Is Pruitt necxt official on the chopping block? TRANSCRIPT: 04/05/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Shane Harris, Elena Schneider, Donna Edwards, Chris Buskirk

Show: HARDBALL Date: April 5, 2018 Guest: Shane Harris, Elena Schneider, Donna Edwards, Chris Buskirk

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: A story we will be watching well into next week. That does it for THE BEAT tonight.

HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS is up next.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Heating up the temperature. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I`m Chris Matthews up in New York.

Frustrated by the realities of governing, emboldened by rising poll numbers and spurred on by FOX News, Donald Trump is raising the heat. In the past week he has picked a fight with China over tariffs, told reporters he wanted to pull U.S. troops from Syria and announced he was sending National Guard troops to the Mexican border.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have to have strong borders. We are going to have the wall. The military is going to be building some of it but we are going to have very strong borders. And we have to change our laws and we are working on doing that. We had a trade deficit of almost $500 billion last year with China. We can`t continue to allow this to happen where hundreds of billions of dollars is taken out of our country and our system.

I want to get out, I want to bring our troops back home. I want to start rebuilding our nation. We will have as of three months ago $7 trillion in the Middle East over the last 17 years. We get nothing, nothing out of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And talk about going back to campaign mode. Today he resurrected comments that launched his campaign. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Remember my opening remarks at Trump tower when I opened, everybody said, he was so tough. I used the word rape. And yesterday it came out where this journey coming up. Women are raped at levels that nobody`s ever seen before. They don`t want to mention that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Trump seems to be returning to the guiding principle that got him into office in the first place -- he alone can fix it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: They have given you nothing. I will give you everything. I will give you what you have been looking for 30, 40, 50 years. Nobody knows the system better than me which is why I alone can fix it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I alone can fix it. According to several sources who spoke to the "Washington Post," the President is telling advisers that he is finally expediting the policies that got him elected and is more comfortable without a number of aides around him who are tempering his instincts. He is feeling more confident in his job than at any other point in his 14 months as President and feels empowered to act upon things he has long wanted to do.

Well, part of that confidence comes from recent polls, no doubt. According to both the recent "Associated Press" and the CNN polls, the President has seen a seven-point increase in popularity in both polls since February.

However, some of his actions have had unintended political consequences. Brewing talk of a trade war with China could devastate rural voters who backed Trump, providing an opening for vulnerable Democrats in red states.

For more, I`m joined by Eugene Robinson, column list for the "Washington Post" and an MSNBC news contributor. Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican national committee and, Ashley Parker, White House reporter for the "Washington Post." Both are MSNBC political analyst.

Ashley, let`s start with the news analysis here. Trump, he seems to be thinking if I raise the heat right now, it`s good for me. Is he riding off of his higher poll numbers? What`s this about this really steaming up of his politics in every direction now -- China, Mexico, everything.

ASHLEY PARKER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, the President is sort of is coming into his own as the President. He was a little tentative and hesitant at the beginning. And he would defer more to his advisers, especially on issues that sort of weren`t gut visceral issues for him. And now over a year in, west wing aides tell us he feels more comfortable. He feels emboldened. And this is someone who always wanted to play to his base. If there was ever a debate or sort of a question of where he is going to go, he is going to go to that read meat. He is going to go to that base. He is going to go to those lines that got him huge applause during rallies and that`s what we are seeing right now.

MATTHEWS: Is there any difference between him and his base? In other words, is he honestly against stupid wars? A phrase a lot of us liked hearing back in 2016. Is he really for tough trade policy? Is he really against illegal immigration from across the border to the south? Does he feel those issues as well as his base does or is he playing to his base?

PARKER: So those - actually, all of those issues you have mentioned are sort of the three core issues where Trump, as we know, is not particularly ideological. But on those three issues, especially on immigration, and especially on trade these are things he, like a lot of his base, feels at a gut core level. And if you look back, it`s not stuff he started talking about on the campaign trail but stuff he has been talking about for decades. So if there`s any ideology to him, it`s on these issues.

MATTHEWS: Gene, he is going back to Steve Bannon country. This is economic nationalism, is ethnic nationalism if you will, certainly on the big three we just talked about, stupid wars, China and immigration, it is pure Trump.

EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: It is. I mean, in terms of management style, he is starting to run the White House the way he ran the Trump organization which is basically a one-man show. Now I don`t think you can run the United States of America like that but he seems determined to try.

And what can go wrong? Well just these issues, these core issues can backfire on him, but if you look at the trade issue, he is -- he has his view of our trade deficit that is such that is basically launching a trade war with China and China is going to target its retaliation, already has, specifically at those groups that form Trump`s base so they will know how to inflict pain, political pain, on the President. This is going to be fascinating and but I don`t think this is a great idea for him.

MATTHEWS: Do you think the Chinese, I mean, I wouldn`t underestimate them. They are long-term planners and we are what is good for tonight kind of people, but when they go after the soybeans, I mean, tell me about that, for example. You know, when you go to a Chinese restaurant in this country you have soy sauce or whatever. You have soy sauce. But do you think they picked that out because it was a way of getting at the Iowa voters and screwing Trump in the Iowa caucuses in 2020?

ROBINSON: No, absolutely. Absolutely. It absolutely is a way of screwing Trump. China is a big, you know, importer of U.S. agricultural products and soy beans is -- that`s a big deal. So, of course, if you look at all the whole line of items on which China is retaliating are like a political map of the Trump base and clearly and obviously and very smartly designed to cause him pain.

MATTHEWS: I want to Michael now, the politician here.

Michael, do you think the people behind Trump wanted just to see that he has the same attitude or they care about results? Are they happy with him if he just screams and shows he doesn`t like illegal immigrants from the south, from across the border from Mexico, if he just screams against the Chinese and acts really tough and really does tries our troops to get us out of the Middle East and stop this fighting Middle East wars, it`s just the exercise of trying to do those things, win votes and keep votes with him and his base?

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I think that`s partly right, yes. There is this desire to sort of reconnect with them when the wheels seemingly come off. We saw that just this past week with his DACA position being exposed, if you will, to the base by Ann Coulter and others who were just blowing a gasket over where the President seemingly was ending up on this whole DACA thing. And what did he do? He doubled down, the rhetoric heated up and it was his way of reassuring his base through his words that I`m still with you.

Here`s the test, though. The test will become one of action with respect to the border, DACA, for example and on maybe other economic issues like infrastructure possibly. They turned that corner a little bit, Chris, on tax reform, but that`s had mixed results so far because of what the President has said on trade and other things impacting the economic progress that has been made.

So the President is kind of sandwiching himself in between his rhetoric and the actions he knows he`s going to have to take on some of these thorny issues, which is why you have seen the read trading and renaming the border wall looking at a fence going, well, that`s a wall, too.

MATTHEWS: You know, Ashley, you covered the White House and this whole political whatever it is these days. It is new to me in many ways. When I keep hearing people who are on the progressive side or even the moderate side of politics, center right or center left and they are giving public advice in their columns to Trump, I keep thinking they don`t like Trump. They want Trump to fail so why should he take their advice? He s he skeptical about the advice he gets from people that just don`t like him and wish he weren`t ever going to be president, let alone we are leaving on this planet to put it likely. What he think of the advice he gets to the mainstream or from the left?

PARKER: It`s an interesting question because he is someone who is very skeptical, for instance, of the Republican establishment in getting advice from them. He is almost likely to willfully disregard it. Yes, at the same time, he takes advice from very unlikely people, people who aren`t necessarily qualified to advise him on policies. He will talk to an old friend, a long-time billionaire, someone who has been quite successful but may know nothing, for instance, about border security and he will take their advice. He talks to celebrities or FOX News personalities. So he will take advice from a very wide range of areas but they are certainly not the traditional ones and they are certainly not or they are rarely the mainstream or even the Republican establishment.

MATTHEWS: Well, according to the "Washington Post," President Trump is discovering that the policies he once described as easy fixes for the country are a lot more complicated in reality. Take a look at Donald Trump the candidate versus Donald Trump the President.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: You are going to have such great healthcare at a tiny fraction of the cost. And it`s going to be so easy.

Now, I have to tell you, it`s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.

If China does not stop its illegal activities I will use every lawful President -- hey, look, this is very easy, this so easy.

The wall is peanuts. That`s going to be one of the easy negotiations, believe me.

We intend to get along with China but we have to do something substantial about the trade deficit and with that nothing is easy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have there been any more efforts to get Mexico to pay for the wall?

TRUMP: Well, yes, I believe that Mexico will pay for the wall. As you know we are negotiating NAFTA, we will see how that goes.

I do well with Congress. I have worked with politicians all my life. They are easy.

I said to the Republicans -- and these are good people, they really want -- and I know they get hit hard, the senators, the congressmen, but they are all working hard. It is not so easy. It`s complicated stuff.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS: You know, Gene, he came in like the man on horseback, that frightening figure of the right we have always been afraid of. The guy who comes in and it is male who comes in and says I`m going to solve all your problems, just give me power. Give me all of the power.

ROBINSON: Yes. I think on some level he really did think it would be easy, right. And you know, that comes from his having had zero experience in government and zero experience with the issues. And, frankly, zero inclination to learn the issues in any sort of depth or details. So he still doesn`t know immigration policy in detail. He still doesn`t know what it would take to actually negotiate getting his wall. I mean, he had opportunities to do that and he couldn`t do it. And I think part of it is just unfamiliarity with the issues.

MATTHEWS: Well, the President`s remarks just today about rape harkening back to comments he made when he launched his campaign. Let`s listen to this stuff.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: When Mexico sends its people, they are not sending their best. They are bringing drugs, they are bringing crime, they are rapists and some I assume are good people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Ashley, he is back to that.

PARKER: Yes, he is. I mean, that was sort of the basis -- I mean, it was as you said, that was how he launched his campaign. It was the basis in part of his rise. Those comments, offensive comments about Barack Obama`s birth certificate. And when in doubt the President often returns to those read meat lines that really riled up his base. So he has a couple metrics for success. One is the stock market but another is remembering what it felt like to stand in front of this huge crowds at rallies and get that thundering applause. And that was one of his lines. And so, it`s not surprising to see him today returning to something he is comfortable with and it gets him adulation from a certain core of supporters.

MATTHEWS: That`s really well done.

Gene, back to that, and both of you and Michael, talk about that, both of you about how much of this is the standup comic or anyone who performs before crowds just wanting to hear that feedback, that roar of approval. And how much of it is calculated to get himself reelected? He still going to need in the high 40s to get reelected?

ROBINSON: Well, he needs the roar of approval. He feeds on that. You know, how much is calculated to get him reelected? He desperately wants to get reelected. He doesn`t do calculation in terms of a long range plan or strategy. I think he does see in -- not in a programmatic way but in a real way. I think he sees some of -- where he has to be politically to get reelected on some level but it`s not like he has a step by step plan for what to do today, what to do tomorrow, what to do in six months.

STEELE: I think for him it`s all visceral. It`s a gut check, it is a gut feel. He has an inextricable link to his base supporters as Ashley and others who cover this President know. It`s intangible in many respects. He senses when they need him. They sense when, you know, he needs them and that works.

But the broader question you ask I think is the important one as we get ready to go through the 2018 cycle, Chris, and into 2019 and 2020 is how do you build and grow that? Because Republicans right now need not just that base. They are going to need the center left, center right voters to come out this November if they want to hold the house and even grow a seat or two in the Senate and that`s got to be the setup for 2020.

The President, while he may have this instinctual relationship with his base, he has going to have to grow that instinct for the rest of the country as well because he is going to need that 48, 49 percent to get out there.

MATTHEWS: Does he need an Elizabeth Warren or the memory of Hillary Clinton or the Pocahontas number of his and all that -- something his people will have a nasty attitude towards for him to win?

STEELE: He will. But who is that going to be? You know, there`s a short shelf life for an Elizabeth Warren. And certainly I don`t think there`s much left in beating up the Hillary Clinton, making that case. So there`s got to be someone else who steps in and that`s why Democrats I think at this point, Chris, have been holding back a little bit not getting out in front of the whole Presidential bid because they don`t want to be the fall guy. They don`t want to be the pincushion for this President at this point.

MATTHEWS: I agree completely. Smart, because he has to have a foil. He has to have somebody to beat up.

Anyway, thank you Eugene Robinson. Thank you, Michael Steele and Ashley Parker.

Coming up, the Russia investigation. There is new reporting today about a key cooperating witness in the Mueller probe, George Nader. Remember him? He helped set up that secret meeting in the say-shells between the Russians and a top Trump adviser, that sneaky meeting in the Indian Ocean. Well, tonight, we are learning much more about him and his very deep ties, guess what, to Russia?

Plus as EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, the latest Trump official on the chopping block, it looks like it despite the barrage of bad headlines. He is holding on at least for now but Trump`s recent comments about Pruitt aren`t exactly a vote of confidence. He has given him the Fredo treatment.

And with Republicans facing a potential wipeout this November, party leaders are sounding the alarm. Senator Mitch McConnell says the party could be in for a category five hurricane, a real monsoon at the poll this is November. Is the situation as dire as it seems for Republicans? I think so.

Finally, let me finish with what I think and how I expect things to end this year.

This is HARDBALL where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Late this afternoon during a gaggle with reporters on air force one, President Trump answered a couple of questions about Stormy Daniels. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you know about the $130,000 payment to stormy Daniels?

TRUMP: No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then why --?

TRUMP: What else?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why did Michael Cohen make that payment?

TRUMP: You will have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael`s my attorney and you will have to ask Michael.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?

TRUMP: No, I don`t know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

New reporting today sheds additional light on that collusion part of the Russia probe and may explain Robert Mueller`s interest in a mysterious international businessman with ties to the Middle East.

The developments center around George Nader, a Lebanese-American adviser to the United Arab Emirates, who`s now cooperating with the special counsel in exchange for immunity.

As we reported last month, Nader is best known for setting up a key meeting in the remote Indian Ocean island of the Seychelles just before the inauguration in January of 2017. That meeting brought together Trump adviser Erik Prince with a Russian oligarch, reportedly for the purpose of establishing a back channel between the incoming Trump administration and the Kremlin.

Well, that same month, Nader also met at Trump Tower with Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner, and according to "The New York Times," a hedge fund manager with business ties to Kushner and the UAE.

Well, "The New York Times" reports that Nader has more previously unreported ties to Moscow -- quote -- "Nader`s dealings with Russia date at least to 2012, when he helped broker a controversial $4.2 billion deal for the government of Iraq to buy Russian weapons. While the deal fell through, Mr. Nader has returned frequently to rush on behalf of Emirati government, even had his picture take within Mr. Putin."

Well, and an indication that, as a cooperating witness, Nader could be more valuable to Mueller than we previously knew.

Anyway, I`m joined by Barbara McQuade, a former federal prosecutor and MSNBC legal analyst, and Shane Harris is an intelligence and national security correspondent with "The Washington Post."

Shane, put this together, when you put this set of characters together. Connect these dots. This guy George Nader, was he setting up the meeting between the Russians and the Trump guy, Erik Prince?

SHANE HARRIS, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, that`s what I think Bob Mueller is looking at.

And if you look at the meeting in the Seychelles, you have got people from the United Arab Emirates, you have got a Russian, you have got Erik Prince. What`s the connective tissue between those three points? It might be George Nader.

He knows the Trump people. He works for the Emiratis. He has these connections in Russia. The only thing that these people have in common, the clearest thing, is George Nader.

And our understanding is that that`s precisely what Mueller is really focusing in on, is what Nader`s roll was in that Seychelles meeting, which has been reported it may have been a back-channel setup between the Trump transition team and the Russians as a way of communicating outside of normal channels.

MATTHEWS: Barbara, here we go back to the collusion front. There`s a lot on obstruction, of course, all the time, but now we`re back to the collusion with Russia during the campaign.

What does this tell us about a possible deal or conspiracy involving the Trump folks and the Russians?

BARBARA MCQUADE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I don`t know that we know yet, but I think it`s very interesting.

And Mr. Nader seems to be a key person in all of this. Oftentimes, you can tell a lot of things from documents, getting bank records, phone records, other kinds of things that can help you connect people. But, in the end, you almost always need a human witness to help explain how the dots are connected.

And it could be that Mr. Nader is providing that role for Robert Mueller.

MATTHEWS: Why do you think he got immunity?

MCQUADE: Well, he may have some exposure. He at least perceives he has exposure. Immunity comes when someone says, I`m going to take the Fifth when you ask me questions because that means I believe I have some criminal exposure here.

And so immunity is given in exchange, so that you say, I`m not going to use your statements against you. Now tell me what you know. So he at least perceived that he had some criminal exposure.

MATTHEWS: Well, now comes this. It comes with a CNN report that, according to sources familiar with the probe, "Mueller`s team has taken the unusual step of questioning Russian oligarchs who have traveled into the United States, stopping at least one and searching his electronic devices when his private jet landed at a New York area airport."

They report, CNN did, that "investigators are asking whether wealthy Russians illegally funneled cash donations directly or indirectly into Donald Trump`s presidential campaign and inauguration."

Shane, I guess that`s the gold pot -- the pot of gold if you`re investigating the Trump operation, if they were taking money from not just overseas to win the election, but taking it from Russia.

HARRIS: Oh, that would be an absolutely huge revolution if that were true.

And there have been rumblings about this. We have seen this in previous reporting too and talking to my sources, the intelligence community becoming aware in the spring of 2016 that Russian money was somehow making its way into the U.S. election.

Now, we have never exactly known how that happened, what were the conduits, precisely where it was going, but when you see this CNN report that Mueller`s team is stopping Russians at airports and looking at their electronic devices, what are you getting there? Possibly e-mails, texts, records of phone conversations.

We all know what we can piece together about somebody`s contacts and their communications by looking at their phones and computers. I think this is a very significant development and tells you that Bob Mueller has probably some very specific questions that he thinks that these individuals that were stopped can answer either by telling him or by searching their equipment.

MATTHEWS: Barbara, how do you think the -- how does this operate? People working for Mueller have the -- they have the help of the FBI, obviously.

Is that -- does the FBI have the ability to stop somebody at the airport with a Russian name at Kennedy or anywhere else and say, I want to look at your file, I want to look at your laptop, give it to me?

MCQUADE: Yes, actually, there is border search authority to look at electronic devices without a search warrant. It`s one of the few exceptions to the search warrant requirement.

And the idea is, I can look into anything you`re bringing into the country because it might contain contraband or something that is dangerous. Now, they can do what is called a basic search. They can`t hook it up to machines and analyze it and copy it, but they can certainly look through it, as Shane just said, look at your text messages and e-mails and the like, and could be a real treasure trove for information.

So I think we`re seeing this tactic, which is very aggressive, but I think we`re seeing this tactic by Mueller`s team to catch people by, one, the element of surprise when they`re arriving in the country, and, two, minimize a risk of not being able to find them, and, three, searching their electronics.

MATTHEWS: Unbelievable. Unbelievable. So they say, OK, Igor, give me your password? Is it that aggressive? Can you just say, I want to go through right now at the airport here, a little side room maybe, I want to go and basically take the clothes off your operation here in terms of your social media?

Can you do that? Can you look? You say you can`t go deep into it. How far can you go into somebody`s laptop?

MCQUADE: You can look at it. You just can`t attach electronic devices, make an image of it, and analyze it.

But you can look at it. And if the person doesn`t want to show it to you, the remedy is, you can turn them away and so, go back home.

MATTHEWS: Really? That would be the -- that`s a requirement of admission, to be available for that kind of search?

MCQUADE: Yes.

MATTHEWS: This is serious business.

Thank you, Barbara McQuade. Thank you, Shane Harris.

I`ll tell you, every time I hear more about the Bob Mueller operation, the more I do think of the iceberg, deep, big, really powerful, and we have no idea how big it is unless it surfaces.

Up next: Will EPA administrator Scott Pruitt be the latest Trump official to get axed by the administration? He`s mired in scandal, a little, little bit, little bit, lots of drips. And Trump isn`t exactly giving him a major vote of confidence.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

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MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is trying to save his job amid a barrage of bad headlines over his unusual housing arrangement. Pruitt leased a condo from the wife of a top energy lobbyist, paying just $50 a night, which is cheap in Washington, I can tell you.

Pruitt defended himself in an interview with FOX News. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FOX NEWS CHANNEL)

ED HENRY, FOX NEWS: Is draining the swamp renting an apartment from the wife of a Washington lobbyist?

SCOTT PRUITT, ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY ADMINISTRATOR: I don`t think that that`s even remotely fair to ask that question.

HENRY: OK, so, why did you then accept $50 a night to rent a condo from the wife of a Washington lobbyist?

PRUITT: Well, let`s talk about that. That is something that, again, has been reviewed by officials here. They have said that it`s market rate.

HENRY: You`re renting it from the wife of a lobbyist.

PRUITT: Who has no business before this agency.

HENRY: Hold on a second.

(CROSSTALK)

HENRY: So you only paid for the nights you were there?

PRUITT: That`s exactly right.

HENRY: But that`s kind of a sweetheart deal.

PRUITT: No, it`s not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the EPA`s top ethics official clarified his initial sign- off on the arrangement, saying he lacked some key facts when concluding it didn`t violate gift rules.

Well, the EPA inspector general is now reviewing the allegations.

The Daily Beast reports that during a call to Pruitt on Tuesday, Chief of Staff John Kelly impressed upon Pruitt "that, though he has the full public confidence of President Trump for now, the flow of negative and damning stories needed to stop soon."

Well, here`s what the president himself said about his EPA chief earlier in the week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Scott Pruitt, sir?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hope he`s going to be great.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: He`s going to be great.

Well, today, Trump went even further, saying: "I think Scott has done a fantastic job. I think he`s a fantastic person."

Meanwhile, late today came more problematic news for Pruitt. "The New York Times" reported: "At least five officials at the Environmental Protection Agency, four of them high-ranking, were reassigned or demoted or requested new jobs in the past year after they raised concerns about the spending and management of the agency`s administrator," that being Scott Pruitt.

Should Trump change his mind and fire Pruitt, he wouldn`t be the first member of the greatest Cabinet to be fired or forced out. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was removed last year. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was reportedly fired by a tweet last month. And VA Secretary -- that`s veterans administrator -- David Shulkin was forced out just last week.

For more, I`m joined by Howard Fineman, MSNBC and NBC News analyst.

Howard, this is a very busy guillotine, very busy.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: And the president is Madame Defarge here. I mean, I have never seen -- these guys are sweating it, I think.

So, let`s start with Pruitt. How`s he look?

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let`s start with him.

I have been talking to EPA people that I know and I have been talking to people close to Donald Trump. Here`s the bottom line. I was told by somebody very close to the president that it`s not a question of whether with Scott Pruitt, but a question of when, meaning it sounds like to me that they know more than has even been made public, that they`re concerned about what other things can come out.

The bottom line is this, Chris. It`s not really about any corruption in office, per se. It`s not even -- I think the thing with the lobbyist and the rental on the hill is less important than the fact that Scott Pruitt has been behaving like a sun king.

He`s got the 18-person security staff. He`s got sirens when he goes across town. He`s got lavish spending in his office. He`s got his own sort of pre-presidential campaign going that made it on the front page of "The New York Times" last year.

In a family business named Trump and in an administration named Trump, there can be only one sun king. There can be only one person acting like that. And that`s Donald Trump. It`s not Scott Pruitt.

The scariest thing, I think, and the most annoying thing to the president about Scott Pruitt is, he`s behaving like a man with his own agenda, with his own career ahead of him, with his own base in the hard right, and that he`s the only guy who can bring changes in the EPA.

The president doesn`t want a Cabinet of people who say they`re the only ones who can do it. Remember what Donald Trump said at the beginning when he was in Cleveland at the convention. He said, only I alone can do it.

And Scott Pruitt is not behaving the way Donald Trump wants him to behave.

MATTHEWS: It seems almost like one of those things you learned in physics, where the same charges repel each other.

FINEMAN: Right. Exactly. Exactly.

And it takes a guy with Trump`s sort of ego and need to spot another guy like that in his Cabinet. And from the very beginning, Scott Pruitt has been touting himself, touting his own role, yes, praising the president when necessary, but mostly talking about what a great EPA administrator he is, going to conservative Republican gatherings and touting himself, telling stories to others about how he might want to run for governor or senator of Oklahoma and then for president.

And you put on top of that the turmoil within the EPA that "The New York Times" was talking about today. That`s been going on for months and months, really from the very beginning.

The spending on his office, the spending on his travel, the spending on his security detail, and giving raises through a technicality in the EPA water law to two of his trusted advisers, against the specific judgment of the White House -- he tried to get those raises approved through the office of Personnel Management and the White House.

The White House said no. Pruitt went and did it anyway. That kind of thing signals to Trump not so much corruption as the threat of another ambitious person in the circle.

MATTHEWS: Unmatchable analysis, Howard. Thank you so much. I have nothing to add.

FINEMAN: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Great man. Thank you so much for that great analysis.

FINEMAN: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Up next: Senator Mitch McConnell is sounding the alarm bell about a potential wipeout this November, like in a wipeout, like a tsunami coming at the Republicans this November.

But can Democrats do enough, get enough momentum to actually do it for 2018? That could -- can they get to the 218 they need in the House to take over power and to perhaps impeach this president?

You`re watching HARDBALL.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our Republican majority is one of the most successful in the history of the United States Congress. Now, we must work to keep our majority. In this election, we are fighting to win and we are going to win. Just no reason why we shouldn`t win with what we`ve done over the last year. No reason whatsoever.

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CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Trump last month telling Republicans that there`s no reason for them to lose in 2018. But not everyone is so optimistic.

Let`s listen to what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just said this week.

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SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: If you look at the history of off-year elections, particularly two years into a new administration, remember Clinton lost the House and Senate, Obama lost the House and almost lost the Senate, we know the wind is going to be in our face, we`re not sure whether it`s a category three, four, or five. But I`m hoping we can hold the Senate and the principal reason for that, even if we were to lose the House and be stymied legislatively, we could still approve appointments, which is a huge part of what we do.

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MATTHEWS: Well, after liberal candidate Rebecca Dallet won an election for the Wisconsin Supreme Court Tuesday night, the first such victory in 23 years for a liberal who isn`t an incumbent.

Republican Governor Scott walker report that tonight`s results show we are at risk of a blue wave in Wisconsin. The far left is terrific by anger and hatred, we must counter with it optimism and organization. Let`s share our positive story with voters and win in November.

So, how likely is that risk of a blue wave in the 2018 elections? We`ll look that next with the HARDBALL round table.

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MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Forty-four Republicans are giving up their seats in 2018, creating an opening for Democrats who need to pick up 24 seats to win a majority in the House of Representatives.

Since World War II, the president`s party has lost an average of 29 seats in his first midterm election and when that president`s job approval rating has fallen below 50 percent, his party has lost an average of 44 seats.

In the latest NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll 50 percent of registered voters say prefer a Democratic Congress while 40 percent want a Republican Congress. Democrats probably need to be ahead by at least 10 points in order to win the House.

Will 2018 follow historic trends or could bit a monsoon of Democratic voters like it was in 2010 the other way when Republicans won 63 seats?

Let`s bring in tonight`s HARDBALL roundtable. Elena Schneider, campaign reporter for "Politico", Donna Edwards, former Democratic congresswoman from Maryland, and radio host Chris Buskirk, he`s the editor and publisher of "American Greatness".

I want to put you all on the line right now, make your predictions right now. How many Democratic seats will the Democrats pick up in this November election, Elena? Give me an estimate.

ELENA SCHNEIDER, POLITICO CAMPAIGN REPORTER: We`re seven months out but I would say it`s likely to very possible that Democrats will flip the House. So, more than 24.

MATTHEWS: How many would they pick up? They need 24, how many do l they get?

SCHNEIDER: More than 24.

MATTHEWS: Twenty-four plus.

Donna?

DONNA EDWARDS, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN: I`m in the 35 to 40 range. I think this won`t be a wave. It`s going to be a tsunami.

MATTHEWS: And, Chris?

CHRIS BUSKIRK, RADIO SHOW HOST: Twelve in the House and Republicans pick up three in the Senate.

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s go to you, Chris.

Why do you think it will be such a short advantage for the Democrats when there`s so many open Republican seats now, 44 either retired or running for something else, creating vacancies and therefore an opportunity. The fact that the pattern has been that when the president is under 50, he`s still under 50 in most polls, they pick up about 40. Why do you say it`s only 12 or say it`s only 12? Why do you say it`s only 12?

BUSKIRK: Well, it`s really structural, because it`s twofold. One is I think Republicans have a good story to tell. People are working. The economy is growing, wages are rising. That`s a good story to tell.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BUSKIRK: The other part structurally, though, is that if you look at these districts themselves, when you start to drill down, they have Republican advantages in terms of registrations. That`s hard to beat, when you look at these aggregate numbers of the whole country, OK, that tells you one thing but not what happens in the district itself.

MATTHEWS: Donna, that was the sunny side of the street. Would you please give me an alternative view of how things look? I mean, they`re only going to lose 12. It would be a shockeroo if the Republicans got off that easy. Your thoughts, because they`d still have the House?

EDWARDS: Look, I think you have only to look at the races in Virginia, in Pennsylvania, to Wisconsin, and on down the line in these special elections, where you`ve seen Democrats outperform Republicans in Republican-held districts and states, and I think that that`s just a bellwether for what`s going to happen in November.

Look, Democrats are targeting 70 seats held by Republicans and there are thousands of candidates running up and down the ballot which is fuelling the energy in the party. And I think this is going to be a very bad look for Republicans. Look, they can`t run with Donald Trump and they can`t run without him. That spells disaster for them in November.

MATTHEWS: Elena, who has the most enthusiasm? The numbers I`ve looked at suggest Democrats have the edge. They won an election this year, they want to vote against Trump.

SCHNEIDER: I think you`re absolutely right. We keep seeing in special election after special election that Democrats are energized and they want to vote. Take Pennsylvania, the special there. This is a place that Trump won by 20 points and a Democrat was able to flip that seat in part because Democrats in the suburbs really showed up for him.

In Wisconsin this week, we saw that as well. Democrats are excited to vote and that`s not a surprise in a first -- midterm year in which the opposite party is in power.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Chris on this. I read that great interview between Frank Bruni of the "New York Times" and Ann Coulter this week where she whacked Trump for not being tough on building the wall across the Mexican border. Is there a dis-ease on the heart right against this president, the Trump base?

BUSKIRK: Yes, there`s an issue there. Ann puts her finger on the pulse there which is to say that if the president is not able to appease his base, meaning just fulfill some of your promises, it doesn`t have to be all of them, but at least some of them, particularly the big ones, then if you undermine the confidence then I think you start to look at the numbers that everybody else is talking about, 20 or 30 losses.

If Trump can shore up his base, then I think he can do better in the midterms.

MATTHEWS: Well, I guess that`s the question. I want to go back to Elena to figure this out. What is the Republican base? Are they hawkish or dovish?

Trump ran as a guy against stupid wars in yet I get the sense there`s still Cold War thinking in the Republican party that loves to go to war with Russia, loves to get active in the Middle East, very pro-Israeli, almost to the right on those issues and are they Trump -- what is the Republican base on foreign policy? Is it hawkish or dovish?

SCHNEIDER: I think the Trump base is what Trump promised them which was to put America first.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SCHNEIDER: Just to focus on their issues to protect them on the -- in the global marketplace to renegotiate trade deals to protect them.

MATTHEWS: Well, we`re still in Syria. We`re still in Afghanistan. We`re still in Iraq.

SCHNEIDER: Right, absolutely, and I think at this point, it`s not clear whether or not it`s going to be motivating people or de-motivating people.

MATTHWES: Donna, let me ask you about the Democratic base, you know it well, you`re campaigning for county executive in Prince Georges County in Maryland. Tell me about the women, for example, do you find it easier to get people not just to contribute money but to get out there and work on Saturdays and go around and canvassing? Are people ready to go now? Or is this too early?

EDWARDS: I think they are and I think what you`ve seen is actually the movement among women who are fleeing Donald Trump for a lot of reasons, for his personal character but also because we know that he also doesn`t have any ideology at all. And so, you see women fleeing and I think that`s what you saw in the Conor Lamb race in Pennsylvania, it`s what you`ve seen in these special elections, it`s what you`ve seen in those races all through Virginia.

And frankly, you saw it in Alabama in that special election, as well, for the U.S. Senate. So, I mean, I really see the women are going to be the deciders in this election and those are the same people who moved to Donald Trump and they`re going to move back to Democrats in every single district.

MATTHEWS: Well, the roundtable is sticking with us.

And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.

We`ll be right back.

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MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Elena, tell me something I don`t know.

SCHNEIDER: Middle Tennessee State University released a poll today about the Tennessee Senate race where Senator Bob Corker is retiring. And they revealed that Phil Bredesen, the former governor, is ahead of Marsha Blackburn by ten points. This is a state that Trump won by 26 points in 2016.

So, this is -- granted, it`s a poll, and, of course, the caveat is that Phil Bredesen is well known as a former governor, less so than Marsha Blackburn, but nonetheless, it`s another proof point to show that Democrats are really enthusiastic, even in the heart of Trump country.

MATTHEWS: I think it`s Bredesen, I was just down there, and I think he`s going to win.

Anyway, Donna?

EDWARDS: Well, look, the Census Bureau is being sued if by more than a dozen states because they decided they`re going to ask a citizenship question on the next 2020 census. And the reason that this is important is because many think that it`s designed to scare away immigrant voters from participating in the census, which could have a deep impact on resources and everything else that goes into states and communities.

MATTHEWS: Chris?

BUSKIRK: I`ll tell you two things. One is you`re going to find out that the Trump base, the Republican base is still deeply suspicious of the neoconservative agenda of unwinnable foreign wars and overseas innovation. The other thing is we`re going to find out is because China has such a large trade deficit with the United States, it doesn`t have as much leverage it thinks it has in terms of a tariff battle with the president.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Elena Schneider, former Congresswoman Donna Edwards, and Chris Buskirk.

When we return, let me finish tonight how we can expect to end this year. My political predictions for November.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

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MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with how I expect we`re going to finish this year.

This November, the entire House of Representatives is up for election. And I think about the entire body being dissolved and the question of its future thrown back to the people, the American people. The U.S. House of Representatives we have this time next year will be entirely the result of what we the voters decide this fall.

So with that, I dare to make a fairly acute prediction. I say, you know, on this fifth day of April, with all the possibilities looming this summer and early fall, I believe the Democrats will carry the House. They will take control of the speakership, the chairmanship of all the committees, and most importantly perhaps the power of the subpoena. They will lay claim to an enormous amount of power, and with it, I believe an enormous amount of responsibility.

A word first about the math. As I said earlier in the show, the Democrats have control now of 194 House seats. They need to pick up 24 to get to the 218 majority.

History suggests and the level of this president`s popularity suggests they will pick up more than the average 29 seats the party opposing the president gets in the first midterm election. I believe they`ll do better. Somewhere comfortably between 30 and 40 seats picked up.

And so hold me to that. Hold me to that.

Hopefully, I will narrow it down within that range the week heading into the election, 30 to 40-seat pickup.

Again, the great question is how the Democrats will use this new power to convince voters they have the commitment and judgment to challenge and check President Trump on the vital national issues in a way that provides those voters with a vision of what the Democratic Party believes in, in its guts, what it sees in its mind and what it`s willing to fight for with its soul.

We need two political parties in this country, including an opposition and right now looking at the toeing Republicans, we barely have one.

And 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