Pruitt defends housing arrangement. TRANSCRIPT: 04/06/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Natasha Bertrand, Kim Wehle, Erica Werner, Adolfo Franco, Jamal Simmons

Show: HARDBALL Date: April 6, 2018 Guest: Natasha Bertrand, Kim Wehle, Erica Werner, Adolfo Franco, Jamal Simmons

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Is Pruitt through it? Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews back in Washington at the end of another wild week at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The President ordered troops down to the border. He forced a game of chicken within China over a possible trade war. And without giving evidence made another startling comment about women immigrants getting raped at levels never seen before.

In all this -- amid all this, Trump has reportedly sidelined his chief of staff and is publicly standing up to his, living it up EPA director Scott Pruitt. Pruitt is facing mounting questions about ethics and spending habits. There`s his reported taste for luxury travel that he often sits in first or business class. Pruitt said he needed to because of unpleasant interactions with other travelers meaning those pesky citizens in coach. He is the first EPA ex-administrator to have a 24-hour security detail that accompanies him at all times. And according "the New York Times" his office requested a bullet proof sport utility vehicle with so-called run flat tires. And Pruitt wanted to use flashing lights and sirens in his motorcade, a perk more commonly associated with the presidency to expedite local trips in Washington to the airport or just to dinner, including at least one drip top Le Diplomate, a trendy French restaurant that he frequented.

While according to Times, at least five officials at the EPA, four of them high-ranking were reassigned or demoted or requested new jobs in the past year after they raised concerns about the spending habits.

Anyway, a spokesman for EPA called them a group of disgruntled employees who have either been dismissed of reassigned. And then, there are other questions about ethics after reports that Pruitt paid just $50 a night to stay in a Capitol Hill condominium linked to a prominent Washington lobbyist whose firm represents a roster of fossil fuel companies. In other words, oil people.

Here`s Pruitt this week defending himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why did you then accept $50 a night to rent a condo from the wife of a Washington lobbyist?

SCOTT PRUITT, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: Let`s talk about that. That is something again that has been reviewed by officials here. They have said that`s market rate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are renting from the wife of a lobbyist.

PRUITT: Yes. Who has no business (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hold on a second. So -- is that Williams and Jensen, right, major lobbying firm, ExxonMobil is a client.

PRUITT: Mr. Hart has no clients.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does ExxonMobil have business before you.

PRUITT: Mr. Hart has no clients that has business before this agency.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, according to "Wall Street Journal," White House chief of staff, John Kelly told President Trump last week that he is convinced Pruitt needs to step down, in other words go. Today White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders addressed his job security. Let`s watch her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The President feels that the administrator has done a good job at EPA. He has restored it back to its original purpose. And we are continuing to review any of the concerns that we have. And I will keep you posted if there`s anything -- if there`s anything further on that front.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Has done a good job, not is doing a good job.

This morning Trump tweeted Pruitt is doing a great job but is totally under siege. That`s the President talking. That might not be much comfort to Pruitt as Trump used the same exact language to defend other cabinet members he later was forced to force out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Secretary Tom Price is also here. Today, Dr. Price still lives the scout oath, helping to keep millions of Americans strong and healthy as our secretary of health and human services and he is doing a great job. David Shulkin, our secretary has done a great job. The VA was a mess.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And they are all gone. And after NBC reported national security adviser H.R. McMaster was going to be replaced, NSC spokesman Michael Anton responded by saying that he was just with the President and McMaster both of them together in the oval office, President Trump said that the NBC News story is fake news and has told McMaster he is doing a great job. They are all gone now.

For more in all this, I`m joined by White House correspondent for the PBS News Hour Yamiche Alcindor, White House reporter of the "Associated Press" Jonathan Lemire and politics editor at "the Daily Beast," of course, Sam Stein. All are MSNBC contributors.

Yamiche, are you a godfather fan? Have you noticed this Fredo, you broke my heart? You know, this, when your mother dies. I mean, you are gone from here. You are going out in the boat saying your Hail Marys. It is over. And he seems to do it in the same ritualistic way, you know.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, PBS NEWS HOUR: Except that Tom is telling Michael to fire and killed Fredo and he is not doing it. Essentially explain that for the people who watched "the godfather." The fact the President is defying John Kelly, who was reportedly telling him to fire --.

MATTHEWS: I like the godfather references. They are very sophisticated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really good.

ALCINDOR: But the fact that the President is defying his chief of staff hosteling him to resign and telling him that he needs to go and the fact that you have Sarah Sanders who is basically saying look, he is kind of under review. We don`t know what is going to happen, I think Scott Pruitt have a lot to worry about. If nothing else, if he does another interview like FOX News and he comes off looking that crazy again, the President is not going to have him much longer.

MATTHEWS: Tell me this trade craft you guys all engage in White House coverage. How come we know what John Kelly told the President about this guy, Pruitt? How can we know him he told him to fire him? Well, how did he know that, obviously, once somebody tell somebody in the press I told him to firefighter guy?

JONATHAN LEMIRE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well, you cooperate with more than one person. You talk to several people in the building can give accounts of a conversation. You don`t have to say anything.

MATTHEWS: But then let me ask you. It also looking me like a mistake (ph). Just a thought.

LEMIRE: Well, we know in this case --.

MATTHEWS: That would goose the move, wouldn`t it? Get it going? Get the word out I told you to get rid of the guy.

LEMIRE: It is possible. We know that Trump sometimes acts in contrarian purposes to what his chief of staff advised him. We know this. And also that Pruitt was in the oval office today, you know, for a meeting where he was going to talk about rolling back regulations, the fuel efficiency standards. But while there, pleaded with the President, made his case. This is why I should still be in the job. And he has lost a lot of allies, a lot support in the west wing but he still has unlike David Shulkin who just lost his job, still has a lot of outside support. People in the industry, conservative --.

MATTHEWS: People hate the environment.

LEMIRE: People who may not want to protect the environment and like others. And they have been in the President`s ear saying look, this guy is getting conservative done. Keep him on.

MATTHEWS: My experience, Sam, is that politicians have to -- they get their own scar tissue on their own and don`t want it from people under them. In other words, that this guy is taking a lot of bad hits from the media and all kinds of people, the ethics teams out there and maybe the environmental teams out to get him, too, of course. He doesn`t want that hanging on his administration, does he?

SAM STEIN, POLITICS EDITOR, THE DAILY BEAST: No. And we are reporting tonight actually that one of the sub ports here is an incredible amount of tension that exists between senior White House.

MATTHEWS: The beast.

STEIN: Senior White House staff and senior EPA staff in which part of the reason than Pruitt went on and on this media tour is precisely because he thought he would get no air cover from anyone else in the White House. He felt he had to defend himself.

MATTHEWS: And then Kelly told him to stop doing television.

STEIN: Correct. But he felt like he had to go out and actually plead his case. Now, Kelly`s move here is a big gamble if you ask me, to let it be known you want this guy gone, if Trump turns around and does not fire Scott Pruitt it, completely undermines Kelly`s standing within the administration. And so, I think there`s multiple balls in the air here. I think Kelly`s in a tough spot, actually, too.

MATTHEWS: Well, you are reporting, Jonathan, that Trump is freezing out Kelly.

LEMIRE: Yes. There`s no question Kelly has lost a lot of influence within the west wing. That the President has stopped consulting him for a lot of key decisions. He an opposed the hiring of John Bolton. Trump did it anyway making job offer in the oval when Kelly wasn`t there. Kelly didn`t accompany him to Mar-a-Lago last weekend to when Trump ran his twitter tirade and, immigration and tariffs. We know he wasn`t on the call. Though, he often listens in to foreign leaders calls, he wasn`t on the one when Trump called Putin and congratulated him against the advice of his staff and said to him, you know, good job on your reelection.

And we know that John Kelly, you know, is frustrated too. He has told people around him that he hoped to make the year mark which would be July. Recently, he started expressing doubts that he will get that far. And the Presidents is -- this is all connected to him feeling more bold, feeling like I can govern with my gut.

MATTHEWS: Can you really report now that the President of the United States even though he is the top person in our government has to sneak around his staff guy to get something done?

LEMIRE: He has said - he has told people around him that he has stopped telling John Kelly on what he wants to do.

ALCINDOR: But he is also telling people around him that if he got rid of John Kelly that he might not have another chief of staff. So not only is John Kelly kind of making it known that he wants Scott Pruitt gone, Donald Trump is also making known that not only will I might also get rid of this general but I might also just kind of go ahead and wing it on my own because I`m tired of listening to people.

MATTHEWS: OK, Trump watch. Why is Trump raising the temperature this week? And now it is the end of the week. I want to sum it up. I mean, the China war, the rape on the border, all this stuff, the caravans (INAUDIBLE). What is this whole -- I think when things get difficult for him when he starts to get nervous about his right ward corner Ann Coulter, I said this early this week that he just feels the safest thing for him to do is raise the temperature really high and get his people behind him even in the short run.

ALCINDOR: Yes. And I think part of that is because he is also going back to campaign mode. I think he felt most at home when he was out there.

MATTHEWS: April of 2018, he is going into campaign mode. There`s no election right now.

ALCINDOR: Yes. I mean, if you listened to him in West Virginia, he - I mean, I was standing there watching. And I was like, wait, are we really talking about rapes? Are we really talk about immigrants again? Are we throwing the paper saying I`m bored with infrastructure so I`m just going to go ahead and go on a tirade about voter fraud, even though that is clearly just been proven that there`s no evidence that people voted, millions of people voted illegally? I think when he gets frustrated, when he does, he just go back on this tirade.

STEIN: I think there`s something to the fact that here is a man who throughout his life, certainly, his professional life has never been handled. No one has ever told him not to do things or do thing --.

MATTHEWS: It`s worked for him.

STEIN: Well, yes, he got bailed out.

MATTHEWS: Some kind of billionaire and he is President. He says what have you guys done.

STEIN: That`s objectively true.

MATTHEWS: You`re talking about me and I`m him from his point of view.

STEIN: And to be -- and at this point in his presidency, the people who came in with him to handle him, the people brought in to handle him have largely been diminished or put aside. And at this juncture, he is going back to this idea that everything needs to be kinetic, kinetic energy around everything. Always being out, always be premiering something, always dangle a firing.

LEMIRE: Always be fighting with somebody.

MATTHEWS: We are in a world in which the media moves minute by minute. Isn`t he right that he has to grab the attention that have minute.

LEMIRE: He doesn`t have to. At the wants to.

MATTHEWS: Who else will if he doesn`t?

STEIN: Sure. There is a factor of vacuum that could be filled by someone oppositional. But this is obviously quite rare for a presidency to feel like he has to nominate every single headline in every --.

MATTHEWS: Well, it is a new kind of presidency, maybe a very bad. In an interview this morning, president Trump said he wasn`t likely to attend the White House Correspondents dinner again this year. Here`s what he says is his reason. What he said is his reason. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I sort of feel that the press is so bad, it`s so fake, in many cases they literally make up sources, you know. Nine sources within the White House have said, there are no nine sources. So I just think that I want to get it straightened out with the press before I do it. So it`s probably pretty unlikely. I won`t to. And I didn`t do it last year. I had a rally instead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was much funnier.

TRUMP: Right. And the dinner was a massive failure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m going to turn you --

TRUMP: I probably won`t do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, he is now posing as the scolding school master like he has to wrap our knuckles as if you know he is going to find the press, you know, in error here. He is not going to say, you know, they have changed their ways in the next couple of weeks.

ALCINDOR: Not about --. But really, I think this goes back to the fact that he felt wounded when he did go to the White House correspondents dinner and then was ridiculed and had to listen to Barack Obama say all these jokes. So I think it goes back to the fact that he doesn`t want to be embarrassed. And at his core, he really wants to be respected. He wants to --.

MATTHEWS: But he is the star if he goes this time.

LEMIRE: He is the star. He is the star. But he can`t take a joke. There are people around him.

MATTHEWS: You think he didn`t like the gridiron?

LEMIRE: I actually think he had a reasonably good time (INAUDIBLE). But let`s fast track, remember the Al Smith dinner and the later stages of the campaign.

MATTHEWS: Hillary clearly beat him that night.

LEMIRE: Yes. But he like -- it was a charity dinner. He lost the room. He was so mean in his remarks. They weren`t funny. They were so biting. He got booed.

MATTHEWS: Well, you know what he said.

ALCINDOR: Yes.

MATTHEWS: It`s a largely catholic affair, I mean, largely. And he said she is here to pretend he doesn`t hate Catholics. I mean, he was so rough.

STEIN: Yes. He got brutal.

LEMIRE: He got booed. This is sort of not his natural element. Although, this year must be said, he is permitting White House staff to go when last year they couldn`t.

STEIN: How gracious, thank you.

MATTHEWS: By the way. The Al Smith dinner is a Bloomberg crowd. It`s a rich crowd.

LEMIRE: He`s one of the poor guys in the room.

STEIN: I have nothing to add other than if he feels like we have to come to an understanding with him before he attends, he is better off not attending.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, I don`t think it is going to be a bit - I don`t think. We will see who this comedian is.

Anyway. Thank you, Yamiche Alcindor, thank you. And thank you Jonathan Lemire and Sam Stein.

Coming up, the Russia probe. Mueller`s investigators are reportedly tracking down President Trump`s business partners even showing up unannounced at their homes armed with subpoenas. And now there`s word that Mueller`s team is particularly interested in Trump`s long-term, you heard, you guess it, Michael Cohen, like I have said. This investigation is iceberg. There`s a lot happening under the surface of the water.

Plus, President Trump now says he didn`t know about the hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Davis -- Daniels. And what is the worst case scenario for the whole Stormy question? I`m going to ask that to find out that tonight from Kay Fang, the lawyer because I don`t want to know how bad this can get or can I skip on this thing?

And finally, outgoing Congressman Trey Gowdy goes forward. In other words, he is saying this time on Capitol what he has been thinking for years. It`s a waste and Congress is totally ineffective. It is the latest such candid admission from Gowdy and the rest of these people, Charlie Dent, Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, they all tell you the truth on their way out the door.

Finally let me finish tonight with Trump watch. This is HARDBALL where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Republican congressman Blake Farenthold of Texas abruptly resigned late this afternoon effective 5:00 eastern. Earlier this year Farenthold announced he would retire at the end of the term following news that he had paid $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment claim brought by a former staffer. Farenthold has said he would repay the $84,000 but there`s no indication he has made good on that promise.

In a statement, Farenthold said today while I planned on serving out the remainder of my term in Congress, I know in my heart it`s time for me to move along and look for new ways to serve.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

There have been many signs over the last week that the investigation into potential collusion with Russia is alive and well. It was revealed that Mueller, Bob Mueller is stopping Russian oligarchs at U.S. airports right now. We learned that a cooperating witness George Nader has ties to Russia. And we also saw the first prison sentence handed down in connection with the probe. And now McClatchy news service is reporting that Mueller is interested in the President`s business partners.

Quote "armed with subpoenas compelling electronic records and sworn testimony, Mueller`s team showed up unannounced at the home of the business associate who was a party to multiple transactions connected to Trump`s effort to expand his business abroad."

Investigators are reportedly very interested in Michael Cohen. There he is. Trump`s long-time attorney and personal fixer who is also deeply embroiled in the Stormy Daniels` scandal. I will get to that in the next segment.

As McClatchy notes, among other things, Cohen was involved in business deals secured or sought by the Trump organization in Russia, Kazakhstan and Russia. Cohen is best known, of course, for attempting to develop a Trump tower project in Moscow an effort that took place while he was running for President.

And as "The New York Times" reported last month, the special counsel subpoenaed documents from the Trump organization earlier this year.

I`m joined right now by Kim Whaley, former assistant U.S. attorney and Natasha Bertrand who covers the Russia probe for "the Atlantic."

Thank you both for joining us. And obviously, we are looking for what this tells us, Kim. What does it tell you he`s now fishing around and interviewing people and subpoenaing them and then they have to talk and their documents about Trump`s business stuff?

KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSOCIATE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: Well, it tells us that they`re bloodhounds on trail where the facts go.

And it also tells us they`re interested in knowing whether any foreign nationals or foreign governments contributed money to a political campaign. That`s illegal. And it`s illegal to...

MATTHEWS: What made them -- what got them on that trail? What led them to believe? What sent the bloodhounds thinking some money -- unexplained money showed up in the Trump campaign?

WEHLE: Well, it`s hard to say.

I know, from Whitewater, that what we know is just the tip of the iceberg. There`s a whole lot of information and dots that we need to connect that we can`t do it, because we don`t have the information.

But we do know that this process was ticked off by Papadopoulos` interview with the Australian in London. And then, of course, at this point, they`re talking Gates and Mr. Flynn. And Gates had a right-hand first -- front-row seat -- excuse me -- with Manafort to what was happening in the Trump campaign.

MATTHEWS: Natasha, you see -- we have watched all this week all these different little tentacles, if you will. There`s still the question of, but what happened in the Seychelles? And what did David -- Nader have to do that? He was apparently much deeper tied to the Russians than we thought. He wasn`t just somebody from the Emirates.

He was there, we thought, as sort of an in-between person. But, in fact, he may have been part of the Russian deal. Meetings like that. The meetings of course going back to Trump Tower, of course, with the family members there. And all the time, Michael Cohen and what he`s been up to overseas.

And is Trump -- was he trying to make money as he ran for president and was he entangling both together?

NATASHA BERTRAND, "THE ATLANTIC": Right.

So, Mueller`s investigation, I think, was always going to shift into a follow-the-money type probe in terms of whether or not the president actually had -- whether or not Russian actually had leverage over the president. It would be probably in the form of something financial, just because of his real estate empire.

With regard to George Nader, it`s really interesting . There was reporting this week that he actually met with Erik Prince before and after this meeting in the Seychelles to kind of brief him on this Russian financier who they were going to meet with.

And what I have heard is that this meeting in the Seychelles was actually about activating some kind of bank accounts. And that is, of course, something that Mueller would be interested in is, why was Erik Prince, who was a Trump supporter, a de facto member of the Trump campaign, meeting with this Russian financier who is very close to Putin in the Seychelles? And what can George Nader tell Bob Mueller about it?

Now, of course, Michael Cohen has been privy to pretty much every deal that the Trump Organization has made within the past couple decades. If he ever entered into business with a Russian or an Eastern European with ties to Putin, Michael Cohen would know about it.

So, of course, he`s going to be a very valuable witness. And with his now controversy surrounding the Stormy Daniels case, he might be in the position to be flipped and cooperate with Mueller.

MATTHEWS: What struck me this week is that Mueller`s people are stopping oligarchs at the border. They`re going in to JFK or whatever and they`re grabbing them. And they`re saying let`s see your computer, your laptop. And they start going through it.

I mean, this is pretty aggressive stuff.

WEHLE: Yes, the element of surprise is actually quite helpful and to their advantage in this instance.

But I agree with that, that Mr. Cohen is not only in the middle of it, but he`s either -- and we see with Stormy Daniels he`s either violating his ethics rules with respect to his lawyering or he`s not telling us the truth. One way or the other, he`s covering...

MATTHEWS: Well, just jumping ahead to the next segment of this program, do you think -- since I have got you here with your expertise -- the fact that he signed the president up for a nondisclosure agreement using his signature, at least David Dennison, his AKA -- without -- now Trump says he didn`t know anything about it,.

What does that tell you about Michael Cohen? One of them is not telling the truth.

WEHLE: Well, for sure, or they`re both not telling the truth.

MATTHEWS: I should say the president`s not telling it the truth.

WEHLE: Or they`re both not telling the truth.

And I think a judge in that...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Can a judge -- can a lawyer sign somebody up to any kind of contract without their permission?

WEHLE: No, and not without communicating with their client about what they`re planning to do. It`s not realistic. And so we have to be realistic about the facts and then decide, what do we do about that?

MATTHEWS: By the way, how would the president, at the time when he sign this deal, the client, know he wasn`t supposed to talk about his affair with Stormy Daniels if he didn`t know there was an agreement not to talk about it? Has anybody brought that up? Right, isn`t he?

WEHLE: Yes. No...

MATTHEWS: By the way, if you`re obliged to do something under a contract, like $130,000 goes one way, but both parties are told don`t talk about this under this agreement. But the attorney never tells his client he`s now tied to this.

BERTRAND: And I think one of the saving graces in all of this for Trump anyway is that he never actually signed the agreement. Right? That`s part of the reason that they`re arguing now that it`s valid.

WEHLE: But that`s not actually a magical thing in contract law. They both performed on the agreement. I don`t think that`s going to be anything.

MATTHEWS: OK. But the fact is Trump should have known he should have been quiet about something. And he was never even told, anyway -- as he would normally be quiet.

Anyway, a new court filing in the Paul Manafort case last night indicates that investigators obtained a new search warrant as recently as last month, apparently the seventh time warrants have been issued and executed in connection with the Manafort prosecution.

This guy, talk about a full-court press. And the filing indicates this was associated with a five telephone numbers controlled by AT&T which suggests that investigators are probing new leads. Furthermore, the warrant said it was obtained in March, on March 9, actually. That`s the same day that former Trump campaign adviser Sam Nunberg testified before the grand jury.

Natasha, seven times, this guy`s been searched? This does seem like something out of "Homeland." They`re just roaring in and clearing out every drawer in his whatever, his chest of drawers looking for -- under the socks. I mean...

BERTRAND: Paul Manafort`s entry into the campaign coincided with the most pivotal Russia-related moment of the entire election, which, of course, was the dumping of the DNC e-mails right before the Democratic National Convention.

So, Paul Manafort, of course, he was in touch with his longtime business associate Konstantin Kilimnik, who has been accused by Mueller of being a Russian spy. And now we know that Gates and Paul Manafort were both still in touch with him through the entire election.

On top of that, Paul Manafort, obviously, he has been working with Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs for decades. He is always going to be -- he was always going to be at the center of this question of whether or not the campaign colluded with the Russians, if not just because his entry into the campaign coincided with all of the most important Russia-related episodes of the entire campaign.

MATTHEWS: Isn`t it amazing how all these international figures, these intriguing figures, look what they are? Manafort just looks, I don`t know, a croupier or what he is. But he just -- he looks like he would be involved in this kind of stuff.

Anyway, I know you lawyers can`t think like that.

Thank you, Kim Wehle and Natasha Bertrand.

Up next: President Trump says he didn`t know about that $130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels. The story continues to plague Trump, of course.

By the way, I have been thinking about that. What`s the worst-case scenario of the president? Is there one or can he get by this? I`m not sure. People argue around here about that. Is this a big deal or not? We will see.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Donald Trump has finally broken his silence on Stormy Daniels.

Here he goes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No.

QUESTION: Then why did Michael Cohen make it, if there was no (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: Well, you will have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. And you will have to ask Michael.

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

TRUMP: No, I don`t know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the president later ignored a question about whether he ever set up a fund from which Michael Cohen could draw from, draw money from.

Cohen used his Trump Organization e-mail while arranging that $130,000 hush money payment just days before the 2016 election. That was in October of 2016.

Anyway, Daniels has offered to give back the money she was paid in order to speak freely about the alleged relationship with Trump.

The White House has denied that the president had an affair with the adult film actor. Daniels is now suing the president and his lawyer to avoid -- or void that nondisclosure agreement.

Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels` lawyer, told Ari Melber that the president`s comments strengthened his client`s case. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: We waited patiently and, lo and behold, Christmas has arrived.

The president`s comments on Air Force One are serious for him, serious for Michael Cohen. How can you have an agreement when one party claims that they don`t know anything about the agreement?

I mean, these guys are making it up as they go along. They don`t know what to say from day in and day out. And our case just got a whole lot better. He`s effectively thrown Michael Cohen now under the bus, at least from an ethics standpoint, with the state bar of New York by making these statements on Air Force One.

But, again, this is an undisciplined guy who just -- he finally cracked.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, for more, I`m joined by MSNBC legal analyst Katie Phang.

Katie, I don`t want to make this case into any bigger than it is, so I`m going to ask you the question. What`s the worst could happen to the president in this fandango, the worst?

KATIE PHANG, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: The worst that could happen to the president is already happening, Chris. And that is Robert Mueller.

So what do I mean by that?

Robert Mueller has already put his sights upon Michael Cohen. I mean, we just heard in the last segment that he`s looking with an exceptional level of scrutiny at Trump Organization deals with Russia, Georgia, the Ukraine, Kazakstan. And he wants to look at specifically Michael Cohen`s involvement.

So, what does Stormy Daniels have anything to do with this? Well, the reason why Trump -- and do you feel all that chill? Because that is Donald Trump leaving Michael Cohen out in the cold. What Donald Trump is doing is, he`s denying any knowledge or involvement in this Stormy Daniels deal, because he does not want to be a co-conspirator with Michael Cohen for any FEC campaign finance violations or anything else that could have to do with Michael Cohen.

But the problem for Donald Trump is this. Even though, presumptively, there is a privilege that exists usually between an attorney and a client that would protect communications, correspondence, et cetera, at this point in time, a crime fraud exception applies, meaning if Mueller calls in Michael Cohen and asks him to talk about certain communications had he with Donald Trump, and because there is this crime fraud exception, Cohen may be forced to have to disclose his communications.

And so that is the worst-case scenario for Donald Trump. It`s already happening. And he`s not going to be able to stop Robert Mueller.

MATTHEWS: In other words, if the attorney in the case is a target himself of the investigation? Is what they mean crime fraud?

PHANG: So, if Cohen`s a target -- yes, basically, so have you this privilege, an attorney-client privilege. But if there is the assistance of a crime, you cannot hide behind the privilege as the lawyer or the client.

MATTHEWS: OK.

PHANG: And so, as a result of that, there`s going to be a serious problem for Michael Cohen.

But that`s exactly the reason why Trump is basically denying anything and saying, hey, you just need to talk to Michael Cohen about this.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you the other question.

Well, let me get to the inner question here, the intermediate question, which is what Michael Avenatti just said there on tape. If there was a nondisclosure agreement, the obvious purpose of the nondisclosure is that she will not talk about what he and she did together.

PHANG: Sure.

MATTHEWS: Now, according to the argument Michael Avenatti made, however, it`s two ways. A nondisclosure agreement binds both parties to silence.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: So, therefore, it could not have been made if it -- without telling one of the parties, the president in this case, that he was supposed to keep quiet about it. Right?

PHANG: Yes.

So if Trump himself is not a party to the contract, and if Trump himself had no knowledge about the payment, which was the consideration given to Stormy Daniels to buy her silence, then why in the world is Trump joining in a motion to compel arbitration?

Why is Trump joining in a federal lawsuit if Trump had nothing to do with the underlying contract? And that is going to be a serious problem for Donald Trump.

And that is why Michael Avenatti is going to renew his motion next week to ask that federal judge to be able to take a limited deposition of Donald Trump and Michael Cohen before this case gets ruled upon whether it`s going to go to arbitration or not.

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s go back to an earlier question I meant to say in that question. Would an attorney, in this case Michael Avenatti (sic), be ethical in binding his client, Donald Trump, to silence without telling Donald Trump, I have just bound you to silence? Would that be ethical?

PHANG: No, because...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Yes or no? I mean, I want to know.

PHANG: No. The answer is no.

Michael Cohen cannot be binding a client to anything without the client`s approval, assent and agreement. And in the absence of that, how is he possibly able to do it?

MATTHEWS: OK. Flip your head around for a second here, OK? I have never met you. But you understand this case obviously clearly.

How does Trump get out of it? Let`s imagine you are now his lawyer. How does he swing this whole to the point where it doesn`t matter in a month?

PHANG: Two crucial issues.

One, if you look at the very beginning of the settlement agreement, it says Essential Consultants, LLC, and/or Donald Trump and Stephanie Daniels, right? Or Stephanie Clifford. Excuse me.

So, basically, if you read the beginning of that settlement agreement, it looks as if Essential Consultants, LLC, or Trump could be a party to the agreement. Two, she took the money. She took the money. They bought her silence. She took that money and she exercised and/or performed under the contract.

And so, if I`m Donald Trump, I say, look, that was bargained for. She did what she was supposed to do. I did what I was supposed to do or the LLC was supposed to do. There`s your meeting of the minds. There`s your contract. We`re going to arbitration.

MATTHEWS: Thanks so much, Katie Phang. Have a nice weekend. You have been great on this show. Thank you.

PHANG: Thanks.

MATTHEWS: Up next: Representative Trey Gowdy now goes full Bulworth ahead of his retirement from Congress, saying he doesn`t have a lot to show for his time in Washington.

Why do lawmakers only speak the truth when they`re heading out the door?

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You promised us federal funding to rebuild our community. What happened?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, what happened was that we all knew that was going to be big news for a while so we all came down here, Bush, Clinton, Wilson, all of us, we got our pictures taken, told you what wanted to hear and we pretty much forgot about it.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did he just say what I think he said?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: See where he`s going with this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That`s Warren Beatty playing the senator who fessed up to his life of B.S. actually. That`s from the film "Bulworth" in which Warren Beatty portrays a senator who believing his career is over decides to tell it like it is.

It would appear South Carolina Representative Trey Gowdy is having a "Bulworth" moment of his own right now. In and interview with HBO`s "Vice News", Gowdy who announced in January he would not seek re-election said Congress is hampered by ineffectiveness.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

INTERVIEWER: You didn`t like this job, did you?

REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I mean, that sounds self-serving. But I liked the people.

INTERVIEWER: But the job, I understand the people you like --

GOWDY: No, I don`t like the job. No.

INTERVIEWER: You don`t like the job?

GOWDY: No, I`m an executive branch guy. I`m not a legislative branch guy.

INTERVIEWER: Eight years you did it.

GOWDY: Seven, soon to be eight. To the extent men judge themselves based on what they do for a living, I don`t have a lot to show for the last seven years.

INTERVIEWER: The president of the United States, the leader of the Republican Party, called you a loser.

GOWDY: Depending on how you judge the purpose of the Benghazi investigation, I think a lot of people would say I was a loser.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow. After all those hours of testimony by the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he`s admitting it was all a waste. Anyway, you won`t be seeing me running political office again. He said I`m done.

Well, the former federal prosecutor was asked, has faced the ire of some conservatives in recent weeks, given his defense of the Mueller investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOWDY: Give him the time, the resources, the independence to do his job and when you are innocent, if the allegation is collusion are the Russians and there is no evidence of that and you`re innocent of that, act like it.

I`m glad we have Bob Mueller. I`m glad we have an independent ball and strike caller. Congress has proven itself incapable of conducting serious investigations.

Congressional investigations leak like the gossip girls. They -- I mean, they`re terrible. And I would be telling you that if you were staying in Congress. They`re just not serious.

If you have nothing to hide, sit down -- assuming a fair prosecutor, a fair prosecutor and I think Mueller is, sit down and tell him what you know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And earlier this week, he said the president has no reason to breathe a sigh of relief simply because he`s been told he`s not currently a target of the Mueller investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So if you were his attorney, you would not say, you wouldn`t have a sigh of relief?

GOWDY: Heavens no. I will have a sigh of relief when the investigation is over and even then, maybe not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the Republican lawyer best known for leading the House investigation of Benghazi now has some harsh words for his own party obviously.

That`s coming up next with the HARDBALL roundtable.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOWDY: We`ve convinced ourselves that we have to win because the country will go to Hades in a hand basket if my team doesn`t win.

INTERVIEWER: What do you make of the Republican Party in 2018?

GOWDY: The goal is to win.

INTERVIEWER: That`s all the party cares about.

GOWDY: That`s the goal. The goal is to win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was retiring and that`s the word for it South Carolina Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy speaking his mind on the state of the Republican Party right now. It`s on his way out, of course.

Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable. Erica Werner is a congressional reporter for "The Washington Post," and Adolfo Franco is a Republican strategist and RNC surrogate who is not retiring. And Jamal Simmons is a Democratic strategist. And neither for you.

You know, I am -- I am -- I really like that movie that Beatty did years ago, that was Halle Berry, young Halle Berry in that picture. I`ve had it with all the fund-raising, the toting up for the interest groups and ethnic groups and playing the game everybody plays.

We all know it`s a game. They all play it, pandering, blah, blah, blah. And he said, I can`t do it anymore. But they never tell you that until they`re walking out the door.

And here`s Trey Gowdy saying his seven-year career is a waste. That all those investigations, how many hours with Hillary, 11? I thought it was a waste at the time. I think a better hearing might have done a better job. But what they did didn`t.

ERICA WERNER, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I mean, look at Marco Rubio, for example. He went around for like six months saying that the Senate is a terrible place. That it was a waste of time. Senators and members of Congress aren`t accomplishing anything and then, you know, turns around and runs for re-election after all.

MATTHEWS: The title, is it a title? They can`t walk away from the prestigious title of United States senator?

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think a lot of people do like that. I got to tell you, I am struggling with the Trey Gowdy one, because he talks about Congress as if he wasn`t a member of Congress. He talks about the investigation.

MATTHEWS: He said my life`s -- my career has been worthless. Come on.

SIMMONS: Yes, but he talks about it like he wasn`t leading some of these investigations. If there was a problem with the investigations, a problem with himself, not this sort of distance hold the hankie by the pinky kind of way he`s been talking about it. I think -- if he still wants to work, he still has time. He has 19 more weeks left in Congress. He could call Scott Pruitt in.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: That`s Democrat work.

SIMMONS: He could call Ben Carson in. But he wants to get Congress to do something, do something.

MATTHEWS: Remember the Trey Gowdy we all watched as southern guy, you know, a serious southern lawyer who was going to be really clever and catch Hillary Clinton.

ADOLFO FRANCO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well --

MATTHEWS: It didn`t happen.

FRANCO: Well, a couple things first of all. I agree with you Jamal on this.

Two or three things. First of all, it took him seven or eight years to realize he`s really set -- his life`s work being an executive branch or a lawyer? It takes seven or eight years to get there?

Secondly, nobody put a gun to his head to lead the Benghazi investigation. That was a plum job which he sought and wanted.

The fact is the president --

MATTHEWS: It sounds like Stormy Daniels saying I was in the room. Remember her testimony? I was in the room.

FRANCO: But President Trump got it right. I don`t want to go as far as saying a loser but --

MATTHEWS: What did he say to voters in the last four elections? Did he tell them as he went out, don`t re-elect him? This is a joke, this isn`t working.

(CROSSTALK)

WERNER: Remember in 2016, he practically didn`t run again. When Boehner resigned, they tried to draft him to be majority leader. He turned that down. So, he`s had kind of very public like waffling about the point of being in Congress and his own role in Congress.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Adolfo, put your defensive hat. You`re the goalie now, OK, in the hockey game. Is the Republican Party as he said only interested in winning?

FRANCO: Is this news? Is the Democratic Party only interested in winning? Come on. You`ve been around for so long.

MATTHEWS: Only.

FRANCO: Only. I think --

MATTHEWS: That`s a strong statement. Only winning? That`s all it is?

FRANCO: I think Nancy Pelosi is only interested in winning.

MATTHEWS: Only in winning? She doesn`t have any values?

FRANCO: Interested in winning for what purpose.

(CROSSTALK)

SIMMONS: That`s not true.

FRANCO: To implement an agenda.

SIMMONS: Here`s why that`s not true. Health care. Health care was not popular. Nancy Pelosi laid her body on the train tracks, got health care passed. Democrats lost the House because they believed in getting health care done.

FRANCO: No, Barack Obama put that as the agenda, and shoved that down Nancy Pelosi`s throat.

Same as the president that has put forth a lot of proposals that a lot of Republicans are uncomfortable with, and both the speaker and the majority leader have been supportive because it`s the president`s agenda. That was --

(CROSSTALK)

SIMMONS: Nancy Pelosi --

MATTHEWS: Erica, in your reporting, don`t you find parties do want stuff? They don`t just want re-election. I mean, Republicans love tax cuts especially for the rich.

WERNER: And to your point, you know, Mitch McConnell often says winners make policy, losers go home. So, in order to, you know, get policy the first thing you have to do is win. It`s political necessity. So, if that`s Trey Gowdy`s criticism, I don`t know that that is a criticism.

SIMMONS: Republicans have given up on free trade. They`ve given up on moral values. They gave up on all the issues I grew up believing that Republicans believed in. I disagree with them --

(CROSSTALK)

SIMMONS: Even Russia.

FRANCO: Well, Republicans --

SIMMONS: If you can`t get Republicans to be against Russia, what are --

FRANCO: Well, we just imposed sanctions, new sanctions, additional sanctions on Russia today. And wait, and this whole idea about trade, we`ll wait and see what the president does ultimately on trade.

MATTHEWS: How far can the stock market drop before we find out?

FRANCO: You said it today. We`re still ahead in the stock market. We might suffer.

MATTHEWS: January of `17, yes. Hell down from where we were. We were at 2,600 -- 26,000. Now we`re down to 23,000.

FRANCO: A lot of programs we were having about the stock market going up and all the successes of the Trump administration. It`s only when it`s a little bit down temporarily. But --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: It scares me. We don`t do a lot of stock market coverage until it really is interesting, and it`s frightening.

FRANCO: The stock market will be higher than it is.

MATTHEWS: That makes me happy.

FRANCO: Wait and see.

MATTHEWS: If it`s true.

FRANCO: It`s true.

MATTHEWS: OK. The roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, after that bullish comment, we`ll have these guys tell us something we don`t know.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with the roundtable.

Erica, tell me something I don`t know this Friday night.

WERNER: We had an interesting poll today, "The Washington Post" with Kaiser Family Foundation, found that since 2016, one in five Americans have participated new political protests. Nineteen percent of those people had never done so before in their lives. And 70 percent of them motivated by distrust/dislike of the president.

MATTHEWS: Sounds right to me.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I`m sure your crowd estimates are more in line with the president`s.

FRANCO: I think so.

But let me tell you, I think you this North Korea summit will actually be tied to trade. I think that`s a way for the president and my sources tell me is to pressure China to come to a deal on North Korea and then come to a negotiated settlement on the trade issue. I think that will be a significant win for the president on both China and North Korea.

MATTHEWS: OK, Jamal?

SIMMONS: Republican candidate Todd Rokita in Indiana launched a new ad where he`s taking after the other two Republicans in Indiana one for being a never Trumper the other for being a former Democrat. And so, the march to the right in these primaries is happening. Democrats are happy because that`s happening in places like West Virginia, Montana, Arizona.

MATTHEWS: You think that`s good for Democrats.

SIMMONS: Oh, yes, these Republicans are fighting to see who can be more Trumpy.

MATTHEWS: Is the Democratic Party doing the same?

SIMMONS: No, but these are sitting Democratic seats.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Just continue.

Erica Werner, thank you for being account middle person. And thank you, Adolfo Franco, and thank you, Jamal Simmons.

And when we return, let me finish tonight with Trump Watch, it`s is back. You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Friday, April 6, 2018.

Have you noticed something about the Republicans? I mean, the way they talk about President Trump? If they`re about to retire, they say things like Senator Corker of Tennessee did.

Quote: When his term is over, I think the debasing of our nation, the constant non-truth-telling is what will be remembered most important and that`s regretful.

If you`re a Republican about to retire, you say things like Congressman Dent of Pennsylvania. He compared his party to, again, these are his words, a dysfunctional family. Dad`s drunk again, but we don`t talk about it.

Do you have to be on your way out the door to say things like that or what are Congressman Gowdy of South Carolina said about the president? When you`re innocent, act like it. If you have the done something wrong, you should want the investigation to be as fulsome and thorough as possible.

Or Senator Flake of Arizona, another about to be retiree, never has a party abandoned, fled its principles and deeply held beliefs so quickly as my party did. He went on: If we`re going to cloister ourselves in the alternative truth of an erratic leader, then my party might not deserve to lead.

So, what does it say about the Grand Old Party, the party of Abraham Lincoln, that its members must hang it up and free themselves from their voters before they dare say what they think? Why do they have to take the truth serum of retirement to come clean with their honest view of the way their leader is leading or misleading this country?

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

Now, here`s Chris Hayes.

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