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Trump fumes over reported FBI informant. TRANSCRIPT: 05/23/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Susan Page, Sahil Kapur, Annie Linskey, Eugene Scott

Show: HARDBALL Date: May 23, 2018 Guest: Susan Page, Sahil Kapur, Annie Linskey, Eugene Scott

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: How scared is Trump? This scared. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Boston.

More news tonight on the Russia front. The BBC is reporting that according to sources in Kiev, Trump fixer Michael Cohen received $400,000 for setting up a meeting with President Trump and the Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko. NBC News has not yet verified that report.

Faced with this relentless fall (ph) with the evidence, however, on Trump`s web of eastern promises, the President himself is setting up what appears to be a Fifth Amendment strategy. He will not answer Robert Mueller`s questions on the ground that his answers would tend to incriminate him. He will claim that as justification for taking the fifth which Trump himself associated with gangsters. But also on the political ground now that the Mueller investigation is out to get him.

Indeed, President Trump is going to new extremes in his attempts to put the FBI on trial by alleging now that he, the subject of a federal investigation, is somehow the victim of FBI spying, that`s his word. The President`s effectively staging a crisis to convince the country that Mueller is not being fair to him and therefore, he, Donald Trump, has a right not to answer his questions.

It`s an excuse the President is setting is up to justify a number of escape routes. Pleading the fifth with special counsel Mueller or in a most extreme move shutting the probe down all together.

This morning Trump launched his most egregious assaulted on our law enforcement institutions to date saying, look how things have turned around on the criminal deep state. They go after phony collusion with Russia, a made-up scam and end up getting caught in a major spy scandal, the likes of which this country may never have seen before. What goes around comes around.

Believe it or not, that`s the President of the United States talking.

Nothing could be further from the truth, however. Certainly when it comes to the FBI`s use of an informant in their investigation of the Trump campaign. In his Washington "Washington Post" column today it, David Ignatius, a widely recognized expert in this area asked the question that has been lost amidst Trump`s (INAUDIBLE).

Isn`t that what the FBI and its sources are supposed to do? Ignatius adds, Trump is running a circus of distraction. But at the interest of the ring remains Mueller, silent and unblinking.

Nevertheless, the President has managed to pressure the department of justice and the FBI to sit down with his Republican acolytes tomorrow. Trump leading this circus parade is already out there declaring that bad things happened. Let`s watch.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When they look at the documents, I think people are going to see a lot of bad things happened. I hope it`s not so. Because if it is, there`s never been anything like it in the history of our country. This was a terrible situation. What we are doing is we are cleaning everything up. It`s so important.

What I`m doing is a service to this country. Everybody wants to solve, but a lot of bad things have happened. We now call it spy gate. You are calling it spy gate. A lot of bad things have happened. I want them all to get together. They will sit in a room. Hopefully they will be able to work it out among themselves.


MATTHEWS: Well, joining me now are three MSNBC contributors, Joyce Vance is a former federal prosecutor, Michael Schmidt is a reporter for the "New York Times" and David Ignatius is a columnist with the "Washington Post."

You know, when I watched that today, I have to tell you all, I reminded myself of Joseph Welsh in the McCarthy hearings back in 1954. I never knew how far Trump would go. And today, I realized he will go all the way.

Michael, he went all the way today. He came up with this conspiracy theory about spying and spy gate and how this was all something new and awful by the federal government to capture him all to avoid detection in whatever he did with the Russians your thoughts? Your thoughts? Your reporting?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I mean, the interesting thing here is that he continues to push this notion, but he still seems afraid to actually do anything more severe like go after Rosenstein or replace Sessions. And that I think is where Congress is really keeping their eye on him. What would he do at that level?

I think to some extent Republicans look at this and say look, he is making some noise. It`s an inspector general investigation and they can live with that. But the real question will be when Rosenstein doesn`t do what he wants him to. And in this case, it looks like Rosenstein is sort of done that. But the President looks like he will continue to beat this drum. And he continues to launch on to a narrative about this informant that at least our reporting doesn`t back up.

This informant was not someone that was inside the campaign. It was someone that talked to two of these campaign officials who had contacts with Russians to find out whether they were, you know, these conversations had happened to corroborate them. And it is someone who was just pointing out to me, it would have been more aggressive for the FBI to go and knock on the doors of some of these folks with badges and sit them down for interviews and something that could come out publicly and could really have damaged the campaign at the time. But the FBI took the more sort of quiet more secretive route and ran this informant up against these folks.

MATTHEWS: Joyce, tell me about this because when criminals are or rather suspected criminals defendants go into a criminal trial, they will come up with just about anything to kind of get the jury to think of some other possibility so they can get reasonable doubt. I understand that. This is the President of the United States. In his way of creating reasonable doubt among his people, the Trumpies out there, is to come up with this conspiracy theory that the United States government was out to get him engaged in something that was horrible, something to do with spying on him and he is just completely making this up. Your thoughts?

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: You know, something that prosecutors tell juries to do and that maybe the American people need to do here is to hang on to their common sense. Prosecutors always tell juries go back and consider the evidence and think about everything that you have heard but you don`t have to check your common sense at the door. You can take it with you.

Here we have got a situation where the President is saying that the FBI was out to harm him, that there was a conspiracy against him and yet, the FBI did nothing to damage him. They didn`t go public with the story of the investigation. There was no leakage on Russian contacts before the election. If anything, Trump makes a really weak case here that defies common sense.

MATTHEWS: You know, David, I saw a picture like most of us in the paper today, a photo, a news photo of Damascus, parts of Damascus who has been completely destroyed in the fight against ISIS. And I was thinking that as sort of a picture of what`s going on with our American institutions under Trump.

Without going too far, he has attacked the free press. He has attacked civility in political debate and now he is attacking the institutions of the federal government, the executive, the FBI, the justice department. I wonder how much damage he`s willing to do to protect himself.

DAVID IGNATIUS, COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON POST: That`s a horrifying image to imagine that the institutions of our government are like the ruins of Damascus. But like you, I was shocked to hear the President say that he was facing a criminal deep state by which he meant the intelligence community of the United States. It`s astonishing.

I wrote this morning that he has been engaged in a circus of distraction. That circus goes back to the campaign. It goes back to October when the allegations were first made by the intelligence community about Russian meddling. In January of 2017 when the intelligence community made deeper arguments. Month after month, there`s been a new series of claims about Trump tower was bugged by President Obama, then it was the fake dossier compiled by Christopher Steele. Again and again there`s this effort to distract from the basic issues of this investigation.

MATTHEWS: Michael, on front page reporting which you are an expert at, we are in a situation where Trump as beautifully used the basic sort of trade craft of reporting. You have to write down and put in the paper what the President says every day.

However, look what he said today. There`s Rudy Giuliani, his attacks now. Giuliani`s out there saying apparently for the President now, the President would like to talk to Mueller. He keeps changing every couple of days to keep the press listening to him, promising, by the way, a decision within two weeks he told "the Washington Post," I guess I would rather do the interview, it gets it over with and makes my client happy. However, he added a caveat, truth is relative. They may have a different version of the truth than we do.

Separately Giuliani told BuzzFeed tonight that he hasn`t spoken directly with Trump in a couple weeks. So this game, this cat and mouse game, he plays on one hand of his hands and his other hand is out there the trashing people like Comey, it just seems like he is playing the straight front page press like a banjo because people keep reporting. I know you have to do it, but I just did it myself. This nonsense of Giuliani acting like he has been talking to Trump, he apparently hasn`t been, just keep bouncing, and bouncing the ball, keeping it noisy and all the time trashing the prosecution.

SCHMIDT: Yes, I`m not sure exactly what the strategy is. What we do see is this constant drum beat against Comey. Giuliani thinks this will come down to Trump v. Comey. And it will be up to the public`s opinion who to believe. And they think that`s a winning argument for them. They think that Comey diminished his credibility during his book tour. They think that is the inspector general`s report that will come out will help them. And they think that this is a place that the President they think will be OK in.

I think that Giuliani has landed some punches in the past few weeks but I`m not sure what it really means in the end. It`s been a lot of noise. It`s been a lot of aggressiveness. This is exactly what the President wanted. He wanted a television lawyer to go out and make his case. John Dowd and Ty Cobb did not do that. Giuliani is doing that in a much more aggressive way. And I think winning a few points here but I`m not sure that that matters in the end.

MATTHEWS: Well, the "Associated Press" is now reporting on how the President is spinning legitimate news reports to make questionable allegations.

Quote "Trump made one ally, told one ally this week that he wanted to brand the informant in this case a spy. Believing the more nefarious term spy would resonate more with the media and the public."

Let me go back to the judge -- to Joyce on this. I mean, you create a conspiracy, vast conspiracy and use words like spy and spy gate trying to distract the jury which is his basically 40 percent of the country, have them sort of learn the music, learn the lyrics, start to say spy gait. In fact, today, he was like Jimmy two times good fellows. He was teaching his people on the air today on camera outside the White House how to say the word spy gate. He is teaching everybody that so in the bars this weekend they will all be saying it.

It`s horrible. And he is doing everything he can to destroy this country and his government so that he gets off scot-free. Your thinking?

VANCE: It`s really despicable conduct from the President of the United States. This idea that he is inserting characterizations of conduct by law enforcement that he knows aren`t true in an effort to prejudice the people of the United States against the FBI, against the intelligence services who protect us is really I just think in many ways something we were not prepared for it as a country. And because we were unprepared for a President who would sort of stoop to these depths. We don`t always hear a cohesive response from law enforcement.

Prosecutors though don`t respond in public. And we have seen that from Mueller. Prosecutors bide their time. In many cases defendants will go to the press and try to create a negative narrative. Prosecutors respond when they are in the courtroom. And we know Mueller`s team will have their first opportunity to do that this July when Manafort goes to trial. We may or may not hear the full story here. But at some point I`m confident that there will be a report to Congress and the entire collection of evidence that Mueller has put together will be available for the public to see.

MATTHEWS: During the freedom riders movement in 1961, David. I know you know this history, John Seigenthaler of the justice department told someone during one these riots down there in Alabama, racial riots. He said I`m from the federal government which got him hit over the head with a lead pipe and left down in the street by the cops for half hour to die. And I`m just wondering, is that the atmosphere that Trump is cooking up now, this hatred of the FBI especially out in the sticks where they like him? He is creating a hatred level which is going to be really frightening in its reality as it takes form over the next several months and years?

IGNATIUS: There is a country and there always has been a suspicion of the federal government, of big government, of authority. Don`t tread on me is a kind of a national idea of liberty. I do worry that by targeting so directly the FBI and intelligence agencies by turning their legitimate counterintelligence efforts, let`s remember, this began as a counterintelligence investigation into something that`s suspicious, that`s spy gate, that`s a scandal. He really is, as you have been saying, as we have all been saying trying to mobilize the country against the institutions that in the end keep us safe. And it`s a very, very reckless strategy, dangerous strategy.

MATTHEWS: Well, the guy who rides the tiger ends up in his mouth. We`ll see.

Joyce Vance, thank you. Michael Schmidt and David Ignatius.

Coming up, it`s one of the rare times Donald Trump has actually spoken the truth. He told veteran journalist Lesley Stahl that the reason he bashes the press is so when they write negative stories about him, no one will believe them. He is tearing down this country`s institutions our system of government, our law enforcement and our free press to save his skin.

Plus, the risky business of speaking for President Trump as Mark Lieberman of "New York Times" reports the more the White House communications team defends Trump, the more its people damage their own credibility. Well, they should.

And woman power. Here`s some good news. Will 2018 be is the year that women candidates and women voters make the difference? After last night, that`s looking more and more like a prospect.

Finally, let me finish tonight with Trump watch. Until today, as I said, I didn`t know how far he would go.

This is HARDBALL where the action is.


MATTHEWS: "The New York Times" first reported today that President Trump`s son-in-law Jared Kushner has finally been granted a regular security clearance. Kushner`s FBI background checks have dragged on for over a year fueling questions about whether the Mueller probe have turned up any evidence that he was a security threat. According to a person briefed on matter, that was not the case. "The Times" further reports that Mr. Kushner`s clearances were approved by career officials and that the President was not involved in the process.

NBC News also confirmed today that Kushner met for a second time with special counsel Mueller`s team. And that interview lasted more than six hours that included questions on the Comey firing.

We will be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Throughout the campaign, Donald Trump`s bulldog whomever stood in his way. He attack his political opponent. Often, in a very personal terms.

But his most ruthless attacks were on the press, something that has continued since the election. Here he goes.


TRUMP: As you know, I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on earth.

If you want to discover the source of the division in our country, look no further than the fake news and the crooked media. For the most part, honestly, these are really, really dishonest people. And they are bad people. And I really think they don`t like our country. I really believe that. They are bad people. They are bad people and they are dishonest people. They don`t tell the truth. They don`t write the truth.


MATTHEWS: Look who is talking. Yesterday, veteran CBS journalist Lesley Stahl shared this insightful exchange she will with the President about why he keeps up those attacks on the press.


LESLEY STAHL, CBS NEWS: At one point he started to attack the press. And it`s just me and my boss and him. And he has a huge office. And he was attacking the press and there were no cameras. There was nothing going on. And I said you know, that is getting tired. Why are you doing this? You`re doing it over and over and it`s boring and it`s time to end that, you know, you have won the nomination and why do you keep hammering at this? And he said, you know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so, when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you.


MATTHEWS: For more, I`m joined by Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today," Bret Stephens, "New York Times" columnist and MSNBC political contributor.

Susan, you first, then Bret.

What do you make of this? This is really something else. He`s willing to destroy anything right now. But I will tell you, I think Lesley Stahl is a match for him in terms of credibility, at least -- more than a match.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": Well, actually, what she said relating his comments to her make perfect sense.

I think that is exactly what President Trump has tried to do with the news media, with some of his -- I think it`s what he`s also tried to do with the special counsel and with the Justice Department, to try and preemptively raise questions about whether these fundamental American institutions can be trusted, so that if at some time he`s in a war with them, as we think he might well be, that Americans -- at least the American who`s believe him -- aren`t sure whether they should trust them, aren`t sure whether they should trust what they read in the newspaper or what they hear the courts say or what the Justice Department officials are telling them.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Bret.

We all know FBI agents from our families, where we went to school. You know, they don`t make a ton of money. They go in it mostly for a career. They spend their lives in law enforcement. They learn how to use a gun, how to protect themselves.

They know it`s a dangerous job in some cases. And to just go out and trash that institution, as he`s doing, the whole justice system, it seems like, he`s after. Anybody that says he`s done something wrong in his characterization is evil.

BRET STEPHENS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, he`s going after nearly every single institution which upholds what we think of as republican government, small-R, or liberal.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I know what you mean.

STEPHENS: Or liberal democracy.

Abraham Lincoln gave a speech in 1838 which really repays reading these days in which he predicts that there are going to be two kinds of leaders that America might have in its future, those who try to build it up and those who much more dangerously try to tear institutions down.

Of course, he was thinking about the Civil War that was looming a couple of decades later, but I think the truth of Lincoln`s observation holds with Donald Trump today.

I mean, you have someone who, not as a neurosis, but as a self-conscious strategy, has set himself toward destroying all of the institutions that can hold him factually and morally to account.

So it`s not a surprise that the targets of his animus are the Justice Department and of course those of us in the news media, who, by the way, also love this country.

MATTHEWS: When you ask yourself what does he love more, himself or the country, we`re getting an answer.

Anyway, Susan, you interviewed the former director of the national intelligence -- national intelligence, James Clapper, for the Diane Rehm podcast. "On My Mind," it`s called.

But during that interview with Clapper, you asked him how this investigation might end and if it would lead to a crisis.

Let`s listen to your exchange with Clapper.


JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: I was around during Watergate. I will in the intelligence community then.

And I never felt at the time that our institutions were in jeopardy. And I do now.

PAGE: This feels like a perilous time to you?

CLAPPER: It does. It feels very different than, you know, the obvious historical parallel of Watergate.


MATTHEWS: Susan, what do you make of that?

PAGE: Well, I think there are a lot of people who feel -- who both make the comparison with Watergate, but also feel that there`s something dangerous going on now, because it`s our system of trust in big institutions, in these fundamental institutions and their checks and balances that have sustained our democracy.

It means that if the president goes off-track, the Congress provides oversight. It means that if Congress goes off-track, the courts can call them in. It means that if there`s misbehavior that the government won`t expose, then the news media will.

It is a system that has served us pretty well. And when there are attacks on the system, especially by the president of the United States, it does seem like a very serious thing. Whether you agree with him on policy or not, in terms of sustaining -- you think, for instance, about the 2000 election decided by a 5-4 Supreme Court decision, Americans accepted that decision, even if they had voted for Al Gore, by and large.

There was some resentment, but there was no talk of a coup or that we wouldn`t accept President Bush as our president.


PAGE: And that`s because Americans fundamentally had faith in the Supreme Court as an institution in that instance. And that`s an important part of how we make things work.

STEPHENS: You know...


STEPHENS: Chris, one of the things -- one of the reasons that, as a conservative, I have always opposed Trump is that conservatives believe that ultimately culture determines the fate of politics, not the other way around.

And what Trump is really doing is trashing -- trashing our civic culture. There`s really no other way of describing it.

One difference between Watergate and the present is that, at least at the time of Watergate, senior Republicans, Howard Baker, people like that, were prepared to stand up for the -- president -- excuse me -- stand up for the Constitution against Richard Nixon, against the leader of their party.


STEPHENS: And that`s just no longer the case today, because I think Trump has so corroded the currency of trust and of truth and basic factualness, the Republicans seem perfectly willing to go along with his alternative...

MATTHEWS: Well said.

STEPHENS: ... alternative universe.

MATTHEWS: And that leads to this, that only the people on the way out the door, like Senator Corker and people like Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania and, of course, this fellow Jeff Flake, who is about to speak here in highly -- speech -- a big speech up at Harvard Law School today.

He talked about Trump has debased the presidency. Of course, he`s another one of these lame-duck guys who is now free to speak, a Republican who will actually tell us the truth.

But let`s listen to him today.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Our presidency has been debased by a figure who seemingly has a bottomless appetite for destruction and division, and only a passing familiarity with how the Constitution works.

And our Article I branch after Congress, the Congress -- that`s me -- is utterly supine in the face of the moral vandalism that flows from the White House daily.


MATTHEWS: Bret, what do you make of the fact -- and then, Susan -- that it takes really a retirement to get the truth out of these Republicans at high levels?

STEPHENS: No, it`s the most depressing fact about the Republican Party today. I mean, you have had -- and it`s also sorry to see -- I`m very sorry to see people I had somewhat more faith in, like Lindsey Graham, seem to capitulate for a variety of reasons to the blandishments of the Trump presidency.

It says that, among the many other things that Trump has damaged, is he`s damaged the moral fiber of the Republican Party. And there`s going to have to be at some point in the future some different kind of conservative movement to represent people who don`t want to see either the Constitution or sort of the basic -- our moral universe continuously trashed, not just by the president, but by his followers.

MATTHEWS: Susan, even Mitch McConnell, whatever you think of his politics, has a love of the United States Senate and as an institution. And yet they don`t seem to want to defend these institutions in the face of Trump.

PAGE: Well, it is now, I think, Trump`s Republican Party. And I think you see that in these midterm elections, where Republican candidates are embracing President Trump, even those in some states where you might think that would be a perilous situation.

You don`t hear much criticism of President Trump or his policies or his approach to things from Republicans who are on the ballot. And that is -- and maybe that`s inevitable when, if somebody`s elected president, that his party takes on his characteristics.

I think that was a surprise to some people, because President Trump was so outside the Republican Party at the time he won the nomination just election. but it is now Trump`s GOP.

MATTHEWS: Well, I wish Mike Pence would stand up and say what he believes, because I don`t think he believes a word of this stuff.

Thank you, Susan Page. Thank you, Bret Stephens.

Up next: the risky business of being one of President Trump`s press flacks. The White House communication team has its hands full speaking for Trump, and they`re dumping their own credibility in order to get their job done for him.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.



QUESTION: When the president so often says things that turn out not to be true, when the president and the White House show what appears to be a blatant disregard for the truth, how are the American people to trust or believe what is said here and what is said by the president?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We give the very best information that we have at the time. I do that every single day and will continue to do that every day I`m in this position.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Thomas Jefferson once said that "The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest."

But that hasn`t been the case in the Trump White House.

As Mark Leibovich writes in "The New York Times" magazine this week, this coming week: "Trump places high value on his proxies and expects them to talk more or less as he does, even if this might include advancing dubious claims and crossing certain lines of decorum. As a result, the job inevitably carries significant risk for the spokesperson`s own reputation."

Let`s watch some of the performances from the president`s press team, if you will, over the past year-and-a-half.


SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: You`re saying it`s a falsehood. And they`re giving -- Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that.

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: The president himself is always going to be the president. I think he`s got some of the best political instincts in the world and perhaps in history.

I love the president. And I`m very, very loyal to the president. The president has really good karma, OK, and the world turns back to him. He`s genuinely a wonderful human being.


MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by Mark Leibovich, the guy who wrote it, chief national correspondent for "The New York Times" magazine and an MSNBC contributor.

Mark, I don`t know what to say here.

Just today, Rudy Giuliani`s putting out the word that there`s different versions of reality, of truth, and that they have their own version. It sounds so much like Kellyanne talking about alternative facts.

Is this what these flacks are engaged with, selling an alternative universe?

MARK LEIBOVICH, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: It`s basically what it sort of comes down to.

I mean, if you look at things like alternative facts and whatever Rudy said today, and then Hope Hicks` white lies, and what Sean Spicer said on day one -- or I guess it was day two -- they have tried to reorder reality around Donald Trump`s -- whatever it is he`s doing.

And, look, I mean, I think there`s a pretty wide consensus that -- among the American people, that about 61 percent of people think he`s less than truthful. For whatever reason, though, many of them still support him.

MATTHEWS: Well, you wrote, in a conversation with White House Deputy Secretary Hogan Gidley, he told you that -- quote -- "He wanted to speak on backgrounds. I shook my head. He appeared taken aback by my lack of accommodation."

Well, you note that you told him: "We were on the record. Why shouldn`t we be? And I said" -- that`s you talking -- "he was after all White House spokesman. This arrangement would seem self-explanatory, except the relationship between spokespeople and journalists has in many cases come to assume anonymity as the default."

But, at the same time, reporters today frequently publish negative articles on the president with anonymous sources.

So, a recent "Washington Post" on -- a "Washington Post" story on the White House and the Russia investigation was -- quote -- "based on interviews with 22 White House and Justice Department officials, witnesses, Trump confidants and attorneys connected to the probe, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid candid assessments."

What`s the rule? What is the style book on this, or whatever, at "The Times"? If somebody`s trashing the president inside, you don`t quote them, and if they say something that`s flackery for the president, you do quote them? How does it work?

LEIBOVICH: Well, I mean, it works -- it`s case by case, obviously.

But if someone is a spokesperson for the president, and they`re the subject a story, as Hogan was in this case, I`m not going to give him anonymity.

And, obviously, using unnamed sources is an occupational hazard in our job.


LEIBOVICH: And we try to do it as little a possible, but sometimes you just need to.

But I do think, in this case, it`s kind of special, because, one, you have Trump, whenever we use anonymous sources, saying, oh, they don`t exist, they`re just making them up. And, on the other hand, you have his spokespeople immediately asking for anonymity.

So, which one is it? So, I`m not very -- I was not very accommodating in general to that. And I don`t think -- this was not the kind of piece where I wanted to do that.

MATTHEWS: Well, give me some -- you`re a thoughtful guy. How do you get in the heads of these people? They must be knowing, knowing, people like Spicer, that they`re trading away their reputations, if not their character, for a job. That`s a hell of a price to pay for a government check.

LEIBOVICH: They all know.

First of all, look, we -- I -- one thing -- one term I shy away from and a lot of us do tend to use sometimes is, oh, well, what a thankless job, what a hapless job.

This is not indentured servitude. They`re there of their own volition.

MATTHEWS: I agree. But why are they doing it?

LEIBOVICH: They can -- I have no idea.

I mean, they have a job in the White House. They justify it for their own reasons. Many of them -- look, a lot of are getting more exposure than they ever would, and a lot of them are probably not going to get White House jobs in any other Republican administration.

So, there is that opportunity. And, obviously, there`s not a long line of sort of top-tier Republican operatives who are trying to work in the White House.

And Trump, on the other hand, is someone who has a pretty stringent loyalty code to who gets to work for him. So, it`s not a big pool in either direction.

But I do think, look, there is a short-term benefit, in that your -- quote, unquote -- "brand" is built, but the long-term question is, what is this going to do to your reputation?


LEIBOVICH: Who is going to hire you afterwards? And are you going to look back on this with regret, with pride?


LEIBOVICH: What is it going to look like in a few years?

MATTHEWS: Well, Mark, you know I was there years ago, a long time ago. But maybe it was 30 years ago, but I worked for Tip O`Neill, the speaker, and I was his top guy, but I was also his spokesman.

I was always thinking about my character and reputation, always thinking what I was saying on the phone with reporters, and whatever I was doing, I used to think, wait a minute, this is me doing this. This is like, whatever you do, you`re responsible for what you`re doing.

I mean, are you responsible personally. Don`t they know that, personally responsible for what they say?

LEIBOVICH: They are. They are.

But they`re also in the thrall of a prospect of going on TV, and there`s a pretty good chance that the guy in the Oval Office is watching you.


LEIBOVICH: And there is no better way to win approval from President Trump than to go on TV and defend him as adamantly as you can, even if you might -- you know, you might say things you night not normally say.


LEIBOVICH: He is never going to be someone who reins you in, who said, oh, maybe you went too far there.

He`s going to push it as far as you can. And if you do it, he`s going to notice you. So, that`s an occupational and I guess benefit to them. But the question is, how is that going to look outside the building?

MATTHEWS: Well, Mark, my friend, I recognized your style in this piece, how you used the people you interview, their words against them brilliantly.

I have to say you really took down a couple people in this piece, which I`m familiar with. But it`s your job, and you do it well.


MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mark Leibovich of "The New York Times" magazine.

LEIBOVICH: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Up next: Are we finally seeing a real breakthrough of female candidates? Judging by last night`s primaries alone, in fact, it sure looks like it.

And that could make all the difference for the Democrats this November, because they have got a fighting female population of Democrats out there and candidates who look like they`re carrying the load of winning the nomination -- or actually winning the control of the House of Representatives and perhaps setting up an impeachment trial this November.

You`re watching HARDBALL.



STACEY ABRAMS (D), GEORGIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Georgia has a long story of being the first in a lot of ways, pushing civil rights, pushing women`s rights. I look forward to helping change the face of leadership. I want young women, young men who are thinking about their futures right now to look at my campaign and know that they too can achieve whatever they want.



That was Stacey Abrams you just heard who last night won the primary to become the Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia.

Last night saw women candidates making inroads in a series of primaries across the South. Abrams beat her opponent by more than 50 points, making history by becoming the first African-American woman nominated by a major party for governor in any of the states. Women also saw victories in primaries for U.S. House races in the Democratic side.

In Kentucky, Amy McGrath, a former marine fighter pilot won an upset over the mayor of Lexington. Over in Texas, Gina Ortiz Jones, an Iraq war veteran, won her runoff, so did attorney Lizzy Fletcher.

And last night, eight women won primaries for U.S. House seats from Pennsylvania, seven Democrats and one Republican. In fact, NBC News reports the total number of female house nominees is already up to 72, with 62 of those being on the Democratic side. That`s a huge jump from previous years.

As of last night`s primaries more than 40 percent, that`s two out of five of Democratic nominees so far for the House are women compared to less than 10 percent for Republicans.

Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable: Sahil Kapur, national political reporter for "Bloomberg Politics", Annie Linskey, national political reporter for "The Boston Globe" and Eugene Scott is political reporter with the "Washington Post."

I got to start with Annie on this. Do some cheerleading. Go ahead. It is a really powerful and it looks like it`s a continuation of that first day after Trump won the election with women in the streets.

ANNIE LINSKEY, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE BOSTON GLOBE: Yes, it certainly does. There have been so many female candidates that I`ve talked to who said that they were inspired to run either on the day after the election when Trump won or, you know, on January 20th on inauguration day and the following day in the women`s march.

And so, you know, you hear that as a reporter and you think, oh, gosh, I wonder if they`re really going to follow through and do it. And what we saw last night and what we`re seeing this season is that people really are.

But I will say when you dig into the numbers there is one thing particularly interesting to me. And that is you`re seeing more and more women doing well and advancing executive level roles, women running for governor in various states. And the Barbara Lee Foundation which is based in Boston has done a lot of research on this topic and they found that women tend to be elected to legislatures but they have a much, much harder time in executive roles.

But, you know, this year might be the year that that begins to change a little bit.

MATTHEWS: Let`s see. Sahil, what do you know about that? In terms of, I do buy the idea, I always tell people who is going to win? Well, look at who`s running? Because it`s somebody who`s running.

And the fact that women are running more means they`ve got a better chance of winning.

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Chris, there`s a correlation between the type of person who thinks government doesn`t listen and people who don`t show up to vote, young women, progressive women are big part of that category.

And the reason I think we`re seeing a flood of women candidates is that a bunch of women in the country have decided they`re going to break that cycle by running themselves, trying to inspire young voters to show up and dramatically change the complexion of American politics. That`s exactly what we heard from Stacey Abrams there. I think many other candidates in Texas, 18 out of the House Democratic candidates of the 36 overall are women.

This is going to be a huge test of whether they can actually succeed here. They`re doing well in primaries because there`s a lot of them. But whether they do well in the general election will determine whether there`s a blue wave or on the other hand, whether Republicans hold the House and Senate and feel validated in everything they`ve done. It`s going to come down to young women, black Latina Asian women, the types who don`t -- you know, who tend not to turn out, they have to show up this time to make a difference.

MATTHEWS: Stacey Abrams, what do you make of her chances, Eugene?

EUGENE SCOTT, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I mean, this is Georgia. This is a state that has not had a Democratic governor since I believe in 1998. But we have seen her get support from pockets of the state that people didn`t she could. A lot of white voters voted for her. Some of the -- she did really well in like the Appalachian area closer to Tennessee.

And people are drawn to her message. Yes, she will be the first black woman to be governor if she wins but the policy idea she`s putting out there in terms of economic revitalization to the state and trying to improve their public school system are things that people even outside of what`s called the Obama coalitions are really drawn to.

MATTHEWS: We`ll see. That sounds great.

Look, tonight`s main story, everybody on this one. Trump`s attacks on the FBI and the Justice Department have fueled outrage. Senator Mark Warner, for example, the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, accused the president, that`s Trump, of smearing federal law enforcement to undermine an ongoing criminal investigation into his campaign, saying this is a threat to the rule of law. That`s Mark Warner of Virginia.

U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro called it a serious abuse of power by the president. And former FBI Director James Comey wrote: the attacks on the FBI and lying about its work will do lasting damage to our country. How will Republicans explain this to their grandchildren?

You first, Annie, then the others.

LINSKEY: You know, I think, first of all, what to look for is Republican response. I mean, Democrats are outraged, outraged by what Trump says. But he so far has not actually touched the investigation.

And when I talked to my Republican sources, that`s where they start to get really nervous. And that`s where you see a little bit of movement and legislation to protect the special counsel.

So, I think Trump seems to up the rhetoric because there`s been no consequence for doing so. But when he starts to move towards making some kind of changing in that investigation, I think that`s where he starts getting calls from top Republicans.

MATTHEWS: When is Charlie Baker, the governor up here in Massachusetts, going to say something?

Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. Be right back.


MATTHEWS: President Trump said today that his administration should know by next week if his planned summit with Kim Jong-un is a go. Here`s what Trump said to reporters early today.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, we`re going to see what happens on Singapore. We`re going to see. And it could happen, could very well happen but whatever it is, we will know next week about Singapore.

And if we go, I think it will be a great thing for North Korea.


MATTHEWS: Trump`s comments came Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the United States was fully prepared to walk away from the talks, reiterating that a bad deal is not an option. We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Sahil, tell me something I don`t know.

KAPUR: Chris, a new government report today finds that by 2019, 3 million more Americans will be uninsured, and health insurance premiums will rise by 15 percent. It cited two specific reasons why. One is the repeal of the individual mandate and the Republican tax law which will push healthy people out of the marketplace, and the other is President Trump`s decision to cut off reinsurance payments to insurance companies that take sicker companies.

Democrats call this sabotage and it`s going to be a centerpiece of their midterm election campaign. Voters are very attuned to health care costs right now.


LINSKEY: Chris, Jared Kushner`s Harvard class of `03 is gathering in Cambridge this weekend. Kushner will not be there. But the Harvard students have used their class notes to make sure that he will be discussed and some of them have just sent in comments about their feelings about him.

One of them, the theme is shame on you, Jared Kushner. Another one of them said, I for one am actually glad that our class of `03 finally has a real- life fascist among us. Who says Harvard is not diverse?


SCOTT: The NFL is being criticized significantly for implementing a policy making it illegal or banning should I say for players to go down on a knee to protest racism and police brutality. But Christopher Johnson, the co- owner of the New York Jets, is receiving quite a bit of positive attention for saying that if his athletes do go out and take a knee, he will incur the fine himself.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you, Sahil Kapur. That`s news. Annie Linskey, and Eugene Scott.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Trump Watch Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018.

Until watching him on the White House lawn today, I wasn`t sure how far Donald Trump would go in destroying this country`s most precious assets in order to protect himself from justice. Today, we heard and saw it.

Listen to him today, listen to him standing there with the White House behind him saying what he knows to be on the same level of conspiratorial nonsense as his birther B.S. Listen to this man, the president of the United States continue to trash the very institutions that made this a special country, a country of, by and for the people, a government of by and for the people, a history of generally respectful political debate, a free press.

It`s clear especially today with his out of right field talk of some sort of political spy ring, his personal assaults on a former FBI director. Trump is proving his readiness to destroy any faith in government integrity in order to save some reasonable doubt among some about his.

It`s been clear from his entrance into the political arena that Trump is willing to state what he knows is not the truth in order to advance himself. Does anyone believe that Donald Trump ever believed that Barack Obama`s mother, a white woman in Kansas, went over to Africa to deliver a child, name that child Barack Hussein Obama in order to lie about his birth 35 years later when he became constitutionally qualified for the American presidency?

No. He didn`t believe that. But he did believe that selling that conspiracy would get him headed to the White House which is to this country`s shame, it did.

Does anyone believe that Donald Trump now that he`s in the White House wants the country to know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? On this matter of real national security, Donald Trump cannot stand the truth.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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