Trump says Cohen won't "flip." TRANSCRIPT: 04/23/2018. Hardball with Chris Hayes

Guests: Karine Jean-Pierre, Noelle Nikpour, Susan Page, Edward Markey, Elaina Plott

Show: HARDBALL Date: April 23, 2018 Guest: Karine Jean-Pierre, Noelle Nikpour, Susan Page, Edward Markey, Elaina Plott

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: The office saying they will issue additional updates as events warrant a major development for George H. W. Bush that we are monitoring. That does it for our show, though.

We turn now to HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Before we get to the latest on President Trump and Michael Cohen we have breaking news to report. We learned just minutes ago that former President George Herbert Walker Bush has been hospitalize with an infection that has spread to his blood. The former President was admitted to Houston Methodist hospital yesterday morning just one day after the funeral for his wife, former first lady Barbara Bush. Former Bush President, President Bush 43, a White House communications director Nicolle Wallace joins us by phone right now.

Nicolle, this is amaze. We didn`t know what had happened until now, that he was in serious situation at the hospital.

NICOLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST, DEADLINE: WHITE HOUSE (on the phone): Yes, listen, for those of us who know and love the Bush family, it`s another heartbreak. But in some ways the conversation we have all been having since we learned about this yesterday is that it`s sort of beautiful. I mean, you know, you can still die of a broken heart. And you think about the week that this man had. He held his wife`s hand while she died. He went to the church where people, the public went to greet Barbara Bush as she, you know, was there to welcome. That wasn`t part of the plan. He, you know, for the most part was stoic during the funeral. And he has just had an unbelievable emotional week. And he is not of, you know, superb health himself.

So to hear this week took a toll on his health is not a tremendous surprise. But it`s just, you know, I mean -- you and I both covered the funeral Saturday, and you heard me say it. It feels like the beginning of the end of an era. And certainly, on the heels of the loss of Barbara Bush, to think about losing this man who whether you voted for him or didn`t vote for him, his post presidency has been everything that you hope for. He formed deep and meaningful bonds with the man who defeated hip, in Bill Clinton. He was awarded the presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. So his - you know, to Republicans in exile, he is everything that is good and great about a party that we don`t recognize anymore. So it`s a blow on so many levels to hear that he is in so sick today.

MATTHEWS: Just to give an update, everyone, a recap of what you said. Yes, he apparently got through Saturday night with dinner with his family after the funeral and the burial, but then when he awoke Sunday morning, I guess emotionally it was the first time he had been alone on this earth since the `40s.

WALLACE: That`s a really, really important thing to note. And, you know, you read about these things. You read about what that blow can do to your physical health, and that might have been it. He was taken to the hospital Sunday morning. I understand yesterday was a more difficult day for him medically than today has been. They are using words like "stable."

But he is, you know, I think the family statement says, he is in intensive care. And those of us who love him are praying. But it`s not always clear what we are praying for. I mean, obviously, he spent 73 years with her. And it`s hard not to think that at some level he would be happier and be at greater peace with his beloved wife.

But, you know, certainly I could speak for his kids weren`t ready. They didn`t see this coming. He got through the week looking well and looking strong and trying to support and cheer others. If you have that footage of him at the church, which was, you know, in secret service lingo an OTR. He wasn`t supposed to go to the church the day before the official funeral, which was only for invited guests. And he saw it on TV and wanted to go. He was going to be there five minutes. He spent 20.

So it was, you know, it would be a lot for you or me. But I think for someone of his health and he had a 73-year love affair with Barbara Bush, it may have been too much physically for him.

MATTHEWS: Nicolle, you were great on Saturday. It was so great to hear your words after the service. And I was so lucky to be a part of this, very spiritual mourning on Saturday.

Thank you so much to Nicolle Wallace.

WALLACE: Thank you, my friend.

MATTHEWS: Joining us now is Presidential historian Jon Meacham.

Meacham, you were also fantastic, although, was it Jeb who took a shot at you saying you were a bit too long on Saturday. But I thought you were very sublime. And tell us what you know about this emotional connection between the former President and the former first lady that apparently has affected him perhaps physically and medically in the last 24 hours.

JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, this was Sunday morning was the first morning he woke up without her in his life since shortly after Pearl Harbor. So I think we are -- let`s just pause for someone second and think about that.

For much of the American century, they have been together. They have faced the remarkable vicissitudes of political and familial life. They raised a big, wonderful family. They lost a daughter to leukemia. When they got married in January of `45, there was every expectation that he would be headed back for the invasion of the home islands. She, as I was privileged to say on Saturday, she was one of those American women who worked on an assembly line and who waited and watched in the long hours of the night.

For him, I think all of us have who have been lucky enough to observe that marriage, and in fact the whole country has, it`s always been incredibly genuine. And I think that he in the last years since he became -- went into the wheelchair, which has now been about six years ago, as you know, Chris, he was the most active of men. One of the great athletes who was ever President, actually.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MEACHAM: He was always moving. He was 65 -- I used to say he was 65 years old for 20 years. And then all of the sudden one day he was 86. And you know, I know this. He was saying last week he wants to go to Maine. He believes that life goes on. And I think he would like to be here longer for his kids. But we will see. It`s more or less out of his hands.

And honestly, there hasn`t been much that has been out of this man`s hands. He became President of the United States, not out of any traditional political base. He became President when he from one part of the party that was fading in influence as he was rising. And he rose to the pinnacle of power because he had this remarkable persistent, understated charisma. And one definition of charm is the ability to make you love someone without your quite knowing why at first. And George Bush had that. And that`s why he for a time had all of our destinies in his hands.

MATTHEWS: Jon Meacham, you are a great historian and you are a great Eulogist. I have to tell on both accounts. So there is Barbara Bush, the last picture that.

Thank you, Jon Meacham, for a wonderful eulogy on Saturday. And of course, for coming on here with an update of his health right now, former president`s health.

We are going to continue to follow any developments, of course, on the condition of former President Bush.

But now to the President we have today, President Trump, with his long-time fixer -- talk about change of pace -- Michael Cohen under criminal investigation. President Trump insist that will remain loyal, Cohen will, and lashing out at those who say otherwise. But the Trump is also hedging his bets on Michael Cohen. His spokesperson today refused to rule out a pardon for Michael Cohen. Here is Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You didn`t close the door one way or the other on the President pardoning Michael Cohen. What is your -- what`s your read on that right now?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It`s hard to close the door on something that hasn`t taken place. I don`t like to discuss or comment on hypothetical situations that may or may not ever happen. I would refer you to personal attorneys to comment on anything specific regarding that case. But we don`t have anything at this point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, all this comes after multiple outlets report that Cohen, who is well versed in Trump`s business dealings, in all his dealings actually, including women, could be induced a flip on the President, putting him in deeper legal jeopardy with the ongoing Mueller investigation.

One story in particular appears to have struck rat Trump`s nerves. A report this weekend in "The New York Times" paints a devastating picture of Trump`s abusive relationship with Cohen over the years, suggest that Trump has done little to deserve the kind of loyalty he says he is now counting on. That`s a hell of a story right there by Maggie Haberman of "the Times."

For years Mr. Trump treated Mr. Cohen poorly with gratuitous insults, dismissive statements and at least twice threat of being fired. According to interviews with half a dozen people familiar with their relationship. Wow.

As Trump`s former political adviser Roger Stone said On the Record, Donald goes out of his way to treat him, that would be Michael Cohen, like garbage. That`s pure Stone talk by the way.

I should point out that Stone`s political associates with Trump goes back decades, in fact, Stone accompanied Trump and his future first lady back in 1999 on a HARDBALL college tour. There he is sitting next to Melania back when Trump was considering running the first time.

Furthermore, "The New York Times" reports that since the raid, Mr. Cohen has told associates he feels isolated. There is a phrase. That doesn`t bode well for the President if he is counting on Cohen to remain silent. Responding to that story, the President said today most people will flip if the government lets them out of trouble, even if it means lying or making up stories.

Sorry, I don`t see Michael doing that, despite the horrible witch-hunt. Actually, it`s a snitch hunt at this point. We are looking for somebody to tell us the truth. What the President doesn`t say is why he believes Cohen`s possible cooperation would pose any threat to him. Think about that. Here is how Sarah Huckabee Sanders answered that question today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is he worried Michael Cohen could flip over?

SANDERS: I think he said even that there isn`t anything there for that to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why not tweet that, then? Why open the opportunity for him to flip it, suggest that he something to hide?

SANDERS: No, I don`t think the President has anything to hide. Hinge hazy been quite clear on that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, joining me right now are three MSNBC contributors, Natasha Bertrand, staff writer for "the Atlantic," Eugene Robinson is a columnist for "the Washington Post" and Barbara McQuade is a former U.S. attorney.

So we have a lot to talk about tonight after we open up about the sad news about the former President. But here we are in real time. We have a snitch about the snitch it look likes. Let me go to Natasha on this.

What do you make of this? Trump is out there throwing spiritual bouquets the way of this guy, blowing kisses, telling he`ll never rat on me. And at the same time we hear from "The New York Times" he has been dumping on the guy, treated him like garbage for years. What goes around, as we say, Gene --?

EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Comes around.

NATASHA BERTRAND, REPORTER, THE ATLANTIC: Right. And whereas the Trump- Cohen relationship kind of used to be a one-way street where Trump would really treat Michael Cohen like garbage. I mean, you talk to his associates.

MATTHEWS: So this is known?

BERTRAND: This is well-known. This is well-known that Trump took Michael Cohen for granted and took his loyalty for granted.

MATTHEWS: And Cohen has an apartment or condo in Trump towers, one of them, with all this Gloriana (ph) stuff about Trump it. He glorifies the guy and the guy trashes him.

BERTRAND: In his office in 30 Rock, when I walked in a couple months ago to do an interview with him, it was pretty much a shrine to Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) at 30 Rock, Trump tower.

BERTRAND: No, Michael Cohen has an office at 30 Rock.

MATTHEWS: That`s right. Our building.

BERTRAND: Yes.

ROBINSON: Yes.

BERTRAND: But it was pretty much a photo of Michael Cohen`s daughter. And then it was surrounded by inauguration paraphernalia, photos of himself with the President. I mean, Michael Cohen really looks up to Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: Do you think Trump`s office has probably pictures of Michael Cohen?

BERTRAND: Somehow I doubt it.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Gene, this is -- how many times in Washington have you heard that line, what goes around comes around? You treat people like dirt, then somehow they end up on your jury at some point.

ROBINSON: It does. I mean, clearly, that sort of treatment has not bothered Michael Cohen up to now, because he has remained with Donald Trump and seems to relish in being his fixer, his go-to guy, his Ray Donovan, as he calls himself. Kind of ridiculously. But look, everybody flips, right? I mean, basically, everybody --

MATTHEWS: That`s the Mueller M.O.

ROBINSON: Right. If federal prosecutors have something on you, and they want you to tell them something, they will get you - they will get you to tell it. I mean, they have - you know, federal prosecutor is about the most powerful person in the country in terms of what he can do to your life.

MATTHEWS: Well, who was it? Was it Chuck Colson who said if you grab them by the what, the hearts and minds will follow?

ROBINSON: Yes. They grab them by all the tender parts and they squeeze and people talk. Because you got to choice. You got to choice -- either you tell what, you know, you answer the questions they have or you know, you go to prison, I mean. And you face financial ruin.

MATTHEWS: Barbara, let me ask you about this whole thing. And the pattern is so clear. Because you start with Flynn and you go to Papadopoulos. I`m going to go through this list of all these Cato Calin (ph) characters, all these available witnesses. But they all seem to have criminal exposures as you say in the business. A lot of exposure. And this guy has been covering for Trump and all the -- apparently it`s his job to take care of any women problems, whether it`s one nightstands, affairs, whatever. He take care of shutting them up, if you will, brutally by selling their story to somebody who will never print it or making sure they will never say anything to anybody with the disclosure agreements. In that six or seven figures, seven figures, I mean, he has a lot of money to spend to keep people quiet. And it looks like that`s his job. It looks like he might be exposed for some legal pressure there.

BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Yes. One point I want to make is this tweet from President Trump is so harmful where he suggests that prosecutors will encourage someone to flip and lie and make things up to build their case. That is absolutely not the case. It would be unethical and unwise. Because a jury needs to understand that a witness who is testifying has that exposure. And so a prosecutor would corroborate any of that testimony with independent evidence like, you know, phone records, bank records, other statements. And so --.

MATTHEWS: Which they have, Barbara. They have all that stuff. They cleaned out Michael Cohen`s office, his laptop, his tablet, what -- his phones, his apartment, and his the hotel room he uses. And his safety deposit box or safe. Is it a bank? I don`t think out of the bank or they got it from his office. But they have all his secret records.

MCQUADE: Yes. So we don`t know yet whether Michael Cohen will be charged with anything. But certainly the prosecutors will be armed with sufficient evidence to review from all of these documents from his office. And if they do --

MATTHEWS: Bank fraud, mail fraud, and FEC violations have already posted what they are going to hit them with.

MCQUADE: And if and when they do charge them with those things, I have seen this, as Eugene said, so frequently as someone who pledges their eternal loyalty to associates in the end does often end up cooperating with prosecutors. Because once they see what their criminal exposure is, the loyalty to the boss becomes far less important than the loyalty to their family. And when they are making a decision about do I want to go to prison for 10 or 12 years for the boss or do want to come home sooner to my family, often it`s an easy choice.

MATTHEWS: Well, the President also singled out the co-author of the "New York times" report, veteran journalist Maggie Haberman saying the "New York Times" and the third rate recorder named Maggie Haberman known as crooked Hillary flunkie who I don`t speak with and something to do with or are going out of their way to destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me the hope that he will flip. Trump using the term the term flip here. Unbelievable.

While the President said he doesn`t speak to Haberman, the fact that he has given her at six exclusive interviews since November and he has been photographed with her inside the oval office.

I don`t know. Let me go Natasha. How can a President lie like this in our face when we have so much graphic evidence that he is lying?

BERTRAND: It seems like whenever the President is confronted with something he doesn`t like to acknowledge, he retreats to a very -- he just goes in the complete opposite direction.

MATTHEWS: He is the front page of "The New York Times" more than I can count. She is not third rate in any way.

BERTRAND: Right. It`s I never spoke to Maggie Haberman. It is I never stayed overnight in Moscow. These are things that Donald Trump says when he is confronted with realities.

And the other thing I will also note about Michael Cohen is that he does not necessarily need to flip in order for prosecutors to get information on Donald Trump. I mean, the FBI raided Michael Cohen`s office and his residences. And there were a trove of documents that the FBI and the prosecutors will now be able to sift through. So if we assume that Michael Cohen will stay loyal and won`t actually flip on the President, even you know, that may be very unlikely. But he may not need to.

MATTHEWS: Gene, I got to tell "the Washington Post." He also went after you guys. I got to bring it up because he saw in behind -- I never used the term Mr. Magoo. I never used the term Mr. Peepers. It has got to be orange than Mr. Peepers was. Wally Cox. But he is now denying what we know he did.

ROBINSON: Yes, I know. Look. This is sort of classic Trump reaction, right, you know? I don`t even know her. I would never say that. I would never do that. Even if it something he is on film saying and doing, he would never say or do it. So that`s his defense mechanism. And so it`s what we expect of him. You know, back up. He is President of the United States. And we expect him to tell these ridiculous lies when he is cornered like this.

MATTHEWS: We have defined deviancy downward as (INAUDIBLE) say.

Let me tell you, Barbara. He reminds me of Sergeant Schultz in Hogan`s heroes. I don`t know nothing.

Anyway. Natasha Bertrand, thank you. Eugene Robinson and Barbara McQuade, thank you for your expertise.

Coming up, President Trump is talking up the progress he says has made in dealing with North Korea but there is still a gaping, I say, divide between what he is saying and what is actually happening already and how some U.S. officials are actually hand-wringing. And North Korea`s dictator is beating Trump in the PR war. Imagine that guy with that haircut, (INAUDIBLE), beating Trump in the PR war. The guy, Kim Jong-un, unbelievable. Bad guy to lose to, anyway.

Plus, more trouble for another Trump cabinet member. New reporting over this weekend shows EPA administrator Scott Pruitt may be even more of a swamp creature than previously thought. Now the White House support for Pruitt may be coming to an end. It`s fading out. You can hear it.

And 2018 is shaping up to be the year of Trump. Actually, Republicans across the country are trying to out-trump Trump as they try to win their primaries. By the way, this is in the primaries they talk like this.

I`m going to finish tonight with Trump watch. When it comes to North Korea`s, I think he is about to shoot the moon, as we say in hearts.

This is HARDBALL where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump and the first lady welcomed French President Macron and his wife to the White House early this evening, kicking off the first state visit of the Trump presidency.

During Macron`s three-day stay, the two world leaders are expected to discuss a variety of foreign policy issues, including the Iran nuclear deal and the crisis ongoing in Syria.

But the visit will also include plenty of pomp and circumstance. This evening, for example, both companies boarded Marine One for a helicopter tour of the Washington monuments -- that would be fun -- before flying to unbelievable Mount Vernon. What a great to have dinner for anybody.

Well, tonight -- or tomorrow, President Trump and the first lady will host the Macrons for their first date dinner.

Unlike his predecessors, however, Trump hasn`t invited any members of Congress from the opposing party. No Democrats allowed. Members of the media also not allowed. Not invited.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Late last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un announced his regime would suspend nuclear and long-range missile tests.

Over the weekend, President Trump touted that announcement, writing on Twitter: "Wow. We even -- we haven`t given up anything and they have agreed to denuclearization. So great for world. Site closure and no more testing."

Well, the fact is, South Korea`s president told reporters last week that North Korea has expressed willingness to discuss the issue of denuclearization. That`s it.

Still, the president`s tweet raised questions over whether he was overconfident heading into the upcoming meeting with Kim.

But on "Morning Joe," Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haass said it`s too early to evaluate the American negotiating position.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD HAASS, PRESIDENT, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Everybody needs to take a deep breath here. He -- Trump is being criticized for having given away the store. He has not given away the store.

What matters in a negotiation is not where you begin. It`s where you end up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well said.

Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was asked if the administration planned to take North Korea`s overtures at face value.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Certainly, we`re not going to make mistakes from previous administrations. And we`re not going to take the North Koreans simply at their word.

Like I said before, and we have said many times before, the maximum pressure campaign is going to continue until we see concrete actions taken by -- look, we`re not naive in this process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: For more, I`m joined by Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today."

You know, covering the funeral on Saturday, I was -- just felt great to cover such a great marriage and to honor the marriage, and now -- the marriage and honor our country. It was just one of those great partnerships that`s gone on back to World War II.

And it`s great stuff in any way you look at it in human terms.

What do you think about it when you think about those two, because you`re writing a biography of Mrs. Bush?

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": You know, when I interviewed Mrs. Bush over the last six months, she was not afraid of dying, but she did not want to die before her husband died.

And I actually think that was also her husband`s view, that it wasn`t that he was afraid of dying, but he didn`t want to leave her first.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

PAGE: And so, in that way, they were sort of keeping each other alive. You know, their devotion to each other was pretty fierce these last few years as their health has failed.

And that has been a really remarkable thing to see.

MATTHEWS: Let`s go from the sublime to something else, real-life politics, this chance we have to end the nuclear program or truncate it in some way, perhaps a la Iran.

I keep thinking Bush is heading -- or Trump now is heading in to try to cut a deal with Kim Jong-un to limit their nuclear program. His measuring rod may well be the success previous President Barack Obama had with Iran. It can`t be get rid of all nukes, any chance of nukes. He will just be wasting his time, won`t he?

PAGE: Yes.

The question is, President Trump willing to make some of the compromises you`re going to have to make to reach a deal with North Korea?

And what`s odd about these -- the summit that we expect to have happen in May or June is usually before leaders go into a summit like that, you know what`s going to come out the other end. You understand the deal that has been precooked by meticulous negotiations, by officials at lower levels.

And this time, we`re going in with two kind of impulsive new leaders, impulsive leaders known for not taking that course, without having everything worked out in advance. And it is, I think, true that President Trump has great ambitions to get something historic here.

But even in the best of times, with the best negotiators with the longest history in foreign policy, that would be a high achievement.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Susan Page, of "USA Today."

Anyway, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted late today to report the nomination of CIA Director Mike Pompeo as the next secretary of state to the Senate floor. We learned last week that Pompeo traveled to North Korea for secret talks with Kim Jong-un over Easter weekend.

His nomination was reported to the Senate with a favorable recommendation today along party lines, with a last-minute reversal from Kentucky Republican Rand Paul. He voted for it.

Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ed Markey is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator Markey, a couple of thoughts. But I`m sure they`re all running through you already. What is the best thing that could come out of a deal with Kim Jong-un on nuclear weapons? And what is the worst thing that could come out of a meeting between him and our president?

SEN. EDWARD MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, of course, the best thing would be if there actually was a pathway towards denuclearization that was created because of this negotiation.

The worst thing that could happen is if there is no agreement, and that Donald Trump then reverts to his fire and fury language, his talk of a preemptive nuclear strike against North Korea, because they won`t give up their nuclear program. And that would be absolutely catastrophic.

So, I think it`s very important here to understand that, when the president says that Kim has already agreed to denuclearization, that has not happened, and it`s going to be a long pathway to ever reach that day.

And in the interim, the president is going to have to take the military option off the table, because that would be catastrophic.

MATTHEWS: You know, ever since Vietnam, you and I have learned that we always -- we don`t get things our way. In the end, you have to negotiate.

Walter Cronkite said that back after Tet back in `68. You got to cut a deal.

What is a reasonable deal? Can we expect to have a deal, something along - - they have gone further than Iran -- something like Iran, where they agree to five years, 10 years, some sort of delay in their programs? Would that work with both sides of the aisle?

MARKEY: Well, the difference is that Iran does not have nuclear weapons, and Korea has had nuclear weapons for 10 years.

MATTHEWS: Sure.

MARKEY: So, the difference is to -- in one instance of having the Iranians not get nuclear weapons in return for a financial concession.

Here, it`s going to be different, because North Korea is paranoid. Kim believes that he could be killed. And so it`s going to take a long, patient negotiation to ever reach a day where he can be convinced that, if he gives up all of his nuclear weapons, that it would not lead to his own death.

And I think that is not going to be an easy goal to achieve.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

Well, there is nobody I can think of in the U.S. Senate or in politics who hasn`t spent more years worried and concerned and acting on the danger of nuclear warfare than you, Senator.

Thank you so much for coming on, Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts.

MARKEY: Thank you, Chris. Appreciate it. Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Up next: more damaging headlines about EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. According to a new report, he was a swamp creature long before his time in Washington. And now it looks like support for Pruitt may be finally starting to wane.

He also learned about a little new deal here. Apparently, you do get access for cheap rent.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

There has been more bad news about Scott Pruitt at the EPA. Bloomberg reports White House officials are cautioning Republican lawmakers and other conservative allies to temper their -- catch this -- defense of Pruitt -- according to two people familiar with the discussions, in a sign the administration`s support for the embattled EPA chief may be waning.

Earlier today, Sarah Sanders was asked about Pruitt`s standing with the president. Here is what she said:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUCKABEE SANDERS: We`re reviewing some of those allegations.

However, Administrator Pruitt has done a good job of implementing the president`s policies, particularly on deregulation. The other things certainly are something that we`re monitoring and looking at, and I will keep you posted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: "I will keep you posted. We`re monitoring it." That`s always dangerous.

Anyway, more bad lines over the weekend -- bad headlines. "The New York Times" looked at his political career back in Oklahoma, before he came to Washington, and found that many of the pitfalls he has encountered in have echoes in the past, namely "allegations of unchecked spending and ethical lapses."

"The Times" also reports that, despite what he has said, Pruitt did in fact meet with the lobbyist whose wife rented him a room on Capitol Hill for 50 bucks a night. That`s cheap here, by the way.

Over the past few months reporters revealed that Pruitt requested $43,000 for a soundproof phone booth -- I don`t understand -- increased his security detail to the tune of $3 million a year, regularly flew first- class, and signed off on pay raises for two of his closest aides, in fact, actually raised their salaries up to almost $200,000 a year for civil employees, federal employees. Wow.

Regarding the bad publicity Pruitt has received, "The Washington Post" reported President Trump told him earlier this month to "Cool it."

I can hear that.

For more, I`m joined by Elaina Plott. She`s a staff writer for "The Atlantic," and she has been covering Pruitt.

So, is this one of the leave them twisting slowly in the wind things, where the White House is saying, we`re reviewing his conduct, we will let you know?

It doesn`t look like they`re standing behind him.

ELAINA PLOTT, "THE ATLANTIC": Well, I want to be careful, Chris, to delineate between the White House and Donald Trump, because what I`m told by sources in the EPA is that, at this point, it`s everyone but Trump now who wants Scott Pruitt gone.

I have also been told that, right now, Donald Trump is consumed by Michael Cohen, the news of the raid, whether he might flip, that that just consumes his every waking moment, and that he doesn`t have the head space right now to even think about Scott Pruitt.

MATTHEWS: Well, what about his behavior? Can you objectively say that he has been out of line in the way that he has spent federal money on his perks?

PLOTT: Of course.

MATTHEWS: Well, tell me about it.

PLOTT: What I will say is, I think...

MATTHEWS: This soundproof booth, I mean, he -- I don`t even know why you would have a soundproof part of your room at the EPA. This isn`t the Atomic Energy Commission. What is it about?

PLOTT: Well, it`s essential to his personality. And that`s all it is. And that`s what makes reporting on him somewhat difficult.

MATTHEWS: He has his own office, right?

PLOTT: He has his own office.

MATTHEWS: Well, who else is in the room listening to him?

PLOTT: Nobody.

MATTHEWS: Well, then why does he need a soundproof container to walk into? PLOTT: That`s something you would have to dig into his psyche to understand.

Even his top aides don`t understand what it is that he is discussing that he needs that kind of secrecy. It`s just a fixture of his personality.

MATTHEWS: I heard he has 20 security people, rotating.

PLOTT: I think it`s more than that, actually, from the moment he got to Washington.

So it`s not as though threats were escalating, he needed to bring in more. These were people he took from the EPA field staff to come and guard him 24/7.

MATTHEWS: Well, tell me how about he came here, because people tend to have antecedents in their behavior, you know?

I always say to Washington, if you don`t come here with values, you`re not going to learn them here.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: You better bring them with you from school or somewhere, from your church or synagogue. You better be a good person before you get here, because you`re not going to learn anything good here. You`re going to learn tricks.

PLOTT: Well, right.

And we know that, in Oklahoma, when he was A.G. and a state senator before that, that he was pretty adept at communicating with lobbyists and organizing...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: He wasn`t really a regulator, in other words.

PLOTT: No...

MATTHEWS: He was a helpful friend in government.

PLOTT: ... I wouldn`t say so.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

Elaina Plott, thank you. It`s great having you on.

Up next: With the midterm elections fast approaching, Republicans are not only embracing President Trump. They`re even starting to talk like him. This is in the primary system, you understand, during the primaries, when only Republicans are voting. And Trump`s got about 80 percent support, four out of five among Republican voters.

They all want to be Trumpies. In fact, catchphrases, wait until you catch them. They want to talk like him. Talk.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBAL.

The 2018 midterms are in full swing right now, and many Republican candidates are trying to out-Trump Trump. "The New York Times" reports that candidates are parroting the president as they try to prove voters they are cut from the same cloth. It is mixed metaphor, same cloth and parrots. They recite the Trump lexicon, spouting his trademark phrases and slurs even.

Let`s watch them in action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TODD ROKITA: I`m Todd Rokita. I`ll proudly stand with our president and Mike Pence to drain the swamp.

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), TENNESSEE: I stand when the president walks in the room, and yes, I stand when I hear the "Star-Spangled Banner".

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My friend Martha McSally. She is the real deal. She is tough.

REP. MARTHA MCSALLY (R), ARIZONA: Like our president, I am tired of PC politicians and their B.S excuses. After taking on terrorists in combat, the liberals in the Senate won`t scare me one bit.

ANNOUNCER: We don`t need to investigate our president. We need to arrest Hillary. Republican Don Blankenship stands with President Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What a sweetheart he is. Anyway, even Republicans like Ted Cruz who are vehemently anti-Trump during the 2016 campaign are now singing his praises. That`s coming up next with the HARDBALL round table.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

There was no love lost between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz during the 2016 campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald`s being, you know, shot. I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: This man is a pathological liar. He doesn`t know the difference between truth and lies. He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth.

TRUMP: How about Cruz? Is it Lyin` Ted? You`re right. Lyin` Ted, he is a liar.

CRUZ: I think most people know exactly what New York values are.

TRUMP: He is a nasty guy. Nobody likes him. Nobody in Congress likes him. Nobody likes him anywhere once they get to know him.

CRUZ: The math man is utterly amoral. Morality does not exist for him.

TRUMP: You know, Ted Cruz, he comes in Bible high, Bible high, puts the Bible down, and then lies to you. He told you -- I mean, it`s unbelievable.

CRUZ: We`re liable to wake up one morning, and Donald, if he were president, would have nuked Denmark.

TRUMP: And I watched Ted Cruz this morning. Oh, I can`t -- listen. So dramatic. Can`t watch.

CRUZ: Donald, you`re a sniveling coward, and leave Heidi the hell alone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: God forbid me, but I love it.

Anyway, things unfortunately have changed between them. Cruz just wrote a glowing tribute for Trump to "TIME" magazine`s 100 most influential people list.

Cruz wrote: President Trump is a flash-bang grenade thrown into Washington by the forgotten men and women of America. The fact that this first year as commander in chief disoriented and distressed members of the media and political establishment is not a bug but a feature.

Let`s bring in HARDBALL`s -- we can`t beat this. Tonight`s HARDBALL round table. Kimberly Atkins is chief Washington reporter for "The Boston Herald". Karine Jean-Pierre is a senior adviser at MoveOn.org and Noelle Nikpour is a Republican strategist.

I`ve got to go to you, Noel, because this is unbelievable.

NOELLE NIKPOUR, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I`m sure you do. Yes, yes, yes.

MATTHEWS: Because I like authenticity. They hated each other. That`s real. This love affair, this bromance that`s going on now is so embarrassing. They don`t like each other.

NIKPOUR: Well, what you saw back and forth, that was authentic, that was sincere.

MATTHEWS: Yes, what do we get now?

NIKPOUR: These two guys did not like each other. No, I don`t think -- I don`t think that, you know, Ted Cruz has had some sort of come to Jesus moment. I think he is doing this because he`s in Texas, he`s running, (INAUDIBLE) for Trump, you know, you`ve got to look at is the voters. And if you want to keep them, it`s a close race.

MATTHEWS: But people have been known to forgive. But when you accused the other guy`s father of being an assassin, it`s kind of hard to walk it back.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, MOVEON.ORG: I just don`t understand it. I think to me it`s like the Republican Party has been totally taken over by Trump. Republicans were able to survive tea party surge, but got swamped by Trump.

MATTHEWS: Is that because ratings are 80 percent for Trump and the Republican Party?

JEAN-PIERRE: Here is the thing. But going to Texas for a second, Trump is actually underwater according to a Pew Poll that came out last week. So, he is not actually helping Ted Cruz at all.

KIMBERLY ATKINS, CHIEF WASHINGTON REPORTER, BOSTON HERALD: Well, look, Ted Cruz is in an impossible position, right? He either -- what does he do? Stay silent or real against Donald Trump and face the same fate that we have seen Republicans who do so leaving Washington.

NIKPOUR: It`s also about money.

ATKINS: There`s that, or does he stand up and say, OK, I support the president. Now either way it makes him look so inauthentic. If he ever looked it before --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- they say, where you sit is where you stand.

ATKINS: That`s so true. And where has it landed him? In single digits in polling --

JEAN-PIERRE: With statistical dead heat with the Democrat. A Democrat in Texas.

MATTHEWS: You`re pro-Dem. Do you think you have a shot in Texas?

JEAN-PIERRE: Absolutely. We had a shot in Alabama, turned that blue after 25 years? We have a shot in Texas.

NIKPOUR: Alabama was a bizarro deal. Alabama --

(CROSSTALK)

JEAN-PIERRE: Beto O`Rourke.

MATTHEWS: Beto O`Rourke.

ATKINS: Ted Cruz made a song about him.

JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, he made a song in the primary there.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you about this, this Claire McCaskill thing in Missouri.

NIKPOUR: Lucky duck. Lucky.

MATTHEWS: She is luck? I think she is lucky. Barbara Boxer always had an opponent with some gaping wound in his face. And in this case, it`s either the rape candidate Akin.

NIKPOUR: Remember, that saying legitimate rape?

MATTHEWS: Now, she`s got another shot, because this guy, the governor is just --

JEAN-PIERRE: Nude photo. But I want to give her due respect. I don`t always agree with Claire McCaskill.

NIKPOUR: But Missouri is a red state.

JEAN-PIERRE: Hold on a second. She is a very shrewd, smart politician. She is won statewide a couple times.

MATTHEWS: She`s not as lefty as you want.

JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, but that`s -- look, I said I respect her, and I think we should give her more respect than saying she is just lucky.

ATKINS: And the difference between her --

MATTHEWS: You are so passionate.

JEAN-PIERRE: I`m not.

MATTHEWS: Lucky is good.

JEAN-PIERRE: But it`s not.

(CROSSTALK)

JEAN-PIERRE: Why would they -- they would never say that about a man. They would never say that about a man. They wouldn`t.

ATKINS: Well, you wouldn`t say that about her what you said about Ted Cruz because she doesn`t flip.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Lucky generals. That`s the kind of generals I want.

NIKPOUR: I think the guy was lucky in Alabama, a red state, that benefitted that all that crazy, cuckoo, pistol-throwing, horse-riding Roy Moore.

ATKINS: I agree. I think that`s why neither Alabama nor Missouri are things you can make broader national --

NIKPOUR: Pennsylvania is really something to look at because that guy, Conor Lamb, he ran like a Republican. He put up his hand where Nancy Pelosi. That was smart running.

JEAN-PIERRE: But he also had, he also had some progressive issues that he was for. He was for protecting Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid which is really important.

(CROSSTALK)

NIKPOUR: Rick Saccone came out and he said the Democrats don`t like Jesus, for God`s sake.

MATTHEWS: What about West Virginia? West Virginia is a fascinating case. Manchin is voting for the nomination of Pompeo. What do you think?

ATKINS: Because he lives in a Trump state. And I think he actually probably likes Pompeo. I think he`ll make --

MATTHEWS: And Heitkamp as well in North Dakota.

ATKINS: -- a good secretary of state. But these are all people facing reelection in red states, knowing that they don`t want that, if that`s going to be the thing that knocks them out that, they don`t want that to be it. So, it`s better to take that vote than not in most cases.

MATTHEWS: Whereas, Kirsten Gillibrand votes against every nomination to make another point. What`s that?

NIKPOUR: She may be running in 2020.

JEAN-PIERRE: She is looking at 2020.

MATTHEWS: The round table is sticking with us. Everybody is playing politics, and luck matters by the way.

And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. Maybe it will be lucky, Karine. You`re watching HARDBALL.

JEAN-PIERRE: Oh.

(LAUGHTER)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with the roundtable.

Kimberly, tell me something I don`t know.

ATKINS: So, remember when Donald Trump was pushing those cheap health care plans that didn`t cover as much? Well, those may become reality very soon because today, the comment period the change those rules ended. And so that opens the door for this and probably other regulations to slowly chip away at Obamacare. These plans don`t have to adhere to the same rules.

MATTHEWS: Who is pushing that?

ATKINS: The Trump administration. That will come straight out of HHS. And that means according to opponents of this, that the premiums are likely going to go up, especially middle class people, business owners, people who are self-employed.

MATTHEWS: How is that going to work in blue collar Rust Belt states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio where they do really depend on the programs? Karine was talking about that. They do depend on those social programs. Regular conservative -- culturally conservative voters.

ATKINS: I think you`re right. I think you`re right. I think the anti- Obamacare mantra is over.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Kimberly.

JEAN-PIERRE: A couple of weeks ago, I was on the show and talked about how Wells Fargo was investing and profiting from the gun industry and how they were going to have their shareholders meeting coming up shortly. Well, it`s happening tomorrow there is going to be demonstrators inside of the meeting and outside of the meeting asking them to basically fire all of the board members and to just divest from profiting and investing into NRA.

MATTHEWS: So you were right?

JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, I was right.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Karine. All predictions that come true.

NIKPOUR: I have a prediction in the New York governor`s primary.

MATTHEWS: Oh my God, here it comes.

NIKPOUR: I look for Cynthia Nixon. I really do.

MATTHEWS: She beats the governor?

NIKPOUR: I look for her to do it because she has got such a groundswell. And she can also raise money with her celebrity status. She can raise money nationally. And she actually has a message.

She is authentic. She is sincere about wanting to run. And I think that the same old same old guard with Cuomo, I think he takes a real hit.

MATTHEWS: You could be stirring in troubled waters here. Not trying to cause trouble to the Democratic side, are you?

NIKPOUR: Sorry.

MATTHEWS: I think we might be able to arrange a bet for that. I`ve been very lucky in the Atlantic City lately, so maybe --

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: -- we can talk after that. I really think there`s an opportunity for that. I think it`s 2-1 against her. But anyway, it will be interesting.

Kimberly Atkins, thank you, from "The Boston Herald", Karine Jean-Pierre from MoveOn.org, and Noelle Nikpour. Not sure where you`re from! Republican strategist trying to get the Democrats in trouble.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Monday, April 23rd, 2018.

Donald Trump shoots the moon. Other players of the political game, and it is a game of enormous stakes, play it safe, avoiding what they`re supposed to avoid, going with the safe recommended route. Trump goes in the opposite direction.

If politics were a game of heart, Donald Trump would be the player who hand after hand shoots the moon. The other players try to discard their hearts and the queen of spades. Trump grabs for them, hoping to get all of them.

It`s a risky play but it works for him. Here he is some sort of billionaire, and please pay attention to the news, president of the United States.

So, now, he is trying to shoot the moon on North Korea. He is trying to turn what has been for every president since Harry Truman a bad hand into a winning one, turn one-third of what the neo-cons coined the axis of evil into something good.

Well, the question is, can he do what no other president before him was able to? Can he get this generation`s dear leader to agree to turn back on aggression? Can he find this -- well, can he find this Kim`s price?

I hope he can. Knowing the odds, I hope he can. Why? Because I remember another outsider president, my old boss Jimmy Carter, do what other presidents dared not to, bring peace between Israel and Egypt, the country that was then their chief military threat. He was warned by experts then not to try it, but he did try and succeeded.

So I`m rooting for the North Korean deal for another reason, the 30,000 Americans who died when Truman got it wrong back in 1950 about Kim`s grandfather. We don`t want a war, possibly even more terrible and even nuclear his grandson. Who doesn`t want to avert that from happening? On that basis, who wouldn`t want this hand of Trump`s shoot the moon to win?

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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