Trump blames dems for "blowing" DACA deal. TRANSCRIPT: 04/02/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Christina Bellantoni, Dana Milbank

Show: HARDBALL Date: April 2, 2018 Guest: Christina Bellantoni, Dana Milbank

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

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in San Francisco.

Tonight, there is talk of a summit between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump at the White House. A Kremlin aide today told Russian media that President Trump made the invitation to President Putin during their phone conversation in March. It was in that same call that Trump congratulated the Russian strongman for his reelection victory, even though Trump`s staff specifically advised him not to do so.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: On his statement this morning, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to downplay this revelation, saying that a White House meeting was always on the table.

Quote "as the President himself confirmed on March 20th, the two had discussed a bilateral meeting in the not too distant future in a number of potential venues, including the White House."

Well, when asked about last month, however, Sanders specifically declined to say the meeting would be held at the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah, let me start I by asking you what the President said about potentially meeting with Vladimir Putin, quote, "soon." Would that include either a visit of Putin to the White House or the President going to Russia?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There are no specific plans made at this time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s obvious why Putin wants a White House meeting. It puts him on equal status with the United States, a clear goal of his. He has used other means, of course, to achieve equality, mainly messing with our elections.

Question for the history book, how can we have any relationship with Russia that doesn`t recognize some key fax?

Fact, 17 U.S. intelligence agencies say Russia tried to screw with our elections. Fact, Trump is being investigated for helping them. Fact, if Trump is found he will be impeached and face possible removal from office. And yet even though Trump`s presidency may hinge on the outcome of the Mueller investigation, he continues with open arms towards the guy he is accused of conspiring with.

Why? For a grand strategy or because Putin has something on him? Well, that question hangs out there, we`re left with the reality that beyond Trump and Putin, the relationship between our two countries has grown more contentious. President Trump kicked out 60 alleged Russian spies from the U.S. after that chemical attack against a former Russian spy over in England. The Kremlin retaliated by expelling American diplomats from Russia.

But as Lindsey Graham said yesterday, the current policy towards Russia is not deterring it from its bad behavior.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think the problem is that Russia`s running wild. Whatever we are doing is not working. And the President for some reason has a hard time pushing back against Putin directly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by Shannon Pettypiece, White House reporter with Bloomberg, Julia Ioffe is a staff writer at the "Atlantic," Nayyera Haq is a former senior advisor at the state department and David Ignatius is opinion writer at "the Washington Post" and an MSNBC political analyst.

Let me go to Shannon. What is Trump up to with this meeting with Russia, having a grand summit meeting here at the White House amidst all of this controversy against all this intrigue and the open question about impeachment? Did he conspire with the Russians or not? Because if he did, he is gone or potentially gone, certainly, from the White House.

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG: Well, the President and a few of his allies in the White House have certainly been in this camp where they believe they can improve relationships with Russia, that they can get Russia to work with them on Syria, on China, on other issues in the Middle East. But, I mean, as Rex Tillerson said in his final hours as secretary of state, he had been trying over a year to improve that relationship and it just wasn`t happening.

Putin does not want to be our friend. He does not want the help us. He gets nothing out of being our ally. But President Trump continues down this path. And there is a divide within the White House right now.

H.R. McMaster and Tillerson were on the side pushing for stronger actions against Russia. Mike Pompeo, our reporting indicate, the new incoming secretary of state is in line the President on continuing to take this approach of trying to improve relations there. So it does seem like the momentum is going to be shifting toward continuing this effort of a more friendly posture towards Russia, despite the actions taken just a week ago with this expulsion.

MATTHEWS: Julia, what about the optics of this thing. The President is under investigation, so far the biggest story of his presidency is he is investigated for conspiring potentially with the Russians to get elected. In the first place, why does he want this big grand meeting with this guy he is accused of conspiring with?

JULIA IOFFE, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: I think he likes big grand meetings. He likes dictators. And he likes guys who he thinks called him brilliant. And what is still unanswered is whether or not Vladimir Putin has anything on him. The question is, though, you know, what will the Russians tell us tomorrow?

You know, we found out about this proposal to meet from the Russians. We found out that it was an invitation to the White House from the Russians. I have a sinking feeling that tomorrow we are going to hear from yet another Putin adviser saying, you know, by the way, did Trump not tell you that he invited us to dial in to the Presidential daily briefing? That`s so awkward. I thought he told you, you know.

They keep saying -- they keep springing this information on us to put Trump in an increasingly awkward position and to gain leverage over him. Putin is increasingly painted into a corner, as is Trump. And these are two men that don`t like being painted into corners and are very volatile and emotional and reactive. And that creates for a pretty dangerous situation, I must say.

MATTHEWS: Well, Nayyera, that`s the question that I think everybody thinking is got something with open mind is how much did Russian influence our elections? We know quite a bit. But how much the other side did Trump help them do that? How much did they conspire with them, directly, indirectly? How did it actually affect the election? Those questions sorts of questions are hovering over the relationship between us and Putin. And now the President acts as if that is not going on, or does he know it is going on, and that is a distraction for the investigation. What do you think?

NAYYERA HAQ, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SENIOR ADVISER: Well, I think Donald Trump is doing his best to insult everybody else in the United States, the media, the intelligence community, the national security establishment. And furiously peddling to not say anything negative about Putin. And that seems very telling that he is willing to insult anybody but Vladimir Putin.

Now we do know that Donald Trump in the `80s had several bankruptcy, several U.S. banks were not willing to give him any money to fund his shady real estate ventures, and he built relationships with Russian oligarchs who are close to Vladimir Putin. So there is a connection there of some sort that hopefully will come to light. And unfortunately we don`t have any financial disclosure forms on Donald Trump or on his closest associates and his family and friends.

MATTHEWS: And you are saying that is the motive -- open question. I don`t know the answer.

HAQ: We don`t know the answer to that.

MATTHEWS: Continues to try to keep a good relationship with Putin. Why does he want to do this?

MATTHEWS: We can only speculate on what the hold Putin has over Donald Trump that is speculation at this point. We do know that personality wise, Donald Trump loves the Putin playbook. He likes to play dominance games. He loves the idea of being a lead they`re was overwhelmingly elected, has been able to stifle his critics. I think there is some personal admiration.

The challenge with the personalities we are dealing with right now is that Donald Trump tends to listen to the last person who was in the room with him, and that`s the person who has the most influence on him. It is dangerous to put the President of the United States with this personality one-on-one in a room with a former KGB leader. This is more likely to be a KGB interview of a potential asset than it is to be any diplomatic meeting.

MATTHEWS: Wow. It`s tough. Despite Russia`s aggressive behavior toward the west, a new Russian ambassador to the United States said on Friday, two days ago, three days ago that the atmosphere in Washington towards Russia is toxic, and that both sides are to blame for the deteriorating relationship.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why do you think the relationship between our two countries has deteriorated to this point? And what part of it, what responsibility is Russia willing to take for that?

ANATOLY ANTONOV, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: First, you see that I don`t understand why Russia should take any responsibility, because you see that when we dance, it means that we both party are responsible. It seems to me that atmosphere in Washington is poison. Is poisoned. It`s a toxic atmosphere.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: David, everybody here is not ignorant of what happened in 2016. I think the Russians know everything they did in terms of interfering with our elections. I think Trump knows a bit more. I think Trump knows what he did and he knows where he may be in trouble for having done so. But here they are talking grandly about a big meeting. And I go back to my big question. Do they have him on the hook? Or is he still doing this because he is sporting for a big grand strategy victory with the Russians? What is the motive behind Trump right now?

DAVID IGNATIUS, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, as to the first, I think we need to distinguish between the issues that Mueller, special counsel Mueller is investigating involving collusion, as you put it, whether the Russians have Trump on the hook. And the immediate question of U.S.-Russian contacts.

The relationship between the two countries is toxic. The Russian ambassador wasn`t wrong in that. I can`t remember a period in which relations were as bad as this. Should the United States and Russia consider having talks about arms control at a time when each side is considering new weapons systems? You can sure make an argument that we should have such talks.

Should there be talks about Syria at a senior level? They are already taking place. Our chairman of the joint chiefs just talked with his Russian counterpart, secretary Mattis just talked to reporters about how he thinks this is a good idea. Deconfliction talks with Russia take place every day.

The issue to me isn`t so much whether there should be a meeting. It`s whether there is a strategy at the top for dealing with Russia. Our Russia policy, as with most of our foreign policy looks to me and to many people who are observers as -- like a mess. It is not coordinated. There isn`t clear strategy. If President Trump has an idea of what he wants to accomplish in a meeting with Vladimir Putin, that`s what he should tell the country. Putin wants to come in from the cold, he is sick of being isolated. But what I find worrisome is just sort of talk of a meeting as if it`s an embrace, not as if it`s a serious conversation about issues and holding Russia accountable.

MATTHEWS: Well, to the point, that point, the last time the President had Russians in the oval office in May of 2017, he revealed highly classified information that came from Israeli intelligence sources. And after that meeting, quote, "senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the national security agency."

At the time two Israeli intelligence officers also told Buzz Feed that to know that this intelligence is shared with others without our prior knowledge, that is for us our worst fears confirmed.

Go back to Nayyera about how this President behaves in closed circumstances with the head of the Kremlin, with Vladimir Putin. Can he be trusted?

HAQ: Well, he certainly can`t be trusted to even listen to a briefing by senior advisers that he has selected, right. This all stems from the same phone call in which he was told do not congratulate Vladimir Putin on his election because of the signal that would send to the rest of the world about how the U.S. is no longer the banner and beacon of free, fair elections, which is something that we have until now defend everywhere else. So he was not able to listen to his advisers at that point. And certainly now we are finding out from Russian sources that he went even beyond a congratulations that extended invitation to the White House which is supposed to be a privilege given to allies, right.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HAQ: It`s supposed to be a mark of companionship and solidarity in some way. Certainly not the opening gambit to bring the person who is your key adversary against democracy to bring them into your home.

MATTHEWS: Shannon, that`s the big bopper of the question. It`s a huge question historically, because I knew from studying the end of the cold war that Eric Haniger, the last dictator, of course, of East Germany wanted more than anything in the world to turn out to come be invited to the White House. He never was. Now we get Putin getting an invitation to the White House with all the spread and the military out front, everybody in their uniforms, the band playing and the flags flying. For what? Because he tried to undermine our democracy? How do we square those two? The welcome mat and the knowledge by 17 of our agencies, all of our intelligence agencies that they were out to do harm to news our most precious asset, our democracy?

PETTYPIECE: Well, that`s the thing I have heard from foreign policy officials who worked with this President is that he doesn`t seem to understand even the power of the presidency and the symbolism of the White House and the presidency. The symbolism of when the President of the United States is congratulating a violator of human rights or a dictator. The symbolism of when someone comes to the White House. The symbolism of meeting with North Korea.

And maybe you can say, yes, those are symbols. You know, throw them out if it helps us improve relations with another country. Trump feels he like, sure, he will meet with anybody. That`s how he gets things done is meeting face-to-face. But he does not understand the step-back that the world is watching the United States. And these actions he is taking have a message well beyond just a singular meeting happening.

MATTHEWS: The same question to Joy, quickly. I mean, this guy would like to ride here shirtless on a horse. He would like to put on a big show at the White House. But why in the world do we want to reward him for what we know to be his misbehavior toward us?

Julia, last question.

IOFFE: So from the Russian point of view there is nothing more important than the symbolism, especially given what they have done in the last four years. The illegal annexation of Crimea, the invasion of Ukraine, all the human rights violations in Syria, meddling in our election, poisoning, somebody using a crazy nerve agent on UK soil.

What Russia is trying to show is we are peers with you. You are not in a position to punish us. We`re not a child. We are a peer. And in that context, inviting them to the White House is saying you know what? You are right. We can`t punish you. We are not in a position to punish you. We are both peers. We are equal. Is that the message we want the send? I think it is -- we need to think about that.

MATTHEWS: I understand Putin more than I do Mr. Trump sometimes. That makes perfect sense to me. And I hate it. I think we all do.

Anyway, thank you, Shannon Pettypiece. Thank you, Julia Ioffe, Nayyera Haq and David Ignatius.

Coming up, Trump unleashed. The President declares this DACA deal now dead. Do you believe it? After spending the holiday weekend, the Easter holiday weekend railing against Democrats and Mexico. Even members of Trump`s own party are knocking his Easter message. But it could come as a taste of things to come. Trump`s reportedly defiant now and looking to act on his impulses as if he hasn`t already.

Plus, the golden state warriors tonight. Once again the state of California is taking on the Trump administration. This weekend governor Jerry Brown pardoned five immigrants face deportation. President Trump didn`t like it. And as seen on TV, Trump spent the past few days parroting what he has seen on FOX News. It comes amid reports that a FOX business anchor has been participating in oval office meetings via speakerphone. How intimate.

Finally, let me finish with this monster`s ball being talked about between Vladimir and Donald.

This is HARDBALL where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: It was another grim day on Wall Street today with analysts blaming the sell-off on trade tensions and a flurry of bad news about tech companies. Well, the Dow closed down 450 point, down almost two percent. It comes amid word that China is going to impose tariffs on 128 American- made products in response to Trump`s decision to place tariffs, of course, on Chinese goods. Well, tech stocks were also down, with the Nasdaq down in the red for the year.

Amazon stock price was down more than five percent. Amazon down five following a series of twitter attacks from the President this weekend. Is he hurting their stock? It lost more than $35 billion in market value today. That`s a rich company to start with.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

While at Mar-a-Lago for the Holy Weekend, President Trump mingled with close aides and confidantes. According to CNN, many of those allies told him that his base is unhappy with his recent moves on immigration or actually failure to start building the wall. Those voices included immigration hard-liners like FOX News` Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro, as well as senior policy adviser Stephen Miller.

Often completing that quartet of love, if you will, has been Lou Dobbs on speakerphone lately.

Anyway, according to "Washington Post," that fits a pattern. "The president is replacing aides who have tended toward caution and consensus with figures far more likely to encourage his rash instincts and act upon them. And he is frequently soliciting advice from loyalists outside of the government."

Well, much of the weekend talks over Easter weekend with loyalists quickly translated into a tirade of hard-line immigration tweets from the president declaring the deal to legalize the status of undocumented immigrants or dreamers as dead.

So, DACA is dead Trump said. The president`s addressed those tweets yesterday and again today. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mexico has got to help us at the border. And a lot of people are coming in because they want to take advantage of DACA. And we`re going to have to really see.

They had a great chance. The Democrats blew it. They had a great, great chance. But we will have to take a look. But Mexico has got to help us at the border. They flow right through Mexico. They send them to the United States. Can`t happen that way anymore.

The Democrats have really let them down. They have really let them down. They had this great opportunity. The Democrats have really let them down. It`s a shame. And now people are taking advantage of DACA and that`s a shame. It should have never happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the tweets from Trump come a little less than a week after President Trump signed a spending bill that failed to fund his border wall with Mexico, hardly at all.

And he was swiftly slammed by conservatives for that failure who saw this sign as an embarrassment and disgrace. Ann Coulter, for example, an early pusher, booster for the president, had this warning for the president if he didn`t build the wall. Let`s watch her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANN COULTER, AUTHOR, "IN TRUMP WE TRUST": He could sell Ivanka Trump merchandise from the Oval Office if he would just build the wall. If he doesn`t have us anymore, no, that`s what he should be worried about, because you play those people for suckers, the one who stood by him through thick and thin and thought this was finally something different, finally we have a politician who is not going to lie to us.

No, former Trumpers should put the fear of God in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: For more, I`m joined by Phil Rucker, White House bureau chief for "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC political analyst. And Charlie Sykes, of course, is a contributing editor for "The Weekly Standard" and an MSNBC contributor.

Let me go to Charlie, who is out in the field, in the world out there in Milwaukee, at least in the state of Wisconsin, at least, is the world.

What do you think? Is this dance with the one that brung you warning, Mr. President, you`re losing your people if you don`t start building that wall, and you agreed to a big-spending continuing resolution without any bricks in it for this wall?

CHARLIE SYKES, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes.

And, by the way, if only somebody had warned Ann Coulter about it before she wrote "In Trump We Trust."

Look, this president is never going to get that far from his base. And obviously he spent the weekend with the sort of menagerie of misfit toys who were whispering in his ear that you lost on the wall. You have to do something. You have to blame somebody. You need to go back to this playbook of blaming the Chinese or blaming the Mexicans.

And I think that that`s what he is doing. I`m actually not sure that Ann Coulter is right. And what we have seen about the Trump base is that they don`t seem to hold him accountable for whether he actually accomplishes anything. They just want to see him fighting.

And I think that`s what you`re seeing over the weekend, you know, his Easter celebration by talking about deporting young children and then the whole DACA thing. But I think, again, this is the concern that you do not want, the Ann Coulters of the world to create a movement known as former Trumpers.

MATTHEWS: So as long as you`re viscerally hating, in other words, if you are really resenting immigrants, illegal immigrants in this case, if you`re really showing your rage at them by screwing the dreamers, the DACA people, as long as you`re enraged, it doesn`t matter if you fail in your major goal, which is to stop illegal immigration with a wall.

That was the way he was going to do it.

SYKES: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And you`re saying, as long as he is angry like they are, it doesn`t matter if he is incompetent?

SYKES: Yes. No, even Ann Coulter says that she never believed that the Mexicans were going to pay for that wall. Nobody really thought they were going to do it.

It is part of this attitude. And that`s part of the whole Trumpist approach. You pick out, you isolate a scapegoat, an enemy, and you beat on that. And this is -- remember, he started this whole campaign by coming down that golden escalator and talking about the Mexican rapists.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you a question, Charlie.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I want to get you on a point here.

SYKES: Sure. Sure.

MATTHEWS: I want to see how far you will go with this argument. I don`t mind the argument, because I think he got elected on resentment, anger, more than actual things.

But if he faces the reelection of the American people in 2020, if he does run for reelection -- who knows -- he is standing before the Republican Convention, supposedly gets renominated whom. Who knows. He could be.

SYKES: Right.

MATTHEWS: He stands before them and says, I haven`t stopped illegal immigration. I haven`t stopped it. There are as many people coming across as they were. The caravans are still moving. Whatever P.R. he uses to say it.

Can he get reelected if he totally fails on his issue of stopping illegal immigration? Can he?

SYKES: Yes, he can, because what he will actually say is, look, I cannot fail. I can only be betrayed. I can only be thwarted by the RINOs, the deep state and the Democrats.

And I`m guessing that`s what some of these people whispering in his ear are saying. They`re like, what are these people going to do? Are they going to vote for Nancy Pelosi? Are they going to vote for Bernie Sanders? You got them.

MATTHEWS: You have a third choice.

Let me go back to -- let me go to Phil on this, because you`re reporting this. Phil, if he thinks he isn`t facing trouble here, I sort of agree with the red hots in this. If he didn`t get anything out of this continuing resolution, he agreed to a trillion-and-a-half, whatever it was, spending bill without another brick for the wall, why did he do that?

PHILIP RUCKER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, well, that`s a really good point.

He clearly did not get what he wanted out of the wall. He has been fuming for weeks in private to his advisers in the Oval Office about that omnibus spending bill. He felt like the Republican leaders, Paul Ryan, Senator Mitch McConnell, were weak negotiators on his behalf in trying to find the money for that wall.

And I think Charlie is exactly right, that his voters want to see grievance. They want to see him give voice to their passions and their fears and their grievances. And that`s what he started to do over the weekend when it comes to immigration and the migration.

MATTHEWS: Well, how about an injection of intelligence? It`s not my job to help him out.

But it seemed to me if he hadn`t listened to the red hots about what they call chain migration or whatever they call it, family reunification, most people call it, and diversity lotteries, if he had ignored all that clatter from those people, if he just ignored it and said, you know what, straight trade-off, I will give you DACA to the people, but I want some wall built, he could have cut that deal, and put it in the continuing resolution, and he would have advanced now.

He would have gotten the wall moving and DACA off his back. He is listening to the wrong people. Why should I advise him? But he is.

Phil?

RUCKER: Yes. Well, that`s right.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: That was the deal that made sense, because Schumer wanted that deal.

RUCKER: Yes. The Democrats were ready to give him a deal. And he is the one who decided several times not to take the deal.

And so now he is left with nothing on DACA. He is, of course, the president who canceled DACA. He is trying to blame it on the Democrats now. But the Democrats were willing to cut a deal with him. And he wouldn`t take it.

MATTHEWS: Let me get back to Charlie.

When is he going to stop listening to the wrong people? They were wrong when they said go for all four pillars, including chain migration and all that stuff, the way they say it, and the diversity lottery. All the things they couldn`t get, they said go for that. And insist on that and the wall. They got nothing.

And now he is still listening to them? Question.

SYKES: Yes. He is still listening to them and he will continue to because he is Donald Trump. And that`s the way he is wired.

Look, the reason we`re talking about DACA is because that is the lowest- hanging fruit in the immigration debate. Nobody is really angry or thinks it`s fair to deport children who were brought here without any culpability on their own part.

MATTHEWS: No.

SYKES: The reason we`re talking about this is because the compromise should have been so easy. And just think how far we have come from that moment where he was talking about let`s have a bill of love, let`s have a bill of love, and where are we at right now?

MATTHEWS: I know. I don`t think he is smart politically right now. I think it`s his worst mistake so far. He should have gone -- well, he has made a lot of them. But I think he should allow those kids -- they`re not kids now, but they came here as kids -- to stay here.

They`re Americans. They got American accents. They want to be Americans. They`re good Americans in most cases. Let them stay. Worry about the chain migration, all the family stuff later. I don`t get it. It`s stupid politics.

Thank you, Phil Rucker. Thank you, Charlie Sykes. You`re smarter than he is.

Up next: President Trump, well, he is president, but he doesn`t seem to hold big political sway out in California. Have you noticed? He lost the vote by 3.5 million votes last time. And he will again next time. On issue after issue, by the way, California is pushing back on Trump administration politics.

We got another taste of that this past weekend.

And this is HARDBALL.

Bet on Jerry Brown in California. Bet against Donald Trump in California.

This is HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Governor Brown has done a very poor job running California. They have the highest taxes in the United States.

The place is totally out of control. You have sanctuary cities where you have criminals living in the sanctuary cities. If you don`t have safety, meaning if you don`t have this kind of wall, the drugs are pouring through in California. Can`t do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Trump last month criticizing Democratic Governor Jerry Brown of California for the way he has ran the state, while the administration and California have been at odds ever since Trump`s inauguration, of course, battling over sanctuary cities, as you heard, environmental protections and the administration`s decision to include a citizenship question on the census this year.

Well, the latest salvo came this weekend, when Governor Brown pardoned five immigrants who were facing deportation for crimes for which they had already served their time.

The president responded on Twitter saying: Governor Brown, Governor Jerry Moonbeam Brown pardoned five criminal illegal aliens whose crimes include kidnapping and robbery, badly beating wife and threatening a crime with intent to terrorize, dealing drugs. Is this really what the great people of California want?"

Well, the governor`s office said in a press release today: "Pardons are not granted unless they`re earned."

Well, Trump faces a tough opponent in Governor Brown, who is in his fourth term as governor and has held various public offices in the state, which Hillary Clinton won by over 3.5 -- well, she won 3.5 million votes over Trump.

I`m joined right now by an expert out there, Christina Bellantoni, who is the assistant managing editor for politics at "The L.A. Times."

Christina, thank you for joining us.

This use of the old moniker Moonbeam, Governor Moonbeam, that was Mike Royko of "The Chicago Tribune" back -- my gosh -- it was 40 years ago. He disowned it. He said it was an idiotic slur. He took it back manfully, if you don`t mind my saying it. He said, I should have never used it. I take it back. It was idiotic.

And here is Trump trying on an old nickname for size.

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES: Right. Well, we all know the president likes his nicknames, and generally likes to make them as insulting as possible.

The funny thing about this is that the governor actually makes light of it. He has made a couple of jokes about it over the years. And certainly it`s no new thing for him. People do refer to him that way in shorthand.

And the whole idea behind the nickname was that it was supposed to represent idealism and not really interstellar travel or anything. It`s a little goofy to focus on that.

But the bigger point is that the Trump administration really is at war with California on every level, but particularly on immigration policy here. And the Brown administration, which has less than a year left in office -- we`re having a governor`s race this November -- really is taking that to the Trump administration, saying, we are going to fight you at every turn.

And the very strong Democratic legislature is backing him up on that, along with the Democratic attorney general.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s talk politics. I know I`m on the governor`s side on all these issues. But let`s talk politics.

The Hispanic vote, the Latino vote in California now, is it strong enough to be the majority vote? I thought Xavier Becerra should have ran for governor out there. Maybe it`s too soon after being A.G. And I see Villaraigosa, the former mayor of L.A., is running strong.

Is it a state where, to be blunt, messing with the Latino vote is stupid?

BELLANTONI: Well, that`s a really good question, something that we cover extensively at "The L.A. Times," because it`s not always what you would assume.

And, in fact, in 2016, there was a strong assumption that there would be huge Latino turnout that would vote against President Trump -- or Donald Trump at that time as a candidate nationally for some of the policies that he was promising to implement if he was elected and also some of the things he said about many, many different immigrant groups.

And that didn`t play out the same way that we thought it would. And even in some of these congressional races, you saw that the overwhelming Latino vote didn`t necessarily affect how Trump was faring in some of the areas in the Central Valley. He lost Orange County, which is a very interesting area, in fact, just last week voted to say, no, we don`t want to be a sanctuary state. We don`t want to be part of your sanctuary state policy, California.

And President Trump said that he stood with those Orange County supervisors who voted that way. So, California is not a monolithic place. And the Latino vote is incredibly important. And we also have many, many people of color who are serving in elected positions.

You mentioned Attorney General Becerra. He was appointed to that spot. He is running to be attorney general again. But he has competition there. And we expect that the Latino vote will probably be strong in California. But it definitely matters what the get-out-the-vote efforts are and then what the messages are, because running against President Trump isn`t always the most effective message for Democrats.

MATTHEWS: I think if Republicans are not nasty in their ethnic politics, they have a good chance to get a good portion of the Latino vote. At least historically, that looks the case.

Anyway, thank you, Christina Bellantoni of "The L.A. Times."

Up next: President Trump spent the weekend parroting talking points he heard on FOX News. They weren`t supposed to be talking points, but that`s how he took them. At this point, Trump is more than just a loyal viewer. The president loves their messaging so much that he has reportedly patched one of their anchors into Oval Office meetings.

You have got Lou Dobbs on speaker in White House meetings. Get this.

Lou, I got no problem with you. But how do you do this thing where you`re actually on the speakerphone at the White House?

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(LAUGHTER)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump began his Easter morning firing off a series of hard line immigration tweets. He wrote: Border patrol agents are not allowed to properly do their job at the border because of ridiculous liberal Democrat laws like catch and release. Getting more dangerous. Caravans coming. Republicans must go to nuclear option to pass tough laws now.

Well, Trump added Mexico is doing very little, if not nothing at stopping people from flowing into Mexico through their southern border and then into the U.S.

Well, it looks like that tough talk was inspired by, what else, "Fox and Friends." Here is what that show aired just an hour before the president himself started tweeting with they had just said. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An army of migrants is literally marching or riding or making their way from -- is it Honduras?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Most -- all of them from Central America. Most of them from Honduras, taking the journey from there to the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They`re marching to the U.S. border because they want in. And they want to make a statement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have got a Mexican government entity that is assisting these individuals to come up to the United States. The reason that they openly do it is because they know that the catch and release program continues today.

We have to change the law. Our legislators actually have to stand up. And the Republicans control the House and the Senate. They do not need to Democrats` support to pass any laws they want.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: It`s not just the president`s viewing habits. Trump spent part of the weekend with host Sean Hannity down in Florida. Another host, Lou Dobbs, reportedly has a direct line to the West Wing.

"The Daily Beast" reports the president has patched in Dobbs to multiple meetings in the oval office so he can offer his two cents. It adds, Trump will ask Dobbs for his opinion before and after his senior aides or cabinet members have spoken. Occasionally, he will cut off an official so the Fox Business host can jump in. Amazing.

Meanwhile, the president defended another media organization this morning. Trump wrote on Twitter: So funny to watch fake news networks among the most dishonest groups of people I`ve ever dealt with criticize Sinclair broadcasting for being biased.

We`ll show you that message in a moment, and we`ll show you the message that inspired the president`s defense. That`s coming up with the HARDBALL round table. It`s going to be wild.

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MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Chances are you might not be familiar with Sinclair broadcasting, the nation`s largest owner of local TV stations. But a viral video produced by the Website Deadspin shows anchors from Sinclair stations delivering the exact same script. And it sounds an awful like what President Trump has to say about fake news.

Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that CBS 4 News produces.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But we are concerned about --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Plaguing our country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The sharing biased and false news has become all too common on social media. More alarming, some media outlets publish the same fake stories without checking facts first.

MULTIPLE SPEAKERS: The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media. More alarming, some media outlets accomplish the same things that simply aren`t crew true without checking facts first. Unfortunately (INAUDIBLE) to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what you think (ph). And this is extremely dangerous to our democracy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Pretty sickening, isn`t it?

Fifteen Sinclair owned stations are NBC affiliates. And additional seven are Sinclair operated but not owned by NBC.

Well, it remains unclear how many of the Sinclair stations aired that message, but Sinclair`s vice president of news defended the company in a statement saying: We find it curious that we would be attacked for asking our news people to remind their audiences that unsubstantiated stories exist on social media. He added: Our local stations keep our audience trust by staying focused on fact-based reporting and clearly identifying commentary.

Well, let`s bring in the HARDBALL tonight. Jennifer Rubin, opinion writer with "The Washington Post", Jason Johnson, politics editor for theroot.com, and Dana Milbank, political columnist for "The Washington Post."

Get in on this, let`s start with Jason.

I think nothing like the power of the tube to show that chorus, that barber shop quartet of 15 people singing from the same prayer books. Your thoughts?

JASON JOHNSON, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, it`s great. And believe it or not, Michael Harriot (ph) at "The Root", we wrote about this last September. It`s not just forcing local anchors to recite these sort of "Pravda" type stories, it`s the fact that they introduced Boris Epshteyn and Sebastian Gorka and all these different people who are being forced into local news to make commentary about national issues.

This is a problem for democracy. People depend on local news to find it what is happening, school closings, what`s happening with the mayor, what`s happening with the governor, and turning into it a mouthpiece for the Trump administration with the help of Ajit Pai at the FCC, who has made it possible for Sinclair to buy more station, that`s been a huge problem and Trump is perfectly happy with them.

MATTHEWS: Jennifer?

JENNIFER RUBIN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think his friends over at "Fox & Friends" may get a little jealous if he keeps talking about the folks at Sinclair. Certainly, the people at "Fox and Friends" are some of those that carry that social media message that`s not back up by facts.

But, you know, this really is kind of creepy stuff. You know, call it state TV, call it Trump TV. We`re supposed to have independent journalists who actually think independently, speak independently. And there is certainly nothing wrong with reminding audiences that social media can be misleading.

But listen, when they`re carrying the president`s lingo, when they`re using his language, when they`re parroting what he wants mainstream viewership to see, that`s not journalism. That`s just parroting the president.

MATTHEWS: I`m thinking -- Dana, I`m thinking of invasion of the body snatchers when all of the sudden the guy next to you starts squeaking that sound. I mean, these are local people you come to like and the boy next door, the girl next door. These are very familiar people. You think they`re speaking their own words and you find out no, no, the invasion of the body snatchers has taken over here.

DANA MILBANK, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: It definitely had the feeling that you were watching a hostage video. And if you played it slowly, you would see them blinking out SOS with their eyelids.

Now, look, the owner of TV stations can have his people do whatever they want. The power of the press belongs to the person who owns the press. But what you have here is particularly sinister I think because the message is basically saying, don`t believe us. Don`t believe the press. The press is infected with bad news. And that includes us, and we`re sorry for it. That was part of the message there.

So, basically, they`re echoing the White House line don`t believe what you`re seeing on this newscast. Don`t believe the media. And there is no truth out there.

JOHNSON: Right.

MATTHEWS: Well, Jason -- I`ll start with Jennifer on this because you write for that paper I read 50 years now, "The Post". I think they`re talking about the big newspapers, "The Post" at times, "The Journal" even on the news pages, and "USA Today", and they`re talking about the papers in a disparaging way. As you have less readership of papers, I think it`s easier to attack them. Why would you read "the New York Times," it`s a big chunk of reading to do with "The Journal", "The Post", because you do learn from it.

So, they`re going after people that don`t read the damn papers, I think. That`s what they`re up to here.

RUBIN: I think that`s right. Listen, our subscriptions are doing great. Thank you, readers to "The Washington Post." Readership is up.

But you`re right. This is part of the entire effort. And Fox does this all the time, even though they claim to be a real news network, disparaging any independent sources of information. That`s right from the autocrat`s playbook. That`s what Trump does, whether it`s scientists at EPA or the mainstream media. He really wants the truth to be whatever he says the truth is.

And when you make muddled messages like the nonsense that came out of his mouth on Sunday, you can understand why you don`t want independent fact checkers. But at least for Sinclair viewers, it really is a disservice to them. And you do wonder how long those local news readers are going to put up with it, and whether some of them are going to leave for greener pastures.

MATTHEWS: Well, I knew a lot of people quit when they saw Sinclair coming.

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

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL round table.

Jennifer, tell me something I don`t know.

RUBIN: Well, the president, of course, sent in an offer for a summit with Putin. And the biggest problem he is going to have, maybe his national security adviser. John Bolton was famous or infamous for vilifying President Obama who wanted to meet with Kim Jong-un`s father during the 2008 campaign, also picked up the phone to talk to the president of Iran. So, the biggest problem he may have is dealing with his boss who appears to be somewhat weaker than President Obama when it comes to Russia.

MATTHEWS: By both the standards. Thank you.

Anyway, Jason?

JOHNSON: So, what we were just talking about is Sinclair media and how they have been innovating local elections and invading local news stations. Well, we have a Democrat standing up against it. Amy McGrath who is the first woman to fly a combat mission for the marines, is running for office in the sixth district of Kentucky. And she has said she will no longer advertise on any stations owned by Sinclair and is challenging other Democrats running in the midterms to do the same thing.

If this issue ends up pulling dollars out of local news station, I bet you`re going to see a revolt against Sinclair that they didn`t expect when they started doing this kind of programming.

MATTHEWS: Dana?

MILBANK: Well, I`m sure you as others have been feeling sorry for Laura Ingraham at FOX News who`s been losing advertisers and had to take time off and apologize for beating up on the Parkland kids. But there is one group of people who are still supporting, and those are Russian bots. It turns out a large number of Russian accounts on Twitter have been using the hashtags #Istandwithlaura, Ingraham Angle and FOX News. So, congratulations, Laura Ingraham, sort of.

MATTHEWS: Well, she`s pretty tough. I`ve known her forever.

Anyway, thank you, Jennifer Rubin. Thank you, Jason Johnson and Dana Milbank.

When we return, let me finish tonight with a weird talk of a White House meeting, in fact, a White House welcome for Vladimir, the Impaler himself.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this weird talk of a White House welcome for Vladimir Putin.

Why would we invite this character to dinner? Isn`t he the one every one of our intelligence agencies says worked fairly recently to undermine our democracy? Isn`t he a guy dying to establish moral equivalence with America by bringing our country`s reputation down to his country`s abysmal level?

And why would we want the president of our country, this president receiving him? How can we Americans sit by and watch these two figures toasting themselves here while they both deny the facts on the table? That again, 17 U.S. intelligence agencies say Russia tried undermining our democratic elections. That President Trump is being investigated for conspiring with Vladimir Putin in undermining our Democratic elections.

Finally, that if Donald Trump is found to have done so, he will rightfully be impeached and face removal from office. What kind of monster`s ball are we talking about now, where the known perpetrator of a high crime is welcomed and celebrated by the chief suspect conspiring in that same high crime? All at taxpayers` expense in the house where Abraham Lincoln lived?

How about we wait to see what Bob Mueller has to say on the question of conspiracy before we watch the perpetrator of this crime sit down to a state dinner with the one who now faces the possible charge of having done the conspiring?

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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