Cohen testimony spawns bank record subpoenas. TRANSCRIPT: 03/12/2019, Hardball w. Chris Matthews.

Guests: Allen Smith, Eric Swalwell, Bill Weld

Show: HARDBALL Date: March 12, 2019 Guest: Allen Smith, Eric Swalwell, Bill Weld

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Well, that is our show for the night.

"HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Back to the money trail. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Just as House speaker Nancy Pelosi takes impeachment off the table and in week of major developments on the Mueller front, a new investigation threatens to reveal more possible wrong doing by this President. The attorney general of New York has launched a new probe of the President`s real estate transaction issuing subpoenas this Monday night to two major banks connected to the Trump organization. Investors bank and Deutsche bank in Germany. It is the newest inquiry to look at the President`s relationship with Deutsche bank which was penalized in 2015 for helping to launder over $10 billion of Russia money.

Last November, police raided this headquarters on new suspicion of a listed financial transactions.

As the "New York Times" reports now, Deutsche bank which is already the subject of two congressional investigation was one of the few lenders willing to do business with Donald Trump in recent years.

And now according to NBC News New York state investigators have quote subpoenaed records including loan applications, mortgages, lines of credit and other financing transactions. Specifically, investigators are scrutinizing three marquee projects developed by the Trump organization in Washington D.C., Miami and Chicago as well as Trump`s failed attempt in 2014 to purchase the buffalo bills football team.

The inquiry is another result of Michael Cohen`s public testimony earlier this month. Among other things, Cohen disclosed financial statements to back up his allegations that the President purposely inflated the value of his assets to financial institutions including Deutsche bank.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. LACY CLAY (D-MO), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: Did the President or his company ever inflate assets or revenue?

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP PERSONAL ATTORNEY: Yes.

CLAY: And was that done with the President`s knowledge or direction?

COHEN: Everything was done with knowledge and at the direction of Mr. Trump.

CLAY: And to your knowledge did the President ever provide inflated assets to a bank in order to help him obtain a loan?

COHEN: These documents and others were provided to deutsche bank on one occasion where I was with them in our attempt to obtain money so we can put a bid on the buffalo bills.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: On a tweet late today, the President attacks the new investigations saying New York State and its governor, Andrew Cuomo are now proud members of the group of Presidential harassers. No wonder people are fleeing the state in record numbers. The witch hunt continues. Well, that was true of Trump.

I`m joined right now by Democratic Congressman Eric Swallwell of the House Intelligence committee, Jill Wine-Banks is a former Watergate prosecutor who is sitting with me now in one of the famous rooms in history where Nixon debated candidate. And Allen Smith is the political reporter of NBC who reported this story.

I want to start with the congressman on this. When I hear deutsche bank, I hear trouble. When I hear deutsche bank I think pass through. I think oligarchs. I think Russian money which Trump all was needed as his mother`s milk to make his millions. That he always wanted to get money and he got of way of getting of deutsche bank. How does this new investigation fit into that schematic?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Good evening, Chris.

And Deutsche bank is certainly associated with prior Russian money laundering. So it is not like they have come into this with clean hands. And so we have reason to look.

But I have to say that if you were just sitting at home and you were wondering why it matters whether the President was straight forward or not about his financial dealings or what his worth is. It`s not really relevant unless you voted for this guy because you believed that he knew how to make money for himself and that you could do the policies he would enact of you make money for your family and that you would do better for yourself and dream bigger for your kids.

And so, if he was a fraud and how he did that for himself, you are really asking yourself right now, can he really lead this country and lift working class families up? And I think that is where this is really going to be damning for him.

MATTHEWS: Well, you mean - you are telling ahead for me, but let`s get to where your are going because I think it is a powerful bit of information. When he wanted to inflate his assets from one to two years later, he simply said added $4 billion to the initial $4 billion by estimating $8 billion by saying brand value. A total intangible like good wealth. And he just assigned that wealth to himself out of whole cloth. Tell me how that fits in to your schematic here.

SWALWELL: Well, the schematic that I took away, we spent about 16 hours with Michael Cohen. Our interview was underground, was that I think a lot of us when you have a witness who is so close to Donald Trump, you want to take away something like that is redeem, you know, the quality about him that could lift up the lives of every day Americans. And we walked away believing that this guy and his businesses and his campaign and his transition and the administration he runs is corrupt to the core.

And there wasn`t anything redeemable about him. That`s what`s so frustrating. And Michael Cohen said that the whole intent in running for president was not to help people, it was to have the greatest infomercial of all of time.

And that again, Chris, I think investigations aside, he is going to have to answer for that to the voters when he goes to the ballot box, because if he didn`t deliver for him in the last four years, they are not going to want him around for the next four.

Let me go to Jill. Thank you, congressman. Hang in there.

Jill, because I think this idea of him being a flim-flam (ph) man which is really what you describe to or the congressman just describe. A who flim- flam (ph) man who flim-flams (ph) everything, he just says, well, I`m worth $8 billion because I say so. Or this is -- it`s funny money and it is flim-flam.

JILL WINE-BANKS, FORMER ASSISTANT WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: I agree. And I would say in addition to the reasons that Representative Swalwell gave for why people should care is that don`t you care whether someone is an honest person? If he is making up value in order to get a loan, that is something that they should know and that they should care about.

We can`t lie to banks. If any of us did, we would be in trouble. And why shouldn`t the President be in equal trouble? So it`s not just that he is a good businessman. He has been bankrupt so many times, that was obvious before the election. But the fact that he is a cheat and that he lies are things people should really care about.

MATTHEWS: This goes back to the question Jill just raised that goes back to the (INAUDIBLE) from so many people that he is a (INAUDIBLE) that he doesn`t pay his bills. I`m saying he is (INAUDIBLE). It refers to a crook, basically. We keep hearing doesn`t pay his bills. Doesn`t pay his bills. Doesn`t pay his bills. But yet deutsche bank wants to do business with him and lend them money. Explain. Why dos that - unless there are pass through for the oligarchs? How do you explain whew they would want to give them big money?

ALLAN SMITH, NBC NEWS POLITICAL REPORTER: In the late `90s when the relationship between Trump and Deutsche Bank really took off, you know, it was a time where Trump was at his financial weakest point does when the bankruptcies were happening.

Deutsche bank was willing to go out on some riskier-type loans, some riskier business. And that`s what made the match sort of work out a lot between them. And you know, you have mentioned, obviously, making misleading statements to a bank. I would note that Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, those are part of the crimes that they have already admitted guilt to. It is part of the reason why they are going to be going to jail. It would be giving misleading information to banks.

MATTHEWS: Well, as I mentioned earlier, the financial statements that Michael Cohen gave to Congress show a big jump in in Trump`s net-worth over just two years. Let`s get through the paperwork there. We are showing to you now, if you can see it in your screens. In 2011 Trump claimed to have upwards of $4 billion. That`s what he owned. But by 2013, two years magically that number doubled to $8.5 billion he says he owned. And according to the very documents supposed to - that because Trump need a side to add -- the number changed for this reason. The asset value went up to his two-third to 2013 statement estimating his so-called brand vide to be worth exactly magically $4 billion.

Just simply, Jill, it sits there right on the piece of popper like oh, yes, there is one other thing I got to add, $4 billion. It just seats there because he says so.

WINE-BANKS: Well, you said it. It is the same thing as good will. It`s totally intangible. It is something that you assign as the value for your brand. And you are right. He cheats people. There are people who built the construction of the Trump tower Chicago that didn`t get paid and when they said we are going to sue, his lawyer said you are not going to sue because it will cause you more money that we withheld. We withheld just enough that it`s not worth you suing. That`s how he does business and America needs know that.

MATTHEWS: Meanwhile, House speaker Nancy Pelosi said that impeachment is not on the table unless the evidence is so overwhelming that it reach a bipartisan consensus, which is very high bar, of courses, given the nature of the Republican Party these days. Eighty-eight percent support for the President.

Well today, Republicans seized on Pelosi`s remarks saying it is a sign she has lost control of her party. So she is doing bad now. Let`s watch this twist of argument.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think Nancy Pelosi is clearly already starting to lose control of her party. I think we are seeing that on a lot of the things that have taken place over the last couple of week. I`m glad that she sees what the rest of us see and that there`s no reason, no cause for impeachment.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), MINORITY LEADER: I think Nancy Pelosi is smart to say that there should be an impeachment.

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-NY), GOP CONFERENCE CHAIR: I think she is dealing with reality, which is she is not in control of her caucus. And so, you know, she is trying to send messages to them by saying that this is not a path that she wants to down but she`s not in-charge. It appears, to us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: This is malarkey (ph).

Congressman, you know and everybody else who follows the news that she just had a vote last week on hate speech and the anti-Semitic peace in all that, 100 percent performance. Every single Democrat voted along the line she suggested. So I don`t think she has lost control.

But I want to ask you what you think about needing the Republicans to support -- if you believe the President has committed impeachable acts, that he has obstructed justice in the firing of Comey, in the firing of - who is the other guy? The attorney general, Sessions of course --.

SWALWELL: Andy McCabe, too.

MATTHEWS: And McCabe and firing all these people. I mean, it was so slow motion but clear cut Saturday night massacrism. You mean no matter how bad behaves, if you don`t think the Republicans are going to back you, you are not going to act? Is that where everybody - the standard were falling to? Pure politics?

SWALWELL: No one is above the law and that has to be clear. What I think speaker Pelosi is saying -- and by the way this gang is deep in the hole betting against speaker Pelosi. I don`t know how much thaw want to double down against them, the people that you just referenced. But what she is saying I think is right which is if there`s an air tight case and there is bipartisan support, then we move forward. Right now we have evidence of wrong doing. We have evidence of a corrupt President and that`s not a conclusion yet but we should continue to pursue it.

But Chris, I don`t want us get away from, you know, the work we have on background checks, on updating the voting rights act, the work that we need to do on transportation.

MATTHEWS: I know.

SWALWELL: But here, let me just say this --.

MATTHEWS: But I do believe that you can chew gum and walk at the same time.

SWALWELL: Two years ago, Chris, three years ago, there was no stop light, stop sign, or cop on the beat for Donald Trump. And we have slapped an ankle monitor on him. So we know where he is. We know what he was doing. There is a check in place --.

MATTHEWS: Everybody I talk to, but I`m sure you, as a member of Congress, hear the same thing, get the same question everyone. I`m going to ask the other people here.

Everywhere you go, you to like walk down the street, you go to a Starbucks, an airplane, airport. Anywhere I go I`m asked, is this guy going to get impeached? And now the speaker of the House says they are the opposite who says we are not going to have that on the table right now. Wait a minute, this is March of 19. I thought this summer was going to be about impeachment. That`s what I thought it was going to be about.

Mueller report would come out, the Democratic House Judiciary Committee would act, you have the series of votes, you have hearings and you have quotes on articles and you will send something over to the Senate.

That`s not the scenario anymore. The scenario now is we are waiting to see if we got 20 Republican senators willing to join our caucus on a convention in the Senate. If that is what you are waiting for, you will never get anywhere. You are not going - you are not going to get 20 Republican senators upfront. You have to move toward it. And when the time comes, you got to see if they stand their ground or not.

If you start off with we are not going to move until we got 20 Republican senators, you are not going to move under any circumstances because they are never going to give up on Trump at the beginning of the year. They are going to wait until still they have to make a decision, a real reckoning. Your thought? When do you make these decision not to with impeachment? Congressman?

SWALWELL: Yes. So, Chris, again, it is - less than a fewer than 100 days in, in this new Congress. And so, I think don`t do Donald Trump justice. If we did Donald Trump justice, the guy would be thrown out by now. Instead, we are going to hold-up the rule of law which he so willingly throws away and pursue all of this alarming conduct.

And I`m not speaking for Speaker Pelosi, but I think if it the Mueller report shows, you know, obstruction of justice, financial compromise, we have got job to do. And we also set a president for future president. So if we do nothing when you cross clear red lines, that`s a bad precedent. But I don`t think we want to lead in with impeachment. I think we want to go there because it is --.

MATTHEWS: OK. But you are not going to wait - you are saying to me you are not going to wait for the Republicans to approve your actions?

SWALWELL: I think we are going to do the right thing if he crossed a red line and hope that the Republicans do the right thing themselves and come with us.

MATTHEWS: That`s a hope. But thank you very much, U.S. Congressman Eric Swalwell of California, Jill Wine-Banks as always and Allen Smith.

Coming up the danger of nepotism. President Trump reportedly told John Kelly, his chief of staff, get rid of my kids. It was (INAUDIBLE) all along to think that Ivanka and Jared could be stabilizing voices in the White House.

Plus, prosecutors expose what they call the largest college admission scandal or scam they have ever seen. What it tells us about the rise of cheat doing culture, of course, and the good old power of money.

And former Massachusetts governor Bill Welds is coming here to play HARDBALL. He is planning to challenge the President in Republican primaries next year. Why he believes Trump should not be given another four years.

A lot to get to tonight. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

For the past two years I have warned about the dangers of unelected family members living in the White House and claim to be serving there. I`m warned that - I`m warned that mixing family and business removes a vital guardrail.

Well, in an explosive new book out called "Kushner Incorporated, Greed, Corruption," Veteran journalist, Vicki Ward, details the sorted rise of the two of the President`s most trusted advisors. You guessed it. Son in law, Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump. Word paints an unflattering portrait of an entitled power couple seeking to capitalize on a new found access.

According to one account published in the "New York Times," Ms. Trump often requested to travel on air force planes when it was not appropriate. And when then secretary of state Rex Tillerson denied those requests, the couple would invite along a cabinet secretary often treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin to get access to a plane.

According to this book, early on, chief of staff John Kelly`s tenure and that tenure, the President ordered him to get rid of my kids. Get them back to New York. Well, that sounds down right wholesome on the part of the President. The President complain the kids didn`t know how to play the game.

Well, in response in this new book, a spokesperson for Jared Kushner`s lawyer, told the "New York Times," it seems Vicki Ward has written the book of fiction, rather than any serious attempt to get the fact correcting everything wrong would take too long and be pointless. Well, you are so busy.

With more, I`m joined by Democratic congresswoman Jackie Speier of California, member of both the House intelligence and the oversight committees. Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for the PBS News Hour and Michael Steele, the former chair of the Republican national committee.

Michael, I have said before that the Romanovs, they shouldn`t have been there because you can`t say no to the boss` kids and that means nobody is reigning them in. They do what they want.

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Well, that`s exactly right. But the most important -- first part of this is they are Donald Trump`s cushion. They are his blanket. They are the ones who he feels that he not only trusts but know that they will carry out what he wants done.

So it doesn`t matter. Anything else doesn`t matter at this point as far as Trump is concern. The problem comes in translation for how they interact with cabinet secretaries and other officials. And as you just illustrated with the plane, when those cabinet secretaries go no, that is inappropriate for you to make use of such functions or such things, they have their own work around. So they use -- they know how to game the system to benefit -- .

MATTHEWS: We do that from day one.

STEELE: Right, exactly.

MATTHEWS: A little pushy and more privilege that you put the other person and some privilege, you got what you want.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, PBS NEWS HOUR: You have that but you also have people now that have power in a vast portfolio of issues that they don`t have a lot of qualifications in objectively. You have Jared Kushner. I have been in meetings where he`s talking about trade in China. He`s also talking about infrastructure. Then he`s talking about regulations in business. He`s also supposed to be helping with the Middle East.

So, what you have is not just someone who is...

MATTHEWS: You mean his best friend the murderer over there in Saudi, his best friend...

(CROSSTALK)

ALCINDOR: The Saudi Arabian...

MATTHEWS: And Netanyahu. He could bring those two guys together, right?

Smart politics.

(CROSSTALK)

ALCINDOR: So, it`s not just that you have two children kind of running around the White House playing with the toys.

You have them going to world leaders and representing American citizens and American policy.

MATTHEWS: Why did Trump bring them in? You said needs his little comfort people.

STEELE: That`s his comfort zone.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, last night -- anyway, like people who bring animals on - - the dog on planes with them.

Last week, it was reported that President Trump played a significant role in granting security clearances to daughter -- his daughter and his son-in- law, something he, of course, has denied. The president reportedly overruled his then chief of staff, John Kelly, and also White House lawyer Don McGahn, official lawyer.

And they both voiced objections to these kids and son-in-law getting these security clearances, which is a big thing for me. I want to know why he didn`t want them to get them. Neither one of these guys wanted them to get it.

U.S. intelligence officials have flagged a number of concerns to the White House, like reports that foreign intelligence officials from the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico were privately discussing ways in which they could manipulate Mr. Kushner.

Other concerns related to Trump`s son-in-law are his involvement in a Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer and two unreported transition meetings with the Russian ambassador and the head of the Russian state-owned bank.

Congresswoman, I don`t know what to say here, except anybody who has seen "The Godfather" is seeing Fredo here being manipulated by the guy out West.

So, what do you make of this? He looks manipulatable.

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: This is yet another episode in the...

MATTHEWS: Moe Greene, I always think, yes.

SPEIER: This is just another episode in the tabloids that we see on the grocery store racks.

I mean, this is a president who abuses power. He says they don`t know how to play the game. Yes, he thinks this is a game. But we have rules. And the rules were put in place after Bobby Kennedy was the attorney general. And that law basically said, no more nepotism.

So what does this president do? He decides, well, he`s going to make his two -- his daughter and son-in-law volunteers, so they won`t be subject to the nepotism law. And then he wants to give these two volunteers top security clearances. And when they don`t actually meet the standards, then he tells the general counsel and his chief of staff, just get them the security clearances.

I mean, there`s a reason why the intelligence community made that recommendation. Our country`s status is at risk. Our national security is at risk.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SPEIER: And we somehow think this is just some little game. It`s not a game. It is a very serious consideration. They shouldn`t be in the White House as volunteers.

And my bill HR-1028 is one that would require that, even -- if you`re a volunteer in the White House, you`re going to be paying $1,000-a-day fine for trying to manipulate the laws in this country as it relates to nepotism.

This is wrong. It shouldn`t have happened in the first place. And we just, again, get inured to it and allow this to continue to go on.

MATTHEWS: Well, I keep thinking -- and I know a lot of other people do, reporters, straight reporters covering this -- that these two kids could well find themselves indicted by Robert Mueller.

And my question is, if the president pardons them or fires Mueller over that, would that move the House of Representatives to move on to impeachment hearings?

SPEIER: I think we have to wait and see on that, Chris. I do...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s incredible, what you guys are saying now.

All of a sudden, no matter what Trump does, pardons people, fires people, it doesn`t matter because you`re waiting for the Republicans to go along with you as you`re standing...

SPEIER: No, I`m not saying. No, I`m not saying that at all.

I`m waiting for the Mueller report. I have always been waiting for the Mueller report. I believe that the speaker is being strategic now. I give her credit for being strategic. I think, once the Mueller report comes out, once we have more hearings in the Intelligence Committee that are open to the public, we`re going to see the case being built to impeach the president.

MATTHEWS: Well, since President Trump`s inauguration, Jared and Ivanka have been among the few to survive an historic level of turnover in this administration. Look at the pictures.

According to some reports, a few of those departed staffers were pushed out by Jared and Ivanka, pushed out by those two.

"New York Times" White House correspondent Maggie Haberman has reported that administration sources view Jared Kushner as the de facto chief of staff.

Yamiche.

ALCINDOR: I think that`s very much true.

I think, in the meetings that I have been in, and then also sources that I have talked to, he feels like a chief of staff. Mick Mulvaney is the acting chief of staff. He`s -- they have kept him in that acting title.

That has, in some ways, I think, hurt his ability to in some ways make just long-term decisions. But what you have is Ivanka and Jared serving as the chief advisers to the president. So not only are they the chief of staff, but I also think that -- on a number of issues -- think of family separations.

Ivanka could go to her father and say, hey, you really should cut this out.

I will say, though -- I was looking at their ages before I got on here -- the president is 72 years old. Ivanka is 37. I have heard that she says, look, my dad believes what he believes, and there`s nothing I`m going to do, as a millennial essentially, to change his mind.

So there`s -- so there also is that factor.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of this? Where`s this going to end? I saw this -- going to hell from the beginning.

STEELE: Oh, yes.

MATTHEWS: This whole thing, it was wrong. Trump doesn`t understand the mores of why history says nepotism is wrong.

STEELE: Right.

Well, to the congresswoman`s point, there`s a reason why, after Bobby Kennedy`s tenure at Justice, they decided to change the nepotism laws.

Trump has found a loophole, a backdoor. He`s created one for himself. And he`s playing in that space. Now, we`re kind of here. Unless there`s some type of action is going to be taken going into a second term for whoever is elected, if Trump`s reelected, these folks will still be in play.

He`s not taking them out of play for him.

MATTHEWS: OK, explain this. Explain this thing.

How does a father say to his chief of staff, get rid of them, get them out, send them back to New York, and then we all observe the fact he`s not only still here, Jared, he`s calling the shots? Which is it?

STEELE: Well, I don`t think the -- I think that episode, get them out of here, was more drama from Trump.

ALCINDOR: Family squabbles.

STEELE: It was more family squabbles than it was internal...

MATTHEWS: You mean a bad hair day for...

STEELE: Right, a bad hair day, as opposed to anything else.

Look, they protect -- protect the president`s flanks. You`re exactly right, Yamiche. He is -- Jared is the de facto chief of staff. He acts as such. Ivanka is his consigliere. And they -- and they together keep this president`s agenda going the way the president wants it to go.

ALCINDOR: And they put a sweet face on it.

STEELE: Right.

ALCINDOR: They have all sorts of meeting with lawmakers, so that, if he`s ripping children apart from their parents -- their parents, or if he`s passing a trade bill or tax bill that`s cutting out poor people, they can then have a nice dinner and say, well, my father really believes that he wants to keep these promises.

So there`s also this idea of the facade that they have, I mean, the face that they put on the administration. It helps them.

MATTHEWS: The tag team.

Thank you, U.S. Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California. Thank you, Congresswoman, as always for coming out.

Yamiche Alcindor, thank you, and Michael Steele.

Up next: CEOs and Hollywood actresses indicted in what federal prosecutors say was a nationwide multimillion-dollar college admissions scam.

What does it say about our culture that big money`s able to corrupt the academic world? We will find out straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

What a story. Fifty people, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, were charged today in a cheating scandal that a U.S. attorney described as the largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice.

The indictment depicts a conspiracy involving parents paying the head of a college preparation business, William Rick Singer, to facilitate cheating on college entrance exams by having someone take the test in their children`s place or correcting their answers by coming into the room and somehow completing the test themselves.

According to the indictment, parents also paid Singer, this guy, to bribe coaches and university administrators to designate their children as recruited athletes. This included fabricating athletic profiles to bolster the kids` college applications by making them appear to be highly successful performance athletes in high school, when, in fact, they were not.

They would Photoshop pictures and put them onto athletes, like they were really -- it`s incredible what went on here.

The special agent in charge of the FBI Boston field office there, where the indictment was unsealed today, said that parents paid anywhere from -- catch this -- $200,000 to $6.5 million to get their kids in college.

Here`s how he described the defendants.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW LELLING, U.S. ATTORNEY FOR MASSACHUSETTS: This is a case where they flaunted their wealth, sparing no expense, to cheat the system, so they could set their children up for success with the best education money could buy, literally.

Their actions were, without a doubt, insidious, selfish, and shameful. And the real victims in this case are the hardworking students who did everything they could to set themselves up for success in the college admissions process, but ended up being shut out because far less qualified students and their families simply bought their way in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today," and Michael Eric Dyson, professor of psychology -- of sociology at Georgetown University and author of "What Truth Sounds Like."

Professor -- in this case, I will call you professor. It`s always appropriate, but now more than ever.

(LAUGHTER)

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Yes. Right.

MATTHEWS: You think about kids, regular kids of modest income, whatever their background. They walk into that test center, they sweat, they bring their two No. 2 pencils.

DYSON: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: They can hardly sleep the night before. They always say watch a movie or something like that to relax. They come in there.

Now they`re going to go in there, every kid who knows what`s going on, and their parents, that there`s probably somebody else in that room that may be a ringer, that may have somebody coming out later in the day to replace them, or some game that`s being played.

DYSON: Yes.

MATTHEWS: I mean, this is out in the open now.

DYSON: It`s pretty ridiculous.

I mean, the fact is, we live in an ostensible meritocracy. You do your work, you have skills, you have talents, they`re recognized.

But let`s be real. We know that there`s always been a hierarchy. Legacy admissions have been given. Athletic admissions have been given, predicated upon what geographical region you`re from.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But I will now make the defense, because a legacy will get in because his name is William something III, right?

DYSON: Right.

MATTHEWS: The jockey gets in -- gets in because they can play the game.

DYSON: Right.

MATTHEWS: They`re not in there because of their ethnic designation. They`re not basketball players because they`re black. They`re really good players. That`s why they`re in there.

DYSON: Well, no question.

MATTHEWS: So, nobody claims that. So the meritocracy is true about jocks. And, by the way, one of the most amazing -- I will go with you on this.

These athletic directors, these coaches were basically selling at $400,000 apiece the slots that they get the reserve for admissions. In other words, they wanted the best -- the best kicker in football. Instead of getting the best kicker, they get some $400,000.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": I found this -- and call me naive -- completely shocking.

I mean, there`s kind of graft in the open, where you give a million dollars for a new dorm, and your kid gets into school.

DYSON: Right.

PAGE: But what`s a Yale degree worth? To somebody, it was worth $1.2 million, because that`s what they paid to get their daughter into Yale.

DYSON: Right.

PAGE: I just -- I find flummoxing and also corrosive in terms of faith in institutions we used to -- didn`t you think that Yale and Stanford and USC were places that you could trust to try to do the right thing, to admit...

DYSON: Sure. I mean, I got a Ph.D. from Princeton. I teach at Georgetown.

And so these institutions are worthy of the support and trust that people have invested in them.

But what I was trying to say, I wasn`t saying that meritocracy wasn`t the means by which people were distributed goods, but even within the meritocracy, we know that there are inequalities that exist. And I`m saying that legacy and stuff, yes, you didn`t do it immediately, but somebody three generations ago hooked you up.

So my point is, the hookup culture has been revealed here in an astonishing fashion that is wrong, that is problematic, but I am suggesting that we not lose faith in these institutions, number one.

And, number two, you`re right. You can go into a room and assume that somebody`s there. But look at the assumptions that will come all the time. Look what black people have to deal with. Are you here because of affirmative action?

No, actually, I worked hard.

Are you here because -- and affirmative action doesn`t mean it was given to me. It means in a competition over scarce resources, two people who were relatively equal, one get the nod because of historical under- representation.

So now we have to really rethink the fact that beneath all of this big discourse about meritocracy has been, I want to do everything I can to get my kid in, and I don`t care what it takes to get them in. That`s the reality of America.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

PAGE: This does not deserve the word affirmative action.

That is...

(CROSSTALK)

DYSON: No, not at all. I`m making a tremendous distinction.

PAGE: This is just bribery.

(CROSSTALK)

DYSON: No, no, but I`m saying that affirmative action has been wrongly considered.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: This means a parent gets word, hear there`s some -- or her -- him, her -- in this case, Hollywood actors, they get the word there`s some guy that can get your kid in, now, a little nefarious, but he will get the job done.

And they said, OK, what`s he do? Well, he hires a ringer.

DYSON: Right.

MATTHEWS: Or he hires a basketball coach.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: A hockey coach and says, we need this kid on the team, when they don`t need the kid on the team. In fact, the kid`s not even going to be on the team.

DYSON: Right.

PAGE: And not -- 50 people arrested today, but one of the people described in the court papers said they dealt with 800 families to do this.

It`s been going on for at least almost a decade. This is not some one-off. This is something that really reinforces the idea that the system is rigged.

(CROSSTALK)

DYSON: Well, that`s right.

And what I was saying about affirmative action, I`m saying affirmative action is perfectly acceptable as a means to distribute -- distribute resources. But people look at it askance and go, aha.

And you`re right. It`s deeply entrenched in the culture. And don`t believe it`s only 10 years old. This has been going on for a while, different ways and different means to do so, although Georgetown is a great school, still...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Who can stop this stuff?

DYSON: Well, I mean, we have to call it out across the board.

And we have to call it out across the board by saying, let`s not just isolate it to this egregious example. What about the way in which we give kids resources and carrots and sticks and push them along? How do we reward certain kinds of acts?

And I told you earlier this...

MATTHEWS: Well, you know about the jock dorms and stuff like that.

DYSON: Well, the jock dorms, but you get you got other ways in which those -- look, by the way, jocks are working hard. I teach them every day. The biggest scandal...

(CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: I`m talking about the little rewards.

DYSON: No, I`m telling you, though, the big scandal here is the fact that you got athletes bringing in millions and millions of dollars, and the coaches are getting paid.

How about that kind of usury that is going on? That`s right before our eyes.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, what do we do about that? What do we do about that?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: They are amateurs. They are amateurs.

DYSON: Wait. Wait. They are amateurs, but the coach is on the sideline.

If it corrupts you because of money, why don`t they limit themselves to $200,000...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK, great.

By the way, I was watching the UNC-Duke game on Saturday. Maybe you were watching it too. I got to tell you something. The quality of these kids` basketball at age -- first year, this guy Coby White, first year, is unbelievable.

(CROSSTALK)

DYSON: How about Zion Williamson?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: He was sick that day. He was sick that day.

DYSON: What about Europe? What about when they can play in Europe at 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, come over here, one and done?

I`m saying that the system itself mitigate -- militates against us really recognizing talent. And these kids are being...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I`ll tell you about these guys, they really can hit between -- behind the three-point line. They can really hit.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: These kids are rich kids.

DYSON: Yes. Yes.

PAGE: You want to talk about, though, how to deal with the kind of corruption we`re seeing today, you do it two ways.

Universities step in right and law enforcement steps. And kudos to the FBI for investigating it.

DYSON: Right.

MATTHEWS: Should these people go to jail?

PAGE: If they broke the law...

DYSON: Well, their demoralization is punishment enough. But, look, people go to jail for a lot less.

PAGE: Their demoralization is punishment? I don`t think so.

(CROSSTALK)

DYSON: No, no, I`m saying, people vote wrong way and get four and five years. So, yes, somebody`s going to have to suffer here.

MATTHEWS: Susan, should they go to jail?

PAGE: If they have -- if they have committed a crime that carries a jail sentence, I think they should be subjected to whatever the legal penalties are.

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE: I would be sort of surprising -- surprised if some of these people actually went to jail.

MATTHEWS: I think some are going to go. I think this is really going to bother -- we will see. We will see.

If it is corrupt, this would be a sign of it.

(CROSSTALK)

DYSON: Systemic issues have got to be dealt with. Systemic issues have got to be addressed.

MATTHEWS: You`re here to do it, Professor.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Susan Page and Michael Eric Dyson.

Up next: Can President Trump be defeated in 2020? Interesting point, because former Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan says yes. Well, he`s a free man now, isn`t it?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: More on that and who might be next to jump into the race right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: I appreciate the energy you show when I got up here. Save a little longer. I may need it in a few weeks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was former Vice President Joe Biden teasing a presidential campaign announcement to a big room of union firefighters today. NBC News reports that Biden is closing in on a final decision this week as his team eyes a possible April launch date. I hear it`s the third week in April.

My colleague Andrea Mitchell caught up with the former vice president after his speech this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Why wouldn`t you run, Mr. President?

BIDEN: I can`t think of any reason.

MITCHELL: You can`t think of any reason why you wouldn`t run?

BIDEN: We`re making that decision now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, as Biden contemplates that decision, another Democrat, former Congressman Beto O`Rourke is also signaling a run. O`Rourke e heads to Ohio this weekend, his first trip to the early caucus states.

NBC News reports he plans to announce his decision on a White House bid before the end of March. He`s going to beat Biden as the field of Democratic candidates grows,.

Former House Speaker Paul Ryan warned Republicans that President Trump could be defeated in 2020. According to "Politico", Ryan told an audience in Florida, quote: The person who defines that race is going to win the race. If this is about Donald Trump and his personality, he isn`t going to win. Powerful.

Meanwhile, a vocal critic of President Trump, former Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake said he hopes another Republican will challenge the president in 2020. Another Republican. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF FLAKE (R-AZ), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Yes, I do. I`ve said that consistently. I hope somebody does, if only to remind Republicans what it means to be conservative and what it means to be decent. So, I do hope that somebody runs and it won`t be me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: One Republican looking to challenge the president warned of a possibility of a President Trump right here on HARDBALL, a President Trump back in 2016. He joins me next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL WELD (R), FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: I think he`s delusional. He doesn`t study up on foreign policy. He has no understanding of the international economy. He wants to impose tariffs. He`d take us back to the horse and buggy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That was the former Republican governor of Massachusetts, Bill Weld, on candidate Donald Trump during a HARDBALL college tour in 2016.

Well, now he`s launched an exploratory committee to challenge President Trump for the Republican nomination in 2020.

Governor Weld joins us now.

Governor, thank you.

What is your big thing about Trump? You spotted him early as a problem. What do you think about him now?

WELD: I think the same thing I thought thirty-two years ago. I wouldn`t change a word of what I said in that clip there. But I think he`s -- all his instincts are against the interest of the United States. It`s amazing that he`s president of the United States.

He`s trying to offend all our allies, cozy up to our enemies, destroy free trade, you know, foment climate change in the worst way, not join our friends in Asia. It`s just -- it`s hard to understand, unless he really is the Manchurian candidate that Adam Schiff --

MATTHEWS: Yes. What do you think of Schiff saying that the reason he runs for a second term is out last the statute of limitations.

WELD: That`s not true. You could file a sealed indictment, the prosecutors could file a sealed indictment so the president wouldn`t be hauled into court. And I agree with those who say he can`t be hauled into criminal court while he`s serving because we got to run the world out there.

But filing the indictment which would satisfy the statute of limitation --

MATTHEWS: So you disagree with Schiff?

WELD: Yes, I do. The Constitution itself says, Article I Section 3 talking about impeachment, it says even after that, the person, the president or other civil officers shall remain liable to indictment, trial, punishment and conviction

MATTHEWS: What do you think his game is then? He looks like he`s going to run for reelection, right? You think he will --

WELD: I think he will, yes.

MATTHEWS: So, how were you able to primary -- where can you chip away and win a couple of states to beat him?

WELD: Well, chip away starting in New England and go to the mid-Atlantic. The fact is his ratings are sky high among Republicans right now. But six months is forever in national politics, and he`s four times forever.

MATTHEWS: Well, take a look at this number. Trump`s overall approval rating in the country is 44 percent, the latest Monmouth University poll. The poll shows however, his approval rating among Republicans of 86 percent. By the way that`s as high as 88 in other polls.

Monmouth also has potential primary challengers to the president. In a head-to-head match with Governor Weld, who sits here, the poll showed 54 percent Republican support President Trump, 54, 8 percent support Weld, but another 20 percent said they could go and be swayed over to you.

Still uphill.

WELD: Yes. Well, there are two things here. One, the shape of the electorate could change very much in those Republican primaries. Twenty states allow independents to take a Republican ballot in the primary, and I profited from that in Massachusetts by a 6:1 ratio. The other thing is, you get something like mobile voting, so all the millennials could vote with their phones if you get the right security measures in place.

MATTHEWS: What`s that going to have, going to have it by 2020?

WELD: Well --

MATTHEWS: Explain to rock headed Republican -- not rock hard, rock headed. It seems to me and I believe this, when Trump said, I could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and they`ll still be with me, I think he`s right. I think he can pardon his kids, his son-in-law, fire them all, he can fire Mueller and your party will just say, yes, sir.

WELD: Yes, but don`t tell me --

MATTHEWS: What is that about?

WELD: Don`t tell me nothing can change in six months. The Mueller report is not out. The dust is not settled on the southern district --

MATTHEWS: They`ll just say he`s deep state.

WELD: Well, no one has yet gone after the Trump Organization as a racketeering enterprise for example.

MATTHEWS: That would be RICO, I`m with you, Governor.

Back in 2016 here on HARDBALL, you said Donald Trump wasn`t qualified to be president. Let`s take a look at that golden oldie.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WELD: Hillary Clinton is clearly qualified to be commander-in-chief and president of the United States.

MATTHEWS: How about the other guy?

WELD: Donald Trump is clearly not qualified and I would encourage almost with affection, to think of some other job or profession. And I suggest the laundry business. He`d be great in the laundry business. He`s got business smarts but president of the United States is the wrong tree to be barking up for him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I thought you`re being nasty to the laundry business.

WELD: Well, the affection is gone but I concluded he has been in the laundry business. So, there you go.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s a good point. What do you think of him? When I look at him with his chin out, I think of Mussolini. But he can also be -- who do you think he is in history? I don`t think Hitler is a favorite. What is he in history when you look at that guy as an American? Not that he fits, he`s anomaly obviously.

WELD: Maybe Nero, maybe Caligula, a Roman emperor who`s totally autocratic. He admires the autocrats in history. He wants to take us in that direction. That makes me very nervous as an American.

MATTHEWS: He brought his kids into the White House, he ignored the nepotism rules, skipped all that, and just put them in charge of Middle East policy. Jared Kushner is cooking deals right as we speak with the murderer over in Saudi Arabia and try to hook him up, using a common term today, with Netanyahu. What is going on? That`s not going to happen.

WELD: I`m a little more troubled about the Trump Moscow Tower and mixing his business with foreign policy.

MATTHEWS: What goes first? Did he run for president to make money or did he run -- is he just making money in case he lost?

WELD: I don`t think he expected to win. He started to run for president like six times. I remember there was an article in "The New York Post" saying he`d be great, he doesn`t drink, he works 22 hours a day, and that was floated gently out to sea after 30 seconds.

So, he`s done it before and I think they were very surprised -- as surprised as Hillary Clinton was when he won.

MATTHEWS: And I was surprised he ran because I was with the phone calls, calling back with all those years. Are you going to run? Are you going to run? No.

Thank you, Governor. Good luck in this race. You can only cause trouble, which is good for everybody.

WELD: Well, that`s good. We like trouble.

MATTHEWS: Up next, Bill Weld, candidate I think pretty soon for the Republican nomination for president of the United States.

Anyway, today`s Democratic argument between capitalism and socialism, that`s coming up. I got some thoughts on that one.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, Democratic are kibitzing a lot right now about socialism versus capitalism. For me, it`s brought back the conversations I had with East Germans three decades ago. And those days in November of 1989, when the Berlin wall was coming down, I wanted to hear their story of why their system in East Germany had failed.

Well, the people I spoke with were not enemies of the East German system. They were just the opposite, the system`s true believers -- factory managers and school principals. They were loyal to the ideals of an equitable society and also, they made clear to me, its victims.

And while they accepted the modest incomes provided by the East German state, they faced a daily humiliation by a government that sent them, the people who made the system work, to the back of the line, while the hustlers, opportunists and exploiters of the system grabbed all the good life. Well, the good East Germans watched tourists go to the hotels and restaurants run by the government that refused the currency each Germans were paid with. They had to wait 18 months for the delivery of the lousy cars the country made.

And the lesson to me was clear -- a system fails when if doesn`t provide economic justice to the very people who make it work. We in this country have succeeded magnificently in terms of economic efficiency. Our system of mixed capitalism, free markets alongside an evolving social safety net of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment compensation, together with antitrust, environmental, and other business regulations have made this country what it is today.

But we better be on alert to the need to adjust the balance between the power of the marketplace and the need to soften and offset its power. We need to insure that those hurt or passed over by capitalist enterprises get treated fairly. This isn`t complicated. It`s not a choice between capitalism and socialism, it`s finding the right combination, and that`s what the debates of this year and next will largely be about.

And 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