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Trump holds joint presser with Japanese PM. TRANSCRIPT: 04/18/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthew

Guests: David Jolly, Bobby Ghosh, Steve Israel, Mara Gray, Gabe Debenedetti

Show: HARDBALL Date: April 18, 2018 Guest: David Jolly, Bobby Ghosh, Steve Israel, Mara Gray, Gabe Debenedetti

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: That`s wrap it up for us.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: What`s he afraid of? Let`s play HARDBALL.

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

From the confines of his Florida retreat at Mar-a-Lago tonight, President Trump is touting his missile strike on Syria and raising expectations for his upcoming summit with Kim Jong-un of North Korea which he says will happen now in the coming weeks.

However, he is also lashing out of the Russia investigation calling it again a democratic hoax. Here is how he answered a question just minutes ago about whether he will attempt to fire special counsel Robert Mueller or deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This was a really a hoax created largely by the Democrats. There has been no collusion. They won`t find any collusion. It doesn`t exist.




TRUMP: The two gentlemen you told me about, they have been saying I`m going to get rid of them for the last three months, four months, five months, and they are still here.


MATTHEWS: Well, recent reporting suggests that amid all of this, the President is preoccupied as you can tell from that with the threat posed by the FBI`s raid on Michael Cohen.

"The Washington Post" is now reporting that the raid quote "deeply rattled the President and has distracted him from the responsibilities of his office." Quote "Trump was so upset in fact he had trouble concentrating on plans that were laid out for him that day by his national security team about potential options for targeted missile strikes on Syria."

As NBC news revealed just last week, that raid has diminished the prospect that the President will undergo questioning by Mueller. "The Washington Post" further reports that`s right Trump has become convinced that quote "Mueller`s team was operating in bad faith."

He is now taking out his frustrations on his lawyers according to a source. Trump has grown increasingly agitated railing against members of his beleaguered is legal team. Another parts it says that Trump is upset that he hasn`t been able to attract topnotch lawyers. He is looking to attract new legal talent.

Well, joining me right now is Ashley Parker, White House reporter from "the Washington Post." Jill Wine-Banks is a former Watergate prosecutor and MSNBC contributor, Jonathan Lemire is a White House reporter for the "Associated Press" and Nick Confessore is a political reporter with the "New York Times" and an MSNBC political analyst.

I want to start with Ashley and your paper`s reporting. The President seems to be, according to reporting tonight, and I accept the reporting, really worried about what might come out of that bag of tricks that have in the hands of Michael Cohen. And I`m wondering, can you target his concern? Is it possible are there women issues, settlements, whatever, anything liking that? What do you think, what, do you think in your reporting he is worried about?

ASHLEY PARKER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I think it`s important for us to separate the President from sort of people in his orbit and people in the west wing. People in the west wing in his orbit are incredibly worried about what they don`t know with Michael Cohen. They know he is sort of a shady guy who fixes problems for the President and was known to record conversations with associates. And so, they are very worried about what might come out from him.

The President, our understanding, was yes, he was worried but he was more sort of frustrated and angry with this idea that Mueller`s team was operating in bad faith. He felt like as you just said in that press conference, he had been cooperating with them. And when the raid happened, he felt like he really had no idea where the investigation was headed. And again, that they had sort of breached this trust. So his was more anger at Mueller`s team, but then in his orbit, there`s a lot of concern about what Michael Cohen may have his fingers in.

MATTHEWS: I want to stay with you on a question here of the -- in baseball terminology, Michael Cohen was a utility infielder. I mean, he didn`t know what position he is going to play. He had some role in his business interests in Russia, he had a lot of role in covering up for affairs in relationships with women, we know that. What -- it seems to me there`s a number of areas of pressure points and fire in the fear of Trump. I mean, if it comes out this was a pattern and practice with Stormy Daniels and with Karen McDougal and there`s lots of them out there, that`s certainly going to be an embarrassment to him and his marriage and everything else. If there`s a Russia overlay between his business interests and getting the Miss Universe contest and that sort of thing going over there and his developing Presidential campaign and to the extent they are interlocked and they would be interlocked in the case of Michael Cohen`s work. As I said, he`s the utility infielder. He covers all of this stuff. Can you narrow down what he`s worried about or we have to speculate at this point?

PARKER: Well, it`s a little bit of both. We know that investigators are specifically looking into the role Michael Cohen played in paying some of these women who had come forward with allegations about affairs with the President to stay silent. So that`s a fact. They are actually looking at that and gathering stuff on that.

But what you said, you know, utility infielder, he is sort of like the trash man. He makes bad things, shady things, things you don`t want in your house go away. And so, there is some speculation as to what else he might have been involved in this and then outside adviser said to me the other day, the big concern is we don`t know what other sort of stupid stuff Michael Cohen may have been up to that brings in other people.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look now what the President said minutes ago about the Russia probe. Here he is.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On the Mueller probe, have you concluded that it`s not worth the political fallout to the remove either special counsel Mueller or deputy attorney general Rosenstein?

TRUMP: Jennifer, I can say this that there was no collusion. And that`s been so found as you know by the House intelligence committee. There`s no collusion. There was no collusion with Russia other than by the Democrats. This was a really a hoax created largely by the Democrats as a way of softening the blow of a loss.

As far as the two the gentlemen you told me about, they have been saying I`m going to get rid of them for the last three months, four months, five months, and they are still here.


MATTHEWS: Nick Confessore, so is the rivalry between "the Washington Post" and "New York Times." What have you got on the reasons he is shaken? According to the Post, sued by you, why is he more worried apparently about what Michael Cohen has in his box, his box of stuff, his tapes, perhaps tapes of conversations with Trump, all kinds of things, lists of cases he had to work on dealing with these women situations and, by the way, they all turned out to be true. Nobody says -- Trump never said -- nobody believes when he said it didn`t happen.

NICK CONFESSORE, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: But the problem right now for Trump is that the Mueller probe is now essentially a cat scam of Trump`s personal life and his business empire and the Kushner business empire. And the reason it`s also a cat scam of his personal life is because part of his personal life involved having affairs and paying off women he was having affairs to him. That`s tremendously embarrassing on many kind levels.

And Michael Cohen was central to each of the elements we have now seen that the President is now under investigation for. He was a conduit for bringing money from the former Soviet Union into the Trump business empire. He was involved in setting up the hush payments. And, of course, his involvement in setting is up those payments is meaningful in a campaign finance context, Chris, because if he was acting is as an agent of the Trump campaign, then those payments become contributions that are excessive and illegal.

MATTHEWS: Because they are more than $2700.


MATTHEWS: Or else they are gifts of some kind, this weird thing.

Let me go to Jonathan. What do you think is going on? Because I keep getting the sense this is bothering him? Is it the unknown or is it the known? Because he knows that he had Michael Cohen dealing with Russia for him, his business enterprises over there. He also knows -- he tends to entangle things, Trump. It seems to be part of one enterprise. What benefits Trump?

JONATHAN LEMIRE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Yes. There`s great overlap in the Trump network and that exactly that way. We have reported on this week too, there`s a great fear of the increasing level of exposure that not only that the President now faces but his inner circle and his adult children who worked side by side with Michael Cohen at the Trump organization, who did have, as you say, business dealings, you know, in some shadowy foreign capitals who was involved with catch and kill payments, with "National Enquirer" to try to squash, you know, embarrassing stories about the President`s personal life. And there is the idea that this crossed that red line. That Robert Mueller`s probe went past beyond the mere idea of Russia collusion, in the President`s mind, and is now ventured into his business dealings, his personal life. And he feels like that`s greatly overstepped.

MATTHEWS: Let me to Jill on this. Does anybody go in the courtroom and be like the boss who says, no, mass (ph). I can`t take it anymore? There`s too many things coming at me. That was the middle white guy. I can`t take it anymore. I`m getting out of the ring.

I mean, if they have got all these personal stuff, they got the women, God knows what N-number of them there are, then you go onto the question the Russian connection, the money he is trying to make over there may be thinking he wasn`t going win the presidential election but he is going to turn a profit out of it. Who knows?

And my big question is, now they have got Michael Cohen. They are not squeezing him with just potential imprisonment. They have got all his documents, not just his word it play with. They have got a lot of stuff in that treasure trove they pulled out of his office including tapes where they can really squeeze this guy. It seems to me he has to talk or go away for a long time.

JILL WINE-BANKS, FORMER ASSISTANT WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: There`s no question that he is in severe legal jeopardy. And that it`s turned into a really interesting case.

And you are right. People are saying there is so much, it`s hard to follow. And all of this is happening very publicly. I`m sure it`s very embarrassing to the President. He settled the lawsuit with Karen McDougal, the playboy model today. And that is a major compromise on his part. He doesn`t want that going public anymore. So he didn`t want to have to be deposed. And he probably didn`t want his lawyer to have to be deposed, Michael Cohen. So that one is very quietly now out of the picture.

MATTHEWS: But isn`t she.

WINE-BANKS: She`s free to talk.

MATTHEWS: She is free to talk. You just spilt beans.

So Karen McDougal is going to be on the cover of every weekly glossy magazine. Every time you go to Safeway, you are going to read about Karen McDougal as a little side story here, right. And there is nothing stopping -- all she has to do is pay back about 70k to the AMI for it and she`s free to talk and sell. She will be on "60 Minutes." God Knows where won`t she be and that`s a pretty good story because that`s a long-term affair. That`s not a one-night stand relationship. Your thoughts?

WINE-BANKS: I agree with that completely. And she doesn`t even have to pay back the money. It`s only if she makes a profit going forward she will have to share the profits. She keeps the $150,000. So it`s a brilliant settlement. It`s a very good deal. It`s everything she wanted. She proceed quietly behind the scenes and got exactly what she wanted and we will have to find out what the other women may have gotten paid off when we find out what`s in the documents that were seized from Michael Cohen`s office.

MATTHEWS: Well, Jill, she is already a favorite of the New York tabs, I can tell you. They are going to have her picture all over tomorrow, the "New York Daily News" which tends to go Democrat. And the other paper, the "Post" is going to crazy with this stuff, as well.

Anyway, as Jill mentioned, "The New York Times" reports that the parent company of the "National Enquirer," American Media Incorporated, AMI, has released Karen McDougal from the contract that barred her from discussing her alleged affair with the President. A lawyer for the former playboy model tells the "Times" it`s a total win. We got everything we were fighting for.

And this settlement comes just after federal investigators seized materials, as they said, from Michael Cohen which quote "included information about American media and the McDougal suit."

Let me get back to Ashley. Is this going to be yet another area, another tributary of news coming out of this? People will be following that as a sidebar at least, probably front page, top of the fold left side tomorrow. It is still going to be there. You are smiling because these things just metastasized. You have to really devote yourself to keeping can up on all these fronts. Your thoughts?

PARKER: Well, the reason some of these stories have taken on a life of their own in the media is because, you know, Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels and certainly her lawyer are incredibly media savvy. I mean, they are savvy generally but they are media savvy in a way that rivals the President himself.

On a different track, you are seeing that with James Comey and his book tour. And the stuff that problems a problem for this President is the stuff that can compete with him in terms of social media savvy, television savvy and suck up some of the oxygen that he is normally so capable of sucking up and using to kill other things.

Oftentimes with this President, we sort of -- there`s four or five issues and scandals going on at once. And there is only the bandwidth to cover one or two. But what these women have done and what we see now that she is freed from those terms and what Comey has done has been able to use the media to sort of rise into the ether to get covered in the same way the President does.

MATTHEWS: Let me get back to Jill. I know the way they pulled - they pulled off that raid of Michael Cohen`s office. Were the agents able to take a peek and see what they got there? I know all the law about they are not supposed to use, but, did they get a pretty good sense of what they had in their hands?

WINE-BANKS: They would know that they were getting documents that fit within the search warrant. So if there was a certain category of evidence that they were looking for, all electronic recording devices they would take all of those. They haven`t listened to them yet. I understand some of them are encrypted and the FBI is going to have to unencrypt them in order to listen to them. Documents they wouldn`t have really looked at, they would picking out a file that says Russia, it`s not going to be labeled Russia collusion.

MATTHEWS: I though it says Russia on the tab, at the top of the file, right. It says Russia. How about names of women that we haven`t heard their names before in the file cat? It seems like any reasonably conscious agent, I`m sure they are all conscious, would see the pattern in that drawer because he only had apparently three clients, one of them Hannity and the other one, this other guy, who paid off the 1.5 for the abortion and everything and then there is Trump. Everything else is Trump in that drawer.

WINE-BANKS: Well, the interesting is there is no attorney/client privilege for anyone else. So if he only has those three clients, then anything that deals with them and when I say three, that`s assuming that Sean Hannity is a client which he may or may not be.

MATTHEWS: Well, he says he is.

WINE-BANKS: He says he is, but he may - anyway. But giving him that, there`s only three. So there`s a lot of other files that I`m sure that will involve other people. And if Donald Trump is innocent and if he has nothing to worry about, why doesn`t he just waive the privilege and get this over with?

Richard Nixon waived the privilege for John Dean to testify. He wrote a letter saying he was free to talk about any conversations they had had. So that`s something that there`s a precedent for. If Richard Nixon can do it, then so can the President. Let President Trump waive the privilege and let`s get this whole investigation over with. If he wants it to happen faster, he should stop obstructing it. He should stop interfering and stop complaining about it.

MATTHEWS: Nick, the likelihood of that zero to ten.

CONFESSORE: Well, I will give it a five right, because he could get into a box. What happened with Karen McDougal was he got into a box. It was worst to keep --

MATTHEWS: He will not be able to deny Karen McDougal. That is going to be all over the papers.

CONFESSORE: Exactly. But the importance of that settlement though of her being free to talk is that the catch and kill practice with the "National Enquirer" was one of the walls around his personal affairs. And she is just showing that that wall is now going to crumble. And if there are other people like her we don`t know about, it will embolden them to come forward and say, hey, how about my story.

MATTHEWS: There is a suspicion that the "National Enquirer`s" owner, the AMI buckled today, John, because of the break-in or the raid into Michael Cohen`s office. They have got the stuff. They don`t want to stretch this out anymore.

LEMIRE: That these two events very well be linked. That this probably not so coincidence this comes a week after the Cohen raid. And it must be pointed out on this Karen McDougal news as she decides what sort of the strategy she wants to have, today, Stormy Daniels and her attorney --.

MATTHEWS: See the papers? The pictures are there.

LEMIRE: There they are. Stormy Daniels and her attorney today finally got a rise out of Donald Trump. He other than that one question or two questions he took on air force one about Stormy Daniels has avoided this topic. But today on twitter, he responded to the sketch that the Avenatti.

MATTHEWS: OK. We will get to that. But I want a final question to Ashley who is amazing at this stuff.

Ashley, how close is he to just throwing up his hands and saying no mas, I can`t take all this legal exposure. So many things coming at me. Can I trade this office to get out of here? How close is he to breaking up? I mean, you guys have said this guy is really on edge here. How close to not being able to take it?

PARKER: Our understanding and this does not just apply to this moment, but is the President was short of shocked to find out at least initially that being President is not actually like being king. And there are a lot of aspects of the job that he finds sort of greeting and tiresome and he doesn`t enjoy. That said the President is a fighter. And the more you see him under assault the more you see him coming and fighting and hitting back. So I would be skeptical that he would sort just throw his hands up and give up. I think a more likely option is another tweet, for instance.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Everybody better keep their sense of humor about this situation.

Thank you, Ashley. Great reporting for "the Post" again.

Jill Wine-Banks, thanks for your expertise. It`s amazing how Watergate is such a useful reference point, is it?

Jonathan Lemire, thank you, of AP.

And Nick Confessore of the great "New York Times."

Coming up, Sean Hannity`s ties to President Trump run much deeper than we thought. They talk early in the morning and late at night about Hannity show, what the Trump should tweet and Trump`s frustration with the Mueller investigation. The two are so close that some White House aides call Hannity, Trump`s unofficial chief of staff. That`s a promotion. That`s ahead.

Plus, Trump confirms his CIA director met secretly with Kim Jong-un and now he says he will meet with the North Korean dictator the coming weeks. What will the North Koreans demand? That`s my big question in exchange for cutting back on their nuclear program? Will they ask us to leave the 38th parallel? I`m waiting for that, baby.

And Trump`s U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley is in a public fight with his new economic adviser Lawrence Kudlow, over the Russian sanctions and she is proving she`s no Trump toadies. Boy, she is proving that. So it is Trump worried that Haley is going to run against him in 2020. He is worried about political completion and she looks like it.

Finally, let me finish tonight with a word about the Bushes, George and Barbara.

And this is HARDBALL" where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Well, up here in Manhattan, there`s a legal battle now over who oversee the material seized in last week`s raid on Michael Cohen`s office.

In all this the President tweeted about on that on Stormy Daniels for the first time today. It comes after Daniels sent her attorney released a composite sketch -- there it is -- of the man they allege threatened Daniels in 2011, a move she says was intended to keep her quiet.

This morning, the president tweeted: "A sketch years later about a nonexistent man, a total con job, playing the fake news media for fools, but they know it."

We will be right back after this.



SEAN HANNITY, HOST, "HANNITY": Let`s look at the Mueller crime family.

Of course, we are now on day 329 of the Mueller witch-hunt. And there`s still zero evidence of collusion. Imagine that.

Remember, this whole witch-hunt started when Mueller`s best friend, James Comey, leaked his personal, potentially classified notes during his tenure at the FBI. We all know about the special treatment that Hillary Clinton received from the bureau.

And knowing what we now know about what is obvious deep state crime families trying to take down the president, aren`t you now glad that Trump fired Comey?


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was FOX News host Sean Hannity spinning a web of conspiracy theories on his show last week, arguing that Clinton, Mueller and Comey crime families -- that`s what he calls them -- are out to get President Trump.

Well, before this segment aired, that did, the president tweeted: "Big show tonight on Hannity." He was promoting what Sean was about to say.

On Monday, it was revealed that both Trump and Hannity are clients of lawyer Michael Cohen. They share a lawyer -- well, at least in case of Trump, a fixer.

"The Washington Post"`s Robert Costa reports that: "The revelation this week that the two men share an attorney is just the latest sign of how Hannity is intertwined with Trump`s world, an increasingly powerful confidant who offers the media-driven president a sympathetic ear and shared grievances. The conservative commentator is so close to Trump that some White House aides have dubbed him the unofficial chief of staff."

I`m joined right now by the author of that article, of course, Robert Costa, who is a national political reporter for "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC political analyst, and David Jolly, a former Republican congressman from Florida.

I don`t want to be a media critic here. I try to avoid that, because I am in the media, and I think it`s like a baseball player complaining about another baseball player.

What I do focus on here is the possible extraordinary influence that Sean Hannity might have on the president. How would you describe it when he gives that deep state conspiracy stuff about how it`s all a plot by bureaucrats in the federal agencies to get this particular president?

And he`s not just echoing the president. He may be forcing the president to echo him, which is a thought I want you to dwell on for a second.


ROBERT COSTA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It`s an understandable story for longtime watchers of President Trump.

Sean Hannity, a New Yorker, brash, conservative, relishes his anti- establishment persona. As the president returns to his roots in a sense during this presidency, ignoring at times the advice of his traditional advisers, he`s turning to people like Sean Hannity and often Sean Hannity to give him counsel informally, phone calls late at night, sometimes early in the morning as they think through their own lives and the president`s agenda.

MATTHEWS: Let me give some logic to this, first of all, to David Jolly.

Check this on you. If you`re on the air three hours a day, I think three hours a day that Sean is, it takes a particular kind of talent to be on the air in talk radio. I don`t know if I would be any good at it or not, because you really have to have a really good ear for the audience.

And you begin to develop sort of a conversation with your regular audience, the ones who tune you in every day that gives you the big bucks and the big audience, obviously.

Is that what he`s checking on? Is it like a polling operation? In calling up Sean, is the president saying, is this working, is that working? What should I be pushing? What should I be playing down? Where is the action? How are the people reacting to this?

Is that what he`s using it for? And if so, what`s wrong with that, if he`s just using him as his -- the guy with his ear to the ground?

DAVID JOLLY (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Sure. If it`s measuring the pulse of the body politic, perhaps there`s nothing wrong with that.

But I think this feeds into a bigger suspicion. And it`s this. There`s a difference between lack of experience and lack of credibility. Frankly, most presidents come to the job without the experience necessary to be commander in chief on day one.

But this feeds into the lack of credibility that I think a lot of Americans have when it comes to Donald Trump. And the fact is, Sean Hannity is not a subject matter expert. If you look at Bush 43, he came in, he was young. He was -- the legitimacy of the election was questioned.

But he surrounded himself by seasoned advisers, Colin Powell, Condi Rice, Rumsfeld. Whether you agreed with their ideology or not, you knew he was in trusted hands.

In this case, Sean Hannity is not seen as a trusted hand, a subject matter expert. A man who never graduated from college is giving policy advice to the president of the United States. And I think that`s the concern and anxiety that this story that Robert so ably reported on creates within the American people.

MATTHEWS: Is that the overlay, the dangerous red line here, Robert, as you report it, not that he`s giving him political advice, which Sean would be good at? Because Sean does have his ear to the ground. He`s on the air all day long, four hours a day, including radio.

He knows what`s working out there with the conservative base, the poll, the right-wing poll, if you will. But he`s not an expert on regional studies with China or regional studies with the Middle East. Is he getting policy advice or political advice from Sean Hannity?

COSTA: The way it`s described to me by White House officials and friends of the president is that it`s feedback, that Hannity to the president represents that base, that base conservative voter who listens to talk radio, who may have voted for President Trump.

He`s not looking to Hannity for policy advice. But he trusts his own instincts, but he also trusts someone who has a mass audience, has to cater to a mass audience. And he sees Hannity as someone in a similar position in that respect, trying to play to that base and keep that audience.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s talk about the way that it worked the other day, when, in the courtroom, all of a sudden, the word came out, I forget exactly how it came out, that he was sharing a lawyer with the president. He was the third man, as they say in the movies, the third man.

What was the -- what alarm bells did that put off in your newsroom, Robert, as to the wrongness or OK-ness, or my God, what`s going on here thing? It was a holy cow, to put it lightly, moment. Why so?

COSTA: It was holy cow for some, but not really.

Cohen, Michael Cohen, the president`s longtime personal lawyer, has been a guest on Sean Hannity`s show. Hannity has insisted that his conversations were mostly about real estate on his program. But we really don`t have details about the actual relationship at all.


COSTA: But what we see from that is a development of the Trump inner circle being full of people who are not just government officials or GOP donors. They`re friends. They`re media personalities. That`s who surrounds this president.

MATTHEWS: Well, meanwhile, we`re getting more breaking news just now in real time.

"The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that one of the president`s longtime legal advisers says he warned Trump in a phone call this past Friday that Michael Cohen, Trump`s lawyer and fixer, would turn against the president and cooperate with federal prosecutors if faced with criminal charges.

That legal adviser, Jay Goldberg, represented Trump in the 1990s and early 2000s, and says Cohen cannot be trusted to protect the president.

Let`s bring back former Watergate Jill Wine-Banks.

This is, of course, the operative question if you`re Donald Trump. Will this guy squeal?

JILL WINE-BANKS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, we only can say that he said he would take a bullet for the president. And the last person who said that was Gordon Liddy in the Watergate case.

MATTHEWS: Yes, he did.

WINE-BANKS: And Gordon Liddy never spoke.


WINE-BANKS: He never said anything until he became a radio host. That was the first time I ever heard his voice.

MATTHEWS: I knew Gordon decently well. And I thought one thing about him was, in a certain way -- you have got to have been in politics to like the way I`m going to say this.

But loyalty is -- exempting some other values and allowing for other values, loyalty is a good thing. He once said, I will be on the street corner you want me on. You can kill me. In fact, he was trying to arranging this sort of dashing self-immolation.

I will be on the corner of 17th and whatever, and you can kill me there at the time I will be there. That`s how far he went.

So, it wasn`t kidding.

WINE-BANKS: He wasn`t.

And we don`t know. I have heard people who know Cohen that he has a family and that he won`t stick to his guns about taking a bullet for the president, that he will cave. We don`t know.

MATTHEWS: That`s why...

WINE-BANKS: But his documents may give everything that you need without his testimony.

MATTHEWS: Robert Costa for "The Washington Post," you now speak for your fantastic newspaper, to win so many prizes. Here`s the question. This is why Trump is worried.

COSTA: Michael Cohen is -- he`s the Roy Cohn of this new generation of President Trump`s inner circle. He`s the fixer, the lawyer, the person the president counts on to deal with personal matters.

Of course there`s concern in the White House about Cohen because of his penchant for audio recordings, for having meetings that he doesn`t always disclose with people beyond President Trump. And so they say, with Michael Cohen, he`s not just a risk, he`s a question mark.

They don`t know what they don`t know inside of the West Wing.

MATTHEWS: Well, it was a taping system that brought down Nixon. And here we have a lawyer with a taping system.

Anyway, thank you.

It`s a Frankenstein`s monster.

Anyway, Robert Costa, former Congressman David Jolly, thank you, sir, and, again, Jill Wine-Banks, for coming back.

Up next: Former CIA Director Pompeo made a top-secret visit to meet with Kim Jong-un. It comes ahead of Trump`s planned summit with the North Korean dictator. But what will the North Koreans demand? This is my question. What`s the ask? For us to get off the 38th Parallel? What is it?

We will talk about that.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I like always remaining flexible, and will remain flexible here.

I have gotten it to this point. President Moon of South Korea was generous when he said, if it weren`t for Donald Trump, the Olympics would have been a total failure. It was my involvement and the involvement of our great country that made the Olympics a very successful Olympics.

We have gotten us here, and I think we`re going to be successful. But if for any reason I feel we`re not, we end.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Trump just a short time ago on his planned upcoming meeting with North Korea leader Kim Jong-un.

President Trump was asked what the United States would demand from the meeting. Well, here`s this:


TRUMP: We have never been in a position like there with that regime, whether it`s father, grandfather or son.

And I hope to have a very successful meeting. If we don`t think it`s going to be successful, Mark, we won`t have it. We won`t have it. If I think that it`s a meeting that is not going to be fruitful, we`re not going to go.

If the meeting, when I`m there, is not fruitful, I will respectfully leave the meeting. And we will continue what we`re doing or whatever it is that we will continue, but something will happen.


MATTHEWS: Early today, President Trump confirmed reports of a secret meeting between CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Kim Jong-un over the Easter weekend. Pompeo is also Trump`s nominee, of course, for secretary of state.

"The Washington Post" first broke news of the clandestine meeting, which took place over Easter weekend.

For more, I`m joined by foreign affairs analyst Bobby Ghosh.

Bobby, if I were to write a biography or a profile in real time of Trump, I would call it "Shoot the Moon." Every time he does anything, he bets against the market. Everybody else is discarding their cards, their spades. He goes for them. He tries to get them all.

And I`m just wondering. Everybody says you can`t deal with this guy Kim Jong-un. You can`t deal with the guy. He just cares about self- preservation. He`s going to keep his weapons. What`s the good that can come out of a meeting and what`s the bad to come out of a meeting, whether in Singapore or Geneva?


He`s saying that if he feels he`s not going to be successful, he`s going to leave the meeting. He has not defined what success looks like.

MATTHEWS: Well, stopping their nuclear development.

GHOSH: But they`re not going to stop their nuclear development.

MATTHEWS: Will they limit it to 10 weapons they can`t really use?

GHOSH: They`re not going to do any of that.

They know that the only reason they have a shot at a conversation directly with the American president and they`re not facing American gunships on their waters is because they have the nukes. The nukes is what keeps that regime alive. They`re not backing away from the -- they will use this opportunity to have a conversation.

It makes them look good. It makes them look like the great superpower of the world came to them.

MATTHEWS: But where does it take them?

GHOSH: It just buys them more time to continue their nuclear program. That`s all they`re looking for. They`re looking for time. They`re not looking to make any concessions.

MATTHEWS: Right here, we`re watching the president with Prime Minister Abe of Japan meeting. They`re having a little -- they may speak at some moment here at this moment. We will -- but not now.

This is just -- this a picture-taking thing. Fine.

I want to know, how great -- let`s just talk -- you`re at the table. You have got to advise the president, our president. You go, what`s this guy want? Well, he wants to preserve his life. He wants to continue to be this little guy having fun. He`s the boss of the country. He`s the king, basically. OK, he`s going to do that.

But his country`s never going to get any better or richer. It`s never going to become a great country to be proud of. He`s never going to reunite with the South. The nuclear programs aren`t going to work. The bombs aren`t going to get him reunited to the South.

He is not going to be any better than he is now, just be older, probably die young like his parents and his grandparents. Why do you think he wants to pursue this? Isn`t there a better line for him to say, you know what, I played this card really well, the nuclear card, I got all I can get out of it, diminishing returns from here on, I will make a deal?

Because we`re up for a deal, I think.

GHOSH: There`s no indication that he or the regime cares for anything more than their own survival.

Making his country richer, making his people better off, there`s no indication that they care about that. It`s all about preserving that regime. This is a hermit kingdom.

MATTHEWS: That`s all they want to be.

GHOSH: This is not a kingdom that has been really in contact with the rest of the world.

Their idea of what the world is and their place in it is very, very different from what you and I or any...


MATTHEWS: So, it`s very different than East Germany, where you could watch on television and see how well the West Germans are doing. They don`t get to see on television how South Koreans live.

GHOSH: No. No, they don`t. And they have been told constantly on television, on radio that, we`re the greatest. This is the greatest country in the world. The superpower is on its knees. The American president wants to talk to us.

You know who`s just as likely to walk away from the meeting if they don`t feel that they`re getting a good deal? Kim Jong-un. He walks away, he looks good.

MATTHEWS: We will see. Still him. And we`re still us.

Anyway, thank you, Bobby Ghosh.

Up next: Ambassador Nikki Haley once again separates herself from the rest of the Trump Cabinet, hitting back after a White House official said she was confused about Russian sanctions, unlike other Trump officials.

Anyway, by the way, she won`t toady. She won`t say -- and I love the way she said it: "I don`t get confused." That`s talk. That`s tough talk to the president.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Donald Trump famously said when it comes to Washington, he alone can fix the city. Now, the president has put that to the test pushing back against a top cabinet member. According to "The New York Times," the president was fuming this weekend when he watched Nikki Haley announce new sanctions against Russia.

"The Times" reports the president erupted and yelled at the television because he had decided not such thing. Well, ultimately, despite her announcement, no new sanctions were unveiled against Russia. That`s no surprise from Trump. The mixed messages set up a strange back and forth between the president`s economic adviser Larry Kudlow and Ambassador Haley.

Asked why the sanctions were never rolled out, Kudlow told reporters she got ahead of the curb. She`s done a great job. She`s a very effective ambassador. There might have been some momentary confusion.

Well, enough of the condescension. Haley fired back: With all due respect, I don`t get confused. Anyway, according to the "Associated Press", Mr. Kudlow quickly called to apologize in an attempt to mend fences.

Up next, new reporting on what might be the real reason President Trump is upset with Ambassador Haley.

We`ll be back with the HARDBALL roundtable. They`re all raring to go about what`s going -- is the president afraid of Nikki Haley? Could be.


MATTHEWS: Well, Franklin Roosevelt once said there`s nothing I like like a good fight.

Well, "The New York Times" is reporting today this isn`t the only time Trump has lashed out following something Ambassador Nikki Haley has said. Trump was reportedly upset by the ambassador`s tough talk on Russia over its incursion into Ukraine.

The story has it that Mr. Trump has grown suspicious of her ambition, convinced that she had been angling for Mr. Tillerson`s position, (INAUDIBLE), and increasingly wondered whether she wants his own job. Trump`s worried about her jumping for his job.

Well, today, while the United Nations had meetings, Ambassador Haley told reporters that her relationship with the president was perfect.

For more, I`m joined right now by Steve Israel, former Democratic congressman from New York and author of the newly released "Big Guns", we`re talking about that with him. Mara Gray is a member of the editorial board of "The New York Times", and Gabe Debenedetti is national correspondent for "New York Magazine".

Well, this is a great fight. And everybody in the media loves a good fight. And the fact is it`s between two pretty heavyweight people. Nikki Haley has the touch of a great political figure. She did it when she took down the Confederate flag in South Carolina. She`s done a great job politically certainly at the U.N.

Is Trump worried she`s running for 2020 or not 2024 or 2028 but she wants it now? Is that what he`s afraid of?

MARA GRAY, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Listen, maybe he should be. I mean, I think you`re right. She has great political instincts I was on the ground as a reporter in South Carolina when the flag came down. And you know, Nikki Haley had great instincts. And, you know, right now what you`re seeing is the same thing. There are a lot of people in general who are going to enjoy seeing someone stand up to that White House.

MATTHEWS: Gabe, isn`t the ball in the air? I mean, if the president gets in trouble with the House next year, if it goes Democratic even by five seats, and they impeach him and vote all the first spring with nothing but impeachment hearings and then they vote in the articles and they vote on the summer, it`s going to be a miserable first term. He may just throw in the towel and say no mas.

On the other hand, that brings Pence up. Pence is going to need a running mate. Pence may be beatable in the primaries.

GABE DEBENEDETTI, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Yes, well, if we`re going to look forward to the 2020 race --

MATTHEWS: Well, if you`re Nikki Haley, you`re looking forward.

DEBENEDETTI: Well, she`s certainly looking forward to something else. No one thinks this will be her final job in politics. And, you know, one of the things she`s done very well over the last year plus is really skate under the radar of a lot of drama in Washington. She`s really been helped by the fact that she`s up here in New York. She doesn`t every day have to get in front of the president and disagree with him.

But this particular moment really touched two of the president`s points that he doesn`t like. One he doesn`t like it when people see -- when he sees people that have potential political ambition that might run up against his and two, he doesn`t like when people disagree with him particularly within his administration about Russia. So, this 0 for 2 on this one for her.

MATTHEWS: Well, she wanted to get tougher on Russia. We always wonder, what his motives are for not wanting to do it.

DEBENEDETTI: Yes, and she has been consistent actually in --

MATTHEWS: She`s sort of a neocon. She`s a hawk.

DEBENEDETTI: She`s certainly someone who doesn`t have -- she always say the same America first stuff that Trump does, but she has been out there as the U.N. ambassador talking about --

MATTHEWS: I want to go to a guy who`s a great novelist. I mean, your last book was spectacular and I have hoped --

STEVE ISRAEL, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Not so great a member of Congress but a great novelist.

MATTHEWS: No, but you have a political sense. When you watch -- I`m visual and I watch people. I watch the way she sits behind microphone in the U.N. There`s something -- she knows how to do it. There`s something historical in the way that she addresses that body. If you look at the way she looks at notes, then looks up, there`s something about her stature that`s for real.

We`ve seen it with Adlai Stevenson and people like that, Henry Cabot Lodge, Pat Moynihan. It is a fantastic launching pad if you know how to play the media.

ISRAEL: Look, she plays to the camera. And it`s ironic that she`s outplaying Donald Trump in this administration.

MATTHEWS: Yes, she looks grown-up.

ISRAEL: It may have just gotten her fired, but with that statement --

MATTHEWS: She looks serious and decisive.

ISRAEL: She does. But, you know, that`s the politics. Let`s just talk for a second about the gravity of this. We are in a really --

MATTHEWS: Did you say let`s not talk about just the politics? OK, go ahead.

ISRAEL: We are in a really dangerous convergence of a lack of any kind of foreign policy that is coherent and down to three adults in the room in the White House, Nikki Haley.


ISRAEL: General Dunford, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and the secretary of defense.

MATTHEWS: Who said we should have gone to the U.N. before we bombed.

ISRAEL: Exactly. And these guys have to focus on the volatility and uncertainty of the world, instead they`re focusing on the volatility and uncertainty of their boss. That gets very dangerous.

MATTHEWS: Do you think you`re like James Schlesinger during Watergate when he basically said don`t follow an order from the president to go to war?

GRAY: I think they have 15 minutes of fame each. I think they`re going to use that hopefully to the benefit of the country.

MATTHEWS: You mean these grown-ups.

GRAY: The grown-ups for sure. I think in general, part of the problem with what we`re seeing and this is not a sleight on Haley.


GRAY: But I think in general, there are a lot of people in the White House, it`s like musical chairs. So, if you know you have 15 minutes to make it count or --

MATTHEWS: Would he dare fire Nikki Haley?

GRAY: You know, sure. Why not?

MATTHEWS: I don`t think so. Because she looks really strong and it would look like he`s afraid of her because she`s stronger than he is.

ISRAEL: It`s Russian roulette.

MATTHEWS: What`s the lead editorial tomorrow?

GRAY: Oh, I can`t tell you.

MATTHEWS: Oh, come on. Anyway, you`re right and they got to tell us.

Anyway, roundtable is sticking with us. You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the panel. We have time for one tell me something. It`s Steve Israel and his new book "Big Guns."

Speak. Why buy this book?

ISRAEL: I was in Congress 16 years. A church in Charleston, a movie theater in Aurora, an elementary school in Connecticut. And after every shooting when I would go to my district, people would say, why doesn`t Congress do something? What`s wrong with you?

This books answer the question and it answers the question in the best way I know how to write, through snark, through satire and from the inside.

MATTHEWS: You are one great writer. I`m telling you, I`m talking about writing ability and story telling.

Steve Israel, Mara Gray, and Gabe Debenedetti.

When we return, let me finish tonight with a word about the Bushes, George and Barbara. We just lost Barbara.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with a word about the Bushes, George and Barbara.

Back in 1989, their first year in the White House, they invited Kathleen and I to come for dinner and a movie. Since my parents were in town, I asked if I could bring them along. Well, it was an unforgettable evening because of it being the White House and because it was the Bushes.

Well, I never voted for him before or after, while I was tough on him journalistically, they were the most thoughtful hosts you could imagine. Barbara led one tour which included Kathy and me. George, the president, took my parents on another.

Nothing was off limits for him. He wanted mom and dad to see everything, his closets, his bathroom, the works. Perhaps it was their old money background. Whatever the explanation this pair was whatever else they were, who they were, as comfortable in the White House as if they were born there.

I once asked Mrs. Bush about her view of abortion rights. That`s what everybody asks, she began. And I said, well, they all want to know what you think. Isn`t that fun? She parried. Of course, I have opinions, but I`m not going to share them on that.

Well, I made one last try. Mrs. Bush, everyone assumes you`re pro-choice. Well, everybody`s not always right, she answered. Not, of course, really answering but then again letting the truth linger right out there in the silence. She let out the truth by the simple act of refusing to cover it up.

To think they`ve been married all those 70-plus-years, with all that kind of stoic public discipline that deeply shared truth between them. Well, it was something. We know how proud George must have been all these years knowing he had a tough strong honest Barbara sharing the ride with him.

I want to thank both of them for hosting my parents and I that night and Kathleen. Thank them both for bringing their quite honor and the honor of their marriage, the honor of their marriage to the task of leading our country.

And here`s tonight to the life and legacy of Barbara Pierce Bush.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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