NYT: Trump hopes Rob Porter returns to WH. TRANSCRIPT: 03/26/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: David Ignatius

Show: HARDBALL Date: March 26, 2018 Guest: David Ignatius

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

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in an unsettled Washington.

Facing dangers on multiple fronts, President Trump seems desperate enough to go it alone. Consider what he is up against now.

First and foremost, there is the special counsel`s Russia probe which shows signs of escalating. Charges have already been filed against the President`s close associates Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort. We could see indictments against members of the President`s own family or even the President himself.

Then there are the three lawsuits involving the President that were recently filed by Stormy Daniels, by Karen McDougal and by Summer Zervos, each with their own lawyers.

In addition to all of this, there is the looming threat of impeachment proceedings which grows by the day given the now the now likely election this November of a Democratic House of Representatives.

But while the President`s legal jeopardy is drawing his legal team as we are seeing is shrinking. After the announcement last week of two additions to the President`s defense team for the Russia probe, we are now learning that neither Joseph diGenova nor his wife Victoria Toensing will actually be taking the job.

Trump`s lawyer, Jay Sekulow said in a statement that the President is disappointed that conflicts prevent Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing from joining the President`s special counsel legal team.

However, those conflicts do not prevent them from assisting the President in other legal matters. While this follows the news last week, the Trump`s lead attorney John Dowd resigned and reports he had butted heads with his client. That would be the President. It also after veteran Washington lawyer Ted Olson turned down an offer to represent the President as in Clinton impeachment lawyer, Emmet Flood.

Well, despite all this, President Trump resorted to his more familiar or now familiar bragging. And quote "many lawyers and top law firms want to represent me in the Russian case. Don`t believe the fake news narrative that it is hard to find a lawyer who wants to take this on. Fame and fortune will never be turned down by a lawyer, though some are conflicted. The problem is that a new lawyer or law firm will take months to get up to speed. If for no other reason than they can bill more."

That`s all Trump talking, which is unfair to our great country. More Trump. And I`m very happy with my existing team. Besides, there was no collusion with Russia except by crooked Hillary and the Dems. So that was pure Trump today.

Anyway, Trump`s willingness to go it alone is now par for the course. Of course, for guy who is famously said this of himself at the Republican national convention --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nobody knows the system better than me. Which is why I alone can fix it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Joining me right now is Paul Butler, a former U.S. attorney and MSNBC legal analyst. Susan Page is Washington bureau chief for "USA today." And Jonathan Swan is national political reporter for "Axios."

Paul have, you ever had a client who put his chin out like this? The Mussolini kind of chin he does and says I can do it better than you. I know what I`m doing.

PAUL BUTLER, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Well, like most D.C. lawyers, I would decline a client like that. The President is this atrocious combination of having really bad judgment and not being willing to listen to people who could guide him through this morass that he is in. He is lawyering down when he needs to be lawyering up. He has got all these huge decisions to make about whether to cooperate more with Mueller or whether to go in for an interview. Any lawyer worth your salt will say Mr. President, don`t do that. He apparently wants to. And that`s why he fire one of the few competent lawyers that he has.

MATTHEWS: He faces so much exposure, a word you guys use, on every front. His children are exposed. At least two of his sons, one son-in-law. That`s three people in the family could all be indicted. He has three top guy, Papadopoulos and Manafort and Flynn all out there talking. He has three women out there with Watergate (ph). They look like pretty good cases against him. And I`m not sure he is exposed in terms of criminal action. Maybe he is. But that`s a lot of lawyering.

BUTLER: And guess what? Those other folks have really good lawyers. Jared Kushner, Michael Flynn, Papadopoulos, they are all well represented. At some point, Mueller is going to be about let`s make a deal. And if Trump, if his lawyer doesn`t have a seat at the table, a very competent lawyer, then he is not in good shape.

MATTHEWS: Susan, this is endemic for Trump. I can do it. He is like, you know, mighty Joe Younger something from movies. I can do, you know, I can do anything. I`m beating my chest. I can do anything. I`m better than anybody I know. I`m better than anybody I can hire. I don`t need a smart lawyer. But he did try to get Ted Olson, maybe one of the best lawyers ever. And he couldn`t get him. So he did try.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: Ted Olson said not only did he turn it down, but he told our friend David Corn that no one else in Washington, no other lawyers in Washington come and could recommend me to the Trump team because I would like to work for him.

I mean, the Trump administration has been a full employment project for lawyers in Washington because there are so many investigations touching so many people. And it`s really extraordinary that the President of the United States, who has a personal fortune, seems to be unable to land the bigger, better names.

MATTHEWS: Well, Jonathan, this is a hell of a story. Because we have a President here who does face hell. I mean, a normal person wouldn`t be able to sleep. And here is this guy that is coming out from every -- hell facing him from every direction. He seems calm. How do you explain that? You are a Trumpohphile, at least a Trump listener or whisperer. What is the story on this guy?

JONATHAN SWAN, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: This is a man who spent his whole life in some form of litigation or another. So it`s not unusual. And I remember one Trump official telling me that after he fired James Comey and the whole world is just, you know, blowing up around him, Trump smiles and says, you know, this is going to be great. You know, they are all going to thank me. It`s going to be fantastic. You know, he is evil. He is terrible guy, blah, blah, blah. And he just had this sense of calm about him. So it doesn`t surprise me.

MATTHEWS: Who is the evil guy, Comey?

SWAN: Yes, Comey. Trump has spent literally if you go through his adult life, he in some form of litigation or another. So he is used to be surrounding by lawyers. And yes, he has a bad reputation as a client. He has a reputation for being slow to pay bills and for being impetuous.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SWAN: And so, yes, they are not seek him out as a client.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s get back to where I`m stronger, psychobabble, OK. This is holy week, all right. And every one of our religions, it`s important this week coming up. And everybody is talking about Trump. Everybody I talked to. I can`t get in a car, I can`t bump into anybody, I can`t - an old friend on the phone, all they want to do is talk is Trump. I have never seen them such obsessed. He must like this.

I think Nixon in a weird part of his psyche, in the midst of his impeachment liked it. I know he didn`t like it afterwards because he realized what had happened, he was ashamed of it, unlike Trump will never be ashamed of anything. But I get that he likes the action, like you were saying. Action. He loves all this lawyering. He has got seven lawyers to talk to. He has got us coming after him. He turns on the tube, it is about him. It is action.

BUTLER: The difference is the President is in danger of going to prison.

MATTHEWS: Is he? Tell me that part.

BUTLER: So again, if he is impeached, that is the congressional remedy. That is the political remedy under the constitution. The President can be indicted after he leaves office.

MATTHEWS: That`s not been tested yet.

BUTLER: It hasn`t been tested after office. I don`t think there is much a question that after office he could be indicted for conduct. The political remedy is impeachment. And that`s difference between --

MATTHEWS: Is that why they are fired by Gerry Ford and Nixon was important?

BUTLER: Yes. Again, so that`s the difference between all these civil lawsuits back in the day. And now, now the President has 17 of the country`s best prosecutors, a whole team of FBI agents, which remains the best law enforcement agency in the world looking at everything that he has ever done, including his real estate transactions, his possible collusion with Russia and obstruction of justice. And now he has to deal with possible campaign fraud with regard to his bogus payment his lawyer made.

MATTHEWS: Yes. When he spent $130,000 contributing to his campaign to keep him out of hot water.

PAGE: You know, the other thing is he has had a legal strategy that worked for him as a business executive, which was defy, sue, counter sue. You have deeper pockets than the people you`re going up against.

MATTHEWS: That`s write common stuff.

PAGE: That`s exactly what we found in a "USA Today" project we did before the election. That doesn`t work when your opponent is the FBI and your opponent is the special counsel because their pockets are even deeper than yours are, and they`re going to give up just because you are persistent.

MATTHEWS: He did try to get a top lawyer.

As I said, Washington attorney Ted Olson who passed on an opportunity to represent the President just last week. He said today that this White House is in turmoil. Here is Ted Olson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: From your experience in government, we have seen government by twitter. We have seen the secretary of state being notified of his official firing on twitter. The cabinet shake-up, bringing in John Bolton. How does this affect the way that government handles top priorities, the turnover that we`ve seen has been unprecedented?

TED OLSON, FORMER SOLICITOR GENERAL, G.W. BUSH ADMINISTRATION: Well, I think everybody would agree, this is turmoil as chaos and confusion, and it`s not good for anything. We always believed that there should be an orderly process. And of course government is not clean or orderly ever. But this seems to be beyond normal bounds.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: One of the best lawyers ever. This guy won the case in Florida against Bush v Gore. He won the presidency FOR George W. Let`s put his blood he won and somehow got served from the Supreme Court, which I have always had to forget exactly how he got it. And he also won the wonderful case for marriage equality with David Boies. He is a hell of a lawyer.

SWAN: And he just eloquently laid out his case for why he will probably never join the Trump legal team.

I mean, you have to -- if you are a lawyer who represents Trump, you have to accept a reality where your client will not take your advice. He will tweet impetuously, and he may undercut himself on a daily basis. And, you know, there isn`t a whole conga line of lawyers waiting to fill these roles. There just isn`t.

MATTHEWS: I love the conga line.

Anyway, Trump`s new view that he alone can handle the many challenges he faces also extends into the White House. Frustrated with General John Kelly, NBC News reported just last week that Trump was considering eliminating the job of chief of staff altogether.

Quote "Trump has mused, I love this -- he never muses, the close associated about running the west wing as he did his business empire essentially as his own chief of staff."

Well, yesterday Trump`s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski said he thinks the President could fill that role himself. He is unbelievable, this Corey guy. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER DONALD TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: That`s a scenario that could very well play out. He is the decision-maker and he loves to have all the information brought to him. I see him as the hub with the number of spokes coming out. And candidly, and I`m not advocating for General Kelly to leave. I think he should stay. But if he were to go, I don`t think there is one person who is the chosen one to step in and fill that role. So I could see a scenario where the President is giving instructions to a small core group of individuals who are then implementing on his behalf.

MATTHEWS: Kool aid. Kool aid, tastes great!

Anyway, speaking of the chaos in the White House, "The New York Times" reported just a few moments ago that President Trump has stayed in touch with Rob Porter, the former White House staff secretary after allegations of abuse his two former wives had come to light. Well, according to three people now familiar with the conversations and has told, he has told some advisors he hopes Mr. Porter returns to work in the west wing. What do you make of that?

BUTLER: He obviously doesn`t care about national security.

MATTHEWS: Or publicity.

BUTLER: Mr. Porter is not able to get a security clearance. Again, this is about national security.

MATTHEWS: Wasn`t he escorted from the building?

BUTLER: Yes, with armed guards. That`s the way it works.

MATTHEWS: You know, you are walking out with your box and your -- all the stuff, whatever, your rolodex or whatever.

Susan, this is desperate stuff.

PAGE: I think it`s extraordinary. I can`t imagine that this would happen.

MATTHEWS: OK, it wasn`t. Somebody else. Let`s go ahead.

PAGE: I mean, I think the idea of him coming back in the wake of accusations of violence against two of his ex-wives would be extraordinary.

MATTHEWS: Yes. You are so reserved. It`s more than that.

Let me ask you about this Jimmy Carter thing. Let`s watch now when Jimmy Carter -- Jimmy Carter got into this because he was pushing a book called "Faith" which we would hope to talk with him at some point. But Jimmy Carter talked this. He say he -- you interviewed him, Susan, about former President Carter for "USA Today." And you asked him how the Stormy Daniels case reflects on the moral values of this -- hitting the side of the barn with a beach ball.

Anyway, I think the 2018 election will see the adverse effect of the revelation of his immorality. This is Carter talking, and his violation of his sacred oath before God to be loyal to his wife. Well, you ask Jimmy Carter about infidelity. I mean, it`s unbelievable. And were you surprised by the answer? I mean, him and Trump, what a duo.

PAGE: What a difference. Although, you know, he has also said that he hopes Trump isn`t impeached. He said he hopes Trump is successful in North Korea.

MATTHEWS: Is that the President`s club talking?

PAGE: But clearly on this issue there is no President`s club because his oath before God. He could hardly have been more critical of President Trump on this.

MATTHEWS: We are coming up to talk with this, Paul. Tell me what you think this Stormy case? We are going to talk about this in the next segment because I think about a millions watched television last night to watch this thing with Anderson Cooper. What do you make of this threat to him from Stormy, despite that (INAUDIBLE)?

BUTLER: Yes. The threat is very hard to prove, first of all. It`s some anonymous person that happened years ago. It`s not evident how it`s directly tied with the issue of controversy now, which is this hush money, this agreement that the President`s lawyer paid to try to keep the case out of the news.

Again, I think the most salient feature is this. Possible not obstruction of justice, but again trying to keep this story out of the news. And it`s consistent with the President`s pattern of not revealing whose giving him money to help him get elected. He got apparently campaign money in the form of $130,000. That`s got to be reported. If it`s not reported, it`s a criminal case.

MATTHEWS: Could only give 2700 in a cycle.

BUTLER: Yes. And to say that the lawyer did it? Give me a break. We lawyers don`t pay $130,000 to our clients, I`m sorry.

MATTHEWS: Usually the money goes the other way, right?

BUTLER: That`s the way it`s supposed to be.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you. That`s how it works.

Anyway, Paul Butler, thank you for your expertise. Susan Page for your (INAUDIBLE) and Jonathan Swan for your listing to Trump, listening to the guy, figuring him out. Figuring him out.

Coming up, Stormy speaks. As I said, the adult film star details the relationship she says she had with Donald Trump and said she took hush money because she felt threatened, physically, apparently. This as her lawyer says there is more evidence to come. Avenatti is on the run here -- I mean on the chase. That`s coming up next.

Plus, the United States is actually fighting back now after Moscow poisoned a Russian ex-spy on British soil. Trump maybe taking action now. But his unwillingness to do so in the past this helps Putin become much more cavalier don`t you think on the world stage?

And after the passion and energy of young people on this planet, this weekend`s march for our lives, students leaders in the anti-gun movement are bow being smeared by guess who? The NRA. The gun lobby and their allies on the right are attacking the kids.

Finally, let me finish tonight with what I saw on Saturday not too far from here.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, there is more bad news today for Republicans who hope to control or keep control of the House of Representatives this November. Pennsylvania Republican congressman Ryan Costello has announced he will not seek reelection this fall, becoming the 23rd House Republican to quit. Costello, whose district includes parts of suburban Philadelphia had faced a difficult reelection campaign given Pennsylvania`s new congressional map.

Well, following his announcement, Cook political report moved the race for that district from toss-up to likely Democrat pickup. And last night Congressman Costello talked about the difficulty of governing in the age of Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RYAN COSTELLO (R-PA), NOT RUNNING FOR RE-ELECTION: We are talking about porn stars and the President rather than about tax policy or what we need to get done by the end of the year or what should have been in the omnibus. I have a bill to bring back cost sharing reductions and create a reinsurance plan for two years which will reduce health insurance costs for nine million Americans who don`t get a subsidy, wasn`t included in the Omni. And it`s very difficult for me to get that message out because we`re talking about Stormy Daniels or it was McCabe. Before that it was Rex Tillerson and where he heard the news that he was fired. And just one thing after another. It is deeply frustrating. I certainly say that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Hard to argue with that.

Anyway, if Republicans were hoping for a break in the Trump news cycle, it`s not happening. Stormy Daniels is now speaking out. And her lawyer says there is more evidence to come. We will talk about that in a minute.

You are watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Twenty-two million people tuned in last night to watch Stormy Daniels break her silence on "60 Minutes" about an alleged sexual relationship with Donald Trump, 22 million. It was the highest rated broadcast for that show in almost a decade.

In one of the most striking claims, Daniels said she was threatened physically, actually, back in 2011 not to go public with her story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STORMY DANIELS, ADULT FILM ACTRESS: I was in a parking lot, going to a fitness class with my infant daughter, taking, you know, the seats facing backwards in the backseat, diaper bag, you know, getting all the stuff out.

And a guy walked up on me and said to me, "Leave Trump alone. Forget the story."

And then he leaned around and looked at my daughter and said, "That`s a beautiful little girl. It`d be a shame if something happened to her mom." And then he was gone.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: You took it as a direct threat?

DANIELS: Absolutely.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: The threat and the concern for her safety, she said, were part of the reason she signed to nondisclosure agreement.

Trump`s personal lawyer Michael Cohen has denied any involvement in the alleged threat. Daniels` attorney has also said that Cohen did not make that 2011 threat.

Publicly, the president has remained surprisingly silent -- well, surprisingly maybe, but definitely silent when it comes to Stormy Daniels.

The White House has denied allegations of the affair as well as having to do with any threat, of course. Here they are.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Well, the president doesn`t believe that any of the claims that Ms. Daniels made last night in the interview are accurate. Well, he just doesn`t believe that -- there is nothing to corroborate her claim.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, privately, according to "The Wall Street Journal," the president has discussed with advisers whether he should publicly fight the allegations on Twitter or elsewhere.

His advisers have told him there is no sign of allegations that are hurting him with voters and have warned him that it would look inappropriate for the president to engage in a public spat with, among others, a former porn star.

Well, late today, Stormy Daniels herself ramped up her legal battle against the president and his personal attorney. Daniels amended her existing lawsuit against Donald Trump, adding Cohen as a defendant in the case. Here is her lawyer late this afternoon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: We have added an allegation or a claim of defamation against Mr. Cohen for his previous denials of the affair, basically calling my client a liar.

So we`re going to put those claims to the test. And we`re going to prove that in fact my client is telling the truth and it is Mr. Cohen who has misled the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: For more, I`m joined by MSNBC legal analyst Katie Phang and Sam Stein, politics editor for The Daily Beast and an MSNBC News contributor.

I want you each in turn to give me a power statement on what happened last night. Twenty-some million people watched "60 Minutes." What difference will that many moments with Anderson Cooper mean to this case?

Katie?

KATIE PHANG, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: So, the credibility of Stormy Daniels has always been an issue.

And her "60 Minutes" interview with Anderson Cooper, by all accounts, was well-received. Whether you believe every single factual detail she set forth last night in its limited fashion, you have to admit that she came across credible. She said, Chris, that she only had sexual relations with him one time. She could have made it up. She could have said it was long- term relation.

But she was honest in terms of what she thought was going get out of that - - quote -- "relationship." And so I think that her credibility came across, and that`s going to be a huge plus for her when she goes to court and definitely in the court of public opinion.

MATTHEWS: Sam, your thoughts about just the impact of powerful television? An enormous number of people watched that and had a reaction.

SAM STEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I actually -- I don`t want the downplay it too much, but I do think, to a certain degree, people`s perception of Donald Trump on this issue are largely baked in.

People know that he has a fairly poor, if not atrocious history maritally and with women. People don`t expect him to be a beacon of moral fortitude.

I think that the story itself, the details in last night`s broadcast weren`t revelatory, in the sense that we had heard them before.

Now, the sheer size of the audience was much greater than might have read an old interview with Stormy Daniels, but I don`t think it`s going to actually turn votes. I think what it does presage, though, which I think is important, is, do we get to a place where the actual physical evidence that the legal team for Stormy Daniels says it has, do we get to place where that becomes public?

And if we do get to that place, then it gets away from this sort of he said/she said story, although I do think there is a fairly substantial amount of evidence now to corroborate her claims, into something that is a little bit more problematic for Trump, because it`s not just his treatment of women, his lying about women. It`s a direct lie and a cover-up story.

MATTHEWS: I thought -- Katie, let me ask your reaction to this. I thought two things really added credibility to her, then I have one problem with what she said.

I thought she had a lot of credibility when she said, I`m no victim. This was consensual. She said it twice to Anderson. She made a point of saying, I`m not a victim here, not of the relationship, the sexual part. Hey, I`m another adult. Fair enough.

Then she was -- which I thought was good. She wasn`t looking to be a victim or anything in that sense, in that instance.

She also said that when she got into this cabin or whatever it is, place behind that...

(CROSSTALK)

STEIN: The bungalow.

MATTHEWS: The bungalow, if you will, she said she basically felt that she had to be intimate with him just because she walked in there, which didn`t make her sound too strong, but it was very honest, I thought, people being in situations. I can understand that.

PHANG: Yes.

MATTHEWS: I thought it was very honest.

Where I wonder about is the case being brought by her attorney. If the physical threat in 2011 was made at the car in a very -- to me, very authentic way she described it, with the baby seat backwards and carrying all the baby stuff. And I felt it happened.

Why didn`t she then go out and try to sell the story twice before 2016? In other words, if she was physically threatened, why didn`t she go ahead and try to sell it twice before she signed that agreement? I`m just wondering how that will look in front of a jury.

PHANG: Well, yes, so that`s big problem, because a lot of people like to quickly say, well, why didn`t you call the police? Why didn`t you report this to the authorities? And she said she was too scared to do.

But, remember, Chris, timing is everything.

MATTHEWS: But then she went out and sold the story twice. She tried to sell the story twice after that.

That`s what brings in the question, was this a physical description, a was it a B.S. threat? Well, she obviously described it in a very frightening way. I think a jury might buy that it was a threat. But then they would question, why did you go ahead, not call the police, but try to sell the story twice more? That`s all.

PHANG: Well, remember, the timing of it is, Chris, that she was threatened after it became news and in the public to somebody like Michael Cohen that she was interested in having the story told.

And so, back in 2011, Trump was flirting with the idea of running for president of the United States in 2012.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

PHANG: And that was a danger to him.

So now we fast-forward a number of years to 2016. He`s now a serious, viable candidate. And then, once again, she`s out there with the story. And so that`s when you end up getting this NDA signed.

But, remember, she also was attacked with her credibility last night in terms of the fact that she signed denial statements before she filed the lawsuit with Michael Avenatti. But, Chris, here is the thing. Sometimes, we get bad legal advice.

Keith Davidson, who represented her through this entire transaction, was also the lawyer for Karen McDougal. Karen McDougal says that Keith Davidson was in cahoots with Michael Cohen.

And so, listen, that`s a serious common denominator. That is a flaw for the Trump defense. If Michael Cohen was in cahoots with the lawyers for both Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, there is a huge smoking gun issue right there.

MATTHEWS: Indeed, that he was in cahoots, yes.

Anyway, in more troubling news for President Trump`s legal team, Sam Stein is reporting -- there he is -- in The Daily Beast today that two more high- powered attorneys have had to turn down President Trump. Tom Buchanan and Dan Webb confirmed to The Daily Beast, to you, that Trump reached out to them about representing.

What is that about? How come he is too hot to handle? Sam?

STEIN: Well, the official line is that there`s conflicts of interest. And I`m sure there are, because everyone seems to be entangled in some sort of legal trouble relating to this White House.

But the unofficial line, if you talk to any lawyers in this town, is that no one wants to see their reputation sullied by their association with this administration.

Keep in mind, early on in the administration, there were some high-profile attorneys that did take on Trump, Trump family members, Trump assistants as clients. And then, during the course of this Russia investigation, revelations were made about disclosures that made those lawyers essentially look professionally bad.

And so in these white-collar legal circles here in Washington, D.C., there are a lot of people who just simply don`t want to be associated with what is a legal mess right behind me.

MATTHEWS: Katie, why didn`t he just throw in the towel and say to Stormy Daniels, just say, Ms. Daniels, I think we made a bad deal, I agree with you, give me back the 130, and I will release you from any commitment to not talk about this, go ahead and keep talking, I want my money back, and just say, I still say it didn`t happen, it still didn`t happen, but I`m not going to fight this anymore and keep letting you get political and P.R. traction out of their?

PHANG: So, inexplicably, he just keeps doubling down, tripling down, quadrupling down for no reason whatsoever.

The base that we have always talked about, Chris, they don`t care. People tell me, why do we care about this?

MATTHEWS: I agree.

PHANG: We knew we weren`t electing a saint.

MATTHEWS: His supporters.

PHANG: But here is the thing, though.

Yes, his supporters do. But here`s the thing. If it involves campaign violations, which has now been alleged in the amended complaint with more detail by Avenatti on behalf of Stormy Daniels, if it involves threats of physical harm, the busting of kneecaps -- there is just recently in the media we`re hearing that back in 2009 a lawyer who was adverse to Trump got a phone call from a guy named Carmine, who said he knows where the guy lives and he knows that the guy has wife and kids.

And if he keeps bleeping with Trump, they`re going to come find him.

When you hear stuff like that, listen, that`s a serious threat to your base. If you are wanting to have the perfect or the best kind of optic as a politician, who is going to want to have that? And even more importantly, from a legal standpoint, you lose credibility before a judge, a jury or an arbitrator if you`re running around threatening people to make them sign agreements.

MATTHEWS: Sam, last thought, because this is amazing conversation. I think Trump has made a concordat with the right, cultural right.

He said he is against abortion rights. And then he said, I would talk about punishing women, in other words, to show how feverish he is on this issue, to sort of give him his credibility.

STEIN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And then he got on that bus and with Billy Bush talked about his attitude towards women, which was awful.

And it seems like they said, OK, one-on-one, in a micro-sense, you could be the bad guy. But in the macro sense, you`re on your side -- on our side of the abortion issue. So we will take you.

It seems like that`s the concordat, that`s the deal. And all this talk we do about Stormy Daniels doesn`t change that deal, political deal.

Your thoughts, Sam.

STEIN: No, you`re 100 percent correct.

The only heresy that he could commit, the only heresy would be if he were to appoint a pro-choice judge. And that would be the line to cross. And, you know, in some ways, I`m refreshed by how transactional it is, because it does pull back the curtain a little bit on all the moral righteousness of the past decade or so.

It really was just a -- it was really just a political play. And you can imagine. You do this all the time. But, really, just take a second and imagine if President Obama had been credibly accused by a porn star of having an affair right after the birth of his child, what the people on the religious right would be saying about that.

Today, we didn`t get a single press release from any of these groups based off the Stormy Daniels interview. So, that tells you everything.

MATTHEWS: They would be coming with their religious ambulances to come collect him.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Unbelievable. It is so telling. Let`s just put it. I hope everybody pays attention to what`s going on here left and right, the differences they show when it comes to the other side.

Thank you, Katie Phang. You have been great. Thank you, Sam, always.

PHANG: Thank you.

STEIN: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Up next: The United States announced that it will expel 60 Russian diplomats -- they`re spies really -- in response to that nerve agent attack on British soil, a chemical agent. Is President Trump finally starting to get tough when it comes to the Russkies?

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL.

The Trump administration today called for the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats, probably spies, identified by officials as intelligence officers. The U.S. also will close Russia`s consulate out in Seattle. Didn`t know they had one.

Anyway, the actions are in response to the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy living in Britain and his daughter. British and U.S. officials have blamed the attack on the Kremlin, though Russia, of course, has denied it.

The unusually harsh move by the White House now earned praise from even some Democrats. For example, Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democrat in the Senate Intelligence Committee, tweeted: "The administration has done the right thing in supporting our British allies."

For more, I`m joined by "Washington Post" columnist and expert on all spying, all spooking, David Ignatius.

Why do they use phrases like the White House ordered this, rather than just say, President Trump said this? Is he trying to separate himself, plausible deniability, and keep his relationship copacetic with Trump -- with Putin?

DAVID IGNATIUS, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": The simple answer is, I don`t know.

But if he is trying to preserve space so that he can communicate with Vladimir Putin down the road, I`m not so sure that`s a bad idea.

MATTHEWS: Well, why do you think he moved now, after all these months of provocations by the Russians, including what they did in 2016?

IGNATIUS: I think, Chris, the answer is simple. The British appealed passionately to the United States. They appealed to every part of the American government, you need to stand with us. We feel that we`re under attack.

And I think that was what tipped the balance here. The British were successful in getting the U.S. finally to move decisively and to get 16 European nations to move with them. Just go down the list. France, Germany, Sweden, all of Europe, Poland is standing with Britain, as is the United States. And I think it`s finally a real message.

MATTHEWS: You know more about -- I have been to parties in your honor where I have seen the number of spies there. So I know how many you know. And I`m serious. They`re all there.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: What about -- I saw "Bridge of Spies," a fantastic Spielberg movie. And what I noticed about it was the certain honor there is in prisoner exchanges.

Once you decide to exchange prisoners, as this case was preceded by, you let the other person live over there, the other country. It wouldn`t make any sense to let somebody go home and then knock off at home.

In this case, they traded somebody, a Russian spy who was allowed to go to Britain and freedom and a life, and then they go and kill him. Does that break the rules?

IGNATIUS: So, this is a violation of what are usually thought to be the rules of tradecraft, as you say, of exchanges. These exchanges have happened many times over the years.

One reaction I had after this attempt to kill Skripal, the former agent, was, Anna Chapman, who was of people in the U.S., one of the Russian illegals who were traded back, should watch her back. That`s assuming...

MATTHEWS: OK, where are we going right now? Is Trump going to get tougher with Russia now that he has broken the -- whatever bond he had with Vladimir?

IGNATIUS: Well, he did get tougher today. This was a significant action. I think he had to be talked into it, but he did it.

MATTHEWS: Who is that?

IGNATIUS: Who talked him into that?

MATTHEWS: Mad Dog Mattis, defense secretary? Was it Bolton?

IGNATIUS: So, I think Mattis was behind it. I think Pompeo agreed with it.

Certainly, the incoming national security adviser, John Bolton, would have thought this was a good idea. But, again, I think the key here, as it was explained to me today, the key was what Britain said. This is still our closest ally. And Britain said, you must do this.

And, in the end, the administration did it.

MATTHEWS: Is Bolton a good leaker?

(LAUGHTER)

IGNATIUS: Well, he...

MATTHEWS: You guys are all nice about it. Ever since Bolton has been announced, I don`t know what the press necessarily -- I have never seen this, oh, well, I talked to him for -- is he a leaker?

IGNATIUS: He has never leaked a word to me. I have no idea if he is a good leaker.

But there has been a lot of negative stuff said about Bolton. But he is new on the job. The idea that Trump has a new team after a team that in many ways was dysfunctional, in Tillerson and McMaster, fine people, but they were not an effective team. So...

MATTHEWS: Well, I guess Tillerson is going to be president -- chancellor of the University of Texas. That`s not a bad thing to do.

IGNATIUS: Not a bad thing to do, especially for a Texan.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you so much. Thank you, David.

A graduate of that school, the Longhorns.

Anyway, up next: After leading hundreds of thousands of protests this weekend, the Parkland shooting survivors -- look at that -- I love that picture in Washington -- that`s Pennsylvania Avenue -- of all those young people.

They`re now being demonized, these young people. The NRA and their allies on the far right are running a smear campaign against these teenagers.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Hundreds of thousands of students protested here in Washington, maybe 800,000 at marches across the country, elsewhere, on Saturday, calling for action on gun safety, all those kids. And one of the most powerful moments is when Parkland survivor Emma Gonzalez stood in silence marking the length of time it took for the shooter down there at that high school to carry out his rampage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EMMA GONZALEZ, PARKLAND SURVIVOR: Since the time that I came out here, it has been six minutes and 20 seconds. The shooter has ceased shooting and will soon abandon his rifle, blend in with the students as they escape and walk free for an hour before arrest.

Fight for your lives before it`s someone else`s job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow.

Well, since then, Gonzalez has become the focus of a smear campaign by some on the right. In one instance, an online photo, there it is, has Gonzalez in a doctored picture there that shows her ripping apart a gun range target. That`s the original picture.

In the doctored version shows Gonzalez ripping apart a copy of the U.S. Constitution. Isn`t that cute?

Anyway, the NRA remained conspicuously silent during Saturday`s march. However, it released a video in advance called "A March for Their Lies".

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NRA TV HOST: To all the kids from Parkland getting ready to use your first amendment at everyone else`s second amendment at your march on Saturday, I wish a hero like Blaine had been at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month because your classmates would still be alive and no one would know your names, because the media would have completely and utterly ignored your story you.

Want to save innocent lives? Take the millions of dollars going to this carnival of a march and hire armed guards in schools all over this country. But then these kids would have to shrink from the spotlight and go back to their homework."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, speak of acting, I can tell that guy there, that gentleman there is reading off to his left. He is reading the words. Nothing wrong with that. I`m doing it right now. But don`t tell me this is spontaneous.

Anyway, perhaps most outrageous of all were comments made by former Senator Rick Santorum who gave his suggestion on how the students could have better spent their time.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: It`s all about politics. Is this really all about politics? Or is it all about keeping our schools safe? Because if it is about keeping our schools safe, then we have to have a much broader discussion than the discussion that`s going on right now. How about kids instead of looking to someone else to solve their problem do something about maybe taking CPR classes or trying to deal with --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was former Republican Senator Rick Santorum suggesting student activists would be served by learning CPR than by protecting or protesting gun violence. You actually could do both.

It`s part of the right wing smear campaign against the student organizers of Saturday`s March for Our Lives.

Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable tonight. Adrienne Elrod is a former director of strategic communication for Hillary Clinton`s presidential campaign. Sophia Nelson is a former House Republican Committee counsel. And Eugene Robinson is a columnist, of course, for "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC contributor.

I say "of course" because everybody who watched this show damn well knows it.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: So, I just wonder why -- I said this about Trump. Let it go. Everybody believes stormy. Let it go. Say it didn`t happen, let her $100,000 back and the deal.

You first. I don`t understand why in this case you smear the kids who everybody likes.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. There is no way they should do this from any sort of public relations standpoint or indeed human standpoint, right? The standpoint of being a human being. They should not --

MATTHEWS: The girl was so emotionally caught up in this thing.

ROBINSON: You know, the kids have struck a nerve at the NRA, and they`re sort of stricken with a fear that you don`t see very often. It looks like fear. It`s like reaction to fear, like they`re going get somewhere.

MATTHEWS: Adrienne, I didn`t have any problem with the Cuban emblem here, as long as it wasn`t Castro. And it was. It was the old-time Cuban flag.

ADRIENNE ELROD, FORMER CLINTON CAMPAIGN DIRECTOR OF STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: Right.

MATTHEWS: Of course that`s their country of origin of parents, whatever heritage. What is wrong with that?

ELROD: There is nothing wrong with that. Look, here`s the bottom line. The train has left the station, and a lot of these guys like Rick Santorum and frankly the NRA as an organization are living in the Stone Ages.

MATTHEWS: Why do you think he thought of CPR?

ELROD: I don`t know. I don`t know. But I think he was somehow trying to play back to a base that is slowly dying off. People want background checks. Ninety percent of Americans want background checks and 80 percent of Americans want stronger gun laws.

MATTHEWS: I thought he was thinking of running again in Pennsylvania, because that`s the only place I know where they really tough on this kind of stuff.

SOPHIA NELSON, FORMER HOUSE GOP COMMITTEE COUNSEL: You know, Chris, as the Republican sitting up here, life-long --

MATTHEWS: Be Republican.

NELSON: Yes. Well, I want to be Republican in this one way. First of all, Rick Santorum used to be a rising star as you know.

MATTHEWS: I think he is great in terms of his ability -- oratory was great. Not great politically. But his oratory was great.

NELSON: Yes. When he lost his Senate race, he has been rambling around, trying to find his way. That clip of him shows the current state of the Republican Party. I`ve been saying this for 20 years that this day would come where there was this complete disconnect where the country was one place and the old men of the GOP, that`s why --

MATTHEWS: He`s not that old.

NELSON: Well, he is, though. He is out of touch with these young people who have stood up and put this democracy to the test.

MATTHEWS: I think he has never gotten over his debate with Bob Casey when Bob Casey reduced the size of that ring so much that he couldn`t show off his speaking ability, right? He wanted to give an oration and Bobby cut him down to 30 seconds every time, wouldn`t let him talk.

NELSON: The GOP cannot continue down this path.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk politics. You`re a senator for Pennsylvania. You`re Pat Toomey. You`re Bobby Casey. As you say, old guy.

How do you deal with this? Do you go back home and say, OK, we`ll do background checks. We don`t do gun shows. We`re working around the ages.

When are they going to get serious about the fact that too many semiautomatic rifles out there?

NELSON: All the polling shows across the board, all of it, that the vast majority of Americans want some form of gun control, background checks, age limiters, gun stock. It`s there.

MATTHEWS: OK. One thing I liked besides everything else I liked, the inner city thing. They married.

ROBINSON: Yes, right.

MATTHEWS: Gene?

ROBINSON: That was smart because that`s life today, right? I mean, in school shootings in white suburbs, it`s not the only kind of gun violence we have.

MATTHEWS: Five thousand dead kids in their teenage years in Chicago since 2006.

ROBINSON: Exactly. What all those shootings have in common is that they are shootings with guns. And guns are finding their way into the hands of -- often kids. And so, what`s that about?

MATTHEWS: Sixteen thousand go to the emergency rooms in Chicago since 12 years ago. The numbers are -- that kid who brought those numbers. I will never forget those numbers.

NELSON: But why aren`t we talking about that?

MATTHEWS: I just did.

NELSON: You did.

MATTHEWS: OK. Give me a break.

NELSON: Did I do bad, Chris?

MATTHEWS: Up next, they`re going to tell me something I don`t know. Somebody just did. Sophia, thank you.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with the roundtable.

Andrea, tell me something I don`t know.

ELROD: There were marches that took place in 387 congressional districts, 33 of those were red to blue districts. That`s why this is going to be impactful, because they`re going right to where the tough races are going to be.

MATTHEWS: I like it.

Sophia?

NELSON: According to credible news reports, Stormy has a dress. I`ll just let that hang out there. She has a dress. A Monica Lewinsky dress.

MATTHEWS: OK, go ahead.

ROBINSON: I can`t top that.

But yesterday, on Sunday, Mark Zuckerberg takes out full-page ads in major newspapers.

MATTHEWS: Isn`t it nice?

ROBINSON: And apologized for the Cambridge Analytica data breach. Today, we learned that some phone Android users who downloaded Facebook light or phone messenger have had their phone calls tracked. The metadata from their phone call logged by Facebook, because of some little thing they agreed to that they --

MATTHEWS: It`s big brother.

ROBINSON: Zuckerberg has got a long way to go.

MATTHEWS: Adrienne Elrod, thank you. Sophia Nelson, it`s great to have you on. And, Eugene, as always.

When we return, let me finish tonight with what I saw on Saturday not too far from here. You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with what I saw on Saturday actually, not too far from here. I was on the air covering the March for Our Lives.

And thanks to the way MSNBC covered the march, I was able to hear all the speeches. And what grabbed me and held fairly consistently throughout the day was its purity. Look at it. The young people who spoke talked about one topic, safety in schools, safety from guns. It`s what powered the day both in real-time and perhaps down the road.

There wasn`t a lot of piggy backers out there, people with political causes who tried leaping on the backs of the March for Our Lives. I didn`t pass by any card tables of people pushing literature from old line or new line facts who`s just looking for an audience. I didn`t hear any speakers up there on the stage using their moment in the sun to push something outside the cause itself.

Again, I give credit to the purity of the organization, the speakers and the attendees, all of them for the purity of the day itself.

I remember a day somewhat like this for more than half a century ago. It was the historic march on the Pentagon of October 1967. What the two events shared was an optimism, and back then, it was the hope that the big demonstration against the war in Vietnam two years after U.S. combat troops were sent into the fighting would have an effect.

It didn`t. Not really. Within months, the military high command would be asking for 200,000 more troops on top of the 500,000 already in Vietnam. It would be six more years until the U.S. announced its departure from the war. Each one of those years adding to the bitterness of those opposed to Johnson`s and later Nixon`s policies.

But I will always recall the optimism of that early protest against Vietnam. It was in my mind on Saturday as I saw the same optimism in the faces of those hoping to end this country`s fidelity to gun power.

Let`s hope the young people of Saturday are not moved to bitterness by the same putting off of action on gun safety. Let`s hope that gun safety movement does not have to descend to the bitterness of the latter anti- Vietnam war campaign.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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