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Russia and the Trump Family. TRANSCRIPT: 04/27/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Joaquin Castro, Shelby Holliday, Gordon Chang, Dan Eberhart, Annie Linskey, Jill Wine-Banks; David Corn

Show: HARDBALL Date: April 27, 2018 Guest: Joaquin Castro, Shelby Holliday, Gordon Chang, Dan Eberhart, Annie Linskey, Jill Wine-Banks; David Corn

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Mission for Moscow. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Tonight we are learning new details about that infamous meeting in June of 2016, between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians at Trump tower. That meeting brought together three top officials from the Trump campaign, Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner, with an entourage of Russians, and their associates.

And now NBC News is reporting that a key figure in that meeting, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya has a closer relationship with a top Russian official than was previously unknown.

New emails obtained by NBC News from a Russian exile suggest she`s been in league with the prosecutor general of Russia since at least 2014 when she worked with him to impede a civil lawsuit filed against the Russian company. Up until now, she has maintained she has just a private attorney, telling the Senate Judiciary Committee, I operated independently of any governmental bodies.

But when confronted with those emails, in an interview with NBC`s Richard Engel, she described herself as an informant, in other words, a spy for the top Kremlin prosecutor. She`s working for the kremlin.

Here`s how Engle pressed her about the nature of her Kremlin connections.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: The only reason I`m asking these questions is because of the contacts that you had with the most senior people who are now in our government?

NATALIA VESELNITSKAYA, RUSSIAN LAWYER: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

ENGEL: You said your relationship with the prosecutor general is what?

VESELNITSKAYA: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I`m a spy. Anywhere in that interview, Veselnitskaya further acknowledged that since 2013, I have been actively communicating with the office of the Russian prosecutor general.

This is all significant, because the so-called dirt on Hillary Clinton, which was promised to the Trump campaign in that meeting was said to come from the top prosecutor in Russia. In other words, she promised to deliver dirt about Hillary Clinton to the Trump people, including family members to help them in the campaign, if they would respond by softening the economic sanctions against Moscow.

We are talking real collusion here, as an intermediate wrote to Donald Trump Jr. in early June of 2016, the crown prosecutor of Russia offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary. Trump Jr. famously applied, if that`s what you say, I love it. That`s Donald Jr. speaking for his father.

The reported subject of the meeting, which took place six days after that exchange was about U.S. sanctions relief to Russia. However, the participants have downplayed the significance of the meeting ever since. Of course, they have.

Joining me right now are four MSNBC contributors, David Corn, Washington bureau chief from "Mother Jones" and the author of a great new book, "Russian Roulette," Jill Wine-Banks, former Watergate prosecutor. Paul Butler, a former U.S. attorney. He is right as well as Ken Dilanian, national security reporter for NBC News.

David, you just got into Chicago. I`m glad you could make the show tonight. This is hot stuff. I mean, this pretense that she was an intermediary, you know, I can bring you guys together. I`m a cupid. It turns out she is working for the Kremlin in delivering promised dirt on Hillary in exchange for us easing the economic sanctions. Your thought? How does this fit into the context of collusion between Trump and the Russians?

DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, MOTHER JONES: It`s always been a fiction that she was a private attorney. In the book I did with Mike Isikoff, we noted that she used to tell people she had FSB connections. FSB is the security service of Moscow. She was -- I mean, this all began because basically, the prosecutor general, the attorney general of Russia, sent a message to Trump`s business partner and Miss Universe (INAUDIBLE) of an oligarch to Trump`s campaign, to his -- actually, to his son that Russia wants to help you. We have a secret plan to help you. We are going to give you dirt on Hillary.

And the real significance here is that Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort said, bring it on. They signaled that they were willing to conspire with a secret Moscow plan to do dirt on Hillary. And it was all through this woman. She was working hand in glove with the Kremlin, with the top judicial figure in the Kremlin. And so there`s not a lot -- you know, for Trump and others to say, there`s nothing to this meeting, there`s a lot to this meeting. And we are still learning more about it, even though the House intelligence committee is shut down.

MATTHEWS: Paul, if the Republicans had this on Hillary Clinton, that she met with the Russians, from Moscow, to get dirt on Donald Trump, in exchange for lessening our economic sanctions against Moscow. They would be hanging her by her ankles right now, in Times Square. I`m being metaphorical here, but they would be going wild.

PAUL BUTLER, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. So we have always known that this meeting is unethical and un-American. Now that we know, now we know it was also a crime. So we have a quid pro quo. We have the Trump campaign operatives, the pig guns looking for dirt on Hillary. And now we know this Russian lawyer wasn`t just a lawyer. She was a snitch and an agent of the Russian government. She is like, what you want?

MATTHEWS: I want to get this with you and Jill, I want to start with you. I`m learning here, the law. I understand that if you are involved with assisting a conspiracy, you are a conspirator.

BUTLER: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: The Russians had conspired to try to all throw our elections away to Hillary and to the other guy, in this case, Trump. And if you assist in that conspiracy by going to a meeting, trying to set down some sort of ground rules for exchanging getting dirt, promising to lift sanctions, that looks to me like assisting the conspiracy.

BUTLER: Yes. And here`s the thing, Chris. All you have to do is try. So we already know Don Jr., Kushner and Manafort were trying really hard to get dirt. So again, I think that Mueller had his predicate case.

What is important about this is Mueller`s super-big decision. He thinks, OK, I have a lot of evidence against Kushner and Trump Jr. and some evidence against the President, do I bring the case? Now that we know it wasn`t just talk about collusion, this was actually collusion. That means that he brings this case.

MATTHEWS: Let`s get back to Jill on this. And then I will get to Ken.

Jill, what do you make of the crime here? I mean, it seems to me we are looking for collusion and we see the outlines of it. A quid pro quo meeting in actual being put together by the Presidential candidate`s son, his brother-in-law he brings in, then he brings in the campaign chairman. I don`t know who heavier he could have brought to that meeting. He brought the best dogs he brought to that meeting to receive the dirt.

And then his father, who happens to be the candidate, Donald Trump, later on spins the whole thick like, all they were doing was talking about, oh, adopting Russian kids. I mean, give me a break! It looked to me like -- it looks like a big conspiracy with the Republican candidate for President very much involved. Your thoughts?

JILL WINE-BANKS, FORMER ASSISTANT WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: Chris, you are completely right. First of all, there was always the crime of accepting something of value from a foreigner, which is a violation of our campaign laws. That always existed, no matter what you thought.

But anybody who didn`t think that Don Jr. told his father immediately, I have been offered dirt on Hillary, the Russians want to help us defeat her, they want to help you win. Now you have the Republicans issuing a report today that challenges that conclusion of the entire community of our intelligence officers that says that the Russians wanted to help defeat Hillary and help Donald to win. They have challenged that.

This is proof that they were there, trying to help Donald Trump become President of the United States. It shows collusion. It shows a violation of the campaign laws. It was always obvious that she was there as a representative of the government and now she has been caught with her own emails and the proof is there. I can`t wait to see Richard Engel`s full interview of her. That will be a very exciting thing to watch.

MATTHEWS: Well, we are going to see a lot more on Rachel`s show tonight at 9:00.

After Republicans in the house intelligence committee today released a one- sided report, basically concluded the investigation -- concluding the Russian investigation. Democrats issued a minority report, detailing several leads that their college refused -- the Republicans -- refused to explore. And one of those leads raises new questions about whether Donald Trump was aware of that Trump tower meeting, something he`s publicly denied.

Two days before that June meeting in Trump tower, Don Jr. reportedly had two calls from the son of a Russian oligarch who was arranging the logistics for the meeting.

According to House Democrats quote "his phone records also show a blocked number at 4:27 p.m. that day between the two calls. Trump Jr. claimed he did not know who was associated with that blocked number."

That democratic report also notes that Corey Lewandowski told the committee Mr. Trump`s primary residence has a blocked phone line. It appears to suggest that Donald Trump senior may have been in-touched with his son at the very time he was planning to meet with the Russian.

However, House Democrats note, the majority was unwilling to pursue the matter.

Ken Dilanian, let`s talk about this. The lack of appetite for the Republicans on the House intelligence committee for digging up the truth is amazing. This Paul revere character, Nunes, who runs down to the White House to get the talking points, basically, and delivers the talking points back to the west wing. And now he has this whole troupe of followers saying, case closed. And then this woman, Veselnitskaya, comes out and says, well, wait a minute, I was an informant for Moscow, and I was setting up that meeting, and yes, it was about exchanging information like dirt on Hillary for lessening the sanctions.

It seems to me they are getting right near the target zone, proving collusion and maybe the President`s personal involvement beforehand, as well as afterwards. An accomplice before the fact, not just afterwards, in trying to spin it away. And they say, we are not interested. What do you make of the Republicans?

KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: The incuriosity is incredible. I mean, this blocked number is a perfect example of how very valid leads were not followed by the Republicans.

MATTHEWS: Why would they --

DILANIAN: I mean, the Democrats were pushing, get the phone records. Let`s figure out who made this phone call. They wouldn`t do it. Look, isn`t it obvious to all of us that Donald Trump would have been read in on this meeting? His son, his senior aides are going to have a meeting with Russians, he doesn`t know about it?

MATTHEWS: Dirt for Hillary.

DILANIAN: Look. I`m going to say one thing though about the dirt. It`s more complicated than we have been talking about here. There is no evidence that any meaningful dirt was handed over.

MATTHEWS: Well, they were promising it, though.

DILANIAN: They were promising.

But our reporting (INAUDIBLE) that Mueller does not view this meeting as significant evidence.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s me go to back to David Corn for another opinion because we don`t know what Mueller thinks yet. Let me go to David on this.

David, how important do you believe it is that Mueller believes that Trump knew before this meeting that Donald Trump himself knew about the meeting, not just afterwards when he tried to cover it up. Where is he on that? Do you know?

CORN: I don`t know where Mueller is. But the thing is, Mueller is not the arbitrator here. He has one job, to prosecute crimes. Not everything`s that`s wrong is a crime. And if Donald Trump is in on this, it makes everything worse. Why does it make everything worse? Because he and his crew throughout the whole fall and summer of 2016 kept saying that reports about Russia attacking the election were nothing but hoaxes. They had evidence, they knew more than anyone else on this panel right now, that the Russians were trying to rig the election or do what they can to help Donald Trump. Yet they kept denying this was happening. And by doing that, whether there was collusion or not, they were aiding or abetting the Russian attack on the election, by providing cover for them. Whether that`s a crime, Paul and others can talk to that. But it is, it`s basically protecting an act of warfare, and that`s betrayal.

MATTHEWS: I want to go back -- I think you are right. And let`s go back to Jill on that from the Watergate days.

Nixon, though, when he had Halderman call over to the CIA and say, get the FBI off this case, say it has something to do with the bay of pigs, don`t get involved, excuse me, it didn`t work. Nixon still was kicked out of office. So failing in the mission doesn`t make you innocent. Your thoughts?

WINE-BANKS: It definitely doesn`t. Trying is enough. They clearly were ready to accept help from the Russians. And I think that it`s important to keep in mind, to follow up on something David said, that the Congress has a very different role than the prosecutor.

The prosecutor has to look at who has violated existing laws. Congress should be looking at what laws do we needed to pass to protect us from future interference in our elections. And they haven`t done that. They have not had a serious investigation of what even happened. They are not willing to, as has been pointed out, look at who made the phone call? If there`s nothing to hide, why wouldn`t they look at that?

They need to -- instead of saying there`s no collusion, which is music to Donald Trump`s ears, they should have said, we haven`t done a full investigation, so we don`t know whether there`s any collusion or not. Because they can`t possibly draw that conclusion without having had all the witnesses. They didn`t have Flynn, they didn`t have Manafort, they didn`t have Papadopoulos, they didn`t have Gates, and they didn`t look at this phone number and many other things.

So they think the seriously say, to use Watergate language, at this point in time, they could say they haven`t found collusion, but at this point in time it`s because they haven`t looked for it. They didn`t want to find it and they haven`t.

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s talk politics for a second. I`m going to go back to, if this was on the other shoe.

Ten days, eleven days before the election and Comey said, we have got to go Anthony Weiner`s laptop, you know, because there might be something in there that`s classified that accidentally, Huma Abedin, his wife, put on that laptop, OK.

Instead of getting that information to follow up on, which he may have got for the New York crab (ph), tuning Rudy, but forget that. Instead of that, he had information that Hillary Clinton had met with the Russians to get dirt on Donald Trump. You know, I`m sorry. That would be a game-changer ten times what that -- in the other direction. Trump would have been gone!

BUTLER: Yes. And he would -- exactly. And he would have been --.

MATTHEWS: So if you want to get tough on Comey, if Comey had found out about this instead of us finding out because of Richard Engel out about the deal who was putting this little cupid operation together, you know, putting them together, between us and -- Trump and the Russians, imagine that in the hands of a reporter a week and a half before the Presidential election? Trump would have died.

BUTLER: And who Trump has to worry about in the hands of is Robert Mueller. And guess what, Mueller already knows. So the House Republicans may have been too wimpy to subpoena it will telephone records. We should safely assume that Mueller has those. And again, there`s another lawyer term called consciousness of guilt, which means if this meeting was so innocent, why did Hope Hicks and President Trump on air force one gin up this false narrative about --

MATTHEWS: About the adoption agency.

Anyway, I`m just going to speak my political sense and you can get the last word in, Ken.

Speaking for -- not that I`m one of them, but I know a lot of them through my relatives, the Reagan Democrats. The people are conservative Democrats. Those who would went for Trump, they would have gone the other way 180 if they had found he was dealing with Moscow. And just as simple as that, and if they had gotten the word in time for their election decision. Instead of voting, I don`t really like Hillary, I don`t really like Trump, would have gone the other way.

DILANIAN: I could not agree more. And it`s a travesty we knew all about the investigation into Hillary Clinton`s emails but knew nothing about this other FBI investigation into potential collusion with Russia. That`s something that James Comey and Obama administration officials will have to answer for in history.

MATTHEWS: They were sitting there looking at Anthony Weiner`s laptop.

Anyway, thank you, David Corn. I`m just being sarcastic, because I love to be that. Jill Wine-Banks, thank you, the Watergate patterns. The echoes keep coming at us and it is not looking too hard to find it.

David Corn, we tracked you down in Chicago, thank you. Your book is fabulous. "Russian Roulette."

And Ken Dilanian, for keeping us honest here at NBC News on this one.

Coming up, the House intelligence committee led by Trump crony, crony, toady, Devin Nunes. Nunes must mean something like knows nothing. Didn`t bother to thoroughly investigate allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. I noticed that. So why should anyone believe their so-called report released today? That there wasn`t any conclusion. That was their conclusion, no collusion. Well, there`s one person hailing that report. Guess what, Donald Trump loves it. He loves what the Republicans covered up. And now he is calling for an end to the investigation by the Democrats and Mueller.

Plus, a major breakthrough today between the Korean -- the Koreas, as the leaders of north and South Korea vow end to their war and denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. It is a big development ahead of Trump`s summit with Kim Jong-un.

And why do so many people in Trump`s orbit end up damaged goods? You notice? That`s the question "The New York Times" is asking after a record number of Trump associates find themselves in legal, professional, and personal trouble.

Finally, let me finish tonight with Trump watch.

This is HARDBALL

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump says he may travel to Israel next month for the opening of the U.S. embassy there in Jerusalem. Trump made the announcement while standing next to German chancellor Angela Merkel, one of the world leaders opposed to moving from embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Trump declined to say who else would attend the embassy opening, although his son-in-law, Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka are also expected at the event. The embassy is set to open on May 14th.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

When the House Intelligence Committee was created back in 1977, the speaker of the House then, Tip O`Neill, vowed that it would be a nonpartisan committee with nothing partisan about its deliberations.

Well, nearly 40 years later, that bipartisan ship is shot. Today, Republicans on the Intel Committee, they released their own report on the Russia investigation, giving President Trump the exoneration he`s been clamoring for.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But the report was very powerful, very strong. There was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian people, as I have said many times before.

I was very honored by the report. It was totally conclusive, strong, powerful. Many things said that nobody knew about and said in a very strong way. They were very forceful in saying that the Clinton campaign actually did contribute to Russia. So maybe somebody ought to look at that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the report from the Republicans on the Intel Committee takes the intelligence community, the Clinton campaign, and the FBI to ask, while ultimately determining there`s no evidence of collusion whatever between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

Democrats on the committee responded, of course. They accused Republicans of engaging in a systemic -- or "systematic attempt to muddy the waters and deflect attention away from the president."

All 13 Republican members of the committee signed off on the report. While Republican Mike Conaway has been the face, the public face of the Russia investigation, Chairman Devin Nunes has been calling the shots from behind the scenes.

Nunes, who has served as President Trump`s congressional toady, poisoned the bipartisan nature of the committee back in March of 2016 when he took his midnight run down to the White House to gather evidence that the president was in fact swept up in foreign surveillance, anyway, information which he characterized himself.

Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee continues its bipartisan investigation with no end in sight.

For more, I`m joined by U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas -- he`s a Democrat and a member of the House Permanent Committee on intelligence -- also Eli Stokols, MSNBC political analyst.

First of all, Congressman, how do you characterize -- I mean, there are some good members of the committee on the Republican side. Why are they going along with the toadyism of saying, Trump, that this investigation is over, when we have got all this new information coming in about Moscow connections?

Guys like LoBiondo, he`s leaving. Why is he doing this?

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Why is Peter King doing this? He`s independent. Why are they toadies?

CASTRO: You make a great point, Chris, that, personally, there are a lot of good people on the other side of the aisle who are Republicans, serious legislators.

But I think it`s more comfortable for them to basically protect the president, because this investigation was like a kindergarten investigation. It was a light once-over, where witnesses were brought in. They gave us their version of events. The committee refused to issue any subpoenas to verify anything they told us at all.

And then they said, OK, great, guys, we`re all done, wrote the report, and here we are.

MATTHEWS: But when you look over at your Republican colleagues -- and you`re all at one level politicians and you know you have you have to get reelected and all of that -- when you look at it, do they just -- do they just giggle when -- I`m showing them, by the way.

I want everybody to pay attention, that some of these guys and women are in tough races, and they should be. These are all the toadies, the cover-up artists. It`s embarrassing. And they come from New Jersey and New York. They`re not all from the red part of the country.

There`s no excuse with this kind of behavior. And they`re saying, case closed.

CASTRO: Yes.

MATTHEWS: What do you think of the argument case closed, just that? What do you make of it? They don`t need any more information about a Russian connection. It`s over.

CASTRO: Well, it`s basically a hear no evil, see no evil maneuver.

MATTHEWS: Or evil.

CASTRO: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

CHANG: And, really, Chris, most of all, it`s a disservice to the American people, because the American people deserve a fair and thorough and honest investigation. And they didn`t get it.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me flip this around.

Tip O`Neill really did -- the reason he started the Intelligence Committee was, he was tired of the CIA giving him all this information. He didn`t want to have it in his head, all this stuff going -- the stuff going on all around the world. You don`t want to know it all.

So, he put it in the hands of a bipartisan committee, so there could be some kind of check on what the intelligence agencies were doing without giving it away, but to be bipartisan about it.

Nancy Pelosi the other day, Eli, just said, there`s going to be impeachment, it`s got to be bipartisan. They have got to work together.

ELI STOKOLS, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: And there have been some Republicans, a few, who have used the word impeachment in saying, if the president goes so far as to fire the special counsel, to meddle in the Justice Department, it could lead to impeachment.

They`re saying that word out loud, but those people are still outliers. As the congressman said, on the Republican side, by and large, what you have are people who look at the incentive structure politically and see more reason to just keep their heads down than there is reason to stand up for the Constitution and the system of checks and balances that we --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Congressman, one argument could be made that because he gets a complete clean bill of goods from the Republicans, they say he`s fine, and then when the Democrats and Mueller continue to investigate, he will say, well, I have got to fire Mueller now.

CASTRO: Yes.

MATTHEWS: This may be a pretext for firing Mueller.

CASTRO: Yes. There`s no question, I think, the president is looking for a reason to be able to get rid of Bob Mueller and really, I think, anybody who would do a thorough and fair investigation.

And Bob Mueller certainly seems like he`s doing that. But that`s what the American people deserve.

MATTHEWS: You have been watching this.

And I want Eli in on this.

What do you think is the most fertile ground? We have been looking at tonight a lot of information now about possible collusion, what looks like a quid pro quo meeting in Trump, with the family there and him covering up for it. And, of course, this question of obstruction.

Where do you see an impeachable offense emerging most likely, most likely emerging?

STOKOLS: Well, I --

MATTHEWS: I want to ask the congressman first on the committee.

You`re looking at all this stuff.

CASTRO: I think probably obstruction of justice would probably be the strongest thing.

There`s the issues potentially of money laundering and collusion, of course, but, for a Congress to act, probably obstruction of justice.

MATTHEWS: Eli, where do you see it?

STOKOLS: Well, I`m not on the committee, but talking to people around the president, what they`re worried about more than anything else is the obstruction of justice case.

They say, oh, it`s probably a flimsy case. It`s a ticky-tack thing. Maybe it`s something. He screwed up. He didn`t know what he was doing. He didn`t mean to obstruct justice.

MATTHEWS: He didn`t know he was firing Comey?

STOKOLS: Right. But that`s the things that they tell themselves. But I think that is where the fear is among those defending the president and close to the president.

MATTHEWS: But would that be enough to move to the middle in the Congress, obstruction? Or it would have to be collusion?

What would it take to move the Congress to impeach and convict?

CASTRO: Honestly, right now, Chris, I just -- I don`t see it, because, remember, you have got to get a two-thirds vote of the Senate, two-thirds vote of the Senate.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: How about getting a majority in the House?

CASTRO: You know --

MATTHEWS: If you take the House this November?

CASTRO: Then it`s possible. I think that`s possible.

But, you know, you have still got to go get two-thirds of the Senate, and that will still be a big mountain to climb. Now, I am hopeful, for some of these Republicans, that after they get passed their midterm elections -- I`m sorry -- once they get past their primary elections, that they`re going to be more willing to buck President Trump, because, right now, rather than taking on the president, what we have seen -- and Eli and I were talking about this -- rather than taking on the president, they decided to get out of the game.

They decided to retire. So, instead of taking him on, they`re basically leaving.

MATTHEWS: I think you`re right, except the guys on their way out the door. And the ones that are out the door, whether it`s Charlie Dent or it`s Flake from Arizona or it`s Corker or it`s Ryan Costello.

You can tell a guy is about to leave because he starts talking trash against this president.

CASTRO: Yes.

MATTHEWS: But it takes that, the door. They have got the see the door before they tell the truth.

Anyway, U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro, a future star, already a star of the Democratic Party of Texas.

And thank you, Eli, as always, Eli Stokols.

Up next: The leaders of North and South Korea hold a historic summit. It really was unprecedented to watch them vowing to work toward denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. It`s a major breakthrough ahead of Trump`s meeting with Kim Jong-un.

It was really something to see those guys. We will show it again. For those who fought in the Korean War, they must be overwhelmed by what they`re watching here, because those -- both sides fought very hard in that war.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Do you feel like it`s your responsibility for this to eventually get settled between North and South Korea?

TRUMP: I think I have a responsibility. I think other presidents should have done it. I think the responsibility has fallen on the shoulders of the president of the United States.

And I think we have -- I think I have a responsibility to see if I can do it. And if I can`t do it, it will be a very tough time for a lot of countries and a lot of people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump responded to the dramatic news from the Korean Peninsula earlier today when the leaders of North and South Korea pledged to end the state of war between their two countries and work toward complete denuclearization.

It was an historic moment with -- there it is -- powerful symbolism. For the first time since the Korean War in the early `50s, the leader of North Korea stepped over the border to enter the South. Then the South`s president stepped into the North.

President Trump said he was encouraged by today`s events. This morning, he tweeted: "Korean War to end. The United States and all of its great people should be very proud of what is now taking place in Korea."

This afternoon, Trump played coy on the question of whether he was -- he has spoken to Kim Jong-un yet, but he sounded an optimistic note about this -- his upcoming meeting with the North Korean leader.

Let`s watch and listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: You said that the relationship with North Korea has been strong, or one of the words you used. Have you spoken with Kim Jong-un himself or do you plan on speaking with him?

TRUMP: I don`t want to comment on that.

QUESTION: Do you plan on speaking to him before?

TRUMP: We have a good working relationship. We`re setting up a meeting. Things have changed very radically from a few months ago. You know the name-calling and a lot of other things.

We get a kick every once in a while out of the fact that I will be watching people that failed so badly over the last 25 years explaining to me how to make a deal with North Korea. I get a big, big kick out of that. But we are doing very well. I think that something very dramatic could happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I`m joined by Gordon Chang, a columnist for The Daily Beast, and Shelby Holliday, political -- politics reporter for "The Wall Street Journal."

Mr. Chang, how`s it look? It looked good.

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN: NORTH KOREA TAKES ON THE WORLD": I think looking pretty good. At least right now, we have a pathway to denuclearization.

There`s going to be a lot of bumps on this road, because we have got to remember, in 1992, North and South Korea agreed to denuclearization of the peninsula, and less than two years after that, they almost went to war.

That was the time of the agreed framework. We have settled that.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CHANG: So, you know, this is -- Kim has certainly got a playbook. It`s not something that we`re going to like. But, then again, Trump --

MATTHEWS: Well, what`s not to like of him getting rid of his nukes?

CHANG: Oh, well, that`s perfect.

But we`re not exactly sure that that`s what he`s thinking right now. He`s probably thinking he can get sanctions relief from either Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president, or from President Trump himself, before he has to finally give up all his weapons.

And that`s going to be the issue. Who goes first, denuclearization or sanctions relief?

MATTHEWS: But then couldn`t we put a string on it, and say, the minute this doesn`t -- the sanctions go back in, they snap back the second you fail to meet your deadline here of getting rid of their nukes? Can`t we do it?

CHANG: We could do that, but Trump has said -- and I think he`s right -- that, first of all, North Korea has got to give up its weapons.

Then we can do all kinds of things, including diplomatic recognition, sanctions relief, all the rest of it.

MATTHEWS: Your bet on that? Your bet on this guy, who looks like rocket man, he actually acts like rocket man -- I hate the stupid name -- but he doesn`t look like he`s going to give up his number one claim to fame.

He`s got nuclear weapons.

CHANG: No, he doesn`t want to.

But, then again, let`s remember that this is not an issue of what Kim wants to do. We know he doesn`t want to do that. This is a question of whether Trump will use the elements of American power to disarm Kim. We can do that short of the use of force. And so, therefore, it`s a Trump question more than a Kim question.

MATTHEWS: Well, you know, let me -- Shelby, Trump is -- he is dancing on this thing. He`s hot-dogging it, obviously. He can`t even answer a straight question.

And they are asking him a good question, he keeps trying to dump it on W., dump it on Obama. He can`t avoid going ego nuts on this thing. But he is making it happen, it seems.

SHELBY HOLLIDAY, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, he thinks he`s making it happen.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Is he making -- we`re all going to be a little less skeptical. Do you think there`s a dynamic at work here or not?

(CROSSTALK)

HOLLIDAY: I do think so.

I think he`s very well aware of the fact that they were hurling threats at each other on Twitter and in official statements. And now he`s become the biggest cheerleader for this summit.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HOLLIDAY: And I think we focus a lot on President Trump`s negative tweets, but he is also a great cheerleader on Twitter, when he wants to be.

And that`s where he is right now.

MATTHEWS: I don`t know what to make of this.

Yesterday, President Trump implied it was his tough rhetoric towards North Korea that caused Kim Jong-un`s change in attitude. Let`s listen to that again.

HOLLIDAY: Right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Look, it was very, very nasty 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.

Let me tell you, the nuclear war would have happened if you had weak people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: How do you distill serious policy-making from the carnival barker language he uses, like he`s got a striped suit on and he`s waving a pole, like he`s outside of a tent, trying to get people come in the tent for five bucks?

That`s the way he talks. What do you make of the policy of a little scare talk? Does it work, the Nixon approach?

CHANG: Yes, I think it had some role.

But the more important thing was the sanctions. Trump really enforced sanctions, and he went to the U.N. and tightened those as well. And we have a lot of evidence that Kim is running out of money.

So, for instance, the South Koreans say that North Korea will run out of foreign exchange reserves by October. I don`t think it`s that dire, but, nonetheless, we can see there`s a lot of anecdotal evidence showing Kim needs money. And he needs to talk to Kim to get sanctions relief.

HOLLIDAY: But I also think the president, President Trump is taking credit for that as well, because he believes his tough talk with China brought China to the table to tighten the screws on North Korea.

I don`t think we can discount President Trump`s role in making all of this happen. I will say, he`s being very ambiguous for a reason. Whether it`s NAFTA, whether it`s Chinese trade practices, the president doesn`t really say what he wants out of something. And that allows him to go into a summit and maybe claim a victory.

MATTHEWS: Thank you. Thank you. I have great -- I have so many thoughts, wondering -- we will have to have you back. I`m trying to figure out what Kim wants. Does he want to have all of Korea?

CHANG: Yes, he certainly does. That`s Kim family policy for seven decades, Chris.

MATTHEWS: OK. Then I have to assume he`s still heading that way.

Anyway, he`s like Gerry Adams in Northern Ireland. Maybe I can get it all.

CHANG: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Gordon Chang, Shelby Holliday, thank you.

Up next: the danger of being in Trump`s orbit. As "The New York Times" points out, the Trump administration`s way has become a way of ruining people`s reputation. You go in, you`re stuck. And lay down with dogs, you get fleas. It`s ruining careers.

And why do so many people in Trump`s circle end up becoming damaged goods? You notice?

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ronny Jackson, admiral, doctor, is one of the finest men that I`ve met over the last long period of time. High quality. High-quality family. I just met them. And I explained what happened. I explained that Washington can be a very mean place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Trump today talking about Admiral Ronny Jackson, his failed nominee for V.A. secretary. Well, Jackson this week joined a long list of Trump administration officials who have seen their once-sterling reputations marred by scandal.

As "The New York Times" reported, a ride on President Trump`s bullet train can be thrilling, but it is often a brutal journey to leave some bloodied by the side of the tracks.

The ghost writer of Trump`s "Art of the Deal", for example, gave his assessment of why people close to Trump get burned. Tony Schwartz tells "The Times," people are not people to him, they`re instruments of his ego. And when they serve his ego, they survive. And when they don`t, they pass into the night.

That ego was on full display at the White House today. And that`s coming up next with the HARDBALL roundtable.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump today said his failed nominee for V.A. secretary, Admiral Ronny Jackson, was brought down by false accusations. And in classic Trump style, the president found a way to link Jackson`s treatment to his own troubles.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I called him today, I said, in a certain way, you`re -- in a very big way, you`re an American hero, because you`ve exposed a system for some horrible things. I`ve had it happen to me with the Russian collusion hoax. It`s a hoax. But I came into the job understanding that things happen.

He didn`t. He`s a great doctor, he`s a great admiral. He didn`t really think a thing like this could happen. And I think it`s a disgrace.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable.

Jason Johnson is politics editor of theroot.com and an MSNBC contributor -- political contributor, that`s even better. Dan Eberhart is a GOP fund- raiser and CEO of Canary LLC, and Annie Linskey is national reporter for "The Globe," that`s "The Boston Globe," pronounced as that. "Boston Globe."

You know, I want to start with you, Annie. This, Trump, he does bring it back to himself. But it does seem to be, this is a messy game being a Trumpy.

ANNIE LINSKEY, NATIONAL REPORTER, THE BOSTON GLOBE: It really is. I mean, the amount of turnover "The Times" revealed in that story, it`s stunning to be reminded of that. And there do seem to be two buckets of people who get chewed up in this Trump machine. I mean, there are people who come in with this sterling reputation and then Trump hangs them out to dry in some way.

MATTHEWS: Examples?

LINSKEY: Rex Tillerson is the best I think. And then you also have people who really weren`t perhaps ready for primetime and that becomes revealed when they`re on the national stage. And the -- you know, the combination therein, you know, having -- you`re seeing so much turnover.

MATTHEWS: Dan, anybody look better than they came in? Anybody looks better now than when they came in the door?

DAN EBERHART, GOP FUNDRAISER: I think Rick Perry has done fine. I think Secretary Perdue has done fine. I think Nikki Haley looks better. I think her stature has been enhanced. I think Mike Pence has executed brilliantly for Trump --

MATTHEWS: Anybody in the White House circle look better now than they did coming into the White House? I mean, close in? Anybody near the Trumps that look better than when they came in. Hah!

EBERHART: I would say --

MATTHEWS: You`ve got all the time you need. Who looks good in the White House?

EBERHART: Mike Pence.

MATTHEWS: Oh, in the White House, OK, fine. He`s an elected official, go ahead.

JASON JOHNSON, MSNBC POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Here`s the thing. Looking good means --

MATTHEWS: I`ll give you time to think about it.

JOHNSON: If I left the White House tomorrow and decided I was going to run for congressman or state senator in my home state, would that help me on my resume? And I would say almost nobody. There aren`t a lot of people who could leave this administration and go back to any of those -- any those purple states, any those states that flipped red and said, hey, I spent time in the Trump administration, elect me.

So, no, it`s been a pall, it`s been just a millstone on the neck of people who`ve been in this administration.

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m just thinking about all the idealogues around him. I`m thinking some of the guys who came in with their own scent to begin with. You know, Roger Stone with his reputation as -- you know, what do you call it? Troublemaker.

LINSKEY: Bannon, for example. I mean he`s certainly --

MATTHEWS: Bannon was known as a trouble guy.

LINSKEY: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And Trump seems to like those guys. And Corey Lewandowski, you know, going in, with going out, about the same.

LINSKEY: Price is another example of someone who --

MATTHEWS: Reince Priebus came in as the party chairman, goes out as the guy who failed.

EBERHART: I think there`s a lot of people --

MATTHEWS: You`ve got time.

EBERHART: -- that have succeed in the Trump administration.

MATTHEWS: In the White House?

EBERHART: Kellyanne Conway?

MATTHEWS: You think she`s looking good?

LINSKEY: Yes.

EBERHART: I think she`s done a marvelous job. I think her credibility has been enhanced. I also think the media -- the media is really --

MATTHEWS: Her credibility?

JOHNSON: Not a chance! Not a chance!

EBERHART: Yes.

JOHNSON: Her credibility has been actually shredded. She`s the one who came up with the term alternative facts. No one who is associated with alternative facts can be considered a respected person when they leave this White House.

Sebastian Gorka, Steve Bannon, people leave this White House and they are tainted. They`re tainted by the man who is at the top who is sitting in the executive office right now. So, I don`t see how anybody benefits coming from this place, unless you`re going to a place that is ideologically in line with this president, and that is a shrinking number of locations.

EBERHART: I don`t think they`re tainted by people -- I don`t think they`re tainted by their association with Trump. I think that certain people have got -- have been unable to keep up with the pressure and unable with the pace. I think Trump moves at the pace of business. I think it`s different from government and it`s caused a lot of consternation in Washington.

LINSKEY: I would say Marc Short would be one person who I think has done a really good job sort of keeping his head down --

MATTHEWS: Marc Short?

LINSKEY: Yes, he`s a legislative director in the White House. He came from sort of the coke world.

EBERHART: Former Pence chief of staff.

MATTHEWS: Rob Porter.

LINSKEY: Yes, that`s in the other category.

MATTHEWS: It just seems to be a problem.

EBERHART: There`s also the --

JOHNSON: Do you need to think about this?

EBERHART: How many people work in the White House in the old executive office building? You know, we know about the 10 or 15 or 30 people that the media puts up on the screen as the fallen angels.

MATTHEWS: Because they`re the top people.

EBERHART: Yes, but they`re not all the top people. They`re some of the top people. And there`s another what, 500 people that work in the old executive office building?

MATTHEWS: Do you think sycophancy is a problem in this administration? Where you have to bow down really below Trump for him to like you? Did you in any way become a colleague or -- and I`m not sure he`s the only guy like this in politics. But he seems to dislike it very much if anyone gets any ink besides him.

JOHNSON: You see this video of the whole table, almost like an old mob movie, having to be supplicant to him and tell him how great he is before he starts signing bill and beginning his work. That doesn`t end up being beneficial to you long-term, unless it`s look, if Donald Trump --

MATTHEWS: Especially when he`s walking around like Robert de Niro twirling the bat and waiting to see whose head gets knocked out.

JOHNSON: OK, that was the image I liked. It wasn`t the last supper, it`s more like -- anyway, it`s like -- let me think of the movie. I think it`s "The Untouchables."

Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. I heard it in my ear, but I knew it before I heard it. Up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Jason, tell me something I don`t know.

JOHNSON: So --

MATTHEWS: Did you hear that?

JOHNSON: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Tell me something I don`t know.

JOHNSON: So, of course, you know everybody waits too long to be in line. But what you may not know is there`s a commission that`s supposed to address this. A bipartisan rollover from the Obama administration, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration held a conference this weekend, this week in D.C., and they said the best times to vote in America are right at 12:00 and right at 5:00. So if you want to protect democracy, take an early lunch.

MATTHEWS: Twelve and five.

JOHNSON: Twelve and five.

MATTHEWS: Dan?

EBERHART: Sure. So --

MATTHEWS: What`s the time for Republicans to vote? They vote during the day, because they own all the businesses, they can decide wherever they want to vote. Just a thought. Go ahead.

EBERHART: Yes. So, Governor Rick Scott has reduced the debt of the state of Florida by one third. I think that shows that it can be done.

MATTHEWS: You`re not here promoting him, are you? That`s not a prediction, that`s a promotion.

Go ahead. That`s the problem with these partisan people. I get your point.

LINSKEY: Well, Chris, as you know, this weekend is White House Correspondents` Association dinner.

MATTHEWS: How can I forget? My 50th.

LINSKEY: You`re 50th? It`s only my third. And so -- I don`t believe your viewers know who "The Boston globe`s" guest is.

MATTHEWS: They will now.

LINSKEY: Yes, they will. We are bringing somebody back from season one of the Trump administration. So, she will be in town again for this event, Omarosa.

MATTHEWS: Omarosa.

LINSKEY: Yes.

MATTHEWS: That`s a great get.

LINSKEY: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Jason Johnson, Dan Eberhart and Annie Linskey. I can`t hide sarcasm.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Trump Watch" Friday, April 27th, 2018.

Let`s talk about collusion -- collusion between the Donald Trump presidential campaign and the Russian government. We know that Moscow tried tilting the 2016 presidential election in favor of Donald Trump. And tonight, we learned of a new reason to believe that the Russian government sought to give dirt on Hillary Clinton to the Trump family, perhaps in exchange for a commitment to lift economic sanctions.

We already knew about the readiness of Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, and campaign honcho, Paul Manafort to accept that promised dirt. I`ve said for months how strange this Russian connection is. I`ve been following American politics for my entire career and have never come across a candidate or a family with such an appetite for the east.

What is it about Donald Trump that drives him ever eastward? His Miss Universe contest in Moscow, his desire to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, his readiness to hire on so many people with Russian connections? Is it the huge amount of money in the post-Soviet Union, all those oligarchs with money looking to put it somewhere?

It`s not clear whether Robert Mueller will find Trump guilty of colluding with Russia`s attempt to swing the 2016 election, but it`s hard to believe that there was nothing to such meetings as the one that occurred in Trump Tower that brought together agents of Moscow with three top Trump people to talk about trading dirt on Hillary for a softer U.S. line on Putin and his oligarchs.

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

ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END