McMaster to resign, will be replaced by Bolton. TRANSCRIPT: 03/22/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Vivian Salama; Barry McCaffrey, Nicholas Kristof, Eric Swalwell, Kim Wehle, Jonathan Swan

Show: HARDBALL Date: March 22, 2018 Guest: Vivian Salama; Barry McCaffrey, Nicholas Kristof, Eric Swalwell, Kim Wehle, Jonathan Swan

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: I want to thank my panelists, my reporter, my esteemed colleagues and the senator. Thank you all for being part of the breaking news coverage. It continues right now on HARDBALL.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: War footing. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington with breaking news from the White House that could have major national security implications. President Trump announced General H.R. McMaster is leaving his role as national security adviser. He is out. He will be replaced by John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

What that means for the direction of the country`s national security policy is clear. McMaster`s was a moderating force in the White House who urged the President not to rip up the nuclear deal with Iran. Bolton is hard- liner and has called the deal with Iran the biggest single act of appeasement by the west since Munich. In the past he has even called for bombing of Iran.

I`m joined right now by NBC News Vivian Salama. And, of course, move that back, please, Julia Ainsley, former state department official, Nayyera Haq and retired General Barry McCaffrey.

I think you all four are going to be as stunned as I am by the news. I don`t know if this is wag the dog, is this to get away from Stormy Daniels and the whole rest of this hell or what, but to bring in the biggest neo- con in the world. The one exact who so many millions of voters voted against in 2016, who voted against stupid wars and bring in the biggest hawk there`s ever been and put him as head of national security is awful. And I don`t know anybody who disagrees with that, who thinks, your thoughts?

VIVIAN SALAMA, NBC NEWS: Well, you just said the word hawk. That is exactly what John Bolton is. He is no stranger --

MATTHEWS: He likes war. He wanted war with Iraq. He pushed and pushed and pushed. He wanted to go to war with Syria. Name a country in the Middle East he didn`t want to go to war with. And now he wants war with Iran.

SALAMA: One of the issues that he is particularly devout about is getting this nuclear deal with Iran to just go away.

MATTHEWS: So that he can do what he wants to do, which is bomb.

SALAMA: He wants to scrap it.

MATTHEWS: He has said, I want to bomb.

SALAMA: He is very, very skeptical about the Iranian regime -- yes, that`s exactly the way.

MATTHEWS: His alternative plan has been, he has written about it extensively, bomb.

JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY AND JUSTICE REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE).

MATTHEWS: Julia

AINSLEY: I mean, what we are seeing is a President going away from people who are giving him that moderating voice of reason, because he doesn`t want to hear it anymore. He doesn`t want to hear it on the Iran nuclear deal. He doesn`t want to hear it with his own defense against Robert Mueller. And we saw that today with the resignation of John Dowd. This is a pattern that we are seeing play out, Chris. As the President wants to surround himself with people pugnacious, who are going to be dogged and who will tell him more of what he wants to hear.

I think Vivian knows a lot about his relationship with H.R. McMaster and how he wanted to get away from someone who was that voice of reason.

MATTHEWS: Let me bring in Nayyera, because you know, the record is pretty straight now that we have spent trillions of dollars on the war with Iraq and of course with Afghanistan. And this fellow having supported both that wars, now supports this - he made it clear in article I just read it a few moments ago, there is still time to bomb Iran. He wrote that in 2015. He is an all-out neo-con hawk. And that`s the kind of advice this President wants.

NAYERRA HAQ, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SENIOR ADVISOR: If you like the war in Iraq, you are going to love the one that John Bolton is going to declare and pushed for in Iraq. And let`s not forget North Korea, too, where we have another volatile leader that Donald Trump recently committed to meeting face to face.

Listen. When John Bolton was at the United Nations, he was the architect for reducing U.S. involvement in the national community. He has actually said there`s no United Nations. There`s barely an international community that the United States can lead. Unfortunately, in this era of Donald Trump`s America first, we are talking about America alone. And an America that is not interested this working on international agreements and diplomatic resolutions to any of the challenges facing the world. And with John Bolton and his tenure at the U.N. in which he is essentially pulled back United States involvement, we are going to be looking at the United States going at it alone once again.

MATTHEWS: General McCaffrey, I think I dare to say that a lot of people in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, working guys and working women voted for Trump because they thought he would stop stupid wars. Because they are the kids, their kids are the ones who fight these wars.

And now they bring in Bolton. Bolton, who to whom war is like a philosophy. And you know, you know who this guy is. And to put him in charge, is this the distracted attention from the mishigas and helmets affecting the guy personally and the legal threats the President faces and the possibility of impeachment? Is this to be wagging the dog? Is this what he`s doing now, Trump?

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, (RET.) U.S. ARMY: No, I think he now thinks he is in-charge. So I think the President is rearranging the landscape. Bolton, by the way, is extremely intelligent, very experienced, writes beautifully, and probably is the most hard-edge person in 25 years in foreign policy. He is replacing a guy, H.R. McMaster, by the way, who had a lot of experience on the ground as a troop commander in combat. So H.R. and most of the soldiers don`t want to fight. They know what it`s going to look like. So I do think this is an extremely momentous turning point in the way we can expect the White House to respond to foreign policy issues.

HAQ: And Chris this is --

MATTHEWS: Go ahead, jump in.

HAQ: Chris, this is the problem we have with someone like John Bolton in charge of national security, it`s the classic civilians and their ideas as war hawks of what works overruling and overriding the generals. That`s the problems we saw in the Iraq war and it is a problem we are going to be seeing coming out of the White House foreign policy going forward.

MATTHEWS: You know, we had these characters over in the state department, the defense department under W. And they pushed and pushed for war. They got a President of limited, W. Not a bad man, but of limited ability like Cheney and the people like Bolton got them into the war. Fifteen years we regretted that war. Fifteen years of lots of lost lives, not just American lives and people disfigured and losing limbs, but hundreds of thousands of people on the other side. We have to consider who are dead now because of this.

And what do we get? We lost the one buffer with Iran we had, Iraq. We had, you know, we had a government, you know, who is willing to fight them, that went to war with them. We had somebody between them and Israel. Somebody between them and us. And now we are facing Iran, and this guy now, when he has this opportunity, wants to go. You know he does.

SALAMA: Well, I mean, almost to Julia`s point earlier where you have this individual who really speaks to the President`s interests in terms of being really hawkish and tough in Iran, putting them in their place, undoing what the Obama administration had done in Iran and being tougher on North Korea. These are things that John Bolton really speaks to and appeals to.

Also important to note, John Bolton is a contributor for FOX News. This President happens to really be into a lot of the television commentators that he sees. A lot of people who he sees on television, he regards as authorities. And it just so happens John Bolton is a very intelligent person and does have a very long career in foreign policy, but he is someone that the President also sees on a daily basis on television at FOX News. And so he has always been on the President`s mind. John Bolton was someone that the President spoke to during the transition and has repeatedly revisited for a post in this administration.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s go back to Julia, wasn`t he camped out at the door for a long time by John Kelly?

AINSLEY: Yes. I mean, John Kelly is someone who was very much the door keeper. But we are starting to see that lessen a little bit.

MATTHEWS: He can`t keep Bolton out. Bolton is now his colleague as head of the national security. Now, he is in the door meeting the President today. He is now be calling the shots.

AINSLEY: And what I just keep thinking of also are all the people who recently lost their security clearances, all the people who aren`t in the room anymore, so that pull has gotten smaller. Even if people thought Jared Kushner should have never been getting the Presidential daily briefing, here he was a moderating voice. He tried to keep the President kind of in a moderate line. That`s one person less that will be in the room when he is being briefed by John Bolton.

MATTHEWS: What is it going to be like when we have a new coalition of Jared Kushner, a hawk, with the (INAUDIBLE) financing of the mentality? You can tell he is. Bolton is one of his guys, and who else is in this mess? Who is going to say no? Who is going to say no, let`s cool it here?

SALAMA: Well, a lot of the moderates have been, you know, on the outs with this administration. We had saw Gary Cohn who is leaving --.

MATTHEWS: He had common sense.

SALAMA: Exactly. McMaster considered a moderate, you just said that and a number of others. Tillerson, of course. And that was one of the big problems. The President last week when he was letting Tillerson go, specifically cited his views on the Iran deal and said that that was just not going to work. They had very different views. And now here you have someone like John Bolton who speaks to what the President really wants to do, which is shake things up, cancel the Iran nuclear deal and get tough and crackdown. We will see what the limits are or if there are limits, but they are going to crackdown on Iran.

MATTHEWS: Let`s go back to general McCaffrey.

MCCAFFREY: You have got to remember two things. One is, the Congress of the United States. I think -- the people that are most concerned about this right now will be the Republican leadership in the Senate who will be looking at the probable outcome of the foreign policy debate that will go on with Bolton in such a key position.

The other fact to keep in mind is Secretary Jim Mattis who is a defense intellectual, a very thoughtful law-abiding man who also had a lot of machine gun rounds fired by his ears. So I think there`s going to be a stabilizing coalition now between the Congress and the department of defense.

Pompeo probably being extremely intelligent will be also weary of ending up in a disaster with foreign policy. So that`s what we have to count on.

MATTHEWS: Who did you say was the moderating force besides Pompeo, general?

MCCAFFREY: Well, Secretary Jim Mattis, department of defense, you know. He is actually been under fire multiple times. He is not going to want to start -- end up in a war with Iran, that would be the simply the stupidest war we would ever engage in, but North Korea is the one to really watch, not Iran.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s talk about that. Nayyera, I want you to come in here and just lead this discussion a bit. It seems to me that the world headlines are moving for tomorrow morning`s papers in Germany and the rest of the world. They are all going to all be headlined. I think as somebody said a moment ago, hardliner is a pretty good way to describe it.

So Obama, I`m sorry, President Trump, I said President Trump names hardliner as national security chief. How is that going to sound around the world?

HAQ: Well, look at the other hardliners that Donald Trump has met with this week specifically the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, who was apparently talking back at home how happy he was that Tillerson was now gone as a moderating force.

The Saudis and the folks, the Emirates and the UAE are very excited about the idea of the United States taking a harder line towards Iran. So you are seeing their influence in the removal of General McMaster as well. Again, this is taking a very particular side in the Middle East region, a region right with conflict where the U.S. has previously been a moderating and balancing force. This is not going to be in the long-term interest of the U.S. troops or the American public to be taking the Saudi foreign policy line.

MATTHEWS: So now, Vivian, we get rid of the secretary of state known for being a moderating force, who wants to - who believes in climate change. He thinks we should honor it. He also believes we should honor this truce we have, this treaty we have with Iran and try to force all their nuclear ambitions. And we bring in, getting rid of Tillerson. We get rid of him. We get rid of McMaster and we bring in John Bolton.

I -- this is -- this is bringing in toe Joe. This is unbelievable, I`m sorry. Sorry, general, your memory`s there. I`m telling you. It is really bringing in a guy who is on the opposite side of moderation.

SALAMA: Well, one of the issues since day one of this administration was the fact that President Trump himself was not very ideological. And so he came in and he had these advisors that were coming from all sides of the spectrum. And so, it was very hard to get things done because he was literally getting opposing and conflicting advice from the adviser.

MATTHEWS: And now, he (INAUDIBLE).

SALAMA: Now, we are starting to sort of funnel some of these people out. And a lot of the moderates are being left out of this process. They are being, you know, pushed out the door. And you do have a lot more conservatives, a lot more hardliners in the administration. We saw with China, today. We saw, you know, tough talk on China. It`s the same thing all across the board.

MATTHEWS: Julia, let`s talk possible crazy, OK. The same day that the train proposal cost the stock market over 700 points. It is getting scary. This is big time, correct. It`s not corrected. It`s a problem he is creating himself. Self-creating problem. The same day he fires his top lawyer, John Dowd. The same day he fires the national security adviser, basically pushes him out. What is he doing for, total mishigas, total crazy in one day? Why does he was so much noise in one day?

AINSLEY: This President has never following the rule book that we see from other White Houses. Sometimes we start to hear and we sort of back in the previous administrations. We would hear rumors about a shake-up and then we would wait until -- we knew when they would announce it because it was on a day, they wanted to distract from something else. And in this case, we are not sure which one Trump is distracting from on any given day. Maybe he doesn`t want us to be talking about --

MATTHEWS: He is like a kid throwing -- just throw all the toys in, I`m in. I`m getting rid of everything. It`s extraordinary. I`m sorry. This is - I am a little emotional about this because it is. I have never seen a President behave like this in one day - Vivian.

SALAMA: We knew that H.R. McMaster`s days were numbered. We have reported here at NBC. This is not necessarily that shocking. But we are hoar --

MATTHEWS: On the same day, the market crashed to 7000 points.

SALAMA: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Because of a trade move. He fires his lawyer and then fires the national security adviser all within a matter of minutes. What is going on?

SALAMA: This is a President that knows how to control the media narrative. And that is something that we have seen time and time again as Julia just said. And so he does, he plans a lot of these announcements.

MATTHEWS: He has got a headline now. It is called war footing. The whole world is going to see it. You bring in John Bolton. Just take a look at that guy. Just put his picture on world newspapers. You don`t have to say much more.

Thank you, Vivian Salama. Thank you, Joy Ainsley, Nayyera Haq and general McCaffrey.

Coming up, much more on our late breaking news tonight. H.R. McMaster out as national security adviser. John Bolton calling the shots on war and peace. Think about that when you go to bed tonight.

Plus, it was not major departure in the Trump world today. Trump`s top lawyer as I said in the Russian probe, John Dowd has resigned, I think. What does this mean for the Mueller investigation? He was pushed out.

This is HARDBALL where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s been a bad, wild world in Trump world today. And a wild day on Wall Street. As I mentioned, the stock market plummeted today amid fears of a trade war between the United States and China. The Dow Jones closed down 724 points in just one day. And nearly three percent drop in one day after President Trump announced what he will to impose, that he will impose billions of dollars on Chinese imports. China has already threatened to retaliate.

And today`s drop means that the Dow is now on the edge of correction territory. That`s putting it nicely. It`s down nearly 10 percent from the all-time high back in January.

We will be right back after this with more of this breaking news tonight about the upheaval within the Trump administration.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

H.R. McMaster`s exit has foreshadowed another - overshadowed another big departure today. "The New York Times" has said or said in the report or first to report that after nine months of representing the President on the Russia probe, John Dowd is resigning from the President`s legal team.

Mr. Dowd quote "ultimately concluded that Mr. Trump was ignoring his advice." However, the frustration was mutual. According to "The New York Times," Mr. Trump was pleased with Mr. Dowd`s resignation. Another words, don`t let the door hit you on the way out, sir.

The development comes after the President butted heads with Dowd about how to proceed with the Russian probe. According to "the New York Times` Dowd had favored restraint, but Trump`s recent tweets indicated that he would rather go on the offensive. Dowd has also advised the President not to speak to Mueller`s prosecutors. However, Trump has said he wants to testify and he reiterated his willingness to do that today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you still like to testify before special counsel Robert Mueller, sir?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you. I would like to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: For more -- furthermore, NBC News is now reporting the shake-up in President Trump`s legal team is part of preparations for a potential Presidential interview, that`s a nice word, with special counsel Robert Mueller. According to people familiar with the process. Trump`s recent decision to hire Joseph DiGenova who has promoted unfounded conspiracy theories about the investigation. This is a sign of President surrounding himself with those who backed his approach to the special counsel`s probe.

NBC News reports further that DiGenova is expected to play a key role in discussions with Mueller`s office about a presidential interview.

We`re going to get to that later.

But, first, I`m joined by Kim Wehle, a former assistant U.S. attorney, and Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California. He sits on the House Intelligence Committee and the Judiciary Committee.

Thank you so much.

I want to start with Kim.

I mean, part of this seems to be one day of rage. He goes hard-right on foreign policy with this ultra-neocon war hawk, John Bolton. He fires Dowd, who seemed to be Mr. Constraint, kind of a containment guy, and brings in a political wild man, Joe DiGenova. I have known the guy forever. He loves the gladiatorial fighting of this game, and he has got all kinds of conspiracies about how the deep state is out to get Trump.

In other words, they are feeding Trump`s fever swamp of thinking.

KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSOCIATE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: Yes, and it`s really a problem.

It`s something that I think every American should worry about, because a good lawyer tells their client hard information, stuff they don`t want to hear. And if he`s letting go someone who has a good reputation, who is well-respected, and bringing in someone that is going to be aggressive, that doesn`t necessarily mean representing him in a way that is in his best interest or certainly in the best interest of the country.

And my concern is, we`re setting this up for, you know, getting rid of Mueller, which would be a disaster and a constitutional crisis.

MATTHEWS: Congressman, I`m going to ask you something you don`t want to do, a little psychobabble. What the hell is going be on with Trump? He`s like a kid throwing all his toys in the air.

I don`t want to hear any more constraints. I want to get out of this playpen. I want to do what I want to do. I want to eat ice cream sodas. I want everything. And he says, I want my hawkish guy for foreign policy to distract attention. I want my kind of lawyer that does what I want him to do. I want to be the lawyer. I want to be the chief of staff.

We also got a word today he was thinking of firing Kelly because he wanted to have no chief of staff.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Yes, but the problem...

MATTHEWS: It sounds like one situation with this guy in every direction. I want it my way. I don`t like it your way.

SWALWELL: Yes.

The problem is not the lawyer. Clarence Darrow couldn`t save this guy. The problem is the client. He`s is a flawed client and he`s a very overexposed client as far as his criminal liability.

He should just sit down in the chair, go through the examination, finally come clean about his relationship with Russia, and allow all of us to move on. He`s just playing games right now, and I think it`s because he`s afraid to get in that chair and he`s afraid about what this Bob Mueller...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But he says he wants a lawyer that will get him in that chair.

SWALWELL: Yes, I don`t buy it.

MATTHEWS: You think that`s a phony front?

SWALWELL: Yes. I don`t buy it at all. I think he knows if he puts himself in that chair, they are not going to come at him unprepared. They are going to come with everything that they have.

MATTHEWS: Do you think they have a conspiracy case against him in terms of collusion? Do you think they have got it?

SWALWELL: I think he`s on the hook for money laundering. I think he`s on the hook for what he knew about the efforts to work with Russia.

I think he`s on the hook for obstruction of justice.

MATTHEWS: Did he advance the Russian cause there? Did he help them?

SWALWELL: I think the question is, did he help them because he owed them something?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Yes. And you think he did?

SWALWELL: I think he owed them something. Whether or it was witting or unwitting, he certainly liked...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Did he deliver?

SWALWELL: They invested in him.

MATTHEWS: Did he deliver?

(CROSSTALK)

SWALWELL: Oh, yes, he`s delivering. And there`s more goods to come for Russia.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about this from a client point of view.

If you think you`re a good guy -- and most people think they are a good person -- you think you really didn`t do anything wrong, the way you see it -- you may find a lawyer that will help it who sees it your way, but you would also find a lawyer who knew the law.

And one thing I remember from the Nixon era, a lot of these guys, you may not like them, like Haldeman and Ehrlichman. They didn`t know they had broken the law. They were told, you have just committed an obstruction of justice, buddy, and that`s when they all realized they going to Lewisburg or Allenwood to play -- whatever, lift weights for two or three years.

They knew that only then.

WEHLE: Well, it is impossible to represent a client who makes conflicting statements, including those that are not in his best interest, statements that would support an obstruction of justice case, who doesn`t tell the truth, who is not respectful of the rule of law.

And, again, I think it`s a problem that whoever replaces him, DiGenova or who else, is not going to be one of the white shoe, really, really strong lawyers.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: For those who don`t live on the East Coast, white shoe means expensive lawyer in a very high-tone law firm.

WEHLE: Right. And just very, very well-respected for a reason.

MATTHEWS: And they are all working for Mueller.

WEHLE: Well, and the other -- and I think a different point of view with respect to the sit-down meeting could be that he`s trying to make a case to the American public for ending the Mueller investigation.

We`re attacking the FBI. We`re saying that it`s all a witch-hunt. We`re letting go of McCabe for reasons that John Dowd actually connected with the Russia probe somehow, which really doesn`t make a lot of sense.

But he could say, listen, I did my best. I said what I had to say, and he`s still after me.

MATTHEWS: Do you have a sense, Congressman, that he`s letting the toys fire? He fires his chief -- he wants to fire his chief of staff. He fires this lawyer. He fires his national security adviser.

He is all, I`m going to do it myself. I will do it the way -- id. I`m going to follow my id, in psychological terms.

I get the feeling he`s hedging towards -- or edging towards getting rid of Mueller somehow.

SWALWELL: I do, too.

MATTHEWS: I want my kind of prosecutor in there. I want to pick him.

SWALWELL: The problem is, he has allies in Congress. I don`t get the sense that Congress would object at all, the Republican leaders, if he did that.

The House Republican intelligence members shut down our investigation.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I don`t think Mr. Nunes will stop him.

SWALWELL: No. No.

And they all -- he all-caps retweeted their report, essentially. So Congress has looked the other way, as far as the Republican leaders who it`s going to take to stand up to him.

And when it comes to John Bolton, if Congress doesn`t want to go to war, now is the time to start putting restraints on this president. And, again, they have been giving him green lights all the way. There`s been no effort at all by Republican leadership to stand up to him.

MATTHEWS: This may be the worst thing he`s done.

(CROSSTALK)

SWALWELL: ... John Bolton and us closer to war?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: John Bolton, Mr. Hawk, because he promised the working men and women of those states that voted for him, the gritty factory workers and other people, who didn`t like these wars, because their kids do all the fighting and getting killed and losing their legs and everything else.

He said to them, no more stupid wars. Now he brings in the godfather of stupid wars, John Bolton.

Anyway, the congressman has been with us.

Thank you so much, Eric Swalwell of California, and Kim Wehle, the expert on prosecution.

Up next: After tonight`s news that Mr. H.R. McMaster is out as national security adviser, are we hurtling toward a major conflict? I think so.

"New York Times" columnist Nick Kristof said that Trump is leading us down a dangerous path when, one that mirrors what he saw in the run-up to the war in Iraq.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We must, as a nation, be more unpredictable. We are totally predictable. We tell everything. We`re sending troops, we tell them. We`re sending something else, we have a news conference.

We have to be unpredictable. And we have to be unpredictable starting now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump said during the campaign he would be unpredictable on foreign policy, but with today`s hiring of John Bolton as national security adviser, it seems the hawks are on the rise.

The president has done plenty of saber-rattling himself as of late. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We are doing things for this country that should have been done for many, many years.

We have had this abuse by many other countries and groups of countries that were put together in order to take advantage of the United States. And we don`t want that to happen. We`re not going to let that happen. It`s probably one of the reasons I was elected, maybe one of the main reasons.

But we`re not going to let that happen.

Well, we`re going to see what happens. The Iran deal is coming up. It`s probably another month or so. And you are going to see what I do. But Iran has not been treating that part of the world or the world itself appropriately.

A lot of bad things are happening in Iran. The deal is coming up in one month. And you will see what happens.

We are going to see what happens with North Korea. I will say, look, if something can happen while we negotiate, I`m always open to that. But if it`s going to be something other than negotiation, believe me, we`re ready, more so than we have ever been.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Although Trump is planning to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, his past comments make it clear that diplomacy is not the only option he`s considering.

"New York Times" columnist Nick Kristof writes that -- quote -- "I have a grim feeling in my belly, a bit like I had in the run-up to the Iraq War, that we have a president who is leading us toward reckless, catastrophic conflict. Trump`s snap decision to accept Kim`s invitation to meet underscores the risk of a mercurial president leaping into actions, which is one of the reasons we got into the mess in Iraq."

Nick Kristof joins us now.

Nothing is scarier, Nick, than somebody who has never read a book, really, never read anything serious in their life, listening to people who have been spent their lives pushing heavy theories like freedom agendas and the neoconservative movement.

And they`re surrounded by people they never hung out with in college because they thought were whatever. He thought they were nerds. Now they thinks they are geniuses.

What about the combination of this president, who doesn`t read, in the company now of John Bolton? What will they be like together?

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": You know, I had a grim feeling in my belly this morning. This evening, it`s doubled down.

And I think that the risks of a war, of a shooting war, with Iran and North Korea are substantially greater than they were this morning. The combination of Mike Pompeo at the State Department and John Bolton as national security adviser, I think, underscores both that there will be pressure to choose military solutions, and also that Trump himself, because he`s made these choices, seems to prefer, perhaps, the military toolbox to the diplomatic toolbox.

So -- boy, the Dow lost 700 points today because it was concerned about a trade war. I think, if the markets were fully rational, they would lose rather more tomorrow. Because of Bolton, the risk of a shooting war is substantially greater, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about Trump`s id and the way he behaves.

When things aren`t going his way in the hour, I mean in the moment sometimes, he shakes things up. He has this amazing tendency to just shake things up, knock the cards off the table. He`s playing "Monopoly," knock like everything off the table. Start over again. Reset. He does it all the time.

And he seems to do it with a thunderclap. And today he did it with three thunderclaps, with the trade thing, with getting rid of his lawyer, now getting rid of his NSA, and ending up with John Bolton. It seemed like he just wanted to shake things up, because, somehow, in shaking things up every couple minutes, he keeps control.

What do you make of his behavior just basically to who he is?

KRISTOF: So, I think that you`re right. And I do think that actually it is one mistake that we in the journalism world make, that we tend to be distract by the latest shiny object, and Trump has been pretty good about tossing shiny objects out to distract us.

But I do think that John Bolton is different. I really think that this appointment is the most consequential news in a long time. I think it dramatically increases the risk that a lot of Americans and Koreans, perhaps Japanese, end up dead.

And this is -- you know, I think one framework to look at the Trump administration is, there are some things that he can do that will be bad policies, will be unfortunate, but that will be correctable when the next president comes along.

And then there are some things he can do that will be catastrophic and lasting. A war with Iran or North Korea is the epitome of something that would be catastrophic and could not be undone.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about the train or -- the train or chain of consequences if we kill the deal with Iran.

They resume their nuclear development, their weapons development, they move forward, whoever is in Israel, the government of Netanyahu, or whoever, the Likud bloc who is over there, begins very -- gets very understandably nervous. We get very nervous they are moving towards a nuclear weapons, and they look like, with their rhetoric, they will use it.

Then we bomb them. I assume that`s the next step that Bolton has always been for. And then we have created an act of war against Iran. Then it is up to Iran how they react.

I think we are putting our future in the hands of the ayatollahs at that point. Tell me how you see the chain of -- and does Trump know this chain of consequences that comes if he kills the deal?

KRISTOF: I don`t think he understands the Iran deal, and the fact that we have a situation that is kind of working for right now.

And Trump and other critics of the Iran deal are correct, in that there are genuine concerns about the long-term and what follows and so on. But, for right now, the deal is absolutely working. And the idea that one would shake that up and create a situation in which Iran could then revert to its nuclear program, revive it, get those centrifuges spinning again, and create the risk of conflict, as you say, with an Israeli strike -- Saudi Arabia seems to be -- and the UAE seem to be ginning for a conflict as well.

MATTHEWS: Sure.

KRISTOF: I should say that there`s some possibility that Iran will manage the situation and, even if the U.S. pulls out on May 12, that`s it`s conceivable that it would continue to adhere to the deal.

But that is -- I would say that`s a long shot. And I think that there is just going to be a lot of temptation in Tehran, if we pull out, to assert their own national pride and to say, OK, we`re going to revive our program as well. And then all bets are off.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s look at the signs you see better than I do.

Look at the signs of the meeting, I mean, the former royal of the Iranian royal family going to pray at Mecca and these -- the crown prince having this cozy relationship with Trump, and the Israelis, whatever they`re doing under the table with the Saudis, and all this setting up kind of an alliance, an active military alliance, perhaps a nuclear alliance against the Iranians, assuming and anticipating, discounting they will go nuclear, so we have a nuclear standoff?

KRISTOF: One of the common threads in military history, ever since Homer, has been over-reliance on the military toolbox and an overconfidence about how successful it will be.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

KRISTOF: That`s the problem the Greeks ran into with the Trojans. It`s a problem we ran into in Vietnam, in Iraq. It`s a problem the Saudis ran into in Yemen. They thought, OK, they were going to tidy this up.

And I think it`s a problem that the Saudis and the Americans and certainly John Bolton have in terms of what we can do vis-a-vis Iran and vis-a-vis North Korea.

And there are a lot of messes -- there are more problems in the field of international relations than there are solutions. And military toolbox is expensive, it`s lethal, and it doesn`t solve problems all that well, as we have seen in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The idea that we would take a situation that is more or less working in Iran, and then unleash -- and open this Pandora`s box is, frankly, just crazy.

MATTHEWS: Would will the world -- your colleagues around the world who write opinion and commentary columns in London and Berlin and around the world, in Paris, and in the Far East, how are they going to react tomorrow and the next day to the appointment of John Bolton?

KRISTOF: There has been some sense of, you know, a little whisper of reassurance in some foreign policy communities that there have been these grownups in the room, that Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Mattis, H.R. McMaster, Dina Powell earlier.

Some of these other people have been restraining forces, have been voices of wisdom, that President Trump has in the past said some things regarding NATO, things, and then indeed has not followed through on them.

But, in the last few weeks, I think my colleagues around the world, the foreign leaders have been truly scared by the proposition that those adults in the room are now being pushed out, and that some really belligerent, aggressive people who were responsible for some of America`s worst mistakes in recent history are now being given the steering wheel.

MATTHEWS: I think we see Dr. Strangelove at the table.

Anyway, thank you. Up next -- thank you very much, Nick Kristof of "The New York Times." I read you all the time. Thank you, sir.

KRISTOF: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Up next, the Roundtable weighs in on tonight`s breaking news. It`s all bad, two major departments (sic) in the Trump world. McMaster is out, as well as Trump`s top lawyer in the Russia probe.

He`s firing everybody.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

We`re back with tonight`s breaking news. General H.R. McMaster is leaving his role as national security adviser to be replaced by John Bolton, the former ambassador to the U.N. McMaster was a moderating force on foreign policy which made for an uncomfortable fit obviously with Trump.

"The New York Times" reports their tensions seep into public view in February when General McMaster said at a security conference in Munich that in the Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was beyond dispute. But President Trump now attacking the credibility of the man investigating Russia. Special counsel Robert Mueller, could he be next?

Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable. Jonathan Swan, political reporter for "Axios", Heidi Przybyla, national political correspondent for NBC News, and Michael Steele, former chair of the Republican National Committee and an MSNBC political analyst.

I want to start here and down the row. He is like a little kid angry at the day, upset, throwing his toys in the air. I don`t like the way things are going. I`m getting rid of people, I want a whole new thing, I want to do my own legal defense.

And the word even got out he wanted to get rid of General Kelly, he didn`t want a chief of staff, he wanted to be his own chief of staff a couple weeks ago, and now he`s firing the national security adviser, bringing in a hawk to talk his language. It does seem like he`s on the verge of doing anything he feels like, which means finding a way to get rid of Mueller.

JONATHAN SWAN, POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: He certainly has felt that he can get rid of people and he`s tired of having people that he disagrees with. H.R. McMaster disagreed with him on Iran, trying to persuade him to stay in the Iran deal. On North Korea, they clashed at certain up points and you showed some of it there.

But the interesting thing about John Bolton, I love this. All the enemies of H.R. McMaster on the outside who were trying to destroy him, the Bannonites, their main argument was he`s a warmonger. Who is the replacement? Who Bannon loves, by the way. It`s a guy who`s very, very hawkish, very interventionist, John Bolton.

MATTHEWS: Could they make Michael Ledeen? I mean, Michael`s laughing. I mean, they went looking for the worst neocon they could find, there are a few out there, but they found probably the worst. But there are others.

SWAN: Look, that`s your words, not mine, Chris.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: They don`t call themselves neocons. I don`t have to brand them.

Go ahead, Heidi?

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: This is not just an indiscriminant temper tantrum. To your point, he`s taking out the generals, the people who actually served in combat. McMaster had a Silver Star for valor. He actually served in the Gulf War, and replacing them with neocons who`ve never served.

MATTHEWS: Chicken hawks.

PRZYBYLA: Yes. And so, if you look, for example, in the not-to-distant past, last month, Bolton wrote an op-ed in "The Wall Street Journal" arguing his case, for the legal case for preemptive strike on North Korea, making a very detailed case in history.

MATTHEWS: He wants us to go to war with North Korea and by attacking them first. He wants to go to war with Iran. Is he going to volunteer to fight? Who are these people going to this war for him, because when you commit an act of war against the other countries, they go to war with you?

PRZYBYLA: Bringing in the combination of Pompeo and Bolton could mark a very significant shift in our foreign policy, that`s for sure.

MATTHEWS: Is this the completion of axis of evil of W. and all the zaniness? Let`s go to war with the one we haven`t gone to war with yet. We went to war with Iran, or Iraq, of W. OK. Two left, North Korea and Iran.

Let`s go to war with all of them. This sounds like the Bolton plan to me.

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think there`s a little bit of going back a little bit, reaching back and trying to reset or correct the record from the past. In a sense that a lot of folks still feel that, at a certain point, Bush pivoted off and away from the kind of advice that he was given. Exactly, from Dick Cheney and those who supported that interventionist policy.

This now with this president, it gives them an opportunity to not only go back to those arguing -- to those arguing points, but in terms of North Korea in the future engagements, they now have someone who`s going to stay steady with him.

MATTHEWS: Did Trump lie when he said they`ll be no more stupid wars? Did he lie to us? Because that`s what he said. No more stupid wars. Everyone knew he was talking about Iraq. Why did he say no more stupid wars?

STEELE: Remember, he was -- he was for the war before he was against it. He was against it before he was for it.

MATTHEWS: The people in Wisconsin and those places that got him to be president in the Electoral College --

STEELE: Understood.

MATTHEWS: -- they believed that their kids wouldn`t have to fight stupid wars. And here he is saber-rattling, bringing in John Bolton who wants to go to war with North Korea, nobody wants a Korean war.

STEELE: Nobody wants a Korean war.

MATTHEWS: Except Bolton, maybe.

STEELE: I wouldn`t prejudge this too quickly. Let`s just see how this --

MATTHEWS: You don`t go by the words.

STEELE: Yes. That`s clear in this instance, Chris, because we`re all over the map on what the words are saying.

MATTHEWS: You`re poised to say something.

PRZYBYLA: Well, I saw a headline that Bolton promises not to start any wars, literally. We just had that op-ed last week, the problem -- or last month. The problem is that this is a position that is not Senate confirmed. We know his past statements. We know what he`s said. That`s why you and very many people are alarmed.

We don`t know --

MATTHEWS: I know the history of these people.

PRZYBYLA: And he`s also been a hawk on Russia. So where does he stand now on Russia?

STEELE: But there`s something else here, Chris.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: They took a president of limited knowledge, not a bad guy, W., with limited knowledge. He hasn`t spent a lot of time studying anything, a business school guy. Now, he`s got another business school guy, not a lot of liberal arts education, a lot of history in these guys` heads.

Takes a guy with no sort of foundation to understand American history and what we stand for in the world, brings -- gets ahold of them, manipulates them, it`s been done before, it`s called the Iraq war. I don`t want Bolton having control of the mind of John, of the president, because the president is not schooled in foreign policy. But Bolton is and he will use it to drive a hard-line policy.

STEELE: But remember he`s ahead of the national security team. That is a team of 17 other agencies and individuals who will also contribute to this conversation. So, I don`t think you should lose sight of that.

And there`s also one other thing that`s important, Bolton does complete something for Trump that is important, he goes on TV. He`s someone who can be out there and voice that.

MATTHEWS: I`ve read 25 years of hawkish op-ed pieces in "The New York Times" and "The Wall Street Journal" and "The Washington Post." They are one thing good at -- they raise money for people like Adelson. They hire them to work in place like the American Enterprise Institute. And all they do was sit there and write op-ed pieces.

I`m telling you, it`s a powerful voice and we all knew where they stood -- war, war, war. They have been absolutely consistent and this guy still is. This is trouble.

Jon?

SWAN: The idea that he`s just going to be another person on the national security team is just nonsense. He is going to be so forceful. H.R. McMaster was a three-star and was sort of the little junior to Mattis. And Mattis pushed him around a lot.

John Bolton is going to sit across the table and look at Mattis and say, I don`t care about your four-star, this is what we`re doing. He`s going to be a very forceful figure on that national security --

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: I don`t know where you`re getting that from. I don`t know what you`re basing that on in terms of engaging with these people. What are you basing that on?

SWAN: Well, I`d rather not say.

STEELE: OK. Well, I`m just saying. We`re going to wait to see how this plays itself out, but I think there are some other countervailing forces that will have to be contended with as well.

PRZYBYLA: We know that Kelly has also been resistant to bringing Bolton on board.

And I bring you back to the suicide pact, right? Two of the three are gone. Mattis is the one left standing. So, we`re not yet to Friday.

MATTHEWS: And Kelly`s not here for long, probably.

The roundtable is sticking with us. You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`ll be right back with the roundtable. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We are back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Jonathan, tell me something I don`t know.

SWAN: Few details from the last few hours in the White House, from a source familiar with the events. President Trump after meeting with Bolton at 3:00, informed H.R. McMaster by telephone of his decision.

MATTHEWS: But they`re in the same building?

SWAN: Just telling you what I know. And the number of senior officials found out shortly after 5:00 p.m.

MATTHEWS: He still doesn`t do it face-to-face.

Go ahead, Heidi.

PRZYBYLA: House Intelligence Committee --

MATTHEWS: He does it on television. You`re fired on television but not in person. Go ahead. I`m sorry.

PRZYBYLA: House Intelligence Committee shuttered its investigation today, concluding they had found no evidence of collusion. We`ll have a new report today reported on today showing they overlooked 81 percent of the known contacts between Trump officials and the Russians.

MATTHEWS: Nunes. Don`t know nothing.

STEELE: Don`t know nothing.

MATTHEWS: Don`t know nothing. Go ahead, Michael.

STEELE: Despite all of the excitement of the breaking news, a little notice today was the administration said it would exempt the European Union and four other allies, Australia, Argentina, South Korea, and Brazil from steel and aluminum tariffs. So --

MATTHEWS: Exceptions.

Anyway, thank you, Jonathan. Thank you, Heidi. Thank you, Michael.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Thursday, March 22nd, 2018.

It`s been said a person who defends himself in court has a fool for a client. That said, enter stage right. President Trump. Even before replacing national security adviser H.R. McMaster with John Bolton, Trump made unsettling news today, shoving aside John Dowd, overruling his counsel, not to sit down with special counsel Robert Mueller, basically grabbing hold of his own defense.

Donald Trump has clearly decided to become his own attorney. He, not some legally trained lawyer, will decide on strategy, when to put himself in a perjury situation, the works.

It`s also getting reported tonight that Mr. Trump has been on the verge of deciding he doesn`t need a chief of staff. He considered dumping General John Kelly and replacing him with himself, Donald J. Trump.

Well, this decision to let Dowd go and near decision to jettison General Kelly opens an out of right field possibility. We`re not just talking let Trump be Trump. We`re talking let Trump be Trump`s lawyer, let Trump be Trump`s chief of staff.

Is this so far to imagine that this is headed to the big one, let Trump be Trump`s prosecutor? That he decides to go all the way with his impulses and get rid of Robert Mueller? If not, you tell me who`s going to stop him. Who is still around to stop him?

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

END

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END