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Trump insists there was "zero collusion." TRANSCRIPTS: 7/30/2018, Hardball w Chris Matthews.

Guests: Elena Schneider, John Brabender, Cynthia Alksne

Show: HARDBALL Date: July 30, 2018 Guest: Elena Schneider, John Brabender, Cynthia Alksne ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: So I wanted to let you know about that tonight. 9:00 p.m. eastern. But don`t go anywhere because HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS is up next.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Fallback. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Well, catch this. President Trump`s lawyer today shifted his defense. Instead of denying his client, that would be the President, advanced Putin`s criminal conspiracies, he is now saying it wasn`t a crime. There`s one big explanation in this change in strategy. Unable to defend his client, the President, against the accusation he falls back on the argument it wasn`t illegal. Try telling that to the American people.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington right across the Potomac River from where Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort tomorrow goes on trial.

The big news tonight, however, comes from Giuliani, who attempted to downplay the criminal aspect of collusion with the Russians. Rather than deny that collusion took place, he now today argued that collusion isn`t illegal. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S ATTORNEY: I have been sitting here looking in the federal code trying to find collusion as a crime.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s not.

GIULIANI: Collusion is not a crime.

I don`t even know if that`s a crime, colluding about Russians.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.

GIULIANI: You start analyzing the crime. The hacking is the crime. The hacking --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That certainly is the original --

GIULIANI: The President didn`t hack.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Of course not. That`s --

GIULIANI: He didn`t pay them for hacking.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: It`s so much fun. An apparent shift in strategy, Giuliani now appears to be saying that collusion is not so bad after all. You saw him there chuckling about it. It also seems to undermined the credibility, however, of President Trump`s frequent and categorical denials that there was no collusion which has been a familiar refrain from this President. Let`s watch him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let`s put it this way. There is absolutely no collusion. That has been proven.

Look, there`s been no collusion.

Zero collusion.

There`s no collusion. No collusion.

No collusion.

No collusion.

Just so you understand it, there`s been no collusion. There`s been no crime.

There was absolutely no collusion. Everybody knows it.

No collusion. No nothing.

No collusion.

I say it all the time. There was no collusion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So what just happened? In an attempt to clean up his remarks, Giuliani went on FOX News to say he was merely making a lawyer`s argument. Let`s watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIULIANI: So what I said today, that there was no collusion, and therefore -- and that collusion also is no crime, I have been saying that from the very beginning. So did John Dowd. It`s a very, very familiar lawyer`s argument, that the alternative, my client didn`t do it, and even if he did it it`s not a crime. And I have said that over and over again. Collusion is not a crime. The only crime here is hacking. And it is ridiculous to think that the President hacked.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, see if you can follow that. Giuliani`s argument, however is a matter of semantics. Whatever word you use to describe it, if the President or other`s word to advanced Russia`s criminal cyberattack on the United States, they could be considered coconspirators as agents of the Kremlin. And conspiracy, by the way, Mr. President and your lawyer, is a crime.

Separately, in a bizarre twist, Giuliani also broke some news today. He said he heard from three reporters that Michael Cohen is alleging that top- level campaign staff met to discuss Russian help before the infamous meeting at Trump tower, before. Two meetings. Yet at the same time Giuliani revealed the news of an alleged second meeting. He simultaneously denied that it ever took place.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIULIANI: There was another meeting that has been leaked but hasn`t been public yet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.

GIULIANI: That was a meeting, an alleged meeting, three days before. According to Cohen, he says there was a meeting with Donald Jr., with Jared Kushner, with Paul Manafort, with gates, and possibly two others in which they out of the presence of the President discussed a meeting with the Russians. We checked with their lawyers, the ones we could check with, for four of the six. That meeting never, ever took place. It didn`t happen. It`s a figment of his imagination or he is lying.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, joining me right now is Democratic senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. Yamiche Alcindor is White House correspondent for PBS News-Hour. Robert Costa, national political reporter for the "Washington Post." And Brett Stevens, columnist for "The New York Time."

Thank you to all of you.

What just happened, senator? They did they go from they didn`t collude with the Russians. They didn`t participate in this conspiracy to disrupt and discredit our electoral process. They didn`t do - although, if they did it it`s no problem. What happened? Is it the accumulation of that Michael Cohen story that`s getting out that they`re going to be caught so, they might as well deny the guilt of the crime because they can`t deny the crime?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Hard to know what they are doing because from all appearances Rudy Giuliani is implicating his client in a web of criminality. By the way, it`s more than just semantics. This country was attacked, as you saw from the indictment of 12 Russian operatives and spies who were ordered by President Putin to do --

MATTHEWS: They have been indicted for felonies, and this President has helped them do it. At least they`re now saying, well, we don`t deny that we did it.

BLUMENTHAL: And, you know, the definition of conspiracy, and I have given this instruction to a jury, so have judges, is that there are spokes on a wheel. You don`t have to be at the center. All you need to do is be one of those spokes. You don`t need to know all the conspiracy or agree to all of it or even know all of it, but you can be part of it if you just participate in some of it. That`s what Rudy Giuliani is saying Donald Trump did.

And we are talking about fundamentally an attack on America that Rudy Giuliani seems very dismissive about taking seriously. And the only interpretation, the only strategy I can see is that he is trying to strengthen the base, reassure them, and make light of it.

MATTHEWS: If he is what he seems to be saying is yes, we may have agreed to talk Turkey, we may have agreed to talk dirt on Hillary, we may have been helping them generally, but we didn`t have anything to do with the hacking. What kind of defense is that?

BLUMENTHAL: That is a very slim to none defense. That is the kind of defense that would be laughed out of a courtroom.

And I just want to add one more point. All this talk about a second meeting is truly damning because if you take Donald Trump Jr.`s testimony before the Judiciary Committee essentially, this contradicts him. It could lead him to be in danger of perjury. And clearly he has failed to be truthful.

MATTHEWS: Let`s go back to -- there`s two news stories here. One is the second meeting that only adds the deliberative quality of the meeting in the second place. Let`s talk about whether we should meet with the Russians to get some dirt, oh, let`s do it. That seems more deliberative.

Let me go to this other question. Why is Rudy shifting from we didn`t do it but if we did it so what?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, PBS NEWS HOUR: Because Rudy Giuliani --.

MATTHEWS: We didn`t mean to collude but if we did so what?

ALCINDOR: Rudy Giuliani is running a shifting offense against Robert Mueller.

MATTHEWS: Shifty as well.

ALCINDOR: Shifty. Because he wants to get out in front of whatever Robert Mueller has to say about the President. He wants to make sure that when the report comes out that everyone doesn`t just reed read the report they look at Robert Mueller and his team and say those are those angry people who didn`t like the President. And now he is saying, well, even if we did do this crime we really shouldn`t -- or did this thing that you say is a crime, it`s actually not something that`s happening.

I think he is shifting because he may be worried about this, may be worried about whether or not there might be some sort of evidence against the President. But really it`s about the fact that he wants to be out in the media yelling at people and making sure that the Trump campaign is out front on this and attacking people because he`s worried the President might get attacked later on.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Robert, as a journalist. It seems to me there`s two ways to look at Rudy. Either he is doing preventive war here, like we are going to get worse news like this, that there was a meeting, they knew about, there was an attempt to get dirt, it`s going to come out thanks to Michael Cohen, or this idea of rolling disclosure, which is only admit what`s been put in evidence.

So last week we ended the week with news that Michael Cohen`s going to put out the word that the President knew about the meeting at Trump tower. So since that`s probably going to happen why don`t we just say yes, it did happen and say but that`s not illegal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Giuliani --

MATTHEWS: Rolling disclosure, preventive war. What is it?

ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: More preventive war based on my reporting. Giuliani is reacting to the news but he is also being defiant, denying these kinds of meetings happened while also leaving room in a lot of his answers for different things to come along the way in the course of this legal and political story.

And so you see Giuliani really out there on an island legally and politically with the President trying to be defensive, trying to be the lead lawyer, going on all the shows as the spokesman. But even Giuliani, who has access to some of the evidence, he only knows so much about what`s going to come.

MATTHEWS: Let me get to Bret on this.

Bret, you are at the Ties now. I think you are sort of a neocon but you don`t like Trump so we can agree on that. So let`s move on. I don`t forget but I do forgive. So let`s move on.

What do you think the business community, which I don`t really know that well. They love the fact that they are getting relief on what I think is important regulation on environment, things like that. They love their tax cuts. It`s like they close their eyes to the sleaze. Can they close their eyes as Republicans, most of them are Republicans, to the idea of dealing with the enemy? With dealing with Putin. Will they close their eyes to this horror of collaboration cahoots, whatever you want to call it, with the Russians after they screw our electoral process to discredit us. Will they forgive that as long as they are fat and happy?

BRET STEPHENS, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: One of my great disappointments as a former Republican is just realizing just how transactional the politics of many other Republicans really are, particularly the business community.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

STEPHENS: Look, we just had economic numbers, 4.1 percent. You can Covell and quibble with them or say good times aren`t going to last but the business community loves that. One prominent New York financier I had lunch with not too long ago said look, you know, when I turn the sound off on Trump I like what I`m seeing. And he means cuts to the corporate tax rate, less regulation, and so on.

You just have to close your eyes to the fact that you have a President who is simply corroding every institution that has made America great over the last 70 years, from our international relationships to our political institutions and civic morals. That`s the problem that the business community is loath to deal with, with a few very honorable exceptions.

MATTHEWS: Well, they seem to have a quarterly conscience.

In another effort to downplay the criminal implications of collusion some of Trump`s defenders in Congress now are trying to shrug off the news that the President may have known about that Trump tower meeting in advance. Here`s Republican Congressman Darrell Issa of California on Saturday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: If he is proven to have not told the whole truth about the fact that campaigns look for dirt and if someone offers it you listen to them, nobody is going to be surprised. There are some things in politics that you just take for granted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Unbelievable standards.

Anyway, likewise, U.S. congressman Dana Rohrabacher of California told "Mother Jones," there`s not a person in this town that would not take a meeting to get material like that, in other words work take the --.

Senator, stand up for this form of government we have, that anybody would go out there and go to the Russians and take whatever crap they are handing out against their opponent because, what the end justifies the means? I don`t know.

By the way, these two are not the most perfect representatives of our democracy, I don`t think.

BLUMENTHAL: Well, I do think that what they reflect is a concerted, consistent coordinated effort to undermine Mueller, to discredit him, to demean the seriousness of the offense against democracy that the Russians committed. They attacked our democracy. And the only apparently person in public office is Donald Trump denying that it`s an attack that should be met strongly and fiercely. And this kind of effort to discredit the special prosecutor is an anticipatory effort to in effect avoid the consequences --

MATTHEWS: When the report comes out. I want to do like an anthem around here. And I want to remind any Republicans watching right now who still think their tax cuts and their deregulation justify this stuff.

If Barack Obama had done anything like this, if he had been caught dealing with the Russians, dealing to get dirt on his opponent in that case, doing this against John McCain, they`d have strung him up. If not physically, they would have done it morally. They would have said this guy`s the worst thing that ever happened to this country. Their standards are zilch right now.

ALCINDOR: I think that politically Donald Trump has got away with a lot of things that of course I think people argue President Obama wouldn`t have gotten away with. But I also think some people argue that other Republicans wouldn`t have gotten away with. All the 16 other people he beat out to get this spot, I don`t know if they would have got away with taking meetings with Russia with all these kinds of connections --

MATTHEWS: So how`s he get a dispensation?

ALCINDOR: I mean, as a reporter I have talked to his supporters. I have done so much research, and I think there are people that kind of just justify it because they have the thing that they are voting for. Either you can look at the 4 percent growth or you can look at abortion and say I can support him because of that or I can support him because I don`t -- I really didn`t like Hillary Clinton and that`s what I`m going to do.

I think when you see these Republicans going out there they are saying, oh, well, we all want opposition research but they are not saying we want opposition research from a foreign country, which is what the -- which is what our laws in the United States say are not possible and that you can`t do that.

MATTHEWS: Robert, you are great at this. Tell me about the role between Rudy and the President. He has really stirred it up. He has stirred the craft so much, it`s hard to keep track of it. He is really good at messing up your mind. You think you got him on collusion, then he turns around over the weekend and says, well, I`m not going to play that defense anymore, all right collusion but it`s not anything illegal about it, can`t find it in the code. His ability to slip and slide on this thing, do they work together on the phone, this tag team, or is it just Rudy freelancing it out there?

COSTA: Every time I call mayor Giuliani, I say when was the last time you spoke to President Trump? He said he usually says just a couple hours ago. Think about President Trump in that ding room just off the oval office with the flat-screen TV watching it all day, thinking about cable news, digesting it, tweeting, and then he has Rudy Giuliani, a generational peer, across town appearing in almost every green room in New York or down in Washington.

They are a pair unlike any other pair in this Trump orbit, who think through things in a gut sense, in a raw political sense, and they`re waging this war without much advice from others. It`s really Giuliani, the President together.

MATTHEWS: Pretty frightening.

Thank you, senator Richard Blumenthal as always for coming here.

Yamiche Alcindor and Robert Costa and Bret Stephens, thank you sir.

Coming up, the Paul Manafort trial is set to begin tomorrow, few miles from her across the Potomac. What could it mean for Robert Mueller`s investigation on Trump? Lots of years facing this guy Manafort for hooking up with Trump.

Plus, Trump and the publisher of the "New York Times" give each other an earful about fake news and a private meeting. It`s not so private. Is the President putting journalists` lives at risk? You have got wonder about that.

Also the HARDBALL roundtable tonight, Trump doubles down about his border wall. He is willing to shut down the government he says over the wall. He still wants it.

And little fun tonight. Sacha Baron Cohen claims another victim, Roy Moore. Wait till you catch this. He punks him. It`s amazing. He gets away with it.

Finally, let me finish tonight with Trump watch. This is HARDBALL where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: President Trump took some questions after meeting with the Italian prime minister at the White House today. He was asked about sitting down with the President of Iran to talk about easing tensions. Let`s listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I do believe that they will probably end up wanting to meet, and I`m ready to meet anytime they want to. And I don`t that from strength or from weakness. I think it`s an appropriate thing to do. If we could work something out that`s meaningful, not the waste of paper that the other deal was, I would certainly be willing to meet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have preconditions for that meeting?

TRUMP: No preconditions. No. They want to meet I`ll meet. Anytime they want.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: No preconditions.

But remember the heat that then candidate Barack Obama took after saying he would meet with leaders of enemy nations with no preconditions? That was back in 2008. Well, today all we are hearing from the right is a now familiar deafening silence. Whatever Trump does is fine with them as long as they get their tax cuts and their regulations removed on the environment.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

As President Trump continues his attacks on the legitimacy of the special counsel`s investigation into Russian meddling, jury selection for the first big trial stemming from the investigation gets under way tomorrow.

Paul Manafort, former chairman of Donald Trump`s Presidential campaign, there he is, faces 18 charges stemming from his work beginning in 2006 for the former President of Ukraine, a Putin ally. Manafort made tens of millions of dollars through his work. But, in 2014, his client Viktor Yanukovych was ousted from office in a popular uprising in Ukraine.

In order to keep up with his lavish lifestyle, however, Manafort`s accused of resorting to bank and tax fraud. Those activities continued during his time working on the Trump campaign.

The charges brought against Manafort include five -- there they are -- five counts of tax fraud, four counts of failing to report foreign bank accounts, four counts of bank fraud,and five counts of conspiring to commit bank fraud. Should Manafort be found guilty, he could face up to 10 years in prison.

Manafort is also facing similar charges in federal court in Washington, D.C., which he will have to face later.

Here to help us break it down are Cynthia Alksne, a former federal prosecutor, and Ken Dilanian, NBC News national political reporter.

What are we going to learn watching this? Because Manafort was at that infamous meeting at Trump Tower. And will that come up? Anyway, what are we going learn about Trump in this trial?

KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Sadly, probably not very much. One of the prosecutors said the word Russia might not even come up. And it`s not even clear to me that...

MATTHEWS: Well, Ukraine will come up.

DILANIAN: Ukraine will come up. But it`s not clear they`re even going to talk about his work for Donald Trump.

This is a fascinating story on a lot of levels, because this guy`s been a fixture of American politics since the 1970s. And it`s kind of a Shakespearian tragedy, because the Justice Department investigated him years ago, took a pass, didn`t pursue this case.

The only reason he`s wearing green jumpsuits today is because he went to work for Donald Trump. But we`re not going to learn, I think, the things we want to learn.

MATTHEWS: Well, that would be a message to people that are facing trial. You`re not going to win on Trump`s side, Cynthia, because Trump is bad news.

CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Trump is bad news. And he`s...

MATTHEWS: And he`s not generous. He hasn`t pardoned anybody yet connected with him.

ALKSNE: No.

You know, one of the big questions is, why hasn`t the guy pled? And some people say, well, we think he`s holding out for a pardon. Well, there`s no reason for Trump to pardon him. It doesn`t do anything for Trump, because that`s the way pardons seem to work.

I`m kind of wondering if the -- if Mueller`s office just didn`t even offer him very much. They basically said, you don`t do anything for us. We have Gates. We have the information. You have to plea to the indictment.

MATTHEWS: All those months he was working with Trump when they were talking about Russia, he didn`t overhear anything? That`s kind of hard to believe.

ALKSNE: Well, no, it`s not. I`m sure he did, but they have it from Gates. but they have it from Gates.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Oh.

ALKSNE: And, plus, what`s going to happen here is, he`s going to get convict in a long and boring trial, with the exception for about two days.

He`s going to get convicted, and then the sentencing process is going to come up. And he`s going to have to be -- do some cooperation in order to get a better sentence. So they`re still going to have a second bite at that apple. And he`s got another trial in September.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: He`s in his late 60s, right?

ALKSNE: Oh, he`s going to be sit -- he`s going to be in jail the rest of his life.

MATTHEWS: Well, prison`s not too good to you while you`re in there, is it? You don`t live that long inside.

DILANIAN: No.

MATTHEWS: That`s a thought.

DILANIAN: And I think it`s a life sentence if he`s convicted in both of these trials. And I do suspect...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Why doesn`t he just get on the phone and call up Trump, ask for the White House number, ask the operator, can I talk to the president, I`m not saying another word if you pardon me?

DILANIAN: Well, he`s already -- he`s under an indictment for witness tampering. So, he can`t do that.

ALKSNE: He doesn`t have his phone anymore.

(LAUGHTER)

ALKSNE: But he also has another trial in September. And if anything comes of the conspiracy to violate campaign finance, which I predict will come after the election, he`s going to have a third, or actually a fourth indictment.

There`s nothing in this guy`s future except going to trial and being convicted.

MATTHEWS: What`s it going to look like to the American people if Trump skates, as we say, he doesn`t get indicted, he can`t be kicked out of office because there`s too many Republican senators, so he skates on impeachment and conviction, but he`s still in office, but two years from now there`s a whole lineup of people that have gone to prison because of him?

How`s that going to look to the voter? I don`t know.

DILANIAN: To the independent voter, not very good.

But you`re right. It becomes a political question, not a legal question. How much a stench can they stomach in their president? There`s no taping system that we know of. Right? And Richard Nixon didn`t have FOX News. Donald Trump`s got an amen corner saying that black is white and don`t believe what you`re seeing.

But what about that independent voter?

MATTHEWS: Well, Cohen`s got a taping system.

DILANIAN: There you go.

MATTHEWS: What about the family members?

I always think, when I try to think of this over the weekend when I`m alone and I`m just with my wife and I`m thinking. The time when it comes to the reckoning is when Trump has to choose between family and freedom or staying in office. Wouldn`t he pardon his son-in-law he likes OK, his daughter, who he obviously loves? Wouldn`t he pardon them?

They have got to be on this chopping list of Robert Mueller. They`re on the chopping list, clearly.

(CROSSTALK)

ALKSNE: He could pardon them, but that could be an impeachment count for obstruction.

I don`t see it -- I was talking with another very experienced lawyer today, and we chatted for a while about it. I don`t see it coming in little pieces, like just indicting Don Jr. or just indicting Kushner. It`s going to be global. It`s going to be a bombshell. And it`s going to come after the election. And it will include everybody.

MATTHEWS: A RICO charge, running a criminal conspiracy?

ALKSNE: I don`t know if it will be RICO, but it will be a 371.

MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump and his allies have attempted to downplay Paul Manafort`s role in the 2016 campaign. Here goes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will tell you, I feel a little badly about it. They went back 12 years to get things he did 12 years ago?

You know, Paul Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time. He worked for me, what, for 49 days or something, a very short period of time.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: We had a little hiccup with this guy Manafort, who we can find him. We know where he is. He`s right down the road here, not hard to find right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Aren`t they nice to their people?

ALKSNE: Yes.

MATTHEWS: In reality, Paul Manafort worked for the campaign for five months. He managed delegates at the Republican National Convention, where Trump won. He then became campaign manager.

Ken, my friend, these guys are not nice to the people.

DILANIAN: They are not.

Look, he played a significant role. He was on the Sunday shows. He was speaking for the campaign. And we were reporting at the time, Chris, hey, this guy`s got some interesting deals with Russian oligarchs. And the campaign just didn`t listen, until they were confronted with, hey, this guy`s in real trouble.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Isn`t it reasonable to assume that Trump sought to take advantage of all this knowledge of the internal workings of Putin`s operation when his campaign manager`s sitting next to him?

DILANIAN: Yes. And it`s also reasonable to...

ALKSNE: Of course it`s reasonable.

DILANIAN: ... wonder why...

MATTHEWS: That`s why I think he`s got something to give to the prosecutor, to Paul Manafort -- to Robert Mueller.

Didn`t you ever hear him talking about how Putin operates, how he deals with Ukraine and what he really wants, what Ukraine -- he wants Ukraine in some form.

ALKSNE: He definitely has something to give. But the prosecutor doesn`t have to give him very much to get it, right? Because the prosecutor has him dead to rights, A, and, B, he has Gates.

MATTHEWS: Gates is the deputy, OK, to Manafort.

ALKSNE: Gates is the deputy. So, he has...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, let me ask you a cosmic question, a global question.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: If this guy goes away for 20 years or 15 years, whatever, does that kill the idea this is a witch-hunt, when he gets himself a witch?

DILANIAN: I think so, I mean, for reasonable people. There are some people who are never going get off that witch-hunt thing.

But if you convict the campaign manager, the campaign chairman, send him away for 20 years, how is this a witch-hunt?

MATTHEWS: Good question. That was a rhetorical question.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Cynthia Alksne, expert on prosecutions like this, Ken Dilanian, our expert on this whole mess.

Up next: The publisher of "The New York Times" takes the president, this president, to task for his relentless attacks on the media. You know, enemy of the people? Does anybody think this means Trump will stop describing journalists as the enemy of the people?

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Over the weekend, President Trump tweeted that he had a very good and interesting meeting at the White House with A.G. Sulzberger, publisher of "The New York Times": "Spent much time talking about the vast amounts of fake news being put out by the media and how that fake news has morphed into the phrase enemy of the people. Sad."

Well, "The New York Times" confirmed the previously off-the-record meeting and explained that it was held at the White House at the request of the White House.

However, according to Sulzberger, the purpose of the meeting was to "raise concerns," in his words, "about the president`s deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric, that it was not just divisive, but increasingly dangerous." That`s his word.

He also told the president, while the phrase fake news is untrue and harmful, that he was much more concerned about Trump labeling journalists the enemy of the people.

The president didn`t seem to like that and tweeted this defense: "When the media reveals internal deliberations of our government, it truly puts the lives of many, not just journalists, at risk. Very unpatriotic. Freedom of the press also comes with a responsibility to report the news."

That`s Trump talking.

President Trump proudly professed that he invented the term fake news to go after reporting he didn`t like.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: As you know, I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth.

A few days ago, I called the fake news the enemy of the people. And they are. They are the enemy of the people.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: You know, you read the fake news. It`s fake and disgraceful.

Just stick with us. Don`t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news.

And just remember what you`re seeing and what you`re reading is not what`s happening.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 34 journalists have been killed around the world in 2018 alone.

And for more, I`m joined by Jonathan Capehart, opinion writer at "The Washington Post," and also a holder of the Pulitzer Prize, which I have just discovered you hold, that great majesty.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Seriously?

MATTHEWS: No, I don`t know everything.

CAPEHART: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Because you don`t brag on it.

(CROSSTALK)

CAPEHART: ... tell you something you don`t know.

MATTHEWS: You know, some people around here, we always do. But you did win it back in `99.

Let me ask you about this.

When -- Nixon, when he was president, went out and said Manson was guilty, and it was a big problem. This guy goes around saying innocent people, completely innocent journalists, are enemies of the people. You have got to wonder if that`s going to cause a problem with somebody with a gun or somebody, just a dangerous person, right, who is going to take that literal and say, oh, I`m just doing what the president -- I`m killing the enemy of the people.

It`s not outrageous that you would -- somebody might do that in this 330 million people country.

CAPEHART: Remember what happened during the Comet Pizza situation, where there was this rumor?

MATTHEWS: Oh, yes. Kathleen and I were there last week.

CAPEHART: Right. There was this rumor that...

MATTHEWS: It`s this harmless little pizza place.

CAPEHART: Little pizza place that`s very popular with families, not too far from the bureau.

MATTHEWS: It`s the kind of place where families of seven people or so gather around a long table and -- what do they, drink Coke and have pizzas.

CAPEHART: Right. And there was this rumor out there that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of this out of this restaurant.

And some man drove hundreds of miles to go check it out for himself.

MATTHEWS: With his gun.

CAPEHART: With his gun.

MATTHEWS: And then he shot into the roof, didn`t he?

CAPEHART: And so now -- yes, he did.

And so now what we have is the president of the United States saying that journalists, doing their jobs, doing their job, are the enemy of the people.

The one thing I want viewers to understand, if they don`t already know it, is that there is only one profession that is protected in the Constitution of the United States, and that`s journalism, because the framers, the founders realized or thought it important that a free and unfettered press would be a check on the power of government.

And so while we know about the checks and balances between the legislative, executive and judicial, the people, through the press, were able to...

MATTHEWS: Jefferson`s idea, by the way.

CAPEHART: Right -- were able to keep their eyes on what the government is doing in their name.

And you have got the president of the United States, who is sworn to uphold and protect the Constitution, saying that the people who are protected in the Constitution are the enemy of the people. It`s outrageous.

MATTHEWS: You know, fake news was bad enough. That was just rhetoric. I do agree that enemy of the people, some people are going to take that literal.

Anyway, authoritarian regimes, as we know, around the world have picked up on Trump`s attacks against the media. In Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro told R.T. -- that`s the Russian television network -- that his country was being bullied by the world media spreading lots of lies, calling them fake news, the phrase of this president.

And Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denied reports that he ordered the torture of prison inmates. Here`s what he told Yahoo News when he was asked about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BASHAR AL-ASSAD, PRESIDENT OF SYRIA: We`re living in a fake news era, as you know. Everybody know this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Isn`t it nice these dictators are being scripted by our president?

CAPEHART: Right.

There was a time, Chris, when the president of the United States was the one who was not only the leader of the free world and president of the United States, but the defender of freedom...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Of liberal values.

(CROSSTALK)

CAPEHART: Of liberal values, liberal world order.

And now they`re taking -- these dictators are taking their cues from the president of the United States. To them, that means that there are no brakes on their activities.

MATTHEWS: But let me ask you, is he hitting a fly with a hammer? It doesn`t carry him that far, the evil that he`s doing here. It isn`t helping.

He can say fake news and make the same point. Going to the point of enemy of the people, I`m not sure he gets any votes out of that. I think it`s awful. And it`s not just the ends don`t justify the means. I don`t think there are any real ends. Does he get any votes out of this?

CAPEHART: Well, I don`t know if he gets any votes.

MATTHEWS: I think his own people may believe it, but...

CAPEHART: Well, Chris, when he says these things, it`s usually at a rally.

It`s usually when there`s a big crowd. And when the president feels probably that the energy -- probably, when the energy is not -- is flagging in the room, when he needs an applause line, he has his go-to phrases. And fake news, enemy of the people, attacks on journalists, that`s easy applause matter for him.

MATTHEWS: I think people get up in the morning, read the paper, and they believe most of it, and that`s what the right thing is to do. I don`t think they think it`s the enemy of the people.

CAPEHART: From your lips.

MATTHEWS: Well, they want to know who won the game last night. They want to know what the weather is tomorrow. They want to know some basics about what`s happening in their lives. And they do trust us.

That`s just a fact. How else would they get information? They don`t hear it across the backyard fence. They heard it from us.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Jonathan.

I love it when they heard it from us, and then they attack us.

Anyway, thank you, Jonathan Capehart, Pulitzer Prize-winning author.

Up next: Trump says he would have no problem with a government shutdown if it means he gets to build his wall. It`s back to the wall. Better to talk about the wall than the separated kids, don`t you think? He knows what he`s doing. Change the subject to the wall again.

But the Republican leaders think about that idea while their party fights to keep control of Congress. Can you shut down the government and still ask to run it?

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we don`t get border security, after many, many years of talk within the United States, I would have no problem doing a shutdown. It`s time we had proper border security. We`re the laughingstock of the world.

We have the worst immigration laws anywhere in the world. We have to change our laws. We do that through Congress. So I would certainly be willing to close it down to get it done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Trump earlier today doubling down on his threat he made over the weekend to shut down the government over his wall.

Some Republicans pushed back on the president`s threat. Here was Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.

Let`s watch him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: I certainly don`t like playing shutdown politics.

HOST: And how damaging would that be for Republicans ahead of the November races?

JOHNSON: I don`t think it would be helpful. So let`s try and avoid it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Democratic senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut tweeted yesterday: Pro tip on who`s responsible if the government shuts down this fall. Republicans control the House, Republicans control the Senate, and the Republican president just told you he wants to shut down the government in the fall.

Let`s bring in tonight`s HARDBALL round table tonight. Elena Schneider is a campaign reporter for "Politico", Cornel Belcher`s a Democratic strategist. And John Brabender is for balance a Republican strategist. Thank you.

So let`s start with somebody who`s in the middle here, an objective person. You know, it is odd to my ears and everybody I work with, our producers today, how we`ve gotten used to something bizarre -- the chief executive, the one responsible for making the government work, talking so charitably about shutting down the government. Like that`s a sort of fun thing to do.

He used to feel responsible for the government delivering. Now they`re just talking about yes, we`ll shut it down.

ELENA SCHNEIDER, CAMPAIGN REPORTER, POLITICO: Well, he knows that it`s good for his base and he knows that that`s going to be a motivating factor for them, knows he needs to promise that and needs to actually deliver on it. But the response on Capitol Hill was really telling about what this actually means, which was basically a shrug. They know and they have indicated that the president is aware that they are going to need to get this funding done for Republicans to hold on if they have hopes to hold on to the majority in November and then save the border wall fight for the lame duck session.

MATTHEWS: Do you think that`s right, John? Do your people out there want that wall?

(CROSSTALK)

JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Everyone keeps saying the Donald Trump base. And you`ve got to understand there`s two bases. First of all, there are conservatives, and we`ve got Gorsuch. We`re going to get Kavanaugh. And we have Vice President Mike Pence. The conservatives, fine.

The second big part of the base is what I call the stick it to the man base. They`re Democrats and Republicans. And frankly, they would love to see the government shut down and have this president do it. And this is what I was saying. They`re going to, instead of saying lock her up, they`re going to start chanting "shut it down", because they believe that Donald Trump knows what`s right and how we should do these things and he`s not afraid with the economy doing well to use some of that capital to get his wall.

And so, I don`t think he`s bluffing. I think he`s dead serious on this.

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I couldn`t disagree more. One, the Republican Party is now the Donald Trump party, right? You talk about conservatives and what once upon a time that means. Apparently, now, it means run up deficits, it means we`re not for free trade and it means we`re about shrugging away from family values. So, I don`t know what conservatism means anymore with Donald Trump.

Two is, look, it does play to his base. But House and Senate Republicans are right. It is not at all helpful to them when they have to win these suburban districts filled by, guess what, college-educated suburban women who have been moving away from what they`re seeing in Washington right now. The last thing --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: They don`t like the separation of children. They don`t like that part.

BELCHER: Well, the last thing they want is more of this divisiveness and more of this sort of red meat politics. The other issue right now is health care which by the way they can`t talk about.

BRABENDER: The same argument that the left made of why Hillary Clinton was going to beat Donald Trump, by telling me about the same college educated suburban women who were never going to vote for Trump.

BELCHER: I never made that argument.

BRABENDER: But a lot of people --

MATTHEWS: I heard that a lot.

BRABENDER: You know what happened is: a lot of Rust Belt Democrat working families voted for Donald Trump for this very reason, that they like this guy doing this.

BELCHER: And he got a majority in Wisconsin and Michigan --

BRABENDER: And Pennsylvania and Ohio.

BELCHER: He got a majority there? No, he didn`t get a majority there.

BRABENDER: Well, he won the states handily.

BELCHER: He won by like a point.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Meanwhile -- if you win by one vote, it counts. By the way, he did carry those states.

BELCHER: But he didn`t win a majority, right?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK. Over the weekend, leaders of the conservative Koch brothers, remember them, their political network said they`re frustrated with the direction of the Republican Party, telling reporters that they`re attempting to rebrand the organization by vowing to be less partisan. One top Koch network official told reporters the divisiveness of the White House is causing long-term damage.

In response, Steve Bannon told "Politico" that the Koch brothers need to shut up and get with the program and here`s the program. Ground game, to support Trump`s presidency and program and victory on November 6th.

Let me go to Brabender on this. Is this a real civil war? Are the money guys saying we`re not going to help you anymore, Mr. President, because the cultural stuff is too hot?

BRABENDER: Well, let`s be clear here. The Koch brothers never really helped this president financially.

MATTHEWS: Four hundred million dollars they`re spending this fall.

BRABENDER: Right.

MATTHEWS: On Republican candidates, $400 million.

BRABENDER: Steve Bannon is a true believer. You can`t be 80 percent with the president. You have to be 100 percent with the president.

So, Steve Bannon is saying either you`re with us or you`re not. That is the wrong approach. They should find common ground.

For example, the tax cuts, which has now created this great economy --

MATTHEWS: There it goes. Here it comes.

BRABENDER: -- including the lowest unemployment by African-Americans and Hispanics in our country`s history, are the type of things that they all agreed on, and they should --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Are you pandering to the guy next to you, this African-American thing? Let me just ask you this --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Does it bother your conscience, John, that people are willing to put up with any embarrassment, moral embarrassment, whatever, by this president, things that would normally turn them off completely if it was a Democrat that did it, as long as they get their fat tax cuts, deregulation, they make more money, they don`t seem to care about the moral questions. They don`t seem to care.

BRABENDER: This is the paradox of Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: Will you say this, please --

BRABENDER: What Donald Trump --

BELCHER: He doesn`t give me a chance.

(CROSSTALK)

BRABENDER: But a lot of people say, my god, if he`s willing to say that, I trust him when he`s going to go to Washington and basically kick some butt because there`s a lot of people who felt that they`d been left economically behind by Democrats and Republicans and it basically took a billionaire for them to say I trust this guy.

BELCHER: If you look at the predicate for Trump, it`s economic angst is the bogeyman. We all know it`s tribalism, right? And if as long as he`s their tribal warrior, build that wall, build that wall, they`re going to stick -- that 44 percent, 43 percent, they`re going to stick with him through thick and thin. He can play porn stars left and right. They`re sticking with him, right?

The problem is for the broader Republican Party, who have to -- they actually have to win in the suburbs. That`s the problem.

MATTHEWS: Go ahead, Elena.

SCHNEIDER: I just want -- and Koch, they were able to get their tax cuts. So the key for them is being able to now push their policy platform into tariffs, into trade, into things that they`re concerned about what the president is saying. And so, this is their way to try and wrangle himself.

MATTHEWS: It`s business to them, oil and gas. They don`t like mass transit. They don`t like anything. Just lots more oil and gas out there.

The roundtable is sticking with us.

And up next, comedian Sacha Baron Cohen pranks another politician. It`s a Republican. And this time, the target`s Alabama`s failed Senate candidate Roy Moore.

It`s about, well, weird stuff. You`re going to want to see this. He`s done it again.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says she intends to serve at least five more years on the bench. At age 85, Ginsburg is the court`s oldest justice, but keep in mind, her former colleague Justice John Paul Stevens stepped down at 90. So she can make it.

After attending a play with the late Justice Antonin Scalia on Sunday, Bader was asked what keeps her hopeful. She said: The true symbol of the United States is not the bald eagle, it`s the pendulum. When it goes very far in one direction, you can count on it swinging back.

Well, that was a play about him.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The latest episode of Sacha Baron Cohen`s satirical show "Who is America?" features former Republican Alabama Senate nominee Roy Moore, who faced multiple allegations of sexual misconduct with women, who said he pursued them when they were teenagers.

Moore thought he was invited to Washington to meet with an Israeli anti- terrorism expert. The expert, played by Cohen, began the interview by explaining how an Israeli machine used to detect terrorists can also detect pedophiles.

Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SACHA BARON COHEN, COMEDIAN: The phrase "sweating like a rapist" is actually based on science.

ROY MOORE, FORMER REPUBLICAN ALABAMA SENATE NOMINEE: Hmm.

COHEN: So, in Israel they developed a machine that is used in schools and playgrounds to detect anyone coming in.

Just switch it on and because neither of us are sex offenders, then it make absolutely nothing. You just put it on, you put it nearby --

(BEEPING)

COHEN: Wait. There`s obviously a problem. Hold on. Hold on.

(BEEPING)

COHEN: It must be faulty.

MOORE: I`ve been married for 33.

COHEN: So --

MOORE: I never had an accusation of such things.

COHEN: I am not accusing you at all. This is --

MOORE: If this is an instrument, then certainly I`m not a pedophile. OK?

COHEN: No, but the machine --

MOORE: Well, I don`t know. Maybe Israeli technology hasn`t developed properly.

COHEN: This is 99.8 percent accurate. It is not saying that you are a pedophile. Of course not.

MOORE: I am simply cutting this conversation right now. Thank you.

COHEN: No, have you been --

MOORE: I support Israel. I don`t support this kind of stuff. Thank you.

COHEN: No, it is -- I`m not saying that you`re a sex offender at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Elena, was he punked or what? He seemed like he sniffed the problem eventually.

SCHNEIDER: Well, I think somebody at the Roy Moore team needs to learn what Google is and do a little bit of vetting before they decide to agree to any of these kinds of interviews. But Sacha Baron Cohen struck again with another politician.

BELCHER: I immediately thought somewhere Mitch McConnell`s sitting giving a big sigh of relief that that guy`s not in the U.S. Senate as a Republican.

MATTHEWS: That`s a twist.

BRABENDER: I`ll tell you what, though. There is a warning here for Republicans and that is there`s this blending of politics and entertainment --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BRABENDER: -- where the Democrats are way better at -- it`s out there much more than any Republican. And this is how you`re hitting millennials and generation Z. And it`s a problem for us.

But I think there is a good rule for all of us. If you`re in your 30s and you have to have somebody`s mom if you can take them out on a date, it`s not a good idea to go.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you, John. I can never read you entirely.

Thank you, Elena Schneider, Cornell Belcher and John Brabender.

When we return, let me finish with "Trump Watch". You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Trump Watch", Monday, July 30th, 2018.

For those waiting for the other shoe to drop in this Russia probe, we may have just heard it. It was the sound of the president`s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, saying there`s no law against colluding with the Russians. After months of denying that he colluded with Putin`s people, Trump has now pulled his line of defense back to deny there`s anything wrong with it.

Two problems with that one, Mr. President. One, it sounds like you`re no longer prepared to deny you colluded. Otherwise, why would you be saying all of the sudden that it`s legal?

Second, you now face the problem of the law. You say there`s nothing wrong with what you may have done. Tell that to the 12 Russians who special counsel Mueller has indicted for trying to disrupt and discredit the 2016 presidential election. If they are guilty of their conspiracy, then you could be found guilty for helping them advance it.

When the United States Congress impeaches you, Mr. President, or the U.S. Senate convicts you and removes you from office, amounts to history yet to be written. But it appears that you`re now counting on the public to accept an argument that selling out to the enemy means their standard of an honorable American president.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

END

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