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Trump's VA pick hearing postponed. TRANSCRIPTS: 04/24/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Richard Blumenthal; Bobby Ghosh, Caroline Polisi, David Jolly, Nancy Cook, Clarence Page

Show: HARDBALL Date: April 24, 2018 Guest: Richard Blumenthal; Bobby Ghosh, Caroline Polisi, David Jolly, Nancy Cook, Clarence Page

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Here`s how you do it. Look for the purple podcast icon on your phone. Search THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER and you will see it pop up. Please check us out. You will never miss a show.

Also a programming note, I will be in Washington tomorrow as the Supreme Court hears arguments on the travel ban. Check us out tomorrow and on the podcast.

And Chris Matthews` HARDBALL starts now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Trump`s people. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington where we are awaiting the arrival of French President Macron and his wife for the first state dinner of the Trump presidency. Earlier today the two leaders held a joint press conference where they seemed far apart on the Iran nuclear deal. Macron is for it, Trump isn`t so sure.


EMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT: What we have to work on obviously with Iran and the different (INAUDIBLE), the P5 and our allies is to find a fair deal where we can fix the overall situation.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is a chance and nobody knows what I`m going to do on the 12th although Mr. President, you have a pretty good idea, but we will see. But we will see also if I do what some people expect whether or not it will be possible to do a new deal with solid foundations because this is a deal with decayed foundations.


MATTHEWS: But we begin tonight with the latest turmoil in the Trump administration. The President today seemed to offer an off-ramp or a plank to walk on top admiral Ronny Jackson, his (INAUDIBLE) nominee for secretary for Veterans Affairs.


TRUMP: I said to Dr. Jackson, what do you need it for? So we will see what happens. I don`t want to put a man through who is not a political person. I don`t want to put a man through a process like this. It`s too ugly and too disgusting. So we will see what happens. He will make a decision.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, are you saying, Mr. President, that you will stand behind him?

TRUMP: I would definitely stand behind him. He is a fine man. I will always stand behind him. I will let it be his choice. If I were him, actually, in many ways I would love to be him. But the fact is, I wouldn`t do it. I wouldn`t do it. What does he need it for?


MATTHEWS: Admiral Jackson who serves as White House physician has come under fire after a number of media outlets reported allegations of improper professional conduct. Now late today, the ranking Democrat on the Veterans Affairs committee, John Tester of Montana, addressed the allegations on NPR.


SEN. JOHN TESTER (D), MONTANA: They have fallen in three different areas, improper dispensing of prescription drugs, repeatedly drunk while on duty while traveling, and creating a toxic work environment. He is the physician for the President. And in the previous administration, we were told stories he was repeatedly drunk while on duty where his main job was to take care of the most powerful man in the world. That`s not acceptable.

We didn`t initiate this discussion. This discussion came when we were notified by folks that work with Admiral Jackson, folks in the military about behaviors that are happening and we just followed up with as many leads as we could get.


MATTHEWS: Well, Kansas Republican senator Jerry Moran says Admiral Jackson denied the allegations of a hostile workplace and said he never had a drink while on duty. Never had a drink while on duty. That`s a hell of a statement.

NBC News caught up with Admiral Jackson early today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have seen the allegations, a hostile work environment, the allegations of essentially drinking on the job, overprescribing medications. Are you saying those are categorically untrue?

ADM. RONNY JACKSON, VETERANS AFFAIRS SECRETARY NOMINEE: I`m saying, I`m looking forward to the hearings so we can sit down and I can explain everything to everyone and answer all the senators` questions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The IG report about the allegations?

JACKSON: No, there was not.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How much -- formally announced as the nominee.

JACKSON: Thanks, guys. I appreciate it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, you definitely not withdrawing. You`re going to continue this process, sir?


MATTHEWS: Well, Senator Tester and the Republican chairman of the Veterans Affairs committee Johnny Isakson announced that they would delay Jackson`s confirmation hearing until further notice.

Well, this is just the latest to President Trump`s handpick hires to come under fire. Labor secretary nominee Andrew Pudzer withdrew his nomination after scrutiny of his personal and professional practices. National security adviser Michael Flynn was forced to resign under the cloud of a Russian investigation, of course. Rob Porter, the President`s White House staff secretary was forced to resign amid allegations of domestic violence.

And tonight a senior White House official tells NBC News Jackson met with the Trump in the oval office late this afternoon described as a positive meeting. That White House official also says Dr. Jackson`s record as a White House physician is impeccable. He has improved unit morale, received glowing reviews and promotions under Republican and Democratic presidents and has been given a clean vet from the FBI.

For the latest, I`m joined by Kristen Welker, White House correspondent for NBC News, Robert Costa, "Washington Post" national political reporter and MSNBC political analyst and Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

I want to start with the reporting from Kristen. This doesn`t stack up, impeccable record, everything`s fine. No blemish on it. And yet, drunk on the job. From a number of sources including the senators, ranking Democrat on the veterans affairs committee. Serious charge in itself.

KRISTIN WELKER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Ronny Jackson denied those allegations, Chris. White house officials say they are not true. And as you pointed out, there are some lawmakers on Capitol Hill who also say that`s what they heard from Jackson.

I also spoke to a former Obama official, a top official who said there was no indication that Ronny Jackson was drinking on the job. And yet, there are these very serious allegations.

I spoke with one official who said look, Jackson has the right to defend himself and for his story to be told. And that`s the bottom line here, Chris. There`s really no indication that he is planning to withdraw. We know that he met with the President earlier this evening, a conversation that was described as positive. And I think what you are going to see now is a more robust effort from this administration to try to defend him.

At the same time, you are right, these are very serious allegations. And they do go back to some extent to that IG and this is semantics. It was an assessment ordered by the way by Ronny Jackson and it really looked into an issue that he was having with a colleague. The assessment determined that there was a lack of leadership largely due to that back and forth with a colleague. But he stayed on in the Obama administration serving as President Obama`s physician.

So you heard President Trump saying he is going to stand by him. But at the same time, giving him that will fascinating off-ramp so that`s what we`re all looking for. But again, just to stress tonight, all of our reporting indicates he has no plans to withdraw at this point.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Robert Costa. I want to ask you, Robert, about that unusual thing that -- unusual statement the President said today when he was with President Macron. He seemed to be saying I have got this plank you can walk. I wouldn`t stick around on this boat anymore. I wouldn`t take the heat from the critics and the media and the Democrats. I would walk if I were you. That doesn`t sound like a vouch of support for him.

ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Talking to my source tonight inside of the west wing, they say the President clearly opened the door for Dr. Jackson to walk out of the confirmation process. But at the same time, he is not pushing the doctor out. He feels a loyalty to him due to the rapport and the relationship they`ve developed inside of the White House. He does not have a viable person at the top of his mind should he move on from Dr. Jackson. So at this moment, the White House is standing by him.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Senator Blumenthal, it seems like President Trump has come to office with a dearth of names, no binder of names, if you will, to quote Mitt Romney of people qualified and appropriate to serve in public service. So he meets the physician who serves him at the White House and takes care of him and says oh, you could run this job. He has never run anything really and he is going to give him a job running an agency with 140,000 people in it or something. He doesn`t know anybody.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: He comes to this office not only without knowledge of people who are dedicated to public service but also a disdain for public service, a maligned neglect, not a benign neglect for the veterans administration which is one of the largest agencies in our government. And they in effect disrespect for our veterans by nominating someone who has been improperly vetted as have been, as you pointed out well, so many of his other nom nominees. I counted more than 20 nominees have been withdrawn for exactly these kinds of reasons.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of this Hurley Burly approach to these nominations? Where he doesn`t seem to view any vetting. If this guy has got a drinking problem, people know about it. These are not secret drinking problems. I mean, he can be functional but everybody know about. They can smell it if it`s a problem.

BLUMENTHAL: And keep in mind, Chris, these profoundly serious and credible allegations were brought to us on the veterans committee. I`m a member. And our staff is now looking into them, investigating them. But the White House failed presumably to do its due diligence. And now it has to provide answers. So far, I will be very blunt. It has stonewalled us. It has failed to provide that inspector general report from the Navy. It has barred me as a member of the committee to view the FBI background investigation. And it is vetting failure and refusal to be forthcoming I think virtual dooms this nomination.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s go through the charges and whether you believe they are credible based upon what you got in testimony so far, drinking on the job, being drunk on the job repeatedly.

BLUMENTHAL: Drinking on the job and repeated drinking problems, certainly merits, requires investigation.

MATTHEWS: Well, where are you on that?

BLUMENTHAL: And I want to know what the facts are.

MATTHEWS: You are not sure yet?

BLUMENTHAL: And the reason I am unsure and holding, with, holding judgment is that I want there to be a credible investigation, which so far the White House has failed to do. So there maybe needs to investigate through the inspector general. We will investigate through our staff on the veterans committee. And the White House needs to do its job.

MATTHEWS: Second question, hostile workplace environment. Did you get that kind of credible charges against him? Have you heard it?

BLUMENTHAL: We have seen it in the 2012 inspector general report. Again, withholding judgment, we need investigation. We need to nope what the facts are and correct this disservice.

MATTHEWS: OK. Finally, because I see the pattern here. You are not sure. But overprescribing of drugs is a serious charges. We have an opioids problem in the country over prescriptions. And now the President`s doctor has been accused of this.

BLUMENTHAL: Each of these allegations are profoundly serious. And they are explosive. I see no path forward virtually no, path forward to this nomination right now because of how serious these allegations are.

MATTHEWS: Kristen, let`s get back to you. Because I really count on you to get the straight scoop on this White House. And as always, every night. And I wonder how do we evaluate the President`s sort of predilection for picking it pals or family members. Jared Kushner, his son-in-law becomes our Mideast expert or his daughter travels to China and represents our country there. He seems to have a very small circle of people he knows. And would therefore give these responsibilities to rather than going out to zip recruiter or somebody and trying to find the best people for the job.

WELKER: And in this case, Chris, the criticism from the start has been that he picked Ronny Jackson because he was someone who he warmed to, had a good relationship with. But remember that briefing that lasted for over an hour, that really remarkable briefing which Jackson gave the President a clean bill of health. The thinking is that the President thought he looked the part of being the VA secretary despite the fact he didn`t have any background in managing a major government agency like the VA, the second largest agency that there is.

And I spoke with an advocate for veterans earlier today who said look, the issues go back to that. And their frustrations go back to that point that he would appoint someone who doesn`t have a background in that, which is so vital to really trying to get this important agency back on track. It`s something that we have seen over and over again here at the White House, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Well, Dr. Jackson -- admiral Jackson in fact made his first public appearance when he fielded questions from reporters on Trump`s physical back in January. Here he is making an incredible statement about the President`s genes.


JACKSON: Being with the President on a day to day basis what has been impressive to me, he has a lot of the energy, a lot of energy and a lot of stamina. Some people have, you know, just great genes. You know, I told the President if he had a healthier diet over the last 20 years, he might live to be 200 years old. I don`t know. I mean, he has incredible genes. I just assume.


MATTHEWS: Robert, what do you make of that report from 23 and me? I mean, there he is, the genetic wonder of this President, can live to 200 if he stopped eating hamburgers. That`s an unusual medical assessment I think for a Presidential physician.

COSTA: Unusual and those are also familiar words for a long-time watchers of President Trump, incredible, stamina, genes. These come from the vernacular of the President. And clearly, they are speaking where they have some kind of close relationship that they both share that same kind of language. They have developed a friendship beyond just a professional president doctor relationship. And that`s part of why he was chosen for VA secretary.

But in that, it is also why he hangs on tonight. My sources tell me that when he was in the oval tonight, Dr. Jackson, he and the President talked through this challenge ahead. All the issues that are clearly there. But because of this bond, the bond that you saw at that White House lectern, it continues on, it plods on, this whole process.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, senator, about this trying to be very nonpartisan, here, I will say there. Is part of the problem that the Democrats are holding up these nominations or is it the nominations all suck? He has so many bad nominees for so many positions that they deserve to be held up? Because this seems to be a real problem with filling positions right now, and not just the judiciary but in the executive branch of the government.

BLUMENTHAL: If you go down the list of nominee who have been withdrawn, the secretary of labor it, and office policy and management nominee, the FDIC chairman, these are major positions. The secretary of the Navy, the secretary of the army. The objections were fact-based. They were real conflicts of interest. Real lack of qualifications in this instance, as has been said, again and again and again, the agency that has the largest management challenges in the United States government has received a nominee who has the least experience in management.

And so apart from all of these very profoundly important and credible claims from men and women in uniform who have served side by side with this nominee, there`s also the lack of real experience and expertise.

MATTHEWS: Well, despite the turnover, President Trump has frequently praised his cabinet and his administration. Let`s watch.


TRUMP: We have a lot of smart people. I tell you what, one thing we have learned, we have by far the highest IQ of any cabinet ever assembled.

There are those saying it`s one of the finest groups of people as a cabinet.

We are very proud of it. We have a phenomenal team of people. A great group of talent.


MATTHEWS: Kristen, how would he have assessed the IQ average of his cabinet? I`m being a little bit sarcastic. But when he makes those claims, where would place them in the world of reality or unreality? How does he know what the IQ is of his cabinet?

WELKER: Well, it fits in with so much of the rhetoric that we have heard from this President and it goes back to candidate Trump, Chris. This is how in part he won his way to the White House. But look, when you look at the reality of his cabinet, it`s really struggling. Of course, VA, the incoming VA secretary, if he were to be confirmed would replace David Shulkin, who, of course, resigned amid a cloud of controversy. Scott Pruitt now under a microscope. Ben Carson had his own ethical issues. It seems as though the heat has sort of gone down when it comes to Ben Carson. But certainly Scott Pruitt of the EPA is someone we routinely ask about and continue to drill in on some of the details of some of these concerns about his spending and ethical questions.

So it is -- it does stand to reason that the President really trying to overcompensate, I think Chris, for some of the controversy swirling around him in regard to his cabinet.

MATTHEWS: Sometimes I think about Trump, how much I would love to have somebody like Trump selling my car for me because I know he get an incredibly high price. On the other hand, I would never buy a car from him because he wouldn`t believe all the special items on the car that he was selling.

Anyway, you mentioned, the EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt is also facing a ruinous week set to appear Thursday, that`s today, before a set of House subcommittees amid. Those appearances come amid a crush of stories about potentially unethical behavior.

Today "the Daily Beast" reports that the White House offered to help prep Pruitt but that the EPA turned down the request. And one source characterized the response to the White House offer as get lost.

Well, yesterday, "the Washington Post" reports that Pruitt still had the support of the President, he has acquired a reputation as unresponsive and unwilling to take advice or instruction, defiantly insisting he has done nothing wrong and that Trump supports him.

Robert, you are my interpreter of the President. And I know you have a relationship with him. We are allowed to get some information, others don`t. What is this story about Pruitt? Is he just want somebody to deregulate to get rid of any environmental protections because that`s what he sold in the campaign and he will put up with the guy`s really obnoxious abuse of his position, that everything he spent money on, the secret telephone room, the incredible security staff of 20 some people, the first class travel, all the expenses? He`s not, you know, he is not an emperor, this guy, but he acts like one. He is EPA director.

COSTA: There`s the White House reaction to Pruitt and then there`s the Presidential reaction to Pruitt. The White House people inside officials I talk to, they are appalled by some of his conduct. They wouldn`t mind if he stepped down or if they phished him out in the coming weeks. But the President sees in Pruitt a loyal figure in the cabinet. Someone who connects with the conservative base because of his deregulatory agenda. For that he stays, he lingers on, he hangs around to use a phrase the President tells to aides. Let him hang around because he is loyal.

MATTHEWS: I go back to my charge. I will say it at the end of the show. Again, he runs the White House and the presidency. And he runs the American government like a royal family with his kids, with all the perks they get, the jobs they get. He distributes them like he is a member of the Romanoff`s and he picks his cronies for these top jobs. It is a strange royalist style of government which we don`t consider very American.

Anyway. Thank you NBC`s Kristen Welker, Robert Costa and Senator Richard Blumenthal. Sir, thank you for coming over.

We continue by the way to watch the north port (ph) of the White House. You see it there. This is royal anyway to await the arrival of French President Macron and his wife for the first state dinner of the Trump presidency.

Coming up: the French disconnection. Trump and French president -- the French president differ on the other big story of the day, the Iran deal. Macron`s for it. Trump`s not sure. In fact, I think he`s against it. But wouldn`t Trump`s best-case scenario for North Korea be a deal much like the one that Obama struck with Iran?

Think about it. Containment may be the best deal we`re going to get. And that is ahead.

Plus, the big question for Trump as the investigation closes in around him, will he pardon his fixer, Michael Cohen? Today, Trump called that a stupid thing to ask.

And the Democrats have a real shot to the win control of Congress for next year, but only if they can resist the siren song of too much talk about impeachment. It may not be smart politics to talk impeachment before the November election, even if it revs up the base.

Finally, Let Me Finish tonight with Trump Watch.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: And you`re looking right now at a live picture of the North Portico of the White House. That`s the one facing the street, where President Trump and the first lady, along with French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, have just arrived for the first state dinner of the president.

Let`s watch this.


MATTHEWS: Well, this is a very elegant occasion, of course.

And, sometimes, it`s right for a president to behavior in sort of a royal fashion. And this is one, especially with the French, as he points out, the president, our first -- first allies in the world who helped us get our independence.

And the first lady looks elegant, as always, and so does the first lady of France. There is a very impressive occasion right now, this moment.

We will be right back after that -- after this.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was a terrible deal. Should have never, ever been made. We could have made a good deal or a reasonable deal. But the Iran deal is a terrible deal.

It`s a bad deal. It`s a bad structure. It`s falling down. Should have never, ever been made. But I will say, if Iran threatens us in any way, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

French President Emmanuel Macron used his state visit today to lobby President Trump to stick to the Iranian nuclear deal, a deal Trump called insane and ridiculous.

Well, the one glimmer of hope, you might say, the president refused to say what he would do next month when he has to recertify the deal. Let`s watch him on that.


TRUMP: There is a chance -- and nobody knows what I`m going to do on the 12th, although, Mr. President, you have a pretty good idea. But we will see.

I blame Congress. I blame a lot of people for it. But it should have never been made. And we`re going to see what happens on the 12th.


MATTHEWS: Well, while Trump plays coy on the one nuclear deal, he`s raising high hopes for the second one with North Korea.

He told reporters today that the man he once derided as Little Rocket Man, Kim Jong-un, was now behaving honorably. Let`s watch.


TRUMP: We`re having very, very good discussions. Kim Jong-un was -- he really has been very open, and I think very honorable, from everything we`re seeing.


MATTHEWS: President Trump explained today what success in North Korea talks would look like. Take a look.


QUESTION: On North Korea, you said you believe in complete denuclearization. What does that mean exactly?

TRUMP: It means they get rid of their nukes. Very simple. They get rid of their nukes. And nobody else would say it. It would be very easy for me to make a simple deal and claim victory. I don`t want to do that. I want them to get rid of their nukes.


MATTHEWS: For more on today`s state visit, I`m joined by NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell. Also joining us, foreign affairs analyst Bobby Ghosh.

Andrea, you`re the number one person I want to talk to you about this. I know that the people who supported the Iranian deal said, if you didn`t deal with Iran on getting a way to contain their nuclear weapons program, the alternative would be probably something like a strike, a military strike, because there`s really -- we have gone the routes of sanctions.

We had the world was behind us on the sanctions for this deal.


MATTHEWS: Without the world behind us, there`s really no sanctions that will work. So, what`s left on the table?

But the president pretty much said that himself just today, saying that we`re going to hit them like nobody`s ever hit them. Now, what does he mean by that?

MITCHELL: He means that, if they carry out a threat that one Iranian official suggested today to get out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty if the U.S. backs out of this deal, and to restart or start considering nuclear operations, although they have always denied that they were working on a weapons program, if they were to do that, he threatened to hit them hard with everything that they have got.

The important thing that I think happened today is that Emmanuel Macron, through flattery, through persuasion, through all of the bromance that you saw, the kisses, the pats, the handshakes, is really arguing to not break out of this on May 12, the next deadline, and to consider expanding it, that Germany, the U.K. and France principally want to try to the negotiate an add-on, to extend the deal, so that it wouldn`t end in 10 years, to also expand it to include the ballistic missile component of Iran`s behavior, which is now not part of it, and also Iran`s behavior in Yemen, Syria, in Lebanon, in the region.

The argument -- the counterargument has always been that that was the best that John Kerry and team could get, that containing Iran`s nuclear expansion was good enough, that if they started to go down the road of stopping their ballistic missile research and testing, that that would not work.


MITCHELL: The counterargument by Donald Trump and a lot of others is that they didn`t try hard enough.

So what you`re beginning to see, I think, is a little crack in the Trump determination to break out on May 12, in response to what Macron is arguing, that they should expand it, renegotiate it and try to keep everyone involved.

MATTHEWS: What`s your sense, as an analyst, as the option -- the chances if Trump tries to add on, whether to deal with the missiles or with the terrorism, whatever he wants to put the pressure on and try to deny the Iranians the right to do, what are the chances they won`t -- they will walk away from the foundation that was set by Barack Obama and Zarif and the mullahs over there already, killing the deal itself?

MITCHELL: I think that Trump tries to -- if President Trump is doing this in coordination with Iran, with -- excuse me -- with France, and with the other Europeans, I think that there is -- he`s got a lot of leverage, because Iran wants the economic benefits.

And it`s not really seeing the benefits that it wants because of the uncertainty of Trump`s election and now these continuous threats to break out of it. There are a lot of world investors who are afraid to get involved and afraid to help Iran with its economic advancement.

So I think there is a lot of leverage, if he works closely with the Europeans, and that`s what Macron is arguing.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Bobby Ghosh.

Bobby, it seems to me that -- thanks for coming on as well.


MATTHEWS: It seems to me that you can trash somebody else`s effort and say, well, that was all we got was containment for five years, we really haven`t stopped the long-term threat from Iran in terms of nuclear weaponry.

But now he`s dealing with Kim Jong-un, who he recites, by the way, his name like he`s playing a xylophone. He`s not even comfortable pronouncing the guy`s name. He goes Kim Jong-un. He`s not even comfortable with talking about the guy.

And now he`s going to somehow contain him. Is the bar set now, if he can contain North Korea the way Barack Obama contained Iran, that somehow that would be a success? I mean, you got to measure these things against each other.

GHOSH: No, he`s setting the bar much higher with North Korea. He`s saying he wants them to give up their nukes. That`s never actually happened before.

No country that has already got nukes has given it up. You have to remember Libya gave up a nuke program. South Africa gave up a nuke program. They hadn`t reached the threshold of actually having their nukes.

The Iranians agreed to give up their nuclear development program. But no country that -- once it has acquired nukes, no country has ever backed away. So, he`s setting the bar for negotiations with North Korea much higher than Obama ever did.

MATTHEWS: Do you fear, when that bar is not reached, that we`re going to attack?

GHOSH: No, I don`t think we can attack. It`s not realistic, if they have very nuclear weapons and they have a pretty tough regime running the place with no sense of responsibility for its actions.

So, no, I don`t think attacking is an option.


GHOSH: And so I don`t get this business of sort of setting the bar this high and, at the same time, saying, well, he`s behaving like an honorable man. I have to assume that he was struggling for some other word, and honorable just popped into his head, because that doesn`t make any sense.

MATTHEWS: I think he`s in under his -- in over his head.


MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Andrew Mitchell. Thank you, Bobby Ghosh.

MITCHELL: You bet.

MATTHEWS: This is not a happy scenario.

Up next: President Trump today said it`s stupid to ask whether he will pardon his longtime fixer, Michael Cohen. But is the president protesting too much? It certainly seems like a pardon is still on the president`s mind.

Let`s face it. He`s talking about Jack Johnson. He`s done Scooter Libby. He did Sheriff Arpaio. He likes to be known as a pardoner. That`s helpful to his situation, don`t you think?

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.



QUESTION: Mr. President, what about Michael Cohen? Are you considering a pardon for Michael Cohen?

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

Stupid question.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Trump this morning telling a reporter that it`s stupid to ask him whether he`s considering a pardon of his longtime fixer, Michael Cohen.

However, there`s plenty of reporting to show that, throughout the investigation, Trump and his legal team have weighed the benefit of pardoning key figures who could be in legal jeopardy.

Last summer, according to "The Washington Post," the president even asked advisers about whether he can pardon aides, family members, even himself in connection with this probe.

Well, recently, the president has also appeared to dangle -- that`s the key word now -- the possibility of a pardon for Cohen. In an unexpected move, just days after the FBI raid on Cohen, Trump pardoned Scooter Libby, the former aide to Dick Cheney who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in 2007.

Now one of the prosecutors in the Libby case tells Yahoo News that he believes the pardon was intended to send a message to Cohen, Michael Cohen, to stay loyal. "I don`t see any other logic to it," he said.

Joining me right now is the Caroline Polisi, federal and white-collar criminal defense attorney.

Caroline, thank you so much for joining us.

And what seems on the surface to be a dangling operation, could it be anything else?

CAROLINE POLISI, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It really couldn`t be anything else.

The fact is, there`s inexplicable timing here. The fact is, over the weekend, the president went on a tweetstorm, and he talked about the possibility of a posthumous pardon for Jack Johnson, apparently based on some type of conversation had he with Sylvester Stallone which Sarah Sanders said happened about a month ago.

And the question is, what is this timing about? It -- obviously, it goes to the Michael Cohen issue. We know that the president called Michael Cohen immediately after that SDNY raid on his home, office and hotel room.

And the question is whether or not he essentially offered a quid pro quo, some type of agreement to offer him a presidential pardon if he didn`t flip, because the fact is, those tweets reference the prospect of Michael Cohen flipping on the president.

So, clearly, that wasn`t a stupid question.

MATTHEWS: Not at all, because I -- you`re the expert and the lawyer.

Let me ask you this. It seems to me it`s asymmetric warfare. Mueller, Robert Mueller, has all kinds of potential opportunities to bring charges before grand juries against, say, Michael Cohen or any of these other people involved in this caper.

On the other hand, the president has the power to pardon. Are they equally matched? Can he match anything that the prosecutor throws at him and say, OK, buddy, he`s your chief witness, gone, I just pardoned him, he isn`t going to talk to you anymore?

Or does that create another problem all together? I don`t know. It looks like the pardon does solve his problem if he uses it audaciously, if you will.

POLISI: Well, once he grants a presidential pardon, there goes Michael Cohen`s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. He could then be called in front of the grand jury to talk about other things. It`s akin to prosecutors sort of immunizing witnesses.

If you don`t have the threat of criminal prosecution looming over you, you can`t take the Fifth. Now, that`s not to say that New York state and Eric Schneiderman aren`t putting things in process to potentially move forward with a state prosecution for the same underlying conduct.

MATTHEWS: Don`t you have bad memory to play with? It seems once you`re pardoned, you just talking, you stop remembering.

POLISI: Yes. I mean, but there are ways for prosecutors to get at the old "I don`t remember" line.


POLISI: I mean, that can only get you so far. But I don`t think that a pardon -- politically, obviously, a pardon is going to set off alarm bells there. Legally speaking, a pardon isn`t going to help Michael Cohen either.

Again, there are taxi medallion issues here. There are real estate issues.


POLISI: Those are state crimes. Those are New York state crimes that I bet the SDNY is being careful about not charging Michael Cohen with at this time, looking forward down the road to the possibility of a federal presidential pardon.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much. Caroline Polisi, please come back.

Up next, with the midterm elections fast approaching, can Democrats resist talking about impeachment? He may rev up the base. He certainly will. But is it smart politics for this November`s election?

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Democrats have a real shot at winning back the House this November, I believe that, by the way. And with control of the House in sight, some are invoking the "I" word, impeachment. A lot are.

But one prominent Democrat is warning against using it as a campaign issue this year. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a veteran of the Obama and Clinton White Houses, told "Axios", quote: You don`t just treat the policy standard of impeachment as a political tool.

He added: I couldn`t be angrier at Donald Trump. That said, you don`t just flippantly say we`re for impeachment.

In January, 66 House Democrats, however, over a third of the caucus voted for a resolution to debate impeachment proceedings -- 66, about a third of the caucus.

Meanwhile, "The New York Times" reports that some Republicans are looking to energize their base over fears a blue wave would lead to impeachment.

Well, up next, one columnist warns that pursuing impeachment could have a very unintended consequence. By the way, it`s "New York Times`" Charles Blow, smart guy.

That`s next for the HARDBALL roundtable.



Should Democrats regain control of the House of Representatives in November, there`s one word we might hear a lot of in the future. In fact, pretty soon. Impeachment.

But "New York Times" columnist Charles Blow warns it is quite possible that trying to impeach and remove Trump could have the opposite effect than the one desired. It could boost rather than diminish his popularity and an acquittal by the Senate would leave an even more popular president in office.

Well, let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable.

This is a tough one.

David Jolly is a former Republican congressman from Florida. He doesn`t talk like one. Nancy Cook is the White House reporter for "Politico", and Clarence is the columnist for "The Chicago Tribune".

I`m going to you, Clarence. I`ve known you forever and I trust you on this.


MATTHEWS: Is it smart or should they -- to talk impeachment now to rise up the progressive or left base to get him out, minorities included? If you get a Democrat in that Congress, we`re going to get rid of Trump. Is that the smart politics this year?

PAGE: I think Charles Blow is right. What`s the old line about if you`re going to attack the king, you`ve got to kill the king, otherwise you`re doomed? Look what happened to Bill Clinton. They tried to impeach him. They did impeach him, but they didn`t kick him out of office. And his approvals went up and Newt Gingrich is out, next thing you know.

I mean, this is what happens. Trump will --


MATTHEWS: At the same time he was attacking Trump --


PAGE: He`s doing all that.

MATTHEWS: It`s all true. It`s relevant information.

Nancy, smart move to go for the big "I" word now, if you`re running for office, say, in the suburbs of Philly. Suppose you`re running in a tough area that you might be able to pick up even though you`re a bluie in a reddie neighborhood, is it smart to talk impeachment?

NANCY COOK, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: Well, I think the problem is that you`re not really putting forward your own agenda if you`re just going with the impeachment message. And you`re not talking about --

MATTHEWS: But that`s the way most Democrats talk. I talk to them all the time. They`re all talking about how much they hate Trump. That`s all anybody talks about, how much we hate Trump.

COOK: That`s true. But I feel like successful candidates are going to be able to carve out a niche, talk about economic issues.

MATTHEWS: We have a poll that challenges that thinking. You and I agree probably. Democrats definitely vote for somebody who is for impeachment, 70 percent of voters will say they`ll vote for a candidate of the Democratic Party that says they`re for impeachment.

FORMER REP. DAVID JOLLY (R), FLORIDA: Look, the anti-Trump movement is going to take care of itself. Democrats don`t need to talk about impeachment. They need to talk about the economic disparity and the Republican tax bill and the fact that Republican health care plan leaves people behind. The anti-Trumpers will be there.

I do think come January, when Democrats successfully take the House, you will see hearings within the House not specifically about impeaching Donald Trump, but they`ll bring the scholars in to say what actions and behaviors will --

MATTHEWS: Who`s that (INAUDIBLE) -- is this Jerry Nadler going to do this on the House Judiciary Committee?

JOLLY: Of course, and here`s why, because they can have scholars come in to the Judiciary Committee and say, this is what impeachment would look like. And Democrats can say, we`re not quite there yet but guess what. All of us will be talking about impeachment.

MATTHEWS: How do you -- OK, David, I know you`re a Republican, you don`t know quite well the culture of the Democratic Party.

Within the Democratic Party, there`s the Black Caucus, for example, and a lot of progressives who are not minority. And that group of people will be damn screaming for impeachment by next spring. How do you hold them back, Clarence? How do you tell people from Chicago that your entire delegation from the city, from the counties?

PAGE: It`s not easy. But David is right. You know, there is a strong enough anti-Trump sentiment already in the party. You don`t need to gin it up. The party needs to reach out to people, who -- those who voted for Obama and then turned and voted for Trump. You had what, over how many counties --

MATTHEWS: I`m not used to people agreeing with me so much around here. We think exactly alike. I think there`s the other ones you have to turn.

The people who voted for Obama, including who voted for him the first time, they`ll be harder to get. But the ones who voted for the second time, you can`t get. They voted for Obama after they knew he was a liberal Democrat. They then stuck with him, and then they went over to Trump.

What`s going on here?

COOK: Well, I think just back to the point of impeachment, I think Democratic strategists are also making the point that Democrats should recapture the House and actually find evidence for impeachment and make sure there`s evidence there or at least sort of investigate before they go with that rallying cry.

MATTHEWS: You read your civics book.


JOLLY: Democrats have one shot.

MATTHEWS: I never thought -- usually the panel is much more progressive than me and I have been quite for the reasonable position, what I think is reasonable. You guys are out-reasonabling me.

Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. Too easy these guys. Anyway, these three will tell me something I don`t know. They will prove themselves in a minute.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

David, by the way, before you tell me what I don`t know, are you running for lieutenant governor of Florida?

JOLLY: I got no comment on that. But --

MATTHEWS: That means you`re running. I can read that. Go ahead.

JOLLY: Everybody`s looking for --

MATTHEWS: OK, tell me your secret.

JOLLY: Here`s something I have to tell you.

Democrats have to change 23 seats in the House to retake the majority. Republicans right now are worried they`re going to lose between 40 and 60 seats.


JOLLY: And here`s why that matters. You can`t recover in 2020. This would not only be loss for two years, it could be a loss for at least four.

MATTHEWS: Think ahead.

COOK: Here`s something that I`ll be watching. Scott Pruitt, the embattled EPA secretary, has two hearings on the Hill.

MATTHEWS: Thursday.

COOK: -- on the Hill on Thursday. And I feel like when I`ve talked to people in the White House, that is going to be part of an audition to see how long he`s going to keep his job.

MATTHEWS: Do you think the members of Congress will be offend he`s paying staff members more than they make up?

COOK: I`m sure that will come up.

MATTHEWS: I would think. Quickly, Clarence? That`s what he did.


PAGE: Well, what we know about the DNC, the Democratic National Committee suing Russia and Republicans in the Trump campaign and now, Trump and also Roger Stone is his old friend are both saying they`re going to counter-sue in order to get at the DNC files.

But as we`ve seen in the past, President Trump said the same thing about Stormy Daniels and Michael Wolff and all the women who have charged him. And I think he`s bluffing.

MATTHEWS: OK. A day without hearing the name Roger Stone is a very good day.

Thank you, former Congressman David Jolly, future lieutenant governor of Florida, Nancy Cook and Clarence Page. We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Tuesday, April 24th, 2018.

One of Donald Trump`s problems as president is he doesn`t know the kind of people who would help him be a good president. He brought along his family, for instance, I`ve joked about them being like the Romanovs. The fact is that`s the way they behaved.

When he doesn`t have a family member to fill a job, he picks someone he`s had in his orbit over the years. He didn`t know anyone to be secretary of state, so he picked someone he just met, Rex Tillerson, someone whose chief selling point was he gave Trump a credible excuse not to pick Mitt Romney for the job. Trump has had a hard time figuring out who he can work with.

Look at the traffic heading through the West Wing. It seems like the TV show "West Wing", with people rushing by all the time.

Sean Spicer gone, Reince Priebus gone, Anthony Scaramucci, the Mooch, gone. Steve Bannon gone, good.

Omarosa Manigault, gone. Hope Hicks, gone. H.R. McMaster gone. The list goes on.

Some were shown the door. Some just split.

If you can`t make judgments about who to hire, how does he make judgments about Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-un? We`ve already answered that question, haven`t we?

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.