Show: HARDBALL Date: April 19, 2018 Guest: Charlie Dent, Emily Jane Fox, Jon Wolfsthal, Annie Linskey, Dana Milbank
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Fearing of firing? Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews back in Washington.
Well, President Trump has given every indication he wants special counsel Robert Mueller gone. He says it publicly, he says it privately. He calls it the fake and corrupt Russia investigation, accusing Robert Mueller himself of conflicts of interests.
We have heard sources close to the President tell "Axios" that Mueller has passed a breaking point for Trump. And we have learned that the President is enlisting even TV commentators to do his bidding.
According to the report just last week, a source told CBS News that Mr. Trump called on Wednesday and asked a source to go on television to call for Mr. Trump to fire special counsel Robert Mueller.
Well, it was against that backdrop that the President gave a very measured response to this question yesterday about Mueller and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On the Mueller probe, have you concluded it not worth the political fallout to remove either special counsel Mueller or deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As far as the two gentlemen you have 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, we are now learning perhaps why Rosenstein and Mueller are still here. "Bloomberg News" is reporting just today that both men have been granted a reprieve from Trump, at least for now.
According to "Bloomberg" quote "Deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein told Donald Trump last week that he isn`t a target, that is a key word, of any part of special counsel Robert Mueller`s investigation or the probe into his longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen."
After the meeting, Trump told some of his closest advisors that it is not the right time to remove either man since he is not the target of the probes. Well, one person said Trump doesn`t want to take any action that would drag out the investigation.
Well, this development comes after "the Washington Post" revealed earlier this month that the President is still under active investigation as a subject of the criminal probe. Not as a target, which would put him in risk of an immediate indictment.
As "Bloomberg" notes, Rosenstein`s message may have been based on a technicality. Trump may not officially be a target, but Mueller also hasn`t ruled out make him one at some point in the future. Or could it be because a President cannot be criminally indicted as some believe.
Meanwhile, a Trump attorney announced late today that former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani is joining the President`s legal team. How about that? Rudy is aboard along with two other lawyers. Giuliani`s goal, at least he told the "Washington Post" is to bring the Russia probe, I love this, to a conclusion.
Here is Rudy talking, I`m doing it because I hope we can negotiate an end to this for the good of the country. And because I have high regard for the President and for Bob Mueller.
Since when do you negotiate the end of a criminal investigation, Rudy?
Joining me right now is a Republican congressman who has co-sponsored a bill to protect the special counsel, Charles Dent of Pennsylvania. Joyce Vance is a former federal prosecutor and MSNBC legal analyst and Eddie Glaude is a professor at Princeton and MSNBC contributor. And Eli Stokols is MSNBC political analyst:
Eli, it seems like the President faced with the Hobson`s choice. If you fire these two guys. You are just going to face a Nixon-style death basically, politically. And if you keep the man, they keeps coming at you. So every sign he might not be an immediate target of an investigation, he says OK, I will be quiet for a while.
ELI STOKOLS, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. He gets agitated and then gets calm. That we are seeing this pattern behaviorally based on, you know, he reacts to the news just like the rest of us do, but he is at the center of it. And so, after the Michael Cohen raid, he was really unnerved by that. Because potentially the FBI now has 20 years of papers detailing all these transgressions.
MATTHEWS: And he is not worried about that because of something that Rosenstein said to him?
STOKOLS: Well, I don`t know. But I think it is reassuring to him to have Rosenstein come in and say, look, you are still not a target of the investigation. But I think that, you know, if they really believe that, I mean, the President has a lot of allies putting pressure on Rosenstein now on Capitol Hill. They are still doing a lot of things. They are trashing him on television, on FOX News and all those things. So they are not acting. And even the people were warning the President about Michael Cohen flipping, they are not starting from this place where they think he is innocent. They are starting from this place of if he flips, you are in trouble.
So there is a lot of behaviors here that when you look at the composite picture, you can still see a lot of nerves for this.
MATTHEWS: Joyce, I don`t see how the President doesn`t know he is under investigation by Robert Mueller and Rosenstein with his authority. That he`s not under investigation with regard to the Michael Cohen grab of all that material, as Eli said, for 20 years. He is the target. No matter what other language they use about it, they are going after him and he damn well knows it.
My question is why does he keep being gas lighted by everybody? Like, I guess, I`m OK. I`m not OK now. I am now in trouble now.
I don`t get it. It seems like he is dancing in some old cowboy movie where they shoot at a guy`s feet and he dances around for a while. It is what it looks like. Your thoughts.
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: You know, based on what we know just from the publicly available evidence about obstruction of justice, it seems likely that the fact that Trump is being told assuming it is accurate, that he is a subject, not a target of these investigations. That`s more reflective of a decision within the justice department that you can`t indict a sitting President than it is really a thorough assessment of the evidence.
But Trump seems to live in denial on these legal principles. He has never, I don`t think, been an accurate consumer of legal trends and legal analysis. And it may be that he believes he can sit this one out and Rudy Giuliani really can negotiate an end of this investigation in two weeks. It really defies belief, though.
MATTHEWS: Wait. Let`s get back. You are the expert here.
What does it mean? I mean, if somebody is looking at you with every -- 16 lawyers or something looking at you, trying to nail you, believe you are probably guilty of something, you have the whole thing with Cohen now with all that papers, all these tapes and everything ready to go at him, and he thinks he can negotiate to end? What is Rudy talking about? How do you negotiate the end to a legal - a criminal investigation of any criminal suspect?
VANCE: So I have got to push back a little bit and say prosecutors don`t really try to nail anyone. Prosecutors just try to untangle the facts and the evidence and figure out if anyone`s guilty.
But you are absolutely right, prosecutors don`t negotiate the end to a case until they have looked through all of the evidence. And here Mueller`s charge is to figure out was Russia interfering? Did Russia meddle in our election? There won`t be a pre-negotiated settlement until Mueller has fulfilled his obligation to the American people to get that one right.
MATTHEWS: Got you.
Well, meanwhile, it appears there`s a new effort under way now by Republicans on Capitol Hill to undermine those in-charge of the investigation, specifically deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.
Last Friday, the Republican chairman of the House judiciary committee, Congressman Bob Goodlatte, asked Rosenstein to turn over the memos that former FBI director James Comey drafted after his interactions with the President. That`s key evidence in court in the obstruction investigation of the President.
Well, facing the threat of a potential subpoena, the justice department is now expect to comply with that request today, according to "Politico."
Separately, "the Washington Post" is reporting that Republican Congressman Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan also met with Rod Rosenstein this week to press him for more documents about the conduct of law enforcement officials involved in the Russia probe. They warned Rosenstein that he could soon face impeachment proceedings of him where an effort to hold him in contempt of Congress if he did not satisfy GOP demands for documents.
Mr. Dent, Congressman Dent, what is your side of the aisle up to here? Are they up to anything good? You know what they remind me of? Those guys at NBA games that get behind the basket of the opposing team and wave those stupid things in the air to try to confuse the foul shooter. I mean, what good -- are you guys searching for the truth or just to slow this thing down?
REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, first, let me just say any time a congressional committee requests documents, the agency or -- they should comply. Now, that said, I`m a little concerned about people throwing the term impeachment out there of officials in the justice department. We dealt with this -- you may remember the IRS commissioner Koskinen. There are people who wanted to impeach him. I oppose that.
This is a serious matter, impeachment. And I think it would be, you know, grossly unfair to talk about impeaching, you know, either Rosenstein or Mr. Gray or whoever they are going after. We shouldn`t be having those conversations. It is not helpful. And they ought to cease and desist.
MATTHEWS: Professor Glaude, is this obstruction again? Is this what the Republicans are doing, just trying to delay, distract, waste time of the prosecutors, the investigators so that they can confuse the thing apparently? I don`t think they are going to stop Mueller. I think they are going to incite him to be more militant in his investigation. What are the Republicans up to?
EDDIE GLAUDE, PROFESSOR, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: It certainly seems like it. I mean, when mark Meadows and Jim Jordan pressure Rosenstein in the way at the do, in a way they are trying to, it seems to suggest that there is a kind of pinch that is being orchestrated.
There`s the attack, orchestrated attack on Comey. There is the I.G. referral for criminal investigation of McCabe. It seems that there is just this all-out effort, this assault on the investigation, to try to slow things that gum it up as best as possible.
And to my mind, it`s obstruction. And I also was just thinking about Giuliani. Remember the October surprise? Remember he was hinting that there was something that the campaign was about to release and it happened to be those emails, I think? So it seems to me that this is all confusing and consistent with the idea that Trump is trying to divert attention.
And two things. It also shows --
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s get back on that because a lot of our viewers -- professor, let`s get back to that. That is a hot issue with a lot of our views.
MATTHEWS: Sometime, it was 11 days before the 2016 Presidential election that Comey said Hillary Clinton is under investigation again because of Anthony Weiner`s laptop, or whatever, that he shared with his wife, Huma Abiden, may have had some stuff that was classified and shouldn`t have been there. So that launched a very bad 11 days for Hillary Clinton.
Rudy Giuliani, as you (INAUDIBLE) point out, gave us an advance look at that. What do you think what that tells you? Why would Rudy know that Comey was going to release that announcement about Hillary Clinton at such a critical moment in the presidential campaign that many believe, including me believed, turned the election result in that last week and a half.
GLAUDE: There was reporting at the time that Rudy Giuliani had some connection with the agents, FBI agents in the New York office that alerted him to this fact.
MATTHEWS: Did he push it?
GLAUDE: And it seems to me he pushed it. Yes. That`s what I believe.
MATTHEWS: I want to start with Eli here. I think Trump is really, as much as he is sure of himself about everything, I think he doesn`t know which way to go. I think he sees a Hobson`s choice here. Like he either fires a bunch of these guys, starting with Rosenstein, and tries to fire Mueller and short circuit the whole thing which may not work, but certainly will cause tremendous impeachment activity on the hill, or he lets it proceed day by day and just inevitably find something on him that is impeachable, I think, he must be thinking.
Do you get eaten by a lion or you get eaten by a tiger? I think that`s what he is thinking here? What do you think? What justifies this fickleness, this weirdness? OK, you are not going - I`m not the target so I lay off for a couple of days.
STOKOLS: Well, in part it just his personality. I mean, I have talk to people close to the President who say that, you know, he is always been upset by this, by the investigation hanging over him like a cloud. He feels like it a distraction. He feels like it undermines his claim on a legitimate win on the election to hear about, you know, collusion. And that`s why he is always out there saying no conclusion, no collusion, no collusion.
But he also understands, even as this eats (ph) on him, he understands that the important thing for him to do is to win this in the court of public opinion. And so, there is this concerted effort. I don`t know to what degree the President is part of these efforts by some members of Congress. Obviously, there is a lot of daylight between congressman Dent and Goodlatte and Devin Nunes.
MATTHEWS: Well, there is a lot of daylight between Congressman Dent and Congressman Goodlatte, I think.
Let me go to Congressman Dent. You are the politician here. What do you think Trump is doing? Does he not know which way to go to fire the bunch of them or take his hit? Because both involves getting, I think, beaten up and perhaps destroyed in history. I don`t know which ones he thinks he should do.
DENT: Well, if - we have been urging the President not to fire director Mueller because it would set off a political crisis, the like of which we haven`t seen since Watergate. You know, Saturday night massacre, Archibald Cox moments, all that. It would be a terrible mistake. It would be bad for the country. But more importantly, self-destructive for the President, it would certainly harm Republicans in the midterm. I mean, there is just nothing good that we can have it. That`s why we have introduced bipartisan legislation in the House and the Senate basically protecting the special prosecutor.
So I think the President were just trying to send a message to him. We have no expectation our legislation will become law.
MATTHEWS: Well, at times that you don`t know, you know what he knows. He knows what he is done wrong. He knows what he did if he did with regard to the Russian. He knows all the conversations he has had with Manafort and Papadopoulos and Gates and all the rest of them. He knows all the conversations he had with Flynn and Manafort. He know all that and you don`t know that. Maybe the other door is just as scary to him.
DENT: Well, I tell you the door I would be most scared of is maybe a little less Robert Mueller and more what`s going on with the raid on Cohen`s office out there in the southern district of New York. That to me just frighten anyone if your lawyer has been raided and God knows that, you know, if he was on a wire or somebody was, you know, listening to his calls, I think that`s a real exposure. And not only legally, but politically.
MATTHEWS: And you don`t even know Karen McDougal.
Anyway, I`m just kidding. He`s got a lot of questions out there. A lot of questions out there.
Anyway, thank you Congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania. And thank you, Joyce Vance, as always. Eddie Glaude, professor, thank you. And Eli Stokols, my colleague here.
Coming up, the Cohen threat. As we just heard, President Trump`s allies are warning that his longtime attorney, Mr. Cohen, may be willing to flip. It is not the latest here. We hear about all these guys because half of them already flipped on the President. Cohen has said he will take a bullet for Trump. Well, but will he do 15 years for him?
Plus President Trump warns he will walk out of a meeting with Kim Jong-un if the talks aren`t going in the right direction. But when it comes to North Korea, what can we get? And what would the North Koreans demanding in exchange for cutting back its nukes?
Good news out today, they are not demanding us to depart from the 38th parallel, which is good news. And President Trump this week said that people don`t realize the Korean War hasn`t ended. Isn`t that a pattern with the President? Every time he learns something new, which is frequently, he declares the rest of us didn`t know it before either. Isn`t that democratic?
Finally, let me finish tonight with this day in history. I`m talking about the start of the American Revolution is started tonight April 19, 1775.
This is HARDBALL where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin today defended the Trump administration just days after a very public clash with U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. On Sunday, Haley said that the Trump White House administration would impose another round of sanctions on Russia. Well, those sanctions were never unveiled.
National economic council director Larry Kudlow later said the ambassador, Ambassador Haley was confused when she made the announcement. Not a smart move. (INAUDIBLE). Haley responded by saying, with all due respect, I don`t get confused.
Well today, secretary Mnuchin tried to explain that very public disconnect.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: We refined the strategy after Nikki made that announcement between Saturday and Sunday and Monday, we refined the strategy and we will continue to refine the strategy.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She must have gotten some indication from the White House that that was OK to say, they are coming from treasury on Monday. Who called them off on Sunday?
MNUCHIN: Well, let me be clear. I was part of the decision to call them off. And that`s something that we are very comfortable with.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why did Nikki Haley not get that message?
MNUCHIN: I`m not going to go through specifics.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was left twisting in the wind. That`s the problem.
MNUCHIN: She wasn`t left twisting in the wind. This was a fluid situation. The situation changed. Nikki is a terrific spokesperson for the administration. Situations change. You shouldn`t read too much into this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: These guys have got to stop talking condescendingly about Nikki Haley. She is one sharp politician, probably better than any of the other guys.
We will be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Michael Cohen has consistently been one of Donald Trump`s ardent attack dogs. The self-described fixer famously told "Vanity Fair" that he would take a bullet for the president.
And yet two sources close to the president told Politico -- quote -- "People in Trump`s inner circle have in recent days been actively discussing the possibility that Michael Cohen might flip if he faces serious charges as a result of his work on behalf of Trump."
While in Florida, President Trump ignored a question about Cohen. Let`s watch that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Mr. President, could Michael Cohen flip? Are you worried he`s not loyal?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, everybody.
I hope you saw the crowds in Key West. They have never seen anything like that. It was really very inspirational. And what we just witnessed was incredible. But those crowds coming in, I think even the media will have to say that was quite something. Thank you very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, according to reports, Cohen is under criminal investigation potentially for bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign violations.
And while no charges have been filed against Cohen, "Vanity Fair" also reports that "Cohen feels as though he`s a means to an end, as collateral damage and a disposable element being used to get to his old boss."
Jay Goldberg is a former legal adviser to Trump. She told -- he told "The Wall Street Journal" that he warned the president that Cohen could flip. He said he told Trump, "Michael will never stand up for you."
For more, I`m joined by Emily Jane Fox, a reporter with "Vanity Fair." She has interviewed Michael Cohen multiple times. Katie Phang, of course, one of the greats here, an MSNBC legal analyst.
Thanks, Katie. Hold on, though, for Emily.
Emily, tell me what you know about the likelihood that a guy like Cohen, who is fascinating to watch, the way he walks and swaggers and checks out the crowd, and checks out people checking him out. There`s something about him that evokes something a little unseemly, a little mob maybe, something about him. I don`t think he wants to go to hard time.
EMILY JANE FOX, "VANITY FAIR": Well, there`s definitely been a concerted effort since last Monday for him to make an appearance like he`s living life like normal, according to people close to him.
MATTHEWS: You mean smoking the cigar out front?
FOX: I think that that was definitely a show that he does not want to be hiding right now, which is a typical move for a guy who has spent the last decade with Donald Trump.
He is someone who definitely wants to make the appearance that he is a tough guy who wants to go on as business as usual. Two people close to him this weekend said to me there`s a sort of vacillation going on in his psyche right now between his usual chest-thumping, I did nothing wrong, I`m the collateral damage here, and also understanding the gravity of the situation, not only for him, but the impact that it could have on his family as well.
So, there`s an interesting psychological play that`s going on, a duality.
MATTHEWS: Ben Stiller, the actor, played him on "Saturday Night Live" played him in kind of a sad way.
Do you think he`s sadly realizing that everything he owns in terms of tape recordings, paperwork, everything in his office, his cell phone, his laptop, his private apartment, and his hotel room he uses, all of that is potentially in the matter of a couple weeks in the hands of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, or in hands, I should say, of the federal authorities, who could easily share all that information?
They got him in a body frisk.
FOX: I don`t think that it`s difficult to realize, when 12 FBI agents knock on your hotel room at the crack of dawn and snatch your cell phone straight out of your hand.
I think he understands, according to these people who are close to him, what he faces right now. But, as much time as he`s had to process this, about a week-and-a-half now, he`s understanding for the first time that his life will never be the same again, not only his relationship to Donald Trump, which is a man who he`s devoted his life to for more than a decade now, but for other clients, for his future law practice, for his family.
Nothing will ever be the same for him again. And that is a difficult pill for anyone to swallow.
MATTHEWS: Well, a person who has known Michael Cohen -- and you see him in the picture there -- for nearly a decade was asked if Cohen would flip on the president.
They have told NBC News -- quote -- "Michael might believe he won`t flip on the president, but he will. It`s one thing to be loyal when you`re taking shots in the press. It`s another thing to be loyal to a guy who hasn`t been loyal to you, when it`s going to ruin your family."
Let me go to Katie Phang.
Katie, this whole question, it seems to me, it may be beyond this man`s ability to take it. If all your evidence is already potentially on the way like in a laundry chute heading towards the counsel, all of your stuff, it could all incriminate you and everything you have done that`s fixing or shady or whatever, it`s all going to be in the hands of somebody, you don`t have much to fess up to, except, OK, you got me.
KATIE PHANG, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Well, there`s very -- left to be exposed for Michael Cohen, kind of like a rat when it gets cornered. It evokes a fight-or-flight syndrome. Right?
Is Cohen going to fight? Is he going to double down? Is he going to take a shot?
MATTHEWS: How do you fight?
PHANG: Well, that`s the problem. You nailed it on the head, to the extent that, what is there left to hide anymore if the feds have all of your electronic devices, all of your e-mails, your bank statements, those that you either voluntarily turned over or those that just got seized in multiple raids at different locations?
So the flight kicks in. And how we do know that? He`s settling lawsuits. He`s invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination or threatening to do so in the Stormy Daniels lawsuit out in California.
He`s basically now figuring out that this is an oblique moment for me, and do I risk my family or do I take that proverbial bullet for Donald Trump? And then there`s this whole is a presidential pardon being waved, a la Scooter Libby last week?
We always thought that it was going to be Paul Manafort that was going to be the beneficiary of that pardon, but maybe Michael Cohen thinks that, if keeps his mouth shut, that Trump may bless him with that presidential pardon.
MATTHEWS: Well, as Katie just mentioned there, former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who alleges a 10-month relationship with the president, was released from a contract with the parent company of "National Enquirer."
McDougal was suing AMI for the right to speak publicly about the alleged affair. She`s now free to do whatever she wants, say whatever she wants.
President Trump has denied the allegations, of course. The lawsuit alleged that Michael Cohen was involved in the negotiations. Whoa.
McDougal`s lawyer explained why he may have wanted an end to this case.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
rMD-BO_PETER STRIS, ATTORNEY FOR KAREN MCDOUGAL: If this litigation had continued, that`s the first thing that would have happened. We would have sought to get documents and taken depositions, et cetera.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, and, today, Michael Cohen moved to drop a defamation lawsuit against BuzzFeed for publishing a copy of the infamous Steele dossier.
In a statement, Cohen`s lawyer described the decision as "difficult, but necessary, given the events that have unfolded and the time, attention and resources needed to prosecute these matters. We have dismissed the matters, despite their merits."
Emily, here`s the thing. When I was growing up, there was a television show called "This Is Your Life." Ralph Edwards did it. And you present all these people from your past. And it is really nice for people who are celebrities and have had a pretty good life.
Here`s Donald Trump. This is your life. Meet Karen McDougal. She`s got a nine-month or 10-month affair to explain. It`s been -- these goblins, if you will, keep coming out of the wall against Trump. And there`s going to be a lot more once they go through all that stuff in Michael Cohen`s file cabinets.
How many women`s names are going to be in different files? You can only imagine. It doesn`t take much extrapolation to imagine she wasn`t the only one, or she wasn`t the only one of two or three. This guy`s been around for years.
So, my question, this is just going to be hell on earth for him, right? There`s a lot of journalism coming this way.
FOX: It could be.
And we are in a golden age of this sort of journalism. Who knows what they will find there? Who knows what they will possibly find elsewhere?
I will note, though, that there are a number of lawyers on this case. And so the fact that Michael Cohen is perhaps dropping cases or settling cases has a lot to do with the fact that he doesn`t want to sit for depositions, I can imagine.
But it also has to do with the fact that he`s facing a tremendous number of legal bills coming his way in those cases and in the case to come in the Southern District of New York.
FOX: So, there are a lot of lawyers on a lot of different people`s payrolls right now.
MATTHEWS: On another note, do you like the new look of "Vanity Fair," of the new cover this month?
FOX: It is fantastic. Do you like it?
MATTHEWS: You like that?
I don`t know. I always was liking the old tradition.
Anyway, thank you, Emily Jane Fox and Katie Phang.
Up next: President Trump says that if his meeting with Kim Jong-un doesn`t go well, he will just get up and walk out the door. But suppose they`re in Singapore? Not so easy.
Anyway -- anyway, negotiating tactics aside, what are we hoping to get from the North Koreans and what will they agree to do for us?
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Of course -- welcome back to HARDBALL -- that was President Trump on what he expects -- about what he expects is his upcoming planned meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Trump declined to offer specifics on America -- the man for the sit-down, but "The New York Times" reports the North Korean regime has removed one major obstacle -- and this is for real -- they`re not going to demand that we withdraw our troops from the 38th Parallel.
That news came today from South Korea`s president. Well, I hope that is credible.
Anyway meanwhile, Axios reports President Trump views the North Korean crisis is a great man moment. Sources close to the president say he genuinely believes he and he alone can overcome the seemingly intractable disaster on the Korean Peninsula.
Another source adds: "He thinks just get me in a room with the guy and I will figure it out."
On "Morning Joe," retired Admiral James Stavridis warned it won`t be so easy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADM. JAMES STAVRIDIS (RET.), FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: I think President Trump somehow feels he will walk in, slap the table, like he`s selling a building in Manhattan, and walk out the door to collect his Nobel Peace Prize.
Ain`t going to happen that way. This is going to be a process that has to unfold.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: For more, I`m joined by Jon Wolfsthal, who is director of the Nuclear Crisis Group and former special assistant to President Obama.
So, give me a worst case and a good case, a fruitful development.
What can we get out of this meeting, if it`s in Singapore, or Switzerland, wherever? JON WOLFSTHAL, DIRECTOR, NUCLEAR CRISIS GROUP: So, I think the best thing we can hope for is that the leaders get along and that they agree that the process of negotiating is going to continue.
If we can actually get a dialogue started, we can negotiate over how quickly can the nuclear weapons be removed, how many missiles will North Korea be allowed to keep, what will the U.S. and South Korea...
MATTHEWS: Will they agree -- can we get them to agree to freeze their program while we talk?
Or is it going to be fight and talk on their part?
WOLFSTHAL: So, right now, the North Korean program, at least the testing part is frozen. They`re not testing missiles. They`re not testing nukes.
I think one of the steps we should be looking is a cap, where they`re not producing any more nuclear materials, they`re not producing any more ballistic missiles.
But that requires a lot of inspectors on the ground. We can`t do that by satellite. So North Korea already has to reveal a lot.
MATTHEWS: OK, worst case. What could happen that would be really bad for our country, not just the president?
WOLFSTHAL: My worst case is that Kim Jong Il walks in and says, OK, Mr. president, you`re great. You got me. I`m going to give you all six nuclear weapons and 24 ballistic missiles. But you got to get off the peninsula.
And Trump will say, great. I`m good.
He will do it, and North Korea...
MATTHEWS: He will take our -- even though they don`t demand it, they will take -- we will remove all our troops from the 38th Parallel, exposing, Seoul, Korea, to whatever they feel like doing over there?
WOLFSTHAL: My worst case is that basically Trump doesn`t listen to his advisers, who are saying, you have got to have a long-term inspection process. You have got to be intrusive. You have got to be there for the long term.
He will just say, no, no, a quick, easy deal. I`m going to walk.
MATTHEWS: Any chance that strange guy with the strange haircut -- talk about strange haircuts -- the whole thing. He seems like a guy isolated from the universe.
Is it possible -- maybe I`m a romantic -- that Kim Jong-un wants to join the world, that he wants to someday reunite his peninsula, and the only way does that is to move to the West, move Western in his style, more liberalization, make himself not so scary, and possibly win a peninsula- wide election?
I don`t know what he`s thinking about.
WOLFSTHAL: Yes, I don`t think his model is the West.
I think, if he`s got a model in mind, it`s China, where he can maintain absolute control. He gets to keep his nuclear weapons.
MATTHEWS: And economic development.
WOLFSTHAL: And economic development at the same time.
And that`s clearly what his father was trying for.
MATTHEWS: The opposite of Gorbachev.
WOLFSTHAL: Exactly right. It`s basically he want to be like Xi, which is why he wants to get in the room with Trump.
I`m very worried he`s offering for the U.S. troops to stay in South Korea. He`s offering to be negotiating end of the Korean Peninsula. What he really wants is to get the photo-op with Trump and to play that back home.
And then he can change whatever he is asking for.
MATTHEWS: I must say, nothing else has worked.
WOLFSTHAL: That`s true.
MATTHEWS: And we have -- under Democratic presidents, it was -- under Clinton, it was give them coal.
MATTHEWS: That didn`t work.
WOLFSTHAL: Well, we have tried maximum pressure, and we have tried maximum engagement.
And the reality is that North Korea may just want nuclear weapons, and there may not be a way out of this.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Jon Wolfsthal. I hope that was good news.
Up next: President Trump this week said people don`t realize that the Korean War is still going on, just one of the many historical facts he thinks people don`t know about because he didn`t know about it.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: South Korea is meeting and has plans to meet with North Korea to see if they can end the war, and they have my blessing on that. They do have my blessing to discuss the end of the war.
People don`t realize the Korean War has not ended. It`s going on right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was President Trump yesterday making an assumption that people don`t know that the Korean War is still going on, they don`t have a peace treaty between North and South.
As Janet Johnson points out in "The Washington Post" today, for Trump, people don`t realize a lot of things. She notes that the president often makes comments that begin with some variation of the phrase "most people don`t know" and end with a nugget of information that those surrounding him -- fellow world leaders, diplomats, journalists, politicians or aides -- do indeed already know.
Let`s watch some examples.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: What people don`t realize about Clemson, it`s a great academic school.
We will pay not to take the insurance. People don`t understand that.
France is America`s first and oldest ally. A lot of people don`t know that.
On the economy, Italy is one of America`s largest trading partners. A lot of people don`t know that.
A lot of people don`t know, the Air Force One project is actually two planes.
Our first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln -- great president. Most people don`t even know he was a Republican, right? Does anyone know? A lot of people don`t know that.
We have to build that up a little bit more. Let`s take an ad. Let`s use one of those PACs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Johnson asked, is Trump playing the role of educator in chief or simply sharing historical facts he`s newly learned?
We`ll have that and more Trump sound like that next with the HARDBALL roundtable.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL.
As we just saw, President Trump has a pattern, don`t you think, of prefacing facts with "most people don`t know" or "most people don`t realize." Jenna Johnson writes in "The Washington Post" that Trump`s lessons are often accompanied by raised eyebrows, widened eyes and gee whiz look that suggests perhaps the nation is witnessing the president`s education in real time.
Let`s bring in tonight`s HARDBALL roundtable. Annie Linskey is national political reporter for "The Boston Globe". Jason Johnson is political editor for "The Root" and an MSNBC contributor, and Dana Milbank is just waiting for this. He`s columnist for "The Washington Post."
Dana, I -- first of all, I did know that the French were our allies in the American Revolution. I have heard of Lafayette. We all know who Lafayette is. And every Republican certainly knows that Lincoln was the first Republican president. All Republicans know that.
Did Trump really go to college? I mean, really? I mean, really? Did he just go to business school? I think he just went to business school. That`s my guess.
ANNIE LINSKEY, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BOSTON GLOBE: He went to Wharton undergrad. So, some people don`t realize --
MATTHEWS: So he skipped college?
LINSKEY: Well, he just did the undergrad program, and didn`t do the undergraduate --
MATTHEWS: So he took marketing?
LINSKEY: Yes, lots of marketing classes. Not a lot of history classes.
MATTHEWS: I wouldn`t say too many humanities, I don`t think he took any literature. It`s all new to him and we`re learning it -- he`s learning it on our watch, so we have to listen to him say, guess what, I bet you didn`t know.
JASON JOHNSON, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: It reminds me of your 7-year-old nephew who learned a new word in school today and tells everyone at Thanksgiving like, I learned cooperation and I learned President Kennedy did this, and they repeat it over and over again. And everyone in the room nods their head and make them feel about themselves, when in fact it`s something they should have known already.
MATTHEWS: But he democratizes his ignorance. If I don`t know it, you don`t know it. Nobody knows it. It`s like thank you for sharing us in your abyss there.
DANA MILBANK, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: It is very puzzling because we know he did go to the best schools and we know he`s, like, really smart.
MILBANK: So it is surprising that he`s come up with all these facts. I have had that sensation, it`s like the wonderment and the excitement of the discovery. It`s like we`re all his parent and we`re proud that he`s learning.
I`ve been tracking this for a while. He learned and most people don`t know this but war is expensive, that Iraq has oil reserves, that he we have a trade deficit with Mexico.
MILBANK: And most don`t know what a value added tax is or that Bill Clinton signed NAFTA. Yes, health care is hard. It hard being the president and you learn something new things every day.
LINSKEY: Like Frederick Douglass who realized at some point was just -- wasn`t getting enough congratulations.
MATTHEWS: The president has also shown a lack of historic knowledge in some situations. He talked about 19th century abolitionist Frederick Douglass in the present -- this is Dan Quayle stuff. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who has done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I noticed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I think he gave his first speech in Nantucket 400 years ago. I mean, (INAUDIBLE) that he`s walking around.
JOHNSON: You somewhat feel bad again for the people around him who have to nod while he pretends (ph) this. But you`re talking about this, Chris, when you say he democratizes his ignorance, by saying nobody else knows this, he tries to pretend --
MATTHEWS: Because I don`t.
JOHNSON: He tries to pretend, well, nobody could possibly know this information because I have the best brain.
MILBANK: But he does know some things that nobody else knows, like he said --
MATTHEWS: How much you pay a New York City councilman for a privilege --
MILBANK: He`s also the guy -- he`s the guy who knew that Andrew Jackson could have stopped the Civil War and he knew that Napoleon wouldn`t have had so much trouble when he went into Russia if he didn`t have those extra curricular activities the night before. Do you remember when he told us that history lesson?
JOHNSON: He also knows what his tax returns was.
MATTHEWS: Well, he just said the other thing, and this is, of course, for you, Jason, because there`s an ethnic aspect to this and I want to give you the full chance here. He said that human trafficking is now worse than it`s ever been.
JOHNSON: Oh, yes, I know!
MATTHEWS: Did you ever hear of triangle -- did you ever hear of the slavery triangle?
JOHNSON: You know, when he says things like this, this is what reminds people all the time. You can`t tell if you`re offended by him or disgusted. And I sort of vacillate back and forth, I`m pretty sure slavery is the worst kind of human trafficking --
MATTHEWS: Did you ever see "Roots (ph)"?
MATTHEWS: All people came here and --
JOHNSON: -- sort of explains a lot of it. But I think the president again it`s because no one holds him accountable. No one has ever just asked him in the administration --
MATTHEWS: Can you imagine the staff guy or woman who says I knew that, Mr. President. That would go over really well.
LINSKEY: There is a sort of a serious aspect to this, though. Sometimes you don`t know. I think when he came out with his slogan America first, maybe some people he didn`t realize that that was used in the `30s.
MATTHEWS: It was done by the people accused of being Nazi sympathizers.
MATTHEWS: And he writes in "The Washington Post" that sometimes Trump will go a step further and suggests that Washington needs to simplify the way it talks about complicated issues that American will better understand. He took credit for calling his tax plans tax cuts instead of tax reform.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Tax reform doesn`t work because we do have tax reform but people don`t understand that what we`re doing is cutting taxes. We`re also reforming but that could be an increase in taxes. We`re cutting taxes. So we go the tax cut and jobs plan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: And he argued that no one knew community college was, when in fact what is community college? Here he is explaining that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Call it vocational and technical perhaps, but use vocational because that`s what it`s all about. People know what that means. We don`t know what a community college means.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, he`s typed merry Christmas. The monkeys typed merry Christmas, he`s right about. People think community college is some casual thing you pick up a photography course. No, it how you get jobs because you`ve improved your technical and useful education.
LINSKEY: And reform actually, tax reform is a phrase that "Globe", we`re not allowed to use because it is so vague.
MATTHEWS: So he`s smart. He`s a good marketer. You give on that, we all know that. He`s a marketer.
MILBANK: And very creative. He had an innovation a couple of weeks ago. He was talking to the "Financial Times". He said, I just thought up the phrase, prime the pump. I just thought of it.
MATTHEWS: No, he did not.
MILBANK: No, he didn`t. That`s John Maynard Keynes, it was almost 80 years ago, the Great Depression. But he just discovered it.
MATTHEWS: It reminds me of Spiro Agnew that didn`t know calling somebody soft on communism was a bad thing to do. He never heard it before.
Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. And up next -- by the way, he was the former vice president. They`re going to tell me something I don`t know. We didn`t know that. I`m just kidding.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the roundtable.
Annie, tell me something I don`t know.
LINSKEY: So --
MATTHEWS: Isn`t that funny, things we don`t know?
MILBANK: We know everything.
LINSKEY: So, New England`s biggest donor to Republican causes is a guy named Seth Klarman. He gave $7 million under the Obama administration to Republicans to finance the complete Republican takeover of the federal government, and he does not like what he has seen. So, he has switched and now this mega donor has become a Democratic donor.
MATTHEWS: Oh. Well, he didn`t go to Kasich. He goes all the way to the Democrats.
LINSKEY: He went through Kasich straight to Democrats.
MATTHEWS: OK, Jason?
JOHNSON: I`m going to start like Trump. A lot of you guys don`t know this.
MATTHEWS: We will now.
JOHNSON: Right. We`ll now.
So, of course everybody in D.C. is concerned about the possibility of Trump firing Mueller. But it turns out that this is not just a D.C. story. It`s really hitting the heartland. Yesterday, the "Pittsburgh Gazette" reported the chief of police in Pittsburgh has asked all plainclothes officers to bring their uniforms and riot gear to work for the foreseeable future in anticipation of Trump firing Mueller and there being riots in the streets.
MATTHEWS: In Pittsburgh?
JOHNSON: In Pittsburgh.
MATTHEWS: That`s a calm town.
MILBANK: Well, you`ve heard of big tobacco and big oil trying to manipulate science, but now --
MATTHEWS: I`m just hearing about it now.
MILBANK: Understandably. But now, we have a problem with big pasta. Some Canadian researchers came out with a study that said eating a lot of pasta does not make you unhealthy, does not make you gain weight.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe that?
MILBANK: It was picked up by a lot of newspapers and outlets. But as "BuzzFeed" noticed, they failed to pick up the fact that the researchers were paid by Barilla, the largest maker of pasta.
MATTHEWS: So am I supposed to have my Catholic lunch tomorrow of mac and cheese or not?
MILBANK: According to the makers of Barilla pasta, you are able to eat as much as you`d like. Just some food for thought.
MATTHEWS: We should have that kind of pasta. It`s perfect for Friday food.
Jason, thank you. Annie, thank you. And, Dana, you`re so funny. I didn`t know you were until now. I`m learning all these things.
And when we return, I`m going to finish tonight with this day in history. There`s more history than coming to Mr. Trump is ready for tonight. This is really funny we`re doing this tonight. It`s so synchronized.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this day in history, the anniversary of the shot heard round the world. It was on April 19th, today, 1775, that shots were fired in the battles of Lexington and Concord, sparking the American Revolution. It was the first time blood was shed in the fight for American independence, a fight that lasted seven years.
To look back at that fight in the spirit that it deserves, I think a moment of reflection about how this country came into being and more important, where it`s headed now. As written in the Declaration of Independence, we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they`re endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these, our life, liberty and a pursuit of happiness.
To keep those rights and ensure that they have meaning today is going to take continued diligence, don`t you think? But also aggressive exercise of those rights. With a president now who seems to value loyalty to him personally over freedom of expression and even rule of law, we need to celebrate those who exercise their constitutional rights to speak out.
Barack Obama just today profiled the power of those Parkland High School students who organized the march for our lives. Here`s what he wrote for "Time Magazine": Most of them can`t even vote yet, but they have the power so often inherited in youths, to see the world anew, to reject the old constraints outdated conventions and cowardice too often dressed up as wisdom, the power to insist that America can be better.
To insist that America be better is of course a driving force of the American spirit itself. I`m proud to say as a Philadelphia native, the seat of our republic now is home to a new museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. A wondrous new place that honors the revolution that gave birth to our country, a revolution that must and does continue today.
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
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