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Conway: leakers "use media to shiv others." TRANSCRIPT: 05/15/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: S.V. Date, Noah Bookbinder, Willie Brown, Peter Emerson, Adolfo Franco, Anthony Scaramucci

Show: HARDBALL Date: May 15, 2018 Guest: S.V. Date, Noah Bookbinder, Willie Brown, Peter Emerson, Adolfo Franco, Anthony Scaramucci

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Trump means never having to say you are sorry. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

The White House these days is like an episode of "Dynasty." There`s back biting, gossip and continued feuding. Well, leaking has gotten so bad that one senior adviser compared the atmosphere in the White House to prison assault with everybody shiving each other. The President accuses the leakers of being traitors, though, that hasn`t stopped much.

Meanwhile, vice President Pence is said to be plotting to take over for Trump even as he stokes his ego out there in public. And all around staffers vi to undermine colleagues in the eyes of the President. So why did President Trump berate his homeland security secretary in front of his own cabinet reportedly because of associates whispered in the President`s ear she is a closet never Trumper?

Well. the threat of sudden expulsion hangs over everyone. The White House has shed senior staff at level never seen before. As the "New Yorker" pointed out this week, after 16 months, Trump`s on his third national security adviser on his sixth communications director.

And amid all this drama, the White House seems unwilling to do what almost any other administration would have done, issue an apology to a senator suffering from brain cancer after one of its aides reportedly made a sick joke about him.

White House staffer Kelly Sadler reported told colleagues last week that John McCain`s opposition to their choice for CIA director didn`t matter because quote "he is dying anyway," close quote.

But here`s how some of McCain`s Republican colleagues in the Senate reacted to all that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Should the White House apologize to John McCain for the remarks that they made last week?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I believe so. Certainly the comments that were made if in fact they were made and no one`s denied they were made I find them to be offensive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the White House owe him an apology?

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: If I had said that I would apologize.

SEN. JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: (R), LOUISIANA: For me, I would apologize. Whether she does or not, I don`t know whether the administration does or not, that`s their call. But I think they should.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Well, the person who said that should apologize and should apologize publicly.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It`s a pretty disgusting thing to say. If it was a 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: Well, apparently it is. Yesterday, White House spokesman Raj Shah made it clear no apology was coming. And President Trump issued this warning to people in his administration related to this.

Quote "leakers are traitors and cowards and we will find out who they are."

Well, on FOX News last night, White House advisor Kellyanne Conway defended the President`s tweet.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: There are all kinds of leaks, some leaks exist to hurt I guess colleagues, some that leaks exist because they disagree with the policies that are being put forth. But none of them are helpful. And I will tell you something else that`s gone on in the White House but not as badly as it was at the beginning where it is not so much leaking as using the media to shiv each other. And that was going on quite a bit at the beginning of this administration and it`s less so now.


MATTHEWS: Well, in his short tenure re as White House communications director last year, Anthony Scaramucci lashed out the abundant of leaks, asked that he would stop and Scaramucci said I`m going to fire everybody. That`s how I`m going to do it. You are either don stop leaking or you are going to get fired.

Anthony Scaramucci joins me right here along with Jason Johnson, politics editor at the and an MSNBC contributor and Susan Page, of course, Washington bureau chief for "USA today."

I don`t know if it much to do about nothing but it`s growing into something. What is this thing about not apologizing for a lame or awful bit of gallows humor I guess it was. I don`t know what else you would call it.

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I think the whole thing is a real shame actually because the President`s got a great agenda. By and large the country is doing well. His approval ratings are up. He looks like he can still potentially get a deal with the North Koreans. But this (INAUDIBLE) fighting that is going on in the White House is a very big distraction. And frankly, if had that they apologized it would have been a 24-hour cycle. We are now going into a 96-hour cycle and it`s a cloud over the administration because people are asking a question what`s wrong with the culture if you said something that you didn`t mean or you said something you wish you can take back, why you are not apologizing? And so, listen, you know, they will have to answer that. I mean, if that`s going to be part of the culture going forward, that will be used as a strategy by the Democrats in the Midterm elections.

MATTHEWS: In any big organization like there one, you are encouraged by the top how to handle these cases. What kind of encouragement is Kelly Sadler getting from the top?

SCARAMUCCI: My opinion?

MATTHEWS: Yes. What`s she being urged to do? Not do anything or do something.

SCARAMUCCI: I don`t know. But, you know, I`m going to defend Kelly because I know her well. She`s very loyal to the President. She`s definitely not a leaker. She would have been one of the people had I had 11 more days I would have definitely kept her, OK.


SCARAMUCCI: But the reason why I said I would fire everybody is that that`s what you do when you come into a corporation and you can`t get the culture right. You are merging the RNC with the always Trumpers.


SCARAMUCCI: And there was a lot of friction there. And so, what you have to do is here`s what the culture is going to be going forward. If you guys don`t like it, you got to leave.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: I know. But the culture said is set at the top. And if you look at the President`s own behavior, the only thing I can remember him ever saying he was sorry about or apologized for was the Access Hollywood tape, he did a video that expressed some regret. But other than that, I can`t remember another time when he has said he misspoke or he is sorry about what he said.

SCARAMUCCI: I think it`s a problem for all Presidents, though. You know, Barack Obama had a hard time. What did you do wrong? Couldn`t find anything. George W. Bush, did asked him, what did you do wrong? Did you make any mistakes? Couldn`t find anything.

I think the problem for the President is if he starts apologizing it leaves an opening for people that they drive Mack trucks through and the last three Presidents did the same thing.

So -- but I think at the staff level, I think it`s appropriate and OK to apologize. But I think it`s terrible that it got leaked though. I mean, if she said he gallows humor, a fellow in depth ears, somebody is running out of the White House on their cellphone and making an anonymous call.

MATTHEWS: Who are these people? By the way, Jason, first. I want to know who the leakers are because I`m fascinated by it.

JASON JOHNSON, POLITICAL EDITOR, THE ROOT.COM: But part of the issue here, part of the issue here and this is what I have always had a problem with this administration, is like say it to my face. Look, if Trump wants to be the guy who is going to call people names and if he is going to encourages other people to do it, then just stand by it.

What I find particularly egregious is that you have people who make these kinds of statements and they want to run and hide. He wants to talks about Obama then he supply can`t when he`s next to him. Let`s talk about Nieto in Mexico, (INAUDIBLE). If you don`t like John McCain and if you think he is weak, then stand by it. Don`t act like a bunch of weasels which is what the White House does when they insult somebody.

SCARAMUCCI: Well, listen. You know, they are selling front-stabbing t- shirts on Amazon, OK. I have no problem telling people how I think and (INAUDIBLE). And I disagree with you respectfully as it relates to the President. The President is outspoken how he feels about people. And so - -.

JOHNSON: But not to their faces.

SCARAMUCCI: I think he is.

MATTHEWS: He was in the debates.

SCARAMUCCI: Yes. I`ve been in the rooms with him.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s talk about something else that`s ragging on. Look at this, vice President Pence publicly extols his boss`s leadership but behind the scenes it seems to be a very different picture.

According to "The New York Times," vice President Pence and his staff are quote "unsettling a group of Mr. Trump`s fierce loyalist who fear they are forging a separate power base. Most brazenly, (INAUDIBLE), the senior pence adviser told a Republican donor that Mr. Pence wanted to be prepared for the next Presidential be race in case there`s an opening."

And today, "Politico" reported Trump may be wise to Pence`s machinations with the vice President taking a higher profile in the campaign trail, the President stepped in to excerpt his dominance. Is this somewhat a little early for Pence to be making his move? You are a high guest here, buddy.

SCARAMUCCI: I`m good. I can answer these questions. I don`t think the vice President is like that at all. I think the vice President has been incredibly loyal. His staff has been loyal. I know Marty. If Marty said that, again, I think that`s a slip-up. I don`t think that`s the true intentions of the vice President.

You know, you got -- actions speak louder than words first. I think we all know that. The vice President has been nothing but super loyal to the administration, super loyal to the President and his family. And I have an enormous amount of respect for him.

MATTHEWS: Would he make a great President?

SCARAMUCCI: Would he make a great President? In 2024, in 2028, I think he would be an unbelievable President, yes. But I don`t thinking in 2020, the President is running for President. He is going to win re-election by a landslide if momentum stays where it is. And so, and I think the vice President will be vice President for eight years. I think it is a little much ado about nothing.

MATTHEWS: There`s no sensitivity on the part of the President about this.

SCARAMUCCI: I didn`t say that. There might be sensitivity but some of that is manufactures I think.

MATTHEWS: By whom?

SCARAMUCCI: Some of it is manufactured by those staffers or those quote- unquote "loyalists." Some of it is manufactured by the media. But I don`t think it`s true to the intentions of the vice President.

MATTHEWS: They smell a trimmer out there.

SCARAMUCCI: I think there is --.

MATTHEWS: You know what a trimmer is.

SCARAMUCCI: I don`t live in the stamp.

MATTHEWS: Well, a trimmer is a person, man or woman, who acts like they are loyal to you and when you are with them. But when you are not with them, they are certainly not quite your biggest booster.

SCARAMUCCI: That`s the stuff going on in this town, you know. I mean, that`s why the American people don`t like this town. The fact you just had to explain what a trimmer is to the American people, they are like why this is --

MATTHEWS: The problem is -- there is the people that they send here are the people that run the country. They don`t come from Washington, D.C., these people. The people that run this country are elected to come here.

SCARAMUCCI: Let me tell you. They are by and large quite dissatisfied, OK. But it is very hard to find good candidates because of all the restrictions they put on. Look what I had to do to serve the President. It didn`t go through but I had to go put up a $250 million company for sale in order to serve the President.

MATTHEWS: Did you get it back?

SCARAMUCCI: Of course, I got it back. It`s my company. I started it.

MATTHEWS: Good for you. How long -- did you like your 11 days?

SCARAMUCCI: Listen, it was 954,000 seconds.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask, what about this -- Kirstjen Nielsen and that place? He was so red hot at her in the public meeting where everybody much watched it that she was thinking of quitting right on the spot. Why is he so hot about somebody because he heard they might be a never Trump.

SCARAMUCCI: When I was in the White House, he was sore at attorney general sessions. I said this publicly and a say it here. You have to have a tough skin to work with the President, OK. And you got to be able to take the President -- he is a hard charging guy. He wants to fill every pothole. He wants to build every building, created a golf course and execute the policy.

JOHNSON: This is going to be tough. I`m so sick and tired of people in in this administration grumble bragging. Oh, my God, it was so difficult. I almost quit. None of these people are leaving. They are not leaving. Kushner is not leaving. Sessions is not leaving because they are doing what they want to do and they are doing what they always want to do. They want to do this virtue of signaling garbage where they are fighting the good fight against this administration where they are just in line with anything that Trump is doing.

He went after because he goes after everybody. And she is not going to quit the job.

SCARAMUCCI: Trimmer. We have grumbling --.

JOHNSON: Everybody knows what a grumble bragging. We can go on 14th street. People know what a grumble bag is.

SCARAMUCCI: I want to write this tag because I need this stuff.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, as I mentioned President Trump hasn`t shied away from public rebuking his aides and even cabinet members. Last week as said "the New York Times" reported that Kirstjen Nelson, the homeland security secretary, there she is, told colleagues she was close to resigning after President 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.

And according to "Politico," President Donald Trump`s frustration with Kirstjen Nielsen has been growing for weeks stoked by associates who have privately made the case that she is a closeted or closet never Trumper who still doesn`t fully back his agenda.

Let me go to something that I find unusual. And I think anybody that`s ever worked in a White House or a senate office or congressional office finds this bizarre. People who work for senators in either party, man or woman, whatever background, ethnic group whatever, are loyal to them. That`s why they are there. They don`t rat out stuff about the guy. They don`t rat out stuff about each other. They don`t say somebody said a bad word the other day. They just don`t. It never happened with a White House I worked in. I don`t think it happened in the Kennedy White House or the W. White House. Why in this White House has everybody got a shiv out for everybody else and goes right to the press with it as you said to me?

SCARAMUCCI: Because there was a split in the party about the President. And there was a large group of people that signed a petition that he would effectively be never Trumpers. And so, when he won, that group of people still liked and loves power. And they shifted back and they started putting their resumes into the transition team and Reince Priebus started hiring them.

MATTHEWS: But that happens all the time and you become loyal to the President.

SCARAMUCCI: OK. But in this town for some reason because the President is a disruptor, it has some cache in ooh these Georgetown salons.

MATTHEWS: Here it goes. There aren`t any more Georgetown salons. That`s over with.

SCARAMUCCI: I just learned about grumble bragging. You thought me that, too.

MATTHEWS: But the idea of Georgetown salons.

SCARAMUCCI: Here`s the bottom line. This guy is a disruptor. This guy means business. And he wants --.

MATTHEWS: But why does that explain why people in the White House are totally disloyal to him and they can`t wait to talk to the Times or the Post or anybody?


PAGE: That isn`t true. Because there`s a lower level of loyalty with this White House and there has been with previous ones. And the turnover in the White House including your own does not build a sense that we are a team, we are together, we are going to defend each other.

SCARAMUCCI: Believe me. There`s a lot of people super loyal to the President, myself included.

MATTHEWS: And tou`re not there.


MATTHEWS: Have you ever heard the president calling his White House staff traitors? Have you ever heard -- I never heard that.

SCARAMUCCI: I think he is upset. I mean, they shouldn`t be leaking.

MATTHEWS: This is captain quick stuff.

SCARAMUCCI: Very wrong with what those people are doing.

MATTHEWS: And so, why are they there? Why don`t you fire them? You just whispered you know who they are? Why don`t you get rid of them?

SCARAMUCCI: Listen. If I had a little bit more time, I would have fired a few more people and then the rest of the people would have fallen in line or they would have not fallen in line.

MATTHEWS: Does Huckabee Sanders know who they are? Does she know who they are?

SCARAMUCCI: Sarah probably knows who they are. And by the way, Sarah has the toughest job in Washington.


SCARAMUCCI: She`s an amazing person.

MATTHEWS: You don`t knock her. Don`t get me into that. So you think this President is going to get re-elected?

SCARAMUCCI: Resoundingly re-elected. The Democrats --

MATTHEWS: Will he carry the popular vote next time?

SCARAMUCCI: He will carry the popular vote. He is a sitting President in a rising economy.

MATTHEWS: What are your pickup states? Minnesota.

SCARAMUCCI: He was close in Minnesota. He could probably win Minnesota. He won`t win New York. He won`t win California. But I got to look at the map. I don`t know. I haven`t seen the map.

MATTHEWS: Well, North Carolina would be a pick up possibility. But we will see.

JOHNSON: He`s going to get re-elected. That`s always been a given. But here is the thing. The reason people leak is because they think trouble is coming, right. That`s when you ratted out your brother or sister. Just it is like, look, when mom gets home, we are going to get busted. I need to get my story out there now. That`s what everybody --.

MATTHEWS: Are they hearing the snap for your brother, Susan? Are they watching you?

JOHNSON: My family is probably liking what are you ratting about it for.

MATTHEWS: Susan lives off. She is straight reporter and she lives off. This is trade craft. You got to get people to talk. And every time I say to a straight reporter who covers the White House is the getting? Is the heat on? And they laugh at me. The heat`s never on.

PAGE: Yes.

MATTHEWS: In the old days you didn`t have phones, by the way. You know they said to go over to the exchange across the street on 17th veet and have lunch with Bob Novak. Now you just go to the bathroom.

PAGE: Let me just disagree with my two fellow panelists respectfully on the idea that President Trump is never going to be re-elected in 2020. I think it`s possible he get reelected. But it`s possible he doesn`t. I think the whole time is too chaotic.

MATTHEWS: I said he would.

PAGE: And you did too but you said the economy -- maybe the economy is great and that`s really good for incumbent Presidents. But this recovery is already pretty mature. Maybe the economy won`t be good. I think this is such a chaotic time. It`s hard to make any prediction about something two years away.

SCARAMUCCI: OK. I`ll accept that. But if, you know, if you really understand the economy and the impact of these tax cuts, they will start to really impact the economy in about 12 to 18 months. And the rising wages are going to take the President to a landslide victory in 2020. And so, you know, your friends here in Washington have to be prepared for six plus years. I know you`re upset about that.

PAGE: I`m from Kansas.

MATTHEWS: Georgetown salons.

JOHNSON: It I going to be six great years.

MATTHEWS: Has anybody been to a Georgetown salon?

JOHNSON: Atlanta one, Baltimore. I had never been to Georgetown one.

MATTHEWS: I mean, Sally Quinn is still around. But it`s pretty spare.

SCARAMUCCI: You can give me guff about it. But you know, there`s a big group of people that like to hang out with each other and like to pretend they are in the same clique and they want to sniff at the President. And those people shouldn`t be working in the west wing.

MATTHEWS: OK. I do agree with it completely. They should be on the outside of the tent.

SCARAMUCCI: Hundred percent.

MATTHEWS: OK. I agree with it completely. Should be in the outside of tent, 100 percent. Not inside.

Anyway, Anthony Scaramucci certainly stirred things up here. We going to start leaking what really happened here.

Susan Page, Jason, thank you.

Coming up, Trump`s call to help a Chinese phone company surprised a lot of people and surprised me. But now it`s starting to make sense. It turns out China gave the Trump organization a half a billion dollars just days earlier including (INAUDIBLE), all the hallmarks of a quid pro quo. This for that.

Plus, the Democrats are lining up to take their shot against Trump in 2020 but a top party leader warns they need to do something more than just be against this President.

And Trump rarely apologizes. And the only time he did for the Access Hollywood tape he took it back, denying it was his voice on the tape. Why does he let these things festers? Is he afraid of looking weak? Just say excuse me.

Is that too politically correct?

Finally, let me finish tonight with Trump watch.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: The North Korean government today threatened to call off next month`s summit with President Trump. That`s according to a report from South Korean media. The announcement was in response to an ongoing military exercise between the United States and South Korea. North Korea`s central news agency is quoted as saying the United States will have to undertake careful deliberations about the fate of the planned North Korea/U.S. summit in light of this provocative military ruckus jointly conducted with the South Korean authorities.

Kim Jong-un`s government has also canceled a high level meeting with South Korean representatives scheduled for tomorrow.

We will be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump caused jaws to drop on Sunday when he put that he was intervening to save a Chinese government-owned cell phone company in order to save -- catch this -- he wants to save Chinese job, he said.

Well, despite his long history of tough talk about China, Trump tweeted: "President Xi of China and I are working together to give massive Chinese company ZTE a way back to get into business fast. Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed get it done."

Well, ZTE has teetered on the edge of collapse ever since the U.S. Commerce Department last month banned the company from receiving crucial American technology components.

And the move penalized ZTE for lying about its violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran and North Korea. Serious stuff.

Additionally, ZTE equipment could enable China to spy on Americans. This month, the Pentagon banned the use of their cell phones on the fear that the Chinese government could use ZTE devices to track troop movements over in the Korean Peninsula.

And now The Huffington Post reports that Trump`s effort to save ZTE comes 72 hours after the Chinese government agreed to put a half-billion dollars into an Indonesian project that will personally enrich Donald Trump.

Well, according to the report, the Chinese government last Thursday agreed to lend as much as $500 million to an Indonesian theme park and resort which is set to feature a Trump-branded hotel, golf course and residences, all part of a licensing deal with the Trump Organization.

I`m joined right now by the author of that report, S.V. Date, who is a senior White House correspondent with The Huffington Post. And Noah Bookbinder is the executive director of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. That`s CREW.

Well, gentlemen, I just want to jump ball here.

S.V., is this a quid pro quo for Trump? Did he get something, half-billion dollars in investment in his company, in exchange for looking out for what he calls Chinese jobs at ZTE?

S.V. DATE, THE HUFFINGTON POST: Well, it wasn`t an investment in his company.

What he`s doing is going to run a hotel, a golf course and profit from that investment, right? So just to make sure.


MATTHEWS: And that was 72 hours, that decision, before this other thing.

DATE: Exactly. And I was there like everybody else Sunday morning seeing this tweet pop up on the phone, saying, like, what is this?

Since the entirety of the United States government is saying this is a bad actor, we should not be using their phones. We definitely shouldn`t be letting them on our military bases. And the reason is also, well, they have been trading with North Korea in Iran, in violation of sanctions.

And all of a sudden, here he is. We`re going to save Chinese jobs. Too many jobs in China lost.

I would assume that, well, this probably means he had a phone call.

MATTHEWS: Why didn`t he -- I will play dumb here. Why didn`t he just tell ZTE, if it wants to get out of its economic morass, its problem area, its sinking down, why doesn`t he stop trading with the enemy, our enemy and their enemy supposedly? Why don`t they stop trading with Iran and North Korea? They could avoid the problem.

DATE: Well, it`s a seven-year ban on them. Right? And so we, the United States government, have already told them that, that--

MATTHEWS: And if they stopped doing trading, then we will deal with them again. Right?

DATE: After seven years. And his contention in this tweet, oh, no, we have got to save their jobs now, because this is terrible for China, well, the tweet didn`t point out that, yes, three days earlier, the Chinese government, which also owns, by the way, ZTE, had put a pile of money into a development that he`s going to profit from.

MATTHEWS: What`s your smell test? How does it come out? Do you think there`s a deal here? Do you think he`s doing this to pay off somebody for what they did for him?

DATE: Well, he almost certainly knows what happened three days earlier.

Was there a definite conversation, look, you need to do this for me? I don`t know. But, remember, during the campaign, how many times did Trump say, if people are nice to me, I will be nice to them?

MATTHEWS: If he went into Erie, Pennsylvania, and said, I`m out to the Chinese jobs, they would have laughed him out of time.

If he went to Scranton, if he went to Oshkosh or anywhere, anywhere in the Midwest, Rust Belt, that are dying to save their jobs because of China, they believe, my real concern, as an American politician, is to make sure the Chinese don`t lose jobs, they would have thought he was insane.


There is no -- we can see there`s no good, reasonable explanation for--

MATTHEWS: There`s no politics in it.

BOOKBINDER: -- for Donald Trump, of all people, to be making this decision.

So, as long as he owns his businesses, and he`s making money from those businesses, and those businesses are getting paid by foreign governments, in violation of the Constitution, by the way, we have to wonder what his motivation is, particularly in a case like this, where there`s such a close link in timing, and there doesn`t seem to be any other good explanation for the decision.


MATTHEWS: Well, the Chinese probably think there`s a connection, knowing how they think in transactional terms, I would think.

Anyway, everybody thinks in transactional terms.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida this morning criticized the president`s shift in policy toward ZTE, the big phone company over there, citing the cyber-threat that China poses to the United States.

Let`s watch Senator Rubio.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: ZTE is a company that has -- in addition to posing a significant espionage threat against the United States, is part of an overall industry in China that steals intellectual property.

I don`t know what the genesis was behind that tweet. It runs counter to everything, every conversation we have had before then.


MATTHEWS: Well, good for Senator Rubio, because if Hillary did -- I always do that. If you bring that flip it around and say, if Hillary Clinton had done something like there, they would have gotten her for treason, trading with the enemy, whatever.

DATE: The Clintons were getting donations to their charity, which, by the way, was rated as a pretty good charity, as opposed to President Trump`s charity.


DATE: And any foreign donation into that was seen as basically corruption of the highest level. So, this is -- this kind of amazing. This is going to his personal pocketbook.

MATTHEWS: Let`s watch how the White House press -- Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah defended the president`s policy reversal on that big Chinese telephone company yesterday.


QUESTION: How does President Trump statement that too many Chinese jobs are at risk square with his campaign promises that China is stealing American jobs?

RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Well, why I don`t think this has frankly any bearing on the president`s campaign promises.

With respect to trade with China, he`s been tough. Let`s put this into context. I mean, this president has taken China to task for its unfair trade practices. So, he`s been tough, and he`s confronted them.

But, on this issue specifically, he`s asked the secretary of commerce to take a look at it.


MATTHEWS: Here`s what he said when asked whether the Trump company`s licensing deal down in Indonesia violates the anti-bribery provision of the Constitution known as the Emoluments Claus. Presidents can`t take stuff from people. Watch.


SHAH: You`re asking about a private organization`s dealings that may have to do with a foreign government. It`s not something that I can speak to.


MATTHEWS: Well, in the end, how is this going to get resolved, guys?

You first, Noah.

BOOKBINDER: Well, look--

MATTHEWS: It`s a stink right now.

BOOKBINDER: That`s right.

And people who have been putting up with the president continuing to own his businesses, which creates a conflict of interest on every foreign policy decision he makes and a whole lot of other decisions, need to start raising a stink about that.

Look, we went to court to sue the president to stop him from violating the Constitution.

MATTHEWS: Well, you don`t like the fact that Emirates, whoever else, always gets account hotel rooms down at Trump Tower down on Pennsylvania Avenue, do you?

BOOKBINDER: We certainly don`t. And he has shown that he likes to treat people well who--

MATTHEWS: Yasser Arafat used to have that deal. If you wanted to interview Yasser Arafat over in Ramallah, you had to take a whole hallway, a corridor of rooms in some little one-story hotel, right, even if you intended to stay in Jerusalem that night, or else you didn`t get the interview.

BOOKBINDER: Right. And that`s not how our system is supposed to work. And yet that seems to be how it is now.


MATTHEWS: Your thoughts?

DATE: So far --

MATTHEWS: What`s going to happen?

DATE: -- the Republican Congress has done very little to deal with the stuff that`s been--


MATTHEWS: Well, you guys are here making some noise.

I think the public doesn`t like what they have heard in the last five minutes.

S.V. Date, thank you. And, Noah Bookbinder, thank you.

Up next: Some of the biggest names in the Democratic Party made their pitch for 2020 today. But a top party leader warns that Trump is a tougher competitor than Democrats think.

And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

A host of potential Democratic contenders for 2020, I mean, running for president, lined up to make their pitches at the Center for American Progress Ideas Conference in Washington today.

And while some of the party`s biggest stars tried out their messages on the economy, many couldn`t resist taking on the man they hope to bring down, President Trump.


SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: What President Trump stands for undermines everything we value. You have seen all his policies, women are going to pay more for health care because of President Trump. He doesn`t value women.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: I think that workers in my state in many ways know that this president is not on their side, although he`s talked a good game. And it`s my job to show that I am.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: We must not allow Donald Trump or anyone else to divide us up.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: While we`d rather talk about great ideas, we can`t climb that hill by ignoring the millions of Americans who are angry and scared about the damage this president and this Republican Party have done to our democracy.


MATTHEWS: Well, one Democratic elder, you might say, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, a former assembly leader in California, warns Donald Trump may be more popular than Democrats think right now.

He writes: "It`s time for the Democrats to stop bashing Trump. Rather than stoking the base by attacking Trump, Democrats need to come up with a platform that addresses the average voter`s hopes and concerns."

Minnesota`s Senator Amy Klobuchar reinforced that point today.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: They`re not asking me about Russian bots. OK? They`re asking me about like soybean exports. They don`t like the stuff that he`s tweeting out. They don`t like how he beats up on innocent people, and they are going to stand up against that.

And I think that`s what you have seen in the elections. And that`s what you`re going to see in this election. But we`re not going to see it if we spend our whole team bemoaning the facts that he`s there. He`s there. And we have to present an alternative.


MATTHEWS: I agree with that.

Anyway, for more, I`m joined right now by an expert, former Democratic mayor of San Francisco Willie Brown.

Mayor Brown, Speaker Brown, you have been there. Is this a year the Democrats should be planning a program or just this assault on Trump?

WILLIE BROWN (D), FORMER MAYOR OF SAN FRANCISCO: No, no, no, no, they should clearly be planning a program.

We have a strong bench, but we don`t have a playbook yet. We don`t have a playbook that addresses the needs of the American people. And you have got to give the American people an alternative to Trump, not just say he`s a bad person, take me.

Offer an alternative, and he will be deemed a bad person.

MATTHEWS: Do you think the Democrats should do a little more defining of what -- I think Trump is smart, nasty, but smart.

When he talks about immigration, the way he portrays the Democratic position is open borders. They will let everybody come in. All these votes, just come on in. It`s good will, Pollyanna, because the Democrats really haven`t defined a position that says, yes, we`re for regulating the border. Of course we are. Every country has to have a border. We`re going to do it fairly and progressively, but we are going to enforce the law.

How about trade? I don`t know if the Democrats have a trade position or they have a tax position. Do you think they need those positions?

BROWN: Well, they really do. They need a position on everything that hurts the American people, everything that the American people are feeling bad about.

And we need to do so with a degree of our sincerity. We need to do so as if we are part of the whole movement that affects the lives of people. We can`t keep doing it the way we did it years ago. Unless we get a phenom like, I suppose, Obama, we`re not going to be very competitive.

MATTHEWS: Do you see somebody out there like Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, a real natural, this guy has got or this woman has got the charisma, the stuff to get out there on a platform with Donald Trump and beat him?

BROWN: There are half-a-dozen Democrats with those kind of credentials. They have just not been around long enough. They don`t have, frankly, an opportunity to demonstrate who they really are.

Believe me, we should be tutoring each and every prospective candidate who has got a possible winning victory in mind. For an example, we won in the city of Atlanta with a black woman as mayor. We won in the city of New Orleans with a black woman as mayor.

We`re going to win in a number of other places in this nation the same way. We have defeated Republicans in those places, where the Republican candidate is flawed.

But at no point have we put together a program that makes people want to embrace Democrats with the big D.

MATTHEWS: How do you get the moderates to come out and vote, the independent voter that swings back and forth, the so-called Reagan Democrats who swing back and forth? They went a little more for Obama the first time. They were not so much for him the second time. The moderate Republican wasn`t with Trump -- Obama the second time.

How do you get that moderate or that centrist vote and also excite the base, especially African-Americans? I think they might have to have somebody on the ticket that you have to have some balance like the old New York state ticket where you have some ethnic balance. Do you think so, or not? Is it important or not to you?

BROWN: I think you are going to have to have -- no, I think you are going to have gender and ethnic balance on this ticket.


BROWN: We have got to have both. And we have got to have a both in aggressive fashion. In California, it`s loaded with talent like that. That`s why we are a blue state, Chris. We are a blue state because over the last 12 or 14 years, we have planned it that way. And we`re executing it appropriately.

The Democratic Party ought to use California as their model.

MATTHEWS: Who is better, Eric Garcetti or Kamala Harris?

BROWN: Well, either one of them would be fine. But you also got Gavin Newsom. You also may have Antonio Villaraigosa.


MATTHEWS: Yes, those are the candidates for governor right there, right?


Don`t forget Jerry Brown. No matter what age you might think Jerry Brown really is, he`s not. He`s never been through the process of growing old by virtue of hard work. Jerry Brown could still be an entity that the Democratic Party ought to be looking at, period.

That`s what California is about. That`s what we need to do for the nation.

MATTHEWS: You`re amazing. You`re a great demonstration of that, sir, about age doesn`t matter.

And thanks for coming on tonight, because I think you`re right about Jerry Brown. I was with him like a month ago. He`s as sharp as ever.

Thank you so much, former San Francisco Mayor, former Assembly Speaker of California Willie Brown.

Up next: If you`re surprised the White House hasn`t issued a public apology to Senator John McCain, you shouldn`t be. The man at the top has set the tone. Trump means never having to say you`re sorry or apologize for anything, no matter how outrageous you are.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

It`s been five days since is "The Hill" broke the news that Kelly Sadler, a White House aide, made hurtful comments about Senator John McCain and still no apology has come from the administration. Despite their lip service, Senate Republicans today failed to press for an apology during their meeting with President Trump. Nobody said nothing. And maybe it`s because they don`t believe they`d get one.

As "The New York Times" points out, the president does not apologize. Quote, "As pugilistic a president as he was a candidate, Mr. Trump`s apologies are rare." A White House official tells the "The Times" there are two other reasons the administration hasn`t apologized for Sadler`s remark. White House officials believe that the Obama officials apologized for the United States behavior too often. There`s also frustration from aide who fear their every word will be leaked.

Trump`s insistence on not apologizing is one of the more consistent things about this president. Let`s watch.


REPORTER: Last week, in the Supreme Court case over your travel ban, the lawyers for the opponents said that if you would simply apologize for some of your rhetoric during the campaign, the whole case would go away. I was wondering if --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don`t think it would, number one. And there`s no reason to apologize. So, I think if I apologized, it wouldn`t make ten cents worth of difference to them. There`s nothing to apologize for.

We are going to stand up for America and we`re not going to apologize anymore for America.

We`ve seen a lot of apologies. Last eight years, we`ve seen a lot of apologizing, not any longer. We don`t apologize.


MATTHEWS: But why? We`ll get to that question next with the HARDBALL roundtable.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump launched a number of vicious personal attacks which he obviously never apologized for. He accused Ted Cruz`s father of being involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Pretty serious terrible stuff.

He attacked a U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel because of his Mexican- American heritage. He attacked the Muslim family of a fallen U.S. soldier and he openly mocked a physically disabled writer for the "New York Times." There`s a bit of it.

Appearing on the "Tonight Show" as a candidate, he was asked if he`s apologized in his life. Here`s what Trump said.


TRUMP: I fully think apologizing is a great thing but you have to be wrong. I will absolutely apologize sometime in the hopefully distant future if I`m ever wrong.


MATTHEWS: For more, I`m joined by the HARDBALL roundtable. Yamiche Alcindor is White House correspondent for "PBS NewsHour" and an MSNBC political contributor, Peter Emerson is a Democratic strategist, and Adolfo Franco is an RNC surrogate.

Adolfo, you`re in the barrel again, I`m sorry, sir, because the question is, why does he allow this little bitty thing become a week-long story? All he had to do was say it was stupid humor, lousy joke, blah blah blah.

I don`t know what it was. I assume it was something like that. If it was more serious, they should admit that.

ADOLFO FRANCO, RNC SURROGATE: Well, because had he nothing to do with it.

MATTHEWS: Why didn`t she do it? Kelly Sadler.

FRANCO: No wait, she has apologized to the McCain family.

MATTHEWS: She has promised to give a public apology.

FRANCO: I don`t know why she needs to give a public apology.

MATTHEWS: She said she would.

FRANCO: She has apologized. Well, wait, but she has apologized to the family. This was a conversation and I agree with the president on this, that should never have been shared. It was a private matter. I venture to say that the four of us here probably have said things we would not want to appear.

MATTHEWS: Or course.


FRANCO: But, Peter, she has apologized. She has called the McCain family and apologized.

MATTHEWS: And then she promised to say so publicly.

FRANCO: Publicly. (INAUDIBLE) not with the American people. It was with the McCain family.


MATTHEWS: Look at him, he`s the problem over here, not me, Peter.

EMERSON: Exactly.

FRANCO: Did President Bush apologize to Adam Climber?

EMERSON: Let`s deal with where we are in the present.

FRANCO: He didn`t. There was no big to do about that.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think what`s interesting as a reporter, what we`re talking about right now is President Trump and his track record not to apologize. And it`s not just because he doesn`t -- I think it`s not just because --

FRANCO: He didn`t do anything.

ALCINDOR: It`s because he doesn`t want -- he doesn`t think he`s wrong and because he thinks it works for him. His instincts are to double down. It got him into the White House. So, why would he listen to consultants who say it`s better if you apologize if he`s gotten this far without apologizing?

EMERSON: As far as McCain goes, why would apologize if you mocked a patriotic American who served as a prisoner of war? Why would you not apologize then?

FRANCO: Do you think the president of MSNBC should apologize for something Chris Matthews said?


EMERSON: We both served in the White House. We know it`s from the head down.

FRANCO: I`ve been at the White House, as well. The president only should apologize for something for which the president is personally responsible.

EMERSON: No, he`s responsible like a general or an admiral. He`s responsible for all his troops. All --


FRANCO: He is not responsible for apologizing for something.

EMERSON: Mocking -- of just mocking people.

MATTHEWS: Well, there`s a record, there`s a context here first of all. He is the one who made fun of John McCain`s service by saying I like people that don`t get captured. Let`s face it, John McCain didn`t throw his arms into the enemy`s camp and said, take me, I don`t want to fight anymore. He bombed Hanoi and was shot down in that lake. I`ve seen where he was pulled out and beaten the hell out of.

Why did Trump make fun of that?

FRANCO: Whether Trump has said these things in the past --


FRANCO: Exactly -- has nothing to do with what we`re talking about.

EMERSON: Maybe it`s a pattern.

MATTHEWS: Maybe Sadler heard him say that.

FRANCO: This has nothing to do with the story you`re trying to all create is the president --

EMERSON: No, we`re not creating anything.

FRANCO: No, no, the president`s responsible for --

ALCINDOR: Have you heard President Trump say something that you think he should apologize for?

FRANCO: I wouldn`t say things like that necessarily --

ALCINDOR: Have you ever heard him say anything that he should apologize for. I`m talking about the president --

FRANCO: I don`t think he should be in the business of apologizing. I remember --

EMERSON: For anything.

FRANCO: Let me finish for a second if I may since you`re all jumping on me.

President Obama spent his time apologizing. Heritage Foundation printed a book called "Obama`s Ten Apologies". The president chose (ph) to apologize. The three of you and all these Democrats are going to be using this, including you, Peter, in the midterms and in 2020. So, I don`t think the president should be apologizing.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me move on.


FRANCO: He didn`t do anything.

MATTHEWS: I think she probably wants to apologize and they`ve told her not to the publicly.

FRANCO: She has apologized, Chris.


MATTHEWS: A few days after the release of the now infamous "Access Hollywood" tape, then candidate Trump issued a rare apology. In it, he acknowledged it was him on the tape and eh excused his language as locker room talk. Let`s watch that.


TRUMP: I`ve said and done things I regret. And the words released today on this more than a decade old video are one of them. Anyone who knows me knows these words don`t reflect who I am. I said it. I was wrong. And I apologize.


MATTHEWS: Roughly a year later, "The New York Times" reported the president was privately walking that back, telling a senator that the tape was not authentic.

The roundtable 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 roundtable.

Yamiche, tell me something I don`t know.

ALCINDOR: Congressman Blake Farenthold who had had to resign after it was revealed that he had a sexual harassment settlement has landed a new gig. He`s making $160,000 as a lobbyist in Texas. It`s only $10,000 less than he was making as a congressman. So, he landed on his feet.

MATTHEWS: Probably less work.

Anyway, Peter?

EMERSON: The continent that transformed our lives, you at the Peace Corps, and me doing business over the years, has benefited mightily by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross who has kept the president`s counsel on doing business in Africa for American businesses to invest in Africa. He`s leading a yet an unannounced four-nation tour for American business.

MATTHEWS: Wilbur Ross?

EMERSON: Wilbur Ross. So, he may nap in cabinet meetings, but he`s wide awake to the importance of African investment.

MATTHEWS: Are they going to keep PEPFAR for AIDS over there? HIV/AIDS, is that still on?

EMERSON: I don`t know yet.

MATTHEWS: I think it is. Anyway, I hope it. That`s the best thing W. did.


FRANCO: I think today`s meeting with the president with Republican senators demonstrated the unity of the Republican Party on the same page on the president`s message, on creating jobs and lower taxes, and I think the Democratic Party we`re seeing continued disarray with --

MATTHEWS: That`s a tell me something I don`t know? You just use these opportunities for this flackery.

FRANCO: No, I don`t, I don`t.

MATTHEWS: This is flackery. You know what I learned at that meeting today, that they will not say a word against President Trump.

Thank you, Yamiche Alcindor, Peter Emerson, and Adolfo Franco for the RNC.

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


MATTHEWS: "Trump Watch", Tuesday, May 15th, 2018.

I listened to the president pay honor to police officers who are killed in the line of duty and as someone who is pro police, I like that he participated in this testimony to people who put their lives on the line every day. I know the job of being a policeman demands you come up against people that see you as a target or at minimum the lone obstacle to them escaping justice.

But it`s that word "justice" that was missing from today`s presidential remarks. A good police officer is on the side of good. He or she deserves respect because he or she can represent society at its very best, trying to keep the peace, trying to protect the weak and vulnerable from the strong and violent.

An officer abuses his authority and, yes, we have seen such cases is not however worthy of our respect. Justice is the cause we hold high. The public servant uses the badge to enforce the law justly not the one who fails in the mission.

This brings up the Black Lives Matter Movement. There should be no conflict between those who demand respect for minority lives and the daily work of a good police officer. We can`t let the world divide itself between the Black Lives advocate and good police. They should be united.

And sadly, the political thing to do in today`s world is to take one side, hold it high and then blame the other. That`s what I heard today as President Trump spoke. Him siding with one side and ignoring the overwhelming need to take the side of justice itself, which is what we all should be saluting every day.

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

ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES starts right now.


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