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Trump fires Attorney General. TRANSCRIPT: 11/7/2018, Hardball w Chris Matthews.

Guests: Charlie Sykes, Mimi Rocah, Michael Schmidt, Hakeem Jeffries, Steve Israel, Christine Todd Whitman, Gabe Debenedetti

Show: HARDBALL Date: November 7, 2018 Guest: Charlie Sykes, Mimi Rocah, Michael Schmidt, Hakeem Jeffries, Steve Israel, Christine Todd Whitman, Gabe Debenedetti


Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews up in New York.

It was a big fight -- a big night, rather, for Democrats last night, taking control of the House of Representatives, giving this country a vital check on this president.

Then, obviously suffering from that rebuke at the ballot box, Donald Trump struck out in his enemies today with all his fury. He dumped the attorney general he`s never forgiven for betraying him, striking through the hours of morning-after election grogginess to put his own man as attorney general, where he can crush the historic probe that threatens Trump`s family, his presidency, and perhaps even his liberty.

The new A.G., in brazen loyalty to Donald Trump, the man as well as the president, has declared his personal hostility to the Mueller investigation.

And that, closer to Trump`s heart, the new A.G. has declared that notorious June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, at which Donald Trump Jr. met with Russian agents offering dirt on Hillary Clinton, was merely normal political business and no basis for a prosecution.

Pushing out Jeff Sessions and bringing the obliging Matt Whitaker is a lightning strike just hours after the midterm congressional elections. It gives Trump what he has set his heart on since becoming president, an attorney general who will protect him.

It gives him an A.G. whose views of presidential powers comports with those of the new Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. And with Whitaker heading Justice, with Kavanaugh as the deciding vote on the highest court, Trump now moves to utilize his broad notion of executive power to quash Mueller before Mueller strikes at Trump`s family, a step he has reason to fear is imminent.

The president delivered the news today by tweet, saying: Matthew Whitaker, chief of staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the Department of Justice, will become our new acting attorney general."

Trump added that: "A permanent replacement will be nominated at a later date."

Well, the move came minutes after the president refused to comment on Sessions` fate in his post-election press conference.


QUESTION: And can you give us clarity, sir, on your thinking currently now, after the midterms, about your attorney general and your deputy attorney general? Do they have long-term job security?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`d rather answer that at a little bit different time. We`re looking at a lot of different things, including Cabinet.


MATTHEWS: A little bit different time was a few hours later.

The president has long blamed his attorney general for the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, of course. And last August, Trump even called on Sessions to stop this rigged witch-hunt right now, and has repeatedly attacked Sessions in public for recusing himself from the investigation.


TRUMP: Jeff Sessions recused himself, which he shouldn`t have done, or he should have told me.

I am disappointed in the attorney general. He should not have recused himself.

For him to have taken the job and for him to immediately have recused himself is a disgrace.


MATTHEWS: He`s had a one-track mind on this guy.

Yet, through humiliation after humiliation, Jeff Sessions has resisted the president`s efforts to force him out. And now we`re learning that he`s not leaving voluntarily.

In his undated resignation letter -- there it is -- Sessions addressed the president, saying: "At your request, I am submitting my resignation."

The president`s decision to replace Sessions with his former chief of staff gives Trump a chance to stop Mueller in his tracks. In fact, the new acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker, predicted last year that anyone replacing Sessions may effectively halt this special counsel`s investigation.


MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, I can see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced with a recess disappointment, and that attorney general doesn`t fire Bob Mueller, but he just reduces the budget so low that his investigation grinds to an absolute -- almost a halt.


MATTHEWS: Well, joining me right now is Michael Schmidt of "The New York Times." Hakeem Jeffries is a Democratic congressman from New York. Mimi Rocah is a former -- Rocah?


MATTHEWS: Rocah -- I`m sorry -- is a federal -- federal prosecutor. And David Corn, of course, is Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones."

I want you all to get your thoughts in a huge day.

We thought it`d be a morning after, Michael. It`s not a morning after. It`s an afternoon of, a dramatic step.

How far is this strategic, that he`s going to move on to find a way to stop Mueller or make his report irrelevant or whatever? And how much of this is just instinctive revenge?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, this is something that Trump has wanted to do since the second month he was in office, March of 2017.

He believes that Sessions` decision to recuse was the original sin that allowed Mueller to be appointed. You have to understand, the president sees the position of attorney general as someone who should be most loyal to him. That is more important than the law and following the facts. That is what he sees.

He sees it as a personal attorney to him. He`s expressed this in private. He`s got it in public. He has said publicly that he never would have made Sessions his attorney general if he knew he was going to recuse himself. He saw the recusal as the most disloyal thing.

Finally, today, he did something that he`s wanted to do for a very, very long time. He had been very close with Jeff Sessions, if we recall, the first, biggest national Republican politician to embrace his campaign. And now Trump gets to do what he`s wanted to do for a very, very long time.

MATTHEWS: David, I want to go to you, because you follow these conspiracies pretty well.

What is he -- is his goal now to get rid of -- get rid of Sessions, bring in Whitaker, his guy, his -- probably his toady -- he`s another Nunes is what I can tell -- brings this guy in and finds some way to, when the report comes from Mueller, if Mueller is long enough to make his report, just bury it.

Hey, I don`t want it. This is worthless. I will just put this aside.

How far can he go with this gambit?

DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we have talked about this in the past.

It`s unclear to what degree Trump thinks strategically. He certainly thinks about impulse and revenge. We have talked about this, too, in the past. It`s one of the things that motivates him the most. And he`s always said, if someone screws you over, you screw them over 15 times more.

So he`s waited until the first moment possible to get rid of Sessions. So he wants him gone.

What does he want? I mean, Michael is right. He doesn`t -- but he doesn`t want -- just want a protector. He wants a Tom Hagen from "The Godfather." He wants his own Roy Cohn.

And then what comes next comes what is next. And whether it`s squeezing the funding out of the Mueller investigation, outright firing him, coming up with other distractions, I don`t think Trump has thought that far down the line. But he knows, if he has his guy there, all this is possible, and it`s still -- we still know when there will be a report, if there be a report, how much longer Mueller has to go.

He`s just getting his person in there, so if he ever wants to pull the trigger, he has someone who can do that for him.


By appointing Matt Whitaker as his acting attorney general, the president appears to have installed a Trump loyalist at the top of the Justice Department.

For instance, Whitaker has publicly defended Donald Trump Jr.`s decision to take that meeting with Russians to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. Remember the June 2016 meeting at the Trump Tower? Let`s watch him on that.


WHITAKER: To suggest that there`s a conspiracy here, I mean, you would always take that meeting. You would have somebody from your campaign take the meeting to try to get the information.

If you have somebody that you trust that is saying, you need to meet with this individual because they have information about your opponent, you would take that meaning.


MATTHEWS: Well, Whitaker also wrote in a 2016 op-ed in "USA Today" that he would indict Hillary Clinton if he had prosecuted her case.

Whitaker also called efforts to pass legislation to protect Mueller`s job a mistake, saying: "You cannot have anyone accountable -- unaccountable to an executive branch," anyway, "already protected enough."

Well, that was his shorthand for, you`re not going to protect this guy Mueller from anybody.

Most recently, "The New York Times" reported in September that Chief of Staff John Kelly -- this is so cute -- privately described Whitaker as -- quote -- "the West Wing`s eyes and ears in the Department of Justice the president`s long considered at war with him."

So he`s been the mole over there for the president. And now he`s the top man.

Congressmen, it`s an -- well, everybody says, well, Trump`s going to get stopped, somebody`s going to stop him. Nobody is stopping him.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: Well, the American people are beginning to stop him.

And I think that`s one of the things that happened last night in giving us control of the House of Representatives. And if his ultimate objective is to try to prevent Mueller`s investigative report from becoming public, he obviously fails to understand that, on January 3, when we take control of the House of Representatives, we will have oversight and subpoena power, and will not allow him to bury any report and/or hide the facts from the American people.

MATTHEWS: So, suppose -- we don`t know what Mueller is going to do.

Do you know? Is he going to go to indictments? Is he going to go to a grand jury? Is he going to go to a report? What do you think he`s going to do, Mueller, if he`s not stopped by Trump?

JEFFRIES: It`s not clear that he`s concluded in terms of indictments moving forward.

There was definitely a pause as result of the window inside of the election. We`re now outside of the window. And I think that that investigation will continue and we`re likely to see some more people held accountable.

The law does provide that, ultimately, he does have to issue a report only to the Department of Justice, not to the American people, because the independent counsel has expired.

That`s why it was so important for us to take back control the House of Representatives is, on the oversight responsibility, because we can prevent them from burying that report.

MATTHEWS: Mimi, I have a hunch that Trump has very few people he doesn`t - - he`s not willing to dump, throw them under the bus.

He`s done it with so many of his people. And then he mocks them afterwards. Look what he did to the Republicans that didn`t endorse him or embrace him, as he put it, in the election. He laughed out there. He loves saying, you`re fired. He gets -- that`s his giggle.

His kids are different. It`s clear he cares about Ivanka and her husband, Jared.

My instinct has been, at some point, Mueller is going to prosecute them, because of the Trump Tower meeting and all the involvements they have had, especially the son Donald Trump Jr., because of the Trump Tower meeting.

Trump can`t allow his kids to be indicted, because people have told him he can`t pardon him. Is that -- so doesn`t he have to stop Mueller in his tracks like right now?

ROCAH: Well, I think that`s what he`s trying to do.

And I think that`s why this is, I think, Chris, as bad is him having fired Mueller, maybe even worse. And let me tell you why. First of all, he`s done it in this sort of stealth way.

I mean, I don`t know that I have thought of Trump as a very smart, calculating guy, but he is here now.

MATTHEWS: He is president. He got there somehow.

ROCAH: Well, yes. And we can debate that another time.

But the point is...

MATTHEWS: And when I walk past Trump Tower here on Fifth Avenue, I don`t know about you, but I`m impressed. He does own that building, I think. I think he does.

ROCAH: But this is a very calculated move that he did. He got this guy in who can now control, not only the Mueller investigation, but the investigations in the Southern District of New York into the Trump Organization, any cases that Mueller farmed out to the Eastern District of Virginia.

MATTHEWS: Whitaker`s got all this?

ROCAH: He has got more control now over lots of different arms going into Trump`s family. And that is really dangerous. And he`s got cover now.

MATTHEWS: We only got one lawmaker here.

Congressman, let me ask you about this. I have watched the pattern of this thing. Puts in Kavanaugh. Why Kavanaugh? There`s a lot of guys around like Kavanaugh. He picked the guy who said the president of the United States has extraordinary executive authority, and you really -- can`t really limit that authority.

And then he brings in this guy Whitaker, who thinks the same exact thing. What`s going to stop him from just claiming the extraordinary power, as president of the United States, to do whatever he wants to do with his departments, including the Justice Department?

What are you guys going to do about it? Will you impeach him?

JEFFRIES: Well, I think -- well, we`re not going to go down that road right now. We have to allow the process to play itself out.

But I think the good men and women of the Department of Justice and the FBI won`t allow the type of shenanigans that he may try to undertake to go forward, without it being exposed.

And now they have an empowered House of Representatives.

MATTHEWS: But is their boss. But this is their new boss we`re looking at.

JEFFRIES: It is their boss.

It is their boss, but they also know that we have a constitutional responsibility to be a check and balance on an out-of-control executive. And the cover-up caucus that had been in charge of the House of Representatives for the last two years is no longer in the majority.

MATTHEWS: You mean Nunes and company?

JEFFRIES: Nunes and company. He`s the lead one of the cover-up caucus. But there`s a whole bunch of them, unfortunately.

MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Michael.

The reporting on this, where is it going tonight and tomorrow, how far Trump is heading in this direction of strategic defense?

SCHMIDT: Well, that`s really the question.

And how long would Whitaker be there? Is Whitaker the person that Trump wants to be the attorney general in the long run? Is this someone, is he`s testing him out here, or is he putting him there hoping to keep them there, even if Congress won`t confirm the person that he wants?

There`s just a lot that the we don`t know here in what the president`s true intentions are.


MATTHEWS: How about Lindsey Graham? Does he want Lindsey in there? Does he want Lindsey there?

ROCAH: Well, Lindsey Graham, Christie, would those folks come in?

And is Trump going is -- is he going straight for Mueller? Does he want to have Mueller fired? I think that would create a massive reaction that would be negative for the president. The president had some PTSD from the firing of Comey, some real scar tissue there.

MATTHEWS: Yes, he`s got 54 senators too maybe.


And it`s not clear. The president often likes to do things to distract. And he probably knows deep down inside that yesterday`s election was not as great for him as he made it out to be at this press conference.

CORN: Chris...


MATTHEWS: Go ahead, David, because I see that number of senators as critical to his new confidence in this area, that he`s got -- he doesn`t need the two women for another confirmation, if there`s a choice issue there in terms of a woman`s right to choose.

He can still operate without Collins, without Murkowski. He`s got enough Republican males, to put it bluntly, to get a confirmation.

CORN: Chris, we call this the Mueller investigation, but, really, it`s an FBI investigation. It was started by the FBI.

After Comey was fired, the special counsel was appointed to oversee it and run it. But -- so, if you get rid of Mueller, that doesn`t necessarily end the investigation. You would have to basically get the FBI to shut it down, to fire all those prosecutors.

And that brings the FBI director and lots of other officials into the picture. And the question is, would they go along with it? So I think to truly get away with smothering this, even strangling it, budgetarily- speaking, would take a lot of people to go along with that.

And if they don`t, you could have something that looks 100 times worse than Nixon`s Saturday Night -- Saturday Night Massacre.

MATTHEWS: So you don`t think he will fire Mueller?

ROCAH: Oh, I`m not sure right away.

But I`m not sure he understands this. You get rid of Mueller, it doesn`t mean the investigation goes away, unless you`re willing to order the FBI to shut it down, which is kind of what Nixon lost his presidency over, by trying to shut down the FBI investigation of Watergate.


All I know is Trump. And you know him too, David.

CORN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And everybody else here knows him.

And Trump sees the presidency as a family acquisition.

CORN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: He sees the federal government as a family business.

And the way he looks at it, perhaps like an organized criminal at times, I think he looks about it this way. There`s a mentioned made of a wartime consigliere here. He wants somebody like that in the Justice Department for him.

He`s not going to take a licking. He`s not going to let his kids go to prison.

CORN: You`re right. I think that`s right.

MATTHEWS: He`s not going to let that happen. He will not let that happen.

And I`m just watching how many -- how many steps will he take to prevent that from happening? Because he will take those steps.

Thank you, Michael Schmidt.

U.S. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York, thank you, sir.

JEFFRIES: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: And Mimi Rocah and David Corn.

Coming up: Before Democrats in the House take office this January 3, President Trump is taking the fight to them, as we have said. Look at this fight today. What a press conference. It was street fighting, not much dignity there, not much dignity at all.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

With him news that he has decided to fire his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, President Trump has ensured a big political battle with the new Democratic majority in the House, which comes in on January 3.

Even before the Sessions news, Trump signaled a combative posture today toward the Democrats. He warned, if they use their new powers running the House, the power to subpoena, he will get Republicans to go after them.

It`s already a street fight. Let`s watch it.


TRUMP: They can play that game, but we can play it better, because we have a thing called the United States Senate.

And a lot of very questionable things were done between leaks of classified information, and many other elements that should not have taken place.


MATTHEWS: In fact, Trump even went so far as to say he would benefit if that happened. He wants a fight.


TRUMP: It`ll probably be very good for me politically. I could see it being extremely good politically, because I think I`m better at that game than they are.


MATTHEWS: Could be.

Joining me right now is Heidi Przybyla, NBC News national political correspondent. Charlie Sykes, of course, is contributing editor at "The Weekly Standard."

Thank you both.

It looks to me like -- I mean, we all watched that press conference today. He was in a fighting mood. The press was to some extent too. But he wanted a fight. He wanted to make a little blood show on people`s noses. He wanted it to look like a fight.

And it seems to me that I have never heard in my life a president saying, I`m going to use the political -- the subpoena power of one branch of the - - of the U.S. Congress to prevent the other one from doing their job of oversight.



Well, it will be a test, Chris, for congressional leaders, because clearly the House has shown by the investigations that they pursue that they`re willing to play ball and go along with this. And it`s led to a deterioration in bipartisanship there.

And in the Senate, we have not seen that. So this will be a test for congressional leaders, because I am positive that, since it happened in the House, the president will also make good on leaning on Senate leadership and Senate committee chairs.

But he doesn`t -- just like he doesn`t control the House, he doesn`t control the Justice Department, he shouldn`t control the Justice Department, and he doesn`t control the Senate.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you. You got some news.

PRZYBYLA: That`s right, Chris.

So, I was just communicating with Senator Blumenthal. And since May, Senator Blumenthal has been working on a break-the-glass option to try and protect Mueller`s work.

As you know, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to move legislation to protect Mueller that was moved out on a bipartisan basis from the Judiciary Committee. Well, this is a break-the-glass option that wouldn`t simply require that Mueller`s work be protected in the event that he is stifled or fired.

And Senator Blumenthal has been talking with Republicans about this, Chris, for a couple of months. He thinks that there is some support for, because it is simply at this point about transparency, to make sure that no matter what happens, if Mueller were squeezed, that his work could be preserved.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s a great question, Charlie, because we were talking to a House -- a member of the House Judiciary Committee, talked about that committee`s attempt, now that they have the majority come January 3 in the House, to somehow subpoena the records of Robert Mueller.

And, even if he can`t publicly pronounce them, they could get the records and announce the results of it for their own impeachment purposes themselves.



Charlie -- let me go back to -- Charlie, can you hear me now?

Let me get back to Heidi. We have a -- we have had this problem.

Heidi, can you hear me?

PRZYBYLA: Yes, I can hear you.

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s talk about that.

What about the steps that can be taken by either houses? You raised the question of Blumenthal from Connecticut talking about it, but he`s got to get that through the Republican majority. They have got maybe 54 Republican senators standing in the way and helping the president, protecting the president, not questioning the president, or helping Mueller, but hurting Mueller.


And the early indications are that we have seen a major shift from last summer, Chris, when it seemed that there was bipartisan agreement in the Senate that they would stand strong against any move on the special counsel.

The early reactions that we`re seeing out of the Senate are simply -- one of the strongest is from, frankly, the guy who`s leaving, Senator Flake, who says, we must move this legislation. But we`re not seeing a strong response from anybody else.

And Democrats, well, they don`t take control of the House until January. So folks that I talk to, sources that I talk to say, if anything happens, it could happen pretty quickly in terms of Mueller potentially issuing indictments, and a decision will need to be made in the Senate, whether there`s going to be any kind of pushback.

And, right now, we just don`t see that indication.

Well, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned House Democrats of using their new authority they will get in January to launch investigations of Trump. Let`s watch him.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: The whole issue of presidential harassment is interesting.

I remember when we tried it in the late `90s. We impeached President Clinton. His numbers went up and ours went down, and we underperformed in the next election.

So the Democrats on the House will have to decide just how much presidential harassment they think is good strategy. I`m not so sure it`ll work for them.


MATTHEWS: You know, I don`t think the Democrats should take advice from Mitch McConnell, because he`s not operating or speaking in their interest or in the interest of the country in this regard.

Why would he tell them not to take up their constitutional responsibility, if Mueller comes out with basically the basis for an impeachment charge, and not to operate on it? Why would anybody think that`s the right thing for America, Charlie?

CHARLIE SYKES, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Yes, well, I don`t think they`re going to take that advice.

You know, it occurs to me, though, that President Trump insulted two institutions today. He insulted the U.S. Senate by implying that they would become complicit in his obstruction of justice by going after the House of Representatives.


SYKES: That would be interesting to hear from Mitch McConnell about -- on that as well.

He also really insulted the Department of Justice by putting in the acting attorney general`s position a -- really a pliable lackey, as opposed to a credible attorney general. And it`s going to be interesting to see how this all plays out.

I understand the people who say that they`re seeing this -- the strategic genius here. I -- this almost smacks of desperation, when you think about the president waiting until the day after the midterm elections, this day when we know that Mueller is maybe ending this pause, to take an action this extreme, this dramatic.

MATTHEWS: Well, how about this? Suppose he knows that Mueller was waiting until the election was over, like Michael was waiting for the mother to die before he kills his brother? He`s waiting for that. You know how it`s done.

So, he says, wait a minute, he is going to operate. Any day now, he`s going to come out with something against me and my family. I`m going to operate first. I`m going to get rid of this A.G. I don`t trust. I will put in a guy that you say is pliable. I think that`s fair. And I`m going to begin to have steps ready to take against Mueller, even before.

How do we know this is the last step? How do we not know, Charlie and Heidi, tomorrow morning, when we get up, and there`s another step he takes along the lines of, I`m going to prevent Mueller from grabbing my kids?

Because I really think that`s what it`s about.

SYKES: No, I...


MATTHEWS: Trump has got to protect his family against indictment.


PRZYBYLA: Well, Chris, the problem here is transparency at this point, right, because this is what was described to me and my colleagues when we were reporting on this issue as the so-called straitjacket approach that Judiciary Committee Democrats in both the House and the Senate were concerned about, that if there is that next step taken, we just won`t know, because the bigger threat all along has not been that the president would outright find a way to fire Mueller, but that he would squeeze him and cut off his resources.

And that is...

SYKES: But we will find out.

PRZYBYLA: We wouldn`t know, at least at this point.

MATTHEWS: Well, Charlie, that`s already something that the new attorney general, the acting attorney general, Whitaker, has already said, that he could start starving the guy.

Suppose he says no more typewriters, no more computers, no more assistance, no more clerical help, you`re finished, buddy, your sell date is up? Now report or go away, or neither. Just don`t talk anymore, because you`re not having it -- I`m not going to pay for your room rent anymore.

What`s to stop this new attorney general from doing that to Mueller?

SYKES: Well, that almost strikes me as too clever by half, as if we won`t find out about it.

Look, if he says no to the special prosecutor, remember, this has to be reported to Congress. He also is probably not going to be able to shut down the Southern District investigations.

And I -- that`s why I think that maybe they`re -- they think that this is the way that they`re going to have a stealth Saturday Night Massacre, but nothing like this is going to be -- there will be transparency at some point.

And that`s why what happened in Congress, this has changed the reality. And I`m not sure that the president fully understands how much trouble he is in or what he has done by taking this particular step.

But there`s no question about it. I mean, it is a significant thug move by the president to take this action today, when we`re hearing about the anxiety about Don Jr.

I mean, this is the day that`s been circled on the calendar for a very, very long time. And it certainly indicates that he was fearful that the Mueller might drop something very, very, very soon.

MATTHEWS: Well, Charlie, as Shakespeare said, whether to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take up arms against a sea of troubles, and with -- and end them.

And my question, Trump is probably thinking very much like -- like Hamlet and is thinking, I better act.

Anyway, thank you, Heidi Przybyla. Thank you, Charlie Sykes.

Up next: President Trump flips the script. Listen to this.


TRUMP: That`s such a racist question. That`s such a racist question.

Honestly, I mean, I know you have it written down, and you`re going to tell me. Let me tell you, it`s a racist question.


MATTHEWS: Well, the journalist he accused of asking a racist question joins us next on HARDBALL. You know her, Yamiche Alcindor, one of our great people here.

We will be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

During the closing days of the midterm campaign, which was ended yesterday, President Trump proudly called himself a nationalist. That`s the new word he loved. He said he wanted to end birthright citizenship, of course, the 14th Amendment right to everyone born in this country to be a citizen.

And he warned that a group of asylum seekers from Honduras were heading toward the border to invade -- that was his word -- the United States of America.

At his freewheeling and combative press conference today, Trump sounded a defiant note, refusing to take any responsibility for the tone that he set in the campaign.


QUESTION: How do you see your role...

TRUMP: All right.

QUESTION: ... as a moral leader?

TRUMP: Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Mr. President, just how do you see...

TRUMP: Go ahead, please. Please, please.

QUESTION: ... your role as a moral leader?

TRUMP: Please, please. Go ahead. There`s so many people, I`m sorry. Go ahead.

QUESTION: As a moral leader, though?

TRUMP: I think I am a great moral leader, and I love our country.

QUESTION: Why are you pitting Americans against one another, sir?

TRUMP: I`m not.

QUESTION: Is that how you view citizens of this country?

TRUMP: No, I`m not. Well, look, I will tell you what -- we won a lot of elections last night. We did very well last night, and I think it`s going to have...

QUESTION: But in many ways, it divided the country.

TRUMP: I think it`s going to have a very positive impact.

QUESTION: Michael Cohen recently said you called black voters stupid.

TRUMP: That`s false.

QUESTION: Omarosa has accused you of using the N-word.

TRUMP: That`s false.

QUESTION: And the rapper Lil Jon has said you called him Uncle Tom. What`s your response?

TRUMP: I don`t know who Lil Jon is. I don`t -- I really don`t.

QUESTION: He was on "The Apprentice."

TRUMP: I don`t know. Oh, he was? OK. Oh, I see. I don`t know.

QUESTION: Have you ever made racist remarks?

TRUMP: No. No, I would never do that, and I don`t use racist remarks.



Well, the president also lashed out at Yamiche Alcindor of the "PBS NewsHour," accusing her of asking a -- quote -- "racist question."

And here`s that exchange:


YAMICHE ALCINDOR, "PBS NEWSHOUR": On the campaign trail, you called yourself a nationalist. Some people saw that as emboldening white nationalists. Now people are also saying...

TRUMP: I don`t know why you`d say that. That`s such a racist question.

ALCINDOR: There are some people that say that now the Republican Party is seen as supporting white nationalists because of your rhetoric. What do you make of that?

TRUMP: Oh, I don`t believe that. I don`t believe that.

I don`t believe -- well, I don`t know. Why do I have my highest poll numbers ever with African-Americans? Why do I have among the highest poll numbers with African-Americans? I mean, why do I have my highest poll numbers? That`s such a racist question.

Honestly, I mean, I know you have it written down, and you`re going to tell me. Let me tell you: It`s a racist question.


MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now Yamiche Alcindor herself, White House correspondent for "PBS NewsHour." Of course, Eugene Robinson joins us up here from New York.

Yamiche, that was a pretty a fraught moment there.

Tell me about your reaction to him.

ALCINDOR: Well, really, I think that the president was frustrated because reporters were doing what we do best, which is ask questions and really demand answers.

This is a president who, as you said, has talked about ending birthright citizenship. Just today, a White House -- a white nationalist, a man named Patrick Casey, who heads up a group called Identity Evropa, was tweeting about visiting the White House.

This is someone who is a self-described white nationalist. So I think the president was -- his anger was boiling over there. And I think my reaction is the reaction of most press, of most reporters, which is really to press on.

The next question I asked was about middle-class tax cuts, because I can`t allow the president to just kind of go off, and not really stay on target and really do my job.

MATTHEWS: This president has certainly -- he does observe what you might call today identity politics. He has different knocks on different groups.

I mean, like, white women are ugly, horse face, comments he said about Carly Fiorina. African-American women are low I.Q. or unqualified. One Yale Law graduate running for office down here in Georgia is unqualified.

Did you get a sense from all that, that led you into the question you raised about the tenor he set, I mean, based upon real language he`s used, not implication?

ALCINDOR: Well, I think the president was -- his anger was boiling over because of a lot of things.

At one point during the press conference, he was literally pacing back and forth. I thought he might walk off.

I think that some people see this as the president attacking a woman of color. Of course, I`m a black woman. He was also attacking April Ryan and telling her to sit down. Jim Acosta, he was saying that you`re rude for asking about immigration.

And he was calling reporters hostile. I`m not sure if the president was singling out people because of their race. But I will say that the president was obviously very upset with the -- with the reporting that we were trying to do there.

And I have talked to some White House aides who say that the president feels particularly aggrieved when we ask about the white nationalists, because he feels as though that`s an unfair question.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s talk about the president in this campaign, Gene.

And you come from South Carolina. And I was thinking about Georgia and Florida, where you had incredible African-American candidates.


MATTHEWS: Do you think Trump`s tenor and language, from the caravan to all the ethnic comments he`s made about African-Americans, the way he sort of talks, to put it lightly, you think it had an influence in those defeats?

Did he give permission to those voters?

ROBINSON: Absolutely. Absolutely, I do. Absolutely, I think it was racist to say that Stacey Abrams is not qualified, to say that Andrew Gillum is not equipped to be...

MATTHEWS: Equipped.

ROBINSON: Equipped, right.

MATTHEWS: Sounds like Jimmy the Greek.

ROBINSON: Yes, exactly.

MATTHEWS: Don`t have the necessaries.

ROBINSON: Exactly where I was going.

And that`s just -- and that`s flat-out racist.

But I think his attack on Yamiche -- Yamiche was there. I wasn`t. And so she felt anger coming out of the president.

To me, it looked deliberate. It looks staged, because this -- he is reinforcing this notion that he has encouraged that there`s all this racism being directed against white people.

And that sort of reinforced that. I thought his whole performance today, watching it on television, looked intentional to me. He -- it looked like he came in there ready to pick a fight.

He calls on Jim Acosta, his great antagonist.


MATTHEWS: Yes, but you know what will happen.

ROBINSON: Knowing what`s going to happen.

Then he goes to Peter Alexander, with whom he`s had back and forths. He yells at April Ryan, knowing that she`s going to yell back.

I mean, it was just -- it looked to me like a guy who wanted to be seen having a fight with the media today.

MATTHEWS: Yamiche, if he wants to make the press look like his enemy, he did a pretty good job, if you think about ginning up a fight on the street corner.

I have been using the conceit tonight of a street fight. It does seem like he wants -- he`s lost the argument. He lost the House of Representatives for the next -- rest of his term here. He lost the big argument in the popular vote last night. Clearly, the popular vote of this country when against him.

But he wants to somehow start some other way of judging the way things are. What did you think of the whole thing, with you and everybody else today going head to head with him in the press conference?

ALCINDOR: Well, I think two things.

The first is that I think the president does feel wounded by the fact that Republicans lost control of the House. This was a president who campaigned -- even though he didn`t say that, even though he is saying that he focused on Senate races, he called a lot of House candidates up on stage with him, and was barnstorming across the country, making the case that Republicans should hold on to both the House and the Senate.

And he lost one of the big chambers. It`s going to be a thorn in his side for this.

And as far as his -- him going back and forth with reporters, I think that -- I think, yes, he was probably, in some ways, maybe looking for a little bit of a fight.

He didn`t get a fight out of me. People who know me would know what I look like when I`m fighting.


ALCINDOR: And I wasn`t fighting there.


ALCINDOR: What I was doing was posing a question which is what reporters are going to do. And again, I go back to the fact that there was a white nationalists today tweeting about being at the White House today. So my question was timely and it was fair and it`s what I do.

MATTHEWS: What did you see in his eyes when he`s looking at you?

ALCINDOR: I mean I saw someone who I think was very, very frustrated and very, very angry at the fact I was bringing up the fact that some people think that he`s emboldening white nationalists. I think that there was maybe -- as Eugene said, I think there was some performance there. But I think he was genuinely frustrated with reporters because he was going back and forth and he`d just finished yelling at April Ryan, and Jim Acosta and Peter Alexander. And here comes Yamiche with this question with white nationalism that he can`t stand.

MATTHEWS: It`s amazing to watch somebody I know like you fighting it out with the president on equal terms. It`s something else. I guess that`s good for democracy despite all this other hellish stuff we`re talking about.

The good thing is you can go in there and duke it out with them. Thank you.

I don`t want to soft spoke this because it was awful what he said in the campaign, and I do agree with you and your intimations and your reporting about this nationalist thing here.

But the irony thing about nationalism and African-Americans have been in this country a lot longer, by centuries than most white people. The idea that you`re not part of the nation is an absurdity and, you know, is just pure racism.

Anyway, thank you. That is racism.

Yamiche Alcindor, Eugene Robinson, thank you.

Up next, after taking a victory lap or a perceived victory last night -- perceived? Who`s perception? Trump turns around and fires his A.G. He wanted to start another stink, which he has done. The front page tomorrow won`t be about the election. It will be about that picture and the fact he`s finally dumped the guy who he thinks betrayed him.

But what`s he afraid of? How close is Mueller to getting him and his family? That`s the big -- well, as we used to say, $64,000 question.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Democrats took back the House last night, as we all know, flipping at least 28 seats, maybe 14 more. But in the Senate Republicans expanded their majority picking up two additional seats with the Florida and Arizona seat races still to be decided. I think they can get as far as 54.

In a press conference today, President Trump took a victory lap and took credit for the Republican gains. Let`s watch.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This vigorous campaigning stopped the blue wave that they talked about. I don`t know if there ever was such a thing -- but could have been. If we didn`t do the campaigning, probably there could have been.

REPORTER: What lesson did you learn most from looking at those results? Was there one thing as you reviewed them that you`ll change your strategy not just for Congress but going forward?

TRUMP: I think the results that I`ve learned may be confirmed. I think people like me and I think people like the job I`m doing frankly.

REPORTER: You`re a man who likes to win but last night was not an absolute victory for you.

TRUMP: I`ll be honest, I thought it was very close to a complete victory.


MATTHEWS: Well, a little over an hour later, the president tweeted he`s fired his attorney general.

Let`s bring in tonight`s HARDBALL roundtable. Former New York Democratic congressman and DCCC chairman, Steve Israel, and former New York Governor Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican, and Gabe Debenedetti, a national correspondent for "New York Magazine".

Well, thank you all. We brought you all together as a sample of Americana.


MATTHEWS: We`re covering all the bases or almost all the bases.

But, let me ask you abut this, Governor, first to you. What did you make of Trump`s timing? Firing the A.G. in the middle of this investigation, and everything of his life was on the table in terms of his family, his presidency, his liberty, basically. It`s all in the table and he fires the man leading the prosecution?

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: That`s because I think he`s worried. I think he`s very worried about what`s going to happen when the Democrats are sworn in and in control of the Congress. And he`s laying down his markers now. I mean, I wouldn`t be surprised if he tries to get Bob Mueller and the investigation -- get Bob Mueller fired and get the investigation over before January.

MATTHEWS: I`m with you.


GABE DEBENEDETTI, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: It`s also very clear that a lot of people in the White House and around the president essentially and said to him for months and months, listen, we know you want to get rid of Sessions, but you can`t do it while these midterms are going on. Well, midterms aren`t going on anymore and here we are.

The other thing here obviously --

MATTHEWS: Your mom is dead and I can kill Fredo.

DEBENEDETTI: Something like that, but the other thing here is that he obviously didn`t like the narrative coming from -- coming about the midterm coverage. So, he said this was another big victory for himself. Clearly, that`s not the case, he didn`t believe that, or else he wouldn`t have done this. He knows how this stuff woks.

MATTHEWS: Steve, I don`t think this is the end. I think steps are coming. He does have two months now of a free fire zone without a house of leadership there, Pelosi and the rest of them, and Jerry Nadler can`t touch him for two months. He can do a lot of damage, it seems to me.

FORMER REP. STEVE ISRAEL (D-NY), FORMER CHAIR, DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSIONAL CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE, : Oh, no, I think we`re being setup for both a constitutional crisis and obstruction of justice. And he`s going to run up the clock the next two months.

MATTHEWS: Which guy in your former political party, your former colleagues has the stones to go after this guy and say we`re going to impeach this guy? Who`s going to do it? Name the person?

ISRAEL: First of all --

MATTHEWS: Who`s going to lead the party because I don`t see it from Republicans at all.

ISRAEL: First of all, I don`t think the Democrats should be unilaterally focused on investigations and impeachment. They need to -- they need to focus on investigating the president where it`s warranted, but they also have to deliver to the American people on things like Medicare drugs -- they`ve got to do both things.

MATTHEWS: I like that part too, and we`ll get to that.


MATTHEWS: But my question is, if he fires Mueller, who`s going to stop him?

ISRAEL: If he fires Mueller before Democrats take the Congress?

MATTHEWS: Right now.

ISRAEL: I don`t know that anybody can fire him before.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s an interesting --


ISRAEL: He made this decision to announce the firing of the attorney general, step on the after glow of the Democratic victory and number two, I think the governor`s right. He knows something bad is coming. And he`s trying to address that before the Democrats in a position to -

MATTHEWS: OK, when I hear from your part like Lamar Alexander and all these wimpy comments, and he goes I hope he doesn`t go any further, and he`s already done it.

WHITMAN: I know, I know, and it`s very disappointing because just saying things like that isn`t good enough. You`ve got to act. And they have the ability to put some brakes on this man as he undermines the very basics of our democracy.

MATTHEWS: He`s turned the Democratic Party into the Maxine Waters party and made it look like it`s a hard left party so they`re afraid to show themselves, you know? It`s good old unhyphenated Democrats, just regular people doing their job, and they don`t seem to want to do that.

DEBENEDETTI: Yes. You can say that. On the other hand, the American people clearly don`t agree with that, based on the results from two nights ago, and I think a lot of Americans are --

MATTHEWS: Last night.

DEBENEDETTI: Last night, sorry.

WHITMAN: Seemed like it.

DEBENEDETTI: You know, his game here obviously is to try and divide Democrats and he has, in fact, said, listen, if Democrats try to go after me, I`m going to continue to try and divide them and make sure that the focus is on how crazy those guys are. Look at Maxine Waters, look at Nancy Pelosi.

Democrats are going to investigate him but --

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, why do voter reelect people who have been convicted or under investigation? Menendez from your state, this guy out in California, Chris Collins up in New York. Don`t they have any sense that says, I don`t care whether I`m a Democrat or Republican, I`m not voting for somebody who`s got ethical problems, I`m not going to do it. They don`t. They reelect them.

ISRAEL: There are certain states and certain districts that just have a partisan gravity. That guy may be a crook, but he`s my crook. And that`s what` s happening in some of these races.

MATTHEWS: It`s not funny.

ISRAEL: Unfortunately, it`s the reality.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you. I agree with you. Thank you, Steve Israel with the bad news. Thank you, Christine Todd Whitman, sort of higher sort (ph). By the way, we miss your Republican Party, where is it?

WHITMAN: I`m looking for it.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you.

Gabe Debenedetti, thank you.

Up next, Trump lashes at a journalist at a combative White House press conference. We`re going to show you some scenes of the glory of stuff today. What a strange event.

Look at it, it`s even physical, they`re coming at each other. Look at the assistant to the president pulling a mic out of the guy`s hand, out of Jim Acosta`s hand. It got physical.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

At his press conference today as I said, President Trump took an aggressive stance, I`d say, towards the press. Let`s watch.


TRUMP: Very hostile media coverage to put it mildly. The media coverage set a new record in a new standard.

REPORTER: If I may ask one other question --

TRUMP: That`s enough. CNN should be ashamed of itself having you working for them. You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn`t be working for CNN.

Peter, go ahead.

REPORTER: In Jim`s defense, I traveled with him in Washington. He`s a diligent reporter who`s --

TRUMP: Well, I`m not a big fan of yours either. So, to be honest.

REPORTER: I understand. Let me ask a question if I can. You repeatedly said --

TRUMP: You aren`t the best.

REPORTER: Mr. President, you repeatedly over the course of --

TRUMP: Just sit down, please. When you report fake news -- no. When you report fake news, which CNN does a lot, you are the enemy of the people.


MATTHEWS: Well, late today, the White House announced it was suspending the hard pass of that CNN reporter Jim Acosta. So they`re using the power against him, one of the press.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: "Trump Watch", Wednesday, November 7th, 2018.

Did we expect the day after the midterm elections to be like this? No. But did we know this day would come? Yes.

Donald Trump brought this street fighting ways to the White House when he came there. When someone is coming at you, he says, you strike before they strike you. Today Trump struck. It won`t be the last time. He forced out his A.G. and filled the post with a man who honor the fullest notion of the president`s power who accept as normal political behavior that others might easily discern as advancing a criminal conspiracy by Russians.

What`s Trump up to? Trump wants to eliminate what he sees is a threat to his family, his presidency and perhaps even his liberty. This is going to be one of the great fights in the history of the American government and politics.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. He`s fighting for his life.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.