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Trump defends separating migrant kids from parents. TRANSCRIPT: 06/19/2018. Hardball

Guests: Steve McMahon, Veronica Escobar, Ryan Costello, Shannon Pettypiece, Juliet Sorensen, Elizabeth Warren

Steve McMahon, Veronica Escobar, Ryan Costello, Shannon Pettypiece, Juliet Sorensen, Elizabeth Warren Show: HARDBALL Date: June 19, 2018 Guest: Steve McMahon, Veronica Escobar, Ryan Costello, Shannon Pettypiece, Juliet Sorensen, Elizabeth Warren

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome to Trumpville. Let`s play HARDBALL.

These tents you see here meant to hold the children Trump separated from their fathers and mothers stand as today`s American reality. Not a welcome mat, but a mat to lie on. Trump put up these tents, President Trump billed what Senator Tim Kaine has christened the new Trump hotels. Look at them. Just as one President is permanently known for Hoovervilles, look at the Shaqs. The Shaq cities for victims of the great depression. This President is today the proprietor of the new Trumpville packed with kids we have torn from their parents.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

President Trump and his administration have been overwhelmed by the growing public outcry over the new tent cities and the zero tolerance policy behind them. The President has just left the capitol tonight after meeting with congressional House Republicans to try and figure out some way out of this crisis that he has manufactured.

"The Atlantic" is reporting that on the issue of family separations, the President said quote "this is a dangerous issue. The images are bad for us."

Well, the reporter added to the conference on immigration policy included very little talk of actual immigration. Unable to stem the tide of criticism, many of Trump`s aides have now embarked on an aggressive PR campaign to blame the Congress.


MERCEDES SCHLAPP, WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: But the President has the power to fix this in the centric. We are only simply enforcing the law.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So why not stop it?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The President could put a pause on this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, no, I`m curious.

SHORT: We are having to put a pause. Congress gave us actually the tools to adjudicate it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does President Donald Trump really want to make the argument that the buck does not stop with him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, no. The buck stops with the people who make the laws in this country.


MATTHEWS: Well, the President seems defiant and un-repented amid the overwhelming backlash punched back earlier today. Deviating from prepared remarks, the President delivered a campaign style speech.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People that come in violate the law. They endanger their children in the process. And frankly, they endanger all of our children. When you prosecute the parents for coming in illegally, which should happen, you have to take the children away.


MATTHEWS: According to "the Washington Post" now, the President sees immigration as a winning issue for him politically, a winning issue. Complaining repeatedly in recent months that he looks weak on border enforcement and has been concerned that his base could turn on him for not being tougher.

West wing sources now tell "Axios" that President Trump quote "has shown little indication that he will climb down from the zero tolerance border policy."

Well, the conservative editorial board of the "Wall Street Journal" warn, however, that this type of self-destructive politics had has been a study in confusion. It adds that if Mr. Trump wants to lose the House and risk impeachment he will take Mr. Bannon`s bad advice and keep giving Democrats a daily picture of children strip from their parents.

For more, I`m joined Julia Ainsley, national security and justice reporter for NBC News and Jonathan Swan, national political reporter for "Axios."

Jonathan, you are sitting right here. I want to ask you. Is the President going to switch or is he going to fight? Is he going to keep up this fight or climb down from that wall?

JONATHAN SWAN, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: That`s the question I have been asking west wing officials all week. I have got no evidence that he is ready to flip this policy to make a unilateral action to flip this policy.

But he is definitely feeling the pressure. He is definitely feeling the pressure and that House conference meeting that he just attended, you know, that Elena from the Atlantic reported on, he made clear in the meeting that the images are bad and this is a bad issue and needs to be fixed. The real question is, is he going to do it unilaterally? Is he going to tell Jeff Sessions to flip the policy? That would be a major climb down. Trump would see that as a huge loss.

MATTHEWS: That kid in the red though, I think, is going to grab a lot of hearts this kind. We have been looking at pictures -- this is another one, this young kid.

Let me go to Julia on this. And you know, it`s a standing situation when the first lady of the United States seems -- that`s the picture, seems to be challenging the President. What gives? And Rosalynn Carter, as well and Laura Bush and all these -- I get they are speaking more for the country than Trump is, my hunch.

JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, it`s interesting that its first ladies who are coming out, right. They are supposed to be showing the sympathetic side of America`s moral character. And this is something that a lot of people think is in jeopardy right now as the Trump administration pursues this.

But apparently, and as Jonathan points out, that hasn`t quite gotten through to the President at least not to the point that he wants to change this policy. And instead with this administration has done, they have doubled down on talking points. We had another press call today with all of the reporters covering this and DHS and health and human services. And they keep just trying to tell us if we could just report this story accurately, everyone would understand it from their side. That he would be sympathetic toward the government.

But the fact of the matter is, Chris, a lot of pictures that are being shown are actually provided to journalists from the government. They are not letting us into a lot of these facilities. And so, we are going on their pictures.

So for the President to say we are cherry picking, for Secretary Nielsen to say that we are reporting false news and that these children are just being treated absolutely wonderfully, that is inaccurate. We are reporting a lot of what they are giving us here.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s look at this throughout the campaign, Donald Trump, candidate Trump vowed to create deportation forces to help cut down on illegal immigration. Let`s watch what he said in the campaign.


TRUMP: We are going to have a deportation force and you are going to do it humanely.

We are going to triple the number of ICE deportation offices. We take anybody. Come on in, anybody. Just come on in. Not anymore. Remember, under a Trump administration, it`s called America first. To choose immigrants based on merit, merit, skill and proficiency. Doesn`t that sound nice?

Our message to the world will be this. You cannot obtain legal status or become a citizen of the United States by illegally entering our country.

Can`t do it.


MATTHEWS: Let`s get down to the reality. These are asylum seekers. They are not people, poor people from Mexico. They are generally coming from Latin America from horrible government -- horrible countries right at this point in terms of violence. They come asking for asylum.

Isn`t there a way, I have to be suggest you actually can get around this, why don`t we have faster processing? Why aren`t people judged whether they have a right to asylum or not in a faster ways so they don`t run against the 209-day limits?

SWAN: There were proposals to try and remedy that. I don`t know they would be effective or not. Obviously, there`s also a question of resources and issues like that.


SWAN: But this, again, this is a very clear policy decision to enforce the law for every single person who comes across the border illegally which is itself sucks up a whole lot of resources. And again, is itself very clearly an administrative decision to spot with the administration.

MATTHEWS: Julia, when they come across, I think they can establish what country they are coming from. They come from Latin American, Central American countries which have had these horrible situations, violent situations down there. They should be in a different category than just the person just getting across the border from Mexico who is poor and wants a better life here. They are in a particular category of asylum seekers. Why are they putting them in jail?

AINSLEY: Well, at this point, just because you are have been persecuted, hurt from a gang or domestic violence under the attorney general`s new standards, that doesn`t qualify you for asylum. And to the President`s points about crossing illegally, it doesn`t matter if you are claiming asylum if you are crossing what he would say illegally. And that means between the ports of entry.

But what is really interesting about all of that is that when he talks about surging resources and tripling the number of enforcement officers from ICE, he doesn`t mention sending more asylum officers. We don`t know what happened to the surge in judges he wanted to bring which would increase the process you just laid out, Chris. Instead, he wants to enforce the tough parts of the system. And he wants to make it so it is so hard to come clue legally and claim asylum that we`re seeing immigrants be turned away.

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s getting hotter and hotter, this issue, and it is not going away.

NBC`s Julia Ainsley and Jonathan Swan of "Axios."

Earlier today President Trump once again blamed democrats for the forced separations, tweeting Democrats are the problem. They don`t care about crime and want illegal immigrants no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our country like MS-13. They can`t win on their terrible policies so they view them as potential voters.

Well it should be noted the republicans control the Congress.

Joining me right now is the Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Senator, what -- if you were President, what would you do? What`s the solution to this mess on the border with these kids being separated? Help me out.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASS.: Oh come on. This isn`t even hard. This isn`t even hard. It is entirely up to the President of the United States. All he has to do right now is pick up the phone and say to Jeff Sessions, say to the Department of Homeland Security stop, and do not separate children from their parents. Do not rip babies out of the arms of their mothers, and we are done.

MATTHEWS: And so the -- the parents who are going on trial because they are applying for asylum, would the kids stay with them? How would that work?

WARREN: Sure, you can make it work. But look, you don`t have to prosecute them criminally. Let`s keep in mind what we are talking about here, are taking women who have been raped, who have been beaten, who fear for their lives, who flee to the United States asking for asylum and for the act of asking, the United States government, because of Donald Trump is ripping their children away from them. That is not who we are.

MATTHEWS: OK they cross -- we know the situation, they -- they come to a point of entry, fine. But if they come across the border illegally, across the border, which you know we have seen pictures of it, when they come across they are going to be detained for processing. They are going to be held for a while. There is a 20-day requirement that you have to release them after 20 days. Trump calls that catch and release, because if they wait out the 20 days, they get to stay in the United States, so there is no border (INAUDIBLE).

WARREN: Oh now come on.

MATTHEWS: Well tell me -- tell me how it works.

WARREN: No, no, no, come on. If you want to pick people up because they have entered illegally, then get them in front of a magistrate. Get them in front of a judge. We have a process for doing this. And if someone has a credible claim to make for amnesty, someone has a credible claim to make that they want asylum, then let them make the claim, but you don`t take their children away simply because they have asked.

MATTHEWS: What do you think of what - you must have watched Secretary of Homeland Security Nielsen yesterday, do you think she should resign? Did you like that performance?

WARREN: No, I did not. I think she not only should resign, I think that before she has a chance to resign she should be fired.


WARREN: Look. Come on.

MATTHEWS: You don`t blame Trump, you blame her.

WARREN: No, what I`m saying is he should get rid of her. This is not helpful but all of this goes back to Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: Let`s face it, you are -- you are a political person as well as a policy person. Trump is playing this like a banjo. You know what he is doing. He is revving up his base with this, the red hots on immigration attitude. He is playing it -- you know, he is going to play it in the election, so it`s not just her, it`s him.

WARREN: I actually don`t see it this way, Chris.

MATTHEWS: You don`t think he`s playing (INAUDIBLE) --.

WARREN: No, I`m going to say this differently. I think there are some things in America that go beyond politics. And Trump may think he is playing a political game here. But ultimately this one hits deep, where America lives, not just Democrats, America, Republican America, independent America, people who just don`t care about politics.

People who say this is not what America does, we do not put small children in cages. We do not separate the children from their parents.

MATTHEWS: Will this move the veto (ph) on Trump? Will this move people against him? Will people begin to see him as a bad guy now who liked him before?

WARREN: What -- what I care about is that people push Trump to stop this. That is where we need to be right now. And -- and it -- keeping in mind, this is not about legislation, this is not about anything else, this is appealing to the President of the United States, this is insisting as loudly as we can to the President of the United States. This is not who we are in America. He is taking America to a dark and ugly place. That`s not (INAUDIBLE).

MATTHEWS: Is there anything you as the senator can do? Is the Senate frozen out of the action here?

WARREN: You know, I think that this is about Trump and I can`t find it (INAUDIBLE) --.

MATTHEWS: You can`t pass legislation?

WARREN: It`s not a question of whether or not we could pass legislation over a long process. This is happening to children tonight, while you and I are sitting here. Trump could stop it before we get to the end of (INAUDIBLE) --.

MATTHEWS: OK. I want you to do it positively. I wrote this question out, what would -- should we do, if you were President, because that`s a legitimate question, when people come here from Central America with children and they come across the border illegally, how would you handle this as opposed to how the President`s handling of this?

WARREN: Then we would detain them, we would take them in front of a court, but we would not separate families. We just don`t.

MATTHEWS: And that`s doable under the law, even though they have the 20 day rule and all these other rules?

WARREN: I think we can do that if that`s what we want to do and put the resources into it.

MATTHEWS: Why is Trump doing this?

WARREN: I don`t know. I can`t get inside Donald Trump`s head. And I don`t want to get inside Donald Trump`s (INAUDIBLE).

MATTHEWS: You think he is irrational?

WARREN: Look, it doesn`t matter. Maybe whatever it is he is doing, it`s not for me to speculate, the point is it`s wrong. And anything (INAUDIBLE) --.

MATTHEWS: OK, Jeff Sessions is calling this policy --.

WARREN: No, Chris, anything that takes us away from that conversation.

MATTHEWS: OK, I`m with you on this, I just want to know how you would --.


WARREN: -- they just have to state that (INAUDIBLE) --.

MATTHEWS: You say, Elizabeth, you said that Kirstjen Nielsen should go. She should be fired. What about Jeff Sessions, her boss -- not her boss, but the one who really set this policy out? He said he wants zero tolerance, he`s the boss in this policy. He set it out. And she has had to follow it.

WARREN: No, Donald Trump is the boss. Let`s be clear. It`s Donald Trump, this is on Donald Trump. He owns it. He owns it.

MATTHEWS: So she goes but Jeff Sessions stays?

WARREN: We are done.

MATTHEWS: How about Jeff Sessions, should he go?

WARREN: You know, he has got a lot going on right now.

MATTHEWS: Yes. I know, because he is protecting the special prosecutor.

WARREN: Exactly. He has got a lot going on right now.


MATTHEWS: So this is the weird politics that Jeff Sessions, who is a nasty anti-immigrant guy.

WARREN: No kidding.

MATTHEWS: We know that. You know that. And at the same time he is sort of keeping things together on the prosecution of the Russia probe.

WARREN: But let me -- let me make --.

MATTHEWS: He is. You just said that.

WARREN: I know that. Let me make the coherent point around this, though. And that is the sorts of things that the homeland security secretary got out and defended yesterday, come on. This is -- this is not what we should be doing for homeland security, but all of it is back to Donald Trump and the tip is to stay on Donald Trump.

If Donald Trump does not want children taken away from their mothers at the borders, he fixes that and he fixes it now. And if he fails to do that, the blame does not fall on anyone else, the blame falls squarely on Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: Does the Republican Party share that blame for backing him?

WARREN: Everyone in America who does not speak out shares that blame. This is not politics.

MATTHEWS: Thank you. Well said.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, thank you for coming on.

Coming up, crisis at the border. Trump keeps pushing the false story that Democrats are to blame for the separation of children from their parents. Everyone knows that`s not true. And even some Republicans are starting to call Trump out for it. And that`s ahead.

Plus, the Russian connection. That newly revealed meeting between Roger Stone and a Russian is yet another example of Trump`s people meeting with Russians and then denying it. There`s a pattern to all this. Don`t you think?

And the HARDBALL roundtable on how long Republicans will put up with a border crisis.

Plus chief of staff John Kelly is increasingly let Trump do what he wants to do even if he, John Kelly, fears it`s leading to impeachment.

Finally, let me finish tonight with Trump watch.

This is HARDBALL where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Well, the Trump administration today announced that it is withdrawing from the United Nations human rights council, claiming in part that the body`s biased against Israel. The announcement was made early this evening by secretary of state Mike Pompeo and U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: For too long, the human rights council has been a protector of human rights abusers and cesspool of political bias. Regrettably, it is now clear that our call for reform was not heed. I want to make it crystal clear that this step is not a retreat from the human rights commitments. On the contrary, we take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights.


MATTHEWS: Well with, the move comes just one day after the U.N.`s top human rights official criticized the Trump`s administration`s zero tolerance immigration policy calling it unconscionable.

We will be right back.



KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: It is not possible, as a matter of law, to detain and remove whole family units who arrive illegally in the United States. Congress and the courts created this problem, and Congress alone can fix it.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nelson -- Nielsen yesterday falsely claiming Congress -- or blaming them for the Trump administration policy of separating children from their parents at the border.

President Trump just wrapped up a meeting with House Republicans that was intended to focus on their draft comprehensive immigration bill.

Well, earlier today, the president insists it`s jobs -- it`s Congress` job to fix the family separation policy and once again pointed the finger at Democrats.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All we need is good legislation, and we can have it taken care of. We have to get the Democrats to go ahead and work with us.


MATTHEWS: But amid intense backlash, even the president`s Republican allies are now pushing back, calling for an immediate end to the family separation policy.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The zero tolerance policy can be changed by a phone call.

Zero tolerance policy is of their making.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R), TENNESSEE: The White House could change it in five minutes, and they should. It`s a mistake.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: It`s not American to do this. We`re for families and children and for keeping them together.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: All of us are horrified at the images we`re seeing. We`re seeing little boys, little girls pulled away from their mothers and fathers.

To the extent the administration can implement this policy and keep families together, it should do so.


MATTHEWS: Well, one of those senators, Orrin Hatch, you saw there is asking his colleagues to sign a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions calling for a moratorium on separations at the border until Congress can act.

For more, I`m joined by U.S. Congressman Ryan Costello, a Republican from Pennsylvania, Veronica Escobar, a Democratic candidate for Texas` 16th District.

I want to start with Ryan Costello.

Congressman, what did you hear about immigration that is newsworthy tonight from the president?

REP. RYAN COSTELLO (R), PENNSYLVANIA: That he`s going to support the compromise bill, which would solve the DACA problem, would address border security, and would address the family separation issue.

But I do want to echo the comments that some of my colleagues on -- in the Senate made, and that is, we -- Congress doesn`t need to fix this. The administration can fix this itself. But his supporting the compromise bill that we`re whipping right now would be a step toward addressing the family separation issue.

MATTHEWS: Just a point I`m interested in, is there any part of this comprehensive moderate Republican proposal on immigration that deals with exploitation of cheap labor, illegal immigrants coming in this country and being forced because of their circumstance to work for nothing?

Is there anything in there about that in this bill?

COSTELLO: No. No, no.

MATTHEWS: Of course not. That`s why it`s a Republican bill.

Let me go to Veronica on this.

Veronica, thank you. Congresswoman -- maybe congresswoman to be, but congratulations on your race. You got the nomination.


MATTHEWS: What do you think?

The Trump people are very good at portraying the Democrats, not you personally, but all Democrats, as open border people. Fix that. Correct that statement.


MATTHEWS: Are you an open border person?

ESCOBAR: No, I`m not.

And, frankly, Chris, I mean, that`s really kind of a tired complaint that is factually inaccurate.

MATTHEWS: But it`s current. It`s current.

ESCOBAR: It is current.

Here`s what else is current, Chris. Today, when we heard President Trump speaking to the group, he was speaking to a very narrow group of white nationalists.

It is now up to the country, to the members of his base who are not white nationalists to put pressure on the president. The -- I don`t know what that Republican bill, the legislation that Representative Costello was talking about, I don`t know what it holds for border communities like mine.

Frequently, legislation like this uses our communities along the U.S.- Mexico border as red meat for xenophobes and for people who are anti- immigrant. So, I`m a little concerned. I don`t know what is in it.

But I`m imploring with Americans, with Americans who voted for Trump, Americans who supported him who are not part of that narrow white nationalist group to reach out to the president and tell him this is unacceptable.

Please, Mr. President, don`t tie it to immigration reform. Don`t tie it to any other legislation. Just pick up the phone and call Jeff Sessions and end this.

MATTHEWS: What should we do -- if you`re a member of Congress, what would you do, I should put down, to deal with people coming in from Central America seeking asylum who cross the border illegally? What should be their situation here when they get here?

ESCOBAR: Yes. And, first, I think it`s so important to tell the facts, tell the American public the facts.

Migration is still at historic lows in our country. Even with the ebb and flow, even when we have increases on a regular or irregular basis, we`re still seeing immigration at historic lows.

Border communities like mine are safe and among the safest in the nation. So, it`s important to get the truth out.

MATTHEWS: Right. So, what should we do with in these circumstances that we`re dealing with right now?

ESCOBAR: And so here`s what we do.


MATTHEWS: What do we do with asylum seekers from Central America?

ESCOBAR: We don`t -- we don`t -- yes.

First and foremost, you don`t rip their children away from them in a way that will make it nearly impossible to get them back together, to reunify them. That`s number one.

But, number two, there are alternatives to detention. You don`t have to detain people who are here seeking asylum. There are progressive communities across the country who have figured out how to deal with their jail populations. El Paso is among them. And you can have GPS ankle monitors. You can have intensive follow-up. You can have meetings.

And that is far cheaper than the $134 a day per person that it takes to detain people. And you can still give them due process. They`re not mutually exclusive.

MATTHEWS: Yes. But I`m told that doesn`t work, that people do just melt into the population and you never hear them again -- hear from them, even if they have these ankle bracelets.

ESCOBAR: Yes, that`s not true. Yes.

And that may happen among some of the folks who come over without documents. But I heard the president say today that no one shows up to their hearings. He said no one.

But I want to applaud the media for finally calling a lie a lie. You need to continue to do that. That was a lie. We need to tell the truth about immigrants and asylum seekers.

And we are using -- the United States, the federal government is using some ankle monitoring GPS systems now. You just expand that and you hire more personnel to follow up with folks. There`s a far more humane, more cost- efficient, a better system.

And I also want to say, Chris, the United States of America takes in far fewer asylees and refugees than other countries.

MATTHEWS: Thank you very much for coming on, Veronica.

Let me go back to the congressman.

Congressman Costello, what do you think the Republican position on immigration is? You look like the party that`s anti -- certainly anti- illegal immigrant and perhaps generally anti-immigrant from Latin America, from Mexico. Are you comfortable with that image of being anti-Mexican in a sense?

I think a lot of people think of the Republican Party that way right now. You got Barletta running on the issue in Pennsylvania, as an anti-immigrant force.

COSTELLO: Well, I`m not comfortable with that perception, no.

I do think that the policy that the administration has unilaterally taken here reinforces that negative perception that some have of the party.

To directly address your question on what we should do, number one, we should -- more judges can means that the pre-detention stay for those illegally crossing seeking asylum will be expedited, so that they get through the system quicker.

MATTHEWS: Yes. That sounds right.

COSTELLO: Number two, if we keep this entirely within DHS, we don`t separate the children. It`s operated by just one agency.

And then, number three, and I think most importantly, is this issue. And that is, we cannot look in the mirror and say that this is the kind of policy that we can -- this is not durable, right? If this continues for weeks on end, this is going to get a lot, lot worse.

And it`s going to really spoil any appetite for trying to address there is in a way where we can come back together again. People are -- this -- people are becoming more upset by the day over this.

MATTHEWS: I agree, and I think you sound right. And I think it was very honest of you to say the Republicans are not addressing the exploitation of cheap labor here, which is a big part of the draw on illegal immigration.

Thank you, U.S. Congressman Ryan Costello.

And, thank you, Veronica Escobar. Good luck in your race.

ESCOBAR: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Up next: President Trump continues to blast the Russia investigation, calling it a witch-hunt. But, yet again, we`re learning of another Russian overture to the Trump -- they just keep meeting with Russians.

If there`s nothing to hide, then why are they rolling out their slow disclosures? Two years after these meetings, they tell us all about the meetings.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.



MATTHEWS: In the midst of all the talk about the Russian influence on the 2016 election, it did not jog your memory, this memory, it did not come to the surface of your mind even in preparing for sworn testimony of the House Intelligence Committee?


MATTHEWS: It didn`t come -- it didn`t occur to you that that is something that had happened in your life?

CAPUTO: No, it didn`t. It didn`t at all.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was former Trump campaign adviser Michael Caputo on this show last night saying that a key Russian contact escaped his mind when he testified under oath before the House Intelligence Committee.

According to Mr. Caputo, he and his associate Roger Stone had the same inability to remember that a Russian named Henry Greenberg -- calling himself Henry Greenberg -- offered to sell them dirt on Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Here`s how Stone described his memory lapse the other day.


ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: I had no memory of this. Is was an innocuous exchange. This guy shows up wearing a MAGA hat and a Trump T-shirt. He makes this offer. I decline. Nothing inappropriate happened here.

And I have now refreshed my committee and informed the committee.



MATTHEWS: Refresh my memory as an active verb.

Anyway, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani also downplayed the significance of the disclosure, because, as he says, nothing ultimately came of the meeting.


RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: It seems to me, however, whatever the recollection, differing recollections about this, it sort of gets resolved with the fact that Stone did nothing about it, came to the conclusion, according to "The Post," that it was a waste of time.

He and Greenberg came to the conclusion that it was a waste of time.


MATTHEWS: Well, now that they have disclosed it two years after it happened, they`re claiming they were set up by the FBI.

The meeting with Greenberg in May of 2016 is another point of contact among dozens that reportedly took place between Trump associates and Russians. Russians also offered dirt to Trump associates like George Papadopoulos and Donald Trump Jr.

However, no one disclosed those overtures to the FBI. They never thought of calling up the authorities.

Joining me right now is Shannon Pettypiece, White House reporter for Bloomberg News. And Juliet Sorensen is a former U.S. assistant attorney.

I want to start on the press part of this, the media part. It seems like there was like -- almost like water trying to get into a ship from Russia. Like just from all points in Russian trying to get something that turned the election against Hillary Clinton, all of them offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.

From every side, they call. And they reach every point of entry of the entire Trump operation, trying to get in. And there`s always somebody there saying, come on in. Let`s talk about it, always.

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, BLOOMBERG NEWS: And because this is all happening in a backdrop where we now know Russian government was actively interfering in our election on social media and a number of different methods.

And, yes, this idea that there were just so many meetings between Trump campaign associates and Russians, that that is what was setting off alarm bells in the intelligence community in 2015 and 2016, in the summer of 2016, this idea of, why is the Trump campaign meeting with so many Russians, who are adversaries of ours?


Well, let me go to Juliet on this question.

Legally, can a guy or a person say two years after they have testified under oath I have jogged my memory?

I have refreshed -- I love this phrase -- I have refreshed my memory and realize, yes, I did, on all those occasions, I did get a contact from Mr. Caputo. My name is Roger Stone. And, yes, I did talk to the guy. And, yes, I called back Caputo after and told how the meeting went.

All these points, incidents in which there was contact with the Russians, at least in this episode, and then says, I just now remembered it after two years saying I don`t remember anything. Is that legal? Can you just say that?

JULIET SORENSEN, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: Can they legally say it? Yes. Whether or not Robert Mueller and members of Congress believe it is another question.

MATTHEWS: So what`s going to happen if they decide that these guys were lying all the time, that they did know about the meetings with the Russians, and they decided deliberately not to tell the Congress when asked the question under oath?

SORENSEN: A deliberate lie under oath is perjury. Perjury is a crime. They have criminal exposure for falsely testifying.

It seems to me that they`re trying to make up for that, belatedly, and it`s going to be a credibility assessment. Did something happen that actually jogged their memory, and did they actually testify in good faith before these House committees, omitting this seemingly extremely significant encounter, given the nature of the congressional investigation, as well as that of the special counsel?

Or was it a deliberate lie? At the end of the day, they`re going to be fact-finders making up their minds about that.

MATTHEWS: Well, Rudy Giuliani also appears to be cleaning up some statements he made last week, refreshing his mind, of course.

On Friday, Giuliani appeared to dangle a pardon for Paul Manafort, telling "The New York Daily News" that -- quote -- "When the whole thing is over, things might get cleaned up with some presidential pardons."

Isn`t that dainty?

Here`s what he had to say about that, however, today.


QUESTION: Does the president want to the pardon Manafort?

GIULIANI: The president is not going to pardon anybody.

QUESTION: What about commuting the sentence?

GIULIANI: I can only say that during the investigation. The point I was trying to make the other day is, after it`s over, he`s got the power to pardon. I will have nothing to say about it. So, it will have no effect from the investigation.


MATTHEWS: He starts out by saying he will clean it up with some -- Shannon, that is so interesting, clean it up, like...


PETTYPIECE: Well, right, because, of course, it could be seen as trying to influence or sway testimony of witnesses in an ongoing investigation. So, it is a very dangerous path to walk down.

MATTHEWS: But he says, after it`s all over, we`re going to have a flow, a spray of pardons that gets everybody off the hook.

PETTYPIECE: Well, he says it. I mean, the president`s been showing it through his actions. I mean, the pardoning of Scooter Libby was an incredibly crystal-clear sign...


PETTYPIECE: ... of, if you were treated unfairly, if it was obstruction of justice, if it was, you know, lying to investigators, that these are crimes he was willing to overlook.

So I don`t think Giuliani needs to say it. The president has shown it with his own actions, with his own pardons.


Shannon Pettypiece, thank you.

Juliet Sorensen, thank you so much for coming on.

Up next: The HARDBALL Roundtable tackles the right-wing reaction to the border crisis.

Plus, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has reportedly become so demoralized in his job, that he`s willing to let the president do what he wants, even if he fears, John Kelly fears, it could lead to impeachment.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The images of children separated from their families at the border have been shown all over mainstream news as journalists report on the conditions at the housing facility. Those tents -- that tent city down there for children. But viewers of right wing outlets may be getting a different story. Don`t you think?

Let`s watch.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These child actors weeping and crying on all the other networks 24/7 right now. Do not fall for it, Mr. President.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kids are being separated from their parents and temporarily housed in what are essentially summer camps.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These kids get panned out to working class neighborhoods into our society and then have to be paid for by English as a second language and then they got to be schooled and a lot of them, sadly, in my neighborhood, turn into MS-13.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is one of those moments that tells you everything about a ruling class. They care far more about foreigners than about their own people. No matter what they tell you, this is not about helping children.

A lot of people yelling at you on TV don`t even have children. So, don`t for a second let them take the moral high ground. Their goal is to change your country forever. And they`re succeeding by the way.


MATTHEWS: Let`s bring in tonight`s HARDBALL roundtable.

Heidi Przybyla is an NBC News national political reporter. Steve McMahon is a co-founder of Purple Strategies. He`s a Democratic strategist. And Michael Steele is a former chair of the RNC and an MSNBC political analyst.

Michael, how is your party reacting to that clamor of denial there?

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: They embrace it and it becomes a warm blanket for them. But I`ve never heard such wholesale ignorant blather about this subject as you just played in that montage. Particularly at the ends where Tucker Carlson talked about, well, those people, they don`t even have children. Oh, really? I mean --

MATTHEWS: What`s that supposed to mean?

STEELE: It means absolutely nothing.

MATTHEWS: I know what it means.

STEELE: You know exactly what it means.

MATTHEWS: Another dog whistle.

STEELE: And so, yes, they embrace this and they wear it like a cloak of honor because they`re doing something about the immigration problem in this country. It just goes to the core and people don`t like to hear this but let`s deal with the truth. The browning of this country has set off alarm bells for a whole lot of the white folks.


STEELE: And you hear it displayed night after night on Fox News by those talking heads.


STEELE: Parroting out and repeating this fear and driving it.

MATTHEWS: OK, using that reference of parroting it out and talking heads, these little child stars, these little Hispanic, Latino, Mexican, they`re all been trained in acting skills.

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: They`re probably union members.

MATTHEWS: They can cry on cue. They can ask for their father in a desperate tone and they`re about 3 years old.

MCMAHON: Yes, it`s -- I mean, the desperation is not -- is not these children. The desperation is what you see on these television commentators going on and on about --

MATTHEWS: Why are they doing it?

MCMAHON: Well, I mean --

MATTHEWS: Why don`t they just say you got us on this one, this sucks? This is terrible publicity. We looked terrible. Why don`t they say that to Trump? This makes us look bad.

MCMAHON: I actually think that the people who run elections and who have run campaigns are saying it to Trump. But the people have never done campaigns or run in red states like Jeff Sessions and Steven Miller are saying this is great politics. It`s terrible politics.


Heidi, I`m not sure it`s going to change minds in the long run, but right now, more than half Republicans, just about half support this but that`s half of a half the country or half of 40 percent of the country. That`s not a lot of people.

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: I think you did a great job of setting up why we get to those numbers, Chris, because like you saw in those clips on Fox News, these children are being dehumanized.

They`re being demagogued, they`re being cast as MS-13 gang members who are here to rape and pillage. And I guarantee you that there has not been much coverage on that same network of the tape that actually shows what`s going on at these detention centers, the "ProPublica" tape, the audio of what`s actually happening in and the reality of what happens when a child is ripped from their parent.

MATTHEWS: Speaking of parenting, "Politico" reports that White House chief of staff John Kelly has largely yielded his role as the enforcer in the West Wing, as his relationship with Trump has soured. While Kelly himself once believed he stood between Trump and chaos, he has told at least one person close to him he may let the president do what he wants even if it leads to impeachment -- at least this chapter in American history would come to a close.

Steve, he has given up on his responsibility to the monarch.

MCMAHON: One by one, all the Republicans who had been around town, who had been inside previous administrations have left the building. And so, the grown-ups are all gone.

MATTHEWS: But the grown-up here has given up responsibility. He`s apparently working out in the workout room trying to sweat off his job.

MCMAHON: Well, and then trying to outlast I think every other establishment Republicans.

MATTHEWS: Heidi, your thoughts about this guy. He`s impressive as a general of the army. He`s an impressive guy. And he`s there -- he always impresses me in his bearing and everything.

But, apparently, we`re told -- look at that, he looks like a leader more than Trump does. And yet he doesn`t want to lead Trump anymore.

PRZYBYLA: Well, in terms of average tenure, I would say he`s put in a long shift at this White House.


PRZYBYLA: So, you know, but I think what`s happening here is that the establishment Republicans who had been in this thinking that they could guide this president are giving up, but giving up walking out with actually a lot in their bag. When you look at the first year of this presidency and all the things, he interviewed Mitch McConnell about the tax cuts and deregulation. Now a campaign an election is coming up.

So, Trump is returning to the campaign Trump.

MATTHEWS: He`s stirring the water. Look, "Axios" is reporting tonight that Donald Trump Jr. decided to pull out of a fund-raiser for Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush who`s running for reelection down in Texas due to the Bush family`s opposition to his father. This comes after George P. Bush`s father, former Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, spoke out on the policy separating children from their families, tweeting: Children shouldn`t be used as a negotiating tool. Trump should end this heartless policy.

Of course, of course, Michael, his wife is Mexican. I mean, born in Mexico. She`s an American now.

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: And, obviously, he doesn`t like this policy and yet --

STEELE: Right, right, for George P., this cuts really close to home. But can we be clear here? I don`t think George P. is going to lose any sleep over this cancellation to be honest with you.

MATTHEWS: His mother is Mexican born.

STEELE: Right, exactly. So, I just don`t think that George P., I mean, George P., you know, played the game and said, all right, fine, he`s president and he`s your son. OK, we`re going to try to do the little kumbaya, I don`t think --

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you a tough question. You`re all political, even the straight reporter here. Do you think it will move the needle this whole horror at the border right now?


MATTHEWS: Is it going to move the needle between Trump and anti-Trump? Do you think so? Are you meaning that you`re sure about this?

MCMAHON: Well, look at the Quinnipiac poll that came out yesterday. Opposition for this policy is 66-27 among voters. Now, Michael, you were chairman of the RNC. Do you want to get on the side of the 27 or the 66? You know, if you look among independents it`s even.

MATTHEWS: Will that impact voting? Will that impact voting?


STEELE: Yes, you can be on the 66 but they may not vote.

MCMAHON: The difference between winning and losing are where the swing voters go, right?

MATTHEWS: OK. Come next November and November beyond, will the voters vote on the basis of this mistreatment of our children coming across the border?

PRZYBYLA: I think it depends on how long it lasts. And journalists are heading down there. They`re going to be capturing a lot of these images and telling these stories.

MCMAHON: A picture is worth a thousand words.

PRZYBYLA: The more that comes out, I think it`s going to be really hard. Like the reporting was from the meeting today between Trump and Republicans on Capitol Hill that even he will now was worried about not the policy but the images.

STEELE: That`s why you see.

PRZYBYLA: The images.


MATTHEWS: Trump has lived on reality -- he`s lived on reality TV. He`s lived on pictures, on television. These pictures on television, he isn`t even on television right now. That picture is.

The roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. They`ve bumped him from the picture.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump says he`s got the right to pardon himself, Donald Trump. Most Americans disagree. According to a newly released "USA Today" poll, 64 percent, that`s about two-thirds of us, say the president does not have the right to pardon himself. Just 18 percent say he does. What a group they must be.

Republicans also break with the president on the issue this issue with 45 percent saying he doesn`t have the power to do so. Just 29 percent believe that he does. There`s a group.

Meanwhile, 58 percent of Americans including 31 percent of Republicans say Trump should be impeached if he goes through with a self-pardon. There`s a phrase.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Heidi, tell me something I don`t know.

PRZYBYLA: Senators Van Hollen and Merkley took a Father`s Day trip to the border, Chris. I was there for their debrief. And of all the reporting that we`ve seen about the utter lack of preparation for this crisis. What they told me was in addition to the backed up bridges, the separations, there is an acute shortage of mental health professionals right now to deal with the trauma that these children are facing.

He said a minimum, at a minimum. They`re short by about 90 counselors they need to deal with the trauma these kids are dealing with.


MCMAHON: A picture is worth a thousand words. We talked a little bit about the numbers how 40 percent of Americans -- by a 40 percent margin, they oppose this immigration policy. Among independents, it`s 44 points and among women, it`s 48.

You`re going to see a thousand ads like what you`re seeing on television coming up in the fall. And you`re going to see another 10 or 15 or 20 seats in play for Democrats this year.

MATTHEWS: Democrats take the House.

MCMAHON: I think they do, yeah.

MATTHEWS: Michael?

STEELE: This immigration issue is reaching across the country. You`re having now Hollywood producers, Steve Levitan of "Modern Family" creator, and others are pushing back on Fox, 21st Century Fox because of the commentary that`s being aired on their programs.

MATTHEWS: It`s been outrageous.

STEELE: Thank you, Heidi Przybyla, and Steve McMahon and Michael Steele. A great panel.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Tuesday, June 19th, 2018.

President Trump has until now made American politics a reality show. He`s shrunk the issues that divide the country into a televised drama where he`s the boss and the other side gets thrown off the show to use his term, the other side gets fired.

We know what that looks like. He stands on a stage in front of a rally and tells his security people to bounce a group of protesters. Throw them out, he yells. He sees NFL players taking a knee against police brutality and calls on the owners of those teams to fire them.

And now -- now, we hear kids crying and see them in cages. And it`s not the reality show his people like so much. I think we will remember this moment down along the Rio Grande and remember that Donald Trump was better at the show than he is at the reality.

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

And "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.