Trump ignored advisers' warning on Purtin. TRANSCRIPT: 03/21/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Alexi McCammond, John Feehery, Susan Page; David Corn, Rebecca LeGrand, Randy Bryce

Show: HARDBALL Date: March 21, 2018 Guest: Alexi McCammond, John Feehery, Susan Page; David Corn, Rebecca LeGrand, Randy Bryce

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Thank you very much.

That does it for me. I will see you back here tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. eastern.

HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS starts right now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: To Russia with love. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Stunning details of President Trump`s phone call yesterday with Russian leader Vladimir Putin have once again stirred intrigue and outrage over Trump`s apparent unwillingness to hold Putin accountable for anything.

"The Washington Post" was first to report last night that President Trump did not follow specific warnings from his national security advisers Tuesday when he congratulated Russian President Vladimir Putin on his reelection including a section in his briefing materials in all capital letters, saying do not congratulate.

Well, that advice went ignored by the President. And as the President said himself in the oval office just yesterday, he did congratulate Putin on his recent election victory.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I had a call with President Putin and congratulated him on the victory, his electoral victory. The call had to do also with the fact that we will probably get together in the not too distant future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Without a credible opposition candidate, of course, Vladimir Putin won a fourth six-year term on Sunday with almost 77 percent of the vote. What a joke.

However, as we saw in his previous elections, the vote was tainted. Cameras at polling locations captured several instances of people stuffing ballot boxes. Election observers have reported numerous allegations of fraud and intimidation. And yesterday`s call with Putin comes after Russia`s believed to have used an internationally banned nerve agent on a former Russian spy on British soil.

Yet according to "the Washington Post," Trump also chose not to heed talking points from aides instructing him to condemn the recent poisoning.

Well, the news of Trump`s call with Putin elicited a sharp rebuke from Senator John McCain of Arizona, who said in this statement, an American President does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections.

And Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa echoed that criticism calling Putin in light of Russia`s use of chemical weapon, a criminal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: What he has done in London, killing people with nerve gas? That`s a criminal activity. I wouldn`t have a conversation with a criminal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the most alarming reaction, however, came from former CIA director John Brennan who said Mr. Trump`s behavior suggested the Russians could have something, could have something on the President.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I think he is afraid of the President of Russia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why?

BRENNAN: Well, I think what speculate as to why that the Russians may have something on him personally. That they could always roll out and make his life more difficult. The Russians I think have had long experience with Mr. Trump and may have things that they could expose.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Something personal perhaps?

BRENNAN: Perhaps, perhaps.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So they have a hook in him.

Anyway, responding to the groundswell of criticism today, Trump responded. The fake news media is crazed because they wanted me to excoriate him. They are wrong. Getting along with Russia and others is a good thing, not a bad thing.

Well, joining me right now is Phil Rucker, White House bureau chief for "the Washington Post" and MSNBC analyst. Susan Page is Washington bureau chief for "USA Today." And David Corn is Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones." And catch this, to his credit, author of the hot new book, number one now on "The New York Times" bestseller list, "Russian Roulette." Well, that`s something else for you, sir, my friends. Comrade. I`m just kidding. We are all talking about the Russian.

Phil, I am amazed by this thing here. Absolutely amazed by this thing. Trump is told do not congratulate. He does it. Why does he have national security people at all? Why have anybody writing him his notes if he is going to ignore it all and do exactly what they say not to do? Now everybody knows he is out there cozies up to a dictator who won a sham election.

PHILIP RUCKER, MSNBC ANALYST: Well, it is just incredible reporting by my colleagues Carol Leonnig and others. But look, the President was told not to congratulate Putin on this election because it`s not a free election. It`s not a fair election as the video that you just played showed.

MATTHEWS: This is like calling up guy after watching a wrestling match on television, a professional wrestling match, and saying congratulations on your victory.

RUCKER: Yes. Well, he --.

DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, MOTHER JONES: Trump must have done at that at some point.

MATTHEWS: It`s a joke.

RUCKER: Well, he was urged to try to stand up to Putin a little bit and to confront him on that poisoning attack in Britain. He chose a totally different tack out of step with what the U.S. intelligence community and his owned national security advisers were urging him to do. But he made his own decision. He says what he want to say as President. We elected him to do those calls.

MATTHEWS: OK. While you are on the hot seat here, what about the hook? What about the hook? The Brennan charge? He has got something on him. Nothing else explains it.

RUCKER: I don`t know. That`s what Mueller is looking into. He may have something. They may have something on him. They may not. I don`t know the answer to that. But Bob Mueller sure knows more.

MATTHEWS: Why do you think Brennan said it?

RUCKER: I don`t know. I mean, he was the CIA director for all these years for the period in that election when they began looking into the Russian interference in the election. So clearly he is saying it based on some knowledge he has from his time at the CIA. But he obviously didn`t specify that.

MATTHEWS: David, what do you have on your book? What do you have on the back they have something on Trump?

CORN: Well, we know and we go into this in the book that the first memo that Christopher Steele sent in was that for five years or longer, the Russians had tried to cooperate and cultivate Trump. And there is a lot of attention paid to this one particular allegation, which you know, Steele in the book says at best it`s 50-50. But we talked to other people who talk about Trump going to Russia over previous years and engaging in personal conduct that might lead to what they call Kompromat (ph). But even more importantly, you know, --.

MATTHEWS: You say cultivated in a nice way, but that is not -- blackmail.

CORN: Well, there are two ways to do it, you know. Steele talked about dangling business deals in front of him, which they certainly did. That proved to be correct. But having spent a year on this, we found that Michael Isikoff, my co-author and I, again and again that Trump showed that he was obsessively, you know, almost in love with Putin. It was important that Putin come to Miss Universe. It`s important that he meets with Putin. He kept calling him his best friends. He has an aspirational affiliation with Putin. But at the same tile, a lot of this was to get business out of Russia. And he formed this pattern that everybody around him finds inexplicable.

MATTHEWS: Well, you know, everybody that goes to Russia, at least the few people I know who have been there know there is somebody waiting for you, like the girl of your dreams you met on the subway platforms. You heard these stories about spying and how it works, spy technique.

Doesn`t Trump know that anybody he meets is not by accident, Susan? That there are no accidental relations or romances in Russia? They are all set up by the old apparatus of the KGB.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: Well - but the question about why President Trump as a candidate in office has been so friendly to Vladimir Putin is a fundamental question we have been unable to answer. I mean, the fact is we were asking that question at the Republican convention when they changed the platform, the Republican platform in ways that were friendly to Russia. And I think that we just don`t know whether it`s because there is compromising personal material, whether there is financial ties that we don`t know about, or whether he just likes strong men. I mean, that he is in effect expressed admiration for those kind of men. But let`s hope with the Russia investigation that we will answer that question.

MATTHEWS: Well, when asked yesterday on whether the vote was free and fair, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said it`s not our place to criticize a foreign election. Here she goes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the White House believe that the election in Russia was free and fair?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, in terms of the election, they were focused on our elections. We don`t get to dictate how other countries operate. What we do know is that Putin has been elected in their country. And that`s not something that we can dictate to them how they operate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Actually, in World War II we went to war against the dictators. And we called them that all through the war. The dictators against democracy.

Anyway, that position you just heard from Sarah Sanders is not only at odds with long-standing U.S. policy, it also contradicts this administration`s own message towards other repressive regimes like Venezuela. President Trump has had no problem criticizing allied leaders and their countries as well. And so their figures around the world would hurt it. He has even threatened to end the NATO alliance. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I always thought America was like this great leader. What she has done in Germany is insane. It`s insane. They are having all sorts of attacks.

When I was in Asia, I spoke to a couple the countries about it, and they looked like this. You know what this is? That means they know they are getting away with murder and they got to start helping us out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are President and he is the British prime minister.

TRUMP: It looks like we are not going to have a very good relationship.

The Pope is being told that Donald Trump is not a nice person. For a religious leader to question a person`s faith is disgraceful.

I will tell you about NATO. It`s obsolete and we are paying too much money. Either they pay up, including for past deficiencies, or they have to get out. And if it breaks up NATO, it breaks up NATO.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: OK. I`m Roman Catholic, but I do notice something here. When he attacked the Pope, it`s like Jesus in the biblical books, you know, talking. I say unto thee, you know. He even puts the hand up like that.

Anyway, let`s come back to one possible explanation of why he is always cooing with Vladimir Putin.

From the beginning, when I was more optimistic about this guy around the edges, I admit around the edges, I thought maybe he will pull the grand deal, the grand slam. No more messing around with Bashar Assad and all these games playing. We are going to end this thing. We are going to cut a great east-west deals and the northern country, the ones that worry about Islamic terrorism. We are going to get something done because these two guys are going to do it together and kill all the old alliances to do it. Now, I guess that`s not still a reasonable expectation with this guy is up to.

RUCKER: I mean, we are 14 months in and that hasn`t happened, right? There is no grand bargain here with Russia. What we do know is --.

MATTHEWS: By the way, Syria under Bashar al-Assad is still there. There has been no deal to bring him down.

RUCKER: But what we do know is what the U.S. intelligence chiefs testified to Congress in the last few weeks which is that Putin or Russia under Putin`s command is continuing to try to influence our election. It`s a threat for the 2018 midterm elections.

MATTHEWS: Does he know this? Trump knows this.

RUCKER: He watches TV. He hears these briefings from his advisers. He should know it.

MATTHEWS: Well, the story about the President`s conversation rattled the White House, especially because the leak, and it is a leak, of sensitive details surrounding the call came within hours. In other words, within hours of the President talking to Putin, everybody knew that his briefers said don`t do that, and they all knew it officially.

A White House official told NBC News that this story is accurate. That means someone leaked the President`s briefing papers, leaking such information is a fireable offense and likely illegal. And now the "Associated Press" reports that the White House is conducting an internal investigation. Additionally, Trump has told confidantes that he believes the leak was meant to embarrass and undermine him, said White House officials and outside advisers.

The President suggests it was done, here it comes, ready? The deep state, they said. Well, minutes ago, the "Washington Post" further reported that President Trump`s senior advisers were thrown when he told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday that he expected to meet with him soon as briefings before they call on Moscow included no mention of a possible meeting. And aides have not been instructed (INAUDIBLE).

Susan, I want to talk -- we were talking before we got on the air. I am appalled that two or three people that might have seen a memo headed to the President. You have to be pretty high up to get the paper. That he is about to read about what he is supposed to say to other major world leader, Putin. And within hours, no loyalty to him. It wasn`t a deep state. It was somebody who had access to hiss paper.

PAGE: Well, they both saw the briefing paper beforehand, right, and they knew afterwards that he had not done.

MATTHEWS: That is a lot information.

PAGE: That is a lot of information. It`s very closely held information. And for the White House, and actually for even those who are not President Trump`s allies particularly, this is as important as the leak itself. The fact that the leak took place, this is a leakiest White House in history.

MATTHEWS: But who would know what he said on the phone to Putin except somebody in the room listening on the phone?

PAGE: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: He doesn`t have a party line. Nobody else is listening.

CORN: Well, there may be a memo written after the fact.

MATTHEWS: By whom?

CORN: By people who were there listening.

MATTHEWS: In the room?

CORN: In the room.

PAGE: But even that`s closely held.

CORN: That`s very closely held.

I`m still, you know, the fact that he said to Putin, well, I will see you soon, this is a guy who for years loves the idea of meeting with Putin. And every time they get together, he doesn`t talk about the election. And when he met with him for the first time as President in November 2017.

MATTHEWS: There is Putin there.

CORN: He then came on air force one and said, you know, if he tells me he didn`t do anything. You got to take him at his word. He really seems sincere. He loves Putin. He wants to meet with him. He wants to be his BFF.

MATTHEWS: Why? Why the love affair?

CORN: He identifies with strong men, not just with Putin. And he has always wanted to be big in Russia. And I think he sees the presidency as a stepping stone, as a way the get big in Russia or something else, because he is not exacting from his own set of priorities. It seems psychologically driven and a pattern he developed when he wanted the make money.

Remember, when he ran for President, he had a secret deal with Russia while running for President without telling anybody.

MATTHEWS: You know, my wife and I sit and look at all the national geographic. All interesting places in the world. And of all the places, what I least want to visit is his country. And where the people I least want to meet him.

I do not understand this bromance, whatever the hell it is. It is scary there is something there. I think John -

CORN: Brennan?

MATTHEWS: John Brennan has something up his sleeve. He is the chief speak.

Anyway. Thank you, Phil Rucker. Thank you, Susan Page. It is good to have you back. We missed you the last couple of weeks. David Corn, thank you. Congrats again. Number one "New York Times`" list, "Russian Roulette." What a title.

Coming up, the legal tidal wave looming over President Trump. The President is facing lawsuit now from an "Apprentice" contestant, an adult film star, a former playboy playmate. And that`s on top of the Russia investigation being led by Mueller. With all these scandals in play, which one poses the biggest threat nearest the President? I want know which one can get to this guy, penetrate all his legal defenses the soonest?

Plus once upon time a time U.S. congressman Paul Ryan promised to stand up to Donald Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: If I see episodes where conservatism is being disfigured, if I see ideas and comments that mislead the people as to who we are as Republicans, I`m going to speak out on those.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: BS. But these days Ryan just goes away with what Trump says. So will voters hold him accountable this November? We are going to speak to Randy Bryce, that`s the Democrat, one of them, who is looking to challenge him for reelection to the House trying to knock off Paul Ryan.

And as the Republican Party lost his moral (INAUDIBLE), Republicans don`t seem to mind Trump`s trouble with women, his coziness with Putin or his threats to fire Mueller. All that is fine as long as he is on their team.

Finally, let me finish with a look at our two political parties today. How far left are the Democrats? How far right are the Republicans? Great new statistics from the Pew foundation.

This is HARDBALL where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, that was a close one. Seven-term congressman Dan Lipinski last night survived barely a fierce challenge from the left, winning the Democratic primary out in Illinois`s third congressional district. Lipinski, a pro-life Democrat, narrowly defeated his progressive challenger Marie Newman, 51-49. That`s a close primary. His win comes despite an intense pushed by progressive groups and some Democratic members of Congress from Illinois to oust Lipinski from the reliably Democratic district he represents.

After last night`s victory, Congressman Lipinski is all but assured right now an eighth term in Congress as Republican judges, catch this is a holocaust denier who has been disavowed by the Republican Party.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump is facing three separate lawsuits now filed by an adult film star, a former playboy model, and a former "Apprentice" contestant. This trifecta, if you will, of third (ph) allegation leaves the President legally exposed and in even more political jeopardy.

In Los Angeles, Karen McDougal, a former playboy model fought a lawsuit seeking to end a confidentiality agreement with the parent company of the "National Enquirer." She joins Stormy Daniels who is also suing to get out of her nondisclosure agreement.

Meanwhile, in New York, a judge ruled that Summer Zervos, a former contestant on "the Apprentice" can proceed with a defamation lawsuit against the President.

During the campaign, she along with more than a dozen other women accused the President of unwanted sexual advances.

In her complaint, Zervos says of the president, knowingly -- she says the president "knowingly, intentionally and maliciously threw each and every one of these women under the bus with conscious disregard of the impact that repeatedly calling them liars would have upon their lives and reputations."

Well, the White House has denied all the allegations.

Well, looming over all this is the Russian investigation, of course. In a pair of tweets this morning, the president ramped up his attacks on special counsel Mueller. Trump cited law professor Alan Dershowitz arguing that Mueller show never have been appointed in the first place.

For more, I`m joined by Maya Harris, an MSNBC political and legal analyst, and Rebecca LeGrand, a defense attorney here in Washington.

Thank you both for your expertise.

And I have to start.

Maya, I want to ask you, when you think about this from Trump`s perspective, if you are enlightened, if you`re a good attorney, what`s his biggest threat?

MAYA HARRIS, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the biggest peril that Trump faces in all of this, you know, stems from the fact that he is a pathological liar and the potential for perjury.

And to that extent of the three cases that the women have brought, the Summer Zervos case presents the most immediate threat, because the court has just ruled that that defamation case can go forward, which opens him up to the potential for discovery and a deposition, where he would have to testify under oath, which is why I also think that the lawyers who are representing him in the Mueller investigation are terrified for having, you know, him sit down with Bob Mueller.

Because whether he sits down voluntarily for an interview, as you know, lying to a federal investigator is a felony. Or if he sits down in front of a grand jury, where he would be under oath as well.

And so I do think that is the greatest peril that he faces. With the likelihood of appeals in Summer Zervos` case, which could extend the time out for a deposition to actually happen, it`s very possible that the first place that he will, you know, sit down and be interrogated in a way that would open him up to the potential for perjury if he is not truthful might be with Robert Mueller.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the Zervos case. She has charged with him -- or sued him basically for defamation. And he has defamed her by -- he`s said all these terrible things about her.

To win the case, he has to deny any contact with her, any of the things that she said is true, right?

REBECCA LEGRAND, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yes.

Well, there are a couple of different ways he could win. Oddly, his best chance of winning might be that he has defamed so many women, that it`s actually a little difficult to pinpoint when he`s calling Summer Zervos -- or when he is calling Summer a liar vs. calling other people a liar.

But, yes, Summer will have to show that what she said was true, that inappropriate contact with Donald Trump happened, and that when Donald Trump stood up and said repeatedly, these women are liars, that woman is a liar, when he said those things, he knew that was false, and he did it intentionally to harm.

MATTHEWS: OK. And his defense, does he has to prove that he was telling the truth, that he didn`t have an affair or he didn`t have any encounter of that kind with her, he didn`t try to harass her, he didn`t try to do what she described him doing?

LEGRAND: The burden is on the plaintiff. And he is the defendant. So, the burden is on the plaintiff to prove that this happened.

But a jury would get to hear a lot of information and a lot of facts to decide who is more credible.

MATTHEWS: Maya, we went through a number of these precedents. They`re all a little different. Bill Clinton with regard to Paula Jones got into a situation where he lied eventually. We all know that. We all heard it on the tube in that discovery with that case that ended up taking him into the Monica case, Monica Lewinsky case.

Do presidents have to face down in these depositions? Do they have to go in the box, if you will, and answer questions under oath while they`re president? Do they have to? Is that established as a precedent now that he has to deal with, Trump?

HARRIS: That has been established as a precedent. And, in fact, that is what the court, the judge in New York found in refusing, denying the motion to dismiss that was brought in Summer Zervos` case. She went straight to the Supreme Court case with -- in the Paula Jones case and found that you are not immune from a civil suit when you are engaged in purely personal, private, unofficial conduct, and that you can be held to stand, you know, for a trial in a civil suit.

And that`s exactly what has been found. His lawyers will appeal that. They will work their way, I`m sure, through the New York courts and maybe into the Supreme Court, which will push the timeline out for this.

But I think that her opinion is on very solid ground, given the precedent in the Supreme Court decision in the Paula Jones case, although the fax were somewhat different. It was federal court vs. state court. The lower court judge has addressed that. And I think it will hold up on appeal.

LEGRAND: I do.

MATTHEWS: Rebecca agrees.

Anyway, yesterday, Stormy Daniels tweeted about her case against the president, saying: "People do care that he lied about it, had me bullied, broke laws to cover it up, et cetera. And, P.S., I am not going anywhere."

Well, that`s powerful.

Her lawyer Michael Avenatti had this warning for Mr. Cohen, the president`s lawyer, and the president himself. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: Right now, we`re playing three-dimensional chess and these guys are playing tic-tac-toe, quite honestly. And they`re not even playing tic-tac-toe that well.

They have stepped into every trap we have laid in this case the last two weeks. It`s remarkable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Rebecca -- we just met. I will call you Rebecca, but -- excuse me.

But this guy, Avenatti, has struck me from the beginning as a killer. He loves television. He is good at it. He is saying, I have got all these other women I`m going to bring in. I have got all these cases coming to me. They`re knocking on my door over the transom. It looks like this thing is going to grow.

And his client, Stormy Daniels, says, I`m not going anywhere.

LEGRAND: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And she is a living person who knows how to make her case on television. And we`re going to see it on "60 Minutes," a piece of this. It looks to me like they`re up against -- Trump is up against Trump-likes that know how to do this.

LEGRAND: Well, or better than the attorneys Trump hires.

Trump`s -- the agreement that Trump or Trump`s agents had Stormy Daniels sign, it is not even spelled right. They didn`t even spell disparagement right in the title. So...

MATTHEWS: Why did they put a place for him to sign on this, and then not have him sign? It seems to me either you don`t put his name on it, you don`t...

LEGRAND: Sloppy.

MATTHEWS: ... call him David Dennison, and then say you`re not going to silent. So you have an incomplete document that the other side can use at will to get out of it.

What`s this about?

LEGRAND: The agreement is -- yes, it`s a terribly sloppy agreement, frankly. And Stormy Daniels` attorney is right to be excited about this case.

And I think what the Trump team must know is likely to happen here is the Band-Aid is going to get ripped off, because he`s eventually going to find out that the NDA...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about that, Maya.

When you put down a bill, even a contract that is signed, delivered and signed by everybody, fine, but when it says you mention one aspect of this on some television show that nobody watched or some -- something on a Web site, if you do it once, it`s a million dollars.

If you do it in the second sentence, it`s another million dollars. Then the third sentence is another. Isn`t that so big a penalty box that it won`t be enforced? I mean, I just wonder. Nobody has that kind of cash. Hardly anybody does, certainly not some adult actress or whatever.

Wouldn`t that be thrown out by a judge saying, this is ridiculous, a million dollars for every time they burp any information about this thing?

I`m asking.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: It`s a lot of money.

HARRIS: Well, Chris, you have actually hit -- yes, you have hit on something. Yes, absolutely.

And you have hit on something that actually her lawyer has raised and she has raised in her case, which is the fairness of that liquidated damages provision, because, basically, she has in exchange for $130,000 signed on to an agreement that subjects her to a penalty of $1 million for every time that she violates this.

And, of course, the president in the notice of removal that they did to federal court has already suggested that she has violated it at least 20 times, which would be $20 million. And so the question is, is that fair or is it unconscionable? And if it`s unconscionable, it could be deemed invalid.

MATTHEWS: I can`t see a regular jury of normal people agreeing to that kind of a payout.

Anyway, thank you, Maya Harris and Rebecca LeGrand.

Up next: House Speaker Ryan Paul Ryan was supposed to act as a check, remember that, on President Trump`s worst impulses, but, instead, he has been one of President Trump`s biggest boosters. They`re all toadies.

So, why will voters -- why don`t they hold this accountable out in Wisconsin? Democrat Randy Bryce is going to answer that question. He is looking to challenge Ryan this November. He is going to join us right here next.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Look, it`s no secret that he and I have had our difference of opinions. It`s no secret that I have shared my opinion about his tweets and the rest.

But what I see is a president who is fighting for the things that I`m fighting for. I see a president who is fighting for an agenda that will make a positive difference in people`s lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was, of course, House Speaker Paul Ryan last year, last year, noting that, despite his differences with the president, President Trump, they`re fighting for the same agenda.

Well, despite Ryan`s claims during the election that he would stand up for Republican values, the speaker has done his best to not directly go after the president.

This was his response last summer, for example, when reports were floating around that President Trump might get rid of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and replace him with someone who would fire special counsel Robert Mueller:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN: It`s up to the president to decide what his personnel decisions is and any possible fallout that comes from that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Personnel decisions.

Here is what he said after President Trump said there were fine people on both sides in that Charlottesville rally situation:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN: He made comments that were much more morally ambiguous, much more confusing. And I do think he could have done better. It is very, very important that we not make this a partisan food-fight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And he entirely avoided this question about President Trump`s accusers:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: What is the difference between his case and the case of President Trump, who was also accused by a number of women and also denied it?

RYAN: I think that Roy Moore, I don`t know if -- I`m focused on Congress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Not much of an answer there.

Anyway, but Ryan doesn`t shy away from praising the president when it benefits him. Here is Ryan last night, just last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN: Since taking office, Donald Trump has held true to what he said he was going to do on the campaign trail. Go figure. Here is a man who ran for office, said what he was going to do, and is doing it.

(APPLAUSE)

RYAN: He promised the forgotten men and women of this country that they`d be forgotten no longer, and that is the mantra that has guided him every single day in the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Will this defense by Ryan of the president hurt Congressman Ryan in the midterm elections coming up in November.

I`m joined right now by Randy Bryce, one of the Democrats hoping to run against Ryan in Wisconsin`s 1st District. Election forecaster Larry Sabato recently moved that seat from safe Republican to only like Republican.

What do you make when watch him? I have never been -- I know all the great press. Nobody get better press than -- I have never been impressed by what he has done.

RANDY BRYCE (D), WISCONSIN CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Right.

MATTHEWS: He talks about the president the way the president talks about Putin. It`s cozying up to. It`s toady behavior. And he never seems to do anything.

BRYCE: No.

MATTHEWS: Well, tell me about your pitch against him. How are you going to beat him? You have got about three minutes here.

BRYCE: Well, we have seen what happens with 20 years of Paul Ryan being in Washington, D.C.

The policies that he`s been passing aren`t doing anything to help the people of our district. He has been cozying up to billionaires, lobbyists, special interests, and things like this tax scam, where he`s talking about now he wants -- he`s saying we can`t afford Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, after just giving $1.5 trillion to people that don`t need $1.5 trillion.

MATTHEWS: He is going after Medicare and Social Security.

What does he want to do? I have always thought he didn`t like those programs. Ryan is -- he is an ideologue. He doesn`t like that stuff.

BRYCE: Well, no. And these are the things that helped him to get him to where he is. And now he wants to cut it for everybody else.

These are things that..

MATTHEWS: Like what? What has he benefited from personally?

BRYCE: Well, his father passed away, and he used Social Security to get through college.

MATTHEWS: I see.

BRYCE: And now these things, he wants to take away from everybody else, without giving them any credit for his success.

MATTHEWS: Wow. He got survivor`s benefits.

And I always thought that was a good argument for Democrats this year, because the Republicans, led by him, are going further than Trump even. They really want to get rid of these programs that have been around since Roosevelt, and certainly since Johnson, that every middle-class and working-class family depends on.

BRYCE: Right.

And we need to have something in place, and that is a permanent solution. But these are things that people rely on while they -- when they have hard times in life. And that`s why the past 20 years, I have been struggling, and Paul Ryan doesn`t know what struggle.

That`s why I`m running to make life easier for not just the people of the 1st District, but for everybody around the country that...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Yes. The late governor of Pennsylvania said, when you get old and sick, all you have got is your family, God and your health insurance.

BRYCE: Right.

MATTHEWS: I don`t think Ryan understands that.

BRYCE: No. No, absolutely not.

MATTHEWS: Does it bother you he never stands up to Trump and all his misbehavior?

BRYCE: Well, he did stand up to him once. And that was when it seemed like his donors were going to be under attack, when Donald Trump called about issuing tariffs, which I don`t think are -- that`s not a bad idea.

But I don`t think Donald Trump is the one to trust to be able to enact some kind of tariffs to help protect our...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What is your profession?

BRYCE: I`m a union ironworker.

MATTHEWS: Good work.

BRYCE: Thank you very much.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Randy Bryce, union ironworker.

Up next: Has the Republican Party lost its moral compass? They don`t seem to mind tabloid headlines swirling around this guy. By the way, if anything like this had anything to do with Barack Obama, they would have gone after him hammer and tong.

Or this ongoing lovefest with Vladimir Putin, that doesn`t seem to bother them either. Weren`t they against Moscow before?

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The Republican Party appears to have lost its moral compass in the age of Trump. It was once the union of the old conservative party and the small government warriors that stood for fiscal restraint, traditional family values, strong foreign policy and an emphasis on law and order.

Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT: We Republicans have been blessed with grassroots supporters who are committed to the ideals of individual freedom, family values, free enterprise, and a strong America.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We need once again to be willing to fight for freedom, free markets, and traditional moral values with everything we`ve got.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, now that President Trump is being sued by an adult film actor, most congressional Republicans would like to avoid discussing the president`s moral values. Here is Speaker Ryan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I`m not even -- I haven`t put -- I haven`t put a second of thought into this. Not on my radar screen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, then, there is Russia. Republicans like Speaker John Boehner used to speak out forcibly against the Kremlin. Compare that to Louisiana Republican Senator John Kennedy`s reaction to Trump`s congratulatory phone call to Vladimir Putin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: Instead of downplaying Russia`s disregard for Democratic values and human rights, we should call on them and call them out on it publicly, forcefully, and frequently. The United States should insist that Russia reset its own oil policies.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: I think the president -- I mean, I don`t read too much into it. I think the president was being polite. I think the president knows that Mr. Putin, with all due respect, is a thug.

I think with people and presidents, you have to watch what they do, not necessarily what they say.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, here is House Speaker Newt Gingrich defending independent counsel Ken Starr`s investigation of President Bill Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: We are a nation under the rule of law. And no person, including the president is above the law. There is something profoundly demeaning and destructive to have the White House systematically undermining an officer of the department of justice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, put that in your library.

Anyway, now the party of law and order has remained virtually silent as President Trump as attacked the credibility of special counsel Robert Mueller. And one of the few exceptions has been, of course, Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake. He wrote on Twitter: We are begging the president not to fire the special counsel. Our only constitutional remedy is after the fact, through impeachment.

But Senator Flake, of course, is leaving the Senate after this term. And the rest of his party is whistling past the graveyard.

That`s coming up next with the HARDBALL round table.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump`s recent attacks on Robert Mueller have ratcheted up concerns that he could try to fire the special counsel. Bipartisan legislation to prevent such a move has languished in Congress for months. On Tuesday, members of the Republican congressional leadership weighed in on that matter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN: I received assurances that his firing is not even under consideration. We have a system based upon the rule of law in this country. We have a justice system, and no one is above that justice system.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Yes, I just don`t think it`s necessary. I don`t think Bob Mueller is going anywhere.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable.

Alexi McCammond is political reporter for "Axios", George F. Will, of course, is a columnist with "The Washington Post", John Feehery is a Republican strategist.

Now that we know everybody`s baseball card, here we go. The fact is, what about -- not about the mulligans and all that, but is the fact that 84 percent of rank and file Republicans self-identified voters like Trump explains everything here?

ALEXI MCCAMOND, POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: That is a big part of it, because they identify more as Trump supporters than the Republican, with the Republican Party.

Democrats I talked to on the Hill complain all the time about how Republicans in private will say something critical of Trump. But in public, they say something that is positive or at most neutral.

But my question is what has changed since the 2016 election? He told us that Mexican immigrants were rapists and murderers. Republicans barely said anything.

He said so many things. He was caught on tape grabbing --

MATTHEWS: So, what`s your point?

MCCAMMOND: That why should we expect him to change now. Since he was running, he wasn`t even president, congressional Republicans haven`t been standing up to him.

MATTHEWS: George, if Barack Obama had been accused of the things that Trump has, just without going into all the details, I don`t think he would have suffered, would have benefitted from mulligans. I don`t think anybody would be issuing mulligans.

Your thoughts?

GEORGE F. WILL, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, let`s go down the list. Start with protectionism. Republicans are supposed to be opposed to big bossy government.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WILL: Government does not get bigger or bossier than when it tells the Americans what they can buy and in what quantities and at what price. The Republicans exist to speak the truth about entitlement programs. But they`re going to be silent on that. They`re running a trillion dollar deficit with the economy at full employment and synchronized with world growth of about 3 percent right now.

MATTHEWS: Where is Paul Ryan who is an ideologue and Ayn Rand conservative. Where is he on all this?

WILL: Well, he`s decided that it`s not going to happen. Therefore, they`re all down to the "but Gorsuch" reply. This goes wrong, that goes wrong, but Gorsuch. That`s --

MATTHEWS: That justifies it all.

WILL: That`s supposed to annul a lot of sins.

MATTHEWS: Including the mulligan.

WILL: Yes.

MATTHEWS: You know, John, we`re just talking about the Churchill movie, "Darkest Hours." And I have to tell you, I always remember that Churchill quit the Tories back in the first part of -- in the early part of the 20th century over trade. He was free trader. And they would go very hard on protectionists.

So, how does your party drop all these -- the beliefs they had for modern times about free trade?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think that the Republican Party reflects the will of its voters. Its voters have shifted on issues like free trade.

MATTHEWS: Have they shifted their thinking or their loyalties?

FEEHERY: They`ve shifted on their thinking. I think the party really does reflect where the voters are. And the voters have seen free trade. And most of them like free trade. But a lot of them have real concerns about it.

And if you see the hollowing out of Ohio, I mean, free trade has actually done something with the steel industry and that is not all that positive.

So, I do think you can have these beliefs that you cling on to, but you have to understand the politics is different. And politics, when you`re talking about defending Trump.

I remember when we tried to impeach Bill Clinton over his infidelities, his lying in the Oval Office. And you know what? The voters didn`t care. They didn`t care because the economy was going strong.

I`m not saying what Donald Trump did was great. But you look at the lives of Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy, could he survive under this kind of scrutiny with these times?

MATTHEWS: I agree with that.

Dick Cheney, by the way, went out and said deficits don`t matter anymore, George.

WILL: Yes. He said we`re going to improve the deficits, they don`t matter. And they don`t matter politically. The country does not care at all about deficits.

MATTHEWS: But what about our president? We had Reagan proved that deficits don`t matter. And they don`t matter politically. The country doesn`t care at deficit, which had a president, Barack Obama who led an exemplary life, a great father. In fact, I thought he was too good a family man. He was home every night instead of hanging out with politicians, which could have helped him more.

But he did everything right, did nothing wrong in his life, no problem of that, thinks marital or whatever, or any thinking. He never got any credit from conservatives for that. They never said, well, at least, he`s a good family man. They couldn`t even give him that.

Yet Trump is running around like Sinatra and nobody seems to care.

FEEHERY: I don`t think that`s true. I think Republicans gave him plenty of credit for being a good family man. I know I certainly did. I thought --

MATTHEWS: You`re a regular guy. You`re a good guy. I don`t think I read many columns that say conservative columnists --

FEEHERY: I think conservatives didn`t like him because they didn`t like his economic policies and didn`t like his social policies. But as a father, they never condemned him for that.

MATTHEWS: There is no condemnation for Trump and his endless mulligans.

MCCAMMOND: Right. A Republican operative told me today and this is the argument we hear all the time is that Republicans in Congress want to focus, they don`t want to focus on the crisis of the day. They want to focus things that will help them move the agenda forward. But at some point, when these scandals and controversies are mounting, how it can ignore -- especially when the president of the United States is suing a private citizen for $20 million who is accusing him of an extramarital affair. That`s unprecedented and it`s not normal.

WILL: What agenda are they trying to move forward? They want $2 trillion deficits during full employment? What agenda in foreign policy?

I mean, here they are -- it`s one thing to say we`re not going to do Wilsonian spreading of democracy at the point of a bayonet. It is another thing to call up a thug and a killer who, of course, he praised during the campaign on MORNING JOE for being a thug and a killer, but at least he`s strong. It`s one thing to go from Wilsonianism to that? My goodness.

FEEHERY: Well --

MCCAMMOND: I think they`re afraid of Trump and they`re afraid of his base which is shifting, as you just said. They don`t want to lose those base voters and if they`re shifting, to be more in line with Trump.

MATTHEWS: Is there anything -- is there a red line anymore? I do think there might be. I don`t think I ever thought necessarily about these red lines, a new term that came up when we`re talking about Bashar Assad and his use of nuclear. But the new term is red line.

Is there a red line where the Republican base will say, you fire Mueller? I don`t think that`s a red line.

FEEHERY: I don`t think so either. Listen, I think it would be a tremendous mistake for him to fire Mueller. I don`t think he`s going to do that. But it would be a tremendous mistake.

But the Republican base is now the Trump base. They like this guy because he`s politically incorrect. They want someone politically incorrect. He is for the free market. He is also someone who`s cut their taxes and growing the economy. That`s what they like.

WILL: He`s demonstrably not for the free market.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I want to ask -- let me ask you a bottom line political question. Is there any chance that the Senate, which is going to remain roughly balanced I think after this, somewhere in the 40 yard lines. That they`ll ever convict this president or remove him from office under any circumstances?

FEEHERY: Well, it`s hard to predict the future. I think that you can`t rule anything out. I mean, it could happen, but I don`t think it will happen.

MATTHEWS: George?

WILL: No.

MATTHEWS: Alexi?

MCCAMMOND: I think it would be incredibly difficult.

MATTHEWS: So, two-thirds is a rough number and I think 2018 is going to be a challenge for the House.

Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with the roundtable.

Alexi, tell me something I don`t know.

MCCAMMOND: I reported today for Axios about a small group called Country Forward that over the last nine months is quietly putting in $1 million behind Dan Lipinski`s race in Illinois.

MATTHEWS: Against him?

MCCAMMOND: No, for him.

MATTHEWS: Oh!

MCCAMMOND: And so, their whole things to save moderate Democrats and Republicans from progressive challenges.

MATTHEWS: Score one for them.

MCCAMMOND: It`s the first of dozens of races they`re getting involved in.

MATTHEWS: George?

WILL: It`s improbable but possible that there will be a competitive Senate race in Mississippi because Mississippi is demographically more favorable to the Democrats than Alabama was.

FEEHERY: So, I was at the big NRCC dinner last night. Donald Trump and the Republicans raised $32 million. And I`ll tell you, Trump was beloved in that big hall. They like the guy.

MATTHEWS: And that`s something that I don`t know. But now I do.

Thank you, Alexi McCammond, and George F. Will, and John Feehery.

When we return, let me finish with a look at our two political parties as they stand today. You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with a look at our two political parties today.

First, the Democrats. Put any interpretation you like to it, but the number of Democrats who call themselves liberal has grown dramatically. Ten years ago, 28 percent did. Today, a much larger chunk, 46 percent do.

The share of Democrats who call themselves moderates has shrunk meanwhile from 44 percent a decade ago, down to 37 percent.

Yet something else jumps out of the new Pew Research Center poll. Democrats are nowhere near as ideological as Republicans are. Sixty-eight percent of Republicans, more than two-thirds, call themselves conservatives compared to the 46 percent, less than half of Democrats who call themselves liberals. And while there are still a decent number of Democrats, 15 percent, who freely call themselves conservatives, only 4 percent of Republicans confess to being liberals.

So, Republicans have more conservatives than Democrats have liberals, which makes the GOP more ideological, more to the right than Democrats are to the left.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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