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Mueller questioned companies that paid Cohen. TRANSCRIPT: 05/09/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Ayesha Rascoe, Dana Milbank, Joaquin Castro

Show: HARDBALL Date: May 9, 2018 Guest: Ayesha Rascoe, Dana Milbank, Joaquin Castro


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Infected by Russia. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Tonight, we are learning more about the Russian infection into American democracy spreading through one of the President`s closest allies, his personal fixer Michael Cohen. Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for adult actress Stormy Daniels alleges that a company tied to a Russian oligarch paid Cohen $500,000 in the months after the 2016 election. The billionaire Viktor Vekselberg is one of Russia`s richest men and has close ties to Russia`s President Vladimir Putin.

NBC News has reviewed financial documents that appear to support Avenatti`s charge. He alleges that money from the oligarch related company was deposited from the same account Cohen used to wire a hush money payment of $130,000 to Daniels. Avenatti today accused Cohen of selling access. Let`s watch.


MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS` LAWYER: You have got millions of dollars that are being deposited in this account. Michael Cohen appears to be selling access to the President of the United States.


MATTHEWS: Earlier today, Michael Cohen called the accusations inaccurate.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any comment about Michael Avenatti? Any response? Any response to Avenatti?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you feel about you may have changed an election?


MATTHEWS: The line used by every flack when they are caught, inaccurate.

Tonight, Cohen`s reporter -- lawyer responded to Avenatti`s report in a court filing.

Quote "this document is concerning for a number of reasons including the number of blatantly incorrect statements it contains."

But Avenatti tonight is standing by his report tweeting, Mr. Ryan`s submission on behalf of Mr. Cohen is baseless, improper and sanctionable. They failed to address let alone contradict 99 percent of the statement in what we released. Among other things, they effectively -- catch this, the receipt of the $500,000 from those with Russian ties.

According to documents released by Avenatti, a U.S. based company called Columbus Nova headed by Vesselberg`s cousin routed eight payments totaling approximately $500,000 to Cohen`s company, Essential Consultant and Statements.

A spokesman for Columbus Nova issued this statement. After the inauguration, the firm hired Michael Cohen as a business consultant regarding potential sources of capital and potential investments in real estate and other ventures.

Well, last Friday "The New York Times" citing people familiar with the matter report that agents for special counsel Mueller confronted Vekselberg as he stepped off a plane. He was searched and questioned. Vekselberg was sanctioned by the U.S. treasury in April this year, but has not been accused of wrongdoing in connection with the investigation to Cohen.

Well, late today Rudy Giuliani denied that the President was involved in business dealings in question. He told NBC`s Kristen Welker, the President is not involved in anyway either before or after he was President. And we don`t believe Mueller would have given the case away if he was involved.

For more, I`m joined by David Corn, Washington bureau chief from "Mother Jones" and author of "Russian Roulette," a bestseller about this stuff. Michael Schmidt, reporter for "the New York Times" and an MSNBC national security contributor. David Jolly, former Republican congressman from Florida and Jill Wine-Banks, former assistant Watergate special prosecutor and NBC News contributor.

In order, I want you all to talk about this. First, to go off David. This mixing of funds, joining of funds, $500,000 coming in from this cousin of this oligarch into the coffers of Mr. Michael Cohen, $130,000 being paid by the coffers of Mr. Cohen, how does it all relate? It seems to me to relate to Russia with the hanky pank (ph) that Trump has been covering up for?

DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, MOTHER JONES: Well, remember, these payments started in January 2017. January 6th, 2017, the intelligence committee releases its report saying Russia attacked our election in part to help get Trump get elected. That`s the environment this time. Trump is denying that this ever happened. And here`s his fixer taking $500,000 or starting to from one of the chief oligarchs over there.

MATTHEWS: They are not denying this, by the way.

CORN: Of course, they are not denying it and that`s very interesting. Because as we reported in "Mother Jones" back in 2016, he had this deal with Wilbur Ross to work on reviving a bank in Cyprus that was full of, you know, shady Russian money. And also as we reported in January 2017, at the same time, this cousin of his who is an American citizen (INAUDIBLE), he is giving $250,000 to Trump`s inaugural committee. Now, is that money coming from Viktor Vekselberg as well?

There`s so much more here and others to investigate. And shows the house intelligence committee Republicans, they shut their door long before this movie was done.

MATTHEWS: Michael, what`s going on here?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, this highlights a problem that Trump`s lawyers and Cohen`s lawyers have thought existed all along, which is that that they don`t know what`s in all those documents that were taken from Cohen`s office. They have been worried about this from the beginning. Trump wasn`t being candid about it. Cohen wasn`t being candid about it. At least Cohen`s lawyers now and Trump`s lawyers has anything have access to these documents now to understand it.

But they don`t understand what the feds are looking at exactly in New York. It`s a mystery to them. And that`s why if they will speak candidly to you, they will tell you they are more concerned about what`s going on in New York than they are about what is going on in Washington. They say, look, we understand the contours of the Mueller investigation. We get what`s going on there. We have a sense of what the witnesses have said, what the questions are. New York, no idea.

And this is the latest example, a surprise, something very unusual that brings in all different strands of this story.

MATTHEWS: Why do you think Giuliani said that if this had to do with Russia, if Cohen`s situation, Michael Cohen in New York, and the whole question with Stormy Daniels had something to do with Russia, then Mueller would have never released it to the New York office to handle, what do you make of that comment?

SCHMIDT: I was surprised to hear that. It seems like Giuliani is speaking as if he knows what`s going on inside the investigation, which I`m pretty sure he doesn`t. It also assumes that Michael Cohen is sort of like a black and white issue where it`s either in New York or either in Washington with Mueller. And my guess and our sense from our reporting is this is something on both sides. There`s different parts of Michael Cohen that are being looked at. So the idea that Mueller passed on this, I was a little skeptical of that when I heard it.

MATTHEWS: Let me go Jill on this, Jill Wine-Banks. Tell me your sense of that, the distinction between going after Stormy Daniels` payment or the $130,000, the $500,000 coming in from Vekselberg, the cousin of somebody in Russian oligarch and what`s the overlap?

JILL WINE-BANKS, FORMER ASSISTANT WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: Well, first of all, let`s not forget the money that came in from U.S. corporations that is paid to play is what it looks like. And one of them said that they hired him to do their internal accounting system. And then they found out he couldn`t provide the services but they paid him anyway on a monthly basis.

This is very big news in terms of the investigation, both in terms of the Russia investigation and in terms of general corruption within the administration. So this is really very interesting. And I think that it is correct to say that both Mueller and the southern district of New York are looking into different aspects of activities by the President`s lawyer Michael Cohen.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about that role that people play. Sometimes when people help someone get elected President of the United States, they say I don`t want a job. I want to be outside. I want to be outside where I can take all the money. I want to be a bag man to be honestly. They didn`t like to say it that way. They want (INAUDIBLE). It is the turn style.

If you want to talk to -- you got to pay the toll. And you got to pay me if you want to talk to the President, new President, because I helped get him in there and he will see whoever I tell him to see. This isn`t new.

How is it new in this case where Michael Cohen looks like, to use a cruel word, bag man, because if you want to talk to Trump, you want to get something out of him, you pay Cohen. How is it different?

CORN: So, Chris, is that for me?

MATTHEWS: I`m asking Jill. First the legal and then we will go to politics in a minute.

WINE-BANKS: I think both legally and politically, this is very bad stuff and that there is a number of potential crimes just from a legal perspective. The standard for bribery is very tough to meet. There has to be a quid pro quo. There has to be some actual action. So that paying for access to the President isn`t a crime in and of itself. But if the President then does anything to help the person that they saw, that is bribery, and that could be a crime.

And having a pass through -- through his lawyer doesn`t make it any less criminal and also politically unacceptable. This is the President who said he`s going to drain the swamp, and he is filling that swamp. This is the opposite of draining the swamp. This is pay to play.

MATTHEWS: You mean continuing a pro-Russian foreign policy across the board.

WINE-BANKS: Exactly. I mean, that could be enough in my mind to establish there could be some quid pro quo. And we know that sanctions haven`t been put in place that should have been put in place until they were really forced to be put in place. And there`s still more that need to be put in place. And there are still more that need to be put in place.

I don`t trust that they will happen. I think there is a relationship with Russia we need to be looking at. And shame on Congress for stopping the investigation. I would like to see a public investigation. I think the public needs to know all the facts about the man that is the President. And they aren`t going to know it because Mueller is properly keeping this secret. He has to keep it secret, but Congress should be doing something, and they should be stopping any future interference in our elections and they`re not doing that. Shame on them.

CORN: You know, David, I want to talk about the politics of this. Because people like Menendez in New Jersey and there is the Torricelli before that from New Jersey and McDonald and these guys, established relations, personal intimate relations with foreign people. Sometimes American but they come from other countries. They are not familiar with our political system. They`re fearful they have to buy a politician, right.

So here is what we are seeing here. The word is out if you want to get something from Trump you go to Michael Cohen. The fact that these big drunk -- drug companies are going through that door, I mean, that door is wide open for business. This guy setup a till. And I think the Russians know about it because the Russians are notoriously fixed on finding one American they like to deal with and that is they are American. And that is how they figured up because we are a little obtuse for them.

Tell us about this from a political angle. When you watch this guy Viktor Vekselberg, there he is. He has got, you know, he has got a cousin in the United States, some kind of a relationship. He knows a little bit about American politics and he is dealing with Cohen who is not a great lawyer. Nobody says he is an actual look at the law books lawyer. He is a fixer.

DAVID JOLLY (R), FORMER FLORIDA CONGRESSMAN: Sure. Look. Chris, this is influence pedaling. There is no question about it. I think we can all agree on its phase. It is influence peddling.

The question is that, is it legal or is it illegal? And that`s important because go back to the snapshot in time. Frankly, you had a lot of Republican donors who had criticized and abandoned Donald Trump all of a sudden writing million dollar checks to the inaugural committee to try to make up. You had other Michael Cohens in Donald Trump`s --.


JOLLY: Yes, sure. You had other Michael Cohens and Donald Trumps world opening lobbying shops in D.C. We have seen this in past administration, frankly, from Clinton`s friends to Bush 43`s friends.

But I think the question for Michael Cohen is was there a law broken here? And when you are dealing with a foreign nation state or foreign interest, you have the department of justice, foreign registrations, when you are dealing with domestic entities, you have lobbying disclosure act registrations. Very simply, it is likely that Michael Cohen has at least broken those laws. And frankly, the influence peddlers that paid him, they probably done the same.

MATTHEWS: My concern here, first David and Michael, my concern is not that there is a corruption. There is a problem there, looks like. Be there is Russian influence infecting our system. They comment the sabotage, our electoral system, especially our confidence in our electoral system. We got a report today in the paper in the Times I believe about 20 states that were attempted -- they attempted to undermine to screw around with by hacking into, as registration figures screw in amok, making Americans they want (INAUDIBLE).

You know what they are up to. And having third world country said, well, United States used to have a democracy but they get dismissed on thing now.

That was their home goal, to bring us down morally. To play a hand in that is an American as treasonist. You are helping the Russians bring us then about what we have, you know, tried of authorship, modern democracy. That`s our pride of authorship. And they want to deny it to us.

CORN: Well, we have a series of oligarch who intervened and crossed into the American political campaign all with Donald Trump and his campaign. Where there was a guy name (INAUDIBLE) who was working -- had worked with Manafort or a guy in (INAUDIBLE).


CORN: (INAUDIBLE) who was Donald Trump`s partner who passed on the information to have a secret meeting at the Trump tower in June of 2016 and now we have --.


CORN: I think -- well, I think they are trying to make money. They are trying to gain influence. And the darkest interpretation you can put on this which may be in part true is that Putin uses these oligarchs to intervene to do his bidding to be his eyes and ears and to be his form of gaining influence in American politics. And Trump gave him several avenues, opened several doors for them to come and intervene and sort of interact with his key people.

CORN: Well, reporters is now reporting -- Reuters is now reporting that AT&T says it has contacted -- once contacted by special counsel office late last year about payments to Michael Cohen. The company says it cooperated with the Mueller investigation November and December of last year and since then has received no additional questions from Mueller. So that is another people. I just wonder how do you react to this whole thing? What are Russian up to?

SCHMIDT: Why are you surprised by the fact that the Russians would continue this? Why are we sitting here saying all that sort --?

MATTHEWS: Because now we are getting more evidence from it in the paper and other sources.

SCHMIDT: But what I`m saying is that nothing has been put in place post- election to try and stop any of this. There`s no look at it. There`s been no serious oversight from the hill. I guess they would say there has been --

MATTHEWS: Well, today the Senate intelligence committee reported out and I read it in your paper inside pages there on the inside page, a section, but the fact is they talked about 18 to 21 states who were hacked and whatever, they are trying to screw up the registration of our voters.

SCHMIDT: The administration has taken no measures to try to prevent this from happening again. There has not been --


SCHMIDT: Correct. That would admit it would happen. So you are getting to -- so if you are the Russians, why would you stop if the administration is not putting anything in place?

MATTHEWS: I want to go with you because, Michael, you are so smart. I see it in your face sometimes you know more than you tell us. But I watch Vladimir Putin. And I watch that little smirk he has got in his face every time. And every time Trump is around, does he know all this crap? Does he know about Michael Cohen? Does he know about Vekselberg? Does he know all this oligarch activity in our country?

SCHMIDT: I`m not a Russia expert, but I think that we sometimes give them too much credit for what they have done to think that they have smarter than they were. I think they threw an enormous amount of stuff at the wall. It was very cheap. Some of it stuck and it`s had --

MATTHEWS: Did he throw that sent two women into the room in a hotel room with Trump?

I just wonder how active the guy is. Vladimir looks like he does everything in the oligarch.

CORN: Our own intelligence community already said that Putin ordered the attack on the election. So he was aware of what was going on. And no doubt he has some idea what these oligarchs have done in interacting with the Trump campaign and the Trump world afterwards.

MATTHEWS: Well, I want to thank you David Corn, as always. Good luck with book. It is big book. It is a great sort of late motif, if you will, to all what we are talking about.

Michael Schmidt, star reporter from "the New York Times." Former congressman David Jolly, you know the smell of this thing. You may have seen it in the world when you were in the big system, but it is getting stink.

Anyway, Jill Wine-Banks, thank you. We always rely on you. It is too bad we keep having these echoes on Watergate. But, thank God, we have you to hear them.

Coming up, the latest stunt by the Republican toadies to sabotage the Mueller investigation. New reporting now shows the house intel chair Devin Nunes was willing to risk the life and safety of an intelligence source in a quest to help Trump. It is another example to cover up through trying to give a heads to Trump on what Mueller is up to and what Mueller has on him.

Plus, Melania Trump unveiled her big initiative this week to help kids, but it`s her husband and his allies that now want to defend programs that help children and separate children from their parents at the border.

And President announced that North Korea has freed three American detainees ahead of his meeting with Kim Jong-un. He deserves credit for the progress being made with North Korea. Of course, but why did he abandon the Iran nuclear deal? Remember the access of evil? That was the other one. Well, he deserve a Nobel or is he a neo-con?

Finally, let me finish tonight with Trump watch. He won`t like it.

This is HARDBALL where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Well, those three Americans who were held in North Korea are now back on America soil. You are looking at a live picture now from anchorage, Alaska. That`s the plane carrying secretary of state Mike Pompeo and three, the three former detainees. It`s landed in Alaska to refuel.

In a statement just released those detainees thanked President Trump, secretary Pompeo and the people of the United States for bringing us home.

And we will be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The president`s defenders have already made several attempts, with limited success, to discredit, undermine or otherwise kill the Russian probe of Robert Mueller. Now it appears that Trump`s top ally in the House is willing to go further.

According to "The Washington Post": "Last Wednesday, senior FBI and national intelligence officials relayed an urgent message to the White House. Information being sought by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes could endanger a top-secret intelligence source."

They report that President Trump and top White House officials "were persuaded that turning over Justice Department documents could risk lives by potentially exposing that source, a U.S. citizen who has provided intelligence to the CIA and the FBI."

The story notes that "Several administration officials they fear Trump may reverse course, however, and support Nunes` argument."

Now CNN has reported that Nunes has been offered a classified briefing at the Department of Justice tomorrow to discuss the documents in question.

All this comes after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein -- Rosenstein last week called these document requests extortion.

Additionally, a law enforcement official told "The New York Times" last week that: "Mr. Rosenstein and top FBI officials have come to suspect that some lawmakers were using their oversight authority to gain intelligence about that investigation, so that it could be shared with the White House."

Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro, who serves on the House Intelligence Committee with Devin Nunes, and Eli Stokols of MSNBC.

Congressman Castro, this is a horrible claim, but it sounds like the chairman of your committee, the Republican chair, Mr. Nunes, is seeking information from the Mueller commission, the Mueller investigation so he can feed it to the people being investigated, i.e., Trump.

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: You know, that`s absolutely possible at this point.

There`s no question that, really, almost since this investigation started, that Devin Nunes has been in the service of President Trump, that, as I have mentioned before, he has made his career a sacrifice fly for Donald Trump.

And it wouldn`t be surprising if he`s doing it again.

MATTHEWS: But the reason for the Intelligence Committee`s creation was to keep an eye on the intelligence services, to keep them straight. And what`s he doing? CASTRO: Well, you know, he`s basically doing everything that he can to muddy the waters, and oftentimes, I think, to smear the intelligence agencies on behalf of the president, and I think make it easier for him to get rid of Mr. Rosenstein and perhaps others who are conducting the Mueller investigation.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s look at two possibilities.

One is to overload them with so many requests, so many demands for paper, that you just wear them out. And the other one is to get all that information and hand it over to the White House.

CASTRO: No, that`s right.

And what`s so bizarre is that this is a Republican administration being subpoenaed by a Republican chairman, and ignoring the subpoena, and now perhaps facing a charge of contempt.

You know, that is just bizarre that they can`t even agree on any of this stuff and are fighting each other.

MATTHEWS: How bizarre? Is it as bizarre -- I feel like Johnny Carson. Is it as bizarre of going down the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House, coming back with info, and then next day going back and giving to the West Wing of the White House?


MATTHEWS: Is it that bizarre?

CASTRO: Well, maybe it`s par for the course then. It`s about the same thing.

MATTHEWS: Eli, what do you make of this?

What`s the Republican chair of the Intelligence Committee doing? Because he`s so different than the Republican chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who is working with Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat, to try to get information out.

ELI STOKOLS, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: And different than a lot of the other Republicans even on the Republican committee.

He`s really far out there. And if you wanted to put to rest some of these questions about his actual motivations, you would think that maybe he would come out and publicly state why he wants all this information, why he`s subpoenaing information specifically about this one intelligence official. And he`s done none of that.

MATTHEWS: Do you think he even knows? He may have been told what to do.

STOKOLS: I`m sure it`s in this classified that he sent to the Justice Department.

But it just -- when you look at it and you place it in the context of this behavioral pattern, this fact pattern of all the other things that Nunes has done, it`s hard to look at this as anything other than an effort to cover up, protect the president.

And, again, as you pointed out, this is by the person who`s charged with leading a committee that is tasked with oversight.

MATTHEWS: Well, one of the worst things you can do in intelligence is to give away an American intelligence source. Of course, they`re risking their lives every hour of their lives.

Anyway, U.S. Congressman Nunes was dismissive of the FBI`s concerns on that front, telling "The Washington Post" that: "They are citing spurious national security concerns to evade congressional oversight. We will succeed in getting this information regardless of whatever fantastic stories the Department of Justice and the FBI spin to `The Post," "The Washington Post."


MATTHEWS: Fantastic stories.

CASTRO: Well, but it should also be noted, as a member of the Intelligence Committee, that Devin Nunes, the chairman, also has not come in front of the committee and explained why he wants and needs this information.

Remember, he made this request basically on the week that we were off, that we were all back home, and still has not come forward to explain his actions.


Well, in a report issued just late today, the Senate Intelligence Committee revealed more about Russia`s penetration of state voting systems around the country in the lead-up to the 2016 election.

Catch this. While they say saw no evidence that the Russians were able to change any vote totals, "these cyber-actors were in a position to, at a minimum, alter or delete voter registration data in a small number of states they targeted. The committee concluded that the underlying aim was to discredit the integrity of the U.S. voting process and election results."

Congressman, you have taken an oath to defend the Constitution. Everybody knows that the Russians envy our moral reputation for 200-some years of democracy, real democracy. They have got nothing like that to compare with us. And they want to bring down our moral cred by screwing up our own confidence and the world`s confidence in our electoral system.

Clearly, they`re doing it.


Well, and their goal is just to create enough confusion and sow enough doubt and skepticism and resentment that it basically interferes with people`s trust in government. And even without that, folks already are skeptical about government.

But when you add on top of that thousands and thousands of bots, fake Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, and all this activity in cyberspace, it makes everything that much worse.

MATTHEWS: It makes people think what?

CASTRO: Well, it makes them question their government.

And it`s all -- you heard about the Jade Helm episode in Texas.

MATTHEWS: Tell me.

CASTRO: Well, where they -- there was this idea that the military was basically going to conduct this exercise in Texas, and they were doing it as a precursor to going in, invading different parts of the state and other parts of the country.

And it turns out -- and it blew up in Texas. There were public meetings about it that were held because of all the concern of the citizens -- of the residents of Texas. And it turns out that the Russians were part of the ones that were hyping this thing.

MATTHEWS: What do they call it, kompromat? What`s that word?


And the Russians know at this point that they have an administration here who doesn`t want to even acknowledge this, because the president himself cannot accept that Russia played any role in this election, because he feels that it delegitimizes his victory.

And because the president is running the show on the Republican side, there are not a lot of people out there who are clamoring for a further investigation of it.

MATTHEWS: It`s all so true.

Eli, thank you, U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro of the House Intel Committee. And thank you, Eli Stokols, as always.

Up next: First lady Melania Trump this week unveiled an initiative to help kids. Good for her. Too bad her husband`s administration isn`t on the same page at all. The Trump team has unveiled two stunning policies that will hurt the most vulnerable children.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.



MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY: I`m very excited to announce Be Best, an awareness campaign dedicated to the most valuable and fragile among us, our children.

My hope is that, together, we can be best at helping children and families find effective ways to educate themselves and support each other.

I`m asking you all to join me in providing support and guidance to our children, so that we can make a real difference.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was, of course, first lady Melania, Melania Trump, on Monday introducing her Be Best initiative, which addresses the major issues facing children in this country today.

An hour later, Attorney General Jeff Sessions held a press conference, however, on the California border with Mexico to announce that all illegal border crossings will be referred to the Justice Department for prosecution.

He also threatened to separate children from their parents at the border.


JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have put in place a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry on our southwest border. If you cross the border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It`s that simple.

If you smuggle illegal aliens across our border, then we will prosecute you. If you`re smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you. And that child may be separated from you, as required by law.

So, if you`re going to come to this country, come here legally. Don`t come here illegally.


MATTHEWS: Well, "The Washington Post" editorial board notes that: "Sessions` policy of separating parents and children is intentionally and unapologetically punitive."

They write that Sessions has "rebranded the United States as a crueler place than the countries from which people are fleeing."

Also, this week, President Trump sent a request to Congress to cut $7 billion from the Children`s Health Insurance Program, also known as CHIP. The program provides health care to millions of low-income children.

I`m joined right now by Ruth Marcus, editorial -- deputy editorial page editor of "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC contributor.

Well, you have a lot to do with expressing this opinion for "The Post."

Let me ask you about -- first of all, we will do CHIP, and then we will do the other policy.

CHIP -- it just seems to me, if you`re going to cut a program, even to do it on paper, even numerically, an accounting gimmick, why would you want to be known as the party that cuts children`s health?

RUTH MARCUS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: The Children`s Health Insurance Program is one of the best, most cost-efficient, most effective expansions of children`s health -- of health insurance around. It is the right thing to do.

Children are cheap to insure, but they need health insurance. It goes to families who make too much to be eligible for Medicaid. It`s a great use of government dollars.

So, why? Look, this is just a bunch of...

MATTHEWS: Don`t they care about the P.R. problem here?

MARCUS: This is -- well, yes, but they care about a different P.R. problem.

This is being pushed by House Republicans and the administration who want to make themselves look better in the eyes of conservatives, because they passed this big spending bill, and they want to now look fiscally conservative, which, by the way, they are not. They passed a huge tax cut. They passed a big spending bill.

Now the only thing that they can find to engage in recision on, to take it back is some -- well, I know what you want me to do. I will stop talking.


MATTHEWS: No, no, I just want to show this movie.

MARCUS: Now the only thing that they can found to cut is kids? Come on. Give me a break.

MATTHEWS: Well, this reminds me of a movie we both love that was 25 years ago. We had "Dave," of course, in which I briefly appeared. And it`s still relevant today.

Let`s watch a clip where the first lady played by Sigourney Weaver confronts the president over funding for children.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "DAVE") SIGOURNEY WEAVER, ACTRESS: But don`t put on this man of the people routine, and then do something like this.

KEVIN KLINE, ACTOR: I don`t understand.

WEAVER: You know very well that was not a works bill that you vetoed. That would have given those children homes. When I think of that spectacle you put on with the little boy and the magic trick...

KLINE: Wait a minute. What`s wrong with the magic trick?

WEAVER: It was some magic. You made their funding disappear.

KLINE: Look, if there`s been some mistake...

WEAVER: There`s no mistake, Bill. When you veto their funding, that`s not a mistake. When you heard someone intentionally, that`s not a mistake.


MATTHEWS: Love that movie.

That was Barbara Bush in many ways. That was really good.


MARCUS: Yes. Barbara Bush never looked quite like Sigourney Weaver.

MATTHEWS: OK, well, Sigourney -- anyway, let`s go back to this issue of the border and what Sessions said.

MARCUS: Well, but, by the way, I do need to say, on the CHIP, that it may be that this is just budget gimmickry, rather than actually cutting funding.

CBO says -- the Congressional Budget Office says, because these are kind of special, in case of emergency funds...


MATTHEWS: Yes, but that day will come. When the rainy day comes, the $9 million won`t -- billion -- won`t be there.

MARCUS: If it comes, it`s going to be from the children.

OK, the border, this is a -- look, we heard the first lady speaking with passion, and I`m sure sincerity, about how we need to protect the most vulnerable and fragile among us who are children.

MATTHEWS: And she`s an immigrant.

MARCUS: Right.

And now you take people coming across the border with their children. Why are they coming across the border with their children? To try to give their children a better life, which is what parents want for their children everywhere.

And you`re going to try to deter them? And this is sort of the best-case scenario excuse that they use, that, well, if we`re going to -- if they know that they`re going to be separated, they will be deterred from coming.

But what kind of country behaves this way? And I think that the disconnect between the first lady one hour and the attorney general on the other hour has to do with the way that this administration thinks about immigrants.

They do not think of them as -- and you hear this in the president`s comments about breeding, the president`s comments about animals -- they do not think of immigrants as real people, with the hopes and aspirations of real people.

MATTHEWS: Well, he thinks his wife is real. He thinks his wife is real.

MARCUS: I`m not going to get into that.

MATTHEWS: I`m being sarcastic.

Anyway, thank you, Ruth. You know your stuff.

She writes "The Washington Post"`s editorials often.

Anyway, thank you.

Up next: One day after blowing up the Iran nuclear deal, President Trump announced that North Korea has freed three American detainees. How do you explain the disconnect in Trump`s foreign policy among these various axis of evil countries? What are we looking at, a Nobel here, or another neocon?

You`re watching HARDBALL.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nobody thought this was going to happen, and if it did, it would be years or decades, frankly. Nobody thought this was going to happen. And I appreciate Kim Jong-un doing this and allowing them to go.



That was President Trump on today`s positive news out of North Korea. Three Americans previously detained by that country on their way home. We just saw them stopping in Alaska on their way home after a visit to North Korea by newly minted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Early this hour, they landed back on American soil as their plane was refueling as I said, up there in Alaska, in Anchorage.

Trump praised their release in Twitter, saying three wonderful gentlemen are in good health. He added that Secretary Pompeo and the detainees will be landing at Andrews Air Force at 2:00 in the morning now and I will be up to greet them. Trump staying up late for this one.

Trump also offered more detail on his planned meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.


TRUMP: We picked a time. We picked a place for the meeting or summit as you like to call it. And I think it`ll be very successful. But as I always say, who knows? Who knows what`s going to happen? But it`s going to be a very important event.

REPORTER: Where`s the summit going to take place?

TRUMP: We`re going to announce that in three days -- within three days.

REPORTER: Within three days.

TRUMP: We`re just working arrangements.

REPORTER: Is it going to be the DMZ?

TRUMP: It will not be there.


MATTHEWS: Within three days. I think that could be Friday.

Despite that good news, "The Associated Press" notes that just as Donald Trump reached one hand out to North Korea, he yanked the other back from Iran. However, Trump`s national security adviser John Bolton argued that withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal was critical to negotiations with North Korea.

How do you figure this? Well, he referenced the United States prior withdrawal from an anti-ballistic treaty with Russia.


JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We had a rotten deal with Iran, and just as George W. Bush withdraw from the 1972 ABM treaty because it was not in America`s strategic interest, that`s what the president has done here. I think it sends a very important message to North Korea that we`re not in these negotiations with them just to get a deal. We`re going to get the right deal.


MATTHEWS: Well, today, President Trump was asked if he deserves the Nobel Prize for his work with North Korea. We`ll get to his answer next with the HARDBALL roundtable.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Amid the news that North Korea released three American detainees, President Trump was asked if he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with Kim Jong-un`s regime.


TRUMP: Everyone thinks so, but I would never say it. You know what I want to do? I want to get it finished. The prize that I want is victory for the world. Not for even here, I want victory for the world, because that`s what we`re talking about, so that`s the only prize I want.


MATTHEWS: Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable.

Ayesha Rascoe is White House reporter for NPR, Dana Milbank is a columnist, of course, for "The Washington Post", and Howard Fineman is an MSNBC political analyst.

I want to start with you, Ayesha, and here`s the question: Is this a confidence building measure as we say in diplomacy, which Trump doesn`t really like diplomacy. Is this a summit? Or is it something not a summit, is it a meeting? Tell me about all this.

AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, NPR: It`s a meeting, but a meeting, but it`s a very important meeting. But you know --

MATTHEWS: Not on the DMZ?

RASCOE: Not on the DMZ, but I`ve been talking to foreign policy experts and they say even though the meeting is important and all eyes are going to be on it, what`s really going to be important is what`s going to happen behind the scenes and after that meeting is over. And whether the U.S. and North Korea can agree on what denuclearization will mean for the Korean peninsula and also just like how will that be implemented?

So, what`s the flashy stuff in front of the cameras is not really going to matter as much as what happens behind the scenes.

MATTHEWS: Trump didn`t like the deal we got with Iran. Most people would say the deal we got with Iran is about a good deal as you`re going to get with those people. So, what -- he can only get a deal as good as he can get by definition with North Korea. So, is he -- once he gets a deal as good as he can get like five years, seven years, ten years, they`ll layoff their program how can he defend any deal having dumped the Iranian deal? It`s a deal.

DANA MILBANK, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Consistency has not been binding this administration to great degree in the first place. But the president has built-up this huge expectation problem right now and now you see him saying, well, it`s not a summit. We`re just -- just two guys talking --

MATTHEWS: Are you that helpful?

MILBANK: Look, I will write his Nobel Prize acceptance speech if he can get North Korea to permanently denuclearize, which is basically the expectation he has raised here. It`s terrific that he`s brought home these three captives, two of whom were taken prisoner during the Trump presidency, but there`s no point of popping --

MATTHEWS: That makes no sense because how many times have I said in my defense at home -- Howard, let me go to you on this we have a similar situation, don`t make the perfect the enemy of the good.


MATTHEWS: He`s making the perfect the goal here. How do you get no nuclear weapons in the hands of the country that has nuclear weapons in their hands?

FINEMAN: It`s a much tougher negotiation than with the Iranians. In terms of time, in terms of laying off the development of the program, he`d be lucky as we just said, to get the deal that he had and just got out of in Iran.


FINEMAN: Fifteen years.

MATTHEWS: So, why is he setting the goal -- why he`s saying, as Dana just said, I`m going to get rid of the nuclear weapons?

FINEMAN: Because that`s the goal he`s set for himself going way back. That is the prize, is not just to get them to stop but to get them to denuclearize. I think another aspect of it is missiles. Don`t forget, in the last year, the North Koreans have developed missiles that in theory and in fact are capable of reaching the United States. So, that`s a big factor.

MILBANK: I think whenever we say what`s the theory, what`s the geopolitical theory behind this, we`re going to come up empty, because probably he`s reacting with a gut instinct and his instinct just said, Obama made an Iran deal bad, get out of it. They were not making any progress with Korea, I need to make a deal with Korea. In a way, it`s just churn and do the opposite. And I think he`s got himself into tricky situation here --


MATTHEWS: OK, I can understand, we`re asking for intellectual stuff from Trump. But he ran as an anti-stupid war guy. He`s brought in John Bolton. He`s acting like the most neocon neocon.

He looks like he wants to go after the axis of evil again. Let`s go fight with Iran. Let`s go fight with North Korea. He`s going after the old game plan of the neo cons, fight with everybody. And yet he is going to make peace with the little guy over there in North Korea.

RASCOE: That`s what`s going to be key here, because we`re entering into this phase where President Trump can`t just blame all the past administrations for what they did wrong because now he is making decisions. So, he can`t blame Obama for the Iran -- for what`s going on in Iran anymore.

MATTHEWS: If you broke it, you bought it.

RASCOE: Yes, now it`s on him. What`s going happen? He is saying Iran will not get nuclear weapons. So, what are you willing to do to make sure that happens? And so, it`s the same with North Korea.

MATTHEWS: John Bolton`s got an answer, bomb them.



FINEMAN: I think -- I think Dana is on to something here. I think each thing stands on its own in a way. If people point out contradictions, Donald Trump doesn`t care. Each show is a separate show.


FINEMAN: Each card on the wrestling card is a separate match.


FINEMAN: And you`re right. I think a big factor in Iran is that Barack Obama did the deal. It`s not the only reason, because he has also taken sides with the Sunnis against the Shia in that part of the world because he is friendly with the Saudis. He is friendly with the Israelis.

But he wants to do something that nobody has done. You tell Donald Trump, here is something that nobody has done, and he is going to try to do it. The danger is that to me and the people I talk to say he is at least in theory putting on the table the possibility of withdrawing American troops from the Korean peninsula.

MILBANK: John Bolton`s theory is negotiate from strength, and that does make sense. What Trump is doing here is negotiating from bluster, and that is what leverage does he have right now? OK, the prisoners, he`s gotten those back.

MATTHEWS: What do they want? What does Kim Jong-un want?

FINEMAN: That`s why I`m saying what they want is a beginning of the reduction of American troops in the Korean peninsula is what they want.

MATTHEWS: OK, the roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Well, that plane carrying the three freed Americans held in North Korea for all those months is now on its way back to Joint Base Andrews here in Washington.

We`re back with the HARDBALL round table, of course.

Ayesha, tell me something I don`t know.

RASCOE: The U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grinnell who just got confirmed, just started, is already upsetting some Germans. He tweeted that German companies need to immediately stop business with Iran and former and current German officials were saying, you don`t tell what to do. You can tell us about policy, but don`t give us orders.

MATTHEWS: Nice opening for him.

MILBANK: Well, the president stormed through Appalachia promising to bring back coal. And unfortunately, that`s not happening. Forbes reported on an industry conference today saying that the coal industry is collapsing at a faster rate than it was last year, and at a faster rate than it was under Obama with all the --

MATTHEWS: That`s the one part of the wasn`t where they want coal in their stocking, right?

MILBANK: Exactly.


FINEMAN: First, there has been a lot of talk that Justice Anthony Kennedy might retire.

MATTHEWS: I`ve heard.

FINEMAN: Now the new talk is he is definitely staying and I have some new report --



MATTHEWS: He doesn`t want Trump replacing him? FINEMAN: Because he wants to stay at the job. And he is the swing vote and he doesn`t want to give Donald Trump the opportunity to change. And I`m told that it`s pretty close to definite that he is back.

MATTHEWS: Wow. He could be the Fifth vote for demanding Trump testify.

Anyway, Ayesha Rascoe, Dana Milbank and Howard Fineman.

When we return, let me finish tonight with Trump Watch.


MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Wednesday, May 9th, 2018.

When the enemy arrives, who is there to open the gate and allow them to penetrate the city`s walls? This is not an abstract question. When the Russians laid siege to the American democratic system, this country`s pride of authorship, who is there to open the gates? It was Donald Trump who brought Paul Manafort, an agent of Russian influence to the top of his presidential campaign.

It was Donald Trump`s fixer, lawyer Michael Cohen who provide services to a Russian oligarch close to the Kremlin -- in fact, to Vladimir Putin himself. As former FBI agent Frank Figliuzzi said today, this Russian effort to penetrate our democracy was like an infectious disease. It crept into our democratic apparatus through the Russian penetration of almost half our 50 states.

They tried to find ways to sabotage our electoral systems, to destroy our ability to register voters and even to count the votes. They wanted to destroy the one clear-cut unchallenged advantage we hold over the Russians, our democracy.

The Russians aren`t coming thanks to Trump`s compadres they`re already here.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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