Ryan's retirement rattles republicans. TRANSCRIPT: 04/11/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Richard Blumenthal, Clarence Page, Chris Wilson, Ryan Williams, Donna Edwards, Kevin Baron

Show: HARDBALL Date: April 11, 2018 Guest: Richard Blumenthal, Clarence Page, Chris Wilson, Ryan Williams, Donna Edwards, Kevin Baron

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: That is our show.

And busy one, HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS starts now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: House on fire. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

President Trump is flaunting his anger before the country and the world. Fueled by rage over the special counsel`s probe and taunting Russia while on the precipice of a military strike against Syria.

And amid all this came the announcement today that the Republican speaker of the House is jumping ship. Paul Ryan said today he won`t run for re- election in 2018, a move sure to deepen leadership crisis facing the party under Trump. Much more on that coming up.

But it is Donald Trump`s erratic response to multiple events that have many people on edge tonight. After Russia threatened to shoot down any U.S. missile launched against Syria, the President responded get ready, Russia, because they will be coming nice and new and smart. You shouldn`t be partner with a gas killing animal who kills his people and enjoys it. That`s Trump responding to Russia.

But even as he deals with the growing conflict in Syria, the President appears preoccupied with the Mueller probe threatening the people who oversee the investigation.

Quote "much of the bad blood with Russia is caused by the fake and corrupt Russia investigation headed up by the all Democrat loyalists or people that worked from Obama. Mueller has also conflicted of all except Rosenstein who signed a FISA warrant and the Comey letter."

Wow. Mueller reports paint a disturbing patriot comes state of mind in the wake of the FBI`s raid on his lawyer`s office Monday. According to "The New York Times," the President is near what two people close to the west wing described as a meltdown. A Republican operative tells "Politico" that the President is losing his, well, you fill in the blank and saying we are at a different level now.

And people close to the President tell Axios that Mueller has passed a breaking point for Trump. Now a person with knowledge of the legal proceedings against Cohen tells NBC News that the search warrant was broader than first believed. And that FBI agents in the raid were also seeking any communications between Trump and Cohen involving the infamous access Hollywood tape. Access Hollywood is an NBC, by the way, Universal program.

Joining me now is Democratic senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Peter Baker is chief White House correspondent for "The New York Times" and Ashley Parker is a White House reporter with the "Washington Post."

Senator, I want to ask you about the President and your concerns about his state of mind. He has a lawyer`s office now with -- who can imagine what`s coming out of that gates of hell. Everything involved, the women have made complaints against him. He ha`s had legal action with, everything to do with Access Hollywood. Apparently, the connection that Michael Cohen had with his Russian dealings for the Russian and paying back the Russians it looks like Cohen`s getting squeezed and once again, Trump is the target.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Let`s understand first the magnitude of this in effect nuclear strike on Michael Cohen. It`s the equivalent of a nuclear strike with multiple warheads against him. And now the link possibly to the President in those conversations that may have occurred. There had to be evidence of a crime. And the danger of destruction of that evidence by Michael Cohen.

In other words, obstruction of justice, what is Robert Mueller investigating with respect to Donald Trump? Obstruction of justice as well as the Russian collusion. And so the link between these two investigations is becoming more an apparent, leading to the President`s internal upheaval.

Clearly, he is in inner turmoil and these rants and die tribes denunciations of the department of justice and the special counsel and Rod Rosenstein indicate a growing threat to the special counsel.

MATTHEWS: Do you believe the President will fire Rosenstein and/or Mueller?

BLUMENTHAL: There`s a growing chance the President will again tragically for his presidency obstruct justice by firing Rod Rosenstein and clearly the firing of Robert Mueller would be obstruction of justice. And I think that that growing threat is what is leading my Republican colleagues now to support legislation that would protect the special counsel.

MATTHEWS: It takes two-thirds of the Senate, which you are member, to remove a President from office. Would that put -- if the President were to fire these individuals especially Mueller, would that jeopardize his situation remaining President?

BLUMENTHAL: It would certainly jeopardize his presidency. It would put it in grave danger but more to the immediate point, it would put our democracy in turmoil and potentially in danger it just as the Saturday night massacre under Nixon did so. And that`s the reason that we want to forestall that threat which would be a constitutional conflagration and certainly damaging to our image abroad, as well.

MATTHEWS: Well, the situation is precarious for our country, as well because Trump is president of the United States and he is our commander-in- chief.

Peter Baker, you have written many times for the front page of "the New York Times" putting the big picture together. What is the big picture tonight that combines Trump`s vulnerability, his possible explosion where he could just erupt and say I`m going to fire all these people, constitutional or not. At the same time he is facing a very tricky situation how to respond to the use of chemical weapons by Syria and how to respond to the threat from Russia`s -- Syria`s partner and ally, Russia, that they would take their side if we go to retaliate?

PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, exactly. Now, Chris, you remember 1998 when President Bill Clinton was in somewhat similar position. He was under pressure from the independence counsel investigating whether he had lied under oath about Monica Lewinsky. At the same time he launched strikes against Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Sudan. Later in the year, he launched strikes against Iraq.

So presidents have to be able to still conduct foreign policy, sometimes even launch military operations at the same time they are under pressure at home. Sometimes over scandals that have them pretty upset.

But you see here a situation where a President is in fact, you know, pretty volatile in his reactions. And whether he is able to compartmentalize, will he is able to sort of separate these events and treat them with a seriousness that they deserve, that`s the open question.

MATTHEWS: Well, Bill Clinton, whatever people can think of him, and he is obviously like most political figures in recent a mixed bag, he was able to compartmentalize. He could give a speech on health care without the prompter containing the speech. In fact, he has able to do it with the wrong speech in the teleprompter. That shows a certain amount of amazing state-of-the-art mental equipment.

Does this President have evidence, shown evidence to you, Peter Baker, that he is capable of that kind of separation of his true duties as commander in-chief from his political situation?

BAKER: Well, he seems to marinate in his frustrations and his aggravation over this particular investigation and he lets it come out in a way that Bill Clinton tried not to and other Presidents who are under pressure from investigations tried not to.

Of the President doesn`t mind sharing his outrage over what he sees as a witch hunt with the word and he lashes out. He is flailing to some extent and he is thinking about taking action that previous Presidents wouldn`t have taken in this circumstance, since Nixon anyway, most Presidents would have thought it almost unthinkable to consider firing a deputy attorney general much less a special counsel because of the reasons the senator just outlined. It would be a political eruption in the hill and would in fact, jeopardize his presidency in a lot of the ways.

So we have seen over the last 15 months or so a President is willing to do things that other Presidents haven`t done. And this is a real test. He has come up several times before and suggested to aides he was ready to dump Robert Mueller or pushed him out to end this investigation only to be talked out of it. The question is whether or not he goes forward at this point.

MATTHEWS: Ashley, your paper and you especially with a few other people have been amazing at getting close to the President. Does he know that every move he makes right now especially with the use of military weaponry, those missiles he talks about being nice and smart and all that, if he uses them it will be suspect that he does. Does he know that he is under suspicion that he might be wagging the dog?

ASHLEY PARKER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: I will say that people in the White House sort of outright dismiss the wag the dog theory, and their argument is that on something as serious as what to do with Syria and launching possible airstrikes, that there has been a very deliberative process in place, you know, from the national security council principals committee meeting this week to smaller briefings for the President.

And I will my reporting shows that the White House has largely been focused on an orderly methodical process at least and perhaps only when comes to Syria. That said, the President tweeted this morning sort of threatening Russia and talking about the U.S. smart missiles that may rain down caught everyone, the Pentagon, his own aides, his own advisors totally by surprise and they sort of had to scramble to figure out how to respond.

So even within something as serious as this and a process they are really working to be disciplined on because they do understand the stakes, especially those around the President. Something like an impulsive early morning tweet will still occur as we saw and can sort of throw everything into chaos at least for several hours.

MATTHEWS: This is a strange time and you cannot satirize it. You are my age pretty much. I have to tell you, I have never said anything like this. There are couple of things. You get the Access Hollywood thing which networks and us included love to play it over and over again. There it is. (INAUDIBLE) where he is saying these horrible things and embarrassing things that cost Billy Bush his job but not him doing the whole thing here for the show.

At the same time, you have got him. It is almost like caressing language about my nice smart missiles. I mean, it`s strange, Senator, to hear - well, you see the whole thing. It`s all on television except the words the President used. He is talking back to the Russians who if nothing else are Marshall in their use of weapon. That`s all they got as gas station and arsenal. And he is saying we have got nicer smarter missiles than you.

BLUMENTHAL: And he is in effect sell graphing in a way that he said he never would criticized other Presidents for doing what the military moves may be. He is sitting with his generals and using that time which should be devoted to talk about the Syrian threat to denounce the department of justice and call a raid in New York on his lawyer a disgrace to the nation. It is beyond strange and embarrassing. It actually undermines the credibility of the United States of America abroad and the office of presidency is so diminished as a result.

MATTHEWS: Peter Baker, we all know from past times we thought a quick military strike would be our solution. The consequences within six hours. Every European newspaper will have to the pictures of the hospital scenes. It`s always there, absolutely predictable. The people being brought into the hospitals on gurneys, bloodied faces, missing whatever. And that is the first reaction. Imagine and then across the front page the top of the fold from the latest Access Hollywood still. I mean, it seems like this is going to be connected whatever good thinking people believe is the best for this President, everyone is going to be thinking wag the dog.

BAKER: Well, it`s unfortunate timing obviously. But I think the one thing that the White House has going for it is because we have been in this scenario before and we have considered the United States has considered action like this before, there is less suspicion of it this time than in the past. When there is a chemical attack last year, Trump ordered a missile strike. The idea that there`s another chemical attack and he might consider it does not seem out of place given his own history, the history that President Obama considered something like this in 2013. And you have got Theresa May in Britain and Emanuel Macron in France both likely it seems like to participate in an operation so it would not be a unilateral move by President Trump.

But you are right. The timing is unfortunate and something that will be cited and used against President Trump and against the United States.

MATTHEWS: Meanwhile, the "Associated Press" is reporting that even before Monday`s raid on Michael Cohen`s law offices, Cohen and his associate in recent weeks that is fearful of being a fall guy.

Let me get to that whole question with Ashley. We don`t have much time in the segment.

Ashley, if Michael Cohen is cognizant reality on this planet, he knows what happens to associates of Donald Trump who have stuff of interest to the special counsel, Mr. Mueller. And now his offices and all his materials, his phone with all it has in it, his computer with everything it has in it, his office, his hotel room where he stays, apparently temporarily and his apartment, all of that information is now in the hands of Mueller. Is he in the hands of Mueller?

PARKER: He certainly feels in hands of Mueller and he is definitely in the hands of the federal prosecutors and FBI who raided him. I will say the thing that Michael Cohen prizes above all else is loyalty to the President and to the President`s family. But in talking to people who have known him for a while, the question now is just how far does that loyalty go and just how much of a fall guy potentially is he willing to be.

MATTHEWS: Senator, the fall guy. These people are cooperating witnesses all the way from Manafort to Flynn. This is a trail of people who have been turned by this special counsel. It seems like that, and you are a former prosecutor, attorney general of the state for many years. Is this where we are going to watch this? Is this the end game here? Turn all these people against the President based on their criminality?

BLUMENTHAL: That is the classic tactic of the prosecutor to work up the chain of criminal culpability as Robert Mueller is doing in a very methodical and careful and discreet way. But remember now that this investigation, since it is rooted in New York and the U.S. attorney`s office there and the FBI office and a warrant executed under court order may well result in a grand jury in New York giving it a life of its own there that cannot be so easily squelched by Donald Trump if he wants to stop that turning of witnesses.

And one more point on the wag the dog. An impulsive, rash strike by the President will appear so because it is not part of a larger strategy. The President hasn`t outlined a way to use diplomacy and our allies. It would probably be a strike done unilaterally by the United States and a one-day, one off kind of act that would give rise to that impression.

MATTHEWS: That he is doing it for political covering his rear.

Anyway, I was wrong. Actually, Mr. Manafort is still holding strong. He is under pressure, obviously, to turn. But we are looking at a lot of the pressure on a lot of people around Trump including those who turned to become witnesses for the prosecution.

Thank you very much, Peter Baker, Ashley Parker, and of course, Senator Richard Blumenthal with me here.

Coming up, House speaker Paul Ryan announces he won`t run again. And now he is leading the Republican exodus, there is good political term, out of Congress. Republicans haven`t been a check on President Trump. They are sort of useless at the leadership level. Maybe they are sick and tired of being his palace guard.

Plus, Trump has managed to turn what maybe an imminent attack on Syria in to a bigger fight with Russia if the Russia threaten to shoot down American missiles. Trump tells Moscow to get ready, the missiles are coming. This will be avoided in the Cuban missile prize.

Anyway, Trump`s promise not to giveaway military plans is gone. He is now talking about the type of missiles he is proud of he is going to drop.

And a Republican member of Congress unloads on President Trump. He says anonymously that he wishes Trump would just go away and says Republicans may have to impeach him after the primaries are over. This is a Republican talking in the Congress, an elected official. More with the roundtable tonight.

Finally let me finish tonight with Trump watch. He won`t like this one because it`s about what he is thinking about tonight and it`s all mishigas where the action is, that`s us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Despite the threats from President Trump, we got yet another indication today that special counsel Robert Mueller isn`t taking his foot off the gas when it comes to the Russia investigation.

NBC News has learned that Mueller`s team has requested 35 sets of subpoenas in advance of Paul Manafort`s impending trial in a Virginia federal court. There he is. While the filing does not say who Mueller plans to investigate or subpoena, his team can call as many as 35 new witnesses to testify in the case. That trial is scheduled to start July 10th.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: You all know that I did not seek this job. I took it reluctantly.

But I have given this job everything that I have. And I have no regrets whatsoever for having accepted this responsibility. What I realize is, if I`m here for one more term, my kids will only have ever known me as a weekend dad.

I just can`t let that happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was House Speaker Paul Ryan today ending months of speculation, announcing he won`t run for reelection this November. Ryan joins an exodus of 38 House Republicans all leaving as the party stares down the prospect of a blue wave this fall.

One viewed as a future star of the Republican Party -- he ran for V.P. on the ticket with Mitt Romney in 2012 -- Ryan`s departure delivers another blow to Republican ahead of what is expected to be a bruising midterm election.

President Trump responded to Ryan`s announcement, writing on Twitter: "Speaker Paul Ryan is a truly good man. And while he will not be seeking reelection, he will leave a legacy of achievement that no one can question. We`re with you, Paul."

Well, Ryan has spent much of the last year contending with Trump`s controversies, of course.

"The Atlantic"`s Ron Brownstein writes today: "Ryan chose to tolerate both Trump`s personal excesses and his racially polarizing words and deeds as the price worth paying to advance Ryan`s own top priorities, cutting spending, regulations and above all taxes. The result was that Ryan, more than any other prominent Republican, personified the devil`s bargain the GOP has signed with Trump."

Good writing there.

Ryan responded to that on CNN today:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER")

RYAN: I don`t see getting things done for the country, keeping your promises, making a difference a devil`s bargain.

Look, we have a divided -- we have separation of powers. We have three separate, co-equal branches of government. We have many different kinds of Republicans.

I`m grateful for the president to win the election, to give us this chance and opportunity to make a big difference in people`s lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, just a short time ago, President Trump tweeted a photo with Ryan -- there it is -- and the rest of the Republican congressional leadership, giving a thumbs up -- there they are -- in advance of a dinner at the White House tonight.

For more, I`m joined by former Romney adviser Ryan Williams and Donna Edwards, former Democratic congresswoman from Maryland and senior fellow at the Brennan Center for justice.

Let me ask you, has the Republican leadership in the Senate and the House and Congress altogether been any kind of check on Trump? Have they stopped him from doing anything he wanted to do that you know of?

RYAN WILLIAMS, REPUBLICAN CAMPAIGN CONSULTANT: I think they have tried to work with the president.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Have they stopped him from doing anything he wanted to do?

WILLIAMS: They have tried to get things done. We have one-party government in Washington.

I think criticizing the president would have endangered that. And I think made the decision that it`s best to work with the president if you want to get anything passed. And I think that is what Speaker Ryan has done.

MATTHEWS: So the division of powers in the Constitution in this case was not relevant?

WILLIAMS: No, look, I think members of the leadership have been driving the train on many of these major policy initiatives.

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAMS: ... tax bill.

MATTHEWS: Didn`t the Republican Party fairly recently and for decades stood for free trade?

Hasn`t the Republican Party and recently and for decades been for reducing the federal deficit and not adding a trillion-and-a-half dollars to it in tax giveaways? Hasn`t it now given up all that philosophy about free trade to the Trump idea of warring with China?

WILLIAMS: Look, I think Speaker Ryan voices opposition to these tariffs.

MATTHEWS: To what effect?

WILLIAMS: He said he doesn`t support them.

MATTHEWS: I mean, to what effect, his opposition? He controls the House of Representatives.

WILLIAMS: He does.

MATTHEWS: And how does he use that power?

WILLIAMS: I think he`s working with the president to convince him...

MATTHEWS: How does he use that power to influence presidential policy?

WILLIAMS: I think he`s using his bully pulpit right now.

MATTHEWS: I think you have admitted it, Ryan. The president`s been calling the shots.

Donna, looking across the aisle at this, the Republican Party of old is gone. The Whig Party, if you will, of sort of moderate Republicanism, of cutting deficits and free trade and whatever is gone.

DONNA EDWARDS (D), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN: Well, it`s been a progression over the...

MATTHEWS: Thanks to Ryan.

EDWARDS: It has. But it`s been a progression over the last 20 years.

And what Ryan has done, he said, I want a couple of things done and I`m going to ignore the president`s moral character. I`m going to ignore the fact that...

MATTHEWS: I never mentioned that, by the way.

EDWARDS: No, but I`m saying it.

But I think that he did make a bargain with the devil. And, you know, I think -- Paul Ryan -- it`s hard. He actually believes in institutions. And I do believe that it has become increasingly more difficult to defend the institution with Donald Trump as president.

That said, I think that he`s also been complicit because he wanted tax cuts and he wanted deregulation. And, you know, there`s no there`s no value in that. You know, for Democrats, look, we shouldn`t be salivating, but the fact is that it`s -- the writing is on the wall.

And he`s reading the tea leaves, and he`s saying, I would rather go out as speaker than go out as minority leader.

MATTHEWS: Well, today about to be former Speaker Ryan insists he`s not waving a white flag, nor is he worried about his party`s chances.

Is it Alfred E. Neuman? He`s not worried. He ought to be worried. What, me worry? They`re going to lose about 30 seats.

Here he is:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN: want to be clear, I`m not done yet. I intend to run to the tape, to finish the year.

I really do not believe whether I stay or go in 2019 is going to affect a person`s individual race for Congress. I really don`t think a person`s race for Congress is going to hinge on whether Paul Ryan`s speaker or not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: But another retiring Republican congressman, Pennsylvania`s Charlie Dent -- he was on last night here -- said President Trump is the real source of the Republican fatigue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I think there`s a lot of weariness and a lot of exhaustion, frankly. This is going to be a challenging year. And I have said this many times, that, you know, litmus test for being a Republican these days is not about any given set of ideals or principles. It`s about loyalty to the man.

And I think that`s challenging.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What do you make of the Republican Party right now? Is it going to be different when Trump`s gone? Or is the same as it was before he arrived? Has he influenced the direction of your party?

WILLIAMS: Yes. He`s the leader of the party right now.

MATTHEWS: How so? No, how has he influenced the direction of your party once he`s gone? How will it be different?

WILLIAMS: He`s taken it away...

MATTHEWS: Will you be more of a party of big deficits and protectionism? Will it be more of that kind of party?

WILLIAMS: He has certainly altered the party. He`s taken it away from the party of George Bush.

MATTHEWS: How has he improved it?

WILLIAMS: He won.

MATTHEWS: But how he has improved the Republican Party in policy-making?

WILLIAMS: Look, he got tax reform done. That`s a significant accomplishment. The House and the Senate got that done with the president. Tax reform doesn`t happen very often. But certainly he`s moved the party away...

MATTHEWS: You call it tax reform.

WILLIAMS: Yes.

MATTHEWS: How is it reform?

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: It`s a big tax cut for people with money. OK.

WILLIAMS: We changed the code for the better.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Ryan Williams. Thanks for coming on. It`s a difficult day to defend.

Anyway, thank you, U.S. Congresswoman Donna Edwards, former congresswoman now running for county executive in Prince George`s -- not P.G. -- Prince George`s County, Maryland.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Up next: Trump has managed to make an already delicate situation in Syria even scarier. He`s now taunting Russia, telling them we have got fancier, smarter missiles than he`s got.

What happened to Trump`s promise not to telegraphic his plans? What happened to his promise not to start stupid wars?

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The rhetoric over Syria is escalating sharply between the United States and Russia tonight. The Russian ambassador to Lebanon is threatening to shoot down any U.S. missiles fired in Syria.

President Trump responded with his own threat -- quote -- "Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready, Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and smart."

Sounds like a street argument. Russia is a Syrian ally, of course, and has a heavy military presence there, with lots of Russians in Syria.

Well, earlier today, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said the military was ready to act if ordered to do so.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, have you seen enough evidence (INAUDIBLE) Assad regime (INAUDIBLE) a chemical attack? Have seen enough (INAUDIBLE) to make that assessment?

JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We`re still assessing the intelligence, ourselves and our allies. We`re still working on this.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. military ready right now to conduct a counter -- retaliatory strike if ordered?

MATTIS: We stand ready to provide military options if they`re appropriate as the president determines.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Secretary Mattis was spotted at the White House earlier today.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters that despite the initial tweet, the president is still weighing military options.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We`re maintaining that we have a number of options, and all of those options are still on the table. Final decisions haven`t been made yet on that front.

The president has a number of options at his disposal, and all of those options remain on the table.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Ryan Crocker, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria, warned that the tangle of alliances today is reminiscent of the situation leading to World War I. World War I.

Let`s listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

RYAN CROCKER, FORMER UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO AFGHANISTAN: So, right now, the level of complexity is immense. Iran, Israel, the United States, Turkey, Russia, external players. Internal, Hezbollah, Islamic State, al Qaeda, Free Syrian Army, Syrian Democratic Forces.

It reminds me uncomfortably of how the stage was set in August 1914.

QUESTION: Oh, dear.

CROCKER: And nobody wanted a war then.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That`s about "The Guns of August," of course, Barbara Tuchman`s book about how we got into a war, the world did, without wanting to.

Kevin Baron is founding executive editor of Defense One, and Robin Wright - - I have known her forever -- senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

I have got to start with you, Robin.

I`m not sure it`s like World War I, but it does like a lot like Suez `56, where the Israelis have their ambitions with regard to Gaza, with regard to stopping the Iranian venture or sailing into Syria. All kinds of stuff they have as their concerns right now.

Iran`s ambitions and what they want, which is to be the dominant force in the Middle East, in the Persian Gulf. And our situation, which is we want to stop Hafez Assad -- or Bashar Assad, his son, now from doing this use of chemical weapons. At the same time, we don`t want to go to war with Russia, their ally, who is there in Syria with them.

How do we do this?

ROBIN WRIGHT, SENIOR FELLOW, WOODROW WILSON CENTER: Seven years after this war started, we are now in a far more complex situation that has almost overnight escalated to something that`s not just about Syria`s chemical weapons, but about the relationship between Washington and Moscow, the attempt to try to halt Iran`s meddling influence, growing influence in the Middle East, particularly now in Syria.

It has to do with presidential muscle and exerting his influence in the run-up to the summit with North Korea, showing that, if diplomacy fails, he is willing to exert U.S. military force.

There is so much more at stake. Yes, chemical weapons is the trigger. But this is likely to have an enormous effect in terms of our relations elsewhere, even as it doesn`t affect the outcome of the war in Syria, which is entering its endgame now.

MATTHEWS: I am worried about the present situation, Kevin, because of this. We all know who studied, like I did, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and actually the Bay of Pigs before that, where the president, he wants to achieve an objective, which is to overthrow the Castro regime in that case, but with very little noise.

Now he wants to hurt Bashar Assad`s regime and send him a message, but with very little noise. He doesn`t want to kill too many people. They want to do it in the middle of the night, where there`s nobody around.

I think that`s B.S. I think, if you use military power, you use military power and you got to decide whether or not or not to, not how you`re going to finely tune it. There`s going to be people in the hospital within hours in all the European newspapers, the front page, as I said a minute ago, juxtaposed with pictures of the latest stuff from "Access Hollywood" and Stormy Daniels.

And everybody in the European world, liberals, conservatives, and all, fascists, whatever, will say, this is wag the dog. The president`s doing this to distract.

How does he do this?

KEVIN BARON, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, DEFENSE ONE: Well, you said earlier, what is the purpose? What`s the objective?

MATTHEWS: A military action, which will kill people.

BARON: Well, this is a moment that we knew was coming for seven years.

We knew all along that the two wars -- remember, there are two wars in Syria. There`s the war on ISIS the United States military is fighting with the coalition, and then there`s the Syrian civil war the U.S. has only been involved with covertly or in other ways.

MATTHEWS: What side are we on in that war, that second war?

BARON: We`re out of it.

MATTHEWS: Do we want to overthrow Bashar Assad? I have never heard anybody say that.

BARON: Well, the stated objective is, they want a unified Syria with Assad out gone, out of it, and they want that to happen in Geneva.

That`s even the military`s mission. The U.S. General Votel, his mission right now is to not just defeat ISIS, but to stick with the Syrians and stay in Syria until Geneva.

But nobody`s talking about Geneva. Nobody`s leading the way to Geneva, especially not from the United States. So, that`s the moment that Trump is at. If he`s going to get involved on the other side of this war, the civil war side, for what purpose and what -- are they going to break it, buy it? Remember the Pottery Barn? Are they really going to own this?

MATTHEWS: Yes. OK.

BARON: And it`s more about -- I think it`s more about just -- whether you strike something targeted or you get a larger involvement in the war, there`s plenty of options that are available.

The military could get going on this be right away. I think what we`re seeing, the slowdown that we`re seeing, this pause that we`re living in right now, is because the military is advising the president of all these ramifications that you`re talking about.

MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Robin.

The president gave a hard time to President Obama, his predecessor, for not observing his own red line, remember, because he said, if they used chemical weapons, we will attack them. Obama didn`t do it.

WRIGHT: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Is that one reason why Trump feels he has to do it, because it was a red line that he endorsed?

WRIGHT: Well, first of all, remember that President Obama didn`t act in part because he didn`t get authorization he requested from Congress from the very Republicans who are now supporting military action.

So there`s a cause and effect there. But this will in many ways bump up or is likely to bump up the president`s popularity. After the last strike a year ago, his popularity rose to 43 percent, and 57 percent of Americans supported it.

MATTHEWS: So wagging the dog works.

WRIGHT: Well, whether it`s wag the dog or not, it certainly is going to divert attention and it`s likely to be something that looks like America -- American might is doing what is right internationally in countering the most evil use of chemical weapons.

MATTHEWS: OK, Kevin, technical question. Can you bomb a question without hurting anybody? That`s what he`s trying to do tonight, figure out a way to thread this needle.

BARON: Well, and, remember, last year, the missile launch was specifically at a runway. Right?

MATTHEWS: Tarmac.

BARON: Right. It was a tarmac.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: In hours, they had that running again.

BARON: But the irony of this was remember Trump ripped Obama for announcing that the United States was about to go into Mosul, saying, I would never do that, when the military said the purpose of that was to avoid civilian casualties and, frankly, to give ISIS a chance.

They were saying to them, you can give up now, or you`re going to get killed. This is it. This is your choice. So -- but that`s not what`s happening now. The president`s tweets are not some strategic message to save...

(CROSSTALK)

BARON: ... warfare.

MATTHEWS: I think our president is suspect right now about his decision.

BARON: Well, I`m skeptical of the wag the dog theory, though.

MATTHEWS: You`re skeptical of that? You don`t think he would do something out of impulsive anger about his frustration?

BARON: I don`t know that this White House has shown the strategic communications wherewithal to lay that out.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Trump is very good at...

(CROSSTALK)

BARON: He is.

MATTHEWS: He is a magician at shifting attention away from what he doesn`t want us focusing by creating another stir.

(CROSSTALK)

WRIGHT: No, this is a moment that is a response to something that somebody else has done.

And, frankly, it comes after three separate expressions of unity by the international community against Russia on sanctions.

MATTHEWS: That will be Sarah Huckabee Sanders` job, to sell tomorrow, after we act. We will see.

Anyway, Kevin Baron and Robin Wright.

Up next: A Republican congressman launches into a blistering tirade against President Trump. He says anonymously the president is like an evil, stupid version of Forrest Gump, and that Republicans may well impeach him.

Well, that`s nice loyalty.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Why don`t I just fire Mueller? Well, I think it`s a disgrace what`s going on. We`ll see what happens. But I think it`s really a sad situation when you look at what happened. And many people have said, you should fire him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Don`t you love it the way he puts his -- should I fire? It`s amazing.

Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was President Trump early this week floating the possibility of firing special counsel Robert Mueller.

Well, a bipartisan group of senators have introduced a bill to protect Mueller, many Republicans are publicly saying they don`t think the president will actually fire him, including Lindsey Graham who is sponsoring the bill. Well, let`s watch him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I`m confident that would be the beginning of the end of his presidency and he`s not going to do that.

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: I can tell you the president is not talking about firing Mueller. I mean, I`ve had conversations with the president. He is not talking about it. So, any suggestion otherwise is not based on fact.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: I haven`t seen clear indication yet that we need to pass something to keep him from being removed because I don`t think that`s going to happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Even House Speaker Paul Ryan who announced he`s stepping down at the ed of the term said there`s no reason to believe Mueller is in danger. Let`s watch Ryan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: On the president, he has been openly talking about firing Bob Mueller, potentially firing deputy attorney general. What are your thoughts on that?

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: My thoughts haven`t changed. I think they should be allowed to do their jobs. We have a rule of law in this country and that`s a principle we all uphold. I have no reason to believe that`s going to happen. I have assurances it`s not because I`ve been talking to people in the White House about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, many Republicans seem unwilling to stand up to Trump publicly. But a new interview with an unnamed congressman suggests it`s a very different story once you get behind closed doors.

That`s next with the HARDBALL roundtable.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

At a blog post today, conservative Erick Erickson described an anonymous interview he did with a current U.S. congressman who wanted to vent about Trump. The congressman told Erickson that the situation now is, quote, like Forrest Gump won the presidency but an evil really stupid Forrest Gump.

The congressman continues saying, if we`re going to lose because of him, we might as well impeach him. We`re going to lose the House, lose the Senate and lose a bunch of states because of him.

Erickson noted that the congressman whose district Trump won has been a regular supporter on Fox News and elsewhere defending the president.

Let`s bring in tonight`s HARDBALL roundtable on that note. Clarence Page is a columnist for Chicago Tribune, Katty Kay is Washington correspondent and I think anchor for "BBC World News America" and MSNBC contributor, author of "The Confidence Code for Girls," we`ll get to that in a moment, and Chris Wilson is a Republican pollster.

I don`t know what to say except I think the Republicans have been sort of self-gagged for the last couple years. They`ve had their own gag rule. Don`t talk, don`t say what you think about Trump when you`re talking to the press.

CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Well, sure, they`re in very similar position to the evangelicals who supported Trump about 80 percent. But they don`t like his behavior but they love what he has done for their agenda, for his Supreme Court appointment and his other actions. The same thing with the Republicans in Congress, he keeps insulting their sensibilities but he gives them their agenda. He doesn`t give it to them, they wish.

He has worked on behalf of their agenda and still, and also, they`ve got their own constituents to worry about. The Trump base, of course, is just as loyal as it ever was. You could say more about that as a pollster. It`s very true.

CHRIS WILSON, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: Right.

MATTHEWS: Katty, to compare the president of the United States with Forrest Gump, people like Forrest Gump, but they don`t want him to be president. This guy he says is an evil idiot, Forrest Gump.

KATTY KAY, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, BBC WORLD AMERICA: Yes, you chose some of the more savory bits of that interview, the two of them walking around Safeway with him downloading. Look, we`ve heard ever since Trump was elected that there`s been a difference between Republicans will say in public and what they will say in private. The reason is they`re worried about what their voters think about back home.

Every time Trump`s approval ratings rise amongst Republicans and amongst conservatives, they have to weigh the wisdom of trashing the president publicly and their own voters` appeal back at home. I mean, that`s what they`re straddling. We know what they`re thinking in private and heard it in this interview.

MATTHEWS: This is the way it was with Joe McCarthy in the early `50s. People loved Joe McCarthy, lots of them, especially from the Northeast. And you couldn`t say a word against him publicly but behind the scenes they`re all embarrassed, morally embarrassed.

WILSON: Well, you have those who had taken stance. I mean, Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, it doesn`t work out well for your political career whenever you take the other side.

MATTHEWS: Why do they only talk on their way out of the door?

WILSON: This is not all that different from a lot of the situation. I mean, you think of DeFazio criticized Obama on Israel or on trade, or (INAUDIBLE) on trade.

MATTHEWS: Nobody called President Obama Forrest Gump.

WILSON: They didn`t do that, but they did take a stand, they did speak out against him. But it took time for that to evolve.

MATTHEWS: Did he say he was stupid? Did he say he was evil? Evil, stupid, they never said that. Although they disagreed and they thought he was aloof, I`ll give them that.

PAGE: Some don`t, as simple as that.

MATTHEWS: Go ahead, Chris.

WILSON: Well, I`d say they did take stands. They said he didn`t work well with the House and cost them over a thousand seats in the elections. And so, from that standpoint, I think after we come out of 2018, you may have a little bit of different attitude with the conference. But for now, the situation is, as Clarence made the point, there is support for the positions he`s taken and there are states right now where Trump is still very popular.

KAY: And more popular than people running for election.

MATTHEWS: Can you say, Katty, can you say turn in the road, say, next year if the Democrats get the House, I think they will, to begin impeachment hearings, they do proceedings, they do vote articles of impeachment, they do pass them. At some point, Trump benefits the way Bill Clinton did by overkill or is it not?

KAY: Amongst Democrats? Well, I --

MATTHEWS: Among voters when it comes to 2020? You guys overused your authority.

KAY: That`s why Republicans are starting to weigh the prospect of running ads against their Democratic opponents saying, look at the Democrats get in, we all get tie up in impeachment hearings and your guy, who 86 percent of you clearly like are doing to be --

MATTHEWS: They put Trump on the ballot.

KAY: What was interesting in that interview was that you had a Republican congressman saying, listen, we may as well impeach him. If he`s going to take us down and he`s going to take the party down in the midterm elections --

MATTHEWS: How do we know from Erick Erickson who`s not a journalist whether this has just kibitzing?

KAY: Around safe way.

MATTHEWS: To say this conversation.

PAGE: That`s not going to happen. Republicans are not going to turn against Trump. You know, it`s the old story. Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

PAGE: That`s what happened. They may privately criticize Trump but publicly they show solidarity.

WILSON: And Erick is a person of integrity. It`s said in the piece that it was on the record if it was done anonymously, which is just kind of a weird combination there. But having said that, I mean, I have confidence - -

MATTHEWS: The guy who said he was Forrest Gump.

WILSON: Eric has been very clear he`s not been a fan of Donald Trump since the day he announced for office.

MATTHEWS: Boring Republican question. You first, Chris, boring Republican question. Who is the next speaker?

WILSON: Steve Scalise.

KAY: Before the midterms or after the midterms?

WILSON: After the midterms.

KAY: Nancy Pelosi.

MATTHEWS: That`s right. Trick question.

WILSON: I`m sorry.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

That was so good. I love it. Nancy Pelosi is the next speaker.

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE: Well --

MATTHEWS: In defeat.

PAGE: I would --

MATTHEWS: Is Scalise on the right or Kevin McCarthy in the middle?

PAGE: I`m going to say Kevin McCarthy. I don`t have faith he can go the distance. He came close once before. And I think he`s still got the same problems.

MATTHEWS: I think about -- think of the number of Republican leaders under Nancy`s watch, just the numbers since she`s been there, it`s amazing.

Up next, these people tell me something I don`t know. You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Clarence, tell me something I don`t know.

PAGE: Well, Governor Jerry Brown ended suspense saying he will send about 400 National Guard troops to the border with a condition. They cannot engage in any immigration enforcement. Only like drug interdiction and stuff like that.

MATTHEWS: Katty Kay with your book. Tell me about your book.

KAY: Lots of new reporting that women are running for political office. We need to close the confidence gap between girls and boys. We`ve written this book for 88 to 13-year-old girls.

MATTHEWS: How do you stop the pattern? I just interrupt you, I just made your case.

(LAUGHTER)

KAY: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: It`s always the boys that raise their question. They always have an opinion before they have the facts. The young students how are girls, the females know the facts first before they have an opinion. The guys don`t see.

KAY: They still don`t raise their hand. That`s the paradox that every parent sees. Girls are doing super well in school but lack the confidence to do things that raise their hands.

MATTHEWS: What started that?

KAY: It`s a mixture of nature and nurture. It`s a mixture of being told you have to be a good girl, you can`t rock the boat, you have to please people, feeds into a whole load of scientific things about estrogen and how we want to be people pleasers. Then we stop taking risks. We`re not prepared to fail. We can`t grow out competence, we stop raising our hands.

MATTHEWS: Do you have to be a risk taker to make it in the society?

KAY: You have to be a risk taker to be confident in this society. And that`s what we`re trying to do with these girls, because they want to be perfect. Perfection is --

MATTHEWS: My daughter has two masters degrees in business and politics.

KAY: The desire to be perfect is killing girls` confidence.

MATTHEWS: I won`t say where, but the best schools in the country.

Chris?

WILSON: It is an important book.

If you watch the Facebook hearings in the Senate side, you would believe that there is a group of people over the age of 70 who have never on the Internet and never seen Facebook, never used Facebook.

Having said that, it is important to remember, 66 percent of Americans over the age of 70 are on the Internet.

MATTHEWS: Really?

WILSON: And 62 percent of those use Facebook. I don`t know the questions that were asked of Mark Zuckerberg were representative of their own demographic group.

MATTHEWS: Wow. OK, thank you, Clarence Page, Katty Kay, and Chris Wilson.

When we return, let me finish tonight with Trump Watch. You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Wednesday, April 11th, 2018.

I wonder what the president`s thinking tonight. Is he thinking about Robert Mueller digging through the stuff from Trump`s lawyer Michael Cohen`s office, the phone records, the stuff on the computer, the stuff at his office, at his apartment, at the hotel where he stays? Is he thinking about the matter of Stormy Daniels or Karen McDougal or about that "Access Hollywood" tape, all of which were on the FBI`s wish list?

Is he thinking about what Robert Mueller wants the stuff for, how he might use it to squeeze Michael Cohen into coming clean with everything he`s done with regard to Russia. What about the other stuff? Any president of the United States would be worrying about right now, what can he do to punish Syria without actually getting into bigger trouble with Russia? How does he avoid hitting Russian troops or other Russian personnel who are in Syria? How does he keep the situation between Israel and Iran from getting out of hand? How does he keep Israel`s border with Gaza from getting any hotter?

And with all this jumping around in his mind, how does this president, Donald Trump, keep his mind on meeting with Kim Jong-un to get the North Koreans to remove their nuclear threat. So much to worry about, so much to do and with no real guidance in the room. No one to say no to John Bolton when he goes into his Dr. Strangelove mode.

And who will tell Trump to cool it when he has so many missiles to launch that are, as he just put it, so nice, new and smart? Wow.

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