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Cohen attacks' Stormy Daniels' lawyer. TRANSCRIPT: 05/10/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Michael Crowley, Anita Kumar, Ron Suskind, Michael Crowley, Michael Avenatti

Show: HARDBALL Date: May 10, 2018 Guest: Michael Crowley, Anita Kumar, Ron Suskind, Michael Crowley, Michael Avenatti


I do have a programming note for you. I will be filling in for my colleague Rachel Maddow at 9:00 p.m. eastern tonight. So maybe see you then.

But first and foremost, HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS starts right now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Deeper into Russia. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I`m Chris Matthews in Washington tonight.

Tonight, we learn of deepening ties between Trump fixer Michael Cohen and Russia. The more those ties raise questions about Donald Trump`s possible connections through Cohen to the Kremlin, the more they show why the Russians would use Cohen to deal with Trump.

The fact is that Michael Cohen was advertising himself as the man who see if you want to reach the new American President. It was Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for stormy Daniels who first revealed Cohen`s ties to the company Columbus Nova, which is associated with a Russian oligarch named Viktor Vekselberg. The U.S.-based company deposited $500,000 into a shell company, set up by Cohen and is run by Vekselberg`s cousin, Andrew Intrater.

Vekselberg is a close ally of Putin. And according to "Bloomberg" it set up a closed door session with the Russian president last September. According to "The New York Times," both cousins, Intrater and Vekselberg, have been questioned by special counsel Robert Mueller.

In a court filing, Michael Cohen`s lawyer refuted some but not all of Avenatti`s allegation writing, this document is concerning for a number of reasons, including the number of blatantly incorrect statement its contains. NBC News has reviewed financial documents that appear to support Avenatti`s claims.

Yesterday in a statement the company denied that Vekselberg was involved with those payment and said the firm was wholly owned and controlled by U.S. citizens. They added 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.

Mother Jones disputes that characterization citing SEC filings, they report that Columbus Nova had close organizational association with Vekselberg`s Russian company called the Renova group.

In this 2006 Securities and Exchange Commission filing, you can see that Vekselberg`s cousin, Intrater, described Columbus Nova as Renova`s U.S. affiliate. Vekselberg and Renova were sanctioned the U.S. treasury in April but they have not been accused of wrongdoing in connection with the investigation into Cohen. It`s unclear where the $500,000 payment from the Russian affiliated company went.

But according to what Avenatti says these documents show, it`s a small fraction of the roughly $4 million that Michael Cohen received, which some companies seemingly paid for access to the Trump administration. The Russian investigation is now expanded into an equally troubling pay for play controversy tied to the Stormy Daniels affair.

For more, I`m joined by Michael Avenatti himself.

Michael, I have to ask you the question. I want to paraphrase a line from Casablanca, the great film. Of all the law firms in the United States, why did Viktor Vekselberg go into Michael Cohen`s?

MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS` LAWYER: Well, Chris, thanks for having me on tonight.

I mean, I think it`s pretty obvious. Because Michael Cohen was advertising that he could deliver access to the highest office in the land. I mean, that`s the only explanation. I mean, Michael Cohen is no learned hand. He is no legal genius. He doesn`t know anything about accounting or real estate or aerospace or all the litany of other excuses we have now heard from these companies as to why they hired Michael Cohen. You know, let`s call it like we see it. They hired him for access to the U.S. President, period.

MATTHEWS: Were they paying him money for a service or they are paying him to help out Trump pay offer his bills to Stormy Daniels? How did that money get funneled from the Russians potentially? It`s fungible, I know that. But how could money like that fall into the same account that paid Stormy Daniels off for the $130,000?

AVENATTI: Well, it`s a very good question, Chris. I mean, we know for a fact that there were multiple payments from January 2017 until approximately August, September of 2017, totaling approximately a half a million dollars into that same bank account that Michael Cohen had established and used to pay the $130,000 to my client back in late October. We are not aware of significant funds having been deposited into that account during the months of November and December. So by the time the Russian oligarch directed that first payment in January, we believe that those funds and funds thereafter went to replenish that account from which the $130,000 had been paid.

MATTHEWS: What was your reaction when you realized your case, which involved all kinds of aspects of the law and intrigue and hanky punkie (ph), I guess and certainly cover-up, when you realized there was a Russian piece to this?

AVENATTI: Chris, it was shock and bewilderment when we first realized that. I mean, you know, you go into a case, you never know what you are going to get. It`s like a box of chocolates. But little did we know we were going to get this box of chocolates. And that these two distinct matters were going to be cross-pollinated. And I think at this point there`s no question that they are cross-pollinated.

You know, I find -- you raised the issue relating to the inaccuracies or alleged inaccuracies that Michael Cohen`s counsel have raised. You know, I find it rather ironic. They are talking about $25,000 worth of payments, or deposits and we`ve identified over $3 million worth of deposits, but they don`t want to talk about the payments from the oligarch or Novartis or AT&T or any of that. They want to distract away from the facts because the facts are damn ugly.

MATTHEWS: Is that what Michael Avenatti referred to when he said it was inaccurate? Because that is an old flux term, analogy. When somebody is 95 percent right or 99 percent right, they call it inaccurate. That`s an old tactic of people. What do you make of that? Was Avenatti talking about that difference of a couple percentage points rather than the heart of the thing which is Russia money came into his bank account?

AVENATTI: Well, you mean Michael Cohen.


AVENATTI: But I think that`s exactly what he was referring to, you know. They are talking about how it`s got all these inaccuracies in it, and the best they can point to is 25 grand. They haven`t pointed to a single inaccuracy, Chris, on the issue that you have teed up tonight, which is the payments from the Russian oligarch or the entity at his request.

MATTHEWS: Why do you think Mueller let the southern district of New York handle this case rather than handle it as the special counsel, if it was Russian-related? Or he didn`t know about it?

AVENATTI: That`s an interesting question. We don`t know when the referral took place. We don`t know the circumstance of it. He may not have known of those payments at the time that he referred it. Look. Let me tell you what I know about Bob Mueller --

MATTHEWS: You knew what he didn`t know?

AVENATTI: Well, it`s all a question of timing, Chris. I mean, let me tell you why I know Bob Mueller. Bob Mueller is an incredibly intelligent, aggressive by, one of the best in the business. And I think he is going to be very careful as it relates to overstepping whatever boundaries he believes he has by way of his mandate. And I think he`s wise to do that.

MATTHEWS: Would you tell a judge your source for this document, this information about the Russians and his cousin, Intrater, and this guy? Will you turn that over to a judge on request?

AVENATTI: Well, it would depend on the circumstances of the request and whether we could stand on the attorney-client privilege which allows us to protect the source of our information. You know we take that very seriously, Chris.

Let me just say this. We haven`t done anything wrong in this case. We welcome the investigation by the treasury department. We are confident we are going to be cleared. The bottom line is, is that the American people deserve to have this information. The remaining bank documents should be turned over by Michael Cohen. If he doesn`t have anything to hide, he ought to release the 14 or 15 months` another of bank statements tonight and let`s get to the bottom of this and be done with it. They are not going to do that, Chris, because we have only scratched the surface. This whole thing stinks.

MATTHEWS: What did you make of the "Mother Jones" story? We talk earlier today and you just read it. What do you make of the David Corn`s operation? They dug in deep where they show a strong connection between these American cousins, this cousin guy, Inrater, with Vekselberg.

AVENATTI: Well, they have a lot of history in this regardless. Well, Chris, as you know, because they did a piece not too long ago with looking into many of the same issues. I mean, look. I thought that piece was pretty solid, very well reported. I was impressed they were able to do it in such a short period of time. I mean, I read it and I came away very impressed with its conclusions.

MATTHEWS: Great to come on the show tonight. Thank you. Please come back, Michael Avenatti.

AVENATTI: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: For more, let`s turn to Kim Wehle, former assistant U.S. attorney and Ken Dilanian, of course, national security reporter for NBC News.

Kim, your thoughts about the relationship between the cousin who over here in the United States apparently they are saying was making the $500,000 investment with Michael Cohen`s firm, saying he is unrelated to his cousin in Russia who may have had a geopolitical interest in this whole thing, that is certainly larger than some cousin in the United States. What do you make of their claim of independence?

KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: Well listen, I think that -- it looks like people are making whatever kind of factual distinctions they can make and it`s grasping at straws at this point. We are beyond the point where anyone could legitimately say there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. I mean, we have after the election, we have a Russian oligarch funneling money to Mr. Trump`s personal lawyer and we don`t know where that money went. I mean, this is well beyond atmospherics of kind of being specific and detail oriented on some of these facts. I mean, we are all I think head-spinning at this point because it`s so complicated. It`s a hot mess. And I`m glad that Robert Mueller is going to sort it out for the American people because it looks like Congress isn`t going to do anything about it from a political standpoint.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of this bag of tricks? This guy is the jack of all trades apparently, Michael Cohen. He is an accountant. He is a consultant. He helps people with real estate. This money is pouring in and they write down what he is doing for them. And you wonder if they are just buying influence, they have to put something on the paper, Kim.

I don`t know what the Russian wants, but he clearly went around all the law firms in New York and found out which one was Trump`s, who was his fixer. I mean, that -- of all the law firms in New York, it still comes down to, why did they walk into his? This guy`s no big lawyer.

WEHLE: Sure. So it`s access to Mr. Trump, which on the campaign trail of course he made a big deal out of, with respect to Hillary Clinton. And we also have to wonder, OK, the math isn`t adding up. We know $130,000 went to Stormy Daniels, but there was a lot more money in that account. Did it go to actually pay people to influence the election, to hack some of the emails? Did it go in exchange for lifting or being easy on sanctions for - - Mr. Cohen also worked on sort of the potential pro-Ukrainian, pro-Russian deal.

Now, we don`t know any of these things. But it is just -- we are so beyond -- the bigger question in my mind is, how big is the fraud on the American people? And are we going to actually clean house and start getting things in order? Because this is just getting very, very disturbing.

MATTHEWS: Ken Dilanian, your thoughts about this becoming the door eventually for in-plants (ph) with the president?

KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, Chris, what we obviously have here is a massive influence peddling scandal. Michael Cohen is getting money from companies purely because of his access to Donald Trump. The question is, do we also have a Russia connection? Do we have a collusion connection with this oligarch, Vekselberg?

And just I find it incredible that Michael Cohen was willing to accept half a million dollars from a Russian-linked entity from January to April 2017 when the Russia scandal was breaking. He had been named in the dossier as having gone to a meeting in Prague. He denies this. But you know, essentially coordinating a cover-up of connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. He is clearly part of the Russia investigation.

This is a guy whose father-in-law is Ukrainian. He has been doing business with the Russians for years. You know, he was involved with that proposal to build a tower in Moscow, Trump tower Moscow with a Russian guy who has been linked to the mob, Felix Sater (ph). So the idea that he would take money from Vekselberg. And he also accepted money from AT&T and from a drug company. And we can understand that, that`s Washington. We have seen that movie before.

But what did this Russia-linked firm want from the Trump administration? That`s not obvious. It`s not entirely clear. Did it want sanctions relief? Vekselberg actually has an interest in a major aluminum firm who is also owned by Oleg Deripaska (ph), a man who is now under sanctions, and having to relinquish his stake in that company. So a lot of fascinating questions raised here, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Well, I have a question, my colleague. Why is it that everybody working with Trump and the campaign, the transition, and now it seems, have one relationship with Trump and another one with Russians? I mean, I go back to my old arguments. I have never seen so many Russian related figures in my history of covering politics. They are all over the place. They are all Russia related in some way.

DILANIAN: I agree with you. We have never seen anything like it. Now Donald Trump has a history of being in the real estate business in Russia. You know, the Trump rented condos in Sunny Isles, Florida are called little Moscow. And his son once said in 2008, a large, you know, percentage of our assets are coming from Russians. And I think we don`t know the answer.

Potentially, Robert Mueller knows the answer, if he has got Trump`s tax returns and if he has got his business records. He knows to what extent Trump has been in business with and in debt to Russians. But the American public elected Donald Trump without knowing the answer to that and I think it hangs over the Trump presidency, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Kim Wehle. And thank you, Ken Dilanian.

Coming up, vice President Mike Pence says it`s time to wrap up the Mueller investigation. Really, Mr. Vice President? Just as new avenues of possible collusion are starting to emerge. That sounds a lot like Richard Nixon saying during the Watergate, a year of Watergate is enough.

Plus, John McCain is urging Republicans to vote against Trump`s pick for CIA director. He says Gina Haspel`s refusal to denounce torture is disqualifying. Can McCain still have influence on a party that`s drifted so far to the right?

And can Trump use his breakthrough on the international stage to get a fresh face on his presidency? As the "Washington Post" Phil Rucker puts it. Is he trying to be the Faberge (ph) president? That`s the question for the HARDBALL roundtable tonight.

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

This is HARDBALL. you might learn from this one, however. It`s where the action is.


MATTHEWS: "The New York Times" is reporting right now that homeland security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was close to resigning after being publicly scolded by President Trump. Officials tell "the Times" that Trump berated her on Wednesday in front of the entire cabinet for what he said was her failure to adequately secure the nation`s borders. Two of those officials say that Nielsen has drafted a resignation letter, but has yet to submit it.

Trump has reportedly urged Nielsen to be more aggressive in handling illegal immigration according to "the Times." Quote "one persistent issue has been Mr. Trump`s belief that Miss Nielsen and other officials in the department were resisting his direction that parents should be separated from their children when families cross illegally into the United States." A report adds one person close to Miss Nielsen said she is miserable in her job.

In a statement late today, Nielsen said she won`t be leaving her post.

We will be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

With the threat of a possible subpoena hanging over the President, we appear to be approaching a potential showdown between special counsel Robert Mueller and Trump`s legal team. The latest sign, vice President Mike Pence today called for an end to the special counsel`s Russia probe altogether. Here`s what he said when Andrea Mitchell asked him about Robert Mueller.


ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS REPORTER: Do you think he can be trusted? Do you think he is a bad guy?

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, our administration has been fully cooperating with the special counsel.

MITCHELL: Do you think his investigation is a hoax?

PENCE: And will continue to. What I think is that it`s been about a year since this investigation began. Our administration has provided over a million documents. We fully cooperated in it. And in the interest of the country, I think it`s time to wrap it up. And I would very respectfully encourage the special counsel and his team to bring their work to completion.


MATTHEWS: Well, Pence`s language which comes as we approach the one-year anniversary of the Mueller probe, is eerily similar to what he heard from former President Richard Nixon after a year of the Watergate investigation.


RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I refer of course to the investigations of the so-called Watergate affair.

As you know, I have provided to the special prosecutor voluntarily a great deal of material. I believe that I have provided all the material that he needs to conclude his investigations.

I believe the time has come to bring that investigation and the other investigations of this matter to an end. One year of Watergate is enough.



MATTHEWS: Well, we know how that worked out for Nixon.

But Pence could also be foreshadowing something more. Rudy Giuliani told "The Wall Street Journal" this week that Trump`s legal team has set a one- year anniversary of the probe as the date they hope to decide, them, whether to comply with Mueller`s request to interrogate the president. That`s just a week from now, by the way, the 17th, next Thursday.

Well, today, Giuliani also suggested he blames Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, not Mr. Mueller, for the Russia probe.

In an interview with MSNBC`s Nicolle Wallace, he said that Rosenstein put Mueller in his position as special counsel to -- quote -- "steamroll the president."

Joining me now is Eddie Glaude, professor at Princeton University and MSNBC contributor, and Robert Costa, national political reporter at "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC political analyst.

Robert, on the reporting end of this thing, what do you think? Do you think the vice president was on a mission there from the president?

ROBERT COSTA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: He`s toeing the line. That`s the administration`s line. The president has been calling it a witch-hunt.

The vice president didn`t go that far with his rhetoric, but he knows that people from Rudy Giuliani to President Trump, people inside the administration, continue to call for this investigation to end. He`s echoing those sentiments, as he has on many issues in the past.

MATTHEWS: Who is the message to? Because it can`t be to the prosecutor, to Mueller. Is it to -- is it pressure they think will come in the polls? Or how do they think it`s going to work its way to actually making any difference, this call to end it?

COSTA: The timing is important. It comes as Republicans, some establishment Republicans on Capitol Hill are ratcheting up their criticism of special counsel Mueller.

There`s talk of impeachment or contempt of Congress measures being forwarded in the House by conservatives who are close to President Trump. Vice President Pence is close with the Koch brothers, with financial interests in the Republican Party. He`s from a different wing. He`s showing that that wing, not just the Trump wing, has real concern about the Mueller probe.

MATTHEWS: Eddie, what do you make of this pegging it to the one-year anniversary? I think somebody didn`t -- once again in the Trump administration didn`t know their history to realize that Nixon pulled the same number.


I think it`s a way of making concrete, Chris, the duration, the time. There`s been an argument that the Mueller investigation has gone on for too long. And so one of the ways in which Donald Trump, forever the showman, forever the reality show director, wants to make that concrete is by ending or making the decision on the year anniversary.

So, at that moment, you could say, it`s been 365 days. Right? And so I think it`s just really about optics at that moment.

MATTHEWS: Well, Pence -- the president`s call to end the Russia probe comes just after conservative opinion writer George F. Will said that Vice President Pence has overtaken President Trump as "America`s most repulsive public figure."

Will writes in "The Washington Post" that: "Trump is what he is, a floundering, inarticulate jumble of gnawing securities and not at all compensating vanities, which is pathetic. Pence is what he has chosen to be, which is horrifying."

Eddie, you look at that psychologically or whatever. Why would Pence be such a useful tool of this president`s?

GLAUDE: Well, let`s be very clear.

For -- since the election, we have been kind of keeping Pence apart, separating him from Donald Trump. The reason why Michael Flynn was fired was because he lied to Pence.

But, with this interview, Joe Scarborough made it very clear this morning, we need to ask Mike Pence, what did you know and when did you know it? He`s completely implicated now, I think, in a very, very serious way.

Remember, he led the transition team, and now he`s carrying the water, as Bob Costa just said, right? So part of what I think George Will is getting at, we know who Donald Trump is. Donald Trump is clear. He will lie to you straight to your face. He`s clear. He`s a narcissist. I want the ratings. I must be number one.

He`s clear. I`m greedy. I`m going to pursue money at any and all costs. He`s clear who he is.

But Mike Pence claims to be the moralist, the person who seems to embody a kind of kind of pious orientation, who`s always talking about his values. Yet what is being revealed is that he wants to be a toady for a charlatan, am admitted charlatan.


MATTHEWS: Let me stop you there.


MATTHEWS: What is the Pence-Russia connection? What is the Pence-Russia connection? Is there one?

GLAUDE: Well, I mean, I`m not sure. I really don`t know.

MATTHEWS: You said he`s in on this now. You said he`s part of this Russia problem. How so?

GLAUDE: Well, part of what I meant was that there`s a claim that he didn`t know, that he wasn`t aware of what was happening.

And so part of what I have been saying -- what I believe is that he`s been on the inside since the beginning.

When Chris Christie was removed from the transition team, who was made -- who was placed in charge? It was Mike Pence. And so all the folks who came through came through him.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to -- I have a question for Robert on the reporting end.

What is this new focus of anger, antipathy toward Rod Rosenstein? Is he the new guy they`re trying to get out of there, the Trump people?

COSTA: There`s a real fight going on between the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Devin Nunes, House Freedom Caucus chairman, Mark Meadows, both Republicans, friendly with President Trump.

They`re trying to uncover more documents related to the FISA warrants, those surveillance warrants of Trump campaign associates a couple years ago and trying to find out more about what happened.


COSTA: What was the data behind it?

And the FBI, the DOJ and intelligence operatives in this country are very wary of giving up too much information on that, because they could put sources at risk. That`s what I have reported this week with my colleagues.

MATTHEWS: Sounds like they`re focusing on getting rid of Rosenstein.

Anyway, thank you, Eddie Glaude. And thank you, Robert Costa.

Up next: Senator John McCain urges his colleagues now to reject Trump`s pick to head the CIA. He says Gina Haspel`s refusal to condemn torture is disqualifying. But what will his words be able to sway? Will he be able to sway the Congress on this issue?

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.



rMD-BO_GINA HASPEL, CIA DIRECTOR NOMINEE: I think that we should hold ourselves to a stricter moral standard, and I would never allow CIA to be involved in coercive interrogations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where was that moral compass at the time?

HASPEL: Senator, that was 17 years ago. When you`re out in the trenches at far-flung outposts in the globe and Washington says, here`s what we need you to do, this is legal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know you believed it was legal. I want to see, I want to feel, I want to trust that you have the moral compass that you said you have.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Trump`s nominee for CIA director, Gina Haspel, during hers confirmation hearing yesterday struggling to say whether she thought torture was immoral.

During the hearing, Haspel answered questions concerning her role using enhanced interrogation techniques after the 9/11 attacks.

And last night, Senator John McCain proved once again he`s willing to buck his party and the president. McCain said in a statement that while he believes Haspel`s a patriot -- quote -- "Ms. Haspel`s role in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing. Her refusal to acknowledge torture`s immorality is disqualifying. I believe the Senate should exercise its duty of advise and consent and reject this nomination."

According to "The Hill" -- "The Hill" newspaper, White House staffer Kelly Sadler said in a meeting that -- quote -- "It doesn`t matter. He`s dying anyway."

The White House did not deny this account, according to "The Hill" newspaper.

They said in a statement that: "We respect Senator McCain`s service to our nation, and he and his family are in our prayers during this difficult time."

McCain, who is battling brain cancer, will likely not be back in Washington for the actual vote.

Haspel`s confirmation isn`t the only issue McCain has taken a moral stand on. According to an advanced copy of his new book obtained by NBC News, McCain writes that he stands by his decision in late 2016 to provide then FBI Director James Comey with a copy of a Russian dossier compiled by a former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele.

He writes: "Even a remote risk that the president of the United States might be vulnerable to Russian extortion had to be investigated. I did what duty demanded I do."

I`m joined right now by Ron Suskind, the author of "The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America`s Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11."

Ron, take on two figures that are in the news right now on the issue of torture, John McCain and Dick Cheney. How are they doing in this moral battle?

RON SUSKIND, AUTHOR, "THE ONE PERCENT DOCTRINE": Well, they have been at this moral battle for a long time.

Remember, John McCain was the key vote, the conscience of America on this, having been tortured so brutally himself, that really brought about change in the 2000s, 2003, `4, and `5, when it started to become clear what we were doing.

And, again, they`re at it, Cheney, of course, unrepentant, I did the right thing, I would do it again, McCain saying, this is not who we are as a people, right to the finish, 17 years later.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of Cheney, why he`s at it? What keeps him -- well, I`m asking, but I think I know the answer, because I have watched the guy for decades.

But what gives him -- is it just a killer instinct, he must destroy his opponents, whether domestic or foreign? They must be destroyed, killed? SUSKIND: Cheney -- Cheney is a guy -- Cheney will go to his grave saying he did the right thing. He doesn`t care how many drafts of history are written, how many reports come out saying, it`s not effective, it costs us so, so very much, it gains us virtually nothing, this torturing.

We knew it was torture from the start. Spanish Inquisition, Chinese water torture, this has been around for a long time. Cheney will simply not give. That`s his way. Let history decide, I`m standing on my position, and basically, you know what, go to hell.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I know. But he`s the guy that lied and said that Iraq had nuclear weapons, knowing they didn`t.

SUSKIND: Absolutely right.

MATTHEWS: How do you explain that?

SUSKIND: Absolutely right.

Well, you know, look, the fact of the matter is, Cheney has always been a player who believed ends justify means. I will do what I need to do at time present. Debate it all you want once it`s over.

And he`s that way now with torture, just like he is with WMD. History`s judgment is really clear on this, Chris. Look at all those years. We went through all the debates in the 2000s to finally bury torture, to admit water-boarding was torture, and say, it ain`t good for the United States.

It undermines our basic values to the world and as a people. People agreed on that; 2007-`8, Bush signs executive orders. Obama follows with other ones.

And now, like a demon, it rises again, significantly because Gina Haspel is picked by Trump to be the person who should lead the CIA. Let`s just ask this question.

Of all the officers, all the fine talent, men and women both in the intelligence community, why pick this one person, literally one person, who is the most controversial figure involved in this most controversial policy of the United States?


SUSKIND: It`s the Trump way.

MATTHEWS: OK. Ron, thank you. You`re the best. Thanks very much, Ron Suskind, for coming on.

Up next: President Trump last night welcomed the detainees he helped bring back to American soil. But can foreign policy breakthroughs like this one erase the damage caused by his scandals?

You`re watching HARDBALL.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, I want to thank you all. It`s very early in the morning. I think you probably broke the all time in history television rating for 3:00 in the morning. That, I would say.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Donald Trump, of course, overnight welcoming home three American detainees freed by North Korea.

Trump built on that positive development hours later, announcing a date and location for his upcoming talks with North Korea`s leader.

Trump wrote on Twitter: "The highly anticipated meeting between Kim Jong-un and myself will take place in Singapore on June 12. We will both try to make it a very special moment for world peace."

Well, some see Trump`s success on the world stage as a chance for him to put a fresh new positive face on his presidency.

Writing in "The Washington Post," Phil Rucker reports that: "For Trump, each bold stroke is like a spritz of Febreze on his narrative of domestic scandal, momentarily masking the expanding Russia probe of special counsel Robert Mueller."

Let`s bring in the HARDBALL Roundtable tonight.

Michael Crowley is national security editor for Politico. Heidi Przybyla is national political correspondent for NBC News. And Anita Kumar is White House correspondent for McClatchy.

Starting with you, Michael, but, everyone, will this work?

MICHAEL CROWLEY, POLITICO: Chris, it`s high reward, but high risk.

So, right now, what you have is Trump getting ready for one of the most extraordinary meetings we have seen in diplomatic history in the modern era. And it`s pushing the Russia scandal out of the headlines.

And he`s got a great flare for theater. That event last night was uncanny stagecraft. It was pretty weird to be talking about the ratings when you have three guys who have just been released from captivity from a brutal nation. But the lead-up is great.

The problem is, Chris, there`s huge risk involved. He`s going to the summit. It`s going to dominate the headlines. But if he doesn`t clinch a clear successful detail, things could get scary really quickly.

Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen gave a speech that got a little bit overshadowed by Trump ripping up the Iran nuclear deal. He warned that he thinks we`re closer to nuclear war with North Korea than ever before, because if the summit doesn`t go well, diplomacy appears to have failed, and we are right back to talking about military options and the possibility of a catastrophic confrontation with North Korea.

So, I think it`s a little early for Trump to be counting his ducks. He`s having a nice run on these foreign policy issues dominating the headlines, pushing out the stories he doesn`t like. And the rewards could be very high, but the risk remains extremely high. So, I think right now, we have to be very cautious about it.

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Chris, let`s continue the Febreze metaphor. As you know, Febreze only masks major odors. So, if there`s a major failure on either of these fronts, in North Korea or Iran, like Michael Crowley says, in the end, what matters is the results. It matters how this ends.

We took a huge gamble in scrapping this Iran agreement. And now according to state department briefing that was on background, without really a plan B for what is going to happen. It`s possible that the Iranians could cry uncle and give us a better deal, or it`s possible that the Europeans who we are counting on to execute all of this, say no and balk. It`s possible they don`t let inspectors in.

There`s a lot of ways this could end badly, including getting involved in another major confrontation in the Middle East. And I bring you back to some of the major pillars of America first. If you recall, Chris, a major pillar of America first was getting us out of these conflicts, this never- ending cycle of war in the Middle East. So that is where I think it really hurt him with his base, if we march into yet another armed conflict in the Middle East.

ANITA KUMAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY: Sure, I think -- I think it`s working in the short-term. I mean, they`re really banking and counting on all the theatrics of yesterday. But it`s two days in a row now. I mean, there are a lot of people who are concerned about getting out of the Iran nuclear deal, but there are a lot of people -- his supporters who are happy. He made good on a campaign promise. And I think he felt good about that.

So, the next day, we have North Korea. He went out to the airport, to Andrews Air Force Base, he took the first lady, he took the vice president.

Today, all day, the vice president -- the White House was talking about how well they did. They sent out a statement to the media saying that it was the president`s victory for the world. They`re feeling good about it.

What they`re banking on, in Washington, everybody`s obsessed with the Russia investigation. But out in the rest of America, they care about security, foreign policy and security, and they care about the economy. Both of those things, depending on who you are, you`re doing pretty well right now.

So, they`re feeling pretty good about that and they think they can ride that for a while.

MATTHEWS: Well, the first two of you had a different premise than the third of you, Anita, because the first two of you assumed it wasn`t going to work. But Anita is arguing that it could well work.

I want to get back to you, Michael and also to Heidi. Suppose it does work. Suppose we get them to give up their nuclear weapons, won`t that overshadow a lot of the bad stuff, or won`t it? Your thoughts, Michael?

CROWLEY: Chris, I think -- I mean, yes. The answer is yes, but it`s going to be a real puzzle, because that will be, first of all, a jaw-dropping foreign policy success. And you just are going to have to give Donald Trump a lot of credit. You`re going to have to say that his extremely unconventional approach to foreign policy has had a breakthrough success.

At the same time, does that mean you can dismiss the domestic scandals? I guess it`s going to be a political question. How does the American public, how do the Congress feel about the fact that you may have had a president who committed potential crimes that are being investigated, versus a guy who has eliminated a grave threat to the United States in the form of a nuclear armed hostile power.

I don`t think you can predict how that will play out. But I will say, you just cannot deny the accolades that this president is going to get if Kim - - if he strikes a real deal with Kim. But one last point, Chris, they could walk away from that summit with a lot of nice words and even a piece of paper that looks great. But following through on that deal, and in particular, verifying it, that the North Koreans have dismantled dozens of nuclear weapons across a very large, mountainous country is going to be extremely hard and take many years.

So, success is going to take a long time to establish.

PRZYBYLA: Chris, we`ve set the bar so high for this deal with North Korea. We`ve said total denuclearization and given that it comes amid rejection of the Iran deal, we cannot even accept a deal similar to what we cut with Iran, which may be in a previous situation and different reality Trump would have eagerly accepted and called it a victory. We can`t do that now.

So -- and Kim Jong-un also is watching what`s going on with Trump supporters, egging him on and saying that he already deserves a Nobel Peace Prize, that a deal is already baked in the cake. And so, the Trump administration is very much dependent -- the Trump administration is now dealing with a Kim Jong-un who feels that he has a really strong negotiating position.

MATTHEWS: Well said.

Made for TV welcoming ceremony overnight, President Trump also had some unexpected praise, I don`t know where it came from, for North Korea`s leader. Let`s watch him.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We want to thank Kim Jong-un who really was excellent to these three incredible people. They are really three incredible people.


MATTHEWS: You know, there`s also possibilities that you`re watching what looks like a reality show. I think Trump wants to be -- he talked about the idea of a big crowd he had in terms of ratings at 3:00 in the morning. I mean, would have thought about ratings when you`re bringing home captives who have been over there for a while?

I guess, each of you in order, starting with Michael again, tell me what historical echo -- I remember when Reagan had been horrified like we all were, by the loss of 241 marines over in Lebanon when that barracks was attacked by a bomb, and now, we went to Grenada in this hemisphere and all of a sudden, we forgot, most people forgot what happened a week or two before in Lebanon.

I wonder if he can mask it that way, what`s been going on with everything, with Stormy Daniels and all that, in this short run.

CROWLEY: Well, what`s -- first of all, of course, we`re overwhelmed by headlines, it`s impossible to remember. I mean, Eric Schneiderman to me feels like it happened in December and it`s the beginning of this week.


CROWLEY: It`s a blur.

But what strikes me with Trump in this case, there`s a phrase in sort of military theory, they say, escalate to deescalate. Trump had the whole nation terrified that we were on the brink of nuclear war. Suddenly, he did this 180-degree pivot.

Now, admittedly with North Korea being willing to come to the table, that`s an important part of it. But he`s dramatically changed his rhetoric, completely dropped the insults and threats and now he`s actually complimenting Kim, which is bewildering, but it`s creating this sense of euphoria, in contrast to the deep alarm people were feeling on the other hand.

And, look, maybe you have to give the guy credit. He`s sort of a psychological master, playing with the storylines, pulling the strings of our emotions and we`ll see if it`s going to lead to real results. Again, that`s the big question.

PRZYBYLA: Chris, Obama also got --


MATTHEWS: Heidi and Anita, the same question to both of you, can he do -- if this doesn`t work out, can he pull a reality TV number and simply say, I`m firing you, to Kim Jong-un? Just blame it on him and walk away as if he came off the boss. Can he pull it off like he did on television for nine years with this guy?

PRZYBYLA: He can pull it off with his base. But at the end of the day, we`re going to walk away from this, there`s going to be a lot of footage of Trump building up the anticipation here that we`re going to have a major breakthrough and he`s going to get a Nobel Peace Prize for it. So, I think for everyone other than his base --

MATTHEWS: Yes, so true.

PRZYBYLA: -- it`s going to be a failure.

KUMAR: Yes, I`m with Heidi that the expectations now are so incredibly high.

But, look, I mean, this is going to be happening in the next few weeks. I still think that people around the country really, number one, care about the economy, and that`s going to be the major issue for the midterms. It`s not looking good for Republicans. I`m not sure that he can really do about that. But so, it will remain to be seen. But I still think the economy is the number one issue.


MATTHEWS: The roundtable is sticking with us and up next, this -- it`s hard to argue it`s not the economy stupid. We`ll be back with "tell me something I don`t know".

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Well, the Pentagon has issued a report now that Niger ambush that killed four U.S. soldiers last October in Africa. It concludes that widespread problems sort of blame for the deaths, including insufficient training and preparation. It also notes the Special Forces team did not get required approval for the risky mission, which targeted a high-level insurgent with links to the Islamic state.

The Pentagon`s findings are laid out in an eight-page summary but the full report, which is more than 6,000 pages, remains classified. It plans to release a redacted version in the coming months.

And we`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL round table.

Michael, tell me something I don`t know.

CROWLEY: Well, you might know that the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem is opening on Monday. Jared Kushner and a U.S. delegation will be there. There had been a lot of speculation that might be the moment for the U.S. to drop a proposed Middle East peace plan.

But, right now, Chris, expectations are very low that that`s going to happen. I know that State Department employees have been given guidance to give a sort of generic answer. We`re still working hard on the plan and will present it when the time is right if asked about this. So, don`t be holding your breath for a plan next week.


PRZYBYLA: Chris, the investigations into Russia are taking on many forms, including what`s going on in the southern district of New York, but one that hasn`t got a lot of attention that maybe should is an outside civil suit that`s been filed by a group of victims of the WikiLeaks hack. It`s two Democratic National Committee donors and also a former employee at the DNC whose personal information was hacked, including Social Security numbers and they`re claiming damages. They are suing and they`re getting a hearing on May 17th. And so far, this case is going forward and May 17th they`ll get their hearing.


KUMAR: Sure, there has been a lot of talk about how Republicans are in trouble in the midterm elections. And I`m going to give you a statistic that shows just how good the Democrats feel. In the Charlotte area of North Carolina, there was a primary on Tuesday and the first incumbent Republican Congressman Pittenger lost. He was the first one to lose in 2018.

But what was interesting about it is the Democrat who won, who easily won, Dan McCready, he got more votes than all three Republicans combined. And so, the Democrats are really going to be coming out in full force.

MATTHEWS: I`ve always had a lot of hope for North Carolina.

Thank you, Michael Crowley, Heidi Przybyla and Anita Kumar.

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

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: "Trump Watch", Thursday, May 10th, 2018.

They`re back, the people who ran the George W. Bush presidency into the ground, those whose instinct is for war, who speak in the neocon language of WMD and homeland and regime change.

John Bolton, who wants the United States to bomb Iran and has said so again and again has now got the title and position of national security adviser, at a time when his country`s security is far down on his list of ambitions, well behind the many world capitals he continues to want to overthrow, starting with Tehran.

Today, another oligarch of the neocon order showed up. Dick Cheney showed up as a character witness for torture. He wants it. He likes having it in his toolbox.

Both these hawks are now back with their heads up in public, as if we forgot their actions early in this century, when they took this country, starting with a president into a war that made sense only to the crazed obsession of people who never personally had to fight a war. They talked W. into one bad horrendous, ridiculous war in Iraq. Now, they`re back on their road to taking another president to another war in Iran.

Listen to their words. Some of us saw these neocons beating the drum to invade Baghdad. Listen to the weeks ahead. Listen hard.

Having killed the deal restricting Iran`s nuclear program, they will soon be popping up with a case for a military strike. You don`t have to speculate. They want this war. They`ve said so before. Name a war the neocons haven`t wanted.

Mr. President, keep an eye on these guys. They took down one president. They`re gunning for a second.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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