Show: HARDBALL Date: July 24, 2018 Guest: Chris Painter, Danny O`Connor, Anita Kumar, Susan Page
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: That does it for me. See you back here at 6:00 p.m. eastern tomorrow for our special anniversary edition.
But up next, it is HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Strong man. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening, I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
President Donald Trump`s behavior of the last week have yet more evidence that he yearns to be a strong man. More autocratic than democratic, unbound by law, precedent or the truth.
Last week in Helsinki, he denounced the intelligence community, traced the word of Russian tyrant and talked of sending American officials over to Russia for interrogation.
This week he decried illegitimate reporting as fake news, attacked his own depart of justice and threaten war with Iran as if taking the country to war was entirely up to him.
Now he is accusing the Democrats of what he stands accused. After this special counsel established that the President was aided by Russian conspiracy in the 2016 election, Trump is desperately trying to turn the tables fearing the prospect of big losses in 2018, he is saying with no evidence, that Russia will be out there helping the Democrats this November.
Quote "I`m very concern that Russia will be fighting very hard to have an impact on the incoming or the upcoming election based on the fact that no president has been tougher on Russia than me. They will be pushing very hard for the Democrats. They definitely don`t want Trump."
Wow. I wonder if Trump knows he is channeling Richard Nixon with those words when Nixon was caught up in a scandal of his own. After the break-in in the Democratic National Committee, Nixon suggest that his operatives stages Senator Berkley at the Republican National Committee to create the appearance that the Democrats were just as bad as the Republicans. Here is Nixon by the way discussing the idea with his henchman, Chuck Colson.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What would you think if that happened?
CHARLES COLSON, NIXON`S HENCHMAN: I think it would be very helpful if they came in one morning and found files Sherman all over the place.
NIXON: Sure, and some missing.
COLSON: That would have a very -- that would have a very good effect.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well Trump`s tweet today suggested the Democrats will benefit this fall from Russia`s interference and is particularly ill-founded considering that just last week Putin admitted that he wanted Trump, a Republican to win in 2016.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Putin, did you want President Trump to win the election and did you direct any officials to help him do that?
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Yes, I did because he talked about bringing the relationship back to normal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, this comes as Trump threatens political retribution against numerous former intelligence officials who have criticized his behavior toward Russia.
Republican senator Bob Corker said today that Trump`s threat to pull their security clearances resembles the behavior of an autocrat.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I can`t even believe that somebody at the White House thought up something like this. When you are going to start taking retribution against people who are your political enemies in this manner. That is kind of thing that happens in Venezuela where I was just recently. So you just don`t do that. And I can`t believe they even allowed it to be aired. Just to be honest, I mean, it is just a banana republic kind of thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: Well, the "Wall Street Journal" -- even the "Wall Street Journal" called it the dumb ID of the week. Instead, unequivocally that it is merely an act of political retribution.
Joining me right now is Republican strategist Susan del Percio, Jill Wine- Banks is a former Watergate assistant prosecutor, David Corn is a Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" and Yamiche Alcindor is White House correspondent from the PBS News Hour.
You know, this idea of trying to blame the Democrats, Susan, this idea that somehow he is trying to put Putin on the back of the Democrats, it is so Nixonian. Nixon in those tapes, you can hear max, I found the -- I was the one to discovered this in the tapes years ago. That Nixon was out there saying, OK, Watergate was broken by the Republicans. OK, let`s have the Democrats break into our headquarters, just make it up.
SUSAN DEL PERCIO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes.
MATTHEWS: Here is Trump saying let`s -- just making it up. Go ahead.
DEL PERCIO: And Donald Trump is a lot more of a simpleton than Richard Nixon was. And at this point, he is just looking for anything to muddle up the environment and not put blame at his own feet. The fact is, is the way he has been acting has hurt Republicans in swing districts and that we are seeing more and more proof in the polling that the Democrats are off to at least take back the house with 23 seats and maybe go as high as 40.
MATTHEWS: Yes. But it is not because of the help over there.
DEL PERCIO: No, absolutely.
DEL PERCIO: Donald Trump is colluding with -- to create this bad problem.
MATTHEWS: Jill, you have been through Watergate. As a Watergate aficionado, did you notice the echoing here of this guy, Trump trying to cover his rear end by saying oh, I can show that this guy, that Putin is out helping the Democrats this fall with no evidence, just like Nixon was going to make up a break-in.
JILL WINE-BANKS, FORMER WATERGATE FORMER ASSISTANT SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: There are so many similarities between the Nixon Watergate and what is happening now. Only now I think is much more threatening because at least the people who were involved in the crimes were Americans. This one is a foreign adversary of ours and that makes it much more serious.
And Donald Trump makes up things and says them repeatedly. He has learned that if you say them over and over often enough, that people will believe it. And that is way he keep saying no collusion. That is why he is saying things that have absolutely no facts behind them just like this. It`s clear from our intelligence reports and from the indictment that the Russians were trying to help Nixon -- I`m sorry, trying to help Trump.
MATTHEWS: Same difference.
WINE-BANKS: They have merged in my mind.
MATTHEWS: I know.
Let me go back to Yamiche on this question. You have Bob Corker. I know he is one of the first amendment Republicans, I should call him that, because they can only speak on their way out, right. He is a first like Charlie Dent and the rest of them in play. They are -- he says this third world stuff. The kind of stuff you get a third -- I am going to yank your clearances kind of stuff.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, PBS NEWS HOUR: I mean he is being -- obviously as a reporter I am not going to comment on whether it is right or wrong to do that. But there is this idea that President Trump is politicizing every kind of part of the government including things that weren`t politicized. You have the FBI, the DOJ, now you have whether or not former high ranking security officials are going to be able to have the security clearances that is needed if they have to give their opinions of this.
The reason why they keep their security clearances is because they need to be consulted at times if something big is happening and you need to go back to talk to a former CIA director. That is not about politics. That is about whether or not a national security risk and you need to go back to the guy who have the job before you. So this president is saying, I don`t like what you are saying about me, and I`m personally (INAUDIBLE) by what you think about me. So I am going do this to you.
MATTHEWS: -- sense of you. Anyway, most Republicans were not willing to go as far as senator corker there and criticize the president. But dismissing Trump threats today, House speaker Paul Ryan suggest that the president was not serious about yanking security clearance. It was merely taunting or trolling his enemies.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I think he is trolling people honestly. This is something that is in the purview of executive branch. I think some of these people have lost their clearances. And some people keep their clearances. That is something that the executive branch deals. It is not really in our purview.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But is it -- I mean, the banana republic comment.
RYAN: I think he is trolling people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: What does that mean? And we know what trolling means, cause the other side to get upset, yet they say stupid stuff. But why would the speaker of the House be so chicken as to not do it? Anyway, it is another example of how through all of this, Republican members of Congress have largely stood by this president.
As the "Washington Post" editorial board writes, from some combination of fear, coercion and willing appeasement, members of President Trump`s party who should know better debase themselves in service of his petty whims.
Meanwhile, a White House spokesman said tonight that the president has begun the mechanism to remove security clearances from the individuals names yesterday.
David Corn, why can`t somebody who is on the left, right and center, have the same rights? Why can`t the critic of the president have the same right as the ex-spook and ex-intelligence official as someone out there kissing his butt all day? It is the same government. A little freedom would help.
DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, MOTHER JONES: I think we need to take a deep breath here because the amount --.
MATTHEWS: I never take a deep breath.
CORN: I know you don`t.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s go. Move on.
CORN: The amount of crazy that we have seen just today, you know, we have become normalized to Trump`s craziness. And today it has gone from 11 to 12 to 13 to 15 --.
MATTHEWS: The number of people he is yanking.
CORN: In terms of the level of nuts, I mean, he has now said Russia does meddle but for the Democrats. I mean, that is a complete flip.
MATTHEWS: That is not a hoax. A hoax or not a hoax.
CORN: It was a hoax and now it is not a hoax. It doesn`t have a sense of logic. It is lying. And then when you have Paul Ryan saying, it is just trolling. Well no, it is not just trolling. They are doing this. So you have a liar, an autocrat, someone who talks delusional all at once and trying to distract us from the big picture. What he did with Putin, what is happening with the investigation, the failure of the tariff war, it is all about his dangling this craziness in front of us.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s examine that word -- I will get to you Yamiche because you got to be completely straight which everybody is in their own way, I must say.
Let me get back to Susan Del Percio. Because there is an even internal logic problem. He says repeatedly that President Obama who he has a problem with his legacy, continue to cover up for Russian meddling in the campaign. He accused him. And he also said it is a hoax to say there was meddling. So what was Obama actually accused of in that context? That covering up what didn`t happen? I mean, even if you are a total Trumpy, don`t you have a problem following it -- what he is saying?
DEL PERCIO: Yes. There is no logic to it, Chris. That is what is so frustrating. And let`s not forget, the first person to talk about rigged elections was Donald Trump in the fall of 2016.
Just to address Republicans that may come and stand up to him, I am very much looking forward to a new senator from Utah named Mitt Romney who I think will proved to be a big thorn in his -- in the President`s side. So while Flake and Corn are may be going away, we may be having a brand new person to speak what is right.
CORN: Listen, Romney endorsed -- embraced Trump.
MATTHEWS: In some sense, what day it is?
CORN: So, I mean, I know, what Susan wants. I think that is a lot of optimism.
MATTHEWS: Well, he is trying to fill what John McCain`s slot at some point. But I don`t thinks -- I know is it a hopeful thinking but I am not sure he is ready to take him on day-to-day. For more than seven months now, however, Trump`s legal team has been negotiating possible terms for the President`s testimony. They have been -- the are about as successful negotiators as the North Korea.
Anyway, Bloomberg is now reporting that according to Trump lawyer -- he is a lawyer. His name, Rudy Giuliani. Trump would agree to an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller`s investigators if it is limited to questions on what his presidential campaign colluded with Russians.
To avoid the chance of a perjury charge, quote "Trump is demanding in return for being questioned that he isn`t asked questions about obstruction of justice under a proposal the legal team has submitted to Mueller.
Let me go to Yamiche on this. This is sort of like John (INAUDIBLE) will take any question except the deal with (INAUDIBLE). I mean, I`m sorry. This is about obstruction. It is the first crunch of charges that could expect to come from Robert Mueller`s team, obstruction of justice charges. He says I won`t talk about obstruction of justice. They figure that gets the motive and I`m not going to give you my motive.
ALCINDOR: Well, the President`s lawyers in some way as much as people talk about Rudy Giuliani, the President lawyer`s sense there is real threat here. And with this idea of obstruction of justice. And I would go further to say the President`s complex financial dealings that as a result they don`t want him to go any further than the fact of this question of Russia and collusion. Because every lawyer that I have talked to in Washington D.C. including some of them rejected being the president`s lawyer, they say that this is a hard person to represent because you can get it here, he can start lying and he can get himself in a real problem.
But remember with Paul Manafort, there was a lot of issues with Paul Manafort. One of them is the fact that he is going -- he is on trial right now because of money and his financial dealings. Let`s think about the fact that we haven`t seen the President`s tax return. We haven`t seen a lot of the details --.
MATTHEWS: But we haven`t seen what Mueller`s probably said.
ALCINDOR: But then a lot of details of the President`s finances that I think they don`t want to ask question.
MATTHEWS: First wide open question, Jill, I would ask him, if I were not a lawyer, which I am not, but I think it is a great question. Have you ever as a business man in America, in your life taken money from Russia? And when and how and how much and who? I would go right to the money question and get him under questioning under perjury charge. Your thoughts.
WINE-BANKS: Just like Watergate, it is always been follow the money. But in this case, in addition to money, I think that the fact that he is resisting answering questions about obstruction means he knows he is guilty of obstruction and he doesn`t want to touch that. And he thinks that because he has been saying no collusion for so long, that he can keep on saying no collusion and just get away with it and the people will believe him.
It doesn`t make any sense. It is I don`t believe he will every agree to actually sit down. They keep changing the offer every time that they have a response I suppose from the special prosecutor, they change it. So now this is the offer today. But if the special prosecutor actually accepted that, they would change it.
And his words are not believable. I don`t think anyone who has been paying attention could believe anything that Donald Trump says. And so, what difference does it take if he gives an interview. He will lie. He will say things. Yes, he might be able to recharge with perjury because he is lying. And the prosecutor has the facts that will prove that he is lying. But other than that, there is really no gain.
MATTHEWS: I would like to ask Mr. President, with all due respect, did the firing of Comey by you was followed the following events? Have anything to do with those events. The fact that you wouldn`t protect Michael Flynn. You wouldn`t kill the prosecutors of him. And you were going to ask for the personal and political and judicial loyalty of your own FBI director. Did it have anything to do with you firing the guy after he refused to give you that information.
Anyway, just the thought. That is the guy I think Rudy would not like to converse about.
Thank you Susan Del Percio. Thank you Jill Wine-Banks, David Corn and Yamiche Alcindor, our reporter.
Coming up, our election system isn`t the only thing that the Russians may have targeted. According to "Wall Street Journal" Russian hackers gained access to American electorate utilities, you know, black out stuff and quote-unquote "massive blackouts." Just last week, the director of national intelligence Dan Coats warned that a cyber 9/11 maybe.
Plus, it is a battle of the soul of the country. Democrats are now favored, catch this, progressives to win control of the House of Representatives this November. One district that had been Republican controlled for more than 30 years, Ohio is 12, is now consider a toss-up. The Democrat running there is going to join us on the show tonight.
And Attorney general Jeff Sessions joins in chants of lock her up. He is the attorney general and he is yelling lock her up about Hillary Clinton for a conference of conservative -- high school students. Anyway, the HARDBALL roundtable weighs on that, baby.
Plus, voters opposed racing tariffs by two-to-one but Trump, well, he thinks tariffs are the greatest.
Finally, let me finish tonight with a tribute by the city of brotherly love.
This is HARDBALL where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Well, the polls have just closed in Georgia where they are holding runoffs for governor and two congressional seats. Republicans are choosing between two potential candidates for governor, lieutenant governor Casey Cagle, endorsed by governor Nathan Deal, and secretary of state Brian Kemp who we see President`s full and total endorsement. The winner will face Democrat Stacy Abrams who would become America`s first African- American woman governor if elected.
We will be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, Russia`s action had no impact at all on the outcome of the election. Let me be totally clear in saying that. And I have said this many times, I accept our intelligence community`s conclusion that Russia`s meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also. A lot of people out there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Trying to figure that contradiction out.
Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was President Trump last week during one of his many core`s correction on Russia meddling in the 2016 election. As the beneficiary of those Russian efforts, Trump has had a problem with pointing the finger directly at Russia for interfering in our elections. Of course, that make sense.
But new reporting shows Russia`s effort to infiltrate our country went far beyond the political electoral stuff. The "Wall Street Journal" reports on a successful Russian campaign, for example, to hack U.S. electricity companies, writing, hackers working for Russia claimed hundreds of victims last year in a giant and long-running campaign that put them inside the control rooms of U.S. electric utilities, where they could have caused blackouts, federal officials said. They said the campaign likely is continuing -- quote -- `They got to the point where they could have thrown switches and disrupted power flows,` said one Department of Homeland Security official."
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned of threats like that and more just last week in Aspen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN COATS, U.S. DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I`m concerned about -- you say, what are you worried at night? I`m concerned about a cyber-9/11.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: What would that look like?
COATS: Well, let`s say you shut down Wall Street for a week. What does that do to world markets and people`s investments? Let`s say you crash a Bank of America or Wells Fargo or whatever. And all of a sudden, people are saying, wait a minute, what happened to my account, what happened to my retirement?
Well, we have seen this. And we have seen coverage of that. We haven`t seen the big one. What about an attack on the electric grid in New England in January?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: For more, I`m joined by Chris Painter, a former State Department coordinator for cyber-issues, and Courtney Kube, NBC News national security and military reporter.
Courtney, you are breaking these stories, so let me tell you what -- ask you what you broke. How dangerous is this?
COURTNEY KUBE, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY PRODUCER: It`s very dangerous.
I mean, what`s -- what`s key about the story that we put out a couple of days ago on Iran is that it`s not an imminent attack. But the U.S. intelligence is now confident that Iran has laid the groundwork for a couple thousand individual attacks against both critical infrastructure here in the United States, private industry, and then also on facilities that exists in parts of Western Europe and the Middle East.
MATTHEWS: Who is ahead, the Russians or the Iranians, that are threatening us?
KUBE: It depends on what -- if you`re talking specifically cyber, we have seen Russia carry out some attacks. In 2015 and 2016, they hit the electrical grids in Ukraine. They did actually cause blackouts.
And, you know, as we heard Dan Coats talk about the cyber-9/11, one of those was right before Christmas. It`s cold in Ukraine...
KUBE: ... at Christmastime.
And those are the kinds of attacks that could have the potential for loss of life, catastrophic -- catastrophic loss of life.
MATTHEWS: We`re not at war with -- Chris, we`re not at war with Russia. I hope we never do go to war with Russia. We have avoided it all through the Cold War.
So let`s get to the question. Why are they up to this?
CHRIS PAINTER, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, they could be using this to preposition in case there is a shooting war, or in case there is even more tensions than there are now.
So we have seen -- for instance, Iran has done denial of service attacks. They have done these attacks against our financial institution Web sites back in 2012-2013.
As Courtney said, we did see the attacks on the Ukrainian power grid taking it down. That was almost a proof of concept.
MATTHEWS: We liked that.
PAINTER: No. On the Ukrainians? No. We...
MATTHEWS: No, we -- I`m sorry. We liked the one on Iran, where we got -- we screwed up their whole nuclear program.
PAINTER: Well, no, this is when Iran actually attacked us, when they attacked our financial institutions.
MATTHEWS: What did we do them in terms of stopping their nuclear...
PAINTER: Well, we what we did -- well, you know, I think that...
MATTHEWS: Are you afraid to say so? Aren`t we aggressive here too, when we want to?
PAINTER: I think we need to be aggressive. I think we need to have cyber- tools in our arsenal. I think we need to use them as part of an overall government response that includes everything from sanctions, to diplomatic, to generally everything.
PAINTER: That needs to be part of our arsenal.
The thing that we haven`t done a good job of, Chris, is when we see all these actions by Russia, election interference, this prepositioning in our power grid, because I think that`s what it is, prepositioning, or just recently -- and the White House actually attributed this to Russia -- the big worm that took down things all over the world, including Maersk, the big shipping giant in Denmark, that had really millions and millions of dollars of damage.
That was the Russian government. That was attributed to the Russian government.
MATTHEWS: What was their motive for doing that?
PAINTER: To cause dissension, to cause disruption. They have been very disruptive in the physical world, the Ukraine. They have been very disruptive in the cyber world too.
What we have been terrible at is, we haven`t imposed costs on Putin and other bad state actors that make them think twice before doing this.
And even when we do things, even when the White House, for instance, levies some sanctions on Russia, it`s undercut because it has to come from the top. You have to have strong messaging from the top, from the president himself, saying, this is impermissible. You do this again, there are going to be consequences.
MATTHEWS: One the old rules of the Cold War was, you can -- and the Second World War was, you can`t stop the offense. You can`t really stop the bombers. You`re always getting -- in the nuclear age, it was you`re going to -- there`s no real defense against nuclear weapons. You just have to have more than the other side, so they don`t use them, something like that, so mutual assured destruction.
Is there any way to stop, to ever win the war playing defense, Courtney?
MATTHEWS: Can we win playing defense against the Russians, or do we have to play offense where they beat them at this game?
KUBE: So, if they know that you`re playing defense enough that they don`t actually carry out an attack, perhaps.
I mean, the big question right now is, what is the policy? There is no cyber policy.
MATTHEWS: Well, to answer Chris` question, what`s the penalty on the Russians, on Putin over there saying, I want a big switch that I can pull tomorrow morning to shut down everything electric in the United States, all air traffic control, all the stock markets, I won`t be able to kill it all once just for fun?
What`s to stop him from doing that, because he seems to have the kind of personality to do that?
KUBE: Well, is an attack in cyber or something like this on infrastructure that leads to loss of life, is that considered an act of war? And is that something that could be responded to with a kinetic response, like a missile strike or something?
MATTHEWS: Well, like a hospital, they can`t get the ambulance out there in time.
So, I think there`s little chance that Putin is going to kind of launch this attack now, because it`d be hugely escalatory. And we would, I think, really be forced -- even Trump would be forced to respond, and respond very strongly.
So, I think -- I think that`s one of the issues. However...
MATTHEWS: Should the Americans worry about this and tell their congressperson to do something about this?
MATTHEWS: Anyway, last week, DNI -- that`s the director of national intelligence -- Dan Coats said that Russia was by far the most aggressive threat to U.S. cyber-security.
Courtney, last Friday, you reported that: "U.S. officials said Iran is making preparations that could enable denial of service attacks against thousands of electric grids, water plants, health care, and technology companies in the U.S., Germany, the U.K., and other countries in Europe and the Middle East."
So they`re declaring war on everybody?
MATTHEWS: What are the Iranians up to?
KUBE: It`s not just Iran too. I mean, North Korea, China, there are cyber-threats from all over the world.
I mean, in this case, it`s our understanding that it started -- you know, there`s been this diplomatic impasse that started with the U.S. pulling out of JCPOA back in May.
MATTHEWS: The Iranian nuclear deal.
So our understanding is the intelligence is that they are laying this groundwork so that, should there need to be a next step, so if there is some sort of a provocation, Iran has the ability -- and we`re not talking about necessarily carrying out thousands of cyber-attacks at once, but they could have malware. They could impact, you know, ones and twos both here in the United States and overseas, U.S. allies.
PAINTER: This is an asymmetric threat, that they have power in cyber. They`re one of the big actresses. The DNI...
MATTHEWS: Iran or Russia?
Russia is always the most sophisticated good actor. And this has been true for years. China`s right up there with them. And then North Korea and Iran both really sharpened their capabilities.
And that`s exactly right. They -- there was a lessening of activity after the nuclear agreement. But this is something they can do to be disruptive and this is something...
MATTHEWS: It seems to me, if they can do this kind of crap, they can start emptying out our bank accounts.
KUBE: We have seen North Korea, I mean, their cyber-attacks against financial...
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Chris Painter. Thank you, Courtney Kube.
Up -- great reporting.
Up next: A key congressional seat in Ohio has been held by Republicans for more than three decades now. Two weeks before this special election coming up, now it`s being called a toss-up, however, and Democrats have a shot by the guy coming up here and flipping yet another seat in Congress. He will be coming here in a minute.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. .
Democrats hoping for a blue waves this November got some good news today from one of the country`s top predictors. For the first time this cycle, this election season, the University of Virginia`s political analysts, Larry Sabato, said Democrats are now favorites to win control of the U.S. House of Representatives this November.
Sabato today shifted 17 races, in fact, in favor of the Democrats.
And one of them is Ohio`s 12 Congressional District, a historically Republican bastion, from Columbus` affluent northern suburbs to its eastern rural counties. Trump won that district in 2016 by 11 points. A special election is scheduled there in two weeks to fill a seat which is currently vacant.
According to Sabato, the race is now a toss-up. A Democrat has not held that seat in the past 35 years, ever since the current Republican Governor, John Kasich, won it back in `82.
On Saturday, Donald Trump tweeted his support for the Republican candidate, Troy Balderson.
Joining me right now is his Democratic challenger, Danny O`Connor, in this corner.
DANNY O`CONNOR (D), OHIO CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Absolutely.
MATTHEWS: Danny O`Connor wearing green trunks.
MATTHEWS: So, here`s the question. Are you -- how are you -- because I do fear this, because I do believe the only way there`s going to be a successful challenge to Trump come 2020 is if the left of the Democratic Party and the center-left, the moderate wing, get together, because they weren`t quite together by the time they took down on Donald Trump in 2016.
So, do you think they get together?
O`CONNOR: I think we need to have a message that`s pragmatic, that works for working people.
MATTHEWS: I mean, the left of the center-left both?
O`CONNOR: I think folks can come -- come together around a message that says working people need to have an opportunity to get ahead, that we need to protect access to health care, that we need to have...
MATTHEWS: So, you`re for Medicare, Medicaid expansion under Obamacare?
O`CONNOR: I want to protect the health care system.
MATTHEWS: No, but you want Medicaid expansion?
O`CONNOR: Absolutely. Absolutely.
MATTHEWS: And you want -- and you would protect Social Security, of course, and Medicare, of course?
One of the biggest differences in my election is, I have an opponent who wants to raise the retirement age, who wants to cut Social Security benefits, who wants to cut Medicare.
MATTHEWS: What is he going to raise it to?
O`CONNOR: I don`t know. You would have to ask him.
MATTHEWS: That`s OK if you got a law job or something.
MATTHEWS: But a heavy lifting job or driving a truck, you`re not going to do that until you`re 80.
O`CONNOR: There are so many people who work hard every single day, clock in at 8:00, clock out at 5:00, who do things the right way, who just want to get ahead.
And work is about dignity. It`s about more than a paycheck.
MATTHEWS: Well, Trump is trying to play that you and all the other Democrats, no matter where they`re running, burbs, rural areas, or the big city, are all bunch of far-left progressives, that they`re all for Maxine Waters and for impeachment now, and they went free college, and they went Medicare for all ages all the time, all these things that have to be developed at some point.
But are you one of them?
MATTHEWS: Are you the target?
O`CONNOR: I`m a pragmatist first and foremost.
We have seven counties in my district. And as I crisscross that district, talking to folks about their dream, about their version of the American dream, these are folks who want Washington to deliver solutions. They`re tired of people go into their partisan corners and not getting anything done.
And that`s why we need a new generation of leadership. We need folks who are going to going to focus on delivering economic opportunity.
MATTHEWS: What do you think of my friend, the governor of your state, John Kasich?
O`CONNOR: You know, I think that he does some good things. I think his Medicaid...
MATTHEWS: He wanted to expand Medicaid.
O`CONNOR: His Medicaid expansion is a good thing.
My opponent opposes that. We have a public health crisis in the state of Ohio, with opioids. Medicaid expansion is -- it`s the first way to fight back against that. My opponent wants to get rid of Medicaid expansion.
That`s not a way to fight back.
MATTHEWS: Would you vote to impeach Trump?
O`CONNOR: No. I think we need to let Mueller`s investigation continue. We need to let it run its course.
MATTHEWS: If he proves collusion, would you support impeachment?
O`CONNOR: We will cross that bridge when we get there.
MATTHEWS: What`s that mean?
O`CONNOR: I need to let the investigation run its course.
MATTHEWS: I`m asking you, if he proves collusion, should Trump go?
O`CONNOR: We need to let the investigation run its course.
We need to give him the tools that he needs to do it.
MATTHEWS: Well, how will you -- how are you going to be preparing yourself for that if you don`t make up your mind until then?
O`CONNOR: Because I need to see what his investigation...
MATTHEWS: OK, you don`t want to deal with it. OK.
What about Nancy Pelosi? The first vote you have to cast when you become a member of Congress is to vote for the leader of your party that is nominated for speaker. Who are you going to vote for, for speaker?
O`CONNOR: I don`t know who`s going to run, but I know...
MATTHEWS: Pelosi is running for reelection. She said so.
O`CONNOR: We need change. We need change on both...
MATTHEWS: So, you`re not voting for Pelosi?
MATTHEWS: Well, how are you going to help the Democrats get the 218 they need to win the House? You have to be one of the votes.
MATTHEWS: So, what are you going to do?
If you`re one of the 218 they need to take control the House, and the vote on the floor is Pelosi, what are you going to do?
O`CONNOR: We need to have new leadership on both sides.
MATTHEWS: So you would vote against her even if it meant you didn`t get control of the House?
O`CONNOR: We need leadership on both sides...
MATTHEWS: Then you don`t get control of the House.
O`CONNOR: Well, we need to have control of the House.
MATTHEWS: If it`s a decisive vote, would you vote against Pelosi? If it`s decisive?
O`CONNOR: We need new leadership on both sides.
MATTHEWS: You`re dodging it. You know you have to decide this.
Just tell me you know you have to decide it.
O`CONNOR: No, but we need new leadership.
MATTHEWS: No, just tell me you know...
O`CONNOR: The old ways aren`t working.
MATTHEWS: No, you know that, for the Democrats to get control, you have to have 218 members of the House...
MATTHEWS: ... vote for the candidate of the Democratic Party for speaker.
O`CONNOR: I will support whoever the Democratic Party....
MATTHEWS: Thank you.
Danny O`Connor out of this corner.
Good luck in the campaign.
O`CONNOR: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: I mean it.
Up next: The attorney general the United States joins a room of young conservatives chanting "Lock her up." That`s the A.G. doing this, the attorney general. Hillary Clinton didn`t commit any crimes that we know about.
Anyway, Donald Trump turns a VFW convention into a raucous partisan campaign rally. And the government, you the voter, by the way, the taxpayer, are paying for that trip of his to Missouri, so he could spout the Republican line. Interesting way of using a dollar, the federal dollar.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I like this bunch, I got to tell you.
You`re not going to be backing down. Go get them. Go get them.
Rather than moaning...
AUDIENCE: Lock her up! Lock her up!
SESSIONS: Lock her up.
AUDIENCE: Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!
SESSIONS: Well, so, I heard that a long time over the last campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, now we`re hearing it again, Mr. Attorney General.
Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier today speaking, not at a partisan rally, which it sounds like, but to a crowd of conservative high school students.
This is the head of the -- by the way, the Department of Justice, to remind us all, in his official capacity, participating in a chant about locking up someone who hasn`t been charged with anything.
Sessions has been under immense pressure, obviously, from President Trump and his allies to show his loyalty to the president, especially on matters with the Russian probe.
Here`s FOX News anchor Sean Hannity last night calling out Sessions, for example, following the release of a warrant against former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Jeff Sessions where are you tonight? Your country needs you to do your job tonight.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable: Sam Stein is politics editor for "The Daily Beast", Anita Kumar, White House correspondent for "McClatchy", Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today".
Sam, doesn`t he know he`s there on television singing this song of partisanship all the way?
SAM STEIN, POLITICS EDITOR, DAILY BEAST: Yes. I think we`ve grown a little bit numb to this, but that is crazy and under any previous administration, it would have been the top story. It would have been talking about on (INAUDIBLE). There may have been calls for investigations into his conduct for obvious reasons.
MATTHEWS: How about the irony of lock her up as a phrase with administration with 20 indictments thrown at it already?
STEIN: Putting that aside --
MATTHEWS: Putting that aside. Lock them up.
STEIN: But the thing that was interesting to me was Barack Obama would have called this a teachable moment because the day before Nikki Haley was at the same crowd and she basically told them, she said, you know there needs to be more to your life than just owning the libs as the phrases. You need to have purpose to it or try to purpose to it.
Sessions was presented with a similar moment. He could have said to them, this is not what a constitutional republic does. This is not what -- we are not a banana republic. We don`t lock up our opponents.
Instead, he laughed and participated.
MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about the president. But let`s go to the president right now because the president was at the VFW. Let`s go to the president. He was at the VFW today in Kansas. He was there.
He`s speaking at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention in Kansas where the president seemingly turned it into a partisan campaign rally.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Instead of supporting our ICE officers, many of these Democrat politicians who are really disciples of a very low IQ person Maxine Waters and perhaps even worse Nancy Pelosi.
Just stick with us. Don`t believe that crap you see from these people, the fake news. The only ones actually that voted against him were all of the people, super left`s that are running against me in two-and-a-half years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Is that sad?
Anyway, Trump also invited Missouri Republican Senate candidate Josh Holley on stage where Holly quickly he praised on the president, as he was supposed to, but it was all in the prompter.
Late this afternoon, the VFW tweeted out an apology to the media, writing: Today, we were disappointed to hear some of our members boo the press during presidential remarks. We rely on the media to spread the VFW message, and CNN, NBC, ABC, Fox, CBS and others on site today, were our invited guests. We were happy to have them.
Anita, isn`t that nice, the VFW has got some class. The president apparently lacked some.
ANITA KUMAR, WHITE HOUE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS: There`s really only one kind of Trump speech and this is it. It mixes everything together. It`s political.
I think that we realized last summer when he spoke to the Boy Scouts, do you remember that?
KUMAR: That`s when we realized all speeches were going to be political. He talked about Hillary Clinton, same thing, Barack Obama, criticized the media, he does it every single time.
MATTHEWS: Who paid for this trip?
KUMAR: The taxpayers.
STEIN: The taxpayers.
MATTHEWS: Is there any way to check on this, to say, all right, he can`t control himself but somebody in Washington, Susan, can`t control this? Any way to stop this misuse of -- I know it sounds small potatoes compared to how he flies around.
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: I think you have to triage your outraged though. That`s the trouble. And that`s why the fact that the attorney general is chanting -- he didn`t just laugh. He joined the chant "lock her up" is not at the top of all of our newscast.
But you know what I found most shocking about that? It was at high school students in America --
PAGE: -- are starting a chant of "lock her up" about the candidate for president in the last election. I find that as a sign of -- I find that shocking.
MATTHEWS: Well, somebody else does too. Isn`t that sort of like the third world stuff where there`s no limit to the government?
PAGE: And where idealistic young people have this view.
STEIN: Well, they don`t know any better, but he does and it`s incumbent upon him to actually take that moment to educate them about why you don`t lock up your political opponents.
Nikki Haley did that the day before and Jeff Sessions just didn`t.
PAGE: John McCain used a teachable moment during his presidential --
STEIN: Of course.
MATTHEWS: When the woman said he`s an Arab.
KUMAR: Right. Except that his boss, the president, probably enjoyed that.
STEIN: And he would have been in serious trouble had he tried to school them --
KUMAR: Well, he didn`t have to school. He didn`t have to do either. He could have let the moment pass.
MATTHEWS: Finally tonight, President Trump was tweeting about tariffs this morning, writing tariffs are the greatest. It`s like Muhammad Ali. Either a country which has treated the United States unfairly on trade negotiates a fair deal or it gets hit with tariffs. It`s as simple as that, and everybody`s talking.
Everybody`s talking. According to an NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll, by the way, voters disagree with the president, his view on tariffs, by two to one. Forty-nine percent of all voters say raising tariffs will hurt the economy, only 25 percent said it will help.
However, the president`s on point here, a plurality of Republicans, 45 percent, say it will help the economy.
Susan, it doesn`t take you -- if you remember like a long time ago, two years, the Republican Party was a free trade party. What happened to them?
PAGE: You know what`s interesting? The one thing that may break President Trump`s hold on congressional Republicans may be tariffs because of the effect it`s having on home districts. You know, you`ve had Senator Portman and Senator Thune and Senator Toomey today criticizing the president on tariffs and criticizing the bailout for farmers that he announced today because it is such odds with Republican or the orthodoxy.
So, Republicans who have not differed with him on Russian meddling or negotiations --
MATTHEWS: Why is that a divider?
PAGE: Because it actually affects their constituents back home.
STEIN: So, they somehow missed --
MATTHEWS: Soybeans, tractors and stuff like that that need cheap steel, things like that.
PAGE: Yes, it`s a pocketbook issue in their home states and their home districts. So, this is a I think politically a more serious matter than some of these other issues.
MATTHEWS: When does it cut because Trump`s strategy, guys, is to hope that tough talk with our trading partners eventually they will buckle to a new arrangement and he`ll be able to say he got a better deal for the American consumer, right?
PAGE: So, what happens when that does not happen?
STEIN: That`s the question, is who will blink first essentially? And he calculated that foreign leaders were so unfamiliar with this type of American leadership that they, of course, would come to the negotiating table soon as the tariffs were done.
And instead, they`ve done in retaliatory tariffs. European Union has done them. Canada has done them. Mexico`s done them. China has done them.
Now, in some of these cases, yes, we might get a deal. There might be an after deal somewhere around then. We`ve been told it`s coming many, many times.
But in China, they don`t have to worry about re-election. I mean they can sit there and absorb this, and I think they could wait out the president. That could be a big problem.
MATTHEWS: I have a theory I will run by you three experts. I think Trump had a bad week last week, a rare bad week where he not only hurt himself with most in the public, but he heard himself with this 40 percent to 45 percent people.
There`s nothing in the gut of a Republican Trump voter that likes Putin. They don`t like the guy anymore the Democrats don`t like about them, or Americans don`t. He looks like a tyrant, a bully and maybe a dictator, and maybe the worst kind to come.
And if you care about any of those countries in Europe, you may get the feeling he`s coming for them. So we don`t like him. I think that hurt him.
That`s why I think he`s going back to his rallies, and apparently organized another big rally coming up, and make America out now -- I think he`s trying to rebound to his base this week. Your thoughts, Susan?
PAGE: I think that last week was the worst week of his presidency, although I`m shy about saying that because we say that over and over again.
KUMAR: Charlottesville wasn`t great either.
PAGE: You know, there was a poll that came out today, a Quinnipiac poll that showed a majority of Americans believe the Russians have something on the president of United States, including one in five Republicans.
PAGE: That is an incredible statistic, 51 percent of Americans say the Russia --
MATTHEWS: So, if it`s not that dossier, it`s something to a Deutsche Bank, something to money laundering, something big time, because people have -- people make judgments about other people. When you watch Putin jump up with that spring in his step on that press conference, he couldn`t wait to get up on those spots, and Trump look wobbly. Trump, oh my god, what`s coming next?
This guy had that smirk of a cruel torturer, a KGB agent the whole time. It`s impossible not to think this guy`s got something on our guy.
KUMAR: I spent a lot of time talking to Trump supporters, his base before he went to Helsinki, asked them if he should meet with President Putin. They loved it. All of them loved it and thought he should meet him to show them -- to show him who was the boss, that he was in charge, that President Trump was in charge.
KUMAR: And so, he did the opposite according to most people, right? So --
MATTHEWS: Look at the swagger on that. Look at this -- watch this watch this little jump. He can`t wait to get up on that stage with all his papers and smirk. Trump looks like it had the best week of his life.
STEIN: I totally agree with you here, but I think there`s a new one. I don`t think people vote on the foreign policy elements here. I think they`re fine with him talking to Russia. I think they`re generally fine with better relations with Russia.
But I think it`s the personality in the in the presentation here, where they looked at the two presidents side by side as I say, and one was diminished.
MATTHEWS: Just as I said, you don`t need the word "but" here.
MATTHEWS: The roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Well, now, for Trump family news. Ivanka Trump announced today she is shutting down her namesake fashion business. In a statement, she said, quote, my focus for the foreseeable future will be the work I`m doing here in Washington.
Ivanka Trump was behind a White House push last week to get American businesses to hire American workers.
But according to "The Washington Post", all of the fashion lines, dress and shoes and handbags were produced in other countries such as China and Indonesia.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the roundtable.
Sam, tell me something I don`t know.
STEIN: There are some serious steps being taken behind the scenes by potential 2020 candidates. We are talking about meeting with donors, we`re talking building email listers, we`re talking meeting with operators and strategists to plot the path forward and we`re looking at about eight to 15 people --
MATTHEWS: Who is definitely running? Give me some names. Bernie, is he running?
STEIN: I don`t have -- the Bernie -- the really strong ones are Bernie, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand.
MATTHEWS: I believe.
STEIN: Tom Steyer, look for that --
MATTHEWS: What about Elizabeth Warren?
STEIN: To be determined.
MATTHEWS: There was an old argument. If Bernie runs, she can`t run. But I think they can both run.
STEIN: I don`t know if that`s true.
KUMAR: Mine goes -- great segue. My colleague recently was in Ohio. And he went to a gathering where Third Way, which, you know, is this center left group that`s been around for a long time who`s talking about 2020 Democratic candidates and how they should not be ultra liberal, that they can be moderate and but then said, let`s not use the word moderate anymore. We`re going to call ourselves opportunity Democrats.
MATTHEWS: I like -- we don`t say liberal anymore, we say progressives. It`s nice when you run away from your name.
PAGE: Break through today on the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court. Two Democratic senators, Manchin and Donnelly, agreed to meet with him. Democrats have been insisting they would sit down with him until they had a deal on the release of documents.
This puts them on a path to votes for his confirmation. And I think it also indicates that Senator Schumer is not going to give them a really hard time about voting for him.
MATTHEWS: I think it`s looking very strong for him right now. I know it bothers people. That looks to me like those kinds are signs are there.
Thank you, Sam Stein, Anita Kumar and Susan Page.
When we returned, let me finish tonight with something special about life, this country and my hometown of Philadelphia.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with something special about life, this country and my hometown.
Last night, Chase Utley returned to Philadelphia where he played with excellent and grace for all those years. A second baseman for the Phillies, a great hitter, a game winner.
Here he is being introduced in the lineup of the Los Angeles Dodgers, to whom he was traded where he is this year ending his career. Last night began his last year he`s playing where he once performed so crucially for the Phillies, and here is what happened when he went to take his turn at bat.
It went on like that while seemingly forever. The crowd didn`t want the cheering to end for him. You know, Philly fans, they don`t mind me saying this, are tough, really tough. And not just on the visiting team.
You see, the thing about being from Philadelphia, for playing for it is that people root for you with their heart, just don`t let them down. And Chase Utley never did. He played the game the right way using his head, everything he had, every pitch. The people of Philadelphia won`t forget. We saw that last night.
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2018 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2018 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.