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Fmr. Trump campaign chair sentenced. TRANSCRIPT: 03/13/2019, Hardball w. Chris Matthews.

Guests: Elliot Williams, Betsy Woodruff, Ken Vogel, Raja Krishnamoorthi

Show: HARDBALL Date: March 13, 2019 Guest: Elliot Williams, Betsy Woodruff, Ken Vogel, Raja Krishnamoorthi

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: She is going to decide whether he violated his gag order. Tomorrow I will interview the former attorney of Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal who dealt with Cohen in the hash money payment. We will have a whole lot more on this big week in the Mueller probe.

Don`t go anywhere, though. "HARDBALL" starts now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Four more years. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

We have got big news tonight, three huge stories. A federal judge hit President Trump`s campaign chairman Paul Manafort with more prison time, four more years, while the Manhattan district attorney added new indictments today.

On Capitol Hill, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said the President`s former attorney general has changed his story now. It turns out the President did reach out to him to interfere in the Michael Cohen case.

And there are major signs tonight that Beto O`Rourke of Texas is about to shake up the Presidential race and do so tomorrow.

We begin with the Manafort sentencing and the new indictments against hum. The President`s 2016 campaign chair was today slapped with a one-two punch. Receiving more time behind bars as well as a new 16-count indictment out of New York City.

We begin in Washington where a federal judge sentenced Paul Manafort to three-and-a-half years in federal prison. That`s in addition to the four years last week in Virginia which brings combined sentencing, federal sentencing so for, to seven-and-a-half years.

Addressing the court, Manafort today expressing regret for his actions, something he did not do during his previous sentencing.

He said quote "I am sorry for what I have done. Let me be very clear I accept responsibility for the action that caused me to be here today."

Pleasing for leniency, Manafort said I will be 70 years old in a few weeks. My wife is already 66. She needs me. I need her. Please let me and my wife leave together.

The judge, however, expressed skepticism saying the defendant isn`t public enemy number one but he is not a victim either. It`s hard to overstate the number of lies, the amount of fraud and the extraordinary amount of money involved.

Then came an unexpected plot twist. Just as Manafort received that federal sentence, he was indicted minutes later on 16 criminal counts in the state of New York. Those charges brought by the district attorney of Manhattan include mortgage fraud, conspiracy and falsifying business records. All part of an alleged scheme to obtain millions of dollars in loans.

According to the "New York Timers" this means he could face up to 25 years in New York state prison. Most significant is Donald Trump can`t pardon Manafort if he is convicted of charges. The President again only pardon federal crime. I`m not sure if Trump can knows that because here is his reaction to all these developments today.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I feel badly for him. I think it`s a very sad situation and I saw that just a while ago. And certainly on a human basis it`s a very sad thing. I feel badly for him.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you pardon Paul Manafort?

TRUMP: I have not even given it a thought as of this moment. It`s not something that`s right now on my mind. I do feel badly for Paul Manafort.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Manhattan district attorney filed state charges, which would seem to be a way to get around the effect of any pardon that might be down the road.

TRUMP: I don`t know anything about it. I haven`t heard of that. I will take a look at it.


MATTHEWS: I will take a look at it.

I`m joined right now by Joyce Vance, a former federal prosecutor. Elliot Williams, of course, former justice department official who lobbies for Law Works, an organization advocate the importance of the special counsel and Ken Vogel, political reporter at the "New York times" and Betsey Woodruff, political are porter for the "Daily Beast."

Thank you all for joining us. I want to start with Joyce.

First of all, a little grace though. Does Trump not know that he can`t pardon state crimes? I noticed that little waffle there.

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think everybody else in America knows it. We talk about it almost nightly. Have been doing that for 18 months. So maybe the President is listening to the wrong channel.

MATTHEWS: What do you think of judge Berman Jackson in decision that we thought she would, to use a colloquial phrase, pile on because didn`t think there was enough sentencing last week. Didn`t do so. It only adds up to seven-and-a-half. She could have gone up to ten, the total.

VANCE: Yes. You know, she didn`t and she was explicit. She explained that her sentence wasn`t related to the sentence out in Virginia. I think that`s important. She was perhaps more modest than I would have liked to have seen her be the most prosecutors would like on the obstruction count. It seems to me that it would have been inappropriate are toot give him a higher sentence there.

But her sentence wasn`t so low that it shocked the conscience. I think the real question with the sentence is, would you doubt it? Would you be unhappy with it if the judge in Virginia had stayed within the guidelines?

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Betsy on this. And I`ll get after that to Ken.

How does the President walk away in history, whether he gets reelected or not, whether he runs for reelection or not, although we all think he will, how does he walk away from this horrible connection? The chairman of his campaign keeps getting hit with criminal violations. He has seven-and-a- half years to serve already. He may get another decade or more coming out of the Manhattan and it`s his guy.

BETSY WOODRUFF, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: No doubt. It`s something that`s going to follow Trump as part of his legacy in the history (INAUDIBLE). And noting that is important about this is that Trump joins an incredibly ignominious group of people. As soon as he hired Paul Manafort, he basically joined a league of bond villain as far as the people who Manafort had represented prior to Trump, Viktor Yanukovych, a pro- Russian Ukrainian President (INAUDIBLE).

MATTHEWS: He might have been the cleanest client he had.

WOODRUFF: (INAUDIBLE) war lord who used child soldiers. (INAUDIBLE) who did torture Ferdinand Marcos who literally stole billions of dollars from the people of the Philippines and now Donald Trump is also part of that pantheon (ph)

MATTHEWS: What a clientele.

Anyway, in today`s hearing, the judge repeated her conclusion rather, Judge Berman Jackson, that Manafort lied about his contacts in 2016 with Konstantin Kilimnik who has ties with Russian intelligence.

Quote "the office of special counsel proved beyond a preponderance of evidence that Mr. Manafort intentionally gave false testimony with regard to Mr. Kilimnik.

Ken, can I ask you? Because this gets to the heart of conspiracy, working with the Russians, collusion whatever they want to call it. That cigar bar, if you will, the Havana club, where they met - he met with Kilimnik. The fact that he lied about that meeting, denied the nature of that meeting tells me that there is something criminal going on there he was hiding. What is your reading?

KEN VOGEL, POLITICAL REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, certainly. And that the special counsel has indicated that as much as well, saying that lie about that meeting and about his other interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik get to the heart of the mission of the special counsel, which is of course proving or investigating collusion with Russia.

That said we did not see anything reflecting that -- the heart of that mission in the charges against Manafort. And so I think that that is giving the grounds for Trump and for Manafort`s lawyers to say this was not about Russian collusion. The judge seemed to bristle at times at that talking points saying that`s a non sequitur. But it`s notable given the special counsel tried to take this there and that the judge seemed to be willing to entertain this. It was not in this case.

It could potentially be in the Roger Stone case, we`ll see. That`s the last hurrah for the special counsel in the legal filings. If we are to believe he`s wrapping up this case, that would be the last one where we could see a case for collusion made, it was not made here.

MATTHEWS: Well, to that point in handing down Manafort`s sentence today, the judge made clear that the charges in this case were unrelated to allegations of collusion. She said, Ken, rebuffing Manafort`s defense team, however, she said quote "the no collusion refrain that runs through the entire defense memo is entirely unrelated to matters at hand. The no collusion mantra is simply non-sequitur." In other words, it has nothing to do with this case.

However, Manafort`s lawyers preceded to hold a press conference where he falsely claimed that the judge had ruled that there`s no evidence of collusion.


KEVIN DOWNING, PAUL MANAFORT`S ATTORNEY: Judge Jackson conceded that there was absolutely no evidence of Russian collusion in this case. So that makes two courts, two courts have ruled no evidence of any collusion with any Russians.


MATTHEWS: Well, that lawyer`s remarks echoed a similar misleading claim made by the President last Friday when he are repeated again today that. Let`s hear it.


TRUMP: It was a hoax. It was all a big hoax and now you are seeing it. Today again no collusion. The other day no collusion. There was no collusion.


MATTHEWS: Well, to be clear no evidence of collusion was ever introduced in either Manafort`s case because he was sentenced on entirely different charges.

Elliot, this thing of Trump, he uses every example to distort the truth and say -- we are going to see I think a collusion case. But let`s talk about what he is denying appropriately.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Right. You know the expression to the history is written by the victors. Well, it seems like here history is written by the losers. They lost today. He is going to jail for a long time and trying to spin to the public this lie about what the judges were saying.

The judges were clear. And frankly, even judge Ellis in Virginia was clear about the fact that collusion was not present in this matter but that doesn`t mean there`s no collusion. It hasn`t been proven yet, but everything that`s been demonstrated has been within the mandate of a special counsel. And we will see if a collusion case can be supported, and it very well might. But this Kennard (ph) and red herring that the President is putting out that there`s no collusion here is just not--.

MATTHEWS: What about the collusion that needs answer? They seemed like the Menendez brothers here, at least the way they talk. This lawyer we just heard talks just like Trump. They have the same talking points.

WILLIAMS: It seems they might have the same talking points.

MATTHEWS: I don`t want to offend the Menendez brothers.

WILLIAMS: Hey, now. But no, it seems they might be going over the same talking points or speaking with each other. But you know, the President - they are committed to spinning untruths because they don`t have the facts and law on their side. And that`s what parties do when they are losing. And it`s a PR battle, not a legal one.

MATTHEWS: Well, let go deep with the PR.

Ken, you are not psychiatrist but I wonder how Trump goes to bed at night. I mean, you know, just when he thinks he has got his guy off, the chairman of his campaign this afternoon -- this morning actually. Next comes the Manhattan D.A.`s office with 16 counts against this same guy, Paul Manafort.

Here is my question. "New York Times" tomorrow headline, front page, somewhere near the top. I think above to fall, I guess. Trump doesn`t seem to know he can`t pardon Manafort in this latest mess of trouble.

VOGEL: Yes. I mean, that`s clearly an effort here to make sure Manafort doesn`t get off the hook by prosecutors who are sort of align opposite, who are averse to Trump and averse to Paul Manafort.

That said, it doesn`t mean that there weren`t crimes committed separate from the crimes that Manafort was charged with federally. That will be the challenge, however, for the New York prosecutors to show that they are not subjecting Manafort to double jeopardy. And we do expect for Manafort`s lawyers to argue that some of the actions that are implicated in the New York indictment are in fact the same with which he was charged at the federal level.

So, you know, I think nothing else that tends this legal battle will probably cause Manafort to rock up, you know, several hundreds of thousands, if not millions more in legal fees.

MATTHEWS: So lawyers for the President - I mean, for Manafort will say this is double jeopardy. He shouldn`t be charged in New York under state law for crimes law that he has already been sentenced for federal court, right?

VANCE: That`s right. Well, it will be interesting --.

MATTHEWS: Is it the same charge?

VANCE: You know, that will be the question. Typically if you have two different sovereigns, the federal government and state, there`s no double jeopardy problem. But New York has this statue that creates this double jeopardy problem if you file the same charges. It looks like he Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Van (ph) who has very carefully selected charges that don`t overlap with federal law. Look for Manafort`s lawyers to file a challenge on double jeopardy --.

MATTHEWS: In difference cases, too. Aren`t they are different matters.

VANCE: Well, they are different matters but what will matter more is if the same facts and the same charges. And so for instance, there`s no federal crime and explicit crime of residential mortgage fraud. One of the charges that the New York`s D.A. --.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s talk about Manafort faces now. He is facing seven- and-a-half years. Maybe he will get time serving down to six-ish. But the issue is a lot easier to talk about from the outside from the inside.


MATTHEWS: So he gets six-plus years. And then he sits on trial. He probably hasn`t been put incarcerated at this point. He goes to trial, faces the possibility, according to papers today, of 25 mere years. This guy has already six -- he`s turning 70 and he is facing 25 plus six. He has got to be Moses to get through this thing.

WILLIAMS: That`s 25 - I`m sorry, go ahead.

VANCE: Yes. I think that is smart. And most defendants don`t like to spend time in state prison. They would rather serve their time in federal prison. Conditions are a little better. So this seems like the bad mood for Manafort.

MATTHEWS: You mean they are protected from other prisons is better?

VANCE: The conditions just are generally better.

WILLIAMS: And on top of that is not just New York. There is 25 years in New York but he could potentially face banking or tax charges in Virginia, Illinois and California. Now, I don`t know if it is going to be 25 years in each of those. It depends on what they choose to charge him with. But we focused about on New York today because that`s the charge immediately in front of us. But there`s a lot of legal jeopardy faces around the country right now.

MATTHEWS: I`m going to Betsy on this. This is a wild speculation but the President of the United States said today he hasn`t given any thought to the pardon. We don`t know that. We don`t believe that. He has given thought to it. Is he more or less likely to try to protect him from what he has already been sentenced to him? Get him free from the seven-and-a- half and then, you know, best of luck at the state court level?

WOODRUFF: I think what`s most likely is the President will wait to make any move on this particular issue until after the 2020 elections. I talked about this recently with the person who is close to the President. He said he sees an externally low likelihood that Trump would pardon Manafort before his reelection because it would be so politically explosive. And Trump recognizes even though he might say he has never thought about it, he recognizes that the political implications would be enormous.

MATTHEWS: Well, thank you, Joyce. Joyce Vance. It`s great to have you physically here.

Thank you sir Elliot Williams. It is great to see you. I see you on the tube a lot.

And Betsy Woodruff, as always.

And Ken Vogel. Sir, I`m waiting for that "New York Times" headline tomorrow. I think the word pardon is going to be in there somewhere.

Anyway, we have got more breaking news tonight. According to a top Democrat, the former acting attorney general now says the President did reach out to him about the Michael Cohen investigation raising new questions of obstruction that he tried to get the U.S. attorney switched to take the heat off of Cohen.

Plus, Beto O`Rourke makes his move tomorrow. Looks like it is going to happen. The former congressman appears to be jumping into the Presidential race. Can he turn his Texas Beto-mania into a national movement? What you see the cover of "Vanity Fair" coming up. What a kiss.

Back in a moment. Stay with us.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Last month, the "New York Times" report that President Trump attempted to intervene in the case of Michael Cohen, an effort to protect himself from further scrutiny. According to this report, the President called the acting attorney general Matt Whitaker and asked whether a Trump ally could be put in charge of the widening investigation. Specifically, Trump wanted to know of a recused U.S. attorney of New York Jeffrey Berman could oversee the Cohen case. That report appeared to contradict Whittaker`s sworn testimony this January when he said that nobody from the White House ever reached out to express dissatisfaction with the Cohen investigation.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did they reach out to you in some way to express dissatisfaction?




MATTHEWS: No. Well, now the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee says the answer was yes. In a closed door meeting today, Whitaker changed his story.

Here is U.S. Congressman Jerry Nadler.


REP. JERRY NADLER (D), NEW YORK: Unlike in the hearing room, Mr. Whitaker did not deny that the President called him to discuss the Michael Cohen case and personally decisions in the southern district.

While he was acting attorney general, Mr. Whitaker was directly involved in conversations whether to fire one or more U.S. attorneys. Mr. Whitaker was involved in conversations about the scope of the southern district of New York U.S. attorney Berman`s recusal and whether the southern district went too far in pursuing the campaign finance case in which the President was listed as individual number one.


MATTHEWS: A lot of pressure on that man you are looking at. Well, Nadler currently suggest that Whitaker change his story, the ranking member of that committee, Republican Doug Collins disputed that interpretation.

I`m joined right now by Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, who sits on the House Intelligence and Oversight Committee, and Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for "The New York Times."

Congressman, this idea that the guy says one day, when the cameras are on, no interruption by the president -- no attempt to intervene in that case up in New York involving Cohen, and, of course, by -- for Cohen, the president himself.

And now he comes out in the hearing and he said, well, I`m taking that back, there was -- I can`t deny the president got involved.

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D), ILLINOIS: You know, I -- clearly, there seems to be a contradiction between what he said in open setting and what he said in the closed setting.

But this is par for the course, Chris. I mean, we have seen the president tell Comey to lay off Mike Flynn, and then he told Rod Rosenstein that there`s a red line around his personal finances. And this time, he found somebody, Matt Whitaker, who apparently may have actually engaged in substantive discussions with him about the ongoing investigation.

I heard Mr. Whitaker was a bodybuilder. He`s been doing some heavy lifting for the president.

MATTHEWS: Well, what do you think about obstruction of justice as heavy lifting? I mean, the fact is, you`re not supposed to call up and switch prosecutors...


MATTHEWS: ... if you got a guy who`s in that case that is connected with you.


MATTHEWS: In other words, you serve to benefit from a -- if you`re judge shopping, in this case, prosecution shopping.

That is obstruction. You`re changing the prosecutor.


I mean, he is the target of this potential probe. And, therefore, trying to corruptly influence the administration of justice might be construed as obstruction of justice here. And so I think it`s something that has to be investigated.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Peter on this.

Peter, this story is a New York story. And I`m just wondering. The U.S. attorney in New York, why would he want this guy Geoff Berman there?

PETER BAKER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, you have to assume he wants Geoff Berman in there because he thinks Geoff Berman is going to be running it in a way more conducive to what the president wants him to do. Otherwise, why would he care?

It`s the same thing with Jeff Sessions. Why did he care so much that Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation? Because he wanted Jeff Sessions to protect him.

I mean, what is really interesting is that this is a president who doesn`t kind of hide his motives very much. He`s pretty much out there. And the argument that his supporters make is that`s -- it`s legitimate on his part. He`s the head of the executive branch. He is entitled under Article 2 of the Constitution to make his choice about who runs what investigation and so forth.

But it certainly invites critics to say that that`s an abuse of power, that`s not appropriate. And there`s a reason why other presidents would never do this kind of thing, because at the very least it raises questions, it looks bad.

MATTHEWS: A larger question to the congressman, quickly.

How many people does he have to fire, how many prosecutors? He fires the FBI director, the deputy FBI director, the attorney general. He threatens -- he tries to fire the U.S. attorney in New York going after his guy Cohen. How many examples of obstruction of justice do we need before the Congress of the United States sees that as impeachable?

Your thoughts? KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, I have always said I think that impeachment is a last resort, not the first step.

The investigation is going on. We have got to gather all the evidence, and then come to a decision about this.

MATTHEWS: You haven`t decided yet yourself?


As a former prosecutor in Illinois, we always said, investigate and then prosecute. This is a very heavy decision, as you know, Chris.


KRISHNAMOORTHI: And I think you have to -- you have to go through the steps and you have to uncover all the evidence.

But one thing that unifies our caucus -- I just want to point this out -- is we all believe in very strong oversight and pursuing the investigation, wherever the facts lead.

MATTHEWS: Well, don`t wait for the Republicans.

Anyway, meanwhile, federal prosecutors are seeking e-mails and documents related to Michael Cohen`s claim the president was dangling a pardon, after Cohen`s offices were raided by the FBI last April.

"The New York Times" reports prosecutors are seeking records on communications between President Trump`s lawyer Rudy Giuliani and attorney Bob Costello. The report notes, in one of the e-mails sent by Mr. Costello in April 2018, after a conversation with Mr. Giuliani, he assured Mr. Cohen: "Well, sleep well tonight. You have friends in high places."


In a statement to NBC News, Costello called Cohen`s interpretation of events utter nonsense. And Giuliani disputed that he ever dangled the possibility of a pardon.

In a statement, Cohen`s current lawyer, Lanny Davis, would not comment on the comments, saying: "As a matter -- as a general matter, from my own past experience, it is impossible to deny or try to spin your way out of what documents say."

Peter, I got to ask you a larger question about this president, politically.

As history books are written, all these indictments, all the sentencing of all these people, Michael Cohen, George Papadopoulos, Michael Flynn, Roger Stone coming up, Rick Gates coming up, Manafort, of course, I have never seen since a bathtub ring of hell around a president.

How does he get reelected with that -- with that left behind his first term?



Look, we have kind of come to be inured to some of this stuff. And let`s not forget that the sentencing of Paul Manafort today, that`s his campaign chairman.

And it might not be his personal best friend. This is a person he chose to run his campaign. And while the crimes aren`t directly related to the campaign, it`s the first time I can remember a campaign chairman for a president of the United States convicted and sentenced to years in prison since John Mitchell during Watergate.

That`s a big deal still. And you`re right. There`s a lot of others around him who have committed crimes, lied to prosecutors or investigators. And, at some point, does that redound to the president himself?

But I think, to a lot of people who support him, it just looks like the deep state going after Trump for political reasons, for partisan reasons. They see this as part of a conspiracy to take him down. And they delegitimize some of these prosecutions and investigations.

MATTHEWS: Congressman, I can think of three East Coast states where they have a history of criminality in public office. I won`t name them. We all know those three states.

People manage to get reelected over and over again in those three states because they get used to crooks in public life. Have the American people gotten used to crooks in the White House, crooks around the White House, so much that all these sentencings are going on, and they might conceivably reelect the man at the center, the ringmaster?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, I`m from Illinois, so I don`t know what you`re talking about in terms of corruption.

Oh, you mean all those governors?


MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: The numbers don`t lie, Chris.

I mean, there are 34 individuals or entities who`ve been indicted by special counsel Mueller, 17 outside investigations, not including those in Congress, eight Cabinet secretaries against whom ethics allegations have been alleged, five individuals going to prison, many of whom were his chief aides.

And we haven`t even started talking about Jared Kushner. I mean, this is really a big problem. And I don`t think the American people -- I hope they`re not going to accept this in 2020.

MATTHEWS: Well, Congressman, you`re very genteel to offer up your state of Illinois. I didn`t consider that on my list of East Coast states that have had ethics problems and criminal problems at the highest level year after year after year.

Thank you so much, U.S. Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, and Peter Baker, as always, sir.

Up next: Is Beto O`Rourke finally making his move tomorrow? Is he diving into the already crowded field of presidential contenders? I bet he moves tomorrow. It`s going to be clear as a whistle tomorrow night this guy is in. All signs point to yes.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

All signs are now pointing towards former Texas Congressman Beto O`Rourke to enter the 22 -- or the 2020 presidential race tomorrow. That is Thursday of this week, tomorrow.

A reporter for "The Texas Tribune" tweeted: "Beto`s team is e-mailing volunteers from his Senate campaign, we need help sending some text messages tomorrow morning."

O`Rourke is headed to Iowa tomorrow for a multiday trip in the first caucus state. And tonight, "Vanity Fair" posted a new profile of O`Rourke. He told the magazine -- quote -- "You can probably tell that I want to run. Do I think I will be good -- I think I will be good at it."

By the way, bring back that cover a bit. That cover is the best kiss I have seen for a candidate in a long time. I always say the candidate wins who`s got the sun in his face, who looks like sunny, optimistic, not the indoor bureaucrat sitting at some desk somewhere. That`s the image you want.

Let me go -- I want to go now to -- let me go right now to Claire McCaskill, who joins us, who`s been saying some very interesting things, Claire McCaskill, of course, former senator from that very difficult political state of Missouri, or Missouri, or both.

Let me ask you about this, because two guys get on an airplane. It`s like a joke in a bar. Two guys got -- one guy has got a suit and a tie, and he has been around for 50 years. He`s got 50 years, frankly, of political history. That`s Joe Biden.

Another guy gets on a plane, rolled-up sleeves, no tie, really hasn`t done anything historically, has not much of a legislative record. But everybody like him. Who wins?

Your thoughts?

CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Well, whoever can knit together the middle and the left is who`s going to win.


MCCASKILL: And that`s who we should nominate. I think both of them understand how important that is.

I`m not sure every candidate running gets that part. But this isn`t going to work if we give up on what has always been the heart and soul of our party. And that`s working-class families. And we have got to make sure...


MATTHEWS: I`m sorry. You go ahead.


MATTHEWS: But the polling now says that the party is split. You got 51 percent who say, I`m a liberal. Most people you meet around town here in New York say, I`m a liberal. But there`s a big country out there.

And 47 percent either call themselves moderates or conservatives. These are self-identified Democrats. You`re right. It takes both sides.

MCCASKILL: Well, but the presidency, Chris, is always decided by those people who don`t vote -- vote through a party lens.

I mean, our country`s about a third, a third and a third. So if that`s our country, and we want a president who can govern that country, seems like we need to get busy and nominate somebody that can put together a majority of more than 50 percent.

I mean, imagine if we ended up with somebody like we currently have. We have a president right now whose support is probably somewhere, strong support, around 30, 35 percent. And he`s not doing so well.

We need a president who can unite this country. And that`s only going to happen if our nominee gets that the middle matters.

MATTHEWS: So how do you get past the fact that only -- that the most passionate voters who show up in either party are the ones who are most polarized?

For example, Iowa has always sort of amazed me. But Iowa has a lot of people on the left. It also has a lot of people on the right. Grassley has been the senator forever out there, so it`s -- figure it out.

But a lot of people on the left show up with great passion. They may be Bernie people. They may be Elizabeth Warren people. They may be some Kamala Harris people. Very comfortable with the word progressive. They don`t have any problem with the word socialist necessarily in some cases.

And yet, when the time you get to the general election, as you say, not just Democrats vote, but independents vote who are mostly moderates, and Republicans vote, some of whom are not right-wingers, that you try to get those suburban votes too.

How do you tell that to the people who know you got to win in Iowa first? Because if you lose Iowa to someone on the left, if you lose New Hampshire to someone on the left, you lose in South Carolina, Nevada, and -- and if the left wins the first several contests, how can you beat the one who won all those contests?

MCCASKILL: Well, first of all, I`m not sure that the candidate who`s furthest on the left is going to win any of those primaries.

I get it, that the base of both parties are further away from the middle. But that doesn`t mean that the majority of Democrats that are going to participate in the first five or six primaries don`t all agree on the same principles.

And we have got to -- we have got to communicate in a way that speaks to all of those voters, not just those that are most likely to show up, but those that are also know probably going to show up. And...

MATTHEWS: What do you -- I have got Senator Cory -- you know him -- Cory Booker coming on.


MATTHEWS: Suppose he says, the first thing I would do -- like in basketball, like the sweet -- what do you call it, March Madness.

I got to beat the people in my brackets first. I can`t beat Biden first. I have got to beat, say, Kamala Harris, first. I got to get votes that would might otherwise go to Kamala Harris or might otherwise go to Elizabeth or might go to Bernie. I got to beat people on the left before I get to the center, I get to the real fight.

Isn`t that the problem? People fight -- like, Biden probably has to fight it out with Beto for the moderate vote. You know how it works. Brackets.

MCCASKILL: Well, I think the candidate who communicates and inspires, that he or she can unite this country, is going to be the candidate that Democrats are going to fall behind.


MCCASKILL: I can`t tell them who that`s going to be.

It might even be one of the candidates who have -- who are traditionally thought of as more left.


MCCASKILL: But I know this, that this is a bunch of candidates and there`s a bunch of skilled people here. And there`s a bunch of good leaders here.

I think this large primary -- because we got Donald Trump waiting out there to unite us. That`s a big uniting force. I think whoever survives this process is going to be inspirational and is going to appeal across the spectrum.

MATTHEWS: Do you think we could -- the Democrats -- we -- I always generally voted Democrat, not always. I have voted mostly Democrat.

Do you think you can run two white guys, to be blunt? Is that over with, that idea of a monochromatic ticket, all one gender? Is that gone, Democrats?

MCCASKILL: Well, I hate to make any pronouncements based on gender or race, because that`s been part of the problem in this country, is everyone`s assumed that the president had to be a white man.

So I don`t want to -- the door swings both ways. I think whoever is the candidate for president is going to be smart enough to hopefully pick a vice president that goes even further in uniting not just our party, but the entire country.

So I think it would be smart for the ticket to look like America. But I don`t think it`s something we should set in stone, because that`s just as bad as setting in stone that it has to be a white guy.

MATTHEWS: Yes, so you don`t think they have to balance ethnically or -- ethically or gender wise? They don`t have to do that, the ticket?

MCCASKILL: Like I say, I think it`d be smart. I think it`d be smart to have a ticket that unites more of our country.

And that would mean a ticket that looks more like our country. But I don`t think we can set as a hard and fast rule, because that`s what`s gotten us in this mess and why we have never had a woman president.


I keep thinking, people -- like you and me, we talk to everybody. They talk to everybody who has got ideas. And the idea here, well, Bide-Harris, or Harris-something else or Harris-Brown, I thought, if Brown was still open for vice president.

Anyway, "The Washington Post" points out that if Joe Biden and Beto O`Rourke enter the race, they would instantly reshape the Democratic primary debate with a more centrist brand of politics that could appeal to an untapped portion of the party electorate.

"Vanity Fair"`s Joe Hagan reports: "O`Rourke is careful to play -- pay homage to progressive icons, but" -- here`s the huge but -- "sells himself as something slightly different, a youthful uniter, willing to listen and learn from the most recalcitrant right-wing voters and work with Republicans."

O`Rourke told "Vanity Fair: "If I bring something to this, I think it is my ability to listen to people, to bring together, help bring people together to do something that is thought to be impossible."

Is that too idealistic, Senator?

MCCASKILL: I don`t think so.

I think it`s -- I think most Americans are going to find it incredibly refreshing. We have got a guy in the Oval Office that never listens to anything, except himself in the mirror. He is so incredibly self-centered. It`s always about him. It`s never about this great country and the people that are in it.


MCCASKILL: So I think any candidate who comes out of the gate saying, hey, I`m all about listening and figuring out a way to put it together, I think that`s -- and I think, if it`s authentic -- and we will figure that out, right, as time goes on -- I think it will be powerful.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s try to -- let`s check our memory, because I think you watched the Kavanaugh hearings. And I did too. And a lot of progressives hated the Kavanaugh hearings. They hated it, I think, because they thought Kavanaugh was -- Brett Kavanaugh was going to get confirmed no matter what bad stuff came out about his past.

But I saw three senators behave there. I saw Cory Booker. I saw Kamala Harris. And I saw Amy Klobuchar. And I thought the first two were very tough. They had sort of an anger against this guy. They didn`t like what they saw on that witness chair. They didn`t like this guy, Kavanaugh, and what he stood for and his behavior in the past, whereas Amy seemed to come off as nicer.

She more -- took a more opaque attitude. So, you couldn`t read her exactly.

What`s the smart personality to bring to this fight for the Democrats? Do you have to show anger and contempt for the right, or do you have to be sort of opaque about it? What`s the smart move?

MCCASKILL: Well, I think it`s situational, Chris. I think if you`re in a debate with Donald Trump and he`s going after you, then you`re going to have to show toughness because the president of the United States needs to be tough. I think this current president is massively insecure.


MCCASKILL: I don`t think he`s so tough. I think he`s constantly trying to reassure himself because who`s not sure. But -- and in other instances, you`ve got to be polite. And, of course, Amy is from the Midwest. You know, people ask how I did 50 town halls in very red Trump land and I said, because, by and large, even people who disagree with me in Missouri are polite. And I think that`s real what Amy -- where she comes from.

So, I think it`s a mixture of both. And at the end of the day, as you know, you`ve seen this so many times, Chris. It`s going to be the one that actually lights a spark in Americans and in Democrats that they are -- have integrity and vision and courage and can inspire and lift us up. That`s what this country is hankering for right now. And whichever candidate figures that out, on whether they`re going tough against Trump when they need to or being very polite and listening when they have to, that`s the one that`s going to grab the ring.

MATTHEWS: As Jack Kennedy said, let`s get this country moving again. I think that`s our happy days are here again. I`d vote for you, Senator. Thank you.

MCCASKILL: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Former Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Missouri.

A quick programming note, by the way, on Monday, I will be sitting down with Democratic presidential contender Cory Booker on the road in Iowa. That`s Monday at 7:00 Eastern, right here on MSNBC. The great Cory Booker.

Up next, President Trump lost big in the government shutdown, didn`t he? His North Korea summit ended in failure and the Senate seems poised to rebuke him on his declaration of a national emergency.

Three strikes, you`re out, Mr. President. What a slump. And that`s ahead.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Remember that phrase from baseball? Three strikes and you`re out? Well, here they go.

Strike one, he lost a shutdown summit fight to Pelosi. Strike two, he lost the summit fight to North Korea, and he`s about to strike out in a Senate fight over the emergency declaration.

You know, Donald Trump got elected on a number of bold promises from infrastructure to the deficit reduction, all of which he`s failed to deliver on.


INTERVIEWER: Do you believe in raising taxes on the wealthy?


We will cut taxes for all working and middle class households in America.

Never before, unheard of, impossible to believe. We`re really heading in a bad direction. Four years of more than a trillion dollars in deficits.

We`re going to do a lot of great things. We`ve got to fix our infrastructure.

What the hell do you have to lose? I will fix it. Give us a chance.


MATTHEWS: But the guy who said he alone could fix it seems to have trouble right now finding out how. Looking at his Twitter feed, you get a different story of course. And we have that next. Stay tuned.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

This morning, President Trump ever the salesman tweeted 15 times today, calling his first two years the most successful in presidential history, seemingly unsure which . President Trump toggled, I love that word, toggled between two of them. Make America Great Again and keep America great. He couldn`t decide which. Finally, he settled on we are number one -- president. That`s how he talks, we`re number one -- president.

For more, I`m joined by Michelle Goldberg, columnist for the "New York Times", and Jennifer Rubin, who writes opinion pieces for the "Washington Post."

Michelle, I think you have to ask now, it`s time for a little accounting, a little inventory. When he`s not on executive time doing nothing but tweeting, what is he doing? And my question is because he`s coming into a slump here now, as we say in baseball.

He`s lost everything this year. He keeps losing. Jennifer`s going to get into judgeships. But anything we`re watching, he`s losing.

MICHELLE GOLDBERG, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, look, I mean, I think we know what he`s doing, you know? He`s either live tweeting Fox News, collecting emoluments, obstructing justice or, you know, demagoguing against immigrants. What else does he do?

You know, you kind of expect him to governor is sort of like expecting my preschooler to read Tolstoy. That was never what he was going to do, right? He sort of played a successful tycoon on television and now he play as successful television on Fox News.

But I wouldn`t say he has lost everything, right, because the thing he`s been able to hold on to is his face. He creates such a vortex around himself, that all sorts of failures. I mean, remember, after he was elected, there was all of this attention to all kinds of crisis going on in the country. You know, the opioid crisis, the, you know, kind of crumbling infrastructure, all of this has only gotten worse under his watch, but we don`t talk about it anymore because we`re just so busy talking about him.

MATTHEWS: You know, I liked a couple things he was for. I loved infrastructure. It`s not like I wanted rapid rail, like every country in the world has. I wanted to see, you know, Penn Station in New York be a little more delightful than a rat trap, which is getting there somewhere, I guess.

But, I mean, LAX is awful.


MATTHEWS: I can`t think -- when is our country going to look like every other country in the world? And he hasn`t lifted a finger. He gave all the tax money, all the break to the rich.

RUBIN: Exactly, if he had governed as he had run, he would have been in a wonderful position right now. If he really had just cut taxes for the middle class, if he had come up with a super duper health care plan, if he had, in fact, done an infrastructure plan, he`d be at 55, 60 percent.

But, instead, of course that`s not what he wanted to do and, you know, the right wing crowd --

MATTHEWS: How can he keep his crowd if he doesn`t deliver for the crowd, the people who voted for him?

RUBIN: And he`s delivered on two things. One, he`s telling them he`s done the wall. Apparently, it`s already been built. He`s lying to them and they`ll buy that for how long they want to buy it.

And the second thing is on judges. And that holds the Christian right together. They think that that`s their --

MATTHEWS: Life is the issue?


MATTHEWS: Let me go back, let me start with Michelle on this and that is - - he seems to be primary concerned with saving his keister right now. That it`s all about watching the trials, watching how bad Manafort is getting treated in terms of the sentencing he`s getting and now indicted again, watching Cohen talk. All this stuff is self defense, it`s all cover and evacuate as far as the president is concerned. He`s like being protected from his country is his primary mission now -- save yourself from the law.

GOLDBERG: I don`t know if that`s -- I mean, I think that`s one of his missions and I think it`s pretty clear if he doesn`t win reelection, he will be indicted. But, you know, he`s also somebody who`s driven by vanity and ego and has a hatred of losers and an obsession with winning. So, you can imagine how reelection would be important to his own incredibly, brittle self image.

You know, I -- and the other thing I would think is that if he really was singularly concerned with protecting himself from the law, the one thing he could do is stop committing crimes, but by all indications, he continues to obstruct justice constantly.

RUBIN: Listen, one of the things he`s tried to do, he`s done it badly, he`s done it horribly, but he`s tried to go out on the world stage. That`s why he keeps having stupid summits with little dictators and proclaiming peace in our time. So, he`s tried to do what presidents usual done, but unlike Nixon or unlike Reagan, he`s not had any success out there.

So, what else is he going to do? One thing -- talking about the vortex, I bet he`s going to dump Mike Pence this year. And he --

MATTHEWS: Yes, this year or next year?

RUBIN: It depends which he is in the polls, and when the Mueller report comes out. He --

MATTHEWS: OK, just get to the end of that, because you think he`s going to face a woman candidate for vice president or president?

RUBIN: Correct. And he needs a woman and he needs everyone to be buzzing about him and he needs --

MATTHEWS: And your fellow neocon is already going -- Nikki Haley.

RUBIN: There you go.


MATTHEWS: You poison her, Jennifer. You poison her.

Anyway, thank you, Michelle Goldberg.

Thank you. You don`t mind being called a neocon, do you?


MATTHEWS: Thank you, Jenifer Rubin. Thank you both of you.

Coming up, Donald Trump makes a decision we can all agree on. You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: I was stunned and saddened reading the passenger list on that Boeing 737 MAX 8 that crashed in Ethiopia this Sunday. So many good people, so many aid workers, people who committed their lives to the cause of economic advancement and international peace. And now, those lives have been lost.

So, when the president of our country acted today to ground those planes, I was comforted. With the entire world saying we need to choose caution over competition, it`s good to know that United States has joined with our follow humanity and caution is the right word here. One pilot recently called the flight manual of Boeing 737 MAX 8 criminally insufficient and it`s unconscionable that a manufacturer, the FAA and the airlines would have a pilots flying without adequate training or even providing available resources and sufficient documentation to understand the highly complex systems that differentiate this aircraft from prior models.

President Trump tweeted aircrafts have become far too complex, even before making his decision today to ground the 737 MAX 8.

It`s hard to imagine any American president making a different decision. We`ve had this model of plane crash twice now in the last few months, killing all aboard, to have a third one crash with more lives lost would have been on those who failed to take the reasonable step of figuring out what caused the first two crashes.

Isn`t it odd this feeling many of us have right now of having a leader operating in line with worldwide opinion, taking a step towards caution and good sense? Isn`t it odd to have this leader doing it?

Let`s appreciate the good sense, grounding the 737 MAX 8 makes sense, and in good humanity. Even if both are too often absent from today`s presidency.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.