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Trump VA pick defiant after new allegations. TRANSCRIPT: 04/25/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Elizabeth Warren, Barry Grissom, Ruth Marcus, John Feehery, Ayesha Rascoe

Show: HARDBALL Date: April 25, 2018 Guest: Elizabeth Warren, Barry Grissom, Ruth Marcus, John Feehery, Ayesha Rascoe

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Is there a doctor in the house? Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

We are following new explosive allegations against embattled VA nominee, Ronny Jackson. Democratic staffers of the Senate Veterans Affairs committee released a list of accusations now against Jackson.

Among them, multiple individuals cited the nickname Candyman used by White House staff because he would provide whatever prescriptions they sought without paperwork.

A nurse noted that Jackson wrote himself prescriptions when caught, he had someone else, his physician assistants do it.

And at a secret service going away party, Jackson got drunk and wrecked a government vehicle.

Jackson denied all allegations including wrecking that car. He said he was still moving ahead as planned with his nomination.

Well, earlier in the day, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders defended the vetting process.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Dr. Jackson`s record as a White House physician has been impeccable. Dr. Jackson has had at least four independent background investigations conducted during his time at the White House including an FBI investigation conducted as part of the standard nomination vetting process.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is the White House going to look into the allegations that have been made against him about drinking on the job?

SANDERS: Certainly something we would look at, absolutely.


MATTHEWS: Well, the Democratic report also quotes colleagues calling Jackson flat out unethical, toxic, abusive, and volatile.

Senator John Tester of Montana, the ranking Democrat on the committee discussed his findings on MSNBC earlier today.


SEN. JOHN (D), MONTANA: Starting about a week ago, Chuck, we have got claims, accusations that were made. And we are following up talking to some 23 different people. And there is more that come forth every day about some of the challenges that Admiral Jackson had as chief of the White House medical unit. It would be senatorial malpractice for us not to follow up on this issue and find out what kind of a person Ronny Jackson is.


MATTHEWS: I`m joined by Hallie Jackson, chief White House correspondent FOR NBC News, Leigh Ann Caldwell, Capitol Hill reporter for NBC News, and Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for PBS News Hour and an MSNBC political analyst.

Hallie, thanks for joining us tonight from the White House. How could all this go unknown and all of a sudden he`s up for VA and we`re learning horrible stuff about him?

HALLIE JACKSON, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So the argument from the White House, Chris, that Sarah Sanders made from the podium today is this a guy who has been and passed four background checks for his position inside the administration. They are arguing, hey, he is at arm`s length literally not just with one president but with three Presidents, former Presidents Bush, Obama and obviously, Donald Trump now. So that`s sort of what they are laying out.

Now, I will tell you that that is the public line. Privately, there is acknowledgement of concern in and around the White House about how the Jackson nomination was rolled out, Chris, about how this was handled from the very beginning given that there is some concern that Jackson`s story wasn`t fully told. That he hadn`t had a chance to talk about his resume, his biography, his experience and his credentials.

Now, I ran into Ronny Jackson along with my colleague here Kristen Welker in a little bit of surprised impromptu interview. I think he was a bit taken aback to see reporters upstairs in the west wing although did he answer a couple of questions regarding specifically some of those explosive allegations that have now come out in this document obtained by NBC News which you have discussed put together by Democrats on the veteran affairs committee.

He says he has never wrecked a car. That is one of the allegations that he got o got drunk after a secret service party and crashed a government vehicle. Jackson multiple times denied that ever happened. He said he doesn`t know where these allegations are coming from. He says he is still moving forward.

And we are told by a White House official, Chris, that he told the President these accusations are false and misleading. So listen. If you`re going to pick a word to describe the mood here at the White House tonight, it seems to be defiant.

MATTHEWS: What do you hear about him? I mean, and he is the White House - - he is the President`s physician and he is supposedly now a boozer who drinks all the time on the job and nobody noticed it?

JACKSON: So let`s clarify a couple of things. So the allegation is that he drinks on the job while traveling overseas with the President which again, Ronny Jackson has denied it to the President based on our reporting.

MATTHEWS: No, that he`s drunk on the plane. He is drunk and unable to be do his job. That`s the accusation.

JACKSON: While in close contact with the President which what gives people like Senator Tester such concern. But the attitude, Chris, even from former officials from people under the Obama administration, he was a decent guy. He was a good doctor. He did his job. And you point to the White House points to performance reviews from President Obama in which he lavishes praise upon Jackson, recommending him for promotions to be sort of raised up inside the White House medical office. And really up until recently, there was not much of a sense I think inside the administration that these things were lurking or at least these questions or allegations were lurking in Jackson`s background.

Now, where are these allegations coming from? Based on some of these reporting, nearly two dozen current and former colleagues of Jackson`s, some of whom are still in the military. The White House is casting this as the big leap, him getting railroaded by what they call a bitter ex- colleague.

JACKSON: One person is doing this they are saying?

JACKSON: No, no, listen, there is some discussion about.

MATTHEWS: I thought there was 23.

JACKSON: Right, that`s what the number is who have come forward with these allegations. The White House is sort of casting this as a dispute between Ronny Jackson and the guy who came before him, the doctors that were before him with whom there was some issues based on some these reporting and these internal documents.

MATTHEWS: Well, there is more coming. The Democratic report also describes a work environment in which admiral Jackson would treat subordinates poorly. According to report, Jackson was viewed as someone who would roll over anyone, worked his way on the backs of others, was a suck up to those above him and abusive to those below him. A kiss up, kick down boss, I have heard of those before. Well, his needs about putting his needs above everyone else.

Let me go to Leigh Ann from the Hill here. You know, this sounds like those reports coming from Vietnam, the (INAUDIBLE). Everything is great. Everything rose in it. The guy is great. Then you talk to the enlisted people and it`s horrendous. The people below are giving a totally different story than the big shots above him.

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, NBC NEWS CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes. These allegations that were --.

MATTHEWS: By the way, we hear that about senators all the time. Senators who everybody says how wonderful they are and how colleagues they are and their staffs hate them.

CALDWELL: That`s absolutely true. There`s lots of horror stories working for some members. But yes, these allegations that were compiled. These are extremely explosive.

MATTHEWS: Who is telling the truth?

CALDWELL: Right. That`s the thing.

MATTHEWS: I think Tester believes the little guys are telling the truth.

CALDWELL: I think he does. I mean, he hasn`t said that. But the fact that he released these allegations. He has done media appearances talking about them. So he is more inclined I think to believe these. And you know, I asked him today. I said have you been talking to Jackson? He said he hasn`t talked to Jackson in quite a while.

MATTHEWS: `OK. Yamiche, this is really pretty clear-cut. It`s not do you like the guy or not, you like his temperament or not. Did he crash the car? Does he drink a lot when they get on the plane together with the President as his number one patient? And he is drunk. It`s not like he has a few drinks. He has drunk a lot. And this thing about concierge medicine where he is giving out pills all the time, having a nickname candyman because he is good for the kind of drugs. People like that for recreational purposes perhaps. This is pretty flagrant. It`s one or the other.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, PBS NEWS HOUR: Well, the thing is the key question here is, if all of these allegations are true, how did he survive three Presidents? How did he go from George Bush --?

MATTHEWS: Who has been covering for him?

ALCINDOR: Exactly. What`s the vetting process been when he has been passed over to the next President because it is undeniable there are handwritten notes from Obama. Not like -- this is not and we are not talking about somebody who typed this up on a computer. I saw with my own two eyes the signature of Obama saying he is to be promoted up. He is a great doctor. He is doing great. So those are the things that the White House is saying.

The problem is though that I think that Ronny Jackson has the backing the White House publicly. But the President himself did not roll out those Obama taking points.

Yesterday he made it clear, if I was Jackson, I would probably be backing out of this issue. To me he`s given him an off-ramp here. And I`m not sure he is going to take it, but I would not surprise if Ronny Jackson said, you know what, I don`t want to go to this hearing and get all this On the Recorded. I`m just going to --.

MATTHEWS: I would think that too.

Let me go to Jonathan Swan.

Jonathan, it seems to me that if this guy continued as the President`s doctor, none of this would have come out. The only reason any of it is coming out because is he is about to run a 400,000 employee agency of the veterans administration and finally we realized the guy drinks a lot, gives away medicine he shouldn`t give away, acts as a sort of concierge doctor, candyman to the White House staff and abusive to people below him. And all of the sudden we are learning this after having served three Presidents and being treated as some sort of impeccable being. And now they said it doesn`t hold up. It does sounds like the Vietnam War. We hear one story from the generals to generals and another story from the troops.

JONATHAN SWAN, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: Well, that`s one way of looking at it. The other way of looking at it is there are a whole bunch of allegations aired. And are now out there in the media that we actually don`t know if they are true. And I have been trying -- I reported all of this on Sunday that he had huge problems that the White House was concerned about him. That Capitol Hill was concerned and allegations taken to Tester. The reason I didn`t write them because I actually still to this day don`t know if they are true. I have been trying to cooperate them. Have been making calls.

MATTHEWS: Where are they coming from, generally? Are they coming from inside the White House staff or where are they coming from --? Where are they coming from?

SWAN: Chris, I don`t know because I haven`t spoken to one of the people who made the allegations. All I tell you was I`m talking to people on the White House staff who have worked with him. And they are not echoing these allegations. And you know, so it`s very --.

MATTHEWS: Yes. But was there an organization -- you know, we are used to this. We all know there are certain organizations left and right who promote bad steers about people and gin up these commentaries by people. Is there any evidence of an organized campaign against the doctor?

SWAN: Again, I haven`t seen the evidence of an organized campaign behind this. There`s clearly a campaign against him. And I`m not saying -- I don`t know one way or the other whether they are true or false. Again, as a reporter, it makes me very uncomfortable when I see allegations out there that I cannot verify. And as far as I can see from what these people are saying on TV, they haven`t fully verified either. Like Tester admitted he is not sure yet about the veracity of them.

This is not that clear-cut to me at all. I mean, what is clear-cut is that this was a guy who was completely un-vetted who had no relevant experience to run the second largest agency in the federal government, that the President tweeted out on an impulse over the objections of his chief of staff. That`s the clear-cut part of this story. The rest we need more reporting to find out.

ALCINDOR: And the White House line is what kind -- I have been hearing the same thing that Hallie Jackson has been hearing which is that this all goes back to a kind of a rival professional rival, another doctor who wanted to be promoted and instead Ronny Jackson got promoted. So I have heard that.

MATTHEWS: It is one hell of a propagandist. This guy gets 23 people to speak his case to the hill.

ALCINDOR: Well, that`s the problem. I don`t know -- like Jon said, we are not sure if we can corroborate that. But the White House is saying that this an angry colleagues. These are people who don`t like you. And it is kind of like they are basically saying if anybody is going up for a high profile job, there are people who won`t like you and they can all get together.

MATTHEWS: Well, you know, once it gets to Hill, at the hearing, these senators and Congress people are going to be vetting him now finally. Can they just say I hear that? Can they just throw out something that got through the pipeline and without saying there is a staff member in the White House who says this?

CALDWELL: Yes, they absolutely can. But I think that they don`t want to do that. I think they honestly want to look into this to find out if this is true. I mean, this guy`s name has been dragged through the mud at this point. So I don`t see how he can overcome some of that.

MATTHEWS: Well, Tester has already done this to him. Tester is out -- Hallie, your last question gets to you, Hallie Jackson. He has been out there talking about Admiral Jackson pretty tough. It`s pretty tough.


MATTHEWS: Yes. So he either believes this or he is been irresponsible. It is one of the other. Because he talks like he believes it. Yes.

JACKSON: Well, I don`t know if I can assess that part of it, Chris. But I will tell you that Senator Tester has not been shy starting roughly 24 hours ago actually as of this minute. When he went on NPR and frankly, unleashed a blistering set of accusations against Ronny Jackson. To that point, we hadn`t had the specificity or On the Record discussion from a member of Congress, from a lawmaker, particularly one on this committee what these accusations were. I will tell you that I spoke with Senator Tester for a story on the "Today" show this morning. He also obviously did the interview with Chuck just last hour. And to Jonathan Swan`s point earlier, what -- Tester is being very careful in what he is saying. When asked about the charges, he is saying this is what I have heard. This is what I`ve heard from the people that have come forward.


JACKSON: So again, and I do think what you are seeing on the hill, for example, Senator Rand Paul today saying, hey, so far it sounds like gossip. They want to find out more. Lawmaker who take it and say that they do have cause for concern do also say they want to make sure these allegations are investigated before some of them at least jump to any kind of conclusion related to Ronny Jackson.

MATTHEWS: Well, these are amazing accusations.

JACKSON: Can I bring this back to veterans? Because we interviewed a bunch here in Washington. People who are at memorials. We have spoken with veterans groups and others. And let me just point out the broader picture here which is as one veterans group put it to me earlier today on MSNBC, a group that full disclosure allies more with progressive leading causes and opposes Ronny Jackson`s nomination original, before the accusations made the point it`s not the accusations, it`s not the allegations, it is about concerns that relate to Jackson`s experience overall run agency that this is this huge, running the second biggest federal agency basically. And so, I think that is a sort of a broader context piece here of the resume that Jackson has to step into this role.

MATTHEWS: Well, the trouble with that is, it frees people from having to back up what they have claimed. And these charges are serious. And you know, the guy is a drunk on the job or he is not. And you can`t throw charges around like unless you know it`s true. And somebody has got to substantiated or undermine those charges. This guy career is going to be ruined now.

And so, I think to go around and say it`s only about policy, it is only about the executive responsibilities to run this agency eludes the fact that somebody ought to be held responsible, somebody has fed all this stuff to people like Senator Tester. And the question is, is it true? And I think that`s the job of Congress to figure out because the Presidents haven`t done a very god job of checking this guy out. I hope Congress does a better job.

Thank you so much, Hallie Jackson, Leigh Ann Caldwell, Yamiche Alcindor and Jonathan Swan.

Coming up, more trouble for team Trump. A top member of Trump`s inner circle now is caught admitting that when he was in Congress, he only met with lobbyist who gave him money. He didn`t deal with lobbyist. He didn`t. He basically admitting pay to play as a practice. Well, so much for Trump`s promise to drain the swamp. This guy sounds like a swamp FOX. We are going to talk to Senator Elizabeth Warren about this very charge up next.

Plus, breaking news out of the Russia investigation. "The Washington Post" reporting that Rudy Giuliani met with Bob Mueller yesterday to negotiate a possible interview with the President. I would call it interrogation. He is also pressing for answers about when the investigation is going to end. We will get to that tonight.

And Republicans won that special House election last night in deep red Arizona in a deep red district. But the race was closer than anyone expected. And that`s giving Democrats much more hope they can win big in November and win the House.

Finally let me finish tonight with Trump watch. This is HARDBALL where the action is.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country`s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.


MATTHEWS: Well, that was then candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 Presidential campaign calling for a complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States. Well, today, the Trump administration had a chance to defend the President`s travel ban in court.

As NBC`s Pete Williams reports, the consecutive majority on the court seemed to agree that Trump has the right to restrict travel from certain countries in the name of national security. U.S. solicitor general Noel Francisco argued that the administration`s latest travel ban was implemented after a thorough review of high risk countries not effective in fighting terrorism. Francisco also said the policy is not a Muslim ban arguing that it only impacts a small number of the world`s Muslim majority countries. The court will decide the case by late June.

And we will be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Donald Trump won the 2016 election on a promise to drain the swamp, to reform a corrupt Washington he said was rigged against the little guy.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You`re tired of a government that works only for Wall Street and the special interests.

When the powerful can get away with anything because they have the money and the connections to rig the system, then people lose confidence in our laws and confidence in their futures.

There is nothing the political establishment will not do, no lie that they won`t tell, to hold their prestige and power, at your expense. And that`s what`s been happening.


MATTHEWS: Promises, promises.

Trump`s administration has been littered with examples of just the opposite. Recently, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has come under intense criticism for alleged ethical lapses, including reports he rented an apartment from the wife of a lobbyist.

And, today, we learned what the president`s OMB director, Mick Mulvaney, tells bankers and lobbyists behind closed doors.

According to a transcript, Mulvaney, who is also the interim director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, told the annual Conference of the American Bankers Association -- quote -- "We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress. If you were a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn`t talk to you. If you were a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you. If you came from back home and sat in my lobby, I would talk to you without exception, regardless of the financial contributions."

His remarks first reported, by the way, by "The New York Times."

Joining us right now is Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts. She helped create agency that Director Mulvaney currently runs.

People aren`t usually, in politics, so blunt about pay-to-play, so blunt.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, let`s just be clear.

People are usually in a world where they try to hide corruption. This is now a guy who is so corrupt, it so thoroughly pervades everything he does, everything he thinks about, that he`s willing to say in front of 1,300 people that those who don`t pay me get one kind of treatment, and those who pay me, I actually listen to and maybe will do a little work on their behalf.

MATTHEWS: I have a sense, if he was working for Obama right now -- not that Obama was God or anything, but on these issues, he was pretty close to it -- he would have bumped that guy out of the Cabinet for the statement.

WARREN: Oh, gone. Gone.


MATTHEWS: What does it tell you that he`s able to talk like this with impunity, knowing that his chief, his boss, the president of the United States, will not mind him saying, I`m running a pay-to-play operation?

WARREN: I`ll tell you exactly what it means.

It means most corrupt administration ever. The fact that Mick Mulvaney could stand up...

MATTHEWS: Worse than Grant? Worse than Grant? Worse than...


WARREN: Exactly. Exactly.

The fact that Mick Mulvaney would stand up and say that in what is, in fact, a public place -- they knew the press was there.


WARREN: And that he would say it and figured, hey, why not? Because that`s the kind of administration he`s in.

But I got to tell you, we have got to keep calling these guys out. You can`t just sit back and say, what are you going to do? The answer is, you got to call them out on it every single time and remind everybody. This is what elections are about come November.

MATTHEWS: What can you do about Pruitt, the so-called EPA director? He`s not an EPA director in any sense. He`s not regulating. He works for the industry. But he drives around like Nero in his chariot.

He got first-class everything. Everybody is making -- he`s got staff members making more than senators.


MATTHEWS: What is going on with this guy? He just gets away with it.


And this is again -- I mean, look, the two of them are there, Mulvaney. This is like a pair of them that we have got started here, because they see themselves as not working for the public.


WARREN: They see themselves as working for those who contribute either to their own campaigns, their own pockets or to their party. And that just -- that can`t be how we run government anymore.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about cronyism.

We have already talked on this show a lot about nepotism. Fine. I know.

WARREN: Right.

MATTHEWS: They run the operation like the Romanovs.

WARREN: Right.

MATTHEWS: They got Jared doing prison reform today. I go, are you kidding? He`s also a Middle East expert. And that is the definition of cronyism.

Let`s talk about this doctor, this new Doc Holliday. The guy has a reputation for being drunk. It is like Doc Holliday. How did he get away with this? How has this been going on all these years? He`s apparently dealing out Percocet to people, people he`s -- security people he wants to help out. He wrecked a government vehicle while he`s drunk.

How come nobody knew about this stuff?

WARREN: So, look, I don`t know why it didn`t come out before.

But this is the part I do know. This is what vetting is about, before you make a public statement about somebody who is going to get a nomination.

MATTHEWS: Talk about vetting. He`s working -- he`s the president`s doctor. And he`s got a reputation for being drunk on the job. And the president doesn`t smell it, doesn`t know it? It`s either true or it isn`t.

WARREN: Well, and -- but more to the point, this is how the president thinks he runs government. He takes a liking to somebody, he names them, right? He decides he doesn`t like somebody, he fires them.

MATTHEWS: OK. Apparently, it`s just -- I`m just hearing now he denied wrecking the car.

WARREN: Oh, he denies wrecking the car.

MATTHEWS: He`s also denied having ever drank on the job. So, we`re going to have to get into these denials in the Senate...

WARREN: I want to say on this one, though -- pause for a minute on this one.

I get it. I`m glad Jon Tester is looking into this, a whole committee is looking into this.

MATTHEWS: Tester has been tough.

WARREN: He has been. And I feel better knows Tester is going to be in there.

But there`s one other part. If we`re going to talk about the Veterans Administration, to me, this is also a big policy issue. The real question is, the Republicans keep trying to get all the little slippery pieces in to privatize the VA.

All three of my older brothers are veterans. They all served. And I have firsthand experience on how important the Veterans Administration is to our veterans and how important it is to keep it independent, keep part of government, not to privatize it.


WARREN: And so, for me, what`s going to keep driving around this is, I want to hear a commitment from whoever`s running the Veterans Administration that they plan to make that place whole and strong, and not to privatize the services.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about something else that`s a part of your broadening portfolio. You`re on Armed Services now?


MATTHEWS: OK, let`s talk about -- that`s a big assignment.

What do you make of -- I keep asking all our guests, give me your optimistic, rosy scenario for any kind of deal with North Korea, and your worst-case scenario of what might come out of this meeting with the president and Kim Jong-un.

WARREN: OK. So, can I make this a little bit more complicated on the rosiest...

MATTHEWS: OK. But get to the rosy one.

WARREN: No, the rosiest. I`m going to start with the rosiest.

The rosiest is, we stand by our deal in Iran, having talked Iran off the nuclear ledge, and we have very aggressive investigation, inspection on a regular basis with Iran, so that Iran, bad actor, Iran, but better to be a bad actor without nuclear weapons than a bad actor with nuclear weapons.


WARREN: That`s our model.

Get North Korea to the same kind of place, where you do the same kind of aggressive inspections, that they are off the nuclear cliff. They still may be a bad actor.

MATTHEWS: Will containment work?

WARREN: Oh, I think what we got to do is -- I think where we ought to be aiming is denuclearization.

MATTHEWS: Roll back.

WARREN: Yes, roll back. Roll back.

MATTHEWS: Roll back what they have, destroy the weapons they have.

WARREN: But you have got to get those weapons out of there. Those weapons pose a threat, not just to the region. They pose a threat to the United States...


WARREN: ... and to the world.

MATTHEWS: Is that realistic? Is that reasonable?

WARREN: Well...

MATTHEWS: Could any president do that?

WARREN: You have got to...

MATTHEWS: President Obama couldn`t do it. President George W. couldn`t do it. Bill Clinton couldn`t do it.

We have been trying as a country since the `90s at least to try to -- remember, the Clintons tried to give them coal so they wouldn`t use -- go nuclear?


MATTHEWS: I mean, we have tried a lot.

WARREN: But, you know, the part that keeps changing in this -- you asked me for my optimistic scenario -- is the allies. We were never going to be able to do this on our own.

Look, we didn`t do Iran on our own.

MATTHEWS: Do you think Xi will help us in China?

WARREN: We didn`t saddle up and just ride in on a horse into Iran.

MATTHEWS: Will Xi help us?

WARREN: That`s the question.

Is -- has Xi now looked over the border and said, wait a minute, we have got a guy liking that with nuclear weapons right on our border? Whoa. We need to rethink this.


WARREN: When that happens, then we may be able to get something more aggressive done with North Korea.

MATTHEWS: It`s great to have you on.

WARREN: It`s good to be here.

MATTHEWS: Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, thanks for coming over.

WARREN: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Up next: the Mueller investigation. "The Washington Post" is reporting that Rudy Giuliani met with Bob Mueller yesterday to negotiate a possible interview with President Trump and to press for answers on when the investigation would be over.

It comes as President Trump keeps saying he`s innocent. But, then again, why is he acting the way he is acting? Good question.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

After the FBI raid on Michael Cohen this month appeared to derail the prospect that the president would undergo questioning by the special counsel, there are signs late today it could still happen, the meeting between Mueller and Trump.

"The Washington Post" is now reporting that Trump`s new attorney, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, met with special counsel Robert Mueller on Tuesday to reopen negotiations for a presidential interview.

"The Post" reports Giuliani "conveyed the ongoing substance of Trump and his advisers to an interview with federal investigators, but did not rule out the possibility. Most" -- "resistance," rather -- "Most notably, however, is, in that meeting, Giuliani pressed Mueller for clarity on when the probe is expected to end."

This comes after Giuliani said last week that he would try to bring the probe to a speedy conclusion.

As he told "The New York Post": "I don`t think it`s going to take more than a week or two to get a resolution. They`re almost there. I`m going to ask Mueller, what do you need to wrap it up?"

Well, joining me right now is MSNBC political analyst Robert Costa, who co- wrote that report in "The Post."

Robert, here is the question. Why do they have to beg Giuliani -- or have Giuliani beg Mueller to set the standards for this interview? Bill Clinton was keel-hauled by Ken Starr, told to appear before a grand jury, and he had to.

Why is there a negotiation here at all? Why doesn`t Mueller just tell him it, I want you in here under oath, you better not lie?

ROBERT COSTA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It`s a legal dance at this point.

This has been going on for weeks, if not months. Special counsel Mueller has been talking to Trump`s legal team when John Dowd was there, before he resigned in March, about how he needs to find out about the president`s intent on key decisions.

He`s also told Trump`s legal team that he is not a criminal target at this point. He`s only a subject. And so he wants to have an interview, not have to subpoena him to come before the grand jury.

But, of course, Mueller still has that card in his back pocket, if he wants to use it. But, at this point, they`re having this legal dance, trying to see if they can come to an agreement.

MATTHEWS: Why would Mueller agree to shorten his investigation, which Giuliani is suggesting here, because Trump agrees to testify?

COSTA: It`s not about the shortening the whole investigation. You have to think about the Mueller probe as a two-track investigation.

There`s the Russia collusion aspect of the investigation. Then there`s President Trump`s conduct, two separate areas of the probe. Mueller wants to wrap up the presidential conduct report, that part of the investigation, sooner, rather than later, hopefully by the summer, because he doesn`t want it to come out, Chris, before the midterm elections.

That`s why he wants the interview as soon as possible.

MATTHEWS: Well, what about the candidate Trump`s behavior in possible collusion with the Russians? When is that going to get -- to be a subject of an investigation, rather, an interview with the president?

COSTA: It`s more narrow with the president`s conduct, as you could imagine.

The sprawling Russia collusion, potential collusion part of this investigation keeps moving in different directions. You have the Manafort, Rick Gates aspects, those indictments. You have President Trump`s campaign operatives who have just been interviewed who may not have any kind of legal action being taken against them yet.

They`re continuing to process across a wade array of fronts, financial, political, about different things that happened. WikiLeaks, Roger Stone, all these different aspects of the investigation that have come up, that could take months, if not more than a year.

So, Mueller is trying to finish one part before he finishes another.

MATTHEWS: We`re joined right now by former federal prosecutor Barry Grissom.

Barry, here`s the question. Is this -- it`s hard for me to follow this, because it seems to me that the president`s under investigation for all of his behavior, going way back into his business career, anything to do with Russia, anything he did in the transition and as president.

Why would they be suggesting that this interview is only going to be about the transition and the presidency, when they`re leaving open the whole question of collusion? When are they going to get around to asking him about that under oath? BARRY GRISSOM, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I would imagine, at some point in time, that will be asked.

But for the purposes of right now, we have a unique situation. We have a president who is being interviewed, unlike just your normal everyday citizen. And I think the court is going to give a little deference, just like, if you remember, when President Clinton testified, there was a defined period of time within which they could ask questions concerning his legal issues.

And I think that`s what`s going to be happening here as well. Now, the real -- it seems to me the real issue that the president has is one of at this point credibility. You want to be honest and you want to be forthright, particularly when you`re talking to a federal prosecutor.

And if you lose credibility, which is so important in any legal proceeding, but particularly one of a criminal nature, that can really backfire on you, because if you go in to offer a proffer, as an example, and the investigator just does not believe you, because you have been less than candid before on any number of things, that can cause you a lot of difficulty.

MATTHEWS: Well, if I were working for Mueller, I would go in there and ask him to back up under the oath all the stuff he said in public.

That puts him in a -- you`re middling, as we say in politics. You`re forcing him to choose between what he said before and the truth. And if he says what he said before, which is not the truth, he`s perjuring himself. Wouldn`t you do that as a prosecutor and nail him easily? Therefore, why would he ever go into that room?

GRISSOM: Oh, absolutely.

And I think, you know, if -- when you represent someone in a criminal matter, you want them, quite frankly, to keep their mouth shut. And you don`t want them going out and making a record that is going to come back to haunt them.

Something as simple as, if Mr. Mueller were to ask, did you spend the night in Russia?


GRISSOM: Well, we know that he offered that up to Jim Comey right away, unsolicited, that he wasn`t there.

We have now discovered that, in fact, he was there. Those things add up to credibility issues.

MATTHEWS: Overnight.

Tom Roberts said that the other day. He was with him. He was basically covering that event out there, the Miss Universe.

Let me go back to Robert.

How is Trump going to handle this? Why would he, knowing he`s Trump, want to go into a room where he says what he says publicly, he`s perjuring himself?

COSTA: Well, we report tonight, Carol Leonnig and I, that the president, as you know, publicly was saying he wanted to sit for an interview for months. He was almost having a bragging tone when it came to those kind of statements.

Now he`s backed away privately, our reporting tells us. And he`s wary of doing an interview. So are his lawyers.


COSTA: Giuliani is now functioning in the lead role with Mueller. Think about that, Giuliani in the room on Tuesday with Mueller in Southwest Washington.

And he`s making it clear to the special counsel face-to-face with Bob Mueller, someone he`s known for decades, and saying, we`re not really going to probably go through with this interview. We`re open to the possibility. But there are a lot of the concerns we have. And if you`re really searching for the intent, we`re told from some of our sources, they think if Mueller is searching for the intent, there`s a big risk to put the president in a chair.

So, they`re now negotiating, will it be a written interview? Could they give some written responses? Is he actually going to sit in that chair across from Mueller?

MATTHEWS: Well, I think he`s got to answer a simple question, as Barry asked, which is, how many nights did you spend in Moscow? Yes or no. This is not a complicated question.

Meanwhile, in a court filing in California in a lawsuit brought by Stormy Daniels, Michael Cohen said today -- quote -- "Based upon the advice of counsel, I will assert my Fifth Amendment rights in connection with all proceedings in this case, due to the ongoing criminal investigation by the FBI and U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York."

Barry, what`s he got to worry about in terms of perjury there, Michael Cohen?

GRISSOM: Well, if we`re talking about Mr. Cohen, I think he did the absolutely appropriate thing, following the advice of his lawyer, not to say anything to incriminate himself.

The -- we talked about earlier the -- Mr. Mueller now has all the information, which is going through a taint process and is being reviewed, obviously, but at some point, he is going to have all the information that Mr. Cohen had put together over all these many years with the president.

And I think that changes the entire dynamic, from the president`s perspective, of, as your -- as the other gentleman said a few moments ago about almost being in a braggadocios way about coming in to testify or to speak with Mr. Mueller.

I think, by going into Mr. Cohen`s office and getting his information, that has completely changed the dynamic of this game.

MATTHEWS: Well, it looks to me again tonight, Robert and Barry, that the president is up to his elbows in alligators.

Thank you so much, Robert Costa and Barry Grissom.

Up next, Republicans won a special election last night in Arizona but they shouldn`t be popping the champagne bottles. The race was much closer than expected. That`s a bad sign for what may be coming this November.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Republicans notched a victory in a special election in Arizona last night, but it`s Democrat who may have reason to celebrate. Republican Debbie Lesko edged out a victory in Arizona`s 8th district. Lesko defeated her Democratic opponent by just over five points.

Well, that`s good for Republicans. The problem, President Trump won that same district by 21 points, four times as much in 2016. It`s so reliably red that there wasn`t a Democrat on the ballot in the last two congressional elections out there. Nobody even ran.

If the numbers aren`t ominous enough, the "Cook Political Report`s" Dave Wasserman summed it up this way. There are 147 GOP-held House seats right now, less Republican than the Arizona 8th. It`s time to start rethinking how many of those are truly safe in November.

Well, in fact "The New York Times" reports Republicans have lost support in every special election since Trump took office, including the ones they won. President Trump put a good face on results congratulating Lesko on Twitter saying, Debbie will do a great job. Press is so silent.

But President Trump may have something bigger to worry about this fall. That`s next with the HARDBALL roundtable.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Republicans held a deep red congressional seat in Arizona last night, but by a slim margin. But it may not just be keeping control of the House this fall that worries President Trump the most.

Jonathan Swan of "Axios" reports that Trump`s real election nightmare would be losing the Senate writing: Democratic dominance at the Capitol would speed impeachment proceedings and trap the White Houses in a thicket of oversight probes and hearings. Twin losses would be a massive repudiation of Trump and his brand of Republicanism, just as he embarks and his re- election.

Let`s bring in the HARDBALL table.

Ruth Marcus, deputy editorial page editor for "The Washington Post," John Feehery is a Republican strategist, Ayesha Rascoe is White House reporter for NPR.

Ruth, you start off this cake bake here. It seems to me that we keep looking for new tea leaves to tell us which way it`s going. I stick to my prospect that if the Democrats win 30 or 40 seats and win the House, the Senate looks very tricky, but I still think enough to impeach if they want to do it, if the House wants to do it next year. Enough votes to do it.

RUTH MARCUS, DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE, THE WASHINGTON POST: And then what is the answer to the impeachment question.

MATTHEWS: I can`t see that far.

MARCUS: I think the Senate is everything has to go right for the Democrats in an arena where actually everything is stacked against them because they have so many people up in Trump -- in states that Trump won, 10 incumbents up. The House I think Democrats have very good prospect of winning those Dave Cook number that there are this remarkable number of House seats that are actually less Republican than this one that was so close last night. That should put fear in the heart of every Republican lawmaker.

MATTHEWS: Actually, Dave Wasserman of "The Cook Report".

MARCUS: Dave Wasserman, sorry.

MATTHEWS: That`s all right. His title is -- there it is.

MARCUS: Charlie Cook, Dave Wasserman, got them both.

MATTHEWS: Thank you. So, what do you think? Do you think you guys hold the Senate based upon the latest results?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Let me say that first of all, there are no point spreads. You don`t get a point spread victory income political races. You just have to win the election.

MATTHEWS: You mean there`s no moral victories?

FEEHERY: I don`t think there`s any moral victory. The Republicans won. Elections are based on three things, the map, which Ruth was talking about with the Senate, money, which is basically tied, Democrats have raised a lot of money but it`s spread over a lot more candidates and the message.

And Harry Reid`s put it up plainly. Impeachment is not a good message for the Democrats. And that`s what they seem to be running on. I think it`s a huge mistake for them.

But I don`t want to give them any advice --

MATTHEWS: Pelosi is trying to put that down.


MATTHEWS: I think you`re right. Trying to make this -- in liberal districts, progressive districts, African-American districts where the people are very progressive, they love this and will come out and vote.


AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, NPR: Well, the Senate is going to be very difficult for the Democrats, but when you look at what may be going against the Republicans, part of what`s not helping is all these scandals coming out of the Trump administration when you have all these issues, when you`re talking about Scott Pruitt at the EPA and this new nomination for Ronny Jackson, all these things coming out, that`s taking up all the air time right now, that and, you know, issues about Russia, investigation.

So, when you talk about messaging, what messages are the Republicans getting across right now.

FEEHERY: That`s actually a really good point, because if you talk about the tax cuts, it`s being completely drowned out.

MATTHEWS: Who is talking about that?

FEEHERY: That`s right. The polling on that, they`ve gone down in popularity. People are talking about all the other nonsense.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They`re not that popular.

FEEHERY: Well, they were. They`ve got -- they were very popular about two months ago. If you look at the polls, they`ve kind of sunk down, because we`re not talking about them. And corporations have to get on their butts and start talking what they`re going to do with benefits and with wages.

MATTHEWS: You know, I think -- go ahead, Ayesha.

RASCOE: And if this is a referendum on who is governing well, when you have all these scandals, when you have all these things going on with the Trump administration, can the Republicans make that argument or can they get back on track to make the argument we deserve to be in here, we deserve to be in power because we`re getting things done?

MARCUS: You know, Ayesha makes a good point, but the thing that`s a little bit puzzling for people who look and try to prognosticate these many months, which, you know, we can`t stop ourselves from doing, is that even as these special elections have been really, if the Democrats haven`t won them and I take your point it doesn`t matter how much you win by, but we`re looking at them as tea leaves, even as Democrats have over-performed in a lot of races the generic ballot is tightening.

MATTHEWS: Explain that generic balloting for people that aren`t buffs.

MARCUS: So, sort of overall, would you like to see Democrats in Congress or Republicans in Congress. If voters out there are getting fed up with the governing they see from the Trump administration, it`s not showing up there.

MATTHEWS: Yes. You know what I think, there`s a complete disconnect weave what the House and the politicians on the Hill want and what -- in 1946, it was all about let`s have another probe, let`s have another hearing, and Harry Truman got elected in `48. Sometimes, the Republicans blew it. If the Democrats get in next year and all they do is hold impeachment hearings for the whole year, Trump could get re-elected.

The roundtable is staying with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

And, Ruth, the pro -- tell me something I don`t know.

MARCUS: So, there`s a little bit of an epidemic among President Trump`s judicial nominees in being unwilling to say something that is a little surprising which is they don`t want to say whether they think Brown versus Board of Education is correctly decided. The -- I`m not making this up. The first --

MATTHEWS: They think separate can be equal?

MARCUS: No, They just -- they`re just saying they don`t want to say because it would be improper for them to say. The first one was Wendy Vitter, who`s the wife of Senator David Vitter, up for a district judgeship in Louisiana. The other one is up for federal appeals judgeship, a guy named Andrew Olden (ph) who`s general counsel to the governor of Texas.

They should take a look back at the transcript of Chief Justice John Roberts confirmation hearings. He was willing to say that Brown was correctly decided.

MATTHEWS: Forward thinker.

Jonathan Feehery --

FEEHERY: Listen, I worked for the Republican leadership in 1998 when we decided that we`re going to go all in on our impeachment message with Bill Clinton. Believe me -- it doesn`t work. Don`t try it. Talk about the economy if you want to have any impact.

MATTHEWS: Why did they just pass a simple resolution of censure because of Monica (INAUDIBLE)? Something --

FEEHERY: They should have. And actually, there was a chance to do with Dick Gephardt and Gephardt and Tom Delay decided they didn`t want that to happen because they wanted impeachment to be the real measure against the guy.

MATTHEWS: They should have done a simple thing and move on.


RASCOE: Well, NPR is reporting today that even as the Supreme Court is debating President Trump`s travel ban, immigration from Muslims is already down in the U.S. there`s Kato analysts who found that 91 percent -- or that immigration from Muslim refugees is down 91 percent monthly from last year and down 26 percent from Muslim majority countries.

MATTHEWS: Thank you. Thank you, Ruth Marcus, John Feehery, and Ayesha Rascoe.

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


MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Wednesday, April 25th, 2018.

General Frances Marion was one of the heroes of the American Revolution. Known as the Swamp Fox, he was a master of guerrilla warfare, driving the British army out of South Carolina.

Well, today, we have another swamp fox in the form of South Carolina`s Mick Mulvaney, director of the OMB, he moonlights running the Consumer Financial Protection Agency. He has earned the name "swamp fox" from his outrageous admission that has a member of Congress from South Carolina, he followed rule. He would let people in to see him who had given him campaign money and refused admission to those who didn`t.

Here`s the direct quote. If you were a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn`t talk to you. If you were a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you. I`ve never heard it said so clearly, the definition of the swamp that Donald Trump ran against -- a government where you must pay to play.

So, what kind of message is Mick Mulvaney sending to other people in this administration? Is he saying this is how you drain the swamp or is he saying this is how you get money and how to get around in a swamp? I`d say it`s the second. Mulvaney`s admission that you have to pay someone like him to be heard is the very definition of the swamp.

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

ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES starts right now.