Pruitt knew about staff pay raise. TRANSCRIPT: 04/26/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Jen Kerns, Jonathan Lemire, Stuart Eizenstat , Katie Phang, Sam Stein

Editor's note: Stuart Eizenstat was interviewed on Hardball on April 26,2018 in connection with his book, "President Carter: The White House Years." In response to a question about who in the Carter White House helped the Reagan campaign obtain Carter's debate book, Eizenstat remarked that it was either Laurie Lucey or Bob Dunn. Since the broadcast, Eizenstat has clarified his remark. He reports that he has no evidence that either Lucey or Dunn was involved and he did not intend to suggest otherwise. Show: HARDBALL Date: April 26, 2018 Guest: Jen Kerns, Jonathan Lemire, Stuart Eizenstat , Katie Phang, Sam Stein

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Trump`s wide world of anger. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Donald Trump went on a tear this morning on his favorite show, "FOX & Friends." For nearly 30 minutes he ranted about his enemies. Gave his performance as President, an A plus grade. And admitted for the first time that Michael Cohen has in fact been helping him with the Stormy Daniels matter when he paid her $130,000 to keep quiet.

Throughout the interview this morning, the President was especially animated as he railed against the FBI and his former director James Comey. Most notably he suggested at some point he could intervene with the justice department and direct them to investigation the FBI. Instead of the alleged Russia collusion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The top people in the FBI headed by Comey were crooked. You look at the corruption at the top of the FBI, it`s a disgrace. And our justice department which I try and stay away from but at some point I won`t, our justice department should be looking at that kind of stuff, not the nonsense of collusion with Russia. There is no collusions with me and Russia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Trump is also challenging the veracity of Comey`s memos which the former FBI director wrote to document in real time his conversations with the President, calling the memos themselves phony, Trump appeared to say that Comey had fabricated some of the details of their conversations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Those memos were about me they`re phony memos. He didn`t write those memos accurately. He put a lot of phony stuff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Phony, phony.

Anyway. The President`s attacks on James Comey may be part of his strategy to challenge Comey`s credibility with the prosecution. It comes as Trump`s new attorney, Rudy Giuliani tells "the wall street journal" he`s trying to figure out whether Mueller has an open mind.

According to Giuliani, a key question for Mueller`s prosecutor is do they favor Comey over Trump in terms of credibility. Well, Giuliani also says that President is convinced that if he tells his story to a decent fair minded arbiter, the whole think will be over. When he asked for it, he would sit down with the special counsel to undergo questions, he left the door open but attacked the prosecutors as being biased.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does it make you want to talk to Mueller and put an end to it? Does it w?

TRUMP: I can. The problem is it`s such an -- if you take a look, they`re so conflicted. The people doing the investigation, you have 13 people that are Democrats. You have Hillary Clinton people, you have people that worked on Hillary Clinton`s foundation. They`re all -- I don`t mean Democrats. I mean like the real deal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Joining me right now is Mieke Eoyang, vice President for the National Security program at Third Way. Ken Vogel is political reporter with the "New York Times" and Joyce Vance s former federal prosecutor and an MSNBC legal analyst.

I have got to go to Ken on this. What does he mean in terms of news making today when he says he may get involved with the DOJ? We all know what it means when he says he`s not involved. Getting involved sounds like you are fired.

KEN VOGEL, POLITICAL REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: It sounds a lot like that. And he has suggested he might do just that on multiple occasions. He set different red lines suggesting he would do it if Mueller waded into his business interests.

Well, we have seen some indications just that is occurring. Certainly would be logical to assume ta type of investigation is occurring. So now you have him saying it again. And you can tell he is bristling against his own legal team and his staff telling him not to do that as well as the body politic at large including Republicans. We saw the Senate Judiciary Committee just today pass out of committee a bill to protect Mueller. That`s a pretty strong signal there would be quite a price to pay if Trump did anything to either try to fire Mueller --

MATTHEWS: He basically told the people investigating him, if you investigate me anymore, I`ll fire you. It was pretty clear what he was saying. I wonder if that -- I get to Joyce. Just general observation. It sounds like he`s threatening them with firing if they do their jobs.

MIEKE EOYANG, NATIONAL SECURITY PROGRAM, THIRD WAY: That`s right. He is not interested in having a justice department that is objective on looking at the law. He sees this as a tool for his own personal and political protection. He suggested that he wants people to look at his political opponents. H suggested that he needs his own Roy Cohn. He wants a guy who is a fixer for him as the attorney general and not someone interested in enforcing laws fairly.

MATTHEWS: He wants to break into the DNC. He said basically implied why didn`t they break in. They were the victims of hacking. And he says why didn`t they raid them? It was crazy.

Joyce, your thoughts about this things where he says I might have to get -- like don`t ask me to -- don`t ask your father to stop the car. There might be kids back there. This threat is pretty direct from Trump. Are you listening, Joyce?

I guess -- I`m sorry. She`s not reacting. She is not hearing.

Anyway, back to you, Ken. Let`s go to this other question, the Democrats, he is out there calling out the members of the prosecution team as a bunch of Democrats. Well, I don`t think Comey is a Democrat and I don`t think Rosenstein is a Democrat. I`m not sure who is.

VOGEL: Yes. We have seen this before. It has to do with talking about Andrew McCabe and Andrew McCabe`s wife and the length links to Terry McAuliffe. This is something that he has tried to do before. It seems to be geared towards the end game to trying to sort of minimize or set him up to be able to minimize any averse finding that Mueller has in regards to him to be able to say the whole thing was tainted.

Now the Comey thing is more interesting to pit himself against Comey. Comey is really just sort of a bit player in this. It`s not about Comey. Anything they would get from Comey they would be able to get from any number of other witnesses who they have already talked to. But Comey is in the news. And he can`t resist taking a shot at someone who is taking a shot at him.

MATTHEWS: He is a disputing the Comey memos Trump said during the miss universe, this is the first time he said is this morning on "FOX & friends." He did he stay overnight in Moscow and never told Comey otherwise.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: For instance, I went to Russia for a day or so, a day or two because I owned the Miss Universe pageant. So I went there to watch it because it was near Moscow. So I go to Russia. I didn`t go there -- everybody knows the logs are there, the planes are there. He said I didn`t stay there overnight. Of course, I stayed there. I stayed there a very short period of time, but of course I stayed. Well, his memo said I left immediately. I never said that. I never said I left immediately.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, James Comey when he was FBI director, and FBI director under Trump, he said in his memos that on two occasions the President personally told him that he hadn`t stayed overnight in Russia during the Miss Universe trip. Trump`s an apparent change of tune this morning comes after overwhelming documentary evidence, eye witness accounts and even flight records have emerged in the last week to shoed that Trump did in fact stay overnight in Moscow.

Comey also stands by his conversations of those conversations with the President and says that Trump`s lie shows consciousness of guilt. Here he goes -- Comey.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think it`s significant that the president lied to you twice about that.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: It`s always significant when someone lies to you, especially about something you are not asking about. It tends to reflect a consciousness of guilt as we would say on law enforcement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He did that a lot of times with you, brought up stuff you hadn`t asked about.

COMEY: Correct.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Joyce, it is fascinating. We have got our sound with you now.

Look. I have been waiting to ask you about the law here. Trump is out there now saying that he did stay overnight after letting it sit out there for a week that his claim he hadn`t. That of course, is sort of like trying to set up an alibi. He was in the plane where he is back home. I couldn`t have been there during that event. He has been alleged to have witness to in the dossier, the two prostitutes.

Now, the question then is, what`s this tell us that now he is coming out and saying yes, OK. Is he trying to avoid a perjury situation here?

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: You know, he volunteered information to Comey. It turns out it`s not true. And so he is backed up his story and said no, I never told Comey that I didn`t spend the night there.

And Chris, this is why prosecutors love contemporaneous notes so much because Jim Comey when he wrote his notes down hadn`t been fired, no special counsel had been appointed. And he had no way of knowing what might be of interest a year down the road. So prosecutors will look at Comey`s notes with that very deliberate point of view that he had no reason to make anything up back then opposed to the President`s new revisionist history version of those conversations.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s get over that again. I want to run that with all three of you now because I don`t see any sense in him trying to plaster up this ridiculous alibi that he was on the plane back. He wasn`t even there. He couldn`t have been in front of the two prostitutes in that hotel room. It couldn`t have happened at the Ritz-Carlton over there is Moscow. None of them could have because I wasn`t there. And now it`s clear that he was there the night before for sure. And my question is, why would he say that knowing all this could be verified? Tom Roberts interviewed him, verified his position the day before he interviewed him. So he was there at least one overnight and could have been witnessed this kind of thing at least in terms of opportunity whether he did it or not. Why would he lie?

EOYANG: So what Comey was saying in that moment was that he was concerned that the first lady might find out that he had engaged in some kind of activities with these prostitutes and he didn`t want her to know. But it`s very clear he is not as interested as now at protecting his fidelity in front of the first lady given stormy Daniels.

MATTHEWS: OK. But why would he lie to the FBI director who clearly has access to information.

EOYANG: I mean, he just can`t help himself, right. He needs to be telling his narrative that makes him look like the good guy in a given time and he then changes the story later when it turns out that wasn`t the right thing to say.

MATTHEWS: You know, people in history have gone down. Alger Hiss (ph), they couldn`t prove he was a spy necessarily in those days, but it did later. But he really went down and went to prison for five years because he lied because said he didn`t know Whitaker chambers.

I mean, here`s a guy saying something that just isn`t true. Now he is not going to go down for what he said to Comey in the White House conversation. I think he was afraid, wasn`t he, he would have to back that up at a later hearing, a so-called conversation with Mueller`s people in which if he backed it up again, he would have perjured himself.

VOGEL: Yes. I mean, it is important to point out that context. This was not, you know, this would probably be considered hearsay in the context of this investigation. It was an informal conversation. But it does get I think to what Comey was saying as to motive and intent. And certainly it`s not exactly news that Trump has been known to change his story particularly on sensitive things like this.

But the point here is that Comey has -- sorry, Mueller has so much -- so much proof and so much evidence from so many different people that whatever Comey said in this memo is probably a very tiny part of this investigation if really part of it at all on this point because he has talked to so many people.

MATTHEWS: The salacious aspect of this thing. Joyce, everybody has heard about the so-caused golden shower, the whole thing. They have all heard the grossness about it. And a lot of people who don`t like Trump generally think he is probably guilty. A lot of people are skeptical that even as a private citizen would engage in something like that which everybody knows over in Russia is televised and used against you if you`re a U.S. businessman.

So what`s consciousness of guilt thing? How do you think about that? When Comey said today in an interview with Anderson Cooper that consciousness of guilt is established when you start denying things you aren`t accused of?

VANCE: I think it would be a mistake to read too much into that and to make the assumption than Jim Comey was saying that the salacious incident in Russia actually took place. We know that the Steele dossier was based on raw data, raw intelligence, even Steele indicated some of it was correct, likely some of it was just information that he had recorded that was inaccurate.

But it does seem to show that overall the President is sensitive on these subjects. That he is concerned about the investigation looking into his relationships with Russians and it`s very true that Mueller has a lot more information than has come into the public domain likely knows exactly where those pressure points are, and that`s frankly what we can expect from the next part of this investigation.

EOYANG: But Chris, on this, right, we have to remember why this information was in the dossier to begin with, because it was salacious. People believed it was compromat (ph). It was compromising information that the Russians might have over the President. And in a counterintelligence sense, that is a very big national security threat. That they could use that information to get him to do what they want for fear that it would be revealed.

MATTHEWS: And also so many people know about the Russian M.O. when it comes to traveling U.S. famous personages or lesser men in fact.

Anyway. Mieke Eoyang, thank you. Ken Vogel and thank you, Joyce Vance.

Coming up, for weeks now, Trump said he knew nothing about long-time fixer Michael Cohen`s alleged payment to Stormy Daniels. Now Trump admits Cohen was helping him in the Stormy case. And that may prove hugely problematic for the President. We will get to that next.

Plus, admiral Ronny Jackson withdrew this morning from consideration to be the next secretary of Veterans Affairs administrator. He is at least the 24th, catch this, number 24 nomination to go down in this Trump administration.

And tonight, expect this near the end of the show, a bombshell report tonight how Ronald Reagan got Jimmy Carter`s debate book prep back in the 1980s. Tonight, we get the answer to one of the most enduring mysteries in Presidential politics.

Finally, let me finish tonight with Trump watch. Surprising statistics tonight in the FOX poll which shows people do think they should let people do his job. The people want that job done.

This is HARDBALL where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: House minority leader Nancy Pelosi today pushed back against members of her party who are calling for impeachment of President Trump. Well, she warned the impeachment talk now was a gift to Republicans and that any move to impeach Trump needs to be a bipartisan factor. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOSE MINORITY LEADER: Impeachment is a very serious matter. It is if it happens it has to be a bipartisan initiative. I don`t think that we have the information to go to that place. And I discourage any discussion of impeachment. On a political side, I think it`s a gift to the Republicans to talk about impeachment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I think that kid out there is crying wants impeachment.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL.

President Trump tried to distance himself today from his long-time consigliore (ph) and fixer Michael Cohen even as he acknowledged for the first time that Cohen has been helping him in the stormy Daniels case. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: Michael is in business. He is really a businessman, a fairly big businesses I understand it. I don`t know his business. But this doesn`t have to do with me. Michael is a businessman. He has got a business. He also practices law. I would say probably the big thing is his business. And they are looking at something having to do with his business. Have I nothing to do with his business. I can tell you, he`s a good guy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Isn`t his business your attorney, Mr. President?

TRUMP: I have many, many -- just so you understand, I have attorneys. I have attorneys, sadly, I have so many attorneys you wouldn`t even believe it. Michael is somebody --.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, how much of your legal work was handled by Michael Cohen?

TRUMP: Well, he has a percentage of my overall legal work, a tiny, tiny little fraction. But Michael would represent me and represent me on some things. He represents me like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal. He represented me, and you know, from what I see, he did absolutely nothing wrong. There were no campaign funds going into.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS: Well, the acknowledgement from Trump which came during his 30- minute rant this morning contradicts what he told reporters earlier this month on air force one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?

TRUMP: No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They why did Michael Cohen make it if there was no truth in the allegations?

TRUMP: You have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. You will have to ask Michael.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?

TRUMP: No, I don`t know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, meanwhile, a federal judge in New York ruled that a court appointed independent official will determine which documents seized from Cohen in that FBI raid this months should be shielded by attorney/client privilege. Federal prosecutors investigating Cohen for bank fraud it, tax fraud and campaign law violations related to the payment to Stormy Daniels.

For more I`m joined by Katie Phang. MSNBC legal analyst and Julia Ansley, NBC national security and justice correspondent.

Both of you are experts. I`d think I`m just a regular generalist, and I have -- I just watched a guy this morning say, I don`t know the guy.

Katie, it was unbelievable. He said he`s on business all on his own, and I don`t know what his business is about. I don`t know what it is. I only had a tiny bit of thing with him. Oh, yes, he did help me with Stormy.

It looks -- if I were Michael Cohen -- and I don`t know what it`s like to be Michael Cohen, but I know what it was like to be in this morning at 7:30 watching "Fox & Friends."

You`re watching the guy you`ve been supported -- supporting, you`re devoted to for years, you love, and he`s just disowned you and said, I don`t even really know the guy. Katie?

KATIE PHANG, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: So even a dog knows the difference between when it`s tripped over and when it`s being kicked. And I think Michael Cohen got a swift kick this morning during that tirade that Trump went on, on "Fox & Friends."

But what`s legally damning about what happened this morning is exactly what you pointed out as we led into the segment, which is, on April 5th, on Air Force One, Donald Trump says, I have no idea about this $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels.

And today, on national television, he announces that not only Michael Cohen represented him in this crazy Stormy Daniels deal but that he knew about it. And so Donald Trump just walked himself into a chair to sit for a deposition in, at a minimum, the Stormy Daniels lawsuit out in California.

And then he also showed why, if you`re Rudolph Giuliani, you got to be nervous. The man has no discipline. Give the man a muzzle.

How is he going to sit with Mueller and go through an interview when he implicates himself in the Stormy Daniels lawsuit this morning on "Fox & Friends"? I mean, the guy has no discipline. He is a terrible client. If I was his lawyer, I wouldn`t let him anywhere near Mueller.

MATTHEWS: OK.

PHANG: And, frankly, also, Michael Cohen got in trouble with the Southern District because, now, Trump says he does a tiny little, little bit fraction of my legal work. And Cohen was relying upon that attorney-client privilege as a shield in terms of the attorney-client privilege review of his documents.

MATTHEWS: So you`re Michael Cohen, Julia, and last week, you`re getting kisses blown at you from the President of the United States, which is good. It means he`s going to look out for you.

And you instead tell your friends, I got nothing to worry about. He`s going to look out -- the boss is going to look out for me. This week, the cappo, the boss, just says, I don`t even know you.

JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right. And --

MATTHEWS: I don`t even know you. In fact, you don`t hardly do any -- tiny things for me. And we know from M.O. that Michael has been dealing with all the women problems he`s had over the years. That`s his job. You know, that`s his job, the fixer.

AINSLEY: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And now, how is the fixer going to stick with him? Isn`t this guy going to go running through those revolving doors right into Mueller`s hands now and say, look, at least I got one guy looking out for me, going to keep me out of jail?

AINSLEY: Right. Well, this is the same language that we saw when Trump was talking about Paul Manafort, when he was talking about Michael Flynn.

They start off as people who are very close to him. He says he`s a good guy. And then he starts to really try to make the work that they did for him infinitesimal. He tries to diminish all of those connections --

MATTHEWS: But that doesn`t keep the guy close.

AINSLEY: It doesn`t keep them close. It seems like he`s trying to play the short game, to control the short narrative, but he`s not looking at the long game of what this could mean. It could be, also, if you`re reading the tea leaves here -- and we might be getting a little ahead of ourselves -- that he might be worried that Cohen is going to flip.

MATTHEWS: Well, here is what I`m saying tonight.

AINSLEY: He`s good at that, right?

MATTHEWS: Wouldn`t you, if you were one of Robert Mueller`s people, Katie -- and I`ve come to trust you a lot in this analysis -- call up Mr. Cohen? Did you see your friend this morning? Did you see how he separated himself from you?

Did you see him dump on you and say you`re nothing but a guy that does little tiny things for him and has a lot of business problems that you don`t know about but you hope you`ll get through them? I mean, he is pushing you away. You better come to us for protection.

PHANG: Sure, the federal prosecutor --

MATTHEWS: Katie, they`re going to play that, aren`t they?

PHANG: Sure. The federal prosecutors in the Southern District of the New York action are going to do it, as well as the Mueller team. They`re basically going to say, look, we give you everything we could possibly give you for you to be able to flip.

And how is he not incentivized now that Trump has publicly renounced him on television, not to mention the fact that he`s been doing it for a number of weeks?

So think about what Michael Cohen has at play right now. He has an opportunity to deal. And if he can deal right now and if he can strike something that`s going to inure to his benefit, I would be doing that if I were Michael Cohen.

And now, a special master has been appointed by Judge Wood in that Southern District of New York case. That special master is going to be like, there`s nothing privileged here. This guy doesn`t really have law clients.

And so everything is going to be turning over to the federal prosecutors. If I were Michael Cohen, I would be knocking on the door of everybody, saying cut me a deal.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Did you ever watch Michael Cohen, the way he does those walk by`s? He`s like checking out everybody in the crowd, checking out them checking him out. It`s so interesting. Looking for opportunities all the time, this guy. It`s the way he operates.

Anyway, according to media reports, allies close to President Trump and Michael Cohen have privately speculated that Cohen might cooperate with federal officials investigating him.

Today, "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting, in a sign of Mr. Cohen`s state of mind, he has, in recent months, privately groused about being excluded from White House posts he believed he deserved.

According to one source, Mr. Cohen once told Mr. -- or President Trump, boss, I miss you so much. I wish I was down there with you. It`s really hard for me to be here.

The guy`s crying. He`s dying for a job he never got. Trump pushed him, treated him like some kind of canine figure that helped him but never deserved to be brought into the house with him.

AINSLEY: Yes. I mean, Chris, there`s a lot we could pull apart about this relationship.

MATTHEWS: We are.

AINSLEY: We are and we`re doing it.

MATTHEWS: We`re going to keep doing it.

AINSLEY: But I think what`s also really important in this interview is the things that this means for this case.

And the fact that the President said no campaign funds were used in this $130,000 payment, that now sounds like, OK, well, then you do know where this money came from, Mr. President. And it, of course, like Katie said, contradicts what he said on April 5th.

So it shows that Trump knows a lot more about this than he has let on. And he also attacked Michael Cohen for wanting to plead the Fifth.

MATTHEWS: OK.

AINSLEY: That could be a tool that Trump himself may want to use down the road.

MATTHEWS: Katie, you know this legal term, a liberal is -- a conservative is a liberal who was mugged last night and a liberal is a conservative who was arrested last night.

PHANG: Yes.

MATTHEWS: These guys now love the Fifth Amendment. They love not testifying in their own defense. They like all the techniques of a person seeking not to be prosecuted in a criminal case, right?

PHANG: Absolutely. And so the Fifth --

MATTHEWS: Katie?

PHANG: Yes. So the Fifth Amendment that used to be what you could throw at Hillary Clinton and all the people that were affiliated with her now, suddenly, is the tool du jour for people that are close to Donald Trump and that are looking at possible indictments.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

PHANG: But the Fifth Amendment is an evil, evil wicked thing to use. It can come back to bite you, and it`s not to be used without some care.

So Michael Cohen, now that he has announced he`s going to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, needs to be careful in terms of how he approaches using that sword. Because you`d think it`s going to shield him, but in the end, it`s probably not.

MATTHEWS: And it does, in the minds of most people, right, left and center, suggest some crime behind the whole thing you might not want to associate with.

PHANG: Guilt.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Katie Phang. As always, Julia Ansley. You guys are great, I mean, in different ways. I love the reporting. I love the law. Thank you.

Up next, Trump`s nominee for V.A. Secretary withdraws his name from consideration.

The Admiral`s gone. He says the allegations against him are completely false and fabricated.

My question, why didn`t he want to make his case to Congress? He said he was going to make his case. He didn`t want to. He didn`t like the case.

This is HARDBALL where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. After facing a growing list of allegations of misconduct, White House Doctor Ronny Jackson, today, withdrew his nomination to head the V.A.

He said in a statement, going into this process, I expected tough questions about how to best care for our veterans, but I did not expect to have to dignify baseless and anonymous attacks on my character and integrity. The allegations against me are completely false and fabricated. Unfortunately, because of how Washington works, these false allegations have become a distraction for the President.

President Trump also called the allegations false and warned Democratic Senator Jon Tester of Montana who made the allegations public that he will have to, quote, pay a big price to pay. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (via telephone): I watched what Jon Tester of Montana, a state that I won by, like, over 20 points -- you know, really, they love me and I love them. And I want to tell you that, Jon Tester, I think this is going to cause him a lot of problems in his state.

These are all false accusations that were made. These are false. They`re trying to destroy a man.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s a big love, isn`t it? Loving all of Montana. That`s a big state.

According to NBC News, Jackson is at least one of the -- actually, the 24th -- at least 24th unsuccessful Trump nominee to a Senate-confirmable job. Twenty-four down.

I`m joined right now by Sam Stein, politics editor of "The Daily Beast" and an MSNBC contributor.

And I don`t know, this is -- we were talking before we came on here. I find this mystifying. I watched Tester. I trust him. He`s a careful guy. He`s a moderate Democrat from out there and from a conservative area of the country.

He laid out these charges about public drunkenness. We`ve got subsequent charges about driving vehicles into crashes when you`re drunk. This stuff isn`t like, well, maybe it`s true -- it`s either true or it`s not.

SAM STEIN, POLITICS EDITOR, THE DAILY BEAST: Yes. I mean, I`m of two minds with this. One is there`s apparently 23 people attesting to these types of things, terrible work behavior, kicking down the --

MATTHEWS: Concierge pharmacy.

STEIN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Giving out -- the candy man when it comes to drugs.

STEIN: And there`s even nuance to that. I`m of -- so my -- the second mind is, not one of them puts their name to these accusations.

MATTHEWS: Why are they afraid to say what they believe is true? He is head of --

STEIN: It`s possible. Now --

MATTHEWS: He`s set to run an agency of 400,000 veterans who deserve top quality management and care and concern. Why wouldn`t they think that`s important enough to tell the truth about him?

STEIN: Now, it`s possible that one or two or maybe many more than would`ve come forward had the nomination go forward. But it didn`t go forward. And I don`t actually think it`s all because of these alleged scandals.

MATTHEWS: Well, he killed the nomination. Why did he do it?

STEIN: I think he killed it because, in addition to the salacious scandals, there was already a real, you know, nervousness among GOP senators on the Hill about appointing this guy who had run a staff of maybe two dozen people in the White House medical unit to run the V.A. I mean, he had very little room to begin with.

MATTHEWS: Yes. And nobody backed him against these charges either, it seems, except the White House people.

STEIN: Correct, except the White House.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, today Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt testified on the Hill. He was asked about the various ethics charges surrounding him, including the large raises two of his staffers got.

Well, today, he said that he knew about one of the raises but he didn`t know the details. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT PRUITT, ADMINISTRATOR, ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY: I was not aware of one of those individuals even seeking a pay raise. I was aware of another person going through the process, but I was not aware of the amount that was provided or the process that was utilized to evaluate that. And that`s what I`ve spoken to, historically.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s B.S. Anyway, this directly contradicts what he said a few weeks ago when he denied knowing anything about the raises. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ED HENRY, FOX NEWS CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: But why did you go around the President and the White House to give pay raises to two staffers?

PRUITT: I did not. My staff did. And I found out about that yesterday and changed it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I just found out about it. And Pruitt also said that many of the allegations don`t, quote, resemble reality and suggested that anyone who attacked him was attacking Trump`s agenda. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRUITT: Much of what has been targeted towards me and my team has been half-truths or, at best, stories that have been so twisted, they do not resemble reality. Those who`ve attacked the EPA and attacked me are doing so because they want to attack and derail the President`s agenda and undermine this administration`s priorities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So he gave two of his staffers -- and I was a staff from the Hill. I don`t mind raises, but he gave them money more than senators make.

STEIN: Yes, that`s right.

MATTHEWS: And he gave -- and he says now, I didn`t know the procedure or the process.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: That is B.S. He approved those raises. And he may not know the pennies next to it, but he knew he gave them really good raises, up to about $200,000 a year. And he did it, now he`s blah, blah, blah-ing about it.

STEIN: Well, during the Clinton years, Republicans would have called that answer lawyerly because what he`s trying to do is basically say, I lied the last time I was on T.V. but I didn`t know this one specific provision which gets me out of the lie.

MATTHEWS: Remember Reagan? I remember everything so I`m going to --

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: So Ronald Reagan gets caught telling an ethnic joke. I think it was an Italian joke about the Pope.

STEIN: Yes, yes.

MATTHEWS: And he said -- his answer was -- when he got really caught, and he only said, I didn`t tell that joke. I was just giving an example of the jokes making the rounds. In other words, he was telling the joke.

(LAUGHTER)

STEIN: Yes. I mean --

MATTHEWS: I mean, it`s convenient nonsense. Anyway, thank you, Sam Stein.

Up next, the wide world of Donald Trump. The President`s freewheeling interview this morning was classic Howard Beale and also Howard Trump.

Aside from punching back at critics, he seemed to find a way to brag about every aspect of his presidency. By the way, he gave himself, ready, drum roll, an A-plus.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Well, President Trump covered a lot of ground on his unbridled Howard Beale call this morning with "Fox & Friends."

In addition to taking on the Mueller investigation, his fixer Michael Cohen, and his latest cabinet implosion, Trump also bragged about his handling of North Korea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP (via telephone): We`re doing very well with North Korea. And we`ll see how it all comes out.

And, look, it was very, very nasty, you know, with little Rocket Man and with the buttons and, you know, my button`s bigger than -- everybody said this guy`s going to get us into nuclear war.

Well, this is a much more dangerous ball game now. But I will tell you, it`s going very well. Mike Pompeo did go there. He wasn`t supposed to meet with Kim Jong-un but he did. We have incredible pictures of the two talking and meeting, which I`d love to release.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, late today, the White House released two photos of Mike Pompeo with Kim Jong-un over the Easter weekend, touting Pompeo`s confirmation today as Secretary of State.

Trump also tackled his critics today, arguing he and his party deserved more credit on issues on -- of race. And he offered another history lesson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP (via telephone): People don`t realize, you know, if you go back to the Civil War, it was the Republicans that really did the thing. Lincoln was a Republican.

Remember, I was going to get no Black votes? I was going to get none?

Well, I got a lot. I got a lot of support. You know, I should have gotten much more.

Now, in fact, I used to go around saying, what do you have to lose? So, now, they voted for me. Crime is way down. And really importantly, the unemployment picture is the best it`s been in the history of our country for African-Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Well, Trump even graded his own performance as president. Can you guess what he gave himself?

We`ll have that next with the HARDBALL roundtable. There they are.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Among the wide-ranging topics covered in President Trump`s freewheeling interview this morning, Trump was asked to assess his job performance so far. His answer won`t surprise you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How would you grade yourself now?

TRUMP: Look, I`m fighting a battle against a horrible group of deep seeded people, drain the swamp that are coming up with all sorts of phony charges against me and they`re not bringing up real charges against the other side. The message now everyone knows it`s a fix. OK? It`s a witch hunt. And they know that. I`ve been able to message it.

I would give myself an A-plus. Nobody has done what I`ve been able to do. And I did it despite the fact that I have a phony cloud over my head that doesn`t exist.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Let`s bring in the roundtable. Jonathan Capehart is opinion writer for "The Washington Post", Jen Kerns is former spokeswoman for the California Republican Party, and Jonathan Lemire is White House reporter for the "Associated Press."

You know what, there was a Michael Savage edge to his voice this morning. He`s angry. That`s what I heard him.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, OPINION WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: You heard him as angry. I heard him as someone who -- he sounded like he was on the campaign trail. He sounded like he wasn`t really talking to the American people. He was talking to his base who he knows -- watching "Fox & Friends." I mean, it was the greatest hits plus you know a little bit of Michael Cohen, a little bit of Stormy Daniels. Throw in some race since we`ve got a red meat theme we`re doing here.

We`re a year and a half into this, Chris. And I just -- I want the guy to get new material.

MATTHEWS: All I know is he`s worried about Michael Cohen and he shifted like to say, you`re in the boat, buddy, I`m in the big ship, you`re in the little boat. Paddle yourself away because I`m not going to see you again. I mean, he`s worried about what Cohen is going to say.

JEN KERNS, FORMER SPOKESWOMAN, CALIFORNIA REPUBLICAN PARTY: I think there`s a reason he sounds like the campaign Trump. My sources say that he`s been talking with Steve Bannon again. That`s why you see the return to President Trump taking the message directly to the American people. That was a Bannon-esque thing. It hearkens back to the campaign.

But, look, the president, in all fairness, does have a lot to talk about.

MATTHEWS: I know. In all fairness, is he going to run for re-election?

KERNS: For certain.

MATTHEWS: For sure.

KERNS: The organization has already formed in New York City. People are already in and out of the building absolutely the structure is there and building by the day.

MATTHEWS: Wow.

Jon?

JONATHAN LEMIRE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: I mean, I like the fact that he complimented Kanye West on his good taste.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: You`re with him, you`re with him. When you say anything good about this fellow, he`s with you.

LEMIRE: I would say, it`s interesting, the Fox News hosts --

MATTHEWS: By the way, the black vote for him was, about, African-Americans was less than 10 percent.

CAPEHART: Yes, around there. He did better than Romney.

MATTHEWS: He said they all voted for me.

CAPEHART: I can tell you they didn`t.

(LAUGHTER)

CAPEHART: We can certainly fact check that.

MATTHEWS: That`s a hell of a percentage.

LEMIRE: Yes, even the FOX News hosts seemed a little at times rattled by what he was saying. I mean, to back up your point, the president has been talking about doing this for awhile. Advisers were like no, I don`t think you should call --

MATTHEWS: By the way, you guys are looking like "Fox & Friends." One woman in the middle, two guys on the two sides. Maybe our roundtable is beginning to look -- it`s looking a lot more dangerously like "Fox & Friends."

KERNS: The president did have a point on race. I know Kanye West has waded into this. Barack Obama, race relations were at an all-time low under Obama which is ironic. We also know what Candace Owens said this week, to make Kanye West weighed in, which is -- it is true even though 8 percent voted for Donald Trump, the Democratic Party, their worst nightmare is for 5 percent of that to peel off and vote --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I look at Nixon, and there`s always been in every ethnic group, or (INAUDIBLE), there`s always one person that stands off to the other side. Wilt Chamberlain was a big Nixon guy. That was about it really.

CAPEHART: Look, if the president of the United States has to go back to Abraham Lincoln to talk about something great that Republicans did for African-Americans.

MATTHEWS: Was that 1860s?

CAPEHART: 1860s something.

MATTHEWS: By the way, it sounds like he read it in some crayon book, didn`t it? Like he just came across it.

CAPEHART: Probably.

MATTHEWS: Remember Frederick Douglass? He`s done such great work for the Republican Party.

CAPEHART: Right, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

CAPEHART: Look, the president wants to believe that he has a great, great record on race relations which is a fallacy and a lie. The Republican Party hasn`t done anything specifically on race if you want to be honest about it, 1964, Civil Rights Act.

MATTHEWS: The big news tonight, I want to ask you, I want to prompt you on this. He said, I`ve been staying away from the Justice Department and let them do their thing. That could change. Yes.

LEMIRE: Yes.

MATTHEWS: What kind of a threat was that?

LEMIRE: That`s the headline here, the idea that he said, look, I`m staying out of the Justice Department, I`m going to let them go on with this. I`m not going to interfere until the day I might. And I think that is a concern. On a day that the Senate committee voted through legislation to try to protect the special counsel.

The president today sort of dangles a warning like hey, if this goes too far, I might step in. That could mean firing Rosenstein. That could mean trying to work to dismiss Mueller. I mean, that is, as always, he says the cloud is hanging over his head, but he`s dangling the cloud over that counsel.

MATTHEWS: He`s trying to.

Anyway, thank you Jonathan Capehart, Jen Kerns and Jonathan Lemire. Jonathans here and one Jennifer.

Up next, it`s been a mystery for decades how did Ronald Reagan get his hands on Jimmy Carter`s debate prep book? Tonight, we`ve got answers. That bombshell report coming up next.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Jimmy Carter came out of nowhere to win the American presidency in 1976. Carter`s presidency was highlighted by his historic success forging a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt and marred in the end by the Iranian hostage crisis. Though defeated for reelection, Carter left office with his reputation for high ethics and morality fully intact. I was proud to serve in his White House.

Joining me right now is Stu Eizenstat, President Carter`s chief domestic policy adviser and author of the newly released "President Carter: The White House Years".

Just quickly, you live in the present. You write about the past. Jimmy Carter left office in 1981, Trump entered in 2017. That`s 38 years separate, right?

But here`s the question. What`s the difference between these guys, Trump and Carter?

STUART EIZENSTAT, AUTHOR, "PRESIDEDNT CARTER: THE WHITE HOUSE YEARS": Well, obviously, I didn`t write the book to be anti-Trump. I`ve worked on it for 40 years. But let me put it this way -- I`m going to tell you some positive things about Carter that other people make the decision --

MATTHEWS: All right.

EIZENSTAT: Carter held his office at the highest standard of ethics. He respected his Justice Department. And even the independent prosecutor who happened to investigate him, his chief of staff, never criticized him.

He was a great consumer champion. He believed in conservation. And he really I think in many ways did everything possible to raise the standard of the office. He passed all the ethics bills.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

EIZENSTAT: Ethics going in, gifts while you`re in, the revolving door going out, independent counsel, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. All of these things, Chris are, still there, the inspectors general, the independence of the judiciary.

So, he stood for a very high standard. I`ll let others decide how Trump relates to that.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about something that made us proud. And is the Egyptian -- the deal between Israel and Egypt. Tell me why he was able to bring peace between Israel and a strategic rival, certainly Egypt at the time, the one country that could make war with it effectively and did so in `73? Why did it happen with him and it never happened before since, that kind of confrontation he brought both leaders together?

EIZENSTAT: First, he was willing to break a lot of political china and take tough issues on regardless of politics. But here`s what he did, he pored over intelligence reports about Begin and Sadat so he understood them. He took them to Gettysburg battlefield to show them the costs of continued war. He negotiated for 13 agonizing days and nights personally over 20 drafts and then Chris, the last day, the 13th day, Begin had decided no more concessions, I`m leaving.

Carter had a brilliant insight. He knew from the intelligence reports how much Begin loved his eight grand children. He took photographs of himself, Begin and Sadat, hand wrote inscriptions to each of the grandchildren, walked over to a Begin`s cabin and handed it to him. As Begin literally had his bags packed ready to leave and go back, saying no more concessions, he saw the tears in Begin`s eyes as he went through each one of them.

Begin said, Mr. President, I`ll give it one more try. The rest is history. Forty years that treaty has never been violated. It`s central to Israel`s security and to ours.

MATTHEWS: I`m so glad we`re able -- you`re able to do that, you`re part of all that.

Let me ask you about the great mystery I`m going to talk to you about. And we and I -- we all talked about it back then. How did Reagan get hold of Jimmy Carter`s debate book? You put the book together with Bert Carp and David Rubenstein. It was a big book how to approach Reagan, how he`s going to probably say, how he`s going to attack you, how you defend yourself. How did that get in the hands of Reagan`s debate people?

EIZENSTAT: Well, first, I confirm in the book, with an interview one of 350 that I did of Jim Baker who was a campaign manager.

MATTHEWS: For Reagan.

EIZENSTAT: For Reagan. Jim told me that William Casey, who was the overall chairman, had been with the OSS, the predecessor of the CIA during the war, came in a week before the debate, plopped down our debate book and said, I think you might want to look at this.

And Baker said to me, you know, I wasn`t sure should I use it or not. I said I`m going to use it. We believe and there`s a book that`s been out, as well, that has Baker`s fingerprints, that has Dave Gergen`s fingerprints, files --

MATTHEWS: But who in the Carter White House? You write the book, only three or four people had copies of that book. How did a copy of that book get out of the White House? Out of the Carter White House?

EIZENSTAT: According to the sources we have, Bob Dunn or Lori --

MATTHEWS: Bob was our trip director

EIZENSTAT: I know. I know.

MATTHEWS: Right. And he was in with Corbin.

EIZENSTAT: Lori Lucy (ph), who was the daughter of the governor who ran with John Anderson. They gave it to Paul Corbin who was a labor organizer but had been arrested many times.

And the thing is interesting, Chris, because it shows the enmity on the Kennedy side. He had been a Ted Kennedy supporter and the Kennedy people were so as opposed to us, he actually got that book, switched sides, handed it to --

MATTHEWS: Casey.

EIZENSTAT: -- Casey and Casey did it to Baker.

MATTHEWS: You write in the book that President Carter thought that the fact that they filched that book from his staff, got it out of the White House, gave it to Reagan`s debate prep people, had an influence in who won the debate. Carter felt.

(CROSSTALK)

EIZENSTAT: Yes, I mean, obviously, we had high inflation, Iran and problems. But, Chris, the thing is this, all the polls showed before the debate, that we were ahead. After the debate, we dropped precipitously.

MATTHEWS: I know.

EIZENSTAT: And interestingly, even after the debate, we still were even going in the last weekend when Carter decided to come back and take one last look at Iran and it caused a whole thing.

But there`s no question, they knew all of our attacks. When he said there you go again.

MATTHEWS: Was it a dirty trick?

EIZENSTAT: Of course it was.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

EIZENSTAT: And Baker indicates that it was.

MATTHEWS: Great stuff. I love reporting. And you`ve been our reporter tonight.

Stu Eizenstat, you`re a really good writer, Stu. I didn`t know this part about you. You`re smart. You are a very fluent writer. It`s a hell of a book and it`s got all this stuff in it. A lot of good detective work.

"President Carter: The White House Years", great education here. And it`s great about it, good Democratic president. I was proud to work for him.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Thursday, April 26, 2018.

The remarkable results of a FOX News poll has just been released. About two-thirds of us say it is important the Mueller investigation proceeds to its conclusion, two-thirds. Sixty-four percent feel confident Mueller is treating the White House fairly, 56 percent think it`s likely that Mueller`s probe will find that Trump committed criminal or impeachable offenses.

Now comes the brutal part -- 71 percent of us think it`s likely Trump will fire Mueller before the investigation is complete. So, a vast majority of people back this investigation, a majority believe the prosecutor is being fair and a somewhat smaller majority believe the investigation will find the president guilty. And yet, an even more overwhelming portion of the country believes the presidents will fire the prosecutor investigating him.

It seems like the American people are all on the same page. This investigation is headed somewhere if the president would only allow it to get there.

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

ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES starts right now.

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