Show: HARDBALL Date: June 1, 2018 Guest: Ted Johnson, Tim Mak, Ginger Gibson, Jonathan Lemire, Lizz Winstead
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: The road to Singapore. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
Here is where things are headed this Friday night. We have got the latest, of course, but who knows how long this latest is going to hold. Trump is headed to Singapore right now. And now he says he never wasn`t headed to Singapore.
Samantha Bee is getting lined up under with Roseanne Barr before a wright right wing firing squad. And there are now reasons to ask questions about the other far east meeting, the one on the Seychelles. It looks like Mueller is still hot on the collusion trail.
Finally, is Donald Trump planning to pardon himself out of all his Russian business?
Let`s start with Trump`s train surge of romance or bromance for despotic North Korea. (INAUDIBLE) is this power in this case Kim Jong-un`s the greatest aphrodisiac. There is a remarkable scene at the White House this afternoon as senior North Korean officials spent about an hour and 20 minutes inside the oval office. There he is meeting with President Trump. Kim Jong-cho (ph) delivered a personal letter from the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.
Afterwards, President Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, posed for photos, there they are outside with the North Korean delegation. The result Trump announced the June 12th summit in Singapore was officially back on. And he sounded an upbeat note about it. Let`s watch him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn`t cancel the meeting. I canceled it in response to a very tough statement and I think we`re over that, totally over that. And we are going to deal and we are going to restart a process. We are meeting with the chairman on June 12th. And I think it`s probably going to be a very successful, ultimately a successful process. We will see.
Remember what I say. We will see what we will see. I don`t want to use the term maximum pressure anymore because I don`t want to use that term because we are getting along. You see the relationship. We are getting along. It`s not a question of maximum pressure. It`s staying essentially the way it is.
At some point, hopefully, for the good of millions of people, a deal will be worked out. Can you believe that we are talking about the ending of the Korean War? You are talking about 70 years. You re incredible people. I think it`s going to be a very great success. We will see what happens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: They are incredible people. Well, the White House first announced in March that Trump agreed to meet with Kim Jong-un. And from that point until today, the path toward Singapore has been, you might say, erratic.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: North Korea, Kim Jong-un, would like to meet with President Trump.
Things have changed radically from a few months ago. You know the name calling and a lot of other things.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you deserve to.
TRUMP: Everyone thinks so but I would never say it.
If you look at that model with Gadhafi, that was a total decimation. We went in there to beat him. Now, that model would take place if we don`t make a deal most likely. But if we make a deal, I think Kim Jong-un is going to be very, very happy.
Based on the recent statement of North Korea, I have decided to terminate the planned summit in Singapore on June is 12th.
We will be meeting on June 12th in Singapore. It went well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: For more, I`m joined by "Washington Post" White House reporter Ashley Parker. She is an MSNBC political analyst and vice President for national security at Third Way Mieke Eoyang. Thank you for joining us.
So what happened today?
ASHLEY PARKER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, what happened was basically a top envoy from North Korea went to the White House, delivered this sort of oversized personal letter that the President may or may not have read depending which version of his you believe. And it basically started the ball back rolling to a summit that despite harsh language about a week or so ago, no one including in the White House ever believed it was merely truly 100 percent off.
MATTHEWS: And what is this meeting going to be? Because it was to get rid of their nuclear weapons. And now the President said, well, it`s going to be a get acquainted meeting like what they called just lunch? Is that what goes on into dating world? Now, you just meet for lunch but it`s not really a big deal like dinner. Is that what it is? He is really lowering the bar what they expect. It`s a familiar -- go ahead, Mieke.
MIEKE EOYANG, NATIONAL SECURITY DIRECTOR, THIRD WAY: Yes. I was going to say, every time he talks about this, he is really lowering expectations about what we are actually going to get. And so, he is not actually trying to negotiate to address the real security threats that face America. He is no longer talking about the ballistic missiles. He is no longer talking about reducing their nuclear weapons programs. He is just talking get to know you. It feels more like an eighth grade romance with it is on and again off again that it feels like an international summit on nuclear weapons.
MATTHEWS: What can we expect from it? I mean, it seems to me that there`s a danger here if nothing happens, nothing is going to be pretty clearly nothing. If you walk out of the door in Singapore, I don`t know if they are having this at raffles or where over there, they are going to have a meeting and they are going to come out of it in a couple of hours.
My concern as an American, in this, I`m clearly one of -- this is a nonpartisan thing at this point. My question is, we went into Panmunjom back in the summer of 1951. We didn`t get out of Panmunjom for two years. The North Koreans like to talk because it brings us down to their level. And then they conduct their missile testing and everything else while they are talking.
PARKER: Well, OK. A couple of things. The first challenge is the President is going into this without a real framework. As you said, for what they hope to get out of this, what the goals are, what the expectations are according to people we have talked to, they really have nothing.
That said, the President basically again, he wants to win. He wants the deal. It`s very unclear what exactly that looks like. But if he does fly all the way over there and they do have a meeting, it`s hard to imagine him walking out without anything although it remains to be seen if that thing is something real and tangible or sort of a (INAUDIBLE) victory, something he can announce and nothing actually happens.
MATTHEWS: Where is that troublemaker John Bolton? Waiting in the background to just beat this thing up somehow? He is out there saying they have got to get rid of not just nuclear, but if they have got biological, if they have got chemical, whatever they have got. He is trying to reduce them to ashes. That`s always what Bolton wants. He doesn`t want to negotiate with anybody. He wants to destroy them.
EOYANG: That`s right. Bolton is about unilateral surrender of your opponents. He wants them just to give up everything and we give nothing. And he is using language that Trump himself has walked away from. Bolton was the one who started talking about this Libya example where Libya gave up their nuclear weapons but then Gadhafi was dragged through.
MATTHEWS: He has never apologized for Iraq or Libya or any of that stuff.
EOYANG: Exactly. He can`t see the way that resonates with the North Koreans and how that is really upsetting them up.
MATTHEWS: Common sense is the Libyan model means you end up in a sewer pipe with then people destroying your body afterwards for their own joy. That`s a nice concept to think forward to. Anyway, at first Trump told the press that the let delivered from Kim Jong-un was interesting. Let`s watch him say that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: This was a meeting where a letter was given to me by Kim Jong-un and that letter was very nice letter. Oh, would you like to see what was in that letter. Would you like it? How much? How much? How much? It was a very interesting letter. At some point, it may be appropriate. And maybe I will be able to give it to you. Maybe you will be able to see it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Is he like Carnac on Johnny Carson, he can see in the envelope? I mean, he said it is very interesting. (INAUDIBLE) then he is auctioning (ph) it off. And then a few minutes later he said he hasn`t read it. Let`s watch him there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I haven`t seen the letter yet. I purposely didn`t open the letter. I haven`t opened it. I didn`t open it in front of the director. I said would you want me to open it. He said you can read it later. I may be in for a big surprise, folks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, an hour later, you got to keep up with this guy, the White House told NBC News that the President has now read the letter and there were quote "no surprises." But was there interesting in the letter that he hadn`t read that he said was interesting?
PARKER: Well, I mean, if you believe him and I`m inclined to believe his second explanation that he had not actually read the letter.
MATTHEWS: There was none of the snootiness in the last about communicate from Kim Jong-un?
PARKER: It`s hard to imagine there was that level of rhetoric because that`s what caused him to call the whole thing off. So again, you sort of got sense the President is a top line guy. There`s a different sort of President who might have been pouring over the letter, every comma, every word before he went out and made a statement. That`s just simply not who Donald Trump is.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you to be not conspiratorial because you are a straight reporter, Ashley. And I respect the Post and you for that. But it seems -- this is out of your line of work for a second, Mieke. If he says we are now going to meet on June 12th, that means he has got another two weeks with Giuliani to play the game they play which is we can`t meet to talk about anything to do with the Russia probe until we have met with Kim Jong-un. So this gives him another stand back of execution for a couple more weeks, doesn`t it?
PARKER: It does. It absolutely does. I do have to say, I don`t think that is the driving force because as you have seen with this President and Giuliani, if it wasn`t the summit, it would be something else. They are very good --.
MATTHEWS: You mean like the tax returns, we will show you when they are audited, yes.
PARKER: Yes, exactly. They are very good at the public relations campaign. The summit was a convenient delay tactic. But there will always be something else. Wanting those documents on spygate, so-called spygate for instance.
MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about this Korean thing. Trump also said that he knows North Korea wants to nuclearize -- denuclearize. Let`s watch his assumptions here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, what`s your stance of what the North Koreans are willing to do on the issue of denuclearization?
TRUMP: Well, I think they want to do. I know they want to do that. They want other things along the line. They want to develop as a country. That`s going to happen. I have no doubt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Mieke, that`s the assumption of previous Presidents going back to Bill Clinton and certainly W. And the assumption that the North Koreans are rational in terms of cost benefit. That if their nuclear program was costing them to be isolated from the world, to be impoverished forever, they would choose against it. But they haven`t been that way. They haven`t been logical that way. Just like LBJ thought he could buy the North Vietnamese with a big economic program like the TVA the Tennessee Value Authority. People are nationalistic. They have their own purposes. Is North Korea interested in a deal?
EOYANG: I think they are but not for the reasons that Donald Trump understands it, right. They view the nuclear weapon as the guarantee of regime stability. They have watched other regimes give up their nuclear weapons.
MATTHEWS: So what do they deal with? What do they deal -- if they can`t deal that off?
EOYANG: That`s the real question. Now they have these ballistic missiles that could potentially hit the United States. That`s the bargaining point where they could try and keep the weapons and get rid of the delivery.
MATTHEWS: So they could only hit Japan and South Korea?
EOYANG: Right, which is sufficient, right, from a world perspective. You don`t want that to happen. But Trump does -- he really does need this period to figure out what his negotiating position is and what they can realistically ask for here. Because when the Koreans say they are willing to denuclearize, what they mean is that they want the U.S. nuclear powered, right, nuclear capability out of South Korea and Japan. They don`t want us to be able to strike them.
MATTHEWS: Wait. The Polaris sub that keep 500 miles away or what?
EOYANG: They want us out of the region.
MATTHEWS: What does that mean? How are we in now?
EOYANG: So we obviously are not stationing in Japan but we have the ability to strike them. And they are worried about American military presence.
MATTHEWS: But how can we remove our ability to hit them with Polaris missiles from where we are standing (ph) in the world.
EOYANG: We can`t. But this is the confusion about denuclearization that they are playing.
MATTHEWS: OK. The genius of Polaris missile is you never know where the subs are.
MATTHEWS: And I don`t know whether they are going to know it either. But we will see.
Anyway, thank you. At least that`s something. I do think that is what they are up to. Take away the nuclear umbrella from South Korea so they can threaten to attack whenever they want through their tunnels which they are not going to seal off, by the way, as part of this deal, are they? They like those tunnels.
Anyway. Thank you Ashley Parker. Thank you, Mieke Eoyang.
Coming up, this is the week the culture wars erupted. Roseanne Barr first lost her job after a racist tweet about an aide of President Obama. And now President Trump wants comedian Samantha Bee fired for her vile word about his daughter. Well, that is all ahead. It is going to be a firing squad.
Plus, exclusive new reporting from NBC News on that secret meeting in the Seychelles between Trump allies, Russians and officials from the United Arab Emirates. Special counsel Robert Mueller is digging in that. He is still looking for collusion over there. And now a close friend of Jared Kushner is under scrutiny. This is so interesting, it just keeps growing this web of Russian connections all around the world.
And Donald Trump has always shown a willingness to do whatever he has to do to get out of hot water. So, is he one to use his powers to pardon his way at any trouble he may be coming -- that may be coming to him from the Russian probe? It looks like it.
Finally, Trump`s fixer Michael Cohen might look like the fall guy now. But there`s reason to believe that his reputation of being a pitball is for real. We are going to be joined by a reporter who has gone up against Michael Cohen when he faced the bullying and intimidation from Michael Cohen that it was all caught on tape. That`s cool for us.
This is HARDBALL where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump today broke with another long-standing protocol, giving an early hint of positive job numbers an hour before the jobless report was released officially by the labor department. Administration officials are not supposed to disclose the data ahead of time for fear of politicizing is the report or moving the stock markets. Well, despite that, shortly after 7:00 a.m. this morning, Trump tweeted looking forward to seeing the employment numbers at 8:30 this morning. Well, so is the rest of the country. About an hour later the labor department announces the economy added 223,000 jobs in May, that is this past month, beating analysts` expectations. Great economic news. The unemployment rate dipped to 3.8 percent, the lowest level in 18 years. Our economy professor -- economic professor you couldn`t get below 4.0.
Anyway, national economic council director Larry Kudlow confirmed too today that he had briefed Trump on that report yesterday evening. So Trump got early word and used it. Kudlow, however, downplayed the significance, of course, to the President`s tweet. Of course, he has to.
We will be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
This was the week the culture wars exploded on television. Roseanne Barr, of course, an outspoken supporter of President Trump was fired by ABC Tuesday after sending a racist tweet about a former senior advisor to Barack Obama, Valerie Jarrett. Well, Barr apologized but also suggested there was a political double standard at work to her firing.
Then on Wednesday, that would be the next day, late night host Samantha Bee used a vulgar word, I think we all agree on that, to describe Ivanka Trump during a segment criticizing the White House policy on migrant children. Here goes a bit of it with a (bleep) in it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAMANTHA BEE, TV HOST: Do something about your dad`s immigration practices you if (bleep). He listens to you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Bee apologized the next day. CBS which airs her show issued its own apologies but took no action beyond that.
Today Donald Trump tweeted why aren`t they firing no talent Samantha Bee for the horrible language used on her low ratings show? A total double standard.
It was a very different reaction he had earlier in the week to the news ABC canceled Roseanne. Trump never said anything about Barr`s tweet but he took issue with the fact that the chairman of Disney personally reached out to Valerie Jarrett to apologize.
Trump wrote gee, he never called President Donald J. Trump. Isn`t that like Julius Caesar referring yourself in the third person? He never called President Donald J. Trump to apologize for the horrible statements made and said about me on ABC. Maybe I just didn`t get the call.
Well for more I`m joined by Lizz Winstead, co-creator of the daily show, Ted Johnson, Senior editor of "Variety," Sophia Nelson, a former House Republican committee council and a contributory to NBC. Think that is where all our brains get together, the right stuff.
Liz, you have been in the business. It seems to me that writing for comedy has standing up in front of a brick wall or on television, you have to be like a race driver. You got to race as fast as you can but not get killed which is a tricky business every night of your life. And sometimes you get killed.
LIZZ WINSTEAD, CO-CREATOR, THE DAILY SHOW: Yes.
MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about it. What do you make about the first one, Roseanne Barr? Was that a firing offense from your perspective by ABC? Was it fair she was knocked out of a comeback career?
WINSTEAD: Yes. Totally fair. I mean, when you literally out of thin air decide to use something that has been a symbol of dehumanizing imagery and a way to literally make black folks lesser than everyone else.
MATTHEWS: A lesser species yes.
WINSTEAD: Absolutely. When you put that out there, and that`s just horrifying enough. But when ABC and Roseanne were all doubling down on they wanted to do this reboot of Roseanne to really talk about not the racist imagery that so many liberals had been putting forth, but to really talk about the disenfranchised, economically vulnerable voters, you know what?
And then this spews out. It falls in the face of every single reason they said they wanted to reboot the show in the first place.
MATTHEWS: Yes, it`s a worst-case scenario for everybody.
Sophia, your thought on that. We will work our way through this.
What about Samantha -- what about Roseanne Barr? Should she have been canned?
SOPHIA NELSON, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely she should have been canned.
And if we`re doing a comparison contrast to Samantha...
MATTHEWS: Well, rMDNM_let`s get to that first.
MATTHEWS: I want to get you on the record here.
Ted, what do you think of this? was this seen as fair by the world, by you, firing of Roseanne Barr? She`s gone now, no more comebacks, probably.
TED JOHNSON, EDITOR AT LARGE, "VARIETY": Sure.
I immediately thought, bizarrely enough, of going back 30 years to Jimmy the Greek. He said some racist comments.
MATTHEWS: I think he had three or four glasses of wine at...
MATTHEWS: ... for lunch.
MATTHEWS: But then he said -- he talked about why African-Americans don`t get these coaching jobs. He said they don`t have -- and this isn`t even English -- they don`t have the necessaries.
You know, he was obviously making a statement about I.Q. and all. But it was awful and he was finished. And then there was of course Howard Cosell, who was great in so many ways and I think a good guy, who made that comment about a monkey, too.
And I think there`s something in the brain with some of these people.
JOHNSON: Well, and my point is, it`s nothing new that you get fired for saying racist comments.
MATTHEWS: Well, but people always do.
Anyway, in a statement yesterday, the president`s spokesperson, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, wrote: "The language used by" -- here we are the second case -- "Samantha Bee last night is vile and vicious. The collective silence by the left and its media allies is appalling."
Now, back to you, Lizz.
The silence of the lambs, in this case President Trump, was overwhelmingly silent. It was deafening, the silence. He didn`t say jack against Roseanne Barr and what she said. And then they come out, his spokesperson coming out and saying how silent it is among the left for not going after Samantha -- well, silence seems to be the deal here on both sides.
WINSTEAD: I feel like they`re two different things.
If you`re upset about the use of the C-word, that`s a different conversation, what that means.
MATTHEWS: Well, what was your reaction? Should she be fired for it?
WINSTEAD: No, I don`t think she should be fired for it.
I think comparing the history of Ivanka Trump`s behaviors towards -- saying she`s an advocate for women, and yet standing by silently as the international gag rule is reimposed, as the policy...
MATTHEWS: OK. Well, that`s a word used, because you can live with this.
Can you live with this, Sophia? Should she be fired, Samantha Bee?
NELSON: I actually believe Samantha Bee should be fired. I believe Roseanne Barr should have been fired.
And I`ll tell you why I have issues with Samantha Bee. That word is vile in and of itself. But for someone in her position with a show -- and her producers have some culpability here, because this was taped. This wasn`t live TV, like we`re doing right now.
MATTHEWS: Yes. That`s one of the bizarre pieces of this.
NELSON: And it sets the bar low.
MATTHEWS: So, they all agreed this will pass muster.
NELSON: Yes. And you talk about the culture wars, this is where. We were talking about it in the break. We`re at the lowest common denominator now.
MATTHEWS: Who defined decency downward in this country?
NELSON: Donald Trump.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Ted, break the tie here.
MATTHEWS: Should Samantha Bee be fired? Do people -- well, I`m going to ask you a real reporter`s question. Ready?
Will the corporate power structure that decides these things come down on her or not?
JOHNSON: Well, two things. Two things.
The first thing is that, if they fire her now, they will look like they`re getting rid of her in response to President Trump. That raises a whole other set of issues for the corporation.
The second thing...
MATTHEWS: You mean like they did with the football players.
JOHNSON: Yes. Yes. The corporation will having more criticism.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, here we go.
"The Washington Post"`s Philip Rucker, who is on -- sits up here oftentimes, who covered Trump as a candidate in 2016, tweeted today: "For what it`s worth, the word Samantha Bee used" -- that word today -- "and words such as that was emblazoned on many a T-shirt worn and sold at Trump rallies throughout the 2016" -- Donald Trump, look, a lot of what is said out there is just old Trump stuff.
But that word, I have heard -- I never saw it, because I don`t think the cameras would focus on it, TV cameras. Apparently, went out and looked at a tape. Our producer showed to me. It was prevalent.
MATTHEWS: And Trump never complained about it and said, you shouldn`t use that word.
I`m sorry. Do you want to go back -- back to you, Lizz.
WINSTEAD: And I just want to add to that, Ted Nugent used that word against Hillary Clinton, and was welcomed into the Oval Office.
NELSON: He did.
WINSTEAD: So, stop clutching your pearls.
NELSON: But let`s get back to the issue here.
MATTHEWS: That was a class statement, but it was pretty good.
Stop clutching your pearls.
MATTHEWS: Go ahead.
NELSON: We have two prominent women who are comedians who both had a really bad week.
The ape comment is a problem for the reasons Lizz said. That has racial connotations that go back to our founding as a country and the slavery issue and how people saw Africans at that time, that they were less smart, less attractive.
MATTHEWS: That was the biblical case for it.
MATTHEWS: Yes, that, basically, they were born as slaves, stewards.
So, to the question of what should be done, I actually think that the corporate pressure on TB -- is it S -- TBS that has her?
MATTHEWS: Yes. Yes.
NELSON: I think they are going to have to get rid of her. ABC did the right thing and they did it real quick. They didn`t hesitate.
They cut it off. It`s just like Starbucks. Starbucks survived what they went through because they were real quick.
MATTHEWS: Well, it comes down to constituency, everybody, here, because I`m a little bit cynical about this.
Which constituency? Racial, you offended 20 percent of the country or 30 percent of the country right off the bat.
MATTHEWS: They`re not going to like it. They`re not going to go to Disneyland anymore, Orlando or California. But this one -- this offends women.
NELSON: Don`t forget "Black Panther."
MATTHEWS: This women...
JOHNSON: I actually -- my other point is, I think a lot depends on who shows up to protest what Samantha Bee said. I think that...
MATTHEWS: It`s the constituencies. If nobody shows up...
WINSTEAD: Nobody`s going to protest.
JOHNSON: I think, in the case of Roseanne Barr, ABC could have looked at that and said, you can name five different groups that are going to start...
JOHNSON: ... boycotts..
First of all, it was recidivism. She had done it before with Susan Rice, the same reference, the same animal connection, the same awful thing that - - you`re so right -- it goes back to the primordial racism of nature practically in this Western civilization.
NELSON: Absolutely. Absolutely.
MATTHEWS: Thank you.
It justifies colonialism and all kinds of other things, right.
MATTHEWS: Lizz Winstead, thank you, Ted Johnson.
This is big stuff. And it`s going to be a big conversation in this country this weekend.
Sophia, wisdom, by the way. That means wisdom. Wisdom Nelson.
NELSON: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Up next: exclusive reporting from NBC News. Special counsel Mueller is now zeroing in on one of Jared Kushner`s close buddies. He was in the Seychelles out there in the Indian Ocean about the same time that Trump allies held a secret meeting to set up a back channel with the Russians.
This -- the goes on.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Among the many unexplained contacts between the president`s associates -- that would be Trump people -- and the Russians -- they would be Putin`s people -- was a secret meeting just before Trump`s inauguration back in January of `17 held in the remote island nation of the Seychelles.
Look at it way out there in the Indian Ocean.
Anyway, it was there, it was there that Erik Prince, an informal Trump adviser, met with Crown Prince Mohammed of the United Arab Emirates and his adviser, George Nader, as well as with a Russian oligarch with close ties to Mr. Putin himself. There he is.
The reported purpose was -- quote -- "to establish a back channel between the incoming administration of Donald Trump and the Kremlin."
Well, now NBC News is reporting that special counsel Robert Mueller is scrutinizing another figure who happened to be, happened to be in the Seychelles about the same time as that meeting.
According to NBC News, that is figure, a New York hedge fund manager named Rick Gerson, is a close friend of Jared Kushner`s, the president`s son-in- law. Most intriguing, however, is that Gerson is also connected to at least two participants of that meeting about a Kremlin back channel.
"While in the remote Indian Ocean island nation, Gerson met with Prince Mohammed, also known by his initials as MBZ, and communicated with George Nader, who had organized that Erik Prince meeting itself."
The development adds a new layer of intrigue, I would say, to an already strange set of circumstances. And, as NBC News reports, Mueller`s team has asked witnesses about Gerson`s proximity to that Seychelles meeting, as well as another meeting a month earlier in New York City.
A spokesperson for Rick Gerson told NBC that: "Mr. Gerson was on vacation in the Seychelles prior to the meeting you reference. He knew nothing about the meeting."
Well, however, Gerson declined to say -- well, his lawyer declined to say whether Gerson has been personally contacted by Mueller.
Joining me to break this down is Ken Dilanian, an investigative reporter for NBC.
Ken, you know, it has an aspect of, you know, connections to Kevin Bacon, how many degrees of separation. But it always -- how many people go to the Seychelles? Does Mueller believe it`s a coincidence that this buddy of Kushner`s, the president`s son-in-law, happened to be right near that meeting where apparently the back channel with the Russians was being set up?
KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, you and I both know, Chris, that prosecutors don`t tend to believe in coincidences.
And that`s why they`re scrutinizing this very closely, because this is a close friend of Jared Kushner. And while there are nice beaches in the Seychelles, it`s not an obvious place for an American to go on vacation and be in text communication with this guy George Nader, who is a very important figure in setting up this apparently back channel.
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s talk.
I will be a little bit skeptical now.
MATTHEWS: Why -- we have meetings that have occurred beginning in `16, well before the nomination of Donald Trump, when he was just a candidate. There were meetings, of course, at the Mayflower Hotel here in Washington, the meetings, the famous one or infamous one in June at the Trump Tower.
There were meetings the RNC Convention, Republican Convention, with Kislyak, the ambassador from Moscow, in all these meetings. There was the meetings in the office, the Senate office of Jeff Sessions. All of these meetings in public daylight.
MATTHEWS: And then they have to meet in the Seychelles, with tertiary partners representing each other.
Why would they be so scared to meet they have to meet over there if they`re walking around in daylight in the United States meeting?
DILANIAN: I think that`s a fair question, a good question.
But we know that the Seychelles is a place where this crown prince of Abu Dhabi liked to do business. It`s closer to his home turf.
DILANIAN: And the fact that Erik Prince of Blackwater fame was involved and does a lot of business in the Middle East may have factored in.
But the bottom line here is, the reason Mueller is interested in this is because George Nader, this Lebanese American businessman, is cooperating with Mueller and is telling him that this was a back channel.
DILANIAN: This was a way for the Russians to meet with officials in the Trump administration or send messages to them about better relations with Russia.
Don`t forget, this is after the election, before Trump took office.
MATTHEWS: Yes, in January.
Anyway, according to NBC`s reporting, Rick Gerson has been friends with Kushner for more than a decade. However, Gerson first met George Nader just weeks before his trip to the Seychelles at another secret meeting at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York in mid-December, right after election.
The participants at that meeting included Gerson, Jared Kushner, George Nader and the crown prince of the UAE, along with Trump`s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Trump`s political adviser Steve Bannon.
So, what everybody`s watching who aren`t the experts -- and nobody is like you, Ken -- do you -- let me just ask you about, as we move towards a declaration of guilt, perhaps -- I expect to have one from Robert Mueller.
We know it`s going to deal with obstruction and first instance.
MATTHEWS: Is he still building a heavy body of evidence regarding collusion with the Russians?
DILANIAN: It sure looks that way, Chris.
MATTHEWS: At the same time?
DILANIAN: Because subpoenas are going out even as of a few weeks ago on the Roger Stone aspect of potential collusion. And now we know that he`s looking at this.
I mean, what we don`t know, what evidence he`s already gathered, particularly what goes to, for example, what Donald Trump the candidate knew about that Trump Tower meeting that his son set up.
DILANIAN: But he is clearly still investigating that.
The question is, what does he have?
MATTHEWS: I have called him the iceberg, because, since we were kids, we know that the iceberg, including the one that sunk the Titanic, you don`t really see it.
MATTHEWS: You only see about 10 percent.
I -- is that the way -- that`s the way I look at Bob Mueller`s operation. You don`t see 90 percent.
I think I know less about it as time goes on. Just the idea that Kushner got a security clearance, some people believe that means he`s in the clear, he`s not in criminal jeopardy.
Other people say, that`s absolutely not true.
MATTHEWS: Well, I`ll tell you, there`s never been any person that looks more like not even God himself can sink me than Donald Trump.
Anyway, thank you, Ken Dilanian.
DILANIAN: You bet, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Up next: President Trump is brandishing his pardon power, right, and offering the signal all those ensnared in the Mueller probe. Is Trump looking to pardon his way out of Russian probe?
Look at him smiling. Of course he is.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DINESH D`SOUZA, AUTHOR, "THE ENEMY AT HOME: THE CULTURAL LEFT AND ITS RESPONSIBILITY FOR 9/11": The president said, "Dinesh, you have been a great voice for freedom."
And he said, "I have got to tell you, man to man, you have been screwed."
D`SOUZA: He goes: "I have been looking at the case. I knew from the beginning that it was fishy."
But he said, upon reviewing it, he felt a great injustice had been done, and that using his power, he was going to rectify it, sort of clear the slate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was conservative commentator Dinesh D`Souza talking on "FOX & Friends" about the call he received from President Trump just last week letting him know that he was being pardoned.
Well, Trump said D`Souza was treated unfairly by the government.
Sound that -- sound familiar? He gave a similar justification for two other pardons he`s now weighing. One is for Martha Stewart, another for former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.
Well, Trump has also used that same language about people being screwed by the government talking about his associates, of course, who are now wrapped up in the Mueller probe. Here he goes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hillary Clinton, on the Fourth of July weekend, went to the FBI, not under oath. She lied many times. Nothing happened to her. Flynn lied, and it`s like they ruined his life. It`s very unfair.
I have always found Paul Manafort to be a very decent man. I don`t know. But I thought that was a very pretty tough stuff.
Michael would represent me and represent me on some things. He represents me like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal. He represented me and you know, from what I see, he did absolutely nothing wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, former Trump political adviser Roger Stone told "The Washington Post" that Trump`s recent pardons have to be a signal to Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort and even Robert Mueller, indict people for crimes that don`t pertain to Russian collusion and this is what could happen. The special counsel has awesome powers, this is Stone talking, as you know. But the president has even more awesome powers. He`s bragging about how the president can pardon everybody.
Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable tonight. Tim Mak, political reporter for NPR, Ginger Gibson is political reporter of "Reuters", and Jonathan Lemire is White House reporter for the "Associated Press."
Jonathan, it seems to me he`s out there showing his stuff, you know? Those are practice baskets before an NBA game. He`s shown I can hit from out here and I`m going to do it.
JONATHAN LEMIRE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Yes, I was on Air Force One yesterday when The sprung the discussion of pardons on us, about not just Dinesh D`Souza, but considering for Martha Stewart and for Governor Blagojovich. And it does seem like there`s a message being sent here.
First of all, he is suggesting this is a part of the presidency that works like he thinks it should. He`s been so frustrated with the legislative process. He`s been frustrated with members of his own staff.
MATTHEWS: Like a monarchy.
LEMIRE: Exactly right. But this is something that he can just snap his fingers and do which is how he used to run his business. So, I think he`s very comfortable --
MATTHEWS: Why has he been so sparing, Ginger, and only going after a couple people, now Dinesh. He hasn`t really shown his -- you know, shown his muscle here yet. He seems to me -- if he does think he has a clear shot, why not do more of these?
GINGER GIBSON, POLITICAL REPORTER, REUTERS: You know, Donald Trump campaigned against bad guys, you know? People that were committing grievances against him and against his supporters.
He can no longer rail against an administration when he is the administration. So, he`s finding other bad guys injustice, the criminal justice system, other past grievances against him and his supporters. He needs a bad guy, otherwise, he can`t be the tough guy he wants everyone to believe he is.
MATTHEWS: Is this like deregulating people that are polluters? He basically said they`ve had a hard time. I`m going to get them. They`re overregulated. So, I`m going to free them all. I`m going to free all these people who have been unfairly judged.
TIM MAK, POLITICAL REPORTER, NPR: There`s a specific reason he may be trying to send a signal, but there`s a broader reason why it might be sticking, right? This is a broader feeling in the conservative movement and amongst Trump`s base. There`s a lot of unfairness from people who are in positions of power. That is --
MATTHEWS: Martha Stewart is a big deal. She`s a bigger deal than most people working for the federal government. She`s not one of the little people.
MAK: But the little -- yes, but the little people are what they`re reacting to is this idea of unfairness amongst our institutions of power. It`s not oh, boohoo, Martha Stewart. It`s the Justice Department is against us. Big tech is against us. Hollywood is against us.
MATTHEWS: OK, let me try something. I`m more political than any of you guys. I`m looking at the categories of people he`s let off. Scooter Libby, Mr. Neo-con. He gets after Dinesh D`Souza, one of the most rabid right wingers around -- commentators. He`s picking up people -- Arpaio, illegal immigrants, hate them.
He seems like he`s finding categories of people and giving each iconic representative of each one of the communities, I like all you communities backing me.
LEMIRE: You know, there`s three categories, as you just said, certainly, those pardoned people who have had their causes championed by conservatives, those who have had their causes championed by celebrities like Jack Johnson and those who are on "Celebrity Apprentice", which is Martha Stewart and Rod Blagojevich.
Both of them. Yes, I mean, those are the people he knows. That`s the world he knows. And those are the folks he wants to send a signal with.
And, yes, I think there`s no question whether it`s Flynn, it`s Manafort, or other people in the probe, that`s part of this, too. Look, I have this power. I`m not afraid --
MATTHEWS: Do you guys agree that he will use it to protect himself? If Jared Kushner is prosecuted, will he move immediately? If his son, a namesake, Donald Jr. gets nailed, will he move immediately? Do you think there`s any doubt in your minds? Anybody here, others do it like --
MATTHEWS: Do you have any doubt in your mind? He might not spring his son-in-law, he might not spring his daughter --
MAK: I think the Ivanka line is the red line. That`s pretty clear.
MATTHEWS: Not the son?
MATTHEWS: Was it Fredo? I`m talking about the son Eric or Donald Jr.
GIBSON: There`s a political risk to doing this. There`s a lot of potential backlash. I mean, would he do it three months before his own re- election --
MATTHEWS: Look, I`ve been here, one Friday afternoon, he decides he was going to pull back on the birtherism just like that. He said President Obama is a United States citizen born in this country. And he had no problem 180-ing on everything he had said before.
What`s to say on a Friday afternoon before Halloween he just says, you know what, I`m going to pardon everybody who is in trouble and there will be a lot of squealing about this for three or four days because, you know, Mitch McConnell is going to do anything. The courts aren`t going to do anything. So, why shouldn`t I?
MAK: There`s a political and legal risk to it. The backlash you`ll get in medium or the short term --
MATTHEWS: Where does he get from the medium, from us?
MAK: From the press.
MATTHEWS: Do you think "Fox & Friends," that Supreme Court that meets every morning for a couple of hours? Do you think that crowd --
MAK: There`s a legal consequence to this. It could be added to larger evidence about obstruction of justice.
MATTHEWS: This Supreme Court is going to come after Trump on pardons?
MAK: No, not the Supreme Court.
MATTHEWS: But then who you`re talking about?
MAK: If there were a case for impeachment and obstruction of justice --
MATTHEWS: Who does Trump fear?
LEMIRE: He still fears Bob Mueller. It depends where that investigation stands. If there are parts still outliers standing that that would be a factor here, I also think, look --
MATTHEWS: Would he say that pardoning which is a right of a president, a perk of the president, is it self-obstructing? Would he do that?
LEMIRE: That`s a legal question. I don`t have the answer to you. But it`s in play. And also, we keep waiting for Republicans on the Hill to finally say there`s a red line we`ll cross. Maybe that could be it.
MATTHEWS: OK, this is hard stuff. I don`t think we know yet. I think he`s willing to do anything when it comes to his family or protecting himself from people like Michael Flynn or Manafort who do know stuff and Michael Cohen.
The roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, they`re going to -- well, Trump`s fixer is in fix. Michael Cohen may not look like it -- he looks like the fall guy these days. But newly published audiotapes show how far he would go to bully people like the guy sitting next to me.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Well, whether President Trump will flex his pardon power for his long time attorney and fixer Michael Cohen is an open question. But we got an indication how far Michael Cohen would go to protect President Trump. Yesterday, NPR published explosive audio recordings of Cohen threatening a reporter with legal action.
Let`s watch or -- listen.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
REPORTER: Do you think that I`m misinterpreting some of the facts here?
MICHAEL COHEN, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S ATTORNEY: I know you are. Listen, my friend, don`t be a smart ass with me. Do you understand me?
REPORTER: I`m not being a smart -- I`m giving you an opportunity --
COHEN: I know you -- I don`t need your opportunities, you little (EXPLETIVE DELETED). I know exactly who you are and I know exactly what you do and I know exactly the story you plan on writing. So, I`m warning you, tread very (EXPLETIVE DELETED) lightly because what I`m going to do to you is going to be (EXPLETIVE DELETED) disgusting. Do you understand me?
Don`t think you can hide behind your pen because it`s not going to happen.
REPORTER: Look, I`m --
COHEN: I`m more than happy to discuss it with your attorney and with your legal counsel this mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED). You`re going to need it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, people like Michael Cohen don`t have a large vocabulary. So, you can probably fill in the words. But the reporter on that audio tape is Tim Mak, our guest right now.
Tell me what it was like to hear that over the phone.
MAK: Look, this is -- let`s set the stage here. This is 2015. President Trump, then-candidate Trump just starts his presidential campaign. I`ve never heard of Michael Cohen. None of us at the table have heard of Michael Cohen.
And I reach out to the Trump campaign on a story and I ask him a question. I get an angry call from Michael Cohen in return. I`ve never heard of this guy before.
MATTHEWS: What put a bee in his bonnet about you? Why was he so hostile?
MAK: So, remember, Trump enters the campaign, he talks about Mexican immigrants as criminals and drug dealers and he refers to some of them as rapists. We`re doing some reporting and we dig up this 1993 biography of him and in that book, Ivana Trump during his divorce proceedings with Donald Trump says in a sworn deposition that Donald Trump raped her. And she
MATTHEWS: And later she qualified that.
MAK: She later qualified. She didn`t mean in a criminal or literal sense and she now supports the president.
But at the time we reached out to the Trump campaign and we said -- I reached out to Hope Hicks and said, hey, do you have a response to this? And Michael Cohen who doesn`t work for the Trump campaign, works for the organization calls me back and part of what you hear in that clip just now was what he said.
MATTHEWS: Put together the two pictures, that guy. We`ve seen a lot of these pictures. These sort of perp walk pictures back and forth from the courthouse.
He looks sad. He looks disappointed in life. But yet, you have a tape recording we just heard where he`s sort of a bad guy, a bully. Which one`s real?
That sort of sad looking guy and this bully that didn`t mind wasting you on the phone?
MAK: The question is whether or not Michael Cohen that`s his nature or that`s his job, right? Is it his job? Did Donald Trump create an environment at the Trump Organization where that did not sound like the first time he ever made a legal threat like that. There have been plenty - -
MATTHEWS: That`s how you get to be a Trump fixer.
MAK: There have been plenty of contentious legal issues Michael Cohen has had to deal with over the years. I mean, it`s all famous now that the campaign is over.
MATTHEWS: So, you think Avenatti may have heard this kind of talk from him?
MAK: Well, Stormy Daniels, Avenatti on behalf of Stormy Daniels has said that Michael Cohen threatened her as part of that NDA process. That`s what we reported at NPR.
MATTHEWS: When we come back, by the way, these three will tell me something I don`t know. I love -- this is great stuff. It`s reporting but eyewitness to history stuff, too.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the round table. Tell me something I don`t know.
MAK: Super interested in the Koch Brothers funding a Democratic Senate candidate --
MAK: -- Heidi Heitkamp.
MATTHEWS: They are.
MAK: They also are putting some mailers in other words support of Democrats who support their action on DACA. I found that really interesting.
GIBSON: An issue is getting attention in almost every one of the tough House races is opioids. We have a story coming how it`s shaping some races and going to play in some of the competitive districts.
MATTHEWS: Who is winning on that argument, Democrats or Republicans?
GIBSON: Democrats think they`re winning and think the ACA is the reason that they can win on that issue.
LEMIRE: Attorney General Jeff Sessions is probably the most embattled cabinet member. His job is safe for now. Rudy Giuliani told me yesterday the president has no desire to fire him. It would be a distraction during the Russia probe. But he said that after the probe, that could change.
MATTHEWS: OK, another threat. Tim Mak, Ginger Gibson, and Jonathan Lemire -- I love the way Rudy puts the threats in.
When we return let me finish tonight with what happened 50 years ago next week. You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this: 50 years ago next week, a 21- car train headed south from the New York to Washington. It carried the body of Robert F. Kennedy, who`d been shot at the night he won the California presidential primary. In a sad way, that train you`re looking at and the people watching along the tracks marks the loss of a national leader who held the potential because we never know what the future brings to unite this country, especially its working people. There they are.
Here`s a clip from the MSNBC documentary I will host this Sunday night at 9:00 Eastern.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA, CIVIL RIGHTS ICON: I was invited to ride the funeral train, just wanted to keep going. You saw people all along the way holding their children, their little babies. And people crying. Some people carrying flowers. It was little America on that train.
MAEVE MCKEAN, RFK`S GRANDDAUGHTER: When you see the imagery as his body passes on the train, they`re wealthy and they`re poor and they`re black and they`re white and they`re young and they`re old. I think it is amazing how many different types of people that my grandfather touched.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: "Headliners: Robert F. Kennedy" airs 9:00 p.m. Eastern, as I said, right here on MSNBC.
It will make you sad but also remind what you this country could be. If you haven`t yet, by the way, check out my book "Bobby Kennedy: A Ranging Spirit." I consider it a tonic for the Trump era.
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES starts right now.
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