Show: HARDBALL Date: November 15, 2018 Guest: Val Demings, Marc Caputo, Kevin Baron, Michael Steel, Jaime Harrison; Joyce Vance; Jonathan Lemire; Peter Baker
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: The reckoning approaches. Let`s play HARDBALL.
I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
Fearing the imminent arrival of new criminal charges or a damaging report from Mueller President Trump appears petrified by what federal investigators could soon reveal. With his fate and that of his family hanging in the balance, Trump today struck out at the special counsel in a lengthy twitter rant when in addition to his accustomed smears and innuendo, Trump made strangely specific yet unsubstantiated claims about Mueller`s investigation.
Trump tweeted quote "the inner workings of the Mueller investigation are a total mess. They have found no collusion and have gone absolutely nuts. They are screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening them to come up with the answers they want. They are a disgrace to our nation and don`t care how many lives they ruin. These are angry people, including the highly conflicted bob Mueller who worked for Obama for eight years.
Well the truth, which the President seemed to intentionally distort, is that Mueller was appointed FBI director by President George W. Bush in 2001, serving nearly eight years under Bush before staying on for another four and a half under Obama as a holdover. Trump then lobbed another bomb calling the special counsel`s prosecutors a gang of democrat thugs.
As the "New York Times" reports, Trump`s rant comes after three days of private meetings with his personal lawyers at the White House where he worked to draft answers to questions post by the special counsel. And even with his die-hard Matthew Whitaker now leading the department of justice, Trump appears strike within fear about Mueller`s next move perhaps for good reason.
As "Politico" reports late today, a deep anxiety has started to set in that Mueller is about to pounce and that any number of Trump allies and family numbers may soon be staring down the barrel of indictment. In addition to the criminal charge that Jerome Corsi and Roger Stone say they are expecting, "Politico" reports that the President`s owned son Donald Trump Jr. has told friends in recent weeks that he believes he could be indicted.
And according to the "Washington Post," just today, the President is often worried a lot about the possibility that Mueller will seek to indict Trump Jr. as he moves towards the conclusion of his probe.
Joining me now is Joyce Vance, a federal prosecutor, Peter Baker is chief White House correspondent for the "New York Times" and Jonathan Lemire is White House reporter for the "Associated Press."
Jonathan, what have you got on why is Trump in such an uproar? Why shooting in every directions and he seems to be scared?
JONATHAN LEMIRE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: It is confluence of events here, Chris. As you know, Robert Mueller publicly remain very quiet in the weeks before the midterms. And the President did, too, only tweeting about the special counsel wants since Labor Day. That ended today as his frustrations burst out of the scene in that twitter diatribe that you just quoted from, it if from a few different things.
First, he is dealing with a number of setbacks since the midterm elections. Seemingly by the day the Democrats pick up another seat in the House. His choice for acting attorney general Matt Whitaker who he believes will be an ally and pushing back against the Mueller probe. His that choice come drawn a lot of heat. We saw movement in the Senate to try to introduce legislation to protect the special counsel Robert Mueller and certainly he is suddenly -- even though Mueller himself has been quiet, the word around Mueller has picked up. Whispers here in Washington as you just said, that further indictments could be coming. True Trump allies, Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi, openly talking about the possibility that they can be indicted. The President is internalizing that coverage. And that comes on the heels of these three days, he spent in the White House behind me preparing for the answers to the written questions from Mueller on collusion.
The White House`s lawyer Giuliani has said they are not touching the obstruction piece of this but collusion is very much in the President`s mind and despite council from his advisers to keep quiet to not attack Robert Mueller, that dam broke this morning in significant way as he unleashed some very personal and inaccurate attacks about Mueller. And that is reflected of the growing sense in Trump world that there could be indictments coming down. And yes, as you said perhaps not just allies, like Stone and Corsi, but members of the President`s inner circle and maybe even family.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much.
Let me go to Joyce. It seems when he goes personally against the prosecutor he expects prosecution so he wants to undermine it saying he is a Democrat when the history shows it was George W. Bush who made him FBI director and he was held over by President Obama but he is no Democrat. He is no operative. And yet he wants to say he is also in chaos. That he is screaming and shouting.
Is Trump projecting what we think is probably going on in the White House, the screaming and shouting?
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: It looks like a healthy dose of projection, a healthy dose of wishful thinking and maybe there`s some strategy here. It`s really easy to discredit this President as someone who shoots from the hip. You know we often believe that his twitter feed is the window into his soul and what his worries of the moment are. But there also seems to be a certain deliberate strategy here of trying to undercut the Mueller investigation. And I suppose if his base is still willing to accept any of the garbage that he spews in these tweets maybe Mueller will be undercut in their minds but most is made up. Some of it is outright lies, mischaracterizing Mueller as someone who served in the Obama administration. He was, as you pointed out, a hold over.
My experience, Chris, is that the only people who attack prosecutors and the police are the guilty. If you are innocent, you go in and you tell the truth. You tell your side of the story. But when you are out of strategies to pursue, then you attack the police.
MATTHEWS: Well, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, he is still around, told the "Washington Post" today that Mueller has posed at least two dozen questions to the President about potential collusion saying quote "there are some that create more issues for us legally than others," whatever that means.
According to the "Washington Post," Giuliani said some were unnecessary, some were possible traps and we might consider some as irrelevant.
Peter, obviously, you don`t get to choose what questions you answer. This is a take home exam. They are apparently taking a lot of time with it. Three days in a row now. What is Trump afraid of in those questions? Can we tell?
PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, it`s a great question. I mean, I hope someday if I ever get in trouble with a prosecutor I get to pick and choose which questions I think are relevant.
You know, this is a President who managed to avoid an actual interview in which you have to respond in the moment without the ability to have a lawyer help you write the answers. This is the best way a President could have to respond to questions from prosecutors because you do, as you say, a take home test, you have the books in front of you. You consult with your staff and lawyers about what you have said previously in order to make sure you don`t trip over your own past words and have any contradictions.
The traps are obvious, though. You know, anything that gets at intent, get anything that gets at the idea that he wanted to impede the investigation, that would go to obstruction. Even he gets at acknowledging knowledge of, for instance, that meeting in Trump tower that his son and son-in-law, the campaign chairman, took with Russian visitors offering information on behalf of the Russian government would contradict something he said in the past. If they ask him about the statement he helped draft, that he basically dictated in response to reports about that meeting that could open up a whole new can of worms.
What he doesn`t know necessarily is what special prosecutor Robert Mueller knows. And so when you answer these questions, you don`t want to say anything that will contradict the evidence that already is in the hands of the prosecutors because then can get yourself in severe trouble.
MATTHEWS: Joyce, not everybody, as you know, from their experience has an escape route. I mean, Saddam Hussein ended up hiding in the ground. He didn`t have an escape route. Not all bad guys have this plan to get out of town. And I`m thinking about Trump. He has got the pardon power which we don`t know how limited that is or unlimited. He has got Whitaker in there as attorney general. He could possibly stifle any reports or indictments I guess.
What else? He has got a bunch of good lawyers, I think. How does Trump away with what looks to be coming at him perhaps the next several days or weeks which is indictments of his family member, indictments of people who will rat him out like Roger Stone. He can rant about - he has got all kinds of stuff that I`m going back for decades. And, of course, you know, impeachment.
VANCE: You know, Trump`s strategy in the most difficult moments of his life has always been to bluster, to hit hard and to keep on hitting. And maybe that works in a business context. But this is the first time I think in Trump`s life that he has come up against a criminal investigation. He has had some luck in civil courts.
This is Robert Mueller, the former director of the FBI, this is not a group of angry Democrats, but rather a group of very well experienced very straight up the middle prosecutors who know how to get about their jobs. I don`t believe that this group breaks and bends because the President blusters. I`m sure he has the pardon power and he can pardon people who aren`t himself, at least to a certain extent. And maybe that gets some of his friends out of trouble. But he can`t use the pardon power to keep people, for instance, Roger Stone, from providing prosecutors with evidence against him, from cooperating with prosecutors because if he uses the pardon power in that way, it`s just an additional layer of obstruction. I don`t think Mueller will go after him with kid gloves as regard to the President obstructing justice or doing anything that undermines the rule of law.
MATTHEWS: Well, we are getting new insight into the text messages that former Trump advisor Roger Stone received from radio personality Randy Credico. The text messages where Stone provided to NBC News showed that Credico appears to have given Stone regular updates about when WikiLeaks would release new Russian hack emails to embarrass Hillary Clinton in 2016.
In August of 2016, Credico notified Stone that the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange has kryptonite on Hillary. And then six days before the Democratic emails were he released in October of 2016, Credico said big news Wednesday and that Hillary`s campaign will die this week.
But Credico also asked Stone for an apparent favor from Trump. Quote "why can`t you get Trump to come out and say that he will give Julian Assange asylum?"
Peter, boy, that looks like a narrative to me. One guy is getting the dirt for Hillary and at the same time that guy who got the dirt or knows it is coming is trying to get a break for Assange from the President coming in, the guy they are helping in the campaign.
MATTHEWS: It seems to be all there. Quid pro quo.
BAKER: Right, exactly. Well, on the question then becomes to, what did Roger Stone know about WikiLeaks` connection to the Russian at that point? So it is not just WikiLeaks, is that WikiLeaks is a conduit according American intelligence agency for the Russians who have stolen these emails to begin with. And that`s where you begin to get even more dicey.
So you know, there is a lot --.
MATTHEWS: Didn`t he know at that time - but didn`t he know at that time that the Russians had hacked into the Democrats?
BAKER: Well, we knew the -- they had been hacked. I`m not 100 percent sure how - I have to figure back and we have to look at this, the timetable to remember exactly who has (INAUDIBLE) at that tower and be careful about overstating that.
But you are right. I mean, the important mart isn`t even just WikiLeaks. Because the WikiLeaks was acting as an agent for the Russian government, right.
BAKER: And if that was known at the time, Roger Stone knew that at the time, he was dealing with the WikiLeaks and he was acting therefore as an agent of the Trump campaign, that`s the linkage prosecutors presumably have been looking for.
Now, it may or may not be a legal link or illegal. You know, Joyce would know better than I do. There`s a whole big debate as to what constitutes conspiracy, that`s the legal term, not collusion but we are beginning to see some dots being linked together. And we will see when these indictments, if there are indictments, come out to see how far they go.
MATTHEWS: The narrative, Joyce, that I think would work even with some Republicans who are continuing to face voters, I don`t mean that Ryan Costello or Charlie Dent or Flake or in those characters because they don`t count as Republicans as far as I say because they don`t face Republican voters, but what seems to work perhaps if we still lived in the age of Watergate where there good Republicans who faced reality, faced evidence, if you can show that Trump has been in bed with the Russians in terms of financial support for years in his business, if you can show that he had a happy idea about getting help from them in the campaign, that he had interlocutrices like Roger Stone and getting that information to him and encouraging its use by WikiLeaks to destroy Hillary Clinton, it seems to me you have a narrative there of collusion. Right there. And throw in the tower meeting in June with his son there.
VANCE: Yes. I think that that`s right. And we don`t know exactly what Mueller has. You know, he could be about to reach a conclusion that there`s simply insufficient evidence that there is any sort of conspiracy between Trump or folks in the campaign and the Russians, but he could also be sitting on something that would be enough to convince even the most stalwart Republican.
There are a lot of puzzle pieces that just don`t fit there, Trump`s business dealings with Russian, there is the, you know, Trump tower Moscow deal that was going on during the campaigns. There`s the change to the Republican Party platform during the campaign that significantly weakens the Republican Party`s stance for its Russian activity in Ukraine. So there are a lot of pieces and we don`t know what sort of evidence Mueller has developed in an effort to make them all fit together so that we can understand them but it could be that the time at which this is all brought down whether it`s an indictment or a report that goes on the hill, there will be a lot of movement on the Republican side as regards to where this President sits with them.
MATTHEWS: Jonathan, tonight in your report, and we don`t have the report yet for the "Associated Press" here putting out tonight, but what is it that really explains? I want to get back to where we started tonight. Why is Trump so angry, so jittery? He is shooting of in every direction making ridiculous charges with Stone hold out even among the crazies about the fact that somehow Robert Mueller, some you know, local hack Democrat. He is not that at all. He is a public servant put in office by Republican Presidents.
Let me ask you about what`s driving Trump crazy. Why is he running around like the mad hatter in the White House these last three days?
LEMIRE: It is two things, really. First of all, there is a sense that the investigation could be closing in. Perhaps not on the President personally but those close to him as we said. Perhaps even members of his own family. Also the Mueller probe is suddenly in his face again.
Let`s remember that for months now, the President was able to focus on these midterms, night after night attending rallies across the country, appearing before adoring crowds, delivering, you know, harsh rhetoric of the Democrats, pumping up the caravan as a threat to national security. That`s what he is (INAUDIBLE). That`s what he loves to do is to be in that element. That`s over now. It`s almost like coming down from a sugar high and now he is back to the day-to-day governing and in particular trying to deal with this Mueller probe. Trying to come up with the written answers to these questions that have been submitted. And while also coming under siege for his performance in Paris when he didn`t go to the American cemetery to pay tribute to the World War I dead, fighting you know, fighting officers from the hill and also bracing for the Democrat takeover of the House of Representatives which will open up a whole another slew of investigations into the west wing.
MATTHEWS: Home alone.
Thank you so much, Joyce Vance.
Thank you Peter Baker and Jonathan Lemire.
Coming up, a resolution in Florida`s hotly contested Senate race, it is going to have to wait until Sunday, at least. That`s the new deadline after a hand recount was ordered today. What`s the end game here for Democrats? Because, you know, if the senator is still behind the vote of about 12,000 votes. Could this valid all the way to the Supreme Court? Not exactly friendly territory for Democrats.
Plus, President Trump today hosted several events focusing on the military claiming he was - he has done a lot for them, he says. But for a man who campaigned to a no more stupid wars, he sent thousands of troops to the southern border of our country to fight a faux or phony war.
And the Democrats have won the House but do they have a leader? Despite strong opposition, Nancy Pelosi insists she has the votes to become the speaker of the House once again.
Finally, let me finish tonight with Trump watch.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
It was deadline day in Florida`s election recount today, but in -- a resolution in the United States Senate race between Rick Scott and incumbent Bill Nelson is now -- the resolution is going to have to wait until at least, I figure Sunday, when the hand recount is supposed to be finished.
Well, anyway, after a machine recount found Scott holding less than a 13,000-vote lead, still within a quarter of a percent margin, a hand recount was ordered. That`s supposed to be done by Sunday.
All 67 counties in Florida had a deadline of 3:00 p.m. today to finish the machine recounts. Democrats requested a deadline extension, but U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker rejected that request just this afternoon.
Well, this morning, Judge Walker slammed state officials and lawmakers in a hearing, saying Florida is -- quote -- "the laughingstock of the world election after election. And we chose not to fix this."
He also ruled that roughly 4,000 rejected mail-in and provisional ballots can be counted. The deadline for that recount -- or that count is Saturday at 5:00 p.m.
Well, President Trump said in an interview that the Florida race should have been called on election night. He also tried to excuse Republican losses last Tuesday by claiming -- without evidence -- that people are illegally voting, saying: "The Republicans don`t win, and that`s because of potentially illegal votes. When people get in line that have absolutely no right to vote and they go around in circles. Sometimes, they go to their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in and vote again. It`s really a disgrace, what`s going on."
All that, of course, is made up completely.
I`m joined right now by Florida Democratic U.S. Congresswoman Val Demings and Marc Caputo of Florida, a senior writer for Politico.
Marc, a very general question. I know states. I grew up in the Northeast, big cities, ethnic and all that. I know there are certain cities where there are questionable votes. Theodore White used to say there`s certain states where you could actually count on the vote being exactly as it comes in, like Minnesota, Wisconsin.
They don`t have all this big city thing going on with machines and all that stuff, politicians who live to be elected, so they can make a living.
My question to you, is Florida a generally honest state?
MARC CAPUTO, POLITICO: Well, that`s probably a trick question. Does Florida always get elections right?
MATTHEWS: It`s not. I`m asking for hope here. Go ahead.
CAPUTO: Well, you`re probably in the wrong state or talking to the wrong reporter if you`re looking for hope.
But what I can say is, is that we have a history of election controversies and snafus, to put it mildly. Certainly, starting in 2000 was our biggest election meltdown. Compare that to basically a Category 5 hurricane, very powerful. This looks like kind of a Category 1 storm, where we had a little damage to the roof and to the windows, and it`s really a wakeup call the fix the elections machinery, as well as to fix some of the elections laws and perhaps pump some more money into the system.
MATTHEWS: Nice try, Marc, but it`s not an act of God, what`s going on. It`s an act of man.
I want to get the congresswoman in here.
You were police chief. You know what law and order means.
What is it about this -- let`s just be fair. There`s been no evidence of cheating. Nobody -- Trump`s just made this up. It`s trumped up again. There is some screw-ups about deadlines.
But I always wonder, why do your state -- why do you set these deadlines, but you also set these requirements that everything has to be counted? Every vote has to be counted, and the recount by machine, and then a recount if it`s still closer by hand.
But it all has to be done, but it also has to be done by dates. It`s one or the other to me. Complete, done, get the job done, or meet these deadlines. And you can`t do both.
REP. VAL DEMINGS (D), FLORIDA: Well, Chris, I tell you, Florida is certainly the state that keeps you up every election night.
And when you listen to what the judge said, look, it`s embarrassing. I wish he hadn`t said it, but I clearly understand it.
What we should be concerned about in Florida, from the governor, certainly the president, if he`s going to interject himself into Florida politics, and every voter is that every vote is counted. Every person deserves that.
And you`re right, multiple deadlines. We should be concerned about every vote, those who went to the polls, those who mailed their ballots, the provisional ballots.
MATTHEWS: Let`s start with the tricky stuff.
I will go back to Marc and then come back to you.
You know, when I write a check or I pay for something at a Starbucks or something, I write Chris Matthews. I don`t write Christopher J. Matthews. And they take it. And it all gets paid in the credit card.
You do that in Florida, your vote doesn`t count.
CAPUTO: Well, possibly. It depends on how you`re voting.
I`m told, if isn`t the same as you have filed out your registration, if it isn`t all the same, if it isn`t Christopher J. Matthews with two T`s, if it`s anything that doesn`t look like that, it doesn`t count. Isn`t that the case?
CAPUTO: That can be the case if you are casting an absentee ballot and your signature on your envelope that you mail the absentee ballot back in doesn`t match the signature on file.
And one of the arguments that Senator Bill Nelson is making -- and with some measure of success -- is that there are not very clear standards and there aren`t consistent standards from county to county. And that`s probably where your biggest problem comes in for people who are casting absentee ballots.
MATTHEWS: Congresswoman, let me ask you about the Democrats.
Senator Nelson is back by -- he`s down by 12,000 votes. They have just done a recount. I guess it`s about the same. It`s about 12,000.
Why do a handwritten -- hand count and expect it to be much different? What`s he`s trying to do? He`s got all these hot shot lawyers down there. They`re just keep litigating and litigating. To what effect?
DEMINGS: Well, Senator Nelson has been a great senator for our state.
I think, when you look at his record of service, he deserves for every vote to be counted. And I think the hand count really gives us an opportunity. If your grandmother went to the polls, didn`t take her glasses, she circled in the bubble next to a certain name, Senator Nelson`s name, but not the exact bubble, a hand count can show what her intention was.
And I think, just like Marc was saying with the signature, if you leave out your middle initial, your ballot still should count.
And I just think that we -- if we`re serious about making sure that one of the most basic rights given to us is honored, then we should do the hand count.
MATTHEWS: Well, that sounds really -- look, that`s -- how can I dispute that?
Let me ask you, Marc. In this case, the Democrats are going to the court. The last time around, in 2000, it was Republicans who effectively went to the Supreme Court and got the whole Florida thing thrown out. And, basically, they gave it to W.
This time around, why would the Democrats, Senator Nelson and his lawyers, think that they`re going to get any satisfaction from this Kavanaugh`ed Supreme Court?
CAPUTO: Well, two things here. Number one, they have to have a manual recount under Florida statute. The margin in the race is less than a quarter of a percentage point.
CAPUTO: So, under law, there has to be a recount.
Now, the problem for Bill Nelson is margin. He was down by 12,562 votes before the recount began. And now he`s probably down by about the same margin after the recount. And what he needs to do is, he needs to find more votes.
And because Florida has various laws which disqualify ballots that, if they were cast in other states, would probably be considered valid, he wants to expand the pool of ballots, expand the pool of potential votes, to be able to essentially expand the electorate and have a shot at winning. That`s why.
Now, he has had a measure of success. Today, Judge Walker did rule at least partly in his favor to allow a number of absentee ballots, as you mentioned earlier, to be considered.
The problem, though, that Bill Nelson has is time and math. He has a bunch of these different lawsuits that are pending. Not all of them will get accepted 100 percent. And then there`s also just a math problem.
He has such a big margin he has to overcome, that it`s really difficult to see how, considering the state`s voting rates and voting patterns, he can make up that difference.
For instance, if there are only 4,000 ballots -- we don`t really know the exact number -- that are going to be kind of counted after people prove that their signatures are their signatures and their vote should count, well, he`s down by more than 12,000 votes. So he`s going to need more than 100 percent of the 4,000. You need 110 percent, kind of coach`s math.
And, well, you can`t really do that, even in Florida.
MATTHEWS: So I guess it`s like the base -- batter in baseball who runs out the fly ball knowing it`s going to be caught, but he still runs to first.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, meanwhile, the Democrats` blue wave grew again today with another flip in a contested House race.
Today, NBC News declared Democrat Jared Golden the apparent winner in Maine`s 2nd District, defeating incumbent Republican Bruce Poliquin. That brings Democrats` total to 230 seats, giving the party a gain of 35 seats so far, with a half-a-dozen races still outstanding.
But in an interview with NBC News, Vice President Mike Pence downplayed the Democrats` victory.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We made history by expanding our majority in the Senate. We won some great elections in governor`s offices around the country.
And we didn`t really see that blue wave in the House of Representatives come our way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You know, he`s got the same "Da Vinci Code," avuncular nature that Cheney had that we saw, you know, with his bonding.
The Democrats picked up -- I thought they wouldn`t have got -- up to 40 victories. What is he talking about?
DEMINGS: Well, let me tell you, the vice president can deny all he wants. We had a blue wave last Tuesday night. And they`re still coming in. The votes are still being counted. And we`re still picking up seats.
It was a blue wave.
MATTHEWS: Yes, what`s his problem?
Well, you know, he says it in that avuncular way. Well, we know now.
That is so Dick Cheney. It`s pronounced Cheney, by the way.
Anyway, U.S. Congresswoman Val Demings, Marc Caputo, thank you, sir, for coming on.
CAPUTO: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Up next: Despite ditching outings to honor veterans over the weekend, telling Florida voters to ignore military ballots -- that`s another thing Trump`s doing, to ignore the military ballots, he said -- trying to privatize veterans` care, and sending troops to the border to defend against an imaginary invasion, President Trump today said he`s done a lot for veterans.
The truth about Trump and our military veterans -- straight ahead.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Throughout the campaign, Donald Trump pledged to stop fighting stupid wars.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Unlike my opponent, my foreign policy will emphasize diplomacy, not destruction.
Our failed establishment has brought us nothing but poverty at home and disaster overseas. That`s what we have, disaster, the wars we never war.
You`re tired of the reckless foreign policy, the crazy wars that are never won.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: But, in recent weeks, his administration is struggling to defend the continued presence of roughly 5,000 troops at our southern border, deployed to fight the ultimate phony war against asylum seekers.
President Trump has been under increased criticism for skipping two veterans events over this weekend, one in France and one in Arlington National Cemetery.
Then, on Tuesday, a day after Veterans Day, he called for the Florida recount to end, even though military votes aren`t due in until tomorrow.
Well, according to "The Washington Post," the president has been angered by some of the media coverage that implied that he did not respect veterans. So, today, four days after Veterans Day, the White House organized two military events to honor veterans.
And Trump also tweeted this message of support: "It is our sacred duty to support America`s service members every single day they wear the uniform and every day after when they return home as veterans. Together, we will honor those who defend us. We will cherish those who protect us, and we will celebrate the amazing heroes."
For more, I`m joined by Kevin Baron, executive editor of Defense One.
Kevin, it looked to me like a makeup, bad weekend, bad optics, bad P.R., bad image. He made it up today, he thinks. Somebody at the White House has encouraged him to make it up to the troops.
KEVIN BARON, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, DEFENSE ONE: Yes, I don`t know what the what the purpose of this was, but it wasn`t a great week for optics, at least, on how the whole visit to France looked, the border deployment of the troops, Mattis` trip down.
There -- I don`t think it`s done the white us any favors to go through these events this week.
MATTHEWS: Well, Mattis was -- he has sort of an Eisenhower way of meeting with the troops, Mattis. He`s got a great touch.
And he goes out. And one of the troops got to ask him a question. He said, what are we here for?
BARON: Yes. And he couldn`t really answer it very well.
It was kind of like Ted Kennedy. You got to know why you want to be president. You better know why you`re down there.
Mattis has really been on the hot seat from the beginning of this from lot of people in the national security community, who think that they have seen right through, that this was obviously a stunt, they will say, that this has nothing to do with actual security, and Secretary Mattis should act like a civilian secretary more than a general.
And if he really doesn`t believe that that`s what troops should be used for, he should resign. A lot of people said that.
BARON: I think a lot of people, though, they continually misunderstand how Secretary Mattis just -- he`s very similar to General Kelly, in how they feel like, look, this is what the president orders. Then we`re going to carry out the order.
And unless there`s something illegal about it, this is not what -- we`re not going to do it -- we`re going to make sure the government runs, and we`re going to try to tamp things down.
And he stayed out of the press. He barely commented on it until, out of the blue, after Election Day, he went down there to make this troop call.
MATTHEWS: What is the morale like amongst soldiers? Soldiers read the papers. They know what`s going on.
And they have scuttlebutt, the old term for chatting up about things. And don`t they know that they were being used to go down there for a P.R. stunt to make Trump look tough on immigration?
I mean, across social media, you see plenty of soldiers saying that. But, privately, no, soldiers, like always, they -- they`re told that the secretary is coming, and they sit and they wait for these troop visits, whether it`s hot sun in the desert or anywhere else.
But I caution any time anybody asks, what do the soldiers think, because the military is a bloc on paper, but it`s not a separate voting bloc from the rest of the country.
MATTHEWS: That`s what I think.
BARON: People in the military still vote their pocketbook. They still vote for health care. They still vote for family issues.
They also have more concern over national security issues. But for something like this, I guarantee there`s not an Army soldier down there thinking, I`m so thrilled I signed up, and this is what I`m being asked to do.
MATTHEWS: Yes, well, look, here`s...
BARON: You could find that about a lot of people...
BARON: ... all over the world.
MATTHEWS: OK, there`s a lot of duty they don`t like.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, here`s Mattis, the secretary of defense, speaking with troops yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: There`s all sorts of stuff in the news and that sort of thing.
You just concentrate on what your company commander, your battalion commander tells you, because, if you read all that stuff, you will go nuts. You know what I mean?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You will go nuts if you read about -- you`re down here -- now, he asked them what their duty was, or they asked what their duty was.
And they said, well, to lay out the concertina wire.
BARON: Yes, yes.
MATTHEWS: And then after that, he wasn`t sure what the mission was.
BARON: He didn`t say clearly, like he should have, that the mission is really just to support the civilian Border Patrol troops, not to be trigger-pullers, et cetera.
But that line -- he`s not the first defense secretary that loves to go outside of Washington and dump on Washington. I just hope all those troops actually read Defense One at least, because we have been covering a lot of this.
And they should read a lot, they should know about this, because, like I said, you people see right through this. There`s nobody, there`s nobody out there saying, oh, this is a wise use of our troops, 100 percent, we really believe it.
I mean, even on the right, it`s a whole lot of, well, hemming and hawing.
MATTHEWS: How much is there -- I`m hopeful. I`m looking for hope here.
BARON: Yes, I have heard.
MATTHEWS: That people like Mad Dog Mattis, who is moderating force, even with that nickname, and that General Kelly, the chief of staff, are really hanging in there for patriotic reasons, not just the prestige of the jobs?
Can you measure that? Because they`re trying to look out for the country.
BARON: They don`t need prestige.
Yes, those two gentlemen already had plenty of prestige before this role. General Kelly said to me specifically, before he was leaving his uniform job, that he was done with Washington, but the president called him back.
But, yes, I think they still see themselves -- and I know Secretary Mattis still sees himself as that buffer, both to carry out the president`s policies, as -- as he`s right to do this -- this is the elected president - - but also to keep the military out of politics as much as possible in this incredibly hyperpartisan era that we have found ourselves in, in the Trump years.
And he`s going to keep doing that, whether you like it or not. And this Border Patrol incident, I think, is one example of that, where you may not like troops at the border, but that`s what the president ordered. And his job is to do it, and it`s not a dishonorable order. And so he`s going to...
MATTHEWS: Well, you cover this, Kevin. And the sad thing is, as I said the other night, people who sign up now in this voluntary Army, volunteer Army, they do it to risk their lives.
They go over to terrible places like there. I always try to think, what`s it like to be on lookout somewhere in Afghanistan right now all alone?
BARON: We should be talking about Afghanistan or Syria or Africa.
MATTHEWS: All alone, all alone out there in the middle of nowhere, with nobody around you, and you don`t know who`s coming at -- the Taliban is coming that night. You don`t know that.
And you want to know your country is behind you and you`re not being misused.
Thank you, Kevin Baron. Thank you, sir.
BARON: Thanks for having me.
MATTHEWS: Up next, Nancy Pelosi says she`s got overwhelming support in her bid to regain the speaker`s gavel but 14 Democrats campaigned on not giving her their support. Will lawmakers go for a new face or get in line behind one of the most powerful political figures in Washington today?
You`re watching HARDBALL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: I intend the win the speakership with Democratic votes. I have overwhelming support in my caucus to be speaker of the House and certainly we have many, many people in our caucus who could serve in this capacity. I happen to think that at this point, I`m the best person for that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi earlier today expressing confidence that she will be the next speaker of the House even as she faces her toughest battle yet within her own party to regain control of that gavel. With Democrats presently holding 230 seats -- they may get more -- six more to be counted out there, Pelosi will need 218 votes on the House floor come January 3rd.
According to "The Huffington Post", a total of 17 incumbent and incoming Democrats are prepared to publicly release a letter pledging not to support Pelosi.
There`s no official challenger for Pelosi at this point. However, U.S. Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, the former head of the Congressional Black Caucus has told "The Cleveland Plain Dealer" that she`s considering it but hasn`t made a final decision yet.
I`m joined now by the HARDBALL roundtable. This is a tough roundtable. Leigh Ann Caldwell is Capitol Hill reporter for NBC News. Michael Steel, former spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner. And Jaime Harrison is associate chair of the Democratic National Committee.
All of you, lady and gentlemen, who`s going to win?
LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, NBC NEWS CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: I think Pelosi is going to seal the deal. I mean, she has a long road, a lot can happen. She has her first election among the Democratic caucus, close door, after Thanksgiving, just in two weeks from now, and then she has the harder challenge, which is on the House floor, where the threshold is much higher. She has to get 218.
MATTHEWS: That`s on camera.
CALDWELL: That`s on camera and that will be the big test for all these people who campaigned not supporting her.
MATTHEWS: So, what do you have? What happens, Michael, if a guy or woman says I`m not going to vote for her, I`m going to vote against her? Well, can you get away with not voting for her? Can you vote present?
MICHAEL STEEL, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No.
MATTHEWS: Won`t that work at home?
STEEL: This is the first live televised vote these folks are going to take after promising their constituents something very specific -- I will vote against Nancy Pelosi. Sitting on their hands is not going to be an opposition. They`re going to have to make --
MATTHEWS: So the preposition matters.
MATTHEWS: Go ahead.
JAIME HARRISON, ASSOCIATE CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Listen, Chris, I used to run the whip operation for Democrats. And so, the one thing I`m telling you, the big vote, if you want to take Nancy Pelosi down, you`re going to have to do in the caucus.
MATTHEWS: No one is going to do that.
HARRISON: And if nobody does that, then Nancy Pelosi is going to be the next speaker of the House and why did I say that? Because there`s two different groups here, you have Democrats and you have new Democrats who just were elected. There`s enough margin in the difference right now where those new members who said they`re not going to vote, there`s enough margin not to vote.
But it`s the incumbent Democrats, those people have a decision to make. Do I give the speakership to Kevin McCarthy, or do I give the speakership to Nancy Pelosi? And when I run back home, will Democrats in m district be happy about me giving it to Trump`s BFF, which is Kevin McCarthy?
CALDWELL: The problem with the challenger`s strategy, though, is they -- well, they don`t have a challenger, right? And so, they are waiting for everything to fall apart and someone will emerge. That`s not really a plan. And if they don`t have a plan, and they are unable as of now to organize groundswell against Pelosi and for someone else, that`s a problem for them.
MATTHEWS: How about these politicians who every time they run for reelection -- I`m not going to give the names, Bill Clinton used to do this. I`m not running for president. I`m going to serve the full term, then they run for president. They just do it.
STEEL: That`s a joke, but at the same time, I think the maximum leverage for the minority for the Democrats is the hard vote is the vote on the floor. It`s not the vote in the caucus. She has the votes in the caucus but on the floor, a small group of members, as few as 12 Democrats voting no and this is a whole new ball game. And the House Freedom Caucus has created a predicate, the precedent to use that kind of leverage to force a change at the top.
MATTHEWS: Look at the national numbers on Pelosi, though. I know it`s not a plebiscite but the national numbers would like that see a different Democrat as speaker, 46 percent, would like to keep Pelosi, 44 percent.
HARRISON: It`s the same thing for Mitch McConnell. And what, Mitch McConnell is a leader in the Senate. I mean, in the end of the day, those things don`t matter, because in 2020, it`s going to be Donald Trump and whoever is the Democratic nominee. Nobody goes in the voting booth and says, well, you know, I don`t really like that speaker. They`re going to talk about whether or not they`re going to vote for Donald Trump and the Republicans or the Democratic nominee and the Democrats.
MATTHEWS: OK. Put your hands up, right hand if Pelosi is reelected.
Ha! It`s amazing. You think so, too, and you think so too.
Leigh Ann, you think so?
CALDWELL: I think so, yes.
STEEL: Do you know who`s thrilled? Donald Trump.
STEEL: He wants her as a foil for these next two years.
MATTHEWS: Foil or deal maker?
STEEL: Foil. I think there`s a very narrow --
MATTHEWS: Somebody to blame?
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the Republican we had on the other night, Tom Reed. Tom Reed said that I`m one of these deal-making guys and if Pelosi says she`ll make deals with Republicans on the other side of the aisle, I`ll even vote for her for speaker. Do you believe anybody is going to do that who is running for reelection?
CALDWELL: Well, that`s the rumor going around among the anti-Pelosi caucus. They think that she`s going to convince Republicans to vote for her. She said ask her press conference today that she`s going to win with Democratic votes, but it`s out there.
MATTHEWS: Why would they spread that rumor?
CALDWELL: Probably to undermine her against the progressive especially and the new freshman.
MATTHEWS: Anybody can do that, Michael?
STEEL: No, I have trouble seeing how any Republican in any district goes home and wins a primary after voting for Nancy Pelosi.
MATTHEWS: Point of order, if you vote for the candidate of the other party, don`t you identify yourself as a member of that other party. I thought that`s how you see, I`m a Democrat, I`m for Pelosi. The first vote for the year is not yay or nay. It`s you give the name of your candidate for speaker.
And if you vote for the other guys` candidate, you`re saying one of them.
STEEL: Well, and we`ve had Republicans over the past couple of years who have voted for someone other than Boehner or Ryan for speaker --
MATTHEWS: But not the Democratic candidate.
STEEL: But not the Democratic candidate. Exactly.
MATTHEWS: So, what would happen in the parliamentary order if you voted for the other candidate?
HARRISON: Oh, you can do that, but you`re asking to be primaried when you get back home. And this is a thing --
MATTHEWS: Do you still get the chairman on the other side?
STEEL: Open seating in the House.
HARRISON: This is the thing, Chris, like Seth Moulton --
MATTHEWS: He has been so tough.
HARRISON: -- who`s been leading this opposition. Say Seth gives the speakership, Democrats worked their behinds off to win the House and he gives the speakership to Kevin McCarthy, what do you think the Democrats in Massachusetts are going to do to him when -- in his race? They are going to crucify him. That will not happen.
So, when they get on that floor, they`re going to have to make decision, because it`s the same thing that happened in 2016. Do you vote for what`s her name in the --
MATTHEWS: I love you`re a party man. You`re a party man.
The roundtable is sticking with us. You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the roundtable.
Leigh Ann, tell me something I don`t know.
CALDWELL: Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, we can add him to the people to watch for 2020. He told NBC exclusively today, me, that we will see when he was asked twice if he`s going to run for 2020.
MATTHEWS: Pro-life candidate.
CALDWELL: Yes, pro-life candidate, but he won his reelection in Pennsylvania, a state Trump won, by 13 points. He says he has the key to win rural voters. He said he did well there and it could be the path.
MATTHEWS: He`s very liked.
STEEL: He`s the 67th or 68th Democrat to get into this race?
MATTHEWS: Don`t be that way.
HARRISON: I wrote a book, I`m from an early state, I`m going to run for president.
STEEL: There he goes, 68 right here.
MATTHEWS: You know what he has going for him? Holy Cross.
Thank you, Leigh Ann Caldwell, Michael Steel and Jaime Harrison. What a tough guy you are, Jaime.
We`ll be right back tonight with "Trump Watch". My thoughts for the day.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: "Trump Watch", Thursday, November 15th, 2018.
There`s an old saying that nothing concentrates the mind like that thought of an imminent hanging, when you face a tragic reckoning, drastic alternatives come quickly to mind. Well, Donald Trump knows the situation he is in now. He knows that Robert Mueller could drop indictments of his family members at any moment, and he could accompany those indictments with an historic report accusing Trump himself of high crimes, justifying impeachment and removal from office.
The president also knows that other horrors await down the road when Democrats grab control the House of Representatives in January and with it the power to subpoena testimony and documents, including his own tax returns. He knows that nothing stands in the way of this happening now that the midterm elections have been held and lost. Nothing but him, Donald Trump. And what defenses he can stand up between Robert Mueller, the Democrats and the White House.
Trump has his own weapons, of course. His newly appointed attorney general could act to stifle Mueller`s actions. He has his own team of lawyers. And lastly the power of the pardon, no one watching Trump the past two years doubts his readiness to but all these weapons into battle.
And yet, he seems restless, and worried. Imagining that even with all the weapons in his arsenal, events are moving against him and his family.
We need not ask what the president`s thinking tonight. It`s clear that he`s thinking about escape.
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2018 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2018 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.