Show: HARDBALL Date: June 11, 2018
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Big casino in Singapore. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews up in New York.
President Trump is just moments away from an historic face-to-face meeting with the young dictator of North Korea. It`s now just about 7:00 a.m. in Singapore where Trump began his day by tweeting about the upcoming negotiations.
Quote "meetings between staffs and representatives are going well and quickly, but in the end, that doesn`t matter. We will all know soon whether or not a real deal, unlike those of the past, can happen."
Then he went after the so-called haters and losers, saying, these pundits who have called me wrong from the beginning have nothing else they can say. We will be fine.
Already the scenes out of Singapore have taken on a circus-like atmosphere in anticipation of the high stakes summit. Kim Jong-un was seen touring the city with his entourage after his arrival, even taking a selfie with the foreign minister of Singapore. There they are. Both he and Trump met simply with the prime minister of Singapore where he predicted everything would work out nicely.
However, the outcome remains far from certain. Having inherited the regime of his father and grandfather before him, Kin Jong-un`s ambition is clear to hold on to power and continue his dynasty.
For the United States, the goal is more fundamental, to reduce the threat of nuclear war. And that means the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, as secretary of state Mike Pompeo made clear earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The ultimate objective we seek from diplomacy with North Korea has not changed. The complete and verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is the only outcome that the United States will accept. .
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: To that end, this summit poses the most significant test of President Trump`s negotiating skills to date. And it comes after he spent the weekend alienating America`s top allies at the G7.
In an unorthodox move, the summit will begin with an initial one-on-one meeting between the President and Kin Jong-un, each with just a translator present, but without their respective delegations. When asked how long it will take him to determine whether Kin Jong-un is serious about disarming, Trump said he believe head could size him up quickly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How long will it take? I think within the first minute I will know.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How?
TRUMP: Just my touch, my feel. That`s what I do. How long will it take to figure out whether or not they are serious? I said maybe in the first minute. You know, the way they say you know if you are going to like somebody in the first five seconds, you ever hear of that one? Well, I think that very quickly I`ll know whether or not something good is going to happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, tonight we are on the verge of witnessing the most consequential summit to take place between the United States and North Korea since the 1953 armistice agreement ended the hostilities of the Korean War. Those are the pictures.
Despite that ceasefire, no peace treaties has ever signed which means that the state of war is technically existed on the Korean peninsula for almost 70 years.
Joining me now from Singapore is NBC News correspondent Peter Alexander.
Peter, thank you. Any feel, smell of the crowd that sort of thing you can tell over there that we can`t see?
PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, it`s the beginning of what will be a historic day certainly here in history here in Singapore. No matter what happens, this handshake will make history, the first time an American President will meet face-to-face with a North Korean dictator.
It is now dawn. The President has been up at least an hour and a half, as you noted, already tweeting in his sort of typical Trumpian form, a former TV star, promoter of sorts trying to brand this and build the hype suggesting that we will all know very soon whether a deal can be done.
And notably in the tweet also seeming to dismiss what we had heard from his top advisers within the last several hours. Mike Pompeo you remember saying that they are moving ahead very quickly, much more quickly than they expected with these ongoing talks that have been taking place between the two delegations from both sides. The President saying, basically, the conversations between our staffs and representatives don`t really matter. It`s going to be the personal dynamic that he has with Kin Jong-un that will sort of dictate this day.
I got to tell you what was a remarkable scene that we witnessed overnight here. Kim Jong-un, even after President Trump was in bed for the evening, was out on the town. This murderous tyrant, a man who has killed member of his own family and starved people within his rogue regime, within his reclusive country literally exploring Singapore last night. We saw his motorcade crisscrossing the town, the guest of the Singaporean foreign minister. He was met with applause as he arrived at the sands casino here. He visited the Marina and one of the theaters, some of the staples of this area. Recognize Kin Jong-un has literal I will only left his country less than a handful of times since taking over several years ago.
This is now something that is already being seen by the people back in North Korea, Chris, as it is being reported in North Korea, this historic summit. So it gives him the respectability at least so far at least that he has long craved.
Back to you.
MATTHEWS: It sounds like a traveling (INAUDIBLE) village.
Anyway, Peter, stay with us. Also with us Victor Cha, former director of Asian affairs at the national security council and a Korean affairs analyst for NBC News. And Eugene Robinson is a columnist with "the Washington Post" and of course, an MSNBC contributor, and Jung Pak is an analyst, now with the Brookings Institution.
Victor, thank you for this. This showboating through town like he is Bouvier (ph), who is that for?
VICTOR CHA, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: So I think part of it for his domestic audience, you know. It was only with Pompeo`s second trip to North Korea that they started publishing photos.
In North Korea, they control the narrative 100 percent. So I think this was an effort to show he is in Singapore. He is going to meet the President. But it`s all from a position of strength, because they are now a nuclear weapons state, this is Kin Jong-un`s coming out party, an all- expense paid trip to Singapore, and all the leaders want to meet with him.
MATTHEWS: Jung Pak, why do they move in that bunch like we are looking at now? Is that cultural or is that political? Why are they moving almost in closed rank there`s? What is that about? Is that protection or what?
JUNG PAK, FORMER CIA SENIOR ANALYST: It is part protection, but I think it`s also theater. He is surrounded by the people who adore him, who is protecting him. He has layers of protection. But it`s also interesting too that -- I mean, it`s a tangible sign of the people who are supporting him and love him and want to make sure that he is safe. So, you know, this is also theater as much as it is for protection.
MATTHEWS: Gene, we have seen the past in all our research as well, I`m sure, we find little games are played like arriving in the ambassador`s car that had been taken during the first assault on south Korea by the north, arriving at Panmunjom twice arriving the car of the American ambassador. Then they cut the legs of the chairs to make the American side of the delegation look shorter, and then all the games.
EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Look, you know, they have been doing this since there has been diplomacy, right? They play these games. And Kim Jong-un`s night on the town was actually quite a media coup, right? He dominated the sort of visuals in a way that Donald Trump probably wishes he had, or wishes he had been able to, might be a little jealous of.
But, you know, all the buffoonery and the craziness and these two strange personalities who are going to meet aside, this is a really big deal. I mean, these are two heads of state. The United States meeting North Korea for the first time, and North Korea is now a nuclear power. A hostile nuclear power. This is a very big deal for all the sort of bizarreness that surrounds it.
MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Victor, the estimates as to how many missiles they have capable of delivering a missile -- a nuclear weapon. The number of nuclear weapons they have, what is your estimate right now? What does North Korea have in its arsenal?
CHA: So in terms of weapon, the estimate is pretty broad. Somewhere between 20 and 60 weapons. In terms of deliverable ICBM capability, they have not deployed that yet. They have tested prototypes on what we call a lofted trajectory, which means straight up into the air. When you straighten that distance out, experts say that can reach the continental United States. So they still have a bit to go.
MATTHEWS: What is your odds as an expert within the next year that being any different, any smaller, would they have any less capacity to wreak havoc in the world?
CHA: They will have more capacity.
MATTHEWS: A year from now?
CHA: A year from now. They have consistently been able to do better than all the experts have predicted in terms of both a finished nuclear weapon, then a hydrogen bomb, then a miniaturized devise and then a long-range test. In every single case they beat the experts.
MATTHEWS: And do you expect this summit to stop that progress?
CHA: So --
MATTHEWS: I`m asking a gut question about while we are watching all these limos and all this meeting and all this hype will accomplish anything in terms of our goal which is to reduce the nuclear threat.
CHA: Yes. So I`m optimistic that the meeting tomorrow will go well, but I`m pessimistic that we will actually lead to denuclearization or tangible progress.
MATTHEWS: Or even restraint?
CHA: Well, there will be restraint because as long as we are talking, they have committed to not testing. So in that sense, that`s good. Just because they don`t test does not mean they are not developing their program.
MATTHEWS: Well, the President`s new hopeful outlook towards North Korea, a sharp turn in the approach he took during his first year in office. Last summer, for example, Trump referred to Kin Jong-un as little rocket man and famously threatened to bring fire and fury upon that country.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.
He has been very threatening beyond a normal state. And as I said, they will be met with fire, fury, and frankly, power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, then, after the prospect of a meeting arose, Trump went as far as to call the North Korean dictator honorable.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We are having very good discussions. Kim Jong-un was -- he really has been very open and I think very honorable from everything we`re seeing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Peter Alexander, Victor Cha, Eugene Robinson and Jung Pak.
Coming up, as the President gets ready to meet Kin Jong-un, once he advocating emerges role as leader of the free world. Trump infuriated Canada by calling Canadian prime Justin Trudeau very dishonest and weak. And a top aide says there is a special place in hell for leaders like Trudeau. He is alienating our allies while cozying up to our adversaries.
Plus, the HARDBALL round table tonight tackles tonight`s summit as more White House aides eye the exits.
And President Obama huddles with the Democrats hoping to take down Trump in 2020.
And all the last-minute atmospherics and color from Singapore coming up as we get to find out what will happen tonight when Trump meets Kin Jong-un. Trump says he will know which way the meeting is going within the first minute. Well, that`s exciting. And we will see.
Finally, let me finish tonight with Trump watch. This is HARDBALL where the action is.
MATTHEWS: A program note. MSNBC`s special coverage of the nuclear summit starts at 8:00 p.m. eastern tonight immediately following HARDBALL. I`ll be joined by colleagues with that coverage.
Then I will be back on the air starting at midnight tonight for special live edition of HARDBALL. We will be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Ahead of his meeting with Kin Jong-un, President Trump spent the weekend attacking and alienating America`s most important allies. His anger had to do with the issue of trade but his outbursts were obviously unusually personal.
Trump called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau very dishonest and weak. He never called that to Putin, by the way. The President was apparently outraged by these comments.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: I highlighted directly to the President that Canadians did not take it lightly, that the United States has moved forward with significant tariffs on our steel and aluminum. It would be with regret, but it would be with absolute certainty and firmness that we move forward with retaliatory measures. I have made it very clear to the President that it is not something we relish doing, but it is something we absolutely will do. Because Canadians, we are polite, we are reasonable, but we also will not be pushed around.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, the President`s aides went even further attacking him, unleashing a torrent of insults against Trudeau.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, U.S. ECONOMIC COUNCIL: He really kind of stabbed us in the back. He really kind of actually -- you know what? He did a great disservice to the whole G7.
PETER NAVARRO, WHITE HOUSE TRADE ADVISER: There is a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad faith diplomacy with President Donald J. Trump and then tries to stab him in the back on the way out the door.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Stab him in the back seems to be the trope there.
Anyway. The President`s comment cupped off a Trump aide (ph) and at times contentious G7 summit up there in Quebec. He reportedly didn`t even want to attend.
Well, according to "New York Times" during that meeting President Trump listened through most issues but came alive whenever trade was mentioned, mocking and insulting other leaders, particularly Mr. Trudeau, French President Emanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. Merkel was clearly not happy but largely kept quiet evidently, not wanting to provoke more trouble.
One European official described the President`s comment as a stream of consciousness filled with superlatives but not following a linear argument. In other words, not (INAUDIBLE).
Ahead of his departure to Singapore, German chancellor Angela Merkel shared this picture of her and her fellow leaders staring down at the President. There it is.
For more I`m joined by Bobby Ghosh, foreign affairs analyst and Elise Jordan, MSNBC political analyst and a contributor at "Time" magazine. Thank you both for joining us.
Bobby, you first. He is leader of the free world. Why does he want to disband it? It`s a big deal.
BOBBY GHOSH, FOREIGN AFFAIRS ANALYST: It`s an excellent point.
MATTHEWS: All the countries, all democracies, all with human rights, all really -- they don`t start wars. They are the good guys in the world.
GHOSH: It`s astonishing. He is going into a meeting with a dictator, having completely alienated all the dictatorships.
Look at the contrast. Donald Trump is going into this meeting with Kim Jong-un. The United States has two border countries. He is at essentially verbal war with both those border countries, Mexico and Canada. Kim Jong- un has two border countries, China and South Korea. He has just made nice with South Korea and China has been at his back traditionally. Who is in the stronger position?
MATTHEWS: I don`t know. The Republican Party used to champion free trade. Of course, remember that a million years ago? Global alliances. Remember that NATO Marshall plan? During the Obama administration, congressional Republicans bashed Obama for in their view alienating our allies and concerting with our enemies. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Instead of managing American decline, leaving allies to doubt us and adversaries to test us, we will act in the conviction that the United States is still the greatest force for peace and liberty that this world has ever known.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: The Obama doctrine of appeasing our enemy, alienating our allies and delegating our national security to the international community may have won President Obama a Nobel peace prize, but it has made the world a more volatile and dangerous place.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: The past eight years gave witness to a serial degrading of our alliances and partnerships all across the globe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, today they seemed less inclined to take this President to task. There were a couple of notable exceptions this weekend. And Senator John McCain, as often, tweeted, to our allies, bipartisan majorities of Americans remain pro-free trade, pro-globalization, and supportive of alliances based on 70 years of shared values. Americans stand with you, even if our President doesn`t. That`s John McCain.
And retiring senator Jeff Flake wrote, fellow Republicans, this is not who we are. This cannot be our party.
Elise, again, we`re focusing on how Trump has been able to define the Republican Party 180 from its roots. It`s now a protectionist party. It`s not an alliance-building party. It`s not a deficit-reduction party.
I don`t where it squares.
ELISE JORDAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you`re seeing Republicans, they`re going to stay silent certainly through the midterm elections.
And Donald Trump has actually gained in approval and is at about 44 percent with his strongest supporters. And so Republicans are literally...
MATTHEWS: He is at 86 percent.
JORDAN: Well, yes. And they cower. They are going to cower from Donald Trump.
What we saw on display at the G7 was classic Donald Trump. He does not like our allies who are about...
MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s do the geography to make your point, Elise.
He sits about four or five feet from our closest ally in the north. That`s, of course, Canada, Trudeau, who causes us no trouble. And then you see him huddling and these pictures of him huddling with the other guy, with Putin.
It`s really -- it`s a statement. He likes Putin.
JORDAN: He can relate. Donald Trump can relate to authoritarians. He -- as a former businessman, he likes absolute control.
MATTHEWS: Is he a wannabe despot?
JORDAN: I have conceded that for years now. We`re going on years. All of his behavior, his attacks on the free press, his attacks on alliances that are designed to strengthen our security, this is not -- he has -- he feels more of -- he calls Kim Jong-un honorable, yet Justin Trudeau of Canada...
MATTHEWS: Should go to hell.
GHOSH: Is weak. Is weak.
GHOSH: He can be a wannabe despot. He wouldn`t be the first person to reach the top of a democratic country with that ambition.
The Senate and Congress can`t allow it. So all those other people that we just saw, the Paul Ryans and so on, they can`t sit by and watch him sort of fulfill his fantasy of wanting to be a despot.
MATTHEWS: They can`t?
GHOSH: Well, they oughtn`t to be.
MATTHEWS: Elise just said they`re staying silent.
GHOSH: That`s the more surprising thing to me. It`s not that Donald Trump wants to behave like a despot. It`s that all of these other people who ought to know better are tolerating it, encouraging it, enabling it.
MATTHEWS: They`re behaving the way people behave in a monarchy or a despotism.
GHOSH: That`s a good way to think of it.
MATTHEWS: Yes, North Korea is known to be one of the most repressive and brutal regimes in modern history.
As NBC News noted today, the regime has committed unspeakable atrocities on a vast scale in a manner reminiscent of Nazi Germany, according to a 2014 United Nations investigation. However, we`re learning today that President Trump does not intend to address the issue of human rights.
According to two administration officials, the U.S. has decided not to bring up human rights at the summit.
I was told, Elise, you`re not allowed to have a radio there. That`s a pretty good sign. You`re not allowed to even hear news.
JORDAN: Well, I mean, comparing the regime to the atrocities in Nazi Germany, that is horrific. It`s sickening.
And we`re just going to sit down with him without a mention of that. And look at all of the criticism of the Iran nuclear deal and the negotiations surrounding that, and the Republican Party`s -- the Republican Party was so upset about just keeping the narrow -- narrow confines of the deal to the nuclear agreement.
What about this, though?
GHOSH: That`s exactly right.
The exact things that Trump and the Republicans criticized Obama for, for making that Iran deal only about nukes, and not looking at Iran`s other bad behavior towards its own people, the regime, and towards its neighbors.
MATTHEWS: OK, let`s -- there`s two theories about Trump. I don`t buy that he is crazy. I don`t believe that`s true. The other one, he is not crazy.
So, let`s take the not crazy premise here. What is he doing with our allies? Why does he want to have trouble and have it known he is having trouble with Angela Merkel all the time, Theresa May all the time? I don`t know about his Italian relations. The Japanese, I guess, are OK.
He wants to fight with Canada. Why does he have so many enemies he wants to cherish almost?
GHOSH: Well, the Italians have a new fascist party in charge. So, I think he would probably get along pretty well there.
Why does he want to? Because he think he can get away with it. He stole his party base, his voting base.
MATTHEWS: But why does he want -- does he want to look like John McEnroe? Does want to look like he`s always having a fit?
GHOSH: That`s a great analogy. That`s what he likes. He likes the friction. He likes being the tough guy. And he thinks that, with these guys, they ought to roll over.
The fact that they won`t roll over for him, I think, probably gets his goat.
JORDAN: He is retreating to greatest hits. You see he is tweeting today about haters and losers. And he is going at it alone.
He is not listening. He would have a modicum of restraint maybe in the first year. But now he thinks that he alone -- I alone can fix it.
And that`s what you see...
MATTHEWS: Someone once said of John Foster Dulles, our Cold War secretary of state under Eisenhower, he is a bull that carries his china shop around with him. In other words, he always causes trouble.
What good is it going into Singapore tonight with a reputation in the world that you don`t have allies? Why does he want to go in there alone?
GHOSH: Well, he doesn`t need these allies there, to be fair.
But he is going into the second of two very, very important summits, essentially having failed at the first one. Can he afford two big summit failures?
MATTHEWS: Is he going to cause the same trouble and friction -- you call the word friction -- with South Korea?
I think he is going to come out of there separated from South Korea, because I think...
GHOSH: And Japan.
MATTHEWS: ... Kim is smart enough to say, let`s make peace between the South and the North, and leave us the odd man out with our troops stuck there.
JORDAN: Well, he has been constantly undercutting the South Koreans. And he feels misled, in that he agreed to the initial summit without -- with thinking there was perhaps a little bit more on the table from North Korea.
JORDAN: So, he doesn`t exactly harbor warm feelings. And Donald Trump is someone who really doesn`t shy away from holding a grudge.
MATTHEWS: What will Kim do to take advantage of the bad weekend in Quebec?
GHOSH: Well, I think he will try to get the best deal from his own point of view, which is a reduction of sanctions, with a minimum of give on his part.
It will be astonishing if he walks away from this committing to give up his nukes any time soon. At best, I think he will commit to giving up his ICBMs, the long-range missiles that could bring his nukes to American targets.
MATTHEWS: Today? He will do that in the next 24 hours?
GHOSH: No. No, no, no. He will talk about a calendar. He will say, if you do this, and we will do this some years from now.
Remember, he has done this before. The North Koreans have done this before.
MATTHEWS: Oh, I know.
GHOSH: They made these promises. Then there were six years of talks.
MATTHEWS: They did it with Clinton. We`re going to give them coal and -- you know, remember?
GHOSH: The verification of all of this will take years and years and years.
And if we agree to lower sanctions during the period of verifications, North Korea has already won.
MATTHEWS: Will he tell us how many missiles he`s got?
GHOSH: Oh, no, he certainly won`t.
MATTHEWS: See, that`s what -- people have said -- Victor Cha said that should be the minimal obligation. Tell us what you got right now.
GHOSH: And if he does, are we going to believe him?
MATTHEWS: Good point. Based upon history, we shouldn`t.
Thank you, Bobby Ghosh. Thank you, Elise Jordan.
Up next, the HARDBALL Roundtable weighs in on tonight`s summit.
Plus, back at home, White House aides are looking for the exits, we`re told, looking for a way to get out of the White House.
And Obama, by the way, President Obama is holding secret meetings right now with the top Democrats who are planning to run against Donald Trump in 2020. This should be an interesting meeting. I wish we could watch those.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We`re minutes away now from seeing our first live pictures from Singapore ahead of tonight`s summit between President Trump and North Korea`s Kim Jong-un. There is a live shot, that one there, of the St. Regis Hotel, where Kim is staying.
The meeting with one of our top adversaries comes just days after Trump upended that G7 meeting, alienating most of our closest allies.
"The Atlantic"`s Jeffrey Goldberg reported today on his attempts to define the Trump doctrine of foreign policy.
He writes: "The best distillation of the Trump doctrine I heard, though, came from a senior White House official with direct access to the president and his thinking. I was talking to this person several weeks ago when I said by way of introduction that I thought it might perhaps be too early to discern a definitive Trump doctrine. No, the official said, there is definitely a Trump doctrine. What is it, I asked? Here is the answer I received. The Trump doctrine is, we`re America, `expletive.`"
That`s the Trump doctrine.
For more, I`m joined by the HARDBALL Roundtable.
Jonathan Swan is national political reporter for Axios. Ginger Gibson is political correspondent for Reuters. And Eli Stokols is White House correspondent for the "L.A. Times" and an MSNBC political analyst.
All of you, thank you.
Put that together, Jonathan. I`m not sure that relates, this -- that language we just heard about basically it`s us, the heck with you. And I mean that. That`s basically what it says, in worse language.
How does that fit with this almost date that we`re watching with Kim Jong- un, where he wants to be friends with this guy?
JONATHAN SWAN, AXIOS: Well, I think, very clearly, you saw that doctrine play out over the weekend, which is Donald Trump effectively seeing the world as a group of countries that owe America money.
And he looks at North Korea as an enemy, but one that he is uniquely placed. Donald J. Trump is, in his mind, the greatest negotiator and deal- maker in history.
MATTHEWS: Is it an honorable country in his eyes, an honorable man, honorable people?
SWAN: Trump doesn`t see the world like that. You know that, Chris. He doesn`t see the world...
MATTHEWS: But he said that. He said, this is honorable. The guy is about to meet with his honorable tonight.
SWAN: Because he uses adjectives doesn`t mean that he sees the world in that way.
And you know, Chris, from having observed Trump for a long time, he doesn`t sort of give countries a mental score based on their human rights record and various other issues. He sees America as a country that needs to defend itself and stand up for itself and get the best deal possible.
And, again, he -- you look at the transatlantic relationships. These are long historical relationships that Donald Trump is reducing to things like a dispute over dairy tariffs. So it is a completely different mind-set than we have ever seen from a U.S. president.
MATTHEWS: Ginger, I want you to talk about -- but I want you to get into this question of why so many people want to get out of the White House. It`s another story tonight that is perking up there, perking up.
Why do people who have this privileged position of working in the White House, the most treasured sort of event, space in America, if you will -- "The New York Times" reporting that, as Trump attempts his diplomatic gambit abroad, "Back home, he left behind a West Wing in the White House where burned-out aides are eying the exits, as the mood in the White House is one of numbness and resignation that the president is only growing more emboldened to act on instinct alone."
The reports adds that, last week, Chief of Staff John Kelly told visiting senators that the White House was -- quote -- "a miserable place to work," Ginger.
That`s from a guy who is over there representing our country. And back home, there is something wrong in the White House.
GINGER GIBSON, REUTERS: We know that Donald Trump thinks that managing by chaos is a good tactic.
And I don`t know about you, but working in a place with chaos can become pretty miserable pretty quick. The other thing that is important to remember is that people get into public service in the White House for two reasons, one, to serve their country, but, second, and sometimes at the same time, to cash out when they`re done.
And it`s becoming increasingly difficult to get that cash out. If the White House is not functioning, if you`re not producing, if your resume isn`t getting a boost from having White House under Donald J. Trump as the last line, leaving sooner rather than later can help mitigate that problem.
MATTHEWS: Do you really think that that many people in the White House are there just to get their resume punched?
GIBSON: Absolutely not. I think people go in for public service. But you can`t live on public service alone for the rest of your life. You have to get a job somewhere else afterwards.
And when you have got a president, we`re talking about fighting with our allies, it makes it harder to get that next job with someone that is going to have to go be diplomatic with Congress or with those allies in the future.
MATTHEWS: Eli, are you hearing that? What are you hearing about this "Times" story that they`re really restive in the White House, they`re very unhappy?
ELI STOKOLS, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, you`re seeing that.
And you`re seeing positions -- you`re seeing people leave and then positions not be filled. I think the through-line with all of this story - - all these stories that we`re talking about here, the fact that Donald Trump can`t bring new people into the White House, that Donald Trump can`t get along with longstanding U.S. allies, the through-line here is that Donald Trump at the end of the day believes in nothing more than the primacy of Donald Trump.
That`s why he is excited by these negotiations, the possibility to sit down with Kim. That`s why he doesn`t care about a values-based alliance that stretches back decades. These things do not matter to a person who really thinks that he is smarter than everybody else, doesn`t need the advice of his top aides.
He tweeted just an hour or two ago that the only thing that will count today is when he sits down with Kim. He specifically referenced the pre- meetings of advisers and aides and said, those are great, but the only thing that will matter is when I sit down with Kim.
This is a person who doesn`t listen to his chief of staff. He didn`t convene a single National Security Council meeting before going over there, doesn`t have an adviser who is an expert on chemical weapons. He is doing this all on his own instinct.
He is saying as much, and that makes him a very difficult person to deal with, whether you`re a longstanding U.S. ally or a chief of staff or another staffer in the White House.
MATTHEWS: Jon, this is a real put-down to the people that are serving him, a real put-down. These people aren`t helping me here. I don`t need to have briefing books. I don`t need any help. These people are a bunch of losers around here. I`m the only winner.
That`s an amazing statement for a leading -- leading a team. How do you do that and then expect that team to perform for you?
SWAN: Well, you saw it recently.
It`s not just sort of low-level staffers. They sent a team of five of his senior most officials in the administration to China to negotiate trade. It was the treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, the economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, and Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary.
They come back and Trump says, we have had no meetings. There have been no meetings. Just wait until I do the deal. Well, that was news to the group that was over there in very intense discussions.
So, again, this comes back to Donald Trump`s theory of international relations, which is a series of man-to-man contests around the world. He`s always seen himself as the only figure. He literally said at the Republican Convention in 2016, I alone can fix it. And that permeates through all aspects of his leadership.
MATTHEWS: Well, finally, while all eyes may be on Trump`s sit-down with Kim over there, former President Barack Obama is keeping busy behind the scenes preparing for 2020.
Politico reports that he has already met secretly, or not so secretly, with at least nine potential 2020 presidential hopefuls, including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Deval Patrick from Massachusetts, pulling them in for one-on-one sessions at his Washington office.
The report adds that many of the conversations have centered around Democratic messaging heading into the midterms. Obama says Democrats should talk about kitchen table issues, economics, of course, not the Russia investigations -- quote -- "Don`t chase the shiny objects, he tells them. Don`t hyperventilate over the flash of any tweet. Think about what is going on that is going to stick in the long-term."
Ginger, your thoughts on that. That sounds like old-time religion. But I don`t think that`s what is going to happen in the public debate, because nobody covers those old-time religion things. They seem so basic. And everybody says that stuff.
GIBSON: I think the key takeaway here is to realize that, unlike the Republicans had in 2012 and 2016, where they really didn`t have a senior statesman who could step in and say, hey, guys, stop throwing bombs, stop attacking each other, stay on message, and keep your eye on the prize, Barack Obama is willing to do that.
And that could really change the tone and the tenor of the Democratic Party, with his ability to mediate fights and to keep potential nominees from really damaging one another in the primary.
MATTHEWS: You think he will go that far as to referee?
In other words, you know, as they say, the referee -- in the NBA -- I have been watching a lot of the playoffs -- they say, we`re going to slow this game down. We`re going to make sure it stays safe. Nobody is going to -- we`re going to foul -- call fouls whenever we can.
You think he will be that aggressive as a referee, Ginger?
GIBSON: He has the ability to. He has the ability to step in and try to make cooler heads prevail.
Remember when Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney were bloodying each other up in the 2012 primary? There was almost no one who could get them to stop and it really hurt Mitt Romney`s chances in the general election. It damaged his nomination.
Barack Obama has the ability and is respected by these people who are running to intervene and try to get people to back down.
MATTHEWS: This is something else. Ginger, you`re further than the times.
What do the other guys think? Eli, you think he`ll get that involved in refereeing this thing?
ELI STOKOLS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, L.A. TIMES: No, I don`t. And if there is 20 Democratic candidates, how do any of them break through when the media environment is dictated by Donald Trump.
STOKOLS: And everybody else is in a reactive posture. I think the former president is probably correct that if the Democrats are going to reach beyond the Democratic base, they are going to have to talk more about things like health care, about voting rights, about the environment, about things and make an actual case other than just Trump is terrible, and we`re here to be a check on Donald Trump.
That may be good enough to animate Democratic voters, and it may do some good with moderate voters, but I just think when you have 20 candidates when we get into the presidential primary season, potentially 20 candidates all trying to make a name for themselves, all trying to break through an immediate environment where it`s going to be hard for any of them to break through, frankly, I just think the advice of a former president, even one as well respected on the Democratic side as President Obama is only going to take them so far.
MATTHEWS: It`s hard to get press when you`re way out there at number 15 or 20, 15 to 20 is going to be a hard effort to get under that second tier.
Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. Up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL round table.
Jonathan, tell me something I don`t know. Jonathan?
JONATHAN SWAN, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIO: I was told by a source over the weekend who has been briefed on the situation in Singapore that Kim Jong-un didn`t want anyone to get his DNA. So he wanted to bring a portable toilet to the summit. That has now been confirmed in Korean media this morning. He in fact brought a portable toilet on the cargo plane over to Singapore.
GIBSON: Tomorrow, a decision is expected in the AT&T Time Warner decision. This is something President Trump has weighed in on, and we`re going to find out whether that merger is allowed to go forward.
It`s got big business and market ramifications. But it`s also the kind of thing that Trump could let himself get distracted by on such a big foreign policy day, and start moving stocks and markets with tweets. So, that would be something to watch tomorrow too.
STOKOLS: Well, Chris, you may already know this story, but it`s worth mentioning again. Attorney General Jeff Sessions already under fire for the DOJ`s policy of separating immigrant families, today ordered immigration judges to stop allowing asylum to the victims of domestic violence and to gang abuse, and that is something that could prevent tens of thousands of people from being allowed to seek refuge in the United States.
MATTHEWS: What a nice guy.
Anyway, thank you, Jonathan Swan, Ginger Gibson and Eli Stokols.
Up next, just about an hour to go before President Trump meets with Kim Jong-un. We`ll get the latest color from Singapore and look at how Trump is spending his final moments ahead of tonight`s summit.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: The Trump administration continues to send mixed messages when it comes to Russia. President Trump last week stirred controversy when he called for the G-7 to readmit Russia to the group. However, today, Trump`s treasury secretary slapped fresh new sanctions on several Russian companies and individuals.
This entitles -- the entities are accused of working with Russia`s intelligence service to conduct cyberattacks against the U.S. and its allies. Wow. That`s uneven, isn`t it? What Trump`s up to with Russia. We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We`re about an hour away now from the historic one-on-one meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un in Singapore. And we`re now seeing some action outside the St. Regis Hotel where Kim has been staying. Both leaders arrived on Sunday in preparation for the summit. Kim on an airplane actually provided by China, but it was an American made Boeing 747.
The North Korean leader met with Singapore`s prime minister and later took a night time tour of the city`s waterfront while flanked by -- there it is -- very heavy security. They`re moving in a bunch there.
He later stopped to pose for a selfie with Singapore`s minister of foreign affairs. You see that.
Trump also met with Singapore`s prime minister who tweeted out a photo of Trump with an early birthday cake. There he is.
The president also spoke with the Japanese prime minister and the South Korean president in preparation for the meeting.
I`m joined right now by NBC News digital reporter Jonathan Allen, who is in Singapore.
There you are, Jon, covering the summit. I always ask people, what can`t you see on the pictures? What is the smell of the crowd there? How do you feel about it over there?
JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS DIGITAL REPORTER: It`s oppressively hot and humid, Chris.
ALLEN: If President Trump wanted to sweat Kim Jong-un out, this was the place to bring him.
But I think there is some excitement in the air here. You know, we`re not really sure what to expect. You heard yesterday from the administration that things were going better and more quickly than expected. And then President Trump tweets today that we`ll only really know when he gets to that first real meeting with Kim.
So, I think there is some drama. The president certainly hyped it. He is a promoter. He wanted to do that. And at the same time, I don`t think we`re sure what`s going to happen. I would say the best odds are probably that we get some sort of announcement, that, you know, there was some positive negotiation, but we don`t know.
MATTHEWS: What did you make of Kim`s night out? I mean, this traveling Potemkin village. He is not a Rue Bouvier from Paris. You know, he is pretending to be Mr. Regular Joe out on the occasion.
Do people fall for this stuff?
ALLEN: Yes, clearly some people fall for it. I mean, there`s -- you know, he is also somebody who has an understanding of public relations. His father had an understanding to some degree of public relations.
You know, this is a guy that`s a despot. He is a guy who repressed his own people, a guy who has threatened the United States and other countries with nuclear weaponry. And, you know, now, he wants to be the guy about town, the celebrity schmoozer hanging out with President Trump and maybe Dennis Rodman on the side.
MATTHEWS: You know, I was thinking (INAUDIBLE) but Mao Zedong who would go out and swim the Yangtze for a couple of miles when he was about 90 years old. Everybody said, isn`t he a great swimmer? I mean, I don`t know.
Anyway, former NBA player Dennis Rodman, and also a showman, who has frequently visited Kim Jong-un in North Korea, arrived in Singapore earlier today. Here is what he had to say about this summit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)(
DENNNIS RODMAN, FORMER NBA PLAYER: Both of them want to see what this meeting is going to go. So, it should go fairly well. But people should not expect so much for the first time. So, that said, the door is open.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, among his very frivolous atmospherics is that Kim Jong-un loves b-ball. He loves basketball. It`s not just that he loves Rodman, he loves basketball.
These sort of humanizing aspects of the guy are pretty scary about a guy who knocks off his relatives and people he doesn`t know by the hundreds because he wants them dead, he kills them. Now he is trying to act like as you say, some regular guy out in the street.
ALLEN: Yes, I mean, it`s -- you know, every despot, every horrible person in the history of the world has had something that made them normal, or something that made them seem a little more human. That doesn`t mean that they`re suddenly good guys.
Kim Jong-un is not a good guy in anyone`s book except for perhaps in President Trump`s, if he is able to make deal with him. There have been few leaders in American history, certainly few leaders in modern American history who have put so much stock in their own personal relationships with people, as you were pointing out earlier, Chris.
And so little stock in sort of diplomatic process in the interests of one nation versus the interest of the other in treating other leaders based on the way that they treat their own populations, and the way that they behave on international the stage. For President Trump, it really is all about whether he can look into Kim Jong-un`s eyes and see into his soul, as one previous president said of Vladimir Putin.
MATTHEWS: For those of us who don`t get to travel, does it feel Western over there or Eastern and Asian? How does it feel in Singapore? I was curious about that. I`ve never been there.
What does it feel like?
ALLEN: It`s a real mix -- it`s a real mix, Chris. I mean, you`ve got these sort of huge skyscrapers. You know, there is a tremendous amount of technology here. Everything is hyper modern.
And at the same time, you know, you see those sort of old red shingled roofs and things that are a reminder of -- you know, the images you`ve seen for years of Southeast Asia. So, there is a mix here. But this is a very, very modern city.
MATTHEWS: Is Raffles still there, that great old colonial hotel I`ve always heard about?
ALLEN: It`s a great question, Chris. I wish I knew the answer to it.
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s talk again about what we can expect, because you`re good at this stuff, very good. You write books about this.
If you have to do a tick-tock tonight, what do you think we`re going to get? Are we going to get one of them coming out of the room and saying I don`t like the guy. I think it`s scripted.
They`re going to come out and say, we had a great time. We`re going to talk about peace. This is going to work. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the beginning of a new era.
I just know it`s scripted. It`s in their both interests to do that.
ALLEN: I think you`re right, Chris. I think both of them want to come out of here having made some sort of historic agreement. But again, with President Trump, you never know.
We thought he was going to come out of the G-7 having agreed to some things with our allies. Suddenly, they were enemies. Our old enemy Kim Jong-un suddenly an ally.
You know, there is no -- there seems to be no stability or predictability to a lot of this. But I think you`re right. I think there`s an interest for both of them coming out tonight and saying they had a productive meeting.
MATTHEWS: To your point, I don`t think he is going to raise the hot button issue of human rights. You know, I heard today that you cannot have anything but an accepted tinkered with radio, only radios that allow you to pick up the official government stations. You can`t even have a regular radio in North Korea.
I would say that would be a human rights problem, and I don`t think Trump`s going to touch it.
ALLEN: I mean, of all the human rights problems, though, Chris, I mean, that`s got to be -- if it`s on the list, it`s lower on the list.
It is interesting. Sometimes, the U.S. will not bring up human rights in early meetings with other countries` leaders that they want to try to spark a longer conversation with. Hillary Clinton on her first trip to China as President Obama`s secretary of state I know didn`t bring up human rights, and she got criticized for that because she had obviously said that women`s rights are human rights and women`s rights are human rights when she was first lady.
So, it`s not terribly unusual or unthinkable that a president of the United States in his first meeting with a person who has a bad human rights record would not bring that up first.
MATTHEWS: What`s the attitude towards Trump in the street there?
ALLEN: I think people are interested. You know, I think they want to see this guy that they hear about. You know, I think one thing that we forget in the United States, because we get so much news about American presidents, and we see them so much is that they`re received a little bit differently overseas.
You know, there is obviously an intelligentsia that`s paying very close attention. But for a lot of other people, the president is a name and a face and something -- someone they`ve heard something about. But, you know, the American president coming to another country is usually a pretty big deal.
MATTHEWS: You can feel the excitement. It`s like a heavyweight fight, isn`t it? It`s like Vegas before a big one, isn`t it?
MATTHEWS: Thank you. It`s obviously a lot more important --
ALLEN: We`re only missing Don King, Chris.
MATTHEWS: The president is Don King. Thank you so much. Jonathan Allen out in Singapore. What a beat you`re on tonight, Jon.
Now to "Trump Watch", Monday, June 11, 2018.
Some points for the Singapore summit to remember. One, Mr. President, this is one or to the country and the world. It`s not about winners and losers.
Two, Washington, D.C. is 200 miles from New York City. The peninsula -- the Korean peninsula is about that far from Hiroshima. Even closer to Nagasaki. So, North Korea knows the history, the power, and the horror of nuclear weapons from up close. We need to remember that.
Three, for three quarters of a century, the world has avoided the use of nuclear weapons. The success of this summit depends entirely, I think, on whether we can prolong that avoidance and make the world safer.
Four, Kim Jong-un knows that the only reason Trump is talking to you or him is that he has nuclear weapons. He saw what happened in Iraq and Libya when they gave up their nuclear weapons. One was hanged, one leader was, and the other was beaten to death.
Kim has a clear focus. Keep his weapons. He`s like the NRA that way.
Will he list his nuclear weapons and say where they are? That`s a great question. Will he allow independences? That`s a great question, Mr. President.
Five, keep definitions clear tonight. Does denuclearization mean we remove our 30,000 troops and remove our nuclear umbrella from South Korea and Japan? A peace treaty between North Korea and South Korea would remove the justification for our 30,000 troops at the 38th Parallel.
If Kim starts off by talking about ending the Korean War, be warned, he is the avoiding talking about ending his nuclear program.
Sixth, don`t try to be friends with Kim Jong-un. He killed his uncle, his half-brother and hundreds of others. He is a despot. Those people up in Canada, by the way, are our friends.
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
MSNBC`s special coverage of the summit with Brian Williams and Rachel Maddow starts right now.
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