Show: HARDBALL Date: July 18, 2018 Guest: Susan Page, Ken Vogel, Mimi Rocah, Steve Bullock
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: That does it for us. HARDBALL starts now.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: The President said no. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews out here in beautiful San Francisco.
While still fresh off his disastrous meeting with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, the President once again appeared to contradict his own intelligence agencies and downplay Russian aggression toward our country. Asked whether Russia is still targeting the United States, the President shook his head and said no.
Here`s how that scene played out at the end of the President`s cabinet meeting today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Russia still targeting the U.S.? Is Russia still targeting the U.S., Mr. President?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thanks very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Despite the fact that the question about Russian interference was only question asked, the White House press secretary later said that Trump was saying no to something else.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I had a chance to speak with the President after his comments and the President said thank you very much, and was saying no to answering questions. The President and his administration are working very hard to make sure that Russia is unable to meddle in our elections as they have done in the past.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Despite multiple people in the room understanding that the President was responding to that question, and despite the President have never before said the word no, no, no, repeatedly usher reporters out of the room. You are saying it is the reverse.
SANDERS: I talked to the President. He wasn`t answering that question. He was saying no. He is not taking questions and I have stated what our position is.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So this is the second time in three days that the President or the White House has come out and reversed what the President has said?
SANDERS: Actually, I`m interpreting what the President said. I`m not reversing it. I was in the room as well and I didn`t take it the way you did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, (INAUDIBLE) continued nonchalance about the prospect of future of Russian attacks comes just days after his director of national intelligence Dan Coats compared cyber-attacks to 9/11 and delivered this ominous warning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I`m here to stay warning lights are blinking red again. Today the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack. Russia has been the most aggressive foreign actor, no question. And they continue their efforts to undermine our democracy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, the President`s answer today suggesting that Russia is no longer targeting the United States is consistent with what he said over the weekend in Helsinki. That he doesn`t know whether he believes his own director of intelligence. Here he goes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your DNI Dan Coats said the infrastructure is at a critical point similar to what it was in some ways before 9/11. That we`re susceptible or the a large scale attack. Do you agree with that?
TRUMP: Well, I don`t know if I agree with that. I would have to look.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I don`t know whether I agree with that. I have to look.
Well, after all this, the President got another chance at a do-over in a CBS interview this afternoon. And once again, he was asked whether he would back the assessments of the intelligence community. And once again, was asked whether he blames Putin. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are saying you agree with U.S. intelligence that Russia meddled in the election in 2016?
TRUMP: And I have said that before. If I have said that numerous times before. And I would say that that is true. Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you haven`t condemned Putin specifically. Do you hold him personally responsible?
TRUMP: Well, I would, because he is in charge of the country. Just like I consider myself to be responsible for things that happen in this country. So certainly, as the leader of a country, you would have to hold him responsible, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, joining me right now is Hallie Jackson, chief White House correspondent for NBC News, Robert Costa, national political reporter for the "Washington Post," Charlie Sykes is contributing editor of "the Weekly Standard," and Jake Sullivan is the former national security adviser to vice president Biden.
Hallie, I saw the whole thing today. I agree completely with you. I heard what you heard. Why does Sarah Huckabee Sanders -- what is her job? Really, defense -- a criminal defense attorney who has to give the case, the story given to her by her client? It just seems like she is just spitting out what he told her without any reason to even think about whether there is anything logic or credible about what she has to spout.
HALLIE JACKSON, NBC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Sarah Sanders is the spokesperson for the President of the United States, Chris. And what she said to us today, was that the President specifically told her personally and directly that he was saying no, in an attempt to get reporters out of the room. So that is what Sarah Sanders came back and relayed. And also said that when she was in the room or when she watched this, she did not interpret President Trump`s response to my White House press colleague (INAUDIBLE) of ABC news the same way that other people in the room, including my White House press colleague (INAUDIBLE) of ABC news did.
So there were a couple of things that made us go back and follow up to sand orders this. I`m going on name three of them really quick will.
Number one is that in the video that we watched, and the President appeared to look this reporter in the eye and say no in answer to the question.
Number two, others in the room also thought it was very clear the President was directly responding to this question.
Number three, every single interaction I have had with Donald Trump in which I have tried to shout questions at him in which he has been President in the oval office, the cabinet room, wherever, not once to my recollection has he said no in order to indicate he has done answering questions. There`s a certain rhythm to how these things happens Chris. And typically, in that rhythm, the President will either not answer or just say thank you until we stop asking questions and get ushered out of the room.
Now, today could have been the first time. There`s a first time for everything, right. But there are these reasons as to why it seemed very fair to follow up Sanders on this.
MATTHEWS: Robert, let`s go to the plausible on this. Do you believe Sarah Huckabee Sanders was telling the truth? Do you think she was conveying the truth to the president or the whole thing was cover up again, covering up the President`s attitude towards the Russian?
ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Chris, it was very revealing about where this administration is. You have people like secretary Mattis. Republicans on Capitol Hill keep saying that the GOP is taking a tough line on Russia, pointing to sanctions, pointing to other efforts. Yet the President`s rhetoric continues to be pretty soft publicly. He does not have a coherent way of taking a tough line on President Putin of Russia. And this puts him at odds at times with his administration`s own policy. And the administration over the past week has continued to have to explain and explain again the President`s answers. And for some Republicans, it is still not sufficient enough. And certainly for the President`s critics is not sufficient enough.
MATTHEWS: Charlie, why is the president to keep doing this. I mean, he is an instinctive default thing. He goes back to the Russians are the good guys. He will do other things (INAUDIBLE) when he is being sort of monitored by his cabinet or being corrected by his vice President or secretary of state, and we have seen it in the last 48 hours. He will do what he is told when they spank him. But generally, his instinct is to say the Russians are the good guys. We are the bad guys.
This is a nationalistic President who says our nation is at fault. And the guy is on the other side of the road and the other side of what we always thought was the good guy-bad guy relationship, are the good guys. He always does it now. The Russians are right. Charlie, why?
CHARLIE SYKES, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, you know, in part, I think because he is constitutionally incapable of acknowledging the severity of this attack. Because if he acknowledges that it is ongoing, if he acknowledges that as Dan Coats says, this is a 9/11 type attack, then he has to acknowledge that what happened in 2016 was a big deal and every instinct in his body is to dismiss it, is to you know, push it away, to say the investigation is a witch-hunt. And look, the Donald Trump you saw in Helsinki is the real Donald Trump. That`s what he really believes.
SYKES: That is --.
MATTHEWS: -- your country. He didn`t win states like Wisconsin being toddy for the Russians. He ran in those states and did well by saying to the people no more stupid wars. We are doing things for ourselves today. We are a country that is looking out for itself and only us. And now he is looking out only for Russians. Why? What`s the disconnect between the candidate and the President?
SYKES: Well, there is not a disconnect between the candidate and the President because Donald Trump has always been for Donald Trump first and foremost. And also, you know, he is capable, of course, of wrapping himself in the gauze of patriotism and America first and pretending to be the strong man.
The reality is, that he was weak on Russia. He has been weak. He has been craven. He has been sycophantic with Vladimir Putin. He is fascinated with dictators. He is fascinated with authoritarians. And this is by the way should not come as a shock because this was evident during the campaign. The question is whether voters, his supporters will in fact notice the man on the white horse is acting like the man who just wants to hold Vladimir Putin`s umbrella. I mean, there`s a disconnect there.
MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) talking to you.
Anyway. In his press conference with Putin, President Trump spoke approvingly of Putin`s proposal to merge Russian law enforcement efforts with those of the United States.
Such an unprecedented and awful agreement would allow Kremlin officials to question American citizens, potentially including former U.S. ambassador of Russia, Michael McFaul who is also an MSNBC international affairs analyst.
Today, press secretary Sarah Sanders said that the President is still considering Putin`s absurd proposal. Here she goes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Trump`s support of that idea, is he open to having U.S. officials questioned?
SANDERS: The President is going to meet with his team and we will let you know when we have an announcement on that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is that something that topic that came up in their conversation? Does included racism and President Trump?
SANDERS: There was some conversation about it. But there wasn`t a commitment made on behalf of the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The President called it an interesting idea. He said it was an incredible offer. Why would he say that?
SANDERS: He said it was an interesting idea. He didn`t commit to anything. He wants to work with his team and determine that there is any validity that would be helpful to the process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Minutes later, minutes later, the spokesman for the state department said that Russia`s allegations against those American citizens they want to question are absurd. Let`s watch her.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HEATHER NAUERT, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: The overall assertions that have come out of Russian government are absolutely absurd. The fact that they want to question 11 American citizens, and the assertions that the Russian government is making about those American citizens, we do not stand by those assertions that the Russian government makes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Jake, here`s an easy one for you. This is softball and HARDBALL. I don`t understand why a President of the United States would even listen much less parrot back Russian proposal for Russians to monitor the investigation of Russian interference, disruptions and discrediting of our democracy. Let the Russians judge the behavior? It`s insane. Worse than absurd. Your thoughts?
JAKE SULLIVAN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER TO VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Chris, it is even worse than that. Because not only is he basically saying, go ahead and let the Russians sit in judgment of whether or not they interfered in the first place. He is also saying that people like former U.S. ambassador to Russia Mike McFaul should be subject to interrogations by Russians. And when Sarah Huckabee Sanders was pushed on it, she said well, they might have a valid claim. We have to test whether the Russians are right about this.
That is essentially selling out American diplomats and American patriots like Mike McFaul and saying let`s hand them over to Putin`s guys. Let`s see what they have to say. This is the same kind of dereliction of duty that we saw on display throughout that entire press conference.
And to go back to what Charlie was saying before, this has been of true of Donald Trump since the first minute he stepped into the campaign. Unlike every other type issue where he is happy to criticize an attack, for some reason with Vladimir Putin, he just can`t bring himself to do it. And the question, you keep asking why is a question the American people I think are increasingly going to be asking themselves.
MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Hallie. I thought for a moment today I saw something of a profile in courage. That was the reporter from Hill refusing to be used by the White House PR operation to shut up the reporters. That person refused to offer up a question to the press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders unless she continued to listen to your question. I thought that was great. Because it was so much different than that reporter from CNN who was glad to go along with the White House clamming up for reporters. Your thought?
JACKSON: You are talking about today, Jordan Fabian from the Hill who when Sarah Sanders turned to him after our question and answer session said, hey, you know, I will let Hallie finish her thought and I was able to. There was -- I tweet out, a classy move by Jordan, follow up questions. A really important part of our jobs, covering this White House, and it is really good, really helpful to be able to ask them.
I will also say that there have been instances in the past when reporters will ask the same question that another reporter has been asking. So there is a way to try to get these follow-up questions in. And it is not a matter of members of the press corps, for example, ganging up on the press secretary. It is simply a function of questions, perhaps not getting answer to a satisfactory degree and reporters trying on get some of those answers out of official in the White House.
MATTHEWS: Do you think you are breaking the Kremlin style press coverage? Kremlin style press tutelage by the White House?
JACKSON: In what sense? What do you mean?
MATTHEWS: Well, it seems like they have the right to decide what questions they are going to take. How is that? And that seems like Kremlin style of PR relations. Go ahead.
JACKSON: Sarah Sanders, any other official can choose which questions they would like to answer and which questions they would not like to answer. President Trump can do the same thing. When we are in this pool sprays yelling question to him like what happened today. He can choose not to answer questions. That is a prerogative of these officials. It speaks to the importance of what we saw happened multiple times overseas, three times, which is the President holding a news conference and being essentially require to answer question in these reporters who were directly asking him, as you saw I think most vividly in Helsinki.
MATTHEWS: And then denying what he just said.
Anyway, since nobody knows what took place during Trump`s private meeting with Putin over the weekend, Democratic senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire has proposed the President`s interpreter should have to testify before the Congress. Here she goes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: I think it is important for us to know what was said in the meeting. It is clear there`s no transcript. Yet the Russians seem to know what was said and what was agreed to. I think it is important for Congress to know that as well. And so, in if the President is not going to share that with us, then the interpreter was one in the room who may have that information.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Robert, what are the chances of getting that done, the interpreter testified before the Congress about what happened in the those meetings?
COSTA: Chris, I`m the first to admit, I would love to have that interpreter as a source. It is probably going to not happen on Capitol Hill. That this interpreter would testify. You don`t see senate majority leader Mitch McConnell who controls that sort of thing in the committee chairman as the Republicans pushing for that to happen.
What matters, Chris, is what does the secretary of state Mike Pompeo say when he comes to Capitol Hill to testify next tweak. He is the secretary of state, the lead diplomat of the United States. Was there a deal cut behind the scenes? People deserve to know. Reporters deserve to know. Did the President have some kind of agreement that is evolving right now behind the scenes about Syria, Ukraine? We have very little knowledge.
MATTHEWS: Well, was Woodrow Wilson have promised us open agreements, openly arrived at.
Thank you Hallie Jackson. Thank you Robert Costa, Charlie Sykes and Jake Sullivan.
Coming up, spy games on the same day President Trump is denying Russian influence on the United States, an accused Russian agent, a spy, was tried in federal court today. She is being charged as an unregistered foreign agent who tried to trade sex for political influence with the Republican party and catch this, the National Rifle Association.
Plus, as we approach the mid-term elections this November, what are the Democrats planning as their winning strategy for 2018 and then for 2020? And Republican Party ever bound for the king to win, you have to, as we saw last night in Alabama? What about the Democrats?
And the former FBI chief Jim Comey is back in the limelight urging Americans to vote Democrat this fall. The HARDBALL round table weighs in on that.
And more in today`s biggest story as Trump continues to contradict his own director of intelligence.
Finally, let me finish with Trump watchful. This is HARDBALL where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Some Republican members of Congress are now speaking out against Trump who are reckless to acknowledge Russia`s interference in our elections. But the same can`t be said for Republican voters.
And new Reuters poll shows that overall, 37 percent of us approve of Trump`s handling relations with Russia, 37 percent of the whole country. But broken down by party, however, 71 percent of Republicans approve of Trump`s relations with Russia compared to 14 percent of Democrats who do. Meanwhile, 32 percent of Republicans agree the U.S. intelligence agencies and their conclusion that Russia tried to influence the election compared to 84 percent of Democrats and there was attempt to screw us up.
We will be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
If President Trump needed a reminder about the danger Russia poses, all he had to do was turn to his own Department of Justice.
Today, a federal magistrate ordered Maria Butina, a Russian national suspected of being a covert Russian agent in this country, to be held without bail. The magistrate sided with federal prosecutors, who argued that she was an extreme flight risk, that she was going to skip out of the country.
The Department of Justice painted a portrait of a character straight out of "The Americans." According to court documents, Butina was in regular contact with the Russian intelligence agency the FSB, using sex deception to forge important political connections.
Working covertly, she established bank-channel lines of communication to the Kremlin and U.S. political organizations, which include the National Rifle Association, so that -- quote -- "These lines could be used by the Russian Federation to penetrate the U.S. national decision-making apparatus to advance the agenda of the Russian Federation" -- so quote.
Anyone, Butina became a fixture at conservative Republican events. "The Washington Post" reports that it was those contacts that landed her on the FBI`s radar.
For more, I`m joined by Ken Dilanian, intelligence and national security reporter for NBC News, and Mimi Rocah, former assistant U.S. attorney.
Let`s go to the spy game here.
Ken, what do you think she was up to in the United States? It seems like a great Mata Hari story here.
KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It`s incredible, Chris.
She was an agent of influence. She`s not accused of trying to get military secrets. That`s why she`s not charged with espionage. What she`s accused of doing is trying to build a back channel to American politicians, specifically Republican politicians, through the National Rifle Association.
It`s really amazing. I mean, those of us who cover this case closely have known about Maria Butina for some time, but never in my wildest dreams, Chris, did I imagine that the FBI would uncover a plot this elaborate, that she was actually in touch and being handled by Russian intelligence officials.
And don`t forget, her main handler was a guy named Aleksandr Torshin, who`s a Russian central banker who tried to get a -- broker a back channel between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump during the campaign. He was trying to meet with Kushner. He was -- he ended up being at dinner with Donald Trump Jr. on the sidelines of an NRA event.
So this appears to be a Russian operation to infiltrate the NRA, to infiltrate Republican politicians, to essentially build influence in Washington, which is more valuable in some ways to the Russians than the secrets of the F-35, because, after all, we`re not going to be in a shooting war with Russia anytime soon.
But there`s a lot of diplomatic back and forth, as we have seen this week. And it`s important for them to have allies in Congress, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Mimi, there are a couple of restaurants in Washington -- I will not name them -- that have a history of spies hanging around in them. And it`s sort of the color of the game, if you will. And I think today they have the feel of it.
What is this about spying? And when do you go from being an agent to being a spy, someone who`s really involved with subversion, really?
MIMI ROCAH, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, yes, Chris.
So, Ken really, I think, hit the nail on the head, in that Butina is an example of someone who, based on what we know right now -- and there could be more to come -- she was acting, using her position here to try and assert influence on American politics, on the Republican Party in particular, as opposed to someone who would be charged with espionage.
That -- under the technical sense of the criminal statute, it would require something -- someone to be taking information or something of value to the foreign power or a person who`s not authorized to have it.
And, right now, we don`t have any indication that she was doing that, although it should be said, first of all, that there could be more to come. As everyone knows, there can be superseding charges, and also that sometimes prosecutors want to charge what`s more easily chargeable.
They may have information, but it`s classified.
MATTHEWS: Yes, because, by the nature somebody spooking around like her, trying to -- you would always be -- you would be reporting back information.
As you sought more information, you would be saying, well, here`s what I heard. Here`s what I heard, found about a connection between somebody to somebody that can be useful.
It just seems, by the very nature of being an agent, you are reporting back information.
ROCAH: I mean, I think there is overlap. You`re right.
But the statute -- the espionage statutes are very particular. They`re more narrow.
ROCAH: And it seems like what they went with here, it`s not -- so, in other words, we`re not saying that she could never be charged with an espionage statute. But, for now, this is the broader statute.
It seems to capture more correctly the nature of sort of what she was trying to do here. And, as I was saying, they may not want to reveal other information about what she was communicating back, because that might lead to revealing classified information.
So, this is the safer course for them to take now.
MATTHEWS: Well, according to court records, Maria Butina was trying to broker -- trying to broker a secret meeting between Donald Trump the candidate and Vladimir Putin.
In July of 2015, weeks after President Trump announced his candidacy for presidency, for the president, Butina was able to question the president about his stance on Russian sanctions.
Let`s watch. This is an open -- open conversation here. Here she is questioning candidate Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARIA BUTINA, DEFENDANT: If you would be elected as the president, what will be your foreign politics especially, even in relationships with my country? Do you want to continue the politics of sanctions that are damaging on both economies, or you have any other ideas?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know Putin. And I will tell you. We would get along with Putin.
I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin, OK, and, I mean, where we have the strength. I don`t think you would need the sanctions. I think that we would get along very, very well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Donald Trump wasn`t the only high-profile Republican official that Butina had access to in the run-up to the election.
She met with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, former Republican Senator Rick Santorum, and former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.
Mimi, what do you make of these contacts? It looks like she was trying to do something active.
So it looks like she -- I mean, the question really is, was she trying to generally assert influence in the Republican Party? Or was she in some way connected to the influence operation with respect to the election?
And I know there was some reporting about that question, and that clip that you played her asking Trump that question, that that seemed very planted, if you will, and he had a very prepared answer.
ROCAH: And so it does make you -- one wonder -- and, from the prosecutor perspective, wondering means investigate. So I`m sure that if there is a connection between what she`s doing, what she`s done, and the attempts to influence the election, per se, that`s when it would sort of come into Mueller territory.
MATTHEWS: Ken, do you think she was trying to -- she was an agent there trying to get candidate Trump on the record to say he wanted to get rid of the sanctions? It looked like that is what he was ready to do right there.
DILANIAN: Absolutely, Chris.
Yes, I think Mimi`s -- Mimi`s got it absolutely right. This started as something separate, as an influence operation by the Russians. And, by the way, we wonder how the Republican Party, which had been hard-line on Russia for years, suddenly became so sympathetic to Russia. Arguably, this is one of the ways.
This was a -- secret Russian operations, backed by Russian money, to influence Republican politicians. And she was part of it. But it was separate -- it looks like it was separate from the Trump -- the Russian effort to meddle in the election.
But it may have melded. Those things may have come together. And that`s why Mueller is very interested in this. And, by the way, there`s a salacious aspect to the story, Chris. This woman is accused of using sex to try to get a job at a nongovernmental organization. She was living with a Republican political operative.
So, just a fascinating tale all around here, Chris.
MATTHEWS: How handy.
Anyway, thank you, Ken Dilanian. And thank you, Mimi Rocah.
Up next: The incoming chair of the National Governors Association is also being eyed as a potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate to take on Trump. Montana Governor Steve Bullock joins us next to talk about what he thinks Democrats need to do to win the White House again.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Last night in Alabama, a Republican who once dared to criticize President Trump bucked a recent trend and survived a primary run-off challenge, but only after showing sufficient loyalty to Trump.
Incumbent Republican Congresswoman Martha Roby fended off a run-off challenge in a race "The New York Times" described as a test of fealty to President Trump.
Well, after the "Access Hollywood" tape was released in 2016, Roby called Trump unacceptable and said she wouldn`t vote for him. Well, despite that, Trump ultimately endorsed Roby last month.
Well, today, the president claimed credit for her victory, tweeting: "My endorsement came appropriately late, but, when it came, the floodgates opened and you had the kind of landslide victory that you deserve. Enjoy."
Well, if the winning strategy for Republicans is to bow to the king -- that would be Trump -- what`s the winning strategy for Democrats in 2018 and 2020?
I`m joined now by Montana Democratic Governor Steve Bullock, the incoming chair of the National Governors Association.
Governor Bullock, let me ask you a question.
When a party knows they can`t win an election, like the Goldwater crowd couldn`t win in `64 against Johnson, they did what they felt like doing and ran Goldwater. When the Democrats knew they couldn`t beat Nixon for reelection, they ran -- they did what they felt like saying, and they ran George McGovern.
But, in `92, when they needed to win after losing three straight elections, they ran Clinton, a guy who knew how to win. Is 2020 striking you as a year the Democrats are going to do what they feel like, say what they really believe, or is it going to be the year they`re going to try to win it? Your thoughts, `72 or `92?
GOV. STEVE BULLOCK (D), MONTANA: Well, you bet, Chris.
I think it will be a year where we both win it and do what we ought to be doing. Look, I got reelected in 2016, was the only Democrat to get reelected in a statewide race in a state that Donald Trump won. Donald Trump won by 20 points. I won by four points.
And I did it by actually getting out, by doing things, by not just talking to identify Democrats, but by getting out and talking to folks. And I think that we will be coming in strong into 2020 and in these midterms by actually being for some things, and not just exclusively against Donald Trump.
MATTHEWS: Are you going to be more like Bill Clinton or more like Hillary Clinton?
BULLOCK: I`m the governor of Montana. It`s great.
I`m down in Santa Fe, become National Governors Association chair.
BULLOCK: But I think that that`s where -- look, you look at right now the Republican Party is going so far off the rails on the right, that anything the Democrats do, they will say, OK, well, that`s way progressive.
I think what we need to do is stick by sort of our pocketbook issues, tried-and-true, making sure that we`re trying to make sure...
MATTHEWS: I agree.
BULLOCK: ... that every American actually can be lifted up, and then we will do just fine.
MATTHEWS: That strikes me as the kind of message I love. I love protecting Social Security, Medicare, protecting the extension of Medicare through Obamacare, looking out for people with some form of universal coverage. I accept all that.
But, today, there`s some people out there, like Ocasio-Cortez up in New York, in Brooklyn, who knocked off Crowley, and, of course, Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont, who use the term socialist. They say they`re Democratic socialists.
Is that a turn-on or turnoff to you, that term? Would you like to be known as a socialist?
BULLOCK: I would like to be known as somebody...
MATTHEWS: You just laugh at all my questions. You got to answer them. You can`t laugh them off. These are the -- this is what it`s going to be like running for president. I`m not the worst inquisitor you ever met.
MATTHEWS: I`m just going to tell you what people talk about.
Your thoughts, sir.
BULLOCK: I want to be known as somebody that`s actually fighting.
If you go back 50 years, 90 percent of 30-year-olds were doing better than their parents were at that time.
BULLOCK: If we go to today, only half of Americans are doing better.
So I think we all need to be saying, what`s happening there, and how can we move folks forward? And that`s beyond the labels. And you talk about...
MATTHEWS: Well, what is the answer to that question?
BULLOCK: She actually showed up quite a bit, too.
MATTHEWS: Governor, you raised a great question. Kids are having a hard time. The job market is maybe all right for low-income, but not so great for starting a career or an enterprise or something.
What do you do to fix that as a Democrat who is a progressive? How do people in the center-left or left help young people make it, like your parents did?
BULLOCK: Well, I think you do a number of things, one of which, you continue to invest in education. That`s all the way from pre-K through college, make it affordable.
You also -- in Montana, we have doubled the number of apprentices, work- based learning. It used to be two-year colleges were about a degree. Now it`s a professionally recognized certificate that can move folks up along that ladder.
So, really trying to say, look, we have six million unfilled jobs right now, but then we also have folks not getting ahead.
MATTHEWS: I`m with you.
BULLOCK: How can government be a partner in making sure that they have the skills that both employers need and that will lift them up that economic ladder?
MATTHEWS: I`m so with you. I think a lot of 18-year-old men and women, young adults, very young adults, are looking for a way to get into making money and having -- and providing for themselves right off the bat.
And college, the normal sort of liberal arts college, may not be the approach they want to take. It won`t inspire them. It won`t make them money. So, I think you`re right. I think that is the answer. Good answers.
But you did laugh off some of my questions.
Thank you, Montana Governor -- and I`m looking forward to coming out to Montana and go fishing with you.
BULLOCK: Thanks, Chris. Yes.
MATTHEWS: Up next: Trump`s reversal...
BULLOCK: Yes, I want you and your wife in Montana.
MATTHEWS: We will be out there.
BULLOCK: I want you guys in Montana.
MATTHEWS: Reversal of the Russian election interference is coming up, and it`s spinning the heads of most Americans. What`s going on with Trump? He sounds like he`s working from Russia.
And why the Republican former FBI Director James Comey -- well, now he`s urging people to vote for the Democrats. Will that be used against them? We will get into all that and more with our Roundtable tonight.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
[19:41:17] CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
More now in our top story tonight. For the second time in three days, President Trump has seemingly contradicted his own intelligence agency on Russia`s malicious activities toward the United States.
In his first briefing in 16 days, White House -- heard first, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders made a weak attempt to cover up for the president`s remarks that he made just three hours earlier today. While Dan Coats had said the United States has not detected the same degree of Russian cyber attacks as they did in 2016, he gave this warning on last Friday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: We fully realize that we are just one click of the keyboard away from a similar situation repeating itself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Let`s bring in tonight`s round table. Susan Page, of course, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today", Ken Vogel, political reporter for "The New York Times", and Jonathan Capehart, opinion writer for "The Washington Post".
Susan, how many times is the White House going to have to clean up for Trump?
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: Well, we`re counting, right, day three of --
MATTHEWS: Right, we agree to that.
PAGE: It`s like they do a walk-back and then a half twist and then you have to kind of return and revisit it again. It does I think raise some credibility problems for the president and for the press secretary and must leave -- if there any Americans who are uncertain about how they feel about this, it`s got to leave them kind of confused.
KEN VOGEL, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, Chris, you know it gets at one of his great insecurities here, this idea that he didn`t win the election fairly and that he didn`t win it big. And so, in his mind, any admission that there was anything from an outside force of any variety really undercuts this, and that`s why you see him struggling, even as he will occasionally come and admit it, then he feels the need to vacillate and justify know he wanted squarely and Russia was not involved and didn`t have any impact.
JONATHAN CAPEHART, OPINION WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: But, Chris, let me just add one more thing to this and that is, what we`re seeing here is a very familiar pattern, the same pattern we saw after Charlottesville. The first time the president says something, that`s exactly what he means, he gets the blowback. He then reads a hostage message that is makes him read and then within hours, he goes back to the original message, although today we get a -- we got a an extra step or two in him still going back to the Helsinki message that as Ken was just saying, Russia had nothing to do with this, I won fair and square, and there was no collusion.
MATTHEWS: That`s one part of him that is Ronald Reagan like, because that`s what Reagan did when he came to arms for hostages.
Anyway, you can add former FBI Director James Comey now for the list of Republicans who have broken ranks that are now calling on Republicans -- catch this -- to vote for Democrats this November. Others include Republican strategist Steve Schmidt and conservative columnist George F. Will.
Comey tweeted, this Republican Congress has proven incapable of fulfilling the Founders` design that ambition must counteract ambition, all who believe in this country`s values must vote for Democrats this fall. This is Comey talking policy differences don`t matter right now. History has its eyes on us.
Ken, there it is just like George Will, Steve Schmidt, they`re all saying these are hardened -- hard-nosed Republicans saying vote Democrat. I wonder if they mean it, but apparently they are meaning it.
VOGEL: Yes, absolutely, they do mean it. Now, whether it has any ultimate effect I think is an open question. The Republican base still very much with Trump and that`s what poses problems for those in the Republican elite, including some of the folks who you just mentioned. They may want to speak their conscience, but for folks who are currently in office, that`s a tougher thing to do, because they know that their base is not necessarily with them if they do oppose Trump.
Now, for Comey in particular, I don`t necessarily think this is going to have any great effect. He`s a despised figure on the right. He`s also kind of a despised figure on the left. Many Democrats, of course, blame him for Hillary Clinton`s loss coming out days before the election and saying that he was reopening the investigation into her email.
VOGEL: So, I don`t know that he particularly, despite the fact that he has tried to cast himself as sort of a moral voice here holds a lot of political weight.
CAPEHART: Chris, I have a different view on this and, yes, Comey is a Republican and he`s telling people to vote Democrat, but I really believe that Comey is taking the -- he`s being an American here. Our constitution is -- our government is a three-part government, the executive, the legislative and the courts.
MATTHEWS: I know. I`m just asking, do you believe him, no?
CAPEHART: No, I do believe --
MATTHEWS: Do you believe George Will`s going to vote for Jamie Raskin? Do you think people are going to vote for Maxine Waters?
I mean, give me a break. They`re not going to do it. So, why they say they`re doing it?
CAPEHART: No, Chris the point here is, when you don`t have the legislative checking the executive, at least under Republican control --
MATTHEWS: I know.
CAPEHART: -- the thing that you have to do is to bring people in who you think will control an erratic executive and --
MATTHEWS: Well, Steve Schmidt brings (INAUDIBLE) shows to me how he`s going to vote straight Democrats, I`ll be amazed. I`m sorry. I think it`s good rhetoric.
Anyway, a former White House stenographer who worked under President Obama and briefly under president Trump is saying Trump avoids having his meetings with journalists recorded because the truth is his adversary.
In "The New York Times" op-ed, Beck Dorey-Stein writes: Weeks later when I recorded the president`s interview with Bill O`Reilly I watched with disbelief as the White House communications director Hope Hicks summoned Mr. O`Reilly to the Oval Office so he could speak with Mr. Trump privately. In my five years with President Barack Obama off-the-record discusses with reporters happened after work hours not for an hour in the middle of the workday and certainly not before an interview. When a president spoke on the record with a reporter, his staff made sure to have a stenographer present so there could be not an official White House transcript just in case the reporter came out with an inaccurate quotation. But that was then and this was the Trump era.
Jonathan, your thoughts about not having a transcript anymore available even to the White House.
CAPEHART: Well, look, I think for President Trump, the truth has always been or -- believing the truth or speaking the truth has always been a bit of a disability and for him to get into a fight with reporters over what he said and what the reporter said he said not having a transcript makes him the winner of the battle, because as we`ve been talking about, his base believes him, the Republican Party believes him.
And if he goes toe-to-toe with one of us on this panel or with journalists his base is going to believe him. And so, I think for him this is a defensive measure.
PAGE: But, you know, I think this is important for reasons beyond just the argument at the moment about what he said it didn`t say that reporter. This is part of the historical record and it`s been an important part of the way presidents have operated in modern times to make sure there is a full record of everything he says so that historians can go back and look at and we can assess it correctly.
And so, it`s more than it`s more than just a momentary preference by a president to not use normal procedures, including with conversations with foreign leaders which is another important difference between this administration and previous ones.
VOGEL: Although we do see, Chris --
MATTHEWS: I think it was the Army signal according to this. I think it was all done by armed forces to keep these records for the national record anyway.
A programming note, we will have the White House stenographer Beck -- her name is Beck Dorey-Stein as a guest on the show here on HARDBALL tomorrow. This could be fascinating to have her on tomorrow.
Anyway, the round table is sticking with us, and up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: NBC`s Lester Holt is interviewing FBI Director Christopher Wray at the Aspen Security Forum right now. Let`s listen what the FBI director had to say about Russian interference in our elections.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: He`s got his view. He`s expressed his view. I can tell you what my view is, the intelligence community`s assessment has not changed. My view has not changed which is that Russia attempted to interfere with the last election and that it continues to engage in malign influence operations to this day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the roundtable.
Susan, tell me something I don`t know.
PAGE: Hey, 10 years, it`s been years since the financial meltdown in 2008. Are we safer now? Well, our defenses are better at the treasury secretary then Hank Paulson told me the other day. But he said one of the long-term economic trends that contributed to the meltdown last time has just gotten worse and that is the income disparity of -- the income disparity among Americans that`s getting worse and it`s not being addressed.
MATTHEWS: Well, that`s pretty bad news.
VOGEL: Well, Chris, it wasn`t just Trump that felt -- who felt the need to do some walking back after the Helsinki press conference. Putin`s government actually put out a statement saying that he misspoke when he said that $400 million that was taken illegally out of Russia went to Hillary Clinton`s campaign, what he met his government clarified was that $400,000 that was taken illegally out of Russia went to the Democratic Party`s accounts.
My reporting, that`s still wrong, but quite a difference there between what he said and what his government said it does.
MATTHEWS: Was it too high or too low? Too high or too low?
VOGEL: No indication of any money going from these people who he said took money illegally out of Russia and gave it to the Democrats.
MATTHEWS: I guess he`s still pushing the Republican ticket over there in Moscow.
CAPEHART: Chris, I was with my in-laws, the Schmidts, in Minnesota. They`re from North Dakota which is a big Republican Trump state. And the thing that they were talking about was soybean prices. Soybean prices have plummeted from $10 in something in May now to $8 and they say that if the soybean prices fall to $6, President Trump`s going to be in trouble and it`s all because of the tariffs.
MATTHEWS: You become a real Midwestern farmer type, Jonathan. I think that`s pretty amazing.
MATTHEWS: Thank you. Thank you. Lutheran country up there.
Thank you so much, Susan Page, Ken Vogel and Jonathan Capehart.
When we return, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch". You are watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: "Trump Watch", Wednesday, July 18th, 2018.
He ran on a tough nationalist call to arms. America first he said for all to hear. America first.
And millions of Americans rallied to that call, tired of being dragged into the wars that serve no national interests, wars that cost so much blood that left 100,000 dead in the case of Iraq. They rallied to the candidate who promised no more stupid wars. With him as president, he promised it`s going to be America first.
And now -- and now, we have a man sitting in the White House singing Moscow songs, sounding as much like Vladimir Putin as Simon sounds like Garfunkel. What do we make of this harmony between the man elected to defend America and the man determined to mess with us, determine to disrupt and discredit our democracy. Trump keeps covering up whenever Russia gets caught, denying what everyone else can see, refusing to say or do anything that might admit that the autocrat Moscow is out to hurt us.
The woman or man who voted for Donald Trump, I can only assume, loves our country, and wants to defend our country and is ready to take its side when attacked. Why doesn`t the man they voted for ready to do the same?
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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