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Trump and allies on offense. TRANSCRIPT: 05/14/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: McKay Coppins; Ginger Gibson, Eugene Scott

Show: HARDBALL Date: May 14, 2018 Guest: McKay Coppins; Ginger Gibson, Eugene Scott

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: That does it for our show. I will see you back to you at 6:00 p.m. eastern tomorrow.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: The iceberg cometh. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews from Miami.

With Rudy Giuliani at the helm of the President`s legal defense team, Donald Trump is on all-out war footing against the special counsel`s Russia probe. A new report in "the Washington Post" today illustrates the alarming degree to which the President is consumed by this investigation. Which the authors describe as a steaming locomotive.

Quote "the Mueller operation, like the former marine corps platoon commander who leads it is secret and methodical. Ten blocks west in the White House. President Trump combats the probe with bluster, disarray and defiance as he scrambles for survival."

According to "the Washington Post," the probe has been a near constant distraction for the commander in-chief. For instance, the President vents to his associates about the FBI raids on his personal attorney Michael Cohen as often as 20 times a day in the estimation of one confidante.

Furthermore, Trump gripes that he needs better TV lawyers, TV lawyers to defend him on cable news. Despite all this, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani is taking credit for a job well done saying we have gone from defense to offense.

Trump`s defenders have used the oncoming or the upcoming anniversary of Mueller`s appointment to call on him to wrap up the investigation. For his part, Rudy Giuliani has punted on whether the President will ultimately sit down with Mueller. Delaying that decision until mid-June.

Joining me now is the co-author of that report in "the Washington Post," Robert Costa who is an MSNBC political analyst. Jonathan Lemire is the White House reporter of the "Associated Press" and also MSNBC political analyst. Kim Wehle is former assistant U.S. attorney and Sophia Nielson is a former House GOP committee council and an NBC think contributor.

Let me go now this question of Robert. The difference between the Mueller operation which is very equality, very secretive, very disciplined, and the White House operation, the legal team led by Giuliani, how would you compare the two?

ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Totally different worlds. You a prosecution team and Mueller a federal team. They stay hidden behind public view. They want to work in a discreet way as they pursue different lines of inquiry.

With the President, you have him someone who comes out of this culture scene in New York where he was in the tabloids all the time. And he is complaining to his aides we are told by his confidantes about wanting to have those TV lawyers to be on television making a case to public, not just making a legal case.

MATTHEWS: Well, it seems like Rudy Giuliani is a character out of reality TV. Almost like he is on "survivor" with Trump on the same team together, the same crew. And I`m wondering, it doesn`t seem like Mr. Mueller is interested in joining the TV -- the reality TV world itself.

COSTA: He`s not at all. But you look at the history of President Trump, going back to Roy Cohn, and the President has turned to attorneys who have colorful personalities to say the least, combative personalities.

And Giuliani, when I spoke to him a few days ago for the story, he said he wants to be on offense. The President wants to be on offense. That`s why Giuliani went right to Mueller`s face. And their first encounter, started questioning his credibility, bringing up former FBI director James Comey.

MATTHEWS: How do you square the two? You have Rudy Giuliani out there saying they are going from defense to offense, yet the gist of your piece that you co-reported today is that, what is his name, Mueller and his team of top flight lawyers are coming at him full steam. Which is right?

COSTA: They are both right. Mueller is coming at him full steam, Chris, because he hasn`t finished his investigation. He needs the President to sit down in front of him to figure out his intent on some of these key decisions as President. Did the President have corrupt intent? Criminal intent? He can`t really finish his report on the President`s conduct until he has that interview.

MATTHEWS: Does he expect to get the truth from Trump?

COSTA: Well, it`s a dance right now. The President`s team keeps saying they are going to consider the interview only if it`s fair, if the questions are narrow. But they are extending the process. They`re extending the negotiation. No guarantee.

MATTHEWS: Jonathan, let me go to you on this question of better TV lawyers. The Trump operation is still batting on the idea they can win on FOX News. They can win on television. Somehow they are going win in courtroom that way. How does that work? Is it the courtroom of the Congress? Where does reality tend -- where is reality TV boundaries end and the real world take over? Is there such a boundary anymore?

JONATHAN LEMIRE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Robert Mueller cares very little about what`s on television. He is doing this work behind closed doors. His investigation is going full steam ahead in secret. A great example, what we learned last week about Michael Cohen and these clients and these lobbying firms. Mueller was on that last fall. We just learned about it months later. But that`s not the realm the President is fighting right now.

Rudy Giuliani is someone he wanted right before the hire. He was grousing to confidantes according to our reporting that he didn`t have someone out there. He didn`t have an attack dog. He didn`t have someone --you carry his flag on television.

When he finely hired Giuliani, he even totally -- he told one confident, he boasted, I have got him. I have got America`s bleeping mayor now. Now Giuliani is still someone Trump is glad is out there making his point. He is not, however, enjoyed everything that Giuliani has done. He has made a mess on a lot of issues.

MATTHEWS: In the mind of Giuliani, in the mind of Trump, who is the jury that is going to decide whether he gets bounced from office or not? Trump?

LEMIRE: Well, in Trump`s mind, you know, he often cares far more about how it`s perceived on television. This is something he is -- it is a feedback loop, particularly with FOX News where he will see something, react to it. He will see the reaction and good from there. He cares a lot about the public relations war. People around him have tried to caution him to say look, you have far more legal concerns than how it`s playing on television. Certainly Mueller cares very little about how it`s being perceived on cable.

MATTHEWS: Kim, let`s go back to the question raised by Robert. The notion that Trump is somehow -- rather Mueller is waiting around for Trump to talk to him. Why on earth would Mueller expect Trump to give him information that was true? I mean, I don`t understand why he is waiting around to get an interview or an interrogation of Trump. Is it to catch him in a lie? Because he is not going to get help by the guy in his own prosecution. Why would Trump help -- want to help Mueller prosecute him and kick him out of office, basically? Why would he want to help?

KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, Mueller is not sitting around, twiddling his thumbs and waiting for Giuliani to make a decision on whether he is going to produce the President for an interview. I mean, I think that the scope of this probe is so vast and so wide by necessity based on turn over one rock and there is more stuff underneath. And so -- but any good investigator is going to want to talk to a key witness and find out what he has to say. And he might have or might not have sufficient evidence to actually bring and prove a crime. And of course there is an addition, a big constitutional question as to whether he could actually indict the standing President.

MATTHEWS: Sure. But why -- let me go back to Robert. What is it that he wants from Trump in an interview? I don`t get this yet. Why would Trump give him what he wants? I don`t get this.

COSTA: It`s about the legal situation, Chris, because Mueller knows when you talk to people close to the investigation that the President declines a voluntary interview, then what happens? A subpoena is processed. And that`s what Giuliani keeps talking about.

If Mueller has to bring a subpoena, then it becomes legal war. Mueller at this moment, it could change, is trying to avoid that kind of legal war, wants the President to voluntarily sit down. But they haven`t really come to that crossroads yet that a decision has to be made.

MATTHEWS: Sophia, what is your thought about this question? Let`s go to the issue of Sean Hannity. Everybody is making a big deal how these guys are chatting on the phone every night after TV broadcast by Sean. What`s it about? What do you make of it?

SOPHIA NIELSON, FORMER HOUSE REPUBLICAN COMMITTEE COUNCIL: Well, one, I don`t think it`s very important. I mean, if the President is playing to just the FOX News audience, I guess it`s important.

But back to I think the central issue we are discussing, Chris, and the context, which is about Mueller, which is if the President wants to win over the public opinion, he is going to need to talk to all of us. He is going to need a spokesperson who is actually got his facts correct, who actually knows what he is talking about.

The President`s biggest liability right now is not Sean Hannity, it`s the President. The President is an undisciplined client. I would never want to represent someone like him. And Giuliani is an undisciplined lawyer. The both of them together are a mess.

So if I`m Mueller, I want to give him the opportunity to talk to me voluntarily. And if not, as your other guests have just said, we go to war. I issue a subpoena and I see what happens. I mean, this is in new territory for us about Presidents and them testifying under these types of circumstances versus what happened with Clinton and even with Nixon. So we will just have to see how this plays out.

MATTHEWS: As I mentioned, the "New York" magazine reports amid the challenges of the Russia probe, the President has increasingly turned to conservative commentator and FOX News anchor Sean Hannity for support.

Quote "on some days they speak multiple times on the phone. He and the President alternate between the witch-hunt and gabbing like old girlfriends about media gossip and whose show sucks."

One White House official says generally the feeling is that Sean is the leader of the outside kitchen cabinet. The story also notes that publicly Hannity has behaved as if he were an extension of the Trump communications department. Let`s watch some examples.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Robert Mueller has an agenda. He is carrying out a witch-hunt.

We now have in this country what is a runaway investigation. It`s spinning out of control. It`s led by Mueller and is merry band of Trump hating deep state sycophants.

It is clear, as I have been warning, Mueller is out to get the President, and it appears at any cost. Robert Mueller has now officially gone rogue and declared war against the President.


MATTHEWS: Jonathan, what do I make of this? You are a straight newsman, Jonathan. You cover the news as an AP reporter, as a straight reporter like Robert. I want to know, what do you make of this friendship that`s so public now between a TV commentator, whatever, anchor and a President?

LEMIRE: Well, thank you for that, Chris. Yes. I mean, I don`t think it`s not a surprise that Trump and Hannity speak frequently. But what`s eye opening that story is how often they do talk. And the influence they have on each other. The President will speak to Sean Hannity. We know he talks to him a lot where he will grouse about stuff and then suddenly that`s part of Hannity`s headlines that night.

And perhaps more concerningly for White House aides, west wing officials I`ve talked, to it`s how it works the other way, where Hannity will portray a sometimes let`s warped view of the Mueller probe that Trump internalizes as fact. And that worries people around the President that he has a sort of misguided sense of what is actually happening, and perhaps viewing it as this sort of phony partisan witch-hunt and not always fully understanding the true existential threat this poses to the President, the legal jeopardy that he could be in.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Sophia on that. And the simple question I want to end with tonight, what`s wrong with that? I think I know what it is, but I want other people`s opinion. What would be wrong with a close almost twin- like or duet-like relationship between the President and a TV commentator?

NIELSON: Chris, what`s wrong with it is this President talks about fake news every day and he talks about how out of control the press is. Sean Hannity`s credibility is shot in my humble opinion. I don`t think he is very credible anymore. He is clearly biased. He would be in my opinion perpetrating fake news on FOX. So I don`t think that the President and Sean Hannity having this bromance they have really impacts the Mueller investigation any, and I don`t think it`s moving public opinion in the President`s favor. It`s just keeping his base at FOX intact and ginned up. That`s what they are doing.

MATTHEWS: Would you say the same thing about a liberal or a progressive commentator or columnist during the Clinton administration where they had a close working relationship with the White House where they basically echoed everything that the White House said?

NIELSON: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Would that bother you?

NIELSON: Sure. It bothers me if it`s on the left or the right because that`s not what we as journalists are supposed to do. We`re supposed to be objective. We`re supposed to report the facts. We`re supposed to keep the people informed. It`s fundamental, Chris, as you know to our constitutional beginnings as a republic.

MATTHEWS: Well, thank you, because that did go on back then in the `90s. And I know about it and everybody does who followed the news.

Thank you, Robert Costa, Jonathan Lemire, Kim Wehle and Sophia Nielson.

Coming up, Trump loyalist are increasingly worried that vice president Mike Pence is trying to forge his own political base. Pence has unlimited ambition, we all know. And "The New York Times" is reporting that more and more pence is reaching for control of the Republican Party itself and at times alienating the Trump crowd. That`s ahead.

Plus split screen reality in the Middle East. The new United States embassy opens in Jerusalem today while dozens of Palestinians are shot and killed along the Gaza border, lots of them. Enormous numbers were wounded today and tensions are high especially after pulling out of the Iran deal. And still no apology from the White House aide who made that awful remark about Senator John McCain. The Trump team says she is a victim in all of this.

So finally, let me finish with Trump watch. This is HARDBALL where the action is.


MATTHEWS: During the 2016 Presidential campaign, Donald Trump rarely missed an opportunity to criticize China.


TRUMP: China has been ripping us, and I have many friends in China. They agree with me 100 percent. They can`t imagine, they can`t even believe that they can get away with what`s happening.

I will direct my secretary of the treasury to label China a currency manipulator. They are. They know it.

We give state dinners to the heads of China. I say why are you doing state dinners for them? They are ripping us left and right. Just take them to McDonald`s and go back to the negotiating table. Seriously.

We can`t continue to allow China to rape our country. And that`s what they`re doing.


MATTHEWS: After years of railing against China, President Trump is now expressing concern for, catch this, Chinese jobs. On Sunday, Trump tweeted President Xi of China and I are working together to give massive Chinese phone company ZTE a way to get back in the business, fast. Too many jobs in China lost. The commerce department has been instructed to get it done.

Well, Trump`s announcement undercuts moves made by his own administration. Just last month the commerce department blocked American companies from selling problems to ZTE after it was found to have violated U.S. sanctions by selling goods to Iran and to North Korea. Trump defended the move late today saying in part that this is quote "reflective of the larger trade deal we are now negotiating with China and my personal relationship with President Xi."

I think it`s about North Korea, don`t you? We will be right back.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump has been making history since the first day of this administration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know I speak on behalf of the entire cabinet and millions of Americans when I say congratulations and thank you. I`m deeply humbled as your vice President to be able to be here.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m here today because I stand with President Trump. It`s the greatest privilege of my life to serve as vice President to President Trump. He is man of his word. He is a man of action.


MATTHEWS: Yes, sir Bob.

Anyway. Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Publicly vice President Mike Pence is Donald Trump`s most devoted cheerleader. Privately according to "The New York Times," the vice President and his chief of staff are ruffling some feathers. It reports that Republican officials now see Mr. Pence as seeking to exercise expansive control over a political party ostensibly helmed by Mr. Trump, tending to his own allies and interests even when the President`s interests lean in another direction. It adds Mr. Pence and his influential chief of staff Nick Ayers are unsettling a group of Mr. Trump`s fierce loyalists who fear they are forging a separate power base. Aware of the concern, the vice President chief of staff recently told a Republican ally that one reason pence is so effusive in his public remarks about Trump is to tamp down questions about his loyalty. I think that guy is in trouble right now.

Anyway, Pence`s spokesperson disputing "The Times"` report, saying in a statement that the president and vice president work together to develop a political strategy, and that the two hands work hand in hand.

Anyway for more, I`m joined by Jeremy Peters, a reporter for "The New York Times" and an MSNBC contributor. And McKay Coppins is staff writer for "The Atlantic."

Hey, McKay, this is great reporting about this. Tell me about this whole story about how that this guy actually said -- this chief of staff actually told somebody, I`m acting very dutiful and supportive of the president so they won`t think I`m undermining him, so they won`t think that.

I have never heard anybody talk like that to the press or to anybody. Go ahead.

MCKAY COPPINS, "THE ATLANTIC": Yes, it`s a crucial element of Pence`s survival strategy in this White House.

I wrote a profile of Pence last year. And what I heard time and time again was that he had to play -- he has to play the public loyalist to Trump in order to be able to have the latitude that he wants to get things done that he wants to get done.

And Trump is somebody who is susceptible to that. If he sees Pence on TV singing his praises, talking about how great he is, he is likely to say OK, well, that guy is in my camp, and it gives Pence the ability to maneuver behind the scenes in a way that helps himself.

MATTHEWS: Well, I don`t know if I know more about politics than either of these guys, but I will tell you, on this count, I might. If I heard this guy kissing up to me the way this guy does in public, I would be saying, this guy has made the biggest bet in history on me not being president soon and he being president.

That`s the bet he is making, that I want to be able to appeal to the party that has been won over by Trump when the time comes. That`s what I want to hear were I Trump. Your thought again on that, McKay?

COPPINS: Yes. Yes. No, there is no question.

I`m told that Pence has been waiting in the wings for this entire time. I was talking to a Trump loyalist, former adviser last year who said Pence is not a guy who is going down with the ship.


COPPINS: If he sees an opportunity to jump, he is going to jump. And he is going to take that opportunity.

MATTHEWS: Well, he is high up on the poop deck anyway.


MATTHEWS: Jeremy, your view about this motive of this guy, because he acts like a character out of "Da Vinci Code" sometimes. He is so religious, so pious in his -- it`s like he`s a grand -- some kind of grand vizier for Trump, not just a vice president.

He lights candles in honor of this guy. It`s strange. You can smell the incense when he is talking about the president. He is overdoing it. And Trump likes that, Jeremy?

JEREMY PETERS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: That`s exactly -- I have been to enough of these speeches of Pence`s where he just lays it on so thick, you have to ask yourself, like, does he really mean this? Does he think that the president...


MATTHEWS: Nobody likes anybody that much.


And Trump is not a stupid guy. He can smell a phony. And I think that, sooner or later, this is going to catch up with Mike Pence, and I will tell you why. It`s not just that there are Republicans who are concerned, as my colleagues reported in this terrific piece, that Pence is building his own power center within the Republican Party.

I have heard from Republicans, especially Republicans on the religious right, that they`re kind of tiring of Pence. They don`t see anything that special about him anymore. He suffers from the comparison to Trump.

MATTHEWS: But he talks like them. He talks...


MATTHEWS: ... like he is at a religious event, with that piety.

PETERS: But what Trump has taught them, Chris, is that they don`t need someone who talks like them.


PETERS: Donald Trump has given the religious right more than Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush ever did, combined.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Again, today.


MATTHEWS: They moved the embassy today for them.

PETERS: Exactly.

So they look at Mike Pence, and they say, would we have gotten all this with Mike Pence? And they`re not so sure. It`s like after this year of living dangerously with Trump, it`s like, you have been driving a station wagon your entire life and then suddenly getting behind the wheel of a Bentley, and you realize like, wow, this is really fun, and it works.

And that`s exactly what has happened here. And it really undercuts this notion that Pence is somehow the guy, the adult in the room who is keeping Trump in line, because he is really not on these issues that are important to the religious right.

MATTHEWS: Well, McKay, back in January, you reported that a few days after the release of the "Access Hollywood" tape, Pence contemplated a coup.

You write: "Pence made it clear to the Republican National Committee, the RNC, that he was ready to take Trump`s place as the party`s nominee."

Tell me about that reporting, because I have grown up politically in a world where if you pop up when the other guy is weak, that other guy or woman never forgets it. They forget that, when you had a bad couple days after "Access Hollywood," for example, that guy tried to seize an opportunity.

You never forget that, for the simple reason you know that, some point later, you will be weak again and he will be there to ditch you.

Your thoughts?

COPPINS: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: Tell me about your reporting on that.

COPPINS: Well, I talked to several Republicans familiar with the situation. Obviously, I couldn`t -- I can`t go into more specifics because of the sensitivity of the issue.

But that is the moment that a lot of Trump loyalists point to. That moment after the "Access Hollywood" tape came out, that weekend was a testing ground for Trump aides and allies.

MATTHEWS: Sure was.

COPPINS: All of them talk about it constantly. If you were with Trump at that time, then you are a true loyalist.

And that`s why a lot of people have been wary of Pence from the beginning, because they think that, for that moment, for that day or two, Pence wavered in his loyalty to Trump. And they`re just waiting for the moment that that happens again.

MATTHEWS: Well, Corey Lewandowski, the president`s fired campaign manager, is now going toe work for the vice president`s PAC, his political action committee. That`s Pence`s.

A Republican source told NBC News that Trump asked Lewandowski to sign up. Another Republican source told NBC Lewandowski`s arrival is meant to send a signal that, while Trump and Pence are aligned, Trump is the boss.

How do you read that, Jeremy, that he put a guy, a mole in there?

PETERS: I read it, Chris, as the vice president`s office trying to undermine the report of my colleagues.

MATTHEWS: Oh, really?

PETERS: Basically, this came out about 10 minutes after the report posted on

And what happened was, basically, the Pence forces within the White House wanting to signal that they`re all in alignment with President Trump and his team. So, basically, Corey Lewandowski joining Pence is supposed to signal that all is well. And this was done as a response to the piece.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about iconic politics, because I think a lot of politicians are driven by pictures they remember growing up politically, and they try to match up to them and do that same smart move.

Let`s talk about Jerry Ford and how he replaced Nixon in 1974, when Nixon was canned, basically. Ford had spent a lifetime supporting Nixon. And I did respect that part way back in the beginning, with the Nixon Fund and the Checkers speech and all.

So, Nixon had a good memory of the guy. But for a while there, it looked like Jerry Ford, as leader of the Republican Party in the House, was really the Republican Party leader when Nixon was not.

Is Mr. Pence trying to ape that manner, try to become Mr. Republican under Trump, so when Trump goes, he will be seen as the natural successor, like Hillary was last time on the Democratic side, the natural successor? Your thoughts?

COPPINS: You know, I spoke to a senior Republican Senate aide last year who said, when we all talk about in the media about which scandal is finally going to align Republicans on the Hill against Trump, that`s the wrong question.

What he said is, the question is, when are the Republicans on the Hill going to decide that they`re ready for President Mike Pence? And that`s when they`re going to make the decision to turn on Trump.

Now, I don`t know if that`s true, and maybe that situation has evolved since last year, when he told me that, but I do think that Pence has clearly laid a groundwork and is continuing to lay the groundwork for him to be the party champion, the one who can unite all the different camps of the Republican Party in case something happens to Trump.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Jeremy with my least nice question I have ever put to you, Jeremy, the hardest question, to which I don`t know there is an answer.


MATTHEWS: But I`m going to ask the wrong guy, you.

Who on the Democratic side right now in 2016 looking for -- or, rather, 2018, looking forward to 2020, who could beat Mike Pence in the states that matter, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan? Who could beat Mike Pence in a mano a mano race that November?

PETERS: I can think of any number of the presumed Democratic front-runners that would be very strong against Mike Pence, because I don`t think we should assume that Mike Pence would be a very strong candidate if Trump were no longer in office and Pence became the president, for whatever reason.

I think -- look what happened with Gerald Ford.


MATTHEWS: You think he would suffer?


PETERS: I think he would suffer. Yes. And what if he pardons Trump, if it came to that? That would be a huge blow to his popularity.

I think he could be looking at a similar situation like that. And I think there is going to be a certain amount of Trump fatigue if indeed there is a situation where he exits office early. And people aren`t going to want to go with the guy who has run around the country singing Trump`s praises and declaring fealty to him, saying, dear leader, thank you so much for your service and how wonderful a leader you have been.

MATTHEWS: I`m sure glad I told you it was a hard question, because you had the obvious answer. He will be tainted, just the way Jerry Ford was tainted by the pardon and even being too close to Nixon, and because, after a major scandal, people do want to switch parties.

Your thinking about that, McKay? Is Mike Pence a national figure that could win a presidential election against the Democrats? Does he have the heft?

COPPINS: It`s funny.

You talked to Republican elites, especially last year, and the beginning of this year, they would all say, oh, Pence would be such a better candidate, such a better president.

I`m not sure that that consensus is going to hold, especially with the kind of scandal that would take down Trump or even just cause him not to run for reelection. It`s not clear to me that Pence would emerge unscathed from that situation, though here is the one caveat I would add.

A lot of it depends on the way that he breaks with Trump, right? If there is a moment that Pence dramatically breaks with Trump or turns on him, a lot of people might see that as -- forgive him for the previous things that he has done in support of Trump.

I don`t know. But I think that might be the calculus there.


This is for you and not for Jeremy, because Jeremy can`t do the straight reporter question. But I`m going give to it you anyway, McKay. I don`t know you as well. But here we go.

Who wins a national nomination fight in the primary tonight season in 2020 if it come downs to Mike Pence and Nikki Haley? Who wins?

COPPINS: Geez, I have no idea.


MATTHEWS: I`m picking -- I`m betting on Nikki. I`m betting on the ambassador.

Anyway, Jeremy, you want to take a shot at that? It`s a free-fire shot there. Who looks better?

PETERS: I think that a Republican that has much distance as possible from Trump is probably the one in a situation like that, if whatever reason, Trump leaves office early, who is going to have the best shot.

Now, Nikki Haley has her own political brand. Mike Pence`s political brand right now is so wrapped up in Donald Trump`s that there is no daylight between the two of them. Nikki Haley has been pretty clever in...

MATTHEWS: Exquisitely -- exquisitely answered by a straight reporter.


MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Jeremy Peters and McKay Coppins.

Up next: It was a striking contrast today. Trump officials were on hand in Jerusalem, of course, for the opening of the new U.S. Embassy there, but less than 60 miles away, Palestinians were being shot and killed along the Gaza border, a horrendous juxtaposition here.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

It was a remarkable juxtaposition of celebration and violence in the Middle East today. While American and Israeli officials celebrated the opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, fulfilling a pledge by President Trump, violent clashes broke out, meanwhile, on the border with Gaza roughly just 60 miles away.

Over 50 Palestinian protesters were killed. Over -- thousands were injured.

And at the embassy opening in Jerusalem, Jared Kushner, President Trump`s son-in-law, referenced the unrest in Gaza.


JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: As we have seen from the protests of the last month and even today, those provoking violence are part of the problem and not part of the solution.


MATTHEWS: Well, back in Washington, White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah went a step further.


RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas. Hamas is intentionally and cynically provoking this response. And, as the secretary of state said, Israel has a right to defend itself.


MATTHEWS: For more, I`m joined by Richard Engel, chief foreign correspondent for NBC News.

Richard, you`re there overlooking the Old City. What is the mood there in terms of the reality today in the entire Mideast?

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the mood here in Jerusalem is that they`re taking a victory lap.

They feel they won, that they have taken this city, and now the United States has recognized it as theirs, recognized it as theirs, as the homeland of the Jewish people for the last 3,000 years, as the capital of Israel the state for the last 70 years.

If you look on the Old City wall behind me -- and I know it might be hard to see on the monitor -- this is the wall to the ancient part of Jerusalem, the part that contains the most holy sites for Muslims, Christians and Jews, the most disputed part of this entire disputed land.

And on that wall tonight, there are projections of Israeli and American flags, and it says, "Thank you, President Trump." So they are declaring that this city is theirs, is Israel`s, and they are thanking in part President Trump for making that happen.

MATTHEWS: What happens to the -- from the Israeli point of view, to the Arabs that live in the Old City? Where do they go? Do they just accept the fact of Israeli sovereignty?

ENGEL: Well, that`s a very important question and one that I have been speaking to the Arabs about, the Arabs who live in Jerusalem, because, if you`re a Palestinian -- and this is the reality of life here -- there are different gradations of Palestinians, where you have more and more freedoms.

If you live in the Gaza Strip, you effectively live as a prisoner. You can`t leave the Gaza Strip without very extreme permissions. They have the worst quality of life. And, today, you saw thousands of Palestinians effectively trying to do a prison break, rushing toward the borders, and they were being shot.

The next round up, the next level up would be Palestinians who live in the West Bank, who have a degree of movement, but there are a lot of checkpoints, and it`s very difficult for them to move and get past that border wall.

The third would be Palestinians who live in Jerusalem. They have a lot more rights. They can travel. They can go inside Israel. They can work in Israel. They can use the airport, et cetera. They`re very worried right now, after this move, after this legal change of status, that the Israelis could take their rights away, that they could punish them, that if they try -- and if they participate in any of the demonstrations, the demonstrations that we`re now seeing building further and further from Gaza and beyond, that they could have their rights stripped.

So the status of Palestinians in Jerusalem is one that is essential for this city and one that Palestinian Jerusalemites are very worried about right now.

And, by the way, the fourth would be Palestinians who live inside the old borders of Israel, who have actual Israeli passports, who are Israeli citizens, who have nearly full rights.

MATTHEWS: Richard, you`re a gem to tell us that, because so many Americans look in biblical terms and how simple they think it is. It`s simply the question of Israel establishing its capital.

But, of course, as you have implied, the Arabs also see Jerusalem as a capital as well.

Thank you, Richard Engel, in Jerusalem itself.

Up next: It`s been days since a White House staffer made that cruel remark about Senator John McCain, and still no apology coming forth. At this point, the Trump team has shown more concern actually about who leaked that comment than what was actually said.

You`re watching HARDBALL.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There has been some controversy here over a White House aide`s comments that Senator McCain`s opposition to Gina Haspel for CIA doesn`t matter because he is, quote, dying.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It`s a pretty disgusting thing to say. If it was joke, it was a terrible joke. I just wish somebody from the White House would tell the country that was inappropriate. That`s not who we are.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was, of course, Lindsey Graham asking why the White House hasn`t apologized for an aide`s tasteless remark about Senator John McCain.

White House communications adviser Kelly Sadler last week dismissed McCain`s opposition to Gina Haspel`s nomination for CIA saying it doesn`t matter. He is dying anyway. Well, today, the White House said they had dealt with the situation internally and that Sadler still had a job at the White House.


RAJ SHAH, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I understand the focus on this issue, but it`s going to be dealt with and has been dealt with internally. You know, I was told -- hang on. I was told Kelly Sadler called the McCain family late last week and did apologize.


MATTHEWS: Senator McCain`s daughter, Meghan McCain said she spoke to Sadler. She told ABC News, quote, I asked her to publicly apologize, and she said she would. I have not spoken to her since, and I assume that it will never come.

Well, meanwhile, "Axios" reports the White House director of strategic communications Mercedes Schlapp said in a meeting that, quote, you can put this on the record. I stand with Kelly Sadler.

Well, "Axios" also reports in that meeting, senior leaders on the press team spent more time focused on the fact that Sadler`s now infamous comment had leaked than it was said in the first place.

Well, President Trump fired back on the leakers in his administration this afternoon. And that`s up next with the HARDBALL round table.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Late this afternoon, President Trump tweeted: The so-called leaks coming out of the White House are a massive over-exaggeration put out by the fake news media in order to make us look as bad as possible. With that being said, leakers are traitors and cowards, and we will find out who they are.

Let`s bring in tonight`s roundtable, the HARDBALL roundtable, Ginger Gibson, political correspondent for "Reuters", Jonathan Allen is a national political reporter for NBC News digital, Eugene Scott is a national political reporter for "The Washington Post."

Starting with Jonathan -- what do you make of this weird thing, first of all, Trump saying it`s not true, somehow was hyped out of reality. And, by the way, they`re leakers and cowards. They`re traitors in fact -- the treason to the White House even though the news is fake.

Put it all together, if you can.

JONATHAN ALLEN, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, NBC NEWS DIGITAL: Well, putting aside for a minute the president has long been a leaker to the press and is now saying leakers are cowards, et cetera. It`s sort of not been the compliment.

But I think we have to look at here is that the White House has never contradicted this comment that was said behind the scenes. That stands right now as the White House`s public statement on the issue is what Sadler said behind closed doors about John McCain, and there has been no effort to turn it back. She hasn`t said anything publicly. She hasn`t apologized publicly as Meghan McCain said she was going to do.

You have to believe that the president of the United States agrees with the sentiment.

GINGER GIBSON, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: And really, the buck stops at the top. And I think that we can remember that President Trump said many things about John McCain on the campaign trail and never apologized for them. I think we know that this president views public apologies as almost an admission of being wrong as a negative, even if he thought that the statement was wrong or those around him convinced him that it was wrong. And if the boss isn`t going to apologize, there is little expectation that anybody else in the organization would do the same.

EUGENE SCOTT, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Which is why I think you saw Mercy Schlapp say on the record, I stand with Kelly, and I think it`s important to remind the public of what she actually said so that they know what the top communications officials is saying she stands with. A joke was made about an American senator who is in the fight for his life, and she says she stands with it. That is something that is representative of what this administration communicates.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me get back to Jonathan on this. Was it gallows humor or was it sort of policy? Why don`t they try to -- well, maybe it`s impossible to explain a terrible lousy joke if you will at that. But, you know, they there are contexts.

Was she just putting on a show of cruelty, or was she truly being cruel? I mean people in meetings say all kinds of things to make a point and to shake other people up a bit. Was this something that she really meant, like we`re going to move on, this guy is dying, he doesn`t count? Is that what they meant?

ALLEN: I wasn`t there, Chris so, it`s hard to interpret what her -- you know, what her inflection was. But --


ALLEN: -- you know, you read the comment, you read all the stuff around it, I get the sense of what she is saying is they were counting votes.

MATTHEWS: Oh, I see. So it was real. So it was real.

ALLEN: That he will die soon so it doesn`t matter.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s really bad. That`s really bad. That`s worse than a bad awful joke.

Anyway, "Axios`" Jonathan Swan writes that in the White House, the leaks come in all shapes and sizes. Small leaks, real-time leaks, weaponized leaks, historical leaks. Sensitive Oval Office conversations have leaked and to have talks in cabinet meetings and the situation room. You name it, they leak.

For example, today`s "Washington Post" story on Trump in the Russia investigation was based on interviews with 22 White House and Justice Department officials, witnesses, Trump confidantes and attorneys connected to the probe.

Well, deputy press secretary Raj Shah condemned those leaks today. Let`s watch him.


SHAH: When you work in any work environment, you with your colleagues at NBC or elsewhere, if you don`t -- if you aren`t able in internal meetings to speak your mind or convey thoughts or say anything that you feel without feeling like your colleagues will betray you, that creates a very difficult work environment. I think anybody who can work anybody would recognize that.


MATTHEWS: Ginger, do you and other younger reporters realize how different it is? I worked in the Carter White House. I was a speech writer.

The idea that someone would rat on even a terrible joke, no matter what it was, there was a sense of, you know, what happens here, stays here. You may admonish the person and wish they weren`t there at the moment, but the idea of giving to it the press. I mean, we thought there were some Kennedy people aboard with us, in that fight between Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy. Nobody was ratting anybody out.

This is new, this transparency of the worst kind. I`ve never seen anything like it. Your thoughts.

GIBSON: This is -- this is new. And whoever did make this leak knew what they were doing. They knew that they were doing it to make Sadler look bad, and they knew that when they did it, it was going to make the president look bad. I`ve spoken with people who worked in previous administrations, and they keep saying to me, no one would have done this, not just because the environment in the White House wasn`t tense or competitive, but you would have never embarrassed the president in this way.

And they`re saying it speaks really sort of in part as well to how the staff feels about Trump with their willing to prioritize and embarrassing one of their coworkers over protecting the president.

ALLEN: And it`s such an important point that Ginger make there`s. This is really about priorities. What you see from people in the White House is the priorities making themselves better off, advancing their own personal agenda or their personal security and vision in the White House over the interests of the president of the United States, and perhaps by relation there, the interest of the United States.

MATTHEWS: Well, not surprisingly or shockingly, I think we see two wrongs here.

Anyway, the round table is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


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

Ginger, tell me something I don`t know.

GIBSON: Lobbyists in Washington tell me they`re watching the president`s decision on ZTE very closely, and they`re trying to find signs that despite the fact that he has insisted he`s going to crack down on things like NAFTA and trade with China, that he is really willing to back down, and that they will be successful in convincing him to back down on those other fronts as well.

MATTHEWS: Is this about North Korea? We`re nice to the Chinese now?

GIBSON: I think it`s about a lot of things. I think it`s President Trump doesn`t want to stop business.

MATTHEWS: OK, Jonathan?

ALLEN: The president is going to be on the Hill this week talking to Senate Republicans. They will have an opportunity if they so choose to ask him what he really thinks about John McCain and what his staffer said.

MATTHEWS: Well, he`ll have to answer for that.

Anyway, Eugene?

SCOTT: There is a lot of talk today about support for Israel from evangelicals. A recent poll says 80 percent of evangelicals believe that Israel was created to fulfill biblical prophesy related to Christ`s return.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you, Ginger Gibson, Jonathan Allen and Eugene Scott.

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

You`re watching.


MATTHEWS: "Trump Watch," Monday, May 4th, 2018.

An American comedian once asked, what did reality everyone do for me? I get it. In the world of reality entertainment, you can build your success by doing what works in that world. Funny is money, Mel Brooks once said.

So as long as you stay in that world of entertainment, you can plot your path in it you. You must be a fascist about your own career, one Hollywood veteran once observed. But Donald Trump has, since his entry into politics and now the American presidency, ventured beyond the world of entertainment and into the real world that surrounds it.

When he announced he would move the American embassy from Tel Aviv, he took one of those steps in that world, and we are learning the real world consequences, consequences soundly predicted and therefore avoided by every president before him, because to move the embassy was to say to the Arab world we, the United States, were going to exclude the Arab world from any share of Jerusalem, a city Muslims hold sacred because Muhammad is held in Islamic faith to have descended to heaven it from.

So, today and tomorrow and in the days to come, we will learn again the effect when Donald Trump, king of reality TV, as Johnny Carson was once key of late night, steps beyond the bubble of televised drama into the much more unpredictable and dire consequence of the real world. We have reason to believe that Mr. Trump does not understand there is a difference.

He believes, for example, that he and Sean Hannity are in the same business. They are not. Sean is a TV star. Donald is president of the United States.

A real country in a real world that I`m afraid we will spend the next years learning the difference even if until it`s way beyond too late to matter, he does not.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.



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