Show: HARDBALL Date: September 6, 2018 Guest: Lanhee Chen, Richard Blumenthal, Jonathan Swan, Bret Stephens, Yamiche Alcindor, Dana Milbank, Sabrina Siddiqi
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Active volcano. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. Here, just blocks away from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, you can imagine the lava sparks over the horizon. The President of the United States is said to be volcanic in his rage over a staff and administration that mocks and undercuts him the moment he leaves their site. Instead of protecting him, it`s the country they protect from the man they signed on to serve. This very thought now drives Trump to heights of fury, and some say derangement.
And this is the level of fear of mistrust inside the White House tonight. Just 24 hours after an anonymous official released an extraordinary New York Times op-ed describing the resistance to the president inside his administration. And now, with his very competence in question, President Trump`s anger appears to be escalating.
According to NBC News, aides and allies, quote, "described (the president`s) mood as `volcanic.`" Axios reveals that Trump is even suspicious of "some handpicked aides inside his own White House." And the Washington Post reports that, "According to one Trump friend, he fretted after Wednesday`s op-ed that he could trust only his children."
Already, at least 25 senior administration officials have publicly denied responsibility for the New York Times article, including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and National Security Advisor John Bolton. Anxieties are running high inside the West Wing right now, where the president and his aides have launched a desperate search party for the mole in the executive branch.
Politico reports that one official "described a White House in `total meltdown` by Wednesday evening." According to the Washington Post, "Aides were analyzing language patterns to try to discern the author`s identity or at a minimum the part of the administration where the author works." The Washington Post notes that "the phrase `the sleeper cells have awoken` circulated on text messages among aides and outside allies."
Reacting to the news in a tweet last night, the president questioned whether the op-ed person amounted to treasonous. There it is: "TREASON." Then the president cited national security grounds to demand - catch this - that the authors be revealed. Quote, "If the GUTLESS anonymous person does indeed exist, the (New York) Times must, for National Security purposes, turn him (or) her over to government at once." This in a democracy! Turn somebody over to government for writing a letter in the New York Times!
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders publicly encouraged Trump supporters to call the opinion desk of the "failing New York Times" - she`s aping him - giving out the phone number and saying, "They are the only ones complicit in this deceitful act." In other words, the Times made up the article.
Anyway, joining me right now is Ashley Parker, White House reporter for the Washington Post; Jonathan Swan, national political reporter for Axios; and Bret Stephens, op-ed - well, an op-ed columnist for the New York Times. That`s close to where we`re getting tonight.
Let me go to Jonathan. It seems to me that the president`s behavior is far more frightening to what`s going on in our universe and our country, our republic, than somebody writing op-eds. People spend their whole lives without reading any op-eds in the New York Times quite happily.
This president is talking treason. He`s saying that the Times should turn over the author, his identity or her identity, to government. Like they`ve committed some treasonous crime. What`s Trump talking about? Government taking over, taking into captivity, into prison, basically, this person that wrote this article. Your thoughts?
JONATHAN SWAN, AXIOS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: This op-ed has touched a nerve, and the nerve is that Trump was already paranoid about the government he oversees. He believes it is populated - last year, when he was getting obsessed about their being leakers inside the White House, he said to a source of ours, "There are snakes everywhere, but we`ll get the snakes. We`re going to find the snakes."
MATTHEWS: These are political appointees.
SWAN: These are political appointees.
MATTHEWS: They`re not government civil servants that are handed down from one administration to the next.
SWAN: There`s two issues. Trump suspects people who work in his White House, but more broadly than that, across the administration he just sees this vast sea, deep state. He really does believe it exists. And he can`t fathom the idea of the career official.
So, yes, political appointees are suspected, but if you worked under Obama, he can`t fathom the idea, you worked for Obama. How could you possibly work for me? Like, that`s his mindset.
MATTHEWS: Well, how does he -
SWAN: You`ve got to remember, Trump organization, it`s a family business. I mean, yes, they have the hotels and properties with their employees. It was basically about a dozen of them, core employees. Weisselberg, his CFO, he`d been working since Frank Trump. These people, he`s comfortable with.
He suddenly enters the White House, and there`s a sea of people he`s never seen before. There used to be meetings in the Roosevelt Room early on where Trump would turn around and scan the wall to see who was there. After one of those meetings, he said, "I didn`t recognize anyone in this meeting. I bet you everything leaks."
MATTHEWS: Well, Ashley, you guys are in the business of covering the White House. You have sources in the White House all day. You`re acting like it`s the dismay that he - the distrust, he has reason to wonder about the day-to-day loyalty of his people, doesn`t he? They talk to the press all day long. They are your sources, and it`s not always complimentary to the president.
ASHLEY PARKER, WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: He absolutely does, and it`s not just the leaks that he has reason for concern, but it`s the fact that if you even just take this op-ed, it was stark and striking that a senior official chose to write that and have it published in the New York Times. But in terms of everyone we`ve talked to, the actual content of what the op-ed says was surprising to no one.
PARKER: Because these are a number of sentiments that people surrounding the president share themselves, they share among themselves, and they share with reporters. So, in addition to this acute sense of betrayal and paranoia and not knowing who he can trust, the president, in some way, has told people that, in his mind, he feels vindicated. Because the suspicions that he`s had, that people are out to get him and undermine him, the op-ed just makes him believe that he was absolutely right in feeling how he`s felt.
MATTHEWS: I want to go through - before we get to the 25th Amendment, which is the right of the cabinet members, working together with the vice president, to take away his presidency. We`re going to get to that very quickly. But I want to get to another point. He apparently only trusts his blood children. He only trusts - well, he trusts Ivanka.
I want to go back to you on that, Jonathan. This sort of - I call it the Romanoffs. This sense that this is not a regular republican, lowercase "R," government. That this is, in fact, a sense of a family taking over the government.
When I saw that family members, when I saw Jared and Ivanka at the McCain funeral, I go, "Weird." They are weirdly there. There are not part of the American civil society. They`re not a part of our governing people. They are family members of the president who yell out when they`re challenged, "I`m the first daughter!"
They have a weird sense of entitlement, which is scary. And now, it turns out they are entitled. They`re the only ones the president trusts. That`s an extraordinary situation.
SWAN: I think that`s - I think he - I`m sure he said that. I`ve no reason to doubt that he said that. I think it`s a bit more nuanced than that. Like, there are a group of people around him, about, let`s say a dozen, who travel with him. People that most of the press don`t talk about (INAUDIBLE). That he`s actually grown -
MATTHEWS: And they don`t talk to the press?
SWAN: Yeah. He`s grown fairly comfortable with them. I mean, you don`t get leaks our of Air Force One flights typically unless there`s other outsiders on the flight. So there is actually a group -
MATTHEWS: Ashley, do you buy that, that there`s a core around Trump that Trump actually does trust, even to this day? A core beyond his blood relatives?
PARKER: I think that`s true. I think it`s an incredibly small group. I think it always has been. You have to remember, as Jonathan said, this is a guy who ran a family business. He came into government not knowing a ton of people. But there are people who are surround - who do surround him who he trusts, and who are sort of familiar faces and comfort creatures.
It`s worth noting that a number of them, Hope Hicks is a classic example, but there`s a handful. They`ve left the administration, but if you see the president every day, you`re in and out of the Oval Office, you`re doing what he asks for, that there is a level of comfort that extends beyond simply blood relatives or those that have married into his family.
MATTHEWS: Well, there`s some that have a problem with this. While numerous administration officials are issuing public denials of having written this article for the New York Times, many are expressing solidarity with the person who wrote it. Two officials told Axios they agree with the sentiments of the article, with one saying, "A lot of us (were) wishing we`d been the writer," adding that the president should know "there are dozens and dozens of us." In fact, in reacting to the op-ed today, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts called on officials in the Trump administration who see Trump as unsteady to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove him from the presidency. Let`s watch Senator Warren on this thing today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: If senior administration officials think that the President of the United States is not able to do his job, then they should invoke the 25th Amendment."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Bret Stephens, take some time here. You`ve written op-eds. I don`t think people are able to write op-eds just off the street. Only a few people seem to have the ability to write it so well.
It`s a well-written article, but in the middle of it is an allusion to the 25th Amendment. The question is whether this president should be taken out of office against his will. Your thoughts?
BRET STEPHENS, NEW YORK TIMES OP-ED COLUMNIST: Well, I think the 25th Amendment probably should have been invoked within three days of the Trump presidency being - President Trump`s inauguration. I mean, it was clear to anyone who watched him ascend to the Republican nomination, and then the presidency itself, that he was manifestly unfit to be president. I mean, the 25th Amendment is not going to be invoked, sad as that is. He has the cabinet solidly behind him. He`s either going to be removed, I hope, because I believe he`s committed felonious acts and will be impeached and convicted in the Senate.
But the only way that we`re going to be able to get rid of this presidency is by organizing a proper political opposition to him. What this op-ed simply does is ratify what so many of us have been saying, and have known about the president, for these past several years.
You know, I think the real story of this op-ed isn`t who wrote it. It`s the fact that anyone could have written it. John Kelly could have written in; Secretary Mattis could have written it; Rex Tillerson, when he was Secretary of State, could have written it. You name any number of cabinet officials who have had any kind of interaction with the president - and Bob Woodward`s book, I think, amply confirms that. And they`re all making the same - exactly the same point.
So, what this op-ed really does is simply drive home something in a very specific way. Something that so many of us know and live and deal with every day that we`re writing and thinking about politics.
MATTHEWS: Ashley, how`s that resonate with you? When you talk to people on or off the record or in background throughout the administration, is there a sizable number of people who question this president`s fitness for office?
PARKER: So, that - I mentioned earlier that just about - not just about everyone, but a number of people agree with the substance of the op-ed. That was actually the one area where, when you bring it up, a lot of people inside and outside the president`s orbit say they don`t go that far. They think that`s a bridge too far. And they think, in a way, it sort of undermined, in their eyes, the power of the op-ed. I will say, you know, there are rumblings of that, but never in a way that at least I have been able to nail down in reportable form.
MATTHEWS: Well, meanwhile Trump`s allies are screaming bloody murder, going so far as to characterize the op-ed in the Times as a coup against the president. Let`s watch some of that reaction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Whoever this anonymous super-patriot is, who wrote this anti-Trump hit piece in the New York Times, I would argue dangerously published, is noting more than a swamp sewer creature who can`t stand that there`s a new sheriff in town.
NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: This is a coward who`s hiding, writing anonymously, hasn`t got the guts to come out in public. And frankly, what he ought to do is resign.
MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: This is a coup. That`s what this is.
It`s an administrative coup. It`s a soft coup. It`s a kooky coup. Whatever you want to think it is. Coo coo ca choo. I have no - but here`s the thing.
This is about impeachment. This is about getting rid of the president. And these betrayers should stand up, be counted, and get lost.
MICHAEL PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Anyone who would write an anonymous editorial smearing this president, who`s provided extraordinary leadership to this country, should not be working for this administration. They ought to do the honorable think and they ought to resign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, there`s someone who might benefit from the 25th Amendment being invoked. Anyway, when it comes to finding the author of that op-ed, Senator Rand Paul`s - this, by the way, is a civil libertarian speaking, Rand Paul. "I think it would be acceptable to use a lie detector test and ask people whether or not they`re talking to the media against the policy of the White House." He wants to invoke (INAUDIBLE) - he wants to use a lie detector test on people in the White House. And this is a civil liberty guy. What do you think, Jonathan?
SWAN: We reported last year, Jeff Sessions last year, when the leaks were bad, suggested he wanted to do a similar thing with a lie detector. This is something -
MATTHEWS: Trump wants to throw them in jail!
SWAN: I`m telling you that, you know, everyone laughed about this thing. That`s an idea that I think would instinctively appeal to Trump. I -
SWAN: So, you know, I mean, I don`t think they`re going to do it, but I also wouldn`t completely dismiss it.
MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Ashley, then I want to go to Jonathan. And Bret, if you`ve got a thought. How`s the hunt go? Because this is the hunt for Red October.
I mean, these guys are, in the White House, apparently they`ve got everybody to cooperate and coordinate their denials so they can - you know, it`s like Twelve Little Indians, the Agatha Christie play. Make sure everybody says, "It wasn`t me." That narrows it down. But then, they haven`t gone to the step of saying, "None of your people have done this, either." Actually, they have.
They never even said, like, "The speechwriters over at the boss`s office," or people like that. Just throwing out possible names here. They haven`t been covered in this denial program, have they?
PARKER: No. And one thing that I`ve learned today was that sort of senior aides, in an effort to calm down the president, sort of went to him and said, "Look, our theory is..." And I have to say this is their theory, that this was not a cabinet-level official. That this was not a senior adviser.
That this was probably - again, in their minds, this is their guess - a mid-level, a lower-level staffer. Someone who I`ve heard that when the name, if and when it comes out, it will be a name everyone says, "Huh. Who?"
MATTHEWS: Senior administration official, Ashley. Senior administration official. What does that mean in your tradecraft, in your stylebook? Do you refer to a senior administration official as someone who is not at least a second - I want to say, one removed report from the president? Someone who reports to somebody who reports to the president? That close, to be a senior?
PARKER: So, two points. First of all, again, I`m just reflecting the theory inside the White House and in Trump`s orbit. But I will say that "senior official" is a pretty broad term in the sense that it means different things to different news organizations and to different reporters. And it`s a question only the New York Times editorial board can answer. And so far, we have asked them, and they`re not providing any clarity. So, it does kind of open itself up for this quite large Washington parlor game.
MATTHEWS: All I know is, I remember in "All the President`s Men," Ben Bradley says to "Woodstein," either Woodward or Bernstein, "Who`s this source of yours? Is this some clerk? Who is this?"
So, what do you mean by official? What do you mean by - how high up is it? You say senior administration official, I think it better damn well look like one when this comes out from the Times. Go ahead. And I think it is.
SWAN: If it turns out to be - there was a telling thing where this person felt the need to say, "A top official told me as they left the Oval..." or whatever. Cabinet people don`t talk like that.
MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) an official?
SWAN: Yeah. If it`s a sort of undersecretary that no one`s heard of, I think the Times sh - if it`s somebody that doesn`t have much access to the president, not around him all the time -
MATTHEWS: You know what I told you.
SWAN: That`s embarrassing.
MATTHEWS: I think it`s somebody like a - let me just tell you this. An American Enterprises type, a Heritage Foundation type, somebody who loves op-ed pieces, loves that terrain over there, someone who`d probably end up being over there after this administration is gone and done for. Someone who likes to make those contacts and can do it without any staff or clerical or technical assistance to get that thing done.
That`s not a cabinet official. Cabinet officials don`t know how to get things done like that. Ashley Parker, Jonathan Swan, Bret Stephens (INAUDIBLE) Bret Stephens.
Coming up, the anonymous administration official who wrote that New York Times op-ed wasn`t the first person to sound the alarm. Back in October, Senator Bob Corker said the White House had become an adult day care center. The question: What can anyone do about it?
Plus, Supreme Court secrecy. Brett Kavanaugh spent another day on Capitol Hill today avoiding answering tough questions from senators, including on the Mueller investigation itself. Doesn`t the American public deserve to know where he stands on this?
And this week has made one thing abundantly clear: Donald Trump is surrounded by people who don`t think he`s fit to be president. At least some of them.
Finally, let me finish tonight with Trump Watch. You`re watching HARDBALL, where the action is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Let me put it bluntly. Left to his own devices, do you think the president is a threat to national security?
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I think that there are people around him that work in an effort to contain him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Wow. Typhoid Mary, you think?
Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was Tennessee Senator -- that`s a red state, by the way, very red state -- Bob Corker last October sounding the alarm initially about president -- this president`s behavior.
Senator`s Corker`s charge was backed up by an anonymous senior Trump administration official, writing in "The New York Times" this morning -- quote -- "Many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump`s more misguided impulses until he is out of office."
Other White House officials have sounded similar warnings.
In his upcoming book "Fear," Bob Woodward reports that the president`s former economic adviser Gary Cohn once felt the need to swipe a document off the president`s desk. Cohn told an associate: "He`s never going to see that document. Got to protect the country."
And former aide Omarosa Manigault-Newman said White House staff are deceiving the country about the president`s fitness for office.
Here she goes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OMAROSA MANIGAULT-NEWMAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: They continue to deceive nation by how mentally declined he is, how difficult it is -- it is for him to process complex information, how he is not engaged in some of the most important decisions that impact our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, I`m joined right now by Eugene Robinson, columnist for "The Washington Post," and Lanhee Chen, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He was a former -- he is a former senior aide to President George W. Bush.
Gentlemen, thank you.
I guess, in the excitement about the president`s crazed reaction to this article, we skipped over the content.
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
MATTHEWS: The content was that this president needs to be -- well, we need to be protected from him by his top people.
I mean, there were two -- I thought there were two big pieces of news in this anonymous piece. One was about the 25th Amendment, that there had been these whispers among Cabinet members or in the Cabinet, it said, about invoking the 25th Amendment, and they decided not to do it.
The other is that there is what the writer describes as a pretty organized resistance, but an effort among officials who work for President Trump to contain him, and that they kind of know each other and they`re doing this in concert.
That`s an amazing thing. It`s an amazing thing, that there`s this group of people who are saving the country from the president.
LANHEE CHEN, FORMER POLICY DIRECTOR, MITT ROMNEY CAMPAIGN: Yes. I mean, but...
MATTHEWS: You know like the guardrails that people that don`t know how to bowl are given when they go to a bowling alley, those side rails to make sure the ball stays on the lane?
CHEN: I mean, I think the challenge now, though, is if there really is this organized resistance, it`s now just that much more difficult for that group of people, in my mind, to enact the kind of policy that they think is the right policy.
MATTHEWS: Well, wait a minute. How do you positively enact policy that the president is not advancing?
CHEN: Well, apparently, this is something that they`re able to do.
I mean, they were able to circumvent a presidential policy on trade with North -- with Korea, with South Korea. They were able to circumvent policy in a number of different ways, to formulate different policies.
So it seems to me that this so-called resistance at least has had some success.
MATTHEWS: OK, let`s go to the broader thought that Gene brought up.
The article says there`s two lines of reality in this administration. There`s the what`s portrayed as the somewhat crazed policy, which is we`re going to be best friends with Russia. Then there`s this other policy, we`re going to keep Russia in control. We`re going to be restrained and we`re going to contain Russia.
MATTHEWS: A totally different effort by what Trump would call the deep state, but in this case, his Cabinet.
ROBINSON: Well, look, I think the so-called resistance, the other line of government, counts on two things.
One, President Trump is unacquainted with details. He doesn`t want to get into the details of anything, except the disposition of property in Washington along Pennsylvania Avenue across from his hotel. He`s very, very into that and what happens to the...
MATTHEWS: But he doesn`t care why we have troops on the 38th Parallel. He doesn`t know why we have troops in Korea.
ROBINSON: He doesn`t get involved. And they count on that.
And they also count on his attention span, which is negligible. I mean, if you listen to him speak, he flips from thought to thought to thought, idea to idea almost at random. And, obviously, his attention span is something that they can take advantage of.
MATTHEWS: Do you deny or do you question, Lanhee, the idea that there are people around the president at the Cabinet level, at the State Department level, at the Pentagon who actually have conversations to talk about how they control and contain this president when he goes loopy?
CHEN: No, it seems to me that there probably is.
I mean, we have speculated on this for a while.
MATTHEWS: There probably is.
CHEN: Probably is.
There probably are people who are saying, look, that there are things the president has said that we don`t think are good policy.
Now, the right way to make this argument would be through a process, would be through...
MATTHEWS: Do you realize how historic this is?
The idea of Ike, of Eisenhower having people around him who are containing him, or the idea of FDR having people containing him, or even Reagan, containing him?
Now, Nixon, in the extremes, at the end, they did have people.
ROBINSON: They had to contain him.
But isn`t it perfectly plausible, for example, that in advance of a meeting on a given subject in the Oval Office with the president, if it involves foreign policy, isn`t it plausible that the secretary of defense and the secretary of state and maybe the director of central intelligence might have a huddle, might have a phone call, might come to some sort of common position, and might agree not to present other potential positions that the president...
MATTHEWS: A bunch of guys meet in the bathroom after a meeting to get together?
That`s how it works...
MATTHEWS: Women, of course, they have to meet somewhere else.
But they get together, and they go, what do you make of that?
MATTHEWS: Does that bother you?
CHEN: It`s one thing if they have the meeting before and they say, look, we ought to figure out a way to circumvent this policy or convince the president to do otherwise.
It`s another if the president says, do this, and then they go to the bathroom and huddle afterwards and say, yes, we`re not actually going to do that. That`s a different issue.
MATTHEWS: I don`t even understand...
ROBINSON: I think they do both. I think it`s perfectly plausible that they do both.
CHEN: The first is understandable. The second, I think, is...
MATTHEWS: I don`t even understand these people talking to the press people that sit at this table all the time. I`m amazed at how they talk, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, all the time.
Anyway, thank you, Gene Robinson. And, thank you, Lanhee Chen.
Up next: Questions about abortion rights, presidential power, and, of course, the Mueller investigation itself are center stage in the third day of hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Are lawmakers being misled by Kavanaugh`s views on these key topics? He is a slippery one, isn`t he?
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
It could be the most consequential Supreme Court pick in decades, the one right now, shifting the ideological makeup of the Supreme Court to the right, possibly for a generation.
Look how young this guy is. And yet, over the past two days, Brett Kavanaugh, the nominee, has been evasive, cagey, sometimes simply unresponsive when it comes to some of the most pressing issues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Can a sitting president be required to respond to a subpoena?
BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE NOMINEE: I can`t give you an answer on that hypothetical question.
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: In my office, you told me that you could provide no assurance to me that you would uphold a statute requiring insurance companies to provide coverage for preexisting medical conditions. Is that still true, here in public?
KAVANAUGH: I can`t give assurances on a specific hypothetical.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: Do you agree that a plastic firearm created with a 3-D printer could be regulated or banned without creating any Second Amendment questions?
KAVANAUGH: So, consistent with judicial independence principles, I shouldn`t comment on a potential case like that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, the biggest question the judge seemed unable to answer yesterday was from California Democrat Kamala Harris, who was pressing him on whether or not he had a conversation about special counsel Mueller`s investigation with a law firm retained by President Trump in the Russian probe itself.
Let`s watch that back and forth.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Did you speak with anyone at that law firm of Bob Mueller`s investigation?
KAVANAUGH: I`m not remembering anything like that, but I want to know a roster of people. And I want to know more.
HARRIS: So you`re not denying that you spoke with any?
KAVANAUGH: Well, I said I don`t remember anything like that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, today, Senator Harris asked him to clarify on that.
Here`s what he said a few minutes ago:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS: Were you a party to a conversation that occurred regarding special counsel Mueller`s investigation? And a simple yes or no would suffice.
KAVANAUGH: Absolutely his investigation?
And are you referring to a specific person?
HARRIS: I`m referring to a specific subject. And the specific person I`m referring to is you. KAVANAUGH: No, the -- who was the conversation with? You said you had information.
HARRIS: That is not the subject of the question, sir.
HARRIS: The subject of the question is you and whether you were part of a conversation regarding special counsel Mueller`s investigation.
KAVANAUGH: The answer`s no.
HARRIS: Thank you.
And it would have been great if you could have said that last night. Thank you.
KAVANAUGH: In my -- never mind.
HARRIS: Let`s move on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, for more, I`m joined by Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat from Connecticut. He`s on the Judiciary Committee.
Look, I don`t know what to make of that back and forth. I wasn`t very happy with it, because I think the senator could have told us who that she`s talking about before we get into that query.
But, anyway, have you learned anything about Brett Kavanaugh since these hearings began, about his attitude towards, say, presidential power, the power of a president to ignore a subpoena, for example?
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: What I have learned about Brett Kavanaugh`s views on presidential power is extremely alarming, particularly at this moment of real constitutional crisis.
And it goes beyond what has been reported most recently, the Woodward book and the anonymous op-ed. It`s the fact that this nominee is the result of a president who is an unindicted co-conspirator.
Think back to Richard Nixon. Would the Senate of the United States seriously have considered Richard Nixon`s nominee for the United States Supreme Court after he was named as an unindicted co-conspirator?
What Brett Kavanaugh has said about presidential power is extremely alarming. He would enable the president to deem unconstitutional or nullify any statute, including the Affordable Care Act and protections against preexisting conditions.
He would in no way commit to preserve Roe v. Wade. And on basic issues, like whether he discussed a specific document within the last 24 hours, he couldn`t remember. So, he has been evasive and ambiguous, beyond cagey. He has been just downright equivocal.
MATTHEWS: This thing about the president not being able to be entitled, if a president did, as Donald Trump said he could get away with politically, shoot somebody and kill them on Fifth Avenue in New York, they would -- he would be arrested, wouldn`t he?
Can a president simply break the criminal laws of this country with impunity? Is that a belief? Is that a constitutional theory?
BLUMENTHAL: In my view, the president of the states can be indicted, even if the trial can be postponed.
And this nominee takes the position that many of the constraints and checks and balances imposed by our Constitution seem absolutely meaningless. That kind of disregard for the importance of checks and balances, all the more important, as is the independence of the judiciary, at a moment of constitutional crisis, when the president seems out of control and completely contemptuous of the rule of law.
So Brett Kavanaugh has come before us and failed to give us the confidence that he will be an effective check on presidential power, not only if there is an indictment of the president, but also if the president is subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury, or testify against his friends and cronies in a criminal case.
MATTHEWS: Is he the fifth judge to overrule Roe v. Wade? Is he the fifth member they needed on the Supreme Court to make good on President Trump`s promise to get rid of Roe v. Wade?
BLUMENTHAL: He is clearly a potential fifth vote, with Gorsuch the fourth, added to the ones who are there right now.
And that`s a very meaningful and real fear, because, as he`s indicated, he is unwilling to say in direct response to my question that he would vote against overturning Roe v. Wade. He gave clear indications in a document that was marked committee confidential, until I used it yesterday in my questions to him.
And I think he could well be the fifth vote to overturn Roe v. Wade and to decimate the protections that women now have in deciding whether and when they want to be pregnant and have children, not to mention Americans deciding whom they want to marry, or clean air and water, and workers` rights and consumers` rights.
MATTHEWS: Thank you so much. It`s great having you on, as always, Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Up next: It`s not paranoia if people really are out to get you. More on that scramble inside the White House, as staffers try to reassure the president that they didn`t write that article.
MATTHEWS: And you`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. In the last 24 hours, we have heard from more than two-dozen members of President Trump`s inner circle. Each of them denying they were the author of the bombshell "New York Times" op- ed. Of course, those denials may not be enough to calm the President, who has long been suspicion that there are people within his government and even in his own White House out to get him.
For example, according to Axios, for some time last year, Trump even carried with him a handwritten list - handwritten - of people he suspected to be leakers undermining his agenda. A Trump confidante tells "The Washington Post" that Trump was already feeling a deep sense of paranoia following the recent portrayals of him in Bob Woodward`s new book and a friend of the President also tells "The Post" that Trump worried that he could trust only his children. That`s a hell of a list. Let`s bring in tonight`s our own list, roundtable. Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for PBS News Hour; Sabrina Sidiqqi, political reporter for "The Guardian" and of course, Dana Milbank - I don`t know why I said that - he is a political columnist of course, he is a political columnist - he is now of course, being here.
Let me go to Yamiche, how goes the hunt tonight? As the sun closes down over Washington, have they gotten closer to the number one suspect?
YAMICHE ALCINDOR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, PBS NEWS HOUR: I don`t think they`ve gotten closer, but the President is obviously tweeting just a few minutes ago that the "New York Times" should be looking for all of this, that there should be a manhunt to figure out who this person was ...
MATTHEWS: Is it a man? Are we even sure it is a male?
ALCINDOR: We can`t even say if it`s a man or a woman. There was a tweet from "The Times" that said it was a he and then there was a quick list that said actually, this is a mistake that we don`t know. The President obviously is now going to be obsessed with this, much like he is obsessed with the Russia investigation. He has something new to obsess about, about who could be kind of working against him and who could be taking papers off of his desk.
MATTHEWS: Doesn`t he know that he reminds everybody of my age of Humphrey Bogart and he came in the - looking for the frozen strawberry stealer. I mean, he really has that look.
ALCINDOR: Well, this is a President who has already threatened to purge the Justice Department and the FBI. And so what this does is, it actually escalates the risk that he surrounds himself with even more loyalists, with even more people who are not necessarily qualified for the job at hand, but are people he thinks that he can trust.
MATTHEWS: Don`t you think they could figure out who it is, Dana? I mean, people are talking lunch hour. People that talk like this person wrote. People that use the vocabulary of lodestar. This is an interesting vocabulary like ...
SABRINA SIDIQQI, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: A bunch are covering their tracks.
DANA MILBANK , POLITICAL COLUMNIST: I mean, I`ve figured it out already. I will divulge it right now. It was Captain Obvious. The question isn`t who wrote it, it`s who in this administration wouldn`t write such a thing. I mean, if you look at what Bob Woodward has told us this week, you have Gary Cohn literally - the economic adviser - literally stealing papers from the President desk in hopes that he will forget to send them and cancel the trade deal.
It`s like taking the toy away from the baby and hoping to distract it from something else, and it is what Bob Corker said, it is the adult day care. We all know, this is confirmed what we already knew.
SIDDIQI: Well, it also confirms that that ...
MATTHEWS: But he knows this. See, it is not just the people that whack paper off his desk when he`s not looking, he knows they are doing it. He says he only trusts - you can take this Sabrina - he only trusts, let`s see, Ivanka and her husband. That`s it.
SIDDIQI: Well, first and foremost, it has already been troubling that he`s put his children in these positions of prominence in the White House, but I think that this confirms that he is surrounded by enablers. And there is nothing heroic about anonymously saying you are putting out fires behind the scenes. If you are someone who believes that the President does not have the capacity to serve, then you owe it to be publicly transparent about it, to actually start up a conversation in public about the 25th Amendment or about making the case for impeachment, not to do so behind the cloak of anonymity.
MATTHEWS: But you can`t do it and stay there ...
ALCINDOR: Sure, and that`s the thing that I have talked to a former Trump administration official who said that when they left the White House, they thought, I really hope that there are people here that are brave enough to stay, because they see these people who are working and are part of this resistance ...
MATTHEWS: Corey Lewandowski? Who are you talking about?
ALCINDOR: No, I am not going to reveal my source, but the idea is that these people are looking at the people that are saying things, I hope you can take this just a little bit longer because we have no idea what Trump can do, and I think that that tells me that ...
MATTHEWS: You think people believe this, Dana, you`ve been around a while. Do you think people believe that people stay in the White House out of patriotic duty not out of prestige of those positions?
MILBANK : Some may believe it, and some may do it. But I think the whole lot - this op-ed gives us this false sense of security, that there are these sort of regions around the President who are somehow able to control this man. It is manifestly obvious that they can`t control him. Now, maybe they can ...
MATTHEWS: Because they can`t get into the devil`s workshop. They can`t get into his bedroom at 5:30 in the morning and stop him.
MILBANK: And that may have prevented World War III and that would be a good thing.
MATTHEWS: Well, adding to Trump`s fear of the people around him is all the reporting out there about senior White House official questioning the President`s mental ability. According to recent votes of the press that they cast, both his current and former chiefs of staff have called him an idiot. That`s their word. His former Secretary of State called him a moron, that`s probably why he is a former.
The Secretary of Defense says he has the understanding of a fifth or sixth grader and one of his former National Security advisers, says he has the intelligence of a kindergartner. His former Chief Economic Adviser called him dumb, and a former senior White House aide says he is in mental decline. That was Omarosa, mental decline. She was nice. It was progressive. Dana?
MILBANK: I mean, well, he has said he is a very stable genius and exceedingly, high IQ. I don`t know whether a moron or an idiot raked higher on the IQ scale, but there certainly could be very bright kindergartners, but this is exactly that point and that is there is nothing particularly unusual about what this anonymous person ...
MATTHEWS: But what is the guy? I mean, you guys are all smart. People have uneven development. Not everybody has the same kind of sophistication in all parts of their life. Trump obviously has the competence to make some money, I don`t know how many billions, but he`s made it. he somehow has lived very well. He somehow has gotten himself elected president. The idea that he is incompetent, like he had put him in some home with the straight jacket doesn`t sell with me. He is unevenly developed, though I think part of him is about eight years old. I agree for parts of his life, the way he acts about certain people.
ALCINDOR: Some of the characteristics that made these same people talk about him and criticize him are the reason why he got elected. There are a lot of people who looked up to him and said, "Hey, I could be that guy. This guy talks like me. He reminds me of myself."
MATTHEWS: But they are not he.
ALCINDOR: He`s also like ...
MATTHEWS: He is there.
ALCINDOR: Well, they voted for him.
MATTHEWS: Okay, well, the roundtable is sticking with us; and up next these three will tell me something I don`t know. You`re watching HARDBALL.
We are back with the HARDBALL roundtable. Yamiche, tell me something I don`t know.
ALCINDOR: A former Trump administration official told me that before budget hearing - Trump administration officials would brief lawmakers and tell them whatever the President tells you behind closed doors, the White House is not going to commit. It was to thwart any deals that he made in the room because they knew that he would just make promises and then the White House afterwards would tell the lawmakers whatever he told you, we are not going to do it.
MATTHEWS: So much for earmarks. I can`t believe they`ll listen to him. This is like what we`ve been talking about all night here, don`t mind him. Sabrina?
SIDDIQI: The President Obama is poised to return to the campaign trail this week and the big question is, will he or won`t he take on Trump, but sources close ...
MATTHEWS: He`s not taking questions.
SIDDIQI: ... sources close to the former President tell me he will be giving a much more broader speech about this moment in our democracy, really drawing a contrast between fear and inclusion. So more veiled references perhaps to the current state of affairs, but - and also calling on both to reject authoritarian politics and policies ...
MATTHEWS: Why is he doing this? Why is he being careful?
SIDDIQI: I think that he is mindful, that one, it is unusual for predecessors to comment on the sitting presidents. And he`s been very cautious in how he has condemned certain actions in the Trump era. He doesn`t want to directly reference him by name and to some extent that would help Trump. It would provide - we will have Obama be a foil on ...
MATTHEWS: You think Trump can`t find a way in the door? Can`t get some purchase on him if he says anything?
SIDDIQI: Well, I think we could fully expect that Trump is going to react, but Obama`s strategy is going to be just ignore it and focus on the big picture.
MATTHEWS: We`ll see. So Dana.
MILBANK: As you know, the Congressional Republicans have been a bit allergic to investigate anything whether it is election security or hurricanes or Stormy Daniels ...
MATTHEWS: Except for Hillary.
MILBANK: Or anything else but we now do have something that has piqued the interest of Mark Meadows, the head of the House Freedom Caucus and high ranking on government reform. He does want to find out who did this op-ed. And I think it could bump Hillary`s e-mails from top priority.
MATTHEWS: What about Ohio University, that kind of thing? Ohio State kind of thing?
MILBANK: I think Jim Jordan has squashed that pretty well.
MATTHEWS: Jim Jordan, that`s the one - I had them mixed up. My conservatives are mixed up. Yamiche Alcidor, Sabrina Siddiqi and Dana Milbank. When we return, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch." It`s interesting tonight. The amazing follow up I think to an amazing world we are living in right now. You are watching HARDBALL.
"Trump Watch" Thursday, September 6, 2018. The active volcano that now resides in the White House threatens to throw red hot lava over the nation`s capital and the country. Imagine, if it were you sitting in the Oval Office knowing that from your earliest morning arrival each day, any one of the people entering the office with you or surrounding you in the cabinet room or in the Roosevelt Room across the hall is looking upon you as, let me quote this properly, "detrimental to the health of the republic" as some Typhoid Mary who needs to be contained for the public good.
If any of us were to hear ourselves so widely described as petty, ineffective, and reckless. Reading every word - how our people describe working daily just to control the damage we are causing, we might get a little paranoid.
Now, if you dare imagine being Donald Trump hearing and reading again and again in every account whether that of reporters or former associates, the quoted comments of current staffers are now in a notorious article in the "New York Times" that you needed to be minded. How the White House has become an adult day care center with you, the president, as the chief resident patient? Do you think you might be volcanic by now, that you might be spewing red hot lava on to the White House lawn. Well, this it turns out is precisely the reporting we are getting this evening from the top White House reporters.
We have a President who is roaming the upstairs of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, so mistrusted and disliked by so many close around him, that he dare not drop his guard. Would you?
The staff, perhaps, even Cabinet members speaking openly of invoking the constitutional provision to remove you from office, and that is 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.