Trump ordered Gary Cohn to block merger. TRANSCRIPT: 3/4/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Ben Rhodes, Ted Deutch, Amy Klobuchar

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: So count us an official jealous of our colleague Rachel Maddow who will have Chairman Jerry Nadler tonight. 

That does it for THE BEAT.  I will see you back here at 6:00 p.m. eastern tomorrow.  But don`t go anywhere, "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews starts now. 

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Did I miss anything?  Let`s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews up back from two weeks in beautiful New Zealand.  And you know, getting up at 5:00 in the morning 8,000 miles away to hear Michael Cohen was well worth it because it gave me a clearer picture of this President. 

Cohen testified what it was like being in the room with Trump, taking orders from him, feeling his attitude toward those women he had been with.  It`s different than just hearing he had paid some women off.  Or catching his flippant attitude toward the country and the Vietnam War he was fighting at the time.  And all the moral and patriotic issues affecting those in Trump`s in my generation. 

Cohen told us how he, rich Donald Trump, suggest that anyone who accepted the call to duty was a chump.  Quote, "do you have think I`m stupid?  I`m not going to Vietnam." 

So let me now resume where I left off.  This is where the investigation of Donald Trump is now clearly headed. 

The committee with the power to draft articles of impeachment, House judiciary has launched a sweeping new probe with the President starting with the payments to those women, targeting potential obstruction of justice, public corruption and abuses of power. 

In a dramatic opening salvo today, the chairman of that committee, Congressman Jerry Nadler, demanded documentary evidence from over 80 people and organizations associated with Trump.  Nadler`s committee wants info about the Trump Tower meeting to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, Trump`s intervention with the FBI in behalf of Michael Flynn, the firing of James Comey, efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, possible Russian financing and the hush money payments that Michael Cohen testified about last week.  Chairman Nadler says the President`s payoff before the election could prove to be a basis for impeachment. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You said in the past that there could be crimes that are not impeachable offenses.  Is a campaign finances falling like the one outlined against President Trump one of those? 

REP. JERRY NADLER (D), NEW YORK:   A violation -- seeking to sabotage a fair election would be an impeachable offense. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Is that what you saw? 

NADLER:  Well, we will see. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, facing the Democratic onslaught, President Trump tweeted today, or actually yesterday, I am an innocent man being persecuted by some very bad, conflicted and corrupt people.  And here`s what Trump said today during a tribute to the North Dakota state football team. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Are you going to cooperate with Mr. Nadler? 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I cooperate all the time with everybody.  And you know the beautiful thing, no collusion.  It`s all a hoax.  You are going to learn about that as you grow older.  It`s a political hoax.  There`s no collusion.  There`s no anything.  Folks, go and eat up. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That little guy in the back was Mike Pence, by the way. 

I`m joined right now by Democratic congressman Ted Deutch of Florida who sits on the House judiciary committee itself, Ben Rhodes, former deputy national security adviser under President Obama and Barbara McQuade wade is a former federal prosecutor. 

Congressman Deutch, where are you headed right now?  You have in your head right now a sense of where the judiciary is headed in terms of this vast new probe that you Democrats now control.  Where you going? 

REP. TED DEUTCH (D), FLORIDA:  Yes, I sure do.  We definitely do. 

Chris, Democrats are just doing our job in the committee that is charged with providing oversight, a check on this president and this administration.  The announcement is to make clear that we are embarking upon a careful and methodical approach to get to the truth.  We don`t have to rely on what`s in the headlines, we don`t have to rely on anything that the President says.  We are going to start by getting all of these documents.  Those will inform the decisions that we make, the people who will be called into testify before us, but all of this to look at the President`s potential abuse of power, the corruption we have seen in this administration and the obstruction of justice. 

In each of these case, we have been governed thus far by whatever the most -- the biggest headline is of the day.  That`s not the approach.  We have got to be careful, methodical and we are going to get to the truth so the American people will be clear about what`s needs to happen next. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, here`s a headline from today, Congressman Nadler, your chairman, Jerry Nadler is talking about the fact for Trump to cover up through payments to women, information the public would normally have gotten from them during the course of a campaign especially on this final weeks constantly sabotaged of a fair election.  Do you see it that way?  In other words, something that`s impeachable. 

DEUTCH:  The President committed a felony in order to become President of the United States.  That`s what the chairman was referring to today.  And we even have his signature on checks showing the effort that he went to --. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.  Is that sabotaging a fair election?  Is that sabotaging a fair election, to use the words of your chair? 

DEUTCH:  Sure.  It certainly looks like it is.  But what we have started today is a process to gather all of the information.  The reason we reached out, Chris, to so many people is because we don`t want to have to just rely upon what Michael Cohen said.  We don`t want to just rely upon what we read in newspaper stories.  We need the input from everyone who has information that can contribute to.  In this case, what certainly looks like a serious case of an attempt to commit a felony in order to win the presidency and then obstruction of justice to cover it up. 

MATTHEWS:  Barbara, thank you for joining us tonight.  I`m just back from two weeks away and I have been missing so much of this.  But I want listing -- I did watch Mr. Cohen at 5:00 in the morning over there, a different time world in New Zealand. 

But let me ask you about this question about pardoned being tethered or teased with this guy.  What do you make of that?  Certainly as a question of basically something that would be a basis clearly in itself, it seems to me, an impeachable offense for people on behalf of the President, they did so.  And clearly, the committees are looking at.  Did they offer him, if you shut up right now after we gathered all that information from your office, all those e-mails and everything else and tapes, if you shut up now and keep quiet, if you stonewall, we will get you out of this.  What do you make of that? 

BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  Yes.  Of course, the facts matter whether that happened would have to be confirmed.  But if it did, there are some who say that the President`s power to pardon is absolute and he can pardon anyone he wants but --

MATTHEWS:  Even to cover his own trail, to cover up evidence on his own criminality.  Can you do that legally? 

MCQUADE:  No, I don`t think so.  Just as he has powers to appoint others and to issue executive orders and other kinds of things.  If he did so for a corrupt purpose, say he was being paid a million dollar bribe, that certainly would be abuse of power.  And I think in the same say, if he were to pardon someone for a corrupt purpose, that is to prevent them from implicating himself in crimes or impeachable offenses, I think that would be an abuse of power and itself an impeachable offense. 

MATTHEWS:  And it seems to me, the only motive here that he would have. 

Anyway, the President is blaming Michael Cohen`s testimony, believe it or not, for the failure of this summit with Kim Jong-un over at Hanoi. 

And yesterday he tweeted, for the Democrats to interview in open hearings a convicted liar and fraudster at the same time as the very important nuclear summit with North Korea is perhaps a new low in American politics that may have contributed to the "walk."  Never done when a President is overseas.  Shame! 

Ben, your thoughts about that?  He is blaming it all on Michael Cohen. 

BEN RHODES, FORMER DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR:  Yes.  Well, I would say three quick things, Chris.  First of all, when the Republican Senate caucus sent a letter to Iranian leaders during the Iran nuclear negotiations, cheered on by President Trump, he said nothing.  So the hypocrisy here is evident. 

Second, there is no way that the Cohen testimony had any bearing on North Korea`s negotiating positions.  That`s why he couldn`t get a deal.  And the third point is the reason the summit failed is they didn`t prepare for it.  You don`t put the head of state in the room with the other head of state without teeing up the agreement first.  They thought they could wind Trump in, have him in go in and flatter Kim and have Kim sacrifice his leverage in the nuclear program.  They failed in this because they didn`t do their homework and they failed the test and now he is seeking to deflect blame. 

MATTHEWS:  And Trump thought that Kim Jong-un, this tyrant over there of ridiculous country, a tyrannical country is flatterable, like Trump is flatterable. 

RHODES:  Yes, absolutely not.  And by the way, you don`t need to flatter people who you are negotiating with.  You actually want to be hard-headed about it.  And when he says, Trump says he takes this murderous dictator`s word for it, that he had nothing to do with the killing of an American who is in his custody that belies our belief because we know that Kim Jong-un rules that place with iron fist.  He knows everything that goes on there. 

If he is going to take Kim Jong-un`s word for everything, then he is going to get taken to the cleaners (ph) in this negotiation. 

MATTHEWS:  I don`t think he read his history.  Do you remember when Neville Chamberman (ph) tried to flatter Hitler?  It didn`t quite work.  He grabbed check as a racket. 

Anyway, let me go to the congressman on that.  What do you make that this overlay that the President suggests between (INAUDIBLE), you know, awful hearings at your committee, the committee that Elijah Cummings committee, an oversight, really do us a damning attack on our president, to put it lightly.  Is that something that cause Kim Jong-un to be that cold feet or what?  How do you put it together?  Any way or it is just nonsense for the president? 

DEUTCH:  That`s, Chris, that is nonsense from the President.  But we are at the point where it doesn`t - that`s why today is so important.  It doesn`t really matter what the President says as we embark upon this investigation. 

We know -- the President knows it not just a Mueller investigation.  He knows that there are investigations in federal court in New York, in federal court in Virginia, that there are investigations in state court that there are so many people who are looking at all of the potential areas where there were violations of law. 

But what we have to be careful about, Chris, is not allowing, when the Mueller report comes out, not allowing the justice department to say on the one hand our policy is not to indict sitting Presidents and on the other to say and we don`t put out information about people who are unindicted, therefore permitting a cover-up of anything that the President may have done.  That`s another reason why what we are doing today and what we announced today what we will be doing over the coming months is so important. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree with you.  That makes so much sense. 

Anyway, during his more than two-hour speech at CPAC this weekend, President Trump said his call to Russia for Hillary Clinton`s e-mails, remember that, notorious call, was just a joke. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  If you tell a joke, if you are sarcastic, if you are having fun with the audience, if you`re in live television with millions of people and 25,000 people in an arena and if you say something like, Russia, please, if you can, get us Hillary Clinton`s e-mails, please.  Russia, please!  I`m laughing.  We were all having fun.  And then that fake CNN and others say, he asked Russia to go get the e-mails.  Horrible. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You have heard of the Twinkie defense, this is the pinky lee defense.  Here`s what Trump actually said in July of 2016. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  Russia, if you are listening, I hope you are able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing. 

KATY TUR, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Do you have any qualms about asking a foreign government, Russia, China, anybody to interfere, to hack into a system of anybody`s in this country let alone your rival? 

TRUMP:  Let the President talk.  Look, here is the problem. 

TUR:  No, no, no.  You just called for a moment ago, Mr. Trump.  You said the Russians, I welcome you to find those --. 

TRUMP:  He has no respect. 

TUR:  You said I welcome them to find those 30,000 e-mails of Hillary Clinton. 

TRUMP:  Well, they probably have them.  I would like to have them released. 

TUR:  Does that not give you pause? 

TRUMP:  No, that does not give me pause.  If they have them, have them.  To be honest with you, I would love to see them. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Barbara McQuade, here he is saying it wasn`t a joke, it was a serious proposition.  Russia, help me out on this campaign. 

And by the way, on a larger question, so much of what we think might well be abuse of power, obstruction of justice, the President going to the FBI director Comey at the time and saying can you let my friend Michael Flynn off on this Russia thing?  Can you get him out off?  Can you get him of this thing? 

And then the other question of firing Comey so -- because he wouldn`t do it.  He wouldn`t bear allegiance to the President?  So much of this in a broad daylight like that.  It just seem people would skip the best case for impeachment.  It`s right there looking at us.  Your thoughts? 

MCQUADE:  Yes.  You know, I think that the statement about Russia, if you have the e-mails looks a lot different now that we know some of the other things that were going on in that time frame, like the Trump Tower meeting, this testimony by Michael Cohen that President Trump had heard from Roger Stone about the release of e-mails, the allegation in Stone`s indictment about coordination with WikiLeaks.  All of those things look more nefarious. 

But I think you have to look at it in light of the very thing President Trump himself said once, which is I could shoot someone on 5th avenue and get away with it.  And it seems like that is the way he runs his business and his presidency.  If you do it out in the open, it is harder to say what you are doing is illegal.  But maybe that is his best defense, I`m doing it in plain sight. 

MATTHEWS:  Ben, I want to talk to you.  You worked for Presidents.  I long ago did.  And I -- we have a norm in our head of what`s decent, you know.  You treat our allies pretty well.  You treat our adversaries like adversaries appropriately.  You don`t start a new cold war.  This President is so dizzying how many rules he has broken of what normal -- we consider American behavior. 

RHODES:  Yes.  I mean, every now and then, Chris, you have to step back and think that of the 44 people who came before him, there is not one who would do anything remotely like this. 

And the other thing, Chris, is that these guys through the campaign and through the first two years, just acted like the rules didn`t apply to them whatsoever.  They are breaking laws, they are violating norms, they are covering their track or trying to obstruct justice.  And what has happened now in our system is because of the midterm elections, for the first time, what I see on the list from Nadler is people being held to account.  You know, they acted like that was never going to happen.  Well now there is real power in Washington in somebody else`s hands.  And this whole picture can be put together. 

Now, as we said, it is not just that he called for Russia to do this.  It is his meeting with them at the same time, these people were.  And that he knew that what they were up to, right?  And if you assemble this whole picture, I think it looks much more damning than any one thing in isolation. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Deutch, last thought to you in Florida which is - remember that line in Godfather II?  This is the business we have chosen. 

The American people picked this President a guy who in the Access Hollywood tape said that he could do anything physical he wanted to do with women, criminal or not, he could do it and get away with it, they voted for him.  He said I can shoot somebody on say 5th Avenue, they voted for him.  A lot of this behavior has been in broad daylight, a broad daylight hold up of American values.  And yet, here we are saying should we or not, should we impeach, or wait for Mueller to give us some informing to help us out here.  Where are you on impeachment, sir? 

DEUTCH:  Yes.  Look, Ben makes a really important point, Chris, which is, yes, that`s what happened in the last Presidential election.  Two years later, the American people decided they needed a check on President Trump and they elected a Democratic House. 

The whole issue of impeachment is the most serious step that we can take to deal with someone who poses a danger in the White House.  The way that you get to impeachment, if we ever get to it, is to lay out in a very careful way all of the facts for the American people to see, not just to rely on what we have seen.  There is plenty there in broad daylight, you are right.  Just because he talks about the things that he has done, doesn`t mean they don` matter.  They do.  That`s a key part of what we need to look at going forward. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me not be crude about it but President Clinton, who was a mixed bag like a lot of people in politics, me, everybody, we are all mixed bag, was impeached because he lied about a relationship with a woman.  This President we now know with documentary evidence last week he paid off a woman about a relationship while President.  What`s the difference?  Paying off or lying?  Marley? 

DEUTCH:  No, Chris, the paying off -- it not just that he paid off a woman and that he wrote the check when he was President, he did it in order to become President.  There is plenty there that leads us to believe that the President in this case violated the law, did it to become President and then tried to cover it up.  Over the coming weeks and months, you will see because of what we`re doing so much more laid out clearly for the American people and then we are going take that wherever the ultimate decision is in order to ensure that no one, especially the President of the United States, is deemed to be above the law. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, thank you.  And your member in your committee, (INAUDIBLE).  This is a very important cause for our country, sir.  Ted Deutch from Florida, U.S. Congressman. 

Ben Rhodes, expert on foreign policy and he has actually win with - a win with a regular president, a really good one.  He has worked with the real president. 

Thank you, Barbara McQuade for your expertise we always needed.

  Coming up, senator and presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar is going to play HARDBALL, so to speak.  In a moment, we are going to talk to her about the Trump investigation, the race for the White House, which she is very much in and the showdown over Trump`s the national emergency. 

Plus, coming off a bad week, coming off a bad week, Trump unloads the longest speech in his presidency.  Fidel Castro didn`t talk this much. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  And unfortunately, you put the wrong people in a couple of positions and they leave people for a long time that shouldn`t be there and all of a sudden they are trying to take you out with bullshit, OK?  With bullshit. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that was Presidential language. 

Anyway, hugging the flag, there he is attacking his enemies, he says, and still talking about crowd size, strange fascination with size. 

Ron Reagan is going to join us to discuss Trump`s manic performance this weekend.  We got a lot to talk to about tonight.  Stay with us for Amy. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The House Judiciary Committee`s sweeping demand for evidence marks a major escalation by Democrats investigating President Trump`s administration, his business and his family members. 

The Judiciary Committee will focus on three areas of interest, obstruction of justice, public corruption, abuse of power.  Among the 80-plus targets are the president`s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr. -- there he is -- Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, and former White House counsel Don McGahn.  Never thought he`d be on the list.

And the expanded investigation is also significant because the Judiciary Committee obviously has control over impeachment.

I`m joined right now by Democratic Senator and 2020 presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. 

Senator, thank you for joining us. 

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  I want to ask you some big, broad questions to start with.  Then we will get to the question of health care I know you`re working on, especially prescription drugs questions. 

Let me ask you about this approach of -- I guess it`s the approach of Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary, the impeachment committee, potentially, and, of course, the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and others, that the smart move and the right move for Dems right now, the next year, perhaps, look into real investigations and find out the facts.  Don`t be talking impeachment. 

Your thoughts?

KLOBUCHAR:  They have an obligation. 

The American people in 2018 said that they wanted to see a check and balance on this White House, as well as an optimistic economic agenda.  So, what I see is two things happening.  You have to allow the Mueller investigation to be completed.  We want to see that report public. 

That has been a major focus of my work on the Judiciary Committee.  We have a new attorney general who has not 100 percent committed to making that report public. 

And then, of course, you`re going to see investigations about some of these potential campaign finance issues.  You have a foreign power that`s been trying to not just meddle -- I hate that word -- that`s what I use when I call my daughter on a Saturday night to ask her what she`s doing.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

KLOBUCHAR:  But invade our democracy.

And so I think that you can have both things going on.  But, in the end, we also have to be a check on this administration when it comes to really worsening income inequality, to not doing anything about pharmaceutical prices, to not really moving an infrastructure package forward.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I`m with you on all that.

But let me ask you a question about Deutch.  Congressman Deutch was just on. 

He said, basically, you can`t can rely on Mueller`s investigation, because Mueller might feel constricted.  He can`t indict a president, if he believes that`s the truth and that`s -- that`s the standard.  And you shouldn`t be talking about people`s guilt or innocence, unless you`re willing to indict them, that this whole problem with the president`s involvement in all these affairs could fall between the cracks.

If you can`t indict him, you can`t talk about him.  Therefore, his report won`t have any information about him.

How do you respond to that? 

KLOBUCHAR:  Well, first of all, the Mueller investigation is so important, because it`s looking at the whole picture. 

You have had dozens of people that have been investigated, indicted, and we have learned more and more about what Russia has done, and we hopefully will learn a lot more in that report. 

Secondly, as these investigations go forward in the House, yes, there`s other things that will be looked into.  But, as you know -- you have had other senators on your show, Chris -- we`re the jury when it comes to those kinds of issues.  So we`re not going to opine on what the facts show at this moment. 

But I think you can do two things at once.  We`re Democrats.  We can do that. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, meanwhile, the resolution to terminate President Trump`s so-called national emergency has now enough Republicans in your body to support -- actually to pass -- to stop it from passing.

Kentucky Republican Rand Paul said he`d vote on support of the resolution stopping the president, joining Maine`s Susan Collins, North Carolina`s Thom Tillis, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Today, Senator Paul said there will likely be more defections from the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY:  I do believe that there is at least 10 Republican no-votes.  We will see, possibly more.

My reason for speaking out now is that I think we all need to think this through before we get too far down the road.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  If you can`t override the president with your rejection of the declaration of a national emergency, what good is accomplished here, Senator?

KLOBUCHAR:  Well, Chris, this is very significant, though, because you have a number of Republicans now saying what I believe, that this is unconstitutional.

There was an agreement made in Congress, hard-fought agreement, on how much money should go toward border security, not paying for this wall that he has been talking about for years, and chanting about at rallies, but just smart security measures. 

Instead, he goes forward with something that is unconstitutional, is going to create all kinds of eminent domain issues, takes money away from our military housing, and puts it into something to meet a campaign promise. 

And so the fact that you have Republicans that are saying the same thing that we are saying is significant for our democracy.  I think it`s a good thing.

MATTHEWS:  Let`s talk about health care.

KLOBUCHAR:  But you are right about overriding. 

Keep going.  Health care.

MATTHEWS:  Let`s talk about health care.  And you`re -- and I think you have shaped up a position which makes sense to a lot of people, not just moderates, but progressives, a lot of them, which is the idea, we`re -- where are we right now?

We have got Obamacare that`s got to be improved, fixed, so, everybody says, this is a good system, at least trying for a number of years to see if it works.  Tell me how you would see that fit in with your whole concern about prescription drugs. 

KLOBUCHAR:  Right. 

We have to get to universal health care.  And, of course, I support a public option moving forward with Medicaid, Medicare expansion.  But prescription drugs has been overlooked for years, really over the past decade, huge increases in prices for simple drugs like insulin. 

And that is why I have led the effort on Medicare negotiation to unleash the power of 43 million seniors, and something I`m going to be talking about tomorrow with Robert Reich.  We are doing a series of meetings tomorrow.  And we`re doing a hearing in the Senate on antitrust. 

And I know that sounds like kind of an esoteric topic, but it`s not.  Big pharmaceuticals are literally paying off generics to keep their competitors off the market.  And the ones that lose are consumers, to the tune of $2.9 billion just over a few years.

  Online travel agencies, 83 -- over 90 percent of the market that is owned in that range -- and I want to get the exact number for you -- owned by actually two companies, rail, class one rail, down to four companies, the exact number on the Monopoly board. 

And this consolidation that we`re seeing in our country cries out for tougher action on antitrust.  And if they`re not going to do it because the judges are too conservative, I have a bill that makes our laws as sophisticated as the kind of mergers that we`re seeing now, with monopsonies and with companies that literally are now billion-, multibillion-dollar mergers.

And the American people have stood up to this in the past.  It`s time to stand up to it again.

MATTHEWS:  It sounds like you`re for true free enterprise.  That sounds like...

(CROSSTALK)

KLOBUCHAR:  That is what this is about.  You can`t have capitalism and innovation if you have monopolies.

And that is something Adam Smith recognized.  I`m actually -- I`m going to come out with a book on this, something I have been working on for the past year with Knopf, a book on the history of this going back to Teddy Roosevelt, when, as you know, in the Midwest, the farmers and the workers stood up and said, enough is enough.

And we have been gliding towards the Gilded Age again.  And we need to get back, yes, to the true capitalist spirit of entrepreneurship.  And that`s what this hearing is about tomorrow. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Amy Klobuchar, trustbuster, thank you so much for joining us tonight. 

KLOBUCHAR:  There you go.

Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  Just how much influence does the president`s favorite TV network -- you know which it is -- really have in the West Wing?  Who`s calling the shots, them or him? 

We have got two new reports -- actually, a great new report from "The New Yorker" magazine about what makes FOX News tick at the White House. 

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  She`s my friend and she`s your friend, Justice Jeanine. 

Do we love Sean Hannity, by the way?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP:  I love him.

Steve Doocy.

Thank you to my very good friend Rupert Murdoch.  There`s only one Rupert that we know.

Roger Ailes, a great, great man, and one of the greatest men in the history of television, Roger Ailes from FOX.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

It`s no secret that President Trump and FOX News have benefited from a -- let`s call it a symbiotic relationship the last few years.

Now, in an explosive New York -- report from "The New Yorker" magazine, former White House aides say the relationship is so key to this president, the one with FOX, that he`s influenced more by FOX pundits and guests than by his staff or intelligence experts who brief them.

In other words, they`re calling the shots.

According to "The New Yorker"`s Jane Mayer, President Trump has told confidants that he ranks the network`s reporters loyal to him on a scale of one to 10, like in a beauty contest.  Sean Hannity receives a solid 10, of course, while Steve Doocy, the co-host of "FOX & Friends," gets a 12, two bonus points for his enthusiasm. 

One aide told the magazine that President Trump sees FOX`s support as key because it`s important for the base. 

Well, in return -- catch this part -- the "New Yorker" article spotlights a troubling pattern in which the president himself works on behalf of FOX News` interest, economic interests. 

According to one well-informed source, President Trump ordered Gary Cohn, his then national director of Economic Council, to pressure the Department of Justice to file a lawsuit blocking the merger of AT&T and Time Warner, an apparent effort to retaliate against CNN, which is owned by Time Warner.

NBC News has reached out to FOX News and its parent company, 21st Century Fox, for comment.

From more, I`m joined Dylan Byers, NBC News senior media reporter, and Jason Johnson, my old pal, politics editor at TheRoot.com.

I first want to go to Dylan there.

Without getting into the details of antitrust and all this, why is the president of the United States working for FOX? 

DYLAN BYERS, NBC NEWS SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER:  Well, you have to almost reverse-engineer this, OK?

FOX News has, from its inception, been a business.  And it is focused on the bottom line.  And the business that Rupert Murdoch realized, the business opportunity he saw in the United States was that he could capitalize on the anxieties and resentment of conservatives who feel like they didn`t have a voice in the media.

Over the course...

MATTHEWS:  Just what he did in Britain, in Australia.

BYERS:  Just what he did in Britain, just what he did in Australia.

MATTHEWS:  Go down market and to the right, down market and to the right.

BYERS:  That was a huge business opportunity. 

And for 20 years, that built up over time to a place where its ultimate realization was President Trump.  That was the ultimate realization of the FOX News business model. 

Now...

MATTHEWS:  Who`s the toy here, the president or FOX? 

BYERS:  Well, look, FOX is doing great from a bottom-line perspective. 

I think Trump has ensured that he has a core base that he can reach through FOX News.  Like you said, it`s a symbiotic relationship.  I think they`re both -- I think it`s mutually beneficial.  I think they`re both doing quite well because of it. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BYERS:  And I think that, to me, the salient detail from Jane Mayer`s reporting in "The New Yorker," there`s so much here about this symbiotic relationship that`s really -- it feeds liberal outrage over the whole, how can a media organization do this in America? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BYERS:  That`s sort of beside the point. 

To me, the really key detail is what you cited, which is Trump ordering Gary Cohn and then Chief of Staff John Kelly to block the AT&T-Time Warner merger, because that`s when it -- that`s when it changes.  That`s when it becomes about the president doing something on behalf of his friends in business, in this case Rupert Murdoch. 

MATTHEWS:  Jason, let`s talk about that relationship and which way it works. 

It looks like it works both ways.  And I tell you, it seems to me, in this media world, which is very polarized, obviously -- let`s not kid ourselves -- it`s very polarized -- it`s one thing to agree with the point of view of a political interest of a party.

It`s another one to be -- feel like you`re working with them and you`re working for them. 

JASON JOHNSON, THE ROOT:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  That`s a huge difference.  I mean, you can walk down the street and find people that say, I agree with Reagan on this, but not on that.  I agree with -- if I`m not working for them, there`s a big difference. 

Your thoughts? 

JOHNSON:  Yes, and also when it`s editorial control, Chris.

Look, back in the `80s, George Will liked Reagan.  I mean, like, there have always been individual writers and reporters and columnist who have had close personal relationships or even wanted to advocate on behalf of a president. 

But that was not an editorial mandate.  That was not from on high.  And that`s what you have happening with FOX News. 

MATTHEWS:  And you don`t go to meetings.  You don`t go to meetings.  You don`t sit down with him.

JOHNSON:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  You don`t talk -- imagine -- I can`t imagine anybody on the center-left or middle left or wherever, on the left even, that I know of sitting down and talking turkey with Nancy Pelosi on how to get the agenda sold. 

It`s unimaginable.  But you see Sean showing up at rallies.  That`s different, it seems to me.  Your thoughts? 

JOHNSON:  Showing up at rallies, promoting anything the president wants, showing up in campaign commercials. 

But, Chris, I would say the most disturbing thing about this article for me was basically FOX engaging in their own catch and kill.  It`s one thing if you don`t want to cover a story because maybe you have a bit of an editorial bias in favor of a candidate.

But you have a reporter who found out about illegal activity.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, talk about it, because it`s in the article, the payoff to the women.  Yes, go ahead. 

JOHNSON:  Yes, the payoff to women, Cohen using campaign funds, breaking the law in order to pay off Stormy Daniels, is one of the key moments, one of the climaxes, sort of, of this story. 

And FOX News said, hey, sorry, we`re not going with that story. 

So when you have a network that is willing to hide crimes on behalf of a candidate, that`s no longer news.  That`s not entertainment.  That`s just state TV. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, go ahead. 

And, by the way, just, in all fairness, because FOX has denied that, the person who was accused by that -- that person over at FOX of saying, kill - - we`re not running this story, even though it`s a good story.

BYERS:  Right.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... have denied that.

BYERS:  Right.  They denied it to "The New Yorker."

We have reached out to both FOX, the parent company of FOX News.  No comment from either one.

For me...

MATTHEWS:  What did you learn from this piece?  Anything?  Because you`re an expert on this.

BYERS:  Yes, I did.

You know what I learned?  So, I think this piece, outside of the sort of the -- the silver bullet of trying to stop the AT&T-Time Warner deal, which is a separate, very significant deal...

MATTHEWS:  Carrying water for FOX.

BYERS:  What this -- the carrying water for FOX is really -- it offends liberal sensibilities.

But I think it highlights to me that we are so far away from a 20th century model of media, wherein there`s this notion that somehow media has to meet certain standards, certain sort of not just editorial standards -- standards, but also -- almost moral standards, standards of integrity.

This throws into sharp relief the fact that the media business is a business, particularly on cable news.  And, very often, decisions are made that don`t have anything to do with being impartial, not carrying water, holding up both sides of an argument.

That is just not the world we live in anymore.  That is a -- that is a -- you can market that.  You can market integrity to your viewers. But Fox News doesn`t need to do that.  What Fox News is doing is it`s marketing, we are the voice for the disenfranchised, largely white, lower middle class in this country and in that Trump world, that 30-plus percent that identifies with Trump, identifies with Sean Hannity -- 

MATTHEWS:  It`s like -- 

BYERS:  -- they`re never going to leave. 

MATTHEWS:  -- weeklies and old shoppers in the neighborhoods.  If you want to get your story covered in local politics, in the local newspaper, you got to buy ads. 

BYERS:  Right, right.

MATTHEWS:  It reminds me of that, guys.  Thank you so much, Dylan Byers and Jason Johnson.

And up next, after a bad week of listening to Michael Cohen, President Trump spent the weekend in the tender embrace of the true believers and, boy, did he enjoy it.  For two straight hours, he talked.

We`re back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Following the president`s very rough week that included a failed second summit with North Korea and a blistering testimony from his former fixer, the president spent this weekend at his happy place.  For more than two hours on Saturday, the president spoke to the annual gathering of conservative voters where he unleashed an unfiltered scream of consciousness, taking on the Mueller investigation, his former attorney general, the Democrats and others.  And usually you have to go to the New York Port Authority to hear something like this. 

Anyway, here it is. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You know I`m totally off script right now. 

Please get us the e-mails! 

You put the wrong people in a couple of positions and they leave people for a long time that shouldn`t be there and, all of a sudden, they`re trying to take you out with bullshit. 

Then that fake CNN and others say, he asked Russia to go get the e-mails.  Horrible.

The attorney general says, I`m going to recuse myself.  Right now, we have people in Congress that hate our country. 

I see senators that are there in 20 years, white hair.  See, I don`t have white hair. 

I`m in the White House, I said I was lonely.  I say, let`s go to Iraq! 

I have one of the great inventions in history.  It`s called TiVo.  I met generals I don`t know.  General one, general two, general three.  I said, what`s your name?  Sir, my name is Raisin.  What the hell kind of a name?  I said, Raisin like the fruit? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  It was his longest speech since taking office, and according to "The Washington Post", included 104 false and misleading claims.  As Trump walked on stage, he stopped to embrace the American flag, something he`s done on three other occasions. 

And during his rambling speech, the president once again aired one of his favorite grievances.  You`ll not be surprised, it was about size.  Size.  He just won`t let it go.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  They did the same thing at our big inauguration speech.  You take a look at those crowds.  Nobody`s ever seen it, the Capitol down to the Washington Monument, people.  But I saw pictures that there were no people.  We had a crowd, I`ve never seen anything like it, and I have to live -- I have to live with crowd size.  It`s all a phony deal, folks. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

To President Trump, crowd size still matters.  Two years after his inauguration, he still can`t get over it.  Speaking to CPAC this weekend, President Trump laid out all his grievances in that supportive crowd. 

And joining me now to review his performance is Ron Reagan. 

Ron, I do believe you have to go back to my days at community college and go to the New York Port Authority and seeing those gentlemen standing there with conditions that`s not their fault, speaking to no one with long orations that are not necessarily connected to reality. 

RON REAGAN, AUTHOR:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  This speech this weekend, what do you make of him? 

REAGAN:  Yes.  Well, I mean, it`s true that if you ran into somebody on the street who sounded like Donald Trump did this last speech, and has really for quite some time now, you`d be moved to call the authorities.  You know, you`d want them kind of taken inside somewhere, you know, out of the public. 

His whole id was on display there.  His rage at Jeff Sessions, his contempt for the press and the media, his obsession with, yes, crowd size and things like that.  Of course, his fear of Robert Mueller and the, quote, bullshit investigation. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

REAGAN:  Always projecting, as usual, the use of the "B" word there is really telling that if you translate that into English from Trumpism English, it`s "I`m a bullshitter".  That`s what he`s saying when he`s saying that. 

MATTHEWS:  That`s right.  It`s like that he -- it`s about him. 

REAGAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  And I was thinking when I was away on vacation with my wife for two weeks.  He`s a showoff.  The kids we had in class seventh grade, eighth grade, middle school, you got a kid in the class who basically is bored and thinks let`s focus on me for a little while, starts making noises or whatever, jokes or whatever, a wise-ass comment. 

And you go, oh my god, I guess this kid wants to talk about himself.  This is Trump.  He`s the showoff. 

REAGAN:  Yes.  And, of course, he gets so much affirmation from these crowds who just eat this stuff up, you know?  It`s the 30 percent of the country that`s really a problem for the rest of us.  But they just eat this stuff up. 

MATTHEWS:  Forty-six.  Bad news, 46 today. 

REAGAN:  Yes, yes, well. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Forty-six job approval in our NBC poll, "Wall Street Journal" poll.  They are hard as a rock. 

REAGAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Meanwhile, "Washington Post" reporter Robert Costa described the relationship between the president and the Republican Party, writing, acquiescence to Trump is now the defining trait of the Republican Party.  More than two years into his presidency, overwhelming and at times erasing principles that conservatives viewed as the foundation of the party for more than half a century.  You know, they allowed the guy to declare a national emergency, a lot of them, not all. 

And, you know, why have a Constitution you don`t need?  Now, we got Trump.

REAGAN:  Well, imagine if Barack Obama declared a national emergency for anything basically. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

REAGAN:  They`d have been going out of their minds here. 

But look, they know what Donald Trump is just the way we know what Donald Trump is.  But they have decided they don`t care.  It`s -- you know, it`s well past time now for us to be kind of marveling at whatever new atrocity Trump comes up with here. 

We know what he is and we know he poses a danger to the nation.  So do most members of the Republican Party, but they have decided to do nothing about it.  They have decided they don`t want to defend their country against this individual.  And when he goes down, those people, they`re going with him.  They ought to consider that. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, under the heading of I can shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue or is nothing sacred, one of the speakers at the conference this weekend at CPAC criticized, quote, the ghost of the late Senator John McCain. 

When she spoke on immigration, leading to a standing ovation from some in the audience.  Here goes. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE MALKIN, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR:  Sanctuary cities have metastasized and both parties are to blame.  And yes, I`m looking at you, retired Paul Ryan, and yes, I`m looking at you, Mitch McConnell.  And yes, I`m looking at you, Bush family.  And yes, I`m looking at you, the ghost of John McCain. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, John McCain`s widow, Cindy, responded in a tweet.  You never knew Senator John McCain.  You should be so lucky. 

Well, that`s a family -- a spouse`s response to a ridiculous insult. 

REAGAN:  Yes.  You know, when Maya Angelou said when somebody tells you who they are, believe them.  When somebody shows you that they have no human decency, believe them. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

REAGAN:  And these people do that over and over again.  Really they have no sense of self-reflection whatsoever apparently, and no shame.  Was that necessary? 

MATTHEWS:  Lindsey Graham, please speak up.  Lindsey Graham, sir, please speak up.  It`s your time. 

REAGAN:  Yes.  You know, yes.  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  I`m sorry, I`ll still hopeful. 

Thank you, Ron Reagan, my buddy.  Thanks for coming on. 

REAGAN:  You bet.

MATTHEWS:  Up next, what I saw as important in the Michael Cohen hearing.  I heard a lot that morning I got up last week.  Like the rest of you, I watched it all and I was struck by a new sense of Donald Trump. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Watching Michael Cohen from afar, I sensed what it was like to be taking orders from this president, what it must have been like being that long-ago doctor who was told to provide a medical deferment for his young, wealthy patient to get him out of the draft, or paying women to not say something.  President Kennedy said the reason we read biographies or history is to answer the simple question, what was he like? 

Michael Cohen spent seven hours telling us what Donald Trump is like when he wants something done.  What Trump is like when he wants his relations with women erased.  What Trump is like when he talks about service to his country.  What it`s like to hear Trump talk about African-Americans living in poor neighborhoods. 

All of this reinforces the picture he gave us through all those months of claiming that Barack Obama could not possibly be who he is, a successful African-American with a quality education, a natural born American to boot. 

I`ve always believed that Trump`s original political sin was saying the first black president of the United States was somehow fraudulent.  Do we want a person described here as so vividly and passionate by Michael Cohen last week sitting in the oval office? 

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