS: We need a wall.
FRANCO: We need a wall.
EDWARDS: Chris, you`ve written a lot about 1968. And this is Women`s History Month. Shirley Chisholm was elected the first black congresswoman in 1968 and she said, you know, woman should be revolutionary and if you don`t have a seat at the table, bring a folding chair. That`s why I keep one in my trunk.
MATTHEWS: Go ahead.
GEARAN: The attention on foreign policy was obviously elsewhere today, but the White House held an unusual six-hour session with Gulf Arab states, Israel and others related to the shelved Mideast peace deal. This was about what to do in Gaza, and one hopeful sign about the peace process is they had this meeting at all, and put Saudi Arabia and Israel and others in the same room. A sign of what`s wrong with the process is that the Palestinians didn`t show up.
MATTHEWS: When are we going to have 50/50 in the House and Senate, men and women?
EDWARDS: Oh my gosh, 2050?
MATTHEWS: I think it`s coming. It`s working its way -- it`s working that way.
Anyway, Adolfo Franco, former U.S. Congresswoman Donna Edwards and Anne Gearan.
When we return, let me finish tonight with Trump Watch. He won`t like it.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Tuesday, March 13th, 2018.
Donald Trump promised to stop stupid wars. We knew or thought we knew he was talking about wars in the Islamic world, three of which we had had under the Bushes, all three of them backed by too many Democrats including the Clintons.
You see, the political establishment seemed united on one issue, these stupid wars Trump was promising to stop. So, someone should explain to us now why the man who ran against stupid wars is stirring up trouble again with Iran.
Let`s be serious about this. There were two ways to stop Iran from pursuing its nuclear weapons program. One was the deal we got with the world to stop them. The other was bombing them the way being pushed by the hawks here and in the Middle East.
So, what in the world does Donald Trump think is going to come of tearing up the nuclear treaty with Iran now? What`s his alternative to stop Iran or Tehran from continuing on its path to a nuclear armed Iran? If it`s bomb, bomb Iran, that is precisely what people voted against who voted for Trump.
War has been the political establishment`s answer in the Mideast. It`s been the neocon`s strategy. It`s what the Americans voted against every since W. It`s what an awful lot of Trump voters voted against when they listened to him attack stupid wars and voted their agreement with him. Whatever happened to that Donald Trump?
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END