IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Speaker Ryan urges "transparency" on DOJ. TRANSCRIPT: 05/24/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthews

Speaker Ryan urges "transparency" on DOJ. TRANSCRIPT: 05/24/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthews

Show: HARDBALL Date: May 24, 2018

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: And they may have a different version of the truth than we do. Spoken like a true college student.

That does it for us. HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS starts now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Trump at his worst. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Boston.

This week President Trump proved he is willing to destroy this country`s law enforcement institutions in order to protect himself from justice using a conspiracy theory to trash the justice department and the FBI. He is attempting to extort information about the investigation of him and his campaign.

Today, in an apparent effort to placate the President, the department of justice took some steps to yield to his demands. In two separate meetings, top justice department and intelligence officials met with Trump`s congressional allies and other lawmakers to go over confidential materials about the use of an FBI informant in the Russia probe. Afterwards, speaking on behalf of the Democrats, Congressman Adam Schiff said there was nothing in the briefings to support the President`s conspiracy theory.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (R-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Nothing we heard today has changed our view that there is no evidence to support any allegation that the FBI or any intelligence agency placed a spy in the Trump campaign or otherwise failed to follow appropriate procedures and protocols. Thank you.


MATTHEWS: In another stunning development, we learned that one of the President`s defense attorneys in the Russia probe, Emmett Flood, was present for part of both meetings. Though he left before any classified information was discussed. He was there along with Trump`s chief of staff John Kelly even though Sarah Sanders specifically said on Tuesday that no one from the White House would participate.

In a statement today, the White House said that neither chief Kelly nor Mr. Flood actually attended the meetings but made brief remarks before the meeting started to relay the President`s desire for as much openness as possible under the law.

However, that explanation didn`t satisfy Democratic Senator Mark Warner who said on twitter, for the record, the President`s chief of staff and his attorney in an ongoing criminal investigation into the President`s campaign have no business showing up to a classified intelligence briefing. Despite all there, Rudy Giuliani appeared to suggest the President would ultimately learn what came out of the meeting anyway speaking of his negotiations whether the President will testify, Giuliani said we want to see how the briefing went today and how much we learned from it. If we learned a good deal from it, it will shorten that whole process considerably. Wow.

I`m joined by David Corn, Washington bureau chief from "Mother Jones" and an MSNBC political analyst, Heidi Pryzbyla, national political correspondent for NBC News and Seth Waxman is a former federal prosecutor.

David, I think this is a rabbit hole. I think the justice department has been drawn down into the rabbit hole. I don`t know why they agreed to this meeting. I don`t know why they are even talking about their evidence. The President is the defendant in this case in all effects. Why are they giving his lawyer access to the meeting? Why are they giving his chief of staff access to the meeting, and why are they even meeting with these people? They are investigating them. I have never heard of investigators meeting with the people they are investigating to go over their evidence to see if it`s OK that they use it. It`s extraordinary -- David.

DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, MOTHER JONES: Well, it is extraordinary but it`s a continuation of what we have seen for over a year now. First, they said unmasking was the real scandal. No, it wasn`t. Then they said Obama bugging Trump was the scandal. No, it wasn`t. Then it was FISA warrant, uranium one and now it`s this phony baloney story about a spy on the campaign.

This is Donald Trump and all his minions including people in Congress Republicans creating alternative realities. To call in a conspiracy theory is to give them too much credit. Just fake facts to get out there to distract from the core issue, Russia attacked this country. And while Russia was attacking this country during the 2016 campaign, the Trump campaign was sending out positive signals to Russia and was denying to the public that this attack was under way. And every moment they throw up one of these, you know, confusing narratives, it distracts and keeps us from talking about the real thing itself. Now it`s degrading the justice department.

MATTHEWS: Heidi, how do you as a straight reporter keep the focus on reality away from this bogus reality Trump keeps creating? He, in many ways, is running a fake presidency. This doesn`t exist. This whole thing doesn`t exist anymore than the birther thing existed. It`s made-up stuff. It is all the stuff David just mentioned is made-up, fabricated, fake. And yet, it`s covered because the President of the United States deserves daily press coverage. How do you stop covering what is fake itself?

HEIDI PRYZBYLA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, USA TODAY: No one is stopping it in his own party, Chris. And that is why this continues to happen. And now, Rosenstein is doing his level best. He is making a calculation here that he is going to try and in the end save this investigation by mollifying this President in terms of even agreeing to this meeting in the first place. But what happened? As soon as he agreed to the meeting, Chris, a day later is when the President began this whole spy gate tweeting conspiracy.

And so the President, what he is doing is taking any and every advantage when that sliver opens in the door to throw up the fog like David said. This is round three. We saw the wiretapping allegations, we saw the unmasking allegations. All of it bogus. And today now, no one coming out of that meeting and saying that there was any credibility to these accusation there was a spy in his campaign.

On the contrary, what was confirmed by James Clapper was that someone, an informant was needed because of evidence based investigation showing that there was a need for someone to go into the campaign and find out what the heck was going on with the Russians trying to communicate with the potential future President of the United States.

MATTHEWS: Again, I go back to the reverse universe where you say suppose we had an FBI that did not check out evidence that the Russians were messing with our Presidential election including one of the campaigns that they were taking one of the sides. If they were not doing that, what would we make of the FBI in terms of counterintelligence? Were they doing their job? Of course, not. Well the President continued to purposefully misrepresent the fact on twitter this morning, falsely saying that the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper quote "has now admitted that there was spying in my campaign." However, Clapper very clearly said just the opposite on Tuesday. Let`s watch him.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Was the FBI spying on Trump`s campaign?

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: No, no, they were not. They were spying on a term I don`t particularly like but on what the Russians were doing trying to understand were the Russians infiltrating and trying to gain access, trying to gain leverage and influence which is what they do.


MATTHEWS: Seth what, do we do about our judicial system to keep it whole where you have a President who has been able to push his way into the actual investigation itself, bringing his attorney, private sector attorney Emmett Flood into a meeting to sort of make it clear who the boss is, bring his chief of staff into the meeting for the same purpose, all the time demanding what he calls transparency?

In other words, he wants to know everything he can about what`s coming his way in terms of the investigation so that he can throw it over, pull it apart, pull the plug on it or what. I never heard of a situation where the defendant gets to call the shots in the investigation.

SETH WAXMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes, I mean, it`s entirely unprecedented. Maybe except for the Nixon administration. And we know how that turned out. The idea that a subject gets to send his surrogates into the prosecutor`s office, demand to see documents, demand to know the identity of a confidential informant, learn how that confidential informant was run and operated just doesn`t happen. And then you sends Mr. Flood, the attorney to wait outside the meeting and shake hands of people walking in saying, hey, let`s keep it honest in there. Let`s keep it transparent.

I mean, there`s an implicit threat with that. It is kind of Tony Supremo- esque (ph). You know, he works for the boss. He is going to report back to the boss. What the boss wants is the result that you all know. So let`s go in there and make sure the right result comes out as Trump has said and what you know he wants.

So it is incredibly troubling. And as for the judicial system, we all have just have to hope that the wheels of justice will continue to grind the way they are supposed to and ultimately, you know, whatever the right result will come out.

And I will just make one last comment is that, you know, unlike business where sometimes the ends, the capitalization, the winning of a deal is the goal, the justice department works differently. It is the process that counts. We used to talk about when we were prosecutors, it doesn`t matter if it`s guilt or innocence at the end of the day, as long as the process was followed. And that is the right result. So a not guilty verdict is justice if the process was followed. And that`s what we are losing here. We are losing the process.

MATTHEWS: David, let`s go back to something we have been through together on this. And that`s the ability of a President to create reality, to create something because he is President that people begin to believe must it be sort of real.

So had you Bush getting us into the war in Iraq based upon whatever, that whole creation of stuff he created where he never really admitted his own motive so he came up with a motive for the country, something called WMD and how they had it and blah, blah, and there were meetings in Prague blah, blah, blah, and all kinds of stuff and Cheney lied and all that. And they created a reality.

Here is a President who uses words like spy and spy gate and people out there in the talk shows, I just know they are eating it up. They are eating it up the columnists out there on the right. They are buying into a total hallucination. And that is (INAUDIBLE).

What are we going to do in our democracy as we move forward to prevent Presidents from creating something out of nothing just for their political survival?

CORN: Trump is doing something new here. You and I have been through a bunch of scandals whether it was Watergate, Iran contra even the Monica Lewinsky stuff and the campaign finance scandals of the Clinton years and, of course, the WMD stuff. And there never was a dispute over some basic realities.

There was a break-in at Watergate. Arms were sold to Iran and money given to the contras. And people accepted these things once they emerged. People tried to keep them hidden. But once they came out and then the question was who knew what, how bad it was, was there a violation of law?

This time around, Donald Trump has I guess learned the lesson of marketing that the truth doesn`t matter. So he gets out there and says there was no attack. It`s all a hoax. It`s all a witch-hunt. He knows 30 percent of his people, the people who he said would stick with him even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue will accept his reality.

And I heard, you know, this frustration in Heidi`s voice when she spoke a few minutes ago. How had do you break through that? How do you have a set of facts you can talk about and deal with them and have a true national discourse? And Trump is doing everything possible to make sure we can`t have an honest debate because he can`t survive one.

MATTHEWS: Well, this morning came after five former top intelligence official, expressed concern about how the ongoing investigation is becoming politicized. The congressional leadership wrote that quote "when congressional oversight is overly partisan or focused on counter intelligence investigations we worry about inappropriate political influence on the investigators and the erosion of a bipartisan approach to intelligence and national security."

Heidi, back to you. How do we cover -- we have people like Ryan-- Paul Ryan, I always think has been overestimated in his ability and his character. I`m serious about this. Why is he going over this? This is like Boehner before him saying I don`t want to tell people what to think about birtherism. They are so spineless in the Republican Party now. They are robots, puppets for Trump. They will say anything or avoid saying anything against Trump for fear of their base kicking them out.

PRYZBYLA: And of course, this is a big legacy question for Paul Ryan, Chris, because unlike Mitch McConnell, he is got Devin Nunes and he is not been raining in Devin Nunes. And a lot of this goes back to in terms of throwing up the smoke and the fog, about unmasking and wiretapping and now this whole meeting that was arranged to Devin Nunes.

But to the previous point, why this is different? I want to address that Chris. What Nixon did not have was a far right media echo chamber that is allowing this to happen. Chris, I was in the heartland this past week in Cadillac, Michigan, and every place that I walked into had those Chiron`s up at the bottom of FOX News talking about spies infiltrating the Trump campaign.

No matter what they say, 30 percent of the people are going to believe it. And this is why it`s working, Chris, because at the end of the day, no matter what Mueller`s recommendations are, it`s not up to him to take action. Who is up to? It`s up to Congress. Congress will have to look at those findings and decide whether or not to impeach. You have that question out there still about whether you can indict a sitting President. That leaves it to Congress. If they can throw up enough of a fog and just exhaust people about what the truth is, they have succeeded. Because when the findings come out, 30 percent at least will not believe them.

MATTHEWS: Well, the question arises what is the party of Lincoln going to be represented by someone like Lincoln? And loyal to that tradition. Asked whether the meeting today was appropriate, House speaker Paul Ryan backed calls to investigate the investigators and defended Trump`s actions in the name of transparency. Let`s watch.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: We know Russia meddled in our election. We know that there was never to get to the bottom of that and we are going find how all that took place. A lot of this is classified. So I`m just going to leave it at that. We are going to have more briefings on justice today.


RYAN: I don`t know the answer to that question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think that the President has done any lasting damage to the FBI and DOJ?

RYAN: No, I don`t think -- I do not believe that that is the case. I think, first of all, it`s important that we have good thorough oversight, good thorough oversight accountability and transparency heals all wounds that are committed by our government.


MATTHEWS: Seth, sooner or later, I hope this comes to a reckoning. I think most Americans do wanted to come to reckoning over the facts. Somehow even in the report by Mr. Mueller himself that would go to the country and perhaps, as well to the Congress, ultimately perhaps to Congress if it`s a Democratic Congress or Republican Congress, they are going to have to rule on this. Is there impeachable grounds here, for example? That`s a good point.

Can you do that where facts themselves are questioned, where one side can say those are facts as Rudy Giuliani said yesterday, there are different versions of the truth. What does that mean exactly? What do you mean different versions of the truth?

WAXMAN: Yes. I mean, that`s very troubling. And what you have to believe is when the process is carried out that there will be a fair, open and honest hearing whether that`s a trial oral impeachment proceeding. And it`s, you know, my opinion that Trump and his team have the long game in mind that a sitting President will not be indicted. There are constitution hurdles for that. That might be the correct result. So in an impeachment proceeding, there needs to be two-thirds of the Senate to remove a sitting President. And so there needs -- all Trump is looking for is 34 Republican senators that despite what the evidence is, despite how overwhelming it might be, you know, to David`s point earlier, is that he could go on Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and the people will stand by him.

And you know, if those 34 Republican senators will vote not to remove him in impeachment proceedings, he wins. He may tear the country part in the process. But that may it be his end game. I think Donald Trump cares about one thing only. And it`s himself, you know. I don`t know that he has a perspective on the institution of the presidency.

MATTHEWS: I wish some reporters would go out and go door to door of the United States Senate and ask all the senators if Donald Trump or any President shot someone on Fifth Avenue point blank in broad daylight, would you vote to remove him from office or not. And I`m telling you, you are going to have a hard time getting dozens of those Republicans to say even then would they move to take this guy out of office.

CORN: No comment.

MATTHEWS: They`re all scared to death.

CORN: They would just send their thoughts and prayers, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, sir.

David Corn, of course, Heidi Pryzbyla and Seth Waxman, thank you for all of your various contributions to this very weird discussion.

Coming up, the other big story of the day, President Trump called off his summit with North Korea. What have now? (INAUDIBLE). Where are we going? We are going to find out whether Kim Jong-un is really wanting to make a deal with us or whether they just want to play with us. We will find that out.

Plus, the NFL caves to Trump vowing to find teams whose players kneel during data national anthem. For some players and former players it`s a decision that fundamentally hits them as un-American. We will talk to one of them tonight.

And Trump`s tribalism. He is willing to tear down the institutions of this country and stir it up distractions and racial attitudes. It is his way of shielding himself from justice. And by the way he is using this, taking issue on that front. It`s all about the rule of Trump, not the rule of law. And he wants people taking sides. Tribally preferably.

Finally, let me finish tonight with Trump watch.



MATTHEWS: As Trump moves to prove actually to fool his base into thinking there`s a deep state conspiracy against him, Steven Colbert is blowing the whistle. Here is Colbert last night finding a few flaws in Trump`s logic.


STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: Late last night, last night Trump blew the lid off the deep state`s plan tweeting, if the person placed very I recall I into my campaign wasn`t a spy, put there by the previous administration for political purposes, how come such a seemingly massive amount of money was paid for services rendered many times higher than normal, dot, dot, dot, dot, dot, dot, follow the money. The spy was there early in the campaign and yet, never reported collusion with Russia because there was no collusion. He was only there to spy for political reasons and to help crooked Hillary win.

Yes, follow Trump down account rabbit hole here, OK? They embedded a spy early on and paid him massive sums of money to sabotage the Trump campaign with false claims of Russian collusion in the press to help Hillary Clinton win. And then, and here`s the insidious part, they didn`t tell the press. And Hillary Clinton lost. So when Trump revealed this plot he would seem like a desperate criminal spinning conspiracy theories to stop the walls from closing in. Nice try, deep state, nice try.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST OF HARDBALL TALK SHOW, AUTHOR, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That`s not satire anymore. That`s America. And we`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to Hardball. It was a stunning turnaround today, President Trump cancelled the June 12 summit with North Korea`s Kim Jong-un in Singapore. In a letter he addressed to His Excellency, the North Korean leader, President Trump cited tremendous anger and open hostility as the reason for canceling the meeting.

He warned the dictator, you talk your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used. Well, a few hours later, the President seemed to escalate things delivering this warning.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`ve spoken to General Mattis and the Joint Chiefs of Staff and our military which is by far the most powerful anywhere in the world that has been greatly enhanced recently as you all know is ready if necessary.

Hopefully, positive things will be taking place with respect to the future of North Korea. But if they don`t, we are more ready than we have ever been before.


MATTHEWS: Well, the decision to cancel the summit came hours after North Korea threatened to call it off himself. The North Korean envoy for U.S. Affairs went to Pyongyang could make the U.S. taste an appalling tragedy, it is neither experienced or even imagined if American officials continue to threaten their leadership.

When the official took issue with recent comments from White House officials, including Vice President Mike Pence.


MIKE PENCE, CURRENT VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We really hope that Kim Jong-un will seize the opportunity to dismantle his nuclear weapons program and do so by peaceable means.

There were some talk about the Libyan mine last week.


PENCE: And as the President made clear this will only like the Libyan model ended if Kim Jong-un doesn`t make a deal.


MATTHEWS: Although North Korean envoy have mentioned called the comments of them by the Vice President, ignorant and stupid and called the Vice President himself a political dummy.

(inaudible) caught our allies in the region off guard. The South Korean President said, he was perplexed and called an emergency midnight meeting with top head of states to figure out what they do next.

For more on Trump, Andrea Mitchell, of course, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent. Joe Cirincione, President of the Ploughshares Fund and MSNBC nuclear security analyst and Gordon Chang, a columnist for The Daily Beast and author of The Coming Collapse of China.

Starting with you, Andrea, I always know you more -- know more than I know and I`m thinking what`s behind all this? Is it our fault, their fault? Why is this thing breaking down?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, there`s a lot of criticism that the President meet into this too quickly. Did not wait to be fully briefed by the South Koreans and go through what would be a normal National Security Council process of hearing from all sides.

That said, once it was engaged, a lot of people thought, well, maybe this could work. Yet, he then persisted to have very high expectations talking about complete denuclearization, wasn`t ever clear that the two sides agreed on what that really meant.

And then according to my reporting and to a lot of experts we`ve spoken here today, China intervenes. In the last couple of weeks, we saw a definite hardening of North Korea`s stance.

The President alluded to this himself after Kim Jong-un`s second meeting, second visit to China in the last two months. It was only the second time he had been to China. In six years he had never been there.

And the fact that after his second visit, certainly the analysis seems to be that China was telling him to slow down. They felt sidelined by (inaudible). The last thing they want to see is unification of North and South with China on the sidelines.

And with the U.S., such a dominant player, a U.S.-North Korea Summit with South Korea marginally involved and China left out of the whole discussion. So China was going to be the biggest loser here and took action.

Now, the biggest loser is certainly President Moon of North Korea who ran heavily. His whole political campaign was based on reconciliation North and South. He was so heavily invested in it and he was in the Oval Office only two days ago and still talking about the summit taking place.

MATTHEWS: Gordon, how can we cut a deal with North Korea without China`s support?

GORDON CHANG, COLUMNIST FOR THE DAILY BEAST, AUTHOR OF THE COMING COLLAPSE OF CHINA: Well, I think that we`re going to actually have to because there`s been a lot of Chinese mischief-making.

Since about the middle of February, maybe beginning of March, we have seen China`s sanctions enforcement markedly deteriorate. And I think that`s one of the reasons why we are in the predicament we are now.

And I think President Trump should have called the Chinese out on this much earlier. He only called him out on it on Monday. And I think basically Beijing felt that it could actually do a lot and the United States wouldn`t oppose him, so that`s why we`ve got a very bad dynamic (inaudible) this particular moment.

MATTHEWS: Joe, any hope for a deal here? Is this perhaps business dealing by Trump, will you walk away from the table so the other side has to come back with a better offer?

JOE CIRINCIONE, PRESIDENT OF THE PLOUGHSHARES FUND AND MSNBC NUCLEAR SECURITY ANALYST: It`s possible you could back this up and start to doing it the way you would normally do, something like this.

A lot of preparation, months of discussion by mid-level than more senior officials. And then a summit that caps off an agreement. But we have no idea what`s about to happen next. We`re trapped in a one-man national security policy from hell.

He blindsides his allies. He doesn`t consult with Congress. As far as we know, he didn`t consult with his own National Security Council. He dictates his bizarre actually embarrassing letter. Could this be a negotiating strategy? Possibly.

But we have no idea what`s about to happen next with this president, either on domestic or here on international security policy. We`re back to playing a game of nuclear chicken in the Korean Peninsula.

MATTHEWS: Right. Well, let`s go back to Andrea. Why do you think the President allowed that maybe I`m asking an obvious question, but why did the President his National Security Adviser, John Bolton, why does he allow his Vice President to this trash talk? I think that`s the right word for it, talking about regime change.

Talking about the kind of language you can almost guarantee will start a fight rather than bring people to the table.

MITCHELL: Well, I think initially with John Bolton, this was not something that the President allowed because he actually rebuked Bolton for it afterwards and said, "That`s not really what we`re talking about here."

The President was so forward-meaning and praising Kim Jong-un as being honorable and praising him for releasing those three American prisoners that he never should have had in the first place.


MITCHELL: What my (inaudible) did was clearly doubling down on Bolton but doing it. Last night, after he already knew this thing was going off the rails.

MATTHEWS: Let me get back to Gordon on this southern question which is, is it possible to imagine that Kim Jong-un has some rational -- I don`t think he is stupid, has a rational sense of his country`s interest as well as his own and to the extent they`re identified. Is there anything he really needs from us in the next 20 years of his life that we can give him as he plays ball with us? Is there anything he really want from us?

CHANG: Yes, there are three things. I think he wants the sanctions released. He also doesn`t want the United States to take out his missile and nuke facilities as some people in the administration have threatened.

Also, he wants a counterbalance to China. North Korea, he is a Korean. And the Koreans and the Chinese have been at each other`s throats literally and figuratively for about two millennia.

The United States is a country that has no territorial designs on Korea unlike China. And it would be really good for the Kim if he could have a good relationship with the United States because that would sort of put China back.

And so those are three things -- are things I think that critically he wants at this particular moment.

MATTHEWS: Well, there`s still a game to be played here then. Thank you, Andrea Mitchell. Thank you, Gordon Chang and thank you Joe Cirincione.

Up next, President Trump praises the NFL`s new policy about the -- shouldn`t be in the country. We`re going to talk to former NFL player next, coming here. You`re watching Hardball, where the action is.



TRUMP: Wouldn`t you love to see one of these NFL owners when somebody disrespects our flag, to say get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He`s fired.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to Hardball. That was President Trump. Of course, last fall, lashing out at NFL players who chose to kneel during the National Anthem in protest of police brutality.

Well, Trump`s words set up a firestorm, of course. And NFL reignited that controversy just yesterday outlining a new policy to address players taking a need as the term for it. Under the policy, players who are on the field are required now to stand now during the National Anthem or the team will face a fine.

It gives players the choice to stay off the field, in the locker room, during the Anthem without facing a penalty. Well, this morning on Fox and Friends, President Trump praised that decision.


TRUMP: Well, I think that`s good. I don`t like people should be staying in the locker rooms. But still, I think it`s good. You have to stand proudly for the National Anthem. Well, you shouldn`t be playing. You shouldn`t be there. Maybe you shouldn`t be in the country.


MATTHEWS: For more on Trump by Donte Stallworth an 11-year veteran of the NFL.

Donte, I don`t know how you make somebody stand and respect without showing some sign of anger or of contempt for being forced to do so. Your thoughts about how players will react if this does go into effect.

DONTE STALLWORTH, FORMER AMERICAN FOOTBALL WIDE RECEIVER: Well, I think the players (inaudible) a lot of them have expressed their feelings through Twitter. They`re not going to just sit down and take this from the President.

They`re not going to sit down and take this from the NFL. I think that the President has attacked NFL players consistently since last season, even before that when Colin first decided to take a lead back in 2016.

The players know that the President has been attacking them and will at all cost. But I think the interesting part to me, Chris, is that you look at this as the height of hypocrisy from folks on the other side of this argument who professed, loved the constitution, who professed to be freedom loving patriots.

They`ll go to the ends of the earth to defend and find all types of justifications for the second amendment even when our babies are in their classrooms being murdered. But when it comes to the first amendment, they`re silent.

MATTHEWS: Yes. This first amendment is not for popular speech. We don`t need to protect. People saying popular things about our country. It`s when you say something that robs people the wrong way is when you need the freedom.

STALLWORTH: Yes, you do. And that`s the founding principles of this country. You look at obviously the constitution, it`s the very first amendment, obviously the founding fathers thought that was probably the most important thing that they could institute in our country going forward from being -- from the countries in session.

But again, the players know what the NFL has -- is doing here. They`re obviously kowtowing to the President. The President has beef going back with the NFL for decades now because they wouldn`t let him buy an NFL team, so he`s done as much as he can to attack NFL players.

But again, you see, Sterling Brown, what happened to him, the Milwaukee Bucks rookie where he was chased by police officers. That is precisely why NFL players have chosen (inaudible).

MATTHEWS: I`ve been watching the NBA players (inaudible) would have been fabulous. I don`t know who`s going to end up on top or (inaudible) on two teams. Either team is going to make it to favorites.

But I`ve heard that NFL players don`t have the leverage that NBA players have. That one guy like Lebron James, of course, or Steph or Duane, one of those guys could just say, "No, I`m not playing here. The coach is gone." Potentially, they`re not going to do it. They get along with their coaches.

But I`m wondering, do NFL players have the kind of leverage where they could say, "Damn it. To the owners, we want to do this and we`re going to do it."

STALLWORTH: Yes. I think they do. The thing about the NFL versus the NBA in that regard, Chris, is that there is 11, 12, maybe 13 or 14 guys that are on an NBA roster. And in the NFL roster there are 60 guys, so you got to get a lot of guys on board on the same page to be able to pull something off like that.


STALLWORTH: But it can be done. And I think if it does happen in the NFL, the owners will have to take account because the players African-Americans make up more than two-thirds of the NFL.


STALLWORTH: So they`ve definitely got a voice.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about this, how it could have been done. The NFL Players Association said, "We`re not even consulted by league owners making decisions but some players already stressed their disagreement with the new policy of course.

The Philadelphia Eagles, Malcolm Jenkins, a vocal advocate for social justice program generally said in his statement, "What NFL owners did today was thwart the players` constitutional right to express themselves." His teammate, Chris Long, was also critical of running. This is a fear of diminished bottom line.

It`s about economics. One owner of the New York Jets, Christopher Johnson said he would pay any fines and would not discipline the players who protest. But what do you think of that owner of the giant (ph)? I mean what do you think of this guy? He is one of the 31 who voted for it for this thing you have to keep it in the locker room and then he says, but I`ll pay the fine. There was such fear here it seems.

STALLWORTH: Yes it is. And again, it goes back, obviously to the President and how he has used the Oval Office to kind of attack any of his perceived adversaries. Even our own institutions, the FBI, DOJ, it`s just -- I`m more concerned honestly about how we -- how the President in this administration has been flirting with authoritarianism.

The President is buddies with Rodrigo Duterte out of Philippines. He`s buddies -- and he`s said very complementary things about Vladimir Putin.


STALLWORTH: He said the same things about Kim Jong-un. And he`s obviously good friends with Erdogan who, we all know is another -- a head of state (inaudible).

MATTHEWS: Oh, we know that. I want to offer a thought here. I don`t know any fan, White or Black or Spanish and I know they love the NFL teams. I grew up at an NFL town. I live in one now in Washington.

The people, white and black, love their NFL teams, like you can`t imagine how much they love those teams. They wear the players` names on their backs, the kids do. They get war paint and everything on in D.C.

How can you root for a player carrying your heart in an NFL Sunday afternoon game? How do you care about that guy as a champion at the same time know you`ve gagged the guy, humiliated the guy and told him he can`t express his First Amendment rights?

I think this is -- this is disquieting, Donte. It`s just disquieting morally to me anyway. I don`t know how anybody can like an apartheid world where people are told what to do and not to do in that way.

Anyway, Donte Stallworth, please come back. This conversation is going on. I don`t think this is the last word. Thanks to guys like you.

Up next, Trump`s tribalism. Trump`s rallying his base around the culture wars, as we`ve been describing, and running a distraction campaign to shield himself -- let`s face it -- from justice. He wants to change the topic from what do we know to whose side are you on? It`s so Trumpian, isn`t it? This whole thing about taking a knee is so Trump.

That`s ahead. You`re watching HARDBALL.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m an outsider. Used to be an insider, to be honest with you, OK? I know the inside and I know the outside. And that`s why I`m the only one that can fix this mess, folks.

I mean, nobody is going to be able to do the kind of things I can do.

I think I shake things up. It had to be shaken up. The country had to be shaken up.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Donald Trump promised his base he`d shake things up. You just heard him. This week, he`s done just that, of course, on multiple fronts. His message was essentially you`re either with him or against him.

The president attacked the Justice Department and the FBI, trying to persuade Americans to believe him and not our governmental institutions. Let`s watch him here.


TRUMP: I want from Rod, from the FBI, from everybody, we want transparency. You know what? I think in their own way, they are obstructionists but even the Democrats I really believe on this issue, it supersedes, I think they want transparency, too.


MATTHEWS: On the culture front, also the racial front he waded back into the debate on the NFL. He told FOX News that players who kneeled during the national anthem should maybe not be in this country. He`s going to deport them.

Let`s watch.


TRUMP: I don`t think people should be staying in locker rooms. But still, I think it`s good. You have to stand proudly for the national anthem, or you shouldn`t be playing. You shouldn`t be there. Maybe you shouldn`t be in the country.


MATTHEWS: Let`s bring in tonight`s roundtable. Ayesha Rascoe is an NPR White House reporter, Ginger Gibson is a political correspondent for "Reuters" news service, and Jason Johnson is politics editor for and, of course, an MSNBC contributor.

I want you starting with Ayesha and the names I mentioned as a group put this together the way Trump is trashing our institutions, the -- by, from and for the people institutions like the FBI, our U.S. government, our democratic form of government and at the same time accusing everything of it being a deep state, at the same time taking the side of the owners against the players in this issue of taking a knee. I think it`s all part of one thing.

What do you think? Ayesha?

AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, NPR: Well, I think when it comes to the NFL, President Trump has definitely -- feels like he`s honed in on an issue where he can rile up his base. He feels like this really connects to them.

And, obviously, it`s a very divisive issue. And if he paints it as people being unpatriotic, he feels like that`s a winner for him. I think he`s also, you know, kind of seeing how far can he take it? Now, he`s saying these people should be put out of the country.

Obviously, these people are protesting police brutality and racial inequality and they`re not protesting the flag. But that is what Trump has focused on. I think he feels that`s a winner for him.


GINGER GIBSON, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: Yes, President Trump is trying to just throw all he can at the wall and hope that people listen to what they want to hear. He`s talking to segments of his base by talking about NFL. He`s talking to segments of his base by threatening tariffs on autos. He`s talking to segments of his base when talking about North Korea and the way that he did today.

This is a hope that people choose their own news, that they hear what they want to hear and they take away what he thinks they want to hear. This is an effort to sort of toss it all out there, muddy the channels and hope people walk away only with a piece that they think resonates with them.

MATTHEWS: You know, Jason, is this Fox News nation? Is it basically taking the 40 some percent that voted him and back him still and say, let`s remember what side we`re on? Don`t look at evidence, don`t think about black/white relations in this country, how we can get along with each other, think about how much we hate each other. Let`s fight. That`s what it seems like with them.

JASON JOHNSON, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: That`s exactly what it is, Chris. I mean, this is dictator in training 101. Everybody hates you. I`m the one who loves you, right?


JOHNSON: The media hates you and the department of justice is out to get you. Those black people are out to get you. They`re terrible.

And so, you know, this is Trump`s campaign all along, from the white nationalists he`s brought into his administration, to everything else. But I will say this, Chris, in support, and remember, a lot of these owners agree with Trump. They didn`t have to do this out of fear.

You look at the owner of the Carolina Panthers, you look at some of the comments from the owner of the Houston Texans, these guys were just and angry and hostile towards their black working staff as Trump is in the White House.

MATTHEWS: Why didn`t he negotiate with them? I do not understand.

There is a common way to do this right. People can express themselves without disrupting things. It`s possible, if you want to do it and still make money and they all want to make money.

Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us.

And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. Be right back.


MATTHEWS: Well, it was a big day for our family today. Caroline Elizabeth Matthews, our daughter, was awarded a graduate degree in public administration today from Harvard University`s John F. Kennedy`s School of Government. Caroline continues to impress Kathleen and I with her high academic achievements. Kathleen and I could not have been more proud today any more than the weather up here today in Boston could not have been more perfect.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Ayesha, tell me something I don`t know.

RASCOE: The FBI had been telling it the public and Congress that nearly, there were nearly 8,000 phones that were encrypted and they couldn`t access potential evidence in criminal investigations due to this. But it turns out the number of phones they`re dealing with that have encryptions are a fraction of that and they`ve actually been double counting or counting duplicates and so that information -- the FBI just released that information this week.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you.


GIBSON: Midterm to watch, Amy McGrath, the Democrat, retired marine pilot who won the primary in Kentucky this week, she`s got internal polling that has her 15 points ahead of the Republican incumbent Andy Barr. And just for you, new numbers, her fundraising in her first 24 hours of being the nominee, she had 544 online donors that donated over $46,000. She`s going to be one to watch.

MATTHEWS: Well, if women want women to vote and men want women to vote and win, we`ve all got to vote.


JOHNSON: So, as you know, Chris, Stacey Abrams won a huge drubbing in the Democratic primary to be Georgia`s possible next governor.

MATTHEWS: Seventy-some percent, yes, I know.

JOHNSON: Seventy-six to 24 percent. She won 152 out of 159 counties that include essentially all white counties in the northern and southern part of the state.

So, not only is this race important for the historic level but you have presidential level candidates including Joe Biden slipping into Atlanta and trying to find information how she did it.

MATTHEWS: Well, she`s teaching us.

Thank you, Ayesha Rascoe, Ginger Gibson, and Jason Johnson.

When we return, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch". I think you`re going to like this one. You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: "Trump Watch", Thursday, May 24th, 2018.

Let me underline tonight the words I spoke in Wednesday`s program. Until watching him on the White House lawn yesterday, 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. Well, now we know. He`s willing to use the Oval Office, the historic pulpit of the American presidency to trash the very institutions that have made this an exceptional country -- a government of, by and for the people, a history of open and reasonable and generally respectful political debate, a free press.

His personal assaults on a former FBI director and his raging nonsense about a spy ring are fresh proof of his readiness to destroy any faith in government integrity in order to save some reasonable doubt among some about his own integrity. And now, he reverts again to that division that has haunted this country since its origins, race, racism, and the lingering cause of white supremacy.

Yes, white supremacy, telling the football players we watch on Sunday to behave as they are told is something we expect of an apartheid regime, not a Democratic one. Our rights to free speech fought for all this country`s life is not to defend popular speech but what many even a majority of the country doesn`t want to hear.

You don`t need rights to say what is popular. But again, 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 divide this country. He did that early on with his sick claim that Barack Obama was an illegal immigrant ineligible to be listed among our presidents.

And right up through today, he badgers our institutions of press freedom and democratic government while dredging up the worst of our history in the order to advance himself. If you believe that the ends, his political survival, justifies such means --


Copy: Content and programming copyright 2018 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2018 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.