HARDBALL March 16, 2018 Guest: David Ignatius, Shermichael Singleton, Stephanie Schriock, Ayesha Rascoe, Michelle Goldberg, David Jolly
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Next head to roll? Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
Throughout the campaign, Donald Trump promised that he would solve Washington`s problems. That he alone could fix things.
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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nobody knows the system better than me. Which is why I alone can fix it.
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MATTHEWS: Well, now Trump seems to be putting that statement to the test. In the past few weeks, he has been emboldened to go it alone, literally. The President parted ways with his chief economic adviser and booted his secretary of state via twitter. The two join a growing list of staffers that have been chewed up and spit out by this presidency.
And it`s about to get worse. "The Washington Post" is reporting that President Trump has decided to remove his national security adviser H.R. McMaster, a person with whom he never personally gelled. According to "the Post," Trump is actively discussing potential replacements.
The news of McMaster`s departure was first reported by NBC News on March 1st. For weeks now, the White House has been on edge over who may be next. And according to the "Washington Post" staffers are gripped by fear and uncertainty as they await the next move from an impulsive President who enjoys stoking conflict.
Well, the "Associated Press" reports that the President has been consuming news with amusement, even jokingly asking who is next? And according to the news organization "Axios," the President`s chief of staff John Kelly acknowledged that the President himself is probably contributing to staff chaos stories. Publicly his press had to put the kibosh on reports of White House turmoil.
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SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The staff actually spoke to a number of staff this morning reassuring them that there were personnel changes, no immediate personnel changes at this time.
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MATTHEWS: While McMaster may live to die another day, the daily job of governing has turned into a reality TV program. You have to tune in each day to find out who survives.
And as Michelle Goldberg writes in "The New York Times" quote "increasingly the people who were supposed to be the adults in the room aren`t in the room anymore. The self-styled grown-ups are for the most part being replaced by lackeys and ideologues."
For more, I`m joined by Ashley Parker, White House reporter for the "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC contributor, Heidi Pryzbyla, national political reporter for NBC News, Michelle Goldberg, columnist for The New York Times" and Dave Jolly, former Republican congressman from Florida.
A great group to talk about this.
Ashley, you guys at the Post and at the times are amazingly able to get into the thought process in the White House. These people seem to be turbulent to tell the news of how bad it is.
ASHLEY PARKER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, the thing is, in this White House because right now in this moment, west wing aides and White House advisers don`t even really know what`s going on. They are sort of in their own way doing what we are doing which is trying to figure who is in, who is out, what does this mean what does the President going to do next. And so there have been some White House aides who will call reporters to ask what we are hearing because our information is potentially good as theirs.
MATTHEWS: What about John Kelly saying it, apparently, in a somewhat off the record but not successfully so, comment today that the President is causing this by asking around about who to get rid of inside and outside the White House? He is going what do you think of this guy? What do you think of that guy? What do you think I get rid of this person?
PARKER: Well, it is no secret that the President late at night, he calls friends, he calls confidantes, he floats things and that`s how he makes decisions. He likes to spitball. You know, what do you think of Sean Spicer? What should I do about Reince? You know, how about McMaster? How about this? How about that? The problem is --
MATTHEWS: You guys call it midnight to collect the honey after he has made the calls. You are laughing. I know you guys do. That`s your trade craft.
It is what`s going on. But I have never seen a White House -- Michelle Goldberg in the column said that the White House staff people have been discharged or have left should talk about what`s going on. I think they are already talking, aren`t they, Ashley? It seems like a lot of talking is going on there about the trouble.
PARKER: Well, again, they are trying to figure out what is going on and they are in the same situations. So in this process of trying to parse fact from fiction, a lot of it ends up leaking out into the news.
MATTHEWS: Michelle, we gave mentioned you. Tell me, I have never seen such a chatter box of disquietude. Who keeps secret in the White House anymore? But you say they ought to do more and give real tone. Come out with some rhetoric about the duty of the people to speak to the country.
MICHELLE GOLDBERG, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I mean, I think that a lot of people are talking off the record, right? And so you have, you know, a lot of leaking. I think that some of these people who have assured reporters that they are the adults in the room, that they are not complicit in this administration but really serving the American people, you know, now that they are not there anymore, they I believe have a duty to the country.
If they believe this President needed baby-sitting and that he was a dangerous fool and that they stayed there to prevent the worst from happening, now that they are not there anymore, they should tell the rest of us what`s going on. And they should put their names behind it.
You know, Rex Tillerson thinks that this President is a moron. Well, he is now a moron who is unleashed, unbound who has, you know, kind of the guardrails are off. And we are in a lot of trouble in this country. And these people who say that they went into service because they are patriots I think should take the risk of putting their names to the whispers that they have been putting out there.
MATTHEWS: Michelle, now that you are on the word moron which grabs attention, it`s impossible to forget the use of the word by someone who is secretary of state and speaking about the President who named him secretary of state, referring to him as moron is unforgettable. Is he willing by anyone`s evidence gathering that he is willing to talk about the moron he says is in the White House now? Now that he is free to speak?
GOLDBERG: No. I mean, I certainly haven`t seen any sign of it. But like I said I think it`s really his and other people who have left, it`s their patriotic duty. If they believe that this President is unfit or at least unfit to rule in the absence of a bunch of people who are there to hem him in, it is really their responsibility to speak out. I mean, one thing that has happened over the last year is that because you have had these people who tried to thwart Trump`s more like idiotic whims or erratic impulses, is a lot of the country has been shielded I think from the consequences of having a man as unfit as him as President.
And meanwhile, we have all become into nerd to things that, you know, to this outrageous behavior so that it doesn`t seem shocking anymore when a President runs his White House as if it was a sadistic reality show.
But things are really out of control now. And now suddenly, the people who were -- who purported to be protecting us from this President aren`t there anymore. And he has consolidated his power and learned how to transcend the limits that has been put on him.
MATTHEWS: You know, I have been columnist so long, Michelle, as you know. And I just say I watch Presidents of limited intellectual ability like W walk into that office and be appalled at their lack of any kind of sophistication. But the way you talk about it is to me is frightening.
Anyway. I mean, frightening in its reality, not in your comments.
Anyway, recently, chief of staff John Kelly has fallen out of favor with President Trump. The "Associated Press" is reporting that the President is still frustrated by an interview that Kelly gave to FOX News nearly two months ago in which he suggested the President has quote "evolved in his thinking about the need for a wall, an actual wall, at the Mexican border."
Well, according to "Wall Street Journal," the two have reached a temporary truce rather than a real peace treaty.
I don`t know where he go from this because the talk about a moron in the White House is so amazing to me. But Heidi, we chuckle here at the awful absurdity of it, not the humor.
HEIDI PRYZBYLA, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, the most disturbing part of it is that because the President apparently likes this chaos, that it is his style.
MATTHEWS: It is like a shell. It`s survival.
PRYZBYLA: That there is no indication that it is actually going to come to an end. He says I`m finally getting the cabinet that I always wanted. Well, he has been in the White House for almost a year and a half. But there is a trend I think -- there`s some threads of what`s happening which is that the people who are being put out to pasture like Rex Tillerson are people who actually had some disagreement with him ideologically. Rex Tillerson was considered more of a moderate.
MATTHEWS: On the Iran deal and things like that and climate.
PRYZBYLA: Right. So the people who are coming in, there is twos things about them. One, they are viewed as more hawkish, more loyalist, more ideological and then he is also looking at these people, we see reports that he is spending more executive time in the oval office like what he is doing is watching FOX and recruiting new people.
MATTHEWS: Yes. And apparently recruiting them right off the air when he sees their looks.
Anyway, Congressman Jolly, let me ask you about this.
DAVID JOLLY (R), FORMER FLORIDA REPRESENTATIVE: Sure.
MATTHEWS: I don`t know, I doubt if you were ever called a moron by a staff member. But I always wonder why people continue to serve somebody they see as moronic. And I - if that is the right adjective. What do you make of this? This is the high of awful. Michelle Goldberg thinks the guy - says just there, casually on the air, as a smart reporter, a columnist and she has an opinion, he is unfit. And terms like that have just dropped. Unfit. That`s a hell of a statement.
JOLLY: And look, he surrounded himself --.
MATTHEWS: -- disagree with everything he does but he is not fit to the sit in Lincoln`s chair. He is not fit to be there.
JOLLY: And whether you agree with the ideology, he has surrounded himself by a lot of principles who were fit for the office. And he is demonstrating the difference between what it means to be a boss or a leader. Instead of empowering the people around him, behaving like a leader, inspiring, he is behaving like a boss. He needs the credit. He is insulting his own team. He is pushing them away.
And Chris, the reality is that`s bad for the country. Because as Donald Trump pushes away the voices he needs, Kelly, McMaster, Sessions, Cohn, Tillerson, go on and on, as he pushes them away, he leaves himself surrounded only by those whose voices don`t matter, the d-listers who accept mediocrity and provide him with mediocrity.
MATTHEWS: Well McMaster, the head of the NSC isn`t the only official on thin ice with the President. "The Washington Post" is also reporting that Veteran affairs Secretary David Shulkin, house and urban development secretary Ben Carson and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt who have garnered negative headlines for questionable spending of taxpayer dollars are all considered at risk for termination or reprimand. We don`t know.
Well, let`s go back to your reporting here. How does it look for the weekend? I`m serious. Give me weather report. How many people may defenestrated the next couple hours even?
PARKER: It is an open question. And a lot of these people you hear who are in trouble, it is not necessarily imminent. That is not to say I`m not making a prediction that there may not be a tweet even as you are doing the show. That someone is that I learned not to predict about this President.
But that he does in this process, he does want to have replacements lined up. And one of the challenges for replacing his cabinet secretaries especially is because of the midterms. He doesn`t want to choose someone from the House or the Senate open up a potentially competitive seat. And so there is some pause while he sort of tries to do this in a slightly organized manner if he decides to make a move.
MATTHEWS: Heidi, last week he apparently showed mercy as only a malignant king would, malignant king. He was going to fire his secretary of state while he was in Nairobi. He wanted to really stick it to the guy. Hit him while he is on a foreign trip or foreign soil, humiliate him before the government of Kenya and do it for fun. And he was talked out of that little exercise and sadism, a term used earlier tonight by his chief of staff John Kelly. He said you can warn him it is coming. Let him down easy. Let him sweat it out for the next 48 hours and then we will fire him when he gets off the plane. This is sadistic staff.
PRYZBYLA: Chris, there were many humiliations along that road. I mean, just because the ultimate act wasn`t executed didn`t mean that Rex Tillerson wasn`t regularly humiliated. For example with some of the tweets and overruling him on North Korea and putting him in his place. And you saw that. You have seen that that has been his style from the beginning with the way that he fired James Comey. He didn`t find out about it either and until he saw it on news reports.
PARKER: And this President, he is actually horrible at firing people. So one thing he often does as he tries to especially with say attorney general Sessions. He tries to make their jobs as awful as possible to force them to quit. And a lot of these people around him has kind of made an internal decision that says if you want me gone, you are going to have to do it. You are going to have to fire me. And it leads to some public humiliation along the way. But they are not going to resign just because the President is belittling them publicly.
MATTHEWS: David, let me ask you about that whole process of firing.
The gutsy thing to do is to call the other guy or person in the room with you and sit down across the table, maybe have a -- we used to have a cigarette, maybe, in the old days but have a cup of coffee say you know what, brother or sister, you have been a great colleague. It isn`t working out. And you know it and I know it. So why don`t we part ways and do it some class? Let`s walk out and face the press right now. Meanwhile, you have got in your head the person to replace the person with. That would be the grown-up way to handle something.
MATTHEWS: He doesn`t do that way.
JOLLY: No. By word, indeed. We have seen Donald Trump is not someone of immense personal mettle.
Look. It takes a very weak coward in leadership to not be able to terminate one of your most senior people face-to-face. To have that conversation. And Chris, why it matters is because we are dealing with the highest office in the land. We are dealing what matters of national security with North Korea.
MATTHEWS: The only President we have.
JOLLY: With the trade, he is the only President we have. The one thing I will tell you politically, and this is -- if he was smart enough to give him credit for doing so, perhaps we could. But a lot of administrations, look, but for the Stormy Daniels situation, we would be focused on the impropriety at VA, at interior and at HUD and those would be campaign issues going into the midterms and the President might want to clean House. But I don`t think he is doing this with a long lens looking at how to improve the cabinet. He is looking at how to improve loyalty to him personally.
MATTHEWS: And sometimes I wonder which scandal he prefers us to focus on. Because there is always a lot to choose from.
Thank you so much, Mr. Jolly. Thank you very much, Ashley Parker, Heidi Pryzbyla and Michelle Goldberg. Thank you all.
Coming up, has Vladimir Putin finally gone too far to see, I Vladimir like an I Tanya? Russia is obsessed with hacking our election systems and now our power grids. And it looks like Putin, I Putin himself, was behind the murder of a spy using a banned nerve agent on British soil. Putin is pushing perhaps against because he knows he can get away with it. That Trump won`t push back. And those are facts. And that`s ahead.
Plus, the other scandal encroaching on the oval office, the one mentioned ago, the attorney for Stormy Daniels now says she was physically threatened, threatened physically to keep quiet about anything she had to do with Donald Trump.
And back to the White House, turn to plug the holes, Trump is plucking people right out of the FOX News green room. To him, the real experts on this planet are the people who show up on television especially on FOX, the experts.
Finally, let me finish tonight with Trump watch.
This is HARDBALL where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Of veteran New York congresswoman Louise Slaughter has died. First elected to Congress in 1986, there she is. She rose through the Democratic ranks becoming the first woman to chair the House rules committee. A liberal stalwart who represent the Rochester area of upstate New York for more than three decades and that`s (INAUDIBLE) as a champion of women`s rights including co-authoring the 1994 violence against women act. But she was also a relentless defender of blue collar workers, never forgetting her roots as the daughter of a Kentucky Black Smith. What a history. Congresswoman Slaughter was 88 years old.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
In addition to meddling in the 2016 Presidential election, Russia`s recent actions show that Vladimir Putin is taking more brazen steps to thumb his nose at the west. Increasingly, his country`s government is looking more like criminal enterprise than that of a respective world power.
First there was the unprovoked attack on U.S. troops in Syria last month by so-called Russian mercenaries working for an oligarch close to Putin. After U.S. counter strike, the six-hour battle ended with 200 to 300 dead, Russian. Among the Russian forces, no Americans were killed.
The clash marks the first direct military engagement between American and Russian forces in decades. Then there was the unprecedented chemical attack this month against a former Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury, England. Nineteen others were treated for exposure to the internationally banned nerve agent there which Moscow developed in the closing days of the cold war.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said it`s the first attack of its kind in a NATO territory and pointed the finger at Russia.
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THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: They have provided no credible explanation that they -- that could suggest they lost control of their nerve agent, no explanation as to why Russia has an undeclared chemical weapons program, in contravention of international law.
Instead, they have treated the use of a military-grade nerve agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt and defiance.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, most recently, the U.S. identified Russia as the culprit behind a series of cyber-attacks against critical infrastructure here in the U.S. and in Europe which took place as recently as last year.
And, most alarmingly, the Department of Homeland Security released this photograph showing the controls of a power facility that Russia accessed, making clear that Russia, Russian state hackers had the foothold they would have needed to manipulate or shut down our power plants.
I`m joined right now by Malcolm Nance, MSNBC terrorism analyst. And David Ignatius is a columnist with "The Washington Post."
David, I want to start with you about, why is Russia behaving like Tonya Harding? Like, we can`t compete with the Russians -- I mean, with the Americans, so we`re going to do all the dirty tricks we can pull to slow them down and humiliate them.
DAVID IGNATIUS, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Vladimir Putin is a risk-taker.
He has a chip on his shoulder. He is angry. He`s seeking to restore Russia as a significant world power.
MATTHEWS: By bringing us down through...
IGNATIUS: So, Putin`s experience is that everything, every place he`s pushing, he`s succeeding. There`s been very little to stop him.
And it`s obvious that, absent that stop, Putin keeps going. And I think that`s what`s finally become clear to Britain, to France, to Germany, and to the U.S.
MATTHEWS: Is that implicitly because they can`t compete with us in GDP and innovation and technology? They can`t compete with us.
IGNATIUS: Russia in most ways is a declining power. Russia is a one- export economy. It`s basically dependent on oil and gas. It`s trying to become modern, but it`s slipping further and further behind.
This is not China. This is not a strong economic competitor. Putin has one thing, which is this defiant willingness to use force, and he`s doing it again and again. And I do think finally he`s gone too far and people have put up the stop sign.
MATTHEWS: Well, Malcolm, it`s always been said that the most dangerous animal is the wounded animal. And if the old Soviet Union, now the Russian republic is so wounded, so angry, so much with a chip on its shoulder, they`re to be watched, at least, and perhaps curbed.
MALCOLM NANCE, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, certainly, the chip on their shoulder goes further back than the Soviet Union. This is almost a Russian trait, this insecurity about how they position themselves vis-a-vis the West.
I mean, Vladimir Putin sees himself as sort of a Renaissance Peter the Great, but one which rejects the outreach to the West. He is literally trying to reengineer the polar axis away from what they call the Atlantic alliance into the Eurasian axis, which is Europe held down by Russia.
Russia is resurgent, only in the sense that, as you said earlier, the United States must be brought to heel and turned into the third-rate superpower, with Russia and China as the top two.
And that`s the entire basis of what he`s doing.
MATTHEWS: Well, even when confronted by the evidence, we have seen Putin consistently deny responsibility for his actions.
For instance, when asked by Megyn Kelly in that interview about the indictment of 13 Russians recently who meddled in our elections, Putin was dismissive. Let`s watch him.
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VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Why have you decided the Russian authorities, myself included, gave anybody permission to do this? Nothing has changed since you and I talked last time in St. Petersburg. Some names have popped up. So what?
MEGYN KELLY, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: So it wasn`t the Russians?
PUTIN (through translator): OK, fine, Russians, but they`re not government officials. So what if they`re Russians? There are 146 million Russians. So what?
KELLY: If the 13 Russian nationals, plus three Russian companies did in fact interfere in our elections, is that OK with you?
PUTIN (through translator): I don`t care. I couldn`t care less.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Smirking like -- anyway, David, you write in your column this week that: "Putin used the phrase `So what?` nine times during the interview with Megyn Kelly. That`s his tell." That`s his tell, as we say.
"He thinks he can get away with it based on his experience over the past 18 years in power. When he gets caught cheating, he throws up his hands in mock innocence."
That was like a smirking kid from Our Gang comedy or something, like an 8- year-old.
IGNATIUS: We just watched it. We just watched Mr. So What.
I`m telling you, he thinks he can get away with it. So, he keeps doing it. And his answer when pushed is, so? So, what are you going to do about it? And the answer has been nothing.
MATTHEWS: Malcolm, what do you make of that guy and that smirk? Because I don`t know what he was doing there, but he wasn`t acting like a grownup, because he didn`t think he had to.
NANCE: No, it`s not a question of acting like a grownup. This is a man who understands power politics. He understands that he is now in the driver`s seat.
He does not care how his hybrid warfare strategy affects the rest of the world, except when he wants it to affect -- have an effect the way he needs it. And what he did with meddling in that -- not meddling, but attacking the United States, going after the French elections, essentially trying to reengineer all conservatism in the Western world to be his -- you know, to be his asset, so to speak, he is essentially saying, he doesn`t care.
He has a plan in place, and it`s being effective, and it`s working. So what?
MATTHEWS: I just think he`s like a guy who can`t afford a good car, so he goes around keying all the other good cars he sees. You know? Let me just go around and key every good-looking car, scratch them up, so they will look like hell.
And then I will feel better, because I can`t have a nice car. It`s that simple. Isn`t that about it, David?
IGNATIUS: Well, he`s -- there`s a mischievous, malicious...
MATTHEWS: OK. Why does Trump put up with it? Question of the year.
IGNATIUS: So, that is the question of year.
Let`s ask special counsel Robert Mueller for his answer as to why he puts up with it.
MATTHEWS: Because he`s got Trump by the tail, or what?
IGNATIUS: So, Trump campaigned saying he wanted better relations with Russia. That`s a plausible argument to make.
MATTHEWS: That was two years ago.
IGNATIUS: I understand, so what`s the deeper part of this? We don`t know the answer to that yet.
I do think it`s important that Putin has -- I think has finally gone too far. Even Donald Trump has said, I think Putin`s responsible for poisoning this former agent in Salisbury, England.
IGNATIUS: And we finally have the imposition of sanctions by the Trump administration against Russia. So, I think a small corner has been turned. The question is whether Trump will stick with it.
MATTHEWS: Both of you guys know the spooks out there. You know the underworld. You know that back alley world that, what was his name, Dick Cheney liked to talk about it we have to use.
Does Trump -- does Trump -- I`m sorry. Has Putin, Trump`s friend, has he killed people personally? Has he put people on -- contracts on people and say, kill that guy, take him out by a nerve agent?
IGNATIUS: He was a KGB officer. And the KGB uses -- uses violence.
And the British accusation here is very direct.
MATTHEWS: Is that directed to him?
IGNATIUS: The British prime minister has said this was, you know, a breach of international law on our soil. It was an attempted murder of somebody in Britain. And she`s essentially blamed Putin himself for authorizing it.
MATTHEWS: Malcolm, is he a killer?
NANCE: Yes, absolutely.
Look, this guy is a former KGB officer. And, you know, their motto is, once KGB, always KGB. He calls the FSB, the successor, and the SVR, the new nobility of Russia.
Nothing gets done in that country without a former KGB or FSB officer on your staff. He has personally ordered these attacks. He has killed people. And he does not care whether we know about it.
MATTHEWS: Apparently so.
Thank you, Malcolm Nance. Malcolm Nance, thank you, and David Ignatius.
IGNATIUS: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, gentlemen.
Up next: Disturbing allegations continue to emerge from the Stormy Daniels scandal. Daniels` lawyer now says that the film actor was physically threatened to keep quiet about anything she had to do with Donald Trump.
Well, that has certainly escalated.
This is the HARDBALL -- this is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Disturbing allegations continue to emerge in the Stormy Daniels scandal. This morning, Daniels` lawyer, Michael Avenatti, told MSNBC`s "Morning Joe" that the adult film star was physically threatened to remain silent about her alleged relationship with Donald Trump.
Let`s watch it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKA BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC HOST: Was she threatened in any way?
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: Yes.
BRZEZINSKI: Was she threatened physical harm?
BRZEZINSKI: What do you mean by that? Was her life threatened?
AVENATTI: Again I`m not going to answer that. People will have to tune in to "60 Minutes" on March...
JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC HOST: Can you tell us whether it came from the president directly, the physical threats?
AVENATTI: I`m not going to answer that.
SCARBOROUGH: Will you deny that the president of the United States threatened your client?
AVENATTI: I will not confirm or deny.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: God, it`s like the old, what`s my line?
Mika, good for you. Good for you. Good props for getting that question at the dateline there, at the buzzer.
Avenatti also said that Daniels would offer more details on her upcoming interview -- boy, they`re hyping this -- on CBS` "60 Minutes," reportedly scheduled now for the 25th, which is the Sunday after this.
Daniels` attorney said he was unaware of any specific legal challenges to prevent that interview from airing. So, CBS is not vulnerable here. She might be.
But "The Washington Post" that "Powerful figures can slow publication of damaging material simply by threatening legal action," adding that "Some legal experts see potential peril for Daniels if the `60 Minutes` interview goes ahead," as I said.
Anyway, the White House has denied allegations of the relationship altogether between Daniels and the president.
For more, I`m joined by former federal prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks. She`s also an MSNBC legal analyst.
This is -- I don`t know what to say, but the physical danger, what do you mean? I guess there`s a couple ways that could mean. Somebody called up, said, you better be careful, lady. You better be careful. You might be in danger.
What do you think it meant to say physical threat?
JILL WINE-BANKS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: It`s always hard to know with the president or with Michael Cohen exactly what was meant.
But I take it as a serious threat of bodily injury. And it could void the contract, depending on whether the threat preceded the contract or was after the contract. We don`t know, but it`s a crime in and of itself to threaten physical harm to anybody.
So whoever made that threat could be in legal jeopardy just for making the threat, unrelated to the fact that there is a nondisclosure agreement.
MATTHEWS: Well, what would the nondisclosure agreement do to that?
In other words, if it preceded the nondisclosure agreement, you would be covering up not just the sexual relationship, if it occurred, but also the threat that had been posed at you. You would be covering up an awful lot for money, right?
WINE-BANKS: Well, I don`t think that a threat of physical harm would be covered by the nondisclosure agreement, especially if it happened after the agreement was signed, because that couldn`t can be covered by a preexisting arrangement.
And, of course, there is a question now as to whether the document is enforceable because it wasn`t signed by Donald Trump, or D.D.
And I would say there`s another reason why it might not be enforceable, which is, it seems to be a completely inequitable agreement, where all the benefits flow to D.D., who we assume is Donald Trump, and all of the obligations are on the part of P.P., who we know is Stormy Daniels.
MATTHEWS: But she`s gets 130K out of it. I mean, there is money for her if she had a case here. She had -- they got the money.
WINE-BANKS: Yes, she got $130,000 and agreed in exchange to do a lot of things, and all of the things that she agreed to included $1 million in liquidated damages each and every time she revealed anything that was prohibited under the agreement; $130,000 is not enough for anybody to knowingly agree to pay $1 million in damages.
That seems inequitable right there. And he had no obligations, other than the payment of the money, except to sign the agreement, which apparently he did not do.
MATTHEWS: God, you`re right.
WINE-BANKS: So there`s some serious questions about whether it`s enable.
MATTHEWS: Just back to the question, if he -- if she was threatened by one of his agents or henchmen or whatever before she signed or agreed to this nondisclosure, would that tell you anything?
How would that affect this whole thing?
WINE-BANKS: If she was threatened before that?
WINE-BANKS: It would totally void the contract, because it would have been signed under the threat of the physical harm.
WINE-BANKS: And that would make it not a freely agreed to document.
Even though the document might say, we did this freely and fairly, if you were threatened, that`s not a free and fair agreement and could not be enforced under any law.
MATTHEWS: So we have to intuit that it came afterwards if it happened, the physical threatening?
WINE-BANKS: I`m assuming that, because, I`m assuming that if it happened before, that would have been alleged by her lawyer, who said it`s not enforceable because it wasn`t signed on the line it was supposed to be signed by Donald Trump, but also...
MATTHEWS: You know, you lawyers really have your -- you have your uses. You know, you`re really good at this.
MATTHEWS: Thank you.
A lot of it doesn`t come to mind to a lot of us who aren`t lawyers. But thank you. I mean that. I`m not being condescending, obviously.
I never thought of the fact that, if she had been threatened, obviously, she couldn`t honestly -- neither party could honestly say this was done out of a free will of either partner -- party.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you so much.
WINE-BANKS: You`re welcome.
Up next: If Trump`s new -- thank you.
If Trump`s staff looks familiar, it should, because it turns out the president is doing most of his recruiting right now, his hiring, from what he watches on FOX News. So much for experts. Trump just wants people who are good at arguing his case on the tube.
You know, you know these people. And he knows them the same way you know them, watching during his executive time. That means watching television. That`s what presidents like him -- and there`s only one like him -- do.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
You can call it the green room cabinet. "The Washington Post" is reporting that President Trump may hire multiple cable news personalities as part of his administration`s staff shake-up. Trump`s reportedly considering replacing national security adviser H.R. McMaster with Bush administration hawk, did I say that loud enough, John Bolton. Bolton frequently appears on Fox News and defended the president on Russia investigation.
Let`s watch John Bolton.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BOLTON, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: The fact that President Trump opened the meeting by talking about Russian interference in our election and according to Secretary of State Tillerson pressed it several times should be the end of the allegations about Russian collusion with the Trump campaign. Of course, it won`t be. But just for reality`s sake, that was important.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, veteran Pete Hegseth, military veteran, has been floated as a possible replacement for Veteran Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. He is a co-host of "Fox & Friends" weekend and a fierce advocate of the president -- for the president.
Here he is defending Trump`s attacks on NFL players.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETE HEGSETH, FOX HOST: I have to ask you, what are we kneeling for at this point? Because you talk about social injustice. This is the least sexist, least racist, most free, most equal, most prosperous country in the history of humankind. I mean, free peoples governing themselves, yet we can`t even now stand together for I don`t know, what is it a minute and a half, two minutes for our national anthem. That`s the divisive action.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Actually, that`s called freedom.
Then there`s CNBC analyst Larry Kudlow who Trump tapped as his new chief economic adviser.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LARRY KUDLOW, CNBC ANALYST: I`ve known the president a long time. We have mutual admiration society. The president likes me as a media communicator. So, I`ll be more than happy to oblige.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump may love TV personalities but doesn`t feel the same way about policy experts.
We`ll have that coming up next with HARDBALL and our roundtable.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All of these experts, oh, we need an expert. The experts are terrible. Look at the mess we`re in with all these experts that we have.
I mean, these people don`t know what they`re doing. They say Donald Trump needs a foreign policy adviser. Supposing I didn`t have one, and I have a lot of people I met last week a lot of people, all good people. But supposing I didn`t have one. Would it be worse than what we`re doing now?
The people, the experts and I`m not knocking them, I`m just saying the world is a mess. We`ve helped to make it a mess.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was Trump during the campaign dismissing anything -- well, experts, them. While Trump may not value policy expertise, he certainly likes a good TV personalities, given the candidates who reportedly are being considered for jobs in his administration.
Let`s bring in our HARDBALL roundtable for this circus.
Shermichael Singleton is a Republican strategist. Stephanie Schriock is president of Emily`s List. Ayesha Rascoe is the White House correspondent for Reuters news service.
So, Shermichael, you for the defense here. You know, I think -- does he like fix his own teeth when he has a cavity?
SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Maybe.
MATTHEWS: Does he fix his own plumbing when something is going wrong in the toilet? I mean, if he does like certain kinds of experts but not the big kind.
SINGLETON: I mean, look, there is value in having people with experience and knowledge in certain subject areas. Those individuals have guided previous presidents and leaders across the board how to make the proper decisions for organizations and countries alike.
It`s interesting when you observe Trump, he`s almost a case study on pseudo-transformational leadership. He`s the type of leader who makes short term goals without thinking about long-term repercussions. And I think that`s what we`re seeing --
MATTHEWS: That`s scary.
SINGLETON: It is very scary. I don`t disagree with you, Chris. It`s not a good thing. And I think --
MATTHEWS: Like if we do a surgical bombing of North Korea, something might consequential.
SINGLETON: You would think, right? But I think the president wants people --
MATTHEWS: How does he know this stuff without having an ambassador to South Korea?
SINGLETON: He doesn`t feel like he needs one.
MATTHEWS: Shermichael --
MATTHEWS: Stephanie, you`re up. This guy doesn`t want to defend. Go ahead.
STEPHANIE SCHRIOCK, PRESIDENT, EMILY`S LIST: I mean, it is undefendable. It`s undefendable.
You know, I often think about it from my perspective. I run an organization. I have 100 staff. I actually think about.
SCHRIOCK: Bringing in staff who complement me and question me and push me. And I do the same thing. And that`s how we get the best work done. I was Senator Jon Tester`s chief of staff. I think about how great of an organization he put together as a senator and that he wanted people with different ideas so you got to the best idea.
MATTHEWS: What`s Trump want?
SCHRIOCK: He wants yes people. He seems to want yes people.
MATTHEWS: What`s your reporting tell you? What`s he want?
AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: I don`t know that he even wants yes people. But he wants people that are going to do what he tells them to do ultimately. And I think that for the first year that he was in office, he had these people, they weren`t necessarily the usual experts because a lot of them didn`t have a lot of Washington experience but they had some expertise. But they kind of tried to manage him a bit.
And I think now, he`s a point where he just wants to do what he said he was going to do. He wanted to put tariffs on stuff. He`s going to slap tariffs on stuff. And I think he just wants people that are going to execute that. Now, we`ll have to wait and see what happens.
MATTHEWS: Well, "The Washington Post" points out that installing cabinet or cable pundits in decision making jobs has not worked out well for Trump thus far. Former Fox Anchor K.T. McFarland was nominated to be the ambassador to Singapore, but her nomination was withdrawn after she was implicated in the Russia probe. Fox News contributor Monica Crowley was nominated to be on the National Security Council. Her nomination was withdrawn after alleging plagiarism.
So, he hasn`t been picky. You know, the trouble with picking your people from over the transom, people looking for jobs because they don`t have employment opportunities is you get some people that aren`t exactly ready to run the country.
SINGLETON: But, Chris, people with good, solid experience would not want to work in this administration, with this level of chaos. They just don`t want to do it. I think to your point when you think --
MATTHEWS: You`re laying down on me here.
SINGLETON: Because you wouldn`t do it, Chris.
MATTHEWS: I want to ask you another question. What can Trump do to fix this problem?
SINGLETON: Hire qualified people. It`s simple.
RASCOE: But even when you talk about hiring qualified people and you say he`s bringing in TV people, well, we see how he`s influenced by what he sees on Fox. So, even with the people that he`s hired, if you get on "Fox & Friends," you`ll get more of a response from President Trump.
MATTHEWS: Remember --
SINGLETON: That`s absurdity.
MATTHEWS: Remember the Peter Sellers movie "Being There," where all the guy was limited intellectually. All he knew was what he saw on television, right? He`s living on U Street. This guy --
SCHRIOCK: This is now how you run a country, a company. He doesn`t even run a company.
MATTHEWS: He has something called executive time which is when he`s watching Fox. He doesn`t meet people. He only meets what`s on Fox. So, obviously, when it comes time to replace people, I know this guy on Fox. It makes sense. Executive time it`s called.
SINGLETON: Yes, I don`t know about that. I don`t know about that at all. Chris, look, I think if the president --
MATTHEWS: Let me tell you about it. It`s called executive time.
SCHRIOCK: It sounds so great. It`s not on my schedule yet.
SINGLETON: Running for president because I`m a great executive. I have these experiences. That`s not the case.
SCHRIOCK: I think what is becoming more upsetting to me is like the chaos is exhausting. Voters find the chaos exhausting. But where are the Republicans in Congress? Like I want to see some folks stand up and say enough. This is way too important to have this behavior.
MATTHEWS: I hate to think what this sounds like our conversation in Russian. As Putin finds out this guy is dealing with, it`s scary, because he`s our president right now, the one we got.
Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the roundtable.
Shermichael, tell me what I don`t know.
SINGLETON: I think that Conor Lamb who just won the seat in Pennsylvania is going to have a very difficult time running again nine months from now in November. He`s now going to be running in what will be the 17th congressional district.
MATTHEWS: Yes, but that`s more suburban.
SINGLETON: Well, wait a minute, against a Republican who beat a Democrat in 2012. Think about this, 2012 when Obama was on the ballot and --
MATTHEWS: The better opens up outside in a few minutes. Come around to the betting window. No, come around the betting window.
Go ahead, Stephanie.
SCHRIOCK: Emily`s List had a good night in Texas ten days ago with five of our primaries going through. We`ve got five more in Illinois on Tuesday. And this is just ten of dozens and dozens of women that are running to take back the House majority.
And I have to say one last thing. We lost a great, great congresswoman today in Louise Slaughter. I feel like we got to deliver the majority for Louise now.
RASCOE: I mentioned tariffs earlier and the European Union right now is preparing to or taking the first steps on putting tariffs on U.S. products, if President Trump doesn`t give them an exemption next Friday. So they released a ten-page list of American products from rice to orange juice to motorcycles that they would put tariffs on and right now, they`re seeking comments from their industries.
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s keep the border open between Northern Ireland and the republic. That`s the most important thing for me right now.
Thank you, Shermichael Singleton, Stephanie Schriock and Ayesha Rascoe.
When we return, let me finish tonight with Trump watch. You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, March 16th -- Friday, March 16th, 2017.
This week, we saw two very different messages Democrats could deliver heading toward the congressional elections this November. One was the message sent this week by the person Donald Trump outscored in the Electoral College in 2016, Secretary Hillary Clinton. If you look at the map of the United States, she said, there`s all that red in the middle where Trump won. She said that in a speech in India.
I win the coast, I win Illinois and Minnesota. Places like that. I won the places that represent two-thirds of America`s gross domestic product. So, I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward. And his whole campaign, make America great again, was looking backwards.
Clinton described what she said was the motive of those who voted for Donald Trump. He didn`t like black people getting rights. You don`t like women, you know, getting jobs. You don`t want to see that Indian-American succeeding more than you are. Whatever your problem is, I`m going to solve it.
Well, that is one way to address the voter who voted for Trump in 2016. You would like that vote for you, a Democrat running for Congress in 2018.
The other way is the way young Conor Lamb talked to voters in Pennsylvania this week. He basically told them programs like Social Security and Medicare are popular with people for the basic reason they are for everyone. He reminded voters many who vote ford Trump they have an interest in the programs Democrats created for Americans just like them.
This is to me an acid test for Democrats this year. You can probably win with simple resistance, attack Trump and by dangerous implication attack those who voted for him. In other words, tell people they made a mistake driven to that mistake by their prejudices or as Congressman-elect Lamb put it, you can appeal to their basic economic interest and values, treating them with dignity, as people made one judgment one year and will make another this year.
My sense is you`ll never get anyone calling voters racists or idiots or anything else, you see as below you and expect them to rise up and support you in the coming election or any election that follows. So, I say bet on Conor Lamb`s approach. I think he gets it.
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. And have a happy St. Patrick`s Day tomorrow.
ALL WITH CHRIS HAYES starts right now.
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