Show: HARDBALL Date: July 16, 2018 Guest: John Kasich, Richard Blumenthal, Peter Baker, Bobby Ghosh, Mark Warner, Mieke Eoyang, Natasha Bertrand
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Hell in Helsinki. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in San Francisco.
Tonight, the alarming scenes out of Helsinki are reverberating around the country and the world. Just three days after the special counsel indicted a dozen Russian state officials for hacking the 2016 election, President Trump is making it clear he is willing to believe Russian leader Vladimir Putin over the law enforcement institutions of his own country.
After spending over two hours alone with Putin, President Trump today stood alongside the Russian autocrat and publicly challenged the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia attacked our election in 2016. It was a shocking display off surrender unlike anything we`ve seen from an American President.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just now President Putin denied having anything to do with the election interference in 2016. Every U.S. intelligence agency has concluded that Russia did. What -- who -- my first question for you, sir, is who do you believe?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me just say that we have two thoughts. You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server. I want to know, where is the server and what is the server and what is the server saying? With that being said, all I can do is ask the question.
My people came to me. Dan Coats came to me and some others. They said they think it is Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it`s not Russia. I will say this. I don`t see any reason why it would be. So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: But President Trump also said he discussed the allegations of collusion with the very person he is accused of colluding with. In fact, we heard both Trump and Putin today deny that they colluded with each other during the election.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The main thing, and we discussed this also, is zero collusion. And it has had a negative impact upon the relationship of the two largest nuclear powers in the world. But just to say it one time again, and I say it all the time. There was no collusion. I didn`t know the President. There was nobody to collude with.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We should be guided by facts. Could you name a single fact that would definitively prove the collusion? This is utter nonsense just like the President recently mentioned.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: In another stunning move, President Trump suggested federal investigators should collaborate with the foreign adversary, the Russians, with their investigating. Trump spoke approvingly of Putin`s proposal to let the special counsel Mueller witness Russian questioning of defendants in Russia if the United States allowed Russian officials to do the same here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PUTIN (through translator): We can actually permit special representatives of the United States including the members of this very commission headed by Mr. Mueller. We can let them into the country and they will be present at this questioning. But in this case there is another condition. This kind of effort should be a mutual one. Then we would expect that the Americans would reciprocate and they would question officials including the officers of law enforcement and intelligence services of the United States whom we believe who have something to do with illegal actions on the territory of Russia.
TRUMP: What he did is an incredible offer. He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that`s an incredible offer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Joining me right now is Governor John Kasich of Ohio.
Governor, what do you make of what you saw today in Helsinki?
GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: Chris, unbelievable. Right? I mean, so sad. I did some interviews earlier. And look, you and I come from the same stock. And we have never seen an American President do this. Stand on a stage with a Russian, former KGB and kind of compare our intelligence community to the Russians. And all this has been said. It`s a sad day.
And Chris, you know, the one thing that I -- as I said here and reflect and listen to all this, this is not a time for Democrats and Republicans to start, you know, I told you so or any of those other things. This is a time for Republicans and Democrats to adopt a traditional model, which is the strong America, belief in our allies, the critical importance of the western ethic.
And perhaps there are some things that Congress can begin to do. Perhaps Republicans who now are starting to become critical. You know, that they begin to speak out. They begin to take control.
I was in Washington last week talking about my great concern about the fraying of the relationship, the G-7, NATO, the fact that these things have gone very poorly. Nobody said anything about it. And you know, when you don`t say something about the G-7 and then you head to NATO and that was a bumbled meeting as well, nobody said anything. So where is the surprise here that he would go and ad-lib all this? It`s just a sad day for our country. And I`ll bet they`re trying to figure out how to put the toothpaste back in the tube. But I just hope the damage can be repaired.
MATTHEWS: Governor, what`s in it for the President politically? I mean, he is a politician and you are a politician. But it`s hard for me to see the win here. Why does he want to look like he is surrendering to Putin`s worldview? To Putin`s word, taking him at his word when he is a KGB professional intelligence officer of the worst kind who knows how to lie right to your face. Why is he saying I believe the guy or I believe him as much as I believe my director of national intelligence Dan Coats? What do you say about that? How do you get him to stop doing that?
KASICH: Chris, I don`t know. Maybe it is because people around him have not spoken directly to him. You know, there`s a problem with all leaders, CEOs, you know, big-time leaders that there`s a sense that underlings cannot talk honestly to a leader.
And you know, you know about 13 days when Kennedy said they had groupthink, when everybody thought the same and how dangerous that is. Nobody is intervening. No one is saying enough is enough.
And so I don`t understand it, Chris. I can`t figure out why they didn`t step up and correct some of the things that he is doing. You don`t do it in public. You do it in private. It`s pretty astounding. And we hear it across the board.
Here`s the real interesting question. What is the Republican base going to say? Now, we had a county chairman here in Ohio in a little township or a county called Belmont County, who said today, I have had enough and he has resigned. But where is the base going to be? Are people just going to look the other way? Because now we are talking about critical issues that affect the future of our country and the future of the western alliance.
MATTHEWS: Well, here`s a hero for you. Senator John McCain had very strong words for the President after what happened in Helsinki today.
Quote "today`s press conference in Helsinki," this is John McCain, "was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American President in memory. The damage inflicted by President Trump`s naivete, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake."
Your thoughts on that, on John McCain.
KASICH: Well, I mean, Chris, you know, you and I love John McCain. We don`t care what party he is in. He is a bit -- it`s sad that his voice has been somewhat muted. That means others have to speak up. And you know, sometimes you have got to start alone.
You know, I was at the press club last week talking about my concerns. I have been doing it now for almost two years, right. As you know, I didn`t go to the convention. I didn`t endorse because I was worried about these kinds of things happening.
I don`t want to be in a position to say I saw this because I was hoping that none of this was going to happen. All I`m asking for are my colleagues to begin to stand up and be heard on trade, on NATO, more than just passing some non-binding resolutions. Start taking some action because it`s our country. And the sacrifices that so many people have made to preserve the liberty and the spirit of America.
MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about that. Because the Republicans that I`m impressed by almost all of them, from Charlie Dent to John McCain to Jeff Flake, all across the country, but the only voices are those who are not going to face Republican voters again in all likelihood. Will you face the Republican voters and run for President against Trump?
KASICH: I don`t know, Chris. I mean, I don`t know what`s going to happen here. I don`t know where the base is. I don`t want to be in an election I can`t win. I don`t know. All of my options are on the table. They remain on the table.
But what`s important, Chris, is that we start getting some Republicans to emerge. There just can`t be a few of us. There has to be a greater group who begins to assert themselves because as we know foreign policy, love of our country, at its best is bipartisan. So some of the Democrat leaders that want to take shots, why don`t you just shut up and begin to work with some Republicans and let`s be united as a country, not practicing partisan politics either way, either side.
MATTHEWS: Right. Well, if the lip-syncing in Helsinki`s not going to do it, I can`t think what will. But Governor John, my friend. Thank you so much, governor, for being a strong voice tonight.
KASICH: All right, Chris. Thank you, sir.
MATTHEWS: Despite Russia`s attack on the 2016 election Trump said the United States shared in the blame, we are to blame for the strained relationship between the two countries. And he attacked special counsel Robert Mueller saying the Russia probe is making the relationship worse. So it`s Mueller`s fault for investigating -- let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you hold Russia at all accountable for anything in particular? And if so what would you consider them, if they are responsible for?
TRUMP: Yes, I do. I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we have all been foolish. We should have had this dialogue a long time ago. I think that the probe is a disaster for our country. I think it`s kept us apart. It`s kept us separated. There was no collusion at all. Everybody knows it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Joining me right now from Helsinki is Andrea Mitchell, chief foreign affairs correspondent for NBC News. Also senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.
Let me ask you, Andrea, you are the straightest of reporters and the best in the foreign policy area. I understand why a country would deny spying. That`s what spies do. They deny spying. But why would the people spied upon deny it? Why would the President take that position today politically?
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I just can`t figure it out. I have never seen anything quite like this. An American President not only not standing up to a Russian adversary but basically wanting to be liked perhaps, in the body language. And then lapsing into long discarded conspiracy theories about the 2016 campaign.
He defeated Hillary Clinton. I`m not talking about the popular vote. We decide elections by the Electoral College. He is the President of the United States. Yet he can`t seem to stop obsessing over the need to legitimize himself. And he vanquished her, you know, almost two years ago. And yet he lapsed into that. He disavowed his own intelligence advisers, which has really demoralized people in the community and diplomats around the world.
People are speaking out in ways that I have not heard before. Not only American diplomats but yes, foreign diplomats who are saying we can no longer rely on the American President. For the first time in 70 years, we cannot expect the leader of the free world to stand up against Vladimir Putin.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the word, collusion. It`s pretty fraught right now. But let me ask you, it looked to me when they addressed the press that they had gotten their act together, they had gotten their story straight between the two of them. Didn`t you get the sense watching them both perform out there that they had worked out what they were going to say? Is the collusion continuing?
MITCHELL: Yes. Well, certainly they spent two hours and ten minutes that we know of alone with no note takers. So there`s no official record of that conversation. That was not wise considering that these are not equal partners here or equal adversaries or opponents. You have a former KGB spymaster up against a novice diplomat, an unusual President, no government experience, no diplomatic experience, who says I have been preparing for this my whole life. With what, real estate deals?
You know, this is not his skill set. Yet he chose to spend the weekend at Turnberry on his golf resort. There were no, as we understand, no principals or deputies meetings preparing for this summit. Advisers didn`t want him to have this summit. There was no goal, no agenda. And he was freelancing it. And clearly they did talk about a lot of things but issues this President does not know a whole lot about.
So when they talk about extending the start treaty, yes nuclear arms reduction is a good idea. But he should not be discussing that one on one with Vladimir Putin, especially given the disparity in their experience. This has been -- Putin has been the leader for 18 years as well as his previous experience with the KGB. He is not someone who should be alone with the American President.
MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Andrea Mitchell.
Former CIA director John Brennan who`s also an MSNBC senior national security contributor, showed serious alarm about Trump`s performance today.
Brennan tweeted, Donald Trump`s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to and exceeds the threshold of high crimes and misdemeanors. It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump`s comments imbecilic, he was also wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican patriots, where are you?
Let me go to Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.
Sir, I don`t know what to say except to ask you that question. What do you think of the phrase high crimes and misdemeanors right there by the former CIA director?
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Unquestionably, Donald Trump failed to fulfill his oath of office, namely to protect our nation against all enemies, foreign and domestic. He was a patsy, a puppet, a pushover, an appeaser. And he blamed everyone except himself and Vladimir Putin. In fact, instead of putting America first he blamed America first. Our own intelligence community.
And Chris, you know, my mind went back to that first day in office, all of us remember it, when he went to the CIA and he stood before those stars. Each of them a memorial to a member of the intelligence community who has given his or her life for this country. Today he threw that intelligence community under the bus, choosing to believe Vladimir Putin instead of them.
And the threat is real. We are talking about a real and urgent threat to our national security because there are ongoing and pervasive efforts, as Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, said today, and there is unvarnished and objective evidence. Those are his words too that it is continuing. We need our allies now more than ever because they are under attack too and there are actions we can and should take on a bipartisan basis in this Congress.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of this harmonizing? It`s one thing to say my opponent here, my competitor, whatever, I agree with him on one or two points. He harmonized with him. Like the Everly Brothers when we grew up. Absolute agreement with everything, every single syllable of what Putin says he agreed with.
What is the motive for that? I don`t even -- the most right-wing, most pro-Trump person doesn`t want to hear this lickspittle from an American President. Why was he lip-syncing the words of Mr. Putin? I don`t -- it`s ungraspable.
BLUMENTHAL: I tend to put less stock in this theory that Donald Trump is just a novice or a newcomer to diplomacy. My question is what does Putin have on Trump? That`s a question that only the special counsel will answer with proof and evidence. That is proof beyond a reasonable doubt, as he did about the involvement of Russian foreign intelligence agents in that indictment on Friday. And then the arrest today of a Russian plant. That investigation by the department of justice, our intelligence community, is moving forward meticulously and methodically.
To answer the question, why is Donald Trump putting Putin and Russia above our own national interests and in effect colluding with the criminal leader of a hostile power, as the "Washington Post" said so well today.
MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, senator Richard Blumenthal. And thank you NBC`s Andrea Mitchell.
Coming up, the Russians are downright giddy after today`s summit with their foreign minister calling the whole thing fabulous. No wonder they are so delighted. In the past 48 hours our President has labeled the EU a foe, that`s the European union, all while cozying up to the man in Moscow. What else could Vladimir Putin have asked for?
Plus, President Trump today once again sided with Putin over his own intelligence community, casting doubt on whether Russians even interfered with our election. Tonight Trump`s director of national intelligence is pushing back.
And Republican lawmakers today called the President`s pandering to Putin shameful and a disgrace. But what does Trump`s base think? Catch this. A new poll shows that they may be warming up to Putin, the Republican base. Trump is moving them that direction.
Finally, let me finish tonight with Trump watch. He isn`t going to like this one.
This is HARDBALL where the action is.
MATTHEWS: President Trump is used to getting positive feedback from the folks over at FOX News. But even they seems stunned by the President`s phoning (ph) behavior toward Putin today. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He just tweeted out this morning: "Our relationship with Russia has never been worse, thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now the rigged witch-hunt."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s by far the most ridiculous tweet of late. And that is insulting to past administrations.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was not a very forceful presentation from President Trump with Putin standing right next to him, not forceful at all.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t know.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was the time and the place for the president to look Putin squarely in the eye and said, you will be punished for what you did in 2016 and don`t ever think about doing that again.
NEIL CAVUTO, FOX NEWS: But he didn`t. And that`s what made it disgusting. That`s what made his performance disgusting. That sets us back a lot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Man bites dog.
Anyway, Trump also took heat from FOX News host Abby Huntsman, whose father, of course, Jon, is our U.N. -- U.S. ambassador to Russia.
She tweeted: "No negotiation is worthy throwing your own people and country under the bus."
We will be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we have great opportunities together as two countries that, frankly, we have not been getting along very well for the last number of years.
I have been here not too long. But it`s getting close to two years. But I think we will end up having an extraordinary relationship, I hope. I have been saying and I`m sure you have heard over the years, and as I campaigned, that getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was President Trump just before today`s summit with Vladimir Putin. The president started the day by lamenting this country`s poor relationship with Russia.
Instead of pointing the blame at Russian interference in the 2016 election, however, he took issue with the investigation into that interference, writing on Twitter: "Our relationship with Russia has never been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now the rigged witch-hunt."
That`s Trump talking, or tweeting.
The Russian Foreign Ministry retweeted Trump`s comment saying, "We agree," again harmonizing between the two of these.
Trump reiterated his point during the joint news conference with Putin, arguing that -- quote -- "both sides" were responsible for the strained relationship. These are shades, by the way, echoes of Charlottesville, when he said both sides.
Asked about it -- well, there it is. Let`s watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Even during the tensions of the Cold War, when the world looked much different than it does today, the United States and Russia were able to maintain a strong dialogue.
But our relationship has never been worse than it is now.
However, that changed as of about four hours ago.
Nothing would be easier politically than to refuse to meet, to refuse to engage, but that would not accomplish anything.
As president, I cannot make decisions on foreign policy in a futile effort to appease partisan critics, or the media, or Democrats who want to do nothing but resist and obstruct.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Here he comes to save the day. It sounds Mighty mouse talking.
Anyway, asked about today`s talks, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russian media -- quote -- "It`s fabulous." He added that the talks were "better than super."
For more, I`m joined by Bobby Ghosh, Bloomberg opinion editor and columnist, and Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for "The New York Times."
I want to start with both you guys just on a simple question. I`m old enough to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis, when we were at DEFCON 2, and we were facing missiles facing each other over the Cuban Missile Crisis. People were praying. Catholics were going to confession.
People were really worried about the end of the world because the United States looked like it was going to war with Russia.
Bobby, why would he say that relations -- our relations with Russia are the worst they have ever -- worse than they ever were? Why would a guy who is cognizant of his own existence say something like that?
BOBBY GHOSH, FOREIGN AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I think it`s basically to try and display himself as the great peacemaker. So it`s inconvenient to point out that there have been worse moments in history. This is history as Donald Trump reads it. We make the mistake by trying to match it with facts. He`s not even trying to do that.
MATTHEWS: Peter, your thoughts about that, because I would wonder why patriotic people -- and there are many, I suppose, who like Trump for all kinds of nationalistic reasons. Why would they betray -- betray their own sense of growing up in this country and seeing what we faced in the Cold War and how scary it was?
PETER BAKER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, that`s a good point.
Look, Chris, he`s not a student of history, as we know. He said on all sorts of topics, not just Russia, this is the first time this or the most that or never before this or that. He -- it`s a phrase, a kind of phraseology he likes to adopt, as if everything started when he became president.
It`s not specific to Russia. It`s across the board and ignores a lot of history both on domestic policy, foreign policy, the history of the presidency.
It`s as if, basically, we didn`t have a president until he became president and discovered how it works, and he`s -- he`s leading the way into a bright future.
So, you know, he doesn`t spend a lot of time making historical context. Everything to him is of the moment. And, of the moment, things are bad, and it`s because of Robert Mueller, not because of Vladimir Putin. That`s sort of the most salient point of that.
MATTHEWS: Bobby, whatever you think of Putin -- and I don`t think much. Most Americans don`t -- don`t like him either, though, increasingly, Republicans -- we will have a poll later in the show -- like the guy, like the cut of his jib.
We all know that intelligence people are able to lie right in your face, probably able to beat lie detectors. Why would this guy, our guy in this case, Trump, believe the other guy`s telling the truth, when he knows the other guy is skilled at lying?
GHOSH: Well, the most charitable explanation -- and you really have to strain credulity, but the most charitable explanation is that Trump cannot allow himself to think that the Russians intervened in the election because it undermines his victory.
GHOSH: And he simply won`t allow himself to think that he won by anything but free and fair means.
He said over and over again, I defeated Hillary Clinton. At a press conference in Helsinki, he couldn`t resist bringing in Hillary Clinton. He can`t admit the Russians intervened, because that, in his mind, would somehow taint his victory.
That`s the most charitable explanation I can think of. People have talked about, you know, what does Putin have on him and other possible psychologies that might be at work. It`s really, really hard to know with this guy.
MATTHEWS: Front page of "The New York Times" tomorrow morning, Peter, how do you explain the motive for this kowtowing, this lip-synching, this harmonizing with every word Putin speak?
Every word, he`s harmonizing with him. He`s not saying, but, on this, I sort of disagree or I do question that, we do have a difference -- total harmonizing. What -- how do you explain it?
BAKER: Yes, that`s the question. Right? That`s the central mystery of his presidency, basically.
Why has he in fact been so friendly toward Vladimir Putin from the beginning? And that stokes suspicions of the more conspiratorial-minded explanations, right? Is -- does the president of Russia have something on him?
MATTHEWS: Sure, the dossier. Yes.
He`s only encouraged that kind of thinking, rather than discouraged it, by this kind of conduct. If he wanted to convince Americans that Russia didn`t have anything on him and that there wasn`t anything untoward about what happened in the election, he wouldn`t act this way.
But, in fact, he does. And so the motivation continues to be a mystery, I think, one thing that has made Washington sort of scratch its head trying to figure it out, one that`s got his own party sort of up in arms today, trying to figure out, why on earth is he behaving this way?
MATTHEWS: I know straight reporters have a hard time with secondary characteristics, But do you notice that little smirk on the face of Putin when Trump`s talking, a little bit of, I have got this guy?
How would you interpret that little cruel smile of his?
BAKER: Well, it`s a great question.
Putin does not -- I mean, Putin`s body language has been sort of the subject of great scrutiny over 18 years. Remember, of course, President Obama famously said he`s like the bored student in the back of the room slouching, his way of showing disrespect for President Obama, for Hillary Clinton.
BAKER: Here, today, he looked like...
MATTHEWS: Not -- no, that wasn`t there today. No, there was a smirk there today. There was an intent.
BAKER: No, today -- today, he looked quite comfortable and confident.
He looked like he was the man in charge.
BAKER: He looked like he was not taking one on the chin, the way he might have from any other president. I think that, you know, he`s feeling at the top of his game right now.
This is a president who, just four years ago, president of Russia, was isolated by the rest of the world for its -- for his incursion into Ukraine.
Today, he`s on stage with the president of the United States, who was, as you say, harmonizing with him on so much of the message.
MATTHEWS: He looked like he was in control of the message.
Thank you, Bobby Ghosh. Thank you, Peter Baker.
Up next: President Trump stunned the U.S. intelligence community again today by saying he takes Putin`s word over theirs when it comes to Russian interference in our election. How are American intelligence officials going to react to that baby?
We will ask the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee straight ahead.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it`s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it`s not Russia.
I will say this. I don`t see any reason why it would be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was President Trump, of course, today siding with Putin over his own intelligence community on the topic of Russia interference in our 2016 election.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, a Republican, responded to the press conference, saying -- quote -- "We have been clear in our assessments of Russia meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security."
Well, later this afternoon, President Trump tweeted: "As I said today and many times before, I have great confidence in my intelligence people. However, I also recognize that, in order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past. As the world`s two largest nuclear powers, we must get along."
I`m joined now by Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner. He`s the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Senator Warner, thank you for coming on this big night.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Thanks, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Why would a president, in order to move on, if you will, accept the lies of our enemy?
WARNER: Well, Chris, today my head, as was yours and probably most of America and, for that matter, most of the world, was reeling.
We have seen this week where the president`s gone over, been disdainful to our NATO allies, then has this one-on-one meeting, where, candidly, I didn`t trust Mr. Trump to be alone with Mr. Putin. Mr. Putin, a KGB agent, has been indicated come -- would come in much better prepared than Trump, who I`m sure just winged it.
I would like to know what went on in that meeting. And then, in this press conference afterwards, where he basically throws the whole American intelligence community under the bus, and in this kind of weak kowtowing position to Putin basically accepts Putin at his word.
Think about it. You made some historical references in the earlier segment. If John Kennedy had accepted Khrushchev`s admonition that there were no missiles in Cuba, the world might be very different. Or if Ronald Reagan hadn`t continued to push Gorbachev on reforms and bringing down the wall the, world might be very different.
Thank goodness we had stronger American presidents at that -- those moments in time than we do today.
MATTHEWS: What do you think Putin was probing for when he had his two hours with Trump all alone?
WARNER: You know, Chris, that is the $64 million question.
When we`d already seen Trump go into a meeting one-on-one with the North Korean leader, and then come out and say, hey, everybody can rest easy, North Korea is no longer a nuclear power, they`re going to agree to denuclearize, and we have seen in the aftermath no progress, we have clearly seen our intelligence community still say North Korea`s a threat.
Why was there such a necessity to have a one-on-one session, particularly with a trained KGB agent, somebody in Vladimir Putin who has 18 years of international experience and, as all the commentators have mentioned, is an expert at these kind of one-on-one encounters?
MATTHEWS: Do you think he was trying to probe on whether we would enforce Article 5, that we would protect the Baltics if he made a grab for Latvia or something or he wanted to enforce his control, his influence over Ukraine?
Do you think he -- because he mentioned that in terms of economic relations. Was he probing to see if we`d fight?
WARNER: Chris, I hope and pray not. But, again, we don`t know.
And one of the reasons why I think if -- if that American translator has notes, I think, on a classified basis, the intelligence community ought to take a look at it.
What was so remarkable for me today was, by happenstance, we had planned, long had a meeting planned with the Atlantic Council, Senator Marco Rubio, who was with me, where -- and Senator Amy Klobuchar, where we met with parliamentarians from a number of those countries, Latvia, Estonia, from Poland, from Ukraine, from Canada, all to talk about Russian intervention in their elections.
So, this is not a pattern that Russia just took on with America. They have taken on all of the West, because they realize, in the realm of cyber- incursions and misinformation and disinformation, it`s asymmetrical warfare, and Russia`s pretty good at that.
So, there was a lot of evidence from our allies today and concerns that Mr. Trump might be willing to weaken on his resolve. And...
Well, how do you -- you`re the ranking Democrat on Intelligence, Senator. You have got as much clout as any Democrat. It`s not as much as, say, Richard Burr, your chairman, on Intelligence.
How would you and -- if you and Richard Burr got together on that committee, could you insist on seeing those notes of the translator today in that two-hour meeting? Can you get them?
WARNER: Chris, my hope is -- my hope is that we could get a look at the notes in a classified setting.
My hope as well is that the Senate will act. The Senate did act before Trump went off to these meetings in a 98-2 vote, reinforcing our commitment to NATO.
Now, if the Senate or the Congress doesn`t act -- I`m glad to see my Republican colleagues speak out. But if we don`t act in some formal way, I`m afraid that America and, for that matter, the rest of the world is going to believe that Trump`s position today, in terms of that weak position to Vladimir Putin and accepting his lies, is in a sense now American policy.
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s see what damage was done. I hope you can get those notes.
Thank you so much, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia.
WARNER: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Up next: Bizarre and shameful, that`s how some Republican legislators are describing today`s summit. We`re going to hear more from that next.
And is Trump succeeding in training his base, moving his Republican base, the Trumpers out there, to actually like Putin? These are frightening statistics I`ll give you in a moment. The polls are showing Putin getting relatively more popular with the Trump base.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Democrats and Republicans alike, are sounding off in response to today`s embarrassing press conference with President Trump and Putin. In a statement, Republican Senator John McCain writes in part: The damage inflicted by President Trump`s naivete, egotism, false equivalence and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate.
And late today, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich tweeted: President Trump must clarify his statements in Helsinki on our intelligence system and Putin is the most serious mistake of his presidency. This is Newt talking. And must be corrected immediately.
Let`s bring in tonight`s HARDBALL round table. Eugene Robinson, a "Washington Post" columnist. Mieke Eoyang is vice president of national security program at the Third Way. And Natasha Bertrand is a staff writer at "The Atlantic."
Let me go to all three of you.
First, Gene, is this the final wake-up call for Republicans saying this is where we get off?
EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, you know, I`ve predicted final wake-up calls before. So why go out on a limb now?
We`ve heard a lot of strong language from Republicans. But look, they need to look at what`s happened, what happened today, what`s happened over the past week, and this whole trip -- the extent to which the western alliance has been damaged, the extent to which Putin`s hand has been strengthened, the embarrassment, and not only that, the damage to U.S. national interests. And they have to ask themselves, how much more of this can the country stand? And is it not incumbent on them to do something in the national interest, to take action in the national interest, to rein in this out of control president?
And I don`t hear them asking themselves that question. I hear them saying we disagree but I don`t hear them going deeper.
MATTHEWS: Well, to back that up, Mieke and Natasha, we`ve got a new poll out that shows the number of people in the Republican world has increased their support for Putin. It`s gone from 16 percent support favorable to 25 percent. Maybe the base is moving with Trump and not with Republican Party views or values of the past.
Your thoughts, Mieke.
MIEKE EOYANG, VICE PRESIDENT, THIRD WAY NATIONAL SECURITY PROGRAM: So, we`ve seen this before. And actually, during the election, we saw that Putin was more popular with Republicans than Mitch McConnell. But one of the things that we saw that really changed Republican favorability on Putin was the selection of Donald Trump as the nominee.
So, it wasn`t about Democrats switching after the election when they realized we had been hacked, but Republicans following their nominee into this view, this lovefest with Putin.
MATTHEWS: Natasha, what`s going on? Who`s -- is this president so capable of leadership in this weird way that he can move a party from free trade to protectionism, from fiscal responsibility to huge deficits, any issue, can he move them to liking the Russian autocrat, the dictator? It seems he`s moving them that way. Republicans that used to be patriotically opposed to communism and Russian autocracy seem to be slithering over to the Trump side.
NATASHA BERTRAND, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Well, the party as a whole may not like, it but the party has shown a willingness to go where the base goes. And right now, Trump has really -- he understands the power of repetition, and he`s been saying over and over and over again that this is a witch hunt, that Russia has to be our friend, and, of course, at a rally a few weeks ago he said Putin is KGB, Putin is fine, we`re all fine, we`re all fine people.
So, he`s really trying to convince his base that there`s nothing to see here and that he can be friends with Vladimir Putin in a way that no other president before him has been able to get along with the Russian president. And he sees that as a strength. And as a result, his base sees that as a strength. They see it also as a way to kind of get back at all of the critics who doubt that the president can actually do it.
Now, of course the more nefarious reading is that they see that the Russians helped President Trump and the GOP win the 2016 election and they would be fine with the Russians doing it again this time around.
MATTHEWS: Unbelievable. When President Trump wasn`t busy blaming the U.S. or defending Russia during his press conference with Putin, the president did discuss areas where he thought the U.S. and Russia could work together. Let`s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The crisis in Syria is a complex one. Cooperation between our two countries has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives. I also made clear that the United States will not allow Iran to benefit from our successful campaign against ISIS.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Gene, is there even a soupcon of hope that they`re going to reach some arrangement between the two presidents, these two bullies, if you will, to bully the situation in the Middle East to the advantage of anybody who wants peace there? Can they get a disengagement between the Iranian forces on the border with Israel and Israeli forces and calm things down do you think?
ROBINSON: Well, certainly they can`t do any agreement that`s really in the best interests of the United States. I mean, look, Putin supports the Assad regime. And so does Iran. And so, that`s the situation.
In fact, Putin is working in many ways against U.S. interests in Syria and will continue to do so, and Trump goes along. Now, you could argue that it`s better to let the Soviets do -- the Russians do the dirty work there than lose American lives there. But the end result is not in the U.S. best interests.
We want Assad gone, and Putin doesn`t.
MATTHEWS: Let me go Mieke and Natasha again. The question is Trump looks like he`s running for election, he said today, and he apparently acted like, and maybe he`s right right now two, years before the election, three years out from the election, he doesn`t see somebody that can beat him. He`s pounding his chest in delight. I can beat anybody out there.
What do you make of that?
EOYANG: Well, he`s always boasted and said his electoral chances are better than anyone else`s. He claims he won the election when he actually lost the popular vote. He says his crowds are bigger than Obama`s and they weren`t.
And so, I think he does have a problem with math. And I think it`s a little early to know who on the Democratic side will be running for president. We have so many candidates who are eager to get into this. And every single one of them would be more competent and less likely to suck up to Putin than President Trump.
MATTHEWS: We`ll be right back with the round table. They`re sticking with us.
Keep watching right now. We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: We`re coming right back with the HARDBALL roundtable. Up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know, even on this big news day. They got a lot to match.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: I`m back with the roundtable.
Eugene, tell me something I don`t know.
ROBINSON: You saw France win the World Cup, biggest sporting event in the world, yesterday. Of the 23 members -- players on that squad, something like 16 are from immigrant families, immigrant families whose roots are in Africa.
It says something about today`s Europe, something very different from what Donald Trump said in his recent European trip in which he strongly advised European countries against immigration, keep out all those immigrants, they`re ruining your culture. He aligned himself with the anti-immigrant far right.
MATTHEWS: So immigrants add to your national pride.
MATTHEWS: Yes, thank you. Thank you.
EOYANG: So the head of the FBI`s cybersecurity division, who also heads their foreign interference task force, left government for the private sector, and he`s being replaced by someone who knows nothing about either.
BERTRAND: A Russian national with ties to the NRA was charged by the Justice Department for acting as an unregistered foreign agent. She also has ties to the Trump campaign and even met with the president`s son in May of 2016 at an NRA convention.
MATTHEWS: Wow. Some good news and some bad news.
Thank you, Gene Robinson, Mieke Eoyang, and Natasha Bertrand.
When we return, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch." I warned them.
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MATTHEWS: "Trump Watch", Monday, July 16th, 2018.
It`s hard to find a day in American history like we lived today. There`s a term for a country being totally controlled by another. It has its root in what happened to Finland after it was defeated by the Soviet Union just before World War II. It`s called being Finlandized.
Well, today the United States of America was officially and dramatically and humiliatingly Finlandized. Our president spoke the language of Russia, buckled to the interests of Russia, and accepted without a tad of resistance the will of Russia`s leader.
The president of Russia told the world that the Russian state has never interfered in America`s internal affairs. The president of the United States agreed. He said he didn`t see any reason why it would.
Well, the question for Americans and historians to answer is why the world`s superpower would buckle to the purposes of a somewhat pathetic former superpower. Why would the leader of what Ronald Reagan called the shining city on a hill lower to lip-syncing himself -- lip-syncing the words of a former KGB agent. Why?
Was he being tortured? Was he being waterboarded or stretched on a medieval rack? Was he being blackmailed? Was he the leader of a defeated nation like Finland was in 1940?
Was he under the military domination of Moscow? Was there an objective and obvious reason for this national humiliation?
History demands an answer. And so do the American people.
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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