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WH Staffers: John Kelly calls Trump "idiot. TRANSCRIPT: 04/30/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Susan Page, Jonathan Swan

Show: HARDBALL Date: April 30, 2018 Guest: Susan Page, Jonathan Swan

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Who are you calling an idiot? Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Miami.

President Trump`s relationship with his chief of staff seems to have downgraded to a point a new low point. NBC News` exclusive reporting according to eight current and former White House officials, chief of staff John Kelly has eroded morale in the west wing by insulting the President`s intelligence, and casting himself as the savior of the country.

According to four forces who say the witness Kelly has called the President an idiot multiple times. In conversations with lawmakers, Kelly made fun of what he sees as Trump`s lack of knowledge about policy and government. He also reportedly denigrated the President`s understanding of the DACA program, telling people during one meeting he doesn`t even understand what a DACA is, what DACA is, he is an idiot. Wow.

Well, NBC is also reporting that current and former White House officials said Kelly has at times made remarks that have rattled female staffers. He has told aides multiple times that women are more emotional than men. Well, the retired marine corps general took over as chief of staff in July of last year after the President fired Reince Priebus. Kelly was originally tasked with bringing order to a tumultuous White House, but has receded from view as the President bristled as what he sees Kelly` restrictions.

In a statement late today, John Kelly responded to the reporting, telling NBC News I spend more time with the President than anyone else. And we have an incredibly candid and strong relationship. He always knows where I stand. And he and I both know this story is total BS.

Well, in the last few minutes, President Trump himself tweeted the fake news is going crazy making up false stories and using only unnamed sources who don`t exist. They are totally unhinged. And the great success of this administration is making them do and say things that even they can`t believe they are saying. Truly bad people. That`s Trump`s tweet just moments ago.

For more on this breaking news, I`m joined by Kristen Welker, White House correspondent with NBC News. She helped break this story. Ashley Parker, White House reporter and MSNBC political analyst. Charlie Sykes, contributing editor for the "Weekly Standard" and MSNBC contributor. And Eugene Robinson, columnist at "the Washington Post," also an MSNBC contributor.

Kristen, this story is this new or is this something you have been enterprising for several weeks, like calling the President an idiot or making fun of his lack of knowledge. Is that a fresh development or just something you have only now been able to report?

KRISTIN WELKER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it`s something we have been working on for several weeks, Chris. But I can tell you that we have spoken to a number of current and former administration officials who say that he has used that term over a period of time, going back to Charlottesville. You remember the big controversy surrounding the President`s comments in Charlottesville. And then most recently as you just talked about, when they were discussing DACA, trying to get a deal done on immigration. And of course those talks fell apart.

Privately John Kelly using the term "idiot" to describe the President. Publicly some of those frustrations bubbled up into public view. Remember, John Kelly went on FOX News, talked about the fact that the President`s views on immigration have been evolving. And that characterization really infuriated the President.

But it`s not just that, Chris. It`s some of the comments he has made about women. It`s really surprised some of the female staffers here, in some instances talking about the fact that women are more emotional than men during the Rob Porter scandal. Of course, he is the staff secretary who was ousted after allegations by two ex-wives of abuse which he denies. But John Kelly talking about the fact that he hopes his reputation can be restored. That`s another moment that really roiled some of the female staffers here.

So what you are witnessing, I think Chris, is the President`s relationship with his chief of staff, this very critical relationship souring. I spoke to one administration official who said, look, the bottom line here is that Kelly`s influence and his standing has been diminished in recent months, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s put all this together.

Gene, you`re the editor of fame here. I know who to edit a piece. You know how to do one. Put it together. The fact that he calls the President an idiot puts him in the same category as Don Regan, mocking President Regan`s ability, acting like he is the prime minister and the other guy is a sort of aging monarch. And this one, put it together. Morale going down because he treats women condescendingly. And he treats the boss, the President condescendingly.

EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, you know, Chris, my first question when I read this fabulous story, you can`t believe the story as you read through it. But you do believe it.

My first question was why is this coming out now? Who is leaking this? Because somebody is talking to Kristen and her colleagues. And I`m sure she won`t tell me who. But I would love to know because my question is it`s one of the factions in the White House out to get Kelly? Are they trying to get him out there? And do they think he has weakened sufficiently that they can sort of lever him out by disclosing these things that are sure to rile the President, and that he will probably never forget. He never forgot the moron comment from Tillerson. And he will never forget the idiot comment.

MATTHEWS: Gene, this was a kill shot.

ROBINSON: Yes. It seems to be a kill shot. And you wouldn`t take a kill shot at the chief of staff unless you -- maybe you are an idiot. If you are not an idiot, you`d have to think he was weak enough that you could really push him out. Because if you don`t, you know, you take a shot at the guy, and he is still there. He is going to make your life miserable.

MATTHEWS: Ashley, can you put this together for us? Is this sort of a put together piece, a catch-up piece if you will about why there is morale drop until the White House? Because this is really something we have noticed. I remembered when Bill Daley was the chief of staff to President Obama, you could see his declining influence until he finally said this is ridiculous. I`m getting out of here. You know, because what`s her name, Valerie Jarrett, was sort of calling the shots.

Is this about degradation of his influence is this about deterioration of his relationship with the President or both the President and the staff? What is it about here?

ASHLEY PARKER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think the answer is both. But you really only get these sorts of pieces. In this NBC report is the latest of a number of them. When staff morale has declined and the chief of staff has lost the support of his team largely, that`s what is striking. A number of people made the point to me that when Kelly came in, he came in to impose order and discipline. And the leaks really did stop for a why while. It was totally dissimilar to the previous chief of staff Reince Priebus who never had the respect of his team.

And then as Kelly sort of his relationship with the President became more fraught and as he did a number of things that frustrated the staff, including some of them said they felt sort of lying about incidents or spinning them to look better for himself, you start to these leaks. So the fact that a piece like this could even exist with eight people talking to NBC is just the latest sign of John Kelly`s declining clout in that west wing.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Charlie Sykes.

Sykes, let`s do it politically here now. The President -- there are two kinds of quarterbacks. There is the one who stays in the pocket and the one who scrambles. The one who stays in the pocket last longer, I have noticed. The one who scramble, don`t. They are fun to watch but they run all the place getting tackled. He looks like a scrambler Trump. And I wonder why he can`t stay in the pocket. Why he names a chief of staff and then seem to ignore him. The chief of staff likes confidence in the President. It is look like a disorderly household to me.

CHARLIE SYKES, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, he is a scrambler. First of all, what a fun place it sounds like the White House is to work.

MATTHEWS: You are being sarcastic.

SYKES: Yes. This is an untenable situation for the White House. One of the unbreakable concedes in Trump world is that, well, Donald Trump is -- he is not a politician. He is a businessman. Well, he is a terrible manager and leader. And it`s reflected in the personal choices he is making, but also in this climate, you know.

And both Ashley and Gene, I think they really put their finger on it. There is two different parts of the story. Number one, that eight people are leaking, have pulled the daggers out to insert them in general Kelly`s back. Just that fact alone is extraordinary about the dysfunction in the White House.

And then secondary, if the chief of staff to the President of the United States thinks the commander in-chief is an idiot and is saying this openly, this is an -- one of these extraordinary moments, it doesn`t sound all that fresh. I feel like we have heard this before, you know.

And so you have two classes of people. You have the Kool Aid drinkers in the White House, and then the people who think they need the stay in the White House to protect the country from the President of the United States. That`s kind of an untenable business model.

MATTHEWS: Let me go back to the author of all our discussion tonight, Kristen. Are the knives out for him?

WELKER: I think there certainly are some people here who believe that he isn`t running the White House as smoothly as they would like to see. Who believe that in some instances he has been undercutting the President.

But remember, Chris, this is a White House that has been sharply divided from the very beginning. So these sorts of divisions are not a surprise and they are not new. I have been talking to sources, though, here within the administration. And basically putting that question to him. Is he on his way out? They say look, it`s worth noting that July marks a year in office for John Kelly from this role. So that`s certainly a date that you want to be watching for. But is he actually going to leave? They say, look. That`s anyone`s guess. But they point to the fact that the President never got over the reports that Rex Tillerson called the President a moron.

While we have been on the air here, Chris, President Trump tweeting again. I will just read you a little bit of what he has tweeted. He says the White House is rung very smoothly despite phony witch-hunts. There is great energy and unending stamina, both necessary to get things done. We are accomplishing the unthinkable and setting positive records while doing. So fake news is going bonkers.

So clearly this report getting under his skin already, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Well, I think he may have a problem with the Ronny story, which is Ronny Jackson, the admiral Jackson story up for Veterans administration director. The embattled former nominee for secretary of Veterans Affairs will not return to his role now as the President`s personal physician. That`s according to reporting from "Politico" and the "Washington Post." Jackson, who withdrew his nomination after allegations of a toxic work environment will remain on staff at the White House, but not being the President`s doctor.

On Saturday, President Trump railed against Senator Jon Tester, the top Democrat in the veterans committee tasked with vetting the doctor who publicized the allegations against Jackson. Here is the President.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tester started throwing out things that he`s heard. Well, I know things about tester that I could say too. And if I said them, he would never be elected again.


MATTHEWS: A spokesman for Johnny Isakson, Tester`s Republican counterpart on that committee told a reporter that Senator Isakson did not have a problem with how things were handled.

Anyway, let me get back to this question. Ashley, to Post, I don`t know if you know this, but the fact that the President no longer has him as physician does tell you there is more than a modicum of truth to the charges made against admiral Jackson during the course of this controversy of just as recently as a week ago.

PARKER: Well, yes and no. A lot of the sort of toughest allegations, the one that immediately derailed his nomination have sort of been difficult to either prove or disprove. And that`s what people are working on. There are very clear concerns about his qualifications to lead the V.A. that sort of never even got discussed because of this second set of allegations. And those allegations presumably he may not be qualified to lead the V.A. but he is certainly qualified to be the President`s physician. It is sort of an open question now what happens.

MATTHEWS: You mean he is a drunk? He is a drunk but he is capable of taking care of the President`s health? I mean, that`s true or it`s not if he has been relentlessly drunk on duty, that to me would impair his ability to really focus on the President`s physical condition.

PARKER: That`s absolutely true. That if it was true he was drunk on duty, he should not be the President`s chief physician or return to that role. Those are the allegations against him. I don`t believe that they have been verified with any documents or facts. That doesn`t mean they`re not true. But as of now, it doesn`t mean that they`re verifiably true either. So it puts him in no-man`s-land.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Charlie Sykes form the politics.

Charlie, there has been this shower of crap coming from the White House step. They trash the chief of staff. They trash the President`s doctor. It`s always coming. I mean, I think Kristen said it stopped for a while. I have never heard of a White House where so much pooh comes out the window all the time on whoever is being talked about. It`s always negative. It`s always free-flowing. What do you make of this crowd? The President seems to have no control over the people who work for him who are political people working for him.

SYKES: And yet the culture seems to come from him this tone is set from the top. Who is the leaker in chief of the White House? Well, he may sit in the oval office himself. He sets the tone. He sets the culture in this office surrounding himself with people who don`t have any loyalty to one another, who have no history with one another.

And I got to say this about the Ronny Jackson story, by the way. And I agree with Ashley. I don`t think he was qualified at all to run the V.A. But I think there was some something deeply troubling about the fact those allegations, the unverified allegations were published and put out there. Because every time something like that is put out there, it strengthens Donald Trump`s hand in saying look, you know, this is fake news. These are unfair attacks. So I think you can hold both those thoughts in your head at the same time that there are legitimate concerns about his qualification. And yet there was something really wrong about the fact that those allegations got out there and he will never get that reputation back.

MATTHEWS: I agree. But true or not, though, it is relevant where they are true or not about the boozing, for example. I mean, if that was -- was it on trips overseas a couple of times? Was it, you know, it was an isolated incident or was it a relentless chronic problem of alcohol abuse?

SYKES: Yes, that`s relevant. It`s relevant whether it`s true. Because if those stories are true, then I couldn`t understand how he kept his current job, which he apparently is not keeping.

MATTHEWS: Exactly my thought. How the President wouldn`t smell it on his breath if he was drinking on the job. He is with the President, you know, checking his pulse. I think the President would notice what was going on. Because Trump doesn`t drink at all. He would notice it. So you are right. You got a good point there. Why didn`t the boss know it? The chief patient know it if it was going on.

Kristen Welker, great story tonight. You made all the news tonight. It`s all over the place. Ashley Parker, thank you. As always, Eugene Robinson and Charlie Sykes.

Coming up, more Stormy weather for the President. The adult film star, is that a great press, the adult film star is suing President Trump again for defamation. And it comes as Trump is trying to use the House intelligence report from the Republicans on that committee to exonerate himself on Russia. Even Republicans tell him to cool it. You are not the clear at all, Mr. President. This investigation hasn`t been completed by any means.

Plus, Trump says he thinks his summit with Kim Jong-un will happen. Already Trump is hailing what could be a huge breakthrough. The North Korean says it`s willing to give up its nuclear weapons if the United States promises not to invade. How about North Korea promising not to invade South Korea? That would be a nice promise.

But as Trump supporters talk about a Nobel peace prize, his hawkish national security adviser pushes back. I`m not sure John Bolton is big on peace.

And with Trump back in campaign mode, should Republicans worry about fire and fury about like what we Saturday night. They are trying to hold on to control of Congress and the word Trump isn`t helping.

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


MATTHEWS: President Trump today welcomed the Nigerian President to the White House. And during their joint press conference, the two war leaders were asked whether they discussed alleged comments made by President Trump earlier this year in which he reportedly referred to African countries as s-holes during a private meeting at the White House. Here is what President Trump had to say.


TRUMP: We didn`t discuss it. And you do have some countries that are in very bad shape and very tough places to live in. But we didn`t discuss it because the President knows me. And he knows where I`m coming from. And I appreciate that we did not discuss it.


MATTHEWS: We will be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump`s legal irritations are mounting again today. He`s now facing a second lawsuit from former adult film star Stormy Daniels, this one filed today in New York, and it`s for defamation again.

This began earlier this month when Daniels released a composite sketch of the man she says threatened her in 2011 to stay quiet about her alleged affair with Trump.

Well, the next day, the president publicly challenged her story, tweeting: "A sketch years later about a nonexistent man, a total con job."

Well, the complaint drafted by Daniels` attorney, Michael Avenatti, alleges that the president defamed Daniels, who is referred to by her real name, Stephanie Clifford.

Quote: "Mr. Trump`s statement falsely attacks the veracity of Ms. Clifford`s account of the threatening incident that took place in 2011 and effectively states that Ms. Clifford falsely accused an individual of committing a crime against her when no such crime occurred."

It further alleges that, "By calling the incident a con job, Mr. Trump`s statement would be understood to state that Ms. Clifford was fabricating the crime and the existence of the assailant, both of which are prohibited under New York law."

Well, here is how Michael Avenatti spoke about this new suit late today.


MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: What`s really interesting about this is, if he didn`t know anything about Ms. Daniels, never had a relationship with her, never knew anything about the "In Touch" story, Michael Cohen and he never discussed it, he never knew anything about the agreement, never knew anything about the $130,000 payment, which is the nonsense that he is trying to sell the American people, how would he know whether the guy was nonexistent for not?

What is his basis for that? If the president continues to make up statements and distribute them about my client, and if he continues to lie about my client, there is going to be consequences about that, period.


MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by Robert Costa, national political reporter for "The Washington Post," of course, and an MSNBC political analyst. And Katie Phang is a legal analyst for NBC.

Katie, thank you for coming on with your expertise.

What is Avenatti up to? Is this nuisance? Is this just relentless full- court press? It seems to me every time you deny a charge, you`re not defaming the accuser. You`re just trying to clear yourself. In this case, how does it become defamation to say it didn`t happen?

KATIE PHANG, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: So Donald Trump is not just trying to say that it didn`t happen. He is not trying to defend himself, Chris.

He is basically saying that she is a flat-outlier and that she is a criminal, that Stormy Daniels basically violated state crimes when she said that somebody approached her in 2011 and that sketch is the person who threatened her and basically told her to lay off of Trump.

So what is Stormy Daniels doing? Well, two things. One, she is keeping herself relevant. The lawsuit against...

MATTHEWS: Right. Thank you.

PHANG: ... Donald Trump and Michael Cohen in California...


MATTHEWS: And I believe you`re dead right on this. What is the interest in Michael Avenatti, who is a very aggressive attorney? What is his interest in making up for the fact that he has got a 90-day basically delay in his civil case and now he wants to keep it alive during the 90 days? Why is that important to his case against the president?

PHANG: Because now he has actually brought to it the president or more specifically Donald Trump in his personal capacity. He has brought it to Donald Trump`s doorstep.

And what do I mean by that? He is suing Donald Trump, not as a president, but in his personal capacity. He is suing him as a resident of New York. And he is basically bringing it, oh, coincidentally maybe, in the same Southern District of New York federal court where Michael Cohen is currently facing his criminal charges.

So, again, I think that what Avenatti is doing is brilliant. He is keeping all of this exceptionally relevant. He is keeping it on the forefront. And what is he doing? He got basically stayed from doing discovery in that California lawsuit. Well, now he gets his bite at the apple of deposing Donald Trump in this defamation lawsuit that was brought in federal court in New York.

MATTHEWS: This is what happened to in the Ken Starr escapade. He was able to merge a criminal investigation as special counsel going after Clinton with a civil matter involving Clinton and Paula Jones, and somehow got him into a discovery situation, got him into a perjury situation. Is that what`s going on here?

PHANG: He is going to be able to create that discovery opportunity by doing a deposition of Donald Trump. And here is where Donald Trump is in it bad.

In federal court, Donald Trump cannot say that he has immunity from being able to have to deal with this lawsuit. He has already had a state court judge rule in the Summer Zervos lawsuit against him for defamation as well that he actually has to face those allegations, even though he is taking that up on appeal.

But a prior United States Supreme Court decision, Chris, has said that a sitting president, a la Bill Clinton, can be sued and does not have immunity from that type of lawsuit.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Robert on this one.

I know you have got some breaking story. I want to ask you about one thing before that.

This idea of Gowdy, Trey Gowdy, it seems like the Republicans on their way out of Congress become very independent. They really stand apart. I`m talking about Corker, Dent. I`m talk about Ryan Costello. I`m talking about Flake. All these senators and members of Congress are openly against Trump the minute they decline to run for reelection again.

Now we have Trey Gowdy, one of the leaders of the investigation of Benghazi, coming out and saying, hold your horses, Mr. President. You`re not off the hook because the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee have said they don`t have any collusion case.

ROBERT COSTA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: That`s an important point. In fact, Chairman Gowdy really signals that the Republican establishment, the leaders of the House, the committee chairmen, they`re taking a different tone, a different message when it comes to the Mueller probe in the Justice Department.

You see it even with Devin Nunes, the ally of President Trump, the House Intelligence Committee chairman. He and Gowdy are working now more closely with the Department of Justice. Yet it`s Mark Meadows, the Freedom Caucus, North Carolina congressman, the allies of President Trump in Congress, they`re pushing for Rosenstein to perhaps be impeached.

They`re railing against the Mueller investigation.

MATTHEWS: OK. What`s their grounds in your reporting tonight for tomorrow`s paper? What is their grounds for impeachment of Rosenstein?

COSTA: Just filed the story. It`s all about this battle over document production. A lot of inside baseball, Chris, about whether Rosenstein, the deputy A.G., is doing enough to provide Congress with documents.

But Democrats say this isn`t about document production. The Democratic argument against Meadows is that this is really about hurting Mueller, hurting that whole investigation.

MATTHEWS: But when I worked in politics all those years ago, one of the smart things to do when you`re on the downside of a fight and the other side had more firepower than you was create a similar situation on your side, make it look like an equal story.

So if you`re going impeachment against Rosenstein at the same time Democrats are talking impeachment of President Trump, it somehow clouds the whole public record. Is that what we`re watching here, just a very brilliant sort of army in retreat fighting a war of retreat?

COSTA: Yes, well, there are certainly different armies within this Republican Party. Mark Meadows, the North Carolina congressman, head of the Freedom Caucus, he talks to the president almost every day.

He is someone who is an ally of President Trump. Yet it`s Speaker Ryan in the White House who works with President Trump on policy. But Speaker Ryan is out there saying let Mueller do his job. Let Rosenstein do his job. Mitch McConnell is not bringing -- as the Senate majority leader, not bringing to protect Mueller legislation to the floor, but he is not in the corner in the same way for President Trump as Meadows is.

So you have all these different armies fighting their own wars in the GOP.

MATTHEWS: What a story.

Thank you so much, Robert Costa and Katie Phang, as always. Thanks so much.

Up next: North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un says -- well, he says he told the South Korea president, Moon, he will give up his nukes if the United States promises not to invade. How about him promising not to invade the South? They`re the ones that did it back in `50. The South never invaded the North.

Anyway, President Trump is hailing the progress. And some are already calling for him to receive the Nobel Prize. We will see about that.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the summit will happen. And, personally, I think it`s going to be a success, but we will see. I will say this. If it`s not a success, if it`s not a success -- got to get rid of the nuclear weapons. If it`s not a success, I will respectfully leave. It`s very simple.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Trump again, once again expressing optimism about his upcoming planned meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

According to "The New York Times," South Korean officials said Kim told South Korea`s president that he would give up his nuclear weapons in exchange for a promise from the U.S. not to invade his country.

Today, Trump praised recent overtures from Kim and discussed possible locations for their meeting, including Singapore, but added he liked the idea of meeting at the DMZ at the 38th Parallel right between North and South Korea.


TRUMP: Kim Jong-un, who has been very open and very straightforward so far, I can only say again so far, but he`s talking about getting rid of the site, which was their big site.

He`s talking about no research, no launching of ballistic missiles. No nuclear testing. And he has lived up to that for a long period of time.

I think it would be a great celebration if it works out well. And if it doesn`t work out well, that`s the way it goes.


MATTHEWS: For more, I`m joined by Andrea Mitchell, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent.

Andrea, call me a romantic, but I`m hopeful. Am I wrong?


It`s complicated. Look, the fact is, he wants to do this. He is committed to it. He is praising Kim Jong-un in a way that he never did before. One question is, where do they do it? The president seems to have a romantic vision, if you will, of doing it at the DMZ. That would be the most dramatic place to do it, to celebrate it, as he put it.

But how do you have an exit strategy if it doesn`t go well and you`re at the DMZ? So, that`s why many of his advisers would prefer it be in a neutral country like Singapore.

MATTHEWS: Explain that difference, why, if it were a third place, between -- apart from the two sides, it would be easier to exit.

MITCHELL: Well, he would not be surrounded by the Korean -- by North Korea. Wouldn`t be at the border of North Korea. He wouldn`t be on their territory, if it were. It would be more neutral.


MITCHELL: It`s not easy to contemplate Kim Jong-un traveling a distance. He does not fly. He takes the trains. So, we have seen him go to China by train. And so clearly it would be difficult to get him to Sweden, which is our negotiating diplomatic representative in North Korea and has been for decades.

Getting him to Geneva would be even more difficult. And Singapore seemed closest. There was talk of Mongolia. But it may very well be what the president wants, the DMZ.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk what you and I grew up with, which is you remember Cuba, as part of the deal of the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis was a commitment by the Kennedys, by President Kennedy and his brother, who was really attorney general and his adviser and colleague, was to give -- make a promise never to invade Cuba.

But I don`t think we have really had to make a commitment like that to North Korea. The fear has always been that they would cross the 38th Parallel, not that the South would cross it, or that we do would do it. It just seems like an odd request from -- Well, who has ever talked about us invading North Korea all these years?

MITCHELL: Well, that has been their fear. But that`s why he said he needed the nuclear deterrent.

Now, one concern may be that he is offering fake concessions. That -- that test site in the North was collapsing as it was. It was no longer useful. He may have already achieved his deterrent. Certainly, he had six major nuclear tests. And so he doesn`t need to test any longer.

So he may be really putting us in a box. And the president might be getting too far forward on this.

MATTHEWS: OK. What does the box look like, Andrea?

MITCHELL: Well, the box could be that we withdraw our troops.


MITCHELL: We don`t want to withdraw our troops. We don`t want to undermine our allies.

The box could be that we agree to some denuclearization that involves us standing off and not having the protective umbrella for our allies.

MATTHEWS: But we have in the past removed our tactical nuclears -- nuclear weapons from the border.


MATTHEWS: In other words, you`re saying they may say -- Kim Jong-un may say, remove your nuclear umbrella. And the only way you can do that is remove the trip wire of your troops being there.

MITCHELL: Right. And we have 28,000, 29,000 troops there.

We have an enormous deployment there. So, look, the possibility of the armistice becoming a real peace treaty, ending the war, reunifying that peninsula is an extraordinary promise. It`s obviously what President Moon wants. And he has learned what Emmanuel Macron had learned, that flattery will get you everywhere with this president.

So, he`s already talking about a Nobel Peace Prize. And that was a chant taken up by the Michigan Trump rally folks on Saturday night.



MATTHEWS: In all fairness, President Obama got his nuclear -- his Nobel Peace Prize before inauguration.

MITCHELL: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: So, let me ask you about this thing with Netanyahu.

To be blunt about it, what do you think the prime minister of Israel is up to in calling out, almost like the Pentagon Papers on Iran, talking about how, early on, a decade, more than a decade before the treaty they made with us in terms -- and the world really with forestalling their nuclear program, how they were lying before that? Why is that relevant now?

MITCHELL: Well, it isn`t really relevant, because if they weren`t working on a nuclear weapons program, which the U.S. believed they were and the rest of the allies were -- did believe as well, then we wouldn`t have entered into the Iran nuclear deal to eliminate that threat, to lengthen the breakout time, which was believed to be only two or three months before they could actually develop a weapon, not a delivery system, but a weapon.

But what`s really extraordinary is that he -- without providing any evidence of a continual just breaking out or not complying with the current Iran nuclear deal, he was suggesting it. He was insinuating. And he had no smoking gun.

And, Chris, what`s really amazing to me is a statement that just came out of the White House, because Netanyahu is trying to counteract what Macron and Merkel and May are arguing: Stay with it for now. It`s better than nothing. We will build on it. We will add to it. We will add ballistic missiles to it.

And he is being influenced more by Bolton and by Mike Pompeo, who was just in Tel Aviv with Netanyahu yesterday. So he`s trying to reinforce that, Netanyahu is, and certainly insinuating that they are currently trying to develop a weapons program, which Mike Pompeo said only weeks ago in his confirmation hearing as CIA director that they are not.

I have checked again with all of the sources in the intelligence agencies. They still have the assessment, as the U.N. does, as the inspectors do, that they are not trying to develop a weapons program.

Well, just now, the White House has issued a statement clearly from the NSC -- Mike Pompeo is on a plane -- Jim Mattis, I don`t think, was consulted on this -- that the U.S. is "aware of the information from Israel, will examine it carefully. It provides new and compelling details about Iran`s efforts, current efforts to develop missile-deliverable weapons. These facts are consistent with what the United States has long known. Iran has a robust clandestine nuclear weapons program that it has tried and failed to hide from the world and from its own people."

This flies completely in the face of Mike Pompeo`s testimony only on April 12.

MATTHEWS: Well, Ron Dermer is doing a great job. The ambassador from Israel is doing a great job at figuring out our politics. They hit just at the right moment to get into this debate. Well done for the Israelis in terms of their foreign policy.

I have to say, it is so great to work with you, Andrea. You are a treasure of information.


MITCHELL: Well, no, thank you.

MATTHEWS: You always overwhelm me, because I think there is so much...

(CROSSTALK) MITCHELL: I apologize for scrambling, but this is just..

MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

MITCHELL: This is a lie about U.S. intelligence. It`s stunning.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Andrea Mitchell.

MITCHELL: From the White House.

MATTHEWS: Andrea Mitchell, thank you so much.

Up next: President Trump is back in campaign mode, as we saw on Friday -- or Saturday night, delivering a fiery speech over the weekend. But everyone in the Republican Party is getting worried about this. They think he is not quite out there helping their case. He is only making himself into a liability. Is he?

And someone who doesn`t see the electoral threats facing the Republicans, he certainly doesn`t see it, but all the Republicans are scared. They worried about losing 30, 40 seats, including the House of Representatives. Trump is out there selling himself. It might work, but it looks a little sketchy.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump was back in campaign mode on Saturday night, of course. Look at him here at that rally in Michigan.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nancy Pelosi and her gang, they`ve got to be voted out of office. A vote for a Democrat in November is a vote for open borders and crime. It`s very simple. It`s also a vote for much higher taxes. It`s also a vote for be care. Of your Second Amendment, OK? Be careful.

If you listen to Maxine Waters, she goes around, and some others, we will impeach him. It doesn`t matter if you do anything right or wrong.

We`ve got to win the House. And you know what? We`re going to win anyway. We cannot be complacent. We got to go out, and we got to fight like hell, and we`ve got to win the House and win the Senate.

We will make America great again. Thank you, everybody.


MATTHEWS: But will Trump`s promise to make America again, again work for the Republicans this November when he is not on the ballot?

Behind the scenes, Republican Party leaders don`t share the president`s confidence about November. And that`s next with the HARDBALL roundtable.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. According to "The New York Times," President Trump is privately rejecting the growing consensus among Republican leaders that they may lose the House and possibly the Senate this November, leaving party officials and the president`s advisers nervous that he does not grasp the gravity of the threat they face in the midterm elections.

"The New York Times" reports that the disconnect between the president, a political novice and whose confidence in his instincts was grandly rewarded in 2016 and more traditional party leaders demonstrates the depth of the Republicans` challengers in what is likely to be a punishing campaign year.

Let`s bring HARDBALL`s roundtable tonight, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today". Jonathan Swan, national political reporter for "Axios", and Geoff Bennett, White House correspondent for NBC News.

All of you in order. Is there a danger in Trump being Trump and simply waving the banner of populism and anger and resentment, all those elements that got him elected back in 2016 in the Electoral College? How does that clash with a sort of on-the-ground effort by Republicans to hold their seats? Susan?

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: Well, Republicans are trailing in fundraising in a big way for these -- in these House contests. And the energy level among Democrats is very high. It doesn`t mean the Democrats are without problems. They could have divisions. We`re going to see that next week in the Ohio primary for governor where the energy is in the Democratic Party.

But the fact is, there is energy in the Democratic Party. It is lacking the Republican Party, and there are places where Trump will do some good for Republican candidates. But there are a lot of places in this country where he is going to cause perhaps a lot of heartburn.

MATTHEWS: Jonathan, where is he going to be a problem?

JONATHAN SWAN, AXIOS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, there are a lot of these swing districts, House districts in California, up the East Coast where the members of Congress don`t want Trump anywhere near their district. So, you probably won`t see Trump campaigning in some of these very hotly contested House seats. Where Trump is more effective are in some of the red states in the middle of the country, places like Missouri where he is still fairly popular with Republicans. He can go and do a big rally and at least locally not too much damage.

The problem is nothing is local anymore. What you say on a stage in Missouri gets transmitted on a TV in California or in New Jersey and all over the country. So, it`s very easy for this to backfire.

MATTHEWS: Well, Geoff, what do you make him going after Pelosi? It looks like he is looking for substitutes or surrogates for Hillary Clinton this time. He is going after Nancy Pelosi, which sort of surprises me, because -- and then he is going after Maxine Waters from L.A.

I mean, I`m not sure it makes sense. But he is clearly trying to find replica objects of derision to replace Hillary Clinton in `18. That`s clearly what he is up to.

GEOFF BENNETT, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That`s right. An old favorite, Nancy Pelosi, and a new favorite Maxine Waters. Look, I can tell you based on my conversations with people close to the president is that he is less focused on building a long-term GOP majority, and he is far more focused in staying this in this permanent campaign mode based really on the sheer strength of his own personality to keep his base engaged in order to get reelected.

And I think a lot of what he said on Saturday night at the campaign rally in Washington, Michigan, is a road map for what we`re going to see from him in the midterm elections. We know midterm elections are driven by base voters. And so, for instance, the president`s focus on immigration and the caravan of migrants coming from Central America is really aimed at getting the core Trump supporter out to the ballot box come November.

MATTHEWS: How did he organize that caravan? Just kidding. The optics of that is perfect for him. Anyway, on Sunday, President Trump tweeted, quote, just got recent poll. Much higher than President Obama at the same time.

Well, much more has been accomplished. It`s unclear which poll the president is referring to. But "The New York Times" reports that Trump`s campaign manager for his reelection bid, Brad Parscale, has rankled Trump advisers by giving the president perpetually rosy assessment of his poll numbers. He often tells Mr. Trump his numbers have never been higher.

Susan, where is this coming from? The Gallup poll shows him way down from where President Obama was this time.

PAGE: Well, you know, if you look at the most reliable polls, Gallup and Pew and the NBC "Wall Street Journal" poll and the "USA Today"/Suffolk poll, you find his approval rating continues to be at historic lows. That he has not really improved his polling position since he took office.

If you look at the Rasmussen poll, which is a favorite of Republicans, he does better in that one. I think that`s the one he has chosen to believe.

MATTHEWS: I don`t think we`ve looked at Rasmussen around here in about 20 years. Anyway, the roundtable is staying with us.

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


PAGE: We`re back with HARDBALL round table.

Susan, tell me something I don`t know.

PAGE: "USA Today" is going to post the latest results with our Trump voter panel tomorrow. This is a group of Trump supporters we`ve gone through this six times since the election. By an overwhelming majority believe Stormy Daniels not Donald Trump, they believe that Donald Trump had an affair with Stormy Daniels as she claims, and they don`t care. His support with this group is essentially unshaken.

MATTHEWS: I believe it completely.


SWAN: President Trump has blinked. Global financial markets and key allies were worried that he was going to start a trade war at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow morning when the deadline expires for exemptions for steel and aluminum tariffs. But Trump has now, "The Wall Street Journal" tells us, announced that he is postponing the decision to June 1, which is aka extending the exemptions. This is what he often does. Big threat and then he actually --

MATTHEWS: Has the market discounted this yet or is it going to show tomorrow?

SWAN: No. This is a stabilizing announcement. I mean --


MATTHEWS: That`s what I mean. I want to see some market pop tomorrow.

Anyway, Geoff?

BENNETT: The president met last week with the bipartisan group of freshmen lawmakers. They talked about instituting term limits for members of Congress. But I`m told after someone pointed out that doing it requires a constitutional amendment, which itself requires two thirds approval from the House and Senate, a very difficult thing to do, the idea was shelved, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Thank you. There will never be term limits in Congress because of that reason. You don`t destroy your own careers.

BENNETT: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Susan Page, Jonathan Swan and Geoff Bennett.

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


MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Monday, April 30th, 2018.

In the American election of 2016, candidate Donald Trump lowered the standard for human behavior, not just candidate behavior, as I said, human behavior. He made cracks about women`s looks. He made fun of their appearance again and again. He made fun of a male candidate`s height and made fun of a reporter`s physical handicap. He made fun of people physically personally, as if he were a bad high school kid on the playground at recess.

It was the attack on women`s looks that stayed with us. Somehow it remains in the air as a new lowered standard, not just of candidate behavior, but human behavior. He said it was OK to do it, and that stuck.

On Saturday night, a comic at the White House correspondents dinner made jokes. No, let me stop there. Made fun of a woman`s appearance, and a lot of people laughed.

Congratulations, President Trump. On this point, you are a leader. You do it. Now others do it. They fall in line behind your new lowered standard for human decency.

One of my hero, New York City Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan coined a phrase for this dynamic. He called it defining deviancy downward you. You lower the bar on what is OK in public conversation.

You say it`s all right to mock people with nicknames or with withering assaults on their appearance. And guess what? Even your critics start to act that way.

And that is what we saw on Saturday night at the Washington Hilton Hotel, the hotel where Ronald Reagan was shot. But this time, it was not an attack on a president, but a sick salute to what he, Donald Trump, says is acceptable.

So mark the date, Saturday, April 28th. It`s when Donald Trump got his critics down in the mud with him.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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